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Showing posts from April, 2015

Another Theology of the Body, Part XX--"I Refuse to Blow the Candles Out"

Since I recently said that dudes should stop talking about sex and let the ladies have their say, I'm going to end this series now.  But I think there is another level to this discussion that I wanted to end on, one that Rowan Williams touches on in his essay "The Body's Grace," and one which I haven't discussed yet.  Williams frames this question in terms of a series of novels that I haven't read, but I think the thrust of what he is getting at can be seen in a beautiful, short reflection from Richard Beck, entitled "Refuse to Blow the Candles Out." Here it is in full:

I think that life is hard. I think that life is sad and painful. I think that love is rare and fragile. I think that life is full of loneliness and loss and heartbreak and that we're all desperately grateful for even the smallest scraps of human warmth, kindness and intimacy. 

So if I see even the smallest flicker of love, grace or tenderness I want to protect it. I want to fan it …

Quick Hitter: Maybe a Little Polarization Is a Good Thing

Yesterday, Notre Dame hosted a conference entitled "Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal."  A number of folks have been heavily promoting this event, including Professor Camosy of "Beyond the Abortion Wars" fame (who appears to be one of the main organizers of the event).  [Personal Note: Fr. Ken Simpson, who was the priest in-charge of the Newman Center at Northwestern when I was there, and who is a wonderful, wonderful priest and person, is also on the panel]. I missed the live-stream, but hopefully the recorded version will be available soon.   [Edit:  Here it is].  As I haven't seen it, I can't comment yet on the specific content of talks, but here are a few general thoughts on the topic of polarization.

First, the reaction to the conference from certain folks on the left-hand side of the Catholic aisle has been cynical and dismissive.  I understand the sentiment behind it ("where was the concern about the …

Two Observations from the Weekend

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I spent the weekend visiting my high school friend Fr. Justin, who is an Orthodox priest in the Russian tradition.  I went to services with him on Saturday evening, and then Mass at a local Catholic Church on Sunday.  Each one struck me in a very particular way.

Saturday Evening

There is a sense in which the Orthodox are far, far more conservative than anything we see in Western Christianity.  The Liturgy I attended Saturday evening is basically unchanged for at least 1,000 years, and parts even longer.  I remember attending a service where Fr. Justin was preaching on "the New Martyrs," only to realize half-way through that they lived in the 8th Century--the Orthodox definition of "new" being somewhat out of line with most other uses of the word "new."

Having said that, I think there is a significant difference between the conservatism of the Orthodox and the conservatism of Catholics and Protestants.  With the Orthodox, one gets the sense that the religio…

Another Theology of the Body, Part XIX--It's Time for Men to Shut Up

Pope Francis just won't let this complementarity thing die.  He talks about it all the time, in a variety of different ways.  He still talks about "gender ideology," which is terrible (apparently), and now he is talking about the need for an "alliance" between men and women.  To be fair to the Pope, he has repeatedly stated that his view of complementarity does not involve some sort of inherent inferiority of women, which is good.  But, it is still not clear to me exactly what he means by any of this.  And, when people hear him talk about complementarity, or use complementarity-type words, they assume there is some deep coded message about female subservience.  Because that is what complementarity has come to mean on a concrete level.

After going back and reading some of my previous posts on complementarity, it seems to me that part of the problem is that we are framing the question wrong.  The question is not "is there such a thing as complementarity"…

Real Talk About the "Benedict Option," With an Assist from George R.R. Martin

One of those code phrases that one hears from conservative Christian people, particularly those of a more intellectual bent, is "the Benedict Option."  Rod Dreher is big on this concept.  As far as I am aware, it was coined by the philosopher Alistair MacIntyre in his influential book After Virtue and then picked up and spun out from there.  The notion is that the (somewhat amorphous concept called the) "West" is either entering, or is about to enter, a period similar to the Dark Ages of the first millennium of European history.  This Dark Ages 2.0 is the product of the decline of Christian values in the West in favor of "secular" values, in the form of the standard conservative talking points--gay rights, feminism, abortion, Obama, Hillary, etc.

In the face of this threat, the proper solution is to do what they did in the face of the first Dark Ages, and that is to separate from the world and build institutions that will weather the storm and be prepared…

Beyond the Abortion Wars, Chapter 3: The Drugged Gunman and the Violinist

Before I get to Chapter 3, this piece on abortion polling is well worth a read (h/t to Elizabeth S. Bruenig via Twitter).  It supports and reinforces some of the points Camosy makes in Chapter 1 about the nuances in people's views on abortion.  It also brought out an element that I've never seen captured in polling, but is true in my anecdotal experience--people really don't like abortion protesters.  A number of otherwise pro-life individuals that the reporter spoke to made clear that they thought that picketing clinics was improper.  Substantial majorities, well beyond the number of people who think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, felt that those women who do get abortions should be able to do so "informed by medically accurate information" (87%), in a "non-judgmental" context (74%), "comfortabl[y]" (72%), and "without added burdens" (70%).  More on this is later posts.

On to Chapter 3, which is oriented around the q…

A (Somewhat) Radical Proposal for Pope Francis and his "Year of Mercy"

There was a small, seemingly technical element, buried within Pope Francis's announcement of the Jubilee Year of Mercy that caught my eye.  Paragraph 18 says:

During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. 

There are not a large number of these so-called "reserved" sins, and the vast majority of them involve actions by clergy--ordaining folks without Vatican approval, grave abuses of the Confessional (like a priest conspiring with someone to commit some act and then absolving the accomplice of that act), profaning the Eucharist, etc.  Though, it is worth noting that the hard-right Traditionalist Rora…

We Are Moderns, and We Have No Choice

The Catholic Church is the place I believe I belong, for reasons that are often hard to articulate.  But that doesn't mean that it is, or is going to be, smooth sailing.  You can talk about specific points of disagreement, but I think those points of disagreement are all the product of something more fundamental.  And it was in rereading Elizabeth Bruenig's piece on Pope Francis that this underlying issue started to become clear to me.  I've talked before about Ross Douthat's commentary on some of Bruenig's claims, but Douthat's complaints don't touch on the really explosive core of Bruenig's piece, which is her discussion of the past.

My review of A Defence of War, which I presented to John some time later, focused on the role of property in conflict. This seemed a stretch, but I couldn’t think of any other way of doing it. He took his time reading my paper, settled, as he often did, in a high-backed chair near an empty fireplace in his office. His glas…

Quick Hitter--The Shell Game of "Intrinsically Disordered"

I've talked before about the use of the term "intrinsically disordered" as it applies to LGBT people.  As I said in that piece, I think the whole idea doesn't make any sense if you work your way through it.  Who knew, though, that in coming to that conclusion, I was denying the doctrine of original sin?  So says Mark Shea, in a classic example of a shell game.

Shea's correspondent/foil asserts that he "does not believe that being homosexual is intrinsically disordered or a choice. . . ."  To which Shea responds "You may not realize it, but you have just denied the entire doctrine of original sin.  The Church’s teaching is not that homosexuals alone struggle with desires that are disordered, but that we all do."  In other words, pace Shea, placing the label "intrinsically disordered" on homosexuality doesn't actually mean anything specific qua homosexuality that is not equally applicable to anyone regarding anything.

Original sin…

Adventures in Theology--The Moral Theology of the Devil and the Antidote of Mercy

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If you asked ten people on the street whether the word "mercy" has a positive or negative connotation, I suspect you would get either nine or ten votes for "positive."  You would think that if you changed venues from the street to the inside of a Catholic church on Sunday, you would be guaranteed ten out of ten positive votes.  After all, "Blessed are the merciful," the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, etc.  You would think.

On the other hand, judging from the comments sections of Catholic publications, you might think again.  A few weeks ago, Pope Francis announced a Jubilee "Year of Mercy."  Again, you would think this rank up there with being in favor of Mom and apple pie on the non-controversial scale, but there is a dedicated segment of people that are against the idea of expanding or widening or broadening or whatever the mercy of the Church (or, more accurately, the mercy of God as communicated by the Church).  The concern, these fo…

Some Thoughts on Good Friday

A family member, when he very small child, developed a series of ear infections which were not properly diagnosed and treated.  As a result, he spent the first couple of years of his life with so much fluid in his ears that it was as if he was listening to the world underwater.  He heard just fine in a mechanical sense, but what he was hearing was distorted by the fluid.  Consequently, his speech was distorted as well--he was reproducing faithfully what he was hearing, but that speech was, in a sense, also passing through the fluid in his ears.  Eventually, this was fixed--tiny tubes were inserted in his ears to drain the fluid, and speech therapy rapidly addressed any legacy of the clogged ears.  In fact, he is a trial lawyer, so he literally talks for a living.

I've often wondered what must have been like for him the first time the tubes were inserted in his ears and the fluid was drained away.  He was probably too young to remember, but it must have been a revelation for him.  …

The Locus of Real Reform

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I have no idea if Juan Barros Madrid, the newly installed bishop of Osorno, Chile, is a good priest or not.  I have no idea if Bishop Barros has been a good bishop in his previous job as the bishop for the Chilean military.  Most importantly, I have no idea whether Bishop Barros knew about the sexual abuse of minors by Father Fernando Karadima.  The Vatican says that he did not, that there are no "objective reasons" to keep him from being named Bishop of Osorno.  Maybe he truly didn't know anything about the abuse.  Maybe, like many, he chose not to ask questions where we was unprepared for the answers.  Maybe he knew everything.  I truly have no idea.

Here is what I know.  The people in Chile, at least a big swath of them, believe that Bishop Barros should not be their bishop.  So much so that they tried to physically prevent him from entering the cathedral to assume his new job.


Whether or not there is any "objective" evidence of Bishop Barros's culpabili…

Post-Script re: Indiana and Gay Marriage

A friend of mine had an interesting experience today, one that struck me as relevant to the debate about gay marriage.  A good friend of his is engaged to be married to a woman who is currently living here in the United States, but it is not an American citizen.  Her visa is about to expire, and so the couple (and my friend) went to the courthouse so that they could get a civil marriage.  This way, she could stay in the country so that they could plan their real (in this particular case, Jewish) wedding, scheduled for a year from now.
He made the comment that attending this event at the courthouse was a very ambiguous experience.  The woman's immigration lawyer evidently had made it very clear that the parties present had to do everything possible to make it look like a "real wedding"--take pictures, have vows, etc.  But everyone recognized that the "real" wedding wasn't going to happen for another year.  So, according to my friend, it had this strangely su…