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.