Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Male Priesthood

Before I move on to new topics, I want to wrap up what I've been saying about priesthood and seminarian life. I have argued that the call to the priesthood that Christ offered to men has nothing to do with the fact that men are men, understood as a positive reason, but only negatively. I have also reflected on Benedict's statements to seminarians, that his warnings are primarily against careerism, ostentation, and conceit. I think he mentions these because they are endemic to the masculine tendency, quasi-natural as a pronitas caused by sin.

One reason that I feel I need to theologize differently about the theology of a male priesthood is that I am not happy with the neo-orthodox theological solution. The primary theologian in this regard is Hans Urs von Balthasar. He wrote extensively on the male priesthood, arguing that it was most fitting due to the nature of the Church as a primarily feminine, read passive, community. The Church is a passive institution, receiving its life through grace from above. He symbolically understands the Logos as male, inseminating the Church with the life of grace. For this reason the Church must be feminine. Those who are in the place of Christ, the priests, must be men because they act as Christ did toward the feminine body of the Church, symbolically reflecting his covenant with the Church, continually offering in the eucharist his (seminal) life to the receptive body of the Church. Women do not have the quasi-natural capacity to represent Christ in this way.

My problem with this is that such symbolizing can be turned any which way. Mary is the primary symbol of the Church. She is the "concrete universal" of the Church, as Blondel and De Lubac called her. Her reception of the message of the angel on behalf of the whole world is precisely the mission of the Church. Yet that was not some passive reception. It was an active incorporating and receiving that is the case in all true receiving. And this incorporation played itself out in her offering of Christ to the world as the Church does. The Church is a receiving and giving body, receiving Christ and giving him to the world. Mary is the perfect example of this, as a woman, giving from her womb the gift of Christ. De Lubac, thus, points out how Mary is the example priest of the new covenant. However, Christ then passed on to men this role as priest, and not to women.

For this reason I have to disagree with De Lubac. Mary is the pre-eminent priest of the new covenant. There is nothing in the symbolic representation of a woman's body that prevents her from being a priest. That is simply wrongheaded. Symbols are rich in the Scripture and in the Father's, and they are both feminine and masculine in relation to God and the Church and priests. As a faithful Catholic, I have to believe that men alone are called to be priests. Yet I do not think it is enough to say that that is simply the case from Scripture. That argument has even been debunked by the Vatican. It is not self-evident from Scripture that only men can be priests. Nor do I think the symbolization of neo-orthodoxy is helpful or appropriate.

It is for this reason that I turn to a different theological explanation founded upon the quasi-natural tendency that men have toward violence and domination. From the first curse resulting from Adam's sin, he is cursed in regards to the earth to demand of it its produce, to force it violently to give up to him its fruits. Towards the woman he is cursed to lord it over her, in the same way that Jesus tells his disciples that the Gentiles exercise authority. These are curses of sin, and Jesus makes it clear that "this shall not be so with you." Rene Giraud develops the theory that societies gradually build up guilt until it reaches such a critical mass that they have to violently let it out on a scapegoat that is the mechanism for releasing this tension. What Jesus revealed is not that this is not how societies work due to sin, but that this scapegoat is innocent, thereby revealing this structure for what it is by highlighting it in his own body. Therefore, because of him, we recognize for the first time the nature of this structure. He puts an end to it as necessary by revealing it in himself, in his innocence, so that this structure was finally recognized. For this reason, no other sacrifice is needed except for his, though societies continue to attempt to scapegoat groups.

Men, since they share in this violence as a quasi-part of their nature, are offered by Christ the chance for redemption in their own bodies by being priests, by offering again and again the innocent sacrifice that neutralizes their own violence nature toward domination. This is their "right" as gift, due to a tendency in their nature toward sin.

What about women? Do they not have a propounded tendency due to their own sin? Genesis says they do, it is pain in childbirth. But what is exaggerated in their nature? She is cursed to yearn for her husband, to lose her independence. Man gains "independence" from sin; women lose "independence" from sin. Genesis 2 states that men are supposed to leave father and mother and cling to their wife. Now, because of sin, women cling to their husbands. Yet the mechanism for their own healing is within their own bodies: childbirth. When Paul says that "women will be saved through childbirth," this is not to be read as it often is as through their husband, or by staying at home. It means that their salvation is in their own bodies, in the independence that comes from giving birth in pain, yet still giving birth for the world, offering gifts to the world. Men do not have this capacity to regulate their own domination, so some are offered it as priests, to offer a sacrifice that reflectively heals the wound of their nature.

This is a very elementary theory that needs much more working out. But the healing of the world comes from the wounding of the flesh. This is the purpose of marriage, to wound the flesh in a way that takes me out of myself into another. Women experience this easier than men. Men are thus offered the priesthood as a wound that heals their nature. Does it just end up compounding men's nature? It can. That is why we desperately need better seminary training. So so badly. That is why Benedict pointed to careerism, ostentation, and conceit. Men have taken the antibiotic that Christ offered for their healing, ground it into powder, and begun to snort it. Does that mean we get rid of the antidote? No, we just start using it right. Women need to help men do that. They need to stand up, and we need to let them stand up, and put us in our place as priests. Before the Fall men are to run to women for help, not vice-versa. We need to do that again.

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Remergence of the Rev

Rev. Jeremiah Wright returned this week with a whirlwind media tour that included speeches before the NAACP and the National Press Club. I know if I was Barack Obama, I would be none too happy with my pastor.

From stating that the attacks on him are really attacks on the "black church" to claiming that the federal government may have created AIDS to destroy African-Americans, Wright has gleefully and with gusto re-injected race into the campaign. I grimaced watching the ego-driven Wright before the NAACP making fun of JFK and LBJ's speech patterns and openly mocking the way white people sing in church. He seemed to get a certain joy sticking his thumb in white America's eye. Almost like the only reason he returned was for some vengeance. And even worse for Obama, Wright said on several occasions that the candidacy of Obama was none of his concern and he would say what he pleased no matter what.

Obama seems unable to control his image as all sorts of figures from his past return and make him look like an urban radical straight out of '68. And the Clintons are perpetuating that image with voters and superdelegates every chance they get. It seems to me that Obama is weakening more and more as he gets closer and closer to securing the nomination.

Mason Slidell

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On the Thawing of Inspiration

Some thoughts on inspiration and seeking:
Never let us live with amousia.
That is C.S. Lewis from Surprised by Joy.  Let us never live without the Muses, or rather, without the muse of our souls, the Holy Spirit, who alone makes scripture sweet, others sweet, ourselves sweet, prayer sweet, trees and birds sweet, all things sweet.  Without her, life would be pure frozen stasis.  
If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings.  Oh Adam's sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!
Lewis again from The Magicians Nephew.  Aslan here is speaking about Digory, who cannot hear Aslan speaking words, but only roars. Hearing the Spirit of Christ is not a physical phenomenon. Nor is it non-physical.  The physical is transformed, from roarings physically heard, to words spiritually spoken to our hearts.  This is Newman's illative sense, where the Holy Spirit points out to us the salient clues to her will.  

De Lubac calls a human being in the Mystery of the Supernatural
a creature made out of nothing which, astoundingly, touches God.  
Not on the merits of her own strength.  Yet if she does not touch God, what terrible loss! Michael O'Brien describes this loss in A Cry of Stone:
It seems to me that it is about losing and finding.  And losing again.  When everything depends on the finding.
What a despairing thought.  So let us pray.  Let us listen.  Please, please listen.  When we pray, the Spirit thaws our hearts, and movement begins again, poetry begins again, the Muse speaks in us again.  O'Brien says of this:
All things moved as the poetry in them thawed.  
Then they hear and sing.  

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ostentation, Careerism, Conceit

Benedict's advice to seminarians bears a little reflection, at least by seminarians. Particularly his three things to avoid that he offers to us. One almost thinks that he has read his St. Ignatius and was possibly repeating his advice. Ignatius, in his meditation on "The Two Standards" asks the retreatant 
to consider the discourse which he (Satan) makes them (his demons), and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches -- as he is accustomed to do in most cases -- that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.
He then tells him
to consider the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and -- if His Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them -- no less to actual poverty; the second is to be of contumely and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contumely or contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them induce to all the other virtues.
Riches, Honors, Pride. These are the three ways that one falls into the hands of the devil. This can be particularly true for seminarians. They are called to the greatest poverty by Christ: to live without wife or family, without career, carrying around in their lives, as St. Paul exhorts, the death of Christ, his kenosis on the cross in their daily celebration of the sacrifice for the world. Yet somehow many live comfortable careers, pursuing honors and filled with self-entitlement. For this reason, Benedict's repetition of Ignatius' advice is for us:
I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him. Reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, of whom you are to become living icons.
Riches - Careerism; Honors - Ostentation; Pride - Conceit. They line up. They sum up the destruction of a good priest. And so we pray that all seminarians will pursue the opposite virtues that Benedict outlines: Charity, Chastity, Humility, with the same zeal and passion that many seem to pursue offices, positions, the Bishops chair. 

Markel, SJ

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fall from Heaven

The always insightful David Brooks calls for a reevaluation of Barack Obama just before the Pennsylvania primary.

Back in Iowa, Barack Obama promised to be something new — an unconventional leader who would confront unpleasant truths, embrace novel policies and unify the country. If he had knocked Hillary Clinton out in New Hampshire and entered general-election mode early, this enormously thoughtful man would have become that.

But he did not knock her out, and the aura around Obama has changed. Furiously courting Democratic primary voters and apparently exhausted, Obama has emerged as a more conventional politician and a more orthodox liberal.

So true! Obama is still the near-certain nominee of the Democratic Party, but he will go into the general election with more tarnish on his "hope/change/yes we can" message than many Demos expected. Give another point to the Clintons. I think Bill and Hill are well aware of the numbers and know the nomination is nearly impossible, but why not remain in the race and pull Mr. Clean into the mud? Hillary 2012 anybody?

Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, the Weather Underground and "bitter-gate" have forced Obama's followers to confront the stubborn fact of his humanity. The messiah has fallen from heaven. And in just a few more months, the sullied savior will face a rested and ready John McCain.

But first, Pennsylvania...

Mason Slidell

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More on Immigration and the Pope

This is a good article in the NY Times about Benedict and his recent comments on immigration. It can be read here.  In it, Tom Tancredo actually accuses the pope of "faith based marketing:"

His comments drew a rebuke from Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado who has been a leading opponent of illegal immigration.
Accusing the pope of “faith-based marketing,” Mr. Tancredo said Benedict’s comments welcoming immigrants “may have less to do with spreading the Gospel than they do about recruiting new members of the Church.” Mr. Tancredo, a former Catholic who now attends an evangelical Christian church, said it was not in the pope’s “job description to engage in American politics.”
His comments have also coincided with a raid by enforcement officers on a chicken plant where 300 illegal immigrants were rounded up for deportation:
On the other side of the issue, some members of the Catholic hierarchy said they were shocked that on the same day that Benedict and President Bush affirmed in a joint statement the need for a policy that treats immigrants humanely and protects their families, federal agents were conducting raids at five chicken plants. They arrested more than 300 immigrants accused of being illegal workers.

The timing was coincidental, immigration officials said, and it was not clear whether the pope had known about the arrests when he met with Mr. Bush.

But the raids surprised some American Catholic leaders, who are often on the forefront of advocacy for immigrant rights.

“I was stunned,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest Roman Catholic diocese and one with many Hispanics. “I just feel these raids are totally negative. I thought it was very inappropriate to do it in such a blatant way when the pope was coming, when he has been so outspoken in defending the rights of immigrants.”
Markel, SJ

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope and Immigration

Remember when Bush blundered on his welcome to Queen Elizabeth, then said that she "gave me a look that only a mother could give a child," and concluded by winking at her? Well, he didn't do much better with the Pope, cheerleading his speech with a "awesome speech Your Holiness." At least he got the title right. 

I want to conclude some thoughts on the Pope and immigration before his important UN speech today. He has said at least three things on immigration so far: comments on the airplane on the way over, comments to the USCCB, and comments during his homily at the Nationals stadium. 

First, on the plane:
It seems to me that we have to distinguish between measures to be taken immediately, and longer-term solutions. The fundamental solution [would be] that there is no longer any need to immigrate, that there are sufficient opportunities for work and a sufficient social fabric that no one any longer feels the need to immigrate. We all have to work for this objective, that social development is sufficient so that citizens are able to contribute to their own future.

On this point, I want to speak with the President, because above all the United States must help countries develop themselves. Doing so is in the interests of everyone, not just this country but the whole world, including the United States.

In the short term, it’s very important above all to help the families. This is the primary objective, to ensure that families are protected, not destroyed. Whatever can be done, must be done. Naturally, we have to do whatever’s possible against economic insecurity, against all the forms of violence, so that they can have a worthy life.
Benedict emphasizes two thing: the necessity of a long-term solution, one that would require the United States to help other countries develop themselves and would remove the shackles of dependence that it continues to hold over other countries. John Paul never grew tired of asking the U.S. to forgive the debt of poorer countries, a plea that the U.S. decided to ignore. The immigration problem has a lot to do with America's foreign policy in Central America. Until this is acknowledged, the problem will continue. 

Second, care for families. The Catholic Worker, along with the Bishops have made this their primary focus. Benedict has spoken more about the family than any other topic recent polls show. In his speech on the World Day of Peace, he located the family as the first place of peace. He has also here again pointed to the family as most important component of society: not the individual and not the State. It seems that discussion about immigration often center around one or the other. Liberal liberals - or Democrats - emphasize the individual and their right to make a living. Conservative liberals - or Republicans - emphasize the needs of the Nation-State and its members. Benedict is emphasizing the family, asking that the needs and peace of the family remain at the fore of this conversation.   As he says, "Whatever can be done, must be done."

Second, to the Bishops:
Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.
Welcome, we need to welcome.

Third, in his homily at National's Stadium:
The Church in the United States, welcoming to its bosom many of your immigrant children, has grown thanks to the vitality of the witness of faith of the faithful of the Spanish language. For this, the Lord calls to to keep contributing to the future of the Church in this country and the spread of the Gospel. Only if you are united to Christ and with each other will your evangelical witness be credible and grow even more in boundless fruits of peace and reconciliation in the midst of a world so marked by divisions and conflicts.

The Church expectes much of you. May the generosity of your gifts never be lacking. "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give" (Mt 10:8).
He finally acknowledges the great debt that American Catholicism owes to immigration. I find the Scripture citation interesting. Just as you have received freely, by entering this country, so give of your deep spiritual life freely also. There is an exchange here. Economic benefits are repaid by cultural and spiritual ones. I tend to agree.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From the South Lawn

I was quite moved by the Holy Father's words at the White House today, his first since arriving in the United States yesterday. In his words, I clearly find him in the mold of Tocqueville - a European who is fascinated by and respectful of the American experiment in government.
From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.
The Founding Fathers cannot be understood without reference to the Divine Right argument for monarchy. Put simply, the king (or queen) is anointed by God for the office that they hold. Despite what some may think, this was not a notion of medieval political thought, which clearly recognized the legitimate overthrow of the monarch if said monarch became a tyrant. If a ruler is a tyrant, then his subjects are not bound to follow him.

The Divine Right argument does away with the medieval separation between just ruler and tyrant and declares that the ruler is just by the fact of being the ruler. Therefore, nothing the ruler can do would be tyrannical. The Divine Right argument was first used by Protestant kings and princes in order to consolidate church and state in one complete, unified entity with a single head and a single law. It removed the historical tension that had existed in Christendom between the church and the state. The allure of such a total power-grab was not limited to Protestants, however, as kings of France would use the theory to create what came to be known as Gallicanism.

Following on the principles of John Locke, the Founding Fathers firmly rejected the notion that God gives the right to rule to one man or woman beyond question. No, what God gives us is truth - self-evident truth - that we must then hold firm to in matters of governance.

This is what is so revolutionary about our political heritage! We are not governed by the edicts of man anointed by God, but by the edicts of God as revealed in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Government, therefore, must include the active participation of all people, since the treasures of these self-evident truths touch us all.

This is why a religious force has historically always been the driving force of our politics. Admittedly, not all of the Founding Fathers were Christians, but none of them were atheists in our modern use of the word. Our founding documents read of a deist theology that calls attention to the reality of a divine force by which we all have life. And in that life, we are called to seek after, to strive for and to know truth.

God bless America indeed!

Mason Slidell

Benedict, Priests, and Violence

Many are talking about Benedict's comments in his interview on his airplane. In some ways, they are pretty fascinating, especially what he has to say about the priesthood and immigration in the United States. His comments are worth looking at briefly and reflecting on. First, he offered a deeply compassionate apology for what has been the awful sex scandal in the U.S. Tomorrow I will discuss his comments on immigration.
We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future.
He offers three levels of healing:
I think we have to act on three levels.
The first is the level of justice, the juridical level. We now have also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia, [which] is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry, this is absolutely incompatible. And who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So the first level is, as we can do justice and help clearly the victims, because they are deeply touched. So [there are] two sides of justice, on the one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests; on the other hand, to help in all the possible ways to the victims.
Benedict, unlike many conservative groups in the United States, refuses to link the scandal to homosexuality. Even though the document on homosexuality in the priesthood stressed the affective deficiency of homosexual persons, he, along with most who have studied the reports from the scandal, acknowledges that homosexuality was a fringe issue amongst a much wider problem that included heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
The second level is the pastoral level, the level of healing and help of assistance and of reconciliation. This is a big pastoral engagement, and I know that the bishops and the priests and all the Catholic people in the United States will do all possible to help assist and to heal, and to help that in the future these things cannot happen.
This is a crucial step that Bishops in the United States have been woefully inadequate in doing. Just recently, for example, in a diocese where Bishop Sevilla, SJ had done an exemplary job of dealing with accusations of scandal, Yakima, WA, he was recently called out for hiring an ex-seminarian from Mount Angel Seminary who had been accused of having child pornography on his computer. This seminarian continues to be under investigation, though there is as yet no proof of his guilt. However, although Sevilla did not know that the FBI had a warrant out for his arrest, he did know that the man had a troubled history. He hired him nonetheless to work at a retreat center in Cowiche where he initially worked with adults and then began to work with children. A large scandal has ensued, and it is hard to blame those who are angry. Sevilla had been extremely careful, and this oversight - he has apologized profusely - could be a product of old age, but it is impossible to blame Dan Bartlett, a local father who some friends of mine know, whose children were taught by this guy, for being furious at the bishop. Bishops who want to heal pastorally the terrible insecurity that the scandal has caused in their flocks cannot afford such blatant carelessness.
The third point [is that] we have made a visitation in the seminaries to also do what is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep, spiritual, human and intellectual formation –with discernment so that only sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood, only persons with a deep personal love for Christ and a deep sacramental love, to exclude that this can happen [again]. I know that the bishops and the rectors of seminarians will do all that is possible so that we have a strong discernment, because it’s more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do, and we have done, and we will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.
Here Benedict comes back to what he is really interested in seminarians, and arguably the true point of the document on homosexual persons in the priesthood. Seminarians must be formed in deep spiritual, human, intellectual formation. With discernment. Without the gift of discernment, men cannot be good priests. Period. Ignatius recognized this from the beginning. Benedict mentions discernment here twice, and without it there is no possibility of healing either within the priesthood or between the priesthood and the laity.

There is a great divide right now between the priesthood and the laity. This is not simply a product of the sex scandal, but even more deeply of a fundamental lack of discernment in the priesthood over the last 40 years. The priesthood is not based upon rights. It has nothing to do with rights. It is a quasi-natural right, one could say, founded upon natural pre-dispositions vocationally graced as a call and confirmed by the Bishop and the community. One of these natural elements is masculinity. Why is this so? One theory about why the Catholic church understands Christ to have only chosen men for this ministry is because men have a quasi-natural affinity toward violence that their vocational calling as co-operators in Christ's sacrifice is intended to touch and to heal. Let me repeat this: men were not chosen by Christ to be priests because of anything positive they have, but because of a wound that they uniquely share that particularly suits them to share with Christ in the sacrificial healing process of the cross. There is nothing natural about being masculine that allows a man to better represent Christ at the altar.

There is something quasi-natural: men's affinity to violence, and to solve their problems by recourse to violence. For this reason, Christ became a man and took the form of a slave. Men are given the opportunity in the priesthood to also take the form of a slave, to become the sacrificial body that heals the wound of violence that is a part of their own unique concupiscence. Men have an ontological predisposition toward violence. For this reason, in the priesthood, men are ontologically reconfigured, in the ontological change of the sacrament, toward the non-violence of the Christ. I repeat: through the priesthood, men are offered by Christ an ontological participation in non-violence. Rene Giraud's theory is illuminative here. Men are offered the chance to experience the healing of their wound that is primordially theirs through original sin. They can become the innocent scape-goat uniquely in the place of Christ on the cross. It is out of this ontological relationship to non-violence that priests are called upon to exercise decisions. This is the cornerstone of their discernment.

And yet this is not taught in seminaries. Men somehow get the idea that they are called as men because of some positive gift or quality they have as men. And so the errors and scandals of the priesthood are founded upon a discernment that refuses to recognize the foundational ontological non-violence that they are invited to by Christ. The violence of the sex scandal is founded upon this fundamental violence at the heart of men's sinful nature that was never healed, remained wounded, and asserted itself in the domination of young boys. A priest cannot be a priest if his hand does not continually remain inserted, with Thomas, into the wounded side of Christ. That is his salvation and the salvation of his flock. This is the discernment required of him.
It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests.

Markel, SJ

Monday, April 14, 2008

Benedict on How to Live

Father Lombardi has confirmed that Benedict will suggest the golden rule to the nations of the world and particularly to the United States during his stay here.
"In the assembly of representatives of all the peoples of the world, in the heart of a nation that has a huge weight in the destiny of the humanity of today and of tomorrow, Benedict XVI wants to offer to all his service of religious and moral authority, enlightening, with his habitual clarity, that of which today we have more necessity: the basis, the solid and common point of support, upon which to build together the answers to the historical challenges we find ourselves facing."

"Together," he added, "because as Pope John Paul II already said precisely to the United Nations, we form a family of peoples."
I am excited to see here that Benedict is continuing to pick up JP II's message of global solidarity. Of course, this is not the first time that Benedict has done this. In still one of his most important talks on the celebration of the World Day of Peace he had strong remarks concerning the familial nature of the global situation.
The social community, if it is to live in peace, is also called to draw inspiration from the values on which the family community is based. This is as true for local communities as it is for national communities; it is also true for the international community itself, for the human family which dwells in that common house which is the earth.

The family community, in order to prosper, needs the generous consent of all its members. This realization also needs to become a shared conviction on the part of all those called to form the common human family. We need to say our own “yes” to this vocation which God has inscribed in our very nature. We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters. Consequently, it is essential that we should all be committed to living our lives in an attitude of responsibility before God, acknowledging him as the deepest source of our own existence and that of others. By going back to this supreme principle we are able to perceive the unconditional worth of each human being, and thus to lay the premises for building a humanity at peace. Without this transcendent foundation society is a mere aggregation of neighbours, not community of brothers and sisters called to form one great family.
While JP II used to cite more frequently the philosophical roots of global solidarity, Benedict has stressed the transcendent roots that humanity has in God. Or, another way to put this is that while JP II placed the burden of solidarity on common human dignity - which is also cited above - and on our common imaging of Christ who reveals man to himself, Benedict, possibly following Gabriel Marcel, has stressed that we are only a common brotherhood if we have a common Fatherhood. But there are older brothers and sisters and younger ones. Benedict is expected to stress to the United States its status as an older brother, as JP II used to frequently do. And if he stresses the golden rule, there is always a good chance that something about that disaster going on over there in the Middle East may come up.
Nor must we overlook the poor, who are excluded in many cases from the goods of creation destined for all. Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances.

In this regard, it is essential to “sense” that the earth is “our common home” and, in our stewardship and service to all, to choose the path of dialogue rather than the path of unilateral decisions.... One area where there is a particular need to intensify dialogue between nations is that of the stewardship of the earth's energy resources. The technologically advanced countries are facing two pressing needs in this regard: on the one hand, to reassess the high levels of consumption due to the present model of development, and on the other hand to invest sufficient resources in the search for alternative sources of energy and for greater energy efficiency. The emerging counties are hungry for energy, but at times this hunger is met in a way harmful to poor countries which, due to their insufficient infrastructures, including their technological infrastructures, are forced to undersell the energy resources they do possess. At times, their very political freedom is compromised by forms of protectorate or, in any case, by forms of conditioning which appear clearly humiliating.
This begins to sound a lot like the United States, and it is a message we can take closely to heart as the universal pastor comes to visit us. I like especially his language of "sensing" that the earth is our common home. This sensing is not common to all. It is not a matter of knowledge in the way that we usually think of it. There are many, particularly formed and trained by technocratic and capitalistic societies, who cannot sense the world in this way, but prefer to sense it as a common resource or money pool. From Descartes through empiricism to our time this way of thinking about the earth has held particular sway in the United States. I think of sensing here more closely to what Newman meant by the illative sense, a discovery and understanding of something that is akin to recognition. It is similar to a detective seeing a series of clues and suddenly piecing them together. Not everyone has the gift for such sensing. Cardinal Dulles has used Newman's illative sense to describe the moment of recognition in faith. It is not common sense, it cannot be proven, but only demonstrated. In the same way, the world badly needs the Church to offer its illative sense concerning the world that is our home. The Church has a sense for the environment that the world does not have, whether on the Right or the Left. It is this true and proper "understanding" of the world as our home that Benedict is asking Christian's to share with others.

Benedict asks us to convert from the path of unilateralism and to embrace the path of dialogue. This applies not only in reference to war, but also in regards to the use of resources that are common because the world is a family and a home and its resources come out of the common pantry. In this way of thinking, solidarity no longer becomes a supernatural virtue that only a few can live, but a necessary virtue imposed upon all by virtue of the familial situation. Just because I am an older brother does not mean I can raid the pantry and eat anything I want at anytime. And it is nothing special that if the youngest brother or sister has not eaten, I am not allowed to have seconds. We are not talking charity here but simple duty. And so only having one car and living simply in the United States is no longer a matter of charity but duty: to the environment as a common home, and to the world as a common family. There is no justification for luxurious living anywhere in the world in our times. I see no other way to take the Pope's message.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Benedict's Message to America

The Holy Father taped this video message in advance of his apostolic visit to the United States next week.

Mason Slidell

"We Haven't Turned Any Corners"

Some interesting testimony yesterday by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before two Senate committees. I was particularly glad to see some Senators more insistent about getting information from the American occupation offices in Baghdad that they are entitled to. Restoring the Congress as a co-equal branch of government one hearing at a time!

I was most disturbed by General Petraeus' response to a question from Senator Evan Bayh on the nature of the progress we have made in Iraq. Here is the General's response:
It's why I repeatedly noted that we haven't turned any corners, we haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.
What a damning indictment of this whole fiasco! We have been engaged in an occupation of Iraq for five years. Multinational Forces Iraq has lost over 4,000 American, British, Spanish and Polish lives, with another 30,000 physically and mentally wounded. The U.S. government has sent over $500 billion in both military and non-military spending. All this, and we have not turned ANY corners and have not seen ANY lights at the end of the tunnel.

The reason for this is fairly simple. The Bush administration has yet to acknowledge (at least publicly) that we are stuck in a civil war. We continue to support the Maliki government as if it were the voice of Iraq, but it is only one of a handful of factions who are engaged in a systematic campaign to force other factions into submission. Know wonder the Sunni insurgents and Muqtada al-Sadr's Madhi Army are trying to kill us, we are taking sides in their civil war!

I am not a proponent of total withdrawal because of the great damage a failed state in Iraq would do to the Middle East, likely resulting in a regional war between Saudi Arabia and Egypt against Iran that would have larger implications. But we should remove ourselves from the internal conflict between Iraqis until they decide to play nice and form a democratic government or some dictator is able to consolidate power. What that should look like is some sort of redeployment in Kuwait and Qatar with our continued ability to strike at al-Qaeda when necessary or stop any egregious activities among the factions.

What a horrible mess! Impeach Bush and Cheney for lying us into Iraq with WMD!

Mason Slidell

Monday, April 7, 2008

"In the Flesh I Shall See God"

As we continue to reflect on the resurrected flesh of Christ, I will be posting periodically on the resurrected wounded body of Christ. In the enfleshment of the resurrection lies the healing of our culture.
But nothing is able to be transformed into another except insofar as it recedes in some fashion from its form, because form makes something one, and so preceding the division of penetration [that is, the lover's penetration of the beloved] is another division by which the lover is separated from himself tending thereby into the beloved.
"Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God, something to be grasped at."
Because nothing recedes from itself unless dissolved from what holds it inside itself, just as a natural thing is not detached from its form unless the dispositions are dissolved by which the form is retained in the matter, so it must be that the lover is removed from the boundaries inside of which the lover is held and on account of this love is said to liquefy the heart, because a liquid is not contained by its boundaries (III Sent., d. 27, q. i, a. i, ad 4).
"And immediately blood and water flowed."

"Put your hand into my side."

Markel, SJ

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Some words from Benedict's reflection on grandparents
The church has always kept a particular attention to grandparents, recognizing their great richness in the human and social spheres, just as in the religious and spiritual ones....

Looking back grandparents had an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even in old age, this continues in their presence with their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, giving living testimony of concern, of sacrifice and of a daily giving of oneself without reserve. They are witnesses of a personal story and community that continues to live in their memories and their wisdom....

As regards the family, grandparents continue to be witnesses of unity, of solid values of faithfulness and that singular love from which faith and the joy of living flow.... In the face of the crisis of the family could it not be time to draw even more upon the presence and testimony of those -- grandparents -- who have a greater richness of values and experience? We couldn't, in fact, plan the future without recalling a past characterized by significant experiences and spiritual and moral points of reference. Thinking of grandparents, of their witness of love and faith to live, there come to mind the biblical figures of Abraham and Sara, Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, just like the elderly Simeon and Anna, or even Nicodemus: in every age, all of these recall for us how the Lord asks each to bring their own talents.
These beautiful reflections remind me of a great lacunae I see in present day American culture, namely, wise elders. Every great civilization turned to its elders for wisdom, for an expression of the meaning of the end, for a summary of the meaning of the journey that it was on the point of completing. Most great elders I have known had synthesized all of the complexities of life into a few simple lines. This was not because they no longer wanted to deal with life's challenges, but because they were able to see beyond these challenges to the underlying mystery that is life. I can think of my grandfather who summarized everything he had ever experienced with a simple reflection on "Divine Providence." Or a great spiritual director of mine in his nineties who's knowledge of life could be summarized in God's self-communication and generosity through each aspect of being. This is not to say that we who are young have the luxury of coming to the same short descriptions. Rather, we must also do the work of living life, of facing its challenges, in order to arrive at the same point as our elders. But what they do is offer at the end of life the knowledge that this all makes sense, and that there is a holistic vision beyond the apparent dualities and dichotomies of youth.

Yet in America we lack these days many great elders. Few things are more depressing to me than visiting elderly homes. One reason I realized for this was that they were hopeless. Most of the elders in these places had never synthesized life. They had never found meaning. They were simply living out the rest of their span of time playing bingo and Scrabble. This kind of hopelessness has a disastrous effect on the young, who see in old age not the pinnacle of wisdom, but all that they never want to arrive at. This has also contributed to a euthanasia society. Who wants cranky, depressed people around? Yet the Bible is rich with stories of deathbed advice. In their wisdom was discovered the vocation of the child. That was definitely true of me. I pray it become more and more true of the American journey.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bush the Leviathan

A Justice Department memo declassified today makes some really shocking claims about the President as Commander-in-Chief. According to John Yoo, Justice Department lawyer/paper-pusher, the position of Commander-in-Chief is only answerable to military structure. The Commander-in-Chief cannot be bound by civil laws or treaties in the exercise of said office. Therefore, any decision the Commander-in-Chief makes with regard to the treatment of enemy combatants is, by the nature of the position, completely legal and beyond the scope of check by Congress or the courts.

Now that is something you don't hear every day. The Commander-in-Chief is the Leviathan.

For more of Mr. Yoo's legal opinions, here is a brief exchange between him and Doug Cassel, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame:

Cassel: If the President deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?
Yoo: No treaty.
Cassel: Also no law by Congress, that is what you wrote in your August 2002 memo.
Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

Now isn't that something? A true dictatorship of relativism.

Mason Slidell

Marion's Last Word

Now that I've had my April fool's day fun yesterday, back to the third part and conclusion of Marion.

For Marion, the Bishop is the primary theologian, since he alone has the authority as the celebrant to go beyond the words as far as the Word. Only the bishop is in the place where the signifier, sign, and signified are overcome, where the Word speaks Himself. Thus, theology cannot break away from the Bishop, it can only be delegated from the Bishop to the theologian. To detach oneself from the bishop does away with the theological site of theology, the Eucharist. To do so cannot offer a “theological science” that is “neutral.”

When a theologian decides to move away from the bishop, two possibilities result: Either the theologian renounces aiming at the referent and indulges in scientific positivism toward theology; or he produces a new site of interpretation with a new referent at the cost of ideology. Lessings critique comes back over and over again, namely, that the main thing that Christianity offers is a positive content. Yet that is precisely what history cannot offer to us. So the original content of Christianity is hopelessly unavailable to us.

But for Marion in the true making of a theologian, the referent is not taught but encountered. “Only the saintly person knows whereof he speaks in theology, only he that a bishop delegates knows wherefrom he speaks.” This is why theology must be done on one's knees, specifically, in the liturgy, during the Eucharistic prayer. We see Balthasar's influence present here.

The Scriptures exceed the limits of the word. The text receives an “objective” imprint: inspiration, in the same way the disciples receive an “objective” imprint as its interpreters: apostleship. The “closure” of the canon refers to the excess of Scripture and the infinity of meaning already present in it. The closing of the "Apostolic Age" simply refers to the infinity of meaning already present within it. Yet present in that age is inspiration, or the "principle of endowment," as Walter Kasper calls it, and apostleship, or the "principle of reception." These principles are found in the Bishop and Scripture, intertwined hermeneutically in Tradition.

Many theologies contradict one another only inasmuch as many Eucharists do, when they lose their site. But none of these can attain to the original parousia. Only a second parousia can attain to that, for which we wait. The Eschatalogical is also present in Marion's synthesis, though only at the end.

He concludes: "We are infinitely free in theology: we find all already given, gained, available. It only remains to understand, to say, and to celebrate. So much freedom frightens us, deservedly.”

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Some Changes of Opinion

I have decided to change my views concerning female priesthood and homosexuality. Let me explain.

First, I have slowly grown to understand the ridiculousness of an all male priesthood. Just to enumerate a few brief reasons that I will flesh out in later posts:
1. The male priesthood is a cultural institution
2. It is heresy to believe that Christ's maleness had anything to do with his redemptive role or role as founder of the Church and of the priesthood
3. It is immoral to deny to someone something that they have the capacity to do naturally just as anyone else does
4. Gender is not fixed, and so to say that Christ, who knows all things, restricted the priesthood to "men" is meaningless
5. There is a long history of Mary spoken of by the saints as "priest" and "priestess"

Second, I have come to understand that natural law's restrictions of homosexual activity don't hold, nor do those in the Bible:
1. The holiness code in Exodus is not universal
2. Romans refers to a different question than the one we are asking now. There Paul is referring to Greek and Roman practices which did not include lifelong fidelity and agape love. Hermeneutics require that we not abstract an answer for a prior question and apply it to a new one. That is what the Church has been doing all along.
3. Natural law is not truly natural, since it not founded on all experience. What is counted as "natural" is just stylized performances of gender and heterosexual normativity.
4. Natural law is not natural because it denies the fact that for persons, homosexuality cannot be wrong. Why? If a dolphin began to have the capacity for speech and negation, we would baptize it right away. It would be considered a person, though not human. As a person, it would also be natural for it to engage in homosexual activity, as it does now, as an impersonal animal. Therefore, its status would be no different than that of human beings now who as persons also practice such activity, which is as natural to them as it is now for a dolphin.
5. Jesus was gay

Markel, SJ