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Monday, June 04, 2007

For Catholics

After some thought, I have concluded that if the Holy Spirit has been at work in some of the recent travails of The Episcopal Church (once ECUSA) as the participants claimed, it chose to operate by abandoning the field in order to demonstrate a clear choice to other churches and perhaps for Jewish congregations as well.

That Which Is does tend to write straight with crooked lines. Read about the Clown Eucharist.

Read about the Presiding Bishop's "pastoral" visit to the Virginia diocese:
With each new presentation in her slow and measured monotone, the Presiding Bishop made it clear she highly values continuing dialogues with others without necessarily valuing coming to a place of agreement. The final place that we can find in theology is ambiguity. While we may start by seeing things far more clearly, like a child learning to read by learning the alphabet she said, we learn as we grow that language is far more complex and ambiguous. I suppose she intended to say that those who were growing in their faith would also be leaving behind childish certainty for a more mature sense of ambiguity. Her comment later in the proceedings gave a very clear insight into her way of working through all these issues. She said, “I have no clear answers, that’s what pastoral skill is about.”
Additional commentary on that at TitusOneNine.

You may find a quote from Catholic Mom's appearance at a topic on Stand Firm (an orthodox Episcopalian site) useful:
Wow. You Calvinists must be a million laughs at a party. I mean, when you’re not competing over which of you is lower than pond scum (actually prettier than the metaphor you use) you’re dragging down all of Creation. And I thought they always said that Catholics were the ones who sat around enduring their lot waiting for a better world after death while the Protestant beavers were out there changing things?

Seriously...I always get a good laugh from Ms. Schori’s “theology.” My 8 year old son can reason this stuff out better than she can (of course, he got a better Catholic education than she did.) However—the focus that we CAN improve things right here on earth, right now, and that, in fact we MUST do this, is entirely orthodox from a Catholic perspective. The best I’ve ever seen this summed up was on a bumper sticker that said “Now Jesus has no body (but yours)” Jesus does miracles here on earth every minute of every day—and many of them he does through us. We give him our minds, our hearts, our hands, our bodies, and our talents so he can work to heal creation.

Are we the problem? Absolutely --- in fact, I don’t you’d find any intelligent person of any or no religious persuasion that would disagree with that. Can we “solve” the problem? Absolutely not. Does this mean we can wash our hands and put it all on Jesus? Jesus calls us to cooperate with him in redeeming the world. As St. Teresa said, “We are not called upon to be successful. We are called upon to be faithful.”
Somehow, this stacks up pretty well against the 7/10ths of 1 percent that Schori is planning to devote to the Millennium Development Goals of the UN. An active faith is always a troublesome faith, but I believe it is worth while for you to hold the line on yours. A 7/10ths of 1 percent faith is exactly what Catholic Mom perceives it to be - WEAK:
When I read some of this stuff on SF (and I have a pretty good “historical” education about Protestantism but not a lot of real contact (in terms of discussing theology) with modern day Protestants, so a lot of what I read on SF is really the first time I’ve encountered this) what jumps out at me is this constant refrain of “I’m a sinner, no I’m a bigger sinner, no we’re all just complete sinners and losers and dirt and it’s a wonder that God doesn’t just pour Clorox on us and get rid of the stain once and for all.” This is just NOT what you hear in a Catholic church. Not that anybody is saying we’re NOT sinners—hey, when you stop beating your chest in general and get down to specifics, WE’RE the ones that spend time examining our consciences for specific sins and confessing them and asking forgiveness for them. But the emphasis is not on what poop we are without Jesus, but what we can be and do WITH Jesus. And that’s why we have saints (as per prevous discussion smile) to show us that we can do so much more than we think we can when we walk with God.

Catholics are MUCH more optimistic than you seem to be about what can actually be achieved right here on this earth. The overall impression (and I’m more than willing to be corrected on this) from reading some of the “Calvinist” threads just seems to be that “We need to work hard to bring people to Jesus and to help the poor and needy because that’s what Jesus wants us to do and because that’s what will bring spiritual healing to the world, but this world will never be a better place than it is now no matter what we do because we’re fundamentally such dreck.”

By comparison, let me quote a song that the kids sang at the end of my son’s First Communion two weeks ago, which you are probably going to find heretical, but which is perfectly Catholic:

“Let us build the City of God.
May our tears all turn into laughter.
Let us build the City of God.
May our sorrow turn into joy.”

It’s God’s city, and we’re building it by and with the grace of God, and we don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to finish it here on earth, but God wants us to try as hard as we can nonetheless.
I think the Catholic church is destined to come under tremendous attacks in the decade ahead; she is a deadly threat to the theology of the 7/10ths of 1 percent devoted to MDGs. Look at TEC, and understand that it is worth the battle as Catholic Mom describes it:
...I DO tend to think in terms of what the individual can do. And that also tends to be what I hear in church. Not that they’re making up their own theology a la Madame Schori et al but they’re definitely bringing the emphasis down on what WE CAN do.

When I’m faced with what seems like some overwhelming obstacle (as most people have been at times in their life) I remind myself that “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.” Not that Jesus is going to do it for me, but he’s going to give me the strength, guidance, and comfort to do it myself.

And that’s what I tell my kids. By ourselves, we can’t do it. But with God, all things are possible. So I expect them to face the unfaceable and try the impossible. But I don’t see how it helps my message to be constantly telling them how weak and useless they are without Jesus. I don’t want them to start thinking they have any excuse to be weak and useless, or that they’re lower than dirt etc. God made them, and God doesn’t make dirt. Yes, apart from God they may be nothing, but they are never apart from God because “I am persuaded that nothing....can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
In the west, Catholics seem to have been left with the baton of faith. The Jews have been demonized and smothered into a silence of disdain as the reiterated attempts to block Israelis from academia show most clearly. The call of the Faith of Life is acutely active in the consciences of millions of believers who attend other churches, or none, but their participation in political activity too is under daily, sustained attack.

It appears that Schori is willing to talk with absolutely anyone except an orthodox Anglican or an Israeli politician. This places intense social pressure upon Catholics and Catholicism; it falls to you to maintain that euthanasia of the disabled is not the ultimate act of mercy, and that abortion is not the enabling sacrament of a New Age, that humans are more than the desires of their genitalia, that communion is more than the meeting of those same genitalia, that the encounter of the Believer with the Holy Spirit is not just a warm bath of acceptance, but a call to action, and that this call to action will frequently consist of Catholic Mom's "to face the unfaceable and try the impossible.".

Now it is true that all of us know the warts, the vices and the failures of our own church better than that of any other. It is also true that the activated consciences of a people of faith will perceive those failings very acutely. So sometimes it is worth pulling back and contemplating the core of life within that same church and the bones of doctrine that support the flesh of that core of life.

It is not that there are not people of towering faith and committed lives in other churches. It is that these other churches have failed to maintain a corporate expression of that call to "face the unfaceable". To understand the full meaning of what I am writing, you will have to read Donal Mathuna's Responding to Patients in the Persistent Vegetative State, which, oddly enough, has a lot about theology in it:
Peter Emmett, a Christian physician, comprehensively surveyed the arguments for and against withholding or withdrawing food and fluids from PVS patients. He concluded that a satisfactory answer would appear only if humans were seen as made in the image of God.[51] He stated that the image of God is present in all humans who have the capacity to image God, seen as some level of relational and rational abilities. In a subsequent article, he claimed that a patient in PVS "is no longer the image of God because physiological life, permanently devoid of relationality and cognition, is not adequate to be imago Dei."[52]

Robert V. Rakestraw developed this argument further. For him, to be an image of God "presupposes some capacity, either actual or at least potential, for self-awareness and self-direction, for relationships and for the exercise of authority over creation."[53] He concluded, "A body without neocortical functioning cannot image God . . . Neocortical destruction is both a necessary and sufficient condition for declaring an individual dead theologically."[54]

John Jefferson Davis comes to this same conclusion. He has claimed that a patient with no potential for life, relationships or consciousness should be viewed as "biblically dead."[55] He supported his view by noting that the soul can live without a physical body in the Intermediate State (2 Cor 5:1-8). Based on this, he concluded that in PVS it is plausible that the patient's body lives on without his or her soul.

Evangelicals are not alone in developing this type of theological argument. Schotsmans, a Roman Catholic scholar, put it this way: "The PVS patient has lost his personality, become totally dependant, cannot organize his own life. He is no longer a free human being. . . . He is socially dead . . ."[56] The Jesuit ethicist, Kevin Wildes, wrote that with the extent of brain damage in PVS ". . . it seems impossible to argue that a substantial union of body and soul remains or that an obligation to sustain life remains."[57]

All of these arguments are based on the assumption that a patient in PVS is unconscious and has no potential for cognition or awareness. However, we have shown how precarious this assumption is. Even if a patient shows no evidence of consciousness, there may still be some form of consciousness present. Even if the cerebral cortex is destroyed, medical evidence shows that other areas of the brain are involved in cognition and awareness. Even if there is no consciousness present now, that does not imply there is no potential for consciousness.

Under Rakestraw's own definition, current medical knowledge suggests that he reaches the wrong conclusion. PVS patients do remain images of God. He distinguishes PVS patients from the severely handicapped because "some capacity and potential--however slight--for imaging God is present in these [latter] cases."[58] For him, to be an image of God one only needs some potential for these abilities, which some medical experts believe PVS patients have.
The Christian authors similarly categorize PVS patients, after first figuring out what it means to be an image of God. Certain rational, spiritual, moral, or relational capacities are proposed as integral to being an image of God. Any human who does not have these capacities (or the potential to develop them) is not an image of God. We no longer have any obligation to keep these humans alive, while we do with humans who are images of God.[62] Once again, the assumption is that if we first categorize patients as images of God, or not, the right treatment will be apparent.[63]
Against this, oppose John Paul II's voice:
In opposition to such trends of thought, I feel the duty to reaffirm strongly that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being does not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances of his or her life may be. A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a "vegetable" or an "animal."

Even our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the clinical condition of a "vegetative state" retain their human dignity in all its fullness. The loving gaze of God the Father continues to fall upon them, acknowledging them as his sons and daughters, especially in need of help.

4. Medical doctors and health care personnel, society and the Church have toward these persons moral duties from which they cannot exempt themselves without lessening the demands both of professional ethics and human and Christian solidarity. The sick person in a 'vegetative state', awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed. He also has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery.

I should like particularly, to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.
Moreover, to admit that decisions regarding man's life can be based on the external acknowledgment of its quality, is the same as acknowledging that increasing and decreasing levels of quality of life, and therefore of human dignity, can be attributed, from an external perspective, to any subject, thus introducing into social relations a discriminatory and eugenic principle.
Both history and rationality show that once you start redefining humanness, the redefinition is elastic and subject to the demands of current convenience. The response to inconvenient human suffering becomes to kill the sufferer rather than aid the sufferer. This becomes a lethal act of self-destruction for society itself. It is effete. It is incapable of maintaining a society that can "face the unfaceable".

Now here is your prophet, speaking in 1995 in the Evangelium Vitae:
Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable. Even certain sectors of the medical profession, which by its calling is directed to the defence and care of human life, are increasingly willing to carry out these acts against the person. In this way the very nature of the medical profession is distorted and contradicted, and the dignity of those who practise it is degraded. In such a cultural and legislative situation, the serious demographic, social and family problems which weigh upon many of the world's peoples and which require responsible and effective attention from national and international bodies, are left open to false and deceptive solutions, opposed to the truth and the good of persons and nations.

The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.
Is this not a remarkably accurate expression of the western world today?

And I thought they always said that Catholics were the ones who sat around enduring their lot waiting for a better world after death while the Protestant beavers were out there changing things?

Because the Protestant beavers have Evolved (hee hee) into slugs, sitting up on their roofs with their packed luggage and marked-up End Time Prophecy charts, waiting for The Rapture (TM). As in:

"Twinkle twinkle coming Christ,
Beam ME up to Paradise!"

When The End (TM) is coming tomorrow at the latest and It's All Gonna Burn (TM), why bother to change things?
Addendum to the above, from a work-in-progress by my writing partner & myself:

"The Catholic Church was able to move into the future because we always had a future. Those Christian sects that had no future found themselves Left Behind."

The Headless Unicorn Guy
I really don't know what to say, because your source is the first time I've run into this. Although this is largely a Protestant area, none of the groups with whom I'm familiar would buy into this stuff.

It struck me as almost Phelpsian, and although I know those people call themselves Baptists, their worldview and their theology is not at all akin that of any Baptist I know.

On the other hand, with regard to the Episcopalian fiasco, the western church is having a hard time being about ANYTHING right now. It's not that there are not very sound people in it, but that as a whole unit, the church seems to be utterly dysfunctional. After all, the problem is not just with the American renegades; the "decision" in the UK wing to allow gays and lesbian ministers to sign up for civil unions as long as they promised their bishop not to have sex struck me as being cruel and unusual theological punishment!

I am uncomfortable with admitting this, but what I used to consider some of the more far-out branches of Protestantism like the Assembly of God and the Church of God (judged by the members I know) seem to have far more in common theologically and psychologically with Catholic Mom than with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I am guessing that the linking of practice to theology is what differentiates the direction of churches. It all comes down to some of Jesus' direct commands. A theology that is focused upon those appears to work - a theology that gets all breezily divorced from what we are supposed to DO as opposed to what we are supposed to BELIEVE seems capable of running off the rails in just about any direction.

And, you know, "by their fruits ye shall know them" is still a basic test for me.
PS: If you will read this at TitusOneNine I think it demonstrates my point (and perhaps yours).
I continue to be amazed that the Episcopalians are deliberately burying their faith and their church. Twenty years ago, I would have said "Why would anyone be Catholic"; now I think, "Why would anyone be Anglican?" I think JPII's outreach will be increasingly relevant.
To the best of my recollection the Episcopalian theology is hardly Calvinist. It appears that the doctrine of total depravity seems to be invoked, but not described accurately here.

I always considered Episcopalians one step away from Catholics, but without the pope and the magisterium they've gone wide of the mark.

Actually what you see is not Protestantism so much as the inroad of liberal theologies which have nothing -nothing- to do with fundamentalist doctrines such as the rapture.

Catholics are quite proud of their education, and I don't begrudge them that, I admire the Catholic trained mind, but many are ignorant of other's church doctrines, theology, and even plain old bible reading. The operative word here is "many".

Unfortunately 'Catholic Mom did not do her homework before she went on a rant. It is always a good idea to read up on things before ranting.

I appreciate the Catholic advocacy of human dignity and their staunch stand for moral and ethical integrity. I think many Evangelicals are at their shoulder in this, although they were a slow season coming to it.

"headless unicorn guy" needs to get a clue- but this is your blog and I leave the debate for clearer statements to work with.....
Ilona, I actually understood Catholic Mom's viewpoint. I often find myself asking "where is the good news in all this?" Several others at the blog did too.

I can't quite consider ECUSA Protestant any more. It seems to be trying to make itself into some sort of Roman Liberal Episcopal church or something. It's all very confusing! It's not so much a liberal theology, but rather that it seems to be trying to develop a dogmatic liberal theology, which is hard to do once you have thrown the Scriptures out as a source.

I agree with you about the Evangelicals; it has been a long time coming, but the Catholic church has changed itself a great deal. You can see it even in the reworked Catechism. And there are evangelical and charismatic Catholics too.

I don't know what to say about all this. I hope the Presbyterians and the Methodists are going to take a different path. There are a lot of ways to be a faithful Christian, but shooting at each other with words really doesn't qualify.
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