29 February 2012

The Dictatorship of Relativism

Once again, I am faced with the question of exactly what we are doing here at Vanderbilt. Although I do not seek to impose on anyone, proposing Jesus Christ necessarily involves defending the dignity of the human person. We were talking about that fundamental moral norm in RCIA last night as we finished up the 10 Commandments. The dignity of the human person leads to the following propositions, which come up in life here at Vanderbilt:

getting drunk is wrong

sex is made for marriage

marriage is made for a man and a woman

human life begins at conception

human life is inviolable

abortion takes human life

embryonic stem cell research takes human life

natural law cannot be contradicted by human law

None of these propositions relies on faith or revelation for validity. They are all propositions that can be demonstrated by reason and so they are not impositions on anyone. As propositions, the radiant person of Jesus Christ illumines the truth of these statements. They are not the horse but the cart of the Christian life! The horse -- the power -- of the propositions is The Way, The Truth, and The Life which is Jesus Christ. Have you stopped to look at Him lately? Whether by reason or revelation, we must propose the Truth.

The administration at Vanderbilt do not hold these propositions as principles. I feel sorry for them. They try to moderate some of the worst effects of violating these principles without admitting that these are principles. No wonder it does not work. Let's take the least serious of these propositions, the one about drunkenness, since spring break is coming up! One high administrator was making excuses to me for the sorority girls arrested or hospitalized for drunkenness after rush was over. He said that things in Greek life were getting better! I looked at him, not able to believe what I was hearing. Is this the best life that Vanderbilt has to offer to these young women? Having "fun" that ends in being arrested or hospitalized? The administration are caught in the intellectual dead end of relativism that prevents them from saying that practically anything is wrong. The only thing that is wrong absolutely is to say that anything is wrong. And if nothing is wrong, nothing is right either. They have nothing to propose about drinking...or about sex, or about marriage, or about human life itself for living the good life! "Be nice" and "don't get hurt" is about it.

Getting drunk is not the worst thing in the world. But it is wrong. As a Christian and as a rational human being, I can say that. It demeans the dignity of the human person by overthrowing reason, one of the jewels of the human soul. Christian anthropology allows me to say that. I can say more than "be careful" to students going out for a binge. I can say "don't do it." And what is more important, I can say "let me propose a better Way."

28 February 2012

Percy and Giusanni

I seem to be revolving around the idea of mystery as liberation -- the possibility that life and reality are just too big for human rationality to account for adequately. This was presented to me recently by Walker Percy and Luigi Giusanni. I saw a Percy quotation on the "Bad Catholic" bog, and I heard from Msgr. Giusanni by sticking my head into the small CL community that meets at Frassati House on Tuesday nights. I was listening to their discussion when I literally fell asleep, more or less, standing up. Strange.

Anyhow, I am really not philosophical enough to drink deeply from either Percy or Giusanni so I hope to translate their very good point into the more superficial language of the dilattante that I am!

Rationality is a wonderful thing. Really. But it is simply too flat to account for the amazing depths and heights of human life. There are not enough dimensions to rationality. I love going to the beach at the Red Neck Riviera with my family every year. Last summer, I rented a bike for the week. How easy to ride a bike where it is flat! But, you know, I miss the hills after a while. Where is the thrill of coasting down hill or the dread of the steep incline? Rationality is like that. It explains things so well on one dimension, but it entirely misses things like glory and despair. And love.

To use the words of Percy, rationality "won't do" to account for love. Only mystery can do that, and the mystery that does it best is the mystery that is grounded in rationality just like we are: the Incarnation.

27 February 2012

The Phenomenon of Ash Wednesday

Everyone comments on how many people come to Mass on Ash Wednesday, and many wonder out loud why this is the case. I think that the answer is simple: Ash Wednesday shows that there is something bigger to live for. Shows it.

We are Catholics on Ash Wednesday.

I was talking to a resident in the medical school over the weekend. He said that his attending physician took the residents out for pizza on Friday. The attending made a point of ordering veggie pizza and telling why: it was a Friday in Lent. He added that he was a pretty bad Catholic. But he abstained from meat on Friday. This led everyone else to as well.

What's that about?

Everyone has picked up the new translation without a hitch, "consubstantial" and all. The easiest Mass at the Cathedral to implement the changes that the Church is calling for is the Sunday evening Mass, which has by far the youngest crowd. They want to be more Catholic, not less.

If God can be contained by my understanding, then He is a pretty small God. The real God -- the BIG one -- pushes me beyond my understanding into the adventure of faith. He says, "I know more than you do. Trust me."

We express this trust in mystery.

So much for the mystery of Ash Wednesday!

26 February 2012

Unity of Life

What a great idea! I have a real hunger for it, and it seems that many students do too.

"For the love of God" was the theme of the students' Valentine's party. Party for the love of God? Indeed! Everything for the love of God. Pray for the love of God, work for the love of God, sex for the love of God, rest for the love of God. It all makes sense. It makes everything make sense!

That is the burden and the blessing -- but it is a burden of glory, the "weight of glory." We were made not to "slug it out for mediocrity but to sprint for glory." The Christian life is truly an adventure.

Live Jesus!

24 February 2012

Serves me right!

I should have known better than to schedule a party during Lent -- on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, no less. But God took care of it, and turned it into a mortification for me. Yesterday, Fr. Malloy called to say that because of bad weather in South Bend, he could not make it to Nashville in time!

So we scrambled -- or more accurately, Kathleen scrambled -- and everything was fine. She is the best caterer as well as the best pastoral assistant. Ever.

But I got the point!

18 February 2012

7 Points to the New Evangelization

Cardinal-designate Dolan was chosen by the Pope to address the group for today's Day of Reflection and Prayer on the vigil of the consistory.

The New York archbishop recommended the following seven pointers:

1) Remembering that even those who boast of their secularism have an innate longing for the divine; the first step of evangelization must be to keep the quest for God alive

2) "Be not afraid" -- confident, without being triumphalist, since it is the power of God who sends his people to evangelize

3) Knowing that the new evangelization is not about presenting a doctrine or belief-system, but a Person, whose name is Jesus

4) Nevertheless, this Jesus is the Truth. Hence, evangelization is linked to catechesis

5) An evangelist must be a person of joy -- someone who smiles

6) The new evangelization is about love -- the love of God made concrete in service

7) Finally, martyrdom. A reminder that the Church is now peopled by those who are suffering persecution for their faith, and that these martyrs give impetus to the new evangelization

16 February 2012

From the Vanderbilt of the north...

This letter, from the author of this year's Commons' summer book, sounds like deja vu all over again. Harvard has already been here! The administration is so last decade!

Read it and smile :-)

14 February 2012

Mandate Still Mandated

Six More Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate

1. The rule that created the uproar has not changed at all, but was finalized as is. Friday evening, after a day of touting meaningful changes in the mandate, HHS issued a regulation finalizing the rule first issued in August 2011, “without change.” So religious employers dedicated to serving people of other faiths are still not exempt as “religious employers.” Indeed, the rule describes them as “non-exempt.”

2. The rule leaves open the possibility that even exempt “religious employers” will be forced to cover sterilization. In its August 2011 comments, USCCB warned that the narrow “religious employer” exemption appeared to provide no relief from the sterilization mandate—only the contraception mandate—and specifically sought clarification. (We also noted that a sterilization mandate exists in only one state, Vermont.) HHS provided no clarification, so the risk remains under the unchanged final rule.

3. The new “accommodation” is not a current rule, but a promise that comes due beyond the point of public accountability. Also on Friday evening, HHS issued regulations describing the intention to develop more regulations that would apply the same mandate differently to “non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations”—the charities, schools, and hospitals that are still left out of the “religious employer” exemption. These policies will be developed over a one-year delay in enforcement, so if they turn out badly, their impact will not be felt until August 2013, well after the election.

4. Even if the promises of “accommodation” are fulfilled entirely, religious charities, schools, and hospitals will still be forced to violate their beliefs. If an employee of these second-class-citizen religious institutions wants coverage of contraception or sterilization, the objecting employer is still forced to pay for it as a part of the employer’s insurance plan. There can be no additional cost to that employee, and the coverage is not a separate policy. By process of elimination, the funds to pay for that coverage must come from the premiums of the employer and fellow employees, even those who object in conscience.

5. The “accommodation” does not even purport to help objecting insurers, for-profit religious employers, secular employers, or individuals. In its August 2011 comments, and many times since, USCCB identified all the stakeholders in the process whose religious freedom is threatened—all employers, insurers, and individuals, not just religious employers. Friday’s actions emphasize that all insurers, including self-insurers, must provide the coverage to any employee who wants it. In turn, all individuals who pay premiums have no escape from subsidizing that coverage. And only employers that are both non-profit and religious may qualify for the “accommodation.”

6. Beware of claims, especially by partisans, that the bishops are partisan. The bishops and their staff read regulations before evaluating them. The bishops did not pick this fight in an election year—others did. Bishops form their positions based on principles—here, religious liberty for all, and the life and dignity of every human person—not polls, personalities, or political parties. Bishops are duty bound to proclaim these principles, in and out of season.

11 February 2012

What about the laity?

I hope that the bishops' will keep up the pressure to win conscience protection for lay employers, who after all employ many more people than Church-run institutions do.

The lay faithful have just as much right to have their consciences respected!

10 February 2012

Silver Linings!

Just as the discrimination against religious groups here at Vanderbilt has produced more prayer and more consideration of religion on campus than I have ever seen before, so too the HHS mandate has highlighted contraception in a way never before seen. It is a great teachable moment for the Church to educate on what is wrong with contraception.

We have neglected this teaching for a long time, and that neglect is haunting us now. The rational arguments for marriage, for example, are founded on the understanding that openness to procreation is naturally built into the marital act. If it is OK for procreation to be excluded from sex, then there is no rational argument against all kinds of sexual variations. Other than the unique relationship to children, sex need not be limited in any particular way. Eliminate the possibility of children, and anything goes! That is just what we see in the debates about same-sex marriage -- it is about preferences, not principles.

Let's propose Jesus Christ -- including His teaching about what God intended for marriage from the beginning: "be fruitful and multiply"! That is what marital love does -- naturally!

08 February 2012

To Live of Love

Here is the real answer to the Provost's question: "I’m Catholic. What if my faith beliefs guided all of the decisions I make from day to day?"

It is a poem by St. Therese. It really is our guide to how to respond to this whole controversy. Go read it and see what you think.

07 February 2012

Prayer...that's better!

Prayer Before Study
by Thomas Aquinas

Ineffable Creator.
You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign,
world without end.


06 February 2012

What's the deal with drag shows?

The big event this semester at the Commons Center, the student center of the first year "college" at Vanderbilt, was "Viva Las Vandy," which included a drag show. What's up with that?


When I am weak, then I am strong

Vandy Awakening X is now one for the history books! Thanks for your prayers. They were answered powerfully.

Let's pray for perseverance in the good resolutions made. And for a little rest :-)

03 February 2012

The Papist

Read this from a newish blog The Papist -- I like that, no modifiers!

(PJ just happens to be president of Vanderbilt Catholic!)


What is VAX? Believe it or not, it's Vandy Awakening 10! Please pray for a new Pentecost over the weekend.

I am sooooo proud of the leaders of this retreat for really reaching out to invite others to the retreat. They get the new evangelization. It is true for all of our student leaders. They are being so apostolic!

I am also excited for Awakening -- just like the "old days" when we began!

01 February 2012

Salus Animarum

Enough about the non-discrimination policy! We have fought the good fight. Anyone who cares to know, knows our problems with the policy. It is going into effect. We will have to wait to see what the administration intends to do. Fortitude consists primarily in patient endurance. Give it to us, Lord!

Let's get back to the work of "salus animarum" -- "the safety of souls." Actually, I hope that we have never left it. We have Awakening coming up this weekend! There is dinner at Dismas House tonight, adoration tomorrow, and Mass every day. There is so much good going on. And there are so many grave and immediate threats to the safety of souls here at Vanderbilt -- here and here. Jesus, save souls!