Thursday, August 30, 2007

Attempted Murder in the Bathroom

The following link will take you to a story about a woman who gave birth to a baby in a McDonald's restroom and then tried to dispose of the child by flushing him down the toilet. Incredibly, the child was rescued and is recovering. I'm firmly convinced that such an act will be roundly condemned by virtually everyone. The ghastly deed is simply too vivid, violent and brazen to be sugar-coated or glossed over by euphemisms touting freedom.

But I'm forced to ask: How is it that such an act receives universal censure while abortion, especially the partial-birth sort, is touted as a right; something to be manifestly celebrated as an authentic expression of free "choice?" There is no substantial difference between the two acts. Both are inspired by the desire to terminate something, I would argue a human life, via free choice. The difficulty pro-abortion advocates run into is that they have based their entire movement on one word: choice. But freedom to choose is not an absolute right. If they want to be consistent, they should argue that the bathroom incident is a legitimate expression of an unimpeded choice. While there are some on the feminist side who might agree with that, most would probably take offense. But they would be the ones guilty of faulty application of their "choice-based" philosophy.,2933,295063,00.html

Byzantium in St. Louis

I had the opportunity to visit the splendidly decorated basilica in Saint Louis. The interior is almost entirely Byzantine and brought to mind memories of Saint Mark's in Venice, and even Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; that's how impressive it is. Incredibly, the St. Louis Basilica claims to house the world's largest collection of mosaic art. It's a bold claim, but they may be right. Shimmering mosaics encase a good part of the basilica's interior. Finely polished marble fills in the gaps in those few areas not boasting colorful pieces of carefully arranged cut glass or stone. The towering baldacchino in the sanctuary is a replica of the dome as seen from outside. The only part that is not Greek-influenced is the facade, which is Romanesque. I read that the reason is because, while Byzantine churches are an impressive sight to behold from the inside, their exteriors are usually less inspiring. Solution: Slap on a very imposing Romanesque facade. My only plaints are: One, that some of the mosaics in the St. Louis basilica look a little cartoonish, but there are only a couple of these. And second, and this is just my own scruple, some of the inscriptions in the mosaics are in English. It's not a big deal, but I prefer it when writings in churches are in Latin or Greek, especially taking into account the architectural style and history of the building. To me, it just looks strange to see these things written in English when Greek and Latin have such an irreplacable role in Church history.

A slightly out of kilter view of the dome

Monday, August 27, 2007

Health Care in Canada

A dentist friend of mine, originally from Canada, sent me this video about the health care system in that nation. It's pretty good, only about five minutes.

Fat America

According to a new study, the race toward obesity in America shows no sign of slowing down. Given our nation's universal-lite health care system, this news portends astronomically high costs for taxpayers in the not too distant future. Universal health care diminishes the incentive to live healthily. The prospect of costly medical procedures down the road, resulting from poor lifestyle choices, will prompt people to take better care of themselves now.
Obesity rates continued to climb in 31 states last year, and no state showed a decline.
"Unfortunately, we’re treating it like a mere inconvenience instead of the emergency that it is,” said Dr. James Marks, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to improving health care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in any physical activity in the past month. The percentage is greater than 30 percent in four states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Noonan "Toasts" US Troops

Here's an excerpt from a nice article by Peggy Noonan on the American soldiers of yesterday and today.
Some say we're the Roman Empire, but I don't think the soldiers of Rome were known for their kindness, nor the people of Rome for their decency. Some speak of Abu Ghraib, but the humiliation of prisoners there was news because it was American troops acting in a way that was out of the order of things, and apart from tradition. It was weird. And they were busted by other American troops.
You could say soldiers of every country do some good in war beyond fighting, and that is true enough. But this makes me think of the statue I saw once in Vienna, a heroic casting of a Red Army soldier. Quite stirring. The man who showed it to me pleasantly said it had a local nickname, "The Unknown Rapist." There are similar memorials in Estonia and Berlin; they all have the same nickname. My point is not to insult Russian soldiers, who had been born into a world of communism, atheism, and Stalin's institutionalization of brutish ways of being. I only mean to note the stellar reputation of American troops in the same war at the same time. They were good guys.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Benedict Takes on Descartes

Competing philosophies from the Middle Ages have woven their way down through the centuries and have presented us with two divergent visions of the human person:

The Thomistic understanding sees man as person, that is, a composition of body and soul, united by a shared human nature to those around him and to those who preceeded him. Belief in this common human nature has profound implications for each individual. This venerable tradition teaches that man cannot fully realize himself as person in isolation from the "other." It is through interaction with others that one grows in his own awareness of self. In other words, we come to know things through our senses. We assimilate the outside world via physical encounters with persons and things. This philosophy leads, ultimately, to the heavily relied-on adage that "It is only through the giving of self that one fully discovers his self." The negative read on this philosophy of person logically concludes with the discussion of alienation. Speaking in philosophical terms, a self-imposed isolation is unnatural for man and theologically speaking and as a corollary, sin constitutes a painful alienation from others and finally from self and God.

Another vision of person emerged from the mind of William of Okham. Okham rejected outright any existence of universals. Accordingly, there is no such thing as a human nature, shared by all. Such concepts are nothing but fabricated constructs which help us group things for the utilitarian purpose of taxonomy. Reality is composed of individual things, like atoms darting to and fro in complete isolation from the other. There is no essential relation between persons. Over time, Okham's theory was added on to and tweaked here and there; less emphasis was given to the senses, which were presented as unreliable, even deceptive tools for coming to know. The awareness of self-reflection and knowing became the primary proofs for man's existence. Enter Descartes' Cogito. "I think therefore I am."

The other day I was reading a section from the pope's An Introduction to Christianity and I came across some thought-provoking insights. I thought I'd share them.

Under the section entitled, The Individual and the Whole:

"Christian faith is not based on the atomized individual but comes from the knowledge that there is no such thing as the mere individual, that, on the contrary, man is himself only when he is fitted into the whole: into mankind, into history, into the cosmos, as is right and proper for a being who is 'body in spirit.'"

Citing the German theologian Mohler: "Man, as a being set entirely in context of relationship, cannot come to himself through himself, although he cannot do it without himself either."

And von Baader: "That it was just as absurd 'to deduce the knowledge of God and the knowledge of all other intelligences and non-intelligences from self-knowledge as to deduce all love from self-love."

"Human reality is only reality when it is being known...from another."

Rather, the pope says we should postulate, "Cogitor, ergo sum." "I am thought, therefore I am," for, "only from man's being known can his knowledge and he himself be understood."

Inscrutable Senate Republicans

Sen. Warner

There must be something in the air of the marbled Senate chamber that triggers a self-destruct mechanism in Blue-Blood Republicans. This time, it was Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who today, very publicly urged President Bush to begin a gradual troop withdrawal in Iraq. Even though the US military has made astounding progress in terms of bringing much-needed stability to Iraq, and even though polls indicate steady growing public support for the Iraq mission, Sen. Warner decided that fidelity to the tradition of loose-canon Senate Republicanism ought to take precedence over sound policy making.

First, it was immigration: A renegade band of Republican senators, led by John McCain, teamed up with the Democrat old goat and archliberal Ted Kennedy to craft a thinly veiled, de facto amnesty bill for millions of illegal aliens. Outraged, conservatives across the country inundated senate staffers with calls demanding the excretion of the obscene bill under consideration. Were it not for the unprecedented show of public revulsion, the bill would have certainly become law. One would like to think that learned, chastened Republicans would have gotten wise to the prime lesson of politics: Don't alienate yourself from those who got you into office in the first place. In other words, don't jilt the base.

Now, it's Iraq policy: This evening's national news and the BBC gave Sen. Warner's Iraq cant big-time coverage. (You'll notice that whenever a Republican criticizes the president, media pundits start panting like crazed dogs.) More astonishing than Sen. Warner's intransigence, however, is his failure to read the positive signs of the times: Iraq is changing for the better precisely because of the troop surge. Why begin discussion of pulling out at this critical juncture? Mewls the querulous senator:

“We simply cannot as a nation stand and continue to put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action."

Yawn. Beyond the sedative effect of such a bland remark, I thought general wisdom was in agreement that "decisive action" was the implementation of the surge, which has seen tangible results.

Verb. sap.: Senators like Warner need to be hung out to dry.

Mother Teresa's Dark Night

TIME is featuring a review of a new book, "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light." The article describes the book as "Consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, [and] provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works." The article and the book provide an intimate look into Mother Teresa's enormous inner struggles to find God. The revelation of a recorded mystical dialogue between Christ and Mother Teresa after Communion is particularly moving.
[Jesus:] Wilt thou refuse to do this for me? ... You have become my Spouse for my love — you have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far — Are you afraid to take one more step for Your Spouse — for me — for souls? Is your generosity grown cold? Am I a second to you?
[Teresa:] Jesus, my own Jesus — I am only Thine — I am so stupid — I do not know what to say but do with me whatever You wish — as You wish — as long as you wish. [But] why can't I be a perfect Loreto Nun — here — why can't I be like everybody else.
[Jesus:] I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children ... You are I know the most incapable person — weak and sinful but just because you are that — I want to use You for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?
in a prayer dialogue recounted to Archbishop Ferdinand Perier, January 1947,8599,1655415,00.html
A good piece about what we're up against in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mark Steyn on the Exceptionalism of the Anglo-Sphere

There's an enormous disparity between the United Kingdom of today and yesterday. Once upon a time, the UK was proud of the unique role it played in stabilizing much of the world. The injection of multiculturalism into society has changed this. Nations like the UK are now attacked and maligned as paragons of colonial oppression and exploitation and, sufficiently browbeaten, they recoil from further defending their rich cultural heritage. Here, Steyn, with his usual acerbity, talks about the poisionous effects of multiculturalism.

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

- A Poem by Charles Province

Iraq and the Democratic Conundrum

Here's a good piece from the Washington Post. Democrats, placing all their bets on American failure in Iraq, are now forced to reevaluate their campaign strategy in light of growing stability in that nation resulting from the surge. Their's is a difficult situation: On the one hand they need to offer lip service to the undeniable successes of the troop surge but at the same time maintain a safe distance so as to not upset the irrational fringe Left base of their own Party.
Democrats left for their August recess confident that Republicans would be on the defensive by now. Instead, the GOP has gone on the attack. The new privately funded ad campaign, to run in 20 states, features a gut-level appeal from Iraq war veterans and the families of fallen soldiers, pleading: 'It's no time to quit. It's no time for politics.'

Here's another worth-while piece that takes a look at Sen. Clinton's latest maneuvers regarding her stance on Iraq. I doubt we've ever seen a politician more skilled at subtle policy shifts based on the latest public opinion poll.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Paying for War

An article I recently came across by Richard Vandwater brings up several important points that Catholic critics of war frequently overlook. Fr. Vandwater serves Christians in the Holy Land. His work is no doubt riddled with difficulties and danger. But some of his observations struck me as somewhat off kilter. For starters, there was this assertion:
The substantial increase in military support for Israel will undoubtedly face criticism here and abroad. US taxpayers are being asked to donate $30 billion in weapons to Israel (almost $8 billion of which we end up buying for them from their own companies!) at a time when our own nation's financial resources are stretched thin. According to a June 28, 2007 Congressional Research Service report, the US has spent $611 billion on the "war on terror" ($567 billion of that in Iraq alone) since Sept. 11, 2001. As a result of the financial drain, our own economy, schools, and health care programs are currently in shambles.

Our nation's financial resources are not "stretched thin." The government is swimming in money. The federal government has more (of our) money than it knows what to do with. Vandwater focuses on the large sum of money spent on the war on terror but that amount is but a drop in the bucket when compared to how much the government has spent over the past several decades on failed social programs: The New Deal, The Great Society, The War on Poverty, etc. The pathetic condition of our health care system, schools and economy is not the result of the defense budget, as Vandwater suggests, but of the worn-out machinations of a bloated government that's trying to run our lives. (I might add that Vandwater's assertion that our economy is "in shambles" is open for debate. Many economic indicators point to a surging, robust economy.) Vandwater's underlying assumption here is that spending less money on war and more on remedying social ills is the answer to our problems. But experience proves otherwise.

Vandwater then discusses cluster bombs and falls back on a statement made by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Catholic moral teaching on just war insists that noncombatant immunity be respected and that the use of force be discriminate. The indiscriminate nature of failed cluster bomb "duds" makes them akin to landmines. Cluster munitions pose serious risks to civilians in conflict and post-conflict situations...The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stands with the Holy See in its call to address the harmful effects of cluster munitions. This commitment flows from the Church's teaching on the protection of human life and dignity...The Conference supports restrictions on the use or export of existing, inaccurate stockpiles of cluster munitions. Additionally, we support restricting the use of these weapons in civilian areas.

With all due respect, the last line appears to highlight just how out of touch many moralists and theologians are when it comes to passing judgement on modern warfare. Muslim extremists specifically target "civilian areas" as ideal locals to stage their attacks. Now, to be certain, I'm not suggesting that cluster bombs are the answer. But if we are going to win this war, while at the same time adhering to principle, we will have to adapt to real life situations and develop our tactics accordingly, otherwise we stand no chance.

Monday, August 20, 2007

US Youth Find Strength in Family, God

The findings from an AP/MTV poll are hopeful indicators of what set American youth apart from their more jaded European peers.
So you're between the ages of 13 and 24. What makes you happy? A worried, weary parent might imagine the answer to sound something like this: Sex, drugs, a little rock 'n' roll. Maybe some cash, or at least the car keys.

Turns out the real answer is quite different. Spending time with family was the top answer to that open-ended question, according to an extensive survey of more than 100 questions asked of 1,280 people ages 13-24 conducted by The Associated Press and MTV on the nature of happiness among America's young people...And sex? Yes, we were getting to that. Being sexually active actually leads to less happiness among 13-17 year olds, according to the survey. If you're 18 to 24, sex might lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general...From the body to the soul: Close to half say religion and spirituality are very important. And more than half say they believe there is a higher power that has an influence over things that make them happy. Beyond religion, simply belonging to an organized religious group makes people happier.

Coming to Terms with War

Victor Davis Hanson offers a scholarly look at the "art of war." Near the end of his piece, under "Studying War: Where to Start" he provides a good list of sources that readers will find useful as an introduction to the subject.

Here's an excerpt:
Further, the sixties had ushered in a utopian view of society antithetical to serious thinking about war. Government, the military, business, religion, and the family had conspired, the new Rousseauians believed, to warp the naturally peace-loving individual. Conformity and coercion smothered our innately pacifist selves. To assert that wars broke out because bad men, in fear or in pride, sought material advantage or status, or because good men had done too little to stop them, was now seen as antithetical to an enlightened understanding of human nature. 'What difference does it make,' in the words of the much-quoted Mahatma Gandhi, 'to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?'

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Look at Church "Renovation"

Last Saturday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured a story on the completed renovation of All Saints church in Milwaukee. Stories of church renovation are nothing new to Milwaukee Catholics. The city offered a high-profile case several years back with the controversial renovation of Saint John’s Cathedral downtown. The renovation at All Saints opens the door once again to a much-needed dialogue regarding the interplay of architecture, design and theology in Catholic churches. I am one of many Catholics who believe that “renovation” is more often than not a euphemism for the evisceration of tradition. Unfortunately, over the past several decades, we have witnessed in America a slapdash, willy-nilly approach when it comes to the “renovation” of Catholic churches.

The contrivances of church renovation aim to replace the overtly structured and hierarchical churches of old with what is often described as a more “welcoming” or “open” prayer environment. The new setting for Catholic worship, suitably egalitarian and modish, succeeds in blurring the lines of distinction between priest and public. Most typically, renovations involve the following: the altar is brought out of the sanctuary and further into the nave of the church, pews are replaced by chairs arranged “in the round,” and quite often the tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament is isolated from the main body of the church and relegated to an inconspicuous side chapel. All Saints Parish featured another popular church alteration when it placed the choir in the sanctuary, thus taking the place of the relocated tabernacle. Parishioners have watched the abrupt morphing of the sanctuary into a stage, replete with a set of drums to get the faithful on their feet. No doubt, the freshly polished church is an inviting, cushy place, an ideal setting for fostering an ethos of community. But, at least from looking at the picture in the Journal Sentinel, I had to ask myself: Was the goal to mirror the set of the Oprah Winfrey Show or to construct an appropriate setting for a sacred liturgy? Preferences for the warm and cozy cannot always be lined up so nicely with the more important need for the sacred and solemn.

But beyond the kitschy design and chintzy taste, the problems that stem from contemporary church renovation evince a widespread ignorance regarding the significance of Catholic liturgy. The purpose here is not to offer an overview of the catechism (although I would strongly recommend picking one up), but to remind readers that Catholic liturgy is essentially different from Protestant worship. The latter, in the absence of Sacraments, places its prime focus on communal prayer and readings from the Gospel while Catholic liturgy, like Orthodox liturgy, emphasize the Lord’s presence first and foremost in the Eucharist and then in the Word. (Incidentally, the Orthodox have done a much better job at preserving the harmony between theology and church architectural integrity.) Catholics certainly believe that community is important, but in liturgy, community should always take a backseat to the Eucharist.

But how is community to be understood? Among certain Catholic pastors, there has a concerted effort bordering on the obsessive that chooses to focus exclusively on the cultivation of “community.” Correctly understood though, Catholic liturgy is primarily Eucharist-oriented, with community, or better, communion, flowing naturally from that. This is why the priest and the faithful used to pray together facing the East and the Eucharist. Here, community was appreciated in a richer sense because everyone was praying together facing the same direction. But over the past several decades, thanks in no small part to piecemeal structural changes in church design, emphasis has shifted dramatically to “neighbor and me” centered activity. The renovation unveiled at All Saints reflects this tendency to magnify the importance of the community and individual at the expense of the Eucharist: the relocated tabernacle, the jutted-out altar, the choir in the sanctuary, the in the round design, etc. Liturgy then easily becomes all about “me” rather than God. While still Cardinal, Pope Benedict wrote the following in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy: “Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together toward the Lord.” And further, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-closed circle.” How rich is the pope’s understanding, in contrast to that of many local priests! At most parishes, All Saints included, the priest, like the lead actor in a play, has seen fit to place himself front and center. More can be done, and certainly should be done, to ensure that in the future, Church renovations reflect the beauty of the theological underpinnings of the Liturgy.

The New Face of All Saints:


Remembering the "Renovation" at Saint John's Cathedral:



Incidentally, during the heated debates over the renovation at Saint John's a few years ago, I remember defenders of the project asserting that the "in the round" design has strong roots in early Christian worship, especially in ancient European churches. No it doesn't! Early Christian churches, like Saint John's in Milwaukee, feature a long arcade leading into the apse. The sanctuary containing the altar is exclusively reserved for the apisdal section of the church. In times past, the altar was usually protected by a canopy or baldacchino/ciborium. (Saint John's had a beautiful baldacchino but it was demolished in the course of the "renovation".) The altar was never placed in the nave of the church. In the West, the readings took place in the bema, which was an elevated section within the nave, but this area was conspicuously reserved for the clergy. A screen, or iconostasis separated this area from the rest of the nave. Santa Sabina, one of my favorite churches in Rome, is one of the best examples of an early Christian basilica. It features these elements magnificently.

Santa Sabina, Rome

Some also claim that the Byzantines worship in the round, but this also is incorrect. The Greeks were fond of incorporating massive domes into their churches as the centerpiece of the Greek cross layout of the church. But the domes always hovered gracefully over the nave, while the priest executed his ministerial duties in the sanctuary, behind the iconostasis. The nave was reserved for elaborate processions into the sanctuary. The altar was never placed in the nave of the church, as the ingenious renovators of Saint John's have done. Even from an architectural point of view, the in the round design is inappropriate because it ignores the integrity of the building's elongated structure. It looks clumsy.


A revealing exchange between Former Milwaukee Archbishop Weakland and Cardinal Medina regarding the inchoate renovation Saint John's:

Medina: " would seem to this congregation that the ancient and venerable high altar together with its baldacchino should be retained, given also that it is a most suitable location for the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament."

Weakland: "We are not a corporation with head offices in Rome ... it is my obligation to insist on the rights and duties of the local bishop in the Catholic Church."

End Result: Weakland flustered by Vatican rebuke nonetheless marshals his demolition crew forward with his plans.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fred Thompson Testing the Waters in Iowa

Fred Says:

"This country has shed more blood for the freedom of other people than all the other nations in the history of the world combined, and I'm tired of people feeling like they've got to apologize for America."

“I don’t think that one state ought to be able to pass a law requiring gay marriage or allowing gay marriage and have another state be required to follow along.”

Regarding abortion, Thompson said Roe v. Wade was "bad law and bad medicine.”

I like what I'm hearing. Thompson seems to be aware that there is a vacuum to be filled in the Republican field. Conservatives are thirsting for a genuine conservative candidate and many hope that Thompson will fit the bill. Stay tunned...

On Improving Iraq

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi offers a nice analysis of the situation in Iraq.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Celebrate (Forcing) Diversity: A Good Thing?

Daniel Henninger wrote an interesting piece on the findings of Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's study on ethnic diversity. Here's a sample from the article and the link to read the piece in its entirety.

His researchers did 30,000 interviews in 41 U.S. communities. Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don't want to have much of anything to do with each other. "Social capital" erodes. Diversity has a downside.

The harvest of bitter fruit from the diversity wars begun three decades ago across campuses, corporations and newsrooms has made the immigration debate significantly worse. Diversity's advocates gave short shrift to assimilation, indeed arguing that assimilation into the American mainstream was oppressive and coercive. So they demoted assimilation and elevated "differences." Then they took the nation to court. Little wonder the immigration debate is riven with distrust.

Very interesting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mark Steyn Discusses Multiculturalism

One-Way Multiculturalism Revisited

When I read the following headline, I thought it was a joke, but alas, it's true.

From the AP:
Dutch Bishop: Call God ‘Allah’ to Ease Relations

AMSTERDAM - A Roman Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands has proposed people of all faiths refer to God as Allah to foster understanding, stoking an already heated debate on religious tolerance in a country with one million Muslims.

Click the link to go to the rest of the story.

This is getting pretty absurd. The post-Christian West in Europe is withering and rotting away. Even those who aren't ashamed to consider themselves as "Christian" (an ever shrinking number) have fallen prey to a sickening relativism whereby they become incapacitated to stand up for their culture. Muslims immigrants have taken note. It is comforting to note that public reaction there was overwhelming opposed to such an idea.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

August 15, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Some meditations on the Assumption by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II
The Church's constant and unanimous Tradition shows how Mary's Assumption is part of the divine plan and is rooted in her unique sharing in the mission of her Son. In the first millennium sacred authors had already spoken in this way.

Testimonies, not yet fully developed, can be found in St Ambrose, St Epiphanius and Timothy of Jerusalem. St Germanus I of Constantinople (d. 730) puts these words on Jesus' lips as he prepares to take his Mother to heaven: "You must be where I am, Mother inseparable from your Son..." (Horn. 3 in Dormitionem, PG 98, 360).

In addition, the same ecclesial Tradition sees the fundamental reason for the Assumption in the divine motherhood.

We find an interesting trace of this conviction in a fifth-century apocryphal account attributed to Pseudo-Melito. The author imagines Christ questioning Peter and the Apostles on the destiny Mary deserved, and this is the reply he received: "Lord, you chose this handmaid of yours to become an immaculate dwelling place for you.... Thus it seemed right to us, your servants, that just as you reign in glory after conquering death, so you should raise your Mother's body and take her rejoicing with you to heaven" (Transitus Marine, 16, PG 5, 1238). It can therefore be said that the divine motherhood, which made Mary's body the immaculate dwelling place of the Lord, was the basis of her glorious destiny. - Pope John Paul II, 1997

Obama on the Troops

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Hussein Obama offers us his assessment of the work of US soldiers in Afghanistan:

"We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

Beneath contempt.

CNN Tackles God's "Warriors"

Warriors for the Faith

Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's entertainment section features a preview of CNN's Christiane Amanpour's latest special, "God's Warriors." CNN is billing the special as follows:

"For this documentary, Amanpour reports that during the last 30 years, each faith has exploded into a powerful political force, comprised of followers – “God’s warriors” – who share a deep dissatisfaction with modern society, and a fierce determination to place God and religion back into daily life and to the seats of power. Their political and cultural struggles to save the world from what they view as secular materialism, greed and sexual corruption have caused anger, division and fear."

The preview article in the Journal Sentinel features three photos: one is of a Protestant, bible-toting preacher, the other is of a Jewish soldier in uniform guarding a Jewish shrine and the other shows two Palestinian Muslim women proudly displaying pictures of their "martyr" brothers. The preview of the series offered by CNN is bothersome because it appears to morally equate serious Christians and Jews with Muslim terrorists. There is a stark difference between Christians, who seek to infuse society with values that defend human dignity irregardless of creed, and Muslim terrorists. Judaism and Christianity have a completely different exegesis when it comes to puzzling out the role of religion in politics. The Catholic Church has been at the forefront in defending the right to religious freedom. Christ's injunction to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" is the starting point for the Church's social doctrine. For centuries, the Church has defended the legitimate sovereignty of the state and the right of the Church to function freely within society. Islam takes a different approach when it comes to the state and religion. Sharia law is the law of the land in many fundamentalist Muslim nations. By contrast, there is no "Catholic law" that the Church seeks to impose on society. The only law that the Church defends is the natural law; a law that applies to everyone because it is rooted in the universal dignity of each person.

CNN's slapdash feature story betrays yet another attempt by elite secularists in the media to understand religion. In the process, they make broad-stroke and arrogant assumptions about what it means to take faith seriously. At least from a Christian perspective, religious fervor shouldn't be interpreted as bellicosity toward modern society.

MTV Covers Sisters of Life

Here's a five minute story from MTV on the Sisters of Life in the Bronx. Who would have imagined the prurient producers at MTV devoting positive air time to women who take a vow of chastity...but here it is, and it's very good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

More Good News from Iraq

Major attacks in Iraq are down:

The Real Thing

A friend sent me this video. Maybe it's a little corny but it presents striking images of liturgical abuses (clown masses, women dressed as "priests," and new age nonsense to name only a few) and contrasts them with the undeniable beauty of the Liturgy properly celebrated. Fortunately, I've never experienced the egregious abuses on display here but candor requires us to admit that they are fairly widespread. As the Pope has pointed out, once reverence and solemnity are extracted, the Holy Mass risks becoming something of a parody rather than a Sacrifice. The good news is that these aging beatniks, once entrenched deeply in local parish life, are on their way out and a new generation, hardly impressed with their predecessors, is demanding a return to sanity.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Refusing to Coexist

Every big metropolis hosts a particular quarter known for drawing in the more artsy, trendy and, I might add, left-leaning denizens of the city's population. Admittedly, these spots usually have the good restaurants and they possess a certain élan notably absent from other stodgy parts of the city. Political persuasions aside, they’re usually fun places to take in some local color.

The other day, I was driving through Milwaukee's own hip enclave and I noticed a strikingly high number of the very trendy "Coexist" bumper stickers slapped on the backs of the equally trendy hybrid cars. The stickers must be in vogue because I spotted them everywhere in this part of town.

Truth be told, the bumper sticker rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go. It profanely lumps together symbols sacred to the monotheistic religions with new age bric-a-brac like the "peace" sign and Ying Yang. The source of my ire might also be that those boasting the fashionable car label usually follow decidedly liberal proclivities and are not known to be particularly religious, in the sense of belonging to an organized religion or adhering to traditional theological orthodoxy; but it's precisely these hippies who are presuming to lecture the pesky pious folk for the implied consequences of serious religious adherence. The sticker is a remarkable combination of condescension, arrogance and kitsch.

Hillary a "nightmare" for Dems in '08?

Well worth a read: The article backs up what I've been saying for a while: Hillary has a lot of baggage. There are simply too many people who don't like her, rather can't stand her. Her unfavorable ratings are through the roof: about 49% percent of those polled view her negatively. The piece makes a point that I hadn't considered however when it discusses the likely negative effects she may have on all Democratic candidates and incumbents in Congress, especially those coming from moderate or red states. It could prove disasterous for them.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

Democratic Senator Mike Gravel, speaking at a gay "rights" event, recently said the following:

"If you had any knowledge of history, ancient history, in Sparta they encouraged homosexuality because they fight for the people they love. And if it's your partner and you love them, you're prepared to die for them, and that's the same ethic you see in the military today. It's not the country. It's my partner. Go see the movies on war, and it's always the person next to me who is in my foxhole with me. Well, I got to tell you, extend that a little further and you'll see why the Spartans trained their people to be homosexuals, because they're better fighters."

For now, let's ignore his insane tirade claiming that Spartans actually preferred homosexuals in the military because "they fight for the people they love." (I thought the point is to beat the enemy and win a war, even if the price to pay is your life or your friend's.)

Hands down, the pièce de résistance was the following:

"Spartans trained their people to be homosexuals..." Is anyone listening to this? According to commonly accepted liberal perspectives, I thought people were born this way. Now, at least according to Sen. Gravel, it is possible to train people to be, and I would then assume, not to be homosexual. I'm not sure he's really helping his friends in the gay community.

Another study in contrasts is appropriate here. Mackubin Thomas Owens wrote a fascinating article earlier this year entitiled, "Ask, Tell, Whatever?" In it, he underscores the very unique culture that distinguishes the military from other groups or institutions. I've pulled some of the more salient observations.

Most research has shown unit cohesion is critical to military effectiveness and battlefield success. The key to cohesion is what the Greeks called philia — friendship, comradeship, or brotherly love. Philia is the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery together. Its importance has been described by J. Glenn Gray in The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle:

Numberless soldiers have died, more or less willingly, not for country or honor or religious faith or for any other abstract good, but because they realized that by fleeing their posts and rescuing themselves, they would expose their companions to greater danger. Such loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale. The commander who can preserve and strengthen it knows that all other physical and psychological factors are little in comparison. The feeling of loyalty, it is clear, is the result, not the cause, of comradeship. Comrades are loyal to each other spontaneously and without any need for reasons.

The presence of open homosexuals (and women) in the close confines of ships or military units opens the possibility that eros will be unleashed into an environment based on philia, creating friction and corroding the very source of military excellence itself. It does so by undermining the non-sexual bonding essential to unit cohesion as described by Gray. Unlike philia, eros is sexual, and therefore individual and exclusive. Eros manifests itself as sexual competition, protectiveness, and favoritism, all of which undermine order, discipline, and morale. These are issues of life and death, and help to explain why open homosexuality and homosexual behavior traditionally have been considered incompatible with military service.
-Mackubin Thomas Owens, National Review, April 16, 2007

Supporting Gay "Rights" May Damage Dems.

In the primary season, candidates from both parties tend to appeal directly to their base to gain early momentum. For the first time, the Democratic candidates will be participating in a debate devoted exclusively to gay issues: gay "marriage," gays in the military, civil unions, etc. A recent poll indicates however that the Democrats' enthusiasm for pandering to the gay "rights" crowd may come back to haunt them later on in the general election. Here are some highlights from the poll:

- "Quinnipiac University polls of voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- the big three Electoral College swing states -- found voters by large margins more likely to see the endorsement of a gay rights group as a reason to vote against, rather than for, a candidate."

- "The survey found that the endorsement of abortion rights groups was a net negative, although not as much among independents as the support of gay rights."

- "In all three states, sizeable majorities of voters said they believe that homosexual behavior is "morally wrong" rather than "morally acceptable" -- 55-30 percent in Ohio, 53-34 percent in Pennsylvania and 51-35 percent in Florida."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Legislating Fairness

Some revealing quotes from Hillary Clinton:

CBS's Dylan Ratigan: "Is it the role of the government and tax policy to try to reconcile fairness?"
Clinton: "Well, you know, I -- I think it certainly is. I mean tax policy is one of the instruments the government uses."

On "excessive" oil profits:
Clinton: "I want to take those profits and put them into an alternative energy fund that will begin to fund alternative smart energy alternatives that will actually begin to move us toward the direction of independence."

"I" meaning the government, "take" meaning steal, "put them into" meaning the arbitrary redistribution of wealth according to her dictates.

On changing the Bush-inspired, "On your own society:"
Clinton: "It's time for a new beginning, for an end to government of the few, by the few and for the few, time to reject the idea of an 'on your own' society and to replace it with shared responsibility for shared prosperity. I prefer a 'we're all in it together' society."

Music to his ears...


Contrast the Clinton/Marx philosophy of government with the Jeffersonian/Madisonian approach.

"The government that is powerful enough to provide everything will be strong enough to take everything away.” - Thomas Jefferson

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
- James Madison, the Father of the Constitution

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

On the Edwards Campaign

I came across this video, it's absolutely incredible. And to think that this guy is a serious candidate for the presidency. No doubt, the jihadists are quaking in their boots.

Mr. Edwards, Narcissus; Narcissus, Mr. Edwards.

Caravaggio's Narcissus

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

- "The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to “listen to him” (cf. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit." Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae

American History

This is from

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Quotes of the Day

"We've gotten used to one-way multiculturalism: The world accepts that you can't open an Episcopal or Congregational church in Jeddah or Riyadh, but every week the Saudis can open radical mosques and madrassahs and pro-Saudi think-tanks in London and Toronto and Dearborn, Mich., and Falls Church, Va." -Mark Steyn

On Barack Obama and reparations for slavery:
"Moreover, a question on reparations has got to be confusing when you're half-white and half-black. What do you do? Demand an apology for slavery and money from yourself? I guess biracial reparations would involve sending yourself money, then sending back a portion of that money to yourself, minus 50 percent in processing fees — which is the same way federal aid works." -Ann Coulter (I'm not the biggest fan of Coulter, but this is just funny.)

Dr. Ron Paul

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has caught the attention of a significant number of conservatives. Many on the Right see Dr. Paul as the only politician in Washington who is actually guided by the first principles of our Constitution. According to his campaign website, "Dr. Paul never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution." The phrase "expressly authorized" harkens back to a Jeffersonian interpretation of the document. I admire Dr. Paul. It is certainly true that, among the rank and file politicians in DC, he is one of the leading intellectuals. And on the moral/social issues, it would be difficult to find a better candidate. But is Dr. Paul's "expressly authorized" style to approving legislation the undisputed position of the Founders? We see that, in the earliest days of the republic, there was strong disagreement regarding just how the "necessary and proper" clause was to be read. Jefferson believed that only that which was expressly stated in the Constitution should be authorized by Congress while Hamilton believed that the Constitution granted that body "implied" and then "resulting" powers, which perhaps were not explicitly stated in the document. The debate between the two was fierce but, in the end, Washington sided with Hamilton.

Within the context of the establishment of a national bank, Hamilton explains it as follows:

"Whence it is meant to be inferred, that Congress can in no case exercise any power not included in those enumerated in the Constitution. And it is affirmed, that the power of erecting a corporation is not included in any of the enumerated powers."

"The main proposition here laid down, in its true signification, is not to be questioned. It is nothing more than a consequence of this republican maxim, that all government is a delegation of power. But how much is delegated in each case is a question of fact, to be made out by fair reasoning and construction, upon the particular provisions of the Constitution, taking as guides the general principles and general ends of governments."

"It is not denied that there are implied, as well as express powers, and that the former are as effectually delegated as the latter. And for the sake of accuracy it shall be mentioned that there is another class of powers, which may be properly denominated resulting powers." -Alexander Hamilton's February 23, 1791, opinion as to the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States.

The point is not to debate who was right, but to dismiss the naive view that there existed among the founders a unanimous position when it came to interpreting the Constitution and the powers of government. Dr. Paul's philosophy is respectable and there certainly is a great need to pull back the reigns of Congressional power. But it is not entirely accurate to graft a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution on the entire founding generation.

Out with the Old, In with the New

China has eased up somewhat and is putting out more benign messages to get across the importance of its one-child policy. Among the older slogans, a few stand out:

- "Raise fewer babies but more piggies"

- "Houses toppled, cows confiscated, if abortion demand rejected"

- "One more baby means one more tomb."

Realizing that these may strike some as trite, they have opted for a more modish approach. Here are some of the refurbished ones:

- "The mother earth is too tired to sustain more children"

- "Both boys and girls are parents' hearts."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Everyone Knows It's Nancy

A quick observation: The minutia of the legislation isn't important here, I only have to ask: Is there ever a bill passed that isn't all about saving "the children?" The woman, who from today on I will refer to as "Soundbite Nancy," had this to say about the passage of an energy bill:

"It's about our children, about our future, the world in which they live."

Thanks Nancy. Here's to originality. It's just a hunch, but couldn't any bill be passed so long as it is justified as absolutely essential for "the children?"

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Yesterday, I paid a visit to a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, in La Crosse Wisconsin. I've written on the shrine before but I thought I'd share some pictures that show the progress of the ongoing construction. Archbishop Raymond Burke conceived of the project years back, while still bishop of La Crosse. It is his goal to spread devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, throughout the United States and Canada in particular. The church will be consecrated next summer and, eventually, the shrine will serve as a central catachetical hub for Catholics in the United States.

The church in progress combines a mixture of distinct architectural styles, most notably Baroque and Spanish colonial, characteristic of the South West region of the US. Archbishop Burke is importing the stained glass windows and other sacred ornamentation directly from Europe. The white marble is carrara marble from Italy, only the best.

This tranquil chapel features hundreds of vigil candles arranged in the form of an Aztec temple. These temples served as the setting for countless human sacrifices. Our Lady of Guadalupe is credited with bringing an end to this demonic practice and for the subsequent conversion of millions of Native Americans.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

70 or 70 x 7?

The following article is from "First Things." The NAB has been the butt of many of my jokes over the years and I pleased to find another member of the anti-NAB club. Take a look at it when you have time and I promise that you will find a line that makes you laugh when compared to a decent translation. Oy vey . . . a VERY entertainig read. Unfortunately I can't find my copy, but I think one of my favorite quotes as an undergrad was, "Good for you, Peter!" But I will double check, as that seems too delightfully idiotic. More to come . . .

70 or 70 x 7?
By Richard John Neuhaus
Friday, July 27, 2007, 5:51 AM
The New American Bible (NAB), an unfortunate translation episcopally imposed upon Catholics for readings at Mass, has prompted earlier comment in First Things (see here and here). The problem keeps coming back, not least in pastoral counseling. Take the woman who had had it with her husband’s lying to her. I mentioned to her Our Lord’s admonition to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). That’s the way it reads in every widely used English translation, including the Douay-Rheims, an earlier English translation used by Catholics. Jesus obviously intended hyperbole, indicating that forgiveness is open-ended. Keep on forgiving as you are forgiven by God, for God’s forgiving is beyond measure or counting.

But this woman had been reading her NAB, according to which Jesus said we should forgive not “seventy times seven,” but “seventy times.” She had been keeping count, and her husband was well over his quota. Then there is Matt. 5:32 and 19:9, where in both passages Jesus says: “But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress.” In other widely used English translations, it is “unfaithfulness” or “marital unfaithfulness.” The Douay-Rheims says “excepting in the case of fornication.”

In both passages, the NAB puts it this way: “But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery.” Meaning a previous marriage had not been annulled by the diocesan marriage tribunal? Whatever.

Now to be perfectly fair, in the three passages mentioned there are ancient authorities that lend some support for the NAB translation. For instance, some ancient texts of Matthew 19 read “he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” which is closer to the NAB version. But in the tradition of translation, scholars have overwhelmingly decided that the manuscripts referring to unchastity or unfaithfulness are to be preferred.

Again and again, when manuscript authorities differ from one another, the NAB chooses against the scholarly consensus and the centuries-old tradition of English translation. Why is that? Is the purpose to deliberately destabilize the faithful’s already shaky familiarity with biblical texts? Maybe the idea is just to be different. What’s the point of a new translation if it isn’t very different from other translations?

The NAB is a banal, linguistically inept, and misleading translation. Why did the bishops force it upon the Catholic people, demanding that it and it alone be used in the readings of the Mass? Various answers are given: Because it was produced by the guild of Catholic biblical scholars and, while it may not be very good, at least it is ours. Because the bishops hold the copyright, and charges for using the NAB in Mass guides and elsewhere is a cash cow for the financially strapped bishops conference. Because the bishops really don’t care whether Catholics use a worthy and reliable translation of the Bible.

Whatever the reason, it is a continuing scandal that the bishops do not permit the use of other translations that are more reliable, readable, intelligible, and worthy of the written word of God. The best of them is the Revised Standard Version (RSV), but there are others. (For personal and group Bible study, the Catholic edition of the RSV, published by Ignatius Press, is recommended.)

It is worth noting that the NAB, unlike a number of other translations, is used only by Catholics in the United States and used only by them because they are required to use it in the liturgy. In their own writings, Catholic biblical scholars and other writers generally avoid the NAB. Not surprisingly, the NAB is defended by those who are responsible for producing it, and people who choose to do so are free to use it. It is quite another thing for the bishops to impose the exclusive use of a grievously flawed Bible translation upon the Catholic faithful at Mass.

Yet, on this and other matters, one prays for endurance, taking comfort from Saint Paul’s memorable and bracing words to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.” One hopes to be able to say at the end of one’s days, “I have fought the good fight.” Or, as the NAB puts it, “I have competed well.”

The above is from “The Public Square” in a forthcoming issue of First Things.

A Double Standard?

The subject of this post is distressing but I think it warrants further discussion. I pulled the following excerpts from an AP story.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Murder charges against an Ocean City woman accused of killing her unborn fetus last week were dismissed Thursday — but Christy Freeman was charged with murder in the death of another fetus found on her property.

The legal switch was announced by the prosecutor after a court appearance Thursday by Freeman, a taxi driver who gave birth last week to a stillborn boy but initially told emergency medical crew members that she was not pregnant. Authorities eventually found that fetus hidden under Freeman's bathroom sink, then discovered the remains of three older fetuses on her property.

Freeman was initially charged with murder under a 2005 law that allows murder convictions of people who cause the deaths of fetuses that could live outside the womb. However, that law contains a specific exemption for women who cause the deaths of babies they're carrying.

Who can explain to me the apparent discrepancy: Freeman murders her unborn children and it is considered a crime (rightly so), and she is punished severely by extant laws. Planned Parenthood engages in exactly the same activity and that it is protected, even celebrated as a "right." Had Freeman only gone to her local abortion mill, she wouldn't be facing any charges.

A Priest in Iraq Tells His Story

This is one of the most inspirational articles I've ever read, courtesy of
One Day in the Life of a Priest in Iraq
Fr. John Gayton

August 1, 2007

We rolled into Forward Operating Base, Rivera, the center of operations for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in the town of Saqlawiyah. The Civil Affairs Group and the 2/7 chaplain were transporting me so that I could make Catholic Sacramental and Pastoral visits to all their Battle Positions.

There is no separate space to set apart for Mass or a religious service, so I set up in the area where they eat and recreate which is also used as the triage area for the wounded. Foot patrols were returning after an eight hour shift through the night and others were departing on their shift. Marines and Corpsmen were rushing about trying to get a bite to eat and get ready to sleep for a few hours. Despite the intense operational tempo and grueling schedule, a group of Marines led by their Company Commanding Officer gathered in the corner for the Mass. Mass in these settings emerges from a kit smaller than a shoe box that I carry on my back. I am set up in minutes — drab olive colored Altar Linen are set down and a crucifix, chalice and paten made of brushed steel are assembled from their small compact parts and easily set in place. A copy of The Word Among Us is passed between them and me for the prayers and readings. The Altar is a wooden bench — the best piece of furniture in the room.

There is no singing, no stained glass, no pews or kneelers — just intense fervor reflected in their eyes and the bare floor beneath their knees. No one ever leaves anyone else out of the Sign of Peace. From the senior officer to the lowest enlisted Marine, embraces are exchanged and sincere wishes of peace are authentic and heart-felt! Holy Communion! I have never experienced communion like that among men who know that this could be their last! The Mass is brief but its effects are enduring.

Next, we moved on to the Iraqi Police Station in the heart of the town. The day before, they were hit with a complex attack which involved two truck bombs driven by suicide bombers. That was followed by rocket propelled grenades, mortars and small arms fire. We can't enter the front of the compound because there is a crater the size of a basket ball court with the remains of the first truck bomb. Across the street the market place is decimated. Numerous innocent Iraqis were killed. The right flank of the compound has a gaping hole where the other truck detonated. Entering from the rear we climb over debris and make our way around. We are greeted by the young Lieutenant who is in charge of the Marines stationed with the Iraqi Police. He has a bright smile but his eyes betray fatigue. He has not slept since the night before they were attacked — more than 48 hours! Except for three others, the Marines have finally gone to their bunks to catch a few hours rest. He offers to wake them to come out for the chaplain visit. I tell him not to — that we will be back again soon to see them. At first they are quiet, as if they are waiting to see what we expect of them. I simply ask how they are and what happened. They become very engaged. They obviously need to talk. They show us the devastation and describe their experiences. The force of the explosion blew out every window and blew every door off its hinge — even large reinforced steel doors. Some of the Marines were knocked unconscious. One Marine displays a large part of the truck that flew past his head and embedded in the wall behind him. "God was looking out for us, Chaplain," he said. After they shared their story, I offered to pray with them. We gathered in a circle. I offered them each a medal of St. Michael the Archangel. Once the Medals were blessed they immediately added them to their Dog Tags. They escorted us safely back to our convoy.

"Go Army Bridge" was our next stop. I was curious about the unusual name since this was a Marine AOR (Area of Responsibility) and the Army had not been stationed there. It was explained to me that someone had written graffiti on the bridge in broken English: "Army Go!" Everyone assumed it meant for them to leave. The Marines decided to change it into the Army advertisement: "Go Army," so the name stuck.

The first Marine to greet us was a Catholic. When I introduced myself as the Catholic Priest, he was very pleasantly surprised and declared that this is the first time he had seen a Catholic Chaplain since he arrived in Iraq almost three months ago. (I am only one of five Catholic Priests covering all of Al Anbar Province.) They were living in an Iraqi home at the entrance to the bridge. As we came into the small enclosed yard a few Marines joined us as the Corporal went to switch out those on post who were Catholic and wake those who were sleeping. When they assembled, they immediately began to tell the story of the attack against their position by a truck bomb on Easter Sunday, 12 days prior. The blast collapsed all the stone walls on the East side of the house which fell on top of them and buried them in the rubble. The roof caved in where one of them was positioned -- their medical corpsmen — who received shrapnel wounds to the back of his head and needed to be flown to a surgical unit. His wounds were, thankfully, not life threatening. He is doing well and now back at FOB Riviera where I spoke with him earlier. Once again, the rest of them were not badly injured.

The next part of their story however, was quite tragic and very painful for them to relate. They had grown close to the Iraqi family that had lived in the house. The family would often cook them a hot meal and share their table with them. Their five year old son had grown very fond of the Marines and they of him. He would stop by every day to see them. That day he was arriving outside just as the bomb detonated. With tears in their eyes they described how they tried to save him, using all their combat medical skills but there was nothing that they could do. Their grief is palpable and their sadness deep. We gathered for Mass in the small yard where they once listened to the laughter of a little boy. We celebrated Holy Communion with God, with each other and, in our hearts, with a young Muslim boy — may he rest in peace!

As we approached our next Operational Position (OP) we were instructed to take special security precautions. The OP was located on the top of an overpass of the main highway that leads to Baghdad. There were reports of a possible sniper in the area. Only the two vehicles with the chaplain teams went up the ramp and got as close to the fortified position as possible. Only the RMT (Religious Ministry Team) exited the vehicles and made a quick duck and run inside. Seven Marines and one Medical Corpsman manned this position and they were happy for visitors. When I greeted them and let them know that I was the Catholic priest, the Platoon Leader immediately asked for Confession. We made our way to an isolated area of the OP further out on the bridge and he knelt down on the concrete. I followed his lead and we knelt face to face. "Your sins are forgiven, Go in peace!" — a smile, a handshake and an embrace and we returned to the others who had already cleared out a small plywood shelter so that we could gather for Mass. In these circumstances however, Mass is not always possible. I knew that they could not be distracted for long. They were on post and the highway below them required their attention. As others manned the guns and the lookout positions, we formed our circle of prayer. I placed the Blessed Sacrament on an Olive Green Corporal on the interior Sand-bag wall. We prayed for God's Mercy, prayed the Lord's Prayer and received Holy Communion. After Communion, I placed a St. Michael Medal in each of their hands and prayed this Blessing:

Gracious and Loving Father, send your blessing upon your Sons. May this Medal serve as a reminder to them of your constant presence and love for them. Under the banner of St. Michael, the Archangel, who leads the battle against evil, dispatch your angels to guide them in all their ways and guard them from all harm. Protect them from every evil and confuse the plans of all who intend evil.

May God's blessing come upon these Medals, upon you and all your fellow Marines! We ask this blessing, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

We spent a few more minutes greeting each of the Marines and the Corpsman and had a quick introduction to their mascot, a small puppy that had wandered into their position to take up residence with them. Like most young Marines and Sailors, they were light-hearted and gracious — a pleasure to be around. As we were getting ready to leave, one Marine asked me if he could complete his Sacraments of Initiation while in Iraq. He had been baptized but never fully initiated into the Church. I assured him that I would help him to prepare and would make sure that he would receive the Sacraments while deployed.

We quickly made our way back to the Humvees and backed down the ramp. My vehicle once again took the lead and we began driving alongside the ramp headed to the highway that ran underneath the overpass on which they were located. We were suddenly halted by a massive explosion in front of us. The convoy quickly began to back up as the cloud of dust rushed toward us and debris began to fly in our direction. The overpass had been destroyed by an explosion and as the cloud dissipated we saw that the OP was gone! My heart dropped into my stomach. We all thought the worst — how could anyone have survived? Our convoy quickly took up defensive positions around the area to establish a security perimeter.

Once in position, our Corpsman and a Marine were sent in to make an assessment. The next voice on the PRR (Radio) was a call for help. There were survivors! All of us who were not needed to maintain the defensive perimeter rushed to the site and began to dig the Marines and Sailor out of the rubble and begin first aid. I prayed as I ran. I prayed as I dug. I prayed as I began to assess the injuries of Lance Corporal Smith (not his real name). He had been blown off the overpass and landed two stories below and 50 feet down the highway. He was conscious and writhing in pain. I assessed his injuries: an obvious broken leg and a large gash in his wrist but further inspection revealed no bleeding and he was able to move all his limbs. The entire time we talked and I reassured him and comforted him. I had to keep him conscious and calm until the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) would arrive with ambulance and stretcher. I knelt over him, shielding his eyes from the sun and keeping eye contact as I assured him. He begged me not to leave him. Of course I wouldn't. I anointed him and prayed. He was the last to be loaded into the emergency vehicle and since there were no more stretchers, I carried him with the help of two other Marines. Soon, I learned that all eight of them had survived the blast but a few of them had major injuries.

Moments after we returned to our Humvee, sniper shots rang out. A Marine was hit. The bullet thankfully only hit the fleshy part of his leg and his injuries were not life threatening. We were relieved by the QRF from our defensive positions and returned to the main FOB from which the injured were now being air-lifted to medical facilities. The other Marines needed to talk, to vent, to pray. All had done their jobs well without thought of themselves and keeping their emotions in check as they comforted and treated their wounded brothers. But now the reality hit. We two chaplains continued our work visiting with Marines and Sailors who were shaken and angry. They needed reassurance. They wanted to pray. This went on for two hours.

We still had one more Forward Operating Base that we were scheduled to visit for Mass but I was concerned for our Security Team Members who were the "First Responders" after this devastating attack. They were shaken and exhausted. It had now been 12 hours since our mission began. We had not eaten or rested since early morning but no one hesitated when the Commanding Officer asked us to continue on to the next location which hadn't seen a Catholic Priest in 3 months. When we arrived, more Marines than at any other stop that day gathered for Mass. Several of the non-Catholics asked permission to join us so that they too could pray for their brothers. In the dimly lighted room, light began to grow in the eyes of those who gathered, and the intensity of the responses echoed in the hall beyond us. In this moment, the Marine Corps Motto, Semper Fidelis was incarnated in these Men who gathered around a simple table for this Most Sacred of Meals.

My struggle of faith did not begin until later. On the drive back to Camp Fallujah, our main base, the thoughts and emotions concerning our experience consumed me: the images of our circle of prayer and Holy Communion, the blessing for protection from harm, the explosion shortly after, kneeling over the Lance Corporal. All these kept flashing rapidly in my head and I had to choke back the tears. What good had my prayers been, I wondered? Where were the angels of protection?! What difference do I make as a priest?

It was only later that I realized the miracle of their survival and become convinced that angels must have cushioned the fall of LCPL Smith to prevent him from breaking every bone in his body. Only later did I remember the fervor of faith, the hunger for Holy Communion, the long line of those waiting to speak with me. Only later did I realize that it was less about my faith and more about theirs. Only later did I understand that God was not only ministering to them through me but, He was ministering to me through them!

My friends, listen to me when I tell you that faith does not only survive out here, it thrives, it grows, and it spreads. In the shadow of this faith, I am deeply humbled and greatly comforted. I look into the faces of these young Marines and Sailors and I see God gazing back at me with love.

As for those injured in the attack that day, four of them have already returned to duty but the others have long recoveries ahead. Two of them lost a limb and the Corpsman is fighting back from a fractured spine. I pray daily for them here. Their names and faces are seared into my heart and mind. May the Lord grant them healing in body, mind and spirit. I hope that you will join me in praying for these fine young warriors. Semper Fidelis!

Fr. John Gayton writes from Fallujah, Iraq.

63rd Anniversary of Warsaw Uprising

Yesterday, Poles commemorated the 63rd anniversary of their valient, yet ill-fated, uprising against the Nazi occupiers. The bold display of Polish resistance in Warsaw, 63 days in all, resulted in an astounding 250,000 dead. As punishment for Polish audacity, Hitler ordered the city's destruction, block by block. Poles routinely proved themselves brave fighters. Despite a significant technological disadvantage, they gave the Nazis a real battle. I've always been deeply impressed by the Polish spirit. My time there only reinforced this admiration and respect. Its people, along with other Slavic nations, suffered mightily under Nazi and then Soviet occupation, yet, despite the humiliation and pain, they held on to their identity and dignity.

The story of Poland proves that a strong culture, rooted firmly in traditions and most importantly in the Catholic faith, is the best way to preserve an identity. The "weapons" of culture, in the form of literature, language, music and art, coupled with a faith capable of moving mountains, proved more powerful than any rifle, bomb, tank, occupying force or ideology. Poland has refined the art of cultural resistance and it can serve as an example today as we face new threats to our culture and identity.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Great Debate: Buckley vs. Chomsky

Here's a debate for the ages. Both men are top-notch intellects but, not surprisingly, I give the victory to Buckley. Although at times, he seems genuinely flummoxed by Chomsky's vexing habit of morally equating Communist expansion with American foreign intervention. Was the Truman Doctrine, for instance, a mirror evil of Soviet expansion and imperialism? Regardless of which heavyweight you side with, I think everyone will agree that this kind of serious debate is sorely missing today, on the right and left. Even though it dates back to 1968, it remains perfectly relevant for today, in light of current global realities. Also on display here is Buckley's masterful employment of the English language...not bad for someone who picked it up as a third language, after Spanish and French.

Quote of the day: Regarding the Greek population's gratitude to US intervention that resulted in its liberation from Communism:

Buckley: "Even Papandreou, you like him I assume because he hates us."

Part I:

Part II:

A "Moral Democratic Realism"

When I talk about the need for an articulate and realistic approach to the unique problems posed by the post 9-11 world, my goal is to widen the debate beyond the stodgy and puerile Bush-bashing that, unfortunately, dominates the public discussion. This article offers us a refreshing alternative. I think it's a good place to start.

The Case for "Moral Democratic Realism"
By George Weigel

In The Joys of Yiddish, the late, great Leo Rosten noted with relish the classic definition of chutzpa: "Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his father and his mother, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan." So chutzpa may not be precisely the term to describe a distinguished academic like Pepperdine's Robert G. Kaufman. Perhaps colloquial Italian helps. Palle corazzate catches Dr. Kaufman's attributes exactly, but it's not a phrase easily translated for family newspapers. So let's stipulate, albeit less colorfully, that Dr. Kaufman is a man of uncommon intellectual courage.

Which is just what it takes to publish, in 2007, a book entitled In Defense of the Bush Doctrine.

I first met Bob Kaufman when he was preparing a biography of one of my political heroes, the late Senator Scoop Jackson of Washington State. Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics was a triumph: here was Scoop in full, insightful, courageous, occasionally flawed, his life's story told by a biographer who didn't cotton to contemporary fashions in biography-as-pathography and who remained both respectful and critical. In his new book, Professor Kaufman tries something the Bush Administration seems oddly reluctant to mount -- a full-scale defense of its grand strategy of promoting free societies as the path to world peace and stability.

Robert Kaufman styles this "moral democratic realism." The first adjective is not pious padding:

"Moral democratic realism offers a ..compelling framework for American grand strategy...because it takes due measure of the centrality of power and the constraints the dynamics of international politics impose, without depreciating the significance of ideals, ideology, and regime type. It grounds American foreign policy in Judeo-Christian conceptions of man, morality, and prudence that innoculate us against two dangerous fallacies: a utopianism that exaggerates the potential for cooperation without power; and an unrealistic realism that underestimates the potential for achieving decency and provisional justice even in international relations. It rests on a conception of self-interest, well understood, and respect for the decent opinions of mankind, without making international institutions or the fickle mistress of often-indecent international public opinion the polestar for American action..."

"Moral democratic realism" follows Augustine in its determination to see things as they are and Thomas Aquinas in its resolve not to leave things as they are, when prudence indicates that positive change is possible. "Moral democratic realism" is one 21st century embodiment of what used to be called Catholic International Relations Theory -- although few Catholics today (including many publishing in America and Commonweal, where Catholic I.R. Theory used to flourish) remember that this distinctive way of thinking about the world ever existed.

Kaufman rightly rejects alternative grand strategies on prudential grounds. Isolationism of the Pat Buchanan sort ignores the lessons of history and, to our eventual endangerment, abandons any American commitment to helping build order out of chaos in the world. Neo-realism (think Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and most of the permanent State Department bureaucracy) imagines that messes like the Middle East can be managed by manipulating "our thugs;" yet this is precisely the approach that helped create conditions for the possibility of 9/11. Jimmy Carteresque multilateralism is hopelessly unrealistic, and thus dangerous.

True, proponents of "moral democratic realism" might be more, well, realistic by describing their goal as the advance of responsible and responsive government in the Middle East, rather than as "democracy" (in our sense of the term). Still, Kaufman argues that this approach to world politics is more prudent than alternatives that neglect the true "root cause" of jihadist terrorism: "the insidious interaction of poverty, brutality, and oppression that spawns secular and religious radicals and rogue regimes implacably hostile to the United States mainly for what it is rather than what it does."

That strikes me as spot on. If this long-distance presidential campaign is ever to move beyond Democratic Bush-bashing and Republican Bush-detaching in order to engage real questions of grand strategy, Bob Kaufman's fine book (available from the University of Kentucky Press) is required reading for thoughtful candidates and citizens alike.


Noteworthy observations from a National Review Symposium: Two Bush Critics say "No" to the Defeat-Mongers and to the "Blame America First" crowd. Here's the address: