Monday, February 28, 2011

A New Manna


By Brad Miner

For too many centuries, Christianity – and perhaps especially Catholicism – has been associated with anti-Semitism. This history is well-known, and I will not rehearse it here. But behind all the violence and persecution and bigotry was the blood libel: Jews rejected and killed Jesus Christ, and this crime attaches not only to those who called for the Lord’s crucifixion then but also to their descendants, right down to the present day. To be sure, the Church has always been at least uneasy about the libel and never formally endorsed anything of the kind. Still, it awaited the twentieth century for something closer to philo-Semitism to emerge, especially in the actions of John Paul II, which continues to have effects in the twenty-first and the work of many in the Church who have sought to recover the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith.

This work has been taken up by Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials and by a number of authors, among them: Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, in his extraordinary Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming; Taylor Marshall, an Anglican priest who crossed the Tiber, in his bestselling The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity; and now Brant Pitre, a cradle Catholic and professor of sacred scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, in his newest book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper. (There is even an extraordinary recording of Jewish and Catholic canting and chanting, The Sacred Bridge, that demonstrates the intimate musical evolution of the two faiths.) Each of the books mentioned is a truly extraordinary reading experience, but Dr. Pitre’s book, just published by Doubleday, deserves some attention here.

It is extremely rare that a book so clearly based upon extensive scholarly research is as readable as is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. That scholarship encompasses not only careful study of the Bible, the Church fathers, and the Catechism, but also close readings of Jewish commentaries such as the various editions of the Mishnah Torah, Talmud, and other Hebraic sources, ancient and modern. Pitre’s work is a part of an ongoing and revolutionary revelation (not in a divine but in a scholarly and historical sense) concerning the necessity of understanding the universal in the particular. As Papa Ratzinger has written: “the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Chosen People . . .” Christ spoke to all people for all time, but the words he chose and their likely resonances in the minds of the first-century Jews who heard them are critical to our understanding of the One who truly is the Messiah.

I’m married to a Jew, and the highlight of every spring at our house is the Passover Seder my wife prepares and we celebrate with friends and family, Jews and Christians. The many parallels between the Seder service and the Catholic Mass are clearly evident to anybody who has attended both. And this is because the Last Supper was, for Jesus, His last Seder. What Professor Pitre demonstrates is the extent to which the whole of Jewish history and the whole of the salvation story play out in the Eucharist.

Passover is, of course, a remembrance of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. In the Mass, we celebrate Jesus as the Messiah, a new Moses, who leads us out of the captivity of sin towards our heavenly destiny. But during that Jewish exodus itself – not just on the eve of the journey, when the angel of death took the firstborns from every house not marked with the blood of the lamb – there was bread given by God to sustain the travelers: manna. Long story short, that heavenly bread is very much what Communion is for Catholics: the transubstantial body of Christ, who is God and is heaven. Manna (later the Bread of the Presence) was kept in the Ark of the Covenant during and after the exodus, and consumed in a ritual sacrifice of bread and wine (see Leviticus 24:5-7), as the consecrated Host is kept in Catholic tabernacles today, awaiting the Eucharist.

Among the most fascinating parts of this riveting story, certainly as Brant Pitre tells it, is the question of blood: How could a faithful, pious Jew such as Jesus of Nazareth speak as he often did, not just at the Last Supper, of the necessity of drinking his blood? After all, consuming blood is simply not kosher; drinking human blood is depraved and blasphemous. As Pitre notes, none of the earlier prophets had ever suggested such a thing. But Jesus, as we know, is more than a prophet. Pitre writes:

In a word, the Bread of the Presence was miraculous. After all, it would take just that – a miracle – for bread and wine to be transformed into the body and blood of the Messiah.

And Pitre quotes St. Cyril, fourth-century bishop of Jerusalem: Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, so “is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood?” Blood, wine, Passover, Eucharist, prophecy, fulfillment.

Quite obviously, I’m breezing through the arguments of this remarkable book. But as one familiar with living Jewish and Christian history, I cannot begin to describe how thrilling it is to read Brant Pitre’s account of the Last Supper and the fourth cup of Passover wine, the one the Lord said he would not drink until He came into His Kingdom.

It is simply unthinkable that the correspondences between Passover and the Mass, manna and the Eucharist, and the prophets and the Messiah are not in themselves, in both Scripture and in tradition, proof positive that what we Catholics believe is absolutely true. Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuto LeOlam Va’ed! (Blessed be His Glorious Name Whose Kingdom is Forever and Ever!)

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was published last year in a revised edition.

© 2010 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Retrieved February 28, 2011 from

Gaddafi Spoof - Zenga Zenga Song

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist - Brant Pitre's thrilling book

Brant Pitre, a young Catholic theologian - a professor of sacred scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans - has produced a minor publishing sensation. His book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, is currently ranked #1 on three bestseller lists:

#1 in Books on Catholicism
#1 in Books on Judaism
#1 in Books on Ritual

Elizabeth Scalia has an interesting interview with Pitre at her Patheos site And Hebrew Catholic (her term) Simcha Fisher reviews it there too (

Scalia, who strongly recommends the book as Lenten reading this year, cites a couple of other reviews as well as quoting from her interview:

. . .my personal favorite is the chapter on the Bread of the Presence. This mysterious bread, which was kept in the Tabernacle of Moses and later in the Jerusalem Temple, is consistently overlooked by Christians, because it’s tucked away in the dreaded book of Leviticus! Yet it is easily one of the most transparent foreshadowings of the Eucharist in the Bible. I will never forget the day when I was reading the Jewish Talmud and discovered that the priests in the Temple used to take out the Bread of the Presence at the festivals, elevate it in the sight of the pilgrims, and proclaim: “Behold, God’s love for you”! Could you ask for a clearer parallel with the elevation of the Eucharist in the Mass, what Pope Benedict has called the “Sacrament of Charity”?

Yeah, that gave me a thrill of recognition, too! In fact it reminds me both of the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament at mass, and of this picture of John Paul II, holding aloft the monstrance for adoration and for the blessing of the people, during Benediction:

Longtime readers may recall that back in 2009 Rick at Brutally Honest and I got into a minor tussle about receiving Communion while one is not a Catholic. Since then, Rick has written now and then on his blog about the slow, sometimes painful journey he and his wife are making to become fully received into the church and he has been, yes, brutally honest about it. He has written a review of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist that is very affecting:

I’ve been away from the Catholic faith for 40 years, in essence wandering in the wilderness as the Jews who were led out of Egypt. My trek toward belief in the Real Presence has been slow and methodical, perhaps even too cerebral; my struggles have been, well . . . real and present. Pitre’s book has helped fill the intellectual gaps and in that sense is an enormous assist. [. . .] I have longed and do long for the presence of God. I am comforted, consoled, strengthened, encouraged, chastened, made aware of my sinfulness, healed and forgiven by His nearness. I have lately been able to experience these things and more during Holy Communion, during Adoration and recently, during a moving and most holy Eucharistic Healing service offered by The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

I’ve entered into these things with imperfect faith, with flawed belief, with too many doubts and yet each time, I’ve been granted release. Each time I have left a Eucharistic encounter believing more strongly than before that something mystical and something holy and something real had been before me and experienced by me. My faith has been strengthened.

In Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Brant Pitre has provided a firm foundation on which I can literally build my faith, and wrap my brain around the Scriptural basis for Christ’s Presence in the breaking of the bread. This is, frankly, an answer to my prayer and my desiring.

As I said, it’s affecting.

Julie Davis at Happy Catholic, meanwhile, is even “happier” since reading Pitre’s book, and her review is very smart:

There is a thrill of discovery at seeing the pieces fall into place, and that makes the book a surprising page-turner; the reader eagerly wonders where the next revelation will take them. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist makes it crystal clear why ancient Jews and early Christians alike understood Jesus’ outrageous claims about the Eucharist, that he is truly present in it now and forever.

This book made me look at the Eucharist and Jesus’ promises with new eyes and new appreciation for the truth hidden in plain sight in the Catholic Church. It answers the question that Brant Pitre encountered so long ago as a college student, “How can you Catholics teach that bread and wine actually become Jesus’ body and blood? Do you really believe that?”

It occurs to me that the word “thrill” keeps popping up. Yes, it is an absolute thrill to watch Pitre connect all the dots. And a little humbling when he reveals that, in much more casual ways, this is almost all in the brilliant Catechism that nobody reads enough (myself included).

Retrieved February 19, 2011 from

Friday, February 18, 2011

What's wrong with the West?

Robert P. George and William L. Saunders February 2011

The following is a chapter by Robert P. George and William L. Saunders from Exiting a Dead End Road: a GPS for Christians in Public Discourse, a new book published by Kairos Publications in Vienna, and edited by Gudrun and Martin Kugler. The book can be ordered here:

The West has faced many challenges in the past, many turning points, from the Asiatic invasions of the Dark Ages to the dark ages of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin. And it faces one now -- the eclipse of its historical Christian identity.

In the past, when armies of aggression threatened our society, those threats were met with nerve and with steel. We pray God that steel will never be necessary again, but certainly it will require nerves of steel -- steely determination -- to meet what may be the greatest threat Christianity has faced in its history.

The threat is this: at just the moment when many Christians have lost self-confidence, ideologically doctrinaire secularists have launched a determined attack on all public vestiges of Christianity. They have chosen their moment well, but their attack need not succeed. If Christians will regain the confidence that comes from their Creed, they can arrest the assault being waged in the cause of secularist ideology. Courage was required in the past; it is required again.

Christians are well-equipped for this battle. Christianity enables man to use twin tools in engaging the world and its problems -- reason and faith. Other than the specially revealed truths of faith, all truths are accessible to unaided reason, and, thus, to all people of good will. When Christian citizens contend over issues of importance in the public square, they should be confident that they bring not a narrow sectarianism but an understanding based upon principles of reason -- natural justice, natural law -- in the interest of the common good.

The problem

To begin with, “the West” is not synonomous with Christianity. There have been great civilizations of the East in which Christriantiy played a vibrant part, remnants of which survive today in places like Syria, India and Ethiopia.

However, as writers such as Hilaire Belloc noted, Christianity achieved a synthesis with culture in the West, particularly in Europe, that is probably unmatched elsewhere. In fact, it may be said that Christianity, properly understood, is the synthesis of the intellectual and moral traditions of the Greeks with the moral and spiritual traditions of the Hebrews. Given birth during the Roman Empire, Christianity stamped its imprint as that Empire grew, matured, disintegrated and fell. The eastern part of that Empire was eventually submerged under Islam, and Christianity concentrated in western Europe.

As Pope Benedict XVI said at Regensburg in September 2006: “The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance [for] world history... Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity... finally took its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: the convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.”

Western Europe, of course, sent its sons and daughters to America, many of whom were Protestants. There they established a society built upon the ethical monotheistic belief that “all men are created equal... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Now societies on both sides of the Atlantic are under assault from an aggressive form of secularist ideology and seem to be teetering. Let us look at a few examples.

On November 3, 2009, the European Court of Human Rights announced its decision in Lautsi v Italy (30814/06 Eur. Ct. H.R.). The Court held that the crucifix -- the symbol of the suffering Christ -- could not be displayed in public school classrooms in Italy without subjecting the state to monetary damages for parents who complain. The decision provoked an uproar across the political spectrum in Italy, and has been appealed to the Grand Chamber. Many commentators noted that even Italian atheists supported the display of the crucifix, and concluded it had become “merely” a cultural symbol.

There is much to be remarked concerning this case, and though we will say more about it below, we do not have space to plumb its depths. However, we would note a few things about it.

First, the “institution” by which Christian symbols are being banished is a court. The role of the courts as agents serving a secularist elite that condemns Judaeo-Christian ethical principles will be addressed below. Further, on this general issue, note that there is a divide between popular and elite opinion on this matter. While we will say more on this too, we note that the theoretical basis of democracy is popular rule -- that, after all, is the point of counting votes. Further, the case in support of permitting cultural expressions of religious belief is strengthened when the votes of a majority in the present are combined with “the votes of the dead” (ie, those who, as G.K. Chesterton reminded us, created the very institutions and practices in the past that are under attack in the present).

However, we pause to spend a moment on the suggestion that the widespread Italian protest against the Court’s ruling was unimportant because it was “merely” cultural.

Christianity is by its nature culture-shaping; remove its symbols and the culture will lose its shape. While those Christians who are lapsed or relaxed in the practice of their faith may not realize it, those who oppose Chrisitanity are not content with the fact that many Christians are unconcerned whether Christianity has a role in public. Rather, these secularists seek what the great American Christian leader, Fr Richard John Neuhaus, called the “naked public square”. That is, they seek to “cleanse” (from their perspective) the public square of all references to Christianity, Judaism, or revealed religion of any type. An example from the United States is the effort to remove displays of the Ten Commandments from public spaces. The irony that this is pursuant to jurisprudence from a Supreme Court that itself sits in a chamber where the Ten Commandments is part of a ceiling frieze is lost on many.

A similar example from Europe concerns the text of the new Lisbon Treaty. It fails to mention Christianity, speaking instead vaguely of “inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”. Granting the important contributions made, for example, by Greek philosophy and by Enlightenment ideas to the development of the full understanding of the concept of the human person, it is simply an historical fact that it is in Judaism and Christianity that the “indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity” (EU Charter) find their root. Judaism and Christianity teach that each and every human being, regardless of how weak, or poor, or despised, is made in the very image and likeness of the divine Creator and Ruler of the universe.

Hence, it was understood that all human beings are robed in immeasurable dignity. And, in the specifically Christian witness, it is God’s own example of selfless sacrifice that has inspired believers in turn to sacrifice for others -- the greatest humanitarian enterprises of Western history, from the hospital to the hospice to the orphanage to the Missionaries of Charity, spring from this “imitation of Christ”. To ignore that fact is to embrace cultural amnesia.
Christians in the West often believe neutral principles such as “the rule of law” will guarantee their just rights. However, given the vehemence of ideological secularism, that belief is na├»ve. Note, for example, a recent case decided by the United States Supreme Court.

In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (130 S.Ct. 2971), on June 28, the last day of its 2010 term, the Supreme Court ruled that the US constitutional guarantee of freedom for an organization to choose its officers and members, and which applies to every other group on a college campus, does not apply to evangelical Christians. Why? Because the evangelical Christian group did not permit persons who, in violation of biblical moral teaching, choose to engage in homosexual conduct to become officers and members. That, stripped of the Court’s rhetoric, is the meaning of the decision. (A fuller discussion of this case by one of us can be found at This can be easily understood when one realizes the Court refused to apply legal precedent from the tumultuous 1960s which protected radical leftist student organizations (highly unpopular at the time) to the evangelical Christian group (highly unpopular now). The neutral legal principles that should have applied equally to each group did not.

The right to freedom of association, highly prized in all articulations of human rights, simply falls by the wayside in a contemporary courtroom if that right is asserted against the preferences of those who enjoy hegemony in universities and the dominant intellectual culture today. And no group is more highly out of favour on campus than evangelical Christians. Why is that? Evangelical Christians will not bend to the zeitgeist. They assert their understanding of Christianity in the face of a largely consumerist, materialist culture.

Their understanding of what Christianity requires of them is not limited to faith (dogma, doctrine), but extends to morals. (This is, of course, the same for faithful Catholics. See, eg, Lumen Gentium 25.) And morals are the one thing on which the dominant culture cannot yield, organized as it is around a commitment to individual freedom to pursue sexual adventure as one wishes. Reference to another recent American case should make this clear.

That case is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 2010 (US Dist. LEXIS 78816). Decided August 6, 2010 and now on appeal to a higher court, the decision overturned a ballot initiative, popularly referred to as “Prop 8”. Under the law of the state of California, voters may amend the state constitution (which was, of course, originally adopted by the people, that is, the citizens) by ballot initiative. With Prop 8, the citizens of a very liberal state did just that -– they defined “marriage” for purposes of state law as “between one man and one woman.” This common sense view, supported by natural reason and reflected in human rights documents, and supported by social science research, was declared by the federal court to be utterly lacking in reason. The court declared that “gays” were harmed by these views, which it branded “religious”. (“The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples.”) In other words, for this court, and it is quite representative of the opinion of Western elites on all matters sexual, any opposing view is “religious,” and hence “irrational.” Thus, such a view can be dismissed as unworthy of legal respect.

Let us be clear: the drive to legitimate practices deemed, not just by Christians, as deviant throughout human history has led to a cultural confrontation with organized, traditional (observant) Christianity. Institutionally, it is Christianity that is by far the most significant opponent to this “liberationist” agenda.

And that agenda’s fiercest proponents will use any tactic, including the subversion of “the rule of law” and “democracy” itself, to advance their agenda and to defeat their opponents. This last aspect cannot be overemphasized –- they mean to break Christianity if they can, for it has a spiritual and moral world view that they cannot accept or even tolerate. In other words, from the point of view of the most aggressive of the contemporary secularists, this is “the moral equivalent of war.” And one thing that is wrong with the West is that while traditional Christians are dominant in terms of numbers of persons, they are quiescent, lulled to sleep by a luxurious materialism (available only to emperors and kings in the past) and by beguiling rhetoric about “human rights” and “fairness”, in the service of causes (secularism and materialism) that, in the end, will undermine those very concepts.

The causes

Neither desires nor preferences are rights. To have a “right” means to have a claim upon another that the other is obligated to grant. No one, however, is obligated to grant the desires of another simply because the other desires it.

This basic misunderstanding of rights and desires lies behind many of the conflicts over “rights” in our societies today. However, the distinction was well understood in the West until quite recently, as we can see from an examination of the West’s fundamental human rights documents, adopted in the middle of the last century.

For instance, while it is sometimes claimed that marriage cannot be “limited” to “opposite sex” couples, and that to do so is “discriminatory” and violates “basic human rights,” a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (hereafter, the “Universal Declaration” or the “Declaration”), the lodestar of human rights in the West, reveals the opposite is true.

Article 16 deals with “the right to marry.” That right is guaranteed to “men and women of full age.” And no limitation on this right may be based on “race, nationality, or religion”. But that clearly means that the right can be limited on other bases. Thus, note that on one of the most contentious issues of modern politics -– same sex marriage –- there is little within human rights standards on which to base such a purported “right”. Similarly, “homosexual rights” are sometimes claimed to be so important that the state can require religious organizations to honor them in their teaching.

This has recently been asserted by the Spanish government and is, to some degree, reflected in the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religion in Public Schools. It must be noted that this claim is at variance with human rights standards. Unlike, for example, homosexual rights or abortion, religious freedom is an enumerated right within the basic human rights documents. See, for example, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration. Further, it is such an important right that it is one of the very few which cannot be limited even during wartime.
See Article 4-2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereafter, the “Covenant”). Finally, the logic of Article 18 of both the Declaration and the Covenant indicate it could only possibly be limited if it is in conflict with another enumerated right, which neither abortion nor homosexual conduct is. (For instance, under Section 3 of Article 18 of the Covenant, “fundamental rights” logically must be ones mentioned in the Covenant, i.e. since they are fundamental, they would by necessity be mentioned in a document setting forth fundamental rights.) Thus, there is little ground to contend that religion or religious teaching must conform itself to the dictates of new conceptions of “human rights.”

Note that Lautsi, discussed above, misunderstands a similar provision in the European Convention on Human Rights. Lautsi proposes that since freedom to manifest one’s religion is subject to “such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” (Convention, article 9-2), religion must yield to “democratic values” which it defines as “pluralism,” and essentially, as “secularism”. However, 9-2, which differs from article 18-3 of the Covenant basically by the addition of the words “in a democratic society,” cannot mean that. If it did, the exception would destroy the rule; that is, religious freedom would not be “fundamental” at all, but would be subject to whatever laws were passed in a democracy.)

Importantly, the same principle is operative when it comes to education. Parents have a right to direct the religious and moral education of their children “in conformity with their own convictions.” See Article 18 of the Covenant. (In Lautsi, the court held that the rights of minority parents and children meant that the crucifix could not be displayed, relying on a similar provision to article 18. However, this is clearly a misreading of that requirement. The important thing is that there be no coercion. {See 18-2 of the Covenant: “no one shall be subject to coercion... ” Also compare Dignitatis Humanae below.} So long as minority children are able to attend other schools, at state expense, that comport with their parents’ beliefs, or the state undertakes other measures to eliminate coercion, there is nothing wrong with the state having crucifixes in classrooms.

In other words, a secularist solution is not required... The examples could be multiplied, but the basic point is clear. Human rights standards protect, inter alia, marriage, education and religious freedom are generally in accordance with traditional understandings. The burden is squarely upon those who wish to assert other, conflicting rights to justify them. They may not do so by simply claiming them to be “human rights.” As Aristotle taught us, the law itself is a teacher. Laws do not determine behavior, but they play a crucial role in shaping it. Thus, in order to advance purported rights such as abortion and same sex marriage, proponents need to change the law. However, here they run into a problem -– as we have seen in the United States regarding marriage, most people oppose such things. Thus, while they can certainly sometimes advance such things by democratic means, proponents have increasingly resorted to unelected and electoral unaccountable judges to do their bidding. Ignoring the Biblical parable of the perils of pouring new wine into old wineskins, they allege “new” or “evolving” understandings of established rights (such as equality and fair process). In case after case (some noted above), we have seen this in the United States. The most infamous example is Roe v. Wade (1973) under which the Supreme Court invented a right to abortion under a “privacy right” nowhere mentioned in our Constitution.

Europe seems poised to suffer a similar fate. While the European Convention on Human Rights is designed to leave social issues to the member states of the Council of Europe under the “margin of appreciation,” the European Court of Human Rights seems to be edging into expanding rights to abortion and same sex relationships [under Tysiac v Poland (2007) and Schalk & Kopf v. Austria (2010) respectively] despite the lack of any language on these subjects in the Convention. (Furthermore, ABC v Ireland, challenging Ireland’s pro-life constitution, is currently pending before that Court).

Whatever the specifics, the point is this: fundamental institutions of democracy –- courts -– are being harnessed in an effort to advance social policies many, if not most, citizens oppose. Fundamental aspects of democracy, such as “the rule of law” (ie, an impartial judiciary; equality before the law of all citizens), are at risk.

Tactically, these proponents need an enemy, and the common, convenient enemy is “religion” (as we saw above, for example with the Prop 8 case). The reason is that they see “Christian morality” as the problem. As noted, they are mistaken to see it as exclusively “Christian,” for it is the common heritage of mankind, accessible to reason. Still they are determined to root out “god” from modern life.

(In America, secularists have gone so far as to “air-brush” historical events to remove references to “under God.” See, for example, the American Constitution Society’s misrepresentation of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous address at the Gettysburg battlefield during the American Civil War, as recounted by one of us at In a sense this is all a continuation of the long struggle of Christianity with modernity, a struggle carried on by every pope since Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum.

It has never been a struggle against modernity as such, though it must be admitted that sometimes the Church’s actions and pronouncements have given this impression. Rather, it has been a struggle against inaccurate, harmful ideas, ideas that are false, about the human person and harmful to the common good. One of the most insidious is the confusion about the meaning of “conscience.” Once understood as the responsibility of the individual before God, it became the individual’s right to do as he wished, subject to no authority beyond his own preferences. As we saw above, this is sadly mistaken and has no relation to true “human rights”. The Church clarified the matter in Gaudium et spes 43, where it pointed out that one had an obligation to inform one’s conscience before exercising it.

Gaudium et spes was of course one of the documents of the Church’s most comprehensive engagement with modernity, Vatican Ecumenical Council II, which sifted through modernity’s ideas and trends, affirmed what was true, opposed what was false. That Council gave us, inter alia, the great declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae.

Dignitatis Humanae was a ringing call against coercion in religion. At the same time, and less remarked upon, it was an insistence upon the freedom of the Church to evangelize. Though often interpreted to the contrary, it was resolutely against indifferentism in religion; rather, it called upon men to seek the truth. It also insisted upon the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs. In this, it opposed those individuals and institutions who demand that religion be privatized.

But in insisting upon the right to manifest belief, it was in line with the foundational human rights documents -– see, e.g., article 18 of the Declaration: “Everyone has the right..., in public and in private, to manifest his religion”.

Thus, we see that Catholic teaching is firmly aligned with human rights doctrine. Why? Because both are true. Thus, Catholics in the West should be inspired to more firmly grasp the sure teaching of the Church, confident that it does not contradict reason; rather it reinforces it.

Yet, one cause of the West’s problems is that many ordinary Catholics do not understand this. They have failed to read the documents of Vatican II, and many others have failed to heed them. One thing is certain: through its Declaration on the Laity and otherwise, Vatican II demanded an end to clericalism. In doing so it reaffirmed the vocation of the laity, and made a clear, proper separation between the lay and clerical roles. Absorbing this has not been easy for laity or clergy. The laity must take up their tools and work “in the world”. But they do so inspired by the teaching of the Church, and the exhortations of her priests and bishops. The role of the clergy is to announce what the Magisterium proclaims firmly and often, while leaving it to the laity to discern, through prudence, how best to implement those principles in ordinary political life.

Catholics should be aware the Magisterium has not been reticent; it has provided clear guidance on the moral principles. To use again the example of marriage, the Church has made it clear that nothing other than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman can licitly be recognized as “marriage”. (John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994).) Further, non-marital relationships of whatever type “must not be placed on the same level as marriage duly contracted.” (The Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, Article 1-c (Oct. 22, 1983). Further, Catholics may not ignore important public issues such as the protection to be accorded marriage. For example, “families should be the first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend, but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family. Along these lines, families should grow in awareness of being ‘protagonists’ of what is known as ‘family politics’ and assume responsibility for transforming society.” (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (1981).)

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, and William L. Saunders is Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs at Americans United for Life, a lawyer, and columnist.

Retrieved February 17, 2011 from

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Witty, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read

One of the pleasures of reading witty. erudite, and articulate English curmudgeons like Dalrymple and Scruton (are there others?) is the respite they offer from the prevailing ideology and received opinion within my profession. As a college teacher I gave up over 30 years ago any notion of changing my students' opinions--and research, fortunately, shows that professors have almost no net impact on their students' political positions. My aim, more modest but still entirely unrealistic for a dead white male walking, is to get students to engage with writers and ideas with whom or which they disagree.

I just wrote a belated review of Theodore Dalrymple's (2007)collection of essays, Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses for It may not be timely like my Scruton review, but I find it a good discipline to reflect on my reading in this way. Plus I have this ambition - how our life goals shrink with age, like the rest of us! - of breaking into the top 10,000 new amazon reviewers. In any case, here it is.

Dalrymple's essays are wonderful to read - erudite, amusing (yet horrifying), witty but deadly serious. His musings are much more than curmudgeonly rants, though that element is certainly there, as in the writings of that other highly articulate, erudite English conservative Roger Scruton (The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope).

Like George Orwell (see, for example, his Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier), Dalrymple brings to bear on his writing a wealth of experience in different countries and among the least respectable elements in them. His perspective is different - it reflects, among other things, a lifetime spent amid the demoralizing effects, as he sees them, of the postwar welfare state.

As with Scruton, there is the same distrust of the reforming, utopian elites who, with the best intentions, wreak havoc in the lives of those they purport to help. Of course, the book will please curmudgeonly conservatives, but it deserves to be read carefully also by those it targets for criticism. The book is a powerful warning to those like me, who have spent most of their lives in the 'helping' professions like social work or advocating for social policy reforms that strengthen the bureaucratic-professional state while weakening the capacity of the poorest and most vulnerable to care for and control their own families and neighborhoods.

The essays are not at all as predictable as this description might suggest. There are many surprises, delights, and unexpected insights. His essay on an exhibition of the work of photographers who died while recording their experience of the Vietnam War is thoughtful and profound, drawing effectively on the author's own experience of being drawn to danger in foreign parts.

His essay on the uses of corruption offers a surprising explanation of why Italy has thrived in the post-war period while Britain, from a much more favorable starting position, fell into a "degradation and lack of self-respect that is so obvious in the streets of Britain but so absent from those of Italy" (p.196).

The challenge for Dalrymple is that the Italian state absorbs far more of the national economy than the British and so appears to validate the statist dirigisme that Dalrymple generally deplores. His answer is that the Italian state is openly corrupt and inefficient, so people have to fend for themselves and their families and to bribe their way past bureaucratic obstacles to get things done (like building permits, installing phone service, and so forth). In Britain, in contrast, bureaucratic probity ensures that people expect more of the state, which therefore acts as a real brake on economic progress and a blight on people's lives. It is not reliance on the state, but the fact that people know they cannot rely on it, that gives Italy its comparative advantage. Whether one is convinced or not, it is an ingenious, thought-provoking argument and a pleasure to read.

Dalrymple, like Scruton and (on a different level) Orwell, shows how much we can benefit from reading the articulate, intelligent work of perceptive social and cultural commentary that challenges our own assumptions and biases.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hawaii Four-0

Michael Cook | Wednesday, 9 February 2011

This week a committee of the Hawaii Senate voted to shelve a bill for physician-assisted suicide after listening to emotional public testimony. Here are some of the stories.

Earlier this week, by a vote of 4 to 0, a committee of the Hawaii Senate killed SB803, a bill that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The issue was dropped after 4½ hours of testimony which was resoundingly against the proposal. This is the third time in Hawaii that assisted suicide has stalled in a legislative committee.

But rather than read about the politics of the debate, read what some of the bill’s opponents told the committee in their written testimony. It’s hard to go past first-person stories. (The submissions have been lightly edited for grammar and spelling.)

Not everyone opposed the bill, of course. Some people wrote to support it emphatically. But nearly all of them were the worried well. The people below are not well, but they’re not worried, either. You can access submissions to the Hawaii legislature about the bill here.

This is the latest in a long run of losses for pro-euthanasia lobbies in the past year. As Peter Saunders reported recently in MercatorNet's blog on euthanasia, Careful!, it has been defeated in six countries: the US (Hawaii and New Hampshire), France, Israel, Australia (South Australia and Western Australia), Israel, and Scotland.

* * * * *

Charlotte Smith
I'm sick to death of hearing about death with dignity. I prefer life with enthusiasm. From this side of the veil, death is not important. What is important is life. I'm 72, and have been unable to stand or walk since age 10. But I earned 2 degrees in biology, worked 26 years at NASA, travelled around the world, and become the first paraplegic woman to earn a pilot’s license, And I've used my head a lot. My brain has no moving parts -- but it goes everywhere!

* * * * *
Rhodora S. Rojas

At the age of thirteen, I was injured in an automobile accident and experienced a traumatic brain injury. I have had many life and death experiences, and that is why I'm talking to you today.

I am glad and grateful my parents and family supported me at the time. They were told that I would die or be a vegetable the rest of my life. Have you ever seen a vegetable get on a plane and fly to Honolulu to give testimony at a hearing!? Look at me now. I'm so very glad that they stood up for me. I'm worried that others may not have the chance of life if you pass the S8803.

I have finished my Bachelor of Arts degree and I'm working towards my masters degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling. I work at the Hawaii Center for Independent Living on Kauai. If they had killed me, how could I have accomplished what I have? Even though my life can be hard, I feel very blessed and very grateful to have the life I have.

Please do not pass S6803. It might be cheaper to encourage someone to die than to be there for them and help them live, but I don't believe it would be the right thing to do. Thank you for hearing my testimony.

* * * * *
Beth Arnoult

In 1991, I was In a bad ATV 4-wheeler accident and broke my back, leaving me paralyzed from the waist down with excruciating pain. I am now a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair the rest of my life. It was considered a good day if I could sit up for longer than two hours, due to the extreme back pain. It seemed to always be worse at night, leading to depression. I had all of my mind, never even lost consciousness during the accident, but, I'm sad to say, that If Physician Assisted Suicide had been available to me at that time in my life, even up to several years after, I'm afraid I would have opted for that route.

And that is so sad! It makes me cry just to think about it. It takes a lot of guts to try and commit suicide on your own, trust me, I've been there, and was never successful. Thanks to God. If it was legal and readily available, that would have taken all of the guilt out of my decision, because, “hey, if it's the law, then it must be OK!” Right?


God had purpose for my life! I just needed to go through a time of suffering, years to be exact, to get where I am now. I have a beautiful 14-year-old son, born 6 years after my accident! I have travelled the world for 10 years playing professional wheelchair tennis, retiring after representing the US in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, Since then I even joined a crew of adaptive paddlers and even paddled the Molokai Channel in a six-man outrigger. I make an impact on many lives every day. I often get people who come up to me and say that they are going to stop complaining about their sore ankle, or other ache or pain, after seeing what I have overcome in my life.

I love life and am truly blessed. This accident was a part of my journey to make me who I am today.
* * * * *
My name is Elsie and I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis In 1986. I am 49 years young. I have asked someone else to read this testimony for me as I am in the hospital at this time and cannot come myself…

A lot of people seem to have the opinion that it would be better to be dead than disabled and I can tell you from my own experience that this simply isn’t true for me. I have had my low moments and if PAS [physician-assisted suicide] was available I might have jumped at the opportunity during those low times. However, we all have those low moments and though most of you would be protected, I can't assume that same protection would extend to me or others like me who might not be as blessed as I am with loving family & friends...
So, opening the door to the acceptance that there are lives not worth living (terminally ill people in this case who want to die) sends the wrong message to caring people. It changes and distorts perceptions of life with all its ups and downs. We all know that trying to put safeguards into law doesn't really protect anyone when economics comes into the picture and there is no question that we are already seeing that In Oregon where disabled people can't get needed services but can get the pills to kill themselves. Please, I have too much to live for & so do others--•we can all live without this bill.
Sincerely, Elsie

PS: Day before yesterday I got a new roommate and I heard the staff speaking to her. They were evidently repeating to her that she had made the decision to stop eating and drinking and getting treatments because she had decided to die as she wasn't strong enough to walk around. I figured they were just trying to make sure they truly understood what she wanted. Her friends at the bedside also said that, yes, she had told them she just wanted to die. She hadn't eaten in a week she just wanted to die -- that's why she moved to this floor -- to die.

Guess what!

The next day she started eating her breakfast and told everyone who came into the room that she wanted to live. They had to send a number of people in to verify that that was really true and then they moved her upstairs. They seemed to question her sanity when she said she wanted to live. I would have thought “You would question her sanity when she said she wanted to die". It's a bad idea to make it too easy for people to take their lives at a low time.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Retrieved February 10, 2011, from

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Exhaustion of Liberalism in Religion

Francis Cardinal George, The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture

Sad News from Hawaii

Hawaii Bishop Shocked At High-ranking Priest's Departure for Politics

HONOLULU, HAWAII, January 27 (CNA) - Bishop Larry R. Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii says he was "shocked and extremely disappointed" to discover that his second-in-command at the diocese, Fr. Marc Alexander, was leaving his ministry for a post he had already accepted in the administration of Governor Neil Abercrombie.

"He was a well respected priest," Bishop Silva told CNA on Jan. 26. "This news has been quite devastating to many."

Fr. Alexander, who had served as a diocesan priest for 25 years, told Bishop Silva on Jan. 16 that he had lined up a job as the governor's Coordinator on Homelessness, and would be leaving the responsibilities he had taken on during the past five years as Bishop Silva's Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia.

The priest had submitted his resume through the governor's transition website and was hired. While acknowledging the change as "shocking" and "not something that happens every day," Fr. Alexander told reporters on Jan. 20 that he had felt called "in a different direction." He mentioned that he had long considered leaving the priesthood, saying he believed Bishop Silva would understand.

His bishop, however, had not seen the move coming. "At the end of December," Bishop Silva recalled in a statement released by the diocese on Jan. 20, "I announced that I had granted Father Marc Alexander the six month sabbatical he had requested for rest, study, and spiritual renewal." In light of his departure, he said, "I am sure that many will be as shocked and surprised as I was."

As Bishop Silva explained on Jan. 26, Fr. Alexander has not lost either the spiritual gifts, or the sacred obligations, that he received at ordination. However, having abandoned his ministry, he is no longer permitted to celebrate the sacraments, or perform other priestly functions, under all but the most urgent circumstances.

"Marc Alexander is still a priest," the bishop explained, "but his faculties have been withdrawn. He has not requested dismissal from the clerical state, nor has it been granted."

"However, in light of his decision to abandon the active priestly ministry, his 'license' to minister, granted by the bishop, has been withdrawn. He may not licitly perform any specific priestly functions. He may give absolution to someone only if that person is in danger of death. Otherwise, he is not to function as a priest," the bishop said.

He also rejected Fr. Alexander's implication that his secular career could be considered as simply another kind of "calling." Instead, he expressed hopes for the priest's return to the work of his vocation.

"Father Alexander has served the Diocese of Honolulu with great distinction as a priest for twenty-five years," he said, highlighting how he had "contributed greatly to the Diocese in his last five years as Vicar General."

"We are grateful for all he has done," Bishop Silva said. "Let us pray for him."

Although Fr. Alexander's move to a secular political post is highly unusual, it is not without precedent. Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and onetime Filipino Governor Eduardo Panlilo were both ordained as priests, and Paraguay's current President Fernando Lugo is a former bishop.

Retrieved January 31, 2011 from