Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ralph McInerny by Ellen Rice

Ellen Rice says:

My first acquaintance with Ralph McInerny was not with him personally, but with a curious fairy tale, “The Frozen Maiden of Calpurnia,” published by Juniper Press back when I was in grade school. I remember the important moral of the story, “Many are cold, but few are frozen.” My second acquaintance was, also as a child, reading his book on miracles, which overcame my fifth grade intellectual skepticism about signs and wonders. Never did I dream that this Renaissance (or rather, Medieval) man would become my teacher, the person who best taught me the Catholic faith, and a wonderful boss-- indeed, the last boss who has ever given me a $500 Christmas bonus every year just for existing. Or rather, because he believed in Christmas and still believed in what the world calls fairy tales… or what the faithful call miracles.

As a boss, he was a great inspiration because he went to Mass every lunch but didn't make his staff go or pry into anyone's spirituality. He taught, but he didn't harangue. He believed he was witnessing a miracle at Mass and that was that. His office was fun-- I think there's something about a boss who wears jeans and refuses to take himself seriously.

Chris Kaczor’s tribute on the First Things blod recreates the entire, living scene of the
Maritain Center. Dr. McInerny really was kind without being indulgent, and treated us all to the best opportunities, repeated lunches at the University Club and Great Wall (which I forgot until I read Chris's article), unlimited coffee and true indulgence with the company telephone which I irresponsibly wore out with long distance phone calls to and from beaux. But everyone did that, whether it was a certain student calling some guy he needed to talk to in Rome, or the famed Latin translator Jean Oesterle calling her nieces, or other, meeker folks who would seek honest pretences to use the phone. We were all treated to endless junkets and Catholic conferences and fed a lot of great banquet food. It was really a great world! In fact, it was a junket with a purpose-- the purpose of knowing God and enjoying life. I appreciate it so much more in retrospect when I see how well everyone was treated. When Jean was too old to edit properly, we cooked up a subterfuge where she edited one set of proofs, I edited the other, and she never found out. Nobody lied there, nobody lied then, everyone really was honest because with him at the helm and Alice keeping everyone honest, there was no need, and no tolerance for, con artists. It was so important to know there was goodness in the world. (And no, Xeroxing an extra set of proofs for his benefactress, the 85 year old widow of the man who brought him to Notre Dame, is not a lie—it is a kindness. It is great respect. If you can’t tell the difference, please see St. Thomas’s Prima Secunda on ethics.)

I think the most important things I learned from him were these:
1. If you want something done, ask a busy person.
2. If something's too hard you might not be good at it.
3. He taught me, as he put it, "I could make a magazine ex nihilo," aka, self-confidence. This confidence goes to work with me every day.
4. When you are around a writer you are his material.
5. The most complicated intellectual tasks are simple if you pray and attend daily
6. Young years are formative. Ralph McInerny was who he was because he was a minor seminarian and cared about real things since childhood.
7. Never truly embarrass anyone, ever, especially someone who is dependent on you. (To be distinguished from Irish needling.)
8. If something doesn't exist, and it should exist, you need to create it.
9. If people aren't happy they won't accomplish anything.
10. Without a sense of humor life is miserable but humor makes everyone happy.
11. Take the help to lunch, give them bonuses, free books, and unlimited coffee.
12. Thomism is clear, and most other systems produce wooly-headed thinking.
13. Philosophy is not enough.
14. Don't waste your time reading dissertations or senior theses. Speed read them.
15. Philosophy and Catholic learning are for everyone, and McInerny's summer camp was a great place to get up to speed on Basics of Catholicism.
16. If you're bored, stuck, or otherwise can't do your work, take a book off the shelf and start reading it.
17. The letter of Vatican II is one thing, the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" is not the Holy Spirit.
18. Someone who trusts grad students and kids to work on his books and magazines has a lot of humility and does not take himself too seriously.
19. Never walk into the office looking grumpy. He never did this once.
20. The best way to learn a language is to take the Bible and try to figure out familiar passages in the new language.

Last but not least, if you need to end a conversation gracefully, take out your hearing aid and start playing with it as if it is broken.

His autobiography was entitled, “I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You.” Rev. Marvin O’Connell referenced this phrase, pointing out that in the Old Testament Book of Job, when the devil began to try Job and take away all his family, his cattle, his possessions, each time, there would be devastation, but one witness would escape, recount the story to Job, and say, “I alone have escaped to tell you.” Ralph McInerny inhabited a bygone world, but he alone escaped to tell us. He told us the truth of Catholic philosophy and theology, and he taught us with his example and classy leadership and kindness. Someday, as in the story of Job, this patrimony and this world of Christian gentility will be restored twofold. Miracles still happen. Ralph McInerny, rest in peace, until that day.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas - January 28, 2010

There are three major points to be considered on this feast of St. Thomas:

1) That we do for Enlightenment philosophy and all modern thought what St. T homas did for Aristotle and Plato. With consummate openness of mind, he principally engaged Aristotle's philosophy of being and transcended conceptual knowing with a new meaning of act, to wit, the act of esse. With this, he was able to engage Aristotle's rational assesment of the empirically real with a metaphysics of the transcendent supernatural. Aristotle's cosmos and philosophy of nature was assimilated into a universe created by a transcendent God whose very act was "Ipsum Esse." By the assimilation, Aristotle's original insights were not prejudiced but exalted.

2) The challenge today - for us - consists in assimilating the principal insights of modern thought, particularly the turn to the subject. This has been hitherto assessed as a negative turn in that it has been the occasion of negating the absolute value of the real and provoking the consequent "dictatorship of relativism" in all things moral. The apologist of the faith in recent memory has habitually found the exaltation of the subject to be the undermining factor with regard to absoluteness in morality.

The turn to the subject is an eminently positive turn in attitude in that it enhances realism rather than undermining it, and this because it is precisely the "I" is the prius of access to "being." Refer to the keynote address at the recent synod in Rome (October 8, 2008) when Benedict XVI made the breathtaking affirmation that the principal reality of all realities is the Word of God, and that Word is the Person of Jesus Christ who is the prototype of the human person. All reality has been created by and for Word of God. We access the the Word of God though the experience of the human person when he/she transcends self in the moral act - the first of which is the act of faith as response to the Word. One hears the Word (doesn't see it), takes it in and literally becomes it by living it. One becomes another Christ. In so doing, one experiences the esse of the self as absolute, in fact, absolute "good." Hence, our task is to do for our historical milieu what St. Thomas did for his.

3) And it would be good to do it with his principles, i.e. his valuation of esse as "act of all acts, perfection of all perfections" (S. Th. I-4-1 ad. 3). A perusal of John Paul II's "Fides et Ratio" #83 yields the affirmation that the human person is the locus of the encounter with the actu essendi and all metaphysical enquiry. The constitutive relationality of the act of all acts (esse) as the metaphysical account of the human person should be explored - now.

The conundrum of giving a realist and metaphysical response to the gay agendum of the present moment demands such a metaphysics of relation.

Recently, there has been a debate between Salzman/Lawler and Robbie George/Patrick Lee. Thumbnail sketch: S/L (catholics) oppose the Magisterial teaching on the immorality of gay acts proposing the very anthropology espoused by the Magisterium of Gaudium et Spes #24 that human persons are constitutively relational: "finding self... by the sincere gift of self." They have no metaphysical ground and offer that the "meaning" of the sexual encounter of homosexuals is defined by the loving attitude and intention that would be self gift in them.

George and Lee counter this by affirming that the body is ontologically constitutive of this interpersonal relationality and that there must be an organic, bodily complementarity taking place for the two to be truly one. The oneness must be a metaphysical, organic, enfleshed and complementary, "one."

Salzman/Lawler accuse George/Lee of deploying a reductionist metaphysic (which they do, since the underpinnings of their argumentation is being as "substance"). However, Salzman Lawler use a properly trinitarian derived anthropology, but without a metaphysic

To this, I offer the absolute need of a metaphysic to account for the absolute realism of relationality (and leave it to the purely subjectivistic and sentimental that created the "real" by sentimental whim) with a metaphysic that would not reduce and box the real within the category of substantial "in-itselfness."

St. Thomas of the 21st century, where are you? Who will understand John Paul II and Benedict XVI and explicitate a comprehensive metaphysics of the human person. Benedict XVI us calling for it in Chapters V and VI of "Caritas in Veritate."

Austin Ruse on International Planned Parenthood Federation Pushing "Sexual Rights"

Dear Colleague, We report today on Planned Parenthood and their new report calling for nothing short of the sexualization of children as young as ten years old. Quite shocking. Family scholar Pat Fagan says the sexual left is drawing a bead on our children and their whole agenda basically to ruin them by the time they are teens.

We also report on a major speech by noted legal school Robert George of Princeton. George gave the speech at the Rose Dinner after the annual March for Life last Saturday. George is one of the world’s leaders and theoreticians on life and family matters. Spread the word. Yours sincerely,

Austin RusePresident
New IPPF Document Pushes Adolescent "Sexual Rights"

(NEW YORK – C-FAM) In its new report "Stand and Deliver," the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is demanding that governments, religious institutions and society at large provide "comprehensive sexuality education" for children as young as ten years old. In a foreword, Bert Koenders of the Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, which helped fund the publication, asserts that, "Young people have the right to be fully informed about sexuality and to have access to contraceptives and other services. These rights are enshrined in various internationally agreed human rights convention and treaties, but – unfortunately – they are still not universally respected."

According to IPPF, as "young people are sexual beings," it should be self-evident that "sexuality education promotes individual well-being and the advancement of broader societal and public health goals." IPPF argues that "comprehensive sexuality education" must be mandatory in school, and governments must also ensure that this education is delivered to those young people who are out of school.

IPPF claims that "With young people as partners, today's adult decision-makers have the chance to recast sex and sexuality as a positive force for change and development, as a source of pleasure, an embodiment of human rights and an expression of self."

IPPF contends that comprehensive sexuality education is necessary to encourage young people's "self-esteem, thoughtful decision-making and negotiation skills and it helps them to develop satisfying and pleasurable sexual lives." Moreover, IPPF expounds that the "power" of comprehensive sexuality education "to challenge traditional gender roles" must not be underestimated.

The IPPF report stresses granting young people "unconstrained" access to sexuality education and services, "free from administrative restrictions and obstacles," like requiring health providers to obtain parental or spousal permission before providing contraceptives. IPPF demands that young people be able to "obtain the services they need and want, unconstrained by psychological, attitudinal, cultural or social factors."

IPPF targets religion and religious groups as one of the main barriers to adolescent access to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive "services." IPPF criticizes that many religious teachings "deny the pleasurable and positive aspects of sex and limited guidelines for sexual education often focus on abstinence before marriage," which IPPF claims has been ineffective in many settings.

According to IPPF, religious institutions – like the Catholic Church and Islamic schools – need to be "pragmatic" to accommodate young people as "sexual beings" and amend their teachings to "find a way of explaining and providing guidance on issues of sex and sexual relationships among young people, which supports rather than denies their experiences and needs."

Sexual education has been a topic of heated debates at the United Nations, with many critics fearing that parental rights to educate their children will be violated. Just last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a set of sexual education guidelines that were met with such staunch resistance from conservatives that the organization was forced to take down the document from its website and review.

Critics expect more debates over "comprehensive sexuality education" to flare up in the coming months as UN Commission season gets underway.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Feast of St. Thomas - Anniversary of Death: Msgr William B. Smith

It is not insignificant that Msgr. William B. Smith died on the vigil of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 24, 2009, and was buried on the Feast of St. Thomas, January 28, 2009. His personally chosen homilist – Msgr. James T. O’Connor - did himself proud in a true to life presentation of Smith from the heart. Msgr. O’Connor was a classmate of Smith in seminary. They did simultaneous doctorates (O’Connor in Dogmatic Theology, Smith in Moral Theology), taught at Dunwoodie together for decades forming a terrible triumvirate of profound and precise orthodoxy with Msgr. Austin Vaughan as rector. They lived across the hall from each other on the south side of the second floor of Dunwoodie. They vacationed together with close friends in uncomfortably hot places in summer when seminary was out, never in the winter when business was business. The Smith I knew came alive profoundly in the homily: the basic scene was “the desk” surrounded by piles of papers (that grew exponentially over the years) where Smith – “priest and victim” – crafted Immaculate Heart of Mary homilies, classes and world class papers on moral theology with insight and loving care. I must say I wept again as O’Connor followed Smith’s explicit instruction that the Memorare to our Lady be recited at his funeral. The entire Church did it. And then the music! I was done for.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Correction to NIcholas Lash's Comment on Newman's "Exaggerated Mariology" (underlined and enlarged in previous post on Newman)

Newman's was not an "exaggerated mariology." It was the mariology of "Lumen Gentium" Chapter 8:

"[Jesus] indeed was really the 'Wisdom in whom the Father was eternally delighted', yet it would be but natural if, under the circumstances of Arian misbelief, theologians looked out for other than the Eternal Son to be the immediate object of such descriptions. And thus the controversy opened a question which it did not settle. It discovered a new sphere, if we may so speak, in the realm of light, to which the Church had not yet assigned its inhabitant...Thus there was a 'wonder in heaven': a throne was seen, far above all created powers, mediatorial, intercessory; a title archetypal; a crown bright as the morning star; a glory issuing from the eternal throne; robes pure as the heavens; and a scepter over all; and who was the predestined heir of that majesty? Who was that Wisdom, and what was her name, 'the Mother of fair love, and fear, and only hope' 'exalted like a palm-tree in Engaddi, and a rose plant in Jericho,' 'created from the beginning before the world,' in God's counsels, and 'in Jerusalem was her power'? The vision is found in the Apocalypse, a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. The votaries of Mary do not exceed the true faith, unless the blasphemers of her Son come up to it. The Church of Rome is not idolatrous, unless Arianism is orthodoxy" (Newman, "Essay..." 143-44, 1989).

Courtesty of Fr. C. John McCloskey and

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conversion of St. Paul: Radical Change in Encounter

An Event, Not a Conclusion

The change that Saul went through to become Paul was radical and provoked by an event, not a series of concepts leading to a conclusion.

On September 3, 2008, Benedict XVI wrote: It was precisely on the road to Damascus, at the beginning of the 30s in the first century and after a period in which he had persecuted the Church that the decisive moment in Paul's life occurred. Much has been written about it and naturally from different points of view. It is certain that he reached a turning point there, indeed a reversal of perspective. And so he began, unexpectedly, to consider as "loss" and "refuse" all that had earlier constituted his greatest ideal, as it were the raison d'être of his life (cf. Phil 3: 7-8). What had happened?

In this regard we have two types of source. The first kind, the best known, consists of the accounts we owe to the pen of Luke, who tells of the event at least three times in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 9: 1-19; 22: 3-21; 26: 4-23). The average reader may be tempted to linger too long on certain details, such as the light in the sky, falling to the ground, the voice that called him, his new condition of blindness, his healing like scales falling from his eyes and the fast that he made. But all these details refer to the heart of the event: the Risen Christ appears as a brilliant light and speaks to Saul, transforms his thinking and his entire life. The dazzling radiance of the Risen Christ blinds him; thus what was his inner reality is also outwardly apparent, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ. And then his definitive "yes" to Christ in Baptism restores his sight and makes him really see.

In the ancient Church Baptism was also called "illumination", because this Sacrament gives light; it truly makes one see. In Paul what is pointed out theologically was also brought about physically: healed of his inner blindness, he sees clearly. Thus St Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter. It radically changed Paul's life in a fundamental way; in this sense one can and must speak of a conversion.”[1]

Saul was led to Damascus physically blind. He prayed. Ananias was sent by the Lord to lay his hands on Saul thus bringing the Spirit down on him in Baptism. The total experience is a radical conversion. Ratzinger once said (Toronto 1986): “This inner event is at once personal and objective. It is the most personal of experiences and at the same time indicates what is the objective essence of Christianity for each on of us. It would be a weak oversimplification to put it this say: becoming and being a Christian depend on conversion. But that would be headed in the right direction. Yet conversion according to Paul is something much more radical than a mere revision of a few opinions or attitudes. It is a death event. In other words it is the replacement of the subject – of the ‘I.’ The ‘I’ ceases to be independent and to be a subject existing in itself. It is torn from itself and inserted into a new subject. The ‘I’ does not perish, but must let itself diminish completely, in effect, in order to be received within a larger ‘I’ and, together with that larger ‘I,’ to be conceived anew.

“The basic notion that conversion is the abandonment of the old, isolated subjectivity of the ‘I,’ and the finding of oneself within a new and subjective unity in which the limitations of the former ‘I’ have been surpassed, makes it possible to come into contact with the basis of all truth…”[2] In Galatians 3, 16, Ratzinger adds: “It is essential to note that Paul does not say ‘You are a single mass,’ in some collectivist sense, but ‘You are one.’ You have become a new subject, unique in Christ, and thus, by means of the fusion of the subject, you are now within the realm of the Promise.”[3]

All of this is reminiscent of the teaching of St. Josemaria Escriva with regard to the vocation to Opus Dei as the call to live in act the radical gift of self such as to become “another Christ,” and apostolically, to provoke the conversion.

[1] General Audience, Wednesday Sept. 3, 2008.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “The Spriitual Basis and Ecclesia Identity of Theology” in The Nature and Mission of Theology Ignatius (1995) 51.

[3] Ibid 52.

Waiting for Dr. Newman

The English cardinal belongs among the church's greatest teachers.

NICHOLAS LASH | FEBRUARY 1, 2010 (America Magazine)
With the imminent beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, many people are wondering whether he will be declared a doctor of the church as well. Somewhat surprisingly, the greatest Catholic theologian of the 19th century repeatedly denied, especially after he became a Catholic, that he was a theologian at all, “in spite of the Pope having made me a DD” (doctor of divinity), as he put it in a letter from 1877. *

What lay behind his denial? First, he supposed that in order to merit the description, the theologian must be an expert with complete command of one particular field, whereas he knew himself to be a wide-ranging amateur with many interests. Second, in contrast with his leadership of the Oxford Movement while an Anglican, as a Catholic Newman resisted all suggestions that as a writer he should exercise some public or official function.

The third reason for his denial is the most important and, to my
mind, the most interesting. On becoming a Catholic, Newman found theology, as practiced in the Roman schools, to be rigorously abstract, ahistorical and deductivist. Baroque neoscholasticism, as he encountered it, was alien to his whole mentality. If this was theology, then he preferred to describe himself as a controversialist.

Times have changed and, thanks to the pioneering work of ressourcement undertaken by the great historical theologians of the early and mid-20th century, Catholic theology has by and large escaped from the aridities of neoscholasticism and has re-established contact with the biblical and literary richness of patristic and medieval Christianity. We may find Newman’s grounds for denying that he was a theologian good reason for appreciating his theological strengths. The interrogative, tentative, inductive temper of his arguments and his lack of specialization are more likely today than they were in the 19th century to be appreciated as virtues in a theologian.

There is still, it is true, some way to go in sufficiently extending the range of our criteria for good theology. Newman, the consummate preacher, was a master prose stylist. We are still somewhat one- sided in our appreciation of the transcendentals. I dream of the day when the beauty of a piece of theological writing is deemed no less important than its accuracy, for how could one speak well of God in ugly prose?

On Aug. 13, 1890, two days after Newman’s death, R. W. Church, dean of St. Paul’s and a close friend since their days together as Fellows of Oriel College, Oxford, wrote a generous obituary in The Guardian:

Cardinal Newman is dead, and we lose in him not only one of the very greatest masters of English style, not only a man of singular beauty and purity of character, not only an eminent example of personal sanctity, but the founder, we may almost say, of the Church of England as we see it. What the Church of England would have become without the Tractarian movement we can faintly guess, and of the Tractarian movement Newman was the living soul and the inspiring genius. Great as his services have been to the communion in which he died, they are as nothing by the side of those he rendered to the communion in which the most eventful years of his life were spent.... He will be mourned by many in the Roman Church, but their sorrow will be less than ours, because they have not the same paramount reason to be grateful to him.

Today, more than 100 years later, we can return Dean Church’s compliment. Much that we most admire in Newman, much that makes him seem prophetic of the things that the Catholic Church sought to recover and achieve at the Second Vatican Council, are gifts he brought us from the Church of England—from Tractarian Oxford.

It was to Oxford and, specifically, to Oriel College, in March 1966, that Newman came home, as the Abbé Nicholas Theis, promoter of earlier Newman conferences in Luxembourg, put it, with the holding of the first Oxford Newman Symposium. Vatican II had ended just three months before, and it was spring. “Now after a hundred years,” said Bishop Christopher Butler at the symposium, “we have had another Council, marked like the first by the emergence of two broadly contrasting wings of opinion and aim. But this time, it is those who can be considered the heirs of the neo-ultramontanes who have constituted the minority, and have been forced back on their defenses—though they have had, on the other hand, the immense advantage of strong curial support, not to say leadership—which, however, has been insufficient to bring victory to their cause. The tide has been turned, and a first, immensely important, step has been taken towards the vindication of all the main theological, religious, and cultural positions of the former Fellow of Oriel.” **

A decade later, Newman’s tireless and erudite archivist, the Rev. Stephen Dessain of the Birmingham Oratory, struck a similar note in materials prepared for a retreat to the Oratory of France. Sadly, he died a week before the retreat was due to begin and never delivered these words:***
At the Second Vatican Council the tides of clericalism, over-centralisation, creeping infallibility, narrow unhistorical theology and exaggerated mariology were thrown back, while the things Newman stood for were brought forward—freedom, the supremacy of conscience, the Church as a communion, the return to Scripture and the fathers, the rightful place of the laity, work for unity, and all the efforts to meet the needs of the age, and for the Church to take its place in the modern world. Any disarray or confusion there may now be in the Church is the measure of how necessary this renewal was.

On April 28, 1990, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave an address on the occasion of the centenary of Newman’s death. It is, he said, characteristic of a great doctor of the church that he teaches not only through his thought and speech but also by his life, because in him life and thought permeate and shape each other. If this is so, the cardinal concluded, then Newman belongs to the great doctors of the church, because he both touches our hearts and enlightens our thinking.

But we are not there yet. There is poignancy in the thought that neither Christopher Butler nor Stephen Dessain seems to have noticed that tides never flow in the same direction for very long. The Curial resistance to renewal has not been broken and has been at the heart of the concerted attempt in recent years to argue that nothing of any great importance happened to the Catholic Church between1962 and 1965.

At the heart of my hope that, with beatification swiftly followed by canonization, Newman may before too long be officially declared a doctor of the church, is the belief that such a declaration would be a powerful signal that the church has not abdicated its dedication to the movement of renewal and reform that the council so wholeheartedly initiated.


* The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Vol. 28, C. S. Dessain and T. Gornall, eds. (Oxford, 1975), p. 216. ** The Rediscovery of Newman: An Oxford Symposium, John Coulson and A. M. Allchin, eds. (London, 1967), p. vii.
*** Newman’s Spiritual Themes, C. S. Dessain, ed. (Dublin, 1977), p. 30.

Nicholas Lash is the Norris-Hulse Professor Emeritus of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and the author of many books and articles.

Monday, January 18, 2010

All Eyes on Haiti

Interview With Cardinal Cordes of Cor Unum

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2010 ( As disaster strikes Haiti, the eyes of the world are being directed toward the poorest country of the Western world, whose long suffering has long been forgotten, says Cardinal Josef Cordes.

The president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum spoke with ZENIT about the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude quake that hit the country Tuesday, and destroyed its capital of Port-au-Prince.

In this interview the cardinal discusses the damage done to the country, as well as what will be needed to help Haiti in the days, months and years ahead.

ZENIT: What do you know about the damage of the earthquake?

Cardinal Cordes: Initial communication was difficult, but we are beginning to receive reports from Catholic agencies working directly on the scene, such as Catholic Relief Services (the international relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops), national Caritas representatives being sent to Haiti by their bishops, Cross International Catholic Outreach, St. Vincent de Paul Confederation.

Certain facts are known through the media (loss of life, homes, etc). More specifically for us, it was the apostolic nuncio in Santo Domingo who had the first contact via e-mail with Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio in Haiti. Archbishop Auza is informing us about the losses to the Church, both in terms of life and structural damage. The archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge-Miot, whom he described as "good" and "always smiling," was killed as he was thrown from his balcony by the force of the earthquake. Other priests, religious and at least nine seminarians have been buried under the rubble. The cathedral, chancery, and all of the parish churches have been destroyed. Archbishop Auza is visiting Catholic and other establishments, many of them ruined, to express the closeness of the Church and Holy Father.

ZENIT: What is the immediate need?

Cardinal Cordes: Every natural catastrophe is unique, but our long experience of previous disasters (e.g. Tsunami, Katrina) shows two distinct phases:

-- Short-term: manpower is needed to save lives, provide the basic necessities (water, food, shelter, prevention of disease), restore order;

-- Long-term: reconstruction, offering spiritual and psychological help, especially when media attention fades away.

Benedict XVI has called on all people of good will to be generous and concrete in their response in order to meet the immediate needs of our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti (General Audience, Jan. 13, 2010). It is important that we are giving tangible help through the charitable agencies of the Catholic Church. Much is being organized and encouraged in this regard throughout the world.

For example, the episcopal conference of Italy has set Jan. 24 as a day of prayer and charity for the people of Haiti. The national embassies to the Holy See are organizing the sacrifice of the Holy Mass to be offered for our suffering brothers and sisters. We must remember to intercede through prayer and not only money for the suffering of Haiti.

ZENIT: What is being done concretely by the Holy See/Pontifical Council Cor Unum?

Cardinal Cordes: In his appeal for assistance, Benedict XVI asked specifically that the Catholic Church mobilize herself at once through her charitable institutions. Several Catholic organizations have already begun working, offering especially personnel with expertise at this stage (e.g. the national Caritas of Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Austria, the Order of Malta). Cross International Catholic Outreach is at work through its office in Port-au-Prince. We are receiving daily updates from them all.

Whenever a situation like this arises, it is the custom for one agency to coordinate relief efforts. To this end, in the hours following the earthquake, our Pontifical Council was in direct contact with Catholic Relief Services. We asked that it coordinate the response at this stage in view of the 300 plus staff it has in Haiti, its long history of over 50 years in the country, as well as its expertise in dealing with similar disasters worldwide and its resources. The President of CRS has assured us: "We stand committed and ready to inform and coordinate the response of the Church in whatever way possible so that her response may be an effective sign of God's love."

We know from the apostolic nuncio in Haiti that meetings are taking place with CRS and Caritas Haiti at the Nunciature in Port-au-Prince in order that the urgent local needs are addressed. It is essential that the local Church be heard. To this end, we are pleased that those Haitian bishops, who have been able to travel, have been present at these meetings.

ZENIT: How much does people's faith help them through a catastrophe such as this?

Cardinal Cordes: The faith of the people who have suffered in this disaster will play a critical role in not only bringing relief to their physical injuries and losses, but also in addressing the spiritual dimension and meaning to be found in such a catastrophe. In visiting disaster areas before and talking with survivors, many express their gratitude to God for sparing their lives and for the generous outpouring of assistance made available to them by family, friends, neighbors, and Churches worldwide. Because of the large Catholic population (80% of Haitians are Catholics), faith and the concrete presence/witness of the Church will have a very important role in the present tragedy.

Our Pontifical Council Cor Unum had already planned that the next meeting of the Populorum Progressio Foundation would take place in Santo Domingo this coming July. The foundation, established by Pope John Paul II, is to help the indigenous peoples of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. In the past, we have given much help to Haiti and we shall continue to do so. Of course, our spiritual closeness is of primary importance. We shall be certain to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on that occasion with bishops coming from different countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Without faith, this tragedy would turn into a complete disaster. That is why it will be essential for our brothers and sisters to pray together; experience Christians worldwide sharing their burdens as members of God's family; know the compassion of our Holy Father. All these become sources of hope and energy. In His first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," Pope Benedict invites us to recall "St. Augustine who gives us faith's answer to our sufferings: 'Si comprehendis, non est Deus' -- 'if you understand him, he is not God.'" The Holy Father adds: "Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the 'goodness and loving kindness of God' (Titus 3:4)" (No. 38).

ZENIT: Will good come from this tragedy?

Cardinal Cordes: This is a disaster that has caused immense loss of life and suffering. Many years will be needed for the nation to be rebuilt physically and the people to recover in their spirits. For this reason, the Church must remain present even as others move away.

But already we see good rising from the ruins. The eyes of the world are being open to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, whose long suffering was all but forgotten. This tragedy shows that we depend on each other and must care for our suffering brothers and sisters, just as we did during the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. So we must ensure that the necessary assistance now being shown to Haiti continues in the long-term, for example through setting up better local Caritas structures and links with government development ministries of wealthier countries and help agencies.

We are witnessing and hearing of many selfless and heroic acts made to save lives and to rescue those in danger. There are still thousands of others, who, coming from all over the world and without any accolades, are dedicating themselves to helping whoever is in need. People are being moved to give of themselves spiritually and materially to help the poor and suffering. In the coming days and weeks, I am convinced that we shall encounter in the midst of this catastrophe many examples of goodness.

Above all, it is with trustworthy hope in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus that Christians face the present. In his encyclical "Spe Salvi," Pope Benedict speaks of the sufferings of this moment being borne through hope in the future. It is not that Christians know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness: "Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well" (Spe Salvi No. 2).

Insurance Penalty for Marriage

Married Couples Pay More Than Unmarried Under Health Bill

by Martin Vaughan
Monday, January 11, 2010

provided by

Some married couples would pay thousands of dollars more for the same health insurance coverage as unmarried people living together, under the health insurance overhaul plan pending in Congress.

The built-in "marriage penalty" in both House and Senate healthcare bills has received scant attention. But for scores of low-income and middle-income couples, it could mean a hike of $2,000 or more in annual insurance premiums the moment they say "I do."

The disparity comes about in part because subsidies for purchasing health insurance under the plan from congressional Democrats are pegged to federal poverty guidelines. That has the effect of limiting subsidies for married couples with a combined income, compared to if the individuals are single.

People who get their health insurance through an employer wouldn't be affected. Only people that buy subsidized insurance through new exchanges set up by the legislation stand to be impacted. About 17 million people would receive such subsidies in 2016 under the House plan, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

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The bills cap the annual amount people making less than 400% of the federal poverty level must pay for health insurance premiums, ranging from 1.5% of income for the poorest to 11% at the top end, under the House plan.

For an unmarried couple with income of $25,000 each, combined premiums would be capped at $3,076 per year, under the House bill. If the couple gets married, with a combined income of $50,000, their annual premium cap jumps to $5,160 -- a "penalty" of $2,084. Those figures were included in a memo prepared by House Republican staff.

The disparity is slightly smaller in the Senate version of health-care legislation, chiefly because premium subsidies in the House bill are more targeted towards low-wage earners.

Under the Senate bill, a couple with $50,000 combined income would pay $3,450 in annual premiums if unmarried, and $5,100 if married -- a difference of $1,650.

Republicans say the effect on married couples whose combined income makes them ineligible for subsidies is even greater -- up to $5,000 or more -- but that is more difficult to measure because it includes assumptions about the price of insurance policies.

Democratic staff who helped to write the bill confirmed the existence of the penalty, but said it cannot be remedied without creating other inequities.

For instance, they said making the subsidies neutral towards marriage would lead to a married couple with only one bread-winner getting a more generous subsidy than a single parent at the same income-level.

"The Finance Committee, along with other committees in the Senate, took pains to craft the most equitable overall structure possible, and that's what we have here," said a Democratic Senate Finance Committee aide.

If the bill passes in its current form, it would be far from the first example of federal and social benefits creating incentives to remain single. Under current law, marriage can have a negative impact on a person's ability to claim the earned income tax credit and welfare benefits including food stamps.

In any progressive system of taxes or benefits, there are trade-offs between how well-targeted a subsidy is and how equitable it is, said Stacy Dickert-Conlin, an economics professor at Michigan State University.

"You might like to have it be progressive, equitable and marriage-neutral. But you have to decide what your goals are, because you can't accomplish all three," she said.

The marriage penalty in the health bill has not been a major focus of attack by Republican opponents of the bill, who are focusing on larger themes such as new taxes in the bill and growth in government spending.

But it has caught the attention of some conservative groups, who claim that the prospect of reduced subsidies will dissuade people from tying the knot.

"This seems to not only penalize the married, but also those who would have the most to gain from marriage -- the poor," said Jenny Tyree, an analyst at the Colorado-based Focus on the Family.

Ms. Dickert-Conlin said that isn't borne out by research in the area.

"Most of the literature says that people do not make decisions about whether or not to get married based on" government benefits, she said.

"You might see bigger effects on the timing -- someone choosing to get married in January, instead of December," she said.

Write to Martin Vaughan at

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Apropos of an Email From Greg Milman on Neil Postman

(As blogger) my take on Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death:” it is a work of epistemological genius. It is a supreme epistemological critique of the moment we are in, even though written in 1984. And I have yet to read “Technopoly!” For me, he is the canary in the coalmine. We are trapped in the unreality of the visual image and the fact. And we don’t know it. This is most dangerous. It is the expose of the ideology subjacent in Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” As you will see below in the Postman quote: “in this sense, all Americans are Marxists, for we believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some preordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.”

Contrast this with Benedict XVI’s remarks on the Word of God that must be heard and assimilated by the humility of self-giftedness, and then turned into obedience in concrete action:

"In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet". This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid; it is the true reality on which one must base one's life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away". Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, a breath. As soon as it is pronounced it disappears. It seems to be nothing. But already the human word has incredible power. Words create history; words form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

Furthermore, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one's life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life[1].

Postman’s point: dominated by the ideology of the visual screen, words have no differentiation since they are mere information, and as mere information they represent “trivia.” Everything is trivial. The self stands (sits) before the TV and looks. Passively. No matter what the content. There is no need for censorship since censorship presupposes a public that can distinguish between the important and the not important. There, everything must be laid out for universal consumption. And nothing makes any difference. Even God. The best way to hide God is to include Him in the universal distribution of trivia. Similarly, the so-called “health plan.” What possibly could be buried in 2,200 pages of script to be voted on?

I take Postman’s main point to be that every technology comes equipped with an ideology. He says: “To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple. Moreover, we have seen enough by now to know that technological changes in our modes of communication are even more ideology-laden than changes in our modes of transportation. Introduce the alphabet to a culture and you change its cognitive habits, its social relations, its notions of community, history and religion. Introduce the printing press with movable type, and you do the same, Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution. Without a vote. Without polemics. Without guerrilla resistance. Here is ideology, pure if not serene. Here is ideology without words, and all the more powerful for their absence. All that is required to make it stick is a population that devoutly believes in the inevitability of progress. And in this sense, all Americans are Marxists, for we believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some preordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.”[2]

The Following is an Email from Greg Milman on his reading of Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death:”

I have to make a correction; the book I'm reading is "The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development". The machine is a social machine-- the organization of people by force under a god-king, or an ideology in contemporary times.

Mumford makes the point that writing was invented to convey the will of the ruler through a bureaucratic machine (The Egyptians had already raised bureaucracy to a high level of refinement) to the workers, whose personality and individuality were stripped away so that they could become mere functionaries.

Mumford has not said this: but it seems apparent that Moses led the people out of this "machine" and that Christ did so similarly by presenting a new model of kingship, one that served rather than dominated the person, one that restored God-imaging humanity. One conclusion is that God is about freedom, and that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and David and Jesus has always called people out of the machine (Abraham's Ur was no doubt a social machine under a king and similar in many respects to Egypt). Another, less clear, is that as Christians in the machine we must always be rebels against it -- because we cannot serve God and Mammon, and the machine is Mammon's. We cannot sanctify the machine because by its nature the machine stands against God and freedom.

Larry Kudlow stands for the machine. When you read Ratzinger and he shouted "nonsense" he was shouting from the perspective of one so much part of and devoted to the machine that he cannot tolerate the public pronouncement of human freedom, human dignity, because these are heresy to the cult of the god-king of materialist, determinist capitalism. This machine cannot be sanctified, any more than Pharaonic Egypt or Assyria or Babylon or Rome could be sanctified, any more than the Third Reich or the USSR could be sanctified. By standing for sanctification of work and service and self gift, and for a God not made by man, but whose only true image is a true, free man (who accepts death on a cross and refuses to become the god-king of a machine) we stand against the machine that worships a god-king of domination instead of God, and the kingship of self gift in service.

What does this have to do with Neil Postman and "Amusing"? The print culture was a two-edged sword. Pre-Guttenberg, literacy was the secret lore of a class -- the class that ruled was the class with access to the secret language of letters, which opened the door to knowledge unavailable to the masses. Mumford mentions a criticism an ancient Egyptian leveled against rebels, that they had made the secret knowledge of the temples available to all, thereby nullifying an important tool that the ruling class has used to maintain its dominance. Guttenberg's press and subsequent presses made exclusive, secret knowledge available to all. In time, this did lead to revolutions, to the destruction of machines that had made slaves, serfs, proletarians. When people could read freely, they could think freely, and they could act on what they thought.

Television culture, by rendering print irrelevant, renders thought of that sort impossible -- this seems to be Postman's point, that this image culture eliminates a certain kind of thought. Certain ideas are inexpressible in images -- in fact, ideas are almost inexpressible in images, only feelings are expressible in images, unless the images are hieroglyphs or allegories or ideographs, but those are not the images of the TV and computer screens.

A narrow elite controls the images, as a narrow elite controlled pre-Guttenberg print, and a narrow elite controlled the temple cults of the Egyptian machine. Even though now, anybody can put videos on YouTube, and even though the occasional video goes viral, still, the real power belongs to those who possess the secret knowledge of making effective images, those that elicit the desired emotional response from the masses, and who control the big channels of distribution that make sure those and only those images reach the masses. Think Roger Ailes at Fox, or to a lesser extent now the 3 major TV networks and CNN. Ailes happens to be better at this than any of them, but they're all in the same game, and the differences among them are accidental rather than substantial, because they are all part of the new machine, and this machine works the same harm on men that such machines have always wrought.

At any rate, I recommend Mumford. Postman also mentions Roland Barthes on myth. I've heard of Barthes but have not read him. Have you?


[1] Key Note Address to the Synod on “The Word of God,” October 8, 2008.

[2] Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” Penguin Books (1984) 157-158.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tim Cronin's Post on Benedict XVI's Metaphysics of Relation

2B=2B4 (To Be = To Be "For" [the Other])

"In a certain way the 'name' of the Holy Trinity is engraved on everything that exists, because all being, down to the smallest particle, exists in relation to others". -Pope Benedict XVI Feast of the Holy Trinity 2009 The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. -Caritas in Veritate 2009

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Church rejected this conception of love as involuntary emotion or passion, and insisted instead that the phrase 'God is love' means that God is constituted by these personal relationships. God is communion: love is fundamental to his being, not an addition to it. -Zizioulas Lessons in Christian Dogmatics
Posted by Tim Cronin at
Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Be More Aggressive with the Sacraments

"Holy Father, 35 years ago I thought that we were beginning to be a little flock, a minority community, more or less everywhere in Europe; that we should therefore administer the sacraments only to those who are truly committed to Christian life. Then, partly because of the style of John Paul II's Pontificate, I thought things through again. If it is possible to make predictions for the future, what do you think? What pastoral approaches can you suggest to us?"

Benedict XVI responded with these words, so fitting for us on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord this year:

"I must say that I took a similar route to yours. When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. And then I always used to talk to my parish priests when I was Archbishop of Munich: here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open -- according to many official authorities -- with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion. [...]

"I would say, therefore, that in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. Thus, one should endeavor to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved. [...]

"I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today's situations. Yet, we must also open them more to each person, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts that have truly been touched. The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched -- it has felt a little of Jesus' love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction, that is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus' love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time."