Pope Francis and the Fiat of entering Chinese Airspace

Flag-Pins-Vatican-City-ChinaOn his voyage to South Korea, the plane carrying the Holy Father was permitted to enter and travel through Chinese airspace. He was technically within the territorial boundaries of mainland China for a number of hours, and Francis (in a stroke of diplomatic genius, aided by Fr. Lombardi) deftly managed to make something important out of the moment, despite the fact that he did not set foot on Chinese soil.

The Pope has “Universal Jurisdiction” over the Church, apart from his temporal jurisdiction over the Vatican City-State (temporal jurisdiction is a holdover from the time of the Papal States). Wherever he goes, he has supreme authority over the Church, without regard for the particular temporal authority in a particular place. From the Catholic Encyclopedia on New Advent:

In the Constitution “Pastor Aeternus”, cap. 3, the pope is declared to possess ordinary, immediate, and episcopal jurisdiction over all the faithful: We teach, moreover, and declare that, by the disposition of God, the Roman Church possesses supreme ordinary authority over all Churches, and that the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is true episcopal jurisdiction is immediate in its character (Enchir., n. 1827).

On the return flight to Rome, Pope Francis held a press conference aboard the plane. According to the Transcript, he was asked:

You were the first pope to fly over China. The telegram that you sent to the Chinese president was received without negative comments. Are we passing on to a possible dialogue and would you like to go to China?

The Transcript indicates that before Pope Francis could answer, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi announced that “…we are now in Chinese airspace so the question is pertinent.”

Before we deal with Fr. Lombardi’s characterization of the moment, check out Pope Francis’ response:

When we were about to enter into Chinese airspace I was in the cockpit with the pilot. One of them, showed me the registry. Anyway, he said, there were 10 minutes left before entering Chinese airspace. we have ask for authorization. You always ask. ‘Is it normal to ask for permission in every nation? Yes.’ I heard how they asked authorization and how they responded. I was a witness to this. Then the pilot said, now we send the telegram. But I don’t know how they will have done it by like that. So, then i said goodbye to them and went back to my seat and i prayed a lot for that beautiful and noble Chinese people. a wise people. i think of the great Chinese sages, a history of science and knowledge. Also we Jesuits have a history there, also Father (Matteo) Ricci. And, all thees things came up to my mind. Do I have a wish to go.? Certainly, tomorrow. Yes. We respect the Chinese people. It’s just that the Church ask for freedom for its role and for its work. This is another condition. But, do not forget that fundamental letter for the Chinese problem which was the letter sent to the Chinese by Pope Benedict XVI. That letter today is current. Rereading it is good for you. The holy see is always open to being in contact, always, because it has a real esteem for the Chinese people.

The 2007 letter to which Pope Francis refers can be found here, and is worth reading. In it, Benedict states:

Catholic doctrine teaches that the Bishop is the visible source and foundation of unity in the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral ministry. But in every particular Church, in order that she may be fully Church, there must be present the supreme authority of the Church, that is to say, the episcopal College together with its Head, the Roman Pontiff, and never apart from him. Therefore the ministry of the Successor of Peter belongs to the essence of every particular Church “from within”. Moreover, the communion of all the particular Churches in the one Catholic Church, and hence the ordered hierarchical communion of all the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, with the Successor of Peter, are a guarantee of the unity of the faith and life of all Catholics. It is therefore indispensable, for the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every Bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope.

Returning to the moment itself, I respectfully disagree with Fr. Lombardi. This is not simply “pertinent“; rather, for the Holy Father to stand within the territorial boundaries of China and refer to Pope Benedict’s letter, in which it is stated that “every bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope” is significant and important for the progress of the Church’s mission in China.

Fulltext of the Telegram

Fulltext of the Telegram

This is exactly the sort of thing the Chinese were likely worried about in connection with Francis entering their airspace. He exercised his universal jurisdiction as Supreme Pastor in China and the Chinese Government permitted it (and were powerless to stop it).

This reminds me an awful lot of St. John Paul II’s first apostolic pilgrimage to Poland, when the Soviets still strictly controlled the Eastern bloc countries. St. JPII’s mere presence in the country of his birth had a profound impact on the collapse of communism there. The flame he sparked quickly spread to other satellites. The Soviets might have been “between a rock and a hard place,” (thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit) but no one can say that it was better for them that they permitted St. JPII to visit.

Here, the Big Question will be whether the Chinese permit Francis to enter airspace again, or — just imagine! — to land in China next time.

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Catholic Joy and Adventures in Pork; Prudence and Prosciutto

20140815_092614_AndroidRecently we were happy to invite to dinner a couple who are friends of our friend Fr. A. Since we were meeting them for the first time, all that we knew was that (a) they are both Italian and (b) they are newlyweds and (c) they are visiting California and staying with Fr. A.

I was a little intimidated by the idea of hosting Italians from Rome, but I decided that I would have to take the risk, which included getting the second prosciutto from Salumi ready for cutting and service.

The risk was calculated. At the very least, I’d get an impartial assessment; hopefully they wouldn’t care too much about hurting my feelings and they would know real prosciutto. How could any Italian person not know prosciutto? I’m sure it’s possible, but odds are not at my house.

I would find out if I’m crazy for trying.

If I had known that these newlyweds were also gourmands (the husband works in purchasing and sales for a company that distributes gourmet foods from Italy) I would have understood a bit better the gravity of my risk-taking.

Friday Night Menu

house-cured “prosciutto” with honeydew melon

Spaghetti alla carbonara (house-cured guinciale)

Salad with grilled peaches, lavender, blue cheese and arugula

Caprese salad (Mr. Karl’s garden tomatoes, my basil, Deacon D’s olive oil)

Braised beef with polenta and fresh sweet corn

Chocolate mousse with fresh berries

New Clairvaux wines, Quartermaster’s beer, homemade lemoncello

photo 2The dinner went well. Everyone ate, even the littles (who were well behaved, considering that dinner started at 8:30). If everyone eats everything, it usually means it’s okay.

It’s been a whole year since we began this project with the first pig that we purchased, curing the hams in the style of prosciutto — a simple salt cure (not brine) followed by a coating in lard and cracked pepper, wrapping in cheesecloth and hanging in the Curebrewzer for nearly twelve months.

About four months ago, I unwrapped and tested the first of the two prosciuttos, which went to a friend. I wondered whether our friends like it, and learned on another recent evening that it was used to make panini (with aioli, shaved onion, and a bunch of other good stuff) — lunches (and late-night snacks) for a Catholic retreat group. A well loved ham brings much happiness.

20140815_094147_AndroidI’d say the prosciutto was even better with an additional four months of aging. The rind was a bit firmer, the ham itself was just as tender, but flavors were more concentrated, more porky, especially the fat had a sweeter, more buttery flavor. I’m pleased with the outcome for this first attempt. I have some ideas for the next two hams that began the air-drying process in the Curebrewzer last week. I plan to hang them for 18 months, and remove the cheesecloth after 9 or 10 months to let the air harden the rind more directly.

The Italian gourmet food dealer took a turn with the knife to slice the prosciutto, which I had rigged up on an oven roasting rack (maybe I do need a better solution). For twenty minutes he patiently (I need a different knife for this) replenished the tray of shaved paper thin slices of ham (like he’d done it a few times before), enjoyed with a slice of melon. We ate well over a pound of the thin slices. When the couple said their thank-you’s and good-bye’s, the husband shook my hand and told me (in his charming Italian accent), “You made me very happy as an Italian man tonight! Thank you!”

So Adventures in Pork continues, with renewed vigor. We have another pig waiting at the butcher right now, which means two more hams going in to cure in the near future. We have friends raise these pigs for us, and it turns out to be an affordable way to buy high quality meat. And, it’s fun to do something special like this prosciutto project.

20140805_103004_AndroidIncidentally, I was at Costco recently and came across a display — not for prosciutto — but for Spanish Iberico ham, a close relative of prosciutto.

The hams from Spain have their own following, and it’s well deserved. Iberico is a very robust flavor that I really like, in part due to the special breed of pigs raised for the ham, and their diet, which, includes feasting upon acorns. The hams are also cured a bit longer than prosciutto. There are certain Iberico hams that are aged up to three years, and in that time develop a concentrated porky flavor.

Displays like this at a warehouse store signify that Americans are developing a more mainstream interest in foods that come from time-honored, traditional preparation methods. And it also says that there’s money to spend in this area of cuisine. Or it says salt plus pork plus fat equals good.

Things like diet and space for the hogs, and things like time and care in the process are what make items like Iberico ham (or prosciutto, or artisan cheese, etc.) so expensive. To save money, and because it’s more fun than a plastic package from the warehouse store, we’re making our own prosciutto-style locally-sourced ham, and sharing it with family and friends — whether new, old, or Italian. It’s a tiny little Catholic joy for me.

Inaugural Vintage 2014 yields 3 Bottles!

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the recent 2014 Vintage harvest from our Syrah vineyard, which we crushed and fermented into wine. A few days ago, I checked the progress of the fer20140815_130644_Androidmenter and decided it was time to remove the muslin bag containing the “must” — seeds and skins — from the crushed grapes, squeeze out all of the liquid, and transfer the wine to another container for aging.

I tasted it, and it is definitely wine. In other words, it fermented; it contains alcohol. I am not accustomed to tasting 10-day old wine directly from the fermenter so I’m unsure about the quality of the final product (my experience is with beer, which does need a certain amount of time to be ready to drink, but generally not the 6 months of more that it takes with wine; in other words, I’m usually pretty comfortable [based upon experience] with tasting beer from the fermenter and predicting whether the beer will be good upon kegging and carbonation, but have no such comfort with this wine project).

At the moment, the wine is very sharp, very tannic, without any smoothness at all (secondary to the newness of the wine?), and there remains a slight yeast flavor, which I attribute to the fact that the yeast hasn’t even fully cleared out of the wine (it is still very cloudy, and more of the sediment needs to drop out). I think it will be drinkable, but perhaps only *I* will deign to drink it. We’ll see.

I think we’ll have three whole 750ml bottles of wine from this vintage. I moved the glass aging container to the Curebrewzer, where it will “cellar” at 60/60 for 8 or 9 months, at least, before it is bottled.

On seeking Freedom “from” Religion

Nevermind that Atheism is a Religion, because it Requires Faith and Belief.

There is a restaurant in North Carolina that received national attention after a story went viral concerning a 15% discount offered to customers who paused for a moment of gratitude before eating their meal. In a nutshell, staff that observed patrons pausing to pray or express silent gratitude before eating could give a discount, marked on the receipt as “Praying in Public”.

The “Freedom from Religion Foundation” (“FFRF”) claims to be a nationwide non-profit organization of over 21,000 members. According to its website, FFRF members are atheists, agnostics, skeptics and “freethinkers”. The membership of FFRF is militant, in the sense that time and again their effort is to repress and eliminate all public forms of religious expression, citing to the fallacious premise (embedded in the organization’s name) that a “freedom from religion” exists at law.

Freedom from religion is a legal fiction. The First Amendment was never intended to provide a “separation of church and state”. Rather, the First Amendment clearly states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Our U.S. Government is not duty bound to ensure that no forms of religious expression wind up in public places. Rather, our U.S. Government is constitutionally prohibited from establishing religion, or preventing the free exercise of it.

But this nuance is rather lost on FFRF. In a letter it sent to the owner of the restaurant that offered the “prayer discount,” a staff attorney represented that offering such a discount “violates the Federal Civil Rights Act” and that “Any promotions must be available to all customers regardless of religious practice on a non-discriminatory basis.”

42 U.S.C. 2000a, et seq. is part of the Federal Civil Rights Act that defines “public accommodations.” It holds that “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

A “public accommodation” as defined by FCRA includes “any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station.” (42 U.S.C. 2000a(b)(2)). As such, the diner in question likely constitutes a “public accommodation.”

We cannot forget Congress’ legislative intent in enacting the FCRA: making it illegal for businesses offering “public accommodations” to refuse to serve patrons on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion. Prior to this law, businesses could refuse to serve patrons for being black, or Hispanic, or Jewish, etc. Refusing to serve patrons on such a basis is wrong.

However, there is nothing at all illegal (or discriminatory) about offering an incentive — a discount — to any patron, regardless of religious belief, for expressing a moment of silent gratitude before eating a meal served on premises. Silent moments of gratitude are apparently bad things in the view of FFRF, and it is misstating the law and its right to insist that the “prayer discount” be ended in three principal ways:

  1. FFRF improperly suggests that the promotion offered at the diner was not made available to “all customers regardless of religious practice.” There was no showing of this in the letter itself, nor is there any proof given for it outside the letter. Any patron — including someone pausing for a moment to mentally recite Carroll’s Jabberwocky — would arguably have been just as eligible to receive the discount as a Catholic who prayed to God with folded hands and a made sign of the cross at the end. Apparently management never sought to define acceptable religious (or non-religious) practice in relation to the discount; it only sought to award patrons with a discount when they expressed some form of gratitude before eating. By this standard, the next target of FFRF will be our nation’s Thanksgiving Holiday.
  2. FFRF should know (before making representations about the law) that a case against the diner in question is not actionable without an actual “case or controversy”. Courts — particularly federal courts of limited jurisdiction — do not entertain cases that essentially amount to seeking an advisory opinion. There must actually be an injured plaintiff seeking redress for an injury. Here, FFRF cannot claim that management offered the discount in a discriminatory way: there was not even a requirement that the patron actually pray (how could the management even determine this, after all?). Rather, the discount was applied for patrons who momentarily paused to make a gesture of (apparent) gratitude before eating. FFRF cited not a single atheist who went to the diner, briefly paused to reflect on the goodness of the food laid before them, and who was refused a discount. FFRF did not write on behalf of a particular patron to demand that he or she receive the discount because management refused the patron’s request. Equal application of the discount would be the extent of the relief available in court (along with attorney’s fees), but equal application isn’t what FFRF sought. Rather, FFRF sought an end to the discount without citing even one potential plaintiff who could actually bring a claim.
  3. While FFRF can certainly assert its belief that the “prayer discount” is illegal under the FCRA, my research indicates that there are no reported cases that actually hold this. It is simply an unsupported argument being made by FFRF to scare business owners.

The reaction of this business to FFRF’s letter is certainly understandable; small business owners can’t be expected to become embroiled in costly legal battles when they are in the business of serving tasty food. But it is nonetheless unfortunate that a business whose only “crime” was encouraging gratitude has been made to believe that commercial activity in today’s marketplace precludes it.

Fr. Longenecker is a Voice of Reason…..

On the whole Pope Francis/Card. Bergoglio and Bishop Tony Palmer controversy. My suspicion (without basis of any kind) is that Bishop Palmer must have done and said quite enough to Francis to indicate that he already was a Catholic: a believer in the True Presence, affirming the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, etc., etc., but that there was a most fruitful way for that conversion to publicly unfold, which did not come about due to his tragic death.

He’s the Pope! How can you assume what happened behind closed doors?

A Friday Re-Run: When We Seek Chaos to Find Meaning

It feels like it’s time to send that Starship Enterprise chopper a little further down the page. Two Star Trek posts — back to back — might ruin my credibility if they both sit at the top all weekend. But maybe (probably) I have assumed a fallacious premise.

This piece first ran a year and two days ago (the blog’s audience has grown since then, so maybe you missed it the first time). Have a safe, happy, blessed and joyous weekend!

When We Seek Chaos to Find Meaning

He took a sip of his iced coffee and set the full glass down too close to the baby stationed at the counter. He failed to appreciate the proximal danger due to the distracting bleat of a plaintive three-year-old.

Then it happened: an overturned glass; the sound of doom. He turned toward the scene to find the glass on its side and ice littered across the countertop, the mixture of cold coffee and milk coursed the channels of the tile, reaching from the edge and dripping into the towel drawer left ajar, soiling a stack of fresh towels.

The baby was unperturbed, her eyes cerulean bemused by the commotion she had caused, as her father realized that the glass was caught in the force of inertia, rolling toward the edge of the countertop. The glass would soon lose its surface, land on the floor, and erupt in a million iced-coffee-flecked shards.

Spilled coffee and ice is a mess, but nothing like the hazard of broken glass to the tiny bare feet and dogs’ paws traversing the floor a hundred times a day. He was simply too far away and one second too late.

In seconds, this small catastrophe was swiftly exhausting all of his reserve intended to fuel the entire day. His anger and frustration at his own stupidity stirred up a flame that began to consume his hopes for Another Tuesday with four clamorous children, his prayers to God for patience and understanding, and his aspirations for productivity and order.

He then remarked to himself, or perhaps he reverted to his conversation with God – since children neither listen nor care for the mutterings of fathers on all fours – that a broken glass teaches a lesson about perception having to do with timing and proximity.

One will never observe anything unless oriented in the correct direction. A warning must be received before it has effect, and it requires that the receiver be disposed to heed the warning, and draw meaning from it. A warning without substance is merely an alarm.

He imagined the shattered glass as the unheeded warnings issued by the Church. Due to human fault, the cries of the Church are disregarded by many who have lost confidence in the message, because the messengers themselves frequently take no benefit from that which they deliver.

The good news is not a warning. Fundamentally, the good news is a message of joy and a promise of life eternal. How does this gospel explain the lawlessness that now pervades our institutions, including at times the Church herself? What of the exaltation of the individual, the making of self into god?

Like flies, man is often attracted to things that taste sweet and smell foul. We extol the ease with which acclaim and money and fame and respect is showered upon the entirely mediocre. We can see – because we relish watching – human acts of desperation, recklessness and abuse.

Without the needed perspective, without the guidance of the Church, we are left to rely upon our own unavailing attempts at empiricism, taking as sacrament the lie justifying preference for self over others. It is suggested by fiat of fallacy that so long as we do not directly harm anyone, then we may do what we will because something about us merits doing so.

Yes, we innovate systems of merit: things like “citizenship” and “hard work” and “preference” and “talent” and “beauty” and “intelligence” – based upon what we already have or what we can easily attain. We set our merits to work for ourselves in pursuit of strong distractions and tempting bait. Money. Sex. Power. Pleasure. Fame. Security. Comfort.

For the billions privileged to live in the first world, where nearly every material need is met and surpassed, where nifty gadgets and fast food and shiny cars and easy sex are offered to sate our appetite for toys and instant gratification, why is everyone so damn unhappy, so unfulfilled, so caught up in their own despair? Why do we continue to aspire to wealth and celebrity when the wealthy and famous offer no picture of fulfillment? Why does our being built up as gods require the tearing down of others?

Then he wondered whether the goodness has already poured from the fallen world, and if so then whether the glass is still traveling through the air or whether all is now completely shattered and broken. In such a case it would seem that remnants could be swept up and discarded, useful for no other purpose than causing painful wounds on the heels of the innocent.

Is this too part of the plan of a Creator, and if so can our understanding ever proceed beyond the fact of Mystery? Will the creatures listen to the crashing sounds, if more such warnings are issued out of Mercy? Can the edges of brokenness be smoothed, or even reformed in the great forge of the Master’s will?

The answer came as the chaos of glass and ice and wet gave way to order of broom and towel. If the creature can clean up the broken pieces, save the footpath from danger of injury, and draw something new from the cabinet, the Creator can gather up all that He values – regardless of how broken – and refashion it all anew, simply by will or Word.

This is the work for which Jesus Christ entered the world. This is the continuation of Creation. Our brokenness is the evidence that merit is illusory. God’s goodness and love alone can restore what is broken.

So August 5 was Mark Shea’s Birthday

And he had this funny riff going, which I kind of interpreted as a commentary on the whole HHS Mandate/Buy me Birth Control thing, where for his birthday he’s telling the Internet to get him things he wants, like rocket skates, street-legal bumper cars, and this, we DEFINITELY ALL NEED THIS, because they’re vital for his health needs. And then today, I saw the picture below, which made me so sad that I have to wait almost six months for MY birthday when I can make demands on the Internet as well:

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Tim Williams / Bonnifac

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Tim Williams / Bonnifac

Until this very day, I have never wanted to ride a motorcycle, much less own one. Now I have to wait far too long to get what I need.

Scotty! Aye, Sir? Warp Speed!

Back CameraNo, we haven’t made it to First Contact yet, but NASA now has an “impossible engine” that requires no propellant, can be powered with solar panels, and involves “bouncing microwaves around in a closed chamber.” Here’s a summary:

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

“Quantum vacuum virtual plasma” is a term that definitely causes the inner geek to stir. It’s a great time to be alive!

Real Healthcare shouldn’t increase Cancer risk by 50%

And yet, according to a recent study of 1,102 women ages 20-49 published in “Cancer Research”, certain formulations of oral contraceptives (artificial birth control) raised the risk of contracting breast cancer by as much as 50%. The study authors note that the results are likely more accurate than prior studies due to the fact that they did not rely upon self-reporting, but rather upon electronic pharmacy records.

If a doctor prescribes a medication, there is an awareness that it means introducing a foreign agent into the body. Medications carry known risks and potential complications, as well as unknown ones. The physician’s job is to weigh the potential risks against the potential (or expected) therapeutic benefit, and to determine with the patient whether taking a certain medication is the best course of treatment.

The problem is that artificial contraception has no therapeutic benefit for most patients who take it. It is usually not prescribed to treat a medical condition. Rather, in the vast majority of cases, it is used to prevent pregnancy, and not treat disease or symptoms of a disease.

What this means is that with artificial contraception, there is no true risk analysis undertaken by the physician. In agreeing to dispense it, the physician has already abandoned the ordinary standard of care. Birth control is not healthcare. There is no therapeutic benefit, but there is still (significant) risk in taking the medication. But that risk is offset not by a therapeutic benefit, but a (perceived) social one.