Charlie Brown, Pope Francis and Political Economy

Remember the teacher’s voice in the Charlie Brown cartoons “Wah, wah, wah”?

That’s what I hear when I listen (most) clergy talk about economics and business.  You know it’s not uncommon for clergy to hold forth about these matters even while professing no particular expertise on the subject. As a result what they usually offer is a pretentious muddled folly that seeks to justify itself by falsely claiming to be a brave prophetic stance. Continue reading

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The Goals and Limits of Secular Goverment

According to the Washington Post (here), hardly a right-wing publication, President Obama lied:

The Pinocchio Test

The administration is defending this pledge with a rather slim reed — that there is nothing in the law that makes insurance companies force people out of plans they were enrolled in before the law passed. That explanation conveniently ignores the regulations written by the administration to implement the law. Moreover, it also ignores the fact that the purpose of the law was to bolster coverage and mandate a robust set of benefits, whether someone wanted to pay for it or not.

The president’s statements were sweeping and unequivocal — and made both before and after the bill became law. The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency.

The president’s promise apparently came with a very large caveat: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan — if we deem it to be adequate.”

Four Pinocchios

I bring this up not out of partisan concern but because of the religious liberty issues raised by the Affordability Care Act and the administration’s own policies that seek to enforce as a matter of federal law a sexual (im-)morality that is contrary to both natural law and the Gospel. Worse still, however, is the (mis-)use of the authority of government to require that citizens become active collaborators in supporting policies that violate their consciences. Continue reading

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Have We Lost Sight of the Truth of Faith?

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Source: NCRegister.com.

Pope Francis to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: “My Brother Andrew”

The most beautiful of Benedict XVI’s lessons on ecumenism was probably the homily the pope emeritus delivered during the Mass that concluded the last Schuelerkreis meeting — the annual gathering of his former students that has met since the 1970s.

Benedict invited his pupils not to limit themselves to listening to the word of God; they must practice it.

This is a warning about the intellectualization of the faith and of theology. It is one of my fears at this time, when I read so many intellectual things: They become an intellectual game in which ‘we pass each other the ball,’ in which everything is an intellectual sphere that does not penetrate and form our lives, and, thus, does not lead us to the truth.

Can a theological debate lose sight of the truth of faith?

Between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, it was so. Papal primacy and papal infallibility have been the most dividing topics of discussion between the Eastern and Western Churches — otherwise so close,

….

Dominican Bishop Charles Morerod of Switzerland [in] an interview with 30 Giorni magazine in 2010, … explained that the problem of papal infallibility for the Orthodox Church comes from its insistence on the fact that “faith is never the result of a poll with a prevailing majority,” and he noted that, from the Catholic side, “fair and understandable statements on this issue have been written in the document for the gift of the authority, drafted from the Commission for the Dialogue Among Catholics and Anglicans” in 1998.

That document states that “any solemn sentence pronounced from the chair of Peter in the Church of Peter and Paul can only express faith in the Church.” The document also acknowledges that the “bishop of Rome, in peculiar circumstances, has the duty to discern and make explicit the faith of the baptized in commnion, and only this,” and that the specific Petrine ministry of the universal primate is a “gift” that all Christian churches should accept.

….

[The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI] last month, however, shuffles the cards…. There has always been the possibility of a papal resignation. But it is also true that it had not happened for nearly 600 years. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.

Most Orthodox criticisms of papal primacy were based on this: While in the first millennium the primacy of the bishop of Rome was exercised in a way that might be a model to now unify the separated Church, there has been a second millennium in which the primacy of the pope was interpreted and lived, in the West, in increasingly accentuated forms, far from the ones that the Churches of the East are willing to accept today.

With his resignation, Benedict XVI in fact made this contrast less accentuated, by making the bishop of Rome a primus inter pares, able to resign like other bishops. This is more acceptable for Eastern Churches. And with his own accentuation of his role as bishop of Rome following his election, Pope Francis also has indicated his aim to reach a fully ecumenical unity.

 

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Part III: To Believe & to Know: Intellectual Formation & Joy

HighPriest21The Presence of Joy. Other projects have distracted me and kept me from continuing with my earlier series of posts on formation (you can read them here, here and here). I want now to pick up where I left off in July and look briefly with you at the intellectual formation of clergy (and by implication, of the laity).

Recently there has been a series of essays on natural law. What makes these essays especially interesting to me is that the series was inspired by the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart‘s rejection of natural law in an article in First Things (here, with follow-up pieces here and here). While I admire the beauty and elegance of Hart’s language, I find myself agreeing with his critics. There are to be sure various theories of natural law but the Christian (and after reading Levinas’s (1969, 1987) work, I would say the biblical) understanding of natural law is rooted in a careful attention to human experience. Hart, like the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras (1984), rejects natural law as such but a natural law rooted in ontological abstraction. Natural law in the biblical sense does not seek to draw ethical conclusions from abstract ontology speculation but from human experience.

Attending to my experience I realize that I only want to be happy. Looking a bit more closely at myself I realize that some things make me happier than other but that sometimes even the best things can leave me feeling empty. I also realize some things bring me only a temporary feeling of happiness—they make me happy for the  moment—while other things have the ability to bring me a lasting happiness. The Christian tradition calls this latter, lasting happiness, joy. So my experience tells me that not only can I be happy I can be joyful. There are thoughts and actions that bring me a kind of happiness that is not dependent on circumstances event. The paradox of joy is that it transcends the very circumstances that revealed it  to me. My thoughts and actions embody what Paul Ricoeur calls a “surplus of meaning” (1976). Sensitivity to this surplus of meaning, to the transcendent dimension of human experience, is essential to a wholesome human life and especially to the Christian life.

Continue reading

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