Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Next Pontiff

Note: While I'm not planning on converting to Catholicism any time soon, just wanted to post this excellent article from the Wall Street Journal, which casts vision for the future of Catholicism. Very compelling.    Neil

Catholics Need a Pope for the 'New Evangelization'

The next pontiff must nurture Catholicism where it is growing and revive it where it is not.

The challenges facing the successor of Pope Benedict XVI come into sharper focus when we widen the historical lens through which we view this papal transition. Benedict XVI will be the last pope to have participated in the Second Vatican Council, the most important Catholic event since the 16th century. An ecclesiastical era is ending. What was its character, and to what future has Benedict XVI led Catholicism?
Vatican II, which met from 1962 to 1965, accelerated a process of deep reform in the Catholic Church that began in 1878 when the newly elected Pope Leo XIII made the historic decision to quietly bury the rejectionist stand his predecessors had adopted toward cultural and political modernity and to explore the possibilities of a critical Catholic engagement with the contemporary world. That reform process, which was not without difficulties, reached a high point of ecclesiastical drama at Vatican II, which has now been given an authoritative interpretation by two men of genius, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both influential figures at the Council. According to that interpretation, the church must rediscover and embrace its vocation as a missionary enterprise.
Evangelical Catholicism—or what John Paul II and Benedict XVI dubbed the "New Evangelization"—is the new form of the Catholic Church being born today. The church is now being challenged to understand that it doesn't just have a mission, as if "mission" were one of a dozen things the church does. The churchis a mission. At the center of that mission is the proclamation of the Gospel and the offer of friendship with Jesus Christ. Everyone and everything in the church must be measured by mission-effectiveness. And at the forefront of that mission—which now takes place in increasingly hostile cultural circumstances—is the pope, who embodies the Catholic proposal to the world in a unique way.
So at this hinge moment, when the door is closing on the Counter-Reformation church in which every Catholic under 50 was raised, and as the door opens to the evangelical Catholicism of the future, what are the challenges facing the new pope?
Catholicism is dying in its historic heartland, Europe. The new pope must fan the frail flames of renewal that are present in European Catholicism. But he must also challenge Euro-Catholics to understand that only a robust, unapologetic proclamation of the Gospel can meet the challenge of a Christophobic public culture that increasingly regards biblical morality as irrational bigotry.
The new pope must be a vigorous defender of religious freedom throughout the world. Catholicism is under assault by the forces of jihadist Islam in a band of confrontation that runs across the globe from the west coast of Senegal to the eastern islands of Indonesia.
Christian communities in the Holy Land are under constant, often violent, pressure. In the West, religious freedom is being reduced to a mere "freedom of worship," with results like the ObamaCare Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.
Thus the new pope must be a champion of religious freedom for all, insisting with John Paul II and Benedict XVI that there can be neither true freedom nor true democracy without religious freedom in full. That means the right of both individuals of conscience and religious communities to live their lives according to their most deeply held convictions, and the right to bring those convictions into public life without civil penalty or cultural ostracism.
This defense of religious freedom will be one string in the bow of the new pope's responsibility to nurture the rapidly growing Catholic communities in Africa, calling them to a new maturity of faith. It should also frame the new pope's approach to the People's Republic of China, where persecution of Christians is widespread. When China finally opens itself fully to the world, it will be the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere. Like his two immediate predecessors, the new pope should recognize that the church's future mission in China will be imperiled by any premature deal-making with the Chinese Communist regime, which would also involve an evangelical betrayal of those Chinese Christians who are making daily sacrifices for fidelity to Jesus Christ.
The ambient public culture of the West will demand that the new pope embrace some form of Catholic Lite. But that counsel of cultural conformism will have to reckon with two hard facts: Wherever Catholic Lite has been embraced in the past 40 years, as in Western Europe, the church has withered and is now dying. The liveliest parts of the Catholic world, within the United States and elsewhere, are those that have embraced the Catholic symphony of truth in full. In responding to demands that he change the unchangeable, however, the new pope will have to demonstrate that every time the Catholic Church says "No" to something—such as abortion or same-sex marriage—that "No" is based on a prior "Yes" to the truths about human dignity the church learns from the Gospel and from reason.
And that suggests a final challenge for Gregory XVII, Leo XIV, John XXIV, Clement XV, or whoever the new pope turns out to be: He must help an increasingly deracinated world—in which there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing recognizable as the truth—rediscover the linkage between faith and reason, between Jerusalem and Athens, two of the pillars of Western civilization. When those two pillars crumble, the third pillar—Rome, the Western commitment to the rule of law—crumbles as well. And the result is what Benedict XVI aptly styled the dictatorship of relativism.
What kind of man can meet these challenges? A radically converted Christian disciple who believes that Jesus Christ really is the answer to the question that is every human life. An experienced pastor with the courage to be Catholic and the winsomeness to make robust orthodoxy exciting. A leader who is not afraid to straighten out the disastrous condition of the Roman Curia, so that the Vatican bureaucracy becomes an instrument of the New Evangelization, not an impediment to it.
The shoes of the fisherman are large shoes to fill.
Mr. Weigel is the author of "Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church," just published by Basic Books.
A version of this article appeared February 13, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Catholics Need a Pope for the 'New Evangelization'.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Easterbrook on the Origin of Life

Gregg Easterbrook is a true Renaissance Man. During the NFL season, he writes a column called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, providing brilliant analysis of football, social and political commentary, media critiques, and an interesting perspective on science (physics, economics, astronomy, etc...)

In his latest column, he writes this about the age of the universe:

And on the Seventh Day, God Asked for a Refund: Since Washington politicians want to avoid dealing with the federal deficit, why not use time debating the origin of the universe? Republican bright light and possible 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently said about the origin of the cosmos: "I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. There are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that." This caused commentators to recall that in 2008, Barack Obama, then a presidential candidate, said, "I believe God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it. It may not be 24-hour days, and that's what I believe."
Obviously a politician asked a question like this is trying to come down firmly on both sides, seeming to endorse science and religion both. Saying that the six days of Genesis may be a metaphor for a far longer period seems a reaction to a sense that an entire universe could not have been created in just 144 hours.
But why not? If God is omnipotent, there's no barrier to a very rapid creation. The Bible is best understood as an accurate record of actual events -- it may not be, but that's the way the Bible is best understood. Other biblical references to days are to regular 24-hour days. Why shouldn't the six days of the creation also be regular 24-hour days?
Suppose the cosmos came into being entirely via natural forces. This does not necessarily eliminate God from the equation, it only means that the universe began naturally, as we observe many other aspects of existence to be natural. The current Big Bang consensus holds that all the material needed for a cosmos of 100 billion galaxies was once within an area much smaller than a baseball, that the triggering event of the universe was a random quantum fluctuation and that in the initial moments, space expanded far faster than the speed of light.
Maybe that is actually what happened. But that description -- a hundred billion galaxies in a tiny place -- in many ways seems more speculative, more freewheeling, than placing God in command of the show. And if a natural-origin universe was able to expand much faster than the speed of light, then creation in six days doesn't sound so out of the question.
Some may have trouble thinking about the age of the Earth because 4.5 billion years, the estimate from most geologists, cannot be understood in common-sense terms. What is 4.5 billion years? The estimated age of the cosmos, 14 billion years, is even harder to fathom. There is no common sense way to grasp gigantic numbers, so many people are put off by them. If the Earth is 10,000 years old, as some creationists assert, that's a number that can be grasped.
But whether the universe formed naturally or via divine agency, something inexpressibly magnificent happened at the creation, and maybe it happened quickly.
In any event, a supernatural could exist, and natural forces (the Big Bang, evolution) also exist. You wouldn't want to rely on religion for explanations of the natural world. But you wouldn't want to rely on science for morality, either. As William Jennings Bryan said at the Scopes trail -- Bryan believed the Earth to be 4.5 billion years old and often said so, the play "Inherit the Wind" took many liberties with facts of that trial -- "Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stuff My Son Says #14

Yesterday, the boys detected a strong odor in the house.

Cameron: "What is that smell?!?"

Griffin: "It smells like Christmas."

Cameron: "Maybe the first Christmas."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stuff My Son Says #13

Last night, Liam and I were playing "Sting Pong": shirtless ping pong where, after every point, the point-winner gets a free shot at the torso of the other player. Yes, it results in little round welts and significant pain. But that's what guys do for fun.

Anyway, about half the time, Liam would try to hit the ball so hard that his accuracy was poor, missing me completely. Cameron, who was watching this ridiculous display of masculinity, made this observation:

"Dad, I'm surprised Liam ever misses you. You've become a pretty wide target."

I've really got to work out more often.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stuff My Son Says #12

Well, it's been a year since my last post. 371 days to be exact. No excuses. I'm just lazy.

So, without further ado (or adieu), here's a good one from Cam.

When we turned the calendar over to November, Cam noticed a few holidays. This was his explanation:

Cam: Hey Dad, we don't have school next Monday.

Me: Why not?

Cam: Cuz it's "Veterinarian's Day."

Close, son. Very close.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Penn State Headline Predictions

The scandal at Penn State, which just became national news last weekend, is sure to be on the front pages for quite a while.  And deservedly so: this is just an unspeakably awful situation, involving not only the rampant sexual abuse of young boys, but the lack of consequences and eventual cover-up.  Nasty stuff.

Call me a cynical critic of our culture, but I'm willing to predict that media outlets will attempt all kinds of cheesy headlines about the scandal in order to grab our attention.  So be on the lookout for headlines like the following:

  • Unhappy Valley
  • Say It Ain't So, Joe
  • Nittany Lyin'
  • From Penn State to State Pen

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stuff My Son Says - #11

Last night, Cameron was bored and in need of entertainment.  Here was his request:

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phonics"

Well, a lot of people are hooked on it...