Monday, April 27, 2009

The Best Response to Father Jenkins

From Mary Ann Glendon
Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.

Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.

First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.

Yours Very Truly,
Mary Ann Glendon
Mason Slidell

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Pauline Understanding of the Cross in Galatians 2: Part II

2:17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.

Paul is saying here that, by endeavoring to be justified in Christ, all Jews by Nature now find themselves to be Sinners. Paul and Peter are now Sinners. Once they leave the protective covering of the Law, once they cross the dividing wall between Sinners and Jews by Nature, they themselves become Sinners. But, if by no longer following the Law by following Christ, and so are now said by all good Jews to be Sinners, was it Christ then who was an “agent of sin” by making them to be sinners, by destroying the wall dividing Jews by Nature and Sinners from the Gentiles? NO! But, once I’m over the wall, once I no longer trust the Law, I can no longer build it up again. If I do so, if I rebuild the Law dividing Sinners from Jews, then I am now permanently a Sinner, since I have broken the Law by leaving its protection.

In other words, Paul is telling Peter and other Jews, once you leave the protection of being a Jew by Nature in order to follow Christ, in the eyes of all good Jews, you are now a Sinner from the Gentiles, with no hope at all of salvation. You are a “sinner.” But only from their perspective. You are now in Christ. But you can’t go back. You can’t do both. If you try to rebuild the wall like Peter did again between Jews and Sinners and try to put yourself back on the side of Jews, you are a Sinner, since you have already transgressed the Law. You can’t just go back.

2:19 For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. 20. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.

A Jew who has not believed is now going to look at someone like Paul and say that Christ was an “agent of sin” for Paul, that Christ caused Paul to become a Sinner, outside the Law. Paul is therefore telling Peter and all other Jews: It is all or nothing. You can’t rebuild the wall of separation spoken about in Ephesians 2:14, since if you do, you will find yourself on the side of the Sinners from the Gentiles. You have to die to the Law, just as Christ died to the Law, since he became a curse by hanging on a tree, as Paul explains later in Galatians 3:13. Christ died to the Law by becoming cursed by the Law. The Law was its own undoing; by cursing, it blessed. Christ died to the law, and thereby found himself to be a “sinner among the gentiles.” But he therefore lived for his Father, “lived for God.” We too must go through the same process, dying to the Law with its restrictive claims to salvation.

Yet I cannot “die to the law,” since I cannot do what Jesus did, taking upon myself the curse of the law and hanging from a tree. The only way I can be on the other side of the Law and not be a Sinner is to be in Christ. That is the only way. Or else I am just a Sinner. I have to now live in a new place, and that is in Christ. I have to be crucified in his crucifixion, and allow him to live in me, or else I am just a Sinner. He is the only one who actually died and took the curse, so he must now live in me. Only thus can I also die. All I have left as a Jew outside the Law – now considered a “sinner from the Gentiles” by all law-abiding Jews – is faith in Christ. That is now my only hope for salvation.

By dying, Christ undid the law. Now, if justification is through the law, then Christ died in vain, since it can still bring salvation. But, says Paul to Peter, the law can no longer fulfill that function. As he says later in 3:24, the Law was our babysitter until Christ should come. Now, it has no function. You can’t go back to it after you have left it. You can’t go back to the babysitter when the parents come home. The Cross of Christ has replaced the Torah and all of its works. Yet only Christ can actually die to the Law by taking the curse upon himself. Therefore, for me to find salvation, he must live in me.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Pauline Understanding of the Cross in Galatians 2: Part I

Galatians 2:11-21: Some notes on the logical flow of the argument
2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.
In Acts 10, Peter has a vision in which he is told to eat unclean food for a Jew, which he does after objecting. He then goes to the house of Cornelius and explains himself to a pious Gentile, how God commanded him to eat unclean food, since nothing is unclean to God. Now he backs down from the personal vision he received. He is possibly afraid for his life, after fleeing Jerusalem. Or just plain hypocrisy. There was at the time a huge Jewish population in Jerusalem.

There are levels of “Judaizing” for a Gentile:

• Keeping the Sabbath
• Table-fellowship, or eating together
• Moral obligations
• Rejecting idolatry
• Circumcision, the apex of becoming a Jew and symbolizing the keeping of the entire law

These five are the process by which a Gentile would Judaize, or become a keeper of the Law.
2:14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.
Here, “living like a Jew” refers not to circumcision, but to table-fellowship. Peter is not living like a Jew when he shares the table with Gentiles, so how can he require Gentiles to live like Jews? Paul accuses Peter here of forcing Gentiles to Judaize, after he has not obeyed the precepts of the law himself. Part of this may also be that Gentile wine was forbidden to Jews, which Peter may have been partaking of.

Paul sets up an important dichotomy that was common at the time between “Jews by birth” or by nature, and “Sinners from the Gentiles.” This was how the Jews divided up the world. You had two kinds of people: Jews by nature, who lived under the law, and Sinners, which included all who were outside the law. They were usually simply called “sinners,” or sometimes, “sinners from the Gentiles.” “Sinners from the Gentiles” had no hope of salvation, as opposed to Jewish sinners, who could turn back to the Torah and find salvation again. A “sinner” usually refers to anyone who is not a good covenantal Jew, anyone outside the covenant.

Paul makes the distinction between Sinners – all those outside the covenant, who don’t keep the whole law – and Jews by Nature – those who keep the whole law and live under the covenant. That was the normal view. Jews are “righteous;” Gentiles are “Sinners.” The Law is what separates Jews from Sinners. However, once the wall that is the Law is broken down, Peter and Paul now become “sinners.” If there is no law, according to all good Jews, all are now “sinners,” since the Law alone keeps people from being “sinners.” That is what sets up the next few verses.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Alexamenos Sabete Theon

Don't ever forget this picture. Don't ever forget that this is the very first piece of Christian art, a taunt, graffiti, a mockery. "Alexamenos sabete theon," it says, "Alexamenos worships his God." Probably from 1st century AD, a playground bully makes fun of little Alexamenos for worshiping a crucified God. What could be more ridiculous? He is right. It is quite ridiculous. Nor should we ever forget.

But it is not only this picture that we should never forget. We shouldn't forget Alexamenos. He, a little boy, does better than all the Apostles except for John. He remains at the feet of Christ. In his daily life, in the playground. He was not willing to deny his God in a Roman playground. He held firm.

We must learn from him. We must do better than the Apostles. Let me repeat. We must do better than the Apostles. Jesus continues to look down from his cross. He looks down and he sees abortion, murder along the border of Juarez and around the world, starvation. He sees his people on the cross. But as he looks from the cross with these people, does he see us with him? Have all his apostles fled? Did they all opt for the easier option? Suburban Christianity, easy Catholicism? Did they opt for compromise instead? Have we fled the cross? Or will we stand there and remain at Christ's feet, no matter how that looks, what that means for us?

We must do better than the Apostles. We must; the world depends on it. We must imitate, not Peter but Alexamenos. In his playground, he stood firm. Will I stand firm. Or will the sufferers of this world look down from their crosses and see none of use standing there beneath, waiting, weeping, loving, taking them down from the cross when their ghosts have expired. Most of us experience Good Friday and Holy Saturday only once a year. They experience it every day of the year. The tabernacle is empty. God is dead and gone. And so we must bring him there, into their lives, into the empty tabernacle of the world that does not even realize that he is gone, does not realize that the sacramental presence of God has been stripped from its altars, and what is left are Nietzschean sepulchres.

Let us not forget this picture. It is what our Christian lives are all about.

"This crown, my Lord, a token
no, more, my self-will broken
and surrendered to your kingly grace."
Mockery? Yes, and No, as they recall
my words, tumbling rashly, mixed with gall
and thrown into his face.

Did I know, young squire; desiring only his lance
to carry; a young James or John seeking to enhance
his position with the king?
No I, pride-ruled, my will in hand
heeding not my Master's meek command
fixed on his brow this ring.

Now I watch; seems no victor's wreath
this band of torture, piercing crown beneath
Ah, now wrenched free
these tears, shed, bled in water dyed red
where he is mixed with me. And I? I bend low and kiss this noble head.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

John's Theology of the Feet

In Graham Greene's The Comedians, Mr. Brown comments to his secret affair accomplice that "there is no theology in this body," or something to that effect.  He then goes on to uncover her naked in bed and to quote to her lines he remembers by heart from the Song of Songs (taught to him by Jesuits, he informs us).  It is a great moment of irony in which he refuses to equate his sexual lust with any everlasting significance while recognizing in the beauty of her body something of the mysteries of God.  

These last few days, we have done precisely the same thing, though in a very different way.  We have contemplated a body, many parts, to be precise.  And the ones that I want to examine are the feet, the feet of Christ.  There is something profound about Christ's feet that causes great devotion.  I can remember as a child and teenager that my favorite station of the cross, the one that I would linger over the longest, was "Jesus is nailed to the cross."  The way of the cross by Alphonsus Liguori leads the one praying to beg: "Nail my heart to your feet."  That moved me greatly.  At his feet I could receive the blood of Jesus.  It could flow into me and give me new life, replacing my blood with his.   Ignatius invites us to pray at the feet of the cross and to meditate on the meaning of his death.  Because there at his feet, so much can happen.  

John's gospel gives us a theology of feet.  Sounds funny, I know, but if you look in John's gospel, the use of the word "feet" is very significant.  At least I think it is, I don't know anyone else who says it is.  But I say it is.  It occurs 13 times I think, but only in chapters 11-13, the center of the whole gospel and the transition point into the Passion.  First, in John 11:2, Mary of Bethany is mentioned as the one who anointed the feet of Jesus.  This sets us up for what Jesus will do for Lazarus, prefiguring his death and resurrection.  Then, when Jesus raises Lazarus, it says that Jesus tells those standing near to unwrap his hands, his feet, and his face.  In other words, the location of the wounds of Christ.  Lazarus prefigures the offering of Jesus.  

Move to chapter 12, and Mary anoints Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair.  She performs this great act of service before Jesus does in chapter 13.  We all know about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  It was a service that not even slaves were expected to have to do.  But there is an ascending theology going on.  First, Jesus commands that Lazarus' feet be unwrapped, a symbol of what he came to do for us, raising us from death to life.  Then, Mary imitates this action of Jesus by doing it for him, since he had done it for her brother.  She is showing her gratitude.  As a disciple, she understands that the actions of Jesus are to be imitated.  He unwrapped her brother's feet, so she washes his feet.  And then in chapter 13, Jesus washes his disciples' feet.  

There is always an interesting parallel going on between Peter and Judas.  We know about it during the Passion:  Both betray Jesus, but one asks forgiveness and doesn't despair.  But it begins much earlier.  When Mary anoints Jesus' feet, they are at table, just as they will be in chapter 13.  Mary washes Jesus' feet.  Judas objects, just as Peter will do in the next chapter.  In other words, Mary is light years ahead of the other disciples.  She understands what the feet are all about.  They are a symbol of service, of giving up one's life for another.  And so Judas objects, as we would expect.  He doesn't want to be that kind of disciple.  He doesn't want that kind of master, who expects feet washing from his disciples.  So he objects on principle.  When Jesus stands up at table, he is doing the exact thing that Mary had just done.  It is an incarnational movement.  He stands up from the eternal banquet, puts off his robe of divinity, puts on the towel of humanity, and bends low to wash feet.

Peter objects.   This is not what his Lord should do.  Just as Judas objected, now Peter objects to the exact same thing.  Did Jesus get the idea from Mary?  I think rather that when Jesus unwrapped the feet of her brother, Mary understood.  It clicked for her, what this Jesus thing was all about.  It is about raising from death to life.  Jesus unwrapped her brother's feet, setting him free, performing the act of service that would give him a new life.  And so when she perfumes Jesus' feet, Jesus understands what she is doing: preparing him for his own burial and resurrection.  She understands the pattern.  

But Peter doesn't, and so he objects.  And Jesus makes it clear that without our feet washed by him, we have no part in him.  Peter then asks for his whole body to be washed, but Jesus once again lets him know that he is missing the point.  It is not about being washed, it is about the feet.  "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over." Being bathed or not bathed is not the issue, for even those who have bathed need their feet washed.  No matter how clean you are, how moral, how law-abiding, how perfect, unless Jesus washes your feet, you have no part in him.  You need Jesus.  You need his service.  You need his purification in the filthiest, lowliest part of your body, or you have no place in his kingdom. That is where he looks, at your feet.  Even the lowliest part of yourself must be incorporated into the kenotic structure of the Christ event, or you have no part in Jesus.

This is his model for us.  Go to the dirtiest depths of each person you meet, and wash that part. Offer Christ.  Put on the towel of Christ, bend down, and get washing.  Or else you are not any disciple of his.  

This is John's theology of the feet.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tolstoy on Women

I've been reading Tolstoy short stories now for a while (I know, I didn't post that under the What I'm Reading section. I'm a fraud). I found this remarkable segment in The Kreutzer Sonata. I have a very old translation, and what I found interesting is that most online translations in English do a massive editing job of the text. I was going to highlight the parts that are removed by most modern translations, but they are too numerous. Also, most use inclusive language that makes this text almost impossible to recognize as the same one. It took me a while to find this old translation by Aylmer Maude online. Of course, I think that Tolstoy's Calvinist tendencies betray him a bit here and he goes overboard. Nevertheless, I won't edit the text so that you can read it and think what you want. Why should I tell you what is good and bad about it?
The education of women will always correspond to men's opinion about them. Don't we know how men regard women: Wein, Weib und Gesang, and what the poets say in their verses? Take all poetry, all pictures and sculpture, beginning with love poems and the nude Venuses and Phrynes, and you will see that woman is an instrument of enjoyment; she is so on the Truba and the Grachevka, and also at the Court balls. And note the devil's cunning: if they are here for enjoyment and pleasure, let it be known that it is pleasure and that woman is a sweet morsel. But no, first the knights-errant declare that they worship women (worship her, and yet regard her as an instrument of enjoyment), and now people assure us that they respect women. Some give up their places to her, pick up her handkerchief; others acknowledge her right to occupy all positions and to take part in the government, and so on.

They do all that, but their outlook on her remains the same. She is a means of enjoyment. Her body is a means of enjoyment. And she knows this. It is just as it is with slavery. Slavery, you know, is nothing else than the exploitation by some of the unwilling labor of many. Therefore to get rid of slavery it is necessary that people should not wish to profit by the forced labor of others and should consider it a sin and a shame. But they go and abolish the external form of slavery and arrange so that one can no longer buy and sell slaves, and they imagine and assure themselves that slavery no longer exists, and do not see or wish to see that it does, because people still want and consider it good and right to exploit the labor of others, and as long as they consider that good, there will always be people stronger or more cunning than others who will succeed in doing it. So it is with the emancipation of woman: the enslavement of woman lies simply in the fact that people desire and think it good, to avail themselves of her as a tool of enjoyment. Well, and they liberate woman, give her all sorts of rights equal to man, but continue to regard her as an instrument of enjoyment, and so educate her in childhood and afterwards by public opinion. and there she is, still the same humiliated and depraved slave, and the man still a depraved slave- owner.

They emancipate women in universities and in law courts, but continue to regard her as an object of enjoyment. Teach her, as she is taught among us, to regard herself as such, and she will always remain an inferior being. Either with the help of those scoundrels the doctors she will prevent the conception of offspring -- that is, will be a complete prostitute, lowering herself not to the level of an animal but to the level of a thing -- or she will be what the majority of women are, mentally diseased, hysterical, unhappy, and lacking capacity for spiritual development. High schools and universities cannot alter that. It can only be changed by a change in men's outlook on women and women's way of regarding themselves.
I find this text remarkable because of how it addresses so many issues: from women's liberation, to contraception, to the human libido dominandi, to questions about women's alterity. The primary question it seems to me of the contemporary women's movement is the question that Jacques Lacan asked once: Is there such a thing as 'woman'. Or, is she really only a projection of man. I also find it interesting that this question dominated both the mind of John Paul II, and most constructivist feminists. What exactly is the genius of women? Can she be seen for herself? Can she truly appear?

Unlike most feminists, I do not have a problem with the language of complementarity, as long as it is used carefully. For example, in Genesis 2, when the woman is called the "helpmate" of the man, the word used is one that in most other places in the Bible is applied to God. God helps Israel just as woman helps man. Does this flip on its head the symbolism of Israel as a wife and God as a husband that is found in other OT texts and that is used by Paul in Ephesians 5? I don't know. I don't think so. But it does temper it a bit. Remember, in this text in Genesis 2, a text which has been used in the past as weapon against women, man actually clings to women, because she is his helper, just as Israel must cling to God in faith and trust since he is Israel's helper. Women are only condemned to yearn for man as a curse of sin. Anyway, I figured out would get this out of the way before we move into Holy Week and all of those rich themes as material for reflection.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Gay Marriage in the Heartland

I pick out some quotes from the opinion, Varnum, et al. v. Polk County, which was issued by the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously. As these arguments are not being made by easy-to-target progressives from the coasts, I would like to know the thoughts of anyone regarding whether or not this shift from the coasts to the heartland changes the debate.
The County aruges that same-sex marriage ban promotes the "integrity of traditional marriage" by "maintaing the historical and traditional marriage norm as between a man and a woman." This argument is straightforward and has superficial appeal. A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protection purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged...

We begin with the County's argument that the goal of the same-sex marriage ban is to ensure children will be raised only in the optimal milieu [of one father and one mother]. In pursuit of this objective, the statutory exclusion of gay and lesbian people is both under-inclusive and over-inclusive. The civil marriage statute is under-inclusive because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of parents - such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support and violent felons - that are undeniably less than optimal parents. Such under-inclusion tends to demonstrate that the sexual orientation-based classification is grounded in prejudice or overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities or preferences of gay and lesbian people, rather than having a substantial relationship to some important objective. The ban on same-sex marriage is substantially over-inclusive because not all same-sex couples choose to raise children. Yet, the marriage statute denies civil marriage to all gay and lesbian people in order to discourage the limited number of same-sex couples who desire to raise children. In doing so, the Legislature includes a consequential number of "individuals within the statute's purview who are not afflicted with the evil the statute seeks to remedy" Conway, 932 A.2d at 649...

A suggested rationale supporting the maintaing statute is "promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships." While the institution of civil marriage likely encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships, we must evaluate whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships. The County offers no reasons that it does and we can find none. The stability of opposite-sex relationships is an important governmental interest, bu the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is not substantially related to that objective...

Now that we have addressed and rejected each specific interest advanced by the County to justify the classification drawn under the statute, we consider the reason for the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the County: religious opposition to same-sex marriage. The County's silence reflects, we believe, its understanding this reason cannot, under our Iowa Constitution, be used to justify a ban on same-sex marriage...
Mason Slidell

Son of God, We Draw Near

This is not the greatest video, but I've always loved this song by Sufjan Stevens.  It's called Transfiguration, and though I missed the date of the Transfiguration, I thought that it would go well with the theme of Palm Sunday.  Look up the lyrics if you get a chance; well worth it.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ