Q and A

Phil Lawler asks the question:

How has it come to pass, that a parade organized to honor the patron saint of Ireland has furnished the occasion for a major symbolic victory in the fight to overthrow Christian moral standards?

The answer is quite simple. Because those supporting Christian moral standards have made this parade and other similar public expressions the battleground for their culturewar. Think prayers to open town meetings, nativity displays on public property, visitations to loved ones in hospitals, medical insurance controversies that permit male enhancement without a blink of an eye.

I certainly applaud strong moral standards. Sometimes moral standards seem to be in conflict. What seems to be in play for the parade is a sense of fairness versus the appearance of moral unity. This seems difficult to resolve. People who promote support for persons with same-sex attraction are not attempting to persuade others to practice as they do. Indeed, many heterosexual persons count themselves as allies of lesbians, gays, and others because they have loved ones or friends who are SSA.

I suppose the inclusion of groups who actively socialize with the consumption of alcohol also march in the parade. Because some members of other parade groups indulge in immoral behavior in connection with the St Patrick’s Day holiday, are such groups ineligible to march?

Or, has a group every marched in New York on March 17th that advocated violence in Ireland as a means of overthrowing the government in the north of that isle?

It occurs to me that the standard of virtue seems to focus more on grave sexual sin, and not other forms of grave sin. Is that the kind of double-standard people find offensive? And must the remote cooperation with evil, by the standards given often in the Church’s writing, extend to all whom the Church does business? In other words, not just those who march in parades, but those who conduct our legal business, those who buy and sell with us, those who repair our cars or appliances? Is it possible to draw the line and still wrap ourselves in the mantle of fairness and morality? And if, as some say, we are in some way harmed and harming others by cooperation, does the same harm not happen when we choose not to look deeply at all of our relationships, not just the ones we find sexually icky?

 

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Aparecida 75 – Civil Society

Participatory democracy involves more than voting in elections. The bishops see the importance of organized groups that are not part of the government, what is often called civil society. These play a role similar to the “intermediate institutions” that Alexis de Toqueville found in the United States in the early nineteenth century.

They particularly note several groups which have been organizing in recent years, exerting influence in the public sphere, and being less marginalized.

Participatory democracy is growing stronger with the more assertive presence of civil society, and the emergence of new social actors, such as indigenous people, Afro-Americans, women, professionals, a broad middle class, and organized poor people, and more room for political participation is being created. These groups are becoming aware of the power they hold in their hands and of the possibility of bringing about major changes for achieving more just government policies, which will reverse their situation of exclusion.

But the bishops have a few concerns about the direction of civil society.

In this regard, a growing influence of United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations is evident, although their recommendations are not always in line with ethical criteria. Their actions sometimes radicalize positions, foster extreme confrontation polarization, and place this potential at the service of interests foreign to their own. In the long run their hopes could be frustrated and negated.

What might the bishops be referring to?

I am going out on a limb and suggesting that this might be related to concerns about “radical feminism,” “homosexual rights,” and other related issues. They also might be a bit concerned about the promotion and support by non-governmental organizations of civil society organizations in conflict situations in Latin America, particularly over land, mining, and some environmental concerns.

Here is an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Immense Heaven

The astronomy picture of the day is Laniakea, the newly discovered/defined super-structure that includes our Milky Way Galaxy. There’s already a Wikipedia entry. The massive Virgo Supercluster is now just an “appendage” in the bigger scheme of things.

It’s hard to discern shape when you’re sitting within. The thing I’ve never heard referenced is how astronomers map structure taking into account the tens and hundreds of millions of years between one end and another. Not just big space, but long stretches of time.

We’re on one side of Laniakea, but we view the other side not as it is today, but as it was almost five hundred million years ago. All galaxies are in movement relative to each other. Most are flying apart. Only close associations share a gravitational attraction. Astronomers admit the boundaries of superclusters are vague. We know, for example, the Triangulum Galaxy, imaged here by Alexander Meleg …

Triangulum_Galaxy

… is gravitationally bound to our Local Group. It’s a probable satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy. We might be colliding with that whole array in a few billion years. But will our star stuff be mixing it up with aliens on the other side of Laniakea in the endless eons to come? Who can be sure?

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DPPL 54: Liturgy Surpasses … In Theory

STA altar at night smallIn theory, the liturgy, especially the Mass, “surpasses all other” forms of prayer. This, despite the testimonies of people cited in DPPL 53, and the obvious situations in which people have no recourse to regular sacramental care or the liturgical leadership of the clergy is so poor than almost any alternative is better than the Mass.

54. In an exaggerated and dialectic way, such views reflect the divergence that undeniably exists between the Liturgy and popular piety in some cultural ambits.

Where such views are held, they inevitably indicate that an authentic understanding of the Christian Liturgy has been seriously compromised, or even evacuated of its essential meaning.

Against such views, it is always necessary to quote the grave and well pondered words of last ecumenical Council: “every Liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree”(SC 7).

And if we cite such views, it is certainly incumbent on the full range of clergy: bishops, seminary rectors and professors, and priests, to be fully prepared to offer their absolute and unconditional best when it comes to the public celebration of the rites of the Church.

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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Another Fired Employee

pink slipI have a hard time mustering what to say about church employees being fired for announcing engagements to people of the same sex, being pregnant outside of marriage or normal conception activity. The truth is that many of us sign church employment agreements that stipulate good moral conduct. The employer is always the arbiter of that.

I remember being faced with such an arbitration with the pastor and business manager at the end of my first year of employment–and the day before I took a June vacation to visit my hometown. I was informed that a married couple in the parish was poking around my new living situation with a male roommate. Their daughter, whom I was dating, had asked me my political opinion about a university professor at a Christian college who had declared himself “out.” I hadn’t been offered a new contract on the date my old one said it was to happen–the pastor was actually more than two months late.

Funny how those pieces all fit together in retrospect.

But it also confirmed my long skepticism about church management: you might think you work for a system that employs a higher moral standard, but don’t be fooled. Clergy are just as petty and sinful as the people they fire or try to pink-slip. And in the case of my first boss, who fancied himself a strong and decisive manager, just as easily manipulated by gossip and invented folklore.

I did go into my vacation the next day with a signed contract for the coming year. But I warned my roommate to watch his back with the parish staff and a certain parish family. And I felt better having written and delivered a scathing letter of criticism to the pastor on my way out of town.

I suppose I could have returned to find myself terminated, but at least I was getting a vacation out of the guy. He might have been too easily manipulated by these people, but he was moral enough to accept he was in the wrong. Firing me would have just compounded his cooperation with, as my roommate described it, evil. He got to stew on my accusations of him for a few weeks, then he blew up at me at our next meeting. I called it even.

I did notice that Cardinal George consented to a meeting with another fired gay musician. Fired, it seems, not for having sex, which seemed to be taken for granted by absolutely everybody who knew the man, including his pastor. But for announcing a legal reality in the state of Illinois that still seems to me to be morally neutral, despite Fr Michael’s protestations to the contrary.

My early experience certainly colored the way I’ve handled myself as a church employee. I’ve admired most of the guys who have employed me. But they’ve never been my friends, advisors, or spiritual directors.  I don’t socialize with people who are my bosses. I remember one priest being surprised when my future wife and I announced our engagement. I certainly didn’t include him in our discernment–we spoke with other friends. Before I was married, I didn’t bring women I was dating to parish staff social events. I wouldn’t subject a friend to moments like that. (Taking women home to my family was traumatic enough.)

Cardinal George doesn’t have a spotless moral record of his own on which to stand. I suspect that more people have called for his job termination than for Mr Collette’s. That may be some small measure of comfort when a body is standing in the unemployment line, but there you have it.

Cardinals, priests, music directors, teachers: all fall short of the ideals of the Gospel. That some classes of folks are cashiered out of a job and some not isn’t always because of differing levels of moral conduct. All too often, the decision happens not because of moral misconduct as much as because it can happen. And don’t we all know it.

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DPPL 53: Frequent Comments Heard Today

STA altar at night smallThe CDWDS reports some comments. I’m not sure: are these typical, frequent, and do they cover the issues? Let’s read and discuss.

53. In those instances where the liturgical actions have been superceded by popular piety comments, such as the following, are often heard:
• popular piety is sufficient for the free and spontaneous celebration of “Life” and its multiplicity of expressions; Liturgy, on the other hand, centered at it is on the “Mystery of Christ” is essentially anemic, repetitive, formalistic and inhibits spontaneity;

My professional colleagues might be surprised to hear me in agreement somewhat with this. I think the advent of a vernacular liturgy mellows this somewhat, especially on two fronts: preaching and music. It might also be that the “Mystery of Christ” can be more deeply encountered and engaged in the lay spiritual life.

• the Liturgy fails to involve the total being, both corporeal and spiritual, of each member of the faithful; popular piety, because it speaks directly to (the person), involves (the) body, heart and mind;

Perhaps true, if we’re speaking of the modest and sometimes over-interiorized “traditional” approach to liturgy.

• popular piety is an authentic and real locus for the life of prayer: through pious exercises the faithful truly dialogue with the Lord, in terms which they fully understand and regard as their own; the Liturgy, however, places words on their lips that are not their own or alien to their level of culture, and thereby becomes a hindrance to prayer rather than a means;

I think we can be careful about expressions of Scripture that might have a more universal appeal, and the overly-Latinized prayers. The latter certainly have some basis in Scripture and Tradition, but have the new translations of the liturgy been more of a hindrance than a healing on this point? Remember, some bishops have rejected the CDWDS wholesale.

• the ritual with which popular piety is expressed is one which is received and accepted by the faithful because of its correspondence between their cultural expectations and ritual language; the ritual proper to the Liturgy is impenetrable because its various expressive forms derive from different cultural sources widely removed from those of the faithful.

And so we come to the matter of inculturation. What is appropriate for liturgy? What serves the need of the people, first and foremost, their sanctification?

Other comments? Are we missing anything important not covered in DPPL 53?

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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Aparecida 74 – Democracy and Authoritarianism

Continuing their analysis of the reality of Latin American and the Caribbean, the bishops turn to the “sociopolitical dimension, ” an analysis which I find rather optimistic.

They first treat what they call “authoritarian regimes” in paragraph 74.

The Latin American bishops meetings in Medellin Colombia in 1968 and in Puebla in 1979 took place in a time when many Latin American countries were ruled by right-wing dictatorships in which torture and disappearances were common.

The 1992 meeting in Santo Domingo took place as changes were taking place which resulted in the end of civil wars in El Salvador (1992) and Guatemala (1996); The previous decade had witnessed some major changes: Chile’s dictatorship had ended in 1988, Brazil’s in 1985, and Argentina’s in 1983. Problems still remained in Haiti, Perú, and several other countries but democracy was becoming more common in the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Thus the bishops at Aparecida can speak of “a certain democratic progress which is evident in various electoral processes.”

Yet they express some concerns about the political situation of “populist” regimes.

However, we view with concern the rapid advance of various kinds of authoritarian regression by democratic means which sometimes lead to regimes of a neo-populist type.

I may be mistaken but I believe that at least some bishops were thinking of the populism of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Their Bolivarian socialism sometimes put them in conflict with the bishops of their countries. Concern with “neo-populism” is sometimes code for opposition to the style of democracy of Chavez and Morales, as well as Correa in Ecuador and Zelaya in Honduras.

Even if this is not the case, the bishops note the importance of “participatory democracy.”

This indicates that a purely formal democracy founded on fair election procedures is not enough, but rather that what is required is a participatory democracy based on promoting and respecting human rights.

But the bishops fear that democracy can become a dictatorship, not respecting human rights.

A democracy without values, such as those just mentioned, easily becomes a dictatorship and ultimately betrays the people.

This reflects Pope John Paul II’s stance on democracy. As he wrote in Centesimus Annus ¶ 46:

As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.

Pope John Paul II also reflected on democracy in his pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae. In paragraph 70, he wrote:

Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a “system” and as such is a means and not an end. Its “moral” value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, this is to be considered a positive “sign of the times”, as the Church’s Magisterium has frequently noted. But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the “common good” as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored.

Thus, for the Latin American bishops, as for Pope John Paul II, democracy must be based on values, including the promotion of life and human rights.

Here is the USCCB translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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