Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feast of the Incarnation

Today I saw someone tweet that "Christmas does NOT commemorate the INCARNATION of our Lord, but His NATIVITY." Seems relatively harmless, right? Here's another example of the same sentiment, rightly corrected by Fr. McNamara.

What's the problem? Simply put, the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) is about the Incarnation. Fr. McNamara offers a pretty good, concise clarification. I'd like to elaborate a bit. First off, in the Orthodox tradition (see this and this, for example), the Nativity is inextricably related to the Incarnation. In the first reference, Archbishop Dmitri says "…the Nativity of Christ (December 25). Eight days later (January 1) we remembered the Circumcision of Christ and then His Baptism (January 6). The commemoration of these events in our Lord's earth [sic] life basically form one feast, the feast of the Incarnation of God the Word." In the second, His Grace Bishop Youssef uses "Feast of the Nativity" and "Feast of the Incarnation" interchangeably. I mention these because sometimes the Orthodox can give us a bit more insight into the ancient Christian faith than we get from only Roman Catholic sources.

Now back to Fr. McNamara, he notes that "the prayers used during Advent are taken from the ancient manuscripts known as the Scroll of Ravenna (fifth-sixth centuries) and the Gelasian sacramentary (seventh century). Their constant theme is the coming of Christ, both in the incarnation (first coming) and at the end of time (second coming)." He goes on to note that the Nativity was celebrated earlier than the Annunciation, and that these prayers that relate the Incarnation to Christmas are correspondingly more ancient.

It seems pretty clear to me that the chief meaning of the celebration of the Nativity is the Incarnation—the Word become flesh. It'd probably be helpful to distinguish between the basic, biological event of the incarnation and the Incarnation as a theological reality. Those who make the point in the tweet above are thinking (presumably) only of the former; the problem is that this is not the way that the Church traditionally thinks about it.

The feast of the Annunciation has its own particular emphasis on Mary's awesome and unique role in salvation history—her immaculateness and her fiat. That it follows this event would also be, biologically speaking, the beginning of Christ's life on earth seems to me to be of secondary concern for the Annunciation, and I think it is only recently that focusing on that aspect in relation to the Annunciation has become en vogue in Catholic circles due to pro-life concerns.

From a biological point of view (a pro-life-concern point of view), yes, it is the point in time when the Word took on human nature. But that's just not the point. You see, we know that the Word is eternal—from the beginning, and it is this Divine nature that makes the Incarnation so special. The Incarnation is first and foremost a theological event, not a biological one. This theological event of the Incarnation, you might say, is ultimately what the Annunciation all about. So if we're going to give the Annunciation celebration a secondary meaning, it should be the wonder at the Incarnation, not so much the fact that it was biologically the beginning of Jesus' human life.

Looking at it like this—with the Incarnation (as a theological event) as the central focus (and not the human conception of Jesus)—it's not hard to see that we can just as rightfully celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas. You see, the biological events (conception and birth) are not the important things here. There's nothing particularly special, unique, or wonderful about them in themselves—it is the Incarnation, the Word become flesh, that gives them both significance. And indeed, as Archbishop Dmitri points out, the other events in Jesus' earthly life are also occasions to celebrate the Incarnation. As events that situate Jesus as a real human being in time/history, they are important, but those are more like the background to the theological story. The Incarnation is not (just) about Jesus' human conception; it's about God becoming man so that man might become God (St. Athanasius). It's just that awesome.

So what bugs me about the tweet (apart from it being something of a novelty and historically ill-advised) is that it inadvertently obscures and diminishes the deeper, more important meaning and value of these two feasts. In a way, it subjugates the Incarnation to the pro-life cause, which is just wrong.

When speaking of the Incarnation, perhaps it'd more better to speak of the feasts of the Incarnation (instead of just one), or to speak of it, as Archbishop Dmitri did, as one mystical feast that spans many particular holy days (mirroring the same reality of Christ's Incarnation lived out across many days on earth). But in any case, it certainly is valid, good, and part of our ancient Tradition to celebrate the Incarnation during Advent and Christmas. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Marriage Must Be Strengthened, Not Redefined

Despite regular and repeated efforts to tell us we think otherwise, we--faithful Catholics--do not hate gays. We have just as much love, care, and concern for our gay friends and family as we do for our straight ones (and yes, I do personally have several gay friends and a gay family member, FWIW). We are not fearful. We are not hate mongers. We're not ignorant or on the fringes of some sort of "right-wing" or "backwoods" group. We're not narrow minded, irrational, nor stupid. And we're not worried about what other people do in their bedrooms.

On the contrary, marriage is a public, societal, civic (and for many, religious) institution. Our position is not about denying anyone the right to live and love as they please; it is about the public, civic institution of marriage. And marriage, for us, is even more than that--it's a sacrament, right up there with baptism, the Eucharist, confirmation, ordination, reconciliation, and last anointing. It's in the top 7 things we care about. But regardless of our religious beliefs, marriage, for everyone, is something that spans cultures, time, politics, governments, and with few exceptions (I'm being generous and assuming there have been a few societies, though I don't know of any), it has been recognized as a man and a woman forming a stable bond in which they can raise children.

So that's why we care and are not willing to just stand by and let it be whimsically be redefined by this particular cultural ethos in this particular time. It's too important to experiment with. Democracy is great, but the current will of the majority does not equate to what is true or right. History does not define what is true or right either--it just records what is, so saying "history will prove us right" just doesn't make sense.

It may be that our society continues in the direction it is heading as so many are predicting and that gay marriage will eventually be legalized in every state. That won't make it right, though; it'll just make it what the will of the current majority is, just as the current majority for now seems to still think we shouldn't legalize gay marriage. Two sides of the same coin--democratic majority <> truth, right, or justice in either case.

We are not the ones who made gay marriage into an issue. We did not wake up one day and think "hey, whom can we exclude next?" Our society, like pretty much all societies throughout history (I do have a BA in history and humanities, FWIW), just knew what marriage was and made laws to support it because it is in the best interests of a society to do so. It was they on the other "side" of this issue who have made marriage into an open question and are pursuing us for not agreeing with them. We are simply responding with what we think is true and right and just, upholding what marriage has meant across most human cultures and time. We are not out to get anyone nor actively seeking to exclude anyone. We're just standing by the most time-tested human institution.

I have been accused of using reason to defend prejudice; my motives (and those of all who share the traditional view of marriage) have been questioned. I can understand that--there certainly are those who are motivated strictly by prejudice. And in a sense, you could say that any received/traditional understanding of something is a kind of pre-judgment on a thing, i.e., prejudice. But the problem with prejudice is not prejudice in itself but an adhering to it despite reason--an unwillingness to examine an issue reasonably and be open to change your pre-judgment.

This I and many, many others have done in the case of redefining marriage. Our positions are not based on prejudice but on reason, truth, and justice, which means giving a thing what it is due. Before gay marriage advocates burst on the scene, we (pretty much all of us) just assumed a lot about marriage. It's like you assume your car will just work when you turn it on. You may never think about why or how it works. The same goes for how we think about marriage--it just works and has been proven to work and has existed longer than any other human institution and in basically all human cultures.

So why question it? Why change it? Why redefine it? To make the case for that is tough, and we're saying we're not convinced. It's not about hate; it's not about fear; it's about justice--the chief concern of civil society. It wouldn't be just to grant the same civil benefits to gay unions unless they can be proven to provide the same benefits to our society. This certainly hasn't been proven in any sense of the word I know, and it doesn't even bear out in theory--just using reason to think about it.

The real problem we're facing here--the reason so many people (IMO) don't seem to get us is that marriage is already in a bad way in our society. Soaring divorce rates and the consequent perception of marriage as a very temporary arrangement. The perception that marriage is some kind of love story ending (it's really just the beginning). The perception that marriage is a human right (it's not--it's a privilege). Devaluing of new life in the family, and a basically complete lack of understanding of the meaning and value of sex. The best answer to these problems is to work to fix and strengthen marriage, not to further undermine it by reinforcing these problems through redefining it to include other forms of human relationships.

The American Catholic bishops have recently said most of this, probably better and certainly more concisely than I. You'll forgive me for coming across a little defensive, but it gets old having people telling you and others lies about what you think and feel, especially when it paints you as a terrible caricature and it just plain ain't true.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Last Call

I recently wrapped up listening to the Last Call CD series by Tim Staples. Briefly put, I was disappointed, but that's not to say that the series doesn't have good content--it's just not what I was hoping for when I requested it. Based on the description, I was hoping for an in-depth presentation of the Catholic teaching around the Last Things. Certainly, Catholic teaching on this subject was presented; however, it was so couched in apologetics that at times it was a challenge to take away from it what was Catholic and not be distracted by other things.

Part of the problem is the format. The presentation was so riddled with quotes (I swear if I heard "close quote" one more time..) and citations that it was a task to listen to. Extensive quoting and citations is appropriate for apologetics, of course, but it just really doesn't work in extended audio format. A big point of providing citations is so that others can look them up, and unless you're sitting there with a notepad, they're just plain extraneous. I get audio books so I can listen when I can't read--in my truck. I certainly can't be writing down and looking up references.

The constant quoting just wears on the nerves because Tim actually says "quote" and "close quote." I was trying to think about how you could do quotations in an audio book format without doing this. I do think sometimes you could get away with it with appropriate pauses, shifts in tonal quality, and change in language/style, though it would take maybe more planning and thoughtful execution in addition to the already thorough preparation of the content, so I can't fault him too much on that--probably wouldn't be worth the investment.

The other thing that can bug you is the sort of self-assured, almost gloating tone he had at times. "Folks, <chuckle> this is not how it is..." seems to have stuck in my mind as an example of it. It's hard to figure out who the best audience is for this work. The reason is that the presentation manner (and where it is being marketed) indicates it is meant for Catholics, but it seems to me that apologetics in nature are best used as a response to critics.

I have to guess it is meant as training material, but that's not how this work is presented. If you read the description, it sounds like a straightforward elucidation of the Last Things. It sounds like it is geared toward helping you meditate on them and help you "be prepared." It sounded like it'd present the truth as truth, in all its own, self-resplendent beauty and not truth used as a tool to defeat others' positions.

So I don't feel like I can recommend it. I have read a pretty positive review of it, though, so clearly there are different perspectives on it. I think it would help if the book were more clearly presented as an apologetics training tool. As noted, I think there are more appropriate formats for this purpose, and toning down the gloating would make it more appealing, at least to me, who also comes from a Protestant background and still has many family and friends who are Protestant. Even if you are only talking to Catholics, if you're doing it to train them, you shouldn't train them to gloat. It's not polite, and it certainly won't win anyone over.

Thanks to the Catholic Company for sharing this book with me. As part of the new FTC rules, I have to be clear that they gave this book to me in order to elicit a review.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Is Transubstantiation a Physical Change?

In response to my last post about Eucharistic Adoration, a commenter, "Adoro," says that we do not and should not say a "physical" conversion occurs. This is my response.


Hi Adoro,

You should consider using your real name. It adds authenticity, relatability, and contributes to trust in this virtual world we call the Web. As our Lord said, I have said nothing in secret; the Gospel is not an anonymous matter.

Anyways, I don't know about not saying "physical." Nothing I've read (St. Thomas, Cath En, Catechesim, Trent, and more) says we shouldn't or don't say "physical." Granted, most of them also do not use "physical"; rather they say "substantial" and say "body and blood."

Catholic Christology hashed out at some pain that Christ has both Divine and human nature, i.e., part of his substance is human, and we say we partake of his "body and blood," both of which are physical in nature. Our doctrine is very clear that none of the substance of the bread and wine remain (and surely bread and wine are physical substances). In fact, Trent condemned as contrary to the faith the idea that "only the substantial form (forma substantialis) of the bread underwent conversion, while the primary matter (materia prima) remained."

That's why I say it is proper to say "not only physical," while it is not proper to say "not physical."

Now, I think the crux of the matter is a question of one's understanding of "physical." You and McBrien seem to mean it only to refer to the physical attributes (what in Aristotelian thinking are called "accidents"). In that sense--in terms of accidents or "species"--yes, there is no physical change, but that is precisely why there is a distinction made between accidents and substance in this matter--to highlight that the change affects the entire substance while retaining the outward appearances (accidents). As noted, substance in this case includes the physical because the substance of both bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ have a physical nature--not just in the outward forms but essentially. And because the substance/essence of Christ includes natures that are not just physical but also spiritual, and not just human but also Divine, we also say that we partake "body and blood, soul and Divinity."

Regarding the concern about folks who take the understanding of the conversion to inaccurate extremes, that is no argument against transubstantiation itself (or a substantial physical change, which, again, is implied in the doctrine). Our doctrine also tells us that Christ's whole substance is contained in each and every particle of the consecrated host (see CCC 1377 and Trent Canon III of the 13th Session), so that excludes the idea that breaking or scratching or otherwise tearing the host injurs or tears Christ himself apart. People who think that need to be taught a right understanding of this doctrine, not to be taught that it is outmoded or have it substituted for a vague term like "sacramental," which while true does not help understanding much.

Now I acknowledge that these distinctions are unfamiliar to the average contemporary mind. But that does not mean that they are beyond the modern mind. We can have things like stem cells explained to us enough so that we grasp the important bits, even if we don't have degrees in advanced biology. In the same way, we can learn the stuff needed to get a sufficient understanding of transubstantiation.

Finally, to reiterate why all this is important, I'd like to quote a bit (more) from the old Cath En: "So the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation sets up a mighty bulwark around the dogma of the Real Presence and constitutes in itself a distinct doctrinal article, which is not involved in that of the Real Presence, though the doctrine of the Real Presence is necessarily contained in that of Transubstantiation. It was for this very reason that Pius VI, in his dogmatic Bull 'Auctorem fidei' (1794) against the Jansenistic pseudo Synod of Pistoia (1786), protested most vigorously against suppressing this 'scholastic question', as the synod had advised pastors to do."

So we see that this tendency to dismiss transubstantiation as a "medieval" anachronism is not new at all; instead, rather, it is considered a "mighty bulwark." This is what I was trying to point out in my last post--that a proper understanding of and belief in transubstantiation is key to a proper, healthy understanding of the Real Presence. As McBrien and others have shown, one's understanding of this has very practical implications in how we worship God, and how we understand our relationship to him and to others, especially in the context of our liturgy.

I ask you, which abuse would be worse: an inaccurate, extreme concern for the Eucharist or a disregard, irreverence, and devaluing of it? So, even granting that an inaccurate understanding of transubstantiation can lead to the former, I suggest that this possibility is much less dire than the latter, which is a fruit of being wishy-washy and vague about the Real Presence.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eucharistic Adoration: A Step Forward

Dear Anna Arco tweeted today about Fr. McBrien's latest spiel on his blog with the statement "NCR's Fr. O'Brien dismissively calls Adoration a "step backward". He neglects to explain why." Needless to say, that grabbed my attention. Not because I latch onto every apparently unorthodox thing Fr. McBrien says--I don't have the time for that--but because I have relatively recently come to a very personal, experiential appreciation for Eucharistic adoration.

The "old" Catholic Encyclopedia speaks about the "adorableness of the Eucharist." I just love that phrase; I can't help it because I look over at my youngest son of 7 months and think about his adorableness. Of course, we're talking about totally different meanings of "adorable," but there is something in the deep movement of affection that is common to both.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until recently that I really knew this. Of course, that we can and should adore the Eucharist follows from what we believe about it--that it is truly, really, actually the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The change is not temporary; as long as the host remains incorrupt, the real presence of God remains. This I knew since well before I became Catholic and gave complete assent to.

And yet, despite this mental assent, I was reluctant to actually practice it. I think this was mainly due in part to laziness and in part due to some clinging on of my Protestant predispositions. Thankfully, my lay Dominican chapter president, Mr. Robert Ellis, O.P., decided to make Adoration a part of our monthly gathering. It was thanks to him, doubtless the Spirit working through him, that I was first exposed to Adoration experientially.

Adoration is one of those things that is truly ineffable. Because of that, there is little point my trying to describe it, but I'll just say that it has had a rather profound impact on my life. It sort of reminds me of runners who say that you just have to do it in order to understand why they like it. It's a kind of high, but instead of a natural, it is a supernatural high. At least that's been my experience.

Now Fr. McBrien comes along and says that Adoration is a step backwards. He says that Adoration is only good for pedagogy--for teaching people about the Real Presence. The thing is, Fr. McBrien seems to be confused as to the nature of the Real Presence. He says, "The transformation (the medieval word was 'transubstantiation') is sacramental, not literal or physical." Then a bit later, "they have been changed sacramentally, not literally or physically, into the body and blood of Christ."

I think maybe I can begin to see the root of the problem. He seems to have a very vague and somewhat inaccurate notion of the Real Presence. He claims that transubstantiation is a "medieval word." It is true that it was coined then, but the Church has kept and cherished that word and even uses it today as the most fitting description of what happens (see Catechism #1376). I've run into even orthodox priests who seem to belittle transubstantiation as some rarified or antiquated way of explaining things, so I don't fault McBrien too much for his implicit attempt to marginalize it.

And yet I must blame him and them, because it is important that we be clear on this. Even if you don't understand the fineries of Aristotelian categories, it doesn't take a PhD to understand the basic ideas of substance and accidents. Indeed, it seems these days it takes a PhD to not understand them! Or at least to attempt to divest them of their power in explaining things.

The Church has been painfully precise and clear in defining the Real Presence. The CathEn goes as far as to say "Eventually the West became the classic home of scientific perfection in the difficult doctrine of Transubstantiation." And ecumenical councils, catechisms, and doubtless every official means through which the Church lays out our doctrine has confirmed the understanding conveyed by transubstantiation.

So it seems pretty arrogant, if done intentionally, to cast the term aside today. And whether or not it is arrogant, it certainly should not be done without offering a better substitute.

And what does McBrien offer? Not only does he say, vaguely, "sacramentally," but he also seems to explicitly deny a right understanding of the Real Presence by saying "not literally" and "not physically." If it is not literally changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, then how is it changed? Imaginarily? Allegorically? If it is not physically changed into our Lord's Body and Blood, then how is it changed? Spiritually? Ideally?

He says "sacramentally." Of course it is sacramentally changed! It's a sacrament! Can you be more vague? Coupled with his denial of a literal and physical change, the reader is left to come up with all kinds of imaginings as to how the change occurs.

The Church, on the other hand, is very clear on how it is changed. It is changed substantially, and not just partially substantially (i.e., it does not retain any of the substance of bread and wine as in impanation or consubstantiation) but fully substantially--there is no substance of bread and wine left. It must be admitted that both the Body and Blood of Christ and bread and wine have physical substance; therefore, it is not accurate to say that the change occurring at the consecration is not physical. You could say it is "not only physical," but you can't just say "not physical."

And what can we say about "not literally" beyond verbalized puzzlement. What does McBrien intend by this? Sadly, I fear it may expose a susceptibility to materialism or at least a materialistic outlook because the only viable meaning I can derive is that he means essentially the same thing as "not physically" such that it is simply reiterating his misconception, only with deeper implications. In "not literally," he is not just denying the physical change but also any actual change at all. Coupled with "not physically," it is an apparent denial that there is a meaningful reality beyond the physical such that you could rightly say it literally (i.e., actually/in effect) changes.

What is even more saddening is that I think McBrien is representing what is these days a majority Catholic (at least Western/American Catholic) understanding of the Eucharist. They say with their mouths "real presence" but have no adequate conception of what that means. They truly do not believe it literally or physically changes.

It is no wonder then that McBrien would assert that Adoration is a step backward. It is no wonder that Catholics of that ilk are all too keen on relocating the tabernacle safely out of the way. It is no wonder that they are more keen on community, "being Church," and a "common meal" than on the awesome, actual, literal, physical and spiritual presence of God we encounter in the Eucharist.

Ironically, McBrien says that we don't need Adoration any more because "most Catholics are literate and even well-educated, the Mass is in the language of the people (i.e, the vernacular), and its rituals are relatively easy to understand and follow." He contrasts this supremely educated state of Catholics today with the unwashed masses of the past who needed this "extraneous eucharistic devotion" to educate them on the Real Presence. It is ironic because it is painfully clear to me and other Catholics who truly do understand the Real Presence that he (and many others like him) just don't get it. It is ironic because it is clear to us that we need Adoration precisely because of folks like him.

In those eminently dismissable medieval times, there was a problem of poorly educated priests. In hearing McBrien and other priests who share his views, it seems we have that problem again, only now they are often well educated--just in all the wrong ways--and, apparently, lacking true, Catholic faith. When we pray for priests in this year of priests, we need especially to remember Fr. McBrien and other priests who have apparently lost their way, however well-intentioned and good they might otherwise be.

Perhaps we should pray that the Spirit would lead them to spend some time in Adoration and find what I found--that it is a great wellspring of grace and a deepening and maturing of faith, that is, a real step forward in one's sanctification.

UPDATE (21 Sept 2009): I was a little surprised in doing refresher study around this just now to find an explicit anathema for those who hold McBrien's position--see Canon VI of the 13th Session. Dang, I shoulda just found that and saved myself a blog post. :-)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Sexual Authenticity

I recently finished Sexual Authenticity (blog) by Melinda Selmys, and I thought it was good. One could say many fine things about how Melinda speaks honestly and openly about her own experience as a homosexual and her journey thence to her current state as a happily married Catholic mother. One could laud that she doesn't regurgitate the stereotypical or ideological polemics in treating the subject as it is dealt with in the media and literature (on both sides). One could reflect on how she deftly catches the average Christian mentally red handed in his prejudices (and in that group I include myself).

As I said, one could and should offer many commendations to her for her prose, but the thing I found most praiseworthy was her integral treatment of sex in the human person, including how it pertains to God. She identifies rightly that the essential ailment of our society is not the current trends towards the acceptance of homosexual unions but rather an impoverished understanding of sexuality and marriage in general. It is heartening to find I am not alone in this perception, though I certainly lack the depth of experience and research Melinda has on the topic of homosexuality.

I learned from her, and I found her treatment of the theology of the body to be insightful. I have yet to take up that work of John Paul II, but I have encountered a number of accounts of it, many of which seem to me, not even being familiar with the source, superficial. Melinda's treatment resonated deeply, and perhaps as a result of her own recounting of her penchant towards philosophy, and just seeing it throughout her writing, I am inclined to think her treatment is true to the source.

Similarly, I have taken up other books on sexuality from a Catholic perspective. Too many of them are self-congratulatory and, dare I say, sickeningly pious. I consider myself one more inclined to religious fervor than your average Joe, but they were too much, even for me. Not so with Sexual Authenticity. One of my favorite bits was this:

Lighten up. Sex is fun, it's relaxing, it's ridiculous. The problem with all of us Catholics is that we have this airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky, ├╝berserious understanding of sexuality. For the rest of the world--and even for most of the sane Catholics--it's nothing like that at all. When was the last time that you made love to your husband, or wife, and thought "Oh! We are becoming one! We are the sacramental manifestation of Christ's love for His Church! We are the Image of the intimate life of the Holy Trinity!" Never. What you're really thinking is, "The baby had better not wake up halfway through like last time. I wish he'd had a shower in the last week. Did I remember to turn the dishwasher on?" Right? So don't give me all this nonsense about how sex is holy and must be kept in a shining tabernacle, protected from the blasphemy of condoms and fur-lined handcuffs. Get real, take yourselves less seriously, put your high horse in the stable, and have some fun like everybody else.

!! I was laughing out loud reading this. And it goes on. It was so good of her to do this, to balance out the saccharine treatment sex often gets from Catholics. This is part of what makes the book so authentic, that and the fact that she doesn't let this acknowledgment contradict the real truths that we can indeed get so sappy about. As she follows on: "How a person experiences sex--the individual, and in some sense unrepeatable, experience of making love on a particular day--is a different matter from what sex, as an element of human reality, means." And thus begins her exposition of the theology of the body.

There's a lot more to say, but I'll leave that for you read. It was honest. It was instructive. It was relatable. It was true. It's a good book that you should read no matter where you stand on these issues. You'll get something good out of it.

Thanks to the Catholic Company for sharing this book with me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Good Confession

Thank God that I was able to receive the sacrament of reconciliation yesterday (a.k.a., confession). It's such an awesome channel of grace we have!

I tried something this time that worked out really well. In examining my conscience beforehand, I actually wrote down my sins, because I've often found that I forget all but the ones that pester my conscience most once I actually get in to confess.

I really think writing them down helped a lot. I mean, of course it helped me remember them, but I think in doing so, I was able to make a much fuller and complete confession than perhaps I ever have. It was great. Even though I know God is merciful and forgives even those sins we innocently forget, there's just something really.. fulfilling (?) about making such a full confession.

I was reading recently Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska's published Diary recently, and she recommends three things to those who want to benefit most from confession: complete sincerity and openness, humility, and obedience (Notebook I, 113). I think writing my sins down helps with both the first two. If I don't, I can easily fall into being overly generous and forgetful of my own faults, and that leads to pride. In writing them down, I see them staring me in the face, keep them in mind, and consequently will not be so easily led to pride but rather will maintain a more realistic view of myself (and work towards true humility).

I guess the adage of your mileage may vary applies, but it's probably worth trying. Also, if you have an iPhone, using the ShopShop (shopping list) app can be a good tool for this. :) Peace!

UPDATE (7 July 2009): I found on the Saint Cast site that there is an iConfess app for $0.99; it has stuff to help you examine your conscience, info about confession, some prayers, and a tagging capability that you could, I suppose, use to keep track of things to confess. I think I like the free form shopping list approach better, but it is a good start. Maybe v2 will expand.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Peace Be Still

Yesterday, our holy father, Benedict, said this in his homily for Pentecost:

So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer. (Read the Entire Homily)

And also, in his address yesterday before the Regina Caeli:

The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. Without him to what would it be reduced? It would certainly be a great historical movement, a complex and solid social institution, perhaps a kind of humanitarian agency. And in truth this is how it is considered by those who look upon it from outside the perspective of faith. In reality, however, in its true nature and also in its most authentic historical presence, the Church is unceasingly formed and guided by the Spirit of the Lord. It is a living body, whose vitality is precisely the invisible divine Spirit.

Let us not forget, amidst all our busyness, even amidst our laudable, charitable corporal works, that we need to make time for quiet, focused time with God in prayer, making room for the inspiration, strength, and fruits of the Spirit to animate our actions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Angels and Demons, the Catechesis?

Fr. John Wauk suggests that there is, at least, an element of it. Look at this, from the book:

Peter is the rock. Peter's faith in God was so steadfast that Jesus called Peter 'the rock' -- the unwavering disciple on whose shoulders Jesus would build his Church. On this very location, Langdon realized -- Vatican Hill -- Peter had been crucified and buried. The early Christians built a small shrine over his tomb. As Christianity spread, the shrine got bigger, layer upon layer, culminating in this colossal basilica. The entire Catholic faith had been built, quite literally, upon St. Peter. The rock. (Angels and Demons, Chapter 118)

That's pretty good! :) I also liked Fr. Wauk's response to the stereotypical faith-science hostility question:

It's relatively easy for people to see that a lot of the great art of the Western World -- music, painting, sculpture, literature, architecture -- is the product of a Christian culture, often inspired by the faith or even funded by the Church. That seems obvious. But what people don't realize is that something similar is true of the sciences.

Think about it. Universities are an invention of the Church. Copernicus was a Roman Catholic cleric, and he dedicated his book on the heliocentric universe to the Pope. The calendar we use today is the Gregorian Calendar, because it was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII, who was working with the best astronomers and mathematicians of his time. Galileo himself always remained a Catholic, and his two daughters were nuns. One of the greatest Italian astronomers of the 19th century was a Jesuit priest, Angelo Secchi. The father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a Catholic monk. The creator of the "Big Bang" theory was a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre.

In short, the idea that there is some natural tension between science and the Church, between reason and faith, is utter nonsense. Nowadays, when people hear the words "science" and "the Church," they immediately think of Galileo's trial in the 1600s. But, in the larger scheme of things, that complex case -- which is frequently distorted by anti-Catholic propagandists -- was a glaring exception. There's a reason why critics of the Church are always bringing it up: It's the only example they've got. So, when we hear the words "science" and "the Church," we should think Copernicus, Secchi, Mendel and Lemaitre. They're representative. Galileo's trial is not. (Emphasis Mine)

That's all for now. We return you to your regular viewing schedule...

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Am Not a Watchdog

A while ago, after a link was posted in a lay Dominican newsletter, I started following Fr. Zuhlsdorf's "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" blog. I am a fan of what is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the mass (formerly known as the Tridentine and/or traditional Latin mass), and I thought it'd be interesting to follow developments related to Summorum Pontificum. Reading him eventually got me subscribed to American Papist's blog (AmP).

Prior to this, my main source of "Catholic news" was, which is a really good, factual report of what is going on with the Holy See, and particularly what is going on with His Holiness himself. I started subscribing to that many years ago, while Servant of God John Paul the Great was still pope, and I am still subscribed. But the news that I found coming through Fr. Z's blog and AmP and, through them, others was not the same kind of news.

AmP is authored by a youngish fellow in the D.C. area, Thomas Peters, and as with all young folk, he tends to be somewhat impetuous (I should know!). This aspect came through really clearly in his blog, in particular his criticism of Cardinal Sh├Ânborn at a less than traditional mass. I disagreed with him, specifically on the weighty accusation of liturgical abuses. He did not recant but rather continued in his skeptical criticism, despite assurances from the cardinal's office. This along with similar reactions to other happenings in the Catholic world got me to unsubscribe from AmP.

Fr. Z, on the other hand, is a priest, more mature, and a usually offers a balanced report on the topics of goings on in and related to the Church, so I stayed subscribed to his blog. Yet at the same time, his zeal for the Extraordinary Form I think prejudices him against the worthy celebration of the Ordinary Form, which I personally believe to be the norm based on my experience--I've heard of real liturgical abuses, and I've seen and experienced celebrations that did not reflect my own preferences for the sublimity which is the Eucharist, and no doubt the average celebration could be improved!--but overall, I tend to prefer it, having attended both an FSSP parish and several diocesian parishes in different states/dioceses.

But I digress. Along with the biased coverage of the Extraordinary Form, Father Z also surfaces a lot of the more general this-is-happening-can-you-believe-it? type stuff. The general tenor of his and many other Catholic blogs is a sustained state of outrage. It seems that there is almost daily a new bit of news that maintains the furor, and I succumbed to it. It felt good to be "righteously indignant."

In fact, it was this same indignance that prompted me to post several posts on this blog that are, in my opinion, borderline in terms of their goodness, and one in particular that I strongly doubt to the point of regret at times (about Bishop Lynch and Notre Dame).

Sometime in the midst of all this, I started getting more and more connected via twitter to other Catholics (mainly due, I think, to I am generally glad to be more connected to the online Catholic community, but here again I've found a number of folks who tend toward the same vein as Fr. Z and AmP--the sustained outrage fostered by seemingly justified reporting of news.

My problem is that I was bothered by this tendency towards the negative. I think Fr. Z himself is bothered as well as he in recent times posted repeated requests for good news. I suspect that, at least for some of us, this seemingly positive activity of being a watchdog--staying abreast of the various political, social, and ecclesiastical goings on in order to, theoretically, take some positive, corrective action--is actually detrimental to our spiritual growth.

To me, I liken it to Catholic gossip: "Did you hear what so and so did?" "Oh my! How terrible!" "Yes, that is bad.. how could they!" Of course, it is veiled under a positive pretense, and perhaps we do need some folks to do this, but at least for myself, I felt it was not positive. I found myself regularly becoming angry and upset. I found myself regularly thinking hostile thoughts towards the purported antagonists. I found myself blogging and tweeting and retweeting--sharing the outrage.

I do not think this is a good thing. I'm not one to put my head in the sand. I know that our Lord said he came to bring a sword. I know that he spared no harsh words for the false teachers of his day, and that he took a whip to those in the temple. But that God, that angry God, is not the main story. The anger is the exception; it is passing, not sustained. It is borne out of love, not a reaction to perceived injustice or injury. The message of the Gospel is first and foremost that of God's infinite and divine love, his compassion, his sacrifice, and his resurrection--his conquering of death that we celebrate so greatly in this Easter season.

St. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. Not one of them is anger or outrage; in fact, he says "hatreds, outburst, and outbursts of fury" are works of the flesh that lead to disinheritance of the kingdom of God. In counseling us on what to think on, he says:

Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

St. Peter tells us that if we suffer for doing good, this is grace before God and that our Lord did not return insult for insult--when he suffered, he did not threaten. No, rather St. Luke records that even during his crucifixion, he asked the Father to forgive us, forgive his executioners. St. James counsels us to be slow to anger.

So what does all this (and more!) say to us? to me? It says that I should judge the fruit of things, even things that could seem on the surface to be good, Catholic endeavors. The fruit of my participating in the watchdoggedness, the gossiping, was not good; it was not the fruit of the Spirit; it was not what the Apostles urged us toward, nor is it in imitation of Christ on the whole. Very rarely did he act harshly, even though he spoke the truth unabashedly, and even then, it was with divine wisdom--it would be foolish of me to assume such wisdom.

Rather, I think I should err on the side of the main of the Christian message, err on the side of meekness, humility, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, love, joy, and peace. It is this conclusion that led me to, not without hesitation for the nuggets of goodness in them, to unsubscribe from Fr. Z's blog, unsubscribe from Catholic World News, and unfollow a number of folks on twitter who seem to give themselves over to reporting these sorts of gossipy type tidbits. (So if I've unfollowed you recently, that's probably why.)

I'm not saying that we don't need folks to keep an eye out and raise awareness when the Faith is under fire. I am saying, however, that I don't think I'm one of those--at least not now, and I suspect that for many, like me, it is not our calling and is, rather, an opportunity for us to be drawn away from where we should be with God and each other. For those in doubt, I suggest examining the fruit in your life to see if you think it is bringing about goodness or not.

Peace be with you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Speak of Your Will Before Kings

As a child, I always disliked the psalms. They always seemed so boring and distant from my experience, and they didn't give me anything. At least, that's what I thought. As far as the OT was concerned, I loved Proverbs and, as I grew into my teens, Ecclesiastes. In fact, in my senior year yearbook, we were asked (this was an evangelical Protestant school) what our favorite Bible verse was (to be included in the book). I chose from Ecclesiastes. Wisdom has always beckoned to me, and I have always been ensnared by her.

But the rest of the OT was just like required reading, especially the psalms; they were, to me as a child, just some other person complaining to God about being in trouble--enemies always trying to kill this guy--or the source of, usually annoying, praise and worship songs. They didn't teach me anything, I thought, and good grief was Psalms a big "book."

It wasn't until I got turned down by this girl I asked out in college that I first found an appreciation for the psalms. I drew great comfort from reading them at that time of being down and distraught. It was a flicker of warmth towards them, but it didn't change my overall feeling. No, it wasn't really until I became a Dominican aspirant a few years ago and started praying the Office that my appreciation (and understanding) of the psalms started to flower.

Psalm 119, especially, has become dear to me, though many others have as well, and the repetition of them in the Office has been a welcome way to serendipitously begin to memorize and internalize them. The only thing I knew about Ps 119 growing up is that it was the longest chapter in the Bible (in the longest book)--the trivia you learn. :) I did not know it was a love song for God's law. In fact, I never thought that anyone could be in love with that thing that St. Paul seemed to always be dissing. For a contemporary evangelical (especially charismatic!) Protestant, the Law is the big bad thing that Jesus came to free us from.

Of course, Psalm 119 is not only speaking of the Mosaic Law (proper) but rather of the will of God--the revealed understanding of the way everything is meant to work. We love it because God makes himself known through it--through explicit commands as well as through his design in the nature of things themselves.

In Psalm 119, especially, but all throughout the psalms, I have found the praise of God infused, not just for his law, not just of his holiness and awesomeness, but of that as expressed in his creation. Today's proper daytime psalmody (the little hours) put it this way: "How many, O Lord my God, are the wonders and designs that you have worked for us; you have no equal. Should I proclaim and speak of them, they are more than I can tell!" (Ps 40).

And, back to Ps 119, "I will speak of your will before kings and not be ashamed." and then again in chapter 40:

Your justice I have proclaimed in the great assembly. My lips I have not sealed; you know it, O Lord.

I have not hidden your justice in my heart but declared your faithful help. I have not hidden your love and your truth from the great assembly.

O Lord, you will not withhold your compassion from me. Your merciful love and your truth will always guard me.

This hearkens back to a recent post, that was admittedly a tad aggressive and negative. I prefer to put it positively, as an encouragement to us and to our pastors. We should be able to sing the passages above express with verity. We should not be ashamed to speak of God's will before the powerful civil leaders and, indeed, the entire "great assembly" in the media. If we do, as the psalmist says, God's love and his truth--the truth we are proclaiming--will always guard us.

Isn't that an amazing thought? That the truth will guard us? I have often found this to be true. In a sense, the truth defends itself. Because it is true, we're not merely opining or sharing one perspective among many that only has the guarantee of our own rhetorical capability to make it stand. Even if we manage to muck it up a bit, the truth is the truth; it stands on its own and will remain true regardless of our imperfect expression of it. The truth will guard us from our own incompetence and speaks to people in their hearts, even as they attack and dismantle our arguments through rhetorical rationalizations.

Although the Psalms are not explicit pedagogy, they still instruct. In fact, they instruct us in a way that is more beautiful and primal than other more directly didactic methods. In our joining our voices with the psalmist, we find ourselves expressing, often in moving poetry, praise and love for God and, in so doing, we learn (as we may also learn from our own Catholic liturgy) more about God, more about our relationship to him, and more about our relationship to others. Lex orandi; lex credendi.

I'm now a big fan of the Psalms. There are still some difficult and odd bits here and there, but overall I regularly find them moving, instructing, and empowering me to better praise God and, at times, to better express my own fears, anxieties, and sorrows in an ancient way, joining my voice with the people of God throughout the epochs, bringing me closer to and instilling a deeper kenning of the communion of the saints.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Interior Sacred Silence

In a recent blog post, Fr. Z encouraged priests to foster a sense of the sacred and holy inside of our churches.  I think that’s great.  I think it is a shame when people want to be there in the presence of our Lord in the Sacrament, and folks interfere with that by chattering.

That said, I was disturbed this morning by my own inability to silence my own mind.  I am so blessed to now live within about five minutes of my parish (I go to St. Anthony’s—that picture doesn’t do it justice; I’ll have to grab one of the inside sometime to share), and it is a beautiful church—the kind that really inspires you to look upward and transcend the here and now (as church architecture and design should!).  This morning, as I sat there before mass, I was trying to just be with our Lord.  And I couldn’t, at least not more than just a few seconds at a time.

My brain just kept wandering off.  I even started musing about how frustrating it is that I couldn’t do it, and then realized that I was doing it again!  I remember reading, I think it was St. Teresa of Avila, on how to contemplate (and I’m at the very beginning of that journey), but the nice thing, if I recall correctly, is that she said it’s okay if this happens—it takes practice.  Just make space for it, make time, and practice; it will happen.  (Clearly, I’m not practicing enough!)

But I think it’s maybe even harder today with the level of “inputs” we have from TV to phone to email to blogs to twitter to music to just the Web in general, and it’s all always available on nifty mobile devices, so we can always have our inputs.  I find myself, even worse since I got my iPhone, constantly checking all these different sources when I have down time (and sometimes when I don’t!). 

Now I’m not one to say the Web is making us dumber, but I do think all this makes it harder to not only just concentrate but also to simply relax and be silent.  That has psychological value in its own right, but take that to the next level of sacred interior silence, true contemplation of the Divine, and losing the ability to be silent becomes not just unfortunate but positively destructive to our spiritual growth.

On the other hand, I have on my one device that I always have with me everywhere, the iBreviary, the Roman Calendar, and bookmarks to a good examination of conscience and a couple litanies that have come in handy many times already, including just this morning.  So it’s obviously not all bad—I certainly wouldn’t advocate luddism to solve the problem.  It just means we have to try harder to cultivate this interior sacred silence.

We just need to recognize that we need to, and then do it.  Pray for me to be better able to do this.  Leave a comment or email me if you want me to pray for you. 


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Simple Daily Examination

I prayed a prayer this morning. It was simple. Something like this:

Dear Lord, help me to make you present to people today.

It's a tall order, especially for a hotheaded Celtic dude like me. But that's what grace is for. That's why I prayed.

As I was driving home today, this thought came to me:

Did you make Jesus present to others today?

Crap. I don't think I did much. I actually seemed to have had an abnormal amount of frustrating trials today, and I'm thinking I didn't exactly deal with them all as our Lord would.

But then I thought, hey, that's a good, simple self-examination to do each day. Wake up. Pray for the grace to bring Christ into the world. Live the day. Ask yourself if you did what you prayed for help to do. Make an act of contrition if need be and renew the intention.

Maybe eventually I'll get there. I imagine it'll never be consistent, but one can hope. And pray. And most of all (actively) rely on grace. Actively avail myself of the Sacraments, especially reconciliation and the Eucharist. Actually, that reminds me of Practicing the Presence of God. Good book. I should read it again.

Missing Backbone

I was just looking over one of my news sources (CWN), and one article quotes Bishop Lynch of my old diocese (thankfully), St. Petersburg. I met him once; seemed like a nice guy. Nice is not the main attribute we need in our bishops. Regarding Obama's record (in the context of the Notre Dame scandal), Bp. Lynch says:

Early “markers” are not encouraging in this regard but hope needs to spring eternal and while Notre Dame may have acted way too early and too generously, I am more alarmed that the rhetoric being employed is so uncivil and venomous that it weakens the case we place before our fellow citizens, alienates young college-age students who believe the older generation is behaving like an angry child and they do not wish to be any part of that, and ill-serves the cause of life.

I really love it (what's the sarcasm emoticon again?) when old people try to foist their perceptions of how we think on us young folk. Okay, I'm not a spring chicken (tipped the 30yr mark last August), but I kinda think I'm a little more in tune with the young folk than our grandparents. What I see in this statement is more likely a reflection of how Bp. Lynch remembers thinking when he was that age than how we young'uns think today (not to mention it's a sweeping generalization in any case).

It strikes me that Bp. Lynch is of the hippie generation--those who cut their teeth during the cultural revolution and, as far as the Church is concerned, are largely responsible for the mess the Church is in today in terms of poor catechesis, drooping religious practice, and lack of Catholic identity. I'm not saying the Bishop is personally responsible but that his "pastoral" approach seems very in tune with that which put us where we are today. This seems borne out by the immediately following headline:

An analysis of Gallup surveys conducted in 2006, 2007, and 2008 has found that Catholics are more likely to believe that abortion, sexual relations between unmarried people, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, and homosexual relations are morally acceptable than are non-Catholics [who attend church, i.e., Protestants].

Bishops being nice is a nice to have. What we need--what is a must have--for our bishops is backbone, backbone to stand up uncompromisingly in the public square (and in the pulpit!) and defend and proclaim the Faith. Bishops like Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Bishop Martino of Scranton, Bishop D'Arcy of South Bend, Bishop Tobin of Providence, and actually quite a few more who've stepped up in recent times. (And let's not forget the Holy Father himself!)

So what if it doesn't make sense to "the world" (or your perception of college-age kids)? I mean, didn't St. Paul say that the Cross is foolishness to the world all the way back in the first century? That has not changed. You think that stopped him from proclaiming the Gospel in full fidelity? As he might say, God forbid! And as Bp. Tobin recently pointed out, our Lord wasn't exactly "apologetic" when confronting moral failure, either.

I'm not saying some folks don't go overboard on the other side, but really the line is not that fine. Proclaim the Truth in season and out of season. Period.

P.S. (Update) I forgot to mention that several student organizations at ND have voiced their own objections to the situation created by President Jenkins. So that, too, made Bp. Lynch's comments seem even more off base than just my own perceptions...

P.P.S. (Update 6 April 2009) I feel there's something off about this post, mainly just the tone, and I don't like to seem like I'm attacking anyone. This isn't meant as a personal affront against Bp. Lynch. I was mainly just using what he wrote as an example of what I think is too conciliatory an approach in this and other matters, and, specifically, I think he's off base in his perception of what youth think or want to hear (or, for that matter, need to hear). I approach the missing backbone topic in a more positive light in this post.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Open Letter to "Catholics"

This is a short, open letter to those who claim the name "Catholic" in all but their actual beliefs (such as this fella).

Dear folks, I encourage you to discover your Faith. Somehow you managed to be raised in the Church without ever learning what it is we believe. That's sad. I'm sorry for you. No, really, I am.

The restoration of Catholic identity based on the tenets of the faith that is now occurring under our Holy Father Benedict and other upstanding bishops must be very confusing for you. It clearly upsets some of you who have wrongly come to think that the Church is some kind of social club or only some kind of social charity service.

The truth is that our social justice work and even the sacraments and liturgy itself that bind us together as a (social) community flow from our Faith. They do not exist on their own. You cannot cut off the Church from the Faith of the Apostles and just keep the feel-good, do-good parts. If you do, we are no longer a Church or a Faith but rather a club. If all you want from the Church is that--a club--I suggest you join one of the many that have no religious affiliations (or even those that do but that have creeds aligning more with your own).

The defining characteristics of the Catholic church are that She is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. There's a lot wrapped up in those words, including things like visible unity (Oneness) with our bishops and, especially, the Pope (i.e., submitting in obedience in matters of faith and morals and not, e.g., attacking them when they defend the Faith), and living not just a good life but working toward perfection in our lives (Holiness), and not just thinking and doing what I want as an individual but believing what has been believed by all, everywhere (Catholicity), and not just going with what feels good in modern culture or what we personally interpret Vatican II as saying but accepting the Faith handed down to us from the Apostles by word of mouth or written word (Apostolicity).

Why go through all the trouble, heartache, and (I promise) ultimate failure in trying to change the Church to conform with your own interests and preferences? If you don't believe the Church is who She says She is, the effort just doesn't make any sense. If you do believe, then you shouldn't be trying to change Her.

So the answer seems simple, either discover the Faith, humble yourself, and accept it, or just go on about your business and leave the Faith and the Church to be truly what they are. I don't want you to leave--the Church has the Sacraments, which confer grace you direly need, but it seems like you should be honest with yourself. I think it's worse to continue living in self-deception and potentially put your soul in more danger by receiving the sacraments unworthily.

That's all.

I truly hope you can come to know the Truth. He can truly set you free from all your worries, confusion, and pain.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gregarious and Orthodox?? No Way!

I was just looking at some news coverage of the appointment of Archbishop Dolan to NYC in USA Today and PBS. Most folks, as might be expected, are happy to have him because by all accounts he is a pleasant, "gregarious" guy. However, there are some critics (surprise!) despite that. One commenter says:

Now the Vatican wants to play the “can’t we all get along” PR spin. I do not believe for one second there is an about face with the current ulta-conservative leadership in the vatican.

I just laughed out loud. It's hard for people to imagine a nice guy who is also orthodox? These types only know how to respond in their own frame of reference--it must be deception. Talk about stereotyping. It's like we jolly orthodox types don't fit in the little box of the mean person who just tells them what they can't do.

The truth is that Dolan is a more accurate representation of the Gospel lived. You live and speak the truth--you will be a happy person. Pope Benedict is another great example of that, despite how his opponents try to paint him.

You want hate, fear, and anger? For that, you'll have to look to the other side of the debates. Have you seen the news in California since Prop 8 passed (example)? Have you seen how folks have been attacking Pope Benedict lately? Read the words--the loathing, the half-truths, the fear, and most of all, the anger. It's on display for the world to see.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Petition to Encourage our Bishops

Today, Fr. Z pointed us to this post by canon lawyer, Edward Peters, examining a petition to withhold communion from those who publicly and actively "promote policies and legislation that undermines, opposes and contradicts the Church on these serious moral issues" because they cause a grave scandal (leading others to believe that such things are acceptable actions and positions).

I signed. It's not because I'm mean-spirited and want to hurt these people. Pelosi is a good example of the kind of person the petition has in mind. She publicly misrepresented Catholic doctrine on national TV last year on Meet the Press; she firmly supports the Democratic party's bulwark of pro-abortion politics and legislation; she's been exhorted not only by her own archbishop but also by the Pope himself, and yet she so far has shown no indication she will change. And why should she, if there are no consequences and she can keep claiming to be an "ardent Catholic"?

By allowing her and other public Catholics like her to continue to receive communion, it sends a message to all Catholics that it doesn't matter what the Church teaches--you can ignore it without consequence. That is bad because it endangers people's souls--leads them into a potential state of sin and false sense of sinlessness. In short, it makes them sick without notable symptoms until it is, potentially, too late. Serious. Bad. Stuff.

Some on Fr. Z's blog have suggested the petition is bad because it may seem that we are trying to "instruct" our pastors. I don't see it that way at all. I see the petition as a way to help en-courage our bishops. I signed for the same reason I sent Archbishop Chaput and others who stood up in the public square last year a note of appreciation and letting them know they’re in my prayers. The Archbishop actually replied and said thanks. I was surprised and touched. Heck, I was surprised he published his email. I wish my pastors did that...

Our bishops need to know that we would back them up for taking a stand that would doubtless cause some bad press/feelings.

Another way to look at is why wouldn’t a bishop do this? Probably because he's concerned about negative backlash. If he knows there are more supporters, it might help to allay such concerns. I hope enough people sign to provide that kind of reassurance to our pastors.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Things are Afoot

I have a newfound respect for Bishop Fellay, the leader of the SSPX. In reading parts of a recent interview, I was impressed by his tone as well as the content. I look forward to see what comes of the dialog between the SSPX and the Holy See. I thought these closing remarks were particularly poignant and worth quoting:

Bp. Fellay: If we look at the way these excommunications were surprisingly lifted; if we especially look at the undeniable link between this fact of the decree remitting the excommunications and the unbelievable turmoil aroused just after and based upon an incident that had nothing to do with the Faith, we cannot but see that there are forces let loose there which are not human.

I have heard from several cardinals that they believe it was the Devil that was let loose. And whenever the Devil rages with so much violence and uproar, it is a good sign. We may not yet realize all that it means. But for us, it is an invitation to pray, and sacrifice more.

The Church is a supernatural being essentially, and we cannot fully explain the Church, or even the fruits and consequences of human acts performed in the Church if we look only at the human side.

The head of the Church is, and remains, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The soul of the Church is the Holy Ghost Himself. Our Lord promised that His Church would be indefectible. So let us do our best, be faithful to our duty of state, pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and pray our rosary.

And then, everything will end well.

[emphases mine]

Some would consider talk of the Devil as crazy. I think it would likely be those same types who are reacting so vehemently against the Holy Father and others in the Church who are working to restore some semblance of Catholic Truth and identity in the Church. Some examples:

  • Of course, those in the media, politicians, and even clergy who have attacked and or distanced themselves from the Pope in relation to the just lifting of the SSPX excommunications (that had absolutely nothing to do with Bp. Williamson's opinions).

  • The rebellious priests in Austria who pressured Bp. Wagner to resign and then criticized the Pope for appointing him.

  • Fr. Kennedy in Australia who has led so many astray and endangered souls through invalid sacraments.

  • The so-called theologians who endanger the souls of so many through their misrepresenting the Faith or outright heresy (yes, I said heresy); these same types are the ones attacking the pope more openly as of late.

  • The parishioners at St. Stephen's in Minneapolis who are breaking away from the Church because a real shepherd is finally trying to lead them back to the straight and narrow.

  • The muddyheaded O'Brien and those like him (Pelosi, Biden, et al) who endanger both souls and persons by public scandal and misinformation about the faith related to abortion.

The list could go on, but I do see Light in all this. For the most part, things are really moving in a positive direction, the right direction, and I agree with Bishop Fellay in that I think all this backlash is further evidence that we are heading the right way. The forces who have been working to dismantle the Faith from the inside are scared now that we have our German Shepherd guarding the Church.

Pray. Pray. Pray.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day, Anyone?

I guess I need to say the Office for a few more years before I get used to the fact that we don't actually celebrate St. Valentine's day in the current Roman (Catholic) calendar. It was a pleasant surprise, though, when I opened the Liturgy of the Hours on Saturday morning to be greeted by the memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were 9th century missionaries to the Slavic peoples. And you guessed, they created what would come to be known as the Cyrillic alphabet. Pretty cool, huh?

Of St. Valentine himself, we know basically nothing. Actually, there is more than one St. Valentine that we honor as an early martyr, but that's about all we know about their lives (which is enough, really). The various legends surrounding him are just that, and as far as I can make out, the correlation of St. Valentine with the lovey-dovey originates thanks to Chaucer who, using typical poetic license, noted St. Valentine's day's correspondence with certain birdly springtime activity.

I'm not saying we shouldn't celebrate it in the popular fashion of being extra sweet to our beloveds. I'm just pointing out that we have even more to celebrate (saints and martyrs) than just our feelings for each other.

In any case, I'm rapidly approaching my tenth anniversary, so Valentine's day is not such a big deal around here. This year, as it was two years ago, it was the official date of getting new phones. Two years ago, the wifey got a pink Razr, this year, a pink(-cased) iPhone. And flowers, of course. Can't get away without those, even after 10 years... :)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another Rabbi Who Gets It

For most stuff, I've been just updating my other post on the subject of the sad overreaction and dishonesty surrounding the recent lifting of the SSPX bishops' excommunication. But this one deserves it's own post. Via Fr. Z, this article reports on an Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin, whom the site reports is head of about 800 Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. and Canada. This rabbi understands more deeply than most outside of the Church what is really going on and what is at stake.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I wouldn't even classify myself as a "traditionalist" these days, though I do consider myself a friend of the Extraordinary Form. It's not unfair I think to suggest that those in traditionalist communities tend to frame things in an Us vs. Them (Right vs. Left; Conservative vs. Liberal; Traditional vs. Progressive; Right vs. Wrong; Mature vs. Childish, etc.). That's not to say these communities have not been persecuted. Far from it, and it continues today, even despite Summorum Pontificum. However, being a centrist of sorts I am more inclined to look for the good in both sides (in as much as they are presented as "sides"). So I get a little antsy when folks just start tossing labels around and promoting this kind of dichotomy.

At the same time, I don't think that what the Rabbi is talking about is one of those cases. I can't help but observe that there are very real differences within the Church in terms of how the faith is understood and practiced. When my daughter comes home and tells me, for instance, that the teacher in her religious ed class said that killing bugs is a sin, that we don't know who created God (my 7-year-old daughter rightly scoffed, saying that nobody created God--he is uncreated), that the teacher said she hopes [one of the kid's] dogs is in heaven, and that they should pray for [the dog], and when I see prominent individuals like Stephen Colbert belittle the protection of natural marriage, and when I hear Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden saying totally wrong things about abortion and sponsoring birth control in legislation, and when I see a priest who has an Obama sticker on his car, and when I read of one who supports ordination of women, and when I hear of a priest who doesn't baptize in the Trinitarian formula, and when I see a video of some odd youth's mass where there are spotlights and band music and balloons (with a cardinal present, no less), and when even Catholic friends whom I'd expect to know their faith ardently defend relativism... well, I just can't help but note that there are indeed real and serious differences within the Church.

It seems to me that the vast majority of these stem from our culture, a religious apathy, a lukewarmness. Some of them are more pecuniarily motivated--people like politicians and other public personalities giving up the faith because it is expedient for their careers. Some, like the priest and friends I mentioned, I think are more concerned with more anthropocentric concerns--the here and now--having peace in the family and in the parish; giving people salves for their malformed consciences instead of redressing the true malady of the soul.

And yet there are those who are very conscious and deliberate in their positions, who actively and intentionally work to undermine the Faith. These are, especially, the theologians and priests and doubtless even some bishops and cardinals who knowingly and willfully advocate what can only be called apostasy, those who before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council have abused the Council and worked to advance an agenda of rupture with Catholic Tradition. These are those who are fully aware of our venerable Tradition and who have chosen, despite that, to reject It in favor of fashionable philosophies and theologies that are incompatible with the Apostolic Faith that the Church has held, passed down, defended, and refined throughout Her history.

These are they who are largely responsible for the broader slough of apathy we find ourselves in today, and it is they who continue to actively work to undermine the Faith. It is they more than any who can rightly be accused, as Rabbi Levin does, of destroying the faith. And they're not just destroying the Catholic Faith, as the Teacher points out--the tremendous influence of the Church across the world means that these destructive tendencies in the Church have a "trickle-down effect to every single religious community in the world."

Of course, no doubt some will point out that as an Orthodox leader, he will naturally support the corresponding orthodox (traditional) "side" in the Church. That may be true by way of serendipity, but it only further supports what he is saying--the same kind of in-kind support can be found outside of the Church for those working within the Church to undermine the faith, which is sadly the majority of the mass media and politicians. These destructive forces in the Church have been very well-supported and successful these past fifty years or so!

It is these forces working (consciously or not) hand in hand with the media and politicians who have good reason to be nervous about the work of our Holy Father in reconciling traditionalists, even those with fringe opinions on very sensitive issues like the Holocaust. The important points to reiterate are that the reconciliation is not complete (they are still under suspension) and that the reconciliation has no causal or logical link with Bishop Williamson's speculations but is, rather, part of His Holiness' plan to restore Catholic identity through a deeper understanding of both the contents and the practice of our faith.

This restoration indeed involves a restoration of Tradition to its rightful place--the same Tradition (for the most part) that those in the SSPX are so devoted and attached to that they risked schism and, in the case of the bishops, excommunication. Thus Rabbi Levin is very astute in his observations--this first step in the reconciliation of the SSPX, along with Summorum Pontificum, Dominus Iesus, and countless other acts and works of the Holy Father, herald the slow crumbling of the kingdom of legerdemain that the apostates have worked so hard to establish this last century.

Kudos (again) to Rabbi Levin both for his perspicacity, his honesty, and his courage to speak out on this subject!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Church and Science Fact

I'm a big science fiction fan, but I'm not a fan of the fiction surrounding the relationship of science and faith. I swear, if I hear one more person snidely allude to Galileo or Columbus as if they are some indisputable proof of the silliness of religion and its attempt to restrict "free inquiry," I'll just barf. Or maybe I'll throw something. So beware!

Thus, I'm always glad when things like this conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame, and sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture. Every little bit that goes toward dispelling the myths about the Church, religion, faith, and science is good as far as I'm concerned.

Never mind that the actual treatment of Galileo in the popular mythos bears little semblance to the reality (as is the case with most treatments involving the Inquisition). Never mind that pretty much everyone in Columbus' time and before knew the earth was spherical (and that Columbus was actually the one in scientific error). While we're at it, never mind that the Church has never condemned the theory of evolution as such. Never mind that the Church was the cradle of modern science and protector of Western civilization with its invention and cultivation of monasteries and universities and hospitals. Never mind, in short, that what the popular imagination presents as the relationship between Church and scientists, faith and reason, is pretty much totally fictitious and fabricated by enemies of the Church.

Never mind all that. Let's allow that certain Catholic Church leaders in history may have been overzealous in their prosecution of scientists, pioneers, and even heretics. Even allowing that, I have to ask, is that so bad? I mean, stick with me here, the motivations (namely, paternal and pastoral care and concern for the good of souls and humanity as a whole) behind prohibiting certain kinds of inquiry or publication of certain works are more weighty and noble than whatever incremental advances in science that people theorize about.

In the case of Galileo, what is the great advance for mankind that we've seen from his work? A trip to the moon? And in any case, were not his works eventually lifted from censure by the same "oppressive" authority? Is not Galileo praised today even by that same authority? Are we so worse off that the Church approached the issue with caution due to its concern for the fullness of human life? We can only speculate that we'd be any better or worse off.

On the other hand, consider when the Church's voice and role in society is oppressed. In those cases you get things like fascism, Nazism, communism. You get things like reigns of terror, the Holocaust, death marches, gulags, unnatural famines, killing fields, and world wars. You get Dr. Mengeles, Hitlers, Stalins, and Maos. You get Rwandas, Czechnyas, Darfurs, Madagascars, and the like. You get the slaughter of millions upon millions of unborn. In short, you get destruction and disregard of human life and dignity on unimaginable levels.

That brings us to today. Today the Church is the leading voice defending human dignity and life on all levels and on a global scale. The Church is a leading provider of health care worldwide. The Church is a leading provider of charitable aide worldwide. And the Church takes an integral understanding of humanity to include the spiritual and is the leading provider of spiritual care across the globe. From its humble beginnings 2000 years ago, the Church has spread to become this leading light for all of humanity, ever with the holistic care of humans as its motivating force--ever learning, ever improving, ever guiding humanity towards its ultimate end.

It is from this core of love that the Church speaks, even when it speaks to restrain. It is with this ancient dedication to the fullness of human life--in which we see the image of God--that the Church speaks to end abortion, to prevent euthanasia, to stop embryonic stem cell research, to reinforce procreative marriage, to encourage the restraint of the passions that denigrate our human dignity, and to promote a life of charity, of love of neighbor and of God.

The Church is no enemy of science or progress. On the contrary, the Church has long been the foremost champion of authentic human progress. The Church is no enemy of reason. On the contrary, we see the heights of reason attained in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and the many, many other Christian theologians and philosophers to come after and before. The Church has dogmatically declared:

Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds. (1st Vatican Council)

Even if (and as far as I'm concerned that's an almost insurmountable if given our refined understanding of things today) the Church were wrong in speaking out against certain areas of scientific inquiry or practice, it is not an oppressive restraint opposed to progress, as the enemies of faith and the Church would have people believe. Rather, the Church simply seeks progress that does not come at the expense of the fullness of human life or dignity. The Church wants us to proceed not just based on what we can do but on what we should do both for the good of the individual and the good of all, which leaves me asking:

So what if it takes us a little longer to get there because we're trying to do the right thing? Just imagine what kind of real progress we could make if all people were so devoted to such laudable ideals.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Support our Holy Father

I, like many faithful Catholics, have been watching the recent developments around the lifting of the SSPX bishops' excommunication with concern, even dismay. I've thought about blogging a few times, but not sure what to say without just adding to the noise. However, things have just gotten way out of hand on this one, and I can't remain silent any longer.

Anyone who is a rational person of good will can clearly see the truth of the situation. The Holy Father is acting like a real shepherd--trying to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. His lifting of the excommunications is for that reason alone.   It obviously has absolutely nothing to do with the errant Bishop Williamson's flawed thinking around the Holocaust. The pope, his spokesman, the SSPX leader, Bishop Fellay, and many other prominent Catholic leaders have reiterated this on numerous occasions. Sadly, those who have axes to grind with our Holy Father, the SSPX, "traditionalists," and even the Church in general are taking unscrupulous and dishonest advantage of these unfortunate circumstances to grandstand (as in the case of the US congresspeople, the German chancellor, et al) for their own political and/or ideological gain.

I expect that of politicians and extremist ideologues, but what is more shameful is that some priests, bishops, and even cardinals are also using this as an opportunity to advance their own agendas because they disagree with our Holy Father's rightful defense and promotion of traditional Catholic worship, piety, and identity.

I usually consider myself to be a reticent and understanding person of unusual good will, especially as regards our pastors, but I cannot help but be blunt in this case. To all those who are taking advantage of this situation for their own gain:


As for me and my house, we wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand by our chief shepherd, the vicar of Christ, in this difficult time. He needs our prayers and support. He has done nothing but defend the faith and act as our Lord would in being a gentle but firm Good Shepherd, as is his duty.

Let us also pray for the conversion of these shameless opportunists who are attacking or abandoning him and the Church. May God give them a new heart and place a new spirit within them.

UPDATE (4 Feb): A ray of light.. some sanity. This rabbi gets it. Thank you, Rabbi Kula.

UPDATE (6 Feb): More sanity and here. And a great statement by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

UPDATE (11 Feb): Fr. Z has a good write up in plain ol' English explaining what is going on.