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?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Cool Quotes 3

Barron/Ratzinger on the subversive nature of the Christian Credo - I/We Believe

Barron writes:

"The opening statement of the credo -- I believe in one God, the Father the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth-- is a reaffirmation of the Old Testament Shema ('Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is God alone'), a declaration that formed the people of Israel and provided the ethical foundation for their lives. Joseph Ratzinger has commented that this proclamation of monotheistic faith is subversive in nature, since it implies that no nation, state, political party, leader, ideology, or culture, indeed nothing in the created realm, can be of ultimate concern. The Credo therefore, like the Shema, relativizes and places in question all rival gods, all powers that would week, in a final sense, to order human life."
 - Fr. Robert Barron, Bridging the Great Divine, 44-45, citing Ratzinger, Intro to Christianity, 73-76.

Ratzinger writes:

"For to believe as a Christian means in fact entrusting oneself to the meaning that upholds me and the world; taking it as the firm ground on which I can stand fearlessly....[It] means understanding our existence as a response to the world, the logos, that upholds and maintains all things...And further: Christian belief means opting for the view that what cannot be seen is more real than what can be seen. It is an avowal of the primacy of the invisible as the truly real, which upholds us and hence enables us to face the visible with calm composure -- knowing that we are responsible before the invisible as the true ground of all things. To that extent it is undeniable that Christianity belief is a double affront to the attitude that the present world situation seems to force us to adopt. ...[It] invites us to confine ourselves to the 'visible,' the 'apparent,' in the widest sense of the terms; to extend the basic methodology to which natural science is indebted for its success to the totality of our relationship with reality...The primacy of the invisible over the visible...runs directly counter to this basic situation. No doubt that is why it is so difficult for us today to make the leap of entrusting ourselves to what cannot be seen."
- Introduction to Christianity, 73-75.

Yet how many of us are more American than we are Christian? How many of us are more Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, than we are Catholic? How many us listen to , reflect upon, and live out the Gospel truth, recognizing the suffering Christ in the suffering poor, in the war torn villages of our enemies, in the undocumented immigrants, in the prisoner, the homeless, the unborn? 

What is the ground of our lives? 

P.S. The next quote will examine what our lives might look like if we actually abandoned ourselves in the invisible, if we totally entrusted ourselves to the logos as the ultimate ground of reality.