Month: July 2011

True Nourishment in Community

Reflections for July 31, 2011  Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Is 55:1-3; Ps 145: 8-9, 15-16, 17-18; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21 The theme of feeding is impossible to miss in this Sunday’s readings. It is also difficult to miss in the larger narrative of salvation history. Appropriately, this week’s Gospel story of the loaves and fishes feeding five thousand plus women and children (Mt 14:13-21) makes allusions looking both to the past and to the future. Looking to the past, we are reminded of the people of Israel who, also traveling in a deserted place, are nourished with manna from heaven (Ex 16; Num 11). Looking to the future, we recall the promise of the heavenly banquet where all shall be nourished more exquisitely than ever before. The imagery of eating and feeding is central to our Christian story, epitomized in our Eucharistic celebrations. Indeed, food aptly captures some of the most profound mysteries of our faith. Most obviously, it is life-giving and in need of constant replenishment. For purposes of this reflection however, I want to focus on the union that food makes possible. The act of eating is an intimate union even in the material sense. We literally incorporate (from Latin in¬- + corpor-, corpus body) the fruits of creation. On a molecular level, it is not much exaggeration to say that we become what we...

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Is There a Christian Response to the Debt Ceiling Debates?

When it comes to providing solutions to particular political dilemmas, there is always room for disagreement among honest and sincere Christians, and everyone else involved for that matter.  Thus, the short answer to my question is no, there is not one, distinctively Christian response to the current debate about the debt ceiling.  There are, however, fundamental principles at the root of the question, and the way in which one defines those principles will highlight the options available in distinctive ways.  On this point, I would argue that there are certain core principles that Christians are to consider when formulating a response to the current issue. Drawing upon modern Catholic social thought and the work of Thomas Aquinas’ political thinking, the goal of law and political authority is to serve, enhance, and protect the common good of society (see, for example, Summa Theologiae I-II Q. 90).  It is perhaps ironic – or tragic – that the common good is the one element that seems to be missing from the current national debate.  This seems to be due to the fact that the ideology that holds the most momentum right now in our political system – and hence that controls the terms of our debate – is the far-right ideology represented most vocally by the tea-party movement (but engaged by others as well).  This ideology, rather than upholding the common good...

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Can we make sense out of killing sprees?

Over the course of the past century, “spree killings” committed by and directed toward civilians have become a regular part of our social world. It seems that we have developed a discrete category for them in our social imaginary. In the years since the Columbine massacre of 1999, the dramatically increased frequency of these killings has had the effect of crystallizing this category in our collective consciousness. When I heard about the massacres carried out this year in Tuscon and Norway, I was no less horrified than I was when I heard about Columbine, but now I feel I like can more readily name what happened. I feel like the conceptual “box” into which I place these kinds of events is more defined and accessible. And judging by the increased rapidity with which these killings have become political weapons, it would appear that the wider public is also getting better at “making sense” of this sort of violence. Yet from a theological perspective, I wonder whether the attempt to make sense these events is not misguided at some level. Of course, we can and should make moral distinctions between certain types of killing, between murder and self-defense, for instance, or between terrorism and justified revolution. Such distinctions, however, are presumably based upon the more fundamental distinction between good and evil, which in the Christian view is not a distinction between two categories of being, but rather one between being and its...

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Massacres Are Never Moral

What I write here may seem so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be stated; however, an acquaintance on Facebook asked in his status update, “Where are all the moderate Christians denouncing the extremist Christian shooter in Norway?” As terror analysts, pundits, news anchors, bloggers, etc. ponder why suspect Anders Behring Breivik committed the heinous massacre in Oslo, Norway–especially given their focus on his identifying himself as a Christian and a conservative and his manifesto declaring “pre-emptive war on all cultural Marxist/multiculturalist elites of Western Europe”–I think it important to say a few things. First, those of us who are Christians (moral theologians or not) are heartbroken about the lives that were lost, and the victims and their families are in our prayers. Second, we should learn from the mistaken rush to blame mass violence on Islamic terrorists. As my esteemed colleague John Renard noted a few years ago in a brief but excellent piece (I strongly encourage you to read it) in the Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace, “Pervasive and persistent identification of terrorist ideologies and deeds almost exclusively with Islam ignores, or denies outright, the shocking global record of mass violence driven by clearly non-Islamic motivations.” Indeed, many such horrific acts are perpetrated, he writes, by “avowedly secularist” and other groups, including Christians. Related to this point, as William T. Cavanaugh in his The Myth of Religious Violence argues, “In the West,...

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Facing Reality & Exposing The Myth of the Radical Self-Sufficient Individual

Am I my sister’s keeper? Am I my brother’s keeper? I have always found it interesting that when that phrase appears in popular media, it almost always is used in the same way as Scripture – as a deflection for accepting responsibility. That is, the character saying “what am I my sister’s keeper?” places himself or herself in the place of Cain, who is of course attempting to avoid accepting responsibility for murdering his brother Abel.  The point of the Genesis story is quite clear – we are our brother/sister’s keeper. If we fast forward to 2011, the popular imagination continues to try and deflect responsibility and deny the simply FACT of the human community. In its current incarnation, we stand before God trying to deflect responsibility through the delusions of libertarianism and the philosophy of Ayn Rand. There have been a series of Christian blogs, newspapers and magazines that have taken on the insidious influence of Ayn Rand on the Paul Ryan budget and Tea Party platform. (For example: John Gehring at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Faith in Public Life; and an old favorite – from 2008 – Dan Finn‘s “Libertarian Heresy: The Fundamentalism of Free-Market Theology” to name a few).  Paul Ryan and those who wish to uphold the “Catholic social teaching-cred” of his budget admit that Ayn Rand’s atheism is problematic and somehow...

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