Monday, December 13, 2004

American Life Part II

After so many months dormant, I will try to bring this site back to life with a new post. I thought a good place to start would be the recent elections in the states, which coincided well with observations regarding life in Europe and America. After spending several months in Europe, I have, if anything, grown in my appreciation for the United States of America. On so many different levels, I have seen how blessed we are as Americans. I was talking with an Italian friend of mine the other night and he put it very well. 'European nations became free, America was born free.' I couldn't have said it better. Not surprisingly, opinions of George Bush run pretty low on this side of the pond. Walking into any bookstore here, one can find an entire wall stocked with anti-Bush books. Also popular are general anti-American themed books. One in particular that caught my attention was entitled, Why Americans Can't Think for Themselves. Michael More is far more popular here than in the United States. What could be the cause for such a wide abyss between two allies, once considered inseparable? How has America defined herself from her European counterparts. Both America and Europe are considered 'Western', however the differences now are getting more and more difficult to ignore.

For starters, I think the most striking difference between the new and the old world is the degree of religious intensity found in United States, as opposed to the rampant agnosticism and indifference of modern European society. The statistics are pretty remarkable. I attended a talk by Robert Royal a month or so ago with my friends about this very topic, and he read off a litany of statistics revealing the disproportionate gap separating the practicing faithful of both Europe and America. The United States remains, as reaffirmed by the last election, an overwhelmingly conservative, traditional nation. Bush would not have stood a chance in any European country, with the exception of Poland. Americans gave the Bush Administration a resounding stamp of approval, giving him four more years to appoint judges, stand in the way of gay 'marriage' in the US and together with the Vatican, oppose the aggressive anti-family agenda of the United Nations.

It seems that, while both the United States and the countries of Europe preach and promote democracy, freedom and human rights, etc., they have fundamental differences in terms of understanding these basic terms. Although the United States broke away politically from England, it retained an appreciation for tradition, the classical notion of man, and above all, religion and morality. The Founding Generation was unanimous in believing that religion and morality were necessary 'pillars' of any good government. Europe is still reeling from the effects of the atheistic French Revolution and its radical rejection of, and attack on, tradition, customs and of course the Church, in favor of a rationalistic approach culminating in the Enlightenment. Is what we are wittnessing today nothing but an affirmation of the differences that exist between the American fight for independence and the French Revolution? Of course, we can't forget that since then, Europe has seen countless totalitarian regimes, numerous bloody wars and various occupations. Certainly these have had their own role to play in the formation of modern Europe.

At the risk of going on for too long, I will leave it here for now. I just wanted to get the ball rolling and see if we can start an interesting discussion on America, Europe and the differences and similarities that exist.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"Just Rice Versus Wheat"

A recent AP story chronicles the sad story of Haley Waldman, an 8 year old New Jersey girl who suffers from a rare digestive disorder that prevents her from eating wheat. Haley’s first Holy Communion was declared invalid by Trenton Bishop John M. Smith because the wafer used contained no wheat, and this has motivated Haley’s mother, Elizabeth Pelly-Waldman, to begin a crusade to have the doctrine changed.

Mrs. Pelly-Waldman is pushing the Diocese of Trenton and the Vatican to make an exception, stating that the girl’s condition should not prevent her from receiving the sacrament:

“It’s just not a viable option. How does it corrupt the tradition of the Last Supper? It’s just rice versus wheat.”

Just rice versus wheat.

Mrs. Pelly-Waldman’s attitude is unfortunately typical. Among many Catholics there is a tragic lack of understanding of, and reverence for, the seven sacraments. Pelly-Waldman demands that the Church find a way for Haley to receive Communion; she’ll take rice, potatoes—whatever, as long as she receives.

The author of the story, John Curran, when briefly discussing the matter and form of Communion notes that, “Church leaders are reluctant to change anything about the sacrament.” Mr. Curran, who would jump at the chance to change a part of Catholic teaching established by Christ at the Last Supper?

Knowing that the chief effect of Holy Communion is an intrinsic, interior union of the recipient with Christ, this is not an issue that can be eliminated by simply patting little Haley on the back, giving her a rice wafer, and wishing her well. That, as the Diocese of Trenton has stated, would be an instance of liturgical abuse and rightfully declared invalid. There are extreme circumstances when the matter may be altered, and Haley’s situation might fit into this category, but it is for Church officials to decide. Mrs. Pelly-Waldman has already rejected the possibility of using a low gluten wafer, or just receiving Communion in the form of wine, claiming that Haley could be harmed by even a small amount of gluten.

The general tone of this AP story seems to be that the Roman Catholic Church is virulently against this young girl receiving Holy Communion or at least bent upon her risking a possibly deadly reaction to do so; and this is nonsense. It seems that it Pelly-Waldman who is unwilling to change her position, after all, our Lord is present in every particle, however minute, of consecrated bread and wine.

Why should we criticize the Church for prudently considering every available avenue open to Haley to validly receive the communion?

The AP story ends by with a quote from the 8-year-old saying that she might die if she eats wheat, and this is heart wrenching, but to juxtapose this with statements implying that Church leaders are forcing Haley and her family to risk her life if she wants to practice her faith is ridiculous.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Alan Keyes and Original Intent

Recently, Illinois Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes expressed a favorable view toward repealing the 17th Amendment. That amendment resulted in the direct election of senators and, according to Keyes, tipped the balance of power heavily in favor of the federal government. According to Keyes, “the balance is utterly destroyed when the senators are directly elected because the state government as such no longer plays any role in the deliberations at the federal level.” Previously, and as intended by the founders, state legislatures had elected senators. The rationale was that those chosen by the legislatures would be far more aware of the particular interests and needs of the state than even many of its citizens. The preservation of dual-federalism, whereby the state government shared power with the central, was considered a vital protection against the encroachment of the central government. As a result of the 17th amendment, state governments have gradually become so impotent that they have been reduced to mere satellite units of the omnipotent centralized government.

According to the founders, the most certain means to guard against an overreaching government was to ensure that the states played a central role in the deliberations at the national level. James Madison, often called the “Father of the Constitution”, in Federalist 345 describes the role of the senate and expounds upon the senate’s relationship to the central government. “It is recommended by the double advantage of a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.” He goes on to highlight the unique role the senate has in serving as a check to the federal government. “In this point of view, a senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly distinct from and dividing the power with a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government.” It was seen as vital to the survival of the Republic that the states be able not only pursue their local interests, but to also defend them from external encroachment. The senate was intended to be the more deliberative of the two houses of Congress. As such, it would avoid the more ruckus and emotive-driven policy making of the House, which was elected directly by the people. Madison also touches on this point. “The necessity of the Senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.” To many people today, the idea of senators who not elected by the people may seem anathema, bordering on political heresy. It reveals how far this nation has come from its original cynicism of direct elections.

Echoing Aristotle, the founders were weary of placing too much power directly in the hands of the populace. Certainly, the vox populi is important, but the founders did not necessarily believe in vox populi, vox dei. That’s why they founded a republic, not a democracy. Alan Keyes has breathed life into an important issue that for many years has fallen out of the realm of even speculation. Although even he realizes that the likelihood of returning to the original intent is not great, he has certainly opened the political door of possibility. Illinois is fortunate to boast a viable candidate whose political philosophy mirrors the Founding Founders more than any other candidate in the country.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A Wall of Separation

We’re all aware of this memorable phrase by Thomas Jefferson. We hear it repeatedly from the ACLU and other opponents of Church “interference” in state matters. Although the words “separation of church and state” never appear in the first amendment, they might as well be there now. So engrained is this idea on our national conscience that even the pledge of allegiance has come under attack, in addition, prayer at high school football games and within the classroom. Religion, in a certain sense has become enemy number one of activist judges. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that religion has come under attack in America. Even though the majority of Americans consider themselves religious, the elite of this country, once again proving that they know better than we do, are attempting to erase the important role religion played in our nation’s founding. Quote after quote can be pulled from the dialogues of the founding era affirming the benefits, even necessity, of religion and morality in public life. Washington himself went so far in his Farewell Address to say that these two pillars are fundamental components of a successful republic. Even Jefferson, probably the least “religious” of the founding generation, doubted that a state could function without Christianity. De Tocqueville marveled at the religiosity of the American citizen. Not being able to deny the prominent role religion occupied in the founding, attempts are now being made to dismiss religion in the founding era as “cultural” or “historical” conditioning. “That was then, this is now.”

The idea that religious-inspired values and morals ought to remain outside the public debate would have sounded completely foreign to the founders. While they affirmed reason’s ability to reach certain truths, they were doubtful that over time, reason alone would prove sufficient in guiding man along the path of moral truth. As we all know, the only intent of the first amendment was to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion and to ensure the freedom to worship as one pleases. Today however, we have what Father Neuhaus calls the “naked public square.” President Bush is accused of being a zealot, leading this country on his religious convictions rather than national interest. The courts, which were intended by the founders to be the weakest branch of government, have arguably become the most powerful.

As we have discussed, politicians opposed to abortion are accused of “imposing” their religion on the electorate. Bishops who speak out against abortion and warn politicians who support it are likewise criticized. The important social issues of the day such as life, marriage and the family, etc., are influenced more by the secular creed than any religious one. What is the remedy for such hostility toward religion in public life? How can we reclaim our nation’s appreciation for religion in the public square?

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Balancing Act: The Catholic Voter's Situation

As the arguments over whether it is permissible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate rages on, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been quoted by the U.S. Bishops in a way that seems to allow for Catholics to have more voting freedom.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has said that Ratzinger feels that,

"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considerred remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."

Many liberal mouthpieces, such as Andrew Greeley, have run with this statement claiming that this implies that Catholics are free to vote for whomever they choose, including John Kerry, if they find other reasons to do so.

In his July 16 article in the Chicago Sun-Times Greeley shows his true colors by making a cheap stab at the Bishops who have defended the Eucharist by stating that, "The few bishops who excluded Catholics from communion if they voted for Kerry didn't know much traditional moral theology."

Individuals like Greeley are entirely political and have no desire to educate the laity. In the same article Greeley then suggests that the bishops could better act as beacons of light if they would "more noisily oppose the Iraq war and suggest that Catholic politicians who support the death penalty are not following the teachings of the Church."

By simple consideration of the numbers anyone can see that abortion is taking more lives than capitol punishment and while we cannot forget about capitol punishment, abortion is clearly the dominant issue of our day.

However, it's worth analyzing whether Ratzingter's alleged point is truly applicable, or just ammunition for more useless palaver. The question is: What are "proportionate reasons?" How often do they exist? Are we really faced with such a situation now? Despite Kerry's liberal positions on life issues are his other beliefs enough to render Catholic support of his campaign "indirect material cooperation?"

Allow me to quicky opine . . . I virulently reply "No!" Simply research his incomprehensible voting record. I could continue but would rather leave it to everyone else to discuss.

What are "proportionate reasons?" Many American Catholics are now using this arguement to support a number of questionable politicians.

Could they be right?

Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Real Sexual Revolution

The release this past weekend of the latest letter from the Vatican entitled, On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, presents us with another opportunity to explore the Holy Father’s understanding of the human person. In particular, we could focus on his thoughts regarding man and woman and their relationship to one another, otherwise known as the theology of the body. I’m hardly an expert on the theology of the body, but I am at least a little bit aware of its potential impact on the world. I believe it was George Weigel who said that the theology of the body is a “theological time bomb”. It is widely believed within Catholic circles that at some point down the road, not too far away, this rich collection of reflections on the meaning of human sexuality will be embraced by a culture desperate for meaning. There are still a surprising number of people who are unaware of the Pope’s contribution to the understanding of human sexuality and marriage. Fortunately, individuals like Christopher West have begun unpacking this complex yet monumental vision. He has a great website with salient, thought provoking articles perfect for those interested in exploring the Holy Father’s vision in-depth.

In a beautiful way, the Holy Father ties together the marital act of a husband and wife to the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the Church. By discovering the connection between marriage and Christ’s betrothal to his Church, the meaning of our entire life is illuminated and enriched. The “gift” of husband to wife is physically embodied within the sex act. In giving oneself completely to the other, each finds fulfillment. The union is so perfect that it is life giving. Man and women become co-creators with the Almighty in the creation of new life. The union of bodies within the marital act is meant to parallel Christ’s eternal union to the Church. The life giving union of marriage is also a reflection of the most perfect union found within the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the reciprocal love between the Father and the Son. The beauty of the theology of the body is in its “incarnational” character. The Divine life of God is brought down to earth in Jesus Christ. In the Person of Christ, God and humanity are intimately and eternally united. Thus the most intimate and beautiful of human acts, the gift of self between husband and wife, can be directly linked to the mystery of God.

Time will tell what impact the theology of the body will have on our culture. More likely than not, after the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s, men and women will be hungry for an understanding of sexuality worthy of their dignity as created in the image of God. As the Church has predicted, sex outside the framework of marital love or perverted via contraceptives will only lead to self-alienation and conflict between the sexes. The alternative, sex understood as a self-giving and unrestricted free act leads to self-fulfillment and a deepening of love between husband and wife.

The Creation Posted by Hello

Friday, July 23, 2004

The 9/11 Report and What's Next?

The recently released, bipartisan 9/11 report confirms much of what the president has been saying since the immediate aftermath of the attacks. The report confirms that we are engaged in an epic battle against the forces of radical Islamic terrorism. Despite the relentless criticism being unleashed on President Bush by Michael Moore’s "documentary" Fahrenheit 9/11 and other "expert" media talking heads, Bush has once again been vindicated, this time by the very commission that was supposed to convict him. Many of Moore’s accusations are refuted in the report, for example, that there existed a Bush-Saudi connection prior to 9/11. It’s simply a remarkable fact that we have not been struck by an attack since the events of 9/11, and that is a success story. Clearly, the steps this administration has undertaken since 9/11 have prevented further attacks. The Patriot Act, much scorned by the Left as a step toward Big Brotherism, has been remarkably effective in identifying potential terrorists and terrorist cells within our borders. Despite cries of civil rights violations, not one case of abuse has been proven accurate. The commission report says, "Although we are safer, we are still not safe". The report does levy some criticism of both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. The fact remains that Clinton was in office for eight years while Bush was only in for 8 months. Nonetheless, we must look forward and act to ensure we do all we can to prevent another 9/11.

The policies of this administration have shown terrorists that their actions will not go unnoticed or unpunished. While some claim that the Iraq war has actually increased terrorism, or the likelihood of a terrorist act, I believe the opposite is true. According to the president, the former regime in Iraq was a gathering threat to the United States. President Bush never used the term "immediate". His goal was to address the threat before it became an imminent one. This is a vital component of his doctrine of preemption. We can no longer wait to see a threat gather, because then it may be too late. The alternative, to wait while rouge nations build illegal arsenals all the while lying to the world, or while terrorist cells organize under the watchful eye of such nations would be dangerously irresponsible. The fact that Libya has since voluntarily opened up to the world and no longer seeks illegal weapons can be seen as a positive effect of the war in Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have also stepped up their efforts at rooting out al-Qaeda cells within their borders. Certainly, there remains much to be desired, in terms of major societal reform deep within the hearts of many Muslim countries, but I believe that important first steps have been taken. These countries know that the United States is serious when it pressures them to seek out terrorists in their countries. In addition to rooting out terrorists through force, Muslim leaders must reform their education system, which regularly indoctrinates young, poor males to hate Christians and Jews. This is a serious and particular problem in Wahhibi-dominated Saudi Arabia and in the poor, rural areas of Pakistan. The war against terrorism is a multi-pronged effort, which will inevitably involve dangerous battles as seen in Iraq. We need strong leaders like President Bush who will make the difficult and sometimes unpopular decision to go to war if necessary when the security of our people is at stake. Preemption is a vital element of the Bush Doctrine in 21st century warfare. As important as the physical battle is the evolution of Islam itself to face modernity and Western civilization. Muslim nations must do an examination of conscience and realize that if it is to remaim a relevant religion in the 21st century, it must face down those within its fold who seek to turn it into a religion of terror. This will involve religious leaders uniting to condemn, without qualification, violence in the name of religion.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Christian's Call to Justice

This is an article that I recently finished as part of my CCHD internship and will be part of a regional push for the CCHD fund drive. I thought that perhaps it could elicit some thoughts, as real justice is unfortunately hard to find these days. It is very a popular catch phrase and has been commecialized more than any other virtue, except Love.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) works to foster justice throughout America.

Justice is based upon the uninfringeable dignity of the human person, made in God's image and likeness and destined for eternal bliss forever in heaven. When we consider the respect every individual deserves "from the standpoint of divine revelation, inevitably our estimate of it is incomparably increased. Men have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace has made them children and friends of God, and heirs to eternal glory."

A thorough regard for the rights of all men begins with the just ordering of civil law, "to the upholding of which we Christians have to contribute with all our strength as exemplary citizens." This begins with the laws that defend the right to life, that principle right, from the moment of conception.

However, this vital contribution, which we must make wholeheartedly, is not enough.

We are constantly confronted with opportunities to be vessels of justice in our interactions with each other. We must strive to be honest in our dealings with others, avoiding rash judgments based on calumny or hearsay, and also gossip that needlessly embarrasses others among their friends or society at large. Ultimately, just actions propel us to give to each person what is his due. Can we really be living as God asks if we are not considerate in thought, word, and deed towards our brothers and sisters for whom Christ was crucified?

"Acting justly towards our neighbor is not simply a question of avoiding doing him or her any harm. Nor is it simply a matter of denouncing unjust situations as they crop up." Lamenting the evils in our world is useless if it does not motivate us to do something to remedy the situations that cause us to grieve. All Christians must ask themselves how they can put the virtue of justice into practice in their everyday lives. This naturally begins with prayer.

We all need one another; we can all help one another. We must keep the needs of others in mind, we must be capable of saying: cor meum vigilat, my heart is awake.

CCHD provides one avenue to assist those who need our attention, and help form a more just, a more human world. During my time at CCHD I have had the opportunity to meet many people in need in our diocese, good people who, often times due to circumstances out of their control, are now forced to humbly ask for help to live with the amenities that most of us take for granted.

I have tried to tell their stories and laud the efforts of our current grant recipients who have been working to improve the lives of the poor in our diocese in the following pages. I encourage you to be generous in the CCHD collection on November 21st. Your donations ensure that CCHD will continue to work diligently for justice on a local level.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Yet Another Reason to the Blame the United States

The Aids conference currently under way in Bangkok, Thailand has once again turned into a forum for the world to criticize the United States. Despite the fact that the US has spent twice as much as other donor nations combined (we have pledged $15 billion), world leaders, actors like Richard Gere and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan have stepped up the criticism. They are accusing the United States of ignoring the plight of Aids victims while focusing too much attention on the war on terrorism. Addressing the conference, Richard Gere said “There is a vicious terrorist out there and it’s not Osama bin Laden, it’s Aids.” He went on to say that Aids is the most fundamental threat to our happiness and livelihood. His comments are so absurd that they need no further elaboration. Kofi Annan, in a veiled criticism of the United States implied that our enthusiasm in fighting the war against terrorism is disproportionate to our desire to fight Aids and suggested we could do more. Convinced that the United States’ policy is driven by “neo-conservative” ideologues, few at the conference seem willing to even consider the effectiveness of an abstinence program.

Protesters in Thailand Demonstrate Against Bush Posted by Hello

The policy of President Bush has been to promote abstinence programs throughout the world, rather than relying solely on “safe-sex” and condoms. Interestingly enough, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has supported the Bush policy, and as a result has become a target of criticism. His country is a rare example of a success story in Africa, a continent ravaged by Aids. By enforcing abstinence programs, his country has seen a drop in Aids infections. Those supporting condoms as the only way to prevent Aids seem to think that abstinence is cruel and unusual punishment. Asking people to wait until marriage before having sex is unrealistic, according to the critics of the Bush policy. This reaction ought not be surprising. In our sex-absorbed culture, it seems inconceivable for some to even contemplate abstinence. But the question must be asked; what is really going to solve the Aids problem? The only way to ensure that Aids will not be transmitted is by not having sex and not taking drugs. It seems so obvious, so why all the confusion? As usual, the Left has a quick fix for a serious, deep seeded moral problem that they refuse to recognize. Their message is the equivalent of saying; “play with this loaded gun, just be safe”. Refusing to address the root cause of the Aids epidemic, they look for simplistic solutions to a moral crisis. Since their understanding of sex is not rooted within any moral context of procreation, love, family and responsibility, they cannot be expected to see the moral roots of the Aids crisis. Abstinence programs, on the contrary, encourage a responsible and humane understanding of sex; that is, sex within the context of the married life is the only authentic purpose for human sexuality. Abstinence attacks the root of the problem, addressing the moral implications of sexuality. The source of the anger toward the president results from President Bush's refusal to use the bully pulpit as a spring board for the homosexual agenda. While Bush certainly wants to find a cure for Aids, he will not use his office as a propaganda machine for the homosexual movement in this country. I’m afraid that the criticism of the United States in Thailand is yet another example of the “blame America first” movement and has more to do with ideology that with fact.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Operation Iraqi Freedom

In my opinion, the situation in Iraq is going well. Despite the constant barrage of negative news, magnified and dwelled on by the liberal media, the fact is that we’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time with a surprisingly low number of casualties. In a little over a year, we’ve toppled a dictatorial regime, captured the former leader and most of his henchmen, and installed a new government. All of this comes with less than 700 American combat losses (some 200 have died in non-combat, accident related incidents). Of course every loss is a tragedy, but we must maintain a sense of perspective when dealing with the enormity of the mission. For example, before the D-Day invasion of France during WWII, the US lost over 700 troops in a training exercise alone! Remember before the war, so-called experts were predicting tens of thousands of US losses and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. Pessimists are bemoaning that this is another Vietnam-quagmire; “Bring the troops home!” “How long will our troops stay in Iraq?” The answer is, as long as it takes to get the job done. Would we be honoring the sacrifices of those who paid the greatest price buy cutting and running prematurely? US soldiers remained in Germany and Japan for years after the conclusion of WWII to assist with reconstruction. We’ve been in Iraq little over a year and already, some are getting shaky and calling for a withdrawal. What ever happened to our resolve and appreciation for history? The great potential of a free and democratic Muslim state in the Middle East threatens the very existence of terrorism. Terrorists thrive under corrupt governments that refuse to root them out of their society. They operate shrouded in secrecy and darkness. A free and open society, with leaders who are held accountable to the rule of law, naturally deters terrorism. It’s no wonder the terrorists in Iraq are engaged in an all-out battle to the finish to undermine and destroy the new Iraqi government. It seems like they realize what’s at stake more than the American left.

American Resolve Posted by Hello

The insurgency remains a problem, and a case can be made that planners underestimated their resolve going into the war and failed to come up with a definitive plan for reconstruction after major major combat operations had concluded. However, this does not mean that America has lost control of the situation. The media gives the impression that Iraq is on the verge of all out chaos. This conflicts with the reports of numerous soldiers who have returned from Iraq and have commented that the situation is not nearly as dire as reported by the American media. One soldier commented that he was more worried about the situation as a result of watching media coverage here than when he was actually fighting in Iraq! The fact is the attacks in Iraq are committed by a relatively small group of terrorists and insurgents. Recently, insurgents threatened to kill foreign terrorists who have been responsible for the murdering of innocent Iraqis. This indicates that Iraqis are uniting in their efforts to rid their land of terrorists. Iraqis understandably don’t want to be occupied by a foreign army, even less do they want to be plagued by car bombs, which result in hundreds of dead innocents. As much as they oppose US occupation, they realize that the real enemy is the terrorist, not the United States. The goal of the terrorists was to unite with the insurgency to force an American withdrawal and they have failed. As Iraqi security forces are taking an increasingly visibly presence in Iraq, the everyday Iraqi will unite behind their security forces and the terrorists will be on the run. We need to view operation Iraqi Freedom in perspective and realize how much we have accomplished in such a short time. We also need to remember that the best way, the only way, to honor the fallen is to get the job done.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Culture and the American Experience

The United States is a young nation. Since the founding of this country, we have become an ever-increasing mix of different races and religions. Contrary to other countries around the world whose people are united by a common race, history or religion, we are united by the principles of our founding; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our ancestors left the Old World for the New World in search of opportunity and freedom. These prized, sought after goals summoned people from around the world and resulted in a deep melting pot of cultures rarely seen in the history of the world. Citizens from nations that were hundreds, even thousands, of years old left behind their motherland for this virgin soil. The United States now harbors within her borders Chinese, Indians, French, Russians, Latin Americans, Italians, Africans, the list goes on and on. An important question needs to be considered; What is American culture? If culture is something that results from a people’s shared experience in history, resulting over centuries of societal evolution, what can be said of “American culture”? Could it be that we have an identity crisis within our borders?

American Life Posted by Hello

It would be helpful to consider the role of religion within the life of a culture. The ancient nations of the world have been forged by the influence of whatever faith is dominant in that particular society. As a result, religion becomes perhaps the dominant factor in a society’s culture. Elements that make up a particular culture (art, music, literature or just daily life) are strongly influenced by its particular religion. This perhaps can most clearly be seen within the life of European nations. In addition to having very distinct national cultures, (there is a “French way”, an “Italian way”, a “Spanish way”, etc., of doing things) there does exist a shared European culture among most of the nations, in particular the Catholic ones. It has been said for example, that in Spain the Catholic Church is not a Church, but the Church. It literally defines the culture of Spain. Christianity is undeniably the most formative force on the European continent. Attempts by European leaders to resist acknowledging its Christian heritage in the EU constitution is nothing short of a large scale state of denial. This kind of cultural formation can be found on other continents as well, regardless of the religion. Certainly the ancient cultures and nations of Asia have been molded over the millennia by common experience, including most especially, common religion. Enter the United States of America.

The United States is becoming more and more diverse. Recent statistics show that Asians and Latin Americans are immigrating to the United States at a massive level. What defines us as a nation? Do we have a “way” of doing things? Is a cultural identity possible with such a diversity of immigrants who possess a wide range of beliefs and values, rooted in vastly different historical contexts? In what are we “United”? Perhaps it is better to ask, What unites us? The United States of America is proud of its diversity of different religious beliefs. Whether Catholic, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, we are all Americans and we coexist with any and all peace loving people. But if what defined a people for centuries was their culture, rooted in ancient religious tradition, what can be said of an American culture? What will the role of religion be in our culture? Are our founding principles (liberty in particular) enough to form an authentic culture, especially since our culture is composed of a wide mixture of other varying, and much older, cultures? At such events as the Olympics, we wave our flag as proudly as any nation. Our flag is lost in the sea of flags from the nations of the world. For each flag, there is a distinct culture, a way of life that corresponds to that flag. The question remains…what is our culture? I'm not suggesting that we don't have one, but it might be harder to pin down than others.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Reagan Legacy

Time will tell how large an impact the presidency of Ronald Reagan will have on history. For now, it’s safe to say that much of what we enjoy as Americans today can be traced back to Reagan’s legacy. National pride, national security, and economic prosperity were brought back to a nation that for years had been lost in a mix of scandal, botched military missions and erroneous economic policies. He also reminded us that the United States of America is a nation set apart, a shinning city on a hill with a global mission to summon the world to the cause of freedom. In response to the godless Socialism of the pernicious Soviet Union, Reagan boldly asserted the Judeo-Christian morality of Western civilization. In opposition to d├ętente, Reagan favored a strong confrontation against Communism, determined to see its demise. He reasserted and reinforced the strength of America’s military abroad, and as a result, boosted the morale of our military. In response to the big government mentality dominant since the time of FDR, Reagan proposed that “government is not the solution, it is the problem”. He believed in the ability, and dignity, of each individual to achieve anything, so long as government did not interfere. He upheld the belief in a free-market ecomony as positive alternative the the Keynesian-saturated policies of the Carter era. He reminded us that the strength and beauty of America lies not in the halls of Congress, but in the hearts of ordinary Americans.

Throughout the sixties and seventies, Americans had become deeply jaded and insecure. The Watergate scandal had sapped a good deal of credibility from our politicians. The prolonged conflict in Vietnam, resulting in thousands of American casualties, left America feeling stunned and humiliated on the world stage. America’s ignominious retreat in Vietnam was due more to the incompetence and feckless policies of our political leaders rather than any failure of the military. Other events, such as the American hostages in Iran and the botched rescue attempt by the Carter administration again left Americans feeling shamed. While Communism seemed to be spreading without limits, the United States seemed crippled and impotent. When Ronald Reagan came into office after a landslide victory, he immediately let it be known that America was back and injected into the veins of our society an optimism and excitement not felt since the early days of the Kennedy administration. The American hostages were released upon Reagan taking office and over the course of his presidency, the Soviet Union would face a gradual decline in power and influence eventually leading to its collapse. Reagan insisted on a pay increase for the United States military and restored America’s trust in her Armed Forces. Reagan believed that if Americans had more control of their hard-earned money, the nation would prosper as a result. He was right. His tax cuts resulted in an economic boom and his small government philosophy demolished forever the appeal of big government. Years later, Bill Clinton himself declared famously, “the era of big government is over”. This coming from the icon of modern liberalism; who would have thought? Ronald Reagan was unabashed in his faith and trust in God. This stood in stark contrast to the atheism running rampant throughout Communist controlled nations. His spirit inspired us to once again believe that America was a unique country in world history and that the United States was a nation to be proud of. His joy, humor and optimism was infectious and touched Americans of both parties.

In his eulogy, President Bush said memorably that “Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us”. This is true. In a very real way, he is still with us. Certainly his policies will have had an everlasting impact on the conservative movement in America. The person of Ronald Reagan transcended the label of “Republican” and party politics. He was and always will be quintessentially American.

Ronald Reagan Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Catholic University Student

Often in discussions with friends, we hit on the state of the Catholic university student in America. Perhaps I sound like an unrealistic optimist, but I am usually pretty hopeful. For four years at Christendom I was surrounded by serious young Catholics. It was "normal" to see a great percentage of the students attend daily Mass. We all agreed on the basics. Now that I'm home, I'm able to get together with my old friends from high school. They too are all good Catholics, but we all have different college stories to tell. Some who went to larger Catholic universities do not share my optimism. They tell stories of low morality among the student body and Catholic professors who are far from authoritative on serious issues. Some friends often felt isolated and their desire to participate in the social life of the university clashed with their personal disgust with the lives many of their fellow students. While I am grateful for my experience at Christendom, sometimes I wonder if it presented me with an realistic impression regarding the state of our young university peers.

Some of my friends are now in graduate school and their observations regarding the morality of their fellow students is equally troubling. Those in medical school tell of professors and students who disregard the transcendent dignity of the human person in favor of a cold, utilitarian vision of medicine. In our discussions, my friends and I agree that many young Catholics feel a void in their souls. They are searching for something that would give meaning to their existence. If they are presented with the truth in a way that personally relates to them, they will usually respond. The "If it feels good, do it" motto of our parents' generation has become tiresome and many young people are beginning to realize this and are embracing religion in the hope of finding meaning and fulfillment. Many have accepted the challenge of Pope John Paul II to live a life of responsibility, authentic love and holiness. Our current culture preaches a radical individualism that results in self-alienation and emptiness. There's definitely a lot of work to do, but it looks like there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Young Catholics are embracing their faith with renewed appreciation and hope. Maybe we could start a little discussion of our own experiences and thoughts regarding this topic. We all come from different backgrounds, some are students, others are in the work force or military, so each insight will be extremely useful in arriving at a better understanding of the current situation.