Friday, October 24, 2014

Garments as Symbols of Unity


One of the most powerful historical symbols of the unity of the Catholic Church has been the seamless garment worn by Christ at the crucifixion. The Gospel of John tells us that the garment Jesus was wearing at the time He was sent to the cross "was without seam, woven from the top throughout" (John 19:23). This signifies the "oneness" of the Church. The lack of seams means that the garment is a unity; it is not cobbled together from various distinct pieces. Just as the seamless garment of Christ cannot be divided without destroying it, so the Church of Christ can suffer no division.

The identification of the garment with the Church is very ancient. As far as I am aware, it goes back to St. Cyprian of Carthage in his famous work De unitate ecclesiae, "On the Unity of the Church." This is St. Cyprian's masterpiece, in which he explains the true supernatural unity of the Catholic Church and also becomes the father of Catholic ecclesiology. 

Of the bond of unity which makes the Church one, St. Cyprian of Carthage writes:

"This bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ's garment, who should rather put on Christ. Holy Scripture speaks, saying, 'But of the coat, because it was not sewed, but woven from the top throughout, they said one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots whose it shall be." That coat bore with it an unity that came down from the top, that is, that came from heaven and the Father, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we obtain a whole and substantial entireness. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ" (On the Unity of the Church, 7).

As the garment was woven throughout from the top down, so the Church of Christ is established "from the top down", that is, from God the Father, and possesses an indivisible unity. Elsewhere Cyprian teaches that this unity is not a mere human unity based on the consensus of wills or on a common goal, but is the supernatural unity of the Trinity itself:

"He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, 'I and the Father are one; (John 10:30) and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 'And these three are one.' (1 John 5:7) And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God's law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation" (ibid., 6).

The unity of the Church is the very same unity our Lord shares with the Father, as explained in John 17. The perfect sign of that unity is the seamless robe of Christ. This theme will be repeated by subsequent Church Fathers as well as the medievals.

Could it not, however, be argued that this is a kind of typology run amok? The Fathers and especially the medievals were fond of finding typological significations for Scriptural passages. Everything from the pillow of Jacob to the stones slung by David to the two swords carried by the apostles were eventually assigned typological meanings. And not every typological connection ever proposed by a theologian is accurate, much less infallible. The famous 15th century Biblia Pauperum proposes the house of Job as a type of heaven. That's right, the house of Job. The one that, due to the devil, collapses and kills all Job's children. Not the best type of heaven, in my estimation.

Perhaps the identification of the oneness of the Church with the robe of Christ is a similar fabrication, a sort of typological "grasping for straws" to find a theological justification for something with scant biblical support?

In fact, St. Cyprian is here only following an interpretive scheme that is found in the Bible itself. If Cyprian assumes that the garment of Christ signifies the unity of the Kingdom of God, it is only because in the Bible garments are always signs of the unity of a kingdom; conversely, the ripping or rending of garments is a sign of the dismantling of a kingdom. 

In the days of Saul, the king was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites but King Saul spared their king and took spoil for himself and his men. The prophet Samuel comes to rebuke King Saul for this disobedience, which will lead to Saul losing the kingdom. Note the symbolism of the episode:

"And Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to go away, Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you" (I Samuel 15:24-28).

The unity of the kingdom of Israel was signified by the robe of Samuel. When Saul tore this robe, it symbolized that the kingdom was being "torn" from him.

We see a similar episode in the reign of Solomon. When Solomon sinned by worshiping foreign gods, the Lord promised to tear the kingdom away from him: "Because thou hast done this, and hast not kept my covenant, and my precepts, which I have commanded thee, I will divide and rend thy kingdom, and will give it to thy servant" (I Kings 11:11). And how does God signify this rending? In the following passage, the prophet Ahijah goes to the rebel Jeroboam son of Nebat to tell him that God will bestow a kingdom upon him. Pay attention to the prophetic imagery:

"And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes; but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem (I Kings 11:29-32).

The rending of the garment signifies the destruction of the unity of the kingdom. Though it is not specifically stated, we could also note that the destruction of the robe of Joseph by his brethren (Gen. 37:29-32), who rent it and splattered blood on it, signifies the disunity of the House of Jacob.

So it is a thoroughly biblical principle that the garments tend to represent houses or kingdoms. The rending or destruction of the garment signifies the rending or disunity of the kingdom; similarly, the integrity of the garment symbolizes the unity of the kingdom. Thus Cyprian and the Catholic Tradition are following very biblical lines of thought when they see in the seamless robe of Christ a type of the Kingdom of God, the Church, and its dynamic inner unity. Cyprian is treading on very firm ground with his comparisons.

For more on St. Cyprian of Carthage, I highly recommend the The Complete Works of St. Cyprian of Carthage by Arx Publishing. This was a work I helped edit and which Ryan Grant wrote the foreward to. It contains apologetical footnotes and a great topical index for navigating the copious works of the Father of Carthage. A great resource!

Also related: The Problem of Catholic Unity (Part 1) and The Problem of Catholic Unity (Part 2)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Synod Wrap Up

The farcical but epic event that was the 2014 Synod on the Family has now come to a close. What an astonishing two weeks it has been! Some were predicting fireworks, and others a hum-drum business-as-usual affair, but I don't think anybody could have predicted what we got - nothing short of a revolt of the global episcopate against the manipulation of Kasper, Baldiserri and Bergoglio. There's so much that can be said and that has been said; in particular I'd like to commend Rorate Caeli for their excellent coverage of the Synod and their wonderful articles, which will no doubt form an important component in the historical archive of this momentous event. I do not wish to retread ground already broken by other blogs, so let us be content with reviewing a few of the major points to consider coming out of this Synod.

1.
First of all, to those of you who in the run up to the Synod were predicting it would be a non-event, boring, dull, nothing to get excited about, etc., etc., to you I say "Ha!" Not only was this Synod an extraordinarily dramatic event, but probably the most eventful ecclesiastical clash to happen since Vatican II. The Synod marks a turning point in the pontificate of Pope Bergoglio and has sent a clear message to progressives everywhere: it's not going to be as easy as you think. Therefore, regardless of what we think about the final documents of the Synod, we certainly ought not to neglect the importance of the Synod as an event. In Roberto de Mattei's monumental work on the Second Vatican Council, he notes that the fundamental failure of the traditional reaction in the 1960's was due to a narrow focus on the documents themselves and the inability of the conservatives to understand the Council as an event. We should not make the same mistake; focusing exclusively on the text of a document ignores the importance of this Synod as a watershed turning point.

2. Those who are now saying, "See, I told you the doctrine would not change because doctrine can't change!"...well, those people never adequately understood the issue to begin with. If you are one of these people, please stop, visit this link and attentively read the article, and then return here. Nobody ever seriously thought the doctrine would change. The concern was that the discipline might be undermined while on paper the doctrine remained in place. This would have been much more insidious. I think my friend Blake from Popin' Ain't Easy got it more accurate when he referred to this Synod as "Humanae Vitae II"; that is, a lot of effort to create the momentum and impression of an imminent doctrinal shift only to find that the tradition is reaffirmed, much to the chagrin of the idiotic progressives who were banking on "change." This is in fact what happened. However, despite the orthodoxy of the Relatio Synodi, a tremendous amount of damage was done because the impression was given that admitting the putatively "remarried" to communion and accepting homosexual so-called marriage are at least open for discussion. This is why Burke insisted so strongly that these particular topics be taken off the table altogether.

3. Though the final Relatio Synodi is not ultimately the most important thing to consider, it does merit some attention. The revolt of the bishops ensured that the final product we got was at least orthodox - although I should point out that it is still extremely wimpy and shot through with mushy Vatican II humanist vocabulary. But that is at least on par with what we have been getting for the past forty years. The bishops' revolt simply stopped the language from getting worse than it already would have been. Or, as Mundabor says, the document suffers from the Vatican II disease, but not the much more aggressive and deadly Bergoglio disease. Yes, the final Relatio could be stronger, but at least orthodoxy has been upheld and the document is not subversive. So Te Deum.

4. That the final Relatio Synodi is not a subversive mismash of Bergoglian gobbledygook and Modernist platitudes is due to the courageous protest of our bishops. They are the true heroes of the Synod, and a surprising bunch of heroes at that. Yes, I never thought I would say it, but I am proud of our bishops. Burke of course is worthy of the most praise as the leader of the reaction, but I also want to single out Cardinal Pell, who despite his waffling apparent implied denial of Original Sin in his debate with Richard Dawkins, redeemed himself by firing the opening salvo against Forte and Baldiserri. Cardinal Müller also deserves praise. Cardinal Mueller is a perfect working example of the concept of the grace of office. Though many Traditionalists had grave reservations about Gerhard Müller when he assumed direction of the CDF in 2012, during the Synod he functioned exactly as he was supposed to in his office - as a watchdog of orthodoxy. So yes, I am proud of these bishops. Are they ideal bishops? Am I ready to acclaim Müller, Pell and Napier as the vanguards of tradition? Of course not. But when it really came down to it - when their backs were against the wall - they stood up when it really counted, and for that we should all be grateful. Our prayers for our bishops, which we so often thought were offered in vain, were in fact efficacious.

5. If you think about it, this is the opposite dynamic as at Vatican II. At Vatican II, you had a cabal of Council Fathers drag the Council in a progressive direction in a manner unanticipated by the pope, who through weakness or indecision, failed to stop it. At the Synod you had the pope and a few fellow conspirators trying to push a liberal agenda against the will of the vast majority of bishops. This obviously puts Michael Voris in an awkward position. Voris had made a name for himself by following the "good pope, bad bishops" line of thought. The acts of the Synod run so contrary to that mantra that it may be a wake-up call for Voris; that is at least implied by this update from Rome Voris published the other night. It will be interesting to see how he takes all this. [UPDATE: Voris announced on Oct. 22nd that he had removed the above-mentioned article because he felt it incorrectly insinuated that he was criticizing the pope. See Voris' clarification here]

6. Voris' special report is entitled "Pope Harming the Church" and is a quote from Cardinal Burke's now famous Buzzfeed interview. More than any other Cardinal, Burke emerged as a clear and powerful voice in favor of orthodoxy and  tradition. Despite Burke's demotion, his leadership at the Synod may actually elevate him to the status of a papabile in the next conclave. How so? Apparently, the majority of Synod fathers are "furious and indignant with Pope Francis" for the manipulative tactics of the Synod - and these are not any bishops, but the most important bishops and cardinals in the world. It is highly possible that they are realizing that Francis is a huge disaster for the Church, and even those who may have cast a ballot for him might now be stepping back from the cliff after witnessing the auto-demolition of Catholic faith and morals almost accomplished this month. These "furious and indignant" bishops will most likely not be voting for a Bergoglian in the next conclave, but rather a man who can clearly, powerfully and charitably teach Catholic dogma. Burke has singled himself out for the job by his admirable performance in defense of orthodoxy before the whole world. We all prayed for Pope Burke in 2013; ironically, Burke may have a much greater chance post-Bergoglio. God may be preparing him for greater things during his exile.

7. If Burke's credibility unexpectedly went up, Kasper's was unexpectedly demolished. And I mean destroyed. Kasper is finished. What delicious irony! This event so carefully managed, so minutely choreographed, that moment in which Kasper expected to celebrate a supreme triumph ended up being the occasion of his ultimate humiliation and downfall. Profound, serene theology indeed! Kasper is a laughingstock and can never be taken seriously again, at least not by any of the bishops. "They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends" (Ps. 7:15-16).

8. That being said, upon reading Kasper's infamous comments on the African bishops, I have to say that I did not find them racist or xenophobic. Condescending? Yes. Racist? No. Upon rereading his statements a few times, Kasper essentially made the argument that the African Church is in no position to lecture the western bishops on moral issues since the African Church itself struggles with its own unique moral problems, such as polygamy and "gradual marriages." It was a subtle way to say 'clean up your own house before you worry about ours.' This position, however, is extremely condescending, precisely because those Catholics who have to contest against perversions such as polygamy and gradual marriages have greater insight into the value of the Catholic family than we in the west. Their testimony is more valuable, not less, because they have a keener understanding of how important traditional marriage is. This is why Kasper's comments were so insulting. And his denial of making them establishes him as a liar, too. Other bloggers have opted to label these comments as racist; I mean no prejudice or disrespect to bloggers who have done so, but for me personally there is not enough evidence to meet my threshold of what constitutes a racist, so I choose to abstain from using that label for the time being.

9. I mentioned above that this Synod is a turning point in the pontificate of Pope Francis. Some have even narrowed this turning point down to Thursday, October 17th, shortly after 9:00am, when Cardinal Pell began the attack against Baldiserri's manipulation. This is a turning point for Francis because it may amount to a vote of "no confidence" in his leadership. No doubt Francis will spend the next twelve months exacting retribution on the members of the conservative backlash in preparation for Synod 2015. He may or may not be successful. But the point is, the breach has been opened. Things will never return to the status ante-bellum for Bergoglio.

10. On a final note, the Synod ended with the beatification of Pope Paul VI. Do not be surprised if sometime shortly - maybe a few months, maybe a year - new "evidence" emerges to strengthen the old accusation that Montini was a homosexual. Then the Church will be saddled with a homosexual beatus and the world will have a field day. I am not the only one predicting this.

In closing, this Synod revealed definitive evil intentions on the part of several actors, who were intent on lying and manipulating the proceeding to obtain their own desired ends. Whatever degree his involvement in the actual shenanigans, our Pontiff is definitely aligned with this group, which is profoundly disheartening. But the Synod was also an occasion of some tremendous moments of grace as bishop after bishop stood up and refused to go along quietly while the Catholic faith was dismantled. In this Synod, despite its huge problems, we all caught a glimpse of what would be possible if all the bishops of the world actually stood up for the Catholic faith. It was a small glimpse, a fleeting glimpse - a tiny crust of bread fallen from heaven - but enough to marvelously strengthen faith in the fidelity of God and the efficacy of all our prayers, rosaries, Masses and sacrifices offered for our bishops. Let us commit ourselves with renewed zeal to these pious efforts towards the restoration of Holy Mother Church.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Distress of Burke


High ranking ecclesiastics are typically reserved people. It is not often that they speak with emotion or allow themselves to appear distraught.

Yet what I see here is a cleric who is profoundly distraught and at a loss for words at the implications of the Kasperite doctrine. His face...his voice...his choice of words...his body language...they all convey a sense of intense sadness at the betrayal he fears is unfolding before him. The man who as head of the Apostolic Signatura was the chief legal expert in the Catholic Church - whose very job was to sort out the definitions of things and the meanings of words - has no words to describe what is happening. The sadness in his eyes tells of his grief. Ultimately all he can do is plead that it stop and express that he does not know how he would be able to "digest" what could happen otherwise.

Dear Cardinal Burke, your expressions and emotions expressed in this short clip so perfectly sum up the experience of millions of suffering Catholics, who like you, don't know how we will be able to digest the things we see unfold before us.

Let us pray fervently for our dear, disgraced Cardinal.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Critiques of the "Brick by Brick" Mentality


Brick by brick. Remember that? "Brick by brick" was quite the thing during the previous pontificate. I remember one popular priest-blogger was extremely fond of the saying and kind of popularized it among traditional minded Catholics. I must confess, I haven't heard so much about "brick by brick" lately, though...

How shall we define the "brick by brick" mentality? "Brick by brick" is an interpretive paradigm used to ostensibly find positive trends in the bleak world of post-Conciliar NuChurch. It is not a particular set of principles so much as a way of looking at things, a kind of hermeneutical schema for making sense of current events in such a way that is favorable to Catholic Tradition. Essentially, though we see the forces of chaos and dissolution raging everywhere about us, we can discern a certain thread of continuity in the actions of the hierarchy and the sovereign pontiffs which should give traditionalists consolation. Yes, brick by brick acknowledges that we are in dire straits, but there is grounds for good hope because the fallen building is being slowly restored. "Bricks" are being put back into place - in the form of a decent episcopal appointment here, a promising statement friendly to tradition there; a quality snippet from a homily or document on this side, a few photos of cardinal so-and-so wearing traditional vestments on that side. These charming little nuggets are strewn out on the table and assembled to form a coherent trajectory of action that is supposed to exemplify some hidden "strategy" of the Pope and Magisterium to restore the Church to sanity. Granted, we never really hear what this strategy consists of in its entirety, but we are to confidently assume that the Princes of the Church have her best interest at heart and ever so slowly, brick by brick, the edifice is being raised up. Therefore, we can be fundamentally optimistic about the way things are going; we are certainly not there, but we are at least on the way.

This, as far as I can tell, is the crux of the "brick by brick" approach to the modern Church. It is not a terrible position to take; in fact, many priests and laity I respect tremendously see things this way. It is good to have a healthy optimism, and inasmuch as is possible, we should think well before thinking ill. Even so, optimism does not mean we shut our eyes to evident problems, and while "brick by brick" is not a not series of propositions as much as a frame of thought, as mentioned above, certain default assumptions do flow from it. I have reflected on "brick by brick" for seven years now, and it is precisely the assumptions it takes for granted that I have come to question.

Therefore, I present my five critiques of the "brick by brick" mentality.

I. MISPLACED GRADUALISM. In the first place, "brick by brick" tends to incorrectly assume that we can licitly move from evil to good along a gradualist spectrum. There are many things wrong with the Church. Duh. Some of them are just a matter of lesser goods being preferred to superior goods, like when a priest uses Eucharistic Prayer 2 instead of the Roman Canon. Many problems, however, are a matter of positive evils and abuses being preferred over any good whatsoever. In this category would be theologians clamoring for recognition of same-sex unions, bishops giving a pass to Pro-Abort politicians, lay people standing up around the altar at the consecration or lay-homilies, retreat centers promoting New Age practices with the blessing of the local bishop and so on - you know, all the abuses the existence of which probably turned most of you reading this into Traditionalists.

Now, brick by brick would not deny these things are problematic; it would, however, insist that we should be patient with these sorts of problems because this is a complicated matter and change comes slowly. The important thing is that we are moving in the right trajectory. I mean, look! The pope mentioned the devil twice in his homily. That's good news, right? And here's some beautiful photographs of an FSSP Mass is Portsmouth. Isn't that gorgeous? And lo! There is Bishop So-and-So using the Benedictine altar arrangement. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we don't want to spoil the whole thing by coming off too whiny. We should be thankful we are on the right path and give these other things time.

So, aside from the question of whether "time" will heal these wrongs (see Section II below), this approach seems to forget that while it is licit to move from a lesser good to a higher good on a gradualist spectrum, it is never licit to propose a gradualist time frame for moving from evils to goods. Evils need to stop immediately. If we truly believe in the evil of many of these abuses, anything less than an immediate cessation is unacceptable. I would rather have the New Age retreat house shut down and forego the Benedictine altar arrangement; I would rather the Pro-Abort politician be denied communion or excommunicated and forego seeing pictures of the beautiful FSSP Mass; I would gladly never read or hear another homily from the pope if we could get the progressive theologians dealt with. That would be the right way to handle this. Unfortunately, we just get token gestures while the real abuses go unchecked year after year, decade after decade.

II. TIME EQUIVALENT TO PROGRESS. Next, I cannot help but thinking that perhaps "brick by brick" assumes a modernist conception of time as equivalent with progress? That if we just allow enough time to pass, things will automatically get better? After all, the problem was not created overnight and it will not be recitifed overnight. One brick at a time, here a little, there a little. But never fear! There is a grand plan, and ultimately the Church is in the process of restoration. Just. Need. More. Time. 

But is it true that time will make true reform more feasible? I don't think that's the case. Reform is brought about by persons, persons who are connected with the Tradition of the Church. Every day that goes by without authentic reform, the gap between the present and the authentic Traditional praxis of the Church grows wider and wider. Right now the gap is about 45 years; how much demand for reform will there be when that gap is 60, 80, or 120 years? In the Anglican revolution, there was a powerful movement to return to Catholicism in the years immediately after Henry's innovations; the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 are two prime examples. But how much a demand was there to return to Catholicism in 1605? In 1689? What about in 1715? By this time, Catholicism was but a distant and despised memory and everybody had gotten used to Anglicanism. If reform does not happen soon, the Church's Tradition will be a distant historical memory. Sure, groups like the FSSP, The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the SSPX will keep Tradition alive - as well as the multitude of parishes that celebrate the Traditional Mass - but as more and more time elapses between the present and the era when the Tradition was universally accepted, it will have less and less relevance to new generations, just as Catholicism had very little relevance to an Englishman living around 1715.

Was there a better chance of reunion with the Protestants in 1525 or today after five centuries has elapsed?

I know us trads like to console ourselves by thinking time is on our side; the same priest who popularized brick by brick was also fond of saying that in time the "biological solution" would solve the problem of our older, liberal bishops. But is putting more time between ourselves and the pre-Conciliar era really an ultimate boon for our side? I mean, really? I'm not so sure it is. Therefore, I call into question whether or not time is on our side in this struggle.

III. TAKE IT SLOW? Brick by brick pretty much assumes that we have to take the reform slowly in order to do it right. If we don't, we could confuse people, offend people, and the whole thing could backfire on us, and that is  bad, mkay?

But who says? When did we all agree to that premise? I would simply ask, "Where was the moderation and careful approach when the original reforms were instituted after the Council?" Did the liberal reformers care about offending people or confusing the faithful when they ripped out the High Altars, removed the sacred images and relegated the Tabernacles of the world to closets? It was that quick; Friday the High Altar was there, and Monday it was gone. The 24th Sunday after Pentecost of 1970 Mass was said in the Missal of 1962; First Sunday of Advent seven days later and everyone's on the Novus Ordo. Bam. Done.

It can be objected that the quick implementation of these reforms is what caused so much mischief to begin with. Well, that's a cop-out because it dodges the question of the nature of the reforms altogether, placing blame instead on their pace. But what we all tend to forget is that the progressive reforms of the post-Conciliar era - for all the chaos they caused - were ultimately successful. The progressives wanted a horizontalized liturgy, and they got it. They wanted a democratized Church, and they got it. They wanted an end to papal centralization, and they got it. They wanted inculturation, and they got it. They got everything they wanted because they knew what they were after and were bold enough to reach out and take it.

If reforms can be brought about that quick in an errant cause, there is no reason it cannot be brought back that quickly in a righteous one. I understand that is is always easier to break down than to build up, but still...if the Magisterium were in earnest about fixing anything, it should not take forty-five years to undo the damage of ten.

Would there be disorders? Could such a swift restoration 'backfire'? Sure it could. And ultimately, there is no thoroughgoing "top-down" solution to our difficulties (see here). Yet we'd be foolish to disregard the restoration of Tradition because of fear of a hypothetical 'backfire' after Tradition is already restored. If we have to have problems either way, I'll take problems with Tradition than problems without it.

IV. DISREGARDS CONTRARY TRENDS. Suppose the tenuous connections between the positive nuggets strewn out on the table the way a person assembles a jig-saw puzzle are not completely arbitrary; suppose the brick by brickers are correct in their identification of a thread of positive movement in the modern Church. Even if this were true, the thread of positive movement is so thin, so small, and so inconsiderable compared to the massive contrary movement towards apostasy and liberalism that it is intellectually dishonest to make any claims about the trajectory of the Church as a whole based on it.

If you want to know which way traffic is moving, you judge this by the direction most cars are driving. You certainly do not look at the one or two cars here and there that are driving off the main road against the flow and make a judgment based on them. That would be not only foolish, but inaccurate. You judge direction by the trajectory of the majority. Similarly, you cannot latch on to positive developments within the tiny traditionalist community and use them to make sweeping generalizations about the Church whilst ignoring massive trends to the contrary.

V. THE TERRIFYING CRUX OF THE MATTER. Finally, what in my opinion is the strongest criticism of the brick by brick mentality is that it assumes that the Supreme Pontiffs have some 'grand plan' to restore the Church. It necessitates that we believe in some sort of supreme insight the popes have into the current crisis, some lofty vision of how to solve our current problems that we mere mortals are not privy to. Remember Benedict XVI's "Marshall Plan" for restoring the Church? Remember how we were supposed to find coherence in the gibberish of our current Holy Father by "reading Francis through Benedict"?

This is really the terrifying crux of the matter - my dear friends, believe me, there is no plan. There never was a plan. John Paul II did not have a plan. Benedict XVI did not have a plan. Francis sure as hell does not have a plan.

Did JP2 and BXVI occasionally do wonderful things? Of course. Does Francis occasionally say something orthodox? I admit it seems to have happened. But to the extent that John Paul or Benedict or even Paul VI made some truly good moves, it was absolutely not because they had some sort of "master plan" of how to fix the crisis; rather, the opposite was in fact true. Have you ever noticed that the good things about JPII and BXVI were always erratic and mixed in with many negatives as well? In the past I have called John Paul II a "mixed bag"; all the post-Vatican II popes have been mixed bags. This is because John Paul II and Benedict were sincerely conflicted men, torn between a strong, pious pre-Conciliar tradition they cherished nostalgically, but also committed intellectually to the post-Vatican II reforms.

After the Council, when the Church was in free-fall, neither pontiff really knew what to do. They had no plan to solve the crisis they both helped create. Neither seemed to be able to reconcile their pre-Conciliar formation with their post-Conciliar experience. At the best, they seemed to have believed in some sort of vague synthesis of the traditional thesis with the progressive antithesis. Thus occasionally they did something friendly to tradition while other times working to undo it; occasionally they threw traditional Catholics a bone and other times tossed a bone to liberals; sometimes they displayed great care for Catholic Tradition while other times their disregard for it was appalling and devastating to faithful Catholics. I don't think they ever knew how it was going to work out. John Paul II knew that the liturgy of the Eucharist had to be celebrated with reverence, but he had also committed himself to a particular form of evangelism which required things like the scandalous World Youth Day masses, the animist masses in Togo, etc. Benedict XVI, author of Dominus Iesus, certainly understood the salvific uniqueness of Jesus Christ, yet he also remained committed to a program of interreligious dialogue that brought about Assisi III and gave implicit recognition to Assisi I and II, again scandalizing the faithful.

While the conservatives bent over backwards trying to explain how all these actions were coherently orthodox and the sedevecantists coherently heretical, the fact of the matter is that there was no coherence to these actions at all. The reason Catholics disagree so vehemently about reconciling these contradictory actions is because the pontiffs themselves did not know how to reconcile them. At most they seemed to have shared a vague optimism that tradition and novelty existing side by side would somehow reconcile themselves over time. Remember the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman rite? The brick by brickers latched on to the part about the Traditional Latin Mass enriching the Novus Ordo, but recall, the enrichment Benedict envisioned was mutual; it was meant to run the other way, too...

We are discussing brick by brick. Laying brick upon brick presupposes you are working towards constructing a final structure - that you have some sort of blueprint or plan or telos for your actions. My friends, Benedict XVI had no plan. John Paul II had no plan. There is no blue print and there never has been a blue print. The previous two popes acted erratically because their sentiments were erratic. They served two masters and had no idea how to satisfactorily reconcile their conflicting loyalties. Ironically, this is one sense in which Francis is refreshing: having never been formed in the Old Rite, Francis is purely a pope of the post-Conciliar period. Whatever you think about Francis, what you see is what you get. He displays none of the wrestling between novelty and tradition displayed by Benedict and John Paul. Francis is not hampered in his actions by a nostalgia for a period that never meant anything to him.

VI. CONCLUSION. Please do not misunderstand this as an attack on anyone who has held to or promoted the brick by brick mentality. As I said above, I have nothing against brick by brickers. I love brick by brickers. Some of my best friends are brick by brickers. I read the blogs of brick by brickers. But I have come to see that this paradigm is intellectually dishonest and ultimately insufficient for making sense of what's going on in the Church, especially in light of the current pontificate. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Grazing of the Vineyards


The other day I was in a conversation with a priest and a woman. The woman was inquiring about the Synod on the Family and anxiously asked the priest if the pope and bishops really intended to change the teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried. The priest responded with incredulity, stating correctly that the teaching of the Church could never change. I jumped in and said, "Well, the issue is not so much whether the teaching will 'change', which of course it cannot. Rather, the issue is whether the Synod will implement an approach that is sufficiently decentralized and 'pastoral' to allow abuses to go unchecked at the diocesan level while the teaching technically remains in place." The woman understood the danger and responded that it was an "underhanded" way of changing the teaching without changing the teaching. The priest, however, was dismissive and said it could "never happen."

In the readings from the Old Testament this past Sunday, we heard the parable of the vineyard from Isaiah 5:1-7. This is one of the most important parables of the Old Testament and is echoed in the Gospel of Matthew by our Lord, who compares His people to a vineyard that has not produced its expected increase. Let us look at this beautiful passage from Isaiah (I use the NAB translation here because this is what most of us probably heard at Mass):

Let me now sing of my friend,
my friend's song concerning his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
he spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but what it yielded was wild grapes
.

Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
Now, I will let you know
what I mean to do with my vineyard:
take away its hedge, give it to grazing,
break through its wall, let it be trampled!
Yes, I will make it a ruin:
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but overgrown with thorns and briers;
I will command the clouds
not to send rain upon it.
The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his cherished plant;
he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!

The fact that God had promised to maintain His land does not mean that He is obligated to always put it to the same use. Using the analogy of landlord and his piece of property to explain God's actions toward His people, He had initially hoped to grow grapes from this vineyard. The vineyard did not produce, and so He tried various things - pruning it, building a hedge around it, clearing the stones, planting the choicest sorts of vines; in short, everything any reasonable land owner would do to make his piece of agriculture productive.

And yet it was not productive. The prophets of Israel warned their countrymen that if they did not "bear fruit that befits repentance" that God would come in judgment. Perhaps because of spiritual and moral laxity, perhaps because of a reckless confidence in God's promises to Abraham and David, the Israelites assumed that their kingdom would always endure and that they would never be taken from the land. They made a very presumptuous mistake: they mistook the existence of the political Kingdom with the existence of themselves as a people, and while God had promised to always maintain the latter, He had given no such assurance of the former. Thus the kingdom was taken from the Israelites, and the people sent into exile.

This is what God means when He says that He gave the vineyard over to grazing. A landowner cannot ever "destroy" his property, in the sense that land as such is indestructible - but he can certainly alter its use, sometimes in radical ways. When the vines did not yield grapes, God plucked them up, had the walls trampled down, and gave the vineyard over to the wild animals (the nations) for grazing. And because of the reckless, presumptuous overconfidence of the Israelites - whom the prophet Jeremiah says were led astray by false prophets who only spoke what the people wanted to hear - they were caught unaware and led to destruction.

My friends, just because God has promised that this vineyard - the Church - will always endure and that He will always look after it does not mean that the situation of the Church in this world could not be radically altered. In the case of the vineyard, God is still "maintaining" the land when He breaks down the wall and gives it over to grazing. He is maintaining the way any husbandman does:  by putting the land to its highest and best use. If the vineyard consistently refuses to bear fruit for the Master, there is no reason to think He will not break down our walls and give us over to grazing. This has already happened to a large extent over the past fifty years.

Of course, this is ultimately remedial. The grazing allows the land to have rest; the manure of the grazing animals fertilizes the ground and the husbandman hopes that, in the future, the land will be more productive when it is again ready for grapes.

So, will the Synod change the teaching of the Church? Of course not. In fact, it may be a total non-event.  I readily admit that we may get through this and nothing at all could change. But then again, nothing need officially "change" for much destruction to be wrought, and in the end that is what we care about - not whether on paper any teaching has been "changed" (which is impossible), but in reality how much destruction is wrought and how many souls may be lost. A lot of souls have been lost since the reforms of Vatican II, which remember, did not "change" any teaching.

Will God ever abandon this little piece of property which He has claimed for Himself and bought with His blood? Of course not. Such a thing cannot be. Could He choose to give it over to grazing? Could He break down its walls? - that is, many of the visible structures that have provided security in the past? Could He command His clouds not to rain on it? - that is, withhold many of the gifts that He had showered upon the Church in ages past? Could He pluck up much of the vines by the roots and cast them away to be burned, and could He give over the land to the grazing of animals, who will trample it down with their hooves, grind the vegetation between their teeth and foul the earth with their dung? Of course He could do all this. In fact, unless we bear fruits befitting repentance, He will most certainly do all things.

Perhaps then - and only then - will our little, beloved piece of ground be disposed to again produce good fruit. But until then, let it be given over to grazing.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Rosary and Poverty

“I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you”  Acts 3:6  These are the great words of our first Pope, St Peter, when someone asked him for alms while he was going into the temple to pray.  Of course, what happened next was a miracle: In the Name of Jesus Christ, St. Peter gave the man the ability to walk.

There is a great deal of talk today about social justice, but if someone is talking about patience in poverty, I have not heard it.  There is a great deal of talk over what governments should do with their citizens’ money, but little talk of the need for penitents to give alms for the forgiveness of sins.  It feels sometimes as if some were saying “I have no silver and gold, but what I do I have I give you, in the name of socialism, you should get benefits”

Today the politics of envy and greed abound and this development is not surprising, in fact it was predicted by our Holy Father Pope Leo XIII of holy memory in his encyclical Latiae Sanctae: an encyclical on how the Rosary is a great remedy to the evils afflicting society.  (Listen to the Encyclical in Full on: The Holy Rosary Remedy for Modern Evils)

Lets look at what Pope Leo identified as one of those three evils.

“There are three influences which appear to Us to have the chief place in effecting this downgrade movement of society. These are--first, the distaste for a simple and laborious life…”  

Pope Leo XIII goes onto explain how this manifests itself:

“In the workman, it evinces itself in a tendency to desert his trade, to shrink from toil, to become discontented with his lot, to fix his gaze on things that are above him, and to look forward with unthinking hopefulness to some future equalization of property.”

Men's minds become a prey to jealousy and heart-burnings, rights are openly trampled under foot, and, finally, the people, betrayed in their expectations, attack public order, and place themselves in conflict with those who are charged to maintain it.”

I suppose if I name specific examples of movements provoking such things I will wind up getting into blog wars with their various defenders.  Needless to say, there is no shortage of all of that going on today (civil disobedience, betrayed expectations, and lawlessness).  Often times the anger does not only come from the lowest classes, but from the most privileged.

Pope Leo XIII had a remedy for these evils.  The remedy will not be satisfactory to those intellectuals who are not satisfied with anything unless it is comprehensive; nor will it be for those activists who mask their desire for vengeance with demands of justice in their moral vanity.  The remedy is meditation on joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. 

Here he explains what we will find when meditating on those early years of the life of Christ. 

“Here is the patient industry which provides what is required for food and raiment; which does so ‘in the sweat of the brow,’ which is contented with little, and which seeks rather to diminish the number of its wants than to multiply the sources of its wealth.”.  (Listen to the Encyclical in Full on: The Holy Rosary Remedy for Modern Evils)

In this teaching we find the spirit of St Peter. The Catholic Church in its institution or its members does not have enough “gold and silver” to end poverty, but what we have is Jesus and that is what (or rather, Who) we can give people. With Jesus, poverty can go from unbearable to sweet (just look at the lives of the Saints).   If we do not teach that possessions often hinder rather than help in the quest for salvation, then people will conclude that poverty is something to be striven against, rather than striven for.

If we tell the man with a dollar that his suffering is in vain and that he need not be patient in it then surely he will not be.  If we tell the rich man that poverty is to be avoided he will probably make sure he has more than enough for himself, and not be generous in alms-giving.  Both lead to more consequences here and in eternity.

“The power of God takes away or gives with the same ease in matters temporal as in matters spiritual.” said the Little Flower in an apparition as she provided money to a community of nuns in desperate need.  taken from The Shower of Roses: The Miracles of St Therese.  If we preach prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, men can ask God for their needs and He will grant them! The poor can have hope rather than burn with envy, and the rich will not worry about suffering want from being overly generous.  

If we preach the Holy Rosary to all and teach its mysteries so mankind can meditate on the humble life of labor and poverty of our Lord, then the poor man strives to endure like Christ, and the rich man seeks to give alms generously in order to become more like Christ.   I for one will not be putting any confidence in our Pope, or President, Congress or leaders to end poverty or provide for our needs.  Rather let us all put our hope in our Heavenly King and Queen and ask for our needs while meditating and saying the Holy Rosary. 

Queen of the Holy Rosary, Pray for Us!
  

Friday, October 03, 2014

God Wants You

Recently our friend New Catholic over at Rorate Caeli reflected on the phrase: “God doesn’t need us”  and offered his thoughts on the statement, along with an excerpt from the Dialogues of St Catherine.

I thought that if someone quipped to me “God does not need you” I would be so inclined to say back “But God wanted me and still wants me now”. It almost feels arrogant to say that God in his glory wants me; however, it is true. Go back in time, a short while and I did not exist and neither did you.  God did not need to create us, yet He did. He not only created us, but the Eternal Wisdom assures us that He numbers every hair on our head.  With every hair numbered, we can say with surety that God has also chosen for us the particular situations that we are born into. God decided what time and place we would be created.

He has done this for everyone made in His image. With the world being the valley of tears that it is and besieged by all manners of evil, it is sometimes tempting, in the imaginations of our heart, to desire power (whether natural or supernatural) in order to route evil and become God’s champions.  We forget that God’s plan for us is to be His champion, and to strive manfully wherever we are in the situation that He has chosen for us.

He wills us to be His champions!  While recording the Shower of Roses: Miracles of St Therese, I was impressed with the accounts of normal people and religious, using the gift of faith that God gave them, yielded supernatural power to stop fires, cure cancer, change the weather, and convert the most hardened sinners.  And why not?  If God has put us in difficulties in our duties, or even just our struggle to survive, He will most certainly move mountains if we ask Him to.  God told us to do something, He will make sure we can do it.  God will not limit His generosity to just what we need, but even with what we ask for in His loving kindness like when God did not shun the prayers of a family to save their pony that was sick. Shower of Roses Miracles of St Therese

On this feast day of St Therese of the Child Jesus for the 1962 calendar, we can remember that St Therese struggled bravely to be allowed to enter Carmel at the early age of 15; that it was in the course of her humble duties and devout prayer that she became intimate with Jesus Christ.  I wanted to mention that she struggled to enter Carmel, so that no one gets the wrong impression that one should just be resigned to whatever station they are in and not pursue the graces that God provides to move higher.  Little Therese now spends eternity yielding a great power and influence with God that can cure the blind and convert sinners around the world if we ask her for help. 

God wants us to give Him glory.  To do His holy will and to keep His commandments.  Let us give testimony of our love by serving Him and struggling manfully to do the things that God wants us to do! 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two Tales of Tradition


Following the pedagogical principles of our Lord Himself, it is at times better to use parables and stories in order to make a point. Thus, I present to you two true tales from two villages - one in Austria, one in France - about the importance and power of Tradition.

The Austrian Wall

In Austria, there was a certain village which had an old wall running around the length of the place. The wall was very old, dating at least to the late medieval period and possible earlier. It had become quite scenic over the years; in many places it was overgrown with beautiful ivy and people often visited the village just to take a stroll along the scenic wall - the sort of place where men would take their girls to propose to them. What's more, from time immemorial a certain spot on the wall had been associated with 'good luck.' When walking past this particular section of the wall, it was custom to reach out and touch it. People would leave flowers at this section of the wall, and sometimes candles. Nobody knew why. It was just the custom practiced by people from as long as anybody could remember.

Eventually the wall became dilapidated in many places and needed to be repaired. The village undertook and extensive restoration project on the wall. This entailed clearing away much if the ivy, scraping away old plaster, and replacing the old, crumbling mortar with new. In the process of this restoration, it was discovered that the "lucky spot" on the wall actually hid a glorious mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mosaic was very old, presumably from the Byzantine Ravenna period (mid-6th century), when the conquests of Justinian had momentarily reunited Italy and parts of Austria with the Eastern Roman Empire. The mosaic was apparently an object of great veneration. Over the generations, accumulation of ivy, grime from offertory candles, and just dirt from being outdoors obscured the mosaic. Eventually the whole thing was simply plastered over. But the people of the region continued to venerate the spot, though having long forgotten the reason why. Hence the association of "luck" with the location, the offerings of candles, flowers, etc.

The French Cave

Our second story takes us to France, where at the beginning of the twentieth century there was a small village at the base of a mountain. This mountain featured a series of caves, which would frequently get cluttered by mudslides, brambles, and other debris. Since time immemorial, the village had a custom of hiring a small contingent of men to go up into the caves on the mountain once a year and clean them all out in exchange for a small stipend. By the 20th century the action was seen as honorary, a quirky custom that the villagers enjoyed but which served no practical purpose.

In the years of the Depression after World War I, however, with the economy in trouble and local governments watching their purses, it was decided that the village would no longer expend public money for the annual cleaning of the caves. It had been a fun tradition, but really the expense could no longer be justified, especially since the clearing of the caves above the town provided no practical benefit to the villagers. Thus, the cleaning was omitted and the caves began to get clogged up with debris and brambles.

Well, it was not long after that - perhaps a year, perhaps more - that the town was suddenly hit with a series of mudslides and floods. The village had never suffered from anything like this in living memory, and a prompt investigation was made into the source of these disasters. It was quickly determined that the calamities had come from the mountain, and the villagers made a surprising discovery. As it turns out, the clearing of the caves was not pointless. Every year, when the snows melted, the waters flowed down into the mountain caves and off into various rivulets here and there. However, when the villagers ceased clearing the caves of debris, the passages the water ran through became clogged, and the melt off was diverted, causing a flood of water and mud to rush down upon the village. The annual clearing of the caves was necessary to prevent these sorts of natural disasters. Local historians did some research and found that the annual clearing of the caves had been going on since Roman times. The Romans, consummate engineers, understood the relationship between the caves and the floods and made sure they were kept clear, and at public expense. The Romans disappeared, but the villagers continued to clear the caves, though they had long forgotten the rationale behind the practice. As they learned, the thoughtless jettisoning of so ancient a custom proved to be disastrous in a way they had not foreseen.


And what lessons do we derive from these two tales? Both stories strongly suggest to us the power and importance of tradition. In the story of the Austrian wall and the mosaic of Our Lady, we see how the tradition preserved a valuable core of piety even despite the people who had forgotten the rationale for it. Tradition is the best preservative available to humans. Catholic Tradition preserves important elements to our faith and hands them on, and it is capable of doing this even if people forget the reasons. A great example of traditional ecclesiastical architecture, which hands on a certain core of spiritual and liturgical principles, even if the average pewsitter is ignorant of them. When tradition is junked, we lose the ability to preserve elements of our religion and culture and wind up drifting loose.

In the second story, we see the other side of tradition - not as something that preserves a valuable core, but as something that defends us from evil, even an evil that we might not be aware of. The clearing of the caves was to keep the village safe, even though the villagers themselves did not understand the nature of the evil. Similarly, ecclesiastical traditions are in place for the purpose of protecting us from certain deadly errors, even if modern man thinks the tradition serves no "practical" purpose. Or, to put it another way, "Do not take down a fence if you don't know why it was put up."

Sources: I heard the story of the Austrian wall from a priest in a homily, while the tale of the French cave was related to me by my co-blogger Anselm during my last visit with him on a cold snowy night back in February.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Request Sunday


You would think that after seven years of blogging, I would be running out of material. In fact, the opposite is true; the longer I blog, the more my ideas branch out into seeds for new articles. As of recently, every day two or more ideas has been coming to me and I have so many concepts for articles that I cannot keep them straight or prioritize them.

I also get a lot of requests; the above picture is from the inbox of this blog and website, where I have a backlog of requests for articles going back almost a year.

What do you think I should post on? I guess I'm taking requests; of course, sometimes it takes weeks or months until I get to something, but as long as the request is reasonable, I will put it in the hopper and get to it when I can.

Below you will find a list of subjects that are already in the works to a greater or lesser degree for the next six months; what else would you like to see me post on? 

  • More Heresies of Balthasar: Balthasar insists that Christ possesses the virtue of faith.
  • Modernist thought in the writing of C.S. Lewis [UPDATE: Complete; see here]
  • Catholic Women: Why you can't find a man
  • Comparisons of Old Testament Israelite monarchy to current Church hierarchy
  • Philippians 1 and the Communion of Saints (contra Protestantism)
  • Follow up to this Nephilim article
  • Follow up to this article on the theology of the State
  • Hesychasm
  • Satis Cognitum and Sedevacantism
  • Critiquing the "brick by brick" approach to Tradition [UPDATE: Complete; see here]
  • The orientation of early Roman churches [UPDATE: Complete; see here]
  • More stuff on evolution
  • More biblical archaeology stuff
  • 2 Pet. 2:24 (contra Protestantism)
  • Catholic approach to tithing
  • More stuff about Bayside
  • Joachim of Fiore
  • Medieval penances
  • More videos (remember to subscribe to our Unam Sanctam Catholicam channel on Youtube)

Any other ideas? Follow this blog and conversation on Facebook



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Medjugorje: Thanks from a Priest


It's been a long while since we've talked about Medjogorje here. Over the years I've done a lot of posts on the subject, and though none are very recent, they remain some of the most viewed articles on this blog.

We recently received a very kind letter from a Franciscan priest laboring in Canada about how this blog and website helped him see the truth about Medjugorje. Below is the letter, edited only slightly to remove references to other individuals:

Dearest Boniface,

I would like to commend you for particular work you've presented here concerning the events taking place in Medjugorje. I am a Franciscan priest currently stationed in Canada. 

Boniface, if there was anyone who had hoped the alleged apparitions there were true, it would be me. I am convinced however, now, that after doing further reading up on the subject, I was wrong and imprudent in not only being in favour of the apparitions, but also preaching things about the scientific evidence (which now I see is not evidence of the supernatural; in fact an even greater witness against anything supernatural is occurring there) as I had seen presented, as a motive of credibility for the existence of God. I should have been more prudent. In any case, things have changed with me and in my alarm and concern for the well-being of people entrusted to me, I am now simply relating to them what the Church has thus far indicated concerning anyone's planned involvement in pilgrimages, conferences, etc. 


One of the articles which really helped me see the history as it evolved to the build up of the allegations in 1981 was the "Understanding the Herzegovina Question." I want to really thank you for that...

If you have any info that may be useful to me in my pastoral concern for these sincere people, would you please send it my way or let me know if you post an article concerning this on your website/blog? I would really appreciate it...

Anyways, Boniface, thanks for your courage in speaking the truth... let me just say it has helped me and I am one who is entrusted with helping others in the same way to be patient, and obedient to our rightful pastors, who need our prayer, loyalty and help in spreading the Truth... the good news. Blessings and peace.

And bless you, Father! The article referred to above is "Understanding the Herzegovina Question" on the USC website, which is mandatory reading for anybody serious about understanding the background of what has been going on in Medjugorje since 1981.

Another interesting post on Medjugorje that I did several years ago on Ryan Grant's old blog was on the question of John Paul II's alleged "approval" of the apparitions, as related in various second and third hand accounts. Ryan's blog went defunct, but before it did I copied the article and reposted it here, though I think it went under the radar at the time. If you have never read about John Paul II and his alleged support for Medjugorje, please check out this link. As with much else about this phenomenon, the truth is pretty far from what the Medjugorje proponents assert.

You can also view all our older posts that discuss Medjugorje here , though a lot of these come from 2007-2008 when my writing was a little less refined and are sometimes more rants than anything else.

Please pray for this Franciscan father and his mission. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cohabitation: Maintaining Sanity


With the announcement that Pope Francis intends to marry couples who are publicly living in sin by cohabiting, some Catholics have sunk to a depth of denial and contradiction that I did not think possible. The scandal took place today, according to sources (here and here).

This is not some kind of hype pushed by the secular media. The fact that cohabiting couples will be among those receiving the sacrament comes straight from the press release issued by the Vicariate of Rome, which stated that among those being married by Francis "there are those who are already cohabiting", as reported by CNS. The ceremony will also include couples with children born out of wedlock.

The marriage of people cohabiting is a destructive scandal and offensive to those brave parish priests who over the years have steadfastly refused to marry couples who are living together outside of marriage. These faithful priests - who are usually in the minority and receive very little support from their bishops - understand that a couple cohabiting prior to marriage have no real understanding of the Catholic Church's moral teachings and even less knowledge of the purpose of the sacrament. They also know that marriages where couples cohabit first are much more likely to fail, inasmuch cohabiting couples demonstrate a lack of willingness to sacrifice and engender a disposition towards selfish behavior. Many of us traditional Catholics, or even just conservative Catholics who uphold Christian morality, have applauded these heroic pastors who have the guts to buck the trend and refuse matrimony to cohabiting couples.

But now that Pope Francis is doing this very thing, many of these folks don't know what to do. As is usually the case when this pope scandalizes the faithful, they have generally responded with "I don't see a problem here", "what's the big deal?", "this is really nothing new", and the like. Typical Franciscan-pontificate spin.

"Boniface, the Church has always married people who have previously been living in sin. This is nothing new."

The Church has always married people who had previously been living in sin; she has no custom of marrying people who are currently living in sin. And some of these couples are currently living in unrepentant sin, as the press release says they are "already cohabiting"; i.e., they are living together right now. Obviously, nobody has a problem with the Church offering sacraments to single mothers living chastely or people who were once notorious sinners but have repented; to offer them the sacrament while they are persisting in unrepentant sin is another matter entirely.

"But Boniface, you are being judgmental. How do you know they are unrepentant? You don't know their hearts."

In the Catholic Faith, what we do is extremely important. When the people came to St. John the Baptist asking how they could be saved, he told them "Bear fruits that befit repentance" (Luke 3:8). We demonstrate our repentance by our actions. A true conversion, a metanoia, means actively turning away from a sinful lifestyle and embracing holiness. Hence St. John Vianney withheld absolution from a man who had refused to stop dancing in the local saloon and St. Cyprian withheld distribution of alms from certain people unless they gave up attending the Roman spectacles. Can you imagine the scandal today if a priest refused to absolve somebody unless they stopped going to the bar on Fridays or if he refused to feed the poor if they didn't stop going to see R-rated movies? How Pharisaic! Yet these saints knew that a sincere change of heart would invariably be coupled with a change of lifestyle, and if they did not see the "fruits that befit repentance", they presumed there was no repentance and withheld their ministrations. A person who persists in their sin is not repentant; rather, they are like a fool, according to Proverbs: "A dog that returns to its vomit is like a fool who reverts to his folly" (Prov. 26:11).

I know a thief is unrepentant if he keeps stealing; I know a cohabiting couple is unrepentant if they keep cohabiting. Simple as that.

"There you go judging again. How can you have any knowledge of whether or not the cohabiting couples are still sinning? You don't know what goes on in the bedroom. They could be cohabiting but living chastely. We ought to presume the best."

Let me say this as plainly as possible; in fact, let me be so blunt that I am actually going to resort to using all caps, which I seldom do: COHABITING ITSELF IS SINFUL, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SEXUAL ACTIVITY GOES ON.

The spin-doctors are essentially saying that while a couple may be living together outside of wedlock, they may be living chastely in that situation, and therefore we cannot and should not presume they are fornicating just because they are living under the same roof. We ought to "assume the best."

This position misses several things.

First, how many people do you know who cohabit but do not have sexual relations? In my twelve years as a Catholic, I can think of one. Now, how many people do you know in the world, in your family, in your workplace, in your parish - wherever - how many people do you know who cohabit and do have sexual relations? Yeah. So this mythical "chaste cohabiting couple" is in the same category as the "extraordinary minister", where the adjective is there to make us feel better but in practice has no meaning.

"Boniface, you are talking about non-believers cohabiting - worldly people. The pope is marrying Catholics."

Catholics who cohabit before marriage are being worldly and are, in some sense, non-believers, at least as regards the Church's moral teaching, which they evidently do not believe or they would not cohabit.

Furthermore, regarding "presuming the best about people", we must recall that when people are living together, we actually do not presume chastity; we presume they are sexually active, and the Church always has. This is because an adult man and woman living a common life together is a state proper only to marriage; hence, when we see a man and a woman living together and don't know differently, we default to assuming they are married - which obviously means we assume the relations proper to marriage. If a man and a woman share a house, it is presumed they share a bed; and if they share a bed, well, heh heh...you know.

In fact, it is natural for people to assume sexual relations whenever they see any male and female in any close relationship. When I was watching the winter Olympics figure-skating with my extended family this year, my 15 year old nephew remarked, "So, do you think they do it?" Given the great amounts of time the skaters spend rehearsing in each other's company, as well as the skin-tight suits, intimate poses, and emotional intensity of the profession, it was natural for him - as well as for many - to assume sexual relations between figure-skating pairs.

The Church has always presumed a cohabiting couple were having sexual relations. This is why living together outside of marriage has been referred to as "living in sin." It was never engaging in the act of fornication that was primarily known as "living in sin"; rather, it was extramarital cohabitation that constituted "living in sin". Fornication was merely - and quite rationally - assumed. We, also, are not wrong in assuming that cohabiting couples are fornicating.

Third, given that cohabitation is referred to as "living in sin", we need to recall that cohabitation itself is sinful, as I exclaimed in all caps above. There are several reasons for this; as mentioned above, because people presume you are fornicating, it becomes a scandal. This is true even in the unlikely event that no fornication happens. A blind man who walks into an adult bookstore still commits the sin of scandal by merely going in, even if his blindness means he doesn't look at pornography while he is in there. This is because anyone who sees him go in and doesn't know the particulars about his blindness will naturally assume he is looking at porn while in the store.

Besides being scandalous, cohabitation also puts couples in a near occasion of sin on a daily basis, almost perpetually, in fact. This is why we keep our teenage daughters and sons away from compromising situations with members of the opposite sex. Duh. When did this become so complicated? You take a male and a female, let them share a home, and chances are very good that they will share a bed - and if that happens, forget about it.

So, because cohabitation sends a message that sex is happening, and because there is a tremendous likelihood that sex will in fact happen, it is scandalous and sinful. Can you think of any other activity that is scandalous and a near occasion of sin but which apologists would be hesitant condemning?

"Fair enough, Boniface, but this is a pastoral call that the pope has the right to make. He has the jurisdiction to marry whom he chooses and it is not our place to call that judgment into question."

Very well. I will not judge Francis. I appeal to the words of St. John Paul II, who wrote about those who "presume that the true and proper marriage will take place only after a period of cohabitation" in Familiaris Consortio. After summarizing the variety of reasons people cohabit - ranging from economic distress to custom to mere pleasure seeking - the pope stated that each of these situations of cohabitation

"
presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness) [Familiaris Consortio, 81]

By the way, for those who are no longer accustomed to traditional theological vocabulary, the use of the adjective "grave" generally means "mortally sinful."

Also, did you notice that St. John Paul II applies all these consequences to cohabitation as such? He does not seem to envision nor give much credence to the possibility of chaste cohabitation, nor do any of the reasons for extramarital common life negate the consequences he enumerates.

So, the question becomes: If this holy, wise and sainted-pontiff states that cohabitation has serious moral, social and religious consequences, including psychological damage to children, destruction of the family, establishment in selfishness - as well as the guilt of mortally sinful scandal for those engaged in it and the deprivation of the grace of the sacrament of marriage - are these people properly disposed to be married?

If according to St. John Paul II cohabitation before marriage results in the deprivation of the grace of the sacrament, how on earth can one say that cohabiting couples can possibly be properly disposed or in any sense fit for matrimony? Let St. John Paul II judge Francis.

"Well Boniface, you make a good case, but ultimately these marriages are all valid, so this is just your opinion."

Uh...I didn't suggest they weren't valid. Is this really relevant? Dr. Peters has an interesting article looking at the validity of marriages conferred on cohabiting couples. Of course, he states that they are perfectly valid but kind of punks out by sidestepping the question of the pastoral implications of such marriages, only stating that the pastoral problems "might be a bigger deal."

That's an understatement!

I really hope we don't have to go over the whole discussion about validity and propriety again. A Eucharist consecrated on a card table at a poker game is valid if correct matter, form, minister and intent are used. That does not make it proper. It can be valid and still seriously scandalous; in fact, in the case of the Eucharist, such a consecration would be sacrilegious and scandalous precisely because the consecration would be valid.

Similarly, hiding behind the mere validity of a marriage conferred upon a cohabiting couple is no way to get around the huge pastoral implications such a practice would have. Has the world turned upside down that I am now concerned with pastoral implications?!

I would also like to opine, however, that Dr. Peters errs in one point. He says in his article quoted above:

"Canonically, this is a non-issue. No divine, natural, or canon law impedes a wedding between cohabiting persons (cc. 1083-1094) and therefore the fundamental right of the faithful to the sacraments in general (cc. 213, 843) and to marriage particular (c. 1058) should prevail in such cases. Unquestionably, these couples can, and must be allowed to wed."

Dr. Peters suggests that, unless impeded by some canonical impediment, there is absolutely no reason any Catholic couple can ever be legitimately denied access to the sacrament of matrimony. I dispute this point. It is very true that, regarding matrimony, there are no natural, divine, or canonical impediments based on cohabitation. But there is grounds for denial of the sacrament in the canons regarding administration of sacraments in general.

First, canon 843§1 states that "Sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them." Dr. Peters cites this canon in support of his argument that cohabiting couples "can, and must be allowed to wed."

However, he does not delve into what it means for a couple to be "properly disposed." Since being "properly disposed" is a condition for reception of any sacrament, it is understood by implication and practice that any sacrament may be denied to any Catholic who is not properly disposed. This is why pastors do First Communion interviews, Confirmation interviews, etc.

Who decides whether a couple is properly disposed for marriage? Canon 843§2 says, "According to their respective offices in the Church, both pastors of souls and all other members of Christ's faithful have a duty to ensure that those who ask for the sacraments are prepared for their reception. This should be done through proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, in accordance with the norms laid down by the competent authority."

In the case of marriage, pastors are to ensure proper disposition through "personal preparation for entering marriage, so that the spouses are disposed to the holiness and the obligations of their new state" (1062§2), while traditionally the laity participate by making pastors aware of any impediments to marriage; hence the traditional publishing of the banns.

Thus, there does exist a canonical rationale for a pastor to deny the sacrament of matrimony to two Catholics; that is, he can always deny it on the grounds that they are not properly disposed. Does cohabitation before marriage prove a proper disposition is lacking? The purpose of any sacrament is to communicate the grace proper to it. Given that Pope St. John Paul II stated that cohabitation before marriage results in a deprivation of sacramental grace and is a grave scandal, a pastor who refuses to confer marriage on a cohabiting couple would be justified based on Canon 843§2 and Familiaris Consortio 81, which would suggest that such a couple would not be properly disposed.

As a side note, a priest may also refuse to officiate at the marriage of "a person who has notoriously rejected the catholic faith" (1073§4). Traditionally this has been interpreted to refer to outright apostasy, though a person who rejects a certain portion of the Church's teaching could be said to have rejected the faith, insofar as the faith must be kept "whole and undefiled" (Quicumque Vult) and that "whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all" (cf. James 2:10).

Furthermore, canon 1092§2 lists among persons "incapable of contracting marriage...those who suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgement concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted. I believe this canon is meant to apply to persons who suffer from developmental disabilities. However, since the canon does not explicitly say that, if a person of sound mind is so dense as to either not understand or reject the Church's teaching on the exclusivity of intercourse to within the marital bond itself, one could make a case that they "suffer from a grace lack of discretionary judgment": concerning the nature of matrimony and hence should not be married. These latter two arguments from canons 1073 and 1092 are only speculative; the argument from Canon 843§2 and Familiaris Consortio 81 is much stronger, in my opinion.

So, yes, I take issue with the opinion that cohabiting couples "can, and must be allowed to wed" if they ask for it. Many pastors have presumed such couples are not properly disposed and have denied them on those grounds, as they have every right and duty to based on canon law and tradition.

"Boniface, marriage offers a way for them to regularize their situation. Do you want them to remain in sin?"

Of course not. I want them to turn their union into a sacramental, grace-filled union. To do so, they must be properly disposed to receive the sacrament. Part of that disposition is abstaining from intercourse prior to marriage, which among other things, you do by not living together. If a cohabiting couple is serious about wanting to regularize their situation, let them cease cohabitation at once and make a sacramental confession. Then let them maintain purity for the remainder of the preparatory process, which is a sign that they are serious about "bearing fruit that befits repentance." It's as simple as that.

I want every Catholic to receive communion weekly. That doesn't mean I want to dispense with the regulations surrounding who and when communion can be received; it means I want all Catholics to observe those regulations. Two Catholics certainly have a right to marry - but not on any terms they choose. Everyone understands this principle when it comes to the other sacraments. Why some Catholics are now hemming and hawing when it comes to matrimony is beyond me.

One last thought: It rubs me the wrong way that this is being done for political purposes. Do you think the pope goes out to marry twenty couples and it is a coincidence that they are all either living in sin or come from irregular situations? Of course that is not a coincidence. These people were chosen to send a message, and the fact that this is occurring so close to the opening of the Synod on the Family is very meaningful. It saddens me that these people were chosen not based on their suitability for reception of the sacrament, but in order to send a message about the pope's agenda. It is as if Francis went out and said, "Go dig up some cohabiting people for me to marry so I can make a point", just like when he went to Korea he requested whatever "the smallest car possible" was in order to make sure he looked sufficiently humble. The administration of the sacrament is being co-opted to push the envelope for the progressive attempts to loosen all the disciplines surrounding marriage.

Yes, this is a scandal. Many in the Church hierarchy may have lost their minds on this matter, but at least let us maintain sanity on this issue. Cohabiting before marriage is sinful and those who present themselves for marriage while cohabiting are not properly disposed and should not receive the sacrament until the "bear fruit that befits repentance."

Follow this blog and conversation on Facebook