Monday, February 28, 2005

Evil Is Real

I have just picked up again the great collection of the short stories of Patricia Highsmith with a foreword by Graham Greene. She created the character of George Ripley and wrote Stangers on a Train, immortalized in a Hitchcock film. I love her fiction because she never shied away from graphically depicting evil. In her world, there are evil people who intend to do evil things and are often able to escape the consequences. She is very unmodern because she does not trifle in psychological or sociological theories that render human evil as merely regrettable choices and outcomes. I do not think she is anti-modern and she is adept in her insightful portrayals of the psychological depths of the human person. In reading her, we have to face the evil within ourselves and others. I experience this as realistic and fascinating but also as liberating. Evil does exist in us and we are often faced with choices between good and evil. As a Christian, I do not have to fear the dilemma of these choices because I have access to God's grace, if I ask for it. In the struggle of good and evil, I am not merely an observer but a participant because the struggle rages inside me as well as around me. Acknowledging the reality of sheer evil is invigorating because it is like the sensation of cleansing water that wakes me up and refreshes my eyes so that I can see. At the same time, as painful as it can be to be in the midst of this struggle, there is a confidence that the outcome, though only seen now dimly as through a dark glass, is already assured, though not yet fully experienced.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Allen on Why the pope should not resign

Here is the correct link to the Allen article on why the pope should not resign

John Allen on CNN and NCR

John Allen is excellent in his commentary on CNN (along with Tom Reese, SJ, of America), during the current papal health crises. He is also the author of The Word From Rome, a news report that be accessed at this link. His recent book on papal elections is also first rate. I have also read his talk/article on the reasons why the pope should not resign. I believe that one was in the LA Times and is worth looking for.

The Word From Rome February 25, 2005

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Cancer and Trust

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day at the Dental Clinic of Sloan Kettering. Recently they have discovered a correlation between one of the drugs I take and a collapse of the jaw structure. A few times now, I have opted to risk this danger so that some work could be done. Nothing has happened to me, but I can tell that the doctors are worried about each case. All this leads me to realize once again the role of trust. I need to trust the knowledge and skill of all the medical people who are so terrific to me and so many other cancer patients. Beyond my trust in medicine, I renew my trust in God which is the basis of all faith. Surely there are moments when I find myself hedging that trust and then am brought up short by encountering someone over which I have absolutely no control. And then I always have the same choice: either to keep banging up against that desire for control, or to express again my trust that God is true to his word and that he is always the source of all love and caring.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bush in Old Europe

I am disappointed but hardly surprised at the ambiguous receptions that W is receiving in Europe. He is trying to pass off as ancient history the efforts of his administration to divide Europe. Perhaps Bush and Rice have learned the futility of these efforts, or they are just making nice for cameras. I think the latter. The US still refuses to join or support the International Court, continues to boycott the Kyoto Treaties and never admits even the slightest mistake. I have no illusions about the ego-rich leadership of the EU or NATO, but the fact is that we would have been wiser to listen to their fears about Iraq, their acceptance of the global warming threats, and the needs for International Law. The worst aspects of American exceptionalism and macho posturing are on display with this administration. The results are not only looking silly but also very unwisely headed off in solitary isolation. A strong, secure power would not act in such a threatened fashion but would welcome collegial exchanges. Europe is now merely a stage for W's swaggering.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

New Priest Abuse Numbers

The publication of over a thousand new reports of priestly abuse is not mitigated by the additional info that most of the accused are now former priests or dead. The screening of candidates for ordination was atrocious and now even when some of the screening instruments have been refined and greatly improved, it still remains in the hands of those who estimate the candidates. Many still are caught up in various kinds of denial about problems, cannot directly confront them or even acknowledge the need for competent assistance. In the church, there is still very inadequate evaluation, even by those who have much better information. Sadly, people are still being passed on whose serious problems are known, talked about but not properly included in evaluation. Frankly, the diminishing number of priests and candidates presents yet another fear that makes for serious neglect. The problems being glossed over cover a wider range than sexual abuse and I expect more problems in the system that produces our clergy. We need to involve many lay people and professional people, and take them seriously.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Sister Dorothy Stang

I knew nothing directly about Sr Dorothy until news of her murder. I did know that some Christians were very active in protecting native peoples and their lands in Brazil and were opposing the greed of corporations. Sr Dorothy was almost certainly murdered for her work and ministry in Brazil. Because she was an American, more notice was paid to her killing but there is really nothing new about this kind of violence. Unbridled capitalism is an evil and pillaging force in the world, especially in poorer countries where people are desperate to make some living. Foreign debt, terrorism, arms trade and drugs are all part of the plague which requires out attention and decision. Politically and morally, what can do we do right now?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Should John Paul II retire/resign?

I am greatly inspired by the pope's capacity to give witness to his physical suffering in a attractive and powerful Christian manner, especially in these last weeks. As usual, another health crisis gets him and a possible resignation lots of coverage. I suspect that he has made some plan in case he became mentally incapacitated and could not know what is happening before him. But short of that, I am hoping and praying that he lives out his ministry to its final moment. Human life is so cheap, expendable and even now commercial that his witness is all the more required now. Of course, we all would like to retire - some do so at a very early age. But this ministry of such great significance in the past 100 years is destined to be an eternal sign of the enduring power of committments lived, promises renewed and kept, and to the everlasting faithfulness of God which John Paul has always so vividly trusted and depended on. Even in the harshest days of Communism, he always showed a fierce inner serenity based on his deepest conviction that it would fall of its own tragic errors. I remember him speaking to reporters on a plane to Africa shortly after the Fall of the Berlin Wall when he directed the world's attention to the poverty and disease of Africa without any slight triumphalism over the outcome in Central and Eastern Europe. And to the very end, and into eternal blessing.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Blaming the Blogs

The media establishment is a bit angry at Blogs these days because information, opinions and access are getting away from their control. The Eason Jordan debacle from Davos and CNN, the Dan Rather spurious story on W and the military, and so many other media screw-ups are getting the heat they deserve. I do not experience this primarily as a left-right wing, culture war. I see it as media anger that its hegemony is being so effectively challenged. Besides the Blogs, there is a dramatic downturn of circulation in the print media, the silly efforts to fill a 24/7 news cycle on cable, and the hyped up celebrity trials, nutritional scares and all the insatiable gossip. It not all bad but it is mostly entertainment. Major media has done this to itself and Blogs are a great way of by-passing their stranglehold on access. Bloggers, go for it and let a thousand flowers really bloom this time.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Gates of Central Park

Thousands of visitors today flocked Central Park today for the beginning of Christo's much publicized art installation of 7500 gates all with saffron hangings. Another Paulist and I spent a few hours wandering among the Gates and the visitors. At first entering the park, I was struck by the immensity of the installation. Everywhere you looked, saffron hung from these Gates. The effect was powerful and people appeared to love the different atmosphere in a very familiar landscape. We wandered toward the Bethesda Fountain, on up around the Great lawn and back to Columbus Circle. After a while the sameness of the Gates did seem to become a bit tedious yet I was far more engrossed with the whole installation than I had ever expected. I am still more taken with the photos of his umbrella installation in Japan and California some years ago but I can confidently say that, at least for this jaded New Yorker, Central Park will never be the same, even long after the Gates come down in 16 days.

Friday, February 11, 2005

C.S.I. and TV viewing

I am in a huge number of people who almost never miss an episode of CBS's great hits, 3 different versions. I love the NY CSI best but the other 2 always catch me watching. I often tape them to watch them at a more convenient time -- and FF the commercials. Why the great appeal? The shows dazzle us with some probably unreal scientific and forensic skills. I have heard that people now get mad at local police who show up without all the latest gadgets they have seen on CSI. I am glad these shows are on and they are doing so well. Even with all the fanciful tricks and gimmicks, I have learned a great deal, even about the way DNA works. The rush of "reality TV shows" pose no interest for me, but I am glad to have these CSI shows and some others that really tell a good story. American TV is, as Newton Minnow, said 40 years ago, a Wasteland, but now and then some intelligence and drama and acting catch us. Thanks to those who can muster all that.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Lenten Prayer Page

Once again this year, the Irish Jesuits have the great Lenten prayer page for Lenten prayer. It is very well done and invites us to take a few moments each day to accept the invitation to accept God's love during this season. I have found it to a very valuable way to observe this season and am grateful to the Jesuits for their welcome gift.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ash Wednesday, Cancer and Meaning

Early this morning, Fr. Frank Diskin put the ashes on my head and I began my Lenten reflections. Now I am leaving to cross Manhattan for my regular check and treatment at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I expect it to be routine, thank God. Yet this monthly visit is another opportunity, as is Ash Wed, to acknowledge death. The reality of death provides me with an horizon against which my life is played out. It creates a perspective for my present moment and a hope for the future. Nothing really sad or morbid comes to me from these thoughts and realities, but I understand it all as a opening into the fullness of life. I ask your prayer for my cancer treatments but also for all who struggle with this and other diseases, and for all those who do research to cure or alleviate illnesses.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Lent 2005

I was always a bit amazed at the large turnouts of college students to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Something about embracing mortality and beginning all over again inheres in the ritual of the day. I love the reflective tone and the somber (not morbid) atmosphere that pervades the day in most churches. We all live with fantasies of wiping out the past and turning a new page. As we say so often these days, "its time to move on." Surely some of that is a dangerous denial of history, both individual and communal. Yet it also corresponds to the meaning of Lent. God does put our past behind us and invites us to begin over again. We do have to live, mired in old ideas and ancient personal hurts. Death is not just the last moment of material life, but is something that joins us always on our journeys. Ideas, memories and other debris from the past can die off and cease to hold us hostage. Taking ashes tomorrow may be a strong ritual way of setting ourselves on the new course. Meanwhile, Happy Mardi Gras until mid-night.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Faith, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

A lot is being written and argued about faith and evolution with huge attention devoted to the current revivals of the "Monkey Trail." Unfortunately there is widespread ignorance about science and religion, in all their diversities. I do believe that there is one, simple, unified truth in God, but that is not captured completely in any human formulations. Science and faith proceed, each in its own manner, toward that truth. Science and faith have, not different truths, but different methods, styles, criteria and purposes. I accept evolution as the scientific account of the origins of life. Even though I am not a scientist, I recognize that there are many different theories of hom life evolves. I do not turn to the book of Genesis to learn scientific truths, nor to find some judgement for or against modern evolutionary theories. From Genesis, I discover that all creation is God's handiwork, that all is good, that we have free will and that we have exercised that free will in harmful ways from the beginning, that there is therefore an massive flaw in us and in all creation that is called the Original Sin, and that we are, nevertheless, essentially good beings because we are created in the image and likeness of God. Just as I would not look into poetry to find out how to set up my computer, I try not to confuse faith and science. I worship the God of the bible, in community with the people of the bible, but I do not worship the bible as a book of texts. I believe that it is God's word, expressed in a great variety of literary styles, and written over many different eras. The bible is a great gift, but so is science. And when I worship God, I thank God for both extraordinary gifts.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Nothing Is Lost

The cliche certainly has us all looking back into memories as we get older. No doubt, there is much truth in this truism. I also experience delight mixed with fear when I allow my memories to come forth. The fear is that I am losing some of them, or forgetting, and that some really important thoughts get lost. (I am not specifically fearful of any real memory loss at this point in my life.) Then I reflect on the central role of memory in Christian faith. "Do this in memory of me." "Remember me at (name of shrine or sanctuary)." We even talk about being held in God's memory. All our existence, past, present and unknown future dwells in God's mind. Being held in God's mind is exactly what created us and sustains us in existence. This will lead us into eternity. All our assurance, self-confidence, hope and life is rooted in that mind and its glorious memory which, as God does not live under the constraints of time and place, will hold us always and, in that mind, nothing is ever lost.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Marriage, Parenting: Vocation

When I was a young Catholic growing up, I used to hear parents and others talk about the self-sacrifice of priests, brothers and sisters ( people who gave up family fulfillment to serve the church). Those reflections were always offered with respect and admiration. Now all these years later, I have to disagree with my elders (now that I am an elder). If I have seen anything in 37 years of priesthood, it is that parents and spouses are the ones who make the great sacrifices. As a college chaplain for most of those years, I was able to see all this manifested in the lives and personalities of college students. Obviously, some came from families where the sacrificial demands of love were not met, and in some cases greeted with scorn. But then, through the students, I would hear incredible tales of how much time, effort, love, and pleasure their parents sacrificed for their families. Sometimes, it was very dramatic or demanding with tales of single parents, or families torn by illnesses or family break-up. But it always showed itself in young people who had that inner, indestructible assurance that their parents would be there for them, whatever the cost. Sometimes I wish that society would simply pay and support certain people to be parents because they are so good at it. I am very aware of how endangered this kind of parenting has become in contemporary American society. We do not need Federal Laws to protect families, but we do need people to sustain and nurture parents with support, help and loud admiration. Marriage alone, even without the children, requires sacrifice and, in my opinion, is the prime sign of the great love of God for each of us. I can think of nothing more heroic, more essential, more inspiring than parents and children in marriage and families. No wonder that, from the earliest days, they called marriage a sign of the Divine Covenant, a great sacrament.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


An email I just received from someone who checks out Blogs that have "Paulist" involved happens to come from a friend of our Vocation Director, Fr. Ed Nowak, with whom I live in our NY house. It got me thinking about vocations and my correspondent also mentioned that she could not be a seminarian. (I will write to her about being a theology student instead.)

If anyone who is reading this has thought about priesthood or the religious life, I urge you to talk with people about that. Every diocese has a vocations department or director, as does every religious community of women or men. There are also a huge and growing number if lay ministry opportunities like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. If you would like me to offer some info, just email me.

I will add here, in the service of my own community, that the Paulists would be glad to talk with Catholic men about the Paulist Fathers, their work and mission. Write to Fr. Nowak at: or call at 800-235-3456 or 212-757-4260. I would add that I am confident that many people would, as I have been blessed to find out, discover enormous life fulfillment in a church vocation. Tomorrow I will tell you why I think the vocation of marriage and parenting is so important and the life that involves the great sacrifice.