Saturday, January 06, 2007

La Chapelle Royale
La Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles, France

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Execution & other thoughts

I haven't had much time to collect my thoughts, but I want to jot some thoughts down. I support Church teaching regarding capital punishment, and in this context I also agree with the thoughts of our late holy father, Pope John Paul II, particularly in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae. His thoughts concerning the prudence of the death penalty are also recorded in our current Catechism. The Catechism discusses the death penalty in the general context of the larger section: Respect for Human Life. Of course, this isn't accidental. Paragraph 2266-2267:
2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. [From Evangelium Vitae:]"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'"
I agree with all of this. Actually, there is a lot packed into those few lines, and much to consider. As a citizen of the United States, I want to mention that I oppose the modern application of the death penalty in this country and would like to see it abolished. Because of the apparently general decrease in the value of life, I tend toward the position that the modern use of the death penalty is more likely an offense to human dignity rather than an affirmation of it. This is not because I think there are no circumstances that warrant it in theory, but because I feel it may be of no practical use today. I am not sure I'm convinced that, as a punishment, it is necessarily "just" in every case, and I don't believe it is necessary to protect society or deter crime, as perhaps it once was. In most cases, at least to me, it seems overly anti-climactic for a society that has grown more adapted to it and perhaps takes it for granted. And of course, there are looming questions of misapplication. That being said, the Church clearly acknowledges the authority of civil authorities to impose it, that in some circumstances it may be considered "just", and I recognize that Catholics disagree with me in good conscience about abolishing it in this country.

I have struggled with my opinion regarding the Iraqi execution of Saddam. I think that executing Saddam may have been one of those rare cases that most likely did serve the best interests of the world and Iraq. He clearly had enormous influence among Iraqis and terrorists alike, both in Iraq and all over the world. However, I'm not ready to say that I know what Iraq should've done. It wasn't my decision to make; it was theirs. I recognize that. However, I can't rejoice in it. It was tragic, and why shouldn't it be? Perhaps not because it wasn't just, but tragic perhaps because it's sad that human beings, sinners, with limited understanding, have to be put in a situation to judge whether another sinner's death may be necessary for some "greater good" of society or for some punishment that appears "just". Just as in some cases, war may be necessary and even just - that doesn't mean war isn't any less hell.

So what about the Vatican's statement regarding the execution of Saddam? Their response seems perfectly consistent with what I would expect. Did nobody cringe when Pope John Paul II appealed to President Bush for the life of convicted mass murderer Timothy McVeigh, or when the pope publicly opposed the war in Iraq? I don't see any repudiation of the Church's actual teaching, but I do see a shift in the way the Church engages these important issues with the modern world, a world that seems to devalue basic human dignity in each succeeding generation. And so the Church has clearly taken a radical position on what constitutes prudence when seeking to apply the death penalty. It is radical to insist that even notorious murderers have a basic, innate human dignity. Of course, this means that human dignity is of immense value. What I see seems perfectly in line with what the Church said about its attempts to engage the modern world with the Gospel in Gaudium et Spes from the Second Vatican Council. I am quite frankly puzzled why a few bloggers find the Vatican's statement and leanings so troubling. What few answers I have received from these bloggers have been less than satisfactory, and the more I attempt to probe this question, the more questions I have. Again, from Gaudium et Spes:
Therefore, this sacred synod, proclaiming the noble destiny of man and championing the Godlike seed which has been sown in him, offers to mankind the honest assistance of the Church in fostering that brotherhood of all men which corresponds to this destiny of theirs. Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit...

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.
Man's questions about this present life and the life to come remaining perennial, and Church teaching remaining consistent, do we really expect the Church to engage the world in the same fashion it did 500 years ago?
Pray for grandmother

Tonight, I found out that my paternal grandmother suffered a massive stroke this morning near her home in Indiana, with internal bleeding in her brain. She's alive, but she's in grave condition. Please pray for her!
R.I.P. Gerald Ford

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

We just returned home from spending the weekend with family in Abilene, TX. We chose to take a shortcut from Houston using Texas' many intersecting highways, passing through many interesting small towns. But what we thought was the most direct route turned out to be a fairly long, 7-hr drive, longer than we expected -- which is saying a lot since my family and I have crossed Texas end-to-end by car many, many times over the last 28 years. We had no illusions about the size of Texas, but next time, we'll contemplate taking the less direct, but still slightly faster and more efficient interstate system!

However, it was a fun trip. We spent the early evening of New Years Eve watching a showing of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on the original film at the restored 1930's Paramount Theater in downtown Abilene, and then we spent the rest of the night watching the Twilight Zone marathon with family. And yet, the trip was not without its frustrations... including a minor auto accident and an overflowing toilet in our hotel room. Grr... but such, at times, is life and sanctification. It was great to see family.


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