Saturday, April 28, 2007

Seeking the Kingdom of God on Earth. Is it the First Temptation?

Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1308 – 1311)

Pope Benedict’s new book Jesus of Nazareth has just been released, a book being described as one that "seeks to salvage the person of Jesus from recent 'popular' depictions and to restore Jesus’ true identity as discovered in the Gospels." At the same time, according to this article:

In a preface, the pope makes an unusual disclaimer, saying the book should not be read as an expression of official church teaching, but as the fruits of his personal research.

"Therefore, anyone is free to contradict me," he said.

Not to sound impertinent (I applaud the fact that he has written this book), but thank you Holy Father, for writing something that you admit is an invitation to dialogue, and does not have to be held definitively by the faithful.

Apparently the book contains some strong criticism of globalization and capitalism in the way it has been practiced by first-world countries, and it takes those countries to task for having mercilessly "plundered and sacked" Africa and other poor regions, and for having exported to them the "cynicism of a world without God". My goodness... Does he sound like one of those liberation theology guys?

Not exactly. A self-described Augustinian through and through, the Holy Father clearly sees a distinction between the City of God and the City of Man... and a Kingdom that is not of this world.

Benedict XVI said Christ must be understood as the Son of God on a divine mission, not as a mere moralist or social reformer... While Christ did not bring a blueprint for social progress, he did bring a new vision based on love that challenges the evils of today's world -- from the brutality of totalitarian regimes to the "cruelty of capitalism," he said.

The idea that the meek or the poor are particularly blessed has struck some -- including the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche -- as a resentful complaint against the world's more fortunate or successful people, the pope said.

But recent decades have demonstrated the lasting value of this Christian vision, he said. After witnessing the way totalitarian regimes of the modern era have trampled human dignity and beaten the weak, "we understand once again those who have hunger and thirst for justice," he said.

"Faced with the abuse of economic power, faced with the cruelty of capitalism that downgrades man to a commodity, we have begun to see more clearly the dangers of wealth and understand in a new way what Jesus meant when he warned against wealth," he said.

The pope said the widespread modern expectation that religion should act as a recipe for earthly peace and justice finds an echo in Satan's temptation to Christ -- to change the stones of the desert into bread to relieve his hunger.

Still, many people may ask "what Jesus really brought, if not peace in the world, well-being for everyone, a better world," the pope wrote.

"The answer is very simple. He brought God," he said. By revealing himself as the Son of God, Christ lets people know that God is close to their lives and at work in human history, he said.

With all due respect to the Holy Father, this is where he loses me a little bit. I'm not sure what it means to say that God is at work in human history, yet to deny the expectation that religion should act as a recipe for earthly peace and justice. God works through the human. I am, however, very familiar with this way of looking at faith and the meaning of Christ's life and of the Cross. In his distrust of mixing Christ with man-made political solutions, especially those that smack in some way of socialism, he echoes very much what we used to hear from the great Cold-Warrior Fulton Sheen on the meaning of "the temptation to turn stones into bread". From his book Life of Christ:

Knowing that Our Lord was hungry, Satan pointed down to some little black stones that resembled round loaves of bread, and said: If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Matthew 4:3

The first temptation of Our Blessed Lord was to become a kind of social reformer, and to give bread to the multitudes in the wilderness who could find nothing there but stones. The vision of social amelioration without spiritual regeneration has constituted a temptation to which many important men in history have succumbed completely. But to Him, this would not be adequate service of the Father; there are deeper needs in man than crushed wheat; and there are greater joys than the full stomach.

The evil spirit was saying, "Start with the primacy of the economic! Forget about sin!" He still says this today in different words, "My Commissar goes into classrooms and asks children to pray to God for bread. And when their prayers are not answered, my Commissar feeds them. The Dictator gives bread; God does not, because there is no God, there is no soul; there is only the body, pleasure, sex, the animal, and when we die, that is the end." Satan was here trying to make Our Lord feel the terrific contrast between the Divine greatness He claimed and His actual destitution. He was tempting Him to reject the ignominies of human nature, the trials and the hunger, and to use the Divine power, if He really possessed it, to save His human nature and also to win the mob. Thus, he was appealing to Our Lord to stop acting as a man, and in the name of man, and to use His supernatural powers to give His human nature ease, comfort, and immunity from trial. What could be more foolish than for God to be hungry, when He had once spread a miraculous table in the desert for Moses and his people? John had said that He could raise up children of Abraham for Himself. The need was real; the power, if He was God, was also real; why then was He submitting His human nature to all the ills and sufferings to which mankind is heir? Why was God accepting such humiliation just to redeem His own creatures? "If You are the Son of God, as you claim to be, and You are here to undo the destruction wrought by sin, then save Yourself." It was exactly the same kind of temptation men would hurl at Him in the hour of His Crucifixion...

Our Lord was not denying that men must be fed, or that social justice much be preached; but He was asserting that these things are not first. He was, in effect, saying to Satan, "You tempt Me to a religion which would relieve want; you want Me to be a baker, instead of a Savior; to be a social reformer, instead of a Redeemer. You are tempting Me away from My Cross, suggesting that I be a cheap leader of people, filling their bellies instead of their souls. You would have Me begin with security instead of ending with it; you would have Me bring outer abundance instead of inner holiness. You and your materialist followers say, `Man lives by bread alone,' but I say to you, `Not by bread alone.' Bread there must be, but remember even bread gets ill its power to nourish mankind from Me. Bread without Me can harm man; and there is no real security apart from the Word of God. If I give bread alone, then man is no more than an animal, and dogs might as well come first to My banquet. Those who believe in Me must hold to that faith, even when they are starved and weak; even when they are imprisoned and scourged.

"I know about human hunger! I have gone without food Myself for forty days. But I refuse to become a mere social reformer who caters only to the belly. You cannot say that I am unconcerned with social justice, for I am feeling at this moment the hunger of the world. I am One with every poor, starving member of the human race. That is why I have fasted: so that they can never say that God does not know what hunger is. Begone, Satan! I am not just a social worker who has never been hungry Himself, but One who says, `I reject any plan which promises to make men richer without making them holier.' Remember! I Who say, `Not by bread alone,' have not tasted bread for forty days!"

In his days as head of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger was well-known for his criticism of liberation theology in Latin America, and for his campaign against it. Much of that criticism was for LT's ecclesiology. Recently the Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino received a notification questioning certain elements of his christology.

If I may be so bold, it is my own humble opinion that the Pope makes a certain caricature of it. I wouldn't go as far as to say that he doesn't understand it. Joseph Ratzinger is well-known for having a deep understanding of everything that ever crosses his desk, but for some reason, he seems to construct a straw-man to attack out of LT and describes its theologians in ways that they wouldn't describe themselves. Perhaps he is more afraid of where he thinks it will lead instead of what it is.

If he is including LT in his latest critique (and granted, I'm not 100% sure he is), he is making the mistake of applying to them the same critique that Sheen rightly made concerning the secular socialists - that Jesus was only a social reformer. As far as I understand any of the liberation theologians, they would never claim that about Jesus. I admit that I'm not very far into Sobrino's book, but it seems to me that what he is getting at is the importance of stressing Jesus' message about the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which historical-Jesus research indicates was concerned about this world as well as the next world. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven... ". Sobrino lays emphasis on his thesis that the Kindom of God message should not be as totally subsumed to the more traditionally "orthodox" christological doctrines as it has been up until now, particularly in places like Latin America. In his view, the living out of the Gospel has suffered in Latin America under a sort of quietistic piety that has failed to challenge societies to recognize the importance of God's justice in both the Old and New Testaments, in which God's people are trusting in His strong arm for their liberation and deliverance.

In short, I don't think Sobrino is trying to replace "orthodox" christology with another type. I think he is issuing the challenge that "orthodox" christology should be careful not truncate the full Gospel message.

The early Christians were able to massively transform the world in a non-violent way ("look how they love one another"). Today we hear all too often how the non-Christian world fails to hear the "Good News" because quite frankly, Christians don't act like Christians... We haven't practiced what we preach. Is it too much to expect the world to be transformed? The earliest believers certainly expected to see it transformed. Did the other-worldly message start to get more emphasis when Jesus did not immediately return, and the Kingdom did not arrive as expected? Why do we push the other-worldly message at the expense of the this-worldly message so strongly? Do we lack the faith that Christ really can work through us to bring justice and transformation? If so, does that say more about a desire to preserve and perpetuate a system than a desire to live out the Gospel? An excerpt from the Introduction to Jon Sobrino's Jesus the Liberator.

Christology can be useful to good ends, but can also be used to bad ends, which should not surprise us, since, being made by human beings, it is also subject to sinfulness and manipulation. We should not forget that historically there have been heretical christologies, which have truncated the total truth of Christ, and, worse, there have been objectively harmful christologies, which have put forward a different Christ and even one objectively contrary to Jesus of Nazareth. Let us remember that this continent has been subjected to centuries of inhuman and anti-Christian oppression, without christology giving any sign of having noticed this and certainly without it providing any prophetic denunciation in the name of Jesus Christ.

In this way christology, even in its orthodox forms, can become a mechanism to prevent faith from guiding the faithful to reproduce the reality of Jesus in their own lives and to build the Kingdom of God, proclaimed by Jesus, in history. This is why Juan Luis Segundo, using a deliberately shocking expression, set out to write an "anti -christology," "a speaking about Jesus that opens a way to seeing him as witness to a still more human and liberated life."' Christology therefore has to put an end to the apparent innocence of supposing that the mere fact of writing about Jesus means that what is said is first useful and then used correctly…

Christology is, finally, necessary, since human beings are always affected, astonished or challenged by important realities, and this forces them to think. Christians, furthermore, are explicitly told to give reasons for the hope that they have (1 Pet. 3:15). And in Latin America, as we shall see, christology is a necessity for historical reasons: we need to present a Christ who, as a minimum, is the ally of liberation, not of oppression. But none of this can silence the question of what is most necessary and whether and how christology relates to this.

If I may be allowed a personal comment, I have often thought, on seeing the proliferation of books on Christ-including my own-that if we Christians could put into practice a modest percentage of what is said in any normal work of christology, the world would change radically-and the world is not changing radically. This, of course, is not just the fault of christology. But it does make one think that in certain quarters there might be a sort of avidity and curiosity to see "what the latest book of christology has to say," and that christologies thereby become market products or views put about in the Athenian market-place, from which we can all pick and choose at whim, compare them, discuss them, defend them or attack them ... while everything stays exactly the same in reality.

We sincerely believe that the new Latin American christology has tried to serve "the one thing necessary," but there is still a fear of what J. L. Sicre denounced in his book on the prophets of Israel happening: "The best way of avoiding the word of God is to study the word of God."'

So, before starting a christology and before Jesus passes through the filter of concept and loses his freshness, it is good and necessary to allow oneself to be affected and challenged by the gospel. It is true that without the reasoning supplied by christology, reading the gospel can and usually does degenerate into dangerous fundamentalism, and this provides the need for christology. But we must be careful not to end up as enlightened christologues and illiterates of the gospel, of overcoming "fundamentalism" while losing sight of the "fundamentals," what the whole world understands (or should understand) without too many explanations: Jesus' option for the poor, his mercy and justice, his confrontation with the powerful, his persecution and death resulting from all this, his revindicating resurrection. And above all, that it is this Jesus we have to follow.

Why do I personally think this is something important to discuss, keep alive, and continually reconsider? Because I believe that the problem of theodicy will constantly be an Achilles Heel for the faith unless we do work to change the world as Christians, and besides, if the world doesn't change radically in the way we relate to each other, I fear we may not make it too much longer anyway... and I don't think eschatology is supposed to occur the way Tim LaHaye thinks it does....

The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years... these years may be the last when civilization still has the wealth and political cohesion to steer itself towards caution, conservation, and social justice... the 10,000 year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don't do, now.
-- A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Talking Heads - Heaven

Back in the days when the Harvard Square Theatre was still independently owned and was still running repertory films, my friends and I would often cap off a Saturday night by catching the midnight show featuring the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.

One of my favorite songs in the film was Heaven (which was not on the original soundtrack album). I was glad to find it on Youtube. Even though I don't share the same vision of heaven that David Byrne does, I still think it's a hauntingly beautiful song.

Tom Wolfe Takes on the Hedge-Fund Pirates of Greenwich

Sort of in keeping with the tail end of that last post about the spoiled and conspicuously wealthy… I know that resentment doesn’t sell too well on a blog, at least with healthy-minded folks, but I recently heard that author Tom Wolfe had written a scathing essay called The Pirate Pose on the noveau-riche, hedge-fund elite living in places like Greenwich CT, and I though I’d throw a little bit of it out there.

Is it class warfare? I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no. I always remember what Al Franken said about class warfare, and I think it’s pretty good:
Anytime a liberal points out that the wealthy are disproportionately benefiting from Bush's tax policies, Republicans shout, "class warfare!"

In her book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, Barbara Tuchman writes about a peasant revolt in 1358 that began in the village of St. Leu and spread throughout the Oise Valley. At one estate, the serfs sacked the manor house, killed the knight, and roasted him on a spit in front of his wife and kids. Then, after ten or twelve peasants violated the lady, with his children watching, they forced her to eat the roasted flesh of her husband and then killed her.

That is class warfare.

Arguing over the optimum marginal tax rate for the top one percent is not.
Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the essay. Does any of this seem familiar?

While fathers all over America tend to become overzealous, even violent, these days in trying to turn their children into little sports superstars, in Greenwich a father who is one of these people will try to take control of every element in a game: his child’s teammates, their coach, the opposing team’s coach, its players, and most definitely the referees. In a famous instance, one of these people came to watch his teenage daughter play in an ice hockey game against a team from neighboring Port Chester, New York, a town known in Greenwich as the place where one’s plumbers, electricians, computer swamis, roofers, glaziers, air-conditioning mechanics, wall-to-wall-carpet humpers, and household servants live. The man began bellowing so loudly, nobody at the rink could shut out the sound. He upbraided the referees for their poor eyesight and worse judgment. He told his daughter’s coach how to play her and all her teammates and kept him abreast of his mistakes in strategy. He scolded the Port Chester coach and the players for their incessant cheating and malicious roughness. Finally a Port Chester player, a big girl, an Amazon on ice, skated to the stands, charged up the stairs on her skates, and accosted the Mouth, putting her gloved fist six inches from his face and saying, “If you don’t shut the f*** up, I’m gonna come back and beat the s*** outta you!” He shut up.

The tales are endless: the hedge fund founder desperate to get his son into one of Greenwich’s socially swell private schools who clips a six-figure check to the first page of the application, witlessly forcing the school to reject both his son and his check or lose all credibility—

The lone-wolf entrepreneur who keeps an old-money matron and charity fundraiser waiting outside his office in Greenwich for an hour, remains reared back in his chair with his feet propped up on top of his desk as she comes in, listens to her pitch with his feet on top of his desk, utters a sum total of two words, “Not interested,” with his feet up on top of his desk, and offers no farewell, not even a Godspeed tap-tap of the shoes on his feet up on top of the desk—

The many of these people who spend entire meetings with eyes cast down at their BlackBerrys, thumbing out text messages to God-knows-what-people elsewhere—

The hedge fund manager who, during a 40-minute meeting, takes four telephone calls from his wife on the subject of a dinner party they’re planning, down to the level of who should sit next to whom, whether to serve the champagne in the new flutes or the art deco bowl-and-stem glasses, whether or not endive works as an hors d’oeuvre or is it a little too bitter?—

The hedge fund managers who hold meetings with their shirttails hanging outside their jeans, like college boys—

The former manager of Tremont Capital Group who came to meetings with the fund’s investors barefoot—

The twinkie wives of these people who arrive at real estate offices seeking to-die-for houses and apartments wearing jeans and stiletto-heel boots, with gotta-be-blond hair streaming down to their shoulder blades, holding a baby on a cocked hip with one hand and a cell phone to the ear with the other while a limousine waits outside, motor running—

The twinkies who have their eggs fertilized by their husbands’ sperm in a laboratory, creating embryos for implantation in the wombs of surrogate mothers who are paid to manufacture children for delivery in nine months, since why on earth should any wife whose husband is worth a billion or even $500 million have to endure the distended belly, bilious mornings, back cramps, not to mention a cramped social life, to end up with her perfect personal-trainer-sculpted boy-with-breasts body she has spent thousands of sweaty hours attaining, ruined … tempting her husband to survey all the little man-eaters out there, including those former wives who used to meet regularly at the Boxing Cat Grill until it burned down, whereas the current wives leave their husbands catatonic before the plasma TV and meet three or four times a week at one local bar or another and drive home in their Hummers and bobtail Mercedes S.U.V.’s, bombed out of their minds, while waiting for the baby to come from the factory—

Whenever such rich gossip is re-peated, somebody invariably says, “Who are these people?”

Tom Ashbrook hosts a discussion on the essay on WBUR's On-Point - Tom Wolfe on the Super-Rich

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lately Heard on the Radio

Just thought I’d put up a few audio-links to some interesting items I’ve been hearing on NPR (a.k.a. “People's Republic Radio”) and Boston's WBUR the last couple of days.

Shortly after hearing that Boris Yeltsin passed away yesterday, I was subsequently saddened to hear that journalist, war-correspondent, and author David Halberstam was killed in a car crash at the age of 73 while he was on his way to conduct an interview. It just doesn't seem right that a man who'd put his life on the line in the jungles and rice paddies of Viet Nam should go out that way at that age. There is a real dearth of authentic, skilled journalists out there of the old school, and Halberstam was one of the best there ever was. His passing, coming within a year of the death of Ed Bradley, is a huge blow to the profession. As we can see clearly now, the kind of journalism that we were used to seeing from these two was greatly missed in the broader journalistic sphere during the run-up to the Iraq War.

Halberstam Dissected America, Good and Bad

Speaking of war correspondents, here is an interview with Bob and Lee Woodruff about their book In An Instant, which chronicles former ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff's difficult recovery from a traumatic brain injury that he suffered when an IED went off next to an armored vehicle he was traveling in while on assignment in Iraq.

A Conversation with Bob Woodruff

The next one might seem on the surface to be a strange choice to put on this website... I'm not sure how other people feel about Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Back in her hey-day, my friends and I always considered her to be a somewhat comical figure, while at the same time we marveled at her ability to to land such a high paying gig without having to do any real work. I found this interview fascinating, though, because I learned a few things about her that I didn't know before, such as the fact that she escaped from Germany to Switzerland while most of her family perished in the Holocaust, that she was trained in Israel as a sniper for the Haganah , and was seriously wounded in the 1948 war. I was also interested to hear her opinion about the differences between the puritanical attitudes and the Judaic attitudes towards married sex.

Dr. Ruth on Sex, Humor and Happiness

Finally, here is a piece that resonates well with Anne and I. We live in a modest, modified Cape house on one decent though not extravagant income in a town full of super-high achievers and conspicuous wealth. On more than one occasion we have run into friction, whether in regards to school or sports, with other parents regarding either our kids or someone else's "little precious". It seems as if everyone here has a "gifted" child, or would at least like to think so. I can tell you, it can get wearisome, very wearisome, the way our large but unspectacular family can at times be treated like white trash around here. I don't short-change my kids and their abilities by any means, but this is really starting to wear on us all. In this essay, Ayelet Waldman talks about how all of us have visions of having the gifted, extraordinary child, but sometimes have to come to grips with the fact that they, as in the case of most of us, may in fact be merely average. After all, that is what "average" means.

In Praise of Normal Kids

Blogging Anniversary…

I’ve been at this AEV thing for just over a year, and I’d like to take a moment to thank a bunch of you for your friendship and patronage over that time. I’d especially like to thank, in no particular order, Crystal, Steve, Paula, Liam, Friar Charles, Don, William, Mike McG, Joe, Winnipeg, Darius, John, Crescentius, Drew, Sandalstraps, Deacon Denny, Rashfriar, Talmida, Matthew, Derek, Alice and John H., and JohnCVermont. If I’ve left anyone out who’s still reading, I apologize and I thank you as well.

I’ve deeply enjoyed the discussions we’ve had so far, and I’d also like to express my appreciation to you for helping to strengthen and deepen my faith in ways you might not even realize.

God Bless,

Friday, April 20, 2007

Great Article by John Michael Talbot

I happened to notice this article today on John Michael Talbot's Reflections page, MAINTAINING THE STATUS QUO: Catholic Worship: Endured or Inspired? I've always preferred Talbot as a writer than as a singer and musician. I thought I'd post some excerpts from it that I liked. It's mostly about liturgical renewal, but with a broader theme about living out a commitment and a witness.

Left, Right, or Radical?

Today in the Catholic Church there is a liberal left experiment that has lost its momentum. This has mainly to do with sex and gender issues. Will simply opening up the flood gates of modern morality set us free? Sociology and psychology used to think so, but nowadays would say not.

There is also a far right reaction that is nearly obsessed with orthodoxy, whereby they think that the reestablishment of Latin masses, strong clericalism, devotionalism, and the like will solve all of the Church's ills. Some? Maybe. All? Not likely. People need fundamentals, but fundamentalism seldom works, even when it comes in Catholic clothing.

But there is also a huge middle ground made up of average folks who love God, the Church and the world in which we live, and are just trying to get by in the rat race of modern American living without too many casualties. They constitute a huge Catholic "silent majority" that form the authentic "sense fidelis," or sense of the faithful that is one important contingent in the teaching authority of the Church. This is where the Faith really lives, where our spiritual "rubber meets the road," and it is here that we can find our greatest hope. The problem with the latter is that we are often the very status quo that needs to be changed. In order for this group to be effective we must be radical, but not fanatical. We avoid becoming obsessed with the fanatical fringe, but are completely radical, or rooted deeply in the core of the gospel of Jesus and the balanced teaching of the Church.

Integrated Monasteries

While the Catholic "silent majority" constitutes the theological balance between the right and left extremes, it can also be the biggest part of the "lifestyle heresy" that so plagues western civilization. I am referring to the heresy of individualism, and all that goes out from it: consumerism, materialism, hedonism, and the like. The evidence of the failure of this heresy is all around us. Global warming from environmental abuse threatens the delicate balance of the earth's current eco system. War across the planet is due to the many who have the little rising up against the few who have the much. Sexual immorality and the breakdown of the nuclear family threaten the very social fabric of civilization as we know it. The so called "high-tech high-touch" computer revolution has created an entire generation of people who have access to great knowledge, but attain little wisdom. Able to access and communicate with thousands and millions at a time, many cannot carry on authentic human relationships with much success. It has not made us more human. It has made us more machine-like in the long run. Are computers bad? No. I write this on a laptop, and send it out via the internet. But we are not yet using them successfully.

How many of you reading this right now are willing to flee this sinking ship of modern society? Traditionally this call has gone forth from monks, and hundreds of thousands have responded without computers or mass media. Will you respond today? How many will give up possessions and control to find the greatest wealth known on earth or in heaven? How many who are single will embrace only Christ as your spouse in celibate chastity, and so bring salvation to the entire world? How many will give up superficial freedom to embrace the deeper freedom from your false self through obedience to a Rule and a spiritual father or mother in Christ? How many will venture into the solitude to find your true spiritual home, silence to find your true voice, and self-renunciation to find your true self in Christ? How many will give up all to gain everything?

Awaken the Sleeping Giant

Should this mediocrity and lukewarmness be tolerated? Certainly not! This is true especially within oneself, but also within one's church home, be it parish or monastery. Why can't we have great music ministries, great preaching, and creative use of the talents within our clergy and parishioners? We can if we will but act. Most desire it. A few are willing to sacrifice and risk in order to achieve it. Does it take courage? You bet it does. Will we be rejected by some? Almost certainly so. But that is no excuse to just fall back into our personal safety zones and just float through our spiritual life in a malaise of mediocrity or lethargic lukewarmness.

So I say to the Church-- I shout it from the housetop of my hermitage: Awaken! Popes, bishops, clergy, religious, and lay people: Awaken! Dare to dream again. Dare to change, to be renewed and reformed personally within your own life. Only then can we bring authentic renewal and reform to the Church or to the world. Dare to really rise up and follow Christ as His disciple. The majority of Catholics make up a giant unified population in our nation, and upon the earth. We are a sleeping giant. Will we allow the sleeping giant to awaken? As scripture says, "Awake, O sleeper! Today is the day of salvation…if today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts." It is time to awaken the sleeping giant. It is time to rise. It is time to believe again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Dogs of War. The Privatization and Outsourcing Mania Goes Over the Top

When Nations Collapse While Corporations Rise, Feudalism Returns...

All excerpts below taken from articles by Jeremy Scahill.

Photo by Chris Curry/The Virginian Pilot

The Dogs of War, Masters of War, Soldiers of Fortune, Hired Guns, "Military Contractors"...

Mercenaries, by any other name.

"We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach: one that encourages people to be proactive, not reactive, and to behave less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists."
-- Donald Rumsfeld, Transforming the Military 2002

"Nothing could be more destructive of the all-volunteer, Total Force concept underlying U.S. military manpower doctrine than to expose the private components to the tort liability systems of fifty states, transported overseas to foreign battlefields."
-- Blackwater USA legal papers (in response to a wrongful death suit filed against them by the families of the contractors killed in Fallujah)

"We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren't being counted, and the danger is that there's zero accountability."
-- Congressman Dennis Kucinich

"This is a rent-an-army out there. Wouldn't it be better for this country if those tasks, particularly the quasi-military gunfighting tasks, were being performed by active-duty military soldiers in terms of cost and accountability?"
-- Senator Jim Webb

"It has been virtually impossible to shine the light on this aspect of the war and so when we discuss the war, its scope, its costs, its risks, they have not been part of this whatsoever. This whole shadow force that's been operating in Iraq, we know almost nothing about. I think it keeps at arm's length from the American people what this war is all about."
-- Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

"Contractors are operating with unclear lines of authority, out-of-control costs and virtually no oversight by Congress. This black hole of accountability increases the danger to our troops and American civilians serving as contractors. (My legislation) would re-establish control over these companies, while bringing contractors under the rule of law."
-- Senator Barack Obama

"Private contractors like Blackwater work outside the scope of the military's chain of command and can literally do whatever they please without any liability or accountability from the US government... Blackwater seems to understand money. That's the only thing they understand. They have no values, they have no morals. They're whores. They're the whores of war."
-- Katy Helvenston (whose son Scott was one of the Blackwater contractors killed in Fallujah)

Blackwater Contractors with a US Marine on a rooftop in Najaf

Way back when I was in the 9th grade, I took a course on World History. It was one of the most fascinating and enjoyable classes I ever had. We studied the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. I recall that we spent a good amount of time discussing the reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Our teacher listed reasons such as the softening decadence and comfortable debauchery of Roman society, the loss of civic virtues, and the reliance on mercenary forces to protect the frontiers. I remember that he laid special emphasis on the mercenaries in particular, pointing out that no society ever survived once it had come to depend upon mercenaries for the protection of it's interests.

A few months ago, I was watching a Baathist/Sunni agitprop video on Youtube about the "truth" concerning the war in Iraq. One of the propaganda claims made by the narrator was that the number of coalition casualties was much higher than what was being reported. There was a claim to the effect that thousands of Latin American mercenaries, lured to Iraq by the promise of gaining US citizenship, were being killed and buried in unmarked graves, tossed in canals, eaten by dogs, etc, etc... and that these casualties were not being reported in the Western media. Outlandish claims, to be sure, but with just enough of a kernel of truth to make us aware that there are indeed things going on with privateers in Iraq that are not being widely reported.

There are about 100,000 private contractors in Iraq, fairly close to the number of American troops. Many of them are in support roles, like the poor sons-of-guns who run gauntlets driving trucks for Halliburton subsidiary KBR, because they can earn at least twice as much money as they could driving a forklift at a Wal-Mart somewhere in the USA, but some of them are in security and combat roles as well, working for Blackwater USA. Almost 800 contractors of various kinds and from various countries have been killed in Iraq.

A Partial List of Contractor Casualties in Iraq

In March of 2004, the First Marine Expeditionary Force took over the area that includes Fallujah from the Army's 82d Airborne Division. The 82nd Airborne operated mostly from a base outside of the city of Fallujah itself. The Marines went in with the idea of having more of an active presence in the city, with more "soft-patrolling" and an eye towards reaching hearts and minds by building relationships and gaining the trust of the residents. Four days after the Marines took the responsibility for Fallujah, the incident occurred which just about every analyst agrees was responsible for turning the war irreversibly, irretrievably, and poisonously viral. It was not an incident involving US troops. It was an incident involving Blackwater contractors.

It is one of the most infamous incidents of the war in Iraq: On March 31, 2004, four private American security contractors get lost and end up driving through the center of Fallujah, a hotbed of Sunni resistance to the US occupation. Shortly after entering the city, they get stuck in traffic, and their small convoy is ambushed. Several armed men approach the two vehicles and open fire from behind, repeatedly shooting the men at point-blank range. Within moments, their bodies are dragged from the vehicles and a crowd descends on them, tearing them to pieces. Eventually, their corpses are chopped and burned. The remains of two of the men are strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River and left to dangle. The gruesome image is soon beamed across the globe.

Immediately after the incident, the pressure built to have the Marines lay siege to Fallujah, the first of two major assaults that would take place on the city. The Marines' strategy at winning hearts and minds was shelved before it even had a chance to begin.

Mercenary activity is nothing new. Most notable in recent decades was the rise and fall of the now defunct South African company Executive Outcomes, which saw most of its combat in coup and counter-coup contracts in Africa. In 1999, it was dissolved when South Africa introduced the 1998 Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act. The aims of the Act:

To stop mercenary activities by:

a. preventing direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain including the training, recruitment and use of mercenaries; and,

b. requiring approval of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee for offering of military assistance overseas.

South Africa cleaned up its act in this regard. In the case of the USA and Blackwater, we have turned towards the use of mercenaries, and up until recently (and only with the election of a Democratic Congress), we have had very little means of monitoring or controlling what they do. Unlike soldiers, they had not been subject to following the Geneva Convention, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, US laws, or the laws of the countries in which they operate. If they shoot innocents, drive recklesly through the streets of Iraq, or do anything else to alienate the population, there has been no way to hold them to account.

A wrongful death suit has filed by the families of the four men who were killed in Fallujah (Stephen "Scott" Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona). The suit claims that they were unneccessarily and negligently placed in danger by Blackwater when they were sent to Fallujah under conditions in violation of Blackwater's own security contracts and guarantees (they were traveling in SUVs rather than armored vehicles, in a 4-man team rather than the 6 required, including rear-gunners with SAW heavy automatic weapons, and the 4 had been assigned together without having trained together). The four men were on a mission to Fallujah to... pick up kitchen equipment...

It has been a tangled web to figure out just who their mission was in benefit of (ultimately it was determined to be KBR), but looking at this, one can see the labyrinthine relationships in which these no-bid contracts are soaking the US taxpayers...
According to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. "In addition," the paper reports, "Blackwater billed Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq." Regency would then bill ESS an unknown amount for these services. Kathy Potter told the News and Observer that Regency would "quote ESS a price, say $1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS $1,200." ESS then contracted with Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which in turn billed the government an unknown amount of money for the same security services, according to the paper. KBR/Halliburton refuses to discuss the matter and will not confirm any relationship with ESS.

All this was shady enough--but the real danger for Helvenston and the others lay in Blackwater's decision to cut corners to make even more money. The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, obtained by The Nation, recognized that "the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations" would remain "consistent and dangerous," and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions "with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements." [Emphasis added.]

But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract, which specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: "armored." Blackwater deleted it from the contract. "When they took that word 'armored' out, Blackwater was able to save $1.5 million in not buying armored vehicles, which they could then put in their pocket," says attorney Miles. "These men were told that they'd be operating in armored vehicles. Had they been, I sincerely believe that they'd be alive today. They were killed by insurgents literally walking up and shooting them with small-arms fire. This was not a roadside bomb, it was not any other explosive device. It was merely small-arms fire, which could have been repelled by armored vehicles."

Says Katy Helveston, “Private contractors like Blackwater work outside the scope of the military’s chain of command and can literally do whatever they please without any liability or accountability from the U.S. government. Therefore, Blackwater can continue accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from the government without having to answer a single question about its security operators.”

What is Blackwater?

From Jeremy Scahill's articles, which are also covered in his book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army:
Blackwater was founded in 1996 by conservative Christian multimillionaire and ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince--the scion of a wealthy Michigan family whose generous political donations helped fuel the rise of the religious right and the Republican revolution of 1994. At its founding, the company largely consisted of Prince's private fortune and a vast 5,000-acre plot of land located near the Great Dismal Swamp in Moyock, North Carolina. Its vision was "to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training." In the following years, Prince, his family and his political allies poured money into Republican campaign coffers, supporting the party's takeover of Congress and the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency.

While Blackwater won government contracts during the Clinton era, which was friendly to privatization, it was not until the "war on terror" that the company's glory moment arrived. Almost overnight, following September 11, the company would become a central player in a global war. "I've been operating in the training business now for four years and was starting to get a little cynical on how seriously people took security," Prince told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly shortly after 9/11. "The phone is ringing off the hook now."

Among those calls was one from the CIA, which contracted Blackwater to work in Afghanistan in the early stages of US operations there. In the ensuing years the company has become one of the greatest beneficiaries of the "war on terror," winning nearly $1 billion in noncovert government contracts, many of them no-bid arrangements. In just a decade Prince has expanded the Moyock headquarters to 7,000 acres, making it the world's largest private military base. Blackwater currently has 2,300 personnel deployed in nine countries, with 20,000 other contractors at the ready. It has a fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a private intelligence division, and it is manufacturing surveillance blimps and target systems.

In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina its forces deployed in New Orleans, where it billed the federal government $950 per man, per day--at one point raking in more than $240,000 a day. At its peak the company had about 600 contractors deployed from Texas to Mississippi. Since Katrina, it has aggressively pursued domestic contracting, opening a new domestic operations division. Blackwater is marketing its products and services to the Department of Homeland Security, and its representatives have met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The company has applied for operating licenses in all US coastal states. Blackwater is also expanding its physical presence inside US borders, opening facilities in Illinois and California...

What is not so well-known is that in Washington after Falluja, Blackwater executives kicked into high gear, capitalizing on the company’s newfound recognition. The day after the ambush, it hired the Alexander Strategy Group, a K Street lobbying firm run by former senior staffers of then-majority leader Tom DeLay before the firm’s meltdown in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. A week to the day after the ambush, Erik Prince was sitting down with at least four senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including its chair, John Warner. Senator Rick Santorum arranged the meeting, which included Warner and two other key Republican senators—Appropriations Committee chair Ted Stevens of Alaska and George Allen of Virginia. This meeting followed an earlier series of face-to-faces Prince had had with powerful House Republicans who oversaw military contracts. Among them: DeLay; Porter Goss, chair of the House Intelligence Committee (and future CIA director); Duncan Hunter, chair of the House Armed Services Committee; and Representative Bill Young, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. What was discussed at these meetings remains a secret. But Blackwater was clearly positioning itself to make the most of its new fame. Indeed, two months later, Blackwater was handed one of the government’s most valuable international security contracts, worth more than $300 million.

As I've stated publicly on this blog before - If there was a draft in this country this Iraqi adventure would never have been embarked upon. Not a chance. Due to the fact that these soldiers all volunteered, there is far less reticence on the part of the government to use them for adventurous purposes, and there is danger in this. Our founding fathers were very distrustful about the idea of professional soldiery. That is why they preferred to see a citizen militia. Now that we have run into a debacle, is the administration looking at either a draft or at a new way of looking at how it engages at conducting foreign policy? No, apparently not. It looks instead as if they are looking at privatizing the military as much as possible to fill the gap. In addition, what does this do to the morale of our own uniformed troops honorably serving their country? If you are in special forces, making 35,000 a year, and your family is living on government cheese, how does $600 to $800 a day working for Blackwater look to you? Is this going to be beneficial or dangerous to our democratic republic in the long run?
The White House, for its part, has turned the issue of accountability of Blackwater and other private security companies into a joke, literally. This April at a forum at Johns Hopkins, Bush was asked by a student about bringing "private military contractors under a system of law," to which Bush replied, laughing, that he was going to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, "I was going to--I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question [laughter]. This is what delegation--I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never--[laughter] I really will--I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work."

More links on Blackwater:

Videos: Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater

Bush's Shadow Army

Blackwater Rising

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

No Words...

...Just Prayers

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sean Hannity and Fr. Tom Euteneuer get into it on FOX

This is getting to be slightly old news, but just in case people hadn’t seen it, I wanted to give everyone a fair and balanced look at the dust-up that occurred last month on FOX between Sean Hannity and Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer of Human Life International.

It all started when Fr. Euteneuer made some remarks about Sean Hannity on his Spirit and Life blog. Hannity had made an apology of sorts on-the-air for eating chicken on a Friday during Lent, but Fr. Euteneuer dismissed that incident and took him to task for being a hypocritical Catholic over his views regarding birth control. Hannity became indignant over that, invited Fr. Euteneuer to appear on Hannity & Colmes, and the sharp exchange shown above took place. I don’t know if I can say that either of them handled himself particularly well.

So, who knew that Sean "Chickenhawk" Hannity, an arch-conservative ex-seminarian, was a dissident from the magisterial teaching of the Church? I have to say, I was somewhat surprised, especially since I recall that he had written the following blurb for the back cover of H. W. Crocker III’s militantly Ultramontane opus, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History:

I used to think that the history of the Catholic Church was the greatest story never told. But it’s been told now – in Triumph – with all the verve, aggression, and even humor of John Wayne in The Quiet Man. This is rock-solid history – delivered with a rock-solid punch – and is the most essential Catholic book since the Catechism of the Catholic Church (although it’s a lot more fun to read). Buy it and enjoy.
So, is Sean Hannity what they would call on FOX “a great American, my friend”, but a bad Catholic?

We report, you decide.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, by Ford Madox Brown (c. 1852-1856)

The "Anima Christi"

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within thy sacred wounds hide me.
From the wicked enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to thee
that with thy saints I may praise thee
forever and ever. Amen

-- St. Ignatius Loyola

Monday, April 02, 2007

Essays on Blood Sacrifice, the Mercy Seat, and Atonement

The Crucifixion, by Diego Velasquez (c. 1630)

There have been a few posts circulating around lately about the meaning of the nature of the atonement, with Crystal weighing in here, and Paula and Friar Charles weighing in here.

Shown below are a few articles providing some insight on theories that find meaning in Christ's death, but underplay or eliminate the notion of God's wrath needing to be appeased by the death of a God-Man. I don't consider them heterodox - I think there are longstanding Catholic truths reflected and embedded in each of them - Besides, there have always been multiple theories of atonement regardless...

Atonement... "At-one-ment". One thing I can say in common about the essays. Paradoxically and ironically, I find that the more I learn about Judaism as practiced in the time of Jesus, the more the doctrines of Christianity make sense to me.

James Alison - Some thoughts on the Atonement

Crystal introduced me to theologian James Alison, and I find his writing to be fascinating. This was a lengthy article, so I'll just put a couple of excerpts here...

I want to suggest that the trouble with it (the dominant Substitution Theory) is that it is far too little conservative. I want to put forward a much more conservative account. And the first way I want to be conservative is to suggest that the principle problem with this conventional account is that it is a theory, and atonement, in the first place, was a liturgy...

We tend to have an “Aztec imagination” as regarding the sacrificial system. The hallmark of the sacrificial system is that its priest sacrifices something so as to placate some deity.

The Jewish priestly rite was already an enormous advance beyond that world. They understood perfectly well that it was pagan rites that sacrificed victims in order to keep creation going. And one of the ways in which they had advanced beyond that, even before the fall of the Temple and the Exile to Babylon, was the understanding that it was actually God who was doing the work, it was God who was coming out wanting to restore creation, out of his love for his people. And so it is God who emerges from the Holy of Holies dressed in white in order to forgive the people their sins and, more importantly, in order to allow creation to flow...

The notion is that humans are inclined to muck up creation; and it is God emerging from the place that symbolises that which is before creation began, “the place of the Creator”. The Holy of Holies was the place that symbolised “the first day” – which, of course, meant before time, before creation was brought into being.

The priest emerged from that and then he came to the Temple Veil. The Temple Veil was made of very rich material, representing the material world, that which was created. At this point the high priest would don a robe made of the same material as the Veil, to demonstrate that what he was acting out was God coming forth and entering into the world of creation so as to make atonement, to undo the way humans had snarled up that creation. And at that point, having emerged, he would then sprinkle the rest of the temple with the blood that was the Lord.

Now, here's the interesting point: for the Temple understanding the high priest at this stage was God, and it was God's blood that was being sprinkled. This was a divine movement to set people free. This was not – as in our understanding – a priest satisfying a divinity. The reason why the priest had to engage in a prior expiation was because he was about to become a sign of something quite else: acting outwards. The movement is not inwards towards the Holy of Holies; the movement is outwards from the Holy of Holies.

So the priest would then come through the Veil – meaning the Lord entering into the world, the created world – and sprinkle all the rest of the Temple, hence setting it free. After which, as the person who was bearing the sins that had been accumulated, he places them on the head of what we call “the scapegoat”, Azazel, which would then be driven to the edge of the cliff and cast down, where it would be killed, so that the people's sins would be taken away.

That was, from what we can gather, the atonement rite. But here's the fascinating thing: the Jewish understanding was way ahead of the “Aztec” version we attribute to it. Even at that time it was understood that it was not about humans trying desperately to satisfy God, but God taking the initiative of trying to break through for us. In other words, atonement was something of which we were the beneficiaries. That it is the first point I want to make when we are talking about a liturgy rather than a theory. We are talking about something that we undergo over time as part of a benign divine initiative towards us.

This puts many things in a slightly different perspective from what we are used to. It means, for instance, that the picture of God in the theory that we have that demands that God's anger be satisfied is a pagan notion. In the Jewish understanding it was instead something that God was offering to us. Now here's the crunch with this: the early Christians who wrote the New Testament understood very clearly that Jesus was the authentic high priest, who was restoring the eternal covenant that had been established between God and Noah; who was coming out from the Holy Place so as to offer himself as an expiation for us, as a demonstration of God's love for us; and that Jesus was acting this out quite deliberately...

God is propitiating us. In other words, who is the angry divinity in the story? We are. That is the purpose of the atonement. We are the angry divinity. We are the ones inclined to dwell in wrath and think we need vengeance in order to survive. God was occupying the space of our victim so as to show us that we need never do this again. This turns on its head the Aztec understanding of the atonement. In fact it turns on its head what has passed as our penal substitutionary theory of atonement, which always presupposes that it is us satisfying God, that God needs satisfying, that there is vengeance in God. Whereas it is quite clear from the NT that what was really exciting to Paul was that it was quite clear from Jesus' self-giving, and the “out-pouring of Jesus' blood”, that this was the revelation of who God was: God was entirely without vengeance, entirely without substitutionary tricks; and that he was giving himself entirely without ambivalence and ambiguity for us, towards us, in order to set us “free from our sins” – “our sins” being our way of being bound up with each other in death, vengeance, violence and what is commonly called “wrath”.

Garry Wills - What Jesus Meant.


Beneath all the horrors of a Roman execution, there is a deeper question than the legal one, a theological puzzle: Why did Jesus die? A common answer depends partly on Saint Anselm's influential book Why the Incarnation? (Cur Deus Homo?). Using feudal analogies, Anselm argued that Jesus had to become man in order to pay God a debt that man could not pay on his own. The offense of original and all subsequent sin was of an infinite nature because the offended party is infinite. Only an infinite spokesperson for man could pay the debt with his life.

But why did the payment include Jesus' death, and such a horrible death? Was the creditor so exacting? Behind this conclusion lies the imagery of an angry God, hard to appease but by the most terrible of sacrifices. This is a view that some people call "gruesome." The philosopher-critic Rene Girard says that it affirms the violent rituals of sacrifice, which load a society's guilt onto a scapegoat to be punished. Girard ar­gues that Jesus is incapable of assuming guilt, so he exposes the fundamental absurdity of curing violence by violence.

Others question the idea that there would have been no Incarnation without the fall of man. Some Franciscan theolo­gians argue that the Incarnation is the culmination of God's plan from the outset, whereby he raises man to himself in the person of his incarnate son. Creation without that deeper union between man and God would have been incomplete. They draw on some works by the early church father Ire­naeus, who called Jesus the "recapitulation " (anakephalaio­sis) of all creation in its glorious end. A Pauline letter signaled something like that:

His grace is overflowing to us in every kind of wisdom and knowledge, revealing
the secret of his purpose, the loving care of his prior arrangements in Christ,
that he bring the stages of all things to their fulfillment, sum­ming them
all up [anakephalaiosasthai] in Christ, all that is in the heavens, all that is
on earth. (Eph 1.8-:10)
This passage accords with other writings of Paul, where­as Gordon Fee points out-he does not follow the logic of ap­peasement sacrifices, where the offending party must initiate compensation. In Paul, God is like the father of the prodigal son, who rushes to embrace beforehand, or like the good shepherd, who searches out his lost sheep. This God does not sit on a throne waiting for sinners to bring their sacrificial offerings to him. He is the agent throughout:

All is God's doing, as he rejoined us to himself through Messiah, and made us
cooperators in the rejoining. Just as God was in Messiah rejoining creation to
himself, canceling man's sin, so he made us diplomats of the re­joining. (2 Cor 5.18-19)

Another Pauline letter says:

He is before all things, and all things cohere in him. He is, in parallel, the
head of the body that is the gathering. He is the first-born out of death,
making him in every way primary. For it was God's glad will to invest in him all
the fullness of being, through him to rejoin all things to himself,
accomplishing peace through his blood from the cross, peace for heaven and for
earth through him. (Col 1.17-20)

Jesus himself speaks of his mission as lifting humankind up into his own intimacy with the Father:

"Just as you have shed your splendor on me, so I shed it on
them, so they may be
at one with us, just as we are one, T in them and you
in me, so they may be
fulfilled in that oneness. So all creation may
recognize that you have sent me,
and that you have loved them even as you
have loved me. Father, you have given
them to me, and 1: wish that they
should be where I am, that they may see the
splendor you have given me out
of the love you had for me before laying the
foundations of creation" (Jn 17.22-24).

Dark and mysterious as is the whole matter of the Incar­nation and the Passion, perhaps a simple thing can help us think of them. I turn to my own experience. My young son woke up with a violent nightmare one night. When I asked what was troubling him, he said that the nun in his school had told the children they would end up in hell if they sinned. He asked me, "Am I going to hell?" There is not an ounce of heroism in my nature, but I instantly answered what any father would: "All I can say is that if you're going there, I'm going with you." If I felt that way about my son, God obviously loves him even more than I do. Perhaps the Incarnation is just God's way of saying that, no matter what horrors we face or hells we descend to, he is coming with us. I did not realize at the moment that I was just following a way we should think of God, according to Jesus himself:

"Would any one of you give your son a stone when he asked
for bread, or a snake
when he asked for fish? Well, if you, flawed as you
are, know how to provide
good things for your children, how much more will
your Fa­ther in the
heavens provide for those who ask it of him?„ (Mt. 7.9-11)

Chesterton offers another way into the mystery, in a little two-act play of his called The Surprise. The play opens, in the Middle Ages, with a friar wandering through a woods. He sees a large rolling caravan, a platform stage with its curtain open and handsome life-size puppets lying with their strings loose. The puppet master is up above the stage. The friar asks what town he will be giving his show in-he would like to see it. The man tells him to sit down and he will give him a free performance. A romantic tale is then spun out in which a swashbuckling hero and his friend, drinking to each other's health, swear to rescue a damsel in captivity. They carry it off with great panache, and the play ends. The friar applauds, but the man asks to go to confession. He confesses that he is un-happy because he loves his characters, yet they do not breathe and reciprocate his love. As he turns away, the friar falls to his knees and prays that his wishes might come true. The curtain falls on the first act.

The second act begins with the puppets again lying down amid their loose strings. But then the characters begin to stir on their own. They rise and start reenacting the play. But this time little things begin to go wrong, each aggravating the next, and the pace of mishaps quickens. The friends drink too much and quarrel, they show jealousy over the heroine, they arrive too late to rescue her, so her captor is about to rape her. At this point, the puppet master stands up on the roof of the caravan and shouts, "Stop! I'm coming down." God is going with us. Now that his creatures have free will, the puppet master can no longer manipulate them from above. He must come down to be with them, to fight for them.

What I like about this parable is that there is no question about an "angry God." The maker is coming down to protect his creatures, from themselves and from all the consequences of their errors and sins. He is their champion, not their pun­isher. This shows that there are two ways of talking about what Paul called a rejoining. If we talk of salvation as sacri­fice in the sense of appeasement or propitiation, there is a note of assuaging an angry God. If we talk of it as rescue, the power from which mankind has to be rescued is not God but the forces at work against God-all the accumulated sins that cripple human freedom. In the New Testament, this legacy of evil is personified as Satan. When Jesus, going to his death, says it is the enemy's time, and the dominion of darkness (Lk 22.53), he is certainly not saying that God is the dark power. Satan is.

It is the struggle with the human capacity for evil that Jesus wages in the name of humanity. Human free­dom and perversity have led the sheep astray, have con­demned the prodigal son to his own degradation, and only the Shepherd and Father can send for his rescue. Similarly, when Jesus wept over the Jerusalem that was about to kill him as it killed the prophets (Mt 23.27), he was not suggest­ing that God killed the prophets. It was the enemy of God who did. It was Satan.
If we want to know why Jesus died, the best place to look for an explanation is in John's account of the Last Supper, in the long passage called the Last Discourse. This does not speak of divine anger to be allayed by sacrifice. It talks, over and over, of divine love entering into the human darkness and turning it to light:

"I will no longer speak much with you, since the Prince of This World is upon
us-though he has no power over me. But all creation must see that I love the
Father, and I do whatever the Father has commanded me. Rise and let us be off
from here." (Jn 14.30-31)


If we ask why Paul and others speak of our being rescued by Christ's blood, what does that mean if his blood is not a sacrifice to the Father? The Last Discourse tells us: "No one can show greater love than this, that he lay down his life for those he loves" (Jn 15.13). He sheds his blood with and for us, in our defense, not as a libation to an angry Father. That is how he sacrifices himself for us.

There are other references to Jesus' sacrifice in scripture. Paul talks of him as the hilasterion-which meant the golden covering on the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25.T7), known as the "mercy seat," where blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement: "In his blood God has presented him as the mercy seat for those who believe in him, to make clear his faithfulness to the covenant by canceling sin in his lenity" (Rom 3.25). Jesus is a new mercy seat, where his own blood, shed against man's enemy, becomes the bond with the Fa­ther. There is another famous passage where Paul speaks as if Jesus' blood were an expiation to the angry Father: "Though he [Jesus] was not conversant with sin, he [the Father] treated him as sin for our sake, so we might be God's vindication" (2 Cor 5.21). This continues a passage cited earlier where God initiates the rejoining with himself. Old commentators tried to make this mean that Jesus became a sinner, or even sin personified, or "a sin offering." But Jean-Noel Aletti shows rhetorically that it means Jesus was treated as if he were sin, in the sense that he is pitted against sin (Satan) and suffers the consequences by identification with sinful humanity. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus offers a sacrifice to God, but it is a unique kind of sacrifice, putting an end to all earlier kinds, and God initiates it to conquer sin, not to placate himself.

However we understand the mysterious sacrifice of the cross, one thing is certain-it is a proof of God's love, not his anger. "Such was God's love for the creation that he gave his only-begotten Son to keep anyone believing in him from perishing, to have a life eternal" (Jn 3.16). Jesus was sent to express, vindicate, and extend the Father's love. That is why the completion of his rescue raid into history is the descent into hell. This is not mentioned in the New Testament-save for a highly dubious reference in a notoriously obscure verse (1 Pet 3.19). But it is contained in the early creeds and bap­tismal oaths, showing that it is original to the revelation that was preached. For the Greek Orthodox Church, it is at the center of Jesus' mission-indeed, it is the Resurrection (Ana­katastasis). This is part of the whole conception of Jesus as the summation and climax of creation. He reaches back with his redeeming power, to rescue mankind from the very be­ginning. Early poems Iand-plays (especially in medieval treat­ments of it under the title of "the Harrowing of Hell"), along with endless paintings afterward, show Jesus breaking open the prison of the past to free those not previously vindicated in his blood. The normal depiction highlights the emergence, first, of Adam and Eve. Some pictures show him accompanied by the bandit who died with him. The compre­hensiveness of God's salvific plan is emphasized-how

Through black clouds the black sheep
And through black clouds the
Shepherd follows him.

Though most depictions give the starring roles in this event to Adam and Eve, I believe the Shepherd was first seeking out his special lost one, Judas.

Judas...? Well, can we go that far?

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan - The Last Week


We focus on animal blood sacrifice because that form of worship is most outside our general experience and may be the one most likely to lead to a misunderstanding of Jesus's action in Jeru­salem's temple. For those who are vegetarians for moral reasons, the slaughter of animals for food is ethically repugnant. Animal blood sacrifice would be repugnant to them as well. But most people in the ancient world took blood sacrifice for granted as a normal or even supreme form of religious piety. Why?

First, the vast majority of people in antiquity grew up in close contact with animals on land they either owned themselves or farmed for others, and most of them would have killed animals for food or at least seen it happen. In any case, the ancients knew that to eat meat or have a feast, you had first to kill an animal. We know that too of course, and in fact we eat far more meat than they ever did, but few of us have seen our meat killed and butchered be­fore it is offered to us as food. We get our meat plastic-wrapped at the supermarket, and many of us could not watch the bloody pro­cess by which it got from field to store.

Second, and long before animal sacrifice was invented, human beings knew two rather basic ways of creating, maintaining, or restoring good relations with one another-the gift and the meal. Each represents the external manifestation of an internal disposi­tion. Each has its own delicate protocols of what, when, why, to whom, and by whom. The proffered gift and the shared meal are probably the most ancient forms of human interaction, possibly even more fundamental than sex as a bonding activity.

How, then, did people create, maintain, or restore good relations with a divine being? What visible acts could they do to reach an In­visible Being? Again, they could give a gift or share a meal. In sac­rifice as gift, an offerer took a valuable animal or other foodstuff and gave it to God by having it burned on the altar. In this case, the an­imal was totally destroyed at least as far as the offerer was concerned. No doubt the smoke and smell rising upward symbolized the tran­sition of the gift from earth to heaven, from human being to God. In sacrifice as meal, the animal was transferred to God by having its blood poured over the altar and was then returned to the offerer as divine food for a feast with God. In other words, the offerer did not so much invite God to a meal as God invited the offerer to a meal.

That understanding of sacrifice clarifies the etymology of the term. It derives from the Latin sacrum facere, "to make" ( facere) "sacred" (sacrum). In a sacrifice the animal is made sacred and is given to God as a sacred gift or returned to the offerer as a sacred meal. That sense of sacrifice should never be confused with either suffering or substitution.

First, sacrifice and suffering. Offerers never thought that the point of sacrifice was to make the animal suffer, or that the great­est sacrifice was one in which the animal suffered lengthily and terribly. For a human meal or a divine meal an animal had to be slain, but that was done swiftly and efficiently-ancient priests were also excellent butchers.

Second, sacrifice and substitution. Offerers never thought that the animal was dying in their place, that they deserved to be killed in punishment for their sins, but that God would accept the slain animal as substitutionarv atonement or vicarious satisfaction. Blood sacrifice should never be confused with or collapsed into ei­ther suffering or substitution, let alone substitutionarv suffering. We may or may not like ancient blood sacrifice, but we -should nei­ther caricature nor libel it.

As an aside, think about our ordinary use of that term "sacri­fice" even today. A building is on fire and a child is trapped up­stairs; a firefighter rushes in to get him and manages to drop him safely to the net below before the roof caves in and kills her. The next day the local paper headlines "Firefighter Sacrifices Her Life." We are not ancients, but moderns, and yet that is still an absolutely, acceptable statement. On the one hand, all human life and all human death are sacred. On the other, that firefighter has made her own death peculiarly, especially, emphatically sacred by giving it up to save the life of another. So far, so good. Now imag­ine if somebody confused sacrifice with suffering and denied it was a sacrifice because the firefighter died instantly and without intolerable suffering. Or imagine if somebody confused sacrifice with substitution, saying that God wanted somebody dead that day and accepted the firefighter in lieu of the child. And worst of all, imagine that somebody brought together sacrifice, suffering, and substitution by claiming that the firefighter had to die in agony as atonement for the sins of the child's parents. That theol­ogy would be a crime against divinity.

Back, then, to ancient blood sacrifice as gift or meal, but not as Suffering or substitution. Like the rest of their world, most Jews accepted blood sacrifice as a normal and normative compo­nent of divine worship at the time of Jesus. There is no reason to think that Jesus's action in the temple was caused by any rejec­tion of blood sacrifice or, indeed, had anything to do with sacri­fice as such. There were other powerful forces of ambiguity at play in first-century Israel with regard, first, to the official high­priesthood and, through its members, even to the temple itself.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I Won't Have Them Turn Their Backs On Me

The return of the Tridentine Mass?

One big clue to the pope's thinking came in his 1997 book, titled "Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977" and written when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which he sharply criticized the drastic manner in which Pope Paul VI reformed the Mass in 1969.The almost total prohibition of the old missal, which had been used for 400 years, was unprecedented in the history of the liturgy, he said in the book.In effect, he said, "the old building was demolished" and a new one put in its place. Thus the liturgy ceased to be a living development and was treated as something manufactured by experts, which has caused the church "enormous harm," he said.Even before he wrote those words, then-Cardinal Ratzinger had caused a stir when he said it made sense for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the same direction as the congregation, in the pre-Vatican II style, although he also said it would be confusing to turn the altar around once again.Over the years, he has sharply criticized what he sees as a tendency for the worshiping community to celebrate only itself.
I'm not going back to that.

Promulgation Of The Roman Missal Revised By Decree Of The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

The Mass Is The Same - Pope Paul VI's Address to a General Audience, November 19, 1969

How could such a change be made? Answer: It is due to the will expressed by the Ecumenical Council held not long ago. The Council decreed: "The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, can be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful can be more easily accomplished

For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, while due care is taken to preserve their substance. Elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded. Where opportunity allows or necessity demands, other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the earlier norm of the Holy Fathers" (Sacrosanctum Concilium #50).

It is not an arbitrary act. It is not a transitory or optional experiment. It is not some dilettante's improvisation. It is a law. It has been thought out by authoritative experts of sacred Liturgy; it has been discussed and meditated upon for a long time. We shall do well to accept it with joyful interest and put it into practice punctually, unanimously and carefully.

-- Pope Paul VI