humanae vitae turns 52

hli-hv-fb-1024x538This past week marked the 52nd anniversary of the release of the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, by the recently canonized Pope Saint Paul VI.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful, accessible and engaging read on the subject of contraception and natural family planning, you may want to pick up a copy of Patrick Coffin’s book entitled Sex au Naturel: What It Is and Why It’s Good for Your Marriage, or Christopher West’s recent book, Eclipse of the Body: How We Lost the Meaning of Sex, Gender, Marriage, & Family (And How to Reclaim It).

I heard Patrick speak on this topic when he was our guest catechist in the RCIA Hollywood program. You can listen to Patrick’s presentation here:

 

His book has received positive reviews from Kimberly Hahn, Cardinal George Pell, and others. There are also a couple of useful reader reviews on Amazon’s website. One reader writes:

Patrick Coffin’s book is a friendly and accessible introduction to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, especially contraception, and how living those teachings improves marriage. It is funny, down-to-earth, easy to read, comprehensive.

I highly recommend it for anyone who has questions or doubts about the Church’s teaching, or for anyone who has a friend or family member with questions or doubts. I thought I was well-versed in this material; but even I was able to gain from Coffin’s perspective and learned a few new facts as well as some new ways of presenting the information….

Above all Coffin presents all of these teachings with love and mercy and not with an attitude of bashing the infidels. The book is an invitation to a cordial discussion, one that says: “Hey, even if you disagree you might at least hear me out and understand why I hold the position I do.”

If you want a better understanding of the Church’s teaching, or want to help others understand it, this books sounds like a great resource.

See also my post from 2008 on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

a groovy day in my spiritual life

On July 26, 1970, at the church of Saint John the Baptist in Excelsior, Minnesota, the Rev. Vincent O’Connor poured water over my forehead and baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I’ve decided to make a point of celebrating the anniversary of my baptism. I guess Pope John Paul II thought this sort of thing was a good idea, as did a fourth-century saint:

We should celebrate the day of our baptism as we do our birthday! All Christians should reflect on the meaning and importance of their own baptism. – John Paul II, 1/12/1997

The first Christians had great spiritual celebrations on the anniversary of their baptism, which was the day of their dedication, the day on which they were consecrated to God. They took no notice of their birthday, for at birth we are not children of God, but rather children of Adam. So they celebrated the day on which they were made children of God, the day of their baptism. – Saint Caesarius of Arles (470-543 AD)

My mom is amazing. I’m the youngest of ten kids, and somehow she saved a box of various items from my baptism! I was digging through my books the other day and stumbled across all of this memorabilia… baptismal cards printed for the occasion; cards from godparents, family and friends; a telegram from my uncle; a burlap banner, complete with bright orange and green felt letters proclaiming a groovy Gospel message; a family Christmas card that was created after the event… My parents had the event filmed on Super 8 film and recorded on audio tape as well.

I have the script my parents wrote for the occasion (that’s right, they scripted the liturgy)… apparently it involved most of my nine brothers and sisters. And I have been given to understand that Fr. O’Connor played guitar during the celebration.

It was a tandem baptism, shared with good friends of our family, the Regans. Bobby Regan and I were both born around the same time, so the families decided to celebrate the baptisms together.

I was particularly moved by some of the notes I found among the archives:

from my godparents:
Dearest little Clayton,
We are so happy to be your godparents, and through you to reaffirm that we’ll go “one more round, mankind.” Your parents are beauties and you are blessed as they are blessed. Much love, Gordy & Grace

May he grow in wisdom, grace and age and be worthy of his earthly and heavenly family. Bob and Helen

from one of my aunts:
Dear Mary, Jim and children:
Thank you for a very wonderful day. It was an insight to generous, selfless, meaningful Christian lives. Gratefully, Pat and Gen

from a friend of the family:
Dear Mary and Jim,
Clayton has really come into a beautiful and loving Christian fellowship. He is a very lucky young man to have been received so well into his new community. John and I felt it an honor to be a part of your special day. Thank you for all the “giving” you have sent our way. Love in your family! Cynthia O’Halloran

and then the telegram from my uncle:

Stumbling across all of this is quite humbling. It’s hard to know how to express gratitude for such a great gift, given to me even before there was any way of responding. It reminds me of the very gratuity of God, the great economist of the heart… who doesn’t measure, or wait for any kind of response.

In his Letter to Families, John Paul II wrote profound things about the family as the lasting “horizon of one’s existence” and the relationship between human life and life in God:

It is for themselves that married couples want children; in children they see the crowning of their own love for each other. They want children for the family, as a priceless gift. This is quite understandable. Nonetheless, in conjugal love and in paternal and maternal love we should find inscribed the same truth about man which the Council expressed in a clear and concise way in its statement that God “willed man for his own sake.” It is thus necessary that the will of the parents should be in harmony with the will of God. They must want the new human creature in the same way as the Creator wants him: “for himself.” Our human will is always and inevitably subject to the law of time and change. The divine will, on the other hand, is eternal. As we read in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer 1:5). The geneaology of the person is thus united with the eternity of God, and only then with human fatherhood and motherhood, which are realized in time. At the moment of conception itself, man is already destined to eternity in God.Letter to Families, paragraph 9

All I can say is that I am very grateful for my parents. It would have been easy for them to have seen a tenth child simply as a burden or another mouth to feed. But instead they chose to see it as an occasion of joy and hope, and left all of these reminders behind for me to discover later.

So here’s to fifty years of life in my earthly family, and in the family of the Trinity!

podcast episode 3: the last things

In 2008, during a Holy Week RCIA retreat, I led a reflection on The Last Things — death, judgment, heaven and hell. Rather than diving right into a discussion of things ultimate, I decided to provide some context, and some of that context came from C.S. Lewis. In The Weight of Glory, Lewis observes that “we are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Catholics in political life, and the virtue of hope

RNS-CHARLES-CHAPUT-012717Here are a few bracing excerpts from a talk Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered in Toronto back in 2009. The whole presentation is worth a read.

The “separation of Church and state” does not mean – and it can never mean – separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be “leaven in the world” and to “make disciples of all nations.” That kind of radical separation steals the moral content of a society. It’s the equivalent of telling a married man that he can’t act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won’t stay married for long.

Partly because I’m a bishop and partly because I’m older and a little bit wiser, I don’t belong to any political party. As a young priest I worked on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. Later I volunteered with the 1976 and 1980 campaigns for Jimmy Carter. So if I have any partisan roots, they’re in the Democratic Party. But as I say in the book, one of the lessons we need to learn from the last 50 years is that a “preferred” Catholic political party usually doesn’t exist. The sooner Catholics feel at home in any political party, the sooner that party takes them for granted and then ignores their concerns. Party loyalty for the sake of habit, or family tradition, or ethnic or class interest is a form of tribalism. It’s a lethal kind of moral laziness. Issues matter. Character matters. Acting on principle matters. But party loyalty for the sake of party loyalty is a dead end….

One of the words we heard endlessly in the last U.S. election was “hope.” I think “hope” is the only word in the English language more badly misused than “love.” It’s our go-to anxiety word — as in, “I sure hope I don’t say anything stupid tonight.” But for Christians, hope is a virtue, not an emotional crutch or a political slogan. Virtus, the Latin root of virtue, means strength or courage. Real hope is unsentimental. It has nothing to do with the cheesy optimism of election campaigns. Hope assumes and demands a spine in believers. And that’s why – at least for a Christian — hope sustains us when the real answer to the problems or hard choices in life is “no, we can’t,” instead of “yes, we can”….

[Georges] Bernanos once wrote that the optimism of the modern world, including its “politics of hope,” is like whistling past a graveyard. It’s a cheap substitute for real hope and “a sly form of selfishness, a method of isolating [ourselves] from the unhappiness of others” by thinking progressive thoughts. Real hope “must be won. [We] can only attain hope through truth, at the cost of great effort and long patience . . . Hope is a virtue, virtus, strength; an heroic determination of the soul. [And] the highest form of hope is despair overcome.”

Anyone who hasn’t noticed the despair in the world should probably go back to sleep. The word “hope” on a campaign poster may give us a little thrill of righteousness, but the world will still be a wreck when the drug wears off. We can only attain hope through truth. And what that means is this: From the moment Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” the most important political statement anyone can make is “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Dr. Robert Epstein’s 2019 testimony about Facebook

Almost exactly a year ago (July 16, 2019), Dr. Robert Epstein testified before Judiciary Subcommittee SD 226 about Facebook’s undue influence in US elections.

Unfortunately, I have not seen evidence that any of the concerns raised by Dr. Epstein have been addressed as we speed toward the November 2020 presidential elections.

I didn’t post this on my blog last year — I think I only shared it on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — but since its relevance remains, I’m posting it here today.

SPEAKERS:
STC – Senator Ted Cruz
DRE – Dr Robert Epstein

FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)

STC: As I understand your background: you’re not a Republican and nor are you a conservative. Is that accurate?

DRE: That would be an understatement.

STC: And indeed you’re the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.

DRE: Correct.

STC: So you’re a respected academic. You testified before this committee that Google’s manipulation of votes gave at least 2.6 million additional votes to Hillary Clinton in the year 2016. Is that correct?

DRE: That’s correct.

STC: And I want to make sure I understand: you personally supported and voted for Hillary Clinton.

DRE: I was a very strong public supporter of Hillary Clinton. Yes.

STC: So you’re not dismayed that people voted for her, but your testimony is that Google is — through bias in search results — manipulating voters in a way they’re not aware of?

DRE: On a massive scale. And what I’m saying is that I believe in democracy. I believe in the free and fair election more than I have any kind of allegiance to a candidate or a party.

STC: And looking forward — if I understood your testimony correctly — you said in subsequent elections, Google and Facebook and Twitter and big text manipulation could manipulate as many as 15 million votes in a subsequent election?

DRE: In 2020, if all these companies are supporting the same candidate, there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.

STC: Now you described the “Go Vote” reminder and you said it wasn’t a public service announcement but rather manipulation. Can you explain how? I’m not sure everyone followed the details of that.

DRE: Well, sure. If, on Election Day in 2016… if Mark Zuckerberg, for example, had chosen to send out a “Go Vote” reminder, say just to Democrats — and no one would have known if he had done this — that would have given that day an additional at least 450,000 votes to Democrats. And we know this without doubt because of Facebook’s own published data… because they did an experiment (that they didn’t tell anyone about) during the 2010 election. They published it in 2012. It had 60 million Facebook users involved. They sent out a “Go Vote” reminder and they got something like 360,000 more people to get off their sofas and go vote who otherwise would have stayed home. The point is I don’t think that Mr. Zuckerberg sent out that reminder in 2016. I think he was overconfident. I think Google was overconfident (and) that all these companies were. I don’t think he sent that out. Without monitoring systems in place, we’ll never know what these companies are doing.

DRE: But the point is: In 2018, I’m sure they were more aggressive. We have lots of data to support that. And in 2020? You can bet that all of these companies are going to go all out and the methods that they’re using are invisible. They are subliminal. They’re more powerful than most any effects I’ve ever seen in the Behavioral Sciences, and I’ve been in the Behavioral Sciences for almost 40 years.

STC: You know our Democratic colleagues on this committee often talk about what they view as the pernicious effect of big money and big corporate dollars. What you are testifying to is that a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires and giant corporations are able to spend millions of dollars — if not billions of dollars — collectively, massively influencing the results of elections, and there’s no accountability.

STC: You said we don’t know… We have no way of knowing if Google or Facebook or Twitter sends it sends its Democrats or Republicans or how they bias it, because it’s a black box with no transparency or accountability whatsoever. Am I understanding you correctly?

DRE: Senator, with respect, I must correct you.

STC: Please.

DRE: If Mark Zuckerberg chooses to send out a “Go Vote” reminder just to Democrats on Election Day, that doesn’t cost him a dime.

STC: Fair enough. Do you happen to know who the Hillary Clinton campaign’s number one financial supporter was in the year 2016?

DRE: I think I do. But please remind me.

STC: The number one financial supporter of the Hillary Clinton campaign in the 2016 election was the parent company of Google — Alphabet — who was our first witness. They were her number one financial donor. And your testimony is: through their deceptive search methods, they moved 2.6 million votes in her direction. I would think anybody — whether or not you favor one camp or another — should be deeply dismayed about a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires having that much power over our elections to silently and deceptively shift vote outcomes.

DRE: Again, with respect, I must correct you. The 2.6 million is a rock-bottom minimum. The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million, depending on how aggressively they used the techniques that I’ve been studying now for six-and-a-half years.

STC: Wow. Could you just say that again, please?

DRE: The 2.6 million is a rock bottom minimum: The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes, depending on how aggressive they were in using the techniques that I’ve been studying, such as the search engine manipulation effect, the search suggestion effect, the answer bot effect, and a number of others. They control these and no one can counteract them. These are not competitive. These are tools that they have at their disposal exclusively.

STC: If any headline comes out of this hearing, that should be it.