Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The Vatican today released Pope Benedict’s Lenten message, the theme of which is “Christ Made Himself Poor for You.” The Holy Father focused his Lenten message on giving alms, "a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods." Read the text of the message here and the Zenit news account here.
More info here.
Nominations for the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards will open this year at 12:00 Noon CST on Friday, February 15, 2008 and close on Friday, Febrauary 29, 2008 at 12:00 Noon CST. Voting will begin on Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:00 Noon CST and end on Monday, March 17, 2008 at Noon.
I suppose the political realities make it unlikely that anything will happen, but it would be great, I think, if these proposals, from President Bush's State of the Union address, were enacted:
Tonight, President Bush will ask Congress to support a new $300 million "Pell Grants for Kids" scholarship program to help poor children reach their full potential. Like the Federal Pell Grant program, which students can use to attend the public or private college of their choice, Pell Grants for Kids would offer scholarships to low-income children in underperforming elementary and secondary schools, including high schools with significant dropout rates. These scholarships would help with the costs of attending an out-of-district public school or nearby private or faith-based school.
- The President will also announce that a White House Summit on inner city children and faith-based schools will be held this spring in Washington, D.C. Non-public schools, including faith-based schools, have helped to educate generations of low-income students; however, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. As we continue working to improve urban public schools through the No Child Left Behind Act, we must also work to preserve the critically important educational alternatives for underserved students attending chronically underperforming public schools. This Summit will help increase awareness of the challenges faced by low-income students in the inner cities and address the role of non-public schools, including faith-based schools, in meeting the needs of low-income inner city students.
Pell Grants For Kids Will Provide New Options For Parents Of Children Trapped In Underperforming Schools
Pell Grants for Kids would support State and local efforts to increase educational options for low-income K-12 students enrolled in the Nation's most troubled public schools. Under the Pell Grants for Kids program, the Education Department would make competitive awards to States, cities, local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop K-12 scholarship programs for eligible low-income students attending schools that have not made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind for five years, or that have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent.
- Students in chronically underperforming schools could use scholarships to pay tuition, fees, and other education-related expenses at higher-performing out-of-district public schools or nearby private or faith-based schools. These scholarships would supplement aid already available through the Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which would follow the child.
- Pell Grants for Kids is modeled after the highly successful Federal Pell Grant program for college students. The Federal Pell Grant program provides low-income students with financial support to attend any of more than 5,000 public, private, and faith-based colleges. The same choice, flexibility, and support now available to students seeking a quality college education should be offered to low-income families with children in chronically low-performing schools.
President Bush also calls on Congress to fund $800 million of scholarships for 21st Century Learning Opportunities. These scholarships will give parents the opportunity to enroll their children in high-quality after-school and summer school programs aimed at increasing student achievement, including programs run by faith-based and community organizations.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has helped more than 2,600 low-income students in our Nation's capital attend the schools of their choice. The Federal government has funded this program since 2004 and has provided scholarships to some of Washington's poorest children. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program receives four applications for every available scholarship, and a recent poll found strong community support for the program.
A White House Summit On Inner City Children And Faith-Based Schools Will Help Urban Communities Prevent The Loss Of Educational Alternatives For Their Low-Income Students
Despite their educational successes, urban faith-based schools are disappearing at an alarming rate. This is especially troubling for minority students. Since 1970, the minority population at Catholic schools, for example, has increased by 250 percent, and the non-Catholic population has increased by more than 500 percent. Yet these important institutions are disappearing for financial reasons. From 1996 to 2004, nearly 1,400 urban inner city faith-based schools closed, displacing 355,000 students into other institutions.
A White House Summit will unite educators and community leaders to develop local strategies to partner with these schools in serving our Nation's urban students. The Summit will bring together national, State, and local leaders in education, policymaking, research, philanthropy, business, and community development to:
- Draw greater attention to the lack of high-quality educational alternatives available to low-income urban students;
- Highlight the impact non-public schools, including faith-based schools, have had in the education of youth in America's inner cities;
- Increase awareness of the challenges facing these schools; and
- Identify innovative solutions to the challenges facing these schools so they can continue serving their communities.
More information here.
Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture
The Catholic University of America’s Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture presents a symposium, “A Common Morality for the Global Age: In Gratitude for What We Are Given.”
In response to the personal appeal of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, this symposium seeks to elicit ideas and concepts for the renewal of a global culture that can sustain the moral insight necessary for addressing our world’s pressing problems. Can we reclaim an original attitude of acknowledgement of, and respect for, the gift of existence that arguably has historically informed the world’s great moral and cultural traditions? Leading thinkers from philosophy, theology, ethics and politics will gather for several days of papers, discussion and common reflection centered on this question.
Here is a homily delivered yesterday at Boston College on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas—Mass for Vocations
2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10
Many years ago in a distant place a young lad encountered God. And from this time on his zeal to serve his Creator intensified. As Samuel reminds us: he was chosen by God to shepherd His people.
Of course, Samuel spoke of David who ruled as king for forty years. But, do not Samuel’s words also remind us of Thomas Aquinas whom we commemorate this day? Each had a vocation to serve God, albeit in different manifestations—David as king, and Thomas as teacher and author; philosopher and theologian; saint and doctor of the Church.
And as today’s Eucharist is our weekly Mass for vocations, it is on Thomas’s vocation that I shall comment, for the vocation to which he was called is, in reality, one shared by many—for it was not without its encumbrances, but it was also blessed with much grace from God.
From an early age, Thomas made his distinction in zeal for a holy life. But, his family—a noble one at that—did not share his enthusiasm. Parents and siblings dissuaded him, tempted him (it is said, even with prostitutes), and used other methods including imprisonment to divert his vocation. But he remained true to his vocation and his desire to enter the Dominican order. His shyness and humility were thought to be indicia of dullness; but in his studies, he excelled and surpassed the intellectual capacity of many of his masters in the Order of Preachers. This led Albertus Magnus to declare: “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.” In this surmise, Albert was proven correct.
It is true that Thomas went on to display his brilliance in matters theological and philosophical—or, was do I have the order confused? But, he also excelled in the pastoral duties of priestly ministry and was sought after for his preaching the Gospel.
Thomas’s life was rather brief by our standards today—he did not make it to his 50th birthday. In his late forties, he laid figuratively laid his pen down one day (or no longer dictated to his secretaries). When his Dominican confreres urged him on, his reply was that of the good disciple: “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.” Well, that later point can be debated!
Thomas was a productive man and disciple. How? Because he understood what Jesus taught about our Lord being the vine and the rest of us are its branches—branches that are nurtured by faith to bear much fruit in God’s name. In spite of the theological controversies of his day, he remained firmly and resolutely attached to the vine—as St. Mark reminds us, a house divided against itself cannot stand. This is wise counsel for our own times in which controversies theological and otherwise seek conversion amongst the faithful.
To meet this controversies with fidelity to God was an ideal and a commitment that Thomas embraced—it was not only his vocation, it was also the essence of who he was—one called by his baptism to follow Christ, not only for the salvation of his soul, but also that of those whom he would assist to the present day and beyond. The model of Thomas’s vocation is a source of prayerful instruction for us all because his greatest personal desire was union with God.
And with this thought in mind I end with a story, a true story: in my early priesthood I had the blessed experience of concluding my studies in England before I began to teach. In short order, I was asked to serve Campion Hall as acting bursar when then bursar was away. This meant that I had not only the use of a nice office but also the keys—if not to the Kingdom of Heaven, at least to a well-stocked wine and spirits cellar. It was this office that I enjoyed: for, in addition to being a quiet place to study, it contained a number of artifacts that captured my fascination. One such appointment was an original cartoon given to a former British Provincial and Master of Campion Hall, Fr. Martin D’Arcy. The cartoon showed St. Thomas Aquinas ascending into Heaven—and clasping on to Thomas’s legs was a black robed Jesuit who looked curiously like Fr. D’Arcy.
When Jesuits would come to this office seeking some assistance from me, most would cry out in delight upon seeing the cartoon: “Oh, look,” they would say, “there is Fr. Martin trying to keep St. Thomas from entering heaven!”
But my take was different: there was St. Thomas fulfilling his destiny of salvation and discipleship by seeking his own salvation and trying to bring Fr. D’Arcy along with him.
That is what the faithful disciple does in his vocation: to seek God not only for one’s self but to try and bring along as many others as one can take.
Thomas Aquinas was faithful in the execution of his charge as one who chose to follow Jesus Christ. And, as fellow disciples each with our own vocation, are we not called to do the same?
Quest for Perfection Leads to Selective Killing of Unborn (for complete article, click here)
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JAN. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The quest for a perfect child is leading to the increasing use of techniques to discover possible health problems in the unborn. Normally this is not done with a view to healing, and results in the deaths of embryos considered imperfect.
It Italy court decisions are in effect undoing a legal prohibition against the use of such screening programs, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). A 2004 national law vetoes screening embryos before they are implanted in the mothers' womb.
Nevertheless, a court in the Lazio region of Italy last week declared this restriction as being "illegitimate," reported the Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera on Jan. 24. Already in past months local tribunals in Florence and in the Sardinian city of Cagliari had come to similar decisions.
In the Cagliari decision the judge upheld a mother's request to screen her in-vitro embryos for a hereditary blood disorder, reported the Italian news agency ANSA on Sept. 25. At the time both the Italian bishops' conference and Catholic politicians were strongly critical of the ruling.
In fact, in 2006 the nation's top tribunal, the Constitutional Court, heard a challenge to the 2004 law regarding its banning of PGD, and the court upheld the statute. "I thought judges were supposed to apply the law and that their interpretations were based on what the Constitutional Court decides," said Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, secretary of the bishops' conference, in comments reported by ANSA following the Cagliari decision.
The Vatican also weighed in after the subsequent Florence decision. Eliminating an embryo is equivalent to homicide, declared Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, in comments reported by the Repubblica newspaper Dec. 24.
The trend to increasing use of PGD is very evident in England. A couple recently received approval to test their embryos for a genetic defect that leads to high cholesterol levels, reported the Times newspaper on Dec. 15.
The approval, by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, was given in relation to a genetic trait that is a relatively rare condition and which can lead to the death of children at an early age. The Times noted, however, that the couple have a milder form of this genetic problem and that it could well result that the embryos would have a good chance of becoming children with reasonably healthy lives.
Shortly after this authorization it was argued that deaf parents should be allowed to screen their embryos so as to be able to pick a deaf child, reported the Sunday Times on Dec. 23. According to Jackie Ballard, chief executive of the Royal Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, a small minority of couples would prefer to have a deaf child so as "to fit in better with the family lifestyle."
Some practitioners of embryo screening were not in agreement. "This would be an abuse of medical technology," stated Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the Bridge Center, a clinic in London that screens embryos, according to the Sunday Times.
Earlier in the year approval was granted to screen embryos for a gene that brings with it an increased risk of breast cancer, reported the Times on July 21. The article commented that not all those with the gene will necessarily develop breast cancer, meaning that the screening will lead to destroying some embryos that would have been healthy.
Along with increased use of PGD to eliminate "defective" embryos arguments are also being made in favor of using such techniques to improving the human race. We should use genetic engineering and reproductive technology to produce "enhanced" people, argued John Harris in his 2007 book, "Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making People Better" (Princeton University Press).
Harris is a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester law school and a member of Britain's Human Genetics Commission.
The author does not settle for half measures. If we wish to make the world a better place we need to change humanity, he argued, even to the point where we or our descendants "will cease to be human in the sense in which we now understand the idea," says Harris in the book's introduction.
Harris adopts a utilitarian approach in which he maintains that such a course of action is not only desirable, but is also morally legitimate, as it has for its aim making our lives better.
The pragmatic orientation of his arguments leads Harris to deny embryos, and even newborns, the status of human individuals. Persons are properly called individuals, he advocated in one of the book's chapters, when they are "capable of valuing their own existence."
Another recent book in favor of genetically modifying future generations is: "Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice, (Yale University Press) by Ronald M. Green. The author, director of the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth College, is less extreme than Harris, but still declares himself in favor of interventions in our own and our children's genetic makeup.
Green did acknowledge that there are some grounds for concern over where such genetic modification may lead. While distinguishing his position from the more extreme attitude of seeing human beings as perfectly malleable he did, however, conclude that we should accept changing our genetic structures.
The pressure in favor of eugenics has not gone unanswered. Last October Nobel Prize winner James Watson declared that blacks are generally inferior in intelligence to whites. In an Oct. 24 article commenting on the issue, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote about the eugenics temptation.
About 90% of fetuses found to have Down syndrome are aborted in America, he noted. Such practices give absolute power to one generation of defining what is normal and beautiful, and this inevitably leads to discrimination, he adverted. We should choose human equality over the pursuit of human perfection, he recommended.
Eugenics has long been condemned by the Church. In its 1987 Instruction on Respect for Human Life (Donum Vitae) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with this issue, along with other questions related to artificial methods of reproduction.
One of the questions dealt with in the document, signed by the then prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dealt with the question of the morality of PGD. If the prenatal diagnosis respects the life and integrity of the embryo, and is directed toward its safeguarding or healing, then it is licit, the instruction stated.
Right to life
"But this diagnosis is gravely opposed to the moral law when it is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion depending upon the results," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned. A diagnosis that reveals some illness "must not be the equivalent of a death sentence," the instruction added.
Eliminating embryos who suffer from malformations or hereditary illness, is a violation of the unborn child's right to life and as an abuse of the rights and duties of the spouses, the document concluded.
This teaching was confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2268. In an explanation dealing with the Fifth Commandment that forbids direct and intentional killing, the Catechism specifically included eugenics. "Concern for eugenics or public health cannot justify any murder, even if commanded by public authority," the number states. Warnings increasingly being ignored as a post-Christian society, under the pretext of progress, returns to barbaric practices.
Monday, January 28, 2008
I have an op-ed in today's USA Today about the Pope's visit, JFK's speech, religion-and-politics, etc. Here's a bit:
Now, perhaps it reflects poorly on the state of political oratory that one of the most discussed, and most interesting, candidate speeches in the 2008 presidential campaign was delivered nearly 50 years ago. (At least until Mitt Romney's speech about his Mormon faith last month in College Station, Texas.) Nonetheless, we should not be too surprised by the Speech's staying power. After all, we Americans have long worried about, and wrestled with, the relationship between faith and politics.
At the same time, however, our public policies and aspirations have always been shaped by religious commitments and ideals. It is then appropriate, and healthy, that the religion-and-public-life themes elaborated in Kennedy's Houston speech remain part of our national conversation. Indeed, it would be strange, and almost un-American, if they were excluded or ignored.