Saturday, February 24, 2007


The Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 4 (year C):

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus* took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,* they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,* one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen;* listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

There are many commentaries on this passage. One thing strikes me about the passage based on an experience I had some years back. I was part of a parish meeting where we were discussing some aspect of the youth ministry of the parish. One parent was insistent that the parish needed to do more for the youth in the form of more weekend events (here we call them Discovery weekends). Now it is true that Retreats and Cursillos and Discovery weekends provide a "shot in the arm" of spiritual energy but the mother in question seemed to feel that her child needed this more often because once the energy of the weekend disappeared boredom and lethargy quickly returned.

This reading from Luke has, I think, a powerful message related to our parent's issue. Luke tells us that Peter wanted to make three dwellings (presumably he wished to stay in this place). The voice from the cloud tells the disciples to listen to Jesus. Shortly after this (Luke (9:51) Luke tells us that Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (where, of course, He would be crucified). The NRSV translation says that Jesus "set his face" toward Jerusalem. The lesson that strikes me from this is simply that while the Transfiguration experience (spiritual highs) is good; the reality is that we, along with Jesus, must climb down from the mountain and set out again on the journey that God has chosen for us. The top of the mountain is a good place but we are not meant to stay there.

So it is with us when we return from a retreat or a Cursillo or when our youth return from a Discovery weekend. The intensity of that experience can't last and we must get about our every day life. Of course I don't have to forget my mountain top experience. The memory of that experience can inspire me and nourish me in my efforts to more fully live out my Baptismal calling. Pastorally, it seems to me that young people particularly need mentoring, and support for their daily lives as well as these mountain top experiences on their faith journeys.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Global warming

The Cardinal - Archbishop of Sydney, Australia writes about the current concern over global warming:

Global warming doomsdayers were out and about in a big way recently, but the rain came in Central Queensland and then here in Sydney. January also was unusually cool.
We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us. They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be the occasional tsunami as high as an eight story building, the Amazon basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic and in Greenland melts.
An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming skeptics while a U.S.A. television correspondent compared skeptics to “holocaust deniers”.
A local newspaper editorial’s complaint about the doomsdayers’ religious enthusiasm is unfair to mainstream Christianity. Christians don’t go against reason although we sometimes go beyond it in faith to embrace probabilities. What we were seeing from the doomsdayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.
I am deeply skeptical about man-made catastrophic global warming, but still open to further evidence. I would be surprised if industrial pollution, and carbon emissions, had no ill effect at all. But enough is enough.
A few fixed points might provide some light. We know that enormous climate changes have occurred in world history, e.g. the Ice Ages and Noah’s flood, where human causation could only be negligible. Neither should it be too surprising to learn that the media during the last 100 years has alternated between promoting fears of a coming Ice Age and fear of global warming!
Terrible droughts are not infrequent in Australian history, sometimes lasting seven or eight years, as with the Federation Drought and in the 1930s. One drought lasted fourteen years.
We all know that a cool January does not mean much in the long run, but neither does evidence from a few years only. Scaremongers have used temperature fluctuations in limited periods and places to misrepresent longer patterns.
The evidence on warming is mixed, often exaggerated, but often reassuring. Global warming has been increasing constantly since 1975 at the rate of less than one fifth of a degree centigrade per decade. The concentration of carbon dioxide increased surface temperatures more in winter than in summer and especially in mid and high latitudes over land, while there was a global cooling of the stratosphere

I totally agree with the Cardinal's point of view. First of all, it seems clear that global warming is taking place. Secondly, it is not clear what the cause of that warming is. We know that global warming has taken place in the past. The warming that brought the end of the last ice - age is an example. So, it is not clear that human activity is a significant cause of this warming. Was the last ice-age actually brought to an end by the fires of a few cave men and, of course, herds of flatulent mastadons? Of course, controlling carbon dioxide emissions is not a bad idea in any case. Just don't go all crazy about it. Thirdly, the so called "experts" don't always know what they are talking about. For example, when I began teaching about these things in high school social studies classes in the mid 1970's the experts said that the worry was over a coming global ice age. By the way, the experts also seriously missed the mark with their predictions about a population crisis. Finally, the Kyoto Accord, which some people treat as if it were Sacred Scripture, seems to be a remarkably useless document. The two most populous countries on earth (and the two with rapidly growing economies) (that's China and India of course) are not subject to the Accord. The defenders of the accord say this is because the accord would harm those two developing economies yet at the same time they argue that the harm to already developed economies is acceptable. I don't know. I do think that the Cardinal's advice about being calm and rational about these things is good. And besides, you couldn't prove global warming from the winter we've had in these parts.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Financial scandals

Christianity Today posts these interesting stats regarding financial fraud in diocese of the US Catholic church:
U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses that have detected embezzlement over the past five years.
Embezzlement cases in which the theft exceeded $500,000.
Dioceses that conducted an annual internal audit of their finances.

It seems to me that here is evidence that we remain confused about the nature of leadership within the church. We profess that in matters of faith and morals the teaching of the church is to be the dominant factor in shaping our conscience. At the same time we have evidence like the stats above as well as evidence from the sexual abuse scandal that indicates a lack of leadership, at least in these particular matters. By the way at least part of the problem in both these areas is not that human beings are capable of sin. The problem is that in the case of the sexual abuse scandal the leadership of the church initially reacted very poorly. Their reactions generally indicated a concern for the institutional structure of the church instead of a concern for the spiritual well being of those who were being abused. In the financial statistics above the alarming statistic is not the extent of the theft going on but the fact that only 1% of dioceses conduct even internal audits of the finances. I know we have to respect the leadership and that the church is not a democracy but I think that both of these scandals point to the need for transparency and accountability (who is a bishop accountable to?) in the church.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Magisterial authority

These words written at the beginning of World War I by Pope Benedict XV (no not the one we have now) still illustrate the tensions the exist between individual freedom and the teaching authority of the Church:

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. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Conservative Catholics today use the term "cafeteria Catholics." By this they mean the Catholics who accept some aspects of Catholic teaching but do not accept others. This quote strongly suggests that we cannot pick and choose but rather must accept or reject the whole of the Catholic faith.

Many people today would, of course, reject such a statement. We have Catholics who are well educated in their faith and who as adults should be free to make their own minds up about their beliefs. The problem is this dissent from the teaching authority of the Church has become too easy to do. We can only disagree with the Church after much prayer and studying. At the same time it is important to remember that the Church in the 20th century, especially leading up to Vatican II, changed precisely because some theologians took the risk of pointing to problems in the Church. So, I guess the point is, I do not quite agree with the point made by the Pope above. Our first reaction to Church teaching should be to understand the reasonableness of the teaching in question and to agree with it. However, we need to recognize the possibility that persons of good faith could in some circumstances disagree with Church authority.

Monday, February 12, 2007

End of Life Issues

Over this past weekend the Pope spoke regarding the World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes:

"It is necessary to support the development of palliative treatments that offer integral care and dispense to incurably sick people that human support and spiritual accompaniment they so need," the Pope said today before praying the Angelus with the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square. On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Holy Father reminded that this year he dedicated the day to the material and spiritual assistance of the incurably or terminally ill. (Zenit News Services)

Of course the Pope's words are consistent with the teaching of the Church but they are important also because they deal with the great unease that exists in our culture regarding death. We have made great gains in health care over the generations. In my parent's generation death was fairly common in early childhood as well as throughout life from a variety of causes almost unheard of now. We have therefore become less accustomed to death and more afraid of it. This fear, at least in part, has led to the "death with dignity/euthanasia" movements in our culture.
I know that death scares me. Just over five years ago when a younger brother was in the process of dying from cancer I was in a state of panic over being alone with him for a few minutes. (selfish, I know) What do you say? Actually, he knew what to say. Since then we have had more deaths in our family and I have become sadly more accustomed to death and the idea of my own death. Still, death is a mysterious part of God's plan. Unless we die suddenly, by accident or by crime, we will all gradually, and sometimes painfully, lose our strength and our autonomy to old age and then to death. It seems unfair. We begin our adult lives taking for granted our physical abilities and developing our ability to make our own decisions. This is what is taken away.
The only way, that I can see, to make sense of this, outside of the despair that you see in the "death with dignity" movement, is in the Paschal Mystery. Through his ministry Jesus travelled across the countryside and ministered to people. At the end of his life, other people took him and nailed him to the cross. It was his ultimate acceptance of this last part of his life that was important for us. Maybe this is how the end of our life has meaning for us and for those around us. Our entire baptismal vocation involves turning away from things that distract us from God and turning towards Jesus. As we age, and as the things we take for granted are taken from us God invites us to place all our trust in him. It is a heck of a leap of faith that we are asked to make. Hopefully, if we head the Pope's call for more compassionate care of the dying; more people will make the leap in peace of mind and soul.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Liturgical Translations

First of all here is some background. We are told that a new translation from Latin into English of the Mass is coming soon. Latin, of course is the official language of the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. This means that the official version of all documents and prayers is the Latin version. When it was decided that the Mass was to be celebrated in the language of the people committees were set up to translate the various parts of the Mass from Latin into English. In the early 1970’s the translation that we are now familiar with has been used while the translation committee (known as ICEL) worked on an improved version. While the committee was working the Vatican made a number of pronouncements mainly to the effect that the main mandate of the committee was to produce a translation that was more faithful to the official Latin text than the current version is. Just one example of this is found in the dialogue between the priest and the congregation that leads to the Preface. The initial greeting and response in Latin is: “Dominus Vobiscum” with the congregation responding, “Et cum Spiritu tuo.” Everyone accepts the greeting of the priest as “The Lord be with you.” The ICEL translation of the response however is: “And also with you.” This translation ignores the Spiritu (Spirit) part of the response in Latin. “And with your Spirit”, is a response that is faithful to the Latin text and is used in the French, Spanish, and Italian translations.
Now the on-line edition of the Tablet magazine for the week of Feb. 5, 2007 has an article by US Bishop Donald Trautman regarding this issue. In the article Trautman, a liturgist by training, laments the new direction that is being taken in producing this translation. Trautman recognizes that our God is both transcendent and immanent and that good liturgy should recognize both aspects of God. He contends, however, that in the new translation there is an excessive emphasis on the transcendent nature of God. He also spends some time on the “pro vobis et pro multis” translation controversy where he argues that the new translation of pro multis as “for many” instead of “for all” is simply bad theology. This is in spite of the reality that the literal translation of “pro multis” is simply “for many” or possibly “for the many.”
This controversy seems to have its origins, as Trautman points out, in two different points of emphasis regarding the Eucharist. Some people feel that the Eucharistic liturgy should emphasize the reality of the heavenly liturgy, the sense of participation in a sacred event, and the transcendent nature of God. Generally these people, if they are old enough, remember the nature of the Latin Mass in the 1960’s and wish for a liturgy with more Latin and more Gregorian Chant. They loudly criticize the current liturgy and argue that the “folksy” feel of the current liturgy has been the cause of the decrease in attendance at Mass over the past 30 years or so. On the other hand people who emphasize the Eucharist as having the nature of a community banquet would prefer the liturgy to use the common language of the people, use contemporary music, and generally be more “easy going” than formal. These people would prefer a guitar to a pipe organ for liturgical music and want to emphasize the immanence of God in their liturgy.
As with many questions in Catholicism the correct answer here is not either transcendence or immanence but rather a balance of both as Trautman does actually point out. For the “conservatives” here I would like to point out that going back to a Latin liturgy is not likely going to restore the “good old days” of the 1950’s Catholic church (if those days were indeed good). It is true that the changes to the liturgy that came after Vatican II came before the long decline in attendance at Sunday Mass but the first thing did not necessarily cause the other. Many other things changed in modern culture during the same time period and they also had an impact on people’s attitudes about religion.
At the same time I have hopes for the new translation. I think that a more elegant language in the liturgy will have a positive effect. I think that we have been missing the old sense of encountering something sacred in the liturgy of the Eucharist and I hope that we can find a “ritual” language that does not sound like the English of the old King James Bible. I hope that this can be accomplished with little confusion and that the changes will bring us a more prayerful atmosphere in our liturgies.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Getting Older

I've written already about the fact that I am retired from teaching high school. Retirement has many advantages but there are some drawbacks. Some drawbacks are even serious but I present here my favorite observations on aging from a little book called, Age Happens, compiled by Bruce Lansky.
  1. Middle age is that time when you always think that in a week or two you will feel as good as ever. -Don Marquis
  2. Today isn't the first day of the rest of your life. It's Friday. -Bruce Lansky and K.L. Jones
  3. Despite the high cost of living, it's still quite popular. -Laurence J. Peter
  4. Middle age is when a woman gets up on a bus to offer her seat to you. Old age is when the woman who gets up to offer her seat is pregnant. -Bruce Lansky
  5. If you look like your passport photo, you're probably too sick to travel. -Will Kommen
  6. I much prefer being over the hill to being under it. -Bruce Lansky
  7. The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not. -Mark Twain
  8. After a certain age, if you don't wake up aching in every joint, you probably are dead. -Tommy Mein
  9. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is breathe on a mirror and hope that it fogs. -Earl Wynn
  10. You know you're getting old when you stop buying green bananas. -Lewis Grizzard