Saturday, December 1, 2007

Spiritual Healing

Our next RCIA topic is reconciliation. As preparation for the topic we are asked to reflect on a past experience of healing. Well, I readily admit to being a sinner in need of forgiveness but I'm pretty sure that I don't want to publicly share my sins with the rest of the group (and I hope the rest of the group feels the same way). I can share my experience of seeing healing and forgiveness in other people though.

Alcoholics Anonymous with its twelve steps is a program that has enabled people who have been stuck in a pattern of sin to leave their sin behind and embrace a new way of life. Some years ago J. Keith Miller in his book A Hunger For Healing: the Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth provided valuable insights into the potential of the twelve steps as a model for spiritual healing. In his book Miller give his Twelve Steps of Sinners Anonymous:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over our Sin - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These twelve steps provide a good snapshot of the process of spiritual repentance and reconciliation. I note that it recognizes the importance of Divine grace in steps two, three, five, six, and seven. I also note the importance of "confessing" to another person (step five).

I know many people who have struggled with alcoholism. I think of one friend who struggled with booze since his teen years. We often drank together and I recognize that I easily could have fallen into the same pattern that he did. The point is that he did go to AA meetings for some time and remains friends with his sponsor - but he has not stopped drinking. I do know of another person who went through the same pattern. At some point though she entered AA and has been working her twelve steps since then. This has left her free to become a different person. As far as I know she has not had another drink. She was raised in the Anglican church and felt drawn back to church. She is now a candidate in RCIA for entrance to the Catholic church at Easter. In her career life she has become a caregiver for challenged people. She is the adoptive guardian of a 40 something lady who was left mentally handicapped by a drug overdose. She devotes her spare time to coaching in the special Olympic movement. I have to say that working the twelve steps has been an occasion of considerable spiritual healing for this person.


We are finally beginning the season of Advent. I say finally because at least three of the houses on my block have had their Christmas lights shining for the past week or so. Also, it seems that many of the stores in this city put up their Christmas decorations as soon as Halloween was over. I know that this makes me seem like the old guy that I am but I remember (with some fondness) the season of Advent when I was much younger. In our house we kept a traditional Advent. The Christmas tree did not go up until Christmas eve. The tree was kept up until Epiphany. Throughout Advent my mother (God rest her soul) spent an incredible amount of time cleaning the house and baking for Christmas. Frequently this extra work (there was already enough work for her since she had eight children and helped with some farm work) exhausted her so much that she slept through Christmas morning. Advent is intended to be a time when we look forward to the coming of Christ and prepare ourselves for this great event.

What has caused the change? I'm not actually sure. As far as the lights go I think that being this far north some people put their lights on early simply as a protest against the ever increasing hours of darkness at this time of the year. Another obvious explanation is that we actually live in a post-Christian culture where the spiritual meanings attached to the liturgical and calendar year have been lost and replaced by commercialism. I think that what remains is for individual Christians to try to retain the real meaning of the time of Advent and try to "wait" to celebrate Christmas until the feast itself. For my part I will miss (another sign of my age again) even the celebrations of a fifteen or twenty years ago when our whole family could still gather at the farm and the nieces and nephews would open gifts with their eyes wide with excitement and amazement.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Politics and Religion

"So, can someone who is Catholic vote for the Liberal Party of Canada anymore"? I was asked this question recently by a neighbor while we were having supper. The truth is that the nature of liberalism has changed considerably in the past number of years. In the past lots of people related to the themes of liberalism found in the "New Deal" of Franklin Roosevelt. It seemed proper to stand up for the poor and to try and find ways to help improve their lives. But it seems to me that other themes have come to dominate liberal agendas. Abortion is one issue that seems to identify liberals now. Gay marriage is another issue that liberals seem to have adopted. So the question asked is a good one. If the Liberal party consistently adopts positions that are contrary to Catholic social teaching does it follow that a Catholic voter should refuse to vote for a Liberal candidate? This issue has drawn a great deal of attention in the US where the support of the Democratic party for abortion has led many conservative Catholics to suggest that voting Democrat should be unthinkable. Recently the Boston Globe quoted the archbishop of Boston on this issue:

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, saying the Democratic Party has been persistently hostile to opponents of abortion rights, asserted yesterday that the support of many Catholics for Democratic candidates "borders on scandal."..."I think the Democratic Party, which has been in many parts of the country traditionally the party which Catholics have supported, has been extremely insensitive to the church's position, on the gospel of life in particular, and on other moral issues," O'Malley said.

A complicating factor here is the nature of democracy. Is the role of the elected representative to follow the "party line" in his voting or is it to follow the wishes of constituents (as nearly as they can be perceived) in voting. It seems to me that the American system tends to more closely follow the second option while more emphasis is placed in Canada on following the party line. This aspect of democracy is what leads some politicians to claim that they are personally opposed to abortion but their votes reflect the wishes of their constituency. Besides, how much influence can one legislator have?

Another issue to consider here is the existence of other important issues besides abortion. So, for example, if candidate A was opposed to abortion but was in favor of using nuclear weapons to deal with the problems in Iran (an American issue, I know) it might be possible to vote for candidate B, even though they favor abortion, because they oppose the nuclear option for Iran.

Generally, then, it should be difficult for a Catholic to vote for a Liberal because of the party policies that are contrary to Catholic social teaching. It might be possible to do so, however, to avoid some kind of greater evil.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Scripture and Tradition

Chapter II of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) explains the teaching of the Church regarding the role of both Scripture and Tradition in the handing on of the faith. Following are some points mainly from scripture that point to the role of tradition in Divine Revelation.

First of all we have the question of scripture itself. How do we know what books are in the canon of scripture and what books are left out? We cannot find an answer to this question in scripture itself. The answer has to be found in the tradition of the Church eventually given written form by a council of the Church. Regarding Hebrew Scriptures; why does the canon here differ between Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. The answer again is found in tradition. The Catholic Church accepted into the canon of scripture all those books included by the Alexandrian tradition (the Septuagint translation) while during the Reformation Protestant churches instead accepted the later canon of the Palestinian tradition.

Secondly, we find this testimony at the end of John’s gospel: (John 21:25)

25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

If Jesus is the complete revelation of God and only some of what he said and did was eventually written down it makes sense to me that some of what he taught could also be part of the tradition of the early Church. Also, if we accept the verdict of scripture scholars that the Gospels were written down some time after the life of Christ we must accept that originally the stories of Jesus were handed on by the tradition of the early Church before the scriptures were even put into written form.

We can see evidence of this early tradition in the letters of Paul. For example in 1Corinthian 11:2 we find:

2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.

Here Paul seems to be saying that the normal way of passing on the teachings of Christ was through oral tradition. Again in 2Thessalonians 2:14-15 we find:

14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news,* so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters,* stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Here Paul says that the traditions were passed on both by written letters and by word of mouth. In the second letter to Timothy Paul makes references to tradition as well as to scripture

14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news,* so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters,* stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. (2Timothy 1:13-14) Note the virtual repetition from 2 Thessalonians.

2You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; 2and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well (2Timothy 2:1-2). Note that Timothy hears the message rather than reading it.

Finally, in the second letter of John we find a passage indicating the desire of the teacher to talk face to face with the people rather than communicating through written letter. (A sentiment found also in 1Thessalonians 3:10).

12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (2John 12)

Additionally, in Acts 8: 30-31 we see demonstrated a need for people to have help interpreting the scripture. This help comes from tradition.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

So, it seems to me that there are verses in the scripture that point to a role for tradition as well as for written scripture in passing on the Word of God. We must of course have a proper understanding of what tradition is (it is not the whim of the Magisterium) and we must understand that Tradition and Scripture go together. (All quotes are taken from the NRSV translation of Scripture)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Prayer, the Saints, and RCIA

Inquirers in RCIA sometimes have questions about the role of saints in Catholic prayer. The first thing to note is that Catholics do not pray to the saints in the sense that they (the saints) have any power of their own. We ask them to pray with us to God, just as I can ask people in my family or community to pray with me to God. We do assume that they can hear us because they are with God, and lived very good holy lives. We feel their prayers joined to ours will be powerful. However, we do not think that it is necessary or essential to pray to saints. The one mediator (intercessor) is Jesus who is the bridge between God and us. Jesus is really the essential conduit. However, we do venerate the saints, which is not to say that we give them adoration and honor due to God alone. It means that we honor them as people who cooperated with God’s grace in this life and are among the great cloud of witnesses in heaven as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,
especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share
in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the
transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They
contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they
have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master,
they were "put in charge of many things."42 Their intercession is
their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask
them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

The saints are fully human and they give us an example and the hope that we too can succeed if we persevere in doing God’s will. Again, the Catechism says:

956 The intercession of the saints. "Being more closely united to
Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more
firmly in holiness. . . .[T]hey do not cease to intercede with the
Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on
earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ
Jesus. . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly
helped." (1Tim 2:1-5)

Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death
and I shall help you then more effectively than during my
life. (St. Dominic on his deathbed to his brothers)

I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. (St Theresa of Lisieux)

Note the pattern of prayer when the Church remembers saints:

“Father, you endowed Anthony Claret with the strength of love and patience to preach the Gospel to many nations. By the help of his prayers may we work generously for your kingdom and gain our brothers and sisters for Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” (Liturgy of Hours, Oct 24)

Notice that the prayer is addressed to the Father. The example of the saint (in this case, Anthony Claret) is mentioned and the prayer is summarized through Jesus who is the intercessor. Again, the Catechism has this to say about the prayer of intercession:

2634 Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray
as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of
all men, especially sinners.112 He is "able for all time to save those
who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make
intercession for them."113 The Holy Spirit "himself intercedes for
us . . . and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."(Romans 8:26-27)

2635 Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another
- has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age
of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an
expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays
looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,"
even to the point of praying for those who do him harm..(Phil 2:4)
2636 The first Christian communities lived this form of fellowship
intensely.116 Thus the Apostle Paul gives them a share in his
ministry of preaching the Gospel117 but also intercedes for them.(Phil 1:3-4)
The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: "for all
men, for kings and all who are in high positions," for persecutors,
for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.( 2Tim: 2:1)

So, to summarize:
1. Intercessory prayer (praying for the needs of another) is a basic form of prayer.
2. Our belief in the communion of saints means that we remain in community (communion) with those people who have gone before us and are now in heaven.
3. When we remember the saints in our prayers we do not pray for them (that would be pointless) and we do not pray to them (that honor is due to God alone). Rather we remember their example and dare to hope that their prayers might help us on our own journey. Note that occasionally Mary will be addressed in a manner than is different from all other saints. This reflects her unique relationship with Jesus but still does not change the basic pattern of our prayer.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

RCIA and Church

At the end of RCIA last week I was impressed with the amount of intelligent participation from most of the inquirers in our group. When I think of the coming session tomorrow I worry a little. I hope and I pray that we can keep the positive atmosphere and good participation going. I know that when good things happen in RCIA that it is the work of the Holy Spirit but I hope that the participants and the team can keep co-operating with the Spirit. Most especially I know that in RCIA a lot is expected of everyone. I hope that I don't say or do anything that would make this experience into a burden for anyone.
The notion of burden is an important one. Many of the blogs that I read on the subject of RCIA deliver the impression that the writer definitely felt that RCIA was a burden and that the Rite was simply a hoop to jump through. From the viewpoint of the Church sacramental preparation (like preparation for adult initiation) is a key opportunity for catechesis. So for the participant (and in the RCIA) the whole process is an opportunity for grace. It is an opportunity obviously to grow in relationship with God.
Another thing that bothers me (or worries me) is the notion that members of the RCIA team are somehow "gatekeepers" of the sacraments of initiation. In other words that we will evaluate participants and decide if they are "worthy" of admittance to the Church. There is no question that this idea was part of the RCIA in historical times and I recently read a blog where the writer bragged that he had excluded a number of the people that he had sponsored from admittance. In this parish I know of no case where that has happened. We regularly have people who withdraw on their own from RCIA at some point after speaking with the Father but nobody has ever been excluded by the team. Such a thing could happen I suppose if the participant was giving some kind of public scandal but it has not happened so far.
The most interesting question from the session last week was one that I had not heard from an inquirer before. She asked about spiritual dryness. She, or her friend, was getting discouraged in prayer and found it difficult to continue. Off the top of my head I recalled the fuss that surrounded the Time magazine article about Mother Theresa's "dark night" in her own prayers and used that to assure the lady that such "dryness" could be perfectly normal. Thinking about it since then I realize that for beginners (if that is what the inquirer here is) the answer is probably simpler than the "dark night" one. Firstly, someone might begin praying or meditating with great enthusiasm but with a preconceived notion of what ought to be the result of this prayer. When the preconceived result does not come the person might become disillusioned. Of course prayer is an encounter with God and it does not automatically follow that we can determine the result on our own. God has something to say here. Secondly, it is possible that we might begin to pray with motives that are tainted in some way. We might hope for example that becoming a leader in prayer will establish some kind of status in the Church. In such circumstances people might become disillusioned with prayer as well. So beginners can experience their own sort of "dark night of the soul" but that does not need to place them in the same category as John of the Cross or Mother Theresa.

Finally, in preparation for the session tomorrow, we are asked to reflect on our initial reactions to the word "Church". For me, this word brings me back to the Church of my early childhood. I remember the old church at St. Emerence parish. I remember the pews, and the Latin (especially Father singing the preface) and the incense and the bells. I'm not sure what feelings I connect with this. I suppose that it was a feeling of mystery and comfort at the same time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

RCIA journey

This year's rcia for our parish shows a lot of promise. We have an interesting group (9 people so far, I think) So far the group is all female and composed mainly of teachers from our Catholic school system. We are using the Growing in Faith Project by Bill Huebsch from Twenty Third Publications for the first time in RCIA. This is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and was intended to be for Adult study groups. One of the good things about this resource is that it provides solid doctrinal content and asks questions in a mature way. One problem is that the program has 48 booklets while we don't have nearly that many weeks available to us in this years RCIA (especially considering the early date for Easter this year). So, I would have to say that as we begin this year I am eager to see how some of the changes we have made work and I am hopeful that together the group for this year can grow in their faith journey.

One of the things about RCIA that is important is the notion that everyone in the whole faith community is on a journey (not just those who are candidates or catechumens). Religious conversion is not a single event deal. Yes, we celebrate Baptism as a sacrament of initiation into the Church. But Baptism (especially for persons baptized as adults) only comes after a process of initial interest in the Gospel and growth toward acceptance of the Baptismal commitment (which is to continue to progress in our faith journey until we finally meet God face to face.

So, my faith journey began when I was baptized a few days after I was born (you could also say that my journey began even earlier than that since I was created by God with the ultimate destiny of union with Him). When I look back on my personal faith journey I can see similarities with the journey of the Israelites in the book of Exodus. My journey has had (as the journey of anyone could) times of :
  • intense interest in and awareness of the journey.
  • a lack of interest and a lack of progress on the journey.
  • doubt about how to proceed on the journey.
  • doubting God and even anger with God.

I know that some of the steps that I have taken on my journey have been the correct ones. I still worry that sometimes I have missed or might still miss an important step on my journey. I also have hope that I will be able to leave behind some of the things that still keep me from Christ and eventually "meet God face to face".

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sports and Catholic Schools

Occasionally people express the opinion that sports, particularly competitive team sports have no place in the curriculum of a Catholic School. In order to deal with this opinion it is good to first examine the basis for such a contention.

First of all, there is no doubt that it is possible to cite regular examples of sports figures being less than perfect role models for students. As I write this the McLaren racing team is being subjected to severe penalties for "cheating" against its rivals from Ferrari. The coach of the New England Patriots is apologizing for making videos of opponents signals for the purpose of gaining advantage. Michael Vick might be out of a sports career after charges that he had some role in organizing dog fighting matches. Many fans objected to whatever record Barry Bonds set because of allegations of steroid use on his part. This past summer so many athletes failed drug tests during the Tour de France that the final result became irrelevant in the press. As I write this O.J. Simpson (who has not been a role model for some time) is being questioned over his role in a break-in/robbery at some sports memorabilia event in Las Vegas (does anyone collect Simpson memorabilia?). So, it seems that despite public relation efforts (The NBA cares!) there is lots of evidence that contemporary sports culture does not provide much in the way of role models to young people. On the contrary side there have been examples of athletes who were fine role models of course.

Secondly regarding the role that team sports plays in our culture is the allegation that sports itself has become a sort of religion. That is, people put ultimate value on winning and overcoming the opposition instead of placing ultimate value with God where it belongs. Sundays are increasingly dominated by sporting events at the expense of church..

Thirdly, people say that competitive team sports are incompatible with the Gospel. In the Gospel of Matthew (Chpt 5) we find Jesus saying:

38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

These points seem to summarize the case that people make for objecting to competitive team sports in the program of a Catholic school. On the surface these are logical points and it is important to recognize the logical basis for concern regarding this question. Still it is possible to deal with these concerns and make a case for the role of competitive sports in our Catholic schools.

First of all, it seems important to point out that just because contemporary sports is full of examples of behavior incompatible with Gospel values it does not follow that sports is not capable of providing examples of behavior based on the Gospel. So, just as in the past there were examples of athletes being models of dedication, perseverance, and concern for others (team work); it is quite possible that these kinds of examples can exist now and in the future. Christianity has a long tradition of being counter-cultural and if we are aware of the values that ground us it should be possible to play competitive sports in a way that is compatible with the Gospel.

Regarding the passage from Matthew quoted above certain things stand out. First of all, in this passage Jesus is not talking directly about competition. He is talking instead about retalliation and the commentators I have read suggest that he is using hyperbole to make a point. In other words I do not think that Jesus intended all of his followers to be absolute pacifists as the passage suggests. So, what we have here is not a black and white question. The whole question of the attitude of the early Church to soldiers suggests the complexity of our approach to this issue. On the surface of it you would expect the early Church to be strongly opposed to soldiers since they sort of are the atithesis of the Gospel ideal suggested in the passage from Matthew. Still, even in the New Testament we find soldiers being portrayed in a favorable light. The confession of the soldier seeking a cure for his child is still a part of our liturgy: "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof ...". The words of the centurion at the foot of the cross make another example as does the reference to Cornelius in the book of Acts. In each of these cases the author does not explicitly approve of the soldier's profession but does not condemn the profession either. Paul uses military analogies in his writing just as he uses sports analogies (I hope to post something on this in the future) In his book, We Look for a Kingdom, Karl Sommer discusses the complexities of the attitude of the early Church to soldiers. You expect to find a blanket exclusion for soldiers seeking to enter the Church but we find examples of soldiers as Christians from very early on. The point here is if we were taking the passage from Matthew literally and were applying it in a black and white kind of way we would expect the attitude of the early Church to be quite different from what it actually was. The reality is that early Christians recognized that there was much that was morally objectionable in a soldier's life (participating in executions for example) yet there were also values and attitudes that could make a soldier a good Christian. I think that the same point applies to athletics. There are no quotes from Jesus (that I can think of) regarding sports and athletes but Paul does make significant use of sports analogies although again he neither approves of nor objects to sports. I would suggest therefore, that competitive sports does not have to be incompatible with Gospel values. I hope in a future post(s) to explore the ways that competitive sports can be effective ways of promoting some important spiritual values.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sponsors and the RCIA

Someone blogging about his start in the RCIA recently wrote of his concern over being judged by the members of the RCIA team. They would, he wrote, discern whether he was discerning and the result could be him being discerned right out of the RCIA. Now on a RCIA team we know what the director does and we know what the catechist(s) does but what is the role of the sponsor (who presumably does some of the discerning in this writers eyes)?

The text for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has this to say about sponsors:

"A sponsor accompanies any candidate seeking admission as a catechumen. Sponsors are persons who have known and assisted the candidates and stand as witnesses to the candidates' moral character, faith, and intention. It may happen that it is not the sponsor for the rite of acceptance and the period of the catechumenate but another person who serves as godparent for the periods of purification and enlightenment and of mystagogy."

So according to this document a sponsor can have the role of "standing as witnesses" with regard to a catechumen's readiness for the sacraments. We evidence for this role as early as in the writings of Origen (c. 185 - 253). Remember though that in the situations that Origen faced the Church was still a persecuted minority. As a result of this reality great care was needed to make sure that those presenting themselves for Baptism actually understood all that was involved and were prepared to live their lives accordingly. So, presumably if a sponsor in RCIA knows that a candidate for Baptism is living a public life that is obviously in conflict with their Baptismal vocation it would be appropriate for them to communicate this as part of a discernment process. It is unfortunate that this might convey an image of the RCIA team being in judgement however because the most basic ministry of the sponsors and the entire faith community in the RCIA is one of demonstrating hospitality and living the reality of their own faith. As the RCIA document puts it: "They (the community) should therefore show themselves ready to give the candidates evidence of the spirit of the Christian community and to welcome them into their homes, into personal conversation, and into community gatherings." This suggests that the most basic role of a sponsor is that of companion. A good way of coming to some understanding of this role is to look at the role of a sponsor in a 12 step program. We can see from this that the most basic requirement of a sponsor is that they be aware of their own spiritual journey and be able to talk informally with their candidate about their experiences. By offering welcome into the community the sponsor begins the process of providing their candidate with connections in the community that will enable their faith journey to continue and to flourish following their Baptism. In this context it is probably good that the RCIA document envisions the possibility of two sponsors. One at the beginning of the journey who can act as a companion and another near the time of the sacraments who can act as witness.

There are some things that might make a prospective sponsor less than ideal. Most basically, someone who has not been practicing their faith or who has serious issues with Church teaching might not make a good sponsor. We need to remember that RCIA focuses on the person seeking admission to the Church and personal issues should not compete with this central objective.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Lament at Sixty

My birthday coming up this week marks one of those life milestones. I will in fact turn 60. I have in front of me a chart showing Levinson's developmental eras and transitions of adulthood that tells me that I will be entering the transition to Late Adulthood. This is all enough to make me wish I were younger like the singer (Billy Ray Cyrus, I think) who sings "I want my mullet back" or the people in the Diet Pepsi commercials who decide that of all the things from their younger days they would prefer to have the Diet Pepsi.

The thing that strikes me the most is the reminders of mortality that are regularly presented. A comedian once said that at this age if you do not wake up with some kind of ache or pain you should consider the possibility that you have in fact died during the night. The aches and pains are a reminder that I am no longer young. The reality of death is another thing. Ten years ago a girl playing on the basketball team that I coached lost her mother suddenly. Fr. Mick asked if I would speak at the funeral and offer support to the girl and her family. Sadly I declined. At that time the thought of death caused me quite a bit of panic. Since then, because of deaths in my family, I have become more accustomed to death and funerals. In the last six years there have been five funerals in my immediate family beginning with a younger brother. 2006 was a horrible year with three funerals. I recall my older sister's remark sometime during this period that the funerals could not be why they called this "the golden years." What this does is hit you with the reality that you will not live forever and it takes a while to come to terms with that. My older brother, who died before he was 65 last year, often said that he was not afraid to die. I would respond that it would be a shame to die before you had to. So, there seems to be stuff to complain about and little to celebrate on a 60th birthday.

I know, of course, that there are also lots of opportunities for me at this age. Most obviously I am retired and am no longer tied to the job, even though teaching was a source of great fulfillment for me. I have a chance, and the time, to think and pray more seriously about my relationship to God. I have a chance to take more time to treasure the relationships with my surviving siblings even though I live quite a ways apart from most of them. I am grateful for the security and health that I do have. I know that both of my parents lived past their 85th birthday and so, if I look after my health, I can probably look forward to more good years. But I still don't think that I will celebrate my birthday later in the week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Population Problems

Writing in First Things Susan Yoshihara begins with the chilling statement that: "Right now, in any corner of the World, a baby girl is being killed just because she is a girl." The author goes on to explain:

Throughout human history, demographers tell us, nature has provided about 105 male births for every 100 females. This “sex ratio at birth”—stable across generations and ethnic boundaries—may range from 103 to as high as 106 boys for every 100 girls. In only one generation, that ratio has come unglued.
A Chinese census reports ratios as high as 120–136 boys born for every 100 girls; in Taiwan, ratios of 119 boys to 100 girls; in Singapore 118 boys per 100 girls; South Korea 112 boys per 100 girls; and in India, where the practice was outlawed in 1994, the ratio continues to exceed 120 boys for every 100 girls in some areas. Countries such as Greece, Luxembourg, El Salvador, the Philippines, Cape Verde, and Egypt, even among some ethnic groups in the United States (Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino), are showing the same deadly discrimination against daughters

Basically what seems to be happening is that modern "reproductive technology" (especially pre-natal gender determination and, of course, selective abortion) has enabled people having fewer and fewer children to be very selective about the children they do choose to have. The statistics point to a sharp preference for boy babies in such circumstances. Now of course, "reproductive freedom" implies that couples ought to be able to make such choices for themselves. However, the cumulative effect on the future (like the cumulative effect of couples choosing to not have children) can have unfortunate consequences for society.

What will some of these societies be like twenty short years from now when these short sighted practices result in a dramatic shortage of females able to be married? These choices (whether to have children and the gender of those children), even though they seem to be personal relate to the future of the society. Increasingly we seem to be inclined to make these choices simply on these personal motives and preferences. Our ancestors, when they migrated from Europe for example, did so largely because they looked forward to a better future for their descendants. I know they did not have the same "reproductive technology" and so they did not have the temptation that we have yet the reality is that they were focused on the future. Do we look forward to the future in everything we do? Will the future be better because of our decisions?

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The first part of August brings us to the anniversary of the events leading to the end of the war against Japan in 1945. By the summer of 1945 it seemed clear that Japan's power to wage aggressive war had been crushed. What remained was to force Japanese leaders to accept their defeat and surrender to allied (mostly American) forces. This was accomplished when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki. These events always raise the question of the morality of these acts in the light of Catholic moral teaching.

Reading the word's of Jesus in Matthew's gospel you might get the impression that Christians are called to be pacifists.
"38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church does however, describe self preservation (self defense?) as a legitimate cause for war. The Catechism seems to also require that the actions of self defense be proportional to the threat from the aggressor. (CCC. 2259-2267)

Now, in the case of Japan it seems clear that when the USA went to war in 1941 it was reacting to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact it seems clear that Japan was engaged in an aggressive war of conquest in the Pacific at that time. So I suspect that most people would say that initial American participation in the war was justified. However, was the use of atomic bombs justified in 1945. By 1945 Japan no longer had the means to wage aggressive war (although the Japanese army in China had been largely untouched by the war). The use of atomic weapons and the massive destruction of life which followed could hardly be described as a proportional response to the Pearl Harbor attack. So the justification that Hiroshima was simple retaliation for Pearl Harbor does not work from a moral point of view. There is however, the reality that even though Japan was clearly defeated by the summer of 1945 the country was still in the control of a fanatical band of militarists who would not accept defeat and who were prepared to sacrifice countless lives defending the Japanese homeland against invasion by using "kamikaze" tactics. So, the loss of lives at Hiroshima might be proportional to the loss of lives, both Japanese and American, that would be the consequence of an invasion of the Japanese home islands. So, if you accept that the defense of human lives (remember the continuing war in China) required the surrender of Japan and if you accept that the only way to achieve this was going to be by invasion then the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima might be justified. The attack on Nagasaki seems to be a different question to me.

Realpolitik is foreign policy based not on principles of morality but on calculations of power and of the national interest. Here is where the decision to attack Nagasaki (and to a certain extent Hiroshima) comes from. After Yalta at least some people saw the USSR as the future threat to the USA and to world peace. The USA had spent at lot of resources to acquire atomic weapons and they had no reason to believe that the Soviets were close to their own atomic bomb. Therefore it was in the US national interest to demonstrate (to everyone, not just the Japanese) the power of this weapon and the importance of it in determining the future of world politics.

The role of the USA in world affairs can sometimes seem quite ambiguous. There is no doubt that sometimes the Americans have been the defenders of freedom and truth (like in World War Two). There have also been times when their decisions have been based primarily on the notions of power and self-interest. I think that one of the things that explains the difference between the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan is this distinction. In Afghanistan the outside military involvement has been primarily to depose and rogue government that was supporting terrorism and to restore stability to a failed state. The motives in Iraq however, seem much more confused and this is what contributes to the controversy over that war.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More Motu

On the weekend I had a chance to visit with an old friend and colleague. At one point the talk turned to the "extra ordinary" form of the mass as outlined by the recent motu proprio. The topic came up because a former student-athlete that we both knew is now attending Mass at a chapel of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in a town about two hours away. While driving two hours to attend Mass is evidence of amazing devotion I wondered if she and her family would return to the local parish if the parish began to offer Mass according to the 1962 missal.

I think that one of the motives behind the motu was to restore some of these people (like our former student) to their proper parishes. After some discussion I'm not sure that a simple "if you build it, they will come" approach to this is going to work. Many of the people that we know who attend the SSPX mass have complicated issues in the area of religion. On reflection the one explanation for this that makes partial sense to me comes from a book that I read when preparing for a master's degree project a few years back. In the book (What Prevents Christian Adults from Learning? by John Hull) the author describes several possible reactions to the increasing disconnect between religion and modern culture. He suggests that a common reaction is an attachment to something (or anything) that seems to provide certainty. So, people (even people like our student who was not alive in 1962) develop an attachment to the "old Mass" because it represents a time when things were more "black and white". I recall another example of this kind of attitude. Several years ago during a discussion on high school religious education I was told that we could solve a lot of the problems we were having with our young people if we only had more altar calls. This clearly is another example of someone seeing an overly simple solution to a complex problem. Still, my friend tells me that the SSPX chapel in his community in Southern Alberta has two Sunday Masses that attract 80 to 100 persons. That certainly represents a "stable number" referred to in the motu. If those numbers could be restored to the Church simply by instituting a regular "old Mass" in the parish it would be worth the time and effort. Still, its not certain that there are simple solutions to this situation (SSPX) as I've already said.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Rocco writing in Whispers in the Loggia blogspot makes an interesting point about current factions in the Catholic Church. Writing about Benedict XV (who became Pope in 1914) he quotes the Pontiff's encyclical: "24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics." Rocco asks if this sounds familiar to anyone.

Of course it does. I read a number of "conservative" bloggers. Anyone who reads such bloggers is familiar with the contempt some of these bloggers seem to have for other Catholics who do not share their point of view. These other Catholics are called by a variety of names, one common name being "cafeteria Catholics". Sadly some of these "conservative" writers even directly attack the character of particular Catholics who disagree with them. I was particularly distressed a while back when one of these authors made a particularly nasty and personal attack on the character of the well known auther Fr. Ron Rolheiser. Now Fr. Rolheiser's spiritual writings often do not seem to reflect the usual traditions of Catholic spirituality but then again perhaps that is because he is not writing to "traditionalist" Catholics but is in fact writing for those who might be alienated from the Church in some way. Anyway, It seems to me that personal attacks like the on just mentioned can not be justified. Of course "liberal" writers would not allow such attacks to go unanswered. Most recently a liberal writer coined the term "neocath" to describe such writers. Naturally by his definition "neocath" is not a positive word.

Now I know that this kind of factionalism is nothing new in the Church. St. Paul frequently writes to urge unity in the Church. In first Corinthians he writes: "10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose." In the letter to the Ephesians he writes: "4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." So, even in the apostolic era we seem to have had some divisions in the Church. The current factions are nothing new. This same problem also shows up later in the Church of the first few centuries. Ignatius of Antioch in his letters frequently urges the faithful to be united and faithful to their bishops. Now Rod Bennett writing in his book, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words makes the point that Ignatius was struggling against factions that wanted to dilute the original message of the Apostles. So when we have factions one faction might be faithful to "pure" Catholicism and the other not.

I'm not sure how to draw conclusions here. I am probably more "conservative" than I was thirty years ago, but it troubles me that people take their differences so seriously. The Church is called catholic (small c) because it is capable of embracing everyone. People who are baptized into the Church are in fact Catholic. We need to make every effort to welcome everyone into the Church without diluting or distorting the message of Jesus. That is why I welcome the recent motu proprio restoring limited use of the missal of John XXIII for Mass. If doing this makes some Catholics feel more welcome in the Church it will be a positive move. If (as might happen) it ends up being another case of "who wins" and "who loses" then we all lose. We should fight for what we feel is right but a Church that is needlessly divided is a scandal to the whole world.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Murder Hitler?

July 21 is the anniversary of the death of Count von Stauffenberg. On July 20, 1944 he had placed a bomb under the table in a meeting room used by Hitler. The hope was that after killing Hitler the conspirators would seize control of the German government and negotiate an end to the war. Obviously, Hitler survived the bomb blast and Stauffenberg was executed by an SS firing squad following his return to Berlin early the next day. Tom Cruise is currently filming a movie based on the life of Stauffenberg. Another blogger wrote about this yesterday and ended with a provocative question. He asked if it was right to try and kill Hitler. Answering his own question he implied that such an attempt was justified by Hitler's poor moral character.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) gives a slightly confusing answer to the question of killing someone like Hitler. First the Catechism states that: "There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it (1756)." Respect for life is the basic value at the root of this prohibition. So, no matter how evil Hitler may have been this could not justify killing him. No individual regardless of their age, or state of health, or criminal history deserves to die. I am comfortable with this teaching and I feel that the Church has been consistent in applying it. So, again, the point in answering our question is not the moral character of Hitler.

The Catechism also point out that: The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing." The Catechism adds this explanation: "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of ones own life; and the killing of the aggressor .... The one is intended, the other is not (2263)." I take this to mean that if the motivation for the assassination of Hitler is to end the killing then such an action can be morally justified. The objective is to end the taking of human lives; the death of Hitler is simply a consequence of this. Now, this sounds like splitting hairs but it is an important distinction. It explains, for example, why spokesmen for the Church opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein a while back. There was no question that Saddam was evil and that he had been responsible for the deaths of many. The point was whether his death was necessary for the defense of society. The Catechism explains that: "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor (2267)." In other words; since Saddam was in custody it was not necessary to execute him in order to prevent more loss of human life. In Hitler's case it was not possible to stop him by any other means and so an attempt to take his life was consistent with the defense of human life and was therefore morally justifiable. Now whether the Tom Cruise movie will be a crime is another question.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Politically Correct

Heterosexism is the latest addition to my lexicon of politically correct words. Google the word and you will find almost 600,000 entries. The ending of the word is intended to connect it with words such as racism. Heterosexism apparently is an ideologically motivated opposition any kind of non-heterosexual behavior. In practice it seems to be the sin of saying or implying that monogamous male-female relationships with children are in any way normative.

This is an interesting development. Back in the early 1980's when I was still teaching social studies we had an incident involving an individual teaching promoting his own version of history that happened to be highly prejudiced against the Jews. One of the outcomes for social studies teachers was that we were supervised more often (to catch anyone else who was promoting anti-Jewish ideas). Another outcome in this province was the promotion of tolerance and understanding as a key to a multi-cultural society. We were told that we needed to understand the basis for the differences in our society and to respect the rights of all groups to their own way of life. This is a bit different than the notion of heterosexism. Now the minority group does not seek to be understood or tolerated. Instead it seeks to make non-heterosexual behavior into a lifestyle that is equal in every way to any heterosexual lifestyle.

What has clearly changed here is any notion that there is a particular lifestyle or way of life that is "normal." This notion of society telling its members which behaviors are desirable and which are undesirable has been the basis for social organization (at least according to some sociologists). Clearly there still are some behaviors which we are still not prepared to condone as a society. (Think for example about pedophilia.) So the question is, does this new way of thinking about sexual lifestyles represent a new stage of enlightenment for our society? Or is this another step on the road to the disintegration of our society? Does my difficulty accepting this new way of thinking reflect homophobia on my part or does it reflect my socialization? If we used the "slippery slope" argument here does it follow that any choice regarding sexual lifestyle should be accepted as "normal" including those which we demonize today? I hope not.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Motu Proprio

The letter of Pope Benedict expanding the use of the 1962 missal of John XXIII has finally been published. Basically the letter makes it easier to use the older pre-Vatican II forms of the liturgy. The expressed hope of the Holy Father is that this letter will facilitate the reconciliation of traditionalist groups with Rome. I hope that such a thing happens. However, my reading of some of the things written by the Society of Saint Pius X (the group founded by Lefebvre) suggests that their attachment to the old missal is simply a sign of their rejection of many of the documents of Vatican II. I am not sure if we will ever see a latin mass in our parish although some people from our parish apparently regularly make a two hour drive to attend the old mass at a SSPX chapel north of here. So, although the Pope has high hopes for his letter (to take effect in September) and some traditionalists have been feverishly writing about it for months I don't think that the letter will change much.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nuptial Cohabitors?

Two researchers and writers from a Catholic university recently published an article in US Catholic that provoked a lot of comments. The authors were attempting to find a pastoral way to deal with the reality that fewer Catholics are going through with sacramental marriage and also that a significant number of those couples who do approach the Church for marriage preparation are already "cohabiting." The authors make a distinction regarding cohabitation between those who are already mutually committed in some way and so are "nuptial cohabitors" and those who have no intention of marriage (non-nuptial cohabitors). Their proposal involves a way to remove the stigma of "living in sin" from those who live together prior to their marriage. Their proposal involves a restoration of the period of betrothal to marriage:
Our pastoral proposal is straightforward: a return to the marital sequence of betrothal (with appropriate ritual to ensure community involvement), sexual intercourse, possible fertility, then ritual wedding to acknowledge and mark the consummation of both valid marriage and sacrament.
Since these couples will have already initiated their marriage through betrothal, their intercourse would not be premarital but marital, as it was in the pre-Tridentine Catholic Church. We envision a marital process initiated by mutual commitment and consent lived in love, justice, equality, intimacy, and fulfillment in a nuptial cohabitation pointed to a wedding that consummates the process of becoming married in a public manner. Such a process would meet the legitimate Catholic and social requirement that the sexual act must take place only within a stable relationship.
The process would be: Betrothal: The couple’s betrothal, which would involve a public ritual highlighting free consent to wed in the future, would be witnessed and blessed on behalf of the church community. The betrothal ritual would differ from the present wedding ceremony in that the consent would be to marry in the future. Such betrothal, as it did in earlier Catholic tradition, would confer on the couple the status of committed spouses with all the rights that the church grants to spouses, including the right to sexual intercourse.
Nuptial cohabitation: During this period the couple would live together as spouses, enjoying the approval and support of the community, and continuing the lifelong process of establishing their marital relationship as one of love, justice, equality, intimacy, and mutual flourishing. During this time the church would assist the couple with ongoing marriage education aimed precisely at clarifying and deepening their relationship
Finally, sacramental marriage would be a celebration of the committed relationship that exists and a commitment to further growth.

The authors were severely criticized for their proposal. The bishop of the diocese where they teach wrote a public condemnation of the proposal in question. The fear behind the criticisms apparently being that the proposal is simply finding a way to condone behavior that has long been considered immoral by the Church.

In the RCIA blogs which I read from time to time I regularly find discussions of the problems of dealing with these "nuptial cohabitors". I suspect that this matter is dealt with in a wide variety of ways from not dealing with it at all to insisting that the couple spend a period of time apart before the wedding. Would reintroducing the idea of betrothal (commitment to marry in the future) be a way of regularizing this increasingly common form of living arrangement? Would any of the couples who are "nuptial cohabitors" care? In the long run would accepting the author's proposal have any impact on the long standing Church teaching regarding the role of sexual intimacy in a relationship? These would be interesting questions to explore but I suspect the volume of criticism that this proposal generated means that such a proposal in not about to be considered any time in the future.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Canada in Afghanistan

Much is being said and written lately about Canada's military role in Afghanistan. Some people oppose the current role because they feel that Canada is acting as a proxy of the Americans. Others oppose the military nature of Canadian involvement. They feel that Canada should avoid military confrontation and focus on more peaceful ways of helping Afghanistan. Probably others feel that the rising casualty rate among Canadian soldiers is too high a price for Canada to pay in this instance.

First of all, war is hardly ever a good idea. It is possible to construct an argument from the Gospels that Christians ought to be pacifists. The tradition of the Catholic Church however, recognizes the concept of a "just war." Generally, a "just" war would be one fought in response to a threat to national peace and security using force which is proportional to the threat. On the surface I think that military action in Afghanistan is justified. (My opinion about American involvement in Iraq is quite different). Basically Afghanistan was (and still is to an extent) a failed state (no central government was able to exercise effective sovereignty over the territory). As a result of this power fell into the hands of terrorist groups. Now it is true that during the 1980's many of these groups were armed and financed by the Americans as a means of opposing the Soviets who had invaded Afghanistan. But still, the attacks in New York on September 11 showed that some of these groups headquartered in Afghanistan were willing to attack other countries. The attacks in Spain, Britain and other countries showed that these groups were not limiting their attacks to American interests. It seems to me then, that even though Canada was not directly attacked by terrorists Canada does have a national security interest in responding to the threat of terrorism arising from the Taliban presence in Afghanistan.

But Canada has made a name as a leader in peacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations people say. Peacekeeping as it developed with Canadian leadership was designed to provide a way for two sovereign groups to end a conflict without excessive bloodshed. This model however, requires that there be two groups who exercise control over their people and that both of these groups agree that they wish to end the conflict. The peacekeeping model worked to solve the problem in Suez in 1956 (temporarily at least) as well as in other places like Cyprus. The problem that arose during the 1990's is that some circumstances arose where the peacekeeping model did not work. In the former Yugoslavia for example, during the 1990's peacekeeping failed because at least one of the combatants was unwilling to end the conflict. In Somalia also, the warring groups were unwilling to submit to any kind of central authority and so peacekeeping could not work. What seems to be at work here is the idea of a failed state. A state where there is no effective control over the country. Here peacekeeping does not work. What is needed instead is an armed force that can use proportional force to restore order and central authority in the country. This is what ideally is happening in Afghanistan. Canadian (and other NATO forces) are present in the country as an armed force to aid the central government in restoring central control over the country (if such control ever did exist) One of the problems here is that it might be impossible to ever create a peaceful democratic Afghanistan or that doing so would take decades. This again raises the question of how much Canada is willing to pay in blood and dollars to help create and peaceful Afghanistan.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The "Old" Mass

In the blogs that I read regularly there is a great deal of discussion about so called "liturgical abuses" and about a declaration supposedly coming from the Pope (a motu proprio) that will permit celebration of the Mass as celebrated before Vatican II without expressed permission from the local bishop. This "restoration" of the older form of the Mass is of, I suspect, little interest for the vast majority of Catholics. It is apparently intensely interesting to about three smaller groups of Catholics.

The first of these groups are those who basically oppose the authority of the Popes who came after Pius XII. The most outstanding example of this group is the Society of Saint Pius X. This group was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in Europe some years ago in defiance of Pope John Paul. What Lefebvre did was to ordain more Bishops without the consent of Rome. We have representatives of this group here in Alberta. Its main "raison d'etre" seems to be the preservation of the "old Mass" but in reality there seems to be a broader disagreement in ecclesiology. The leaders of SSPX claim to be loyal Catholics but do not wish to accept many of the initiatives of Vatican II. Some writers have suggested that Pope Benedict's interest in a motu proprio is primarily to bring the SSPX back into union with the Church. In addition to SSPX there are a number of smaller groups who cling to the "old Mass" and reject the authority of the Church. On the internet you can find groups who insist that Pope John XXIII excommunicated himself when he initiated Vatican II and that subsequent Popes included Benedict were improperly elected and that consequently there currently is no valid Pope. Google "Pius XIII" and you will find the site of an elderly priest who now claims to have been elected legitimate Pope as the successor to Pius XII. The anticipated motu proprio might have some appeal to this group, particularly the SSPX, but many of their writings suggest that their problems are with current ecclesiology as much as with liturgy.

A second group of people interested in this anticipated motu proprio, I would suggest, are simply deeply conservative people who were taken aback by the sudden change that seemed to take place in the Church (especially in the liturgy) during the 1970's. These are simply people who feel that "old ways are best" and who long for "the good old days" of Catholicism which were before Vatican II. I have to say that I can recall the days before Vatican II and I remember our Pastor telling us that only protestant churches changed and the Catholic church would never change. I have read the expressed opinion that the current malaise in the Church is the result of changes in the liturgy instituted following Vatican II. These people, while well intentioned seem to forget that there were many changes in the broader society that brought about the current state of affairs in the Church since Vatican II.

A final group of people interested in the motu proprio I would suggest are people who are interesting in a reformation of the liturgy. These are people who feel that there is an over emphasis on the Eucharist as the meal of the assembly in current liturgy. These people would like to see a greater emphasis on the sacred nature of the Mass. They see the "old Mass" as a vehicle to restore a balance which they feel has been lost in contemporary liturgy.

People who supposedly know these things write that the motu proprio in question has been written and signed and that its promulgation is imminent. I only hope that whatever is said the changes that might come will result in better liturgies and greater unity in the Church.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Catholic Schools

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 50th year class reunion of St. Joseph High School in Grande Prairie where I live. I attended as a representative of the Catholic Education Foundation and gave a short speech about the work of the Foundation. The reunion was actually an impressive event. About 60 people attended some coming from far away. That so many people attended was impressive because fifty years ago it was common for people to only attend school to grade nine and so graduation classes were quite small. I should point out that besides the actual 50 year class (1957) there were also graduates from 1956, 58,59, and 1960.

From this group two things stood out for me. One was their memories of how much had changed in Grande Prairie since then. They talked of St. Joes as being basically a three room school (nothing like the new St Joes they toured during their weekend). They remembered Grande Prairie becoming a city, beginning to have paved streets (only some!), and getting actual sidewalks. The second thing that stood out for me about this group was the genuine affection and sense of familiarity that they still had for each other. Some of them, of course, being local remained in contact since their high school days but others who came from other areas seemed to readily fit right in with the crowd again. This reminded me of a speech that a dear friend used to give to graduating classes over 20 years ago and more. He used to speak of the "ghost of St. Joes" and of being in the building at night after everyone had left and hearing (remembering) the laughter and the tears and the learning and the prayers of groups that had passed through the building. His point was of course that a school is more than a building or a particular course of study. School is also those other things that happen like the friendships and the laughter and the mistakes and the sorrows. All of these, as much as a program of study, contribute to forming the students in a particular school. To me (an outsider to this group even though I taught at St Joes for almost 30 years and taught some of the children of this group) it was obvious that St Joes had been a good place for these students and had left them with many happy memories.

This brings me to a problem that I have encountered and that I worry about as I try to represent the Education Foundation. The problem is exemplified by the attitude of the lady who was cutting my hair a week or so ago. She was complaining about taxes ( and I was encouraging her), but then she added an objection to paying the education portion of the property tax since she had no children in the school system. In more general terms the problem is that now people tend to see schools as a place where they can acquire a specific set of skills to prepare them for the job market and nothing more. Obviously in this scheme, funding for schools should primarily be the concern of the student and the businesses that benefit from the skills acquired from the student. In this scheme what is there to motivate a bunch of people 50 years removed from their own school experience to consider supporting Catholic Education through the work of the Foundation?

The basic answer to this problem comes from looking at our attitudes towards the future. In our contemporary culture we are told to focus mainly on our own self-interest. Carried to an extreme (like it can be now) this leads people to ignore everything but the immediate future. This might be a problem that environmentalists face with regard to global warming. People might think, "if the effects of global warming are only going to be profoundly felt 20 or more years from now, why should I worry about it." Such an attitude also leads people to divorce themselves from the concerns of an enterprise like education which clearly is concerned (when it is doing its job) with the long-term future of society. In the "school as market" model of education if a student acquires a set of job skills but then does not acquire skills about citizenship then it seems to me that the future of the society is put in doubt. Education has to form students who can be the citizens that will continue to build the kind of society we want. This need to care for the future is even more obvious in Catholic Education where we are clear that our purpose is not just about providing students with job skills but is especially about forming students in the Catholic faith so that they can play their part in the building of the Kingdom of God. So as a citizen of a democracy and as a Catholic I can say that supporting education is something that everyone can and should do regardless of who they are or how old they are.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Conscience and the Magisterium

Many bloggers are commenting on this story from Australia originally published by the Catholic News Agency:
Sydney, Jun 5, 2007 / 10:09 am (CNA).- The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney wants its school leaders to publicly commit to a vow of fidelity by adhering to church teaching on some crucial issues--homosexuality, birth control and women's ordination.The vow would apply to its 167 principals, its deputy principals and religious education coordinators and would be a first for the Catholic Church in Australia, Fairfax newspapers report.The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, is behind the move to extend the oath. He is perhaps drawing his inspiration from the apostolic exhortation issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). In his exhortation, the late Holy Father calls for all those teaching theology in Catholic universities to take an oath of fidelity to the teaching of the Church and those who are not Catholic are asked to respect the Catholic identity of the school.

The conflict that is set up here has to do with the freedom of conscience that is supposed to belong to individuals versus the authority of the magisterium. The tricky part here is that the people who are being asked to take this vow of fidelity are representing the Church in some way. From the standpoint of a student it must be difficult to accept the authority of these school officials if it is known that the school officials themselves do not accept the authority of the Church. The natural reaction of the students would be to dismiss Catholic school claims to authority as meaningless. In other words I would favor such a policy for leaders in Catholic schools.

So, what happens then to freedom of conscience? I think that first of all, we must distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of conscience. Many times, when I find the opinion of the magisterium disagreeable I simply choose to ignore it. Is that a matter of conscience or a matter of taste? Generally regarding Church teaching it seems to me that a person who wants to claim a leadership role in the Church must strive first of all to use their intelligence and gifts of discernment to try to understand the basis for a particular teaching. In other words the first way to exercise intellect and freedom is to try to understand how to accept a particular teaching instead of deciding whether or not to accept it. If an intelligent person can, through prayer and study, understand the reasons for a particular church teaching; then accepting that teaching should be an easy thing. Accepting the teaching is just a consequence of occupying a leadership position in the teaching ministry of the Church.

For example, a while back I was asked to give an after-school presentation to teachers on the question of women's ordination. When I first studied this question my opinion was that the teaching of the Church was all wrong. However, because I was claiming some kind of leadership role I felt bound to study the teaching of the magisterium on this matter. Some of it was difficult to understand and not very compelling but I came to a point where I understood the scriptural and philosophical reasonableness of the Church's position. At that point I felt comfortable basing my presentation on the Church's position. Of course I drastically underestimated the emotional reactions that some people have on this topic but I felt that my duty was not to cast doubt on the magisterium but to try and show the reasonableness of the Church's position.

What would (should) I do if I can not understand the basis for the Church's teaching? Personally, I think that my first reaction should be to accept the teaching on the authority of the Church. Aside from the hermeneutics of suspicion I think that I should (unless proven otherwise) accept that the magisterial authority of the Church (Pope and Bishops) is made up of well-intentioned people who have the good of the whole Church in mind. What if my conscience (not taste) for some reason tells me after study and prayer that I cannot accept a particular teaching of the Church? Then, of course I must follow my conscience but still it seems to me that public dissent here does not advance the cause of Catholic education. Public silence on this matter of conscience for me would be called for. Of course you could come up with a hypothetical example where public dissent would be justified and expected but I don't think that such circumstances are likely.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wounded Knee

Last night I watched the HBO film Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee based on the Dee Brown book of the same title. I thought that the film did a good job portraying the central dilemma facing First Nations people in both Canada and the USA during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Essentially the problem was that in the clash of cultures that took place during those years the First Nations people were not likely to gain any kind of advantage. The attitude of the dominant European culture was that the native inhabitants of the land should be assimilated into the dominant culture - or become extinct. The problem was that those First Nations people who did try to become "white men" as a result of their experiences in the "white man's" schools soon found that they lost touch with their own communities and culture and at the same time were not fully accepted into the dominant culture.

Charles, the main character in the film, has such an experience. We first encounter him at the time of the battle of the Little Big Horn. In the aftermath of this battle his father takes the path of assimilation and he, Charles, (I forget his Sioux name) is sent east to school. He returns to his people years later as a doctor but finds that corruption,bureaucracy, and indifference make it impossible for him to have a meaningful impact on behalf of his people. The film culminates with the massacre at Wounded Knee where the members of the US 7th Cavalry (Custer's unit at Little Big Horn) open fire on a mostly unarmed group of Sioux.

The story illustrates a very real tragedy. I can not imagine any alternative situation (given the culture of the 19th century) that would not have had a tragic outcome for the First Nations inhabitants of this land. There were, of course, many other outcomes that were far more tragic. It appears for example that the native inhabitants of the Caribbean islands were driven to extinction quite early in the period of European contact. The Beothuk, inhabitants of Newfoundland were also driven to extinction, mostly as a result of European contact.

The problem I have in my way of thinking is regarding what to do about this tragedy. Very real damage was done to some people. (I have already written regarding my sympathy for those students in residential schools who were the victims of sexual or physical abuse). The question is what can or should be done for the First Nations people? Is there a way for them to maintain their culture and exist in the majority society without having some measure of economic sovereignty? Will there ever come a time when the majority society does not "owe" them for what was done by our forefathers to their forefathers?

Monday, May 21, 2007

High Prices

Two related items caught my attention in the news lately. First of all is the issue of gasoline prices. On CNN much was being made of the fact that US prices had passed $3.19 per gallon (for the record, the equivalent current price where I live is about $4.65 per US gallon. The second item that caught my attention was the editorial headline "Cheap rent is not a public right." In the editorial the author was attempting to make a case for preserving the free market in rental accommodation in the face of increasing pressures for rent controls to deal with dramatic inflation in rental costs recently.

Both of these items are related in some way to the free market system. In both cases we are told that the shortage (or apparent shortage) of gasoline and rental accommodation has caused the price increase. We are told that the only thing to do is to maintain the free price system and that the market will eventually correct itself. So, for example, in an ideal system an entrepreneur might find high gasoline prices attractive enough that he would invest in increased refining capacity. This increase in capacity would relieve the shortage and result in a decrease in prices. The same is theoretically true for rental accommodation. So why is this unlikely to happen?

The problem I would suggest is that the capitalist system as it exists now is not the "perfect" system of the theoretical model. Take for example the issue of gasoline prices. I've already said that in the pure system high prices would motivate someone to invest in increased production which would drive down prices. The problem is that this would only happen where there was perfect competition - which we don't have. First of all, the government (for good reasons) imposes lots of regulations on the building of refineries. This decreases the motivation for anyone to want to build these things. This results in a situation where a relatively small number of companies dominate the refining capacity of Canada and the USA. A competitor is unlikely to build a new refinery and the existing few refiners are certainly not going to do so. What this means is that the price issue can only be solved by decreasing demand. As prices escalate some people (the poorest) will eventually withdraw from the market thereby lessening demand. The problem with is is that the sting of high prices falls disproportionately on the poor. The second point about this is that the huge profits that go to the oil companies are truly "windfall" profits. They are unlikely to invest these profits in anything that might alleviate short-term prices. The only thing the average person can do about it is to hope that he has oil company stocks in his retirement portfolio. This is one "flaw" in our current capitalist system.

The second "flaw" has to do with the issue of the pursuit of self-interest that is central to capitalism. This idea comes from Adam Smith who prior early in his career was a lecturer in Moral Philosophy at Glasgow. As such I suspect that Smith would have seen a distinction between the pursuit of self-interest and greed or avarice. This is a central problem that capitalism faces today. At what point does the unrestricted pursuit of self-interest deteriorate into something that harms instead of helps the people and therefore becomes criminal in nature? We know from Enron and the Savings and Loan scandals (among others) that this descent into criminal behavior can happen. Now, I'm not saying that a landlord doubling the rent for a senior citizen living on a pension is engaged in criminal behavior but such an action would certainly seem to be immoral from my point of view. The landlord is entitled to an increase but at some point increasing the rent just because you can is simply greed and the harm that it might to in individual cases is what could make it immoral.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Last Sunday was Mothers's day. Some one on TV quoted a TV personality as saying roughly now that his Mother was gone he remembered the good qualities she had and he missed her and wanted to see those good qualities passed on to his children. What a nice and fairly profound observation from an unexpected place!

As we pass Mother's day we come to the first anniversary of my mother's death. It has been difficult for members of my family to remember the good qualities of my mother. She died of a type of dementia (not Alzheimer's) that over a fairly long period of time robbed her, first of her short-term memory, and finally of virtually everything. The one thing I will remember from her long illness was her habit (even after she had lost the power of speech in an ordinary conversation) of telling her visitors and care givers: "I love you." That impressed me and it certainly impressed those who cared for her.

One of the things that Mom did early in her illness to try and cope with the short-term memory loss was to keep a diary. There were many disputes that were settled by "looking in the book" where she kept track of what had happened each day. I mention this because some time after my parents had moved from the farm I had the opportunity to look at her accounts of some of her days. I was struck as read these (I hope we still have them in the family somewhere) of how central her family was to her. Of course we all knew that. One of the memories we all share is of how Mom would work to make holidays like Christmas special for us. She spent Advent cleaning and cooking (so much so that sometimes on Christmas day she was exhausted). She did her best with the limited amount of money that her and Dad had to make sure that all of us (there was eight of us) were well fed and clothed. We were in fact poor but only Mom and Dad new it at the time. She loved to sing. Later in her illness after she had mostly lost the power of ordinary speech she would still try to sing along to familiar songs. I have a video made at Christmas over 25 years ago. I can see her in the video and hear her voice and see her when she was (I think) the happiest, in the middle of her family. So, belated happy Mother's day Mom. I miss you a lot.