Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thank God for the Cistercians

My itinerant life presents major challenges when it comes to retaining a contemplative center. I found this reflection in today's Magnificat wonderfully helpful. Where would we be without the Cistercians? Since my spiritual home – for which I pine while on the road – is St. Joseph’s Abbey near my domestic home, I have feel a special appreciation for the Cistercian charism, which is surely the source of this beautiful reflection by Father André Louf, O.C.S.O., abbot emeritus of the Cistercian monastery of Mont-des-Cats, France:
We sometimes have to stop the furious pace of our activities, know how to pause, to put down our weapons, and fold our arms, to listen at length to the silence of our hearts. It is at times like these that God’s action has some chance of emerging and taking the initiative within us. This only gives the appearance of being easy, especially for the active person used to feeding unconsciously on his own activity – as someone gets used to a drug which he cannot stop using without going through withdrawal. This is, in fact, a matter of going from a well-intentioned activism – not without tangible results – to a certain passivity even within action whose effectiveness is not always immediately perceptible. It is a matter, even at the very heart of action, of not getting so caught up in it that the active person not unknowingly cuts the thread which binds him to his own interiority from which all his activity should spring.
Since posting the earlier blog entry, my introduction to this month's ERI session has gone through a few changes, which I have not bothered to insert into the weblog. I hope those who have some interest in these things will listen to the audio of this month's entire session, either on CD (for those who attend our sessions) or by way of the MP3 audio file which will be on our website within a week or so.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Old Gil Bailie - Updated: 10/21/08

In a comment below John asks: "Where is the OLD Gil Bailie?"

The answer is that he is older than he was when he was "the old Gil Bailie." In the meantime, he has learned a great deal, and the world has changed a great deal.

Here are my opening remarks (as they now stand; I am half way through the October round of lectures) for this month's Emmaus Road Initiative. The theme this month is "hominization" -- the birth of homo sapiens, but it is essentially a exploration of the Trinitarian and Nuptial mysteries. The controversial introduction helps explain the importance of recovering the anthropological relevance of these mysteries in our time.

Here are my introductory remarks:

Since, as T. S. Eliot wrote in “Little Gidding,” the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time,” it behooves us to begin at the beginning, which is in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For that Trinitarian mystery is not only at the origin of all things, but it is also the great mystery into which Christ came to invite us.

And as it happens, our theme this month – Creation and Fall – returns us precisely to where we started – namely at the birth of humanity itself – and we will be trying to “know the place for the first time.” But before turning to it I feel it my duty to make a few remarks about the contemporary cultural and historical setting which makes this month’s topic especially urgent.

In a rightly ordered world – a world in which the most essential moral and cultural realities are “as American as motherhood and apple pie” – this month’s theme would be the least controversial subject imaginable. With each passing day, however, the gears of a massive cultural revolution grind on, drawing western civilization ever deeper into what John Paul II called “a culture of death,” the certain historical outcome of which – if not reversed – will be the death of western civilization itself.

We will all have to answer to God and posterity for how we conducted ourselves at this critically important moment in our history.

So, I ask your indulgence while I outline the immediate moral and political threshold we – as a culture – are poised to cross in the wrong direction. If my opening remarks seem overly polemical, the argument that justifies them will follow, and I hope you will stick around for it. So if you feel the impulse to walk out, I hope you will resist it, even if only to spite me. For I have a hunch that for every person who walks out on a talk like this I’ll reap a small recompense in the life to come.

I have worked hard on this presentation, so if you you’re going to reject what I have to say I hope you will do me the favor of hanging around long enough to reject the whole of it and not just the first of it.

Speaking to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, on July 17, 2007, today’s Democratic nominee for president was loudly cheered by the largest abortion provider in America when he declared: "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do." The FIRST THING he would do . . . that’s quite a testimony to his political priorities. What is the Freedom of Choice Act?

The Freedom of Choice Act would Eliminate:

• State abortion reporting requirements in ALL 50 states
It would render null and void:
• Laws in 44 states requiring parental notification when minors request abortions
• Laws in 40 states laws restricting late-term abortions
• Laws in 46 states providing conscience protection for individual health care providers
• Laws in 27 states providing conscience protection for institutions
• Laws in 38 states banning partial-birth abortions

The bill would abolish all restrictions on government funding for abortions. Once signed into law, therefore – as the Democratic nominee for president has promised to do – all restrictions on abortions would be eliminated and they would be funded by taxpayers, like it or not. Doctors and nurses would risk losing their jobs if they refuse to cooperate.

But there’s more: The Born Alive Infant Protection Act – which would require medical personnel to provide medical care to children who survive an attempted abortion – passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate – all the pro-abortion politicians voting for it. But the Democratic nominee for President, then a state legislator, led the fight against an identical bill in the Illinois legislature.

Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and former member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights – says that the Democratic nominee for President: “has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.”

In the pagan world, infanticide often took the form of what was delicately referred to as EXPOSURE – leaving the unprotected infant to die out of sight of those who abandoned it. The Born Alive Infant Protection Act prevented the revival of that pagan practice in our day, but the Democratic nominee for president fought vigorously against the Illinois version of that bill.

As Professor George puts it:
he . . . is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress. . . .
To show just how unyielding he is determined to be, the Democratic nominee for president dismissed those who object to this radical proposal in words that cheered the Planned Parenthood gathering:
. . . I am absolutely convinced that culture wars are just so 90’s. Their days are growing dark; it is time to turn the page; we want a new day here in America. We’re tired arguing about the same old stuff. . . . On this fundamental issue, I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield. . . .
Phrases like turning a new page, moving beyond the culture wars, and so on are pure political boiler-plate – the audacity of hype – I would call it. They make it sound as though he has some compromise in mind. The truth is that the plan the Democratic nominee for president proposes for ending the culture war over abortion is to crush the pro-life opponents of abortion with draconian legislation which amounts to the destruction of religious freedom. To the great satisfaction of abortionists, he is also on record as opposing any federal funding for pro-life emergency pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion.

As weary as you and I might be of the culture wars, in the face of such aggressive assertions of the culture of death we must never grow tired of “arguing about the same old stuff,” for the outcome of that argument will determine whether our civilization descends into barbarism or recovers its moral bearings.

His temporizing in the last presidential debate notwithstanding, the Democratic nominee for president made it clear in a Glamour magazine interview that he would apply a pro-abortion litmus test in nominating people for the judiciary and especially the Supreme Court. The next president will fill countless judiciary appointments and is likely have to fill several vacancies on the Supreme Court. If filled with dedicated pro-abortion judges, these appointments will set the nation on a full-steam-ahead culture of death course for decades to come.

Happily, if belatedly, a growing number of Catholic bishops have spoken courageously on the gravity of this situation. As someone who visits Dallas every month, for instance, I’m aware of how forthright Bishop Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Vann of Fort Worth have been on these matters. Their joint statement on the moral responsibility of voters in the upcoming election states unequivocally that abortion is “THE preeminent intrinsic evil of our day,” and that Catholics “are morally obligated to . . . abolish the evil of abortion in America.” Predictably of course, others equivocate, often suggesting that, on balance, foreign policy, economic or environmental issues outweigh the life issues.

Imagine what life was like for the average German in the 1930s. The Jews were being rounded up and sent first to ghettos and then to concentration camps while respectable German politicians sought to “balance” their hand-wringing on those matters by pointing to how clever and compassionate their proposals were for improving the tax code or public transportation or working conditions in the armaments industry. This is our situation today.

What, after all, was the moral monstrosity at the heart of both slavery and the Holocaust? It was that a whole class of human beings were morally and legally invisible and therefore exploitable or expendable at the whim of others. This is the crystal-clear moral center of the abortion issue.

If western civilization abandons the most vulnerable and innocent to abortion, it doesn’t deserve to survive, and if it abandons the institution of marriage, it won’t.

For the other paramount moral and cultural issue of our age – ideologically related to the abortion issue – is the meaning and definition of marriage. On that issue, George Neumayr, editor of Catholic World Report decodes election-year winks and nods when he writes that the Democratic presidential nominee:
. . . goes through the throat-clearing rigamarole of saying that he's opposed to gay marriage, but he isn't. Were he opposed to gay marriage, he wouldn't be sending out letters to gay-rights activists congratulating them on their new marriage licenses; he wouldn't consider Bill Clinton's Defense of Marriage act reactionary; he wouldn't send his wife out to applaud gay-rights activists for torpedoing gay-marriage bans . . .
The dogmatic secularists relentlessly pushing this agenda are quick to say to the rest of us: “just move along; there’s nothing here to see, just a few belated items of social justice, nothing to be concerned about. Let’s get back to the ‘real issues’ we face.” Busy as we are with other things, their reassurance is comforting.

But, with a court decision here and an act of political or ecclesial cowardice there, the screws are tightened. When the Rip Van Winkles awaken and rub their eyes, they will find that their children and grandchildren are being taught in public schools that the deeply held moral principles of their parents are not only wrong but morally odious and socially hateful – a hint of what’s to come as the modern intermission in the world’s persecution of the Church draws to a close and Christian faith once again entails an increasing degree of social opprobrium, legal and financial hardship, and more.

Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the number of innocent babies killed in this country alone is at 48.5 MILLION and counting. If the voters elect the presidential candidate who has made his radical commitment to the culture of death appalling clear and his acquiescence in the demise of traditional marriage as clear as political expedience allows – future historians will blame two groups: American journalists and American Catholics, the culpability of neither mitigated by the threat of physical violence. History will judge the former for professional negligence in refusing to apply the same standards of scrutiny to the Democratic nominee that they applied to his opponents, but Catholics will be judged more harshly for a moral failure, especially when the whole sordid episode of abortion becomes as clear in hindsight as the Nazi Holocaust is today. The past is prologue.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Aña and Mike’s Wedding

An opportunity for me to reminisce:

My daughter Aña and her husband Mike Orsi
on their wedding day.

Aña and Mike asked me to read St. Paul's famous passage and offer any thoughts I might have. Several people asked me to post what I said, which just gives me an excuse for indulging in some nostalgia.

First Corinthians 13:1-8
If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am nothing but sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith enough to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it does not take offense and is never resentful; it does not gloat over the wrongdoing of others but delights in the truth.
It is endlessly forbearing, always ready to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.
Love abides. . . . faith, hope, and love: these three abide; and the greatest of these is love.
On the day of his daughter’s wedding, the father of the bride has a thousand things he would like to say. But Aña knows her Dad quite well, and she and Mike have wisely chosen St. Paul’s justly famous hymn to love as a reading for their wedding. Since in this passage St. Paul says pretty much everything there is to say, there was a slight chance that Aña’s Dad would recognize this and have nothing to add to it. It was a brilliant strategy, and it almost worked. But, alas, when a father’s heart is as full as mine is today – as Aña marries the only man on earth worthy of her – I want to add a word of blessing and encouragement.

Aña and Mike, today you formally enroll in the School of Love. You are not entirely new to it; you have been auditing the course for a while; but today begins the exciting part, when you will be taking the course – not for credit but for keeps.

Mediocre as my performance has been, and slow learner that I am, I am still enrolled in that school myself, and I learn something new every day. But the most important things I have learned took me a lifetime to learn. I am only sorry that I didn’t know them when I was your age. So, by way of a blessing, I want to share them with you, but not before returning to St. Paul to emphasize something he says in the passage I just read.

“Love is patient,” St. Paul said, “love is kind.”

“Love is patient; love is kind.” These six words are pure gold. Write them on your hearts, and repeat them to each other.

“Love is patient; love is kind.”

To that I can only add three things which the world we live in today will try its best to hide from you:

The first and greatest is that the secret of happiness is self-sacrifice. Nothing else can make you really happy. This is heresy in our world today; but it is true.

The second is that the secret of intimacy – which is the heart and soul of happiness – is prayer. God is love, and in drawing closer to God in prayer you will draw closer to each other. Prayer is the key to the hidden chamber in the heart where the greatest love is stored. Nothing else will unlock it. So my word of encouragement is: Pray.

As the French philosopher, Maurice Nedoncelle wisely said: “Every human love that omits prayer loses what is finest and most distinctive in the presence of the beloved.”
Pray in the morning. Pray in the evening. Pray at mealtime. Pray together. Pray with your children. Pray when you’re sad or distraught. Pray when you’re joyful. Pray when you feel grateful, and if you don’t feel grateful, pray for a grateful heart.

For the third secret is the secret of gratitude. Life is a gift from God. Be grateful for every moment of it. Gratitude isn’t a response to happiness; it is the path to it. So be grateful. Be grateful in good times and bad, for happiness eludes all but those with a grateful heart.

So my blessing for you is that you will discover these secrets: the secret of self-sacrifice, the secret of prayer and the secret of gratitude, and that having discovered them you will come to know a joy that flows quietly beneath the surface of life, underneath the trials and turmoil that may come your way, subtly reminding you that even heartaches have a religious meaning, and that the only crown worth wearing and the only one that won’t fall off when you stumble is one that has some thorns on it.

Aña’s mother and I love you and give you our most heartfelt blessing, as I do David and Debbie and all these your friends and family.

I pray that God will bless you and your children with great happiness, that you will grow spiritually in one another’s embrace, and that one day you will experience the joy that is in my heart today.

God bless you.

Aña and her Dad

Aña and her Dad at a Father-Daughter Dance
at St. Francis Solano School in the early 1990s.

Aña and her Dad at a Father-Daughter Dance
at Aña's wedding day.