Wednesday, February 26

An alternative reality:

In a stunning development today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pope John Paul II emerged from their meeting, hands joined and raised in the air in triumph. Bringing President Bush in on a conference call, the three announced agreement on the conflict with Iraq.

“Go!” commanded the Holy Father in a trembling, yet firm voice. “Go forth to Baghdad and defeat Hussein!”

Expanding on his words, the Pope promised to send a Papal Envoy to Kuwait that evening to bless the American troops.


So that’s not what you want? That’s not exactly the scenario you envision when you pound the Pope for what he’s saying about this situation? You say I’m engaging in hyperbole and cruel exaggeration?

Well maybe, and so welcome to the club. Welcome to the club of Victims of Heightened, Hysterical Rhetoric Thrown Around in Times of High Tension By People Who Should Know Better. You can go sit over there – next to the Catholic Worker people and the Mennonites.

I’m just saying – if it’s fair to push antiwar thinkers (and non-thinkers) on what realistic alternatives they might propose to actions they’re criticizing, it’s perfectly fair to ask the same question of those who seem to want the Pope to do an Urban II on Iraq.

And so begins my lengthy rumination on the possible war with Iraq, whether it is just, and what the Pope is saying about it. What you’re going to read here is the fruit of frustration and confusion, mostly. I make no grand statements. I set no policies.

I’m just a Catholic American who takes her faith seriously, values her freedom, understands what it takes to protect it, and doesn’t take it for granted. I'm married to a man who served in the military - in Turkey for part of the time. I’m also the mother of a 20-year old son and a 17-year old son.

As I said, mostly – I have questions. Rambling, mostly unorganized questions.

First, the war in general:

The longer this goes on, the weaker the case for a war with Iraq gets, it seems to me, at least based on what we’ve been told so far. The longer this goes on, the weaker the case for a war with Iraq gets, it seems to me, at least based on what we’ve been told so far. It also seems to me that a quarter of those involved in the protests are motivated by anti-Semitism, and too many of the rest just seem to be mindlessly mouthing platitudes and making irrational associations - too many. But the defenders, while not exactly stupid, and seemingly more reasoned that the antiwar protesters, are starting to sound a little robotic – and strained - as well.

I cannot stop asking myself: Why Hussein? Why now?

It sounds noble and right to gather ourselves to rid the region and the world of a ruthless dictator like Hussein. We are told that the majority of Iraqis are but waiting for our forceful presence in order to reach down deep and join us, even from the ranks of their own military. On its own, that sounds okay…(not in line with just war thinking yet, though…but from a humanitarian standpoint – I’ll give it to you).

Yes, it all sounds fine until you (or at least I) step back and consider the global situation, and in particular our stance towards other nations who a)also are controlled by freedom-hating regimes and b)are more directly tied to terror.

Is Hussein the only wretched despot holding a desperate country under his thumb? No. Some wear better suits and have better business connections than others, but they are there, they are in power, they are putting their people in slave labor camps, they are oppressing religious and ethnic minorities, they are torturing political prisoners. And some of them even have WMD’s pointed right at us.

So why the focus on Iraq?

It’s been argued that overthrowing Hussein is possible now in a way that say, overthrowing the Communist government of the PRC is obviously not. Again, I’ll give you that. But thinking that way, we’re led to wonder…well, then if overthrowing despots and spreading freedom is what this is about, surely there is are cases which are even more doable than Hussein? Why not them? Why not repeat our great success we enjoyed in…say..Haiti?

Never mind.

Well, then, there’s the War on Terrorism.

Surely, this is the most cynical and dishonest reason being thrown out there – using the grief and deep desire to do something in the wake of 9/11 in order to motivate support for a possible war on Iraq. I honestly wonder sometimes if we had nabbed bin Laden, either alive or dead, clearly and unmistakably with his body out there for all of us to see, if we would even be considering re-energizing this war from simmering on the levels of sanctions and inspections to that of scorching Iraq.

No, it didn’t come out of the blue – I can see the argument that this is not a new war, it’s the continuation of the First Gulf War, and the response to Hussein who never lived up to his side of the bargain, 12 years of sanctions notwithstanding. I get it. But still…it is not unpatriotic or disrespectful to ask ..why now?

I’m not saying that there are no ties between Hussein and terrorism – that would be ridiculous claim. But when we consider the realities of 9/11, we acknowledge that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and those that weren’t, were Egyptian. Their funding was Saudi, and not just bin Laden. The Saudi royal family (aka the Sopranos in robes and flowing headgear) run an incredibly oppressive regime, one with far less religious freedom than Iraq. And...our very own State Department does nothing but coddle the Saudis at every level and on every issue, and has, quite seriously, since the week of September 11, 2001, when the members of the bin Laden family were allowed to leave the U.S. without question.

And, as Michael Leeden points out....Iran?

Moving back away from the terrorism question - China denies human rights, runs labor camps, enforces abortion...but our government does nothing but enable businesses, salivating over the Chinese market, enabling them to expand their relationships with China...and so on. North Korea. Burma. Yeah.

See, my point is that taken alone, the Iraqi situation seems appropriate for intervention - some kind of intervention, if not full scale war, but something more forceful than sanctions - but the argument begins to crumble when you consider our lax and tolerant treatment of other oppressive regimes, even those that are more directly linked to terrorist threats against us.

Of course, the second justification for war is those WMD’s. The morality of a pre-emptive strike has been widely debated. All I wonder is…doesn’t the advent of a full scale war increase the chances of their use?

Finally, there’s militant, anti-Western, anti-Israel Islam. There is a desperate need to temper this tendency, and I’m sensing that the thinking seems to be that by establishing a US-backed state in Iraq, a base will be established for this – a base for moderation, for openness to the West, for the beginnings of tolerance of Israel. I’m thinking that’s what Bush is going to address tonight when he speaks at the AEI. Which is great. But…war?

And here we get to the Pope.

Many, many people, including the United States government are extremely disappointed in the Vatican’s refusal to rubber stamp a possible war with Iraq, a disappointment which I find very puzzling.

Who here seriously thinks it would be a good thing for the Pope to give the Christian Stamp of Approval to war with a predominantly Muslim nation? Do we really want Hussein (who has apparently been trying to heighten his Muslim identity lately) or the radical Islamic world to have any more opportunity to characterize this as a crusade than they already have? (By the way, I didn’t invent this suggestion. I believe Cardinal George said something along these lines last week, as did Andrew Stuttaford in NRO’s Corner.)

Now – what gets critics, at root, is not that the Pope is refusing to bless one side in a conflict – it’s that the statements coming out of the Vatican aren’t critical enough of Hussein, and seem to place all the burdens for peace and justice on the regimes opponents. It’s that they think that the calls for “peace” and “no war” are calls for a maintenance of the status quo, or for an absence of forceful intervention at any cost – even human rights. It hasn’t helped that the Vatican has been a consistent and loud critic of the sanctions ever since they were placed, again, placing the burden on the UN to lift them unilaterally rather than demanding that Hussein comply so that the deal may be made and the sanctions lifted that way.

And that’s a fair criticism. I admit that Vatican diplomacy is a complete mystery to me, and a matter of great frustration. I have no doubt that the staff of the Vatican is bursting with fashionably anti-American Euroweenies in tailored cassocks. I also think it’s perfectly fair to examine this in light of the Vatican’s words and actions during the rise of Nazism. Too many church authorities said and did too little during that period against the obvious and growing injustices and crimes being perpetrated. Is this the same kind of thing? I’m not sure.

So I’m not saying that the Pope’s prudential judgment is infallible. Because, of course, by definition, it’s not. But what I’m hearing quite a bit is that for various reasons – because it is a non-infallible prudential judgment, most of all – we don’t need to listen to the Pope at all.

My argument here is not to elevate what the Pope says about this conflict to solemn ex cathedra statements or question the faith of those who take issue with him. Not at all. My arguments is simply Why We Should Let the Pope Disturb Our Consciences.

First – why do we even care? Why do secular governments give a hoot what the Pope thinks? Why does it matter? Is it because of the amazing power he holds over his minions who will do whatever he says, and if he says “no war” these minions will rise in rebellion against Bush and Blair and Catholic soldiers will suddenly lay down their arms?

Uh…probably not. Given the indifference of many Western Catholics to what the Pope says about matters of faith…probably not.

No, the reason the Pope’s opinion matters is because of what he represents. And what he represents in this kind of situation is the Long View.

It’s the Long View of the oldest continually existing institution in the world. It’s the Long View of one of the oldest continuing bodies of thought in the world. It’s the Long View of an institutions that has seen nations and empires rise and fall, has seen wars won and lost and has even blessed a few of those wars.

And what does this Long View reveal?

First, it reveals precisely what the Pope is telling us. War is a horror, war spirals out of control, war, ultimately wrecks countries and lives, war ravages and scorches. It sees wars begun in good intentions and explode into the reality of batches of young men shoved into front lines, slaughtered, and replaced with more batches of young men, countrysides and lives left bare, burned and ruined, the foundations laid in that scorching for the next war, to the next batches of young men slaughtered, and finally to civilians incinerated into less than dust. Is there any other way short of this?

The plain fact is that war is the fruit of evil. It is the fruit of individuals, citizens and nations standing by and allowing evil, oppression and exploitation to take root and grow in their own and in other countries, until that evil has acquired so much force that, to our eyes, war is the only thing that can dislodge it.

I think it’s obvious that the Pope fears something catastrophic if war happens. There are just too many hostile forces that could be ignited, to much potential for serious conflagration, too great a possibility of this being very quickly transformed into a regional conflict, with dire consequences, including the total victory of radical, fundamentalist forces within Islam.

Some ask: The Pope lived through Nazi-occupied Poland and the Cold War…how can he maintain the stand he does?

I think the better question is - How can he not?

Karol Wotyla lived through war and its devastations. He lived to see Communism brought down – not by violence, but by relatively peaceful means, pressure, threats, certainly, advantage taken of internal weakness, and, we cannot doubt he believes – prayer.

Which brings us to prayer.

There’s been a little flurry of controversy about the Pope’s call to prayer and fasting for peaceon Ash Wednesday.

The resistance to this is incomprehensible. I just don’t get it.

Why not pray for peace? Why not pray for a peaceful and just resolution? Why not pray for …I dunno…God’s will be done, maybe?

The only reason I can think of is pride. Pride in human power and a denigration of God’s power. Pride like Jonah’s, who did not want to see the Ninevites repent, who wanted God’s wrath to spark big old conflagration of Babylonians.

And this is what I mean when I say that we should look through the limitations of the Pope’s prudential judgment to what the Spirit is saying through him – and the way we do this is to see how what he’s saying links up with Scripture and Tradition – aka, the Long View.

When we look at that, seriously and humbly, we have no more excuses. We have no excuses not to pray, and not to pray for our enemies. Of course, if you’re a Thomist you could pray for them as you’re trying to hurt them.

Or you could just stick with Augustine (who also said it was okay to punish in a prayerful kind of way, but who stuck to the letter of Jesus’ words in Mt 5:44 here)

If thou art heaven, call on thy Father which is in heaven, and pray for thine enemies: for so was Saul an enemy of the Church; thus was prayer made for him, and he became her friend. He not only ceased from being her persecutor, but he laboured to be her helper. And yet, to say the truth, prayer was made against him; but against his malice, not against his nature. So let thy prayer be against the malice of thine enemy, that it may die, and he may live. For if thine enemy were dead, thou hast lost it might seem an enemy, yet hast thou not found a friend. But if his malice die, thou hast at once lost an enemy and found a friend.

15. But still ye are saying, Who can do, who has ever done this? May God bring it to effect in your hearts! I know as well as you, there are but few who do it; great men are they and spiritual who do so. Are all the faithful in the Church who approach the altar, and take the Body and Blood of Christ, are they all such? And yet they all say, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." What, if God should answer them, "Why do ye ask me to do what I have promised, when ye do not what I have commanded?" What have I promised? "To forgive your debts." What have I commanded? "That ye also forgive your debtors." How can ye do this, if ye do not love your enemies? What then must we do, brethren? Is the flock of Christ reduced to such a scanty number? If they only ought to say, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors," who love their enemies; I know not what to do, I know not what to say. For must I say to you, If ye do not love your enemies, do not pray; I dare not say so; yea, pray rather that ye may love them. But must I say to you, If ye do not love your enemies, say not in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors"? Suppose that I were to say, Do not use these words. If ye do not, your debts are not forgiven; and if ye do use them, and do not act thereafter, they are not forgiven. In order therefore that they may be forgiven, ye must both use the prayer, and do thereafter.

I think, in the end, the question we’re being asked is this:

Self-defense is one thing, but all of sudden, a lot of us are keen on justice for the oppressed. We want to spread freedom. We want to be in solidarity, we say, with our brothers and sisters living under tyranny.

Why does it take the prospect of a war to get our interest? Where have we been all these years? Where are we now for the oppressed peoples in other countries, not lucky enough to be perched on the edge of invasion by our weapons?

What is it that we really care about?


I think I almost have my head wrapped around this close to the right way, and then I get a letter like this.....

In 1943 I was a six year old boy in a Japanese women's intern camp in the Dutch East Indies. My Dad had just died of beri-beri. My mother prayed everyday the rosary with us and other families. We prayed I am sure for deliverance from the Japanese torture. The A-bomb for us was God's answer to our daily prayers. We were liberated by English troops not by pacifists or anti-war people. So I am ambivalent about war. But you can't have peace without war. I am sure there are a lot of Chaldeans praying for deliverance from evil...

And then.... from another reader:

You'd fit in right with us military folk right about now.

Why Iraq? Why now?

Questions we all have but dare not ask.

My husband is on notice for two away teams -- for the cleanup, both war crime and chem/bio. That's all I know -- guess for now that's all I want to know.

There's good reason why the military leadership isn't so gung-ho - they never are. Many of them have seen the horrors firsthand. Their leaders are trained in just war doctrine (and that's what they call it) at something called War College. My husband took it five years ago -- Aquinas and all.

Being on the 'inside track' so to speak, doesn't help. So much still doesn't make sense.

It all matters on where you stand, I guess -- just wonder who's standing in the 'right' place?

From Rod Dreher:

Guys, I don't want the Pope to endorse the war. I really don't. What I do wish he would do is give Bush and Blair more credit for the morality of their position. And I wish he and his bishops would have more humility about their own position, which is, in my view, a fairly hopeless one. The Holy Father keeps saying that dialogue and diplomacy is the way out of this crisis. We have had 12 years of dialogue and diplomacy with Saddam, to no avail. We've tried sanctions, which the Holy Father has long opposed. And still, Saddam starves his people while building palaces for himself, and continuing to construct chemical and biological weapons. Sometimes, force is the only realistic way to confront evil, and it bothers me a lot that the Holy Father doesn't seem to recognize this. He's starting to remind me of the hysterical lady in Western movies, who begs the cowboy to stay inside and not go out in the street and confront the outlaw. The hysterical lady prefers to stay inside and pretend that there's no danger out there, or that the danger might go away if we just sit quietly and wait.

From Mark Shea

Given the events of the 1980s, I think the Pope has some reasons for thinking that there are other ways of dealing with bloody regimes besides force. Communism was a far greater force for evil (still is) yet there is no drumbeat for war with Korea, which has nukes. Nor for Saudi Arabia, which has, as Amy notes, been treated with kid gloves. What comes through for me in reading him is not "Bush is immoral" nor indeed much hostility to the West, but fear for the Iraqi people. And fear for the Christians under Islam generally. And, indeed, fear for ordinary Muslim peasants. If Saddam's scientist is right, a war could potentially spell a scorched earth policy that will kill 4 million citizen prisoners of Baghdad. Yes, it will be Saddam's fault. But they'll still be dead. A moral calculus that doesn't take this possibility seriously is highly problematic. Yet some people really think "It'll be Saddam's fault" is sufficient reason to argue a greenlight for invasion. It's part of the weird ambivalence I'm seeing about the *reason* for this war. We're doing it to liberate Iraq. But if it involves the death of millions of Iraqis, we're not doing it to liberate Iraq, but to protect ourselves against a threat that *might* arise. But we aren't doing anything about threats that *have* arisen in Saudi Arabia and N. Korea. I can see why this looks weird to Rome.

Good stuff at this comment thread at Mark's, including

Perhaps one aspect of the anti-war position is the question of whether the ends truly justify the means. Two things are undeniably true: Saddam must go down, and innocent Iraqis will die in a war.

What makes this a big problem is that most of Iraq, including its army, are actually innocent Iraqis. The WMD programs were not mandated by the people or even the army. They had tried (12 times?) to get rid of Saddam but he's a nasty one (turning his WMD on his own people). Hence, there is very little responsibility that we can impose on the Iraqi people for Saddam's actions. THAT makes it difficult to justify the war.

At the end of the day, when the dust settles, the body count will be unbelievable, especially if Saddam Insane decides to use his ring of death tactic (release his WMD around Baghdad to hold everyone within hostage; aside from killing any attackers in the area). At the end of the day, the warmakers must have something to say about the innocents who died and their surviving families. Telling them "we're very sorry, but you got in the way" is undeniably hard to swallow, but it may be all that can be said.

Peter Nixon's thoughts at Sursum Corda

Monday, February 24

Saturday night, we were given, if not a blizzard, a close relative. For hours, the wind howled and the sky hurled snow of various types down on us – sleet, then thick, wet flakes, and finally tiny dry specks surrounding us like fog. Strangest of all was the lightening – yes. I counted two huge lightening flashes and an unmistakable roll of thunder. Maybe some of you long-time Yankees are used to such sights, but I’d never seen or heard of such a thing.

If this were mid-December, we’d all be undisturbed about the snow, perhaps even happy to see it cover the late autumn earth tones and get us ready for Christmas. But this is almost March, for heaven’s sake, and just Friday I was watching the ground slowly re-appear as prior snows receded, thinking that it was about time.

It still is.

Went to Mass Saturday evening (between the sleet and the thick flakes) at a smaller church up the road, a church built late in the last century, I assume, in the Gothic style. It is called St. Peter’s, its German heritage unmistakable, betrayed by the German-language titles on the Stations of the Cross. It is not a mile away from St. Patrick’s, the parish founded expressly for Irish immigrants, perhaps two miles from St. Paul’s the parish that is now the home of a predominantly Hispanic congregation, and a mile in another direction from St. Mary’s, a parish which has been home many of the city’s African-American Catholics.

The church is impeccably maintained, and possesses a truly unique feature – at least to me. The main and two side altars have, of course, tall and elaborate Gothic-style backings (there must be a technical name for them, but I’m too lazy to look it up.) in which stand statues and candles and such. They also are host to something else, something you don’t know until late in Mass, – borders of large light bulbs that remain dark until Communion time, at which point they are switched on, lighting up the sanctuary with an effect that unfortunately approaches that of an extra-large vanity and makeup mirror.

The homily was uber Catholic – a dry, thoroughly “orthodox” recitation of the benefits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, offered to a congregation composed mostly of gray heads, who, I would imagine, scarcely require such a fundamental catechesis.

As a homily, it paled beside the brief reflection of a parish priest from Warwick, RI this morning, who was being interviewed on one of the morning news shows. Asked what he was saying at Masses, this weekend, he simply responded that the Gospel was the account of friends feeling such compassion for another that they went to the trouble of climbing on a roof and lowering him into the healing presence of Jesus. In a time like this, he said, that is all we can do.

Internal Affairs Dep't:

I've updated what the kids call the "blogroll" on the left over there, deleting a couple of apparently inactive blogs and adding a couple of newer ones that I particularly appreciate. I've also added a few news links.

And don't forget to send me your suggestions for a Lenten Reading List!

Also.. I just added a "soundtrack" section to the rail over there, with a list of the CD's that are currently living in the living room player.

HMS blog has helpful updates on Al Kresta's condition and the outcome of Detroit's Mercy High School's "Catholic Identity on the Block" (as Greg calls it) auction of lunch with Governor Granholm.

Three book reports this week:

First was Virgin Trails: A Secular Pilgrimage.

Of course you know that “pilgrimage” is all the rage, but really only in the same sense that “spirituality” is all the rage, which means that ultimately, It’s All About Me. There are tons of books out there on pilgrimage, sacred journeys, whatever you want to call them, most by people whose beliefs about fossil fuels are held with far more certainty than their beliefs about the Transcendent.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for seekers. I’m one myself, and I admit it freely, just as freely as I admit my sympathetic understanding of the views of the agnostic and the atheist. Without Jesus, if I do say so myself, it seems mighty hard to believe in God at times. But that’s just me.

So anyway, the books about seekers on journeys flood the market. Most of them are going to Machu Picchu (the most recent theory of which says it wasn’t a holy spot at all, but a royal resort. Heh.) or similar pagan and/or natural destinations, but some haunt Christian spots, and since most Protestant theology is too scared to let the Incarnation somehow spread into stuff, that leaves our seekers who’ve a mind to traveling to Roman Catholic and Orthodox places, taking what they can, and telling the rest of us about it with the appropriate mix of muted respect for the luminousness of the place and relief that they don’t have to take it too seriously.

Well, Virgin Trails isn’t like that. Really. It’s not like that because the author, a youngish Canadian journalist named Robert Ward, while an admittedly agnostic seeker, treats what he sees – in Paris, Lourdes, Spain and Rome – with the deepest respect and a completely open mind. Best of all, he avoids the common modern pitfall of constantly and oppressively inserting himself into the narrative. Oh, he’s there all right, on every page, but his personal quest isn’t the center of the story – we sort of get why he’s doing this, but sort of not, and that’s not because he’s being coy, but rather because he chooses to put what he observes, not himself, on center stage. Take it from one who’s read almost every seeker-encountering-Catholic-stuff tale that’s come down the pike in the past five years – such reticence is refreshing.

There has been a great deal of lovely stuff – as well as dreck – written about Lourdes, but what Ward does with it ranks with the best. He weaves history in which his observations of his two-week stay, which included a stint working as a volunteer with the malades, and produces some fine writing:

Sickness, in Lourdes, is an honored state, for the sick here are not simply individuals with infirmities, they are The Sick who Christ called and blessed and healed. I have said that Lourdes can be thought of as the stage for a Christian drama. That drama is the enactment on earth of Jesus’ word that in the kingdom of Heaven the last shall be first. There is nothing sanctimonious or condescending in this. All understand their role in the ritual. The volunteers come here prepared to serve; the sick, to be served. The unanticipated consequences is that Lourdes, drizzly, dolorous, Virgin-ridden Lourdes, is a very cheerful place. One of the most cheerful on earth, in my experience.

As I read the book, I appreciated Ward’s stance from another angle, as well. I was glad he wasn’t a believer, for a believer describing the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal or Lourdes or any of the stops along the Camino Santiago Compostela pilgrimage route might be tempted to overlay his observations with his convictions about the truthfulness and the personal religious significance of what he sees. Useful and interesting sometimes, but most of time, not.

Next up: Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age by Ruth Harris. Another excellent book, of a different type though, and if history’s not your bag, this book won’t be either.

Harris deals thoroughly and fairly with Bernadette’s apparitions and the events surrounding it, and then turns to the development of the shrine in the context of late 19th and very early 20th century France – how the development of pilgrimages to Lourdes – particularly carefully organized national pilgrimages – occurred in response to the secularist forces in French culture and government, how the shrine was the locus of clashes between religion and science, but in the end, came to play a role in their entente, and what the role of women in the shrine’s development reveals about, among other things, the Frenchwoman’s relative indifference to women’s issues as they were being played out in the US and in Britain.

Finally, I spent much of today reading The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust by prolific historian Martin Gilbert.

The book is an almost encyclopedic , country-by-country survey of non-Jewish rescuers during the Nazi era. There are literally hundreds of stories told in this book, too many to absorb in one reading, which was not, I’m sure, the intention, anyway. It’s a book to consult, to have handy and, quite seriously, meditate on.

The effort to document the Righteous Among Nations has been systematic and continuous for many years, and the efforts are centralized at Yad Vashem. Much has been written about rescuers, and not just Schindler’s List. You may have heard of the Oliners’ The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe or Eva Fogleman’s Conscience and Courage or Pierre Sauvage’s documentary about the Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon, the French village that rescued him and scores of other Jewish children, Weapons of the Spirit.

But there are many more stories than this. So far, Yad Vashem has authenticated over 19,000 Righteous of the Nations, and Gilbert includes a breathtaking number of them here, ranging from the familiar, like Schindler, Wallenberg and the entire country of Denmark to the countless quieter, no less heroic examples of Christian clergy and religious, impoverished peasants, aristocrats, Muslims, and yes, even a few German military officers who risked their own lives to hide, move, protect, feed and provide false identification for Jews.

Of particular interest to me are the stories involving Catholic clergy and religious, and there are many – for accounts of a lot of them go here if you’re not planning to take a look at Gilbert’s book, or even if you are.

It is common and understandable and thoroughly correct to view these stories as uplifting moments of light in a wretched, evil darkness. And they are.

But after plowing through hundreds of them, I had another reaction, mixed in with my gratitude. It was grief. Grief at the plain fact that there were not more rescuers, that anti-Semitism was so deeply ingrained in some of the Nazi-occupied countries, that rescuers were often run out of their own villages by their own fellow countrymen after the war was over. Shame that for every Father Bruno who rescued over 300 Jewish children in Belgium, there was a Father Tiso, willing puppet head of Slovakia under the Nazis who authorized the deportation of Jews from his country. (By the way, I am disturbed and fascinated that in this article by Ronald Rylchak opposing Goldhagen’s work, Rylchak mentions Tiso, talks about the Vatican’s protests against deportation - but never mentions that Tiso was a priest. Too bad, because we can’t ask honest appraisals of history from everyone else, and then hedge on it ourselves.)

But anyway – take a look at this book, or simply revisit the phenomenon of the Righteous, the non-Jews who took great risks to rescue Jews. Be inspired, but also be chastened by reality.

The French lawyer and historian Serge Klarsfeld, a hidden child during the war, whose father was deported to Auschwitz and perished there, has stressed that the war against the Jews in France was more than anything a war against children. Between 1942 and 1944, 11,402 French children aged seventeen and under (some tiny babies) were deported, many of them without their parents. Only three hundred of those children survived. These harsh facts make the acts of rescue that did take place all the more remarkable, while also raising the ever-present question: What if more people had been able to take the risk of hiding Jews?

And so tie the book reports together, a fact for you:

Franz Werfel a novelist, a Czech, and Jewish, was inspired to write his novel The Song of Bernadette after a brief time of hiding at Lourdes in the late 1930’s on his way from Europe to the United States.


(this is going to be a lengthy list, so keep coming back throughout the day to see what I've added.)

We're pleased and proud as anything around here to note that Michael's latest book, The How-To Book of the Mass, has been selected as one of Catholic Digest's two featured books for March, with a very nice and rather lengthy review in the March issue.

Tony Blair at the Vatican:

A "prickly" meeting

A private Mass

A conversion?

Cherie's faith

Faith in the shadow of war:

On Sunday, several hundred Marines attended church services on the sand. A tent was set up, but too many people showed up so they held services outside. The chaplains set a box in the dirt for a lectern and gathered people around to sing hymns and pray. With the Iraqi border just a stone's throw away, thoughts of violence and death were just beneath the surface of the songs and sermons.

A popular Catholic priest, the Rev. Bill Devine, started Mass with the hymn "Be Not Afraid." Later, he asked God to "protect us from men of violence and keep us safe from weapons of hate." He also prayed for peace. And no war. Every Marine at the service carried some kind of weapon and a gas mask. They never go anywhere without them.

Later, at the Protestant service, eight Marines were baptized. A hole had been dug in the sand and lined with a plastic sheet. It was filled with water to about thigh deep and the men, who had stripped down to T-shirts and shorts, climbed in one at a time for full-immersion baptisms.

A reader writes to add:

Just thought I would drop you a line to let you know that I personally
know Fr. Devine. During 6 months in 1995-1996, I was an active duty Army officer stationed in Egypt with the Multinational Force and Observers. Spiritually,
I had a couple of rough spots during my time there, and Fr. Devine helped me tremendously. Fr. was only able to make it to our camp on Mondays (if the transport plane was flying). He is a WONDERFUL priest (Josephite). It's good to hear news about him.

The forewoman of the Long Island grand jury investigation abuse in the Diocese of Rockville Centre reflects on her experience

Her name is the only one mentioned on the stark cover of the scathing 180-page report on priests who sexually abused children and how it was covered up by the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The report was the first major examination of how one diocese dealt with abuse, and its findings reverberated around the nation when it was released two weeks ago. Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said that had there been no time limit on prosecutions, he could have brought charges against 23 priests in the diocese.

The heartwrenching cost of abuse revealed as a victim accuses his abuser and the bishop

Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown defends its secrecy

One of the more notorious clerical abusers of recent years has been Monsignor Robert Trupia of the Diocese of Tuscon, who's been publicly called a "notorious and serial predator" by officials of his own diocese. Suspended from the priesthood since 1992, he's resurfaced in the news recently because the vicar general of the Diocese of Monterey resigned a few days ago as revelations of his ties to Trupia were revealed: he facilitated the Monterey diocese employing Trupia as a consultant for years (up until 2001) and bought a $110,000 condo in Ellicott City, Maryland in which Trupia lives.

A story from Arizona a couple of days ago looked at the diocese's continuing support of Trupia - a $1,450 a month stipend, which it says it's just gotta give him until he's laicized. Which may be true on the paper called canon law, but is absolute lie in practice, unless there's a secret codicil that applies the law only to pedophiles and homosexual predators and excludes heterosexuals married to adult persons of the opposite sex. You never know.

Indeed, Canon 1350 of Catholic Church law says that unless a priest has been defrocked, provision must always be made that he does not "lack those things which are necessary for his decent support." "Right now we are bound by that," Diocese of Tucson Chancellor June Kellen said Friday. "We continue to pursue laicization." When an Arizona Daily Star reporter tracked him down in Ellicott City, Md., last month, Trupia appeared to be doing well financially. He was driving a 1999 Mercedes-Benz C320, and living in a $110,000 condominium in a suburb of Baltimore for a rent of $1,100 per month.

A short article about the value of religious poetry

From Africa:

John Paul addresses North African bishops:

Addressing the bishops of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, the Pope noted "the quality of relations" between Christians and the Muslim populations of these countries, and he affirmed: "All this is possible thanks to reciprocal knowledge, daily meetings of life and exchanges, particularly with families." "Continue to encourage these meetings as a priority day after day," John Paul II urged. "They contribute to the evolution of mentalities on both sides and help to overcome preconceived images that the media still present all too frequently." ....Lastly, the Holy Father appealed to the small Catholic minority of these countries, made up primarily of immigrants, to become an "expression of the goodness of God for all men" through the "service of charity to the poorest," regardless of "race, culture or religion."

A clinic aids the needy in the Congo

For four years a specialized center has been offering medical care and psychotherapy to victims of the Congolese war, hoping to bring them back to a normal life. The Mater Misericordiae center, in the Kivu region, was founded by surgeon and psychotherapist Colette Kitoga, who studied at the Catholic University in Rome. She and her collaborators take care of victims of the conflict that has convulsed the country since 1996. Eighty-five percent of Dr. Kitoga's patients are children. "These are children marked by experiences such as witnessing the killing of their parents, watching people being buried alive, or themselves being raped at an early age," she told Vatican Radio. Child soldiers and raped women are also given care. There are "very many, because rape is used as a weapon of war," she said. "In eastern Congo, seropositive men or those with confirmed AIDS are used. It is really regarded as a biological weapon."

Kaduna, Nigeria, torn by religious strife

Once a lively urban mélange of faiths and tribes, this today is a partitioned city, the Kaduna River cutting a line through its heart. Muslims crowd into the neighborhoods bizarrely renamed Kandahar and Jalalabad. Christians pack a new settlement of unpaved red dust roads, where pigs roam free and churches multiply: they call it New Jerusalem. "We have no Muslims here," one of Ms. Agbu's neighbors offered by way of explanation.

Kaduna, with a best-guess population of two million, is not only the crucible of trouble in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, where riots touched off by ethnic and religious divisions have killed nearly 10,000 in the last four years. It is also an object lesson on what happens to the geography and soul of a city when fear and distrust are allowed to spiral out of control in the contest for political power.

Kaduna today is abuzz with religious piety, with Koranic schools sprouting on one side and crowded Christian prayer meetings on the other. Even local entrepreneurs display their religious stripes: "God's Will Depot" promises Coca-Cola and 7-Up at affordable prices. But Kaduna is also a snapshot of the most twisted sort of piety. "Jesus is the king of the world," reads the graffiti in the courtyard of a gutted mosque in a Christian part of town. A Catholic church in a largely Muslim enclave has been set on fire, its roof has collapsed, its priest has been hacked to death.

600 Ugandans struggle to be recognized as Jews by Israel

The Abayudaya make no claims of ancient Jewish heritage. They discovered Judaism in 1919 when a local chief, Semei Kakungulu, who had been converted to Christianity, abruptly turned his back on that religion and declared himself a Jew. Legend has it that he learned the outlines of Judaism from some Jewish traders who had passed through his territory.The community's greatest test came a half century later, during the reign of the dictator Idi Amin, when Judaism was banned in Uganda and the Abayudaya synagogues were destroyed. Now, the 84-year-old community is attempting to gain broader recognition and face the challenges of preserving a dwindling population

Check out this article from the NYTimes Magazine about the growing attention to repression as a valuable coping therapy

The new research is rooted in part in the experience of Sept. 11, when swarms of therapists descended on New York City after the twin towers fell. There were, by some estimates, three shrinks for every victim, which is itself an image you might want to repress, the bearded, the beatnik, the softly empathic all gathered round the survivors urging talk talk talk. ''And what happened,'' says Richard Gist, a community psychologist and trauma researcher who, along with a growing number of colleagues, has become highly critical of these debriefing procedures, ''is some people got worse. They were either unhelped or retraumatized by our interventions.'' Gist, who is an associate professor at the University of Missouri and who has been on hand to help with disasters from the collapse of the Hyatt Regency pedestrian skywalks in Kansas City, Mo., in 1981 to the United Airlines crash in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, has had time to develop his thoughts regarding how, or how not, to help in times of terror. ''Basically, all these therapists run down to the scene, and there's a lot of grunting and groaning and encouraging people to review what they saw, and then the survivors get worse. I've been saying for years, 'Is it any surprise that if you keep leading people to the edge of a cliff they eventually fall over?'''

....Bonanno pauses. ''I've been studying this phenomenon for 10 years,'' he says. ''I've been deeply troubled. My work's been in top journals, but it's still being dismissed by people in the field. In the 1980's, trauma became an official diagnosis, and people made their careers on it. What followed was a plethora of research on how to heal from trauma by talking it out, by facing it down. These people are not likely to believe in an alternative explanation. People's intellectual inheritance is deeply dependent upon a certain point of view.''

George Bonanno works in New York City, while Richard Gist works in Kansas City; the doctors have never spoken, but they should. They share a lot. Gist told me: ''The problem with the trauma industry is this: People who successfully repress do not turn up sitting across from a shrink, so we know very little about these folks, but they probably have a lot to teach us. For all we know, the repressors are actually the normal ones who effectively cope with the many tragedies life presents. Why are we not more fascinated with these displays of resilience and grace? Why are we only fascinated with frailty? The trauma industry knows they can make money off of frailty; there are all these psychologists out there turning six figures with their pablum and hubris.''

The LA Times' David Shaw on the problems secular journalists have with religion

Television news programs virtually ignore religion, and even good newspapers with weekly religion pages and full-time religion writers don't consistently give religion the kind of serious attention throughout the paper that would seem warranted by the "powerful role" it plays in the lives of most Americans, says Doug Underwood, in his recent book "From Yahweh to Yahoo!: The Religious Roots of the Secular Press.""Members of the faith community are on target," Underwood writes, "when they complain about the incapacity or the unwillingness of journalists to take seriously the importance of the spiritual dimension in the lives of so many people."Indeed, media coverage of not just religion but also of politics, science, psychology and technology, among other subjects, would be "much better if journalists better understood the role religion plays as a motivating force in so many areas of society," says Underwood, a former reporter, who's an associate professor of communications at the University of Washington.

There's a bill being introduced in Congress that would fund the provision of ultrasound machines to non-profit centers, aka CPC's:

The two sides are clashing over a $3 million bill, backed mostly by Republicans, that would provide up to half the cost of ultrasound equipment, which ranges from $20,000 to more than $100,000. The money would go only to nonprofit centers that do not charge for services. The vast majority of pregnancy centers that fit this description oppose abortion.A similar bill went nowhere last year, but its chances are somewhat improved by Republicans controlling Congress.Even without the funding, about 350 of an estimated 2,500 anti-abortion pregnancy centers around the country have ultrasound equipment. It appears to be working as intended, according to officials at several centers, who report many changes among "abortion-minded" women once they see ultrasounds of their fetuses.

Speaking of rescuers...

North Korean Christians being helped to escape

In the dead of winter, North Korean refugees sprint across the frozen Tumen River bordering China and quickly disappear into a thick forest to await the Christian underground railroad. In recent years, Christian advocacy groups -- sponsored mainly by Koreans living in the United States, Japan and South Korea -- have set up a chain of safe houses and orphanages to smuggle North Koreans into China. The underground railroad has enabled tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom are fleeing food shortages and the problems of the failing government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, to reach South Korea via nations bordering China, such as Russia, Mongolia, Burma and Laos.

Again, more rescuing:

Christianity Today on the state of abortion:

Ultrasound and abortion alternatives

An editorial sees new hope for the prolife movement:

The prolife movement is on the right side of history, regardless of cultural trends. The prolife movement is persistent—and wins converts each year from the bloody ranks of the abortion industry—because its people realize that the sanctity of human life is not negotiable. Like the church storming the gates of hell, the prolife movement batters away at the strongholds of violence and death. In time it will prevail. It's been a long while since the movement's future looked as hopeful as it does in 2003.

We'll see....

From our friends and brethren in the Anglican Communion:

Dance parties cause rift in SF (duh) church

The rhythm society was formed in the early 1990s as an exclusive club: The idea was to provide spiritual seekers a way to dance their way toward enlightenment.Soon after, the society began hosting quarterly, invitation-only gatherings at St. John's, midnight-to-morning celebrations featuring DJ's, light shows and New Age themes such as "Dream" and "Explore."The society's gatherings drew about 350 people, more than three times the number that belonged to the parish. They ranged from children to seniors, but the core group consisted of young adults in their 20s and 30s.

(via Relapsed Catholic

Group releases study flailing Church of England

"The only part of the Church of England that has increased has been the number of its bishops and their bureaucracy," said the study's editors, the Rev Peter Mullen and Digby Anderson, the unit's director.

Via The Corner

Good article (even if it's from a gaming magazine) on the impact of casinos on nearby Catholic churches.

I actually think it would be more interesting to see a piece on the same subject, but relate the issue to evangelical churches - say in Biloxi.

If you were the child of an academic growing up in the 1960's..

you probably had a book called The Pooh Perplex hanging around your house, and you probably wondered what the hell it was, because it sure wasn't like your Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Well, Frederick Crews, the author of that satire of academic fads, has come out with a sequel, forty years later. It's called Postmodern Pooh, and here's an article about it from the Seattle Weekly:

Crews' second challenge was tougher: to do justice to his satiric targets, modern critics so crazy it's hard for satire to exaggerate their hilariousness. Crews solves the problem by inventing imaginary critics--some based on readily identifiable academic stars--and anchoring their cuckoo lucubrations with quotes and footnotes from actual academic publications. Thus the scholar Das Nuffa Dat (from Calcutta via Eton and Oxford) is Crews' creation, but when Dat cites Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak on "the post-colonial attempt at the impossible cathexis of place-bound history," it's all too real.

Similarly, Carla Gulag, Joe Camel Professor of Child Development at Duke University, is imaginary. But Duke University (endowed by tobacco money) is a real postmodern stronghold whose English department was so bitterly fractious in the '80s that the dean had to put a botany professor in charge of it. Gulag quotes her Marxist mentor, the real-life literary theorist Frederic Jameson--he famously defended the Nazi writings of Paul de Man and wrote that Heidegger's Hitler commitment was "morally and aesthetically preferable to apolitical liberalism"--and goes on to note that when Piglet cakes himself in dirt, he's "reasserting his class identity and [preventing] social castration by the whitening, starching, homogenizing influence of that sylvan soccer mom, Kanga." The "gynocritic" Sisela Catheter has a more radical feminist view of Kanga, not to mention the "Fire Island-style fireworks" of Pooh: "When Eeyore appears most invitingly available to be sodomized, the abashed Pooh realizes that the requisite tool is missing." Poor patriarch Pooh! In "The Courage to Squeal," Dolores Malatesta, a nonexistent Seattle author, cites actual nut-job authorities to support her theory that Piglet's a victim of Satanic sexual abuse.

Mennonite and Amish helping north Alabama rebuild

Their muddy boots rest by the door of the fellowship hall at Arley First Baptist Church as a dozen hungry Mennonites dig into a Southern Baptist-prepared lunch of smoked chicken and ham, sweet potatoes and cole slaw.Since January, rotating crews of Mennonites and Amish volunteers have been toiling in the winter cold and rain to build homes for the victims of November's tornadoes. The storms tore through Walker and Winston counties, killing 12 and destroying homes and businesses.Christian Aid Ministries, a Mennonite assistance service, is building eight homes in small communities such as Curry in Walker County and Arley in Winston County. A separate organization, Mennonite Disaster Service, is working closer to Carbon Hill

America magazine will be running what looks to be an interesting series on "Contemporary Catholics and Traditional Devotions" during Lent.

The link only takes you to an introductory page and an invitation to subscribe, but it definitely looks to be something worth taking a look at, no matter where you get your America - library, bookstore or parish vestibule while juggling a baby.

Over the next few weeks, our essayists will offer their thoughts on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, pilgrimages, the Angelus, litanies, the Miraculous Medal, novenas, the rosary, holy water, Our Lady of Guadalupe, first Fridays, lectio divina, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, relics, the Liturgy of the Hours and the Stations of the Cross. Obviously, this list of devotions is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, it tries to encompass some devotions that may have fallen into desuetude, that may be ripe for a kind of renewal or that may be less well known or understood by some contemporary Catholics. Each of these traditional devotions, however, continues to exert a powerful and undeniable influence on our writers and, not incidentally, on a great many of the people of God.

Thursday, February 20

Articles like this make a hiatus waaaaaay too difficult.

Oh, and keep those lenten reading suggestions coming. I have about 15 so far, but I want more! More! More!

Update:I'm getting some nice suggestions of traditional "spiritual reading." I'd like to have some diversity though. Poetry? Fiction?

Wednesday, February 19

Fasting from food, nourished by the Spirit

I'd like to put together a page dedicated to good reading for Lent. Please send your suggestions to Include the title, author, and whatever comments about the book (or a particular section of a book) that you have. If you want me to publish your name and a link to your website/blog, please do.

I want to pull this together by the last weekend of February, so get me your information before then.

Several people have asked how my father's doing. He's doing very, very well. He's out of ICU, and will probably head home on Saturday. He's being gradually weaned of tubes, pipes and wires, and is doing breathing exercises. Thanks for asking, and thanks for your prayers.

Speaking of prayers, they're in order for radio host and author Al Kresta. You can follow the details at HMS Blog, but here's the latest as of Wednesday, mid-morning:

As you may suspect, there is much speculation circulating as to Al's condition. Please help stop rumors. This is very simple at this point. Al has blood Poisoning, Al lost his leg to save his life, Al is responding to treatment, Al's condition is critical and will remain so for a few days. And most importantly, Al needs your payers.

Monday, February 17

Condolences to cyber-friend, neighbor and inspiration Nancy Nall on her father's passing today.

A productive week, and if you want proof, just know that I had an article due on March 10. In a truly shocking development, I wrote and turned it in last week. Yes, indeed. Made progress on the Bible study and signed off on another small project. Two columns and a book review piece to write this week, but I hope I’ll be able to knock off another chapter of the Bible study, as well.

I’ve put together a page with information on my Prove It books. You can find it here.

I’ve got the table of contents for each book, order information, and excerpts from the two books whose digital forms still existed. Go to it, send the URL to your DRE, youth minister, religion department, not to speak of your favorite teen in faith crisis, which is probably any of them you choose!

See, I haven’t just been lounging around aching to blog. But I have done a little of that too. Spouting off in Mark’s comments boxes was about as much as I allowed myself, though.

Sitting here watching ABC’s Music Man with Katie, stunned, absolutely stunned at how AWFUL Matthew Broderick is. If you caught it, did you ever see a performance that made you want to just kick someone in the pants to get them going more? In the effort to not tread on the memory of Robert Preston, they managed to fashion a performance drained of any energy at all.

If there’d been an energy boosting button marked “Bueller” on that remote, I’d have pushed it the first time he opened his mouth.

Not to speak of a washed-out palette for the whole production and a rather startling homogeneity in way too many of the performers’ appearances – not nearly enough variety in body type or facial features – the barbershop quartet was the worst – they could have been quadruplets. It’s as if individuality has been bred out of the population – or at least out of show business. And maybe it has.

Katie’s mainly perturbed with the girl playing the mayor’s daughter, claiming that her enunciation of “ye gods!” doesn’t cut it, At. All.

Well, two more weeks and Six Feet Under revs back up, so perhaps the television will be worth having again, for at least an hour a week, unless they go and pull a Sopranos - type decline on us.


There may be three people in the room. Four, even. Joseph stubs his toe on one of the 1,251 Duplo blocks scattered on the floor. “Ow! Hurts!,” he cries, and no matter what, no matter if I am up to my elbows in pizza dough or juggling knives or half-comatose on the couch, and no matter if everyone else is sitting around with empty laps – it’s me. No one else can give comfort but me. No one.

I should be flattered. And, I suppose I am. After all, how would I feel if he insisted on running to another to tend to his wounds?

But still, I could use a break. I don’t know why, at 20 months, he’s decided to get so awfully clingy – he goes to a babysitter three mornings a week, after all, and he does fine, waving goodbye to me with a big grin through the window. That’s the exception, though. At the moment, when we’re home, it’s all mommy, All The Time. I leave the room, it’s a crisis. And don’t even talk to me about bedtime. Don’t even.

I don’t know why my arms and my kisses are the only ones that offer succor, but they do.

Life is filled with hurts far more serious than a twinge from a Lego. We are disappointed with others and ourselves. We lose, we are frustrated, we are treated unfairly and unjustly.

To whom – or what – do we turn when our pain becomes too much to bear in silence? The child insists, right or wrong, that his mama is the only one with the answers. In a room – which is his whole world – filled with choices and options, he runs for her, and in but a minute, quiets.

In our own pain, do we feel the same compunction? There are lots of things that can deaden our pain for the moment or help us pretend it isn’t important.

Quite simply put, we can ask anything or anyone to save us. Perhaps the beginning of peace is understanding that when it comes to saviors, though, there is really only one.

When we hurt, is God our first and only resort – or our last?

Because he’s short and still, in his primitive way, understands that he is not in control, Joseph spends much of his day asking for things.

Crackers, cheese, milk, juice, water, “stordg-ee” (story), blocks, “ta-bee” (TV), “lellow” (a favorite yellow shirt), “E” (the oddest. You’ll never guess. A pen or pencil), and of course, what good is an E without “pay-puh?”

Anyway, we have a new twist in the litany of requests.

In an ingenious time-saving move, he’s started providing his own answer.

”Cwacker?” and before we can respond, he finishes the thought: “Yash.”

”Juice? Yash.”

It reminded me of prayer. I mean, really – when we pray, we might as well provide our own answer most of the time, right? We’re not presenting our needs to God trusting in whatever answer He gives – we’re presenting them in the hopes that He’ll answer them our way:

”Please make sure I get this job. Yash.

”Give us a safe journey. Yash.”

Okay, sure, Jesus tells us in so uncertain terms to ask for what we need, and says that the Father will provide, but He never said that the perceived need and the answer would match up the way we think we want it to.

But Jesus also told us to pray in this way:

…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

- an idea that C.S. Lewis took further when he wrote:

To be in the state in which you are so at one with the will of God that you wouldn’t want to alter the course of events even if you could is certainly a very high or advanced condition.



From the NYTimes Magazine:

A severely disabled attorney associated with the group Not Dead Yet relates several encounters with Peter Singer

He insists he doesn't want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child. It has nothing to do with me. I should not feel threatened.

Ever wonder what happened to Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, aka "God's Banker?"

Hanging out in Sun City, Arizona, that's what.

Liberal Democrat and on-the-edge-sort-of-still-pro-lifer Dennis Kucinich says he might run for president.

US Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson aggravated by that stubborn Pope

Springfield (MA) priest still refuses to buy into bishop's support of convicted priest:

In the 1990s, the diocese settled suits for $1.4 million with 17 men who accused Lavigne of abusing them when they were minors. Though the diocese began the process of defrocking Lavigne about two months ago, it will continue to pay him $1,000 a month and cover an $8,000 medical and dental package, Scahill said.Dupre has said that the diocese's continued financial support of Lavigne is mandated by canon law, a rationale Scahill took issue with yesterday from the pulpit. 'I remain unconvinced that the Holy Spirit of God and the will of Jesus Christ would endorse a manmade canon so protective of a multiple-offending abusive cleric ... so abusive to his victims and so unprotective of innocent children,'' Scahill said.

Who will be the next Archbishop of Philadelphia?

From the LATimes (LRR)

Assyrians struggle for identity here and in the Middle East

More than two millenniums ago, their ancestors created one of the world's great empires, covering much of what is now Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Among the earliest peoples to convert to Christianity, they claim inventions including the wheel, the Zodiac and fractions. But today, with their people scattered in 40 countries, Assyrians are one among many peoples who survive from the ancient days of the Middle East, half forgotten by the world."I don't know anybody who's ever heard of Assyrians," said Anil Varani, 20, youth group vice president of the Assyrian American Assn. of Southern California. In the 13 years since she emigrated from Iran, she has usually told others that she's Babylonian -- a related people at least vaguely familiar to more Americans, she says. Some Assyrians say Jews are one group of people who seem to be more familiar with them. But because the Hebrew Bible describes Assyrians as cruel and ruthless conquerors, people such as the Rev. William Nissan say he is invariably challenged by Jewish rabbis and scholars about the misdeeds of his ancestors.Asked whether many Jews still bear grudges against modern Assyrians, Yitzchok Adlerstein, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches at Loyola Law School, replied: "They still survive?"

And, on a related note: Chaldean Catholics between Iraq and a hard place

At the Weekly Standard,Matt Labash takes a humorous and depressing look at anti-bullying programs

A few thoughts on the NYTimes magazine article blogged above:

The scenes, of course, are horrifying: the comfortably endowed academic making the abstract case for the worthlessness of the life of the real woman sharing the stage with him. One wonders what works in the soul of such a man.

What’s not directly addressed in the article, however, is the soundness of Singer’s logic. If, he argues, abortion can be an acceptable choice up to the moment of birth – why not infanticide the moment after? In this way, Singer is at least more consistent than abortion supporters who have created an imaginary line made of nothing but the lining of the womb that somehow separates disposable life from protected life.

Last week, Peter argued that in a blog I’d tossed to Greg at HMS, I’d made too casual and unthinking a connection between the rising level of infant homicide rates over the past three decades to the existence of legal abortion. In my own defense, I’d first like to say that I had sent that article Greg’s way in the hope that he’d expound on it, not that he’d actually take note of my five-second consideration of the stats! But that’s okay. Keep my name alive any way you can, Greg. Fine with me!

But Peter’s blog got me thinking. Over the past thirty years, various researchers have attempted to associate the prevalence of induced abortion with a host of ills: increased levels of child abuse. Breast cancer. Increased rates of infertility, ectopic pregnancies and placenta previa.

And every time, observers scoff at attempts to link these phenomena, and as always, skepticism regarding cause and effect correlations is in order, and that’s fine and good.

But one is left with the impression that a relatively high rate of induced abortion could not possibly have any effect on individuals or the population as a whole. Which seems to me even more ridiculous than blaming everything on legal abortion. After all, induced abortion is a profoundly unnatural act, on every level. It wrenches a system, merrily preparing itself for one goal, and violently interrupts that process. You’re telling me that’s not going to have an effect, especially if done more than once? Very hard to believe.

Links to research on the physical and emotional impact of induced abortion

Saints to note this week:

Tuesday: St. Bernadette of Lourdes

Thursday: Blesseds Jacinto and Francisco Marto

Friday: St.Peter Damien

Saturday: St. Peter the Apostle

Later this week, I'll be tossing out some thoughts on the Pope and the war. As if something else actually needs to be said.

Friday, February 14

Update on Dad:

The surgery lasted about 7 hours--the entire upper left lobe of the lung was removed and the esophagus re-sected. The pathology report says that the margins are clear, which I'm told is very good news. He is off the ventilator already, his color is good, and he was alert enought to express a preference for FOX over CNN on cable. He'll be 3-4 days in ICU.

The healing process will be challenging - in addition to half of the esophagus being removied, one-third of his stomach was as well. But if his early good progress is any indication, he'll meet the challenges well.

Thanks for your prayers!

Update: As of this morning, he was asking for his glasses, newspapers, and for the television to be on CNBC so he could watch Blix and the market at the same time.

Monday, February 10

Monday Update:

I've decided to come here on Mondays to point you to articles of mine that are newly available, either on my own site or elsewhere, as well as other important news.

Over the weekend I cleaned up my main webpage a bit.

I added a review of Sisters by John Fialka here.


review of Celluloid Saints, a study of sanctity in film (duh), here.

I posted two columns:

That Damn Rabbit Column that's gotten people so riled up


Ghettos and Gerunds

I’m scheduled to be on Al Kresta’s radio show Tuesday, February 11 at 4:30 Eastern.

I fiddled with the left rail over there. I restored the email link – I had removed it last Monday because I didn’t want to be inundated with mail. I got about 100 emails, anyway, and that was enough.

I’ve also restored the “current reads” section. That’s a bit of myself that I’ve had on the web in various forms since I started in 1998, so why not keep it here? I also added links to the various categories of articles, essays and reviews that you can find on my website.

Although I really miss the kind of blogging I was doing, I’m already finding the hiatus to be of great benefit. I’m re-accessing parts of my imagination that had been blocked by the intense news and instant commentary I was engaging in, and, by the way, enjoying. I hope I can bring it all into balance and return in some limited way in the late fall, as I have told several of you in emails.

But in the meantime, keep showing up here on Mondays for updates and and a cup of coffee. Or, if you’re like me, Diet Coke.

Most important:

I ask your prayers for my father, who is having major, major surgery on Thursday.

St. Luke, Pray for us.

Sts. Cosmas and Damian, pray for us

St. Peregrine, pray for us.

Fellow bloggers...if you could spread the word about my limited continuing existence, I'd appreciate it.

God bless!

Thursday, February 6

We interrupt this hiatus....

to tell you that I've posted a look at the Vatican's statement on the New Age here.


Monday, February 3


I've decided to go ahead and do something I've been toying with for a while:

I'm shutting down da blog.

I began it for a purpose, and that purpose has been fulfilled. But now, it's taking up too much time, and I'm experiencing a real pull to direct my energies elsewhere. I was going to put it on hiatus for Lent anyway, but there is a project for which I got a strong, specific idea in early December that I really want to give some serious attention to (besides the Bible study guide which is due in two months), and I could be doing that in the time I blog. Thought I'd have made real progress on it by now, but I haven't, and I need to. I have that much faith in the idea. I don't want this one to be just one of the other good ideas that I've started and not been able to finish. I'm almost 43, and it's time to get serious about another direction in my career. I don't know what I'd do if, as has happened every time in the past, a year were to pass and I had one more lost project on my conscience, all because the pull of posting links to weird articles and posting my inconsequential thoughts was so tempting! What it is is that blogging has a weird way of both expanding and contracting your vision. You hear the experiences and insights of other people, but at the same time, the temptation is always there to just think in terms of those who making up the blogging community. I need to free up my brain and my imagination. So,...farewell to the 1600+ who come here every day. Or the 160 who come here ten times a day. Whatever! God bless.

(Besides, there are so many blogs out there, there's plenty to read. For news, you can depend on Holy Weblog and Relapsed Catholic, and Mark Shea, Eve Tushnet, and Peter Nixon at Sursum Corda and others offer far more thoughtful insight than I ever could...)

Update. Well, thanks a lot. I've been sitting here all morning reading mail and trying not to cry, unsuccessfully. This is just insane.

And seriously - I should have mentioned this above - thanks to the many, many, many wonderful readers who have made this blog what it is. You come to chat with each other, and I've been honored to provide that space and give you fuel for the discussions. I've also learned a great deal, and I am in awe of your wisdom and experience. God bless all of you. And thanks, Rod - you're a prince among crunchy cons, truly.....!

Update #2: My husband and others convinced me not to delete - I need to keep the archives. They're right. The only additions to this space at least until late fall will appear when I have something interesting published either in article or book form.

Sunday, February 2

A WaPost article on Anne Buening's first Sunday as a parish administrator

For the moment, Buening and her parishioners aren't focused on breaking barriers. Instead, they are busy trying to repair the spirit and the infrastructure of their church community after their pastor left last year following allegations of solicitation of a male prostitute.

.....She has her work cut out for her. The church, at the heart of the community of wooden shingle houses surrounded by chain-link fences, for the past nine months has been sick with its scandal. Buening's predecessor, a popular pastor known for community activism, was removed in March. He was sentenced in August to a year of supervised probation for filing a false report of a carjacking.

.....The pastoral council meeting minutes from November conveyed a sense of desperation: "It is time to start fixing what needs to be fixed. God is preparing us for something good -- something good and great can come out of this mess, and we can experience resurrection."

Where others might have seen a run-down parish, Buening saw an opportunity. As she drove around the parish neighborhood south of Baltimore, she said, "I liked its comfort -- it felt like the Midwest," where she grew up. "What I saw was a community that lives its faith."

At the 11 a.m. Mass yesterday, she was the first to speak after the organ stopped playing inside the gray, boxy, modern church, where the stained glass is made up of rectangular figures.

"This is my very first weekend here, and I want to thank everyone for your kind notes and warm hugs," she told the 100 or so churchgoers by way of introduction. "My commitment is to walk with you."

Without further preamble, she listed the parish's most pressing problems: The boilers are malfunctioning. The roof is leaky. The school is in debt. And the church financial records are in a shambles.

"It's your community, it's your parish, and you have the right to know," she said. "I can't do this alone. I need you. I need your help."

An American Prowler piece on Catholics and eulogies

In the wake of sex scandals whose devastating effects upon the faithful will likely ripple for decades, the Newark Archbishop took it upon himself to rearrange the proverbial chairs on the Titanic. In doing so, he exhibited a gift for the unfortunate phrase, as when he explained that his decision was motivated by a desire to cut down on the "growing abuse" of eulogies by parishioners.

Abuse is not a word that Catholic priests should throw around these days, particularly in New Jersey, where Rev. John Banko was convicted in December of molesting an altar boy. To use the word in reference to parishioners still wishing to bury their dead in the Church is shoddy semantics and abysmal public relations. Catholics in the New Jersey dioceses must feel as if something else is being taken away from them, as if trust were not enough.

Beyond its awful timing, the anti-eulogy initiative also illustrates the continuing confusion in roles between priests and laity in the wake of Vatican II. Eulogies slowly came about as a result of Vatican II, and have become a staple of funerals since. But if some in the Church now want to limit or abolish laity eulogies, why are they are not equally interested in reforming the role of laity in giving communion? Isn't that a much more obvious priestly function?

Giving a eulogy, by contrast, seems to be an act uniquely suited to the faithful, especially in the frequent and unavoidable cases where the priest does not know anything about the deceased. One does not hear any outcry about priests giving generic eulogies for people they have never met. Nor do we hear anything about the disastrous eulogies priests sometimes give, such as the one I had the misfortune of hearing for an aunt some years back. In a supremely haughty, almost angry manner, the priest dismissed any notion that my aunt had actually died a few days earlier because she had "died with Christ 70 years ago." To the family's grief in her loss, he thundered, "I beg to differ." Nice theology, terrible eulogy. And this from a priest who knew her, in the church she had attended for most of her adult life. You never saw so many angry Irishmen exit a funeral.

Circus was okay. Wasn't Ringling Brothers - Shriners. Not as many animals, not quite as polished - probably better, then. Joseph was tired -(note to self: next year, don't schedule circus during nap time)

and was primarily interested in the elephants which he described as going "night-night" when they lay down as part of the act.

So that was the afternoon, now it's dinner time, and later will be going over 60 remaining pages of single-spaced manuscript text so I can finally get it out of my life tomorrow - at least until the copy edits come back. Always a fun time.

But then I will be free, free, free - free to write two columns this week and start my next project - a volume in Loyola Press' Six Weeks With the Bible series, this one on the Passion and Resurrecction narratives in Matthew. (The one I did on the Parables of Jesus is coming out this fall).

We have lots o' commentaries on Matthew, and I plan on getting the Raymond Brown study, but if anyone has any other suggestions on helpful volumes that Loyola can add to my collection, please let me know. Time's a'wastin.

Today so far we have been to Mass, gone to get my battery changed out and Michael's oil changed (in our cars, of course, silly), eaten lunch, done the first of the two daily digging-out-of-crumbs from the floor, and now we' to the circus.


Saturday, February 1

From the WaPost: A rabbi and abuse

Peggy Noonan on the Columbia

Well, it's February, which means it's almost Valentine's Day, which also means it's almost "V-Day" which sort of doesn't mean Valentine's Day.

Which means it's time to take stock of the Catholic colleges that are joining in what has become a yearly event, the presentation of a certain play with the initials "TVM"

(You know, I get enough hits to my blog from people entering weird, scary combinations of words in search engines. I'm trying to minimize that.)

Now, I've actually seen much of this play - as it was presented on HBO last year, I think. If you can get past being offended by it, you'll find that it's really just....stupid. And the part that isn't stupid is almost criminal, and the celebration of this scene - which is really an approving account of statutory rape - reeks of hypocricy.

Anyway, here's the list of 43 Catholic colleges that are sponsoring presentations of this play this year - that's up from 28 last year. Un - believable. The page, courtesy of the Cardinal Newman Society, includes contact information for college presidents, for your hellraising pleasure, especially if you're an alumn or a parent...or a student.

I continue to wonder why local news even bothers to exist. Or – if it does, why it doesn’t actually report news, which must be happening in a city of 150,000, surely. As the local newscasters finished the top story tonight, summarizing the details of the Columbia tragedy, I said to Michael, “Now it’s time for them to go to the mall and get local reaction.” I was wrong. It was an electronics store – not the mall. An electronics store so the intrepid journalists could get video of customers watching the news on the store televisions, return to their studios with the footage and put “Witnessing Tragedy” under the interviewees’ names.

What followed was – I’m serious about this – a report that there were no Purdue graduates on this flight. In case you were wondering.

When I lived in Florida, there was a patch of road between Bushnell and Wildwood that I used to drive regularly. Every twist and turn of that road became numbingly familiar, and every permanent roadside rummage sale a landmark.

One of the businesses along that road was a body repair operation, and for some reason, for their signage, they had the burned-out shell of a van posted high on a pillar. Every time I would drive by, I would contemplate this, wondering why the business thought this was a good advertisement, wondering how they got it up there.

Until one day, the obvious hit me. People had been in this miserable wreckage once. They were hurt and perhaps even died, judging from the condition of the vehicle. I couldn't imagine that someone would hoist the site of a death up on a pillar and use it for advertising, but you never know. But the possibility burrowed into my head and would not leave, and re-emerged every time I drove past: Someone died in there.

Which is why the constant replaying of the breakup of the Columbia is so particularly horrible and macabre. The anchors use their pens to circle the parts breaking off, saying triumphantly, "See - there's a puff of smoke," when perhaps, all they should be saying, or better, all they should be letting us think as they fall silent is Some people died in there.

I am also reminded of the term that used to be used in aviation in such circumstances, I believe. I first heard it when golfer Payne Stewart's plane went haywire.. Five souls on board... I remember hearing.

Seven Souls On Board...all lost.

But of course, we pray that lost is not, in God's time, what they are.

Requiescat in pace

Last night, I finished Catherwood,, a brief, thickly written, intense novel about the deceptively simple event of a 17th century woman lost in the woods of New York with her 15-month old daughter. The prose is lush – a bit too lush at times for my simplistic frame of mind – but it is as powerful a presentation of mother love as you will ever find. Recommended!

Here's something we can all agree on:

Too damn many standing ovations

The author of this WSJ piece takes on big-time Broadway, opera and symphony productions, but I don't think I've been to a community theater production - or a school Christmas program, for that matter - that didn't end in a standing ovation.

The Toledo Blade profiles Pat Madrid

From NCR: What the bishops' Review Board is going to do:


a profile of its members.

Andrew Sullivan defends the DC judge

We've found in recent years that when the Church hierarchy covers up abuse, it is sometimes necessary for the laity to peacefully protest. And when the Church propagates doctrines that are cruel and discriminatory - such as the denial of communion to gay Catholics merely because they are openly gay - then it is also permissible for lay Catholics to express their sympathy for the victims of the Church's actions. This is not bigotry. According to the Church itself, openly gay people are not to be denied communion. They are part of the body of Christ. And no-one is questioning the right of the Catholic hierarchy to enforce whatever doctrines they want. What the judge said merely amounted to bearing witness to what many perceive to be injustice. You may disagree and support the exclusion of openly gay Catholics from the sacraments, but it's an over-reach to describe this conscientious objection as a form of bigotry.

Peter Steinfels on Pacem In Terris

The 40th anniversary of Pope John XXIII's encyclical "Pacem in Terris" ("Peace on Earth") is not until April, but the commemoration has already begun — understandably enough.

Pope John Paul II made it the subject of his World Day of Peace Message on Jan. 1 and of a message to journalists on Jan. 24.

"Pacem in Terris" reflected another moment of great international tension. John XXIII conceived of writing it in October 1962 — in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis — during the late-night hours when he passed back and forth from his writing desk to his private chapel, composing a message sent to Kennedy and Khrushchev in hopes of bringing them into agreement and preventing a war that might incinerate millions in its opening salvos.

When the encyclical emerged just before Easter in 1963, it was addressed not only to the Catholic bishops, clergy and faithful, as was customary, but also "to all men of good will." And "Pacem in Terris" was embraced by non-Catholic readers like no previous encyclical.....

But are there not "situations in which nothing short of war can defend or establish" such rights? That was one objection raised in 1965 by the theologian Paul Tillich at a major conference where a score of world leaders addressed the themes of "Pacem in Terris."

A refugee from Nazism, Tillich welcomed the encyclical but countered its optimism with a more tragic perspective. Other theologians, like Reinhold Niebuhr and even John Courtney Murray, a Catholic, also questioned the pope's optimism. Couldn't the ingredients in his recipe for peace — human rights, disarmament, equal respect for all nations, economic development, the peaceful resolution of differences by dialogue and negotiation — come into conflict with one another? Wouldn't hard choices be unavoidable?

Group pushes for Baltimore Archdioces to reconsider its rejection of the validity of Gianna Talone-Sullivan's reported visions

"I have a good impression of her messages. While it is difficult to say if they are authentic, there is nothing objectionable in them," said the Rev. Edward D. O'Connor, a retired theologian at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton in Ohio. "The mere fact that there is an apocalyptic tone should not exclude the messages."

O'Connor has written to Cardinal William H. Keeler to criticize the findings of an archdiocesan commission that found "no evidence of supernatural intervention" in Talone-Sullivan's messages. A petition with hundreds of signatures - including those of a half-dozen Marian scholars - was delivered early last month to archdiocese offices in Baltimore.

And although an archdiocese spokesman said there are no plans to reopen the investigation into the case, Talone-Sullivan's supporters say they will continue to collect signatures and push for more study.

Polish priest enters innocent plea.

Catholic high school students make 1,000 rosaries for servicepeople


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