Monday, June 30, 2008

More Trouble in the Anglican Communion

The plight of Anglicanism has reached a new point. As the New York Times reported several days ago, a group of primates in Jerusalem in an unprecedented week-long meeting, produced the Jerusalem Declaration, along with 14 points of doctrine that would carve out a new Province within the Anglican Communion. That is all available in an excellent article here. Ever since the Windsor report, the Anglican Communion has recognized four primary "instruments of unity." These include the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Lambeth Conference which will soon commence in July, first meeting in 1876; the Meeting of the Primates; and the Anglican Consultative Council. None of these are actually binding though, and as much as either the Right or the Left in the Anglican Communion may appeal, adherence to any of these is not required for actual membership in the Communion. Rowan Williams has no real power even to make people sit down, and not even Lambeth is binding in its decisions.

The issue that provoked this meeting in Jerusalem by over 1,000 delegates from Africa, Australia, South America, and India was, of course, homosexuality and the practice of ordaining homosexual persons, such as Gene Robinson, as bishops. All the main demoninations are going through this question these days. There is active debate in United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA, and Lutheran Church, all about the argument of ordaining practicing homosexuals. The African Methodist Church closed this issue in 2004, saying that any gay blessing would have people kicked out. Traditionally Evangelical churches such as Free Methodists, Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, and Pentecostalists, do not allow homosexual practicing people to be ordained. American Baptists make no issue, and interestingly the Quakers are fine with it.

Many have downplayed this new Declaration. Let us pray for the Anglican Communion as they continue to pray for guidance and fight what appears to be inevitable fragmentation.

Markel, SJ

Friday, June 27, 2008

GC 35: Decree 1

I will spend the next week commenting individually on the decrees of GC 35. All of the decrees can be found here. The document begins with Decree 1, "With Renewed Vigor and Zeal," the Congregations response to Benedict's letter sent previously. It truly is a wonderful letter, perhaps most exceptional for its extremely humble tone, and tone that many Jesuits throughout the world would do well to pray with and emulate. I will only pull out some small portions that I found especially interesting.
The Congregation first expresses its reason for writing new decrees, namely, "to provide guidance that will enhance and increase the spiritual and evangelical quality of our way of being and proceeding." It has become something of a habit now for the Society since GC 31 to write decrees at every subsequent Congregation, which have taken place roughly every ten years since 1965. This Congregation, like the others, also thought it necessary to write a few things. They are brief however, and much to the point. Initially I thought them unnecessary, but I have come to change that opinion for reasons I will express further on.

In paragraph 6, the Fathers acknowledge the affirmations given to the Congregation by the Pope:
6. With such strong words, the Pope definitively placed the future of our mission before us. This mission has been expressed with complete clarity and firmness: a defense and a proclamation of the faith, that we should explore new horizons and reach new social, cultural and religious frontiers, borderlands that, as Father Adolfo Nicolás related in his words to the Holy Father, can be places of conflict and tension that endanger our reputation, our peace, and our security. That is why we have been sensitive to the evocation of our Father Arrupe, whose proposal of service to refugees was mentioned by the Pope as "one of his last far-sighted intuitions."
As Jesuits, we are called to live on the frontiers at the heart of the Church, in tension often, and misunderstanding. Jesuit Refugee Services has been one of the best examples of this work, as the Pope names above. The document then continues to what I think is the meet of this decree, the response to Benedict's letter. Below are these two paragraphs:
14. We call each Jesuit to consider in the light of Decree 11 of the 34th General Congregation and the final speech of Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach to the Congregation of Procurators in September 2003, "the proper attitude of service in the Church", which should be ours. This means recognizing, with honesty to ourselves and before God, that some of our reactions and our attitudes have not always been expressed as our Institute demands of us: to be "men quite humble and prudent in Christ." With deep regret and conscious of our common responsibility as an apostolic body, we call on each Jesuit to help the Pope, with a resolutely constructive attitude, to create a spirit of "communion" so that the Church can make the Gospel of Christ heard in a world as complex and troubled as ours.
15. Recalling the Examen and asking the Lord for the grace of conversion, we ask each of our companions to examine his own way of living and working at “the new frontiers of our time." This examination will include the following: the demands of our mission "among the poor and with the poor;" our commitment to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises; our concern for the human and Christian formation of "the most diverse;" “that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God" about the " themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family." Each Jesuit is invited to acknowledge humbly his mistakes and faults, to ask the Lord's grace to help him live his mission and, if necessary, the grace of forgiveness.
These truly are remarkable paragraphs, if they are read seriously and lived out by individual Jesuits. Paragraph 14 honestly states that many Jesuits have not sought communion with the Church, have actively not desired to act with the Church. This is a deep and humble confession, acknowledging the failings of the Society and asking forgiveness. Paragraph 15 continues this confession in light of the Examen, asking not that Jesuits ask pardon for working at the margins and frontiers, but for how they have done so. The examination of conscience has four parts:

1. the demands of our mission "among the poor and with the poor;"
2. our commitment to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises;
3. our concern for the human and Christian formation of "the most diverse;"
4. “that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God" about the " themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family."

First, have we as Jesuits kept the service of the poor as a priority. In a society and Church even that has not done so, and that has continued to serve the comfortable, have we remained with Christ's favorites in voluntary poverty, living with them and working to remove the structures of sin that dominate them.

Second, do the Spiritual Exercises continue to influence all the ministry that we do with their emphasis on a personal love of Jesus Christ.

Third, do we serve the most diverse, the outcasts, as Jesus did, giving them good spiritual and human formation. Three goes closely with four, since how we offer formation to the most diverse is important. And so,

Fourth, in regards to sexual morality, marriage and the family, are we working with the Magisterium or causing confusion and dissension. Sadly, we are causing much dissension, which means we are often not offering good spiritual and human formation. The hot example of course is in regards to homosexuality. I know many Jesuits who will go to the gay pride parade this year in San Francisco, as they have gone to many around the country. No little confusion is caused by such actions, actions that betray that these Jesuits have not read and taken to heart the humble and prudent decrees written by the Fathers at GC 35. Pastoral care in this regard is difficult, and there is much research and study that must be done. However, GC 35 is clear that this cannot be done in a way to cause confusion within the Church. As I quoted from the beginning of this decree, its purpose is "to provide guidance that will enhance and increase the spiritual and evangelical quality of our way of being and proceeding." Let us take up this decree and obey it.

Markel, SJ

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Personalism and Property

Dorothy Day would often follow her quotations from Aquinas on the common good with one of her favorite quotations from St. Gertrude:
Property, the more common it is, the more holy it is.

Dorothy had a distinctively personalist approach to property, one that she had derived partly from the influence of Emmanuel Mounier, an important intellectual influence on Peter Maurin. The Zwick's summarize briefly Mounier's De la propriete capitaliste a la propriete humaine:
Mounier reiterates the classic view that property is a man's extension of himself. He notes that through the acquisition of property, the capitalist extends the sphere of his control. However, it is only a physical and not a personal extension of himself that occurs through his acquisition of property. He uses his property like a protective shell to make himself less vulnerable to the intrusion of a world which makes demands on the unprotected. By means of property the capitalist arranges for himself a spacious solipsism and becomes unavailable to the outside world.

On the other hand, true personal possession involves the use of goods not for self-protection, but for self-exposure. As an extension of the person, and not simply of the body, it facilitates communication and the possibility of making oneself present to others. Personal property is the extension of one's being, not simply of his having. It facilitates the personal act of self-donation and generosity.

Fr. Norris Clark, SJ, the great Thomistic-Personalist of our day who only recently passed away echoes this beautifully in his small book Person and Being. To be is to self-communicate, whether as a whole person, not just as a body, or as any part of creation, animate or inanimate. Dorothy regularly referenced Stenbeck's Grapes of Wrath, one of her favorite books that prompted her to drive cross country to observe the situation in California. In that great book Steinbeck writes:
The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not control. And when that crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips. No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men are what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had not prayers or curses.

The vision of the Catholic Worker was for a society in which every action of every human being was truly a human action, and not just an act of a human being, to use a medieval distinction. To borrow the image from above, a society in which every action was a crumbling of a hot clod, a feeling of one's work in a connection not just with the body but with the person. Such a society is still far distant.

Markel, SJ

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Duty of Delight

I've been gone for a while, out of commission, for that I apologize.  I've been reading quite a bit on Dorothy Day, both the great book out by the Zwick's on the spiritual and intellectual roots of the Catholic Worker movement and Dorothy's diaries, The Duty of Delight, which were recently edited by Robert Ellsberg. They are excellent, and I would recommend them for wonderful spiritual reading to anyone interested in or having a devotion to Dorothy Day.  They are especially rich with her own personal struggles and spiritual resolutions, things that resonate with the daily life of us normal people just trying to serve God, albeit probably each of us with out own "heroic" ideas.  Dorothy had plenty of those.  What is different is that she realized that those were useless without small daily repetition of small acts of prayer: Daily Mass, Office, Rosary, kind words and looks, Spiritual reading, etc.  She repeated frequently Peter Maurin's personalist commitment to self-organization.  It is not more authority that is needed, but commitment to personal growth.  It would be impossible to reproduce here the many great quotations from her diary.  They are 654 pages long, and I've been told that that is edited from 1400+.  Here is one small one though that has touched me in my seminary training. Maybe others can apply it to their own lives:
As I came down the street afterward a well dressed priest drove by in a big car.  Then I passed another -- also well dressed, comfortable... Then still another out in front of a most luxurious mansion, the parish house, playing with a dog on a leash.  All of them well fed, well housed, comfortable, caring for the safe people like themselves.  And where are the priests for the poor, the down and out, the sick in city hospitals, in jails.  It is the little of God's children who do not get cared for.  God help them and God help the priest who is caught in the bourgeois system and cannot get out.  
Dorothy does not just criticize, she recognizes that many priests and bishops are caught in a system they cannot escape from.  She mentions this also in the Long Loneliness.  Only with great struggle these days can many priests escape.  But it is possible.  The gate is narrow, but all is possible for God.  

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


There is obviously much to say to this article in the NY Times and this person, but I think most of us know what those things are. I would recommend again the movie "Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days." And that we pray for this guy. And that Christians do everything possible politically and socially to care for pregnant women. 

Repairing the Damage, Before Roe

Published: June 3, 2008

With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside.

When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe “bad old days.” Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.

I am a retired gynecologist, in my mid-80s. My early formal training in my specialty was spent in New York City, from 1948 to 1953, in two of the city’s large municipal hospitals.

There I saw and treated almost every complication of illegal abortion that one could conjure, done either by the patient herself or by an abortionist — often unknowing, unskilled and probably uncaring. Yet the patient never told us who did the work, or where and under what conditions it was performed. She was in dire need of our help to complete the process or, as frequently was the case, to correct what damage might have been done.

The patient also did not explain why she had attempted the abortion, and we did not ask. This was a decision she made for herself, and the reasons were hers alone. Yet this much was clear: The woman had put herself at total risk, and literally did not know whether she would live or die.

This, too, was clear: Her desperate need to terminate a pregnancy was the driving force behind the selection of any method available.

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger” — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.

We did not have ultrasound, CT scans or any of the now accepted radiology techniques. The woman was placed under anesthesia, and as we removed the metal piece we held our breath, because we could not tell whether the hanger had gone through the uterus into the abdominal cavity. Fortunately, in the cases I saw, it had not.

However, not simply coat hangers were used.

Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion — darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.

Another method that I did not encounter, but heard about from colleagues in other hospitals, was a soap solution forced through the cervical canal with a syringe. This could cause almost immediate death if a bubble in the solution entered a blood vessel and was transported to the heart.

The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Waldo L. Fielding was an obstetrician and gynecologist in Boston for 38 years. He is the author of “Pregnancy: The Best State of the Union” (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971).

Markel, SJ