Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: 40 Days for Life by David Bereit and Shawn Carney

40 Days for Life: Discover What God Has Done…Imagine What You Can Do (Capella Books 2013, 269 pages) is a book which chronicles the trials and tribulations for the 40 Days for Life  campaign as prayer vigil against abortion from its genesis around a wooden table in College Station Texas in 2004 to its spread world-wide.  The book is co-authored by David Bereit, a pharmaceutical rep who left comfortable career to follow the call of the Holy Spirit to do His will in uncertain circumstances.  The other narrative voice is Shawn Carney, a young Texan who inherits the College Station leadership after Bereit answered the call to work for other Pro-Life organizations in Washington, DC. Carney became the Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life, while  Bereit later returned  to lead the National 40 Days for Life campaign.

[L] David Bereit [R] Shawn Carney of 40 Days for Life 

The 40 Days for Life idea was modeled after several key scriptural moments, like the flood which necessitated Noah's Ark and Jesus' Prayers in the Desert before beginning His Earthly public ministry.  Similarly, the book followed a structured course.  Each chapter is one of forty vignettes, followed by concurrent scriptural  passage concluded with a prayer.  Presumably, this book was intended to be read over forty days.   Perhaps it had a different impact in short, reflective increments rather than reading the contents in several sittings.

The power of the faith of Bereit, Carney and of many prayer warriors who participated in the 40 Days for Life is palpable. The book does not sugar coat the hardship and anxiety of starting up the campaign.  But their testimony shows how the Lord provides.  40 Days for Life also recounts some of the acerbic resistence which Pro-Lifer's were met with in witnessing the call of their conscience by publicly praying against abortion.

Several of the stories are quite striking and seemed pulled from current headlines.  The Grand Rapids Michigan story of 72 Ransom Street NE which building that had seen both heaven and hell.  The building started as a synogogue in the late 19th Century, only to become a Greek Orthodox Church in 1949 and in 1994 the vacated  building was turned into Western Michigan's largest abortion clinic.  However after many prayers and fundraising, LIFE International (an Evangelical Christian ministry) against abortion took over the building in 2004 and made it their headquarters. 

The details of the unhygenic conditions, the crusted blood on the linoleum floor and rusted abortion instruments at 72 Ransom Street called to mind the horrific details from the recent trial and conviction of late term abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia. The appalling conditions are not isolated incidents in abortion mills, but pro abortion advocates get apoplectic if anything id deemed to impede the so called "right to choose" or more clinically "womens' reproductive health".

An interesting aspect of 40 Days for Life is showing how the impetus for 40 Days for Life has spread worldwide.  The book tells of campaigns in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the  Georgia Republic . Defending life and forming consciences is not easy, especially in countries like Tblisi, Georgia where the average woman has 3.1 abortions and most occur after marriage.

The years of globe-trotting by Bereit and Carney to prayerfully support unborn children allowed for some serendipitious experiences. Shawn seemed to have quite a knack for unexpectedly rubbing elbows with his opponents. 

 On the first day that Carney went to pray at an abortion clinic, he befriended new on her first day working for Planned Parenthood in Bryant, Texas.  Nearly a decade later, Abby Johnson had risen to be the Director of that Planned Parenthood facility, but Ms. Johnson sought out Carney after witnessing a 13 week fetus writhe in pain during an ultrasound guided abortion.  

[L] Abby Johnson [R] Shawn Carney

Dr. Leroy Cahart, MD
On a flight to Washington, DC, Carney found himself seated next to the notorious late termabortionist Dr. Leroy Cahart, MD. Carney had conducted a prayer vigil near Carhart's Nebraska facility the day before.  Rather than confront the abortionist, Carney charitably chose to pray for Carhart.  The Spirit left him with a sense of joy that he could return to his family whereas the abortionist was obliged to return to his abortion practice.

The book was mostly conversational in tone, reading almost like an oral history that was culled  by their collaborative writer Cindy Lambert.  However, a couple of entries  started with ambitious introductions but the transitions to their stories seemed forced and rough. For example, David citing the Martin Luther King assassination as an introduction to Devanie's story based in Memphis.  Or  Shawn's "Deep in the Heart of Texas" prelude which strained to link the case of Jane Roe (Norma Leah McCorvey) with  an unrelated contemporary abortion facility in Houston, Texas.

Two chapters of 40 Days for Life had narratives from other pro-life activitists.  The testimony which Milwaukee's Dan Miller was flowing, first hand and illustrative.  But including the entirety of a 2 1/2 page e-mail on "The Rest of the Story" which twice apologized for the length of the missive begged for consolidation.

While Shawn's role  as Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life certaily required his extensive travel to show support various far-flung campaigns, detailing those logistics was sometimes detrimental to the heart of the story.  It made sense to share such facts to augment the tales of hardship which tested him as the 40 Days for Life campaigns started off.  Of course, the Cahart story deserved some travelogue background.  But for me, it was off-putting and unnecessary to mention the hardship of flying two cross country red eye flights to be in Los Angeles to celebrate the closing of an abortion facility.

40 Days for Life would be a welcomed bedside daily devotional for prayer warriors committed to the Pro-Life cause.  It gives great examples of the power of prayer to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to defend life.  The book gives many perspectives on how abortion affects the unborn child, the often grieving abortive mother, the father, the extended family and the community.  If only people spouting pro-choice propaganda would choose to  the time to read 40 Days for Life, one wonders how many hearts of stone would turn to flesh.

When this review was composed, the Kindle price of 40 Days for Life was lowered to $2.99.  At that price, the book is well worth the read.

Friday, October 25, 2013

An "Iffy" Meditation

If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you when,
through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can do all these things...

Then you are probably the family dog.

It is safe to assume that this is not a prayer which the Reverend Lovejoy would utter.

And apologies to Rudyard Kipling, as If (sic).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pope John Paul II on Faith

John Paul II, JPII
Pope Blessed John Paul II is scheduled to be canonized by Pope Francis (along with Pope Blessed John XXIII) on April 27, 2014 which is Divine Mercy Sunday. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Commemorating the North American Jesuit Martyrs

Eight Jesuits, Jean de BrébeufNoël ChabanelAntoine DanielCharles Garnier,René GoupilIsaac JoguesJean de Lalande and Gabriel Lalemant, sacrificed their earthly lives to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in "New France"  (Canada) in the Seventeenth Century.  These Blackrobes were on mission with the Hurons, the Mohawks, and even the Iroquois (while under their capitivity).

For those who have the illusion that the Pre-Columbian era Aboriginal Americans were "noble savages", it is worth watching Black Robe (1991) which depicted St. Gabriel Lalemant's journey in faith. 

Reading about the horrendous torture which these North American Martyrs suffered at the hands of unhappy campers in order to witness their faith is remarkable.

However, I was impressed  by a homily by Fr. Joe McCloskey, S.J. about one of the Jesuit Martyrs which was remarkable for his ordinariness yet faithful dedication.  Noël Chabanel was a Jesuit who was highly esteemed in rhetoric and learning who was sent on mission to New France.  Despite his reputation for learning, he could not master the Algonquin language.  Moreover, when he was sent on mission to Fort Sainte-Marie (near Midland, Ontario) to minister to the Hurons, he found that he could not stand their smell, their food nor adjust to their way of life. 
.                                                                                         When St. Isaac Jogues, the leader of the Jesuit missionaries, known to the Indians as the "Black Robes", was slain in 1647, Noel was offered the choice of returning to France. Yet Chabenel chose to keep his qualms to himself lest he be reassigned. So much so, Chabanel, made a vow to God in 1647 to remain with the Indians until his death, despite his personal aversions to them and their life style.  Chabanel  came to believe that his own "martyrdom" was a bloodless one in which he was asked daily to give his life in service with very little personal sense of reward or accomplishment. Two years later, Chabanel was murdered by an apostate Huron and the Black Robes body was tossed into the Nottawasaga River and was never recovered.

No one but a masochist would want to die as the North American martyrs did, many may find that their lot in life is a bloodless martyrdom like St. Noel Chabanel. 

On Colbert Roasting Cardinal Dolan

Al Smith (D-NY)  was a New York politian from the early 20th Century who was the four time Governor of the Empire State as well as the first Roman Catholic nominee for President of the United States in 1928 .  The Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is an annual charity white tie fundraiser which dates back to 1945 and has raised millions of dollars for healthcare causes in New York., including $3 million in 2013.

2012 Al Smith Dinner
The Al Smith Dinner is always held on the third Thursday in October.  As Stephen Colbert quipped about its calendary cycle, it is like Catholic thanksgiving.  In 1960, Theodore White remarked that the Al Smith dinner was "a ritual of American politics. as candidates from both parties would share the dais and show a humorous or even self-effacing side.   For example, last year both President Obama and  former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) both attended the fete hosted by New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

The keynote speaker for the 2013 Al Smith Dinner was the Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert.  While Colbert took some shots at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and failed Democrat mayoral candidate and NYC Council President Christine Quinn  and even Pope Francis, much of Colberts quips seemed reserved for Cardinal Dolan.  So much so, it seemed like a Cardinal Roast.

Cardinal Dolan and Stephen Colbert may have a chummy chemistry that was shown at a faith forum  last year at Fordham University entitled "The Cardinal and Colbert: On Humor, Joy and the Spiritual Life". But one should not discount how both the comedian and the Cardinal share  a passion for the Catholic faith as well as a  jovial jocularity. 

Some may frown upon Cardinal Dolan's ebullient embrace of "Laughter and the Lord".  Others voice disapproval of the New York Archbishop sharing the stage with politicians at their conventions and then "yucking it up" at the Al Smith Dinner.  

I have to agree with designated chaplain of the Colbert Report, Fr. James Martin, S.J and his chiding of the "frozen chosen" approach to theology as being both antithetical to theology and eviscerating evangelization opportunities.  It is commendable that Cardinal Dolan was able to speak truth to power by offering pointed benedictions at the Republican and Democrat conventions yet inviting faithfulness and fellowship at the Al Smith Dinner. 

Cardinal Dolan echoes this convivial approach to faith.  Dolan has observed: "Being Catholic is not a heavy burden, snuffing the joy out of life; rather our faith in Jesus and His Church gives meaning, purpose and joy to life. I love being a Catholic...".

Besides, the Holy Spirit expresses itself in different ways, especially through pastors.   Pope Francis has impressed many both inside and outside the Catholic community with his earnest aestheticism.  But Dolan touches people with his joyful sensibility combined with his fervent faith.

For Colbert's part, his humor was gentle and charitable.  I will forever think of the title  "Your Eminence" with a subtle smile yet appreciating the implication of the honorific.  While Timothy Cardinal Dolan remains in New York after the Sweet Sistine 2013 Conclave Championship, at least Dolan's beloved baseball St. Louis Cardinals have reached with World Series this year without the existential threat of competing  against the New York Yankees.

Wally Butts on Atheism

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: 10 Answers for Atheists by Alex McFarland

Alex McFarland, an Evangelical Protestant professor of Christian Apologetics at North Greenville University (South Carolina), has authored 10 Answers for Atheists (Regal, 2012) as an outreach tool to spread the Good News to atheists and agnostics. McFarland is said to have pioneered apologetic conference formats for Christians to defend their faith.  McFarland seems to draw upon this experience in composing a book on apologetics that is easy to read and draws upon contemporary influences to reach an unbelieving audience.

Alex McFarland
The tone of McFarland’s prose was conversational with some sprinklings of erudition which reflects the author’s academic auspices.  For example, when McFarland described the scientific atheist, he alluded to “directed panspermia” as an out of this world explanation of our origins.  Moreover,  Jim Morrison of The Doors was alleged to be an “Antinomian Atheist”.  

These pop references do not always work.  To illustrate a “Biblical Scholar Atheist”, McFarland posits Penn Jillette as he rejects scripture as “B.S.”.  This Bible Scholar Atheist label on Jillette seems like a bad trick for one who does not ascribe to Judeo-Christian scripture.  It would be a more apt description of   Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, the Hebrew Atheist scholar host of the BBC’s Buried Bible Secrets series.  

McFarland categorized atheists into ten subgroups.  There seemed to be overlap between some of the groups, like the Angry Atheist and the Injured Atheist.  The University of Tennessee study which was Assessing Atheist Archtypes with six categories seemed more on the mark.  However, McFarland may have included other categories to finesse the apologetic approach. 

McFarland offered a clear yet concise historical survey of disbelief which provides an underlying basis for agnosticism and atheism from Antiquity and the Enlightenment to present day.  While the author acknowledged a few popular contemporary atheists, but two  page and a half refutations of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris seemed woefully insufficient to all but those already convicted.

The author includes a chapter “Alternatives to a Biblical God” which seemingly served as a comparative theology section.  McFarland dared to take on Islam, a monotheistic faith which does not embrace the Trinity, denies the the Divinity of Jesus and rejects substitutionary atonement.   McFarland explained away Judaism as ceasing to be a sufficient theology after the earthly appearance of Jesus.  McFarland opines that a natural progression of Judaism would be Christianity instead of recognizing the Lord’s faithfulness to His chosen people. 

In the Christian realm, Unitarianism is undercut as being an incomplete creed. Jehovah’s Witnesses are chastised for rejecting the Trinity, denying the divinity of Jesus, contrary conceits of hell (annihiliationism), having no holidays and being a works based denomination. Mormonism is minimized as being “Many Gods and Me too”.  The LDS are damned with faint praise as having a surface appeal of being wholesome and displaying devout behavior but having a creed which finds the New Testament corrupt, adds to scripture and is a works based faith.

It was surprising that “Roman” Catholics and the Orthodox were not condemned along with modern Mystical spiritualism, as those original Christian creeds used their mysticism to draw closer to union with God. The crux of the Protestant Reformation was religiosity based on biblical roots (often understood as sola scriptura) as well as the primacy of a salvation by grace.  But McFarland does not divide with Catholics or Orthodox Christians on this score in the spiritual warfare against atheism. 

McFarland gets to the crux of 10 Answers for Atheists 121 pages into a book with 165 pages of text.  The recap of the ten types of atheists in five pages seemed to repeat cautions given earlier in evangelizing to them.  Answering to agnostics is done through two sample dialogues.   

McFarland poses the ten questions by atheists:
Are faith and reason really compatable?
Isn’t belief in God delusional?
The dysteleological surd – If God is so good, why is there evil in the world?
Why join a flawed faith like Christianity which has harmed the world?
Isn’t Christianity just mythological?
Why believe in Zombies (a messiah resurrected from the dead)?
Can’t science explain everything?
Why believe hypocritical Christians?
Couldn’t Jesus just be a space alien?

His answers plant the seeds for useful apologetics as well as the thirty common objections included in the index.

As a Catholic, I am mindful that the practice of my faith differs with a more evangelical expression of faith by  bible based Protestants.  However, the 10 Answers for Atheists has some material which would provide some thoughtful responses when dialoguing with questioning agnostics and atheists.   Some of the book seemed extraneous to inter-(non) faith dialogue, such as the comparative religion section.  McFarland seemed compelled to justify bible based Christianity before delving into agnostic apologetics. 

Aside from the Angry Atheist and the Resident Contrarian Atheist, McFarland’s 10 Answers for Atheists could serve as a useful field manual for believers beginning dialogue with non-believers.  It does not seem geared at convincing atheists through a casual perusal.  The casual Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris dismissals would be insufficient for true non-believers.  Moreover, an agnostic or atheist reader would need to drudge through comparative religion and justifying bible based Christianity sections before getting to the crux of the answers for atheists.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: Catholicism for Protestants

Shane Schaetzel 
Shane Schaetzel is a Catholic convert from Evangelical Protestantism through Anglicanism.  Schaetzel writes the thoughtful blog as part of his lay ministry to spread the Good News through the written word.  Catholicism for Protestants (2013. Lulu)  draws upon his faith history, his love of language and history along with his religious education to answer some challenging spiritual queries that he has heard living in the buckle of the Bible Belt.  Schaetzel also sees Catholicism for Protestants to be a good primer for all Catholics on the fundamentals of the faith.

Schaetzel starts the book with his compelling personal faith history which underlies the material. But in an effort to show that there are many different kinds of Catholics, like there are many different kinds of Protestants, Schaetzel wrote: “There are: Roman Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and even Anglican Use Catholics”.  This conflates Churches (Roman, Maronite and “Byzantine” branch), with religious orders (Franciscan, Benedictines).

Later, Schaetzel teaches that there are 23 rites in the Catholic Church.  It may be minor distinction but that is incorrect.  There are 23 Churches  which comprise Catholicism.  A Church may have several different rites.  For example, the Roman Church currently has the Roman rite, the Ambrosian (around Milan, Italy) and the Mozarabic (at several parishes in Toledo Spain).   Some might argue that Anglican Use is a rite, but for now it is part of a Personal Ordinariate established by Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI to reach out to High Church Anglican and reincorporate the richness of traditional English Patrimony in the Roman Church.

For those unfamiliar with these concepts, proclaiming yourself as a Roman Catholic layman of the Anglican Use could be kind of confusing as opposed to boldly proclaiming the author’s  point of view.

Most of Catholicism for Protestants is structured in a question and answer format which is eminently readable.  This cradle Catholic was able to finish the short 100 page book in one sitting.  Schaetzel does try to answer many common questions Evangelical Protestants have about the Catholic faith.  This sort of apologetic can be challenging as Evangelicals come from a non-sacramental, non-liturgical and non-ritualistic practice of faith so Catholicism’s practices and even its vocabulary can be confusing.  While Schaetzel’s scholarship is evident in the presentation and the supplemental footnotes (pointing to scripture, Church Fathers, the Catechism and some fine contemporary Catholic scripture scholars), his prose does not get bogged down by too much high church jargon.

Alas at times Schaetzel’s playful but plain spoken prose muddies matters.  For example, when asked if priests can marry, he writes “Shh. Don’t tell anyone, but they actually be married”.  The comeuppance is that they leave their priestly position.   Later, Schaetzel notes that sacerdotal celibacy is the practice of just Roman Catholic, the largest of the  23 Churches (which he called rites)  that comprise the  Catholic Church.  It might have made more sense to first explain the logic behind Roman Catholic priestly celibacy with its scriptural citations and alluding to Holy Tradition rather than leading with laicized clergy.

But by the same token, such punchy prose can also break down barriers, as Schaetzel was able to do by comparing papal infallability to simple math equations that are also “totally correct and being without error”.

When Schaetzel tried to tackle the Sola Scriptura question, which tends to be a big beef of “Bible Believing” Protestants, he did a good job with contexualizing the contention and explaining the history.  Unfortunately, Schaetzel did not follow up strongly on what are the bases of Catholic Faith. The three legged stool of 1) The Holy Bible (scripture) 2) Holy Tradition 3) the Magisterium (the authoritative teachings of the Church) was not clear in the author’s explanation.  Both the Bible and Tradition were highlighted while teaching authority was mentioned but not emphasized. The authority protected by the Holy Spirit from error is what makes Catholicism distinctive from its Protestant Christian brethren

Schaetzel gives great historical analyses which debunks some of the more poignant charges against the Catholic church, such as the celebration of Christmas on December 25th coming from pagan origins.  But to me, Schaetzel short shrifts the Catholic practice of inculturation.  For instance, the Germanic Yule Log and the German Tannenbaum as taking popular pagan practices and giving the underlying symbols Christian significance in celebrating the Feast of the Nativity (a.k.a. Christmas).

Another flash point for many Protestants is on the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Schaetzel does an excellent job at explaining her important role.  As a logophile, Schaetzel showed that Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic (nor did Hebrew) have a word for “cousins” so the charge which challenges the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God may be nuance lost in translation.  To further dispel the notion of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, Schaetzel deftly points to the foot of the Cross when Jesus appointed John as caretaker for His mother which would defy Jewish precepts if Mary had other children.

Most people associate Mary with the “Hail Mary” which is a major component in praying “The Rosary”.  Schaetzel made a good linguistic argument to counter charges that it is “babbling prayer”  The author rightly refers to the Rosary as a popular private devotion stemming from medieval modeling of the Divine Office using common devotional prayers instead of all 150 Psalms.  The author did not explain to the Protestant readers that there are four sets of mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous) which each have ten mysteries which reflect points of Jesus’s earthly ministry that the faithful should contemplate as they say their prayers.  Perhaps that point might not have been as compelling to Protestants inculcated  in eschewing “vain repetitions”.

Shane Schaetzel has done a good job at authoring an engaging and enlightening apologetic aimed at answering Protestant’s common questions about the Catholic faith.  Moreover, the author is practicing his understanding of the faith by his publishing and dissemination method by employing distributism, which favor small mom and pop religious bookstores.  

Being in an inter-faith marriage, I often am prompted to explain parts of my faith to my curious in-laws.  They seem to admire my pursuit of being a good Catholic but sometimes wonder why I am spiritually compelled to do what I do.  Shane Schaetzel’s Catholicism for Protestants will not only offer a clear Catechism but will also give the chapter and verse citations which sola scriptura Christians tend to seek.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Some Mass Disruption Due to Partial Government Shutdown

Military Chaplain Fr. Tyson Wood celebrating Mass in Iraq in 2011

Chapel at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Woodbridge, VA
Military members stationed at  Marine Corps Base Quantico near Woodbridge, Virginia will not be able to celebrate Mass on base on Sunday due to the partial Federal government shutdown.  Due to the shortage of active duty military chaplains , the Quantico chaplain has on outside priest who presides over the weekly Mass, which creates a dilemma.

 John Schageter, an attorney  for the Archiocese of the Military warned that contract priests on military bases are not permitted to work, or even to volunteer during the shut down.  This furlough affects 234 non active duty and contract priests.  Schlageter warned: "During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so."

Interpretation of the partial Shutdown and enforcement of its provisions forces affected faithful to scramble to find non GS priest or go off base to practice their Fundamental Freedom of the Free Exercise of Religion. 

The Deparment of Defense is making it more and more difficult for traditional faith Chaplains to minister to the troops.  Chaplains were told to accept same sex so called marriage or get out of the service.  Last year, there was controvery when US Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio wrote an open letter to be read at all Masses indicating that "[w]e cannot -- we will not-- comply with this unjust law" in reference to Obamacare.   Now, they can not licitly minister unless they are paid by the government. 

It is sad to see how the shutdown is being applied to punish people.  Those serving in the military may be more in need of ministers than most.  It is insane that priests can not even VOLUNTEER to minister to their flock if they are on a government contract. 

POST SCRIPTUS 10/04/2013 8:00 PM
The National Catholic Register notes that some affected chapels have been able to find alternate Presiders for Mass.  There was a report on Friday that the Quantico Chapel will hold Mass on Sunday.  It is unclear if this is due to their contract or the powers that are turning a blind eye to the letter of the furlough regulations to get rid of a black eye to Uncle Sam.