Critiques & Controversies: January 2004 Archives

On Triumphalism

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My thanks to T. S. O'Rama who has pointed out a lack of clarity in some comments that I left chez Alicia. It seems that I somehow managed to give the impression that "Steven Riddle seems to see triumphalism as saying what you are thinking."

What I intended to say, and apparently did not make clear, is not that triumphalism is "saying what you are thinking." Rather the worst aspects of the thing meant by the derogatory connotation of "triumphalism" is the kind of in-your-face, I-told-you-so, rhetoric that often accompanies it. There are perfectly civil and courteous means of expressing any thought you have.

The specific example I used was some of the rhetoric seen in various places accompanying the November Debacle in the Episcopalian Church. I quite wrongly charged Fr. Jim with something that "smacked of triumphalism." But I had grown overly senstive to the blasé and callous statements that amounted to "What can you expect from a bunch of heretics?"

I liken it to being on the other side of the rhetoric as when during the height of the sexual abuse scandal we were often hearing, "What can you expect from a religion of woman-hating, self-loathing, non-marrying, clergy." It does not feel good to be on that side of triumphalism.

Moreover, I need to make clear, this only is associated with the derogatory connotation of the word. It has nothing to do with the denotation of the word at all.

So my bottom line is that the worst aspects of triumphalism lay not in the doctrine or theory but in its discourteous practice and the lack of charity that often accompanies its demonstration. There is a qualitative difference between saying "Serves you right for that mess during the reign of Henry the Eighth." And, "The separation from the Church over disagreement on one point of doctrine necessarily paved the way for future disagreements of which this is the latest demonstration." Even then, unless requested, such an explanation should not be offered until after such time as you have tried to help console the person who is reeling from a substantial blow to their worldview. St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us that one of the seventeen evidences of a lack of humility is:"to give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it."

You can say what is on your mind, but you can say it in a way that demonstrates what you mean without detracting from the dignity of the person or their belief (however incorrect it may be) and in a way that can be more healing and charitable than a simple record of the error.

Hope that clears up my intent. I did not mean to say you shouldn't speak what you think (although there are times when this is true as well) but that such speech should take place with consideration and courtesy. I think I'm sensitve over this issue because more than anything else, I want people to express what they're thinking in a way that invites conversation and even vigorous debate but which encourages charity and respect. I want to hear what people are thinking--but I want to hear the substance of it, not the surface of it--reasoning not sloganeering.

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I read somewhere recently a statement that implied that no one was pro-abortion. (Was it at Jeanne's?) And initially that made a certain amount of sense to me. I could buy the fact that very few people actually thought of abortion as a "best practices" procedure.

However, I am not so certain when I examine the issue closely. When anyone speaks on the issue (and of course all we really get is sound bites) the only thing I tend to hear is a recommitment to "protect a woman's right to choose" (repugnant enough as it stands). However, where are the politicians who are explaining how we will help that woman have a child and still maintain a reasonable quality of life. Statistics show us that single mothers sit as a majority at the very base of our economic scale. True, not all single mothers are impoverished and we don't understand the full complexities of what causes these conditions of poverty. However, the statistics would seem to suggest that young single women who have children are likely to fare poorly.

Is it any wonder that a scared teenager might seek an abortion (perhaps with the collusion of boyfriend and even parents)? How then does a supposedly "pro-choice" politician make the choice for keeping the child viable? How does such a politician suggest we remove the poverty stamp from such an arrangement? I have heard nothing.

Hearing nothing causes me to think that pro-choice is pro-one-choice, not really about providing opportunities to make the right decision. If that is the case, a politician has no right to claim that they are "pro-choice." They are pro-abortion. And of course we have all recognized that.

But there are still those who say that the label unjustly stigmatizes people who in conscience are against abortion but who are stalwart defenders of the right to choose.

Well, then, my reply would be--truly defend the right to choose. Tell us how you would support women who make the right choice. Tell us how you would help the poor and downtrodden. Tell us how you would make life better for these oppressed. For until such a politician does so, he or she is not pro-choice, and certainly not pro-woman. They are pro-abortion.

On the other hand, I hear too much about removing the (non-existant) right to abortion from the pro-life side and not enough about what should be done to help. I don't think we mean to be so callous, but it sometimes appears that we are so focused on bringing a child into the world that everything else blurs out--permanently. Once the child is born, how will it be cared for? Who will care for the mother of the child? How will the family be nurtured and made strong? We need to remember than in most cases the person having the child has already demonstrated that they are not strong on making good choices. How do we help them understand and learn to make better choices for themselves and for their families?

Frankly, I'm sick to death of hearing about pro-death politicians and pro-death legislation, with all the frothing and fomenting that goes with it. We are all pro-death until we devise schema that allow unfortunate individuals pushed to the edge a chance to truly choose life. Merely outlawing abortion is insufficient. I need to hear along with this passion for saving the unborn a passion for saving their mothers, their families, and their lives down the road. I know it's there. I just don't hear enough about it.

It is exceedingly worthwhile to work for the elimination of abortion. But while we do so we do well to remember that we need to have facilities, institutions, and programs in place that will aid struggling young mothers and their children. This is true even when the mother decides to give her child up for adoption. Often a pregnancy in a young life has disrupted education, family life, and stability for the young mother. What will we do for these young people? Are we prepared at this point to receive and accommodate the enormous needs that must be met if we could stop the abortion machine?

Let us truly be prolife then, moving forward with a two pronged foray. Do not let our rhetoric be solely, "Stop abortion now," but let it also convey a notion of loving, caring for, and nurturing young mothers and children. Let us be seen as not merely opposing, but building something positive for the future.

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I write this with some trepidation knowing the streams of vitriol it can unleash. But I also know that the advantage of swimming about in a backwater is that I can say pretty much any outrageous thing I care to and very, very few will notice or make comment. And that is good because it gives me breathing space to consider very difficult matters.

Personally I have not read the blogs that may assert the contrary notion (to the above title), but I have it on good authority that they are out there.

Speaking for myself the answer is a resounding, "No!" In other words, my conscience would not allow me to do so. However, I am not every other person. I have my own unique conscience and God-given experiences, my own understandings, and my own interpretations of the world. These are not universals, nor are they completely accessible to anyone else. And it is ultimately presumptious of me to determine what another's conscience necessarily dictates.

But let's qualify that immediately by saying from my point of view a Catholic in good conscience can't really support a Republican either. And again, I may only speak for my own conscience. Knowing that the candidate is likely to be none other than our present leader, I find untenable most arguments that would make it possible to vote for him. I believe that we were lied to regarding information used to justify the war in Iraq and I truly believe that there was more than a little profit motive involved in the invasion. (I also believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein is an undoubtedly good thing--but we all know that we may not use illicit means to effect a good--John at Disputations made that resoundingly clear to me on at least on occasion, and it is a critically important concept to keep in place. We may not sin that good should come from it)

I know I wade into dangerous waters when I say these things, but while the democrats fail in supporting abortion, the republicans tend to fail on much of the social agenda. They may oppose abortions, but I haven't heard much about their plans for aiding and assisting the poor women and scared young women who feel driven to abortion. I know it is not up to the government to support every single person or idea, but I am more than a little disturbed by the fact that so much attention is focused on preserving the life of the child (which is critically, fundamentally important) and so little focused on preserving the quality of life of the mother, and thus the family that would be formed as a result of giving birth. If this young mother has been driven from her house as a result of this pregnancy, if she drops out of school, or falls by the wayside because of these unfortunate circumstances there are not a tremendous number of support organizations to help her. There are large numbers of "pregnancy crisis and counseling centers," and a great many try to provide the kinds of services described, but more is needed and more focus of the life of the mother on child after birth is needed. Here in Orlando there is a wonderful organization that runs a small house for about fourteen high-school aged young mothers. This organization cares for the children while the mother is at school. They provide counseling and training and parenting and housekeeping courses after the school. They attempt to school the woman in having sufficient self-respect and self-esteem to avoid this situation in the future (assuming that the young woman made a choice that resulted in this child) and generally provide guidance and counseling.

I guess I'm saying I'd like to see more talk about what one does to support people who opt not to have an abortion. How can we help them feel life is not at an end?

I've strayed from my intent. I see as problematic issues on either side of the coin. Democrats in general support abortion and oppose capital punishment. They tend to be more environment friendly and less business friendly.

Republicans, on the other hand, tend to oppose abortion and support capital punishment. And some may argue, with some legitimacy, that capital punishment is different both in kind and degree. That is it is only levied upon those who truly deserve it after an intricate process of determination of this merit. However, capital punishment differentially affects the poor, who cannot afford the Johnny Cochrances and others to defend them. Moreover, the Holy Father has stated that while there may be circumstances under which capital punishment may be legitimate they are as rare and as circumscribed as those conditions that must be met for a just war.

I find republican social policy generally laced with repugnant assumptions--not generally spoken aloud, but tacit. It strikes me as overly Calvinist in the assumption that the poor are poor because they deserve to be.

All of this said, none of it is true for every republican or every democrat. I find currents in both parties unpalatable.

But can a Catholic in good conscience support a Democrat? I think so. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, nothing any politician is likely to do will get past what the Supreme Court has so firmly set in place and so violently protected at every turn. Witness the immediate injunction against the ban on partial birth abortions--surely an example of no-brainer legislation and restriction if every there was such. The state of belief of a politician in this matter is between the candidate and God. While the vote may cause the person to be excommunicated or not a Catholic in good standing, there is no law that says that a Catholic must vote for a Catholic. And one must judge a vote by the fullness of the intent of that vote. If the purpose in choosing a democrat is to protect the right to abortion then the choice would be illicit. If on the other hand one truly believes that a democrat would better serve the dispossessed and oppressed then all weights must be thrown into the balance. Our bishops have wisely refrained in the past from overt support of one candidate or another not out of cowardice but out of the very concrete realization that there are far too many factors to weigh and one of those must include the conscience of the person who would vote. It would certainly be no worse to vote for such a person than to vote for a known bigot, liar, or other miscreant. I wonder whether Jesus would have better things to say about those who sacrifice babies to Moloch or the poor to Mammon. Somehow I don't think either one would come out spotless--and these are part of the overall consideration when one sits down to vote. And if one considers the fullness of the issues, on nearly every other plank the democratic platform seems to more closely approach the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

My basic hope and prayer is that those Catholics who feel drawn to the democratic party remain faithful to Church teaching on abortion. I pray that they continue to influence and shape the policy of the party so that it softens from stridently pro-Herodian to listening to what I believe to be the heartbeat of the majority of Americans. The democratic party has to abandon the fringes of the pro-abortion movement and move toward the restriction of abortions after the first trimester. (Roe basically guarantees unrestricted abortion during that first trimester). From that point, we, good Catholics and Christians that we are, can work toward making the world a place of true choices where the prospect of abortion is no longer the shadow of salvation, but truly is an unappealing option in the light of the opportunities still in place for young women who are threatened with this terrible crisis.

My point is that careful examination of ANY politician's viewpoints is likely to reveal several points at which the politicians is at odds with received teaching. Abortion is an extremely important--indeed overridingly important issue; however, it seems anti-Catholic to suggest that anyone who can support a democratic candidate cannot be a true Catholic. Certainly anyone who can unreservedly support such a candidate--anyone who does not vocally and frequently make a point of their opposition to these key points of difference, may be looked at askance. But the truth of the matter may be far deeper and individual consciences are formed in different ways. I could not in good conscience vote for a democrat. But I my conscience and heart also weigh on me very heavily when I consider the alternatives. What I need to vote for is a truly Catholic Politician--pro-life, pro-woman, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-God. I honestly don't see such a person in the field of contenders and I do not hold out much hope for the election of such a person. How many people today would vote for a Mother Teresa who was running for office? Then ask the other question--is it even really possible for a person like Mother Teresa to hold such an office? Many great Royal Saints were not particularly well-known for their ability to rule. And there may be a reason for that.

My last word: Rather than looking outward and condemning what we see there, we do better to truly wrestle with our own consciences and with our own choices. We are called not to judge others and not to wish other into a separation from community and not to call upon us another split in the Church. Many Catholics who stand fully pro-life may find it difficult or impossible to support a republican for any number of very valid reasons. That is a matter for prayer, reflection, and meditation for the Catholic involved. However, it is not a matter for coercion or for shunning. We must allow each other the freedom of thought that God has allowed each of us. We must correct overt error such as when a Catholic teaches or thinks that abortion is neutral or even a positive good. But when we stare into the heart of the issues what we will see will be dictated by how we have been formed in God and we should exercise the same care, concern, and charity for one another that God lavishes upon us. My prayer is that all Catholics spend a great deal of time soul-searching and walk into the next election with their eyes wide open knowing exactly for whom and what they are voting and how that vote will need to be moderated by social activism and hard prayer and work.

And now--to usurp a more worthy person's words, "Après ça, le deluge."

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The New Mass Translation

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In several place around St. Blogs, most notably here and here (blogspot is boing its usual wonderful thing with regard to direct linking) there has been concern expressed with regard to the new ICEL Mass translations. In one location it goes beyond concern to suggest that a possibility is further schism of the SSPX variety--if for example we were to return to the Latin (Tridentine) Mass.

While I agree with the spirit of some comments (for example return to simple literal translation is indeed simple. To move from :

"The Lord be with you"
"And also with you."


"The Lord be with you."
"And with your spirit."

is awkward and doesn't really express the intent of the what is being said. We want the Lord only to be with a person's spirit and not there as a bodily protector in times of trial. We want the Lord to be present to the spirit but not to the mind and body? The spirit is somehow seperate and not part of the full being? The translation implies this.

But let's face it, while awkward and not true to the spirit of what's being said, this isn't the Mount Everest of translation difficulties. I might not favor it, but I would have no trouble saying it after I got used to it again.)

But I am disturbed by some responses that suggest that all faiths are equally valid. While all Christian faiths partake of salvation, they do so through the font of grace and salvation, God's established Church on Earth. So, too, in some mysteriously different way, those of other faiths who enter into the kingdom do so through the aegis of the Catholic Church.

In other words, in the Catholic Church resides the fullness of faith and the fullness of the truth of God that we can experience here on Earth. With the possible exception of the Orthodox Churches (I am not theologically adept enough to address this) that is untrue of any other Church. It is insufficient to say "Well, there's always the [place a denomination here] Church down the street."

John of Disputations made this point several days ago. Too often we are not interested in seeking the truth. We have bought into the post-modernist lie that truth is relative. It is not. The Truth, in the person of Jesus Christ, is absolute. And the Truth was established on Earth as the Church of Jesus Christ, the mystical body of Christ. Just because a few of the neurons in the body go haywire and start producing garbled speech is no reason to consider abandoning the body.

Now, to give all due credit, I don't believe the person who wrote about this suggested that the ICEL retranslation would bring about such a crisis. If I understood correctly, he was suggesting a reversion to the Tridentine Mass might cause such difficulties. Of this I cannot say; however, I can say that no matter what the language or the translation or lack thereof, so long as the core stays the same--the words of institution are valid and are a reasonable translation of those used by Jesus, Himself, everything else is table decoration. I don't much care if it's Latin, Urdu, Swahili, French, Spoken Sanskrit, Etruscan, or what--the real presence of Jesus Christ at the banquet of the Eucharist is the only thing that matters. I can tolerate a great deal of nonsense and things I don't particularly care for to be close to My Lord and My God in the real presence. Outside of the Catholic (and perhaps Orthodox Churches) where else can this be true?

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You might be interested in this post and its accompanying comments.

Link via Gutless Pacifist.

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Appalling Catholic E-mails

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I just received the most ghastly appalling e-mail and my outrage must be vented.

It starts with a prayer card showing St. Thérèse and an animation of a blossoming rose. It is followed with this:

REMEMBER to make a wish before you read the poem. That's all you have to do. There is nothing attached. This is a powerful novena. Just send this to four people and let me know what happens on the fourth day.

Do not break this, please. Prayer is one of the best free gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of reward.

(Did you make a wish?) If you don't make a wish, it won't come true.

Last Chance to Make a Wish.

Make a wish and say a prayer? What is this sympathetic magic? I wish for a million dollars. Now I'll say the prayer and it will come to me.

I don't know if this has its origins in Catholic Circles or if it starts Catholic and is picked up by others, but it is an abuse of prayer and religious life akin to those that sparked reformation theology and it is a practice that should be soundly repudiated by every thinking Catholic as soon as they encounter it.

Prayer to and with the Saints is efficacious--it is not wish fulfillment or fantasy land. It also is not sympathetic magic. Ultimately one must be aligned with God's will and completely willing to do whatever God has in mind.

This kind of thing does us no service. And worse, it does God no service. How many who are not believers receive this, try it, and conclude that God is not listening, or worse does not exist?

Sorry I'm so het up about it, but it just acts in opposition to all we stand for and it needs to be acknowledged for what it is--wishful thinking not faith.

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(Erik, please forgive me if I misspelled your name, I couldn't find it on your blog anywhere.)

My post about head-bobbing has gotten a number of comments, and I'm half horrified by the amazing number of different instructions it seems people in various parts of the country are receiving. Effectively this means that if I go to a different parish I have to try to figure out among all the various nonconformists, noncompliants, and just the terminally daydreaming what is the proper liturgical posture before receiving communion. It sounds as though some have profound bows, some have simple bowing of the head, some may have nothing at all. All, I assume, dicatated by the Bishop of the Diocese.

In a place like the nearby Shrine which is a ministry for tourists to the area that means I could see about forty different things going on at communion time. It's already bad enough with the congregation standing about half the time with "Let Us Pray," and sometimes getting up halfway through, and sometimes sitting through the whole thing.

This is exactly why I oppose democratic rule in the Church. Tell me the ONE appropriate thing to do--whatever it may be. Don't give me options, don't make it the bailiwick of the Bishop to decide among four or five possibilities or invent something new. Please. I don't want to be distracted with what I should be doing, I want to be focusing and centered on the Eucharistic sacrifice. I don't want to think about me--I want to be thinking about Jesus. The advantages of a very clear rubric are that I don't need to be thinking about the mechanics, I can be thinking about and receiving the Lord.

When I was young and we were going to receive someone of importance at our school or church, the adults would practice with us for days ahead of time so that when the dignitary came, we could do what we were supposed to without flaw and we could focus more on the dignitary than on ourselves. That's the point, it seems to me of rubrics. Lead me on, deeper into the embrace of the Lord. Don't make me try to figure our if I should genuflect, bow, nod, do the twist, or whatever is the movement of the week. And for heaven's sake, try to help everyone do the same thing. There will always be a few noncompliants--but catechesis from the pulpit helps tremendously.

The first time I heard about standing at "Let Us Pray" was when I was at "Our Lady of the Angels" (Father Jim's church). It was clearly explained from the pulpit--both the proper action and the reasoning behind it. Apparently they had had a series of these talks to help people adjust to the changes in the liturgy. As a result, most of my experiences at Our Lady of the Angel reflect a relative uniformity of practice (Yes--there are always some strays and unexpected events).

Erik--you can see I do have a touch of the Prussian.

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While I attempt to conform to all reasonable requests of the GIRM, there are some aspects that I find just plain annoying. Todd mentions one of these. Below is my response to him (See January 6, 2004: Checking in on IGRM changes):

I find the head nodding rather distracting and insufficiently respectful--typical of a society that has forgotten common and uncommon courtesy. You are in the presence of Him to Whom you owe all that you are, all that you have, all that you will ever be, and so you nod your head and give the big thumbs up and a "Cool, Dude!"

I prefer the Byzantine and Eastern rite profound bow (however, I do not do this in Roman Rite Churches because it is out of place and contra received instruction). Mindfulness, to my perception is mindfulness also of the relative stature of the two participants in this communion. As one protestant is quoted to have commented, "If I believed as you did regarding the Eucharist, I would have to prostrate myself upon the floor in its presence."

A head bobbing to the King of the Universe is somehow lacking.

All of that said, do I do the little head-bobbing thing? Yes. Why? Because that is what obedience is about--not my preferences, not what I find to my taste, not what I think is the right way to go about things. I have lived long enough and have had sufficient experience to realize that I am wrong at least as often as I am right. Moreover, St. Teresa of Avila advises us on the subject of obedience to do all that your spiritual advisor tells you to do and to pray about it. If it is in God's plan for you to do something else, then God will move your advisor to change his command. Until then, it is binding. And so, as a faithful son of my mother the Church, I obey--but I don't particularly like it.

Later: I suppose one of the things I find distasteful regarding this discipline is that it seems once again to detract from a sense of reverent awe and respect. One more time we are making casual what should never be other that awesome and awe-inspiring. Regardless of the time that it takes, if we were doing this properly, it seems, we would all be kneeling at an altar rail. (And this from someone who is not particularly "traditionalist" in any of his views.) I just can't think of any other way to appear before the King of All.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from January 2004.

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