Catholic Church: November 2006 Archives

An Interesting Item from E-mail

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Once again, I must admit to being ignorant of the agenda, politics, or ideas behind the Glenmary Home Missioners; however, this story was interesting in a way that I'm sure the author did not intend. From it I learned that there is a town in Mississippi by the name of "Vardaman."

Now, why would this even be of minor interest? Well, one of the point-of-view characters of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is named Vardaman. And though I read the book ages ago and have not returned to it, burned into memory is Vardaman's reflection on his mother Addie (the one who lay dying), which constitutes an entire "chapter" of the book. "My mother is a fish." (Read the novel to find out why.)

Anyway, reading the letter from the Priest reminded me of As I Lay Dying and I wonder now why the book has made such a powerful, indelible impression on my mind. I mean I read it thirty or more years ago and I can remember scenes in it vividly. Unlike say the swill I read last week which vanishes into the memory hole almost as soon as the cover is closed.

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Knowing Christ Jesus

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or defending a doctrine?

Tom at Disputations points out that winning a point may mean losing a soul. If we make the system of beliefs the object of faith, then we're arguing for a falsehood.

I read (into) this to mean in part, our mission is not to prove the doctrines of the Church but to bring people to know Christ Jesus. The rest will follow naturally as the heart is inclined to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Or not--and at that time we look more carefully at the doctrines and help and lead the person to understand the point being made, all from the point of view of Love. Compassion--leading another to the source of love, the only place where Truth can be found unalloyed.

Read Tom's magnificent exposition in several parts--this one marking a beginning.

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Re: Catholic Manicheeism


In the example given below, I chose a progressive cause; however, the same truths hold for traditional causes. Too often much of our attitude toward traditional causes is , "It's done, get over it."

As with the purveyors of the progressive causes, it is true that some people supporting the traditionalist cause can be very aggravating in the way they choose to make their points. However, this does not "undo" the nature and extent of the hurt, and as the complaint centers around the center of the faith life, the wound is that much more painful and difficult to heal. As a whole, I'm not certain that the Church has been particularly compassionate toward the traditionalist movement. I know that while I have some sympathies for the complaints, I am often tried to the limits by the complainers, and so I have perhaps not been as responsive as I might have been.

True, it is sometimes difficult to deal with people and their emotions with regard to change. And even more true, unlike reason, which in right-minded persons speaks all-for-one, dealing with emotional injury is a one-on-one and therefore more difficult and exhausting. These facts in no way remove the obligation for each of us, to the extent we are able, to deal compassionately and faithfully with our brothers and sisters who have received real and/or perceived wounds at the hands of the Church.

The Catholic Church struggles not with right reason, which I believe she has a fair bead on, but with the reality of human emotion. There are people and times where this has been handled better and worse than at present--but our present reality is that people expect the Church to help meet these needs. And by that expectation, they expect the people of the their local Church to be a real community. This is a perceived, if often illusory, strength of our evangelical brethren. It is a reason many leave the cold comfort of the truth and join the warm brotherhood of our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Interesting Answers


John Allen, someone I will have to pay more attention to, addressed the issue of the role of women in the Church in a way that I see as solidly holding forth Church teaching and then suggesting what could be done within the framework of Church teaching to make clear the full and equal status of women in the Church. Full article here. Even this may be controversial to some, but I don't see much that would be problematic about it (though I do have to admit that some DREs seem to run away with their own agendas--but wouldn't that happen male or female?). Moreover, it gets around the "it's the law, get over it," by framing the possibilities. One thing I like a lot in the argument is the notion that we can maintain our understanding and framework and still make room for a number of voices to be heard. (We have to remember that not every woman is a Hildegard or a Catherine of Siena--allowance should be made for those whose lives do not command our attention by extraordinary holiness, but who still have important things to say about how we live our spiritual lives.)

First, while no one directly put the question of women’s ordination on the table, we might as well deal with it head-on. Given Pope John Paul II’s 1994 document Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which stated that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and … this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” there will be no official movement on this question in any short-term future scenario I can imagine. I’m aware that some Catholics dream of revisiting the issue somewhere down the line, and I have no crystal ball that tells me where the church will be in 200 years. What I can say is that the Catholic Church does not lurch from position to position, especially on something this sensitive, and at a minimum anyone living in hope of rapid evolution will likely be disappointed.

Further, it’s correct that Pope Benedict and other church leaders see the revitalization of the priesthood as a top priority, including the fraternal nature of relations between bishops and priests – especially in light of the strain under which those bonds have been placed in some parts of the world as a result of the sexual abuse crisis.

However, the right Catholic answer when faced with a seeming disjunction is rarely “either/or,” but “both/and.” Hence one hopes that strengthening the all-male character of the priesthood does not have to come at the expense of greater efforts to hear the voice of women. We ought to be able to do both at once.

In reality, there are vast areas in the life of the church where authority and responsibility can be exercised without sacramental ordination. On the parish level, the Catholic church in the United States and elsewhere could not operate without the contributions made by women as directors of religious education, liturgists, pastoral associates, and in myriad other capacities. Roughly 25 percent of the diocesan chancellors in America are now women, and one hopes that trend will accelerate until it hovers around 50 percent, better reflecting the percentage of women in the church. Women today serve as diocesan spokespersons, as general councils for dioceses, as chief financial officers, and in a wide variety of other capacities. These efforts can become much more systematic, especially in positions of high public visibility. (The American bishops’ conference is presently hiring a new communications director, for example, and all things being equal, it would be exceedingly positive symbolism if that post went to a lay woman).

Even in the Vatican, one can detect “baby steps” in this regard. In 2004, Pope John Paul II for the first time appointed a woman to a superior’s-level position in an office of the Roman Curia, naming Italian Salesian Sr. Enrica Rosanna as under-secretary of the Congregation for Religious. It’s true that a cleric co-signs letters from the congregation that exercise the pope’s delegated “power of jurisdiction,” but nevertheless the appointment put Rosanna in a position of leadership in the universal church. In the same year, John Paul named Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon as President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, and appointed two female theologians to the International Theological Commission, both firsts. (One was an American, Sr. Sara Butler). While these are admittedly small moves, and perhaps open to the charge of “tokenism,” they nevertheless set precedents upon which one can build.

Moving more comprehensively in this direction is important, it seems to me, for two reasons.

First, church teaching unambiguously supports the full equality of women, and offering the world models of female leadership is thus an important way of demonstrating that we mean what we say.

Second, doing so could also perhaps allow us to approach the conversation about the priesthood more rationally. Church spokespersons routinely say that the all-male character of the priesthood is not a matter of excluding women from power, because the priesthood is not about power but service. The practical reality, however, is that ordination has always been the gateway to power in the church, if not theologically then sociologically. If the church were more systematic about the full representation of women in every area of life that doesn’t require ordination, it would perhaps reduce some of the suspicion that the teaching on the priesthood is really a smokescreen designed to preserve a system of male privilege.

I recognize that for some Catholics, including many deeply faithful Catholic women, none of this amounts to a fully satisfying answer. Yet under the rubric of “the art of the possible,” it seems to me to be the best answer one can give about what can be done under the present circumstances to help the church “breathe with both lungs” – in this case, not East and West, but male and female.

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Catholic Manicheeism

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One of the difficulties I have most often with the Catholic Church and with the people in it is not a lack of intellect, but a focus so intense on the intellect that one would think that people are mere disembodied intellects wandering about without either sense or emotions. This comes up most often in the question of response to certain church teachings. I was reading a really fascinating book by John Allen, and he happened to mention Sister Joan Chittister--a person for whom I cannot summon up a lot of sympathy or empathy in many ways. However, the attitude I hear most Catholics take with regard to her central issue is not one of compassion for the hurt and sense of disenfranchisement it entails, but rather a "It's the law, get over it."

I'll be first in the line to enthusiastically trumpet that I believe it to be an infallible teaching of the Church that women cannot be ordained. I'll also be among the first to admit that I'm not certain I follow the reasoning entirely. My reasoning is drawn from Camille Paglia, of all places. Her observation that the female "cultus" is nearly always "transgressive" is argument enough for me. In facing the eternal, I don't particularly need transgression. However, that said, what does one do about Sr. Joan and thousands or hundred of thousands of women who feel this sense of disenfranchisement and a sense of being second class citizens?

"Get over it" is insufficient. Put the shoe on the other foot and walk in it for a while. How do we feel as Catholics when a group of nine men and women over whose election and office we have had no real say determines that key elements of the moral system we uphold and declare to the world have no validity? What recourse have we? What rights have we? Why are our voices not heard? This is only vaguely analogical, but if you think about how you feel when yet another ruling from the council of Death is passed down, you'll get a sense of how some women might feel at the fact that a council of people over whom they have no control and through whom they no sexual representation determine that the door is closed to them. Kind of like when some of us were kids and we had a clubhouse door with "No Girls Allowed" emblazoned on it. (As an aside, how refreshing it would be to see more of that among the young persons of our present age, rather than the present plague.)

"Get over it, your feelings don't matter only what is right matters," may be true, but it is not inclined to helping the human and humane person get over it. It is this fundamental insensitivity to a major part of human life that I find problematic. "Tenderness leads to the gas chamber" (a misquotation, by the way) is the mantra of the intellectual set. So, by all means, let us avoid tenderness or pastoral concern or care for those who have been wounded and hurt by Church teachings or Church practice. Actually, I know of no one anywhere in the Church who would support the statement made in the previous sentence. So obviously, tenderness and concern are important to us, why then is the thrust of many Catholics so violently apologetical as to dismiss this aspect of our lives?

Well, for one thing, we aren't all psychologists and analysts with days to sit around and listen to our brothers and sisters explain their difficulties with the faith. And of course there's the pastor and various church committees to listen to the problems of others.

These are mere excuses. We don't listen because we are in the "triumphant" class and more often than not the reality is we don't care how other people feel about it. The truth is, after all, the truth.

Time and time again I have been wounded and I have seen others wounded by the cavalier imposition of one person's "truth" in a way that neglects the emotional needs of another. "You're childless, oh well, too bad, that's just the way it is. Learn to deal with it because the Church (quite rightly) prohibits doing much of anything about it." "Come to our 'family day,' but if you don't have children you'll be made to feel like some sort of freakish outcast as we arrange all of our activities around those who do have them and there will be nothing for those not blessed with children--because, after all, God has singled you out anyway." "Oh, you have same sex attraction, well that's gravely disordered and you'll just have to put a lid on it anyway 'cause the church teaches that that is evil." And so forth. Not everyone is nearly so callous, but there is enough of it that if I were asked the great fault of the Catholic Church I would respond not that it has no head, but that it has no heart. Obviously, that is a vast overstatement, because it does. It has in fact many hearts, starting with the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus and extending to every Catholic who reaches out to feed the poor and comfort the afflicted. No, the real injury comes from the sheer thoughtlessness of the everyday and the devaluation of the life of emotion that is implicit in most apologetics, if not in the teaching itself.

The emotional life of the person must be addressed even as the truth is taught. It is insufficient to say, "You can't practice birth control and if the next baby means you will die, oh well, then you'll just have to live sexless lives from now on. The great saints did it." (Something actually said to a twenty-two year old married friend of mine.)

I'm tired of hearing that if you feel it, it must perforce be wrong. I'm tired of seeing people cast to the side in the name of truth. I'm tired of the dichotomy that says that reason is always to be trusted and emotions are to be repressed, suppressed and otherwise disfigured in its service. I'm also tired of hearing of the exaltation of reason. Right reason is a gift from God, but it is fabulously rare in the normal conduct of life. For some reason we're able to think quite clearly in the abstract, but I rarely see those who think these great thoughts put them into practice.

In short, I guess what I'd like to see from the Church is something akin to compassion. The Catholic Church in Florida is losing members right and left to various evangelical Churches. There are a great many reasons for this, but one of the primary reasons I hear is the friendliness and the welcome and the warmth of the Evangelical Churches. It's really funny seeing some of my evangelical Hispanic friends telling me about the wonders of the evangelical church right before they kiss their rosaries and join in the prayer circle.

If the Catholic Church continues to be the Church of cold reason it will continue to lose its members to Churches with doctrine less accurate, but with the ability to integrate the emotional life of the person into the fabric of faith. For the most part the Catholic Church fails spectacularly at this, noting mostly that to be a faithful Catholic you must suppress whatever you may feel. Right doctrine does not necessitate incapacitating the individual, and unless and until Catholics come to terms with that, the Church will continue to lose members throughout the world as Catholicism becomes a joyless but eminently reasonable way to believe. You may mock the megachurches, perhaps even rightfully so, but we could learn from their sense of hospitality, warmth, and true interpersonal consideration.

I guess my final statement here is to remember that the Church is the mystical body of Christ made up of the people in it with Christ as the head. When we're waging our war of reason against error, it is wise to consider the source of the error and address not only the facts of the matter, but the person with whom we are engaging in discussion. Compassion for the plexus of emotions that underlies much incorrect thought will not only help eradicate the error, but it will also help support the person in a way that will allow continuity in faith without bitterness. There will not be the sense of "this is a pill I must swallow," but "this is a liberating truth I can embrace." Above all else, take it upon yourself to be the smile and the handshake or hug of Jesus Himself. Have the heart of Jesus for all--and that means when the young man discovers he cannot sell all and follow Jesus, you don't follow him around with a harangue about how it is the just, right, and reasonable thing to do. Humans will not do the just, right, and reasonable thing in an unsupportive emotional vacuum.

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The Feast of All Carmelite Saints


November 14th, the day we celebrate all the Saints of the Carmelite Order:

And from the Carmelite Calendar--the List of many of the Saints with their own feast days:

3 Bl. Kuriakos Elias Chavara, priest OC-m OCD-m
8 St. Peter Thomas, bishop OC-F OCD-m
9 St. Andrew Corsini, bishop OC-F OCD-m
17 Bl. Henry de Osso y Cervello OCD-m
29 Bl. Archangela Girlani, virgin OC-m

19 St. Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary
Principle protector of our Order SOLEMNITY

1 Bl. Nuno Alvares Pereira, religious OC-M OCD-m
17 Bl. Baptist Spagnoli of Mantua, priest OC-M OCD-m
18 Bl. Mary of the Incarnation, nun OCD-m
23 Bl. Teresa Mary of the Cross OCD-m

5 St. Angelus, priest & martyr OC-M
8 Bl. Aloysius Rabata, priest OC-m
16 St. Simon Stock, religious OC-m OCD-m
22 St. Joachina de Vedruna de Mas, religious OC-m OCD-m
25 St. Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi, virgin OC-F OCD-M

7 Bl. Anne of St. Bartholomew, virgin OCD-M
14 St. Elisha, prophet OC-M

9 Bl. Jane Scopelli, virgin OC-m
13 St. Teresa of Jesus 'Los Andes', virgin OC-m OCD-m
16 Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel SOLEMNITY
17 Bls Teresa of St. Augustine and Companions OC-m OCD-m
20 St. Elijah, Prophet & our Father OC-S OCD-F
23 Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace OCD-M
24 Bl. John Soreth, priest OC-M
Bls. Maria Pilar, Teresa and Maria Angeles, v OCD-m
Bl. Maria Mercedes Prat, v & m OCD-m
26 Sts. Joachim & Anne, parents of the BVM, OC-M
27 Bl. Titus Brandsma, priest & martyr OC-M OCD-m
28 Bl. John Soreth, priest OCD-m

7 St. Albert of Trapani, priest OC-F OCD-M
9 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, martyr OC-m OCD-m
16 Bl. Maria Sagrario of St. Aloysius, vir.& martyr OCD-m
17 Bl. Angelus Augustine Mazzinghi, priest OC-m
25 Bl. Mary of Jesus Crucified, virgin OC-m OCD-m
26 St. Teresa of Jesus' Transveberation OCD nuns-M others-m
28 Bl. Alfonso Maria Mazurek, priest & martyr OCD-m

1 St. Teresa Margaret Redi, virgin OC-m OCD-M
12 Bl. Mary of Jesus, virgin OCD-M
17 St. Albert of Jerusalem, bshp & lawgiver of Carmel FEAST

1 St. Therese of the Child Jesus, virgin & doctor FEAST
15 St. Teresa of Jesus, virign & doctor OC-F OCD-SOLEMNITY

5 Bl. Frances d'Amboise, religious OC-m
6 Bl. Josepha Naval Girbes, virgin OCD-m
7 Bl. Francis Palau y Quer, priest OC-m OCD-m
8 Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, virgin OC-m OCD-M
14 All Carmelite Saints FEAST
15 Commemoration of All Carmelite Souls* OC-C OCD-C
19 St. Raphael Kalinowski, priest OC-m OCD-M
29 Bls. Denis & Redemptus, martyrs OC-m OCD-M

5 Bl. Bartholomew Fanti, priest OC-m
11 Bl. Maria Maravillas of Jesus OCD-m
14 St. John of the Cross, priest & doctor OC-F OCD-SOLEMNITY
16 Bl. Mary of the Angels, virgin OCD-m

Of course, this does not include those Saints whose cause is known only to God and not yet brought forth for human eyes. Nor does it include all those who worked and prayed with the Carmelite Saints and now enjoy or will soon enjoy the beatific vision with their brothers and sisters, but whose lives did not rise to the height of heroic sanctity. These souls are honored tomorrow.

(The OC and OCD in the calendar indicate whether the particular Saint is celebrated in one or both branches of the order.)

One whose life is endlessly fascinating to me and whose cause I am uncertain of is Louise de la Vallière, mistress of the King of France, who after a long dalliance finally was brought to the doors of Carmel where she was encloistered for her remaining days. This fascinating woman's story forms part of the saga of the Three Musketeers and is yet another example of those in places of privilege surrendering all for a greater privilege.

All holy saints of Carmel, pray for us. And pray most especially for those members of the Brothers and Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel living, praying, and working for the Glory of God today.

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Greeting in a Different Light

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All Saints

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Today is a day to remember, praise, and thank the Saints for their everyday (if that is a possibility in Heaven) work for us.

In my Academy speech, I would like to thank:

(1)The Blessed Virgin Mary for teaching me humility in so many different ways and for being the constant stumbling block to my reforming protestant mind.

(2) St. Therese of Lisieux, whose constant efforts on my part have availed so little so far, but in whose prayers I have every confidence, and whose desire to work good on Earth makes me desire to see her prayers come to fruition.

(3) St. Patrick, who nearly single-handedly established the system that preserved much of antiquity for western minds and eyes.

(4) St. Teresa of Avila, constant intercessor and close friend, a person I would be honored to call Mother--practical, kind, and above all joyful.

(5) St. John of the Cross, joyful, humble, and a constant inspiration to one so lost.

(6) St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross--humbling the intellect and the person to serve those dying while dying herself.

(7) St. Augustine, who better articulated the mind of most men of my acquaintance, and certainly to some extent my own than any other Saint. He gives me hope that salvation may be attained through grace and perserverance.

(8) St Catherine of Siena--courageous, truthful, crusader who had the gumption and the determination to set the Pope back on the right track, who also served the poor and the ill where she lived.

(9) St Katherine Ann Drexel--friend of the friendless, constant companion of those who had no champion, a true American example of holiness.

(10) St. Elizabeth Ann Seton--whose dedication to children and to their education helps us to focus on what is important here and now, the nurturing and care of our little ones that they may raise up a new generation better than our own.

Naturally, these are idiosyncratic and only a bare start. But thank goodness for this day to honor all of the Saints who have gone before us and who go before God for us, praying constantly and working good on Earth through their prayers.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from November 2006.

Catholic Church: October 2006 is the previous archive.

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