Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coincidence or Divine Intervention?

A while ago a friend of mine wrote to me:

Quick question: what's your take on angels? I was on 55 the other day in heavy traffic in the left lane and I swerved to avoid a car that stopped suddenly. I spun around a few times and ended up in the right lane backwards (facing on-coming traffic). There wasn't a scratch on me, my car, or any of the other cars. Coincidence or divine intervention?

At the time I replied:

A quick answer:

I don't know.

Maybe divine or angelic intervention, but maybe not. Given the facts as you presented them, if this were a multiple choice test, I'd choose the "Not enough information to answer the question" option.

Since then, I've been meaning to write more about this. Hence, this post.

When it comes to the question of miracles/divine intervention, there are two extremes. On the one hand, there are the credulous—those who, when confronted with an occurrence for which there appears at first glance to be no natural explanation, reflexively consider it a miracle.

On the other extreme, there are the skeptical—those who, when confronted with an occurrence for which there appears at first glance to be no natural explanation, dismiss out of hand the mere possibility that it might be a miracle.

Most of us, of course, fall somewhere in between.

The problem with the former is that bona fide miracles are in fact very rare, and that most seemingly unexplainable phenomena have an entirely natural explanation.

And yet, contra dogmatic materialists, miracles do happen from time to time.

Chesterton offers this devastating critique of their position:

That Manichean horror of matter is the only intelligent reason for any such sweeping refusal of supernatural and sacramental wonders. The rest is all cant and repetition and arguing in a circle; all the baseless dogmatism about science forbidding men to believe in miracles; as if science could forbid men to believe in something which science does not profess to investigate. Science is the study of the admitted laws of existence; it cannot prove a universal negative about whether those laws could ever be suspended by something admittedly above them. It is as if we were to say that a lawyer was so deeply learned in the American Constitution that he knew there could never be a revolution in America. Or it is as if a man were to say he was so close a student of the text of Hamlet that he was authorised to deny that an actor had dropped the skull and bolted when the theatre caught fire. The constitution follows a certain course, so long as it is there to follow it; the play follows a certain course, so long as it is being played; the visible order of nature follows a certain course if there is nothing behind it to stop it. But that fact throws no sort of light on whether there is anything behind it to stop it. That is a question of philosophy or metaphysics and not of material science.

Quite so.

Last month I came across a post on Mark Shea's blog that conveyed very well my thoughts on the question of miracles generally:

[God] tends to work his miracle in such a way that the one who seeks relationship with him can see his hand at work, while the one who seeks to avoid relationship with him can always chalk it up to a statistical anomaly.

Case in point.

A typical Vatican investigation of a miracle strikes the healthy balance between skepticism and the open-minded possibility of an actual miracle occurring. The assumption, as is normal, is that a miracle has no occurred and the normal naturalistic explanations are ticked off the list. If a naturalist explanation is found, then praise God, he worked through nature, but we are not looking at a sign that a saint has been honored by God and we move on. Catholics are free to see the hand of God at work in the occurrence, but the Church isn't going to push to call it a miracle if natural explanations suffice.

That sounds about right.

As a general rule, provided the Church has not ruled on a given matter, I think a certain amount of skepticism is entirely called for. It's for this reason that I'm increasingly convinced the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje are a fraud — especially in light of the most recent developments thereof.

In the case of my friend's question (whether there was direct divine or angelic intervention in the case of her near-accident), my initial guess would be that there was not, and that in this instance, God instead worked through the laws of physics to prevent an accident.

But Who knows?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

God Bless 'Em

I've often thought that one of the best things about being Catholic is knowing that there are so many other good people out there who are all on the same team.

During this life, we only have a chance to meet an infinitesimally small number of them in person, but even hearing about the extraordinary experiences of others whom we have never met instills in us a certain happiness not unlike that which we feel when we share in the experiences of our own family members and close friends.

I say this by way of introduction to this article — which I defy anyone to read without being uplifted:

Friars Trudge 300 Miles and Find Kindred Souls on the Way

They've been mistaken for Jedi-wannabes headed to a Star Wars convention. They've been investigated by police, approached by strangers, gawked at from cars and offered gifts of crumpled dollar bills and Little Debbie snacks.

After trekking along more than 300 miles of dusty Virginia country roads and suburban highways, six Franciscan friars reached Washington on Tuesday, having seen it all during an offbeat modern-day quest for God.

For six weeks, the brothers walked from Roanoke with only their brown robes, sandals and a belief in the kindness of strangers to feed and shelter them.

The sight of six men in flowing habits, trudging single file on the side of the road, prompted many to pull over and talk, even confess. People on their way to work described their loneliness. College students wanted help figuring out what to do with their lives. Children, mistaking them for the Shaolin monks in movies, ran up to ask the friars if they knew how to beat up bullies.

"Dressed like we are in our habits, it's like a walking sign that says, 'Tell us your life's problems,' " explained Cliff Hennings, the youngest of the friars at 23.

In every instance, the friars made time for conversation. They shot the breeze with a gang of drunk bikers, dispensed relationship advice to the brokenhearted commuters and bore witness to one and all, yea, even to the Chik-fil-A employee dressed as a cow.

The pilgrimage was the idea of four young friars just finishing their training in Chicago and working toward taking lifelong vows. Seeking to emulate the wanderings of their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, they wanted to journey together as a fraternity, ministering to one another and to strangers, while depending on God for every meal and place to sleep.

Joined by two older friars supervising their training, they picked as their destination a friary in Washington, D.C., called the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land -- a symbolic gesture, because the actual Holy Land was too far away.

Then last month they drove from Chicago to Salem, just outside Roanoke, parked their van at a church and set out on foot.

They tried to live by the ascetic rules Jesus laid out for his 12 disciples: "Take nothing for the journey -- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic." The less they brought, they reasoned, the more room they could leave for God.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Walk Like a Man

I mentioned last week that our recent Face the Truth Tour went swimmingly, and that unlike the previous two years, we had no major run-ins with local police.

Leading up to our recent Tour, we extensively researched the municipal codes of the various communities we would be visiting and assembled copies of the relevant ordinances for each in a binder that we could have on hand to show local law enforcement if we were questioned about our right to conduct such a demonstration. (As it turned out, this binder came in very handy at one site in particular, as it helped to defuse a potentially difficult confrontation with police in south suburban Burbank on 16 July.)

In many communities, the ordinances governing demonstrations like ours — wherein we coordinate groups of people who stand alongside the street holding large, graphic abortion pictures — are in the same section as ordinances governing parades.

In the course of researching these municipal codes, we noted with interest how the village of Chicago Ridge defines a "parade":

Parade means any organized procession or march as for display or to march, or walk through as for display, or to make a display of or to show off, to walk about ostentatiously, or the assembly in formation by any persons upon the public streets, sidewalks or public places in the village. Public assemblages or addresses and meetings shall come within the scope of this definition for purposes and requirements of obtaining a permit or license.

It was the fact that "walk[ing] about ostentatiously" without a permit is actually on the books as verboten that gave us all a good laugh.

This discovery prompted me to recall this:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Baby Steps in the Right Direction

China steps back from one child policy

China is taking the first step towards ending its one-child policy with the authorities in Shanghai encouraging thousands of couples to have a second baby.

For the first time in 30 years, officials in the country’s economic capital have urged eligible parents to plan for a second child. The move was prompted by the growing demographic imbalance in the city and fears that the younger generation will not be able to support the ageing population. [emphasis added]

Did you catch that, overpopulation fear mongers?

Interestingly, this article was posted on July 25, the same date in 1968 that Pope Paul VI, of happy memory, issued the astonishingly prescient Humanae Vitae.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Oh. So. True.

[E]very time I walk around the Loop and see an Olympic promotional poster that reads "Imagine," I can't help but add the words "the corruption."

Fr. Anthony Brankin on Americanism

"'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.'" —G.K. Chesterton

About two years ago, not long after the indomitable Fr. Anthony Brankin became pastor at our geographical parish (St. Odilo in Berwyn), his homily from the preceding Sunday started appearing in the church bulletin.

I'm very glad of this, because even if we go to our other parish (St. John Cantius), we're still able to read his homilies.

Two things in particular strike me about Fr. Brankin's preaching:

(1) His homilies are always relatively short (which, for various reasons, methinks is a very good thing).

(2) He is never afraid to address controversial topics, and, in so doing, lovingly challenge his parishioners to become more faithful to Holy Mother Church's teaching.

Which leads me to his humdinger of a homily from Sunday, July 5, which appeared in this past week's bulletin. I present it herein for your edification—as well as my own:

As Catholics we often hear of heresies. Basically a heresy is a false teaching. Say for instance a priest were to say that Jesus did not rise from the dead. That would be a heresy.

Suppose a theologian was teaching that we need not believe that there are three Persons in One God — that would be a heresy.

Recently I read where a German Bishop was preaching in his cathedral that Jesus did not die as a sacrifice for our sins. That would be a heresy.

It stands to reason if there is something that the Church proposes for our belief, and says very clearly that to believe this is what it means to be a Catholic, then to say, preach, or believe differently is a heresy. To be in heresy is to be wrong. It doesn’t mean that we are going to lynch heretics or burn them at the stake. But it does mean there is something wrong about heretical believing and thinking—and it needs to be corrected before we go on.

It is important that the Church perform the function of judging certain statements for us so that we can develop our own belief filters. When we hear something through that filter, we can judge whether some statement or belief is heresy or not.

On this Fourth of July weekend I thought we might discuss for a moment a very unique modern heresy that is not very well known, but is pretty common. It is called the heresy of “Americanism”.

Now usually when we use the word “Americanism” we are talking about patriotism—but that is not what this word means this time. Actually it was coined by Pope Leo XIII at the end of the Nineteenth Century and he condemned it as something he saw in many American bishops’ teaching. He intended by “Americanism” to mean an attitude that says that America was founded by God and that because of that we Americans need not follow the rules that all the other nations and peoples must follow.

In other words, “Americanism” is the heresy that teaches that whatever we do—because we are Americans or American Catholics - is therefore right. The rules and moral laws that other people must observe do not apply to us because we are exceptional.

Now this “Americanism” is shown in two ways. First—and this is the specific problem that Pope Leo saw is that American bishops, were saying that because we are Americans in America, not all Church teachings apply to all of us. Because we are in a special country in a special position, whenever Rome decrees something we do not have to observe those Church rules or teachings.

I saw this in the seminary a dozen times. I remember when the American Bishops were trying to get American children to make their First Confessions after First Communion. Nobody else in the world was doing this—but our Bishops were. And the Bishops confused it enough for about ten years that there is a whole generation of people—adults now—who made their First Communion—but never made their First Confession. And every time the Pope from the 70’s on would tell the American Bishops to go back to the traditional practice, they would pretend they didn’t hear it and say—“Oh he is talking about Italy.” It took twenty years to straighten out that mess!

Sometimes “Americanism” refers as well to our response to what the government does. An Americanist would say that whatever America does is right—because by definition America does not do wrong.

Now this stems from America’s religious origins—and the notion that came from the Puritans and Pilgrims that God gave them America as refuge—ultimately—from the Pope in Rome. So America is the new Promised land—the new Israel—the new manifestation of God’s will in earth and certainly not the Catholic Church.

So therefore what ever America does is approved by God. If we invade Mexico, or Cuba or the Philippines—as we did in the 19th Century—or invade Iraq, Afghanistan, or if we drop an atom bomb or invent nerve gas, or develop germs to conduct germ warfare or if we torture prisoners and have a good reason for it, then it’s OK. That’s “Americanism”.

You will notice that there is no heresy called Mexicanism or Peruvianism.

“Americanism” can snag most of us. Rather than examine some governmental policy in the light of Catholic moral teaching—or weigh this or that action in the scale of papal teaching—or church tradition, we simply go along with it all—agreeing that whatever America does must be moral—because it is America.

I used to do this all the time—particularly when the issues came down along the lines of liberal and conservative as defined by the media or party politics.

For example, I would to think that when Church teaching and the Pope came in conflict with what we were about as America, I would say, “Well, as the Pope he is a wonderful and holy man, but he doesn’t know as much about it as our president. So unless he is talking about the Nicene Creed or the 6th Commandment we don’t have to listen to the Pope.”

Well that’s “Americanism” plain and simple. As Catholics, it was easy to fall prey to Americanism because as a nation of immigrants we always wanted to be accepted. We didn’t want the Protestants who were running this country to think we were somehow unpatriotic and disloyal and un-American. God forbid that they should think that Catholics were loyal to foreign power from overseas! Why that would be treason on its face.

Indeed, it was never easy to be a Catholic in America. When they put up the Help Wanted signs on factories and stores that specified, “Irish need not apply” it wasn’t because the Irish had freckles and red hair—it was because they were Catholic. There were riots in the streets. Convents, churches and rectories were burnt down to try to send these Catholics back home.

My brother Pat was pastor of a parish in Oklahoma where as late the 1920’s the people in the town burned down the church and scattered the Catholics as far as they could. And that parish was so afraid of the outside world, that they didn’t do Ash Wednesday for the next 60 years. They didn’t want to mark themselves out as Catholics any more than necessary.

Do you remember when John F. Kennedy was running for President and he spoke before the Baptist ministers and promised them he would never let his Catholic beliefs interfere with his being President? We bent over backwards—and still do— to prove to the reigning culture that we were true blue Americans. And we went along with the idea that somehow America was connected more closely with God than any other country — and that what we do — no matter what— has God’s blessing. That is not only heresy — it is also idolatry.

As Catholics we must understand that all countries and all peoples are equal in the sight of God and are equally loved by God and equally judged by God. Pope Leo said that!

Our standard of reference for all of life even as Americans is the Catholic Faith; and we must listen to what our traditions and our popes teach. We must never ever think that just because some politician has decided to get our country involved in something immoral—like abortion or unjust wars — that the case is closed and we cannot object. We must never think that loyalty to our country means we cannot speak out.

We should never be under the impression that the Catholic Church must be silent once the politicians start talking.

And when we have learned to use the beautiful teachings of our faith to guide the policies and programs of our country we will be better Americans — precisely because we have become better Catholics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


If life weren't so busy around Haus Jansen these days, we'd be able to go see this:

The Surprise, a play by G.K. Chesterton: July 23-25 and July 30-August 1

G.K. Chesterton's The Surprise, a whimsical tale that raises deeper questions about the nature of happiness, will be performed July 23-25 and July 30-August 1 by The Bird and the Baby Theater Company, a new community theater in the western suburbs of Chicago. Performances take place outdoors at 7:45 pm at 47W494 Jericho Road, Big Rock, IL 60511. Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 at the door. For tickets and further information, please call 630-876-2351.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Face the Truth Recap

Our Face the Truth Tour last week went great!

We had big crowds of pro-lifers at all our sites, and on two sites on the last day we had enough volunteers to hold all 88 of our large signs.

Before the Tour, we realized we only had a few thousand Face the Truth brochures left, so we had another 10,000 printed. It's a good thing we did, because we now have only a few hundred left—everything else was distributed to drivers and people walking by our display who wanted to know more about it.

It's not uncommon during a Face the Truth Tour to have some people just happen to pass by and decide spontaneously to join us, but this seemed to happen even more often than in years past. Praise God!

Thankfully, we had no major run-ins with local police departments this year, unlike the last two years.

Most importantly, though, countless hearts were changed after seeing the ugly reality of abortion.

We hope to have a full report on this year's Tour on the Pro-Life Action League site soon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Facing the Truth

I won't be blogging tomorrow or all next week, as I'll be helping to coordinate the Chicago Area Face the Truth Tour, sponsored by my employer, the Pro-Life Action League.

If you're anywhere near Chicago, join us! If not, please say some prayers for us—and, even more importantly, pray that the hearts of many will be changed by seeing the ugly reality of abortion.

I can't tell you how many times during a Face the Truth day we've heard from people comments along the lines of, "I never knew what abortion was until I saw these pictures..."

One such reaction that sticks out in my mind was from a kid no more than 16 years old, who saw our display in downtown Chicago a few years ago with a group of friends:

Him: "Man, that's what an abortion looks like?!"

Me: Yeah, it is.

Him: (With genuine astonishment) "Damn!"

Other times, people really wish we would just go away. (Like the guy who got arrested for assaulting me two years ago.)

After several years of experience showing graphic abortion pictures out on the streets, we've gotten used to hearing complaints. A while ago, we posted a FAQ-type page on the PLAL site's Face the Truth section that answers the most common objections we hear:

  • What if children see these graphic abortion pictures?

  • What effect do these pictures have on a woman who has had an abortion?

  • Doesn't the public display of graphic abortion pictures make the pro-life movement look extreme?

  • Doesn't it dishonor the unborn babies in these pictures to show them out on the street?

Our answers are here.

I've also written in more detail about showing graphic abortion pictures in public here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Adam and Eve

This past weekend a friend and I were discussing the Theology of the Body and the recent flap over Christopher West's appearance on Nightline. Shortly thereafter I was prompted to recall a painting that one of my co-workers has used in Theology of the Body presentations.

Titled Adam and Eve, this painting by Marvin Werlin speaks for itself:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good Advice

I mentioned last week that I recently finished reading The Soul of the Apostolate. If I had to sum up in one sentence what I took away from it, it's this:

Do not neglect prayer.

The following excerpt is probably my favorite, and is surely one I will revisit often in my schlep toward holiness:

Now for a man in the active life to give up his meditation is tantamount to throwing down his arms at the feet of the enemy. “Short of a miracle,” says St. Alphonsus, “a man who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” And St. Vincent de Paul tells us: “A man without mental prayer is not good for anything; he cannot even renounce the slightest thing. ‘It is merely the life of an animal.’” Some authors quote St. Theresa as having said: “Without mental prayer a person soon becomes either a brute or a devil. If you do not practice mental prayer, you don’t need any devil to throw you into hell, you throw yourself in there of your own accord. On the contrary, give me the greatest of all sinners; if he practices mental prayer, be it only for fifteen minutes every day, he will be converted. If he perseveres in it, his eternal salvation is assured.” The experience of priests and religious vowed to active works is enough to establish that an apostolic worker who, under pretext of being too busy or too tired, or else out of repugnance, or laziness, or some illusion, is too easily brought to cut down his meditation to ten or fifteen minutes instead of binding himself to half an hour’s serious mental prayer from which he might draw plenty of energy and drive for his day’s work, will inevitably fall into tepidity of the will.

In this stage, it is no longer a matter of avoiding imperfections. His soul is crawling with venial sins. The ever growing impossibility of vigilance over his heart makes most of these faults pass unnoticed by his conscience. The soul has disposed itself in such a manner that it cannot and will not see. How will such a one fight against things which he no longer regards as defects?