Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Travelogue III - Signs of the Times (Mt. 16:2-3) Christianity

In terms of Faith, I identify myself with the response of the Charlotte, North Carolina Mother Emanuel Church to the viscous mass killing on the Church’s sacred ground.  From profound grief the appeal of the Church was:  Peace through forgiveness and non-violence.  The televised revelation was evangelical - Joyful Good News – as opposed to the ‘radical’ Christianity of evangelical Ted Cruz:  Peace through carpet bombing.  Since the ‘Amazing Grace’ experience underlined by President Obama singing the hymn, religious services are important to me; however they, at best, just touch the edges.

        Oh death where is your sting? Where is your victory? (I Cor. 15: 55)


Clare College Cambridge, England

   Cambridge University is an easy trip by train from London.  Our first place to visit was Clare College.  Joanne and I intended to go to King’s College for Evensong, but we got lost on the beautiful grounds surrounded by stately medieval structures.  Getting lost was an embarrassment to me because I always believed that I was supposed to have been born in the Middle Ages – I thought I knew my way around – what’s happening? A security guard ushered us into a large but dark chapel with the assurance that there would be evening prayers; we sat down in choir stalls and waited; the environment became more familiar.  Just before we were about to leave, two people appeared, the Dean of the College and a friend.  They greeted us and invited us to pray.  We did Vespers, Psalms and some scripture readings.  It was a quiet and prayerful time.

   After prayers we talked briefly with the Dean – a young man with learning beyond his years.  I asked some questions and he willingly and candidly responded.   

  What do you think of the current presidential campaign in the U.S. and the quest for the votes of the evangelicals?  He noted that ‘evangelical’ had many meanings.  Evangelicals in the U.S. interpret Old Testament readings without nuance.  He said he thought this was done to achieve a certitude that, especially out of context, just isn’t there.

   Scripture scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P. wrote in the Preface to a study of the writings and life of St. Paul:

I make my own what J.A.T. Robinson said in the conclusion to a much more challenging work, ‘all the statements of this book should be taken as questions.’ (1)

It seems to me that certitude is a matter of faith supported by common sense and a realistic theology.  The ‘radical’ Christianity of Ted Cruz is a Christianity of the Empire inaugurated by Constantine to support imperialism – peace achieved with violence.  It is a false Christian model that has been used throughout history.   

(1)  Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul a Critical Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1997, p. v.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Working Catholic: Realistic Voting by Bill Droel

The term intrinsic evil is appropriate in a philosophy or theology classroom where students are presumably acquainted with some Aristotelian distinctions. Used in a presidential campaign, the term asks too much of electoral politics. Our U.S. Catholic bishops employ the term intrinsic evil a dozen times in their 2016 election guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The term’s use there is, in the opinion of “The Working Catholic,” one more example of moralizing; one more ingredient in the disenchantment and frustration of our citizenry.  

Politics is a “messy, limited [and] muddled activity,” writes Bernard Crick (1929-2008) in Defense of Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1962). Yet it is the most beautiful way of balancing public interests, lifestyle choices, conflicting rights, interwoven responsibilities and changing times. Politics (with its laws or policies) is always imperfect because politics is an exercise in this-worldly approximate justice. Its results at sunset must be renewed through the exercise of public virtues tomorrow morning.

“The passionate quest for certainty” is a great enemy of politics, Crick warns. “We must not hope for too much from politics.” Crick’s point is not that all politicians are immoral dealmakers. His concern is the mindset of citizens. Crick wants to strengthen democracy, which is the only alternative to all types of dictatorship. Principled people who want “total victories,” who “refuse compromise,” who have “ridiculous expectations,” and who eventually are disgusted with government actually destroy participatory democracy. Not every disagreement can bear the weight of high morality. Politics and public policies cannot fulfill the quest for moral certainty. 

It is a serious sin, says Catholicism, to knowingly and willingly obtain a direct abortion and formally cooperate in abortion. The 58million abortions in the United States since 1973 are indictments on a society that values individual liberty disproportionately over community and that cares too little about eradicating poverty and supporting family life. The number of abortions has decreased and can potentially decrease further in part through the daily practice of messy politics. Too much moralizing, however, makes politics impossible.

In a sensible tone Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, writing in America (2/15/16), defends the bishops’ voting guide. There are several issues that require a well-formed Catholic conscience—immigration reform, safeguarding workers, the conduct of war, abortion, governmental policies on marriage and more. Neither electoral party supports the Catholic approach to all current issues. So once inside his or her voting station, what is a Catholic to do?

“Voting for a candidate whose policies may advance a particular intrinsic evil is not in itself an intrinsically evil act,” says McElroy. Contrary to how the term intrinsic evil is often waved about, McElroy refreshingly explains that “it is not a measure of the relative gravity of evil in human or political acts.” Thus, it “cannot provide a comprehensive moral roadmap for prioritizing the elements of the common good for voting.” That is, it is an error to give one’s vote to Candidate A because her intrinsic evil score is only minus two, whereas Candidate B’s intrinsic evil score is minus four.

Though McElroy makes important points, “The Working Catholic” is not a fan of the bishops’ voting guides—this year or in years past. Is there an alternative to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship? “The Working Catholic” makes this suggestion: The whole church might year-after-year invest in local citizenship programs that teach public skills, sensitive to Catholic doctrine. Such programs might include labor schools, quality community organizations and top flight adult education efforts. Such programs would not include so-called Catholic lobby groups. Lobbying is standard procedure. But a lobby group is not designed for the patient effort of citizen education; it already has an agenda.

Droel’s printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), is free to readers of this blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Working Catholic: Full of Grace by Bill Droel

The phrase Godless world is popular with some presidential candidates. In recent months it has also occasionally appeared in Catholic publications and catalogs. Catholics are mistaken to use the phrase or others like it.

Catholics believe in the Incarnation and the Redemption. God, through God’s creation and through Christ’s death and resurrection, is already in our holy world. Encounter with God for a Catholic is thus normally mediated through the world. Catholics experience grace (God’s love) through family, neighbors, co-workers and others. Catholics meet God in the sacraments; the little sacraments of daily life and the liturgical sacraments.

Most Catholics most of the time do not claim a so-called direct or individual relationship with God. The relationship is mediated. God’s love and God’s truth come by way of the world; by way of discovery in the classroom or the lab, inside the ups and downs of home life, through art, music or literature, through conversations and action on the job, through stories about one’s grandparents, and through the worldly accomplishments and setbacks of predecessors in the faith.

God’s grace is normally not loud or bright or immediately evident. That is why Catholics are given, as it were, special analogical eyeglasses and special analogical earphones to see and to hear from God who is disguised in ordinary circumstances. This is the function of the marvelous Catholic sacramental imagination. The Eucharist, to give one basic Catholic example, reveals God magnificently. But God comes disguised or concealed as a flat wafer (“work of human hands”) or a droplet of wine (“fruit of the vine and work of human hands”). God makes use of flawed worldly things (wheat, grapes) and people (bakers, vintners, fellow worshipers) to stay connected with God’s analogues, with all of us who are created “in God’s image and likeness.”

Because the world both exposes the love of God and conceals the greatness of God, Catholics need to meditate daily or at least weekly on one’s comings-and-goings. Catholics need to recall the details of the day and week to appreciate that God is constantly lurking about the world—the workplace, the home, the neighborhood.  Aware or not, appreciative or not, we never have a moment when God is absent from the world. It is wrong to presume that the world is Godless and that we somehow have to restore God to any alley, any medical complex, any union hall, any media hub, any trading floor, any park or museum, any airport or loading dock. God is already there. The world cannot be Godless.

Of course there is sin. Of course there are features or overtones of modern life that warrant Catholic criticism. Of course Catholicism, indeed Christianity, is counter-cultural. But it is also and mostly culture affirming.

Any strategy related to the phrase Godless world assaults God’s gifts of reason and science, God’s gift of nature and beauty, and particularly God’s living Incarnation in the world. Likewise Catholics should use the phrase culture of death and other negatives sparingly and with plenty of context.

For Catholics, the world is basically good through flawed by sin. The world is the place of encounter with God. The world needs healing and merciful kindness, yes. But God’s plan for the world does not need condemnation from self-serving and self-appointed messengers of God.

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work. It is free from NCL (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Travelogue: January - New Orleans

S P Q R 

 The letters were tattooed on the muscular right arm of the young man getting off the plane in front of me.  Does he know what that means?  He had an explanation.  “Senatus Publusque Romanus; it means the Roman Senate and the people.  The soldiers of the Empire had this tattooed on the arm that wielded the sword.”

   Shouldn’t the Republican candidates for president sport this tattoo?  In their quest for the evangelical vote they advocate increased military action in the Middle East. Ted Cruz suggested carpet bombing.  It is the gospel - evangelium - of the Roman Empire – peace through military might as opposed to the Jewish, Christian program of peace through justice.   Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes:

We are at the start of the twenty first century, what the Roman Empire was at the start of the first century.  Put succinctly: Rome and the East there, America and the West here.  Put succinctly: they then, we now. Put more succinctly: SPQR is SPQA.

John Dominic Crossan, In Search of Paul, Harper SanFrancisco, p. 412.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Travelogue January & February 2016

Part I:  Nostalgia on a Trip to London, England

We recently visited our son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren in London. 

One of the Tube stops in Central London is Black Friars on the Thames.  Of course it always brings back memories.  There is now a pub on the spot where the former Dominican Priory stood in the Middle Ages. Ask people and they have no notion about the Black Friars.  I said to Joanne, “If we win the lottery we should commission a statue of the Dominican Friar, Vincent McNabb, O.P. (1868-1943) on the street outside the pub.

McNabb Photo from: Vincent McNabb, O.P. The Church and the Land, IRS Norfolk, VA, 2003

St. Dominic’s Church in London has relics of the old Black Friars Priory. McNabb lived at St Dominic’s, served as prior and was a strong advocate of Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno, the two landmark social encyclicals that established a theology of worker rights.  The Dominican Friar was categorized as a distributionist along with his friends Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton.  Dorothy Day was also considered a distributionist.  A review of their work is important in our current situation of world income inequality.

   The news that John Lattner died brought on more nostalgia with reference to Black Friars.  ‘Jarring John’ was a senior when I was a freshman at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois founded and staffed by the Dominicans.  I had seen him play epic Chicago Catholic League football games in ’47 (with Bouncing Billy Barrett – lost to Loyola – as Notre Damers, Barrett and Lattner, teamed up to beat Frank Gifford and U.S.C. in 1951), ’48 (a last second touchdown on a pass from Ed Lejuene to Lattner beat St. George), and ’49 (a win against Terry Brennan’s Mt. Carmel).  While in high school Lattner was named to the All-State football team twice and once to the All-American high school football team. 

Lattner Photos from:  Fenwick Black Friars Year Book 1950   

 He also played basketball.  In his senior year, Lattner led Fenwick to the Chicago city basketball championship.   He was the 1953 Heisman Trophy winner and All-American in his senior year at Notre Dame.  He also played basketball for two years at Notre Dame.  New York sportswriter Red Smith wrote a column about Lattner’s decision to leave the basketball program.  Smith wrote that it was because he wanted to provide a place on the team for his cousin Tom Sullivan.

Lattner Photos from:  Fenwick Black Friars Year Book 1950   
   Lattner later said that maintaining his grades in school had a lot to do with it.

   John Lattner was and is my hero.  I remember and am grateful for a wonderful conversation I had with him a couple of years ago; thanks for the memories John – regards to all the other saints.