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Posted by on Aug 7, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Portrait of St. Dominic by Gionvanni Bellini - 16th century

Portrait of St. Dominic by Gionvanni Bellini - 16th century

Greetings and Happy Feast Day to our Dominican brothers and sisters.

St. Dominic was one of the first founders of a religious order to emphasize the importance of education and logic in thinking and teaching about God. He had noticed that Cathar/Albigensian preachers were not ignorant men but rather cultured, educated people living righteous lives. He reasoned that only equally educated and rational teachers/preachers would be able to turn the followers of the Cathar preachers away from heresy and back to traditional Christian beliefs. He and his companions set out to do just that, while always seeking truth wherever it might be found.

St. Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers, astronomy, the Dominican Republic, falsely accused people and the Santo Domingo Indian pueblo.

I’m curious and haven’t found the answer to this question. Why is he the patron saint of astronomers/astronomy? I’d love to hear from anyone who knows.

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Posted by on Jun 15, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Quote of the Day – Diarmuid O’Murchu on Ancestral Grace

Ancestral Grace

Orbis Books has published a new work by Irish Catholic priest, Diarmuid O’Murchu, entitled Ancestral Grace. It  offers a challenging new perspective on evolution, environmental bioregionalism, Christian tradition and their reconciliation into a comprehensive and optimistic vision of the future of humanity.

I offer this quote from the book and invite you to consider it with open mind and heart.

Being human is the gateway to access divine meaning. Indeed, ancestral grace thrives on the great story of humans being receptive and responsive to divine initiative over several million years. The humanity of Jesus is the key that unlocks the secrets of divinity, not the opposite, as we have believed for much of the Christian era. The mystery of God becomes transparent in the mystery of the human. . . Jesus is the first disciple of ancestral grace.

~ Diarmuid O’Murchu

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam. offered some interesting thoughts about the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (AKA Corpus Christi) today in his homily and his blog. He has graciously agreed to allow me to share them in a post for this feast.

The Inner Meaning

During this time of year when there are so many of our rites of passage taking place––weddings, graduations, ordinations (even birthdays)––it’s interesting to take a look at the purpose of ritual. Anthropologically speaking, a ritual is a way of expressing and passing on our understanding of reality or of an experience to someone else. So, for instance, a graduation is not about a piece of paper and a cap and gown: it’s weightier, it’s heavy; that’s why tears flow from the eyes of parents as they see their child graduate or get married. The ritual is trying to carry all those memories and meanings, and summarize them in a single gesture: an exchange of rings, the laying on of hands, a birthday card, an embrace, throwing a shovelful of dirt on a coffin: all these rituals mean more than they mean, they carry an almost indescribable load of treasures.

In the Roman rite we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ this week, and it’s safe to ask what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples when he performed this rather odd ritual––not just breaking the bread and passing out the cup, but claiming that it was his very self. What exactly was he asking them to remember when they did it over and over again? I thought of five things, which certainly don’t exhaust the list of possible meanings.

1. First of all, this gesture looks backward and forward at Jesus’own life. Backward in that Jesus’ whole life had been spent being broken and passed out; his whole life had been dedicated to feeding those around him: taking care of their bodily needs through healing and feeding; and also feeding and healing them in a real way with the Wisdom of God, this incredible good news of God’s undying boundless care for every single hair on the head of very single human being from the greatest to––especially––the least. This ritual also looked ahead to the next day when Jesus allowed his body to be broken like bread and his blood poured out like wine––to say that it’s alright: you can survive even this, your real self cannot be annihilated, but like a seed that falls into the earth and dies it will yield a rich harvest of resurrection life.

2. This ritual symbolized––again what Jesus’ whole life symbolized––that Divine Love gives itself to humanity––that’s what God is like! The Divine is present, really present: divine love is offering itself to the world in this ritual meal.

3. This ritual also conveyed (and conveys) that this Divine Mystery is present everywhere, in creation, “in the earth and its produce.” Unfortunately the kind of hosts we use and our ornate chalices can actually hide the fact that this is actually wheat and grapes, real food: “which earth had given,” as we say, “fruit of the earth.” I think that this conveys that all matter is meant to be brought into right relationship with God, and that all matter can reveal and be a vehicle for the Grace of God. St Irenaeus wrote,

    “This is why he took a part of creation, gave thanks and said: This is my body. In the same way he declared that the cup, an element of the same creation as ourselves, was his blood: he taught them that this was the new sacrifice of the new covenant.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

But we add a line to the prayer over the gifts: it’s not just what ”the earth has given,” or “the fruit of the earth”; it’s also the work of human hands. There is a beautiful prayer of Teihard de Chardin:

    I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar––
    And on it I will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world…
    I will place on the paten the harvest to be won by labor. . .
    Into my chalice I will pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the Earth’s fruits.

So, the fruit of the earth and the work of our hands all become vehicles for God’s grace, all is meant to be brought into right relationship with God.

4. This ritual is also meant to convey to us that God wants us to participate in the work of creation, and in divinity itself. That’s why we pray that incredible prayer, “by the mystery of the water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity.”

5. And how do we participate? Well, that’s the last thing I want to mention that this ritual is trying to convey (though we could go on and on): it conveys that this divine mystery is especially present whenever and wherever human beings meet and share together, that God is present in every gesture of unselfish love, in every occasion of someone laying down their life for another. That’s why we read the story of the washing of the feet before we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The Hebrews didn’t need another ritual, another sacrifice; we don’t need another ritual; and God certainly didn’t and doesn’t either. The prophets leading up to Jesus kept telling the people how God was sick of their sacrifices and rituals! Jesus himself quotes the prophet Hosea twice saying: “Go and learn the meaning of these words, ‘It is love that I desire, not sacrifice. Knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’”

The church, and this ritual, has no other purpose but to communicate and convey and reveal that––the love and knowledge of God that is hidden in the heart of creation and poured into the center of every human being as our very source and our ground. This is what we will be judged on as a church, as individuals, as communities and as a whole: not the forms of our rituals and doctrines, but by the reality of the love and knowledge of God that we manifest.

Bede Griffiths wrote that: “All myth and ritual, all doctrine and sacrament, is but a means to awaken our souls to this hidden mystery, to allow the divine presence to make itself known.”

So: as we participate in this ritual, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and/or when we gaze at the reserved Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle or in a monstrance, let’s remember how weighty it is, how much it carries and conveys. And let’s especially pray that it would awaken us to the mystery of the knowledge of God, and the love of God that is poured into our hearts, so that we might make it manifest in our world, so that we might be the body and blood of Christ––that we might be broken and poured out for the sake of the world as Jesus was.

14 june 09

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Posted by on Jun 2, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Late Term Abortion: A Mother’s Story


Robin Young of National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” interviewed one of the patients of murdered late-term abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller.

“We speak with a former patient of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita, Kansas doctor who was murdered on Sunday. She explains why the procedure was so necessary for her.”

Abortions past the 20 week “age of viability” are difficult to justify by pro-choice advocates. How could the loss of one of the three physicians who performs these procedures, which are less than 1% of abortions, represent any moral or clinical loss? The implications for the physical and mental health of families becomes evident in this interview. The values presented in this story are about the desire and wonder of having children, the anguish of carrying a doomed child, the inability of doctors to present the couple with any real alternatives.

An earlier ban on late term or “partial birth” abortions provides an exception for the health of the mother. Aren’t these just cavalier acts of barbarism by selfish women?

What would you do with a child that you wanted very much but who would not survive birth? What would be the most loving and caring thing to do? This is a very compelling story that should give us pause when we want to throw the first stone.

My Late-Term Abortion
President Bush’s attempt to ban partial-birth abortions threatens all late-term procedures. But in my case, everyone said it was the right thing to do — even my Catholic father and Republican father-in-law.
This article provides another instructive example from 2004 published in the Boston Globe.

In this second case, the situation seems to be less clear cut since the birth of this child would have meant a short and very unacceptable quality of life for the child as judged by the parents.

In both cases there were voices which opposed the choices made by the parents. Reviewing both cases is useful in terms of gaining a more nuanced perspective on the ethical and moral issues involved and the struggles of these couples.

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Posted by on Apr 29, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Emmaus: Pre and Post Christian

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

My favorite story is the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). Michael Traynor of the Lesscoolthanyou Channel captures the experience of the disciple before the Breaking of the Bread in a way that evokes a very current state of affairs.

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Posted by on Apr 14, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Easter Monday 2009: The Post Modern Blues

Borgognone 1510

Borgognone 1510

Easter time in the 21st century is a curious season. We are living in a time in which the rationality of the Enlightenment has been obliterated by the irrational violence and deconstruction of the Modern Era which ended with the creation of the atom bomb. In the 20th century we saw the the rise of the irrational as a counter to the idea of reason as the engine of human progress. Advances in science and engineering led to death on a massive scale whether in its industrial production form in the genocide of Jews and other peoples or its explosion from the sky in carpet bombing of Dresden or the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The darkness within the brilliance of the human heart and mind was also manifest in the Vietnam War epic movie “Apocalypse Now” based on the theme that facing the horror of one’s evil can only lead to self destruction.

So here we are on the cusp of the third millennium. Human progress seems more of an illusion. In fact, our Post-Modern sensibility is all about the inability of reason and science to get at ultimate truth. Everything is examined and found wanting. Physics has become the study of relativity, uncertainty, and mathematical models. Religion and philosophy are the products of language we create. The scriptures of Christianity are cultural creations which tell us more of the people who wrote them. They are robbed of their revelation.

Human romance and love are reduced to methods for the socio-biological dispersion of one’s genetic load. Religious experience is suspect because there is no way to know whether one is just engaging in psychological projection to create a hideout from the ultimate reality of the purposelessness of human existence. We are here by virtue of  a cosmic accident with a very low probability.

In our world, there is the torture and death of Good Friday but there is no need for a Resurrection or any life beyond our current suffering because it is not possible since we can never know the nature anything beyond nature with any certainty. So here is the greatest event of all human history and our greatest personal hope – the Resurrection and it is a non-event on a beautiful spring day that is to be borne with a grim courage in a time when miracles cannot happen.

The news is too good. Maybe that is why we are stuck on the Friday of Crucifixion. The pain we know is better than risking its loss in the certain joy of Resurrection. As people of the Resurrection we would have to leave too much behind – hurt, anger, fear, and death.

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Posted by on Apr 5, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Celibacy – An Unhealty Practice?

photo by Rachel J Allen

photo by Rachel J Allen

The following is a substantial excerpt from Franciscan Richard Rohr’s article in the July August 2002 issue of Sojourners Magazine “Beyond Crime and Punishment” dealing with the clerical sex abuse scandal. Fr. Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation and is a contributing editor at Sojourners

“The Myth of Male Celibacy”

THE REVELATIONS OF the last year seem to be the beginning of the end of what some call “the myth of celibacy.” It’s not that male celibacy was always false or deceitful, but it was in great part an artificial construct. Men, with the best of original intentions, found out that they were not the mystics that celibacy demanded. That is exactly the point. Celibacy, at least in the male, is a most rare gift. To succeed, it demands conscious communion with God at a rather mature level, it demands many transitions and new justifications at each stage of life, and it demands a specific creative call besides. Many who have ostensibly “succeeded” at it have often, by the second half of life, actually not succeeded—in the sense of becoming a God lover, a human lover, and a happy man besides.

Practically, however, the demand for celibacy as a prerequisite for ministry is a setup for so many false takers. Not bad men, just men who are still on a journey: young men who need identity; insecure or ambitious men who need status; passionate men who need containment for their passions; men who are pleasing their pious mothers or earning their Catholic father’s approval; men who think “the sacred” will prevent their feared homosexuality, their wild heterosexual hormones, or their pedophilia; men with arrested human development who seek to overcompensate by identification with a strong group; men who do not know how to relate to other people and to women in particular.

None of these are bad men; they are just on a many-staged journey, and we have provided them an attractive way-station that often seems to work—for a while. But then they go on to the next stage and find themselves trapped, searching, conflicted, split, acting out, or repressing in, and often at variance with their now public and professed image.

The process lends itself to a Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome, even among men who are very honest and humble in other areas. The price is far too high once you have committed your life publicly and sacredly. I know how hard it continues to be for me, my closest priest friends, and many that I have counseled and confessed. Many of us stay in not because we believe the official ideology of celibacy anymore, but because we believe in our work, we love the people, and we also know God’s mercy. But that loss of belief in the very ideology is at the heart of the whole problem now. We cannot prop up with law and social pressure what the Spirit does not appear to be sustaining. The substructure has collapsed. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).

Add to that a rather large superstructure of ascribed status and security, and we have a system that is set up for collapse. Studies of male initiation say it is dangerous to give ascribed status to a man who has not journeyed into powerlessness. He will likely not know how to handle power, and may even abuse it, as we have now seen.

In general, I think healthy male celibacy is rare, and it probably is most healthy as an “initiation” stage to attain boundaries, discipline, integrity, depth, and surrender to God. In the long run, most men, as the Buddha statues illustrate, need to have one hand touching the earth, the concrete, the physical, the material, the sexual. If they do not, the other hand usually points nowhere.

WE SHOULD MOVE ahead reaffirming our approach to grace, healing, mercy, solidarity with sinners, patience, and transformation—while also cooperating with the social system whenever there are true victims’ rights to be redressed. We should do this generously, magnanimously, and repentantly.

We Catholics should also see celibacy as primarily an intense initiation course of limited (one to 10) years, much like the monks in many Asian countries. Celibacy has much to teach the young male about himself, about real passion, prayer, loving others, and his True Self in God. We dare not lose this wonderful discipline and container. (Who knows, maybe both Jesus and Paul were still in that early period of life?!) It could be a part of most Catholic seminarians’ training, and during that time much personal growth could take place. Some would likely choose it as a permanent state. Most would not.

How differently the entire process of priestly formation would be configured. What a gift to the religious orders (where celibacy is essential). Our precise charism would become clear, although we would surely become much smaller. What an opening to the many fine men who are attracted to a marriage partner. And what focused intensity this could give to spiritual formation during that celibacy period, instead of all of the hoop games, telling the directors what they want to hear, mental reservations, non self-knowledge, acting out, and “submarine” behavior that make many seminaries a haven for unhealth. Seminaries would not drive away sincere spiritual seekers, but would attract them. Not men looking for roles, titles, and uniforms to disguise identity, but men looking for holiness and God through which to express identity.

Male sexuality does not go away. It is not easily sublimated or integrated. It is either expressed healthily or it goes underground in a thousand different ways. Sex is and probably always will be a central issue for most males, and it can never develop honestly inside of a “hothouse” of prearranged final conclusions.

We should not be looking for a system where mistakes can never happen, but just a system that can distinguish health from unhealth and holiness from hiding. Like no other institution, the church should be the most prepared to deal with mistakes. That is our business. The steps to maturity are necessarily immature. Let’s start by mentoring the good and the true, and also surrendering to that mystery of grace, forgiveness, and transformation that is our birthright as Christians. Many priests and seminarians have always done this, and I hope this gives them the courage to know why and how they are both “sons and heirs” of a true wisdom tradition. Such disciplined sons, and only such sons, have earned the authority of “fathers.”

Richard Rohr, OFM, is founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Posted by on Apr 3, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Catholic Right is Wrong


The Cardinal Newman Society has launched a petition drive objecting to President Barack Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame University’s commencement this year. Here is another approach to the issue.

George B. York III sent this letter to the National Catholic Reporter. It is presented here by permission of the author.

God and Man at Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s President, Fr. Jenkins, has extended
an invitation to President Obama to speak on
campus; the President has accepted. Some object,
asking, How could the President of Notre Dame
compromise with abortion? Closely observing
Jesus’ behavior in the Gospel of Luke, (7:40 and
following), I find Fr.Jenkins’ position consistent
with Jesus’ behavior, and in no way a compromise
with abortion.

In the story of Jesus’ evening in Simon’s
house an outsider, a woman, washes Jesus’ feet
with her tears and dries them with her hair. Simon
thinks, `Doesn’t he know what kind of woman she
is?’ Knowing what Simon is thinking, Jesus
surprises him by simply pointing to ways in which
Simon did not welcome Jesus; in so doing, Jesus
invites Simon to convert from hypocrisy to a
different way of judging and acting toward fellow
humans. While Jesus is uncompromising toward
misdeeds or sin, isn’t he also uncompromising when
it comes to accepting others, friend and foe alike, in
this case, welcoming the woman and challenging
but not rejecting Simon? Are humans defined only
by their real or supposed misdeeds?

About the strategy of some of his brother
bishops to `make war’ on abortion, South Dakota
Catholic Bishop Cupich told them: `…a prophecy of
denunciation quickly wears thin …what we need is a
prophecy of solidarity, with the community we
serve and the nation that we live in’. (quoted in
Commonweal Editorial, 5/12/08).

The way of implementing a prophecy of
solidarity is indicated by American Jesuit
Cardinal Avery Dulles. In commenting on
envisioning unity among Christians; he says, `The
first condition . . . is that the various Christian
communities be ready to speak and listen to one
another. . . . The process of growth through mutual
attestation will probably never reach its final
consummation within historical time, but it can
bring palpable results. . . . The result to be sought is
unity in diversity.’ (First Things, ’07)

Those are not just a Christian condition and
result; they are fully human. Does experience not
validate a claim that the better way between
different, opposed individuals and groups is one
leading to “unity in diversity”? Are exclusion and
isolation anything but impotent and sterile? Aren’t
Simon and the woman drawn within a more human
process? As a result don’t they depart from their
evening with their ability to hear reason and with
their freedom intact? In fact, is it not credible that
both Simon and the woman are invited, if not
actually drawn, closer not only to Jesus but also to
one another? Finally, to return to Bishop Cupich’s
solidarity, doesn’t `E pluribus unum’ mean unity in
diversity — union, not in sameness, but in

Such solidarity is impossible when one’s
starting point is that expressed in Simon’s initial
attitude: “Doesn’t Jesus know what kind of woman
she is?” Therefore, I have to wonder, Is it truly
Christian or even human to start, as some seem to
start, with a question like: “Doesn’t Fr. Jenkins
knowwhat kind of man Obama is?”

Isn’t the call to every Christian to put on the
mind of Jesus who Christians believe emptied
himself of power and the ways of power and drew
others neither by compromise with sin nor by
isolating rejection or coercion? To the extent a so-
called `prophecy of denunciation’ expresses a spirit
like that of the Pharisees (Simon’s initial attitude),
isn’t it a betrayal of the mind of Jesus? ? Isn’t such
prophecy animated by a spirit aiming at institutional
control, expressing a desire to force conformity in
the name of real or supposed truth? In the case of
NotreDame, doesn’t it express an ill-advised wish to
forceFr. Jenkins to dis-invite a supposedly unclean

To the extent your answer is `Yes’, you see
why I say that Fr. Jenkin’s invitation to Obama
could be called a compromise with abortion only if
Jesus’ firm but friendly challenge to Simon could be
called a compromise with hypocrisy.

George B. York, lives in Denver. His
publication, `Michel de Certeau or Union in
Difference’ (2009, ISBN 978 0 85244 684 3),
concerns Faith in the understanding of a celebrated
French Jesuit historian.

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Posted by on Mar 14, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

A Weekend With the Holy Trinity


There are all kinds of stories of growing up Catholic but very few that focus on that core of the culture that is the Sign of the Cross. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This Trinitarian invocation begins and ends almost every event, every ritual, every meal – whether it is a blessing pronounced by the Pope or the gesture we learn from our parents before we can talk.

For all of Catholicism’s lengthy tradition, its mantras and catchphrases, Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday that fails to attempt in words what is incomprehensible. The priest who has a sermon for each Sunday looks into his bag or online list of stock themes, works hard on the presentation, and raises the white flag of surrender as he steps into the pulpit. The standard disclaimer is “We really cannot understand the Trinity. It is a matter of faith.” After confusing those who are awake in the congregation with St. Patrick’s shamrock “three in one” or various other analogies, he repeats the opening disclaimer and makes a hasty retreat to the Nicene Creed, where we sleepwalk our way through beautiful Trinitarian poetry that we ignore out of repetition. “…Light from light, True God from True God, Begotten not made, One in Being with the Father…”

For those of us who graduated from Catholic schools and had a good review of the Trinitarian controversies of the first three centuries and the further travails of this teaching in Church history, the sense of incomprehensibility grows.

William Paul Young’s allegory, The Shack, presents a weekend encounter with the Holy Trinity by a deeply wounded and grieving father. It is a mystical healing encounter that shows us that our concept of God has more to do with us than with the Divine. As a work of fiction it is easier for us to comprehend than the abstractions of theology. The contemporary setting and the issue of why the innocent are slaughtered make this central Mystery more accessible to us than the writings of the mystics who lived in different times and cultures.

I encourage you to read the book. Once you do, that automatic gesture – the Sign of the Cross will be the gift that it is – an entry point to the very life of God.

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Posted by on Jan 15, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

“God speaks in everything … God speaks very, very, very slowly …” Nana

Megan McKenna's Nana

Megan McKenna's Nana

Megan McKenna is a theologian and storyteller who travels the world spreading the good news about God’s love and challenge to us to live out that love. Often her stories are from other cultures or religious traditions and help clarify the lessons of our own Christian faith tradition.

In Playing Poker with Nana, Megan reaches into her own life to share with us the wisdom of her grandmother, her Nana. I received a copy of the book from Megan as an Epiphany gift, and I am savoring it. Part of me wants to race from chapter to chapter (each 2-3 pages long) and devour it in a sitting. The older, and I hope wiser, part of me advises reading it one chapter, one story at a time and pondering the advice and insights her Nana shared with Megan. So most days I read just one at bedtime and let it simmer in my heart and the back of my mind through the next day.

Yesterday I read Chapter 10, “History.” Megan had quoted Martin Buber to her Nana one day in conversation. “God is always speaking, but never repeats himself, like sunrises and sunsets.” Her Nana reflected on the quote and then responded with her own thought, “It’s true. God speaks in everything, people, relationships, even all that dies, but sometimes, I’ve learned, God speaks very, very, very slowly …”

Before she finishes speaking, Nana has explained in beautiful depth her thoughts on the matter, on the very slow way God has of speaking to us most of the time.

The chapter is only three paragraphs long, but it stuck with me all day today. At Mass, the Psalm response was, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” It really struck me that Nana’s words went right along with the admonition of the psalmist. Sometimes we hear God’s voice in bursts of insight or in the wonder of a particularly beautiful sunrise or sunset. But more often we hear God’s voice in the quiet reflective times, when we seek to understand what has been happening in our lives and those of people around us. Nana advises Megan and all of us that sometimes we just have to stake our lives on the hope that, hard as life is, it’s already been redeemed, so we just have to “believe and hang in there.”

As I was walking home past a calm, nearly waveless ocean on a beautiful sunny day, I found words for what I was feeling in my heart and trying to formulate in my mind. Often we as Americans have a sense that only the “hard-nosed” businessperson can be a success. Only the practical, matter-of-fact person will accomplish his or her goals. Only those who set goals and focus single-mindedly on reaching them will find security. Being “soft-hearted” is not a quality that we value very much. It tends to get lumped in with being “simple-minded” or a “bleeding heart liberal” in the minds of many. Yet that is exactly what it seems God is calling us to be. The opposite of a hard heart is a soft one. One that knows that God speaks very, very, very slowly and we might not see the whole picture just now, or be hearing the whole story.

Thank you, Megan, for sharing your Nana’s wisdom with us. May her words help us to keep hanging on, listening for God’s voice, with soft hearts ready to love and be loved.

(Playing Poker with Nana is distributed in the US by Dufour Editions. I highly recommend it.)

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Posted by on Jan 13, 2009

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Saint of the Day – St. Hilary of Poitiers – January 13

St. Hilary of Poitiers

St. Hilary of Poitiers

St. Hilary of Poitiers was born to a non-Christian family in the early years of the 4th century. He was from a noble family and received an excellent education. On his own, he began a search to understand the fundamental questions of existence, including the source of the created world and his place within it. He found answers to his some of his questions in the story of Moses and the burning bush, with God’s self identification as “I am Who I Am.” Answers to the questions about God’s plan and purpose for people were found in the Gospels, particularly the Prologue of the Gospel of John.

Through his studies of Scripture, he became a Christian. By this time he was also married and had a daughter. He was elected bishop of Poitiers around 350 AD. This was a time in which the Arians were quite influential, having even converted the emperor, Constantius. Hilary refused to join in the condemnation of Athanasius and was sent into exile in the East. While in exile, he continued to speak out against Arianism and wrote many scholarly works in defense of traditional Christian understandings of the Trinity and other points of Christian faith.

Eventually, Hilary was allowed to return to Poitiers. He’d been causing too much trouble with his teaching and preaching in the East! When he returned home, he continued to teach and preach. He also began writing hymns. Although hymns had been a part of Christian life since its earliest years, his are the first we have with a known author.

Hilary died in Poitiers in 367 or 368. He was named Doctor of the Church in 1851 by Pope Pius IX.    

A quote from his work on the Trinity:

“For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than he himself has used: — to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding.”

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2008

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Saint of the Day 12/23- St. John of Kanty (Cantius)

St. John of Kanty (June 24, 1390 –  December 24, 1473) was born in the town of Kenty near Oswiecim (Auschwitz) in the diocese of Cracow, Poland. St. John of Kanty had an easy going personality and a brilliant mind. At the age of 23 he enrolled in one of the oldest universities in Europe, the Cracow Academy.

St. John of Kanty spent most of the rest of his life studying philosophy and theology and becoming head of the department of philosophy. The only time he was away was a brief period during which he had been fired as a result of unjust charges brought by his rivals. He served for eight years as a parish priest, winning the hearts of his parishioners, who begged him to stay with them when his position at the University was restored. As a result of this experience, he is sometimes seen as a patron for those who are out of work or seeking work.

Founded in 1364, the Cracow Academy was renamed in 1817 as the Jagiellonian University to commemorate a Polish dynasty.  Copernicus registered at the Cracow Academy 80 years after John of Kanty first registered. Several centuries later another Polish philosopher at the Jagiellonian University, Carol Wojtyla – Pope John Paul II,  would look to St. John of Kanty as a patron. In his 1997 visit to his homeland, Pope John Paul II prayed at the tomb of St. John of Kanty as he had when he was a student. His address to professors of the university was based on the theme that summarized the life of St. John of Kanty –  knowledge and wisdom seek a covenant with holiness.

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Posted by on Dec 4, 2008

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

De Vita: Toward a Christian Philosophy of Life

Madonna by Ralph & Shelly Neibuhr

Latin Baby by Ralph & Shelly Neibuhr


In an interview on National Public Radio yesterday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee offered a very intelligent and fluent presentation of the pro-life position. While being interviewed about his new book, Do the Right Thing, he stated clearly and succinctly that life has to be seen as sacred and valued and that humans cannot be wantonly discarded when they are inconvenient or an economic liability. The big danger, as Mr. Huckabee pointed out, is that if we teach our children that certain marginal people are disposable, we ourselves may become disposable once we are old and infirm.

One of the listeners emailed a questioned about the consistency of an anti-abortion position and one in favor of capital punishment. Mr. Huckabee allowed that there might come a point when the case could be made to eliminate the death penalty. Even as he praised those who participated in candle light vigils outside the Governor’s mansion protesting the execution of criminals, Mr. Huckabee said that the taking of such lives occurred not at the whim of an individual mother but after an exhaustive judicial process. He made the point that some crimes are so severe and the danger to society is so great that killing people is the one definite way to make sure that such people will never commit this crime again. He added that the death penalty is a deterrent that benefits society.

His presentation was very sincere, yet there was something that made me uneasy about it. Is re-criminalizing abortion truly a pro-life position? Abortion still occurred when it was illegal. Making it illegal once again will not stop the practice. Philosophically, a true pro-life position requires supports and incentives for the care and nurturing of all – at every stage of life. An acceptance of abortion can represent a coarsening of the public’s view of unborn children and human life.  An acceptance or a toleration of abortion is seen by many as leading to a debasement of the human fetus and of motherhood itself.

Nevertheless, if we criminalize abortion, we won’t stop it. We can “enjoy” taking the moral high ground, but I think that this is an illusion. What happens when women do not have safe and legal access to abortion? The mother and child relationship becomes socialized without the benefit of the social and economic supports necessary to lead a life of worth and dignity.

If we accept the view that birth control is also immoral, we are holding to an idealized view that sex only occurs in marriage and that in natural family planning, reason and ovulation always win out over human passion.

Although well intentioned – that great pavement on the road to perdition – the movement to re-criminalize abortion does not represent a well integrated philosophy of the dignity and worth of life. Criminalization could very well return us to a public policy that moves us away from a humanistic and Christian philosophy of life.

Morally, one can advocate an idealized Christian lifestyle focused on virginity, abstinence, and separate beds for married couples, but pastoral applications of moral theology have always been more about actual living – and dealing with the messiness of life.

Perhaps, what we are really wrestling with is the notion of what it is to be inhuman. Interrupting an otherwise healthy pregnancy without a very compelling reason still appears to have a lot of support as being an inhuman activity. Then again, the notion of placing a woman at risk of death because she does not share our beliefs or because she perceives she has no other choices also appears to have widespread support as something that is inhuman.

Can you have a secular policy that permits abortion and even physician assisted suicide? It is hardly a Christian position. Then again, perhaps the Christian witness is better seen in public policy that makes these choices less necessary and less desirable. If we insist that public policy has to be Christian in a post-Christian civilization, we may be doing something that is not really very Christian – we may be claiming (against the teaching of St. Paul) – that the law can save us.

(Image taken from Shelly Niebuhr’s home page:

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2008

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Marriage and Matrimony – Aren’t they the same thing?

Todd Alan Studio Designs

Todd Alan Studio Designs

In California this election year, we’re asked to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that claims to be for the “protection of marriage.” The proposition, in fact, is one that would take away the legal right of homosexual men and women to enter into the legal contract of marriage. The right was established earlier this year when the California Supreme Court ruled that laws to the contrary were un-Constitutional because they deprived same sex couples of equal protection under the law. (The Court found that domestic partnerships and civil unions did not provide all of the protections of legal marriage.) Proposition 8 is a constitutional amendment that would require a vote of 3/4 of the Legislature to overturn if at some later date we realize that it was a mistake to enact.

There have been a lot of arguments raised on both sides of the issue. Supporters of the proposition claim that marriage was established by God at the time of Adam and Eve, when they were instructed, in the second story of creation, to cling to each other and become one body. (Gen 2:24) In the first story of creation, the un-named humans were instructed to “Be fertile and multiply …” (Gen 1:28) The fact that the creation stories (two of them) in the book of Genesis were culturally based explanations of how things “came to be,” rather than historical or scientific accounts as we know them today, seems to be beside the point. Somehow, granting a legal right to share a life of committed love – with the rights, responsibilities and protections of marriage – to non-heterosexual couples is seen as a threat to the lives of commited love of heterosexual couples who have married.

I attended a wedding last weekend. It was a lovely ceremony that united a young man, of whom I am extremely fond and proud, with a young woman who has become dear to me as well. One of the things that really struck me about the wedding was the degree to which the legal, contractual nature of the marriage was obvious. As soon as the couple arrived before the sanctuary, the celebrant welcomed the assembled guests and quizzed them regarding potential reasons why the couple might not be legally married. He charged each of the two persons seeking to marry to speak out if either of them knew of any reason why they might not legally do so. Then he asked each individually if they had come freely and of their own will to be joined in marriage. Only once these requirements for entering into a legal contract had been established did he move into the prayers and readings of the service.

The ceremony included prayers and blessings for the couple and promises from the families and friends to help and support them in the life they were choosing to enter. The young man and his bride promised to love and care for each other, through all the ups and downs of life, for as long as they both should live. Only then were they allowed to enter into the sanctuary, offer each other their right hands in symbolic handshake on the contract, and pronounce their vows. They exchanged rings as a sign of their promises to each other. The celebrant blessed them and sent them forth out into the world and a new life together.

For this couple, the marriage ceremony included two elements: the legal, civil contract and the blessing of the church community. For many couples, the ceremony includes only the legal, civil contract. In many countries, couples who seek to marry do so in civil ceremonies. If they wish to receive the blessing of the Church, they then go to the parish and enter into the sacrament of Matrimony in another ceremony.

In the United States, we have allowed the combination of the civil and religious ceremonies into one. That, I believe, is a fundamental part of the confusion that has resulted in such controversy. We call both the legal, civil union of the two individuals and the sacrament of Matrimony by the same name – marriage.

Marriage, from the perspective of a social scientist, is a social arrangement developed by members of a culture to cement alliances between families, establish economic units, and provide for the procreation and nurturing of children. In corporate families (see my explanation of this term in another blog post), the head of the family makes the decision about who will marry whom. Those to be married do not necessarily have any choice in the matter. It is a legal contract between heads of families, not between the individuals to be married.

Christians have traditionally taken a somewhat different approach to the matter. Christian marriage, or Matrimony, is a sacrament of the physical love between a man and woman, the union of their hearts and lives and the image of the relationship between God and humans. It was not a rite that required the blessing of a priest as witness until sometime in the twelfth century. The man and woman are ministers of the sacrament to each other. Because men and women are understood to be equals in the sight of God, women have had more rights within Christian communities, at least in theory. The sacrament of Matrimony cannot be valid unless both parties consent to enter into the union. If there’s any lack of freedom or consent, the sacrament does not happen. The legal contractual aspect is null and void. The parties are free to enter into the sacrament with other parties. If the sacrament is judged to have been valid, the contract is upheld and regardless of what civil authorities might rule, the couple is not free to enter into the sacrament with other parties.

One argument against allowing homosexual marriages is that existing civil arrangements, such as “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions” confer the same protection under the law. In fact, since American law is based on precedents from cases dating back hundreds of years, there is no equivalent body of law supporting and/or establishing the legal protections for these unions that are part and parcel of the laws regarding marriage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions are not legally the same as marriages.

(On a related note – Many Catholics have been married in civil ceremonies when their first marriage, blessed by the Church, ended in legal divorce. Do we deny them the legal protections that come with civil marriage contracts when they again wish to enter a committed, loving life together? Should we offer them domestic partnerships or civil unions as their only option?)

Our American legal system is based on the English laws brought by the first colonists. The fact that so many of them were members of Calvinist religious faiths is also of importance in understanding the conflict surrounding homosexual marriage. John Calvin and his followers dropped most of the sacraments of the Church when they separated from the Roman Catholic Church. They kept only Baptism. Matrimony ceased to exist as a sacrament for them. Marriage became a matter of civil law only. That was the way it came to the United States and was enshrined into the law of the land. As an accommodation to those of other religious traditions, ministers of those faiths are legally allowed to serve as witnesses to the legal, civil contract. However, no one is required to have a minister bless his or her marriage. And equally important, no minister of any religious faith is required to bless, or even serve as witness to, the marriage of someone who does not qualify to marry under the laws of his or her faith tradition. That’s why we have a Justice of the Peace for civil ceremonies.  Yet religious communities rightly feel a responsibility to monitor, support and encourage couples who choose to enter into a married relationship. So even when they don’t recognize the sacrament of Matrimony, they want to establish rules to regulate marriage – mixing theology with legal protections.

The issues surrounding this question are complex. They go far beyond the questions of whether people choose their sexual orientation, whether certain behaviors are inherently sinful and whether the majority of adults are comfortable with sexual behaviors that differ from their own.

Legal systems are developed to protect the members of a society. Ideally they protect those with the least power, the minorities among us, those who are different or who cannot protect themselves – the Biblical “widows and orphans” or “God’s little ones.” As our understanding of human psychology and biology has developed and changed and as we’ve learned more about our universe and our place within it, Church teachings have changed. We no longer believe that slavery is OK. We insist that women and children are not the property of their families. We agree with Galileo that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth. And we are finding more and more evidence that sexual orientation is not a choice but rather is established before birth. If God created people not just as Adam and Eve, but also as Adam and Steve and Anna and Eve, who are we to deny them the same legal protections for their relationships and lives together as we grant to ourselves?

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Posted by on Oct 20, 2008

The Feast of St. Dominic – August 8

Fidelius and Diabolus: The Not So Gay Marriage Dialog

Image taken from

Image taken from

Diabolus: How’s it going?

Fidelius: You know we can’t talk – why do you persist?

Diabolus: That might be true if I were the Devil, but what if I’m your conscience?

Fidelius: There are no views but those of the Church.

Diabolus: True, but what about Church teaching, which acknowledges the “Sensus Fidelium” or Sense of the Faithful?

Fidelius: Stop bugging me Diabolus.

Diabolus: How do you know that’s my name?

Fidelius: You’re tempting me to think for myself. You’re torturing me.

Diabolus: No one can control your mind and heart. What’s bothering you?

Fidelius: I will take my counsel from my confessor, not from a post-Pepperoni heartburn!

Diabolus: “Pepperoni.” What a great name! Why don’t you call me that?

Fidelius: You are what you are.

Diabolus: And what is that?

Fidelius: The Tempter, the Evil One.

Diabolus: Have I ever suggested that you do anything wrong? Did I set your eye to wandering or encourage you to blow up when the Angels didn’t make the pennant?

Fidelius: Good people are tempted under the guise of good.

Diabolus: So, you’re a good person?

Fidelius: Yes. Generally, that is.

Diabolus: So then, why are you thinking about “it” again.

Fidelius: What “it”?

Diabolus: You know. Your conflict about gays.

Fidelius: They’re disgusting, you know that.

Diabolus: That’s not an uncommon opinion.

Fidelius: They make me squirm – and now they want to get married!

Diabolus: So, you think that it would be better to encourage them to stay with promiscuity as opposed to having a life of fidelity?

Fidelius: There can be nothing good in an act that is “intrinsically evil”.

Diabolus: So, you mean that you and Cynthia have never done anything “kinky”?

Fidelius: Shut up. We’re married.

Diabolus: My point exactly. You know, pleasure in marriage used to be called concupiscence.

Fidelius: What’s that?

Diabolus: You know – messed up like everything else after the fall of Adam and Eve.

Fidelius: So now you presume to teach me moral theology!

Diabolus: No. You learned it at that expensive Catholic college. Remember – the one you drank your way through?

Fidelius: Yeah, but it was after Vatican II. They weren’t Catholic anyway.

Diabolus: You mean like old Father Sullivan, who came to class in his cassock with the old yellowed pages on St. Thomas Aquinas?

Fidelius: He was different.

Diabolus: Yeah – he made you sweat to get a “C”. Not like the easy liberal that you gave you a “B+” for some beer can “sculpture” you threw together at the last minute.

Fidelius: Yeah, he was real.

Diabolus: Wasn’t he the guy that told you to have a happy sex life when you got married?

Fidelius: How do you know that? That was in confession!

Diabolus: Remember? I was there.

Fidelius: All I felt was so dirty.

Diabolus: You thought that he was going to throw the book at you.

Fidelius: Yeah, but he didn’t.

Diabolus: But there was a sin you didn’t confess.

Fidelius: What do you mean?

Diabolus: You remember. The time you stopped your fraternity brothers from beating up David Farnsworth, the fag?

Fidelius: He wasn’t gay – besides, “fag” isn’t politically correct.

Diabolus: Yeah. That’s why you found him dying in the AIDS ward a few years later at St. Mary’s, when you were helping the administration get their finances in order! A young guy out of business school and you go through the wrong door!

Fidelius: He never had a chance.

Diabolus: What do you mean? We all have free will. We all make choices.

Fidelius: His only moral choice was not to have sex.

Diabolus: He could have had a partner. You know – spend their lives together and all that? Maybe adopt a kid?

Fidelius: It would have been one mortal sin piled on another. He’d be deeper in Hell than he is now.

Diabolus: You don’t believe that.

Fidelius: Well, I heard Fr. Sullivan got to him before it was too late. But Purgatory’s no picnic.

Diabolus: So why did you pay for the Plenary Indulgence for him?

Fidelius: I didn’t pay for it. I just made an offering.

Diabolus: Strange. All this good will. Did you have a thing for this guy?

Fidelius: He was a guy. Got it? Like anybody. He deserved some decency, some respect.

Diabolus: But not a home.

Fidelius: He wasn’t homeless. He was making good money as an attorney.

Diabolus: No one to come home to; just work, parties, the bars …

Fidelius: He knew marriage was for straights. He was a good Catholic.

Diabolus: Yeah right. A gay can be a good Catholic; as likely as the Good Samaritan.

Fidelius: The Samaritan was real.

Diabolus: Maybe – or was he just a way for Jesus to show up the “good” people who had no compassion?

Fidelius: We can’t encourage gay culture. We’d be undermining the family; the basis of society.

Diabolus: Right. We can’t encourage a culture of life and fidelity.

Fidelius: It’s wrong. Remember, God made Adam and Eve – not Adam and Steve.

Diabolus: An interesting piece of demagoguery, but it doesn’t seem very compassionate.

Fidelius: The kids’ll get the wrong idea. They’ll think it’s okay.

Diabolus: Is that why so many gay people hate themselves?

Fidelius: It’s not my problem.

Diabolus: David became your problem when you saved him from that pack of apes.

Fidelius: I would have done it for anybody. Nobody deserves that kind of hate.

Diabolus: So where do you stop on this slippery slope?

Fidelius: It’s easy. The Church says, don’t beat ’em up but don’t let ’em get married.

Diabolus: That’s why you and Cynthia have only 3 kids – after 20 years?

Fidelius: We couldn’t have afforded more kids. You know that. With Cynthia’s problems it probably would have killed her.

Diabolus: So you love your wife more than God?

Fidelius: There’s a difference between God and the Church.

Diabolus: So who’s being the Devil now?

Fidelius: It’s in the Apostles Creed… “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” Toward the end it says “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

Diabolus: Conscience. That weasel thing you picked up from those liberal priests!

Fidelius: It was a Vatican II thing. I had to write a paper on it.

Diabolus: So you did learn something!

Fidelius: Only because Fr. Sullivan made me re-write it 3 times.

Diablolus: I can’t imagine St. Thomas being on the side of conscience. He was a real theologian – and a saint.

Fidelius: Yeah. It’s a big thing for him – like it was for those Moslems philosophers he studied.

Diabolus: They only blow up stuff.

Fidelius: Conscience. You know – “formed according to the teaching of the Church.”

Diabolus: So why did Aquinas end up on the list of forbidden books so long?

Fidelius: He was accused of subjecting God to human reason.

Diabolus: Well I gotta go. Time “to prowl about seeking the ruin of souls”.

Fidelius: What about me?

Diabolus: You’re hopeless!

Fidelius: Hopeless?

Diabolus: Just the opposite, I’m afraid. No sale here today.

Fidelius: What about gay marriage?

Diabolus: Deciding that by a crowd? I like lynchings. Remember? But you know, it’s not my thing. You should look at that WMD “weapons of mass destruction” bracelet you wear.

Fidelius: It’s WWJD! What would Jesus do?

Diabolus: Yeah. I wonder. Later dude.. out’a here..

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