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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Retreat! Retreat!

No, not that kind of retreat!

This kind of retreat!

I am heading out tomorrow for a long discernment retreat with a beautiful order of nuns until the end of November - yes, over Thanksgiving!

Please pray for me and the community, that we may discern rightly what God has willed, and be assured that I am keeping you all in my prayers as well!

St. Benedict, ora pro nobis!

Stem cell developments a sign of hope!

A very good summary of the exciting goings-on of late regarding stem cell research, and how there is now hope that one day soon the horrors of embryonic stem cell research may just fade away and no longer even be defended as "necessary" by some:

Returning to President Bush’s stem-cell funding policy; even though it was politically unpopular, the President believed wholeheartedly that the raw talent, intelligence, and creativity of the science sector would find a way to obtain pluripotent stem cells (the ability to become any cell type) through ethical means. In speeches and news conference answers about the stem-cell issue, Bush repeatedly supported existing ethical areas of research, and called upon researchers to find “alternative” methods of developing stem-cell medicine without treating nascent human life “as an experiment.” Toward this end, earlier this year Bush signed an executive order requiring the NIH to identify all sources of human pluripotent stem cells, and invited “scientists to work with the NIH, so we can add new ethically derived stem-cell lines to the list of those eligible for federal funding.”

The Science Establishment pouted and the New York Times castigated the president’s call. But other scientists had already taken up the president’s challenge, and their work was paying off. Experiments in mice by Rudolf Jaenisch at Harvard demonstrated proof of principle for “altered nuclear transfer” (ANT), a theoretical method of deriving pluripotent stem cells without creating and destroying embryos. Don Landry, Professor at Columbia University Department of Medicine, developed a way to identify dead embryos for potential use in stem-cell research — which would be no more unethical than researching on cadavers. Perhaps most excitingly, Kyoto University’s Shinya Yamanaka reprogrammed skin cells from the tails of mice, and reverted them back to an embryonic-like stem-cell state — offering tremendous hope that every therapeutic benefit scientists believed could be derived from therapeutic cloning, could instead be achieved by regressing a patient’s own tissues.

Then, last week very big news: Ian Wilmut — who opened the Pandora’s Box of human cloning with the creation of Dolly the sheep, and who two years ago obtained a license from the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to create cloned human embryos from the cells of Lou Gehrig’s disease patients — stunned the scientific world with the sudden and unexpected announcement that he had rejected human cloning research, in favor of pursuing cell reprogramming as an ethical and uncontroversial means of obtaining pluripotent cells. Wilmut told the Telegraph:

The odds are that by the time we make nuclear transfer work in humans, direct reprogramming will work too.

I am anticipating that before too long we will be able to use the Yamanaka approach to achieve the same, without making human embryos. I have no doubt that in the long term, direct reprogramming will be more productive, though we can't be sure exactly when, next year or five years into the future.

Finally, today came the Krakatau of stem-cell announcements: Reprogramming has been achieved using human cells. As reported by the journal Science, researchers reverted human connective tissue cells back to an embryonic-stem-cell-like state — and then differentiated them into all three of the body’s major tissue types. If this work pans out, there will be no need to create human cloned embryos for use in embryonic-stem-cell therapies.

I believe that many of these exciting “alternative” methods would not have been achieved but for President Bush’s stalwart stand promoting ethical stem-cell research. Indeed, had the president followed the crowd instead of leading it, most research efforts would have been devoted to trying to perfect ESCR and human-cloning research — which, despite copious funding, have not worked out yet as scientists originally hoped.

Do read the full article at National Review

(H/T to Gerald)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The prophetic voice of UST

Now THIS is interesting. As part of an e-mail I received today was attached this fascinating paper by a former University of St. Thomas faculty member, written back in 1996. I know of no other place where this is available online, so I copy it in full here (emphasis mine, and note the red part--remember, this was 1996!):

The Secularization of the University of St. Thomas?
by Francis G. Mach Department of Health and Human Performance

In 1985 the College of St. Thomas celebrated its centennial year. What had tenuously begun as a combination seminary and high school/college with a student body of sixty-two and a faculty of six priests had evolved into a well established Catholic liberal arts college.l On the eve of that centennial in a September 28, 1984, report to the college’s board of trustees, the then-president, Msgr. Terrence J. Murphy, declared, "Catholicism is the strongest element that binds our college community together."2 Reflecting upon the topic of the 1996 Summer Seminar, "The Role of Faculty—Catholic and Non-Catholic—in a Catholic University," I found myself musing about whether such a topic might not be moot in the institution’s bi-centennial year of 2085. More explicitly, would the president at that time be able to reiterate Msgr. Murphy’s 1984 statement so unequivocally, or even wish to do so? As one who very deliberately sought a Catholic education at St. Thomas in the 1950’s, and who later left a tenured position in the California State University System to live and work in the environment of a Catholic liberal arts college1 I would surely hope so. However, there is clear evidence that the tides of change are flowing against it. If history repeats itself, and if current trends continue, the year 2085 will likely find St. Thomas known by another name. "Thomas University" or something more pretentious like "The University of the Twin Cities," are possibilities. The diocese will probably have a seminary, independent of a university, to educate its clergy—possibly both men and women. If there remains a link at all between the university in 2085 and its Catholic roots, it is likely to be vague and mostly symbolic. The archbishop or another Catholic clergy person might serve on the board of trustees, but the chief executive officer will almost certainly be a layperson.

Any thoughts of the secularization of St. Thomas may be written off as absurd by the current university community. Yet, that is exactly what has happened to most of America’s prestigious colleges and universities which were founded as Protestant denominational institutions when they came to perceive that their religious affiliations were more of a burden than a blessing and that secularization was conducive, even essential, to their aspirations of greatness. Catholic universities generally, and St. Thomas in particular may well be headed for a similar fate. A cursory examination of the history of the disestablishment of Protestant universities; the increasing difficulty clarifying the nature of a Catholic university in modern society; and certain indicators that the furtive seeds of secularization may already be planted at St. Thomas should give cause for concern about the future of St. Thomas as a Catholic university.

The Disestablishment of Protestant Universities

The history of higher education in America is replete with examples of former church-related colleges and universities, originally founded to promote the development of Christian wisdom according to various denominational tenets, which no longer retain religious identity. Who wouldn’t be hard pressed to name the religious founding groups of such institutions as the University of Chicago (Baptist), the University of Southern California (Methodist), or, more locally, Carleton College (Congregationalist) or Macalester College (Presbyterian)? In the decades between 1880 and World War I, Protestant universities, according to Marsden, "rapidly distanced themselves from most substantive connections with their church or religious heritages, dropping courses with explicit theological or biblical reference and laicizing their boards, faculties, and administrations."3 Volumes have been written on this phenomenon and the multiplicity of factors which produced it. One summarization, especially poignant for St. Thomas, is offered by Marsden in response to why Protestant denominations so willingly abandoned their vast educational empires. He concludes that: The answer is that they were confronted in the first place with vast cultural trends such as technological advance, professionalization, and secularism that they could not easily control; and their problem was made worse by pressures of cultural pluralism and Christian ethical principles that made it awkward if not impossible for them to take any decisive stand against the trends.4

In the same treatise, Marsden identifies three broad categories which he claims have been the ideological contenders for the soul of Protestant universities: First there was traditionalist Protestantism which was dominant at the beginning of the era, but easily routed by liberal Protestantism, sometimes aided by some version of secularist ideology. Then, from about the 1870’s until the 1960’s, we have the dominance of a broadly liberal Protestantism which allied itself with an ideological secularism to form a prevailing cultural consensus. Since the 1960’s, we see the growing of a more pluralistic secularism which provides no check at all to the tendencies of the university to fragment into technical specialties.5

Are similar factors, peculiar to the Catholic Church, now vying for the souls of Catholic universities? Catholic colleges came onto the American higher education scene later than their Protestant counterparts. The first, Georgetown, founded in 1789, trailed the first Protestant college, Congregationalist Harvard, by 153 years.

Georgetown and its early successors had a clear Catholic identity and purpose. Expressly, they sought to prepare immigrant Catholics to assume a place of equality and even leadership in a Protestant dominated culture while concurrently strengthening their knowledge of and commitment to their Catholic faith. That they adhered to their mission and did their jobs well is evidenced by the many Catholics who have come to hold positions of prominence in all segments of American society. Irish Americans, predominantly Catholic, are even acknowledged as the second most affluent ethnic group in the country.6 Catholic universities may never again find a sustaining purpose so vital to their existence. Indeed, given the growing divisiveness within the
American Catholic Church and the increasingly pluralistic make-up of the faculties and student bodies of Catholic colleges and universities, it is not much of a stretch to visualize a latter Twenty-First Century historian recounting the secularization of American Catholic universities in a manner only slightly paraphrasing Marsden’s earlier summarization of the secularization of Protestant universities. It might read something like this:

First there was traditionalist Catholicism which was dominant at the beginning, but was eventually routed by liberal Catholicism, sometimes aided by some version of secularist ideology. Then, from the mid 1960s until early into the Twenty-First Century we have a broadly liberal Catholicism which allied itself with prevailing ideological secularism to form a dominant cultural consensus within the American Catholic Church. Since then, we see the growing of a more aggressive pluralistic secularism which provides no check at all to the tendencies of the Catholic universities to fragment into technical specialties.

The Catholic Identity Problem

"The tides of secularism are deep and strong in a changing world and in a changing Church within a secular culture...."7 This quote is from the aforementioned report of Msgr. Murphy to the board of trustees in 1984. It was uttered in the context of his expressed concern that the greatest challenge faced by any Catholic college president at that time was to maintain the Catholic nature of the institution, an issue he saw as more pressing than either financial or administrative problems.

Maintaining the Catholic nature and identity of a college or university requires, first, a clear understanding of the essential characteristics of a Catholic institution of higher education. This is an elusive requirement. Pope John Paul II, clearly concerned about the changing nature of Catholic universities, attempted to provide some clarification in his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae." In this document, he delineated what he considered to be four essential characteristics of a Catholic university:

1. A Christian inspiration not only of individuals, but of the university community as such.
2. A continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research.
3. Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the church.
4. An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.8

Given the increasingly pluralistic make-up of Catholic universities in the United States, these conditions, alone, will provide grist for contentious debate within Catholic university communities. Even more so, perhaps, will some aspects of Pope John Paul II’s "General Norms" which he states must be followed in order to assure that an institution of higher education is and remains Catholic. Two in particular are certain to cause consternation among American Catholic university faculties:

1. The identity of a Catholic university is essentially linked to the quality of its teachers and to respect for Catholic doctrine.
2. In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the university or institute of higher studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the institution which is and must remain Catholic.9

Some will argue that the former sets up a conflict between two sometimes mutually exclusive entities. Still others will dispute the critical mass of Catholic faculty essential to the assurance that a university is indeed Catholic. This issue will be further complicated by non-Catholic faculty reasonably questioning whether they are more hurtful to the Catholic identity of a university than are proclaimed Catholics who by their words and examples appear to be at odds with the tenets of Catholicism.

Clearly, then, identifying and maintaining the Catholic nature of a university will be a formidable challenge for any Catholic college or university in the coming century. It may be most difficult for those institutions which are not steeped in the tradition of a viable religious order. One such institution, the University of St. Thomas, is clearly struggling to maintain its Catholic identity, and there are indications that the battle might be lost well before the university arrives at its bicentennial.

Seeds of Secularization at St. Thomas

St. Thomas was founded as a Catholic institution by the Diocese of St. Paul in the person of Bishop John Ireland. Its first rector (now called president) was a priest, Father Thomas O’Gorman, as were the additional five members of the original faculty.10 Not much doubt about Catholic identity there. Although Ireland had assumed that the faculty would forever be predominantly priests of the diocese, that ideal soon gave way to the greater need for priests to serve the diocese in duties more pressing than teaching. Yet, by my own recollection, as late as the mid-1950’s, nearly all major administrators were priests, while virtually all academic departments had at least one priest member. The religion department, the precursor of today’s theology department, was staffed entirely by priests.

From its founding in 1885 until late into the Twentieth Century, the relationship between St. Thomas and its religious founding group, the Catholic Diocese of St. Paul, was clearly evident, even in the matter of financial support. As late as 1947, then-Archbishop Gregory Murray helped pay for the construction of Albertus Magnus Hall by setting quotas for parishes to meet in raising a total of $1,275,244.11

Today, the relationship between St. Thomas and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis is steadily growing more tenuous. The president is still a priest of the diocese and the Archbishop continues to chair the board of trustees. A vote of the trustees and a subsequent stroke of the pen could, however, make these dictates of the institutional charter vestiges of the past. A new process for the selection of the university’s president was initiated only a few years ago with the appointment of Father Dennis Dease. He was the first to be appointed following a national search conducted by a university committee. All of his predecessors were hand-picked by their bishop and were unilaterally appointed by him. Additionally, the presence of priests within the faculty and administration is strikingly sparse. Even in the theology department less than fifteen percent of the full-time faculty of over twenty are members of the clergy, giving rise to the possibility that more non-Catholics teach theology than do priest-theologians of the Archdiocese. Finally, and perhaps most indicative of the diminished relationship between St. Thomas and its religious founding group, is the Archdiocese’s abandonment of any financial responsibility for the viability of the university.

We have already seen that the relationship between Protestant universities and their religious founding groups had become quite murky by the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Similarly, a little over a hundred years after its founding, the relationship between St. Thomas and its founding group has likewise become obscured.

Lack of clarity in its relationship with the Archdiocese is not the only factor moving St. Thomas down the path toward secularization. For instance, the acceptance of federal loans and grants, as essential as they may be, has reduced the university’s autonomy as Catholic. Affirmative Action dictates and the Education Amendments Act of 1972, along with stipulations attached to construction loans and grants, have had significant impact on staffing and admissions policies as well as the ways in which the institution may use some of its facilities.

The exigencies of the marketplace have had their effect on the Catholic identity of St. Thomas. In order to maintain a viable "client base," student demands, regardless of how discordant with Catholic teaching they may be, are often actualized. Only a few years ago, when students insisted that meat should be served in student dining rooms on traditional days of abstinence in the Catholic church, they got meat. More recently, when they claimed the right to organize university-sponsored clubs which might manifest beliefs or behaviors contrary to Church teaching, they got a hearing. Although the jury is still out on this issue, the fact that it would even be considered is an undeniable sign of the changing times. As trivial as these examples may seem, there are numerous others like them and, collectively, they have a substantial role in the secular quest for the soul of St. Thomas.

As earlier noted, Pope John Paul II said that one of the four essential characteristics of a Catholic university has to do with its commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family. In a 1986 address at St. Ambrose University Sister Allice Gallin, O.S.U., stated, "The Catholic college or university must seek to be just in all its own activities and decisions before it can hope to bring about justice in the larger community or, at least it must try to do both at the same time."12 Both the Pope and Sister Gallin appear to be implying that the manner in which an institution serves its human resources has much to say about its Catholic nature. Although St. Thomas appears to fare quite well in this regard, one does not have to scratch very far beneath its surface to find a few egregious examples to the contrary. There are instances in which faculty and staff have been speciously dismissed (denial of tenure is too frequently specious), and occasions in which others have been hired with seemingly scant regard for either the moral or legal implications of affirmative action guidelines. Such practices, even when infrequent, take their toll on the Catholic nature of St. Thomas and belie its role as an advocate for social justice.

There are, then, a number of indicators that St. Thomas has taken some substantial strides down the road toward secularization. There is its changing relationship with the archdiocese which founded it. External pressures, especially from the federal government, and internal stressors emanating from an increasingly pluralistic university community are obfuscating its Catholic identity. Instances of dubious ethical practices in interpersonal relations have blighted its Catholic nature. Yet, none of these is as unsettling, or perhaps as prophetic, as a most recent major development. The extensive advertising campaign launched by the university this fall, 1996, is an incredible testament to just how far
St. Thomas has moved in the direction of secularization. According to the September 3, 1996, Bulletin, published by the university, the advertising campaign emphasizes six key image development themes: academic quality, practical orientation, values-based curriculum, location, affordability, and a resource for lifelong learning.13 Glaringly absent from these themes is the word "Catholic" or even the word, "Christian." "Values-based" is a weak euphemism at best, and values-based curricula are certainly not the sole province of Catholic universities. Although "come prepared to learn and leave prepared to serve" would seem to be an apt slogan for a Catholic university, St. Thomas has chosen the more indulgent, "come prepared to learn, leave prepared to succeed," which smacks more than a little bit of unadulterated secularism. In lauding the new campaign and its slogan, President Dease affirms: "Our mission is to provide a strong liberal arts education and to prepare students for careers."14 Might not the presidents of several hundred universities, public as well as private, be justified in making similar declarations? Where, then, is the distinction between Catholic and secular? The binding element of Catholicism that Msgr. Murphy declared, a mere twelve years ago, was holding the St. Thomas community together appears to be losing its adhesive qualities. Catholicism seems to be yielding to pragmatism as St. Thomas pursues wider acclaim and the funding to support it. Could it be that its Catholic identity has already come to be perceived as more of a burden then a blessing? If so, is a secular "University of the Twin Cities" very far in the offing?

1. Connors, p. 36.
2. Connors, p. 402.
3. Marsden, p. 41.
4. Marsden, p. 41-42.
5. Marsden, p. 39.
6. Greeley, p. 118.
7. Connors, p. 402.
8. Pope John Paul II, p. 269.
9. Pope John Paul II, p. 274.
10. Connors, p. 46-47.
11. Connors, p. 322.
12. Gallin, p. 29.
13. Bulletin, p. 2.
14. Bulletin, p. l.

Bulletin, University of St. Thomas, September 3, 1996.
Connors, Joseph B. Journey to Fulfillment, Minnesota: College of St. Thomas, 1986.
Gallin, Alice O.S.U., "American Pluralism and Catholic Identity in Higher Education" from Readings on Catholicism and Higher Education, prepared for the faculty of the University of St. Thomas, 1992.
Greeley, Andrew M. The Irish Americans: The Rise to Money and Power: New York: Harper and Row, 1981.
Marsden, George B. "The Soul of the American University," First Things, January, 1991.
Pope John Paul II, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," Origins, October 4, 1990.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Affectiveness in liturgy

As usual, the blog Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex gives us some great commentary.

Check out his post, Two Cents Worth, in response to a letter on Zenit which was itself a response to a recent article on liturgical music (whew). His main argument is that if we see liturgical music in the way the letter writer does, as making us feel transformed etc, we are in danger of missing the point. Music in this vein is, he considers, an "affectation" (Merriam-Webster defines "affectation" as: 1 a: the act of taking on or displaying an attitude or mode of behavior not natural to oneself or not genuinely felt b: speech or conduct not natural to oneself : artificiality).

To "affect" the liturgy this way, by this mentality of needing affectation (particularly in the area of liturgical music) to really be worshipping, is to, ironically, decrease the liturgy's real effect on us, to decrease the effectiveness of liturgy! That's a pretty strong statement, but one that I think merits our attention.

Some snips (with my emphasis):

...The affectivities were created to be subordinated to reason and to follow its direction, this now is a challenge because they often do not do so readily. This presents us with the problem of concupiscence. We are drawn most compellingly to the affectively good. With this background, we can see how the admonition from the Church that sacred music is meant to adorn the words and not drown them out follows from this. The words in the liturgy should first move our minds to God. The music should then have the capacity to draw our whole selves from this earth up to God. In this way, the structure of the music and word relationship allows our affectivities [to] follow the intellect. The liturgy can actually help us train them. When we start with our affectivities, which is the effect of praise and worship music, we reverse this action. In other words, we do not subordinate the affectivities to the intellect, but interpret the intellect in terms of our emotions. This is why so many who acclimate themselves to praise and worship mistake the lack of affective experience for the lack of the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, the heightened affectivities inhibit the silent contemplation of God in His Word and in the Word’s Eucharistic action. Ironically, we are drawn away from active participation in the liturgy and we don’t realize it because the affective experience is masquerading as active involvement when it is really passive reception of the experience. Praise and worship music is antithetical to the liturgical grammar because it works at cross purposes with fallen human nature. Thus a good musical form (I have said before that I do listen to praise and worship…though I will admit that I have been told by those better musically formed that I have no musical taste) can become an evil in the wrong context. Therefore, we must not allow the “consumer” mentality to drive our liturgy. We must give people what they need, not what they think they want.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Full text of UST Bulletin on board changes

Here is the full text of the board announcement made to UST students (only via the "UST Bulletin" e-mail which practically no students actually read). I've emphasized and [commented] the parts that pertain directly to my previous post

Father Dennis Dease reports on fall Board of Trustees meeting

Amid all of the excitement on campus last month with the announcement of our Opening Doors capital campaign, the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees held its fall meetings and took action on a number of important issues.

The board met Oct. 24-25 on the St. Paul campus, and I want to take this occasion to report to you on the highlights of committee meetings on the first day and the board's plenary session on the second day.

Several committees heard reports about the progress of the $500 million campaign and several building projects, including the Anderson Student Center, improvements to athletic and recreational facilities, and a parking ramp on the south campus. The board is enthusiastic about those projects, made possible by the extraordinary gift from trustee Lee Anderson and his wife, Penny, of $60 million.

Trustees are deeply committed to the campaign's largest priority: to raise $130 million in endowed funds for financial aid to make a St. Thomas education more accessible to future generations of students. Other campaign priorities, including endowed chairs and named deanships, also are generating a positive response.

The trustees complimented the professionalism and the beauty of the campaign kickoff events. Unanimously, the board passed a resolution thanking all the students, staff and faculty who contributed to this success.

The board made a difficult decision about a proposed medical school with Allina Hospitals & Clinics. As compelling as the need is to train more primary-care physicians, the board agreed that St. Thomas has higher priorities at this time with the Opening Doors campaign and should devote all its energies to raising funds for those needs. [Allina does abortions. Would a medical school co-run by Allina be forced to train doctors in doing abortions? Might this be a problem for a Catholic school to be involved in...?]

St. Thomas and Allina agreed to continue their dialogue on an informal basis and did not rule out future collaboration in the creation of a medical school should sufficient resources becomes available. I expect we will work together through the National Institute of Health Policy, which is based at St. Thomas, and other venues to examine ways to broaden the accessibility and quality of medical care in Minnesota. The institute is ideally suited to participate in this effort because it offers a neutral forum for stakeholder collaboration in the examination of health-care policy issues.

One very upbeat moment during the plenary session came when the board saluted Archbishop Harry Flynn for his leadership as chairman since 1995. The board presented him with a framed certificate of appreciation that said: "Champion of Catholic higher education and model of servant leadership, intellectual and moral courage, you exemplify caritas, the greatest of all Christian virtues. You do us honor, and we thank you."

Implementing a process the Board Affairs Committee began last February [Interesting - it would be good to know more about what was begun then...], the
board also elected Archbishop Flynn to a five-year term as chairman of the board after making appropriate changes to the university's bylaws which heretofore had stipulated that the ordinary (head) of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve ex officio as chairman. [We just love you Archbishop Flynn and oh, look at that, by doing this we might not have to deal with the new guy and we can plausibly distance ourselves even further from the local Church that founded us]

The changes were made to recognize the increasingly important role that Archbishop Flynn has at St. Thomas. He has been a very active chairman, meeting regularly with faculty, staff and students, attending campus events and serving on committees such as the one that wrote our new mission statement. [uh. ok. That's nice. And we couldn't just create a new position for him?] More recently, he has agreed to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Opening Doors campaign. After he retires as ordinary next year, he will move into the late Monsignor Terrence Murphy's office in the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

The board also removed ex officio references from two other board positions.
Father Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese, will continue to serve as vice chairman and was elected to a five-year term. The board elected me to five-year terms both as a trustee and as president of St. Thomas. [sounds to me like they are in a mode to safeguard the status quo... now what event is coming up that could have upset the status quo...?]

These changes as well as others made previously reflect recommendations made to us five years ago by the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities when it reviewed with our board best governance practices. One AGB recommendation was to conform our bylaws to what is now the common practice among Catholic colleges and universities: to elect the board's chairman and vice chairman. [the question is... are they basing this on the common practice of other successful AND still Catholic schools - or just on successful schools who have abandoned their Catholic identity for the most part? Why do I suspect the latter?]

Bottom line - it seems that the battle still rages at UST for whether or not the university will be Catholic or secularized. And this battle is about to come to a head. I sure hope Flynn knows what he's doing and can bring his flock back - he's in a good position to do so, since they CHOSE him apparently. We need to pray for him and for UST. In Flynn's defense, he's already proven that he plays a mean chess game, by his long-term tactics in cleaning up the Archdiocesean seminaries and forming the laity and younger generations of priests and religious. I want to trust that he has a plan with this too.

Sadly, either way, and whether this is made public or not, as usual in this life the oppositional forces of faith appear to have the advantage - if this issue draws public interest many will side with the secularization of the school, because they don't understand or agree with the mission of the Church in education. If it doesn't get the public's attention then the secularists still succeed, by being given yet more slack to extend their agendas even further.

What it all boils down to is to whether the secular forces are more committed to pulling away from the school's foundational relationship with the Church that nurtured it and gave it life, or if the Church and her shepherds are able to step in and, gently or otherwise, restore the right order of faith and reason in a publicly-declared Catholic educational institution.

One thing is certain, the vast majority of students and alumni of UST do NOT know what has happened. The best thing we can do now besides prayer and fasting is to continue to spred the word about this issue and what it means for the future of UST.

To begin, for students, alumni and supporters of UST to write letters to Fr. Dease would be good. Keep them short and charitable of course, but express sorrow over this decision and perhaps request further explanation of the motivation of this decision and what is foreseen to be the long-term result of it by Fr. Dease.

The loss of this wonderful school's Catholic identity would be a blow to the Church as a whole, as well as affecting a very large number of Catholics here in this Archdiocese, including both seminaries. FAST AND PRAY FOR UST!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Religious Education: Another infiltration attempt

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

I just had a very interesting "cold call" to my office phone - some lady from A&E/History Channel, peddling a "fabulous set of 8 DVDs complete with adult and youth study guides specificially designed for use in the Catholic Church and Catholic Schools on topics like 'Mary Magdalene: The Hidden Apostle' and 'Holy Secrets: Electing a Pope'" Have to admit that this was a new one in my book, typically I get telemarketers from the big publishing houses or local Christian entertainers.

When I said that to be honest I had not thought very highly of the programming that I had seen on her network channels and how it dealt with the sacred teachings of the Church, her response was, "it's approved by the USCCB - does that help?" To which I responded, "maybe." And she laughed. Well, I suppose, it is funny - that the person who just expressed a qualm regarding how the videos portray the Church now shows hesitation about whether it matters if the conference of bishops approves of it or not. Sad state of affairs that we're in here in AmChurch, huh? At the same time, I have no proof that it is really "approved" by the USCCB, or what exactly "approved" even means to A&E/History Channel.

Anyway, she gave me the website to check out the individual titles (apparently they aren't marketing this "special package" to the public). Here's the video of Mary Magdalene: The Hidden Apostle - take a look. And when you do a search on other religion titles... 'Nuff said. Yikes. Suspicion confirmed.

You know a lot of churches are going to get the same call I did - please do them a favor and send this to them. Spread the word to your fellow DREs, teachers, pastors and anyone else who might need to know about this new tactic.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bella: I'm in love

I saw the movie "Bella" on Friday night, to a packed house, and can I just say - sorry, Barb. I love what you're doing out there in la-la-land, and I agree with you 95% of the time, but not this time. At least not regarding the movie itself, on its own merits. I suppose it remains to be seen what's up with the marketing/distribution issues.

For me to explain this movie and why I like it is difficult.

It's not that it gave me "warm fuzzies" like Barb insinuated would happen (it didn't really, though I did leave the theater happier than when I came).

It's not that the actors were "amazing...astonishing...magnificent" (though they were really really good).

It's not that the script was the "best ever" or that it had a lot of quotable "wow" lines (it was good, don't get me wrong, but as a whole - not a lot of zingers).

It's not that it was a "pro-life" movie, because it wasn't. At least, not in the way that some may think pro-life could or should be (rather, I'd say that it is a LIFE movie, one that challenges you to make your own conclusion that life, all life, is bella - beautiful).

It's not that it was a Christian movie, heck, God was only mentioned by His name once - in writing (though there was other "touches" around, like a crucifix pendent, and Catholic art in the parents' home).

It's not because Eduardo is so incredibly handsome to us ladies (but, well, he is - I consider it a bonus!).

So... why do I love "Bella"?

Oddly, I think the best way to describe my love is to appeal to another movie you might have seen: "Crash". Those of you who have seen "Crash" may be thinking, "huh?" right now. Stay with me. What's "Crash" about? How every action in each of our lives connects us to each other and impacts all of us. More implicitly, "Crash" also splendidly shows us how Providence is at work in all things, to help us and guide us and, above all, SAVE us. From ourselves and our own petty selfishness and sinful behavior. At the heart of "Crash" is a tale of relationship, love, sin and culminating in redemption. All wrapped up in a package that leads you step by step to this realization, not all at once. Like life.

Where "Crash" uses a variety of different people, and a variety of different mini-stories, even vignettes, to weave its vision of the unity of our existence, "Bella" uses just a few people and one story composed of many underlying facets. But it has the same result - it demonstrates to you how life, all life, is both precious and important. Every life. It demonstrates the real actions of our lives, and the unity of the global and historical community that we are a part of, whether we know it or not, want it or not. Best of all, it guides us to this realization, as "Crash" did, without forcing us or dragging us into some sort of ideological agenda. It respects our intelligence.

Sidenote: One of Barb's major criticisms of "Bella", if I remember correctly, was that she thought it was choppy and badly edited. It is true, it is a choppy film compared to most, and likely some of this is due to bad editing. There are a few parts especially that I think are unclear and remain unclear - the clinic "vision" and the time transition at the end of the film in particular - though perhaps these do not need to be "resolved" and tidily wrapped up with a bow to be any more effective. However, I would ask Barb and others to consider more the correspondence that I've noticed between "Bella" and "Crash", and see if that doesn't help to explain a little more the fittingness behind the piece-by-piece presentation of information... I think it does.

Bottom line: See "Bella"! If you go to "Bella", you will come out a better person, with a deeper respect for the gift of all of our lives. Not many movies do that!

(Families - I would say that this film is appropriate for most children 13 or over, and in fact I would say that it would be a VERY GOOD thing for all our teens to see this film - to see how "true love goes beyond romance")

What we take for granted

Too often, those of us who are committed to our Catholic faith just sail through without really considering the bountiful feast that we have before our eyes. I know I am guilty of "existing" through a Mass, being preoccupied when blessing myself with holy water, chattering before Mass, complaining about the homeless panhandlers outside the church doors, etc. And yet, through it all, underneath it all, I hope and pray each day to appreciate and give thanks for the many blessings Christ has given me as a Catholic.

Last year I wrote a review of the book "May Crowning, Mass and Merton: 50 Reasons I love being Catholic.

Now I've come across a new blog, Growing Up, by Karen, a woman who is now in the "final stretch" of converting to the Catholic Church. As such, she has a fresh and beautiful faith and appreciation of the depths and reality that is before her - what a treat to read her posts and journey with her! And now she has posted a lovely post entitled What I love (or will love) about being Catholic. Go check it out, and pray for her and all the others who are coming home soon!

Friday, November 09, 2007

UST, Flynn, Nienstedt... the saga continues

This came up in the past couple of days but I've been too busy to post on it. However, a fairly full account is up at †Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam†: Shock therapy for freshmen at St. Thomas shockingly trite.

Suffice it to say that this is very bad news for the future of my "Catholic" university.

Additionally, I've defended Flynn many times when I didn't agree with him, but this, this just looks bad.

And just what does UST think it's going to accomplish by this little shell game? That's what I can't figure out - what do they REALLY think they're going to gain by all this, other than draw a lot of attention to themselves? Is that it, do they just want a lot of attention? Or, are they the spoiled child who tries to sneak around so as to both rebel against his parents, and yet continue to reap the benefits of mooching off of their parents' good name and the perks being their kid provides? You know how THOSE stories always end, right?

Please pray and fast for us here at UST and for our Archbishop and his successor!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Future Geography Major

Smart kid, eh?

Great online vocation videos resource

Check out Sarah Bauer :: Online Video Magazine for an amazingly well done series of videos on the various vocational callings that God has made.

Check them out, and consider using them for your youth group/faith formation classes this year!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Prayers needed for a little girl

Update: News has not improved, the tumor is malignent and is spreading rapidly. They cannot operate because the tumor is so large and she is so small so they are trying to combat it with medication and some radiation in an effort to reduce the tumor's size so they can operate. Say a prayer for this family, not only for healing but also that their faith may be increased.

Prayer warriors - please add a little girl named Flavia to your prayer lists. She is 3 years old, and the daughter of my Italian language professor from when I studied in Rome a couple of years ago (at that time she was just born and he couldn't stop talking about her - definitely daddy's girl!). Word has come from Rome that doctors have found a tumor on her hip that they believe to be cancerous.

Please keep little Flavia and her family in your prayers this week! Perhaps by praying a novena to God through the intercession of St. Peregrine?

'Great Mass, Father!'

Out of the mouths of babes comes this great report over at Fr. Fox's blog: 'Great Mass, Father!'

Reminds me of that quote from over at the Stella Borealis blog: [6-yr-old speaking] "Daddy, why in the English Mass does the priest have his back to Jesus the whole time?" (I use this line now everytime I hear someone say that back in the "nasty old pre-Vatican II days" Fr. turned his back on us)

Kids. Don't sell them short, they're more apt to pick up on blatent contradictions between what we say we believe and how we prove what we really believe by what we do. Give them a chance and they just might surprise you with their objectivity - after all, THEY aren't coming to Mass with all that "nasty pre-Vatican II" baggage that some of you have. They are able to experience it completely innocently, and therefore draw a lot more out of it than the older generations can. It's just like when you're preparing a kid for first Confession - if you act like Confession is not a big deal and isn't scary (and for heaven's sake, don't go off telling stories of your own "horrible" Confession experiences) then guess what? The kids aren't scared of it. They love it. They ask to go back again. "Let the little children come to me and DO NOT HINDER THEM [with your own baggage and presumptions]" says the Lord.

And in other news, blogdom has been abuzz over this humble witness to the power of obedience (because in the end, that's what just about all of this hubbub over liturgy is about) by Bishop Robert Morlino of the diocese of Madison WI:

Pope Benedict just wrote to us bishops a letter not too long ago about the permission for the traditional Latin mass. He said, ‘I know some of you bishops have agonized year after year about whether or not to permit this,’ and I’ve been one of those. I was the only bishop in Wisconsin who did not permit the traditional Latin mass for what I thought were good reasons. And the Pope wrote and said, ‘I want to relieve you of the responsibility of all of that prudential pondering, so I’m making the decision.’ He saw that as a service, and I accepted it as a service. I was the only bishop in Wisconsin not to permit the traditional Latin mass, and now, in obedience, I will be the first bishop in Wisconsin to celebrate the traditional Latin mass.

Get the rest of the scoop over at Fr. Z's blog of course!

Asceticism in America

From Fr. Longenecker's blog: Standing on My Head: Asceticism in America


This is not to mention the athletes in sports-crazy America. They put themselves on strict diets, do physical training to get into shape, establish practice regimes that test their limits of endurance and regularly risk their careers, family lives and serious physical injury for what? A few moments of glory and a plastic trophy? And they think religious people are insane?

The idea that one should make any sacrifice at all for one's religion is almost dead within American Christianity. Religion is there, isn't it, to make you happy, to make you feel better about yourself, to provide warm fellowship for you and your Christian chums, to reassure you that after a pain free victorious life in Jesus you will be on the express train to heaven and even more unimaginable happiness. Yes, American Christians do expect to make financial sacrifices as they tithe, but even then it is often seen as a form of investment. After all, "You can't out give God. If you tithe regularly you will receive much more back in return and be even more prosperous." Right?"

Read the whole post!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bella - NOT another "chick flick"

UPDATE - Yes, it is sad to say but it appears that they are pushing out the release date for Bella here in the Twin Cities for another week. It will be opening at the Eagan Regal Cinema NEXT weekend, November 9th. There are already plans being made to go on Friday, November 9th, during the "7:00 hour" show (we don't know yet exactly what time it will be). Come one come all!

A very interesting review of the new movie Bella is up over at the First Things blog - A Decidedly Unsappy Bella.

It doesn't try to defend the movie, it just tries to explain a few points about the underlying point of the film that may have, shall we say, confused, a few of the media critics.

For those of you in the Twin Cities area, there is a group of us planning to attend Bella this Saturday afternoon in Eagan, at the Regal Cinema 6. Showtime is 4:30pm, bring the family and come with us! Afterwards, some of us are going to the Barn Dance at the Cathedral (yes, you heard right), others may just head out for dinner.

Fra Angelico's Annunciation