Thursday, January 29, 2015

Catholic means here comes everybody until... team is involved, and then it's us against the world.  E. J. Dionne, Jr., the Washington Post's Catholic political commentator, usually leans left on most issues, political and ecclesial.  He's also a dyed-in-the-wool New England homer and thus, despite all the attention paid to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Deflate-gate/Ball-ghazi, EJ's going with his boys, the Patriots.  Dionne in conclusion:

Do the owners of these teams exploit such feelings? You bet, which is why fans feel so outraged and betrayed when a team gets moved from one place to another. But is there anything intrinsically wrong with their loyalties, or with the admiration of fans for heroism in an athletic encounter involving “their” team? I don’t think so.

Given such strong sentiments, the people who own these teams have an obligation to stewardship that they don’t always discharge. Even as a profoundly loyal Patriots fan, I’d be upset if the team and the league simply threw a locker room attendant under the bus to get out of their problem. Loyalty runs both ways, and it most certainly extends to the locker room attendant. (And if he did deflate eleven balls in ninety seconds, he should have been in the Pro Bowl.)

But I know which side I’ll be on this Sunday, without any mental reservations. The Patriots, including the attendant, are my guys.

To be clear, I do not have a horse in Sunday's race/game.  Rather, it is important to note that Dionne, usually a voice of the calm, inculturated, progressivist branch of the American church, has openly declared, well, a side.  It seems out of character, although he's not alone.  Charlie Carmosy, one of the emerging theological voices on abortion and animal rights, teaches at Fordham and shamelessly sides with his Green Bay Packers.  And then there's Notre Dame--American Catholicism's favorite professional sports team.

What's interesting about all this is the American Church has made a point to eschew such parochialism.  The Church is universal, inclusive, and not, well, so limited.  And that is true--don't get me wrong.  However, when theologians and public critics like Dionne show their hand regarding their teams they are really indicating the humanity we all share.  Part of our life involves, and perhaps requires, particularity, identity, taking sides.  After all, Carmosy and Dionne and a whole host of Catholic bloggers and critics would readily embrace the Catholic label.  (That itself is instructive--and St. John Paul II contributed significantly to this perspective--being Catholic in the modern world necessarily involves particular ethical, spiritual, and communal choices.)  The Yale postliberal school--primarily Protestant but includes Catholic voices--would insert here comments based on George Lindbeck's notion of a cultural/linguistic model for religion.  To be "Catholic" means speaking the language and acting within Roman Catholic culture.

Theologically we know these choices quite possibly entail persecution and martyrdom.  And yet isn't that what faith is, or at least involves?  A willingness to risk the present for the (as yet unseen) future?  So perhaps it shouldn't surprise or offend us when some Catholics, given the opportunity, reveal themselves to belong a smaller, and in this case, more tightly-bound, community:  like-minded sports fans.  This is especially true when your team has the misfortune/providential gift of being the popularly reviled group.  Trust me--I get this for these guys and these guys. They're my teams...and they're not the usual "Catholic" teams.  That, in part, is what Dionne asks:  why can't I root for the team I like? Think about it: must we all still root for Notre every game?  What if you grew up loving the Minnesota Vikings?  Must you surrender your childhood for current theological tastes?

Because, basically, the theologically-attuned want instead to insist on universal good choices for all.  The Packers are the best NFL team because their community ownership model bucks the filthy-rich-guy owner stereotype.  The Red Sox are better than the Yankees because rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U. S. Steel (attributed to Joe Lewis or Bill Veeck).  Andrew Greeley lent his considerable powers to claim supporting the Cubs made better "Catholic" sense.  (To no avail:  the Cubs last won in 1908.  The Cardinals have won eleven--and lost eight--between 1926 and 2011.)  The question, though, remains:  when the game's over, will it be fair to apply Dionne's argument to more recognizably Catholic issues?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not Dead Yet

Rumors of this blog's disappearance have been greatly exaggerated.  Suffice to say, last month and the beginning of this proved to be busier than previously anticipated/expected.

But here we are.

So much to blog about:  Mario Cuomo's death (and his legacy as a Catholic politician), ISIS and Boko Haram, Charlie Hebdo, and the New England Patriots' deflated balls.  Meanwhile at the St Joseph's College theology blog I managed to put together this and this.

In the future look forward to posts about gender and identity in Catholic higher education as well as how Catholics have contributed to American notions of cheating and fair play.  (And still do-->Belichick and Brady are recognizably Catholic names, although any absence of Catholicity on their parts will be part of that story, too.)

And yesterday approximately 200,000 marched in Washington, DC on the 42nd anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Some day I will attend that. Until then, here was my office view of Albany's Western Avenue:

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, it's been a tough couple months.  That being said, St. John Paul II's "do not be afraid" and "never give up on hope" come to mind repeatedly throughout each day.  Regarding abortion, therefore, it helps to remember Richard John Neuhaus' exhortation "We shall not weary, we shall not rest."  Tolkien wrote about life's "long defeat" and at times everybody surely glimpses the enormity of time's extent and our correspondingly small blip within.  And yet, like Tolkien's hobbits, we do not and cannot give in.  The small and the small actions constitute the basis for conversion and continuity.  Thus Tolkien: Arwen faces the long defeat that we all, as fallen humans, will inevitably face: our death. But there is one final truth that balances our application of this idea, and it comes from Tolkien himself. "I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic," he writes in one of his letters, "so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat'—though it contains . . . some samples or glimpses of final victory."
And as Andrew Barber concludes: "We fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

martyrs, seeds of the Church...

Fran Szpylczyn reminds us of the four women killed in El Salvador thirty-four years ago today.  Strong stuff, especially the photo Fran places prominently atop the blog's post.  It's Advent--shouldn't we be celebrating barns and farm animals?  Y'know, good feelings????    Fran writes, "Ultimately, if you can’t stare at the Cross, deeply gazing at the Creche is not possible."

Exactly.  We celebrate the Creche because of the victory celebrated first in the Cross.  The women in El Salvador--whom Fran notes realized full well that staying in country would likely result in their deaths--understood this.  Part of Advent involves that same assessment.  Hence the waiting.

Read it all here.

clear thinking

Marking the season of Advent, Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher take apart "Mary, Did You Know?"  It's about time. One thing I wish Shea and Fisher would've mentioned:  effectively bad Marian theology leads to Nestorianism, a heretical splitting of Jesus' human and divine natures.  This amounts to a sloppy gnosticism wherein the divine exists alongside yet apart and thus unsullied by the human.  No.  "We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ..."  (And a good ecclesiology student would continue here:  that same one Lord founded _one_ church...)  Our salvation doesn't work with Nestorianism.

Another approach:  "Mary, Did you know?" captures one of Thomas Day's criticisms in his (now two decade old) seminal study Why Catholics Can't Sing:  contemporary Catholic music presumes a divine perspective wherein the singer (cantor, choir leader, or congregation) conveys a perspective only God would know.  Of course, though, there's no way--apart from revelation in Scripture--for us to know anything like that.  Thus Day's point:  apart from the aesthetics (which Day hammers), contemporary Catholic worship music is bad theology.  Mark Shea, having once been an Evangelical, knows the broader point: contemporary Christian music makes bad theology.  Thus his point.  They're both right.

Want to hear/appreciate the fuel for this fire:  Go here (sung by a popular singer, too!)  but do not blame me.  Do not let this meme happen to you.

H/T Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Forthcoming from the the Catholic Apostolate Center!  Great folks doing great work there.  Their webinars include:
The Family as Domestic Church: A Prophetic Witness Against Rugged Individualism
Edward J. Trendowski
Professor of Pastoral Theology, St. Joseph's College of Maine
November 25, 7:00pm EST
The recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family has garnered much attention. As a domestic church, a family can thrive when it is rooted in prayer and communal life, and when the family centers itself on the breaking of the bread (cf. Acts 2:42). The family can be a prophetic witness against the rugged individualism which is present all over the world. This webinar will focus on practical ways that a Catholic family can be a domestic church and also offer ideas for individuals to contemplate which deeply affect family life today.

Missionary Apostles for the 21st Century
Susan M. Timoney, S.T.D.
Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, Archdiocese of Washington
December 2, 8:00pm EST
Pope Francis wants a church of missionary disciples. Does that include you? Dr. Timoney will discuss the vocation and mission of the Laity in the work of evangelization as shaped by Evangelii Nuntiandi and Evangnelii Gaudium.

Monday, November 24, 2014

traveling show

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.  A wonderful place with wonderful people led by Monsignor James Shay, a dynamic young university president if there ever was one.

UMary invited me to speak about ecumenical dialogue in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenical dialogue. Here's a video of my morning convocation for the students.  After a lunch with the members of  the Christian Leadership Conference--an ecumenical group of Protestant clergy from the Bismarck/Mandan area, I then delivered a lecture that night further exploring ecumenical dialogue and the legacy of Pope Paul VI and Pope Francis.

It was an honor to visit UMary and deliver these talks, but it was especially inspiring and challenging to meet so many people committed to their faith and their education and/or ministry.  Recently First Things made mention of an ecumencial conference held at John Brown University in Arkansas.  UMary is another place where this important work--which admittedly sees its share of disagreements--goes on.  Christian unity is, along with works of mercy and evangelism, a primary concern of the Church.  I am grateful to UMary for the invitation to make a contribution!

Monday, November 17, 2014

25 years

Today's the 25th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuits and two of their staff in El Salvador. Here's a great blog tribute by my fellow Capital District Catholic blogger, Fran Szpylczyn.  Well worth the read.