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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Thinking Of Robin Again

I never saw "Mork and Mindy". It was before I was born, and "goofy space alien lost on Earth" isn't exactly a timeless premise. It introduced us to Robin Williams, though, and he managed to do roles that really mattered after this, dramatic and powerful roles. He's an Oscar winner, you know, and long enough ago that you can't brush it aside. Anyway, I saw a clip remarking that Mork and Mindy debuted 40 years ago, and I got to thinking.

"Hook" means the most to me, and I don't care what people think. Spielberg himself disavowed it, but all that means is, even a legendary director might not know what he's talking about. That movie is about fathers and their kids. It's about learning to value what's most important. One character says to Peter, "I wish I had a dad just like you." Me too, kid. Me too.

"What Dreams May Come". I have never seen or felt the reality of grief at sudden loss portrayed so accurately. It affects me so much, I can't really watch the movie. But Robin's character gives a eulogy at a funeral, and I hope when I die, I'm remembered similarly. Other people get hung up on the theology of the film. I get that, but you need to let it go.

"Good Will Hunting". Robin plays a psychologist helping a brilliant young man deal with the trauma of abuse in his youth. They absolutely nailed that part, and Matt Damon should have won a statue for his performance, if he didn't. I would thank Mr. Damon for that, if I could get the words out.

"Dead Poets Society". Even if the underlying philosophy is Epicurean or something, I think a lot of men in my generation have that one teacher who inspired us, who changed our view of the world. Late teens and early twenties is a dangerous time for us. We can become self-involved, and very cynical. Williams's John Keating wouldn't allow it.

I guess I just miss him, like a lot of people.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Basis For A Public, Universal Morality

The ground of a public universal morality is the inherent dignity of the human person. This dignity cannot be given or acquired; it is recognized, facilitated, appreciated, and deepened. If it were conferred as the result of some action, the person would be a mere instrumentality, whose utility to someone or something would merit special rights or privileges. No, this cannot be correct, for the dignity of people is not subject to some valuation of their capacities in some technocratic sense. In another sense, the human capacity transcends illness, misfortune, and defect. It is the capax Dei, though the State concerns itself primarily with the natural end, both individual and common.

The basis for legitimate government as such is this common good, and the end for which government exists. If the very definition of public life presupposes the community, then the legitimacy of the State cannot be subject to the consent of any individual, even a great many individuals. Consent indicates the willingness to participate in the common life; it is not a veto power over the moral law itself, or of the State's moral legitimacy as such. Therefore, it is foolishness to assert that morality has no place in politics; politics is morality; it is public morality. The unstated premise of keeping morality out of politics is that there actually exists some aspect of public life that has no moral dimension. This, in fact, I deny. The State, in taking actions proper to the end for which it exists, is illegitimate only when it violates the moral law, or denies the right of people to choose how to best honor that moral law in their individual circumstances, given the moral justice of all available choices. Pluralism is the reality of disagreement about humanity's end, and how to reach it. If sought as an end in itself, it becomes a celebration of confusion, error, and disunity. Humanity is so bound to this moral law that it is immoral in some sense to withhold consent from a government acting legitimately, as surely as it would be a duty to oppose a government acting illegitimately. The pursuit of happiness is variously understood, but it is not variously defined, in reality.

There is a hierarchy of truth in this moral law, or a hierarchy of truths, as they are considered individually. This, however, does not mean that only the gravest moral questions are a matter for public concern. It does mean that we cannot be agnostic on the most grave questions. It is interesting that most people agree that what is currently legal does not exactly coincide with what is morally acceptable. Oddly enough, no one--even those who think morality should be kept out of politics--fails to miss the connection between politics and morality when you try to make something he cherishes illegal. All politics is morality, and if I didn't think my politics was better than another one, I wouldn't offer it as an alternative.

Our problem today is that we're really good at rejecting someone else's public morality--their politics--as morally deficient, without taking each issue seriously as a moral claim, comparing it, and our own philosophy, to the moral law. We're better at pointing out hypocrisy than we are at taking politics seriously. And that's odd, considering how passionate we are about politics. That person over there isn't any more governed by feelings than you are; he might be wrong about some moral question--that is, a public moral question--but he's aware when you or I change the subject. It might turn out that his overall outlook might even be out of balance with respect to the hierarchy of moral truths, but if we're talking about environmental policy, I'd better be talking about the environment. Before we get to the possible answers to a problem, we ought to acknowledge a moral claim when we hear one. Displaying the exact positions of the knobs, dials, and switches--so to speak--on the sound board of my public morality without meaningfully engaging others is worse than a waste. You hate when people do it to you; you call it "virtue signaling".

Politics is literally life and death. Not only ours and that of others alive now, but those yet to be. We need a more serious public space, because public morality is a serious subject. Civility is not an end in itself, but creates the space for serious reflection on the questions of public morality, and even the personal space to correct errors in judgment. We owe all of this to one another, because our ends in this life are inextricably bound together.

Monday, September 10, 2018

One Obvious Problem With "Differently Ordered"

As you may know, the Catechism says that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. Fr. James Martin, SJ, proposes this paragraph say, "differently ordered". We'll take Father at many of his other words that he backs this change in order to avoid causing unnecessary hurt to all the people who experience sexual attraction to people of the same sex. It's not a small point; we are not generally known at the moment to be the fond home of such people.

The big problem is this: (wait for it)

"Differently ordered" implies moral neutrality with respect to the acts themselves.

Notice that this paragraph refers to acts, and not to persons, as well. That's because the philosophical language does suggest that our sex organs have an end or purpose for which they are designed.

[You can almost hear the affirming Mom going, "Sweetie, it's not bad; it's just different!"--ed.]

We're talking about two separate questions: 1. The moral liceity of particular acts, and 2. Evangelical outreach to people who experience same-sex attraction. One can certainly think we have done a bad job of the latter, without changing the Church's stance on the former (as if the Church could change it). Woe to those who intentionally conflate the two.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Re-Thinking "The New Pro-Life Movement"

Nothing could ever remove from me the basic conviction that abortion is gravely immoral, and never acceptable. It still causes me to ask myself, "What would you trade to end abortion?" Would I trade a universal basic guaranteed income? How about universal health care? Strict gun laws? High taxes on the rich? My answer is an emphatic "Yes!" to all of these.

I haven't really thought about precisely what I think about those things in themselves; I might still reserve the right to think all those other ideas are imprudent, or incomplete. But the benefit of asking myself this question is getting at the gravity of "intrinsically evil." If I prefer my ideology to the truths about the dignity of the human person, then I must at least consider that, for all my passion for innocent children, I'm not really prepared to do anything and everything licit to stop it. A Catholic priest in Confession has to weigh all these mitigating factors when assessing culpability, even when hearing sins this grave. If I consent to an economic system that puts such pressure on people that abortion becomes a live option via grave fear, these mitigating factors become aggravating factors in my sins of omission. If we sit and think about this, the NPLM doesn't seem so crazy.

Don't hear what I'm not saying. You are not obligated to support a $15 minimum wage, or Medicare for all, as though failing to do so is the same as holding the abortionist's scalpel. It is incumbent upon us to question a possible correlation between two things, however, and to at least consider that we're not doing much to take the scalpel out of his hand. That he might continue to have demand, because of things we have advocated.

At the very least, I owe it to the truth to consider the merits of other ideas in themselves, and to stop using the scandal of abortion as a substitute for the licitness of my ideology. Some person's advocacy for "choice" might be inconsistent with other advocacy on behalf of the weak, but that is no permission to ignore the weak, or to actively harm them. I cannot really pursue the good, if I do not consider the possibility that I may have caused harm, or consented to it. Because of this consideration, I cannot worry only about intrinsic evils.  Anything that is morally licit is therefore a valid public policy option. Or do I believe that the truth about climate change (for instance) stands or falls on the perfection of those who raise the alarm? If that were so, it's a kind of political Donatism. Whataboutism is the disease of the political Donatist. May we quickly recover from this disease, and get about doing good in cooperation and solidarity with all people of good will.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Firmly, Or Not At All

Solidarity is the firm determination to act for the common good. Because the pursuit of any virtue benefits everyone, not only the one who seeks it, the pursuit of virtue is intrinsic to the common good, and the noblest expression of solidarity. Current events indicate that the lack of virtue is graver than many suspected. It may at times feel overwhelming. Most of us will not be investigating the crimes, or advising the pope. We can however pursue virtue, and reject vice. By grace, we can draw closer to God. Many wise people are saying this, and it's correct.

One of my earliest lessons as a candidate, a learner in holy mother Church, was that grace builds upon nature, but does not destroy it. Practically, what this means now is that civil authorities uncovering the sin and evil are serving Truth Himself, no matter how they relate (or don't relate) to Him personally. When clergy have covered things up, undoubtedly hoping that sin would not be seen to mar the Church's beauty, they were taking the Church away from Christ, if that were possible. It is He who knows exactly what we are. It's Jesus who didn't wait for us to pull it together, but as it is written, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." To have the privilege to partner with God on the order of grace is a great honor, especially as a ministerial priest. Yet the human being of the highest priestly rank is a slave, not only to his brethren, but to reality as a whole. There is no way to compartmentalize, though we do try, don't we? There is no homily, or sacramental power that could erase or balance out a sin unacknowledged and unforgiven.

Because these unimaginably heinous crimes were committed by clergy, many people want to leave the Church. Catholics have a unique relationship to their clergy, because he is Christ to us. The priest is not only engaged in proclamation; he is the proclamation. To say that these violations are a countersign to the gospel is a staggering understatement. An abusive priest is a living, breathing lie. Of course the evil one is ultimately behind it; who else could be, but the father of lies?

I will not only express emotion, but I will act in accord with the truth. If we live in truth, we'll be lights in the darkness.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Eucharist As Catalyst For Unity And Conversion

I have a friend who is in the process of possibly revising his theology. He told me that the "memorialist" position on the Eucharist that characterizes the communities of the radical Reformation no longer makes sense with how he reads John chapter 6. Obviously, I agree. Yet if someone is Protestant, there must be some sort of juxtaposition between faith in Jesus as the Bread of Life, and the Eucharist as the Bread of Life. Certainly, the end of the passage (vv. 51-68) is the part that Catholics point to as the clearest exposition of Catholic Eucharistic faith. It makes sense to spiritualize the graphic parts that a plain reading--and in the ears of the Jewish audience--suggest cannibalism. Jesus makes no effort to comfort the listeners, however. And in fact, a Catholic reading sees no juxtaposition between faith in Christ, and Eucharistic piety. The spiritual and the sacramental are one.

I said to my friend, “It's not definitive evidence by itself, but the best refutation of the memorialist view is the sustained, frequent reception of the Lord's Supper, no matter the community.”

The Council Fathers noted in Unitatis redintegratio, 22,

"[Protestant ecclesial communities]  when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory."

Earlier, in Lumen Gentium, they said:

"This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic,  which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity." (LG, 8)

I could "hear" Christ calling out to me in the Eucharist, though I could not partake in it for two years. I had not even begun to examine the evidence for believing that Christ founded the Catholic Church. I had only known that a mere memorial of Christ's finished work on the Cross could not account for my experience. I wept aloud at the retelling of the story of the papal nuncio saying Christ called to every person from the altar. I wonder if Bryan Cross remembers this. I most certainly do.

We should say that many Christians take Holy Communion seriously. But to be drawn near involves more than devotion. It involves professing what is true, and only that, about the Eucharist. The Catholic doctrines concerning the Eucharist are not true because they are majestic; they are majestic because they are true. An Anabaptist community can not only learn from Catholic reverence; a deeper union with Christ must certainly imply a greater correspondence with those true doctrines.

"And after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself."


Friday, August 24, 2018

A Note On "Clericalism"

"Clericalism" is an idea that inordinate honor and deference is given to those in the clerical state. It does happen. The people of God at an individual level have placed too much trust in clergy with whom they have been associated, and have been exploited as victims on some occasions. Predators often misuse trust; that's how these crimes happen.

Clericalism as an explanation might be a lazy explanation for what's happening, if the reason one believes that inordinate honor has been given to the clerical state is that no honor should be given at all. To be direct, if someone believes in the abolition of the sacramental priesthood, they should just say that. It's unprincipled to decry clericalism when you don't believe in clerics at all.

Still, we should do our best to remember that no cleric--even the pope--has the right to command that which is evil. We should know the Commandments, and our catechisms, and refuse obedience if we're commanded to participate in sin.

In the freedom of holiness and truth, we can rightly celebrate the great gift of the priesthood. For without the priesthood, we would have no sacraments, including the Blessed Sacrament, and therefore, no reasonable hope of salvation. Those who casually toss this truth aside must ask themselves if the life of Heaven means anything to them at all, or if religion truly is only a coping mechanism.