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Abducted in Cameroon

Sr. Gilberte Bussiere; photo courtesy Congrégation Notre-Dame

Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Cameroon on April 5. The radical Islamist group Boko Haram from Nigeria is suspected. I don’t remember how I came across the story. Did I read it? Was it on the radio? But I know it registered. These were Catholic missionaries. Who were they? The news story didn’t say.

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Connecting the Circuits

The leitmotif of the great father of the Church, Origen, in his commentaries on Scripture was: "not only then, but now." The narrative of faith is not merely "in illo tempore," but "in hoc tempore."

It is the challenging task of the preacher to proclaim God's Word as relevant in our own day. But, of course, it is the task of every believer to appropriate the Good News, to pass over from a merely "notional" to a "real" apprehension and assent.

Here the great artists – poets, painters, musicians – can be occasions of grace for us. Perhaps none more so than Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach's two surviving Passions coincide in the current liturgical year with our reading of Saint Matthew and Saint John today and Good Friday. I have been listening these past days to the Saint Matthew Passion and will towards midweek begin to play/pray the Saint John Passion.

In his masterful, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner devotes ninety dense pages to an analysis and appreciation of the Passions. Here is an excerpt:

As everyone familiar with either of Bach’s surviving Passions knows, participating either from the outside as a listener or from the inside as a performer, the placement of the chorales is central to the overall experience – pulling the action into the here and now, confirming, responding to, or repudiating what has just happened in the narrative, and obliging one to consider its significance.

 

It is the judicious choice and placement of chorales that provide the essential scaffolding and punctuation of the narrative and that simultaneously articulate the underlying theological themes. You could of course remove them (together with the meditative arias) and the piece would still make sense at one level; but to do so would break the circuit –obliterating the connections to Bach’s time and to ours.

The Consistent Ethic of Pope Francis

Pope Francis met this morning with members of the Italian Movement for Life. In his remarks to the group he said:

Thank you for the testimony you give by promoting and defending human life from the moment of conception! We know it, human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinated to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment 'Thou shall not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shall not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills .... Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away.

National Poetry Month - Tracy K. Smith

Last week, I talked briefly about the prosy-yet-still-poetic work of Spencer Reece. This week, I wanted to draw attention to a very different writer: Tracy K. Smith.

Smith has truly catholic (small "c") tastes. The high and the low, the verbal and the visual, the jokey and the philosophical: all serve as lenses through which Smith--and, with her help, the reader--sees the world and culture anew. In 2012, Smith won a Pulitzer Prize for Life on Mars, and it was a well-deserved honor. It has helped me to see the poetic possibilities of everything from cosmology (Smith mines the metaphoric implications of dark matter and dark energy), to science fiction (the film Soylent Green makes an appearance), to pop music (David Bowie hovers over the whole collection; see below), to the Iraq war. 

Here is the opening to "Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?" Smith's work shows that wonder is the proper attitude to take towards the immense strangeness and beauty of the cosmos--and towards our place within it:

After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure

That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?

For the complete poem, go here.

Pope Francis apologizes for sexual-abuse scandal.

 

Today, in an address to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE)--an NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of children--Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the "damage [abusive] priests have done for sexually abusing children." Noting that the total number of abusive priests is high, "obviously not compared to the number of all the priests," Francis reassured the audience that "the church is aware of this damage; it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church." He promised that "we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed--on the contrary, we have to be even stronger."

Is this earth-shaking? Not really. But given that the last time he spoke on the subject it didn't exactly go over too well, this is a marked improvement. And--significantly--these remarks were not part of the prepared text. Francis could have read through the speech as written and avoided the uncomfortable subject altogether, bringing headlines like, "Pope Speaks to Child-Protection Group, Ignores Sexual Abuse." But he didn't. And what he said carries some force.

Francis pledged not to "take one step backward." He referred to "sanctions that must be imposed." Of course, the question remains: sanctions for whom? For abusive priests? We're aware of those sanctions. What about the bishops who enabled abusers? Francis has made it clear that he's not afraid to investigate an accused cardinal. But is he willing to penalize bishops who have put kids at risk--even after the hard lessons of 2002? That's the great unfinished business of the sexual-abuse scandal.

 

A Lenten Love Letter

There is something characteristically, beautifully and powerfully Catholic about CRS Rice Bowl

Characteristically, because Rice Bowl is an intensely incarnate program.  The flimsy, yet sturdy, fold-together Rice Bowl on the dining room table is something you can see and touch.  The aromas of Rice Bowl's meatless dinner recipes fill the kitchen on Friday nights, stimulate the taste buds with flavors both new and familiar, and fill the stomach (or not, which provides its own lesson). 

Beautifully, because Rice Bowl's educational materials are thoughtfully and artfully prepared.  They're inviting to the eye and always feature, first and foremost, photographs of CRS beneficiaries from around the world and across the US.  Unlike some charitable programs, Rice Bowl doesn't innundate its donor-participants with images of blank-eyed impoverished victims on the brink of death.  Rather, Rice Bowl's photographs, stories and videos steadily and subtly offer images and reminders of the hope and joy that come from faith and love made incarnate. 

Powerfully, first because Rice Bowl raises $7 million annually to support CRS programs in 40 countries around the world. (1/4 of money raised stays in local dioceses.)  Second, because Rice Bowl deepens the meaning and practice of Lent...especially for children:

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Horizons

 A new book and a film have revived interest in a famous quote of Donald Rumsfeld speaking about the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

Reports that say there's -- that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.

The quotation has sometimes been criticized and even mocked. But it called to my mind the use made long before of the same threefold distinction by Canadian philosopher/theologian Bernard Lonergan. He appealed it to explain what is meant by the term “horizon,” much-used by existentialist philosophers, in particular Martin Heidegger.

Visual horizons are defined by a viewpoint and a field of vision, the first determining the second. On the tenth floor of the Empire State Building, a certain field is open to view until the meeting of sky and earth define one’s physical horizon, the point beyond which one cannot see. Go up to the 86th floor, and a much larger field is open to view. Move from the western to the eastern side of the observation deck and a different field of vision appears. Your viewpoint determines what you can see, how far you can see, where the horizon is beyond which you cannot see.

Lonergan proposed to consider one’s existential viewpoint as the sets of questions one is asking or could ask.

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Get those children out of the muddy-muddy

I have no plans to see Noah, the new Darren Aronofsky biblical disaster movie, so I didn't get around to reading A. O. Scott's review in the New York Times until someone recommended it. That recommendation was related to the content-advisory bit at the bottom -- a form Scott has often had fun with. This, at the very end of his Noah review, is perhaps his greatest work:

“Noah” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and only Noah remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”

The review itself is unexpectedly profound, as Scott (and, he says, Aronofsky) takes up some deep questions raised by the attempt to translate a biblical legend into screenplay material.

Noah's story, Scott writes, "is among the strangest and scariest in the Hebrew Bible. At its center is what appears to be an unnerving example of divine self-doubt." That's something we tend to leave out when we think about Noah and the Ark -- instead, we "emphasize the happy outcome: the rainbow, the dove, the cute paired-off beasts, the repopulation of the flood-cleansed earth." By contrast, says Scott, Aronofsky's film "dwells on the dark and troubling implications of Noah’s experience." He has many interesting thoughts about how that plays out.

When you have kids, or when you start buying things for other people's newborns, you quickly discover the popularity of Noah's Ark as a nursery motif. Boats filled with animals appear all over bedding, gift wrap, and other baby items, especially unisex infant stuff -- wild animals seem to cross gender barriers in a way that fire trucks and butterflies do not, and in the case of the Ark they are conveniently organized in complementary pairs.

There's a Fisher Price Noah's Ark toy in the co-op playroom where I spend one morning a week with my sons. Watching my two-year-old stuffing the animal figurines into the boat, I started to point out the fact that they came in pairs, one male and one female -- but I stopped myself, thinking, How much of this story am I prepared to tell him? I didn't see how I could avoid starting at the beginning, and I certainly wasn't about to do that. Eventually, of course, I want him to hear the whole story, and to have it fire his imagination to think about God and God's relationship with us. But for now, "Noah was a guy who had a boat full of animals" is enough.

It's natural, even correct, for us to remember the story of Noah mainly through its happy ending, because that's the point of the story, the reason it's being told. But the rainbow and the boat and the animals do not make for a cute and simple story, and if we try to tell it that way we end up shortchanging its power to move and provoke us as imaginative, questioning, struggling adults. I like Scott's parental warning because it's clever, but also because it's a reminder that, however often religion may be considered in our culture a childish thing to be put away, the Bible, when you really look at it, isn't childish at all.

New stories now on our homepage

LBJ coincidentally comes up in a couple of the stories now on our homepage, perhaps underscoring the point that E. J. Dionne Jr. makes in his column that a “thoroughly justified revival of Lyndon B. Johnson’s standing” is underway. From “LBJ’s Way”:

The Johnson comeback brings with it a new appreciation of the durability of the reforms enacted on his watch. It turns out that there are irreversible social reforms -- changes in how we govern ourselves and view our society that future generations come to take for granted and refuse to wipe off the books.

It’s impossible to imagine that the Civil Rights Act will ever be repealed. The law itself and the broad political and social movement that came together to pass it permanently altered the nation’s attitudes on race. Racism will never be fully stamped out, but our default position -- most visible in the rising generation -- is that racial discrimination is both wrong and stupid. At the least, attacks on the civil rights legacy must be indirect and subtle, as in the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

Similarly, despite all the efforts to contain Medicare’s costs, government-provided health insurance for the elderly is a fact of life. An overriding contest in our politics now is whether the guarantees in the Affordable Care Act will also come to reflect a new normal.

Read the whole thing here.

Among the other reforms of the Johnson era was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which Hollis Phelps recaps in his piece on one of today’s “threats to the common good”: the huge burden of student loan debt that graduates carry with them after college. From “Graduating with a Degree in Debt”:

It’s fair to say that many students wouldn’t be able to attend college at all without easy access to loans. But that so many students have to borrow has much to do with the cost of attending. Although the figures vary, over the past thirty years the real cost of attending a four-year institution has at least tripled, far outpacing inflation. Increasing tuition prices means that grants and scholarships don’t go as far as they used to. Combine that with family income levels, which have been stagnant since the 1970s, and it’s no surprise that the average student now graduates college with $29,400 of debt; 38 million individuals now hold a combined total of more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. That’s four times what it was ten years ago, and it surpasses total U.S. credit card debt. In fact, when it comes to what Americans owe, student loan debt is second only to mortgage debt. …

When confronted with such facts, politicians, the media, business leaders, and the student loan industry typically respond by stressing the importance of individual responsibility in borrowing. True, we might hear halfhearted calls to rein in the cost of tuition, but more common are scolding reminders about how planning in advance, say, with college savings accounts; how choosing an affordable school; how working part time; and how good old-fashioned belt-tightening can help one avoid a mountain of debt after graduation. …

My students, who sometimes graduate with double the average debt, aren’t necessarily poor planners or irresponsible borrowers, misinformed about the debt they are taking on to finance their college education. They just come from homes that couldn’t afford to put money into a college savings account. They’ve chosen for various reasons to attend a college that is one of the more reasonable options in the state, but still costs $17,300 a year for tuition alone. They already have part-time jobs, but $7.25 an hour, which is the current minimum wage in North Carolina, doesn’t make much of a dent in current tuition rates. They know what it means to tighten their belts, since they’ve done so all their lives. My students are, in other words, painfully aware of the amount of debt they are taking on and the consequences: numerous years of sacrifice in other areas of their lives to repay with interest the cost of their degree.

Read the whole thing here.

The Sixth Extinction and the Religious Imagination

Dominic Preziosi has written an excellent post on the question of climate change and the question of potential futures, here. My post might be understood as an extended riff on issues raised there, as well as a continuation of a question I raised in an earlier blog, about religion and the anthropocene. I need to start with some initial ground clearing:
1. Humanity has altered the basic order of life on earth. Nearly every natural process is shaped in a fundamental way by processes of production and consumption. We live in the anthropocene.
2. We have known since at least 1972 – the year of the Club of Rome Report – that such dominance is unhealthy in the present, and unsustainable with regard to any conceivable future. The pursuit of material comfort (in the developed world at least) has ironically led to a future of radical climate volatility.  
3. One potential future has to be seriously considered: a globe where human life no longer exists. Here we enter the world that Scheffler’s book Death and the Afterlife examines: how do we philosophize, how do we think ethically about the present – one’s own present – when no-one, no human persons, will live on in the future? Because of the anthropocene, it is clear that the earth itself will stratigraphically mark/inscribe and “remember” the human trace. We have some future. In geological time, our legacy will be literally etched in stone. But on a human temporal scale, what happens to ethics when the expectation of a collective cultural “afterlife” disappears? We already live in what may be the sixth great extinction, the most destructive erasure of life forms in 65 million years. What happens if human life falls under its shadow? What happens if the bell tolls for us, just as it has tolled for the species that are currently going extinct all around us?

I want to raise a question before I continue to discuss these issues in a second entry. What might happen -- what could or should happen – in the temporal gap between awareness of an end and our collective experience of the end itself? Specifically, what happens to religion? Others (Jack Miles, for example) have addressed and attempted to answer this question. How might religion – or to speak more directly to the readers of Commonweal, our religious tradition – prepare us not only to change course while we still have time, but if and when our time runs out, to comprehend in a full and mature way the imperatives of that condition?

Climate change & 'the afterlife'

There’s an interesting quote from Jonathan Schell in the New Yorker’s recent remembrance of the late author. Schell, who in his book The Fate of the Earth “brought home the sheer reality of what it would mean to explode our atomic arsenals, summoning up not the mainly visceral, personal fear of the duck-and-cover drill but the far deeper horror of a world permanently sterilized and impoverished,” had late in his life come to apply his thinking about nuclear war to climate change. “Both crises,” the article quotes him as saying, “reveal a kind of bankruptcy at the crucial hour of many of the things we place our faith in… . I can easily imagine that in six months the whole earth will be blazing with anger at what’s going on. I can imagine that, but I can’t imagine how it will happen.” 

About a week has passed since the release of the latest and correspondingly more dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—things are only getting worse and “no one on this planet is going to be untouched by the impact”—which means about one less week for the world to muster the anger Schell was hopeful about. The media has generally performed well, at least according to Media Matters, which approvingly notes the amount of coverage the report has received from cable outlets like Al Jazeera and MSNBC and even broadcast networks like NBC. CNN largely ignored the report, however, devoting less than two minutes to it, in contrast to the twenty-plus minutes elsewhere; Fox, in giving it more time, also provided “coverage that largely denied the danger of climate change.” (An aside: Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News, was arguably at one time a relative environmentalist, using his position as media consultant to the Nixon administration to encourage the president to promise a Kennedy-esque mission to eliminate water and air pollution in America by 1980.) Related articles and analyses continue to appear, including this BBC item on Exxon’s breezy lack of concern over the impact of new climate data on its profits—although even it “does not dispute that global warming is happening.” 

Would that the rest of the world could be so nonchalant.

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A career full of "first-rate performances": Mickey Rooney, RIP

a promising performer

There's something unsettling about successful child actors, even the best ones -- especially the best ones. Watching them perform, I can't help thinking about the fact that they are performing. And I am not convinced that it can be good for any child to be good at acting.

Mickey Rooney was certainly one of the best, a professional even before he could read a contract (or anything else). I've long been fascinated by the films of the 1930s and '40s, and the way they reflect Depression-era and wartime America, and I have always had a soft spot for Mickey Rooney. And I have always been impressed less by his talent than by his obvious hard work. Rooney was a performer who held nothing back; a vaudevillian who wanted made sure the people in the very back row got their money's worth. Or, perhaps, a child who just wanted to please. He was, after all, born in a trunk, and put on the stage by his parents as part of their act when he was not yet two. They got him a part anchoring a series of shorts when he was only six, and had his name legally changed to match the character so that he could profit even when he wasn't shooting.

All the studio stars worked harder, or at least faster, in those days, and the kids may have worked the hardest of all. I noted in a post here just after Shirley Temple's death that she made a staggering number of movies from 1934 to 1939. Rooney had a similiarly incredible output. I had thought it might be fun -- and quick -- to honor him with a quick look back at what Commonweal's film reviewers had said of his work. Little did I know how many reviews I'd have to read through -- back then the magazine was a weekly, and every issue included several movie reviews. Just searching our archives gives vivid evidence of how busy Rooney was in his heyday.

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Seeing things.

Dear readers, I'm afraid I owe you an apology. Last week, I criticized members of the media for their coverage of Pope Francis's meeting with President Obama. Before the meeting, some commentators suggested that the pope was planning to confront the president about his support for the contraception mandate and abortion rights. And after the meeting others contrasted the Vatican's press release with Obama's recollections at a press conference. I wrote:

There's nothing perplexing about the differences between a formal Vatican statement and a president's ad libbed remarks to the press. The Vatican's news release was never going to contain revealing language about the pope's emotional response to meeting Obama. It was never going to go on at any length or in any detail about what they discussed. When Benedict XVI met with George W. Bush in 2008, for example, it was, yes, awesome, but the joint statement of the Holy See and the White House didn't exactly describe the visit in florid terms. That's just how these things go.

How mistaken I was. If only I'd waited a couple of days to post, I would have had my illusions dispelled by George Weigel's analysis. He, too, took issue with pre-meeting speculation, noting that some of it caused "confusion" that was "instructive on several counts." According to Weigel, that shows just how "poorly equipped" most of the media is "to cover the Vatican and its ways." But those ways are right in Weigel's wheelhouse, so he attempts to sort through them for the rookie Vaticanista, beginning where so many of Catholicism's riches lie: symbolism, especially photographic symbolism, particularly photographic symbolism that entails the appearance of popes with other world leaders.

Pope Francis conducted his conversation with President Obama across a desk — a stage-setting exercise on the Vatican’s part that one canny media veteran thought “a tad aggressive” and another observer said resembled a school principal having a firm talk with a recalcitrant student.

I hadn't considered that. But now that Weigel mentions it, I see his point. How many office-hours have I spent sitting across the desk from a teacher who offered firm rebuttals to my half-baked musings on this or that theological problem? Of course, I may have been too arrogant to understand how thoroughly my incompetence had been exposed. But I had no illusions about who had authority and who did not.

See for yourself:

There you have it. On one side: Leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, chosen by the College of Cardinals to serve for the rest of his life, whose approval ratings are the envy of elected officials across the globe. On the other: president of a country of about 320 million, half of whom aren't happy with his leadership, and a tiny fraction of whom cares enough to vote. Could Pope Francis have been any clearer? When a pope places a desk between a world leader and himself, it's obvious to anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church that he is signaling the distance between the two--if not his outright disapproval.

Just look at how Pope John Paul II handled talks with his collaborator--or at least pen pal--Ronald Reagan:

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McCarthyism or Corporate Survival?

Mozilla Firefox is my browser and it works. Every now and again I get an update; sometimes a note asking for a contribution to what is largely/wholly a public-spirited effort to keep the internet open source (or something like that). For some reason, I thought it was an Italian effort (as in Mozarella), but it turns out it organizes itself right here in the U.S. drawing on sources from global techies.

Brendan Eich, its recently appointed CEO is now its recently resigned former CEO. The issue: he donated a thousand dollars to California's proposition 8 campaign in 2008. It was an effort to turn back a California court decision allowing same-sex marriages in the state. Apparently when this contribution was discovered, there was a social media uproar (didn't see it on Mozilla though). There were calls for his resignation, and according to this story in the NYTimes, he did resign.

The great debate: Should Eich have been penalized for his views and his contribution? Andrew Sullivan thinks not in this post on the Dish, "The Hounding of a Heretic."  And continues here. And on Sunnday posted this [HT: Ann Olivier]. Meanwhile,  Farhad Manjoo explains at the NYTimes  why Eich had to go: The very nature of Mozilla required it.

UPDATE: Saturday's NYTimes story: The issue of Mr. Eich's social skills comes up. What would social skills consist of in a libertarian context? The story suggests to me that no Mozillian has much in the way of social skills! Or at least, it can't be much of a job requirement.

UPDATE2: Many comments here link to posts elsewhere on this issue. Michael Kelly @4/7,9:04 quotes some particularly interesting comments on the Supreme Court's treatment of donor lists.

Suspended belief.

Today the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that it has suspended a high-school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students this year. Which is what a diocese does when it learns that one of its employees may have abused a minor. But what does a diocese do when it also learns that the staff member who first received the allegation waited weeks to report it? Turns out this one suspends that employee too--and names her (and the accused) in a public statement and a letter to parents.

A number of weeks ago, Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and to the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.

There's transparency and then there's transparency.

Maryland law requires mandatory reporters--which includes educators--to orally notify civil authorities of suspected abuse "immediately" (they have forty-eight hours to file a written report).

You may recall a somewhat similar case involving a diocesan staff member who came to suspect one of his priests was in possession of child pornography. He was eventually found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. But he wasn't suspended, and he remains in the position he held when he broke the law: bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

We'll know whether this amounts to a real shift in church policy when the people who get suspended for failing to report include the men responsible for creating this scandal.

(H/T Michael Paulson.)

They'll Go like Hotcakes

Tomorrow's L'Osservatore Romano reports:

During the Sunday Angelus, and on various other occasions, Pope Francis has urged the faithful to carry a pocket-sized book of the Gospels and to read it often to meditate on Jesus' words and deeds, especially those referred to in the day's liturgy, on which Pope Francis himself has commented.

To help put this suggestion into practice, and communicating a clear message, next Sunday during the Angelus in St. Peter's Square, several thousand pocket-sized copies of the Gospel will be distributed free as a gift to the faithful at the behest of the Pope.

The book, printed by the Vatican Typography (in a special edition for this occasion, which will not be available for sale), contains the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and begins with the Pope's words from the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

At the end of the book will be printed a prayer by Cardinal Newman that Mother Teresa asked her Sisters of Charity to pray each day:

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance
everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us,
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us
but only Jesus!
Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine
as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from you,
none of it will be ours;
it will be you, shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching, not by words
but by our example, by the catching force,
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love
our hearts bear to you. Amen.

National Poetry Month - Spencer Reece

To celebrate National Poetry Month, every Friday during April I will be recommending a contemporary poet worth checking out. Today, I suggest you give Spencer Reece a try.

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Persecution from Without and Within

In his homily this morning at Santa Marta, Pope Francis spoke of persecution faced by Christians. He said:

All the people whom the Holy Spirit chooses to tell the truth to the People of God suffer persecution." Jesus “is precisely the model, the icon.” The Lord took upon Himself “all the persecutions of His people.” The Holy Father went on to note that Christians continue to suffer persecution even today. “I dare say,” he added, “that perhaps there are as many or more martyrs now than in the early days, because they tell the truth and proclaim Christ Jesus to a worldly society in love with ease and desirous of avoiding problems.”

“There is the death penalty or imprisonment for having the Gospel at home, for teaching the Catechism, today, in some parts of the world. A Catholic from one of these countries told me that they cannot pray together. It is forbidden. People can only pray alone and in secret – but they want to celebrate the Eucharist and how do they do so? They throw a birthday party, they pretend to celebrate the birthday there and [have Mass] before the ‘party’. It has happened. When they see the police arrive, they just hide everything and [continue with the birthday party-cover]. Then, when [authorities] leave, they finish the [Mass]. They have to do so, because it is forbidden to pray together: in this very day.”

But he also commented on those who suffer from opposition within the Church:

"Many thinkers in the Church were persecuted, as well. I think of one, now, at this moment, not so far from us: a man of good will, a prophet indeed, who, in his writings reproached the Church for having lost the way of the Lord. He was summoned in short order, his books were placed on the index, they took away his teaching positions – and thus, this man’s life ended – and it was not so long ago. [Now] time has passed, and today he is Blessed. How is it, though, that he, who yesterday was a heretic, is today a Blessed of the Church? It is because yesterday, those who had power wanted to silence him because they did not like what he was saying. Today the Church, who, thanks be to God knows how to repent, says, ‘No, this man is good!’ Moreover, he is on the way to sainthood: He is a Blessed.”

I suspect that the Pope is speaking of the 19th century Italian priest and philosopher, Antonio Rosmini, whose book, The Five Wounds of Holy Church, had been placed on the Index for a time. Rosmini was praised in John Paul II's encyclical, Fides et Ratio, and beatified under Benedict XVI.

What’s up with 59 percent of white Catholics?

A new Pew survey shows “modest decline” in support for the death penalty, with 55 percent of U.S. adults saying they favor it for people convicted of murder and 37 percent opposing, as opposed to 62 percent favoring and 31 percent opposing in 2011, the last time Pew asked the question.

Any drop comes as good news for those opposed to capital punishment, but as usual the drill-downs turn up the interesting information. Take race: Many more whites (63 percent) continue to support the death penalty than do Hispanics (40 percent) or African Americans (36 percent). Or religion-and-race: 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 64 percent of white mainline Protestants support the death penalty; for Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants, support is 37 and 33 percent, respectively. And white Catholics? Support for capital punishment is higher than the overall number, at 59 percent.

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In search of the honest political commentator

Noting that a great many politicos have confidently declared that Obamacare was doomed to inglorious failure over the past few weeks, months, and years, our own E. J. Dionne opens his new column with a question that sounds almost quaint:

Is there any accountability in American politics for being completely wrong? Is there any cost to those who say things that turn out not to be true and then, when their fabrications or false predictions are exposed, calmly move on to concocting new claims as if they had never made the old ones?

It's a very valid question, of course. In fact I would say it's the question that a great many prominent people should be expected to answer before they go on to give their opinions about anything new. What makes it quaint is that we know that the answer is "no." No, there is no accountability, certainly not in American political opinion writing.

We know this because a number of Dionne's colleagues at the Washington Post and his fellow opinion columnists at the New York Times -- to say nothing of those who write for openly propagandistic outlets like the Wall Street Journal op-ed page or the Weekly Standard -- have demonstrated time and again that no concerns about accountability constrain them.

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