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Let's be thankful for reasonableness


This year, I am particularly thankful for reasonableness.

A political season has just ended, a season enveloped with fear and anxiety, and the lack of reasonable debate that often brings. To me, this group blog has stayed a pretty steady course -- I've always read more light than heat in the words others contribute here. Different places on the web -- not so much.

But these are anxious times; anxiety and reasonableness rarely function together. Still, there are signs of hope that a political class facing stubborn problems will rise above itself: Speaker-to-be John Boehner has struck a mostly steady chord since the election; yesterday in Kokomo, Indiana, President Obama shelved the rhetoric of the mid-term campaign and returned to a style closer to 2008.

The Silence of the Yams (or How to eat and stay alive)


I took a short cut through Barnes & Noble ‘s last week, the one across the lobby from the best theater in Los Angeles, to get to the parking garage. Actually, it was really my regular detour. I love to browse the new releases. But it was a small book on the paperback table that chose me: “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” by Michael Pollan. I bought it to read on my flight to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving.

Pollan, a journalist turned food detective and defender, was one of the experts who contributed to the excellent and worrisome 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” He also wrote “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “In Defense of Food” and others that explore the food industrial complex and the consequences of genetic manipulation of food and eating what passes for food in America.

The Benefits of Benedict's Fretting


Having driven ourselves into a societal frenzy, America in its infinite capacity for seizing opportunity has created an industry for stress reduction. The ideal is to avoid worry. Alfred E. Newman "What Me Worry" is our stiff-upper-lip aim.

But worry has its uses, as Pope Benedict has illustrated in his whatever-it-means statements about condom use. It shows that the pope is worried about a cluster of issues around sexuality, issues that have presumably been as unbudgeable as items in a vault.

That speaks to the humanity and sweeping intelligence of Benedict. Perhaps the same kind of fretting has troubled previous popes in secret, but he has made his quandary public and therefore opened a window into a sanctuary that has seemed so immutable and impervious to change.

The reality of that worry -- and the implication it carries that settled doctrine isn't so settled after all -- provides encouragement to the recently sainted Cardinal Newman who believed that doctrine developed over time through an agency that was subject to error and distortion.

Archbishop appears in Crucifixion scene, upsets parishioners


In another case of "you can't make this up," The Los Angeles Times writes about the former bishop of Orldano, Fla., Tom Wenski, now archbishop of Miami, who is prominently placed in a stain glass image of the Crucifixion:

When the renovated St. James Catholic Cathedral is dedicated here Saturday, the new stained-glass windows will feature a few familiar faces: Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary — and Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

Wenski, dressed in his bishop's red robes and gold miter headgear, is depicted kneeling at the foot of the Crucifix, opposite Roman soldiers and in front of Mary, his hands clasped in prayer and his head tilted upward toward Christ. The Wenski window measures about 4 feet wide and 8 feet, 8 inches tall.

The inclusion of Wenski, who was bishop of the Diocese of Orlando during the downtown cathedral's $10-million renovation and expansion, keeps with the Roman Catholic tradition of incorporating images of the clergy responsible for a church's construction or remodeling, diocese spokeswoman Carol Brinati said.

Dolan and the disaffected


Archbishop Timothy Dolan, newly elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein in a recent interview that one of his top priorities will be to reach out to the tens of millions of disaffected Catholics in the U.S. population.

I was particularly interested to hear that because when I recently wrote about the phenomenon in a piece headlined "The 'had it' Catholics" -- former Catholics, if considered as a group, would make up the second largest denomination in the country -- I called the USCCB to ask if anyone was tracking or investigating the development. The answer: No one was looking into it.

In the recent interview, Dolan cited recent studies showing that only half of young Catholics marry in the church and that weekly Mass attendance has dropped from a high of 78 percent during the 1960s to 35 percent today.
He expressed urgency in finding out what he can do to help people return to the church.

Catholics and Park51


I’m a few weeks behind, but I was both startled and saddened to see the Gallup poll that showed that Catholics and Mormons, among religious groups, were most likely to support the idea of moving the Park51 mosque to another location. Interestingly, the survey also indicated that Catholics and Jews, even more than Muslims and Protestants, were well aware of the controversy. Jews, however, were far less likely to believe that the solution is for the mosque organizers to move to a separate location.

Catholics were inundated with messages about the Park51 controversy, including a piece by William McGunn in the Wall Street Journal referencing Pope John Paul II’s asking Carmelite nuns to move a convent they had proposed to build on the edge of the Auschwitz concentration camp site. Many used this example to justify their belief that the more “prudent” action would be for the mosque organizers to move to a different location.

Man's fallen nature, and the national debt?


A not-so-small chunk of Catholic theology finds its way into The New York Times yesterday, courtesy David Brook's column on the national debt.

Brooks writes that no real political solution to the debt appears on the horizon, even-though the leadership classes in many other countries -- like Britiain and Germany -- are working hard together to set things right where they live.

Why not here? Brooks argues that more than our national checkbook is out of balance; our sense of national morality is off-kilter as well.

Our system of government, an equilibrium of checks and balances, was established because the founders recognized that human nature -- left unbridled -- won't always allows us to do the right thing.

Brooks writes:

This equilibrium is fragile because we are flawed and fallen creatures and can’t quite trust ourselves. So all of us, but especially members of the leadership class, should practice self-restraint. Moral anxiety restrained hubris (don’t think your side possesses the whole truth) and self-indulgence (debt corrupts character).

The interior life, Thomas Merton, and \"the good that wants to grow in the world\"


The “interior” or inner life has always been an important element in Catholic spirituality. One classic text, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, by Dominican Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, lays out in great detail the geography and dynamics of our interior spiritual life. The author presents the interior life as “the one thing necessary” referred to by Jesus when speaking with Martha and Mary. The author defines it as the life of the soul with God, the intimate conversation one has within oneself all through life. He describes the stages of the interior life devised by St. John of the Cross and elaborated upon by Teresa of Avila: the purgative, the illuminative, and unitive states.


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In This Issue

February 10-23, 2017