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When I was in Catholic grade school (in the late 1980s-early '90s), I can remember being encouraged to pray for the intercession and eventual canonization of then-Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I don't know what inspired our teachers to bring her to our attention, besides her fairly recent beatification (in 1980). Maybe they were flush with success after the 1975 canonization of St. Elizabeth Seton -- the patron of Catholic schools, as we were so often reminded -- and were hoping to energize us with another American cause. Or perhaps they assumed, correctly in my case, that she was a figure who would appeal to our young imaginations: American like us and yet exotic, a figure who stood out from the crowd of saints with whom we were familiar; a laywoman, and young at that, when she made her courageous commitment to Christ. Probably, too, the story of Kateri fit in well with a curriculum, and as I recall a wider culture, that was heavy on the study of Native Americans -- a sudden burst of respectful attention to compensate for many decades of neglect and worse. As I look back, I remember learning a lot about American Indian nations and their ways of life in grade school: who lived where, in what sort of dwelling, wearing what, and so forth. As older kids we got more information about where all those noble tribes disappeared to, and why. I couldn't summon many details from my social-studies books now, but the general sense of respect and awe has stuck with me. (Of course, all that sensitivity training didn't stop me from dressing up as an Indian maiden for Halloween when I was eight or nine -- but I meant it as a tribute. I wanted to be like Kateri Tekakwitha. Plus, I had a hand-me-down costume with lots of tiny beads and leather fringe that was just so cool.)
Thus my ten-year-old self is very pleased that Kateri Tekakwitha has become a saint at last, though perhaps without much help from me. Kathleen Sprows Cummings's article in our June 1 issue (subscription required) is a fascinating look at the circumstances that led to her canonization last October, after a journey of more than a century. Cummings explains what made Kateri a promising candidate when the U.S. bishops opened her cause in 1884, and how her cause fell out of style in the generations that followed. Other home-grown saints surpassed her in popularity -- almost always women, hence the article's title, "Native Daughters" -- and Cummings proposes that their varying fortunes reveal something about the eras in which they were elevated. We like to think that there's a timeless standard of "holiness," and exemplars of that standard will be easily identifiable in any era. But as Cummings shows, different times call for different models of holiness, and the same person's story can be put to different uses depending on the needs of the day. It's another angle on the story of who gets to official sainthood, and when, and why.
As for Kateri Tekakwitha, she might never have been canonized had it not been for significant developments both in the Catholic Church and in American culture. One was the 1979 election of John Paul II, who streamlined the saint-making process, in part to give Catholics from nations without wealth or influence a better chance to secure saints of their own....
By then the Lily of the Mohawks symbolized something quite different from the Tekakwitha whose name had appeared on the Baltimore petition a century before. No longer an effective national symbol, she had reemerged as an ethnic one. Since the 1970s, Tekakwithas most enthusiastic devotees have been Native-American Catholics, both in Canada and in the United States. It is telling that while all U.S. church leaders had supported the 1884 petition that initiated her cause, only one issued a public statement when it finally succeeded: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, the lone Native American in the hierarchy.
While celebrating the "tangible signs of inculturation" that greeted the canonization of Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope, Cummings also worries that "in 1884, canonization offered the American church divided then, as now, by ethnic and ideological conflict a way to rally behind a common goal. Today, canonization reveals just how tribal U.S. Catholicism has become." Read the article. What do you think?
Before going to teach at Notre Dame Law School, I practiced law for three years in a large law firm setting. Like many young attorneys, I found the system of billing very difficult and in many ways alienating. After leaving practice for the academy, I wrote an article entitled "Billable Hours in Ordinary Time: A Theological Critique of the Instrumentalization of Time in Professional Life." The article contrasted the "billable hours" mentality with the view of time--and of human life--embedded in Catholic theological and liturgical practice. It was published in the Loyola University Chicago Law Review and, in a slightly different version, in Communio, over a decade ago.To my great surprise, a couple of professors from Stanford Business School andthe University of Toronto (whom I did not know) came across the article, and decided to see if they could empirically confirm some of my observations.(The idea that someone might actually test what normative thinkers like theologians and philosophers claim came as a great surprise to me!)According to a recent blog post, I guess they think I was right! Actually, anyone who has ever heard third and fourth year associates talking about billing hours wouldn't doubt it.On a broader point, one of the reasons I object so much to the culture wars is that their focus on hot button moral controversies occlude other ways that Catholicism (and other religious traditions) might offer a helpful, critical perspective on life in America today. Religion isn't merely a delivery system for moral norms. The normative framework offered by religion extends beyond a list of moral "do's' and "don'ts."And I say that as a moralist.
Though establishing a basic income was once at the forefront of politics, it has since become more of a Utopian, abstract project. But sometimes it is helpful to step back from the day-to-day wonk work and think Utopian.
Samuel Goldman on "expressive consumerism," superficial inclusiveness, and economic inequality:
In our time,the stories of greater social equality and economic inequality are far from unrelated. Rather, social inclusion has been used to legitimize economic inequality by means of familiar arguments about meritocracy. According to this view, its fine that the road from Harvard Yard to Wall Street is paved with gold, so long a few representatives of every religion, color, and sexual permutation manage to complete the journey. Superficial diversity at the top thus provides an moral alibi for the gap between the one percent and the rest.
Michel Kinsley on "LGBT PC":
All you need to know is that Ben Carson opposes same-sex marriage. Case closed. Carson was supposed to be the graduation speaker at Johns Hopkins Medical School. There was a fuss, and Carson decided to withdrawas speaker. The obviously relieved dean nevertheless criticized Carson for being hurtful. His analysis of the situation was that the fundamental principle of freedom of expression has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect. My analysis is that, at a crucial moment, the dean failed to defend a real core value of the university: tolerance.The universitys response was wrong for a variety of reasons. First, Carson isnt just another gasbag. He is director of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins. Pediatric neurosurgery! He fixes childrens brains. How terrible can a person be who does that for a living? Yes, I know the flaw in this thinking: There is no necessary connection. As a character says in Mel Brookss movie The Producers: der Fhrer vas a terrific dancer. But Carson didnt murder millions of people. All he did was say on television that he opposes same-sex marriagean idea that even its biggest current supporters had never even heard of a couple of decades ago. Does that automatically make you a homophobe and cast you into the outer darkness? It shouldnt. But in some American subculturesHollywood, academia, Democratic politicsit apparently does. You may favor raising taxes on the rich, increasing support for the poor, nurturing the planet, and repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, but if you dont support gay marriage, youre out of the club.
A number of Commonweal readers will know of the death on April 27th of Father Kevin Seasoltz, OSB, a monk of Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, and long-time editor of Worship magazine.Here is the ending of the funeral homily preached on May 2nd by Abbot John Klassen of the Saint John's community:
The Eucharist that we celebrate here is an expression of Gods love for us. But it must also be an expression of our love for one another. On multiple occasions, Father Kevin shared an account that Cardinal Basil Hume gave of a trip to Ethiopia, that illuminates so well this essential feature of Eucharist.Cardinal Hume had been asked to visit a settlement where starving people were desperately waiting for food. As Cardinal Hume got out of the helicopter a small boy came up and took his hand. The boy had nothing but a loincloth around his waist. He would not let go of Cardinal Humes hand. He made two gestures: with one hand he would point to his mouth to indicate his need for food. With the other he would take the cardinals hand and rub it to his cheek.Cardinal Hume wrote: I have never forgotten that incident. I realized in a new way those two profound and fundamental needs: for food and for love With one gesture he showed the need for food, with the other his need for love. On reflection I realized in a new way the secret of the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is food and love.As we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of Father Kevins worship, work, and life with us, we do so in the sacrament that meant so much to him. We bless the Lord of righteousness and acknowledge God as a God of life, as a source of forgiveness and resurrection. May all of us join Father Kevin in that great heavenly liturgy in the New Jerusalem.
Father Kevin's obituary and a link to the full homily may be found here.
The closer you get, the worse it looks.That seems to be the takeaway from a collection of surveys over the past year intended to gauge the response of Catholics to the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The controversial new English translation of the Roman Missal had its debut at the end of 2011, amid doubts of its ability to gain wide appeal. Give it a chance its advocates advised, youll get used to it.
A year later, when a CARA survey reported that 70% of lay Catholics in America agreed with the statement that The new translation is a good thing, it seemed these predictions were justified. To say that the translation is a good thing might seem to be a rather lukewarm endorsement, but these results were positive enough to be encouraging. Online polls conducted around the same time however revealed a more troubling picture, showing considerably more negative opinion, especially among priests, who arguably have the greatest investment in the new translation because of their role in the daily celebration of the liturgy. They use the Missal every day, and know its pluses and minuses better than anyone.
- The Tablet found that clergy gave the new translation very negative marks. Of the 1189 clergy who participated, 70% were unhappy with the translation and wished to see it revised. In a strange twist, considerable numbers of respondents who preferred the Extraordinary Form (which is in Latin) took the survey. 94% of them approved of the new translation. But 57% of those who preferred the Ordinary Form disliked it.
- US Catholic polled more than 1200 priests in a reader survey, and found that 58% agreed with the statement: I dislike the new translations and still cant believe Ill have to use them for the foreseeable future. 49% of Catholics in the pews also registered unhappiness with the translation whereas only 17% said they enjoy them as much as or more than the old translation.
Observers have taken the more critical Tablet and US Catholic results with a grain of salt. Yes, they indicate dissatisfaction, and especially strong dissatisfaction among clergy, but how reliable are these polls?
The results of a new study, released today, sets our knowledge of the opinions of priests on a firmer footing.Read more
Never one to seek the limelight, Commonweal's editor Paul Baumann nevertheless found himself there on Saturday, gaudily attired at the graduate commencement exercises at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, where he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
He has not yet ordered anyone to call him Doctor in the office, but he did report that he enjoyed the day enormously, and seemed to particularly like the reception in Sacred Heart's new Linda E. McMahon Commons.
In his remarks, the editor told his audience (more than 700 graduate degree recipients and their families) that his high-school baseball squad once played a team anchored by a young Bobby Valentine, later a major league player and manager and now Sacred Heart's athletic director. Back then, recalls Paul, Valentine took advantage of some predictable pitch selection by his opponents and clubbed a towering home run. He concluded:
Catholicism has long taught that our best hope for discovering the truth is to search for it together. A lot of different voices should be welcome in our political and in our religious debates. In other words, as Catholic writers and thinkers we try to mix up our pitches. I urge you to do the same.
Congratulations to all Sacred Heart's degree recipients, in particular this one.
Now live on the website, the new issue of Commonweal.Among the highlights:Kathleen Sprows Cummings on the torturous path to sainthood of Native American Kateri Tekakwitha, a process that took more than a century and that offers an illuminating glimpse into American Catholic history:
U.S. Catholics attributed their lack of a patron to a dearth not of holiness but of influence. They argued that the modern process of canonization, implemented in the seventeenth century, disadvantaged those Catholics living on the churchs periphery, far from its center of wealth and power. Without monarchs or wealthy communities to undertake the long and often expensive investigations demanded at Rome, one American Catholic grumbled, it was little wonder that no one north of the Rio Grande had ever even been proposed for canonization. One American priest, Rev. Edward McSweeny, suggested that the Vatican appoint a special group of cardinals to glorify the hidden saints of countries whose people were too poor to sponsor a cause.There was no such simple remedy for the second obstacle U.S. Catholics saw thwarting them in their search for a native saint: anti-Catholicism in their own country. In seeking to elevate one of their own to the altars, North American Catholics would have to contend not only with a daunting and costly process but also with a Protestant supremacy that held them in contempt. Many outspoken anti-Catholics reserved special scorn for sainthood and viewed the prospect of an American saint as a travesty. In 1841, the politician and Presbyterian minister Robert Breckinridge had beseech[ed] God that no American papist may ever be corrupt, debased, and infamous enough during his life, to be esteemed by Rome worthy of being a saint in her calendar after his death.And indeed, the 1884 petition on behalf of Tekakwitha set off warning bells in some Protestant circles. Recognizing that the United States was now a step closer to a canonized saint, the editors of the Methodist Review warned that if Catholic immigration continued apace, American Protestants would soon have to tolerate not only the canonization of an inconspicuous Indian maiden but also an abundance of U.S. saints drawn from among the present superstitious masses of our country[Catholics] of Irish or Italian extraction.
Read it all here (subscription required).Also, Matthew Ashley reviews Jacques Dupuis Faces the Inquisition, which documents the travails and the courage of the late Jacques Dupuis, the Jesuit priest and theologian whose work on what he called a Christian theology of religious pluralism drew scrutiny from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the last decade of his life. From the review:
Dupuis approach to a theology of religious pluralism, while deemed insufficiently radical by many seminarians and theologians in India, was viewed in Rome as going too far. This negative reaction, first signaled by a 1992 book review of Jesus Christ at the Encounter of World Religions in Civilt Cattolica, culminated in an investigation of Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism by the CDF that began in June 1998; three months later, Dupuis received a notification that his book contained grave errors and doctrinal ambiguities on doctrines of divine and Catholic faith. In response to the notification Dupuis composed and submitted almost two-hundred pages of text; seven months later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger responded that Dupuis answers were considered inadequate for preserving the doctrine of Catholic faith free from errors. More questions were posed, which Dupuis answered with another sixty pages. There followed many months of silence; then, in September 2000, Dupuis was summoned to the offices of the CDF, where he was asked to sign a draft of a notification that asserted propositions to be affirmed and errors to be rejectederrors imputed to his book without quotations or page references. The signed notification would have been published simultaneously with the CDFs own statement on the relationship between Christianity and other religions, Dominus Iesus. The apparent goal was a potent one-two punch intended to warn off theologians, such as Michael Amaladoss, Peter Phan, and Paul Knitter, who went further than Dupuis was willing to go.Dupuis found himself unable to sign. While he could agree to the positive statements he was required to affirm (noting, however, that they required further interpretationwith the implication that in so doing one could arrive at his theology) he noted that the alleged errors either misrepresented what I wrote or interpreted it in a way that went against my intention and meaning. The meeting ended in an impasse. A second draft, sent in December, stated its charges somewhat more temperately, downgrading grave errors and ambiguities to grave ambiguities and ambiguous formulations or insufficient explanations that could lead the reader into erroneous opinions. Reluctantly Dupuis agreed to sign, but included an explanation that his signature indicated he would later have to take into account the text of the declaration Dominus Iesus and of the notification. The CDF would have none of that, and when the signed notification was published in LOsservatore Romano it included an additional paragraph that Dupuis never saw, specifying that in signing the author committed himself to assent to the stated theses, and in his future theological activity and publications, to hold the doctrinal contents indicated in the notification. Observing the difference between take into account and assent and hold, Dupuis reflected, in typically understated fashion, that this procedure was of course, questionable.
You can read the whole thing here(subscription required).Also posted today, E. J. Dionne Jr. on how dissatisfaction and the erosion of engagement suggest there may be something especially flawed with our democracy:
Citizen dissatisfaction is hardly surprising in the wake of a deeply damaging economic downturn. That doesn't make the challenge any less daunting. We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it.
Today I've posted my final installment of the Cammino attraverso la Commedia over at Verdicts. Thanks to everyone who has followed along, and special thanks to Helen and Flavia who performed intellectual works of mercy (you didn't know there were intellectual works of mercy, did you?) by commenting on each post. (They will certainly get time off in Purgatory for that!) Although Mary was in the upper room with the apostles, Bernard's hymn to Mary isn't a perfect match for Pentecost. But it is May, and the hymn is beautiful, and I couldn't fit it into my post, so I've posted it below. If you would like to find all the posts on Dante, you can click here. Of course, feel free to comment.
'Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son,more humble and exalted than any other creature,fixed goal of the eternal plan,'you are the one who so ennobled human naturethat He, who made it first, did not disdainto make Himself of its own making.'Your womb relit the flame of love --its heat has made this blossom seedand flower in eternal peace.'To us you are a noonday torch of charity,while down below, among those still in flesh,you are the living fountainhead of hope.'Lady, you are so great and so prevail above,should he who longs for grace not turn to you,his longing would be doomed to wingless flight.'Your loving kindness does not only aidwhoever seeks it, but many timesgives freely what has yet to be implored.'In you clemency, in you compassion,in you munificence, in you are joinedall virtues found in any creature.'This man who, from within the deepest pitthe universe contains up to these heightshas seen the disembodied spirits, one by one,'now begs you, by your grace, to grant such powerthat, by lifting up his eyes,he may rise higher toward his ultimate salvation.'And I, who never burned for my own seeingmore than now I burn for his, offer all my prayers,and pray that they may not fall short,'so that your prayers disperse on his behalfall clouds of his mortality and letthe highest beauty be displayed to him.'This too, my Queen, I ask of you, who can achievewhatever you desire, that you help him preserve,after such vision, the purity of his affections.'Let your protection rule his mortal passions.See Beatrice, with so many of the blessed,palms pressed together, joining me in prayer.'(The translation comes from the Princeton Dante Project, which I have used in every post.)
Pentecost reverses Babel. Whereas once language divided humanity, the words of the Apostles, spoken in the Spirit, unite humanity. Peters speech in Acts 2 causes people to repent, and the newly repentant form a new community where they share with each other and praise God. In other words, Peters speech helps to create a community of love. Until today, I hadnt thought of Dante as a Pentecostal, but the title fits. Above all, Dantes Commedia celebrates the interdependence of language and love. Although human language falls short of the perfection of Gods love, without language human beings would have no access to that love.The Paradiso hits its crescendo in the final four cantos, and as it hits its crescendo, Dantes words increasingly stretch their meanings. Before he meets St Bernard, Dante describes what he has learned from Beatrice. Dante writes,When she who does imparadise my mind (mparadisa la mia mente)had revealed the truth againstthe present life of wretched mortals,then, as one whose way is lit by a double-candled lampheld at his back, who suddenly in a mirror seesthe flame before he has seen or even thought of itand turns to see if the glass is telling him the truth,and then sees that it reflects things as they are --as notes reflect the score when they are sung --just so do I remember having done,gazing into the beautiful eyeswhich Love had made into the snare that caught me. (Par 28:1-12)Of course, to imparadise is not a verb in English or Italian, but even though Loves snare can catch Dante, it cannot be caught in human language. We see this again the first time he sees St Bernards flame.And that one least removed from the blazing point of lightpossessed the clearest flame, because, I think,it was the one that is the most intruthed by it (per che pi di lei sinvera) (Par 28:37-39)Again, Dantes words reach beyond themselves. He knows full well that his Italian begins to creak here, but there is no other way to describe how Gods truth penetrates Bernard.
What this means, ultimately, is that human language even the language of Dante, even the language of the Scriptures is not fully adequate to describing Gods perfection. As Beatrice tells Dante,Greater goodness makes for greater blessedness,and greater bliss takes on a greater bodywhen all its parts are equal in perfection. (Par 28:67-69)In Canto 30, Dante joyfully laments that his words cannot do justice to Beatrices perfection:I declare myself defeated at this pointmore than any poet, whether comic or tragic,was ever thwarted by a topic in his theme,or, like sunlight striking on the weakest eyes,the memory of the sweetness of that smiledeprives my mind of my mental powers.From the first day, when in this life I saw her faceuntil my vision of her now, pursuitof her in song has never been cut off.But now I must desist in my pursuit,no longer following her beauty in my verse,as every artist, having reached his limit, must.Thus I leave her to more glorious trumpetingthan that of my own music, as, laboring on,I bring my difficult subject toward its close. (Par 30: 22-36)Dante has spent every day since he met Beatrice trying to praise her beauty in song. When he sees her perfection in paradise, when he sees her as she truly is, he recognizes the inadequacy of his own words. And if his words are inadequate, then any human words are inadequate.As perfect as Beatrice is, her beauty reflects the even greater love of God. And so when Dante reaches the Empyrean, where all the flames continually praise God, he cannot contain his wonder.I, who had come to things divine from man's estate,to eternity from time,from Florence to a people just and sane,with what amazement must I have been filled!Indeed, between the wonder and my joy, I was contentneither to hear nor speak a word.And, as a pilgrim, in the temple of his vow,content within himself, looks lovingly aboutand expects to tell his tale when he gets home,so, through the living light I let my eyesrange freely through the ranks, now up, now down,now circling freely all around again. (Par 31:37-48)In the presence of eternity, in the presence of the just and sane, caught between wonder and joy, Dante wants neither to hear words nor to speak them. What could such words tell him that he did not already know? He is content to be in the community of the saints.Luckily for us, Dante continues to speak and to tell us how the saints praise God in the Empyrean. After Bernards hymn to Mary, Dante tells us he reached the end of all desire because the ardor of his soul reached its limit. Bernard signals to Dante to look to God, but Dante already has done so.From that time on my power of sight exceededthat of speech, which fails at such a vision,as memory fails at such abundance.Just as the dreamer, after he awakens,still stirred by feelings that the dream evoked,cannot bring the rest of it to mind,such am I, my vision almost faded from my mind,while in my heart there still enduresthe sweetness that was born of it. (Par 33:55-63)His sight exceeded his speech. Words could no longer do justice to his experience. Dante could not describe the sweetness in his soul. Yet, again, his words continue. He tells us that as he contemplated the eternal Light of God, he contemplated in it, by love into a single volume bound,/ the pages scattered through the universe:/substances, accidents, and the interplay between them (Par 33:86-88). The metaphor is suggestive. The universe is Gods book whose pages are scattered and whose words contain the interplay between substances and accidents. Dante doesnt tell us he can read the book, of course, but he does tell us its there. Perhaps all we need to know is that the book is bound in love.Christianity is a love story. It is the story of a God who created the universe, who, though his Word, became incarnate to enter into a loving relationship with that universe, and who, through his Spirit, joins all creation to love and praise God. This love, Dante tells us, moves the sun and all the other stars. We cannot understand this love without the language that God gives, even though all human responses to Gods language fail to praise Gods love fully. Surely, though, Dantes language comes closest.
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