Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sally Quinn: Know-Nothing

It must be a difficult task to write about an institution when one knows nothing of the institution's history, culture or development. But the challenge has not stopped the Washington Post's Sally Quinn from opining about the Catholic Church.

Here is the link to her latest offering:

As I predicted in my previous post, it didn't take long for a non-Catholic limousine liberal like Quinn to have a meltdown over the Vatican's decision to investigate and oversee the Leadership Conference of Religious Women ("LCRW"), a coalition of Catholic women's religious orders given to all manner of liberal activism.

Yes, the "hierarchical", male-dominated Church strikes again! In an audacious move, the authorities of a particular religious organization decided to take steps to govern their own institution in keeping with their own tenets and understanding of their own faith. How dare they! Sally Quinn does not approve.

Of course, the "celibate men" of the Catholic Church hate women and have set out to "humiliate" nuns--because nuns are women. Can you believe that someone Sally Quinn knows wanted to "return to the church and go on Easter Sunday", but decided not to go because she didn't want to condone the Church's opposition to "abortion rights"?

Call Vatican III immediately! One of Sally Quinn's fellow-travelers has not "returned" to the Church!

The whole column would be laughable if it were not so offensive. It has long been observed that it is easy to hate and malign a person or thing about which one knows nothing. Sally Quinn and the dinner party moralists she represents view the Church as they would a specimen in a zoo--a bazaar curiosity that gives them a sense of moral superiority when they gaze upon it in all of its shocking backwardness.

If the Washington Post wants to run a column or blog on religion, it might consider employing writers who actually practice a religion or, at least, have a modicum of understanding of the institutions they purported to cover and on which they feel entitled to comment.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Sisters: The Last Piece of the New Evangelization

Last week, the Vatican announced that it had commissioned several American bishops to investigate and oversee an organization known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious ("LCRW"), a kind of umbrella "trade group" that represents numerous orders of nuns in the United States. The LCRW said it was "stunned" at the Vatican's move. But anyone who has been watching the life of the Roman Catholic Church in recent years would see the action as no surprise.

For the sake of blog-demanded brevity, let us say that life of the Church since circa 1965 has been tumultuous. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the changes in the secular culture that flowered in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Church experienced major crises and rampant confusion in doctrine, liturgical norms, sacramental practices and the understanding of vowed religious life.

While the troubles in the life of the modern Church are not over, there has been, in more recent times, a sort of informal agreement on the need for a "reform of the reform." Through the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church as begun to live out the "New Evangelization". In short, the New Evangelization is a call for the Faithful to renew their personal commitment to discipleship--to following Jesus Christ and His Gospel--through a renewed embrace of the Church's sacramental and prayer life. There is no question that the present pope, like his predecessor, sees the New Evangelization as, at long last, bringing to fruition the true and proper aims and ends of the Second Vatican Council.

The New Evangelization has taken many forms. It has re-emphasized a devotion to our Blessed Mother and encouraged the prayer of the Rosary. It has returned the practice of Eucharistic Adoration to a commonplace in parishes. It has priests again donning traditional religious garb, such as the cassock. It is responsible for the new edition of the Catechism and the renewed focus on formation. Perhaps most importantly, the New Evangelization is behind the renewal of the Mass, most evident in the new translation into English of the Latin.

Therefore, I believe, the crisis in the life of the Church that followed the Council is over and a new spirit, grounded in tradition, yet enthused with fresh zeal for the Gospel, has taken hold. Yet this project of the "reform of the reform" cannot be completed without the renewal of women's religious life.

The history of women religious, particularly in the United States, is nothing less than awe-inspiring. The achievements of Roman Catholic sisters can hardly be overstated, from the historic founding of countless schools and hospitals to the unrivaled (and vastly under-appreciated) education of tens of thousands of students.

That history, for all practical purposes, ended in the years following the Council. Perhaps no institution in the Church was more damaged and diminished by the mistakes, confusion and foolishness that ran amok in the bad old days. Now, at long last, the Vatican itself has apparently tired of the transformation of women's religious orders from actual religious orders that follow a "rule" and are given over to a particular charism, or mission within the service of the Church, into organizations based around liberal fads and nebulous conceptions of secular "social justice." A quick glance at the website of the LCRW reveals a group with concerns that mirror the hobbyhorses of the Democratic Party, from environmentalism to the wonders of Obamacare.

However noble their intentions, it is indisputable that many of the members of the LCRW no longer participate in what can fairly be characterized as Roman Catholic religious life, nor is it an overstatement to say that discipleship with Jesus Christ no longer forms the central purpose of a number of these communities. Instead, a politicized Gospel has turned these orders into, essentially, groups of liberal activists.

And their absence from the life of the Church has left a gaping hole in the ability of the Church to build the Kingdom on Earth. Contrary to the leftist polemics about the Church's debasement and marginalization of women, the fact is that women have always been integral to the mission of the Church, from at least the moment that Mary Magdalene encountered the Risen Lord in the garden outside the tomb on the first Easter.

When He spoke her name, she knew Him and knew He was alive! This, not political or social causes of various stripes, is the foundation of religious life and the call of the Gospel.

The Spirit is once more at work in the Church and, through the New Evangelization, the Spirit is renewing the Church in this age, just as it has over and over for the past two thousand years. The Church cannot be whole without vibrant religious life, just as it cannot be whole without a vibrant and active laity. Some will grouse about the heavy-handed Vatican bossing around poor little nuns; in truth, the Church is working to reform and renew women's religious life, to heal it, save it and restore it to its proper and glorious place within the Body of Christ.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Liberal Shock and Awe at the Supreme Court

Much has been written this past week about liberals' surprise at, and sometimes panic over, the serious way in which a majority of the Supreme Court justices approached the constitutional arguments of the parties challenging Obamacare.

For the most part, conservative commentators have explained the liberal shock and awe by noting the fact that liberals often live in an intellectual bubble in which their own ideas are constantly re-enforced and never questioned. Inside this bubble, the shallow prejudice that holds conservatives are greedy, mean-spirited, bigoted and backward idiots is considered a self-evident truth. Ergo, the conservative legal position must be absurd.

And this is all true. But there is another important legal and political reason that liberals initially and consistently dismissed the constitutional attack on Obamacare. In general, liberals conceive of the Constitution not as a concrete legal document, but as an abstraction. Liberals have developed all manner "theories" of the Constitution--the "partial Constitution", the "invisible Constitution", the "living Constitution"--cooked-up by law professors and other so-called "experts."
In short, these "theories" approach the Constitution not as one would ordinarily approach a legal statute, but instead purport to divine the spirit of the document. The liberals have come to see the Constitution not as a legal document to be treated by courts as they would treat any other statute, but as an aspirational document whose "values" are supposed to guide our government in general manner. Their theories deride the those who actually rely on the Constitution's words and historical development as "textualist" or "originalists"--implying that there are competing theoretical conceptions of the Constitution akin to the tension in philosophical schools, like the tensions between Platonic and Aristotelian thought.

This view of the Constitution--that it is a complex, quasi-philosophical document not susceptible to ordinary principles of statutory interpretation--leads to the liberal bewilderment witnessed this past week. For the opponents of Obamacare argued their case not based upon some abstract notion allegedly underpinning the Constitution, but on the actual words in the document and the indisputable historical context in which those words were put to parchment.

And, lo, the justices actually engaged with these arguments--arguments that asked the Court to perform the kinds of statutory interpretation that lower state and federal courts perform as routine business.

The Constitution empowers Congress to "regulate Commerce...among the several States." Is requiring an individual to purchase a product and enter into a contract with a private entity the regulation of commerce?

The Constitution was intended to give specific, enumerated powers to the federal government. Would upholding the individual mandate effectively grant Congress a general police power and destroy the constitutional scheme of a limited federal government?

To anyone who actually reads the words of the Constitution and who has taken an eighth grade American history course, these questions would appear as obvious and legitimate issues for judicial concern. But not so to liberals. Immersed in their theories and the flimsy court decisions of their fellow-travelers from the last century, liberals do not take seriously the plain words of the Constitution or the notion of a limited federal government.

In their view, government is meant to be a problem solver and, as such, the government is inherently empowered to do whatever is necessary to address problems, especially if the power exercised relates to a seemingly well-intentioned program to combat real or perceived economic inequalities.

Whatever the merits of this conception of government, it is not the one for which the Constitution provides. Only those who do not take the words of the Constitution seriously could possibly be shocked by the fact that the justices of the court charged with interpreting those words and their intended meaning actually did so this past week.