Tuesday, March 20, 2012


            A great deal has been going on in the Church these last few days, with the release of the Vatican’s statement on the investigation into child sexual abuse in Ireland, and the naming of new bishops for Baltimore, Rockford, IL and Pensacola-Tallahassee, to name just a few things.

            Perhaps lost in the shuffle was the visit of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to Rome and Pope Benedict XVI, during which they had private conversations and celebrated Vespers (Evening Prayer/Evensong) at the Church of Saint Gregory the Great, who sent St Augustine and his missionary brothers to preach to the Angles and Saxons in England, and who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.  Only a few days later, the Archbishop publicly announced his resignation/retirement from Canterbury—he will become the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
            During the Evening Prayer service, both Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams offered homilies, and the point of this blog-post is not so much the content in theological terms as it is about the theological terms in their content.  I am referring mostly to titles:  Pope Benedict referred to the Archbishop as “Your Grace…Archbishop of Canterbury…my dear Brother in Christ” (capitalizations in the original).  And in his peroration, Pope Benedict said:  Today, for the third time, the Bishop of Rome is meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury in the home of Saint Gregory the Great….We hope that the sign of our presence here together in front of the holy altar, where Gregory himself celebrated the Eucharistic sacrifice, will remain…as a stimulus for all the faithful—both Catholic and Anglican—encouraging them…to pray constantly and to work for unity…”

            Archbishop Rowan Williams’ comments, addressed first of all to “Your Holiness,” also included the following phrases of note:  Your Holiness, ‘Certain yet imperfect’ was how our predecessors of blessed memory, Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert [Runcie], here in Rome in 1989, characterized the communion that our two churches share.  ‘Certain’ because of the shared ecclesial vision to which both our communions are committed as being the character of the Church...  And ‘yet imperfect’ because of the limit of our vision, a deficit in the depth of our hope and patience.”

            It is clear that in these two addresses there is a great longing (perhaps not great enough, right now, to overcome barriers, but great nevertheless) for that unity which is the desire of Jesus Christ for His Church.  It is clear that they both recognize the sacral authority the other exercises.  So what are we to say?

            A quote attributed to St Augustine of Hippo (in a book I have; I cannot verify the source) with regard to the schismatic Donatists is pertinent:  “…they are not with us in all things.”  And this, sadly, is true.   But a quote from St Augustine that can be verified is more hopeful:  We will never cease to be your brothers until you or we cease to call God ‘our Father.’”

            We may not be united “in all things”:  that does not mean we are united in no things.  We can and must stand together insofar as we are able—partial unity may lead (Holy Spirit willing) to full unity; deliberate separation is its own punishment.

            A Greek Orthodox monk once said that we will never have unity of Christians until we are all caught up in Christ.  I believe that will never happen until we are willing, together, to stand at the foot of the Cross, look up and let our eyes meet the eyes of Him who is crucified for us, and hear His dying words to us:  “I love you…”  This is what will break down our barriers and lead us to unity.  Is this not “a consummation devoutly to be wished”?

Lagniappe:  it is very little known, but the private conversation between Archbishop Williams and Pope Benedict included the following exchange:

RW:  I'm retiring, you know; heading to Cambridge, the "Other Place," to be Master of Magdalene College.
B16:  Will you be in need of a visiting professor?!

Monday, March 12, 2012


     There is a meditation from the commentary of St Thomas Aquinas for this past Sunday in the prayer-companion Magnificat which is challenging.  The excerpt, from his "Commentary on the Gospel of John," includes this passage:
     "...zeal, properly speaking, signifies an intensity of love, whereby the one who loves intensely does not tolerate anything which is repugnant to his love... Thus, properly speaking, one is said to have zeal for God who cannot patiently endure anything contrary to the honor of God...so that if we notice anything amiss being done,we should try to eliminate it, no matter how dear to us are those who are doing it; nor should we fear any evils that we might have to endure as a result."

    Dozens of young people reportedly have been stoned to death in Iraq by fundamentalisst vigilantes for adopting the haircuts and fashion styles of "Emo," which are seen as an affront to Islam.   I supply a picture to indicate what is offending.  For the record, imams have condemned these killings.  But they have not been able (or willing) to stop them.

     Here is my limited point of view:
     1. Until this news item, I had no idea that anything called "Emo" even existed, much less what it was.  I would never be caught in an "emo" hair-do or fashion style.
     2. I do tend to agree with Muslims that we Americans export the worst of decadent "culture" to the world, in TV and movies and music that are at best quasi-pornographic and which celebrate decadence.  Radical Islamists don't call us "The Great Satan" as idle and irrelevant polemic.
     3. Our own 13th century theologican (quoted above) seems to sanction the mind-set that leads to such vigilante activity, doesn't it?

     How do we break the cycle of the mind-set that believes "God is on my side because it's MY side"?  Is violent hatred really the only response that can be made when I see what I do not like or what I disagree with?

     Alle menschen werden bruder, sings the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony:  "All mankind shall be as brothers."  When will we learn this and live this?  The fact that you follow Buddha and I worship Christ and others emulate Muhammed should not have to mean we must liquidate everyone else for our own security's (and ego's) sake.  And perhaps the greatest weapon against things like perversion and pornography is simply to eliminate the market for them; can we?

     I have good friends who are Muslim and Jewish; surely we can embrace one another and tolerate one another (even when we think them mistaken in fact); can we not agree to love one another even if mistaken, rather than murder over a hair-do?

Monday, March 5, 2012


Perhaps this seems like an “odd couple” kind of match-up, but there is a serious and significant connection here that needs to be illuminated.

First of all, whether or not there is a genuine accommodation for respecting religious freedom with regard to the HHR mandate, the fact remains that abortion is quite legal in our country.  Discussions are now in fact taking place (with brutally logical thought processes) as to why, if 3rd-term abortions are legal, early post-birth “abortions” should not also be legal.  I bow to their argument:  they are logical in their thinking (though terribly wrong in the direction of that thinking).   Abortions are (and will likely remain) legal for the foreseeable future.
People sometimes refer to the Dred Scott decision (a black man is his master’s ‘property’ and not a person) to show why there is precedent for reversing a decision (not necessarily only the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, but also the civil rights legislation of the 1960s), and they argue that the Supreme Court’s ‘separate but equal’ verbiage of Plessy v Ferguson was upended later in their 1954 by Brown v Board of Education—so there is hope for an overturning of Roe v Wade.  It is a beautiful hope for pro-life advocates.  But I respectfully disagree with this hope.

To overturn Roe v Wade it would be necessary to argue (as the original decision in fact kept the door open for) a definition of “person” to include children conceived and not yet born.  Ironically, case law implies that this is in fact the situation when lawsuits can be filed on behalf of pregnant women injured or killed in reckless accidents:  the guilty party can be sued on behalf of mother and unborn child [see the decision of the Alabama Supreme Court in the case of April Mack, as the mother of Baby Mack v. Thomas Carmack, 1091040, dated 9-9-11].  Yet to do this with the broad paint brush of a US Supreme Court decision would say that since 1973 we have had legalized killing of persons in our country.  It would force women who have had abortions, doctors who have performed them, and family/friends who have supported them to face the fact that they should be regarded as murderers.  A pregnant woman must believe all she did was have “a blob of tissue” removed—the alternative would be too crushing.  The reason why some abortionists flaunt the fact that they perform 3rd trimester abortions (including and especially “D and X [aka, ‘partial-birth’] abortions”) is that they must believe (or go insane with guilt) that this is a permitted and morally neutral procedure.  [I prescind from the argument that their motivations are in fact calculated evil.] 

 What I say about individuals is exponentially increased in the case of organizations like Planned Parenthood—they do not perform isolated abortions:  they support the abortion industry (and themselves) on the basis of its legality.  Moral judgment would be the only reason for overturning the law; this would also hold them responsible for the equivalent role of a Dr Mengele in World War II Germany…

What (if anything) will lead to a change?  I want to suggest that legislation could effect the bare beginnings of a change, only if there were a significant groundswell of support for it.   Would it take the moral equivalent of a pro-life leader’s being gunned down, as was Dr Martin Luther King Jr?  Perhaps, but the role of martyr has been co-opted by the pro-abortion lobby thanks to the actions of the far-right pro-life movement and their (happily now put to rest) notion of ‘justifiable homicide.’  It would take another generation of folks living without legalized abortion and who would be brought up to live in sexual restraint, who would ask questions like “Why in the world would anyone kill her baby?”  Until there is a social context in which this question could be deemed rhetorical, abortions (like the poor) will be with us always.

How does this tie in to Thomas Arthur?  He is a man (not an attractive personality) who claims he has been falsely convicted of a capital case—he is scheduled to be executed the end of March.  Not only does he maintain his innocence, but another person has subsequently confessed to the crime, and Mr Arthur’s lawyers are willing at their own expense to pay for DNA testing that could exonerate him.  The Alabama judicial/penal system has said, in effect, “Too bad; you’ve been convicted, and we are going to execute you.”

Like people supporting the abortion industry, our State’s criminal prosecution system cannot listen to any alternative to their complete justification for taking this life—it would raise too many questions (much less the answers to those questions)they would not be able to bear to face.  And so, potentially like a baby of 39 weeks’ gestation having his skull opened and “evacuated,” Mr Arthur faces lethal injection in spite of his pleas of innocence and his lawyers’ offers to prove it with NO expense to the State.  The bottom line here is “If I can, then I may; I am stronger than you, therefore I can work my will on you.”

A true accommodation with HHR’s mandate (which, by the way, is an issue of religious freedom for all and not a specifically “Catholic” issue) would at least be a step on the path of saying that might does not automatically make right.  Why are we so eager to jump on to a philosophical bandwagon that rides toward a new ‘final solution’?

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Enjoy the music, and then tell me you can't take a stand...

Friday, March 2, 2012


The Senate yesterday (3-1-12) voted to table S 1467, which would have allowed an exemption for the rights of conscience of faith-based organizations to eliminate abortion-producing drugs from their health-care insurance policies.  I have a conclusion (a few, actually) about the implications of this decision.

First of all, it is likely that the equivalent legislation (H 1179) will pass in the House, and then be "defeated" again in the Senate.  This is because what happened in the Senate was a vote [51-48] "largely along party lines."

Second, the vote was not, strictly speaking, a vote "against"--it was a vote to "table," with the unspoken intention that it never be taken back off the table for action. 

What does this say about politics in an election year?

It says that party identification is a great place to hide when one is campaigning for re-election.  I can state with great confidence "I am a loyal Republican/Democrat," and my voting record proves it."
It says also that gamesmanship is alive and well.  Depending on which parts of my constituency I am appealing to for re-election, I can now say "I made sure this amendment did not take effect," or "I never voted against this legislation's being enacted."  It's really quite convenient.

It finally says (to me, at least) that self-preservation in Washington is more important than clear thinking (and frankly, any voting that can be characterized as "along party lines" says this to me). 

Even though the Catholic Church has taken the lead in appealing against the HHR mandate as a violation of freedom of conscience, it is not the only religion that is so concerned:  Sen Orrin Hatch made the same point (he is Mormon); there are Baptists, too, who are concerned:  we need to remember the large number of Baptist-run hospitals in our country, as well.  If Catholics especially are the focus of this conflict, will the Baptists be next?

Let's stand with, and stand for:  let's STAND!