Friday, July 03, 2009

God bless America?

Disclaimer: I do not here intend to make any political statements whatsoever. I am not all that interested in the conservative v. liberal polemic on the matter. Rather, I intend to attempt to make a theological point.

N.B.: I am grateful for the freedoms and rights which I enjoy as a citizen of this country, although I do not necessarily agree with the manner in which our freedoms have been won and protected throughout history, but that is a discussion for another post.

Around this time of year it is not uncommon to see flags, signs, facebook statuses, etc. which exclaim “God bless America!” It seems a nice enough sentiment and potentially a reflection of a valid and perhaps virtuous patriotism. Of course, it could also reflect an idolatrous nationalism. However, I do not intend to parse that distinction here.  Rather, I want to ask whether it is theologically accurate or appropriate to utter this exclamation.

To my knowledge the only “nation” that God promises to bless is Israel (which does not refer to the modern nation-state of Israel or any nation-state for that matter), and we must remember that while His love is clearly unconditional, his blessing is not, not even for Israel. In the face of Israel’s idolatry and hard-heartedness God, on more than one occasion, withdrew his blessing and replaced it with the curse of exile and/or other natural consequences of the actions which expressed Israel’s will.

Additionally, Israel’s status as God’s people, while never revoked, has essentially been superseded by the one, holy, catholic (universal), apostolic Church. Thus no nation or state has a claim to be God’s own in the same sense that Israel could have made that claim in Old Testament times. Furthermore, we are a pilgrim people. Our home is the heavenly Jerusalem and our loyalty should go to all other members of the BODY before it goes to members of our nation.

Now,  I see no problem with praying for God’s blessing upon our nation. However, it seems to me that that prayer should sound more like the prayer of the repentant publican. “Lord, we, as the body of America, have sinned against you and turned our backs to you. Have mercy on us. Forgive us. Do not turn your face from us, but in your mercy bless and guide us and our leaders to conform to your Truth and Love.” Rather, the tenor and tone of “God bless America” tends to reek of pride, the vicious type. “Thank God we are not like those other damnable nations. We stand for truth and goodness and freedom. Rejoice at our greatness. God bless America the beautiful, the proud, the good!”

Perhaps our country would be in a healthier spiritual condition if we repented and did penance for the sins of our country before asking for God’s blessing, rather than praising our alleged virtues and nearly demanding blessing in an act of praise, not of God, but of ourselves, our country.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On Keeping Holy the Sabbath Day

Growing up, I never really contemplated the idea of keeping holy the Sabbath day. We went to Mass every Sunday, and normally we would spend the rest of the day at Grandma's, which included spending time with the extended family, football and/or swimming for us kids, and TV, cards, cooking, and cleaning for the adults. While there was nothing explicitly holy or religious about this, I think through family custom we did a decent job of fulfilling God's decree, keeping in mind that man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man.  

However, as an adult who is a perpetual student and who has been a teacher, I now frequently procrastinate throughout the week and use Sunday to complete any remaining homework, grading, or lesson planning. Yesterday as we were to driving to see family for Father's day, I was reflecting on those who were working: truck drivers in particular, but also waiters and waitresses, cooks, cashiers, etc.  How difficult it has now become to refrain from participating in the "social sin," for lack of a better term, of violating the sabbath! 

What do you think it means to keep holy the Sabbath? How much are we/you willing to sacrifice (convenience stores, Monday deliveries, gas stations, etc.) to enable others to have the freedom to rest on the Lord's Day? 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sunday Snippets: a Catholic Carnival

Greetings and Peace to all newcomers.

My wife AB and I are grad students in theology and new parents too an adorable 5month old boy. Most of our blogging focuses on Catholic theological or social issues.

We aren't able to post on a daily basis, but our most recent one, On Hobbies and Pursuing Holiness, has had some decent discussion, which was probably better than the post itself. I'd love to hear any further thoughts you may have.

Other older posts of interest include the following:
- A theologically dense post on the Anthropological Structure of Faith
- An interesting post by my wife on Going Green and the Pill
- The first of an 8-part series on Being a Faithful Catholic in America
- Our baby boy

Enjoy and let us know you stopped by.


For more Faith-Filled Posts please go to the Sunday Catholic Carnival over at This and That.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On Hobbies and Pursuing Holiness

“Faith comes from what is heard”, says St. Paul (Rom 10:17)…The assertion “faith comes from what is heard” contains an abiding structural truth about what happens here. It illuminates the fundamental differences between faith and mere philosophy, a difference which does not prevent faith, in its core, from setting the philosophical search for truth in motion again…

“In faith the word takes precedence of the thought, a precedence that differentiates it structurally from the architecture of philosophy. In philosophy the thought precedes the word; it is after all a product of reflection that one then tries to put into words…Faith, on the other hand, comes to man from the outside, and this very fact is fundamental to it.” (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 90-92)

St. Anselm defined theology as “faith seeking understanding,” however, it ceases to be so when one ceases to listen, to receive that word which is the foundation of faith. This essentially turns theology into some sort of philosophy of religion. It makes it dead and private, rather than living and communal.

A danger which I have had to face as a student of theology is the temptation to turn theology into mere thought. Sometimes I find myself thinking about some theological precept, abstracting, attempting to figure it all out, and doing so without turning to prayer, without listening to the Logos. Sometimes I find myself abstracting about how to love in relationship rather than asking for the grace to love.

In this regard, as my wife and I are preparing for significant changes in our lives, we are attempting to re-evaluate some of our habits, choices, hobbies, leisure activities, etc. The questions we are posing to ourselves I now pose to you our readers, all four of you:

If every person is called to be a saint, to strive for holiness, and if I claim to place my faith in Christ as my savior, as the second-person of the Triune God who became man so that I may be divinized, what leisure activities are…permissible, nay, prudent, for a person striving to grow in holiness?

Perhaps specific examples would be helpful: Are video games merely a waste time? What virtue do they cultivate?

In this past I rationalized that when I played video games I was socializing with and occasionally even evangelizing those with whom I was in competition, but I can no longer make that claim. Can I still justify spending time on video games when I could be praying, playing with my son, studying, etc.?

What about television? Certainly some shows have more merit than others, but generally speaking can one make the claim that TV is a neutral media?

As someone who is more educated than most of my family (I do not say this with pride, it’s a mere fact), who is more interested in theology, and who, at the very least, at to appear to be living a life consistent with Catholic social doctrine and morality, I sometimes find it difficult to engage in small talk or other social activities that many of my loved ones engage in. I obviously have little to no interest in beer-pong or going to hooters, activities which in my opinion seem contrary to growth in holiness. However there may be more neutral activities in which I could have an interest in order to aid small talk which could hopefully turn to more meaningful conversations. Therefore, I have reasoned that television shows can offer some common ground about which to converse without my feeling uncomfortable or the other party feeling bored. On the other hand, now that we have a child, to what extent are we willing to expose him to television? How much should we shelter him? If we abstain from television are we not more likely to spend our time cultivating virtue and teaching our child to cultivate virtue? Or, if we are the virtue-cultivating type, we would do so regardless of whether or not we watch television?

What about sporting events as entertainment? Intramurals as hobbies or exercise routines?Etc. Etc.?

What hobbies or leisure activities do you find assist you in your slow journey to holiness? What hobbies have you resisted because you find they hinder your sainthood?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Final Thoughts: Notre Dame vs. Bishop D'Arcy and the USCCB

Over the past couple of months, I have frequently flipped and flopped over the Obama-Notre Dame issue. At first glance, I saw no problem with him speaking at the commencement exercises of a Catholic institution, but as a man, a politician, whose policies on abortion fly directly in the face of Catholic teaching, he should not be honored by a Catholic institution.

Ultimately the difficulty in discerning my position on the issue boiled down to a tension: on the one hand I do not think Catholic institutions should honor in this way those who persist in promoting views and policies which are contrary to the Gospel. I believe bestowing an award on someone is a very different kind of honor than visiting their house (as Jesus visited tax collectors and the like). On the other hand, most of the "pro-life" response by Catholics has been well...unCatholic, and even when it has been reasoned, measured, and authentic - in the case of many of the bishops, it has been inconsistent. This inconsistency did not sit well with me.

It was not until I read an article by Fr. Emmanuel McCarthy that I was able to lucidly think through the problem. McCarthy's style of writing is always is bit more biting than I am comfortable with. In this article I believe his primary point is spot on, however at times I think he states it more harshly than is necessary, and several of his example are stretched outside of their proper context in order to make his point.

Nevertheless his point is correct. McCarthy is not concerned overly with Obama; he is concerned with the intra-Church squabble over the issue. McCarthy argues that Bishop D'Arcy and the other bishops are absolutely correct. A Catholic institution should not give this kind of honor to Mr. Obama. However, the reason their voice lacks authority for many Catholics, the reason that many Catholics are dismayed by the protests, rests in their inconsistency.

The beef with John D’Arcy is not with him as a person—he is a most decent human being— but with his permitting himself to become a symbol, a mouthpiece, and a puppet for the USCCB’s illogical, immoral, long-running, and blatant rigorism-laxism dance on behalf of the powerful and wealthy. Note the historical fantasy, and the spiritual, moral, theological, and factual absurdity, which Bishop D’Arcy employs to validate his present decision and to exculpate himself and his U.S. episcopal colleagues, past and present, for their support of 2 legalized mega-murder extra-utero: “[President Obama] has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.”
The bishops are absolutely correct in stating that an institution which is supposed to be guided by and reflecting Christ should not give honor of this sort to a man who supports the killing of innocent life in-utero. However, their voice lacks the authority it should carry because the bishops have given their support to other men whose policies support and put into action the killing of innocent life, that is murder, extra-utero.
That is the beef. If the Bishop and his episcopal peers had consistently stood up for what Jesus taught by word and deed about violence, and for what he and they were explicitly commissioned by Jesus to teach as successors to the Apostles ( Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you. Mt 28:20) about violence, and had acted publicly and consistently from day one of their episcopacies in accordance with this stand, no one could have the slightest criticism of Bishop D’Arcy’s course of action in response to President Obama being honored at Notre Dame...Instead, they have chosen to stand by something called “Natural Law Catholic Just Violence Theory"... This is why what is happening now is happening. Bishop John D’Arcy, the NCCB, and Notre Dame have all refused to stand with Jesus and His teaching of Nonviolent Love of friends and all enemies, in utero and extra-utero. Therefore each will “stand for” what Jesus would self-evidently never stand for from His Apostles and disciples. Simultaneously, the Bishop, the USCCB, and Notre Dame have each played the ostrich in relation to reality and rationality in their respective applications of this so-designated Catholic Just War Theory and Catholic Moral Theory. The present spiritually dis-graceful, anti-witness, antievangelical situation they all inhabit is the direct consequence of not following Jesus as He said to follow Him.

For McCarthy, the problem can be traced back to Constantine. Once the Church had worldly power, it was all too easy for members of the Church to reject portions of Jesus’ teaching and put their trust in violent power rather than in nonviolent love. Some members of the Church have recognized the evil of certain actions, like abortion, but have been unable to separate themselves from other evils like capital punishment and unjust killing, that is murder, in wars.

As Fr. McCarthy explains:

In Catholic theology there is no moral doubt that intentional abortion is murder…However, in Catholic theology there is equally no moral doubt that the unjust killing of the child in utero is no more, nor less, murder than is the unjust killing of a child or any human being extra-utero. All are the intrinsically grave evil of murder. The intentional, unjust killing of a human being in the womb in Baltimore, MD, is no more, nor less, murder than the intentional unjust killing of a human being, outside or inside the womb, in Iraq, or El Salvador, or Honduras, or Guatemala, or Nicaragua, or Panama, or Afghanistan, or Grenada, or Vietnam, or Nagasaki.[1]

In this regard, McCarthy quotes Pope John Paul II:

Better still, perhaps, a direct quotation from John Paul II is most appropriate here: Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act , either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action…We now need more than ever to have the courage to look truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophets is extremely straightforward: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.”

America, indeed the entire world, desperately needs Jesus right now. We desperately need prophetic voices, without compromising or denigrating, to speak the Truth in Love with authority and consistency. We need Christian witness with integrity.

I am glad the bishops have found a voice. I am glad they are speaking out against the evil of abortion, but if they wish to be taken seriously, if their words are to be efficacious, they must embrace a consistent ethic of life and denounce as unCatholic and unChristian all forms of violence. If Obama cannot be honored in this way, then neither should Bush or Cheney. The center must be Christ, which means remaining absolutely and unequivocally in the Truth, but doing so lovingly and patiently. While we ought not honor men and women whose policies and actions directly oppose truth and goodness, we must recognize that they remain sons and daughters of God. We must love them. Dialogue with them. Pray for them. Work with them where we agree and challenge them when they err. Only when the voice of the Church, episcopal, priestly and lay, speaks Truth in Love with consistency and integrity to the Gospel will that voice speak eloquently, prophetically, and convincingly.

[1] I do not wish here to dispute whether there is a difference in the gravity of voting for someone who supports abortion versus someone who supports unjust war. Both are murder. Both are evil. Neither should be supported or given honors by the Church.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Metaphysics of Peace/Nonviolence

As many of you know, philosophy plays an incalculable role in directing the perspectives and worldviews of society. Several hundred years ago St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus developed two contradictory metaphysical outlooks on the relationship between God and the world. The prevalence of the Scotist worldview has led in part to many of the problems we face today in the Western world.

Duns Scotus proposed a univocal conception of being, existence. Accordingly he, and later on William of Occam, a fellow Franciscan, saw God and his infinite existence standing alongside all other beings which exists in finitude as different types, instances, of a broad, common category. Thus, God is merely the greatest of all beings. He is the Supreme Being. But, there is no necessary and ontological connection, relation between God and finite beings.

St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other, proposed a participation metaphysics. He saw God as the ipsum esse subsistens,the sheer act of to-be itself. God is Being; God is Existence. This parallels well the name by which God identifies Himself when speaking to Moses through the burning bush: I AM WHO AM; I am He who is, who always has been, who always will be; I am.

This perception of God as esse, being, has at several important implications. First, rather than defining God as one being (albeit the supreme one) among many, Aquinas’ view sees God as the ground of all finite existence. Thus God must be “in all things, by essence, presence, and power.”

This understanding moves us to our second important implication: “the connectedness of all created realities through God.”[2] Thus God is both radically different from all other beings, ecause He is existence Himself while other receive their existence from in, and intrinsically connected with all finite beings because they share in a limited way in His existence. “As fellow participants in God’s act of to-be, all things are related to one another in the most intimate way possible, for they are all ontological siblings.”[3]

Additionally, this has powerful implications for our we view the act of creation. “If God is ipsum esse subsistens, then whatever else comes to existence must be created ex nihilo, literally from nothing.”[4] The mythic creation stories of pagan religions all saw creation coming about through act of violence among the gods. However, if God is the sheer act of to-be, if God is existence, then from the “beginning” there is nothing else, no matter, no stuff, no other beings which exist with Him. He must create all other beings from nothing,and they can only exist by participation in His existence.

“This implies that the act of creation is thoroughly noninvasive, nonmanipulative. God’s creative act is one of utter generosity (since he needs nothing outside himself) and utterly nonviolent (since he shapes nothing outside of himself)…The implication of the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo is that nonviolence is the deepest truth of things, noncompetitiveness is the ground of being. And thus to live nonviolently is not simply to be ethically upright; it is to be cosmically correct,to go with the grain of creation.”[5]
If I can recognize in our hearts and minds the correctness and truth of this vision of creation, that all created things are most intimately connected by sharing deeply, ontologically, and virginally, in the esse, the to-be, of God, then any antagonism, competition, violence, between me and other nor between me and nature reduces to a nonsensical destruction of that by which I exist.

The being of God, as existence itself, logically requires the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo and points toward the connectedness and relatedness of all finite beings as variegated instances of participation in the infinite being of God. Both creatio ex nihilo, as an utterly gratuitous and nonviolent act, and our inner-relatedness to all beings require that our lives bear evangelical witness to the Truth of God with daily lived attitudes of nonviolence, peace, brotherhood, and mutual concern for the other.

Consumerism, Abortion, Torture, Capital Punishment, War, etc. all deny our interrelatedness and reflect lives lived within the current of ways of men, but against the grain of creation and of the ways of God.

Part 2 to follow: Where our society is in direct contradiction, philosophy and metaphysically to God as ipsum esse substens, to creation ex nihilo, and to the nonviolence and peace with is the ground of our very existence.

[2] Robert Barron, Bridging the Great Divide, 201.

[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 202.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cool Quotes 4

Fr. Barron on the category- destroying vibrancy of Catholicism,Faith, lived with integrity,grounded in the Logos

In study after study, article after article, one finds the puzzled commentator scratching his head over the ‘contradiction’ of Dorothy Day, this woman who prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament, attended daily Mass, took frequent retreats, spoke in pious language and accepted the traditional dogmas of the Church, and who, at the same time, lived with the poor, opposed any and every way, sharply criticized the economic and political status quo, and advocated a ‘radical Catholicism.’ How could she have been, simultaneously, so conservative and so liberal? What this questions reveals, of course, is simply the gross inadequacy of those categories in the presence of a saint…She was a person who had made Jesus Christ in all of his concreteness the center of her life. Her ‘conservative’ piety is expressive of this continual act of centering, her ‘liberal’ social commitment is her living out the unambiguous message and style of Jesus…

Anchored in Christ and filled with a sense of mission, we can take what we need from any source and get up in any pulpit available to us…let us embrace the spicy,troublesome, fascinating, and culture-transforming person of Jesus Christ. And then let the Church of Christ thereby shape the world.
- Bridging the Great Divide, 20-21.

What say you, what say we, "Catholics" who trust in the power of money to save us, who trust in the power of arms to deliver us, who trust in the goodness of men to free us, who deny the dignity of the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner, the enemy, the other? What say we?