Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Fr. Vlasic's Laicization

By now everybody knows that Fr. Tomislav Vlasic has been laicized. Let's review some of the events in this saga and see what it implies (if anything) for Medjugorje.

Vlasic was confined to a Franciscan monastery in L'Aquila, Italy, in February 2008 after he refused to cooperate in a Vatican investigation of his activities for suspected heresy and schism.

In the decree of the Congregation [see circular 939/2008, dated 8 July 2008, from the Curia of Mostar] it was written that Fr. Vlašić was suspected of "heresy and schism" and accused of "spreading questionable doctrines, manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism, disobedience to legitimate orders and violations contra sextum (against the sixth commandment, that is, relating to his impregnation of a nun in the Queen of Peace community).

Last week it was announced that the CDF, acting upon Fr. Vlasic's request, had reduced him to the lay state and imposed several penalties on him. A transcript of the statement reads:

The Holy Father, accepting the request of friar Tomislav Vlasic, O.F.M, member of the province of friars minor of St. Bernardino of Siena (L'Aquila), responsible for conduct harmful to ecclesial communion both in the spheres of doctrine and discipline, and under a censure of interdict, has granted him the favor of reduction to the lay state (amissio status clericalis) and of dismissal from the Order.

The following penalties were imposed on Fr. (now Mr.) Vlasic:

Absolute prohibition from exercising any form of apostolate (for example, promoting public or private devotion, teaching Christian doctrine, spiritual direction, participation in lay associations, etc.) as well as of acquiring and administering goods intended for pious purposes;

Absolute prohibition from releasing declarations on religious matters, especially regarding the "phenomenon of Medjugorje";

Absolute prohibition from residing in houses of the Order of Friars Minor.

So, what does this mean for the Medjugorje movement? First, let me state explicitly what this does not mean. It does not mean the apparitions are a fraud (though I think they are), nor does it represent any official Vatican condemnation of the apparitions. We ought to be precise when we speak about this, for we don't want to errantly go around saying the Church has come down against the apparitions when in fact it has only laicized a single man who has not been actively involved with the apparitions since the 1980's.

But hold on. Many Medjugorje enthusiasts are going even further and asserting that this has absolutely no bearing on the status of the apparitions whatsoever. I certainly wouldn't say that - there are various grades of status between outright support and categorical condemnation, and the fact that Fr. Vlasic's laicization does not mean the phenomenon itself has been condemned is no reason to assert that its status has not been affected.

A good parallel would be the case of Fr. Maciel. When the founder of an entire order is found guilty of something like fathering an illicit child (as did Mr. Vlasic), you cannot think that the organization he founded is somehow immune to this or that it can simply be written off. Regardless of the intentions and charisms of the persons involved with RC/LC, their organization will suffer because of the shenanigans of their founder.

But there is a difference between Medjugorje and RC/LC - in the case of Fr. Maciel, prior to his downfall we were not asked to accept anything he said on faith. That is to say, he was simply the head of an order, and his fall reminds us that all men can sin. Fr. Maciel was not asking us to put our faith in his word about anything. On the other hand, Fr. Vlasic, spiritual director and mentor of the young visionaries, was asking us to accept his word, and the word of his proteges, about something extraordinary. In his case, though his fall was not entirely different from Fr. Maciel's, it has a direct bearing on the credibility of the thing he promoted. His credibility was more personally bound up in the events at Medjugorje than Fr. Maciel's was with the Legionaries. The Legionaries could easily endure and move on despite Fr. Maciel's fall (which I don't think they will), but Medjugorje is forever linked to Fr. Vlasic and it will not be as easy to put this hurdle behind them.

But Medjugorje proponents will say that Fr. Vlasic has not been associated with the visions since the mid-1980's, and that this laicization has very little to bear on Medjugorje today. Let us not forget a few things;

First, even though Fr. Vlasic was not laicized until this year, the original investigation of him was "in the context of the 'phenomenon at Medjugorje'", as the original document of interdict from the Vatican stated. Even though it has been a long time since he was directly connected with Medjugorje, the charges leveled against him were brought up regarding the time he was involved in it.

Second, Fr. Vlasic's first known impropriety happened not after he distanced himself from Medjugorje, but in 1977, well before the first (non)apparitions. Therefore, we can deduce that at the time the apparitions began, Fr. Vlasic was already of questionable character.

Third, as the "creator" of Medjugorje, he bears a special relation to it, even though he has since moved on. He introduced himself to Pope John Paul II in 1984 as "the one according to Divine Providence who guides the seers of Medjugorje" (source). He was present when the phenomenon began and was instrumental in making it what it is today. He guided the seers through their first interviews with Bishop Zanic and got Medjugorje noticed in the Church at large. You cannot separate him from Medjugorje - he is, as Bishop Zanic said, the "creator" of the phenomenon, and the fact that the creator and "guide" of the seers is a sexual deviant and all other sorts of improprieties does in fact bear very heavily on the reliability of the supernatural visions this same person asks us to accept.

Fourth and finally, we are always being told to judge Medjugorje by its fruits. Very well, then. How about we start with the fruits of the ones closest involved? Don't you think that, if anything, the spiritual guide of the seers should be the holiest of all? If he was really privy to the secrets and graces given to the seers through Mary, would he be impregnating nuns? My wife made an interesting observation about Fr. Vlasic: the reason he was laicized was because he asked for it. He was under investigation and when he found out the penalties that were to be imposed upon him, he requested for laicization rather than endure them. When she heard that a priest had voluntarily asked to be removed from the priesthood rather than submit to discipline, she said, "He must not love God very much."

If he were really a man of God, would he really ask to leave the priesthood rather than submit to discipline? St. Padre Pio, who was innocent of the charges levelled against him, submitted to unjust disciplines for years, trustful in God's justice. But as soon as Fr. Vlasic is disciplined, he requests that he be laicized. Had Mary really been appearing to the seers he was guiding, he should have had a bit more dedication to his vocation than that.

Fr (now Mr.) Vlasic's laicization does not mean Medjugorje has been condemned, but it is a strong sign that the Vatican (or at least the CDF) is moving in that direction.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Caritas in Veritate (Part I)


I apologize for taking so long to post something on Caritas in Veritate. For one thing, I have been tremendously busy. I had my middle-child's fourth birthday and graduation parties; I just completed what has become a 65 page booklet on the End of the World and the Second Coming, plus I am working on the sequel to my first book as well as finishing up one book review for St. Austin Review and beginning another. All while trying to prepare four Power Point presentations on World Geography for a homeschool group, feeding the poor with my Youth Group, planning a boys campout as well as doing my regular parish work. Sigh.

But on the other hand, part of my slowness is that Caritas in Veritate (CV) is a very, very dense document. I could only go through it in chunks, paragraph at a time, making notes as I went and reflecting on what the Holy Father is saying - and even after that, I'm still unsure. I'm not a dumb guy by any means, but I have little tolerance for 48 pages of extremely dense socio-economic commentary written in Vaticanese. For instance, look at this sentence from section 30:

30.
In this context, the theme of integral human development takes on an even broader range of meanings: the correlation between its multiple elements requires a commitment to foster the interaction of the different levels of human knowledge in order to promote the authentic development of peoples.

Sentences like this leave me rubbing my eyes. But that's just my personal hang-up and is not reflective of the objective merit of the document. But I personally found it a lot more difficult to get through than Spe Salvi, which I thought was excellent. I do wonder at the apparent paradox of Church language in official documents versus liturgical translations. The trend in the past forty years has been, until recently, that of simplifying liturgical language, to the point where (as Fr. Z jokes), liturgical prayers will be reduced to, "God you are big. Really big. Make us big like you." On the other hand, post-Conciliar documents have taken the opposite route, getting more and more wordy and philosophical. Why pursue simplification and complexity at the same time in different mediums? I think I have the answer, but it is not relevant here.

It is not my job or my place to pass judgment on the Holy Father's words. I do not stand to say whether this is a good or bad encyclical - I can only offer my reflections, with the understanding that they are my own private opinions and that I acknowledge that I am much more ignorant and unlearned than the Holy Father, and that therefore I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt wherever I don't understand something or something seems amiss.

Why am I issuing this disclaimer? Because I do have grave apprehension at some of the things contained in this encyclical. I also see many wonderful points as well. I have to warn you that this is a very long post, even though it will be split into two. First, let's look at the positives.

I think the heart of this encyclical can be found in a brief statement in paragraph 25, where the Holy Father reminds us that there is no such thing as "economic systems" or "market forces" in the abstract; all of economics is the activity of men, and that mankind (or rather, the common good of man), ought to be the end of economic activity:

I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: “Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life” (CV 25).

Being that man is at the center of all economic activity, both as an agent in the utilization of resources and as a resource himself (the most important resource), economics has a strong moral dimension. Man is a moral being, and economics is not divorced from morality. This, I think, is the main point of this encyclical and one that the world desperately needs to grasp.

But this is not an abstract point that has no real-world consequences. The Holy Father says that failure to understand and adhere to the moral dimension of economic decisions leads to the abuse of individuals and economic slavery:

Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way (CV 34).

Throughout the encyclical, Benedict calls for something called "integral human development", which as far as I can tell means a responsible cultural, political and technological development of society in a human-centered manner, driven by charity in the truth. It is a development not just of technology or science, but of the whole person in an organic fashion.

This is a noble vision for man's development, and the encyclical rightly places the foundation of this development in a recognition of the importance of the Gospel in shaping cultures and promoting true charity:

[Development must be based] only on Christ, to whom every authentic vocation to integral human development must be directed. The Gospel is fundamental for development, because in the Gospel, Christ, “in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself (CV 18).

I like what the encyclical says about the dangers of a speculation driven economy, which has been the cause of our recent calamities. Speculation brings with it the temptation to short-term financial profit, but makes no contributions to the real economy. Indeed, speculation is what is behind every "bubble", which the central bankers assure us is a normal part of the "business cycle." Benedict says such speculative ventures should be shunned:

What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development (CV 40).

Companies and large, multinational firms (in fact, everybody) has a responsibility towards not only profit, but the betterment of man and the commong good of all society. In this vein, Benedict proposes a new model of business which is a synthesis of the old profit-driven corporation and the non-profit corporations that act as charities. In this Benedict envisions a kind of for-profit company that utilizes its profits for the common good. There is an interesting meditation on the relation between rights and duties in paragraph 43 that is relevant here:

An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties. Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become licence (CV 43).

I also mentioned in my last post that the Holy Father seems to share my preference for a loosening of restrictions on intellectual property laws in the interest of a common development of society:

On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property (CV 22).

A lot of good stuff scattered throughout, indeed. But I mentioned earlier that I had some serious misgivings about what I read in Caritas in Veritate. Though the document has many fine points, I am going to tell you the things that tripped me up the most. As I said, I want to give the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt (he is much smarter than I). Perhaps some of you who are more knowledgeable can let me know if I have erred in any of my estimations here. The things that troubled me about this encyclical were not minor, and I think they are enormously important. I am going to presume that some committee or bureaucratic body is behind it.

The first thing that bothered me was this encyclical's heavy reliance on Populorum Progresso of Paul VI, which like Gaudium et Spes on which it was modeled, is one of the most time-bound and worldly oriented documents of the post-Conciliar period. In CV, Benedict states his intention to magnify the importance of Paul VI's Populorum Progresso to the point of calling it “the Rerum Novarum of the present age, shedding light upon humanity's journey towards unity. (CV 8)." The first chapter of the encyclical is entirely about this document.

In Populorum Progresso, as in CV, we see an emphasis on the "development" of man and the world. But what is the vision of development that CV gives us? While paragraph 18 states that all development must be based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this appears as mere lip-service when compared to the following 60 paragraphs which talk about development in purely secular, humanistic terms without reference to Christ at all. Look at Benedict's definition of "development", which he gives in paragraph 21 (borrowing from Paul VI):

Paul VI had an articulated vision of development. He understood the term to indicate the goal of rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy. From the economic point of view, this meant their active participation, on equal terms, in the international economic process; from the social point of view, it meant their evolution into educated societies marked by solidarity; from the political point of view, it meant the consolidation of democratic regimes capable of ensuring freedom and peace (CV 21).

Okay, so after saying development had to be based on the Gospel, we see a definition that is purely worldly. Let's parce this out: Benedict gives us a fourfold definition of development-

1) First and foremost, rescuing people from hunger and disease

2) Active participation in the economic process

3) Wider access to education

4) Consolidation of democracy

All of these things are worthy aims, but they are purely material and secular in nature. There ought to have been a greater emphasis on the roleof the Gospel in the true development of authentic culture. As we'll see later, this encyclical actually teaches that the world needs other religions to contribute to culture and that Christians have a duty to unite with these other religions.

But back to development. Later in the document, Benedict reaffirms that his vision for development is a purely human-centered one that has to due withintergration into human communities centered on the buzzwords of "justice" and "peace":

The theme of development can be identified with the inclusion-in-relation of all individuals and peoples within the one community of the human family, built in solidarity on the basis of the fundamental values of justice and peace (CV 54).

So we see that the Pope is taking a very secular-humanist view towards development. He does not think he is; the encyclical seems to think its approach is very Christian because it emphasises things like assistance for the poor, charity, justice, etc. But lest we forget, while these things are wonderful, they are secular values - i.e., they are part of the four cardinal virtues that are necessary for a Christian to possess but are not exclusive to Christianity. This means, as many have pointed out, there is nothing exclusively Christian about calls to feed the hungry, have justice, etc. Everybody wants that. In arguing for these things in a anthropologically centered manner, the Pope is doing nothing other than what every other humanitarian, Christian or not, has ever argued for.

Where is the role for religion? The Pope goes on to speak of religion's role, but unfortunately, it is not Christianity per se, but religions in general that are important in this secular humanist development:

Other cultures and religions teach brotherhood and peace and are therefore of enormous importance to integral human development (55).

Other religions are not just important - they are "of enormous importance." If they are of enormous importance, is that the same as saying they are essential? So we have gone from saying the Gospel is essential for building culture to saying that it is all religions and cultures which are essential. If they are essential just as the Gospel is, then does it not follow that Christianity and other religions are both of equal importance? In the following paragraphs the Pope tries to backtrack and say that this doesn't promote indifferentism or syncretism:

One possible negative effect of the process of globalization is the tendency to favour this kind of syncretism by encouraging forms of “religion” that, instead of bringing people together, alienate them from one another and distance them from reality. At the same time, some religious and cultural traditions persist which ossify society in rigid social groupings, in magical beliefs that fail to respect the dignity of the person, and in attitudes of subjugation to occult powers. In these contexts, love and truth have difficulty asserting themselves, and authentic development is impeded (CV 55).

Okay. That's a nice disclaimer and a good point. But as I see it, if you are saying that other religions "teach brotherhood and peace" (what weary terms!) and are of "enormous importance" along with Christianity, you are de facto promoting indifferentism, regardless of what disclaimers you throw in. Plus, if one looks at the paragraph above, other religions are evaluated solely on their social or communitarian emphasis - a religion is good or bad to the degree that it "brings people together" and whether or not "authentic development is impeded." It almost seems to be a utilitarian approach to religion that isn't taking into account whether or not these religions are true (which, of course, they are not).

But here is the kicker, in paragraph 57. Now we have the document calling for Christians to fulfill their duty (that's right, duty) to "unite" with non-believers and pagans in the task of building a world of universal brotherhood and peace:

This is what gives rise to the duty of believers to unite their efforts with those of all men and women of good will, with the followers of other religions and with non-believers, so that this world of ours may effectively correspond to the divine plan: living as a family under the Creator's watchful eye (57).

It is interesting that while the document correctly identifies the end of mankind's existence as living in one, united human family under the aegis of God the Father, it utterly fails to respect the preconditions upon which the family can be established - the Book of Revelation clearly says that those who are part of this great family are "those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14); i.e., they are Christians. The family of God that will be gathered at the end of time is the Church. The divine plan is not to have a unity of all the world's religion living in world peace under "the Creator's watchful eye." But you wouldn't know that from this document, which seems to state that God's "divine plan" is universal brotherhood and world peace without any reference to the Church or the eschatological expectation of the Church.

Another difficulty I had with this document was the way it accepts globalism as a fait accompli (see 33 & 42). For example, in pargraph 7:

In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations, in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God (CV, 7).

So, globalism is coming no matter what you think or want. You'd better just accept it and stop trying to view yourself in national or regional terms. That's the message I am getting here. I agree that globalism is probably an unstoppable force, but I don't think it needs to be welcomed and ushered in as a positive good. In fact, my private opinion is that it ought to be resisted. But as we'll see, this document sees globalism as a positive good that should be actively promoted, even politically.

When the document speaks of wealth and finance, it sounds positively socialist. Now, to give the Pope the benefit of the doubt, he has lived his whole life in socialist Europe, and maybe that is just the normal way he thinks of things like economics. Maybe there was a poor translation from the Italian; I don't know. But I do know how myself and many other in this country at least react to phrases like "redistribution of wealth" (or like Obama famously said, "spread the wealth around"). Yet we find again and again this phrase "redistribution of wealth" employed in Caritas in Veritate as a praiseworthy economic aim [my comments in red]:

Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country's international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development [i.e., governments should not abolish socialistic programs in order to shore up their economies] (33).

Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift [i.e., the taxpayers need to realize their taxes that go to welfare and wasteful statist programs are really a "gift" to the poor]. (37).

In this way [Paul VI] was applying on a global scale the insights and aspirations contained in Rerum Novarum, written when, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the idea was first proposed — somewhat ahead of its time — that the civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution [i.e., it is a really great idea to conceive of the state as a mechanism by which wealth can be collected and redistributed]. Not only is this vision threatened today by the way in which markets and societies are opening up, but it is evidently insufficient to satisfy the demands of a fully humane economy. What the Church's social doctrine has always sustained, on the basis of its vision of man and society, is corroborated today by the dynamics of globalization (CV 39).

It is necessary to correct the malfunctions, some of them serious, that cause new divisions between peoples and within peoples, and also to ensure that the redistribution of wealth does not come about through the redistribution or increase of poverty [i.e., more socialist tinkering with global economies is necessary in the name of equality] (CV 42).

Sometimes this document sounds downright Marxist. Look at this clause and the rhetorical language used to describe the world's inequality:

While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks (CV 75).

So we have the starving masses banging on the doors of the greedy capitalists who are oppressing them and the cold-hearted capitalist ignoring their plight. The document, in paragraph 22, refers to the inequality in the world as a scandal:

The scandal of glaring inequalities” continues (CV 22).

Really? Inequality is a scandal? That's not what Pius XI said in Divini Redemptoris (1937):

It is not true that all have equal rights in civil society. It is not true that there exists no lawful social hierarchy (Divini Redemptoris 33)

Now, there are different forms on inequality, and in all fairness, I think Benedict was referring to extreme inequalities between rich and poor, which Christians do have a duty to attempt to redress. But it is a reckless statement, "the scandal of glaring inequalities continues..." and it needs to be balanced with Pius XI's statement that there does exist a lawful social hierarchy and that it is not inherently unjust for there to be an inequality of rights in civil society. I guarantee you will never see Divini Redemptoris 33 quoted in any modern encyclical.

But even so, what does it mean to say glaring economic inequalities are a "scandal?" Does the Pope expect us to be able to right these inequalities? As my father, who is not Catholic but very astute, once said when he heard JPII using such language, "So what do you want us to do, John Paul, throw some money at them?" Of course Christ taught us that we should always care for the poor and remember that we serve Him in ministering to them, but He never set before us the goal of abolishing all poverty, not because it is not a worthy thought but because it is impossible to attain: "The poor you have with you always" (John 12:8).

The most controversial aspect of this encyclical is the apparent call for a one-world government. There are several places in the document where this is hinted at. First, in section 42, Benedict again mentioned redistribution of wealth, this time proposing some kind of global organization to manage this redistribution an ensure that it happens in a responsible manner. He warns us against a rash and "blind" opposition to globalism, which he sees as a potential for good:

Blind opposition would be a mistaken and prejudiced attitude, incapable of recognizing the positive aspects of the process, with the consequent risk of missing the chance to take advantage of its many opportunities for development. The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale; (CV 42)

So I guess if I opposed globalism I am prejudiced? Is that what that first sentence means? Later, in 49, he posits not only a world-wide redistribution of wealth, but a redistribution of energy resources, as well:

The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens. It should be added that at present it is possible to achieve improved energy efficiency while at the same time encouraging research into alternative forms of energy. What is also needed, though, is a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them. (CV 49)

I readily admit that developing countries should have access to energy. But the Pope's choice of wording here is very poor. Does he mean taking "energy resources" from the rich countries and giving them to the poor? That is what is implied by the word "redistribution." Perhaps he simply means wealthy countries need to invest in poorer countries, which would be fine, but does not merit using the word "redistribution."

So how does this document envision these redistributive processes of wealth and energy to be implemented? Presumably, most countries won't want to part with their wealth and energy. This is where the Pope starts talking about a one world authority "with real teeth" to implement these changes:

In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, (67)

The most troubling thing about this paragraph is that he doesn't even discuss whether there should be a world political authority, but simply takes it for granted as a positive good. This "world political authority" will have control over the global economy, "food security", international security and disarmament as well an environmental protection. It is a New World Order. The Pope sees the necessity for this order as a consequent of globalization: world economic unity must give way to world political unity:

Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. (57)

"Hold on Boniface, hold on. Maybe you are exaggerating. Maybe he is just talking about a reworked and more effective United Nations. After all, that is how he begins this section. He really doesn't mean a world wide authority that would trump national sovereignity, does he?"

Let's look at the rest of paragraph 67:

Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization.

Not only is the Pope saying that this organization needs to have real power to bind other nations (a "universally recognized" power with authority to "ensure compliance") but he even says this authority is necessary if the stronger nations are to be kept in check. He is definitely calling for a one world political order here, one that trumps national identity, and I don't see much of a way around that.

Of course, many conservative-capitalist Catholics immediately jumped into the fray to explain how the Pope is really not calling for a one world system and how this is a perfectly capitalist document. I will address their arguments in Part II.

One more thing about Caritas in Veritate: the amount of space it wastes talking about things the Church has no business talking about, and thus vindicating the colloquial use of the verb "pontificating" for someone going on and on. First, we have a statement in 58 that seems to support a plan to tax or otherwise punish companies who are "using up shared environmental resources":

It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet

A liberal Catholic could easily use this paragraph to argue support Obama's Cap and Trade tax, which makes sure that evil, polluting businesses "incur the costs of using up shared environmental resources", as well as adhering to the economically suicidal Kyoto Protocols.

Next we have a statement on national trade imbalances:

Just and equitable international trade in agricultural goods can be beneficial to everyone, both to suppliers and to customers. For this reason, not only is commercial orientation needed for production of this kind, but also the establishment of international trade regulations to support it and stronger financing for development in order to increase the productivity of these economies. (CV 58)

Great. So the same document that is telling us that we are going to have to cede our authority to some corrupt, European world system is now telling us how to regulate our trade with China and India.

There's also a section on welfare reform:

[M]ore economically developed nations should do all they can to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid, thus respecting the obligations that the international community has undertaken in this regard. One way of doing so is by reviewing their internal social assistance and welfare policies, applying the principle of subsidiarity and creating better integrated welfare systems, with the active participation of private individuals and civil society. In this way, it is actually possible to improve social services and welfare programmes, and at the same time to save resources — by eliminating waste and rejecting fraudulent claims — which could then be allocated to international solidarity. A more devolved and organic system of social solidarity, less bureaucratic but no less coordinated, would make it possible to harness much dormant energy, for the benefit of solidarity between peoples. (CV 60)

Okay, this is silly. The document is calling for rich countries to provide welfare for developing countries. And where are we to get this money? By reforming our own welfare systems and taking money from American assistance programs and giving them to third world countries. The statement that we can have more coordination with less bureaucracy is especially laughable.

As if this wasn't enough, the Vatican apparently thought it had to stuff in a paragraph about tourism in here. That's right. Tourism. Why not? Every other topic under the sun is addressed. Let's see what weighty words we have from the Vatican on tourism:

An illustration of the significance of this problem is offered by the phenomenon of international tourism, which can be a major factor in economic development and cultural growth, but can also become an occasion for exploitation and moral degradation...We need, therefore, to develop a different type of tourism that has the ability to promote genuine mutual understanding, without taking away from the element of rest and healthy recreation. Tourism of this type needs to increase, partly through closer coordination with the experience gained from international cooperation and enterprise for development. (61)

That's enough. It's as absurd at the "Ten Commandments For Drivers." Ugghh. Well, here's what I want to ask whatever useless Vatican committee pasted this document together:

WHY ARE YOU WASTING TIME ON THIS?

The Church's mission is the promulgation of the Gospel and the salvation of souls, NOT the reform of the tourism industry and the promotion of bankrupt, European statist agendas. Where is tourism in the deposit of faith that you think you have to pontificate about it? While there are thousands of priests out there preaching heresy from the ambo, why are you levelling these weighty platitudes about environmentalism? Most importantly of all, why is this encyclical not even really mention Jesus Christ AT ALL, as if the Church's mission is to build a secular world peace? Sure, I know it talks about basing solidarity on the Gospel, but it just uses this as a segue to get into socialism, tourism and all the rest. As Fr. Divo Barsotti once said about the modern Catholic Magisterium: "In the Catholic world of our time, Jesus Christ is too often simply an excuse to talk about something else."

A final point about this document is the citations. We have 159 citations in this encyclical. Here is a breakdown of quotes:

Rerum Novarum: 1

Quadrigessimo Anno: 1

St. Augustine: 1

St. Thomas: 1 (but not a real citation, more of an explication)

Populorum Progresso (Paul VI): 43

Various JPII: 70

The rest is a few quotes from other Paul VI documents, one from Pacem in Terris, and then a slur of citations from the most low-level papal statements imaginable:

Benedict XVI, Address to the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, New York, 18 April 2008.

Benedict XVI, Address to young people at Barangaroo, Sydney, 17 July 2008.

Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Thailand on their “Ad Limina” Visit, 16 May 2008.

Benedict XVI, Homily at Mass, Islinger Feld, Regensburg, 12 September 2006

John Paul II, Interview published in the Catholic daily newspaper La Croix, 20 August 1997.

How about this one:

Jubilee of Workers, Greeting after Mass, 1 May 2000.

I didn't know a "Greeting after Mass" was something that was written down and recorded, let alone cited as a reference in an encyclical!

I mentioned above that I am not the judge of the Pope. Very true. It is not for me to pass authoritative judgment on these things. If minds smarter than mine say this encyclical is wonderful, so be it. But I did promise to give you my private opinion, and my private opinion is that this encyclical is one of the worst things to come out of the Vatican in the past 40 years. I love Benedict XVI, God knows I do. I have read a lot of his stuff from before and after he became Pope, and anyone who has knows that this document was not written by his hand.

Unfortunately, he has put his signature to it, which means it has some sort of authority that we must respect. Next time I will look at some of the comments from different Catholic commentators on what we are to make of this encyclical and demonstrate how many of their arguments attempting to explain it away are vain. I'm sorry if you find this review too frank; I know some do not think we should ever criticize anything that comes out of the Vatican. I disagree with that premise, but I understand your feelings. But the reason the Church is in a mess today is because Catholics sat by too idly a generation ago while Tradition was dismantled. We can't afford to make the same mistakes today.

The lure of symbolism

This past week I did a class on eshatology and the Second Coming of Christ. End times eschatology is perhaps one of the most speculative areas of theology - the Catechism says very little about it, and the Fathers and Saints are quite varied on their interpretations of the signs that will precede the end, though there certainly is unanimity.

One thing that is certain is that many of these signs lend themselves to a variety of interpretations, mainly on whether they are to be understood literaly or symbolically. For example, the mark of the beast. Some, like Dr. Scott Hahn, have saw in this a symbol of a kind of negative, demonic Confirmation, where followers of the beast are Confirmed in Satan's service - this is symbolized by the right hand and the head, or as he would say, your deeds and your thoughts. Others, many Protestants but many Catholics as well (myself included) tend to see this mark as a literal mark that is literally put on the skin of the hand. Some have argued for a microchip or something, but I don't know and I think good Catholics can legitimately disagree on these issues.

I did notice in the class, however, that when I offered the choice of accepting a literal or symbolic interpretation of a given sign, many people in the class unfailingly chose to identify the sign as a symbol. I totally understand the fact that many things about Sripture or prophecy can be intepreted symbolically or allegorically, but I am always disturbed when people seem to choose a symbolic approach consistently, as if they don't want to deal with the possibility that some things might be literal. I am fully prepared to acknowledge that the mark of the beast in the Scriptures may be symbolic of something, but I am also prepared to acknowledge that it may be something very literal. When there is room for debate, I think we lose something if we rule out one possibility.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More on "Intellectual Property"

Some weeks back I did a post on free-file sharing in which I asserted that intellectual property laws were applied a bit too strictly and that there should be more leeway in free borrowing and copying of files and software in the digital age. The post got a lot of comments, most of them disagreeing with me and asserting that file "sharing" was actually a form of theft that could not be approved of.

It is not my intention here to reopen this argument (keep that in mind before you comment), but to revist one of the points I made in the previous post and support it with a quote from the Holy Father's new encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

The concept I want to revisit here is the point that just because a person asserts that something is stealing does not make it so. For example, everybody agrees that if I take something from somebody, rob a store, or let's say even copy and sell a pirated version of a DVD, then it is a form of stealing.

However, people tend to accuse others of stealing when they are deprived of money they feel they otherwise would have made from a venture, even if there is no reason why they should have been making money off it in the first place.

For example (and this is an absurd example), say I set up a sign in my yard saying, "Come see the best yard in Michigan! Only $2.00." Then, all day long, I charge $2.00 for people to come look at my yard. Now, let's say some people don't like the idea that they should have to pay to see somebody's yard, so they sneak around and look over my neighbor's fence without my knowledge, or let's say they even sneak into my yard and peek at it without paying. Now, I may try to accuse them of theft, inasmuch as the sign says $2.00 for entry and they did not pay the $2.00. And, since I have been making everybody else pay $2.00, I could say that they are "depriving" me of the $2.00 I would have made had they paid like everybody else.

However, the fundamental questions for me in this case would be:

Is there anything intrinsic about the yard that merits charging people to view it?

Just because I privately decided to try to make money off of the labor I put into my yard, does this mean it is stealing of somebody disagrees?

Do I have any natural "right" to make money off of the work I put into my yard? A man is justified for the return put into his work, but is "return" always equivalent to "money"?

In this particular case, I would say that if I accused persons of "stealing" by trying to sneak in or view my yard for free, it is I, not they, who are in the wrong. I am in the wrong for applying an overly strict interpretation of what it means to "steal" for the purpose of profiting from something that I really shouldn't expect to get paid for. In this case, I would maintain that just because the property owner put up a sign charging people or accuses one's of disregarding the sign of stealing, it does not follow that actual theft has taken place just because somebody claims it has.

If this were a serious case that was reported in the news, most people would (instead of sympathizing with the property owner) probably laugh that he thought he could charge people to look at his lawn. Is it perhaps time in the Internet age to laugh at the idea that any artist or author can keep his work from spreading around on the Net completely free and unrestricted?

Now, let's look at a quote from the Holy Father's new encyclical that I think can be brought to bear on this issue. In discussing the disparity between the technological and cultural conditions of the rich and poor countries, Benedict XVI says:

On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property... (CV 22)

This is an interesting phrase: "an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property." Now, in context the Holy Father applies this to health care, but it could be equally applied to any form of technological knowledge, even computer software or other programs that make it possible to share and spread video or music files.

I don't claim that this justifies everything I have been saying, but it merely brings up a point that I think needs more discussion: that sometimes intellectual property laws can be "unduly rigid" and can result in the stifling of the spread of ideas and information. I am pleased that the Holy Father seems to recognize that just because a company or artist claims that something may be a violation of intellectual property does not mean that it actually is, and that sometimes concepts of intellectual property can be applied to stringently, or with "excessive zeal" which is motivated by protection of profit monopolies and not in interest of the common good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why aren't there more lay saints?

Comment from a reader on my previous post:

Just out of curiosity does anyone have any idea why excluding martyrs there are so few 'lay saints/blesseds'? The last time I counted I could only come up with seven, and three don't really count (St. Monica and Blds Louise and Marie Martin were the parents of Saints).

Interesting question. First of all, I wouldn't say that parents of saints "don't count." Presumably the assumption is that they only "got in" because of their kids. I think it is the other way around, that without the saintly parents we would not have had the saintly kids. So I would say that Louis and Marie Martin, as well as Monica, can stand on their own.

Also, if we want to be nitty-gritty specific, we would have to say that most of the Church's saints are probably laity in the strict, older sense of the word, inasmuch as the "laity" is distinguished from the "clergy." A layman is anyone who is not part of the hierarchy; i.e., does not have holy orders. By this very general definition, St. Francis, St. Benedict and every nun would be a lay person. The above definition of the laity is taken from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, but Lumen Gentium 31 defines the laity as "all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church." This is today the more common colloquial sense of the word, and essentially means "a normal person" or somebody not a priest or religious. Fair enough. Let's look at some of the Church's canonized/beatified saints and blesseds, excluding martyrs like St. Thomas More and St. Justin.

St. Helena, d. 330
St. Monica, d. 387
St. Edwin, d. 633
St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia, d. 935
St. Vladimir of Kiev, d. 1015
St. Henry, Duke of Bavaria, d. 1024
St. Stephen I of Hungary, d. 1038
St. Edward the Confessor, d. 1066
St. Margaret of Scotland, d. 1093
St. Louis IX of France, d. 1270
St. Catharine of Genoa, d. 1510
St. Juan Diego, d. 1548
St. Dominic Savio, d. 1857
St. Gemma Galgani, d. 1903

These are just a few of the sainted lay persons I can think of off of the top of my head; I'm positive there are more, especially if we count those like St. Bridget of Sweden who began as lay persons, lived their lives in the married state and then ended up as religious towards the end of their lives. If we take into account the beati (like the parents of St. Therese), I'm sure the list is much, much greater.

However, there are a few caveats with the above list. Of the fourteen saints listed, one, Monica, is the parent of a saint. One, Juan Diego, is a visionary who received an extraordinary apparition. Neither of them can really be called "normal" people. Then, nine of the remaining twelve were royalty. This doesn't mean they "don't count," but it means that they can hardly be said to have been "normal" people like you or I. They were the heads of states, known far and wide for their piety and devotion, but with the resources and freedom of kingship at their disposal with which to practice their faith. Most of us do not have private chapels, access to saintly confessors 24/7, royal alms set aside for charity, and great halls for receiving and clothing all the poor in our cities. Therefore, while the saint-kings are excellent role-models for rulers, they can't be said to just be "normal" people, though they certainly are lay people.

That leaves us only three: Catharine of Genoa, Dominic Savio and Gemma Galgani. From this list, we can strike out Dominic Savio and Gemma Galgani, both of whom would have become a priest and religious respectively if ill health had not carried them off.

Thus, we are left with St. Catharine of Genoa, who on my list at least, is the only lay-saint whom you could say was a normal, average person. She came from an upper-middle class family, got roped into a crappy marriage, spent a lot of years offering up her miseries until finally she and her husband experienced profound conversions, thereafter working together to care for the sick.

So, while on the one hand we can say that there are quite a few lay men and women who are saints, we also must add that there are not a lot of "normal" people who are saints or blesseds. Why is this?

Well, I could offer the politically-correct answer, which would be that this is due to the fact that the Church represses the laity in order to secure the power of the greedy clergy and that there really is no difference bewteen the lay and clerical states, and that the sooner we recognize this the sooner we will see more "down to earth" sanctity among the laity.

Or, I could give you the non-politically correct but I think more accurate answer as to why there aren't more lay saints: because they laity aren't that holy. Let's look at this.

A saint is one who strives for Christian perfection and attains some recognizable level of sanctity in this life. Christ told us the way to attain this perfection:

If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me (Matt. 19:21).

Here we have Christ's program for sanctity, and the origin of the evangelical counsels. What we can take from this is that a person is said to be a saint to the degree with which they conform their life to the evangelical counsels in imitation of our Lord.

But fulfillment of the evangelical counsels to the fullest extent necessarily implies a rejection of the world, even the things about the world that are good in and of themselves. This has been the basic understanding of pursuing holiness in the Catholic Church since day one. Pursuit of holiness in any serious way is usually connected with a very real and intense renunciation of the world.

Now, Lumen Gentium, however, says this of the laity:

What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature...the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven...they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs...(LG 31)

I'm not denying any of this is true, which it certainly is. But here is the problem - how can a class of people, who "by their very vocation" are "tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs" have a real chance at attaining a level of sanctity that, by its nature, demands a renunciation of worldly entanglements? It is extremely difficult.

I am certainly not saying that lay people can't be personally holy, but I am saying their state in life makes it extremely unlikely that the "average" person will attain the level of sanctity necessary to be beatified or canonized.

That is why any vision of a renewal of the Church that depends upon the laity stepping up and becoming holy independent of any renewal of vocations or institutional holiness of the priesthood or religious orders is bound to fail. Separated from the holiness of the hierarchy, the laity will not attain any holiness all, but will end up professing a kind of sham social-justice activism in place of it, as we see already professed by many even at the Diocesan level. You can't just take the approach of "well, listen here laity, we don't have any priests anymore, so you're all going to have to step up to the plate and do your part." It won't work.

Here's how you get a holy laity. First, get some holy priests , religious and bishops, who can fulfill the evangelical counsels and become truly saintly. Then, expose them to the people and watch grace do its perfect work.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Blessed" GK Chesterton?

A few days ago, Zenit reported that there is now a serious movement under way to push for a beatification of GK Chesterton. I had always heard rumors of a Chesteron beatification, but they were always kind of tongue-in-cheek. Apparently, this new resolution is serious. Paulo Gulisano, author of the first Italian language biography of Chesterton, had this to say:

Many people feel there is clear evidence of Chesterton's sanctity: Testimonies about him speak of a person of great goodness and humility, a man without enemies, who proposed the faith without compromises but also without confrontation, a defender of Truth and Charity. His greatness is also in the fact that he knew how to present Christianity to a wide public, made up of Christians and secular people. His books, ranging from "Orthodoxy" to "St. Francis of Assisi," from "Father Brown" to "The Ball and the Cross," are brilliant presentations of the Christian faith, witnessed with clarity and valor before the world.

According to the ancient categories of the Church, we could define Chesterton as a "confessor of the faith." He was not just an apologist, but also a type of prophet who glimpsed far ahead of time the dramatic character of modern issues like eugenics. The English Dominican Aidan Nichols sustains that Chesterton should be seen as nothing less than a possible "father of the Church" of the 20th century.

The whole Zenit article is pretty interesting and worth reading. I'm as big a Chesterton fan as anyone, but I don't know how I feel about this. I think it is exciting, certainly, but I'm just not sure. The problem is, sanctity is not the same thing as being a good person or a profound writer, nor is it even the same thing as being virtuous. You can be virtuous and not have sanctity - sanctity consists in practicing these virtues to a heroic degree. When asked what Chesterton's heroic virtues were, Gulisano replies:

Faith, hope and charity: These were Chesterton's fundamental virtues. Moreover, he was innocent, simple, profoundly humble. Though having personally experienced sorrow, he was a chorister of Christian joy. Chesterton's work is a type of medicine for the soul, or better, it can more precisely be defined as an antidote. The writer himself had actually used the metaphor of antidote to define the effect of sanctity on the world: The saint has the objective of being a sign of contradiction and of restoring mental sanity to a world gone crazy.

I appreciate the praise of Chesterton's work, but a beatifcation is about the man, not is work. I once heard (I think on EWTN, maybe on some Catholic Radio station) a certain lay apologist make the errant claim that St. Thomas Aquinas was canonized solely by virtue of his writings and not because of his personal holiness. Anyone who has studied the canonization proceedings of any saints from the 13th or 14th centuries knows that everything revolves around personal sanctity. Saying Chesterton was innocent and humble, and then going on to praise his writing, is really not enough for me to jump on the bandwagon, however much I love Chesterton.

One problem with modern canonizations is the fact that it is increasingly difficult to gauge sanctity. You would think that with modern means of record keeping, video, writings, etc. it would be much easier nowadays to determine if a person is truly saintly, but I think it is more difficult today for three reasons.

1) No Accountability. This is especially the case with lay people who are candidates for canonization. In the case of St. Dominic, and of St. Therese of Lisieux, for example, among the persons interviewed in the canonization proceedings were the confessors of each of these saints. St. Dominic retained the same confessor for most of his adult life, as did St. Therese. In the proceedings, both were able to say with certainty, "Yes, I can testify that so-and-so never committed a mortal sin." I don't know if Chesterton had a regular confessor or not; if so, he's long dead. But for a regular lay person going to multiple different priests for confession, anonymously, how can anybody come forward and say anything comparable? This makes us fall back on subjective testimony like "he was innocent," which may be a valid observation but is not the same as a confessor saying he never committed a mortal sin.

2) Private nature of modern life. Consider this: in the medieval village, it was impossible for a sinner to hide is sins, or for a virtuous person to go unrecognized. Everybody knew one another, life was predominantly social and collective, and each person had a reputation. If a priest was a whoremonger, everybody knew it. If an old widow was prayerful and charitable, this was evident, as well. Every peasant knew each other's foibles. Granny is cranky. The guy at the edge of town is insane. Miller Jones' daughter got pregnant out of wedlock. These type of things were impossible to hide, and the reality of medieval social life served as a kind of social testimony to a person's sanctity (or lack thereof). It was extremely hard to fool everybody; i.e., much harder to live a "double life." But now, where most people's co-workers, friends, family and neighbors are all separate groups of people who may never interact, how is there any collective testimony?

When a man can come home to his private house, go inside and look at Internet porn, then go to his job on Monday like normal, how can anyone say what is going on? The same Mr. and Mrs. Johnson who are so nice at the office party may in fact be depraved swingers who, because of things like the Internet, can indulge in their disorders anonymously and without exposing themselves. What I am saying is that in the modern world, with its compartmentalization, its individualism and the capacity for excessive privacy and anonymity, how can anyone say anything with certainty about anyone else? There is a much, much greater ability for people to lead double-lives, which is why such statements like "he was innocent and joyful" don't hold a lot of weight nowadays. The serial killer is always the normal one, right? I'm certainly not saying Chesterton in particular had any such private vices, but Chesterton would be the first to admit that such a potentiality was highly possible in our world.

3) Confusion about what sanctity is. The masses at large I think have always had strange ideas about what holiness is; at some points and places, it was whether one did a lot or miracles, or how stomach-turning and violent the penances one inflicted on themself was. The problem is that today, many in the Church establishment are even confused about what sanctity is. I think many see it as simply setting one forward as a role model, apart from the supernatural reality of their sanctity and intercession before the throne of God in heaven. Nobody can understand what sanctity is if sin isn't preached, and we all know how that topic is treated today. Confusion about what sanctity means renders it even more difficult in determining whether one is truly holy. It is like trying to find something in muddy water without knowing what it is you are looking for.

These problems are common to modern canonizations, I think. I don't know if they apply to Chesterton or not. Chesterton was truly brilliant and deserves every honor that can possibly be legitimatly heaped upon him. I hope they find legitimate evidence of his sanctity. If he is beatified, I will be happy. It is different than my attitude towards Bl. Mother Teresa and JPII, both of whom I positively think should not be canonized. Here, I would love to see Chesterton beatified, but I want to make sure he is beatified for the right reason.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

BIshop Sartain on Unapproved Seers

Among those involved in the Medjugorje debate there is a distinct difference of opinion with regards the importance of having the Church (meaning the Magisterium in this case) approve any alleged apparitions. For those who accept Medjugorje and are proponents of the alleged apparitions, the reasoning tends to be that visions are approved unless explicitly condemned. Those who oppose the Medjugorje fanatacism tend to take the opposite (and in my opinion, correct) approach that unless they are explicitly approved, they are questionable.

In Medjugorje, we have a situation where the local ordinaries have condemned the apparitions as false and dangerous to the faith and have asked pilgrims to stop coming there. The Vatican has not officially condemned or approved the alleged apparitions, and so we have the Medjugorje enthusiasts saying that the visions are presumed authentic until the Vatican explicitly condemns the visionaries. For them, silence is consent, and the opinion of the local ordinary seems to not matter.

Back in April, Bishop J. Peter Sartain of Joliet, Illinois clarified what I believe to be the proper way of dealing with these alleged apparitions, that of refusing to give them any endorsement unless the Vatican does so explicitly. In April of this year he sent a letter to all of the priests in his diocese asking them not to allow their parishes to be used as venues for seers claiming visions that have not been approved. Any guess who the seers referred to in the letter were?

You guessed it! Mirjana Soldo and Ivan Dragicevic, who were speaking on a "tour" of the Midwest that spring. Here is an excerpt from Sartain's letter:

From time to time we are approached by parishioners who would like to invite speakers representing various alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, private revelations, or locutions, or others claiming to possess extraordinary spiritual gifts. My purpose in bringing this to your attention is to ask that you not issue such invitations. Whether the speakers would make presentations on well-known alleged apparitions, such as Medjugorje, or lesser-known private revelations, we must be extremely cautious about inviting or promoting them.

As you know the Church takes great time and care before declaring that an apparition is worthy of belief, and even then it never says that a Catholic must accept the apparition as a matter of faith. We must avoid giving the impression that alleged apparitions about which the Church has not made a judgment are somehow already approved. Ity is our responsibility to see that our parishioners are not led down the wrong path. That is not to say that those who ask us to promote these matters are doing so out of bad faith, but we must be extremely careful not to confuse our parishioners.


This is a great synopsis of how priests and bishops locally should deal with such alleged visionaries: unless the Church has explicitly sanctioned themk as worthy of belief, then they should get no official support or promotion. Caution and skepticism is the de facto attitude towards such claims, unless the Magisterium says otherwise. This goes against everything the Medjugorje crowd has been saying for years, that unless the Vatican condemns the visions explicitly it means they are presumed approved. Bishop Sartain sets this straight: the procedure is guilty until proven innocent, at least when it regards apparitions.

One final excerpt from the letter:

Needless to say, these comments do not refer to apparitions such as Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe, which enjoy the approval of the Church.


This is an important distinction to add in, because too often Medjugorje is lumped in with these other apparitions as if it is of the same caliber of authenticity and enjoys equal authority with them. Even Ignatius Press has recently published a book on Our Lady of Guadalupe in which the author devotes a whole chapter to Medjugorje and treats it as if it a modern Guadalupe, on par with the other famous Marian pilgrimage sites that have been approved. Bishop Sartain reminds us that there is a vast chasm of differentiation between the approved apparitions of Lourdes, Fatima et al. and the spurious and unapproved hoax going on at Medjugorje.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Be still and know that I am God"


This weekend I took my wife to a Mass celebrated in the extraordinary form for the first time. We live about 60 miles from the nearest TLM, and this was the first time we had our stuff together enough to make it down to Detroit to hear the high Mass at St. Josaphat. My wife, who is always more to the point than I am and makes her mind up more readily, upon attending the extraordinary form for the first time immediately said, "I like it better than the new Mass." It only took her one hour to deduce what I had to be convinced of over several years!

At any rate, this weekend was a first for me as well, for this was the first TLM I had been to where I didn't in the least way attempt to follow along in the booklets. I know Latin okay, I understand the order of the Mass and I can follow along if I want to, but I accidentally grabbed only one missal and decided to let my wife use it, leaving me to just watch and Mass, pray and absorb what was going on.

I immediately realized how liberating this was. After being exposed only to the NO for so long at a time (even an NO done reverently), it was nice to not to have to do anything physically. Being able to just kneel, pray and unite my heart with the sacrifice of Jesus in silence brought to mind the words of the Lord in Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." At previous TLM's I had been flipping along in the red booklet, trying to find where the priest was, attempting to pray along with him, sing the responses, etc. This time I just let all that go and prayed, only singing along with the Credo I think.


In doing so, I realized how demanding the NO is. It doesn't just encourage physical participation, it mandates it and precludes any real spirit of silent contemplation. It is a bit odd - our traditions of spirituality all unanimously agree on the need for silent contemplation as a fundamental method for attaining holiness, and yet the most important element of our worship, the Mass (as it is currently celebrated), is very wordy, emphasizing talk, singing and lots of physical gestures by the congregation.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not in any way advocating some kind of Calvinist-Quaker minimialism, but I am drawing a contrast between two types of participation. The TLM allows much more leeway for the congregation to engage in private devotion or silent adoration during the Mass, while the NO is kind of like a liturgical work-out where everybody gathers together, does a lot more physically, mimics the priest and gets precious little time for silent prayer, especially if there is a post-Communion hymn where the congregation is expected to sing immediately after receiving our Lord. I am thankful that at my parish our music director often chooses to simply sing an appropriate piece that doesn't require the congregation to sing along but allows us to pray and listen to the beautiful melodies praising our Lord.

I hope that this spirit of devotion and attunement to the value of silence bleeds into the NO in the coming years as the TLM becomes more widespread. If all of the saints agree that holy silence is a necessary disposition to fruitful contemplation, why would we want a Mass that excludes any opportunity for it?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Israel is not Israel

The title of this post is a pun on the three divergent understandings of what 'Israel' is within the Christian tradition. On the one hand, there is the Israel of the Bible, the Israel of the Old Testament with its Temple, prophets, and everything else that goes along with it. Then there is the modern political State of Israel, the Israel of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Middle East Peace Process and all that load of baggage. We could also mention the idea of Israel as the Church; or rather, the Church as the fulfillment and continuation of Israel.

Among many evangelical Protestants, there is a strict equivalence between the Israel of the Bible and the State of Israel; ie, the current, political State of Israel is seen as the direct continuation of the Old Testament Kingdom of Israel and assumes the former's authority and importance as a divinely constituted government on this earth ruling by the mandate of God. This presupposes one of the major eschatological tenets of evangelical Christianity: that there is to be a national restoration of Israel in the last days.

Before we get into this, it is important to understand that this belief in a national restoration of Israel is not just some eccentricity of evangelical belief but is in fact central to it. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that their entire theology, and even their soteriology, centers on this one idea of the Jews being returned to their homeland, which they assert is prophesied in Scripture. This idea then is the key to the whole fundamentalist understanding of salvation history and biblical prophecy.

First, let us look at the main question: does the Bible in fact predict that in the end times the Jews will return to their homeland? This is a tricky question and depends in a large part upon two other exegetical problems (1) Whether a given prophecy is to be applied literally or figuratively (2) Whether a given prophecy applies to something that has already happened or it yet to come. The evangelical idea of an end times national restoration of Israel is largely based upon a strictly literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy and a general application of these prophecies to the last days (rather than Christ's first advent, the establishment of the Church, etc).

There are literally dozens and dozens of prophecies in the Old Testament that evangelicals will say apply to the end times restoration of Israel, and we really cannot go into them all here. But I will look at some of the more prominent and oft-cited verses.

Deuteronomy 4:27-28,30-31 27

And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, [even] in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;(For the LORD thy God [is] a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.


The idea here is that God is warning the Jews that they will be scattered among the nations, but that if they cry to Him, even in the "latter days", God will "not forget" His covenant with them and will return them to their land. To get a national restoration of Israel at the end of time out of these verses depends on two huge assumptions:

First, that "in the latter days" means the same thing to Moses in Deuteronomy as it does to fundamentalist evangelicals who use the terms "end times" and "last days." I think it is a gross exegetical blunder to simply apply to Moses' words an understanding that did not come about until the advent of Protestant Dispensationalism in the late 19th century. In the Bible, the phrase "latter days" need not refer to the end of time, but only some period far off. For example, Isaiah 2:2 uses the phrase "latter day" to describe the period of the establishment of the Church. In Daniel 2:28, Daniel uses the phrase "latter days" to refer to the period immediately following the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, a period only a generation in the future. "Latter days" can refer to the end of time (as it seems to in verses such as 1 Timothy 4:1), but in the Old Testament it is much more ambiguous and can refer to any period in the future - which means we need not interpret it strictly to refer to the end of the world only.

Second, the verse mentions only that God will not forget His covenant, but does not state that there will be a restoration. A predisposed opinion that God remembering His covenant equals restoring the land is necessary to get this interpretation, which is circular reasoning.

Isaiah 11:11

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.

This verse states that God will recover His people a "second" time, the first time presumably being the gathering of Israel out of Egypt. Does this imply a restoration at the end of time? I don't think so - for one thing, if the recovery of Israel from Egypt was the "first" recovery, then the next recovery to happen after Isaiah's time would be the recovery of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. There is no reason to posit an end times restoration when another restoration was only two hundred years in the future.

But I don't think this verse refers to the return from Babylon. If we look at the verse in context, we can see that it is Messianic in nature:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth (Is. 11:10-12).

We see from the preceding verse that the "day" being referred to is the day when the Root of Jesse stands as a banner for all peoples and gathers the exiles together. This is clearly Messianic, refering not to an end time restoration of physical Jews according to the flesh, but to the gathering of the elect in the Church following the coming of the Son of David, which began on Pentecost when Jews from all these nations converted at the preaching of Peter. The ones who are gathered here are not simply Jews, but "the peoples" and "the nations", in addition to "his people." The vision here is not of a national restoration of physical Israel, but of a gathering of Jews and Gentiles together in the Messianic kingdom of the Son of David, something accomplished with the establishment of the Church.

Jeremiah 30:3


For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.

Again, there is no necessary reason why this should be interpreted as referring to the end times, especially since the chapter immediately preceding concerns the captivity in Babylon, it would be most natural to assume this verse is referring to the return of the Jews from Babylon. Jeremiah is seeing the lamentation of his people at their captivity and is speaking these words to comfort them. There is nothing in this verse or in the context that suggests that this "return" to the land is anything other than the return of the exiles under Ezra and Nehemiah.

Let's look at one more:

Ezekiel 36:24,33-35

For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. "Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.


I found this verse cited on an evangelical website as a proof for the end times restoration of Israel. First, notice how it is cited: Ezk. 36:24, 33-35. What about verses 26 and following? As we shall see, they are omitted for a reason. Here are the missing verses, 26-28:

For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.


When we insert the verses that were left out in the original citation, we see that they very plainly refer to baptism, the sprinkling with clean water, the new heart, new spirit - all of this speaks of the new birth that comes to us through the sacrament, not to an end time restoration of physical Israel. This is one of the cases where the prophecies attributed to Israel are applicable to the spiritual realities brought about by the New Testament sacraments. In the evangelical interpretation we can see a bias towards the verses that talk about dwelling in the land and returning to the cities while ignoring the ones that talk about a new heart, spiritual renewal, etc. This is necessary in this frame of mind because the Jews that inhabit modern day Israel do not have a new heart or God's Spirit - they have not been "sprinkled" with clean water in baptism. Therefore, these verses have to be ignored if the fundamentalist ideal of a physical Jewish restoration is to be upheld.

But enough of the verses, you get the idea. Most of the prophecies cited to support the idea of a restored Israel are of a similar kind - applicable to some other event that is mroe feasible or else Messianic prophecies that are ignored because they refer to the glorification or spread of the Church.

But beyond these fallacious interpretations of Old Testament prophecy (ie, beyond the fact that the Old Testament does not prophesy a restored national Israel), I can offer six more reasons why the political State of Israel is not a to be viewed as a continuation of Old Testament Israel.


1) Most Jews Don't Live in Israel

If we grant that the Old Testament predicts a Jewish restoration (which it doesn't), then we have to take account of the fact that despite the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, most Jews in the world do not live there. As of 2007, the Census Bureau of Israel reported 5,415,000 Jews within Israel. The United States alone has 6,000,000 Jews within it, and there are approximately 13,500,000 Jews worldwide. That means less than half of the Jews in the world reside in Israel. This being the case, it makes the argument that the current State of Israel is the promised divine restoration look a little silly - God boasted He would gather them from all the corners of the earth, yet after fifty years not even one half of all Jews are in Israel. Some restoration.


2) The State of Israel is not a Kingdom

If we grant the evangelicals the boon of taking these prophecies to refer to some end times restoration, we must point out that the Israel the Scriptures speak of is always a kingdom, not a democracy with a prime minister. The verses that are applied to an end time restoration of Israel never speak of this without refering to the house of David:

Hosea 3:5: And after this the children of Israel shall return, and shall seek the Lord their God, and David their king: and they shall fear the Lord, and his goodness in the last days.


This verse refers specifically to the "last days" and connects the repentance of Israel with the seeking of "David their king." The State of Israel has nothing to do with monarchy or the house of David, and therefore cannot be what is prophesied. Of course, this just goes to show how these verses should rather be applied to the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of the Church than to some fictional end time restoration.


3) No Proof That This Restoration is the Final Restoration

Granting, again, that there will be a restoration, how do we know that this current incarnation of Israel is the final, definitive one? We don't. As a parallel, we know the Scriptures say that a great persecution will be inflicted on the Church at the time of the end. That does not mean, however, that the next persecution will be the final one, or that there won't be a hundred more persecutions before the end. It just means there will be a persecution at the end, but doesn't help you fit any current or future persecution into any sort of time frame.

Similarly, the nation of Israel, as it currently exists, could end up being dispersed. The Jews could be dispersed and restored a thousand times before the end. We have no way of knowing that this particular restoration of the political State of Israel is the final incarnation of the political power of the Jews.


4) The Current State of Israel Has the Wrong Borders
If we are going with the evangelical literalism with regards to the State of Israel, we have to accept the as literal the Old Testament descriptions of where exactly the land of Israel begins and ends.

First, here is a map of ancient Israel, from "Dan to Beersheba" as the Scriptures always say:


Notice specifically the amount of territory east of the Dead Sea, in Ammon and Moabm which was partitioned out by God and given to the tribes of Reuben, gad and Manasseh, according to Joshua 1:12-18. This land was part of God's divine patrimony to the Israelites, and without it there cannot be said to be a restored Israel. Now, here is a map of modern Israel:

Notice that not only is all of the territory east of the Dead Sea missing, but likewise an enormous swath west of the Dead Sea as well (this is Samaria, or the West Bank as it is now called). Here is a great map showing how ancient Israel and modern Israel overlap:


According to the Scriptures, the land that God gave the Israelites stretches "from the wilderness of the Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea and the going down of the sun" (Jos. 1:4). Any Israel which lacks these territories cannot be the restored Israel. Again, I would ask, what kind of restoration is God doing when He only brings back 40% of the people to 60% of the land?

Incidentally, this gives rise to a Zionist irredentism, seeking to "redeem" the lands of ancient Israel still held by the Gentiles and is the reason why these regions are so contested: Zionists know that, according to this ideology, their Israel cannot really be the prophesied Israel unless it possesses these lands. This forces the fundamentalists to come up with a type of "divided restoration" theory: God gave part of the land back in 1948 but He will give the rest back later...ugh...it's a terribly confusing way to get around the plain truth of what the Bible is really trying to tell us about Israel.


5) Israel Does Not Possess The Temple Mount

Every prophecy of restored Israel cited by the evangelicals has as its center the Jerusalem Temple (leading many to expect and desire a restored Jewish Temple). Take, for example, Isaiah 2:1-3:

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come, The mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

All of the peoples are coming towards the Lord's "house," which evangelicals interpret as a literal temple. But how can Israel be this restored Israel if there is (a) no Temple, and more importantly, (b) the Jewish people do not even control the site of the Temple?

In the ancient world, possession of a city is reckoned by who controls its most central citadel or temple complex area. In ancient Rome, for example, though the Gauls seized almost all of Rome in 387 BC, the Romans declared that the city had not really been conquered because the Gauls had failed to capture the Capitoline Hill. The essential city was seen to be identical with the one hill upon which the temple complexes and important government buildings stood. Though one could conquer most of the urban areas of Rome, if you had not seized Capitoline Hill, the city had not yet fallen.

Similarly, the Jews identified Jerusalem with the Temple. A restored Israel without the Temple, or at least the Temple site, would be ludicrous. The fact that the Al-Aqsa mosque stands on the Temple Mount is a perpetual reminder that the current State of Israel is not any special divinely constituted kingdom. Unless the Jews control the Temple Mount, there is no restored kingdom.


6) Israel is a Secular State
Israel was founded as a bastion of democracy in the midst of the autocratic Muslim kingdoms of the Middle East. As part of its democracy, it has adopted secularism. Though Israel describes itself as a "Jewish state", there is complete freedom of religion enshrined in law, making Israel basically a secular state, a far cry from the utopian visions of a restored Israel in which "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9). Like the democracies on which it is modeled, Israel has no established religion and is officially secular.

Furthermore, as in America, the degree to which the Jews in Israel practice their faith is questionable. In 2007, a poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that only 27% of Israeli Jews say that they keep the Sabbath, while 53% said they do not keep it at all. While 85% of Israeli Jews participate in the Passover, only 65% say they believe in God at all. More than half of all Israelis describe themselves as secular (as opposed to orthodox or ultra-orthodox). Therefore, we have only 65% of the Jews (who are only 40% of the world total) who believe in God, living in 60% of the land. If we were to narrow it down to asking if they believed in God and all of the tenets of Judaism, we would probably see the percentage get even smaller.

The restored Israel asserted by the evangelicals is supposed to be a godly, righteous nation where everybody worships God and lives in justice and equity. This is hardly the case in modern Israel. The restored Israel, if it existed, would be a theocracy, not a secular democracy.


Those are my six reasons why the State of Israel is not the continuation of the Old Testament kingdom - we could also cite the fact that none of the Fathers or Doctors have asserted that there would be a restored Israel (though many believed the Jews would convert to Christianity in the end).

This, of course, does not deter fundamentalists in their Christian Zionism, in which Israel is a fantasy-land rather than a real place and in which blasphemous and blatantly anti-Christian things are supported in order to further a false utopian idea of the Kingdom of God. Many, as I mentioned, adopt a kind of split-chronology to get around some of the problems I brought up. So, yes, they would say, Israel is lacking the Temple, some of its land, its population, etc. But what was established in 1948 was nevertheless the seed, the "fig" that puts forth its shoots, as Jesus says, and that soon the rest that is lacking will be filled up and the Messiah will come down to reign from the physical Jerusalem for 1,000 years.

Hope this helps us to better understand where some of these people are coming from, at any rate.

By the way, thanks for taking the time to read my blog - if this is your first time here, and if you enjoyed this post, check out some of my favorite posts here. Also, be sure to scroll down the side-bar for other favorite posts. For other posts on the Jews, Judaism and Israel:


Pope Benedict's troubling comments that the Church "need not concern herself" with the conversion of Jews
The Church Father's understanding of Judaism
On the Jewish nature of the early Church
Rabbi pressures Pope Benedict to deny Jesus
Bishop Williamson and the absurdity of Holocaust denial laws
Why Christians should not support a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem
Jews in the 2008 Missale Romanum
On the 2008 revision of the Good Friday prayers
On Christian obsession with Jewish customs
Cardinal George to Jews: Stop calling Jesus a bastard!
USCCB catechism teaches heresy that Jews have their own covenant