Wednesday, December 14, 2016

the mythico-aesthetic bump in the night

The opposite of the pro-life position on conception is not a feminist position. Feminism, qua feminism, doesn’t have a position on when life begins. Where and how: yes. When: no position.

I think it matters to understand the opposite of the pro-life position. It is the heart of eugenics.

The pro-life position can be unpacked; it includes several separate assertions. (1) life has a beginning; and (2) the beginning is non-arbitrary; and (3) the beginning is discernible; and (4) the beginning is fertilization; and (5) from fertilization forward there is a separate and independent human entity, with all relevant rights and privileges. Pro-lifers want to argue about #4. But the real disagreement is about #1.

Biology, unlike physics and chemistry, is allergic to bumps and bangs. In the study of biology, sharp edges get sanded off. This isn’t a matter of science, nor of religion; it’s a matter of taste. Biologists live with the underlying story of evolution, tiny changes adding up incrementally to something new – or newish, anyway. So the “moment” of fertilization seems exciting to pro-lifers, but habits of biology train observers to see the smooth continuum from arousal to coitus to the sperm races to fertilization to implantation to embryo to fetus to infant to toddler to adolescent to adult to senescence to fertilizer.

The most persuasive eugenicist of the 20th century denied he was a eugenicist. That was E. O. Wilson, who taught biology at Harvard, and loved ants. Ant colonies are fascinating! But what he taught was that individual ants are devoid of meaning; to understand ant-ness, you have to understand the colony. Read Wilson! Or, perhaps, just recall a novel (and series) based on Wilson: “Ender’s Game.” In Wilson’s thought, genes matter, and the race or colony matters – but the individual is meaningless, devoid of meaning or significance. The individual carries genes from one generation of the race to the next generation. When people fuss about the individual ant (or human), that’s sweet, and it might serve some evolutionary purpose; but it’s actually just silly.

That’s the enemy.

Pro-lifers are addicted to a different mythico-aesthetic approach, which is related to science and related to religion, but really isn’t either one. The difference between us and eugenicists is that our imaginations are full of creative and decisive and explosive moments.

Count to three if you can

There is a coalition joining feminists who defend the rights of women to -- to what? -- to a very different entity or force or mindset. In the past, when I have gone to pro-choice events and talked to people about China, I found a split, about 50-50, on the matter of forced abortion. That is, I found many people who defended the rights of women to bodily autonomy, but also found many people who identified themselves as “pro-choice” but who did not defend a woman’s right to give birth if she so chose. This second group: (1) is still there; and (2) is very large, perhaps a third or a half of the people who identify themselves as “pro-choice”; and (3) is often overlooked, and often un-named.

To put it another way: regarding abortion, there are people who identify themselves as pro-lifers who emphasize and defend the rights of the child (and try to assert the rights of women as well, but do not consider abortion a right), and there are people who identify themselves as pro-choicers, who emphasize and defend the right of a woman to decide what to do about an unplanned or unforeseen or unwanted pregnancy (and defend the rights of a child as well, but only after the child achieves some degree of size or independence). These two groups are familiar. But there’s a third group, comparable in size to the previous two groups.

The roots of the third group are clearly in eugenics; no serious historian today denies that Sanger built a coalition of feminists and eugenicists. Further, this third group supports population control, subjecting the rights of the unborn and of women, both, to some theory of the good of society.

I’m open to explanations if someone wants to give this third force in the abortion debate a name other than eugenics. When someone insists that I not use that I not use this horrible word with its dreadful history, I’m ready to listen – until it becomes clear that my critic is unaware that this third force or entity or mindset or perspective exists. If you don’t see it, and/or don’t have a name for it, then I will use its name from history.

There are three perspectives on abortion. If you can’t or won’t count to three, your contributions to the debate have sharply limited value.

This third force is not found only in the pro-abortion-rights coalition. It has emerged with dramatic force within the pro-life movement. Today, people who identify themselves as “pro-life” can be divided into two very different groups, depending on whether they defend a child’s right to life as a God-given (and therefore international) right, or as an American right, a proud detail of American history. The pro-life movement is splintered, but the deepest split is about immigrants and refugees. Some pro-lifers – including the entire Catholic hierarchy – defend the rights of migrants. But a large portion of the pro-life movement, including the leaders of the most visible national groups, are neutral or even opposed to the rights of migrants, up to and including a flat refusal to provide asylum to Latino or Muslim refugees – including pregnant women.

I am not sure how much power this third force has. I wonder whether this third force – which I call eugenics, although I am open to another label if someone wants to offer and explain a different label – I wonder whether it is more powerful than feminism or the pro-life movement, either one, taken alone. I do not think that it is more powerful than both together.

Monday, December 12, 2016

strategic symmetry -- 2 on 2

December 12 is a day for long-term strategic planning.

I understand the plans of most pro-life leaders: educate, then change the law so it protects children again. This plan is and always has been lunacy, with no precedent in recorded human history; nonetheless, it is the plan of most pro-life leaders. And now, in pursuit of the impossible, pro-life leaders have enlisted a great promise-maker, who promises to fulfill all wishes. Okay. That’s one strategy.

I offer a different strategy. (1) We must reach out to every sector of society that is interested in justice to help us, and (2) we must re-build a campaign of nonviolence.

The abortion movement makes two arguments of immense power – arguments that most pro-lifers do not understand, let alone answer.

One of these pro-abortion argument is, “I am not an asshole like them” [“them” – pointing at us]. This is not a logical argument. It’s an ad hominem argument, based on snobbery. And so it’s very powerful indeed! The effective response to this snobbery is to fight against every injustice that currently plagues our society, especially against those evils that are part of the eugenics movement, which is the heart and soul of abortion. Understand and fight against eugenics wherever it rears up. It matters that we fight broadly, and – sorry to say it – it also matters that we be seen in every fight. We need allies! Reach left! Leave tracks, and be patient.

The second pro-abortion argument also has immense power that pro-lifers generally misunderstand or ignore. The “argument” is loyalty to family and friends who have chosen abortion. The argument is rarely stated bluntly, but it’s pretty simple. “My mother/sister/wife/girlfriend is not a murderer, and if you call her a murderer, I will fight you forever.” The response to this admirable loyalty cannot be words alone. The answer to this argument must be an action, sharing the intense vulnerability of a mom at an abortion clinic – as well as the vulnerability of the child. So study the Sermon on the Mount, and Gandhi’s use of it, and King’s work. That is, our response is a campaign of nonviolence.

Brief re-cap. (1) To answer the first argument effectively, fight eugenics, with every ally you can find. (2) To answer the second argument, read and act on the Sermon on the Mount every day until you’re in jail, and don’t stop then.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Juan Diego -- unifying left and right

Today is the feast of St. Juan Diego. For four days in 1531, the story goes, he saw Mary on a hilltop in Mexico City. The vision he saw was imprinted on his cactus-fiber cloak. For years, Catholics have recalled this event on December 12, the day the image showed up on the cloak. And since 2002, we have celebrated the feast of Juan Diego on December 9, the day of the first vision – when Mary sent a Mexican peasant to talk to the bishop.

A few years ago, Hillary Clinton saw that beautiful image on the rough cloak, and asked who painted it. That was a great question! When I think of her, I pray with all my heart that she gets a clear and satisfying answer to that question!

I saw the image in 1972. That was the beginning of my pro-life work: I organized a small pilgrimage from Boston to Guadalupe, praying for unborn children and their mothers. Roe v. Wade was already decided, although it was not announced; I had no idea what was about to happen.

There was a period of time when historians wondered whether Juan Diego ever existed, or whether he was just a pious legend. He’s canonized now; the historical debate subsided. But there’s a startling detail in the image itself. It’s about as clear as a cloud that looks like a camel, or an early ultrasound image: maybe you see something, maybe you don’t. But in the image (on rough cactus), in the pupil of Mary’s eye, some people think they see a reflection of a narrow face with two eyes, a nose, and a beard – Mary looking at Juan Diego.

Be clear: if Juan Diego wanted to immigrate, he would bounce right off the border. He was not wealthy, and was not a physician or specialized engineer. He would not be welcome here. We do not have a line, long or short, that he could get into if he wanted to wait patiently. St. Juan Diego would never ever be eligible for immigration into the United States.

Be clear: Juan Diego knew he was second-class (or much lower) in European-controlled Mexico. He had no European ancestors, and he was treated with disdain – not by everyone, but by many proud Spaniards. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Be clear: the miracle in Mexico (assuming, as I do, that there was a miracle) involved a deliberate and unmistakable choice by Mary to take her place with the poor and dispossessed. That’s not Communist revisionism. In the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, she does not look European; she looks like a native of Mexico – and that was deliberate. She is covered in non-European symbols. The missionary to the Irish was Patrick; the missionary to the Germans was Boniface; the missionary to Japan was Francis Xavier; etc, etc. But the missionary to the Mexicans was Mary.

If Catholics are willing to accept it, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a unifying figure. She is the Patroness of all America – not the north, nor the south, but all.

If Catholics are willing to accept it, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a unifying figure. She is considered by many pro-lifers to be the patroness of the unborn. And she is the voice and protector for mestizos, the people of mixed heritage in America.

If Catholics are willing to accept it, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a unifying figure. Migrant farmworkers (frequently undocumented immigrants) and pro-lifers look to her for inspiration and support.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beat him with a stick

Grumpy priests

My friend, Imam Ammar Najar, grew up in Jordan. He played soccer with Christians and Jews, in the street. When someone had to leave for prayer, the others sat down and waited for a while, then returned to the game. The town had bells and chants and calls to worship on Friday, and on Saturday, and on Sunday.

Ammar lived next door to a church that had walls around the church yard. Sometimes someone would kick the ball over the wall, and that would be exciting. Someone would have to go retrieve the ball, and the priest would lean out the window and holler. You had to climb the wall fast, in both directions!

Grumpy priest with a stick

My wife’s uncle, Uncle Jim, grew up in Clare, Iowa. It’s 6,396 miles from Amman, Jordan, to Clare. In 1930, the population of Clare was 254, and 12 of them were Cavanaughs. Jim’s oldest brother was Dave, my father-in-law. The pastor at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Clare was an Irish import, a crusty old man. When Jim and his friends played in the school yard, sometimes some fool would hit the ball into the yard around the rectory. Then someone had to retrieve it. And often, the pastor would see the intrusion, and lean out the window, hollering, “Come up! Come up, while I beat you with a stick!” Sometimes the boys would get the ball and get away; but sometimes as soon as the ball went toward the rectory, they would run for home. That stick was for real.

Elijah and the stick

I don’t recall ever hitting anyone with a stick. Maybe I did, but I don’t recall it, and I doubt I ever did it. But I do remember vividly the first time I wanted to hit someone with a stick. It was actually fairly recently, three or four years ago. I was reading every text I could find in the Old Testament about hospitality, and I was fascinated by the story of Elijah and the widow who fed him in a town named Zarephath. In his career, Elijah the bachelor was an odd eater. At the beginning, he lived in the desert and a raven fed him. But then he moved on to Zarephath. There, at the entrance to the city, he met a woman, and asked her for water. She started off to get it, and he called after, adding to his request: please bring me some bread. She said, I am almost out of food. My plan is to cook the end of my flour and oil, and then my son and I will die. And Elijah said, feed me first.

Well. Feed me first. I don’t care who he is, I want to hit him. I want to hit him in the head. In fact, for the first time in my life, to the best of my recollection, I want to hit someone in the head with a stick. Feed me first! Dusty grimy dirtball. Who in hell did he think he was?

I can’t hit him; he’s dead and gone. Well, I guess that’s a little complicated; he’s the one who left in a fiery chariot instead of dying. And he showed up with Moses to chat with Jesus at the Transfiguration. So he’s not dead and buried and gone. But he’s unavailable to get hit with a stick.

Anyway, beating prophets is probably a bad idea. It’s an act with an abundant history, none of it good for the attackers.

And anyway, he wasn’t just being a jerk. He knew she was going to be okay, knew that he could and would take care of her and her son until the end of the drought that was killing everyone.

Actually, it was a fascinating meeting. All over Scripture, you read about God’s special concern for widows and orphans. If you don’t take care of widows and orphans, you have no understanding whatsoever of God’s love for his people. But attached to that – not every time, but most times – there’s a third protected party: strangers. And welcoming strangers, in Scripture, is not exactly the same as caring for widows and orphans. Care for widows and orphans is a deep and repeated detail of love for all mankind; but welcoming strangers is attached to the command to worship. The “stranger” in front of you may be God, or an angel – or, in this case, a prophet. Love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated, but they aren’t identical, and love of God takes precedence. So perhaps welcoming strangers takes precedence over care for widows and orphans. And, perhaps, when the widow and orphan met Elijah the stranger – Elijah the Tishbite sojourner – at the gates of Zarephath, all three knew that among civilized people, the guest eats first.

Forget the stick

Let me re-tell the story of Fatima and her son Ammar at Zarephath, in Syria. Zarephath is in the region of Sidon, northwest of Jordan. This is stick-free fiction.

Fatima was the beautiful daughter in a proud and ancient Syrian family. When she was 12, men started fighting over her. But in good time, she married happily, and her husband was devoted to her. She was very happy, until a wealthy brute tried again to capture her, and killed her husband. She refused to submit to her captor, and lived proud and independent for some years. But when the drought hit, she did not have a network of support.

Fatima was not afraid of death. Her parents had taught her well, and she trusted God. She had seen her parents die peacefully and gracefully. She was nervous when she thought she was going to die soon, because she had never done it before. Nervous, but not afraid.

When the wild-eyed man come into town from the desert and asked for water, she was glad to help. In fact, she set off to get water for him to drink, plus some to cool and clean his dusty feet.

When Elijah asked Fatima for food, it was a very interesting moment. She was not afraid of death, but she was planning to have one more meal before she did it. So she went back and looked the man in the eye, and told him her plan.

And he looked her in the eye, silently for a few moments. And she remembered what her father had taught her. God loves us, and watches over us, always. Always walk proudly, because you are beloved by your parents and your family and your God. And she remembered that her father had also taught her that strangers come from God. And so she decided that her dignity – the dignity of her proud nation, and her proud family, and her proud self – meant that she would always welcome guests properly. Always! So she thought to herself, “Perhaps the last thing I will do on earth is serve this stranger. I will do it freely, with all my heart, and offer this service as a sacrifice to God. And then, having given my all, I will die – my son and I.”

As she decided, she saw love in the stranger’s eyes. Then Elijah spoke, and said, “Serve me – first.” And Fatima knew that he meant she would serve someone else second and third and more. She would not die. She was ready to die – peacefully, as a beloved child, as a cherished wife, as a proud and independent widow. She was ready: she had given her all to God. She had offered the sacrifice of hospitality.

She was ready. But it would be delightful to die later.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

St. Ambrose and the pagan immigrants

We cannot support those who would expel strangers at the very time when they ought to help, says St. Ambrose. “Wild beasts and animals consider the food which the earth supplies to be owned by all; they all give assistance to those like themselves. But man, who ought not to consider anything human to be foreign to himself, fights against his own.”

In the decades after the Edict of Milan, which ended the era of persecution and opened the way to a Christian empire, some struggles continued over remnants of ancient Roman religious practices. One such practice was about the Altar of Victory outside the Roman Senate. There was a statue at this altar, and it was custom for several centuries to burn incense to Nike, the god of Victory, when Senators were on their way in for a vote. The Senators would pass through a cloud of smoke, an offering to the Nike. Christians objected, and the altar was removed by one emperor, then replaced by another, then removed by a third. Then there was a famine, and some devotees of the Roman gods – pagans, from a Christian perspective – said the famine was due to the disrespect shown to Nike.

St. Ambrose was prominent in the debate about restoring the Altar of Victory. He opposed it strenuously. But his arguments about pagan worship did not lead him to treat non-Christians with disrespect.

Some of the pagans who wanted the Altar of Victory restored were from villages outside Rome that had been subjected by Rome. The inhabitants were not Roman citizens; in fact, they were often treated as slaves. They raised food for the Romans, and sometimes came into Rome as laborers. In the city, they were regarded as immigrant labor.

At the time of the famine, there was a debate about whether to expel the outsiders. The arguments included questions of citizenship, kinship, religion. The outsiders were pagans, migrants, laborers, outsiders, and strangers. So in a time of famine, should they be expelled?

Regarding them, St. Ambrose wrote:

“Those who would close the city to strangers cannot have our support! They would expel strangers at the very time when they ought to help. They would refuse them a share in the food that is meant for all, and close down human contacts that have already begun. They are unwilling, even in a time of necessity, to give anything to people who have enjoyed their rights in common. They refuse to share what they have. Beasts don’t drive out beasts, but man shuts out man. Wild beasts and animals consider the food which the earth supplies to be owned by all; they all give assistance to those like themselves. But man, who ought not to consider anything human to be foreign to himself, fights against his own.”

(St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Duties of the Clergy, Book III, chapter 7. St. Ambrose is among the Great Fathers of the Church, the second of the Great Latin Fathers. Excerpt from Philip Schaff’s Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.)

wild stats #2

Jeff Koczela asked for clarification about my wild stats post, especially about a campaign of nonviolence. Here's an expansion, with a list of books at the end.

Jeff, thanks for the question. (Did I pay you yet?)

My take.

1.       The political approach is putting the tassels on the canopy on the cart before the horse. The idea that we will change the laws before we change society is a silly dead end fiction. For over 40 years, the pro-life movement has been chasing one mirage after another. What a waste!

2.       It was a union of the feminist movement with the eugenics movement that brought us modern abortion. That coalition is still visible: ask “pro-choicers” about forced abortion in China, and you will see the fault lines. That coalition can and will be broken apart, although not this year. It was pro-lifers and feminists who wrote pro-life (anti-abortion) laws 150 years ago, and we will do it again.

3.       The environmentalist movement is among the most deadly opponents of life today. The idea that “population = pollution” is common, catchy, and murderous. But Pope Francis, following St Francis (and Pope Benedict), has encouraged Catholics and pro-lifers to build (re-build) a new and healthy environmental movement that recognizes that humans actually belong on earth, are part of the global ecosystem and are not extraterrestrial invaders. If we do as the Pope suggests, we will scrub out a bloody and deadly myth that currently provides a rationale for coercive population control in Africa and Latin America.

4.       I still haven’t gotten over the stupendous burst of joy that emerged from jails in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of Catholics and Evangelicals went to jail together for blocking access to the portals of death, taking the place of the intended victims briefly, urging peace between generations, daring to hope that parents could parent in peace. Tens of thousands. What was on their minds was protecting children and women, but something else happened as well. In the 1960s, Evangelicals “knew” that Catholics were going to hell; Catholics, for their part, “knew” that Evangelicals were dumb hillbillies. By 1990, both prejudices were gone. Traces remain, but the deep and widespread biases are gone. And a part of that was an accidental outgrowth of the coalition Catholics and Evangelicals entered into to resist abortion. No one on earth planned to put them in jail together in order to promote the unity of the Church. But it happened.

Today, I believe, there’s a similar miracle unfolding. It’s not complete. In fact, it’s barely visible, just beginning. In our time, in this generation, Christians and Muslims are coming together in ways that were hard to imagine 50 years ago. Leaders on both sides are talking and working. But separately, regular folk on the ground are examining each other. Right now, it’s mostly tender shoots. But solid and unbreakable bonds are coming fast. And I expect that global resistance to population control will cement us together.

Example? The best glimpse is Tanzania.

5.       Right now, pro-lifers are being recruited by the millions into population control activism. Pro-lifers aren’t doing the aborting and sterilizing; their job is to shut the escape routes, keep the victims tied down in place. We close our borders; Planned Parenthood does the killing. The way pro-lifers fell into this perversion just shocks me, appalls me. I don’t quite see how to get confused about hospitality to the challenging strangers at the border and hospitality to the challenging strangers snuggled up against the placenta. Both have their own schedules, both make demands, both offer huge promises for the future, both are known to be under God’s special protection throughout all history and into eternity, both are bursting with hope and joy, both are Christmas all year (both deposit poop inconveniently).  This total perversion of the pro-life movement will not last! It will clear up! And when it clears up, the pro-life movement will flower, flourish, burst spring-like into unimaginable African Latino Himalayan Pacific Australian blossoms. Not now, but soon. Watch the Filipinos who are the modern Irish, spreading across the world to save civilization!

6.       The eugenics movement is stronger today than ever before. But its opponents will not stay fragmented forever!

7.       The 20th century saw the emergence of colossally powerful new weapons of destruction. But also, that same century saw the emergence of colossally powerful new forces of transformation – in India, the American South, Poland and the Warsaw Pact, the Philippines, South Africa. Right now in America, well educated people think that “nonviolent” refers to minor drug dealers; but this shocking ignorance will not persist. True nonviolence, explained at length in the Sermon on the Mount, will re-emerge. The Holy Spirit is not a minor drug dealer.

For more, go get:
Emmanuel, Solidarity: God’s Act, Our Response [about nonviolence]
The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics
21 Stranger Claims in the Old Testament [immigration]
The Persistent Other [immigration]
Introduction to Eugenics

Reach Left

wild stats

Sometimes numbers can clarify an issue, even if the numbers are rough and speculative.

Let me try a question. A thought experiment, not a proposal. Suppose you were intent on protecting children and women from abortion, and could have control of some of the following. Which would you choose?

1.       The American government
2.       the feminist movement
3.       the environmental movement
4.       Christian-Muslim relations
5.       global migration policy
6.       education policy on all matters touching eugenics
7.       a movement of pro-life nonviolence

Nearly every pro-life leader has made clear in the past year that they would want #1. They consider the choice obvious, and will promptly sacrifice all the other six to get #1.

May I try to explain an alternative view using numbers that are little more than wild guesses? I just want to try to make a point. How many lives (and moms) are at stake with each of these seven entities? If you try to gain control or have some influence on them, how many lives are you trying to protect? There are about 60 million abortions annually, globally. How many can you influence?

The numbers overlap, and do not add up to 60 million. But:

1.       American government: 1.2 M lives (and mothers) at stake
2.       feminism: 30 M lives (and moms) at stake
3.       environmental movement: 20 M
4.       Christian-Muslim relations: 30 M
5.       global migration: 20 M
6.       all matters eugenic (includes 2&3&5): 55 M
7.       nonviolence: 55 M

This is not meant to be definitive or anything – more of a take-off point for a conversation.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tone and the Dubia

I have been reading the “dubia” – the five questions posed by Cardinal Burke, together with the texts it cites. There’s not really all that much to read, but I’m slow, and I’m not finished. Still, I think my initial reaction was right.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the “splendor of truth.” Pope Francis wrote about the “joy of love.” It is a little odd that the latter encyclical doesn’t cite the former – unless they comprise a single text with two parts. The splendor of truth and the joy of love are obviously a matching set, no?

Kindness and truth are often in tension. Justice and peace are often in tension. It is always easy – in theory – to solve this tension by obliterating one side or the other; but we would all prefer not do that. To me, the sweetest of the messianic prophecies is that “kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss.”

Tone. Suppose Francis writes about marriage for 300 pages or some such ridiculous length, and says nothing that is substantively new. That would be unforgivably prolix if he just wanted to alter some disciplines and procedures! But I think his intention was to change the tone. 300 pages to change the tone.

Regarding substance: when splendor and joy collide, can we leave it to the responsible parties closest to the collision to sort it out? Why do the advocates of splendor talk about subsidiarity so much until it comes to a relationship between two people – count them! TWO! – and then suddenly we have to refer cases up through several levels of bureaucracy to get an acceptable solution?

Tone matters.

I remember going to court on many occasions, with a noble intention and a silly question. The silly question before the court: should people who saved a child’s life by trespassing go to jail for it? This is way beyond silly; it’s citron-speckled fruitcake. I have next to no interest in the answer to that question. Yeah, yeah – precedent and necessity defense and jury nullification and Roe. But go free for a good deed? Cool! Go to jail for saving a life? Even better! What a joy! Should we cross-examine their second witness and show that he’s lying? Sure, if you want to. But what matters to me is, what shall we sing? Christmas carols? Easter bursts? Latin booms? Charismatic paradoxes? All of the above? Law, schmaw; let’s do something real! Let me teach you to sing the Magnificat as a round!

Once upon a time, there was a significant pro-life case before a significant Federal Circuit Court Very Most Highness Be-robed Be-spectacled (albeit un-be-wigged and unpowdered) Justice surrounded by pomp and sitting on an expensive polished hardwood throne mounting up and up and surrounded by armed guards. The Very Most Honorable Justice instructed me not to say the word “baby,” because it is an emotional word. That’s true and factual; the Lord upon the Golden Throne did so instruct. But I recall this very most honorable day with great joy, because a few of us tested the acoustics inside that courthouse, with its atrium reaching up 40-50 honorable feet with gleaming walls. We sang, “Non nobis, Domine,” and made the gleams vibrate. Now, that was a gift fit for a heavenly king!

Tone. Stay strong! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

More than a Slogan

More than a Slogan

“Did you say that pro-life activists who are also conservative Republicans don’t care about racism or justice or anything like that? You are so ignorant! Conservatives are always more generous giving money and time to help – to help in every way you can think of! Check the data any way you want to slice it!”

Whoo-ee. I hear the anger and frustration.

I’d like to explain something. It’s not a bumper sticker slogan: the explanation will take a little time.

The history of hospitality in the Bible and the Church for the past 3,000 years has five distinct phases. To understand why liberals and conservatives who are serious about helping their neighbors are at each other’s throats, it may help to look at the five stages.

1.       Old Testament: a national approach
2.       New Testament: a personal approach
3.       early Christian life (325 to ~1400): an ecclesial approach
4.       Reformation to 1891: era of excommunication, serving “us” not “them”
5.       Social Gospel: a global approach

I think that I can explain a huge part of the deep anger between good people, by reviewing attitudes in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hospitality is an issue I understand; I think other issues follow the same pattern, but I don’t know that. So this is in part about immigration, but what I’m after is more general – making it easier for pro-lifers and social justice activists to understand each other.

There are five different approaches to welcoming strangers that are all in play today; and if you understand only one approach, or maybe two, then you may resent and resist the other three or four.

First: the Old Testament approach was national. The Law that Moses laid down included personal hands-on service, but it was national. Moses commanded: “Welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too once were a stranger in a strange land.” He asks us to recall a national memory, and draw inspiration and insight from it. I personally was not a slave in Egypt, nor were you; but “we” were. The nation of Israel was oppressed by the nation of Egypt, and God punished the nation of Egypt to save the nation of Israel. And later, when the nation of Israel abused strangers, God punished the nation of Israel by sending Israel into exile in the nation of Babylon.

One other example: the Book of Ruth. Her story is about hospitality, especially the welcome (and love) that one man named Boaz offered to one woman named Ruth. But remember her song: “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” National.

Second: New Testament approach is much more personal and individual. Jesus affirmed the teaching of Moses unequivocally, but applied the command to individuals, not the nation. The nation was under occupation, and asking the nation to act properly was meaningless. So when Jesus talks about welcoming strangers, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan, one individual who helped one victim of one robbery. And when Jesus described the Last Judgment, his words can be read as applying to societies, but they seem to be personal – at least at first glance: “I was a stranger, and you (singular) welcomed me.”

Another example: look at St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, about freeing a slave. Some people insist that the letter is not applicable to the social evil of slavery, because Paul appealed to one slave-holder (Philemon) on behalf of one slave (Onesimus). I think that’s pernicious nonsense, and that the principles that Paul lays out (treat your brother as a brother) can be extended to society. But it is certainly true that the letter – and indeed the New Testament – deals with problems on an individual basis.

Third: the approach in the Patristic era and for centuries afterwards was ecclesial. The early Church built squarely and explicitly on Scripture, Old and New. However, the pattern of response to strangers was not the same as that of Moses nor of Jesus. The Church responded as a church. St. Jerome offers a clear example: he built a hostel attached to the monastery in Bethlehem. The hostel served pilgrims, obviously, but also served all visitors and guests and strangers.

Jerome was explicit and forceful about universal welcome, pointing to Virgil’s “Aeneid” to explain. He wrote: “I am forced to cry out against the inhumanity of this country. A hackneyed quotation best expresses my meaning:

     What savages are these who will not grant
     A rest to strangers, even on their sands!
     They threaten war and drive us from their coasts.
          [Aeneid, Book I, 539-541]

Jerome continued: “I take this idea from a Gentile poet so that anyone who disregards the peace of Christ may at least learn its meaning from a heathen.” (The excerpt is from Jerome’s letter to the Presbyter Marcus, in Philip Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.)

Jerome’s hostel set a pattern for the Church. It was an institution built by the Church to serve those in need. St. Benedict adopted Jerome’s idea, and Benedict’s Rule makes hospitality central in monastic life: strangers are to be received as Christ.

St. Ambrose affirms the requirement to welcome strangers. It’s noteworthy that Ambrose writes about hospitality in a work devoted to the duties of the clergy – not the nation, and not every individual, but specifically the clergy.

Some centuries later, this pattern as still in place. St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that the precepts of Jesus, including the command to welcome strangers, are mandatory, and that a failure to obey these precepts is mortally sinful. But Aquinas made clear that some duties, including this one, are usually delegated – in this case, to a church-run hostel attached to a monastery. So the duty to welcome strangers can be fulfilled by supporting a monastery that welcomes strangers.

It’s immensely important to see and understand this third pattern of response to strangers! Many Christians today hold up the example of Jesus, and insist that we today should follow that example. What Christian wants to say no to that? But when you understand that Moses and Jesus and the Fathers all demanded, unequivocally and forcefully, that we welcome strangers – and then you also see that they responded in a variety of ways – then you can move ahead determined to get the job done, without being tied to a single model.

Fourth: during and after the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, hospitality was often side-lined by a new emphasis on EX-communication. During the era of excommunication, there was a pattern of defensive retrenchment in our tradition that must be acknowledged and understood. In my view, it wasn’t a healthy response; it was a contraction, not a positive development. But good or bad, there was a period of several hundred years when the Church’s hospitality was different from the Old Testament pattern, different from the New Testament pattern, and different from the Patristic pattern. The Church turned inward, and focused on serving her own members – and often refused to serve others. Far from welcoming each other, Catholics and Protestants made war on each other. The command to welcome strangers shrank; the Church worked to shelter the homeless in our midst, but turned away from Protestant or Jewish or Muslim or other strangers. It was a time when excommunication was in vogue, and may have been more important that community in the thinking and practice of many people. For many Christians, the first and sometimes only service that we offered to non-Christians (or to non-Catholics) was proselytization.

The pattern of defensive suspicion rather than reflexive hospitality is perhaps among the greatest evils of the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In my view, the division in the Church damaged a great treasure in ways that we are still struggling to understand and reverse.

This is grossly over-simplified. Many great things happened during this period. But look at the teaching of a great hero of hospitality, Pope Pius XII. Many efforts to explain the Church’s approach to welcoming immigrants start with his encyclical about life in exile, “Exsul Familia Nazarethena.” The letter opens saying that when Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt, they became the archetype of every refugee family. The Pope said that when they fled to escape the fury of an evil king, they became, “for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind.” All … all … every … of whatever kind. The Pope said explicitly that this includes those who are compelled “by fear of persecution or by want.”

The letter is powerful and moving, and no one who supports care for immigrants will criticize the letter. Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that as the letter proceeds, one of his major concerns is meeting the needs of Catholic refugees, and ensuring that Catholics have proper spiritual guidance. His concern is universal, but still he has a special concern for his own – that is, Catholics.

Fifth: the Church’s response to strangers today is global. This new pattern began to emerge in 1891, and burst forth in the Second Vatican Council.

In the past century, there has been a revolution in the Church’s understanding of who we must serve. Pope Leo started the revolution in 1891, with his encyclical “Rerum Novarum.” Leo was committed to the principle of subsidiarity, the idea (roughly) that the smallest social unit capable of handling a problem should do so, without interference from others. (There’s far more to be said …) If a family can deal with a problem, the village should stay out of it. If the village can handle a problem, the state should stay out of it. If the nation can handle a problem, the world should mind its own business. Fine. But Leo also saw clearly that there are some problems that cannot be solved locally or even nationally. The one that pulled him into action was the question of labor in an industrialized society. The dehumanization of workers, treating the children of God as cogs in a machine, was not something that could be solved by an employer and a worker over a beer. It was an international problem, and protecting the children of God required a global response. So the Church declared – addressing a global issue – that workers have a right to organize and strike, if all else fails.

Leo’s teaching was explosive. There are other problems that are global – problems that cannot be solved locally or nationally. And the Church is not silent in the face of these problems, nor restricted solely to pious prayers for divine intervention. The problems that creep across national borders include: plagues that refuse to obey no trespassing signs, drought and starvation, war, poverty, pollution – and migration. In response, the Church serves individual people in need. But also, the Church teaches and leads, when appropriate. Including: the Church asserts that there is a God-given right to migrate in search of a better life.

The change from previous patterns of response is made clear at the beginning of “Gaudium et Spes.” One of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council was this “pastoral constitution of the Church in the modern world.”  It opens: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

The problems that we consider “ours” – our own – are the problems of all humanity.


Is it useful to understand these five approaches? Consider the following (edited) exchange.

JCOK: Restricting immigration during a global refugee crisis will drive abortion way way up. There are about a million pregnant women on the road annually, fleeing persecution and war and violence. Have you ever anywhere heard a pro-life speaker talk about that?
MB: I would direct those women to my local pregnancy center [in New York City].
JCOK: We aren't communicating effectively. These million pregnant refugees aren't in America. You will not refer them to your local pregnancy center. Quite likely, you won't let them get within a thousand miles of your pregnancy center.
MB: Oh, you're giving us crap about border patrol. Last I checked we're allowed to protect our borders.

A key problem in that exchange, I think, is that MB has one model of hospitality in mind: a personal, one-on-one encounter. No Christian in his or her right mind is going to criticize that approach! But you can’t deal with a million people that way. You need a national or international approach.

But many pro-lifers are attached to a slice of conservatism, and have learned to be suspicious of large government. AC, in the same Facebook exchange, remarked:

AC: I don't know if a global/One World outlook is good either. It's nanny statism on a larger scale.

But we need a global outlook. If you see abortion as the decision and act of one trapped mother and one abortion profiteer, it’s not possible to understand many aspects of abortion, and it’s definitely not possible to see how to end abortion. There are some problems that are complex and global, and they require a complex and global solution. One such problem is the scourge of population control, which includes restrictive immigration. If you restrict immigration into America, you must believe that America can’t sustain millions more people flowing in. We’re not mixed out, but we’re stretched. BUT: if you think America is crowded, then the world as a whole is vastly over-crowded. And if you believe that, then Planned Parenthood has a solution, and you support them, although you might want to tinker with the tools a little – maybe a little more contraception and sterilization and a little less abortion.

CS: Statistically, people who are pro-life – with abortion being the obvious crux of valuing life – do MORE in other arenas of social justice. To imply that somehow anti-abortionists don’t care about other social justice issues is creepily dishonest and meant to diminish dishonestly their actual contribution to the pro-life cause. Where does this myopic view of charitable humanity even come from?

I have spent most of my adult life amongst pro-life activists, and I consider myself blessed to have lived among heroes. However, the myopic view that CS refers to arises from a disagreement about the Social Gospel. I don’t think my pro-life friends are careless about other social justice. Rather, I am quite sure that they are often committed to models of thought and action that don’t fit our time. Global problems need global solutions.

We need new and renewed habits of understanding and cooperation.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Lord comes -- at an hour and in a way we don't expect

The First Sunday of Advent, 2016
“Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Mt 24: 43-44)

Today’s Gospel is somber, a warning. It’s part of a long discourse on the end of time. In some ways, that’s a very strange way to start the Advent season: we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Lord by focusing on the end of time. Is this a happy event, or a calamity? What’s up?

The “coming of the Lord” refers to at least three different things. First, of course it refers to Christmas – 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem and also this year in our lives. Second, more obvious in today’s reading, it refers to the coming of the Son of Man at the end of time, when we will be judged. The approach of the end should sober us up a bit, but it’s not necessarily a calamity. Read C. S. Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles, and in particular The Last Battle; Lewis’s picture of the end of time is deeply delightful! But third, when Jesus describes his coming as judge, he describes the many ways he comes to us throughout our lives.

When I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was a stranger, when I was naked, when I was sick, when I was in prison – you cared for me. When Jesus says that, we respond that we don’t remember it at all. He clarifies: whatever you did for the least of my people, you did for me. So that’s a source of deep joy – if indeed we did serve his people when they showed up in our lives.

In today’s reading, Jesus say we must be prepared, because he will come at an hour we do not expect. In that same discourse, a little farther on (Matthew 25:31 ff), he adds that he will come – not just at an hour we don’t expect, but also in a way we do not expect.

So be ready! Hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned: he comes! Make him welcome!

[meditation on immigration in the light of the Gospel, Year A]

Monday, November 21, 2016


Three things you can never repay:
the love of a woman,
the loyalty of a warrior,

the generosity of the poor.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nightmare: getting what we ask for

Dear Lord, what will happen if this new xenophobia really flourishes?

If you decide that sex is a toy and babies are a totally separate event, the outcome of a choice, what happens? Suppose you just get a quick little snip, a simple vasectomy. Maybe God gets really annoyed and piles fire and brimstone on you. But I think it’s simpler: if you get a vasectomy, you don’t have any babies. Sterility is a curse. The “punishment” for this curse is … well, this curse.

If you choose abortion, then you have a dead baby. I can’t imagine trying to figure out how to punish a woman for having an abortion. Abortion is mind-boggling and wrapped in fuzz, but it seems clear to me that the outcome of an abortion is a dead child. What lunatic wants to pile on more pain?

For years, it has seemed to me that the mark of an immigrant is hope, innocent and unquenchable hope – or sometimes just a child-like naivety, a transparent and unshakable belief that things will get better if you work. It’s a mistake to call this child-like optimism mere naivety; this thing survives shipwreck and desert crossings. It’s tough, like Emily Dickinson’s generous little bird. I think it is truly hope. And this hope was, once upon a time, the mark of an American. Now most Americans are pretty jaded, like Europeans; but we have a flood of immigrants pouring in, marked by hope, and fanning ancestral dreams back into flames.

We can cut it off, close down the fountain of hope. Do you know what happens if you let the isolationists close the borders? The punishment is severe indeed: you don’t have new strangers in the country.

Barren, haunted, and isolated. I hope we get stupid too, or these curses will be too much to bear.           

Friday, November 18, 2016

A dozen dubia for the gloomy rebel Cardinal

Cardinal Burke has nailed his five arrogant dubia to the door of St. Peter’s. Answer, Francis, he demands, or the Cardinals will have to correct you. (Dubia is plural for dubium. A dubium is an item of doubt, something you're dubious about; it's jack-Latin for a question that you intend to use as a trap.)

Wow. It seems obvious to me that the key change that Pope Francis made was a change in tone. It is pretty odd that experts in Rome would gather to examine the entrails of a broken marriage, and think that they have something valuable to offer. The Pope apparently thinks so too, and so he made a strenuous effort to change the tone. Marriage is about joy. It is not a contagion that must be scrutinized and tamed; it’s a joy.

The bottom line in the dubia is simple. Pope Francis has said things that different people interpret different ways. Cardinal Burke insists that the job of the Pope is to unify -- meaning draw into uniformity. So different interpretations are a threat to Burke, especially since Burke's job used to be to make wandering bishops with varying interpretations get back in line.

So when Burke demanded that the Pope get back to work and be joyless, Francis refused. Burke listed his complaints, in a pseudo-legal document, accompanied by a press release and a threat.

Before the synod on marriage and the Pope’s exhortation on the joy of love, I had a dozen questions. I think the Pope addressed them, but Cardinal Burke did not. So I post them again, after two years. My questions include:

1.       What did Jesus say, and what did he mean (in Matthew and Mark)?  He said: whatever Moses said, the ideas of marriage were clear from the beginning of human history: two become one.  So if you divorce your wife and re-marry, that’s adultery.  I don’t mean to equivocate with the Lord, but I do think that good people heard different things.  If you see an attractive new potential partner, but you are married, can you marry and mate if you divorce first?  Jesus says that the quickie divorce-so-we-can-marry package is a crock; adultery is adultery, and you can’t make it good by abusing the divorce laws that Moses tolerated (with a clothes pin on his nose).  Got it.  But there’s a different case that may or may not be described by the words in Mark’s Gospel.  Did Jesus also mean that if your marriage falls apart, and then ten years later you marry again, that’s adultery?  It could be, but I don’t think that the text, by itself, says that clearly.  I accept wholeheartedly that two become one.  And I accept wholeheartedly that Jesus desires this unity.  But I don’t think the text, by itself, justifies the conclusions drawn (and the penalties imposed) by Roman Catholic canon law.

2.       Are the words of Jesus here among the “counsels of perfection”?  That is, there is a body of teaching that many Christians accept respectfully, but apply haphazardly – without getting too excited about the gaps between the explicit and clear teaching of Jesus and the standard practice of his followers.  “Turn the other cheek,” for example.  The teaching is clear, but few people wonder if they will go to hell in a handbasket if they hit back sometimes.  In general, Catholics understand the just war theory to be universally applicable, even when it conflicts with Jesus’ words.  You can’t enforce perfection by law.  This attitude toward the teaching of Jesus has problems, of course.  But: is the Lord’s teaching about divorce and remarriage in the same category?  Why not?

3.       With regard to Jewish teaching about marriage, and especially the appeal to the patriarchs who practiced polygamy, I am inclined to set them aside wholesale.  It seems to me that Jesus explicitly distinguished between his teaching and the teaching of Moses.  I would add that if you look at Abraham (one example), it seems that God tried to teach him about chastity (don’t ask your wife to sleep with the pharaoh), but Abraham quite clearly did not absorb the lesson (Hey, Abe!  Not with the king either!).  But there is a colossal amount of teaching about marriage, separate from the confusion that patriarchal abuses might have caused: two become one, covenant, marriage as an image of God’s love for us …  I want to set aside the example of the patriarchs, but hold fast to other abundant teaching. 

4.       As I understand it, Patristic literature (specifically, the Fathers in the first five centuries after Pentecost) is pretty solidly supportive of the Roman Catholic position, that there is no excuse a second “marriage” after a divorce.  Still, there are exceptions; at least two (just two?) Fathers did admit of exceptions.  One is a guy I never heard of.  The other is St. Basil – a single disputed line.

5.       The Orthodox churches, the eastern half of Church before the schism, hold fast to the authority of the teaching of Jesus on marriage.  And, of course, they read the Fathers more than Roman Catholics.  Nonetheless, they do not have anything like the penalties of the West.  The attitude of the writers in the “Remaining in the Truth of Christ” book (Cardinal Burke et al, arguing at the recent pre-synod gathering) seemed to me to be extraordinarily cavalier: “Sheesh!  What is wrong with those slobs!”  I saw zero effort to understand their view respectfully.  Reading the book on marriage, I wondered if I was seeing the basis for the Eastern anger at the West – seeing it and understanding, for my first time.  The Orthodox leave the matter in the hands of bishops, with varying results – and maybe that’s a deliberate and defensible decision!  In any case, it is simply not obvious to me that a serious Christian can adopt the views of Patristic thinkers without careful reference – without any reference! – to the way the Orthodox churches build on Patristic thought.

6.       Why do we have a tribunal at all?

a.       I am a little puzzled about why the Catholic Church has a tribunal.  Is it a relic of ages past, or is it really something that a church should have?  Is it one of the few remaining scraps of the Inquisition?  I am quite ignorant here, and just wondering.
b.      There are other parts of Catholic life that look like treasured antiques, and they raise different questions.  It might be confusing and pointless to pile them all together, since they raise a list of different issues.  But still, I wonder about the Congregation for the Defense of Faith, and its work to defend orthodox teaching: Is it true that you can get in trouble in the Church and end up facing trial (of some sort) in two ways: by writing books or having sex?  Is that weird?
c.       The Church has a trial-like arrangement for dealing with pedophile priests.  The system has been reformed recently.  Nonetheless, the failures were colossal, and global.   The internal system was a not just a failure; for years, it was an obstacle to the work of local (secular) courts who intended to protect children.  Should the Church be running courts?
d.      I respect the Pope’s well-trained body-guards.  But should we have this pageantry?  Is this another eruption of ancient (well, pre-Columbian) history?  Is this a leftover from the Papal States, when the Church ruled some of the city-states of Italy? 
e.      Generally: is the marriage tribunal a detail in a list of weird things that we might want to leave behind?

7.       St. Pius X led a deep revolution is the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist.  Prior to his papacy at the beginning of the 20th century, people did not receive Communion frequently.  So it seems to me that telling someone in 1890 that he/she could not receive Communion was different from saying the same thing in 1910.  And the revolution of St Pius X has continued and deepened throughout the past century.  Today, most practicing Catholics receive the Eucharist 60 times a year, and millions receive the Eucharist 365 times a year, compared with once or twice a year not too long ago.  In 1890, it made sense – perhaps, sort of – to say that a person could participate in the life of the Church but not receive the Eucharist.  But it’s very different now.  The Eucharist is – and also now is perceived to be – the heart of Catholic life.  How can you say, today, that a person is welcome to everything in the life of the Church – except the fount, the center, the core, the foundation, the beginning, the culmination of our life?  I am not sure that I could have explained the penalty ever.  But it seems to me that this penalty means things today, after Pius X, that it didn’t mean before his great work.  Should we adjust?

8.       “You should not receive the Eucharist.”  What does that mean?  Doesn’t it mean: “As far as we can tell, you are going to hell unless you repent – or unless you are a Protestant.”  Perhaps I have completely missed the point – but this sounds (1) severe, and (2) insulting to Protestants.  So I’m open: what does it mean, anyway?

9.       A couple seeking to deal with the practical problems of a second (civil) marriage judged invalid might be permitted to “live together as brother and sister.”  That strikes me as so weird that it’s hard to get started responding.  The phrase is a euphemism for staying together but not having sex.  Perhaps I’m missing something here, but that sounds to me like a view of marriage that is so cramped and impoverished that it is hard to fathom!  In my view, Christian marriage means unity of heart and soul.  Sex is good too, but it’s a detail!  Marriage is so enormous that sex is a detail!  In the debate over same-sex marriage, a part of what Catholics are trying to say is that marriage is much deeper and richer than genital activity, or even than sex-plus-affection.  Explaining this richness is critical to explaining why we oppose same-sex “marriage”!  But then you turn around, and find Catholic canon lawyers, with advanced degrees from Roman universities, saying that couples can live as brother and sister, not as man and wife – and by that they mean, no sex!  Lord, have mercy!  Was the marriage of Jacques and Raissa Maritain one of the deepest marriages in Church history, or was it not a marriage?  The lawyer’s modest offer strikes me as absurdly ignorant!  When the best and most expert canon lawyers try to be gentle and healing, and then they spout shocking nonsense, it’s unsettling.  Do they know what they are talking about, at all?

10.   Why can’t we return authority to handle marriage questions to the bishops?  When kings and potentates twisted episcopal arms in ages past, the cases were referred to Rome, to avoid corrupt decisions.  That made sense then.  But the bishops are the successors of the Apostles.  Isn’t it their vocation to deal with the complex issues in the lives of the people in their diocese?  The cases sent to Rome don’t go the Pope, anyway; they go to a bureaucracy.  Isn’t the Orthodox model better?

11.   The specific laws in canon law about annulment make sense individually.  That is, reading them over, I can see where each one came from.  But as a package, do they make sense?  That is, it I clear that the annulment process has been abused, and the practice in one diocese has been wildly different from the practice in a neighboring diocese.  But is the process so convoluted and detailed that abuse is guaranteed to occur?  Many good folks insist that we need to make it (“it” = canon law dealing with divorce and marriage) uniform and predictable and just.  I’m not sure.  Is the effort to reform it a fool’s errand, like unscrambling an egg?

12.   It seems to me that if the Church is going to have tribunals and lawyers and penalties, we should do a whole lot more, or a whole lot less.  That is, sex cases go to court regularly.  But what’s the appropriate penalty for fire-bombing Tokyo?  Or for closing factories in Michigan and re-opening them in Asia – not to help Indian workers who are still underpaid, but to increase profits for shareholders?  Or for spouting hatred non-stop on the internet, encouraging and fostering and excusing racial or religious tension and division?  Or for participating in the seizure of an entire continent for European settlers and excluding others?  Or for [Catholics who persist in …] denouncing the authority of the Pope and bishops in council together, denying that these anointed men understand God or worship, and insisting that they are heretics who worship false gods?  Isn’t spitting on “Gaudium et Spes” or “Nostra Aetate” as dangerous and destructive and disobedient as divorce and remarriage?  Aren’t these questions (violence, money, hatred, racism) as important and as complex as sex?  Why take one slice of human problems to a court, and leave the others to the priest in the pulpit and confessional – or overlook them altogether?

Burke's Rebellion

Burke’s Rebellion
Cardinal Burke demands that Pope Francis accept Card. Burke’s ideas about marriage, and prioritize life and marriage. DEMANDS! The Cardinal demands that the Pope re-arrange his ideas about subsidiarity (Card. Burke wants power concentrated in Rome), about the authority of bishops (limit the local bishop’s power, and concentrate power in Rome, says Card. Burke), about the role of the Curia (to correct the errant Pope when necessary – the power concentrated in Rome belongs to the Curia, not the silly pope). What lit Card. Burke’s fire? Divorce and re-marriage and receiving Communion.

Burke’s Rebellion goes hand in hand with another Card. Burke split. The bishops of the United States are solidly – unanimously, as far as I know – protective of immigrants’ rights. Oops! The bishops in American dioceses are unanimous, as far as I know – but there is an American bishop now serving in Rome, without an American diocese, who challenges this unanimity. Burke sides with Trump, and says carefully, “A Christian cannot close his heart to a true refugee, this is an absolute principle, there’s no question about it, but it should be done with prudence and true charity. Charity is always intelligent; it demands to know: Exactly who are these immigrants? Are they really refugees, and what communities can sustain them?”

Dear Lord. Listen to this rebel! “True refugee”? The UN screening process isn’t enough for Card. Burke? He wants extravagant assurances of safety when he serves! “Charity,” not justice? But the teaching of the Church (from a true Pope, you know, not this silly Latino, but from John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, #46) is that migration is a right. Welcoming refugees and even economic immigrants is not charity; it’s justice! Card. Burke expects “prudence” to water down and limit the demands of justice.

Card. Burke is a dissenter on Islam. “Lumen Gentium” says that Muslims adore “the one and merciful God.” Card. Burke apparently believes that this authoritative document is not clear. “Nostra Aetate” says the Church regards Muslims with esteem. Card. Burke says that may be clear, but it’s not authoritative. All the Popes since the Council have prayed with Muslims; but Card. Burke sees fit to set aside any teaching value in such practice; deliberate efforts to set an example do not constitute teaching.

Burke’s Rebellion focuses on matters of sex, but he’s also: divisive on the rights of migrants, and a dissenter on Islam.

Like all rebels, he’s ready to teach, fired up and ready to go. He’s got a whole Church – from the Pope on down to humble married folks in trouble – to straighten out.

Cardinal Burke: Trump’s man in Rome.

Recognize the visitation!

As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Lk 19:41-44, reading at Mass on 11/17/16)

The way to peace is indeed hidden from our eyes!

The time of your visitation: what is that? There was a moment in history, when the Lord came among us: “he has come to his people and set them free,” the dawn from on high breaking upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness, to guide our feet into the way of peace. We celebrate this Incarnation at Christmas; but the Word was made flesh in the womb of Mary nine months before Christmas. It was a tiny event, and it took some time, historically speaking, for this moment to be made manifest.

But we continue to celebrate “the time of your visitation” today, not only looking back two thousand years, but looking at events in our daily lives. The Church presents this reading about recognizing the Lord’s visits to us as we approach the end of the year and recall the end of time and the Last Judgment. It is urgent – it is a matter of life and death – that we recognize the Lord’s visits. “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat … when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink … when I was a stranger, you welcomed me.” If we refuse to recognize the Lord’s visitation when strangers appear at our gates, our land too will be smashed and scattered.

The Church and the nation are divided bitterly over the Lord’s visits. Some say, the Lord is present to us in the unborn: protect these children. Others recall the words of the Lord about welcoming strangers. Why should we dream of choosing between the two? What is wrong with us?

St Jerome, St Fabiola, and the necessity defense

The Orthodox Churches have been permitted couples to receive Communion after divorce and re-marriage. Perhaps this is because they have drawn more from the Fathers like St. Jerome. Consider Jerome's remark about his friend -- divorced and re-married.

Jerome’s remark
The Catholic Church is split, left against right. The most visible manifestation of the split: immigration versus abortion. Most pro-lifers oppose the Church’s teaching on immigration, and most pro-immigration activists oppose the Church’s teaching on abortion. This weird split in the Church, setting justice against morality, is new, going back perhaps two generations. But there are some hints of it in the past. In about 400 AD, the story of St. Fabiola extracted a tantalizing remark from St. Jerome: “… after repudiating her husband she did not continue unmarried … I readily admit this to have been a fault, but at the same time declare that it may have been a case of necessity. It is better, the apostle [Paul] tells us, to marry than to burn.”

Fabiola’s story
If St. Jerome was the Father of Christian Hospitality, then St. Fabiola was the Mother of Christian Hospitality. The two were friends, and worked together in the hospitality movement. St. Jerome was the first (as far as I know) to attach a hostel to a monastery; this significant new pattern of hospitality began in Jerome’s monastery in Bethlehem and spread around the world. Fabiola also built a hostel about the same time, near Rome, for pilgrims and the needy there.

But before her years of service and hospitality, Fabiola had a somewhat scandalous life. She married a man who became notorious for sexual license, details unspecified. She left him, got a civil divorce, thought she was free to re-marry, and did in fact re-marry. After her second husband died, she was reconciled to the Church, and poured her life into serving the poor. After her reconciliation, questions about her second marriage subsided. Nonetheless, Jerome says this [slightly more extended quote]:

“So terrible then were the faults imputed to her former husband that not even a prostitute or a common slave could have put up with them. [Fabiola chose not to give detail about her husband’s behavior, so Jerome doesn’t either.] The Lord has given commandment that a wife must not be put away ‘except it be for fornication, and that, if put away, she must remain unmarried.’ Now a commandment which is given to men logically applies to women also. For it cannot be that, while an adulterous wife is to be put away, an incontinent husband is to be retained. … Earthly laws give a free rein to the unchastity of men, merely condemning seduction and adultery; lust is allowed to range unrestrained among brothels and slave girls, as if the guilt were constituted by the rank of the person assailed and not by the purpose of the assailant. But with us Christians what is unlawful for women is equally unlawful for men, and as both serve the same God both are bound by the same obligations. Fabiola then has put away – they [her critics] are quite right – she put away a husband who was a sinner, guilty of [unmentionable sins]. … On the other hand, if someone makes a charge against her that after repudiating her husband she did not continue unmarried, I readily admit this to have been a fault, but at the same time declare that it may have been a case of necessity. ‘It is better,’ the apostle [Paul] tells us, ‘to marry than to burn.’ She was quite a young woman, she was not able to continue in widowhood. In the words of the apostle she saw another law in her members warring against the law of her mind; she felt herself dragged in chains as a captive towards the indulgences of wedlock. Therefore she thought it better openly to confess her weakness and to accept the semblance of an unhappy marriage than, with the flame of a monogamist, to ply the trade of a courtesan. … Fabiola therefore was fully persuaded in her own mind: she thought she had acted legitimately in putting away her husband, and that when she had done so she was free to marry again. She did not know that the rigor of the gospel takes away from women all pretexts for re-marriage so long as their former husbands are alive.” (From Letter LXXVII, “To Oceanus,” in Philip Schaff’s compilation in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church.)

Jerome is a hero to the left because he was committed to hospitality. It’s a little disorienting to find the same kind of left-right split that affects the 21st century cropping up in the 4th century: a hero of hospitality slightly lax about divorce laws. Jerome (like Pope Francis today) does not deny the authority of the teaching against divorce and re-marriage, but (again like Pope Francis today) he is ready to see and understand mitigating circumstances. He seems (to me) to suggest that what Fabiola did was indeed wrong, but not mortally sinful.

I think it’s fair to connect Jerome’s attitude toward Fabiola’s situation with his fierce fights with his bishop. Jerome argued fiercely with his bishop, Bishop John II of Jerusalem, and called him a chamber-pot. The angry arguments were – at least in part – about the teachings of Origen. Origen was an original and provocative thinker, and he spurred fascinating discussions about the Trinity that have been of great value to the Church ever since. However, Origen had some troubled theories about the human body. For example, he speculated that since the saints in heaven have perfect bodies, and since the perfect shape is a sphere, perhaps everyone in heaven is spherical. How about that? I’m not sure why Peter and James and John didn’t notice that at the time of the Transfiguration.

Spherical speculation is one thing, but action is another – for better or for worse. Origen read that if your arm leads you to sin, you should cut it off; and if you eye leads you to sin, you should pluck it out. Origen’s arms and eyes didn’t lead him to sin, but he did have a troublesome appendage – and in perhaps excessive obedience, he lopped off his peccant parts. Just about every Christian thinker since then has suspected that his attitude towards the human body was flawed.

By contrast, Jerome was an ascetic, but he had a respect for human bodies, and a patient awareness of frailty.