Of Interest: March 2006 Archives

Would that it were so . . .

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This is from an interview published by Zenit with Britain's Cardinal Murphy O'Conner:

Q: Can you tell us more about another topic discussed, the question of Islam, of great concern to so many church leaders in so many parts of the world today?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: The situation is very complex. In mostly Muslim countries there's very little space for Christianity; in other countries, in parts of Africa, there's a conflict of cultures, between the culture of Islam and the culture of Christianity.

In Europe again, it's complex. We need to meet with Muslims and speak the truth honestly, not hold back on the truth we believe.

We must be careful to avoid the position whereby they are blaming war on religion -- terrorism, this is the scourge of religion -- whereas the cardinals would see that we have to meet Muslim leaders and concentrate on the things we hold together: many moral values, matters of family, even if we disagree on the essentials of our religion.

But you know, the only answer to what I would call aggressive Islam is very deep Christianity, deep Catholicism, a faith that is strong; I am sure the Holy Father is very preoccupied by Islam, and certainly its militant tendencies.

So I think particularly we in the West have to impose a kind of reciprocity: We are tolerant of having mosques or of people wearing particular clothing; we expect the same for minority Christians in Islamic countries, that there would be tolerance of us having crucifixes, freedom to worship in church and so on.

So I think there's a feeling to speak the truth in love and honesty with each other.

There is one thing about dialogue that many people seem unwilling to face. For dialogue to be effective, both parties to the dispute must be willing to engage the process in a meaningful way. I don't think that condition exists today among radical Muslims in their dealings with the West. It seems evident that the prevailing attitude among these folks is that they are, in the end, going to destroy the West and all it stands for, therefore, there is no need for dialogue. The more we sit around and talk about entering into dialogue with these radicals, the more likely they are to be correct.

Signs of Spring

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Springtime in the Rockies isn’t signaled by many of the signs familiar in other parts of the country. Flowers are not yet blooming, and while it is getting a bit warmer, it is still cold at night and there can be a cool breeze blowing even on warmer days. Yet, there are signs of spring beginning to fight its way to life here in the mountains.

I see those signs in the animals; more of them are out and they are becoming more active. Earlier this week, a fox ran in front of me on the road to my office, and on Friday night, a coyote ran in front of me across the road leading up to my house. It was heading for some hiding place among the scrub oak trees on the side of the hill behind by house. I understand there was a bobcat in the neighborhood one afternoon late last week. A better sign is the condition the deer in the neighborhood. They are losing their winter coats and most of them are looking like scraggly refugees from some horrible prison camp. Appearances can be deceiving, though. I think most of them look actually look fairly healthy – I’ve seen no stragglers struggling to hang on to life, and there are none that seem injured in any way. We may have a good crop of fawns this spring, both a curse and a blessing, but the first appearance of those fawns will be the final sign that confirms spring has finally arrived, probably in late May or early June.

In the mean time, there will be nothing but conflicting signs of spring struggling to overtake another winter. Looking out to Pikes Peak this morning, I see a storm brewing on the ridge line and it looks like it’s snowing in the high elevations. I think we may see some of that snow later on today, although the forecast is calling for it to be warm and windy here. I’d rather have a good heavy snow.

In any case, although it seems hard to believe, it’s time to begin to think of Lent winding down and the arrival of Easter morning. It’s a good time to re-focus on the meaning of this time of penance and re-energize the preparations for Holy Week and Easter, but I’m still keeping an eye on the deer.


Priest's Union

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The following is from an article in Sunday’s Calgary Sun newspaper. To say it boggles the mind is an understatement.

A Canadian Roman Catholic body representing 22,000 priests, nuns and religious brothers has labelled the Vatican and the Canadian church outmoded on issues such as homosexuality, contraception and divorce, reports said yesterday.

In a letter sent to every bishop in the country, the Canadian Religious Conference also says the church is locked more into defending church dogma rather than listening to people's search for meaning, and faults the Canadian church for its "unconditional alignment ... with directives issued from Rome."
The letter talks about the Vatican's and the Canadian church's intransigent stands on sexual morals, their unwelcome attitude toward homosexuals, their lack of compassion for those who divorce, their fear of dialogue with other churches and their censorship of dissenting views.

The letter goes on to say:

"This is an uncommon step for us to take," a Toronto newspaper reports the letter as saying. "We take it with the firm conviction that it is absolutely essential, particularly at this time in the great history of the church. Our church has seen great suffering and is being called upon, now more than ever, to carefully discern the signs of the times."

I'll have to say, when I first saw this story, I thought it was a joke, or a parody of a protest by your stereotypical, sixties' dissident. After all, the thing contains every cliche ever used by those of that ilk. I mean, "discern the signs of the times", "search for meaning", "outmoded". C'mon, how tired are those expressions?

The letter also contains every error, or misrepresentation of "dogma" ever propounded by such groups. To take one example, the letter refers to the Church's teaching on divorce as being among her outmoded ideas. But, those teachings were not just dreamed up by the Church, they come from Jesus himself. We read this in Matthew 19:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

These words of Jesus are at the heart of the Church's teaching on divorce. If you want to say they are "outmoded", then everything that Jesus ever said or did is subject to being considered outmoded. Where do you stop? Which of Jesus' teachings do you decide to accept or reject? Are these people suggesting that Jesus was unable to "discern the signs of the times"?

One of the things that finally drove me from being a Presbyterian to becoming Catholic is the tendency among liberal Protestants to do this same thing. They will take a passage from the Bible, one that is very clear in its meaning, one that is clearly not politically correct, say Paul's discussion of homosexuality in Romans 1, and say "oh, it doesn't really mean that, you know. He's talking about something else entirely." You can expect, and almost accept this kind of thing coming from a Protestant, but from someone who represents themselves as Catholic? It's a lie, from the prince of lies and Catholics are supposed to know better.

I am waiting to find out if this letter was indeed some sort of joke perpetrated by someone with, at best, a weak sense of humor. If not, I have to admit to mixed feelings on my hoped for reaction from the Canadian bishops. Part of me wishes they would react strongly against this impertinence, for the sake of the Church and their flock, if not for themselves. It seems that failure to react to so bold a challenge is to give the impression that the teachings of the Church are not really important and need not be followed. Worse, some could interpret weakness here as a sign that the bishop's themselves are not all that convinced of the truth of the Church's position on these issues.

On the other hand, there might be some reason to look for a pastoral reaction. I think this kind of letter from a group supposedly representing priests and religious is much more dangerous to the faithful today than in the past because of the abysmal state of catechesis today. There are a good many people out there today who likely do not see anything wrong with this kind of thing, who think that maybe the Church should get in tune with the "signs of the times." The pastoral thing to do would be to make a real effort to promote solid, orthodox, catechesis for the (adult) faithful, and make it much more widely available than it is today.

Finally, I think if I were one of those Canadian bishops, I would certainly call an assembly of all the priests in my diocese. The purpose would be to have a real heart to heart talk. In the military, we used to call it a "come to Jesus meeting."

Awaiting Further Instructions

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This appeared in the latest issue of National Review:

"Liberals were outraged by the news that Justice Samuel Alito had written Focus on the Family's James Dobson a letter thanking him for his support and prayers. They will be even less happy to see the postscript to the letter, which NR has obtained. "P.S. Roe? Gone. P.P.S. Awaiting further instructions..."

Apropos of Nothing in Particular

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Yesterday was the first day of spring, and one can expect some strange weather at this time of year in the Rockies. But, I'll have to say, Colorado Springs experienced some very strange weather beginning late Sunday afternoon.

A major storm moved into the area Sunday afternoon, which is not too unusual occurrence for early spring in the mountains. The storm brought snow with it, also a common occurrence in this part of the country. What was unusual is that, when the storm first hit, it was a thunderstorm, complete with some fairly significant lightening and even hail. Now, I was a weather guy in the Air Force when I was young, and I spent about eighteen months in north Texas, in the middle of tornado alley. I've seen some wild weather, but I've never seen a thunderstorm produce both hail and snow. I'm thinking March is going out like a lion this year; we may even have snow for Easter.

Anyway, just wanted to get this on the record, for what it's worth.

Characters

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Anthony Esolen had an interesting post this past week on the Mere Comments blog about Dickens and his characters. One of the points Dr. Esolen makes is that Dickens is often accused of excess sentimentality, especially in creating characters that are models of feminine virtue. The argument is that there are no such people and it is unrealistic to create them, and perhaps further, amusing to reading them because they are so unbelievable.

Dr. Esolen rightly points out that, just because we who are living in the West today know no virtue, that doesn’t mean that there have never been virtuous people living in the world. He rightly points out that virtue is an all too rare quality among people today. I think, however, that the problem is deeper. There are no characters today because there is precious little authenticity in anything people do; there are no Dickensian characters today because, well, no one thinks he can be a character.

I was just reading in a book on fiction that the emphasis in fiction today is on character and action, rather than scene. This writer thinks that one reason for this is that no one walks much any more. Great writers, such as Dostoyevsky, Balzac, and, yes, Dickens, spent hours walking the streets of the cities they wrote about. The saw the scenes, the people, drank them in, so to speak, and then could write authentically about them. But, because of this, these writers could write about great characters. The scene, and being immersed in it, was a key reason, I think.

Today, few people would even think of taking the time to spend an hour walking around some city closely observing people going about their business. It would be a waste of time, nothing would get done. What could you possibly see down there? They wouldn't have any idea how to profit from such an exercise. We are too shut in on ourselves, in our Blue Tooth enabled cars, cell phones permanently affixed to our ears, waiting for life to come to us. Therefore, we don’t create even mediocre characters of ourselves.

Go back to my post from the other day and read Fr. Boylan’s story about the two men who walked home from work together and said prayers on the way. What two men today would walk home from work together, praying no less? They’d in their cars, windows rolled up, AC on, hitting the Interstate, cursing the inane drivers tying up traffic ahead of them, radio tuned to some talk show or the traffic report. Most wouldn’t even think of praying, much less think of a question like, is it okay to pray while I’m smoking? Fr. Boylan’s story seems silly because you would never see anything like that today; no one would even think of suggesting it. Yet, I bet those two men were truly characters, because they were out in their world, a part of it, in touch with who they were and their position in creation. They were authentic, and authentically human.


Dr. Esolen writes,

This evaluation rings true to me. We could, for experiment, take the words and habits and extraordinary deeds of any number of historical figures, write them up into a narrative, change the names and places, and see if the result would strike the modern reader as utterly implausible or sentimental. For we judge by what we are. With regard to some virtues (chastity, for instance; also modesty, manliness, womanliness, loyalty, obedience) we may be able somehow or other to distinguish the virtue from its parodical vice (prudishness, timorousness, machismo, cattiness, jingoism, and capitulation), but for the most part it's all a drab gray. Some people are color blind; we are virtue-blind. So we think that because we have never seen the bright green of a field in spring, nobody has; or because we have never known a woman whose chastity could overcome more than any "empowered" harlotry can, such women do not exist. Shakespeare puts it nicely: "He that is giddy thinks the world goes round."

We can’t distinguish the authentic from the parody because we’ve never seen the real thing, not only in virtue, but in simple human nature. We are all becoming carbon copies, one of the other, because we don’t know how to be ourselves.

We just don’t know how to be characters.

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"I hate women because they always know where things are."

James Thurber

A Spirituality of the Church

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This was just announced by AsiaNews.

15 March, 2006 VATICAN “Profound, inseparable and mysterious continuity” links Jesus and “his Church”

Benedict XVI announced that he will dedicate the forthcoming Wednesday catechesis to this relationship. Christ aimed to establish and to save the People of God, so an “individualistic” vision of his message, and claims of conflict between Jesus and the Church, are unacceptable.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The message of Jesus cannot be separated “from the context of faith and hope of the chosen people” because “even if his preaching is always an appeal to personal conversion, in reality it is continually aimed at the constitution of the People of God, who he came to gather together and save”. The affirmation of the “profound, inseparable, and mysterious continuity” between Jesus and “his Church”, which renders invalid the statement, “Jesus yes, Church no”, will be the theme to which Pope Benedict XVI will dedicate the reflections of the upcoming general audiences. This was announced by the pope himself as he addressed 30,000 worshippers present in St Peter’s Square for today’s audience. He said that once the cycle of reflections dedicated to the Psalms and Canticles of the Lauds and Vespers is over, he will dedicate himself to illustrating the “relationship between Christ and the Church, starting from the experience of the Apostles, in the light of the task entrusted to them”.



This should be a fascinating series of teachings from our Holy Father. It is really interesting to me because it ties with one of the central ideas of Fr. Boylan in the book I am reading for Lent, This Tremendous Lover, that is, the indispensible role of the Church in our salvation. This would be in direct contrast to the "Jesus and me" train of thought.

The Joy of Journals

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I confess, I am something of a journal freak; I really enjoy reading journals, and I don’t care whose journal it is. I have anthologies of journals, I own a complete set of Merton’s published journals, and I have read them all. One reason I enjoy these so much is that it becomes evident, especially from journals written centuries ago, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It is one reason to be confident in the promises of our Lord that the Church is under His protection, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. The problems that seem so terrible today are really nothing new.

Here’s an example of a journal entry by one Thomas Keame, written in 1706.

1706 - Memorandum that tho' Dr Tyndal of All-Souls be a noted Debauchee and a man of very pernicious Principles, yet he is so sly and cunning, and has that command over his Passions, that he always appears calm and sedate in company, and is very abstemious in his Drink, by which means he has no small advantage over those he discourses with, and is the more able to instill his ill Notions. Thomas Keame

Watery Science

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There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about water. Actually, I think the story said more about science and its methods than about water, but that’s just my opinion.

It seems that, for the last hundred years or so, scientists have been convinced that the molecular structure of water took the form of a mass of tetrahedrons, formed when each water molecule connects with four other molecules. Scientists have never known this for certain but the idea sounded good, so no one ever really questioned it. Until, that is, scientists at Stanford ran a pot of water through a machine called the Synchrotron. The results were amazing; they found that water is not structured as a bunch of tetrahedrons, but rather appears to be a mass of rings and chains formed when the molecules strongly connect to only two others. Who woulda thunk it?

There is an interesting quote from the story.

As often happens when the conventional wisdom starts to collapse, on closer inspection there wasn't much holding it up in the first place. The notion that water molecules form pyramids actually had little empirical support, Dr. Nilsson says: Experimental findings have been so sparse that theoretical work has dominated the field," and the theory is so inexact "that you can get almost any result you want just by tweaking" a few numbers.

“Experimental findings have been so sparse that theoretical work has dominated the field . . .” It seems scientists didn’t really do much in the way of experimentation to determine if their theory of the structure of water was true or not. And in the absence of such proof, they made up a story and stuck to it. If a story sounds good, just tweak the numbers to make them fit. Hell, no reason to get confused by the facts.

Makes you wonder what else that we take as scientific “gospel truth” is nothing more than a good story, doesn’t it? There are a great many Christians today, the Jesuit Vatican astronomer among them, who say that Intelligent Design should not be taught in schools because it is “not science.” Well, seems to me, neither is science.

Epigram

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Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Angry Left

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Joseph Bottum, writes over at First Things, about a meeting he had with a Liberal friend of his. The friend details exactly what will happen if the Democrats win Congress this year and the Presidency in 2008. I think there is a real possibility that what he is describing may well occur.

Bottum's conclusion is:

Well, the political situation is wildly exaggerated, of course, but some of these facts are not exaggerated at all: The Left in this country is more furious than it’s been since 1974, and they do believe there is blood in the water.


What’s more, if they should gain massive political power, their anger would probably spill over into criminalization of as much of the pro-life movement as they could reach. At the very least, they would end any hope of overturning Roe v. Wade, and the more they can tar the pro-life movement with what they believe is a criminal Republican administration, the more abortion is guaranteed as a permanent part of the American landscape.


I still believe that the Iraq situation is winnable, and I still hold that what I called the new fusionism between neoconservatives and social conservatives has deep and perduring roots, and I still think the initial invasion of Iraq was a moral thing to do. But suppose that my friend is right about the political future of America. What ought the pro-life movement to do—now—about it?

Prepare, vote and pray.

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I heard a brief story on the news while listening to the radio on the way home last night. This version of it comes from something called "The Peoples World Daily" or some such thing.

LOS ANGELES — A leading member of the Catholic Church has condemned a congressional resolution that, he says, further victimizes immigrants. In response he has initiated a campaign for immigrant rights.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese, attacked House Resolution 4437 as “a new attack on immigrants [and] a very malicious bill that imposes restrictions and penalties on immigrants [and also] those who offer them any kind of assistance.” The resolution was authored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Peter King (R-Calif.) who chair, respectively, the House committees on the judiciary and homeland security. The House passed the resolution on Dec. 17.

Its key provisions include changing undocumented presence in the U.S. from a civil to a felony offense, broadly expanding the definition of smuggling immigrants to include the provision of services to the undocumented, eliminating many due process rights for documented and undocumented, involving state and local police in enforcement of immigration laws, erecting 700 miles of a wall along the border with Mexico and adding many new military surveillance systems for border patrol.

For the CRS summary of this legislation, go here.

In a quick reading of this summary, I don't see any mention of charging those who provided services with felonies, nor do I see any mention of building walls on the border. Regardless, this bill is not an attack on "immigrants." It is an attack on criminals of both the illegal alien and the terrorist variety. Anyone who has spent any time on the border with Mexico knows full well that our borders are wide open. Anyone, from a Mexican peasant who wants to come to this country to work to terrorists hoping to make a major attack, can head from this border and have a decent chance of getting across. Clearly something needs to be done about that, and obfuscating the issue by trying to make it a question "social justice" is ridiculous.

Suck it Up!!

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One news service had this item of vital interest to report. It seems the Chinese Government has turned its attention to the vitally important topic of public spitting, the city's "most serious bad habit."

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 BEIJING - Beijing is launching a campaign to stamp out widespread public spitting in an effort to clean up its image for the 2008 Olympics.

The government has concluded that spitting is the city's "most serious bad habit," Zhang Huiguang, director of Beijing's Capital Ethics Development Office, said Wednesday.

"This year we will intensify our law enforcement efforts in this field," Zhang told a news conference. "We will require law enforcement officials to step up the frequency of fines."

The fine for public spitting is 50 yuan (US$5; euro4).

Tourists visiting Beijing often are startled at how many people spit or blow their noses onto sidewalks.

The crackdown is part of efforts to raise "ethical and cultural" standards in advance of the 2008 Summer Games, a major prestige project for the communist government.

Zhang said officials will launch an advertising campaign on radio, television, the Internet and mobile phones to "teach people the right way to spit."

"For example, you have to spit into a tissue or a bag, then place it in a dustbin to complete the process," she said.

Those without a bag handy needn't worry. Zhang said her office has organized a small army of volunteers who are already hitting Beijing's streets, handing out small "spitting bags" and wearing bright orange uniforms with the Chinese character "tan" - "mucus" - printed in yellow on the back.

She said enforcement will also be ramped up against littering - the second-worst habit her office faces - and pets fouling the streets, the No. 3 scourge.

If this is the worst they can do, it almost makes one want to move to China. Even here in "the Springs" there are people running around the streets with a lot worse habits than public spitting, that's for sure.

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Something really interesting in a post by Anthony Esolen at Mere Comments -- it is about a 20th century Italian scholar named Amerio.

The first paragraph reads:

What interests me most is that in that charnel house of a century, crammed with the hundreds of millions of people who died fighting for, or at the hands of, das Volk, or the Soviet, or the Cultural Revolution, or the malign imam of Teheran, or that whole clownish pageant of villains, charlatans, pomposities, and brutes -- people dying for a bizarre amalgam of the demonic and the banally material, a Master Race here and a gangrenous British Empire there -- Professor Amerio could yet claim, calmly, that at the heart of the misery was modern man’s misconception of the essences of the divine nature.

This ties in closely with what Fr. Boylan writes in his book, This Tremendous Lover, my Lenten reading project.

To foster the development of that union with God in the lives of the faithful is the purpose of this book. Our aim is devotional rather than didactic. We believe that the proper foundation of devotion is dogma, and that the best way to lead Catholics to live their Catholic life in its fullness is to try to make clear to them what a Catholic really is, and what the plans and the principles underying Christianity are. Believing that most of the evils of the day arise from the neglect of metaphysics in the world of thought and from the neglect of the interior life in the practice of religion, we try to show how the interior life is the logical sequence of the nature of the Christian, who, as someone has said, is composed of "a body, a soul, and the Holy Ghost."

Our liberal friends would have us believe that religion should play no part in the national life. Yet, there is good reason to disagree. True, religion can be a divisive issue. But for the better part of two centuries, this nation thrived because we shared a common understanding of the nature of the human being and the nature of government, and that understanding was based upon a shared Christian heritage. It was only when we began to turn away from that heritage that we began to see the disintegration of society that is all around us today.

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Finally, I would like to wish everyone a very blessed Ash Wednesday and Lenten season.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Of Interest category from March 2006.

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