Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'The Office' as High School

Catholic Key columnist Santiago Ramos thinks the sinking maturity level in Season 6 of The Office is sinking the quality of the show. From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

The Office as High School

By Santiago Ramos

Don’t get angry at me. I am merely pointing out a few things. Since those things have to do with the first post-hiatus episode of America’s beloved show, The Office, I understand that I must tread carefully.

Before I point these things out, let me make a few concessions. First of all, I fully understand, and share, the desire for comfortable TV, a funny or silly show before which one can slink down on the couch after a long day. It so happens that I watch The Office on Hulu, and I don’t slink on a couch, I slink on a chair—but the principle remains the same and the slinking happens.

I also understand that The Office was never meant to be a straightforward satire in the way that the UK version was meant to be. Or, at least, I concede that this point is debatable. I make this concession because I don’t want to court the objection that I am criticizing a show for not living up to an ideal that I imposed upon it.

I also want to concede that, perhaps, I am taking a TV show too seriously. Pretty much writing a TV column forces one to do this. But I’m just going to acknowledge this possibility so that I can create space for my argument.

My argument is the same one I made in my review of The Office spin-off, Parks and Recreation, a few months back: “A satire is supposed to look at the absurd facts of life straight in the eye and laugh defiantly. What Parks and Recreation does is look at the absurdities of life, shrink back, and play silly or sentimental games.” Ignore the first sentence—it merely sets up the second. I’ve already conceded that The Office is not supposed to be satire. (Also ignore the first sentence because I am ashamed of having used such a hackneyed phrase as “straight in the eye.”) Focus, instead, on “silly or sentimental games.”

Silly and sentimental are two adjectives that come to mind when I think about the new episode of The Office, “Secretary’s Day.” They come to mind, especially, when I consider the long, cheesy romantic story-arc between Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) and the new receptionist, Erin. For how many more episodes will we have to suffer?

We have already suffered through Andy’s agonizing deliberation about whether, and how, and when to ask Erin out; this agony was articulated in annoying asides to the invisible camera crew that is part of the show. Next, we had to listen to Andy’s repeated pleas to his new girlfriend that she keep their relationship secret—you know, high-school style. The secret was exposed in, yes, a video arcade. In “Secretary’s Day,” we endure the first fight between the lovers—over another secret, a secret Andy should not have kept.

It is not too much to say that Andy could be a high school student, and Erin (played by a talented actress new to the show, Ellie Kemper) has been given, by the writers, the maturity level of a middle-schooler.

The other main drama in “Secretary’s Day” comes from the staff collectively mocking the accountant Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) by means of a funny video that another accountant made, interposing Kevin’s voice on the moving mouth of the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. (Kevin does kind of look like and sound like the Cookie Monster.) Kevin spends the entire episode protesting the fact that other people are making fun of him (literally, “making fun of me” is how he puts it), and a Human Resources representative (the higher authority) must intervene.

A crush, and kids making fun of kids. This was the latest episode of The Office.

I don’t know what to do beyond point these things out and register my disappointment. I am fully aware that American television tends to romanticize high school, for example, in shows like Saved by the Bell and Happy Days. High school is a happy time for most people, and usually the most geographically compact, united community we get to live in, before we move on and have to live a car-drive away from everyone. It would only make sense to see the workplace become high school, somehow, on a television show. I am also sure that I wouldn’t want the American Office to adopt the dark cynicism of its Brit counterpart. There’s a reason why the latter couldn’t go on for more than two seasons.

But I am also tired of feeling my stomach churn every time Andy Bernard opens his mouth. There has to be some sort of third way. Jim and Pam are supposed to be models of maturity for their office coworkers. Perhaps they can also become models of higher comedy.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

(Ed. Note: Photo is not from current season.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kansas City - St. Joseph Diocese Opposes Arizona Immigration Law

20100424_4545 Parishioners and priests of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph took part in a hastily called protest Sunday against Arizona’s new immigration law and in favor of federal immigration reform. The protest was sponsored in part by the Diocese’ Human Rights Office.

Earlier this month, KCSJ Bishop Robert Finn joined in an interfaith gathering outside Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s Kansas City office urging the senator to support fair and comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.

The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph issued the following statement at Sunday’s protest:

Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph Statement on Arizona Immigration Law

On Friday April 23rd, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed one of the harshest laws in the nation regarding immigration. Many civil rights groups, immigrants’ rights groups, and religious groups have condemned this legislation as a violation of basic civil and human rights. The Catholic community has grave concerns regarding this legislation as well, but before listing our concerns it is best to review the contents of the law:

20100424_4551 Details of immigration measure
•For the first time makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally and specifically requires immigrants to have proof of their immigration status.

•Requires police officers to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation.

•Allows lawsuits against local or state government agencies that have policies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws.

•Focuses on hiring of illegal immigrants as day laborers by prohibiting people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment and by prohibiting a person from getting into a stopped vehicle on a street to be hired for work if it impedes traffic.

Statement of the Arizona Catholic Bishops to the Legislation

The Catholic bishops of Arizona issued a statement on April 21st regarding the concerns of the Catholic community over this legislation. These concerns are enumerated as follows:

· The present language of this legislation does not clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation.

· Arizona becomes the first state in the nation to codify its own ‘illegal immigration’ law by requiring persons who are here unlawfully in terms of federal law to be charged with trespassing under Arizona law. The charge for breaking the federal law is a high misdemeanor; the charge for breaking Arizona’s new law is a felony.

· The legislation does not limit enforcement to persons suspected of criminal activity, thus leaving the possibility of criminalizing the presence of even children and young persons brought into our country by their parents. This legislation could lead to separation of family members that would not take place even under current federal law.

Other Considerations:

The present state of unrest in Mexico is forcing many people to flee for their safety and to find work in the midst of a society filled with poverty and drug violence. Since January 2006 more than 16,000 people have been killed throughout Mexico due to drug violence. Within this context the people fleeing such a situation have a right to migrate to the United States and receive asylum status; currently our country does not allow for this possibility. What is more, our diocese has not been able to conduct mission trips to Mexico for the past two years due to the fact that we cannot ensure the safety of our clergy and young people in this violent climate. The state of Arizona and the United States in general has a right to protect its borders from criminals who would try to enter our nation and expand the drug violence in our country. However, this legislation does not address this issue, nor does the state of Arizona have the power or the competence to do so.

We therefore echo the words of the Arizona Catholic bishops in their statement: “The problems with our immigration system are complex, and it is our prayer and hope that Congress will ultimately address this broken system with comprehensive immigration reform. In the meantime, we are concerned that local legislation not create new problems for families or have a negative impact on public safety.” Local legislation in Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, and elsewhere has contributed new problems to the immigrants living in our midst. Racial profiling and random searches without warrants or reasonable cause are common experiences, leading to the erosion of civil rights for all of us. As Archbishop Jose Gomez, archbishop designate for Los Angeles has stated, “Immigration is the great civil rights test of our time.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Justification through Works - 'Justified' Reviewed

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Justification through Works

Justified
Tuesdays at 9 pm CST on FX

By Santiago Ramos

When we say that a television show is “realistic,” we usually mean dirt and broken sentences. The dirt is both literal and moral; the sentences always “sound like people talk.” The sets look grimy and lived-in, and the actions taking place in them are ambiguous—they arise from multiple intentions, and whether they are right or wrong is something that we should be able to contemplate for a long time after the credits roll. The conversations which convey this ambiguity do not sound like they have been crafted and polished by writers, even though they have been; their artistry lies in that they sound artless.

This is all for the good, I suppose. Perhaps one of the positive recent developments in TV drama is the rise of this form of gritty realism in shows like The Wire, and that this realism allows us to say that some TV shows which take place on space ships (e.g., Battlestar Galactica) are more “realistic” than others (e.g., Star Trek).

But what about shows that are “realistic” in the more classical sense—in the sense of drama and tragedy? Shows which mimic first and foremost a moral decision, and the nervous indecisiveness which sometimes precedes such a decision?

That’s what I was wondering as I watched the first few episodes of FX’s admirable new police drama, Justified, based on a character created by the legendary writer of westerns and crime fiction, Elmore Leonard. The show deals with the crime-busting adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), who once worked a more glamorous beat in Miami, but who is transferred to his home state of Kentucky after certain trigger-happy excesses which take place in the beginning of the series.

The scenery is “dirty” and “real”: Eastern Kentucky looks cloudy and dark, it echoes with southern accents, and even though it is also full of recently-built plastic suburbs (erected on grounds where old criminals once hid their loot), it also contains at least one quaint bar (with shadowy booths) where everybody knows your name. Within the US Marshal’s office, the dynamics between the investigators and enforcers-of-the-law reflect the tensions and friendships which develop in any real workplace. Clichés are avoided. This is not the type of show where the hero leads the charge and everyone is a Robin to his Batman.

Yet Marshal Givens does walk with a swagger, and he does wear a cowboy hat (though the show, obviously, takes place in the present day). The cowboy hat is joked about throughout the show, but it stays on Givens’ head because he wants it there and he needs it there. So I was thrown off. On the one hand, we are not dealing with a light, criminal-action-caper type show; on the other, this is not cinema verité, either. What is the realism here, then?

My answer came watching one of the latest, and so far, best episodes, “Long in the Tooth.” Immediately, in the teaser before the opening credits, we get the dramatic opening action which unleashes the plot: a good dentist, Roland Pike, who works for poor immigrants and takes tamales and cookies as payment, has been insulted by one of his few wealthy clients, and been humiliated in front of his receptionist (who is also his lover). Consumed by humiliation and anger, he goes outside and finds his client in his SUV; he pins him down, and yanks off two teeth with pliers. He becomes a fugitive, and his plan is to flee to Belize with his receptionist-lover and to start a new life as a dentist.

The police who chase him—led by Givens—are interested in catching him not only for the dental crime, but also because Pike was once an accountant for a Miami-based drug cartel. Pike has been hiding for five years—five years in which he changed his ways, became a dentist, and found a new life. But the law doesn’t see this change; the law must make him pay his debts. Justified always depicts criminals who are on the cusp of escaping their criminal status; the difficulty in doing so—in finding justification—is the main theme of the show.

The final scene in the episode is, in one sense, unreal: it takes place on the border with Mexico, far from Kentucky. Pike is hiding behind a rock on the top of a cliff. An unseen sniper has been shooting at him and he can’t escape. (The sniper is hired by the drug cartel, who wants their old employee dead before he can snitch.) A few feet away, behind an abandoned bus, is Givens, who has tracked him down, crouching next to the receptionist. Pike knows that a sniper finds his prey, kills it, and runs away. But if the sniper can’t catch his prey, he will come down and shoot not only the prey but any possible witnesses—i.e., Givens and the woman Pike loves. So Pike must decide to make a sacrifice.

Even if the situation is unreal, Pike’s deliberation is real, and the pathos… Well, the pathos is simply pathos, exaggerated and dramatic, and real.

Santiago Ramos is currently pursuing doctoral studies in philosophy at Boston College.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Revised Grail Psalter Receives Vatican Recognitio - Made in Missouri

The Vatican has given its recognitio to the Revised Grail Psalter. Concretely, that means that most of the English world will soon be singing the Psalms as they were translated by Benedictine Monks right here in Missouri. By request of the USCCB, the translation effort was headed up by Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey. Conception Abbey in Missouri is also home to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the college seminary for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph and several other dioceses.

Jarrod Thome from Conception gives a very thorough account of the translation and its significance (photo ids follow):

IMG_0687 On Friday, 9 April 2010, the Most Rev. Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, NJ, and Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, informed the bishops of the United States that The Revised Grail Psalms had received an official recognitio from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This final approval, dated 19 March 2010, makes The Revised Grail Psalms the official English-language liturgical Psalter for the United States. These Psalm texts will thus be the ones used in all future editions of liturgical books published for the United States, and, as it happens, for most other English-language countries as well. In his letter Bishop Serratelli expressed his gratitude for this work undertaken by the monks of Conception Abbey under the direction of Abbot Gregory J. Polan, O.S.B., producing this translation which is to play such an important part in the liturgy in years to come.

This revision of the 1963 Grail Psalms was undertaken by the monks of Conception at the request of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (now the Committee on Divine Worship). In a process taking over ten years to complete, the Grail Psalms were revised (and re-translated where necessary), bringing them in line with up-to-date principles of Scripture scholarship, matters of authentic translation and requirements for appropriate rendering for liturgical use. Of particular concern was that this new version of the Psalms meet the requirements established in Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 Instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments enunciating principles for preparing translations of liturgical texts.

Background

RGP monks Without question, the Psalms are one of the most treasured components of Sacred Scripture. They voice our longing for the Infinite and resonate with the broad range of emotions that flow through our lives. As such, they have for ages been at the heart of Judeo-Christian worship—including the liturgical prayer that has been engaged by the Order of Saint Benedict for over fifteen centuries. Widely recognized as the father of western monasticism, Saint Benedict exhorted his followers to live by the motto ora et labora (“prayer and work”). In his Rule for Monks, he makes clear that the Psalms are an essential element of the ora of monastic life. To this day, Benedictines carry on the tradition of their founder, and the Order is well known for its dedication to the liturgy. It should be no surprise, then, that when the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship wanted a new translation of the Psalms, they approached a Benedictine monk to undertake this most important work. This monk was Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey, and his task was to revise the 1963 Grail Psalter.

What are the Grail Psalms?

In the years leading up to Vatican II, when the liturgy was still in Latin, moves were being made to foster greater participation on the part of the laity. Permission was granted to sing the Psalm responses of the Mass in the vernacular. Jesuit Father Joseph Gelineau prepared a French translation of the Psalms with a rhythm well suited to oral recitation and chant. In response to his work, a community of lay women in England formed a secular institute called The Grail which undertook an English translation of Fr. Gelineau’s work. Scholars and musicians worked on the project, and through the 1950s their work was released in a series of books, each containing the translations of a few Psalms. The full version of all 150 Psalms was finally released in 1963.

Just like their French predecessors, the 1963 Grail Psalms in English proved to be very well suited to choral recitation, singing and chanting. The Grail translation was soon incorporated into the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. Eventually, three other English versions of the Psalter were approved for use in the lectionary: those of the New American Bible, the Revised Standard Version, and the Jerusalem Bible.

Why was a new translation needed?

Conception_Abbey_entrance The 1963 Grail Psalms provided a comfortable transition from Latin to English; the translation was clear and easily understood, the text had a straightforward poetic rhythm and the Psalms could be recited and sung with ease. These qualities had been important objectives for the Ladies of the Grail when they had set about their work. While the 1963 Grail Psalter was highly suc­cess­ful in this regard, however, the decision to adhere to a specific rhythmic pattern had led them in places to paraphrase the original Hebrew rather than render a precise translation of the source texts. Since Vatican II, the Church has insisted that authenticity in translation requires accuracy.

Secondly, since the 1950s, when most of these Psalms were composed, much has happened in the area of biblical scholarship to enable us to understand better both the structure of Hebrew poetry and some of the more problematic texts. This scholarship makes a more accurate translation possible.

Additionally, and perhaps most significant for the Catholic in the pews, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam (2001), mandates that a single consistent translation be used in all forms of the liturgy, which is currently not the case. Catholics will now hear the same version of the Psalms at Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, and in the texts for all books of the sacraments. Anywhere a Psalm is found in the liturgy here in the U.S. (and in most other English-speaking countries as well), it will be from the Grail Psalter as revised by the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey.

Some History of the Project

King_David Why were the monks of Conception chosen to bring this work to fruition? The mere fact that Conception Abbey is a Benedictine monastery is a primary reason. But it was the particular combination of scholarly pursuits engaged by Abbot Gregory Polan that had prompted the initial request in June of 1998 from the U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy (now the Committee on Divine Worship), and for the same reason he remained the obvious choice.

Abbot Gregory is first and foremost monk and abbot of Conception Abbey, and thus responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his community. But he also has formal training as both a Scripture scholar and musician. He had translated a section of the Book of Isaiah for the Revised New American Bible, so the staff at the Bishops’ Conference, having been apprised of his musical background, recognized that his particular combination of talents suited him well to undertake the revision, such that the resulting text would retain those qualities that had made it so suitable for choral recitation, singing and chanting.

Abbot Gregory enlisted the help of other monks of Conception Abbey. After four years an initial draft was completed and brought before the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship in November 2002. It was there approved to undergo the rigorous process that would deem it an acceptable translation. The full assembly of the USCCB approved the use of The Revised Grail Psalms on 11 November 2008, in a vote of 203-5. The text was then sent off to the Vatican for final approval.

Until now, much of this has been old news as the Church has anxiously awaited the recognitio from Rome approving The Revised Grail Psalms. On Easter Monday, Msgr. Anthony Sherman, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship, informed Abbot Gregory of the good news that the recognitio had been granted. Basking in the joyous light of Easter, the Church has yet another reason to let ‘Alleluia!’ resound.

What does this mean for the Church?

For Conception Abbey, the production of The Revised Grail Psalms is another response to the needs of the Church, in a manner that resonates directly with St. Benedict’s words “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus” – “That in all things God may be glorified.” For the Faithful who attend any liturgy in English, The Revised Grail Psalms means consistency in what they’ll hear. For musicians and those who use the Psalms for choral recitation or chanting, it means a translation well suited to these uses while retaining integrity of translation. All in all, the consistency and fidelity to the ancient texts of the Psalms means that the Revised Grail Psalter will help promote a more effective, unified liturgy and catechesis.

As faithful souls glorify God with every utterance of these sacred verses, may the merits of this work reciprocate abundant blessings upon them and upon the Church.

To learn more about Conception Abbey, visit www.conceptionabbey.org.

To pre-order a copy of the Revised Grail Psalter when it becomes available, go to Conception Abbey’s Printery House website: www.printeryhouse.org

The copyright for The Revised Grail Psalms is held jointly by Conception Abbey and The Grail (England). GIA Publications serves as the international literary agent for this new version of The Grail Psalms.

Photos, top down:

Abbot Gregory (photograph by Rebecca Peters)

The monks who worked on the Revised Grail Psalter (from left to right: Fr. Timothy Schoen, Abbot Gregory Polan, Br. David Wilding, Br. Michael Marcotte, Br. Jude Person) (Photo by Br. Paul Sheller, O.S.B.)

A view of the entrance to Conception Abbey (Photo by Fr. Frowin Reed, O.S.B.)

Painting of King David from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey

Monday, April 12, 2010

'Hope' from Above? - 'V' Reviewed

From the current issue of The Catholic Key:

116110_0770 ‘V’
Tuesdays at 9 pm Central on ABC

By Santiago Ramos

There are two kinds of television writing: that which sounds like television writing, and that which sounds better than television writing. Critical discernment between the two is largely intuitive. This sounds like a cop-out, sure. Sometimes, however, something strikes us, and we notice that it strikes us, before we can reflect on it in depth. We know the “better than” writing when we hear it, and a sign of it is that we become interested in learning the names of the show’s executive producers. Caprica and Mad Men are “better than”; we know the names Ronald D. Moore and Matthew Weiner because they write well.

The writing on V, the new science fiction show on ABC, is, sadly, simply television writing. There was a shuffle at the position of executive producer early on in the show’s history, and what IMDB lists at this point is a triumvirate—Scott Rosenbaum, Scott Peters, and Jace Hall. This perhaps makes crafting a unified vision for the show (in the style of Moore or Weiner) more difficult, and this is unfortunate, because the premise of the show (lifted from a television series also titled “V” from the early 1980s) could be a fruitful one. But the premise is frustrated by stock phrasing in dialogue and melodramatic blocking, and it is enervated by the fact that the writers chose to make the V evil in a boring way, instead of in an alternate, more interesting way which was within their grasp.

The interesting premise has to do with aliens. Twenty-nine ships arrive one day from a distant planet and plant themselves, hovering, above all the major cities in the world. The aliens are called the V (for Visitors), and their leader is a slender and tall female of the species named Anna (Morena Baccarin). Anna declares that they come in peace (“We are of peace” is her mantra), and that they are in need of resources for their species which only the Earth can supply. In exchange, the V will serve humanity with their advanced technology, first by creating medical centers which can cure many human illnesses—for free. The television journalist Chad Decker (Scott Wolf)—who from the first episode has been coerced by the V into favorable reporting of their activities—actually utters the phrase, “Universal health care.”

That’s not the only reason why the show was interpreted by some to be an anti-Obama allegory. The V are constantly talking about bringing “hope” to humanity; they create for themselves a Messianic role in the world. A resistance cell forms against the V, led by an FBI agent, Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), and a priest, Fr. Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch). Both of these characters find their initial skepticism about the V’s noble intentions quickly corroborated: they “need us for something,” and that they will eventually wipe us out. For Fr. Landry, the V pose a more complex dilemma. The older priest in his parish has—following a decree from the Vatican—placed his trust in the V, and he constantly talks about the “hope” that they bring to humanity. Landry, however, finds it difficult to reconcile hope in God with hope in the V. This is where the writers lost their chance to make the V interesting villains.

The writers make the question of whether we should place our hope in the aliens too easy. We learn from the pilot episode that the V are manipulative, unfeeling, and evil; we know from the beginning that the show will play the Star Wars tune of a small band of rebels against a big black spaceship. When a member of the resistance cell tells Fr. Landry, in a melodramatic, TV-writing way, “Pretty soon you’re gonna need to decide what you are: a priest or a soldier,” I knew the show was lost.

Precisely because Landry is a priest, he is positioned to think interestingly about what human beings should stake their hope in. When the V make a lame man walk right in front of him (in the most poignant scene of the series thus far), we see a direct challenge to Landry’s faith in the most concrete sense possible. Instead of taking pot-shots against the president, and then descending into the underdogs v. evil empire cliché, this show could have been a dramatic question on the nature of hope, on what we hope for, on its ultimate horizon.

This is a show that wants to be great. It apes the formula of the late, great Battlestar Galactica: adopt a tacky 1980s sci-fi melodrama, echo some contemporary social concerns, and make the aliens look as human as possible. (Even the show’s soundtrack sounds a lot like Battlestar’s.) What’s missing is subtle ambiguity and complexity—a risk against ratings.

Santiago Ramos is currently pursuing doctoral studies in philosophy at Boston College.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Former NY Mayor Ed Koch Says 'Enough Already' with Anti-Catholicism in Media

Ed Koch has a column today in The Jerusalem Post rebuking the continual media onslaught on the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict. The article was shared on Facebook by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who introduced it thus:

As most of you probably know, Mayor Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City, having served three terms during the 1970’s and 1980’s. After my appointment to New York last year, I quickly learned that Mayor Koch is not merely one of the most respected and influential New Yorkers, he is one of the most loved and admired as well.

I thought you might want to read his recent column on how the Church has been treated in the media. With his permission, I reprint it below.

The first paragraph of the column pretty well sums it up:

I believe the continuing attacks by the media on the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI have become manifestations of anti-Catholicism. The procession of articles on the same events are, in my opinion, no longer intended to inform, but simply to castigate.

He goes on to explore motive:

Many of those in the media who are pounding on the Church and the pope today clearly do it with delight, and some with malice. The reason, I believe, for the constant assaults is that there are many in the media, and some Catholics as well as many in the public, who object to and are incensed by positions the Church holds, including opposition to all abortions, opposition to gay sex and same-sex marriage, retention of celibacy rules for priests, exclusion of women from the clergy, opposition to birth control measures involving condoms and prescription drugs and opposition to civil divorce. My good friend, John Cardinal O'Connor, once said, "The Church is not a salad bar, from which to pick and choose what pleases you." The Church has the right to demand fulfillment of all of its religious obligations by its parishioners, and indeed a right to espouse its beliefs generally.

I disagree with the Church on all of these positions. Nevertheless, it has a right to hold these views in accordance with its religious beliefs. . .

Do read the whole thing.

Archbishop Gomez - 'Immigration is the great civil rights test of our generation'

Back in October, ‘08, Archbishop Jose Gomez was the keynote speaker at the Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly. In his speech from the podium of the State House of Representatives in Jefferson City, Archbishop Gomez traced the history of the Christian imperative to welcome the stranger and reviewed its implication for today. At the time, I only posted excerpts from his speech since I deemed it too long for a blog post. Given his newfound prominence and the interest in his views on immigration, I’m posting the whole thing. It is the best presentation I’ve seen on the topic:

My brother bishops, my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus:

Greetings, my brothers and sisters! It’s so very good to be with you today! Thank you for your very warm welcome. I’m honored by your invitation to speak with you today about immigration.

In recent years, the work of the Missouri bishops and the Catholic Conference has been a model for mature, reasoned, and compassionate participation in the immigration debate. When we finally achieve the comprehensive reforms America needs, it will be in no small part thanks to the kind of witness and leadership you’ve provided. So I thank you for your work. And I’m humbled that you would ask to hear some of my perspectives.

As you know, the immigration issue is very important to me, too. In fact, I believe immigration is the great civil rights test of our generation. I was recently honored to be appointed as a consultant to Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Commission on Latin America. And immigration is one of the critical challenges the Church faces in our hemisphere.

This issue is also deeply personal for me. I come to this debate as both an American citizen and an immigrant, born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. Some of my ancestors were in what’s now Texas, since 1805. (At that time it was still under Spanish rule.) I’ve always had family and friends on both sides of the border. So I have many conflicting emotions about the way this debate has played out in recent years.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to back into the subject of our discussion today. I want to go back in history a little bit. To the short reign of the Emperor Julian, who ruled the Roman Empire from 361 to 363 A.D.

You remember your history, I’m sure. After centuries of persecution, Christianity became first a “tolerated” religion, and then the official state religion under the Roman Emperor Constantine, beginning in the early fourth century. Well, Julian was the son of Constantine’s half-brother, Julius Constantius, and he came to power after a series of bloody struggles.

Julian came to be known for all time as “Julian the Apostate.” He got that notorious label because, although he had been baptized and raised a Christian, he abandoned his faith immediately upon becoming emperor. Julian then used his “bully pulpit” as emperor to scorn the Church and Christianity and to promote devotion to the pagan gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome—Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and the rest.

Julian called the Christians “Galileans.” It was a kind of ethnic and class slur. And he wrote a big book against the Church. He said his aim was to strip that “new-fangled Galilean god” of “the divinity falsely ascribed to him” (Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 177).

But there was something that Julian couldn’t shake about the Christians. Something he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that was the Christians’ virtue. Their charity. And especially their hospitality to those they didn’t even know. In fact, Julian once issued an order to try to get pagan believers to start imitating the Christians in what he called their “benevolence toward strangers.”

Here’s a quote from a letter he wrote, and you can tell he’s not very happy. He complains that Christians’ care for strangers and their holiness is contributing to the spread of “atheism.” (He called Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in the pagan gods.)

Here’s what Julian wrote: “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers … and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase atheism. … It is disgraceful that when … the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men should see how our people lack aid from us.” (Macmullen and Lane, Paganism and Christianity, 100–425 C.E.: A Sourcebook, 271–272).

You see he’s embarrassed. Ashamed. The Christians are so generous that they’re helping the poor Romans and that exposes how the Romans themselves don’t take care of their poor.

My friends, my point in this little history lesson is this: From the beginning there was something very different about Christians. Something even their enemies, like Julian, couldn’t help but notice—and admire, no matter how reluctantly.

It’s true there was a tradition of welcoming the stranger in other cultures and religions. Philosophers like Plato wrote about the importance of hospitality. But for the first Christians it became an original and central element of their religious identity. To be a Christian was to practice hospitality to the stranger.

Of course for them, the tradition originated in Scripture. In the Old Testament, we have the story of how Abraham showed hospitality to three strangers, who turned out to be angels of God (Gen. 18). Still today we have that expression about “entertaining angels unaware.”

That expression actually comes from the New Testament interpreting the Abraham story. The Letter to the Hebrews gives us the principle: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).

There are quotes about hospitality throughout the New Testament. And I could cite many from the Church Fathers. I’ll just quote one. St. Augustine.

Now, St. Augustine wrote this near the end of the Roman Empire. And even then, when the borders of the empire were compromised and its economy was in ruins, Augustine taught that Christians have a duty to welcome the strangers.

He wrote: “Be meek, sympathize with the suffering, carry the weak. And in this time of so many strangers, needy, and suffering people, let your hospitality and good works abound.” (Sermon 31)

This teaching of hospitality and doing good works for strangers comes from Jesus himself. Jesus taught that in the stranger we have an encounter with the living God. “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me … As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35, 40).

My brothers and sisters: We all know this quote. It is an important inspiration for our works of charity and justice. But what I want to emphasize today is how unique and important that is to our identity as Christians.

To be a Catholic is to be a man or woman who serves God in the poor, in the least of these. To be a Catholic is to be a person who welcomes the stranger in need. This is who we are.

So this is the first point I want to make today. The Church’s interest in immigration is not a recent development. It doesn’t grow out of any political or partisan agenda. No. It is a part of our original religious identity as Catholics, as Christians. We must defend the immigrant if we are to be worthy of the name Catholic.

So your work here in Missouri is not only vital in terms of solidarity and care for others. In terms of the dignity of the human person and the dignity of labor. Your work is also very close to the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We can never forget that Jesus himself and his family were migrants. They were forced into Egypt by the bad policies of a bad government. This was to show us Christ’s solidarity with refugees, displaced persons, and immigrants—in every time and in every place. So through your work, you reveal Christ’s love for all who are forced to leave their homelands to seek a better life in a new land that’s not their own.

Yet our work together on this issue faces many challenges today.

Friends, I’m not a politician. I’m a pastor of souls. And as a pastor I believe the situation that’s developed today is bad for the soul of America. And it’s bad for the souls of Americans. There is too much anger. Too much resentment. Too much fear. Too much hate. It’s eating people up. And it’s just no good for people to be consumed by fear and hate. It’s no good for their souls. And it’s no good for our country, my friends.

And I worry that our policies more and more reflect these kind of fears and resentments. I don’t know how many anti-immigrant laws have been enacted this year. I’ve lost track. The last I heard, it was something like 200 new laws in 40 states. And that’s just this year. In 2007, I believe there were 240 new laws in 46 states.

Many of these laws are so clearly vindictive, so obviously meant to injure and intimidate, that I worry that the effect will be to diminish respect for the rule of law. The law should not be used to scare people, to invade their homes and work-sites, to break up families. From a practical standpoint, I don’t see how these measures are solving any problems. Instead, they’re creating new ones.

Again, I say these things as a pastor, not a politician. We need to find a way to stop lashing out at the problem and to start making sensible policy. I would like to see a moratorium on new state and local legislation. And, as the U.S. bishops recently called for, I would like to see an end to federal work-site enforcement raids.

This is a national crisis and it calls for national leadership. I understand that the presidential candidates don’t want to touch this issue before the election. Nor does Congress after the bitter failure of the 2007 immigration bill.

But this is the hard work of democracy. As soon as this election is over and a new government sworn in, we need to insist that our leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work on comprehensive immigration reform.

As I said, this is the greatest civil rights test of our generation. The lives of millions of undocumented workers and their families hang in the balance. Millions who are presently forced by our failed policies to live without rights at the margins of this great country.

So that’s my second point. We’re at a worrisome impasse in our work for immigration reform. That means we need renewed determination to forge a solution worthy of a great nation.

My third point today is about the role of the Church. Your role and mine. In this volatile debate, the Church must be a voice of compassion, reason, and moral principle.

In Catholic teaching, the right to migrate is among the most basic human rights. It’s very close to the right to life. Why? Because God has created the good things of this world to be shared by all men and women—not just a privileged few.

That means that if a person can’t find the necessities of life for his family, he has the right to leave his country and to seek these things in some other country.

Now, it’s true that the right to immigration is not absolute. Church teaching recognizes the government’s right to regulate immigration. To weigh immigration’s impact on the economy and our national security.

But the Church also insists that no country can deny this basic human right out of exaggerated fears or selfishness. And Catholic teaching presumes that the more prosperous a country is, the more generous that country should be in welcoming foreigners.

We need to help our people and our leaders to examine their conscience in light of these principles of Catholic social teaching.

As we stress the Church’s moral principles, we need to be more sensitive to people’s fears. My friends, the opponents of immigration are also people of faith. Many of them, unfortunately, are Catholics. They are hard-working Americans, and our brothers and sisters.

They are afraid. And their fears are legitimate. They’re afraid of another terrorist attack carried out by foreigners able to cross our borders without any trouble. They’re afraid that an influx of foreign workers will drive down their wages or cause them to lose their jobs. These are not baseless fears. And as this financial crisis unfolds on Wall Street, those fears are only going to get worse.

So we have to do a better job of listening to people. And we need to be calm about presenting the facts.

By the way, I am very impressed by the work of MATT—Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together. They have a very reasoned and comprehensive approach to reform that is in line with Catholic social teaching. If you don’t know their work, they are on the web—MATT.org.

We have to keep reminding people of some basic facts. First, that the borders are much more secure now than they were eight years ago. The federal government has done a great deal to secure the borders against terrorist threats and further illegal immigration.

Second, we need to help people see that our economy needs a large immigrant workforce. The fact is that immigrants are doing work Americans won’t do. And if that work doesn’t get done, important businesses die. And that has an effect on everyone because our economy is so interconnected.

I was in Pennsylvania a few months ago to talk about immigration. They have enacted some of the toughest laws. And as a result, one of the largest tomato growers in the Northeast had to go out of business. The owner shut down because so many of his workers were being deported and he was being threatened with jail and huge fines for employing them. This is happening all over the country.

If American businesses can’t find the workforce they need here in America, they’re going to either shut down or relocate elsewhere. I’m not an economist any more than I’m a politician. But I think we can see that this isn’t good for our economy.

So it makes good sense to offer immigrants a path to become taxpaying citizens, with all the benefits and responsibilities of other workers and citizens.

Already, we see that Hispanics are following the pattern of earlier generations of immigrants—learning the English language and ensuring that their children too become fluent in English. This is an area that the Church can help in, too. We need to help ensure that these newcomers become true Americans while preserving their own distinctive identity and culture, in which religion, family, friendship, community, and the culture of life, are important values.

I also think we need to keep talking about immigration in terms of the realities of globalization. I know you’ve done good work on this issue here in Missouri. The bottom line with globalization is that as long as workers can earn more in one hour in the U.S. than they can earn in a day or a week in Mexico, they will continue to migrate to this country.

We need to ensure that our leaders, and leaders throughout the hemisphere, address the economic “causes” of immigration. We need to promote local development and reform in Latin American countries. Few people “want” to leave their homes. They do so because they need work. We need to seek changes so that fewer people will feel compelled to leave their homelands to seek work in this country.

Finally, my friends: The Church has an important role to play in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation on this issue. We must work so that justice and mercy, not anger and resentment, are the motives behind our response to illegal immigration.

The fact is that millions of immigrants are here in blatant violation of U.S. law. This makes law-abiding Americans angry. And it should. Why should they obey the laws if others aren’t punished for breaking them? As advocates, we can’t ignore this fact or somehow argue that our immigration laws don’t matter.

We have to make sure that our laws are fair and understandable. At the same time, we have to insist that our laws be respected and enforced. Those who violate our laws have to be punished.

The question is how? What punishments are proper and just? I think, from a moral standpoint, we’re forced to conclude that deporting immigrants who break our laws is too severe a penalty. It’s a punishment that’s disproportionate to the crime. It’s a punishment that doesn’t account for the complex circumstances of how and why people enter this country illegally.

What’s most troubling to me as a pastor is that these deportations are breaking up families. Leaving wives without husbands, children without parents. A fundamental dimension of Catholic social teaching on immigration is that our policies should be aimed at reuniting and strengthening families—not tearing them apart. As we all know, a policy that breaks families apart can only lead to greater sufferings and social problems.

Pope Benedict was adamant on this point during his visit to America. He said this: “I have seen the breadth of this problem, especially the serious problem of the break-up of families. And this is really dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric … Families should be protected rather than destroyed.” (Interview during the flight to the United States, April 15, 2008)

Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enforce the laws. It means we need to find more suitable penalties. The Church needs to be a voice for mercy as well as justice. We have to insist that those who come to our country respect our laws. If they are here illegally, they can’t expect to escape punishment. But I would suggest that intensive, long-term community service would be a far more constructive solution than deportation. This would build communities rather than tear them apart. And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America.

This brings me back around to the point I began with. As Catholics, we need to recover our identity as a people who welcome the stranger.

Reasoned arguments will only get us so far. We will change the hearts and minds of our countrymen on this issue only if we ourselves become living examples of the Gospel we proclaim.

We need to be the people St. Augustine talked about. People who sympathize with the suffering, who lift up the weak. Who abound in good works and hospitality.

It’s interesting to me that in the New Testament, the word for “hospitality” in Greek is philoxenia. We all know what xenophobia is. That’s the “fear of strangers.” In fact, I’d say we have more than a mild case of xenophobia in our country these days. The Christian word for “hospitality” is like the antidote to that. Philoxenia literally means “love of strangers.”

This is who we are called to be—“lovers of strangers.” Lovers of the immigrant, the alien, the undocumented. This love is not some sentimental affection. It’s a radical love in which we open our hearts and our homeland to the stranger in need.

My friends, we need to intensify our concern and advocacy for the immigrants in our midst. But I appeal to you: Don’t forget their spiritual needs, even as you fight on for their dignity and rights in the economic and political realm.

I often recall a story about Blessed Mother Teresa. Once she went to Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico. She was talking to the very poor people there. People living in the worst conditions. She asked them what their greatest need was. One man spoke for all the rest. He said: La Palabra de Dios. The Word of God.

Let’s never forget that, my friends. Our people hunger and thirst for justice. For fair wages and benefits. For decent working conditions. But they hunger, too, for the Gospel, the truth of salvation. La Palabra de Dios.

Let me leave you with one more story about Blessed Mother Teresa. It’s a great story of hospitality. Early in her ministry in Calcutta, she found a woman who had been left on the streets to die.

Mother Teresa took her into her home and started cleaning her up. She was covered in sores. The whole time the woman was cursing at her. At one point the woman screamed: “People don’t do things like this. Who taught you?” Mother Teresa responded, “My God taught me.”

So the woman asked who her god was. And Mother Teresa said: “You know my God. My God is called love.”

This is the God we serve, my friends. The God who is Love. Let us be faithful servants of Love. Let us abound in love. In good works and hospitality for the strangers among us.

I’m grateful for this chance to speak with you today. I pray that Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, will watch over and keep you. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Archdiocese of Los Angeles Comes Full Circle

With today’s appointment of Archbishop Jose Gomez as Coadjutor of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese has, in a way. returned to its earliest roots.

Los Angeles was only created an archdiocese in 1936 (People from San Francisco, created an archdiocese in 1853 and from which the Los Angeles church was carved out, like to point this out). When Archbishop Gomez becomes its Fifth Archbishop, a majority of Los Angeles’ ordinaries will have been immigrants. Archbishop John Joseph Cantwell (1st Archbishop) and Cardinal Timothy Manning (3rd Archbishop) were both born in Ireland. And Archbishop Gomez (eventual 5th Archbishop) was born in Mexico.

But the ecclesial history of Los Angeles (El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles) goes back much further than its creation as an archdiocese. Prior to 1936, the area was respectively the Diocese of Los Angeles – San Diego and the Diocese of Monterey – Los Angeles, both suffragans of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

But even before that, San Francisco, Los Angeles, all of what we now call California, as well as Baja California, were one unit called the Diocese of Both Californias – a diocese of Mexico. The First Bishop of Both Californias, and thus Los Angeles, was Mexican Born Bishop Francisco José Vicente Garcia Diego y Moreno, O.F.M.

Very few people lived in Los Angeles at that time. In fact, Bishop Garcia Diego y Moreno took Mission Santa Barbara, 100 miles North of Los Angeles, as his headquarters. Now Los Angeles is the largest archdiocese by far in the United States with nearly 5 million Catholics. 70 percent of them are of Hispanic background – dominantly Mexican.

Let us pray for Archbishop Gomez as he prepares to lead the Los Angeles church into the future, even as he recalls its distant past.

Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles Pray for Us.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Tragicomic Tiger Woods

From the current edition of The Catholic Key:

The Tragicomic Tiger Woods

By Santiago Ramos

I was walking through downtown New York in January when a billboard made me ponder the unhappy trials of Tiger Woods. The billboard was an ad for the cable channel Spike TV, which recently earned the rights to syndicate the HBO show, Entourage. The billboard read, “Entourage: Now Every Guy Can Get Some.” There is an obvious double meaning in the pun: Every guy can now get some Entourage (even those without HBO); and, now every guy can now get some, period.

What is interesting about the ad is the way in which it captures a thought that is never explicitly articulated in the show, about the relationship between money and sex. The show deals with four friends who strike gold in Hollywood, and this success affords them all the carnal luxuries they can dream of. But while the ad hints at the idea of some sort of erotic democracy, the show itself is a universe wherein only robber barons can get some.

The ad made me think of Tiger Woods, because he has lived by the same logic of the characters on Entourage: get it while you can, while the getting is good, while you can still afford it. In his press conference, Woods would regret the “temptations” that he succumbed to, adding that “Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.”

But the use of the word “temptations” means we’ve entered the realm of moral judgment. In his conference, Woods was standing before judges. “I convinced myself that the normal rules don’t apply,” he told them. “I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.” After I heard these words, I was reminded of something else I saw in New York—Theodor Dreyer’s brilliant 1928 silent film, Joan of Arc, which deals exclusively with the martyr’s trial before the Inquisition, with long scenes depicting her confrontation before her judges.

Tiger Woods is not a martyr, of course, but it is interesting how quickly the rest of us, in pondering his misdeeds, can make the leap from Entourage to Inquisition. Money is a sort of Ring of Gyges, which makes us invisible while we engage in the naked pursuit of certain ambitions. But when the Ring falls off, we have to face up to the “rules” that were broken. The problem is not that, since everyone is a sinner, no one is in a position to judge—if this were the case, then any sort of moral judgment would be impossible. Rather, the problem is that few among us can articulate just where those “rules” that Woods refers to come from, and why we should follow them, and what, if any, relationship they bear with human fulfillment. Janis Joplin once sang that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” but we are trending towards a sadder definition (cribbing from Andy Warhol): Freedom as another word for what we can get away with. But once you get caught—once the Ring slips off—you must grovel before the rest of us.

What compounds Woods’ tragedy is that it is, in a certain sense, comic. Brace yourself, reader, for some density. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard writes (in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript), that “To be infinitely interested in relation to that which at its maximum always remains only an approximation is a self-contradiction and thus is comical.” It is natural for a human being to be infinitely demanding of life, to always want more than what the finite Earth can give us—St. Gregory Nazianzen acknowledges as much when he says, “Were I not yours, my Christ, I would feel a finite creature.”

Woods, however, channeled this infinite demand onto other finite human beings, which he converted into objects. As we click through the online slideshows, we laugh, precisely for the reason Kierkegaard says we ought to laugh: when we become infinitely interested in something that is obviously finite, the result is comical. Tiger has made a sort of idolatrous ideology of a certain type of busty, blonde female. (Yes, I realize some of them are brunettes.) Worst of all, in his misguided quest for fulfillment, he has betrayed his wife and children, who were given to him as companions on a real quest for fulfillment, rather than what he has reduced the rest of the world to: a set of objects.

Yet he is sorry for what he did, and I believe him. And when we judge that he has done wrong, we are of course correct, even if, with our degraded moral language, we cannot fully articulate why. Within this whole affair we can see an inextinguishable—though perhaps faint—sense of decency which bubbles up within us in spite of our shortcomings. If we think harder, that sense can grow.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

USCCB Pro-life Office - 'Killing is not healing'

The latest Life Issues Forum column from the USCCB Pro-life office says of the passed, health care reform bill that “No amount of good in the new law will ever justify the moral evil of facilitating the destruction of precious human life.”

Here’s the article in full:

Bruised, but Not Broken

By Deirdre A. McQuade

The pro-life movement recently suffered a discouraging setback during efforts to provide life-affirming health care to millions of uninsured Americans. The Catholic bishops and others fought hard for many months to retain conscience rights and the longstanding ban against federal funding of elective abortions. The final health care reform law, passed narrowly against the bishops’ opposition, fails to meet these widely-supported, fundamental moral requirements.

If not changed, the law will, for the first time in over 30 years, subsidize abortions throughout the nine months of pregnancy – for any reason – and force Americans to be complicit in the direct taking of innocent life. Many who conscientiously object to abortion will be forced to pay for others’ abortions through their insurance premiums or taxes.

No amount of good in the new law will ever justify the moral evil of facilitating the destruction of precious human life. Not “precious” in just a poetic, pastel, feel-good sense as in the popular “Precious Moments” figurines, and not “precious” like works of art that command a lot of money, but “precious” in the ultimate sense: being of such inestimable value that it cannot be put on a scale and traded off for other goods – even other goods honoring the dignity of the human person. God creates persons to live eternally and so we cannot and must not be put on a cost-benefit scale. The deliberate destruction of innocent human life at its most defenseless stage is never, under any circumstances, justifiable.

The debate over how best to improve and expand health care services to all should never have hinged on the issue of abortion funding. Abortion is not health care, because killing is not healing. Inclusion of abortion was a huge and ultimately tragic obstacle to authentic reform that would honor all principles of Catholic social teaching.

The bishops repeatedly called for principled reform that puts the needs of the poor and the unborn first. Commenting on the proposed bill, Cardinal Francis George, as president of the bishops’ conference, called abortion funding “too high a price” for much-needed reform. The Catholic faithful and our pro-life friends agreed. Since the debate began, over a million e-mails were sent to Congress through www.usccb.org/action alone. Unfortunately, despite our prayers, countless phone calls, faxes, and letters, our voices were not heeded by those in power.

What do we do now? As a movement, we are bruised, but not broken. Our hope in the Resurrection is real as we seek the grace to re-group and unite in efforts to protect all human life from conception to natural death. We will work to fix the serious problems in the new health care law. The Hyde Amendment, which bans federal abortion funding through the appropriations process, must be defended. States are also exploring legislation to exclude abortion from new health coverage within their borders. (Ed note: Visit the Missouri Catholic Conference for information on how Missouri can exclude abortion from health care.)

Abortion rates go up when the government funds abortions. So we need to work twice as hard to reduce the number of abortions, help pregnant women feel free to choose life, educate the public on the physical and emotional consequences of abortion, and share God’s mercy with those women and men who have an abortion in their past. Finally, we must recommit ourselves to prayer for our nation, that those in authority will use their power to defend the defenseless: unborn children and all who are vulnerable at any stage of life.

Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.

Greater Than Sin

Traces is the official magazine of Communion and Liberation, a movement near and dear to the heart and mind of Pope Benedict XVI. In Traces’ April edition, the editors reflect on Pope Benedict’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland and the wider reports and responses to the scandal of priestly sexual abuse.

Traces’ editors consider various attitudes to the crisis and assert, in typical and bracing CL fashion, that the “true heart of the question, the forgotten focus, lies elsewhere.”

It’s a short and valuable reflection, especially in this week of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. Please read it all (Note: Thanks to our media reviewer Santiago Ramos for sending this in. The editorial is not yet linked at Traces’ website, but is available as a pdf at the Communion and Liberation website. The graphic below is from the March edition and is included because the artwork is mentioned in the editorial):

Greater Than Sin

There would be much to discuss about the events that led Benedict XVI to write his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, and we could do this by starting from the facts, the numbers, and the data that, if looked at attentively, reveal a reality much less enormous than appears in the ferocious media campaign. Or, we could start from the contradictions of those who, in the same newspaper, denounce certain wicked deeds, but after a few pages justify everything and everybody, especially in matters of sex.We could do this, and perhaps it would help to understand the context of a Church really under attack, whatever its errors may be.Only the Pope’s humble and courageous gesture pointed attention toward the heart of the question.

Clearly, there is a wound, a very serious one, one of the kind that provoked Christ (and His vicars, too) to use fiery words (“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”).

There is filth in the Church. Joseph Ratzinger himself said so during the Way of the Cross at Rome’s Coliseum five years ago, shortly before being elected Pope and, realistically, he has never stopped recalling the fact since. Sin is there, grave sin. Evil is there, along with the abyss of pain that evil carries with it, and everything possible has to be done, and with firmness, to stem the evil and to make amends for that pain. The Pope is already doing this, and his letter reiterates it strongly when it asks the guilty to “answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.”

This is precisely why the true heart of the question, the forgotten focus, lies elsewhere. Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil? Is there something that, as the Pope writes, “has the power to forgive even the greatest of sins, and to bring forth good even from the most terrible evil”?

“This is the point:God was moved by our nothingness,” Fr.Giussani said in the phrase quoted on the CL Easter Poster. “Not only that.God was moved by our betrayal, by our crude, forgetful, and treacherous poverty, by our pettiness... It’s compassion, pity, passion. He had pity on me.” This is what the Church brings to the world, and certainly not because of its members’ merit, goodness, or even less because of their coherence: God’s compassion for our pettiness, something greater than our limitations, the only thing infinitely greater than our limitations. If we don’t start from here, we cannot understand at all; everything goes mad, literally.

We, too, have had moments when we have dodged that compassion, and run away from it. At times, it is in the Church itself that faith is reduced to ethics, and morality is reduced to an impossible lonely recourse to laws, as if the need of that embrace were something to be ashamed of. But if we forget Christ, if we do away with the wholly different measure that He introduces into the world now, through the Church, then we no longer have the terms on which to judge the Church.

Then it becomes easy to mistake attention for the victims and regard for their history for a conniving silence, and prudence toward the guilty parties, true or presumed–perhaps accused on the basis of rumors emerging after decades–for the will to “cover up” (sadly, this has sometimes been the case). Then, it is almost inevitable to keep arguing about celibacy without even touching on the real value of virginity. And it becomes impossible to understand why the Church can be hard and motherly at the same time with the priests who go wrong. It can punish them severely and ask them to serve their sentence and make amends for the evil (it has already done so in the past, and will always do so), but without snapping, if possible, that thread that binds them, because it is the only thing that can redeem them. It can ask its children to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” not so as to demand of them an impossible irreprehensibility, but so as to remind them of a tension to live the same mercy with which God embraces us (“be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”).

This is why the Church can educate,which, in the end, is the real question being challenged by those who are accusing it (“See, even the priests do wrong, and badly wrong. How can we trust them with our children?”), as if the Church’s being a teacher all depended on the behavior of her children, and not on Christ, on that Presence which – amidst all the errors and horrors committed – makes possible in the world an embrace like that of Chagall’s Prodigal Son that appears on the Easter Poster. There, alongside Fr. Giussani’s phrase, there is another, by Benedict XVI: “Conversion to Christ ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need–the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.”

This is the embrace of Christ, in our wounded and needy humanity, far greater than the evil we can do. If the Church,with all its limitations, had not this to offer to the world, especially to the victims of those barbarities, then we would be lost–because the evil would still be there, but it would be impossible to overcome it.