Saturday, November 15, 2003

Separation of Church and State?

My regional bishop, Bishop Thomas Curry, always has very good and interesting things to say regarding this issue. The Tidings just published his latest article:

Church and State: The separationists' coup
The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting of the free exercise thereof?." The Constitution contains no mention of separation of Church and State.

Nevertheless, in one of the greatest coups in American history, "separationists" have managed to interpret that to mean that government has power to create a "wall of separation between Church and State," thus transforming the government of limited and specified powers guaranteed by the Founders into an all-powerful system that includes ultimate authority over both Church and State...

There can be no establishment of religion if the government has no power or jurisdiction over religious issues. If the government confines itself to its own limited secular sphere, people will enjoy the free exercise of their natural right to religious liberty, i.e., free from government interference. To claim that government is empowered to separate Church and State is to argue for an absolute State and to pose a dire threat to the liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Bishop Curry has spoken at length about this issue in the past, and I think he is always right on.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Online Videos from Catholic Communication Campaign

FYI: At the website for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are a number of brief streaming videos available from the Catholic Communication Campaign on various topics of interest to the Church, both nationally and internationally, such as ministry, seminary, ecumenism, Pope John Paul II, Steubenville Youth Conferences, and a bunch of other stuff...

... like this MediaPlayer clip about World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto (or in RealPlayer fmt) along with comments from the pope, from pilgrims there, and various scenes.

... and also, this MediaPlayer clip of the Easter Liturgy from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (or in Real Player fmt) that seems fairly well done. Whatever your opinion of the Cathedral's architecture, it is my opinion that one has to see the Cathedral in person to make a final judgement, because in my view, pictures have not been able to do it justice. Admittedly, the modern architecture isn't what I personally would have preferred, but after making a point to visit the Cathedral myself, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, particularly at the attention to detail. I particularly liked the Crypt Chapel for St. Vibiana. Additionally, the mass I attended there, with my Archbishop, Roger Cardinal Mahony, as celebrant, was very reverent and very well done. But again, if you are ever in the area, I encourage you go to and see all of this for yourself and form your opinion accordingly.
New Bishops' Statements

Popular Devotional Practices: Questions and Answers - Interesting Q&A on the differences between liturgy and devotional practices, and their proper role in the life of Catholics in light of culture and other elements. Also includes an appendix articulating the use of indulgences attached to various devotional practices.

Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions - An articulation of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to marriage.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Reflections on the Dead

I often think of St. Perpetua's account of praying for her dead brother, Dinocrates, when I reflect on how God can at times give sudden impulses to pray for the dead. St. Perpetua was had been a catechumen in early 3rd century Rome. She was martyred in the Roman circus with St. Felicity and others. Interestingly, her brother, Dinocrates, died a pagan at the young age of seven. In The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity, written in approximately 202 AD, we find the account of Perpetua's martyrdom, along with visions she is alledged to have had. The story of these particular visions begins in Chapter 2, paragraph 3 with the first vision, a sad vision of suffering after death. The accounts are better understood in the context of the whole Martyrdom, but for brevity I will only examine the accounts themselves.
After a few days, whilst we were all praying, on a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, there came to me a word, and I named Dinocrates; and I was amazed that that name had never come into my mind until then, and I was grieved as I remembered his misfortune. And I felt myself immediately to be worthy, and to be called on to ask on his behalf. And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid colour, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age who died miserably with disease-his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death caused repugnance to all men. For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. And moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool full of water, having its brink higher than was the stature of the boy; and Dinocrates raised himself up as if to drink. And I was grieved that, although that pool held water, still, on account of the height to its brink, he could not drink. And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. ... I made my prayer for my brother day and night...
Perpetua's story continues in paragraph 4 with a second vision, a happy vision of hope and of faithful answer to prayer:
Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy's navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from his suffering.
Now, as with all mystical visions, I don't interpret this story as being part of the fullness of revelation given in Christ, but I refer to it only because it has inspired christians not to forsake the connection between the living and the dead - a familial love that transcends physical life - in spite of the chasm or interval between the two states. This story also represents a little bit of the early church's developing understanding of purification after death. Perhaps it is implied that Dinocrates' suffering is due to the fact that he died a pagan and not a christian, though he was seven years of age, and had not had the opportunity to be baptized. The experience links with Perpetua's own understanding of her impending demise and the suffering that she regularly endured from endless persecution.

I also don't necessarily read this piece as an exact physical description of a place called Purgatory. Though the early christians regularly prayed for their dead and, as I said above, had an understanding of purification after death, at that time, the articulation of the state of translation that later came to be defined as Purgatory was only in its initial stages of development. Rather, as with any vision, I read it as an idea articulated through the use of various images that each contain various meanings. Even if Perpetua saw exactly what she described and believed it, it doesn't necessarily preclude the use of imagery, even in her own personal interpretation of the vision, which is often characteristic of the visions alledged by other saints concerning this and other subjects.

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Reflections on Abortion and Women's rights

On Sunday, Christina and I joined our friends down in front of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara to pray the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy and the Rosary at 3pm, the hour of divine mercy. We prayed for an end to abortion, for all victims of abortion, including the women who are driven to them, the men who cooperate with them, and the children who die. We also prayed for Terri Schiavo. It was Sunday, of course, so the clinic was closed. I was also reflecting just on when, how, and why abortion became so intertwined with the women's movement, particularly in the United States, and I've often asked myself how it is in other countries.

Many of you know, and I've stated this many times on this blog, that, contrary to what we understand as the modern feminist movement within the United States, classical american feminism has always been consistently pro-life, viewing abortion as the ultimate form of oppression of women and children. Activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton successfully argued for the illegalization of abortion and abortifacient methods that were, at the time, very prevalent and fairly easily obtainable.

So what happened? As I understand it, building on a foundation influenced largely by eugenic and even Nazi philosophy, characters such as Margaret Sanger and her Birth Control Federation of America sought to introduce abortion into American society as a means of controlling birth rates among poor and disabled persons. It didn't have anything to do with empowering women or women not wanting their children. At least, not until the mid-20th-century. To cloud its ties to eugenics and nazi philosophy, the Birth Control Federation of America changed their name to Planned Parenthood. In the 1960's and early 1970's, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, cofounder of NARAL, helped to convince the media and the women's movement that abortion was somehow their issue, as he wrote in his Confession of an Ex-Abortionist:
We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal enlightened, sophisticated one. Knowing that if a true poll were taken, we would be soundly defeated, we simply fabricated the results of fictional polls. We announced to the media that we had taken polls and that 60% of Americans were in favour of permissive abortion. This is the tactic of the self-fulfilling lie. Few people care to be in the minority. We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000. These false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans convincing many that we needed to crack the abortion law. Another myth we fed to the public through the media was that legalising abortion would only mean that the abortions taking place illegally would then be done legally. In fact, of course, abortion is now being used as a primary method of birth control in the U.S. and the annual number of abortions has increased by 1500% since legalisation.

We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its "socially backward ideas" and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion. This theme was played endlessly. We fed the media such lies as "we all know that opposition to abortion comes from the hierarchy and not from most Catholics" and "Polls prove time and again that most Catholics want abortion law reform". And the media drum-fired all this into the American people, persuading them that anyone opposing permissive abortion must be under the influence of the Catholic hierarchy and that Catholics in favour of abortion are enlightened and forward-looking. An inference of this tactic was that there were no non- Catholic groups opposing abortion. The fact that other Christian as well as non-Christian religions were {and still are) monolithically opposed to abortion was constantly suppressed, along with pro-life atheists' opinions.

A favourite pro-abortion tactic is to insist that the definition of when life begins is impossible; that the question is a theological or moral or philosophical one, anything but a scientific one. Foetology makes it undeniably evident that life begins at conception and requires all the protection and safeguards that any of us enjoy. Why, you may well ask, do some American doctors who are privy to the findings of foetology, discredit themselves by carrying out abortions? Simple arithmetic at $300 a time, 1.55 million abortions means an industry generating $500,000,000 annually, of which most goes into the pocket of the physician doing the abortion. It is clear that permissive abortion is purposeful destruction of what is undeniably human life. It is an impermissible act of deadly violence. One must concede that unplanned pregnancy is a wrenchingly difficult dilemma, but to look for its solution in a deliberate act of destruction is to trash the vast resourcefulness of human ingenuity, and to surrender the public weal to the classic utilitarian answer to social problems.
Dr. Nathanson admitted to having performed as many as 75,000 abortions, including the killing his own child. Soon, Planned Parenthood began to setup clinics, not in well-to-do areas, but in extremely poor areas of cities, areas with large minority populations. In many circles, abortion was and is seen as inseparable from the women's rights movement and, very frequently, an attack upon abortion is seen as an attack on women themselves. Susan B. Anthony has to be rolling in her grave.

Dr. Nathanson changed his mind on the issue of abortion and went on to become one of the leading pro-life activists in the United States, producing such famous films as The Silent Scream. He has also written a few insightful books detailing his testimony:
Aborting America
The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind
Later, he was even baptized into the Roman Catholic Church.

We were duped in this nation. How have we become so blind? Why can there be no honest reflection and discussion? A little education can be a dangerous thing. Even when Norma McCorvey and Dr. Bernard Nathanson raise their voice, they are discredited by the women's movement as being kooks, against women, and out of step with America. Is this true? The pro-life movement within America has been gaining steam, though at times it seems like an uphill battle. Yet there is a lot of discouragement, particularly when individuals, particularly church leaders, shy away from confronting this issue. And we have Howard Dean who, as a physician, is proud to have sat on the board of Planned Parenthood in Vermont.


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