Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Forward, Fall Back

It just dawned on me this morning: among the things I truly miss about living in the tropics is the constancy of time. Near the Equator there is no "spring forward, fall back", no attempts to save daylight. Continental Europe went daylight or legal time in this morning's wee hours. It's not so much the loss or gain of an hour which troubles me, as a kind of wrenching incertitude which comes upon me for a few hours either side of this twice annual event. Although losing an hour in the spring is far worse, the gain in the fall is no real compensation. It doesn't assuage my uncertainty in the least.

Some might say that we depend too much on time pieces; some would just say I am exaggerating. For those out there, however, who feel like me, accept my expression of solidarity. I won't shout "Down with time changes!" but I will note for myself that experience tends to teach that what was proffered as an economy measure with all sorts of benefits is in point of fact a deception or simply razzmatazz.

Now I now that the people who arbitrarily imposed this fiasco are most long dead and I do not wish them Purgatory for the suffering they caused others, but it certainly gives one pause to think about the relative merit of all sorts of other changes in our world. A great uncle of mine, long passed to his eternal reward, was a man of great personal discipline who passionately loved life and celebrated all he had seen and experienced over the course of his years. He would sum it up for us children, recounting how as a child he watched early South Dakota settlers from Northern Europe drain marshland for farming with the help of teams of plow horses and whose same eyes watched the TV reports of the first moon landing. We have since learned that perhaps draining those marshes was a bigger mistake than sending a man to the moon, but in either case not much more than distractions from what is truly essential to life.

Would the world be better if our leaders made reparation for all the harm done through unnecessary change? I don't know. Bitter Lake in Miner County is still that after a hundred years; alkali got the upper hand and marsh has not returned. It must be said that making reparation for past harm, intentional or unintentional, in and of itself would be a change too; the cycle could just very well repeat itself. However, I cannot help but think that a little recovery or restoration might not be all bad and may even bring healing. Turning the clocks back is no less wrenching than pushing them forward; both stress the gears of the timepiece.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Three Pillars of Diplomacy

di·plo·ma·cy \də-ˈplō-mə-sē\
: the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries
: skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings [Merriam-Webster's online dictionary]

Someone by the name of Dmitri Tymchuk, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting, writes regularly on Facebook about the crisis in Ukraine. In his summary review of 27 March, his list of the pluses and minuses of the day, this was his first point in the plus column:

"Good news:
1. The Resolution of the UN itself. We are supported by 100 countries. The territorial integrity of Ukraine is supported by all the civilized world. Only Russia and few of the world’s outcasts need a “referendum” at gunpoint and annexation of someone else’s territories.
We have yet to find out what to do with this resolution – it is purely consultative. The Ukrainian Ministry of International Affairs has stated that it can take other, more concrete steps within the framework of the international mechanisms based on this resolution. We will see.
In any case, we thank our diplomats. They are great."

One can understand his irony and frustration in the face of foreign aggression. I suppose, if we give the dictionary its due, crises really don't even fit the definition of diplomacy; diplomacy, through resident ambassadors, is meant to foster, maintain and strengthen the good relations already existing. The work of diplomacy is for the most part painstaking and painstakingly slow; it is at its best relational and bent on keeping open lines of communication between parties. Diplomacy, as such, is perceived as ephemeral and ends up being measured by rare or occasional results: treaties, pacts, troop withdrawals and in times of crisis the establishment or reestablishment of normal lines of contact between parties with strained or severed relations.

Nevertheless, a peacetime only definition of diplomacy would be too restrictive; crisis management is a part of what we mean by diplomacy. Before the age of rapid communications and travel, the fine art of diplomacy was principally the provenance of ambassadors; today it seems as though nothing extraordinary gets done until people of ministerial rank get into the picture and start shuttling around the globe. At one point in the Maidan crisis here in Kyiv, we had three European foreign ministers up all night with President Yanukovich and his staff: top level, seemingly, or not at all. In a sense, I suppose, it is all theater which could not be accomplished without the ambassadors and supporting staff working behind the scenes. I think one could easily argue that traditional residential ambassadors are a key component to the whole equation, even if our work is not all that factor-able.

This reference to the work of diplomacy, especially against the background of crisis management, points out something which for me as a Catholic is troubling. Is diplomacy meant to be little more than socializing to keep channels of communication open just in case? Or is it an exercise in futility based on my best efforts to seek accord and argue my point, to communicate in the best sense of the word? By saying that, am I denying an essential component of the diplomatic equation, namely that aspect of diplomacy which over the course of history has indeed always carried the day, namely the convincing argument of deterrence through the menace or application of force? If asked to give a lecture in a diplomatic academy on the pillars of secular diplomacy, I'd almost have to exclude Vatican diplomacy as a model, in that cordiality is not quantifiable. As essential components of secular diplomacy, in good times and in bad, I would name three: 1) respect for the natural law; 2) a firm commitment to uphold international law; 3) the capability of using deterrence through force (not necessarily military, but also economic), to be exercised when all else fails to defend the common good and human rights and dignity. What is meant on a bilateral level by recourse to this third pillar is plain enough and multilaterally (as in the UN) the parties have to be willing to share common political stances having, if need be, a coercive effect on the outlaw, who refuses to be bound by the commonly held values of the international community or that body of customary law which governs the intercourse between nations and powers.

Up until 1870, it would not be hard to find instances where the Holy See had recourse to the third pillar of diplomacy and beyond threat actually did battle to protect its interests, always in the defense of the values enshrined in the other two pillars. Today, and for a very long time, despite the fact that a billion Catholics throughout the world would have recourse to the Holy Father as their leader, this does not mean that he could either raise an army or invite us to boycott, ostracize or otherwise tangibly penalize a misbehaving country or its ruler. This situation has led in recent years to calls for the Holy See to withdraw from the arena of secular diplomacy. I can remember somebody's lecture in the diplomatic academy in Rome even conceding this point, but urging caution simply because the present system facilitates the principal work of nuncios in the service of the Pope as guarantor of the unity of Christ's Church. It is a pragmatic argument which holds especially since the community of nations does not seem troubled by the presence of the Holy See in this arena, at least as far as bilateral relations go.

Time and again here in Ukraine, people ask me for an authoritative intervention of the Holy Father which goes beyond the assurance of his prayers and his calls that people reopen the lines of communication. I don't think they are asking out of the kind of frustration which Dmitri registered over the results coming out of the UN. I guess we all wish that right reason and principle would play a bigger part in world politics. I guess what I am saying is that there are indeed three pillars to diplomacy and that in many cases justice and truth demand recourse to that third pillar also in defense of those who by reason of international accord or circumstance find themselves dependent upon others to deter the aggressor.

Diplomacy is not an a priori; it is a construct which has served with slight modifications over the course of centuries to foster harmony among peoples and nations by binding sovereigns and the constituted leaders of the same closer together in accountability to each other. Over the course of nigh unto thirty years personal experience with applied diplomacy I have noted a progressive loosening of the institutional bonds which held together the corps of ambassadors in a given capital city; diplomacy is indeed changing. Where we might be headed is not mine to prognosticate. The relativism which afflicts much of society has certainly undermined the first pillar of diplomacy and many experts scoff at the notion that international law can be considered binding. Maybe the diplomats of the Holy See are there to shore up confidence in the first two pillars such that there might be, please, God, less need for recourse to that third one.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What is it about Vatican diplomacy which is non-negotiable?

This last Monday's MondayVatican got me thinking about the fine art of diplomacy in the light of the world crisis whose "ground zero" just can't be all that far from my front door. Whenever issues related to diplomacy come up in discussions about Vatican reform, I start thinking about my job and my experience in general of diplomacy and how it works over the years which for me will soon count thirty. My colleagues from the European Union here in Kyiv have been working long hours since well before the start of the Maidan crisis here in Kyiv. For the rest of us, we have spent lots of time not involved but observing and informing the authorities which sent us here to Ukraine. As such, that is at it should be. I suppose crisis diplomacy must somehow beg the question concerning how diplomacy should be carried out under normal circumstances and for me whether the Holy See has a part to play in this world, often romanticized and highly touted for whatever reason. Why is it or is it really that nobody in the world seems to want to examine or question the world's diplomatic establishment?

It is not that I question Andrea Gagliarducci's motives, but in his weekly column his zeal for other reform issues puzzles me, as does his mention of Vatican diplomacy for the umpteenth week running claiming that the Holy Father has no intention either to retool, modify, reform or overhaul the Holy See's diplomatic apparatus. That leads me to suspect that Andrea thinks that indeed the Holy Father should look more closely, that what some refer to as "the world's first diplomacy" should indeed be on the negotiating table or the chopping block, depending on your preferred imagery.

Far be it from me to force Gagliarducci's own words or in the midst of what he sees as a flurry of activity to reform everywhere else in the Roman Curia but  in matters of diplomacy, but I can't help but think he'd like some answers as to why the Holy See's diplomatic sector might be non-negotiable in terms of the matters in which the cardinals demanded change before proceeding to the election of Pope Francis a year ago. Let me say very clearly that the right kind of reform of the Vatican's diplomacy might actually be a very good thing not only for the Church but for the secular world as well.

Way back last summer an ambassador friend I knew well from Trinidad, now stationed in a neighboring country, came to lunch with his dear wife and his colleague stationed here in Kyiv, whom I also esteem very highly. At some point the conversation turned to shop talk and my friends explained that one of them practices hard diplomacy and the other soft. Not being into the jargon, I asked an explanation, which I have never checked in Wikipedia but believe to be accurate and representative of the general approach to diplomacy in our world today on the part of developed countries. An ambassador who practices hard diplomacy on his country's behalf is most certainly involved in matters of trade and the balance of trade between the sending and receiving countries. Soft diplomacy most often centers around cultural exchanges: you bring in a dance troupe, an orchestra, maybe just a virtuoso or a traveling photography exhibit; you spend time promoting your country's language abroad. Neither one seems classic to me; in fact, both seem inappropriate of a country's representative extraordinary and plenipotentiary. Why not stop with commercial and cultural attache's or open a cultural center? This is one of the reasons why some countries are closing embassies and opening consulates headed by honorary consuls, who pay their own way for their own purposes, usually having to do with commerce and trade.

What kind of diplomacy do I practice, hard or soft? Neither, you might say, and as such I am the odd man out all around. The Holy See practices a classic diplomacy as old as the institution of permanent embassies itself and not many countries are interested in practicing back. The only real exception, in terms of active and demanding bilateral relationships would have to be Germany, because of something they call Staatskirchenrecht, a highly developed law branch regulating the place of religious bodies in society and foreseeing the Holy See as a negotiating partner in developing this law as it regards Catholics through the elaboration and regular amendment of concordats and lesser accords on specific issues like universities and theological faculties. Apart from Germany, it would be fair to say that Apostolic Nuncios have little to do when it comes to "high level" diplomacy. I am not complaining; I am stating a fact.

Andrea might well ask what then is the point? Over the course of the Holy See's diplomatic activity, even more recently in negotiations between Argentina and Chile, the Holy See has been a mediator and a peacemaker, but not everyone in our service is qualified for such a task nor can we keep nearly 150 Nuncios covering 180 countries, with supporting staff, out there in the field on a wing and a prayer. If reforming moves toward more subsidiarity in the Church are implemented and our key role in the process of selecting bishops is entrusted to others, what then?

Personally, I firmly believe that Nuncios have a profound role to play in the exercise of the Petrine ministry, the Pope's mandate from Christ Himself as successor of St. Peter, "to strengthen the brethren". I don't doubt for a minute that the group of eight Cardinals has not already discussed every aspect of the Holy Father's ministry which is willed to bind us all together in charity. It could very well be that there have not been any leaks on the topic and that Andrea and others will be pleasantly surprised when the diplomacy reform sees the light of day.

Perhaps all I want to say to Andrea and others who follow efforts to respond to the pre-conclave demands of the world's cardinals is that while faith and morals, the Creed and the Commandments, are non-negotiable, it is hard to fathom why Vatican diplomacy shouldn't be on the table.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Of Philosophers and Flower Girls

"Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
  ‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
  ‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”
  ‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’" [Matthew 25:31-46]

Justice, Unity, and the Hidden Christ 
The Theopolitical Complex of the Social Justice Approach to Ecumenism in Vatican II 
Matthew John Paul Tan
(2014-01-06). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

The Last Judgment scene, the Lord separating good folk from bad as the shepherd does his sheep from his goats, finds too little echo in contemporary society as is blatantly evident from the way the world's oligarchs operate with seeming impunity. Don't they ever wake up with a start, trembling for what the Great and Terrible Judge will say when they stand before His Throne? What is at issue is more than coarseness on the part of those who have gotten ahead; one can debate about whether we ever lived in a saved society, but it seems evident to me that solidarity is much less in today's world. The horror, let us say, of living in a secularized world is not that we find ourselves in a space without meaning but rather that it is a space which has been taken by force and which lives by its own rules, with no tolerance for the life-giving message of the Gospel of the Lord of Life. The crowd under the windows of the Upper Room at Pentecost is not asking Peter what they should do in order to be saved from eternal damnation.

At any given time, besides my primary preoccupations, I guess it would be fair to say that I have any number of issues floating around in my head and am grateful to stumble upon books which help me sort them out. Matthew Tan deserves my highest praise for this great little book, which deserves all sorts of attention by people who may be interested in things seemingly far from Ecumenism in Vatican II. It got my "cogs churning and whirling" on lots that has nothing whatever to do with ecumenism.

Two things jump out at me from the book as worth their weight in gold. We are not, could not be, and never in the history of thinking people have ever been to be considered as isolated individuals sufficient unto ourselves. We are and we live in relationship, in society. Tan makes thereupon the case against those who would claim the neutrality of the public square, as if we could simply go out somewhere, do the right thing in favor of somebody and have it work as a witness to the Gospel. His point would be that we can only witness to the Gospel from our own relational space as it relates to some other social space which is not Christian or in this case Catholic.

Many people, if you will, vehemently criticized Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta because her charity did not conform to the principles of the market; among other things, it wasn't efficient enough. I suppose that would be as good a way as any to evidence that the public square is far from neutral ground and does not admit a witness to charity or social justice which departs from its criteria. Tan's point would be that we can only witness as Church, as a visible society, that is, in relationship with each other over and against the public square presently in the hands of movers and shakers who relate to each other out of vested interest, sufficient in their own little trinities of me, myself and I. Beyond charity and proclamation of the Word, Tan underlines how essential liturgy is to defining that space in which we in Christ as Church must live over and against all else regardless of that else's claims to dominate the public square. Our commitment to Divine Worship and identification therein is what makes us something other than a monad out there to choose for oneself. How right he is and how far we are sometimes from St. Justin Martyr explaining to his pagan judge that a Christian cannot live without Sunday Eucharist! Playing by somebody else's rules not only clouds or negates our witness to the Gospel; it effectively negates us as we are and only can be in Christ within the community of His Church.

If you read Tan's book, you might take away something very different and worthwhile, maybe even with regard to ecumenism. I'd just like to add to Tan's valuable analysis that liturgy, with witness and service, this triad must regain within the Catholic Church today that character which St. Justin Martyr testified to as being of the Church's very essence. I suppose there is something to be said for the user-friendly or cuddly strategies which would lure "wild" Catholics and others back to the fold, but it is not enough. Even our more or less faithful Catholics have to come to understand that it cannot be otherwise: I cannot be a Catholic, except in case of impossibility, if I am not a Sunday Mass Catholic, a regular Confession Catholic, a Catholic who embraces the faith which comes to us from the Apostles in its entirety, without ifs, ands, or buts.

The other day an incident from my childhood, regarding the wedding of my Dad's sister (10 years his junior), came to mind. The three older of us children were all still pre-school and my two younger sisters were thought upon for roles as flower girls in matching yellow dresses for the wedding which was to take place in a nice little protestant church not far from my grandparents' farm, Dad's family mostly being protestant as he had converted to Catholicism before marrying Mom. My parents knew full well that as Catholics they could not be witnesses or play any other active role in the ceremony. At some point in the preparations, dresses already cut and fitted, the parish priest was asked whether my sisters could so grace the march down the aisle and Father responded that such was not possible. Disappointment was relative, the new yellow dresses and home perms from Aunt Dorothy were duly sported from the safety of the pew with Mom and Dad and me; most importantly of all, our thoroughly Catholic identity, as per the 1950's was affirmed and respected by the non-Catholic in-laws and blood relations. Being Catholic is relational, not by my picking and choosing; I am in relationship really as bound and that is both real and good.

I don't know if I am doing justice to Tan's analysis, but the world of my childhood, the world of differing societies, was probably less artificial than that of some latter-day philosophers. We understood that we needed to deal with each other, having no illusion of neutral so-called civil spaces, which later somehow or other, thanks to somebody's books and university lectures, got replaced by the naive assumption that an a-religious public square could somehow be neutral and not anti-religious. We are wiser today and know both atheism and agnosticism to be decidedly anti and in most cases in hostile fashion. For some strange reason, however, we still end up trying to play their game, accepting their hobbles. It is like another one of my Catholic aunt's stories about a hospital stay after the renovation of the hospital run by local nuns, when she asked sister what had happened to the Crucifix which used to grace the rooms and sister snapped back not really wanting to say that the choice of mallards over the suffering Christ had been dictated by public funds.

St. Benedict recognized the university and the public square of his day as hostile; he did not immerse himself and play by their rules, but he withdrew into society with God so as to better engage that world and thereby win it for Christ. Whether Matthew Tan would subscribe to my enthusiasm for those championing a Benedictine monastic renewal, a truly living, vibrant, relational Catholic space I cannot say. I liked his book and found there encouragement for the fight against the prince of the air who clothes himself in the darkness of what he calls a neutral civil society.

Join me in reclaiming the public square for Christ. When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? It will be hard to tell without a revival of Catholic culture.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

In Deo tantum quiesce, anima mea.

Today I read Леся Оробець's status from Facebook, in which she makes a brief but eloquent appeal to Ukraine to rise up once again, this time against a foreign dictator. She honestly laments the fact that Ukraine has not had time to mourn the dead or care enough for the wounded, widows, orphans or parents and family mourning the loss of a child.

What came to me were the words which we prayed at Stations of the Cross all through my childhood and youth. To describe the sorrow of the Blessed Virgin at Her Son's Passion, the little books we used quoted words adapted from the Book of Ruth: "Tears are on her cheeks and there is none to comfort her... All you who pass by the way, look and see, is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow? ...Call me not Noemi, that is beautiful; call me Mara, that is bitter."

Job, in his affliction, lamented that God did not even give him time to swallow his spit. Yes, we are so hard pressed and stand simply before the silence of God. No one here had any illusion about the rough road ahead and the very real prospects of failure at forging a new Ukrainian nation. On top of such challenges is now heaped an unjustified, but coldly calculated foreign invasion and perhaps war.

Israel in flight, with its back to the Red Sea and Pharaoh's horses and chariots bearing down, cried out to God and He saved them, pointing out a path through the waters.

We pray for peace, of course! We pray for deliverance, yes! We pray that the Lord of Hosts would fight for us against the foe! The verse from Sunday's responsorial psalm I have placed as my title in Latin: "Rest in God alone, my soul." The seeming prefered popular icon for the "Heavenly Legion", the fallen heroes of Maidan, shows them standing amidst the flames. I guess they and we must stand a little longer before we can find rest from our labors. May the sorrowful Mother of God spread her protective mantle over her beloved people!

In Deo tantum quiesce, anima mea.