Recently in American Church Category

Lay Ministry as Clericalism


There's much to chew on in Russell Shaw's argument that over-emphasis on lay liturgical ministry is a form of clericalism that is opposed to Gaudium et Spes's vision of Catholic engagement with the world:

The clericalist buzz surrounding lay ministry today places a premium on what lay people do in church. What they do out in the secular world is given comparatively short shrift. De facto, this reinforces the Kennedyesque project of privatizing religion, according to which, for Catholics like Pelosi, their split with the Church over things like abortion and gay rights is a "difference of opinion" in which their opinion wins. In another famous passage, Vatican II deplored "the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives." The council called this "one of the gravest errors of our time" (Gaudium et Spes, 43). That was 1965. Forty-five years later, the dichotomy is thriving. To be sure, many things account for it. Secularization, expediency, and ignorance come to mind. And also, I submit, the clericalist notion that to be an involved Catholic lay person means doing ministry in church -- an idea whose silent corollary is that what goes on outside church doesn't have all that much bearing on one's religious identity. Let's be clear about this: Lay ministers are good people. Many of them do exemplary work in the community six days a week, with "ministry" on Sunday a kind of frosting on the cake of their commitment. The problem isn't with how good people like that organize their lives and live their faith. It is, as I keep repeating, with the mentality that exalts lay ministry and ignores lay apostolate. Lay people engaged in living their faith may or may not be lay ministers, but they will certainly be lay apostles in the world -- in their marriages, families, friendships, civic responsibilities, jobs. And in politics, if that's their line of work. That doesn't mean toeing the hierarchy's line on contingent political questions allowing for diverse opinions within the framework of agreement on principles. It means taking time and trouble to know and understand the principles and making conscientious decisions -- prudential judgments -- that apply them to concrete cases. Having done that, the laity, as Vatican II also said, "must bring to their cooperation with others their own special competence, and act on their own responsibility" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7). Two years after Kennedy spoke in Houston, Vatican II began. In its four years, it spoke on many matters. What the council had to say about the laity, conscience, and political life was and remains forward-looking and sound. Kennedy's message of privatization sank in with many members of the Catholic political class. The wisdom of Vatican II apparently did not.
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I nominate John Zmirak for the Laetare medal


Notre Dame's craven hunger for secular esteem is hardly unique in American Catholic history. Think how giddy with joy we were when the skirt-chasing son of a bootlegging Nazi appeaser won the election in 1960 on the votes of dead Chicagoans. From the grubby, roughnecked immigrant families of eight or nine Vinnies and Patricks who'd filled the ethnic parishes and pickle factories, we'd finally made our way into the "mainstream," to join the lapsing members of the old American elite -- whose Protestant faith and natural virtues were even then dribbling down their pants leg like John Cheever's spilled seventh martini. We've arrived. There goes the neighborhood.

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None of the above

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I should know better than to start an election series so close to election day. Due to being out of time, I'll have to condense my thoughts.

For the sake of brevity (ha!), I'm going to set aside a whole host of issues and look narrowly at issues related to respect for human life. This is in a sense unsatisfying because both candidates have a whole host of stances that are destructive of society and culture, both here and abroad, but I think it works out because they in a sense cancel each other out.

While I think a vote for Barack Obama is morally indefensible for anybody who believes that an embryo is a human being deserving of legal protection, we should not be too quick to support John McCain. For starters, McCain supports embryonic stem cell research, which, last I checked, involves the direct killing of innocent human beings. Of course, Obama supports the direct killing of more innocent humans by his support for abortion, but this is not how the debate has been portrayed by Catholics. We're hearing that Obama supports an intrinsic evil and must be opposed, without reference to McCain's similar problem. I think that is a grave disservice to embryonic human life and is hurting the prolife witness. Analogize this to any other issue -- "McCain supports exterminating Hispanics, but Obame wants to get rid of Hispanics andJews, so obviously we have to support McCain." To the extent that Catholics are not speaking out against McCain's support for ESC research, they are injuring the prolife movement.

Furthermore, although McCain has a decent voting record when it comes to abortion, Rick Santorum, who fought honorably for the unborn when he was a senator, publicly stated last year that John McCain, behind closed Senate doors, opposed prioritizing prolife bills and amendments. Again, that's not nearly as bad as Barack Obama -- who couldn't even bring himself to support medical treatment for babies who accidentally get born because he didn't want to undermine Roe v. Wade -- but it's hardly cause for cheer.

Finally, the dream of most prolifers, myself included, is getting those five votes on the Supreme Court. "We're just one vote away!" That's true, and while the prospect of having Roe v. Wade finally overturned is tantalizing, it's hard to imagine that McCain would have a better record than, say, Ronald Reagan, who, if you count Bork, was only 50% on his Supreme Court picks in terms of their votes on abortion. Once again, we have to believe that McCain's picks are more likely to be pro-life than Obama's, but we're dealing with contingencies here, not facts, and similar contingencies have historically not worked out in our favor.

If you're going to credibly defend a vote for John McCain, it can't be on broad philosophical grounds, because there's just not much there. I think it has to be on very narrow political grounds: the Mexico City policy and the Freedom of Choice Act. Nobody doubts that President Obama, like Clinton before him, would overturn the Mexico City policy, which prohibits government agencies from making abortion one of America's few remaining exports. And he has already stated he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would strip away even more legal protection from the unborn. Those two policies are, I think, decisive in making McCain "better" than Obama on abortion. But is this impact enough to justify voting for McCain, a man who supports the direct killing of human embryos?

Archbishop Charles Chaput put it wonderfully a few months back in a piece on the primacy of abortion. He said something to the effect that if we are going to vote for a candidate that supports legal abortion, we have to have a reason good enough to tell the unborn to their face on Judgment Day. Again, while it's clear that this rules out voting for Obama, I have a hard time envisioning meeting not the victims of abortion, but the victims of embryo destructive research and saying, "I supported a man who favored your death in order to stop a few abortions. Besides, the other guy had no value for your life either. I could have fought and denounced both candidates, but I decided to downplay your plight to serve other noble ends." It's not that I don't think I'd be in a sense justifiable, I just don't think I'd have taken the highest road.

I have trouble with the fact that if I want to vote for one of the major party candidates, I have to perform the grimmest of calculations: take x amount of unjust wars McCain is likely to start, subtract out the 1.5 million abortions per year that he oppposes (but can't really do much about except appoint the right judges, which is at best a 50% shot -- Souter! Kennedy! O'Connor! Stevens!) but add back in all of the frozen embryonic humans he wants to cannibalize for research. And where does that get us? Are we Catholics really transforming society by thinking like that?

I am truly thankful that I don't have to perform that calculation. Living in Illinois, which will go for Obama by about 60%, I'm happy to "waste" my vote on a third party candidate. Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party opposes abortion and embryonic stem research and invading harmless countries. He has some policies I dislike, but none that, as far as I can tell, lead to the direct killing of the innocent.

For those of you who live in a state that matters, I pray for you and ask you to pray for wisdom, prudence and discernment.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Deranged


What I read during my lunch:

  • GOOD:

    Michael Pollan's letter to the next president:

    This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you've inherited -- designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so -- are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food -- organic, local, pasture-based, humane -- are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that "this is a conservative cause if ever there was one."

    I have a post kicking around in my head on Michael Pollan as one of the most prominent and effective opponents of materialism. Someday I'll find the time to write it.


    John Zmirak on Archbishop Chaput's Render Unto Caesar

    Having elsewhere published a thoughtful review of Archbishop Chaput's book that was mostly positive, Zmirak returns with sharper criticism. The title of his piece -- "Surrender Not Unto Caesar--Resisting Catholic Liberalism" gives you a hint of what he's getting at, but Zmirak is not throwing bombs here:

    In America, by our Constitution as it has been authoritatively interpreted, the State is now relentlessly secular. In practice, it is rigorously relativistic. Altering either of these settled facts in American life would be unthinkably hard. Therefore, any Christian engaged in public life must seek to shrink the sphere of the State, and reduce its functions to their bare, libertarian minimum--in order to leave some room for the practice of Christian life. The bishops' predecessors realized this, when they tapped the meager resources of impoverished immigrants to build an entire, nationwide system of alternative Catholic schools. Instead of trying vainly to Romanize the (then vigorously if vaguely Protestant) schools, they built their own. A very American response to such a problem--and also a deeply Catholic one. Homeschoolers today follow in the footsteps of Abp. "Dagger" John Hughes.

    The Church is officially committed to localism, rather than centralism. Catholic teaching on subsidiarity asserts that no problem should be taken up by the State which can be resolved by private action, and that no local matter should be referred to central authorities unless local institutions are hopelessly inadequate--as they are, for instance, to guard the border against foreign invasion, or prosecute interstate crimes. Empower the federal government to control (as it now does, with bishops' approval) education, social services, health care and retirement benefits, and you guarantee that each of these vital areas of life will be directed according to non-Christian or anti-Christian principles

    After tracing the dissolution of America's once formidable "institutional culture" -- a collapse which had long been stirring, became visible with JFK's embodiment of Catholics' conformity to mainstream American culture and finally exploded with the backlash against Humanae Vitae -- Zmirak notes that the Church's loss of institutional authority has led American Catholics "to depend for what voice she has on the charisma of isolated individuals, such as Mother Angelica, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Fr. George Rutler" -- admittedly a formidable line-up, but no substitute for being formed in the faith by a family, parish, indeed an entire sub-culture steeped in Catholicism.

    Here is where he gets back to Chaput and here is where the article breaks down a bit (hence the "goodish" tag). He makes some useful comments on the temptation of Catholic liberalism to short-sell justice in favor of mercy, but nowhere does he connect this "sentimental liberalism" with Archbishop Chaput except saying that this is a "problem" with chaput's book.

  • BAD:

    A psychotherapist diagnoses John McCain as suffering from brain damage and PTSD without ever having met him.

    I feel compelled to issue a double disclaimer -- I hold no brief for John McCain and feel incapable of voting for either him or Barack Obama in good conscience and I also really, really like American Conservative.

    That said, come on, now:

    As we explore explanations for some of Senator McCain's actions, it is important to bear in mind that any professional who would render a definitive diagnosis on an individual he has not interviewed or tested is prostituting his credentials


    That said, I believe it is highly likely that John McCain suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    With the tanking economy effectively handing Barry O the presidency, is this really necessary?


    Hanna Rosin on "transgendered" children and their enabler parents.

    Apparently the growing trend is for parents to allow their children to live as the opposite sex, even giving them drugs that block the onset of puberty:

    It took the gay-rights movement 30 years to shift from the Stonewall riots to gay marriage; now its transgender wing, long considered the most subversive, is striving for suburban normalcy too. The change is fuel‑ed mostly by a community of parents who, like many parents of this generation, are open to letting even preschool children define their own needs. Faced with skeptical neighbors and school officials, parents at the conference discussed how to use the kind of quasi-therapeutic language that, these days, inspires deference: tell the school the child has a "medical condition" or a "hormonal imbalance" that can be treated later, suggested a conference speaker, Kim Pearson; using terms like gender-­identity disorder or birth defect would be going too far, she advised. The point was to take the situation out of the realm of deep pathology or mental illness, while at the same time separating it from voluntary behavior, and to put it into the idiom of garden-variety "challenge." As one father told me, "Between all the kids with language problems and learning disabilities and peanut allergies, the school doesn't know who to worry about first."

    A recent medical innovation holds out the promise that this might be the first generation of transsexuals who can live inconspicuously. About three years ago, physicians in the U.S. started treating transgender children with puberty blockers, drugs originally intended to halt precocious puberty. The blockers put teens in a state of suspended development. They prevent boys from growing facial and body hair and an Adam's apple, or developing a deep voice or any of the other physical characteristics that a male-to-female transsexual would later spend tens of thousands of dollars to reverse. They allow girls to grow taller, and prevent them from getting breasts or a period.

    The whole article is pretty shocking and disturbing. I don't mean to be insensitive, and I'm sure parents who have to deal with this have it rough, but letting your 6 year old decide their own sex is too much.

That's all folks!

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Bookmarked for future reference


TSO has a good idea. I too am bookmarking EWTN's video archive of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to America, about which I said woefully little due to post-tax season fatigue.

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This hilarious New Yorker piece confirms many Catholic traditionalist's worst suspicions:

The Woodstock-based events producer Chris Wangro is not a very religious person, but he has always believed that something magical happens when a big crowd gets together. (This is what led him, after stints as a clown and an agitprop street performer, to begin staging concerts in Central Park—Earth Day, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, David Byrne.) So, Wangro said last week, he felt at ease when the Office of the Papal Visit hired him to plan a youth rally at St. Joseph’s Seminary, in Yonkers, to welcome Pope Benedict XVI. “It’s all very similar,” he said. “Ultimately, it comes down to creating a community through the show.”

It was four days to showtime. The Pope was arriving in Washington, and Wangro, wearing a leather jacket and Lennon-style sunglasses, was zipping around the seminary in a golf cart, attending to logistics. The audience—twenty-five thousand young people, selected by lottery from around the country—would be bused in on Saturday morning, and Wangro had planned a music festival to entertain them while they waited for the Pope. The lineup: Kelly Clarkson and groups called Saint Michael’s Warriors, the Messengers of Christ, A Fragile Tomorrow, and Jammin’ with Jesus & Friends. Wangro pointed to the stage. “This is purely a rock-and-roll rig,” he said. It was left over from a Rolling Stones show, but Wangro had installed new features, including secret exits, extra floor space, and, on the stage, a thirty-foot-high backdrop depicting a rising Christ surrounded by purple and gold sun rays. Backstage, he was setting up a papal greenroom that would impress even the most demanding diva: fresh flowers, mirrors, Oriental carpets, a decorative cross selected by the fathers at the seminary, a couch-filled seating area, a “very fancy mobile toilet unit.”

The whole thing is pretty funny. But... Kelly Clarkson?

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Everything in Texas is Bigger


Rocco has two posts (1, 2) up about the new Houston Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, complete with pictures and an embed video tour. Wow.... WOW!

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On the Bishies


Cardinal George is elected! John Allen is filing regular reports (I'm sure he'd hesitate to call it live-blogging, but well... there's that URL again)

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The simple life


Cardinal George refuses Tribune request to do a style piece on the archbishop's mansion.

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On Pilgrimage


Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston recently completed a pilgrimage with his Orthodox counterpart, Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Church in Boston. They visited Rome, Constantinople and St. Petersburg. He wrote up the experience here and here, complete with gorgeous pictures.

In fact, the Cardinal has inspired me. In the spirit of promoting interfaith dialogue, I'm going to solicit donations to send my family on a worldwide pilgrimage along with an Orthodox family yet to be determined (first come, first serve).

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10 years for Cardinal George


Monday marks 10 years since his installation as Archbishop of Chicago. He reflects on lessons learned for the Sun Times.

The Tribune also has an interview and a story.

UPDATE: The trib also has a pretty neat slideshow.

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Welcoming our new brothers and sisters


If the stats are anything like last year's, we can expect that over 80,000 adults were Baptized into the Catholic Church on Saturday and over 70,000 already baptized adults came into the Church.

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An Easter story


The Denver Catholic Register has a pretty amazing story of a man with AIDS who is joining the Church this year after being cared for by the Missionaries of Charity.

Happy Easter everybody!

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St. Pat's


The NY Sun praises "The Majesty of St. Patrick's" in New York.

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The Redemption of Web 2.0


Archbishop Fulton Sheen on YouTube.

Hat-tip: Dawn Eden, who also points us to a place to purchase DVDs and CDs of the late great Sheen as well as to the homepage of his cause, where if you purchase tapes or videos of him, 10% of the price goes towards his cause.

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To the people of Dallas on getting a new bishop!

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USCCB Documents


The United States' bishops have been meeting holding their annual meeting in Washington D.C. this week.

Here are the documents that have been issued so far:

I know many people criticize the USCCB (and frankly, much of that criticism is justified to an extent), but I was quite pleased with the second document listed above. It is a very brief and clear presentation of the Church's teaching on openness to life. Here's a snip that succinctly and persuasive argues against contraception.

Married love differs from any other love in the world. By its nature, the love of husband and wife is so complete, so ordered to a lifetime of communion with God and each other, that it is open to creating a new human being they will love and care for together. Part of God’s gift to husband and wife is this ability in and through their love to cooperate with God’s creative power. Therefore, the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse. That power to create a new life with God is at the heart of what spouses share with each other.

To be sure, spouses who are not granted the gift of children can have a married life that is filled with love and meaning. As Pope John Paul II said to these couples in a 1982 homily, “You are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.”

When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more “casual.” Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity. The total giving of oneself, body and soul, to one’s beloved is no time to say: “I give you everything I am—except. . . .” The Church’s teaching is not only about observing a rule, but about preserving that total, mutual gift of two persons in its integrity.

This may seem a hard saying. Certainly it is a teaching that many couples today, through no fault of their own, have not heard (or not heard in a way they could appreciate and understand). But as many couples who have turned away from contraception tell us, living this teaching can contribute to the honesty, openness, and intimacy of marriage and help make couples truly fulfilled.

The whole thing is quite good.

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Cardinal George Homily


As I've said before, the Chicago Sun-Times has the worst religion reporter in the biz. But this week she gets a thumbs up for transcribing the text of a homily given by Chicago's Cardinal Francis George at the dedication of a new building at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union.

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Celebrity Catholic File


I don't know much, but I know Aaron Neville is Catholic

Check out this World Cafe segment at about the 7:30 point, where he talks about being moved by the Ave Maria in middle school and his devotion to St. Jude and the Blessed Mother.

Where can I get a St. Jude earring???

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Illinois Bishops on Voting


Via my diocese's paper, The Catholic Post, here is a statement from the bishops of Illinois on voting and partisipation in public life.

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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

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