Thursday, April 30, 2009

A straw in the Wind

The British and European media have been enthusiasts for our new president. Does anyone remember any interest remotely similar to this for George Bush's first hundred days?

Curiously, the Democracy in America blog on the Economist web site has a posting "another boring press conference." Could this be the turning point? Would Malcolm call it the tipping point? No, no, that's a different more marketable concept.

Another perspective is that the former junior senator form Illinois has arrived at the perfect strategy for defanging criticism: hold so many press conferences and make them so unewsworthy that no one bothers anymore.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing for the Obama white House is the Economist's last sentence: "I'm starting to feel suckered into watching an hour-long campaign advertisement."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Ideology of Terror or the Peace of Islam?

Is Islamic terrorism better understood as a return to Islam at its core or as an ideological version of Islam, a culture politicized? I would contend that ideology is a rationalistic distortion of reality and the product of literacy and Western thought.

Yale University Press has published a new book by Ali Allawi, The Crisis of Islamic Civilization. Judging from the reviews, Awawi the political route followed by the Islamofacists is untrue to Islam and Islam must reach into its own resources to deal wit the challenge of modernity.

The Economist writes: "Mr Allawi calls his new book an 'attempt to understand the factors behind the decay of the spirit of Islam'. He locates this decay not in the personal piety of the world’s Muslims—which remains vibrant—but in the collective failure of Muslims, over the past 200 years, to come up with an adequate and effective response to Western modernity. The problem is not that Islam is incapable of finding its own path to modernity. Mr Allawi wholly rejects the popular notion that Islam is inherently incompatible with tolerance, democracy, women’s rights—in short, all that the West holds dear.

"The difficulty, he says, is that the predominant Muslim response to the Western challenge has been narrowly political instead of being rooted in the inherited ethos of Islamic civilisation. Seen in this light, the Islamist movements which have received so much attention since the Islamic revival in the 1970s are shallow and passionate. For all their pretence of offering an 'Islamic alternative', they represent, or so he argues, nothing more than Western modernity in Islamic garb.

Mr. Allawi is an experience politician in the post-Sadam government and worldwide bestselling author.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Say it Ain't So, John

Baseball is not everybody's sport these days: the national pastime is less national than it once was. The sport's power flowed from that special glow radiating from youngsters' eyes as they saw the big stadium and the luxurious green field in an urban industrial world. For anyone who has felt baseball as the emotional personification of American culture, the words, "Say it ain't so" hit you in the gut.

This is, of course an allusion to the Black Sox scandal: the crisis of our identity a hundred years ago. The image of the little boy looking up in disbelief and hopeless hope to Shoeless Joe Jackson is more than most can bear as he calls out the legendary, "Say it ain't so."

The stories leaking out of that city by the Potomac are such as to make us cry, "Say it ain't so."

Georgetown is the oldest Catholic university in the United Sates. John Carroll, later to become the first bishop in the United States, founded the university. I cried when I read the account of how he learned the Jesuits were dissolved. This evil news caught up with him in Britain in a letter from his brother received on his way back to the U.S. from Europe.

President Obama spoke at Georgetown, Tuesday April 14th. (Read the story at Catholic News.) His handlers requested that the symbols behind him be covered. I suppose they figure they have an infinite right to control the setting. But it doesn't mean that his hosts had to comply. Over the place where the President was to speak were the initials IHS in the usual stylized manner the Jesuits use to indicate the name of Jesus. The image above gives you the idea. This picture is from the Church of the Gesu, the Jesuit church in Rome.

What is amazing and disheartening is that Georgetown complied. They covered the name of Jesus to bask in the President's reflected glory. Jesus told us not to hide our light under a basket. The Jesuits hid Him under a basket, or more precisely a piece of plywood.

The University and the President's office both claim the shrouding was the unintentional consequence of their attempt to set a proper background for the U.S. flags. Image is everything, right? I guess you can't expect a bunch of flacks to understand the symbolism of covering the name of Jesus in a Catholic university.

When President Obama spoke, he used Jesus' parable of the two men one who built his house on sand and the other who built it on rock. Some might wonder just what Georgetown's Catholicism is built on.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keep In Touch with the Campus Groups that Are Opposing Honoring President Obama's Pro Abortion Policies

A coalition of twelve student groups have joined to protest Notre Dame's granting an honorary degree to President Barak Obama. Click on NDResponse's web site. In this internet age, the pro life students and faculty are not hiding their light under a bushel basket.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Journal On the Shroud

In the Wall street Journal, Peter Manseau writes on the Shroud of Turin.

Is the Shroud real, i.e, is it the real burial cloth of Christ? We will never know for sure. Science can refute its authenticity, but never prove it.

The carbon dating in 1988 is only one of a great many scientific studies of the Shroud and, like most of them, it is controversial. In many ways the Shroud is far more of a scientific enigma than an object of faith. Surely some from a strong reformed tradition (he mentions Calvin) will enjoy schadenfreude from any evidence against the Shroud.

Manseau mentions studies of pollen in the cloth. These were done by a top forensic scientist from Interpol, Max Frei. He demonstrated that the cloth contained extinct pollens that date its presence in Anatolia and Syria to the turn of the first millennium and during Late Antiquity, respectively.

The historical record of the Shroud's existence prior to 1204 is based on documents about the Mandalion, a display of Jesus' Head which had a profound effect on Christian and particularly Eastern Christian art. This theory fits the scientific evidence well and explains the fold marks. It probably inspired the legend of Veronica's veil.

The controversy over the carbon-14 dating has to do with the representativeness of the fragments that were used for the dating. The Shroud is not an archeological specimen that was undisturbed for two thousand years. It was repaired a number of times, some documented and some not. Moreover those entrusted with its safekeeping, to the extent they believe it might be the true burial cloth of Christ, are loath to allow any destructive testing such as carbon-14 dating which requires burning a piece of the cloth itself. Thus they only permitted something from the periphery. There is evidence that actual fibers used to do the carbon dating were contaminated both by earlier repairs and by the fire. To write "these studies found, with 95% certainty, that the fabrication date of the linen of the Shroud was sometimes between 1260 and 1390," is to misunderstand the null hypothesis.

The biggest mystery (in the non theological sense of that word) is how the image was created. Not only was the concept of a photographic negative unknown in the fourteenth century, but using modern image enhancement technology scientists found that the Shroud contains three dimensional information. No known scientific process can explain how this particular image come to be on the Shroud. That is one reason why the studies keep piling up as chemists, physicists, physicians, astrophysicists and others investigate the Shroud. The vast majority of these scientists, as befits their disciplines, start from a skeptical point of view. To disprove the authenticity of a major relic would, after all, be a great coup.

From my personal point of view, the greatest benefit of all this research (as you mention) has been our deepened understanding of the physical reality of crucifixion. Crucifixion had been outlawed for a millennium at the time the Shroud reappeared in the fourteenth century. There was little accurate knowledge of the physical details of crucifixion. Those anatomical details were mostly rediscovered in the last century. One of the verses of the Anima Christi is "Passion of Christ strengthen me." Using this knowledge to meditate on the existential reality of the Passion brings home the price He paid and inspires courage to do what the right thing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maybe Mr. Blair's Views Will Mature

Mr. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, thinks the church's teaching that sex outside marriage, including homosexual sex, is wrong will have to change. He seems to think Benedict's exposition of that teaching is an "attitude" that results from his age. The church will just have to get with the times, it seems.

Mr. Blair when he took RCIA apparently was taught that the Church's teaching is simply a matter of opinion and needs to get with the program, so to speak.

In the London Times, Ruth Gledhill reports, "Speaking to the gay magazine Attitude, the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.''

The church teaches that all people are equal in that they they are made in the image and likeness of God. Not all behavior is equally moral, however.

Damian Thompson in the Telegraph suggests maybe Mr. Blair ahould change his attitudes, particularly on abortion. Blair "calls for Pope Benedict to rethink the Church's "entrenched" attitude on homosexuality. [Thompson asks,] Well, the Pope would rather like Mr Blair to rethink his entrenched support for abortion, but he hasn't done so, has he?"

The outgoing primate of the English church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, received Tony Blair into the church. The good Archbishop of Westminster seems to think burdening his flock with the church's teaching is too heavy a cross. Both Damian Thompson and the Economist ("The church’s new English head is a tougher customer than his predecessor") see his successor, Manchester's Archbishop Vincent Nichols, as cut from a different cloth.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ten Notre Dame Priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross Object to Honoring Obama As Creating "Moral Confusion"

From the Notre Dame student Newspaper, The Observer:

Work to maintain Catholic traditions

By: Letter to the Editor

Posted: 4/8/09

We write as priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross and as proud graduates of the University of Notre Dame to voice our objection to the University's decision to honor President Barack Obama by inviting him to deliver this year's Commencement address and by conferring on him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

We wish to associate ourselves with and encourage those courageous students and treasured alumni who, while deeply loving Notre Dame, vigorously oppose this sad and regrettable decision of the University administration.

It is our deep conviction that Notre Dame should lead by word and deed in upholding the Church's fundamental teaching that human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception. In so doing the University must take seriously the 2004 instruction of the U.S. Catholic Bishops that "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

We especially regret the fissure that the invitation to President Obama has opened between Notre Dame and its local ordinary and many of his fellow bishops. We express our deep gratitude to Bishop John D'Arcy for his leadership and moral clarity. We ask that the University give renewed consideration to Bishop D'Arcy's thoughtful counsel which always has Notre Dame's best interests at heart.

The University pursues a dangerous course when it allows itself to decide for and by itself what part of being a Catholic institution it will choose to embrace. Although undoubtedly unintended, the University administration's decision portends a distancing of Notre Dame from the Church which is its lifeblood and the source of its identity and real strength. Such a distancing puts at risk the true soul of Notre Dame.

We regret that our position on this issue puts us at odds with our brother priest in Holy Cross, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. Yet, in this instance, for the good of Notre Dame and the Congregation of Holy Cross, we cannot remain silent. Notre Dame's decision has caused moral confusion and given many reason to believe that the University's stance against the terrible evil of abortion is weak and easily trumped by other considerations.

We prayerfully request that Fr. Jenkins and the Fellows of the University, who are entrusted with responsibility for maintaining its essential character as a Catholic institution of higher learning, revisit this matter immediately. Failure to do so will damage the integrity of the institution and detract from all the good work that occurs at Notre Dame and from the impressive labors of its many faithful students and professors.

We offer these views as we enter Holy Week, recalling the triumph of Christ's holy cross. As "men with hope to bring" we are confident that Notre Dame may yet give true honor to its patroness, and witness to Her Son, through its commitment to the sanctity of life.

Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C.

Stephen M. Koeth, C.S.C.

Gregory P. Haake, C.S.C.

Daniel J. Parrish, C.S.C.

Michael B. Wurtz, C.S.C.

Mark R. Ghyselink, C.S.C.

Terrence P. Ehrman, C.S.C.

John A. Herman, C.S.C.

Ronald J. Wasowski, C.S.C.

Vincent A. Kuna, C.S.C.

Holy Cross Priests

April 7

© Copyright 2009 The Observer

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Fourteen Easy Ways to Improve the Liturgy

Arlene Oost-Zinner and Jeffrey Tucker provide a straightforward guide to improving your parish's liturgy according to the true meaning of Vatican II's dogmatic constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Consilium.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

George Weigel: An Honorary Degree Is Not The Same As an Invitation to Dialogue

Why might orthodox Catholics be upset with Notre Dame's decision to honor President Barak Obama with an honorary degree?

George Weigel addresses this in the Chicago Tribune, "When a university invites a prominent personality to deliver a commencement address and accept an honorary degree, a statement is being made to graduates, students, faculty, parents, alumni and donors: 'This is someone whose work is worth emulating.' The invitation, in other words, is not to a debate, or to the opening of some sort of ongoing conversation. The invitation and the award of an honorary degree are a university's stamp of approval on someone's life and accomplishment.

"Which is precisely why the University of Notre Dame, which claims to be America's premier Catholic institution of higher learning, made an egregious error in inviting President Barack Obama to address its May commencement and accept an honorary doctorate of laws degree.

Francis J. Beckwith is the 2008–2009 Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Portions of this essay were delivered by Prof. Beckwith on March 28, 2009 at the University of Notre Dame for the 2009 Notre Dame Right to Life Collegiate Conference.

Is this simple a matter of disagreement? a difference of opinion?

No. The President has already taken actions that advance an evil which the Second Vatican Council called "an unspeakable crime" [Gaudium et Spes]. Weigel elaborates: "The president has put the taxpayers of the United States back into the business of paying for abortions abroad. He has expanded federal funding for embryo-destructive stem-cell research [in contradistinction to non embryonic stem cell research] and defended that position in a speech that was a parody of intellectually serious moral reasoning. The Obama administration threatens to reverse federal regulations that protect the conscience rights of Catholic and other pro-life health-care professionals."

The Tribune published Weigel's piece with one by Professor Douglas W. Kmiec as a kind of debate over Notre Dame's decision. You can click through the Catholic News Service's coverage of it to get to Kmiec's arguments.

On the magazine's blog ("On the Square"), Stephen Barr, the physicist and frequent contributor to First Things, writes an intellectual reaction colored by the fact that his son is to be among the graduating class at the commencement.

Barr puts it plainly in perspective, "Abortion is a defining issue of our time, in the way that slavery was in the mid-nineteenth century and segregation and racial discrimination were in the mid-twentieth century. Overlooking the pro-abortion views of a politician now would be analogous to overlooking pro-slavery or segregationist views in those eras. Would Notre Dame have invited a champion of segregation to be a commencement speaker in the 1960s, however brilliant or talented, however well-meaning in other ways and on other issues he or she may have been?"

Barr concludes that Notre Dame, the premier Catholic brand, is willing to give Obama cover on this, the defining moral issue of our age, to secure the Faustian bargain of this world's acclaim. It is well we begin each Lent being reminded of the three temptations in the desert, representing the flesh, power, and fame.

Francis J. Beckwith is one of the foremost recent converts (actually a "revert") to Catholicism and the former head of the Evangelical Theological Society. Beckwith is the 2008–2009 Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. On March 28, 2009, he addressed the 2009 Notre Dame Right to Life Collegiate Conference. You will find his edited talk reproduced in "On the Square." His arguments are both theologically weighty and powerfully expressed

He ends quoting a the Reverend Martin Luther King's prophetic call for a return to the early church so "god intoxicated" it was neither intimidated nor impressed by the power and approval of this world. How different from today: "Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.

"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth [and twenty-first] century."