THANK GOD!Associated Press is reporting that the nine miners trapped in a flooded mineshaft in Somerset, Pennsylvania are alive! Rescue workers made contact Saturday with some of the nine miners who have been trapped underground for three days via a telephone dropped through a pipe, according to rescue officials.
THINGS FOR LIBERALS TO PONDER:Father Ron Rolheiser offers three things for religious liberals--Catholic or otherwise--to ponder (conservatives will get their own questions in next week's column). Chief among these questions is the difficulty that religious liberals seem to have in passing down their faith to their children:
For all of our work at affirming human dignity, spreading the democratic principle, highlighting the plight of the poor, working at eliminating racism, pushing for gender equality, furthering ecological sensitivity and affirming non-violence, we haven't been able to inspire our own children to follow us in the path of the faith and in the path of adult commitment. Former generations, whatever their faults, did this better. Whether that fault is inherent in liberal ideology itself is not the point. We haven't been able to do it and it's something we must examine ourselves on.
The flip side of this is the tendency of liberals to disparage movements within the Church--he cites things like Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Promise Keepers, and the Charismatic Renewal--because they appear to contain strains of patriarchy, fundamentalism, and uncritical submission to authority:
Offended in our liberal sensitivities, we become fundamentalist ourselves -- uncompromising, unnuanced, locked into a pre-prescribed view, unable to see that sometimes the cruder discipline of authority is needed before someone can live the fuller freedom of the Gospel. Promise Keepers, for example, may not be a spirituality for a mature Christian, but anything that helps get millions of men back home, faithful to their wives, and back to prayer and church should certainly not be seen as the enemy. Liberal assessment of these movements has sometimes been far from compassionate and wise.
IF NECESSARY, USE WORDS:Amy Welborn posted the question the other day, "how do you evangelize a culture that doesn't think it needs evangelizing?" A Sursum Corda reader, writing in response to my "why bother?" post earlier this week, supplies the answer:
My own experience was very much like yours, in that I was drawn deeper into faith by the actions of someone else. This is probably the most mundane story you'll ever hear, but if you have a minute, I'd love to share it with you. About a year ago, my 14-year-old son got into some trouble in gym class. He's no athlete, and the other kids were tormenting him during volleyball games. In frustration, he kicked in a locker....got suspended, etc. I felt so bad for him....I knew he was hurting and wanted to do SOMETHING to help him, but didn't know what, and the school was of absolutely no help. I remembered that one of the gym teachers at the school is also a deacon in the local Catholic parish, and on a whim, I sent him a note explaining the situation and asking him for I didn't even know what....whatever he could do to help Eric, even just dropping into the detention room...I didn't know this guy from Adam, but just had a sense he might be able to help.
To make a long story even longer, that same day, he called me. He had gone down to the detention room and talked at length with Eric....in addition, he went to the guidance office and made arrangements for Eric to be in HIS gym class, where he could look after him and take him under his wing. I can't tell you how much that meant to me...at first, I was just so grateful that someone had reached out and could see that Eric was hurting, but it became much more than that. It dawned on me after a while that THAT'S what it means to "bear witness". That's what Christ wants us to do....and, like you, I thought "He has something that I want....no, that I NEED"....I started going to church, listening to him preach, exploring just who God is and asking God how I can be the kind of person who will bear witness so beautifully as this man did.
A year later, my heart is still literally on fire in search of God, and it all started with that single act of kindness....earlier this month I went on an 8-day silent, directed retreat at a Jesuit retreat center in PA. I spent some time asking myself the question you posed in your essay, and, in the end, the only answer I could come up with was Brother Lawrence's..."God said it, I believe it, that settles it."
[Many Americans] expect foreign aid to banish developing-world poverty and to build liberal democracies across the globe; by that standard, aid indeed has failed. But that's the wrong standard. The realistic benchmark is whether international assistance has made the world better than it would otherwise have been. And by that standard, foreign aid has not only been a success; it has been a triumph. In most developing nations, living standards are rising, and health care and education are improving, in part because of foreign aid. Billions of people are better off today thanks to Western help, however inconsistent and snafu-prone that help has often been.
As is his wont, Easterbrook lays out an impressive stable of facts and is equally tough on the isolationist Right and the anti-Globalization Left, both of whom he thinks are standing in the way of effective aid programs.
PRAY: There are nine Pennsylvania coal miners trapped in a flooded mine shaft in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The shaft flooded when the miners breached an old abandoned mine that was flooded, but did not appear on their map. They were able to warn other miners via radio, but were not able to escape themselves. Rescue efforts are underway. Please pray for these men and their families.
WHY BOTHER?Amy Welborn has posted a very thought provoking post on her site today. In it, she wonders whether the Church is adequately answering the question of why faith is important. While you should read the entire post, here is a representative paragraph, in which Amy speaks in the voice of contemporary unbelief:
It all comes down to this, in my mind: Why Jesus, why here and why this way? What difference does it make? And don't tell me about your healed lives and your warm hearts. If I, the casual unbeliever, can go out on the street and find people who have equally healed lives and warm hearts for reasons that have nothing to do with your church, why, again, should I bother with your church or any of them?
I think that to answer the question “why Jesus?” I really have to answer two questions. Because for the people who pose this question, it is not the truth of Christianity per se that is really at issue. Why should someone bother with any of our churches, temples, or mosques? Why belong to any religious tradition at all? It is only when someone accepts the seriousness of the religious enterprise in the first place that the answer to a question like “Why Jesus?” becomes intelligible. We need to make the case for having a Lord before we can make the case for Jesus as Lord.
Why do I need a Lord?
The affliction of many young people today is not a militant atheism. Rather, it is a corrosive agnosticism that makes them skeptical of any serious philosophical or religious commitments. I think there is a parallel in how many young people today view marriage. Many believe they can have the “benefits” of marriage—companionship, sex, etc.—without having to make a serious commitment. But I’ve never met a married person who wanted to go back to just “living together” with their spouse. There is an understanding—even if it’s not always easy to articulate—that married life is deeper and richer than a relationship that lacks real commitment.
To go through one's life never having made such a commitment is to have failed to live out the fullness of one’s humanity. We must surrender ourselves to something. We must have a Lord. The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich talks about this when he refers to God as the “object of ultimate concern,” the organizing principle of a man’s life. He argues that life is impossible without having such a concern because man is, by nature, a creature who seeks meaning and purpose in his actions. Our ultimate concern may be a false God. It may be riches, fame, political power, or the respect of our peers. But it must be something.
But to make anything less than God our “ultimate concern” is to be ultimately unsatisfied. As Saint Augustine said, “you made us for yourselves, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This is not always obvious to the young, because they often place their hopes in the future, assuming that once they get ‘there,’ their hunger will be fulfilled. Often, it is only as we age that we are confronted with the truth that the world can never fully satisfy what we long for. As Karl Rahner once said, “in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.”
Why Jesus as Lord?
But, it may be countered, what is there to distinguish one religion from the other? Can’t I just “surrender” to the Divine in the privacy of my apartment? Why do I need to go to church? Why does Jesus need to be my Lord? Why not Allah? Or Vishnu?
The first thing I would say is that if you truly believe that Allah or Vishnu is your Lord, then you should certainly follow him. But usually, that question is offered as an excuse for following no one. The contemporary agnostic is paralyzed by indecision. He is so busy pointing out the various trails that lead up the mountain that he refuses to place his feet on any of them. Or perhaps he dabbles, jogging a few feet up one trail, then another, never committing himself to the task at hand: “You must prove to me your way is correct before I follow it.”
Well I can’t. I can’t sit here with a stack of scriptures from various religious traditions and prove to you by citing texts that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It can’t be done. I can sketch out all kinds of arguments that suggest that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the very basic longings of the human race, but I can’t imagine they would be convincing to someone who doesn’t already believe.
So are we Christians lost? Are we unable to give an account of our hope? I don’t think so. We need to remember that, ultimately, we are meant to be the argument for the truth of Christianity. Christians live their lives in a particular way because they profess Jesus Christ as their Lord.
Many years ago, when I was somewhat estranged from the Church, I went to see the movie Romero, a dramatic retelling of the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. There is a scene in the movie where Romero and another priest have been driven out of a rural church by a group of soldiers who proceed to shoot the place up. We see the car carrying Romero drive away, and then return. Romero gets out of the car, walks up to the solider at the entrance to the church and demands to be let in so that he can retrieve the Blessed Sacrament, now scattered on the floor because the soldiers have shot up the Tabernacle. He could have been killed at any moment, but he showed no fear.
I remember being galvanized by this scene. From somewhere deep within me, I felt a presence pointing at the screen and saying “That! That is what you want!” And it was true. I wanted what Romero had. I wasn’t even sure at that point what it was. But I knew that I wanted it, and that I would never be at rest until I had it.
So it has been since the very beginning. People didn’t follow Jesus because he made wonderful rational arguments. He spoke in parables for Pete’s sake! People listened because He embodied the truth, He gave it flesh. And so it has been since His time, with saints—both official and otherwise—giving flesh to the same truth.
And once one is attracted to a particular individual—be it Jesus, Oscar Romero, or some other holy person—then one is inevitably drawn to the community behind the individual. If I want what Oscar Romero has, then I have to know what shaped him. When I discover that it is a particular community that shaped him, there arises in me a powerful desire to subject myself to the discipline of that community—to worship as it worships, and to believe what it believes.
And one of the things that the Christian community believes is that we are destined for ultimate union with that which created us. How we live our lives today will determine whether we experience that union as suffering or joy. So yes, it does matter how we live. Although I cannot know for certain, I suspect that a person who can never subject himself to the discipline and commitment of faith will experience the beatific vision as painful, a searing gaze that will lay bare to him the ways in which he has fallen short of what he has been called to be. I also suspect—no, in this case, I know—that many of us who profess to have faith are also going to suffer under that gaze.
Will we suffer for all eternity? I certainly hope not. For the searing gaze is also a loving gaze and the pain is one of purgation. Of course, it is possible that a man might prefer to separate himself from the gaze rather than undergo that purgation. I cannot imagine anyone, knowing what was at stake, taking this course of action. But it has to remain a possibility.
So in the end, the only argument I can offer for the truth of Christianity is my life and the lives of those who believe as I do. If the modern world no longer finds Christianity compelling, we may have to ask whether this is because we have ceased to make it compelling. If the agnostic can see no difference between the Christian and the unbeliever, is that his fault or ours?
Chapter Six tackles the difficult issue of cloning for biomedical research. The Council ended up narrowly divided on this question. Their solution was to present comprehensive arguments for and against cloning for research. What makes this an interesting approach is that all of the members of the Council were asked to review and comment on the arguments for both sides, regardless of their personal position.
This is not to say that the two sides were divided on everything. Both agree that biomedical research is tremendously important. It is research aimed at the relief of human suffering. The freedom of inquiry that makes biomedical research possible should be restricted only for the most important reasons. Both sides also agree, however, that there are moral limits on what we do to relieve suffering. “We are morally obliged to seek relief of suffering, but only in ways that preserve our humanity.”
Another area where both sides agree is that research using cloned human embryos may lead to treatments for diseases that are significant sources of disability and death, such as Parkinson’s disease. In general, those who support cloning-for-research are more sanguine that it will yield specific benefits in the near term. But even opponents of cloning-for-research, who tended to be less hopeful about the near-term benefits, did not deny that those benefits were quite possible.
Where the consensus breaks down—not surprisingly—is the issue of the moral status of the human embryo in its earliest stages. For the proponents of cloning-for-research, the early human embryo “has a moral status somewhere between that of ordinary human cells and that of a full human person.” Thus they believe that “the embryo can be used for life-saving or potentially life-saving research while still being accorded the ‘special respect’ it deserves.” They would limit research to embryos who had not yet reached 14 days of development.
The argument for this position is more or less as follows: while the early human embryo possesses genetic individuality, it does not possess other characteristics of an individual human person. Prior to implantation, the embryo may twin, suggesting that its individuality prior to implantation is not entirely stable. There is also the significance of implantation itself. Prior to implantation, there is no possibility of development to birth, while after implantation that possibility exists. Finally, there is the fact that human beings respond do not respond to the killing of a human embryo as they do to a fully-formed child. The 14-day mark, while admittedly arbitrary, is a point after which twinning is resolved, the embryo is implanted, and the first “primitive streak” of nerve tissue has appeared.
Council members who support cloning-for-research believe that while early human embryos “special respect,” they are not inviolable. Something that is inviolable can never be used as a means to another end, but there are circumstances under which something due ‘special respect’ can be so used. The report draws an (admittedly imperfect) analogy between religious laws governing the killing of animals for food. These laws serve, in part, “to demonstrate respect for beings that command our affection and our wonder, because they are (like us) part of the mystery of existence.”
The supporters of cloning-for-research also try to address the argument that even if one grants that early embryos are not inviolable, it is wrong to deliberately create them for use in research. They counter that if it is permissible to use early embryos at all, then it is permissible to use them regardless of how they were created.
The Council members who oppose cloning for research oppose this argument on virtually every count. They argue that the 14-day mark “does not represent a biological event of moral significance; rather, changes that occur at fourteen days are merely the visible evident culmination of more subtle changes that have taken place earlier and our driving the organism toward maturity.” They also dismiss the idea that an embryo created in a laboratory has less moral status than an embryo that has been implanted in a woman’s uterus.
The opponents of cloning-for-research also argue that, even on its own terms, the argument made the proponents of cloning-for-research is incoherent: “We do not understand what it means to claim that one is treating cloned embryos with special respect when one decides to create them intentionally for research that necessarily leads to their destruction.” The opponents concede that it is possible, as in the case of hunters and fishermen, to have reverence for a life that one kills. “But it seems difficult to claim…the presence of reverence once we run a stockyard or raise calves for veal—that is, once we treat the animals we kill (as we often do) simply as resources or commodities.”
Having laid out their case that the early human embryo should be inviolable, that opponents of cloning-for-research go on to argue that one need not accept that conclusion to object vigorously to cloning-for-research. To engage in such research requires the irreversible crossing of a very significant moral boundary: the creation of human life expressly and exclusively for the purpose of its use in research, research that necessarily involves its deliberate destruction. If we permit this research to proceed, we will effectively be endorsing the complete transformation of nascent human life into nothing more than a resource or a tool.
The opponents of cloning for research conclude their argument with a consideration of what we owe to those who suffer. It may seem cruel to close off any avenue of research that could lead to a relief of their suffering. But there are moral limits on what we can do in the name of relieving suffering:
Suppose, then, that we refrain from such research and that future sufferers say to us: "You might have helped us by approving cloning for research, but you declined to do so." What could we say to them? Something like the following: "Yes, perhaps so. But we could have done so only by destroying, in the present, the sort of world in which both we and you want to live -- a world in which, as best we can, we respect human life and human individuals, the weak and the strong. To have done it would have meant stepping across boundaries that are essential to our humanity. And, although we very much want to leave to our children a world in which suffering can be more effectively relieved, that is not all we want to leave them. We want to bequeath to them a world that honors moral limits, a world in which the good of some human lives is not entirely subordinated to the good of others, a world in which we seek to respect, as best we can, the time each human being has and the place each fills."
Chapter Seven, which I will consider tomorrow, tries to analysis the policy options for regulating human cloning. Hope to see you then.
No one knows what led to his suspension. Let us suppose that at some earlier time, perhaps a quarter century ago, he was found guilty of fleeting, inappropriate sexual conduct (exclusive of pedophilia, which requires its own response). Let us imagine, furthermore, that he had accepted censure and treatment and, most important, had experienced remorse sufficiently profound and durable to foreclose any recurrence of that behavior. If this is true, what else should be demanded of him? Does the goodness, the generous self-sacrifice of the intervening years count for nothing? Are we willing to judge another human being by the worst thing he has done, as if it were the only thing he has done? How would any one of us fare were someone to broadcast the worst thing we’ve done, as if it were the solitary expression of our life on this earth? What will this suspended priest do with the rest of his life—perhaps the 30 or 40 years that await him? What will the church do without him? Is this to be his death sentence? Will no one demand a moratorium for those who have paid for their crimes and for those who, though accused, are innocent?
The problem, of course, is that we don't know what happened. How "fleeting" was the sexual conduct? How did his victim experience it and what have the intervening years been like for him or her? And even if we feel that such a priest could continue in some kind of active ministry, are we really comfortable leaving them in a role where they minister to children and adolescents on a daily basis?
For many laypeople, what it comes down to is whether we trust our bishops to make the right call in these hard cases. I actually do trust my own bishop, who I think has done very well in dealing with this issue. But I can understand why Catholics living in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles feel differently. I think it would be easier for many priests to accept what must happen if they could see that the bishops who have failed would also share in their penance. But it does not seem like that will be the case. I think that is unfortunate.
Not a happy conclusion? Well what if I told you that there was something we could do to significantly reduce the risk of death for women? Guess what the number one cause of death for women in the United States is? Hint: it’s not Breast Cancer. No, it’s Heart Disease. Heart Disease is a preventable illness, and I’m not just talking about the importance of diet, exercise, and quitting smoking (although all three are very important). Physicians have an ever-increasing array of medications that are capable of controlling high-cholesterol and high-blood pressure. Women—particularly those with a family history of heart disease—should have their cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly by their physicians. A lot of women are still under the impression that heart disease is a “man’s disease.” It’s not.