Monthly Archives: March 2009

An idea worth discussing…

Something that one often hears is the criticism of the Second Vatican Council that it included no condemnations. This is held up as proof of what John XXIII intended when he said that this was not to be a “dogmatic” council. Thus it is argued that no new formulation of dogma can attributed to the Council.

On the other hand, we have often had discussion on this blog as to the positive meaning of negative condemnations – in particular, the condemnations of liberal democracy by Pope St Pius IX, and the condemnations of Luther by Pope Leo X.

I can well remember it being pointed out to me as a young Lutheran seminarian that the Augsburg Confession was therefore a precise dogmatic document in that it was formulated as positive statements followed by negative condemnations. This is a standard in dogmatic teaching which the Reformers took from the Catholic tradition, as exemplified by the decrees of the Council of Trent.

So, here is the point I wish to propose for discussion (and probably a good time for those regular readers who like to comment on this blog and have not yet registered as commentators – your first comment will be moderated after which, if I approve you, you can comment freely). It is from Chris Burgwald’s excellent (unpublished) dissertation on “The sinfulness of the Justified in Lutheran Catholic dialogue in the United States of America” (page 138):

One must be careful in determining exactly what the Magisterium is postively proposing when it negatively condemns a proposition.

Go for it.

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St Mary’s “X Church” in Exile

From this report in Cathnews, it looks like things are finally sorting themselves out at St Mary’s in South Brisbane. But one thing seems a little unclear. Check this:

Fr Kennedy said he was still a Catholic priest with the right to conduct masses and baptisms.

Initially masses will be held at the Trades and Labor Council building but this would not be the new community’s permanent home, and the hunt was on to find a place to rent, Fr Kennedy said.

Fr Kennedy will begin holding Mass at the new location on April 20, starting with a march from St Mary’s.

“I think we’ve lost the fight by being pushed out of here, by being excluded from here, but have they won the battle? That is the question,” Fr Kennedy said.

So, Fr Kennedy will have achieved his goal. He will still be the pastor of a group of people called “St Mary’s”, but it will not be able to (nor indeed be obliged any longer to) call itself “St Mary’s Catholic Church”.

Fr Kennedy is also right in that he is indeed still a Catholic a priest, with the right to say mass and conduct baptisms. But how long will that last if he goes down this road of forming a “rival” parish to St Mary’s? He certainly does not, as a priest of the Church, have the canonical authority to do what he is planning to do.

Fr Kennedy may very well be right about the battle not yet being over. However, he is mistaken if he thinks that it is a battle out of which either he or the Archdiocese or the parish of St Mary’s will, in any real sense, emerge the victor.

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How to be nice on this blog

Welcome to my new blog domain. Just so we all understand, I am reposting a blog from below.

WikHow has a useful article on “How to be nice”. I thought I might adapt it for “How to be nice on this blog”. It might help some people in the combox…

How to Be Nice

You’ve been told to be nice since you were a child, but what exactly does it mean to not be mean? “Nice” is a vague term to put it. If your parents never gave you the break-down, here it is.

Steps

1. Smile. Well, obviously that’s going to be difficult on a blog for a start – since we can’t see your face. But if you write with a happy smile on your face, that might help you adopt “a smiley tone” in your comment. It will let people know that you are pleasant and inviting. If you adopte a smiley tone with someone, they won’t do anything but adopt a smiley tone back. If they don’t, then maybe they are just having a bad day. It is up to you to set the mood of the encounter. Make it happy by being the first to adopt a smiley tone. Normally, the internet equivalent of making faces or moody looks at someone is not nice.

2. Say hello. If you are new to the blog, introduce yourself and let us know where you are coming from. Don’t just butt in. Try to acknowledge the presence of other readers with a simple “hello” or “hi” or a nod in their direction.

3. Be a good listener. Bother to read what other commentators have written and take the time to understand them. It isn’t nice to just ignore other peoples’ opinions and stories. If you find that someone is becoming rude or pushy, acknowledge their opinion, issue a compliment (“Having your own set of values and beliefs is pretty admirable”) and excuse yourself politely (“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go get the groceries so I can meet my husband/wife when they get home.”).

4. Be courteous. Always say “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” You can also address people by sir or ma’am, but that might be a bit formal for this blog. Be patient, observant, and considerate. Treat people with respect. Even if you don’t particularly like someone at first, they could end up being a really interesting and kind person. Remember: People aren’t dogs or the ground you spit on.

5. Be positive. Well, it’s hard not to be negative or critical at times – and even the blog owner finds difficulty in being positive all the time. But keep looking for the positive in any given situation. Think of it this way: Your job is to cheer other SCE readers up and make their day!

6. Be humble. This applies to everyone on this blog except the owner. No, alright, it applies to me too… The key to being nice is remembering that you are not “better” than someone else. You’re an individual, but everybody has their struggles, and being nice to one another makes life better for everyone.

7. Be sincere. This is a blog where you can be honest. I don’t want to suggest that anyone should hide their true beliefs or opinions on this blog. Don’t be nice just because you don’t want your comment deleted (which it probably will be if you aren’t nice). Be nice because you want to look back on what you have written in the combox and know that, while you may indeed be “infallibly right in your opinions”, and yes, you may indeed have “told those heretics a thing or two”, but you are still a nice person, and they will still want to dialogue with you more in the future, and they will still be open to your ideas next time you post a comment, and you don’t have to add what you wrote to the list for your next visit to the confessional.

Tips

Always remember the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Even though some people may not be nice to you at first, they will the more they get to know you.

Assume the best about people. Most people don’t mean to insult or offend others most of the time. Unless it’s overt, assume the slight was accidental. Don’t assume that someone is a heretic until you really know that they are!

If you find yourself thinking poorly about someone, don’t worry; you’re not a terrible person because we all do this from time to time. However, try to catch yourself doing it, and think of something nice about that person instead. It’ll help you look at people more positively, and you’ll quickly break the habit of seeing the worst in someone.

Don’t laugh at other people’s mistakes and don’t point out their faults too harshly. It’s okay to joke, of course, but use your common sense; think about what you’re about to say, and consider the fact that just because you may not be offended by a certain comment, others could be.

Be optimistic about everything, even when you don’t particularly feel like it. Always look on the bright side!

Never underestimate the power of optimism, but at the same time, you can crack a joke in a funny way to make you more likable or just something unexpected so long as you counteract it with a lot of positive behaviour as well. Funny, I find, is nice.

Warnings

While being nice, do not be a total pushover. You don’t have to compromise your opinions on this blog, but you also should expect to be treated fairly. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and do not hesitate to defend someone.

You may have heard that “It’s not what you see, it’s what’s on the inside that counts”. This might be true, but on this blog all we see of you is what you write. That’s all we have to judge you on. If you are barbarous in your first comments, that is how you’ll be known. It will be hard to expect others to treat you fairly since all they know of you is what you write. If you are friendly the first impression, people will know you as nice and sincere.

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The Glamour of Suicide

The Devil wasn’t going to let Lady Day (March 25) go by without having a swipe at the Culture of Life that day so gloriously celebrates. The Age ran a front page story called “Angie’s choice: a death with dignity”, glorifying a suicide as a “death with dignity”. (See also:Angie’s choice and Police investigate Angie’s lonely death, as well as letters to the editor here and here).

This is nothing new for The Age. A google search of “euthanasia” on http://www.theage.com.au will turn up 1,020 articles. Compare this to a google search on The Herald Sun’s website (which turns up only 256) and it is hard not to get the impression that this is a subject the Editors at The Age are especially interested in. In fact, the Herald Sun seems happy to carry a different line from one of their most popular columnists (Andrew Bolt, Philip Nitschke ‘leaves trail of lonely dead’).

The fact is that The Age certainly knew that this illegal suicide (suicide is illegal, you know – it is just very hard to prosecute!) was going to take place.

Senior-Sergeant Allen said Ms Belecciu, who told her story to The Age last week in an effort to stir debate about euthanasia, had been found by a motel worker who reported her death to police on Tuesday.

In the light of Senior-Sergeant Allen’s comment, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to call the story (not the actual death) of Ms Belecciu either a “protest action” or a “media stunt” (depending on your point of view) jointly carried out by Ms Belecciu and The Age.

The letters to the editor the next day included this:

A PALLIATIVE care nurse takes her own life rather than enjoy the benefits of palliative care. This, surely, destroys the myth, created with support of the Catholic Church, that palliative care is a humane solution to the immense suffering that some people have to endure. If only our elected representatives had the courage to stand up to unelected lobby groups and do the right thing — legalise euthanasia.
Evert de Graauw, Wantirna

That reminds me of when I was a kid. If I complained of a sickness or a pain that wouldn’t go away, my mum would sometimes joke “We’ll just bong you on the head – that’ll fix it.”

Anyway, now to the reason why I am blogging on this a few days after the event. The Archdiocese has released a public response to this sorry episode. Here it is:

MEDIA RELEASE – 27 MARCH 2009

BISHOP REJECTS GLAMORISATION OF SUICIDE

Bishop Christopher Prowse, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, said today that he was deeply distressed by the suffering and death of Angie Belecciu (The Age 25 March 2009).

The Bishop said however that he does not abide ‘glamorising’ story telling about her particular circumstances. “Nor do I condone efforts taken by some to assist people in Angie Belecciu’s situation to take their own lives,” he said.

“I wish more could have been done to ease her suffering. My prayers and sympathy are with her family at this time,” he said. “I see nothing ennobling, no validation of human dignity, in suicide. We must do all we can to make the benefits of palliative care accessible.”

The Bishop said that palliative care gives tremendous comfort and support to the terminally ill.

Mr Larkins, Chief Executive Officer of Palliative Care Victoria, told The Age recently that feedback from loved ones of palliative care patients showed a 98% to 99% satisfaction with treatment.

Bishop Prowse said, “Further resources from Government and elsewhere are required to further advance palliative care in Australia. For Christians, life is a gift from God. It is not ours to dispose of.”

The Bishop said the Catholic Church, and many others in the community, regrets any bias towards a euthanasia option that Australian society has long condemned. “May it continue to outlaw euthanasia in all its insidious expressions. Euthanasia is never to be a choice for a healthy society that protects life from beginning to end.”

“Our prayers go out to Angie Belecciu. May she rest in peace. May her family be comforted at this time of sadness,” the Bishop said.

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Another call to "de-excommunicate" Luther

This story pops up every now and again. It is in vain that we try to explain that there is no point to lifting an excommunication from a dead man, when excommunication ends at the moment of death anyway.

But that misses the point. If we were honest, we would acknowledge that what Dr Gassmann is asking for in his call to “declare officially that its [the Catholic Church’s] excommunication of Martin Luther no longer applies” is a re-evaluation by the Church of the founding father of the school of theology to which Dr Gassmann belongs.

The fact is that that is a complicated business. We have seen that even with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, there is some question as to the exact degree of agreement that has been reached. (Chris Burgwald’s dissertation “The Sinfulness of the Justified” seems to offer enough evidence that, while the JDDJ does not actually succeed in doing what it claims to have done – ie. overcoming a “church-dividing” issue (if it had done so, why are we still divided?) – it does go some way to uncovering possible future directions along this line.)

On Saturday I am giving a lecture to our “School of Prayer” on Lutheran Spirituality. It may surprise some readers of this blog that in fact I often come across features in Catholic spirituality that are very close (if not identical) to Lutheran doctrine. Chris Burgwald cites one of them in his dissertation: St Therese of Lisieux’s statement

“In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in our eyes. I with, tehn, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.”

The simple fact is that such ideas are more often to be found in writings on spiritual theology rather than dogmatic theology, which points to the fact that the greater part of Lutheran doctrine was concerned with pastoral and experiental theology rather than objective and metaphysical theology.

My point is that there are certainly aspects of Luther’s theology which can and ought to be re-evaluated. Not only is there much in his theology which agrees with Catholic theology, but there is much that could bring greater insight into the Gospel and a more lively application of the doctrines of the faith in the lives of Catholic believers.

At the same time there are real errors in his theology which the Church will never be able to grant or re-evaluate positively. Luther is a tree on which there is rich and healthy fruit, but also some fruit that is infected and unhealthy.

Perhaps then, the first step towards “rehabilitating” Luther would be to adopt a somewhat more nuanced judgement, one which neither attempted to declare everything he taught to be heresy, nor attempted to raise him to the level of a doctor of the Church. We need to learn to make distinctions – something which I believe Dr Martin himself once declared was the core of the theological endeavour.

My personal judgement is that we should make a distinction between Luther’s spirituality and the specifically Lutheran doctrines that arose out of an application of that spirituality in a polemical attitude towards the Catholic Church. When I describe myself as “a Lutheran in communion with the bishop of Rome”, it is Lutheran spirituality, not Lutheran doctrine which characterises my Lutheran-ness. In every case of dogmatic theology, I submit to the teachings of the Catholic Church. But, when divorced from the polemics which surrounded them in the 16th Century, Luther’s spiritual insights are truly valuable. Luther’s theology of the Cross, his Christocentrism, his understanding of the Deus revelatus and Deus absconditus, even the famous “simul” (when understood as simul justus et concupiscentius – David Yeago is surely right when he points out that Catholics and Lutherans do not differ in their doctrine of concupiscence, only in their moral evaluation of it as sin “in the strict sense”) all give life and depth to the true faith of the Catholic Church.

I believe that the ultimate error of the Lutheran Church (and perhaps even Luther himself?) was to raise the deeply mystical insights of Luther’s spirituality to the level of public dogma – and then to rob it of all vitality by developing it into a scholastic system. How else was it possible for them to make the claim that “justification by faith alone” (which is ultimately a spiritual and mystical insight) was “the article” (ie. a dogmatic proposition) “on which the Church stands or falls”? It may very well be an insight upon which the individual believer’s relationship with God stands or falls (this is spiritual and pastoral theology) but can it be said to be the doctrine by which all other dogma is to be judged (this is dogmatic theology)?

It is ironic that the Lutherans allowed a mystical insight to trump the actual dogma of the Church, because Luther himself was a critic of mystics and enthusiasts who did not submit their ideas to the “external Word”. For Catholic spiritual theologians, the “external Word” is always that which the Church teaches. Personal mysticism submits to public magisterium.

All this being said, when Luther’s spiritual insights ARE submissive to the dogma of the Church, they have great benefit and great power. I for one would happily see a refreshed evaluation of these aspects of Luther’s teaching in the Church today.

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This is truly evil


See the story here. God only knows how we can ever have peace on earth with this sort of stuff. Is this what war and hatred do to the hearts of soldiers?

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"How to be nice" – on this blog

WikHow has a useful article on “How to be nice”. I thought I might adapt it for “How to be nice on this blog”. It might help some people in the combox…

How to Be Nice

You’ve been told to be nice since you were a child, but what exactly does it mean to not be mean? “Nice” is a vague term to put it. If your parents never gave you the break-down, here it is.

Steps

1. Smile. Well, obviously that’s going to be difficult on a blog for a start – since we can’t see your face. But if you write with a happy smile on your face, that might help you adopt “a smiley tone” in your comment. It will let people know that you are pleasant and inviting. If you adopte a smiley tone with someone, they won’t do anything but adopt a smiley tone back. If they don’t, then maybe they are just having a bad day. It is up to you to set the mood of the encounter. Make it happy by being the first to adopt a smiley tone. Normally, the internet equivalent of making faces or moody looks at someone is not nice.

2. Say hello. If you are new to the blog, introduce yourself and let us know where you are coming from. Don’t just butt in. Try to acknowledge the presence of other readers with a simple “hello” or “hi” or a nod in their direction.

3. Be a good listener. Bother to read what other commentators have written and take the time to understand them. It isn’t nice to just ignore other peoples’ opinions and stories. If you find that someone is becoming rude or pushy, acknowledge their opinion, issue a compliment (“Having your own set of values and beliefs is pretty admirable”) and excuse yourself politely (“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go get the groceries so I can meet my husband/wife when they get home.”).

4. Be courteous. Always say “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” You can also address people by sir or ma’am, but that might be a bit formal for this blog. Be patient, observant, and considerate. Treat people with respect. Even if you don’t particularly like someone at first, they could end up being a really interesting and kind person. Remember: People aren’t dogs or the ground you spit on.

5. Be positive. Well, it’s hard not to be negative or critical at times – and even the blog owner finds difficulty in being positive all the time. But keep looking for the positive in any given situation. Think of it this way: Your job is to cheer other SCE readers up and make their day!

6. Be humble. This applies to everyone on this blog except the owner. No, alright, it applies to me too… The key to being nice is remembering that you are not “better” than someone else. You’re an individual, but everybody has their struggles, and being nice to one another makes life better for everyone.

7. Be sincere. This is a blog where you can be honest. I don’t want to suggest that anyone should hide their true beliefs or opinions on this blog. Don’t be nice just because you don’t want your comment deleted (which it probably will be if you aren’t nice). Be nice because you want to look back on what you have written in the combox and know that, yes, while you may indeed be “infallibly right in your opinions”, and yes, you may indeed have “told those heretics a thing or two”, you are still a nice person, and they will still want to dialogue with you more in the future, and they will still be open to your ideas next time you post a comment, and you don’t have to add what you wrote to the list for your next visit to the confessional.

Tips

Always remember the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Even though some people may not be nice to you at first, they will the more they get to know you.

Assume the best about people. Most people don’t mean to insult or offend others most of the time. Unless it’s overt, assume the slight was accidental. Don’t assume that someone is a heretic until you really know that they are!

If you find yourself thinking poorly about someone, don’t worry; you’re not a terrible person because we all do this from time to time. However, try to catch yourself doing it, and think of something nice about that person instead. It’ll help you look at people more positively, and you’ll quickly break the habit of seeing the worst in someone.

Don’t laugh at other people’s mistakes and don’t point out their faults too harshly. It’s okay to joke, of course, but use your common sense; think about what you’re about to say, and consider the fact that just because you may not be offended by a certain comment, others could be.

Be optimistic about everything, even when you don’t particularly feel like it. Always look on the bright side!

Never underestimate the power of optimism, but at the same time, you can crack a joke in a funny way to make you more likable or just something unexpected so long as you counteract it with a lot of positive behaviour as well. Funny, I find, is nice.

Warnings

While being nice, do not be a total pushover. You don’t have to compromise your opinions on this blog, but you also should expect to be treated fairly. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and do not hesitate to defend someone.

You may have heard that “It’s not what you see, it’s what’s on the inside that counts”. This might be true, but on this blog all we see of you is what you write. That’s all we have to judge you on. If you are barbarous in your first comments, that is how you’ll be known. It will be hard to expect others to treat you fairly since all they know of you is what you write. If you are friendly the first impression, people will know you as nice and sincere.

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