Fasting for Body and Soul

By Professor Jay Richards, Ph.D.

Christians used to fast—a lot. But I never made it a regular discipline until a few years ago. Part of the problem was that I (erroneously) thought that going more than a few hours without food was bad for my health.

Besides, if fasting were so important, why did the Church in her (current) wisdom require so little of it? Our little Lenten abstinences and that hour before communion hardly qualify. These are mere vestiges of a practice that’s mostly died out.

Indeed, I first caught a glimpse of the effects of fasting by accident. I had to go without food for a day and half before a medical procedure and did not suffer the symptoms I had feared. So, out of curiosity, I researched the subject, and found that thousands (and soon to be millions) of people were fasting, not so much for its spiritual but for its physical benefits. This wasn’t just self-help flim flam. There was a growing body of scientific evidence to back this up.

The more I read, and the more I experimented with it, the more convinced I became that we abandoned fasting to our own physical and spiritual detriment. (One of the ironic symptoms of this is that we’ve lost much of the meaning of our feasts.)

But there was a gap in the growing literature on fasting. There are dozens of books that extol the physical benefits of either fasting, high-fat/low-carb diets, or some blend of both. In a parallel universe, there are plenty of evangelical books that extol the spiritual benefits of fasting—a deeper prayer life, victory over sin, renewal of church community, and the like.

Then, over yonder, there are some Catholic books that argue we should fast as a sacrifice. Some authors do so half-heartedly, for fear that someone will think they’re calling for the bad-old-days before Vatican II, when Catholics were legalistic and supposedly lacked a personal relationship with Jesus.

For instance, in his book The Spirituality of Fasting, Msgr. Charles Murphy “sharply delineates” what he calls “dieting and supervised fasts” from “the religious practice of fasting.” He’s right that we should fast for wholesome spiritual reasons. It doesn’t follow, though, that we must ignore the other reasons, and set them at odds with the spirit.

There was, in short, a void where books linking body and soul should exist. After encouragement from others, I decided I try to help fill the void.

In Eat, Fast, Feast, I seek to make the case for a fasting lifestyle. I tout the physical, cognitive, and spiritual benefits of fasting (and feasting). I challenge the notion that anyone who fasts for proper spiritual reasons should not seek mental and physical benefits. After all, if we are unities of body and soul, of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, should we not assume that if fasting is good for us, then it’s good for us overall—body, mind, and soul?

Human Rights Program Director Reflects on the 71st Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

By William Saunders, JD

This is a year of many anniversaries related to human rights, such as the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the 20th anniversary of the crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party against the Falun Gong, and the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But there is another anniversary, too often forgotten, that, in many ways, serves as a basis for our evaluation of, and judgments on, current events in light of our shared commitment to human rights.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly announced and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Declaration, adopted unanimously, states certain rights that must be respected, among them the right to life, the right to religious freedom, and the right to marry and found a family.   It is a remarkable achievement, reflecting a consensus among the diverse collection of nations that make up the UN, nations that hardly ever agree on anything.  But they agreed this time.  Why?  Because, following the utter devastation of World War II, which was unlike anything that had preceded it, they believed that a commitment to human rights was the only thing that could prevent the world from falling into a third world war, one that might mean the very end of humanity itself.

The Declaration is not perfect, and some criticize it on various grounds, such as that it is an incoherent “shopping list”.  Those alive today face the perennial question: is the glass half full or half empty?  The Popes, particularly John Paul II, have not stinted from seeing the glass as half full.  True, it fails to enunciate a coherent underlying theory that would unify the rights recognized; however, it, at least, recognizes the existence of these rights and it insists they must be respected.  So the glass is half-full. To vary the metaphor, we can build on that.

And how are we to go about building a sturdy doctrine of human rights?  Just as John Paul II did – by proposing, to all people of good will, an understanding of human rights built upon the teaching of the Church in its social doctrine.  That deeper understanding will unify the “list,” as well as guide us when we need to consider whether to add to the list.  And this deeper understanding is what we aim to provide in our master of arts degree in human rights.  The Declaration is a fundamental tool in this dialogue among people of good will, and we celebrate its anniversary.

M.A. in Human Rights Students Meet with the Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett

By Steven Howard

On Thursday, November 7, Program Director William Saunders hosted a conversation between the MA in human rights students and Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, Director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, a nonpartisan, faith-based think-tank that educates Canadians about the importance of religious freedom to a deeply pluralistic society. Director Saunders, Joseph Enzler, Emily Hausheer, and myself received Father Deacon Bennett for a meeting on campus. To begin with, Father Deacon Bennett shared about his professional and personal journey, which took him to places such as McGill University in Montreal, to service as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and ordination to the deaconate in the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church.

The conversation then shifted to the decline of Catholicism in Quebec, the rise of French-style laïcité in the province, and how that is used to discriminate against Catholics as well as Muslims. ‘What was interesting to note is that most of the legislation against Muslim women wearing headscarves is supported by an odd coalition of anti-Catholic activists on the left who live in Montreal and the province’s more conservative rural population who are more hostile towards immigrants. He also shared how the province has no conscious objections for medical professionals and how many Catholics will have to close shop unless Canada’s judicial system hears their case and rules to protect a right to conscientious objection. This is vital because the province has been forcing Catholic healthcare professionals to carry out procedures and treatments considered intrinsically evil or sinful in Catholicism.

What impacted me was how much the U.S. and Canada share in common when it comes to religious freedom issues. There is definitely a need in wider North American culture to reinforce the importance of religious pluralism and religious liberty for all.

Trading Ordinary Times for Advent

By Lucia A. Silecchia

Recently, I was standing in a checkout line behind two women deep in conversation. I could not help overhearing that one was recently widowed and struggling to adjust to this new season of life.  Most of their conversation, however, was drowned out by the lilting strains of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing over the loudspeakers while Halloween candy was still in the aisles.

I could – but won’t! – gripe about the seasonal creep that may soon have us singing “Jingle Bells” on the 4th of July. Instead, that moment of odd juxtaposition reminded me that, for many, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas holds a measure of sorrow.

Like the stranger shopping with me, many are dreading their first Christmas without a loved one.  Others are facing their second, or ninth, or twenty-seventh Christmas without a loved one when the blessed numbness of the first year has passed and the reality of loss has truly sunk in. There are some who expect with dread that this may be the last Christmas they will share with a suffering family member or friend. There are some passing the first season when an adult child will not be able to come home. This may be the first Christmas away from the family home because downsizing or simple economics mean the home was sold and the large table that had long been the setting for family feasts is no more. It may be the season when a deployment keeps a member of the military away from home – knowing he or she will miss a child’s first Christmas or a grandparent’s last.

This may be the first Christmas season that the elders of a family, with both relief and regret, surrender hosting duties to a younger generation – or the first time that the family chef can no longer make a cherished traditional dish. This may be the season when images of joyful families hurt the hearts of those whose families have borne the pain of divorce and estrangement. The centrality of children in this season centered on the birth of a child can take a toll on those who ache to have a child and do not or cannot.

Some face the season in poverty, knowing they cannot give their loved ones grand tokens of their affection and fearing that they will disappoint those nearest and dearest. Others have seen some manifestation of a dark side to human nature in this past year – and whatever they have seen has made it far too difficult to hope or rejoice. Others have no time or energy to celebrate because they silently work multiple jobs or scramble to care for those unable to care for themselves. Still others know they will not celebrate Christmas in their own homes because they will be keeping vigil with loved ones in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes.

Some parents will face a pang of loss this season if their children announce they have grown skeptical of Santa. Other parents will face a far greater, more poignant pain if their children confide they have grown skeptical of God.

For some, the cares of life may have robbed them of a bit of their own faith in a season when it is yearned for the most.

As we leave Ordinary Time for a spell and begin Advent, we enter the season that seems particularly meant for those who carry great burdens. All appearances to the contrary, Advent is not the season of the jolly songs and frantic festivities of Christmas. It comes in the darkest days of the year when the nights are the longest and light most scarce. It is a season that recalls the ancient world’s aching wait for Christ, yearning for the tidings of great joy that had not yet come. It is not a season of red and green and gold and silver, but of purple – because the joy promised is hoped for, but not yet here.

If you are facing Christmas this year with sorrow in your heart, I hope that you will find comfort in believing that, truly, Advent is the season for you. It is the season for all those who hope for what they do not have, and who yearn to see light after a season of darkness.

If you are seeking a new tradition this year, particularly if this year has treated you well, I have a gentle suggestion. On the first Sunday of Advent, remember all those you know whose hearts might be aching a bit. Devote some time to them that day as we enter this season of yearning, waiting, and hoping in the darkness. A visit, an email, a text, a letter, a phone call or the promise of prayer might be exactly what they need to know that they do not wait alone for the light to dawn.

The first Sunday of Advent seems the perfect time to assure those who suffer that Advent is, in the words of ancient carols, a time to “rest beside the weary road” until, once again, “a weary world rejoices.” It is a season to help each other move toward Christmas peace by sharing the burdens of ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.

Past columns in the series may be found here. 

Saint Josephine Bakhita Honored In Museum of the Bible Exhibit

By Emily Hausheer, M.A. student

Josephine Bakhita’s life was an inspiring story of compassion. This Sudanese heroine has a prominent display on her life story at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. As you enter the museum, you can see a large picture of her on the second floor window looking out. Once you are on the second floor there are exhibits commemorating the great fights for justice that took place throughout history against slavery, including that of William Wilberforce. Throughout the world, the Bible and various denominations of Christianity were able to change hearts spiritually and change the world. Bakhita’s story is included in this exhibit as a 20th century story of a woman who went from slavery to freedom. There is a picture of her, as well as a short and engaging video that narrates her life story.

As a young girl in Sudan Bakhita was captured by slave traders. Bakhita recalled much anguish and fear when she was captured and torn from her family. She was sold to an Arab man and later a Turkish general. She suffered great distress as his slave. Eventually, she was sold to an Italian man after bringing him a cup of coffee. Bakhita was brought to Italy where her life improved greatly and she found her freedom. It was in Italy where she yearned to know more about Christianity and God. She was accepted into a religious community and devoted herself to a life of compassion and serving others. Bakhita helped wounded soldiers during World War I and was known to have a kind face full of life. She died in 1947, leaving behind a legacy of true freedom.

In 2000, the Catholic Church proclaimed her as a saint (saints are people from the Catholic Church who performed great works and are set apart for honor). Professor Saunders, who founded an NGO to help the persecuted Church in Sudan, was traveling throughout Rome and Vatican City during the ceremony and witnessed it! It was a very special moment for everybody involved, and a story that deserves to be told to the world. She continues to serve as an inspiration to people throughout Sudan, Italy and the world as a resolute woman who brought kindness and love to a dark world. Bakhita sought truth and freedom, and although she faced many obstacles she found her liberty. Saint Bakhita is the patron of our Master of Arts in Human Rights program.

Robert George Discusses Dialogue, Consensus <br> and the “New Natural Law” School

By Michael Moss, M.A. student

The Masters of Arts in Human Rights program met for a personal conversation with Robert George, who serves on our program’s Advisory Board, before he spoke for the Catholic Information Center’s JPII New Evangelization award dinner. It was a delightful conversation, especially because of the rich relationship between him and the director of the M.A. program, Professor Bill Saunders. We spoke briefly about his professional history, which reaches far beyond academia into the world of international commissions for human rights work and international and interreligious dialogue. We discussed theories for the bases of human rights at length, noting the broad but fraught consensus on natural rights present at the time of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Professor George spoke about the type of consensus possible between Catholics and other groups, religious or otherwise. He highlighted the importance of actual dialogue between individuals who can always, if they try, find a basis for agreement and development. That may be an agreement as basic as the embrace of free intellectual inquiry, but it nonetheless provides a starting point for joint efforts toward a vision of the common good. His experience of working internationally for the protection of human rights provided unexpected examples of moral consensus between supposedly opposed groups. Professor George delivered an introduction to what some call the “New Natural Law” school, an increasingly popular basis for talking about human rights that can be extracted from the common experience of human life.

Fr. Kitima Comments on Human Rights in Tanzania

By Michael Moss, M.A. student

The students in the Masters of Arts in Human Rights program met with Fr. Charles Kitima, Secretary General of the Tanzanian Conference of Bishops. Fr. Kitima is performing research at The Catholic University of America as well as with Professor Saunders on several projects during this academic year. We discussed the geopolitical situation in Tanzania and the surrounding countries. Fr. Kitima explained the connection of religious populations (especially Christian and Muslim) with the political history and current organization of the country. Tanzania’s constitution explicitly incorporates the protection of human rights as described in the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This bases political legitimacy in a regime’s protection of rights and enables direct coordination with international treaties. Fr. Kitima has also been instrumental in the rapid development of a university system in Tanzania, so he shared his story of involvement in that project.

On the Supreme Court’s Horizon: Presidential Power

By Emmett McGroarty

The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case with significant implications regarding the powers of the presidency. The case, Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, concerns the power of the president to remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The salient facts are straightforward. Through the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Congress established CFPB and vested it with immense powers, including the enforcement of nineteen federal consumer protection statutes. It housed CFPB within the Federal Reserve System as an “independent bureau” and placed it under the leadership of a single director appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The petitioner is a law firm that provides a variety of legal services to consumers and is the target of a CFPB civil investigation. CFPB demanded certain records from petitioner, and petitioner objected asserting that the CFPB structure violated the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine. The question being presented to the Court is whether Congress can create an independent agency that is headed by a single person—as opposed to a board or commission—who is removable only for cause.

Petitioner’s case rests on Article II of the Constitution providing, at Section 1, that “[t]he executive Power shall be vested in a President of the Unites States of America” and, at Section 3, that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”  In this regard, the Supreme Court recently noted:

The Constitution that makes the President accountable to the people for executing the laws also gives him the power to do so. That power includes, as a general matter, the authority to remove those who assist him in carrying out his duties. Without such power, the President could not be held fully accountable for discharging his own responsibilities . . . .

Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, 561 U.S. 477, 513-14 (2010).

Seila did not arise in isolation. It is the byproduct of the progressive ideology that took root in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In particular, social scientists optimistically proclaimed that the “science of administration” could solve society’s great ills if they were given sufficient authority and resources.

From the progressive viewpoint, the problem is that the Constitution does not leave room for such experts to wield the necessary power. It created cumbersome checks and balances that make each branch deferential to the defined powers of the other branches, and it enshrined the protection of individual rights as a paramount concern. Both of these facets impaired the efficiency of the expert. Work-arounds to the Constitution were needed.

One such work-around was the creation of the independent agency. Under that scheme, experts would be insulated from accountability and would have the leeway to make the ostensibly

correct decisions. Congress would delegate to the executive broad powers that would often include swaths of legislative, judicial, and executive power. Most important, the expert would be insulated from the office of the president; in particular, the president would not have direct supervision over the agency and would be unable to fire agency heads except for cause. From 1887 through 2010, Congress created at least twenty-five major independent agencies (with well over half having been created after 1966).

In Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935), the Supreme Court upheld the creation of independent agencies. The Court reasoned that Congress had intended the Federal Trade Commission to be “wholly disconnected from the executive department” and to be in part quasi-legislative and in part quasi-judicial. The Court further reasoned that, given that the FTC’s duties were not “purely” executive, Congress could properly insulate its leadership from the presidency. Legal theorists rationalized that the end-runs of the Constitution’s checks and balances were mitigated by statutory or de facto constructs that protected liberty.

CFPB’s authorizing legislation adds a further wrinkle. Unlike other independent agencies, it is headed by a single director—not a board or commission—making the director even more powerful vis-a-vis the President and the departure from the Constitution even more radical than the Court’s decision in Humphrey’s Executor.

Seila Law promises to be an intriguing decision. Will the Court invalidate CFPB’s authorizing legislation on the grounds that it impermissibly puts an independent agency under the control of a single person? If so, will it declare the whole statue unconstitutional, or simply sever the offending provision? Will it issue a more robust decision that limits or overturns the rule in Humphrey’s Executor on the grounds that even that violates the Constitutional design of a unitary Executive?  The decision could profoundly other agencies as well as the relationship between the people and their government.

Master’s Student Reflects on Work With the National Center on Sexual Exploitation

By Joseph Enzler

As part of the program’s firsthand experience element, we met with the administrative staff at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). During our conversation, we discussed how the Center was established, difficulties they have faced, and accomplishments they have achieved. Throughout our time at NCOSE’s headquarters, I was struck by the kind and welcoming atmosphere of the office and the geniality of the staff. The staff members’ gentle and genuine demeanor was especially comforting and consoling considering that they deal with graphic and explicitly evil content in our culture, fighting to protect the eyes of the innocent.

Having aided in the campaign to block pornography on The Catholic University of America’s campus network, I was surprised to find a non-profit dedicated to exactly that. The work NOSCE does is a benefit for all of society and its staff should receive much praise for their accomplishments. They have successfully gotten billion-dollar companies to remove pornographic content from their platforms. This work is amazing and should be supported by all. I am grateful to have been granted this opportunity to meet with the founders of NCOSE and thankful they shared their struggles and successes with us. Their work and achievements are inspirational and instill hope in young supporters of human rights, like me. The Master of Arts in Human Rights is giving me the tools necessary to identify the evils that exist in our world as well as the tools to combat them. I am grateful for the education I am receiving and the knowledge imparted by those we meet in the human rights field.

The Gardens of Ordinary Times

By Lucia A. Silecchia

Years ago, a child in my family asked, “If a Church is God’s house, is a cemetery God’s garden?” I lack the theologically correct answer. Yet, that question recognized what I know is true: there is something profoundly sacred about the land where we lay our loved ones to rest.

This month of All Saints and All Souls seems a better time than ever to admit that I cherish long walks in peaceful cemeteries. In recent years, some of those I loved most have been lowered into earth’s embrace, So, more often than before, I take walks through a hilly hometown cemetery in Queens N.Y.– a holy place that seems, paradoxically, very much alive.

I have met a musician who plays bagpipes at the graves of his loved ones. He asked without words if it would disturb me if he continued to play. Without words, I assured him it would not. Bagpipe melodies are a perfect soulful soundtrack for this garden.

I have seen an elderly man carrying plants and gardening gear as he walks alone. Is he tending the grave of a wife with whom he walked through life? A father killed in a long ago war? A child who never grew old? I did not ask. I left him to his loved ones as he left me to mine, with the peaceful serenity of knowing this garden gives us both a place to remember and pray.

I once saw a small boy innocently take a pumpkin adorning the grave of a stranger and reverently move it to his grandfather’s grave. Later, the pumpkin was returned to its rightful place. Yet, my heart rejoiced to see that death did not end this young child’s impulse to shower his grandfather with tangible tokens of his love.

At the grave of my own grandparents, I planted geraniums for my grandmother. But, as a gag gift to my grandfather – an Italian farm boy who believed soil was best used for growing food — I planted a small sprig of basil as a private joke between us. This did not remain private as the basil plant thrived and unsubtly towered over the flowers blooming below. The sweet scent of this basil brought gratitude for times when that same scent filled my grandfather’s gardens long ago.

I have seen gardeners and gravediggers laboring through all types of weather to tend this blessed land. I hope that they know both what a profound responsibility they have and how much the living appreciate it when they care for the dead with such dignity and love.

I have passed graves with familiar names: the parents of my friends; the friends of my parents; neighbors I knew for years; religious sisters who taught in my schools; and, now, some peers of my own.

Most graves I pass belong to those who were strangers. Yet, here, they do not seem that way. The brief words on their gravestones are an invitation to pray for them – in a way that I hope strangers may one day pray for me. There are graves that were dug far too soon for those who died years younger than I am – and I pray with gratitude for the years I have. There are graves

freshly dug and still unmarked, where grief is fresh and raw – and I pray that those who mourn know comfort and care. There are graves of those who died many decades ago that are still adorned with fresh flowers – and I pray with hope that, especially in November, those who have long passed from this life will always be remembered with the gift of prayer.

There are the graves marked with such simple words as “beloved wife,” “cherished father,” “dear nonna,” “loving daughter,” “baby son,” and “dearest friend,” – and I pray that the lifetimes of love so imperfectly captured by these words are someday perfected in lifetimes that do not end. There are graves that have only a name and a date engraved on them. If these are graves of those who walked alone through life without family or friends, I pray that they now know the joy of communion beyond this life.

It is at the graves of my own parents that this garden seems most sacred and holy – a sentiment likely shared by all who wend their way to the graves where the names are most familiar. I see the days of their births and remember to be grateful for the gifts of their lives. I see the days of their deaths and remember that grief with far too much detail and mourn for what I have lost – for now. It is here where it is easiest to pray for them, in the hope that their lives have merely changed and not ended, and in hope that we will meet again.

The bond between us and those who have gone before us is one that is deep, profound, and beyond my ability to grasp. So, I am grateful, in November more than ever, for the ways our cemeteries connect me to them in a way that is real and tangible. I pray for the blessing of seeing them again. Until then, I am grateful for sacred cemeteries – the gardens where God comforts us through our ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu

Past columns in the series may be found here. 

Student Helps Teach English To Human Rights Hero Chen Guangcheng

By Abigail Wilkinson

During orientation for the Human Rights program, our cohort had the opportunity to hear from human rights hero and Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng. He spoke to us about his experience as a “barefoot lawyer” in China, his work to expose forced abortions, and his subsequent persecution at the hands of the CCPR. Having fled to the United States, Guangcheng is now a Fellow of the Center for Human Rights at the Catholic University of America.

Afterward, I was presented with the opportunity to help Guangcheng with his English–an opportunity which I could not seize fast enough. Over the past few years, I have enjoyed volunteering as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutor at local libraries, and here was a chance to put these skills to use at the University.

Guangcheng speaks to students and audiences around the country and often has to rely, in part, on the help of a translator. He also records podcasts for both Chinese- and English-speaking audiences. As his English improves, his impact will broaden. During our meetings, I am able to ask for Guangcheng’s input on some of the debates that we are having in class. He also speaks with me about the current state of the human rights battles that are being fought in Asia today. Meeting once a week with a hero of the human rights movement has been an incredible supplement to my courses in the Master’s program.

The Myth of Technocratic Infallibility

By Andrew Yuengert

Modern government is a collaboration between “politicians” and “technocrats.” “Politicians” (some of whom are elected) argue for policy on behalf of constituencies (some of whom are voters). “Technocrats” are the engineers of public policy. They run the numbers: carefully measuring social phenomena, analyzing cause and effect, and evaluating policy rigorously and “scientifically.”

When this collaboration goes according to script, politicians of every stripe take as facts the technocrats’ measurements and analyses. Politicians are not supposed to dispute the growth rate of GDP, the poverty rate, and estimates of the effects of tax cuts. When politicians bend facts and rules, technocrats check them with empirical measurements and statistical analyses.

Read more here.

Originally published at Public Discourse. 

MA in Human Rights students meet with law professor Lucia Silecchia

By Emily Hausheer (MA in Human Rights, Class of 2021)

Prof. Lucia Silecchia participated in a discussion with Catholic University’s new Masters of Arts in Human Rights program students on the topics of environmental law and ethics. Silecchia shared with the students about her interest in environmental law, and conveyed that we have a duty to preserve God’s creation for future generations. She engaged with the students in a lively discussion about the proper place of being a protector of the resources of the world, and the importance of a Christian perspective in all areas of life. Prof. Silecchia’s faith and values impact the way she advocates for pro-life causes and helping the environment. She expressed the importance of discussions and engaging with those we disagree with to find common ground.

Prof. Silecchia shared with her students the key components in her life when it came to her pursuing a path in environmental law and ethics. She has been teaching at Catholic University’s Columbus School of law since 1991! The image of God is an important principle for ethics that Silecchia defends. She mentioned how Christians should have a distinct approach to environmental law because unlike some people who see this as their only hope and despair, we have hope. However, we also have a calling to be wise caretakers of the environment. In addition, Silecchia works as an expert advisor to the Vatican City’s permanent observer mission at the United Nations. In addition, she participated in a 2007 conference on the environment in Vatican City.

Abortion Comes To The Supreme Court: <br> High Court Will Review Case on Louisiana Law

By William L. Saunders

On Oct. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of an abortion case. The case, June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, involves a law in Louisiana that requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If they do not have them, they cannot commit abortions.

Oddly, at first glance, this issue appears to have already been decided by the Supreme Court. On June 27, 2016, that is, two and a half years ago, the court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In that decision, the high court struck down a Texas law that, among other things, required abortionists to have admitting privileges in a local hospital. The two cases seem more or less identical. What has changed? Why would the court consider the issue again? Is not the court bound by “precedent”? There are several answers to these questions, all of which bode well for the pro-life cause.

Read more here.

Originally published at the National Catholic Register.

The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility

By Dr. Reinhard Huetter

October 22 is the memorial of Pope Saint John Paul II, who can be seen as the spiritus rector of the Institute for Human Ecology, for Saint John Paul has articulated in the broadest and deepest sense a full, comprehensive, and integral ecology of the human person — natural, familial, communal, social, economic, political — and most fundamentally — spiritual and theological. 
 
The human being, created in the image of God, is called to a life of union with God that commences in this life on earth as a life of ever increasing discipleship of and friendship with Jesus Christ and is consummated in the eternal communion with the Triune God. Yet this drama of salvation includes not only human beings but all of creation such that the destiny of the whole created order is included in the mystery of Christ, a mystery that is present from the beginning: “All things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). 
 
If this is true, then quite obviously human ecology — the right ordering of the human being, interiorly and vertically, so to speak, to God in faith, hope, and charity, and exteriorly and horizontally, so to speak, to all other human beings in the orders of justice and charity — is inherently connected to the ecology of the created order. The created order, after all, comes from God and is itself ordered toward God. 
 
If the human ecology is distorted by the eclipse of God, the contempt for the human person, and the ensuing exploitation of human beings, it will not take long for this distortion to affect the natural order. The contempt of the human person and the contempt for God’s creation are two sides of the same coin. Hence, as Pope John Paul II stresses in his message The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility: “We must go to the source of the problem and face in its entirety that profound moral crisis of which the destruction of the environment is only one troubling aspect. . . . Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress. The complexity of the ecological question is evident to all. There are, however, certain underlying principles, which, while respecting the legitimate autonomy and the specific competence of those involved, can direct research towards adequate and lasting solutions. These principles are essential to the building of a peaceful society; no peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that there is an integrity to creation. . . . When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can better understand the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
 
The end of this calendar year will mark the 30th anniversary of an unjustly forgotten, prescient, and prophetic text of Saint John Paul II, a text promulgated on December 8, 1989 and delivered on January 1, 1990.  It behoves us to remember this text and encourage a thoughtful reconsideration of what the saintly Pope urged onto the consciousness and conscience of the faithful and all people of good will on the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990. This was almost 30 years ago — and if these words had been taken to heart and transposed into politics, laws, and personal habits collectively then countless people would be able to continue a tradition initiated a generation earlier.
 

Tolle lege, take and read.

 

Click here to read the message from Pope Saint John Paul II. 

Program Director William Saunders Addresses Human Rights in China with Chen Guangcheng

By William Saunders, J.D.

On October 9, the program in human rights held its second annual human rights lecture/discussion, “Thirty Years after Tiananmen Square – Human Rights in China Today.” Last year, the series was inaugurated in a conversation with Princeton professor and former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert P. George, who also serves on the Advisory Board of the MA in human rights.  This year the speaker was Chen Guangcheng, a Distinguished Fellow at CUA.

Program director, William Saunders, began the event by referring to three anniversaries occurring this year – the four month anniversary of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in China, and the thirtieth anniversary of the suppression of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  He noted that human rights in China was regularly in the news – only a few days earlier a public furor had erupted due to a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team in favor of the Hong Kong protests; the Chinese government replied that “Freedom of speech does not include the right to criticize the government,” and threatened to ban the NBA from China.

Noting that those under thirty-seven years of age might be unfamiliar with the events of Tiananmen Square, Saunders discussed those protests and the suppression of them by the Communist Party and the army.  He noted that we can get a good idea of what had happened in China afterwards by looking at the life of Guangcheng.

Guangcheng, who was born in 1971 in a poor village and who became blind in infancy because of inadequate rural medical care, became an advocate for the disabled and for the rural poor, becoming in the process the most famous of China’s “barefoot lawyers.” After several years in illegal detention, he was confined to his home, which was closely guarded.  Yet, he managed to escape to the U.S. embassy, and then on to the U.S.

Since coming to the U.S., he has been a tireless advocate for democracy in China, finding effective ways around the electronic wall China created to keep such information from reaching its people.  His lecture on human rights in China was followed by a question-and-answer session with Saunders. Then the event was opened to audience questions.

You can view the entire event here.

“The Power and the Glory”<br> Episode 17: The Death of a Whisky Priest

By Jennifer Frey and Angela Knobel at The Virtue Blog

In episode 17 of Sacred and Profane Love, IHE Fellows Jennifer Frey and Angela Knobel discuss Graham Greene’s masterpiece, The Power and the Glory. Set in Mexico during a period of brutal religious persecution, Greene’s novel explores questions of what true power and glory consist in, and what sort of love and life can make one a witness to it.

Listen here.

Anything that threatens Communism is a target, Chinese human rights advocate says

By JD Flynn

A Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner has called for renewed focus on the country’s practices of mass detention, religious oppression, and reports of organ harvesting.

Speaking at an event Wednesday, Chen Guangcheng told listeners at the Catholic University of America that there is no doubt about the Communist regime’s determination to hold onto power by any means necessary.

“Human rights have declined and today are very bad,” Chen said of the current situation in China. The ruling Chinese Communist Party is “afraid of losing power,” he said, and so “anything that threatens its power will be a target for violence.”

Read more here.

Originally published at Catholic News Agency.

The event was hosted by the MA in Human Rights program at The Catholic University, lead by director William Saunders, J.D.. Learn more about the program here.

To a young aspiring theologian – don’t neglect Faith

By Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D., IHE Fellow and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America

Theology is a science ordered to the end of seeing God, not reinterpreting Him through changing human standards

The young aspiring theologian who embarks on the academic study of theology encounters today a bewildering field of study. They may set out to understand their faith better, and perhaps one day come to teach it. But soon they may discover that theology is also about things other than God. They may soon come to see that theological claims are not simply true or false, but must be constantly reassessed in the light of some new theory about human experience, such as sexuality, gender, race, class, politics, climate, or simply “the future.” At the professional conferences, the young theologian is bound to hear papers which awkwardly “problematize”’ theological topics according to whatever is culturally ascendent. This is usually not done in order to bring a ray of God’s brightness into the darkest places of our cultural minds, but quite the opposite. The aspiring young theologian may thus become habituated to a discipline that trains them to talk far more about ourselves than about God. Like Narcissus, such a person can pursue the discipline of theology only to discover that they have not found God, but an image of themselves reflected in a cultural mirror.

This may sound like a criticism a conservative might make of theology today. But in the nineteenth century, something very much like this concern was raised by Ludwig Feuerbach. Following the liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Feuerbach concluded that religion was principally a matter of subjective and social feeling, and that God was just a projection of man’s inner nature infinitely expressed. Theology was, in the end, just anthropology writ large. Feuerbach concluded that this was the essence of Christianity, and so, understandably if wrongly, rejected the ancient faith as so many of his countrymen after him have done.

If the vicissitudes of human experience are taken to be the standard by which theology is ordered and judged, I am afraid that our aspiring theologian will not find the discipline leading to the wisdom of God. It will only and inevitably lead to the collapse of faith itself. And this is why we must think better about the role of faith in theology as a sacred science which we have not made up for ourselves. As Augustine taught, only divine revelation can crush our errors.

Read more here.

Originally published on 24 September 2019 at the Catholic Herald.

Why God’s Grace Is Needed For Human Flourishing

By Michael Gorman, Ph.D., IHE Fellow and Ordinary Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Thinking about human ecology means thinking about the environment humans need. This includes air quality and so on, but more importantly, it includes our moral and spiritual environment. And just as there are toxins to worry about in the physical environment, so too are there spiritual toxins. One of the worst is disregard for truth.

Sometimes the source of this toxin is greed. We promote the product we are selling by saying things we believe to be false, or by saying things without concern for whether they are true or not—a form of phony talk that the philosopher Harry Frankfurt has analyzed with some care. But greed is not the only source, and maybe not the most important.

Consider pride. We say things not to inform people of truths they need to hear, but to impress our hearers—to make them think we are knowledgeable and important. And if speaking in a deceptive or truth-indifferent way doesn’t work, there are other strategies. Sometimes a conversational non sequitur happens because someone shifts the conversation away from a topic where he’s unable to prevail to one where he is.

Pride, as Augustine taught, is the inordinate appetite for exaltation. Becoming humble involves giving up this appetite—giving up the desire to be the smartest person in the room, the person who won the argument, the person who had the last word. In principle, being a tenured academic makes it easier to arrive at such a purgation, because it makes one less subject to the pressures of politics and public opinion. On the other hand, academics are not particularly known for their humility. It’s a complicated issue, but in a fallen world, the only thing we can really count on for environmental clean-up is God’s grace.

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