Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sneak Peak at A Midsummer Night's Dream

It's production week! We open A Midsummer Night's Dream in five (5) days. In lieu of a lot of directorial bloviating about vision and theme, have some photos as we pull our set and costumes together.  And then, if you're in the Columbus, OH area next weekend, buy tickets and come see us!

Friday, March 17, 2023

Somber News for Josh


UPDATE from my sister-in-law Gail: 

I so wanted to share only good news with all of you tonight… I finally got to hold Joshua yesterday - the first time since his surgery. I was able to lift him out of bed myself and hold him without pillows or blankets propping him up. He even got to lay on my knees as I just gazed upon his chubby cheeks!

Unfortunately, we received a somber update from neurology this afternoon. Josh has not been moving, even after the sedatives have worn off. The doctors have also noticed that the cleft in his skull has grown more pronounced. They did an ultrasound - which showed that cysts have been growing where his brain should be, and that brain tissue is actually disappearing. The doctor explained this is not unexpected to them because the injury was so severe and so much of the brain tissue was damaged. So, the portions of the brain that die essentially get reabsorbed into the body and something needs to fill that space.

It seems that his lack of movement after coming off the surgery sedatives/paralytics is one indicator that he could be considered completely brain dead soon - and have nothing but cystic fluid where brain matter once was. 

They're going to give the meds a little more time to leave his body completely and see if he has any possibly purposeful movements. Similar to when they removed him from the ECMO machine and first discovered how pervasive the bleed was, if they don't see movement, or any signs of neural responses they could conduct a test that would declare him "brain dead" at which point they would remove support. They are not pursuing this avenue yet. They need to be absolutely sure that medications are not causing his lack of response. 

He has started showing some basic reflexes, the question remains is are those movements rooted in the spinal cord or are they directed by the brain.

In January, they were considering pursing this same test. It was after that that John anointed Joshua’s whole body in holy water from Lourdes. The next day, Joshua surprised all the doctors by kicking his legs - showing us that, though minimal, there was some communication between his body and brain. We are asking you to storm heaven with us these next several days. Pray that God’s divine intervention would heal sweet Joshua. Pray for a miraculous healing through the intercession of Fr. Emil Kapaun. 

Tonight, our hearts are a little heavier than they were before. But we are trying to place our trust completely in the Lord. We know that God has the final say on Joshua’s life. This may be God’s way of preparing our hearts to say good bye. Or it may be God’s way of preparing the world to see His miraculous healing. And until one of those things is made known to us - we will cherish our time with Joshua now - loving on those sweet baby cheeks and cute little baby toes!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Repost: π with Jesus

Originally posted March 14, 2017.

It's the second week of Lent, which means that observance has lost its zest. I don't know about you, but I'm yearning for a bit of chocolate. Not a bright, hopeful yearning; a dry, intellectual, arid yearning, because I know I'm not going to eat chocolate anyway. I just want it because it's better than not-chocolate.

So we search for a reason to celebrate, and not the corny-beef celebration of St. Patrick's Day dispensations (which St. Patrick would have disdained) but something rounder, to bring us full circle. And lo! It is Pi Day, 3.14. But we cannot fudge on Pi Day without bringing it into some greater religious context. And not just the context of "God made it, and it is good," because God made chocolate too, and we're not eating that.

Of course, the key question is: would Jesus have known about Pi? Not known-known as God knows all things, but as a person growing up in a first-century Jewish culture, in the course of his human knowledge would he have been likely to encounter the concept of Pi?

Dr. Google offers us thoughts on "mathematics in ancient Israel pi", presenting The Secret Jewish History of Pi:
The relationship between a circle’s diameter — a line running straight through cutting it into two equal halves — and its circumference — the distance around the circle – was originally mentioned in the Hebrew Book of Kings in reference to a ritual pool in King Solomon’s Temple. The relevant verse (1 Kings 7:23) states that the diameter of the pool was ten cubits and the circumference 30 cubits. In other words, the Bible rounds off Pi to about three, as if to say that’s good enough for horseshoes and swimming pools. 
Later on, the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud, who knew that the one-third ratio wasn’t completely accurate, had a field day with the Bible having played fast and loose with the facts, arguing in their characteristic manner that of course it depended on whether you measured the pool from the inside or the outside of the vessel’s wall. They also had fun with some of the Gematria – the numerical value – of the words in the original passage, which when you play around with them a bit indeed come a lot closer to the value of Pi, spelling it out to several decimal points.
"Secret" here might be a bit sensationalistic, seeing as 1Kings is not exactly an occult piece of literature. The Journal of Mathematics and Culture May 2006, V1(1) offers us a more scholarly explanation via Lawrence Mark Lesser's article "Book of Numbers: Exploring Jewish Mathematics and Culture at a Jewish High School":
A value of π can be obtained from I Kings 7:23: 
“He made the ‘sea’ of cast [metal] ten cubits from its one lip to its [other] lip, circular all around, five cubits its height; a thirty-cubit line could encircle it all around.” 
It appears the value of π implied here is simply 30/10 (an error of 4.5%) until a student asks if we need to consider the tank’s thickness -- given three verses later as one-handbreadth, so the inner diameter is 10 cubits minus 2 handbreadths. (Of course, this is also a chance to discuss issues of measurement!) Using the Talmudic value of 1/6 cubit for one handbreadth, the inner diameter becomes 9 2/3 cubits and dividing 30 by 9 2/3 yields more accuracy (error: 1.2%). Applying a more subtle and technical approach to I Kings 7:23 (see Posamentier & Lehmann 2004 or 20 Tsaban & Garber 1998), the ratio of gematrias for the written and spoken forms of a key Hebrew word (for “line”) in that verse is 111/106, which when multiplied by 3 yields a very refined approximation for π : 333/106 (error: 0.0026%). Very few words in the Torah have different oral and written forms. 
By Jewish Encyclopedia [Public domain or Public domain]

Jesus was well versed in the law and the prophets, and it is not a stretch to assume that the account of the building of Solomon's Temple and the fashioning of the great pillars and vessels of bronze was known to him. Could he have known about pi? Could he? Should we doubt his scriptural knowledge? Listen to this.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:46-50)
Do you not understand? Jesus, in the Temple itself, astounding the teachers with his knowledge and his answers, and talking of his Father's house -- the very house for which the bronze vessel was created*? Even his parents could not understand Pi, as happens with so many parents dealing with their children's math.

My friends. The Scriptures themselves proclaim Pi. Take and eat.

*Not actually the very house, since it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and not the very basin, since 2 Kings tells us that the Chaldeans destroyed it. But still.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Help for Baby Josh and the Egan Family

Kind readers, many of you have reached out to me and asked how you can offer practical support for my nephew Josh and my brother's family. I'm hosting a GoFundMe for the family, where they can post updates and photos. The current medical costs my brother and his wife are facing are astronomical, and the ongoing costs for Josh's care will be intensive and lifelong. Your prayers are of course the greatest aid you can give, but if you feel moved to contribute, that help is much needed and deeply appreciated.

Please feel free to share this!

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Josh's Surgery

UPDATE from my SIL: 

Joshua’s surgery was successful! He has remained stable both through the surgery and since coming back to the NICU for recovery. He will remain on paralytics and heavily sedated until Tuesday. On Tuesday, they will change out his trache for the first time and then slowly start to bring him out from sedation. In the meantime, he remains on IV fluids and will have his first taste of momma’s milk through his new g-tube tomorrow afternoon.

The name of the game is: rest all weekend long! And while he rests in bed, I’ll just stare at those sweet chubby cheeks and take in all the cuteness of his heart shaped lips and squidgee little nose!

Surgery for Joshua Today

An update from my sister-in-law on Joshua's surgery today:

We have a big day ahead of us. Joshua will receive a tracheotomy with ventilator and g-tube today. Doctors anticipate he will need the support of a ventilator and trache for the rest of his life. 

They will place a tube directly into his trachea (his throat) that will both protect his airway and help him continue to breath. They will also place a g-tube directly into his stomach for him to receive food. While this surgery is life-altering and will require a great deal of ongoing care, it will also provide more stability for Joshua. It also means we will be able to see Joshua’s sweet face, unobstructed by tubes and wires and tape. I will be able to hold him without nursing support. Currently, when I hold Joshua, it requires 2 nurses to place him in my arms and I need to stay still in the chair with him for at least an hour. Then it takes 2 nurses to put him safely back in bed.

After Joshua’s surgery, he will remain heavily sedated (I won’t be able to hold him) for about a week while the site of the surgery heals and they do the first tube change. His trache tube needs to be replaced once a week. Eventually, John and I will be trained on how to care for and change his tracheotomy.

Today, included lots of snuggles with mommy and some quality sibling time. A Child Life Specialist at the hospital met with Ben, Sam, and Hannah to show them what a tracheotomy looks like and talk about how it works. They each received a doll that has a tracheotomy. All the children (Benjamin especially) are very excited for this next step in Joshua’s journey. They can’t wait to see his sweet baby cheeks. And Benjamin is eager to hold his baby brother in his lap!

Joshua’s surgery is scheduled for 1:00pm today and should last about 4 hours. Please pray for Josh and his whole team of surgeons.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

An Accompaniment of Lies

Cardinal McElroy of San Diego has made his fair share of news lately by penning a pair of pieces for America Magazine. 

In the first, he writes about what he calls a synodality of inclusion. He espouses several controversial views, including suggesting that the Church use the Synod on Synodality as an opportunity to reexamine the question of ordaining women as priests, though he admits that this reexamination will likely still result in deciding not to move forward.

However, he wraps up with a section on what he calls the Christological Paradox in which amidst a great deal of word salad he calls for "a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord". Although the cardinal apparently later clarified on a podcast interview that despite the plain meaning of his words, he was not in fact endorsing intercommunion with baptized Christians who are not members of the Catholic Church, what he was very much doing was arguing that people not be encouraged to hold back from receiving the Eucharist when they know themselves to be in a state of unrepented mortal sin.

Since America Magazine can be rather finicky in terms of allowing people to read their articles without paying for the privilege (and I managed to use multiple browser profiles to get both articles up without paying for this pair of articles which are clearly not worth money to read) I'll quote that section at length.  Feel free to skim.

The report of the synodal dialogues from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops points to an additional and distinct element of exclusion in the life of the church: “Those who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church.” These include those who are divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity from the church, members of the L.G.B.T. community and those who are civilly married but have not been married in the church.

These exclusions touch upon important teachings of the church about the Christian moral life, the commitments of marriage and the meaning of sexuality for the disciple. It is very likely that discussions of all of these doctrinal questions will take place at the synodal meetings this fall and next year in Rome.

But the exclusion of men and women because of their marital status or their sexual orientation/activity is pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one. Given our teachings on sexuality and marriage, how should we treat remarried or L.G.B.T. men and women in the life of the church, especially regarding questions of the Eucharist?

“Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” cites a contribution from the Catholic Church of England and Wales, which provides a guidepost for responding to this pastoral dilemma: “The dream is of a church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment.” In other words, the church is called to proclaim the fullness of its teaching while offering a witness of sustained inclusion in its pastoral practice.

As the synodal process begins to discern how to address the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. Catholics, particularly on the issue of participation in the Eucharist, three dimensions of Catholic faith support a movement toward inclusion and shared belonging.

The first is the image that Pope Francis has proposed to us of the church as a field hospital. The primary pastoral imperative is to heal the wounded. And the powerful pastoral corollary is that we are all wounded. It is in this fundamental recognition of our faith that we find the imperative to make our church one of accompaniment and inclusion, of love and mercy. Pastoral practices that have the effect of excluding certain categories of people from full participation in the life of the church are at odds with this pivotal notion that we are all wounded and all equally in need of healing.

The second element of Catholic teaching that points to a pastoral practice of comprehensive inclusion is the reverence for conscience in Catholic faith. Men and women seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ struggle with enormous challenges in living out their faith, often under excruciating pressures and circumstances. While Catholic teaching must play a critical role in the decision making of believers, it is conscience that has the privileged place. Categorical exclusions undermine that privilege precisely because they cannot encompass the inner conversation between women and men and their God.

The third element of Catholic teaching that supports a pastoral stance of inclusion and shared belonging in the church is the counterpoised realities of human brokenness and divine grace that form the backdrop for any discussion of worthiness to receive the Eucharist. As Pope Francis stated in “Gaudete et Exultate,” “grace, precisely because it builds on nature, does not make us superhuman all at once.... Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively” (No. 50).

Here lies the foundation for Pope Francis’ exhortation “to see the Eucharist not as a prize for the perfect, but as a source of healing for us all.” The Eucharist is a central element of God’s grace- filled transformation of all the baptized. For this reason, the church must embrace a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord, rather than a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist. Unworthiness cannot be the prism of accompaniment for disciples of the God of grace and mercy.

It will be objected that the church cannot accept such a notion of radical inclusion because the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. persons from the Eucharist flows from the moral tradition in the church that all sexual sins are grave matter. This means that all sexual actions outside of marriage are so gravely evil that they constitute objectively an action that can sever a believer’s relationship with God. This objection should be faced head on.

The effect of the tradition that all sexual acts outside of marriage constitute objectively grave sin has been to focus the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity. The heart of Christian discipleship is a relationship with God the Father, Son and Spirit rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church has a hierarchy of truths that flow from this fundamental kerygma. Sexual activity, while profound, does not lie at the heart of this hierarchy. Yet in pastoral practice we have placed it at the very center of our structures of exclusion from the Eucharist. This should change.

In his follow-up post (just published on March 2nd), Cardinal McElroy seeks to respond to his critics and expand on his thinking.  While there is some incredibly wrong-headed material in there in which McElroy attempts to argue that the Church has for the last three hundred years treated sexual sins as being uniquely sinful among all sins, including this gem of a section:

It is automatically an objective mortal sin for a husband and wife to engage in a single act of sexual intercourse utilizing artificial contraception. This means the level of evil present in such an act is objectively sufficient to sever one’s relationship with God.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to physically or psychologically abuse your spouse.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to exploit your employees.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to discriminate against a person because of her gender or ethnicity or religion.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to abandon your children.

This is one of those frustrating examples where Catholic critics of the Church's teaching end up sounding a lot like anti-Catholics, asserting that the Church teaches things which the Church does not and never has taught.  Not only is "objective mortal sin" not a category (he seems to be conflating "objectively sinful" as in some act which is always by its nature wrong, such as lying, and "gravely sinful", as in some sin serious enough that if done with full intent and knowledge it constitutes a mortal sin, and imagining that there is some set of sins, apparently including only sexual sins, which are automatically damning regardless of knowledge or intent) but all the other things he mentions would very clearly be considered very grave matter.

But eventually McElroy gets around to laying out his argument for why the Church should get rid of any idea of mortal sin (or at least, sexual sin) being a barrier to receiving the Eucharist:

I proposed that the Eucharist is given to us as a profound grace in our conversion to discipleship. As Pope Francis reminds us, the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” To bar disciples from that grace blocks one of the principal pathways Christ has given to them to reform their lives and accept the Gospel ever more fully. For all of these reasons, I proposed that divorced and remarried or L.G.B.T. Catholics who are ardently seeking the grace of God in their lives should not be categorically barred from the Eucharist.
The pastoral theology of Pope Francis requires that the liturgical and sacramental life of the church be formed in compassionate embrace with the often overwhelming life challenges that prevent men and women at some periods in their life from conforming fully with important Gospel challenges. And the pastoral theology of Pope Francis rejects a notion of law that can be blind to the uniqueness of concrete human situations, human suffering and human limitation.

There are three fundamental foundations for this pastoral theology.

The first foundation for the pastoral theology that Pope Francis is pointing to lies in the recognition that the church should mirror the pastoral action of the Lord himself. It is the pattern of Jesus Christ who walked the earth that we are to incorporate into every element of ecclesial life. First, the Lord embraces the person, then he heals them. Then he calls the person to reform. Each of these elements of the saving encounter with the Lord is essential. But their order is also essential. Christ first reveals the overpowering merciful and limitless love of God. Then he moves to heal the particular form of suffering that the person is experiencing. And only then does he call the person specifically to a change in that person’s life.

This pattern must become ever more deeply the model for the church’s proclamation of the faith and healing action in the world. This must be the imitatio Christi for a pastoral church in an age that rejects abstraction, authority and tradition. The clear recognition of sin and the call to change one’s life to conform more fully with the Gospel is essential to Christian conversion and the achievement of true happiness in this world and the next. But that call must be expressed in the tender, compassionate welcome of a church that patiently ministers over time, as Christ did.

The second principle of Pope Francis’ pastoral theology is that the church must be committed to true accompaniment. In “The Gospel of Joy” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), Pope Francis expresses both the depth of commitment and the openness that must suffuse pastoral life and action in the church. “The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” The challenge of this is to come to see others as God sees them, incredibly precious souls, individual in nature and identity, yet equally treasured by the Lord.

The final foundation for the pastoral theology that Pope Francis is delineating for the life of the church is the assertion that the church’s identity, teaching and action must be rooted in the life situations that men and women actually experience in the world today. Every disciple encounters certain enormously complex circumstances that consistently prevent him or her from living out the teaching of the church in its fullness. Those who are divorced and remarried or sexually active members of the L.G.B.T. communities are among them. Pastoral theology and accompaniment seek to recapitulate and replicate the saving encounter of Jesus Christ with the saint and the sinner who resides in every human soul, touching every dimension of human existence in the real world, inviting all striving disciples to the eucharistic banquet in this world and the next.

All right, having given the cardinal his say, let's try to look at what's wrong with all this.

McElroy proposes that the Church change both how he alleges the Church defines the gravity of sexual sin (though since his representation of Church teaching here is so wrong, it's hard to tell how seriously to take this) and whether people who are living in situations of grave sin should receive communion, because he says that if all the baptized are welcomed "to the table of the Lord" the medicine of the Church's sacraments will work on those people and they will grow in their love of Christ.

He says that this is how Christ worked in the Gospels: He says that first Christ embraced the person, then He healed him, and finally He called him to repent.

As a factual matter, this is not Christ's order of operations in all Gospel encounters.

For instance, the first incident that occurs to me from the Gospels when people are arguing about the requirements of the moral life would be the story of the rich young man (Mk 10:17-31 or Lk 18:18-30).  In that example, a young man approaches Jesus and asks Him how he may get to heaven. Jesus first lists off the commandments. When the young man says that he does indeed obey all these commandments, Jesus tells him that the one additional thing he must do is sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and then come follow Him. When the young man is discouraged by this difficult demand and "went away sad", Jesus does not embrace him or accompany him, he turns to others nearby and observes, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  When His own disciples are discouraged by this, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first.”

Or to consider another oft cited passage, about the woman caught in adultery. There, Christ first rescues the woman from stoning. Next He tells her that He does not condemn her -- perhaps we might take it from that that He forgives her, or perhaps McElroy would describe this as Christ embracing her. And last of all He tells her to go and sin no more.

There is probably some example in the Gospels in which Jesus acts in the manner and order that McElroy describes, though off the top of my head I can't think of one.

But whatever we take this three step order of encounter (embrace, heal, call to repentance) to mean, McElroy insists that it must be the first foundation of how the Church ministers to people in modern times.

He then says the second foundation is accompaniment.  And the third foundation is recognizing that in this world everything is so hideously complicated that: "Every disciple encounters certain enormously complex circumstances that consistently prevent him or her from living out the teaching of the church in its fullness."

McElroy is oddly hesitant to state clearly what his program is, but if we may take these three foundations to sum it up, it would seem it is roughly speaking: 

1) embrace first, heal second, call to repentance last

2) accompany people

3) recognize that the world is just so complex that some people just can't live morally in it

McElroy seems to be saying that if we embrace people (by which he means not simply knowing and caring for them as people, but encouraging them to receive the Eucharist) and if we accompany them (while realizing that their lives may simply be too complex for them to live according to Christ's moral laws) that eventually there will come a time when they will want to repent of their sins because they have come to love Jesus.

Now first off, I think this is a huge distortion of what Jesus's interactions with people were actually like. While it's true that one thing that stands out in the Gospels is that Jesus is willing to devote personal time to people who are considered outcasts by the rest of society, the other thing that really stands out is that He is constantly making huge and sudden demands of people. He demands that the apostles abandon their occupations and follow Him -- not after some lengthy period of accompaniment where He spends time with their families and joins them in fishing, but the moment He meets them. This is indeed one of the really shocking things about Jesus in the Gospels.  He'll approach someone He's never interacted with before and immediately ask that they follow Him. And He's willing to leave people behind who won't follow that call.  In Matthew 8:21-22, right after Jesus heals the leper and the Centurian's servant, Jesus calls someone who says that he wants to follow Him but just needs to take time to bury his dead father first. Does Jesus accompany him through the mourning process and get him ready to leave the community he's been living in all this time?  No, Jesus just says, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

I'm not suggesting that the correct course for Christians today is to abruptly demand that people they barely know drop everything and come follow them. One of the things to recall when modeling oneself on the scriptures is that Jesus is God, and we are not God. There are modes of behavior which God can perform credibly and virtuously that we cannot. (Which is why people who want to cite Jesus flogging the money changers out of the temple are almost always trying to get away with something they shouldn't.) But it's worth noting that the actual Jesus of the Gospels constantly asks people He barely knows to do really difficult things. 

So McElroy's first foundation for this approach to pastoral morality is based on a pattern of behavior which Jesus does not in fact follow. The second and third foundations, I think, consist of a huge and dangerous misreading of the times we live in.

McElroy notes that people who are in a sexual relationship which is not a marriage recognized by the Church (whether they are cohabiting, civilly but not sacramentally married, divorced and remarried, or in some sort of same sex relationship) feel estranged from the Church due to Church teaching on sexuality and the application of that teaching to reception of the Eucharist. His proposed solution is that we "accompany" people by changing teaching on reception of the Eucharist and also that we recognize that the huge complexity of modern life may mean that some people simply aren't able to live in conformity to Church teaching -- at least not yet. 

It's important to ask, would this proposal (setting aside whether it is in keeping with Catholic doctrine) even solve the problem which he is setting out to fix? I don't think it does.

The issue that we face in modern society is not that there are lots of people who say, "I know that the sexual relationship I'm living in is wrong.  I want to resolve that at some point, but I find myself unable to resolve it now, because of the kids it has produced or because I can't afford my own place or because my partner is too controlling, and so what I really wish is that the Church would nourish me with the graces of the Eucharist until I can gain the resources and strength to make a change."

No. The issue we face is that there are lot sof people who say, "I am in a sexual relationship which is good and beautiful and God and the Church need to recognize that it is good and beautiful."

Ah, but McElroy might rejoin, of course there are elements of the relationship which are good and beautiful. Even in a relationship which is sinful because it's a sexual relationship outside of marriage, people often find ways to express love for one another, and the Church should recognize and celebrate that.

Okay, fine. It's true that even in a relationship which is sinful in its sexual dimension, people will also be loving in other areas. Our lives are indeed complex, and just as often in a good marriage people still at times sin against one another, so too in a bad relationship people find ways to express love towards one another.

But still, the demand which we see from modern society is not that the Church recognize that while sexual relationships outside of marriage are wrong, that within their context people sometimes perform some virtuous actions. Rather, the demand is that the Church recognize those relationships as right.

This whole set of proposals around accompaniment presumes that people would be fine with the Church saying that their relationships are sinful, so long as the Church did so in a more consequence-free fashion.

Picture a world in which the Church effectively says, "Welcome! Welcome! We are so glad that you are here! God loves you. We celebrate you. We welcome you to receive communion. BTW, your key life relationship is sinful, we can't bless it in church, and perhaps through the grace you receive from the Eucharist which you are welcome to, you will abandon that relationship and move closer to Christ by following His commandments more perfectly. But don't worry, in the meantime you are welcome and we celebrate you!"

Would people respond by saying, "Wow, that makes me as a person who is [cohabiting/divorced and remarried/in a same sex relationship] feel so valued and welcome. Now I no longer feel estranged from the Church."

I don't think we even have to stretch our imaginations on this one. We can look to the German Synodal Way, where the demand for the Church to actually change church sexual teachings and bless same sex relationships is open and clear. 

So there are two possibilities: The first is that Cardinal McElroy is proposing that we change Church teaching which dates back to the Bible itself, where St. Paul writes about the worthy reception of the Eucharist, in order to offer a compromise accompaniment-based approach which would not in fact satisfy anyone. The second is that this talk of accompaniment is really just a step along the way, and that McElroy and those like him already fully intend that if they could change teaching on reception of the Eucharist the next step would be demanding blessings on unmarried relationships and the next step would be saying it was unfair to have blessings for some people and marriage for others, with the end state always being that the actual teachings on divorce and remarriage, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, etc. be changed.

This latter possibility frankly strikes me as far more likely. I can't imagine that someone as well educated and familiar with the world as Cardinal McElroy really imagines that telling people, "We believe your relationship is sinful, and it should eventually end or become non-sexual, but in the meantime we welcome you to communion" would be satisfactory to those who feel estranged from the Church because of moral teachings. 

And I've also seen this play out before. Growing up, most of my friends were Episcopalians, and so I got the chance to watch as people first argued that they weren't really saying that moral teaching should be changed, they weren't really saying that the Episcopal Church should have same sex weddings, they were just saying that everyone was equally a sinner and everyone equally needed God's mercy, and then without missing a beat turned around and said supported changing their teachings and celebrating same sex weddings.

Progressives within Catholicism have often taken plays directly out of the mainstream Protestant book, and the similarities between what the Cardinal McElroys and Fr James Martins of the present moment are saying and what was said by progressive Episcopalians back in the 1990s and early 2000s (who knew very well they were steering their communion towards fully changing its teachings on sexual morality) seem like they could not be accidental.

If Cardinal McElroy wants to see Church teaching on sexual morality reversed, he should at least have the decency to say so openly. Lying is, after all, another thing which is objectively sinful. And if he does not want that, he needs to wrestle with the question of whether changing Church teaching on the nature of worthy reception of the Eucharist (something which would in itself be a rejection of the Church's very nature dating back to the apostles) would even achieve the objectives he claims to have.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

"She fought herself with vigor and conviction from the first sentence to the last"


Writing, for her, was an agonizing ordeal. Writing is hard work for almost everyone: for Katharine it was particularly hard, because she was by temperament and by profession an editor, not a writer. (The exception was when she wrote letters. Her letters -- to friends, relatives, contributors -- flowed naturally from her in a clear and steady stream, a warm current of affection, concern, and eagerness to get through to the mind of the recipient. Letters were easy. How I envied her!) But when she sat down to compose a magazine piece on gardening, faced with all the strictures and disciplines of formal composition and suffering the uneasiness that goes with critical expression in the public print -- this was something else again. Gone was the clear and steady stream. Katharine's act of composition often achieved the turbulence of a shoot-out. The editor in her fought the writer every inch of the way; the struggle was felt all through the house. She would write eight or ten words, then draw her gun and shoot them down. This made for slow and torturous going. It was simple warfare -- the editor ready to nip the writer before she committed all the sins and errors the editor clearly foresaw. Occasionally, I ribbed her about the pain she inflicted on herself. "Just go ahead and write," I said. "Edit it afterwards -- there's plenty of time." My advice never had any effect on her; she fought herself with vigor and conviction from the first sentence to the last, drawing blood the whole way. 

--E.B. White, on the writing process of his wife, The New Yorker editor Katharine S. White, in an introduction to her collected reviews of gardening catalogues, Onward and Upward in the Garden

I am thoroughly enjoying reading Katharine White's book, which is so clearly and bracingly written that she makes me wish I had the temperament and interests to be a gardener. E.B. White's introduction, however, is what resonates most with me; I believe I must be an editor at heart. Katharine's agony of composition is all too familiar to me. Almost everything I write is born in painful labor, whether brief and intense, or prolonged and draining. I'm often happy to have done it, but oh, the process!

After Katharine's death, E.B White granted a rare interview, in which he recalled their marriage:

Mr. White described his love affair with Katharine Sergeant Angell as "stormy." He added, "She was a divorced woman, but a conscientious mother with two children. I was six years younger than she. We finally went off and got married one day." That was in 1929. Years thereafter, he was to write: "I soon realized I had made no mistake in my choice of a wife. I was helping her pack an overnight bag one afternoon when she said, 'Put in some tooth twine.' I knew then that a girl who called dental floss tooth twine was the girl for me."