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On marriage

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Elizabeth Gilbert, guru to millions through her best-selling 2006 memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love" about her spiritual and geographical journey after her divorce, has a new book out on marriage.

"Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage" is about her government-forced marriage to her Brazilian boyfriend. I haven't read it yet, but enjoyed this discussion between Gilbert and Catholic author Ann Patchett in today's "Wall Street Journal."

Though she hardly has a sacramental view of marriage, Gilbert does ultimately believe the institution of marriage will endure:

2010: In with the New

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Yesterday, we looked back and examined the things we want less of in the new year and new decade. Today, let’s look forward and think of things we want more of in the coming years.

First, I want more pro-life Democrats and Republicans who are conscious of social justice issues. Those members of Congress like Democrat Bob Casey and Bart Stupak and Republican Anh Cao of Louisiana, the only Republican who voted for the bill in either chamber, find themselves at odds with the leadership of their political party. But, neither party is a perfect fit for the Catholic social justice tradition: The Dems have this huge gaping blind spot on abortion and the GOP is too busy trying to capitalism to notice its many inequities and indignities. Casey, Stupak and Cao are among those who actually embody the fullness of the tradition.

The Limits of Security

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The near bombing of the Northwest flight enroute to Detroit has brought us back to an obsession with security which was triggered by 9/11 and has spiked many times since.

The tension makes perfect sense on the face of it. Any time a would-be bomber slips through the layers of detection lives are in danger. Questions must be asked and holes plugged.

But as 2009 fades to black, I'm also reminded that the voices calling for repairs to the system are so often shrill, hysterical and utopian. They demand the kind of perfection that the Bible counsel us to avoid lest we lose our souls.

The Bible's argument, as I understand it, is that human project, while worthy, cannot avoid lapses and failures. It is our propensity toward mistake and error that can make us realize that we find our only security in Jesus Christ. Just as St. Paul said, religious law serves us by awakening us to our imperfection and the need for divine mercy.

2009: Out with the Old

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New Year’s is a time for looking back, as the various “lists” of the most important news stories or interesting people attest. And, for looking forward as the “predictions” being floated abound. I am not so good at predictions, and my memory is not what it once was. But, in the spirit of the holiday, today I offer some of the things from the past decade that we most hope not to see again and, tomorrow, things we hope to see more of.

First, I hope to see fewer government lies. Surely one of the most memorable moments in the decade just past was when Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the U.N. Security Council about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. And, Powell was one of the good guys. He fell into a trap of cognitive deceit, and it doesn’t matter whether people knew they were lying or were so convinced by their own propaganda that they could not recognize a lie when they saw it. There were other lies, such as the canard that we can cut taxes without harming the long-term fiscal health of the nation, but that has moved beyond a simple lie to the status of a pernicious myth. Let’s hope there are less of them too.

Servant leadership

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I often hear the term "servant leadership" used to describe the leadership model that should be used by church leaders. Bishop Tom Gumbleton talks about this idea in his homilies; see for example, his homily for Sept. 24, which on our Web site, we titled Hierarchs and lower-archs in the church.

When Timothy M. Dolan was named archbishop of New York in February, Catholic News Service reported that he "pledged his life, his heart and his soul to the people of the archdiocese."

At a press conference, he said to the Catholics in New York: "I am so honored, humbled and happy at the prospect of serving as your pastor."

Dolan told the priests of the archdiocese: "The priests are on the front lines. I am their servant. You can count on me to help them. ... That's not a chore; that's a choice." (I don't mean to single out Dolan; he just popped up first in the word search.)

"Servant leadership," I suppose, is most often applied to bishops and pastors, but it would also apply to lay men and women who have leadership roles in the church.

Religious profiling?

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The attempted destruction of Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day has raised new discussions about “profiling” passengers who are seeking to board flights. Some commentators want to single out all Muslims, or all Arabs (or all those who look like Arabs or Middle Easterners, I guess) – for special questioning or screening.

You know, every time I hear this, I wonder how we Catholics would feel if we were all “profiled” when liberation theology was popular… on suspicion that we might aid Latin American rebels somewhere.

Dec. 31, St. Jean-FranÁois RÈgis, S.J.

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Today is the feast of St. Jean-François Régis, S.J.

"Born on January 31, 1597, in the district of Fontcouverte at the foot of the Pyrenees in the south of France, he died at age forty-three on December 31, 1640, in the mountain hamlet of Lalouvesc (la-loo-vay) located in the Massif Central, not far from the French Alps."

He entered the Society of Jesus at the age of 19, and after four years of theology at Toulouse, he was assigned to teach at the college (high school) at Le Puy. "The main problem was keeping the fifteen-year-olds from killing each other in duels over petty arguments."

Hope, Ark. or Oyster Bay, NY or Hyde Park, NY?

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Harold Pollack over at TNR has a provocative idea: Whenever the health care bill is finally passed, President Obama should fly to Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hope, Arkansas and sign it there as a way of highlighting the role the Clintons’ effort in 1993, though unsuccessful, nonetheless paved the way for Obama’s almost certain victory on the issue early next year. He notes that Lyndon Johnson went to Independence, Missouri to sign Medicare into law at the Truman Library, highlighting his predeccesor’s effort which also had been unsuccessful.

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