Author: Patrick Clark

Presence and Absence in the Holy Land

Many of us in the Theology Department at the University of Scranton have just recently returned from a week-long trip to the Holy Land which was very generously sponsored and organized by the Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies here at Scranton. Now that we are home and trying to fight our way through the jet lag, we are also naturally attempting to reflect on and interpret the many sights and events we experienced.  And for me, the overriding theme to which I keep returning is God’s presence and absence. Where can we find God, and in what respect does He remain elusive to us? The question really began to arise at the Western Wall, which I had the privilege of visiting on four different occasions, all at different times of the day. Unlike many of the other sacred sites, the crowd at the Wall is always dominated by people who are visibly and entirely engaged in the act of prayer. The transparency of the devotion at the Western Wall is arresting.  The many movements, murmurs, and gazes that surround you all seem to have a direct and discernible orientation. The rationale for going there is very simple and specific: it is the point of maximal proximity to God’s presence on the Temple Mount. The people who go there do so because He is there. “The Divine Presence never moves from the Western Wall,” reads an information plaque at the entrance of the plaza. Yet of course,...

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Does Catholic social doctrine allow us to say that bin Laden deserved death?

Barack Obama gave an interview to 60 Minutes this past Sunday to talk about the attack on Osama bin Laden. It made absolutely compelling television, and the president was particularly sterling. The most intriguing question, I thought, came at the end, when Steve Kroft asked the President, “Is this the first time that you’ve ever ordered someone killed?”  Obama’s response pointed to the power and gravity of the presidential office: “Well, keep in mind that, you know, every time I make a decision about launching a missile, every time I make a decision about sending troops into battle, you know, I understand that this will result in people being killed. And that is a sobering fact. But it is one that comes with the job.” Kroft did not let the question go: “This was one man. This is somebody who’s cast a shadow in this place, in the White House for almost a decade.” Obama then said something that I found rather shocking: “As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.” Perhaps I need to have my head examined, but does it not seem a little disturbing that our President feels it...

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American Justice and Divine Mercy: Thoughts on Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Here are just a couple scattered thoughts that have come swirling into my mind in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death: First, should we consider it anything more than a blind coincidence that this momentous attack was carried out on Divine Mercy Sunday? (And coincidentally the same Divine Mercy Sunday set aside for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, who designated the Easter Octave as a universal commemoration of divine mercy?) Second, is it appropriate to feel at least feel a little uncomfortable with the primary meaning which our President (and the media) has attached to this momentous attack, which was  set in motion on Divine Mercy Sunday, namely that  “Justice has been done” ? True: mercy and justice have always been inseparably linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  (“Love and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss,” as Psalm 85 famously puts it.) But is there any way of intelligibly linking the justice done to Osama Bin Laden with the divine mercy proclaimed by Jesus to St. Faustina, and through her to the whole world? Yes, justice has been done; but whose justice, exactly? Is the justice that was done to this terrorist the sort of justice that Christians should recognize and celebrate? Should Christians consider the eradication of this murderer as an act of divine mercy? If so, how do we fit together his execution with the execution of our Lord? Can we reasonably and...

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Should shame make a comeback?

A colleague friend of mine who works in Second Temple Judaism once quipped that a sure mark of an established Old Testament professor is an inclination toward public shaming in the classroom.  He then related some legendary anecdotes from his own education that backed up his claim, all of which I have to say were quite humorous.  They were humorous, of course, because of their incongruity with contemporary academic decorum, and because of the parallel incongruity we often perceive between modern and pre-modern societies where shaming was prominent, societies such as those depicted in the Hebrew Bible. Contemporary culture generally assumes the experience of shame to be a sign that something has gone wrong in the realm of human interaction.  Shame is pathological, and its source can almost always be traced back to an oppressive (and likely hypocritical) imposition of moral norms by an overreaching communal authority.  Hester Prynne bearing her scarlet “A” is often the first image that appears to the modern mind when considering whether shame is something we should endorse or condemn.  Old Testament teachers notwithstanding, we remain highly suspect of any state of affairs that would cause shame in any regular way.  Some have even criticized sex offender notification laws precisely on this basis.  Indeed, if shame has any appropriate place in our liberal society, it is reserved specifically for those who cause shame in others. That being said, a recent Master’s dissertation here at the University of...

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