Sadly, both in society in general and inside of theological and ecclesial circles, we are obsessed with labeling. And we do it equally on both sides of the ideological spectrum: "She's a liberal! He's a conservative! She's a feminist! He's one of those young neo-conservatives! He's Opus Dei! She's from Call to Action!"
The most helpful response might be: So what! None of these labels determines the truth and none of them, in se, distorts it. God's house has many rooms, just as truth lies in many places, and God's consolation and challenge is always somewhat colored by the biases of those who bring the good news: liberals, conservatives, feminists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, New Age people, Social Justice advocates, Opus Dei members, Charismatics.
The challenge is precisely to be open to the truth beyond labels, beyond our own temperament, beyond our circle of ideological intimates, and beyond what's prescribed for us as politically correct by either the left or the right.
Fr. Ron concludes with a story about a discussion at a dinner party where people were sharing their psychological and political labels. The discussion came round to one young woman who said: "I have an unlisted number!" So should we all.
WALKING THE LINE:Harriet Patterson writes in this week's Tablet about the poor working conditions in many Third World factories that produce electronic products such as laptop computers.
There has been a lot of debate on the Catholic blogs of late about the issue of globalization. We need to walk a careful line here. By the standards of these countries, these jobs--while low wage by our standards--are "good jobs" and have the potential to become better jobs. Without the ability to export manufactured goods, third world countries are unlikely to be able to generate enough economic growth to lift their people out of poverty.
On the other hand, they will only become better jobs if the workers have the ability to organize--both at a plant level and politically--to demand that the fruits of economic growth be justly shared. That is why it is quite reasonable for consumers to pressure companies here in the United States to pay greater attention to the labor practices of their suppliers, and for our government to look at the political and economic policies of the nations with which we trade.
As to the impact of trade here in the United States, one thing we have to remember is that technology has destroyed far more manufacturing jobs than trade, and will likely continue to do so. And of course, technology is a factor in the large number of high-tech jobs that have recently been outsourced to companies overseas. What jobs will Americans do in the future? Robert Reich reminds us that a quarter of Americans work in jobs that were not listed in Census Bureau's occupation codes in 1967. That doesn't mean all the new jobs are good jobs, or that we don't need to do more help Americans prepare for working in a globalized economy. But shutting the door to products made in the Third World is not the answer.
FASTING: As we edge closer to Lent, Eamon Duffy offers an eloquent defense of the traditional Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays. Duffy argues that the decision of the Bishops in the U.K. and United States to abandon the practice stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role that the Friday fast played in binding the Catholic community together:
Yet religious communities depend on the differentiation provided by such shared observances to sustain their identities. The long and noble pilgrimage of Israel through a multitude of cultures and times, without a temple, without a priesthood, has been possible, at least in part, because of the unifying and sustaining effect of their dietary laws. The Jews knew who they were because of what they did and did not eat. Christian fasting and abstinence did not, of course, spring from a ritual distinction between clean and unclean meats, but it was just as deeply embedded in theological conviction as the older dispensation. Its abandonment was not therefore a simple change in devotional habit, but the signal of a radical discontinuity in the tradition and a decisive shift in theological perception.
From time to time I have tried to get myself back into the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday or peforming some other appropriate penance. But I'm rarely able to sustain it for any length of time. I find it hard to work up a great deal of enthusiasm for a "choice" that only seems to affect me as an individual. I would rather participate in something that visibly binds me to my fellow believers. Give me common prayer before my own poor words.
GET ON THE BUS:Cardinal Mahoney has weighed in on the Southern California grocery workers strike as the strikers begin a bus tour to Northern California for a demonstration at the home of Safeway CEO Steven Burd. He penned a letter to Burd asking for him to "seriously reflect on the impact that medical cuts would have on employees and their families." Thanks to Bill Cork for the link.
GENERATION GAP?Newsweek has an interesting poll of younger voters (ages 18-29). Like all polls, I have questions about how certain populations (e.g. "white fundamentalists") were defined. But it's still worth reading.
Toward the end of this article, the author comments on the apparent liberalism of younger Catholics as compared with "Protestants" and "white fundamentalists." For example, on abortion, 52 percent of young Catholics believe abortion should be outlawed, compared to 55 percent of Protestants and 66 percent of "white fundamentalists." On Roe v. Wade, 59 percent of Catholics agree with the decision while only 53 percent of Protestants and 24 percent of white fundamentalists do so. The distinction is even more evident on same-sex marriage, with 58 percent of young Catholics supporting legalization, compared to only 38 percent of Protestants and 22 percent of white fundamentalists.
I have some problems with the way this is being reported, because I strongly suspect that the results for "white fundamentalists" (I really hate that term) are pulling the "Protestant" numbers up. Young Catholics are probably somewhat more conservative than their counterparts in mainline Protestant denominations.
Don't know what it all means or if it really means anything. But if younger Catholics are trending more liberal while younger seminarians are trending more conservative, Catholic parishes are going to be interesting places in the next few years...
My concern with the "new apologetics" is less elevated than Gaillardetz's and is illustrated by this quote from Patrick Madrid that appeared in Amy's comment boxes:
As an apologist, I have no presumptions -- zilch -- of somehow encroaching on the territory of the theologians. I respect and am indebted to the theologians (speaking here about those who are orthodox and faithful to the magisterium, not the Monika Helwig, Richard McBrien, Charles Curran, Rosemary Reuther rabble) for their teaching and expertise -- an expertise I don't have but from which I benefit.
Well I, for one, feel much less confident in my ability to simply write off these theologians and others like them as "rabble" from whom I can learn nothing. I certainly have my differences with each of them on some points. But I would note that when ecclesiastical authorities (the USCCB in the case of McBrien; the CDF in the case of Curran) criticized the works some of these authors, their tone was far more respectful than that of Mr. Madrid. Cardinal Ratzinger even speculated that part of his disagreements with Fr. Curran stemmed from the fact that Curran was more of a Thomist while Ratzinger was more of an Augustinian.
You can see the impact of attitudes like Mr. Madrid's by scrolling a few comments below his where another commenter lays into Fr. Thomas Rausch, suggesting that he has a typical "AmChurch takes on Ecclesiology and Moral Theology and allowed himself to be used as a willing shill for the typical and disgusting VOTF "survivor" freak show featured at this meeting." To my knowledge, Rausch has never been criticized by his bishop or by any legitimate ecclesiastical authority for his views. Yet now he is somehow suspect.
Cardinal Avery Dulles warned a few years ago about Catholic theologians setting themselves up as some kind of "alternative magisterium." I think that concern has some merit. But for all their protestations of loyalty, the new apologists and those that flock to them may be in danger of creating their own "alternative magisterium," by setting themselves up as authoritative interpreters of theological orthodoxy for a growing number of Catholics. I suspect that is not their intention; if so, they need to be a bit more careful.
The candidate who has been hurt most by Kerry's resurgence is Clark. Clark entered the race at a time when many Democrats were convinced that their leading candidate--Dean--was unelectable. Clark's strategy was to run as the anti-Dean. A lot of Democrats are clearly looking for an anti-Dean, but they are just as happy to back Kerry as Clark for that purpose. The ARG Tracking Poll has Kerry ahead of Clark in AZ, and both Edwards and Kerry ahead of Clark in SC. Again, this was before the NH primary. I wouldn't go so far to say that Clark would be mortally wounded if he didn't win Arizona, but he would definitely be bleeding heavily.
Edwards is kind of a wild-card. He's reportedly (I've never seen him) a brilliant campaigner who can electrify a room. Does he play it safe and try to consolidate his lead in South Carolina, or does he try to parlay his blue collar roots into a run at winning Missouri as well? Gephardt's endorsement (if he makes one) will probably be critical here, as will the endorsement of the labor unions who had previously backed Gephardt.
If I was Kerry, I'd go hard at Arizona and Missouri this week. Winning there will start the process of cutting off the oxygen to the Clark and Edwards campaigns. If I was Dean, I'd be all over Missouri, where the two big unions that have endorsed him--SEIU and AFSCME--are strong. He needs to puncture Kerry's balloon--quickly. Edwards has a tough call to make. He really has to win South Carolina to have any chance at all, but unless he can win something other than his home state soon after that he?ll have a hard time convincing Democrats he?s viable. And Clark? Back on the plane to Phoenix.
This thing is still very much in flux. Kerry has been down for so long his opponents had almost forgotten about him while Dean took most of the heat. That will change now. It should be an interesting week.
Man, it is so easy to fall off the wagon with this stuff...
CARRIED AWAY? Slate's Jack Shafer suggests that the NYT Magazine article on sex trafficking (blogged last Friday), may have exaggerated the scale of the problem. Shafer reads carefully, highlighting some potential problems with sourcing and statistics. Dan Radosh is also giving the article a careful review.
I'll admit that my initial horror upon reading the article led me to overlook some of these problems, so I'm thankful that Shafer and Radosh have taken the time to examine the claims of the article dispassionately. I'll be interested to see how the authors respond. You always have to be careful not to get so caught up in "big-t" Truth that you start cutting corners with "small-t" truth.
THIRD:AP reports that arsonists firebombed a Roman Catholic church near the Sri Lankan capital in the third attack on a Christian place of worship in this predominantly Buddhist country in two weeks. About 6 percent of Sri Lankans are Christians, and the Buddhist majority (70 percent) has been increasingly vocal in denouncing conversions to Christianity.
One thing that strikes me about the comments of Le Guin and her colleague is the absolute bedrock conviction that the progress toward social equality that women have made in the last three decades rests on a foundation of legalized abortion. I know a lot of women of Le Guin's generation--including my own mother--who passionately believe this. They are convinced that if abortion is recriminalized or significantly regulated, the economic and social gains that women have made will begin to melt away.
I suspect one of the reasons that younger generations may be more open to pro-life arguments is that, having grown up with it, they take social equality between men and women as a fact of life. Most women these days do not grow up assuming--as Le Guin did--that a certain way of life was only available to you if you married the right man.
The social injustice that women of Le Guin's generation faced was a wrong that needed to be righted. The question, of course, is whether decriminalizing abortion--and particularly the way it was done--was the only way to achieve that end, or whether we ended up trading one set of evils for another.
AN IMPROVEMENT:Commonweal has a new web page! A nice improvement over the old one, although it's still a bit boxy. But you can now link directly to posted articles. I think they should seriously consider a blog, a la Christianity Today or The New Republic.
In this week's issue, regular columnist John Garvey, an Orthodox priest, offers some thoughts on how we should read scripture and tradition in the light of contemporary controversies over human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Peter Feuerherd has a reasonably fair-minded profile of Chicago Cardinal Francis George.
RLP talks about how you start out with the best of intentions. You want to be “authentic,” you want to have real relationships with people, you want to know everyone’s name and everyone’s story. And it gets worse from there:
Finally, you decide that you want to love everyone, even the visitors. You watch the room to make sure that no one is left alone. You will drop anything to talk to anyone. All they have to do is call you, and everyone has your number. Love is the main thing, and you hope that God might seem real to people because your love WAS real to them.
You’re serious, too. Really. You’re not false about this stuff. You are a lot of things, but false and manipulative you are not. You don’t want money. You don’t want fame. You just want to make God happy and be there to help people on their journey to discovering God.
See how it happens? See? You’re going to be everyone’s servant, and your love will bring people back to God. Suddenly, you’re Jesus. You had the best of intentions, but good intentions don’t mean shit if you start thinking you’re Jesus.
It gets worse, of course, and eventually you are forgetting names, forgetting prayers. You’ve tried to love everybody but you’ve forgotten that no one can love everyone except the Almighty himself. RLP closes with some words that I may get tattooed on my inner eyelids someday:
You will love some people deeply. Others will receive lesser kinds of love. Some will get a handshake and a kind word. Their journeys are their own, and they may have to get what they need from someone else.
Love the ones you can. Touch the ones you can reach. Let the others go. If you run out of gas, sit down in the pew and point to God. That might be the greatest sermon you ever preach.
You can't love anyone until you understand that you can't love everyone.
I expect many preachers to use the examples within our first reading to say to their congregations: “The people of Israel, including the children old enough to understand, listened to Ezra from the early morning hours until the middle of the day. The least you people can do is to give me ten minutes of your attention.” Also, many preachers will complain, as I joked about at the end of Mass last Sunday, about people who can be expected to spend hours watching TV in preparation for the Super Bowl, but they won’t be able to concentrate for an hour on being in the presence of God. Pray for those preachers. Pray for those congregations, too.
According to historical studies, Ezra proclaimed the Law sometime around 430 to 450 years before Jesus was born. He did this within a century of the return of Israel from captivity in Babylon. The Temple and the city gates were restored roughly 60 years before this specific gathering at the Water Gate occurred. Ezra’s proclamation repeated history for the people of Israel because King Josiah read the Law to the people of Israel roughly 200 years before Ezra read the Law to the people. In the case of Josiah, a case we can read about within the Second Book of Kings, the Law of Moses was found in the Temple as if the people of Israel had been clueless about its contents for centuries. Josiah repeated to Israel what God had revealed to Moses upon Mount Sinai roughly 600 years before Josiah’s reading of the Law. In between the rule of Moses and Josiah, the Law had been forgotten.
As stated within Chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus, the people of Israel replied to Moses with one voice: “Everything that Yahweh has said, we shall do.” We don’t need to read many more chapters to see where these same people forgot the promise they made. They soon traded their promise for a golden calf. As stated within Chapter 23 of the Second Book of Kings, the people of Israel promised in accord with King Josiah to keep the covenant according to what was written in the Book of the Law. In response to Ezra’s proclamation of the Law, the community promised again to uphold the Law as can be read within Chapter 10 of the book of Nehemiah. Within the two centuries after Ezra proclaimed the Law to Israel, the people of the Covenant would be attacked and overpowered by the forces of Alexander the Great, by Egyptian Pharaohs, and by Syrians. Read the books of Maccabees so you can see how important it was for believers to uphold the Covenant.
Ezra’s proclamation of the Book of the Law of Moses could have simply caused the people to feel guilty about not following the Law as well as they should have done, but Ezra read what he read for the sake of giving his people strength rather than simply giving his people a verbal lashing. Certainly, he wanted his people to understand what had been ignored by present and past generations, but instead of threatening his brothers and sisters, he reminded them of the care God provides to all people who share in the Covenant. The people of Israel confessed their sins against God for the sake of sharing in His glory rather than simply because they feared his wrath. God wanted His people to be honest with their faults, but He also wanted them to be assured that He did not hold their faults against them if both their collective and individual repentance was honest.
We must be honest in recognizing that our heads can be as thick and our wills can be as selfish as those of any of the people of the Old Testament. Even after Jesus has come to us, preached the Good News, and saved us through his death and resurrection, we continue to promise to God that we are going to follow everything He has commanded of us. We can do this. It might sound impossible, but we can do this. We can do it only through His help. We can do it only by His grace. Our memories can fail us. Our wills can prevent us from making the good decisions we are able to make. But how good God is that He does not leave us alone. How good God is that He is abounding in mercy and kindness. Through such mercy, we can grow in understanding and ask God in our prayers as Saint Peter asked: “To whom could we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I pray we seek to follow those words so we can be more united each day with the Eternal Word.
Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastoral Administrator at Saint Joseph's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Cherokee, NC.