Relief or Rejoice? Reflections on the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Just after midnight, President Obama announced to the American public that Osama Bin Laden was dead. He gave a powerful and measured speech detailing a covert military operation into Pakistan. He began: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. This is THE story dominating today’s “news cycle.” As a New Yorker, who vividly remembers the events of 9/11 and a Catholic moral theologian highly critical of the way the memory of 9/11 has been used to justify two wars, Guantanamo detention centers, and the deaths of thousands of civilians – I find myself perplexed and uneasy with what I am seeing. On the one hand, I too feel a sense of relief. Was arresting and putting Bin Laden on trial ever really an option? I’d always assumed and attempt to capture him would result in a firefight. Was his covert existence “out there” a persistent threat to the United States and its citizens at home and abroad? Yes, I do believe he was. However, there is a difference relief and rejoicing.  Retributive justice being done and  a sense of profound relief is quite different from active rejoicing in the death...

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Be Attentive Instead of Liberal or Conservative

Bernard Prusak recently reviewed Leaving and Coming Home: New Wineskins for Catholic Sexual Ethics.  While having the book reviewed is itself an honor and while Prusak hailed the book as “courageous” for addressing sexual ethics, he concluded that overall it was a failure (my word, not his) of scholarship and in overcoming the liberal-conservative bifurcation of Catholic moral theology. Prusak stated that the book was insufficiently critical, historically inattentive, and mostly irrelevant to the needs of the Catholic Church.  He noted only one essay was critical of Humanae Vitae, two essays were in agreement with Church teachings, and the rest dealt ineffectively with such “college ethics class” topics like cohabitation, dating, abuse, and pornography.  Driving Prusak’s review seems to be the idea that “it is difficult to imagine, without a change in the Vatican’s teaching, ‘effectively moving beyond the impasse’ occasioned by Humanae Vitae.” As a contributor to the volume, the review stung.  As a scholar though, the review indicated why the categories of liberal and conservative function more like biases than frameworks for intellectual inquiry. Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit who is best known for his work on epistemology and theological method, said that bias is “a block or distortion of intellectual development”.  The liberal and conservative frameworks are biases in that they fail to grasp the reality of the situation.  In other words, the perspectives make us...

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Providing Compassion Without Judgment: Homeless Alcoholics & St. Anthony’s “Wet Room”

As a nation, when we see our neighbors in need after horrific natural disasters, Americans respond with immense compassion and charity. This is clearly evident in the responses to the stream of storms and tornadoes that ravaged Alabama and the entire region.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, oil spills, tsunamis, earthquakes – natural disasters elicit a strong sense of compassion, interdependence and charity. At the same time, however,compassion for the poor and vulnerable in American culture is often criticized for its distinction between the “deserving and undeserving poor.” In 2005, Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe highlighted the distinction between the victims of Katrina deserving of compassion and the undeserving Boston homeless men in her op-ed “Selective Compassion,” The front page contrast could not have been more clear: Above the fold, the state of Massachusetts was embracing evacuees from the rooftops over New Orleans, below the fold it was evicting squatters from underneath the bridges of Boston. Like those homeless men being evicted from the bridges of Boston, a population that is often met more with judgment than compassion are homeless alcoholics.  Today’s NY Times profiles St Anthony’s House or “The ‘Wet House’ Where Alcoholics Can Keep Drinking” Here, at one of several “wet houses” for chronically alcoholic and homeless men, there is little expectation that he will get sober. Instead, there is a tacit acceptance that tomorrow will most likely be...

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Ethics after Easter

May 1, 2011–Second Sunday of Easter Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 “Peace be with you!” When I say this greeting, which Jesus shares with his hiding disciples, in class to my students, they initially are caught off guard and aren’t sure how to respond. Some automatically respond, “And also with you.” Others almost do so. Indeed, outside of Mass or worship, this greeting and response seem out of place to most of us. But why is this so? Shouldn’t there be a connection between what we say and do during worship and what we say and do during the rest of the week outside of Mass? In his book, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship, the Catholic theological ethicist, Paul Wadell, recalls how, many years ago, he was struck by a question that Methodist theological ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, once asked upon making an initial observation: “You Catholics go to Mass all the time. What do all those Masses do for you?” (15). In other words, does worship make a difference in our lives? Does it have anything to do with who we are (or ought to be) and what we do (or ought to do)? Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the earliest Christians, according to the author of Acts, experienced a new way of life together. “They devoted themselves...

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Would you deny Jesus food stamps?

What would Jesus Cut? Arguing that the budget is a moral document, Rev Jim Wallis and Sojourners magazine has embarked on an admirable and controversial campaign to protect our social safety net. Wallis and his colleagues just completed a Lenten fast for hunger and poverty demonstrating their commitment through an organized collection of religious, political and personal activities. While the ubiquitous What would Jesus Do? is considered popular and part of most teen-spirituality programs, what would Jesus cut? is proving far more controversial.  Debra Saunders of the San Fransisco Chronicle is particularly angry at Wallis’s efforts: While the Sojourners recognize that the deficit is a “moral issue” – as it would be wrong to “leave a world of debt for our children” – the group warns against reducing the debt “on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.” Yet, Ryan would counter, the poor and vulnerable stand to lose the most as the looming “debt crisis” could destroy America’s safety net if Washington fails to address the federal debt. The GOP wants to change the focus of welfare programs away from rewarding dependency and toward rewarding independence. Ryan did not claim to know what Jesus would cut. The Sojourners did. Why, it even knows Jesus believes in global warming. Reader Glen Franklin Koontz came to a different conclusion. “In the Christian faith, the individual is commanded to love his...

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Would you like a slice of reality with that ideal?

One of the complaints that people sometimes make about Catholic social teachings is that they don’t seem very related to “real life.” For example, the Catholic social tradition often discusses fairness in wages and the concept of “decent work”. Of course, the term “just wage” is hotly debated, as is “decent work.” What would it mean to have a just wage? How would one account for disparities between peoples’ life/family situations? Some have made good choices and some bad. And “decent work” is, well, “nice work if you can get it.” In the past few months I have been struck by the petulance with which people discuss “collective bargaining” and “those government workers who get all these perks that we’re paying for.” Somehow, in the minds of many, these so called perks are luxuries that ought to be done without (and let us remember, the perks amount to: pension plans, the “good” health insurance, and three extra vacation days on average – so 11 vacation days rather than 8. And even with 11 days, we still are dwarfed by most other nations.) Strangely enough, though, these “perks” sound quite a bit like what Pope Benedict XVI writes about in Caritas in Veritate: [Decent work] means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively...

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Mission Creep in Libya: CIA Ops and Drones Now, Ground Troops and Assassination Attempts Later?

The message was clear.  It was to be a humanitarian intervention only: But history is filled with examples of military interventions so justified–the logic of which eventually leads to unintended consequences. Indeed, since the intervention we have seen that Western support of the rebels was apparently not carefully considered…and might have even resulted in the arming of certain “flickers of Al Qaeda.” On Holy Thursday US Predator Drones entered the theater. Perhaps not coincidentally, Easter Sunday brought with it calls for directly attacking Gaddafi by folks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. After all, wouldn’t this solve the stalemate in the civil war? It looks good in comparison to the ground troop solution proposed by the EU. Has macro-proportionality (admittedly in hindsight) already been violated? Can the creeping logic of this military intervention be...

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Stepping Down from the Ivory Tower: Pange Lingua and the Triduum

As I was participating in tonight’s Holy Thursday mass, I remembered that Thomas Aquinas wrote one of the great hymns that we sing today – Pange Lingua. This patron saint of ours was a very intimidating person, in more ways than one, wasn’t he? Augustine is another one who wrote some amazing homilies, clearly tagged for non-ivory-tower audiences. It’s rather unfortunate, I think, that the City of God gets so much attention, because his homilies are packed full of rich metaphors and theological ideas. I have one sermon tacked on my office door that answers the question of why Jesus came to earth only to die: that bread may be hungry, and the fountain thirsty; that the light might sleep, and the way be weary from a journey; that the truth might be accused by false witnesses, and the judge of the living and the dead be judged by a mortal judge; that justice might be convicted by the unjust, and discipline be scourged with whips hung up on a tree; that strength might grow weak, eternal health be wounded, life die. One of the reactions I sometimes get when I say I’m a theologian is that we’re too cerebral and don’t participate in “faith on the ground” as much as we should. Maybe that’s because we don’t often write for “popular” audiences? I can’t say I know any...

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Give Us This Day: Connecting Liturgy with Daily Life

A new monthly publication from the Liturgical Press (a service of the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey, of which I am an oblate): Give Us This Day that I thought our blog readers and/or contributors might be interested in. The idea is to provide resources to help connect the liturgy to daily life.  Here’s how they describe it: A new, personal prayer periodical from Liturgical Press-a trusted publisher of liturgy, Scripture, and spirituality founded by the Benedictines of Saint John’s Abbey in 1926. Deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition, Give Us This DayTM is about prayer-praying daily, praying well, praying with confidence. Give Us This DayTM supports your desire to establish prayer as a part of your life, enhancing your existing practices and deepening your encounter with God by providing: A practical approach to daily prayer Prayers and readings for daily Mass Daily prayer, Morning and Evening A reflection on the Scriptures for each day They have a great editorial board lined up as well, including: Kathleen Norris, James Martin, bishop Morneau, Irene Nowell, Timothy Radcliffe, and Ronald Rolheiser. You can also request a free sample – I just requested mine.  ...

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