Why are miracles rare?

July 4th, 2015

Why are miracles rare? And might they be rarer today than in past times?

Let's take as the working definition of miracle, an event that cannot reasonably be explained by natural causes or laws and that, in its context, gives substantial credibility to a claim that it is caused by God apart from natural causes, and/or to a claim that a person is speaking for God or doing God's will.

It is evident that such events are rare, at least today, in western society. Why are they?

One modern explanation, of course, is that miracles never happen, that apparent miracles are the result of misinterpreting events, and that since we now both understand natural causes better, and know better the limitations of our knowledge, it rarely happens that what can't (yet) be explained by natural causes can't simply be attributed most reasonably to chance and/or to the limitations of our knowledge.

But suppose we don't accept the premise that miracles never happen, and assume some genuine miracles occur. Why might they be a rare occurrence? At least two philosophical and two theological answers suggest themselves.

(1) Because it is self-contradictory for them to be frequent, as if they were frequent, they would necessarily have some overall determinate intelligible pattern, at least statistically — and that especially if they are to give credibility to a claim about their connection with God — and would thereby be part of the natural intelligible order of the universe, and in this sense explainable by natural laws.

(2) Because God places great value on the natural order, which would be undermined if things such as miracles that cannot be assigned a proper place IN that order were to occur frequently. And God places value on it because of its order, or intelligibility.

(3) Because of our lack of faith. (Cf. Mt 21:21, Mk 11:23, Lk 17:6)

(4) Because of man's lack of faith in general. (Cf. Mk 5:6-7, "He could not do any miracles there" and Mt 13:58 "He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith")

These two philosophical explanations for why miracles are rare correspond fairly closely to the most common philosophical arguments for why miracles are impossible. Noteworthy about them is that they both suggest that genuine miracles will be less frequent the better man understands nature. The better he understands nature, and sees patterns within it, the more easily would an event that was previously explained as due to a special divine intervention, yet still within the mysterious workings of the world, be now either assigned a place within the natural order, or seen as deeply contrary to the natural order.

Can we prove the efficacy of prayer?

June 9th, 2015

Can we prove the efficacy of prayer?

Is it possible to demonstrate that praying affects the outcome of the matter prayed for, makes it more likely to occur? A number of studies have been made that seek to answer this question, or at least to provide evidence one way or another.

But prior to making or considering any such studies, what should we expect from them a priori?

In the previous blogpost, on praying for temporal goods, I argued that, if holiness does not correlate with an increase in any particular temporal goods such as health, wealth, intelligence, or the like, then we should not expect prayer to, in general, merit any increase in such goods, but only to help ensure that our use of those goods, or our way of dealing with a lack of those goods, helps us to attain heaven.

Here I give another argument that our a priori expectation should be that such studies of prayer will long-term be inconclusive or find no evidence for the efficacy of prayer, because God respects not only natural causes and laws that act necessarily, but also natural causes that act for the most part and the corresponding statistical laws.

To show that prayer is efficacious means showing that, under given conditions X, when Y is prayed for (in manner M), after controlling for the influence of the prayer on the prayer P, who makes the prayer, and any involved subjects S, who hear the prayer, Y is more likely to occur than when Y is not prayed for (in manner M). (Strictly speaking, even this won't strictly show that prayer is efficacious by reason of a non-human or supernatural power, as the prayer could be efficacious in virtue of a mental or spiritual influence  of the subjects P and S on the person or thing prayed for.)

For example, if, in given weather conditions, when a farmer prays for rain it is more likely to rain within the next two weeks than when he does not pray, this shows the efficacy of his prayer, at least unless his prayer itself is partly caused by a modification of the conditions insufficiently controlled for, e.g., if he prays when he feels "in his bones" that it is high time for rain.

Or again, if patients overall have a 35% chance of recovery from a given illness in a given condition overall or when their recovery is not prayed for, and a 37% chance when their recovery is prayed for, after controlling for any direct influence of the prayer upon the patient by way of his knowing that someone his praying for him, of the doctor's who treat him knowing that someone his praying for him, etc., this would demonstrate the efficacy of prayer for healing.

A strict demonstration of the efficacy of prayer in this sense seems impossible without a miracle of providence or something approaching thereto. By that I mean the happening/working of an event possible in itself, yet with a chance less than 1 over the the number of events occurring in the entire observable history of the universe. For example, tossing a dice 1000 times in a manner such as to actually give it each time an equal probability of each number from one to six, yet in fact always getting three. Since nature is a principle not only of what is necessary, but  also of what is for the most part, such an occurrence is as much praeter or contra naturam as any event such as the instantaneous regrowth of a limb.

A true demonstration of the efficacy of prayer would involve an event (or conglomerate of events considered as one) with just such a low probability. For, given that one has indeed controlled for all natural confounding factors, the efficacy of prayer would be demonstrated in that, e.g., the persons prayed for recover more frequently than the odds given all natural causes, and that in a long-term consistent manner. For 37 out of 100 persons to recover given that each has a 35% chance, has a significant chance of happening, for 370 out of 1000 a significant, but significantly smaller chance, for 3,700 out of 10,000 an even lower chance, and so on. So, for this sort of thing to happen consistently is humanly speaking certain not to happen by natural causes, and is thus a miracle of providence.

Now, given a context in which miracles of the obvious sort are rare, whether that is because God generally upholds the laws of nature he created, or because God is "a God who hides himself", it seems most reasonable to assume that miracles of providence will be similarly rare.

Consequently, to claim to a scientist, "when you consider the results when people are prayed for, you can conclude with certainty that a non-human or supernatural being is involved in answering prayers," is making as much a claim to God's working a miracle in the case as to claim "when you consider the result you're about to see — this person's arm, which was amputated, growing back within one hour — you can conclude with certainty that a non-human or supernatural being did it."

If this argument is right, our a priori expectation should be that all studies of the efficacy of prayer will, taken together, conclude with either "no evidence for the efficacy" or "inconclusive"; the evidence in the latter case tends either to show that prayer makes the event more likely, or that it makes it less likely, but is in a range that doesn't allow for any conclusion with certainty.

This conclusion may be discomfiting to some, as seeming to deny any value to prayer, but it's significance for prayer is ultimately the same as what was argued for the in the previous blogpost, that we should expect no temporal recompense for either holiness or piety, but only the grace — actual grace and the workings of providence — to use the temporal goods we have so as to attain union with God.

Praying for temporal goods and the reward of the righteous

June 6th, 2015

Do the saints tend to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser than the rest of mankind? Do holy farmers, e.g., overall enjoy better crops, healthier children, etc., than industrious and careful but less holy farmers? Most Catholics, I believe, would without too much hesitation say "no". We don't associate holiness with temporal or outward prosperity bestowed by God. And this is also the catholic tradition. ("Whether temporal goods fall under merit," Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 114, a.10)

And yet, when we consider praying for good crops, healthy children, health for ourselves, and the like, we tend to assume that those who pray for them are more likely to receive them than those who do not, or at least to think that if we pray for them, we are more likely to receive them than if we do not. But should we really expect God generally to reward these particular acts of piety with temporal goods to a greater degree or in a different manner than he rewards charity and holiness with temporal goods?

The problem is, I suspect, that we haven't radically assimilated a necessary condition of prayer, namely that we ask for temporal goods only inasmuch as they are conducive to salvation. (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 83, a. 6). We at any rate frequently do not consciously think of this qualification when we pray for good weather for an outing or event, or other such things. We don't exclude it, perhaps, so that we would desire good weather and ask for it even if we knew it would be less conducive to salvation than bad weather would be. But it's not so present in our minds.

But if those who are righteous, and therefore merit eternal life and what leads to eternal life, do not, in general, enjoy more of these various temporal goods, we may gather that more temporal goods are not, in general, more conducive to salvation than less temporal goods. Consequently, we shouldn't expect, on average, to become richer if we pray for money than if we don't, nor, on average, to be healthier if we pray for health than if we don't, and so on for other temporal goods.

This argument doesn't exclude the possibility that for a particular group at a particular time (e.g., during some period of the Old Testament), it belonged to the divine pedagogy to lead his people to faith in him through temporal rewards, both for doing good and for praying to him. It argues only that such temporal rewards of righteousness or prayer don't belong to the christian dispensation in general.

This conclusion doesn't mean we shouldn't pray for temporal  things, but that we shouldn't, ultimately, pray for them in themselves, only inasmuch as they are possible means and contexts in which the "good Spirit" is given us. We should read the promise "how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him", (Mt 7:11) in light of Luke: "how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to those who ask him?" (Luke 11:13) and the christian tradition of prayer, and so, when we pray for particular goods, pray for them only inasmuch as they might help us and others towards salvation.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (year B)

May 17th, 2015

Once upon a time there was a poor man, a manual laborer, who wanted to join a rich, exclusive parish community, in which everyone had a doctorate and had well-paying jobs. The pastor didn't want to refuse him to his face, to tell him that he doesn't fit in, but used various techniques to try and dissuade the man. Perceiving this, the poor man finally said he would bring the matter in prayer before God. A few days later he returned to the pastor. “So did God give you an answer?” asked the pastor. “He did,” answered the man, God said that it is useless. He said, “I've been trying for ten years to get into that community, and still haven't made it.”

My dear brothers and sisters! The conviction “we're the best” can be an obstacle to the Holy Spirit, to the unity for which Christ prayed before his death, the unity of Christians, “that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). The unity of Christians should be a persuasive sign that God is truly with his people.
In the times of the early Christ outsiders were often impressed by the way that Christians held together: “See how they love one another other!”

In the course of history various larger divisions arose, such as that between West and East, or through the Reformation. Groups that lived their faith differently were frequently treated as unfaithful, or, when somewhat more tolerated, as the “competition.”

But within the Church too, there was and is often a competitive mentality, and a view that our way is the only one of value. Pastors that don't want to give families permission to celebrate baptisms or confirmations in another parish… parish communities that consider themselves the best, and think that the liturgy, the celebrations, even the rooms in the neighboring parishes just aren't as good as theirs… When we consider the question of ecumenism, the Church has to change, because change would be helpful for cooperation and unity with non-Catholics. But for us to change something, e.g., to celebrate the Mass a half hour earlier or later, that's out of the question!

I exaggerate, of course, but want thereby to highlight two genuinely important points here. First, you can't easily, indeed you can't please everyone. The task the Church has is an enormous one. Humanly speaking it seems near impossible for the Church to reach union with traditional, orthodox Christians as well as liberal protestants. The Church very much needs the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and of unity. We – the Church on at its levels, from the bishops to the parish communities to we as individuals – need the Holy Spirit in order to discern to what we must hold fast, what we must change, and what new approaches we must undertake, knowing that some will remain unsatisfied, because less is changed than they think should be, and others will be upset that forms of expression and life in the church that they have found to be truly good and learned to cherish are no longer maintained.

Secondly, the changes that are necessary in order to realize unity begin with us. St. Teresa of Calcutta, to the question “what, do you think, is the first things that should change in the Church,” answered simply “you and I.” An answer valid for us, too. Certainly we should sometimes seek to get other people to change. But in the first place we ourselves have to do so.

It is easy to point to purported or real flaws at higher levels the Church: the bishops, the pope should set a lower level for recognizing full, Eucharistic communion with other churches, it should accept non-catholic Christians on a par with Catholics as sponsors for baptism… it is easy, because we don't thereby have to change.

But the changes that contribute to fruitful cooperation and move towards unity with other believers, begin with us. How can we attain unity with other christian communities, if we can't maintain unity within the catholic church, if we can't leave in harmony within our own families, but fight, and even break up and go different ways?

As we celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, let us join ourselves to the prayer of Jesus, “that they may be one!” Let us pray for his Holy Spirit for those with authority and responsibility in the Church, in the different churches and christian faith, for those who pursue dialog with one another, and for ourselves, that we live our faith in Jesus Christ where we are openly and boldly, and through looking together at Him, work together in and for the one Church. Amen.

(Reconstructed and translated from my notes and memory, with adaptions for the written form — Fr. Joseph Bolin)

Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture: Pontifical Biblical Commission's Statement

September 4th, 2014

I just found out that the PBC's statement on the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture has been published in German (likely the original language in which it was written). The publication of an English translation is pending. It is a bit wishy-washy, taking some tortuous paths to avoid saying directly that everything the inspired Scripture says, when understood correctly, is true. Still, a lot of it so far seems pretty sound and good. I'll try to post on a few parts of particular interest as I get to them.

The document is divided into three parts: the first considers the inspiration of Sacred Scripture, its origin from God; the second the truth of Sacred Scripture; and the third examines the exegesis of passages that present particular problems, either historical, or ethical and social.

First, my translation of the preface.


 

"The foundation for the Church's life is the Word of God. It is handed down to us in the Sacred Scripture in the Old and New Testament. According to the Church's faith all its writings are inspired, have God as their author (Urheber), who chose and employed men to write them. Because they are inspired by God, the Bible's writings communicate truth. All their value for the life and mission of the church depends upon their inspiration and truth. Writings which do not come from God cannot communicate God's Word, and writings that are not true, cannot establish and animate the Church's life and mission. Scripture's truth is not, however, always easy to recognize. Sometimes, at least apparently, the biblical accounts and the results of the natural sciences and that of history stand in opposition. The latter seem to contradict what the biblical writings maintain, and seem to put their truth in question. It is clear that this situation affects biblical inspiration as well. If what the Bible communicates is not true, how can it have God as its author?

Beginning from these questions the Pontifical Biblical Commission has applied itself to examining the relationship between inspiration and truth and to determining what the biblical writings themselves say about it. Very rarely do they speak directly about inspiration (cf. 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), but they constantly refer to the relationship between their human composers (Verfasser) and God, and thus indicate their origin from God. In the Old Testament this relationship shows itself in various ways; in the New Testament every relationship to God is mediated through the person of Jesus, who is the Christ and the Son of God. He, who is the Word of God in person (cf. John 1:1, 14), is the Mediator for all that comes from God.

The Bible treats of many and diverse themes. A careful reading shows, however, that it's main theme is God and his plan for man's salvation. The truth that we find in Sacred Scripture concerns principally (im Wesentlichen) God and his relationship to men. The clearest expression of this are the words of Jesus: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). As the Word of God become man (cf. John 1:14) Jesus is the complete truth about God, reveals God as Father and opens access to him who is the source of all life. The other statements about God in the biblical writings are ordered to the Word of God that in Jesus became man, and the key to their understanding lies in him.

Having taken up how the biblical writings testify inspiration, the relationship between their human authors and God, and what truth they communicate, the Commission examines, by way of example, some texts that appear problematic from a historical and from an ethical and social point of view. In order to respond to the difficulties that present themselves here, it is necessary to read and understand the texts in an appropriate manner, and to that end to respect the findings of the modern sciences and at the same time take into account that the principal theme of the Bible is God and his saving plan for men. With this approach one finds that the doubts that arise against the truth [of Scripture] and its origin from God, can be overcome.

This document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission is not an official declaration of the Church's Magisterium on these themes and does not intend to present a complete teaching on the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture. It intends to present the findings made through a careful exegetical study of the witness of the biblical texts concerning their origin from God and their truth. These findings may be complemented and deepened by the other theological disciplines from their respective points of view.

I thank the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission for their patient and competent study and express my wish: may this work contribute to bringing about in the Church ever more attention, thankfulness and joy for Sacred Scripture, for the Word that comes from God and speaks of God, to save the world.

Rome, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, February 22 2014

Gerhard Cardinal Müller
President


 

Aquinas on permitting a priest to reveal a confession

July 13th, 2014

Can a priest, with the penitent's permission, reveal to another person a sin which he knows under the seal of confession? Aquinas takes up this question in his Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard (In IV Sent., distinction 21, q. 3, a. 2 — translation of this article in the Supplement to the Summa, q. 11, a. 4).

He explains, there are two general reasons binding a priest to keep secret sins he has heard as a confessor, within confession. First, and most importantly, because in hearing a person's confession, the priest acts in behalf of God, and so knows the sins only as God's minister [or: knows the sin only as God does]. Secondly, in order to avoid scandal, that persons become unwilling or less willing to go to confession because they feel they cannot be confident that the priest will preserve the secrecy of the confession.

Aquinas goes on to say that the penitent can bring it about that what the priest previously knew only "as God" (or as God's minister), he know also "as man", and the penitent does this when he gives him permission to speak [to another person]. (quod facit dum eum licentiat ad dicendum). Consequently, if the priest then speaks to others, he does not break the seal of confession. But scandal could still be possible, if someone hears that the priest told what he heard in confession, without hearing that the penitent gave him permission to tell, and so the priest must take care to avoid scandal.

The interpretive crux of this article is, what does Aquinas means when he says that the penitent makes the priest know as man what he formerly knew as God "when he gives him permission to speak"? Commentators offer two quite different interpretations of the statement. According to one interpretation, when the penitent gives the priest permission to speak, he tells him again, now outside of confessor, the sin he wishes him to tell another person. According to the other, precisely by giving the priest permission to tell another person what the penitent told him in confession, he thereby enables the priest to know as a man what he formerly knew only as God's minister, and thereby to speak based on that knowledge outside of the sacramental context.

The principal argument in favor of the first interpretation is basically the following: Outside of confession, the priest cannot use the knowledge which he has from confession. Consequently, if the penitent tells him, "you can tell people what I told you last year in confession," the priest cannot use any knowledge of the confession to know what it is the penitent is giving him permission to tell. Even if he tells him some detail, "you can tell people what I told you in confession last year when I confessed being the one who burned that house down," the priest cannot use any other knowledge of the confession to know in more detail what the penitent was permitting him to tell.

Against this first interpretation, and in favor of the second interpretation, are these considerations: first, if the priest, even with the penitent's permission, cannot use the knowledge he has from confession, but has to reacquire it, then he can under no circumstances ever say anything about the confession, no matter how much the penitent gives him permission, and no matter how much the penitent retells outside of confession what he previously told him in confession. For on this hypothesis, if the penitent tells him "you can tell people what I told you in confession," and the penitent says "I told you X and Y", the priest would still be unable to use the knowledge he has from the confession to verify what the penitent is telling him. Thus he would only be able to say "he told me X and Y," or "he told me that he confessed X and Y," but not "he confessed X and Y". But for the priest to reveal what someone tells him outside of confession, or for a priest to say that someone told him that he confessed one thing or another, is in no way to reveal what he knew through confession. Thus the assertion that a priest, with the permission of the penitent, can reveal to another a sin that he knows under the seal of confession, would be meaningless. To be more precise, it would be only incidentally true — that which he happens to know under the seal of confession, he can reveal to another if he also knows it through another means, and the person who tells him in that other context gives him permission to pass it on.

Following up on this point, Aquinas in the immediately following article (both in the original text, the Commentary on the Sentences, and in the compiled Supplement to the Summa), asks whether a man may reveal that which he knows through confession and through some other source besides, and says that he can. According to the first interpretation of the article we are considering, it would be merely a particular case of this more general point, so it would be strange that Aquinas does not allude to this.

Finally, Aquinas certainly does not understand a priest's knowing what he heard in confession "as God" as excluding all use of that knowledge, but as excluding all use that would reveal a sin — as God covers sins that are submitted to him in penance, so must the priest, as God's minister, conceal sins submitted to him in penance. (In IV Sent. dist. 21, q. 3, a. 1, qa. 1, or supplement, q. 11, a. 1). Indeed, Aquinas opines that an abbot who learns in confession of a prior's sin that would make it disastrous for him to remain in office, he can relieve him of the office of prior on some other pretext, and thus avoid all suspicion of divulging the confession. (Note that it is now forbidden by canon law for those in authority to make any use for external governance of knowledge about sins received in confession at any time [CIC 984 § 2].)

Seal of Confession in Court – The Case in Louisiana

July 13th, 2014

Recently the Supreme Court of Louisana made a decision pertinent to a civil lawsuit naming Rev. Jeff Bayhi and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge as defendants. According to the official statement of the diocese, the decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court "attacks the seal of confession and the attempt by the plaintiffs to have the court compel testimony from the priest, Fr. Bayhi, as to whether or not there were confessions and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were." (sic)

While the original lawsuit filed is itself under seal, the course of events implied by the published statements are as follows:

1. On July 6, 2009 the parents of a minor child filed a lawsuit alleging that Bayhi, having heard their child's confession regarding her abuse by a church member, was negligent in advising the minor regarding the alleged abuse and failed his duty to report the abuse as a mandatory reporter in compliance with the Louisana's Children Code. It also held the diocese vicariously liable for the alleged misconduct of Bayhi and for failing to properly train him regarding mandatory reporting of sexual abuse of minors.

2. The defendants made a motion in limine to prevent the plaintiffs from "mentioning, referencing and/or introducing evidence at trial of any confessions that may or may not have taken place" between plaintiffs' minor child and the priest, including testimony by the minor child herself about the confessions, on the grounds that nothing that was said in confession could lead to a mandatory duty to report; consequently, there could be no breach of the duty to report arising from anything said in confession, making any and all testimony regarding confessions, including testimony of the minor child, irrelevant to the alleged failure of duty to report.

3. This motion was denied by the court, on the grounds that the legal privilege of confidentiality in confession belongs to the one making a confession to a priest, and as such can be waived by this person. In addition, it noted an apparent inconsistency in the law, one provision of which states that clergy are excepted from being mandatory reporters for anything that is a confidential communication (603(15)(c)), and the mandating reporting "notwithstanding any claim of privileged communication." (609)

4. The decision was appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal, which agreed with the defendants, and thus granted the motion in limine, excluding from trial all evidence regarding confessions between the minor child and the priest. Regarding the claimed inconsistency in the law, it noted that the mandatory reporting "notwithstanding any claim of privileged communication" could not be interpreted to apply to priests as mandatory reporters, since that would make the exemption for clergy meaningless. (In addition, the appeals court found a peremptory exception of no cause of action, effectually dismissing all of the claims against Jeff Bayhi and the Church, on the grounds that he was not a mandatory reporter, that even if he were, it would be a matter of criminal law enforcement, not a civil cause, and that, finally, no standard is established by which his advice to the child could be judged negligent.)

5. This decision was appealed to the Louisana Supreme Court, which reversed the appelate court's decision; (1) it reversed the motion to exclude all evidence regarding confessions on the grounds that the legal privilege of confidentiality in confession can be claimed by the one who made a a confession to a priest, or by the priest on behalf of this person. Since the privilege belongs to the penitent, if the penitent waives the privilege, the priest cannot invoke it to protect himself; (2) it reversed the appelate court's dismissal of the case, on the grounds that the question of an alleged mandatory duty to report is here a mixed question of law and fact; two questions of fact in particular it held to be open: (a) whether the communications between the child and the priest were confessions per se, and (b) whether the priest obtained knowledge outside the confessional that would trigger his duty to report.

Some remarks:

Neither the appelate court's decision nor the supreme court's decision directly implies or supports the trial court's right to "compel testimony from the priest, Fr. Bayhi, as to whether or not there were confessions and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were." The claim by the diocese the the plaintiffs attempted to have the court compel this testimony may or may not be true, but is not implied in the statements made by the appelate court and the supreme court, which deal only with the question of whether all evidence about the confessions, including the testimony of the child, may be excluded from the case.

The question of whether there were confessions

Granting that the court were to hold the content of confession relevant, and that the legal privilege of confidentiality of the confession cannot be invoked by the priest, having been waived by the penitent, so that her testimony regarding the confession could be introduced as evidence in court, it remains a separate question whether the priest could be compelled to testify about the confessions, despite appealing to the freedom of religion together with the Church's prohibition of speaking about the contents of an individual's confession.

The facts do not seem to indicate any real reason for doubt about whether the child's communications with the priest fall within the confidentiality of confession (apparently the talks were made just before the evening Mass, in the time and place for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the girl herself described what she was doing as going to "confession"); still, it does seem in principle to be within the court's right to inquire as to the criteria by which the communications are held to be confession, or more precisely, within the confessional forum. (Otherwise a priest could theoretically claim that everytime someone had spoken with him, whether about finances, plans for a celebration, or anything else, it fell under the rubric of confession.)

According to the official statement of the Diocese, "Pursuant to his oath to the Church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him." As pertinent to the case, the second statement is false, and indeed, the defendants argued precisely that certain testimony must be excluded because it fell under the confidentiality of confession!

A priest may not say whether someone actually confessed sins to him. But a person has to say or do certain things in the external forum in order for the context of confession to be established; for example, he has to come into the confessional, to say "Can you hear my confession, father?", or by some other means indicate his intention to present himself and his conscience in the confessional forum. Since these things by definition take place prior to confession, and thus in the external forum (or in some cases, an internal forum such as that of spiritual direction), they do not as such fall under the sacramental seal, and a priest may testify as to whether someone did or did not enter into the forum of confession, though prudence and justice demand a general confidentiality about exactly what someone says that indicated his wish to make a confession.

Indeed, in many places and for a long time, penitents would in various cases receive a certificate testifying that they had been to confession. Till today couples in Poland have to present certificates of confession in order to get married!

The official diocesan statement further maintains: "for a civil court to inquire as to whether or not a factual situation establishes the Sacrament of Confession is a clear and unfettered violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States."

While there may be legal nuances of which I'm not aware, it seems rather that a civil court's purporting to determine what establishes the Sacrament of Confession, or any other sacred matter, would be a infringement of the state into the religious sphere, but that it's inquiring into what establishes the Sacrament of Confession, and indeed, for purposes of civil consequence and liability, making a judgment in a particular case on the basis of principles given by a respective religious authority, is no infringement, and falls within its competence. If the state is to protect various goods connected with the exercise of religion, it has to be able to make some judgment as to what things pertain to religion. For example, many states of laws against desecration of places of worship. Now let's suppose I'm upset about spray-paint vandalism of my back-yard shed. So I take it on myself to declare it a sacred chapel, to raise the stakes for vandals… if a civil or criminal case is then brought against a vandal, the court will need to ask whether it is truly to be considered a place of worship.

The question of knowledge gained outside of confession

Since according to the allegations and the deposition testimony, Fr. Bayhi met with the man accused of sexual abuse, Mr. Charlet, concerning the "obsessive number of emails and phone calls" between him and the girl, there does seem to be a question about whether he had grounds for suspicion outside of what he learned in confession that would have resulted in a mandatory duty to report suspected abuse.

The question of the right to waive the confidentiality of confession

The diocese statement claims: "Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession."

Now, the penitent is not bound to begin with by the seal of confession. In this case the Church did not seek to exclude the penitent's testimony about confession on the grounds that it was forbidden for her to disclose the contents of the confession, but on the grounds that the testimony was irrelevant to the case, as nothing that the priest knew from confession could result in a duty or imply a breach of duty to report suspected abuse.

The issue rather concerns whether the penitent can release the confessor from the seal of confession, so that he can reveal to another person the content of a confession. The issue is not a simple one; St. Thomas Aquinas seems to indicate that the penitent can do so in some way; while there has always been disagreement, the majority of moral theologians and canonists maintain the same; and canon law presupposes it — canon 1757 §3 (2) of the 1917 code excludes priests at ecclesiastical trials from "giving testimony pertaining to matters known to them through confession, even if they have been freed from the obligation of the seal", and canon 1550 § 2 (2) of 1983 code similarly prohibits testimony at ecclesiastical trials "as regards everything which has become known to them by reason of sacramental confession, even if the penitent requests their manifestation". Due to its complexity, I'll take up the issue in a separate post.

Rock climbing and judging people

March 26th, 2014

To do one's best at rock climbing and remain safe, one should prepare for the worst, and think the best, and when deciding whether to climb a particular face under given circumstances, make an objective judgment of the difficulty and risk.

a. Prepare for the worst — when making preparations, assume the worst case scenario. If you can do something to increase safety in the event of a problem (e.g., a runner unexpectedly comes out), assume the problem will arise, and take action to ensure safety nonetheless.

b. Think the best — focus on the goal, rather than a potential fall. Being well prepared and attentive, so that you climb with care and will react rightly and quickly to any incidents, will help you climb well and increase your safety. But being afraid of falling won't help you climb well. Having done all you can to increase safety and decrease the risk of falling, and being attentive so that you can react quickly if a piece of stone breaks off, a runner comes out, a climbing starts falling, etc., it's better to focus on the intended goal of climbing successfully than the possibility of a failure and fall.

c. When deciding whether to make a climb, it's best to make an objective assessment of it. One shouldn't ignore the risks (assuming the best), but there is also no need to pretend they are worse than they are (assuming the worst).

I find these three ways of relating to risk in rock climbing a good analogy to three ways St. Thomas Aquinas gives of making judgment about things or persons. In a Summa article on whether doubtful matters should be decided in the more favorable/more charitable fashion, ST II-II, q. 60, a. 4, he makes a threefold distinction:

a. When making an assessment about a possible evil of a person in order to remedy it, one should in doubtful matters incline towards assuming the worst. (E.g., if you see signs of someone abusing alcohol, and if you can act in such a way as to help him if your suspicions are accurate (without harming him if your suspicions turn out to be inaccurate), than you should do so, rather than assuming the best, and failing to act.) (ad 3)

b. When making an assessment about a fault or vice of a person in himself, one should in doubtful matters assume the best, even if it is objectively less likely — it's much better to be wrong in assuming the best of someone, than to be wrong in assuming the worst of someone. (Again, in the situation where you see signs of someone abusing alcohol, you should, as regards your attitude toward that person, assume the best — should not think less of his character or virtue due to this suspicion) (ad 3)

c. When making an assessment about things, one should make a judgment according to what is most probable.

 

As in rock climbing, to the extent that you can hinder an evil by assuming the worst and preparing for it, you should do so, so also, to the extent that you can hinder a potential vice of someone by assuming the worst and acting to hinder it, you should do so.

Yet as, in regards to the possibility of falling, having taking all the steps to increase safety, and avoiding entering into an excessively risky situation, you should climb with confidence rather than fear, so also, in regards to the person's own character, your attitude should be positive, looking to the virtue you hope he has, rather than to a vice that he might have.

Pope Francis's Emphases in Evangelii Gaudium

December 19th, 2013

Pope Francis's Evangelii gaudium was a enjoyable and refreshing read. I found a lot of concerns and recommendations in it that I see as very applicable to Austria, where I am, though some other things in the exhortation may be more application to South America than to Austria, Europa, or the USA. I hope to comment on some particular remarks in the coming weeks. But as I've seen many focus on this or that remark which they pull out because it interests them personally, I was also interested to try to discover, what does Pope Francis see as particularly important? He has a lot to say; what does he see as the most crucial issues for the world and the Church, and the most necessary steps to take?

Reading the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, I soon got the impression that many of the statements in it, especially in the first sections, are very similar to things that the pope has said in previous audiences, homilies, and visits. If that impression is correct, it suggest that either he tends to repeat himself fairly closely, or that quite a bit of this apostolic exhortation has been prepared for him by persons who culled from those previous audiences and homilies. If the latter is so, it would explain another impression I had, which is that there isn't a definite plan according to which he mentions certain problems more than others.

Since the logical structure does not allow an inference of what is important, I gathered the statements which indicated or at least suggested a particular emphasis on certain points. The selection is necessarily somewhat subjective; while some forms of indicating emphasis such as superlatives can be more or less objectively determined ("the greatest challenge", "the biggest threat"), others are not so unambiguous. I have marked in bold the passages that more clearly indicate key issues, and underlined the passages that are suggestive, but less clear.

If I've overlooked something or wrongly included anything, please add or correct it in the comments.

Recognizing the limitations of such, I dare to attempt a summary of the key emphases of Pope Francis in this exhortation: The Church is called to order all its activity with renewed vigor, confidence, and creativity to the proclamation of the saving love of God in Jesus Christ to all, but especially the poor.


2. The great danger in today’s world… is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.

12. Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand.

14… The Synod reaffirmed that the new evangelization is a summons addressed to all and that it is carried out in three principal settings.[10]

15… John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”.[14] Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church”[15] and “the missionary task must remain foremost”.[16] What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.

18. … All of them help give shape to a definite style of evangelization which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake.

23 … In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all.

24. … Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy…. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time…. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates at every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization.

25. … I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.

27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything… The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open…

28 … We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed… to make them completely mission-oriented.

30 … [The joy of the particular Church] in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both by a concern to preach him to areas in greater need and in constantly going forth to the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings.[32] Wherever the need for the light and the life of the Risen Christ is greatest, it will want to be there.[33] To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform.

31. The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church… In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law,[34] and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.

34. … In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects…. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.

35 …When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.

36 …In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.

37 …What counts above all else is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love”.[40] Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree”.[41]

39 …Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk.

41 …today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness…. With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give them a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance. This is the greatest danger. Let us never forget that “the expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning”.[46]

42. All of this has great relevance for the preaching of the Gospel, if we are really concerned to make its beauty more clearly recognized and accepted by all…. We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.

43 … [Thomas Aquinas] noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”.[48] This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.

44. Moreover, pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”.[49]

45. [The] task of evangelization… constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible. A missionary heart… never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness.

48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? … not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”,[52] and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.

49 …More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

51 …I do exhort all the communities to an “ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times”.[54] This is in fact a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse…. This involves not only recognizing and discerning spirits, but also – and this is decisive – choosing movements of the spirit of good and rejecting those of the spirit of evil.

53. …Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.

55 …The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.

56 …A new tyranny [of the marketplace] is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

59 …until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples is reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence.

64. The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism. These have led to a general sense of disorientation, especially in the periods of adolescence and young adulthood which are so vulnerable to change.

66. The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.

69. It is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel…. We must keep in mind, however, that we are constantly being called to grow.

75… The unified and complete sense of human life that the Gospel proposes is the best remedy for the ills of our cities, even though we have to realize that a uniform and rigid program of evangelization is not suited to this complex reality. But to live our human life to the fullest and to meet every challenge as a leaven of Gospel witness in every culture and in every city will make us better Christians and bear fruit in our cities.

76. I feel tremendous gratitude to all those who are committed to working in and for the Church…. The pain and the shame we feel at the sins of some members of the Church, and at our own, must never make us forget how many Christians are giving their lives in love. They help so many people to be healed or to die in peace in makeshift hospitals.

80. Pastoral workers can thus fall into a relativism which, whatever their particular style of spirituality or way of thinking, proves even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism. It has to do with the deepest and inmost decisions that shape their way of life. This practical relativism consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist.

81. At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. For example, it has become very difficult today to find trained parish catechists willing to persevere in this work for some years…. Some [priests] resist giving themselves over completely to mission and thus end up in a state of paralysis and acedia.

83. And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness”.[63] A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”.[64]

85. One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”.

87. Today, when the networks and means of human communication have made unprecedented advances, we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a “mystique” of living together, of mingling and encounter… Greater possibilities for communication thus turn into greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity for everyone. If we were able to take this route, it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled!

88. The Christian ideal will always be a summons to overcome suspicion, habitual mistrust, fear of losing our privacy, all the defensive attitudes which today’s world imposes on us…. The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.

91. One important challenge is to show that the solution will never be found in fleeing from a personal and committed relationship with God which at the same time commits us to serving others.

93. [If spiritual worldliness] were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.[71]

104…. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.

110…. Acknowledging the concerns of the Asian bishops, John Paul II told them that if the Church “is to fulfil its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority.”[78] These words hold true for all of us.

111. Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God.

112… This principle of the primacy of grace must be a beacon which constantly illuminates our reflections on evangelization.

123… Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council. In the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety “manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know”[100] and that “it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief”.

126. Underlying popular piety, as a fruit of the inculturated Gospel, is an active evangelizing power which we must not underestimate: to do so would be to fail to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we are called to promote and strengthen it, in order to deepen the never-ending process of inculturation.

127. Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility.

134. Universities are outstanding environments for articulating and developing this evangelizing commitment in an interdisciplinary and integrated way.

135… I will dwell in particular, and even somewhat meticulously, on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.

137… The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion.

145. Preparation for preaching is so important a task that a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity should be devoted to it.

146… This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it.

150… In this way preaching will consist in that activity, so intense and fruitful, which is “communicating to others what one has contemplated”.[117] For all these reasons, before preparing what we will actually say when preaching, we need to let ourselves be penetrated by that word which will also penetrate others, for it is a living and active word, like a sword “which pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). This has great pastoral importance.

158… The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it.

159… How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!

164… On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.[126]

165… The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical.

168. As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal of a life of wisdom, self-fulfilment and enrichment.

175. The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer.[136] It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith.[137]

176… I would now like to share my concerns about the social dimension of evangelization, precisely because if this dimension is not properly brought out, there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelization.

179. This inseparable bond between our acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love appears in several scriptural texts which we would do well to meditate upon, in order to appreciate all their consequences. The message is one which we often take for granted, and can repeat almost mechanically, without necessarily ensuring that it has a real effect on our lives and in our communities. How dangerous and harmful this is, for it makes us lose our amazement, our excitement and our zeal for living the Gospel of fraternity and justice! God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: “As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40)…. What these passages make clear is the absolute priority of “going forth from ourselves towards our brothers and sisters” as one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign for discerning spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift.

183… All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.

185. In what follows I intend to concentrate on two great issues which strike me as fundamental at this time in history. I will treat them more fully because I believe that they will shape the future of humanity. These issues are first, the inclusion of the poor in society, and second, peace and social dialogue.

194. This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it. … Why complicate something so simple? Conceptual tools exist to heighten contact with the realities they seek to explain, not to distance us from them. This is especially the case with those biblical exhortations which summon us so forcefully to brotherly love, to humble and generous service, to justice and mercy towards the poor. Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by his words and his actions. So why cloud something so clear?

195. When Saint Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was “running or had run in vain” (Gal 2:2), the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor (cf. Gal 2:10).

200. Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care.

201. No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel,[171] none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone”.[172] I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect.

202. The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality,[173] no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

203… How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference in made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice.

205… Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.[174] We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”.[175] I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!

211… Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.

214. Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.

227… But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9).

235. The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need, then, to be overly obsessed with limited and particular questions. We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all.

244… The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the Church could realize “the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her”.[192]

246. Given the seriousness of the counter-witness of division among Christians, particularly in Asia and Africa, the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent. Missionaries on those continents often mention the criticisms, complaints and ridicule to which the scandal of divided Christians gives rise…. The immense numbers of people who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot leave us indifferent. Consequently, commitment to a unity which helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization. Signs of division between Christians in countries ravaged by violence add further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace. How many important things unite us! If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another!

261… Spirit-filled evangelization is not the same as a set of tasks dutifully carried out despite one’s own personal inclinations and wishes. How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction!

264… How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence! How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! What then happens is that “we speak of what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3). The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.

281. One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession…. [In St. Paul's prayer] we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others.

Scripture Memorization Journal

November 12th, 2013

This entry journals my memorization of Hebrews – as far as possible on a day-to-day basis.

For the first time I am memorizing a passage with verse numbers. When repeating verses mentally or out loud, I include chapter and verse number for each verse. In learning them, I've found it easiest to remember especially the verse numbers of certain verses that have a number easy to recall (e.g., 7, 10, 12, 14, 20), and/or begin a new section of the text. Knowing those and knowing where verse divisions are, I can usually reconstruct the remaining verse numbers with enough accuracy to achieve my purpose in memorizing them, which is (1) to ensure that in reciting passages to myself from memory, I don´t skip over sections, (2) and to readily recall in which chapter and part of chapter a given text is in.

  • Chapters 1-7 I memorized 4-8 weeks ago, partly while travelling by train and partly while hiking in the mountains.
  • Oct 26: 45 minutes while signing letters (1000 to sign altogether, only part of that time did I use for memorization); learning chapter 8, and starting to get familiar with chapter 9, 1-4.
  • Oct 27: 30 minutes while biking; reviewed chapter 7 multiple times (chapter 7 being still quite new, and not very well fixed in my memory)
  • 30 minutes while cleaning bathroom; reviewed chapter 8, chapter 9:1-2.
  • Oct 28: 30 minutes while biking and climbing uphill; review chapters 1-8.

In the following days a number of reviews of chapters 1-8 mostly while underway, and have been refreshing other books of St. Paul as well. In a few cases I realized I needed to check one or another verse when I had an opportunity.

November 11, Monday: 45 Minutes in train and subway. Learned Heb 9:5-20 well enough to recite the whole passage twice stumbling at only two places and making only a couple very minor mistakes (substituting expressions that convey basically the same sense as the actual passage for the exact wording of the passage).

Note: I find it more efficient to learn a longer passage imperfectly on the first day than to learn a shorter passage perfectly on the first day. After a night's sleep it becomes clearer which verses or parts of verses are troublesome and need the most attention and repetition, so that I can apportion time specifically to those, rather than taking more time on every verse.

November 12, Tuesday: 20 minutes review of 9:5-20 in train and waiting on train platform (in this case I needed to look at the text often enough that I couldn't have done the review while engaged in anything that needed attention). Finished this review by reciting the whole passage three times. Status: most of the text is fairly firm, but certain conjugations and linking adverbs are not; for example, Heb 9:15, "Therefore he is the mediator", I could easily slip to remembering "Thus he is the mediator." In principle I try to learn the English text (RSV) as it stands, but don't care very much about the substitution of such synonyms when learning a translation rather than the original Greek text.

Another 10 minutes in another train and walking to the place where I have a course making a beginning of learning the last few verses of chapter 9.

November 13, Wednesday: in a 20 minutes short walk after lunch a review of 9:1-9:28 (at 9:15 and 9:23-end I had to look at the text). The second half of this period I spent working though the text backwards verse by verse, or in some cases in blocks of two verses, in order to strengthen the connection of each part with the preceding passage (without doing this, one ends up knowing a text well in relation to the following context, but not quite so well in relation to the context that precedes it.) 20 minutes walking to train station and while changing trains, reviewing chapters 8-9.

November 14, Thursday: 5-10 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 while showering and getting dressed; 12 minutes reciting chapters 6-9 while biking to Trumau. When reciting in the afternoon, I couldn't remember the second half of verse 26, though I knew there was a second part I couldn't remember.

November 15: 7 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 between church and home.

November 17: 7 minutes reciting chapters 7-9 between church and home.

November 18: 30 minutes learning chapter 10:1-11 (while on a bike path, so without being able to give full attention to memorization). Recited once again in the early evening.

November 19: 1 minute reviewing chapter 10:1-11, 8 minutes reciting it while showering and getting dressed.

20 minutes reciting chapter 5-10:11 while biking from Trumau to the train station

November 21: 3 minutes reciting chapter 10:1-11 while showering.

November 22: 5 minutes reciting chapters 9-10:11 while biking from Church.

November 23: 5 minutes reviewing chapter 10:1-11 and correcting some mistakes that arose in the course of reciting it the previous days without checking the text.

November 25: 20 minutes learning chapter 10:11-21

November 26-30: a couple times reciting chapter 10:1-14 (all I could remember without looking at the text)

December 1: 10 minutes relearning Heb 10:15-20 (There is a certain difficulty in remembering correctly Heb 8:10 "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts" and Heb 10:16 "I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds" — this will always remain a difficulty, unless I can figure out a logical reason in the epistle for the change in order, or use a mnemonic trick to remember in which case "minds" comes first, and in which case "hearts" comes first.) Postscript: it works to remember that the second occurrence is the "strange" one, i.e., since the first meaning of heart is something physical, it is more normal to speak about writing on hearts than on minds.

From December to March: four times reciting Heb 1:1-10:18.

March 3: 15 minutes learning Heb 10:15-27.

March 9: 40 minutes learning Heb 10:15-39.

March 10: 40 minutes learning Heb 11:1-16.

March 13: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16.

March 17: 1 hour 30 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16 and learning heb 11:17-end (while biking on bike trails).

March 24: 1 hour reviewing Heb 11 (15 minutes in train, 45 minutes biking and hiking).

March 31: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

April 3: 5 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

(This post will be updated on an ongoing basis).