New book by Jim Bowman:
A Short History of Oak Park.
Assorted commentary offered in lieu of organized commentary that is not yet organized:
A year ago, Mary Slusser was dreadfully upset about her church. The Anglican Communion was seething, as issues of sexual morality divided it. Two African churches, Nigeria and Uganda, were leading a charge, with a view to schism or expulsion of liberal churches, primarily the Episcopal Church in the United States.
At immediate issue was election in New Hampshire of the openly gay bishop-with-partner, Eugene Robinson. The problems were local, too. A West Chicago parish left the Diocese of Chicago in 2007 for the jurisdiction of Uganda. Even nearby parishes differed in tendency, as they had for decades; Mary Slusser's conservative Christ Church in River Forest and the more liberal Grace Church in Oak Park are obvious examples.
Things have quieted down, however, in the year since I quizzed her about it. "It's the Anglican way," she said. "We fuss in public a lot, but are loathe to kick people out of the club. The impetus is dying."
No one's happier than she. As a past vestry member and preacher's kid whose father served as a parish priest in small-town Kansas for 42 years, she cherishes living together in harmony or at least not in conspicuous disharmony. Her father had come to Kansas out of Seabury-Western Seminary, in Evanston, in the heart of the "biretta belt," where (liturgically) Episcopalians "all but embraced the Pope."
Her father's was the "via media" (middle way), agreeing to disagree, as it was for the American church in general, she said, "up to 2003, when the Gene Robinson election changed things."
With her father, she embraced the idea that "you minister to everyone, loving one another 'as I have loved you.' Jesus expects it. There's no asterisk." But she also felt "the pull of tradition" and "the tension between tradition and the imperative to follow Jesus."
"It's not new that there are gay priests," she said. "But today they have the nerve to stop pretending they are straight."
There is a problem, however, "if your sexual identity is more important than your identity as a priest," she said. "The church is not here to prosper your whims. Rather, it comes as servant of the most high and of your fellow humans."
Watching her father, she saw "that nothing he did was for his own gain. But with these people, it's always about what's best for them. They clamor to be acknowledged. But Christianity is not about identity politics. God cares about the soul."
Her father would have opposed Robinson's election, not for his homosexuality, but "because he was adulterous" in taking a partner before he was divorced from his wife. In addition, he saw disruption of the church as "a tool of the devil."
"It breaks my heart," she said a year ago. "But I'm going to ride it out and see what happens." This week, she was feeling better.
Jim Bowman, an Oak Parker since childhood, covered religion for the Chicago Daily News from 1968 to its closing in 1978. He has written or co-authored seven books, mostly of corporate history but also about Catholic prayer and practice.
Sunday Sermons . . .
. . . and Weekday Observations
By Jim Bowman
SCRIPTURE . . . Leviticus 19 — “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. . . . . Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” — is expanded by Luke 10 to include everyone, not just your landsman.
Jews were to be loving and forgiving at least to their own — as a starter, you might say. It’s a habit that’s hard to learn, and for that matter sometimes it’s hardest when it’s your own family you have to love and forgive. “You always hurt the one you love,” went the old song.
Now, thanks to Jesus, compliments of Luke, we are to love and forgive every Tom, Dick and Harry we run into. Such a goal.
Then there’s Jesus telling his followers that at Judgement Day it’s how we treat the least among us — see losers of a week ago — that will separate the sheep and goats, because that’s him we are treating. Hmmm. It didn’t look like him, say the goats on the Last Day.
PURE POLITICS . . . Rush Limbaugh says Sen. Obama says nothing better than anybody else has in a long time. As Richard J. Daley once said of someone else, he rises to higher and higher platitudes. He’s Chauncey the gardener, from the Peter Sellers film “Being There,” who with no real-world experience could put Hallmark to shame with his every gnomic utterance. So it is with Our Man O., on his fast track to becoming leader of the free world.
Elsewhere in or re: Dem-land, C. Krauthammer says super delegates won’t ignore vote from their districts, in John Lewis’s case two to one for Our Man O.; so Our Girl H. (as in “Go, girl”) won’t ride a wave of super-d enthusiasm to take the Dem nomination. Ah, but non-office-holding super-d’s outnumber the office-holders, 434 to 317, for what it’s worth, which means they have no immediate constituency from which to take their cue, only party powers that be. They could yet be swayed by the people, but not as certainly as every-two-year vote-seekers.
Conservatives argument vs. McCain is that a lib republican in White House takes party down primrose path. The four-year victory won’t be worth it.
However, say McCain supporters, alternative is very bad. Obama, for instance, is extreme left-wing, with advisors to turn your hair on end. For now he’s the Wizard of O[bama]; in due time he will be exposed, and we will find empty suit, ready to be filled either way, with first choice the left turn. Other than that, he’s teflon, bringing us together as Congressional majorities dictate, which means Republicans, get out of the way, here comes the juggernaut.
LITERARY MATTERS . . . In her memoirs, A Backward Glance, Edith Wharton speaks of a “blind dread of innovation” among merchant-class New Yorkers of 1820. Their fathers and grandfathers had been bold, but they were consolidating gains.
As a child, W. read a lot early and mused on what she read, as in deciding that “adultery” was expensive when she saw a ferry boat sign, “Adults 50 cents, Children 25 cents.”
Myself, reading in the Trib of “rape,” I looked it up in the best table dictionary I could find. It meant “seize,” I read. So why all the fuss, I wondered.
MORE SCRIPTURE . . . Today’s Scripture — 2/12/08, Tuesday, 1st week of Lent, A-cycle — is about words. Isaiah 55 hits us with the word as possessing concrete reality that goes beyond our symbolic notions — the Semitic concept of “dabar,” I learned in theology. God says through Isaiah that his word “shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
This is word as agent, which makes Western sense metaphorically, in that words are powerful. That “dabar” idea backs up our symbolism.
What then of praying as Jesus tells us to pray? “This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven . . .” Matthew reports. Do it this way, he says, and we do. Little kids learn the Lord’s prayer, as ours did in their religious-ed classes 20 years ago in a liberal parish. But not the Angelic Salutation, “Hail, Mary, full of grace . . .”
Asked about these and other omissions that occurred to parents from Catholic schooling of 40s and 50s, the religious-ed (RE, once CCD) teacher acknowledged the problem. Some do want more of “Catholic culture,” she said, treating it as a question of taste.
Oh my. It was a time of reaction against form, and our kids were getting a sort of raw Christianity — with much good emphasis on liberal virtues of tolerance and the like. I hope that nowadays the pendulum swung back a little, and little kids are being told also how to pray with the Lord and his church.
We were professional free-lancers. He chose to deal with us as he would a class of undergraduates, asking for raising of hands, possible answers to questions he raised, etc. — a contrast to the many editors we had heard who were happy to tell what they were buying, etc. Came across as cocky.
Another journalistic speaker, another audience: Chi Trib’s David Mendell did not help his career at the Trib with his Obama book, he told Society of Midland Authors 11/13/07, whereas at Wash Post and elsewhere, he would have been applauded for it. This is Chi Trib culture, I think, playing it very close to vest.
It’s a stiff culture, but it has been upright (they go together sometimes). So one may ask if new-owner Zell effect is in play in its recently giving top op-ed space to Rep. Jesse Jr. and Mayor D . on consecutive days, to toot their horns. (And misstate the situation, as Reader writer Ben Joravsky says Daley did in the matter of property taxes.)
Have Daley et al. found their soul partner in bottom-liner Zell? He’s apparently a Philistine, as we may judge from his trashing, or at least storing out of sight, of the newspaper mural on the concourse ceiling of the once Daily News Building, 400 W. Madison St., now the concourse entrance to the Metra tracks. The mural was ripped down and stored somewhere.
Meanwhile, Chi Trib has copy-editing issues, as in the free-lanced story on Old St. Mary’s church. Carefully equipped with “street” and “avenue,” beyond what man on street requires, the story says the church was once at “Madison Avenue and Wabash Street,” neatly mixing things up. Attn. copy desk: Madison Avenue is in Manhattan, a borough of New York City. It’s famous for its ad agencies. Chicago has Madison Street, famous once for its Skid Row. Pass it on.
And there’s a sort of live-action copy editing missing on radio and TV, where people keep telling me I know something when I don’t. They sprinkle their commentary with a note of presumed self-assurance — “you know” — which is rather a cry for help from the diffident seeking affirmation. Can’t help you, poor soul, I mutter, between whispers that I don’t know and sometimes out-loud pleas to stop telling me I do. Now and then this “you know” is OK, but a panicked sprinkling in every sentence? It’s, you know, irritating.
THE WORLD OF BOOKS . . . In hand is Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday), by the prolific George Weigel. Among preliminary reviewer-conclusions is that he tends to scold the reader, as in telling us (p. 13) that certain “glib . . . usages must stop,” because they constitute “an impediment to clear thinking.” It should suffice to point out such glibness.
In addition, W. depends heavily on authors such as Bernard Lewis, dipping into them frequently. Excellent sources, but the sense of being taken along for a ride through W’s reading is strong, as opposed to the synthesizing process that demonstrates mind at work, as opposed to note-taker.
Also, W. demonstrates what I call a busy mind. He’s something of a head-tripper, and one lacking crystal clarity at that. The busy mind would explain the lack: it’s too busy to work for or achieve crystal clarity.
Finally, there’s something unrelenting about him. He’s too firm a believer, I firmly believe, in the importance of being earnest.
That said, his findings are important. He’s in the business of demonstrating the dangers to the world of Muslim religion as such, as it has taken hold of millions of believers around the world.
He opposes “genteel secularity” as our “analytic default position” or accepted starting point in facing up to the Muslim threat. Think religion. If we fail to do so, to think in terms of God and Satan, we fail to understand our enemies.
Nor should we allow ecumenical wishful thinking to blind us to crucial differences between Christianity and Islam. The Jesus of the latter, for instance, “Jesus-Issa,” is not the Christian Jesus. Nor is Islam the fulfillment of Judaeo-Christianity, as it claims — “one of the three Abrahamic faiths.”
Nor do the three faiths view one another in comparable terms. Christians recognize divine revelation in Judaism, for instance, but Islam recognizes it in neither Judaism nor Christianity. Rather, Islam claims to supersede Christianity. This Islamic “supersessionism” is a main distinguishing feature of Islam. Sobieski’s Poles coming to the rescue of Vienna in 1683 were “the people of hell.” (As are we of the U.S. today.)
Being a religion of the book does not mean the same thing either. The Quran is a book, but with God as direct author, dictating word for word, as opposed to the Bible, which has men as inspired authors. You don’t “wrestle” with the meaning of the Quran: Paul counsels a woman about wearing a veil during prayer, but Allah commands it directly. There is no mediation.
There is no fatherhood in the God of the Quran, who has no feeling and (apparently) is not a person at all but a force. The Quran’s God is “only Majesty, never Emmanuel” (“God with us”). His unitarianism allows for no intimacy or even association of any kind with creatures, unlike Christian trinitarianism, which has “with” as part of the definition of God.
As for governance, dictatorship is the Islamic ideal. There is no church-state separation, nor church as separate entity. The non-king (the pope) humbled the king (the emperor) at Canossa in 1076, establishing separation definitively.
— More more more on Weigel and Islam as religious enemy —
Sunday Sermons . . .
. . . and Weekday Observations
A weekly feature
By Jim Bowman
A story of ingratitude: Adam and Eve had everything, under one condition — enjoy your garden except for that tree. Along came a talking serpent who persuaded them to violate the condition, or persuaded Eve, who found Adam an easy mark, her co-conspirator in the betrayal of the whole human race.
They did not know how good they had it, were insufficiently grateful for their situation. She and he listened to the con man singing a siren song and lost everything. Men have jumped off buildings for lesser catastrophes.
But the Supreme giver, fully entitled to keep his angry word, backed off. The serpent would be thwarted. Good times would return. He would not forever be angry, which is where Jesus would come in, as Paul elucidates . . .
* [Bonus sermon:] Fourth Sunday in ordinary time, per Roman Catholic practice, but 4th after Epiphany per Episcopal Church U.S. practice, which I prefer.
It’s same text, however, gospel being sermon on mount, about lowly inheriting the land, etc., and other readings about the lowly having nothing to be ashamed of, in Zephaniah and 1 Corinthians. This resurrection of the lowly from insignificance touched with obloquy is crucial to the Judaeo-Christian message.
Apply it geopolitically at your peril, however, keeping Antonio’s comment in The Merchant of Venice about the devil quoting Scripture for his purpose. Nonetheless, it is in such Bible passages as these that Judaism and Christianity laid the groundwork for favoring or at least treating kindly the loser.
Liberation theology veered too closely to Marxism, said popes and others and “preference for the poor” might have meant preference for state action over private enterprise — Dorothy Day wryly cited devotion to “holy mother the state.” But down deep we have conscience in the matter: Losers matter.
* George Orwell had the young Graham Greene pegged as an adherent of the “soft left.”
* Aristotle the philosopher has drawn attention away from Aristotle the biologist, who described “birds, bees, and torpedo fish” based on “caefully sifted accounts” of travellers and fishermen. To Charles Darwin, an inveterate sifter and describer, he was “old Aristotle,” who paved the way for Darwin’s “two gods,” Linnaeus and Cuvier, whom he considered “mere schoolboys” in comparison.
Top Soviet genetics researchers were imprisoned or poisoned. Some of today’s researchers worry about pain inflicted on Zebrafish in experiments but console (excuse) themselves in that z-fish eat one another. “Do unto others as they do unto themselves?” asks the reviewer, who was feeling neither their nor the Zebrafish’s pain.
He is John North, author of such studies as God’s Clockmaker: Richard Wallingford and the Invention of Time, reviewing Jim Endersby’s A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology: the Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life in Times Literary Supplement, 1/25/08.
Noting that Endersby wouldn’t eat genetically modified (GM) crops even though he considered them not harmful, because biotech companies do not have “society’s best interests nor the environent at heart” (North’s words), North adds, “This sounds rather like another inversion, that of the story of the Garden of Eden,” which for present purposes I will take as cold ingratitude towards God’s gifts even when modified by fellow human beings, though I can’t be sure North means it that way.
Finally, North notes the misquoting of Occam’s principle (his “razor”) and misspelling of his name — as “Ockham,” on more than 14,200 websites. “We all know that the species Copy Editor is going the way of the dodo,” says North, adding, “May we hope for a genetically engineered substitute?” To which I add, Hope all you want, you dodo, it ain’t gonna happen.
* Chicago being quite a university center, it should be no surprise to find riches such as were displayed Saturday night 2/2 at DePaul’s concert hall on Belden Avenue — a chapel converted from long-gone McCormick seminary days Presbyterianism. There you found or would have found and heard the “opening gala” performance of a month-long “Hommage a Ravel,” DePaul Symphony Orchestra front and center, Cliff Colnot conducting and Eteri Andjaparidze at the piano for Ravel’s Concerto in G Major. It was the middle of three pieces, sandwiched between R’s “pavane for a dead princess” and his “Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2.”
It is not praise from Caesar when I say it was good, I being one who lacks cachet in such matters. But I tell you, it was a joy to sit in that converted place of worship and let such glorious sounds wash over one. Its charms soothe even such a savage breast as my own. And free of charge. See here for coming events, including weekly Ravel excursions, Thursdays at 8, in February, except for the last at 5:30 in the next-door recital hall.
* Benedict XVI-slash-Joseph Ratzinger is a theologian but also a “referee” since he became Defense of Faith prefect some years back and more so now he’s pope. In Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday), however, he’s again a theologian, a “player” as reviewer Peter Cornwell, says in a TLS review 1/25/08. Cornwell, “attached priest” at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic church, Bath and formerly vicar of (Church of England) University Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford, finds much in this book to feed “heart and mind . . . prayer and preaching.”
In it Benedict/Ratzinger seeks to demonstrate the historical Jesus as identical with the Jesus of faith, not a “Hellenized” personality, a product of early-church philosophizing. He seeks this furthermore not by jettisoning the historical-critical method of contemporary exegesis, which he calls “indispensable.” Cornwell finds the book technical but not indecipherable by the lay reader.
But B/R delivers swipes along the way at “liberal scholarship” that are more befitting his referee status, says Cornwell, delivering “papal lamentations [rather than] calm scholarly judgments.” For example, the villainous servants of the vineyard parable become at B/R’s hands — “a remarkable interpretation” — not religious leaders but “this modern age.” The official church goes free of blame.
“Woes” pronounced against clergy who ask too much of their people are ignored by B/R. So is the cleansing of the Temple. The Holy Spirit loses the wind-like quality of blowing where it wills and becomes instead the soul of God’s church, which becomes a sort of ecclesiastical Holiday Inn, free of and immune from surprises.
* For Gerald O’Collins, SJ, on the other hand, love is the answer. His quest is Jesus the Redeemer (Oxford paperback), the love of God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and in those inspired by it. This is the way it’s supposed to be, says O’Collins. (and Cornwell the reviewer), as opposed to making “hard theories” of “great biblical images,” as Mel Gibson did in “The Passion of the Christ,” with its emphasis on the quantity and severity of Christ’s suffering rather than on the quality of his mercy.
Neither was Jesus a Sidney Carton at the guillotine, doing a “far, far better thing” as substitute for the guilty one. There is no justice in such “penal substitution,” argues O’Collins, who recognizes no “dominating theory” of redemption but rather a “mosaic” in which might be seen Jesus the savior. Look, he says, beyond theology to art and literature, including a film which he thinks does Jesus justice, Pasolini’s “The Gospel according to St. Matthew.”
By such art, O’Collins says in a phrase that a genetically modified copy editor might flag for English-language usage, we “encounter everywhere the Holy Spirit active to relate ‘the whole of humanity to Christ.’” Breathes there a Christian with half a heart who can say nay to that sweeping sentiment? Indeed, if enthusiasm be at issue, we are to engage in “the human struggle for a better society [and not run] away from political responsibility.”
This book has “a good word” for “unfashionable Catholics, including liberation theologians and the ebullient Frenchman Teilhard de Chardin,” and Cornwell welcomes that. In addition, O’Collins shows a “robust earthiness,” locating “ecology in the map of salvation,” but with an eye to the after life and “resurrection of the body.” He touches the bases, to be sure.
“No earthly utopia” is proclaimed in this book, however, nor “neglect of . . . Church and sacraments,” says Cornwell. Rather, he adds, God’s “saving activity [is] everywhere.” Thus, says O’Collins, into the whole world is inserted the “saving event of Christ,” who as redeemer embraces “the joy and the hope, the grief and anguish” of what Cornwell calls “a battered world.”
This veers dangerously close to boilerplate goo-gooism, even with utopia-rejection. Don’t judge a book by its review, but this one sounds like bad poetry.
Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest, January 16, 2008
FALLING: The road came up to meet me, as the Irish blessing goes, but I did not feel blessed at all. It wasn't a road but a concrete landing at the Oak Park Green Line station, Dec. 11. One slip on somewhat slushy stair, and down I went on both knees, like St. Paul leaving his saddle on the way to Damascus. Nothing so memorable as the world turns, but shocking nonetheless.
The knees hit the concrete before you could say here-I-come, and there I sat with legs beneath me, hyperventilating, still holding on to the railing. Zowie!
The para's had me in the ER in 15 minutes. I called the lady of our house on my handy cell; she came running. The X-ray machine provided the bad news - tendons no longer attached to knee bone, both legs.
In due time, 24 hours later, the tendons had been reattached, and I had acquired two inconvenient friends, ankle-to-thigh casts on each leg. Forty-eight hours after that, I was in our living room, having been gotten out of my hospital bed hours earlier by my doc and having walked a few steps.
The rest is a tale of being patient, not especially in pain, getting in and out of bed, walking around, trying this, trying that with physical and occupational therapists' and visiting nurse's counsel, and in general being pampered by lady of house and five of six kids, one of them being out East with husband and kids of her own.
One trick was simple enough - elevate monitor and keyboard and stack up reams of paper for mouse and leaning purposes and ah-hah! a PC on stilts at which I could stand and compose and surf and stay in touch with the world. Standing time was limited but adequate.
Another was more complicated: #2 Son fastened a bar diagonally to the window frame next to the toilet. Holding firmly to it, I eventually was able to lower and raise myself from one of a house's most important fixtures.
Then there were books and back issues of magazines and a $15 hand-held radio from R-Shack and TV with its panoply of talk and NFL and bowl and Bulls games and in time chairs-with-arms into which I could lower myself to sit and watch and read and listen. Lot of heavy lifting of self, as while holding triangle hanging over my special bed.
And family and friends who visited and brought soup or whole meals, but most of all family. Eventually, I did away with the walker. Getting around became routine. For Christmas dinner I stood at end of table, weakening early but having a good share of the good time.
Coming up is cast-off day, six weeks and a day after the tendon reattachment. By the fourth week, I was negotiating two flights - hanging on bannister, going down backwards, like Frankenstein's monster - and backing into car's back seat for the impending short trip to doc's office. Then it will be a matter of getting the darn knees to bend again, I hear, but so far so good.
See you at the el station.
WINNING: Meanwhile, as fur flew in early December at OP District 97 about ability grouping--for the umpteenth time in that district--two great thoughts arrived in these precincts:
One: Schools have ability-grouping - actually achievement-grouping--in sports, why not in the classroom? After all, some feel left out because they don't make the team, but we do not for that reason ignore achievement, do we? We'd be backing into a community meat-grinder if we did.
Two: While we're at it, how about rehabilitating the R-word, as in remedial reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic? Remediation, people! Hit that kid early, hit him and her hard, getting him up to snuff and along the way - teachers know how to do this, in fact do it already - administering a bit of teacherly sugar to make the medicine go down. But as for lumping the student temporarily without a clue in with high-flyers, perish the thought.
Not everyone makes varsity.
EPISCOPALIANS’ SOUTH AMERICAN AND ROMAN OPTIONS, PLUS MARRIED ROMANS
By Jim Bowman
Andrew Greeley returned the other day to the married-priest issue, emphasizing priests’ rather than lay people’s happiness, as he has in the past. We must ask, however, if it would it be better for lay people if the clerical caste were undermined by sowing husbands, wives, and children among the bachelor crops.
This seems an equally important vantage point from which to view change. Greeley has in fact discovered that 79% of Catholics in Spain and 82% in Ireland want married priests, and their vantage point may be guessed at — their own benefit, I’d say.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the great papal divide, where the married priesthood is well over 400 years old, other issues are roiling matters. An Episcopal diocese in central California is splitting from the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. — by a lopsided vote of its convention, 173 to 22. Off to South America it goes, jurisdictionally speaking, motivated heavily by abhorrence of the gay bishopric in New Hampshire.
The splitters have objected to other innovations — ordination of women and a revamped prayer book, to name two — of the past several decades, though none so much as the New Hampshire bishop-with-partner of not quite four years ago, and in any case not whole dioceses.
Priests left in the wake of female ordinations, and sometimes whole congregations — moving to Rome and providing a rare experience for at least a few Catholics, who found themselves with residents of both genders in previously all-male rectories.
The (admittedly few) newcomers were warmly welcomed in (a few) RC dioceses. A Rome-approved version of the Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Divine Worship, was produced, and an adapted “Anglican use” RC liturgy was devised. Their arrival was “the beginning of the end of [mandated] celibacy” among RC’s, Rev. Fergus Kerr, O.P., of Oxford and Edinburgh universities, said in 2002.
The experience was rare for Roman Catholics, but not unprecedented, as any Chicagoan can plainly see who strolls around Ukrainian Village on either side of Chicago Avenue, east of Western.
Here, in the doorway of Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic church on the south side of Chicago Avenue, a forty-ish cassocked man stayed some time after 6 pm closing on a Father’s Day a few years back to chat with a man and his son who had dropped by.
At length he begged to be excused to go home to his wife and kids, who hadn’t seen him yet that day. Daddy has long hours on Sunday in that household.
THE BISHOPS SPOKE: WHAT DID THEY SAY AND HOW DID THEY SAY IT?
For whom was it written? Who is expected to read it? We’re talking 44 pages, 10,000 words, turgid, repetitive, vague, self-referential, convoluted though elementary, apparently a product of safety-oriented central office apparatchiks overseen by men of keen organization-orientation and sensitivity to self-preservation in perilous times.
On the other hand, it’s nothing to get excited about, so we should calm down. What you (we) have here is standard public statement by political body seeking to say something worth remembering without being too explicit. Not an easy task.
Into the waste basket with it, then? Or depend on your brave religion reporters to get to the nub on deadline and deliver a verdict. In Chi Trib we read that this mysterious statement says, “Eternal salvation could be at stake when [Catholics] cast ballots.” This seems extreme, and indeed a Chi Trib letter writer got to the heart of it with his very Lutheran but also Council of Orange-flavored support for the prevenience of grace.
The idea is that God strikes first when it comes to salvation. The letter writer, Nick Cokkinias, of Palatine, rightly cites Ephesians 2, which says grace saves and salvation is a gift of God. As the incredible Paul put it in the approved Catholic bishops’ translation, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”
About voting, for instance, much less for whom or what one votes.
The Council of Orange, as some Blithe Spirit readers may know, resolved the St. Augustine-Pelagius dispute in 529 A.D. — C.E., “of the Common Era,” as Father Fussy of Oak Park says incorrigibly from his pulpit. It’s uncommon, most Christians say, and if he thinks there’s anything common about it, he should find another line of work.
Consider Orange: “If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will . . . it is proof that he has no place in the true faith.” Original Sin makes us bad bets for salvation if we intend to do it on our own.
This is how bishops used to talk. Today they say, as these did last month, “[P]olitical choices [made] by citizens . . . may affect the individual’s salvation.” In 2008 U.S.? Which candidate is the potential dictator? “Similarly,” the bishops add, “laws and [public] policies . . . affect [people’s] spiritual well-being.”
So they sound their "call to political responsibility," by the way never distinguishing between themselves and "the church" that they say wants to help people "address social and political questions."
Not including clerical pederasty, however — an observation that Andrew Greeley would call "a snide comment about the sexual abuse of children," to go by his 11/28 Sun-Times column. Not snide, but a glance toward the horse in the bathtub, two hundred-pound gorilla in the living room, giraffe in the kitchen, whatever we want to call it.
Have men in their position ever addressed public policy with such an millstone of fecklessness around their necks?
So they raise important issues as if they had credibility to spare, in a statement loaded with bland, inexact, OK words and phrases.
"We are called to be peacemakers," they say, not identifying "we" in a paragraph that began, "We are a nation,” and then switching antecedents. We Catholics are not a nation. To whom is this peace-making challenge addressed?
"Too many live in poverty," they further tell us, leaving us wondering when the limit was reached.
We are "too often divided across lines of race, ethnicity, and economic inequality,” they include in a litany of slogans. “We are part of a global community facing urgent threats to the environment.”
They invoke "religious liberty" as explained in the Second Vatican Council: “Society . . . may enjoy . . . justice and peace" if its people are faithful to God. And society may not, as history has shown.
They say, “During election years, there may be many handouts and voter guides that are produced and distributed.” Personally, I am confident there will be handouts and guides.
They “encourage Catholics to seek . . . resources . . . authorized by . . . bishops.” We would expect that.
Annoyingly, they mean themselves and official organizations when they say “church”: “Civil law should fully recognize and protect the Church’s right, obligation, and opportunities to participate in society without being forced to abandon or ignore her central moral convictions.” They surely do not mean the rest of us, who are free to be Democrats or Republicans or anything else.
They say “participation in political life is a moral obligation” and cite church members’ “obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church.” Hermits, butt out, ditto little old ladies or gentlemen living on borrowed time.
“Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do.” Good.
“Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.” Good.
“Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith.” Good.
Such guidelines as these three are where the rubber hits road for instruction by bishops. But when they get geopolitically specific, they go beyond their competence.
Their staff members may be competent in such matters, as may be some bishops. But not as wielders of church authority in a document that uses “obligation” sixteen times. Not as supposed pastors of flocks who need guiding.
And wouldn’t it be nice if they made equal or greater fuss about sex abuse, whether newspapers did or not, whether victims sued or not? There it is again, that two hundred-ton gorilla.
Father Fussy begins sermon at 8:21 a.m. with the usual "Good morning." Says he will explain the Book of Revelation today, does so, offering "scholarship" as to its authorship -- NOT John the Apostle, as many of us thought, but a certain John the Prophet. Ah.
Church-goer is somewhat distracted by arrival at 8:25 of Hair, a 50-ish woman who's always late. She walks up center aisle about half way, does mini-genuflection, joins her man, who also has big head of hair, is also 50-ish.
Meanwhile, Father continues with his lesson but somewhere, probably while Church-goer was watching Hair, has dropped Revelation for Vatican 2, which had something to say about how we act while at mass. We should commit "active listening," he says, citing the council. It's O.K. to come early to study Scripture of the day, in fact it's a good thing, he says. But it's not O.K. to "put a book in front of one's face" while "the lector proclaims" the Scripture. This lector deserves our full attention.
"The Eucharist is the action of God's people," he proclaims, warming to his subject, by now scolding. There are to be "no private devotions" during mass. During mass there is no "I," only "we."
He quotes the council from a sheet, getting more insistent as he goes. We are not to be "private spectators" at mass but are to give it our "full involvement." We "should be instructed" by liturgy. We must be "with the priest." He closes. It's a 14-minute baby he has delivered. A real one cried a little in the middle of it, but otherwise, the sheep did not peep.
His target is in the congregation. Maybe the elderly, portly woman with the big hat who sits up front to the right, juggling prayer books. Maybe the 75-year-old man with printouts of the day's Scripture taken off the bishops' site. Both are eccentric. However, both show up. It kills Father F., who devotes a good ten minutes to their and others' derelictions.
Later, just before the Our Father, he makes a short speech, then urges the people to hold hands. The eccentric 75-year-old doesn't. A few minutes later, however, he does the hand-shake thing, having weened himself away from longstanding refusal to do so. He turns at the proper time and enjoys giving and returning a friendly smile to four or five people in reaching distance. He does not give the papal or royal wave to those beyond it, however.
He is disappointed a few minutes later, when, taking communion from Father F., he cannot make out his muttered "Body of Christ." What? We should be instructed by the liturgy? But how so if we cannot hear anything? The layman with the wine cup is audible with his "Blood of Christ," however. All is not lost. God is on our side.
Tale of Two Speakers, Father Barron on Beauty, Lady Asquith on Shakespeare
Rev. Robert Barron explored beauty for the Catholic Citizens of Illinois Oct. 12 (2007) at the Union League Club; and Clare Asquith, an English viscountess, argued that Shakespeare tried to subvert the Elizabethan anti-Catholic police state.
Father Barron, who teaches seminarians at St. Mary of the Lake University, Mundelein, defined beauty to within an inch of its precarious existence, without, alas, exemplifying it. He showed himself a most genial man but with a bad habit of too many times promising the end of his speech without delivering.
He explained why we enjoy watching a well executed double play or fast break or Art Institute masterpiece and called attention to the austere bareness of Protestant churches. In this he agreed with the post-lecture questioner who recalled his college chapel, newly built by Benedictines many decades ago, as ugly and uninspiring. Barron, who knew the building, thought so too, but in his talk steered clear of criticizing Catholic churches built since 1960, equally uninspiring as they may be.
Asquith — Lady Asquith because her husband descends from Britain’s prime minister 1908-1916, who on retirement received not a gold watch but an earldom — gave a book talk about her Shadow Play: the Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare. She delivered it rapid-fire and in detail, including the story of her husband’s devilishly witty grandmother Margot, who corrected film star Jean Harlow’s unwelcome mispronunciation of her name: "My dear, the 't' is silent, as in Harlow."
Clare Asquith, on the other hand, angelically acute, delivered the goods on her 16th-century English ancestors, citing historians of the last 200 years who awakened to the realization that Protestantism was imposed by brute force and wrote accordingly. Among them she named the estimable William Cobbett (1763-1835), the reformer-journalist whose History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland is an absolute rant against his Protestant forebears.
Asquith’s thesis hangs in part on that vision of Elizabethan England, which she compared to Eastern Europe in 1983, where you talked to the chandelier — or wherever the listening device was planted — when you wanted the KGB agent to hear from you. She recalled attending a play in Moscow, where her husband was stationed as a diplomat, faithfully attended by bad guys seeking whom they might arrest and brutalize.
In these plays the actors made their points in code, as she says Shakespeare’s actors did. At Union League she gave snippets of her argument, citing Shakespearean "resistance language" she said was recognized by Catholics or even by Elizabeth, aimed at persuading her to call off her priest-hunting minions. If there was such a plea and if it was recognized by Elizabeth, it was dreadfully unsuccessful, as we know.
As for Asquith’s book, at least one mainstream reviewer had transoceanic misgivings. He was the Australian Harold Love, who alluded to the book’s "scattering of howlers." Writing in the Times [of London] Literary Supplement, Love compared her interpretation to Freudian literary analysis trying to bring the plays' "immense range of possible meanings" within a "manageable aesthetic compass."
"Some of her suggestions are indeed striking," Love wrote, however, citing several. But she’s dogmatic, refusing "to consider alternatives to her view of Shakespeare as an unrelentingly intransigent Catholic," and she misses the important distinction between codes for political reality and "open, aesthetic" ones. Her codes are "external," he wrote, "imposed upon the plays," not drawn from them.
It’s one man’s opinion, to be kept in mind by the careful reader. Did Asquith torture texts even as Elizabeth’s myrmidons tortured priests? Alas, poor Yorick, that is the question.
Jim Bowman Editor & Publisher -- onetime newsman (Chicago Daily News, 1968-78), covering religion, and since 1978 independent writer and editor (books, articles, etc.). Based in Oak Park & River Forest, side-by-side Chicago suburbs.
Blithe Spirit was born of a desire to get things off chest and into readers' minds and hearts. In it Bowman roves literature and the news, hoping to pique interest and afford pleasure. He is a born-again conservative (the worst kind), and the Careful Reader will be on the alert.
Priests at Work: Catholic Pastors Tell How They Apply Church Law in Difficult Cases, by Jim Bowman, is on sale at Xlibris.com. $18.69 in paper. (Formerly Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics)
Startling excerpt: My God, why should we get up in arms over incoherent, pedestrian commentary? If the preacher has not Latin, we can live with that. Shakespeare had little enough. But English? What if he has no more English than the guy you belly up to the bar next to who also has his ideas about war, peace, wealth, poverty, and the state of baseball in the American League?
Jim Bowman, Editor & Publisher
Contact: Jimbowman at Ameritech.net
Copyright Jim Bowman, 2008