Thursday, December 22, 2016

Meanwhile, slowly dissolving...

So everybody's down on 2016:  all the celebrities who have died, the Cubs won the World Series, and then there's that election thing.

But what really should be worrying us is the gradually expanding sense of despair, one that culminates in early death and suicide.  It's hitting middle-aged white women particularly hard.  Regional and socio-economic factors contribute, but one thing is clear:  the communal web or network that used to hold together communities has frayed and is snapping. The individualizing age of the smartphone has shown its downside--and therein people suffer, well, individually, i.e., alone. Hence suicide becomes not possible but perhaps preferable.  From the article Jennifer Silva, a sociologist from Bucknell University:

"People are trying to solve the crisis on their own. I see a lot of relying on the internet to try to treat, especially mental health problems. I had an older white woman who was suffering from self-diagnosed depression, but a few years later I learned she actually died of a brain tumour but she never went to a doctor because she couldn't afford it.
"[These people] are often not working, not in relationships, just not connected to any kind of social organisations. In this coal region there used to be a church on every corner and people would join together and socialise and exchange information, but now, most of those churches have closed down.
"We have a whole generation of people who are just in some ways wasted talent. There's a lot of suffering, a lot of desperation, fear, vulnerability, and hopelessness. They're not really sure how they can make a world better for their children and they feel very betrayed."

Read more here.

Monday, December 12, 2016

OKFIBAT: Trump presidency

OK, fine, I'll blog about this  over a month later....

So Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the US.

source: Business Insider
Image result for trump time magazine

Remember what I said about my inability to pick presidential elections?  Well, there you go...

What I find fascinating now--and have for the past month--is the range of postmortems.  How could this have happened?  Indeed, even on the election morning it was widely presumed that Clinton would roll to victory.  But then as the results came back, it first became clear that this would be closer than thought...and then the unthinkable became reality.  While watching the results, my phone kept buzzing with Twitter alerts.  Among them one friend, a Byzantine Catholic, sent at about 11 pm:

This is legit bananas.

Yeah, that pretty much covers it.  48 hours later, the shock still lingered.  Trump visited the White House to start the transition process, and it was clear the staffers had not quite accepted the news.

source: New York Times via Google

How about the woman third from left already tearing up and the glum faces all around?

How in the world did Hillary Clinton miss the equivalent of a two-foot lay-up?

Monday, November 7, 2016

No Easy Choices

I have a stellar record at choosing presidential elections. With two exceptions (Clinton in 1992 and 1996), I have voted for the LOSING candidate in every election since 1988.  Prior to that, when my political views closely resembled my parents' (as might be expected), the only bright spot was Carter's election in 1976.  You will note, therefore, that somewhere in the past two decades a political shift occurred on my part.  That's a blog post for another time.

So with that losing streak in mind, here is my endorsement for the 2016 presidency:

at least not Trump

That's about the best I can do.

Given the realities of American politics, not voting for Trump will have the effect--not the only one, but a significant one nonetheless--of supporting Hillary Clinton.  That is an unfortunate, but in this case unavoidable, reality.  Secretary Clinton's record contains several aspects which make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to recommend supporting her candidacy.  With any other candidate running against her it would be easy to recommend that other candidate.

That is not the election we face. The one we do face offers only poor and poorer choices.

So, cue the humor:
The Sweet Meteor of Death!
Sweet Meteor of Death 2016

Source: Imgur

There's a pretty funny Twitter feed for SMOD2016 here.  

Or...H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu!

Cthulhu for America
Source: Cthulhu4America (Twitter)

Or even:

Source:  Imgur

Monday, October 31, 2016

FWIW, blog acronyms

For What It's Worth...

occasionally issues emerge on which I'd like to comment, but only for one post.  Anything more seems to take a step towards that slippery slope and then this issue--which is passing--becomes THE.ONLY.THING.THIS.BLOG.IS.ABOUT.

Image result for blogging
source: Window Incident Response blog via Google

Thus:  TOTISSAT:  The Only Time I'll Say Something About This.

Fair warning:  I have been working on one such post for about two months.

Then there's:  "OKFIBAT": "OK, Fine, I'll Blog About This."  -- for those times when an issue, which once seemed a passing fad, has demonstrated some staying power.

Finally, WISWN:  What I'm Struggling With Now -- perhaps more self-explanatory, an occasional excursion into theological/spiritual conundrums still challenging us.  These pop up all the time.

These acronyms will also help categorize this blog's accumulating posts.  Can you believe it's been FOUR YEARS already?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On cue, somebody takes the bait

Wikileaks:  Here are some John Podesta emails.  Some of them involve plotting against the Catholic Church's teaching.

Some liberal American Catholics:  We.are.doubling.down.

source:  Google and Internet

That's right, in a hole and still digging.  Writing in Commonweal E. J. Dionne, Jr. asserts that it is actually those liberal American Catholics supposedly caught by the Wikileaks release fomenting change within the Church...those are the real good guys.  After all, they're the ones who really support Pope Francis.  Dionne:

Ironically, a “Spring movement” did arrive in the church—but from the top, with Pope Francis’s election in 2013. Also ironically: Many of the conservative Catholics inclined to denounce the Clinton camp have been critical of Francis—it gives new meaning to the term “more Catholic than the pope”—while more liberal Catholics like Podesta have championed him.

and then in conclusion:

The factual bottom line is that in private correspondence, the two Clinton campaign officials said nothing anti-Catholic, although they did not reproach the critical comments of their friends.
As a progressive Catholic myself, here are the lessons I draw.
Liberals are free to criticize religion in general or particular religions, but they should resist casual put-downs of Catholics and Christians that they’d condemn if they were directed at other faiths.
Conservatives in the Catholic hierarchy need to pay attention to Pope Francis and ponder the high costs of tying a church with a rich tradition of social teaching to the right end of politics.
Finally, this episode is part of an ongoing argument among more liberal and more conservative religious people, and it will long outlast this election.
Read it all here.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Light of the Righteous

Rabbi Jacob Neusner died Saturday, October 8.  The American Academy of Religion, which Neusner served as President in 1969, posted a lengthy memorial written by Aaron Hughes, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Rochester.

Hughes concludes: "Zekher tzadik livrakha. May the memory of the righteous be a blessing."  Amen.

Read it all here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Did They Really Think That Would Work?

OK, so a couple recent posts have staked out the reasons for not supporting Donald Trump's campaign.  There has been one reviewing an article criticizing Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine.  Now it's time to heave a few large stones at the Democrats generally.  Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know


Not only that but Democratic party leaders created their own Catholic advocacy groups to foment their changes from within the Church.  Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good?  Yep.  Catholics United? Yep, them, too.  

Let's repeat that:  these groups were created to bring about change within the Catholic Church--changes that corresponded nicely to mainstream Democratic Party politics.

Let that sink in. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Finitude Strikes Again

So about eighteen months ago I blogged about Indiana and its governor, Mike Pence.  In 2010 then U.S. Congressman Pence had been the only Republican, House or Senate, to attend the Faith & Politics Institute's annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama.  I mentioned all this because, at the time, Pence was cast as one-dimensional, cardboard reactionary.  I haven't lived in Indiana since 1991, so I am neither a supporter nor critic of Pence.  I simply thought the then-descriptions of him were woefully incomplete.

Well, since then, obviously, Pence has become Donald Trump's vice-presidential candidate and therein lies the problem.

We are all human.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Paging Julian Felsenburgh

Blogger note:  Just recently this blog took on discrepancies between Tim Kaine's political stances and his affirmation of his Catholic faith.  This post, working from material composed earlier this year, provides balance with a critical view of the Trump campaign.

Robert Hughes Benson's Lord of the World.  Folks, you need to read this book.  It matters not that the book was published in 1907, the same year as St. Pius X's Pascendi, five years before the Titanic sank, seven years before Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Ferdinand, thirty-two years before Hitler invaded Poland.  The novel features euthanasia, the loss of religious liberty, anti-Catholicism (because they're two different things), globalization, total war, martyrdom, demagoguery, and the miraculous.

Bradley Birzer, author of illuminating studies of Christopher Dawson and Tolkien, earlier this year  posted this brief article at The Imaginative Conservative.   I myself was reminded about Benson and this particular novel by this Crux article by John Allen, Jr.  Both Benedict XVI and Francis have recommended the book.  Benson (1868-1914), whose father had been Archbishop of Canterbury, was a celebrity convert and priest.  Once quite popular among English-reading Catholics, his reputation has vanished since the Second Vatican Council.

Lord of the World follows the parallel trajectories of Father Percy and his doppelganger, Julian Felsenburgh, a senator from Vermont (no, I am not making that up) who is clearly the anti-Christ.  Secularism has pushed all religion to the fringes as the masses chose instead this world's pleasures (euthanasia and what amounts to physician-assisted suicide are readily available).  Only Rome the city itself resists as it has, through international treaty, become the sole earthly haven for Catholics.  Martyrdom awaits any Catholic who dares declare the Faith openly.  Meanwhile a worship of divinized earthly powers spreads like wildfire.  Amassing this new awakening, and yet remaining above it all, stands Julian Felsenburgh.  Traveling across the world at record speeds, Felsenburgh successfully unites the entire planet, save Rome, under one government.   Meanwhile, Father Percy sees his clerical friends lose their faith and the Church lose even what little it retains on earth.  The impending victory of Felsenburgh's atheist materialism seems complete.  The conclusion, though, must be read all the way to its very last words.  No spoilers here.
(Pic credits:  Ave Maria Press & Wikipedia)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

That Ain't What The Word Means

Shaking off the dust on this blog.  My apologies for the lack of output;  it's been a very busy time.

And right when all the great blogging issues come before us:  the election, baseball postseason, Pope Francis' in-air press conferences, football, the start of a new semester...

All of that will receive due consideration.  This Wall Street Journal op-ed by William McGurn, though, merits a quicker response.  Mainly because it lays out clearly, that for all the reasons why Donald Trump is not a fit candidate--let alone acceptable choice--for the Presidency, and all the reasons casting doubt on Hillary Clinton's candidacy, one of the real problems is actually Virginia Senator Tim Caine, Clinton's vice-presidential candidate.  Look up "devastating take-down" and you'll find this post.

When he walks onstage Tuesday night for this year’s vice-presidential debate, the junior senator from Virginia will carry with him a résumé that shouts respectability. ...
In sum, Mr. Kaine is a garden variety Catholic Democrat of the early 21st century. In this capacity, the orthodoxies that now define his party and might once have disturbed a practicing Catholic bother him not at all. These include abortion on demand, underwritten with taxpayer dollars.
In some ways Mr. Kaine’s rise represents the yielding of the old pro-choice Catholic Democrat represented by Mario Cuomo—“I am not implying that we should stand by and pretend indifference to whether a woman takes a pregnancy to its conclusion or aborts it” said he at Notre Dame in 1984—to the brave new world where son Andrew Cuomo says that those who oppose abortion “have no place in the state of New York.” Whatever else this is, it marks a comedown from the high hopes of liberal American Catholicism in those heady days before JFK became the first Catholic president.
We have heard this before.  Kaine embodies the "Cafeteria Catholic" approach so loved in America:  I'll have some of that liturgy, a big serving of spirituality, a sprinkling of Mary, but no thanks, none of that pro-life stuff.  I'm trying to cut back.  All the while Kaine touts his "Catholic" identity.  To which McGurn and everybody else responds:

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Studying History Gets Messy

And maybe that's all right.  The problem is that we need to keep digging into our own pasts--individual and collective--to (re)discover the foundations of the self and community...and how those stand themselves atop other foundations, things we did not see at the time.

For example, growing up in small Midwestern towns meant enduring poppy Rod Stewart songs like this:

Ah yes, the hair, the overproduction, the same time that produced Starship's "We Built This City," arguably the worst pop song ever.  Downtown Train captures that same time; saccharine tunes song by aging rock stars.  This is why we listened to Def Leppard and Motley Crue.

Then lo, while digging around Bruce Springsteen songs I discovered.... "Downtown Train" by its original creator, gravel-voiced Tom Waits.  Listen and prepare to be shocked.

Those who listened to music like Waits', of course, already knew this...but that's not the point.  They're not "right" so much as the neatly-packaged Stewart remake aptly suited the slick, overproduced 80s decade in which it appeared.  Waits' original harkens to an earlier, edgier time, and certainly a rougher experience of urban America.  Waits fans will probably balk at that, wanting some thing deeper, but that's least for now.

There are other examples that could be discussed here, but the point is that studying history, even when it's the history of Christianity, can lead to similar discoveries of the rougher, edgier Church.  One course this semester is doing just that and is just now running aground of the great Christological debates from Nicea to Chalcedon as well as the great martyrologies prior to Constantine's conversion.  For unreflective undergraduates or naively devout evangelical Protestants this history--rooted as it is in real places and real people--presents some messy, unavoidable realities. The slick, easy, saccharine story they've been fed previously about Jesus, Christianity, and the Church simply does not hold up to the historical record. I know about this because, as blogged here over the past four years, I went through roughly the same experience.  So hopefully they will enjoy a resurrection of sorts in the semester, witnessing how the Gospel spread throughout the world, formulating the foundations of Christian belief as it went.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Push in the Right Direction

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day commemorated by entering religious orders (and anniversaries thereof) and a round of Marian piety in the Catholic social media universe. The Gospel today features the Magnificat, a wonderful prayer in its own right, and today a reminder of the personal particularity through which the Christian faith comes.  

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Through Mary God accomplished the salvation of the world.  And through Mary the Christian tradition's penchant for antitriumphalism and unmerited grace see its first and greatest exemplar.  The Marian charism, especially with Pope Francis' support, will remain a revitalizing force within the Church.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

backing off...a cliff

While saying Mass late last month, Father Jacques Hamel was murdered by two jihadists.  And already some of the Catholic world wants to, whoa, pull back the reins because y'know, celebrating "martyrdom" comes too close to the jihadists themselves.

Allen Jacobs:
But worse than the incoherence is this: the question of whether Fr. Hamel isgenuinely a martyr is one that Vallely desperately wishes to avoid. For him, the Church is not to acknowledge its martyrs unless such acknowledgment serves what Vallely believes to be the proper political calculation of the moment. For him this is the key: “we must resist the notion that a fundamental clash of civilizations is the issue.” Nothing can be done that stands a chance of feeding a political narrative which Vallely finds tasteless. Thus: “The real problem is the pathology of a perverse minority of extremists with distorted notions of holy war and martyrdom.” Ah yes, the real problem at last! This is moral equivalence at its most loathsome: those who would seek Fr. Hamel’s canonization are morally indistinguishable from his murderers, because both belong to that “perverse minority of extremists with distorted notions of … martyrdom.”
So let not the Church call its martyrs martyrs, lest by doing so she fall into “extremism.” Let not the ancient commitment to honor the martyrs of Christ get in the way of political convenience. 

Read all of Jacobs' criticism here.

Jacobs is exactly right here and, ya' gotta admit it, part of this reticence he targets comes from the Catholic tradition itself. Or at least an interpretation of the tradition.

It's also, and this is where, if not already, I lose friends on the Left, part of the New York Times worldview:  one where moral individualism reigns supreme and any claim that restricts or denies that is anathema. Furthermore, the NYT appreciates culture and learning, but only insofar as they uphold the a priori moral individualism.  So something as grotesque and bloodily real as "martrydom"--by anybody--must be held at arm's length.  It's easy to do this with ISIS-martyrs, but when Roman Catholic Christianity--that tradition from which the ersatz NYT worldview itself grows (and from which it, the NYT, has long since severed itself)--then distinctions and clarifications must be made.  The last thing the NYT wants is for any of its oh-so-smart readers to be something other than itself.  If the NYT itself challenges, well, that's fine.  But gads, not that Catholicism stuff...again.

And throughout that little rant you probably could substitute "liberal middle-to-upper class and their progressive friends." This worldview encompasses most of liberal mainstream Protestantism and not a few swaths of liberal American Catholics.  This group still insists that "embracing the world" requires first bracketing one's own beliefs.  So, if we're confronted with ISIS and we want their religiously-infused violence to stop (a worthy desire!), then, in this worldview, we throttle back first on our own views.  With Father Hamel, that means toning down all this martrydom stuff.

There are many responses ("You're just plain wrong" comes to mind), but Karl Barth has a good one:


There, that wasn't so hard, was it?  Instead of backing up, start first with statement of belief, a credo.  Then, as William Placher wrote in 1989, proceed unapologetically. Stop seeking prolegomena;  you'll never find a universal common ground that includes virtually everybody.  Proceed instead with the Church's beliefs and the given issue at the time.  In doing so you won't insult your dialogue partner, either.  Let's be honest, ISIS' notion of "dialogue" is "convert to Islam." That's just as unhelpful as the NYT worldview.  For example, one of best known images of Father Hamel (seen above) came from a Muslim artist in France.  Hey, that's real interreligious dialogue; the recognition and appreciation of the other's views without sacrificing your own.  

Because if you start with an apology as so many of our cultural elites want, we'll end up with no ground on which to stand.  We'll have backed ourselves off a cliff.

Meanwhile, pray for the respose, and intercession, of Father Hamel and all holy martyrs.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Between Jest and Earnest: Remember When Catholics Were The "Political Proble...

Between Jest and Earnest: Remember When Catholics Were The "Political Proble...:

Great recent post by my good friend, Art Remillard from Pennsylvania's Saint Francis University.  In musing on Paul Blanshard's American Freedom and Catholic Power (1949), Remillard traces the ascendency of American Catholicism's rise over narrow-minded concerns.  Powers which, Remillard notes, wielded considerable political and social power (e.g., Norman Vincent Peale).

And it turns out the lesson has been short-lived. Nowadays some American Catholic leaders espouse views that appear identical to what was once voiced against Catholicism itself.  Thus Remillard:

But one thing is for sure: Catholics have changed the face of America. And America has changed Catholicism too, by, among other things, giving some among them a very short memory.

That's a powerful conclusion, and he is not wrong.  This is, in part, why the 1960s saw counter-cultural Catholic celebrities like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton emerge (something Remillard notes and which, by the time it happened, indicated that "the moment" had actually already passed).  Although he does not state it, I do think Remillard's point about short Catholic memories could be applied to other Catholic cultural situations, not just political ones.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

St. Ignatius' Heavily-Used Cookbook -or- Ignatian Reflections Part 1

Today is the Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), one of my favorite saints and the focus of much reflection in American Catholic education. This attention surfaced as a result of Vatican II's call for religious orders to recover a sense of their roots.  In the United States, no religious order has a bigger footprint--albeit not the oldest--in Catholic higher education than the Society of Jesus.  Thus this year starts off what hopefully will be an annual tradition of Ignatian reflections on the spiritual sub-universe within Roman Catholicism that is "the Jesuit tradition."  With that in mind, here's my first take, my latest at the St. Joseph's Theology blog.  Please enjoy and share!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Marian path to Christian Environmentalism

A recent post detailed some Trinitarian foundations for Christian environmentalism.  The very creedal profession of the Trinity--not just that we believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--but how we state those beliefs, all of which illuminate the Trinity's creative relationships suggests a renewed appreciation for the world itself but importantly how we care for it, too.

Confession time:  that post came about through reflecting on the Creed as it kickstarts the Rosary, usually as I drove to work through the geological oddity of eastern upstate New York, Albany's Pine Bush.  Google images montage here;  lots of scrubby pines and sandy soil, much of which now lies underneath sub/urban development and, problematically, the area's largest landfill.  Still, much natural beauty lies within, as this cathedral-like trail attests.

Anyway, the point: the Trinitarian foundations for viewing the environment come to us, in this case, through the Rosary, that most Marian and Roman Catholic of prayers.

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

I suppose the easy route would be to draw an analogy between the Blessed Mother's fertility celebrated by the prayer and the fertility of the natural world itself.  While superficially helpful, such a connection might obscure deeper, more authentic and vital, relationships.  After all, the Catechism (#773) asserts that the Church's Marian charism--its interior holiness--precedes the Petrine, the external, authoritarian charism.  Keep that in mind whenever you hear complaints about Vatican intrusiveness or the Church's unwillingness to change or the old canard "I'm spiritual but not religious."  Because of Mary, the Church is spiritual before it is "religious," and so, too, is the natural world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reaching peak idiocy

Yes, things are that bad.  How do we know?  Because there's a college professor in New York who's sired twenty-two children.  Yep, 22.  He's fielded a football game--not just one team of eleven.

Here's the catch:  he clearly feels no compunction about it.

For lesbian couples and single ladies looking to have a baby without the expense of going through a sperm bank (which can run in the thousands of dollars), he’s the No. 1 dad.

His oldest child, now 12, was conceived with a woman he was in a committed relationship with, but all of his offspring since, he says, have resulted from his donations.“This isn’t time-consuming, and I’m doing it anyway,” he says of his hands-on hobby. “It’s very easy for me to do.”

About half the time, he provides his seed the old-fashioned way. Sometimes, a lesbian looking to conceive will have her partner in the bed for moral support while she and Nagel engage in intercourse.
“She’s never slept with a guy before, so the partner’s in bed, holding her hand,” Nagel explains. “Sometimes, it could be a little painful, then after a few times, they’re comfortable to do it on their own.”
Other times, he supplies his goods in a cup, which he prefers.
“I’m not doing it for easy action,” Nagel says. “Isn’t that what Tinder is for?”
He often uses public bathrooms, like those at Target and at Starbucks shops, to procure his samples and hand them off to ovulating women.
“You don’t want to do it in one where people are knocking,” he notes.

Once again, cue the AFLAC duck:

I would say "Theology of the Body to the Rescue!", but I wonder if that might be like trying to feed a starving man an entire beef Wellington with a Caesar salad and a fine Burgundy.  Maybe something a bit simpler is better.  Part of the problem is the story itself, written cheekily e.g., "his hands-on hobby."  Mostly, though, it's the man himself and a culture that has so thoroughly mechanized and depersonalized sex--did you catch the part where he impregnates one lesbian while her partner sits nearby holding her hand?--that the expected reaction is merely "...meh."  We're not supposed to care at all.  Love wins, after all.  This is why Carl Trueman writes that we have unchained the earth from the sun.  How could there not be consequences?

Thank God for His Mercy.  The inability of creation to merit grace need look no further than 2016 America for overwhelming evidence. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Light in the East

Over the almost four years of this blog it's been a gift to see the number of readers from eastern Europe and Russia. Poland and Ukraine seem to generate the most hits, but Romania appears frequently, too.  With that in mind, rousing cheers for eastern Christianity!

St. John Paul II's pontificate (1978-2005) sparked a renewal in East-West Christian dialogue, and something similar will emerge from the eastern Church's struggles under ISIS and the broader Islamic resurgence.  May our Christian sisters and brothers in the East pray for, and continue to inspire, us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Spiritual Veganism

In an ongoing attempt to hash out some of this blog's animating ideas, a few words on spiritual diabetes' inverse:  spiritual veganism.

Type II diabetes, recall, generally emerges as a result of overconsumption.  Veganism, on the other hand, is a dietary lifestyle predicated on restrictions, namely the prohibition of animal products whatsoever.  So, vegetarians don't eat meat; vegans likewise abstain but also forgo honey, butter, eggs, cheese, etc.  And many ideological vegans extend their abstinence to apparel (e.g., no leather) and lifestyle (so, I'm guessing, no football?).

Now, the following is not an indictment of either Type II diabetes or the vegan lifestyle.  (Vegan cookbooks nowadays demonstrate handily that "vegan" food cannot be equated with "boring.")  I do, though, think those dietetically-related issues provide great analogies for discussing American spiritual choices and world views.  Hence this blog.  The diabetic condition centers on consumption:  overconsumption and then, following diagnosis, a program of perhaps restructured consumption.  Spiritually speaking I think this appears in places like victorious political campaigns (which feast, after long work periods, on the fruit of their labor), championship sports seasons ("WE finally won..."), and, on an individual level, the willingness to interpret every material gain or possession as some sign of divine blessing and favor.

The vegan condition takes a different path.  The reward here seems to come from the results of not consuming; thin (emaciated?) body and pride in having overcome one's dietary demons.  Spiritually speaking, this brings its own pride and self-congratulatory world view.  Almost a decade ago I wrote the following:

'However, like its dietary counterpart, this appears quite heroic and wins a few, hyper-zealous converts, but really offers no solution at all.  Instead of extolling spiritual consumption, spiritual vegans—much like their dietary counterparts—refuse any “product” that bears the taint of the pedestrian, suburban, or mass culture.  Obviously a certain elitism functions here, and quite openly so.  A 2002 Washington Post columnist once referred to vegans as “the Hezbollah of the vegetarian world”, and there’s some truth to that.  Vegans really do believe that their dietary radicalism not only effectively combats the culture of death surrounding the American diet, but also that only through such extremism does one really enjoy any chance at survival.  In other words, “eat like us or die!”  

I still stand by that.  The spiritual diabetic stands, bloated and yet never quite full, looking for the next spiritual meal or snack: another prayer, new contemporary worship and praise music, gothic nostalgia, a new spiritual advice book, whatever. (Quite frankly, I wonder if this entire blogosophere-social media-Twitter-Facebook world is a shining example!)  Originally I conceived "spiritual vegans" effectively to be the emerging "nones" -- folks without any religious inclinations whatsoever.  More and more, though, I'm wondering if the vegan mentality can actually inhabit quite successfully a quite conscientiously spiritual mindset.  In other words, like the dietary vegans these spiritual counterparts limit their spiritual consumption to only a few "pure," "compassionate" sources and then condemn the rest as unhealthy.  No, spiritual vegans aren't Protestants.  The sources are instead worldviews and cultural perspectives that, to the vegans, seem unassailable...and thoroughly life-sustaining.  In fact, what's pushed my thinking towards this reconsideration has been the Catholic theological establishment.  And like the critic of vegans, who looks at an array of vegetables and non-animal recipes, I want to ask several of my colleagues:  "Is that all we really have to live on?"  On this the day after the 2012 election, obviously, the victors can point to their results. Still, should the successes of one particular diet become the consumption platform for us all?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

in today's show: convenience

Shot: Euthanasia helps those suffering.  End a life before it becomes a life filled only with suffering.

Chaser:  We, the ones in power, and the not suffering, will be the ones determining what "suffering" is.  This is the nasty reality underlying the recent movie Me Before You.  The culture now tells itself that enabling a loved one to die is actually the humane thing to do because, well, we wouldn't want to live as they do.  Besides, health costs are, well, expensive.

There is pushback, thank God. After all, when the physically-challenged themselves speak, they often express the same desire for life the rest of us seek.  Why do we want them dead?


Photo courtesy Aleteia post by Ella Frech--keep riding!

The Church's Gospel of Life, of course, combats (peaceably!) this seductively corrosive and self-applied secular acid.  Life, a complex mystery given by the loving God, involves the capacity for equally stupefying heights and lows.  St. John Paul II embodied the path he showed the rest of us, a path given him and us by Jesus:  love.

The New York Catholic Conference thus maintains its opposition to physician-assisted suicide.

Given today’s aging population, the significant spike in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the increasing evidence of elder abuse, and the escalation of health care costs, the risks of coercion and abuse are very real.
New York State rightly spends millions of dollars each year in efforts to prevent suicide. There are suicide hotline numbers, anti-bullying campaigns, programs to recognize suicidal symptoms and government-sponsored signs that read “Life Is Worth Living.” Legalizing assisted suicide would send an inconsistent message by saying that some lives are not worth living. This double standard would be based entirely on disability, as patients fear “losing autonomy” or “being a burden” to others because of their disabilities from terminal illness.
Lifting New York’s ban on assisted suicide would provide a deadly, unnecessary option to patients, many of whom legitimately fear pain, depression and abandonment. These persons can be significantly helped through pain relief, palliative care, the hospice environment and compassionate loving care.

In a nutshell, the convenience of physician-assisted suicide, or any other form of euthanasia with even fewer restrictions, should be resisted.  It is convenient only when we are the ones in power.  Once the tables are turned, when we are the ones in need of care, we hope those then in power act with compassion, not convenience.  But then it will be too late, because then our own lives won't be the ones worth living--and that's a recognition none of the euthanasia-supporters want to confront.  Their lives will always be worth living;  it's always somebody else's life that's inconveniently long.  The Sheriff in Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men captured it this way:

I dont like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.”

Exactly.  Some day that empowered call you so desire will be turned against you...and then what?

St. John Paul II and the Catholic social justice tradition do not want to end the conversation so much as to infuse end-of-life decisions--another reality we must face--with love and justice for all involved, not just those who temporarily hold the reigns of cultural and personal power. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Saint Anthony of Padua, My Favorite Saint

Saint Anthony of Padua, My Favorite Saint:

Saint Anthony Basilica and Tomb

Photo courtesy Virginia Lieto

Virginia Lieto's post recalling her visit to St. Anthony's basilica in Padua, Italy.  Touching the tomb, Lieto recalls, was transformative:

As I touched the cold stone slab, I felt this surge of energy flow through my veins. It was so warm, and filled with love – I didn’t want to let go!!!! Ever!!!! I started to cry; no, make that sob; so much so, that I had to let go to blow my nose. I then touched the tomb once more, and again I felt that wonderful feeling. Was it a piece of Heaven residing in temporal form on earth? I’m not sure. All I can say is that it was a wonderful experience for me. What made it an extraordinary experience is what happened next.
After we left the Basilica, we journeyed across the street to have lunch at an outdoor café. I felt compelled to share my experience with my husband, Nick, if only to explain why I was sobbing in the Basilica. When I told him what happened, he simply said to me, “I felt it too.” That sent chills done my spine on a warm summer’s day in an Italian outdoor café.
God sends us miracles of His presence every day, if we are open to receiving them, and willing to use our eyes of faith. Saint Anthony helped me to find something that day, as he is so well known for finding things that are lost. Saint Anthony helped me to find Christ’s peace, a peace that continues to reside within me to this day. Thank you Saint Anthony! Happy Feast Day!
I'm glad Virginia wrote this.  Hey, sometimes God reaches us where we are...and sometimes we find God waiting for us...and thus his reach surprises and refreshes all the more.  Sometimes this occurs through locations themselves, sometimes through the saints, and, as Virginia blogs here, sometimes through a saint's particular location.  And it is miraculous.

Follow Virginia's blog for quick, clear doses of Catholic spirituality and, importantly, reflections on the virtues.  Her children's book Finding Patience will charm young readers in your family.

Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral | ChurchPOP

Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral | ChurchPOP

Chad Bird's post on ChurchPOP makes for fun reading about that which we all fear:  funerals.  Like other life celebrations--weddings, graduations--these events have become so scripted and filled with bland assurances that the events--as rituals--have been drained of meaning.  No wonder Donald Trump is doing so well in general election polls:  all the institutions that once underwrote American cultural meaning(s) have been shown to be unloyal, unworthy of trust, and quite corrupt in themselves.  So why not bet all the money on something new that promises a fix?  (That, btw, is a great story in itself; read that here.)

not my image--from the internet

So do funerals matter?  Absolutely--and not, as the old saying goes, for the living only.  The dead, Bird reminds us, still care.  Bird:

 They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral. And, truth be told, I think the dead do care. Not that they will be privy to the details of what happens at their own funerals, but they still care about the world, about their family, about the church. The saints in heaven continue to pray for those who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, so how could they not care about them?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Does Nice Deliver the Goods?

Leo Durocher said it--or something close to it:  "Nice guys finish last."

Here's Leo managing the New York Giants at Braves Field in Boston, perhaps August or September in the 1948 season.  source: Creative Commons

Machiavelli recognized the conundrum five centuries earlier:  you get better results once you learn to appear to be good and religious.  People who actually are good and religious usually get clobbered.  (See Chapter XVII.)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot

So Donald Trump clinched the GOP nomination today.  This startling reality--because let's face it, who foresaw this back in December 2015?--reminded me of an article earlier this month wherein Peter Wolfgang took a stab at reading the "Why did Trump win?" tea leaves.  Wolfgang first address some clear points:

The first theory is that Donald Trump is popular among religious voters because other things have replaced religious belief as a motivating factor for how people vote, even for religious people. And the dwindling number of Republican voters who do still oppose Donald Trump out of religious conviction can expect the right to turn on them with a vengeance.
The second theory is that Donald Trump’s popularity among religious voters is confirmation of Ross Douthat’s thesis that we have become “a nation of heretics,” not in the classic Protestant vs. Catholic sense, but in the sense that much of what we call Christianity in America—whether Protestant or Catholic, liberal or conservative—has ceased to be Christianity in even a bare bones C. S. Lewis/Mere Christianity way. By this reading, the New Age-y or Prosperity Gospel ideologies in our churches have diminished our powers of discernment and softened us up for Donald Trump.
I am sympathetic to this view, but there are some important signs that contradict it. Douthat has a whole chapter against Glenn Beck, for instance, and Beck is actually the last man standing against Donald Trump in Conservative Big Media. And I am not aware of a single Catholic equivalent to, say, Trump supporter Jerry Falwell, Jr. Many Catholics do support Trump but I cannot name a single prominent Catholic leader who supported Trump prior to his becoming the presumptive nominee.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In Pius IX's footsteps

This past Friday, May 13th, was the 224th birthday of Blessed Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Mastai-Ferretti), Bishop of Rome from 1846 until 1878.  In a bizarre string of coincidences, the likes of which religion geeks like me love and everybody else (perhaps wisely) just overlooks, May 13th is also:
*  the anniversary of the Blessed Mother's appearance to the children at Fatima, Portugal (1917)
*  the birthday of Peoples Temple founder, Jim Jones (1931-1978)--yes, the purple Kool-Aid guy
*  the 35th anniversary of the attempted assassination of St. John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Agca.

The Fatima and assassination events are connected.  We now know that St. John Paul, as his driver whisked him away to the hospital, uttered "And now we see the Third Secret of Fatima revealed...", referencing the three messages Our Lady revealed to the three children in May 1917.  The third secret, revealed only in 2000, included a vision of white-clad bishop being murdered amidst a crowd. John L. Allen, Jr. notes that St. John Paul firmly believed Our Lady of Fatima altered the shot's trajectory and saved his life.  Agca's bullet now resides in the crown of Our Lady's statue in Fatima itself.  Allen:

Consider the worldview at work here: John Paul II was profoundly convinced that on May 13, 1981, the Virgin Mary altered the flight path of a bullet in order to keep him alive and, in so doing, to preserve his papacy.
If you genuinely believe that Mary interceded with God in order to suspend the laws of physics to keep you in office, then you never just wake up one morning and decide you’ve had enough.
Recall that John Paul II, even before the assassination attempt, regarded his papacy as belonging to Mary, not to him, as expressed in his motto Totus Tuus, “Entirely Yours,” a line drawn from the spiritual works of Saint Louis de Montfort.
If ever the pontiff would have concluded that Mary had put an exclamation point on her rights of ownership, the day of the assassination attempt certainly was it.
In other words, John Paul II simply did not believe it was up to him to decide when it was over.
Read all of Allen's piece here.

The profundity of St. John Paul's faith and his mystical-eschatological view of human history, including his own life (something Allen details in the post linked), stem from his own foundations in Marian piety and thus the Rosary.  That is something St. John Paul's predecessors, particularly Pius IX and Leo XIII, knew quite well.  Leo wrote twelve encyclicals on the Rosary alone.  Pius' Marian devotion was perhaps a bit more embodied.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee

Blessed are you among women

and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners,

now and at the hour of our death.

So that's Pius IX praying at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

This week…in Indiana Catholic history

This week… in Indiana Catholic history.

Do not overlook the Hoosier State.  Besides being home to my beloved Wabash College and another, slightly younger, institution of higher learning better known in Roman Catholic circle, Indiana figures prominently in American--and American Catholic--history.  This blog recounts anniversaries this week of  those events.

Friday, May 6, 2016

So that New Evangelization We've Discussed...

OK, first, I have been nagging Tommy Tighe to create "Catholic GIFs" to accompany the already smashing great work by Catholic Memes and Eye of the Tiber.  Great, funny, theologically-sophisticated work being done by all three...and it'll get even better when Tighe unleashes "Catholic GIFs."

Until then, though, the New Evangelization is doing quite well, thank you.  It appears in places familiar--like religious orders--with a new spirit (which, when you think about it, you'll realize it's actually the [same] Holy Spirit) and some new tunes.  So consider this:

Yes, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal...with basketballs.

Some of the more sophisticated readers might think "well, they're mendicants so perhaps all that motion is vocational...part of their charism."  That's correct but then consider this  from Conception Abbey in Missouri.  Benedictines channeling NWA, y'all.  There are many things to bemoan in this world (Trump GOP candidacy, anyone?), but there are also signs of light among the darkness.  And these young religious inspire the laity to pursue their own vocations in the world.  And thus evangelization continues.