Monday, April 27, 2009

Catholic Courage - Mary Ann Glendon's Letter to Notre Dame

You may have already seen this on Newsweek or Zenit, but here is the full text of Mary Ann Glendon's letter, sent just a day or so ago, to the president of Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins. She has declined the university's offer to give her the Laetare Medal at this year's commencement. She is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. A prominent Catholic and one of the few who seems to actually live what she professes.
* * * Dear Father Jenkins, When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame's Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame's most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty. Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors. First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops' express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions "should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" and that such persons "should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution's freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it. Then I learned that "talking points" issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event: • "President Obama won't be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal." • "We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about." A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame's decision -- in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops -- to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice. Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops' guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame's example could have an unfortunate ripple effect. It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony. In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time. Yours Very Truly,
Mary Ann Glendon

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Be Empty and Stagnify"

"Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind... driving you mad."
- Morpheus, The Matrix
The more deeply I delve into Pope John Paul II's new sexual revolution (found in his teaching on the Theology of the Body) the more I come to realize the absolute insanity of the present state of things.
WARNING: The following words will either ruffle your feathers or unbind them so you can take flight.
Look objectively for a moment at the way the human body is treated today. Look at the magazine covers in your local supermarket, assess the value of the human person by spending 10 minutes watching television, and you'll be tempted to believe that sex is a drug and we are all inextricably addicted. (Sex, that is, torn apart from its true meaning.)
We're gorging ourselves on feelings and casting away our fertility. We've severed the life-line that is tied to the ship that is meant to take us home. The most God-like attribute we possess, that of generating a new human life, is stripped away from the sexual embrace. Something tells us that there must be more to sex than just feeling, bonding, pleasure, comfort. A still, small voice in our hearts whispers.... "in the beginning... it was not so." There is a deep mystery welling up in this act that has always drawn us along, like the fragrance of the Orient in the Song of Songs. But our vision has been disoriented. Our senses have been desensitized.
How and why did this happen? Who told us that separating the fruit from its roots would bring us true happiness? Let's review...
1. In the beginning, God creates many different things to compliment each other and form one thing - the Universe; sun and moon, earth and sky, land and sea, then man and woman in His image, that is, in the image of the Blessed Trinity, that Divine Whirlwind of ceaseless infinite Love that made all thing
s out of love. It's a beautiful dance and an exchange of opposites that attract. To quote the old song - "You are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words, I am the tune.... play me!"
2. This play was the first word God spoke to us (nobody remembers this today!), He placed the man and the woman naked in a garden paradise. God's first command to the happy couple is "Be fruitful and multiply!" Notice it does not begin with "Thou Shalt Not." It's actually more akin to "Let's party!" God offered them the freedom to enjoy the Gift of one another as husband and wife; to love and begin a family of persons (just as God Himself is a Family in the Trinity).
3. Now this party is not, however, about a quick fix or some hedonistic indulgence. Through the sincere gift of self, the first man and woman enter into the mystery of that one flesh union that has literally spawned the human race (again, just as God's generous Love generates the Universe). Adam and Eve's embrace is a glimmer or a foretaste of that heavenly rapture that awaits all who love God. The Catholic Catechism says that in the "joys of their love, God gives spouses a foretaste of the joys of Heaven." Amen! The gift is a total gift; free, faithful, and fruitful. It keeps the totality of the person (fertility and all) intact. Anything less would be a diminishing of love.
So far so good! But what happened? Well, there was one thing they were asked to respect and refrain from taking from; it's the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we grasp at that tree, we die.
Fair enough. God is the Creator after all; He's the One Who alone reveals the Good and warns us of the consequences of not choosing what is Good for us. Good and Evil, God is showing us, are constants, objective realities as steady as the stars. They are meant to guide us. Good is what the human heart is made for, Evil is the dark hole left when Good is stripped away.
Was the Original Sin a refusal to trust this Truth? Was it an abuse of human freedom, a misdirected grasping at pleasure or power over the purpose of human life? Was it a failure to image God?
Today, across the boards we see the counter-sign, the alternate reality, and the twisting of the Truth we were made for all around us. God's call to us to "Be fruitful and multiply!" has become a "Be empty and stagnify."
And empty we are. The results of the so-called sexual revolution of the 60's surround us. Are there better marriages, happier relations, peace in the battle between the sexes? Is Life celebrated, family loved and respected, children seen as a gift and fertility valued as a woman's greatest power? Quite the contrary. By grasping at pleasure apart from procreation, we have left in our hands only withered remains of the dream of happiness.
But there were two trees in that First Garden. Beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the Tree of Life. And God's mercy invites us to rest beneath its shade. This is the fruit that lasts and the love that truly satisfies. And God invites us to it! Did not Jesus, the New Adam, die on this Tree to save us? Isn't the Wood of the Cross the One Tree that has borne fruit for so many centuries? To this Tree of Life the men and women of our time are invited to "taste and see" and to "take and eat."
This Tree alone can plant the seeds that will finally blossom into a Culture of Life!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pastor's Business Card

I swiped this from one of those forwarded e-mails.... A new pastor was visiting in the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out a business card and wrote 'Revelation 3:20' on the back of it and stuck it in the door. When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, 'Genesis 3:10.' Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 begins 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.' Genesis 3:10 reads, 'I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked.' Remember when the funniest jokes were the clean ones?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mercy Me

There's an old Greek myth by Sophocles that I'd like to borrow from and reshape for my own purposes. Two lovers are separated by a war, and the woman hears that her beloved has been killed, forever sundered from her heart. An urn with his ashes in it is brought to her and she clings to it night and day, weeping bitterly that love has been taken from her. But one bright day her lover returns! It was another who fell in battle, and here he is, full of joy to be reunited to his heart.
But she does not recognize him... She cannot believe him, and she wanders off in darkness, clutching at the urn.
Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly.
But Thomas said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."
"...the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them."
I often miss the incredible emotion of these Easter days, just because the stories are so familiar. I've been hearing them for over 30 years! But what did it really feel like to experience the pain and the loss of Jesus? What did it feel like to have him returned in glory only days later? What a roller-coaster ride those first disciples were on. And the gospels recount that emotional roller-coaster with pristine accuracy, crisp detail, and the words still seem as fresh as that first Morning that remade the world.
"Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
What tenderness he has for her, for us, when we are in sorrow. And what a stream of deep joy must have been surging up in his Sacred Heart knowing that in seconds, if she would lift up her head from that sorrow, she would see him!
She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him."
This scene to me is one of the funniest in all of the Bible (for the others, we'll need a fresh post). The Son of God returns from the dead... the DEAD mind you... reuniting body to soul and healing that cosmic scar that has plagued us and continues to haunt us today, recapitulating all of creation in Himself, defeating sin and the curse of mortality once and for all, and he comes now shining into the lives of those he spent years training and teaching, and she thinks he's the guy who trims the hedges at the cemetery.
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
I can see the subtlest smile on his Sacred Face. Why didn't you believe me? All shall be well.... in all things all shall be well. And to those who doubted and denied, those who ran, those who hid themselves for fear in an upper room that was locked to all, he comes. To those who would still cling to the past, to what seemed lost, to those bitter souls, those angry and resentful hearts, he comes. Not to judge, not to scold, not to lay on a guilt trip.... but only to speak our names.... Mary! Thomas! Peter! Behold it is I! And my name is Mercy!
And this Divine Mercy we celebrate today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Change We Can Believe In

We've all heard those dramatic movie trailers that start off in shadowy, ominous tones.... "In a world full of darkness.... in a time of war.... in a city torn by hatred and violence.... ONE MAN stood for justice..." etc etc.
Then we get all fired up watching Mr. Biceps (insert the latest Hollywood toughie) fight the powers that be and WIN, and the moral is once again... "One man can make a difference."
One man, that is, toting a large semi-automatic weapon.
But these remedies in the fight against Evil are always short-lived, aren't they? Lots of explosions and hairpin turns and sweet moves, but only a temporary peace is established.... until.... The Sequel!
I believe one Man did make a difference, once and for all. And He not only changed the exterior, but more importantly, the interior realms of the human heart. After all, that's where all of this wickedness is stemming from, isn't it?
No external structure can save us, let's face it. No economic stimulus is strong enough to stimulate the heart to Goodness. That takes a certain kind of grace. And no Democrat or Republican can save us either, not even one born "on Krypton." (hmmm, that may explain why he's so out of touch with things on earth). It's not a machine or a mechanism or a mortal man that can save us. This job of redemption must be done by the God-Man, Jesus Christ. If sin is an assault on Infinite Love, then it will take an Infinite Love to repair the breach. And Jesus is Infinite Love. He is Divinity united to Humanity. He is, as Pope John Paul II out it, "the human face of God and the Divine face of Man."
These events of Holy Week are both ancient history and present to us at the same time. They are history, and hisstory, and herstory. How is this possible? How is it that the Church in Her liturgy can dwell in a kind of Eternal Now for these three days? The answer is wrapped in the Mystery of the Man Who was God enfleshed; in this God Who gave us His flesh in the Eucharist to be our food, to be one with us, and to give us that grace that can finally change our hearts.
"This is my body, given up for you."
Pope recently said that this Week of Weeks "offers us the opportunity to be immersed in the central events of Redemption, to relive the Paschal Mystery, the great mystery of the faith."
From the Garden of Gethsemane to the hill of Calvary, every step and every drop of precious blood had an infinite merit. And it would merit us greatly to receive its value. The door is open now, the first steps have been taken, and even now He is about to embrace that Cross anew for us, in His timeless act of unselfish love. And in every unselfish act of ours, every moment we become a gift for others, united to Him, we can lighten that load; ease that weight. So let's walk with Him now, like Simon, like Veronica, like John, and Mary, and the countless saints and mystics of ages past.
May His Passion find its sequel in us.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

From Palms to Poison - A Flashback Episode

(I've begun watching with my freshmen students at Malvern, The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's blockbuster movie from 2004. The following is a "flashback post" from last year at this time. I'd like to post a couple this week, as well as, I hope, some fresh content.) SNAPSHOT: There's a scene in the movie where Jesus first takes up his Cross, and in those first few steps, surrounded by a swirling, spitting, angry mob, we see his eyes, swollen and bloodied, looking out to see palm branches being laid at his feet. For just a few seconds, we see what he saw just five days before. Palms laid out before a King. Cheers and cloaks and green palms falling before the grey, stiff ears of the colt He's riding. Then, in a flash, we're back to the painful, poisonous glare of the crowds. Five days. Just five short days was all the difference there was between praise and utter rejection. How fickle we can be. "How torturous is the human heart, who can understand it," one of the prophets once wrote.The crowds quickly turn, like leaves in the wind, blowing from one side of the street to the other. No rhyme, no reason. The powers that be, the molders and shapers of the thought of the masses have declared that Jesus is no longer "in." Jesus is "out." And so he is. I wonder if they ever talked to Jesus? Did they ever look for Him for themselves? Actually seek Him out? Or was the connection merely based on hearsay... "They" say he's the Messiah. "They" say he's John the Baptist. He gave us bread and fish and miracles. It's easy to go with the flow, to talk "about" Jesus and the Church at the watercoolers and in the cafeterias of the world. It's harder to talk "to" Jesus. To get beyond the shallow surface. To look him in the eye and ask him "Who are you?" And to wait for the answer. We are too often like animals; we find safety in numbers. We give in to the herd instinct. Afraid of the great dark, cold, alone of standing up for someone, we huddle up in the warmth of compromise and comfortability. We'd rather "read the Times than read the eternities," and trust the most untrustworthy source for giving us the truth about anything (or anyone): the media monster. But there were some in that crowd on that via dolorosa, that Walk that Remade the World, that stood out, and stood up for him. Unlike the faceless, nameless crowd, we remember them... Veronica, Simon, Mary, John. The question for us today is the same as it was then, when the palms that praise are turned to poisonous accusation and bitterness: Where will we stand?

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...