Saturday, 30 April 2011

Irreconcilable differences / Relics of the second rank

Relics of the second rank are items or pieces of an item used by a Saint while on his/her body such as clothing or other personal religious artefacts. These also cannot be sold but donations to the benefactor for the glory of the church may be given in receipt of the items.

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition that needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain, not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower.”   Karl Marx (1843)

In 1813, Victor Hugo wrote the novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and he named the Hunchback Quasimodo because the character in the novel had been found by the Archdeacon of the cathedral, Frollo on the steps of the church on Low Sunday and Frollo subsequently names the baby after the Latin introit for the day. The Latin name is also a play on words because the word “quasi” means almost and “modo” means the standard measure so the hunchback is almost the standard measure of a man. Two other main characters are Esmeralda, the vain object of Quasimodo’s affections and Captain Phoebus, the handsome but shallow and self-centered object of Esmeralda’s desire.  Quasimodo symbolically in the novel shows Esmeralda the difference between himself and Captain Phoebus . He places two vases in her room: one is a beautiful crystal vase, yet broken and filled with dry, withered flowers; the other a humble pot, yet filled with beautiful, fragrant flowers.  For me this captures the difference between the beatification of the deceased pope today and the celebration of Labour Day by workers.

I think that in the church’s haste to sanctify the deceased pope they choose to ignore his involvement with the sexual abuse scandals that occurred during his tenure and the relationship with the Argentine junta as I outlined in my Good Friday post. The Vatican has always maintained that the beatification process is a declaration of having lived a life worthy of emulation rather than a complete summarization of his pontificate including his various policy decisions affecting the daily operations of the institution of the church. The Church’s position is that they cannot make a saint but only ratify his intercessory power in heaven as indicated by the occurrence of miracles associated with his name or relics.

On Labour Day while workers are concerned about their monetary liquid assets, the church is mindful of another type of liquid asset. After the pope’s death, four vials of his blood mixed with an anti-coagulant were collected. These are considered by the church to be relics of the first rank. Two of the vials were given to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late pope’s private secretary and current archbishop of Krakow, Poland. The other two vials were given to the nuns at the Bambin Gesu hospital in the Vatican. One of the nuns’ vials was placed in an ornate reliquary constructed by the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations for display at the beatification service today. For me this is the crystal vase of Victor Hugo’s novel.

There were also relics of the second rank created when fragments of a cassock worn by the pope were attached to a holy card inscribed with a prayer to “obtain graces through the intercession of John Paul II.” The Vicarate of Rome which runs the operation solicited donations from an estimated 100,000 recipients to cover the costs of shipment and production with any surplus going towards the expenses of the sanctification process for John Paul II. These relics are referred to as ex indumentis, meaning cloth that the late Pope touched. The Vatican dodged a claim of simony by saying it was not a commercial operation. Simony is the crime of selling relics and is named after Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles 8:18-24 where he offers to buy the power of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands from the disciples.

Now we get to the disjunction between the magesterium and the practice of the church with its various institutions. There was a post on Inside Higher Education website on this Easter Monday by Paul Dinter, adjunct professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, a Catholic university in New York. He was making a moral statement on the contradiction between the historical social justice mandate of the college and its current efforts to forestall the right of its adjunct academic staff to form a union through the use of legal challenges. If the service in Rome today is the crystal vase then this is the humble pot. He writes:

“Thus "solidarity" for workers has been seen as a natural, moral outgrowth of the ancient Christian notion of koinonia, of "communion" that helps us overcome our natural tendency to self-serving individualism. At least that is the way that Karol Wojtyła saw it, and, when he became Pope John Paul II, he programmed that notion into the body of social teaching that began to develop 90 years earlier with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum ("On Revolutions") back in 1891.

In John Paul’s own encyclical Laborem Exercens ("On Human Work"), he made it clear that in the historical conflict between labor and employers, the Catholic Church has always held to the principle of the priority of labor. This follows from the moral orientation of capital, or private equity, to the common good, a principal that nonprofit organizations have often exempted themselves from as if the lack of a formal profit motive removed them from the exigencies of social justice.

But in setting out the rights of workers, then, the pope also wrote of the social evil of underemployment when workers do not receive the kind of payment for their labor that allows them to maintain a family and provide for some future security. And in this context, he explicitly promoted the right of association by which workers could form unions, a right he broadly construed because he wanted to assure that social justice and  common good be promoted as widely as possible.”

How does an institution hold two incompatible and irreconcilable concepts simultaneously? John Paul II wrote the quoted encyclical on the primacy of labor and yet pandered to an Argentine junta totally at odds with his beliefs to the extent of seemingly ignoring the murder of two activist bishops. The institution to which Paul Dinter belongs believes itself to be continuing and inculcating the traditions of Roman Catholic educational pioneers such as Ignatius Loyola or John Baptiste de La Salle and yet buys into the prevailing neo liberalist philosophy which is on the other end of the ethos spectrum.

Marx would talk about false conscience. Ideas would be perceived to be true through the power of argument accorded to accepted experts who were really in the thrall of those who benefited materially from the status quote. Anti union sentiment is valid and contributes to the mandate of the college because it furthers the notional moral framework of the college through more efficient use of its labor force. The college administrators would not be aware of the apparent contradictions. Slavoj Zizek in the footsteps of German political theorist Sloterditj would insist that the true state is an “ideological cynicism” where the voluntary consent of contestable situations is contracted through a conscience acceptance of conditions which are known to be at odds with one’s notional moral framework but is cynically accepted to further one’s ultimate objectives.  The saving of souls from damnation in South America by anti clerical leftist and communists outweighs the present loss of both clergy and laity through the predations of a murderous junta. The oppression of the employees of a social justice college is outweighed by the ability to reach more potential student seekers and thus achieve the greater good of the institutional community.

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