Month: March 2008

Avery Dulles’ Farewell Address

Annual Spring McGinley Lecture to Feature Cardinal Dulles’ Farewell Address:

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Ph.D., the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society, will deliver his 39th McGinley lecture on Tuesday, April 1, at 8 p.m. at the Leonard Theatre, Fordham Preparatory School, on the Rose Hill campus in the Bronx. The lecture is titled, “Farewell Address as Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society (1988 – 2008).”

A response to the lecture will be given by Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, Ph.D., associate professor of theology at Boston College.

Cardinal Dulles, who will stay on as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society Emeritus, has held the McGinley chair since 1988. Born in Auburn, N.Y., he is an internationally known author and lecturer. Named to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001, he is the only United States-born theologian who is not a bishop ever to receive this honor. Cardinal Dulles has published 23 books and more than 800 articles, essays and reviews on theological topics.

(Via Gary Stern @ Blogging Religiously).

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Update (3/4/08): Catholic News Service reports on Avery Cardinal Dulles’ farewell address:

Cardinal Dulles, a Jesuit theologian, ended his 20-year series of annual McGinley lectures, from 1988 to 2008, with a short summation of his theology and his ministry and a synopsis of his previous lectures. …

Confined to a wheelchair and incapable of prolonged speech as a result of post-polio syndrome which he originally contacted when he was in the Navy 62-years ago, Jesuit Father Joseph P O’Hare, Fordham’s former president, gave the presentation for the cardinal.

Father Robert P. Imbelli, a New York archdiocesan priest, who is associate theology professor at Jesuit-run Boston College, presented an analysis of the cardinal’s speech.

As ever, Dulles exemplified the discipline and integrity of a loyal servant of Christ and his Church, in service not to his own ambitions but to the truth:

[Dulles] said his principal aim in his lectures was “to present and classify the existing opinions” and “to criticize views that are inadequate.”

He always tried “to incorporate the valid insights of all parties to the discussion, rather than perpetuate a one-sided view that is partial and incomplete,” he said.

“I think of myself as a moderate trying to make peace between (opposing) schools of thought. While doing so, however, I insist on logical consistency. Unlike certain relativists of our time, I abhor mixtures of contradiction,” Cardinal Dulles said.

He began his theological lectures “by asking what others, especially authoritative voices, had to say about pertinent questions,” he said. If everyone agreed, “it is sufficient to note the consensus,” he added.

If a spectrum of opinions existed, “I sought out the best arguments in favor of each major position,” he continued. He said his intention was “to give an informed judgment as to which positions are sound and which should be rejected.”

In each case, “I am willingly adhering to the testimony of Scripture and perennial Catholic tradition,” he said.

The cardinal admitted he never strove for originality.

“Very few new ideas, I suspect, are true. If I conceived a theological idea that had never occurred to anyone in the past, I would have every reason to think myself mistaken,” he said.

In the presentation Cardinal Dulles reconfirmed his faith, his orthodoxy, his spirituality and his commitment to the Society of Jesus. He also offered a final word against the materialism, relativism, subjectivism, hedonism, scientism and superficial anti-intellectualism he said is found in modern society.


Muslim critic Magdi Allam converts, baptised by Benedict XVI

The Associated Press reports that Italy’s most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service:

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book “Long Live Israel.”

As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam’s head and said a brief prayer in Latin.

“We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another,” Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. “Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close.”

Vatican Television zoomed in on Allam, who sat in the front row of the basilica along with six other candidates for baptism. He later received his first Communion.

Allam, 55, told the newspaper Il Giornale in a December interview that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombing provoked threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizable security detail.

Local Muslim organizations responded thus to the news:

The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy — which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas — said the baptism was his own decision.

“He is an adult, free to make his personal choice,” the Apcom news agency quoted the group’s spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying.

Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Islamic religious community in Italy, said he respected Allam’s choice but said he was “perplexed” by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert.

“If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives,” the ANSA news agency quoted Pallavicini as saying.

There seems to be some disjuncture between the emphasis on Allam as “Italy’s leading Muslim writer” and the following description of the convert as: “An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic.”

According to another article, Allam himself “says he has never been a practicing Muslim.” And in his own conversion story, he refers to himself as having “occasionally practiced [Islam] at a cultural level.” Hardly what I would call “Italy’s most prominent MUSLIM”.

Were the inverse true: — were a non-practicing Catholic married to a Muslim to embrace Islam — would it be proper to describe him as “a prominent Catholic”?

This leads me to wonder if the press is deliberately playing up this aspect of the story, so as to foster Islamic-Christian tensions — along the same lines as their shoddy reporting of Benedict’s Regensburg address (ignoring practically everything else in his address, save that which they saw as newsworthy and potentially inflammatory).

It is possible to perceive Benedict’s agreement to baptize Allam as signifying his emphasis on religious freedom (particularly for Christians residing in nations with an Islamic majority). Nonetheless I think it would be improper for Christians to treat this conversion in triumphalistic fashion, as seems to be the case on some blogs.


  • Muslim Baptized by Pope Sought Dialogue, by Frances D’Emilio. Associated Press March 24, 2008:

    The Egyptian-born commentator who renounced Islam and converted to Roman Catholicism with a baptism by Pope Benedict XVI has built his career crusading against what he calls the “inherent” violence in Islam and championing Israel’s existence. . . .

    Allam has credited the pope, who himself has been criticized by some Muslims, as being instrumental in his decision to become a Catholic at age 55 and after spending his adult life in predominantly Catholic Italy.

    A frequent commentator on Islamic issues and terrorism on Italian TV, Allam says he is “passionate” about coexistence in the West of “national identity and democracy, immigration and integration, Islam and terrorism” . . .

    The conversion freed him “from the shadows of a preaching where hate and intolerance toward he who is different, toward he who is condemned as an ‘enemy,'” he said.

    In an interview on Italian private TV Canale 5 Monday evening, Allam said he felt “stronger” and “great joy” because of his conversion.

    He dismissed the suggestion that Benedict, in baptizing him, might put at risk the lives of Christian minorities in Islamic nations.

    Benedict “wanted to give a signal to the church throughout the world that whoever” wants to join will be accepted, Allam said.

  • A Muslim critic turns Catholic, by Jeff Israeliy. Time March 24, 2008:

    After studying sociology at Rome’s La Sapienza University, Allam began writing for the Italian daily La Repubblica, covering the first Gulf War and chronicling everyday life of the country’s growing Muslim population. Initially, he wrote favorably about multiculturalism, and warned about the risks of racism against Muslims in this heavily Catholic nation. But after 9/11, now writing for another major newspaper, Corriere della Sera, he became an increasingly harsh critic of Islam, both inside and outside of Italy. He warned against the “Islamization” of Europe, and urged opposition to the building of new mosques in Italy. In his provocatively titled 2007 book Viva Israel: From the ideology of death to the civilization of life, my story, he described his transformation from hating Zionists as a youth to realizing “that hatred easily comes to include all Jews, then all Christians, then all liberal and secular Muslims, and at the end all Muslims who do not want to submit to Islamic radicals’ will.”

  • Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion Zenit News Service. March 23, 2008:

    On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus, I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason. My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.

    I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me — I who was a Muslim — as an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.

    At the same time providence brought me to meet practicing Catholics of good will who, in virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. . . .

    But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert was that with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in setting down the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization, and to whom I fully adhere as a Christian to inspire me with new light in the fulfillment of the mission God has reserved for me.

    Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

  • Not suprisingly, is playing up Allam’s “Muslim” background as well, in addition to his denunciations of Islam as “intrinsically violent”.
  • Muslims question Vatican baptism of Islamic critic, by Tom Heneghan. Reuters. March 24, 2008:

    [Aref Ali Nayed, a participant in the Muslim-Catholic dialogue] said the Vatican should distance itself from a searing attack on Islam that Allam published on Sunday in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, where he is deputy director.

    Commentators in Algeria and Morocco echoed Nayed’s view, saying Allam’s conversion was a personal affair but his attacks on Islam and his headline-grabbing baptism by the pope strained relations between Muslims and the Catholic Church.

    “The whole spectacle… provokes genuine questions about the motives, intentions and plans of some of the pope’s advisers on Islam,” Nayed, who is director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, said in a statement.

    “Nevertheless, we will not let this unfortunate episode distract us from our work on pursuing ‘A Common Word’ for the sake of humanity and world peace. Our basis for dialogue is not a tit-for-tat logic of reciprocity.”

Update 3/24/08

Some reactions from the Catholic blogging world …

  • An Individual Act of Conscience or a Global Phenomenon?, by Sherry Weddell, who expresses her reservations about the publicity being heaped upon Allam (Intentional Disciples March 24, 2008):

    [Allam’s baptism] could have been done lovingly and well a thousand different ways – none of which required that his face and story blanket the globe within hours of his reception. Being baptized did not require that he become the poster-boy for Muslims considering Christianity and there were a number of obvious reasons why he isn’t a great candidate for poster boydom and may actually be counter-productive.

    Apart from the geo-religious-political implications, all this publicity could actually hamper his spiritual growth and that of his family. Being a trophy convert is often not a good thing for one’s actual process of conversion. . . .

    Since we aren’t actively persecuted, it is easy for us to call for a full frontal assault ( Charge!) and “religious freedom now!” and to talk blithely about the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the Church. Cause the chances of it being our blood or that of our children is very, very small. But as I have said before, “charge!” and spineless cowardice are not the only two options available to us.

    Meanwhile, someone really sharp, spiritually and theological mature, and prayerful needs to stay close to Allam and guide him through this tumultuous transition. It’s hard enough to become a Catholic at age 56 from a non-Christian background. Doing it in the middle of a media and geo-political circus (Imagine if Princess Diana had become Catholic as was rumored before her death!) is full of potential pitfalls.

    (Abu Daoud @ Islam & Christianity, responds on The Baptism of Magdi Allam: Wisdom or Folly?:

    Was it the wisest and most prudent path for Benedict to baptize this particular Muslim on Easter at St. Petersburg?

    I think there that Sherry would answer NO. But my answer is Yes. So let me address this specific topic instead of trading in hypotheticals, which is what we have been doing until now. . . .

  • And DarwinCatholic, on True Religious Tolerance and Dialog:

    I find myself wondering if Benedict’s aim in all this is to make a statement about the nature of true religious toleration and dialog. . . .

    Benedict is no political and cultural fire-breether, but he is a thoughtful and holy man who is in no sense afraid of difficult and unpopular truths. I wonder if the pope, who according to Allam immediately agreed to personally receive him into the Church when Allam made the request, means with this action to make a statement that he will bring to the table when he meets with scholard from the A Common Word initiative in November: Toleration means not merely ignoring and minimizing points of difference, but respecting the conscience of others even in the face of grave and important points of difference.

Benedict in America

Blogging will be sparse on Against The Grain — at least until April 20 — as I will be devoting most of my attention to chronicling Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 Apostolic Journey to the United States, compiling news, commentary and resources on the papal visit with occasional editorial criticism.

Thus far it has been chiefly a one-man effort, but if anybody’s so inspired to join me in this project, let me know. I’d love to make this a like-minded effort (along the lines of Catholics in the Public Square and bring in perspectives other than my own. =)

“I have risen and I am still with you, for ever.”

“I have risen and I am still with you, for ever.” These words invite us to contemplate the risen Christ, letting his voice resound in our heart. With his redeeming sacrifice, Jesus of Nazareth has made us adopted children of God, so that we too can now take our place in the mysterious dialogue between him and the Father. We are reminded of what he once said to those who were listening: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). In this perspective, we note that the words addressed by the risen Jesus to the Father on this day – “I am still with you, for ever” – apply indirectly to us as well, “children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (cf. Rom 8:17). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we too rise to new life today, and uniting our voice with his, we proclaim that we wish to remain for ever with God, our infinitely good and merciful Father.

In this way we enter the depths of the Paschal mystery. The astonishing event of the resurrection of Jesus is essentially an event of love: the Father’s love in handing over his Son for the salvation of the world; the Son’s love in abandoning himself to the Father’s will for us all; the Spirit’s love in raising Jesus from the dead in his transfigured body. And there is more: the Father’s love which “newly embraces” the Son, enfolding him in glory; the Son’s love returning to the Father in the power of the Spirit, robed in our transfigured humanity. From today’s solemnity, in which we relive the absolute, once-and-for-all experience of Jesus’s resurrection, we receive an appeal to be converted to Love; we receive an invitation to live by rejecting hatred and selfishness, and to follow with docility in the footsteps of the Lamb that was slain for our salvation, to imitate the Redeemer who is “gentle and lowly in heart”, who is “rest for our souls” (cf. Mt 11:29).

Dear Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world, dear men and women whose spirit is sincerely open to the truth, let no heart be closed to the omnipotence of this redeeming love! Jesus Christ died and rose for all; he is our hope – true hope for every human being. Today, just as he did with his disciples in Galilee before returning to the Father, the risen Jesus now sends us everywhere as witnesses of his hope, and he reassures us: I am with you always, all days, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of his transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our own day. In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart (cf. Is 61:1,2,3). If with humble trust we draw near to him, we encounter in his gaze the response to the deepest longings of our heart: to know God and to establish with him a living relationship in an authentic communion of love, which can fill our lives, our interpersonal and social relations with that same love. For this reason, humanity needs Christ: in him, our hope, “we have been saved” (cf. Rom 8:24).

— From Pope Benedict XVI’s Urbi et Orbi Message – Easter 2008

Good Friday

Brothers and sisters: Let us direct today our gaze toward Christ, a gaze frequently distracted by scattered and passing earthly interests. Let us pause to contemplate his cross. The cross, fount of life and school of justice and peace, is the universal patrimony of pardon and mercy. It is permanent proof of a self-emptying and infinite love that brought God to become man, vulnerable like us, unto dying crucified.

Through the sorrowful way of the cross, the men of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by the blood of Christ, have become friends of God, sons of the heavenly Father. “Friend,” is what Jesus calls Judas and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion. “Friend,” he calls each of us, because he is the authentic friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for us. For him, there is no distinction of race or culture. Jesus Christ died to liberate the humanity of old of their ignorance of God, of the circle of hate and violence, of the slavery to sin. The cross makes us brothers and sisters.

But let us ask ourselves, in this moment, what have we done with this gift, what have we done with the revelation of the face of God in Christ, with the revelation of the love of God that conquers hate. Many, in our age as well, do not know God and cannot encounter him in Christ crucified. Many are in search of a love or a liberty that excludes God. Many believe they have no need of God.

Dear friends: After having lived together the passion of Jesus, let us this night allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us permit him to challenge our human certainties. Let us open our hearts. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid: upon dying, the Lord destroyed sin and saved sinners, that is, all of us. The Apostle Peter writes: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday: On the cross, the Redeemer has made us adoptive sons of God who he created in his image and likeness. Let us remain, then, in adoration before the cross.

Christ, give us the peace we seek, the happiness we desire, the love the fills our heart thirsty for the infinite. This is our prayer for this night, Jesus, Son of God, who died for us on the cross and was resurrected on the third day.

Pope Benedict XVI, address at the end of the Way of the Cross
Rome, March 21, 2008

Wherein lies the Kingdom?

The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is fidelity and faithful adoration.”

When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing.

It is not just the negative outcome of the Marxist experiment that proves this. The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. [p. 33]

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Let us return to the third temptation. Its true content becomes apparent when throughout history we realize that it is constantly taking on new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was not expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendour. The powerlessness of faith, the early powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. The temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria. [p. 40]

If we had to choose today, would Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, the Son of the Father, have a chance? Do we really know Jesus at all? Do we understand him? Do we not have to perhaps make an effort, today as always, to get to know him all over again? The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for a reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev attributes to the AntiChrist a book entitled The Open Way to World Peace and Welfare. This book becomes something of a new bible, whose real message is the worship of well-being and rational planning. [p. 41]

— Benedict XVI (Jesus of Nazareth

The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which “destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand”, which “is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles”. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. He does not see that God’s commitment to the world is most absolute precisely at this point across a chasm.

— Hans Urs von Balthasar (“The Cross – For Us” excerpt from A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen)