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A Pontifical Council for US - part I PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 02 July 2010 12:21

For the first time in a quarter century a new Pontifical Council has been mandated; one that is not a reorganization of an existing council, but something new.  At the vigil of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Holy Father announced the establishment of the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization.  This is, of course, the same New Evangelization that Pope John Paul II spoke of in his apostolic letter, At the Beginning of the Third Millennium.  In it, he wrote, "the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes.  No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples."  Mission of the Redeemer, 3

In that same text, Pope John Paul II identified three aspects of this new evangelization.  One was what we often think of as evangelization - bringing the Gospel to those who have not heard it before.  "To preach the Gospel and to establish new Churches among peoples or communities where they do not yet exist, ... this is the first task of the Church." Mission of the Redeemer, 34.  But he also identified healthy and mature Catholic communities in which the faith is alive, along with a sense of the mission to the world.  These situations require normal pastoral care, ongoing proclamation, the discernment of gifts and personal vocations, and other aspects of Christian catechesis and formation.

Finally, in Mission of the Redeemer, Pope John Paul II spoke of our situation in the U.S., Western Europe, and other developed, traditionally Christian nations.  He addressed the fact that a living sense of faith no longer exists, and that many are unchurched.  He wrote, "In this case what is needed is a 'new evangelization' or a 're-evangelization.'" Mission of the Redeemer, 33. It is this third situation which, apparently, the new Pontifical Council is meant to address.

"Pope Benedict said he received this legacy upon his own election to the Chair of Peter, and noted the challenges of the present time are mostly spiritual. He said he wanted to give the new Pontifical Council the task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries with deep Christian roots which are now experiencing a sense of the 'eclipse of God', and becoming increasingly secularized. He said this situation presents a challenge in finding the appropriate means in which to revive the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ."  (Vatican Radio brief)

We need to be clear about what this third aspect of the New Evangelization means, and I think there has been a great misunderstanding of it for some time.  As an example, deacon Keith Fournier of Catholic Online writes, "There is a desperate need for such a new evangelization in the secularized Western world. Many Catholics do not know what the Church actually teaches. Some have embraced what is often called a 'cafeteria Catholicism'- choosing what parts of their faith they will follow. Others bearing the title Christian profess the Creed but confine its influence only to recitation at the Liturgy on Sunday."

This is typical of what I hear in my travels to different parts of the country - evangelization most often understood as catechesis.  Often there are a few digs made about the quality of catechesis immediately following the Second Vatican Council, characterized as an abandonment of rote memorization of texts from the Baltimore catechism to the Gospel simply as "God loves you," and "let's cut and paste some pretty pictures for Jesus."

While catechesis is a part of evangelization, it is the tail end of a long process which, theoretically, begins in the domestic Church - the family home - as parents proclaim the Gospel to their children and introduce them to a life of prayer and service to others.

Next week, I'll look at a wonderful, and perhaps largely unknown document, that might give us some insights into what this Pontifical Council might be about - or at least what I hope it will be about.  And it will probably look a lot different than what Deacon Fournier is imaging, I think!  Have a great, safe, Fourth of July celebration.

Does Faith Matter in Jurisprudence? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 01 July 2010 16:04

Justice John Paul Stevens announced in April his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, prompting waves of speculation on whether the departure of the Court's only Protestant—six remaining justices are Catholic and two are Jewish—will matter. Elena Kagan, who has been nominated by President Obama to the open seat, identifies with Conservative Judaism, and has garnered at least some bipartisan support. Christianity Today posted an interesting series of comments on the issue of a Protestant-free Supreme Court.  The responses given by a variety of what I presume are Catholic and Protestant (or possibly unchurched) members of academia speak, perhaps unconsciously, to the state of religion in public discourse.

For the most part the respondents thought, as far as I could tell, that it would not make any difference whether there were Protestants on the land's highest court or not, although Dr. Noll indicates that it matters that this could be the situation by the end of the month.  He doesn't elaborate why he thinks it matters, although it could simply be a lack of diversity.  Here are a few of their comments.

"Does it matter for this particular appointee? I would say no. The question for this appointee, like all appointees, should be, 'Is the person nominated, qualified?' If the person is Catholic, Jewish, nominally Protestant, actually Protestant, or Muslim is relevant, but the key matter is to have a responsible jurist. [But] does it matter that the situation has come to this point? Yes, it does."

Mark Noll, professor of history, University of Notre Dame

"Who we are affects how we view things. In a small group like the Supreme Court, all of a person's identity features will affect how that small group of people makes decisions. But it's not clear if religion will be a principal motivating force in someone's time on the Court. Data from the lower court level suggests identity as a member of the religious right can affect decision-making on a fairly narrow subset of issues—capital punishment, gender discrimination, and obscenity. But the Supreme Court is small, and ideology and judicial philosophy play a very big role in guiding decision-making."

Stacey Hunter Hecht, professor of political science, Bethel University

"It's far less significant or important that there be a Protestant on the Court or a Catholic or something else, just by the identity of their ecclesiastical connections. I also think it's not very important there be someone on the court who is old, young, black, white, bald or not. It comes down to judicial philosophy, and at that point the question will be how well-formed and how critically thoughtful will a justice be in dealing with the responsibility they have."

James Skillen, senior fellow, Center for Public Justice

"The category of Protestant is so large that it's really not a meaningful barometer of judicial philosophy, just as the word Catholic is so large that it's not a barometer. Judicial philosophy is what's most significant. It's much more helpful to know whether a candidate for the Supreme Court believes the Constitution should be interpreted as it was written, or whether new meaning can be ascribed to the existing Constitution."

Tom Minnery, senior vice president, CitizenLink (formerly Focus on the Family Action)

What I find disturbing is that essentially what's being said is 'the faith of the judge is less important than his or her judicial principles'.  But what forms those principles, if not faith? Politics? Legal theory? Philosophy? Personality? It's significant that, for example, 'judicial philosophy' seems to trump faith for Mr. Minnery, who is associated with the conservative Christian website CitizenLink.  It seems our American society - even Christians within it - presumes that faith has no real impact in the way people - including judges - attend to their secular professions.  In other words, we've internalized the so-called 'separation of Church and state' to such a degree that faith truly has no real role in the day-to-day lives of Americans.  This is quite different from the perspective of the Catholic Church.  For example, Pope Paul VI, wrote

"While recognizing the autonomy of the reality of politics, Christians who are invited to take up political activity should try to make their choices consistent with the gospel and, in the framework of a legitimate plurality, to give both personal and collective witness to the seriousness of their faith by effective and disinterested service of men."

Pope Paul VI, A Call to Action, 46

Recently, Pope Benedict wrote about the responsibility of the baptized in working to promote the common good and the correct ordering of society:

The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation “in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.”  The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.

Deus Caritas Est, 29

If even Christians think it's normal that faith should not play any significant role in the decisions of a justice on the Supreme Court, is this a good thing?  The presumption seems to be that the basis for justice in the U.S. is the Constitution, but the Constitution itself was born out of the aspirations of men of faith, and the Supreme Court justices are constantly being asked to interpret that document.  It would seem to me that the faith of a justice should be a part of that interpretation.

I would welcome comments, particularly from people with a deeper understanding of our jurisprudence system.

Eastern Tiger Butterflys Prowling the Rockies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 01 July 2010 09:12


Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on the blue Penstemons in my yard.  I noted it because of the lovely blue little "panels" almost like stain glass, on the butterfly's tail.  Which apparently means it was a female.

Wikipedia says this buttefly only extends to "extreme eastern Colorado" and is the state butterfly of Georgia.  Living 130 miles from the Kansas border at the foot of Pike's Peak doesn't qualify as "extreme eastern".   So I just wanted to note this in case there were butterfly trackers out there.

According to this very cool website, Butterflys and Moths of North America, it has been spotted in my county before.  You can look up your own county at this site and see the list of butterflys and moths that have been seen there - and find out if you are the first!

Fr. Michael Sweeney on "Re-Visioning Society" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 01 July 2010 08:36

Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, who founded the Institute with me on this date in 1997 and is now President of the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, has his own blog.  It is called "Re-Visioning Society".

It is Michealian to the core.  Those of us who enjoyed Fr. Michael as our pastor in Seattle, used to refer to "Michaelian" ideas, language, gestures, and sense of time (infinitely flexible!.  Fr. Michael is incapable of thinking in sound bites.  Those of you who are familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas will recognize a certain formality of cadence and progression of thought along with a sparkling wit.  Here's a taste of his first post:

"  . . . ad hominem posturing substitutes for real political conversation. Very occasionally, it can be memorably clever --recall Winston Churchill's characterization of Clement Attlee as "a sheep in sheep's clothing." More often, it is mind-numbingly banal (I refer the reader to the Chronicle article).

I would like, therefore, to make a modest proposal: that we insist upon civil conversation concerning what our public figures actually say, and refuse judgment based upon hearsay, or, what amounts to the same thing, partisan politics."

Go over and join in.  Fr. Michael enjoys a energetic, even combative, conversion - as long as it is thoughtful.  Those who prefer to substitute sound bites and culture war cliches for real questions and real thought, will not find Fr. Michael to their taste.


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