Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lenin, Chavez, and Apocalypse

Did I mention I lived in Venezuela for a year?  My wife worked for Mobil Oil at the time, and went with them when they hurried back to Venezuela at the invitation of the government.  Apparently they needed help in developing their oil fields.  Everything had deteriorated since the oil industry had been nationalized.

In a year we were gone.  Why?  Because Hugo Chavez had been elected president, and nationalization was back.  We had been prepared for the coming change in meetings at the "American" school, listening to principal and staff inform us of the radical changes coming in the country--undoubtedly with talking points supplied by the CIA and other governmental officials.

I have been of two minds about Chavez ever since.  I don't see him as the savior/liberator that he thought himself to be; but neither do I see him as the cynical yet simple-minded mouthpiece of a tyrannical socialist agenda, which only wants to level the results not the playing field.

So, I make it a point to read most articles about him that I come across.  Which brings me to the topic of this entry.

I was reading the other day an article that tried to situate Chavez in the theory and practice of Leninism.  (Did I mention that I lived in Norway for four years, back in the early '80's; when the Soviets were the super-power in that area, and the ferment in leftist intellectual circles centered on Marxism and Euro-Communism?  I didn't think so.)  It was rather dense going; and when the author went off on a riff about Leninism and "the end of history," I just about  put it down for good.  Was Lenin himself a Leninist?  What did "the end of history mean?"

At the risk of displaying my own deep ignorance on the topic, the point I took from the article was that Chavez, during his early years in the military, and then through the years of his imprisonment for an early, botched military coup, read and studied thoroughly the Marxist/Leninist body of work--and then himself, when he attained power though his election to the presidency, was faced with the same difficulties Lenin faced when the Bolsheviks attained power: How does one govern?  Specifically, how, after all the theory trumpeted the ascendancy of the dictatorship of the proletariat as "the end of history," did the leader govern in the midst of a history that was still unfolding?  Hadn't the final stage just been achieved?  What more was left to do?

And then I was stunned by a thought that just came to me from who knows where:  Wasn't this dilemma similar to the dilemma that apocalyptic thought itself faces?  Think of the apocalyptic event as the end of history, the coming of the radically new, the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the fulfillment of the deepest longing of the human heart and soul: an end to all the suffering and travail of the human spirit, when we could all live in harmony with all; when it all made sense, when it all fit together, when the lion lay down with the sheep, and brother and sister loved brother and sister--and so on and so forth, until we wept with joy and happiness that at last we were free at last to be ourselves at last.

This is the subtle temptation of apocalypse--and of Leninism!  It is not that the dream is wrong; it is that the dream is made out to be a template for the perfect society. The dream is looked to be the model, the plan, what is to be translated into reality.  But as we know, translations never do justice to the original.  Or else it is seen as the idea, which has only to be realized.  And here, too, it fails; it is like thinking we can write poetry with ideas (as in: "I have this great idea for a poem."), when the truth is that poetry is written with words.

The same can be said of stories about apocalypse or the end (of history): only so much description of the perfect society or the new world can be endured, before the conflicts begin and the narrative unfolds.  For this is where we all truly live--here in the midst of history, before the end.  As the younger generation says: Deal with it!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reading the Catholic Tea (Party) Leaves

To read those leaves necessitates, of course, reading The Catholic American (aka The American Catholic).  This is not a pleasant task. But someone's gotta do it.

So.  It looks like the Catholic Americans have already moved on, as regards Pope Francis.

We're going to put him into our mold, writes Darwin Catholic; there is, after all, no one-size-fits-all mold for popes.  We'll just pick and choose what we like about him; that will keep us happy.  He's not the dense intellectual type that Pope John Paul II was; nor is he the churchy liturgical type of Pope Benedict XVI.  He's more the people's pope.  Translation: we don't have to listen to what he says about theology, doctrine or practice.

In the meantime....all the rest of the bloggers have moved on to the topics that really matter: after a Rudyard Kipling interlude, there's a screed on Nancy Pelosi daring to take communion at the Pope's installation; Britain's embrace of IVF and the ramifications of donor eggs and/or donor sperm; and the trial of an abortion provider (read: baby killer).

Bear with me, here.  I'm coming off two years of not really getting any of this out at all.  I'm hoping Easter results in my rebirth too.

The question never asked, but always there in the background: When's the next election?  Pope or President?

Monday, March 18, 2013


"Behold!  I make all things new."  (Rev.  21:5)

Here it is, as simple as I can make it: Renewal is not restoration.

If we must go back, it is back to the roots we must go; not back to the dying tree.

I'm talking, of course, of the longing for an age of renewal in the church; an age that eerily conforms to the age of renewal in our political culture.  What we see, mostly, is a Catholic Tea Party, longing for a church restored to its Tridentine glory, a city on a hill, shining brightly in the doom and gloom world, a church known for its exceptionalism, and so forth.

But what we end up with, for example, is the "renewal" of the liturgical wording, as in: "And with your spirit."  Because that is a literal translation of "Et cum spiritu tuo?"  Which, in turn, means what? And then there are now pages upon pages on various websites elucidating us as to what it really means.

I repeat: renewal is not restoration.

Me?  I'll stick with the word of the Lord in the Book of Revelation: "Behold!  I make all things new."  As in a "new" heaven and a "new" earth.  That's the kind of renewal I long for.  For that is a renewal which has no pre-conceived notions of what will come to be.  The most we can say about it is what it will not be, as in, for example, "no more sickness and death, no more tears and sadness."

What would you say about your vision of the "new" church, in the style of those negative visions presented in the Book of Revelation?  What, in the present church, should pass away?  I don't mean, here, merely a list of what we don't like about the present church.  I mean those beliefs and practices that are truly demeaning and debilitating, that cause suffering and pain, instead of being a remedy.

I guess I would put hypocrisy at the top of my list. At one point in Matthew's gospel Jesus says about the teachers of the law that people should follow their teaching, "but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they preach." (Matt 23:3) The point here is not simply that the faithful must follow the law and teaching, but rather that a real change occurs when the teachers of that law follow the law and the teaching themselves.

So let me say it again: I am waiting for the priests, the bishops, and the Vatican to confess their sins of covering up the practice of pedophilia in the church.  All the new practices put in place to make sure it never happens again does not remove the sin involved.  Even vowing not to do the deed again does not remove the sin.  One must confess, and then do the penance.

I am waiting and watching.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Habemus Papam

Depends...on who you mean by "we!"

I think often of the election of John XXIII, the last of the "caretaker" popes.  I was in the seminary at the time, just into the college years, finishing up the B.A. in philosophy. Somewhere in the coming years ahead we would be studying theology--although honestly I couldn't imagine what could be more fascinating and exciting than a good philosophical argument.

Little did I know that it would be off to Catholic University in Washington, D,C., for theological studies; and that the pope who took over from Pius XII in 1958 would call for a council--and that that council would shake up the church in ways that endure down to the present. The council also made those years studying theology more exciting than the philosophy that had so enthralled me. (So much so that after I resigned the priesthood, I went back to school and got a PhD in Religious Studies at Marquette University,)

But I digress.  I think of John XXIII because I long for this caretaker pope to call another council--this time to undo the retrograde actions of the following popes and curia and traditionalist think tanks which have undone so much of what Pope John brought to the church: in his words, opening the window and letting in a breath of fresh air.

But I self-delude. I know from my theological studies that the ground work for Vatican II was long and arduous.  Many were the theologians who suffered ostracism and silencing from the Holy Office; but even more were those theologians and believers who went ahead with trying to develop and implement new ways of practicing and then talking about their faith.  We are not anywhere near that level of laying the groundwork.  Should Pope Francis call for a council, it would fall mostly on deaf ears.  The only people who would hear the call would be those who see themselves now as victims of Vatican II, and who seek to restore the church to its Tridentine glory.

Whose pope do we have?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

White Smoke and Mirrors

I check on-line every once in a while, to see if we have a new pope.  But mostly I go about my daily rituals

Even more rarely I talk with someone about electing a new pope, and what that holds for the future of the church.  But that is pretty much a ritual, too.  What can one say?  What the hell do we down here among the rabble know about the inner workings of the Vatican, and even deeper into that morass, about the inner workings of the curia?

But I do know the rabble.  And that buoys me up in these dark days.

This is what I hear, for example, talking with an acquaintance, who is a nominal Catholic.  His point of entry into the world of the church outside his Sunday attendance is the pedophile problem, if one concentrates on the structural aspect of church; or it's the teaching on contraception, if one moves on to the doctrinal/moral aspect.  That's it!  That's the face of the church to the world here among the rabble.

Should I try to dissuade him?  Enlighten him about Benedict XVI's wonderful encyclicals on Love in the Gospels and the life of the faithful (at least that's what I heard; I have not read straight through and studied an encyclical since Mater et Magistra--written by the last of the real popes, John XXIII)?

I'll stick with the rabble, thank you. And I will listen, rather than try to persuade.  I learn a lot more that way.  And what I do learn is a lot more true to the Gospels than what comes down from above.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Do I really want to go back and finish a series that I started over two years ago?  Do I have any other choice?  Not really; it's just the "Monk" in me--tying up all those loose ends.  So here goes.

I was trying to name and comment critically on the various custodians of the end that seduce us by offering the final word on what life and history are all about. And I began with the one that is dearest to my heart, the literal reading of the sacred books, especially the Book of Revelation. For that book and its commentators are the template for any grand explanation of what life and history are all about.

The others?  They are but supporting characters in the unfolding drama; each taking the stage at some point to present its soliloquy, but yielding "in the end" to the word of God. The survivalists are having their day these days, what with the evil Obama ready to take our guns,our schools, our children, our whole way of life, in order to establish the world of socialist, godless, communistic fascism. Or not.  And then there's the gospel of prosperity, dressed up in the garb of free enterprise, and hawking the books of Ayn Rand. The fact that the selling of the gospel of prosperity is what fills of the pockets of those who preach its message is an irony too sweet to bother its purveyors.  The same can be said for the defenders of the Jewish state--you know, that ideal state of the chosen people that must be both kept in existence and destroyed at the same time so that God's word be fulfilled.  Talk about living behind an ironic curtain!  And that leaves us with American exceptionalism, which exceptionalism consists mainly of the incredible talent exhibited in choosing those traits that bolster one's view, and ignoring all the rest.  That really does set us apart.

What do I offer in place of these false custodians?  What I already talked about in a previous post--a living faith, one that is not concerned about the end, so much as it is concerned about the present, the here and now.  What are we taking care of now?  What are we doing now to take care of now, instead of doing something now to take care of the end, some future day?

Me?  I'm going to read a little more of Stephen King, and then go meet my wife for lunch.  Sounds like a plan.

Friday, March 1, 2013

As I was saying.......

A detour.

Bakersfield, while not the most desirable of locations in California, does tend to force one to focus--on survival, in this case.  A blog was not going to do it; too much responding to the moment.  I would spend my time writing material like what follows, taking out all my issues by writing about someone else's issues.  Or something like that.

So, I submerged myself in writing a 160 page memoir covering all the major points in a long and varied life on the farm, in the seminary (including 4 years in Washington in the '60,s), priesthood on campus at the University of Wisconsin (also in the '60's), marriage since then, along with a graduate degree in Religious Studies from Marquette, and following my partner around the globe as she pursued her life in petroleum geology.  All to arrive in Bakersfield!  Look for it as an e-book, sometime in the near future.

I emerged just in time to hear George Weigel pontificate (oh, yes, I love using that word) on whether or not the new pope would do something about the celibacy law, what with the priest sex abuse problem . So, here's his two major points: first, the "law" is 2000 years old; and second: allowing priests to marry is not going to eliminate child sex abuse (offenders come from every segment of society, even the married); besides, the church has already done something about the problem; it has dismissed the priest perpetrators, and it has set in place safeguards preventing problems in the future.  Next question.

I reply: as to the first point, the practice of celibacy is long and hallowed in church history; but it is law only from the 15th or 16th century.  And it is law from political, institutional reasons, not from theological reasons.

As to the second point: Paul writes somewhere in one of his Letters, "It is better to marry than to burn."  Of course he is not writing about the severe sexual dysfunction of child sex abuse; he is writing about normal sexual function.  All the more reason, I would argue, to listen to Paul, not George.

But it's the second part of the second part that makes the case that Weigel suffers from "epistemic closure" (google it); this is nothing more than repeating the talking points of the church hierarchy.  There is nothing wrong with what the church has already done; it's what it has not done that is the problem.  It has not done the one thing that sets it apart from any other institution, that makes it to be the church; it has not confessed!  I don't mean apologize, I mean confess.  I mean saying, "We have sinned.  Have mercy on us."

And then doing some public penance--like spending two years in Bakersfield!

Talk to you later.