Friday, May 27, 2005

Friends

I've had the chance in the past few days to spend some time with friends I have in the Paulist community and now will spend the weekend with other friends. It always provokes me to remember how people become friends and remain close over many years and geographies. Of course, sometimes we just allow friendship to die from lack of attention but I have also recently had some old, lost friends re-appear in my life. We need friends and they need us. There is also the mysterious element of appeal that draws people together which is very hard to fathom. The intimacy and trust of deep friendship is like our basic reliance on water and oxygen. I cannot imagine a life without deep friends.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Deceptions beyond measure

Newsweek has an apparently false report about the Koran being flushed. The the White House and the Pentagon insist that the story damaged the US image and led to killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But an earlier Pentagon story said the killings were not the result of the Newsweek article but caused by other factors. Now new attention is paid to the tragedy of the killing of Pat Tillman by his own soldiers. His family explains how the military put out a completely false coverup story and tried to deceive even the family about the real cause of his death. All this with the background of the immense pack of lies that underlies the US adventures in Iraq. Not to be too sanctimonious, but this is a lot of flagrant deception to absorb.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Washington Interlude

I had a nice trip down here today on a 6 am train from NY. I am here for some meetings to plan the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Paulists in 2008. I am here in the house where I spent 6 years studying philosophy and theology and, despite some renovations, so much of this building speaks volumes to me about life many years ago in a Catholic seminary during the years of Vatican II. Now we have crossed the century mark and a whole new and different world has come into being, beginning with the machine on which I am now writing this. I continue to marvel at what we have lived to see.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

New Priests

This morning 2 new Paulist priests were ordained here in our mother church in a wonderful and festive celebration. They were welcomed by many of their families and friends and a goodly number of Paulists. After some time off now, they will be off to their assignments at The Catholic Center at the University of Texas and at the parish for the University of California at Berkeley. Having served at both places myself, I know they will have a great opportunities in ministry. And we send them with our prayer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Newsweek

Newsweek offers itself to readers as an expert news source about our world. Yet Newsweek did not know how strong the reaction would be to their now very dubious report of US officers flushing the Koran down a toilet. Hard to believe? Who are these "investigative reporters" and their anonymous news sources? The leading one in this case is Ishicoff. Ok, we already saw him endlessly on TV after he alleged broke the Monica/Bill Clinton story. Did he just get the Koran story wrong? Newsweek now says it retracts the story? Is this guy making the whole thing up, sort of stirring the pot? Why would the magazine and its parents at Washington Post allow such inflammatory statements be made so easily? So add this debacle to the Dan Rather-Jayson Blair-government payoffs to news columnists, and it might make you skeptical of what you see and hear in the vaunted media. Is it just lazy, sloppy reporting, or is there an agenda at work?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Transparency: Another Absolute?

As I was reading something over the weekend, I pondered the insertion of "transparency" into so many recent opinion and factual articles, with the unspoken assumption that it points to an absolute value, without which we are bereft of our basic human rights. In this scheme, we have a right to see everything, hear and know absolutely everything. Corporations, government, churches, clubs, families and individuals all need to become transparent to onlookers from the outside. Wait a minute! Do we really want to buy that one? Maybe it applies to some public agencies like the IRS, but I cannot claim a right to see your tax returns so that I can satisfy my curiosity about your income or your charitable deductions. Maybe we want to have something like voluntary or partial or owner-defined transparency. When and how did we slide into this new demand for transparency?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Disasters, NY Style

Just this past week, a retaining wall collapsed onto one of our busiest highways, a key bridge connecting us by rail to the main land went up in flames, plus hundreds of ordinary deaths, murders, thefts and broken hearts. Over all of this, we are faced with a mayor who is hell bent on building a football stadium on Manhattan's West Side, just to ease the traffic flow. If you are in the vast majorityof Americans, you probably just muttered something about how arrogant NYers deserve all this. The other, neglected side of things is that here in NY, most things actually do work, almost all the time, people are immensely good, caring and patient, and we may get a new mayor (who is not a billionaire who buys his election out of pocket). Traffic is moving, people all over these 5 boroughs are bringing their beloved weekends to a close, and gearing up for another Monday morning rush hour. How can anyone really dislike us?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

US Media and Religion

Pope Benedict spoke to the responsibilities of mass media today on Communications Sunday. I often wonder about what the US media is really thinking when it covers religion. Is the fundamentalists antipathy to evolution really the major faith conflict with US culture? Why does a small church get so much coverage for throwing out a few of its anti-Bush congregants? Do media types really think there were cardinal candidates in the recent conclave who, if elected, would change Catholic teachings on abortion? True, the coverage of recent papal events was extraordinary and usually well sourced by utilizing some temporary expert commentators, now it seems to have quickly drifted back into superficial and poorly informed treatment of faith in the US.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

AMERICA Magazine and the departure of Fr Reese SJ

Nearly everyone sees the departure of Fr Reese as a public relations disaster. After all the large, momentous coverage of the death of an incredibly revered pope and the election of Benedict, it will seem to many within and without the church that we are now seeing the iron fist descending. Especially here in the US, AMERICA's editorial policies seemed middle of the road, with a favor shown to the more progressive side. Both sides are heard in its pages, not just on minor issues but on the big ones: abortion, life issues in public life, gay marriage and the famous Dominus Jesus document from Cardinal Ratzinger himself. Clearly the CDF and the Vatican generally could not see how these issues could be up for debate in a magazine that had a sub-title of "America's Catholic Weekly." Not on these very foundational beliefs! Yet some very significant questions remained to be answered. The timing of the announcement of the departure was chosen by the Jesuits after many years of negotiations with the CDF. Why now, why not a year ago, or a few months from now? What specifically after these years of hidden dispute made it "unwinable" at this precise moment? What bishops in the US complained? Were these complaints directed at Fr Reese, at the American Jesuits as a whole and on what topics? What, if any role, was played by the most prominent US Jesuit, Cardinal Avery Dulles, so appointed by John Paul II? What about other Jesuits here and in the Roman leadership? Either pro or con? We don't know. What we do know now for certain is this: Tom Reese is handling it, as he has handled so much in his life, in a wonderfully serene, gracious and Christian way. Our gratitude is truly due him for all that as we wish him all our prayer and good wishes, and to his very fine successor at AMERICA, Fr Drew Christiansen. There will be rancor and anger from some; already there is jubilation and victory marching by some. What we do known is that none of this will come from Tom Reese, a Jesuit, son of Loyola and a profound Christian.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pluralism

In current debates, the word "pluralism" is nearly sacrosanct. Nobody wants to be against it, unless you are strict fundamentalist, of either the religious or secularist variety. As norm of civil society, pluralism means a welcoming of all religious, philosophical and political groups, as long as they do not harm others. It also implies, at least in some contexts like the US, that no favoritism is shown to one of the groups. In much of modern Europe, however, there are still government supported, established religions like the Church of England. I believe it is very important that pluralism not be spun as a kind of indifferentism or agnostism about fundamental truths and issues. This would not be a healthy respect but really an enshrined apathy about great questions. While I do not aspire to coerce people by force or police power to accept fundamental truths about the goodness of human life, the care of the poor, protection of vulnerable, international law, I do not for a minute think these matters are just up for grabs. These issues (and many others) lead us into the freedom being in communion with the truth. In an authentic pluralism, my right to express and to argue for these truths would be respected and even protected by the whole society, including those who may not see truth in my convictions. That does not lead me to think its all a matter of opinion. I don't. And I believe in pluralism because it supports my rights and guards the rights of others. Above all it fosters respect and civil peace.