Once Upon a Time in Political Landscape Far Far Away

In the video below Fr. Robert Barron ponders the passing of Edward Kennedy.  He recalls a time, in an era far different from our own that Ted Kennedy was pro-life and that he gave one of the finer defenses for the rights of the unborn child that has been articulated. Here is that quote and then follows the video.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, [D-Mass.], in a letter to a constituent, August 3, 1971
“While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grown old.

“I share the confidence of those who feel that America is working to care for its unwanted as well as wanted children, protecting particularly those who cannot protect themselves. I also share the opinions of those who do not accept abortion as a response to our society’s problems — an inadequate welfare system, unsatisfactory job training programs, and insufficient financial support for all its citizens.

“When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

For the record, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton and Richard Gephardt were all in the pro-life camp once upon a time in a galaxy far far away. You can read some pro-life quotes from them HERE

Conversion Story and What We Can Learn About Evangelization

 Time Magazine  recently featured a story by Amy Sullivan on the Conversion of Newt Gingrich to Catholicism along with references to the conversion of other well-known individuals. I thought I might present excerpts for the article along with my own commentary in RED.  By the way, I am aware that a figure like Newt Gingrich arouses strong feelings from both sides of the political spectrum. The focus in this post is not on politics, but on the path to Catholicism of several prominent individuals and what we can learn from their stories. Here then follows the Time article and my comments.

Visitors to the Basilica of the National Shrine in northeast Washington often do a double take when they see Newt Gingrich and his familiar shock of white hair slip into a pew for the noon Mass on Sundays. The former Speaker of the House is known for many things, but religious zeal is not one of them. In fact, the social conservatives who fueled his Republican revolution in 1994 often complained about Gingrich’s lack of interest in issues like abortion or school prayer. (I remember these concerns well).

This past spring, however, after several decades as a nominal Southern Baptist, Gingrich converted to Catholicism. With the fervor of a convert, he has embraced the role of defending both his new faith and religious liberty. In his 2006 book Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich lambasted what he calls the “secular effort to reject any sense of a spiritual life as mattering.” …

American Catholicism has been losing members at a remarkable rate; an April 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report found that for every person who joins the Catholic Church, four others leave. (I do not agree with this characterization of the Pew data. It is true that last year for the first time there were fewer Catholic in this country than the year before. But that is the first year that the number ever went negative. The number of Catholics has actually increased in every year prior to last year. What HAS decreased is the number of Catholics who practice their faith by attending Mass each Sunday. That number has dropped from over 80% in the 1950s to 27% this past year. I read the Pew Study and saw no data that support the statement that 4 Catholics leave the Church for every one who enters it. That seems a great exaggeration and, even if true, would only apply to last year. It is true that there are A LOT of former Catholics in this country but that is because we are so big in the first place (ca 70 million). Thus, even if a small percentage of Catholics leave it still a large number)  

But a steady stream of high-profile political conservatives have bucked this trend by converting in the past decade, including columnist Robert Novak, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and CNBC host Larry Kudlow.  Unlike Evangelicals, for whom conversion is often an emotional, born-again experience, Catholic converts tend to make more of a considered decision to join a theological and intellectual tradition. “Conservatives are especially receptive to the promise of there being some capital-T truth that one can embed one’s convictions in,” says Damon Linker, a former editor of the Catholic journal First Things.  Gingrich describes the appeal of Catholicism for him in just these terms. “When you have 2,000 years of intellectual depth surrounding you,” he told me on a recent summer morning, “it’s comforting…. (It is true, Catholicism is a thoughtful faith. We have a long and varied intellectual tradition that stretches back right to the time of Jesus himself. Futher, we exist in every part of the world. This combination of space and time have permitted the Church to develop a very sophisticated and thoughtful intellectual tradition. This ALSO presents challenges for the Church however. In an age that favors sound-bytes, quick answers, and simple solutions, the often nuanced and thoughtful Catholic tradition is sometimes hard to proclaim and the modern media age tunes out  quickly. For a faith that makes careful distinctions like ours, it is a special challenge to present simple answers to complex questions in a way that respects our thoughtfulness but does not seem remote and technical. It can be done but it is difficult in the current age of the sound byte).

Catholicism offers Gingrich not just a strong religious tradition and community. It also gives him peace at home. His wife Callista is a lifelong Catholic who sings in the basilica’s professional choir. After the two married in 2000, Gingrich found himself dragged to church whenever they traveled–“she’s adamant that we go to Mass”–and started attending services at the basilica to hear Callista sing. (Pay attention folks. It is usually a connection to the faith via family or friends that brings people to Church. Perhaps the most fruitful field for evangelization is in our own family. With 70% of Catholics having fallen away, we have a bumper crop sitting at our own dinner tables. Further, over 40% of Catholics marry a  non-Catholic. This too provides the basis for a lot of conversions. Are you evangelizing your own family?)

It’s not surprising that a man of Gingrich’s ambitions would be drawn to the grandeur of worship at the basilica. Incense hangs in the air as the choir’s descant reverberates off the highly polished walls of the Greek-style interior. “Isn’t it just beautiful?” Gingrich asks. “That’s part of what happened to me.” (Her husband, Callista says, is an enthusiastic but limited singer: “He makes a joyful noise.”) (Pay attention again. Beauty is in service of the truth. Our liturgies should inspire faith and reflect its beauty. Liturgy well and enthusiastically celebrated is also a powerful way to evangelize. How are the liturgies in your parish. Do they show forth beauty and faith? This goes a long way to inspire conversion).

Gingrich prepared for his conversion with Monsignor Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector. Because the institution is not a parish church, Gingrich’s baptism took place at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill, where Robert Kennedy attended morning Mass when he served in the Senate. Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl performed the ceremony, with his predecessor Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in attendance.

He may march to the beat of St. Peter these days, but Newt is still Newt. “I don’t think of myself as intensely religious,” he says. Asked about Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the first economic and social statement of his papacy, Gingrich admits he hasn’t yet read the whole thing but opines that the parts he has examined are “largely correct.” And before Mass one July Sunday, Gingrich took a seat near the aisle and bowed his head. But he wasn’t praying. Instead, the famously voracious reader was sneaking in a few pages of a novel until the service began.( 🙂 Well OK, there is still room for improvement! But isn’t that our own story as well. Conversion is not so much an event, it is a process. We make a beginning with the Lord. Through the  sacraments and the liturgy the Lord continues to minister to us and, if we are faithful, little by little we are transformed, we become more intense, more trusting, more faithful, more loving and so forth. An old gospel song says, “I’m not what I want be but I’m not what I used to be!” May God bring to completion the good work he has begun in us! Remember: we never stop evangelizing others and we never stop being evangelized. Keep your hand on the plow – Hold on!)

Things We Can Learn From Dogs

I grew up with dogs. Dogs, generally speaking, have a great outlook on life. This list is an oldie on the internet but, if you haven’t read it, it is really rather instructive. Dogs DO have a lot to teach us. God teaches us not only out of the Bible but in creation. In that spirit here are

Fifteen Things We can Learn from Dogs:

  • 1. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
  • 2. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • 3. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • 4. Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
  • 5. Take naps and stretch before rising.
  • 6. Run, romp, and play daily.
  • 7. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
  • 8. Be loyal.
  • 9. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • 10. When someone is having a bad day, be silent. Sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
  • 11. Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • 12. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • 13. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • 14. No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout…. run right back and make friends
  • 15. Delight in the simple joys of a long walk.

And here is one of the most amazing videos I have ever seen. It’s about “Faith the two legged dog”:

The Pope and the President

Below is some remarkable “raw footage” of the President’s visit at the Vatican yesterday (July 10) First a brief article:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama arrived at the Vatican on Friday for his first meeting with Pope Benedict and what the White House says will be frank discussions on issues they agree and disagree on.

Obama arrived at the Vatican under tight security from the central city of L’Aquila, where he participated in the G8 summit. Much of the area around the Vatican was blocked off and cell phone coverage was jammed as his motorcade passed.

Obama was driven up to the San Damaso courtyard at the base of the apostolic palace where he was greeted by an honor guard of the Swiss Guard in full regalia Michelle Obama and their children Malia and Sasha were given a private tour of St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

So what did the Pope say? Among other things he delivered a strong pro-life message to the President. Here is an excerpt from John Allen’s Article:

Pope Benedict XVI today used his first-ever meeting with President Barack Obama to deliver a strong pro-life message, even pointedly offering President Obama a copy of a recent Vatican document on bioethics. In effect, Benedict made clear that he backs the American bishops in their challenge to President Obama over matters like abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Is the Pope A Democrat?

It is not unusual for people who read encyclicals from a political viewpoint or to read a political viewpoint in to them.  Such is surely the case with the latest Encyclical by Pope Benedict Caritas in Veritate.  Clearly, it touches on the the much debated issue of social justice. While Church teaching in this matter isn’t all that complicated, the method of implementing it is debated. Should the poor be cared for by expansive Government programs, or by initiatives based more in the private sector? How are private property rights balanced with the universal destination of all goods? And so forth.

Some in the media see Caritas in Veritate as largely an affirmation of what we Americans would call Democratic (Party) social policies.  Some lament this fact, others celebrate it. But honestly do you really think the Pope means to speak in such simple categories? As with most encyclicals the Pope (especially this one) speaks with careful nuance and balance which is often missed by the sound byte oriented media. The Pope is speaking from Catholic Social Teaching which has a trajectory and history well removed from American Politics. We need to be careful not to over simplify the Pope here.

Just to show how two authors (both conservative) come away with different impressions look at the following two quotes.

There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation — a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work. And another Justice and Peace favorite — the creation of a “world political authority” to ensure integral human development — is revisited, with no more insight into how such an authority would operate….It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Catholic Church why the Roman Curia places such faith in this fantasy of a “world public authority,” given the Holy See’s experience in battling for life, religious freedom, and elementary decency at the United Nations. …. The incoherence of the Justice and Peace sections of the new encyclical is so deep, and the language in some cases so impenetrable, that what the defenders of Populorum Progresio may think to be a new sounding of the trumpet is far more like the warbling of an untuned piccolo. George Weigel In National Review Online

To be fair, Weigel also finds thing to praise in the new Encyclical. Yet still it is clear that he struggles with what he sees as a big Government solution.

But now consider another reflection from the Catholic League that takes away a rather different notion from the Encyclical:

The best way to serve the poor, according to the pope, is not to create bureaucratic monstrosities that cripple the dignity of the indigent. “By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, [the principle of] subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” Similarly, the pope admonishes us not to promote “paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.” In other words, the tried and failed, dependency-inducing welfare programs that mark the social policy prescriptions of the poverty industry are seen by the pope as a disaster. Not exactly what those who work for HHS want to hear. Statement by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

So here is the point. Be careful about simply accepting what one author or group says about how to understand this encyclical. It is carefully written and nunaced, based in a long tradition of Catholic Social teaching which cannot be said simply to affirm one or another political party here in the USA. Our is not the world the Pope lives in nor is it the template with which he thinks. We cannot reduce Papal teaching merely to American political categories. The Pope is Catholic

What Gift is The President Giving the Pope?

The Following article answers the question. Pray today for both our Pope and our President. May their meeting please Jesus Christ.

BALTIMORE (CNS) — During President Barack Obama’s July 10 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he will present the pope with a stole that was placed on the remains of St. John Neumann. “It’s a delight that something of one of our Redemptorist saints would be given to our Holy Father,” said Father Patrick Woods, provincial of the Redemptorists’ Baltimore province. “We’re delighted as Americans that our president is visiting the Holy Father and delighted that something belonging to our province would be given to him.” Father Woods said in a statement that the stole was an appropriate gift because it symbolizes the priesthood that was “at the heart of St. John Neumann’s life as a Redemptorist.” He also said the stole, placed on the saint who had worked extensively with immigrants, was symbolic of the new wave of immigration in the United States and the Redemptorists’ continued service to these groups. A stole is a long, narrow strip of cloth worn around the neck by a priest or bishop as part of his liturgical vestments. St. John Neumann, Philadelphia’s fourth bishop, is enshrined in a glass casket under an altar at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. New vestments have been placed on his remains four times since his 1860 death — in 1903, 1962, 1989 and 2008.

Latest Catholic News

This news segment is from CATHOLIC TV.com. Among the issues covered here is Pope Benedict’s address concluding the year of St. Paul. Also extensive coverage of the Pope’s announcement concerning findings on the Tomb of St. Paul. Further – Do you have “adult faith?” Find out what this means and if YOU have it.