Eric Bugyis teaches Religious Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.
By this author
In addition to Peter Steinfels' essay urging us to be careful not to weaponize Pope Francis' message, which Kaitlin Campbell helpfully points us to, Politico also has a piece by Paul Vallely that paints a bit more confrontational picture of Francis' relationship to the American status quo. After recounting some of the more challenging things that Francis has said about the problems with the prevailing predatory capitalism and "throwaway culture" of a "globalization of exclusion and indifference," Vallely sums up the spin put on these prophetic statements by Francis' so-called "supporters":
Francis’ supporters argue that he is not advocating a specific political program; rather than taking political sides, he is trying to open people’s minds to the generosity, openness and inclusiveness of the gospel. “It’s not Marxism,” one cardinal told me. “It’s classic Catholic social teaching, as developed by previous popes.” What, after all, is Francis’ joyful embrace of the poor and the rejected—kissing a man with a terrible skin disease, visiting thousands of African migrants washed up on Europe’s shores in Lampedusa, Italy—but an echo of Jesus of Nazareth?
As touching as the gestures that Vallely mentions are, it is difficult to see how things could get more specific or closer to Marxism than what Francis had to say in July when he spoke at The Second World Meeting of Popular Movements in Boliva. There he did not just talk about extending a hand to particular individuals in need. However important this sort of "charity à la carte," as he called it in Evangelii Gaudium, may be (and no one, I think, would doubt that it is), Francis is urging us to adopt a more comprehensive program of systemic change.
Just in time for the Synod on the Family that is scheduled to take place this fall, I came across a 1964 article in New Blackfriars by the inimitable Herbert McCabe on "Contraceptives and Natural Law." The main target of the piece is certain natural lawyers who would argue that there is a linear relationship between sexual intercourse and the propagation of the species. McCabe agrees that any natural law account must begin with the premise that a particular form of life implies a proper function.
In his pastorally tone-deaf response to Friday's Supreme Court decision to recognize same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB, struck a tone that Michael Sean Winters rightly described as "petulant." Kurtz also made a rather dubious reference to the "unambiguous" teaching of Jesus on marriage -- Is that the one where we're told those worthy of the resurrection "neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20: 35)? -- and an equally strained analogy to Roe v. Wade. What struck me as the strangest citation, though, was the reference to Pope Francis's concept of "integral ecology" as recently articulated in Laudato Si.
At first glance, it is difficult to see what a document that never uses the word "marriage" might have to do with the question of same-sex marriage.
In her Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, Elizabeth Johnson describes Darwin as "a beholder," citing the first three words of the first chapter of his On the Origin of Species: "When we look...". In this looking, Johnson claims that Darwin was not simply the disinterested observer that some, who still hold to the myth of scientific objectivity, would have us believe. Rather, Johnson claims that Darwin was a seer who beholds what is in order to penetrate more deeply into its fundamental structures, and, in so doing, is able to do justice not only to its presence but also to its future. This is to say that Darwin's theory of evolution is not simply an account of what is and how it came to be, but it also has something to say about what is to come, namely that it is likely to be at the same time completely continuous with and unpredictable in terms of our present reality.
It is this latter unpredictability that philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour argues is lost on contemporary neo-Darwinians, like Richard Dawkins, and it holds the key to understanding what makes Darwin's reverential beholding distinct from the mere observations of his most fervent would-be disciples. In his article "Will Non-Humans Be Saved?" Latour claims that the revolutionary discovery of "Saint Darwin," which makes him a later-day "Father of the Church," was that organisms are "creativity all the way down." What this means is that in emerging from a process that begins in the radical contingency of random mutation, each new species is a creation ex nihilo that in coming from nowhere, goes nowhere. Rather than being determined by evolution as if by a mechanical process that leaves no room for artistry, what Darwin saw when he looked at nature was a living composition that unfurled across time like a piece of music in which each new movement was completely unprecedented and yet instantly recognizable.
In his new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, Pope Francis can be found singing much the same tune, even if the lyrics are those of the slightly more orthodox saint - Francis of Assisi.
A good friend of mine is organizing a conference in San Antonio, TX to "honor the history, development, and legacy of Las Hermanas, a grassroots Latina movement formed 40 years ago to challenge and change the church and its role in society." It will be held March 19-21, and it looks like they have a great program of spearkers including:
Last night Jesuit priest and peace activist Father William "Bix" Bichsel died in Tacoma, WA. I was introduced to Bix two weeks ago after mass at St. Leo's parish, where I have been attending services since moving to Tacoma in September, but I had already heard much about him. A Tacoma native, he was one of the founders of Guadalupe House, the Catholic Worker community located just down the street from St.
I count myself among those who are sad to see Andrew Sullivan leave the blogosphere. Mostly this is because I will miss benefiting from the enormous amount of work he and his staff put into curating and editing the vast expanse of the World Wide Web. Most days, I would only find out about a particularly insightful piece of online opinion or news reporting because Sullivan and his team had linked to it. Now, I will be forced to comb through all of this on my own or (what is more likely) grow increasingly ignorant of the offerings, albeit of various and sometimes dubious quality, in this large marketplace of ideas, cultural ephemera, and consumer products we call "the internet."
Secondly and, perhaps, more importantly, though, I count myself among those Dish readers, one of whom was quoted in Dominic's post, who heard in Sullivan's self-described "passionate, tortured relationship with the Catholic Church" a fellow traveler struggling to follow the thread of, what John Cavadini calls, the "love story" amidst the abuses that have all but ruined the romance since the turn of this century. Along with those of fellow English Catholic radical, Herbert McCabe, Sullivan's reflections on the life of faith and the drama of Catholic belief and practice have sustained me during those times when, as Sullivan said in his penultimate Dish post, it seemed as if "the hurt got the better of me."
In this last week, following Paul Elie's recommendations, I have returned to a couple of Sullivan's pieces on Catholicism from the late 80s and read them alongside his most recent long essay on Pope Francis. What I find so life-giving about the faith of this conservative, gay blogger is surprisingly similar to the truth articulated by his Marxist, celibate, Dominican compatriot. It is that, in spite of all evidence sometimes to the contrary, both Sullivan and McCabe are somehow able to keep their sights trained on the stubborn light of hope that shines in the Church even when the hands of those entrusted to carry it threaten to snuff it out by clutching it too tightly. The rays of hope to which Sullivan and McCabe continually return include 1) a Thomistic trust in the ultimate commensurability of the truth of revelation and the truth arrived at through natural reason; 2) an appreciation of the fundamentals of the Gospel message centered around the importance of relationship for mediating this truth; and 3) a call to practice charity as the proper fruit of this truth not only on behalf of the institutional Church ministering to the world, but also (and often more importantly) on behalf of Christ ministering to the institutional Church.
I am currently at home in West Virginia for the holiday weekend, and my parents took the survey on family life that was made available to them online by the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. They, along with their fellow parishoners, were encouraged to take it by their pastor.
In the most recent issue of the Oxford American, Alex Mar has a long piece about her visit to two communities of women religious in Texas. One is a Dominican priory in Houston, and the other is a cloistered convent in Lufkin. I found the article interesting for many reasons, not least because my wife, Katie, is from Houston and was taught by the Dominican sisters at St. Agnes Academy, which receives a shout-out by the prioress (Class of '56).
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