Friday, May 29, 2009

Learning from Pier Giorgio

I've been preparing for a backpacking retreat that I'm leading this weekend. I've called it the Verso L'Alto retreat. The title is taken from picture of Pier Giorgio Frassati rock climbing on which he wrote these words, translated "to the heights." The idea is to take these young men, seniors, into the mountains, away from the city and its temptations toward mediocrity, in order to offer them Pier Giorgio as a model for holiness. While preparing my talks, I re-read the biography written by his sister Luciana titled "A Man of the Beatitudes." It is an easy read, but very profound. I selected quotes out of it to use in the talks, and I thought I would post them here for you. They are divided into sections by theme, with the page listings below. These page numbers will work if you have the Ignatius press version of the book.

The Mountains

“When one goes into the mountains one should sort out one’s conscience, because one never knows if one will come home. But with all this I am not afraid, and thus I am keener than ever to climb mountains, reach the most difficult peaks, feel the pure joy that is only to be had in the mountains.”
Giorgio, 100

Pier Giorgio could not fail to love the mountains; for him they were an amusement in the Lord, rather than a distraction from the Lord…. The meaning is clear: purification, ascent…. He knew how damaging the city and idleness are to the young. He encouraged them, saying: “Learn to be stronger in spirit than in your muscles.”
Luciana, 131-132

“Every day, my love for the mountains grows more and more. If my studies permitted, I’d spend whole days in the mountains contemplating the Creator’s greatness in that pure air.”
Giorgio, 132

That winter, in his new mountain costume, he seemed forged in bronze. Now he looked much smaller, thinner, tired. I thought it was the exams, the summer, but he was already beginning to detach himself from us. “You are pale, Frassati!” “I need the mountains!” he said. Yes, to go up high and not with us.
Clementina Luotto, 167

I think the meaning is clear, as Luciana tells us, for Pier's love for the mountains: purification and ascent.
The Meaning of Religion
Frassati is a Christian, simply and in an absolutely spontaneous way, as if it were something spontaneous for everybody. He has the strength and courage to be what he is, not from opposition to his parents’ generation, not from a prognosis and diagnosis of the culture of the time, or some such idea, but from the Christian reality itself: that God is, that what sustains us is prayer, that the Eucharist nourishes what is eternal in us, that all people are brothers and sisters.
Karl Rahner, 16

“As long as faith gives me strength, I am happy. Any Catholic can’t help but be happy. Sadness should be banned from Catholic souls. Pain is not sadness, which is a disease worse than any other. This disease is nearly always caused by atheism, but the end we are created for shows us the way, which may be full of thorns but is not sad.”
Giorgio, 135

He thought that religion, being love, should exclude everything that smacked of mere duty.
Luciana, 147

In the club, he was often surrounded by mediocre people. However, their very mediocrity made them ready to follow, and he ended up a leader.
Luciana, 52

For this he used his favorite instrument, high spirits, which, in its various forms, flourished in the society, creating a collective spirit and uniting all under the magic sign of laughter.
Luciana, 104

“In my inner struggles I have often asked myself why I should be sad. Should I suffer and bear this sacrifice with a heavy heart? Have I lost my faith? No, thank God, my faith is still steady enough and so we confirm that which is the only Joy that can satisfy us in this world. Every sacrifice is worthwhile only for this.

Then as Catholics we have a Love which is above all others and which – after that we owe to God – is the most beautiful, as our religion is beautiful. Love whose advocate was the Apostle who preached it daily in all his letters to the various churches. Charity, without which, says St. Paul, every other virtue is worthless. This indeed can become the guide and direction of our whole life, a whole program….

So, my program in this is to transform that special feeling that I had for her, and which is not wanted, to the end to which we must strive, the light of charity in the restful bonds of Christian friendship, respect for her virtues, imitation of her outstanding gifts, as with other girls. Perhaps you will tell me that it is mad to hope this. But I believe, if you pray a little for me, that in a short time I can achieve that state in prayer.

This is my program, which I hope with God’s grace to follow. Even if it costs me the sacrifice of my earthly life, it does not matter.”
Giorgio, 110

“It is beautiful to live because our real life lies beyond…. I shall be cheerful on the outside to show my companions not sharing our ideas that you can be a Catholic and still be young and happy.”
Giorgio, 127

There is something extremely profound about Pier's struggle with his love for Laura Hidalgo, an orphan who his parents would never allow him to marry because of her background. And so, Pier decided in prayer that this love was not for him. He devoted himself instead wholeheartedly to his service of the poor and his work among his friends, to sanctify them and to bring them with him to heaven. But he suffered terribly inside. The process of sublimation of romantic love into love for others is not an easy task. I know, I've taken a vow to do just that. Instead of loving in a way that I am not to love, in a way that is not wanted, as Pier Giorgio says, I am to imitate these young women, and pray for them, to love as they love and to show that love more widely to all of Christ's brothers and sisters.

This is painful. But Pier reminds us that pain is not sadness. Pain is a part of life, as are thorns. But sadness need not be part of that. Joy and pain go together, at least in the Christian vision. Pier was known for the constant smile on his lips and the laughter in his mouth. He never allowed joy to leave him. What a model for those times of loneliness and of pain, when the deprivation of unwanted love threatens to kill the heart.

Option for the Poor

His friend Paolo Marchisio pointed at a poor woman’s home exclaiming: “If I were the owner of that slum I’d pull it down!” Pier Giorgio replied in distress: “Oh, Paola, if you knew how many good souls live in houses that you call slums!”
Giorgio, 32

His favorite saying, which he often repeated in letters, was: “When all accept Christ’s voice and teaching, we will be able to say we are equal and every difference between human beings will be annulled.”
Giorgio, 57

Pier Giorgio was spiritually remote from all luxury and wealth. He had the great merit of having chosen the most difficult life when the easiest of lives was available to him.
Luciana, 64

“But I am poor like all the poor.”
Giorgio, 66

Who would understand the greatness of his secret life? Humanity was his problem, which is why his mind often wandered as he went on eating calmly with an appetite that never let him down, as serene as if all the criticisms were addressed to someone else and as if there was perfect affection between those at table.
Luciana, 69

His option [was the] option for the poor and for militant Catholicism…. The “receptions” he attended did not require any formal attire, and they did have music and dancing! One day, the chancellor of the embassy, Rofi, seeing him rushing out, asked if he was going to some party. He answered by giving the address of an alley near Alexanderplatz, a street full of misery. And he entered those grim houses begging their pardon, shy in case he was disturbing people, never forgetting that hew as a stranger to them.
Luciana, 72-73

Someone who travels third class and takes the cheap seats in the theater so as to offer the difference in ticket price to the poor cannot side with the forces attached to money.
Luciana, 76

“From time to time think that while you enjoy yourself millions of others are suffering, so do as much good as you can…. It is not those who suffer violence who should fear, but those who practice it.”
Giorgio, 81

“I see a special light surrounding the poor and unfortunate, a light that we do not have.”
Giorgio, 93

“As we grow close to the poor, bit by bit we gain their confidence and can advise them in the most terrible moments of this earthly pilgrimage…. Seeing daily the faith with which families often bear the most atrocious sufferings, and their constant sacrifices, and seeing that they do all this for the love of God, often makes us ask why I, who have had so many things from God, have always been so neglectful, so bad, while they, who have not been privileged like me, are infinitely better than I. Then we resolve in our conscience to follow the way of the cross from then onward, the only way that leads us to eternal salvation.”
Giorgio, 141-142

He goes about in secret, without applause, and to the poor he gives bread and his heart, to the orphan an affectionate caress, to the old his luminous smile, to the sick the balm of his loving care…. He ignores the brilliant possibilities that a high income would allow him and is not afraid to carry his singular evangelical spirit of renunciation, detachment, and poverty into a life which we humans have turned into a wild party where rude guests each grab the food from their neighbors instead of offering it around.
Angiolo Gambaro, 142

This last quote by a friend simply blows me away. "To the poor he gives his bread and his heart." The external and the internal, fused together in the sanctity of love. How often I am the rude guest. We all live this way, some more than others. And America is the center of this wild party. It makes one want to weep, but for Pier Giorgio, it simply led him toward a joyful austerity that is beautiful to behold. Without applause, to give.

You'll notice too that most of what Pier had to say was about his love and concern for the poor. That was his constant thought and inspiration.

Program for Life

“Student duties, religious practices, option for the poor”
Luciana, 74

Study was only part of his day and, although he considered it his first duty, he often came to it only after a considerable time spent with the poor, a session at the St. Vincent Conference, and a night spent in Adoration.
Luciana, 91

“This life must be a continual preparation for the next.”
Giorgio, 101

There is a simplicity in his words that belies the depth behind them. I hope they can give you some fruit for prayer as they have for me.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What To Do with Christopher West

Janet Smith defends Christopher West here. I'll withhold my own thoughts on the matter to respond to your comments. I'm posting below just the first part of Smith's article.
Moral Theologian Says Christopher West's Work is 'Completely Sound'

by Dr. Janet Smith

Christopher West’s interview on ABC’s Nightline has sparked some terrific discussion on the Internet. An impressive amount of the interaction is intelligent and illuminating, even some of that which is seriously wrong. One of the better responses is that by Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers and the follow-up comments to his blog.

Here, I want to offer a brief, partial, response to Prof. David Schindler’s assessment of West’s work. The fact that Nightline got a lot wrong about West’s work is not surprising. In fact, it is surprising how much it got right. Those of us who work with the media know that potential martyrdom awaits us at the hands of an editor. West has likely been suffering a kind of crucifixion over the past week. What is puzzling is that an influential scholar chose this moment to issue a sweeping, negative critique of West in such a public forum. I have great respect for the work and thought of Schindler and realize that it must be difficult to be on the receiving end of criticisms of the work of one of their most high profile graduates. I wish, however, he had found another occasion to express his reservations about West’s work.

I think we should be very careful in our evaluation of the work of someone who is on the front lines and who is doing pioneer work. Virtually every pioneering author and presenter has had severe detractors in his own time. Some of them have been disciplined by the Church and eventually exonerated. I would like to give examples and mention names, but I don’t want to ignite a firestorm of "how can you compare Christopher West to X, Y or Z?"!

I want to add my voice to those who are enthusiastic about the West/Theology of the Body phenomenon. I think it is important to keep in mind, as Akin does, who West’s audience is. It is largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture. People need to think long and hard about the appropriate pedagogy for that group. Yet, as West himself knows, his approach is not for everyone. An analogy that pushes the envelope may be "offensive" to one person and may be just the hook that draws another person in. West has adopted a style that appeals to a large segment of that population—and even to some who are “pure and innocent.”

It is not hard to find hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who will testify that they have come to love Christ and his Church, and better understand and live the Church’s teaching about sex because of the work of Christopher West. Cohabiters separate, contracepters stop contracepting, and men cease looking at pornography—and that is the short list. Countless young people are now taking up the study of the Theology of the Body because of West’s work. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Schindler objects to the language used in a list of comments made by West and dismisses them as "vulgar," "in bad taste," and "silly." Was Schindler careful to verify those comments and take into account the context in which they were made? Let me defend two matters mentioned by Schindler, “praying over genitals” and anal sex, that might seem peculiar if not properly understood. I hesitate to draw further attention to these subjects because I do not want to give the impression that West’s work focuses on tangential and sensational issues of sexuality. It does not. West focuses on making John Paul II’s vision of our creation as male and female accessible to the common person in the pew. But people deserve answers to their honest questions, and West is charitable in his willingness to meet people where they are.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

How to Read the Bible

Fr. Robert Barron at Mundelein Seminary writes a good article for America about his missionary apostolate on YouTube and the most frequent adversaries to his videos. The last two offer good reflection on how we go about reading scripture. These questions come up often enough in my scripture class and in regular conversation and represent common misunderstandings even among well educated Catholics on how to actually go about reading the Bible.
A third heresy is biblical fundamentalism. I hear from my YouTube opponents that the Bible is a mishmash of "bronze-age myths” (Christopher Hitchens) and childish nonsense about talking snakes, a 5,000-year-old universe and a man living three days inside of a fish. I observe in reply that the Bible is no so much a book as a library, made up of texts from a wide variety of genres and written at different times for varying audiences. Just as one would not take "the library” literally, one should not interpret the whole Bible with one set of lenses.
I like this image of a library, an inspired library of course. It is full of many kinds of writing, many of which we still do not fully know how to classify. It is made up of inspired myth, genealogical fragments, works of fiction, etc. One takes the library literally only by understanding the type of literature that one decides to check out. It is ready literally according to its genre.
My YouTube conversation partners typically fire back that I am proposing a novelty in order to respond to the attacks of modern critics. I try to steer them to Irenaeus (second c.), Origen (third c.) and Augustine (fourth c.), all of whom dealt with the complexity of the Bible through the exercise of a deft hermeneutic. Some of those who appreciate the library analogy wonder how one would decide which kind of text one is dealing with and hence which set of interpretive lenses to wear. I respond that their good question proves the legitimacy of the Catholic Church's assumption that the church-that variegated community of interpretation stretching over 20 centuries - is required for effective biblical reading today. I ask, How do you know the difference between Winnie the Pooh, The Brothers Karamazov, the Divine Comedy, Carl Sandburg's Lincoln and Gore Vidal's Lincoln? Then I answer my own question: You have been taught by a long and disciplined tradition of interpretation. Something similar is at play in authentic biblical reading.
Very well said.
The fourth YouTube heresy is Marcionism, which brings us back to one of Irenaeus's principal opponents, Marcion. He held that the New Testament represented the revelation of the true God, but that the Old Testament was the revelation of a pathetic demigod marked by pettiness, jealousy and violence. This ancient heresy reappears practically intact on the YouTube forums. My interlocutors complain about the morally offensive, vain, psychotic and violent God of the Old Testament, who commands that a ban be put on cities, who orders genocide so that his people can take possession of the Promised Land, who commands that children's heads be dashed against stones. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, this complaint becomes more pointed. If I gesture toward the wisdom of the biblical tradition, I am met with this objection.

I urge my respondents to read the entire Bible in the light of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. I tell them of an image in the Book of Revelation of a lamb standing as though slain. When no one else in the heavenly court is able to open the scroll that symbolizes all of salvation history, the lamb alone succeeds. This indicates that the nonviolent Christ, who took upon himself the sin of the world and returned in forgiving love, is the interpretive key to the Bible. It was in this light that Origen, for example, read the texts concerning the Old Testament ban as an allegory about the struggle against sin. The bottom line is this: One should never drive a wedge between the two testaments instead, one should allow Christ to be the structuring logic of the entire Scripture.

What is blocking the preaching of the faith, especially to younger people? Many things. But I would suggest that preachers, teachers, evangelists and catechists might attend with some care to these four.

The other two he mentions are Scientism and Ecclesial Angelism, or the idea that because the Church has done bad things it must be discredited.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dead Right and Dead Wrong

Reverend Emmanuel Charles McCarthy offers some rather impassionate commentary on the Notre Dame debate. His comments are worth reading, even after the fact. They are in four parts. I'll give you the first paragraph of the first three, and you can click on the links for the rest.

Notre Dame and Bishop John D’Arcy

If I were the Bishop of the diocese within which the University of Notre Dame lives and moves and has its being, I would have done exactly what John D’Arcy, current bishop of that diocese, did when it was announced that President Obama is to deliver the Spring 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame: turn down my standing invitation to attend the commencement. My reasons for doing so would include two of his reasons for doing so. Quoting a 2004 statement of the U.S. bishops, Bishop D’Arcy says, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” At another point in the explanation of his nonattendance, he writes, “My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth
about human life.”

This is a battle between Constantinian Christian all-stars—Catholic division. In one corner sits the “Fighting Irish,” the University of Notre Dame. Its history of embracing, with full Catholic fervor, the United States military and its money, as well as the American power elite and its money, is legendary. That history began in earnest with World War I and has run non-stop until today—Notre Dame being the envy of every Catholic college in the U.S. for having, proportionately, the largest ROTC operation of any Catholic institution of higher education. In the other corner sits Bishop John D’Arcy, representing the position of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, whose history of pandering to the military and the power- players of this society for their money, matches—at least—that of the University of Notre Dame. Yet at this hour these kindred spirits and operations are at swords’ points over the questions, “Whose killing of whom is the killing that faithfully follows Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate?”—and “Whose unjust killing of whom can be ignored, or at least considered not so bad as to warrant denying him or her Catholic awards, honors or platforms, and the presence of a Catholic Bishop?”

Holy Mother Church, that is, the institutional Constantinian Church, gave birth to the institution named the University of Notre Dame. It was in this mother’s image that this Constantinian Catholic university was formed. She was Notre Dame’s mother, and Notre Dame’s model of what it means to be a Christian and how to live the life for which Jesus gave His disciples the gift of faith. Notre Dame learned well the lessons her mother taught her, and she has achieved full stature as a Constantinian Catholic university. She has grown into thatwisdom and age, that wealth and power which have been the glory, hallmark, and modus operandi of the Constantinian Church Militant for over a millennia-and-a-half.

They are all worth reading and I look forward to any comments you may have on them.

Mason mentioned to me recently how this Notre Dame event brought a lot of the old guard of the pro-life movement out of the woodwork. Fr. Weslin was arrested, founder of the Lambs who went around the country getting arrested during the Operation Rescue movement. I was privileged to meet him a couple of times growing up, along with his team of volunteers who went around with him. As you can see on several videos on Youtube, Norma McCorvey was stopped and Alan Keyes is also arrested. Next to Father Weslin is Joe Landry who I went to college with. Randall Terry and others also came out.

As Mason said, one of the great tragedies is that Notre Dame did not grant a protest permit. I'm also wondering though if getting arrested in this way is still the way to go. I remember the Operation Rescue movement, and most of the adults I grew up with were arrested several times. It was a powerful movement, and also a great ecumenical movement, as Fr. Thomas used to observe regularly. But he was also a big advocate of new strategies, of flexibility, of coming up with new ideas. And he came up with many of them, all brilliant. The goal is to change minds and hearts. And the question is what has brought about that change as of late. If more Americans now identify themselves as pro-life according to recent polling, then what has brought this about? I firmly believe that it has been better education and rational argumentation. I wonder if the old guard still has a place. It's an important question.

But it's also important that we take to heart some of the ideas of Rev. McCarthy above. More Americans may be anti-abortion, but are they also pro-life? We must fight for the whole and resist compartmentalization.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Benedict on Ricci

Commemorates Father Matteo Ricci's Missionary Efforts

MACERATA, Italy, MAY 19, 2009 ( Benedict XVI is highlighting the example of a Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, who worked to root the Gospel in Chinese society and promote dialogue between eastern and western cultures.

The Pope affirmed this in a letter sent to Bishop Claudio Giuliodori of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia in Italy, where Ricci was born in 1522, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the missionary's death.

The Vatican press office publicized the letter Monday, in which the Pontiff highlighted the pastoral strategy of the Jesuit who lived in China for 28 years and died in Beijing on May 11, 1610. 

The Holy Father noted the "profound faith and extraordinary cultural and academic genius" of the missionary who "dedicated long years of his life to weaving a profound dialogue between West and East, at the same time working incisively to root the Gospel in the culture of the great people of China."

"Even today," Benedict XVI added, "his example remains as a model of fruitful encounter between European and Chinese civilization."

The Pope stated: "In considering his intense academic and spiritual activity, we cannot but remain favorably impressed by the innovative and unusual skill with which he, with full respect, approached Chinese cultural and spiritual traditions.

"It was, in fact, this approach that characterized his mission, which aimed to seek possible harmony between the noble and millennial Chinese civilization and the novelty of Christianity, which is for all societies a yeast of liberation and of true renewal from within, because the Gospel, universal message of salvation, is destined for all men and women whatever the cultural and religious context to which they belong."

The Pontiff noted that the missionary's apostolate was "original" and "prophetic" due to the "profound sympathy he nourished for the Chinese, for their cultures and religious traditions."

He called Father Ricci a "model of dialogue and respect for the beliefs of others" who "made friendship the style of his apostolate."

The Holy Father explained that the Jesuit's evangelization employed a "scientific methodology and a pastoral strategy based, on the one hand, on respect for the wholesome customs of the place, which Chinese neophytes did not have to abandon when they embraced the Christian faith and, on the other, on his awareness that revelation could enhance and complete" those customs.

He sought "constant understanding with the wise men of that country," Benedict XVI added.

"Following his example," the Pope concluded, "may our own communities, which accommodate people from different cultures and religions, grow in a spirit of acceptance and of reciprocal respect."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Benedict and Obama

I'm not an Obama cheerleader like many I know. He's a politician, and they don't deserve to have cheerleaders. They're not playing a game. They're supposed to be doing serious stuff. But I thought Obama gave a good speech at Notre Dame. Now, you may tell me, his fair words are his way of wooing us into apathy while he spins his demonic plots. Possibly. But while not allowing him to lull me to sleep with his soothing voice, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt as to what he may think. I think this is the fair intellectual approach to his speech. We should listen to what he says while keeping an eye on what he does.

I don't like a lot of what he does. But I didn't like a lot of what Bush did. And I didn't hear many bishops and prominent Catholics speaking out loudly about that. I believe that was a tragedy. Like Obama, Bush often spoke with a double tongue. We gave him the benefit of the doubt and then found him to be a liar (and not a very good one). We failed in that regard. Catholics were too excited about his "pro-life" stance actually watch what he was doing. So why should we give Obama a chance? Why should we listen to him if he will probably be just like Bush, saying one thing and doing another? Good question. But for one, I think he makes more sense than Bush when he talks. He says things that can actually be engaged on an intellectual level. He makes arguments that are coherent. And he founds these on a general world view that I can often accept. So for that reason, I will try to engage him, and encourage others to do the same, hoping that engagement will genuinely change hearts and minds.

I think one reason I do this is because he often sounds a lot like Benedict XVI. I know, I know, blasphemy. But they are both good speakers who often speak about similar things. For example, check out the following quotes from Obama's speech, my favorite quotes:
We must decide how to save God's creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it.
Since becoming pontiff, this issue has been one of those at the forefront of Benedict's teachings. He has made it a point to make front and center the question of man's relationship with creation and how we treat the earth. Our attitude toward creation should be biblically based, not Kant based. For all the benefits that transcendental philosophy has contributed to the pursuit of wisdom, this one statement of Kant I never grow tired of quoting, since I believe it opened up for the modern era a regime of domination towards the natural world under which we still live:
Reason must approach nature with the view, indeed, of receiving information from it, not, however, in the character of a pupil, who listens to all that his master chooses to tell him, but in that of a judge, who compels the witnesses to reply to those questions which he himself thinks fit to propose. To this single idea must the revolution be ascribed, by which, after groping in the dark for so many centuries, natural science was at length conducted into the path of certain progress.
Benedict has clearly and decisively declared battle against this modernist heresy, and in doing so, he aligns himself with many in America who would be considered part of the political Left, including Obama. Obama, like Benedict, links reverence for nature with the biblical world view rather than the Kantian one, and on this issue we can find common ground.
In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.
Another fundamental message of Benedict's pontificate has been the principle of solidarity. Over and over he reminds us -- as John Paul II did -- that we live in a global world now and all are truly responsible for all. The poor suffer from the greed of the rich and poor countries from the "progress" of rich countries. And for Benedict, we are not one human family because we all have a rational intellect. We are one family because we have one destiny. This is an eschatological link first, rather than an ontological one. And because it is eschatological, it effects every realm of human interaction, since at least partially speaking, the Kingdom of God is already among us.
Unfortunately, finding that common ground - recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a "single garment of destiny" - is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game.
Like Benedict, Obama realizes that a description of human reality that does not include the doctrine of Original Sin is an incomplete description. Good place to begin.
The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts.

The fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.
Acknowledging this gulf is important.
At the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of Chicago. For those of you too young to have known him, he was a kind and good and wise man. A saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads - unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty, AIDS, and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together; always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched minds and hearts."
The fact that Obama can quote a man who profoundly disagreed with him on the issue of abortion is impressive to me. We must find role models among those with whom we often disagree.
But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own. This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness.
Remember that in the end, we are all fishermen.
I liked his speech. I hope he was speaking the truth about how he actually thinks and what he actually believes. It's hard to trust politicians. But even to hear him say the things he says was a surprise to me. If the religious Right and the religious Left can listen to him, it would at least bring us much closer to one another in conversation, even while we continue to hold irreconcilable views. The Society of Jesus, for example, spans the religious Right and Left. If we do this right, this speech can bring us closer ideologically, and then provide us with a template for combatting the culture of death in our culture and our own hearts. What I like about Obama is that he does not presume that the pro-life movement will or even should go away. He doesn't caricature like Bush did, and for that I'm thankful. Now we just need to change his heart.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Do You Think?

Excerpt from Obama's Notre Dame commencement speech. Full text here:
The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Creepy Ave Maria Town

Check out this story from the Naples Daily News about the town of Ave Maria, Florida. Apparently, absolute oligarchy still exists.

Ave Maria’s governing board, now selected entirely by Monaghan and Barron Collier Cos., already has authorized the sale of $820 million in municipal bonds to pay for construction of roads and services.

Since its first meeting four years ago, the government has acted as the developer’s rubber stamp. The five-member board has approved 49 resolutions at the developer’s behest, such as issuing bonds and purchasing land, without a single “no” vote.

On the board are three current or former Monaghan or Barron Collier Cos. employees, a retired partner from the engineering firm that designed Ave Maria and another large landowner in eastern Collier County.

Before establishing the government, Monaghan and Barron Collier Cos. formed a 50-50 private partnership called Ave Maria Development to own and develop Ave Maria’s land. An executive committee with representatives from both sides runs the partnership. Authority over all matters, including the selection of government board members, rests with that committee.

The law allows the executive committee, controlling the votes of the largest landowner, to choose at least three out of the five seats on the board forever.

Based on the progress of development, the other two seats will transition from control by landowners to control by the town’s registered voters through elections. That means residents could always lose to Ave Maria Development’s three-member majority on the board.

And it looks like those faithful souls who moved to Ave Maria from across the country were not told that they would have no real power to govern themselves.

The public, Ave Maria residents and otherwise, is unaware of this arrangement. When they bought their homes, Ave Maria residents received written notice of the government’s existence and its ability to tax them. But the developer didn’t disclose how, when or if townspeople would make the government’s decisions.

When they moved from Massachusetts to Ave Maria, David Shnaider and his wife, Patricia Sette, understood that Ave Maria Development would control the town’s government for a time. Like Delaney, they didn’t think the partnership’s control could last forever.

“I would have the expectation that it’s going to be like every other town in America,” Sette said.

The series goes on to describe other oddities of the government of Ave Maria, like the unelected board's ability to tax the residents without any citizen representation or approval and such.

What exactly is the purpose of such a draconian method of governance? Why deceive those who move into Ave Maria about this oligarchy?

I fear that this is yet another example of the effectiveness of brainwashing. "You don't need to govern yourself, nor do I need your permission to tax you and profit exclusively from your tax dollars - don't worry, I'm orthodox!"

Mason Slidell

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sin Nombre

We are a year away from the Postville, Iowa police raid that almost crippled a small town in northeastern Iowa:
Since federal helicopters raced over cornfields on May 12, 2008, en route to arresting 389 illegal workers at a sprawling kosher meatpacking plant, what was a center of commerce in northeastern Iowa teeters toward collapse as the plant sputters in bankruptcy, its managers face prison time and the town fights to stay solvent.
The anniversary of Postville provides a segway to a movie that you should try to go see. Sin Nombre is a Focus film that is playing in select theaters around the country. Like the other great film of its genre El Norte, Sin Nombre is about two groups of people who make their way north from Guatemala through the border crossing in Tapachula. One immigrant is a member of the notorious gang Mara Salvatrucha, while the others are a poor family looking for a better life.

One of the great benefits of this film is the insight it gives us into the life of some of the great Central American gangs. References are made to the Chavalas and to Mara Diesyocho, both notorious gangs spanning Central America to the United States. I would rather not steal the thunder of the movie from you, since it does such a graphic job of describing internal gang life. I had heard of these gangs before. While I was in El Salvador, I was told that there was a time when Salvatrucha and Diesyocho controlled whole states or "departamentos" of the country to such an extent that they exacted a tax from anyone who traveled through these states. They continue to wield a tremendous influence. Documentation has been done on how deportations of gang members from Los Angeles has contributed largely to their dramatic growth and influence. Deported members who become experts in gang warfare in Los Angeles have in turn taken this expertise back with them to Mexico and Central America. The drug demand in the United States is almost rivaled by the demand for guns in those countries south of the border. And so we both feed one another's addictions.

A Jesuit friend of mine recently led a group from Guatemala to the United States, staying along the way in homes for immigrants who make this hazardous trip. One of the most profound moments of the movie for me was seeing La Bombilla, a train station where immigrants by the thousands hang out waiting for passing trains. Human limbs, I am told by this Jesuit, dot the tracks where people have slipped and fallen and been sliced to pieces. Simply the reality of this dangerous journey. Seeing this spot actually shot on film was a profound moment. I have never seen this actual station, but when I went to El Salvador, I took a bus through Mexico and crossed into Guatemala in Tapachula. Sadly, it has become a city of tremendous violence and suffering.

I'll let Ebert have the last word on Sin Nombre:
"Sin Nombre" is a remarkable film, showing the incredible hardships people will endure in order to reach El Norte. Yes, the issue of illegal immigration is a difficult one. When we encounter an undocumented alien, we should not be too quick with our easy assumptions. That person may have put his life on the line for weeks or months to come here, searching for what we so easily describe as the American dream. What inspired Fukunaga, an American, to make this film, I learned, was a 2003 story about 80 illegals found locked in a truck and abandoned in Texas. Nineteen died.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Angels and Demons

This is fun. 

By John C. Wright

Golly. I thought ANGELS AND DEMONS by Dan Brown would turn out to be just an ordinary run-of-the-mill Catholic-bashing hate-fest. But, no, the whoppers told strain credulity. Do people actually know that little about history? It seems that they do. 

Here is what I picked up here and here. 

Brown claims: Copernicus was murdered by the Catholic Church.
Fact: Copernicus died quietly in bed at age 70 from a stroke, and his research was supported by Church officials; he even dedicated his masterwork to the Pope.

Brown claims: “Antimatter is the ultimate energy source. It releases energy with 100% efficiency.”
Fact: CERN, the lab which plays an important role in his story, actually debunked this claim on their website: “The inefficiency of antimatter production is enormous: you get only a tenth of a billion of the invested energy back.”

Brown claims: Churchill was a “staunch Catholic.”
Fact: Any history buff could tell you that Churchill wasn’t Catholic, he was Anglican; nor was he particularly religious. The only things Churchill was staunch about were cigars, whiskey, and defending the British Empire.

Brown claims: Pope Urban VII banished Bernini’s famous statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa “to some obscure chapel across town” because it was too racy for the Vatican.
Fact: The statue was actually commissioned by Cardinal Cornaro specifically for the Cornaro Chapel (Brown’s “obscure chapel”). Moreover, the sculpture was completed in 1652 — eight years after Urban’s death.

Brown claims: Bernini and famed scientist Galileo were members of the Illuminati.
Fact: The Illuminati was founded in Bavaria in 1776. Bernini died in 1680, while Galileo died in 1642 — more than a century before the Illuminati were first formed.

The idea that Copernicus was murdered by the Church is just too stupid for words. I mean, I have a pretty low threshold when it comes to Illuminati fiction. I love that 'secret-history' stuff. 

I am not a hard sell. If you want to put in your book that Atlantis was a superhightech civilization destroyed by the extra-dimensional Eddorians in order to thwart Arisian attempts to breed mankind to create the Kwisatz Haderach, child of the Lens and the father of the race that will rule the Sevagram, I will suspend my disbelief like it was bouyant with helium. 

You want to establish that a race of robots hidden in a secret base in Mount Ararat has been guiding human history since the time of Enoch, I am your man. 

You want to say the Freemasons (who built the temple of Solomon) are the archenemies of the Slavemasons (who build the Great Pyramid of Cheops) have been fighting a duel to place or remove feng-shui-significant stonehenge, monuments, and Cathedrals at goethermal accupuncture points across Europe, Asia and the New World since the Bronze Age, and that all major wars and architectural firms are under their control, and involved in a secret aeons-old Cold War to prevent the telluric current from destroying this world as unwise abuses of the geomancy of the canals of Mars did that remote, dying world? Sure! 

Shiwan Khan is actually a time-travelling alien from planet Mongo, granted eternal youth by the powers of alchemy, and he long ago replaced the royal family of England with Life-Model-Decoys which he controls with the ten magic rings he found in the wreckage of a spaceship from planet Maklu IV? Why not? 

Lord Byron was a vampire? You would have to pay me money not to believe that. 

Queen Elizabeth ran of coven of witches whose stormcrafty drowned the Aramda of Philip of Spain, after he had secretly adopted the practice of mass human sacrifice from his wife who was secretly an Aztec princess in order to gain magical control of an entire hemisphere's worth of demon-cursed Mexican gold? Not only possible, but likely! 

The entire Middle Ages is an elaborate fraud perpetrated by the Roman Empire, which never fell but simply went into hiding once Virgil the Magician discovered the tunnels leading to Pellucidar in the Hollow Earth? Seems reasonable to me!! 

The US Congress killed and replaced by shape-changing seals from the Dreamlands who talk like movie pirates? Brother, I wrote it!

But the Catholic Church MURDERED Copurnicus? Oh, my aching back. He was a churchman himself: why not simply order him to recant his findings?
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Friday, May 8, 2009

More on Torture and the Bumbling Catholic Right

Since my colleague Mason has gotten us going on torture, and since the Catholic journalistic world has seen some interesting commentary as of late on the topic, I can't resist summarizing for you a bit what is being said.

First of all, you can't really continue your life without reading what Policraticus has to say in response to the astoundingly absurd article written by David Carlin at Inside Catholic. As long as this passes for argument, Catholic America is surely doomed. I'll offer a too brief summary below of some of Carlin's "arguments:"
Cicero was faced with a choice: Do I break the law, or do I let Catiline and his friends make a coup d’etat? When he saved the republic by breaking the law, he had every reason to believe that he would never face prosecution for his deed. The traditional Roman attitude had been to look the other way when some savior of the city cut legal corners.

Keep in mind, however, that Cicero was a man of high ethical standards. He was one of the most notable moralists of the ancient world: see, for example, his work De Oficiis (On Duties). It is one thing for a good man to feel that he has a license to break the rules; it is something else for a bad man to feel he has that license.
I wish that I could tell you that there is much more to Carlin's argument, but sadly, there isn't. It bears all the marks of the thoughtless and frantic ideology for which he accuses the Left. Policraticus does well to shred this him. Who could actually take seriously such a position in a court of law: "But your honor, I'm a good man, so it's okay." Right. That sounds a lot more like the philosopher Nietzsche than Cicero, and very little like the 2000 years of Catholic moral philosophy influenced, not by Cicero, but by Christ. I'm not sure Carlin wants to go to bed with Raskolnikov on this one.

So leaving that frantic argument aside, why has the Right taken such a relaxed attitude toward torture? I wish that I could say that Carlin is the only one to sound so stupid and offensive. But sadly, it gets worse over at EWTN. If you have not listened to Raymond Arroyo's interview of Father Robert Sirico, you had better go and do so. Try not to choke. Here for example are a few quotes from the interview:

ARROYO: Many people will then come in and say, “Wait a minute, but they’re against torture, and they’re for immigration…” These are all prudential judgments, as opposed to this abortion question…

SIRICO: Which is intrinsically…

ARROYO: …Which is always gravely evil.

SIRICO [simultaneously]: …intrinsically evil.

ARROYO: And how is it defined by the Church?

SIRICO: There’s a difference between something that is intrinsically, by its nature, evil and something that may be problematic, depending on certain circumstances, that requires prudential judgment.

It is astounding to note that apparently both Arroyo and Sirico appear to believe what they say, which is that torture is simply a matter of prudential judgment while abortion is an intrinsically evil action. They speak as if the Church has never spoken on such an issue. One hardly knows what to think. Are they intentionally lying? Are there purposely obfuscating the truth? I can't help but believe that this is the case to some degree.

SIRICO: Waterboarding, which doesn’t sound like very plea– I know that I was threatened with that earlier in the evening… [laughs]
ARROYO: No, I said I wouldn’t waterboard you!
SIRICO: Well, actually I’m from Brooklyn.
SIRICO: Um… My understanding is that a lot of intelligence officers have been through this, if you’ve ever known anybody who’s been in the SEALs, as I have, they have been through sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other things. So I think you have to make those distinctions. You also have to make a distinction with regard to ethics and morality, and a distinction with regard to legality and effectiveness. You know what I think would be very helpful, is if we took and adapted some principles of the just war theory and applied it to aggressive interrogation techniques. So it would be a matter of the competent authority; it would be a matter of the proportion. I would also add immediacy, because what makes it urgent to resort to real physical agression is whether there’s a ticking bomb, or there’s a kid in storage who’s going to suffocate.
Just to fill you in, yes, they are joking around about waterboarding. And no, that last answer by Sirico is not supposed to make any sense. I challenge anyone to dig a single coherent thought out of there. So again, what is going on? Do we again need to quote Vatican II, the Catechism, and Veritatis Splendor on torture in order to convince Catholics that torture is an intrinsically evil act? Is the fact that the Bishops have themselves said so not enough? We seem happy to listen to them when they talk about Obama at Notre Dame, but not so happy when what they say contradicts a position coming from the Republican party.

Mason already quoted in an earlier post from Vatican II. The Catechism states it in this way:
2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong.Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizationsperformed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

And Veritatis Splendor, paragraph 80 puts it this way:
Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exists acts whichper se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator.
Not very ambiguous I would think. Yet many Catholics want to waffle on this issue. Mark Shea writes a good article on why he thinks this to be the case. Based upon an apparent hypothetical postulated by Fr. Harrison about the Catechism and the Geneva Conventions, many Catholics are going around claiming that the use of torture in order to obtain life saving information is a matter of prudential judgment, or is at least an open theological question. And they twist themselves into all kinds of shapes in order to make this argument.

Again, notice the paradox here. When the Bishops say something about Obama going to Notre Dame -- not by any means an intrinsically evil action -- right wing Catholics all agree. When they something very strongly in Faithful Citizenship about torture, another pertinent moral question, these same people turn the other way and argue that this is a matter of prudential judgment and discussion.

This is what the Bishops say about torture:

22. There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.

23. Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.

Why is Obama going to Notre Dame an issue on which many Catholics will listen to their Bishops, but torture is simply a matter for each to decide? Why the double standard? That I don't understand at all. If one is open for discussion, then certainly is the other. If one is not, then certainly the other is not either. Torture is an intrinsically evil action. For all that Fr. Sirico may say about Just War and prudential judgment, an intrinsically evil action can never be justified. Just War theory employs Double Effect, among other principles. But these can never apply to an intrinsically evil action. There is no comparison, and he is just being a bumbling idiot for no reason. Rather, he should clearly and succinctly defend the position of the Church on this issue as I'm sure he does very well on others. Sadly, I can't help but think that partisanship plays too large a part in this debate.

The place of true Catholics then, of those who do not want to become modern day Donatists but want to remain faithful to true Catholic teaching in an increasingly complex American Catholic culture, is to become even more educated about their faith and less closely allied to political parties. This does not mean disengaging from the political sphere. But it means, like Dorothy Day, engaging politics without political affiliations. These affiliations have become bankrupt, and they are getting us nowhere. The only place they are getting us is to a form of Catholicism that we cannot deem acceptable, a Catholicism that smacks of Americanism. Following the directives of the universal Church and walking more deliberately in the footsteps of our Pope and the Bishops in union with him is the only authentic way. And this means reading and hearing what our Pope says above the din of the Republican party and its Catholic cheerleaders:
In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances”
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Monday, May 4, 2009

Part I: Paul and Women

Before we get on to year of the priesthood, I've wanted to wrestle with a few passages in Paul. I stupidly thought that I would get time to really tackle them, but since that hasn't happened, I'll just offer what I have.

They are passages that have to do, of course, with women. What do we do with some of Paul's more difficult texts on women? I'll start with 1 Corinthians 11 and then later move to 1 Timothy 2. They've often presented me with problems, so here's me taking a shot at them.

The first is 1 Corinthians 11:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
2 I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.
3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ.
4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head.
5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved.
6 For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.
7 A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;
9 nor was man created for woman, but woman for man;
10 for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.
11 Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord.
12 For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.
I think it's important to begin by recognizing that what sounds one way to us would sound very different to a first century audience. For instance, when we hear Paul in Romans 13:1 say something like, "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God," we immediately think of Paul as some kind of political conservative who would have problems with revolutions. But of course, this is not what Paul is talking about. N.T. Wright reminds us that this statement by Paul would be read by his readers as extremely minimalist, unlike how we read it. After all that Paul had written about Christ as the cosmic ruler, bringing about the Kingdom of the Messiah, Christ as Lord, the subversion of the Cross -- Rome's most useful tool of imperialism -- in other words, after Paul has completely undermined the empire of Caesar in favor of the Lordship of Christ, the least he can do now is to not ruin the whole Christian enterprise by risking mass riots. Paul subtly and not so subtly undermines Caesar, but he wants to do it without destroying Christianity in the process. And so he writes about the role of living peacefully under authority -- at the end of Romans.

What does this have to do with what he says about women? I think it is easy to read Paul's statements about women as anti-feminist, which would be a silly modern reading. Instead, we have to read them in terms of their climate, and also in terms of Paul's own writing method. Let us look at the passage above. Paul begins by asking for imitation. Within the Church, especially in Corinth, there have been problems during Liturgy. This is the whole problem dealt with in this chapter, as too in 1 Timothy 2. And so Paul is asking for imitation in worship. He then goes on to explain the importance of imitation. Imitation is based on hierarchy, and there is a natural hierarchy to the world. Christ reigns at the top of it, says Paul. And that is important to remember, so that order is kept.

So far so good. Everyone is reading along and agreeing. These are "traditions" that they are used to. Paul goes on to say that when a man prays or prophesies, his head should be uncovered. Very good. But then he discusses when a woman "prays or prophesies." Now we are getting to the heart of it. Paul wants women to pray and prophesy. In other words, they can teach. Women are to be able to declare the event of Christ as much as men. After all, Mary Magdalene was the apostle to the Apostles. Men start to get uncomfortable in Corinth here.

So there are regulations given for both men and women. Men should have their head uncovered; women covered. Why? Women must emphasize their natural veil with a covering, precisely in order to draw attention to their womanhood. When women prophesy and pray, it should be clear that they are women. They shouldn't try to look like men; nor men like women. It is their distinction that matters here. Hair is a natural veil, and wearing a veil emphasizes it. And this helps clarify Galatians 3:28. There is no longer male or female in terms of equality, but only in terms of proclamation. Women proclaim as women, and the distinction must be in place. Paul constrains men and women equally in the assembly. Because Paul wants them both praying and prophesying together, and he wants nothing to get in the way. If not wearing the veil gets in the way, then wear the veil as a sign of womanhood. Just don't get in the way of the message, of prophesying, of the point of the whole gathering.

And so Paul relativizes things in light of the gospel message. Now, what appears difficult is that he uses Genesis, it seems, to justify why women should wear a veil. Man is the image of God; woman is the image of man. Man came from God; woman came from man. This, in Paul's reading, is all very clear in the Genesis account. We can forgive him for not having read John Paul II's theology of the body. Or, we can follow the passage a little further. Paul again does what we have seen him do before. Alain Badiou calls it subsequent symmetrization. For Paul's readers, surely the argument can end here. Case closed. We have Genesis as a back up and women should wear a veil as a sign that they are under the authority of men. But instead, Paul explains how things are "in the Lord."
11 Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord.
12 For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.
Neither man nor woman are independent of one another. Men, it would seem, are independent, being the "head" of women. But verse 12 then comes as a shocker. Just as women "came" (past tense) from man, so man "is" (present tense) born of women. And all comes from God. I have to do more study, but what this sounds like is this:

"Just as woman came from man (in Genesis, as I just explained), so now (in the fullness of time, when God sends Jesus born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law) man is born of women. And particularly of the Woman, whose birth of the Son is our birth as well." Is Paul being this dramatic? It at least sounds like it to me.

In other words, the traditions of veil or no veil are rather silly. What matters is that women and men both prophesy, both declare the meaning of the Resurrection. If men have a problem, they can look at Genesis. But if they are going to look at Genesis for justification, they better realize that this can easily be reversed on them, since now men come from women. And so, women can now be seen as having authority over men. Paul desires imitation, and women would now be the source of imitation, since "man is born of woman."

And so, rather than engage in useless arguments and quibbles, which Paul hates so much all through his writings, let's just "pray and prophesy." Get on with preaching the gospel. And do it as men and as women. The distinction is important, but not as a marker of equality. Rather, to end with a quote of Badiou again:
What matters, man or woman, Jew or Greek, slave or free man, is that differences carry the universal that happens to them like a grace. Inversely, only by recognizing in differences their capacity for carrying the universal that comes upon them can the universal itself verify its own reality: "If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played on the flute or the harp" (I Cor. 14:7)? Differences, like instrumental tones, provide us with the recognizable univocity that makes up the melody of the True.
May the Fourth be with you.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ