Month: April 2004

Cavanaugh on Hauerwas

William Cavanaugh has penned a thoroughly entertaining introduction to the (in)famous Methodist theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwaus in “Stan the Man: A Thoroughly Biased Account of a Completely UnObjective Person” (The Stanley Hauerwas Reader, Duke UP, 2001). Hauerwas, for those who aren’t aware, is a Texan with a mouth of a sailor, a low tolerance for bullshit, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and a taste for Mexican food. Here are some choice excerpts from Cavanaugh’s introduction:

A complex dynamic seems to run through Stanley’s relationship with those who want a piece of him: Hauerwas has a tendency to create disciples, and yet there are few things that annoy him more. His opening-day lecture at his Divinity School classes usually involves some form of the claim “I don’t want you to think for yourselves. I want you to think like me.” This is Stanley’s attempt to disabuse his students of the Enlightenment illusion of individual sovereignty.

In MacIntyrean fashion, Stanley believes that theology is a craft learned by putting oneself under the authority of a master of the tradition. And yet Stanley hated the first seminar paper I ever did at Duke because it repeatedly saluted the Hauerwas party line without any real understanding of what was at stake. He returned it with an exasperated comment “This sounds too much like me!” emblazoned on the final page. Tradition, after all, is not identical repetition, but is defined by MacIntyre as an “ongoing argument” over the goods and practices intrinsic to that tradition. Stanley Hauerwas loves a good argument. Indeed, to be able to have an argument at all is a significant moral achievement, for it presupposes some common understanding of the goods at issue . . . [p. 26-27]

Everyone who has seen Hauerwas in action has a favorite story. Stanley confronts a medical researcher who is defending experiments on fetal tissue with the following question: “What if it were discovered that fetal tissue were a delicacy: would you eat it?” Stanley is asked to speak at a rally against the death penalty and declares, “I’m for the death penalty. I think they should build a guillotine on Wall Street and execute people for stock fraud!” In the first case, Hauerwas’ point was that no amount of benefit to medicine could justify experimenting on fetal tissue: either it is human and deserves respect, or the door is open to all kinds of uses. In the second case, Hauerwas’ point was that the death penalty is not justified by claiming it prevents crime. If such were the case, the death penalty would be much more profitably used against dispassionate white-collar crime than against murder, which is usually too entangled in personal vindication to be prevented by detached calculation. The real reason the death penalty is used is a desire for revenge, a tempation to which Christians must not succumb. . . .

. . . A deliberate part of Stanley’s pedagogy is to force people to think by jolting them out of their customary positions. . . . His lessons are not easily forgotten because he makes his listener go through the process of making the logical connections for himself or herself. This at least partially explains Stanley’s advice to one of his students: “Your job as a theologian is to cause ulcers in others and not suffer them yourself in the process.” [p. 29]

[in an article in Newsweek Hauerwas commented] “God is killing the Church and we goddamn well deserve it.” The latter incident caused a brief tempest in the church teapot. (Stanley’s defense: “At least I mentioned God’s name twice!”) [p. 30]

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Silent No More.

One group that was present at the recent “pro-choice” march, but not permitted to be a part of it by the organizers, was the post-abortion support group Silent No More.
Kathryn Jean Lopez covered the march for National Review and talks about the group:

Quietly gathering around the march were women and men โ€” and college students โ€” organized under a group called Silent No More, which works with families suffering from abortion. Their permit request was denied after an effective effort from the supposedly freedom-loving sisters who organized the “March for Women’s Lives.” (Said Georgette Forney, president of NOEL, one of the groups that makes up the Silent No More coalition (the other being Priests for Life), “It’s ironic that they are marching to protect women’s right to choose and at the same time working to deny us our right to talk about the pain abortion caused us. We are the faces of the choice they promote.”) So, Silent No More adjusted plans, remapped their routes, and had a little prayer chain around the march under another group’s permit. No pictures of aborted fetuses from them. No yelling. No hating. They held signs that said “Women Deserve Better,” “I Regret Lost Fatherhood,” and “I Regret My Abortion.” One sign was simply a happy face that said, “I Am Pro-life.”

One of the women gathered with Silent No More, Lynn Hurley, told me that she had had an abortion in 1971 when she was in college. She knows the pain of abortion and says, “I hurt for the [women marching] who hurt, who have been through abortions themselves. They’re probably in denial.” She said, “I’m hoping women might see our signs and be touched by them.”

Apparently nothing upsets “pro-choicers” more than the implication by those who made the choice that it was wrong and they regret it. Here’s the testimony of Annie, posting to the “After-Abortion” weblog:


The March, in three words: “viciously, mercilessly abusive.” The amount of verbal aggression and abuse hurled at me personally, by women and men, of all ages, for carrying the I REGRET MY ABORTION sign, well, I thought that I was ready for it.

I wasn’t. Not even close.

I consider myself fairly far along on the “healing” and “public-appearances” scales. We stood, all 500 of us in the Silent No More Awareness groups, in total silence as planned, for over five hours, not replying or saying one word to anything that was said or done to us, and I do mean anything.

But nothing prepared me for literally mobs of livid people screaming the most hateful vicious snide things at me personally. We were spit on, and had an egg hurled at us from the marchers. There were two groups of Satanists. And the signs. Like the guy who held a handmade sign, “BABY KILLER” with an arrow pointed downward at himself. If not for the riot police, we would have been mobbed. There was that much viciousness. People broke through the riot police’s invisible line just to come up in my face and hurl insulting words. There were not enough police to form a complete line, so they would run up to me, shout out their abuse, and run back before the policeman or woman got to stop him/her. And I said nothing to anyone, just held my sign.

I’ll try to post at length as soon as I can. There’s much more to tell. Including one woman who in the midst of the mass of marchers, came over to us, said, “What the hell am I doing out here?” and asked us to exchange her NARAL sign for one of ours. One conversion to the truth… that we know of…Will also do one of my regular columns and post that link too. The answer to one of Em’s questions below: there were a TON of men there. Young to old, what seemed like thousands of husbands-dragged-along, even up to the ages of 85. Yes, they even had two double length busses for those elderly.

Related Links:

"The Final Sanction" and "Pascal’s Wager"

In a column for BeliefNet.com, Charlotte Hays (describing herself as a Republican, and Arinze as “one of her favorite cardinals”) makes her case that the Church should — for the time being — continue to give Senator Kerry communion “if he asks for it”, regardless of whether he stands in opposition to his Church’s teachings (You can read her column here).

Ms. Hays contends that

The Church must do a better job of forming consciences in general, and John Kerry’s conscience in particular. Kerry deserves to know, and to be told repeatedly, first in private and then in public, that he cannot claim to be a good Catholic as things stand. Public sinner though he is, Kerry deserves lengthy, intense, and private consultation from his Church before, if it comes to that, he must be turned away from communion. In a way, it’s possible to regard Arinze’s remarks as a way to open the campaign to educate John Kerry about what it means to be a Catholic. . . .

The important thing is to offer John Kerry the chance to do the right thing. Is a holy flip-flop impossible? Improbable? Yes, but with God all things are possible, and John Kerry deserves the chance to embrace his faith publicly. If he refuses, and if he becomes president, then the Church should turn him away. Having a Catholic of such stature flout the teachings of the Church would be untenable. The matter would no longer revolve around one politician’s conscience but around the edification of the entire flock.

Ms. Hays makes some good points in her column, and I agree with her on this:

The problem with sanctioning Kerry is that part of the blame lies with the Church itself. The Church has not done an adequate job of forming consciences in this regard. Ordinary Catholics do not realize why certain difficult teachings are of paramount importance to leading a Christian life. So many Catholics think of abortion as something on which the Church has a “rule,” but they do not realize that the Church’s defense of innocent life has a direct link to Christ himself. There is a connection between killing an innocent child and killing Christ all over again. The Church teaches that every life matters. Every human being is offered redemption by that one oblation made on the cross. Because every life is important, even the most inconvenient among us cannot be snuffed out in utero.

However, I disagree with her proposal that the prudential and compassionate route would be to continue to give Kerry communion and postpone the “final sanction” until his presidency for the following reasons:

  1. From the Pope’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” to the recently published “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life” (specifically for those in Kerry’s line of work) to the Bishop’s document “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility” to the public responses of several courageous bishops to Kerry’s own private meeting with Archbishop Kerrick, who I’ll wager reiterated the Church’s teaching — I believe the Church has already put forth a significant amount of effort to educate Kerry (and other Catholics) on the incompatibility of supporting abortion and being a “Catholic in good standing.” If Kerry doesn’t get the message, he’s either deaf or unwilling to listen.
  2. Ms. Hays’ plea to give Kerry communion EVEN IF he persists in supporting abortion would contradict the Church’s chief obligation to care for the salvation of his soul. If Kerry’s priest values his soul, and takes seriously St. Paul’s warning of “eating and drinking to one’s damnation,” then — until Kerry publicly renounces his stance and indicates that he will adhere to the Church’s teachings — I would think it far better to refuse communion, causing temporary public embarassment, than risk jeopardizing his soul for eternity.

Finally, getting philosophical for a moment, I find the dilemma is reminiscent of “Pascal’s Wager”: supposing that the Church’s teaching were true, and that one could indeed merit damnation by unfaithful reception of the Eucharist . . . wouldn’t it be in one’s best interest to refrain? And seen in this light, wouldn’t it be the greatest sign of personal disrespect and carelessness as Kerry’s priest to continue to dispense communion under the present circumstances?

Prayer Request for an Anglican

Prayer requests from the author of Pontifications, an Anglican blog, and his twenty-one year old son, on account of:


Early last week he called my wife and I and informed us that he had decided to become a Roman Catholic. Today he will be confirmed and will make his first communion as a Catholic. And from that point you, he will no longer be able to receive communion from the hands of his father.

My eyes filled with tears of grief upon hearing this news. Over a year and a half ago I had to counsel him to explore other Christian traditions. There is no future for you and your future family in the Episcopal Church, I told him. He heeded my advice and began to explore and read and pray. He is a serious Christian young man. And so today he begins a new chapter in his walk with our Lord.

Pray that the Spirit will come upon him and fill him and anoint him to do the Lordโ€™s work and ministry, whatever that might be. Thank you.

Last week the author raised a furor by publicly musing on “whether The Reformation was a blunder?” — the post and ensuing commmentary revealing the troubled hearts of many “Anglo-Catholics” as they deal with what is happening in their church.

The Boston Diocese and St. Paul on responsible reception of the Eucharist

The scandal over Kerry’s reception of communion has been reinvigorated by Cardinal Arinze’s statement that politicans who are “unambiguously pro-abortion” are “not fit” to receive communion. However, in covering the story the Washington Post prints this little gem of a defense from the Boston diocese, on why they have declined to carry out Arinze’s recommendation:

A spokesman for Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said Kerry had not been barred from taking communion in his hometown, and he indicated that no ban was likely.

“The position of Archbishop O’Malley has been that when people come forward to receive communion, we give them communion. The moment of communion is not the moment in which to raise the question of whether someone should or should not be receiving it,” said the spokesman, the Rev. Christopher Coyne.

Coyne said that it would be appropriate for a priest or bishop to counsel a politician whose positions are contrary to church teachings. “But this is something that’s handled privately with the Catholic,” he said. “It’s not something where you would make any kind of public action or public statement to withhold communion.”

Unfortunately, what Coyne fails to realize is that the Boston diocese’ very reluctance to take a stand against Kerry is, in itself, “a public action and a public statement.”

Catholics are obligated to regard the Body of Christ with the respect and honor He deserves. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Most Catholics — well, those that are properly catechized at least — know that to approach the Eucharist in a state of unrepentance and obstinate sin is a source of grave scandal.

Obviously, the individual is in the best position to determine whether he or she is properly disposed to receive. One cannot expect the priest to stop each communicant in line and inquire where they stand. It is our own responsibility to do so as Catholics.

Nevertheless, there are indeed cases where a Catholic can be a source of grave scandal by receiving communion, and where a priest’s compliance in giving a Catholic communion can in turn perpetuate that scandal. This is precisely what Cardinal Arinze meant when he refers to politicans who are unambiguously pro-abortion — not mentioning by name, but obviously alluding to Senator Kerry.

Kerry’s bishop, Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley, has stated that “politicians should know that if they’re not voting correctly on these life issues that they shouldn’t dare come to Communion.” Kerry has already met privately with Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, who — we may presume — said something along those lines as well. But as far as we can tell, whatever happened at that meeting failed to persuade Kerry to reconcile with the Church’s teaching. Rather, he has launched a campaign of television advertisements affirming “pro-choice” and criticizing the President’s opposition to abortion. Today attended a public rally, where he gladly received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, and reaffirmed his support for Roe vs. Wade.

Which, of course, creates no small amount of confusion for many Catholics — catechumens, teachers, parents, clergy — being counseled (or counseling others) on responsible reception of the Eucharist.

For when Kerry and like minded, unambiguously pro-abortion politicians continue to receive communion at the hands of complacent priests, one is tempted to wonder whether the Church is operating under a double standard, and whether St. Paul’s admonishments truly apply in this day and age.

Letting Go.

Two blogs I enjoy very much are Tom Kreitzberg’s Disputations and Stephen Riddle’s Flos Carmeli (St. Blog’s resident Thomist and Carmelite, respectively), and their ongoing theological disputes which provide me with much food for thought (such as this discussion of contemplation and married life).

Lately Tom is reading On Union with God by St. Albert the Great, and posting his musings on the text. Prompting in turn an interesting exchange on what it means to “empty your mind of all distractions, and this bit of wise advice by Stephen:

“The way I once explained it to my Carmelites is that it was like the ten ibis that were walking on my lawn one morning. I looked out at them and they were beautiful and I thanked God for them. My heart could then take one of two turns–I could then think to build a coop and contain this beauty for myself for good and all; or I could let the ibis wander free and eventually fly away, cherishing what God had given me in the vision, but not desiring to retain it forever. The latter is nada. Accept what comes, and let it pass with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, but with no desire to hold on to it forever.”

Bloggers meet the Cardinal!

Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated his 77th birthday on Friday, April 16.

Speaking of which, some Notre Dame bloggers from the Shrine Of The Holy Whapping had the opportunity to attend Mass celebrated by the good Cardinal during their visit to Rome, and meet with him afterwards. Andrew gives an account of the encounter.

I wonder whether there is anything that strikes greater fear in the hearts of Catholic progressives than the site of vibrant young Catholics thanking the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church for his ministry and expressing their admiration for his writings. ๐Ÿ˜‰