Monday, March 31, 2008

Racist Planned Parenthood

This video highlights the continued racist activities of Planned Parenthood. You can watch the actual tapings of Planned Parenthood promising to earmark donations for minority abortions specifically. Unbelievable stuff. Make sure you watch this.

There will be a protest and demonstration in Washington DC on April 24. More details to come.

Markel, SJ

Radical Separation

Here is a quote from an article by Karen Armstrong from some years back on the nature of what she calls "militant piety" and how its rise across the religious landscape resulted in separatist and fundamentalist movements that were antithetical to religion:
During the 20th century, a militant piety erupted in almost every major world faith: in Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, as well as in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is often called "fundamentalism." Its aim is to bring God and/or religion from the sidelines back to centre stage, though very few fundamentalists commit acts of violence. Coined by American Protestants who wanted a return to Christian "fundamentals," the term is unsatisfactory, not least because it suggests a backward-looking religiosity. In fact, fundamentalists are rebels who have separated themselves irrevocably and on principle from the main body of the faithful. Fundamentalist movements are nearly always the result of an internal dispute with traditional or liberal co-religionists; fundamentalists regard them as traitors who have made too many concessions to modernity. They withdraw from mainstream religious life to create separatist churches, colleges, study groups, madrasas, yeshivas and training camps. Only later, if at all, do fundamentalists turn their wrath against a foreign foe.

It is unrealistic to hope that radical Islamists will be chastened by a rebuke from "moderate" imams; they have nothing but contempt for traditional Muslims, who they see as part of the problem. Nor are extremists likely to be dismayed when told that terrorism violates the religion of Islam. We often use the word "fundamentalist" wrongly, as a synonym for "orthodox." In fact, fundamentalists are unorthodox - even anti-orthodox. They may invoke the past, but these are innovative movements that promote entirely new doctrines.

The same is true of the new emphasis on violent jihad. Until recently, no Muslim thinker had ever claimed it was the central tenet of Islam. The first to make this controversial, even heretical, claim was the Pakistani ideologue Abu Ala Mawdudi in 1939. He was well aware that this innovation could only be justified by the godless cruelty of modernity. Informed extremists today do not need to be told that their holy war is unorthodox; they already know.

The extremists believe that mainstream Muslims have failed to respond to the current crisis and are proud of their own deviance. Attempting to shift the blame to the already beleaguered Muslim community could further alienate the disaffected.
This is so well stated! The militant piety of Islam that the West is fighting is neither a return to "true" Islam nor a natural outgrowth of Islam. It is a radical and fundamental cleavage from Islam. Muslim radicals do not listen to or respect their religious leadership. They wish their destruction just as much as ours. The only authority they respect is their own. They have freely chosen separation from the community and therefore are not to be considered the mainstream or orthodox version of Islam.

Mason Slidell

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Meaninglessness of Fitna

I recently completed The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, which is a theological and exegetical statement of the Pontifical Biblical Commission promulgated in March 1994. In the fourth part of the text, the authors state the following:
It is the living tradition of the community of faith that stimulates the task of actualization. This community places itself in explicit continuity with the communities which gave rise to Scripture and which preserved and handed it on. In the process of actualization, tradition plays a double role: On the one hand, it provides protection against deviant interpretations; on the other hand, it ensures the transmission of the original dynamism.
This, I believe, is a wonderful articulation of how we should approach the texts of the three great monotheistic religions of the West: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I recently watched a film called Fitna, produced by the Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders. In it, he takes some selected quotes out of the Qu’ran that are particularly violent. Certainly, the Qu’ran has many passages that are hard to hear and make one recoil.

Here are just a few I picked out myself:

Slay the idolaters wherever you find them and take them captive and besiege them and prepare for them each ambush (Surah 9:5).

And if he wills it, God will drown them and there is no help for them, neither can they be saved (Surah 36:43).

Then David said, “Bring them back to me,” and he fell to slashing with his sword their legs and necks (Surah 38:33).

It is clear to any 21st Century person reading the Bible, that there are also passages that make one uncomfortable.

And it came to pass when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field (Joshua 8:24).

And after him was Shamgar, the son of Anath, who slew six hundred Philistine men with an oxe goad (Judges 3:31).

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ (Ephesians 6:5).

Each of these single sentences, taken out of the context of the narrative in which they are written and with no knowledge of what comes before or after them, sound pretty horrible. It is for this reason that this process of isolated quoting should never be used. What remains profoundly true about the Western religious tradition is the honored place of the book. Eastern religions certainly have sacred texts, but I am unaware of a comparable status given to the Bhagavad-Gita or the Sutras of the Buddha as is given to the Bible and the Qu’ran.

This seems to have resulted in another key distinction between East and West, which is a fundamentally communal one. Hinduism and Buddhism are largely religions of the individual, where theology and worship are so vast and can be expanded to encompass so much. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are centered on the community who are to give proper interpretation to theology, law and worship.

Islam is a religion of over 1 billion people on every continent. It is a religion that has at its core a venerated book. Out of faithful adherence to that book, a system of law, worship and spirituality has been developed and cultivated. That adherence has resulted in millions coming closer to the divine. It has resulted in charity and family stability and community responsibility. It has resulted in legal codes and proper prayer postures and mystical experiences. It has also resulted in violence and hatred and bad blood between neighbors from time to time.

What remains true here, however, is that as an outsider, my judgment must be tempered. I am not a member of the community who has engaged in years of study and practice. My ability to extrapolate meaning from isolated, individual passages of the Qu’ran is meaningless. What I should do is remain sober, alert and in a posture of dialogue. If I do that, I will learn more. If I listen to films by people who are not Muslims and have no respect for Islam, its history or its future, then I will learn nothing.

Mason Slidell

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Hermeneutical Impasse

Two impasses ensue for a hermeneutics of Scripture in fundamental theology: 1) The text bears only on itself, on the basis of itself. This is a simplistic or literal reading of a text. It negates the understanding of text as nuclear shadow. Rather, the text is conceived of as transparent to its referent. 2) Or, the text is unreadable, so one assigns another event to the text, an event still to come. The sign waits for its referent in an eschatological sense, and so cannot yet be read. Literature and Poetry deal with this impasse of hermeneutics in their own ways. Literature dispenses with the text, or discovers it in its readers. The meaning of a text is discovered in the readers of the text. Poetry causes an immanent, emotional referent in the reader. The referent of the text is the reader. Theology remains.

For theology, the text cannot open access to the Event, but only bears traces of the Event. The text employs a linguistic device that the Logos overturns to the benefit of another device. A theological device replaces the linguistic one. How is this conceived? For us, for believers, only words left, just as for the disciples going to Emmaus, only “rumors" of the Resurrection come to their ears. They have heard linguistic rumors of what happened. But says Marion, “We cannot lead the biblical text back as far as that at which it nevertheless aims, precisely because no hermeneutic could ever bring to light anything other than a meaning, whereas we desire the referent in its very advent.” Amazingly, the disciples’ correct interpretation still keeps the disciples’ “eyes from recognizing him.” A correct interpretation of Scripture is not enough for a recognition of Jesus. It is only in a new Event “that the referent in person redoubles.” A Christian does not want access to the "meaning" of a text. That in itself is not enough, even when it is Jesus who interprets. A Christian desires the advent of the Event itself, of the Referent Himself. But, “The text does not offer the original of faith, because it does not constitute its origin.”

Marion continues: “As long as the Word does not come in person to interpret to the disciples the texts of the prophets and even the chronicle of the things seen at Jerusalem, this double text remains unintelligible – strictly. No hermeneutic could open our eyes to see the exegete of the Father," even an absolute hermeneutic who is not recognized in Himself. "The absolute hermeneutic disappears to the benefit of the eucharistic moment. The Eucharist accomplishes the hermeneutic, since they only realize the burning of their hearts and understand the referent of the burning after the Eucharist. In the chiasm of Scripture and Scripture, it stands in the middle. Why? The Word interprets in person. The Eucharist alone completes the hermeneutic.” The eucharistic device overturns the linguistic device of interpretation.

Therefore: “The hermeneutic (hence fundamental theology) will take place, will have its place, only in the Eucharist.” There in the Eucharistic Event the Word speaks and blesses. The Word does not disappear so much as Christians disappear into him as individuals. They enter into the place of the Word. Then, like him, they go up to Jerusalem. Then they do the exegesis, the recounting, of what happened. Then, while they are saying these things, he himself stands among them. This is the critical cycle of theology. We, the disciples of Christ, recognize Him in the eucharistic mystery, becoming remade into him whom we receive and recognize. Then we too go up to Jerusalem to proclaim, just as Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Then we recount what we experience, just as Jesus recounts his Father. In the recounting, Jesus again stands among his disciples, and the cycle continues. In the great paradox, our eyes are opened, and He disappears from view. Our mouths are opened to proclaim and He reappears. Or rather, our eyes are opened and we disappear into the One who is Appearance itself. This is the eucharistic site of theology.

Markel, SJ

Friday, March 28, 2008

Charity & Politics

A recent article by the always magnanimous George Will discusses a new study on the relationship between charitable giving and political affiliation. As it turns out, conservative liberals are more generous than progressive liberals and socialists.

I don't really find this puzzling. In fact, I think a quote from Ralph Nader sums up the reason: "A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity." This is a key shortcoming of progressive and socialist political movements that John Paul II pointed out. The tendency toward state-worship in left-leaning politics not only devalues personal ingenuity, but also personal responsibility. The state becomes so totally responsible for each aspect of governance, policy and concern that the human impulse toward the other (in this case, compassion for the less fortunate) is slowly sapped away. And the results are that progressives publicly call for increase after increase in bureaucratic "charity" while turning a deaf ear to other avenues of relief, many of which are more compassionate, considerate and family-oriented than government assistance.

Mason Slidell

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Tamar Theresa Day Hennessy, Rest in Peace. Along with everyone else, I want to point to this excellent article and interview with Tamar at NCR. It's not easy being the child of a saint.

Markel, SJ

Accessing the Mystery

Over the next three days I will be posting from Jean-Luc Marion's chapter in God Without Being entitled "Of the Eucharistic Site of Theology." In it he tackles the fundamental problem of theology, i.e., from where to begin. Theology must always begin from the Resurrection and the Christ Event, yet those are not directly accessible to the theologian. Marion moves from a discussion of Christ as the Said of God, to an exegesis of the Emmaus story, which is especially pertinent these days, to finally a discussion of the role of the Bishop in theology. In these days of the Resurrection, such a topic is uniquely important for us Christians whose faith depends on an Event that occurred beyond Lessing's 2000 year gutter of history.

Jesus, says Marion, abolishes the gap between the speaker and the sign. He is the Word. If all speech is violence because it disrupts and reduces that which it speaks of, then Jesus overcomes this violence in his Body. This continues in the Eucharist, a continual overcoming of the violence of human speech by his Speech. Language, as Augustine said, is a product of the Fall. Christ overcomes this in his body and in the rite of the Liturgy. Christ says himself and all is said. “And hence the Word, the Said, finally says nothing; he lets people speak, he lets people talk, ‘Jesus gave him no answer.’”

The Word cannot accurately be said in any tongue since he is Sign, Signifier, Signified; Sign, Speaker, and Referent. In classic mid-20th century linguistic study, there is sign, signifier, signified. The sign breeches the gap between the signified and the signifier without being independent of either nor reducible to either. The signifier is the sound-image used to signify; the signified is the concept that is signified; the sign moves between the two, mediating them and approximating them both. Christ transgresses language. By speaking our words, the Word redoubles his Incarnation. The Word comes to us before words. “Any speech that speaks only from this side of language cannot reach the referent,” who is Christ. “No human tongue can say the Said of God.”

“The Trinity respires from being able to breath among us.” Christianity is a logos of the Logos, a said of the Said, a word of the Word. “Theology: most certainly a human logos where man must not master language, but must let himself be governed by it” (Heidegger). “For the Word, by speaking our words, which he says word-for-word, without changing any of them (not an iota), takes us at our word, literally.”

How does this Event occur to us as theologians? From hearing. “Inevitably it transmits a text.” Through the text comes the Event. But the text does not contain the Event, only traces of it, as Veronica’s veil. The text is like the shadows from a nuclear explosion. The Text does not coincide with the Event. Not a reproduction of the nuclear explosion, but only its shadow. The text cannot give us the Event itself, but only shadows, meanings.

Markel, SJ

Monday, March 24, 2008

God Damn America For...

Here is the full sermon of Reverend Wright that has received so much criticism of late. The last few lines of it that I have printed below show I think that in context, his "God damn America" is entirely appropriate.  Sure the sermon has a lot of politics in it, much of it swallowed wholesale and unreflectively.  But the essential reason for which he used this reprise is well merited.  He always qualifies the statement in an effective way.  
God damn America, that's in the Bible, for killing innocent people.  God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme.  The government of the United States has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.  
Markel, SJ


Pat Buchanan's recent article concerning Barack Obama's speech on race last week is pretty vintage Buchanan. Despite his over the top style at times, I am an admirer of the Buchananite philosophy of social traditionalism and economic patriotism. And I was proud to cast my vote for President in 2000 for "Pitch Fork" Pat. In this article, however, he went too far.

First, let me say that Obama's speech was a nice piece of speechmaking and, for the most part, was a rehashing of well worn calls for greater racial peace. The one thing that did make Obama's speech different was his own perspective as a bi-racial child growing up in America. He illustrated this well in his comments about the anger in black America that remains from a history of slavery and Jim Crow and the resentment of white America for racial set-asides and the seeming lack of acknowledgment for how far this nation has gone on the question of race. Obama spoke of both these sentiments with a certain authenticity that is quite foreign for politicos. I remain a bit bewildered by what Obama hoped to accomplish politically, but I am still impressed by his candor.

Few political talking-heads represent white resentment better than Buchanan. There is a certain truth to both claims by black and white America when it comes to race, but white America must remember that the state of race relations is largely our fault. Here is where Buchanan goes too far:
First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known. [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.
It is simply too easy for some white people to gloss over the phrase "brought from Africa in slave ships" as if that was something that happened to all of us. And I find this sort of argument more often than not from white ethnics of Irish, Italian or Eastern European ancestry. We can acknowledge the unjust treatment of immigrant white ethnics at the turn of the century, but we cannot compare that experience to 200 years of slavery, segregation, lynchings and terrorism that black Americans have suffered and endured. White America cannot say "listen, we have all had it bad, just move on!"

Pat Buchanan and others who make such arguments are just plain wrong and cannot let their resentment over injustice be an excuse for white-washing history.

Mason Slidell

Magdi Christiano

Here are some excerpts from Magdi Allam’s account of his conversion to Catholicism. The Muslim journalist was baptized by Benedict XVI at Saturday's Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Any comments Mason, or other Islamophiles? 
Yesterday evening I converted to the Christian Catholic religion, renouncing my previous Islamic faith. Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression. I am especially grateful to his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted the sacraments of Christian initiation to me, baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, in the Basilica of St. Peter’s during the course of the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and most explicit Christian name: “Cristiano.” Since yesterday evening therefore my name is Magdi Crisitano Allam.

It is thanks to members of Catholic religious orders that I acquired a profoundly and essentially an ethical conception of life, in which the person created in the image and likeness of God is called to undertake a mission that inserts itself in the framework of a universal and eternal design directed toward the interior resurrection of individuals on this earth and the whole of humanity on the day of judgment, which is founded on faith in God and the primacy of values, which is based on the sense of individual responsibility and on the sense of duty toward the collective. It is in virtue of a Christian education and of the sharing of the experience of life with Catholic religious that I cultivated a profound faith in the transcendent dimension and also sought the certainty of truth in absolute and universal values.

You asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.
Markel, SJ

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Harrowing of Hell According to J.R.R. Tolkien

For Holy Saturday, my favorite day of the liturgical year, the day when we truly meditate on absence, I want to offer what I think are Tolkien's reflections on the harrowing of hell.  From The Return of the King, he leads us onto the Paths of the Dead where Aragorn, the King, frees the souls of the dead from their broken promises.  I find his reflections profound and beautiful. They are taken from several different chapters and places, but I bring them together here for reflection. 
"Thus spoke Malbeth the Seer, in the days of Arvedui, last king at Fornost," said Aragorn:

Over the land there lies a long shadow,
westward reaching wings of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tombs of kings
doom approaches.  The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers:
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be?  Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people? 
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him:
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead.

The deaf shall truly hear words of a book, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. 
To that Stone the Company came and halted in the dead of night.  Then Elrohir gave to Aragorn a silver horn, and he blew upon it; and it seemed to those that stood near that they heard a sound of answering horns, as if it was an echo in deep caves far away.  No other sound they heard, and yet they were aware of a great host gathered all about the hill on which they stood; and a chill wind like the breath of ghosts came down from the mountains.  But Aragorn dismounted and standing by the Stone he cried in a great voice: 
"Oathbreakers, why have ye come?"
And a voice was heard out of the night that answered him, as if from far away:
"To fulfill our oath and have peace."
Then Aragorn said: "the hour is come at last.  Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me.  And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever.  For I am Elessar, Isildur's heir of Gondor."
The hour has indeed come.  The oath will be fulfilled.  
Stern now was Eomer's mood, and his mind clear again.  He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could com thither; for he though to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark.  So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.
Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them.  For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.
And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it.  And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond.  There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count.  And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur's heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells.  But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes; and a black dread fell on them, knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand.
A deeper magic, truly, from before the dawn of time.  

Legolas recounts:
"Hear now the words of the Heir of Isildur (Aragorn)! Your oath is fulfilled.  Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again! Depart and be at rest!"
And thereupon the King of the Dead stood out before the host and broke his spear and cast it down.  Then he bowed low and turned away; and swiftly the whole grey host drew on and vanished like a mist that is driven back by a sudden wind; and it seemed to me that I awoke from a dream.
Thus the harrowing of hell is completed.  If the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.

Markel, SJ

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Meaning of the Cross

What is the meaning of the cross of our Lord?  What does it mean that even on the cross the prayer of Jesus was rejected by his Father, that he sent up a prayer and it could not pierce the clouds, but turned around and was hurled back in his face?  I want to offer two reflections. 

The first thought is stimulated by the oldest image of the crucifixion known to us. It is the famous graffiti from between 69-98 AD, in the Palatine museum.
This "graffito," scratched into the plaster on the side of a building in Rome, dates from about 250 AD. The hastily made image (probably by a teenager in those days) shows a crucifix with a donkey's head, seen from behind and dressed in a short tunic. To the left stands a young man with the same clothes and his arm raised. Between the two figures are the words in Greek: "Alexamenos sebete theon" ("Alexamenos worships his god"). Apparently, the author of the drawing is making fun of a Christian, Alexamenos, who is praying to a crucified god with a donkey's head. The Y visible on the plaster, to the right at the top, has been interpreted as a symbol of a gallows, or a transcription of a scream of pain.
Yes, the very earliest image of the crucified Jesus is a parody, with an ass' head.  There is a stick on the top with a piece of paper naming the crime of the person being punished, common in crucifixions. Possibly a footstool, or feet on the ground, or just off the ground, or with a seat on the cross to keep him from dying too quickly. The boy on the side is making a gesture of acclamation with his hand. The inscription in Greek, “Alexamenos worships God.” One school boy mocking another by saying he is worshiping a crucified God. This is the only representation we have before 400AD, and it is not done by a Christian. When I first learned this my reaction was a mixture of being stunned and consoled. Yes, this is what I worship. This is who I follow. I follow a crucified God, a failure. My symbol was first inscribed in stone forever as a mockery, as the symbol of the failure of my God. Do I have the courage to worship the God of Alexamenos, a God who died, naked, a spectacle before the world?

My second thought comes from the diary of Pierre Favre.  Pierre Favre, one of the first three original companions of the Society of Jesus wrote these words in his diary on February 21, the Saturday after Ash Wednesday.  One of the most beautiful of the early writings of Jesuits, the interior depth and spiritual sensitivity of Favre is richly expressed in his meditation:
On the same day towards evening, as I was leaving the king's palace, I found myself in the presence of a large group of mounted men drawn up to receive some general.  This had attracted a huge crowd, as if for a great and splendid spectacle.  I withdrew into a church nearby to escape the concourse and the tumult.  While inside the church, I felt impelled by some curiosity to go out again and gaze at what I had just come inside to avoid.  At that moment I looked up at a crucifix and that impulse of curiosity ceased at once.  With tears I have thanked my God for granting me the sight of this image, and I have sensed that the truly comforting spectacle is this: the memory that God almighty willed to take a body and to lay it aside in the sight of all the people, hanging between two robbers.  
Those who long to gaze on what is around them, let them gaze on this sight; let the insatiable appetites of the eyes, the ears, and the other senses be assuaged here.  If you cannot yet penetrate deeply enough to find peace there, continue the quest; for one simple desire, one hard-won impulse of curiosity for that sight is better than the enjoyment offered to our eyes by all the other spectacles to be seen in the world. For if Mary has not been allowed to enter the holy sepulcher, let her not for this reason cease to stand outside the tomb and weep.
This is our place.  Let is not move from here, from outside this tomb that encloses the life of the world.  What good can life be to us without him?

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Failure Averse

5 years in Iraq.

Almost 4,000 deaths.

"Americans are not casualty averse. They are failure averse," James Carafano says. "They were unhappy with the lack of progress and spiraling violence. That is why you have seen public support rebound after it was clear the surge was working."

Yep, we want to be successful. No surprise there. So let's put more troops in. Oh, wait, I forgot. McCain is "pro-life."

My bad.

Speaking of pro-life:

Thankfully the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act that I posted on a few days ago might not have the same support from Paterson as it did from Spitzer, who felt more beholden to his pro-abortion supporters for office. He of course is very pro-choice, but this may be some good news.

Markel, SJ

4-Fold Theology of John 13

The readings for this Holy Week offer so much for rich reflection. The Church especially spends quite a bit of time this week with chapter 13 of the Gospel of John, definitely one of my favorite chapters of scripture.  I offer four points for reflection:

1.  This chapter alone provides one of  John's riches metaphors for the meaning of the Incarnation.  Jesus, aware of his divinity, rises from the eschatological banquet at the side of his Father, comes down to earth, puts on a towel over his divinity, the clothing of a servant, and begins to wash our feet.  In Peter is our constant rejection of God's mercy, yet Christ argues in order to show us his love.  Not even our No is enough.   

2.  We receive a rich theology of the Eucharist here, as well as the sad reality of the mystical body of Satan.  John never actually mentions the offering of the bread and wine as Jesus body and blood. Instead we are given the meaning of those events: service of our brothers and sisters.  But even more interestingly, we are given a negative theology of the Eucharist.  The only bread taken and received in this passage from Jesus is the morsel of bread received by Judas.  Immediately afterwards Satan enters his heart. What are we to make of this?  Jesus offers Judas bread at the Eucharistic banquet, and Satan enters his heart.  No other Gospel shows so clearly the possibility of a demonic Eucharist. After reflection on this passage, I would hope that we never receive the Eucharist again in the same way.  Our own disposition, as the old prayer books constantly emphasized, is worth more than we know. Satan can enter the heart at any time, even at that moment of most intimate prayer and friendship, at the reception of Jesus own body.  For us, it may not be Jesus body.  As has often been said, there is also a mystical body of Satan.  And he has his own eucharist that makes its way into Jesus' last meal. May it not be us who brings that body into the Mass.

3.  We also receive a theology of the beloved disciple, and so of all true Christianity.  I think often the meaning of the  beloved disciple reclining on Jesus' breast is missed.  I was reading in the Greek the other day, and realized that the same word is used here in 13:25 as is used in 1:18.  The same word is often translated differently, karpos, which is unhelpful.  Just as Jesus resides in the breast of his Father, so does each Beloved Disciple reside in Jesus' breast.  And so just as Jesus exegetes or makes known the inner mystery of the Father for us, so the Beloved Disciple of every age, the saint, does the same for Jesus, making known the mysteries of intimacy with Christ to all Christians.  This is the heart of John's theology, "abide in me, and I in you."  Just as he abides in the Father.  This is not about John and Jesus being gay.  

4.  Peter is not lying when he says he will lay down his life for Jesus.   He is sincere.  But Jesus is not lying when he promises that Peter will deny him.  Jesus "tells truly" that Peter will deny him.  I did not lie when I took vows.  I will love Christ till I die, loving him through poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Yet I will also deny Jesus three times, denying and breaking my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  This is the heartbreaking reality of human promises given as the last verse of chapter 13.  Where lies our hope?  In the first verse of chapter 14: "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Have faith in God; have faith also in me."  

Markel, SJ

Monday, March 17, 2008

Stop the Repression!

First of all, happy Saint Patrick's day!  

Second, I continue to be moved by the pope's words on Sunday to the people of Iraq.  They remind me of some other words in a country that was suffering similarly a few years ago.  The day before he was shot down by a paramilitary, Archbishop Romero delivered some of the most stirring words ever pronounced: 
Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God . . . In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression!
The next day, March 24, 1980, he was shot dead. 

Three years before, March 12, 1977, one of his own priests, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande had also been killed by machine gun fire while driving down a country road away from his parish. He too had preached some famous and stirring last words:
I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God ... of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. Ideas against God, because this is a clan of Cain’s. Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so.
These were strong words from a man who entered the Jesuits fearful and timid. I quote some words from his diary a few years earlier, while he was in the novitiate, words that eventually changed his life when God finally healed him of his constant second-guessing and timidity. They have proved for me beautiful and powerful words of witness to the healing power of God:
When God, for one reason or other, brings it about that one lives a hidden life, and one fails humanly - even if he fails entirely! - it is not necessarily a failure for the glory of God. Always - but especially in these times of the unknown future - confidence in God my Father who directs everything for my good! It is an attitude which, even humanly, carries one forth to that which is - without foolish fears. How much I need to forget about myself! I promise not to be a perfectionist again. I will learn to swim by swimming! I put all my trust in Jesus; he is the only thing that remains.
And so Grande was given the grace to offer his life for the people of El Salvador. 

And now Benedict has offered these stirring words so reminiscent of those stirring words of Romero, begging for the repression to end. What moved Romero to cry out was in part caused by the heroic yet tragic death of his priests. And so Benedict cries out moved by the death of his beloved priest in Iraq:
His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ, to the Church and his people, whom he did not want to abandon despite numerous threats, moves me to cry out forcefully and with distress: Enough with the bloodshed, enough with the violence, enough with the hatred in Iraq!
Stop the repression!

Markel, SJ

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Passion and Solidarity

This has been a bloody week.  Christians need not re-envision the troubled state of 1st century Palestine in order to enter into the mysteries of the Passion.  It is enough to look at the horrific occurrences in Tibet and Iraq in the last few days to recognize that Christ continues to suffer in his people and to suffer what he suffered once and for all in his human body that now reigns at the heart of the Trinity.  There is nothing but mystery and paradox in this.  As Bernard stated famously: "God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with."  And so Christ, no longer suffering, suffers with, until all is accomplished.  Benedict's words ring strong and true once again to a proud American policy whose persistent idolatries have led to so much pain: 
"Enough with the slaughters. Enough with the violence. Enough with the hatred in Iraq!" Benedict said to applause at the end of his Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

On Thursday, the body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was found near Mosul. He had been abducted on Feb. 29.

Benedict has called Rahho's death an "inhuman act of violence" that offended human dignity.

Benedict said Rahho's dedication to the Catholic Church and his death compelled him to "raise a strong and sorrowful cry" to denounce the violence in Iraq spawned by the war that began five years ago this week.

"At the same time, I make an appeal to the Iraqi people, who for the past five years have borne the consequences of a war that provoked the breakup of their civil and social life," Benedict said.

He urged them to raise their heads and reconstruct their life through "reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and coexistence among tribal, ethnic and religious groups."

"To recognize God, we must abandon the pride that dazzles us, that seeks to push us away from God," he said. To find God, he said, "we must learn to see with a young heart, one which isn't blocked by prejudice and dazzled by interests."
I offer another reflection from the great Jesuit Yves De Montcheuil who died at the hands of the Nazi powers because of his resistance to anti-semitism. His words continue to ring true in a global world where the price of solidarity is yet to be understood by all those who calls themselves by the name of Christian.
We cannot slumber while Jesus Christ himself is being put to the test along with anyone who has discovered in the message of that same Jesus Christ the revelation that illuminates his liberty and his destiny. "Let your yes be yes, and your no, no." No compromise is possible. Christian witness cannot at one and the same time attempt to say Yes and No. To be clear about this is in no way to compromise the Church in her temporal existence.
What is the price of that great virtue that John Paul II called solidarity? What does it demand of us? Is this a question that Christians are seriously taking to prayer, asking what rights, what privileges, what benefits, what goods, what freedoms they must give up for the sake of the weakest, smallest child in Africa? Benedict's recent quotations from Dostoevsky in Spe Salvi prove to us that his ideas are not dead.  Far from it, they continue to live powerfully.  In the words of Father Zossima, which I wish to reflect on further this week, is the strongest call yet to that great virtue of solidarity.  It is his words that John Paul II echoes in his own powerful call in Solicitudo Rei Socialis.  What is solidarity?  
It is the firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.  
That is a direct quote from Dostoevsky in the Brothers Karamazov.  Yet, except among certain saints who profoundly transcended their times, has this responsibility of all for all, that virtue and transformation of life that Christ's passion calls for, has that even yet begun to take root in Christians' lives?  What is the price of solidarity?  Do we realize that it transcends justice, that it exists only in the realm of gratuitous self-sacrificing love?  If so, it is a journey that will continue to call out from us resources we never knew we had.  As our unexpected commentator Cormac McCarthy tells us: 
He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world's heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world's pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.
Only if Christians forget the vision and burden, the cross and resurrection of solidarity will this blood of multitudes be required.  And yet we have seen it required in our own lifetimes.  Why? Christians are not living loving solidarity.  The blood of multitudes has be exacted as a price for the fault among Christians of the love that is solidarity.  It is our fault.  In this virtue is the mystery of the salvation of the human race, bound up in the Incarnation, the ultimate act of human solidarity. In it is the "suffering with" that God does for human beings. Solidarity does not oblige all Christians to suffer. It does oblige them all to suffer with. That is the Christian vocation.  When will we begin to suffer with? 

Montcheuil continues:
Each soul has its own cup to drink. The longer it delays the moment when it puts its lips to the cup, the longer it delays the moment when it will begin to love with a purer love. To plunge into pain and suffering is to plunge into life itself; pain and suffering represent the only purifying crucible that can make us saints. Suffering is not a last resort, an annoying complication that makes things more difficult than they would otherwise be; it is not an added burden. Suffering is itself the way.
Let us this week embark on this perfect way.

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

His Pain, Our Gain

Well, from what I'm hearing up in New York City from some friends about Eliot Spitzer, the recent scandal is good news for the pro-life movement. They were telling me that he has a bill he is pushing that would require all private hospitals, Catholic and Jewish, to perform abortions; it would remove all parental notification laws for minors; and it would allow all hospital staff to perform abortions, even non-physicians. Even non-pro-life people think its pretty crazy. So hopefully this will do what it takes to remove support for this bill or to stall it.

Markel, SJ

Monday, March 10, 2008

Horton Hears an Abortion Protest

Just sent by a friend:
Horton Hears an Abortion Protest

All hell broke loose at the Hollywood premiere of "Horton Hears a Who!" today when a group of pro-lifers infiltrated the screening, then chanted anti-abortion slogans after the flick.

The theme of the movie is based on the motto: "After all, a person is a person, no matter how small." So the pro-lifers thought it was a good idea to use this theme to their advantage -- even though their complicated message was falling mostly on the ears of children.

The stars in attendance included Victoria Beckham and her three kids, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy, Steve Carell and all 12 contestants from "American Idol."

After the chanting ended, the group put red tape over their mouths that said "Life" on them, and paraded around the event.

Shouts of protest were returned by some in attendance, including, "This is a kid's premiere," "How dare you," and "Do you really care that much about this?"
Yes, we do.  

Markel, SJ

Seven New Deadly Sins

BBC has an interesting story on the new seven deadly sins of our time.
The Vatican has brought up to date the traditional seven deadly sins by adding seven modern mortal sins it claims are becoming prevalent in what it calls an era of "unstoppable globalisation".
This is a tremendous breakthrough, not so much for the Vatican, but for the understanding that we have of sin. "Sins" are often understood as constituted by a simple list of "wrongs" that stand outside of one's social context. The one way that this may be said to be true is in relation to the seven deadly sins. They constitute, one could say, the "conditions for the possibility" of sin in general, whatever its kind or variety. In this sense they are universal categories of fallen humanity. However, the constant re-articulation of the meaning of what these sins designate is important. The Vatican has done this in the person of Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, who is quickly becoming a personal hero of mine. His new list includes:
  1. Environmental pollution
  2. Genetic manipulation
  3. Accumulating excessive wealth
  4. Inflicting poverty
  5. Drug trafficking and consumption
  6. Morally debatable experiments
  7. Violation of fundamental rights of human nature
The new mortal sins were listed by Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti at the end of a week-long training seminar in Rome for priests, aimed at encouraging a revival of the practice of confession - or the Sacrament of Penance in Church jargon.
The job of a priest in confession is often to help reveal or uncover the sins of which the penitent is unaware. Ignatius of Loyola was revolutionary in his understanding of sin in the First Week as something that we don't simply "know" but that God must "reveal" to the sinner. We are so careful and clever in devising mechanisms of veiling that the disclosure of our own sins is not something of which we are capable. Benedict points to this in his comments:
Talking to course members at the end of the seminar organised by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican department in charge of fixing the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners, Pope Benedict added his own personal voice of disquiet. "We are losing the notion of sin," he said. "If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm," he added. The Pope confesses his sins regularly once a week.
Priests are helps to penitents by helping them understand and "see" their own sins. The above list is attempting to be a new list of "existential categories" of sin as revealed by reflection in a new age of globalization and consumerism. It argues what many have been arguing for a long time, that practices such as artificial contraception and condom use and unhampered capitalism and unsustainable treatment of the environment stem from the same root sin. Philosophically they date to Descartes; Spiritually they date back to the snake in the garden whose very first temptation of Eve was a mistreatment of creation in order to usurp the place of God. Instead of subduing and caring for the earth, Adam and Eve raped it. And so do we.
In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Girotti said he thought the most dangerous areas for committing new types of sins lay in the fields of bio-ethics and ecology. He also named abortion and paedophilia as two of the greatest sins of our times.
Fr. Gerald O'Collins added some thoughts:
"It was interesting that these remarks came from the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary," he said. "I can't remember a time when it was so concerned about issues such as environmental pollution and social injustice. It's a new way of thinking."
Let's hope we listen.

Markel, SJ

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bloody Irish

There is heartburn among some concerning St. Patrick's Day. As the optional memorial (yes, optional memorial) of the venerable bishop falls within Holy Week this year, the liturgical calender is scrub of it. This has not stopped some, however, from marching forward with plans to hold St. Patrick's Day parades during Holy Week, which I think is in bad taste.

First, I find the way in which Irish Americans celebrate their ethnic pride to be bordering on hedonism and idolatry. The statement of one Hibernian organizer of the Columbus St. Patrick's Day parade sums up the problem. After the Bishop of Columbus requested the parade be moved to coordinate with the liturgical celebration on Friday, March 14, the organizer refused saying: "We are born Irish first, Catholicism comes second."

Outrageous! Church leaders have been sensitive (I would argue overly so) in moving the memorial to the week prior in order to maintain a certain prayerful sobriety for Holy Week. Yet even with this reasonable request, parade organizers have pounded their chests and screamed about their Irish pride. The lack of respect for the Church and the bishops is totally unnecessary, proving again that this celebration has strayed far from its roots, which are firmly planted in liturgical celebration. Another pitiful illustration of the commercial takeover of a Christian holiday. Consume, consume, consume!

I pray that St. Patrick intercedes to remind his people that being Irish is not about morose hedonism (at least I hope there is something more to being Irish) and that proper preparation for the remembrance of Christ's passion, death and resurrection should be more important during Holy Week than a hundred pints.

Mason Slidell


Here Jim Martin has a post about the death of the famous Jesuit Walter Abbott. A brilliant man, he came out with the first English translation of the documents of Vatican II in record time. Of course, with any quick translation are mistakes, or, I suppose, intentional "dynamic equivalence." One such translation was the famous paragraph 11 of Dei Verbum. Austin Flannery's translation would later correct what Abbott translates in this way:
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.
This is the so-called minimalist approach to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Notice that last line. It renders itself easily as a minimal interpretation. What must be believed in Scripture is what the Holy Spirit asserted through the human authors, namely, the truth asserted "for the sake of salvation." This delineates what particular truths are deemed inspired and inerrant. Probably no historical truths or possibly even moral truths. Only those asserted "for the sake of salvation," whatever that is deemed to mean. Flannery on the other hand rightly translates the Latin of that last clause:
The books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.
Scripture teaches the truth which God confided to them. This truth is for our salvation, but not limited to what is deemed to be "for the sake of salvation." All of Scripture is for the sake of salvation. This is what Flannery's translation brings out. It contradicts the minimalist reduction that our Father Abbott applied to it.

Markel, SJ

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Two Mentalities that are the Same

In relation to the prior post, I have some comments to add that I made over at Vox Nova in response to a critique of the post. Here are my comments:

The relationship between non-violence and legitimate self-defense is a difficult one involving a very fine line. However, the connection between condoms and weapons still stands on a different level that I think the post is trying to bring out. I think a quote from Solicitudo Rei Socialis might make this clearer. In paragraph 22, JPII writes:
It is this abnormal situation, the result of a war and of an exaggerated concern for security which deadens the impulse toward united cooperation by all for the common good of the human race, to the detriment especially of peaceful peoples who are impeded from their rightful access to the goods meant for all.
The pope goes on to talk about the problems of neocolonialism and military expenditure. The point though is made by his comment concerning the 'exaggerated concern for security.' The mass production of weapons is almost entirely manufactured upon this discourse. As are condoms. Rather than a discourse of love and cooperation and solidarity, which NFP attempts to enact, condoms serve as a means, by covering the male organ, of turning it into a weapon with no consequences. Such are weapons treated in our country as well. They are weapons with no consequences. Why do consequences not count, for example in Nagasaki and Hiroshima? Because the discourse that manufactured them already had created a safety mechanism for the protest of consequences, namely, safety. If we want to be safe, we must use weapons. So the story goes, and it is the same discourse used for condoms. Rather than creating a discourse of love, we live in a discourse of safety employed to the benefit of neocolonialism and imperialism. We continue to hear it almost daily from George Bush. In this way the 'contraceptive mentality' (in Evangelium Vitae) is not far at all from the 'weapons mentality' (in Solicitudo).

Markel, SJ

Two Strong Women

I recently added pictures of two women in the sidebar, women who are heroes of mine because of what they have done and the strength they manifested in a male dominated world. Elizabeth Anscombe, a famous English philosopher and student of Wittgenstein was also a non-violent activist.  She was one of the first in England to begin picketing and protesting peacefully outside of abortion clinics when abortion was first legalized.  She had all her children and family out with her.  Now that's a model for raising children for Christ.  She also famously protested Truman's speech at Oxford and refused to enter the building because of his use of atomic weapons in Japan.  

Joan Andrews-Bell, who I was privileged to meet several times, is also a great hero of mine. One of the strongest women I have ever met, she now runs a house for women in New Jersey. Before that however, she was arrested over 200 times in her activities with Operation Rescue, and once spent 2 1/2 years in solitary confinement in Florida for unplugging an abortion suction device.  In July 1998, Catholic New York reported that Pope John Paul II met with anti-abortion activist Joan Andrews Bell and praised her work with Operation Rescue.  

The Church is desperately in need of women like these, women who can teach us men how to be cunning and courageous, brilliant and brave.  Like Dorothy Day, both of these women deserve canonization some day.  But more importantly, they deserve emulation in a nation full of cowards.  

If you have any interesting information you want to share on these women, I would appreciate the input.  

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

She's Back!

We are now in no man's land in politics. With victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island, Hillary Clinton has placed herself back in the game. The schema I was running with was that Clinton would win Ohio and Obama would win Texas, each not by much, and the party leadership would begin to urge Clinton to back out of the race in favor of party unity. Not gonna happen! This is now an officially unpredictable race and only Clinton and Obama will decide when it's over.

Obama had been successfully poaching on Clinton's base since the Potomac primary, but last night they returned to Mama. Clinton won blue-collar workers, seniors and women under 50 for the first time since Super Tuesday. Combine that with 70% of the Hispanic vote and a decent showing among white men and we have a winner.

The momentum race, the delegate race and the special interest race is very tight. The rest of this primary will be fought tooth, nail and claw and it seems hard to believe that one candidate could force the other out of the race before the convention, unless one steps aside for the sake of party unity.

How about some history? The last Presidential convention in which the winner was not known going into the convention was Chicago 1968 when Hubert Humphrey grappled the nomination from Eugene McCarthy. Nixon won handily. The primary race in 1972 was just as brutal as George McGovern pulled out a victory over Henry "Scoop" Jackson and George Wallace (among others). Nixon again crushed the Democrats. The primary race in 1980 saw Ted Kennedy force Jimmy Carter into race after race all the way into June when Carter (a sitting President) finally secured the nomination. At the deeply divided convention in New York, Kennedy refused to shake Carter's hand. And you guessed it, Reagan won big.

My point here is that this primary election is not uncommon among Democrats, who seem to go on these suicide missions fairly regularly. The real victor last night and for the weeks to come is John McCain, who can now pick his VP, bring the Republicans back together, raise some money and all with time to spare to set the tone of the general election in his favor.

Stay tuned kids, you are watching one for the history books!

Mason Slidell

The Inverted Narcisus

To follow up on my last post, I want to just add a reflection that came to mind. Narcisa was named by her parents after Narcisus, the early Roman martyr for the Eucharist. I grew up with a great devotion to Narcisus founded in some of the early Catholic readers that my family used. Now my younger brother has a picture of him above his bed, as the cycle of devotion to him continues in my family. What struck me as I was thinking about him and the witness to his life that the life of Narcisa expressed is the reason for which he died. He died because of his love for the Eucharist.

If we think about Narcisus, the character of the ancient myth, this presents a beautiful paradox. The original Narcisus died looking at himself in the water, longing for himself and so devouring himself in his love for himself. Narcisus the saint on the other hand and conversely died with the Eucharist to his breast, beaten by his friends because he would not expose Christ to their fun. And so the beautiful reflection of Aquinas comes out, that in the Eucharist we become who we consume. Unlike the mythical Narcisus, we don't consume ourselves and so destroy ourselves. Rather, we consume Christ and become him whom we consume. And so become ourselves. The myth is turned on its head by the saint. And so saints take up the natural and, through their iconic living, reveal the place of the birth of revelation within it. Even within pagan myth.

Markel, SJ

Blessed Narcisa, pray for us

Recently five Blesseds were listed as approved for canonization. Among them, the laywoman, Narcisa, has received little mention. Here are some details and reflections on her life:
Born: 29 October 1832 at Nobol, Guayas, Ecuador. Died: 8 December 1869 at Lima, Peru of natural causes; remains transferred to Guayaquil in 1955. Memorial: 30 August. Profile: Daughter of Pedro Martillo Mosquera and Josefina Moran. Her people were farmers, and her parents died when she was still a child. She moved to Guayaquil for the next 15 years she worked as a seamstress to raise her younger siblings, living a single life, helping those even poorer than herself when she could, and spending her time in prayer. In 1868 she moved to Lima where she worked in a convent of Dominican nuns. She never took vows and remained a lay person her whole life, but spent eight hours a day in prayer, lived as austerely as any religious, and was known to experience ecstasies.
Some additional information.
Orphaned at an early age, Narcisa Martillo Moran, of Nobol, Ecuador, worked as a seamstress to contribute to the support of her brothers and sisters. Supported by the guidance of several spiritual directors, she resolved to consecrate her virginity to Christ and to spend the rest of her life offering prayers and penances to God in expiation for mankind’s sins. Although she remained a laywoman, Narcisa followed a demanding daily schedule of eight hours of prayer, offered in silence and solitude. In addition to imposing upon herself an austere diet and very humble living quarters, she devoted four hours of the night to various forms of mortification, including the wearing of a crown of thorns. Narcisa was frequently seen in a state of ecstasy.
But these are all toned-down accounts. As often happens with saints, we’re actually rather scared of who they really were. It is a lot easier if we can just place them within the old categories of sanctity: went to spiritual direction, spent long hours in prayer, supported her family, gave alms to the poor, “frequently seen in ecstasy.” But these are not the ingredients that make the saints. The ingredients that make the saints are their unconditional surrender to the demand of Jesus Christ on their lives and hearts. And this demand usually takes weird twists. The above accounts leave out quite a bit from the life of Narcisa. For example, they leave out her purported incorrupt body, seen here. They also leave out the difficulty of her life for Christian mimesis. Like Francis, we see her, and admire her, and cannot be like her. And so we do one of two things: we either simplify her life so as to make it imitable, or we do what is often done to St. Francis of Assisi, reducing the paradox of his life to a simple set of dialectics. But as Chesterton says concerning this option:
Now this is simply to be stone-blind to the whole point of any story. To represent Mount Alverno as the mere collapse of Francis is exactly like representing Mount Calvary as the mere collapse of Christ.” Rather, we must turn to what he taught us: “He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing. He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realize that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist…. From him came a whole awakening of the world and a dawn in which all shapes and colours could be seen anew.
This is the meaning of a saint. A saint is someone who brings to the Church a new set of eyes, a new way of looking upon the meaning of Incarnation. And so in the case of Narcisa. Here is a good place to read more about her, though it is in Spanish. She, as all saints, is difficult to understand. She beat herself senseless with a whip to imitate Christ. She wore a crown of thorns that made her collapse from loss of blood. There is one interesting bit about the influence of Jesuits on her. When her first spiritual director, Amadeo Millan, was called back to Rome, she placed herself under the direction of the Jesuits who replaced him at the local church. Her new confessor, Padre Luis Segura, gave her to read the famous spiritual work of the Jesuit Alfonso Rodriguez, not to be confused with the famous Alfonsus Rodriquez of Mallorca, spiritual director of St. Peter Claver.  This work, “El Ejercicio de la Perfeccion y Virtudes Cristianas,” Narcisa read and loved so much that
in her intellectual simplicity she no longer wanted to read anything other than this and the Sacred Scriptures and that she wasn’t born to be a theologian or erudite person. From this moment she made the decision to unite her name with that of Jesus as a sign of her alliance with him.
There is much to be learned from Narcisa, as I hope will be unpacked by others in the future. For now, we can hope that she will do for the Church in Ecuador, especially during this difficult time, what Balthasar points that all saints do for the life of the Church:
One is inclined to suspect that the great movements and reforms of the Church, in the present and the future, will not be initiated by such panels and boards but by saints, the ever-unique and solitary ones who, struck by God’s lightning, ignite a blaze around them.

Markel, SJ

Monday, March 3, 2008

Catholic novelist or Astrologer, same difference

Louis de Wohl, the famous Catholic novelist, was a Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Not to be confused with the astrologer enlisted by the UK to fight Hitler, also of the same name. Novels like "Set All Afire" about Francis Xavier and "The Spear" were pretty important childhood inspiration for me.  But, then, so was staring at the stars and being swept away by their depth and profundity.  Maybe they are the same person.  

Markel, SJ

Thanks for the advice Bush

Concerning the Turkish invasion into Iraq that began February 21, Bush has some novel and revolutionary words:
"The Turks need to move, move quickly, achieve their objective and get out."
Guess he hasn't learned his lesson even now.

I usually leave the politics to Mason, but I also wanted to draw attention to what is happening between Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Very sad, we need to pray for that area of the world. You can read all about it without me, but all I want to emphasize is that there is no easy solution down there, and Chavez won't make it any easier. Uribe's connections with the United States and the amount of money their military receives from us also complicates matters terribly.

One of 164 recent nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize is a Catholic Cuban. Here are some interesting comments about him:
Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas was born in Havana, Cuba, on February 29, 1952, and is one of the most well-known democratic activists in the country. He organized the Varela Project, which was an effort based on Cuba’s constitution to collect enough signatures to present a referendum for political change to the legislature.

According to Paya, these changes, if they had been accepted by the government and approved by popular vote, would have introduced freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free elections, freedom of business and amnesty for political prisoners.

Paya grew up in a Catholic family and was a child when the Cuban government began its repression of the Church. As a youth he refused to join the Communist Party of Cuba and its youth organizations. However, at the age of 16 he was drafted into the Cuban army.

While in the army, he was punished for refusing to participate in the transportation of a group of political prisoners and afterwards was condemned to forced labor on the Island of Pinos (known today as the Isle of Youth) for three years.

As a devout Christian, he attributes the cause of his punishment to his refusal to compromise his religious beliefs. Paya later became and engineer and now works as a manufacturer of anesthetic equipment. He is married and has three children.

Together with other lay Catholics he founded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1988, a political movement with no religious affiliation that seeks to advance the human and civil rights of Cubans.
I have intended to post on topics more related to my field, especially on Irigaray and John Paul II and some interesting interrelations between their theories of gender, and also on Jean-Luc Marion. I'll try to get to that soon, I've just been kind of busy lately.

Markel, SJ