Category Archives: Faith & Reason

Richard Neuhaus gone 6 years

Casual RJNToday marks the 6th anniversary of death of Father Richard John Neuhaus.

Personally, I miss him: his voice “crying in the desert,” his friendship, and his intellect and priestly presence. The clear integration and articulation of faith and reason, a vibrant faith and the public order have been wounded by RJN’s death in 2009. Many feel the same.

May God be merciful.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of priests, protect him.

Commitment to Marriage –an open letter to the Pope and bishops

Commitment to Marriage
A Letter to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Holy Father, Eminences, and Excellencies,

We rejoice that the Holy Father has captured the world’s attention and so much good will for the Christian faith! Like others we are deeply moved by his expressions of love and mercy, echoing the love and mercy of Christ, especially for those who are defenseless and abandoned.

It is in this context that we welcome the decision to convene an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to examine the challenges to marriage and the family.  Like each of you, we believe the family is, with the Church itself, the greatest institutional manifestation of Christ’s love.  For those who wish to love as He would have us love, marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society.

Recent popes have made these points abundantly clear.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that, “Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society.” And, in Evangelii Gaudium, Your Holiness wrote that “the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”

This Synod is an opportunity to express timeless truths about marriage. Why do those truths matter? How do they represent true love, not “exclusion” or “prejudice,” or any of the other charges brought against marriage today?  Men and women need desperately to hear the truth about why they should get married in the first place.  And, once married, why Christ and the Church desire that they should remain faithful to each other throughout their lives on this earth.  That, when marriage gets tough (as it does for most couples), the Church will be a source of support, not just for individual spouses, but for the marriage itself.

You have written so powerfully, Holy Father, of the importance of a new evangelization within the Church: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

May we humbly suggest that in the context of marriage and family life your words are a call to personal responsibility, not only for our own spouses and children, but for the marriages of those God has put by our side: our relatives and friends, those in our churches and in our schools.

The stakes are high.  According to a 2013 Child Trends international report: “Dramatic increases in cohabitation, divorce, and nonmarital childbearing in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania over the last four decades suggest that the institution of marriage is much less relevant in these parts of the world.”  In the United States the marriage rate is the lowest ever recorded, unmarried cohabitation is rapidly becoming an acceptable alternative to marriage, and more than half of births to women under 30 years of age now occur outside marriage. Among countless other negative associations, each of these trends has been linked to lower net worth and economic mobility, poverty, and welfare – for women and children, in particular.

Among existing marriages, many are fragile and strained. Between forty and fifty percent of all first marriages in the U.S. are projected to end in divorce. This rate rises sharply with each successive remarriage and research suggests the reason is not low marital quality, but weak commitment.

The consequences of divorce and cohabitation for children and adults are many and diverse – from poverty and lower educational achievement to poorer physical health; from lower marital commitment in adulthood to earlier death.  And while every nation is unique, studies show that the impact of these trends spans the globe. A small sampling of such studies: China,  Finland, Sweden, Uruguay, Mexico, Greece, Africa, and East Asian Pacific nations.

The costs of pornography to societies are significant. Studies of pornography’s impact on relationships suggest it is a major contributor to the destruction of marriages. Unfortunately, long-term research on pornography’s effect on marriage is virtually nonexistent.

So called “no fault divorce” laws in the U.S. and many other nations have licensed a system in which judges and lawyers facilitate the dissolution of marriages, often against the will of spouses who stand firm in their marital commitment.

Despite the bleakness of these trends, we are encouraged and made resolute by the Holy Father’s exhortation: “Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.”

Perhaps the boldest new way we can evangelize married couples (and by extension their children’s future marriages) is to build small communities of married couples who support each other unconditionally in their vocations to married life. These communities would provide networks of support grounded in the bonds of faith and family, commitment to lifelong marriage, and responsibility to and for each other.

Here we offer some practical ways to create and sustain such communities:

• Commission the Pontifical Council on the Family to conduct cross-discipline, longitudinal research on the role of pornography and “no fault” divorce in the marriage crisis.

• Educate seminarians. Provide mandatory courses covering social science evidence on the benefits of marriage, threats to marriage, and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation to children and society.

• Train priests to showcase in their homilies the spiritual and social value of marriage, contemporary challenges to it, and parish help for troubled marriages. A recent study found that 72% of American Catholic women say the weekly homily is their primary source for learning about the faith.

• Create small, vibrant networks of strong married couples as mentors at the parish level, available to give spouses the tools to sustain healthy, lifelong marriages.

• Educate parishioners on the extraordinary influence they can have on the marriages of friends and family. Social science data show that the presence of divorced family and friends increases one’s own risk of divorce. Alternatively, the data suggest that family members and friends can increase commitment and satisfaction within marriages of those they love through their example and support.

• Encourage and support the reconciliation of married couples who are separated or have been divorced by civil courts.

• Request bishops worldwide to initiate regular prayers during Sunday Mass for strong, faithful marriages.

• Support efforts to preserve what is right and just in existing marriage laws, to resist any changes to those laws that would further weaken the institution, and to restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman, entered into with an openness to the gift of children, and lived faithfully and permanently as the foundation of the natural family.

• Support religious freedom in divorce courts. Many do not know that religious freedom is routinely violated by divorce judges who ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner. Begin a consortium of attorneys and legislators to combat this problem.

To accomplish any of these goals on an international scale would be a great step forward for marriages and families. To accomplish them all may turn the worldwide marriage crisis on its head.

With your leadership we will help marriages to succeed and flourish by placing the greatest value on marital commitment – at every level of society, in every corner of the world. We thank Your Holiness, Eminences, and Excellencies for taking up this vital task and you may be assured of our prayers for its great success.

Signed:

[Affiliations, where listed, are for identification purposes only]

Greg and Julie Alexander
Founders, The Alexander House Apostolate, Texas

Ryan T. Anderson
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC

Erika Bachiochi, Esq., legal scholar and author, Massachusetts

Monsignor Renzo Bonetti
Founder and President, Fondazione Famiglia Dono Grande, Italy

Gerard Bradley
Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame Law School

Ana María Celis Brunet
Professor of Law, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Mary Eberstadt
Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC

Jason and Crystalina Evert
Founders, Chastity Project, Colorado

Patrick Fagan
Director, The Marriage and Religion Research Institute, Family Research Council, Washington, DC

Thomas Farr
Visiting Associate Professor and Director, The Religious Freedom Project Georgetown University

Silvio Ferrari
Professor of Law, University of Milan, Italy

Richard Fitzgibbons
Director, The Institute for Marital Healing, Pennsylvania

Juan G. Navarro Floria
Profesor Ordinario, Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina

Matthew Franck
William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution
The Witherspoon Institute, New Jersey

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

Mary Ann Glendon
Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

Bruce and Jeannie Hannemann
Co-Directors, RECLAiM Sexual Health
Co-Founders, Elizabeth Ministry International

George A. Harne
President, The College of Saint Mary Magdalen

Mary Hasson
Fellow, Catholic Studies Program, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington DC

Alan J. Hawkins
Professor of Family Life, Brigham Young University

Kent R. Hill
International Development leader, Washington DC

Byron Johnson
Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and
Director, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University

Thomas Lickona
Director, Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect and Responsibility) State University of New York at Cortland

John McCarthy
Dean, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Rocco Mimmo
Chairman, Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, Sydney, Australia

Gloria M. Moran
Professor of Law, Chair of Law, Religion and Public Policy, University of La Coruña Spain

Jennifer Roback Morse
President, Ruth Institute, California

Melissa Moschella
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Rafael Navarro-Valls
Emeritus Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain
Secretary General of the Spanish Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation

Rafael Palomino
Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain

Marcello Pera
Former President, Senate of Italy
Professor, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, Italy

Vicente Prieto
Universidad de La Sabana, Bogotá, Colombia

Fr. Juan Puigbó
Diocese of Arlington, VA

David Quinn
Director, The Iona Institute, Ireland

Mark Regnerus
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

Balázs Schanda
Professor of Law, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary

Alan E. Sears
President, CEO, & General Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom

Reverend Charles Sikorsky
President, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

O. Carter Snead
Professor of Law, William P. and Hazel B. White Director, Center for Ethics and Culture, University of Notre Dame

Reverend D. Paul Sullins
Professor of Sociology, The Catholic University of America
Senior Fellow for Family Studies, Family Research Council
President, The Leo Institute, Washington, DC

Rebecca Ryskind Teti
Center for Family Development at Our Lady of Bethesda

Mervyn Thomas
Chief Executive, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, United Kingdom

Javier Martinez-Torron
Professor of Law, Chair of the Department of Law and Religion, Complutense University

Hilary Towers
Psychologist, Manassas, Virginia

D. Vincent Twomey
Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Pontifical University, Maynooth, Ireland

Paul C. Vitz
Senior Scholar and Professor, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

Rick Warren,
Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California

Robert Wilken
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia

New members of the International Theological Commission include 5 women

Tracey RowlandToday the Pope named new members of the International Theological Commission which includes 5 women. The announcement stated: “Women now constitute 16 per cent of the Commission’s members, a sign of growing female involvement in theological research.”

Among the priests who make up the majority of the ITC are 5 women: Sister Prudence Allen RSM from the USA, Sister Alenka Arko, Dr Moira McQueen, Dr Marianne Schlosser and the well-known Australian theologian Dr Tracey Rowland. Until now, the ITC had two women members, Sister Sara Butler (USA) and Prof Barbara Hallensleben.

Today’s announcement of Tracey Rowland’s to this service to the Church brings with it great enthusiasm because of Rowland’s keen mind and terrific work in the field of theology; a recent book of Rowland’s deals with Ratzinger’s Faith: the Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. She is Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.

Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the ultimate head of the group but there is a general secretary of the ITC who is Father Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P.

The International Theological Commission was formed by Pope Paul VI in 1969 with the task to help the Pope and the on-going work of the Holy See by exploring and examining major doctrinal questions.

Well-formed consciences give witness to something greater

These days the use of the word of conscience is bantered around without much substance to my line of thinking. Some really crazy (unreasonable) things are said about conscience and the use of it. Certainty is about reasonable things is not well accepted thinking persons. Additionally, the public forum is beginning to be more belligerent if a course correction is needed because we live in a “culture of nice” that dictates don’t be judgmental. All sorts of media outlets, politicians, talking heads and professors derail the conversation to force a fallacious agenda that allows for all things that indicate “just because.” We easily trot out the word conscience thinking that we know what it means, that our interlocutors know what the word conscience means, and that that the context within which we find ourselves can handle a fully functioning, clear definition that focuses on truth.  Less confusion is needed: clear principles and identifiable conclusions are absolute. The contours of what conscience really is under assault.

This morning I read the following spiritual reflection from a sermon by Saint Augustine on conscience and began to think –not brilliantly of course– that a new level discourse that gets to the heart of the truth and gives proper witness to a life of good conscience is needed. No longer is it acceptable to use conscience in flippant ways that divorce God from every level of our life. In a concrete way it is true to say that without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ a fully formed conscience is impossible. Fuzzy thinking will lead to absurd actions. In positive terms: only with  Jesus is man and woman fully alive and capable of giving witness to freedom. Too much is at stake: personal freedom, life in the Christian community, work in society, the arts, medicine, politics. Faith and reason are expected and valued dialogue partners. 

This is our glory: the witness of our conscience. There are men who rashly judge, who slander, whisper and murmur, who are eager to suspect what they do not see, and eager to spread abroad things they have not even a suspicion of. Against men of this sort, what defense is there save the witness of our own conscience?

My brothers, we do not seek, nor should we seek, our own glory even among those whose approval we desire. What we should seek is their salvation, so that if we walk as we should they will not go astray in following us. They should imitate us if we are imitators of Christ; and if we are not, they should still imitate him. […]

And so, my brothers, our concern should be not only to live as we ought, but also to do so in the sight of men; not only to have a good conscience but also, so far as we can in our weakness, so far as we can govern our frailty, to do nothing which might lead our weak brother into thinking evil of us. Otherwise, as we feed on the good pasture and drink the pure water, we may trample on God’s meadow, and weaker sheep will have to feed on trampled grass and drink from troubled waters.

Nicea III for 2025 pope and patriarch announce

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew made the VERY bold proposal that in 2025 the Churches ought to meet in an ecumenical synod (meeting). This is not Vatican III, depending on the scope of the Church’s heads, it is likely to be bigger than that. This event, this gathering, could be a considerable groundbreaking event for the universal CHURCH, east and west.

The 1964 meeting with Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem –which was just feted for being 50 years old– now has an identifiable fruit: a fuller understanding of announcing Jesus Christ as a fact and that His embrace is for all people.

A worldwide meeting of this type will not simply be a commemoration of the Council of Nicea (AD 325) nor merely an administrative session to figure out how to promulgate decrees. It is a step, in my opinion, toward uniting Christians from East and West, small yet deliberative gestures are a good thing. Hence, it is premature to say that this is a meeting leading to definitive eucharistic unity.

AsiaNews is reporting that His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, wants an ecumenical “gathering” to be held in Nicea (now Iznik, 130 km south- east of Istanbul) in 2025.

Speaking exclusively with AsiaNews, Bartholomew says that together with Pope Francis “we agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated.”

The exact nature of the meeting is unknown at present. In fact, there has been no formal announcement of, or a decree convoking of an official gathering of bishops by the Vatican. Hence, It is very early to jump to conclusions that such an Ecumenical Council involving bishops from both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches would take place.The Orthodox Patriarch did say last week that “a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission  will be held hosted by the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III. It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy.”

What does the proposed 2025 meeting in Nicea mean right now? It shows a clear commitment of the heads of two churches to the process of concrete dialogue. Theological and fraternal conversation is an act of competent theologians taking the needed time to allow certain pieces of data to mature. The work of dialogue doesn’t often lead to immediate action like sharing the altar, but it does lessen tensions wiping away misunderstanding. Dialogue does not mean a compromise in dogma and doctrine as there has to be internal coherence of belief.

Looking down the road a bit, I doubt that Francis and Bartholomew will be the heads of their respective Churches. They’ll likely age-out.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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