Archive for April, 2006

Congress reflection: Why do we assume those who punish/discipline us do not like/love us?

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

One of the big takeaways I had from Fr. Reese’s session was from a story he told about an unnamed theologian who was called to Rome to talk with Benedict when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.  The theologian was obviously nervous and was pleasantly surprised when having dinner with Ratzinger the night before the official meeting.  Ratzinger was relaxed and lighthearted.  He was making jokes and was genuinely interested in the life of the theologian.  As a result, he was a little taken back when the next day at the official meeting Ratzinger had a long litany of complaints and expected corrections.

What struck me about this is how common it is for all of us to assume that those who criticize or punish us do not love us.  As Christians and parents we fully understand the concept when we’re the ones doing the disciplining but as soon as the tables are turned we instinctively assume that the person doing the disciplining does not like us or at the very least is mean-spirited.

I think as Christians we must be VERY conscious about this natural attitude particularly in regards to matters within the Church.  If we are going to be able to spread the Christian message we must be able to live it and this includes both being able to rebuke and take rebukes with charity and love.


Congress session: The election of Benedict and What It Means for the Church (Fr. Thomas Reese)

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

Fr. Reese is famous for having been the editor of America magazine who was basically asked/forced to step down by the Vatican for being too open to giving print space to voices critical of Church teachings.  I wasn’t originally signed up for this session because I already had two sessions regarding the Vatican and the international Church and didn’t recognize Fr. Reese’s name.  On the bus trip down while reviewing my sessions and the alternatives, I realized who Fr. Reese was and was more intrigued to go to this session.  That said, I was also very hesitant.  I didn’t want to go to a laundry airing session and was worried that’s what this session would be.  In the end I decided to go despite my fears.

I must give Fr. Reese a great deal of credit.  He was gracious towards Benedict and was very careful to give the positives of Benedict’s motivations.  In fact, it was only in the question and answer section when directly challenged in regard to his opinion on subjects which he disagreed with Benedict that he was willing to state his disagreements.  Even then he remained charitable and dealt with the issues sans any ad hominum attacks.

Fr. Reese very much concurred with John Allen Jr. that Benedict has been far more cautious that people expected and had a lot of praise for his balanced approach to date.  He also pointed out what he saw as two areas where Benedict was an improvement over John Paul.

1st he spoke to his willingness to meet with dissident theologians specifically referencing Hans Kung.  He said John Paul did not and would never have met with Kung because he worried that it would appear like he was endorsing or supporting Kung’s ideas.  Benedict on the other hand seems to have a much more open approach and feels comfortable that his words and documents will make it clear what he believes.  He doesn’t seem to fear any sense of guilt by association.  Reese saw this as a VERY positive thing.

2nd he spoke to an idea that I found very intriguing.  He said that dictators FEARED John Paul.  After they saw what John Paul was able to accomplish with Communism, they didn’t want John Paul or the Vatican even talking to people from their countries much less have John Paul come to their country.  Because of this, John Paul had a difficult time making diplomatic inroads with countries like China and Cuba later in his Papacy.  Benedict on the other hand has appeared less threatening to these dictators as can be seen by the recent talks between the Vatican and China.  The result may be very positive for the Church’s ability to make inroads in these countries and ensure that the faithful in the country are protected by civil laws.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised and very glad to have gone to this session as I saw Benedict from a different perspective than I had in the past, one that I’m glad to say only improved my appreciation for Benedict.  May God continue to guide Benedict as he leads our Church!

Congress session: The psalms as Jesus Knew Them (Fr. Lawrence Boadt)

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

This was a fairly difficult session because it was so packed with information.  The others who went didn’t like the session much because Fr. Boadt was covering so much biblical territory that they had a hard time understanding.

For me, I was able to keep up… just barely.  It was a re-affirmation that there is SO much structure to the Bible that is not immediately obvious.  The psalms are clearly not just a random collection of psalms but a progression through a spiritual journey that parallels the Jewish struggle to find and defend Israel culminating in glorious praise for God.  It was quite fascinating.

The one thing I took away from this session (beyond the specific information about the structure of the psalms) was the danger of extensive scripture study.  I noticed about half way through the lecture that I hadn’t heard much about God’s authorship of the psalms.  At that point I keyed into listening for him to make any statement about God’s message in the psalms and it never came.  He frequently talked about the writer’s message, but you could tell he was talking about the human writers and seemed to attribute a lot to human development.

I’m not trying to question Fr. Boadt’s faith, particularly because you could tell from his enthusiasm for scripture that he was a man who loved God’s word, but merely to point out that we must be vigilant in not letting our knowledge de-mystify the glories of God like science so often tries to do.  It is a core teaching of our faith that God is the author of scripture.  We must not be too quick to give human motivations to what is in scripture.  Whatever human motivation there is was guided and formed by God Himself.  Whatever insights we may have are just that, insights, and that only when we are called from this earth will we have the privilege of understanding God’s glory in its fullness.

Congress session: The Pontificate of Benedict XVI: What we’ve learned so far (John Allen Jr.)

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

John Allen Jr. is the Vatican corespondent for the National Catholic Reporter and CNN’s Vatican corespondent.  This is a guy who KNOWS the Vatican inside and out.  It was just amazing to listen to him rattle off names and statistics and conversations and documents and meetings and offices in the Vatican and a million other things about the international Church.  I highly recommend reading his weekly column The Word From Rome and also going to see him at whatever conference you might find yourself with the opportunity to hear him speak.

In this session he talked about what Benedict was expected to do, what he has done, more importantly what he HASN’T done and what we can expect in the future.

I love learning about Vatican affairs because I learn so much about the Church that Christ founded.  It’s a REALLY BIG Church doing so much good work and interacting with so much of the world.  It also helps me to put in context the documents that get released and the newspaper headlines that are often so critical of our Church.

What I took away from this session was that all of the commentary from a year ago from various reporters about what Benedict’s election meant for the Church were very much wrong.  Benedict has been far more moderate and cautious that just about everyone gave him credit for.  He’s also been far more personable and “crowd friendly” than many worried he would not be.

Allen pointed out that so much of the criticism for Benedict came from the fact that as Cardinal Ratzinger it was his JOB to disciple dissident theologians.  Many assumed that he would take that job with him to the Chair of St. Peter.  But that is no longer his job.  His job now is to be the voice of Christ for His Church.

Benedict also seems to realize that there is a HUGE difference between the matters of faith and morals and the fallible administration of the Church.  He seems to have far more leniency in dealing with administrative matters, in which a great deal of personal judgment must be used, than with dogmatic matters.  He seems to have no desire to enforce his view of how the Church should be administered on everyone else and leaves much of that to other bishop’s discretion.

And so with so much of life, the sky is not falling, the sun will rise again and all those who prognosticate otherwise are over-reacting.  What is true is that the Church that is founded on 2000 years of Tradition and traditions is not going to yield to the modern pressures to change.  Christ will prevail in His Church.

Another boat name to consider

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

I know this is off topic from this thread of posts about Congress, but since I previously posted about a new name for my newly purchased sailboat I felt the need to post on a new name idea that came to me.  This one even Wendy likes:

Your Ad Here!

Of course I’ll put it on the bow like the previous name but the great think about the name is that you can put it in odd places that you’d never want to have an ad.  Like on the bottom of the boat where it would only be visible during a capsize.  Or on the bottom of the hiking board (similarly only visible during a capsize).

What do you guys think?

Congress session: Martin Luther King Jr. and Catholic Social Teaching (Fr. Bryan Massingale)

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

The first session I went to was about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he REALLY spoke.  Fr. Massingale was an excellent speaker, gifted with the ability to shift through the information to the heart of the issues being discussed. MLK (excuse the abbreviations throughout the post) is one of those universally held heroes.  Whenever that is the case, it means that aspects of that person’s life have been overlooked by the public.  No one’s message is that universally liked.  Instead that person’s beliefs get “sanitized” to make it more palatable to the public as a whole.  John Paul II is another example of this phenomenon.  Most try to forget his strong stances against birth control and married priests when they revere him as a great Pope.

MLK was a big believer in government social programs.  Additionally, he had many critical things to say about capitalism and its ability to leave people in the gutter.  In many aspects he had sympathies towards certain socialistic thoughts although certainly not all.  This part of his legacy has certainly been overlooked by the public.

The other aspect that gets forgotten is how much his message was a Christian one.  Although the public likes to think of him as a black leader, he was primarily a Christian pastor who led a Christian movement.  As the words of his famous “I have a dream” speech go: “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”  To him, ending segregation in the south was all about doing God’s will.

And what stuck me about these things is how true he was to the underlying truths of Jesus Christ, even when that meant re-thinking and re-tooling his message or speaking what was unpopular even in the black community.  Fr. Massingale referred to the riots in Watts as a transitional moment in the life of MLK.  He hadn’t been exposed to black repression in communities where there was no physical segregation laws.  When he saw that black repression existed in communities without physical segregation, he saw that ending segregation required more than changing bus and water fountain policies.  That without economic justice, financial segregation would be just as, if not more crippling as, physical segregation.  Again, the Christian message was bigger than just busses and water fountains.

And it made me think: what would King have to say today?  He was a big fan of government programs.  But that was before the day when the radical attack on Christianity in government began.  How would he feel about that today?  Would he have been able to help stem that radical purge of faith from the public square?  If not, would his attitudes have changed to prefer church sponsored programs over government programs?

And it pained me to think that we no longer have his voice.  Instead we are stuck with the voices of comically pathetic people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.  Both people with the ‘Reverend’ title but neither of whom deserve it like MLK did.  They are no more ministers than Karl Rove.  They are politicians.

So I left the session praying for another MLK to shine in today’s world.  To have a powerful black voice that reclaims the Christian message he spoke so boldly.  A voice that knows that expediency is a sign of desperation and that desperation is a sign of lack of faith and hope.  Because, in the words of St. Paul: If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31)

The best joke from Congress

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Always best to start off posts like this with something lighthearted like a joke.  I heard a few jokes from Congress.  Here’s the best one, told by John Allen Jr., the National Catholic Reporter’s correspondent to the Vatican:

On the Pope’s last trip to America, he arrived a little bit early.  He was able, with little fanfare, to get his luggage and make it to the limo that was taking him to St. Patricks Cathedral.  About 5 minutes into the drive, he rolled down the window and said to the driver:

“I was wondering if you could indulge an old man who doesn’t get to do much on his own.  Could I possibly drive the limo for a while?  I love to drive and haven’t been allowed to in years.”

The driver didn’t see any reason why not so he parked the limo, let the Pope get into the driver’s seat while he got into the back.  The Pope started driving and it was immediately evident that he hadn’t driven in years.  He was going way too slow, could barely keep in his lane and cut off a number of people.  Finally after nearly sideswiping a large bus, a cop pulls him over.

The cop gets out of his car and goes to the driver’s window.  When the Pope rolls down the window, the cop, looking puzzled and without saying a word, goes to the back of the car and opens the rear door.  Again looking puzzled, he closes the door without saying a word and goes back to the driver’s door.  After taking a good look at the Pope he nods his head, shrugs his shoulders and heads back to the cop car.

When the cop got back to the car his partner ask him, “Aren’t you going to write him a ticket?”

“No, I can’t write this guy a ticket.”

“Why not?  Who is it?”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure who it is.  But he’s being driven by the Pope!”

Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

This past weekend I went to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and had a very good time.  It was my third trip after two years off.  I went with 44 other members of my parish.  It was a faith filled journey at which I renewed some of my commitments in my life, picked up some new ones and learned a great deal.

There are those in the conservative Catholic circles I frequent that are fairly critical of “Congress”, one periodical going so far as to call it “Cardinal Mahoney’s Dissident Fest”.  While it is true that Congress leans fairly liberal, I think many over-react.

Yes, there are some presentations that include some dissident or heretical thoughts.  However, the reality is that the vast majority of sessions are consistent with Catholic Orthodoxy.  To my knowledge, no formally disciplined clergy have presented at the conference.  You won’t see Fr. Curran there.  When you balance this against the fact that there are a number of great presenters like John Allen Jr. and Wesley J Smith (in past years) and conservative Catholics have nothing to fear.  I always find sessions that I enjoy.

Yes, the Masses reflect a liberal mindset of how Mass should be conducted including liturgical dance and all the other “innovations” that are consistent with the liberal mindset of focusing Mass on the celebration with little desire to reflect the fall to our knees sacred that I so desire to see in Mass.  However, it is a good experience to witness these Masses as you get to see what that vision looks like when professionally done.  There is much to like in the Liberal vision, although it has many shortcomings (like liturgical dance outside of the procession and recession). I think a melding of the minds could result in Masses which not only honor the sacred but also reflect the jubilation of an Evangelical Christian service.

There is much a conservative Catholic can learn and grow in their faith by attending Congress and I whole heartedly encourage those with the means to attend in future years.

In the next few days I’m going to write about 10 posts (one on each of the 8 sessions and a couple of general thoughts) on my experiences and the things I took away.