Wednesday, December 23, 2015

7 historic photos with Catholic back stories II

This posts continues the theme of the first "historic photos post" here at The Catholic Voyager. Following are seven more historic photos with Catholic back stories.

1. Nuns on the swing, 1963

Credit: New York Daily News Archive / Contributor
In November 1963, the Catholic Committee on Scouting of North Bergen, Boy Scouts of America visited St. Joseph's Village, a home to nearly 200 dependent children in Rockleigh, New Jersey. The complex operated from 1958-1972 and was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph to give care to children without a viable home situation.

Jim Brown, webmaster and historian at the St. Joseph's Village website, recalls the boy scouts' visits:
There were two times the scouts had a clam bake there, as I remember. And I was at it one of the times. That day, they had different activities that the scouts were doing, like rope climbing and things like that. And the nuns were participating in them.
Pictured above are two of the sisters enjoying a ride on the Village's playground swing set, near the Barbara Givernaud Cottage, a residence home for the children.

Today, the Village is now a facility for a variety of human services, as summarized at the St. Joseph's Village website:
After the Village closed it doors for good in 1972, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark sold the property to the Bergen County Special Services on the condition that it be used to help people. After making considerable modifications, the county opened several human services programs — a 110 bed nursing home, a substance abuse rehabilitation program, a high school for autistic children, and other programs for youth with emotional and behavioral needs.

2. The Copiapó Mining Rescue, 2010

(Photo credit: CNS/Reuters/Hugo Infante-Government of Chile)

On August 5, 2010, over 2,000 feet beneath the earth's surface, the San José copper-gold mine in Copiapó, Chile suffered a cave-in. Over 700,000 tons of rock sealed the exit on 33 miners. The following days would prove taxing on the hearts of the watching world.

Mining companies throughout the globe offered their assistance. The owner of one company, Drillers Supply International, was Greg Hall, a Catholic deacon at Christ the Redeemer church in, Cypress, Texas.

In a recent interview with Aleteia, Deacon Hall recalls:
The miners were somewhere between 400 and 800 meters down. The mining equipment only goes to 400 meters. We were called in to help them get to 800. ... After day 10 I was convinced it was a recovery effort, not a rescue. There was a place in the mine called the “refuge” where trapped workers could go during an emergency, but there were only provisions there for three days.
Yet, on day 17, a drill penetrated the "refuge" chamber, and the rescue crew could hear tapping on the end of the drill. When they raised the drill, on the end was a note in Spanish reading: "We are OK in the refuge, the 33."

How did 33 men survive 17 days on 3 days rations? They ate two teaspoons of tuna, one biscuit, and a sip of milk every other day. They also had dug for water and rationed extra water from the radiators.

Now with an opening to the miners, supplies were sent for their continued survival. Yet the Chilean government's plan for rescue at this point was scheduled to last 5-6 months. Hall met with officials and convinced them to attempt what became known as Plan B.

With help from a team of specialists and high-tech equipment from around the world, the rescue team sought to widen a hole which was originally 5 inches in diameter to a hole 26 inches in diameter. Throughout the ordeal, Hall prayed and prayed. While praying the Liturgy of the Hours one morning, he recalls praying: "I’m going to do everything I can, Lord, but this is not my work, this is your work."

One hundred feet from finishing the widened tunnel, the drill stopped. "We were stuck, totally, 100 percent stuck," Hall recalls. The equipment had already defied computer modeling for that depth and that pressure to that point. The situation felt bleak. Hall prayed again, "I’ve done everything I can, Lord, this is your work.  You are going to have to send your angels." And the drill finally came to life again, finishing the 26-inch wide tunnel through which the miners would be rescued one by one via a narrow capsule. "God drilled the hole," Hall says.

Pictured above is Mario Gomez, the ninth miner rescued, pausing to pray after reaching the surface. The narrow transport capsule is in the background. The 33rd and final miner was rescued on October 13, 2010, over two months after the cave-in, and also the feast of the last apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.

The incident is now a major motion picture called The 33.


3. The Boxer Rebellion, 1900


In 1900, Chinese Christians sustained some of the worst persecution in Chinese history during "The Boxer Rebellion."

According to History.com, a number of Chinese rebelled against Christian residents and missionaries, and other Western immigrants, blaming "their poor standard of living on foreigners who were colonizing their country." Whether immigration attributed to their poverty was a matter of debate. For instance, a large percentage of Boxers came "from Shandong province, which had been struck by natural disasters such as famine and flooding."

During the rebellion, "the Boxers killed Chinese Christians and Christian missionaries and destroyed churches and railroad stations and other property." Pictured above, center, is a Roman Catholic priest identified as "Pater Schen," with two Catholic guards, preparing for a siege on their church by the rebels. In researching the back story of this photo, I was not able to ascertain the fate of these specific men. However, the Catholic Encyclopedia records a number of martyrs during the Boxer Rebellion, including the Lazarist priest, Jules Garrigues, Doré, two Marist brethren, and Father d'Addosio.

The Boxer rebellion officially ended in 1901 following the help of allied forces which included Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.


4. "Christ of the Abyss," 2009 (1965)

Photo by Stephen Weir, (stephenweir.com)

For our next photo, we go subaqua to the waters of Key Largo, Florida. Pictured above is a 2009 photo of one of the premier attractions of Key Largo––the Christ of the Abyss statue. It was installed in the underwater John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in 1965.

The statue is the third underwater sculpture of its kind, cast from the same mold as the original, which dates back to 1954 near Genoa, Italy. The second, installed in 1961, is off the coast of Grenada.

The Key Largo statue celebrated its 50th year this year. The man responsible for transporting the replica of the original Italian statue is Gabe Spataro. Earlier this year, at age 83, he celebrated the statue's anniversary by diving, while legally blind, no less, in Key Largo to lay wreaths on the statue.

Discovery News recently produced a short video on the Key Largo Christ of the Abyss. The video features the photographer credited above, Stephen Weir. Although Weir himself is not a Christian, he said of the statue, "For me, when I first saw Jesus, it was inspirational." Watch the Discovery News video here.


5. The Penitent Thief, 1961

If you think this photo looks like characters from Dragnet taking detectives' notes with Catholic statues, you're not far off. This photo appeared on the front page of the June 9, 1961 issue of the Denver Post with the headline: Religious Statues Prod Thief's Conscience. The brief story reads:
Denver detectives Walter Starr (left) and Arthur Moser make a list of the religious statues left, apparently by a thief, in vestibule of the parish house of Loyola Catholic Church, 2301 York St. The statues were in three suitcases, and the Rev. Ed P. Murphy left them undisturbed several days, thinking they belonged to a visiting priest. Finally he opened them, and in looking over the statues found the name of their owner, Hans Dorff, a San Francisco importer. Fr. Murphy wrote to Dorff, and Dorff notified Denver police. Seems the statues and other belongings were stolen from his car parked on a Denver street the night of May 29.

6. Smoke Signals, 1963


This gentleman is cooking up none other than smoke signals from inside the Vatican during the 1963 papal conclave at which Pope Paul VI was eventually elected. This was the first time special chemicals were added to the signal smoke. To outside onlookers, white smoke signifies a new pope has been chosen. Black smoke signifies no result. During the prior conclave in 1958, what was intended to be black smoke escaped white, confusing the audience into thinking a pope had been named, when in fact he had not.1 The confusion later led to the chemical additives of 1963. In 2005, ringing of bells were also added as part of the signal for an affirmative papal election.
1Burke-Young, Francis A. Passing the Keys. Madison Books. Maryland, Oxford. 2001. p.110

 

7. Comet Hunters, 1946


Either the two priests above were holding a pair of binoculars when they shrunk, or they are Jesuits at the Vatican Observatory. On February 2, 1946, the announcement was made of the "Timmers Comet," named for Brother Matthew Timmers above, with his associate Father Walter Miller.

The comet, visible with telescopic assistance, passed over the Americas. Subscribers of a Harvard "announcement" list received a mailing that included "Tables of position" for the comet's spring travels. Author J. Hugh Pruett for the Spokane Daily Chronicle recounted his observation:
________________________________ CONFIDENTIALITY NOTE: This email message, including any attachments, is the sender's private and confidential property, and is intended solely for the receipt, use, benefit, and information of the recipient indicated above. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete this message from your computer system. Failure to do so, and any review, disclosure, distribution, or copying of this message is strictly prohibited, and may result in legal liability on your part. We believe that this email message is free of any virus or other defect. However, it is the recipient's responsibility to ensure that it is virus free and the sender accepts no liability for any loss or damage.Show more

Monday, November 30, 2015

Reactions to CO Planned Parenthood shooting reactions

EDIT 12/2/15 to add: Witnesses, among others, apparently say the CO shooter initiated his violent actions outside Planned Parenthood and closer to a bank down the road. This contradicts the media's central narrative on this story. In the Nov. 29 Examiner, we read: "the Public Information Officer for the Colorado Springs Police Department 'told reporters that the entire incident started with shooting at the Planned Parenthood facility;' multiple reports conflict with this narrative, including accounts from eye witnesses." For the purposes of the blog post below, the sentiments remains the same, as they are a reaction to reactions about pro-lifers in relation to this tragedy. 
On Friday, November 27, 2015 a man entered a Colorado Planned Parenthood, shooting and killing three and wounding several others. We immediately saw a multitude of pro-life supporters and Christians condemn the act and pray for the victims and against future violence. See here for just a handful of examples.

Also immediately came a geyser of Planned Parenthood and abortion supporters on social media and elsewhere accusing the pro-life movement for causing this act. For instance:
Site Of Planned Parenthood Attack Is A Hub For Anti-Abortion Christians- so not surprised this happened there... ––Martina Navratilova, former professional tennis star and pro-abortion activist, Twitter post on November 29, 2015)
Perhaps Navratilova is unaware that for decades Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide have been the site of Christians praying against abortion, day after day, year after year, and yet violence is all but non-existent.

Another example:
Carly Fiorina and every single one of them has blood on their hands this morning. And these idiots that put out these deceptive videos in the first place... Yeah, it's because of them. … These videos are complete bull---. You get lunatics like this all ginned up. "Oh, they're selling baby parts, and blah blah blah blah…" ––Stephanie Miller, pro-abortion radio host, on her November 30, 2015 show.*
Common folk likewise expressed similar sentiments, often suggesting that pro-life rhetoric is responsible for the shooting. In social posts, the terms "Christian," "hypocrites," and "Planned Parenthood" are often assembled to suggest Christians condone this act.

And, as evidenced by Miller's rant above, often, The Center for Medical Progress is specifically brandished the culprit. The murders occurred "because of them," Miller indicted.

But what is the 800-lb gorilla in the room about these bold accusations against The Center for Medical Progress and other pro-lifers? The avoided questions are such as these: Is what they say true? Does abortion take a human life? Does Planned Parenthood kill enwombed babies and sell their body parts?

In the case of The Center for Medical Progress, what we have is not so much what The Center has said, but what they have revealed Planned Parenthood's own management and affiliates to have said. For example:
We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part. I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. ––Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director for Medical Services, Planned Parenthood

On liver tissue, because that's such an area of demand for us. ... As you probably know, one of the issues with neural tissue, it's so fragile. It's insanely fragile...it's the hardest thing in the world to ship. ... [T]hey don't want to know where it comes from. I can see that. Where they're like, "We need limbs, but no hands and feet need to be attached." ... Or they want long bones, and they want you to take it all off, like make it so that we don't know what it is. ––Cate Dyer, StemExpress CEO

If we want to pursue this, mutually, I'll talk to Ian and see how he feels about using a less crunchy technique to get more whole specimens. ... When we first started this program, we had a situation, a policy that she would call the day before and how many ten-weekers do you have. She wouldn't come in unless we had a chance for getting tissue that day. ––Dr. Mary Gatter, President, Medical Directors' Council, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Medical Director, Planned Parenthood Pasadena & San Gabriel Valley

We've just been working with people who want particular tissues. Like, a, you know, cardia–– they want cardiac, or they want eyes, or they want neural. ... oh, gonads. Oh my god, gonads. ––Dr. Carolyn Westhoof, Senior Medical Advisor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
These quotes are, sadly, a small sample and can be found among others at The Center for Medical Progress' Investigative Footage page in video and transcript. And these don't even include the procedural improprieties nor the visual evidence exposed in the videos. Pro-lifers don't have to say Planned Parenthood sells body parts. Planned Parenthood is saying it themselves.

So where does that leave us? Essentially, devout PP supporters are saying, "If The Center for Medical Progress hadn't exposed Planned Parenthood's management admitting to selling babys' body parts, no one would be upset with them!"

Perhaps a final example may help put this in perspective. Imagine a brothel consisting of victims of the sex slave trade. An undercover video exposes the evils occurring within its walls. Then an unstable individual enters the brothel and goes on a murderous rampage, killing several, including police staff on the scene. Would we turn a blind eye to the women and children victimized in the brothel? Would the killer's actions erase or nullify what had happened and what will continue to happen to the women and children victimized in the brothel? Would we focus blame on the undercover videographer for exposing what happened there? It would be irrational to do so.

Being both opposed to the murder of adults and the murder of babies doesn't make one a hypocrite. It's nonsensical to suggest otherwise. Nonsensical, emotional, irrational rants on social media are one of the hallmarks of our time.  The Christian needn't let another's mad ravings define him/her.




*Attempts to discredit the content of The Center for Medical Progress' videos based on the videos being "edited" are hardly honest, particularly when an accusation is never paired with examples. Lengthy segments of the Planned Parenthood representatives proceed unedited. The words they spoke are in context. Readers can see the videos or transcripts for themselves. Even the Fiorina accusation, mentioned in the above quote by Miller, is an embarrassing attempt to cloak what actually occurs at Planned Parenthood clinics. Essentially, PP supporters reacted to her comments by insisting the baby she described was different than the one whose brain was actually procured. See a breakdown of that matter here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Catholic Voyager now on Facebook

Visit The Catholic Voyager on Facebook by clicking here and give a "Like" while you're there!
And a reminder, TCV is also on Twitter here!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

7 21st century reasons to consider the Church

Edit 11/9/2015 to add:
Listen to my interview about this blog post on The Don Johnson Radio Show from 11/6/2015 at MP3 archive here. My segment begins at 35:30, but I encourage anyone to listen to the whole episode or any other archive of Don's show.
The centuries have seen manifold ways by which converts, reverts, and lifelong Catholics experience a spark of faith ignited into a fiery love story. This post is intended as a thought exercise with regard to some reasons that may compel the ponderer to consider Catholicism. These are by no means all the reasons someone might be moved to consider Catholicism. Theses are by no means even necessarily the best. Also, these are in no particular order. These are merely reasons perhaps pertinent to 21st century themes and attitudes.

1.  The Church is pro-science
The current talk of water on Mars reminds us how much scientific discussions are prevalent today. Despite what stereotype you may have heard, the Church has been overwhelmingly an advocate of science throughout the centuries. Hundreds Catholic scientists are listed here, and those are just the clergy. Many don't know even the Big Bang theory was spearheaded by a Catholic priest (here he is hanging with Einstein). I've profiled a few others on this blog.

The Galileo affair seems to be a totem of sorts, used by those who seek to paint the Church as anti-science. But not only would that, if true, be among the exceptions of the Church's pro-scientific history, but it's not quite true. The Church didn't reject Galileo's view simply because it was scientific. Many articles have been written to clarify the subject (e.g. Catholic.com or even by atheist writer Tim O'Neil who details where Galileo's proofs fell short).

Nevertheless, our focus here is on modern times. Are you a believer in, say, biological evolution, but afraid you might have to forfeit that view if you joined the Church? Worry not. Pope Benedict XVI said, "there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such." Pope Francis, who has a degree in chemistry, has likewise acknowledged no opposition between faith and science. Prior Popes have made similar sentiments.

As discussed in prior posts, the Church avails herself to science when scrutinizing claims of miracles. Priests with scientific backgrounds even operate the Vatican Observatory. Recourse to science is not an exception for the Church, but the norm.

2. No "hashtag" theology
Have you ever found yourself yearning to understand someone's view, but the best you can get is some hashtag or bumper sticker slogan in response? Maybe the extent of your colleague's view is nothing deeper than changing their social media photo to some symbol. You want to know how your colleague's view accounts for a fair question or two. But if you challenge that view, you get either the slogan repeated, or perhaps you are called a bad name. And you wonder to yourself, if my colleague's view can't account for any scrutiny, how baseless must it be?

Yet, often, the Church is accused of offering a faith without evidence. Not so. If you've ever taken the time to pick up an encyclical or document of a Church council, you can expect depth of reason. Even in the Catechism, which is more of a summary of doctrines, the paragraphs build upon one another. A great doctrinal thesis like St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, written in the 13th century, is fraught with opponents' arguments against any doctrine. It's very structure confronts multiple "objections" at every turn.

The Council of Trent in the 16th century was largely a response to clarify and fortify doctrines in the face of Protestant objections. So, for instance, when the Church was accused of worshipping saints or icons, the Council assured objectors: "not that any divinity, or virtue, is believed to be in [the saints], on account of which they are to be worshipped..." Or when the Church was accused of abusive sale of indulgences, the Council confronted the scrutiny and conceded:  
And being desirous that the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which this honourable name of Indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected, [the Council] ordains generally by this decree, that all evil gains for the obtaining thereof, whence a most prolific cause of abuses amongst the Christian people has been derived, be wholly abolished.
Reason and consideration of objections is nothing uncommon in the Church. Even at the first Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35), Peter and James elaborated on circumcision, the relationship with Gentiles, and salvation with much reason and recourse to Scripture.

Perhaps one considering the Church's position on this or that doctrine still disagrees. But one could not accuse the Church of offering an explanation with the mere depth of a hashtag. Nor could one accuse the Church of turning a blind eye to objections. Wouldn't it be characteristic of a Church that brokers in truth to have no fear of objections, nor fear of delving deeply into those truths?

3. No "yes-man" mentality
It's election season. And if you're old enough to remember any election, you can probably think of a politician's promise that somehow never made it to the table. Maybe you can think of a lot. Or perhaps you've been with a date who just affirmed everything you did or said, having no perceptions of his/her own. Or if you're a boss and you have one of those "yes-men" underlings, who are only interested in making you feel good about yourself, even if the truth would otherwise help you.

It's no secret the Church is willing to say things many people don't want to hear. Don't think it's just about hot-button issues like "gay marriage," toward which the Church is perceived to take an "unpopular" view. There are plenty of other people who don't like hearing the Church's stance on fornication, masturbation, confessing sins to a priest, or even the existence of hell. Perhaps you don't like those views yourself. You're still invited to study, scrutinize, and give an honest examination of the Church's views on any moral or faith-based doctrine. If the Church was into mere membership numbers, all of these teachings might go out the window. But the point here in reason #3 is that you can expect answers from the Church not founded on coddling or patronizing you. Does that kind of directness sound refreshing?

4. Consistency
Tying into reason #3, you will get consistency from the Church on matters of faith and morals. There has never been a single defined teaching on such a matter that was ever reversed. The Church has studied the Scriptures and the Apostolic deposit of faith for centuries, deriving truths from that single "wellspring." So, for instance, the Church never has said God is not Trinity after defining God as Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. We're celebrating the 1690th anniversary of that dogma this year. Divinity of Christ? Articulated at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Happy 1584th anniversary to that dogma. Many other teachings have been taught consistently throughout the centuries or through other councils and documents.

In the early days of the "gay marriage" debate, Slate, which is not by any stretch a champion of all things Church, published a harsh critique of those who do not support "gay marriage." Of those critiqued, the author conceded, "Only the Catholic Church has maintained logical consistency" with regard to sexual teaching. The author refers to the Church's view that the proper context of a sexual act is within marriage and open to life. Thus, for centuries, the Church has taught as disordered not only something like a "gay marriage," but fornication, masturbation, adultery, contraception, etc. Not every supporter of "traditional" marriage bears this consistency.

So the Church doesn't change faith or moral dogmas. Perhaps a flippant skeptic would simply accuse the Church of stubbornness. On the other hand, if the Church claims to posit sacred truths, one of the characteristics we should observe is consistency. Water is not H2O on Monday and something else on Tuesday while still called water. The purpose of this particular post is not to give a thorough defense of this or that dogma, but to invite souls to consider what the Church is proposing. Isn't consistency something you seek in a truth?

5. Don't worry about hypocrite Christians
We've heard it before. Someone tells you they reject Catholicism on account of this or that scandal by this or that priest, friend, or whomever. They don't want to be part of the Church of which that person is a part. Christian hypocrites misbehaving on Saturday but back in church on Sunday were actually used by Anton Lavey as a reason for founding of his brand of Satanism. The Hindu leader Ghandi is known for stating some version of the quote: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Even the well-known Catholic convert and theologian, Dr. Peter Kreeft, when asked what is orthodox Christianity's greatest obstacle, replied, "Our own sins."

First, I'd like to note there are many holy persons in the Church, practicing the faith heroically in charity and persistence. The skeptic should grant these souls due consideration as well. In fact, these souls are those about whom Dr. Kreeft says, "Only saints can save the world." If you think you can be one, please consider the Church! We can use more saints!

But let's return to the notion of sinful Christians. The bad news is, there are Christian hypocrites. The good news is, our faith is not founded on the sins of the Church's members. Our faith is founded on Jesus Christ. There is no other. As Scripture states, "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:11)

As well, there is no institution free of sinners. To reject the Church on account of sinful members is to embrace some other sinful body, including the self-governed irreligious individual. Thus, rejecting the Church on account of sinful members cannot be a deal breaker.

It's also worth clarifying what "hypocrisy" actually is. A person who sins and is Christian is not automatically a hypocrite. I think some critics make this mistake. Consider this analogy. A father addicted to cigarettes is not a hypocrite if he tells his son not to smoke while confessing the harm of his own smoking. Rather, he would be a hypocrite if he tells his son not to smoke while justifying his own smoking.

But wait, says the skeptic, the Bible also says, "you will know them by their fruits." (Matt. 7:20). So that's proof the Church is bad! But is the sinner practicing Catholic teaching? No. But wait again, says the skeptic. You're just saying Christians who sin aren't acting Christian. That's the "No true Scotsman fallacy!" Not so. Catholicism has identifiable moral doctrines. One can read summaries of these in the Catechism. (See the Catechism index here for an alphabetical topic list.) It is Catholic teaching that stealing is sinful. If a Catholic steals, he's not practicing Catholicism, even if he is a baptized Catholic. The Scotsman fallacy refers to making up false or arbitrary criteria after the fact in order to protect the original claim.

Let's consider another example. This is fitting, because the Church often refers to herself as a "hospital for sinners" (a moniker which admits to the sins of members, by the way). Let's say there is a certain fever going around in a village. A doctor visits and prescribes a medicine. After a month, 90% of the villagers still have the fever. So the medicine is faulty, right? Not so fast! We need more information. As it turns out, 90% of the villagers stopped taking the medicine. The 10% who took the medicine no longer have the fever. In this example, one can't judge the medicine based on the actions of those not taking the medicine. Similarly, one can't judge Catholicism based on occasions when Catholicism is not practiced.

6. Never be a pawn of your time
Have you ever heard someone say, "The Catholic Church needs to get with the times?" or something like, "Too much Church teaching is out of step with 21st century thinking..." And you wondered, if the 21st century has the "right thinking," what happens when a flippant 22nd century blogger says "get with the times"? And what happens to, say, the idea that it is wrong to steal because the 18th century B.C. decried it in Hammurabi's Code?

And then, perhaps you asked yourself what relevance does a calendar date have on the soundness of a moral teaching?

If you ask these kinds of questions, then perhaps you prefer to live in accord with sound morals regardless of whether some other century taught them.

The early 20th century Catholic philosopher and convert G.K. Chesterton, in his essay "Why I Am a Catholic," said one of the reasons he became Catholic was: "[The Church] is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."

This is not to say that a good development of moral thought cannot occur in the present day. But this is to say the date a moral teaching is asserted does not make it right or wrong. A person who attempts to align his teachings merely on the cultural zeitgeist of his day is indeed a "degraded slave," as Chesterton says. He is merely a pawn whose morals are on as firm a ground as the calendar date about to change.

That the Church is accused of not conforming to "the times" is indicative that "the times" are not a basis for the Church's teaching. Since, as we have posited here, moral truth is not subject to "time," it would be expected that one who asserts that truth would not use a clock to test its validity.

7. No coersion
In the 21st century, like many others focused on freedom, whether or not someone wishes to join the Church or depart is up to that person's free will. This is a long-standing Catholic teaching, as has been cited on this blog previously. e.g.:
[A Christian evangelizing a brother] does not drag him and force him, but leaves him his own master. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, ca 390 A.D.)
(See similar quotes) To consider Catholicism is an enterprise in discernment. It is to examine the Church based on characteristics that would be native to a true Church. Previously on this blog, in "Is faith belief without evidence?" several evidences and qualities of a true Church were reviewed. There are many online resources collecting source material, Church documents, bloggers, multimedia, and more (e.g. Vatican, NewAdvent, EWTN, Catholic.com, Ave Maria Radio, Patheos Catholic blogs, Catholicforuminc testimonials/episodes, Sonitus Sanctus audio, etc.) There's also a good, free discussion forum at Catholic.com, frequented by this blogger, where visitors can converse with other Catholics and inquisitors about all things Church.

And the considerer of the Church may depart whenever he/she wishes. It's a type of "money back guarantee," if you will, without ever having to put up any money.

I invite anyone considering the Church or seeking to engage truth to make a list of what traits would be characteristic of truth. Test that criteria. Scrutinize it. If it fails logical fallacies, discard it. This is a good way to purify ones views and develop a sense of examining doctrines as true/false or right/wrong, and never merely something like "modern," "popular," or "comforting."

To quote Chesterton once more:
The difficulty of explaining 'why I am a Catholic' is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Does a Catholic have to agree with everything the Pope says?

Does a Catholic have to agree with everything a Pope says? A number of comments by Pope Francis since his installation have given rise to this question.

It can be a dangerous question, because some Catholics may ask the question in order to seek the "minimum" to believe, and the rest can be rejected outright, as if 180 degrees wrong. So I would caution against that motive and we can see why in a moment.

I would also say, from one angle, a Catholic doesn't have to believe any teachings the Pope declares. A Catholic doesn't even have to stay in the Church. He or she can walk away and reject the faith any time. I wouldn't recommend it. But simply being Catholic does not eliminate one's free will. But this essay will focus on believing the Pope while remaining a Catholic in communion with the Church.

Also, some do not understand why a Catholic would be perfectly reasonable in embracing the Church's teaching on abortion, but not a Pope's view on a socio-political situation. Hopefully, this essay will clarify that matter as well.

In Catholic teaching, it is believed the Pope exercises a charism of infallibility when, as a function of his office as St. Peter's successor, he defines a teaching of faith or morals for the whole Church to believe. (see CCC#888-892; Vatican I, 4.4.9; and prior discussion on Fallacies on Infallibility). This is not a reference to anything special about the Pope, who is, was, and always will be, a fallible mortal. This charism is a trust in God, who Catholics believe in Christ to have promised this divine assistance to the Apostles and their successors, especially Peter, i.e. the first Pope.



A PRECISE EXAMPLE
So when a Pope meets this criteria on a matter of faith or morals, yes, a Catholic is obligated to believe that teaching. There is no gray area. For example (in all subsequent quotes, bold emphasis is mine):
Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful." (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus)
That Mary was preserved from original sin is not an "optional" teaching for the Catholic faithful. It is a defined matter. It is a matter of faith. And remember, the guarantee of this truth is the Holy Spirit. We believe the Pope's teaching on this matter because Christ promised to speak through his Church in such a way.

ASK IF IT'S A MATTER OF FAITH OR MORALS
Faith and morals are a good factor in identifying teachings that are representative of the Church versus an individual clergyman's opinion, even the Pope's, on a social or political or scientific matter. In fact, the Catechism teaches the following:
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (CCC#892)
So you see how even matters taught by the Pope in non-definitive ways require a "religious assent," if that teaching is a matter of faith or morals. This is why it is imprudent to act as if a Pope's non-infallible statement is 180 degrees wrong. But the text does not say to offer religious assent if the Pope speaks on a matter of science, for example. Such matters are external to the Church's teaching authority. But keep in mind the rule of thumb to always look at a teaching and ask whether it falls under the category of faith or morals.

IMPRECISE EXAMPLES
Now, let's look at less-defined propositions. In the Summer of 2015, Pope Francis stated:
Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. (Pope Francis, Address at Expo Fair Santa Cruz de la Sierras, July 9, 2015)
Quotes like these have been used by media to say the Pope condemns capitalism as a whole since capitalist societies produce many wealthy citizens. But if one examines the Pope's comment, the part that is a "moral obligation" is to strive for "just distribution" of goods. That is a very broad concept. In principle, the moral issue of justice (cf. CCC#1807) is obligatory for a Catholic to believe. Discussions of what government, social, political, or other solutions should prevail give rise to matters beyond the underlying moral issue.

In other words, a Catholic is not obligated to embrace nor reject "socialism," for example, as the solution to a problem of injustice. A Catholic is not required to embrace nor reject "capitalism" as a broad concept. Yes, a Catholic must oppose injustice, but methods of remedy are external to that moral crux. Even in that same speech, Pope Francis emphasized how the human person should be the focus when forming economies: "The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples."

We can even see in the Pope's own words, for example, that capitalism, which he has often decried to the degree it does not serve people, still merits further understanding on his own part. On a plane ride from Paraguay to Rome, a reporter asked of his economic views: "This is perceived by Americans as a direct criticism of their system and their way of life." Pope Francis replied:
I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it, but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue. ... Yes, I must begin studying these criticisms, no? And then dialogue a bit with this.
Later in the interview, someone asked him about the economic situation in Greece. He conceded to not having had a good grasp on economics:
On Greece and the international system, I have a great allergy to economic things, because my father was an accountant and when he did not manage to finish his work at the factory, he brought the work home on Saturday and Sunday, with those books in those day where the titles were written in gothic. When I saw my father I had a great allergy and I didn’t understand it very well.
So, you see in such an example, a Catholic can take the Pope's words and make a prudential examination to discover the parts that are religious (i.e. the concept of justice) versus parts that are economic or political (i.e. the U.S. economic system or the Greek economic system). Comments on religious concepts are in the scope of the Pope's teaching authority. Comments on economic concepts are not.

Let me approach this from one more angle. If you happen to read in the media that the Pope is against "income inequality," and thus pro-Socialism, one should not assume the Pope is endorsing any particular economic philosophy. Or, at least one should not assume what economic philosophy the Pope appears to endorse is a required belief for Catholics. We can deduce this with emphasis if we compare two quotes. On the plane ride just a couple days ago from Cuba to the U.S., Pope Francis said of his economic views:
I am sure that I have not said anything that is not present in the social Doctrine of the Church. ... My doctrine, on all of this, on Laudato Si, on economic imperialism and all of this, it is that of the social doctrine of the Church.
And if we take a look at some of the Church's teaching on Socialism and income inequality in the past, we see such examples as:
It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition. (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, #17)
So here we see Pope Leo speaking how income inequality, per se, is not automatically an injustice. In fact, he says, a society needs the variation in order for business to have the capacity to function. And we have Pope Francis saying his teaching aligns with the Church's teaching. So where income inequality, for a Catholic, would become a concern, is where that inequality is the result of injustice.

The same can be said of the issue of "climate change," which appears frequently in the media, including with quotes from Pope Francis. (Note: An argument can be made that there is not scientific consensus on this matter either.) On this issue, the underlying moral principle is to have proper respect for creation (cf. CCC#2415), which is related to the commandment of "thou shall not kill." In Pope Francis' encyclical Laudatio Si, he acknowledges that he does not claim to teach a scientific solution to any ecological problems. He finishes with a caveat. He says on the ecology:
Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. ...there is no one path to a solution. ... On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.
So on climate change, much as with economics, a Catholic only need give assent to the underlying moral issues relating to the 7th commandment on climate change and the matter of justice. The views a Catholic holds from there, with regard to ecological or economic systems, should be held with those moral principles in view.

SUMMARY
Remember, when listening to a Pope's comments, one should examine the content to identify whether or not the comment is religious (i.e. a matter of faith or morals) or something else, such as economic, political, or scientific. If the Pope is teaching a principle of faith or morals, the Catholic's assent is required. If the Pope comment is about an economic or scientific matter, the Catholic's assent is not required insofar as any economic or scientific claims or solutions to problems. The Catholic needn't scruple over such things.

Dr. Anne Hendershott (an excellent speaker and writer on Catholic thought in this blogger's opinion) made the following statement recently:
I am a huge fan of Pope Francis because I actually read what he writes and it's wonderful. And he's so affirming and so loving. I'm not crazy when he talks about capitalism. I'm not crazy when he talks about climate change. But I don't really pay much attention to that stuff because that's not the non-negotiables. (Dr. Anne Hendershott, Professor of Sociology at Franciscan University, Sept. 2, 2015, on the Drew Mariani Radio Show (MP3))
If a Catholic wishes to formulate an view on economic or scientific matters, that view should strive to satisfy moral principles of justice or the commandments where applicable. If one does this, he or she is already on the same page as the Pope and needn't worry about an explicit endorsement or condemnation of that view from the Pope.

The principle of faith and morals also should illuminate those who question Catholics who accept Church teaching on abortion (i.e. a moral matter) but not necessarily every Papal suggestion concerning climate change, income inequality, or other social, political, or scientific issues (i.e. not religious matters).

Thursday, September 3, 2015

7 historic photos with Catholic back stories

The Church's influence dwells in more places than may meet the eye. Following are seven historic photos, in no particular order, whose back stories contain interesting Catholic aspects.

1. The priest and the dying soldier, 1962


This dramatic photo depicts Navy chaplain Luis Padillo holding up a wounded soldier during a brief Venezuelan rebellion known as El Porteñazo. Other images from the scene (see article at Rare Historical Photos) show Fr. Padillo giving last rites to the dying on the streets. The article takes note of the kinetic danger while the priest held the soldier "as bullets chewed up the concrete around them." The photo was taken by Hector Rondón Lovera on June 4, 1962. It "won the World Press Photo of the Year and the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Photography. The original title of work is 'Aid From The Padre'." The article also points to the frightening irony in the background:
Even more intense about this picture is the setting, in the background is a carnicería (a butcher’s shop). In Spanish a carnicería means both a “butcher’s shop” and “slaughter, carnage”. The phrase “fue una carnicería” (English equivalent: “it was carnage”) is so common in the Spanish language. The parallel really catches one’s eye and draws the horror of the scene even further.
2. The "last photo of the Titanic" afloat, 1912


This photo is considered by many to be the final photo of the Titanic still afloat. The photo was taken April 12, 1912 three days prior to the ship's infamous capsize. The Catholic interest in this photo is in its photographer, Francis Browne, a future Irish Jesuit priest who would be ordained in 1915.

The Encyclopedia Titanica recounts Browne's bio. He had begun his theological studies in 1911. In 1912, his uncle gifted him a ticket on the Titanic. His ticket was for travel from Southampton to a stop at Cherbourg to the following day's port at Queensland (now known as Cobh). Multiple accounts (e.g. Rare Historical Photos, Time Magazine) say a wealthy family had offered Browne a ticket to stay for the remainder of the Titanic's voyage. Browne sent a request to his superior cleric for permission to accept the ticket. According to Fr. Eddie O'Donnell, a Jesuit priest who collected Browne's photos many years later, Browne received a terse telegram from his Dublin superior which said: "Get off that ship." Browne disembarked and snapped the above photograph of the Titanic as it left Queenstown never to arrive at its destiny in New York. Many of Browne's photos from aboard the Titanic were also used as references for the 1997 film Titanic, as they are among precious few photos taken by a passenger who disembarked mid-voyage.

One final point of intrigue: according to the book Titanic by Messenger Publications, the wreckage of the Titanic revealed that the ship "split directly through state rooms numbered 36A and 37A, Frank Browne's quarters, and those of Thomas Andrews," the managing director of Harland and Wolff, Belfast, builders of the Titanic.

3. Tombstones holding hands, 1888


In the Dutch town of Roermond are these two tombstones, joined over a brick wall by two holding "hands." On one side of the wall is a Protestant cemetery and on the other, a Catholic one. The tradition called for an individual to be buried with the peers of his/her faith. The Telegraph summarizes the back story:
One one side of the wall lies JWC van Gorkum, a 19th century Catholic woman of nobility, on the other her husband, a Protestant. When he died, he was buried in the lot reserved for Protestants. Eight years later she passed away too, leaving directions for this monument - with the pair holding hands over the wall that divides the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries - to be built.
In a functional solution, the clever Catholic wife managed to respect the traditions of the cemeteries and be buried in a special, and most unique, proximity to her husband.

4. Andes rugby team survival, 1972


It is known as one of the most incredible survival stories in history. In 1972, a flight over the Andes Mountains in South America transported 45 people, including a rugby team. The plane crashed, killing many of them immediately. In the subsequent days, the remaining survivors battled for life in the frozen ice of the mountains. Desperate and having run out of food, the stranded had no choice but to eat the bodies of their fallen comrades. By the time the above rescue photo was taken, 72 days had passed, and 16 remained alive. The story razes at the concept of suffering and fate. Survivors told of horrors and discouragement and confusion. But at least one thing kept them united––the rosary.

Recently, an article about the survival story cited the author of a book about the incident:
As all of the team members were from a Catholic tradition, they employed ritual to keep their spirits up in the face of worsening conditions. Nightly discussions and debate followed by rosary recited in unison in the fuselage of the plane helped maintain a unity of purpose...
Survivor Álvaro Mangino recalls:
We had an enormous desire to live and faith in God. Our group was always united. We prayed the rosary. We kept our faith. I’ve changed. That’s the best thing about it.
While being treated after the rescue, a priest, Father Andres Rojas, visited the young men to comfort them, and even assured them that in such a desperate situation they had not sinned by eating the flesh of their deceased friends. The 1993 film Alive documents the incident, and includes scenes of the survivors praying the rosary.

5. Mountain procession, 1940


Anyone not familiar with the traditions behind this photo might think a caravan of mountain wizards are on their way to the ball. Or maybe it looks like a Klan rally.  Many old photo web pages file this under "creepy." But this is an example where context is crucial. This image depicts the celebration of Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain in 1940. The persons in the photo are walking as a sign of penance for their sins. An article at the University of South Carolina explains the significance of their outfits:
The “Nazarenos” or “Penitentes” may initially catch Americans off gaurd, as their costumes resemble those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. These costumes actually have no sinister meaning. The Spanish reasoning for wearing these costumes is completely different than that of the KKK. The cone-shaped “capirote” symbolizes a rising toward the heavens. The Penitentes are seeking forgiveness for their sins, and the shape of the capirotes signify their penance and yearning to be closer to the heavens. They hide their identities as they mourn the pain and suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross. On Easter Sunday, each person removes his capirote in jubilation of Jesus's resurrection from the dead. Nazarenos are traditionally all male, but in recent years, many young girls and women have begun to wear the costumes. No one can decipher between males and females behind the disguise. 
See the full article for other photos of the ceremony taking place in modern times under better lighting than the dim mountains depicted above!

6. Nadal: "He's a real gentleman", 2015


For this photo, we turn back the clock all the way to January 21, 2015. It was the Australian Open, the first tournament in every calendar year that makes up pro-tennis' "Grand Slam." The second round featured a match between then-world #3 Rafael Nadal, winner of 14 Grand Slam tournaments, and Tim Smyczek, then-world #112, who had to win qualifying matches to even make the tournament. The match was grueling, lasting over 4 hours. Nadal led 6-5 in the final set only 2 points from victory when an unruly fan shouted during Nadal's serve which sailed long. The stadium booed as the umpire reiterated silence and Nadal stared in the direction of the ruckus. As Nadal prepared to serve again, Smyczek, in a nonobligatory act, told the chair umpire to allow Nadal to re-do the serve. Nadal gestured in gratitude to Smyczek as the crowd cheered the generous act of kindness. Nadal would soon win the match, but Smyczek's gesture remains a special historic moment of victory. In the above photo, Smyczek (left) and Nadal share a respectful handshake after the match.

Smyzcek, a Wisconsin native, is a practicing Catholic. Recently, the National Catholic Register interviewed him about this incident and his faith life. We learn of Smyczek's regular mass and confession attendance, praying the rosary, and his upcoming marriage in November. He says:
I carry around little books like The Way and The Forge from St. Josemaría Escrivá. They are very handy while traveling, because they don’t take up much space at all. What they lack in size, they more than make up for in wisdom from St. Josemaría, who wanted people to treasure, share and live out their religious beliefs rather than hide them.
Smyczek's now-famous gesture exemplifies the fruits of his religion in action. The catechism lists among the twelve fruits of the Spirit "kindness" and "generosity" (CCC#1832).

Nadal's words in the postgame interview were fitting:
First of all, I want to congratulate Tim, because he's a real gentleman. What he did in the last game is–– not a lot of people will do something like this at 6-5 in the 5th...after four hours. So just congratulate him for that, because he played, I think, a great match.
(Watch a one-minute video of the gentlemanly gesture and Nadal's postgame interview here)

7. World Championship chess match, Spassky vs. Fischer, 1972


In our final historic photo, we return to 1972, showing the World Chess Championship between Soviet Boris Spassky (left), the defending champion, and American Bobby Fischer. Fischer would win the match to become the first American-born champion, ending a 24 year streak by Soviet players.

As references collected in the Wikipedia article recount, Fischer found himself about to enter the championship without a "second" (a sort of chess counselor between matches). He counted on his childhood friend, William Lombardy, who was also a chess Grandmaster. In 1958, when Fischer was 15, Lombardy had coached him to be the youngest Grandmaster in history. But before 1972 rolled around, Lombardy was ordained a priest in 1967. He acquired permission to go to Iceland and serve as Fischer's second for the 1972 World Chess Championship.

According to the 2011 book Endgame by Frank Brady:
Fischer lodged a formal protest [over the second-game-forfeit] less than six hours after the forfeiture. It was overruled by the match committee... Everyone knew that Fischer wouldn't accept it lightly. And he didn't. His instant reaction was to make a reservation to fly home immediately. He was dissuaded by Lombardy, but it seemed likely that he'd refuse to continue the match unless the forfeit was removed.
Fischer eventually stayed. An article from August 19, 1972 in the Lawrence-Journal World, which ran during the multi-day championship, described Fr. Lombardy's priestly presence at the event:
The Rev. William Lombardy, the Roman Catholic priest and international grandmaster from the Bronx who serves as Fischer's second, viewed the end-game maneuver with bibical (sic) awe. "He passeth the piece that passeth all understanding," the priest punned gravely. Father Lombardy's constant cool and rollicking good humor seem to have a soothing effect on the moody Brooklyn genius [Fischer]… After move 12 in Tuesday's 14th game, which also happened to be the Feast of the Assumption, Father Lombardy left the arena long enough to celebrate mass at St. Joseph's Hospital.
Several days later, Fischer won the championship, thanks, in part, to his fellow Grandmaster, his second, who also happened to be a Catholic priest.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Inside the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)

The Tower of Babel.  Lucas van Valckenborch, 1595
THE TOWER OF BABEL ACCOUNT IN GENESIS
Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Ba'bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Gen. 11:1-9)
So what is the meaning of this strange account of a giant tower that reaches heaven? Why does it seem at first glance that God is against the people being "one"?

NIMROD, THE MAN BEHIND THE TOWER
Let's rewind a chapter earlier:
Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Ba'bel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. (Gen. 10:8-10)
Nimrod is the ruler behind this kingdom which included Babel. It is Nimrod who commissions the construction of the Tower. Let's look at a few characteristics of this ruler.

The ancient Jewish Talmud collects traditions by Rabbis who devoted their lives to studying Scripture. Much of the value in this work includes Judaism's understanding of the Old Testament, itself written through inspired Jewish authors. The Talmud sometimes elucidates on Scriptural stories with related oral traditions passed through the centuries. Some of these teachings expound on the life of Nimrod.
Cush, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah, married in his old age a young wife, and begat a son whom he called "Nimrod," because in those days the people were beginning to rebel again against the Lord's command, and Nimrod signifies rebellion.  ... 
And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar in safety, and gradually became ruler over all the world; and at that time all the people of the earth were of one language and of one speech. Nimrod in his prosperity did not regard the Lord. He made gods of wood and stone, and the people copied after his doings. His son Mordon served idols also, from which we have, even to this day, the proverb, "From the wicked, wickedness comes forth." (The Talmud: Selections, translated by H. Polano, 1876)
This sheds light on the Genesis account why God might break up this people who were unified in "one language." The language of their unity was a "language" opposed to God, a language including idolatry.


The early Jewish text, 3rd Baruch, conveys a tradition of crude slavery during the construction of the Tower:
These are they who gave counsel to build the tower, for they whom thou seest drove forth multitudes of both men and women, to make bricks; among whom, a woman making bricks was not allowed to be released in the hour of child-birth, but brought forth while she was making bricks, and carried her child in her apron, and continued to make bricks. (3rd Baruch, 3:5-6)
The earliest Christians also viewed Nimrod as a wicked man. 
In regard of this, he says, it has been written that [Nimrod] was a mighty hunter before the Lord. And there are, he says, many who closely imitate this (Nimrod): as numerous are they as the gnawing (serpents) which were seen in the wilderness by the children of Israel, from which that perfect serpent which Moses set up delivered those that were bitten. (St. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 5.11)
St. Thomas Aquinas reveals Nimrod as the possible culprit to have invented idolatry.
Further, those things which have a cause in man are found among men at all times. Now idolatry was not always, but is stated [Peter Comestor, Hist. Genes. xxxvii, xl] to have been originated either by Nimrod, who is related to have forced men to worship fire, or by Ninus, who caused the statue of his father Bel to be worshiped. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.Q94.4.O2)
Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, likewise includes Jewish tradition about the multitudes in that time and this character, Nimrod:
[T]hey, imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favor of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey him. ... Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. ... He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers! Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower... (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.4.1-3, ca 94 AD)
You notice in this excerpt an attitude in which God cannot "win." When things go well, the people take the credit. When things go bad, they give God all the blame.1

MAKING SENSE OF THE STORY
Understanding the prideful, powerful earthly character Nimrod makes greater sense of the rest of the Tower of Babel account. The phrases "Let us build ourselves...a tower...in the heavens" and "let us make a name for ourselves" (Gen. 11:4) reveal the godless orientation of a people turned toward themselves.
The family of man bands together to build a secular civilization that glorifies human achievement and the strength of social and political unity. ... [A]s the broader context of Genesis shows, the "name" coveted by the sinners at Babel is never acquired; rather it is Abraham and his descendants whom God promises to bless with a great "name" (12:2) ... 11:5 the LORD came down: Implies that man's attempt at reaching the heavens (11:4) has failed... (Hahn, Scott and Mitch, Curtis. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Genesis. Ignatius Press, San Francisco. 2006. p. 32)
Notice in the Genesis account, we are not quite told how God confused the language of the multitudes. Perhaps the best understanding is what Catholic theology would call God's "permissive will." (cf. Discerning God's positive and permissive will by Emily Stimpson, Our Sunday Visitor). God's "permissive will" is the idea of crediting God for an action even if He merely allows it. In the case of the Tower of Babel, the confusion of the multitude could be understood as the development of their own factions, languages, and loyalties due to their own free wills. The Old Testament writers appear to have employed this literary construct regularly, by attributing to God actions He merely permits, but are positively committed by another. If the OT authors wrote in accord with how they experienced God in their lives, then we must interpret the text in light of that understanding, culture, and modes of communication. 

The Navarre Study Bible hints at this idea in its commentary on the Tower of Babel story:
We have here an instance of literary devices being used to expound deep convictions––in this case the view that disunion in mankind is the outcome of men's pride and sinfulness. (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch. Scepter Publishers. Princeton, NJ. 1999. p. 80
AT PENTECOST, THE TOWER OF BABEL IS REVERSED
[I]t will be in the Church, the new Jerusalem, that men of all nations, races and tongues will join in faith and love, as will be seen in the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 2:1-13). There the phenomenon of Babel will be reversed: all will understand the same language. In the history of mankind, in effect, the Church is a kind of sign of sacrament of the union of God and men, and of the unity of the whole human race. (Ibid.)
Consider: "[T]he multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language." (Acts 2:6b) Whereas at Babel, the multitude scattered unable to understand each other, at Pentecost, the multitude is reunited, able to understand each other. And, whereas the multitude at Babel sought to make a name for themselves, at Pentecost, Peter announces: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38b)

Thus, the message of the Tower of Babel story is to teach the futility of man seeking to achieve some "heavenly" goal without the assistance of God. The story also emphasizes the underlying sin behind the world's confusion. And the antidote is Jesus Christ.


1This is an easy trap in which to fall. It is easy to attribute an act of nature, like a flood, to someone else. Yet, the multitudes did not attribute other features of nature, such as the very fertility of the soil or the resources of the earth, which enriched their prosperous condition, to God. Likewise, the story of the flood is one of theological value. In Christian thought, this account is understood as a cleansing from sin (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18-21). According to tradition preserved in the Talmud, Noah even warned others of the coming flood, shouting to those who did not make it on the ark: "For a hundred and twenty years I entreated ye to follow my words; alas, ‘tis now too late." Even according to the Biblical text, the flood was understood as a consequence of sin:
And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh..." "For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." (Gen. 6:12-13a, 7:4)
The "Nimrod interpretation" of the flood story denies any sin by the multitudes. It misses the theological message that sin leads to destruction. Both the Jewish and Christian understanding of the story uphold this view.