Friday, January 30, 2009

One thing I don't get.

So I'm reading all about Pope Benedict lifting the excommunication from the four bishops at the top of the SSPX schism. It really doesn't matter to me, one way or the other. However, I am confused by one point:

If these bishops are no longer excommunicated, but are still stripped of all ecclesiastical faculties, and yet they continue to celebrate the sacraments in defiance of the Holy See, aren't they basically already self-excommunicated?

I don't get it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Sound science" vs. "rigid ideology"

President Obama has done a good thing. The complaints against him sound like my students complaining about not being allowed to turn in late work--both desperate and unconvincing. Why would environmental requirements be costly to auto companies when Toyota has proven that automotive cleanliness is a huge marketing boon? Why would car companies have to manufacture a different car to meet each state's requirements rather than a single model that conforms to all of them?

But this is not really a blog post about cars, the environment, or the laws governing them. This is a post about political language. I was delighted to see that the link I clicked, titled "Obama: 'Rigid Ideology Has Overruled Sound Science'", was about cars, and not about what I feared: embryonic stem cell research. Most of us that follow such things understand by now that "sound science" in the political realm is code for embryonic stem cell research.

Everyone, at arguably the most important time of their life, has been an embryo. We do not come from embryos, any more than we "come from" our infant, toddler, or teenage selves. We all were them. There is no discontinuity, biologically or ontologically, between that tiny bundle of cells and the first African American president it would become.

But, common sense aside, witness the power of words--such as the words of President Obama when he declared in his inagural speech that he would "put science in its rightful place." What is the rightful place of science? The revelation I received in Leuven was, years ago, that science itself does not answer that question. And if science, the only legitimate source of enforceable legislative truth, is silent on the question of its own "rightful place", then there is only one answer remaining to fill the void:

The rightful place of science is whatever we want it to be.

It is a fair wager that the next time President Obama invokes the dramatic language of "sound science" versus "rigid ideology", it will not be for such a benign purpose as environmental responsibility. Both terms are wildcards of immense political cash value. Does the technological data surrounding embryonic research teach a doctrine on whether it is right to do so? No? Then whence our answer? It seems we will be given two options: the gilded prose of a polished man who promises it is good, and "rigid ideology"; i.e., any belief structure that disagrees with him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dreaming of Leuven

The summer of 2001, Fr. Kevin Codd, the president rector of the American College in Louvain, personally visited me in my home town. My bishop had alerted Father that he had a seminarian who was eligible, via the DeRance scholarship, to complete his philosophy training in the small medieval town of Leuven, BE.

I was initially leery. At that time, I was locked into a combative, politicized, teeth-grinding Catholic conservativism. I even told this devoted man of God that I feared his seminary was "very liberal". I even used those words. I was not set at ease when Fr. Codd was joined by an alumnus, a local priest, dressed in Bermuda shorts and telling me, "The worst explanation you can give someone for a Catholic doctrine is 'Because the Pope said so'." I fawningly adored the Pope, which did not bode well for my reception of said advice.

In spite of my fears, Fr. Codd persuaded me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was not, however, impressed with his dewey eyed, sing-song sentimentalism about the town of Leuven. At that time, I would have studied philosophy in a Wal-Mart broom closet if I was assured that it would be faithful to the Magisterium. I could not fathom that a town's history or beauty was relevant to the quality of my education. Yes, yes, it's very pretty, but what will I be taught?

It took a couple of years, but Leuven broke the hardness of my heart. I never lost my loyalty to Rome--and still haven't--but my loyalty became wiser (a process that remains ongoing). Before, I scoffed at Fr. Codd's cooing about Leuven, and at the lavish praise by Bishop Fulton Sheen of the same. Now, as I think back, I cannot help but to sing the same song.

Lately I've had a recurring dream. In the dream, I am back in Leuven, not a seminarian anymore, but living there as a student of the University. On a whim, in the early evening, I go to the American College. Through the large chapel doors (that are rarely opened), I hear the voice of Fr. Wallace Platt giving an impassioned moral exhortation. I do not enter the chapel, but wait. When the Mass is over and I know that the community is having dinner, I open the front door and peek in. There are the tables, and sitting at them are all of my old formators--Fr. Kevin, Fr. Wally, Fr. Denis Robinson, Fr. Aurelius Boberek, and everyone. The students faces were all new (my dreams mix fantasy and reality), but the priests were happy to see me and welcomed me to a table. I did not eat--I did not presume the right. But I talked and laughed and joked and philosophized.

Sometimes when I have the dream, the students are my old confreres. Sometimes I stay the night--in a bare, unfurnished, musty-smelling room. I am always a guest, never a resident. Sometimes the dream takes me to the cobblestoned streets of Leuven, to cafes and pubs, familiar and unfamiliar. Sometimes my family is there and I am joyfully showing them everything there is to see. It is always early evening, after a rainstorm, with the sun poking out from behind still-present rainclouds, and the smell of rain still in the air. I always walk up or down Naamsestraat, my home street.