“Jesus’ Words Still Shock Today”

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B); August 26, 2012

Jos 24:1-2a,15-17,18b; Ps 34; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior C.C. & Folsom Prison


            The Eucharist has been from the beginning a source of conflict and division.  This, of course, was not Christ’s intention, for the Eucharist is supposed to be what unites us.  Nevertheless, for the past two thousand years, the radical doctrine of the Real Presence has caused many to abandon Jesus.  When a large crowd heard Jesus proclaim “unless you eat my Flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you…My Flesh is real food; my blood is real drink,” they walked away.

As the crowds leave him, Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks the most poignant question in all of the New Testament: “Do you also want to leave” (v. 67)?  What a question!  You get the feeling that the whole Church, the whole Christian project is hanging in the balance: if they (the Twelve) leave, it’s over.  If they leave, then Jesus stands alone.

There’s an interesting parallel with this passage from John and those in the synoptic gospels, when Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Who do people say that I am?”  In both cases, there is something that is absolutely essential and striking at stake.  “I know that some say I am a  prophet or that I am John the Baptist  come back from the dead.  But, who do you say that I am?”  It’s Peter who speaks in their name: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. Mk 8:27-29). Peter, speaking  for the Church, affirms the divinity of Jesus.

Here, in John’s gospel, he turns to the Apostles and asks will you leave too because of this teaching on the Eucharist?  Again, it is Peter who speaks for them: “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).  That’s the great Catholic answer: we may not be able to explain it in everyday language, but we trust that what Christ  speaks is the Truth.  As the crowd leaves, the Church remains: Lord, we accept these words because they are Your words and the words of eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, these words on the Real Presence of Christ call forth a decision on our part—either we accept it or we don’t.

How are we going to respond?

In our first reading today, Joshua confronts the people: do you follow the Lord or not?  “As for me and my family, we will follow the Lord” (cf. Jos 24:14-15).  It’s an ‘either-or’ proposition; a decision had to be made and Joshua forced the question.

So, too, around the Eucharist, a decision has to be made; there is no wiggle room.  There is considerable wiggle room with a number of questions within the Church: e.g., you can adapt a different style of spirituality whether it be  Salvatorian, Franciscan,  Jesuit,  Dominican, or Benedictine, etc.  You can find certain devotional practices that others may find less palatable.  Maybe  theologically you’re a Thomist where your friend gravitates towards Process Theology.  There’s plenty of wiggle room in other issues of the Church, but none regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

In the 11th century a pious and brilliant monk by the name of Berengarius proposed a symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist.  He said the Risen Body of Christ is in heaven in its gloried form.  Therefore, it cannot be simultaneously on a variety of altars on earth and still be in heaven.  Therefore, he concluded what you have at Mass is a symbolic representation of the glorified body of Christ in heaven.  Your offering is a spiritual participation.

This seems commonsensical, rational, and relatively easy to grasp. The risen and glorified Christ sits on the Father’s right hand in heaven and on the altar below we have a symbolic representation.

But, the Church in the 11th century said “No” to Berengarius because his doctrine did not honor the realism and unequivocal meaning that we see in the sixth chapter of John.  “My Flesh is real food and my Blood is real drink.”  We saw last week that when Jesus was given the opportunity to offer a softer symbolic interpretation of his teaching, he upped the intensity by saying, according to the Greek, that unless you GNAW on my Flesh and drink my Blood, you have no life within you (v. 53).

It’s in this response to Berengarius that the Church develops this notion of trans-substantiation:  that the substance of the bread and wine changes while what we see remains bread and wine.  Jesus is really and fully present in this consecrated bread and wine.

People of God, the Eucharist is a difficult teaching: it is shocking, always has been, always will be.  Good and smart people like Martin Luther, John Calvin and some contemporary theologians have looked for ways to explain it, to get around its unequivocal meaning.  But, the Church has stubbornly said, “No” to those who would domesticate this teaching.  And, so the question goes out to you and to me.  When you hear this teaching, do you accept it or would you walk away?


Is Political Discord an Occasion of Sin and What Makes Liberals/Conservatives Tick?

Is Political Discord an Occasion of Sin and

What Makes Liberals/Conservatives Tick?

-by Deacon Jim McFadden


            In Jesus’ priestly prayer (cf. John 17), our Lord proclaims that God, who is love, gathers together the many as one:  “…that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also maybe in us”

(v. 21).  That which stands opposed to God, therefore, is always a power of separation.  Indeed, he Greek word for  Satan is diablis, which means to tear asunder.  Along this line, the early Church father Origen of Alexandria commented “ubi divisio ibi peccatum” (where there is division, there is sin).

Sin arises through the inappropriate use of our freedom: we can say “yes” to God or we can say “no.”  It’s a Kierkegaardian ‘either-or’ choice.   As a result, we turn in upon ourselves; we become self-preoccupied.   St. Augustine defined sin as the state of being “incurvatus in se” (caved in oneself).  As we do so, we lose sight of our essential dignity as being humans and we become disconnected from God, others, ourselves, and Creation.

Given the above,  our current state of political conversation seems to be one that a Christian needs to tread  very vigilantly.  The norm seems to be to demonize one’s opponent, which is a form of objectification, which is sinful.   As Catholics, we’re called to charitable dialogue.   Rather than withdraw from the political process, we are to imitate Christ who cared about daily life.  We are to bring our Faith to our ordinary concerns.  Among those ordinary concerns are political and economic issues.

When we disagree, we can’t give into the temptation of abusing those who have a different view on the political and economic state of affairs.   Instead,  (We) “always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good” (Gaudium et Spes, $43).  We don’t do this very well as much of Catholic dialogue is starting to resemble the cultural food fight of Fox News and MSNBC.

What we have today in our country is the politics of demonization, which has become the great civic crisis of our time as we witness the gridlock that is occurring in Washington, D.C.  The politics of demonization imputes the worst intentions on those with whom we disagree.  It caricatures one’s opponents view to show the obvious superiority of one’s own position.  As Catholics, what we’re called to do when we disagree is charitable dialogue and to maintain a certain eschatological focus and humility.

While we believe that we’ve been given the complete and perfect Revelation through Jesus Christ, as Dei Verbum said, “The Church is moving towards the truth.”  We will never have the truth in our back pockets until the Second Coming of Christ.  Until then, we should engage in dialogue in a spirit of  humility that people of presumably good faith may disagree with us.  While we may be convinced that our opponents are wrong, that doesn’t mean we can regard them as “fools or knaves” and that there’s not something we might learn from them (cf. John Stuart Mill On Liberty).

St Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on Aristotle quoted him as saying, “We should always love those to whom disagree with us for what we share in common is the love of the truth.” We should assume that posture as we dialogue with others.  We should engage in charitable dialogue not with the idea of fulfilling our political agenda but the pursuit of the common good.  If we as Catholics could learn how to do that, that could be a precious gift to our larger society.


What Makes Conservatives/Liberals Tick


            The above challenge is going to be no easy task, especially since

Conservatives and Liberals come from such diametrically opposed dispositions, which decidedly impact their political and economic agenda.  Dana Carney (Columbia University),  John Jost  (New York University), and Samuel Gosling (University of Texas) in their 2008 paper “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind,” published in Political Psychology (#29), theorized that there are certain personality traits associated with liberal and conservative orientations.

They argued that “…In general, liberals are more open-minded, creative, curious, and seeking, whereas conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and better organized.”  Specifically, they claimed these personality traits looked like the following:





Slovenly, ambiguous, indifferent, eccentric, sensitive, individualistic; open, tolerant, flexible, life-loving, free, unpredictable; creative, imaginative, curious, expressive, enthusiastic; excited, sensation-seeking; desire for novelty, diversity; uncontrolled, impulsive; complex, nuanced; open-minded; open to experience.



Definite, persistent, tenacious; tough, masculine, firm; reliable, trustworthy, faithful, loyal, stable, consistent; rigid, intolerant; conventional, ordinary; obedient, conformist; fearful, threatened; xenophobic, prejudiced; orderly, organized, parsimonious, thrifty, stingy; clean, sterile; obstinate, stubborn; aggressive, angry, vengeful; careful, practical, methodical; withdraw, reserved; stern, cold, mechanical; anxious, suspicious, obsessive; self-controlled, restrained, inhibited; concerned with rules, norms; moralistic; simple, decisive, closed-minded; conscientious.


Given the personality traits of Liberals and Conservatives (if one doesn’t accept Carney et al’s summary, one may still allow that Liberals and Conservatives do have distinguishing personality traits) how do these traits  translate into some of the contentious and divisive questions roiling our country?   Jonathan Haidt and Nicholas Winter (University of Virginia) and Ravi Iyer (USC) have collected and systematized very large numbers of responses to questions designed to elicit new information regarding political values orientation (cf. www/YourMorals.org).  Their findings offer insight to our current political terrain:


1.  War, Peace, Violence, Empathy with the World:                                                         On key questions and statements in this category, liberals scored high, conservatives low: “I believe peace is extremely important”; “Understanding, appreciation, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature”; “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal”; “How close to you feel to people all over the world?” On other key questions in this area, conservatives scored high, and liberals low:  “War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict”; “There is nothing wrong in getting back at someone who has hurt you.”

2.  Crime and Punishment; Morality Elasticity; Authority.                                            Again, on some questions in this category, liberals scored high conservatives low: “I believe that offenders should be provided with counseling to aid in their rehabilitation”; “What is ethical varies from one situation and society to another.”                                                                                  On other questions, conservatives scored high and liberals low: “People should not do things that are disgusting, even if no one is harmed”;  “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn”; “I believe that ‘an eye for an eye’ is the correct philosophy behind punishing offenders”; “The ‘old-fashioned ways and values’ still show the best way to live”; “It feels wrong when…a person commits a crime and goes unpunished.”

3.  The Poor, Redistribution, Fairness.                                                                                              Liberal high, conservative low: “It feels wrong when…an employee who needs their job is fired”; “I think it is morally wrong that rich children inherit a lot of money while poor children inherit nothing”;

“I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.”                                                                                                                                                     Conservatives high, liberals low:  “(I place a high value on) safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self”’;  (It’s desirable when) employees (who) contribute more to the success of the company receive a larger share”; (I value) social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.”

4.  Morals, Hedonism, Self-Fulfillment, Hierarchy:                                                                       Liberals high, conservatives low: “I see myself as someone who…is original, comes up with new ideas:’ “Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself”; “What is ethical varies from one situation and society to another.”                                                                                                                                          Conservatives high, liberals low:  “If certain groups stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems”;  “People should be loyal to their family members even when they have done something wrong”;  “Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs that traditional culture provide”;  (I favor) restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.


The above questions reveal how profound the chasm is on values between liberals and conservatives,  which lends itself to polarity and discord.  As Catholics engage the political process, we, too bring our conservative or liberal dispositions which will incline us to  a certain political allegiance.  At the same time,  we should have the humility to have the Gospel form our consciousness, which we bring to the political arena.  Too many Catholics (a.k.a. as ‘ideological Catholics’) speak the Catholic lingo with passion and some degree of knowledge and awareness. But, their prior (political) ideological convictions determine how they appeal to their Catholic faith.  They come to their Catholic faith with an ideological agenda, then they pick and choose elements of their Catholic Tradition that support their political agenda while conveniently putting on blinders to those Catholic elements that don’t support their agenda.

Despite our psychological predilections, a goal to which we should aspire is to embrace our Catholic social teaching as a whole and work to have our Catholic faith shape our political attitudes and behaviors, rather than the other way around.  Our faith shapes our political conventions, not visa versa.    When the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out their Faithful Citizenship, they were challenging us to do just that.


Five Reasons Drone Assassinations are Illegal

Dear Folks,

Below is an article, “Five Reasons Drone Assassinations are Illegal,” that
recently appeared in the Pax Christi USA website.

“I think the difference between me and some people is that I’m content to do
my little bit.  Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change.  But if each one would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light.”
–Sr. Thea Bowman

Peace and good will,
Deacon Jim

Five Reasons Drone Assassinations are Illegal

By Bill Quigley, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace


U.S. civilian and military employees regularly target and fire lethal unmanned drone-guided missiles  at people across the world.  Some of those killed were rescuers and mourners.  These killings would be criminal acts if they occurred inside the U.S.  Does it make legal sense that these killings would be legal outside the U.S.?

The U.S. has used drones to kill thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.  But the government routinely refuses to provide any official information on local reports of civilian deaths or of the identities of most of those killed.  In Pakistan alone, the New America Foundation reports U.S. forces have launched 297 drone strikes killing at least 1800 people, 3-400 of whom were not even combatants.  Other investigative  journalists report four to eight hundred civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

Very few of the drone strikes kill high level leaders of terror groups.  A recent article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS estimated “only one out of every seven drone attacks in Pakistan kills a militant leader.  The majority of those kills in such strikes are not important insurgent commanders but rather low level fighters, together with a small number of civilians.”  An investigation by the Wall Street Journal in November 2011 revealed that most of the time the U.S. did not even know the identities of the people being killed by drones in Pakistan.  The WSJ reported there are two types of drone strikes.  Personality strikes target known terrorist leaders.  Signature strikes target groups of men believed to be militants but are people whose identities are not known.  Most of the drone strikes are signature strikes. …

Civilian deaths in drone strikes are reported, but more chilling is the practice of firing a second set of drone strikes at the scene once people have come to find out what happened or to give aid.  Glen Greenwald of Salon, a leading critic of the increasing use of drones, recently pointed out that drones routinely kill civilians who are in the vicinity of people thought to be “militants” and are thus
“incidental” killings.  But the U.S. also frequently fires drones again at people who show up at the scene of an attack, thus deliberately targeting rescuers and mourners.

Here are five reasons why these drone assassinations are illegal.

            One.  Assassination by the U.S. government has been illegal since  1976.  Drone killings are acts of premeditated murder.  Premeditated murder is a crime in all fifty states and under federal criminal law.  These murders are also the textbook definition of assassination, which is murder by sudden or secret attack for political reasons.  In 1976 U.S. President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905, Section 5(g), which states, “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or, conspire to engage in, political assassination.”  President Reagan followed up to make the ban clearer in Executive Order 12333.  Section 2.11 of that Order states, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Section 2.12 further includes “indirect participation.” …This ban still stands.

The reason for the ban on assassinations was the CIA was involved in attempts to assassinate national leaders opposed by the U.S.  Among others, U.S. forces sought to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam.

Two.  United Nations report directly questions the legality of U.S. drone killings.  The UN (did so) in a May 2010 report by NYU law professor Philip Alston.  Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said drone killings may be lawful in the context of authorized armed conflict (e.g., Afghanistan where the U.S. sought and received international approval to invade and wage war on another country).  However, the use of drones “far from the battle zone” is highly questionable legally.  “Outside the context of armed conflict, the use of drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.”  Can drone killings be justified as anticipatory self-defense?  “Applying such a scenario to targeted killings threatens to eviscerate the human rights law prohibition against arbitrary deprivation of life.”  Likewise, countries which engage in such killings must provide transparency and accountability, which no country has done.  “The refusal by States who conduct targeted killings to provide transparency about their policies violates the international law framework that limits the unlawful use of lethal force against individuals.”

Three.  International law experts condemn U.S. drone killings.  Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international affairs and politics at Princeton University thinks the widespread killing of civilians in drone strikes may well constitute war crimes.  “There are two fundamental concerns.  One is embarking on this sort of automated warfare in ways that further dehumanize the process of armed conflict in ways that I think have disturbing implications for the future,” Falk said.  “Related to that are the concerns I’ve had recently with my preoccupation with the occupation of Gaza of a one-sided warfare where the high-tech side decides how to inflict pain and suffering on the other side that is, essentially, helpless.”

Human rights groups in Pakistan challenge the legality of U.S. drone strikes there and assert that Pakistan can prosecute military and civilians involved for murder.  While stopping short of direct condemnation, international law expert Notre Dame Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell seriously questions the legality of drone attacks in Pakistan.  In  powerful testimony before Congress and in an article in America magazine, she points out that under the charter of the United Nations, international law authorizes nations to kill people in other countries only in self-defense to an armed attack, if authorized by the UN, or if assisting another country in their lawful use of force.  Outside of war, she writes, the full body of human rights applies,   including the prohibition on killing without warning.  Because the U.S. is not at war with Pakistan, using the justification of war to authorize the killings is “to violate fundamental human rights principles.”

Four.  Military law of war does not authorize widespread drone killing of civilians.  According t the current U.S.. Military Law of War Deskbook, the Law of war allows killing only when consistent with four key principles: military necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity.  These principles preclude both direct targeting of civilians and medical personnel but also set out how much “incidental” loss fo human life is allowed.  Some argue precision-guided weapons llike drones can be used only when there is no probable cause of civilian deaths.  But the U.S. military disputes that burden and instead directs “all practicable precautions” be taken to weight the anticipated loss of civilian life against the advantages expected to be gained by the strike.  Even using the more lenient standard, there is little legal justification of deliberately allowing the killing of civilians who are “incidental” to the killing of people whose identities are unknown.

Five.  Retired high-ranking military and CIA veterans challenge the legality and efficacy of drone killings.  Retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright squarely denies the legality of drone warfare, telling Democracy Now: “These drones, you might as well just call them assassination machines.  That is what these drones are used for: targeted assassination, extrajudicial ultimate death of people who have not been convicted of anything.”

Drone strikes are also counterproductive.  Robert Grenier, recently retired Director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center, wrote, “One wonders how may Yemenis may be moved in the future to violent extremism in reaction to carelessly targeted missile strikes, and how many Yemeni militants with strictly local agenda will become dedicated enemies of the West in response to U.S. military action against them.

Recent polls of the Pakistan people show high levels of anger in Pakistan at U.S. military attacks there.  This anger in turn leads to high support for suicide attacks against U.S. military targets

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer who teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and works with the Center for Constitutional Rights.  He is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace.  A longer version of this article is available on the PCUSA website (www.paxchristiusa.org).