The pursuit of perfection

When Angel Macias pitched a perfect game in the 1957 Little League World Series championship game, it was the first time such a feat had taken place at Little League’s Williamsport, Pa., headquarters.

It became a noteworthy climax for the Monterrey, Mexico, team that won the World Series. It also became the focus of the book “The Perfect Game,” written by W. William Winokur, and the subject of this CNS story.

Winokur has already been on the promotional circuit for the book, and the tour took him to Williamsport Aug. 17.

“One of the final 16 teams (in the tournament) was a team from Mexico, so I got invited down to their dugout for a pep talk before their game against Italy,” he recalls. “I tell the kids this incredible story about their predecessors from Monterrey 40 years ago … and all they overcame to get to Williamsport. And I said, `I don’t want to pressure you, but in the final game, this kid, Angel Macias, pitched a perfect game.’

“And this one boy, Jesus Aceda, said, `Senor, I’m the pitcher, and if we have a perfect game, will you write about us, too?’ And I said, `Sure, why not?’”

Two hours later, Winokur was in a meeting when someone came into the meeting looking for him. The message: “That kid, Jesus, he pitched a perfect game.”

“It’s like only the fourth perfect game in all of Williamsport (Little League) history,” Winokur said.

Aceda’s Matamoros team beat Venezuela in an international championship semifinal game Aug. 20, so Winokur said he was returning to Williamsport from a vacation at Fire Island, N.Y., “to be their good luck charm.” he said. Matamoros prevailed against the Japanese entry from Tokyo, 5-4, in the Aug. 23 game to become Little League international champions. In the Little League World Series the following day, however, they lost to the Waipahu, Hawaii team, representing the U.S. West, 12-3.

No word if Winokur’s shopping a book deal for the Matamoros boys just yet.

Biden on Obama ticket: a Catholic with mixed record on church issues

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware attend an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago Aug. 7. Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, has chosen Biden as his vice presidential running mate. (CNS/Reuters)

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware attend an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago Aug. 7. Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, has chosen Biden as his vice presidential running mate. (CNS/Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, announced Aug. 23 as Sen. Barack Obama’s choice as his running mate for the White House, puts on the Democratic ticket a Catholic who supports legal abortion but on other issues has been an ally for the church’s public policy interests.

Biden, 65, has come in for his share of conflicts with some in the church over his legislative support for keeping abortion legal. The National Right to Life Committee gives him a rating of 0 for his positions on select issues, including federal abortion funding and stem cell research as well as some relating to lobbying by groups like the National Right to Life Committee.

But he’s no darling of the “pro-choice” view, either, earning a score of 36 percent from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his votes on their select issues. Obama has a score of 100 percent from NARAL.

Biden has also talked frankly about the importance of his faith in his life, maintains close ties with his Catholic high school and isn’t hesitant to show off elements of his Catholic education in the Senate.

Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., to Joseph Biden and Catherine Finnegan Biden, both of Irish-Catholic background. When young Joe was 10, the family moved to Delaware, where his father was a car salesman.

He attended Archmere Academy, a Catholic prep school in Claymont, Del., but only after his mother told him he couldn’t go into the seminary, as he wanted, until after he had some experience dating girls, his mother told a reporter in 2007.

He has maintained ties with Archmere, which sought to name a new student center building for him in 2006. The plan was scrapped after Wilmington Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli opposed it, citing Biden’s votes on abortion.

The bishop cited a 2004 statement by the U.S. bishops about Catholics in political life, that says Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

In a 2007 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, when he was a candidate for president himself, Biden said he grew up in the church at a time of great changes both in structure and in attitudes after the Second Vatican Council.

“I was raised at a time when the Catholic Church was fertile with new ideas and open discussion about some of the basic social teaching of the Catholic Church,” Biden told the Monitor. “Questioning was not criticized; it was encouraged.”

The newspaper quoted Biden’s recollection of a question to his ninth-grade theology class.

“How many of you questioned the doctrine of transubstantiation?” the teacher asked, referring to the teaching that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ during Mass. No hands were raised. Finally, Biden raised his. “Well, we have one bright man, at least,” the teacher said.

Biden told the newspaper that the teacher didn’t say criticizing the church was good. “He led me to see that if you cannot defend your faith to reason, then you have a problem,” it quoted him as saying.

During the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the one who engaged Thomas in sometimes lengthy discussions about natural law and its application to civil law. The church’s teachings about issues such as the right to life of all human beings are based natural law, the philosophy that individuals have certain basic human rights that are based on universal moral principles or on “a higher law” which is not limited by the letter of the law.

On issues including immigration, minimum wage, providing health care for all children and reinstating the assault weapons ban, his positions have been close to those of the church’s lobbying efforts. Biden voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2002, but later became a critic of the war.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, a nonpartisan organization that promotes the church’s social justice message in the political arena, called Biden’s selection a positive development.

He said Biden’s commitment to his Catholicism “has inspired his advocacy on issues such as genocide, universal health care, education, worker’s rights and violence against women.”

Korzen’s statement said he’s optimistic that Biden might “help move our nation beyond the divisive, acrimonious and unproductive debate” that has come to surround the issue of abortion. He noted that Biden has said he accepts the church’s teaching that human life begins at conception and said Biden has a hisotry of seeking practical ways of addressing abortion in ways that a broad spectrum of people can support.

Alexia Kelley, director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, said Biden’s “Catholic and working class roots have been a source of solidarity for him with hard-working American families who are suffering the most from the current economic crisis.”

Phil Lawler, editor of the Catholic World News Web site, said on a blog post the morning of the announcement that an Obama-Biden ticket might be helpful to the pro-life movement. “Any public discussion of (whether life begins at conception) can only help the pro-life cause, because the scientific facts are hard to deny,” Lawler wrote.

He said Biden’s choice also ensures a fresh debate on whether Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should be denied Communion. “On that issue, too, the discussion can only be helpful,” Lawler wrote, because of the “powerful witness” of bishops who would refuse the Eucharist to such politicians.

Be true to your school

While there are legitimate concerns these days about dwindling Catholic school enrollments and rising tuition costs, there’s one small Catholic school in Arkansas that manages to make it work. The Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the statewide Diocese of Little Rock, reported on Sacred Heart Parish’s K-12 school in Morrilton. What can other Catholic schools apply from this example?

If you can have ‘Theology on Tap’…

The opportunity to grow in and deepen one’s faith can materialize just about anywhere. Taverns have of late been a hotspot with Theology on Tap. And now that it’s state and county fair season, why not Theology on a Stick?

It’s no longer just conjecture. A takeoff on popular food offerings, Theology on a Stick is going to actually happen in Minnesota, according to this dispatch from The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

And the food for the soul will likely be more nourishing than the deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos that have been all the rage in fair food in recent years.

Leaving it all on the field — or in the clubhouse

If sports is indeed like life, then the role of faith in that endeavor can be every bit as prickly a question. The GetReligion blog posted a somewhat lengthy examination of the praying-before-games situation. And please, no quotes from the movie “Bull Durham” about “the church of baseball.”

Update on fallout from California ‘Bodies’ exhibit

Here’s an update on the continuing fallout from the “Bodies” exhibitions that have been on display in Kansas City, Mo., and California as well as other places in the United States. The California Legislature has taken the matter into its own hands with a bill regulating corpse shows, according to this posting from The Catholic Key, newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.

In Kansas City a “Bodies” exhibit called “Bodies Revealed” is currently on display. The company responsible for that show has a second one touring the U.S., and a rival company put together the show now in California.

Project to build Catholic home for dying moving ahead in Oregon

Here’s an interesting story from the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., regarding a project involving a Catholic home for the dying in northeast Portland. The subject of death with dignity continues as a front-burner topic in the state, which has seen more than its share of debates on the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia over the past decade and a half.

As the paper points out, Oregon voters approved assisted suicide in 1994 and again in 1997 after an effort to have the law repealed.

Dan Schutte talks about ‘You Are Near’

Dan Schutte, who wrote the liturgical song “You Are Near” while a member of the St. Louis Jesuits, talks about how he came to write the song in a posting on the blog The Deacon’s Bench.

The song is getting lots of attention because the first word in its chorus is “Yahweh,” and the Vatican has declared the word can no longer be used in Catholic worship. And that suits Schutte just fine, according to his posting.

‘Harry and Louise’ are back, with a Catholic-endorsed message

Harry and Louise are back, and this time the Catholic Health Association is among the groups endorsing their message on health care reform. The fictional couple, whose 1993-94 television ads financed by the Health Insurance Association of America helped to defeat the Clinton health care reform plan, now are urging the next president and Congress to make health care reform their top domestic priority.

In the 14 years since Harry and Louise first took to the airwaves, “the lack of access to health care has only worsened,” said Sister Carol Keehan, CHA president and CEO, at an Aug. 19 event at the National Press Club in Washington.

Joining her in endorsing the new spots were the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Hospital Association, Families USA and National Federation of Independent Business. Even the America’s Health Insurance Plans, formed from the 2003 merger of the Health Insurance Association of America and American Association of Health Plans, has signed on in support of the ads.

The TV spots will run on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and Comedy Central and on Sunday network talk shows Aug. 24 to Sept. 7, to cover both the Republican and Democratic conventions.

How Cardinal O’Malley dealt with clergy sex abuse crisis

To mark the fifth anniversary of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s installation as archbishop of Boston, a guest columnist for The Pilot, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, details how the prelate began his tenure by focusing on the clergy sexual abuse scandal that had rocked the New England see.

Barbara Thorp, director of the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach in the Archdiocese of Boston, relates how sex abuse victims teared up during the 2003 installation homily, when Cardinal O’Malley addressed them by saying “You are the wounds on the body of Christ.”

The cardinal followed up in 2006 with a “pilgrimage of reconciliation and hope” to nine parishes where children had been abused by priests, ending each visit by inviting the clergy present to prostrate themselves on the altar in repentance for the sins of abuse.

“A key to understanding Cardinal Sean’s tenure these past five years is the image of standing by the cross of Christ as the only sure path to healing,” Thorp wrote.

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