Sunday, November 30, 2008
The book follows the conversations/debates of the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz and two French priests regarding the nature of the universe (intelligently designed, carelessly designed or accidental), the presence of evil, and whether or not things could be other than they are or even better than that. Michael Dirda's review lays it out nicely:
The attempt to justify the ways of God to men -- theodicy, a term coined by Leibniz -- lies at the heart of the matter: "Why is there any evil at all in God's creation?" Essentially, Leibniz's answer is: Consider the whole. Explains Nadler, "It is not that everything will turn out for the best for me or for anyone else in particular. Nor is it necessarily the case that any other possible world would have been worse for me or for anyone else. Rather, Leibniz claims that any other possible world is worse overall than this one, regardless of any single person's fortunes in it." What is good for the whole isn't necessarily good for every one of its individual parts or components. As Nadler emphasizes, summarizing Leibniz, "all things are connected and every single aspect of the world makes a contribution to its being the best world."
That includes what we call evil. However, Leibniz offers no explanation of just how evil assists the overall goodness of things. (Sometimes he even seems to suggest that it serves to bring the good into greater relief.) We cannot penetrate so far into the Creator's mind or plan. Still "it is inconceivable . . . that an infinitely good and perfect God could choose anything less than the best." This conclusion may satisfy a devout Christian philosopher, but it offers scant consolation when we are in pain, or see the wicked succeed and the worthy fail, or when we face death.
If you've ever asked yourself "Why me?" this may be a book for you. However, it will probably not give you a satisfactory answer. even poor Leibniz would feel that way - he invented calculus at the same time Newton did and Newton got all the credit! (incidentally, studying calculus, I often asked "Why me?"!) The problem of evil is not one that can easily be dismissed for anyone - believer or non-believer alike. It is a mystery - like the Trinity or the human person - and as such it is not "solvable"; it must be lived. The Book of Job wrestles with the same problem with the same unsatisfactory (humanly speaking) results.
It is easy to sit at a distance and posit about the "will of God" and "necessary evils," but when it hits us, we want hard answers. The problem of evil was even tackled by God Himself. What is His response? The Cross. Jesus was not immune to the effects of evil in a God-governed world, and yet He did not leave this question of evil and life without its meaning. In fact, by taking on that mysterium iniquitatis, as Pope John Paul II called it, Jesus gives ultimate meaning to suffering. We are redeemed!
Young people could gain a lot from this book, I think. I hope to read it soon. Sounds like it is going to be subtle and deep. The point that one person's suffering automatically negates the existence of God has been thrown at us more often as we "progress" in history, and the thought that this book looks also at the common good in light of that suffering is comforting. The values of society, of faith, of the human person are worth upholding, even in the face of my suffering. This would be well applied to questions of abortion, stem cell research, and even capital punishment. One person's suffering, while unpleasant and unsought, is still not justification for abandoning God and our values in order to perpetrate more evil.
There is meaning to our lives, and that meaning is tied to the mystery of who we are. It is not a "problem" to be solved, though. We must live it.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
"Catholics should reconsider disease-ridden rituals"
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has concluded their meeting in Baltimore. Many important as well as trivial subjects were discussed, however one very serious issue was not addressed: The disease-spreading rituals that are part of the liturgy in Catholic churches.
It is no secret that most infectious diseases are transmitted hand-to-mouth. Medical authorities estimate this to be true 80 percent of the time. People sneeze and cough into their hands, touch the mouth, nose, and eyes. The hands are a haven for bacteria and virus growth.
During a typical Mass celebration, the priest asks everyone to offer the “Sign of Peace,” which amounts to shaking hands with strangers around you. The priest steps down from the altar and rapidly shakes the hands of a dozen or so participants in the front pews, after which he, without washing his hands, distributes Communion wafers.
The Communion bread is placed into the hands of the communicant in such a way that the fingers of the priest touch each recipient.
Some receive Communion in the mouth, which can lead to saliva transfer, as the chance of inadvertently touching the tongue is virtually unavoidable.
Sharing the Common cup is one of the most dangerous rituals of the entire liturgy. Even family members shouldn’t share the same cup. Can you imagine being in a restaurant where the waiter goes around tables offering a drink from the same cup? Many think the alcohol in wine kills germs. It does not. In order for alcohol to have any effect on bacteria, the concentration has to be an absolute minimum of 60 percent. Alcohol content in wine is no more than 14 percent. And alcohol has no effect on viruses.
Holy Water containers are another source of bacteria growth. People regularly dip their fingers in these vessels before they enter church and when they leave. If you have ever observed a homeless person washing his face in that vessel you would think twice about this practice.
In today’s environment, the antibiotic resistant super bugs are no longer residents only in hospitals. They are out in the general population. MRSA killed more Americans in 2005 than AIDS.
One of the main objectives of the Church is to provide for the spiritual needs of the faithful, but it should not be at the expense of the health and physical well being of its members. I sincerely hope that The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addresses this grave issue. These ill-conceived disease-bearing rituals are not part of Church doctrine and should be modified or purged altogether.
I'll withhold the name. It is not immediately clear if this person is a Catholic or not, but the Mass is more than just a "ritual," and it is at the center of who we are as Catholics. Jesus did not hold back from reaching out to the children, the lepers, the diseased, or anyone else, for that matter. Yes, there are germs in our world. Yes, we do carry these germs - even at this very moment. But what is the solution for this "problem"? End the Mass altogether? Instead of an altar boy with a paten, perhaps he can carry a bottle of Purel? By the way, it is not appropriate for the priest to leave the sanctuary at the Communion Rite (except in certain limited pastoral situations, like funerals) to "rapidly shake the hands of a dozen or so participants in the front pews." That does fall on the priest.
But, come on, people! There are sick children in our schools every day. Maybe we should shut down the education system! Oh - cough - how about all those amusement parks where the characters hug the children? ... After all, these kids are non-essential to the productivity of the nation at this moment. Oh, enough of this rant. I need to go wash my hands anyway.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, Love in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), applies the themes of his first two encyclicals —love and hope (God Is Love, Saved in Hope) — to the world’s major social issues. Drawing on moral truths open, in principle, to everyone (the natural law) as well as on the teachings of the gospel (revelation), Pope Benedict addresses Catholics and non-Catholics alike, challenging us all to recognize and then to confront the social evils of our day.
The first part of the encyclical examines the dynamic teaching of Benedict’s predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Both men contributed greatly to the body of doctrine known as “Catholic social teaching”. Both men challenged the simplistic division of political perspectives into “conservative” and “liberal”, and “right” and “left”. Both men were convinced that the natural moral law and the teaching of the Gospel were indispensable for a world in desperate search of hope and meaning.
In the second part Benedict surveys the social issues that confront the human race today—assaults on the dignity of the human person such as the attack on human life, poverty, issues of war and peace, terrorism, globalization, and environmental concerns. Benedict provides sound moral principles to address these social and economic problems, and to promote a culture of life and genuine peace.
In this outstanding work, Pope Benedict shows us why so many observers regard him as the world’s leading moral voice, as well as one of the most insightful and profound social/political thinkers of our day.
For Catholics, justice demands that we not simply be single-issue lifers. That is not to say that certain issues, like abortion, should not receive special attention, but the pope's new letter should help us maintain a balanced keel as we present the truth in love. Social justice is not just the realm of the "liberals", and pro-life is not the domain of only "conservatives." I am looking forward to this one, as a drawing together of his first two, which remind us that love and hope make a difference in our lives - and they can make a difference in our world.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The main character, Bella, falls in love with a vampire named Edward, who, while he appears to be only 17 years old, is actually 108. Edward, in his turn, also finds himself falling for Bella. However, as a vampire - even as a "good" vampire (he and his family only drink animal blood) - he is powerfully drawn by his desires and instincts to bite Bella ("Your scent is like a drug to me," he tells her). Despite this obvious danger to their relationship, they continue to see each other, and Edward continues to struggle and resist his urges.
There is a scene where they are in Bella's room, and they decide that they are going to start making out. Not a bad thing - although they get pretty into it. I told one of the girls with me that they are not "leaving room for the Holy Spirit"! Before things get out of hand, Edward withdraws from Bella - rather dramatically. ("See?" I commented to my neighbor. "That's the Holy Spirit helping!") There is an obvious desire to go farther, but Edward resists so he does not hurt Bella - even when Bella wants him to. She wants him to bite her and make her what he is. She wants to spend eternity with him. But it is a selfish, possessive love that Bella wants. It still needs to be purified so that she can understand what that love really means. It doesn't mean that her love is not real; it only means that she has farther to go, personally. Edward asks her, "Isn't a long, happy life with me enough?"
It's an easy metaphor for our young people who find themselves driven by their natural desires to "go farther" with their boyfriends and girlfriends. However, true love (like Edward feels) calls us to restrain - for the sake of the other. This is not easy, and that pain of the struggle is evident in Edward and Bella's relationship. But, there is also the sense - the very real sense - that the struggle, that restraint, is worth it. I know from what I hear of the books that it is worth it, and it will pay off for this couple. It pays off for us too. When we choose to save ourselves for "the one," that struggle is not only worth it for us but for that "one" as well. I am glad to see this aspect of suffering played out in this film and these books. It is a lesson in true love.
Some say "love bites." But true love waits - then, maybe, it can taste fully of what love really is.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
We sometimes do an abbreviated form of this prayer for meetings and such, but this morning, we wanted to go all the way - all the psalms, all the readings, all the canticles. There was a question as to whether or not the kids would "get it" or catch on to the rhythm of the prayer, but all that ended when we heard the room full of kids easily praying back and forth in the antiphonal format of the prayers. They got it. And I got it too. One of the kids said to me, "This is what you priests pray all the time, right?" One of the adults chimed in that this was, in fact, the "prayer of the Church." It's their prayer too.
The young people are hungry for ways to express their relationship with God, and they are willing to enter into new expressions from time to time. There was energy in those psalms this morning; there was joy.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Jesus simply walked along, among the people, and from time to time, as he knew, he would point to someone and say, "You! Follow me." That seemed to be effective for Christ.
Now, we need to screen our future priests for worthiness and aptitude, but a vocation is first God's call. When we pray "for vocations" what we really are praying for - or should be praying for - is a response to that call.
Here on this youth conference there are many enthusiastic young people excited about their faith. Let us pray that their excitement may inspire them to answer God's call in their lives, and may our prayers and support encourage them.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Also, I went to see "Twilight" last night with a bunch of the girls from Towson, so I will have more to write about that - stay tuned! Right now, I have very little energy due to the late night last night!
What is God doing right now? Does He "twitter"?
God ... is sending graces and strength to the beach!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I think there is a spirituality to Disneyland–you need to give up what you think the child should be having fun on, and let the child have fun on what the child wants to have fun on. That can be difficult and you have to draw a line somewhere–half an hour chasing a feather around the parking lot, say. But Disneyland isn’t a set of tasks to be accomplished.
Her words are a good bid of advice. In recognizing the artificial utopia that Disneyland is supposed to be, we can also see the world as we might want it to be: a diverse world where we respect one another as persons, despite limitations and differences; a world where care is taken for every detail because it reflects on our encounter with one another; a world where those who approach it with a "child-like" sense of what is possible are the ones who lead us, show us the Way. "A little child shall lead them..."
h/t to Deacon Greg!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Did you ever notice that the instant that you walk through the front door of a church you are almost always immediately in the back of it? Front door - back of church. Odd? I prefer to think of this as entering the church in order to approach the encounter with God, Who is before us. However, thinking about this odd matter of fact can help us re-orient ourselves with regard to our faith. When we walk into the church, it's not all about "Hey! Look who's here!" or (as they say on Cheers), "Norm!"
Rather, it is our response - which should be based on an awareness that we are there because of Him Who is already there. When we get into an attitude of "look-at-me-I'm-in-church," we miss the big picture. It is then that we need to realize that for us, "up is down," and not the other way around. We are there for God, because God has been there for us."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Word of God reaches us in so many ways! It was a special joy to hear Dad read from Revelation: "Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message". Blessed, indeed!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
We know this is tongue-in-cheek, but it does draw attention to the Holy Father's point that we are also stewards of creation, relying on God's goodness to us in creation. He, I believe, has given us all we need to exist "greenly" on this planet, and it is good to see our Church promoting such an attitude!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Here are a few of the comments on the futility of the death penalty that the panel notes:
The 23-member commission voted down a proposed amendment to keep the death penalty for people who kill correctional officers or police officers. The panel voiced unanimous or strong support for seven of eight findings it was charged with exploring. Among these:
*Racial and geographic disparities exist in how the death penalty is applied
*Death penalty cases are more costly than non-death penalty cases and take a harder toll on the survivors of murder victims
*There is no persuasive evidence that risk of execution is a deterrent to crime, and the unavailability of DNA evidence in all cases does not eliminate the "real possiblity" of wrongly executing an innocent person
The commission did not find disparities in death penalty cases based on the socioeconomic status of the accused.
Established this year by the state legislature and led by Benjamin R. Civiletti, who served as U.S. attorney general under President Jimmy Carter, the commission includes a police chief, a former death row inmate who was exonerated by DNA evidence, a rabbi, a bishop, three family members of murder victims, several legislators and a county prosecutor who has handled capital cases and made the decision to seek the death penalty in others.
Let's keep out eyes (and hearts) open to recognize the possibility for victory in all aspects of our war for Life. Next up after that, Gov. O'Malley (Catholic Gov. O'Malley) - abortion? Let's keep those prayers coming!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Friday night, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Washington, DC, for the North American College's fall fundraising banquet, the Umilta' Awards. There, we honored the Strake family for their generous support of priestly formation and Archbishop Sambi. The archbishop spoke off the cuff for a good while, praising the Church in America's role as service to the "unity and universality" of the Church in the world (I wish now that I had recorded the talk, or taken notes, but - man! - that mousse was incredible!).
Anyway, we are lucky to have such a man representing the Holy Father to our country. Rocco nods to the good Archbishop as well, wrapping up coverage of the bishops' meeting:
As Archbishop Pietro Sambi works predominantly from longhand notes, the speeches of the "Super-Nuncio" usually go uncirculated in print form....
Sure, that tends to mean more work for your narrator. Then again, as Sambi's speeches tend to have a key nugget of insight -- or several -- just below the surface (or sometimes, not below the surface at all), they're actually a worthwhile joy to mine and transcribe.
In that light, while the archbishop (who won over both Jews and Palestinians during his seven years as papal legate to Jerusalem) quoted extensively from B16's April address to the USCCB in his own words to the body on Monday morning -- seemingly not because, as some folks guessed, he was "unprepared"... but simply that the bench might hear it again -- the first part of the talk drew from another, just as rich source: the last part of Vatican II's closing message, directed to the young of the church.
Sambi's inference: the church -- the church in the United States -- must always resonate with the spirit of youth.
That "spirit of youth" is made visible - incarnate, if you will - in the faith in action of our young people.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
So far, Matt has put up one post, outlining his vision. The lives of young adults are busy and chaotic, but I think he has a good idea here. Pay him a visit, and drop a comment to encourage him. Hopefully, I will be able to have a link to this creative young man's thriving site!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Young people, I have found, are not so interested in financial success as they are in happiness and fulfillment. They are more likely to follow some dream than to do something "practical" much of the time. They are open to talk of "vocation" and "destiny," because they are by nature dreamers. That is not to say that interest in a vocation to priesthood, religious life or married life is like a fairy tale. Rather, it is a deeper yearning of the soul because it is who God has made us to be. As much as Mom and Dad have a role in bringing us into this world, the call remains God's.
In the film "Mulan," the young title character has a hard time fitting into the expectations of her parents. She is obviously uncomfortable in the roles that they force on her, and yet, their desires for their daughter blind them to the fact that she is not happy. Parents need to keep the ultimate happiness of their children in mind when envisioning their kids' future - not their own. A call - a vocation - is a call to happiness, and ultimately this is a call to holiness as well. If we have that, we have all we need.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
For what it's worth -- no offense to the DC crowd -- Charm City really beats Capitol Hill... not even as it's a good bit more cost-efficient, but simply because it reminds us so intensely of our roots. Or, at least, it should. And maybe in no year more than this one -- the bicentennial of its elevation as a metropolitan church and the initial expansion of a small, yet growing, united and committed people in a young country with the foundation of its first suffragan sees in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and on the "Holy Land" of our First Frontier.
God love the folks who came before us. They made so much possible... so much that, maybe, more than just sometimes, we seem to take it for granted.
Ensuring our better future was no easy task on their part. What's more, they knew the dream wouldn't be accomplished in their lifetimes... but, still, they did it anyway, that we might enjoy a fullness of liberty they knew would never be theirs.
Now 70 million, we numbered 25,000 (and 22 priests) spread across the 13 colonies at the Founding. Again, for them it wasn't easy.
Where they were able to gather, many had to worship in hiding; others were so far-flung that they either had to live their faith on their own or travel long, hard distances (often in conditions we'd shudder just to think about -- remember, no cars nor paved roads... and, in those days, carriages or horses were for the lucky) to make Mass on the occasional chance a circuit-rider was even some hours' journey nearby.
See the whole story at Whispers in the Loggia, here.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
First, the young people "get" the value of suffering in their faith life - not just the "role" of suffering, but the value of it. Suffering is important to them, not because they are masochists, but because it has been through suffering that they have found the strength of their faith. I think we all were shocked to hear that, but isn't that part of the Gospel we share anyway?
Second, to compliment that suffering, they find a tremendous amount of joy in their faith and relationship with Jesus. One girl noted that once she realized that Church and a relationship with Christ was also "for her too," she was filled with joy, and that joy was contagious.
Third, the young people found the most profound connection with Jesus when they have been called upon to share their faith - to explain it. St. Peter tells us to "always be prepared to give reasons for the hope that is in us" (1Pt 3:15). These kids want to be. And so, they challenged the adult catechists there to "not water [the Faith] down." "We can handle it." They spoke of being "gypped" by those who "dumbed down" their faith. They want to know that fullness of our faith - and they want to question it. They want to question not in some adolescent rebellion, but they want to understand more deeply.
Finally, they asked us to listen and hear them - to pay attention to them - because, in the words of one young lady, "As bad as your mid-life crises are, at least you've had half your life to figure some things out!" They are in a difficult place, and they know that their faith can help them.
I will expect Scott Miller will have video of that session (as he has had for the others), so once it is up I'll link there too. The Symposium runs until Saturday, but I have a strange feeling that I was privileged to have been there at the best moment!
Friday, November 7, 2008
If you'd like to know what Muppet you are, you can go here.
I am not a big fan of these sort of evaluative tests (like the Myers-Briggs or Kersey-Bates) - it's not that I think they are bad, it's just that I don't like being evaluated. However, it is nice to have some sense of who one is and of one's personality - especially if the results of such tests confirm one's own self-perception. Personality is part of the person. And the person is who we are. Classically speaking, the "person" is a "center of relationality" - in other words, it is how we interact with the world and each other.
God, as He relates to us, looks at the person we are and that is how He calls us - not as we want to be but as He made us to be. Our personality is part of that. In order to live our faith properly, God does not ask us to be someone else, or to act "more religious" or "pious." Rather, He asks us to use our unique gifts and personality to let His light shine through us. So, it might not be easy being green - but God would have it no other way!
Thursday, November 6, 2008
On the lighter side of this story..."Hey, Mr Turkey - you've just been pardoned by the president! What are you gonna do next?"
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
All the issues remain. It is time to move forward, remaining true to who we are and who we are called to be. Our consciences still matter, and now - just as much as yesterday - we must listen to them.
... and now for some fun, since campaign season is now over ...
Thanks to Jason and Scott for the link!
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
I saw that tagline on an advertisement for the upcoming "Twilight" film - based on the best-selling book series by Stephanie Meyer. The story is one about a girl, Bella Swan, who moves to the gloomy Northwest (Forks, WA), starts high school there, and soon becomes infatuated with a "young man" who turns out to be a 108-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen. Edward looks like he is 17, and he seems to have that degree of maturity too (not necessarily a bad thing). The two fall in love, and the story - or stories - go on from there. However, the intriguing thing for me is that Edward, as well as all his vampire friends, are undying - immortal. So the question comes:
When you can live forever, what do you live for?
That's a good question - one that, believe it or not, we have to wrestle with as well. Today's feast - the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day - is a good time to ponder this question too. As we remember and celebrate the "faithful departed," we are offered a real opportunity to ponder not only them, but ourselves too - and the questions of meaning in our life.
First, this is a day to remember those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We celebrate their memories and their contributions to our lives as we have known them. Death is a life-changing moment for us who remain; however, for those who go before us in death, it is a moment that ushers in a new phase of life. Our faith tells us, along with the author of Wisdom, that "The souls of the just are in the hand of God" and "they are at peace." This is a confirmation of the faith and hope that we have in the God who created us to be with Him forever, Who wills that not one of His creations be lost. Our prayer today - and everyday - is one that reflects our hope in the everlasting life that awaits us all; that our departed brothers and sister can now share.
Second, this is a day to remember that the soul - our soul - does not simply come into play when we die, as if it were "steam" given off at the end of our tortured life. No, our souls are part of who we are, here and now, and we have a responsibility to care for them. There are priests in our diocese who love to tell the story of an old seminary professor from their days at St. Mary's Seminary. He used to tell the priests in training, "Gentlemen, I can promise you two things: God loves you, and you're gonna live forever. If you get a better deal than that, take it!"
When we celebrate our faith, when we activate our hope, it is always based on that fact - whether we know it or not. God loves us! Jesus points to this over and over again, and today is no exception: "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day."
So, when you can live forever, what do you live for?
Our souls are meant to be cared for and prepared for this life. Those who have died and gone before us, we pray, are on their way to enjoying not only eternal life, but eternal happiness - beatitude - with God in heaven. That is why we gather and celebrate this day. We are here to celebrate in faith the love of God that gives rise to our hope - eternal life. And, as St. Paul tells us, "Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts." Love is the motive, and God is the Source and Summit of that Love. It is in this love that we come here and celebrate our departed brothers and sisters.
In "Twilight", Edward and Bella find in one another kindred spirits - a "soul mate," if you will. Their eternity together has begun. "When you can live forever, what do you live for?"
You live for Love.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Augustine of Hippo
Daniel the Stylite
Edward the Confessor
Elizabeth Ann Seton
Frances of Rome
Francis of Assisi
Gregory the Great
Hilary of Poitiers
Ignatius of Loyola
Rose of Lima
Theresa de Avila
William of York
Yolanda of Hungary
Ysarn of Toulouse
Zoe of Pamphylia
Today, as we celebrate the Communion of Saints, remember that this Communion includes YOU! So, St. (Insert your name here), pray for me - as I will for you!