December 22, 2019

Mafia and Bishops

History can seem bizarre. For example, I wanted to know if the sickness (in terms of scandal) of the Cincinnati Archdiocese predated Bernadin. His immediate predecessor was Archbishop Leipold, who served only three years before an untimely death. He seems like he was a holy man but where it gets odd is here:
Possibly the most historical event of his career happened as a result of his acting as spiritual director for a young nun living in Ohio and Indiana. In 1963, as Monsignor Leibold, he issued an imprimatur to a diary of private revelations written by Sr. Mildred Ephrem Neuzil while she was serving at a convent (Kneipp Springs) in Rome City, IN. It was here that she claimed she was visited multiple times by the Virgin Mary who declared herself to be "Our Lady of America" and gave her important messages to be given to America's Bishops..

After issuing his imprimatur to the messages written down by Sr. Neuzil, later on, as Archbishop of Cincinnati, he went on to commission a statue, plaques, and even a medal to take these apparitions to the second level of Church confirmation.
This is a devotion I was not even aware existed. And it gets weirder: Sister Mildred ended up giving charge of the devotion upon her death in 2000 to her dear friend Sr. Joseph Therese (Patricia Ann Fuller) who ended up canonically no longer a nun. She claims two men were involved in fraud with donations and they claimed she was no longer a nun and so she sued them for defamation. It made its way to the U.S. District Court and in 2015 she lost, with Vatican saying she was not part of any current legit congregation.
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I’m watching The Irishman on Netflix in small doses. I think part of the interest in the mafia in general is the generational part: seeing how the different characters are interrelated, who mentored and promoted who, who killed who, how power evolved, etc... As well as to wonder about the “ultimate meritocracy” of the political men who end up on top.

It’s also fascinating to see how the gay mafia took over the Catholic Church including the American branch. It’s almost like there should not just be the official sacramental lineage of bishops going back, but also the lineage of how gay prelates took over: who appointed who. Like the mob.

It’s interesting to look at the parallels between Bernardin and McCarrick. Both lost their fathers as infants. Both had to take over family duties in their earliest years during the Great Depression. Both likely suffered from same sex attraction; in Bernardin’s case maybe simply accidental he had tons of gay friends. Both excelled at mediation: politicians friendly to “both sides”. Both had late vocations by the standards of the time (i.e. when most chose that route in your early teens): McCarrick decided to enter the seminary at age 20 while traveling in Europe for a year. Bernardin had entered a public university as a pre-med student and shocked his sister when he announced he was going to seminary. Both spent a vanishingly small amount of time as parish priests.

December 17, 2019

Japan and WW2

Reading Richard Frank’s Downfall about the (agonizingly slow until it came fast) surrender of Japan in WW2.  I've always wondered the moral decision making around its development and use, and why Japan didn't surrender after the first one.

The rationale for use was predicated on the steady evolution of increased tolerance of civilian deaths, beginning with German (who else?) pilots in WW I. It feels in some sense inevitable in one sense, like the frog sitting in water that gets hotter degree by degree. It’s reaction-reaction-reaction all the time: a reaction to German and Axis use of civilian terror and deaths by beginning Allied bombing campaigns. The panicked reaction to news Germany was bent on going nuclear led to our Manhattan Project (the Germans badly misjudged the amount of material they would need and pretty much gave up). And the deployment of the bombs was perhaps a reaction to news of vast Japanese homeland mobilization as well as the prospect that the Russians, an already untrustworthy “ally”, were planning to take part in the spoils of Japan.

Why two bombs? The short answer seems to be that members in Japan’s inner circle already knew enough about nuclear programs to think that the U.S. had at most a very limited supply of weapons, perhaps only one. They knew enough, alas, to know the difficulties, a poisonous knowledge that helped trigger the Nagasaki bombing since the first one didn't tip the balance. Perhaps even the second wasn’t enough on its own either, given they suddenly had Russia declaring war on them at the same time. So the second weapon was deployed with speed -- not to prevent the Japanese from having enough time to come to their senses but because without a quick second bomb it would look like we had a very limited supply.

In some ways it all feels foreordained if grotesquely tragic. You can see the slow build-up: the steady incremental steps to evil in the form of civilian bombings (the American ones at Tokyo not only killed civilians but ended the Japanese nuclear program). There was the box that Germany put America in as far as having to design and build it. The box that Japan and Russia put us in as far as deployment. 

The world wars of the last century feel surreal given the relative "peace" we have had since.

December 11, 2019

Isaiah and Ways of Reading the Bible

Part of why the Bible is so fascinating to me is now is because for so long I read it wrong. I missed so much in earlier readings due looking it as a past document instead of a live one that is applicable to past, present and future. I’ve read it too much with the view of the writer's original intention without regard to symbol or figurative language - even though symbols and "double-meaning" are what separates man from animals.

I’m reading a book on reading ("On Reading Well"):
“The ability to understand figurative language, in which ‘a word is both itself and something else,’ is unique to human beings and, as one cognitive psychologist explains, ‘fundamental to how we think’ in that it is the means by which we can ‘escape the literal and immediate.’ We see this quality most dramatically in satire and allegory. Although very different, both satirical and allegorical language employ two levels of meaning: the literal meaning and the intended meaning. In satire, the intended meaning is the opposite of the stated words; in allegory, the intended meaning is symbolized by the stated words. Satire points to error, and allegory points to truth, but both require the reader to discern meaning beyond the surface level. In this way, allegory and satire—and less obviously, all literary language—reflect the transcendent nature of the human condition and the “double-willed self” described by Paul in Rom 7:19”
I'm reminded where the high priest Caiaphas said unwittingly of Jesus but accurately nonetheless, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

The simplest lines in the Bible now resonate with meaning in a way they couldn’t before partially because I have more biblical knowledge, as well as I’m more alert to my own perennial tendency to underestimate God’s love. Take for example today’s first reading from Isaiah:
‘Comfort my people, comfort them’
says your God.
‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of the Lord
double for all her sins.’
An incomplete way to look at this passage is to see it merely as God’s instructions to Isaiah. The better way is to look at it as instructions to Christ in 30 A.D. and to us today.

The fascinating tidbit is this verse is linked in many Bible commentaries to Job 42:10. So I trotted out to Job, chapter 42, which comes after Job has experienced a ton of Job-like negative experiences:
“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
So the verse from Isaiah is saying the Jews received double for all her sins, and yet it points to Job saying that Job got twice as much as he had more for his troubles. How to reconcile these? Maybe that we get twice as much grace as our sins dictate?

The world-changing view of Job is that he’s actually Jesus. (Which I first learned from GK Chesterton.)  Job's depicted as a righteous person who unfairly receives suffering. That’s Jesus to a “T” obviously, who was the only righteous person outside of Mary. So the way I look at the verse from Isaiah - in a paraphrased way - is that God the father is saying to Jesus through Isaiah: “Comfort my people, comfort them. Speak to the heart and call to her that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double the expiation needed by way of your crucifixion.”

I never would’ve read Isaiah that way years ago. I would’ve read it only in the historical moment, without the supernatural (yet well within human capacity)  idea that Scripture applies to past and present and future.. I would’ve read it as Isaiah being reminded by God that now the exile in Babylon is over and that all is well - except that it seems unfair the Israelites had paid double for their sins. It’s true that the writer’s actual, original intention could be simple hyperbole: “hey, you’ve paid double for your sins so don’t worry about it!” But if we’ve learned nothing, we’ve learned that nothing is accidental (title of Fr. Groeschel book), including most especially what’s written in the Bible. Christ, in a way, paid double for our sins since he had no sins to atone for.