Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Friday, December 26, 2008

Underhill's 'Mysticism' great reference

Eveylyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer, one of the most widely read in her time, on topics of religion and spiritual practice, particularly Christian mysticism. Her best-known book, Mysticism, is one of my favorite reads. I discovered it in 2001 on the Internet and devoured it. It answered many questions for me at that time that had lingered in my psyche for a decade or more. It clarified for me many nagging thoughts that otherwise, I believe, would have remained unanswered. This book of Ms. Underhill's is a worthwhile read and a great reference book on its topic. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 12-26-08

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Here is Emmanuel

A great echo
sends a vibrant pulse
through time
begun with a Word voiced:

A breath expressed,
the world reverberates;
ideas crash,
with gravity impelled:
Here is Emmanuel.

Unstoppable justice,
unfathomable light;
a reforming ignites
an upsurge in grace:
The afterglow of Emmanuel.

Through swells of time,
the echo resounds;
leaning in,
I absorb the tone:
A penetrating Promise, Emmanuel.

copyrighted by Nancy E. Thoerig
December 31, 2004

From Pope Benedict XVI's noontime Urbi et Orbi Christmas 2008 Message:

"Brothers and sisters, all you who are listening to my words: this proclamation of hope – the heart of the Christmas message – is meant for all men and women. Jesus was born for everyone, and just as Mary, in Bethlehem, offered him to the shepherds, so on this day the Church presents him to all humanity, so that each person and every human situation may come to know the power of God’s saving grace, which alone can transform evil into good, which alone can change human hearts, making them oases of peace."

A beautiful rendition of "O Holy Night" with Celine Dion:

Merry, holy, healthy, happy, blessed, lovely Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

O'Reilly addressed public square 'free-for-all'

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters December 24, 2008

J. M. Cutler (“O’Reilly wants to tell us how to mark the season,” Dec. 18 Times-News) misinterprets Bill O’Reilly’s message regarding First Amendment rights as they played out in the Washington state capital recently; and he misrepresents “separation of church and state.”

Mr. O’Reilly cites the situation that Washington state Sen. Pam Roach calls “a circus”(in a Dec. 6 Seattle Times article) as the pinnacle of “far-left zealots…running wild” in what Mr. O’Reilly informs us is an ultra-liberal city in a state that otherwise “is fairly conservative.” He gives examples of over-the-top behaviors, actions and lifestyles in Seattle and its environs; and he makes the point that the governor, in her manner of accommodating the atheists in the capitol building in Olympia, “overstepped” bounds of common consideration in her application of the First Amendment.

Sen. Roach, as the Seattle Times article notes, “wants the atheists’ sign moved further from the Nativity scene and the governor to establish firmer guidelines on displays.” The article states that on Dec. 1, “the Nativity scene and atheist sign were installed alongside each other.” A photograph that accompanies a Dec. 3 Associated Press article shows that they abut.

The AP article recounts that a holiday tree (part of a charity drive for needy families) has been displayed in the capitol for nearly 20 years; a menorah has been sponsored by a Jewish group since 2006; the Nativity scene was installed in 2007; this year, the atheist sign went up with the Nativity. A fray then ensued, as depicted in the Times article, with numerous other groups clamoring to make their religious viewpoints known.

In a 1984 case (Lynch v. Donnelly), the Supreme Court ruled that a crèche display (which had been in place since 1943) in the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, shopping district did not violate the First Amendment Establishment Clause, citing “insufficient evidence to establish that the inclusion of the crèche is a purposeful or surreptitious effort to express some kind of subtle governmental advocacy of a particular religious” view (Source: Wikipedia).

The judges ruled that the crèche, within the larger display, had “legitimate secular purposes” in marking a federal holiday “with religious significance” that long has been a part of Western culture; and they wrote that the Constitution “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.”

The verbiage in the atheists’ sign seems hostile. The placement seems transgressive. The brouhaha seems to be the result of neglect in Gov. Christine Gregoire's action. That’s Mr. O’Reilly’s point.

The governor allowed viewpoints. Then after about 30 viewpoints had been posted, and her office had been overwhelmed with as many as 9,000 dissenting telephone calls in one day (according to the Seattle Times), the governor said that no more entries would be accepted. She could have allowed “religious holiday displays” with “certain guidelines…that wouldn’t be viewpoints,” says Fox News’ Megan Kelly (in a Dec. 15 debate with Mr. O’Reilly) and avoided the fiasco and still properly upheld First Amendment rights.

Contrary to what Mr. Cutler implies, “separation of church and state” does not mean that one should exclude the other. It means that the state shall not intimidate or dominate any religion, but civilly accommodate all religions. The founding fathers drew upon their ancestors’ experiences (particularly the English Civil War of the 1640s that ended the Church of England’s monopoly on Christian worship there) to determine that in a democracy, the state must not monopolize or persecute any religion.

As explained at Wikipedia, Thomas Jefferson (quoted in his biography on the White House web site as having “sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”) coined the phrase in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, a religious minority who feared the majority position of the Congregationalist Church in Connecticut. The colonists, having largely come to America to find refuge from religious persecution, rightly feared government preference for one religion over another.

President Jefferson replied to a letter from the Danbury Baptists to assure them, as summarized by Wikipedia, “that their rights as a religious minority would be protected from federal interference.” That premise underpins “freedom of religion” within the Bill of Rights First Amendment.

The laws and values of the United States are rooted in a political and philosophical tradition of liberty and equality: That’s democracy. Laws and values interconnect and build on history to form guidelines for conduct in modern society: That’s civility. Without regard for order, establishment and each other, the public square is a free-for-all: That’s the state of affairs that Bill O’Reilly calls our attention to in Washington State today.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

Monday, December 15, 2008

Site offers marriaige help

For Your Marriage, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, offers a wealth of resources to help couples prepare and care for their Catholic marriages and work at keeping them viable through the years.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rejoice! The Lord is near

Today is Gaudate Sunday. Here's a beautiful sermon on the topic.

Three Priests

I've just learned of the Three Priests, a new singing sensation. Take a listen:

And visit their web site.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 12-14-08

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Natural approach works best

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters December 12, 2008.

"We humans are more than a basal libido, though we rarely get that message in the secular mainstream today."

Craig Etchison’s letter of December 2 (“We need this to save the planet”) presents information about global overpopulation that he uses to counter faith training about birth control and to build an argument in favor of funding worldwide education about contraception. Additionally, Mr. Etchison claims: “If women around the world had access to family planning, millions of abortions and deaths would be eliminated.”

While feminists might disagree that controlling population is a compelling reason to promote contraception, Mr. Etchison’s point about preventing abortions seems to have mainstream secular support. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, states in an article about Family Planning that, in the United States, Title X -- serving young individuals and low-income families -- “has allowed millions of American women to receive necessary reproductive healthcare, plan their pregnancies and prevent abortions.” Mr. Etchison and others might be interested to know, as well, that “[o]ver the last decade, abstinence-only sex education became more common in the U.S., largely as a result of federal government funding initiatives,” as reported by Wikipedia.

Another Wikipedia article about Natural Family Planning notes that natural means for preventing pregnancy, including the Fertility Awareness Method, comprise the number one family planning approach utilized in India today and the third most popular used in Brazil. A related Wikipedia article about Fertility Awareness states: “From 1930 to 1980, all research and promotion of fertility awareness was done by those associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Fertility awareness organizations continue to be predominately Catholic, but some secular organizations now exist.”

Regardless, though, of government, faith-based or secular support for abstinence training, Mr. Etchison thinks the world population needs to choose contraception; and he decries America for not contributing as much as $235 million to a United Nations fund that would educate poor populations around the globe about it.

The world view purported by Mr. Etchison is fatalistic. He implies that Catholic Church teaching about Natural Family Planning is remote and outdated; and he says it “condemns women and children to death.” He poses questions that would draw the reader into his line of thinking: That practicing faithful abstinence on a global scale would be tantamount to self-destruction “because we (couldn’t) control our population.”

Seems he means to say, “Because we couldn’t control our sex drives.” With all due respect to Mr. Etchison and the dear reader, we humans are more than a basal libido, though we rarely get that message in the secular mainstream today. We have intelligence and the ability to reason; we have innate dignity; and in America, we have an abundance of opportunities to teach and learn about our sexuality and to seek personal support in choosing better health for ourselves, as well as restraint and civility toward our partner.

Even the Feminist Women’s Health Center, founded in 1971 on the premise that women should be empowered to choose abortion, claims today that the Fertility Awareness Method is “effective if used correctly and consistently.”

Other advantages of the natural approach cited by FWHC are: No health risks; can help promote pregnancy, as well as prevent it; “acceptable for couples with religious concerns about contraception;” increases a woman's understanding of her body; “couples may develop greater communication, cooperation and responsibility.” Disadvantages listed are: “Learning to use the method takes time and effort;” and “[r]equires considerable commitment, calculation and self-control, both by the woman and her partner.”

An article about Natural Family Planning at the Archdiocese of Baltimore web site lists one more disadvantage: “The lack of medical professionals instructed in this method.” FWHC notes, as well: “It is helpful to learn these techniques directly from a qualified instructor if you can find one.” They advise: “Books and websites also have good information.”

Feminists, most secularists and the Catholic Church likely would disagree on most everything. But it seems that common ground can be found on the topic of a natural approach to preventing pregnancy – which, all would agree, empowers women to know themselves and urges men to respect their partner and her fertility cycle.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 12-09-08

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Contraception is not natural

"Fertility is a natural condition. Contraception is unhealthy."

Janet E. Smith, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, in her talk titled "Contraception: Why Not?," expounds on the deadly effects in our society brought about by a contraception mentality.

She traces the history of thought from 1930, when the Anglican church broke form ecumenical solidarity that banned contraception in marriage. By 1960, the pill was available, and the Catholic Church was being pressured to change its teaching. Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae" encyclical, published in 1968, dashed those hopes, and rebellion raged from within.

Soom Pope Paul's predicitons came true. Respect for women and life plummeted. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy and divorce rates skyrocketed. Poverty levels for single women with children rose. Cohabitation replaced marriage as the social norm. Sexually transmitted diseases gained prevalence.

Disorder reigned.

Prof. Smith considers reasons not to contracept, both from moral and practial points of view:

  1. Contraception denies God's creative power and diminishes the gift of fertility.

  2. Fertility is a natural condition. Contraception is unhealthy.

  3. Contraception demeans women. They become objects of gratification, rather than of love.

  4. Contraception defeats bonding. Bodies become machines, rather than comforters.

  5. Contraception negates marriage. It becomes an institution, rather than a sacrament.

  6. Contraception leads to abortion. They are the same decision -- against life.

  7. Natural Family Planning is healthy and effective.

  8. Natural Family Planning builds fulfilling, solid, lasting marital relationships.

On the 30th anniversary of issuance of the ill-received encyclical, Pope John Pual II called, in a letter to bishops, for a renewed sense of wonder at the beauty of the unitive bond between husband and wife. On the 40th anniversary, Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter to the president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, calls for awareness of "authentic conjugal charity."

For more on Prof. Smith's talk, acquire the CD free from One More Soul.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 12-12-08

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Artificial contraception corrupts intent of love

Published in Cumberland Times-News letters Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2008.

"[A]rtificial contraception contradicts natural law: Most methods are unhealthy; and all corrupt the intent of love and unity – reverence
for, and openness to, the totality of the other."

Regarding Jeffrey Davis’ concerns (“This message was not one of compassion,” Nov. 19 Times-News), first, I wish to offer that “[t]he current medical consensus is that spermicidal and ovicidal mechanisms are the only way in which IUDs work,” as stated in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

Apparently, the intrauterine device -- “the world's most widely used method of reversible birth control,” according to Wikipedia – causes inflammation, which produces an environment in which sperm and egg (99 percent of the time) will not thrive.

The IUD first was marketed in Germany in 1929, then improved by an American doctor in 1968. After years of trial and error (and some deaths), the FDA approved the ParaGard T 380A in 1984. It became available for use in 1988 and still is the only copper IUD approved in the United States. Wikipedia reports that a 2002 CDC survey found the IUD was used by 1.3 percent of American women of reproductive age. Wikipedia notes that insertion is painful; and the IUD can cause pain, increased menstrual discomfort, infection, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or premature delivery.

Second, I wish to offer for Mr. Davis that “[w]hoever really loves his partner (in marriage) loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for (her) own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself”: Pope Paul VI, in his ill-received encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” considers “the reverence due,” each partner for the wholeness of the other.

While in 1930, the Anglican church broke from (and other Christian denominations followed) “what was once a solid ecumenical consensus” in “condemning artificial contraception as contrary to the plan of God for marriage,” as written by Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien in a Sept. 4 column about this year’s 40th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae;” and even though, as the bishop notes, more than 90 percent of Catholics disagree with it, Catholic teaching about natural family planning still applies to married couples. Unmarried folks still are expected to be celibate. Neither teaching is easy to follow: An admirable minority succeeds.

But simply because we (Catholic or otherwise, married or single) struggle to keep the unitive urge wholesome is no reason to expect the Church to change her teachings, or to condemn her or her ministers for upholding the truth or for exhorting us to comply honorably with the laws of God written into our hearts (the yearning to love) and the laws of nature written into our urges (the yearning to unite). No, we should continue struggling to be wholesome.

Pope Paul calls us to employ intelligence to consider our responsibilities and to manage our urges. We all know that artificial contraception contradicts natural law: Most methods are unhealthy; and all corrupt the intent of love and unity – reverence for, and openness to, the totality of the other. We all know that without respect for fidelity and procreation, the unitive act (the most profound expression of the love between a man and a woman) can become a disordered battleground for self-gratification, each manipulating or demeaning the other and degrading the relationship.

This age of man differs little from any other in its rebellion against God and its desire to control nature. Into the midst of one of human history’s darkest epochs came a man who walked the truth and left a legacy that became the Catholic church. Hopefully, the successors to Christ’s apostle Peter will stay true to the teacher, whose compassion for us, in our wholeness, points out our shortcomings and urges us to mold our minds, hearts and actions in respectful reverence for each other and for our God.

by Nancy E. Thoerig (written Nov. 20, 2008)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Real division is between liberals, conservatives

Published in Cumbelrand Times-News letters Sunday, November 16, 2008.

"[T]he real division among voters overall is between liberals and
conservatives and rests squarely in the moral issue of abortion
A short Associated Press article on page 2A in the November 7 Cumberland Times-News titled “Election shows deep racial divide in churches” troubled me. The viewpoint seemed to be slanted to conclude that white Christians were motivated by race preference to vote against the black candidate and that the situation was causing tumult among black Christians and their clergy.

The first sentence reads: “The barrier-crossing election of Barack Obama did little to bridge the deep racial divide in American churches.” The writer’s second paragraph states: “While nonwhite Christians voted overwhelmingly for Obama, most white Christians backed John McCain, according to exit polls. Several black clergy said that criticism of Obama by some white Christians over his religious beliefs and support for abortion rights crossed the line, hurting longtime efforts to reconcile their communities.”

The Times-News 4-paragraph version of the AP story had two more paragraphs, one that presented exit poll numbers breaking out the white Christian vote and another that concluded: “The pattern is not new and fits the larger trend of white voters overall, the majority of whom voted for McCain.” (The full AP national exit poll summary can be viewed at

But Obama won. So clearly there was a great amount of support for him among whites, Christian or otherwise. What’s the full story? I wondered who the cited black clergy were and what line they felt was crossed by legitimate concerns about Obama’s religious beliefs and support for abortion rights.

I found that the article was written by AP religion reporter Rachel Zoll and is 18 paragraphs in its entirety, published November 6 at web sites for both the Sentinel and Enterprise in Fitchburg, Mass. and the San Francisco Examiner.

Ms. Zoll presents a balance of quotes in her article, though not a balance of data. It seems important to note that, among white religious affiliations, Obama was supported overwhelmingly by the Jewish vote, 83 percent; “something else,” 67 percent; “none,” 71 percent; and “non-white,” 79 percent. And of the white vote overall, Obama received nearly half, 43 percent. Percentages of other races voting for Obama were 95 percent black, 67 percent Latino, 62 percent Asian, 66 percent other.

Based on information presented in (and left out of) her own article, Ms. Zoll’s conclusions about strained Christian race relations continue to confound me. The quotes actually show that Ms. Zoll’s so-called “racial divide” describes contention within black churches, while racial accord prevails among conservative blacks and whites surrounding questions about Obama’s moral formation and in opposition to his position on abortion rights.

Ms. Zoll establishes in her article that most (55 percent) white Christians voted for McCain. She highlights the fact that 74 percent of the evangelical vote went to him. She cites Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as saying that white evangelicals were motivated by opposition to abortion rights, not by race preference, to vote for McCain. She also writes that “white and black Christian conservatives generally share an opposition to abortion rights.”

Ms. Zoll unerringly gets to the heart of her “racial divide” matter when she writes that Derrick W. Hutchins, a leader in one of the country’s largest predominantly African-American Pentecostal denominations, “was angered by repeated accusations that he and other black theological conservatives had abandoned their religious beliefs simply to vote for an African-American. The claims came not only from white Christians,” writes Ms. Zoll, “but also from some blacks who backed McCain.”

So Ms. Zoll’s “racial divide” manifests within black churches. Even though nearly 100 percent of blacks overall voted for Obama, tension arises now over church members’ commitment, or lack of it, to the abortion issue.

Also apparently of lingering tension in black churches, according to Ms. Zoll’s article, is Obama’s Christian formation under the leadership of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She cites African-American Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C.: "Many, many people question whether Barack Obama had been under a legitimate Christian leadership figure.” And of “criticism” over Obama’s religious beliefs that “crossed the line,” Jackson calls it “fair game” and says, “I personally never ascribed any vitriolic character assassination to it."

So it seems that the real division among voters overall is between liberals and conservatives and rests squarely in the moral issue of abortion rights. Obama has said, according to a Wikipedia article about the bill, that he will pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which, Wikipedia notes, “would abolish all restrictions and limitations on the right of women in the United States to have an abortion, whether at the state or federal level.”

In Ms. Zoll’s article, African-American conservative Dallas megachurch Bishop T.D. Jakes says: "I would love to see black and white Christians find common ground, and a deeper understanding of each other's needs." I wonder if Bishop Jakes would agree that black Christians need to re-unite to advocate “right to life” and join white Christians to take a strong stand against “freedom of choice.”

by Nancy E. Thoerig (written 11-11-08)

Defining and defending 'marriage'

The populist vote overturned the right in California for gays to "marry," spurring a wave of protests across the nation by gays "to urge supporters not to quit the fight for the right to wed," as reported in an Associated Press article published today in the Cumberland Times-News.

Gay union contradicts natural law. It is disordered. And legitimizing it would lead to a disordered union.

The USCCB sums up the dire consequences that gay marriage legislation would loose in society:

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-16-08

Saturday, November 15, 2008

'Humanae Vitae' not fodder for interpretation

"This is the constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church's Magisterium which cannot be called into question by the Catholic theologian." -- Pope John Paul II on Humanae Vitae
Most searches lead us home.

At the web site for SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Cumberland is a category titled "Right to Life," which takes the visitor to an article about Humanae Vitae written by Father Paul A. Duffner in which he expounds on the idea of "cafeteria" Catholic thinking, especially related to rejection of the church's teaching on contraception:

"[O]ur conscience, which is simply a practical judgment of the intellect, is not always a reliable guide. ... 'I am following my conscience,' they say.... What they are saying amounts to this: 'My conscience allows me to reject what the Spirit of Christ dictates, and follow what the spirit of the world suggests.'"

He quotes Pope John Paul II: "It is not sufficient to say to man: 'always follow your conscience.' It is necessary to add immediately and always: 'Ask yourself if your conscience is telling you the truth or something false, and seek untiringly to know the truth."

Quite strongly, Father Duffner says, "Once one is no longer guided by the light of divine faith, the spirit of the world takes over. "

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-15-08

Catholic voters rallying behind 'foundational' issues

"[I]f we neglect or ignore the pillars of life, faith and family,
our nation will surely falter." --

Though may not have succeeded in convincing the majority of Catholic voters in the recent presidential election to stick with the social issues that matter -- life, family, faith -- in the face of a drastic worldwide economic downturn that continues to threaten those basic issues, the grassroots organization pledges to stand strong in defending them. is a project of the Fidelis Center for Law and Policy.

Here's the awesome, breathtaking, thought provoking video, one more time:

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-15-08

Friday, November 14, 2008

Moral law, grace urge us to act

"Adhering to the precepts disposes us to receive God's grace and to be able to humble ourselves in love and service before God so that we will be able, humbly, to love and serve others."

(Photo from Clay Pots.)

"Moral Law, Grace and the Church" was the topic of yesterday's Why Catholic session. Father Ty Hullinger introduced concepts of moral (natural) law as being imprinted by God on our consciences, giving us an innate sense of right and wrong, good and evil, and grace as being infused continually, our reception, though, being subject to our awareness and acceptance.

Relying heavily on the Compendium as his source, Father Ty spoke then of the five precepts of the magisterium that are established as the "indispensible minimum" for us to aspire to do in order to cooperate to dispose ourselves to be open to the reception of God's grace: Attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; receive the sacrament of reconcilation at least once a year; receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once in the year, during the Easter season; fast and abstain according to church guidelines; keep holy the holy days of oblication.

The two most liberal Catholics in the group -- St. Patrick (Cumberland) Deacon Loren Mooney and Antoinette Wiseman -- challenged the magisterium's "indispensible minimum" idea and raised the fact that the guidelines say nothing about loving each other. Father Ty agreed with me when I contended that these precepts are the magisterium's instructions for us to follow in order to dispose ourselves to be aware of and accept God's grace; the idea of loving each other is "covered" in the Ten Commandments and the Beautitudes. Loren and Toni both asked Father Ty, then, for reassurance that there is a law above these precepts of the magisterium. Of course, Father Ty said there is.

Loren propsoed, then, that Vatican I followers most likely would be very comfortable adhering to these precepts, which have nothing to do with love. If it would not have belabored the point, would have clarified that these precepts are about us, individually, developmentally, spiritually, not about our direct relationships with others. Adhering to the precepts disposes us to receive God's grace and to be able to humble ourselves in love and service before God so that we will be able, humbly, to love and serve others. I like both Loren and Toni, but here is another example of how unaccepting of church teaching and single-minded about "love" (which they seem to equate to leniencey) above obedience and openness to the fullness of God's love that a Vatican II-trained thinker can be....

Father Ty very effectively wove his points about moral law and grace into the story line of the movie Amazing Grace, which presents the relationship between John Newton, Anglican clergyman, former slave ship captain and auther of the famous hymn by the same name, and
William Wilbefforce, a Member of Parliament who spent 20 years, at the encouragement of Newton, fighting to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.

The ignominy of slavery is the ignominy of present-day abortion, oppression of immigrants, human trafficking (all modern forms of enslavement); and we are called by social responsiblity, moral law and God's grace to take an active role to fight for justice.

Last week's session was led by Toni Wiseman and considered topics of "Sin, Mercy and Moral Solidarity." Toni discussed our relationship with God as one similar to a friendship that can be damaged and broken, in need of attention or often requiring repair.

We discussed God's eternal and infinte mercy that should not be taken for granted, but cherished and nourished, and His call for us to receive and develop the mercy He gives to us into our mercy given for others. As members of one church, we are called to take a unified position to address social injustices.

Our Why Catholic sessions are adjourned now until the Lenten season.

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-14-08

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bishops take stand on FOCA

"It is critically important that we voice our early and grave concerns to our elected officials regarding this uncompromising legislation...." -- Bishosp Edwin F. O'Brien, Maryland, host for USCCB winter conference

As reported at Whispers in the Loggia, where the full text may be viewed, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president, and the body of bishops, at their winter conference in Baltimore, organized their thoughts into a statement issued Wednesday afternoon to address the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and guide their path in countering the legislation during the upcoming administration:

"The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God and our parents. A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself.

"In the last Congress, a Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was introduced that would, if brought forward in the same form today, outlaw any 'interference' in providing abortion at will. It would deprive the American people in all fifty states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry. FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reduce the number of abortions in our country.

"... Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.:

Whispers' Rocco Palmo quotes Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago: "[FOCA] could mean discontinuing obstetrics in our hospitals, and we may need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our catholic hospitals entirely. It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions. That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil."

According to Whispers, first steps have been taken to arrange an official meeting between Cardinal George and President-elect Obama.

In his weekly column that appears in the November 13 Catholic Review, Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, host for this year's USCCB winter conference, writes (as scooped at Wispers): "While early exit polling indicated that the economy was the paramount concern of six out of every 10 Americans, we must not lose sight of the ongoing struggle our country faces in achieving genuine respect for the freedom and dignity of every human life."

Bishop O'Brien exhorts his faithful: "As faithful citizens, our duty ... [is] to claim our legitimate role in the public square by urging those whom we have elected as our leaders to uphold values we believe are fundamental to the common good."

The bishop continues: "Of particular concern to Catholics and others seeking to promote a culture of life, is Senator Obama’s public commitment to passing the Freedom of Choice Act. It is critically important that we voice our early and grave concerns to our elected officials regarding this uncompromising legislation, which is currently pending before Congress. To do so, and to learn more information, I encourage you to visit the online Legislative Action Center of our Maryland Catholic Conference....

"FOCA, co-sponsored by Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Representatives Dutch Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen

  • "Removes the choice of medical providers to refuse in good conscience to provide morally offensive services.

  • "Removes the choice of taxpayers to decline to have their money pay for morally abhorrent procedures.

  • "Removes the choice of state legislatures to undertake reasonable and widely accepted regulations of abortions, including those that increase education and family involvement while reducing the number of abortions. ...

"I pledge that we will join with other all law-abiding religious and public interest groups in taking every action necessary to resist this blatant attempt to stifle the consciences of those who continue to hold innocent human life sacred."

Photo from Archdiocese of San Francisco, Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-13-08

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Catholics vote economy over social concerns

Just found an undated item about an Associated Press interview with Papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi regarding the recent election of Senator Barak Obama president of the United States that notes that despite the fact that McCain was the pro-life candidate, Catholic voters "overwhelmingly prioritize economic over social concerns" (based on a November 5 AP exit poll). The article says the pope will make a statement.

Zenit posts a November 5 release regarding a telegram sent by Pope Benedict XVI to President-elect Obama promising him his prayers and encouraging Obama to "build a world of peace, solidarity and justice."

A November 5 Zenit news release quotes Cardinal Francis George in a congratulatory statement to Obama: ""We stand ready to work with you in defense and support of the life and dignity of every human person."

Zenit also has posted a release November 7 about a Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person scientist's conclusions about the beginning of life, in which she says: "As I note in the paper, resolving when human life begins has important implications for a number of controversial political topics, including abortion and human embryonic stem cell research. "

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-08-08

Ancient chant new again

"...the music of chant conveyed religious precepts to largely illiterate
societies." -- Carlos Alcala, Sacramento Bee

In a blog posting today, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (called a "liturgy expert" by Zenit) at "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" takes a look at a November 7 Sacramento Bee article written by Carlos Alcala and titled "Chants of a Lifetime: An age-old form of vocal worship enhances the liturgy at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church." At the end of Father Z's commentary, inserted into the text of the article, is a video that features Gregorian chant in the tradition of the art that existed for hundreds of years prior to the papcy of St. Gregory and passed down over the ages in a vocal tradition. The first "recordings" were made in the 800s, notes Mr. Alcala, when monks created the method of indicating notes on a staff still used today.

Another exceptional example of chant and a glimpse at its role in daily religious life is presented as one aspect in an exploration of the lifestyle of Carthusian monks in the film titled "Into Great Silence." German filmmaker Philip Groening had asked the abbott permission to make a documentary film from inside the Grande Chartreuse monastery isolated in the French Alps. Sixteen years later, he got the go-ahead. Mr. Groening was so impressed with the sounds of silence (and occasional scheduled conversation) that he made the film an uncommon three-hour meditation. Moviegoers reportedly stood in long lines in France to view it. (I borrowed the DVD from the local public library system. The sights and sounds are awesome.)

An assortment of CDs sof chant are available for purchase or borrowing. One I own is titled "Immortal Gregorian Chant, Part One." Its seasonal selecxtions are intoned by French monks. Anotherof mine is titled "Chant from the Hermitage," on which John Michael Talbot and the monks of Little Portion Hermitage give chant a slightly new slant. Talbot still writes and tours. My CD of a "Mass in honor of the Immaculate Conception," sung by the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is performed mostly chant style. The Allegany County Public Library system has available for lending two chant CDs that I've borrowed, one titled "Feather on the Breath of God," a selection of chants composed by St. Hildegard von Bingen, and another sung by monks.

Seek out chant and give it a listen. It may revive your soul.

Here's a beautiful presentaiton of Hildegard von Bingen's "Spiritus Sanctus":

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-08-08

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Liberals vs. conservatives: 'Anger' not a virtue?

"[C]harity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communication..." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church #1829

It seems that Father Paul Byrnes and I have reached an understanding, a holy "friendship" rooted in charity -- the type of charity that germinates and grows in forthright communcation. And we've agreed to pray for each other. ...

I sent Father Byrnes an email last week expressing my disagreements and concerns with his teaching on "conscience." He emailed me back with some probing (perhaps defensive, aggressive) questions. We exchanged a few more "notes," finally coming, it seems, to a point where we discover that we share a good deal of agreement; otherwise, we consent to disagree.

I've concluded that Father Byrnes and I both love our Catholic faith, though we stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in approaching its beliefs. He is liberal. I am conservative. He reads Commonweal, a non-profit journal of lay Catholic opinion on a variety of religious, cultural and political issues, dubbed "decidedly liberal" by Wikipedia. I watch the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN),a non-profit broadcasting system that airs only Catholic programming, dubbed "conservative" by Wikipedia.

Liberal Catholics tend to believe that the Vatican should be run more as a democracy, open to change in order to better reflect trends in society; they like to challenge doctrines and push limits of obedience to them. Conservative Catholics tend to believe that the magisterium should reflect the Vatican authoritatively in our communities and exhort the faithful to adhere strictly to church teachings, in order to effect changes in society; they aim for literal interpretations of doctrines and honorable obedience to them. Liberals think conservatives are judgmental and unweilding. Conservatives think liberals are shortsighted and unthinking.

Liberal Catholics think the church will become a monolilth if it does not adapt within the secular society. Conservative Catholics think Catholicism (its ethics and lifestyle) will disappear if it accommodates the secular society. Liberals think the church should bend to serve its members. Conservatives believe we members should straighten up and serve our church.

Liberal Catholics cling to the memory of Pope John XXIII (1958-63) and keep alive what we conservatives consider to be the "radical" spirit of change brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Conservative Catholics are grateful to Pope Paul VI (1963-78) for the saving wisdom and inspired truth in his "Humanae Vitae"(1968) encyclical (which still elicits contempt from liberals), and they cling to the orthodoxy renewed by John Paul II (1978-2005) and the tradition and reason engendered by Benedict XVI. Liberals hold (conservatives would say "rebelliously") to the "interpretive" teachings and "loose" liturgies of the tumultuous 1960s and '70s. Conservatives strive (liberals might say "naively") to re-learn "authentic" teachings and revive liturgical orthodoxy.

Liberal Catholics tend to like noisy "friendliness" in church and easy or lax behaviors in the presence of a familiar and personable God. Conservative Catholics tend to prefer a silent sense of awe in church, and respect and reverence in the presence of God, who, though accessible to us all, is worthy of honor and fear for His great power and grand mystery.

Liberal Catholics might consider conservatives to be pious "papists." Conservative Catholics might consider liberals to be phony "protestants." Liberals think that teachings of Vatican II produced independent-thinking, more "mature," responsible adults. Conservatives think that many of the Vatican II teachings produced ill-informed, sadly misguided, disillusioned fall-aways.

Chances are, even though Father Paul and I have found points of agreement, we never will see eye-to-eye on our points of contention. Hopefully, we will respect and appreciate each other...and keep trying to understand the meanings and minglings of our divergent journeys in our beloved faith.

I believe we both were a bit angry -- with each other. Anger is considered to be a vice; and when it is hurtful, no doubt it is. Like love, though, anger (sparing and careful) can be benevolent -- when it is rooted in right intentions (to give or gain knowledge, understanding, counsel) -- though inflamed by passions, and employed to express and elicit deeply held thoughts and beliefs. Anger, then, like detached and generous love, once having achieved reciprocity, harmony or equanimity, should flee, forgetting offenses and forgiving transgressions (but remembering important aspects learned about the other).

Last week's Why Catholic session focused on virtues -- holy habits that dispose us toward doing good, living an ordered life, drawing nearer to God and neighbor.

Faith, hope and charity are theological virtues -- infused by God at baptism -- to "dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object -- God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for His own sake" (CCC #1840). These three graces from God flow upon us continually like a waterfall. We simply need to receive them. They balance and compensate, so that in times when we may lack one, we may draw on the other for strength or understanding and perseverance.

Of the three theological virtues, charity -- the love of Christ for us and the love He asks us to give to others -- is greatest, because it "upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love" (CCC #1827). When a Christian's life is motivated by love for God and others, then he stands before God no longer "in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him 'who first loved us'" (CCC #1828). The fruits of charity are joy, peace and mercy. Think (and act) on that....

Perpahs the most beautiful and complete description of love is this: "[C]harity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communication..." (CCC #1829). Wow. Yes.

From the theological virtues flow the cardinal, or moral, virtues: Prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. "The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace elevates and purifies them" (CCC #1839). We are tried in our lives by fire. These virtues, properly employed, make the fire our friend, smelting us into fortified steel, all for the glory of God, rather than melting us into a limp, gooey (stuck on ourselves) lump.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which dispose us toward opening our minds and wills to discern and act upon His promptings in our hearts, are wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (CCC #1831).

I had a dream many years ago; and God said to me: "In fear of the Lord, all things will be revealed." I hope for wisdom...and trust it will come...and try to love...and I pray now more than I used to.

by Nancy E. Thoerig (Article was expanded and revised significantly in parts through 11-08-08.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Washington National Cathedral 'live' tour

The Washington National Cathedral and grounds are hallowed places that draw my heart near and fill my senses with their beauty and intimacy. The cathedral spire stood as a steady reminder to me, as I recovered from my first heart surgery in 1972 at Georgetown University Hospital, that life was more than the here and now. The spire beckoned me and inspired me to get well and get out of the hospital -- and get to that place.

My sister and brother-in-law helped fulfill my wish at that time to go where the spire called me. Having grown up and gotten busy, time went by; and I forgot about the cathedral -- 'til I drove past one day in late 1997. I was amazed at my oversight and neglect and missed oppotrunities to enjoy it.

In the years that followed, 'til I lost my eyesight in 2006, I visited countless times to enjoy hearing the carillon or seeing turning of the seasons -- early multitudinous tulips, mid-summer aromatic lavendar, towering red, pink and yellow October roses -- in the Bishop's Garden; to hear the crystallilne voices of the boy's choir and the thunderous-to-delicate organ recital pipings at Sunday Evensong; to pray in Resurrection Chaptel; to particpate in special programs, like a spring flower sale or a summer workshop; or just to take respite in this uncommonly tranquil spot in the heart of the city.

Hardly a visit to Washington went by, from the time of my rediscovery on, when I didn't stop at the cathedral -- if for no other reason than to pay my respects.

I love this place. I miss it. I wish to share it with you. I hope you'll enjoy this video from WETA: (Click the little icon to the right of the time indicator to enjoy a full-screen version.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

'Humanae Vitae' sign of troubled times

"Thomas Stransky, an official of Rome's Secretariat for Christian Unity, suggests that the church is suffering from a "silent schism" of rebels who are remaining Catholic in name but are "hanging loose" from the institutional church." -- Time Cover Story, "Catholic Freedom v. Authority," November 22, 1968

Wow. Amazing.

To get more color and gain greater understanding of the torrential times surrounding issuance of "Humanae Vitae," take a read through the Time cover story from November 22, 1968.
And here are words from the culprit who started it all -- Charles E. Curran in his book Loyal Dissent, published 2006. (No wonder Catholic University had such a notorious reputation. Thankfully, today, CUA is a papal flagship in America.) Looks as if then-Rev. Curran was an adviser at Vatican II and let his pride override the purpose of his service to our Church. Curran was "let go" from CUA in 1986. Since some time after that, he has taught at Southern Methodist University.

While Curran makes himself out to be brave and righteous in his (misguided) dissent, there is no denying that the true conscienable objector and hero in this saga is now-Cardinal Stafford, who held to the truth through the firestorm of hatred, distortion, manipulation and coersion.

Let's offer a prayer of thanks in this moment for the courage of Pope Paul VI and for all those of his time and ours whose values and virtues lead them to discern, accept and act in God's truth.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One priest's holy dissent in 'Humanae Vitae' firestorm

“A pastor and several seminary professors had abused rhetoric to undermine the truth within the evangelical community.” --Cardinal James Francis Stafford

In contrast to Father Paul Byrnes' pride in being one of the 72 signing dissenters to Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae" stands Cardinal James Francis Stafford in his humble resignation to the laws of God and nature -- and obedience to his Pope and to his conscience. Here is a summary of Cardinal Stafford's poignant recollection of those heated August 1968 events, and his reflections on the source for the storm and the effects of the rumblings that shake the Church yet today. The full version of the cardinal's essay may be read at

Humanae Vitae
"The Year of the Peirasmòs - 1968"
by Cardinal James Francis Stafford

… [Pope Paul VI, issuing “Humanae Vitae”] met immediate, premeditated,
and unprecedented opposition from some American theologians and pastors. …

On the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, I have been asked to reflect on one event of that year, the doctrinal dissent among some priests and theologians in an American Archdiocese on the occasion of its publication. It is not an easy or welcome task. But since it may help some followers of Jesus to live what Pope Paul VI called a more “disciplined” life (HV 21), I will explore that event. …

In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church.

Some background material is necessary. Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan, the sixth Archbishop of Baltimore, was my ecclesiastical superior at the time. Pope Paul VI had appointed him along with others as additional members to the Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rates, first established by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1963 during the II Vatican Council. There had been discussions and delays and unauthorized interim reports from Rome prior to 1968. The enlarged Commission was asked to make recommendations on these issues to the Pope.

In preparation for its deliberations, the Cardinal sent confidential letters to various persons of the Church of Baltimore seeking their advice. I received such a letter.
My response drew upon experience, both personal and pastoral. …

In a confidential letter responding to his request, I shared in a general fashion these concerns. My counsel to Cardinal Shehan was very real and specific. …[T]he unitive and procreative meanings of marriage cannot be separated. Consequently, to deprive a conjugal act deliberately of its fertility is intrinsically wrong. To encourage or approve such an abuse would lead to the eclipse of fatherhood and to disrespect for women. Since then, Pope John Paul II has given us the complementary and superlative insight into the nuptial meaning of the human body. …

Some time later, the Papal Commission sent its recommendations to the Pope. The majority advised that the Church’s teaching on contraception be changed in light of new circumstances. Cardinal Shehan was part of that majority. Even before the encyclical had been signed and issued, his vote had been made public although not on his initiative.

As we know, the Pope decided otherwise. This sets the scene for the tragic drama following the actual date of the publication of the encyclical letter on July 29, 1968.
In his memoirs, Cardinal Shehan describes the immediate reaction of some priests in Washington to the encyclical. “[A]fter receiving the first news of the publication of the encyclical, the Rev. Charles E. Curran, instructor of moral theology of The Catholic University of America, flew back to Washington from the West where he had been staying. Late [on the afternoon of July 29], he and nine other professors of theology of the Catholic University met, by evident prearrangement, in Caldwell Hall to receive, again by prearrangement with the Washington Post, the encyclical, part by part, as it came from the press. The story further indicated that by nine o’clock that night, they had received the whole encyclical, had read it, had analyzed it, criticized it, and had composed their six-hundred word ‘Statement of Dissent.’ Then they began that long series of telephone calls to ‘theologians’ throughout the East, which went on, according to the Post, until 3:30 A.M., seeking authorization, to attach their names as endorsers (signers was the term used) of the statement, although those to whom they had telephoned could not have had an opportunity to see either the encyclical or their statement. Meanwhile, they had arranged through one of the local television stations to have the statement broadcast that night.”

The Cardinal’s judgment was scornful. In 1982 he wrote, “The first thing that we have to note about the whole performance is this: so far as I have been able to discern, never in the recorded history of the Church has a solemn proclamation of a Pope been received by any group of Catholic people with so much disrespect and contempt.” …

In Baltimore in early August, 1968, a few days after the encyclical’s issuance, I received an invitation by telephone from a recently ordained assistant pastor to attend a gathering of some Baltimore priests at the rectory of St. William of York parish in southwest Baltimore to discuss the encyclical. The meeting was set for Sunday evening, August 4. I agreed to come. Eventually a large number of priests were gathered in the rectory’s basement. I knew them all.

The dusk was clear, hot, and humid. The quarters were cramped. We were seated on rows of benches and chairs and were led by a diocesan inner-city pastor well known for his work in liturgy and race-relations. There were also several Sulpician priests present from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore to assist him in directing the meeting. I don’t recall their actual number.

My expectations of the meeting proved unrealistic. I had hoped that we had been called together to receive copies of the encyclical and to discuss it. I was mistaken. Neither happened.

After welcoming us and introducing the leadership, the inner-city pastor came to the point. He expected each of us to subscribe to the Washington “Statement of Dissent.” Mixing passion with humor, he explained the reasons. They ranged from the maintenance of the credibility of the Church among the laity to the need to allow ‘flexibility’ for married couples in forming their consciences on the use of artificial contraceptives. Before our arrival, the conveners had decided that the Baltimore priests’ rejection of the papal encyclical would be published the following morning in The Baltimore Sun, one of the daily newspapers. The Washington statement was read aloud. Then the leader asked each of us to agree to have our names attached to it. No time was allowed for discussion, reflection, or prayer. Each priest was required individually to give a verbal “yes” or “no.”

I could not sign it. My earlier letter to Cardinal Shehan came to mind. I remained convinced of the truth of my judgement and conclusions. Noting that my seat was last in the packed basement, I listened to each priest’s response, hoping for support. It didn’t materialize. Everyone agreed to sign. There were no abstentions. As the last called upon, I felt isolated. The basement became suffocating.

By now it was night. The room was charged with tension. Something epochal was taking place. It became clear that the leaders’ strategy had been carefully mapped out beforehand. It was moving along without a hitch. Their rhetorical skills were having their anticipated effect. They had planned carefully how to exert what amounted to emotional and intellectual coercion. Violence by overt manipulation was new to the Baltimore presbyterate. The leader’s reaction to my refusal was predictable and awful. The whole process now became a grueling struggle, a terrible test…. The priest/leader, drawing upon some scatological language from his Marine Corp past in the II World War responded contemptuously to my decision. He tried to force me to change. He became visibly angry and verbally abusive. The underlying, ‘fraternal’ violence became more evident. He questioned and then derided my integrity. He taunted me to risk my ecclesiastical ‘future,’ although his reference was more anatomically specific. The abuse went on.

With surprising coherence I was eventually able to respond that the Pope’s encyclical deserved the courtesy of a reading. None of us had read it. I continued that, as a matter of fact, I agreed with and accepted the Pope’s teaching as it had been reported in the public media. That response elicited more ridicule. Otherwise there was silence. Finally, seeing that I would remain firm, the ex-Marine moved on to complete the business and adjourn the meeting. The leaders then prepared a statement for the next morning’s daily paper.

The meeting ended. I sped out of there, free but disoriented. Once outside the darkness encompassed me. We all had been subjected to a new thing in the Church, something unexpected. A pastor and several seminary professors had abused rhetoric to undermine the truth within the evangelical community. When opposed, they assumed the role of Job’s friends. Their contempt became a nightmare. In the night it seemed that God’s blind hand was reaching out to touch my face.

The dissent of a few Sulpician seminary professors compounded my disorientation. In their ancient Baltimore Seminary I had first caught on to the connection between freedom, interiority, and obedience. By every ecclesial measure they should have been aware that the process they supported that evening exceeded the “norms of licit dissent.” But they showed no concern for the gravity of that theological and pastoral moment. They saw nothing unbecoming in the mix of publicity and theology. They expressed no impatience then or later over the coercive nature of the August meeting. Nor did any of the other priests present. One diocesan priest did request privately later that night that his name be removed before the statement’s publication in the morning paper. …

An earlier memory from April 1968 helped to shed further light on what had happened in August, 1968…. During the height of the 1968 Baltimore riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I had made an emergency call to that same inner-city pastor who would lead the later August meeting. It was one of numerous telephone conversations I had with inner-city pastors during the night preceding Palm Sunday. At the request of the city government, I was asking whether the pastors or their people, both beleaguered, might need food, medical assistance, or other help.

My conversation with him that April night was by far the most dramatic. He described the view from the rectory while speaking on the phone. A window framed a dissolving neighborhood; his parish was becoming a raging inferno. He said, “From here I see nothing but fire burning everywhere. Everything has been set ablaze. The Church and rectory are untouched thus far.” He did not wish to leave or be evacuated. His voice betrayed disillusionment and fear. Later we learned that the parish buildings survived.

Sorting out’ these two events of violence continued throughout the following months and years. The trajectories of April and August 1968 unpredictably converged. Memories of the physical violence in the city in April 1968 helped me to name what had happened in August 1968. Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content. A new, unsettling insight emerged. Violence and truth don’t mix. When expressive violence of whatever sort is inflicted upon truth, the resulting irony is lethal.

What do I mean? Look at the results of the two events. After the violent 1968 Palm Sunday weekend, civil dialogue in metropolitan Baltimore broke down and came to a stop. It took a back seat to open anger and recriminations between whites and blacks. The violence of the priests’ August gathering gave rise to its own ferocious acrimony. Conversations among the clergy, where they existed, became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. Fears abounded. … Priests’ fraternity had been wounded. Pastoral dissent had attacked the Eucharistic foundation of the Church. Its nuptial significance had been denied. Some priests saw bishops as nothing more than Roman mannequins.

Something else happened among priests on that violent August night. Friendship in the Church sustained a direct hit. Jesus, by calling those who were with him his ‘friends,’ had made friendship a privileged analogy of the Church. That analogy became obscured after a large number of priests expressed shame over their leaders and repudiated their teaching.

Cardinal Shehan later reported that on Monday morning, August 5, he “was startled to read in the Baltimore Sun that seventy-two priests of the Baltimore area had signed the Statement of Dissent.” What he later called “the years of crisis” began for him during that hot, violent August evening in 1968.

But that night was not a total loss. The test was unexpected and unwelcome. Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies. But I did discover something new. Others also did. When the moment of Christian witness came, no Christian could be coerced who refused to be. Despite the novelty of being treated as an object of shame and ridicule, I did not become “ashamed of the Gospel” that night and found “sweet delight in what is right.” It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance. …

The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence. Priests wept at meetings over the manipulation of their brothers. Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life. Dissenting priests, theologians and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques. From the beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda.

All of this led to a later discovery. Discernment is an essential part of episcopal ministry. With the grace of “the governing Spirit” the discerning skills of a bishop should mature. …

A brief after word. In 1978 or thereabouts during an episcopal visitation to his parish, I was having lunch with the Baltimore pastor, the ex-Marine, who led the August 1968 meeting. I was a guest in his rectory. He was still formidable. Our conversation was about his parish, the same parish he had been shepherding during the 1968 riots. The atmosphere was amiable. During the simple meal in the kitchen I came to an uneasy decision. Since we had never discussed the August 1968 night, I decided to initiate a conversation about it. My recall was brief, objective and, insofar as circumstances allowed, unthreatening. I had hoped for some light from him on an event which had become central to the experience of many priests including myself. While my mind and heart were recalling the events of the night, he remained silent. His silence continued afterwards. Even though he had not forgotten, he made no comment. He didn’t lift his eyes. His heart’s fire was colder now.

Nothing was forthcoming. I left the matter there. No dialogue was possible in 1968; it remained impossible in 1978. There was no common ground. Both of us were looking into an abyss - from opposite sides. Anguish and disquiet overwhelmed the distant hope of reconciliation and friendship. We never returned to the subject again. He has since died while serving a large suburban parish. … “Lord, remember the secret worth of all our human worthlessness.” …

Francis Cardinal Stafford
Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Faith a guide through politics

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters on October 26, 2008.

Election messages are convoluted with thunderous clanging and clamoring for months on end – the contending voices and maneuverings of candidates and their interest groups. The crescendo peaks as Election Day nears. We voters weary; but we know our duty: To persevere in sorting through the noise and confusion, to discern the truth: To exercise our privilege to vote – and to vote responsibly in accordance with our consciences.

“When he listens to his conscience,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1777-78, available at, “the prudent man can hear God speaking.... [M]an is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.”

“Faith helps us see more clearly the truth about human life and dignity that we also understand through human reason,” states the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 2007 publication titled “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (available at

The bishops continue: “The United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism or discrimination. … Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions into public life.”

Politics reflects society; and society is complex – and often self-interested. Considering the myriad of issues is dizzying. Listening to the rhetoric is confounding. We citizens are obliged, though, to seek clarity and to vote for the ticket that our faith and reason tell us is best for the common good – now and into the future.

Catholics are urged to be guided by our “moral convictions” when discerning our vote, rather than being swayed by a candidate’s party or other affiliation. In the Faithful Citizenship publication, the bishops state that voters should “examine candidates’ positions on issues and (their) integrity, philosophy and performance.” Prudent consideration, then, of the candidates’ formation, motivations and records is a practical place to focus.

The publication summarizes seven “themes of Catholic social teaching (to) provide a moral framework for decisions in public life.” The first listed is “Right to Life”: While no voter should be single-issue minded, the bishops note, “a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” The right to life is basic to all other rights. (Visit

The next theme listed has to do with the sanctity of marriage as “the fundamental unit of society…(a) sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children (that) must not be redefined, undermined or neglected,” as marriage between one man and one woman is essential “to promote the well-being of individuals and the common good.” Society is built upon families. (Visit

In addition to calls to preserve life and family, five other themes are noted by the bishops as most deserving of voters’ discernment: Balance between individual rights and social responsibilities; treatment for “the weakest among us;” dignity of work; pursuit of justice and peace; and stewardship for the environment.

No one tells me how to vote; but I appreciate the Church’s wisdom and guidance in basic moral matters of life and dignity. Faith is a steady compass for navigating the political storm.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

P.S. to blog readers: This prayerful video titled "In Your Silence" sums up beautifully.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Infallible conscience not Catholic

"We need to be humble and pliable to seek and receive God's will for us, and thoughtful and "mature" in sharing it in our relationships and actions toward others. Misguidedly relying defiantly on the absolute truth of our own conscience' is not Catholic."

In my continuing research to discern the veracity of Father Paul Byrnes' "Why Catholic" presentation yesterday on the topic of "conscience," I found a wealth of information that further debunks his teaching. I shared a sampling of my additional findings and thoughts with Deacon Loren Mooney (St. Patrick Church in Cumberland):

The more I research/read, the more reassured I am that my understanding of the Catholic teaching (as opposed to Protestant or Eastern, which is what it seems we heard yesterday) is the authentic one; and the more convincned I am that Fr. Byrnes, sadly, holds a distorted, stunted, misguided view of "conscience."

Look at this: The article notes: "It's a long story, but a lot of people have been taught weak or bad doctrine for many years...."

Speaking of the "long story," here's the article I was recalling yesterday: It's by Archbishop O'Brien.

And while Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae encyclical (( may not be ex cathedra, it is a solid, inspired teaching that we Catholics are obliged to respect and obey.

I believe that "conscience," as a reasoned judgment to discern right and wrong, good and evil, in the context of our life's past, present and future, is intended to employ moral law, not usurp it; and to be a catalyst for seeking good information and guidance in order to discern facts or movements in a situation and then make sound decisions for promoting a poisitive personal impact in society; and to help us to develop the ability to learn from our mistakes or misjudgments and to know when and how to make amends with God and others for our errors or transgressions within the guidelines of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Church's teachings and the laws of the land; and to grow a solid foundational understanding of moral truth that results in maturity -- that is, well-roundedness and responsibility -- in thought and aciton.

God is God: We are not. Our consciences are not the source of moral truth. Our consciences are ever forming, and they are falible. We need to be humble and pliable to seek and receive God's will for us, and thoughtful and "mature" in sharing it in our relationships and actions toward others. Misguidedly relying defiantly on the absolute truth of our own "conscience" is not Catholic.

Prayers 4 u (and 4 Father Byrnes),
Nancy (10-24-08)

Update: See my additional October 25 post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Debunking 'the conscience principle'

"Rather than being our own innate moral compass, always pointing us instinctively, infallibly on the right path, our conscience is our innate sonar, a "homing" device, that calls us humbly to seek God's will for us, and to desire to listen to it, and to discern through reason -- sometimes failing, often times correcting -- the right path to take for His glory on our life's journey."

Quite a lively discussion took place in our "Why Catholic" session today. Retired Monsignor Paul Byrnes, former pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Frostburg, Maryland, presented his view of "conscience." Father Byrnes' view fits within the context of what Dr. Frank Mobbs calls "The Conscience Principle," an erroneous and irresponsible interpretation, the defender of the faith characterizes it in his article titled "'Follow your conscience'": but what does that mean?", of the Catholic teaching; and it is called a "heresy" in an article simply titled "Conscience" by Scripture scholar and apologist Father William Most.

Father Byrnes espouses what appears to be a distorted, stunted, out-of-context personal interpretation of a catechetical doctrine, stated in part as such in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1782): "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions."

Father Byrnes interpreted that passage for us, among others in Scripture, saints' and popular writings, and he cited (a bit incorrectly, and blatantly out of context) Pope Paul VI's Vatican II Council "Declaration on Religious Freedom" document, to teach that personal conscience overrides moral law as equally as it does civil law.

Sadly, Father Byrnes is sorely mistaken. The Catechism teaches, and the Catholic Church has always taught, that conscience is a gift from God, a divine desire for truth imprinted in our souls, that urges us and helps us to reason and discern right from wrong -- in accordance with moral law, not in objection to it.

To obey one's conscience is to be prudent in considering the fullness and complexities of a situation and to be courageous in deciding to do what is morally right, in accord with God's and nature's laws as we understand them, especially in the face of opposition or corruption that would persuade or coerce us to do wrong. Many of the saints' biographies tell heroic stories of choices made in defense of morality, often to their own peril. The saints are our role models throughout time for exercising conscienable objection to societal pressures that would distort or corrupt our relationships with God and others.

Conscience is not an individual source for moral law, as Father Byrnes espouses. Moral law originates wtih God and emanates form Him. God writes the desire to follow moral law in our hearts: At Baptism, we receive His invitation to the wedding feast; and we spend our lives seeking to know Him, to be ready to recognize Him and to respond when He calls us.

Rather than being our own innate moral compass, always pointing us instinctively, infallibly on the right path, our conscience is our innate sonar, a "homing" device, that calls us humbly to seek God's will for us, and to desire to listen to it, and to discern through reason -- sometimes failing, often times correcting -- the right path to take for His glory on our life's journey.

Following is an email that I sent today to Deacon Loren Mooney at St. Patrick Catholic Church, the host site for the "Why Catholic" program.

Loren, Hi,
I appreciate and enjoy the Why Catholic presentations at St. Patrick, but I truly was surprised at Father Byrnes' (apparently, thankfully/hopefully, now quite outdated and never officially adopted) post-Vatican II popular concept of "The Conscience Principle" today.

I've done some research and found the following that I want to share with you. I hope you'll enjoy seeing them.

AD2000 is a JPII-influenced group of Christians in Australia who aim to revive and promote an understanding there of authentic Christian teachings.

Dr. Frank Mobbs is recognized in the Catholic Weekly, the official Catholic newspaper out of Sydney, as a defender of the faith.

The late Fr. William Most is consdiered to be a distinguished Scripture scholar and apologist.

(View my posts for "Why Catholic" sessions from October 9 and October 16.)
by Nancy E. Thoerig 10-23-08

Friday, October 10, 2008

Port Bolivar recovering after Ike

Associated Press photo by Sharon Steinmann: Michael Clow carries a box of Meals Ready-to-Eat given to him by the Texas National Guard on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008, in Port Bolivar, Texas. Clow rode out Hurricane Ike with his two cats and does not plan to leave.

All the familiar places and old landmarks are gone; and
eveything is covered with that grey mud. Now she cries: "It's awful.
It's just awful."

My mother and I talked recently with her suster, my aunt, Veronica whose home is on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike. Veronica is broken up but holding strong emotionally, hoping to get back into her house in the next couple of weeks. Sounds optimistic to me, but she believes in her own -- and the Texans' -- resiliency.
Veronica has seen her house; and things look much better for her than were anticipated at the time I wrote my post on September 14. The first floor is decimated, but not a window is broken on the second; and the roof is intact. Veronica says everthing upstairs is just as she left it.

Her house, she says, is one of two in her block still standing. The brick house across the street from her, too stiff to bend with the wind, is shattered. And the one next door is gone. Her fig and pear trees are dead; and her backyard and basement -- and the entire area -- are littered with debris, dead fish and six inches of grey mud. Anyone working on the island -- she says residents are doing their own clean up -- is adivsed to wear protective gear to avoid risking illness and infection.

"Comeaux is staying, so I know my house is safe," Veronica jokes about her young, tough Cajun friend who went in to see what was left, then refused to leave. Residents were allowed to return to work on their properties from dawn 'til dusk; then officials were forcing them off the peninsula. Comeaux said he was staying. And so, apparently, he did.

Veronica said then as time went on and the officials got to know and trust the residents, more were allowed to stay. Her son Michael had begun spending nights in her house.

Mike lost everything. His home was a trailer. It's destroyed. Among the meager belongings he found inside was a quilt his mother had made for him; and he retrieved two pairs of jeans and a belt that he found wrapped up in trees. He also found one of his cats near the top of a tree dead. He found three kittens, too, and took them back to the hotel in Beaumont, where his mom, a retired nurse, is feeding them and caring for their injuries.

Mike had been hired by the city of Beaumont to help clean up in town there; but as soon as he could get to his mom's house, she hired him. Mike works on the property, then drives the hour and a half back to the to hotel in Beaumont to clean up, then back to the house to spend the night. Armed with a portable generator, he can work by day; but there's no electricity or water or amenities in the house. Sounds scary to me for Mike to be there alone at night -- even with Comeaux nearby -- guarding the house against looting....

Veronica says it's very quiet. There are few people and no animals -- not even snakes or rats. And the lay of the land is unrecognizable. All the familiar places and old landmarks are gone; and eveything is covered with that grey mud. Now she cries: "It's awful. It's just awful."

Her son Pat spray-painted "Pat's Tries" on a piece of plywood with a message "We'll be back" and propped it up where his business had stood. But his mom wonders where he would begin to restart. Pat's house survived and is rebuildable, she says. But he lost his business, his plane, his recreational vehicle and heavy eqiupment, other property; and he lost his invesemtns in the stock market crash. Pat is 60 years old.

"But I'm gonna rebuild," she says. She'll need to be sure the house is shored up before she can move back into it and begin to make repairs on the bottom half.

After Hurricane Clara in the 1960s, when they rebuilt then, Veronica's (late) husband Pete sunk marsh anchors around the house and strung steel cables across the roof and tied them into the anchors. We believe that system saved her house this time.
"It's a hundred-year storm," she says, speculating that she should be okay for another hundred years....
by Nancy E. Thoerig 10-10-08