Tuesday, October 29, 2013

And Why not Tradition?

The last days again, have brought heated exchanges, slaps, volleys fired back and forth (choose your description) between friends and acquaintances. George Weigel slamming Catholic Lite and Traditionalists and my tradition-minded friends inviting him in no uncertain terms to get a life. I've also seen much worse these days, as the "lite crowd", unmindful of recent history, attempts to win the world for the ho-hum social gospel which at best comes off naive after years of wreck and ruin, but stinks to high heaven of an unwillingness to accept the Lord Jesus at His word. What to do? Maybe risk fiddling from the rooftop? 

Despite all the dangers inherent in expressing the wish to recover something most of us never knew first hand, I really can't see how society can recover a sense of truth and a notion of the common good without tradition, without a sense of history. We cannot break with that of our past which represents continuity, faithfulness to Christ. I can't really argue with those who see much of the last 50 years as trading the Father's house for some unfriendly farmer's husks in a pagan land. The prodigal must return home; he'd be better off.

The unloved new form for the imposition of ashes to start Lent, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel", says it quite well. We must be rooted and in nothing else but the Gospel as proclaimed by Christ's Church in faithfulness to the Divine Will. I'm thinking of a benevolent thought by Father Benedict Groeschel, about the crisis of the consecrated life, as the group most exposed to the currents and destructive tides the Council would have spared us. I love the word "retrench" when it comes to describing what is needed at this point in time, not sullen but sober about our possibilities if we do not grasp the extended hand of the One Who walks upon the waters.

Our world too eagerly shakes off too much. Whether backtrack is the right word does not matter much. The point would be that the working model was the tried and true. The teaching and interpretation of the Council needs to recover its millennial context. Wisdom dictates the return to the safe harbor of an ancient liturgical tradition as a part of that strategy along with what sensible folk know to be a definition of what is sacred. Marriage and family life, homeschooling and/or safe schools and environments for our children are a better plan than anything I see out there. 

I know there is a terrible amount of resistance to recovering the tradition or resetting the development process on the firm ground of the tried and true which once carried us. St. Augustine, in his homilies, more than once says that it is folly to think things were better back when, but that is not the point of the exercise. Without pointing fingers or judging we need our balance. Years back, I can remember my mother with very young grandchildren, wound tight with nervous parents, sitting quietly, playing, saying important things and preparing that needed nap. When you've tasted the old wine, who cares about the new?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nailing Down the Coffin Lid on the Enlightenment

The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism
Kozinski, Thaddeus J. 
(2012-07-10) Lexington Books. Kindle Edition. 

"There is no reason MacIntyre’s political prescription should not include a large-scale, Thomistic-Catholic constituted state analogous to the political order of medieval Christendom but fit for and attainable by citizens in modern nation-states."  (p. 237).

I am sure that quote would give most non Catholics the creeps and get me classed as some kind of chauvinist, but it is the only one I'm proffering from a hard working book which studies three greats: Rawls, Maritain and MacIntyre, plus a goodly number of other respectable thinkers looking at political order and pluralism. Don't expect much more out of me, because it is the one and only book of this genre which I have ever read. Nonetheless, it has my recommendation.

Much of what I have been reading lately faces the issue of pluralism and strategies for accommodating it, but badly. As applied, the notion of religious liberty is really one of those accommodations to a liberalism which finds no acceptable model in Kozinski's study. Kozinski expresses the hope that MacIntyre may still have enough life and hope in him to think through the necessary revisions of his better-than-most but still-wanting thesis. If Hilaire Belloc were around I'm guessing he'd applaud the idea of rediscovering the political order of medieval Christendom for today. Kozinski might even be able to convince him that it is thinkable or doable at the level of nation state.

If you start reading and thinking in this vein, you soon come to the realization that the traditionalist position within the Church is far from some kind of monarchist nostalgia. Maybe it's time for one tiny calendar adjustment to put Christ the King Sunday back where it was and take on our world. This time, instead of engaging the "militant Protestantism" of the day, we can face office against a "militant secularism" which knows neither truth nor value because it denies the Lamb upon His Throne. [As you may have guessed, I'm still pining for Constantine and the positive fruits from such a rule.]


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Get Serious!

VATICAN INSIDER's redaction pushed me to consult Wikipedia (something I don't do readily) for a definition of:

Liquid modernity

Zygmunt Bauman who introduced the idea of liquid modernity wrote that its characteristics are the privatization of ambivalence and increasing feelings of uncertainty. It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where one can shift from one social position to another, in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the liquid modern man, as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes even more (such as political or sexual orientation), (self-)excluded from the traditional networks of support.
Bauman stressed the new burden of responsibility fluid modernism placed on the individual, with traditional patterns being replaced by self-chosen ones. Entry into the globalized social was open to anyone with their own stance and the ability to fund it, in the same way as an old-fashioned caravanserai. The result is a normative mindset dominated by an emphasis on shifting rather than staying - on provisional commitments - which can lead a subject to a prison of their own existential creation.

What VI is lauding as serious analysis from a European wise man concerning the Holy Father's success in reaching out to the contemporary world is nothing but sociological razzmatazz from an old commie who has found ways to sell his wares. It would seem that even VI wants to put the Holy Father at the service of the tyranny of relativism?

Help us and save us!  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Encountering Legend and Legacy

The Death of Christian Culture
Senior, John
(2008-04-01). Ihs Press. Kindle Edition.

I have to say that, despite issues with glaucoma and advancing age and arthritis (ha!), it doesn't get much better than yesterday evening after I sat back having finished this great book.

Until now, John Senior had been almost an unnamed legend in my life, all the more marvelous for having taught years ago on the campus of a state university in Kansas. I know and esteem two of his disciples, fine men, fine priests, both of them now zealous bishops. I have admired Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma and wondered how something like that was possible, never questioning, just marveling at the impact a prof could have on young men, not at a Catholic school, but at a state university. A few years back in Martinique I had a marvelous visit with an old monk from Fontgombault; he shared with me his pride and hopes for his young American confreres, formed and sent home to the Plains to chase the vision of John Senior and much more.

It doesn't get much better, because this book from the 1970's, reprinted in 2008 delivers on all scores. It is indeed timeless and clear enough even for a Kansas undergraduate to understand. I recommend it highly to young and older adults. Yes, the title is ominous and the author takes a powerful stance, but more need to hear and respond to his clarion call. I'd love to know if he had a similar impact on young women years ago, as he did on these young men, who today shine like stars in the firmament or better like a city on a mountain top.

Just to be safe, I looked back at another book I had reviewed (Wiker, Benjamin (2008-05-06). 10 Books that Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help. Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition) and sure enough Matthew Arnold doesn't even get honorable mention there. In a sense, that enhances John Senior's assessment of the dire straits in which public education and society today finds itself. His analysis of the harm done to education by Arnold's dismissal of the classics is especially worth noting. Senior concludes his work with his own "Great Books" list for all from age 2 on up to young adulthood. Even if you didn't make it through half of those books, I'd be in favor of parents starting with small children by reading to them, just because it might transform family life and tempt a few people to become readers. I am thinking of an old Irish friend, whose nephew made it big in wholesale marketing of North Sea salmon. His dad loves to brag that the boy "wasted" his time at the University studying Greek and Latin letters. Translating subtle Irish humor into Americanese, Dad was simply saying that not only was his son a business success, but through education he had "gotten himself a life" as well.

John Senior sought above all else to give others a life rooted in Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. May the seeds sown through his teaching and writing continue to bear abundant fruit! I want to share two quotes, which must stand for the whole of an extraordinary work:

"Where are we now? Some think this is the dawning of the age of a Catholic Aquarius, of a new emerging Church, whose God is change. I think, like Dante, that in the middle of the journey of our life we have awakened in a dark wood to find the straight way lost." (p. 152)

"The greatest need in the Church today is the contemplative life of monks and nuns. The arguments and public martyrdoms are vain without the sacrifice of hearts. And what are the arguments and sacrifices for, except to bring us to the love of God? Apologetic has the mind of Thomas and the sword of Paul and the heart of them both and all the saints including, let us hope, the least of us. The spiritual life is not just for the great saints; it is the ordinary way of salvation. "(pp. 162-163)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

No, it's not beating a Dead Horse!

Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It 
Kalb, James 
(2013-08-16). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition.

This book may not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it immensely. James Kalb put the book out there that I would like to have written (with a couple exceptions). It is an all-out attack on Western Liberalism and its principles of diversity and inclusiveness; he offers talking points, if not strategies, for reclaiming the playing field. My guess is that he deserves to be ranked as a traditionalist and not as a neo-con (sorry, I couldn't resist!)

Most would ask why he didn't hold himself to a good article, rather than going on for 200 pages. Isn't he beating a dead horse? Who in their right mind buys into Western Liberalism and its phony inclusiveness anyway? Right? Read the book and you decide!

When Kalb talks about Christianity and Catholicism, I would think that Church leadership should sit up and take notice. Even before reading this book, I was thinking about our obligation as Catholics to spare our children public day care and schooling. I am wondering if we shouldn't do as was done in the 1950's and threaten parents with grave sin if they abdicate their responsibility and send children to public school. As I am powerless, outside the US, and not in the running for any position in the American hierarchy... people should not feel threatened by those words. Home-schooling and the transmission of traditional values must be promoted. Unless the traditional teaching orders come back in a big way, Catholic schools cannot afford to multiply as they once did (too expensive).

If you don't like my thought, contend with James Kalb and make a plan for renewing or recovering, restoring culture:

"Pre-modern Western society was based on Christianity, local traditions, and general understandings of what is natural and good. Modernity attacks all these things, and some Christians have proposed sidestepping the attack and making peace with modernity by divorcing their faith from other pre-modern principles. This proposal usually takes the form of abandoning tradition and natural law in favor of liberal Christianity or Christian liberalism, and it has become a source of fundamental contention among Christians. Some say that Christianity must change or die, and express itself by reference to contemporary understandings and concerns. Others say that it can only live through what it has received and that, if it makes contemporary views the standard, it will substitute another revelation for the Christian one." [Kalb, James (p. 135)]

One of my reservations regarding Kalb's position has to do with his read on the migration of peoples today. He insinuates a conspiracy theory enabling liberal despotism and damning Christian culture. Could it not just indicate an aspect of the "dark side" to liberalism, a flirt with anarchism? Why was the so-called barbarian invasion of Europe a once and for all? Could not such migrations be seen as not unlike an earthquake or a tsunami? For me, Catholicism in Germany always inspires hope: a first Roman evangelization nearly wiped out, followed by recovery with St. Boniface and companions, and almost  millennium later Low Country Jesuits renewing Catholic life and practice. Could the new Evangelization have any other sense? Are we not called in each generation to proclaim the Gospel anew?

I must fault Kalb on having given the impression that affirmative action is all-encompassing in American society. That might be true in local politics and government bureaucracy, but I know too many intelligent, young white males from ordinary backgrounds who are still making it based on intelligence and hard work. You can still beat the system, I believe.

The book may not be a life-changer, but if you are looking for help in articulating your dissatisfaction with certain things, it is straightforward and I think helpful.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Constantine again?

I think Ross Douthat's NYTimes op-ed piece from last Sunday deserves more attention for what it contributes to the Christendom vs. Remnant discussion. What is the Christendom vs. Remnant discussion? It is one way people tackle the question concerning the Church's future. Douthat asks quite poignantly whether with Pope Francis the Catholic Church can save itself from the free-fall into the abyss, which might fairly characterize the present status of most mainline or traditional church groups. He seems to be opting for Christianity as Christendom and sees the Holy Father as bent on the same:

"So far, he has at least gained the world’s attention. The question is whether that attention will translate into real interest in the pope’s underlying religious message or whether the culture will simply claim him for its own — finally, a pope who doesn’t harsh our buzz! — without being inspired to actually consider Christianity anew.

In the uncertain reaction to Francis from many conservative Catholics, you can see the fear that the second possibility is more likely. Their anxiety is not that the new pope is about to radically change church teaching, since part of being a conservative Catholic is believing that such a change can’t happen. Rather, they fear that the center he’s trying to seize will crumble beneath him, because the chasm between the culture and orthodox faith is simply too immense."

[I don't really buy Douthat's line, because his graphics - chasm and all - define a space which only seems to be there. Even when St. Anthony the Great or St. Benedict of Nursia walked away from "the culture" into the wilderness they drew all to themselves for God, like Jesus speaking of Himself lifted up upon the Cross and thereby being gloried, drawing all to Himself.]

On the other hand, lots of highly placed Catholic clergy in Europe would see us already taking up position as a remnant. They differ upon what to do with everyone outside the fold: whether out of political correctness we can get by with humoring them or should we shake the dust from our feet as we walk away from the mess. Douthat would seem to be saying that Pope Francis is giving "Big Church"/Christendom his best shot; the remnant strategy does not appeal for some reason. My question is how you do that, how do you go big without giving Constantine another shot?Byzantium, the Holy Roman Empire, Czarist Russia... all have come and gone. Personally, I'll buy into the thesis that things haven't been better than in the Middle Ages, but we can't turn back the clock. Today, the Russian Orthodox Church's seeming openness to finding a "czar" in Putin cannot be totally dismissed. Important in any scenario is not losing sight of the goal, of being that "City" not made by human hands.

Not to drift too far afield from Douthat, I guess you would have to ask whether a Pope alone can reestablish the predominance of Catholic-Christian culture. The alone is intended to mean without the help of a benevolent Christian despot. What do you intend by Christianity in its "Big Church" format if you don't intend to enforce order in society with the help of the "secular arm". How would the "two sword" theory of long ago play out today?

With such, I am not just intent on provoking intelligent people, more schooled and more read than I. The present crisis in the US, for example, but we could take Europe just as well, points out the total inadequacy for guaranteeing basic freedoms and human dignity of any of the various pluralistic or non-discriminatory/inclusive social schemes abroad which exclude the Catholic Church from its rightful place in the public square. Democracy and free-enterprise seem to be in free-fall as well, not for lack of wings but for finally having been exposed as heartless and ignorant of the true glories of the human person as created and saved by the God Who loves us.

Viva il Papa Re! ... not hardly! Personally, I am more inclined to find the remnant possibility a better vehicle for getting the word out and saving the world.

"And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matt. 28:18-20]

I am sure the Church made do with Constantine, Charlemagne, Peter the Great and many more, never losing sight of the commission given by the Risen Lord Jesus to His apostles. Reflecting on two millennia of experience should not leave us at a loss for ideas as to how we carry on that charge today and tomorrow and until the end of the age. While Douthat frames the issue very well, I don't think the Church has ever striven in first instance for the Christendom platform; it has been handed to us on a platter, if you will, time and again. Our challenge for the sake of the life of the world might better draw it's imagery from the remnant part of the binary, without succumbing to eventual temptations to look that gift horse in the mouth should he come our way.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Scandal of it All!

Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam.
Ratzinger, Joseph; Pera, Marcello
(2007-03-09). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Don't ask me why or how, but I had occasion these days to read another book in the dialogue Catholic-secular genre from a few years back. It contains two university lectures and letter/commentaries exchanged between the lecturers. Marcello Pera and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger express different, positive view points on how crucial it is that Europe reclaim or rediscover its Christian roots.

Pero's bottom line might sound odd, but in point of fact it is not too far from what Taize is about:

“What we need today is a civil religion that can instill its values throughout the long chain that goes from the individual to the family, groups, associations, the community, and civil society, without passing through the political parties, government programs, and force of states, and therefore without affecting the separation, in the temporal sphere, between church and state. In Europe and in the West so enriched by Europe, such a religion would already be Christian by nature because the Western European tradition is Christian. What I am suggesting is therefore a non-denominational Christian religion. As I envision it, this religion would have more monasteries than central churches, more monks that articulate and communicate than church officials, more practitioners than preachers.” [Pera, Marcello (pp. 95-96). Kindle Edition.]

Professor Ratzinger graciously dots a few i's and crosses a few t's, professing his faith in the Church, as opposed to Pero's proposal for complex Europe of something generic/monastic as the only viable vehicle for European life and culture. Cardinal Ratzinger sees no substitute for the Church, the Catholic Church:

"This is why it is so important to have convinced minorities in the Church, for the Church, and above all beyond the Church and for society: human beings who in their encounters with Christ have discovered the precious pearl that gives value to all life (Matthew 13: 45 ff.), assuring that the Christian imperatives are no longer ballast that immobilizes humanity, but rather wings that carry it upward. Such minorities are formed when a convincing model of life also becomes an opening toward a knowledge that cannot emerge amid the dreariness of everyday life. Such a life choice, over time, affirms its rationale to a growing extent, opening and healing a reason that has become lazy and tired. There is nothing sectarian about such creative minorities. Through their persuasive capacity and their joy, they reach other people and offer them a different way of seeing things.

Therefore my first thesis is that a civil religion that truly has the moral force to sustain all people presupposes the existence of convinced minorities that have “discovered the pearl” and live it in a manner that is also convincing to others. Without such motivating forces, nothing can be built.

My second thesis is that we all need forms of belonging or of reference to these communities, or simply of contact with them. They are created automatically when their persuasive ability is sufficiently great. The Lord compared the Kingdom of God to a tree on whose branches various birds make their nests (Matthew 13: 32). Perhaps the Church has forgotten that the tree of the Kingdom of God reaches beyond the branches of the visible Church, but that this is precisely why it must be a hospitable place in whose branches many guests find solace.

As a third thesis, I would say that these creative minorities can clearly neither stand nor live on their own. They live naturally from the fact that the Church as a whole remains and that it lives in and stands by the faith in its divine origins. It did not invent these origins but it recognizes them as a gift that it is duty-bound to transmit. The minorities renew the vitality of this great community at the same time as they draw on its hidden life force, which forever generates new life.

As the fourth thesis, I would say that both secular people and Catholics, seekers and believers, in the dense thicket of branches filled with many birds, must move toward each other with a new openness. Believers must never stop seeking, while seekers are touched by the truth and thus cannot be classified as people without faith and Christian-inspired moral principles. There are ways of partaking of the truth by which seekers and believers give to and learn from each other . This is why the distinction between Catholics and secularists is relative. Secular people are not a rigid block.” [Ratzinger, Joseph (pp. 120-123). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.]

Although Pero nowhere in the book mentions Taize, I rather suspect that would be the closest "monastic" model to his communitarian catalyst for his non-denominational Christian religion. Recently, here in Kyiv, in informal conversation with one of the brothers from Taize he offered that a great concern for the brothers is that their community not become a place of arrival for young people but an invitation either to return to their own Church renewed or to find a Church and commit themselves. Another way of putting it would be to say that Pero does not know what he is talking about. Even though it does not fit his monastic dream the whole non-denominational and mega-church phenomenon in the United States might be termed evanescent viz. the "Crystal Cathedral" sold on the auction block to pay debts. Imagine all you want, but such constructs don't work. 

Lots of people are reveling in the immediacy and paternal/fraternal empathy which Pope Francis seems to communicate so well. Even those who express reserves about some of his statements would never accuse him of posturing for the sake of drawing attention to himself. The Head of Christ's Church tirelessly urges all to go forth and proclaim the Gospel through charity and compassion directed toward the least of the brethren. There is no substitute for the Church, Christ's Body. If Europe would flourish, it needs to find its roots in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger makes it eminently clear we are talking about process and dialogue, that we are talking about encounters of very personal and humane dimensions, drawing their grandeur from the dignity of the human person as created and saved by God in and through His Son Jesus.

As important as it is to respect the other, we cannot do so by denying the truth or ignoring where we come from: we are rooted, or better grafted to the Wine which is Christ. Relativizing, rationalizing or compromising on that human project called Europe is unworthy of the truth which comes to us from God; it's folly.

Still no Inoculation against Tyranny

Schlafly, Phyllis; Neumayr, George 
(2012-07-23).  Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

This book constituted a genuine challenge to any optimism or hopefulness I might have had concerning the nation's and the Church's possibilities for coming through this second term of office for President Obama unscathed. The famous Cardinal George prophecy about his being able to die in his bed, his successor in jail and the following Archbishop of Chicago as having to expect a martyr's death in what was once lauded as "the land of the free and the home of the brave" looms even larger after my reading of this valuable book by Phyllis Schlafly and George Neumayr. Europe was hard pressed in the 20th Century (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and company); perhaps the 21st Century will be North America's turn.

Oddly enough what kept coming to me was the first "grown-up" question ever to plague me in life. "Grown-up" questions is what I call the experience for lack of a better term, because nothing says they have to be moral or metaphysical or existential. They are "grown-up" because you know instinctively that you cannot take them to your parents or to another adult; you have to face them on your own.

My first "grown-up" question came out of reading or study about how the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire sparked World War I. We were taught that he was assassinated by an anarchist... and that's where it started for me, my question: How can you be an anarchist? The great protagonists of World War II and following were all wicked, power hungry, nut cases; Napoleon was a megalomaniac, but how can you be an anarchist? As I say, somehow I doubted whether adults could help me with that one, as it somehow went beyond wrong, the very idea of destroying any social order, of denying any kind of consort or community for the sake of the common good. I really don't think I have ever answered my own question and have been spared the encounter so far in life with a bona fide anarchist. The very thought I find chilling, once you get beyond the case of a genuinely stupid and superficial person claiming anarchic credentials.

That is where we were up until this book, when all of a sudden I'm faced really with the possibility of a President of the United States turning out to be a 21st Century Mao or Stalin, capable of moving with violence and force to impose his ideology on the rest of us. It all seems very close on this eve of Sunday with his minions threatening with incarceration any military chaplain who dares celebrate Mass for the troops this Sunday. I hope it's all a bad dream which passes.

So you are asking why this dread that Obama is that anarchist I have never wanted to meet in my life? His antipathy toward Christianity and toward the Catholic Church need not be more than dumb secularism or militant atheism. The book, however, is all too clear on his support for Islamism, for radical, destructive Muslim terrorists. There are too many instances over these last 4+ years of U.S. support for Al Qaeda. Only great prayer seems to have stopped the President from striking Syria and throwing that part of the world into total chaos as well. He seems to want to destroy. I may have grown up over the course of these many years since world history class, but I cannot accept anarchism as other than something from the depths of Hell.

We pray.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Christ's Primacy Accentuated for the Sake of the Life of the World

Respect for Legitimate Differences: The Catholic Agenda

UCU – Ecumenical Social Week – Lviv, Ukraine

     Opening Ceremony –

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

          One of the truly positive characteristics of UCU and its family, including the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, is their ability to make work seem enjoyable. I am sure old Aesop has a fable to illustrate this skill, but given my own background, what comes to mind is Mark Twain’s account in his classic novel of Tom Sawyer tricking the boys of a Saturday morning into whitewashing the fence in his place.
My special greetings to those who have succumbed to the invitation of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies to come and work this week and my best wishes to all for a fruitful sixth edition of the Ecumenical Social Week here in Lviv!
          This Opening ceremony bears the title: Otherness as a Gift: Challenges of Modernity in Europe and Ukraine. Truth to be told, I find this title questionable, as it reminds me of my years in Berlin at the beginning of this 21st century and the application of the expression “multikulti” (multicultural) to almost everything from pickup football games in the park of a Sunday, to block parties with potluck supper, to summer street carnivals. Reveling in differences in and of themselves hardly seems to be of value: once you have discovered that no two snowflakes are alike, it is pretty well safe to get on with life. With people, the simple fact of being different, tall/short, fat/skinny, smart/not so smart, hardly seems important; being different is a given, the gift of which must perforce lie elsewhere.
          In point of fact, and rightly so I believe, basic Catholic teaching accents what by God’s Will from all eternity we share in common. The Church teaches as fundamental the truth that I share a God-given dignity, equality, with the other, which draws us together in a human project which is not transitory but ordered on eternity. Basic catechism motivates my option or obligation to see the other as gift not on the basis of our “otherness”, but because we are more the same than we are different. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it in summary fashion as follows:
1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.
1944 Respect for the human person considers the other “another self.” It presupposes respect for the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person.
1945 The equality of men concerns their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it.
1946 The differences among persons belong to God’s plan, who wills that we should need one another. These differences should encourage charity.[1]

Concerning our theme, then, it is no small question for me as to whether or not the accent has been misplaced. How is it that “otherness” can be shared and appreciated in interpersonal and social relationships? How do I or can I come to respect the diversity of persons if not through sacrifice, motivated and justified rather by what we have in common? It seems wrong-headed to say that the diversity from me or among us as persons, communities, societies or cultural traditions is to be seen as a package come in the mail unexpectedly to be simply opened and enjoyed. With that said, I wish to get back to our theme which deserves ample and straightforward treatment.
Let it be said that I find the English translation of the title for today’s proceedings, Otherness as a Gift: Challenges of Modernity in Europe and Ukraine, to be perhaps simply somewhat of an understatement. The problem is that word “challenges” in the plural; the “gift” of otherness is not just another challenge, as if it were no more than keeping your salad dressing mixed by stirring or shaking a bit. Too often if not just about always, differences among us must be laid at the door of our first parents and their fall from grace through disobedience to God’s Will.  To my way of thinking, we could better entitle today’s encounter: Otherness as a Gift: Perhaps the Challenge in Europe and Ukraine Today.
Most places in Europe, future spouses choose their husband or wife on the basis of their commonality and/or attraction to each other (this in part at least, though not solely, was also the case in olden days with arranged marriages). Having common ground and sympathies doesn’t make the lives of a couple together later in marriage all that much easier; ongoing effort to keep their marriage bond going and growing is required. Analogously, projects like Europe or Ukraine would be tough enough if all participants in the adventure had chosen one another. That is not the case. From a Christian perspective, the gift lies in the sacrifice, the heroic sacrifice which renders the adventure life-giving and bent on eternity, in communion with our Creator, Redeemer and Friend/Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
          Too often we neglect to take our brokenness into sufficient consideration. We may even deny the extent to which accidental differences become the pretext for painful divisions or “irreconcilable differences”, as the divorce decree sometimes reads. As a young man in Vienna in the late 1980’s, being a monsignor already, on a couple occasions I was admitted to the salon of some of the old Habsburger hangers-on, not immediate family but rather people very different from Otto von Habsburg, nice people who would have had you believe that World War I and what followed had changed little of their societal environment and that they had grown up at court like their parents or grandparents, having lived in all the capitals and speaking all the languages of the Empire. On one occasion as I listened to them bounce back and forth in clever repartee from German, to Hungarian, to Czech, to Italian, I got the impression that they actually were fluent in all those languages and more, and undoubtedly felt at home most any place in Central or Eastern Europe. For all the good intended or pretended, I still couldn’t bring myself to believe that paradise was lost with the breakup of that empire.
I have been told that St. Stephen of Hungary long ago touted the overriding value of kingdoms/empires made up of various peoples, languages and customs. True or false? And why? Granted, such a mix did gift peoples with a lot of common words for everyday things, Riebieseln, Kukurutz… but was “otherness” really a gift in and for the empire? Was this type of familiarity the real equivalent of knowing and esteeming the other? How did otherness play out to the advantage of the once great kingdoms and empires spanning Europe from east to west, from north to south? How does otherness work today in Switzerland, in Italy, in France or Spain or Belgium? Have you ever tried in Louvain to ask in French for street directions? 
           “Diversity and Respect: the European Challenge today”? or “Ukraine, quo vadis”? I honestly fear that much militates against, yes, even yet today in our enlightened world, I fear that much militates against real and adequate respect for diversity. You just can’t call otherness a gift and proceed from there. Permit me to qualify that word “diversity” and namely as not just any difference or distinction but rather as “legitimate differences”. A reasonable social project demands on all sides a willingness to seek out the other, draw near to the other and establish something in common with the other.
          I can remember getting to know a fine, old Belgian Salesian Father in Rwanda, who explained the origins of his habit of asking his salary from the Nunciature in small bills such that he could easily distribute the money to the poor waiting outside the gate on payday. He said he lived from his mother’s example, who, before his father had returned from the front at the end of World War II, she alone with a raft of small children would simply place on the bench at the kitchen table with her children any man who wandered in at mealtime in days when so many men (former soldiers, slave laborers and other victims of war) were displaced and struggling to find their way home. Otherness was not the accent but rather commonality. The priest’s mother could have been thinking that perhaps her husband, the children’s father, found himself somewhere on the road in similar straights, perhaps a neighbor’s son or a brother somewhere half across Europe, alone, exhausted, hungry and maybe confused or fearful. The gift seems to reside in being able to overcome or bridge legitimate differences and fears of the unknown for the sake of mutual understanding and esteem.
          Any kind of dealings, in the best sense of that term, dealings with the other, demand proximity. Either we seek each other out mutually and establish common ground or I reach out to you in some way, unconditionally, heroically really, to reduce the distance between us, to eliminate, if possible, the barriers between us. Otherness is more likely a barrier than it is a gift; it must be overcome, in the sense that bridges must be built between us. I must learn another language; I must come to appreciate someone else’s customs and culture. Hurdles have to be cleared; there has to be an exchange between us. I may be different but I cannot insist on playing strange; I must find a place to stand together with the other. Otherness’ gift seems to come in meeting the challenge of overcoming it and establishing common ground.
          The rest of the title of my words today refers to the “Catholic Agenda”, well, presumably for gaining respect for legitimate differences. Not long ago, I was asked in an interview how a change of popes changes Church policy. And I responded that to my way of thinking popes do not make the difference in basic Church policy; we as Church seek to proclaim the Gospel; that is our policy. All else is basically a matter of emphasis or accent.
          Many of us have pictures in our mind of Pope John Paul II during the Holy Year 2000, very much crippled though still walking, confessing faults and asking forgiveness in an effort to overcome barriers. What he sought to teach by word and example, Pope Benedict XVI further elaborated in his magisterium and Pope Francis seeks to attain through availability and proximity to ordinary folk. It’s like the Christmas slogan, “the gift is in the giving”. Otherness, even legitimate differences deserve our respect, but they become gift to the extent we can overcome them.
          That said: it would be ingenuous of me to claim that our Catholic Agenda is self-evident. I cannot but think of Blessed Pope John Paul II and the amount of effort he expended in trying to teach people, especially in a Europe divided, the path to reconciliation through what he called “the healing of memories”, that is, memories treated as divisive burdens still conserved and still carried from the past. Many of us can remember not understanding what he was trying to accomplish; otherness induced by bad memories is not an easy concept to grasp once you get past yesterday or last year. Collective memory of the distant past is totally beyond a boy like me who grew up on the slogan “Go west, young man!” In today’s genealogy craze, it doesn’t even seem to trouble people much to discover that their grandfather left behind, in Ireland or even elsewhere in the United States, a wife and children, lying to their grandmother about practically everything in his past, when he proposed marriage to her. I know people like that and I know people who discover that their antecedents were brothers who hated each other so much that the younger brother changed the spelling of his family name to increase difference or distance: my friends could only shake their heads and smile at a discovery which had no memory to be healed for them. Healing memories is not about the past or about our DNA; healing memories is a polite way of challenging people to let go of their, perhaps, one-sided recollection of the past, used solely as a pretext for being “other” and in a hostile way. While not disclaiming the past, I refuse to let it hold me hostage; I let go, with “sacrifice” and confessing my own fault, if needs be, for the sake of common cause as our overarching strategy to move ahead, freed from shackles and chains so as to choose the other and allow myself to be chosen, for the sake of a common agenda. Call it Europe or call it Ukraine; I have the luxury to call it Catholic/universal and allow my stance, my choice, yes, my sacrifice to inform my social or interpersonal project.
In seeking reconciliation (where present offence exists), in seeking to bridge the gap of historical or cultural differences (whether or not they have been aggravated through some offense), it is not pronouncing judgment, in the here and now in the name of truth or integrity concerning the objective and personal culpability from the past which is at stake, but rather it is and must be the clearing of present barriers of hurt, indifference, ignorance, wrong… It must be the overcoming of otherness in the present moment which is the key, regardless of whether the pretext for that alienation is historical or actual. I really don’t think the Pope’s thoughts about healing memories were all that esoteric, but in choosing a neutral expression like healing memories he was reaching out and fighting against a mountain of resistance mostly sinful, characterized by animosity toward the other. “Otherness”, defined as a certain propensity on the part of people to make strange, to distrust, as protagonism over and against the other, is not a value. The gift part comes in surmounting difference as obstacle and most likely doing so through great, yes, great personal sacrifice.
          “Respect for Legitimate Differences: The Catholic Agenda”: as tempted as I am to limit appropriate quotes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I wish to make my point and close, referring you to an ecumenical document, on Christian witness in a multi-religious world. It is a very short document (just a seven page paper from 2011), stemming from a shared awareness of the tensions between people and communities of different religious convictions and the varied interpretations of Christian witness. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches (WCC) and, at the invitation of the WCC, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), met during a period of 5 years to reflect and produce this document to serve as a set of recommendations for conduct on Christian witness around the world.[2]
I do not find it a document of compromise, watering down in any way the Catholic position, but rather a consensus document which is firm on Christian identity vis-à-vis others with whom we live and work and to whom we wish to witness, to whom we are bound to witness about the truth, about Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, the Savior of the world. The paper concludes with six recommendations to Christians as to how they should proceed in giving witness to the Gospel in a multi-religious world. Three of these stand out as particularly important:  
        “2. build relationships of respect and trust with people of all religions
3. encourage Christians to strengthen their own religious identity and faith while deepening their knowledge and understanding of different religions
4. cooperate with other religious communities engaging in interreligious advocacy towards justice and the common good…
As a Catholic, an ineluctable part of my raison d’être has to be proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ and His Church. In our world, that may make me different (Oh, how pertinent the insight of Benedict XVI concerning the tyranny/dictatorship of relativism!), but I am and must be different, and legitimately so; my “otherness” is not assumed or overlaid, but it is a part of me, if you will.
Others more expert than me need to lay out their thoughts on Union-building: read “Europe” and on Nation-building: read “Ukraine”. My plea would be that you do so with an eye to the truth which comes to us from God. Neither agnosticism nor relativism is worthy of the human project. Personally, I am in favor of approaching the challenge from a Catholic perspective and with a Catholic agenda, one which seems to enjoy a certain ecumenical consensus.
From my difference, I reach out to others in boundless joy, knowing that I possess the “pearl above price”, which out of sheer respect for others, who do not share this gift in common with me, I wish to share with them. Their “otherness” is a gift and a challenge to me to the extent that I engage them, respecting them most assuredly, but engage them nonetheless and “for the sake of the Name which is above every other Name”.
Thank you for your attention!

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church: Second Edition (pp. 522;525). U.S. Catholic Church (2012-11-28). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2]www.vatican.va_roman_curia_pontifical_councils_interelg_documents_christian_witness_in_multi- religious_world_english