Archive for the ‘The role of the laity’ Category

Uncivil-war2 copyI began blogging as a reaction against the venom spewed in com-boxes. Not the venom against the Church by those outside it – that, I can understand and even (in a prideful and totally inappropriate reaction) delight in. Generally, such venom is based on total misinformation and often on wilful misunderstanding. Even those who are informed betray a double-standard about morality that shows, deep down, the commenter expects the Church to be better. Which is a compliment, in a twisted, backhanded kind of a way.

My reaction was to the venom of Catholic commenters against anyone who didn’t agree with their views. It seemed to me that there was a scale to the nasty, insulting, cruel comments. Agnostics were treated with reasonable compassion; atheists got it with both barrels; Protestant Christians received both barrels plus grenades; but all out war was reserved for other Catholics whose views on what it was to be Catholic differed from those of the commenter.

This isn’t a nice way to behave, folks. It isn’t productive. It isn’t a good witness for Catholicism. All in all, it sucks big time.

Yesterday’s readings sum up the way we should be with everyone we meet: showing good judgement (of course), but not judgemental. The worst persecutor of the young Christian community doesn’t spend the rest of his life apologising for his misdeeds, but instead works himself to the bone to spread the Christian message. Jesus doesn’t condone the sin of the adulteress, but neither does he condemn her.

Please read a beautiful post by Calah Alexander on why we Catholics shouldn’t be tearing the Pope (and one another) apart in com boxes. It’s a powerful argument for a cease fire. Here’s a snippet:

We had Benedict because we needed him. We have Francis now, I think, because we also need him. We need beauty in the liturgy. We also need to help the poor. These two forces seem so ludicrously opposed to each other in American Catholicism. Either you’re a conservative, rad-trad, pro-Liturgy Catholic or you’re a liberal, social-justice, pro-guitars-and-holding-hands-during-the-Our-Father-Catholic. And anyone who takes the blogosphere as an example probably thinks we Catholics spend all our time hunkered down in our trenches, lobbing carefully-worded-blog-post-bombs at each other, waiting for the other side to go over the top so we can mow them down and cleanse the Church of that crap for once and for all.

We’re waging a pointless and counterproductive war on each other. Both sides are defending deposits of the faith. Good, beautiful, true things that we have learned through our mutual faith, things which our faith needs equally in order to flourish. Can you imagine what might happen if we stopped haunting each other’s comboxes, accusing each other of heresy, and instead spent that energy working together to make the Church better? Maybe we could even *deep breath* try and see what’s true, good, and beautiful about the other. Like, maybe I could go to a Tridentine Mass and viciously repress my inner Jan Hus and really, really try to see the beauty in that ancient liturgy that bequeathed to me the faith I hold so dear today. And maybe whoever runs Rorate Caeli could go to a Novus Ordo Mass in Spanish in Immokalee, the town down the street from me, and instead of being horrified at the abuses in the liturgy really, really try to see the beauty in these migrant workers shuffling into the pews after a day of back-breaking work in the Florida sun, sweaty and dirty and wearing jeans, but resisting the urge to go home and collapse until they’ve seen Jesus.

Our faith is so multi-faceted. That’s why we have a gazillion saints. They’re all doing something different, giving us different examples to follow. Not everyone can be Francis of Assisi, living in blissful poverty, fasting and praying. Someone had to be St. Thomas Aquinas, puzzling out the finest points of theology while remaining very very well-fed. And our Church would be infinitely poorer if Francis and Thomas Aquinas had spent all their time arguing over whose way was better instead of just doing the work God had set before them. We all have different work to do in the Church, and God wants all of us to help make his Church complete. But we can’t very well do that if we’re busy tearing each other to shreds.

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This quote from one of the blogs I follow for my work seems pertinent to our discussion on poverty and population:

In her remarkable new book about life in a Mumbai slum, Katherine Boo, a New Yorker staffer, concludes that the world’s unequal societies don’t explode into violent insurrection because poor people pick on other poor people, not the rich. Just as the wealth flowing into India has yet to trickle down to its very poorest (though it has already lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty), the troubles of the poor leave the better off unaffected. Hundreds of Muslims died in riots in 2002 because poor Hindus expressed their frustrations at day-to-day life against equally poor Muslims. In 1992, when similar riots spread across India, it was the poorest towns and neighbourhoods that became war zones. The nice bits of town remained relatively peaceful.

The rich prey on the poor. Not every single individual rich person, of course; but many of them, and the system as a whole. To increase their personal wealth, some people, some companies – and some countries – prey on those who are poor.  But more than this, the poor prey on the poor. For example, the US Bureau of Justice has released statistics that show those at the bottom end of the household income scale are three times more likely to be burgled than those at the top end – those who have the least to lose are most likely to lose it. They’re also four to five times more likely to be assaulted. The same holds true from Mumbai to Durban to Sydney to Hong Kong. The poor prey on the poor (possibly because it saves the cost of a bus fare).

Of course, the rich are foolish if they think that the troubles of the poor will never affect them.

In 1959, Morris West wrote a book called ‘Children of the Sun’ about poverty in Naples. He predicted that, if the rich did not heed the dire state of the poor, they would need armed guards to accompany their children to school, and would in effect end up living in gilded prisons, terrified of their own countrymen. He was ignored.

Witness what has happened in the last forty years in Italy: kidnappings, murders, gang wars… not just of the criminal classes as is usually the case at the moment in New Zealand, but of those whose lives of privilege made them targets of envy.

Social justice for all is not just a ‘nice’ thing to strive for; not just a piece of Catholic rhetoric (and suspect liberal Catholic rhetoric at that). Social justice is not just obeying the Gospel command to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ – though we haven’t obeyed that command without social justice. Social justice is enlightened self-interest; by helping others to live in dignity, we help ourselves.

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H/T Matt Archibald

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St Therese of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church, doing the laundry with the rest of her community

Fr Longenecker has a post up on where to look for saints. The real saints, he says, are hidden; doing their work beneath the world’s radar. Meanwhile, we fall for one celebrity ‘saint’ after another – falling for a line that confirms us as members of an ingroup versus the wicked wide world – only to be disillusioned when our hero proves to have feet of clay.

It’s nauseating. Stop and consider that the real saints are hidden. They follow the little way. If you were to tell them they were a saint they would laugh and tell you to keep searching. If you even had the sense and discernment to see the saint next to you–the ordinary person who perseveres–the little person who serves others–the plain Jane who takes life easily and simply loves people, then you would learn again what true holiness really is. If we only had eyes to see the simplicity of the saints, the extraordinary ordinariness of holiness, the practical good humor and humility of the truly grace filled ones…

Then my mind turns to the little saints I have known: an old woman who lived in a cabin in the woods and with gentle good humor and love turned my poisoned wayward heart back to God. A Poor Clare nun who lived as a hermit for years and endured great pain and hardship and yet never once complained. She always thought the best of everyone and believed not in my image, but in who I could really be. A Missionary of Charity I meet in El Salvador who serves mentally handicapped adults all day every day. A priest who serves the poor and suffers intense and chronic pain and never complains. A Eucharistic minister who visits the housebound and spends time with them and loves doing it.

Read it all; it’s good.

We are all called to be saints. And almost all of us are called to be saints not through some flashy heroic gesture, but by doing God’s will where we are.

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Let’s hear it for John Whitehead, outgoing Secretary of the Treasury, who on Wednesday evening launched a discussion paper on a topic dear to my heart. In his speech at the launch event, he commented:

There has long been argument about whether GDP is enough of an indicator of the well-being of a nation.  Some contend that while tallying up the total value of goods and services might be something of a blunt-instrument approach, it is still the most dependable measure of a nation’s economic progress, and therefore its prosperity.   Others point to the deficiencies of the GDP test, pointing out that it doesn’t account for factors like the gap between rich and poor or the amount of leisure time people have, or their quality of life.

… I believe the framework we are publishing today shows that the way we interpret living standards is probably quite similar to concepts of well-being, though we do focus the framework on particular values that are consistent with our role as the government’s lead advisor on economic and fiscal policy…  to establish a broader intellectual basis for our work – one that provides a guide for how we should be thinking about the complex and multidimensional nature of living  standards.

In his speech, Whitehead talked about a ‘capital’ approach to considering policy questions: financial capital, human capital, social capital, and natural capital.He also gave a rundown on the Living Standards Framework outlined in the discussion paper:

Overall, the framework has five elements that it recognises:

  • One, that there is a broad range of material and non-material determinants of living standards;
  • Two, that individual freedoms and capabilities are very important for living standards [The events we are witnessing in North Africa and the Middle East at present are a potent reminder of the peril of aggressively denying those rights and freedoms];
  • Three, that the distribution of living standards across different groups in society is an ethical concern for the public, and a political one for governments, and economic analysis can provide useful insights;
  • Four, that the distribution of living standards over time is of high importance, both for equity concerns but also to make sure we are sustainably managing our resources;
  • And five, that measuring living standards directly, using self-assessed subjective measures of well-being, provides a useful cross-check of what is important for people’s living standards.

So Treasury’s notion of living standards therefore has multiple dimensions.  It is mindful of distributional concerns, and also draws on social, cultural, civic and environmental aspects.  That is how it should be if we are to capture the things that really do matter to people.  As I mentioned earlier, standard economics will tell you that what matters is utility – that is, the capacity of a commodity or service to satisfy some human want.  That is indeed derived from multiple factors.  But in addition to utility, other values such as rights and freedoms – which are intimately related to a person’s relationship to the state and society – are also included.

Here’s an article from NBR about the framework.

And here’s the Treasury paper.

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Catholic Culture has published an article by Dr Jeff Mirus which seems like a good follow-up to yesterday’s piece from Jennifer Fulwiler. Jeff says that, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we pick and chose between paths and regimens of holiness, and that we’re not the best judges of our own progress. But he’s found a checklist that he thinks will help:

  1. Am I God-centered? This addresses the question of whether we think ourselves the center of the universe, in which case we are likely to be tense, negative and critical. We discern progress here if we come more easily to see the good in others, to accept the dispositions of Providence cheerfully, and to trust in God even in the midst of trials and temptations.
  2. Do I take joy in serving others? There may be times when either our normal duties or interruptions in our routine demand that we occupy ourselves with tasks we do not particularly enjoy, primarily for the benefit of others. We are growing in charity if we find such services easier to perform over time, especially with a sincere desire to be of benefit, and if we gain the ability to remain recollected and prayerful even when doing something we do not naturally enjoy.
  3. Do I hate sin? As time goes on, if we are growing spiritually, we should be increasingly averse not only to great sins but to lesser ones. We should be developing a progressively stronger resolve to avoid anything—including objectively innocent pursuits—which can be an obstacle to our union with God. And of course we should be actively seeking the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are the opposite of the disposition to sin.
  4. Is my conscience delicate? This is closely related, and refers to the need to become ever more sensitive in discerning what is displeasing to God. In the beginning, for example, we may wish to avoid adultery but think nothing of flirting or stealing the odd kiss or two. In time, true growth demands that we more clearly perceive the sinful attitudes at work across the board. Then we will become more watchful over our virtue, even in our thoughts, and we’ll also more easily distinguish among degrees of sin, and between temptation and sin.
  5. Am I humble? To use Fr. Basil’s own words, a sense of humility “means a submission to whatever God desires in the moment, even if it means being unknown or unrecognized.” Pride and vainglory lead us to be calculating in all that we do, in order to increase in stature before the world. But God wants our personal surrender to Himself and to those who, in each moment, represent His will.
  6. Am I faithful in prayer? If we prefer to lose ourselves in a constant whirl of activity, and find that we are uncomfortable being alone with God in the silence of our hearts, we’ll go backwards. Spiritual growth is marked by a growing willingness to put ourselves in the presence of God, even if we suffer from dryness or distractions in prayer.
  7. Do my decisions reflect truth and prudence? As we grow spiritually, we should become more adept at knowing when to seek counsel, yet we should also be increasingly able to advise others, or act quickly and decisively ourselves, in ways that will still seem spiritually right after the fact. We should grow in our capacity to size up each situation properly and apply the right virtue and the right solution to each challenge.
  8. Is my heart undivided? Simply put, this question asks whether we allow various interests and attachments to conflict with our thirst for God or whether we are gradually developing a more ordered appreciation of all good things in, through and for God, in proper relationship to Him. Especially with things we particularly enjoy, we should be praying and working to see them in the light of Christ.
  9. Do I love the Church? To again quote Fr. Basil, “the institutional Church is the unsullied Bride of Christ through which He gives Himself and His graces to a flawed people in need of enlightenment and purification from sin.” Each day, each moment, we should find ourselves loving the Church more and more wholeheartedly, despite her all too evident human flaws. If that is not happening, it is a sure sign we are backsliding.

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Cartoon by Don AddisThere are many things I appreciate about the people who comment on this blog. You challenge me and make me reassess my assumptions. You introduce me to new writers and new ideas. You inspire me to dig deep so that I can keep the blog fed (14 months and 318 posts so far). I also appreciate the courtesy and good humour with which you comment. This blog has not been blighted by the behaviour that infests other blogs I visit, and I think it is the mutual respect and consideration you all show that allows us to have interesting discussions.

Passion about what we’re discussing is a good thing. Disrespect and rudeness is a show stopper, descending quickly to personal attacks and name calling, with the topic completely lost.

With that in mind, I’m reproducing below, from Inside Catholic, an article by Joseph Susanka on this very topic. Feel free to link. 🙂

Over at Whispers in the Loggia, the hard-working Rocco has an interesting post on Cardinal Wuerl’s most recent article on the issue of civil discourse, “Speaking Truth in Love”, noting that the cardinal’s high-profile (and, as head of the Archdiocese of Washington, unique) position in the American Catholic Church makes his thoughts on the matter particularly significant:

While each of us can claim a unique identity, we are, nonetheless, called to live out our lives in relationship with others — in some form of community.

All human community is rooted in this deep stirring of God’s created plan within us that brings us into ever-widening circles of relationship: first with our parents, then our family, the Church and a variety of community experiences, educational, economic, cultural, social and, of course, political. We are by nature social and tend to come together so that in the various communities of which we are a part, we can experience full human development. All of this is part of God’s plan initiated in creation and reflected in the natural law that calls us to live in community.

What does this have to do with toning down our rhetoric? Everything! No community, human or divine, political or religious, can exist without trust.

The discussion of civility (or lack of it) has been much in the news of late, with vastly differing opinions as to how much we have (or have not) fallen away from it in our public discourse. And while I suspect there is significant room for disagreement over how to best balance the “truth” and “love” sides of the equation, the cardinal’s point about the essentially communal setting in which we must practice it seems worth noting.

While the article itself is likely to raise a few of the familiar hackles, it’s a good reminder for us all (individually) to strive for a bit more civility — a reminder that will never be amiss, even for those of us who have found ways to completely absolve ourselves from any whiff of incivility.

But beyond its undeniable value in that regard, I was struck by the way in which the cardinal’s point about community explains why we keep having this conversation, and why we will continue to have it for the foreseeable future (at the very least). If each of us were speaking/writing/pontificating in a vacuum, there would be no need for communicating the truth in a loving way. Anything we said would just be true or not. End of story.

But as soon as we step out of our vacuum and attempt to communicate that truth, the people with whom we are attempting to communicate become an inescapable part of the equation. And while the effort to express our opinions in love should never be allowed to come at the expense of truth, I think it is dangerous for us to set them up in opposition to one another unless we are very, very sure such a dichotomy is absolutely necessary.

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TolkienI recently had occasion to describe myself to JJS as an anarchist, in the real sense of the word. In a post on First Things, David Hart points out that anarchism and monarchism were Tolkien’s two preferences for political structures:

As for Tolkien’s anarchism, I think it obvious he meant it in the classical sense: not the total absence of law and governance, but the absence of a political archetes—that is, of the leadership principle as such. In Tolkien’s case, it might be better to speak of a “radical subsidiarism,” in which authority and responsibility for the public weal are so devolved to the local and communal that every significant public decision becomes a matter of common interest and common consent. Of course, such a social vision could be dismissed as mere agrarian and village primitivism; but that would not have bothered Tolkien, what with his proto-ecologist view of modernity.

Hart is reflecting on the recent US elections – and the flaws in democracy (which I’ve heard described as a tyranny in which we periodically have the opportunity to select our dictators from a small list).

Yes, I know: there are good and sincere souls who run for office, and some occasionally get in, and a few of those are then able to accomplish something with the position they assume, and some of those even remain faithful to the convictions that got them there. But, lest we forget, those are also the politicians who often create the greatest mischief. Sincerity, after all, is not the same as wisdom.

A cynical poltroon of infinitely pliable principles is in many cases less a threat to liberty, justice, or peace than someone whose mind has been corrupted with “high” ideals or (worse yet) high ideas. As for all the others, the great majority of politicians—well, bear with me here for a moment.

If one were to devise a political system from scratch, knowing something of history and a great deal about human nature, the sort of person that one would chiefly want, if possible, to exclude from power would be the sort of person who most desires it, and who is most willing to make a great effort to acquire it. By all means, drag a reluctant Cincinnatus from his fields when the Volscians are at the gates, but then permit him to retreat again to his arable exile when the crisis has passed; for God’s sake, though, never surrender the fasces to anyone who eagerly reaches out his hand to take them.

Yet our system obliges us to elevate to office precisely those persons who have the ego-besotted effrontery to ask us to do so; it is rather like being compelled to cede the steering wheel to the drunkard in the back seat loudly proclaiming that he knows how to get us there in half the time. More to the point, since our perpetual electoral cycle is now largely a matter of product recognition, advertising, and marketing strategies, we must be content often to vote for persons willing to lie to us with some regularity or, if not that, at least to speak to us evasively and insincerely. In a better, purer world—the world that cannot be—ambition would be an absolute disqualification for political authority.

Here’s the full article.

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Regular commenter on BeingFrank, Muerk, has joined the blogosphere with proLIFE, proLOVE. Here’s how she describes it:

This blog is going to be about life issues and how we can support and promote a culture of life and love in New Zealand. Every single person is a beloved child of God and inherently worthy of dignity and respect from the moment of conception to natural death. So often in our society there are people who are vulnerable, perhaps for example they are ill, disabled, or in poverty and society and government has a responsibility to help and support these people because everyone is important. No one should be left by the wayside and social justice applies to all people.

This blog is written from a Catholic perspective since I am Catholic, but we should be able to demonstrate social justice without recourse to specific Catholic theology. We can apply our reason to understand the concepts of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude – these are the cardinal virtues and a positive society hinges on them. So I welcome people from other religious traditions or non-belief and I ask you to join me in promoting life.

Welcome Muerk. I’ve added your blog to my Catholic blogs list in my side column.

Folks, Muerk has posted a must see videoclip on the movie Never let me go. The film is set in a school for people who have been cloned to use as spare parts. Chilling and thought-provoking.

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William Oddie, in the Catholic Herald, suggests that the next English saint for canonisation should be Gilbert Keith Chesterton:

G K ChestertonThe obvious objection to this is that Chesterton was nothing like our idea of how a saint should look or behave. He was greatly given to the pleasures of the table; he was enormously, sometimes riotously funny; he was the opposite of Newman in so many respects (though Newman also had a brilliant sense of humour). The late Cardinal Emmet Carter described him on the 50th anniversary of his death as one of those “holy lay persons” who “have exercised a truly prophetic role within the Church and the world”, but he did not then believe that it would be possible to introduce a Cause for his ultimate canonisation, since he did “not think that we are sufficiently emancipated from certain concepts of sanctity” – though later he change his mind.

The distinguished historian J J Scarisbrick, however, thought that his sanctity was so clear that the opening of his Cause should indeed be seriously contemplated. “We all know,” he responded, “that he was an enormously good man as well as an enormous one. My point is that he was more than that. There was a special integrity and blamelessness about him, a special devotion to the good and to justice … Above all, there was that breathtaking, intuitive (almost angelic) possession of the Truth and awareness of the supernatural which only a truly holy person can enjoy. This was the gift of heroic intelligence and understanding – and of heroic prophecy. He was a giant, spiritually as well as physically. Has there ever been anyone quite like him in Catholic history?”

Great idea!  I followed Professor Oddie’s link to the GK Chesterton Society website, and found:

Chesterton was baptised an Anglican, but the family adhered to the Unitarian faith. Later on he abandoned himself to a sort of skepticism that lead him, to frequent esoteric environments and the cultural climate dictated by decadence, bordering on the most insane ideas. 
After a sort of mystical experience described in a letter to his very dear friend Edmund Clerihew Bentley (where he affirmed that “it is embarrassing to speak with God face to face as one speaks to a friend”), Chesterton understood the immense value of life, no matter what its “quality” or “level,” and from this was born the gratitude that he made the task and vocation of his life. 

He said in his early diary that he wished to spend the rest of his life thanking God for everything (something he did in fact do). 
First he returned to the Anglican Church thanks to his wife, Frances Blogg, who was a sincere member of the faithful, as well as thanks to some particularly significant pastoral figures. Subsequently, thanks to his frequentation with his lifetime friend Hilaire Belloc and with Father John O’Connor (who inspired the Father Brown stories), he increasingly understood Catholicism and began to defend it with his works. “Orthodoxy” is the diamond point of his production in this vein…

For years he was considered a Catholic although he was still not so, so much so that the news of his conversion in 1922 caught many by surprise and created not a few who “kept their distance,” not least of whom was George Bernard Shaw who said to him: “No, Gilbert, now you are going too far.” 

Catholicism was for him something he had sought for a long time, as one who believes he has found an exotic land and instead discovers his dear old homeland. 

Catholicism was the fullness of Christianity for Chesterton, and this is the still timely reason that anyone can adopt in taking a similar way as Gilbert’s. 

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