Thursday, February 3, 2011

Provinces, Bishops, and Cardinals, Oh My!

The map to the left depicts a part of Catholic life most Catholics are not too familiar.

This is sadly because Catholics do not often study maps!

So what does it all mean, you ask? Well if you're Catholic, you know the church you go to is part of your local parish and you may think that your parish priest is your shepherd, so to speak. In actuality, your shepherd is your bishop. What's more, he is the shepherd over all the Christians within his territory - and this territory is called a diocese. Every diocese has a central church where the chair of the bishop resides. In the Bible, the chair is considered an image of authority (for example, see Matthew 23:1-3) so the location of the bishop's chair is of importance. Since the Latin word cathedra means chair, the church containing the bishop's chair is called the cathedral.

Now looking at the map above, you'll notice that there are scores of dioceses in the United States. More importantly, you should also notice that some are placed into color-coded groups. These groups are called ecclesiastical provinces and they bear the name of the most important diocese within them. In fact, these dioceses are so important that they are each called an archdiocese and the bishop of the archdiocese is called an archbishop. The archbishop exercises a special unitive and leadership role within the province.

You may notice some black dots on the map above - and if you're looking even closer, you'll see that the color of the territory in which it is found is slightly discolored from the group of territories around it. This is because the discolored territory is the archdiocese of the province and the black dot locates for us the city in which the archbishop's cathedral may be located.

But there's more!

Present on the map are also seven red dots. These point out the cathedrals in the Archdioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles. What makes them so special is that their archbishops are also cardinals. Now a cardinal is a special title given typically to an archbishop of a predominantly Catholic area. In the United States, Catholics make up roughly 25% of the population - and if you don't know where they are mostly located, this map should help you! That said, the first thing you should notice is that the northeastern part of the U.S. is where you'll find a good deal of Catholics. But Chicago (remember the Irish and Italian mafia?) is also a heavily populated Catholic area. Demographics, however, are ever-changing and the steady flow of Catholic immigrants from Mexico is shifting the Catholic population further to the southwest. This shift made for a surprise back in 2007 when the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston was made a cardinal rather than the Archbishop of a midwestern/northeastern diocese (like Detroit, Milwaukee, or Baltimore). More expect this trend to continue and perhaps in the near future, Santa Fe and/or San Antonio could find themselves taking voting privileges from the northeast and bringing them to the southwest!

But why are cardinals so important? The answer is simple: they elect from themselves one who will become the Pope. If you recall, when Pope John Paul II passed the cardinals from all the countries of the world came to Rome and met in the Sistine Chapel where they elected Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI). There are 120 cardinals eligible to vote in any given election - eligible because they are under the age of 80. If we count all the cardinals who are 80 or older, there are actually just over 200 cardinals. Here's one more interesting point: bishops are required to retire at age 75, but since a cardinal can still vote in papal elections for five more years, the archbishop who succeeds him is typically not made a cardinal for five years. On that note, I should point out that the red-colored dot representing New York is actually not currently led by a cardinal - but since Cardinal Egan (the retired Archbishop of New York) turns 80 on April 2, 2012, it is likely that Archbishop Dolan (the current Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) will be elevated by December, 2012.

This is of course simply the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the Catholic Church's hierarchy and territorial divisions - but hopefully you're ready to go read more maps!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution and the Pope’s Challenge

September 12, 2006. The date may seem rather ordinary, but the event that took place was momentous, for it was on that day that Pope Benedict XVI delivered his greatly maligned “Regensburg Address” which challenged the rationality of Islam and gave rise to an interfaith dialogue unseen in a millennia. In response to the Pope’s address, the greatest minds of the Islamic world gathered to write “A Common Word between Us and You,” a document, addressed firstly to Pope Benedict, which stressed the similarities between Islam and Christianity and was signed by 138 Muslim scholars.

The signatories of the document have since risen from 138 to more than 300 today.

Perhaps the most influential scholar of the 138 is Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and mosque. Noted for his “moderate” views and French education, el-Tayeb
became Egypt’s top cleric – the grand imam – last year when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak appointed him to replace the late Sayed Tantawi. Sadly many people feared that his popularity and leadership would be co-opted by the Egyptian government. Such appears to be the case. Last month el-Tayeb announced Al-Azhar University – along with many Islamic scholars – was cutting off dialogue with the Pope.

Why was this?

To find our answer, let’s go back a few months to October 31. On that Sunday as Catholics gathered for Mass in Baghdad’s Our Lady of Deliverance Catholic Church, armed men stormed the building. While Iraqi troops eventually ended the assault, the attackers left over 58 people dead (including two priests gunned down immediately – one at the altar and the other exiting the confessional) and over 100 wounded. This, however, was only the geographical center of violence since the dawn of November. To the southwest, in Nigeria, Islamic terrorists bombed churches throughout the capital on Christmas Eve, claiming the lives of 86 and wounding hundreds more. In Pakistan, the Islamic governor of Punjab
was assassinated by his own bodyguard because he was attempting to protect a Christian woman from the death penalty for her “blasphemy” against Islam.

Then came the New Year’s Eve bombing of Christians in Cairo.

A suicide bomber attacked St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church shortly after midnight as people were attending midnight Mass. Twenty-three were killed in the bombing and almost 100 more were wounded. The bombing came shortly after the head of the Egyptian Association for Culture and Dialogue – and new signer of the “Common Word” – publically asserted that Christians were hiding weapons in their churches. One commentator
recently stated that in the past Christians had defended themselves, but that today, “almost everywhere the Christian resistance is peaceful. Iraq is today the most glaring example of massacres carried out against innocent and unarmed victims, killed only because they are Christian.”

In the end, the pope decried the rise of “Christophobia” which tended towards violent acts against Christians or any who protected them. Egypt is the most glaring example of government officials and Islamic religious leaders making accusations against Egypt’s Christian minority while not offering the slightest protections during important Christian celebrations. Shockingly, after all the anti-Christian attacks throughout the Muslim world since October, Egypt’s Ambassador to the Vatican
told a Roman newspaper that Egypt does “not share the views that Christians are persecuted in our part of the world… They have all the protection as any other Egyptian citizen in Egypt.”

Furthermore, in response to Pope Benedict’s condemnation of the attacks on Christians (including non-Catholic Christians), Al-Azhar University and el-Tayeb have
broken off dialogue with the Vatican, citing “insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope toward Islam” and the supposed “unacceptable interference” of Pope Benedict XVI in Egyptian affairs. The Egyptian government has since recalled its Vatican ambassador.

The collapse of religious dialogue and official Egypt-Vatican relations was rather disturbing and unexpected – but now makes sense in light of the new Egyptian anti-government protests and end of the Mubarak regime. Now entering the third decade of “emergency rule,” President Mubarak’s days have been numbered for some time and the Egyptian people were concerned about a Mubarak family dynasty ruling Egypt for good. But then came the revolution in Tunisia and the
secession of Sudan’s Christian south where voter turnout stood at 97% and of those 99.57% voted to secede.

Enter Pope Benedict XVI. Recall that the “Common Word” document was addressed first and foremost to Pope Benedict. Since the middle ages, Islam has seen the pope as the representational male figure of the “West” and his word carries perhaps more weight for Muslims than for European or North American political leaders. This point is certainly clear when one contrasts Pope Benedict with the U.S.’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. In the Muslim world, a politically secular, empowered woman simply does not carry the same force as the religious head of Christendom. Thus we should note that Egypt’s government and religious leaders cut off communications with the pope as Egypt’s political unrest began to grow. The goal was to deny the “West’s” chief spokesman a platform in the ensuing political upheaval.

And little has been heard from the Vatican regarding Egypt since.

The push against the pope should also be seen in the context of the recent attacks on Christians in the Muslim world. An essential element of radical Islamist ideology is the eradication of the Christian and Jewish populations in the Middle East. Jihadists in the region see secular influences as diminishing their religious character and undermining their faith. Thus to truly re-Islamize the Islamic world, radical Islam will do its best to cleanse itself of Christians within their countries and destroying Israel as a Jewish nation. As Israel has become a heavily protected nation from within and without, Christians have become a “soft target” of Islamic aggression – particularly when Jihadists have noticed that Islamic governments and secular nations like the United States will do nothing to protect them.

But is there no hope? I offer three positive signs:

1. The Proto-Protest: As Egypt is now engulfed in protest, it is forgotten in the press that the first Egyptian protests began
early last month in defense of the Coptic Christians. Inspired by an Egyptian artist’s slogan “We either live together, or we die together,” thousands of Muslims were joined by President Mubarak’s two sons to form a human shield around Christian churches in Egypt. As one participant put it: “This is not about us and them… We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.” Other groups in Alexandria, Egypt cried out: “Long live the cross and the crescent!” Egyptians must further recognize the right and duty of other monotheists to worship God. Furthermore, as religious freedom is respected outside of the Muslim world, the same freedom should be respected within the Muslim world. Mosques in Europe and America are not being attacked by armed terrorists – and if they were, the police would be on full protective alert to guard the mosques and no one would blame worshippers for bringing weapons to defend themselves. But while the united protest between Muslims and Christians was a positive first step, now may be the time to establish Lebanon – a nation historically Christian – as a Christian nation in the same way that Israel is a Jewish nation. As such, it would present Israel with a much needed ally while providing protection to the Christians in the Mideast.

2. Yawm al-Sâbi: On January 24, the Egyptian magazine “Yawm al-Sâbi” published a document containing a twenty-two point list for renewing religious dialogue. Most importantly, the document focuses on matters particular to Islam which the religion needs to reexamine in order to make real progress in religious dialogue. Moreover, the document also points out that Islam can shape Egypt as a nation and keep Egypt from being swept up in a new caliphate (international Islamic state). The document also rejects the idea of forced conversion and even wishes to make allowances for a Christian to become the President of Egypt. While it has met mostly with criticism in the Muslim world, the document comes from Muslims and is another step forward in the post-Regensburg religious dialogue. You can read more about this document here.

3. Marriage, not money: On his foreign policy weblog,
Thomas P.M. Barnett noted the real reason why the men of Egypt are protesting: “Ask young Egyptian men, as I did repeatedly on a trip, what their biggest worry is, and they'll tell you it's the inability to find a job that earns enough to enable marriage.” In the post-Marxian era, money has become the focus of almost every issue. This may be in part due to the fact that Americans have become more and more money-centered (be it for commercial interest or trimming the federal deficit), but it is mostly due to the “class-conflict” approach of Marxist thought. There are certainly some Marxists involved in Egypt right now, but when we think of three words that begin with the letter 'm' in Egypt, we should be thinking: marriage, monotheism, and masculinity, not money.

The fact that Egyptian men are predominantly concerned with having a spouse is a very good thing and should be a clarion call for Christian men whose monetary ambitions often have absolutely nothing to do with finding a spouse and raising a family. We should also note here that when man’s needs are not met properly, the void will be filled somehow (for “nature abhors a vacuum”). As Muslim men cannot find true fraternity or a stable social/economic life for their brides, they have turned to the Muslim Brotherhood – a radical organization that, while seemingly meeting their needs, can bring men to theocracy at best and acts of sectarian violence at worst. In the absence of a pursuit of the ordered good, Egypt’s strong sense of masculinity, monotheism, and marriage risk being usurped by the forces of evil. Nevertheless, the fact that Egypt has such a strong sense of these matters is a step in the right direction – and a step Christian men in Europe and America must retake in order to be truly progressive.

While no one is really sure yet how matters will turn out in Egypt, there is a chance that the challenge of Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg will pave the way for a nation that is not only democratic, but also religiously renewed and purged of any Islamist national counterfeits. In the war on communism, two men are remembered most: Pope John Paul II in Poland and President Reagan of the United States. Perhaps the combined efforts of President George W. Bush’s challenge for Islamic democracy and Pope Benedict’s challenge for Islamic rationality will work together to overthrow radical fundamentalism in the Mideast and establish authentic, unique nations where God is worshipped by monotheists, be they Jews, Christians, or Muslims.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Difference God Makes

The Difference God Makes. How does one write a good book that adequately explains a title such as this? Indeed, certain titles sound almost impossible to live up to; like “Paradise Lost” or “The Well at the World’s End” – how can you write a book which lives up to such titles?

That being said, I can’t give a strong enough recommendation for this book. Does the book have some flaws? Sure, all books do. But Cardinal George has far more right than he has wrong and he has established himself in this book as a premier philosopher, historian, theologian, and anthropologist. In a society increasingly placing God on the sidelines as a non-player in world affairs, Cardinal George in effect stands up and declares: “God makes a difference. God really does have something to say about the world and about the human condition.”

In other words: God cannot be taken out of the public square.

In case you don’t know, Cardinal Francis George is the out-going President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Chicago. He is the first cardinal ever to be elected to the position. In a shocking election last month, he was succeeded by Archbishop Dolan of New York rather than by his Vice President, Bishop Kicanus of Tucson (often described as the most liberal bishop in the United States who was the presumptive in-coming president). Unlike Kicanus, Cardinal George has been considered a “conservative” by many while others have decidedly called his pastoral actions as moderate at best.

What else can you expect in Chicago?

But while we can argue over “church politics” all we want, The Difference God Makes proves Cardinal George’s intellectual genius and offers a clear vision of God’s importance in the past, in the present, and in the future.

So let’s get down to business.

Cardinal George begins and ends his book by stating that: “Jesus is the difference God makes.” At first, given our Bible-thumping, John 3:16-yelling, door-knocking neighbors who attempt to convert with the best of intentions, the proclamation of Cardinal George may seem simplistic at best and proselytizing at worst. How can such a claim stand up in a pluralistic society? What room is there for the public proclamation of the Gospel of Christ?

This is why Cardinal George also begins and ends his book with philosophy. In a narrative tour de force, George tells us the story of modernity and shows us the roots of the modern crisis in terms of the movement away from the Thomistic understanding of God as a being utterly unlike us to a late-medieval theology which describes God as like us, just infinitely higher than us. The two ideas may sound like hair-splitting, but the latter idea leads to a God who can be in competition with us because of his ontological likeness to us. In such a conception, God can be established as over against us like a tyrant; His will versus our will. Cardinal George then goes on to explain how this theology set the stage for the Protestant Reformation and how the Enlightenment built on this and built up the present-day philosophical outlook of modernity.

An adequate understanding of God makes a difference because it leads us back to a God who is not demanding, but freeing. This conception of God enables us to see how we participate in God’s being simply through the gift of existence. We can then truly see our lives and others as a pure gift of God’s love. Furthermore, it ends the false dichotomy which pits God against culture, showing that God really does in fact form the culture and give the culture life and love. And Christ takes this to a new level: through Him we have access to God’s own inner-life and are transformed as God’s adopted children. There’s nothing more gratuitous and freeing than that!

And there is so much more in the book than just this. Cardinal George offers key insights on interfaith dialogue, leadership in the Church, priestly celibacy, the role of the laity, the Church and globalization, liberal Catholicism, inculturation, and how God informs these matters in the present in order to create a truly hopefuly future.

However, I did note above that he gets some things wrong.

But perhaps it would be better to say that what is wrong about this book is really about what is missing rather than what is specifically wrong in the content. George spoke often of a “metaphysics of communio” (i.e. that we participate in God’s being through existence and that God is calling us into a deepening of that participation through His Son, Jesus Christ), but he fails to speak of those who reject the communio altogether. What about Satan, the fallen angel who exists now in rebellion against God? What about those who in our world have also utterly rejected God and are doing violence to others (e.g. the terrorist attacks throughout the Muslim world on Christians during Christmas and the Arizona massacre perpetrator). What do we do in the face of real evil?

In philosophy, evil can be considered as a deficiency in something. Evil is kind of like a cavity in a tooth: the pain is caused by something important in the tooth which ought to be there but isn’t. Most importantly, dentists do not treat the cavity by simply speaking about the absence in the tooth; rather, concrete action must be taken against the cavity and only then can healing come about. In a similar way, we must stand opposed to the evils in our world while recognizing that there are consequences of those evils now and in the hereafter. Thus if the book is missing anything, it is the concrete ways we must fight evil here and now.

Cardinal George’s book, however, wasn’t about evil (i.e. the absence of God) but rather about God Himself and the difference He makes in Himself and through Jesus Christ. In such a way George contemplates the ultimate Reality.

And I would say that is a topic big enough for one book.