Friday, May 02, 2003

The Cycle of Nations

Some food for thought and discussion.

We Christians are living in a decidedly difficult time in the life of America. As abortion and general disrespect for human life rise, as the sense of absolute moral values declines, we are certainly in choppy waters. Some Christians, and indeed even some non-Christians, look to the state of our civilization and try to suggest that it is the beginning of the End Times, desparately trying to fit anything into an apocalyptic model, while justifying it by their own interpretation of Bible Prophecy. But if we study the halls of history, is it really true that what we are experiencing now is one-of-a-kind, never before experienced, event? Is this the beginning of an apocalyptic destruction, or is just simply part of the cycle of nations? After all, is it not true that later civilizations tend to make the same mistakes as former civilizations?

When the thirteen colonies were still a part of England, Professor Alexander Tyler wrote about the fall of the Athenian republic over two thousand years previous to that time:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been two hundred years.
Alexander Tyler came up with a sequence of 10 stages that represents the cycle of nations. Kerby Anderson, in his article The Decline of a Nation states:
Each of the great civilizations in the world passed through a series of stages from their birth to their decline to their death. Historians have listed these in ten stages.

These nations have progressed through the following sequence:

     from bondage to spiritual faith,
     from spiritual faith to great courage,
     from courage to liberty,
     from liberty to abundance,
     from abundance to selfishness,
     from selfishness to complacency,
     from complacency to apathy,
     from apathy to moral decay,
     from moral decay to dependency,
     from dependency back to bondage.

Something interesting he notes is that the move from stage to stage is largely dependent upon the value associated with the family, because families are the foundation of a nation. Carl Wilson, in his book Our Dance Has Turned to Death notes a similar set of stages representing the pattern of family decline, based on a study of the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece. This is what he says:
In the first stage, men ceased to lead their families in worship. Spiritual and moral development became secondary. Their view of God became naturalistic, mathematical, and mechanical.

In the second stage, men selfishly neglected care of their wives and children to pursue material wealth, political and military power, and cultural development. Material values began to dominate thought, and the man began to exalt his own role as an individual.

The third stage involved a change in men's sexual values. Men who were preoccupied with business or war either neglected their wives sexually or became involved with lower-class women or with homosexuality. Ultimately, a double standard of morality developed.

The fourth stage affected women. The role of women at home and with children lost value and status. Women were neglected and their roles devalued. Soon they revolted to gain access to material wealth and also freedom for sex outside marriage. Women also began to minimize having sex relations to conceive children, and the emphasis became sex for pleasure. Marriage laws were changed to make divorce easy.

In the fifth stage, husbands and wives competed against each other for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children. This resulted in hostility and frustration and possible homosexuality in the children. Many marriages ended in separation and divorce. Many children were unwanted, aborted, abandoned, molested, and undisciplined. The more undisciplined children became, the more social pressure there was not to have children. The breakdown of the home produced anarchy.

In the sixth stage, selfish individualism grew and carried over into society, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller group loyalties. The nation was thus weakened by internal conflict. The decrease in the birthrate produced an older population that had less ability to defend itself and less will to do so, making the nation more vulnerable to its enemies.

Finally, unbelief in God became more complete, parental authority diminished, and ethical and moral principles disappeared, affecting the economy and government. Thus, by internal weakness and fragmentation the societies came apart. There was no way to save them except by a dictator who arose from within or by barbarians who invaded from without.

A nation will not be strong unless the family is strong. That was true in the ancient world and it is true today.

Interesting. Personally, I think that this model may be a tad over-generalized. But I ask you what you think about this model. What is the current stage of America according to this picture? And what does this say? One thing that one could use in the initial argument, that what we are experiencing now is unparalleled in history, is the fact that the world is so much more globalized than it has been at any other point. There is no longer the same extent of isolation between nations on opposite ends of the globe. Because media is now so ubiquitous, and the advent of the Internet has joined much of the world together, there is much more interaction between nations and global civilizations. Hence, we affect each other uniquely.

And then again, the Cycle of Nations may just be another world theory of doom and gloom. It certainly isn't necessary that we follow the path of some deterministic model.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

John 3:31-36 from today's readings

Qui de sursum venit, supra omnes est;
qui est de terra, de terra est et de terra loquitur.
Qui de caelo venit, supra omnes est;
et quod vidit et audivit, hoc testatur,
et testimonium eius nemo accipit.
Qui accipit eius testimonium, signavit quia Deus verax est.
Quem enim misit Deus, verba Dei loquitur;
non enim ad mensuram dat Spiritum.
Pater diligit Filium et omnia dedit in manu eius.
Qui credit in Filium, habet vitam aeternam;
qui autem incredulus est Filio, non videbit vitam,
sed ira Dei manet super eum.
Nova Vulgata

The one who comes from above is above all.
The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things.
But the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,
but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life,
but the wrath of God remains upon him.
New American

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Vatican Ecumenical Conference on Catholic, Orthodox views on Papal Primacy

Catholic World News reports here about an ecumenical conference being organized under the auspices of the Holy See to engage Catholic and Orthodox scholars in a dialogue on the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

The meeting will be a closed-door session, at which the participants will be scholars drawn from the Catholic and Orthodox traditions... representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church are expected to participate. Vatican officials have been pleased with the recent progress in relations with the Eastern churches. And many officials in Rome are convinced that-- as one official put it-- "the example of an eventual reconciliation with the Orthodox will certainly promote reconciliation with the other Christian denominations."

CWN summarizes the key issue at stake:

Pope John Paul II has made it clear that he has no desire to govern the Orthodox churches in the same way that he governs the Roman Catholic Church. Discussions about Church governance could boil down to questions about the respective powers of the Pope and the patriarchs of the Eastern churches. Before the schism of 1054, one Vatican official notes, the governance of the Church was divided among "the five great patriarchates, managed by five patriarchs who had full authority over their own churches." That historical example might furnish one possible model for the future, in which the Pope-- the Patriarch of Rome-- would be recognized as the "first among equals," with the power to curb the actions of any other patriarch who exceeded his own proper authority. "The question, then," the Vatican official concludes, "is which rights and duties are reserved for the Pope, and which can be left to the other patriarchs." ... Another key question is whether the Pope's primacy should be understood as a primary of honor or a primacy of jurisdiction. The noted French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement, author of a key work on Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, points out that the two possibilities cannot be entirely separated. He observes: "The primacy of honor-- which, we should note, is granted to the Pope by all the Orthodox churches-- must inevitably convey to the Patriarch of Rome some measure of power as well, even if it is only the power of presiding."

In recent years, I have been priviledged to know many Eastern Catholics in union with Rome. In discussing the issue of papal primacy with them, they demonstrate to me that this issue is definitely not irreconcilable, even though historically this issue is probably one of the most difficult and most sensitive of issues to deal with. Unity among the apostolic churches is my solemn prayer.
Let's retrieve more of our Sacred Music heritage!

Thanks to Confessions of an Accidental Choir Director for this link.

The Choral Public Domain Library

The Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) is an internet-based free sheet music which specializes in choral music. Most of the scores are in the public domain, but a growing number of scores are newly composed. The scores are contributed by volunteers, and the website is managed by Rafael Ornes (

Check it out! A real treasure chest of our valuable sacred music heritage - sheet music for Haydn, Mozart, di Lasso, de Victoria, Byrd, Palestrina, and many, many others.
NOW and Connor Peterson's life

Susan Wills, associate director for education with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, issued this statement five days ago with regard to the stubborn consistency of NOW and other pro-abortion groups who object to granting the status of "wanted, loved, living human being" to Laci Peterson's son, Connor, whose body washed ashore a couple of weeks ago. These groups vehemently object to charging Scott Peterson with double homicide because it might give "ammunition" to the pro-life cause (not because of "justice").

In the statement, Wills states that, those who work for the abortion industry react differently to such events. Human feelings are kept in check, while any event or policy that concerns a child before or near birth is minutely scrutinized for its potential to "undermine Roe v. Wade." Anything that threatens the shaky "constitutionality" of Roe must be stopped!

Better to pretend Connor's death was a non-event, reasoned the New Jersey chapter president of NOW who reacted indignantly to the double-murder charge: "If this is murder," she said, "well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder."


Today, their policy is becoming more philosophically consistent, but it's careening ever further from reality, justice and truth. Today the "wanted" child needing protection, assistance and healthcare is dismissed as a nonentity as well. Is there no bottom to Roe's slippery slope?

It doesn't matter that Laci and her family wanted and loved Connor and treated him as though he was a living child as they eagerly awaited his birth. Is this really respectful to Laci? Is this really what being "pro-woman" means to NOW?
Religious Education Congress, part 2

John Allen, Vatican Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, was on site to give another workshop concerning "The Next Pope." Now, I am not a big fan of the National Catholic Reporter, but I do enjoy reading Allen's "The Word From Rome," and I have a lot of respect for his insights. I can tell he has a great respect for the Holy Father as he is very much a part of the "goings on" in Rome. Because he has his ear in a lot of the talk on the streets of Rome with regard particular papal condidates in a future papacy, I figured his workshop would be interesting, and it was.

He prefaced his talk with the warning that "the garbage bins of Rome are filled with the corpses of journalists who have failed to predict the next pope." I was certainly prepared to hear his own personal, speculative opinion, but I was curious.

Allens feels that there are five primary issues considered important to the cardinals right now. These issues are:

1.) Collegiality - How much of a role will the pope have over the goings on in other dioceses?
2.) Ecumenism and dialogue - Will the pope engage ecumenical activities and dialogue with other churches and non-Catholic communities?
3.) Globalization - Will the pope be conscious to globalization?
4.) Bioethics - How will the pope engage such issues as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and euthanasia?
5.) Role of the laity - How will the pope involve laity in particular areas of leadership or decision making?

In addition to these, Allen outlined some particular character traits which he believes are seen by many of the cardinals as ideal in the next pope:

1.) The pope should have a charismatic appeal to the "world stage" (much like our current Holy Father)
2.) The pope should manifest a discernable holiness in his person. This is very improtant.
3.) An older candidate is preferable. A shorter pontificate would best follow a longer and fuller pontificate such as our current pope's.
4.) The pope should come from an area of the world with deep Catholic roots.
5.) The pope should understand the reality of injustice, suffering, and oppression and come from an area of the world, such as the third world, where that is a reality - just as our current pope came from behind the Iron Curtain.

Based on these issues, Allen perceives a "buzz" amongst the cardinals concerning particular papal possibilities, and he narrows them down to 3 candidates:

1.) Claudio Cardinal Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brazil. He is a Franciscan, an athlete, 68 years of age, considered "moderate", well respected by the people, big on social justice issues of the world. Not too charismatic - not able to "set the world on fire."
2.) Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez of Honduras - 60 years of age, very charismatic, speaks 7 languages, licensed pilot, pianist, big on social justice and traveling around the world to speak.
3.) Godfried Cardinal Danneels of Brussels - 68 years of age, one of the great "theological giants" of the Church. Not from the third world, but well respected amongst other Cardinals.

Incidentally, Oscar Rodriguez was a presenter at the Religious Education Congress and was celebrating the Spanish liturgy following the talk! I took the liberty of attending that, and I was impressed by what limited exposure I had of him. I'm not a Spanish speaker, but I was able to interpret some important points he preached about during his homily. He echoed the Holy Father's sentiment concerning war, and also spoke against the injustices of abortion and oppression in the world. He certainly has a "pope-able" demeanor, but what do *I* know about that?

Overall, an interesting analysis, though I should echo that be the next pope "good" or not by our standards, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. I have no worries as long as I trust God who is in control, not us! I thank God for the long and very full pontificate of our current Holy Father, and I was priviledged to have been able to see him and hear him preach at World Youth Day in Toronto last July. I wish him many more years. He is very real about his humanity and is ever careful in his call to holiness and cooperation with God's grace in his life - and ever mindful of challenging the world to join him in living a full and engaging life as Christians in a world in ever desparate need of the Gospel.

What do y'all think about these possible candidates?

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Life is Worth Living: Children

"How dull life would be if a musician were always picking up a violin and a bow, but never producing a melody; or a sculptor were always picking up a chisel, applying it to marble, but never creating a statue; or a poet were putting pen to paper, but never wrote a thoughtful line. Would not the farmer go mad if, each spring after he had planted the seed, he immediately dug it up, went on repeating the silly process, and never waited for fruits and harvests? What would happen to the mind and heart of a woman who, just as soon as the buds began to appear in her garden, cut each of them off, so that she never fondled a rose. Love, by its very nature, wants to bear some fruit; thus is saves itself from a duality that is death... Love is then discovered to be, not like the serpent that crawls on the same level, but rather like a bird that has an ascension of love and begins to taste its sweetest moments in the higher summits of flight."

-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, from his 1950's television series "Life is Worth Living"
Religious Education Congress, part 1

It's been about two months since I attended the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, an event sponsored by the Office of Religious Education with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. While some of the workshops didn't excite me too much, I did have the fortune of attending a few that I found to be really good. (I've actually been meaning to write about them for a while) I'll be blogging about them over the course of the next few days.

One talk I attended concerned Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS). It was given by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA and co-founder of the Center for Life Principles. He gave an excellent lecture refuting the four primary arguments often given to justify PAS. Much of what he said also applies to arguments in favor of abortion, which I will address. Fundamentally, our opposition to PAS, as well as our opposition to abortion, is rooted in our belief that all human beings are created in the Image of God, from which they derive an inherent dignity and value that is holy.

1.) Pain Protocols vs. "Aid in Dying"
One of the arguments used by the Hemlock Society and other supporters of PAS is that its purpose is to relieve the intense pain of terminal illness. What many people do not know is that approx. 90% of the pain in a terminal illness, such a cancer, can be controlled 100% of the time if physicians are only aware of the treatments available and know how to properly medicate their patients. Furthermore, most of the requests for suicide come from patients who also suffer from depression. According to Spitzer, 97% of all suicide requests are reversed when the pain and depression are treated properly. Spitzer did mention that many physicians often avoid certain pain protocols out of fear of a chemical dependency/addiction. But he notes that when you're dealing with a patient who has a terminal illness, this probably shouldn't be the #1 thing to worry about. If the effects of chemical dependency are not too debilitating or dangerous, depending on what those effects are and how the patient is treated, many rejected pain treatments should be frequently reevaluated. Is suicide therefore a necessity?

2.) Options vs. Duties.
Supports of PAS often argue that they are merely fighting to have PAS be another option that people may choose should they need it, and that opponents to PAS should calm down in that nobody is being forced to die. But is this really true? Spitzer brought up Montesquieu who is credited with having said, Frequently enough, one person's options are another person's duties. What this means is that many choices are treated often as duties by our society, depending on the values. This is certainly true in the case of abortion. Consider the poor, unwed mother who is told by society that having a baby will ruin her life, told by the university that she cannot attend school, and is told by employers that she cannot work in a career that she is qualified for and support a child. It is easy to see why abortion may not be seen as an option, but as a duty placed upon the mother. Many women often explain that they felt they had to have an abortion out of necessity - that they felt they had no choice. So it is with PAS. The option to die becomes the duty to die, particularly if you perceive that you may be a burden to your family, or to friends, or to society, especially when your own child or your own doctor is the one who suggests it. Also, insurance companies could offer a discount to those who, thinking they may never need it or use it, allow PAS. What choice does this give to the poor? The key here is to always work for social change. Are we creating a duty by allowing the option to die? Are we creating a duty by allowing abortion?

3.) Quality of Life
This is the argument I hear the most. The argument asserts that the last six months of life are not worth living because your autonomy is decreased, your ambulatory ability is limited, your verbal capacity is decreased, etc. This decrease in powers warrants PAS because your quality of life isn't significant enough to warrant living.

However, for many, especially the Christian, self-possession is not what makes the entirety of quality of life - but rather it is also love and self-transcendence (faith) that make quality of life. And it is true that these often increase significantly prior to death. To articulate this, Spitzer outlined the four levels of happiness (popularized by Life Principles):
    1.) Materialistic: how much money you have, the things that you own.
    2.) Self-possession: Ego-fulfillment, career, personal control,...
    3.) Self-communication: Love, agape, ability to impart wisdom, ability to forgive, reconcile, to make a positive difference, justice, community.
    4.) Self-transcendence: through faith, learn about truth, love, justice, and beauty. Learn about God.

In the last six months of life, the ability of acquiring levels 1 and 2 will decrease, but 3 and 4 can increase. This makes sense since levels 1 and 2 often have immediate and short-term effects, whereas the effects of 3 and 4 are more long term.

Our Catholic tradition also allows for the concept of redemptive suffering - that suffering has redemptive value - it is not always bad, it can be transformative of ourselves and of others. Spitzer notes that God can work even in the comatose and the most vulnerable. If quality of life is what you pay for in life, then the common good is merely a cultural property. This understanding destroys the notion of love of the other, which kills dignity, and eradicates inalienable rights. If you have loved ones suffering from terminal illness, or even loved ones in nursing homes, always let them know how much you value them in your life. Continue to learn from them, allow them to pray for you and with you. As we know from being at grandma's house, being in their very presence is often very empowering.

4.) Effects on culture
This argument asserts that PAS enables cultural advancement because we cannot afford to keep people alive beyond their productive years. But how is productivity defined here? Most supporters of PAS would argue that productivity is defined by self-possession (#2 in the levels of happiness above). But is there no productivity associated with ability to love? Who hasn't been empowered by the love of a grandparent, or by the love of children? This goes way beyond the work place and is not linked to money and economics.

But is PAS a cultural good?

Spitzer quoted Edmund Burke who stated that what you legally sanction becomes normative, and what becomes normative becomes moral. This means that a legal act is interpreted as being an act sanctioned by the government, and effectively, by society. "Everybody does it." But if you legalize/sanction suicide, what are you making moral? Is it not true that a society's youth often initially develops morality based upon what is normative in culture, but this is generally true of society - and the argument can be made that we have seen that effect regarding the issue of abortion.

More tomorrow.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Quasimodo Sunday / Divine Mercy Sunday/ First Sunday after Easter

Yesterday I took a trip down to Ventura for the weekly Tridentine Latin Mass indult at the beautiful San Buenaventura mission, where I heard the words that brought back a flood of memories. Yesterday. the first Sunday after Easter, is traditionally known, primarily in France and other parts of Europe, as "Quasimodo Sunday" because of the beginning words of the Introit which come from 1 Peter 2:2,3: Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus, which in English is: As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet. It is used in the context of this particular Sunday to refer to the newly baptized at Easter as well as applying generally to all of us. But I learned about Quasimodo Sunday about four years before I became a Catholic, and about a year before I ever desired to study the Catholic Church! Though, at the time I did not fully understand the Easter connection as I do now.

Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    "Sixteen years previous to the epoch when this story takes place, one fine morning, on Quasimodo Sunday, a living creature had been deposited, after mass, in the church of Notre- Dame, on the wooden bed securely fixed in the vestibule on the left, opposite that great image of Saint Christopher, which the figure of Messire Antoine des Essarts, chevalier, carved in stone, had been gazing at on his knees since 1413, when they took it into their heads to overthrow the saint and the faithful follower. Upon this bed of wood it was customary to expose foundlings for public charity. Whoever cared to take them did so. In front of the wooden bed was a copper basin for alms. The sort of living being which lay upon that plank on the morning of Quasimodo, in the year of the Lord, 1467, appeared to excite to a high degree, the curiosity of the numerous group which had congregated about the wooden bed."
    -4th Book, Chapter 1.

I first read Hunchback in the 10th grade, and it has always been one of my favorite books, and now that I understand the Easter connection better, I can understand the figure of the Hunchback, named after the Sunday on which he was found, much better than I did then. Victor Hugo's story is a tale of redemption in the face of corruption, the sublime versus the grotesque. While the world prided itself on being beautiful on the outside, yet was bitter and ugly on the inside, only Quasimodo, the disfigured hunchback in Hugo's story, understood the value, and the pain, of being inwardly transformed in the innocent loving of others.


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