Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cardinal Stafford Right On

On November 13, Cardinal Stafford, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, gave an address at Catholic University of America entitled “Being True with Body and Soul,” a phrase he later explains comes from the French Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac. Though some have described the address as being overdone or reactionary, I found it quite profound, and so have decided to take some time to comment on it. By the way, my dad put me onto the talk.

This I suppose will be my return after a little hiatus from blogging. Actually, it wasn’t a planned hiatus. Teaching high school is just a bit time consuming. I figure the new church year is as good a time to start again as any.

Stafford begins: “For 51 years of priestly ministry I have been attentive to res sacra in temporalibus in American culture, i.e., ‘to the element of the sacred in the temporal life of man’ or, in a more Heideggerian idiom, ‘to man as the sacred element in things.’” With that note, Stafford strikes a rather intellectual tone throughout his discourse, moving effortlessly along a wide spectrum of authors. Stafford proposes to cover three areas: First, “the narrow, calculative, mathematical mind and its manipulation of the humanum and, more specifically, of human sexuality since 1968;” Second, the response of the Church in Humane Vitae and later popes; Third, “Other Catholic and theological responses to what John Rawls calls the ‘embedding module’, namely the increasingly disenchanted world in which we work and pray.”

I found most interesting his analysis of the first, possibly because of Stafford’s apparent affinity for Heidegger which I share. He begins by describing the year 1968, the year of “America’s Suicide.” If that was the case, then 2008 is the year of “America’s exhaustion,” and maybe of the rest of the world as well. The reason he gives for this is primarily the pernicious and growing disregard for human life that has precipitously dominated American culture over the past 40 years. He writes:
“Yet honesty compels me to admit that this decision against human life is in historical continuity with the pragmatism on the part of the Fathers of the 1787 Constitutional Convention for the recognition of Black slavery and, following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in continuity with the same meanness toward Native Americans on the part of the politicians, entrepreneurs and settlers. The 1803 event was a meanness enshrined shortly in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.”
The 1973 decision of Roe vs. Wade simply amplified how we already think about the “other.” Republicans and Democrats alike have been guilty in this matter since it appears to Stafford to be an American problem.

He describes the problem in modern times as one of the manipulation of human life by various “strategies of power.” If he sounds a little like a post-modern Foucoultian, well, he may be in this regard. He argues that “Politics in turn becomes an arena for contention among rival techniques,” leading to “the creation of a worldwide colossus, America’s military…Freedom itself has been reduced to power.”

Stafford seems to primarily blame America’s philosophical heritage of pragmatism because by it, “the good has been drained of ontological content.” There is no good as such, but only goods to be pursued equally by all according to their preference. For Britain, the good is to become the world’s leader in embryonic stem cell research, to be the “scientific midwives of this cultural monstrosity.” In the United States, as if fighting two wars was not enough along with the perpetuation of the colossus of American military might, “Obama has co-sponsored a bill….. that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed.”

The problem as Stafford reads it is a “technological mind-set.” He again turns to Heidegger for explanation in a long quotation:
“Techne can only cooperate with phusis, can more or less expedite the cure; but as techne it can never replace phusis and itself become the arche of health itself. This could happen only if life as such were to become a ‘’technically’ producible artifact. However, at that very moment there would also no longer be such a thing as health, any more than there would be birth and death. Sometimes it seems as if modern humanity is rushing headlong toward this goal of producing itself technologically. If humanity achieves this, it will have exploded itself, i.e., its essence qua subjectivity, into thin air, into a region where the absolutely meaningless is valued as the one and only ‘meaning’ and where preserving this value appears as the human ‘domination’ of the globe. ‘Subjectivity’ is not overcome in this way but merely ‘tranquilized’ in the ‘eternal progress’ of a Chinese-life ‘constancy.’ This is the most extreme nonessence in relation to phusis-ousia.”
While hard to decipher, Heidegger hits the nail on the head. Techne can never be phusis, nature. It can only help or aid it according to its own potentialities for growth and development. But techne is no longer satisfied to simply dominate nature qua non-human creation. That has almost exhaustively been done it seems. No, techne now must also dominate subjectivity, dissolving it into thin air. Of course subjectivity in this case does not cease to exist, but simply becomes statically tranquilized by techne. It rolls along in a daze as techne absorbs and destroys all around it, the recent financial crisis being a case in point. Nature – including human subjectivity – can only be nature, phusis, properly when directed toward its own intrinsic ends. Otherwise nature is simply power, and subjectivity is no longer freedom. Or, Freedom is Power if there is no Good. American pragmatism is no more than a philosophy of power-technique.

More to come later as to the solution. So far I think the diagnosis by Stafford is pretty spot on.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Open Letter

From Henry Karlson over at Vox Nova:

President-elect Barack Obama

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today’s world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one’s opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one’s own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.’”

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens. On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice. One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.

If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush’s executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


Mason Slidell

Thursday, November 6, 2008


From Campaign Carl

Mason Slidell

Election Reflections

Highlights from our election:

1) Racism is our national disease. No one can deny the progress Americans have made toward racial harmony, but at the same time, no one can claim that the subtle racism found in white privilege no longer exists. Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency is a brilliant example of what it means to be an American. We are less of an ethnic or national group, but a diverse people united by the common principle of honor for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we consider other countries with substantial racial or ethnic minorities, could we imagine them electing a minority chief executive? What is the likelihood of a French Algerian becoming President of France or a British Pakistani as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Despite our original sin of slavery, our historical evolution has continued to broaden our belief that all men are created equal. That belief is potent. Our conscientious striving to be ever truer to that belief made Tuesday night possible

2) More pro-life Democrats will serve in Congress than ever before. Four more pro-life Democrats were elected to the House of Representatives - Bobby Bright of Alabama, Parker Griffith of Alabama, Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania and Steve Driehaus of Ohio - bringing the total number to 40. As the national Democratic Party hungered after a larger majority in Congress, they were forced to embrace pro-life candidates to run among socially conservative Catholics and Protestants in the South and Midwest and that is a gain for all who participate in the struggle for life. I hope these pro-life Democrats will help moderate their radical pro-abortion colleagues in the Democratic caucus.

Some concerns that arise from our election:

1) The continued struggle for legal recognition of the unborn is made harder with the election of Barack Obama and the Congressional leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The possibility that frightens me the most is the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, which would overturn state laws that have chipped away little by little at unfettered access to abortion and force Medicaid to cover abortion services. Thankfully, the Democrats did not reach a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but I call on pro-life activists to avoid compliancy, as there are three Republican Senators - Susan Collins of Maine, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania - who are pro-abortion. We must continue to be vigilant of Democrats and Republicans. Our sojourn continues and I hope we all become more aware of the need to tackle the tougher challenge of evangelizing our culture with as much gusto as we put into political efforts.

2) One party government scares me. And it should scare you too. We do not have to go back very far to see the corruption and decadence that one party rule breeds. From 2001 to 2007, our Republic was greatly devalued as checks and balances broke down. We faced a Republican monolith in the White House and Congress that promoted cynicism and aggressive partisanship. We were lied to and spied on with abandon and the Republican machine fed itself on greed and hubris. I fear this will happen again under the new regime, but I will give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt - for now.

Mason Slidell

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pulling the Lever for Ron Paul

The two year campaign ends tomorrow. I have already voted here in my home state of Louisiana during the early voting period. Here in Louisiana, the ballot access laws are looser than other states, giving third party and independent candidates the opportunity to get on the ballot without overly burdensome requirements.

Among those on the ballot here is Ron Paul, who was placed on the ballot by a group called the Louisiana Taxpayers Party. I proudly voted for him.

My reasons are straightforward:
1) Ron Paul is pro-life.
2) Ron Paul supports a foreign policy of non-intervention and supports international friendship over aggression.
3) Ron Paul supports serious federal spending cuts and reasonable monetary policies based on gold and silver.
4) Ron Paul supports ending government spying through the PATRIOT Act, the REAL ID Act and domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency and ending military internment at Guantanamo Bay.

There are two major positions of Ron Paul I take issue with. I oppose his lack of support for universal health care coverage and his support for free trade. In our current political environment however, I voted for Ron Paul because of his simple devotion to the principles of our Constitution. While his positions may seem radical to some, they have a much firmer foundation in our constitutional history than our "serious," "mainstream" candidates.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Christians must continue to be people of prayer active in the public square. As Cardinal Jean Danielou, S.J. put so well in his book Prayer as a Political Problem: "There can be no radical division between civilization and what belongs to the interior being of man; there must be a dialogue between prayer and the pursuit and realization of public policy. In other words, there can be no civilization where prayer is not its representative expression."

Mason Slidell

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"To shed them because Love is not loved"

Sylvester Tan, currently in philosophy at the University of Toronto, a member of the Southern Province of the Society of Jesus, offers the following as a reflection on the feast of All Saints and in lieu of the death of two Jesuits in Moscow.
Today the Church celebrates all of her saints. It is a great feast—in heaven and on earth. Heaven inclines towards us: is it made up of the stuff that the saints have brought to heaven with them from earth. The rose-petals that St Thérèse of Lisieux promises to rain from heaven after her death are the ones that she brought up to heaven with her from the simple little life that she lived. We have all of eternity before us, but we are given only one life that can be brought with us into that eternity. This should make us especially aware—as Ignatius was—of the importance of the life that we have been given. Everything that we do in time has an effect on eternity.

On the flipside, from eternity the saints reach out to us today by means of their earthly lives—the way Thérèse does with her rose-petals—and our lives are changed by theirs. Especially here at the mass, we should be particularly conscient of this. Along with the Lord, the saints are here, not only in spirit, but also in this room, right now. As Christians, we are called to live in heaven on the earth. But today we are tempted to separate heaven and earth in a way that is alien both to our scriptures and to our Catholic tradition. Heaven comes to us nowhere else but in the concrete realities of the earth and yet—irony of ironies—we often cannot see heaven because we can see nothing more than the earth in what we are given. We have lost a good part of our sense of Providence. And we are blind to a good part of our Church if our Church is made up of only of those whom we can see. Alongside us in the Church are the saints—in fact, they are the Church par excellence. To understand what Church is, we must also look to them, and realize that even—perhaps especially—in the concrete circumstances of our lives, they are there. Like the Lord, they too can be tough on us. We should not be surprised if Ignatius is no less tough on us now than he was to his companions in life. But he wants to show us that we ought not take the first place: that place belongs to the Lord. If the Society were ever to tire of Ignatius and just toss him aside, it would cease to be the Society of Jesus. Just so, our understanding of the Church is incomplete if it does not recognise that we walk together with all the saints, even today.

What the saints want us to see is how the Lord shines through them. The saints never draw attention to themselves, except insofar as doing so would draw our eyes to our Lord. In the same way, their thoughts do not revolve around their own person, but around the Lord. They love him. What kind of spouse spends all of his time being worried about whether he is a good spouse without hardly giving a second thought to the one he loves? A very self-centred one. We want to do well and serve the Lord and so on, but we end up focusing on ourselves and not the Lord. If being a saint means being perfect the way Michaelangelo's David is perfect, then the Lord does not want us to be saints! But that is not what it is to be a saint.

What is it, then, to be a saint? It is to stop being the centre of your own attention so that the Lord can take the place in your heart that can never belong to the Beloved if it is already taken up by oneself. It is to stop shedding tears because you are not perfect and to begin to shed them because Love is not loved. It is to stand in awe before the Lord and praise him for his greatness. Where temptation is too great for us and we do fall, it is not to hide from God as Adam does in the garden, but to run to him in tears and tell him that we are sorry, and then, to go on with our lives, trusting that if we make an effort to do the right thing, then Jesus will help us to be like him in the way that he wishes, in his own time—but that we are not there yet. We have not arrived. None of the saints have ever arrived. A struggle yet awaits us, and if we are following the Lord, then we are already in the midst of it. It is the struggle to do that which is simple, but not necessarily easy. Nothing could be simpler than the Beatitudes. And yet living that beatitude is nothing short of a miracle.

After having seen the great multitude of those who had been sealed in the name of the Lamb, John is told by one of the elders: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The Christian life is an ordeal: Christ himself promises no less, and we do no one any favours by trying to run away from that fact. The savage murder of our brothers in Moscow offers us a brutal reminder of this. How do we react to the death of our confrères? We are saddened naturally, and perhaps a bit angry. Perhaps we look for someone to blame, or perhaps we indict the world of the great evils of intolerance and injustice. In all this, our reaction is no different from that of those who do not know Christ. And yet, when the early Jesuits ran the English college in Rome in the 16th century, did they not gather all of the seminarians together in the chapel to thank God and praise his name by singing a Te Deum whenever one of their own was martyred? We are called to see martyrdom as a great gift: not in the way that suicide bombers see it —as a ticket to heaven—but as something far more profound.

We are to work for a more just society without letting a merely human view of justice that might keep us from love. It is only through the spilling of our own blood that true justice can come about. I am a Christian, because some Christian, in a time and place long forgotten, let himself be stuck-down by one of my ancestors. This is true, not only for my Vietnamese forebears, but also for my Frankish ones. It was a grace to have been the one who struck down that Christian, because, for having struck him down, that person tasted—and was converted—to the Love that let itself be struck down. Even in my own life there are those who turned the other cheek when I struck them down, and through their suffering I discovered love. This is an aspect of the redemption that Georges Rouault depicts in plate forty-seven of his Miserere collection: the inscription is, “The just, like sandalwood, perfumes the axe that strikes it.”

The blood that is spilled ultimately is not our own: it is Christ's blood spilled out for us. Though we do indeed crucify the Lord, he does not hold this against us, but rather, he loves us all the more for having suffered for us. So let not our blood be held against those who spill it, but may it rather be our gift of love to them. For they do not take our lives from us, we give it to them in the grace of the one who gave us life through his own blood.

To live in this way calls for profound liberty and humility. It calls for the recognition that, in a sense, the mission to which we are called—which is absolutely essential—is also unimportant. For when all is said and done and we have bathed our robes with the blood of the lamb that pours forth from our own slain bodies, then our reward will be precisely that of not being in the centre. It will be to be part of the great multitude in which each one surrenders the palm and the crown that he has been given in order to glorify the lamb that was slain. Each one in that crowd will have fought and conquered—with God's help and grace—that spirit within himself that would have placed himself instead of the Lord at the centre of his own heart If this is not what we want, then we should at least ask ourselves whether our hearts are truly free to desire it. If we discover that they are not, then let us ask the Lord for the freedom to desire nothing less. In doing so we are never alone, for the Lord is with us—and with him, we walk in the midst of a great multitude. May we come to know and love the saints among whom we walk, and may we be borne by their prayers. Amen.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ