Friday, April 09, 2004

Good Friday

Sano di Pietro, The Crucifixion, c. 1450

O Sacred Head, surrounded by crown of piercing thorn;
O Bleeding Head so wounded, reviled and put to scorn!
The pow'r of death comes o'er Thee, the glow of life decays,
Yet angel hosts adore Thee, and tremble as they gaze!

I was the celebrant today for my parish's Good Friday service, and it always affects me very deeply. I usually cannot get through all the verses of the Passion Chorale above without choking up, and sometimes weeping. I am struck by my priestly identity as Alter Christus, and by my profound unworthiness for that distinction and privilege. Nonetheless, I am grateful for it, and for my Savior's infinite mercy towards me.

At my parish, we have a large wooden cross that the celebrant carries into the church for the Veneration of the Cross. It stands about 6 feet high and 3 feet across, and weighs about 100 pounds. So I really felt it as I carried it in, and cried out "This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world!" And as I carried it, I thought and prayed, "O Lord, how unworthy I am to carry Your cross. How unworthy I am." Never have I felt more deeply how much Jesus has given me. I weep for my sins, and for the immensity of Christ's saving gift of Himself.

We all show our faith and devotion in different ways. But today, even the strongest, most self-disciplined man should have no shame or self-consciousness in weeping at the foot of the cross. Weep for Christ, and for His mercy on us, who merit it not.

For today, God Himself died for you.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever; and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

John Kerry's Annulment...Or Lack Thereof.

The most charitable thing you can say about Senator John Kerry's position on abortion, and his understanding of Church teaching about abortion, is that he is befuddled and confused. His pronouncements on the subject have been self-serving and disingenuous, and if the reports are true, his efforts to purposely get himself refused communion for political ends reveals a level and kind of cynicism which beggars vituperation.

As the debate about Kerry's nose-thumbing at Catholic teaching regarding abortion grows more heated, more and more Catholics are turning their attention to the question of Kerry's marriage to ketchup heiress Theresa Heinz: Is he validly married to Theresa in the eyes of the Church? Did he get an annulment from his first wife? The prospect that Kerry and Heinz may be presenting themselves illicitly for Holy Communion has many orthodox Catholics up in arms.

But, in spite of my own distaste for Kerry, I have to say "Don't go there, people. Don't go there." Getting wrapped up about the status of Kerry's marriage is a waste of time.


Because the only people who know whether Kerry has an annulment or not are Kerry and Heinz themselves, a few officials of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and possibly Cardinal McCarrick himself. And that situation isn't going to change unless Kerry himself decides to resolve the question publicly once and for all.

You see, annulment cases are considered very confidential. They aren't considered quite as secret as the confessional, but they are nontheless secret. If you call up the Tribunal in Washington, and ask if Senator Kerry ever got an annulment, you'll be politely told that such matters are confidential. If you even ask if Senator Kerry applied for an annulment, you'll again be politely told that such matters are confidential. And that's not just because Kerry's a VIP. If you do the same regarding Joe Shmoe who lives down the street, you'll meet with the same response.

This secrecy is maintained to protect the consciences and reputations of the parties in the annulment, who usually reveal very sensitive and personal information about themselves and their spouses in the course of the case. The only people who have access to that information are those the Church deems have an incontrovertible need to know. And 99.9% of the time, that doesn't include you and me.

So the only people who know besides Kerry and Heinz can't and won't tell.

What seems to be the case, from information presented here and here, and here, is that Kerry married Theresa outside the Church before he sought an annulment from his first wife. OK, that was bad. And he made some remarks on the Don Imus radio show in 1997, which indicate that he had not yet received an annulment. So at least at that point, Kerry was probably living in an invalid marriage.

But the other writers who have commented on this situation report on the fact that Kerry's first wife opposed the annulment as though that fact in itself proved that Kerry doesn't have one. But that's simply not true. The spouse's response to a "Petition for A Declaration of Nullity" (what an "annulment" is officially known as) is an important part of the evidence, but it is still only one part. A spouse's opposition to an annulment does not have the ability to derail the case entirely. An opposing spouse, if he/she has good canonical representation, can certainly tie up the case even if it has merit. But annulments can be and are sometimes granted in spite of a spouse's opposition.

The evidence available to us, as it stands, simply does not support the conclusion that Kerry cannot have gotten an annulment.

And 1997 was, after all, seven years ago. It is perfectly possible that his annulment, held up by his first wife's opposition and stalled in 1997, was granted subsequently. And such an event would have passed with no fanfare whatsoever.

Furthermore, his invalid marriage to Theresa, contracted civilly in 1995, could have been rectified by the Church once Kerry obtained an annulment. Such a process is called a "convalidation", and in it the couple renews their consent to marry, and the Church supplies what was defective or missing in contracting the invalid marriage. Thus the couple becomes validly married in the Church. Most couples also go through convalidations with little fanfare, and the Kerrys would almost certainly be no exception. As a public figure, John Kerry would have zero incentive to make either his annulment or a convalidation a public matter, as it could do him no good politically.

So what we have is a situation where our knowledge is limited, our abililty to ascertain all the facts is limited, and there is a plausible alternative explanation which does not contradict the facts we have at hand. That's the kind of situation where it has always seemed prudent to me to keep my big mouth shut.

If some Catholics go after Kerry on the annulment issue, and Kerry really had obtained one, all he will have to do is release a document to demolish the credibility of his critics. Then he can portray himself sympathetically as the victim of Catholic "extremists". And if Kerry doesn't produce such a document, he can nonetheless claim that his annulment is a confidential matter, and it's none of our business, and he'll be entirely within his rights. And he can use the unseemly aspect of Catholics trying to pry into what the Church herself regards as a confidential matter as another opporuntunity to be portrayed sympathetically. And no one will be able to prove anything one way or another.

It seems to me that the annulment issue is a non-starter. And if Kerry really is in an invalid marriage to Theresa Heinz, the people primarily being hurt are Kerry and Heinz themselves.

But Kerry has hurt the innocent unborn as Senator, and will do untold more harm if he becomes president. Kerry's repudiation of magisterial Catholic teaching on the issue of abortion, and his abject servility to NARAL and NOW, provide the clearest of moral delineations, and the most urgent moral imperative to oppose him.

Let's keep ourselves focused, and not allow ourselves to scatter all over the map in our opposition to Kerry.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

ABC's "Jesus and Paul"

Well, I wasn't going to watch Peter Jennings' ABC special "Jesus and Paul: The Word and the Witness". When I saw the lineup of scholars included Paula Fredriksen, John Dominic Crossan, Elaine Pagels, and Bishop John Shelby Spong, I figured that the show would be a waste of time. Going to John Dominic Crossan or Bishop Spong to learn about Jesus and/or Paul would be like going to Robert Sungenis to learn about astrophysics.

But I found myself turning it on anyway, about an hour into the show. My expectations were low, and those low expectations were fulfilled. Perhaps I missed the riveting content of the first hour, but I rather doubt it. While I suppose watching the show was a better use of time than, say, committing sin, it was not as good a use of time as, perhaps, clipping my toenails or sleeping.

Firstly, I found the show's format and style extremely annoying. The music-video style montages and "bumpers" between segments or scenes, complete with irritating music, wasted a lot of time and added nothing. How does seeing a street scene of people shopping in present day Damascus advance my understanding of Jesus, Paul, and their times?

The content? The best I can say for it is thin. Paper thin. Practically transparent. There was lots of moving around from place to place, and lots of looking at old churches and other old stuff, but precious little time actually explaining what any of it actually meant. I was especially annoyed by the repeated shots of Eastern Orthodox liturgies, with no effort made whatsoever to explain them, and considering the glaring absence of any Orthodox scholars on their panel.

And then, of course, were the outright errors and howling idiocies spouted by those so-called scholars. My personal favorite was Karen Armstrong's assertion that St. Paul wasn't "interested in doctrine." Has this woman ever read the Letter to the Romans? Practically the whole thing is about "doctrine". Read, for example, the 6th chapter. The "runner up" has to be Dr. Calvin Butts III, who blithely agreed with Peter Jennings that "of course" Paul distorted and exaggerated Jesus' teaching. So much for revelation, divine inspiration, and Christ's promise to his Church.

I won't be getting the video to show to RCIA or Adult Ed. classes...