Monday, June 29, 2015

Yet Another Bishop Who Has Something Worthwhile To Say About Supreme Court Rulings

Archbishop Blase Cupich 

In my previous posting, I commented on the excellent response of Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah to the Supreme Court decision on Same Sex Marriage.  Now another Bishop has spoken out intelligently in response to both the Affordable Care Act and Same Sex Marriage decisions of the Court.  Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago is in Rome to receive the pallium—the yoke-like stole that a metropolitan archbishop wears as a sign of unity with the successor to Saint Peter, the Bishop of the Church of Rome.  (We used to say “Pope” a lot, or “Roman Pontiff”, but the current occupant of the Chair of Peter likes the more ancient title, the Bishop of Rome.)  Being out of the country and busy about a lot of ceremonial things, Cupich could have dodged the bullet about the Supreme Court ruling on Same Sex Marriage but he chose to weigh in on both last week’s Supreme Court decisions and he did a great job by choosing not to be a gracious loser (which is better than a lot of his more vituperative  confreres did) but by putting a Christian spin on the decisions while clearly maintaining Catholic doctrine.  What is particularly significant about Archbishop Cupich’s response is that it comes from the exact time of his being shown to be in direct union with the Pope (aka The Bishop of Rome) and thus with the Universal Church.  Let’s hope that Pope Francis gives us more bishops of Cupich’s kind to lead the Church in these times when religion (in general) and the Catholic Church (in particular) is trying to carve out for itself a new place in the public life of our society.  Archbishop Cupich is the sort of Bishop who can give the Church a credibility that some of his predecessors and confreres have so wantonly squandered. 
This week the Supreme Court of the United States issued two rulings with particular meaning for the Catholic Church.
In the first, the Court preserved subsidies for the 6.4 million low-income Americans who depend on them to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. We have issues with provisions of that legislation and will continue to advocate to preserve our religious freedom. However, we understand that for millions of individuals and families, most of them the working poor, this decision preserves access to health care and the promise it offers of a healthier, longer life.
In the second decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that two persons of the same sex have a constitutional right to marry each other. In doing so, the Court has re-defined civil marriage. The proposed reason for the ruling is the protection of equal rights for all citizens, including those who identify themselves as gay. The rapid social changes signaled by the Court ruling call us to mature and serene reflections as we move forward together. In that process, the Catholic Church will stand ready to offer a wisdom rooted in faith and a wide range of human experience.
It is important to note that the Catholic Church has an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (n. 2358). This respect must be real, not rhetorical, and ever reflective of the Church’s commitment to accompanying all people. For this reason, the Church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.
It is also important to stress that the Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church. In upholding our traditional concept of marriage, we are called to support those who have entered into this sacred and loving bond with God and each other.
This will be especially important for the members of our own Church as we walk together, respectful not only of the political demands of equality, but above all else, guided by the higher claims of divine revelation. Our aim in all of this will be to hold fast to an authentic understanding of marriage which has been written in the human heart, consolidated in history, and confirmed by the Word of God.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Not All Bishops Are Krazy

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah offered what is, I believe, the best response of any Catholic leader to the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court regarding the constitutional right to marry to those in same-sex unions.  The bishop draws a clear line between marriage in the Civil Law and the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of Matrimony.  He also reminds us of the absolute necessity of meeting those with whom we disagree on this or any other issue with civility.  He sets forth the faith of the Church regarding matrimony with the Gospel mandate for charity.  Good going Bishop Hartmayer.  May Pope Francis give us more bishops who can put difficult issues in a Christian perspective.  Here is what the Bishop wrote:
“Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of divisive cases, there would be no reason for the Court ever to convene. This most recent decision is no different.
“By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again this one is no exception. This decision does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and a woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessings of precious new life.
“The Catholic Church will always maintain that marriage is a vocation of a man and a woman to faithfully commit themselves, through sacred vows, to a life shared until death which pledges them to complement one another in their development as husband and wife and to be co-creators with God in the procreation of human life.
“This decision of the Supreme Court is primarily a declaration of civil rights and not a redefinition of marriage as the Church teaches.
“However, this judgment does not dispense either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Nor is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions differ from our own.
“This Court action is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.
“The moral debate however must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another. In many respects that moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as is the granting of this civil entitlement.
“This decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.
“This decision has made my task as bishop more complex as I continue to uphold the teachings of my Church on the Sacrament of Matrimony and the equal transcendent dignity of every human person.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

What Will Francis' Place In History Be?

There are three popes whom history has designated as “The Great.”  Troublingly, two of them, Gregory I and Gregory VII, have the same name, giving us two Gregories the Great.  The Third is Leo the Great. 
As I have mentioned before in this blog, Avery Dulles in his 1985 book, The Catholicity of the Church, speaks of the three millennia of the papacy.  The first millennia was marked by an evangelical spread of the gospel; the second was marked by the rise of papal temporal power, and the third, Dulles anticipated, will be marked by the papacy putting itself—and the Church—at the service of human society. 
Leo I (400-461, reigned 440-461) is considered by many non-Catholic historians to be the first pope because he consolidated and extended papal doctrinal authority to a level not before reached.  In his reign Rome was acknowledged to be the first of the five patriarchal sees.  At the Council of Chalcedon (451) when his famous Tome was read to the bishops outlining the precise terms of how the Divine and Human Natures were united in the One Person of Jesus Christ, the assembled bishops cried out “Peter has spoken through Leo.”   With the support of the Emperor Valentinian Leo asserted papal authority over the Church of Gaul (modern day France) and would do the same for the Church in North Africa.  This was not for Leo, as it would be for his successors eight centuries later, a matter of power but a matter of consolidating doctrine for the preaching of the Gospel.  There was no attempt as yet by the popes to centralize papal power over local Churches. Administrative decisions were still exercised by local bishops who were, in turn, elected by their clergy and faithful.  Leo’s aim was to clarify the evangelizing message by preserving a single orthodox faith against the threat of Arianism which was being spread by the Germanic tribes sweeping down from north of the Rhine and the Danube.  He wanted to have a clear and universal doctrine that proclaimed Christ to be of the same Divine Nature as the Father and the same Human Nature as the Son.  Many of the Germanic tribes running down through North Italy and Gaul into Spain and North Africa were Arians and spreading a gospel that made Jesus inferior in Divinity to the Father.  Leo’s Chalcedonian faith would prevail in the Western Church and the Chalcedonian faith spread from Rome to Gaul. It would also eventually triumph over Arianism among the Visigoths of Spain, the Vandals of North Africa, and the Ostrogoths and Lombards in Northern Italy.   The Christological faith held by the Catholic Church throughout its subsequent history is the faith that Leo defined. 
Gregory I (540-604, pope 590-604) was also very interested in the evangelizing mission of the Church and in 595 sent the monk Augustine from Rome with a band of 40 monks on an evangelizing mission to the Saxon kingdom of Kent in today’s South-eastern England.  While England had been Christianized in Roman times, the 5th and 6th century invasions of the Germanic Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians from across the North Sea had all but obliterated Christendom in most of England.  Irish missionaries kept Christianity alive in the far north and in the west, but it was Gregory’s missionaries who would reintroduce the ancient faith to England and its recent immigrants.  From England then Anglo Saxon missionaries would go out to what is today Holland, Germany, and Scandinavia. 
Leo I and Gregory I very much epitomized the spirit of that first millennium of spreading the Gospel throughout the world known to them.  Gregory VII, in his battles with the Salian Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, would capture the spirit of the second millennium—power.  Gregory was anxious to establish the temporal power of the papacy in Italy to gain a political sovereignty for the papacy so that it would not devolve into the sort of pawn of Imperial politics in the West that the Constantinople Patriarchate (and later the Moscow Patriarchate) would in the East.  While Gregory died in exile defeated by the Emperor, his insistence on the independence of the Church and its supremacy over the political power of the Emperor survived, permitting the papacy to outlast the fall of the Holy Roman Empire and become a major influence in world politics even when the papacy itself lost its temporal sovereignty in 1870 with the absorption of the papal states into the Kingdom of Italy. 
These popes, Leo I, Gregory I, and Gregory VII each captured the zeitgeist of their particular age and expressed the mission of the papacy for their epoch.  Other popes in the first millennium had a driving zeal for evangelizing.  Other popes in the second millennium were anxious to extend the Church’s power into the political world.  But Leo and the two Gregories were somehow symbolic of the Church’s defining mission in the two millennia, even archetypical of what the Church needed at its helm in their respective periods. 
So now we enter into the third millennium—the one in which the papacy—and by extension, the Church—will supposedly give itself over to its servant mission.  Will Francis someday be known as “The Great?”  He has charted the new course with the same clarity as Leo, the same dedication as Gregory I, and the same stubborn opposition in the face of his enemies as Gregory VII.  Only time will tell if he gets the appellation “Great.”  It is never awarded during a pope’s lifetime; it takes decades and even centuries for its effects to be judged.  What is remarkable is that we could not have foreseen, even in the heady years of Vatican II, the sort of papacy and the sort of Church which Francis would herald.  What are Francis’s accomplishments to date that might win him the title?
1.    he has changed the style of the papacy from the monarchial style of the Renaissance and Early Modern Period to the style of a pastor who is in touch with the reality of his parishioners. 
2.    He has changed the face of the Church from a moral judge to a reconciling community of forgiven believers
3.    He has moved the teaching of the Church from ivory tower abstractions to concrete imperatives of our long-held moral principles 
4.    He has engaged the secular world on its own turf and applied the values of the Gospel to everyday life. 
5.    He has demanded of the institutional structures of the Church an integrity, a transparency, and a modernization that gives the Church a long-lost credibility in the contemporary world. 
We will see the long-term effects of this papacy. Please God they will continue after Francis has vacated the Chair of Peter and please God they will take root not only in the policies of his successors but in the hearts of the faithful so that this will be an era of Reform such as the Church faced in the 12/13th centuries and again in the Catholic Reformation of the 16th century.   

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Strange Bedfellows: More Enlightenment Thinkers

I am a great fan of Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series of novels (The movie Master and Commander being a mash-up of several) and if your read the novels attentively you notice that the real hero of the series is not the somewhat dense and amoral navel commander Jack Aubrey, but his devoutly Catholic surgeon and side-kick and intensely intimate best friend, Stephen Maturin. (At times the relationship seems to be latently—or maybe even discreetly—homosexual.)  Stephen Maturin is not only a brilliant surgeon but also a secret British agent, an ardent republican determined to bring down Napoleon.  Several times in the 21½ novels Maturin expresses his contempt for “that scoundrel Rousseau.”  He is referring to Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the leading philosophes of the Enlightenment. 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was not French, but Swiss: a Calvinst from Geneva.  He was, perhaps most famous for his novel Emile (aka On Education).  Moving far from his Calvinist roots (Rousseau would convert to Catholicism c 1728 and then convert back to Calvinism in 1754 though he was by no means a professing Christian, his conversions being more a matter of political and social advantage) Rousseau believed in the inherent goodness of the human individual.  He found the idea of original sin repugnant and believed that the human person in the state of nature is blameless: the bon sauvage, noble savage.  (Sauvage in French, like the original meaning of the English term “savage” does not connote barbarism but simply the human person living wild and free in nature.) He blamed human corruption on the growth of human society that separates the human person from the natural state. He saw society as essential as persons must cooperate in order to survive but he also saw it degenerating into competition from which springs a variety of human evils.  Rousseau, reflecting his Swiss roots, was an ardent believer in republican government and direct democracy—the participation of the largest possible number of citizenry in directly making political decisions. His influence on American thought, especially Jefferson, cannot be missed.  As to religion, while he remained an admirer (even in his Catholic years) of John Calvin for his legislative career in Geneva, he was very post-orthodox in his theology.  He was a Deist though, unlike most Deists who saw God as impersonal and distant, Rousseau had a sort of natural mysticism that made him profoundly aware of and sentimental towards the manifestations of God in nature.  Like other Enlightenment figures he advanced the idea of the freedom of conscience and believed that each person should be free to follow the religious beliefs and practices to which he or she was drawn. 
Voltaire (1694-1778) (born François-Marie Arouet, was educated by the Jesuits at the College Louis le Grand in Paris where he—like so many educated by the Jesuits, lost his Catholic faith.  He adopted the name (nom de plume, nom de guerre) Voltaire in his mid-twenties. It was an anagram of the Latin form of his name Arouet.  He was an exceptionally witty man but as we know from our friends among the Katholik Krazies, not everyone is blessed with a sense of humor and his wit won him the enmity of one of its victims, the Regent, Philippe, the Duke of Orleans.  When you piss of a Regent it never goes well for you, especially under the cherished ancien regime, and Voltaire ended up in the Bastille for eleven months.  His friends—of which he was always to have many—won his release on the promise he would go to exile and he fled to the Netherlands.  There he met a lovely young Huguenot (French Protestant) Catherine Olympe Dunoyer and married her.  He sneaked back into France under somewhat false pretenses—and, as it was against the law for a Catholic (which he still was, at least nominally) to be married to a Protestant, illegally.  He enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Madame de Pompadour, the king’s mistress and this helped him—sometimes—to avoid the various penalties his opinions earned him.
Voltaire went after the Catholic Church and its position of being the established religion in France.  He firmly believed in the separation of Church and State and freedom for the individual to practice the religion of his choice—or no religion.  He was a most prodigious writer of plays, poems, novels, letters and essays as well as scientific and historical works, all of which advanced his very avant-garde ideas.  His brilliance at satire offended many in the establishment and while he had numerous friends outside the court, at court he had more than his share of enemies. 
Voltaire rejected classic Christianity for a vague belief in a creator.  He did have quite a bit of admiration for Hinduism, though how he became familiar with it except through books, I can’t be sure.  Sometimes we develop an admiration for something not so much because we know it or understand it, but because it is contrary to that which society has established for us. 
He was very skeptical of the Bible as he felt that God’s own moral ambiguities—telling various Israelite leaders that they should kill this person or annihilate that nation—only justified violence and oppression.  Yet he was tremendously admiring of nuns, especially those who served the sick and the poor as he saw a deep idealism in them. He saw that Christianity was useful in as that it imposed a certain moral code upon the common and uneducated people but he felt it had no place among those who could think for themselves. He is quoted as having said: “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  But perhaps my favorite quote of his is that on his deathbed, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan, he said: “This is no time to make new enemies.”  Humorous to the last.  Hopefully God appreciates the humor; otherwise we are all in deep trouble.
A somewhat less known figure of the Enlightenment was Denis Diderot (1713-1784).  He advocated inoculation against smallpox and he compiled the Encyclopédie which is an anthology of Enlightenment thought.  Unlike most of the philosophes, Diderot was not a Deist but an atheist.  His antagonism against religion may have been due in great part to the death from exhaustion of his much beloved sister, a nun in a very austere convent.  My reason for including Diderot is that he has my favorite quote of all the Enlightenment philosophes: “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the guts of the last priest.”  I have it hanging in my office right alongside one of my other favorite quotes from a far less distinguished source: si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes
Finally, we need to backtrack a bit and deal with the Englishman Sir Issac Newton whom I have somehow overlooked.  Newton (1642-1727), like my buddy Stephen Maturin, was a natural philosopher: i.e. a scientist, and perhaps the most important scientist of all western history.  A great mathematician, it was Newton who established once and for all that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the solar system.  In addition to physics, mathematics, and astronomy, Newton did extensive work in optics.  Given his particular position at Cambridge he was expected to be ordained in the Church of England but he obtained a royal warrant excusing him from Holy Orders.  He never gave a reason but it seems while devout he was not orthodox in as that he did not subscribe to the Doctrine of the Trinity.  Like many in his day He saw God as the Master Mathematician, the Creator of the Universe and Newton attributed the unflinching order of things in the natural realm to the Divine Mind.