Examiner.com: Pope2You: More of an invitation

27 05 2009

[@ Examiner]

In recent weeks, I have been searching for sources which provide updates about the Pope and the Vatican, but have been pretty unsuccessful. The closest which I have come to finding such updates may be found at the Vatican’s web site, but these require a little bit of mining through foreign languages in order to wiggle my way to an English translation. (Thanks be to God for the similarities of the Romance languages, otherwise I would be completely lost.) While browsing my selection of RSS feeds last week, I came across some articles which stated that through a new website, Pope2You, the Pope and the happenings of the Church were going to be made more easily accessible via Internet technologies such as YouTube, Wiki, Facebook and an iPhone app. I was enamoured by the idea: no more sifting through the (sometimes good) interpretations of various news agencies, but hearing things straight from the horse’s mouth.

But, unfortunately for me, the majority of the articles which I came across were premature in their conclusions (or, just inaccurate). The website was launched in conjunction with the 43rd World Communications Day, mainly in order to propagate the Pope’s message to all Catholics on this occasion, but also to open up some new avenues by which Catholics may remain in touch with the larger Church. The website is essentially a hub to four different locations: 

WikiCath. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be a Wiki. It is an exposition of the Pope’s message, as the page from Pope2You states, but, currently, it is just that. (I’m unsure if this is eventually going to become a “Catholic Wikipedia” or not. One can hope.)
Facebook App. A simple application which, as of now, provides about 20 different postcards (with a picture and a brief quote from the Pope) which one may send to his friends.
iPhone App. Since I don’t have an iPhone, I cannot directly comment. However, I had one of my iPhone-enabled friends check it out, and he tells me that it provides a video feed from H2Onews. 
YouTube: Vatican. A link to the Vatican’s YouTube channel, which now hosts just over 200 videos of the Pope’s messages and meetings, etc.
  1. WikiCath. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be a Wiki. It is an exposition of the Pope’s message, as the page from Pope2You states, but, currently, it is just that. (I’m unsure if this is eventually going to become a “Catholic Wikipedia” or not. One can hope.)
  2. Facebook App. A simple application which, as of now, provides about 20 different postcards (with a picture and a brief quote from the Pope) which one may send to his friends.
  3. iPhone App. Since I don’t have an iPhone, I cannot directly comment. However, I had one of my iPhone-enabled friends check it out, and he tells me that it provides a video feed from H2Onews
  4. YouTube: Vatican. A link to the Vatican’s YouTube channel, which now hosts just over 200 videos of the Pope’s messages and meetings, etc.
While these offerings are not quite what I was looking for and my little bubble of hope for straight- and easy-access to the statements of the Pope and happenings at the Vatican may have been burst, I am more inspired by the invitation which the Pope has extended to all Catholics: to use technology in order to pursue (and promote the pursuit of) truth, goodness, and beauty; to be engage in sincere and honest dialogue; to enable the marginalized to participate in these new forms of communication; to expand one’s friends and acquaintances, but not at the expense of those we know and meet in daily life; to bring the life and light of the Gospel to the “digital continent” through the means of communication which are surrounding us. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite:
While the speed with which the new technologies have evolved in terms of their efficiency and reliability is rightly a source of wonder, their popularity with users should not surprise us, as they respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other. This desire for communication and friendship is rooted in our very nature as human beings and cannot be adequately understood as a response to technical innovations. In the light of the biblical message, it should be seen primarily as a reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying Love of God, who desires to make of all humanity one family. When we find ourselves drawn towards other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call – a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion.
 
The desire for connectedness and the instinct for communication that are so obvious in contemporary culture are best understood as modern manifestations of the basic and enduring propensity of humans to reach beyond themselves and to seek communion with others. In reality, when we open ourselves to others, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human. Loving is, in fact, what we are designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about the real love that is at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Mk 12:30-31). In this light, reflecting on the significance of the new technologies, it is important to focus not just on their undoubted capacity to foster contact between people, but on the quality of the content that is put into circulation using these means. I would encourage all people of good will who are active in the emerging environment of digital communication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better message to come across in my pursuit. (But I’m still searching. Anyone have a clue?)




Examiner.com: A fresh look at Catholicism; or, What can be learned by looking.

19 05 2009

[@ Examiner]

In the Southside of Birmingham, there are two churches which represent two different rites of Catholicism: St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church and St. George Greek Melkite Catholic Church. I have prayed with them in their respective liturgies and have found that I more deeply appreciate the heritage and the tradition which they have brought to the whole Church: the plethora of singing and chanting; the proud use of incense; the bells; the reverence and kissing (not worship) of icons and Scripture; the use of Arabic, Aramaic, and Lebanese languages; the use of all of these sacramentals creates an “atmosphere” of worshiping Someone. Though I am a Roman Catholic, I usually find that I resonate more with the traditions and approaches to Christian life, thought, and prayer of Eastern Catholicism than with that of Roman Catholicism. (This is in no way a denunciation of Roman Catholicism, nor that Eastern Catholicism is “right,” and Roman Catholicism is “wrong.” It is merely an affirmation of my resonance with Eastern Christianity – I find it to be more “home-y”.)

Thinking of these liturgical rituals (as well as Eastern Catholic “thought,” “prayer,” and the many other avenues down which one could travel) leads one to realize that there is a depth to Catholicism of which many of us are unaware (I will be forever-digging, too, it seems). There are thousands of books, teachings, and ways of life from multiple cultures (indeed, continents) which span over 2,000 years. Of the writings which I’ve had the opportunity to encounter so far (both in East and West), most can be described as nothing short of beautiful: adages of holy people and complete works, seemingly-forgotten philosophical, theological, and spiritual treatises, each of which portray how a particular person, in a particular time, and in a particular culture, strives for sanctity, that is, for union with God in this (daily-lived) life. It reminds one that there is something more to being Catholic than what is generally portrayed in the mainstream media (that is, clerical collars and bishops’ mitres mixed with conflict, misunderstandings, fear, scandal, conspiracy, authoritarianism, etc.). 

For example, whenever one hears the word “Catholic,” their mind is (often enough) immediately drawn to teachings, disciplines, and practices which are Catholic, but more accurately, Roman Catholic. That is, the average person, and, oftentimes, the average Catholic, is accustomed to associating Catholicism with its largest “branch”: the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. It is little known, however, that there are nearly 30 more rites in the Catholic Church (including the two found here in Birmingham), and, while held together in the same beliefs under the (unifying) teaching authority of the Pope, have different traditions which grew out of the times and cultures in which they originated. Some of these traditions were begun by the Apostles* themselves and continue very strongly (especially as regards the preservation of their rituals in their respective “Divine Liturgies”).

The question that I have for those who can be so critical of the Church is: how much do they really know about the Catholic Church? Following popular criticisms of Catholicism, it seems, not very much. It is often so many inflamed catchphrases and assumptive labels which usually mean nothing, but do stir some people up (for that’s what they’ve always heard). As Archbishop Fulton Sheen has said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing.”

For many critics, it seems, the Church is simply the place which is visited once per week to remain in good standing before the eyes of God, that is, as a bare minimum effort which doesn’t strive to go further into living the mysteries of Christianity. For many others, the Church is simply an instrument of authority through which the masses may be controlled by “old men.”** In both of these cases, the realization that the Catholic Church is not just the Roman Catholic Church (with all of the ideas and [mis]understandings found therein) calls us to appreciate the fact that there is more which is waiting to be discovered in the life of the Christian and of the Church. (More than just those things which are often dismissively and superficially portrayed.) For the former, it speaks of an appreciation and a living of the Christian life from a different perspective, which may serve to deepen their own faith in its daily practice. For the latter also, the distancing from what is perceived to be the “Roman Catholic Church” may provide an opportunity to see the Church in a new light and from a different perspective: away from what is perceived to be “dogmas,” “rules,” and “blind obedience,” and into a fresh look at worship and reverence of the God Whom we believe to have started the Church.


* For example, the Church was founded in: Constantinople by St. Andrew, Alexandria by St. Mark, and India by St. Thomas. (As I have heard it, Rome had actually sent missionaries to India only to find out that the Church was already in that part of India and thriving.)
** And, of course, there are faithful Catholics.





A reply to Mark Morford on the Pope, condoms, and AIDS

8 04 2009

Almost a week ago, I received an e-mail which I had initially assumed was related to the comment of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, which said “the Pope is correct” about the use of condoms increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc., rather than decreasing them, as its supporters would have us to believe (check below for links to articles of Mr. Green’s statement). However, the e-mail was only an article written by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Gate, which was simply a lengthy character attack of the Pope. I let the e-mail hang out in my inbox for a few days, until I finally decided to respond to it. What follows is the text (minus personal elements) of my response which I now offer as a response to Mr. Morford’s article.

I have read and skimmed through the article which you have sent me and have discovered that the clip in the e-mail would have been enough to suffice for what was to follow in the rest of the article. It is, from beginning to end, simply an attack on the character of a man with whom the author does not even seem to have any familiarity at all – else he would not lower himself to speak so superficially and dismissively about him. Nor would he have any reason to hold the Dalai Lama up on a pedestal (also a religious leader) while simultaneously attempting to attack a man who sticks to what he believes to be true – a characteristic in men, I think you would agree, that is lacking in our day in time (and is consequently a courageous thing, in my opinion). My question to him would be, how quickly would he remove the Dalai Lama from his pedestal were he to pronounce a statement against the same issue? The answer to me would appear to be that because the Dalai Lama has not pronounced anything against contraception, he is fair game to be used as an example to be followed – but, were he to do so, were he to pronounce something against what this author holds to be “good,” “right,” “just,” etc., he would write the same scathing article denouncing him. Now, the question then to ask is: who set him up as the dogmatic figure who may pronounce what is truly good, right, and just? He only supports the Dalai Lama because he supposes that the Dalai Lama falls in line with his beliefs – not because he actually cares what the Dalai Lama says. At the pinnacle of irony, who set him up as Pope? This, to me, is as “dogmatic” as it gets. But, this problem continues to multiply as you have multitude upon multitude of Mr. Morford’s running around declaring that what they think to be good, right, and just truly is, because they say so. And on what authority? With the Pope, there is only one figure who has been granted authority by Christ (who we, as Christians, believe to be God in the flesh) to sustain unity of belief (i.e., what God has revealed to us both through nature and through Scripture and Tradition) among His children.

Now, I know that we are coming from two different angles on the authority of the Pope and religion, etc., but I think that we can both agree that having millions of “popes” rather than one is a source of tremendous confusion and turmoil: if there are millions of different views of what is truly “good, right, and just,” then there’s not really unity – there’s just people doing what they want to do when they want to do it. How can any society (regardless of what its Constitution says) be expected to run something that is chaotic to the very core? I think that we can both see the manifestations of this at work right now. But, the thing that we have to come back to is that there’s only one truth, only one reality: the tree that you see is the same tree that I see; the Abita Amber that you drink is the same Abita Amber that I drink; the Mississippi River that you (hopefully ;) don’t swim in is the same Mississippi River that I don’t swim in. And this remains true even if one of us decides to deny the reality that is before us. If we were standing together in an open field with only one tree, and we go back to our friends and I (confused by the glare of the sun, but nonetheless fixed in my conviction), say “we stood by an elephant,” while you (unaffected by the sun because of your Ray Ban’s) said “no, we stood by a tree,” the truth remains (no matter how adamantly I believe and speak of my elephantile misperception) that I did, indeed, stand by a tree. The truth remains true regardless if one sees or believes it. And so it is with everything else in our universe – things seen and unseen – because truth is not created by us, it is received by us.

Now, back to the Pope and Mr. Morford: on what authority do they stand?

Mr. Morford: as far as I can perceive from his writing, a man with an axe to grind because a religious leader doesn’t conform to his beliefs. Where do his beliefs come from? I would surmise that his beliefs largely come from himself and what he “feels” to be “good, right, and just” by “his own” conscience, which could very well conflict with the respective consciences of his many fellow world-inhabitors. For, if there is no God (or we have killed Him, as Nietzsche wrote), what else has man left but himself to look to? Now, why would I want to follow my own, much less the beliefs of another man who stands by himself (i.e., on his own authority) in asserting what is objectively “good, right, and just,” regardless if it corresponds with what is actually true? Should one of our friends, visiting the field and seeing not an elephant, but a tree, stand with me who proclaims that the tree is an elephant because I say so? Or should, he, seeing the tree, stand by you, who stood by what is really true?

The Pope: a man who, on being elected, stated that he was but an unworthy laborer in the vineyard of the Lord, which says from the get-go that he is not laboring for himself (and even didn’t want to be elected, but wanted to retire and to finish his life writing books). Where do his beliefs come from? His beliefs are the beliefs which the Catholic Church has always taught, which, he believes were and are the teachings which Christ (God) Himself gave to the world in His time on earth. The authority on which he stands is the authority which Christ granted to the Apostle Peter, of whom he is a successor. Therefore, his responsibility is to hand on the objective truth about what God has willed for our universe and for our race. That is, God Himself, in human flesh, gave Peter (and his successors), whom He knew personally, authority to proclaim the one Truth, Himself, Who is found in everything which is true – seen and unseen. To end the contrast between the two, the Pope isn’t arbitrarily dogmatic, just because he believes it to be true, regardless as to whether it actually is, but proclaims that which God has entrusted to him to proclaim. He is “dogmatic” in the sense that the office which God has given him is to preserve those things which are always true, regardless of times and cultures. He stands by you, proclaiming that the tree is actually a tree, and not by me, who proclaims that the tree is an elephant, when it is only my misperception and adherence to it which I adhere to. A tree is a tree, regardless if I believe it or not. In the same way, murder is murder and is wrong, regardless of the time and culture it happens in.

Finally, from this to the complaint of the article: by not allowing the use of condoms (or, rather, not adhering to the dogma of Mr. Morford), the Pope is condemning millions to die. The fact is that, the Pope, by the authority with which he has been entrusted, is reaching to a deeper truth about man than simply a superficial “use of condoms.” From the way which I have argued thus far, he is saying that condoms engender an attitude, an inclination, in man which is contrary to the way in which God created us (and, I think, STD’s are an indication that “things aren’t supposed to happen this way”). Condoms are promoted as a way to have “safe sex,” but in reality, it promotes sex without consequence [and is even ineffective as a method of prevention – the safest condom in the world only offers an 85% chance of effectiveness, and none of them are tightly woven enough to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS through the condom] , i.e., it provides a way for man to not control his sexual inclinations – not controlling them by the gifts of reason and free will (which distinguish us from other animals), but submitting (and becoming enslaved) to them, thereby lowering us beneath the dignity which we have been given. It’s like putting an infectious band-aid on a wound that needs stitches: it’s only making the underlying problem worse. As the recent statement [here or here] (which I initially thought your e-mail was related to, as your article and this one came about around the same time) of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, of the conclusions of their research shows, the promotion of condom usage is directly related to the increase and not the decrease of AIDS/HIV, etc. It is this way for the exact reasons which the Popes have always taught about contraception: using condoms promotes sexual promiscuity (a “disordering” of the way we have been created) and it is patently obvious that sexual promiscuity was and is the cause of STD’s. I mean, remove promiscuity, and there are no more STD problems. It is a matter of self-control, of mastering oneself (which the Greek philosophers understood even before Christ’s taking on flesh, i.e., through reason), which is further supported and enlightened by God’s revelation (i.e., through faith) about man.

I know that we’re coming from two different perspectives on this issue, but I think that the facts (as supported by Edward Green of Harvard) are confirming what the Popes have been saying ever since this has been a problem (which did not begin in the 60’s, though it has certainly been a prevalent issue since then). In this case, I think that Mr. Morford is crying “elephant,” all the while the Popes have been standing by the tree and calling us to look deeper than the surface and to heal the deeper wound of selfishness and self-gratification with self-gift and self-sacrifice – which must be present for authentic love – not by furthering the damage with a tool which only makes the wound become more infected and further from healing than it already is.