We are in the middle of a summer of contradictions.

Most recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose to grant the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to Beijing, China. The decision was criticized by those who believe China's deplorable record of human rights abuses should have precluded it from being selected.

Indeed, China's history of forced abortions, repression of religious expression, crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations and the recent hostage-taking of American military personnel cause one to wonder: If none of these, what human rights abuse would have been appalling enough to cause the IOC to select another country to host the 2008 summer games?

The Catholic Church is not allowed to exist in China. A "patriotic church" is the puppet church created and approved by the Chinese government. True Catholics worship in an underground Church and face reprisals from the state if they attempt to live their faith in a public way. Many are, to our frustration but to their great credit, martyrs of our modern era.

Yet the director general of the IOC was quoted as saying that "it is not up to the IOC to interfere" in the human rights debate, and that "we are taking the bet that seven years from now, we sincerely and deeply hope we will see many changes." The validation of such hopes should not take seven years. China must begin immediately to manifest the sort of "face" it suggests the world will see at Olympics time. And all continuing persecution against the Church should be exposed as relentlessly as the abuses themselves.

And while an oppressive nation gets a free pass, a religious group with a ministry of aiding those in need gets oppressed.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California's law mandating contraception coverage in health plans applied to Catholic Charities of Sacramento. Ironically, the way the law is written Catholic Charities would not be forced to provide the coverage if the people the organization serves primarily were Catholics. But Catholic Charities serves people of all religious backgrounds or no religious background. In effect, Catholic Charities is being forced to violate some of its religious tenets (those relating to artificial contraception) expressly because it is living some of its other religious tenets (those related to aiding those in need). The mandatory contraception coverage law, promoted in California by Planned Parenthood forces Catholic Charities to decide its next move, which could include either appealing to a higher court or curtailing its employees' health benefits in total.

In a summer of contradictions, China basks in the glory of hosting the Olympic Games, while a Catholic charitable organization is made vulnerable to a serious compromise of its principles.

Much ado about mysticism

There is a relatively new scientific field called neurotheology that is causing quite a stir in some circles. Researchers, who have worked with Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns, are bent on determining what happens in the brain when people have mystical experiences. Their published work reveals fascinating new information about how the brain functions but nothing about the existence of God.

In a well-researched and well-written May 7 cover story, Newsweek magazine reported on these scientific findings. In a nutshell, scientists have discovered that our brains are wired for mystical experiences. What they haven't been able to determine is if the brain is causing those experiences or perceiving a spiritual reality. Also clouding the issue is that not everyone has such experiences. It is thought that we can block the mystical if we are rational, controlled and not prone to fantasy.

To people of faith, none of this really matters. Mystics, such as St. Teresa of Avila, saw their spiritual experiences as gifts from God but did not cling to them lest they become sources of pride and self-indulgence. St. Paul placed mystical gifts, such as speaking in tongues, at the bottom of his list of spiritual gifts and wrote that love of one another was a far better spiritual way. Saints are revered for the love they expressed, not their mysticism.

More important than transient mystical experiences is a continual living in the presence of God. The more we strive to follow Jesus' command to love one another, the more we are able to see God everywhere in our lives - in one another, in nature, in life's everyday experiences. A mystical encounter with God can help us with this effort to love by lighting a fire in us. But the mystical is a means to the end, which is love, not the end itself.

Meditation, the form of prayer most likely to lead to mystical experiences, is no more valid than other forms of prayer, from the rosary to conversational prayer. All are valid in that they enable us to communicate with God on a personal level. Still, mystical experiences can be a valued part of our prayer life, so long as we keep them in perspective. Love of others always reigns.

AIDS, economic development and population control

In the past few months, there has been some welcome yet prejudiced attention in the world press to the unprecedented catastrophe of AIDS in the African continent. The attention probably was due to recent U.N. activities. In fact, on June 29, pro-family delegations declared victory concerning the wording of the U.N. Draft Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, containing many positive verbal protections for children, women, families and other at-risk populations. The United States, several Islamic countries and the Vatican managed to insert an acknowledgment that risky and unsafe sexual behavior actually contributes to the spread of AIDS. The United States also won inclusion of language about the effectiveness of sexual abstinence and fidelity, terms usually greeted with ridicule by some Western elites.

This was no small victory since both Europe and Canada insisted that the declaration should refer to a little-known U.N. document on human rights, titled the "United Nations International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights" (1998), which mandates legalized gay marriage, promotes abortion for women and girls, provides wide-ranging "reproductive services" to children without their parents' consent, legalizes prostitution and proposes legal sanctions against anyone guilty of "vilification" of same-sex relationships.

Yet, in this flurry of attention to AIDS in Africa, one subject has been invisible: the possible role of ill-conceived and immoral population-control policies in actively fostering the epidemic. At various U.N. conferences the Church has pointed out this most insidious imperialism especially encouraged by past U.S. administrations. For decades, the United Nations has proudly become a population-control establishment which targets Third World countries with often coercive programs in which poor women have been sometimes sterilized without their knowledge or against their will. These same programs continue to advertise birth control and condoms as veritable solutions to the spread of AIDS and the health of women. The results of these programs have been catastrophic for women, for children and for families.

Not surprisingly, the story of global population control has gone largely unreported in the U.S. media. Nine years ago, Brazilian pro-family forces and population-control advocates revealed that as many as an astounding 45 percent of all Brazilian women of child-bearing age had been sterilized. The story was front-page news in Brazil, where it provoked a government inquiry into the practices and propaganda of foreign, population-control organizations, but the story made nary a ripple in the United States.

Condoms continue to be a crucial part of global population control, and condoms do not stop the HIV virus. In many instances Third World delegates to the United Nations complain that although many villages lack wells or suitable drinking water and very basic medication such as aspirin and inexpensive malaria medications, condoms and birth control pills are everywhere. Is it possible that one reason for the frightening spread of AIDS among heterosexuals in Africa was confidence in the false promises of Western population-control advocates and the government offices supporting them? If so, the West has much to answer for.

Hearts organize to save lives

Last year the national board of the American Heart Association voted to fund embryonic stem cell research. Typically, such research depends upon destroyed human embryos or the tissues of aborted babies as sources for stem cells. Thus, the research which has promised miracle cures for such diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and heart disease would achieve these great benefits at the sacrifice of innocent human life. The Church encourages and supports the goal of developing cures, but not through evil means. But like the AHA, many people and organizations, less concerned about the sanctity of all life than the promised benefits, assert that the good end justifies the evil means.

When Deby Schlapprizzi of Ladue, the chosen organizer of the AHA St. Louis Division's 2001 Heart Ball, heard of the AHA's decision, she refused to cooperate with the evil. Out of respect for life she decided to discontinue her service for the AHA fund-raising event. In an article that appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal about Schlapprizzi's decision, the paper reported that other members of the local AHA board and subsequent nominees to the board also threatened to resign or withdraw from the board.

In an important and decisive step, Archbishop Justin Rigali responded to the AHA's decision with a letter explaining why, in light of the move, he would now have to discourage Catholic support for the AHA. The Archbishop wrote the association's president, William Bryant, also a Catholic, telling of the evil involved in the proposed funding and presented a fundamental principle of conscience: Never can one do evil in order that good may come of it.

Therefore, Catholics would have to be discouraged from participation in fund-raising activities because the funds would be used to support the intentional evil.

Threatened with a significant loss of funding, the AHA's national board reversed its decision and agreed to limit its funding to adult stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of innocent human beings. The primary reason for the reversal appears to be the projected loss of funding, volunteer staff and sponsors. Still, the decision means that the AHA will not be materially involved in the immoral side of stem cell research.

The truth about life firmly rooted in the conscience of Schlapprizzi is not manifested by all otherwise pro-life advocates. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson have urged President George W. Bush to support the immoral research. While Thompson considers the research very important, Hatch justifies his position by the fact that the embryos, most of which are currently frozen in fertility clinics, will eventually be destroyed, so why not take advantage of the potential?

The Gospel of Life teaches that all innocent human life from the moment of conception to natural death must be equally respected. The perspective of Hatch is one that could be shared by anyone who is not firmly grounded in an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of all human life. However, no human being is entitled to shorten the life of another innocent human individual even if the individual is hours old or imminently dying.

Absolute respect for the sanctity of life in medical research is the only realistic defense against the creation of a lottery of human destruction.

All Christians share the responsibility for ensuring that the search for cures does not result in the creation of castes of disposable human beings. We laud the efforts of Schlapprizzi and all those who helped influence the AHA's reversal.

The bread of angels

Catholics of St. Louis will long remember this month for the magnificent outpouring of faith and eucharistic devotion generated by the archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress. The shared belief in the sacramental Presence of our divine Lord created an atmosphere of genuine religious joy and pride.

The Second Vatican Council described the sacred liturgy as "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows."

The liturgy is correctly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. The Mass is an action of Christ the priest and of his body, the Church.

In the Mass we are intimately one with Christ as were the apostles at the Last Supper. Nothing else on earth can afford us the same sublime level of union with God as the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord. If we reflect upon it, we understand this sacrament as a sign of the supreme condescension and love of God who enters and enriches our lives in Holy Communion.

The beautiful hymn, "Panis Angelicus" reminds us that this bread of angels has become the spiritual food of the poor and humble.

Those who participated in the congress were impressed by the uplifting and instructive words of the Pope's special envoy, Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte of Belgium. The words and music will become a faint memory; even the press of tens of thousands of fellow Catholics will fade, but the spirit of faith generated here will remain. This centenary Eucharistic Congress will stand as a tribute to Archbishop Justin Rigali's vision in making this event the capstone of his efforts to renew and strengthen eucharistic devotion.

During these grace-filled days, there was a sadly discordant note reported in the eastern United States. A television ad was aired by the Lipton Co., using the Catholic Mass and the distribution of Holy Communion as the setting for an utterly tasteless and highly offensive commercial. A properly indignant Catholic response caused the ad to be withdrawn, but the incident reminds us that ignorance and insensitivity are still directed at things we hold sacred.

Happily nothing of this sort marred our public expression of love and gratitude to God for the great gift of the Eucharist.

Bishop-elect Dolan: Silver and gold

The priestly ordination classes of 1951 and 1976 have brought inestimable gifts to the Church. Last week's Review supplement honored these gold and silver jubilarians in the midst of all the men and women who, this year, celebrate special anniversaries of their religious or priestly vocations.

On Tuesday the Pope acknowledged one silver standout, calling him to a new episcopal ministry beyond what has already been an exemplary record of service to the local Church, the Church in the United States and the universal Church. Father Tim Dolan of the St. Louis Class of 1976 is now Bishop-elect Timothy Michael Dolan, to be ordained as an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis on Aug. 15. In this, his anniversary year, he is silver. In his love for Christ and his people, and in his generous and gifted priestly ministry, he has shown himself to be gold!

Here in the archdiocese, Bishop-elect Dolan has served in parish work and at the seminary. He served the Church in the United States in a distinguished and eventful seven-year term as rector of the North American College in Rome. He served the Vatican as secretary to the Holy See's Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. In his scholarly and insightful writing he has already taught many within and outside the Church.

Just days after Msgr. Dolan has returned to the archdiocese, and on the very day of his silver anniversary, the Church has called him to be a pastor in a new and extraordinary way. Titular Bishop of Natchez and auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, Bishop-elect Dolan will join our two auxiliaries as extensions of the good shepherding of our archbishop.

With Archbishop Rigali, we welcome Bishop-elect Dolan home, congratulate him on his appointment as bishop and offer the assurance of our prayerful support. He is a great gift to the Church. He is silver and gold!

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