Yes, Sunday Catholic Sermons Can Teach the Faithful their Faith
- On May 6, 2012 a young priest, Christopher Martin, delivered the sermon at the 11:30 Mass in Brentwood, Missouri’s Catholic Church, St. Mary Magdalen. The parish had decided to insert a Baptism into the Mass between the Sermon and the Offertory.
Fr. Martin's sermon had to be truncated because of the addition of the Baptism. So Fr. Martin, who wished to say a few words on the importance of Grace and something about change within the Church, choose his words carefully. In his sermon, Fr. Martin explained in a few sentences the different teachings on grace found in the works of Augustine and Pelagius in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and how Augustine ended up being declared a Doctor of the Church while Pelagicus was declared a heretic. Augustine, a sinner in his early life, insisted that God's gift of His Grace followed by the believer's acceptance was necessary for salvation. Pelagius taught that man was able to alter his behavior and through his own efforts earn salvation.
Father then skipped to the time of the Black Death, the Bubonic Plague, which killed 2/3 of the people in Europe and 3/4 of all priests, because the priests felt it was their duty to visit the dying bringing them Viaticum, their last Holy Communion. Once the plague died out, there was a need for more priests. This in turn lead to a decline in the standards required of aspiring priests. These poorly trained clergy instituted practices that over the next century led to the severe abuses that in turn caused Martin Luther to break with the Catholic Church. This break was the beginning of Protestantism; it also triggered a new discussion about the role of Grace and Faith across the Christian world.
The Church responded to Luther with the Council of Trent which locked much of Church Doctrine and Church Practice in a straight jacket that was not unlaced until Vatican II, 400 years later. The Church thus shows it is capable of the rigorous defense of its practices and doctrines, but it also shows it is willing to entertain appropriate change or refined definitions if they are consistent with earlier teachings and, of course, the Bible.
Fr. Marin's sermon was informative and thought provoking. It contained a historical thread. Could historians debate or amplify on his points? Certainly. But did he do a wonderful service for the faithful at that Mass? Yes. He made them think about the doctrine of Grace, he made them think about the roots of Protestantism, he made them think about the factors needed for salvation, and he made them think about how Church Tradition is both protected rigorously and yet altered occasionally to compliment and clarify the teachings of the Holy Bible and earlier Church teachings. Most of all he made them realize that the Church has a huge history that deserves their attention.
Fr. Martin carried all this off in about five minutes.
The question then is - why is this sort of presentation so rare in our Catholic sermons? Is the Catholic Church afraid to have the faithful learn about Church history, to think about the definition of Church doctrine?
Just because Catholics don't read Catholic literature, or Catholic publications, or even their Church bulletins does that mean they should be completly deprived of this kind of knowledge about their Church? Of course not, they are prepared to come and listen to their Sunday sermons, so that is where quality, informative, and thought provoking content needs to be presented.
A doctrine presented without historical reference or context does not help the faithful nearly as much as a doctrine presented with the history that led to its definition. It is true that some of this history was sometimes quite contentious. By presenting the struggle, the debates, the references to scripture, as well as the results, there will be greater appreciation of the carefully considered beliefs of the Catholic Church.
............. (prepared by Hugh Murray on 5/5/2012)
C-SPAN has slipped into a couple of problematic ruts, hopefully only temporarily - C-SPAN, otherwise known as the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, is a creation of the cable industry. It provides public affairs programing mostly of the US Congress from Washington with added coverage of various other meetings in Washington. It also has expanded weekend programing about books and history from various other locations around the United States. This domestic programming is augmented by coverage of other English speaking Parliaments (e.g. the U.K. , Canada, etc.) .
C-SPAN does great work bringing uncut, long form content to the people. With no commercials and no editing the programs are a treasure for the listener/viewer with extra time to delve more deeply into a topic.
Lately C-SPAN has been giving excessive attention to two areas of American life.
The first is the American Civil War where the minutiae of battles, letters, personalities, etc. is presented always from the perspective of a righteous, enlightened North or a benighted, misguided South. So much effort devoted the minutiae of anything is probably overkill, but the bigger error here is to chronically present the battles, personalities, motivations, etc. with a "northern" bias. The US Constitution was a consensus document under which the several states seeded certain limited power with the written (3 states) and unwritten (the remaining 10 states)understanding that any state could leave later if it choose. So the South had a strong legal arguement, but C-SPAN nearly always finds authors or panels that put a "pro north" spin on this tragic war.
The second is excessive black oriented programing. From panel discussions to author talks it seems the regular viewers of C-SPAN get a very full diet of material about the past and current plight of black Americans. This programming is not really bad but it has a lot of repetition of past injuries or current difficulties, there are very few new insights, and there is little recounting of success or expression of thanks for other groups who have helped (or are helping) the black community.
This civil war and black oriented programming has become so ubiquitous on C-SPAN that on a typical weekend in 2011 one could do a C-SPAN channel check every two hours for ten hours going from C-SPAN1, to C-SPAN2, to C-SPAN3 (15 channel checks in all) and catch this banal black or "one sided" civil war programming 75% of the time.
Of course, to be honest, with a black President and a black Attorney General some of these channel checks might have caught them doing a voter registration or food stamps presentation. Additionally 2011 was the 150th anniversary of Ft. Sumter so there were more civil war books and panel discussion that year.
In any event, C-SPAN is a national treasure and it has always been truly "fair and balanced", so let's hope this recent problem with its programming is temporary, so all the confirmed "C-SPAN junkies" will get their regular well balanced "fixes". ................ (prepared by Hugh Murray on 5/18/2012)
Some Thoughts on the 9th Commandment
- The ninth commandment reads "thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife" . Given modern trends it might be more appropriately re-phrased as "thou shalt not covet they neighbor's spouse". Attraction to members of the opposite sex is a part of human nature. Of course, this attraction can manifest itself in good, loving ways, but it can also appear as covetous, immoral attraction.
The Catechism has a good review of the many steps that might be taken to reduce your chances of failing into violations of this commandment . Probably the items mentioned in para 2520 are the most useful. These are that "by grace the believer will prevail : through the virtue of chastity, by purity of intention, by purity of vision, and by prayer".
Put differently, the Church is saying deal with these immoral attractions by substituting a full, "well considered" and loving approach to others. Of course, this is not accomplished by snapping your fingers. No on the contrary, a lot of God's grace is needed and that in turn requires lots of prayer and regular reception of the two sacraments: Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
Despite the forgoing, it remains true that it is a good idea to avoid all occasions of sin. Some societies are organized to facilitate this. For instance, the conservative Muslim countries in the middle east have very rigorous rules about women wearing loose clothing head to toe so their hair and figures are hidden from view. Additionally women's role are largely home based which keeps them away from members of the opposite sex who are unrelated. The advantages of such a social structure are large and worth discussion: such a structure encourages: 1) larger nuclear families, 2) earlier age of marriage as women have few options outside of marriage, 3) builds stronger extended families as the woman have less latitude for socializing away from their or their husband's extended family, 4) very little extra marital sexual activity, 5) the level of divorce is much lower, etc. The disadvantages are significant as well: 1) the society is deprived of the wider services of women in economic spheres outside the home (e.g business, government, not for profit, etc.), 2) women tend not to be very well educated and their children are thus deprived of having a well educated person as their “first educator”, that is their mother, 3) the cross pollution of ideas and capital amongst groups of all sorts of friends is restricted because socializing tends to occur in the Muslim world amongst very closed groups, etc. While the amount of sinful covetous thoughts are no doubt reduced, is the price being paid by the Muslim world to get strong families, both nuclear and extended, worth the economic and creative price being paid? This point is worth discussion.
Now here in America, consider: women obtain more college degrees than men, only one percent of women planning their lives place marriage and motherhood at the center of their plan, most women are using birth control so most people think of sex as different than procreation, women wear form fitting clothes with lots of skin and hair showing, many men are using porn on the Internet, 50% of marriages end in divorce with infidelity and financial pressures being the primary causes, children being born and raised with few or no siblings, etc. The advantages of having women working with men in the work place are greater creativity and improved economic performance which have presumably helped America, but the societal price being paid by families are tremendous.
But the word "covet" in this commandment deserves more attention. An Arab taxi driver in Jeddah can covet a women hidden in a Muslim robe or even behind a wall. An American secretary can covet her successful boss as her future spouse, putting aside, that he happens to be married to someone else. So, it remains true if the object of one's desires is at hand there is: 1) more likelihood that the coveting will begin and will continue, and 2) increases the likely hood that other sinful activity will occur later. .......... (prepared by Hugh Murray on 5/21/2012)
The June Solemnity of the Sacred Heart - Provides Material for Great Homilies - On Friday June 15, 2012 most daily Mass goers were treated to five minute homilies filled with general, bland encouragments to align their lives with Christ.
These homilies could have been full of very interesting facts about the role that the devotion to the Sacred Heat has played the recent history of the Catholic Church in France , in America, and elsewhere. Consider:
1) A Visitation nun working with a Jesuit priest worked diligently in the 17th century to make devotion to Sacred Heart the most popular devotion in France. These two are now canonized - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Claude de la Columbiere. St Margaret Mary had been given a vision of how the Sacred Heart should be pictured and that representation is generally used today.
2) This devotion was so popular across France that when systematic atheism captured the French political system in 1789, the rebelling Catholics, in the Vendee of western France, had an embroidered patch with an image of the Sacred Heart pinned over their hearts as they fought.
3) The devotion to the Sacred Heart survived the French revolution. When Madeleine Sophia Barat decided to set up her new religious order devoted to the education of girls she choose to name it after and dedicate it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This order sent Philippine Duchesne to the United States where she established a Sacred Heart school outside of St Louis in 1818. She was later canonized becoming one of the first American saints.
4) The devotion to the Sacred Heart was very strong in France during the 19th century. School children for a century contributed coins for a memorial to the Sacred Heart. This money eventually led to the construction of the Sacred Heart Cathedral on the high ground in the Montmartre section of Paris. This grand structure is now one of the three or four most visited landmarks in that city.
A dozen other equally important facts might be included in this list; including: Papal pronouncements , miracles that saved entire cities, etc.
Would things be improved if some or all of these facts were included in the homilies Catholics hear each June on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart? ............ (prepared by Hugh Murray on 6/17/2012)
Of Myths that Lead to Lies that in turn Lead to Rationalized Immoral Behavior - At the personal level, the family level, the institutional level, and the total societal level the destructive cycle of myths, lies, rationalizations, and immorality goes forward insidiously. Perhaps a few case studies would be useful:
1) A young woman hears in college that self actualization are important and she should seek self fulfillment. She expand her range activities - she takes up sky diving, mountain climbing and causal sex. Well the casual sex leads to on and off use of birth control and then to two abortions and finally to a long life agonizing over her two children that were never born.
2) A childless couple hears that adoption of children of another race is not so difficult and can be good for both the couple and the children. So they adopt three black brothers ages 2, 3, and 5. Un-be known to the adopting parents or the boys, it happens that the boys were fathered by a serial abuser who had in the end killed the boys' mother and then himself. All the boys remember is their parents went out for an evening leaving them with a neighbor, and the parents died in a terrible accident. The adopting couple works diligently to give the boys a good family life and a good education, but aggression and rough behavior are getting the boys in trouble by the time the boys go to high school. The parents were told good nurture is everything and genetics is not a big factor in determining a person's personalities; it turns out this social myth is wrong. Society had told these people a lie. These boys were basically beyond their parents ability to influence or control. The middle boy gets caught at age 15 attempting to rape a cheer leader and then beating her up. An attorney, after documenting earlier problems with the boys, brings a case against the couple saying they had not taken proper steps to reign and control their son's urges. He argues the parents should have had their son committed to a mental institution. A court orders the couple has to pay their life savings to the assaulted girl's rehabilitation fund.
3) A university , wishing to become an NCAA Division 1 school, decides on a big leap into football and basketball rather than a baby step into soccer and ice hockey. The administration is told by consultants that qualified scholar athletes coming from high schools will be available for soccer and ice hockey but that football and basketball will pose a difficult challenge as there is much greater demand for these players and only academically challenged candidates will be available to build a new Division 1 program. The university feels they have such wonderful teachers that they will be able to take weak students and make them into good scholars. Of course, this doesn't happen. Even though the new Division 1 teams have winning seasons in their first few seasons, the major set back finally comes when a TV expose' series come out six years later that shows the student athletes from this university were short changed and didn't learn much. The NCAA slaps a sanction on the school and the Division 1 sports programs have to be dropped. The myth that enough excellent teaching can overcome innate lack of aptitude is proven wrong. The students suffer and the school suffers.
4) "Green energy is always a good thing" is another myth. A group of college professors from up and down the US Atlantic coast decide there is always enough wind blowing somewhere offshore along that coast at anytime to supply 20% of all the coastal states' power needs. All that is needed is a Federal override to local state utility laws so the state eclectic grids can have major interstate connections north to south, local zoning has to be overruled as to pristine ocean views, and the corridors for power lines must be established regardless of local zoning, there has to be a surcharge of 3 cents per kw-hr charged in all these coastal states for 30 years to cover the huge capital cost of constructing these large wind farms, and finally to assure participation in the plan all costal states must be prohibited from buying additional electricity from states to the west regardless of price. Of course, since each wind farm must be big enough to supply a large part of the whole coast, each wind farm has to quite large. The plan passes a "green sensitive" Congress and the bureaucrats begin overriding local zoning and constructing huge wind farms from Florida to Maine. Cheap natural gas is found to the west and cheap electric power is available from western states via the existing east to west grid. But the coastal states have been forced into this north/south grid compact and must watch helplessly as their utility bills rise, their factories relocate to get cheaper power, their scenic ocean views are spoiled, and their children pay higher utility bills for 30 years to come. The immorality here is the offence against subsidiarity, in other words, the Federally mandated loss of local control.
5) "War is a preferred way to solve problems" is another myth. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are situations where war was chosen as the tool when other tools might have been better suited such as using Special Forces or Interpol. Consider that about 5000 Americans have been killed in these conflicts and nearly 50,000 severely wounded. The war costs in present dollars is in the trillions and has pushed or nation debt to the 90% of annual GDP level. The Carmen - Reinhardt model says 90% in the point beyond which debt service is unsustainable for a nation with a low birthrate and/or a low internal saving rate such as the US. All this has led to unsustainable debt. With annual out of pocket costs up and the loss of tax revenue from all these injured and died young men America could be in trouble. The cost imposed on the coming generation by this "use war first" philosophy is obscene and immoral.
6) The final myth is that "free trade always makes everyone better off". Throughout history people have acquired through their labor the things they need. Later specialization allowed people to do only one thing and use the excess they created to acquire money and thus acquire the other things they needed from others. This system works within a village, city, country or world so long as there is balance in the system. The problem today is with those countries which wish to sell a lot and buy very little. This has created massive unemployment and under employment in countries like the US as China thrives. Of course, the charitable urges of Americans have provided income support to the non-college educated Americans deprived of their jobs because there is limited demand for the things they can make. But particularly males need employment not only for the income provided but for the boost in there self image that work provides. Although a few top end businessmen do well importing from Asia, its is far better that million of unemployed Americans have steady jobs making the things Americans need.
Here are six myths that lead to unfortunate consequences through such things as: decisions to kill unborn babies, decisions that cause chronic unemployment of large numbers of people, decisions that deprive localities and their people of local control while layering on additional taxes, decisions that deny human nature and thus cause third party injury, and decision to use Armies for addressing problems where special forces or Interpol might do the job thus violating the requirements of proportionality. ................ (prepared by Hugh Murray on June 29,2012)
Dollars Committed per Job is a little Considered, but Important Economic Measure - Recently Facebook came public and the market valued it at $100 billion. The company employs fewer than 10,000 people. So with Facebook you had a capitalization of $10 million per job.
In a modern capitalist state, at the micro level, enterprises are a mixture of the M's: men, money, markets, methods, machines, material, and management. This is, of course, a shorthand way of setting forth the elements that must be considered in forming and operating an enterprise. But it also creates a framework for analysis. One of the most important ratios is the money needed to employ one person. The more capital needed to employ one person is either an indicator of great effectiveness exploiting the other factors (e.g. methods, markets, machines, etc) or mis-allocation of capital by management or financiers.
In the modern state, at the macro level , the government must be concerned about jobs and the general prosperity of its citizens. Government officials understand that the creation of good jobs require capital, and they are concerned that the savings rate in the private sector is strong and that banks are able and willing to lend. These sources of capital precede the issuance of bonds and stocks by organizations that grow. Since capital is scare, the society has a general interest in getting as many good jobs out of each unit of capital as possible.
In service industries one usually sees very attractive ratios of capital to jobs because expensive machines and special purpose buildings are usually not needed. Although many service organizations require expensive credentialing of people before they join the organization (e.g. law degrees, PhD's , engineering degrees, Masters of Social Work, etc.), the capital cost per employee is mostly below $100,000. Alternatively in manufacturing, particularly manufacturing that supports good paying jobs, the capital costs per employee rise quickly into the six figure region; $200,000 to $300,000 per employee are not unusual.
Returning to Facebook there is a capital to employee ratio of $10 million per job. At this ratio there is not enough capital in the entire US to properly employee the tens of millions of unemployed or under employed Americans. This is not to say there is a problem here, much less to propose regulatory change, but it is to say that this emphasis on Internet based service businesses is perhaps excessive, particularly in this time when we should all be focused on getting lots of Americans to work. Internet service companies are unusual organizations because a few well directed programmers can create a web site that engages millions of visitors. This allows a huge amount of value to be created by the efforts of a few people.
Now Facebook does not currently earn enough money to justify its high market valuation. The hope is that Facebook will find a way to sell highly targeted advertising that will justify premium rates. Very interesting! But how is Facebook going to be able to offer this high priced, highly targeted advertising. In a nutshell, they plan to get an edge by invading the privacy of their users. By monitoring the messages and pictures the Facebook users share with each other, Facebook plans to get an exceptionally detailed profile on each of its users. Those detail profiles can lead to highly tailored ads. The Facebook lawyers are no doubt going to be very careful about getting authorizations from the millions of Facebook subscribes to use their information in this way.
A Closing thought Beyond Economics
This trend toward privacy invasions, whether legal or not, makes people uncomfortable and suspicious. It causes everyone to be overly caution about interacting with others: at the store, while exercising, when walking in the park, when using the Internet, etc.
Some would argue that this caution results from a general cultural coarsening:
- where pornography use is on the rise,
- where rude behavior is more common,
- where shared American mores no longer exist, and
- where traditional religious adherence is on the decline.
There is probably some truth in both the loss of privacy argument and the cultural coarsening argument. Regardless of cause this estrangement among Americans is to be bemoaned......... (prepared by Hugh Murray on 6/30/2012)
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