Sunday, 12 February 2017

Pro-life atheist Nat Hentoff, RIP

This article originally appeared in the February edition of The Interim, and is used with permission.
Nat Hentoff converted to
pro-life after investigating
medical evidence.
On Jan. 7, jazz writer and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff passed away at the age of 91. Hentoff, who began his writing career as a writer for Down Beat magazine in 1952 before becoming the jazz critic for The Village Voice in 1958, would later become a passionate advocate for civil liberties and the rights of the unborn.
Born into - a Jewish family in predominantly Catholic Boston in 1925, Hentoff would eventually abandon his religious roots. He worked at a radio station upon graduating from college before joining the staff of Down Beat magazine. He would write a half-dozen books on jazz and review music until he died, most recently for the Wall Street Journal
He was a fierce First Amendment supporter, defending the principle of freedom of speech in his columns in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and elsewhere. He became a staff writer for The New Yorker and a regular contributor to the humanist magazine Free Inquiry. In 1993 he wrote a book, Free Speech for Me - But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. He alienated many friends and allies for pointing out the hypocrisy of individuals and organizations that selectively defended freedom of speech for their side but not their political opponents. He served as a board member of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which protects the free speech rights of university students. Hentoff, a left-leaning libertarian, shocked many of his friends when he came out against abortion in the early 1980s. Abortion had become a political issue during the Reagan presidency and Hentoff said when he investigated the scientific and medical literature he had no choice but to follow the inescapable conclusion that human life begins in the womb and deserves, as a matter of human rights, legal protection. He went so far as to say the political Left had betrayed its classical liberal principles in abandoning the human rights of the preborn. Long a speaker at local American Civil Liberties Union dinners around the country, Hentoff observed, “once I declared myself a pro-lifer, all such invitations stopped."
In 1988, the atheist would pen the biography of New York's Catholic leader, John Cardinal O'Connor: At the Storm Center of a Changing American Catholic Church. Hentoff said he greatly admired the man and once said, "I never could have envisioned back when I was a kid in Boston, that a Cardinal and I would be, if not breaking bread, at least breaking Scotch."
In 1992, Campaign Life Coalition hosted a conference in Toronto, “Save the Planet's People," with special guest Cardinal O'Connor. When CLC national president Jim Hughes contacted Hentoff for some biographical information on the prelate, Hughes recalled "Hentoff said he was coming to Toronto for the conference" to support his friend. Hentoff ended up introducing the Cardinal at the conference dinner, which attracted nearly 1000 people. Hentoff did not consider it paradoxical that he was a pro-life atheist. He wrote in The New Republic in 1992, "Being without theology isn't the slightest hindrance to being pro-life. As any obstetrics manual - Williams Obstetrics, for example - points out, there are two patients involved, and the one not yet born should be given the same meticulous care by the physician that we long have given the pregnant woman'."

In 2005, the Human Life Foundation named Hentoff a Great Defender of Life. introducing Hentoff at the HLF ceremony, anti-euthanasia lawyer Wesley Smith said, "his unyielding stand over many years against abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, experimentation, and the ongoing bioethical construction of a "duty to “die" has made him a moral beacon for those who believe that universal human liberty depends on society’s embrace of the intrinsic equality of all human life.”

Friday, 18 November 2016

Beneath rigidity there is something else, there is often wickedness

At this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House, the Pope said rigid people lead a “double life”, they seem good but they often aren’t; they are strangers to God’s freedom, “slaves of the law”. “How they suffer”!


Beneath the rigid exterior of a person who is not free because he or she is a slave to the law, is a double life, something hidden, some sort of disease. Often wickedness. By contrast, the Lord gives freedom, in addition to meekness and kindness, Pope Francis said in this morning’s homily in St. Martha’s House.
In today’s Gospel story, Christ heals a woman on a Saturday, stirring feelings of contempt and protest in the synagogue chief who claimed the “Law of the Lord” was violated: “It is not easy,” the Pope remarked, “to walk in the Law of the Lord,” it is “a grace we need to ask for”.

 The Son of God calls the synagogue chief a hypocrite, a word “he uses so often to refer to those who are rigid and unyielding in their insistence on applying the law down to the last letter”. These people are not free, “they are slaves of the Law”. But “the Law was not made to enslave us but to set us free, to make us children” of the Lord. “Beneath  rigidity there is something else, always! This is why Jesus says: hypocrites!”

Francis said: “beneath rigidity there is something hidden about a person’s life. Rigidity is not a gift of God. Meekness is; kindness is; benevolence is; forgiveness is. But rigidity is not! Beneath rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life; but there is also some sort of disease lingering there. How the rigid suffer: when they are sincere and they acknowledge this they suffer! Because they are unable to feel the freedom that God’s children feel; they do not know what it is like to walk in the Law of the Lord and they are not blessed. And they suffer so much!” They seem “good because they follow the Law; but beneath that there is something not so nice about them: either they are bad or they are hypocrites or they are ill. They suffer!”

The Bishop of Rome recalled the parable of the Prodigal Son: the elder son’s attitude of indignation shows what lies behind some forms of goodness; “The arrogance of believing oneself to be right”. “Beneath one’s good actions lies arrogance. He knew he had a father and in his darkest hour he went to his father; he had only ever seen his father as a master not as a father. H ewas rigid; he walked in the Law in a rigid way. The other one set the Law aside and went off without the law, against the Law but there came a point when he remembered his father and came back. And he was forgiven. It is not easy walking in the Law of the lord without drifting towards rigidity.”

The Pope concluded by invoking God and inviting faithful to pray “for our brothers and sisters who believe that walking in the Law of the Lord  means becoming rigid. May the Lord show them that He is the Father and He likes mercy, tenderness, kindness, meekness and humility. May he teach us all to walk in the Law of the Lord, adopting all of these attitudes”. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Reflection on Farming and Marriage

Bishop Etienne of the (U.S.) Catholic Rural Life Conference makes some poignant remarks about farming, marriage & moving "from the finite to the infinite". I especially like his insight into farmers (and families) not imposing their own will, but "bowing to nature's genius". Enjoy! 
Fr. Matt

Thursday, 20 October 2016


In 393, wealthy patrician Pontius Meropius Anicius decides to forsake his worldly possessions and devote the remainder of his Life to God.  Builder of hospitals and churches, the generous Pontius, eventually known as Bishop Paulinus of Nola, turns to poetry as a means of reaching inner peace.  His many writings on ornate prose have withstood the test of time and are still considered to be among the finest examples of early Christian literature.  Later canonized, Saint Paulinus, originally from Aquitaine, full-fledged Roman citizen and poet emeritus, was also an avid gardener.  Nobel, devout, cultured and a friend of the earth, he is a true inspiration, worthy of the cheese that bears his name.

Five Ways Jesus Dealt With Difficult People - reposted from the Cenale FAll 2016

How to accept the inconvenient, the incongruent and the bothersome

By Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, F.S.P.
How should we deal with difficult people?
Some people in our lives may be difficult simply because they challenge us. Or they may be difficult because they are different. Or they may be difficult because we live with them (and close proximity amplifies foibles). Or they may be difficult because we are difficult and something about us just rubs them the wrong way.
Or they may just be difficult.
Regardless, by growing in holiness we can learn to accept the inconvenient, the incongruent and the bothersome (people and events) in our life not just as necessary nuisances but as gifts.
Seeing difficult people in such a positive light seems like a tall order. But we can start by learning to deal with other people in a Christ-like way.
Scripture teaches us some ways that Jesus dealt with difficult people:

  1. Jesus Asks Questions: In Chapter 12 of Luke, Jesus is asked to settle a family dispute and basically responds: “Who do you think I am, Judge Judy?” (a loose translation). It is interesting to note that Jesus asks a lot of questions in Scripture. Jesus’ questions were sometimes rhetorical, or challenging, and at other times he was also seeking feedback. By using questions, Jesus emphasizes his openness to the other person.  It is funny, but we humans tend not to ask a lot of questions. We assume, we pontificate, we lecture, we observe, we interrupt and we judge. But we rarely make it a point to ask other people questions. In using questions frequently, I think Jesus is modeling the behaviour of a good communicator, one who cares about the other person enough to engage with them and challenge them. Even, and perhaps especially, when they are being difficult.
  2. Jesus Is Never Cornered: In Chapter 6 of Luke, Jesus is taking a Sabbath stroll with his disciples and the Pharisees pop up out of nowhere and accuse them of breaking the Sabbath by picking grain. Jesus is unflustered. He is never scared of the people who try to slip him up or think the worst of him, because what other people think is not his focus.  Sometimes people corner us with their assumptions and judgments and we can begin to wonder if the way they see us is more objective than how we see ourselves. It is hard when we feel like others misunderstand us or do not take the time to get to know us before judging. But, like Jesus, we do not have to feel defined by the projections of other people. Our identity resides and is found in God, not in what other people try to push on us.
  3. Jesus Knows When to Ignore: Remember that time when Jesus ticks off all of his former neighbours and friends in his hometown of Nazareth? They are so worked up that they decide to throw him off a cliff. Jesus, seeing that there is no reasoning with these people, walks through the crowd, ignores their rage, and “went on his way” (Luke 4).  Sometimes difficult people throw tantrums, speak harshly or treat us in an abusive way (this happens online all the time). This is the cue to disengage and walk away. Jesus knew how to keep his blood pressure in checkand his eyes on the prize. Of course, if we have to deal assertively with someone who does this in person, a face-to-face discussion might help. Later.
  4. Jesus Is Not Defensive: In Chapter 10 of Mark, James and John say to Jesus: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Wow. Talk about overstepping boundaries! But Jesus is not co-dependent, so neediness and boundary crossing is not threatening to him. He knows when to say no and when to say yes and does not beat himself up when he doesn’t make other people happy.  Sometimes people can demand more from us than what we can give them. They may try to sway us with guilt trips. Before we know it we find ourselves bending over backward trying to satisfy a needy or aggressive person (who is rarely satisfied!). But Jesus does not try to people please. Jesus does not need to protect himself from other people; God’s will is enough security. This is where his non-defensiveness comes from.
  5. Jesus Is Flexible: In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman demands that Jesus heal his daughter and Jesus says no. But then he is moved by the woman’s response of faith and heals her daughter. Jesus approaches others with an open mind. Even when he had preconceived notions, he allowed the Spirit to move him and go against his instincts.  When a difficult person approaches us, we may think, Oh great, here we go again, or I know how this will go, but Jesus kept an open mind when he was approached by others. You never know. The Spirit may move you, or the person who is normally difficult, to act in a different, unexpected way. Being closed to others closes us to the Holy Spirit who is working in us and in the other person.
Taken from, February 2. 2016.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Article from The Tablet

You don't often get to cheer for the rational approach, but Clifford Longley makes the case for "[g]enuine political debate" conducted by competent representatives, as opposed to populist urgings. I wonder if we (i.e., Canada) as a nation didn't accept this uncritically when our political parties moved to a 'one member, one vote" model. It would be good to have representatives & leaders who lead, not just echo the loudest ravings of our society. Pray for all who make (and enforce) laws in our name! - Fr. Matt

Irrational Impulses are part and parcel of populist politics

We should be worried about the survival of parliamentary democracy, our best and possibly only protection against tyranny and arbitrary government. We should be worried that it is being subverted by populism and demagoguery, which flies on wings of emotion and the mass mobilisation of gut reactions, rather than on careful and intelligent argument tested in debate. History teaches that plebiscites are easily manipulated by anti-democratic forces, even though they usually do so in the name of democracy.

Take three examples: the EU referendum, the battle for control of the Labour Party, and the takeover of the US Republican Party by the populist demagogue Donald Trump. 
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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

New York Times article on Digital Adulthood - The Virtues of Reality

"New York times columnist Ross Douthat wonders about certain infantilizing effects of our digital age, and the religious response necessary to address those challenges."
Fr. Matt

SINCE the 1990s, we’ve seen two broad social changes that few observers would have expected to happen together.
First, youth culture has become less violent, less promiscuous and more responsible. American childhood is safer than ever before. Teenagers drink and smoke less than previous generations. The millennial generation has fewer sexual partners than its parents, and the teen birthrate has traced a two-decade decline. Violent crime — a young person’s temptation — fell for 25 years before the recent post-Ferguson homicide spike. Young people are half as likely to have been in a fight than a generation ago. Teen suicides, binge drinking, hard drug use — all are down.
But over the same period, adulthood has become less responsible, less obviously adult. For the first time in over a century, more 20-somethingslive with their parents than in any other arrangement. The marriage rate is way down, and despite a high out-of-wedlock birthrate American fertility just hit an all-time low. More and more prime-age workers are dropping out of the work force — men especially, and younger men more so than older men, though female work force participation has dipped as well.
You can tell different stories that synthesize these trends: strictly economic ones about the impact of the Great Recession, critical ones about the infantilizing effects of helicopter parenting, upbeat ones about how young people are forging new life paths.
But I want to advance a technology-driven hypothesis: This mix of youthful safety and adult immaturity may be a feature of life in a society increasingly shaped by the internet’s virtual realities.
It is easy to see how online culture would make adolescent life less dangerous. Pornography to take the edge off teenage sexual appetite. Video games instead of fisticuffs or contact sports as an outlet for hormonal aggression. (Once it was feared that porn and violent media would encourage real-world aggression; instead they seem to be replacing it.) Sexting and selfie-enabled masturbation as a safer alternative to hooking up. Online hangouts instead of keggers in the field. More texting and driving, but less driving — one of the most dangerous teen activities — overall.
The question is whether this substitution is habit-forming and soul-shaping, and whether it extends beyond dangerous teen behavior to include things essential to long-term human flourishing — marriage, work, family, all that old-fashioned “meatspace” stuff.
That’s certainly the impression left whenever journalists try to figure out why young people aren’t marrying, or dating, or in some cases even seeking sex. (From The Washington Post, earlier this month: “Noah Paterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously … to shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste.”) The same impression is left by research on younger men dropping out of the work force: Their leisure time is being filled to a large extent by gaming, and happiness studies suggest that they are pretty content with the trade-off.
The men in that research lack college degrees, which is particularly telling. It wasn’t so long ago that people worried about a digital divide, in which online access would be a luxury good that left the bottom half behind. But if anything, the virtual world looks more like an opiate for the masses. The poor spent more time online than the rich, and it’s the elite — the Silicon Valley elite, in some striking cases — that’s more likely to limit the uses of devices in their homes and schools, to draw distinctions between screen time and real time.
The keenest critics of how the internet shapes culture, writers like Sherry Turkle, are often hopeful that with time and experience we will learn better management strategies, which keep the virtual in its place before too many real goods are lost.
Such strategies may work for individuals and families. But the trends in the marketplace — ever-more-customized pornography, virtual realities that feel more and more immersive, devices and apps customized for addictive behavior — seem likely to overwhelm most attempts to enjoy the virtual only within limits.
My mother, Patricia Snow (yes, even columnists have mothers), in an essayfor First Things earlier this year, suggested that any effective resistance to virtual reality’s encroachments would need to be moral and religious, not just pragmatic and managerial. I never could induce her to read Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” but her argument made me think of the science-fiction novel’s “Butlerian jihad” — the religious rebellion against artificial intelligence that birthed Herbert’s imagined far-future society, which has advanced spacefaring technology but not a HAL or C-3PO in sight.
“Jihad” is a more fraught term these days than when Herbert’s novel first came out. But we have a pacifist community within our own society that’s organized around religious resistance to advanced technology — the Old Order Amish.

The future probably doesn’t belong to the Pennsylvania Dutch. But the Amish impulse is one to watch, as we reckon with virtual reality’s strange gift — a cup that tastes of progress, but might have poison waiting in the dregs.
Op-Ed Columnist

The Virtues of Reality

Online realms make us safer, but sometimes stunted.