Friday, July 31, 2009

Striving for Understanding

My husband celebrated his 50th high school graduation anniversary with a reunion this past weekend. On Saturday evening, the class enjoyed dining and dancing and more importantly, reminiscing. (My 40th, BTW, is next year).

Sunday morning we gathered for a mass given by one of the class members who became a priest, Fr. Mike. We do not belong to his Church, but it is near our home and we attended with many of the other class members. I thought the homily was particularly good, and so I'll repeat the gist of it here.

Fr. Mike taught from one of Sunday's readings. (There are daily Bible readings at the USCCB [US Catholic Conference of Bishops] website here, which allows us to follow the Church's setup for readings online throughout the year.) The one which Fr. Mike taught from on July 26 is:
Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This is from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, 4:1-6, from the New American Bible.

Paul's requests seem simple enough. There is not a lot to interpret to wiggle one's way out of the message. Yet how hard to do!

The priest's point was a little different from the letter: that we have expectations of perfection for others (parents for children, children for parents, priests for parishioners and vice versa, etc.), but of course are not perfect ourselves. However, this does not diminish the need to strive for perfection for ourselves and desire it for others. If we don't try for the mountaintop, we'll never get out of the valleys.

This is quite a balancing act. Others do things which are hurtful. Even more complicated is the situation where each of us think we are doing right, yet disagree on how to do it. Our world is full of these situations, including politics and religion. Taking aside the personal gain which politicians may seek, I think they honestly believe their own party's economic policies, for example, are better for the whole country in the long run than that of the other party.

In the past when I disagreed with what someone else was saying, I often said to myself, "It's a matter of common sense." But the more I thought about it, I realized what we all need is God's wisdom. Only He knows the best way. Often opposing sides both have some things right and some wrong.

When I face someone with whom I disagree, I have found that the best I can do is explain my side and then pray for understanding for both of us. Sometimes one can't help carrying anger over divisions, but this goes a long way in correcting that. I have to be willing to learn as much as I want the other person to learn. I believe God is the true teacher. And I have experienced some true breakthroughs on both on my side and theirs which I believe have been divinely guided.
What Paul in Ephesians was saying is that we are to bear with one another, which calls for patience and long-suffering. What our priest added was that we can do so and still seek perfection. We need wisdom to see our flaws and patience and strength to make our world better through love, all of which is only possible by God's grace.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Evangelii Nuntiandi 2

Last post I commented on Pope Paul VI's 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World). As I said at the end, he commented on economic matters as pertaining to the Church. The 1970's were a turbulent time in the developing world. People were becoming restless for justice, and Liberation Theology was spreading. This point of view followed Marxism to some degree. It taught that the struggle against poverty may sometimes have to take the form of physical action against upper classes. Unfortunately, some of this philosophy led to armed conflict, as in the case of several Central American countries with disastrous results.

In this encyclical, Paul makes clear that the Church has been and continues to be a force in human development. In Section 29, he says, "But evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man's concrete life, both personal and social." And in Section 31, "Between evangelization and human advancement--development and liberation--there are in fact profound links."

However, he continues "We must not ignore the fact that many, even generous Christians who are sensitive to the dramatic questions involved in the problem of liberation, in their wish to commit the Church to liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project" (Section 32).

Though the small groups which comprise Liberation Theology often study the Bible, they do it with an agenda of seeking a theological basis for political revolution. We may all have some pre-conceived ideas of what Christ did and said, but we need to keep our eyes open and hearts humble to gain the true wisdom that is available to us through the Bible and Church teachings.

The Pope continues in Section 32 to explain that if the Church were interested only in temporal matters, the objective would not be unique and the ideology could be molded into the political fashion of the day or be subject to temporal power as easily as governments can be. The Church has a unique mission, and that is to proclaim the Gospel.

The encyclical goes on to describe various roles of persons in the Church, such as bishop and priest, religious and lay persons and how they relate to evangelization. An interesting theme throughout the encyclical is that the people of the Church itself need constant evangelization.

My husband and I belong to a writing group. We read some of our writing out loud to the rest of the group so we can hear their critques and opinions. It can be helpful to get reactions from others, but the comments are not always on the mark. One lady reacts to most of my reading in a standard way--she says I am preaching to the choir. Of course, our Christian writing can often have the tendency to get heavy-handed, but on the other hand, Christians themselves like to think about God and enjoy when the same message is employed in different ways. I found this encyclical to reinforce the fact that we need to keep repeating the message, sometimes to each other. Then all believers can take that message to others.

I enjoyed re-reading this encyclical on evangelization in the modern world. It faces temporal reality, but points us to the reality of things beyond.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Catholic Sunday Snippets 2009/07/26

Each week a group of Catholic bloggers lists some of their latest entries from the link at RAnn's This That and the Other Thing. My links to this week's posts are:

A commentary on the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and Part 1 of my review of Pope Paul VI's 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi.

To get back to this post from the above entries, just hit the "back" key of your navigator. To return to RAnn's blog home from any post, you can use the "Catholic Sunday Snippets" under "links" in the right column.

If are visiting for Sunday Snippets and you want to get to the womanatwell blog home, where you can see the above post(s) together with the rest of the blog, hit the home key at the bottom of this post.

Happy blogging!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Evangelii Nuntiandi

Since reading Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I've been wanting to re-read Pope Paul VI's 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi. Benedict's third encyclical is in large part about the relationships between human charity and world economics. Pope Paul's focuses on evangelization.

Paul makes note that the encyclical is released 10 years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council and one year after the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which had been devoted to evangelization.

Pope Paul begins,
1. There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity (Sec.1).
The encyclical elaborates on this theme. What I didn't remember from reading before was that the bishops were looking to the Pope at that time for a "fresh forward impulse" for a "new period of evangelization" (Sec. 2). The Pope explores what has happened in our day to the "hidden energy of the Good News." This is still a question with which our Church continues to grapple, and so the encyclical is worthwhile reading for all of us.

Paul makes no bones about the importance of evangelization:
Such an exhortation seems to us to be of capital importance, for the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people's salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world (Sec. 5).
Certainly belief in that urgency is a factor in the energy we put into evangelization. Another factor, says Paul, is the constant need for the Church itself to be evangelized:
The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the People of God immersed in the world, and often tempted by idols, and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the "mighty works of God"[41] which converted her to the Lord; she always needs to be called together afresh by Him and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel (Sec. 15).
The Pope talks about living a good life in order to witness as a Christian (Sec. 21). However, he said evangelization is not complete without the proclamation of the name of Jesus Christ, and explanation that He came to offer salvation to all. It is upon each of us to accept that, be converted and in turn proclaim that Good News to others (Sec. 22).

Interestingly, Pope Paul also felt compelled to address economic problems in his letter. The bishops, especially of the Third World, even then were seeking support from the Church for the oppressed peoples of the underdeveloped countries, many of them Catholic. I will pick up discussion of the encyclical at this point in the next post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

The congressional hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have just finished. You probably never want to hear the phrase "wise Latina woman" again, but I'm afraid I'm going to hash it one more time.

Sotomayor spoke the phrase a few years ago, apparently to Latino students she was trying to inspire. She said that a Latina woman with her personal experiences may make wiser decisions than a white man without those experiences. This caused apoplexy to certain white men in media and Congress when she was nominated for the Supreme Court. These men cried, "reverse racism," but became the poster boys for the very insensitivity of which she spoke.

Most of them opined that if the statement were reversed, that if they had said white men could do better than Latina women in a job such as a judge, they'd be condemned in the press. They may be now, but they forget that for most of the last 500 years in this hemisphere, the prevailing opinion was that white men were superior not just to Latina women but any minority person. Why should we not expect racial differences when we have treated people of other races differently?

Also, please don't tell me that a person's outlook, whether they are conservative or liberal, doesn't affect their judgements. Why do we care what president is in office? One reason is because of the judicial nominees. It's extremely obvious that over time, conservatives will make different decisions than liberals that affect government, businesses, and all our lives including right to life.

It is also upsetting the congress should focus on this statement when they themselves refuse to make fair immigration laws. Perhaps the maintenance crews in the Capitol building should install mirrors in the restrooms. Certain Congressmen could see the real face of discrimination.

With Sonia Sotomayor, maybe Latino people will receive a little more fairness from this country. It's been a long time coming.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Catholic Sunday Snippets 2009/07/19

Each week a group of Catholic bloggers lists some of their latest blogs from the link at RAnn's This That and the Other Thing. My links this week are:

Part 2 and Part 3 of my review of Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

To get back to this post from the above entries, just hit the "back" key of your navigator. To return to RAnn's blog home from any post, you can use the "Catholic Sunday Snippets" under "links" in the right column.

If are visiting for Sunday Snippets and you want to get to the womanatwell blog home, where you can see both the above posts together with previous posts of this blog, hit the home key at the bottom of this post.

Happy blogging!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Caritas in Veritate 3

In Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, he elaborates on many aspects of world-wide economy. (My first installment of the review is here and the second is here.) The Pope is timely in the treatment of globalization and the recent economic crisis. In the last post, I had mentioned the current movements in Latin America of socialism and Liberation Theology. Some see the US as moving toward socialism in aspects such as health care.

The Pope warns against socialism, yet he advocates regulation at all levels in a world-wide economic system. One reason is that in globalization, wealth has become more an international pooling of individual business and financial institutions instead of previous status of rich vs. poor countries. Under international rules enforced by such agencies as the United Nations, he envisions private business working in tandem with non-profit agencies and socially-focused businesses. Benedict uses the term "principle of gratuitousness" to describe his overall vision. He wants every human to recognize "they are made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension." The alternative, he says, is when man believes he is self-sufficient and can control economic and social systems by his own power. This leads to an attitude that the economy must be isolated from religious morality, which in turn goes down a destructive path (section 34).

Along with the sweeping changes at the top of the economic hierarchy, Benedict encourages subsidiarity, the inclusion of all levels of persons involved such as the workers and other interested local parties. He believes they should all participate in decision-making.

I think the major point Pope Benedict wants to make is that God is the ultimate giver of goods, and if we don't understand the spiritual dimension of human life, we will never have full development, either economically or personally. Also, charity should be a part of all we do, not just alms-giving.

As I said in the second part of this review, this encyclical is in part an anniversary tribute to Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Populorum Progressio. Pope Paul denounced the accumulation of riches to the few and declared that all persons should share in the Earth's bounty. That was in 1967, and though the encyclical may have increased awareness and perhaps guided some to be more socially active, it did not prevent the present economic mess. One can only wonder if Benedict's encyclical will do better. Pope Benedict at least makes the effort to tell what he thinks should be done, but one gets the feeling he speaks to the upper classes and leaves the poor to wait for them to respond. This is where Liberation Theology has its appeal to the poor: that they have a mode of action of their own. They get together in communities, read the Bible and discuss their immediate problems and what they can do about them. It is more practical on their level, though the problem with it, as the Pope has said, is that the leaders of the movement can tend to be Marxist in tone. That leads to a class separation of its own (poor trying to topple rich), which is as unhelpful as the self-imposed economic separation by the rich from the poor.

Since Pope Benedict doesn't like Liberation Theology, it seems he needs to come up with a more practical way for subsidiarity to take root, encouraging the Church more specifically than he does in his encyclical. I have heard there are small group movements in churches, but there none in my own and no official encouragement that I know of. Parish groups don't have to be based in Liberation Theology. They can be based in subsidiarity and spirituality as the Pope says we should all be. Maybe there are already meetings between rich and poor on a regular basis somewhere, but perhaps Bishops are in a position to personally lead individuals from different backgrounds to come together and make long-term commitments to each other. These groups could (and should) include the element of evangelization as an even greater purpose.

There is too much history of greed in our world to expect it to stop, even when denounced in an encyclical. The Pope is the head of the Church, not counselor for the United Nations. He needs to direct all Catholics to do what we can as soon as we can.

There are other aspects of the encyclical, such as environment and right to life issues. Eventually I hope to comment on these subjects, in reference to the encyclical and/or otherwise.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Caritas in Veritate 2

I recently posted about Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth). He talks about love and care for others, but stresses that the only way toward a truly fair society is by following the True God. It is God who makes us fully human, and He who can provide what we need. All other attempts rely on human power, which is insufficient. He says, "God is the guarantor of man's true development" (section 29).

The Pope's encyclical is in part a slightly overdue 40th anniversary tribute to Pope Paul VI's 1967 encyclical, Popularium Progresso. This is in the tradition of giving tribute to the famous social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum. You can read more about that if you are interested at Wikipedia here. Several encyclicals followed at intervals to commemorate its significance.

In Popularium Progresso Paul VI had also talked about the revelance of God's Truth for social development. Benedict XVI reiterates some of what was already said, but points out that the change in world economics through globalization calls for a fresh look and evaluation of the social situation.

In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII in 1891 addressed the wretched conditions of laborers in the industrial revolution. Paul VI expressed that the economy should serve everyone, not just a concentration of rich and powerful.
As I said before, socialist leader Hugo Chavez of Venezuela presented President Obama with Eduardo Galeano's book, Open Veins of Latin America (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1973). Galeano extensively described African and American slavery. One short passage in his book I found very interesting. In 1562, a Captain John Hawkins had smuggled some Africans out of Portuguese Guinea. Queen Elizabeth, sovereign of England at the time, called it a detestable act and believed he would be struck down by heaven itself. However, when he told her he had exchanged the slaves for sugar, pearls and other items from the New World, she "became his business partner (p.80)."

This is a good example for several reasons. First, it shows that people even in that time knew slavery was not right. People may have culturally accepted slavery more easily in times past, but our consciences can always speak to us clearly. Secondly, it highlights the problem we have even now, that material goods can all too easily turn us into oppressing agents.

Though most sovereigns no longer rule with great power, businesses, governments and financial institutions are still taking advantage of the land and workers. The Pope has gone to the Middle East to plea for peace, and talks with President Obama about life issues, but does he meet with those who monopolize businesses in Latin America and pay workers $1.00 a day? Perhaps he does, for he greets heads of states and talks with many persons. However, we do not see this in the media and the impact does not seem to be as great. Perhaps now that the Vatican is hooking up to the world by Internet, we will get more benefit from social teaching. I know the Pope has talked about materialism and so it is getting through on some level. Indeed, the encyclical says that new thinking and organization should go into ways to guarantee the human rights of food, water and life itself.

Economic oppression is what Pope Benedict has to address if he is going to criticize socialism and liberation theology. Latin America is already awash in both movements. States are taking over private businesses. I am not advocating the state confiscation of private businesses, but I am saying that because many people do not know how to curb their greed, they are facing some consequences. And if the Pope doesn't like the liberation theology agenda, he must supply the bishops and parishioners with one he does like, that effectively helps workers, business owners, financiers, etc. to somehow work together.

I totally agree that we need God to set things straight. Unfortunately, God is not on the minds of those bent on making money at all costs. The problem for the Church is how to best follow God when we face the evil of those who put Him, at best, in second place.

I have not finished the encyclical but will try to get it done this week and make final comments Friday.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Catholic Sunday Snippets 2009/07/12

Each week a group of Catholic bloggers lists some of their latest blogs from the link at RAnn's This That and the Other Thing. My links this week are:

Review of Stephen Meyer's book, Signature in the Cell, sure to be a classic in Intelligent Design Theory

Introduction to discussion of Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

To get back to this post from the above entries, just hit the "back" key of your navigator. To return to RAnn's blog home from any post, you can use the "Catholic Sunday Snippets" under "links" in the right column. Hit the home key at the bottom of this post to get to the womanatwell blog home, where you can see both the above posts together with previous posts of this blog.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

At the fifth annual Summit of the Americas, held this past April in Trinidad and Tobago, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and President Obama exchanged handshakes. Chavez, who is promoting socialism throughout Latin America, handed the president a book when they met as a gift. It is called, Open Veins of Latin America, by the journalist Eduardo Galeano.

The book apparently shot up to #2 on Amazon's best-seller list after this gift was given. I got it from inter-library loan, but it had been on hold and took a while to get here. I've started it and have read about 1/3. It is definitely an eye-opener, and one cannot help but be moved by the suffering of people in the Central and South Americas since the time of the Spanish Conquest. Economic conquerers have taken these lands by force, induced slave to near-slave labor and drained the lands of their value ever since.

Now, I do not believe that life was perfect for the indigenous people before the entrance of Europeans. There was much war, depletion of land and human sacrifice. But as a Christian, I am horrified by the way these people were treated by supposedly Christian lands (at the time) such as Spain, and alongside the development of the Catholic Church. The book is an endless litany of mal-treatment of populations for the sake of land to be used for sugar, rubber, coffee, etc. and minerals for military and other uses for the US and Europe. This includes the slave trade which brought many persons from Africa to also be exploited.Of course, individual barrons may not have had the faith, but they were ruled by sovereigns who should have known better.

I know when the Americas were first inhabited by Europeans 1492, it was a different time when slavery was more culturally accepted, but this 500-year history has been and still is pitiful. More recently, the Church as become active in Latin America with Liberation Theology as an attempt to help the people. Though the Pope may not approve of the theology behind this movement, there is a need to do something substantial for the poor.

Interestingly, the Pope has released a new encyclical which does address these types of issues. It's called Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), and there is a video at the National Catholic Register in which he introduces it with these words:
Today I wish to reflect on my encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Some 40 years after Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio, it too addresses social themes vital to the well-being of humanity and reminds us that authentic renewal of both individuals and society requires living by Christ’s truth in love which stands at the heart of the Church’s social teaching.
The encyclical does not aim to provide technical solutions to today’s social problems but instead focuses on the principles indispensable for human development. Most important among these is human life itself, the center of all true progress. Additionally, it speaks of the right to religious freedom as a part of human development, it warns against unbounded hope in technology alone, and it underlines the need for upright men and women attentive to the common good in both politics and the business world.
In regard to matters of particular urgency affecting the word today, the encyclical addresses a wide range of issues and calls for decisive action to promote food security and agricultural development, as well as respect for the environment and for the rule of law.
Stressed is the need for politicians, economists, producers and consumers alike to ensure that ethics shapes economics so that profit alone does not regulate the world of business.
Dear friends: Humanity is a single family where every development program if it is to be integral must consider the spiritual growth of human persons and the driving force of charity in truth.
Let us pray for all those who serve in politics and the management of economies, and, in particular, let us pray for the heads of state gathering in Italy for the G8 Summit. May their decisions promote true development, especially for the world’s poor. Thank you.

I hope to read the encyclical soon and comment on it. It can be found at the Vatican website here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meyer's Signature

We are back from vacation to Ohio and Baltimore, MD. We had a nice time visiting relatives and friends. It’s good to be back.

While we were away, Stephen Meyer’s new book, Signature in the Cell, came out. I bought it and have read it. I know I said I am moving onto other subjects beside Intelligent Design Theory, but this book will probably be one of the classics of ID and I want to make some comments about it. It is long (about 500 pages), but very readable and includes many previous points made about ID. Meyer goes through the history of discoveries made in biology. He provides pictures of the important elements of the cell that lead to the conclusions of the theory and is very readable. Therefore, it is a very good book to read if you want to learn about the theory.

This book is closely related to the work of another ID proponent, William Dembski, but Meyer does it in a much more understandable manner than Dembski did in his book, The Design Inference. Meyer focuses on the code of DNA and the origin of the cell, a good strategy. He demonstrates the fact that this code is incompatible with the laws of physics and chemistry as we now know them. He analyzes DNA by way of Information Theory, a mathematical approach to communication channels shown by Claude Shannon in the late 1940’s. Meyer modifies this theory to reveal functional information in the cell. He shows that the recent discoveries about DNA point to computer program-like actions, such as operators acting on other areas of gene code in a hierarchy. These operators have been found in the parts of DNA that were previously thought to be "junk." Meyer points out that the only way we know that computer-like programming can be formed is by design by an intelligent agent.

I think Meyer’s book is very exciting. However, one problem is his insistence that ID Theory has nothing to do with religion. He is only partially right. It is correct that a person does not have to be religious to see that the code of DNA is better understood as a conveyor of information than an accident of evolution. However, Meyer wants to compartmentalize that understanding to allow for further scientific questioning but not the questions which come from philosophical logic. Though he says the theory is not a “science-stopper” as critics claim, he wants us to stop short of asking who the designer is. This is not a fair, or even possible, rule. Any theory should and does bring on the logical next questions. If only intelligence could create DNA, and humans were not around at the time, who had this intelligence? The only alternatives are God, aliens, or some other “force.” And when a person is a believer, the answer is ultimately God.

So, Meyer wants non-ID proponents to see his side, but does not see theirs. This is one of the main problems with the ID movement today. The thing is, in my opinion, the ID Theory is scientifically correct. If the non-ID people refuse to accept it, as is currently the case on the grounds that it is “not science,” they will never really understand the origin of the cell. For a long time people have wanted to keep religion out of scientific thinking. This separation goes back to the time when alchemy and myth detracted from science. But keeping the Whole Truth out of science is now showing itself to also be a hindrance to understanding. The factual evidence points to the major possibility that God supernaturally created the cell on Earth.

Many people today want to keep reason concerning nature (natural philosophy) and that concerning religion (theology) separate. But when Thomas Aquinas tried to prove the existence of God from material things (Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 2, Article 3), he went from one domain to another. The discoveries about the cell lead us on the same path.