Month: August 2012

The Fragility of Excellence

Sports fascinate many people because of what athletes put at risk: their ability to participate and develop through intense focus and work the achievement of excellence in a particular sport. Watching athletes compete at the highest level of physical prowess and intellectual strategizing and concentration proper to their particular sport places into sharp relief how, to use Thomistic language, a human being attempts to become the most realized, most actualized, most perfect practitioner of something. Athletic competition serves as a lens into which one sees the human endeavor to fully realize one’s potential in concentrated form. Sports also serves as a lens for the fragile nature of the human quest for excellence, too. Consider the London Olympics, where the difference between victory and defeat was often measured in barely measurable fractions, and done before an audience of millions, perhaps billions for the high-profile sports. Along with the happiness one may have felt when an athlete won was the relief that when their body could have failed, it did not. That is part of the emotional nature of watching sports, all that practice, all that effort, where an athlete perfected a sport to such a high level of excellence practice after practice, all that work may be for naught because of one small mistake, the physical failure of the body, or the broken mental concentration, which can happen when the athlete must get...

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time- Laws and the Household of God

Deuteronomy 4:1—2,6—8 Psalm 15 James 1:17—18, 21b-22, 27 Mark 7:1—8, 14—15, 21—23 The readings at their core deal with the notorious tension between law and grace in Christian faith, a tension that has been present since its earliest days. The first reading expresses the deep delight which the Jewish people have taken (and continue to take) in the law they have received from God. It is for them a sign of God’s preferential love and covenantal bond with them; to keep it is to have life, and to acknowledge God’s unfailing promises to them. The gospel reading, however, seems to cut against this celebration of the law by pointing to the way in which it can foster duplicity, pride and insensitivity. In the one case it is an instrument of life and a sign of God’s intimacy with his people, while in the other case it is an instrument of sin and death that alienates us from God’s justice. So which is it? No doubt many will place this tension in very different contexts, but in my case I cannot help but hear the dissonance between these passages in a familial, domestic key. Like any parent, I tell my kids to do things all the time. In fact, I tell them to wash their hands several times a day. One might even say that there is a kind of...

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Voting Against Intrinsically Evil Acts: A Working List?

(In no particular order….) 1. Abortion 2. Rape 3. War of Aggression As with every election since at least 2004, the notion of “intrinsically evil acts” arises as a means by which to discern how to vote.  Archbishop Lori is one of the most recent to make this point. The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person. I think I get where Archbishop Lori is coming from: we ought to be aware of intrinsically evil acts and Christians should adamantly witness against those actions, and one of the ways we witness against those acts is in our voting. 4. Adultery 5. Physical torture 6. Masturbation Intrinsically evil acts, for those readers who are unfamiliar with the terminology, are those things humans do that are considered by Catholics to be always and everywhere wrong, regardless of circumstance.  What makes these acts intrinsically evil is that the person’s goal (in technical terms: object) in doing an action is wrong.  Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor notes: Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good...

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The Unity of the Catholic Moral Vision

I’ll say one thing about the nomination of Rep. Paul Ryan for the vice-presidential slot: it has produced some of the most telling exchanges about the details of Catholic thought, especial Catholic social thought, that we have seen in a long while. The fact that the WSJ feels the need to publish not one but two pieces defending Ryan on Catholic grounds is fascinating in itself. Michael Sean Winters has put together quite a blockbuster response to the latest attempt at defense. Winters crisply articulates what could be a manifesto for getting beyond left/right polarization: as someone who strives, and strives mightily to submit his mind and his will to the teachings of the Church, to never be a “cafeteria Catholic,” I will say unequivocally that I am as appalled by Ryan’s dissent as by Biden’s and for the same reason: The libertarianism of the right on economic matters, like the libertarianism of the left on sexual ethics, offends the most central dogmatic claim of the Christian Church, the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity, which reveals that at the heart of all Reality, the source of all Creation, is not an autonomous individual known as God, not an abstract, impersonal Unmoved Mover, but a God who has revealed Himself as relational. His editorial is also notable for pithily summarizing the whole intrinsic evil/prudential judgment issue: To be clear,...

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Dolan at Republican Convention a Mahony-Like Opportunity

So, the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York will apparently find himself in Florida next week offering prayer at the Republican national convention.  Understandably, even though he said that it won’t be an endorsement and he is open to doing the same thing if the DNC invites him, many have pointed out  that the optics of this are pretty bad–especially for those of us who are worried that this kind of decision allows the narrative to stick that Dolan and many US bishops are supporting the GOP. My first reaction was to wish that had refused the invitation and publicly said that he wishes to leave no doubt about the fact that the Church’s commitment to a tradition which began in the ancient Middle East means that it simply doesn’t fit into a right/left American binary created in the 1970s. However, now that he is going, there is an important opportunity to send the same message in a different way. His model could be that of Roger Cardinal Mahony speaking to the delegates of the Democrat national convention in 2000. He began that address in the following way: I welcome you to the “City of Angels” with all its vibrant religious, ethnic, and racial diversity. I come to this great convening out of respect for our nation’s democratic traditions. I come as a pastor, not a politician; an advocate of values,...

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