Friday, January 25, 2008

God in Search of Man

I am happy to announce the publication of my third article for that great magazine of apologetics and evangelization, This Rock, was published in the February issue. The title is taken fromAbraham Joshua Heschel's book "God in Search of Man." In this piece I critique the evolutionary view of religion which would make religious belief out to be a purely natural phenomenon (obviously this would not bode well for Catholics). This Rock did a great job and the piece was skillfully illustrated by Carl E. Olson, author of "The Da Vinci Hoax" and "Will Catholics be 'Left Behind'?: A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers." See his website here. If you're interested please subscribe to This Rock or pick up the February issue in your local Catholic bookstore. Another of my articles is forthcoming in This Rock; it concerns "Being a Catholic Patient."

And remember to e-mail me at God Bless you.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Exhange Part 3: Respectful Rebuttal

Respectful rebuttal

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 10/4/07

I want to apologize to my readers for the sarcastic tone of my recent column. It harmed the point I was trying to make. I was honored that Dr. Richard Gaillardetz took time not only to read my column, but to write a thoughtful response.

Sarcasm and satire are best left to people like G.K. Chesterton, who are able to pull it off amicably and charitably, which reminds me of something. It was Chesterton who said, "Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." Hopefully, with respect to this controversy, we can follow G.K. Chesterton's advice and close our minds on something solid.

At any rate, the main thrust of my recent column was that, when in doubt regarding moral issues, the liturgy or doctrine and dogma (de fide or otherwise), we should not rely on our own personal biases, but rather follow St. Catherine of Siena's advice: "Go back to Rome." I appreciate Dr. Gaillardetz reminding me of St. Catherine's approach to dissent. Correcting the moral faults of Church leaders, as St. Catherine did, is decidedly different from disagreeing with the ordinary Magisterium (on, for instance, women's "ordination" or contraception). Surely trusting the Church that Christ founded is a good starting point, especially since concupiscence tends to sway us from the life-giving obedience which so affronts our disordered reason and will.

Being innocent of history, I may not be quite right, but didn't Henri de Lubac join B-16 (then Joseph Ratzinger) and Hans Urs von Balthasar in founding the journal, Communio, precisely because de Lubac's original journal, Concilium, had become a forum for dissent "in the spirit of Vatican II" rather than a faithful endeavor to implement the Council's teaching? Moreover, regarding the situation to which Dr. Gaillardetz alluded, it is instructive that, when his Jesuit superiors told him to stop publishing and teaching, de Lubac obeyed; he didn't form some Call to Action or Future Church group to push his own agenda. No wonder he became a Prince of the Church!

At any rate, something in me just cannot picture St. Catherine or St. Bernard styling themselves "dissenters" or going on speaking tours or writing books about "faithful dissent" while obstinately, publicly and openly doing the same. I think they would much rather have fallen to their knees in prayer and obedience than to be the ones stridently proclaiming that "The Church is wrong!" Faithful dissent - if such a thing exists - must not be a theological starting point. If the dissenters are right and the Church is wrong, history will vindicate the quiet, prayerful motions of those who in their sincerity and obedience believe the Church is going about something in the wrong way. This is a far cry from saying simpliciter "the Church is wrong about [abortion, euthanasia, IVF, contraception, universalism, etc]." This latter approach has great potential to harm the faithful, especially those who are not very well catechized.

I am not a "respected scholar" on matters of liturgy or theology. In fact, I'm not respected very much at all. Perhaps my simple approach of reading the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not adequate for this kind of debate. However, concerning the obsequium religiosum (religious assent), I want to remind my readers of what Vatican II actually says regarding this:

"The faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops' decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated" (Lumen Gentium 25).

As always, the Church puts it so much better than I ever could. Pace, Dr. Gaillardetz. Oh, and I almost forgot, please call me Patrick.
© Copyright 2008 Independent Collegian

The Exchange Part 2: Dr. Gaillardetz's Response

Columnist needs open mind

Posted: 10/1/07

Patrick Beeman's recent column, "Parishioner Policy" (9/27/07), was devoted to his obvious distaste for a certain form of Roman Catholicism in which Catholics and even Catholic priests adapt official liturgical prayers and challenge official teachings. His inclination to show respect for the traditions and beliefs of his religion are laudable, but it is unfortunate that he believes his rather rigid view of Catholicism should be foisted upon others as the only kind of Catholicism appropriate to "pious sensibilities."

Most Catholics should agree that arbitrary adaptation of liturgical texts generally ought to be avoided. However, many are led to this practice because they are frustrated by the unwillingness of church leadership to take seriously the concerns of respected liturgical scholars and many rank and file Catholics regarding not only the adequate translation of liturgical texts but the forced implementation of liturgical legislation that seems heavy-handed and misguided. I am reminded of Pope Paul VI's admonition to those who appealed to the sanctity of the Tridentine rite in their resistance to liturgical reform: "the liturgy was made for the people, not the people for the liturgy." I have to believe that the Gracious Mystery who sustains the cosmos in love is far less offended by the random change of a pronoun than is Mr. Beeman.

In like manner, one might be more sympathetic to Mr. Beeman's concerns regarding priests who show arrogant disregard for official church teaching if he did not rely so much on caricature. Only someone innocent of history could ask the question: "If you set yourself against the pope, don't you become your own pontiff?" Such revered Catholic figures as St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bernard of Clairveaux found it necessary to criticize the popes of their time. Is there no place in Mr. Beeman's vision of Catholicism, for responsible and respectful conversation that allows for criticism and disagreement? Disagreement does not necessarily mean disobedience. It is worth noting that within Roman Catholicism not all church teaching and discipline have the same authoritative status and, therefore, do not require the same response from believers.

Finally, I would invite Mr. Beeman to reflect on the intellectual traditions of Catholicism that have encouraged inquiry, debate,and even disagreement in humble service of the quest for truth. He might wish to recall that Pope John Paul II conferred the cardinal's hat on at least two theologians (Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac) who in previous decades had been silenced for having the temerity to call for church reform and who challenged certain elements of then-official teaching. Appearances to the contrary, the narrow-mindedness of church leadership in the Galileo Affair, the arrogant intolerance of the inquisition and the anti-modernist purges of the early 20th century were, over the course of 2,000 years, the exception more than the rule. Unfortunately, if knowledge of church history teaches us anything, it is that in every age, past and present, righteous indignation is never in short supply.

Richard R. Gaillardetz, Ph.D.

Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies

University of Toledo
© Copyright 2008 Independent Collegian

The Exchange Part 1: Parishioner Policy

I'm glad someone has the courage to stand up for truth. Isn't it refreshing to think there is a viable alternative to that infectious uber-principle of modernity, Pan-consumerism? And while I am certain the social teaching, of the Catholic Church does provide such an alternative, I am actually referring to the company policies of Gap.

Recently, I attempted to return an item of clothing to Gap. You would have thought I asked someone to donate an organ or pawn one of their children. It was ridiculous!

Apparently about a year ago, Gap decided that the customer was not always right, and implemented a policy in which merchandise could not be returned unless either God himself confirmed to the store manager that an item was defective or somehow quality control missed that pair of jeans with one leg twice as long as the other. Short of this, not even Mary, the Mother of God, could get an item returned to Gap let alone yours truly.

Is this policy a bad thing? Yes and no. Some principles that apply well in one realm of life don't apply so well in others. The immortal principle of customer service that the customer is always right is great for the realm of consumption. If a long-time customer of a store maintains that an item is somehow defective or otherwise not up to par, then most companies provide some sort of remedy for such an unhappy occasion. That is, of course, if their aim is to keep customers (another good principle in the realm of consumption) and prevent their patrons from smearing the company's name in the college newspaper. But I digress.

I asked to return the item ,and the manager said there was no possible way to do it because he couldn't prove there was a defect. Gap only returns merchandise based on a very restrictive definition of the term "defective" (i.e. a pair of jeans was worn to a dinner party and while their owner was noshing and mingling, the pants randomly and dramatically burst into flames causing catastrophic injury to both wearer and his unfortunate interlocutors). I insisted that there was a defect, but he demurred "I don't make the rules, I just enforce them." Like a martyr, this guy was ready to go to his death for Gap's policy.

Sure this policy is bad so far as customer service goes; but would that it were upheld in other areas of life. Take religion for instance.

What if instead of foisting his own personal opinions of what ought or ought not to be included in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a priest treated the liturgy as the public prayer of the Church, which it is, and refrained from adding to or deleting what the Church prescribes for the Mass? Instead of "Our Father, [Our Mother] who art in heaven", we would have Jesus' words unbracketed and unadulterated. As a Christian how can you honestly think you are improving on what Jesus said?

Instead of avoiding the masculine pronoun as if it were a curse, we would get felicitous renderings of English prayers which - what a surprise - are how the prayers are actually written. Past crimes against women should not be solved by new crimes against language, let alone the Mass.

Can you imagine? Instead of a priest openly dissenting to his parishioners and potentially damaging pious sensibilities, we would have priests confident in St. Paul's words that the Church is the "pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Tim 3:15). "Hey" they'd insist, "I don't make the rules, I just strive to be faithful to them. After all, Jesus entrusted the keys to the kingdom of heaven, not to me, but to Peter."

There would be no more of this nonsense: "The Catholic Church is wrong about [insert one of the following: contraception, the male priesthood, homosexual acts, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization] and will certainly change its teaching." (With the implication being: do what you will and don't worry about specific teachings of the Church when these interfere with private preferences.) But if you set yourself against the Pope, don't you become your own pontiff? Don't get me wrong. There are many priests who strive to live and teach what the Church lives and teaches. (Yes, it seems like a no-brainer). Nor am I saying that the rest of them are malicious, but they could learn a lot from the Gap.
© Copyright 2008 Independent Collegian

re: Wow, I'm Behind and some thoughts on The Catholic Situation at the University of Toledo

I am so embarrassed. I didn't realize until my friend Jack pointed it out (he's always got my back) that I have not updated my blog in months. A recent article of mine appeared in Touchstone, and my byline said that I "maintained a blog." Well, I am going to try to make good on that statement. To this end, I am including the record of an exchange that occurred between me and the University of Toledo's Chair of Catholic Studies, Dr. Richard Gaillardetz. It makes for interesting reading, and I thanked Prof. Gaillardetz for taking the time to read my thoughts in the school's newspaper. The bottom line is that, in my most humble of opinions (after all I am a medical student and not a professional theologian, however much I wish I were) Catholicism at UT remains somewhat tepid.

Perhaps I was a bit shrill in my column and overstated the case somewhat, but the fact remains that to some extent some Catholic UT students, faculty and staff are entirely comfortable with a kind of Catholicism minus the Magisterium (the one whose head is in Rome, that is), catechesis without the Catechism (quote this, and expect to be jeered at UT, oh and don't touch the Canon Law), and Catholic morality without the difficult business of embracing the Church's teaching on sexuality and responsible parenthoood (i.e. contraception, IVF, homosexual acts, self abuse, premarital genital contact, cohabitation, all remain evil, that is, they are incompatible with the abundant life to which Our Lord calls us and contrary to the spousal meaning of the body).

To argue for the Church's teaching on sexuality, soteriology, or evangelization marks one a "fundamentalist." The wrongheaded assumption is made that to believe, internalize, and practice the Church's teaching on these topics is to become a repressed Puritan, a Feeneyist, and an actual fundamentalist. Such slinging has no place in a university, but for whatever reason it sure has a foothold here. It is so hard to even present the positive teachings of the Church on sexuality, the preferential option for the poor, and the salvation of those outside of the Church, and any number of other topics. To some, it's either feast or famine: a person couldn't possibly believe that sexuality is a good, beautiful, exciting!, and holy thing while also denying the moral goodness of condoms, "queer love," masturbation, and cohabitation; you either believe all non-Christians are going to heaven and deny the existence of hell (even that Hell is always held before us as a real existential possibility, as in von Balthasar) or you are a backward rube who thinks that only Christians are on their way up and the massa damnata is everyone outside the walls of your local parish.

I call the majority Catholic position at UT "the fallacy of excluded middle Catholicism." Coupled with a kind of new clericalism (nb: not anti-clericalism) this is a dangerously absurd position. Not to mention it is just hokey. Where is the intellectual depth of Augustine and Aquinas, the literate repartee of Chesterton, and the loyal-to-the-Magisterium faith of Mother Theresa? Where is the love for the Church as Christ's Body and why the disdain for anything that suggests authority? But here again, for fallacy of excluded middle Catholics there is no such thing as an authoritative Church: it is either an authoritarian Church or a democratic Church (neo-ultramontanism or a skewed understanding of "sensus fidelium").

Practically, this leads to a situation in which faithful Catholics (the "other side" must hate this term, but really, what else can we be called?) are marginalized and marked dangerous. Faithful Catholics again do not exist: for the FOEMers, there are either aggressive, angry, raucous, fundamentalist Catholics or "Catholics like unto us," benign, polite, and welcoming. The problem is that the welcoming ends where fidelity begins.

A 22 year old married Catholic with two kids is either a liturgical pariah (or worse, a novelty): stared by fiery eyes out to the vestibule as soon as one of the kids makes a peep. If you talk about evangelization and mission (cf. Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism, or most recently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) you are an advocate of "proselytizing." Notice the not so subtle conflation of "to proselytize" with "to evangelize." There can be no middle aground again: it's tracts and tempers or else quietism and syncretism.

But I digress: Please enjoy the exchange. I do like intellectual (especially theological) debate: the problem is that is so very hard to come by here. Remember you can always e-mail me at