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Thursday, May 31, 2007

William Barry & riders on prayers

I'm reading a book by William A Barry SJ - Paying Attention to God - and the chapter I just finished really struck me. It's on how we talk to God about our desires (desire is important in Ignatian prayer, I think) and about the "riders" or hedges we use to evade asking for what we really want. I know I do this with other people all the time, afraid to come out and say what I really mean, worried I'll put them on the spot and they'll get angry, or worse, go away. It's taken me a long time to believe God can handle the truth and won't ditch me if I speak it. Here's some of the chapter below ...


Once attracted into relationship with God, people are often hindered by certain images of God and by theological theories they have imbibed early in life. One of the most persistent hindrances may be detected in the following situations.

The prayers of the faithful are about to conclude ... the priest gathers all these needs into a final prayer: "God grant us all these needs, but only if it is your will. You know what is best for us."

During a spiritual direction session the director asks the directee what she desires of God. She is non-plussed and replies, "I never think in those terms. God is free and he knows what is best for me."

A person experiences great dryness in prayer; God seems miles away. When he mentions this to his spiritual director, she points out that God sometimes distances himself, that the saints have often spoken of the dark night, etc. So he need not be troubled by the distance; God is sovereignly free and gives his graces as he wishes.

I suspect that many of us have had experiences like these. The basic theological axiom behind them is God's sovereign freedom: God is not bound by anything or anyone outside himself. He cannot be coerced. He freely bestows his grace as he wishes. Since God is also goodness and kindness itself, if he does not grant our requests, it must be because the granting of the request is not good for us or for the person for whom we pray. Hence, many of us do not press our requests or hedge them around with conditional phrases such as those of the priest at the end of the prayers of the faithful. I believe that the theological axiom, true as it is, often is a hindrance to our growth in intimacy with God ......

Let us, for a moment, reflect on how friendships grow in intimacy. The more of ourselves we reveal to another, the more we develop intimacy ..... I let go of some of my defences in order to let others see me as I am. With regard to God, people often say, "There's no reason to tell him how I feel of what I desire because he knows already." What is in question is not God's knowledge but my trust in him, my willingness to be as transparent as I can be before him. Do I want him to see me as I am? ..... ......

In human relationships we often add riders to our requests, but our purpose is to make sure that the other does not feel coerced. Thus, I might want to spend time with a friend; at the same time I do not want him to feel obligated to take the time. I want him to want to be with me. In other words, I'm not sure that my friend is free ..... the truism about God's sovereign freedom should actually lead us to the naked expression of our desires; he cannot be coerced by them. We can ask straight out precisely because he is free.

God cannot be coerced by anyone else. But what if God has bound himself? ..... If we take the Old and New Testaments seriously, God has freely committed himself to intimacy with us, an intimacy of parent to child, of lover to beloved, of friend to friend ..... Moreover, in the gospels Jesus is depicted as assuring us that God wants to answer our requests ..... It may be argued that accounts of Jesus' agony in the garden have him put a rider onto his prayer .... But Mark's gospel has Jesus first ask directly for what he wants: "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me." Only then does Jesus add: "Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36) ......

Let us return to the three examples at the beginning. It would seem more trusting and more in keeping with the promises of the gospels for the priest at the conclusion of the prayers of the faithful to remind God of those promises ..... The woman in spiritual direction needs to be helped to recognize that desires are a precondition for a fruitful experience of prayer ..... The person who experienced great dryness in prayer does not need to be told about the dark night. He needs help to express to God how this distance and dryness make him feel and what he wants of God. Whatever coercion God may experience is the coercion he has taken upon himself by freely committing himself to us as a people and as individuals. If he does not want to answer our requests he will let us know that; we need not make excuses for him prior to his decision.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

William Friedkin's Bug

- Ashley Judd as Agnes

Am I the only one who wonders if they're crazy? I talk to Kermit, sleep with the light on, and feel sooooo much better when all the stuff on my desk is arranged in perfectly straight lines - how much longer can it be before I exhibited the behavior of the characters in the mvoe Bug? :-)

Bug is an American film released on the 25th May 2007 ..... directed by William Friedkin [the Exorcist and The French Connection], starring Ashley Judd, Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Shannon. The film is based on the play Bug written by Tracy Letts. Bug is Rated R for some strong violence, sexuality, nudity, language and drug use .... The waitress Agnes (Ashley Judd), lives in fear of her violent ex-husband Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr.), who has been let out of jail. Agnes meets Peter (Michael Shannon), and he becomes her protector and lover. Peter begins to talk about the first Gulf War, UFOs, the Oklahoma City bombings, cult suicides, and secret government experiments on soldiers. He is contending with an apparent infestation of parasites and insects. Oddness darkens into madness ...... - Wikipedia

My sister saw the previews of the movie and thought it was a horror film (thanks to Peter's apparent case of Ekbom's Syndrome), but I think it's more a film about what we believe and why we believe it. Here below is a little of Roger Ebert's review of the movie ....


In the film we meet Agnes (Judd), a waitress in a honky-tonk lesbian bar, living in a shabby motel. Her violent ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.), just out on parole, walks back into her life, still violent. At about the same time her gay friend R.C. (Lynn Collins) drags in a stray with haunted eyes. This is the polite stranger named Peter (Shannon) who says he doesn't want sex or anything else, is attentive and courteous, and is invited by Agnes to spend the night even though he seems (to us) like the embodiment of menace.

The story involves this man's obsession with bugs that he believes infect his cells and may have been implanted by the government during his treatment for obscure causes after military service in the Gulf. We think he's crazy. Agnes listens and nods, and doesn't want him to leave; she feels safer around him.

He begins to seem more weird. This doesn't bother her. With mounting urgency, she begins to share his obsession with bugs, and together they hurtle headlong into a paranoid fantasy that ties together in one perfect conspiracy all of the suspicions they've ever had about anything ......

The thing about "Bug" is that we're not scared for ourselves so much as for the characters in the movie. Judd and Shannon bravely cast all restraint aside and allow themselves to be seen as raw, terrified and mad. The core of the film involves how quickly Judd's character falls into sympathy with Shannon's. She seems like a potential paranoid primed to be activated, and yet her transformation never seems hurried and is always convincing.

For Friedkin, the film is a return to form after some disappointments like "Jade." it feels like a young man's picture, filled with edge and energy. Some reviews have criticized "Bug" for revealing its origins as a play, since most of it takes place on one set. But of course it does. There is nothing here to "open up" and every reason to create a claustrophobic feel. Paranoia shuts down into a desperate focus. It doesn't spread its wings and fly.


This movie probably won't do well at the box office but I think I'll rent it ..... I'm betting I'll identify with Agnes in her willingness to "believe with" Peter ... if only to remind myself of how easy it is for me to make true what I need to be true.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

GM Hopkins and depression

Although I've been feeling pretty depressed lately with Kermit so ill, I've actually been depressed off and on for most of my life, so I thought I'd post more on that article I mentioned earlier about Jesuit GM Hopkins - The Terrible Sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Spirituality of Depression by Hilary E. Pearson (The Way). The article is long and complex, but here's a bit of it below ....


The 'Sonnets of Desolation' or 'Terrible Sonnets' of Gerard Manley Hopkins are a group of untitled poems probably written during 1885-1886 ..... There are six poems, usually referred to by their opening words, as: 'To Seem the Stranger', 'I Wake and Feel', 'No Worst', 'Carrion Comfort', 'Patience, Hard Thing' and 'My Own Heart'. Not all commentators believe that Hopkins was suffering from depression when he wrote them, but the evidence seems strong that he was .....

Anyone who suffers from depression tends to think that they are abnormal. Depressed Christians are liable to think that their experience is a sign that there is something wrong with them spiritually, for surely depression is not a 'normal' part of the Christian experience. Aren't we supposed to 'rejoice always'? The belief that this is an abnormal experience leads to feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Sufferers feel that they are losing their faith. Suicidal thought are particularly distressing to those Christians who have been taught that self-destruction is a serious sin, adding to their guilt and self-hatred ....

There are many definitions of spirituality, but they have in common an emphasis on experience and practice in the search for God. For many people suffering from depression, who often have low self-esteem, spirituality depends on their answers to questions about whether they have any relation to God at all, whether God has interest in them and whether they can do anything to reach out to him. Hopkins gives the sufferer from depression help in finding answers to these questions.

First, all the poems show that Hopkins maintained some kind of relationship with God: indeed that is their common theme. The real issue is what kind of relationship this was; for this, we must look at the answer to the second question. As we have seen, these poems and others seem to reveal a relationship with a distant, stern God: a hard taskmaster who must be obeyed. Even in Hopkins' happiest poems, such as 'Hurrahing in Harvest', the imagery is still of remote majesty. I suspect that many depressives have a similar image of God; here Hopkins stands primarily as an example of what has gone wrong in depression .....

Hopkins also provides practical help for those seeking to escape depression. It is valuable advice to treat yourself kindly:

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst 's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather - as skies
Betweenpie mountains - lights a lovely mile.

...... We can also learn from the negative side of Hopkins' experience. Those who have difficulty accepting that God loves them unconditionally, as Hopkins seems to have done, are likely to have low self-esteem, which is an indicator for depression. And an effective remedy for the low self-esteem that characterizes most depressives is belief and acceptance that God does love them unconditionally - something that requires an openness to God but can only be given by God's grace.

Despite a century of study, there is still a stigma attached to depression and it is rarely understood by those who have not suffered it ...... Anthony Clare, a practicing psychiatrist, stresses 'the importance of having someone who is there, prepared to listen, willing to support, able to indicate he or she understands'. If nothing else, Hopkins' poems tell sufferers that someone has been in the same situation before them. For Christians, Hopkins shows that even dedicated servants of Christ can suffer depression. While the sense that he had achieved nothing remained, 'birds build - but not I build' ('Justus'), Hopkins was strengthened by the knowledge that Christ too 'was doomed to succeed by failure' ........


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Undoing Babel

- The Pentecost by Jean Restout

I've never been very comfortable with Pentecost. I think that stems from two things .... one is that Jesus had to leave for the Holy Spirit to come, and I would have rather kept him around ... the other is the oddity of Glossolalia :-)

One of the things I've read about Pentecost is that it undoes the badness of the Tower of Babel. As James Alison says in Knowing Jesus .....

At the beginning of Acts, Luke tells the story of Pentecost. The story of the tongues of fire which came down and permitted the apostles to preach in all languages is not simply a description of what happened, it is at the same time the un-telling of another story, the story of Babel. That story, which occurs in Genesis 11, is about the human attempt to construct unity, and about how it led to chaos, separation, and breakdown of communication ...... The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the arrival of the crucified and risen Lord and the undoing of Babel .....

Fr. Alison also has an article on Pentecost from last year at The Tablet that elaborates on the idea above. Here below is just the ending of that article, The Wild Ride ......


What is the shape of our Creator's protagonism? One of the terms which emerges most frequently is "Advocate" – meaning "Counsel for the Defence" – in other words someone who is For Us, undoing all and any sense of cosmic conspiracy. The Protagonism, the driving force of the Spirit, is For Us, it is not out to get us, or entrap us, as other spirits, both sacred and secular, do. And the Protagonism is in the process of turning us from being a "they" into a "we". Our very pattern of desire, which is the basis for our "self", is being transformed from within, so that we learn to desire anew, and thus to become new from within. And the route to this is the Spirit stretching us in prayer. By the Holy Spirit God is no longer an "it" which is outside us, or even an "I AM" in whose presence we are always a "they". By the Holy Spirit we are being taken into the inside of God's life, so that our very "I" might become part of the "I" of God who has risked sharing that with us: this is what Paul understood when he says: "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me". He has not been displaced by a spirit, but recreated from within by the Spirit.

At Pentecost the real protagonist of Creation emerges. And it becomes clear that Creation itself has become, and is becoming, a human drama in which we participate starting from where we are. One of the first moves of this driving force would be to set up the dwelling of God with humans as something which is not sacred, as the doomed Temple was sacred, hence the apparent secularity of the New Temple, consecrated in an Upper Room. A short time later the purity legislation which marked off the sacred from the profane will be brought down, with the baptism of Cornelius. And so the shape of the Protagonist reveals itself to us, neither sacred nor secular, but Holy, creating a relatively benign secular that is able to bear witness to the glory of God by manifesting Creation coming fully alive. And ever since then, the wild ride has been on, and the rows about what it all means, and the deep peace which goes with being carried into the heart of God.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Kermit update

Some of the lab tests are back for Kermit and it seems she has a kidney infection instead of a bladder infection, and the medications I'm giving her - 3 shots a day and a dab of transdermal gel in the ear - are not the kind that can kill the bacteria. Kermit won't eat and hides when she sees me coming, and I have to keep giving her medicine that's not really working while the vet tries to find something else that might. What will I do without Kermit.

Cardinal Martini & J von Nazareth

There was an interesting post at Jim West's blog about a review of the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth, by Cardinal Martini. He cites the source of the review, but sadly I can't read it as I have no Italian. Below is a little of what Jim posted.

... He [Martini.] writes that the Pope is a theologian and not a New Testament scholar, and that besides he hasn’t done any research in this field. Moreover, it looks as if Ratzinger stopped his NT studies about 40 years ago. Martini says that John of Zebedee cannot have written the fourth gospel - as the Pope states - and that Razinger’s Jesus is not the only one. Martini adds that the Pope has written his book guided by Fides et Ratio , thereby rejecting any historical critical methodology to analyze the NT texts ...

This other article from Catholic World News, however, has the Cardinal giving a good review of the Pope's book - Cardinal Martini lauds Pope's "very beautiful book".

The reason I was intrigued enough to write about this is that I think Cardinal Martini is a very interesting guy ...

Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, SJ, ThD, SSD (born February 15, 1927) is an Italian prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He was Archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2002, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1983 ..... He entered the Society of Jesus on September 25, 1944 ..... In 1962, he was given the Chair of Textual Criticism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, a specialist Institute of the Gregorian and became its rector in 1969. In 1978, under Pope Paul VI he was elected the Pontifical Gregorian University's rector magnificus ..... Cardinal Martini also became active in the scientific field by publishing various books and articles ..... the Cardinal received the distinuguished honour of being the only Catholic member of the ecumenical committee that prepared the new Greek edition of the New Testament .....

Often considered to be one of the more liberal members of the College of Cardinals ..... n April 2006, in response to a very specific question from the bioethicist Ignazio Marino, director of the transplant center of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Martini admitted that in certain cases, the usage of condoms might be allowable stating, "The use of condoms can, in certain situations, be a lesser evi.l" ....... The Cardinal's position on the start of a distinct human life during the fetilization of oocytes was rebuked by certain Vatican officials ..... Cardinal Martini, speaking about the right to die debate said that "terminally ill patients should be given the right to refuse treatments and that the doctors who assist them should be protected by law" ..... He has also called for greater collegiality in the governance of the Church and for the possibility of female deacons to be examined .... he has also called for the church to take a greater role in combatting social injustice, often calling for greater action to be taking in assisting the immigrants, minorities and the combatting of racism. Martini wishes for the church to rekindle the "burning fire in the heart".
- Wikipedia

For those who'd like to read more about him, there's a 1999 interview with him at The Tablet, as well as a 2006 story - Clarion call on condoms - about him also at the Tablet, and the BBC wrote of him too in 2005.

John 21:15-19

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. I've seen discussions about the use of different words for "love" in the reading, and here below is a bit from one of those - Sloppy Agape by Dr. David Alan Black ......


Traditionally, John 21:15-17 has been a rich source of what Bible scholars call "eisegesis"—reading into the text something the text itself does not contain.

Some translations of these verses are based on the two different Greek verbs for "love" that appear. Jesus asks the first two times, "Do you love me," using the verb agapaw. Peter responds, "I love you," using filew. The third time, however, Jesus himself uses filew in his question, as does Peter in his response.

It is usually argued that agapaw signifies a higher form of love—divine, selfless, altruistic love. However, the most Peter will claim for himself is filew love— friendship love. This probably accounts for the distinction in the NIV between "truly love" for agapaw, and "love" for filew.

But this cannot be. In the first place, it is John’s style to use the verbs agapaw and filew interchangeably, without any distinction in meaning. Thus, the expression "the disciple whom Jesus kept on loving" can be based on either verb. Again, the Father loves the Son—and both verbs are used (3:55; 5:20).

Second, Peter could hardly answer "Yes, Lord, I love you" if in fact he meant "No, Lord, I like you as a friend."

Finally, it is clear that Peter got upset, not because Jesus changed his verb in the third question, but because Jesus asked him the same question three times—an obvious allusion to Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus.

If this passage is not about the two Greek words for "love," then what does it teach? Two simple, but profound, truths.

The first is this: What the Lord Jesus Christ is looking for in his disciples—in Peter, in John, in Paul, and in us today—is our love above everything else ....... But is it enough to say the words, "I love you"? ......

Such pronouncements are undoubtedly attractive, but deeds speak louder than words. And that is the second great truth in our passage. Jesus is saying that the best way to prove that we love him is by taking care of his people: "Feed my lambs"; "Take care of my sheep."

This is the "Love Triangle" of 1 John: God loves us; we love others; and only then is love returned to God .......


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sacred Space / Arrupe

There was another interesting opening thought at Sacred Space this week, which mentioned Pedro Arrupe SJ, - he who witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima, who began the Jesuit Refugee Service, and who served as the general of the Jesuits around the time of Vatican II and the flowering of liberation theology, . Here it is from Sacred Space ....


Something to think and pray about this week

You remember that Jesus once took a little child, whom the apostles were shooing away, and told them: Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. The fact is, at the end, we do become like little children. We stop achieving, lose our driving license, and depend more and more on others to do things for us. Fr Pedro Arrupe, the last general of the Jesuits, at the end of his life was felled by a stroke, which crippled and silenced him. He could neither walk nor talk, though he could still write. He sent this message to the Jesuits who gathered to elect his successor: More than ever, I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. And this is still the one thing I want. But now there is a difference: the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in his hands.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Book Meme

Paula has tagged me with a Three Book Meme, so here goes ...

Three non-fiction books everyone should read:

I don't know if everyone should read these, but they might be of interest ...

- The Cloister Walk by poet Kathleen Norris. It's pretty interesting and made me wish I could be an oblate. Here's a little of what (Publisher's Weekly) says of it ...

The allure of the monastic life baffles most lay people, but in her second book Norris (Dakota) goes far in explaining it. The author, raised Protestant, has been a Benedictine oblate, or lay associate, for 10 years, and has lived at a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota for two. Here, she compresses these years of experience into the diary of one liturgical year, offering observations on subjects ranging from celibacy to dealing with emotions to Christmas music ...

- Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits with Michael G. Harter SJ as Editor. This little red book is full of the poetry, prayers, and quotations of Jesuits past and present (Daniel Berrigan, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Francis, Xavier, etc) plus some bits of the Spiritual Exercises.

- Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist by Guy Consolmagno SJ. I think I mentioned this book before - it's written by a Jesuit brother who's intrigued with meteors ... he's even been to Antarctica to look for them ... and is in charge of the Vatican's hefty meteorite collection. Check out the Vatican Observatory website.

Three works of fiction that everyone should read:

OK, maybe these aren't profound or literary, but I really liked them, so ...

- The Blood Books (volume 1 - Blood Trial) by Tanya Huff. Yep, we're talking vampires. I picked up these books about 10 years ago because the main character had an eye disease kind of like mine, and she had to quit the Toronto police force and become a PI instead. Her first client is a 500 year old vampire (the illegitimate son of Henry VIII of England) with some werewolf friends. I believe this series has now been made into a tv series too - Blood Ties.

- Relic by Lincoln Child and Douglas J Preston. This is such a fun book - it begins in the Amazon rainforest a number of years ago, then speeds ahead to the American Natural History Museum in New York, where something is eating museum patrons' brains :-). Here's one of the blurbs from the book ... Wildly cool ... Thrill hounds couldn't ask for a creepier environment ... a thriller staged in the world's scariest building, with no room for the squeamish. - Kirkus Reviews

- The Three Musketeers Series, or the "D'Artagnan Romances" as they're sometime called, by Alexandre Dumas. The books contain the story of The Man in the Iron Mask as well. My college boyfriend gave me this set back in the day and I loved them ... the series has it all - adventure, true love, the pathos of untimely death, intrigue, political maneuvering, religious wars - it's a fun way to learn about the time of the Sun King.

The next part I changed (hope that's ok) to mention ...

Three online articles worth a look:

- Unbinding the Gay Conscience by James Alison. This is really good.

- On hope, heaven and hell (about Hans Urs von Balthasar's idea that no one may ever go to hell) by by Nick Jr. Healy

- Where Was God? An Interview with David Bentley Hart ... his theodicy.

James Alison - Knowing Jesus

I'm still (slowly) reading Knowing Jesus by James Alison. What I read today mentions resurrection appearances and the ascension. Here below is a part of it .....


Often we are so concerned with questions as: what sort of body did Jesus have, was the resurrection physical, and so on, that we fail to notice what is perhaps the really important thing of which the physical appearances of Jesus were signs. That is, that the crucified and risen Jesus was not only crucified as a human but rose as a crucified human.

It is I think important to hold on to this, since there is a tendency, helped by the apparent vagueness of the gospel texts when they deal with the resurrection, to imagine that Jesus may well have been human up until his death, but from the resurrection onwards, he reverted to being God, and eventually, like a helium balloon, couldn't be held to the earth any longer, and floated back to heaven where he belonged.

Well, this is not the case. When Jesus died, it was a fully human being who died completely, and when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was a human being who was given back to us. Given back as a crucified and living human being. I stress this for two reasons: first, and incidentally, because if we don;t hold on to this, we make a nonsense of the belief in the ascension. The special form of the Eucharistic prayer for the Mass of the Ascension says:

In union with the whole Church we celebrate that day when your only Son, Our Lord, took his place with you and raised our frail human nature to glory.

That is to say, the ascension was not Jesus beaming back up to Starship Enterprise when the Mission was accomplished, leaving the earthlings to play happily; it was the introduction of a novelty into heaven: human nature. Being human was from then on permanently and indissolubly involved in the presence of God .....

What is important is that the risen and crucified Jesus was no less human after his resurrection than before it. This not only says something about the presence of human nature in heaven, but something about the presence of God on earth. The divine life is indissolubly and permanently present as human. All divine dealings with humanity are on a human level .....


Thursday, May 17, 2007


When I'm not pondering (and whining about) why God lets evil exist in the world, I'm wondering about myself - why do I do evil?

Ignatius speaks of freedom in the Spiritual Exercises .... a freedom that let's God's desire for us order our attachments, a freedom that leads to joy because God's desire for us is what will ultimately make us happy. Worried about the ability to choose for myself, and being low on trust, I've resisted this idea of freedom. Today, though, I was rereading a book by David Bentley Hart (The Doors of the Sea), and something I saw gave me pause, because if I understood correctly, he agrees with Ignatius. Here's a little of what Hart wrote .....


Of course, we are inclined (especially today) to think of freedom wholly in terms of arbitrary or pathetic volition, a potency made actual every time one chooses a particular course of action out from a variety of other possibilities. And obviously, for finite intellects and wills, this is the minimal form that liberty must assume; but it is also, just as obviously, a form of subordination and confinement. All possible choices are external to the will that chooses; they shape it from without, defining it even before it has chosen. Moreover, these possibilities are exclusive of one another: one makes a possible course of action real by rendering other courses of action impossible. And, as we all know, one can choose foolishly, or maliciously, or with a divided will. Freedom, so understood, would consist in no more than a certain kind of largely vacuous and limited potentiality dependent on other limited and limiting potentialities.

A higher understanding of human freedom, however, is inseparable from a definition of human nature. To be free is to be able to flourish as the kind of being one is, and so to attain the ontological good toward which one's nature is oriented; freedom is the unhindered realization of a complex nature in its proper end (natural and supernatural), and this is consumate liberty and happiness. The will that chooses poorly, then - through ignorance, maleficence, or corrupt desire - has not thereby become freer, but has further enslaved itself to forces that prevent it from achieving its full expression .....


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some films for the Pope

I saw a news story today .... Anger at Pope's Brazil comments / BBC ... Pope Benedict XVI told Latin American bishops in Brazil that American Indians had been "silently longing" to become Christians 500 years ago ..... Pope Benedict also made no mention of the violent history that followed or the documented decimation of native cultures in favour of the Christian model Conquistadores and other Europeans colonisers ...

I wish the Pope hadn't failed to comment on the coercion sometimes used and the damage sometimes done in the preaching of the Gospel to cultures vulnerable to aggression or manipulation. I just happen to have some illustrative materials .... don't worry, I won't cite any dusty tomes, just three films :-), one portraying the time of the first Conquistadors to the New World, one of missionning in the 18th century, and one set in modern times. Though it may sound strange, I think sometimes fiction can give us a more profound vision of the truth than can the facts.

1) Aguirre, the Wrath of God .....

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (German: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) is an independent 1972 German film written and directed by Werner Herzog. Klaus Kinski stars in the title role .....

The story follows the travels of Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River in South America in search of a lost city of gold (El Dorado). Using a minimalist story and dialogue and the powerful acting of Kinski, the film creates a vision of madness and folly, counterpointed by the lush but unforgiving Amazonian jungle. Although based loosely on what is known of the historical figure of Aguirre, the film's story line is, as Herzog acknowledged years after the film's release, a work of imagination. Some of the persons and situations may have been inspired by Gaspar de Carvajal's account of an earlier Amazonian expedition, but Carvajal was not present on the historical voyage represented in the film .....
- Wikipedia

Roger Ebert has called this film one of the 100 greatest films ever made. Here below is the opening of his review of it ...

" On this river God never finished his creation. The captured Indian speaks solemnly to the last remnants of a Spanish expedition seeking the fabled El Dorado, the city of gold. A padre hands him a Bible, “the word of God.'' He holds it to his ear but can hear nothing. Around his neck hangs a golden bauble. The Spanish rip it from him and hold it before their eyes, mesmerized by the hope that now, finally, at last, El Dorado must be at hand. “Where is the city?'' they cry at the Indian, using their slave as an interpreter. He waves his hand vaguely at the river. It is further. Always further ... "

2) The Mission .....

The Mission is a 1986 British film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in eighteenth century South America. The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. It stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi and Liam Neeson. It won the Palme d'Or in Cannes 1986, and an Oscar for Best Cinematography. In March 2007 it was Number 1 in the Church Times Top 50 Religious Films. The music was scored by the renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone, and is considered by some to be among his best film scores, being listed at #23 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores ......

The movie is set during the Jesuit Reductions, a programme by which Jesuit missionaries set up missions independent of the Spanish state to teach Christianity to the natives. It tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit priest, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), who enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Guaraní Indians to Christianity .....

"The Mission" is based on events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal. The movie's narrator, "Altamirano", speaking in hindsight in 1758, corresponds to the actual Andalusian Jesuit Father Luis Altamirano, who had been sent to Paraguay in 1752 to transfer territory from Spain to Portugal. He oversaw the transfer of seven missions south and east of the Río Uruguay, that had been settled by Guaranis and Jesuits in the 1600s. As "compensation", Spain had promised each mission 4,000 pesos, or fewer than 1 peso for each of the circa 30,000 Guaranis of the seven missions, while the cultivated lands, livestock and buildings were estimated to be worth 7-16 million pesos. The movie's climax is the Guarani War of 1754-1756, during which historical Guaranis defended their homes against Spanish-Portuguese forces implementing the Treaty of Madrid. For the movie, a recreation was made of one of the seven missions, São Miguel das Missões.
- Wikipedia

3) At Play in the Fields of the Lord .....

At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a 1991 drama film directed by Hector Babenco. The screenplay was written by Babenco and Jean-Claude Carrière, and based on the novel by Peter Matthiessen. It stars Tom Berenger, Aidan Quinn, Kathy Bates, Daryl Hannah, John Lithgow and Tom Waits.

The films tells of Americans Lewis Moon (Tom Berenger) and Wolf (Tom Waits) who, when their plane runs out of gas, are stranded in Mae de Deus an outpost in the deep Brazilian Amazon River basin. Living in the village are evangelist missionary Leslie Huben (John Lithgow) and his wife Andy Huben (Darryl Hannah); and Martin Quarier(Aidan Quinn), his wife Hazel (Kathy Bates) and their small son, who have just arrived from the United States.

The minister and the Quarrier's want to spread the Christian gospel to the primitive Niaruna indigenous natives, the others have more nefarious interests, to wit: business concerns that would lay claim to the Niaruna's land for business development. The local police chief cuts a deal with mercenaries Lewis and Wolf: if they bomb the Niarunas and eliminated them, they will be paid enough money to leave Brazil. Instead, Lewis, a half Native American Cheyenne, aligns himself with the Niarunas. From this moment on, both are in trouble ....
- Wikipedia

Here below is the beginning of Roger Ebert's review of this film ...

"The most striking image in Peter Matthiessen's novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord describes an Amazonian Indian, standing in the center of a forest clearing, defiantly raising his bow and arrow against an airplane that flies between himself and the sun. The image has been used as the logo for the new film of the novel, but actually two planes cast their shadows on these Indians. One brings the drunken bush pilots Wolfie and Moon, to be hired by a tinpot jungle general to bomb the Indians. The other brings earnest missionaries from North America, to preach their religion to the tribe. In Matthiessen's world, both of these aircraft are machines bearing destruction .... "


... by John Hall Wheelock

Grasshopper, your fairy song
And my poem alike belong
To the dark and silent earth
From which all poetry has birth;
All we say and all we sing
Is but as the murmuring
Of that drowsy heart of hers
When from her deep dream she stirs:
If we sorrow, or rejoice,
You and I are but her voice.

Deftly does the dust express
In mind her hidden loveliness,
And from her cool silence stream
The cricket's cry and Dante's dream;
For the earth that breeds the trees
Breeds cities too, and symphonies.
Equally her beauty flows
Into a saviour, or a rose —
Looks down in dream, and from above
Smiles at herself in Jesus' love.
Christ's love and Homer's art
Are but the workings of her heart;
Through Leonardo's hand she seeks
Herself, and through Beethoven speaks
In holy thunderings around
The awful message of the ground.

The serene and humble mold
Does in herself all selves enfold —
Kingdoms, destinies, and creeds,
Great dreams, and dauntless deeds,
Science that metes the firmament,
The high, inflexible intent
Of one for many sacrificed —
Plato's brain, the heart of Christ:
All love, all legend, and all lore
Are in the dust forevermore.

Even as the growing grass
Up from the soil religions pass,
And the field that bears the rye
Bears parables and prophecy.
Out of the earth the poem grows
Like the lily, or the rose;
And all man is, or yet may be,
Is but herself in agony
Toiling up the steep ascent
Toward the complete accomplishment
When all dust shall be, the whole
Universe, one conscious soul.
Yea, the quiet and cool sod
Bears in her breast the dream of God.

If you would know what earth is, scan
The intricate, proud heart of man,
Which is the earth articulate,
And learn how holy and how great,
How limitless and how profound
Is the nature of the ground —
How without terror or demur
We may entrust ourselves to her
When we are wearied out, and lay
Our faces in the common clay.

For she is pity, she is love,
All wisdom she, all thoughts that move
About her everlasting breast
Till she gathers them to rest:
All tenderness of all the ages,
Seraphic secrets of the sages,
Vision and hope of all the seers,
All prayer, all anguish, and all tears
Are but the dust, that from her dream
Awakes, and knows herself supreme —
Are but earth when she reveals
All that her secret heart conceals
Down in the dark and silent loam,
Which is ourselves, asleep, at home.

Yea, and this, my poem, too,
Is part of her as dust and dew,
Wherein herself she doth declare
Through my lips, and say her prayer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Just as I am

From Sacred Space .......

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius writes: “I will stand for the space of an Our Father, a step or two before the place where I am to meditate or contemplate, and with my mind raised on high, consider that God our Lord beholds me. Then I will make an act of reverence or humility” This is a beautiful and simple way of entering sacred space. I am not alone with my thoughts and feelings. God is here with me. So I can say to him, ‘Here I am, Lord’. Let me repeat this inwardly several times. Here I am, Lord. Here I am, in this place, for this day. Here I am, Lord, as I am, just as I am, not as I feel I ought to be. No, here I am, just as I am, with all my real thoughts, real feelings, real worries and concerns, and also my deeper wishes and desires. I come before you Lord just as I am.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Earth. Earth is beautiful. Earth is complex. Earth is fragile. Earth is a delicate interdependent web of ecosystems that provides the basis for all life forms. Constantly reconfiguring, morphing, decaying, the natural world is at once confounding, sublime, brutal, and unspeakably elegant ......

These are the openning lines of The Encyclopedia of Life website's introductory flash trailer. And here's what can be read of the project in the news - Leading scientists announce creation of Encyclopedia of Life ......


Realizing a dream articulated in 2003 by renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, Harvard and four partner institutions have launched an ambitious effort to create an Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), an unprecedented project to document online every one of Earth's 1.8 million known species. For the first time in history, the EOL would grant scientists, students, and others multimedia access to all known living species, even those just discovered ......

With a Wikipedia-style Web page detailing each organism's genome, geographic distribution, phylogenetic position, habitat, and ecological relationships, organizers hope the EOL will ultimately serve as a global beacon for biodiversity and conservation.

Harvard joins the Field Museum in Chicago, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., the Smithsonian Institution, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) to initiate the project, bringing together species and software experts from across the world. An international advisory board of distinguished individuals will help guide the EOL.

Harvard's EOL participation will be led by James Hanken, director of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Harvard scientists will partner with colleagues at the Smithsonian to spearhead the education and outreach facets of the project ......

Over the next 10 years, the EOL will create Web pages for all 1.8 million living species known to exist on Earth. The pages, housed at, will provide written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information on each species. Built on the scientific integrity of thousands of experts around the globe, the EOL will be a moderated Wikipedia-like resource, freely available to all users everywhere ......


I'm not sure why, but this makes me happy :-)

Here's one of the sample pages from the website (click on it to see at real size) ...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep

- by Emma Hart Willard

Rocked in the cradle of the deep
I lay me down in peace to sleep;
Secure I rest upon the wave,
For Thou, O Lord! hast power to save.
I know Thou wilt not slight my call,
For Thou dost mark the sparrow's fall;
And calm and peaceful shall I sleep,
Rocked in the cradle of the deep.

When in the dead of night I lie
And gaze upon the trackless sky,
The star-bespangled heavenly scroll,
The boundless waters as they roll, -
I feel Thy wondrous power to save
From perils of the stormy wave:
Rocked in the cradle of the deep,
I calmly rest and soundly sleep.

And such the trust that still were mine,
Though stormy winds swept o'er the brine,
Or though the tempest's fiery breath
Roused me from sleep to wreck and death.
In ocean cave, still safe with Thee
The germ of immortality!
And calm and peaceful shall I sleep,
Rocked in the cradle of the deep.

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

- by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Kermit has to go next week for some tests - the vet felt what she thinkcould be a tumor on or near her liver. If you guys are ok with saying prayers for a cat, a few woundn't hurt ..... thanks.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pharmaceutical Giants vs the Poor

I saw a story in the news today about a deal brokered to help poor countries get the AIDS drugs they need but can't afford ... Bill Clinton Announces AIDS Drug Deals.

The questionable ethics of pharmaceutical companies has been an issue for a long time and pops up not only in the news but also in fiction, in such works as John le Carré's novel, The Constant Gardener, and tv shows like The West Wing (In This White House), where the drug companies are accused of being more motivated to cure white men of erectile dysfunction than balck men of AIDS.

There was a very interesting and disturbing story on this subject published in the March 29, 2006 issue of The New York Times - The scandal of 'poor people's diseases'. Here's the beginning of the story ...

It's hard to imagine how a Rwandan woman with AIDS might be considered lucky, but in a way, she is. Effective drugs exist to treat her disease, and their price has dropped by more than 98 percent in the last six years. Research speeds ahead on treatments and vaccines. Although much more needs to be done, the world takes AIDS seriously: rich countries provide money, drug companies have lowered their prices and accepted generic competition, and poor countries like Rwanda are scrambling to provide free treatment to all who need it. None of this is true for people who suffer from malaria, tuberculosis, or a host of other diseases that citizens of rich countries haven't even heard of—like kala azar, sleeping sickness and Chagas disease. Even children with AIDS are out of luck compared to their parents.

All these diseases have been abandoned in some important way. For some, no good treatments exist and there is little attempt to invent them. For others, effective drugs exist, but aren't being made. Or those drugs are so expensive that poor people and poor countries have no hope of buying them. Most of these diseases are easily preventable and completely curable. Saving the lives of their sufferers is much cheaper and easier than treating AIDS. Yet millions of people die of them. Why the difference?

As fatal illnesses go, AIDS is the best one for a poor person to catch because rich people get it, too. The other diseases might as well hang out a sign: "Poor People Only." They offer researchers no profitable market. They have little political constituency. There is no well-connected group of sufferers who stage protests and lobby pharmaceutical companies and Congress to develop better medicines or make existing ones more available. The response to disease is political: the illnesses of invisible people usually stay invisible .....

Brazil, where the Pope is now visiting, was one of the first poor countries to have guarneteed all patients with AIDS free treatment ... coincidently, there was another story in the news just a while ago about Brazil - Brazil bypasses patent on Merck AIDS drug ...

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday authorized Brazil to break the patent on an AIDS drug made by Merck & Co. Inc. and import a generic version from India instead. It was the first time Brazil bypassed a patent to acquire cheaper drugs for its AIDS prevention program, a step recently taken by Thailand .....

Brazil's government provides free universal access to AIDS drugs and distributes condoms and syringes free as part of a prevention program the United Nations has lauded. The program helped Brazil slow infection rates and avoid what experts predicted would become an AIDS epidemic. Infection rates among adults have stabilized at about 0.6 percent -- similar to the United States ......

I hope the program President Clinton is sponsoring will help with the tension between protecting intellectual property and saving lives, but at the end of the day, saving lives seems vastly more important.

LT still thrives in Brazil

There's an interesting article on NPR's site about liberation theology and the Pope's visit to Brazil (hat tip to Jeff). Here's just the first part of the article ......

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives this week in Brazil, he will no doubt recall the stir he made in the world's largest Roman Catholic country two decades ago.

Then, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the Defender of the Doctrine of the Faith, he clashed with Brazil's leading liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff. Ratzinger warned that his teachings conflated Christ's mission with Marxism, which drained Jesus of his divinity and unique role as the son of God.

Ratzinger ordered Boff to be silent for one year in 1985. When the church went after the ordained Franciscan a second time for addressing the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Boff told Rome: "The first time, I accepted punishment out of humility. Now it is humiliation. That is a sin, and I won't do it."

Boff quit the priesthood but remained a Catholic, pressing for what the 68-year-old theologian, philosopher and author calls the central tenet of liberation theology.

"The opposite of poverty is not wealth – it is justice," he says. "And the objective of liberation theology is to create a more just society, not necessarily a wealthier one. And the great question is, how do we do this?"

A generation after Boff's rebuke, Brazil's Catholic clergy is actively, at times defiantly, pursuing the struggle for social justice on behalf of the poor: Catholic bishops stage hunger strikes to halt dam projects that they say put profits of big business above the needs of the people. They broker deals with banks to build housing for the homeless. And priests take to the airwaves to denounce the growing footprint of agro-business that has cut down the rainforest to make way for cattle and much-in-demand soy ........

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sr. Dorothy Stang

When I read the interview posted a couple of days ago about the Pope's visit to Brazil, I also read, for the first time, of Dorothy Stang, an American nun of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an order dedicated to providing education to the poor.

Here's what the Sydney Morning Herald wrote in 2005 of Sr. Dorothy ... American nun Dorothy Stang, a leading human rights and environmental activist, was murdered in a suspected contract killing ordered by illegal loggers and ranchers encroaching on a federal peasant farming reserve she helped establish in the Amazon jungle state of Para.

Sr. Dorothy was not alone in her work or her death - hundreds of activists, both secular and religious, have been killed in the effort to help the poor and stop the deforestation of the Amazon, among them Chico Mendes, about whom was made the movie, The Burning Season. What makes this subject timely is that on May 14, after the Pope leaves Brazil, one of those accused of Sr. Dorothy's murder will go on trial.

Why do people like Sr. Dorothy put their lives at risk in this effort? Maybe one reason is the wonder of the area - a profoundly special ecosystem the like of which we'll never see again, should it be destroyed. But there's another reason as well, I think - the desire to see social justice done through helping those in need ... oh, I know, life isn't fair, but people like Sr. Dorothy have the courage to say and to mean that life can be what we make it.

Here below are some excerpts from articles on Sr. Dorothy and the work that got her killed ...

- A look ahead to Benedict in Brazil, NCR, May 3, 2007 ......

Observers say the trial [of Sr. Dorothy's accused murderer] is a landmark case, since the wealthy landowners who order such killings are almost never brought to justice.

Reached by phone at his home in Palmer Lake, Colorado, on May 1, David Stang -- Dorothy’s brother and a former Maryknoll priest -- said he’s “optimistic” about the outcome, especially since one of the shooters already convicted for Stang’s murder named the rancher, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, as one of the men behind the attack. David Stang plans to travel to Brazil to attend the trial.

On the other hand, Bastos himself does not appear to be especially concerned. Two government agencies recently had to compel him to remove 1,500 head of cattle which he had illegally allowed to graze on the very plot of land where Stang was shot to death in 2005. She had sought to have that plot of land protected for use as a sustainable development project.

David Stang said he’s a bit concerned that Pope Benedict’s presence in Brazil may “overshadow” the trial, distracting media attention from the case and thereby reducing some of the public pressure on a notoriously recalcitrant judicial system in Para state. Stang said the “gossip” in Brazil was that the court waited until the dates for the pope’s trip were announced in order to schedule the trial, hoping for precisely this effect.

Yet Stang said the pope’s presence could also prove to be helpful, especially if he were to mention his sister by name. Even in the absence of such a reference, however, a more general appeal for justice for the poor, and those who speak in their name, would also be welcome ......

- Farming the Amazon: Last of the Amazon, National Geographic Magazine, January 2007 .....

In the time it takes to read this article, an area of Brazil's rain forest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed. The market forces of globalization are invading the Amazon, hastening the demise of the forest and thwarting its most committed stewards. In the past three decades, hundreds of people have died in land wars; countless others endure fear and uncertainty, their lives threatened by those who profit from the theft of timber and land.

In this Wild West frontier of guns, chain saws, and bulldozers, government agents are often corrupt and ineffective—or ill-equipped and outmatched. Now, industrial-scale soybean producers are joining loggers and cattle ranchers in the land grab, speeding up destruction and further fragmenting the great Brazilian wilderness.

In 2005, after gunmen hired by grileiros murdered Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born nun and environmental activist, the Brazilian government accelerated a crackdown, suspending logging permits throughout the Amazon—most of which had been falsified to launder illegal timber. Federal police and IBAMA intensified their investigation into irregularities in the timber business. Waves of troops were dispatched to Mato Grosso and Pará. They seized truckload of contraband timber. Of the more than 300 people arrested, about 100 turned out to be IBAMA officials involved in a far-reaching conspiracy to sell millions of cubic feet of endangered hardwoods to the U.S., Europe, and Asia .....

I'd like to say that the whole world will be watching the trial of Sr. Dorothy's accused murderer .... I doubt that will be so, but at least let us keep an eye on it.


- Read more about Sr. Dorothy at the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur site

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Pope and Brazil

In a few days the Pope will be in Brazil, where he will, among other things, canonize the first saint from Brazil - Antônio de Sant’Anna Galvão. I saw an interview at the National Catholic Reporter by John Allen with Auxiliary Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha, the only Brazilian born Bishop in the US (Newark), on the Church in Brazil and the Pope's visit and thought I'd post some bits of it below ...


NCR: What is the significance for Brazil of this trip?

Da Cunha: I think it has tremendous significance. First of all, I think people will get to know him better than what they’ve seen and heard through the press. They will see him personally, and the unique personality he brings: his pastoral approach, his simplicity and humility, and his concern for the people and the church. I think people are going to really like him, and it’s going to be a big boost to the church in Brazil. Hopefully, it will revive enthusiasm for evangelization, and bring people back to the church.

Do you expect big crowds?

Yes, definitely. There will be big crowds for his meeting with youth in the stadium in São Paolo, and there will be a huge crowd for the Mass at the Sanctuary of Aparecida which he will celebrate, and for the canonization of Frei Gavao ......

Does it help that the pope is canonizing a Brazilian while he’s there?

Yes, it’s important, because he is the first Brazilian-born saint to be canonized. To do that in Brazil, while he’s there, is another way of saying that Brazil is important. [Note: Benedict XVI will canonize an 18th century Franciscan named Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao, famous for having promoted a paper “pill” with a dedication to the Virgin Mary said to have miraculous properties.]

Is the devotion to Frei Galvao very popular and widespread?

No, it’s not. It’s more localized in São Paolo, until his canonization was declared. In the Northeast of Brazil, Padim Ciço is more popular than Frei Gavao. [Note: “Padim Ciço” is the popular name of Fr. Cícero Romão Batista, a 19th century diocesan priest in the town of Juazeiro, in the countryside of Ceará. Romão worked for the social and spiritual development of the poor, and was suspended from the priesthood as a result of conflicts with the local bishop. He is regarded as capable of working miracles.] Yet he is not a saint. People go to his sanctuary, they pray to him, and he is more popular than Frei Gavao. Frei Gavao is more localized. But since his canonization was made public, he is becoming a national figure, but he hasn’t been one until now ......

Talking to Brazilian bishops and reading documents from the bishops’ conference, it seems that their top concerns could be expressed in terms of “three P’s”: poverty, Pentecostals, and priests (or the lack thereof). Let’s talk first about poverty. Catholics in Brazil are engaged in multiple ways in caring for the poor and seeking justice on their behalf. Is there a contribution the pope can make to that work?

I don’t know. I know it’s a concern of the church, because poverty leads to violence, to drugs, to so many other things. I think that education is the main solution, because it leads to the eradication of poverty, which in turn drives down crime and violence. That’s what the church has been advocating and promoting. But I don’t think the pope can do much about it. There is some improvement in the social conditions of Brazil, including education, slowly. There is economic growth. There are signs of improvement. The last few years, economic growth has been stronger than in many periods in the past. But that growth is not yet filtering down to the poor, it is benefitting primarily the upper layers. I hope that with time, it will reach those with real need. But again, I don’t think the pope can do anything about this ......

The day after Pope Benedict goes back to Rome, a trial will begin of one of the ranchers accused of orchestrating the murder of American missionary Sr. Dorothy Stang, killed two years ago for her defense of the landless poor in the Amazon. She is hardly the only person in Brazil killed for trying to defend the poor. Is the church in Brazil in some ways a church of martyrs?

She is one among many who have suffered. Recently there was a list compiled from the state of Para, which has the largest incidence of this kind of violence. The landowners kill people because they don’t want to give land to the poor. On this list, there were priests and church workers who have been martyred. Chico Mendez is another example. [Note: Mendez was a union organizer and environmental activist assassinated in 1988.] Unfortunately, the justice system in that state is very, very poor. It’s difficult to punish the criminals who commit this kind of violence. There have been many people who gave their lives to defend the landless and the rights of the poor, and Sr. Dorothy is one of them ......

Coming to my second “P,” sociological surveys and press reports suggest a significant defection of Catholics to Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. How widespread is this?

The reports are pretty accurate. There have been significant losses. What officials in Brazil say quite often is that in a practical sense, this is not a ‘loss,’ because most of those people were never practicing Catholics. Now they’re practicing Evangelicals and Pentecostals. In a sense, this might be a good thing, because they’re practicing some religion, whereas they were not doing anything before. Of those who once considered themselves Catholics and are now Pentecostals or Evangelicals, definitely the majority were non-practicing Catholics. They were baptized, but never really received any catechesis, education in the faith, or sacramental preparation.

Why not? As baptized Catholics, why didn’t they ever get those things? On the surface, it seems like a terrible indictment of the church.

First of all, there are many places without any resident priest, so there’s no parish with a formal system of catechesis and education. The priest comes once every two months to celebrate Mass and then goes back. He comes to baptize the babies, and then he goes back. There’s no structure of the church to continue their formation. So it’s connected to your other “P,” the shortage of priests ......

That brings us to the third “P,” meaning the shortage of priests. The official Vatican numbers say that there is one priest in Brazil for every 8,604 Catholics, compared to one for every 1,300 Catholics in the United States. To deliver the kind of meat-and-potatoes pastoral care that we just agreed is the key to understanding why the church is losing people, do you agree that there’s no foreseeable future in which Brazil is going to have enough priests to do that on a routine basis?


So the only way to address this problem is to bring the laity more into the pastoral mission of the church?

Yes, and it’s already happening. In many places and parishes, lay people are filling in for the absence of a priest. Sometimes, they lead a Sunday service when the priest is not there. They lead the Bible study groups, they do the sacramental preparation, and they lead small communities in prayer meetings. What the church needs to do is to offer more training and support to laity so they can fulfill these ministries more effectively. We see what the Evangelicals are doing -- they’re training people to do that work, and they’re good at it.

In the past, ‘lay empowerment’ in Brazil has been associated with the liberation theology movement, with the idea of a ‘church from below’ that some in the hierarchy found threatening. Can laity be brought into the pastoral mission of the church in a way that avoids these problems?

It can, and it needs to be done. When you train people to carry out the mission of the church, you’re not training them to be in opposition to the hierarchy. You’re training them to do this together. We need to do it in a way that they’re actually representing the church in evangelizing and catechizing, and doing the work that we don’t have enough priests and religious to do.

For a long time, the Latin American model has been that if something pastorally needs to be done, it’s the priest who should do it. Laity were largely consumers.

I think that has changed. In Brazil, I can say that I’ve seen that change. More needs to be done, because we haven’t gotten yet to the level we need. Since Vatican II, that change has been a growing process. You see a lot more lay involvement. There are places where a lay person runs the parish, and the priest just comes to celebrate the sacraments once in a while, but a lay person is in charge of the parish.

Does that work?

It works because it’s the only thing they have ......

I’ve named some specific challenges, but now let me turn the tables and ask you to identify the major pastoral issues facing the church in Brazil.

Evangelization and catechesis are so critical, and education so that people can get jobs and address the problems of violence and corruption. The church has to continue to speak out against corruption, in all branches of government -- judiciary, executive, and legislative branches. Political and judicial reform is critical ......


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Computers and the Environment

I saw this story - Steve Jobs Talks Green - in Google news about Steve Jobs and Greenpeace, and how computer electronics and chemical toxins affect the environment. I was interested as I both have a Macintosh computer, and care about the health of the environment ... who knew these two interests could be in conflict? Here's a little of the article below ....


In the just-posted "A Greener Apple," Jobs turns his attention to the criticism that Apple has received from environmental groups - most notably Greenpeace - regarding Apple's manufacturing and recycling practices. In it, he runs down what Apple is doing to reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals from the manufacturing process and then explains Apple's recycling programs. In a departure from the norm, he also discusses Apple's goals for the future with regard to further reductions in toxic manufacturing chemicals and increased recycling efforts .......

An entirely rational outside observer might say that Greenpeace is acting in line with traditional environmental principles in its attempts to reduce toxic chemical usage and encourage increased recycling. I don't think anyone questions that Greenpeace does have that as the overall goal. But it also feels as though Greenpeace is targeting Apple not because Apple is necessarily worse than other, much larger companies, but because anything surrounding Apple generates media attention and controversy, and that attention is good for Greenpeace's ultimate goal. Therein, I think, lies the reason why many Mac users have reacted so defensively to Greenpeace's attacks; it feels as though Greenpeace is specifically targeting Apple for other-than-stated reasons.

Apple isn't entirely free of culpability here either. As much as Apple fans sometimes lose track of this fact, Apple is a public company, and a big one at that. Above all else, Apple's loyalties lie with serving the shareholders by improving the bottom line. There's no question that many of the individuals who make up the company believe strongly in the goals of the environmental movement, but Apple as a company will always put the health of the company before the health of the environment.

That doesn't mean that Apple as a company gives no thought to the environmental impact of its actions, nor does it mean that Apple will always take the cheapest approach, regardless of impact. That's because Apple, much more so than companies like HP or Dell, lives and dies by its public image. Buying an iPod, and even a Mac these days, is considered cool, and any tarnish that accumulates on Apple's highly polished brand could drastically hurt the company's fortunes. Thus, Apple must play a balancing act between trying to produce goods as cheaply as possible to bolster the bottom line and spending more to protect the environment and the company's reputation ......

Let me leave you with what I felt were the two most interesting details in Jobs's letter. First, for the Apple product watchers, he said that Apple plans to introduce the first Macs with LED-based displays in 2007, and the speculation is already rampant as to which product will include such a display first. To my mind, it's mostly a detail; I don't care much about how my LCD screen is backlit, just that it is. Second, while the entire letter is a textbook exercise in controlling the PR message, there's an unusual sentence at the end, something you won't often hear from Apple: "We apologize for leaving you in the dark for this long."


- Greenpeace's Green Electronics Guide

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Denzel and Deja Vu

- Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, and Adam Goldberg ... the time travel task force

This week's movie rental was Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, and Jim Caviezel, and directed by Tony Scott. It's a science fiction thriller and is set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Denzel Washington plays Doug Carlin, an ATF agent who's investigating the bombing of a ferry in which 400 plus people are killed, one of whom appears to have been his partner. When he discovers evidence no one else noticed - that a woman seemingly killed in the bombing actually died earlier at the hands of the bomber - he's asked to join a special task force, one that is using time travel to solve the crime.

The movie is just so-so, kind of B-ish, and the emotional manipulation gets a little heavy handed at times, but it does have some redeeming elements .... I really like Denzel Washington and here he is very good as Doug, and James Caviezel (Jesus from The Passion of the Christ!) is creepily convincing as a psycho bomber .... the time travel stuff is fun, both the science and the special effects ... there are some nice explosions ... and some comic relief - at one critical point in the movie, Adam Goldberg, who plays the time travel scientist, says he needs more cowbell :-)

And an underlying assumption the movie makes is also interesting ... the dead woman's father gives Doug some photos of her, though he doesn't need them for the investigation, because he believes they will inspire Doug to try harder to find her killer. Later Doug watches real-time images of the dead woman going about her life, thanks to the magic of wormhole technology. The assumption I mentioned is that if you get to know someone, you will care about them, and if you care about them, you may change your behavior in ways that benefit them. (Strangely, this is the very methodology of the Spiritual Exercises :-)

At any rate, this assumption is fulfilled in Doug ... he begins to care about the woman and decides that solving the crime is not good enough, but that he must take the dangerous chance of going back into the past himself to alter events and save her life as well as his partner's, and stop the bombing from taking place.

I'd post a review of the film, but Roger Ebert didn't do one - he's been ill and a few prayers sent his way couldn't hurt. The other reviews I saw were not great, but here is an interview with the director, Tony Scott, about the movie.

- Jim Caviezel as the bomber

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Poetry and the American Religion

That's the title of an article, a review of an anthology of American religious poetry edited by Yale professor Harold Bloom and Jesse Zuba, at the Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. This was an interesting article for me, as I hadn't heard of some of the poets mentioned and really know nothing of American religious history, and got to look it all up :-) Here below is a little of the article ...


The anthology contains works by more than 200 poets, from the Colonial-era Bay Psalm Book (represented by Psalm 19) and the Puritan Thomas Dudley (1576-1653) to Korean-American Suji Kwock Kim (b. 1968) and Wheaton College English professor Brett Foster (b. 1973). In addition, editors Harold Bloom and Jesse Zuba, reflecting the ambiguous place of American Indians and African Americans in the nation's cultural history, include two separate sections -- one of American Indian songs and chants and the other a brief collection of spirituals and anonymous hymns. ......

It is always, given space limitations, a tough choice whether to include two or three poems by a single poet, thus limiting the number of poets represented, or to let a larger number poets have their say with a single poem. On the whole, the anthology strikes a generally fine balance. It is nice to see a generous representation (10 entries) of the 18th-century devotional poet Edward Taylor, but to my mind a dozen poems by Emily Dickenson is excessive. In the 20th century, A.R. Ammons with a half-dozen poems ..... and Lucile Clifton, lovely as her work is, are both overrepresented, while the paucity of Robert Lowell (only a single poem), as well as the absence of Daniel Berrigan, Adrienne Rich, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, are near unforgivable .......

For Bloom, the two hundred years prior to Emerson do not exist, but he cannot even get Emerson right ...... Bloom's Emerson appears to be the inventor of a uniquely American creedless religion -- "the American Religion" -- in which Whitman is sometimes Adam, sometimes Christ, sometimes a version of Yahweh. "What is the center of Whitmanian religion? Clearly, it is Walt Whitman himself as Divine, post-Christian yet a messiah, another son of a carpenter who is also a son of God." ......

The myth -- of America as Eden, the American as Adam inventing a new world with no ties or connection to the Old World -- flourished among one strata of influential American intellectuals in mid-century America before the Civil War. But Emerson did not spring fully formed from the soil around Concord, Massachusetts. His American Religion -- and Whitman's, too -- owes much to British and European Romanticism, evolving Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, and pantheism, not to mention concepts from Hinduism and Buddhism, such as Brahma and karma, that were also part of the cultural and intellectual milieu ......

Indeed, Bloom seems to be so anxious to turn the Whitman-Dickinson-Crane tradition into a religion ..... that he ignores religion and the many religious sensibilities that have marked the nation's remarkable religious history. Apart from Emerson, the only references he makes to actual American religious history are to the Second Great Awakening, when he quotes a letter of Dickinson seemingly distancing herself from its emotionalism; Whitman's recollection of Quaker preacher Elias Hicks; and the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801 .....

But no matter ..... the poems themselves, despite some glaring lapses, offer the best antidote to Bloom's bluster and demonstrate the host of religious sensibilities American poets bring to their work. As the poet Samuel Hazo, who compiled a brief volume of contemporary religious poetry in 1963, said of the poems he gathered, they are "testaments of how poets have tried to discover themselves in the world around them, and the world around them in themselves. This is ultimately every poet's mission, and it is a spiritual or religious mission."


Here is one of the poems from the book reviewed above, by Trumbull Stickney ...

And, the Last Day Being Come

And, the last day being come, Man stood alone
Ere sunrise on the world's dismantled verge,
Awaiting how from everywhere should urge
The Coming of the Lord. And, behold, none

Did come, -- but indistinct from every realm
Of earth and air and water, growing more
And louder, shriller, heavier, a roar
Up the dun atmosphere did overwhelm

His ears; and as he looked affrighted round
Every manner of beast innumerable
All thro' the shadows crying grew, until
The wailing was like grass upon the ground.

Asudden then within his human side
Their anguish, since the goad he wielded first,
And, since he gave them not to drink, their thirst,
Darted compressed and vital. -- As he died,

Low in the East now lighting gorgeously
He saw the last sea-serpent iris-mailed
Which, with a spear transfixèd, yet availed
To pluck the sun down into the dead sea.