Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Blessed Christmas At St. Stanislaus!

I hope all of you had a Blessed and Merry Christmas - though, as we are still in the Octave of Christmas, it's really still Christmas!

The Christmas Masses at my parish of St. Stanislaus were wonderful. Firstly, the church itself was beautifully decorated by my parishioners, as you can see here:



And the liturgies themselves were glorious! The 6:00 PM Mass is the "Children's" Mass, and we had a children's choir from our parish school sing. Among other things, they sang the French carol "Sing We Now of Christmas", and did so very well. The Ordinary of the Mass was Chant - anytime someone tries to claim that Gregorian chant is "too difficult", just point out to them that I regularly teach 8-year-olds to sing it quite nicely!

Midnight Mass was also beautiful. We celebrated the liturgy with full solemnity - Sung Mass, choir, brass, and incense. I even broke out my biretta for the occasion:



I was particularly happy that we did the Kyrie from Mass V, as it really conveys the exuberant joy of Christmas, with its melismas. If you've never heard it, go here and take a listen! The choir did a good job on it, and the congregation made a pretty decent attempt of it as well!


Incensing the Altar at the Offertory


I also chanted the gospel at Midnight Mass and at the Mass of Christmas morning. Here's a photo of me incensing the Gospel at the morning Mass:



The choir, servers, and everyone else, did a wonderful job. I'm also particularly grateful to my Music Director, Gavin, for a tremendous effort and first rate organ playing!

Jesus Christus Natus Est!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Rejoice! The Lord Is Near!

I'm finally putting up the pictures of the 11:00 Mass for Gaudete Sunday. Sorry for the delay, but I am a little busy this week...

Here's a picture of the sanctuary at St. Stanislaus, to give you the layout:



And here I am chanting the collect:



Note the rose vestments. Now, I know some of you will say that my vestments are too pink to be a true rose color. And that may be the case. But they are beautiful, and I'm secure enough in my masculinity that I will wear them with impunity.



Here I am again, on my way over to proclaim the Gospel.


My homily was about the joy of expectation we are invited into while we await the coming of the Savior. Among other things, I chanted the first line of the Introit (solo) to illustrate the spirit of joy expressed in the liturgy.



"Per Ipsum, cum ipso, et in ipso..."


As mentioned in my previous post, at this Mass I used the Roman Canon in Latin. How did that go over, seeing that such a thing hasn't been done at St. Stanislaus in decades? Well, firstly, there were no complaints, and many positive reactions. But even more telling is this: Our music director had prepared a worship leaflet that contained the Latin text and facing translation of the Canon. I observed at several points that people were, in fact, following the text, and I noted the rustling of pages of the program periodically, as people followed along in their programs. So the people followed and prayed along with active interest. I think we might call that "participatio actuosa", mightn't we?

All told, the liturgy was glorious! Many parishioners complimented the schola on the beauty of their singing. And I think our own parish choir (who were in attendance) was edified and heartened, to see and hear a group of ordinary guys (and that's who the Schola are - none of them are professional musicians) sing chant with such skill and devotion.



The Schola of the Chair of St. Peter and Yours Truly


Deo gratias!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Liturgy Alert - Gaudete Sunday!

This Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, is Gaudete Sunday. This Sunday gets its name from the Latin word for "Rejoice!", which figures prominently in the Introit for the Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper, iterum dico, gaudete!

Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again, Rejoice!


This is a quote from St. Paul's Letter to the Phillipians, chapter 4, which is also the second reading for the Mass.

The proper chants for this Mass speak of and, it seems to me, embody the joyful expectation we have in this season of preparation for the Lord's coming. The communion antiphon says "Take courage, you who are fainthearted, and do not fear: behold, our God will come and He wil save us".

Rejoice! Take heart! Our salvation is at hand! That's what this Sunday is all about.

Once again, here at St. Stanislaus, we will be blessed to have with us our Gregorian Chant Schola-in-Residence, the Schola of the Chair of St. Peter, at our 11:00 AM Mass. I introduced the Schola in my post for All Souls Day. They will sing the Gregorian propers for this Sunday, and we will use the Ordinary of Mass XVIII. And, for the first time at a Sunday Mass here in at least 25 years, I will be using the Roman Canon in Latin.

One of the signs of the special joy of this day is that the priest may wear rose colored vestments, one of the two occasions during the church year where this may be done. Here's a photo of me (at my previous parish) wearing my rose vestments:



I will, of course, be making use of them this Sunday.

If you can, please join us! And if St. Stanislaus parish is too far away for you to come here, please join with us in spirit as we offer this sacrifice of praise to the Father.

Deal Hudson Has a Blog!

Deal Hudson, the former publisher of Crisis magazine, and executive director of the Morley Institute for Church and Culture, started blogging about a month ago.

The Deal Hudson blog has self-confessed "theocon" commentary on issues of Catholic faith and culture. Marjorie Campbell is another contributor.

Marjorie relates, in a post yesterday, her participation in a Jesuit high-school's "sex pow-wow" for juniors and seniors, who, she wrote, "proceeded to share their sex stories." She then described her response:
By the time the students finished painfully detailed descriptions of  their sexual challenges, fears, anxieties, worries, confusions and defeats, my job became simple.  I apologized.  I apologized on behalf of an entire generation that spun the Big Lie that sex has no rules or consequences. 


Take a look at this blog - it's well worth reading.

My Parish Music Director Has a Blog!

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been working to make our liturgical life at my parish more fully and authentically Catholic, and to make our liturgies more solemn and beautiful. So I began introducing Gregorian Chant into our liturgies, have been trying to encourage the development of the musical resources of the parish.

One big part of making that happen was the hiring of St. Stanislaus' new music director last summer. His name is Gavin: he's a young guy, just 22 years old. He's already a gifted organist and, I think, is rapidly becoming a talented choir director. He takes the Church's musical tradition seriously and wants to bring excellence to our liturgical celebrations. He's a little bit lacking in experience, but more than makes up for that in zeal and energy.

I'm also very pleased that he has taken the time to actually read church documents on liturgy and music that I've suggested, and even some others of his own accord!

Gavin, being young and full of opinions, has a blog, called Laudamus Te. One of his recent posts is the text of a memo he recently distributed to the members of our parish choir. Among other things, he writes:
In my time as music director for your parish, I have made many changes to the music done at Mass both for the congregation and the choir. Be assured, these are no trite novelties. The introduction of quality choral music and the giving of a higher place to the choir in the Mass has doubtlessly been beneficial to the worship of the congregation we serve. The use of “traditional” hymnody has broadened the horizons of many in the parish beyond the “top 50” of most parishes. These changes have not simply been a matter of the personal taste of myself or Fr. Johansen, these have been to restore reverence to the Mass and to bring the celebration of Mass at St. Stanislaus Parish closer to what the Church desires. Starting next year, I endeavor to enact another round of changes at the late Mass which will be a large step in fidelity for the music ministry.

It is my intention to begin making use of what are known as “the Mass propers” on the Sunday after Epiphany. Although I have spoken on these before, I will define them once more. The Mass carries with it readings. We do not use the same readings every week, as that would be tedious and imprudent. Rather, we use the readings which are appointed to the day by the Church. The Church also appoints songs for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion. These are known as the proper antiphons, and typically consist of a verse of psalmody. The most well-known settings of these are the chants found in the corpus of Gregorian chant...We have been honing our skills at the Gregorian chants with great success.

Please go read the whole thing - it's quite well thought out and written.

While Gavin's opinions are his own, and I don't agree with all of them, nonetheless he and I are very much "on the same wavelength". His understanding of sacred music, and what the Church asks of us in the liturgy, are quite sound. Which, of course, is why I hired him.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls Day




All Souls Day Liturgy Alert!

At my parish of St. Stanislaus, we will be having Mass this evening, at 6:30 PM, for All Souls Day.

Since I became pastor here a little more than a year ago, I have been working to make our liturgical life here at St. Stanislaus more fully and authentically Catholic, and to make our liturgies more solemn and beautiful. Toward that end, I have been introducing Gregorian Chant (back) into our Masses, and encouraging the development of the musical resources of the parish.

Those efforts are beginning to bear fruit, and will do so in a special way tonight.

I was very fortunate, a few months ago, to be introduced to a musical ensemble called "The Schola of the Chair of St. Peter". They are a group of Catholic gentlemen from around the Grand Rapids area who have been gathering to learn and sing Chant for the past decade or so. Their knowledge and mastery of chant is deep and rich. They sing from time to time at a few parishes, but, unfortunately, as is the case in much of the US, the Catholic musical environment in this area hasn't been very chant-friendly.

I have made them the official "Chant Schola In Residence" here at St. Stanislaus, and they will be singing here for the first time tonight. They will be singing the Gregorian Requiem Mass, complete with the Dies Irae, which will be sung during communion following the Communion antiphon. My congregation has already learned the Ordinary of Mass XVIII, so this will not be a mere spectator experience, but will, I hope, embody the ideal of participatio actuosa as envisioned by the fathers of Vatican II.

Also, for the first time here in at least 25 years, I will use the Roman Canon in Latin for the Eucharistic Prayer.

In future posts I'll describe more of what we're doing here at St. Stanislaus to implement the "Reform of the Reform".

I realize that many of my readers will live too far away to come to this Mass, but pray with and for us, as we offer this sacrifice of praise to the Father.

Oh, and by the way, my vestments for tonight's Mass — black, naturally.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ignore Celebrities When They Speak On Politics or Morality

Remember last week, how actor-turned-poster-boy-for-human-embryo-harvesting Michael J.Fox injected himself into Missouri politics by making a political ad exploiting his Parkinson's disease in favor of a Missouri candidate and ballot initiative? Rush Limbaugh rather hamhandedly took Fox to task for the ad, and Limbaugh and other critics were in turn denounced for mocking Fox's disease.

Well, first it came out that Fox has admitted that he has gone off his medication when he has testified before congressional committees and the like in favor of embryonic stem-cell research. So apparently Mr. Fox isn't above exploiting his illness when it suits his causes.

But Sunday, when appearing on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, he admitted that he hasn't even read the initiative at the heart of the controversy. He said:
And so I have to qualify it by saying I'm not qualified to speak on the page-to-page content of the initiative. Although, I am quite sure that I'll agree with it in spirit, I don't know, I— On full disclosure, I haven't read it, and that's why I didn't put myself up for it distinctly.

He hasn't read it, but he's sure that he'll "agree with it in spirit." Well, thank you very much for that expert guidance, Mr. Back-To-The-Future.

He then goes on to explain how he's "really sincere" about how he feels about this issue, and how he's "prayed over" this, etc. I've provided his post-admittance-of ignorance remarks here, with some interpolated remarks in italics:
But I've made this point before, and I really am sincere in it, in spite of my ignorance, that anybody who's prayed on this, and thought about it, and really considered it and can't get their mind around or their heart around the idea of embryonic stem cell research, I'd go to war for your right to believe that. And you're right to feel that. Because it's really all just about our feelings. After all, that's all I'm going with here. I respect it. I truly do. Because I'm just that kind of guy.

My point is, and our point as a community, is we have a very good and supportable conclusion based on hype, emotionalism, and misplaced sympathy, that a vast majority of people in this country are in favor of science as described by journalists and pundits who are even less knowledgeable than I, playing a leading role in making changes in the future hey, Back To The Future! and believe in embryonic stem cell research. I really, really, believe in it. Can't you feel my sincerity?.

Michael J. Fox does suffer from a terrible disease, and he should have our sympathy for that. But that sympathy should not make him invulnerable to criticism for exploiting his illness or allowing it to be exploited for political purposes. And when he intrudes himself into a poitiical debate about which he is manifestly and admittedly ignorant, he reveals himself to be either a dupe, an idiot, or both.

Seriously, when are we going to stop looking to actors and rock stars for guidance on moral or political issues?

Making Political Decisions, or, "Making Political Speeches"?

With the election coming up, I felt it incumbent on me as a pastor to offer some guidance to my parishioners on how the teaching of the Church should guide our political thinking and decsion-making. The USCCB statement "Faithful Citizenship" while having some good points, is hoplessly general and bears all the hallmarks of a document written by a committee, which seems to have taken as it's motto "Whatever We Do, We Can't Say Anything That Might Upset Someone".

Now, I recognized that doing so in my parish would be a delicate matter: My predecessor (I've only been here a little more than a year) eschewed engagement in current issues and controversies to the extent that he would not even allow a pro-life organization to operate openly in the parish, fearing that to do so would be "too divisive." (I have remedied that situation since coming here.) So I knew I'd have to approach this subject diplomatically.

I decided to offer Bishop Thomas Olmsted's excellent booklet Catholics In the Public Square to my parishioners as guidance in how to think about political issues as a Catholic. Bishop Olmsted's booklet does a very good job of presenting Church teaching, and the hierarchy of issues that confront us, faithfully yet in a non-partisan way.

I introduced it by making the following remarks at the end of Sunday Masses:

Making Political Decisions


As I have said before, we are all called to be missionaries in the world, commissioned to sanctify the world around us. That means we need to bring our faith in Christ to bear on every aspect of our lives: our relationships, our moral decisions, our business dealings, and, yes, even our political lives. We have an election coming up in a couple of weeks, so it is important to remember that part of our call to sanctify the world, and make Christ the Lord of all, is to make our political order reflect and uphold the teaching and values of the gospel. And so the Church gives us principles and guidance to follow as we debate and discern our political decisions.

Now sometimes people will say, "Why can't the Church just stay out of politics?" Well, there's a sense in which that kind of thinking is right: For example, clergy and religious brothers and sisters are not supposed to be involved in political activism or hold political office. And, certainly, the church doesn't and won't tell you "vote for this or that candidate", or, "vote for this or that party."

But there's a sense in which the wish "Why doesn't the Church stay out of politics?", is wrong: As I have said before, to be a disciple is to give ourselves to Christ completely. There's no holding back part of our lives if you want to be a disciple. So a Catholic politician or citizen can't say "My life as a Catholic is over here, and my politics is over there." That's like saying "I'll be a disciple in this, this, and this, but sorry Jesus, I'm not going to be a disciple in that." That would be morally dishonest. That's false discipleship.

So the Church, while not telling us who to vote for, does give us principles on which we are called to base our politics. These are principles like "Every human being is created in God's image and likeness and has intrinsic dignity and value." And these principles have an impact on how we may rightly make political decisions. Sometimes the impact isn't immediately clear on some issue, and the Church doesn't hold out a definitive teaching. In these areas Catholics may legitimately disagree: For example, right now a debate is going on about immigration reform. Catholics can, and do, take a range of positions on this issue and still be faithful. But there are some other issues which are clear, and on which the Church has given a definitive binding teaching. For example, the Church teaches us that abortion is always wrong, and there are never any circumstances which justify the intentional killing of an unborn child. On this issue, it is not possible to take a position or support a politician that opposes this teaching, and still be a faithful Catholic.

So we need to think about, weigh, and pray over these and other principles and issues in order to participate in our political life as faithful Catholics. In order to help you do that, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, the bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, has written a booklet called "Catholics In The Public Square" which outlines the principles we should use in deciding which candidates and legislation to support. It's not about telling you "vote for candidate A or B", it's about helping us to think about politics as faithful Catholics and good citizens. Copies of this booklet will distributed by the ushers after Mass, free of charge. I encourage you to take a copy of it, to read it and pray over your voting decisions, so that we can be true disciples in every aspect of our lives, and so build up the Kingdom.


I'd like to report that all of my parishioners received these remarks in the spirit of pastoral guidance with which they were intended. And I imagine that they were taken that way by most of my parishioners. But some people didn't take it that way, and complained. One man took me to task for "making political speeches". I'll have to post one or two of those conversations later...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Just a Different Kind of Abortion

A Virginia woman who shot herself in the stomach, killing her unborn child, has had charges against her dismissed by a judge:
Prosecutors say that on the morning she was scheduled to give birth, Skinner drove to an auto dealer's parking lot, took a gun, and shot herself in the belly, killing the fetus in an act of self-abortion. Skinner was charged with carrying out an illegal abortion... "I couldn't sleep that morning, and I got up out of bed. I got dressed and grabbed my gun. I was having contractions - so scared out of my mind," Skinner said in a written statement to authorities. "I got somebody to load the gun, because I didn't know how. I got in the car... The gun went off." After Skinner pulled the trigger, she called 911 and told the operator she had gotten into an argument with a man named Travis, who then shot her in the stomach.

The judge, W. R. Carter, apparently was persuaded by the defense lawyer's argument that "the law did not make it a crime for a mother to cause her own abortion."

Give the judge an "A" for intellectual consistency, if nothing else. He clearly understands the inexorable logic of abortion. An abortion is intended to result in a dead baby. By whose agency that death occurs is really a peripheral issue. If the woman wants the unborn baby dead, then so be it. In the end, whether a bullet causes it or a suction machine is really just a matter of hygiene and sanitation, nothing more.

Note the way the story is framed in the article. All the usual pro-abortion tropes are there: She was "poor" and "desperate". And, to compound matters, "her boyfriend wouldn't pay for an abortion." The cad.

And note also the way the writer breathlessly intones with faux horror: "Then she did the unthinkable."

The thing is, in an abortion culture such as ours, such actions are indeed quite thinkable. Our society finds the death of an unborn child at the hands of an abortionist not only thinkable, but rather pedestrian. 4000 such deaths are thought of and carried out in our nation every day, and most of us don't even notice. The only reason we don't think of it is that it is so commonplace.

And, of course, there is the reliable pro-abortion spokesperson, in this case from an organization calling itself "Advocates for Pregnant Women" (talk about an Orwellian name!), telling us that the "solution" to this problem is Medicaid funding of abortions. The real "solution" to this problem in the mind of these "Advocates" is a dead baby. They would prefer that women use less noisy and messy methods than this woman chose. Again, just a question of hygiene and sanitation.

She portrays herself, and the abortion advocates are happy to portray her, as not having "any choices". But it seems to me that even at first glance there were several "choices" she could have made differently:

She could have chosen not to have sex with a man who was unwilling/unable to take responsibility for his behavior.

She could have chosen not to have sex with a man to whom she was not married.

She could have chosen (mirabile dictu!) to wait till marriage to have sex, then begun a family in a stable and loving home.

She could have chosen to seek help with her pregnancy from the myriad of churches and pro-life organizations (such as Birthright) who offer assistance to unwed mothers.

She could have chosen to wait just a few more hours, deliver the baby, and then give him/her up for adoption, where he/she would have found a loving home.

These are just the few "choices" open to her that are apparent at first glance. No doubt further reflection would reveal more.

Now, some may say, "she was abused and frightened!". OK, granting that, she still did nothing for several months. Was she paralyzed by fear continuously for several months straight? Somehow I doubt it.

No, her actions have all the appearance of premeditation. And premeditated actions are not, by definition, the product of fear-driven impulse. Her attempt to cover up what she really did by lying further demonstrates her guilty intent.

The next step from here, which the logic of abortion will inexorably demand, will be that mothers will be able to strangle their newborn children minutes or hours after birth. Heck, Peter Singer holds that parents, in some circumstances, should have the right to kill their children up to 28 days from birth. We've already seen cases where girls have killed or abandoned their newborn babies and have received light sentences or have been dismissed by hung juries.

The article attempts to portray this woman as a victim. And she may indeed be a victim of abuse, ignorance, poor education, etc. But compared to the victimization of her murdered, defenceless, nearly-born child, her plight pales in comparison. And a society in which large numbers of people can't see that is a society in grave danger.

Uh, No, Father, "Everybody" Doesn't Do That...

So, former congressman Mark Foley revealed the name of the priest who abused him when he was a teenager, and the priest, while denying that the relationship was sexual, did reveal that he has what we might politely call some confusion regarding "boundaries."

The priest, a Fr. Mercieca, now lives in Malta, but was quite willing to talk about his nauseating behavior:
Mercieca told the AP that he and Foley would go into saunas naked when he was a priest in Florida and Foley was a parishioner, but he said "everybody does that."
Oh, really, "everybody"? Even allowing room for hyperbole, that's quite a claim.

Well, Father, I know that I have never been in a sauna naked with a 13 year-old boy. In fact, no priest that I know has ever been in a sauna (naked or otherwise) with a teenage boy. I'd even go so far as to say that precious few normal, heterosexual adult males have ever found themselves naked in a sauna with a teenage boy. So I wonder who this "everybody" is?

(Hey, let's do a survey! All adult male readers, please indicate in the comment box whether or not you've ever been in a sauna with a teenage boy. I'll total it up and let everyone know the results.)

Oh, wait, I restricted my statement to "normal, heterosexual" males. That may be where Fr. Mercieca and I differ. Perhaps what he means by "everybody" is "everybody like me", that is to say, predatory homosexuals. Because that's pretty clearly what the good father is. A homosexual predator.

Fr. Mercieca also described among his activities with Foley, which he imagines "everybody" does, such things as "massaging the boy in the nude... and being nude in the same room on overnight trips while he was a priest and Foley was a parishioner."

Truth-telling time again! I've never massaged a teenage boy, clothed or unclothed. Indeed, I've never given another male a massage under any circumstances. So, again, who is this "everybody"?

Come to think of it, though, Fr. Mercieca does have some company in giving other males unwelcome "massages". After all, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg Florida, otherwise known for his steadfast and brave defense of Terri Schiavo's right to life, did have a little problem with his spokesman misinterpreting a well-intended attempt on the bishop's part to lend a soothing touch to his thigh. So maybe I'm the oddball here. Again, to all the guys out there: how many times have you given massages to another man? (Athletic trainers and professional masseurs need not answer.)

Seriously, what's the one word conspicuously absent from this story? Hmmm... how about "homosexual"? Indeed, the word "gay" only appears once, referring to Congressman Foley. What other word is missing? How about "predator"?

We couldn't have the words "homosexual" and "predator" appearing together in a mainstream press article. Why, that might give people the impression that there was something just, well, abnormal about homosexuality. And we couldn't have that.

H/T to Dom for the link.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Today is the Feast of St. Wenceslaus!


Wenceslaus, King and Martyr


Today the Church recalls St. Wenceslaus, the King (duke) of Bohemia who was renowned for his piety, building and endowing of churches, and spreading the Christian faith throughout his land.

He was murdered while on his way to church on the Feast of SS. Cosmas and Damian, by his brother, Boleslaus, who was aided and abetted by some of the nobles of Bohemia. Boleslaus was jealous of Wenceslaus and desired the throne for himself. He also resented his brother's Christian faith.

Boleslaus later repented of his deed and had Wenceslaus' remains translated to the Cathedral of St. Vitus in Prague.

Wenceslaus is the Patron of Bohemia, the Czech Republic, and brewers.


In Honor of St. Wenceslaus, Here is His Christmas Carol, In Latin

Rex Wenceslaus (Good King Wenceslaus)

Wenceslaus rex prospexit
Stephani ad festum,
agrum alte nivibus
gelidis congestum.
Vidit pauperem sibi
ligna colligentem,
qui sub luna splendida
sensit se frigentem.

"Huc, O puer, siste huc,
dicens, si cognoris,
quis sit, ubi habitet
pauper iste foris?"
"Ere, procul habitat,
subter illum montem,
silvae iuxta limitem,
ad Agnetis fontem."

"Affer carnem, vinum fer,
lignum afferamus,
ut nos illi pauperi
cenam praebeamus."
Rex et puer prodibant
animo aequali,
vento flante acriter
tempore brumali.

"Ere, nox fit atrior,
ventus vi augetur;
plus non possum, nescio cur,
valde cor terretur."
"Puer mi, vestigia tu
sequere libenter;
hiems saeva laedet te
minus violenter."

Puer regem sequitur,
unde nix discessit;
fervor glaebis inerat,
ubi sanctus pressit.
Hoc scitote, divites,
Christum qui amatis,
Vos beate eritis,
si quem vos beatis.

(For those of you who may have forgotten them, you can find the English lyrics online here.)

Later today, I'm going to visit my parish school and tell them about St. Wenceslaus.

I'm also going to sing the Latin song above for them. I suppose Rod Dreher and some of his commentors might think singing a silly Latin Christmas carol to schoolkids too "childish" and lacking in "maturity" for a priest, and will worry that I'm "detracting from the dignity of the Church".

Oh, well. I'm sure the kids will get a kick out of it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Contraceptive "Equity" and The Assault on Nature

I've been meaning to blog on this for a while... Last month the business editor of the local Grand Rapids Press wrote a column waxing rhapsodically about how wonderful it was that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruled that health insurance carriers must provide coverage for contraceptives if they provided coverage for medications such as Viagra. The editor, Nancy Crawley, explains the matter as a matter of "equity": If insurers cover medications for men like Viagra, why shouldn't they cover contraceptives for women?

The problem is that such a facile analysis is superficial in the extreme. What do Viagra and contraceptives have in common? Well, they both have to with sex. The thought of those advocating such "equity" goes no deeper than that.

But here's the thing: Viagra and related medications are intended and prescribed in order to treat dysfunction. It's used to remedy a defect in male sexual function. A man uses Viagra because something is wrong which requires correction.

But contraception is not used to treat dysfunction. It is used, in fact, precisely to prevent the normal functioning of a woman's reproductive organs. Contraceptive drugs treat the normal functioning of a woman's body as a disease. How do you like that, ladies? Your fertility is a problem, a disease that requires treatment. And now insurance companies are required to endorse the "treatment" of natural female fertility.

No doubt, Viagra and other such drugs can be abused and, in all likelihood, often are. But, in the words of the old saying, abuse does not negate the proper use of a thing. But the use of contraceptive drugs to interfere with normal female function is not the abuse, rather it is the intended use of such medications.

This move to so-called "equity" in contraceptive medications is not treating women equally at all. It is a further assault on feminine nature, a further attempt to render femininity something to be abhorred and "treated" into oblivion.

The Obnoxiousness of Holiness

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
James 3:16—4:3
Mark 9:30-37



How many of you have ever known someone you called a "goody-two-shoes", or something like that? You know the type - the kind of person who delights in calling attention to his or her own goodness: it's not enough that they are good, they need to make sure everyone knows they're good. Usually someone like this is also tattletale: again, it's not enough that they are good; no, they have to make sure that those who aren't as good as them get in trouble for it. We rightly find such people annoying.

But sometimes we are annoyed by good people, and make fun of them, and mock them, because they truly are good. We are annoyed by them because their goodness reminds of our faults. Sometimes we can be annoyed by people who are truly holy because their holiness seems to call attention to our sinfulness. We resent being "shown up" by those better than ourselves.

I had the privilege and good fortune of meeting Mother Theresa twice: once while I was in graduate school and once while I was in seminary. And on both occasions I was awed by her holiness. I was struck by her goodness. Her holiness was so powerful it was as if you could reach out and touch it. And I found that in her presence I wasn't reminded of my own sinfulness or faults, because I wasn't thinking about myself at all: I was thinking about how amazing she was, and how amazing God was.

But not everyone had the same reaction to Mother Theresa. Even a saint like her had her detractors. Even she had enemies. I recall from time to time over the years reading articles and books condemning her for not living up to the world's idea of what she should be doing, and saying the most horrible things about her.

Those who have set themselves on the path of wickedness cannot stand the presence of goodness, and that's what our first reading is about. Listen to these words from the Book of Wisdom:

The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law...


The world finds holiness obnoxious, finds truth annoying, and finds goodness a reproach.

Now we live in a society which is giving itself over more and more to relativism and secularism: Relativism, as I've explained before, is the belief or attitude that "no one can really know the truth", or "if one person says something is good and another says it is evil, there's no way to tell who is right," etc. Secularism is the attitude that we must keep religion out of our public life: We cannot bring our faith to bear on our political life or priorities - religion is only permissible in the privacy of our own homes and churches. And these two "'isms", relativism and secularism, have in large part led to the decay of morality in our society today.

So it came as no surprise to me to see the New York Times condemn Pope Benedict for "fomenting discord" between Muslims and Christians, It came as no surprise because the Pope's speech, which revealed such a depth of hatred and violence in the Muslim world, was in fact not really a speech about Islam at all. The criticisms of Islam were made almost in passing. The real point of the speech was to criticize the hollowness and emptiness of our modern Western society - the moral and intellectual weakness brought about by relativism and secularism. The Pope's point was that our society's values of "whatever feels good, do it", and "no one can really say what the truth is" and "whatever you do, don't be judgmental", leave us ill-prepared to stand up against the challenge presented by forces like militant Islam.

And the New York Times, as the principal voice of our dominant secular culture, understood very well the real import of the Pope's words: The editorial board of the New York Times are not stupid people: they knew perfectly well where the Pope's criticisms were really aimed. And they felt the need to point our attention in another direction. As one commentor wrote:
"The [New York Times] is carrying out a diversionary maneuver. They recognize that it is the falsity of their ideology of secular relativism that is the main object of the Pope's teaching." They are trying to deflect us away from this truth by pretending outrage at the "offense" offered to a third party.

Truth, goodness, and holiness are not popular in this age of intolerant secular relativism.

The pope's speech is a wake-up call to us. The pope's speech is a call for us to see clearly the signs of the times and be prepared. We live in a society which claims to be just and compassionate, but yet we allow the slaughter of 4,000 innocent unborn children every day. We live in a nation which claims "in God we trust", but yet we have outlawed God from our public schools and much of our public life. If we do not get our spiritual and moral house in order, we will not be able to stand in the face of the challenges that confront us.

In our gospel today Our Lord foretells His passion and death to the disciples. He tells them that He will be killed, and that He will rise again. And after hearing this, after hearing Jesus explain this critical truth, what do the disciples do? They get into an argument about who will be first among them. At the critical moment, the disciples get caught up in a side issue: The disciples didn't "get it". They got lost in a distraction at the critical moment.

The pope is warning us. We cannot get lost in distractions. We cannot get caught up in distractions at the critical moment at which we find ourselves. And most of the values and priorities of our society are just that: distractions.

So how do we "get it"? How do we become prepared for the challenges confronting us, how do we become prepared to be disciples in the world?

Well, the answer is also to be found in today's gospel. The answer is to get close to Jesus: After teaching and healing the multitudes Jesus took the disciples aside to spend time with them, in prayer and teaching. He calls us to be with Him in a similar way. To spend time with Him in the quiet of prayer, in the quiet of meditation, in the quiet of studying His word, so that he may teach us. In Him, and only in Him, will we find what we need to make our way through the trials of this world. By becoming intimate with Him he will give us what we need to deal with the troubles and needs of our own lives, and stand up against the challenge of Islam, and all the other trials of our world.

By becoming intimate with Him we will be strengthened and trained to spread His word, His teaching, to the ends of the earth. Only in Christ will we, and will the world, find peace. Only in His truth will we be able to live rightly with one another. Only in His justice will Justice prevail on earth. He alone: His teaching, His Way, will provide the solution to the challenge faced by our nation, our society, and our world.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Dhimmis Among Us

After Mass this Sunday, one of my parishioners came up to me and revealed that she was quite upset by my homily. She said that she felt that I was "preaching hatred and divisiveness". I said that I was sorry she felt that way, and that I said nothing about hating anyone.

She said, "but you can't say things like that!".

"Like what?" I asked.

"You can't lump all Muslims together like that," she said. "They don't all support forcible conversion."

"I'm sure they don't", I replied. "But it is a matter of fact that the Islamic religion teaches that conversion at swordpoint is OK. It's in the Koran. It happened to those journalists just a few weeks ago. And the holy father's point was that Islam has a problem with committing violence in the name of God."

"Well, yes, and I don't support that", she said. "But that's where they're at. [I was puzzled by what that meant, but was destined to discover the meaning later.] And besides, look at all the horrible things Christians have done down through the ages, like the Crusades. There are just as many nuts among Christians."

"Wait a minute", I answered. "The Crusades happened 700 years ago. Those journalists were kidnapped and forced to convert 3 weeks ago." [Now, if I had really been quick on my feet, I would have pointed out that the Crusades were not wars of conquest, but were intended to rescue the Holy Land from Muslim aggression and keep it safe for access by Christian pilgrims. But I didn't think to say that at the moment.] The Church has repudiated the evils done in the course of the Crusades. Islam hasn't rejected violence in its name."

"Yes," she said. "That's where they're at. [There it was again.] But you know, we have kids here listening to this, and you're dividing us and telling people to hate Muslims."

"I never said a word about hating anyone", I replied. "It's not Christians who are going around burning effigies of Muslim leaders. I don't recall any incidents within modern history of Christians going around forcing people to convert at gunpoint."

"Yes, that's true," she acknowledged. "But we have to respect their differences."

I said, "We have to respect them as persons, but these aren't merely questions of "differences". These are questions of good and evil, of right and wrong. And converting someone at gunpoint is evil."

"That's what we would say," she replied. "But that's not what they think. The Muslims haven't evolved as far as we have. They're 600 years behind us."

"And we have to point out that what those Muslims think is wrong and is unworthy of God," I said. "It's not OK that they're '600 years behind us.' The civilized world has a right to criticize Islam."

"But you can't do that," she said.

"You're saying that we can't criticize Islam?" I asked.

"No," she answered.

That's where we left the conversation. And afterwards I realized what she was getting at when she kept saying "that's where they're at" regarding Islam. What she meant was "that's where there at," and that's OK. We mustn't on any account critique their beliefs. If Muslims say that Islam is immune from criticism, we simply have to accept that, whatever the barbarous consequences.

It's the suicidal consequence of modern relativism.

I imagine she'd find these fellows in agreement with her:



Faith, Works, The Gay Agenda, and the Pope

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time


Isaiah 50:5-9a
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35



This is posted a bit late, I realize, but I had some internet issues which prevented me from posting it in a more timely fashion.


For the past several centuries, Catholics and Protestants have been debating and arguing about Faith and Works. Protestants have been saying that only by faith in Christ alone are we saved, and that our works contribute nothing whatsoever to our eternal destiny. They have accused us Catholics of having a "works-based" theology - that we believe that if we do enough good works we can "earn our way to heaven".

And we Catholics, on the other hand, have responded by saying "no, not at all." Yes, we do believe that it is faith in Christ that saves us, and that without Christ's saving work none of us can be saved. But we hold that our faith must have works to be real faith. Our faith, as St. James says, must be shown in our works. So-called faith in Christ that is not visible in our words, our deeds, our decisions and priorities, is no faith at all. Or, as St. James puts it, faith without works is dead.

It seems to me ironic in this day that this debate is still going on. Ironic because we are approaching a point in our society when both our faith and our works will be forbidden - when we will be prevented from either speaking about or acting on our faith in Christ and His Church. A time may come very soon when our faith will be permitted us only in the privacy of our own homes and churches.

I say this because of the trend of recent events: Last week a woman in England was charged with the equivalent of a hate crime because she distributed a flyer that defended the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, and dared to buttress her position with quotations from scripture. Earlier this year a bishop in Canada was threatened with prosecution and hauled before the Canadian human rights tribunal because he preached in defense of the Christian definition of marriage, and spoke against the so-called right to gay marriage.

If you think such things could not happen here, recall that a few months ago the Archdiocese of Boston was forced by the State of Massachusetts to stop doing adoptions, because the Archdiocese, in conformity with Catholic teaching, would not place children with gay couples. If that's not being prevented from exercising faith by good works, I don't know what is. Earlier this year, a conference of legal scholars debated the conflict between the right to free religious expression versus the "right" to gay marriage. They questioned whether, as such a right became established in law, churches could be compelled to recognize such marriages. They concluded that the right to freedom of religion and this so-called new right were "irreconcilable". What that means, in ordinary language, is that when push comes to shove between the rights of churches and this new "right", the churches will be the losers.

Last week, the Pope visited his native land of Germany, and he gave a lecture to university professors. Now, normally, most of us would think of an academic lecture as something rather dry and probably not very interesting, but this lecture has the whole in a storm of controversy. The pope quoted a 15th century Byzantine emperor who pointed out that in Islam, it is considered OK to convert people by force at the point of a sword, and that such a practice is evil. (By the way, this muslim practice of forcible conversions is not merely some historic aberration. Recall that just three weeks ago two American journalists were kidnapped and forced to convert at gunpoint.) The pope said that violence in the name of God is "unreasonable", that it is contrary to the nature of God and the nature of the human soul.

For pointing out these truths, for saying that violence in the name of religion is not pleasing to God, the Pope has been widely condemned as preaching "hate" for Islam. The Muslim world has erupted in violent protest against the pope, demanding retractions, demanding that the pope "keep in his place", calling for violence against Christians and making threats against the pope's life. Leaders of muslim nations have even joined in, whipping their people into greater fury. Churches have been burned and Christians have been attacked.

I tell you all of these things so that you can see that they are all different aspects of the same phenomenon. All of these things, from the attempt to silence a bishop in Canada to the threats against the pope, boil down to one thing: they are the powers of this world telling the Church, telling believers, to SHUT UP!!! "Shut Up!" they are saying. "We don't want to hear about this Christ! We don't want to hear about good and evil! We don't want to hear about right and wrong! Shut Up and keep your religion to yourselves!" The powers of this world do not want to be reminded of things besides lust, power, greed and domination.

This should not surprise us. For the powers of this world tried to tell Our Lord to Shut Up. They told Him to shut up and stop preaching the Good News, shut up about the Kingdom of God, shut up about righteousness. And they went so far to shut Him up as to put Him to death. They nailed him to a cross and bled Him to death to silence Him. In our Gospel today Jesus foresees his passion and death, and in our reading from Isaiah the prophet foretells of the sufferings of the Christ to come.

But we know how the story ends. We know that the powers of this world were unable to silence Christ. He rose again, and ushered in the Kingdom which will have no end. His word, His teaching, has rung out through the ages and have changed the world. Countless millions have heard and followed His call, even to the point of shedding their own blood in His name. And from the blood of those martyrs the Church has received the abundance of graces, and has grown stronger.

So we need not fear. We need not fear to speak and act on our faith. We need not fear the powers of this world which will try to silence us. They have tried before and failed. We can stand up and speak the truth to power, we can act boldly and with confidence. A couple of weeks ago I said in my homily that to follow Christ was to "live different" - to live in contradiction to the values and priorities of this world. If we follow Christ faithfully, we will live differently, and the world will see it. Many will follow us , but some will reject and oppose us, just as they rejected and opposed the Son of Man. But we can "live different", and say NO! I will not be silent! I will not submit!. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we have been empowered, we have been given the authority, to stand before the powers of this world.

My brothers and sisters, we must be prepared: We may be called, in imitation of Our Lord, to "give our backs to those who beat us”." We need not fear even should we be asked imitate Our Lord in suffering for his sake. We need not fear; on the contrary, we can have hope; we can speak and act with confidence and joy. We can have confidence, joy, and hope because we know how the story ends. We know that if we follow Christ, taking up our crosses with Him, we will come with Him to resurrection and glory. We know that in Christ, the one who loses his life for His sake and the sake of the gospel will save it, and in saving our lives participate in saving the whole world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Does the Vatican II Generation Have to Die
For the Council to Be Implemented?


I recently finished reading Jonathan Englert's The Collar, and it is truly a book worth reading (my review is forthcoming in Crisis magazine). But my purpose here isn't to give a book review.

Towards the middle of the book, the author recounts a conference given by the then-rector of the seminary, in which he discusses a document produced as part of a self-study, called "Educational Priniciples". One of the points of the document is summarized as follows:
One concept of Church evolution held that it took decades for a council like Vatican II to be fully implemented, because the generation that had lived through it had to die first. That generation, the theory went, had reactionary expectations based on the past and what it had been through and thus was cemented in a unalterable way to its consciousness.

Now, I haven't read this whole document, so I don't know what this observation is intended to demonstrate or reinforce, but this theory or observation seems to me to have a great deal of truth to it. The period following Vatican II was filled with all sorts of predictions of change coming within the Church which were in no way supportable from the texts of the documents themselves. The mantra of the times was "The Church is changing", and "progressives" with agendas far beyond anything the council fathers intended used the atmosphere of the times to justify almost anything in the name of the council.

For example, the Council called for the retention of Latin in the Roman Rite (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36), and prescribed that "care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them. (SC, 54 ) However, in virtually every parish in the US, Latin was utterly extirpated from the liturgy in the name of Vatican II. I cannot number the times that I have had to correct people (some of them priests and professional Church musicians) who have opined that "Vatican II got rid of Latin". Such a development can only be explained by the substitution of the expectations and desires of those empowered to implement the Council for the actual provisions of the Council itself. An even clearer example can be found in the lead-up to and the reaction against Humanae Vitae. In this case there was an all-out, deliberate campaign to undermine any possibility of maintaining the traditional teaching. Ralph McInerny, in the short but eminently worthwhile What Went Wrong With Vatican II, describes how priests and theologians, again, in the name of the inevitable "changes" coming from Vatican II, told people to expect the Church to change her teaching on contraception, and advised couples in the confessional either that they should "listen to their own experience", or even to go ahead and contracept. Never mind the fact that Vatican II's documents gave not the slightest hint that the Church's teaching was reformable, once again what drove the movement in the Church were the desires and expectations of the "liberals" who dominated the clergy and lay opinion-leaders.

And if we look at the things most dear today to those most closely identified with the Vatican II generation (also contemporaneous with the '60's or "aging hippie" generation), such as married priests, ordination of women, popular election of bishops, or acceptance of homosexual activity and recognition of gay unions, once again we see that these agendas are in no way called for nor even anticipated by the documents of the council. Indeed, any study of what the Council's documents actually teach renders these fanstasies of the Call To Action, VOTF, and NC(Reporter) crowd insupportable. Once again, the desires and expectations of the Vatican II generation trump the actual content of conciliar teaching. I suspect that this truth is why, within not very long after the council, the progressives began agitating in the name of the "Spirit of Vatican II". (If anyone out there can provide evidence for when the phrase "Spirit of Vatican II" was first used, I'd love to see it.) They could not and cannot point to any actual teaching or document of the council which supports their agenda, so its far easier to pass over that inconvenient circumstance and refer to a vague "spirit" instead. The "Spirit of Vatican II" is nothing other than the crypto-divinized collection of their desires and expectations.

So, does the Vatican II generation have to die before the actual provisions of the council are implemented? Probably not entirely. Over the past decade, there have been signs here and there that Catholics are starting to pay more attention to the actual teaching of the council than to the dreamings of the official keepers of it's putative "spirit". 15 years ago, a book like Janet Smith's Why Humanae Vitae Was Right would probably not have been publishable: now it is used in seminary classes. Even purveyors of synth-cath glurge like Oregon Catholic Press are starting to publish Gregorian Chant and actually recognize that it has some place in the liturgy. The stranglehold of the Vatican II generation is starting to weaken, and this is allowing a whole new generation of Catholics to say "wait a minute, Vatican II never said that! From that beginning, it is short step to studying what the Council actually did teach.

Perhaps in another generation, we'll see what an authentically renewed post-Vatican II Church actually looks like.

Lex Orandi... Or,
Why Fatihful Liturgical Translations Matter


When Vox Clara met last month to review the changes proposed by the U.S. Bishops to their revised, more faithful translation of the Missale Romanum, Archbishop Hughes, who has been a great proponent of fidelity in translation, remarked about one of the changes that I had previously missed. Archbishop Hughes observed:
"We have a whole generation of priests who have known nothing other than the original English translation of the missal. Because it was done quickly, unfortunately, some important doctrinal points were left out," he said.

An example of where the poor translation of the current Sacramentary misleads is in the penitential rite, where the priest says "May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life." The new translation will say " "May Almighty God have mercy on you and, having forgiven your sins, lead you to everlasting life."

Note the difference: in the old version, as Archbishop Hughes said, "Because of the way it was translated," he said, "people have been led to believe that some kind of absolution was being offered." Of course, that is not the case. The formula in the penitential rite does not confer absolution from sins. But I have myself heard people say things like "We don't need to go to confession as much anymore, because the priest forgives our sins at the beginning of Mass." I have even heard priests (more's the pity) say from the pulpit that confession is only necessary anymore for very serious sins (like adultery or murder), because forgiveness from sins is "built in" to the penitential rite of Mass.

Many have observed that there has a been a decline in the use of the Sacrament of Penance in the last 30 years. I can't help but think that our current inaccurate, insipid, and agenda-ridden ICEL translation of the Mass has been a contributor to that decline. The old saying Lex orandi, lex credendi ("the rule of prayer is the rule of faith") is once again borne out: Change the wording of the Mass, and you will inexorably change what people believe.

I for one can't wait till we get the new Vox Clara translation. I'm praying that Rome, when it reviews the US bishops' amendments, overrides the USCCB and restores "consubstantial" to the Creed.

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Friday, August 04, 2006



Happy Feast of St. John Vianney!

and, By the Way,

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today is the Feast of St. John Mary Vianney, the Patron Saint of parish priests and of confessors. Here is an article about St. John Vianney from the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08326c.htm

I consider it a great privilege and blessing to have been ordained on his feast day, and I have ever since adopted him as my special patron.

Five years ago today, in 2001, I was ordained a priest forever by Bishop James Murray of Kalamazoo at St. Augustine Cathedral. Here is a picture of me and Bishop Murray at my ordination Mass:



Please pray for me, that I would serve God's people faithfully and well! Pray for all priests, that we would imitate the faithfulness and zeal of St. John Vianney.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Where Can We Get Enough?

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6: 1-15



I would imagine that many of you have heard this gospel a number of times; for some of you, maybe dozens of times. And so I'd guess that over the years some of you have heard a priest or deacon interpret or explain this gospel along these lines:
What was really going on here is this: you see, many people in the crowd had brought food, but they were unwilling to share what they had brought with those who had nothing. So when Jesus inspired that little boy to give his five loaves and two fishes, that inspired the other people who had food to bring out theirs as well, and to share it. And so the real miracle here is that these people stopped being selfish and shared. This isn't a miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes, it's a miracle of sharing and caring.

Now, I'm curious, how many of you have ever heard something like that in a homily before? (Anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of the congregation raise their hands.)

Well, those of you who haven't heard this before can consider yourselves lucky, because it's complete nonsense. It's utter hogwash. Now I have no doubt that those who have advanced this interpretation of the gospels meant well, but you can mean well and still be wrong. And to say that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is a miracle of "caring and sharing" is to just plain miss the point.

We can know that the point of this gospel is more than just inspiring generosity by the very words themselves. We're told that the people reacted by saying "truly this man is the prophet". They clearly thought that something extraordinary had taken place. Furthermore, remember that these people were good Jews - they declared that Jesus was "the prophet" because they recalled the incident with Elisha feeding 100 people that we heard about in the first reading. They remembered what the prophet had done, saw what Jesus did, they put two and two together, and realized that a prophet was in their midst.

But, of course, Jesus is even more than a prophet, as we now know. And that brings me to the next point: If you look at this passage in context, you see that it is about something far greater than "caring and sharing". Because what comes just a little later in John's gospel is Jesus' Bread of Life discourse, in which He tells his disciples that He is the true bread from heaven, that His flesh is true food, and His blood true drink, and that he who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life.

Jesus' feeding the multitude is a sign and prefigurement of how He will feed us with the Bread from Heaven. Just as He, as the Word of God through whom all things were made, is the source of all our material needs, so He is the source of our deepest need: His life within us. As He provides us with the daily bread that sustains our earthly life, so He provides us with the New Manna, which gives us a share in the very life of the Trinity. As He was the source of sustenance for the multitude, so is He the true source for what we really need: Himself.

There is a word that occurs a couple of times in this gospel: that word is "enough". Jesus asks Philip "where can we get enough for them to eat?" Now, as is so often the case, Our Lord's words are working on more than one level: The first level is the obvious, everyday meaning: "how are we going to feed all these people?" But there is a deeper meaning, a deeper question: Where can we get enough? Where can we find sufficiency? Where will we find satisfaction? And the answer, in this passage, and in the Bread of Life discourse that follows, is that He alone can supply our needs. Only in Christ will we find sufficiency.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how rich some people get, no matter how much money and possessions they have, they always want more? Billionaires like Bill Gates or Donald Trump, although they have more than any of us could imagine, nonetheless continue to try to amass even more wealth, try to expand their fortunes and make their corporations even larger. They'll get an even better private jet, an even larger yacht, another vacation home in the Swiss Alps. Now, we can't be too hard on those billionaires, though, because in reality you and I aren't much different. The difference between us and them is only one of degree and scale, not a difference in kind. For we too, in different and smaller ways, never seem to have enough. We'll get that new pickup truck we've been wanting, and then decide we want to have a bigger boat for that truck to tow. Or we'll get that new boat, and then start thinking about that new snowmobile we want. We'll get the new snowmobile, and then realize that we really "need" a new set of golf clubs as well. We never seem to have enough.

Well, that's because our ultimate need cannot be satisfied by anything in this world. As one of the saints said, we all have a God-shaped hole within our hearts. We have a void in our soul that only God can fill. But one of the effects of the Fall and Original Sin is that we are always trying to fill that hole with other things. And no matter what we try, it won't work. Only God can fill that void, only God can satisfy that deepest desire of our hearts. And Christ Jesus came among us to plug that hole, to fill that void. And He gives us Himself as the true Bread of Life, to give us here and now a foretaste of that satisfaction we will know in its fullness only with Him in heaven.

Jesus asked, "Where can we get enough?" By feeding the multitude, Jesus shows that He is the source of our earthly needs. But this sign points to a much greater reality: that He alone is the one who can truly feed us, He alone can truly satisfy, He alone will fulfill us. While we are on pilgrimage in this world, He will give us Himself as the Bread of Life to sustain and empower us, so that when we arrive at the consummation of all things in the next, we will be able to say, "At last, I have enough".

Friday, June 30, 2006

Thoughts From The Abyss

"How do you know it won't work?"

This, from the guy who was guest-hosting last night's Michael Savage Show (Okay, I admit it, it's an occasional indulgence of mine). This guy (Savage is on vacation) was venting his rage over the Supreme Court decision blocking the Bush administration's trials at Guantanamo, because he (correctly) perceived that it would make the torture of captured suspected terrorists more difficult.

The host's argument consisted of "if your mother and father were being held by terrorists, and torture might get information that could save their lives, wouldn't you do it? Don't you love your mother and father?" A caller objected to this, pointing out that torture isn't reliable.

And so, straight from the abyss, came the line "How do you know it won't work?" And this was followed a few moments later by "If there's a chance it would save lives, shouldn't we do it?"

I'm used to hearing outrageous things on Savage's show - that's part of the entertainment value. But last night went beyond outrageous to just plain evil.

In this guy's mind, not only is it OK to torture known terrorists whom we know to have vital information, but we can torture people on the chance that we might get information.

My friend Mark Shea has pointed out, ad nauseam, that the apologists for torture are essentially arguing "let us do evil so that good may come of it."

But this blowhard, and his acolytes among so-called conservatives, aren't even that rigorous. They're willing to do evil so that, maybe, some good might come of it.

I describe these thoughts as "from the abyss" because this is the logic of Hell. It is, in fact, a hell-ish inversion of morality. From the progression of "let us do evil so that good may come of it", to "let us do evil on the chance that some good might come of it", it is no great step to saying "let us do evil, because they're the enemy and we can." Which, come to think of it, has happened already, at a place called Abu Ghraib.

Note too, the implication in this twisted logic, that the burden of proof is no longer on those who would use and justify torture, but on those who oppose it. "Why shouldn't we do it?"

This is how morality is ground down, and this is how the moral fiber of a society is dissolved from within. Such barbarism will destroy us far more completely than all the legions of Al Quaeda ever could.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The King's Good Servant, But God's First...

Homily for the Feast of St. John Fisher, Bishop and Martyr,
and St. Thomas More, Martyr


Last week, an official of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Washington, D.C. was fired by the governor of Maryland. The Metro Transit Authority runs the subway and bus mass-transit system in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs. This official wasn't fired because he was incompetent. He wasn't fired because he was doing a bad job. He wasn't fired because of corruption, or any other misconduct. He wasn't even fired because of budget cuts or other financial problems. No, he was fired because, on a local cable tv talk show, he expressed an opinion. He described homosexual activity as "sexual deviancy", and stated that he held this opinion as part of his Roman Catholic faith. For this, homosexual activists denounced his statement as "beyond the pale", demanded his firing, and the governor complied. For expressing the view held and taught by the Catholic Church for two millenia, and reiterated by our present Holy Father, this man was viewed as "beyond the pale" and unfit for public office.

In the early 16th century, John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, England, and Thomas More, the former Chancellor of England, also were deemed to be "beyond the pale" by those in power. And they were seen as threats because they held to the teaching of the Church, and refused to give in to pressure to compromise or accomodate King Henry VIII's efforts to remake the Church in his own image.

Now, I am not equating this official in Maryland with Saints John Fisher or Thomas More. The stakes were far higher for them. Thse men not only lost privilege, preferment, and position, but they paid for their fidelity with their lives. They did not merely express an opinion, but stood nearly alone against all the men that they knew, had worked with, and had formerly respected.

But the parallel exists, nonetheless. For today, just as in the 1500's, there are those who would remake the Church in some new, more convenient, image. There are many, some even within the Church, who urge her to be more "moderate", to "soften" her voice, to "update" her teaching to something more acceptable to the opinions of our elites. There are those who would tell her, and us, to simply shut up and keep our beliefs to ourselves. They declare our views "beyond the pale", and threaten - sometimes subtly, sometimes openly - that if we persist in holding them, "bad things" will happen to us.

And "bad things", indeed, can happen for being faithful to the Church and her teaching. Such has always been the case. In different places and times, men have had their property confiscated, were imprisoned, and gave their lives for their faith in Christ and His Church. They understood, as St. Paul tells us, that our true citizenship is not in any earthly nation, but in heaven.

There is, of course, no essential conflict between being a good citizen and being a faithful Catholic. But when the State declares itself, either in word or by action, to be at enmity with Christ and His Church, we must remember where our true citizenship belongs.

St. Thomas More, before he was led off to be executed, said "I am the King's good servant, but God's first." We are all Americans, and we would all serve our nation gladly and gratefully. But when our governments champion the death of innocents under the banner of "choice", when our elected officials advance immorality and perversion and call it "diversity", and when the organs of our public life attempt to silence us and punish us for the Faith we hold, we must be prepared to part ways.

Make no mistake, there is little room left for half-measures or compromise. It is much later in the day than we suppose. We must be prepared, like St. Thomas More, to say, "I am a loyal American, but a disciple of Jesus first", or "I am a good citizen, but a citizen of Heaven first". We may, like many before us, pay for our fidelity with the loss of position or worldly regard. We may even, someday, be called to offer our lives. But we know, as did John Fisher and Thomas More, the truth of our Lord's words that "he who loses his life for my sake will find it."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Fr. Rob and Mark Shea's Amazing Adventures, Cont.

As Mark mentioned over on his blog, we had a day of adventures in the country last Friday. First we went to have lunch at Crane's Pie Pantry:




The Entrance to Crane's Pie Pantry


Crane's makes all their own pies, preserves, apple cider, etc. from their own orchards, which surround the shop for acres and acres. Mark and I enjoyed their home-made apple cider (like drinking an apple!), their home-made apple butter bread (awesome), and their pies (sublime). Mark had blueberry pie, and I had the apple.

Here we are, enjoying our repast:




As you can see from the photo, the restaurant is filled with all kinds of vintage Americana. But the main attraction is the food: deee-lish!

Along the way, we also did some sight-seeing: We went down and walked along the Kalamazoo River, and looked out over the fens that (presumably) gave Fennville its name.

From Crane's pie pantry, we proceeded down the road to the Fenn Valley Vineyards. There we imbibed a fair amount of the grape. Michigan has quite a respectable and growing wine industry. Fenn Valley is one of the best examples of this. They have a Riesling that would hold its own against anything from Washington State or Germany, and a Meritage ('04 to be released this July 8) that compares favorably to many good Bordeaux I have drunk. Mark especially liked their Port (while a Ruby, it has reminiscences of a Tawny), as did I.



Mark Enjoying a Little Nip

Where'er a Catholic sun doth shine,
there's always laughter and good red wine.
At least I've always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!
— Hilaire Belloc


I had a couple of bottles sent home to Mark to remember his visit by. So we ate, we saw some scenery, we drank, and a good time was had by all!

Next installment: things get ugly...

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Mark Shea - Fr. Rob Travelling Apologopolooza

What happens when two fat Catholic guys, one of them a famous author and apologist, and the other a not-quite-so-famous priest and author, get together in Western Michigan? Well, all kinds of hijinks!

Mark was here last Wednesday through Saturday, and Mark gave several talks, and we had all kinds of fun!

On Thursday, Mark and I had lunch with Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute and the promising new Proto-Oratory of St. Philip Neri (which had two new priests ordained last month).

Fr. Sirico and I have been friends for a number of years - it was largely due to him that I am now a priest of the diocese of Kalamazoo - and he and Mark both wanted to meet each other: So here we are, as Mark said, proving that we really are part of a Catholic neo-con conspiracy:



Lunch?... Or Catholic Neo-Con Cabal?


Also joining Mark, Fr. Sirico, and myself were Fr. Christian Johnston (front left), a recently-ordained Kalamazoo priest who is a rising young member of the Catholic neo-con clerical cabal, and Br. Basil (back left), who has lately joined the Oratory, and is therefore also to be suspected.

On Thursday night, Mark gave his "DaVinci Deception" talk, and told us why Dan Brown's book, and Opie's lugubrious movie adaptation, will make you much dumber than you are already.



"Dan Brown Thinks You're Stooopid"


Mark dazzled us with his wit and erudition, and a good time was had by all.

More photos and zany antics later!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Speaking of Mark Shea...

I'm pleased as punch to announce that he is coming to my humble parish of St. Stanislaus this Thursday - Saturday, June 8-10. On Thursday, June 8 at 7:00 PM he will speak on "The DaVinci Deception": dispelling the falsehoods and foolishness in the dumb novel and even dumber movie "The DaVinci Code". On Saturday, June 10, Mark will give two talks: "Why Be Catholic?" and "Mary: The Real Sacred Feminine". Saturday's event will begin with Mass at 9:00 AM followed by the presentations. If you're in Western Michigan, come on over! Be enlightened and entertained!

Separated At Birth?

A few people have remarked on a certain resemblance between another Catholic writer and blogger (he's far more prolific at both) and myself:





Hmmm... you be the judge.

As far as I know, there's no relation between Mark and I. Perhaps there's some random "fat catholic guy" gene that we share...

Oh No, No, No, I'm A Rocket Man

As I mentioned in the previous post, last Friday was the last day of school here at St. Stanislaus. As my long-time readers know, one of my hobbies is building and flying model rockets. So, I gave the kids at the school a little demonstration and fly some of my rockets for them.

These rockets are built from kits, or from scratch. They use solid-fuel single-use engines. Some of them can go up to 3,000 feet high. I didn't launch any that high Friday - if you're going to launch something that high, you'd better be prepared to recover it up to 1/2 mile away, depending on wind drift!



Here I am showing them my "Honest John" rocket, a model of the '70's era Army artillery rocket of the same name. This is a big one, that's very impressive going up. Because it's so large, it takes a little while to get going, and you can see its lift-off very well. It won't go that high, though. The highest I've ever had it go is about 400 feet.



This is my newest-built rocket, the CFX-6. It stands over 6 feet tall. The kids were very impressed by it!



As you can see, I had the kids' rapt attention!



Here we are outside, and I'm prepping the "Honest John" for launch with the help of a young assistant. I would have liked to have a picture of this rocket in flight, but it suffered a mishap: when the ejection charge blew the nose cone off, it tore the shock cord holding the parachute to the main body tube right out of its mount: It plummeted to earth from about 300 ft. and sustained major damage.



This is my new rocket, the CFX-6, on the launch pad before its maiden flight. It went up flawlessly, a picture-perfect flight! I also allowed some of the kids to launch the rockets. They're electrically fired from about 25 feet away, so it's reasonably safe.



Here's the CFX-6 on its way back to earth, gently floating down on its parachute. I was impressed by how high it went up. Usually the larger rockets don't go that high, but this one went up about 600 feet.


It was a fun morning! I got to play with my rockets, teach the kids something, and the kids had a memorable last day of school!

It's Good To Be The Pastor, Part IV

Today is one of those beautiful late spring mornings: The sun is shining, it's cool and clear, I can hear the birds in the trees,and there's no sound of mowers or other power equipment to mar the calm of the day. Indeed, the only sound other than the birds is coming from the church, which I have opened up to air out: one of my parishioners is a Master's student in piano at the University of Illinois, home on break. She's in the church right now playing a Beethoven piano sonata, and the music is wafting across the driveway into my house. It's downright idyllic.

And I'm glad for an idyllic morning today, because I've been absolutely buried, chin deep in work since I came back from Nebraska last month (more about that later). Between First Communions, Confirmations, Graduations, etc. (remember that since I have a mission parish, everything is doubled), I've been swamped. Oh, and did I mention that my organist quit just before Ash Wednesday, and so I've been acting as my own Music Director since then? I've been able to arrange for substitutes and other stopgaps, but only with constant effort. However, that situation is well in hand - I've been interviewing candidates for the last two weeks, and I'm close to hiring someone. And thank God! I'll be glad to be able to turn that over to someone I can rely on.

Friday was the last day of school here. So now there really is quiet outside. No sound of kids playing games in PE, or during recess. If we didn't have a school at my parish, I think it my get just a little too quiet out here too often. I'm glad of having the summer break (and having been a teacher, I know they're glad of it too), but I'm even more glad that I have a school here at St. Stanislaus.

So, now that things have settled down a little bit, I'm planning on doing some blogging again. There's quite a bit of pent-up ideas I've been wanting to blog about. Sorry to have been away so long, but now I can give some time and attention not only to blogging, but some other writing projects I have in mind.

Monday, April 03, 2006

I'm Going To Be On The Radio, Again!

Once again, I'll be on the Al Kresta Show this afternoon.

I'll be on in the 4:00 PM hour, and we'll be following up on our discussion last time, where we talked about the Vatican's "Instruction Concerning... Persons with Homosexual Tendencies", and my article "Homosexuality and the Seminaries: How to Read the New Vatican Instruction", which appears in the February - March issue of Crisis Magazine.

Today, we'll have a more wide-ranging conversation about seminary life and the state of the seminaries in the US.

If you don't have a local Ave Maria Radio affiliate in your area, you can listen live on the internet at:

http://www.avemariaradio.net/catholic-online-radio.php

Blogger Comments Enabled

I had been using Squawkbox comments, but Squawkbox has given its last squawk.

To use Blogger comments, click on the time stamp at the bottom of the post, and then click on the "Post a Comment" link.

Atom Feed Syndication Enabled

I tried doing this once before, but apparently it didn't work.

Now, I really do have the Blogger Atom Feed enabled.

You can get the Atom Feed at this link.

Friday, March 31, 2006

One Year Ago Today...

Terri Schiavo, an innocent woman, died as a result of a judge's order permitting her husband to starve and dehydrate her to death.

In commemoration of her death, I am running on my blog today my Catholic World Report article from May 2005, titled "The Death of Terri Schiavo. This is the first time this article has appeared online. I hope, in reading it, that you will be reminded of how such a grave injustice was done, and the half-truths, deceptions, and outright lies that accompnied and justified it.


The Death of Terri Schiavo - Part One

This article first appeared, in slightly different form, in the May 2005 issue of Catholic World Report. Due to the size of the article, it is continued in a second post below.


If the courts had reconsidered the facts, if doctors had followed procedures, if reporters had asked obvious questions, if bishops had spoken out boldly - a gross injustice migfht have been averted.


On March 31, shortly after 9:00 AM, Terri Schindler-Schiavo died, as the nation, and even the world, watched. She died in the hospice bed to which she had been confined for over five years. Her death has been hailed as a victory for the "right-to-die" movement, and denounced by others as "judicial homicide".

As she lay dying, the media kept a grim countdown of the number of days she had been without food and water, and pundits opined on the cable news shows and in the newspapers about "death with dignity" versus the sanctity of life. Her death, and the circumstances surrounding it, was one commented upon more widely than most in modern history, and yet also probably one of the most misunderstood.

Terri's feeding tube was removed, as Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer ordered, on March 18, shortly after 2:00 PM. Terri's family - her parents Bob & Mary, and her brother and sister Bobby and Suzanne - had been with Terri for most of the day. Terri had received her last feeding at about 11:00 AM. The Schindlers were told, by the police officers who maintained constant guard outside Terri's room, that they would have to leave. At this point, medical personnel removed the percutaneous gastrostomy (PEG) tube which had been providing Terri's nutrition and hydration for some 15 years. From that moment on, Terri would receive no water or food, and thus began the "dying process" which would end 13 days later.

For the first few days, Terri appeared more or less "normal". She continued to interact with her family, and appeared alert. But after 3 or 4 days, the change in her condition became noticeable: Her skin started to appear dry and lifeless, and she became less responsive. By the seventh day, the Schindlers were telling me, in our daily telephone conversations, that Terri had become "lethargic", and within a few more days, almost entirely unresponsive. Sometime around day 10 or 11 Terri suffered renal failure, which led swiftly to, and was the immediate cause of, her death.


The Last Legal Battles

In the weeks prior to the removal of Terri's feeding tube, and even while Terri lay dying, the Schindlers waged a legal battle to keep Terri alive. On February 25, Judge Greer ordered that Terri's feeding tube was to be removed three weeks hence. He also ruled that he would not hear any further motions or petitions from the Schindlers, except as they related to Terri's "dying process" and her final disposition. As the Associated Press reported:
The judge wrote that he was no longer comfortable granting delays in the family feud, which has been going on for nearly seven years and has been waged in every level of Florida's court system. He said the case must end.

"The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions," Greer wrote. "There will always be 'new' issues."

The Schindlers, in spite of Judge Greer's decision to refuse new motions, nonetheless filed several in the week following Judge Greer's setting of a new death date. Among these were petitions for new medical evaluations of Terri, a petition to allow Terri and Michael to be divorced, and a request to remove Michael as guardian.

Initially, Judge Greer held to his stated intent and dismissed these motions without hearing their merits. However, when threatened with the prospect of a successful appeal by the Schindlers on due-process grounds, Judge Greer relented and allowed most of the Schindlers' motions to be heard and argued. In the end, though, the hearings made no difference in the outcome of Judge Greer's decisions. During the week of March 7, Judge Greer:
Denied the Schindlers' motion to compel Michael Schiavo's deposition in their case challenging his guardianship.

Denied the Schindlers' motion for a divorce of Terri from Michael. The motion was denied on "Catch-22" grounds: Under the law, only spouses can request a divorce from each other. Since Terri could not speak for herself, she could not request a divorce. Only Michael, as guardian, could make such a request on Terri's behalf. Needless to say, Michael chose not to.

Then Judge Greer:
Denied the Schindlers' motion to remove Michael as guardian.

Denied the Schindlers' motion that attempts be made to feed Terri by mouth once the feeding tube was removed March 18. George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo, argued against this motion by asserting that if Terri was fed by mouth, she might aspirate the food and die an "extended, gruesome death". This line of reasoning struck many as bizarre, given that Felos was seeking Terri's death via starvation and dehydration over the course of a week to ten days.

Judge Greer also denied the Schindlers' request that Terri be allowed to receive Viaticum (Holy Communion for the dying) by mouth. He ruled that if Terri was to be given Communion, it had to be done via her feeding tube.

He denied the Schindlers' motion to allow their daughter to die at their home, noting the parents could visit the Pinellas Park hospice where she lives.

Judge Greer denied the Schindlers request to have Terri's intact body interred: He confirmed Michael's order that Terri was to be cremated upon her death. He also denied the Schindlers motion to allow Terri to be buried in Florida. Michael intends to inter her cremated remains in Pennsylvania, where they are both from.

Judge Greer's ruling against the Schindlers on the matter of feeding by mouth seemed the most indicative of his frame of mind: By precluding attempts, as a "last ditch" measure, to feed her by mouth, the Judge showed that his object was not merely to stop what he might (erroneously) argue is an "extraordinary" means of support, but to make certain that Terri died. One might make an analogy to someone on a respirator: frequently respirators are removed from patients, but sometimes they continue to breathe on their own without support. It is as though a judge were to order not only that a respirator be removed, but that the patient's mouth and nose be sealed with duct tape, just to make sure he can't get any air by any means.


Turning to Lawmakers

Following an unsuccessful round of appeals in the Florida and Federal appellate courts, the Schindlers' efforts turned to obtaining legislative relief. The Schindlers lobbied the Florida legislature to pass a new version of "Terri's Law", which had been struck down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. But while the Florida bill seemed to stall, the Schindlers made more progress in the U.S. Congress, where measures intended to grant a new review of Terri's case had been introduced in the House and Senate. The measure introduced in the House, the Incapacitated Persons Protection Act, was a broadly written bill that would have given the right to a Federal hearing to a whole class of persons facing death by removal of nutrition and hydration. The Senate bill was more narrowly construed, providing relief to the Schindlers alone.

Americans were treated to a topsy-turvy public debate in which each side seemed at times to argue according to principles historically embraced by their opponents. Republicans such as House Majority Leader Tom De Lay decried the unaccountability and activism of our courts, while at the same time arguing for the passage of a bill which would bring Terri's case back before those same courts. Democrats, who have in the past defended intervention by Federal courts in matters of state policy, found themselves arguing for State's rights, holding the decisions of the Florida courts sacrosanct.

The debate over the bills went on past the removal of Terri's feeding tube, and indeed, it seemed at points that no measure would be passed. Bobby Schindler went to Washington to lobby for the bills in the House and Senate, and met with every single member of both houses. Congressional sources described Bobby as "very persuasive" in his meetings with legislators. In one meeting, as he laid out the details of Terri's case, audible gasps were heard several times as the members were told of the string of injustices and errors which led to her judicially-ordered starvation.

In spite of the Republican support and Bobby's persuasiveness, there was formidable opposition to passing a law to save Terri. The ringleader of the opposition to the Senate bill, according to Bobby, was none other than Senator Ted Kennedy, the senior Catholic senator from Massachusetts. It struck me as ironic that Kennedy, whose opposition to the death penalty is passionate, led the opposition to a law that would have given Terri the same right to a hearing as condemned criminals. The opposition in the Senate led to the adoption of compromise bill which gave relief to the Schindlers alone, and not the broader protection offered by the House bill.

In the early hours of March 21, the House passed Senate Bill 686, "For the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo". This bill provided for a de novo review of Terri's case, meaning that all of the issues and facts surrounding her case would be reconsidered. This de novo review was essential: Although Terri's case had come before several state and federal courts numerous times, all of the judges' opinions were based on the same set of factual findings made by Judge Greer in his 1998 decision granting Michael the right to remove Terri's feeding tube. In that decision, Judge Greer ruled as a matter of fact that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state, (PVS) and that Terri had indicated a wish not to go on living should she become dependent on artificial nutrition and hydration. As I have written before, both in CWR (November 2004) and in Crisis Magazine, these ruling were arrived at in a manner which rode roughshod over rules of civil trial procedure, and with what seemed to be a blind eye to the mountain of evidence contradicting them. The problem the Schindlers have faced, as I wrote in a recent article at National Review Online:
is that in our legal system, once a judge has ruled on a matter of fact, it is very difficult to revisit such a ruling. Lawyers have a rule of thumb that trial courts hear and rule on questions of fact, and appellate courts rule on questions of law. It is unusual for an appellate court to overturn a lower court’s ruling based on errors regarding issues of fact.

And so, at every turn in this case, the Schindlers had to try to undo the faulty rulings of fact previously issued by Judge Greer. They had to go back before Judge Greer himself and try to convince him that he was wrong, and should undo his own rulings. Judge Greer proved unwilling to do so. Higher courts were unwilling to overturn a trial judge’s rulings of fact and so, ruled against the Schindlers. The de novo review promised by the Federal "Terri's Law" held out the only hope.


A Partisan Struggle

As we all know, that hope was never fulfilled, as the de novo review never materialized. It was well known that many jurists took offense at the passage of Terri's Law, which they interpreted as a Congressional attempt to dictate how they should exercise jurisprudence. Speeches made by Tom De Lay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist decrying "activist judges" and an "out-of-control" judiciary solidified the impression that the battle over Terri Schiavo's life had become part of a political struggle: Those on the right saw Congress as trying to check the abuse of power by unaccountable judges. Those on the left saw the ability of judges to enact social change by the exercise of their legal authority imperiled by Terri's Law.

The reaction in the judiciary was evident from the outset. Firstly, federal judges seemed to completely ignore the provision in the new law to grant the de novo review. The "fresh look" at all of the facts and issues of Terri's case simply didn't happen. Instead, the judges confined themselves to re-examining the issues of law, just as they would have if the federal legislation had never passed. But the direction that events would take was indicated by remarks made by a federal judge at the conclusion of the first hearing held after the passage of the federal law. Federal Circuit Judge James Whittemore declined to rule immediately on the Schindlers' request to re-insert Terri's feeding tube, pending new litigation. In a comment that seemed motivated more by pique than any legal considerations, Judge Whitttemore declined also to indicate when he would issue a ruling. He said "I will not tell you when, how or how long it will take."

As it turned out. Judge Whittemore declined altogether the Schindlers' motion, and declined to allow the re-insertion of her feeding tube in light of further appeals. This act set the tone for the judicial decisions to come. In several forays up and down the federal courts system, the Schindlers were rebuffed at every turn. The Schindlers' attorney, David Gibbs, announced on March 28 that their legal remedies were exhausted, and they would file no further motions or appeals.


Errors of Fact

Terri's fate can be seen, ultimately, as the result of Judge Greer's dubious findings of fact at the 2002 evidentiary hearings, at which he concluded that Terri was in a PVS, and that she would not want to live in her disabled condition. The facts were crucial in deciding Terri's fate, as the result of Judge Greer's factual errors was fatal for Terri. These errors filtered into the public debate as well: there can be little doubt that much of the press coverage and commentary simply did not get the facts right concerning Terri's case, and this stream of misinformation weakened pubic support for Terri's cause.

In my 2004 CWR article "Saving Terri's Life" I described how the mainstream media was often content, during the 2003 conflict over the removal of Terri's feeding tube, to simply parrot the characterizations of Terri's case presented by Michael Schiavo and his attorneys rather than actually question their assertions and dig more deeply into the issues. Unfortunately, in this last round of debate and controversy, little changed. Some news outlets, such as Fox News, did a reasonable job of covering the issues fairly, and giving the pro-life position a fair hearing. Some commentators and pundits, such as Fox's Sean Hannity, took on Terri's cause as their own, and became powerful champions for her life. However, much of the media were content to merely repeat or even amplify the "memes" about Terri's case.

(A "meme" is an idea which may have little foundation in actual fact. being the product of rumor, innuendo, or gossip. However, because the idea is in some way convenient or useful, it is picked up and spread casually without investigation, and gradually acquires a patina of truthfulness, simply because it has been repeated so often. Memes become pervasive ideas, and frequently have the power to change public attitudes and perceptions. )

There were a number of memes circulated regarding Terri's case and repeated unquestioningly by the mainstream media. Among these were the assertion, frequently heard on cable talk shows, that "12 (or 16 or 19) judges have heard the case and ruled against the Schindlers." This assertion was offered as an argument for accepting the decision to remove Terri's feeding tube as one arrived at responsibly. But, of course, the number of judges who agree with a decision is irrelevant if all those judges' rulings are based on the same factual errors. Which was precisely the case regarding Terri Schiavo. As related above, all of the subsequent rulings on Terri's case were based on the same fact findings made by Judge Greer, which findings were never re-examined.

Another meme frequently asserted was that "Terri was bulimic." Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by "bingeing and purging", and can cause serious health problems. This meme is interesting in that it was often introduced as a way of "blaming the victim": the idea being that somehow Terri brought her situation on herself, and therefore deserved her fate. It is also is interesting in that it simply has no foundation in actual fact or evidence. The "Terri was bulimic" meme was the product of speculation offered by Michael Schiavo and his attorneys as to the cause of the cardiac arrest which led to Terri's brain damage. However, there was no talk of Terri suffering from bulimia or other eating disorders among Terri's family or friends before her injury. The assertion did not surface until well after Terri's collapse. Furthermore, there is no actual medical evidence of such a condition, unless you credit the circular reasoning employed by advocates of Terri's death: In this argument, the fact (true) is asserted that bulimia is a known cause of electrolyte imbalance of the sort that caused Terri's cardiac arrest. Then the fact that Terri suffered an electrolyte imbalance is adduced as evidence that she was bulimic. Such an argument would not pass Logic 101, but the power of the meme is that is unexamined.

I personally encountered the power of this meme during a radio talk show interview. In the course of the interview, one of the hosts brought up the assertion that "Terri was bulimic". I pointed out the lack of evidence for the assertion, and the fact that it originated in speculation. The host responded by pointing out that she had read this same "fact" in "a number" of published articles. I answered by describing that memes worked in precisely this manner, and by demonstrating the circularity of the reasoning. After all was said and done, she rejected my argument saying, "well, I have to go with what the published reports indicate rather than what one priest says."

Far more damaging, however, were the memes circulated regarding Terri's medical care and diagnosis. I frequently encountered assertions that all medical options had been exhausted in Terri's case, and that Terri had had the best of care. Both assertions were simply false.

The fact is that Michael Schiavo, as Terri's guardian, allowed no therapy or attempts at rehabilitation since 1992. He also forbade the physical therapy to minimize contractures and muscle atrophy that is commonly provided even for bedridden patients in a vegetative state.

Furthermore, the idea that Terri has had the "best of care" is belied by the fact that, for the last five years of her life, Terri was at a hospice rather than at a nursing home or hospital. By definition, hospices offer a lower "standard of care" than even a nursing home. Hospice care is intended for patients who are recognized as terminal; only basic nursing and palliative care is provided. Therapeutic measures aimed at improving a patient's condition are not offered by hospice.


An Irresponsible Diagnosis?

The most misleading memes surrounded Terri's diagnosis and medical condition. Readers and viewers of the mainstream media were barraged with reports that Terri was in a PVS, frequently without even the mention that this diagnosis had been challenged and was doubted by responsible doctors. I frequently encountered statements such as "all the doctors" who had examined Terri concluded that she was PVS", or a cleverer version that gave at least a nod to reality: "all the reputable doctors who examined Terri found that she was PVS."

But such assertions ignore a disturbing set of facts which I discovered in the course of my research for the National Review Online article mentioned above. In my discussion with a number of board certified neurologists, some of whom are professors of neurology at major medical schools, I learned that the diagnoses of the neurologists who appeared in court for Michael Schiavo, and the one appointed by Judge Greer, were arrived at in a manner inconsistent with sound neurological practice, and which did not live up to the guidelines established by the American Academy of Neurology.

Firstly, though the doctors who examined Terri on behalf of the Schindlers asked for Terri to be given an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan, Judge Greer refused it, as the "star" medical witness for Michael Schiavo, Dr. Ronald Cranford, said that an MRI was unnecessary. Lower quality CT (computer aided tomography) scans were done instead. And who made the decision regarding which medical tests Terri was to have? Judge Greer did. According to Patricia Anderson, the attorney for Bob & Mary Schindler until the fall of 2004, Judge Greer went down the list of tests requested by the doctors and himself "checked off" which ones Terri would receive. Judge Greer's method led Anderson to comment that the judge "practiced quite a bit of medicine in this case."

Many neurologists, as the facts about Terri's diagnosis came out in the weeks before and after the removal of her feeding tube expressed dismay with the lack of advanced imaging procedures. Indeed, nearly fifty neurologists, all of them board-certified and many of them leaders in the discipline, came forward and either offered, or expressed a willingness to offer, affidavits calling on the court to allow new neurological exams of Terri, including advanced imaging tests such as MRI. The neurologists I have interviewed all acknowledge that the diagnosis of PVS is primarily "clinical": that is, arrived at mainly on the basis of examination rather than from tests. However, many also asserted that they would themselves order an MRI in a case like Terri's, when life and death are at stake. As one of them, Dr. Peter Morin, explained, an MRI is very useful in "determining the extent of brain injury," and in assessing the likelihood of the patient's improvement or recovery. Dr. Kalarickal Oomen, a professor of neurology at Oklahoma University Medical School, added that "MRI in many cases gives much better anatomic detail than CT, and is far superior" to the CT scans which were done on Terri in 2002. The value of MRI in assessing brain injured patients such as Terri led several neurologists to go so far as to characterize a decision to deliberately forego one (as was done with Terri) as "not responsible".

The guidelines laid down by the American Academy of Neurology for diagnosing patients suspected of being vegetative remark that the diagnosis of PVS can require months to establish. These guidelines also call for careful, repeated examinations of the patient. Neurologists also explained that these repeated visits need to be conducted at varying times and under different circumstances: Dr. William Bell, a professor of neurology at Wake Forest University Medical School, explained that brain-injured patients have severely disrupted sleep/wake cycles, and that a doctor can examine such a patient on one day and find him seemingly unresponsive, but return at a different time the next day and find the patient quite alert and aware of his environment. A 1996 article published in the British Medical Journal , which reported a 43-percent error rate in diagnoses of PVS, also cautioned that a "bedside assessment" alone was "inadequate" to make a diagnosis of PVS.

But the exams conducted by the three doctors retained by Michael Schiavo and the court were in fact nothing but the kind of "bedside assessments" deemed "inadequate" in the BMJ study. Each doctor examined Terri for no more than 45 minutes, on only one occasion. Neurologists I interviewed did not object to the length of the exams, saying that a neurological exam could be conducted in 30 - 45 minutes. However, all of them expressed dismay at the lack of repeat exams. Dr. Mouhammed Kabbani, of the University of Missouri Medical School, said "A single exam for 45 minutes is not enough. There should be continuous observation over a few days," he added, "to make sure there is, or there is not, meaningful and reproducible response."

The claims regarding the reliability of Terri's diagnosis of PVS turn out, on further examination, to be as groundless or exaggerated as the many other memes propagated by the media. Dr. Bernardine Healy, a former director of the National Institutes of Health and medical columnist for U.S. News and World Report , lamented that the medical procedures followed in Terri's case were simply "not good enough" for a situation "when life--and death--are on the line." While some reporters and commentators, such as Dr. Healy, attempted to stem the tide of misinformation, they appear to have been drowned out. This lack of diligence by the press, and, in many cases, seemingly willing cooperation with the pro-death agenda, led Nat Hentoff, the acknowledged leftist and avowed atheist writer for The Village Voice , to describe the coverage of Terri's case as "disgracefully ignorant."


The Pro-Life Presence

The opposition to Terri's starvation and dehydration was spearheaded by the pro-life movement, including many Catholics. Fr. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, was frequently with the Schindlers visiting Terri, and joined those keeping vigil outside Terri's hospice, He also appeared frequently on television, speaking out for Terri's right to life. Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer of Human Life International also came to Florida to lend support to the Schindlers, and made several media appearances on their behalf.

As I remarked in my CWR article last November, the movement to save Terri brought Catholics and Protestants together in a remarkable display of ecumenism in its best and truest form. Indeed, not only Catholics and Protestants, but large numbers of Jews and Muslims also gave witness to the dignity and sanctity of human life. There were a number of prominent Protestants who provided leadership in mobilizing support for Terri's cause, and presented the case for Terri's life to the public. Perhaps the most passionate and eloquent of these was Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson's stature among conservative Protestants is perhaps unmatched, and he became the de facto Evangelical voice for Terri in the media.

While Fr. Pavone's leadership and voice was invaluable, the case for the dignity of life was weakened by the lack of a strong and uncompromised witness from the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. Some individual bishops, such as Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, Bishop Wenski of Orlando, and Archbishop Burke of St. Louis, spoke out admirably on behalf of Terri's right to life. Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the US bishops for Pro-Life Activities, in a March 9 statement, urged that Terri should “continue to receive all treatments and care that will be of benefit to her.” He cited the aforementioned speech by Pope John Paul II, reminding us that even people in a vegetative state "retain their human dignity in all its fullness”. He added that “deliberately to remove [food and water] in order to hasten a patient’s death … would be a form of euthanasia, which is gravely wrong.” In spite of that statement, though, there seemed to be little movement at the national level to make a coordinated effort, in the name of the American bishops, in Terri's case.

Progressive moral theologians such as Fr. John Paris of Boston College and Fr. Kevin O'Rourke made the rounds of the talk shows presenting their view that the starvation and dehydration of Terri Schiavo was consistent with Catholic teaching. Rarely mentioned was Pope John Paul II's March 2004 statement that food and water are the presumptive right of every patient and must be provided. When it was mentioned, Frs. Paris and O'Rourke dismissed the pontiff's pronouncement as his "personal opinion", or otherwise indicated that it could be ignored.

As Catholic progressives rushed to defend Terri's starvation and dehydration, and Evangelical leaders such as Dr. Dobson presented a powerful case for life from that perspective, a question arose in the minds of many Catholics: Where was the voice of the hierarchy? Where was the Catholic equivalent of a James Dobson — someone of high stature and authority, like a bishop — to go on the talk shows and refute the Parises and O'Rourkes? Where was a Catholic spokesman to present authentic Catholic teaching with episcopal authority to the public at large? There was none. As Catholic writer Amy Welborn wrote at her weblog, Open Book (http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/), a "teachable moment", a great opportunity for the American hierarchy to present the Catholic vision and teaching on human life to the nation, was lost through inaction.

The Bishop's Absence

Bishop Robert Lynch heads the St. Petersburg, Florida, diocese, in which Terri resided. Readers will recall that, in my November '04 CWR article on Terri's case, I documented his inadequate, and indeed, one might argue, counterproductive, statements during the October 2003 removal of Terri's feeding tube. He refused, in spite of numerous requests by the Schindlers in the months leading up to October '03, to make any public gesture showing support for their efforts to save Terri's life. Neither did the Diocese of St. Petersburg sponsor any events or activities to encourage support for Terri's cause among priests or laity.

Unfortunately, in the weeks leading up to, and after the removal of her feeding tube, Bishop Lynch did not seem to deviate from his pattern of non-engagement in Terri's cause. He was virtually invisible during this time.

On February 28, he issued a statement in which he acknowledged that the Schindlers felt "they are outside of the decision-making process" and that "they are in great pain and suffering mightily." He devoted most of the statement to urging "both sides" to "allow some mediation" so that Terri's legacy was "a heroic moment of concern for the feelings of each other, guided by moral and ethical considerations, with a single focus of achieving the best result for Terri." Nowhere in the statement did Bishop Lynch address the substantive issues or acknowledge that Terri had a right to life. He referred to normal "end-of-life" cases, where families know that "they have done all they possibly might to provide alternatives to death", and have attempted "every possible treatment protocol which might be helpful". But he did not seem to recognize that such had not been done regarding Terri. In my November CWR article, I reported that Bishop Lynch seemed to view Terri's situation as little more than a family dispute. By his use of language about "decisions made within families", and of "both sides" coming together, he showed that he still understood the case that way, and not as a grave injustice being perpetrated on one of his flock.

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