January 31, 2008
The Feast of St. John Bosco
Here is a brief homily presented today on the feast Saint John Bosco given at Boston College to a congregation of students, folks from the local community, and several Jesuits.
Saint John Bosco
2 Samuel 7:18-19, 24-29
“Who am I, Lord, and who are the members of my house?” This was a question that would not leave David. Who was he—the youngest of a many sons, the one deemed insignificant, and yet the one anointed by God to be the king of His people. David built a house for God where His people would come and worship Him. Why, because the people would know the truth of God and His word that is truth.
In a sense, John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian Order, followed in David’s footsteps. Like David, St. John Bosco’s youth spoke of insignificance and humility, and like David, he, too, was destined to do great things for God. John was a talented boy, and he did not let the extreme poverty of his family interfere with his destiny prepared by God. In his early priesthood, John Bosco came to understand that there were other poor boys who needed help to become good disciples of Christ. So he took to tutoring poor children. A few at first, but then the numbers grew and so did those who came to help John Bosco. Perhaps with the model of the “oratory” of St. Philip Neri in mind, St. John established one and then a few small “oratories” to instruct these impoverished children in the ways of God and the ways of the world. Lessons in the catechism, confessions, Mass, and cultivating skills needed for the trades were the enterprises in which St. John Bosco found himself. The number of children who were the beneficiaries of his education of the heart, mind, hands, and soul went from one to the hundreds in quick succession.
By the time St. John died in 1888, there were well over two hundred such “oratories” in all parts of the world that were sending forth young workers for the vineyards of the world and of the Lord. The rule he wrote for the schools that he and other Salesians established was this: “Frequent confession, frequent Communion, and daily Mass!”
Don Bosco and the Salesians took to heart and practiced Jesus’s exhortation in Mark’s Gospel: a lamp is not brought into a dark recess and covered but placed out in the open where it will do good!
But this work of bringing Christ’s light into the world is not only for the Salesians, it is for us all who follow Jesus the Christ in the discipleship we share through our baptism. For those of us who are Jesuits and those who labor with us, we were recently reminded of this joyful responsibility by Cardinal Rodé (in his homily at the opening Mass of the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus) when he recalled that our work must be eminently apostolic with a universal human, ecclesial and evangelical fullness. It must always be carried out in the light of our Jesuit Charism—which is the light of Christ and his Church universal.
We are asked to place this light where it is needed most—and reflecting on the world of today, there are many places where this need is great! As Cardinal Rodé again reminded us, the Church is waiting for this light so that the sensus Ecclesiae may be restored and reanimated—and in this fashion, where more is needed, more will be given. Not by acts solely determined by ourselves but by the guidance of the love of Christ that we bear, with St. John Bosco, that is the true and only light capable of dispelling the darkness of our world.
St. John Bosco, pray for us!
Larry Joseph, law prof at St. John's and acclaimed poet, has a book review in the new issue of Commonweal that is well worth reading ... here.
Are You a Christian? A Catholic?
In the Times Literary Supplement, January 18, 2008, Anthony Kenny reviews John Hare's God and Immortality: A Philosophical History (Oxford 2007). (John Hare, himself a philosopher, is son of the acclaimed Bristish philosopher R. M. Hare.) The review, More Than a Game, appears on page 26. I thought this excerpt in particular would be of interest:
To be sure, in one of the most interesting sections of the book, the author reveals the existence of an unpublished text of his father’s, “An Essay on Monism”, written while R. M. Hare was a prisoner of war working on the Burma-Thailand railway. This was profoundly religious, and argued that without faith in God, philosophy can never be a serious occupation, only a game.
R. M. Hare himself, however, never published this essay, and in his late works religion makes only fleeting appearances. There is no entry for “God” in the index of his book The Language of Morals. What remained of the earlier faith, to judge by the published works, was a conviction that the world was such as to make morality viable, which could perhaps be called faith in providence. Throughout his life, his son tells us, Hare attended Anglican worship regularly and used to recite the creeds. In my own discussions with him, I found it hard to tell how far he accepted the content of those creeds. To those who asked him if he was a Christian, his standard response was “I don’t know. I’ll tell you what I believe, and then you tell me whether you count me a Christian or not”.
In the most recent issue of the Tulsa Law Review, Judge (and Professor) John Noonan has an article that "was adapted from remarks given at the Constitutional Day Lecture, University of Tulsa College of Law, Tulsa, Oklahoma, on September 20, 2006." The title & citation: The Religion of the Justice: Does It Affect Constitutional Decision Making?, 42 Tulsa Law Review 761 (2007). Read it!
Here are three excerpts:
"Brennan’s language in Eisenstadt on reproductive freedom was subsequently the foundation of Roe v. Wade, in which he joined. I have not understood how a Catholic or any judge who was guided by the terms of the Constitution could conscientiously do so. But obviously Catholic consciences differ. Brennan in Roe showed that they can differ on abortion. It is not, I think, the business of anyone to judge the conscience of another." 
"It is true that on the moral legitimacy of the death penalty Catholic teaching has changed. Once accepting it as a necessary prerogative of government, the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II has taught that death can only be imposed in rare circumstances and not at all if the defendant can be securely imprisoned. There is a certain hesitancy in the teaching, whose logic leads to the conclusion that a state-sponsored execution is state-sponsored homicide; the pope and bishops do not denounce the government as guilty of murder but only plead for clemency. The doctrinal development is not complete. Yet I am glad never to have had to face a case where my vote would have confirmed the death sentence.
Justice Scalia, who seems reluctant to recognize the doctrinal change, has written that if it has really occurred, all Catholic judges should resign as incapable of carrying out the law. I read that statement as a rhetorical move. A federal judge rarely is asked to impose or to uphold a sentence of death. If the judge is conscientiously convinced that any taking of human life cannot be justified it is, I believe, his duty to disqualify himself if the law requires imposition of death. I do not think that a rare recusal carries with it a declaration of incompetence to function as a judge ninety-nine percent of the time." (766-67)
"Frankly, I find it difficult to understand the trust put in conscience when its theological roots are cut. (I do not doubt the sincerity of the conscientious atheist—only his explanation for his certainty.) But as long as there is a consensus that conscience is key, I will no more quarrel with another’s understanding of its power than I would judge the conscience of another. From my perspective, it is this conviction at one’s inner core, uniting principles and experience and empathy, that counts most in judging. It is here that the religion of the judge—not just this or that particular precept but the whole thrust of the judge’s commitment to God—can make a difference. To measure that difference, however, belongs not to any human but to God. " (770)
On St. Augustine's Search for Truth
"Faith and Reason Are the Two Forces That Lead Us to Knowledge " VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).-
Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the third in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.
* * *
Dear friends, After the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we return today to the great figure of St. Augustine. In 1986, on the 1,600th anniversary of his conversion, my beloved predecessor John Paul II dedicated a long and detailed document to St. Augustine, the apostolic letter "Augustinium Hipponensem." The Pope himself chose to describe this text as "thanksgiving to God for the gift he bestowed on the Church and on all humanity with that wonderful conversion" (AAS, 74, 1982, p. 802). I would like to return to the subject of his conversion in a future audience. It is a fundamental subject, not only for St. Augustine's own personal life but for ours too. In last Sunday's Gospel, the Lord himself summarized his preaching with the words "be converted." In following the path of St. Augustine we can consider what this conversion revolves around: It is definitive, decisive, but the fundamental decision must be developed and must be accomplished throughout our lives.
Today instead, the catechesis is dedicated to the subjects of faith and reason, which are the defining themes of St. Augustine's biography. As a child he learned the Catholic faith from his mother Monica. As an adolescent he abandoned the faith because he could not see how it could be reasoned out and did not want a religion that was not also for him an expression of reason -- that is to say, truth.
His thirst for truth was radical and led him away from the Catholic faith. His radicality was such that he was not satisfied with philosophies that did not reach truth itself, and that did not reach God -- not a God as a last cosmological hypothesis, but the true God, God who gives life and joins our very lives.
The intellectual and spiritual itinerary of St. Augustine is also a valid model for today in the relationship between faith and reason, a topic not only for faithful individuals, but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the equilibrium and destiny of every human being. These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated nor opposed, but rather go forward together. As Augustine himself wrote after his conversion, faith and reason are "the two forces that lead us to knowledge" ("Contra Academicos," III, 20, 43).
To this end the two famous Augustinian formulas ("Sermons," 43, 9) express this coherent synthesis between faith and reason: "Crede ut intelligas" (I believe in order to understand) -- faith opens the way to step through the door of truth -- but also, and inseparably, "intellige ut credas" (I understand in order to believe), in order to find God and believe, you must scrutinize truth.
For the rest, click here.
Indiana Coalition to Suspend Executions
A recent Notre Dame grad has formed a new organization, in Indiana, that aims to bring about a moratorium on the death penalty in Indiana. Click here for more information, and to support the organization's efforts.
January 30, 2008
First Lady's "Catholic Schools Week" remarks
I am a big fan of Catholic schools. Every parish should have one, every Catholic kid should be in one. I also love Notre Dame's "Alliance for Catholic Education" program. So, maybe it's no surprise that I liked this, First Lady Laura Bush's recent remarks at Holy Redeemer Catholic School, in Washington, D.C.:
. . . This is Catholic Schools Week, and that's one of the reasons why I'm here today. It's the perfect time to recognize the contributions that Catholic schools make to students all across our country. Students here at Holy Redeemer are among the 2,300,000 students in the United States who are currently attending Catholic schools. The education you're receiving builds on a tradition of academic excellence older than the United States itself, dating back nearly four centuries.
Today, 99 percent of Catholic-school students graduate from high school -- and 97 percent go on to college. That's an unbelievable record, so congratulations to everyone. (Applause.) But just as Archbishop Wuerl said, not only do Catholic educators develop young minds, but they also prepare children for lives of compassion and service.
The Catholic-school tradition is based on the belief that every child is blessed with unique gifts, and every child has unlimited potential -- regardless of that child's status or race or even faith. In fact, 27 percent of the children attending Catholic schools in Washington aren't Catholic. As the legendary Cardinal Hickey, Washington's Cardinal Hickey once explained: "We don't educate children because they're Catholic, but because we're Catholic."
Catholic schools can offer a choice to parents who want a good education for their children. In 2004, President Bush signed the D.C. Choice Incentive Act, which established Washington's Opportunity Scholarships for children. Over the last four years -- with the support of Congress and leaders in local government -- Opportunity Scholarships have helped more than 2,600 children attend private or parochial schools. More than 80 of these children on Opportunity Scholarships are here at Holy Redeemer. (Applause.)
With these scholarships, Washington students can transfer from underperforming public schools to a private or faith-based school of their choice. Parents of children in the scholarship program report being more satisfied and involved with their child's education. And studies show that the students who receive Opportunity Scholarships improve their own attitude toward learning.
On Monday, in his State of the Union address, President Bush announced two new ways to increase educational options for parents and children. The $300 million Pell Grants for Kids program will offer scholarships to low-income children in underperforming elementary and secondary schools. Children can use these scholarships to attend out-of-district public schools, or nearby private or parochial schools.
Since the year 2000, more than 1,000 Catholic schools have been closed or consolidated -- most of them in urban areas. To help reverse this trend, President Bush also announced the White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools, which will take place in the spring. The summit will bring together educators, community leaders, philanthropists, and business leaders. Together, they'll work to raise awareness of the service that non-public schools provide to urban students. And they'll work to find ways to keep schools open, so that parents in the inner cities can have educational options for their children.
Members of the Catholic family, too, are coming together to help children in need. Here in Washington, the archdiocese has formed educational partnerships with companies, community groups, and other Catholic schools. One of these partnerships is the Magnificat program here at Holy Redeemer.
Just last year, financial shortages had placed Holy Redeemer on a list of imminent school closings. But through the Magnificat program's partnership with Notre Dame, over the next five years, Notre Dame University will work with Holy Redeemer faculty, staff, and students to improve the school. Notre Dame is providing technology, textbooks, and supplies. The University will help Holy Redeemer improve its financial planning, and increase its parental involvement.
Enthusiastic educators from Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education will join Holy Redeemer's outstanding teacher corps. The Alliance for Catholic Education prepares talented college graduates to teach in rural or inner-city Catholic schools. Through two years of teaching, and by attending summer sessions at Notre Dame, these teachers also earn their master's degrees in education.
After they receive their city assignments, ACE teachers often share apartments or homes. They establish a strong community with each other, and then they bring this sense of community into their schools. ACE teachers coach sports teams. They direct choirs and school plays. They run marathons to raise money for Catholic schools. As they help their students build a superb academic foundation, ACE teachers are answering God's call to share their talents with those who need them. . . .
Through the Magnificat program, ACErs and the entire Holy Redeemer community are transforming your school. Observers say that students' behavior has improved, and that you're able to focus more on learning. Notre Dame alumni have rallied around the school. One alumnus took the 8th-grade class on a field trip to a local book festival. This summer, 40 Notre Dame alumni cleaned classrooms, painted hallways, and planted in the yard. Notre Dame alumni host events to raise money for the Holy Redeemer scholarship fund. . .
Congratulations on Holy Redeemer's new partnership with Notre Dame. I wish you the very best for Catholic Schools Week and for many, many more years of success at Holy Redeemer. Thank you all, and God bless you. (Applause.)
Now we can go to Phoenix and enjoy the Super Bowl!
New York Times
January 31, 2008
A Monastery Opens Its Doors to Football Fans
By KATIE THOMAS
PHOENIX — There is no sauna, no heated pool, no chauffeur or sommelier. In fact, no alcohol is allowed on the premises, and guests share a bathroom with their next-door neighbor.
But for $250 a night in a city where Super Bowl rentals are topping out at $250,000 a week for a mansion in Scottsdale, the sisters at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery figure they have an offer that can’t be beat.
[Read on to learn more about the details of the offer, here.]
3 Cheers for the GOP
Growing tired of the sleepy tones of NPR, I've switched over to conservative talk radio for my commute over the past couple of weeks. I have to say, I have found the genre to be entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and horrifying -- often at the same time. I've only listened to a few dozen callers, I admit, but I've observed a common theme to their comments: the unborn are part of the human community; illegal immigrants and "terrorists" are not. In this regard, let me give a hearty "Amen!" to the GOP faithful in Florida for making John McCain the clear front-runner for the nomination. On talk radio, at least, he gets hammered most aggressively for his stances on immigration and torture (as well as campaign finance). I don't agree with his unwavering support for the war, but I'm glad to see that the voters will support a candidate who speaks unpopular truths about the human persons in our midst.
UPDATE: In response to reader reaction, let me clarify: I am not suggesting that recognizing the human person in our midst requires supporting any particular policy stance on immigration, nor would I morally equate opposition to illegal immigration with support of torture. I'm making a much less ambitious claim. I have heard similar rhetoric employed regularly, but not universally, on conservative talk radio in debates on immigration and terrorism. That rhetoric is, in my view, profoundly dehumanizing.
"Imagining a Pro-Life America"
Ross Douthat has a very interesting post, "Imagining a Pro-Life America", up at The Atlantic. There's something in it, I suspect, to challenge everyone. He opens with this:
[A]ny successful attempt, in a post-Roe world, to ban or strictly regulate abortion in the United States would amount to an epic social experiment, with no obvious antecedents in our own history or any other country’s.
I gather that what would make this attempt an "epic experiment" is not that there is anything novel or experimental about regulating abortion -- it was done for a long time, in most places -- but that it would involve re-regulating conduct, for reasons that are thickly moral, that has been controversially de-regulated. What's more, he notes, "it isn’t at all the same country that it was the last time abortion was widely illegal. It’s a post-feminist, post-sexual revolution society, and any attempt at restricting abortion that hopes to succeed – whether legally, politically or morally – would have to take these realities into account[.]"
Now, Douthat does not proceed from here (as many do) to the conclusion that we should not regulate abortion, in accord with the truth that the unborn child is a human person, but rather to the suggestion that, while re-regulation remains a worthy, even compelling goal, there is "no question that it would require conservatives to temporarily table many of their longstanding policy goals - from cutting illegitimacy rates to reducing welfare dependency to limiting the size of government – in the name of the pro-life cause."