The National Catholic Review

In mid-March Archbishop Raymond Burke spoke in Sydney to the Australian Catholic Students Association. His talk, entitled "The Fall of the Christian West", considers "the grave evils which beset the world" -- the sexual abuse of minors, pornography, sexual tourism, drug abuse, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthenasia, gay marriage, contraception -- and their basis in the West's moral relativism, in which "morality itself indeed ceases to exist." Quoting Pope Benedict XVI extensively, Archbishop Burke reiterates the Pope's call for Catholics to engage the public discourse with "the fundamental truths of the moral law, as taught to us by reason and our Catholic faith" and proceeds to offer some examples of what that might look like, vis a vis such issues as homosexuality and abortion.  

By and large the Archbishop's talk offers a familiar worldview -- "our brothers and sisters, lost in the unreal world of moral relativism", with a dash of creeping infallibilism: "There can never be a contrast between what the conscience demands of us and what the the truth of the faith, as enunciated by the Holy Father, demands of us."

But Andrew Hamilton, S.J., writing in Eureka Street last week, has an interesting challenge to this perspective. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he writes, the Jew's question, like Burke's, "is about identity, about who belongs to his group. He invites Jesus to mark out the boundaries of faith and practice." 

But Jesus responds instead with the question of who is my neighbor, suggesting, says Hamilton, "that the question we begin with should not be about identity but about how we meet the needs of the people who present themselves to us." 

"This kind of reflection that begins with the Good Samaritan story no doubt leaves many questions unanswered. But it has one virtue that is often lacking in conversation that focuses on identity. At each step it asks insistently, what ultimately matters?"

Good question.

Jim McDermott, S.J.

Comments

Juan Lino | 4/4/2011 - 4:18pm
Steve - Whether someone is a Catholic or not doesn't diminish the strength of an argument but it is an important factor to know because it allows the reader to judge the writer's motives in a more clear way.  So, it's not a question of flaging the posts of those who are and are not Catholic but about looking at all the factors in reality.

For example, it's understandable that a Bible-only Christian would argue that the Eucharist is merely a symbol but if one didn't know that the writer was a Bible-only Christian then it looks as if they are willfully denying what Catholics beleive about the Eucharist as attested to by Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium.

Micahel - I also thought that those writing comments were Catholic but now I see that I need to check.

Anonymous | 4/4/2011 - 12:28pm
The Good News does have moral content; Our Lord did preach that obeying the 10 commandments is expected of those who would be perfect - but went beyond. So not just "no" adultery, but avoidance of lust... not just No murder, but avoidance of wrath. Not just keep the sabbath holy, but worship the Father in spirit and in truth (not just liturgically, rubric purity).

In our day and age, in our Western Civilization that's been beaten by communist/socialist atheism on one side and secular practical atheistic hedonism on the other, Christianity is still dealing with distorted identities and balkanisations both of philosophy (relativism vs. objective truth) and theology (Incarnation of the Son of God who revealed Himself as a Man (vir) and the one who sent Him as "abba" Father and not some vague force or inchoate fill in the blank deity of our own comfort.

We of the West have been schooled to overlay everything in political ideological terms; conservative or liberal, "neo-con" vs. "progressive", left vs. right. But beyond labels, do we focus on what truth is claimed and why? Or just retreat into tribal enclaves?

I would assert that insofar as we strive to be Catholics, we ought to strive to know the content of the Good News as it was originally and subsequently handed on, that we cannot claim to be followers of Jesus unless we hold common cause with His disciples, the bishops of the early councils - and the later councils..... and they - guided by the Spirit - were not cool with the moral claims of modern times when it comes to sexuality, the role of a massive monolithic one-party state, and how people ought to behave as though we're not members of a mystic body which includes the angels.

To accept the Good News (that God became man, that he preached certain hard truths, made certain fantastic promises, commanded perfection and promised persecution, the cross, and yet paradoxically, salvation....) is to accept it all. And so if today's political party or cultural fad is at odds with the deposit of faith, then so much the worse for the political party or faddish proponents (who ALWAYS claim moral and intellectual superiority with the 'big bad old church').

To accept the Good News is to accept the moral doctrine and the economic one - and neither point to a utopia of one-party oligarchic socialism and pantheistic hedonism. So why are we moderns so concerned for political and 'social' change as though this is the coming of the kingdom? Yes we can? How about "seek first the kingdom of heaven and righteousness and all the rest will be given you"?

Look at all our hot button, anger filled battles: the interface between private morals and state policy, who gets to pass what law to force 'the other side' to 'accept our way'? But why can't we Catholics just help the poor without the state? Why can't we educate children K-post grad, care for elderly and sick without government monies, support women and motherhood, marriage and community without tax subsidies? Are minorities feeling persecuted? Why can't we reach to them with the Good News and friendship - aggape - without a law commanding this or that?

I submit it's because we doubt the power of God to perform miracles - real ones, not metaphorical ones. We doubt wealth can be multiplied like the loaves, or demons cast out, kings and rulers converted, barbarians stopped at the gates. We doubt other religions can be converted, especially the more ruthless they appear.... and yet, did not the great USSR disappear likes some invading barbarian horde in the Old Testament? Why can't modern day Islam be converted likewise? Why can't abortion be made truely rare by a revolution of love for women and mothers? We believe that God can become one of us but He can't save us from each other?
Stephen SCHEWE | 4/4/2011 - 9:58am
As Maria illustrated, I have disclosed my history (former Catholic (49 years), current Episcopalian (5 years)) on several past comments; they're all there in the search engine.  Thank you, Michael and Brett, for circling back to the initial questions of identity that began this thread.  Perhaps I should label future posts with a red E!
Anonymous | 4/4/2011 - 8:56am
Hmmm, am I looking at the wrong post, or did a lot of comments disappear from this discussion? 

To Tim or whomever decided to remove the offending posts; we're all grown ups here.  We can distinguish on-topic dicsussion from ad hominem, skip posts that we find offensive or off-topic.  Deleting comments not only insults the readership but strongly suggests censorship, as that is how that power is used on other sites.

In this post, Maria outed Steve Schewe  - by finding and pasting one of his 2009comments - brava! - as an Episcopalian (at least I was unaware of that fact).  That was a pretty important revelation to me, not only with respect to understanding Mr. Schewe's perspective on this post, but with respect to my (foolish) assumption that people who post here are Catholics, unless they reveal otherwise in their comments. 

While the on-topic discussion on this post was one of the more interesting I've ever read here on IAT, I must admit that the tangentital comments were pretty good too!
Anonymous | 4/4/2011 - 1:26am
"Fire and cross and battling with wild beasts, their clawing and tearing, the breaking of bones and mangling of members, the grinding of my whole body, the wicked torments of the devil – let them assail me, so long as I get to Jesus Christ.”

-St. Ignatius of Antioch. (Devoured by wild beasts in 107 A.D. Letter written on his way to martyrdom in Rome



Not to bore you, Mr. Schewe.

Anonymous | 4/4/2011 - 1:07am
Bill writes: "Apostolic succession is important but we debase its meaning when we are more concerned about being orthodox than loving our neighbors and enemies."

I agree, Bill; however, orthodoxy and love of neighbors/enemies are not mutually exclusive positions as you seem to think - in fact, they depend on each other.

True love of the "other" is not the soft relativism or pandering to "identities" but speaking the very difficult truths of Christ - and of the human nature that he revealed - with the knowledge/compassion that we are also sinners.

After all, weren't Christ's disciples (the men he handpicked) unsound and unsteady men at many, many of the most important parts of the Gospel?  Your passion for justice is admirable, but taken to the extreme in our fallen world it becomes a stumbling block as it clouds vision and negates forgivness in persuit of earthly utopia.

Finally a quote from the great GK Chesterton on from "Orthodoxy,":

People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad . . . The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable . . . It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob . . . It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to avoid them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.
Anonymous | 4/4/2011 - 1:07am
What subject?
Stephen SCHEWE | 4/3/2011 - 11:40pm
I appreciate your research, Maria; it's nice to see you quote someone in addition to Fr. Hardon!
Anne Chapman | 4/3/2011 - 11:36pm
Maria,

It seems that you would much rather discuss people than ideas.  You have not addressed the subject of the blog. Instead you focus on two priests, and apparently wish to change the topic of discussion to one on homosexuality.  That subject is discussed a lot, in a lot of places, including in America - as it should be - but it is not the subject of this particular blog post.

It would be helpful to discussion if you would actually discuss the subject of the blog post.
Bill Mazzella | 4/3/2011 - 10:00pm
Augustine of Hippo gave us this misconception that we are damned if we are outside the orthodox church. The point is that the stress was not on behavior but only the fact that you belong to the orthodox churches. As a result we have centuries of Catholics believing that belonging to the orthodox church is more important than the way one behaves. Apostolic succession is important but we debase its meaning when we are more concerned about being orthodox than loving our neighbors and enemies. We can clearly see this error in our own times where the bishops and the Vatican have deemed it more important to defend those with orthodox viewas such as Maciel and the Legionnaires over the victims of sexual abuse. Orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy. God does not excuse us if we say that our behavior is justified since we listened to a bishop or the pope. This is clear from history. Not a leftist view. 

The Good Samaritan (Samaritans were the hated and unorthodox) helped the traveler while the orthodox priest and levite refused. The lesson is clear. 
Anonymous | 4/3/2011 - 7:10pm
In regards to post #14:

The problem here seems to be that certain Catholics cannot seem to have a rational discussion on a topic such as this without resorting to attacks or abstractions once logic fails them - this is seems to be the case in liberal politics as well.  Much of the time there is no underlying foundation for their positions beyond radically individualized opinion or feeling, so mud needs to be thrown early and often.

I am neither a martyr or a bullie, as Steve seems to imply, I was simply stating the case against the argument presented by the blog and Fr. Hamilton before the thread devolved.

As for Commonweal, the reason that threads don't have the same heat/light as America is due to the fact that most of the members are homogeneous: old, extremely liberal Catholics who tend to agree with one another and enjoy having their personal biases confirmed via circular, positive feedback.
Stephen SCHEWE | 4/3/2011 - 6:41pm
QED
Stephen SCHEWE | 4/3/2011 - 4:12pm
This thread wandered far from its beginning, in a pattern that I think repeats itself on many of this blog's threads:  responses to the article, speech, news item, etc. get hijacked by competing for what Archbishop Burke refers to as "martyrs of witness."  If I defend the Faith vigorously or fussily enough to be personally attacked, I win the martyr prize for today, or at least I can enjoy a brawl.  Father Hamiliton mentions the grandiosity of how Burke describes martyrdom, but he has bigger fish to fry.

Trying to be a "martyr of witness" pulls a conversation off its moorings.  The conversation becomes victim to a form of Gresham's Law, with people less emotionally invested leaving the topic to be drowned by louder, repetitive voices.  So if you don't want a conversation about change advanced, you can just start a mud fight.  In contrast, Commonweal's blog threads seem to have less of this problem.  I wonder why?

BTW, I disagree with Norma.  I don't believe in establishing moral equivalence with bullies. 
NORMA NUNAG | 4/3/2011 - 3:31pm
Thank you.  I  agree with you wholeheartedly: the foundation of unity is always on  Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body, the Apostolic Church. together.  Any attempt to  separate the two is suspect.
Anonymous | 4/3/2011 - 3:12pm
I agree with Norma ;) 

Unity should come through complementarity rather than forced identity - that said, there must be a foundation upon which unity is built and that foundation is Christ and his Body (i.e. the apostolic Church) - the center must hold for such freedom to be well-ordered and beneficial.
NORMA NUNAG | 4/3/2011 - 2:55pm
Very interesting discussion!  I see the ''Benedict-Burke and the Jesuit'' points. If we put these two camps together, they would equal what Jesus is and did!  Let's not separate ''identity'' from ''absolute unity of truth and love''. or the ''Vatican and the Jesuits),  I think they  should work together as a unit.  Just as a human person, (a creature made up of body, mind and spirit), must act.  If one focuses only on the body, one ends up a fat addict, focuses only on the mind, one ends up an arrogant athiest, focuses only only on the spirit, one ends up a disembodied corpse or a flying whatever! Either or is never productive! 
Nobody has the monopoly of the truth, or the right answers!  If we can recognize and respect one another's insights, we would all benefit.
Anonymous | 4/3/2011 - 2:46pm
Bill,

I did not post on here to get in tit-for-tat conversation with you employing old leftest troupes and simplistic rhetoric.  I have criticized the bishops plenty of times on this blog and your focus on identity (us vs. them) is very telling considering the subject of the blog post.

You obviously do not follow apostolic Church established by Christ in Peter and, yet, claim to be more holy than those who do.  Your lucidity has led to blindness... 
Vince Killoran | 4/3/2011 - 10:13am
Contrasting "the World" with all of its ills against the Faith or Church is a tired, old device that has been used forever and not just by Christians.  Stanley's point is a good one-"our" leaders aren't so different so their message seems hollow.

Pope John XXIII had it right: we have created and live in the Modern World. It is not a foreign land.  We must own up to the good & bad and live the Gopel in it, not pretend to stand just on the edge and wag our finger.
Bill Mazzella | 4/3/2011 - 8:14am
Brett,

It is a might jump to figure out how your post relates at all to mine. You write about  your preconceived notions of those of us who will not blindly follow a pope nor bishop. My point is I take Jesus Christ over the pope and bishops. The pope is not the church. Do I have to  repeat that. Show me when or where you have acknowledged the horrible crimes committed by the pope and bishops. The only way they have been brought to justice is by the state courts. No way by an attitude like  yours which lets them get away with criminal coverups and abuse.

There was indeed unfortunate happenings in the sixties just like the bishop appointees of John Paul II have been the worst in American history. The church has suffered and still does at the hands of these incompetent, and in so many cases, criminal bishops.

I think the burden of proof is on you to show that  you do not blindly follow Rome and the bishops. 
Anonymous | 4/3/2011 - 2:38am
Bill, it is not the 60's any longer; things are more complicated than a simplistic critique of authority and the "us vs. them" dualism of liberation theology.

I am giving neither the "Vatican" nor the Jesuits a blank check - it just so happens that Benedict/Burke are much closer to the truth on this matter than the argument made by the Jesuit.

PS - if you read Benedict you will know that Jesus Christ is always at the center of his teaching.  Don't let your ideology blind you to the deep understanding and light that he projects on the teachings of Christ because it would be a shame...
Bill Mazzella | 4/2/2011 - 10:54pm
Brett and David,

Is this your only avenue of discussion? To quote Benedict and approve anything he writes or says. We know that popes have made terrible decisions and blunders. For the first few centuries the Bishop of Rome had not connection to a vast majority of the church. Most notable is  neither of you dialogued on the Good Samaritan lesson. As if the pope is more important to follow than Jesus. If you read your history and even observe how the clergy interacts with the wealthy you will see a terrible separation from the the gospel. Those great donors to the Catholic church make up the wealthy 1% who are making people's lives miserable in this country. Except for some generalities the bishops and churches are reluctant to criticize this one % for fear of losing their staggering donations. The story of the Good Samaritan is central to our faith. Not belieiving in the popes who we know have done some terrible things throughout history. Even tho Benedict finally exposed Maciel and the Legionnaires it too him many years to do it as they feared the loss of money and power from the Legionnaires. Your lack of focus on this blind trust in the Vatican is stirring. While you have this constant attack of Jesuits you give the Vatican a blank check on some very serious deficiencies. Keep the focus on the gospel rather than a dominating Rome which seeks to preserve power more than the gospel.



"In America, the top 1 percent led the country into war and economic devastation, leaving the less fortunate to fight for one and pay for both. Where is the tsunami of outrage over this?"

http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2011/05/graydon-201105
Anonymous | 4/2/2011 - 4:18pm
"yes, there is morality, but it needs to be adapted to real life.  Justice really should not be blind."

Good way to put it, David. 

This is why Benedict focuses on the absolute unity of truth and love.  To separate them, to take one or the other, is to deform, even invert, the outcome: compassion becomes relativism (or worse) without truth - and the same can be said for truth without love.

Ironically, it is Fr. Hamilton who is much more hung-up on "identity" (i.e. modern identity politics and not wanting to offend people with the truth of human nature as shown to us by the life and passion of Christ) rather than Benedict or Burke, who focus on the principle of caritas en veritate.

This holistic view of human nature put forward by Benedict/the Church is disfavored with the powers/principalities of the world who would rather control/manipulate men by saying there is no such thing as truth or normative sense of created "being."  All of this is done in the name of compassion, of course...
Stanley Kopacz | 4/2/2011 - 3:36pm
ANy morality has to be grounded in what humans have already been given by God, their inner conscience.  Most people don't kill because they know it's wrong and don't need laws to tell them so.  What concerns me is the ability of institutional leaders to put aside normal human empathy for the good of the institution.  Church leaders behaved no differently with respect to the child abuse problem.  They didn't seem to do better, on average, than your average CEO. That is why jeremiads from hierarchs don't impress. That we are messed up is no news.  That the Church is the city on the hill in its present shape is not obvious to me.
Anonymous | 4/2/2011 - 2:23pm
The issue here is one of language that separates the orthodox vs. the Jesuitical position as presented here.  Benedict and Burke are addressing modern ills that are a result of a society that has become spiritually atrophied: child abuse, pornography, suicide, homosexual proclivity etc. etc.

These are not "identities" so much as actions and spiritual disorders. 

In the same light, association with the Catholic Church - founded by Christ - is not an "identity" as much as a new way of seeing and acting in the world.

We can only "meet the needs of the people in the world" if we see the world for what it is and act to save the men and women drowning in modern illusions/disorders with the truth of Christ rather than use langage to relativise disorder as "identity" because we desire political correctness and acceptance by the modern world.  

So, this is not about identity, but about seeing and acting in light of the Truth - exactly what Benedict constantly proposes to us as the Body of Christ.