Cascadia Catholics

A left-leaning Catholic discussion forum.

Monday, July 30, 2007

SiCKO: Health Care is a Moral Issue

So a group of friends and I gathered to watch SiCKO last week, and it was just great. Informative, striking, funny, and jarring (one hopes to the point of action). Michael Moore seemed to tone down his confrontational style, in SiCKO, and this has worked to make his message that much more powerful. The issues are potent enough, as are the simple interviews, to convey a very moving message to Americans about their collapsing Health Care system.

To paraphrase what Al Gore had to say about Global Warming, Health Care is a moral issue. Sure it's political, but the Church has often expressed her conviction that Health Care is a human right, tied to our human dignity as children of God. In the 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII stated that health care is a human right, grounded in the right to life. The U.S. bishops repeated their call for universal insurance in 1974 and 1981. In 1993, the American bishops approved a resolution stating Catholic values and placing a priority on Health Care reform.

As a right, then, this whole-scale plundering of our Health Care system by insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and other profit-driven entities, is simply immoral - and ought to be made criminal. A market-driven health care system will always put profit over care at some point. It has to. There's an innate conflict of interest in such a system, which Michael Moore points out quite well in his movie.

In case you didn't know (and who'd tell you?), Michael Moore is a practicing Catholic. An article by Sarah Baker and Katie Escherich / ABC News states:
In addition to being a filmmaker and an activist, Moore is also a deeply religious man, an Eagle Scout who at one point decided to go to the seminary and become a priest. He said that "Sicko" comes from "a spiritual place."

"I don't like putting my religious beliefs out there," he said. "But I do believe that this film is coming from a very deep place, from a spiritual place in the sense that I believe as a Christian and a Catholic that it is my responsibility to make sure that not only am I covered if something happens to me, but that everyone else is covered."
Link to Article

Universal Health Care will be a huge undertaking, truly. But is the concept itself really so difficult to grasp?

I've been impressed with what the California Nurses Association is doing to alert the public about our ailing Health Care system, and their efforts in bringing about a Universal Health Care plan for this country. Check them out here:

California Nurses

Friday, July 27, 2007

Edwards Again....

I hate to make this a mini-Edwards site, but I really liked this:

Follow the link.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's About

Whoa Nelly! (Can I say that?) Looky who's gone and got religion! No, not the Democrats, but the Main Stream Media! And it's even passably intelligent.

The July 23 issue of TIME has published an article entitled "Leveling the Praying Field." Cute. But it is decent, though I think sparse on the Catholic Democratic voter. [It calls the Catholic Vote the "loosest swing vote in the spiritual cosmos," but not much more is said. Well, one can't expect too much from these guys, afterall.]

Leveling the Praying Field is about the Democratic Party finally Getting It when it comes to religious voters. They just aren't Republican anymore. (Well, duh.) It spends a lot of time talking about Evangelicals, and gives Jim Wallis's book, God's Politics, some good ink.

Mostly, it's about the three top candidates running for president, and their views on religion; as well as the DNC's past blunders, and hopeful fixes.

Among the candidates, I found Barack Obama's words the most impressive. (Too bad they left out Kucinich and his Catholic views. Oh, they did mention Kerry's pathetic Catholic showing, but only to say it was pathetic. It was.)

Here's what Barack Obama had to say about religion in the public square:
If we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.
Here's the Article online. Worth reading on your coffee break.

John Edwards States it Plain

Yesterday, on the CNN / YouTube debates, John Edwards stated the truth plainly. It is so refreshing to hear, without apology; simple and direct.

You know, there's a reason we don't see much of John Edwards on talk shows or in the media. There's a reason Obama and Clinton get all the media glitz. The media doesn't like John Edwards. The media is bought off. By whom? Oh, come on. You know, or you wouldn't be here reading this.

What Edwards had to say that just torques them off:
"The people who are powerful in Washington - big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies - they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power. The only way that they're going to give away their power is if we take it away from them."
Check out the video on this YouTube Link

Monday, July 23, 2007

Subsisting In... Part II

I was a bit ribald in my dealings with the Vatican's latest statement on the "Church Founded by Christ" - given the Simpsons video and all. [But hey, it was pretty funny!]

Still, on a more serious note, I was pleased and proud to read a very fine comment on the Vatican document by our own Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, O.P., at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle. I'm linking to it to share with you all:

Link Here

Many Protestant friends have been asking me about this, and I've been having trouble trying to express my own understanding of the document. Maybe it's the same for you? If so, I hope this helps.

God knows, the media sure made a mess of it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Go Fight Your Own War, Mr. Bush.

Keith Olbermann delivers another great zinger. It's cathartic, refreshing... but those aren't the right words. It's historic. A hundred years from now, school children may still find this little gem in the archives of their favorite underground press. And they'lll realize: "Hey! People DID speak out against the Tyrant!" - providing the US, and children, are still standing.

Keith on YouTube

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On War, Bishops and Democrats

This is Tim Ryan, Democratic Congressman for the 17th District in Ohio, and member of "Catholics for Peace."

On July 3rd, Ryan and 13 other Congressional Democrats petitioned the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) to assit them in their quest to end this war in Iraq.

"Throughout our nation’s history, Catholics have been at the forefront of the fight for social justice," said Congressman Tim Ryan. "We are proud to see that the USCCB feels as strongly on this issue as we do, and we are prepared to work closely with them to reach out to fellow members of the faith."

In the letter these Congressional Representatives drafted, which you can read HERE, they stated:
We recall with no small measure of sadness the failed efforts of His Eminence Pio Cardinal Laghi, sent in March 2003 as the Special Envoy of the Pope, to plead with President Bush for a renewed effort at negotiations before this war began, or simply for a delay in commencing hostilities because of the personal intervention of the Holy Father. Though treated politely, Laghi was rebuffed even as he provided the administration with valuable insights from the Iraqi bishops’ conference and Vatican staff in Iraq. Iraq and its people would be in a far different place today had President Bush heeded the advice of Cardinal Laghi and Pope John Paul II.

In our own education in the faith, we find the testimony of the Scriptures compelling, and although we have no illusions about the complexities of our current situation in Iraq, we have come to believe that peace cannot simply exist as an ideal – our efforts must be accompanied by actions as we embrace the teachings of peace and justice.

We have deliberated with great care, and our consciences calls us to act with conviction and compassion. Throughout our nation’s history Catholics have been at the forefront of the fight for social justice. Now, at another critical moment, we respectfully urge the USCCB to join with us in mobilizing support for Congress’ efforts to end the war.
Today, in response to their request, the Bishops affirmed their commitment to end the war, and are making plans to meet with these members of Congress. Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the bishops' committee on International Policy, wrote:
Our conference hopes to work with the Congress and the administration to forge bipartisan policies on ways to bring about a responsible transition and an end to the war. Too many Iraqi and American lives have been lost. Too many Iraqi communities have been shattered. Too many civilians have been driven from their homes. The human and financial costs of the war are staggering.

Representatives of our conference welcome the opportunity to meet with you and other policy makers to discuss ways to pursue the goal of a 'responsible transition' to bring an end to the war in Iraq.
Article Here
Well, I feel better now.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Republicans Don't Care About Black People

Look closely. That's one little guy standing among nine empty lecturns. What if you held a Presidential Forum and only one Republican candidate showed up? This is what happened to the NAACP this morning in Detroit. Ten GOP candidates were invited.

Well then, let's hear it for Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, the only Republican with the moxi to show his face to the NAACP. If the Republicans can't address civil rights to the NAACP, how can they swear an oath to uphold our civil rights? If they're afraid to address Americans with opposing views, how can they take on the terrorists with really opposing views?!

Meanwhile, eight Democratic candidates got a warm reception. Ah, me.

Link to USA Today Article

Link to Frameshop Article

Thursday, July 12, 2007

War Weary Wednesdays

Do you pray for peace in Iraq?

One of our parishioners, from the Peace and Justice Committee at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, suggested we begin a prayer ministry specifically for that purpose. We call it the War Weary Wednesday prayer group, since we meet after the 5:30 PM Mass each Wednesday, beside the shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Generally, there's a group of about 12 people, half circled around the shrine, praying traditional prayers, contemporary prayers, inspired prayers; speaking to God, to one another, to Our Lady. We also include a litany of names of our fallen soldiers and Iraqis who have died. Lists are easily found on-line. We pray for them, their families and our countries. It's very moving.

I invite you all to join us at 6:00 PM on Wednesdays, or begin your own peace-prayer ministry, or perhaps just share in the moment wherever you are, to offer up a war weary prayer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Subsisting In, or Something

I've already noted some pretty wild misconceptions about what the Vatican is saying in The Subsisting Church of Christ

Let's look at what's really being said:
The use of this expression [subsists in], which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church... Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel toward Catholic unity.'
See? It's perfectly clear.

Or maybe he meant this:

YouTube Link

Just a thought.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Sacramental Imagination

(or, Flannery O'Connor and those other guys)

Analogical Imagination

I first came across the expression "Sacramental Imagination" in Andrew Greeley's book, The Catholic Myth, which is a sociological study of American Catholic culture, behavior and beliefs. 1 In the third chapter of his book, Greeley poses this question to his readers: "Do Catholics Imagine Differently?" He then proceeds to explain that, yes, indeed they do.

"Religion... is imagination before it's anything else. The Catholic imagination is different from the Protestant imagination. You know that: Flannery O'Connor is not John Updike."
This piqued my interest. "How is the Catholic Imagination different?" I wondered, and "Why might this be so?" Greeley writes:
"The central symbol (of religion) is God. One's "picture" of God is in fact a metaphorical narrative of God's relationship with the world and the self as part of the world... The Catholic "classics" assume a God who is present in the world, disclosing Himself in and through creation. The world and all its events, objects, and people tend to be somewhat like God. The Protestant classics, on the other hand, assume a God who is radically absent from the world, and who discloses (Himself) only on rare occasions (especially in Jesus Christ and Him crucified). The world and all its events, objects, and people tend to be radically different from God."
Greeley defines this difference this way:
"(T)he Catholic imagination is 'analogical' and the Protestant imagination is 'dialectical.'"
So what does Greeley mean by an "analogical imagination?" He means that our Catholic mind-set tends toward analogy, where one (deeper) reality corresponds to, and underlays, another reality. From our earliest days, we recall churches filled with incense and candles, statues and flowers, bells, ashes, oils and fonts of holy water; each standing alone as natural objects of the world, yet each signifying a deeper mystery of faith. The sacraments themselves (with the exception of the Eucharist, which is the Sacrament of sacraments) 5 are analogical. The new catechism states that:
"The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the grace proper to each sacrament."
Therefore, this notion that the Catholic Imagination is different from the Protestant Imagination presents a real challenge to the literary student; one which I hope to explore.

Sensual Imagination

In truth, literature is not the natural domain of the Catholic imagination. The natural domain of the Catholic imagination is the visual or sensual arts.

In a rather eye-popping essay for the New Art Examiner, Eleanor Heartney examines the legacy of the Catholic Church and its influence on contemporary art. Presuming her audience might be hostile to such a claim, she supports her contention with a brief "delve into theology" and explains:
"Catholic doctrine holds that the human body is the instrument through which the miracle of man's salvation from sin is accomplished. As a result, all the major mysteries of the Catholic faith - among them Christ's Incarnation, his Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Resurrection of the faithful at the end of time, and the Transubstantiation of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood during the Mass - center around the human body. Without Christ's assumption of human form, there could be no real sacrifice, and hence, no real salvation for mankind. The Catholic Church has traditionally relied upon visual imagery and sensual experience in order to convey these truths. The medieval cathedral, with its elaborate sculptural programs and stained-glass cycles provided a visual summary of both biblical tales and highly sophisticated theological disputes to a public that was largely illiterate. By the Renaissance, art had become an essential tool for the promulgation of religious doctrine...

"All of this is of course in stark contrast to the Protestant emphasis on biblical revelation as the primary source of God's truth. Since the Reformation, Protestants have tended to regard Catholic practice of venerating Christ and the Saints through richly ornamented religious statuary as a form of idol worship. Sensual imagery and sensual language are seen as impediments, rather than aids to belief. The body and its experiences are things to be transcended...

"The tension between Catholic and Protestant sensibilities outlined here can be summed up as a conflict between the Catholic culture of the image and the Protestant culture of the word. Catholicism values sensual experience and visual images as essential tools for bringing the faithful to God. By contrast, American Protestants depend for their salvation almost exclusively on God's Word as revealed through the Holy Bible..."
It is no coincidence that the invention of the printing press and the first stirrings of the Protestant Reformation occurred at the same moment in history. With the aid of the printing press, Reformers were able, not only to foster their ideas to the Christian world, but to print and distribute the Bible in the vernacular of the people (something the Catholic Church rigorously opposed). In a very important way, the Bible and the written word became the domain of the Protestant Imagination. In Protestant culture, this has translated into a rich literary tradition.

But what of the fiction writer who is Catholic? Where are our Catholic authors? How does the "sensual imagination" translate into the written word?

In the early part of this twentieth century, Catholic periodicals were asking these same questions, especially with regard to American literature. 8 While there were European classics, and a wonderful body of Russian Literature grounded in the sacramental, American Catholicism had still not produced a coherent, literary legacy. By mid-century, with a few emerging exceptions, this was still the case.

In a 1952 essay entitled "Catholic Orientation in French Literature," Wallace Fowlie writes:
"American literature is quite thoroughly non-Catholic. There has never been in this country anything that would resemble a Catholic school of letters or movement in literature. It is true that in 1949 a Catholic magazine was founded, Renascence, concerned with art and literature, but the title was ill chosen. It is difficult to have a renascence of something that never existed."
As for European literature, the Catholic character seems to be most profoundly embodied in poetry. Is it any wonder, when poetry is itself a 'sensual' art form, teeming with 'visual' imagery? Dante, the famed Italian poet of the Divine Comedy and our great precursor, is the first to come to mind as a master of powerful, visual verse; and yet the Renaissance which followed and flowered in southern Europe was primarily a renaissance of the visual arts, and not of literature.

Centuries later, the French poets, most especially Baudelaire and Claudel, began to develop the idea that religious symbolism and poetic symbolism are very much the same. Claudel speaks of nature as a temple, each part of which possesses a symbolic meaning. How is this different from St. Thomas Aquinas, who called the universe "a general sacrament which speaks to us of God?" In fact, the writings of St. Thomas had a profound and lasting influence on the French literary world. The renaissance of medieval philosophy, that school of thought known as neo-Thomism, got its start in France. St. Thomas provides the French poet with a sacramental aesthetic, according to which the universe is the mirror of God.

It's important to note that the seed of Thomistic thought does not die on the continental shores. It has a strong influence in Ireland, again most especially with the poets, though it's barely managed to make its way across the Atlantic or, at any rate, to spring to life here and be recognized beyond the usual Catholic circles.

That is until a young woman who raised chickens in Georgia started writing stories in the 1950's. Flannery O'Connor, self-schooled in Thomistic thought, managed to contribute two novels and a number of short stories to American Literature before her life was cut short at the age of 39. And yet she really does stand out as one of America's great prose writers, one whose sensibilities and whose personal faith were profoundly Catholic, and whose stories are steeped in the sacramental. O'Connor regarded her talent as a gift, but it was not an unconscious gift. She knew what she was about. She once remarked to a friend that, as an art form, fiction is "incarnational." In an essay on the "Novelist and Believer," she tells us:
"St. Augustine wrote that the things of the world pour forth from God in a double way: intellectually into the minds of the angels and physically into the world of things. To the person who believes this - as the western world did up until a few centuries ago - this physical sensible world is good because it proceeds from a divine source... [The aim of the artist is] to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe... The artist penetrates the concrete world in order to find at its depths the image of its source, the image of ultimate reality."
This view is at the heart of the Sacramental Imagination. The central mystery of the Catholic faith is the Incarnation, by which God became man and dwelt among us. The great lesson of the Incarnation has become the pivotal theme of contemporary Catholic literature. In his essay on French Literature, Wallace Fowlie concludes with this remark:
"One wonders if Claudel ... is the only one close to the Dominican interpretation: Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects and raises it. Despair is not the ultimate secret. Claudel believes in a theocentric humanism. Nothing is more exultant than this conception of the universe. When the Word became Flesh, it assumed the universe."
My guess is, in 1952, Mr. Fowlie had not yet stumbled upon the hen-house Thomist in Georgia.

The Reader's Imagination

While this might seem very well and good, even perhaps a bit heavy-headed, it takes more than great writers to make literature. It takes intelligent readers as well. In this vein, Flannery O'Connor presents us with a more personal and immediate challenge. In a speech delivered to an audience of would-be Catholic novelists, she tells them:
"One of the most disheartening circumstances that the Catholic novelist has to contend with is that he has no large audience he can count on to understand his work."
For O'Connor, the modern secular world, which makes up most of the Catholic writer's audience, does not believe in the theological truths of the Faith, which is the foundation of the writer's universe and imagination.
"It does not believe in sin, or in the value that suffering can have, or in eternal responsibility, and since we live in a world that ... has been increasingly dominated by secular thought, the Catholic writer often finds himself writing in and for a world that is unprepared and unwilling to see the meaning of life as he sees it."
Of course, the secular modern world does not make up the author's entire audience. And while it's fair to say that the Protestant believers are likewise confused by the Catholic imagination, there must be a few Catholic readers in the audience who do share the "theological truths of the Faith." It's hoped that these would certainly grasp the analogical underpinnings of the sacramental. However, Ms. O'Connor suggests that this is rarely the case. In a letter to a friend, she writes:
"The average Catholic reader is a militant moron."
Not exactly flattering, is it?

I would like to think quite a lot has changed since 1956, when she first penned those words, but this seems unlikely. The world has certainly become more secular, and even less equipped to understand the themes that underlay the Catholic mind-set.

As for the "average Catholic reader," well, our situation is not hopeless. While it's possible that we may have lost much of our sacramental temperament to the secularized world view, or to a more abstract, transcendental expression so common in American Protestant literature, it's also possible that much of our Catholic sensibilities remain, lingering, so to speak, in the vaulted arches of our memory. Fr. Greeley would surely agree with such an assessment. He would state that it is there, it has always been there, and it needs only to be recognized and nurtured and named.


The Catholic Myth. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990. pg. 34.

2. Ibid., pg. 34.

3. Ibid., pg. 45.

4. Ibid., pg. 45.

5. Catechism of the Catholic Church, lines: 1211:1374

6. Ibid., lines: 1131

7. "Blood, Sex, and Blasphemy - The Catholic Imagination in Contemporary Art" Eleanor Heartney. New Art Examiner.

8. Esp. America, Queen's Work and The Catholic Literary Revival. Arnold Sparr: To Promote, Defend, and Redeem - The Catholic Literary Revival and the Cultural Transformation of American Catholicism, 1920-1960. Greenwood Press; 1990.

9. "Catholic Orientation in Contemporary French Literature" Spiritual Problems in Contemporary Literature, 1952, pg. 225.

10. "The Novelist and Believer" Mystery and Manners. 1957, pg. 157.

11. "Catholic Orientation in Contemporary French Literature" Spiritual Problems in Contemporary Literature, 1952, pg. 241.

12. "Catholic Novelists" Mystery and Manners. 1957. pg. 181.

13. Ibid., pg. 185.


The Habit of Being, 1979, pg. 179.

The Return of the Latin Mass

I have always loved the Mass. As a child, I remember attending the Latin Mass, and I was fortunate, for many years, to be able to enjoy the Dominican Rite (Latin) Mass at my church in Seattle. But as the priests who knew the Latin Mass aged, and with younger priests who did not know the Latin Mass replacing them, the practice drew to a sad end.

This ending divided us, certainly; as it divided the Church. Traditionalists went one way, overly-enthusiastic progressives went another; both, at times, to extremes, I think.

So on Saturday, 7/7/7, Pope Benedict XVI issued his statement on allowing the use of the Tridentine Mass, in SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM.

Honestly, I welcome the return of the Tridentine Mass, the Mass said in Latin. Once in a while, I enjoy it. What I do not welcome are the old divisions and the re-opened wounds. The side taking. The trench digging. Aren't we polarized enough?

Let's hope and pray that this will bring back unity, as I believe this is the Holy Father's intention. Let us not refreseh those old arguments: That Vatican II was the work of the devil. Or that the mass in the vernacular is illegitimate. Or that all that Latin is so much Hocus Pocus (hoc est corpus meum!).

My greatest fear is that this signals the beginning of a Restoration mindset; and a return to Pre-Vatican II thinking. I see it already in young people, priests and laity. They romanticize an ideal, but don't recall the reality. It wasn't always so pretty.

Anyway, here's a USA Today link: USA TODAY: Latin Mass

Or, if you prefer something less annoying: Zenit Article

It's all still quite an interesting ride, I dare say.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Amnesty and Human Rights for All

Amnesty International and the Catholic Church are currently embroiled in a sad, yet I suppose inevitable, clash over abortion and the context of Human Rights.

It seems inevitable to me, at any rate. So long as we continue to debate over what exactly constitutes "human life" we can never fully ground our approach to Human Rights.

Recently, Amnesty International (AI), which I have long and proudly supported (see link at this blog), has redefined its approach to abortion. This drew a quick and negative response from Rome, as one might well expect.

Responding to criticism from Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, AI defended its changed policy, stating that they would continue protecting "the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations..." "Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion."

See Article Here

In the article, Kate Gilmore, Executive Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International, attempts to clarify AI's position. "Amnesty International’s position is not for abortion as a right but for women’s human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations."

Well, I'm not sure this clarifies very much. I wish it did. I wish I knew exactly what AI was proposing, or addressing, by this change.

Monday, the President of the US Conference Catholic Bishops, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, responded to AI's statement. The entire text of the letter can be found here.

In part it reads:

For many years, the Catholic community in the United States and elsewhere has admired and worked with Amnesty International in its efforts to advance the cause of universal human rights. Founded by a Catholic layman, Peter Benenson, Amnesty International has been a beacon of hope to thousands of prisoners of conscience and victims of abuse and torture. In this regard AI has been a source of inspiration to millions of supporters, including the many Catholics who are members. Much more urgent work remains, work which we believe will be harmed by this unprecedented and unnecessary involvement in the abortion debate.

I hope this promotes dialogue, before people start pulling their funds from an amazing and wonderful organization that has done so much good in the world. I urge you to be part of that dialogue, as a beginning. You can write to Amnesty Internation USA here:

Contact AI