Friday, February 27, 2009

The Tolerance Vigilante-in-Chief

President Obama must have gotten a pay-raise. He no longer seems to have any doubts about when the child in the womb deserves legal protection. The answer is, when he or she takes his or her first breath, and not a minutes sooner.
Taking another step into the abortion debate, the Obama administration today will move to rescind a controversial rule that allows healthcare workers to deny abortion counseling or other family planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs, according to administration officials. . . .

Last month without official ceremony, Obama overturned a controversial ban on U.S. funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services.

The move by the Department of Health and Human Services to throw out the conscience rule is being made equally quietly as most of Washington focuses on the president's blockbuster budget plan.
As predicted here and in many other places, abortion (and same-sex "marriage") will now begin to trump religious freedom, a catastrophe not only for the children who will be killed in the womb and the children who will be indoctrinated by in the absurd belief that sex between members of the same sex is indistinguishable from the marriage of a man and a woman -- but it will be a catastrophe for the American political experiment, for which religious freedom is a fundamental bedrock.

Read the L.A. Times story here, tame, even tepid, though it is.

More on Dunstan Morrissey, O.S.B.

Dunstan at the house of silence and prayer that he founded.
He called it "Sky Farm."

Father Dunstan Morrissey

Here is the obituary of this most extraordinary man:
Fr. Dunstan Morrissey, O.S.B., died on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at the age of 85. He was the son of Robert and Joy Buchanan Morrissey and graduated magna cum laude from University of Notre Dame. He also attended L'Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales, Geneva, and Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Bombay. He served as a U.S. Vice Consul at Alexandria, Egypt before entering monastic life at St. Bede Abbey, Peru, Illinois where he taught and was ordained a priest. Fr. Dunstan devoted the rest of his life to his vocation as a hermit monk, in silence, solitude, and solidarity with the world.
His was a life of solitude, silence and prayer lived with such integrity that the lives of those fortunate enough to discover it were changed by his witness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fr. Dunstan Morrissey

Father Dunstan Morrissey, a dear friend of many, many years; a man of God; a monk to the marrow of his bones -- laid his life in the Lord's hands this morning just before dawn, his life-long Lenten journey at an end just as we begin our annual one.

Fr. Dunstan Morrissey
May he rest in the peace of Christ.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Martin Luther King's Spirit Lives . . .

In Oakland, California:
In a courtroom jammed to capacity with spectators, a judge yesterday sentenced a Baptist pastor from Berkeley to 30 days in jail, fined him $1,130 and placed him on probation for three years for violating Oakland’s restrictive ‘bubble law,’ crafted to keep pro-life sidewalk counselors away from women entering abortion centers.

Observers said as many as 150 people were outside the courtroom, which seats only about 60, before the 1:30 p.m. hearing began. Some of the standing-room-only crowd were there to support the embattled pro-lifer, while others showed up to back the abortion clinic.

Alameda Superior Court Judge Stuart Hing sentenced the Rev. Walter Hoye amidst what one attorney close to the case called “total chaos, procedurally speaking” after Hoye refused to accept as a condition of probation an order that he stay away from the Oakland abortion clinic where he was arrested. . . .
Rev. Walter Hoye
Hoye had initially been charged with four counts of violating the ordinance – two counts of “unlawful approach” and two counts of using “force, threat of force or physical obstruction” against ‘escorts’ at Family Planning Specialists Clinic in Oakland. The charges stemmed from two separate incidents – one on April 29, 2008 and one on May 13, 2008. Hoye was arrested on May 13 after a clinic staff member called police. He was carrying a 40-inch sign that read, "Jesus Loves You & Your Baby. Let Us Help You," and attempting to hand out pro-life literature. . . .
Hoye, who has no previous criminal record, rejected a plea bargain offered by the district attorney before trial. The deal guaranteed no jail time if Hoye pleaded guilty to one count in exchange for dismissal of the other three. “The threat of four years in jail is a potent one, but my client is more interested in getting the truth out, both on the sidewalk and in the courtroom,” commented Mike Millen, another Life Legal Defense Foundation attorney working on Hoye’s case, when the offer was turned down.
More of the story here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If you're happy, inform your face.

That was the subtitle to a talk that Anna Scally gave at the Galveston-Houston Catechetical Conference where I spoke last Saturday.

Lovely thought.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Patience, and Trust . . .

This from Hans Urs von Balthasar, speaking of Jesus:
He is an Israelite, and it is part of his maturation process that the fate of Israel occupies first place in his heart – to assemble the straying flock, to lead the lost sheep back to the center of the Covenant. Yet from the very beginning he knows in the far reaches of his consciousness that Israel does not exist for herself but rather for all of mankind – ever since Abraham, and, with special clarity, since the Servant of God arrived.
The universal is made concrete in the particular. What von Balthasar says of the relationship in Jesus' consciousness between his concern for Israel and his universal mission applies, mutatis mutandis, to the responsibility we have for the spiritual and moral integrity of Western civilization. Civilizations come and go, and we must not turn any of them into idols, but neither should we ignore our responsibility to our children and grandchildren. The demise of Western civilization – if it occurs – will be an unmitigated disaster for those who will stagger among its ruins. All the more so will this be the case – especially for women and girls – if, as seems possible, the resulting vacuum is filled by a revived and unapologetic Islam.

But . . . then we must also remember something else that von Balthasar says in the same context, something about Jesus' own openness to the mystery of God's unpredictability. Of Jesus, von Balthasar writes:
He does not want to know in advance, and he sets out no personal plans – the Father takes care of all that. Like a man he permits the Father’s will to advance toward him from the future.
At this point in my life, I find this enormously inspiring. It is not a recipe for passivity, for it coincides, in Christ, with the most resolute determination to remain faithful to his mission of proclaiming the truth. So may it be with us.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day in the Islamic world brings out the religious police.

Associated Press files this:
As Feb. 14 approaches, the police begin inspecting gift shops for items that are red or are intended as gifts to mark the holiday — a celebration of St. Valentine, a 3rd century Christian martyr — which is banned in Saudi Arabia. Such items are legal at other times of the year, but as Valentine's Day nears they become contraband.

At best, shops caught selling Valentine's gifts are ordered to get rid of them. Some salesmen have been detained for days.

The Valentine's Day prohibition is in line with the ascetic Wahhabi school of Islam that the kingdom follows. Marking Christian holidays is banned in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a country where non-Muslims are banned from openly practicing their religion.

Celebrating any holidays but the two most important for Muslims — Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr — is taboo . . .

"My colleague spent a night in jail last year because of the color red," said one salesman, who insisted on anonymity, fearing his colleague's fate.

It is a challenge for courting Saudi couples to be together at any time of the year because of strict gender segregation. Unmarried men and women cannot take a drive together, have a meal or even talk on the street unless they are close relatives. Dating consists of long phone conversations and the rare tryst. Infractions are punished by detention.
Now in John's Gospel there is the famous story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. It's a serious story, a story of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save a lost sheep. But, is it just me, or can one detect in this sometimes playful repartee something suspiciously like flirting?

I'm susceptible to this sort of speculation inasmuch as I fear that flirting — like so many other aspects of the man-woman relationship — has been damaged by the decline of the sexual morality that is its underlying secret. I may well be too old and sad for more advanced expressions of the attraction between men and women, but the inverse of that sad possibility is that I'm all the more easily and readily charmed by genuine femininity, of which our world is in far too short a supply.

My blessed mother, God rest her, lost her husband (my father) when she was 30 years old. She never took off her wedding ring, and she died at age 86, living alone most of her life. She was, however, a consummate flirt. There was never any hint that her flirting was preliminary to anything else, and she was the soul of Catholic moral rectitude. But she was a flirt.

My wife Liz, God rest her, was the most modest woman I've ever known, but flirting was a regular source of levity and tenderness in our relationship, strictly limited though it was (I'm happy to say) to our private moments together.

So flirting is not something that should be restricted to the courting stage. (Does anyone remember courting? A quaint ritual the natives once practiced.) Except for that between spouses themselves, however, to be morally proper and in good taste, flirting should be limited to the unmarried. It's a token of my mother's genius for the art, however, that she would occasionally flirt with married men, but only in the presence of their wives and only in order to have a good laugh, for which she also had a renowned gift.

I can't claim either to have my mother's natural gift for flirting or to have achieved any great competence, but I do think it's underrated and misunderstood by both the moralizers and the meretricious.

In this month's Emmaus Road Initiative sessions, I have been talking about Euripides' The Bacchae. Donald Sutherland is one of the translators of the play, and in his commentary he says that "the everyday pleasures, if you are lucky enough to have them every day, are the best.”

Flirting is not, alas, an everyday pleasure, but it seems to me to be a kind of natural grace, one of the unofficial gifts of the Holy Spirit. For like the Spirit, it is elusive and unpredictable and a reminder that the nuptial mystery is the human analogue of the Trinitarian mystery. As my sainted mother beautifully demonstrated, and as I have experienced now and again, one is never too old or too sad to enjoy it. If I'm not mistaken, Jesus didn't pass up the occasional opportunity. He was, after all, like us in all things but sin.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Destroying the Civilization from Within

In Virgil's Aeneid, as the Greeks assault the walls Troy, the Trojans panic and begin to dismantle their own citadel and hurl fragments of it at the advancing Greeks. It's a grim metaphor for what can happen to an exhausted and panicked civilization.

The episode came vividly to mind on reading about yet another example of Western loss of confidence, especially as that loss of confidence has to do with the Christian patrimony of western civilization. Here's the latest disheartening example.
Wiley-Blackwell, a major academic press, was set to release its four-volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization this month. According to the encyclopedia’s editor, George Thomas Kurian, the set had been copy-edited, fact-checked, proofread, publisher-approved, printed, bound, and formally launched (to high praise) at the recent American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference. But protests from a small group of scholars associated with the project have led the press to postpone publication, recall all copies already distributed, and destroy the existing print run. The scholars’ complaint? The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, they have reportedly argued, is “too Christian.” “They also object to historical references to the persecution and massacres of Christians by Muslims,” Kurian says, “but at the same time want references favorable to Islam.”
Weep for such craven cowardice, described (again) so lucidly by Victor David Hanson, whom I quoted in the blog-post just prior to this.
European postmodern man offers mostly platitudes that he thinks please those who might be dangerous to him, and finds psychological recompense and solace by gratuitously trashing those who aren't.
Read Edward Feser's commentary on ‘Too Christian’ for Academia? here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Extremism and Displaced Anxiety

A number of stories have appeared in recent weeks about the steep rise in antisemitism in Europe, among them some focusing the rise in Britain, especially London. According to an column in the Boston Globe -- which puts so many moral equivalences into play that the column loses all relevance -- the biggest employer in London is the London Police Department (ponder the implications of that!), and it's response to the rise of "extremism" is for the Police Department to hire more Muslims. Antisemitism swallowed by the generic "extremism," the response to which is to increase the social and cultural influence of those who are -- statistically -- the most likely to espouse antisemitism.

Meanwhile, BBC is airing a documentary by British comedian Stephen Fry which, according to reports (I have not seen it) takes the Brits to task for their reflex anti-Americanism.
In an interview in Good Housekeeping, [Fry] said: "When they mock America for its supposed lack of knowledge, irony or sophistication, they are revealing nothing but the pathetic inadequacy and inferiority complex of the British.
All of which makes this salient comment by Victor David Hanson all the more salient:
European postmodern man offers mostly platitudes that he thinks please those who might be dangerous to him, and finds psychological recompense and solace by gratuitously trashing those who aren't.
Read Hanson's piece here.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Integrating the tools we use . . .

As many of you know, we are developing various new technologies in an effort to both use our diminished resources wisely and expand the community of those with whom we are in conversation. These include a more robust use of our website and this weblog, as well as adding streaming audio and streaming video to the CDs that can be ordered from our website and the free downloadable MP3 files that can be downloaded from our website.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Another Outtake from the January session

Just back from the Emmaus Road Initiative session here in Wheaton, Illinois.

In my continuing effort to keep the plate spinning on this particular stick even while I'm shuffling from city to city, here is another outtake from the January session.
- - - - - -
This from an article “How Catholic is France?” by Steven Englund, a professor of History at the American University in Paris, which appeared in the November 7, 2008 edition of Commonweal:
What France’s Catholic renewal makes clear is that Christianity’s offer of meaning consists … [of] … a personal and existential choice: the choice to live the old faith. . . .
If Christianity appears to be exhausted . . . , its rivals and critics are in far worse shape. The great difference is this: Unlike, say, the Communists or the Greens, Catholicism is not desperately looking for renewal from without; instead it is finding it within – not effortlessly and not always serenely, but surely and confidently. [French] Catholics here have no doubt that ressourcement is always at hand, as near as the parish church and the Sunday Mass, and so they aren’t blindly feeding like mako sharks on every idea that floats by, as others do.
Hope for a cheerful outcome in Europe is a bruised reed one doesn’t want to break and a smoldering wick one is loathed to quench, but among Christianity’s European competitors Englund mentions only Communists and Greens. But there are others. Communists and Greens may be feeding on every piece of ideological flotsam and jetsam they can choke down, but radical European Islam is today feeding on a very staple diet, prepared strictly according to the Quranic recipe: Namely conversion by the violence and intimidation.

Compared with this challenge, communism and eco-spirituality are little more than Christian heresies enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and leaving their disciples in a spiritual wasteland. But what Belloc saw in a glass darkly early in the 20th century was the looming potential of a "great heresy." In a book entitled, The Great Heresies, he wrote that even though Islam “happens to have fallen back in material applications; there is no reason whatever why it should not learn its new lesson and become our equal in all those temporal things which now alone give us our superiority over it – whereas in Faith we have fallen inferior to it.”

I don’t concur in this assessment, but it contains enough truth to be worth quoting, which is why I just did. For the emergence of degenerate and secular facsimiles and fragments of Christianity like communism and the eco-religiosity is evidence to which a Belloc could point in confirmation of his assessment of the West’s religious emaciation.
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If you would like to listen in on any of the E. R. I. sessions -- including the January one -- on our website we have CDs and free downloadable mp3 files and (within a few days) we will also have a streaming audio version of the January session.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Thought for the Day:

From Lucy Beckett:
"Either everything means something, or nothing means anything. But the first requires belief in God, while the second is perhaps too frightening to be faced by those (and that is almost everyone) without Nietzsche's desperate courage."

Freedom of Speech on the way out . . .

I'm still trying to wrap up (and interrelate) the subject of the last two posts, but there seems no end to the stories dealing with the encroachments on freedom of speech in Europe (and here) on the part of Islamic activists, on one hand, and homosexual activists, on the other.

This is from Soeren Kern, Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Strategic Studies Group.
Nor are Muslims the only ones trying to restrict free speech in Europe. In Britain, for example, the government is facing pressure from homosexual rights activists to overturn a [20] free speech protection amendment added to a controversial “gay hate” law. The free speech protection clause, which states that criticizing homosexual practice or urging people to refrain from such conduct will not, in itself, be a crime, was added to the new offense of “incitement to homophobic hatred.” But now the government wants to remove that protection. The crime of inciting homophobic hatred includes any words or behavior which is threatening and intended to stir up hatred. It carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

At the European level, meanwhile, government ministers from the 27 member states of the European Union are debating a draft [21] EU directive that aims to outlaw discrimination and “harassment” in the provision of goods and services. The new legislation would, for example, shut down Christian adoption agencies if they refuse to provide same-sex couples with children. Indeed, the definition of “harassment” is so broad that even moderate explanations of Christian beliefs on sexual conduct or other religions could be considered a crime.

Europe’s war on free speech is the result of a profound identity crisis, one that is being generated by the blanket abandonment of traditional Judeo-Christian values coupled with mass immigration from Muslim countries. But in their zeal to criminalize free thought and free speech, the leftwing guardians of Orwellian political correctness are systematically destroying European democracy.
It's all here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Britain, a "moral slum" says Hitchens

Not that the rest of the once vibrant "West" is far behind.

Like Peter Hitchens in the quotation below, I'm more than eager to get back to matters of a more wholesome and edifying nature. But the first task of those who would preserve some vestige of western civilization is to prevent our moral vocabulary and our anthropological realism (call it "commonsense") from being commandeered and corrupted by ideologues.

Compare what the British comedian, Pat Condell, says about the capitulation to radical Islam (in the blog post below) to what the British journalist, Peter Hitchens, says about the perfectly parallel capitulation to the "Lesbian-Gay-Bi-sexual-Trans-sexual" agenda. (The hyper-hyphenated quote is taken from the Obama White House website, where the new administration pledges to strictly enforce that agenda.)

Compare Condell's concern with Hitchens' and you get an idea of what is actually happening to what was once Western Civilization.

Here's Hitchens:
If I never again had to read or write a word about homosexuals, I would be very happy. I really don’t want to know what other people do in their bedrooms. But these days they really, really want us all to know. And, more important, they insist that we approve. No longer are we allowed to keep our thoughts to ourselves, while being polite and kind.

We are forced to say that we think homosexuality is a good thing, that homosexual couples are equal in all ways to heterosexual married couples. Most emphatically, we are compelled to agree that homosexual couples are just as good at bringing up children as the children’s own grandparents. Better, in fact.

Many people who believe nothing of the kind now know that their careers in politics, the media, the Armed Services, the police or schools will be ruined if they ever let their true opinions show. I am sure that many of them regularly lie about their views, to avoid such trouble.

We cringe to the new Thought Police, like the subjects of some insane, sex-obsessed Stalinist state, compelled to wave our little rainbow flags as the ‘Gay Pride’ parade passes by.

And that’s another thing. We can’t even call homosexuals ‘homosexuals’ any more. This neutral word is not considered enthusiastic enough. We have to say ‘gay’. Which is exactly why I don’t, apart from in inverted commas.

You think I exaggerate the power and fury of these forces? The totalitarian rage on this subject is quite astonishing.

I have had several brushes with it, and been called rude names by its militants.

Well, I can live with that. It’s my job. But what about a powerless pair of grandparents in Edinburgh, their grandchildren’s lives shipwrecked by the multiple horrors of our ‘liberated’ society?

First, their daughter ends up as a drug abuser, like so many others in a country which permits the endless promotion of drug use by rock stars and refuses to punish the possession of narcotics, the only measure that would work.

Then, when they seek to look after her children, they are first insultingly informed that they are too old, and that their minor illnesses disqualify them from the task. Heaven help any employer who dared ‘discriminate’ in this fashion. But the new Thought Police are oddly exempt from their own rules.

Next, the grandparents are informed that the children are to be put into the care of a homosexual couple. And – this is the crucial moment – they are warned in the most terrifying terms that if they object to this arrangement they will never see their grandchildren again.
Leave aside the rest of it. It is this demand, that they mouth approval of the new regime like the defendants at some show trial, which is the bit that ought to make your flesh creep.

This is the action of a tyranny in operation, especially the use of children to blackmail their parents and grandparents. People who can do this can do anything.

Isn’t it amazing to reflect that this campaign began in the name of tolerance?
The original is here.

European multiculturalism is a brief interlude on the way to a European monoculture. The only question is whether this rigorously enforced monoculture will be doctrinaire metro-sexual secularism or Sharia Islam. (Care to guess which is more likely to stand its ground when push comes to shove?) As we speak, members of the European political class are carefully placing their bets and acting accordingly. It is conceivable that these two antagonists will forestall their final clash by turning their mutual contempt for Christians and Jews into a common cause, but that will only postpone the final showdown.