Nov 19

This extremely diverse group was unified by their profound, fundamental belief in the definition of marriage, and its importance.

Haven’t heard much about it in the media? Is that surprising? Is the Pope Catholic?

The answers are probably no, no and a resounding yes.

Here’s Francis on marriage:

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Then Monday, the Humanum Colloquium convened at the Vatican on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.”  The three day, international, inter-religious high level gathering got an opening address by Francis. It was dynamite.

Complementarity, the Pope said, “is at the root of marriage and family.” Although there are tensions in families, the family also provides the framework in which those tensions can be resolved.” He said that complementarity should not be confused with a simplistic notion that “all the roles and relations of the sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

How do you follow that?

With some powerful talks and addresses given by other Catholic leaders, along with officials and representatives of Protestant, Muslim, and Jain traditions. As well as leaders and scholars from Eastern Orthodoxy, the LDS Church and the Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist traditions.

Some of the best of those coming in the next post. Consider Francis first. And meanwhile, explore Humanum.

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Nov 17

This follows the recent ‘Extraordinary Synod on the Family’, and it’s truly extraordinary.

It’s an international, inter-religious colloquium called Humanum.

The Vatican-sponsored gathering, on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will take place Nov. 17-19 and feature more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.

The conference will aim to “examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society,” according to organizers.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and the Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, will be among the participants…

Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali.

Pope Francis will address the conference and preside over its first morning session Nov. 17, following remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…

The conference is officially sponsored by the doctrinal congregation, and co-sponsored by the pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, for Interreligious Dialogue and for the Family. The heads of all four curia offices are scheduled to address the assembly.

Topics of lectures and videos will include “The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children” and “The Sacramentality of Human Love According to St. John Paul II.”

The press, American and international, that has framed Francis as a renegade, progressive, breakaway pope thrusting the Catholic Church into the cultural tide to get with the times, has been derelict in reporting some of his more incisive remarks and actions. Like these remarks:

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Noting that there are many who cohabitate, or are separated or divorced, he explained that the “key” to helping is a pastoral care of “close combat” that assists and patiently accompanies the couple.

And where did we see these comments reported other than Christian media? Or news of the current colloquium on marriage, Humanum? Michael Cook reported on it here. It deserves widespread attention, especially in the atmosphere of the dominant culture.

It’s much more than a conference, and it began on Monday morning with an address by Pope Francis. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke, followed by representatives of the Protestant, Muslim, and Jain traditions. The gathering includes leaders and scholars assembled from Eastern Orthodoxy, the Latter Day Saints Church, the Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist traditions. Speeches will be given by Dr. Jacqueline Cook-Rivers, Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren, Sister Prudence Allen, and Pastor Christoph Arnold, and Dr. Russell Moore. The three days of intensive talks include “scholars panels,” presided over by Princeton Professor Robert George, Havard Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, and many others. Professor George said “we must unite across borders and traditions to uphold marriage and build or rebuild vibrant marriage cultures in our societies. I’m glad that Pope Francis sees that and was willing to have the Vatican convene this gathering of religious leaders and scholars.”

This is big, universal, inclusive, multi-cultural, diverse, timeless, and very positive. More to come as the high-powered, focused, intent and determined assembly of international participants proceed over these three days of extraordinary brainstorming sessions.

Meanwhile, next year’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, already a major global event, got something like a rocket booster when Pope Francis finally confirmed rumors Monday that he would indeed attend.

After Pope Francis officially confirmed that he will visit Philadelphia next fall for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the trip will be a blessing for the event and the world…

Archbishop Chaput said he hopes the World Meeting of Families will provide some clarity for the lay faithful on issues of family and marriage.

“What we hope to achieve through this meeting is a strengthening of family life,” he said. “Not just in the Catholic Church but also in the world, in so far as we can contribute to others’ clarity of thinking on marriage and most importantly the commitment of husbands and wives to each other for the sake of their children.”

People from every continent are coming to the World Meeting of Families, and Archbishop Chaput said he wants the event to be as inclusive as possible.

“We even have a scholarship program to help the poor come from different parts of the world because this is supposed to be a meeting of the whole world and not just of people who can afford the travel to the United States,” he said. “We have plans to make this a very inclusive gathering with people from all over.

Their representatives are meeting in Rome right now. This is a major event. I don’t need to wish to be a ‘fly on the wall’ to hear it. Some of the major participants are friends and regular guests of my radio show, and they’ll be back soon, to talk about it all.

Meanwhile, watch this space.

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Nov 05

When it became obvious, Democratic pundits did everything to spin it as anything but what it was.

By election day itself, the New York Times reported that ‘Washington was the biggest loser.’ As in, ‘everyone is disenchanted with the whole crowd in government. We don’t trust anyone. Throw all the bums out.’ That way, it wasn’t a referendum on the president, or any favored candidates, as much as a disgruntled public unhappy with the whole lot of them. Trouble is, it wasn’t exactly true.

Even as results started coming in to newsrooms doing live coverage on election night, some in-house Democratic strategists claimed that there was an ‘anti-incumbent’ sentiment among voters across the US on election day. But the results pouring in showed that GOP incumbents mostly held on to their seats, while Democratic incumbents lost theirs.

On the Fox News election team, Democratic commentator Juan Williams, in apparent denial, claimed  ‘It has to do more with Republican obstructionism than a wave of anti-Democrat sentiment.’ Longtime Washington correspondent Brit Hume responded ‘I don’t think it has anything to do with being obstructionist. Nor is it a vote against Obama as a person. It is, however, a wave of sentiment against policies. People have not felt, personally, any relief from an economic recovery for instance. There’s been a string of other crises this president hasn’t handled well…’ And his remarks were almost inaudible at that point.

Another commentator on the team questioned ‘If this was an anti-incumbent election, why would some incumbents who spent twice what their challengers spent lose their elections?’ Good question. It was a way to tease out the obvious. This was a referendum on the president’s policies and his party’s handling of their control of the Senate, and the complete lack of willingness to compromise or even listen to other ideas that has marked the past several years of business on Capitol Hill.

My computer homepage is a Google aggregator of top news headlines and blog posts I’ve customized to stay on top of current affairs and breaking news and the latest coverage of important national and international issues. The top box is the New York Times. As election night advanced, all top five NYT headlines were about GOP victories in major races against Democratic incumbents or challengers. Republicans needed to pick up a net gain of six new seats in the Senate to take over as the majority. Before the night was late, they had gained seven.

Respected political commentator Charles Krauthammer said ‘This election was not about Republican ideas, it was about an end to Obama governance.’

And it was more.

Krauthammer continued: “I think this is the end of the ‘war on women’, and the Democrats have been defeated’. “I think the Democrats are going to learn a lesson from this.” One can only hope, given that the party spent their last convention in the summer of 2012 celebrating abortion all week, and have driven the message of birth control and abortion rights into the ground, underestimating women in great magnitudes. Ever since the January 2012 announcement the the Department of Health and Human Services issued the mandate that employer health care insurance coverage must provide access to drugs like the ‘morning-after pill’ among other abortifacients, prompting dozens and dozens of high profile lawsuits by companies and institutions against the government for violation of the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it’s been one long battle between the people and the government over basic rights involving religious liberty and radical redefinitions of rights.

The results on Tuesday bore witness to the truth that the so-called ‘war on women’ was both a trumped up ploy, and it was over.

“This has much less to do with the Republicans than it does with the self-destruction of the Democrats,” said Krauthammer of the results of Election 2014.

Even in the president’s state, known for ‘machine politics’, in which Democratic party politics rule and rule out any challengers, the Republican candidate for governor beat the sitting Democrat. ‘Illinois is extraordinarily debt-ridden, as close to an Argentina as we’re going to get here,’ said political analyst and commentator George Will, to punctuate the point of how bad things had to get to get to these results of this election.

In one of the victory speeches of the night, Wisconsin’s embattled but victorious governor Scott Walker announced ‘Tonight, we’re all Americans more than we are Wisconsinites.’ It did seem like a new day had begun.

In fact, in the middle of the evenin

g, the announcement came out suddenly that the president had called for a bi-partisan meeting this Friday.

“The results of the Obama presidency have not been good.” Brit Hume, in grand understatement as is his style, and this came late in the evening when results poured in showing just how badly the results of this presidency have struck engaged Americans.

Finally, those who went to the polls to elect pro-life leaders who would uphold, protect and defend the sanctity and dignity of all human life, celebrated the victory of having at last a pro-life Congress.

Until they are sworn in for the new session in January, the lame duck Congress and its lame duck president are rumored to be considering a number of moves to push their agenda forward while they can. That somehow seems less likely at the end of such a sweeping election victory for Republicans, sweeping key members of the Senate, among others, out of office, by the will of the people.

Watch this space. It’s a new day in American politics, it’s going to be very interesting, and the next presidential campaign season will probably begin just after this new Congress is sworn in, if not sooner.

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Nov 04

Thank God.

I probably shouldn’t write anything when feeling this frustrated, that’s my default mode. Generally, it’s a good policy, and I should practice it now. But as I write this, we’re mere hours away from the 2014 mid-term elections, driving the news cycles and campaigns hitting us from mail to telephone calls (many of them a day, every day) to television ads, and yes, there’s very much at stake. All elections are consequential. Haven’t we learned this by now?

Haven’t those who claim distaste for politics (hey, I’m with you, but I cover it for a living so I’m in the thick of it)…haven’t they learned yet that when you don’t exercise your right, privilege and responsibility to vote you abdicate your right to complain about the results?

The past (how many?) election cycles prove not. By the time you read this, polls will be open in most places across the US and the process will begin, to determine what the next two years of governing the nation will be like. Many people will sit out the election again, and this is maddening, given how much is determined in elections, whether mid-term or general (Congressional and Gubernatorial, or Presidential, to oversimplify it). People die in some countries fighting for the right to self-determination in a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

But wait…that’s supposed to be America, and government has not carried out that time honored tradition in any number of ways for a while. How can people neglect to vote? Why does anyone able to vote not bother? You cannot complain about anything government does if you don’t at least try to shape what government is, what it can do, and what it can’t do.

There’s so much analysis and commentary out there (and I’ve digested a great deal of it and will spare you), I just want to get to the results of this election and move forward, in whatever shape government takes after Tuesday. Or after the president and lame duck session of Congress does between the day after election day and the January swearing in of the new session of Congress. (Rumor is, it may be plenty.)

I’ve followed news and elections since I was about 8 or 9 years old, certainly by 10 I was reading the daily newspaper with my Dad and following the evening newscasts on one of the three ‘big networks’ of ABC, NBC or CBS . I asked tons of questions and listened intently to the newscasters, but questioned. When Walter Cronkite said at the end of each newscast ‘And that’s the way it is’ on such and such a date, I thought…what if that’s not the way it is, really? Says who? Prove it.

Which is why I’ve always been a dogged journalist, and even as a blogger, have sourced my references and quotes with more attention and precision than some reporters in big media. I didn’t work at Time Magazine for 20 years as an amateur.

And now we face yet another election with many candidates for public office who come off as amateurs. Even if they’re incumbents who’ve been in office for years. Which gets to what’s really irritating about these campaign ads.

Among all the demographic groups they’re targeting, the ‘women vote’ has been a prized one and everyone is talking about it. So who speaks for women?

On the eve of the election, I saw too many times the campaign ad that shows a montage of women with computer devices checking out candidates and complaining to their women friends that the candidate they opposed voted not to include contraceptive drugs in healthcare coverage, while a friend expressed utter disapproval. And ‘did you know that (a certain candidate) voted to defund Planned Parenthood?!’ And the friend responded with shock, ‘that’s basic healthcare for women!’

Wait. Really? You’re pitching this as the scare ad to get the women to vote for you? I’m insulted, and so are many women in this country. We care about this, in a very different way, about women’s health and stopping the juggernaut of the highly profitable Planned Parenthood receiving taxpayer funds for a for-profit industry that already makes so much money on ending women’s pregnancies without informing them of the fundamental truths of the human life they’re carrying, that abortion will terminate the life of that human life, and that the procedure carries a high risk of terrible side effects demonstrable in irrefutable evidence on record.

But aside from that, women care about religious freedom. Because women who hold religious belief of any faith or denomination will likely view the spectrum of life’s issues of liberty and justice differently than those who do not. The latest radio program I did on this the other day was with Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List and Helen Alvare of Women Speak for Themselves. They were eloquent and showed understanding and magnanimity far beyond anything I’m hearing in campaign ads from many candidates.

Peggy Noonan wrote this for the Wall Street Journal on Election Eve, and she talks about political graciousness. That would be very nice to hear and see, for a real change. I’ll be satisfied with a fair election, results that reflect the choice of informed and engaged people, citizens respected as Americans more than the identity groups into which they’re sub-divided. And a government that finally reflects and respects this representative republic, gender and age aside, including ‘the least of these’ as the president has referred to many times, which covers both ends of life.

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Oct 30

One side wants to advance her advocacy for assisted suicide. The other wants to save her life.

Recalling Joseph Stalin’s remark that ‘one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic’, all the attention focused on Brittany Maynard may be serving the purpose for which she put her suffering self out there, to advance assisted suicide. But since it’s gone viral, it has also humanized the suffering of millions of others, and personalized them, too.

Just to recap this dramatic story,

Brittany is a beautiful young newlywed. Tragically, Brittany has a brain tumor that is expected to end her life in the near future. She and her family have moved to Oregon so she can legally take a doctor-prescribed lethal overdose, to avoid the suffering she expects as she approaches death.

Maynard has also joined with “Compassion and Choices” to promote their campaign to legalize physician-assisted suicide throughout the United States. In the last few weeks, C&C’s video telling her story has gone viral and been picked up by news organizations all over the world, including People magazine.

Groups supporting physician-assisted suicide now call the promotion of Ms. Maynard’s story “a tipping point” in their decades-long push to gain public support for changing laws.

That’s why this must be addressed and engaged.

So just to clarify, ‘Compassion and Choices’ is the very cleverly chosen name for the former Hemlock Society. They haven’t had a poster child for their cause of advancing the right to end life, your own or someone else’s (commit suicide or help kill someone else, to put it in raw but real terms) like Brittany Maynard and they are making the most of every minute she’s in the spotlight focusing attention on her right to die when she chooses.

But that attention going viral has forced the aggressive advocacy of assisted suicide and euthanasia into the news and the forum of social media. It’s about time.

Here are a few results, a fraction of what this story has generated in public reaction globally.

From the young Catholic seminarian with the same condition as Maynard.

I was diagnosed during my second Navy deployment to the Northern Arabian Gulf.  After many seizures, the ship’s doctor sent me to the naval hospital on the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain, where my brain tumor was discovered.  I remember the moment I saw the computer images of the brain scans – I went to the Catholic chapel on base and fell to the floor in tears.  I asked God, “why me?”  The next day, I flew home to the United States to begin urgent treatment.  A few months after radiation and chemotherapy, I was discharged from the Navy and began formation for the Roman Catholic priesthood, a vocation to which I have felt called since I was nineteen years old.

This is important to stay with a little longer.

I have lived through six years of constant turmoil, seizures, and headaches. I often changed hospitals and doctors every few months, seeking some morsel of hope for survival. Like Brittany, I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer the likely outcome of this disease. I do not think anyone wants to die in this way. Brittany states relief that she does not have to die the way that it has been explained that she would – she can die “on her own terms.” I have also consulted with my doctors to learn how my illness is likely to proceed. I will gradually lose control of my bodily functions at a young age, from paralysis to incontinence, and it is very likely that my mental faculties will also disappear and lead to confusion and hallucinations before my death. This terrifies me, but it does not make me any less of a person. My life means something to me, to God, and to my family and friends, and barring a miraculous recovery, it will continue to mean something long after I am paralyzed in a hospice bed. My family and friends love me for who I am, not just for the personality traits that will slowly slip away if this tumor progresses and takes my life.

Obviously, I have lived much longer than originally expected, and I attribute this to the support and prayers of others who have helped me to keep a positive outlook. I will never claim that I have dealt with my illness heroically or with great courage, no matter what others might observe or believe from my reserved disposition. I am shy and introverted, so I have not let many people become aware of the depth of my suffering. There have been times over the past six years that I wanted the cancer to grow and take my life swiftly so that it would all be over. Other times, I have sought forms of escape through sin and denial just to take my mind off of the suffering and sadness, even if only for a few moments. However, deep in my heart I know that this approach is futile. My illness has become a part of me, and while it does not define me as a person, it has shaped who I am and who I will become.

In Brittany’s video, her mother mentions that her immediate hope was for a miracle. My response to my diagnosis was the same – I hoped for a miraculous recovery so that I would not have to deal with the suffering and pain that was likely to come. However, I now realize that a “miracle” does not necessarily mean an instant cure. If it did, would we not die from something else later in our lives? Is there any reason that we deserve fifteen, twenty, or thirty or more years of life? Every day of life is a gift, and gifts can be taken away in an instant. Anyone who suffers from a terminal illness or has lost someone close to them knows this very well.

I have outlived my dismal prognosis, which I believe to be a miracle, but more importantly, I have experienced countless miracles in places where I never expected to find them. Throughout my preparation for the priesthood I have been able to empathize with the sick and suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. I have traveled to Lourdes, France, the site of a Marian apparition and a place of physical and spiritual healing that is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. I have had the great opportunity to serve the infirm there who trust in God with their whole hearts to make sense of their suffering. Through my interaction with these people, I received much more than I gave. I learned that the suffering and heartache that is part of the human condition does not have to be wasted and cut short out of fear or seeking control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Perhaps this is the most important miracle that God intends for me to experience.

Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take. As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others.

I just re-read his sincere expressions of hope and faith and encouragement, sharing his firsthand experiences for whatever good they may serve countless others, and I saw so much in this young man’s effort to reach Brittany Maynard and anyone else. He says a lot here.

So does this other young adult, this one a woman, who knows pain and suffering and the temptation to avoid it all. She’s passionate in her argument against the false narrative advanced by the assisted suicide movement.

Sometimes I can’t believe we’re having this argument, about autonomy over our lives, including when life itself should end. I shouldn’t be, in a culture that largely denies the transcendent and has no moral reference point, a culture ‘that acts as if God did not exist’, as Pope Benedict often cited.

Which is why Jessica Keating sees a culture afraid of suffering and death feeding into the drive to legalize assisted suicide as an early exit from potential pain.

Maynard’s narrative awakens our own slumbering fear of death’s arbitrary cruelness, as well as the suffering that can precede it.

The grammar of fear is suffused throughout this story. Yet I have come across relatively little in the media’s coverage of Brittany Maynard that even hints at the acute anxiety that bubbles to the surface each time she speaks of her disease…

“I’m dying, but I’m choosing to suffer less,” she says in explanation of her decision, “to put myself through less physical and emotional pain and my family as well.” Indeed, People reports, “Maynard says it’s easier to bear the pain now that she knows she is in control […] That’s left her space to make the most of her remaining days.”

Such assertions are shot through with contradiction. For all our planning, any one of us could die suddenly and tragically at any moment. But what I find more puzzling is the author’s assertion that an absolute sense of control over diminishment, suffering, and death gives meaning to one’s life and capacitates one for joy. Statements like the one found in People belie the insidious logic that Guroian observes in Life’s Living Toward Dying. “Secular moderns,” he writes, “cling to the belief that they can celebrate life at the same time they embrace a culture of death. Some argue that they can best embrace life by putting an end to the lives they no longer value” (17). To kill oneself is to say, at least implicitly, “I am better off dead because my life no longer has value.”

Maynard wants her death to be on her terms, as painless and as uncomplicated as possible; she wants to die comfortably in her own bed, surrounded by her family and friends, in control of her body and mind. We all want a death like this; indeed, Catholics petition for this kind of death every night in Compline when they pray, “Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.” This certainly includes a death without suffering, but it does not foreclose the possibility that a peaceful death may be a painful one. We need only look to the witness of the martyrs to see such a logic unfold. With the advance of medical technology and utilitarian idealism, however, it seems this may become for many the only kind of acceptable death. Unhinged from a scriptural and ecclesial imagination, the idea of a peaceful death has been reduced merely to the absence of pain, and a painless death has begun to chip away the value of a life with suffering. Likewise, death has begun to chip away at the value of life, and in this configuration death is easily commodified. If we can’t master death, at least we can control it, make it more efficient and convenient, and make it involve less suffering, less anguish.

For Catholics, how providential the timing that this planned event comes on the weekend that observes both the Feast of All Saints (countless of whom suffered indescribable pain and torture) and All Souls (ditto).

Seminarian Philip Johnson is as hopeful as anyone that Maynard may change her mind.

I will continue to pray for Brittany as she deals with her illness, as I know exactly what she is going through. I still get sad. I still cry. I still beg God to show me His will through all of this suffering and to allow me to be His priest if it be His will, but I know that I am not alone in my suffering. I have my family, my friends, and the support of the entire universal Church. I have walked in Brittany’s shoes, but I have never had to walk alone. Such is the beauty of the Church, our families, and the prayerful support that we give to one another.

May Brittany come to understand the love that we all have for her before she takes her own life, and that if she chooses instead to fight this disease, her life and witness would be an incredible example and inspiration to countless others in her situation. She would certainly be an inspiration to me as I continue my own fight against cancer.

And to countless others, those who have devoted days and weeks of prayer for her change of heart and mind, those who have suffered through what she has, or have lost loved ones who have, but stayed the course to the bittersweet end of a full life and natural death. I devoted part of a radio show to coverage of Maynard’s story with bioethics nurse Nancy Valko and didn’t even mention phone calls, but they came in anyway. One woman told, with shaken voice, of her daughter’s diagnosis of such a brain tumor, but not wanting to hear the prognosis nor consider how she might avoid pain and suffering. Another woman said it was her husband who suffered through this illness. Other callers shared their stories in the little time we had, and they each and all told the poignantly painful story of suffering as part of the drama of human life, each accompanied by the love of family and friends and faith that whatever purpose it all serves transcends what we can know.

They, and seminarian Philip Johnson, will be happy to hear the latest news is that Brittany Maynard has called off her assisted suicide. For now, anyway. She probably has no idea how many people are praying for her. Nor how much her face and name and personal story have become the ‘every patient’ story of those who suffer serious illness or diagnoses, and who have countless, faceless and nameless friends caring greatly for them, and praying for their health and peace.

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Oct 25

Authorities aren’t squarely facing the truth.

In all fairness, they may not know better, but they should. Tod Worner is a physician and writer whose blog posts cover mostly the life of the mind in literature and philosophy, the arts and culture, faith and reason. He’s been a guest on my radio show because of his intellectual gifts and skills, and engaging conversations that bring utterly refreshing clarity and charity (my catchphrase) to issues of the day, enhancing public discourse, or at least trying to contribute to that effort.

So on Saturday, this post appeared with that dreadful, ubiquitous photo of the Ebola strand set on a purple background and splashed all over big media, especially television news where they set it as the enlarged backdrop for the latest update and/or discussion panel on the virus and its spread and latest announced patient who tested positive for it. Coverage swings from the over the top alarming to the overly confident reassuring, and people are worried and afraid and want the truth.

Worner gets as close as anyone talking about it to what we can know at this point, and not know, and how to face that. This is a good post, an important one.

We crowded into a small room at my internal medicine clinic and looked at each other. Some decisions had to be made. Soon. We were charged to answer one fundamental question: What would we do if a patient suspected of having Ebola were to walk in our clinic door? As simple as it may seem, this is an incredibly complex question. It requires considering the well-being of the patient, the risk to other patients exposed to him (or her, but I will use him for simplification) in our waiting room, and the risks to medical and ancillary staff who are attending to him. We must concern ourselves with the risk of over-reaction as well as that of under-reaction. We need to consider the imperfect state of our understanding of the mode and ease of transmission. And we must recognize that risk and response changes daily with an ever-evolving national and international epidemic. Confronted with this question in that small room, to a person, there was sincere concern about the patient, earnest concern about personal safety and a clear sense that there is a lot of uncertainty about this virus and the epidemic that is unfolding day by day.  And yet, that has not been the message from the government leaders or the Centers for Disease Control. If anything, there has been an abundance of assurance.

Tod nails it here. Read the post if you can open that link. He cites exactly what authorities have said, voices in medicine and government (who don’t happen to be authorities on medicine, but presumably speak after consultation with them).

Then says this:

Now here’s the thing. I don’t want to give the impression that the existence, transmission and wicked deadliness of the Ebola virus is the fault of the President or his appointees. That would simply be unfair and ridiculous. Throughout history we have seen the ravaging effects of infections such as swine flu, polio, measles, rubella, small pox, HIV and syphilis irrespective of the governing leadership. Yet with stumbling feet we have found our way to vaccinations, HAART therapy and antibiotics that can prevent or manage these illnesses.

And while there are innumerable better decisions that could have been made in reaction to this crisis, it is what has been forgotten that is most damning. Sir William Osler, pioneering American physician and thinker, once claimed,

“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.”

Or in my words, medicine, like all endeavors touched by human hands, is rife with uncertainty and imperfection. Knowing this and admitting this is okay. The longer I have practiced medicine, the more I have come to appreciate why Hippocrates said what he said.

“First, do no harm.”

Because one of our greatest risks is to downplay uncertainty and believe in our own (or our system’s) perfection. Once we are overconfident in our understanding and our abilities – once we are not tempered by our inherent fallibility in practice and understanding – that is when we do the most damage. We become mindlessly dogmatic. That is when we become “frequently wrong, never in doubt.”

“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.” Which means we cannot be exact. We play odds. We hope, but aren’t completely sure.

So, with perfect cadence and interconnection, he cites a lecture given by Michael Osterholm, the former Minnesota State Epidemiologist and current Director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy of the University of Minnesota. And puts a link on that post, urging readers to listen to the actual lecture.

In it, Osterholm admits that after researching over 900 articles and studies on Ebola (and related viral hemorrhagic fevers), he feels he know even less about this Ebola outbreak than before. Why is this particular outbreak so deadly and persistent? Are we confident that it has no associated airborne transmission? Why do some people have fevers and others don’t? Why do some with high degrees of exposure remain healthy while some with personal protective equipment or minimal exposure get sick? Is it wise to presume all health care facilities can manage this illness?

If a bright epidemiologist who has engaged in a respectable amount of research on Ebola finds himself grappling with uncertainty regarding these fundamental questions, how much more does it generate further questions? For example, why, though imperfect, would a temporary travel ban from festering hot zones not be helpful? How do we know our criteria for illness is accurate (or even adequate) when it relies on fevers which numerous infected individuals simply do not have? Are we certain there is no respiratory (droplet or airborne) element to Ebola’s transmission? How much more draconian should we be regarding enforcement of quarantine when even physicians flagrantly disregard it?

By asking these questions, we are attempting to better understand this illness and improve our response to it. I mean, honestly, we know there are things we simply don’t know (known unknowns) and things we can’t even anticipate (unknown unknowns or catastrophic “black swan events”). Essentially, there is uncertainty. We also know that we can be flawed in our practice. There is imperfection. And while we seek to minimize uncertainty and imperfection, it will always be with us. To deny this is to fool no one. And to admit this is not to create willy-nilly, chicken little pandemonium. Perhaps, by treating people like adults, leveling with them, and openly seeking a constructive solution, confidence will be engendered and a certain (albeit nervous) peace will be maintained. It is arrogant, officious and disrespectful to do otherwise.

His conclusion was how his medical team wrapped up this session of brainstorming and collaboration, by establishing a well informed plan. And suggesting that government, at the very least, do the same.

This may be going on in hospitals and clinics across the country, and in organizations – government and otherwise – tasked with the public health. But we don’t know, and only have public pronouncements to go on. Let’s hope and pray such calm, professional and seriously reasoned preparedness as happened in Worner’s clinic is going on everywhere else.

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Oct 20

What most media didn’t cover, or cover well.

In the second week of the Synod on the Family that just wrapped up at the Vatican on Saturday, bishops and cardinals participating in this major two week event broke into their language groups and held daily meetings on the topics they considered most urgent, and addressed those that emerged in the notorious document days before. The press narrowed those down to ‘the Church’s stance on gays’, and ‘divorced and remarried Catholics’ and communion,while the working groups discussed so many more problems people are struggling with globally, and issued summaries revealing the depth and breadth of  those discussions. Keeping them off the record frustrated not a few of the participants.

Cardinal George Pell gave voice to those frustrations.

According to a report by Marco Tosatti in La Stampa (and translated on Fr. Z’s Blog), Cardinal Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, announced that the reports of the small working groups would not be made available to the public. Tosatti reported that this announcement was met with opposition from Cardinal Pell, and then “an avalanche from many others along the same line, underscored by thunderous applause.” Robert Royal, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, writes that Cardinal Pell “slammed his hand on the table and said, ‘You must stop manipulating this Synod.’”

Thanks to this reaction in the General Synod, which has been reported as a “revolt,” summaries of the small working groups’ interventions were posted by the Vatican press office. The English summaries reveal broad and deep dissatisfaction with the interim draft and plans to add substantial new text affirming the constant teaching of the Church “on the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ,” along with other “major amendments” and other small ones which, “nevertheless … have significant meaning attached to them” (Circulus Anglicus “A”).

It’s all here. Much of it is really quite beautiful. Like the English language round ‘B’, moderated by South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier. That group included five members from Africa, seven from Asia, and one each from Oceania, the United States and Europe. They felt strongly, they said, that the ‘relatio‘ (interim document reported all over the world’s media the week before) “ended up placing too much emphasis on the problems facing the family and did not stress the need to sufficiently provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures, strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation with the Church and society.”

The task of the extraordinary Synod was to draw up a picture of the family and of the challenges facing the pastoral activity of the Church in today’s complex and diverse world. Inevitably this meant that it would focus on problems and on some of he principal challenges of particular concern in the Church today.

However, the report of the Synod should go beyond a mere focus on the problems and the pathology of marriage and the family…Many in the group felt that a young person reading the Relatio [interim report] would if anything become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony. The Synod report and the message should direct itself towards young people, to help them understand and be attracted by the Christian vision of marriage and the family, in a world in which they are exposed to many contradictory visions…

The Church needs a radical renewal of its style of ministry to families. Marriage is a lifelong task [and] accompaniment [is] not limited to preparation for the wedding…

It’s important to not that the moderator for this session was one of two late additions Pope Francis made to the group that would draw up the final document for this Synod.

The “editorial committee” charged with writing the final report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family due today, was recently increased by two, when Pope Francis named Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (Durban, South Africa) and Archbishop Denis Hart (Melbourne, Australia) to the committee.

The choices of the two new committee members are interesting. Cardinal Napier, described as a traditionalist, had been outspoken in objecting to what he saw as African concerns being ignored by some at the Synod.

(As noted here and here.)

Archbishop Hart succeeded Cardinal Pell as the Cardinal Archbishop of Melbourne. The Cardinal has been viewed by many as leading the loyal opposition against attempts to modify or dilute settled teachings.

Confusion still exists over how the arguably most contentious section made its way into the interim report: the three paragraphs in a section still entitled “Welcoming Homosexual Persons” in the official Italian interim report. Father [Federico] Lombardi [Director of the Vatican Press Office] told reporters that the emphasis given to this topic in the Interim Report surprised him as “he recalled only one speech out of about 265 about gays during the debate” of the Synod’s first week.

This reflects the concern Pope Francis has expressed from the beginning of his pontificate for the “peripheries” of human existence, the far reaches of the world and the real life experiences of people living on the margins. It also very well may reveal his sensitivity to Cardinal Kasper’s remarks about the African contingent’s views on marriage as necessarily excluded or dismissed because of differing perceptions of relationships. The two additions were good picks.

In the English language groups, the summary labeled circular “C”, moderated by U.S. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was another exemplary summation of teaching and pastoral concern for the intricacies, difficulties, truth and beauty of marriage.

Marriage is a gift of God to man, a blessing Given by him for the well-being of His creatures, made in His image. From the beginning God ordained that it is not good for man to live alone and so he created a helpmate for him, one equal to him, that they may live in complementarity. This gift, this mystery of attraction and love between man and woman, was from earliest times recognized as coming from God. In the New Testament, the relationship between man and woman is deepened…and explained fully as mirroring the relationship between Christ and his Body, the Church.

All the working group summaries are worth reading over, especially given how misrepresented the Synod was in global media.

Pope Francis concluded the event with what is no doubt one of his finest, most important addresses delivered to date.

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

- One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

- The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

- The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

- The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

- The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

It’s going to be a very interesting, busy, and for some, an uncomfortable year of taking that message to heart, and to their home dioceses, adjusting to the reality that the Holy Father – as Pope Francis as done all along – is very keen on comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. No one can claim his favor rests on them, unless they seek and strive to serve the purposes he laid out in this speech and has emphasized since he became pope. They reconvene ‘with and under Peter’ – Francis as his successor – in a year. And the final word on how best the Church can obey and conform to the will of God, will come from him.

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Oct 13

What we’re hearing and reading is coming largely from the synod of the media.

Well before the official 2014 Vatican Synod on the Family began in Rome over the weekend of October 5th, it began in news stories, blog posts, Facebook comments and Twitter posts with rampant speculation based on advance publications and comments by some cardinals about the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce, re-marriage and communion, and homosexual relationships.

On the eve of the actual event, Rocco Palmo aptly noted the hoopla and reminded everyone to settle down.

Lest anyone got confused amid the spectacles in the gathering’s run-up, most of what’s transpired until now doesn’t mean terribly much – dueling Europeans and North Americans do not a Synod make… nor, for that matter, a universal church, either.

At the Mass opening it all, after reflections on the Gospel about cultivating the vineyard, Francis said this:

We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the vineyard of the Lord. The Synodal assemblies don’t serve to discuss beautiful or original ideas, or to see who’s the most intelligent one… They serve to care for and maintain better the Lord’s vineyard, to cooperate in his dream, in his project of love for his people. In this case, the Lord asks us to take on ourselves the care of the family, which from its origins is an integral part of his design of love for humanity. (emphasis added)

We are all sinners, eh?, and for us too there can be the temptation of “seizing upon” the vineyard, born of the greed that’s never lacking in us humans. The dream of God always clashes with the hypocrisy of some among his servants. We can “frustrate” the dream of God if we don’t let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the wisdom that is apart from science, to work generously with true freedom and humble creativity.

Brothers of the Synod, to care for and guard well the vineyard, we need for our hearts and minds to be guarded in Christ Jesus, from whom comes “peace from God which is beyond all understanding”…

However, frustrations have abounded at times in the first week, and factions have claimed the Holy Spirit is either working anew in this Synod or missing from it, which is a reiteration of old arguments from Vatican II.

Even after Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI dedicated their entire pontificates to finally realizing the teachings of that council, after decades of those same old arguments. With Benedict still living on the grounds within the walls of the Vatican, sometimes enjoying the visits of Francis who comes to confer with him, one wonders what he’s thinking of these proceedings.

To come up to speed, here are some of the best updates at the start of the second and final week for now of this extraordinary event.

This post explains things rather clearly, especially the nature of the closed sessions which shut out all media access, leading to the abundance of speculation.

Pope Francis gave a very clear indication of the method the synod should follow: bishops should speak frankly. Without any reverential fear. Even without being afraid of not coinciding with the Pope’s own opinion. The synodal fathers, instead, have opted for confidentiality. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, warned them, «You can speak with whomever you want, but your texts are the synod’s property.» One bishop underlined that «we also had to commit to keep the discussion confidential. We can speak about the topics we have addressed during the assembly, and also give our impressions, but we cannot give out the names of the people who have spoken.»

This is the reason why very little is known about the discussions in the synod. Reading the media, it seems the synod is a sort of referendum on Catholic divorce, or at least on the access to Communion for divorced remarried. The temptation to divide in categories (progressives against conservatives) is quite strong. Left in the about discussions in the synod, the media looks for contrasts that, it seems, bear no correspondence to what is actually taking place in the Synodal Hall.

What is reportedly happening in the synodal hall sometimes even includes boring discussions.

Judging from media reports about eruptions over doctrine and pastoral practice, they’re not reporting on the real Synod.

In the background, one can read the eternal debate about a Church that must spread a message and the way the Church presents this message to the world…

Until now, the media has somewhat led the discussion on the family. The absence of any texts on the interventions of the synodal fathers, the impossibility of knowing who said what, undermines rather than stimulates the discussions. It is then easy for the media to take the lead of the conversation…

The point that the crisis of the family represents the crisis of Catholicism….This same crisis that Pope Francis rightly identified as a central issue…

The risk is that of making of the synod more than what it is, by describing it in political terms which are alien to it; presenting it as a struggle that in fact is lost in nuances; or by expecting changes to the doctrine.

These are false expectations. The synod is a consultative body, not a deliberative one. It does not decide on doctrine.

And that’s a key point missed in the secular media. This two week session is a closed door exchange, a listening session, and nothing will be changed in the process.

That’s a dramatic counter-narrative to the Monday headlines found everywhere that an ‘earthquake’ was happening in Rome at the Synod. Not so, reports my friend Kathryn Jean Lopez, accurately.

Commenting on some of the headlines covering the synod on the family and the working summary document that was released and discussed today, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan emphasized that doctrine isn’t being changed in Rome right now.

On his weekly radio show, Dolan was joined Fr. Jonathan Morris from the Archdiocese of New York and Nigeria’s Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama — who has some choice words for Western insistence that aid be contingent on adopting Western sexual mores. Kaigama stressed the fact that it is but a mere conversation and one that will be ongoing for a year. “We were just looking at it!,” he said. “A draft is a draft. It’s a draft; draft means you are still working on it.” somewhat perplexed by media reaction, and that it was even released “I wonder what that is going to achieve,” he said.

Kaigama has been such a needed, clarifying voice in this world body of church leaders, helping the West to think outside our borders.

The synod is not a referendum. We’re not here to vote on this, on that. It’s a discussion, a conversation about our faith. And it is a year-long conversation because we are having another synod in October next year. What we decide or talk about now is also going to be part of what we shall talk about in a year’s time. So there’s nothing definitive that is going to be issued from this synod in the sense that this is the law, this is the doctrine, we change all the doctrines, change everything. No, no, I don’t think that is the aim of this synod. It is about talking.”

And listening. And exchanging freely the ideas about how best to reach people in the modern world, wherever they are, on the peripheries or in the mainstream, with a message of love and mercy and justice. Kathryn Lopez seized the media language of ‘mercy and justice’ leading to an ‘earthquake’ of rupture in Church teaching on marriage and divorce and related issues, and deftly wove it into this.

The most unfortunate headline of the day so far about news out of Rome on a working document that has been released by the ongoing synod on the family in Rome might have been this one from NBC: “Vatican Synod Told Gays Have Gifts and Qualities.” Our very lives are gifts and did anyone really need to be told that any person has qualities?

More than qualities, they are made in the image and likeness of God: that is our common identity.

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

That was from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

But there is an obvious difference in the language being used in the draft from the synod on the family that was released today. The working draft reflects the fact that it is 2014 and we have some real pastoral challenges and obstacles to evangelization. How do you overcome them? With a language, with gestures that are inviting people to Church teaching. With a language that acknowledges that same-sex marriage didn’t break marriage, decades of practical surrender to the sexual revolution did.

As with when Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge?,” for the world to finally begin to hear that Catholic Church teaching is really truly rooted in love, is a tremendous opportunity. The misunderstandings that are legion will be clarified if people have real-life and cultural exposure to Catholics living loving witness to the Gospel, living according to Church teaching and finding joy in it.

This will be a very interesting week, as the synod continues these sessions and wraps up. Plenty more to come.

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Oct 08

“One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.”

Gems of wisdom.

Who is speaking with such bold clarity, and to whom? Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, to a Vatican press briefing during a break in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

What he said is compelling.

We are confronted with some issues, and sometimes [they are] quite perplexing. We recently had a big conference on pro-life issues, and in that conference, we came out very clearly to ascertain the fact that life is sacred, marriage is scared, and the family has dignity.

We get international organizations, countries, and groups which like to entice us to deviate from our cultural practices, traditions, and even our religious beliefs. And this is because of their belief that their views should be our views. Their opinions and their concept of life should be ours.

We say, “No we have come of age.” Most countries in Africa are independent for 50, 60, 100 years. We should be allowed to think for ourselves. We should be able to define: What is marriage? What makes the family? When does life begin? We should have answers to those [questions].

We are wooed by economic things. We are told, “If you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much.” And we tell them, “Who tells you that our population is overgrown?” In the first place, children die — infant mortality — we die in inter-tribal wars, and diseases of all kinds. And yet, you come with money to say, “Decrease your population; we will give you economic help.”

Now you come to tell us about reproductive rights, and you give us condoms and artificial contraceptives. Those are not the things we want. We want food, we want education, we want good roads, regular light, and so on. Good health care.

We have been offered the wrong things, and we are expected to accept simply because they think we are poor. And we are saying poverty is not about money. One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.

So we are not poor in that sense. We may be poor materially but we are not poor in every sense. So we say no to what we think is wrong. And time has gone when we would just follow without question. Now, we question. We evaluate. We decide. We ask questions. This is what we do in Africa now.

Reading that, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Where are we hearing such strong voices of clarity and conviction these days?

This is an important voice and message, and we need to pay it respectful attention. Note what Vatican analyst George Weigel said in this piece ahead of the Synod.

The collapse of marriage culture throughout the world is indisputable. More and more marriages end in divorce, even as increasing numbers of couples simply ignore marriage, cohabit, and procreate. The effort to redefine “marriage” as what we know it isn’t, and to enforce that redefinition by coercive state power, is well-advanced in the West. The contraceptive mentality has seriously damaged the marriage culture, as have well-intentioned but ultimately flawed efforts to make divorce easier. The sexual free-fire zone of the West is a place where young people find it very hard to commit to a lifelong relationship that inevitably involves sacrificing one’s “autonomy.” And just as the Christian understanding of marriage is beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it is experienced as a liberating dimension of the Gospel, European theologians from dying local churches are trying to empty marriage of its covenantal character, reducing it to another form of contract.

The Christian understanding of marriage, which is the understanding of a sacramental covenant between man and woman is “beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it it experienced as”…what?…liberating. Imagine that.

It’s time the West becomes aware of and comes to terms with what we – through any number of proxies – have been exporting to Africa and other developing countries.

This Washington Post interview with Bill Gates is revealing.

Ezra Klein: Your letter talks a lot about the myth that aid will just lead to new problems through overpopulation. I was a bit surprised to read you focusing on it. Are fears around overpopulation an impediment in your day-to-day work?

BG: It’s a huge impediment in convincing rich-world donors that they should feel good about these health improvements. Our foundation focused in the 1990s on reproductive health. We weren’t nearly as big then. But we wanted to make contraception available because we thought population growth would make everything so difficult, whether it’s the environment or feeding kids or stability. It was only when we found out about this phenomenal connection between improved health and reduced population growth that we felt: Great, let’s just make the foundation as big as possible to go after these health problems. Because before then the commonsense thing was more kids would make these problems less tractable.

I don’t think people like to say out loud that we want to let these kids die because there are too many of them. But by choosing not to get into health in our early days I was a victim of the myth around overpopulation.

And here we are today:

An African archbishop attending the worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops frankly criticized Western attitudes toward his continent Wednesday, lambasting imposition of foreign cultures on African people.

Africans “have come of age,” said Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. “We should be allowed to think for ourselves.”

“We are wooed by economic things,” said Kaigama, who heads Nigeria’s Jos archdiocese. “We are told if you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much. And we tell them, ‘Who tells you that our population is overgrown?’”

Good. Question.

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Oct 07

Maybe it’s the vortex of the perfect storm.

God knows, marriage and family, and therefore society, have been in crisis over these past years and that cultural breakdown has wrought great damage to individuals and societies. What are the factors behind it all? How do we get marriage right and serve the fundamental institution of the family on which a healthy and thriving culture is based? Competing views of both marriage and family have been going at it for decades, and that battle (I hate the pugilistic terminology these days, but it’s more a battle than a struggle) has escalated in the past few years faster and more furiously than before. The stakes are so high. For civilization.

So we arrive at a confluence of events this week.

Pope Francis convened an Extraordinary Synod on the Family at the Vatican over the weekend, an unusual event in the life of the Catholic Church. It didn’t as much  launch as continue a multi-year concentration of energies and focus on problems and issues in modern culture that required something far bigger and more momentous than a symposium, or a written document, a declaration of sorts. Here’s why.

The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning the family, the vital building-block of society and the ecclesial community. Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family in this context been more urgent and necessary.

(emphasis added)

Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right.

Which precisely gets to the marriage redefinition movement that has very successfully built momentum with high profile support and endorsements from celebrities in Hollywood, media, sports, politics, academia, the arts, and the culture at large. The movement to redefine marriage in law has claimed marriage as a human right, a new rendering of an ancient institution, recognized by government up to the recent past as one the State has an interest in preserving and upholding as a union of one man and one woman.

So fast forward past years of litigation in the courts, to the decision by the High Court on Monday, as the Supreme Court opened its new session. It shocked just about everyone. Its effect is being celebrated by proponents as so sweeping, it “could signal the inevitability of the right of same-sex marriage nationwide”, as the New York Times reported it. The Christian Science Monitor called it a ‘Supreme Mystery.’

Why didn’t the US Supreme Court agree to hear any of the seven petitions urging the justices to settle the contentious debate over same-sex marriage?

Speculation abounds.

The justices offered no hint of an answer in Monday’s orders list. The document unceremoniously announced that petitions from each of the cases from five different states had been denied…

It is even more puzzling because the Supreme Court had several times earlier this year issued stays to block orders by lower courts that sought to immediately allow same-sex couples to marry in states where a ban was struck down. Why would the justices seek to preserve the status quo for several months only to apparently change their mind now?

Sometimes justices who believe the court should decide a particular case will file a dissent and explain to the public why the court should take up the case. Nothing like that was presented on Monday.

And therein lies a clue as to what happened in this decision. It’s just one idea, but an insightful one, by Ed Whelan.

For what it’s worth, here’s my theory explaining yesterday’s order denying review in the SSM cases:

One or more of the three conservative justices who might most be expected to object to denial—that is, Scalia, Thomas, or Alito—instead concluded that denial was the best course. Why? Because that justice (or those justices) became convinced that Kennedy was beyond persuasion and that he was a certain fifth vote to invent a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. On that understanding, the least-worst option would be to deny review and thus (for the time being, at least) prevent the Supreme Court from placing its formal imprimatur on the developments below.

(Meaning those that came out of the lower courts, which they by necessity would have had to review and decide in the High Court.)

I think that this is the only theory that adequately explains why none of these three justices publicly registered a dissent. In particular, I don’t think that a competing theory—that the Chief Justice voted to deny but that Scalia, Thomas, and Alito all voted to grant—can explain the absence of a public dissent.

I don’t think that there’s any difficulty explaining why the four liberals would go along with the denial. Even if they’re equally confident of Kennedy, it’s much easier from their perspective to let the lower courts do the spadework and to intervene only if and when a court rules against a constitutional SSM right.

It makes sense. Whelan seems to offer the only – or best – plausible explanation for this stunning decision. There will be consequences, as we know already.

Which gets back to the Synod at the Vatican, dedicated to healing the world of hurt over ruptures in societies and civilization in this historic turning point. Vatican expert George Weigel (another EPPC scholar, like Whelan) posted a heartfelt request for a Synod of Affirmation. Weigel gets to the point, a couple of them in fact.

The collapse of marriage culture throughout the world is indisputable. More and more marriages end in divorce, even as increasing numbers of couples simply ignore marriage, cohabit, and procreate. The effort to redefine “marriage” as what we know it isn’t, and to enforce that redefinition by coercive state power, is well-advanced in the West. The contraceptive mentality has seriously damaged the marriage culture, as have well-intentioned but ultimately flawed efforts to make divorce easier. The sexual free-fire zone of the West is a place where young people find it very hard to commit to a lifelong relationship that inevitably involves sacrificing one’s “autonomy.” And just as the Christian understanding of marriage is beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it is experienced as a liberating dimension of the Gospel, European theologians from dying local churches are trying to empty marriage of its covenantal character, reducing it to another form of contract.

Rome, we have a problem.

Pope Francis understands the crisis of marriage culture in its multiple dimensions, just as he understands that the family, which begins in marriage, is a troubled institution in the post-modern world; that’s why he’s summoned two Synods on the topic of the family. And that’s why the Synod, fully aware of the gravity of the situation, should begin, continue, and end on a positive note, offering the world a pearl of great price: the Christian understanding and experience of marriage.

The Synod discussion, in other words, should take the crisis of marriage and the family as a given and then lift up Christian marriages, lived faithfully and fruitfully, as the answer to that crisis. The Synod should begin with what is good and true and beautiful about Christian marriage and Christian family life, and show, by living examples, how that truth, goodness, and beauty respond to the deepest longings of the human heart for solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love.

It’s quite obvious that the Church faces real pastoral challenges in dealing with broken marriages and their results. But to begin the discussion of marriage and the family in the twenty-first century there is to begin at the wrong end of things. For it is only within the truth-about-marriage, which was given to the Church by the Lord himself, that compassionate and truthful solutions to those pastoral problems can be found.

This is only the middle of week one of two weeks of this Extraordinary Synod on marriage and the family. And just two days after the Supreme Court decision not to decide the marriage questions. Stay tuned, these are interesting times.

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