Some Cautions While Watching “The Passion”

March 30, 2010

I realize that many will be watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ throughout this week.  I myself have been showing parts of it to my students. So I am not opposed to watching it.  Nor am I interested in resuming the vitriolic arguments that surrounded its release.  But I would like to suggest a few cautions to all viewers that arose in my mind again while I watched some scenes today in class.  Again, because I find these cautions helpful to myself, I offer them to you.

Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on world religions, states:

Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (see Jn 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion.  It is true that the church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »

The Application of Empathy to the Abuse Crisis

March 29, 2010

My colleague, classmate, and friend, Aaron Pidel, balances the New York Times’s point of view with some very helpful facts and some wise insights regarding how one might work through a trying time such as this. Aaron helpfully points to articles by John Allen and others. I would add to his list, this morning’s piece by Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Aaron also wonders if perhaps the more could have been done on the part of the Church and, in particular, the Holy Father. I would like to follow Aaron’s good points with some additional thoughts as I’ve reflected on the Church’s experience over the past few days and weeks. However, I would like to propose a different line of thought. Read the rest of this entry »

The Application of Thought to the Abuse Crisis

March 28, 2010


These are indeed heavy days for the Church as she enters Holy Week.  The coincidence of Passiontide with ongoing scandals in Ireland and Germany calls to mind Fr. Romano Guardini’s haunting observation:

The Church is the Cross on which Christ is always crucified. One cannot separate Christ from his bloody, painful church. One must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the church.

It seems to say everything necessary—that Christ is always both obscured and revealed in His Church.

Most of the analysis of Pope Benedict’s involvement in the scandals, on the other hand, reminds me of a different quote—A. E. Housman’s mordant observations on thought and prejudice in “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism” (1921).  Apparently, even in a field as unlikely to excite the passions as manuscript editing, he detected the hindrance of complacency:

These internal causes of error and folly [in textual criticism] are subject to very little counteraction or correction from the outside.  The average reader knows hardly anything about textual criticism, and therefore cannot exercise a vigilant control over the writer: the addle-pate is at liberty to maunder and the impostor is at liberty to lie.  And, what is worse, the reader often shares the writer’s prejudices, and is far too well pleased with his conclusions to examine either his premises or his reasoning.  Stand on a barrel in the streets of Bagdad, and say in a loud voice, “Twice two is four, and ginger is hot in the mouth, therefore Mohammed is the prophet of God,” and your logic will probably escape criticism; or, if anyone by chance should criticise it, you could easily silence him by calling him a Christian dog.

Substitute “Canon Law”—or even “the Church”—for “textual criticism,” and I think you have a decent pretty description of the present situation: Read the rest of this entry »

René Girard & Christian Sacrifice, Part I

March 28, 2010

With Holy Week here, it’s natural for our thoughts to turn to the Cross and Christ’s self-sacrifice.   Of late I’ve had the pleasure of being drawn into conversations with a number of Girardians, here at Loyola and elsewhere, so as I’ve contemplated the Passion this year, I’ve done so in light of the work of René Girard.

My knowledge of Girard comes mainly from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), in which the French-born anthropologist summarizes many of his ideas in a form accessible to theologians.  Girard’s work is refreshingly insightful because he takes seriously two notions most of his secular colleagues are afraid to touch:  Christianity’s claim to uniqueness among world religions and the religious foundations of civilization itself.  Girard, in fact, refers to I See Satan Fall Like Lightning as an apology for Christianity made on anthropological grounds.  Though he is clear in stating that he is not a theologian, it is well worth puzzling out the theological implications of his unique “apology.”

But since some of our readers are likely unfamiliar with Girard, it’s perhaps best to begin with a summary of the key ideas he develops in I See Satan this week and then turn to their applications in a second post two weeks from now.  This will also give others a chance to correct my non-expert misinterpretations. Read the rest of this entry »

Catholics and Health Care: A Note

March 25, 2010

I have found it interesting to watch the many responses of Catholics to the new health care bill.   Cardinal George has applauded the bill while maintaining some reservations:

We are apprehensive as we look to the future, even as we applaud much of the increased care that will be available.

I think it is important for Catholics to recognize both the applause and the apprehension.  The USCCB has been working on “universal” health care now for a long time.   They have been a constant advocate of reform.  The two primary reasons usually given for their apprehension about the current bill are first, that its language is vague about federal funds being used to pay for abortions, and second, it does not include illegal immigrants.  It is not “universal” enough.

This second point seems to be lost on certain Catholics.  For example, Deal Hudson has come out with much praise for the Bishops’ reservations.  But this is the same Hudson who wrote:

Criticism of the USCCB among lay Catholics, as well as many priests and bishops, has been a constant since its march to the political left in the years after its creation in 1966. Pastoral letters, including the ones on the economy (1986) and war and peace (1983), created a clear line of demarcation between the liberal politics of the conference (aligned with the Democratic Party) and the Catholics, both lay and religious, who interpreted the Church’s social teaching differently (in a way inclining them toward conservatism and the GOP.)

So as to avoid a serious divide among Catholics in America, we cannot take this approach.  The bishops are wise, and they desire both to promote “universal” health care, and, precisely so that it be “universal,” push for it to include the unborn.  We would be wise to follow their lead, and not select what we like and don’t like from them.  Cardinal George has made it clear that the Bishops are trying to steer away from politics on this matter.  We should try to give them the benefit of the doubt and listen carefully to what they are saying.

The Bronx Paradox

March 25, 2010


I like cultural paradoxes.  They often give us a keyhole view onto the vast room of the “unthought,” i.e., those scarcely-noticed prejudices and instincts that color thought and action.  So, in that voyeuristic spirit, I thought I would draw attention to the “Bronx Paradox,” the puzzling coincidence of hunger and obesity chronicled recently in the New York Times:

The Bronx has the city’s highest rate of obesity, with residents facing an estimated 85 percent higher risk of being obese than people in Manhattan, according to Andrew G. Rundle, an epidemiologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

But the Bronx also faces stubborn hunger problems. According to a survey released in January by the Food Research and Action Center, an antihunger group, nearly 37 percent of residents in the 16th Congressional District, which encompasses the South Bronx, said they lacked money to buy food at some point in the past 12 months. That is more than any other Congressional district in the country and twice the national average, 18.5 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Hunger and obesity are now so closely linked that the Department of Agriculture dropped the word “hungry” from its official reports in 2006.  It now prefers the term “food insecure.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a Small World, After All

March 23, 2010

Blogosphere: A Map

Sometimes I worry that people may read this blog. Whenever I wander through other parts of the Catholic blogosphere, I become even more anxious. What happens, I wonder, when an average, decent, God-loving person stumbles into the Catholic blogosphere? What happens when a typical Catholic, who believes and serves in the fields of everyday life, gets a whiff of the rancor in the comment blocks of a typical Catholic blog? In a way, I hope they never find us blogging away in the dark forests of cyberland busy about our bloodsport.
Read the rest of this entry »