Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

- Pumpkinhead - Self-Portrait, Jamie Wyeth

My friend Susan has posted a short story for Halloween ... Halloween (a short-short). Susan and I first met at a writers BBS almost 15 years ago :) Anyway, she has inspired me to post a short story for Halloween too, one written back when I was at the BBS ...

Death's Dominion

As Sam pulled open the morgue's heavy door, the familiar odors of formaldehyde and death swirled out to greet him. He stepped in and scanned the room - it seemed empty, at least of the living, containing only a desk, a few gurneys and walls lined with stainless steel refrigerated drawers.

The morgue attendant must be on a break, Sam guessed. He'd have to wrestle the corpse onto a gurney and wheel it up to the autopsy suite himself. As he picked up a clipboard from the desk and ran his finger down a listing of the dead inhabiting the drawers, the door behind him swung open and Dr. Anna Weston, the medical examiner and his boss, breezed in, a thick book under one arm.

Sam's gaze was drawn to her wan face, the dark smudges under her eyes. Devastated after her husband's death, she'd thrown herself into her work and this last week she'd been especially driven for some reason. He suppressed a sigh, wishing there was something he could do to help, but Anna had always kept him at an emotional arm's length. "What are you doing down here? I was just checking the list for our next customer."

Dropping her book on the morgue attendant's desk, Anna began to search through a stack of files. "Forget the list, Sam. They sent a DB over from the City jail - hanged himself in his cell. That's who we're opening up next."

Sam shook his head, puzzled. "They can't add him to the top of the list, unless ..."

Anna snatched the clipboard from his hand to punctuate her terse reply. "We're doing who I say we're doing - okay?"

Sam raised his hands in surrender and sat on the edge of the desk, watching as Anna opened and closed refrigerated drawers, looking for the correctly toe tagged corpse. As he waited, he glanced down at the book she'd left on the desk, expecting to see a tome on forensic pathology. His eyes widened as he read the title - The Shadow Grimoire. Grimoire ... magic? What in the name of Pete was Anna doing with a book on magic?

Sam's attention was drawn away from the book by the sound of muted cursing. Anna was having difficulty transferring the stiff body she'd chosen from its drawer to one of the gurneys.

"Need some help?" he ventured.

She leveled a look at him that needed no translation and Sam rose from the desk with a smile. As he gazed at her across the corpse that lay between them, his smile faded. At this distance, Anna's features bore clear evidence of fatigue, melancholy and something new - a kind of grim resolution. But Sam saw through this sad patina to a deeper loveliness that caught at his heart. Maybe he should try again with her.

Anna tugged at the heavy body to no avail. "Come on - help me with this."

Not moving, Sam took a deep breath. "I was wondering ..." His voice trailed off under her questioning stare. He cleared his throat and began again. "Dr. Weston ... Anna ... if you're not busy later tonight, I thought we might go and get something to eat."

Heart thudding, Sam waited, watching that sad/lovely face go through a series of expressions as she grasped his intent. He'd surprised her - probably not a good sign. He noticed her distractedly twisting the wedding ring she still wore as she formulated her answer and guessed he wouldn't like what he was about to hear.

"I'm flattered, really, but I think it's a mistake for people who work together to ... well, to form romantic attachments . You understand ... it's nothing personal."

Nothing personal? Sam felt his face grow warm but he nodded, forced a smile, began to shift the refrigerated corpse. "Sure, I understand."

As Sam pushed the laden gurney towards the door that Anna held open, he glanced again at the Shadow Grimoire she clasped so tightly in one hand. He wondered if there was a spell in that book powerful enough to make Anna fall in love with him. Then he shook his head - given the way she still felt about her husband, it would more likely take an act of God.

* * * * *
Anna entered the autopsy suite, her assistant Sam holding the door for her. She sighed as she glanced at her watch - 9:45 pm. It had been an incredibly busy day and, with the bodies stacked like cordwood in the morgue, she and Sam had been forced to work a double shift. The autopsy room through which she walked was large, with a tiled floor and cabinets, stainless steel sinks, a refrigerator and an empty gurney but Anna had eyes only for the case file Sam handed her. She opened it and as she read the details once again, her breath caught.

Pushing stray locks of hair under her surgical hat with a hand that trembled slightly, Anna walked to the metal autopsy table in the middle of the room. Sam had already deposited her carefully chosen corpse and bright overhead lights illuminated the pale nude body. Sam joined her, checking a camera and then opening a sterile pack of surgical instruments for the coming procedure. Watching him, Anna was relieved - he seemed to have forgotten that awkward moment in the morgue. He couldn't have known, of course, but this night was the worst possible moment for him to have voiced his feelings for her.

Pulling up her mask, Anna snapped on two pairs of latex gloves and nodded to Sam. She pulled the overhead microphone/recorder a little lower and then began to speak into it as Sam started shooting documentation photos of the body. First, she checked the corpse for surface wounds and abnormalities, all the while describing and recording her findings. The cause of death seemed as obvious as the ligature marks on the corpse's neck ... the man had been caught by police while committing a murder and was said to have hung himself later in his jail cell. But in San Francisco, all suspicious deaths required autopsies and in this case, Anna was glad to oblige.

Taking up a scalpel, she began the large Y shaped incision on the torso of the body that would open it up for investigation. Anna saw Sam wince as the scalpel cut deeply from the point of the right shoulder and down to end at the sternum. She smiled fondly behind her mask, wondering for the umpteenth time why someone as sensitive as Sam had chosen such a career. She made a another incision in the corpse from the left shoulder to meet the first cut and then continued down the middle of the body, skirting the belly button, to end at the pubic bone.

As Anna and her assistant began to peel the soft tissue back from the Y incision, a faint butcher-shop stench rose from the exposed interior of the corpse. There was little blood, however. What there was dripped down into the side gutters of the slanted table, ending up in a bucket out of sight below. As Anna took up a a small electric saw and began to cut the ribcage away from the sternum, her eyes strayed momentarily to a plaque in Latin hanging on one of the walls - Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae - This is the place where death rejoices to teach the living. Anna prayed that this corpse would teach her what she needed to know ... how to bring her husband back to life.

* * * * *
Sam walked through the medical examiner's annex toward Anna's office, worried. She'd dismissed him from the autopsy early, saying that she wanted to finish it up by herself. When he'd protested, she'd pulled rank on him. Sam shook his head - his boss was spending far too much time alone, he thought, alone with the memories of her husband, Jeremy. It had been almost a year since Jeremy's death but instead of moving on, Anna seemed to only grow more morose with the passage of time. Sam had been envious of Jeremy while he lived but it was only after his death that he'd grasped how close the two had been, how futile his feelings for Anna were. It was anything but easy to compete with a ghost.

When his knocking went unanswered, Sam let himself into Anna's empty office. He'd hoped to catch her before she left for home, hoped she'd changed her mind about going out, but it appeared he was too late. Sam was about to leave, disappointed, when a book that lay open on her desk caught his attention - the Grimoire. Curious and a little disturbed, Sam took a seat in Anna's chair and began to read the contents of the pages to himself ...

"The Hand of Glory Spell - a spell of necromancy used to raise the dead. Said to have originated with Albertus Magnus in the Middle Ages, the Hand of Glory Spell is traditionally used to paralyze and control evil, usually of a lesser sort. Occasionally, if the need is great, it can be used to confound great evil as well, and what greater evil is there than death? First one must procure the hand of a criminal who has died of hanging. The severed hand should be dipped into hot wax, and hairs from the dead man's head affixed to the tips of the fingers, thus turning the hand into a kind of candle. Lighting the fingers at midnight, one begins then to speak the words of power, and ..."

The phone on Anna's desk rang, and Sam flinched, his concentration broken. He picked up the receiver, shaken, but before he could speak, the caller spat out, "What the hell's going on over there?"

"I'm sorry, what ..."

"This is the morgue. That stiff you just sent us arrived minus one of his hands. You know you have to account for all the missing parts and I don't see any paperwork here that ... "

Sam slammed down the receiver and bolted for the door, horror lending him speed. He knew where Jeremy's body lay - if Anna was doing as he suspected, she was in a terrible way and needed his help.

* * * * *
Anna knelt on the damp grass of Holy Cross Cemetery, the moon her only illumination. Before her stood Jeremy's marble tombstone, the etching of his name barely discernible in the uncertain light. This was the first time she'd come here since the funeral. For a moment, despair threatened to overtake her but then, chest aching, she brushed away tears and renewed her resolve - she wasn't here to mourn but to retrieve what had been taken from her. I will leave this place with Jeremy, she vowed.

Lifting the waxy severed hand from her purse, Anna situated it, fingers reaching toward the stars, on the bottom lip of the tombstone. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and imagined a circle forming in the grass around the area of the grave. Then striking a match, she carefully lit the hairy wick of each dead finger and began the incantation she'd memorized from the book. "Mists from north, south, east and west ... hide this place at my request." Anna bit her lip, eyes wide. She hadn't really expected this to work, but as she stared, tendrils of fog began to coalesce around Jeremy's grave site. Swallowing dryly, she continued. "Hand of glory, hand of power ... blazing at the witching hour ..."

As she spoke the final words that she hoped would bring her husband back to her, Anna saw the area over his grave begin to tremble. Before her astonished eyes, slender fingers rose up from between the blades of grass, fingers so different from those burning nearby. She held her breath, beginning to hope. Then gracefully, as if rising from a pool of water, Jeremy ascended from the shivering grass. He stood before her, beautiful and new as if reborn. She lost herself in his gaze until he reached out a hand, softly spoke her name. Anna brushed past his hand and embraced him instead, needing to feel the beat of his heart next to hers.

* * * * *
Running under the dripping trees of the cemetery, slipping on the wet grass in his haste, Sam cursed himself. He should have seen this coming - if something happened to Anna ... As he approached Jeremy's grave site through the mist, he glimpsed bits and pieces of the dead man's strange resurrection. What he saw was enough to make him doubt his own sanity. The hair rising on his neck, Sam shouted at Anna as he ran. Startled, she stumbled away from Jeremy and, falling against the tombstone, knocked over the burning Hand of Glory. There was an audible pop and the mist surrounding the grave site instantly disappeared.

With a look of sadness, Jeremy sighed, turned away from his wife, and began to walk slowly back toward his final resting place. Realizing that the spell must have been broken, Anna flung herself at her husband and tried to hold him back, but his progress, while slow, seemed inexorable. Then he paused a moment to gently push her away. "Try to understand - I have to go back, Anna. With the spell undone, that grave requires a body."

Hearing this, Anna started for the grave herself. Sam reached her side before she could sacrifice herself and held her back. "Stop it, Anna. Let him go. What you're doing here is wrong, unnatural."

She fought Sam with the strength of desperation until he realized she was beyond reason and snapped her head back with a punch. Catching her, he laid her gently on the grass and then turned to stare wonderingly at the thing that had once been Jeremy. To his surprise, the other stopped again and returned his gaze.

"You love her, don't you ... have for a long time," said Jeremy - a statement rather than a question.

Speechless, Sam nodded woodenly.

"Then, take care of her for me."

Jeremy resumed his advance to his empty grave but not before Sam had the chance to plumb the depths of the other's eyes. He wasn't sure what he'd expected to see there ... dread, anger, a ravening hunger for continued life. But instead all he'd seen was a calm acceptance. And love. A love for Anna so intense that Sam feared he'd fail to match it even if given a lifetime in which to try. Sam sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, opened them and took a last look at Anna. Then, sprinting past Jeremy, Sam dove into the waiting grave.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some links

- Good for Creighton University, the Jesuit school that hosts the online version of the 19th annotation of the Spiritual Exercises retreat that I once made .... they have decided to give benefits to same-sex spouses of employees

- Andrew Brown thinks the church could schism. I only wish ;) but I doubt it will happen ... A Catholic church schism under Pope Francis isn’t out of the question

- More chat about the ex-bishop Conry, who apparently has been having affairs with married women. The liberals have been defending him because he's a liberal and the conservatives have been critiquing him. I'm a liberal but I think living a double life is dishonest and creepy, no matter what your political stance.

- The pope saying evolution is ok has been in the news. Not really news, of course, but I can't blame people for wondering how a church that says it believes in evolution can continue to also believe in Adam/Eve/Eden, original sin, and natural law theory. From the Pew Forum ... 5 facts about evolution and religion Apparently, About a quarter of white American Catholics (26%) say that they do not believe in evolution of any kind, despite the church’s acceptance of it. The share of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. who reject evolution and say that humans have always existed in their present form is even higher (31%).

- Indiana Jones, the Antichrist, and Hell :)

- Tattooing close up and in slow motion :) from Smarter Every Day ...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ross Douthat, Paul on communion, and getting God wrong

UPDATE: John O'Malley SJ, who write What Happened at Vatican II, has a reply to Douthat's article - Is a Precipice Yawning? John W. O'Malley, S.J., Responds to Ross Douthat

There's been a lot in the Catholic news about an article by Ross Douthat - The Pope and the Precipice - in which he goes on about the conservative Catholics whose devotion to doctrine will be betrayed if the pope allows divorced/remarried people to take communion. I haven't read it myself but I guess part of the "divorced/married people aren't worthy of communion" idea is based on 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. I think the verses are usually misunderstood as meaning *unworthy people* don't deserve communion, while it seems instead to be about an unworthy *manner* of participating in communion. Here's a bit about this from Ben Witherington's Making a Meal of It ....

One of the things that becomes clear as one works through 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is that Paul expects the meal Christians share to be far more egalitarian in nature than a normal Greco-Roman meal .... Even though the community meets in the household of one of the more socially well-off Christians, Paul insists that they carry on in a way that comports with the equality that exists in the body of Christ, without regard to social distinctions and social status ..... the wealthy are being served first and getting the better portions while the poor are in the atrium getting the leftovers .... the goal of Paul's rhetoric here is to remove obstacles to ... unity.

[... snip ...]

The reference in 1 Corinthians 11:27 .... [is] to those who are partaking in an unworthy manner, not those who in themselves are unworthy, which presumably Paul would see as including any and all believers. No one is worthy of partaking of the Lord's Supper; it's not a matter of personal worth. Paul is rather concerned with the abuse in the actions of the participants, or at least some of them. Paul says that those who partake in an unworthy manner, abusing the privilege, are liable or guilty in some sense of the body and blood of Jesus. They are, in addition, partaking without discerning or distinguishing "the body."

[... snip ...]

Paul is saying something ... about those who have become sick and died. Those Corinthians had partaken of the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner and had been judged by God for doing so. Paul uses this as a solemn warning to the other Corinthians against continuing to abuse the Christian meal .... Paul believes the Corinthians are bringing judgement on themselves, both temporally in the form of weakness and illness, and possibly even permanently in eternal condemnation. Paul even says that because of this very failure "some have died" (11:30), a shocking conclusion.

I don't even go to communion anymore so I find it hard to get very excited about this whole issue, but what did strike me as disturbing was the conclusion Paul seems to take for granted ... that God lethally punishes people in the here and now for infractions. This is a belief that seems to be shared by Peter as well - think of Ananias and Sapphira. In that instance, in chapter 5 of Acts, God kills a married couple because they weren't upfront about sharing all their money with the early church community in Jerusalem ...

Ananias presented his donation to Peter. Peter replied, "Why is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?" Peter pointed out that Ananias was in control of the money and could give or keep it as he saw fit, but had withheld a portion of it. Peter stated that Ananias had lied not to men, but to God. Ananias died on the spot and was carried out. Everyone who heard about the incident feared the Lord. Three hours after Ananias' death his wife arrived, unaware of what had happened. Peter asked her the price of the land that she and Ananias had sold, and she stated the same untruthful price that Ananias had given. She also fell dead, apparently a punishment for deceiving God.

Really? It's depressing that Jesus hasn't been dead and resurrected for long before the disciples show how little they understood the God he revealed ... ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. If even the disciples closest to Jesus misinterpreted his teachings, I've got to wonder how much more so the church is doing the same with its "infallible" teachings on subjects like divorce/remarriage and communion.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


- Interview with science fiction writer William Gibson at Mother Jones - William Gibson: The Future Will View Us "As a Joke". I've only read his most famous book, Neuromancer, but my sister is a bigg fan.

- Article in The Guardian by Australian journalist David Marr (see his past talk, David Marr on The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell) .... Pope's fine words on homosexuality are useless while the Catholic church still calls it a sin

- A movie that looks like it will be very interesting ... Antarctica: A Year On Ice ...


Trina napping by the flower pot ....

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Movies for Halloween

One of my most hit upon posts from last year was 9 scary movies for Halloween so I thought I would add a few more films to it this year ....

Alien ... a 1979 science-fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. It's hard to beat this classic. Ebert gave it 4 stars.

- Aliens ... a 1986 American science-fiction action horror film written and directed by James Cameron, produced by his then-wife Gale Anne Hurd, and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton. It is the sequel to the 1979 film Alien and the second installment of the Alien franchise. The film follows Weaver's character Ellen Ripley as she returns to the planet where her crew encountered the hostile Alien creature, this time accompanied by a unit of space marines. This is one of my favorite movies. Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 stars in his review.

Anaconda ... a 1997 adventure-horror film, directed by Luis Llosa, starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer and Jonathan Hyde. It centers around a film crew for National Geographic who are kidnapped by a hunter who is going after the world's largest giant anaconda, which is discovered in the Amazon Rainforest. I liked this, except for the snake-eating-people parts ;) Ebert gave it 3.5 stars.

- The Day After Tomorrow ... a 2004 American science fiction disaster film ... depicts catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that usher in global cooling and leads to a new ice age. It starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Ian Holm, and Sela Ward. I find disaster movies particularly scary for some reason. Ebert gave it 3 stars.

- Fallen ... a 1998 neo-noir supernatural crime thriller film, directed by Gregory Hoblit, and starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman and Donald Sutherland. It's about demon possession - eek! I posted about it here. Ebert gave it only 2.5 stars.

- From Dusk till Dawn ... a 1996 American action black comedy horror thriller film directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino. It stars George Clooney, Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis. It also stars Salma Hayek who does a snake dance that was quite something - oh, and there were vampires ;) Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars.

- Invasion of the Body Snatchers ... a 1978 science fiction thriller directed by Philip Kaufman, and starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy. Released on December 20, 1978, it is a remake of the 1956 film of the same name, which was based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The plot involves a San Francisco health inspector and his colleague who discover humans are being replaced by duplicate aliens who appear to be perfect copies of the persons replaced, but devoid of any human emotion, who attempt to install a tightly organised, conformist society. Not the newest version of the movie (nor, according to most, the best) but I think it has an interesting cast - I posted about it here

- Lord of Illusions ... a 1995 American horror film written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his earlier short story, The Last Illusion (from Books of Blood Vol. 6). The film presents Barker's signature character Harry D'Amour onscreen for the first time. It stars Scott Bakula as D'Amour ... I tried to watch this because I like Scott Bakula, but it just creeped me out and I only got halfway through. Ebert gave it 3 stars.

- Night of the Demon ... a 1957 British horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis. An adaptation of the M. R. James story "Casting the Runes" (1911), the plot revolves around an American psychologist investigating a satanic cult suspected of more than one murder. Yep, it's old, but still I found it quite creepy! I posted about it here

- The Prophecy ... a 1995 American fantasy horror-thriller film starring Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz, and Viggo Mortensen. It was written and directed by Gregory Widen, and is the first motion picture of The Prophecy series including four sequels. The film tells the story of the Archangel Gabriel (Walken) and his search for an evil soul on Earth, and a police detective (Koteas) who unknowingly becomes caught in the middle of an angelic civil war. I did find this pretty scary --- there's something about religious horror that especially gets to me.

- Revelations ... a six episode television miniseries that began airing on April 13, 2005 ... explores the End of Days ... It starred Bill Pullman and Natascha McElhone - a nun and a professor investigate the second coming of Jesus while trying to avoids Satan's minions.

- The Serpent and the Rainbow ... a 1988 American horror film directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman. The script by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, wherein Davis recounted his experiences in Haiti investigating the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was allegedly poisoned, buried alive, and revived with a herbal brew which produced what was called a zombie. A strange movie in that it's taken from a non-fiction book by ethnobotanist Wade Davis. I've posted about him before here. Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 stars.

- The Village ... a 2004 American psychological thriller film, written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan about a village whose inhabitants live in fear of creatures inhabiting the woods beyond it. It starred Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver. Roger Ebert hated this and gave it only one star.

- World War Z ... a 2013 American apocalyptic action film directed by Marc Forster. The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof is from a screen story by Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski, based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Max Brooks. The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations investigator who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. I really liked this - wrote about it here

- Wolfen ... a 1981 American crime horror film directed by Michael Wadleigh and starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos. It is an adaptation of Whitley Strieber's 1978 novel The Wolfen. I posted about the movie here. Ebert gave the movie 3.5 stars

Friday, October 24, 2014


Tap dancing priests :) I like tap dancing, from Fred Astaire to Gregory Hines to Riverdance.

'When God Talks Back'

A while ago I had a post about Stanford psychological anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, and her book, When God Talks Back. Today I was remembering that and an article from Bryan Cones at US Catholic that had mentioned her - Look who's talking: Personal conversations with God. Bryan writes ...

It’s not often that you turn on the radio and hear someone talking about you—well, not you personally, but someone like you. That was the reaction I had listening to National Public Radio’s Terry Gross as she interviewed Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford University anthropologist who had just published When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship with God (Knopf). Luhrmann had been intrigued when she met a woman who “had coffee with God” and “talked about God as if he were a person,” so she began participating in a prayer group at a location of the evangelical Vineyard Church to see what was going on.

I was intrigued as well, since I have been talking to God as long as I can remember, and I know a lot of other people who have, too. I was mostly interested in the fact that such a relationship with God—“as if he were a person”—was such an object of curiosity.

NPR’s Gross at times sounded a little incredulous (though always respectful): “What’s the difference between the imaginary friend that you’re supposed to outgrow,” she asked, “and this approach to believing that . . . God or Jesus is like your friend, your buddy?” ...

Anyway, for those interested, here's the NPR interview with Luhrmann ...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The apocalypse - not

Given the recent synod with its attending NFP married couples and any lack of progress on the subject of contraception, plus given Pope Francis' move to make Paul VI a saint, there's been increased discussion online about Humanae Vitae. Today I saw an article by Peter Knott SJ on Paul VI and human sexuality. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] Humanae Vitae offered a vision of human sexuality as responsive to the will of God and faithful to the insight that the profound intimacy of sexual intercourse required a covenant of persons and an openness to the life that is made possible by the intercourse of man and woman. It warned of the risks of ignoring this vision: sex and women becoming a commodity, fragmentation of the spousal relationship and the distancing of parents from offspring.

Could it be that, unmoored from the will of God, spousal love and the reality and symbolism of reproduction, sex is reduced to a matter of unfettered liberty in fulfilling desire or the traffic of entertainment and commerce?

Those who think that God and ethics have nothing to do with the bedroom or reproduction have some hard questions to face. Are there no moral constraints at all on sexual or reproductive freedom? Is nothing morally required of us in matters of this significant part of human experience? Is one's ‘heart's desire’ the final answer for all our decisions?

One wonders what might be the source of the repression of compunction in priests who abused children, of parents or relatives who violated their own, of teachers who seduced their students. Such horrors have taken place for ages. But have they been done with such absence of guilt?

And what of sex itself? Do the large profits in pornography, the mounting rates of sexually transmitted diseases, the images of pop music videos or the edgy offerings of the television and fashion industries offer any vision of sex that is even remotely connected to love, commitment, or children? ......

The article raises some questions for me ...

1) Is it assumed that people who don't believe in God cannot have ethical and responsible sex lives?

2) What's the basis for the belief that it's God's will that married couples must procreate without restriction?

3) What's the basis for the belief that a lack of "an openness to the life" is in any way connected to "women becoming a commodity ... fragmentation of the spousal relationship ... the distancing of parents from offspring ... abused children ... pornography ... the mounting rates of sexually transmitted diseases"?

Hey, it's contraception use, not the apocalypse! It's this kind of reaction that makes it seem pointless to even discuss this subject, much less to try to explain why contraception use is actually considered by most people (including almost everyone at Vatican II) to be ethical, responsible, and just. Still, I'll try anyway with these two short videos by Melinda Gates (a Catholic, btw, and discusses Catholicism and birth control in the first video) ....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some stuff

- Here's a pic of Lucy, one of the stray kittens I've been feeding. She looks kind of Halloweeny :) ....

- Reading about the "guardians of the galaxy in an article at ABC Religion & Ethics: s Existential Risk an Authentic Challenge or the Higher Moral Evasion?

- 2014 Wildlife photographer of the Year

- This week's movie rental was Star Trek Into Darkness ...

a 2013 American science fiction action film .... the sequel to 2009's Star Trek and the second in the reboot series. The film was directed by J.J. Abrams .... with Bryan Burk. Chris Pine reprises his role as Captain James T. Kirk, with Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, and Bruce Greenwood reprising their roles from the previous film. Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, and Alice Eve round out the film's principal cast.

I had already read the book and wrote this about the story in an earlier post ...

It's a re-imagining of an original Star Trek tv episode, Space Seed, and an original Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. It was a great idea of J. J. Abrams' (I guess?) to give Star Trek a new timeline - it's something that's been used in some of the tv shows he's produced, like Lost and Fringe, and it gives writers a lot of freedom to recombine story elements in new ways. I was kind of surprised, though, to see that Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan.

Hmmm - I've just noticed Khan's whole name was Khan Noonien Singh ... so similar to the name given later to the scientist who created the android, Data - Noonien Soong. But anyway, here's a trailer ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Video talk

Steve Chalke caused quite a furor last year when he made public his opinion that same-sex relationships were ok from a Christian standpoint ... see his article: A MATTER OF INTEGRITY:The Church, sexuality, inclusion and an open conversation. Depressing that a Christian Evangelical can see the goodness in gay relationships but in my church, Catholic leaders at synod backtrack on welcoming gays to the church.

Anyway, today I watched a really interesting talk by Steve about Jesus. He tells some good jokes :) ...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ouch ;)

I've started going to physical therapy for my hurt back. My first assignment is to do a number of stretches every day. Some are pretty easy but there's one that's especially hard .... it reminded me of this funny bit from an episode of Frasier in which Niles and Daphne take yoga instruction :) ...

Saturday, October 18, 2014


As both the BBC and conservative Damian Thompson note, the hopes we liberals (well, me at least) had for the synod have been disappointed ... Catholic synod: Pope Francis suffers setback on gays (BBC) ... The Vatican cancels its earthquake. This is not Pope Francis’s finest hour (Thompson).

What had seemed so positive and hopeful to some in the earlier relatio has deteriorated to business as usual in the final document ...

Three sections on controversial issues did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass: two paragraphs on Communion for the divorced and remarried and one on gay people. None was particularly revolutionary. The sections on divorced and remarried Catholics simply reported that some synod fathers favored finding a way to readmit such Catholics to Communion, and others wanted to maintain current practice. Likewise, the paragraph about gay people was rather tame. It referred to a 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold that there are "absolutely not grounds" for calling same-sex unions "similar or even remotely analagous" to traditional marriage, and reemphasized the obvious truth that gay people should be treated with respect. - Synod day 14 presser the second: that's a wrap.

Some believe things might go better with the synod in 2015, but I have my doubts. As long as those in control of the church continue to profess that church teaching cannot change, the institution will become more and more irrelevant.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Some links

- Contagious: Love in the Time of Ebola

- As the Vatican document on outreach to gays edits out ‘welcoming’ to focus on ‘providing for’, I saw this from the Pew Forum ... Young U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality .....

Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29 said in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged. Older age groups are less likely to favor acceptance. But even among Catholics ages 65 and older, 57% say that homosexuality should be accepted.

- Why isn't anyone talking about the synod's paragraphs on contraception? ....

The synodal fathers seem insistent that natural family planning methods will remain the only form of contraception allowed to Catholic families and that all acts of sexual intimacy in marriage must be open to life. While in the U.S., many of us have the luxury of ignoring the church's teaching on contraception, in many developing countries, the church's position on birth control directly impacts the law of the land .... For the global poor, access to contraception can mean the difference between starvation and nourishment, poverty and stability, illness and health, death and life. Few issues are more crucial to the fate of poor families around the world.

- Archbishop orders inquiry into Kieran Conry resignation over 'relationship with potentially vulnerable female adults' .....

In his resignation statement, read out at all Masses in his former diocese, Bishop Conry said he wanted “to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors”. However, the husband of one of the women said to have been involved with the bishop claims he took advantage of his wife, and another woman with whom he was also involved, because they came to him for support when they were going through difficult situations in their marriages. It is believed this will be the main focus for the inquiry, in which Bishop Conry and the women involved will be invited to participate.

At the synod

Adolfo Nicolás SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, is one of the few non-bishops with a vote at the synod. Briefly interviewed about the synod, he says something with which I agree, that marriage is not a Christian invention ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rained here ...

in the land of drought last night :)

Antonio Spadaro SJ

So what's really going on at the synod .... stealth reform? Whatever is going on, I saw an interesting mention by Robert Mickens of a certain Jesuit taking part in the synod who may know ... Antonio Spadaro SJ. Mickens writes ...

[...] Keep your eye on Father Antonio Spadaro. The 48-year-old Italian is one of only six men that are not bishops but, nonetheless, are full voting members at the current Synod assembly .... Pope Francis personally appointed Fr Spadaro .... the journalist/editor has been more and more present in the Vatican ever since his interview with the Pope was published last year. And people on the inside say he’s even very much involved behind the scenes.

Francis obviously trusts him and fellow journalist have found in Padre Antonio a reliable interpreter of the mind of the pope. The synod is yet another proving ground for the bright, friendly and media-savvy Sicilian. Rumors have been swirling the past several months that he is being groomed to replace his 72-year-old Jesuit confrere, Fr Federico Lombardi, as director of the Vatican Press Office or head of Vatican Radio. But Pope Francis could appoint him to be first head of a new office to oversee all the Vatican’s media operations. That bureau is likely to be created once Lord Patten and his 11-member commission finish reviewing the various communication sectors at the Vatican and offer recommendations to better coordinate them. That should happen some time next spring.

I noticed this story about Fr. Spadaro because I had posted about him before ... The Jesuits and Second Life ..... The Spiritual Exercises and the virtual world ... he's very into computer stuff, virtual reality, and how all that connects to Ignatian spirituality.

You can read the interview he had with Pope Francis in 2013 here - A Big Heart Open to God

He also blogs at CyberTeologia

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Synod Document

UPDATE (10/14/14): And now the Vatican spokesman and conservative cardinals/bishops/theologians disavow the document - sigh :( - Synod day 10 presser: Walk back? and Opposition grows to synod document that sees good in gay relationships, cohabitation and civil marriages and This Catholic ‘earthquake’ on homosexuality is splitting the Church


There's been much in the news about the document just released by the synod ... The Washington Post is excited: Vatican stuns Catholic world with greater openness toward gays and lesbians, TIME magazine not so much, though: What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

From the religious press, you can read what John Thavis has - A pastoral earthquake at the synod, and also what Damian Thompson has - ‘Earthquake’ in Rome as Vatican synod talks about homosexuality and divorce

From what I've read of the document, which you can read here at The Tablet, it asks whether the church can change it's semantics and its pastoral attitudes to be more merciful toward those people that it has more or less condemned up to this point (LGBT people, divorced people, people who use contraception, people who have sex outside of marriage, etc.).

What the document does *not* do is suggest any change in doctrine or even any examination of doctrine. For instance, while the document asks if the church shouldn't be more charitable about gay relationships, it also writes that ... "[there are] moral problems connected to homosexual unions", and while people who use contraception are to be treated with mercy, the document also writes that "an unconditional opening to life [is] that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest".

Yes, this document is progress when compared with the church under JPII and B16. But let's put this in perspective ... the church's doctrine on these issues is *not* intrinsically Christian ... there is no other Christian church (that I'm aware of) that condemns people for using contraception, for getting a divorce, and there are many Christian churches that accept the ok-ness of gay relationships (the Quakers, Presbyterians, the Episcopal church, the United Church of Christ, etc.), so though this document may be a step in the right direction wow, do we have a long way to go!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The British Jesuits

The Jesuit who was my spiritual director when I made the online retreat in daily life version of the Spiritual Exercises speaks about how/why he became a Jesuit. You can watch other British Jesuits speak about their vocation too at their YouTube page here.