Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pumpkin cookies

I invented a new seasonal cookie recipe a few weeks ago, and I have to say, they are quite delightful. They also happen to be incredibly easy to make. So if you've got any Christmas festivities coming up, consider bringing these cookies. (Or you might want to check out my recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, a cookie for all seasons.)

1 box Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter flavor shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

24-30 pecan halves (optional)

1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, mix pumpkin bread mix and pumpkin pie spice and set aside. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, shortening, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Add dry ingredients in three batches, mixing until smooth after each addition. In a separate bowl, mix powdered sugar, coriander, and water to make an icing.

Form dough into ping-pong-ball-sized balls and place on cookie sheet (preferably neither dark nor non-stick). Leave about 3 inches between the dough balls, because they'll spread quite a bit. Gently press a pecan half onto the top of each dough ball. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until cookies just start to brown around the edges. Drizzle cookies with icing immediately after removing them from the oven.

Let set for 2-3 minutes, then transfer cookies to cooling rack. Once cookies have cooled completely, put them in an airtight container. Makes 24-30 cookies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent roundup

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Western Church. Here's a quick explanation of the season from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

(Latin ad-venio, to come to)

According to present [1907] usage, Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays. The first Sunday may be as early as 27 November, and then Advent has twenty-eight days, or as late as 3 December, giving the season only twenty-one days.

With Advent the ecclesiastical year begins in the Western churches. During this time the faithful are admonished

* to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
* thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
* thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.
EWTN has what looks to be a very nice little page with succinct explanations of different Advent traditions, plus an Advent calendar with short Bible readings, reflections, and suggested prayers and acts of love for each day.

I went out and bought an Advent wreath yesterday. It's not exactly traditional, but it is quite beautiful. It depicts a Nativity scene, with an angel, a shepherd, the Magi, and Mary and Joseph all adoring the baby Jesus. I've always loved Nativity scenes, so it was a natural choice for me. Jeanette and I blessed it and lit the first candle last night.

I think it will be good to try to celebrate Advent as a season unto itself, a season of eager longing and spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ. It's not the Christmas season yet (that comes after Christmas). The wonderful Father Bernhard Blankenhorn gave a good homily to this effect a couple years ago at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, and Father Robert Barron has posted a typically good video on the spirituality of Advent:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pray for the defeat of Initiative 1000

Please pray for the defeat of Initiative 1000, the Washington state ballot measure that, if passed by voters Nov. 4, would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with a prognosis of less than six months to live.

The passage of I-1000 would be bad news for everyone, especially the most vulnerable in society. It would be the first in a row of dominos down a slippery slope. If it passes here, it will pass in other states and, over time, attitudes and laws will grow increasingly lax until society as a whole doesn’t blink at the government forcibly exterminating people as “burdens.”

Don’t believe me? Read the New York Times Magazine piece on Booth Gardner, the former Washington governor who’s led the push for I-1000:

“Gardner’s campaign is a compromise; he sees it as a first step. If he can sway Washington to embrace a restrictive law, then other states will follow. And gradually, he says, the nation’s resistance will subside, the culture will shift and laws with more latitude will be passed … ”

Or look at Oregon, where a similar law is on the books, where poor people with cancer are sent letters telling them they can’t have chemotherapy but the state will gladly pay to give them massive and lethal (and much cheaper) overdoses of barbiturates.

If I-1000 passes, the poor and uninsured will be the first to suffer, and it will all be – if Oregon’s experience is any indication – for the sake of the convenience of a handful of well-off, well-educated white people who don’t have the guts to kill themselves themselves, without getting the rest of us involved.

If assisted suicide is legalized here, it will almost certainly spread to the entire country, riding the tide of an insidious and deadly cultural shift. The shift is already happening.

Don’t worry, we’re told by the initiative’s supporters, there are plenty of safeguards: Doctors must ensure that patients aren’t depressed before prescribing them the “medicine.” Never mind that this apparently hasn’t happened in Oregon – what has happened to a society when a desire to kill oneself is no longer seen as an obvious symptom of depression?

Ultimately, any “safeguards” must be illusory, because this initiative – like the worldview of which it is an outgrowth – has no foundation in anything foundational. It is a clear rejection of the sanctity of human life, and once that’s gone, nothing is off limits.

The polls don’t look good. At this point, we may need a miracle. So please pray for the defeat of Initiative 1000.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arts and crafts

"Oh no, I married a three-year-old!"

That's what Jeanette said the other night when she came home from work to find me sitting on the couch with scissors, a glue stick, and a 50-pack of construction paper, making this:

I don't see what the big deal is. I'm totally proud of my Halloween scene. I told Jeanette there's no way a three-year-old could make something this awesome.

No, I'm not going to tell you how long I took to make it.

I like Halloween. Or at least the foggy, campy atmosphere of imagined old non-scary horror movies that I vaguely associate with it.

This is just the first in a series of similar arts and crafts projects. Stay tuned for a Thanksgiving scene (possibly) and a Nativity scene (definitely).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Give us this day our daily bread"

I've sometimes wondered how to reconcile the reality of crippling poverty with some of the promises that Jesus makes in the Bible. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray "Give us each day our daily bread" (Luke 11:3), and then a few verses later he promises that "every one who asks receives" (Luke 11:10). Now, I am sure that there are many people throughout the world who earnestly pray the Lord's Prayer every day, and yet starve. Where is their daily bread? Why are they not receiving what they ask for, even though it's something Jesus specifically told them to ask for? Why isn't God holding up His end of the deal?

I think I got some insight into this problem on Monday when I talked with a man who has been working in Guatemala for the past few years. For 18 months he worked with people in Guatemala City who literally lived in a garbage dump. They dug their homes out of the garbage, and the floors were garbage and the walls were garbage. For the past year he's been working in the rural areas of Guatemala, where 50 percent of people are so poor that they can't afford sufficient food for their families. Here's what he said:

"Now when I say the Lord's Prayer, it's just very different for me. It's much more immediate, that it's not something just on Sunday, but it's actually a daily prayer there for them. 'Give us this day our daily bread.' And I think it's important to remember it doesn't say 'my daily bread,' it says 'our daily bread,' that it's for the whole world. You know, it's not, 'Oh, give me enough for me to get by today.' No. It's 'Give us -- give all of us -- our daily bread,' and I have a greater understanding of that now."

As usual, the problem is not with God, but with us. He has certainly provided us with enough food to feed the world. But selfishness and indifference keep us from seeing that those who are hungry get the food they need. There's no excuse for it. We are responsible for one another. I probably eat enough for a small village, and somewhere a child is swallowing rocks to fill the awful emptiness in his belly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obama, McCain and the abolition of man

Since several people have taken issue with my non-support for both of our fine presidential candidates, I figured I'd expand on my reasoning a bit and answer a few objections.

Here's my fundamental concern: Both Barack Obama and John McCain are unwitting (I hope) advocates of what C.S. Lewis referred to as "the abolition of man." Their positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, in light of their beliefs about the beginning of life, don't just mean death for millions of tiny humans; they mean the death of human morality and, thus, of humanity itself.

If you say, as Senator McCain essentially does, "Yes, an embryo is a living human being with human rights, but it's OK to kill it if there's a good reason," that's not the first step down a slippery slope. That's leaping off a precipice. Once you say that deliberately taking innocent human life is acceptable in certain situations, morality is over.

The inalienable right to life is the most basic of all human rights. It's the foundation upon which all other rights stand. Start justifying exceptions to this absolute law, and the whole edifice of morality comes crashing down, not gradually, but in an instant. Gone.

It may take a while for people to notice. The building still looks pretty sturdy.

But it's an illusion, a trick of the mind. There's nothing there. We're debating a mirage. Without certain absolute values, there is no morality, no right or wrong, no good or bad.

And what used to be humanity is left to be governed by animal desires and brute force.

Am I being hysterical, over-dramatic? I hope so. But I don't see how to escape the conclusion.

So yeah, I don't want to support either Obama or McCain, because I think they're both extraordinarily scary candidates. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tells me that, as a Catholic, I'm under no obligation to support either of them. Plus, I live in Washington state, where even if I could vote 100,000 times for either candidate I wouldn't affect the outcome.

For the record, I do think it's morally legitimate to vote for the lesser of two evils with the intention of limiting evil. I imagine I'll do it many times in my life. But not this year. I don't want either Obama or McCain to see my vote in their column and get the idea that I support their vision.

I'm not just shirking my civic duty. I plan to write letters to both Senator Obama and Senator McCain to let them know why they won't be receiving my vote. They'll never personally read them, of course, but I've got to think a letter is significantly more impactful than a single ballot. And I'll vote for some quixotic candidate whose hand I wouldn't be hesitant to shake.

Writing this post has left me in rather a dark mood. I don't like to think too deeply about the state of the world. In times like these it's good to remember the words of Jesus: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

In the hierarchy of values ...

... freedom of conscience is easily trumped by convenience, say Hillary Clinton and the president of Planned Parenthood in a New York Times op-ed opposing a proposed regulation from the Department of Health & Human Services that would protect health care providers from being forced to violate their consciences. It might be interpreted by some doctors as "a free pass to deny access to contraception," they ominously warn.

"Conscience" is such a quaint, outmoded idea these days, anyway, useful only to invoke when one wants to justify something completely unconscionable.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hospice provides true death with dignity

The dying need ‘comprehensive, compassionate end-of-life care,’ not physician-assisted suicide, say palliative care providers


End-of-life issues have been thrust into the spotlight in recent months by the debate surrounding Initiative 1000, the November ballot measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Washington state if approved by voters.

Proponents of the initiative point to the potential physical suffering and loss of autonomy associated with terminal illnesses to support their position. According to the Yes! on I-1000 Web site, “When facing the prospect of agonizing pain, breathlessness, nausea and vomiting, or loss of dignity at the end of life, many patients achieve tremendous peace of mind if they know there is a safe and dignified alternative.”

For supporters of the initiative, that alternative would entail ingesting a massive and lethal overdose of doctor-prescribed barbiturates.

But area providers of hospice care say that services are already readily available to help people with terminal illnesses live and die in comfort, control and dignity, without the moral and practical problems raised by physician-assisted suicide.

What is hospice?

Hospice is the subset of palliative care specifically for people with a prognosis of less than six months to live – the same population targeted by Initiative 1000. Like all palliative care, hospice aims to control the symptoms and pain associated with a patient’s condition rather than trying to cure it. But hospice, which is fully covered by Medicare and most insurance plans, is about more than just reducing pain.

“It’s holistic care aimed at supporting a patient’s emotional, spiritual and psychosocial needs – body, mind and spirit,” said Mark Rake-Marona, director of Franciscan Hospice and Palliative Care in Pierce County. “And we care not only for the patient, but also for the family and anyone who’s affected by the terminal illness.”

Most hospice care takes place in the patient’s home, though some hospice providers have inpatient facilities, like the 20-bed Franciscan Hospice House, for patients who need more intensive treatment. Hospice providers employ a wide range of specialists to ensure that patients are as comfortable as possible.

“We have physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, we have a cadre of comfort therapists that provide massage, music, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, art therapy, and we have hospice aides that provide personal care like bathing,” said Rake-Marona. “It’s a pretty comprehensive service.”

Contrary to the common misconception that “hospice equals death,” the philosophy of hospice is to neither hasten nor postpone death, said Lyn Miletich, director of public relations for Providence Hospice of Seattle. “Hospice is more about quality of life, and having that until the end of life, than it is about dying,” she said.

In fact, said Rake-Marona, hospice’s holistic approach to care is so successful that “we actually discharge 20 percent of our patients that are admitted alive, meaning they don’t die.”

Controlling pain

While supporters of Initiative 1000 point to unbearable physical suffering as a reason for legalizing physician-assisted suicide, major medical advances have been made in recent years in the treatment of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms of terminal illnesses, said Dr. Mimi Pattison, the medical director for Franciscan Hospice and Palliative Care.

“It’s extremely unusual that we cannot get symptoms under satisfactory control to meet the wishes of the patient and family,” said Dr. Pattison.

In fact, hospice providers have become so adept at alleviating physical suffering that unbearable pain is no longer a valid argument for assisted suicide, said Dr. William Toffler, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and the national director of Physicians for Compassionate Care.

“It’s absolutely mythical that (pain is) the reason we need (physician-assisted suicide),” he said. “The solution to pain is to redouble our efforts to address the pain, not to eliminate the person who has the pain.”

Control and dignity

Perhaps a larger issue than pain for proponents of physician-assisted suicide is the desire for a sense of autonomy, dignity and control at the end of life. But this is exactly what hospice affords, say providers.

“Our philosophy at hospice is that the patient is in charge of their care plan,” said Dr. Pattison, explaining that patients can determine what kind of treatments they want and don’t want.

“We partner with them in their care rather than having them be passive about it, so I think they feel more in control of their lives,” said Rake-Marona. “We support them towards the goals of safe and comfortable dying, self-determined life closure and effective grieving for the family and significant loved ones.”

“Self-determined life closure,” he said, means that patients are able to take care of their financial, legal, familial, relational and spiritual affairs, “so that they are able to leave the world peacefully and dignified, knowing that they had as little unfinished business as possible left on earth.”

Dr. Pattison highlighted the importance, for both patients and their families, of the natural process of dying that hospice care enables.

“In seeing the natural dying process and the beauty and the strength in that process,” she said, “what happens to patients and their families, the reconciliation, the love, the forgiveness – all of the stages that people need to go through to be able to die peacefully – to think that that would be artificially foreshortened (by physician-assisted suicide) would be just tragic.”

The discussion around physician-assisted suicide and end-of-life issues is inevitably emotionally charged and fueled by the fears that many people have about the end of life. But people can take heart, said Rake-Marona, in knowing that hospice care can effectively address many of those concerns.

“Comprehensive, compassionate end-of-life care is available to folks,” he said. “All of the fears that people have are fears that we have committed our lives to improving.”

The Catholicism Project

I'm pretty excited about this. Father Robert Barron, a Chicago-based priest and professor who podcasts his Sunday sermons and gives his Catholic take on everything from Christopher Hitchens to "The Dark Knight" on Youtube, is working on a 10-part video series entitled "The Catholicism Project," which looks pretty awesome. He's looking for funding to complete production, so visit his website if you feel moved to donate. Here's the trailer:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I won't support Obama or McCain

I don't have high expectations for political candidates. Google's corporate motto sums up my standard: "Don't be evil."

I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican, neither liberal nor conservative. I'm just as orthodox a Catholic as I know how to be, and I can't seem to square that with the platforms of either major party. Perhaps such a "plague o' both your houses" position is naive or irresponsible, but it isn't born out of mere contrarianism. Everyone wants to belong, and it would be nice to have some political camp to call home.

So I'd like to be able to get behind Barack Obama or John McCain and feel hip and stylish or old and crotchety, respectively. They both seem like nice enough guys who generally want to do good. But I can't get past the fact that they both support causes that are intrinsically evil, like abortion and/or embryonic stem cell research.

It has always been obvious to me -- completely independent of any religious conviction -- that human life begins at the moment of conception, i.e., when a sperm fertilizes an egg. (If it doesn't begin then, when does it?) It has also always been obvious to me that it is always wrong to deliberately take the life of an innocent human being. (If that's not wrong, what is?)

Those two propositions, taken together, lead me to the conclusion that abortion and embryonic stem cell research are never morally acceptable, regardless of the circumstances.

Obama supports both abortion and ESCR; McCain supports the latter. Which leaves me hoping that the two senators either haven't given their positions on these issues much thought, or that they're both incredibly stupid. Because otherwise I can't escape the conclusion that both our candidates for the presidency are moral monsters. Let me explain.

If you accept the premise that murder is wrong, the only morally legitimate way I can see to support abortion or ESCR is to claim to know that human life does not begin at conception. But neither Obama nor McCain claims to know that, or even to believe it.

When Obama was asked at the Compassion Forum on April 18 whether he personally believed that life begins at conception, he said, "I don't presume to know the answer to that question." Now, either Obama was simply being insincere and was trying to appear humble while painting pro-lifers as presumptuous, or else he knowingly supports the destruction of what may or may not, for all he knows, be living human beings. I refer him to Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft, who asks: If you're out in the woods hunting, and you hear a rustling in the bushes, and you're not sure whether it's a deer or your fellow hunter, what do you do? Don't shoot! If you honestly don't know whether a zygote or an embryo or a fetus is a living human being, Senator Obama, don't destroy it. That's at least criminal negligence, if not manslaughter.

McCain's moral inconsistency is perhaps even worse. At the Saddleback Forum on August 16, Rick Warren asked him at what point a baby is entitled to human rights. McCain immediately replied, to much applause, "At the moment of conception." So in supporting ESCR, McCain is endorsing the destruction of what he believes (correctly) to be living human beings with human rights. That's the definition of murder.

I understand that abortion and embryonic stem cell research are deeply personal, emotionally charged issues. But in any moral system worthy of the name, there are some things you just can't do, even in the worst circumstances, or with the best intentions. That our presidential candidates don't seem to understand this, and that they both employ such duplicitous and disingenuous rhetoric to obscure the reality of their positions, makes me fear for the future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We're married!

Today is Wholly Catholic's first birthday, and I thought I'd celebrate by actually posting something for a change.

One of the major reasons I've done so little posting in recent months is that Jeanette and I were spending pretty much every waking moment either doing stuff for our wedding or stressing about how much stuff there was to do for our wedding.

Well, the wedding has finally come and gone, and I think it took, so Jeanette and I are now married!

God really came through for us, as we always knew He somehow would. It was a long, tortuous, and sometimes torturous road to the altar, but He carried us through it all, and our wedding day was more beautiful than we could reasonably have hoped for.

We were married on Saturday, August 30 at St. Petronille Catholic Church in my hometown, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and we had our reception at the Brookfield Zoo. Here are a few pictures:

Our traditional rehearsal dinner the night before at a local Italian restaurant, in honor of Jeanette's heritage.

The most important part of the day/my life: our vows.

Our traditional neo-pagan unity candle ceremony.

Our dear friend Tim wrote us a beautiful a cappella quartet based on one of my favorite Bible verses: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Kissing my beautiful bride.

Having a well-deserved drink in the limo.

It was a beautiful day, so we took pictures at Lake Ellyn. Notice my old high school football team winning in the background.

Cutting the cake neither of us had time to eat.

The traditional part of the reception where the groom embarrasses the bride by singing a Sinatra song.

And, finally, getting down (and getting laughed at) on the dance floor.

So, all in all, easily the most joyful day of my life.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A well-lived life still well worth living

Though ravaged by Lou Gehrig’s disease and barely able to speak, John Peyton is using his final months to oppose Washington’s assisted suicide initiative


John Peyton doesn’t have long to live. His doctor gave him three to six months. That was more than two months ago.

Peyton, just 64, has an unusually aggressive case of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. In the months since he first had trouble lifting a hammer over his head last November, he has gone from healthy and active to completely paralyzed, struggling to breathe with a ventilator.

The motor neuron disease has made him totally dependent on Patricia Peyton, his wife of 40 years. He can't dress himself, feed himself, brush a stray eyelash from his cheek, or even shift his weight in the living room recliner where he now spends his days.

The former Boeing computer programmer’s once-strong voice is fading fast, and soon it will go altogether. But while he still has it, John Peyton is using his voice to proclaim the intrinsic value and sanctity of every human life, at every stage, in every condition. He has spent his final months opposing Initiative 1000, the so-called “Death with Dignity Act,” which will be on the ballot in November and, if passed, would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Washington state.

In recent interviews with The Associated Press and Fox News, among others, Peyton has shared the message that every life is precious, a message, he believes, with which the November ballot measure is fundamentally at odds.

“This Initiative 1000 is just the first step in putting into law the lie that there is such a thing as a life not worth living,” he says, and he fears where that lethal logic will lead if the lie is bought into.

A pro-life life

Peyton is no Johnny-come-lately to the anti-assisted suicide cause. His engagement with pro-life issues began when Washington state legalized abortion in the early 1970s, before Roe v. Wade. That spurred the Peytons, then living in Ohio, to get involved with Birthright International, an organization that aids women in crisis pregnancies. Through Birthright, John, Patricia and their young daughters welcomed several expectant mothers into their home for days or weeks at a time. It was simply a matter of “putting your money where your mouth is,” says Patricia – if they were going to be personally opposed to abortion, they were going to do something to help.

When the Peytons, who first met as students at Seattle University, returned to Washington in 1977, John joined the speakers bureau of Human Life of Washington and began giving talks on pro-life issues at schools, churches and club meetings. He also served as the state pro-life chairman for the Knights of Columbus when, in 1991, Washington’s first assisted suicide ballot measure, Initiative 119, was defeated.

True compassion and dignity

Becoming what some would consider a perfect candidate for physician-assisted suicide hasn’t changed Peyton’s stand on the issue. If anything, it’s strengthened it.

Peyton knows that he is “exceedingly fortunate” to have the loving support of his wife, his six grown daughters and their families, his friends and neighbors and his home parish, St. Paul in Seattle. But what about those suffering with terminal illnesses who are not so fortunate? Rather than tempting them to commit suicide, Peyton contends, our society needs to extend true compassion to the dying.

“So much can be done to help people who are helpless,” he says. “We could, as a society, be far more compassionate. We've become so accustomed to luxury. We've become so materialistic in some respects. We've become so selfish. … You can't legislate compassionate care, but that's what's going to be needed.”

Though Initiative 1000 is couched in such attractive terms as “compassion” and “dignity,” the Peytons say such wording is ultimately deceptive. “I feel that I’m helping my husband have death with dignity by keeping his dignity and helping him in any way I can,” says Patricia.

Facing death with faith

The Peytons have been able to deal with the prospect of John’s impending death largely because of their deep Catholic faith, which John calls “the fundamental and essential part of our lives.” That faith is a major source of strength for John and Patricia, but it doesn’t mean they haven’t had their share of tears in recent months.

“Well, I'm disappointed, there's no denying that,” says John, who had hoped to have many more years to enjoy retirement with Patricia. “But I don't feel any anger or bitterness. I don't feel cheated of anything.” In fact, acquaintances have marveled that John’s disease hasn’t dampened his attitude. While his body has deteriorated, his hopeful outlook and dry sense of humor have survived intact.

“I’ve told people that if this is what God demands of me to improve my chances of living with him in the hereafter, mine is a pretty poor negotiating position,” he says with a smile.

So, after more than 30 years of speaking about life issues, John’s voice is giving out, and he’s prepared to leave this life with trust in God’s mercy, though he’ll leave behind much unfinished work.

“I've just about said the last pro-life thing that I'm going to be able to say,” he gasps at the end of a long interview. A single tear runs down his cheek, but his eyes burn with urgency and intensity. “It's up to you guys now. Take it up. May God go with you.”

John Peyton may soon lose his voice, as he will surely lose his life, but the witness of his life, his faith, his courage and true dignity in the face of death will reverberate long after he’s gone to his heavenly reward.


'Death with dignity' or a path to disaster?

Though Lou Gehrig’s disease has nearly robbed him of his voice, John Peyton still has some strong words of warning to say about Initiative 1000:

• “In our legal system, an accomplice is as guilty as a perpetrator. A doctor writes a prescription so someone can commit suicide, he's an accomplice to suicide. … Suicide is killing. It makes a doctor a killer.”

• “Every life is a good. A legitimate government protects every life. A legitimate government is honest, and to give physicians the chance to be killers … and tell people that life can be worthless – what kind of society are we building?”

• “One of the fundamental principles of this thing is the absolute autonomy of the individual, and this myth of absolute autonomy … is the foundation for anarchy. But that's one of the things that's in play here. You are the absolute master of your life. Nobody has a right to tell you any different.”

• “If you say that I have an absolute right to do away with myself in this case, where do my absolute rights stop? They don't. Once you say that you are your own ultimate moral authority, you've joined Friedrich Nietzsche, you've become one of the Übermenschen, one of the higher men, and you are above the law, you are above any law, and that's what this thing implements. That's the principle involved.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

On the Eucharist: Why can't Protestants receive Catholic Communion?

A friend recently wrote the following on her blog:

"we went to catholic mass on sunday. it was great to be in church, and the priest mentioned a few times the desire for unity among all those who believe in jesus, which is something we all can hope for. but then came communion, and protestants aren't supposed to take catholic communion. it saddened me that i wasn't allowed to take communion, since we believe in the same God, the same body + blood + cross + resurrection. also, to my knowledge, protestants would welcome catholics to take communion in a protestant church. so i'm not sure why the reverse isn't true?"

This post will be my attempt to shed a little light -- however dim -- on the issue for my friend, from a Catholic perspective. I hope it might be helpful or interesting to others, as well.

What is Catholic Communion?

I'll start off by saying that the sacrament of Communion, or the Eucharist, is something far more profound than most people -- Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise -- realize. I won't pretend to have a complete, or even an adequate, understanding of the Eucharist, either intellectually or spiritually. But I'll do my best to explain what little I can as clearly as I can.

Most people just can't accept the fundamental Catholic teaching about the Eucharist, but here's what it boils down to: The Eucharist is Jesus.

That little disk that looks, smells, feels, tastes exactly like a bland wheat cracker, that liquid in the chalice that sure seems like wine, actually is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Second Person of the Trinity. Not just symbolically. It really is Jesus -- God -- in the most real, full, and immediate manifestation of Himself that we can experience in this life.

To get philosophical about it, the sacrament of the Eucharist involves "transubstantiation," meaning that the substance, or essence, of the bread and wine changes -- in a real, fundamental, ontological way -- into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus, while the accidents/appearances/characteristics -- those things that can be observed with the senses -- of bread and wine remain.

The word transubstantiation means that this change of substance is complete: The Body and Blood of Christ are not contained in the bread and wine, nor do they exist side by side with the bread and wine. The bread and wine are gone, completely replaced by the Body and Blood of Jesus.

That the accidents of bread and wine remain means that if you were to hold up a consecrated ("transubstantiated") Host next to an unconsecrated one -- in other words, if you were to hold the Eucharist in one hand and an ordinary wheaten wafer in the other -- you would not detect the slightest difference between them. If you put them under a microscope, they'd look exactly the same. They'd taste the same, too. No matter what scientific scrutiny you subjected them to, you wouldn't find any discrepancy between them.

But one would be a cracker, and the other would be the Savior of the world.

This miraculous transubstantiation takes place when, during the Mass, the priest holds the wheat bread and grape wine and says the words of institution that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper ("This is my body" and "This is my blood"). By the power of Jesus' words and the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, and Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross is made present on the altar. At the Mass, we are thus present in a mystical but very real way both at the Last Supper and at Jesus' Crucifixion.

The Church refers to the Eucharist as "the source and summit of the Christian life." It is a conduit of grace -- the very life of God -- for our souls. It is the greatest gift God could possibly give His Church, because it is the gift of God's very Self. For that reason, when the priest elevates the consecrated Host and the chalice of the precious Blood, we can -- and in justice must -- worship it and in our hearts exclaim, "My Lord and my God!"

Why do Catholics believe all this?

Now, if this all sounds completely ridiculous, or if you're thinking that I must not really be saying what it sounds like I'm saying, that I couldn't possibly believe that I'm literally consuming God when I go to Mass each week, then you're experiencing much the same reaction that Jesus' disciples had the first time He foretold the institution of the Eucharist, when He told a crowd, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).

Naturally, this didn't make a lot of sense to His hearers, who obviously took Him quite literally: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:52) they asked each other. Now, Jesus had run into problems before with His disciples taking Him literally when He was merely speaking figuratively (see Matthew 16:6-12 and John 4:31-34). In such cases, He was always quick to clear up the misunderstanding.

But in this instance, Jesus reiterated His shocking message even more emphatically: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:53-55).

At this point, many of Jesus' disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (John 6:60) and walked away. But Jesus didn't call after them, "Wait, come back! I was just speaking metaphorically!" Why? Because He was being cruel and deceptive? Or because He hadn't been speaking metaphorically?

We find the same kind of literal language in the accounts of the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. Luke records it this way: "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood'" (Luke 22:19-20). The same God Who spoke all of creation into existence declared bread to be His Body, and so it was. (Those words, "Do this in remembrance of me," by the way, are where the Church finds the institution of its sacramental priesthood.)

That the apostles understood Jesus to be speaking literally at the Last Supper is evident from the testimony of the early Church, which was taught by the apostles. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop who was martyred for the faith in the early 100s, and who was himself a disciple of the apostle John, wrote to the Church in Smyrna about "those who hold heterodox opinions" that "[t]hey abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His Goodness, raised up again."

For 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has trusted in Jesus' words at the Last Supper. She has celebrated the Eucharist as the very center of the Church's life and has maintained a steadfast faith in the life-giving reality of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist.

Why can't Protestants receive Catholic Communion?

So, after that long introduction (which, believe it or not, barely scratches the surface of the Church's rich and polyvalent understanding of the sacrament), we actually get to the question we started with: Why can't Protestants receive Communion in the Catholic Church? As this question was posed in the context of a desire for Christian unity, I'll try to address that issue as well.

The Catholic Church longs for Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one" (John 17:21) to be fulfilled, and is grieved by the fact of division within the Body of Christ, because division is contrary to the will of Christ, Who is the Head of the Church.

Since the Catholic Church understands herself to be, historically, the one Church that Jesus founded, she sees herself as the locus of Christian unity and prays that all people might be reconciled to her and, through her, to Christ. Which means, to put it bluntly, that the Catholic Church desires, ultimately, for all people to become Catholic.

Doesn't that make the Catholic Church the most delusionally presumptuous and hubristic organization on the planet? Yes it does, if the Church's desire is not also the will of God. But that's a topic for another excessively long essay.

Does this desire mean that the Catholic Church does not regard Protestants as true Christians? By no means! The Church regards all those who have been baptized as brothers and sisters in Christ and recognizes that God is truly at work in Protestant communities.

But while the Church sees non-Catholic Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ, she must honestly acknowledge that they are "separated brethren." While the Catholic Church longs, works, and prays for full unity in the Body of Christ, the wounds of division cannot be healed by fiat. While great strides have been made in mutual understanding and reconciliation between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians in recent decades, the longed-for unity is not yet a reality.

The Eucharist is a sacrament of unity: It both signifies and strengthens the bonds of unity within the Church. You might ask why, if the Eucharist is a source of unity, Catholics wouldn't encourage Protestants to receive Catholic Communion, so that the divisions in the Body of Christ might be healed. The answer to that question can be found in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. After recounting Jesus' words at the Last Supper, Paul writes:

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Serious stuff. And so the Catholic Church's teaching that Protestants -- who typically do not discern the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist in the same way that the Catholic Church does -- ought not receive Catholic Communion is born, not out of some ill-conceived and insensitive desire for exclusivity, but primarily out of love. Undoubtedly it can be hard to feel the love when you're the only one left sitting in the pews at Communion time, but love really is the motive.

The passage from 1 Corinthians also highlights another Church teaching about the Eucharist which is rarely emphasized or even acknowledged these days: Catholics are not to receive the Eucharist if they are conscious of having committed any serious sins which they have not confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation. To receive the Eucharist in such a state of sin is, itself, a serious sin. Protestants are not the only ones who ought not receive the Eucharist at Mass. There are, in all likelihood, several Catholics eating and drinking judgment upon themselves at most Masses by receiving the Eucharist in an unworthy manner (I have, unfortunately, often been one of them in the past), and we are not to be envied.

There is more that I could say -- and much, much more that could be said -- about the Eucharist, but this post has gone on long enough.

If you have any questions or want to take issue with anything I've written, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail, and I will do my best to respond.

And if you want more complete and authoritative information about the Eucharist than I can offer, please check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church or, for a briefer treatment, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Candy-making sister

I imagine I've probably lost any of my regular blog-checkers with my nearly two-month silence, but I'm gonna ease back into this and hope that a few people come back with me.  

Anyway, here's a link to a fun little story I wrote for The Catholic Northwest Progress about an 87-year-old religious sister who auctions off her candy-making talents in charity auctions.  Enjoy.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sleepy bear

I'm a sucker for bears, babies, and sleeping, so I was quite taken with this video of a sleepy baby bear. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Could someone please explain this to me?

There's an interesting piece in the Telegraph by Professor Stuart Campbell, a London obstetrician who discusses his "technique for producing detailed 3D images of the developing foetus that show it smiling, yawning, rubbing its eyes and apparently 'walking' in the womb."

He continues:

"Though I perform these scans every day, I am still overcome by the excitement and the wonder of the foetus that is learning to be a baby. By 20 weeks it smiles, makes crying expressions and sucks its thumb. At 23 weeks, it begins to open its eyes and develops quite complex patterns of behaviour. It can survive outside the womb.

. . .

"I have been accused of sentimentality, but the fact is that, in these images, foetuses are baby-like. To me it is almost barbaric to abort foetuses between 20 and 24 weeks. In fact, the procedure is so unattractive and distressing that few doctors will perform the operation after 20 weeks."

Campbell, however, advocates reducing the amount of red tape involved in procuring an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. (The current law in Great Britain requires two doctors to sign off in such cases, though in practice this is basically a formality, according to Campbell.) Here's his reasoning:

"Delay is bad. Anything that speeds up the process and enables an abortion to be carried out more expeditiously once a woman has made her decision, is to be welcomed.

. . .

"Some GPs are less keen on performing terminations than others. While they go through the laborious formalities of seeking independent signatures, a woman may be left waiting for two or three weeks before her termination. In that time, the foetus is acquiring the startling human characteristics seen in the scans carried out every day in hospitals around the country."

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I understand it, this obstetrician's position with respect to unborn babies is, Hurry up and kill it before it starts doing anything too cute that might convict my conscience!

I can't understand how anyone could be intellectually satisfied with such a position. Aborting a 20-to-24-week-old fetus is "almost barbaric," but aborting a less-than-20-week-old fetus is apparently morally neutral, a process to be streamlined? There's a very strange philosophical scheme at work here, one that establishes a firm chronological cut-off point for determining the humanity of an unborn baby, based largely on the emotional response the baby evokes.

Such a scheme seems, to me, intellectually unsustainable. What if you're faced with a particularly precocious 19-and-a-half-week-old fetus? Would aborting that baby be barbaric, or no? What is it, exactly, that happens at that magical 20-week threshold that universally transmogrifies non-humans into humans?

Is there an ontological difference between a 20-week-old fetus and a 19-week-old fetus? Between a 19-week-old and an 18-week-old? Between an 18-week-old and a 17-week-old, and so on?

Could someone please explain this to me?

Pope Benedict reflects on his visit to the U.S.

In case you missed Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the United States a couple weeks ago, or if you just couldn't quite assimilate all that he said while he was here, here's a very brief wrap-up of his visit. It's basically an abridged version of his weekly audience today, courtesy of the Vatican:

"My recent Apostolic Journey to the United Nations and the United States of America was inspired by the theme, 'Christ our Hope'. I am most grateful to all who helped in any way to make the Journey a success. My visit was meant to encourage the Catholic community in America, especially our young people, to bear consistent witness to the faith, and to carry on the Church’s mission, especially with regard to education and concern for the poor. American society traditionally values religious freedom and the need for faith to play its part in building a sound civic life. In my meetings with President Bush, and with Christian leaders and representatives of other religions, I reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to cooperation in the service of understanding, peace and spiritual values. My address to the United Nations stressed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grounds respect for human dignity in a universally valid ethical order. In a particular way, my visit to Ground Zero, charged with sober silence and prayer, was a moving testimony to the hope which is stronger than evil and death. I ask all of you to join me in praying that this Visit will bear abundant spiritual fruit for the growth of the faith in America and for the unity and peace of the whole human family."

"U.S. trip helped pope, Catholic Church image: poll"

From Reuters:

"As a result of what they saw and heard during the trip, 65 percent of Americans have a more positive view of the pope, while 21 said it made no difference and 14 percent said their opinion was now less positive."

Mission accomplished.

Pope Benedict can finally breathe a sigh of relief, and maybe give a Sally Field-esque "You like me!" speech.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The greatest book I have ever read

When I first read G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy in November, I remarked that it was a book that would bear repeat readings over the years. Well, I think I underestimated my enthusiasm for this book. In the five months since my initial reading, I have already re-read the book and listened to it in audiobook form. (Please do yourself a favor and download the free audiobook here. I promise you will not regret the investment of six hours of your life.)

Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy in 1908, so it's 100 years old this year. Some people say it's the best book of the 20th century. Now, not having read all the books written in the 20th century, I'm in no position to comment on the veracity of that rather sweeping claim, but I will take a stand and say that Orthodoxy is at least the greatest book I have ever read. As far as I'm concerned, it's the perfect book -- short, funny, thought-provoking, and utterly brilliant.

It's a cliché to observe that Chesterton's writing is as fresh and relevant today as it was 100 years ago, but it's so true that I'll risk the cliché. Chesterton understood everything. His vision penetrated to the heart of every intellectual fashion and cultural trend of his time, and he saw with seemingly prescient clarity how such trends would play out in the long run. He understood the year 2008 better than most people today do. Change out a few of the names and specific cultural references, and you'd think the book was written last month.

If I let myself get going, I could quote dozens of favorite passages, but for now I'll just give you one that never fails to make me smile. It's from Chapter 4: The Ethics of Elfland:

"All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pray for Aliza Shvarts

It’s been more than three days since I first read about Aliza Shvarts – the Yale senior who claims to have artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” during the past year and then taken abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages as part of her senior art project – and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. I will provide a brief run-down of the situation for those who may not have heard about this yet.

On Thursday morning, the Yale Daily News ran a story about Shvarts’s project entitled “For senior, abortion a medium for art, political discourse.” The Drudge Report and other news outlets picked up the story, and it quickly permeated the Internet. Later in the day, a Yale spokeswoman released a statement saying that Shvarts had informed Yale officials that she had never actually impregnated herself, that the whole thing was just “performance art.” Shvarts shot back that the Yale administration was simply trying to dissociate itself from her in response to negative media attention, and that she really had repeatedly inseminated herself and self-aborted as she claimed. On Friday, the Yale Daily News ran a column by Shvarts in which she explained what she considered the artistic significance of her project and gave this account of how she had proceeded:

“For the past year, I performed repeated self-induced miscarriages. I created a group of fabricators from volunteers who submitted to periodic STD screenings and agreed to their complete and permanent anonymity. From the 9th to the 15th day of my menstrual cycle, the fabricators would provide me with sperm samples, which I used to privately self-inseminate. Using a needleless syringe, I would inject the sperm near my cervix within 30 minutes of its collection, so as to insure the possibility of fertilization. On the 28th day of my cycle, I would ingest an abortifacient, after which I would experience cramps and heavy bleeding.”

Since she always timed her ingestion of the abortifacient to coincide with the expected start of menstruation, Shvarts says she does not know whether she was ever actually pregnant.

The Yale Daily News gives this account of Shvarts’s plan for the presentation of her project, which will be exhibited at Yale’s Undergraduate Senior Art Show from April 22 to May 1:

“The display of Schvarts' project will feature a large cube suspended from the ceiling of a room in the gallery of Green Hall. Schvarts will wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting around this cube; lined between layers of the sheeting will be the blood from Schvarts' self-induced miscarriages mixed with Vaseline in order to prevent the blood from drying and to extend the blood throughout the plastic sheeting.

“Schvarts will then project recorded videos onto the four sides of the cube. These videos, captured on a VHS camcorder, will show her experiencing miscarriages in her bathrooom tub, she said. Similar videos will be projected onto the walls of the room.”

Here ends my impartial recounting of this situation.

When I first read about this, I was physically sickened. I was appalled, angered, disgusted, dumbfounded … and deeply, deeply saddened. I wanted to decry this abomination as an act of pure, distilled evil – and so it is. And I wanted to condemn this girl as a demon, an inhuman and menacing monster. These were my visceral reactions – and the apparent reactions of many people – to this story, and they were, I believe, completely natural.

But outrage should not be the only – or even the primary – reaction to this heartbreaking situation. When I first read the story, it took me only a few seconds to realize that righteous indignation and disgust, while almost unavoidable, were not what this situation most desperately needed. And so I prayed.

I prayed that God would have mercy on this girl’s soul and that He would hold in His loving embrace the souls of any babies she may have conceived and killed. I prayed that God would heal this girl of whatever terrible affliction – whether psychological, demonic, or otherwise – led her to believe that her actions were acceptable. I prayed that God would make His loving presence known to this girl and that she would come to understand and repent for what she had done. I prayed that God would comfort all those for whom this story is a source of great pain. I prayed that God would have mercy on us all.

More than anything else, we need to pray for this situation, whatever the situation really is. I was not surprised to hear the report from Yale that Shvarts’s project was a hoax, nor was I surprised to hear Shvarts’s insistence that it was not. I don’t know what the truth is, whether she actually inseminated herself or not, but either way, she needs our prayers. Whether she actually aborted (or at least intended to abort) innocent life for the sake of “art,” or just intended to cause havoc and widespread distress by convincing people that she did, she needs our prayers. Her actions were absolutely abhorrent either way, and either way she is so far off course that she’ll never be able to find her way back without a lot of help.

Like I say, my visceral desire is to condemn Shvarts as a monster. But I can’t do that so easily. I have to remind myself that we are all sinners, and that judgment belongs to God alone. Also, Shvarts’s words and actions reek so strongly of serious mental illness that I have to wonder to what extent she can even be considered responsible for her actions. So I’m not going to condemn Aliza Shvarts. But, oh boy, can I condemn her actions.

Shvarts’s project is disgusting. In addition to the obvious evil of intentionally conceiving and killing babies as “art,” her project spits in the face of every woman who has ever suffered a real miscarriage (as opposed to Shvarts’s euphemistic “miscarriages”). Shvarts’s whole project is, quite literally, sickening.

Shvarts’s rationale (far too generous a word) for her project is almost as disturbing as the project itself. I was very interested to read her explanation of the project to see what kind of justification she could possibly give for her actions. It was … frightening. Her account is an inhuman nightmare of intro-level deconstructionist nonsense and pseudo-intellectual buzzwords that epitomizes everything that has gone wrong with “thinking” in recent history. I hesitate to give an excerpt, but I think it’s important for people to see what passes for scholarship at elite universities these days:

“[This piece] creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership. An intentional ambiguity pervades both the act and the objects I produced in relation to it. The performance exists only as I chose to represent it. For me, the most poignant aspect of this representation — the part most meaningful in terms of its political agenda (and, incidentally, the aspect that has not been discussed thus far) — is the impossibility of accurately identifying the resulting blood. Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether the there was ever a fertilized ovum or not. The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading.

“This ambivalence makes obvious how the act of identification or naming — the act of ascribing a word to something physical — is at its heart an ideological act, an act that literally has the power to construct bodies. In a sense, the act of conception occurs when the viewer assigns the term ‘miscarriage’ or ‘period’ to that blood.

“In some sense, neither term is exactly accurate or inaccurate; the ambiguity is not merely a matter of context, but is embodied in the physicality of the object. This central ambiguity defies a clear definition of the act. The reality of miscarriage is very much a linguistic and political reality, an act of reading constructed by an act of naming — an authorial act.

“It is the intention of this piece to destabilize the locus of that authorial act, and in doing so, reclaim it from the heteronormative structures that seek to naturalize it.”

If you didn’t understand any of that, it’s because it doesn’t mean anything, at least not anything that anyone with a modicum of common sense would ever fall for. No, Ms. Shvarts, there is absolutely no sense in which “the act of conception occurs when the viewer assigns the term ‘miscarriage’ or ‘period’ to that blood.” There’s either a dead embryo in there or there isn’t, completely independent of our knowledge or our “ideological” “act of identification.” You have not “isolate[d] the locus of ontology to an act of readership” because, as every normal person knows, there is such a thing as objective reality, however “heteronormative” you may find that reality to be.

I can’t stand this kind of garbage, but it’s just sad in this case. No one comes up with stuff like this on their own. This is quite obviously the result of long-term hardcore nonsense indoctrination that has apparently deadened Shvarts’s soul.

Perhaps the one faint glimmer of a silver lining in this storm cloud of a situation is the fact that Shvarts’s actions have been almost universally denounced. The response of students at Yale seems to have been overwhelmingly negative. “My initial reaction was on par with everyone else’s,” Yale freshman Laura Gonzales told The Harvard Crimson. “I was appalled and shocked. Both sides of the abortion debate are against it.”

According to the Yale Daily News, even NARAL Pro-Choice America has condemned the project. “This ‘project’ is offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage,” said Ted Miller, a spokesman for the organization.

My fiancée, Jeanette, told me that her co-workers, many of them pro-choice, were all disturbed by the story when it broke on Thursday. One of them in particular followed the story with great interest as it developed throughout the day, trying to understand his reaction to it. He is staunchly pro-choice, so he was trying to figure out why he had such a negative response to Shvarts’s project.

I guess that would be my challenge to those who believe that abortion is acceptable in principle and yet find Shvarts’s project abhorrent: Please try to articulate clearly why you think and feel the way you do. If you believe that abortion is acceptable, why are you bothered by Shvarts’s project? I would be very interested to read your response.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The pope's prayer at Ground Zero

From EWTN, the text of Pope Benedict's prayer at Ground Zero in New York this morning:

"O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

"We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

"We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.

"Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

"We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

"Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.

"Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

"God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

"Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all."

Friday, April 18, 2008

The pope's address to the UN

EWTN has the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's address this morning to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Here's an excerpt from roughly the second half of the pope's address. If you're like me, you'll have to read it slowly to grasp all that the pope is getting at -- he is a very dense thinker, in the sense that every sentence and every clause is tightly packed with meaning, and his ideas unfold over the course of paragraphs rather than in catchy slogans or phrases. Here, the pope touches on the basis of human rights, the discernment of good and evil, the role of religion in society, the aim of inter-religious dialogue, and the true meaning of religious liberty:

"Experience shows that legality often prevails over justice when the insistence upon rights makes them appear as the exclusive result of legislative enactments or normative decisions taken by the various agencies of those in power. When presented purely in terms of legality, rights risk becoming weak propositions divorced from the ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and their goal. The Universal Declaration, rather, has reinforced the conviction that respect for human rights is principally rooted in unchanging justice, on which the binding force of international proclamations is also based. This aspect is often overlooked when the attempt is made to deprive rights of their true function in the name of a narrowly utilitarian perspective. Since rights and the resulting duties follow naturally from human interaction, it is easy to forget that they are the fruit of a commonly held sense of justice built primarily upon solidarity among the members of society, and hence valid at all times and for all peoples. This intuition was expressed as early as the fifth century by Augustine of Hippo, one of the masters of our intellectual heritage. He taught that the saying: Do not do to others what you would not want done to you 'cannot in any way vary according to the different understandings that have arisen in the world' (De Doctrina Christiana, III, 14). Human rights, then, must be respected as an expression of justice, and not merely because they are enforceable through the will of the legislators.

"Ladies and Gentlemen,

"As history proceeds, new situations arise, and the attempt is made to link them to new rights. Discernment, that is, the capacity to distinguish good from evil, becomes even more essential in the context of demands that concern the very lives and conduct of persons, communities and peoples. In tackling the theme of rights, since important situations and profound realities are involved, discernment is both an indispensable and a fruitful virtue.

"Discernment, then, shows that entrusting exclusively to individual States, with their laws and institutions, the final responsibility to meet the aspirations of persons, communities and entire peoples, can sometimes have consequences that exclude the possibility of a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person. On the other hand, a vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help to achieve this, since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favours conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace. This also provides the proper context for the inter-religious dialogue that the United Nations is called to support, just as it supports dialogue in other areas of human activity. Dialogue should be recognized as the means by which the various components of society can articulate their point of view and build consensus around the truth concerning particular values or goals. It pertains to the nature of religions, freely practised, that they can autonomously conduct a dialogue of thought and life. If at this level, too, the religious sphere is kept separate from political action, then great benefits ensue for individuals and communities. On the other hand, the United Nations can count on the results of dialogue between religions, and can draw fruit from the willingness of believers to place their experiences at the service of the common good. Their task is to propose a vision of faith not in terms of intolerance, discrimination and conflict, but in terms of complete respect for truth, coexistence, rights, and reconciliation.

"Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian - a vision that brings out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and that of the believer. The activity of the United Nations in recent years has ensured that public debate gives space to viewpoints inspired by a religious vision in all its dimensions, including ritual, worship, education, dissemination of information and the freedom to profess and choose religion. It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves - their faith - in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights. The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature. The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order. Indeed, they actually do so, for example through their influential and generous involvement in a vast network of initiatives which extend from Universities, scientific institutions and schools to health care agencies and charitable organizations in the service of the poorest and most marginalized. Refusal to recognize the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute - by its nature, expressing communion between persons - would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"We are Catholic: Welcome home"

I saw this video from a group called Catholics Come Home a while ago, and I've been waiting for it to turn up in embeddable form so I could post it. Thanks to Dyspeptic Mutterings and others for highlighting it.

UPDATE: Ah well, they took it down from YouTube. The video is here, at the bottom of the page, on the left.

"Pope prays with victims of clergy sex abuse scandal"

A good story from the Associated Press. Excerpts:

"Pope Benedict XVI prayed with tearful victims of clergy sex abuse in a chapel Thursday, an extraordinary gesture from a pontiff who has made atoning for the great shame of the U.S. church the cornerstone of his first papal trip to America.

. . .

"The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman, said that Benedict and Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley met with a group of five or six clergy sex abuse victims for about 25 minutes, offering them encouragement and hope. The group from O'Malley's archdiocese were all adults, men and women, who had been molested when they were minors. Each spoke privately with the pope.

"'They prayed together. Also, each of them had their own individual time with the Holy Father,' Lombardi said. 'Some were in tears.'"

The pope on Catholic education

EWTN has the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's address this afternoon to Catholic educators from around the country at the Catholic University of America. Here's an excerpt from his remarks on the touchy subject of "academic freedom":

"In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

"Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual."

Papal Mass pictures

A few photos from Pope Benedict XVI's Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., from Reuters:

The pope's homily

EWTN has the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's homily from the Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., where 46,000 people are gathered this morning. An excerpt:

"I pray, then, that this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God's Kingdom.

"The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

"'Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!' (cf. Ps 104:30). The words of today's Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place. They remind us that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as the first fruits of a new creation, 'new heavens and a new earth' (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in which God's peace will reign and the human family will be reconciled in justice and love. We have heard Saint Paul tell us that all creation is even now 'groaning' in expectation of that true freedom which is God's gift to his children (Rom 8:21-22), a freedom which enables us to live in conformity to his will. Today let us pray fervently that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!"