Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Priest Responds

The news keeps coming, and so it would seem I keep posting.

A Franciscan priest who is a law professor here has spoken with Zenit (here) about the Hope he sees on campus. I will include some excerpts, but I encourage reading the article. My emphasis and [comments].
"At the same time," he said, "the university community has a responsibility to foster Catholic teaching especially when some aspects of this truth might be countercultural."

The priest acknowledged his concurrence with Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who gave a public statement Tuesday on his decision not to attend the university's graduation ceremony.

Father Coughlin explained: "This action on the part of the university is inconsistent with the rules established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that prohibit honors from being bestowed by Catholic institutions on public figures who have clear records that are contrary to the Church's fundamental moral teaching. [This is really the point. Worthy or not, good rules or not, this is the direction which our Bishops have given to us, and we, the faithful, are to follow them. To do otherwise would be to erode our Catholic identity, which we are doing.]

"There can be no question that the inviolable dignity of each human person and the defense of innocent human life are fundamental to the Church's teaching. One who publically opposes in word and action this truth should not be honored by a Catholic university." [If he were a C.S.C. I would see if he could be made University President by popular acclimation.]
"I have been privileged to be a Franciscan priest on the faculty for the past seven years," the priest continued. "I offer Holy Mass at the university each day -- sometimes several times a day [I hope not more than twice] -- and hear Confessions daily in my office and once a week at the [university's] basilica -- where there are always long lines. [I can attest to that!]

"We have Eucharistic adoration daily, and I am always impressed by the large number of persons who regularly participate in this life-giving prayer."
He gave particular reference to the "vigorous commitment of so many members of the university community to the defense of innocent human life as evident of those who regularly participate in the rosary and other prayer outside of abortion clinics," or other pro-life activities.

"Indeed, my experience of the many Catholic persons and aspects of Notre Dame has left me with a realistic hope for the future of Catholicism in the United States," Father Coughlin concluded. "I thank God for this hope."
I also share in this hope. I do fear that as the Church descends more and more into decline in this country and elsewhere, that the numbers of the faithful will drop severely. However, I have encountered so many people here and elsewhere with such a fervency in their faith, that I know there will always be at least a faithful remnant. Plus, they will probably all have lots of kids.

This Franciscan, Fr. John Coughlin, is okay in my book.

Land o' Lakes

I have a few observations and anecdotes to share today. I recall back when the election of 2008 was in full swing. Candidate Bob Barr (Libertarian) was visiting campus, and I was interested to see what would be said. A friend, who is not a Catholic, and I went to the talk, and afterwords he mentioned how cool it would be if they could get Obama to come to campus. (He was definitely not an Obama supporter, but would have been impressed). I responded by telling him there was no way the University would or even could allow that. As a Catholic school, I stated, they have a higher obligation which prevents them from giving someone such as President Obama a pulpit to speak from. I wish I had been correct.

I understand that the University has always invited Presidents of the United States to give commencemnt addresses, at least for a while. There is no reason whatsoever for that to necessarily continue.

I think it may all go back to the Land O' Lakes statement of 1967, perhaps the lowest point of American Catholicism (or Catholic Educatoin). This statement, which I read here, outlines what a bunch of the Catholic schools decided to think of themselves. Imagine what 1960's American Catholicism could come up with in that vein... The first paragraph states (with my emphasis)
The Catholic University today must be a university in the full modern sense of the word, with a strong commitment to and concern for academic excellence. To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.
Basically, that sentence summarized the gist of the document. We don't need no stinkin' Bishop (or Pope for that matter). In fact the distinciton that Catholic Universities are to have is only that "Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative." Ex Corde Ecclesiae thoroughly rebukes these ideas, and it was my thought that this document was outdated, and no longer guided the thinking of the University administration. It would seem I am incorrect.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine, and I told him that Land O' Lakes was basically over, and this campus was really truly healing in its re-becoming Catholic. Again, it would seem my assumptions were a bit premature.

I will be praying for Bishop D'Arcy and Fr. Jenkins, and I hope you can do the same.

Students Respond

The Observer, the student newspaper on campus, has had multiple pages of letters for and against the selection of President Obama as a commencement speaker and a recipient of an honorary law degree. Most recently, a coalition of student organizations on campus has formed a response, in the form of a letter to the University. The text follows with my emphasis.

In defense of the unborn, we wish to express our deepest opposition to Reverend John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.’s invitation of President Barack Obama to be the University of Notre Dame’s principal commencement speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree. Our objection is not a matter of political partisanship, but of President Obama’s hostility to the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages. His recent dedication of federal funds to overseas abortions and to embryonic stem cell research will directly result in the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings. We cannot sit by idly while the University honors someone who believes that an entire class of human beings is undeserving of the most basic of all legal rights, the right to live.

The University’s decision runs counter to the policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against honoring pro-choice politicians. In their June 2004 statement Catholics in Political Life, the bishops said, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Fr. Jenkins defends his invitation by saying that it does not honor or suggest support for the President’s views on abortion, but rather support for his leadership. But our “fundamental moral principles” must be respected at all times. And the principle that requires us to refrain from the direct killing of the innocent has a special status even among the most fundamental principles. President Obama’s actions have consistently shown contempt for this principle, and he has sought political gain by making light of its clear political implications. Leadership that puts the lives of the most innocent at risk is leadership we must disdain. In the face of President Obama’s actions, Father Jenkins’ words ring hollow.

It is a great irony that the University has chosen to award President Obama an honorary law degree. As the oldest Catholic law school in the country, the Notre Dame Law School states that its mission is “to facilitate greater understanding of and commitment to the relationship between law and social justice.” The social justice issue of our day is the deliberate, legal attack on the most vulnerable members of society, the unborn. To award a Notre Dame law degree to a lawyer and politician who has used the law to deny equality to the unborn diminishes the value of the degree itself.

Additionally, Fr. Jenkins has placed some of his students in a moral dilemma as to whether they should attend their own graduation. Many pro-life seniors, along with their families, are conflicted about whether to participate in the commencement ceremony. The lack of concern for these devoted sons and daughters of Notre Dame, who love this University and the Catholic principles on which it was built, is shameful.

In response to the University’s decision, we pledge ourselves to acts of witness that will be characterized by respect, prayerfulness, outspoken fidelity to the Church, and true concern for the good of our University. It is appropriate that only members of the Notre Dame community lead all such protests, and we ask outside groups to respect our responsibilities in this regard. Over the next several weeks, in response to this scandal, our organizations will host various academic and religious events to engage the University community. We request any groups who are committed to respectful actions to support our efforts, thereby ensuring a unified front and a more compelling public witness.

In Notre Dame,

Notre Dame Right to Life
The Irish Rover Student Newspaper
Notre Dame College Republicans
The University of Notre Dame Anscombe Society
Notre Dame Identity Project
Militia of the Immaculata
Children of Mary
Orestes Brownson Council
Notre Dame Law School Right to Life
Notre Dame Law St Thomas More Society
The Federalist Society at Notre Dame Law School

Full disclosure demands I state that I am a member of the Notre Dame Right to Life. My only concern is that people will read the list, see the College Republicans on the list, and immediately dismiss it as a partisan action. I believe that very question was debated within the coalition, and it would seem they decided to include them as signers.

I do like that this group has formed, and that they are taking responsibility for the organized oposition to this. I don't understand how these concerns, of the students and of the Bishop would not have been considered by the administration in extending this invitation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So says the Bishop

The statement of Bishop John M. D'Arcy (Fort Wayne-South Bend) has been made public. It is not yet posted on the website of the diocese, but I am sure it will appear here. [EDIT: Posted now] There is also a statement by Fr. Jenkins, CSC, President of Notre Dame here. I shall start with that, with emphasis and [comment] mine.

“Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame for decades to speak to our graduates – and to our nation and world – about a wide range of pressing issues – from foreign policy to poverty, from societal transformation to social service. We are delighted that President Obama will follow in this long tradition of speaking from Notre Dame on issues of substance and significance. [Doesn't is sound like he is trying to make this a political thing? It is true that being a Democrat doesn't disqualify you from honors by a Catholic institution, just as being a Republican doesn't qualify you, but it is actions, which Bishop D'Arcy has spoken to.]

We will honor Mr. Obama as an inspiring leader who faces many challenges [Germany once had an inspiring leader, does that automatically qualify him to be a commencement speaker to be honored?] – the economy, two wars, and health care, immigration and education reform – and is addressing them with intelligence, courage and honesty. It is of special significance that we will hear from our first African-American president, a person who has spoken eloquently and movingly about race in this nation. Racial prejudice has been a deep wound in America, and Mr. Obama has been a healer. [Tell that to the unborn of his race.]

Of course, this does not mean we support all of his positions. The invitation to President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, [This is the old Faithful Citizenship dodge. This German leader I spoke of cleaned up the economy, and made the trains run on time, just because we disagree with some of his policies regarding human lives...] including abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement."

I must say, I can't see how this is a "basis for further positive engagement." It is a basis for President Obama to speak to some impressionable youths, many of which have been caught up in the excitement of his charismatic rhetoric. They won't be there to tell him what it is that Catholics believe. This is what Cardinal George did not so long ago. His words will be all honey, and surely there won't be any direct dialogue.

It turns out that my suspicions about the foreknowledge of Bishop D'Arcy were correct. His statement follows.
On Friday, March 21, Father John Jenkins, CSC, phoned to inform me that President Obama had accepted his invitation to speak to the graduating class at Notre Dame and receive an honorary degree. We spoke shortly before the announcement was made public at the White House press briefing. It was the first time that I had been informed that Notre Dame had issued this invitation. [Shouldn't such a decision be made in consultaiton with the local ordinary? Perhaps I am wrong. As an aside comment, might I note that Bishop D'Arcy celebrated Mass on campus the evening before, on the patronal feast of the CSC brothers, the feast of St. Joseph. I may be wrong, but I bet they had dinner together and everything.]

President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life. [The bishop has previously written on this.]

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. [He was installed in 1985, and is 76 years old.] After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions. [So must a University.]

My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.

I have in mind also the statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004. “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Indeed, the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.

I have spoken with Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who is to receive the Laetare Medal. I have known her for many years and hold her in high esteem. We are both teachers, but in different ways. I have encouraged her to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.

Even as I continue to ponder in prayer these events, which many have found shocking, so must Notre Dame. Indeed, as a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth. [He puts it better than I could have.]

Tomorrow, we celebrate as Catholics the moment when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, became a child in the womb of his most holy mother. Let us ask Our Lady to intercede for the university named in her honor, that it may recommit itself to the primacy of truth over prestige.
Amen. I don't think the Bishop will be exercising any more veto power, however; there will likely be no formal sanctions. Let us not forget that he is already nearly two years past his mandatory retirement. This may be (we can hope) his last major fight with the University. I hope and pray that the Nuncio and the Pope are listening, perhaps the Congregation of Catholic Education is also paying attention. I hope whoever they put in will love the University enough to tell them when they have gone wrong.

Please join me in praying for Bishop D'Arcy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Not a fan

I wish I would not have to be put into this position.

I am a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. They recently announced that the school would be inviting President Obama to be a commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree from the University. I am saddened to be put in the position of protest against my own institution, which pays my bills and gives me an education.

There are plenty of places where the Church, as the USCCB or the Vatican, has made it clear that those who are publicly repudiate absolute moral norms are not to be honored by Catholic Schools. John Paul II laid out some relevant canonical norms in the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (emphasis added):
Article 2. § 4. Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected(46). Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.

Article 5. § 2. Each Bishop has a responsibility to promote the welfare of the Catholic Universities in his diocese and has the right and duty to watch over the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic character. If problems should arise conceming this Catholic character, the local Bishop is to take the initiatives necessary to resolve the matter, working with the competent university authorities in accordance with established procedures(52) and, if necessary, with the help of the Holy See.
Honorary degrees are official honors. Should we give official honors to a President who has started to spend tax dollars to kill the unborn in other countries? What about one who has pushed forward the possibility of removing all conscience exemptions? What about the President who has decided to fund research involving the killing of the unborn, rather than more successful research with less ethical problems?

There is a part of me that wants to overturn tables, another part that would settle on letter writing, and a third that would prudently avoid making waves, at least for now.

Perhaps I will be supported by Bishop D'Arcy. He has written on Ex Corde Ecclesiae and academic freedom here. His closing paragraph is just as timely now:
Notre Dame, with its vast resources, can do better than this. I believe it will. Its responsibility to its students and to the position it has attained in Catholic higher education calls it to do better.

I do believe that Our Lady watches over Notre Dame and I place this matter in her hands, the woman of faith so revered in this place. We need her prayers and the light of her Son, who is the Way, the Truth and the Light during these hours and always.
Bishop D'Arcy was on campus to celebrate Mass only Thursday, the day before this news broke. I can only imagine that if he didn't know about it at the time, he will certainly be speaking on this soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Great Parish Quest

I have, for the past half-year, or so, been wandering through the desert, or at least through the county. When I moved to my current location I set out on a quest to visit all the parishes in my city. I have since completed this quest and further, have visited the parishes in two neighboring cities. I have yet to visit a parish more than once since I moved here. I would like to set down some reflections on this quest, propose a set of criteria to evaluate a parish and finally attempt to lay out what I personally seek in a parish.

I have seen many different parishes in the recent months. They have ranged quite widely, from modern churches built within the last decade, to the cookie cutter buildings from the postwar boom times, to the great turn of the century gothics that served the spiritual needs of some of the earlier settlers in the area. Churches packed full and quite empty. Music in Latin, music from the Gather hymnal, and even things I had only heard in Protestant services, preformed with solo voices, full choirs, the Organ, piano, drums, tambourine, guitar and bass, and just this Sunday a string trio. Smells and bells, altar boys, altar girls, anywhere from zero to maybe a dozen extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, simple humble services, a grand pontifical mass, and unfortunately at least one made up creed. Communion under the form of bread only, communion under both forms, communion with substantial (read: crumbly) bread, one place where a full quarter of the parishioners didn't approach the altar to receive Communion, and numerous where maybe one or two did not approach to receive.

In all of this, there were only two parishes which I strongly considered returning to the next week. There were also two parishes where I considered leaving before the liturgy was completed. I shall reflect on some of these.

First, Our Lady of Hungary. This was a beautiful building, established in 1916, with the current Church built in 1949. Although many of the parishes I visited which were built in this era were bland, and lacking beautiful sacred art, this parish was an exception. The mass I was at was almost empty, the neighborhood has taken a downturn in the last couple decades, and the Parish is probably just barely getting by. The pastor was an African born priest with a thick French-African accent. What struck me was the utter humility with which the Pastor celebrated the mass. Despite having a nearly empty house, it was a simple, though beautiful liturgy. The music was provided by a soloist and accompanied by organ. The Priest had only male servers (on this day at least) and they held patens for him and the deacon when distributing Holy Communion. They rang bells at the consecration. The priest spent considerable time carefully cleaning all of the altarware, presumably "caring for the crumbs". About one quarter of the parishioners didn't approach the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, though there weren't a large number of people there. Perhaps this meant that the priest had delivered catechesis on Sin and the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confession. Finally, after mass was over, the congregation kneeled and recited the prayer to St. Michael as a congregation.

Second, Queen of Peace. This parish was founded in the late 50s post war boom. The building was decidedly not beautiful. It did have some stained glass, but it was otherwise a typical large '50s or '60s era building. Though not half-circular, it was closer to "L" or "T" shaped, and pews pointed 3 different ways (as far as I can remember). The tabernacle was front and center, you couldn't miss it. The pastor had 4 servers, all boys, in cassock and surplice. They used lots of incense and rang the bells at consecration. They played the organ, and the only time they used the piano was to set the note for the choir when singing without musical accompaniment. The mass was beautiful, reverent and full. There seemed to be an extensive "parish life", lots of bible studies and catechesis, some sort of reading group, a regular speaker series, etc.

Finally I mention St. Augustine Parish. This was located in a bad part of town, and in the neighborhood of a Baptist and some other protestant church. It turns out this is a predominately black parish. The church was completely sideways, "short and fat" rather than "long and narrow", with only 4 or 5 rows of pews. The Choir was set above the parish and to the left. My guess is that the parish once was oriented toward where the choir was, and this, being higher than the rest, had been the sanctuary at one point. I immediately felt uncomfortable. Before mass even started, the pastor asked for any newcomers to identify themselves (I did not, though it was probably obvious). The music was all from "Lead Me Guide Me". They used solely substantial bread, including in repose in the tabernacle. The creed they used modified the wording significantly (in a vertically and horizontally inclusive way). I felt like leaving at that point, and might have if it were a larger space. The sign of peace was completely out of hand, which is surprising considering how small the space was. At the final blessing, the priest remembered that he hadn't asked anyone if they had a birthday, and so after asking us to bow our heads to ask for God's blessing, but before the blessing, we had to sing happy birthday and clap. Never returning there again.

It is amazing the plethora of expressions of the Faith seen in but one fairly narrow geographical area. This underscores the identity crisis in the Church today. When almost everything is mutable, it becomes very hard to identify with uniquely Catholic things, which can help to develop a Catholic identity, giving us an anchor in the faith. When even the form of the bread and the words of the creed can change, these things which should define a Catholic identity now define identity with a parish only. "We go to St. Augustine. They use the cleaned up version of the Creed."

This quest has served to give me a view of American Catholicism that I would not have been able to have in any other way. It has also given me a chance to objectively observe some of these liturgical actions. Parishes where I grew up, because I know the pastors and the history, etc., are hard to evaluate objectively. It's much easier to overlook some of the deficiencies in the liturgies in my home diocese because of the history I have with them. That said, I really am only interested in evaluating the liturgies, I'm not qualified as a one-time visitor to evaluate the parish as a whole, or the Pastor. And, of course, it is possible that I wandered in for an aberration which is not representative of the normal liturgies of the parish.

One thing I noticed that surprised me was the lack of obvious correlation between atypical practices (meaning not my preferred practices, laid out below) and strange or flaky theology. I would never have expected to hear a homily all about the evils of abortion at a parish where they had drums and guitars and hand holding. It was not what I expected to hear. I have no idea what the other homilies the parish has had since were about, nor how orthodox all other parish practices and activities were. The questionable liturgies, by and large, were not accompanied by questionable preaching. A larger, longer term sample would be needed to see more of these correlations.

So, with all of this laid out, what cues are there to look for in a parish visit?

First, there is the architecture. Where is the tabernacle? Is there a high altar? Is the altar rail intact? Is the sanctuary set apart from the congregation? Are there any stained glass windows? Stations of the Cross? Statues, paintings, shrines etc? Can you find the confessionals, and do they look like they're used at all? These things are important especially the tabernacle placement. Sacred art, though important, doesn't necessarily reflect on liturgical or theological soundness of the parish, it may just be due to the era in which it was founded, the shortsightedness of a previous generation, or the financial situation of the parish.

Next, there is the congregation. Is the Church full or empty? How are people dressed? How do people act during Mass? Do they sing along if the choir is singing? Do they show proper respect for the Eucharist, i.e. bowing before receiving the Blessed Sacrament, genuflecting to the Sacrament reposed in the tabernacle, etc.? Do at least some people refrain from receiving the Blessed Sacrament (at least on Sundays)? Do they hold hands during the Our Father? Do they maintain decorum during the sign of peace? Does anyone kneel after mass to pray? Many of these sorts of actions are systemic to the parish and independent, generally, of the specific parishioners in attendance at this particular mass. It is probably indicative of the catechesis in the parish.

Now, notice the liturgical ministers. How are they dressed? How many lay people does it take to do _____? Are there Altar servers? How many? Are they mixed gender, only boys, or only girls? How are the servers dressed, are they wearing slacks and nice dress shoes? Do they have cassocks, surplices, albs, or are they wearing their street clothes? How many extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are there? Do they gather around the Altar before the priest's communion, or wait outside of the sanctuary? The actions of these ministers tell a lot about their training and disposition to their positions.

If the parish has music at this mass you will surely encounter it. Is there an Organ here? If so, is it used? A piano? Guitar? Tambourine? Drums? Anything more exotic? Is there a choir? A choir loft? Is the choir in the loft, or where? What sort of hymnals do they have? Is the music resplendent with beauty or in a tawdry, folksy style? Do you sing in the voice of God?

Now to the priest. Does he start mass on time? How are the vestments? Does he follow the texts of the liturgy carefully, or change certain parts? Does he chant anything? During the Eucharistic Prayer, where is his focus? Does he genuflect after the consecration of the bread and of the wine? Does he leave the sanctuary after the consecration (for instance during the sign of peace)? Does he hold his thumb and forefinger together after the consecration until communion is completed? Does he offer communion under both forms? (I realize here that a single trip doesn't indicate a habitual parish action, but if it is an ordinary Sunday for the parish, you could extrapolate.) Does the priest (or a deacon) purify the vessels during Mass, does he do it after, or does he leave it to an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion? Does he care for the crumbs and drops carefully? Is the homily Orthodox? Interesting? Too long or short? Does he seem rushed? Does he greet people coming in or leaving the Church? Did the priest at any point ask you to clap for any reason?

Finally, there are some subjective parish-wide things to notice. Does the environment seem uniquely Catholic, or could you see some of it (architecture, music, liturgy) at a protestant service? Do you feel uncomfortable about things? Is it easy to fit in as a visitor? Are there any particularly obvious local traditions, like different sorts of gestures or postures, particular parish prayers, praying the prayer to St. Michael after mass, the rosary before, etc.? Do you get a sense that the parish does things together (announcements at the end of mass and the bulletin can help with this). These are much more subjective than the previous observation, and will definitely vary from person to person. That said, they tell you about the parish in ways that can't be quantified in the other ways.

These are the things that I generally notice when I go to a parish. Many of them are passive observations that I just happen to make. Some of them I make a point to look for. So the only question remaining is what I want to see in a parish.

I enjoy a church with traditional architecture, beautiful art, especially in the windows, with a high Altar in place and the tabernacle at the center. I have come to no longer expect Altar rails, but am overjoyed when I see them. If there is an organ, it should be played. If they have an organ and play a piano instead, it pains me all the more. The liturgy should be reverent, and by the books. Incense is a plus, and I really love to hear the bells at the consecration. Special care of the sacred vessels is a must, and I am really drawn to places where the priest obviously has reverence for the Eucharist. I don't like it when the parish holds hands at the Our Father, especially when it is essentially mandatory. I wish more places would restrict their offering of communion under both forms to special occasions, and I think that many places would be able to suffice with just the priest offering communion, very few parishes are so unbelievably big that there is not enough time to have everyone come up to one priest. Liturgical innovation is almost always an automatic strikeout for me.

I have yet to find and settle down at a parish. That will likely complete my quest.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th.

Is this an unlucky day?

What is luck anyways?

The questions presuppose a uniform definition of "luck". If you take as a definition of good or bad luck having a disproportionate positive or negative things happen, then of course you must believe in this sense of luck. It is the weakest sense of luck, in that odds are in favor of some people and places having good or bad things happening to them in a row. It has no predictive power. If you flip a coin 1000 times, you're likely to get a long string of heads, for instance, but you will not be able to therefore predict what the next flip will be knowing the previous results. People can have strings of good and bad luck in this sense that can last years, depending on how you count it.

Is it some invisible field that permeates all of space and time? I don't think this is the case. You can imagine certain places or people or things with a negative luck "charge" and others with a positive equivalent. Lucky charms, 4-leaf clovers, etc. might bring luck by drawing in positive "field energy". This is, I believe, what many superstitious types believe, although they may not articulate it in the same way. I could imagine, in this case, having a "luck meter" that would fit in with the doom meter and the coolness meter from Futurama. "

If you are more inclined toward belief in a personal God, then you may dismiss luck as superstitious nonsense, in favor of "Grace" or one of its different incarnations in different religious traditions. This is a distinct sense from the previous two, in that it implies a purpose to things, whereas the "random chance" and "luck field" imply a cold, meaningless, impersonal universe. Of course, this is often falsely dismissed with the argument "bad things happen to good people" therefore it is false. However, nothing is said in this sense about the specifics of a plan or purpose, beyond its existence, so the dismissal argument is not sufficient.

Of course, a well formed Catholic will hold that the abstract personal God is all good, and all knowing. The purpose and plan, though not known in its specifics to finite individuals, is to seek salvation for all. Bad things are allowed by God to bring about a greater good. This is clear, and as such "luck" is dismissed, but grace and providence are understood.

It is an interesting consequence that holding to superstitious luck (i.e. the luck field) requires a belief in an an objective good and bad. If there exists something that causes more good or bad things to occur, then there must be an objective, universal good and bad. My limited philosophical and theological understanding tends to lead me to the belief that the existence of an objective good or bad implies the existence of God. This tends to imply the grace interpretation of luck, which counters the superstitious luck. Therefore I find superstitious luck to be an inconsistent belief.

Things happen, and our modern understanding of physics tells us that other things could have happened. But the world is the way it is, and so it happened the way it did. Why? Random chance? Purpose? Of course, I say that the Universe is formed in reason because Reason formed it. This gives me that there is a greater purpose. When good or bad happen it is not simply luck, or chance, but with purpose.

Monday, March 9, 2009

More Wholesale Salughter

It really saddens me that President Obama has relaxed restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. His statement is chilling.
But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.
It's funny how this "false choice" that was "forced" on the populace was simply a direction of federal funding and nothing else. As far as I know, groups supported by private funding were not forced into anything.
I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.
Note the wording here, it is terribly important. "The use of cloning for human reproduction." Not the use of cloning at all, just for human reproduction. This means we will produce genetic copies of individuals, and this will be fine as long as we kill them right away. If we can make clones which are good enough for stem cells, we're just one implantation away from a born clone. If the Obama administration is truly opposed to reproductive cloning, they must clearly ban "therapeutic cloning".
This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.
This paragraph is also a load of BS. As a scientist, I know that science hasn't seen almost any restrictions almost anywhere. The question at hand is which science gets funded by the government, not which is permitted. Funding decisions are always political. We fund certain sciences over others often only because they have better lobbies.

Also, let's be clear about scientific data being concealed or politicized. Embryonic stem cells have been researched and held up as the Holy Grail of all medical treatments. They have produced exactly zero successful treatments. Adult stem cells, however, have yielded hundreds of successful treatments. Where should funding go? It's true that we make scientific decisions based on facts, but we use other criteria for funding decisions, and at any rate, the facts support adult stem cells.

It goes on. You can see how vocabulary is reworked to make the last 8 years seen "anti-science" and then, essentially say we need to start cloning to kill, and with taxpayer dollars. In slavery times, people were bought and sold by other people as property, and now it is the government doing it, and killing to boot.

It makes me sick.