Monday, September 28, 2015

True Tolerance

Tolerance is the chief virtue in the modern hierarchy of values. The enlightened man is the tolerant man; he may certainly have his own convictions, but he understands that others have their convictions, too, and they are as certain of theirs as he is of his. This attitude leads him to hold his convictions in a sort of vague and non-dogmatic manner, for to insist too strongly on any particular point of belief would imply the rejection of non-complementary values, which is the fundamental sin against tolerance. Thus while the tolerant man may not commit certain sins himself, he must not be too strident in condemning sinful activities in others. He may not personally affirm a certain philosophy or political belief, but his tolerance keeps him from arguing too vehemently for his own. It must never seem that there is not room for every man and creed under the big tent of pluralism. Tolerance effectively keeps such a man from taking a stand for anything – except the virtue of tolerance, which must be consistently asserted above all things.

We are all used to this reprehensible modern idea. But, as we have seen in other cases, this modern definition of tolerance is merely a cheap counterfeit for what was once an actual Christian concept. This is nothing new. Christian liberty is replaced by the secular concept of liberty; the Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy of nature is dethroned by a Freudian-biologist assessment of nature; the classical ethos of love is transformed into the debased, passion-driven thing that now passes as love. This bait-and-switch has also happened with the concepts of the State, faith, justice, worship and almost every other aspect of Christian thought. It is no different with tolerance. The purpose of this article, then, is not to be another invective against false tolerance, but an examination of the older, Christian virtue of tolerance that the modern counterfeit has replaced.

Christian tolerance is a related to the cardinal virtue of fortitude. Fortitude is the habit of the soul whereby a person is able to endure difficulties resolutely in pursuit of the good. Tolerance is one aspect of fortitude and related to patience. When we encounter an obstacle or difficulty, patience is the virtue that helps us to maintain our inner tranquility in the midst of the difficulty, thus enabling us to persevere in God’s grace undisturbed. 

This is related to tolerance, but tolerance is a further refinement of patience. There are many kinds of difficulties one can encounter in life – a storm may knock a tree on your fence, a reckless driver may rear end your vehicle, a co-worker may irritate you by grinding their teeth non-stop, or you may come down with a nasty case of gall stones. 

We are called to be patient in every adversity, but tolerance is a special kind of patience that we exercise when the source of our adversity is a moral agent, because the free will of the agent endows the obstacle or adversity with another degree of value – personal culpability. Whereas patience helps us to maintain our tranquility in the face of any obstacle, tolerance helps us persevere in charity when faced with the culpable failings of others; it moderates our responses to such persons and enables us to react with charity and forgiveness instead of harshness. 

Thus, tolerance can only be exercised towards moral agents. I can be patient when the tree falls on my fence, but I do not exercise tolerance towards it. A man can be heroically patient when passing a gall stone, but he is not practicing tolerance. Tolerance is exercised, however, when we continue to be charitable and friendly towards our co-worker despite his annoying personal habits; it is a work of tolerance to smile and continue undisturbed in our tranquility when the clumsy teenage driver rear ends our car. While we are patient in every adversity, tolerance is a special kind of patience that must be exercised when our adversity comes from a culpable moral agent.

Humility is necessary for tolerance; in fact, tolerance is motivated by humility. We are quick to overlook the irritating traits or faults of others because we know that we, too, have such faults. Tolerance grounded in humility stops us from rushing to judgment and losing charity in a particular sort of adversity.

But there is one further distinction to make: Tolerance is exercised in face of difficulties that come from a culpable agent, but which are not in themselves immoral. For example, we can be tolerant of a co-worker’s constant teeth-grinding, a family member’s unpleasant body odor, a friend’s habit of picking his nose, a customer who irritates you with his inane chatter. St. Therese of Lisieux mentions a nun who consistently splashed her unintentionally while doing dishes, and an old nun who had a habit of “sucking her cheek” during Adoration. These sorts of actions are the proper objects of tolerance; it helps us to maintain our charity in the midst of the annoyances and irritations we inevitably encounter when dealing with other human beings. The patient endurance of these foibles of human nature is what Christian tradition has called tolerance.

But notice that none of these things are immoral in themselves; they are morally neutral acts whose unpleasantness comes not from the fact that they are evil but that we personally find them irritating. Morally evil actions are not the proper objects of tolerance; we may be tolerant of a friend who always carries around a disgusting chaw-bottle to spit his tobacco in, but we should never be tolerant of a friend who steals or blasphemes. We may be tolerant of a customer who wastes our time with banal chit-chat, but we should not be tolerant of a customer who offends our ears with sexually explicit jokes and provocative or harassing speech.

The same can be said of formal error or heresy. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was extremely forgiving of the personal faults and irritations of his brothers but was relentless in condemning the heresies of Abelard. The same can be said of many other saints and doctors.

In short, sin or error can never be the proper objects of tolerance. No saint ever spoke of tolerating heresy or exercising tolerance towards the adulteries of the sinner. In such cases, we have an obligation to “preach the truth in season and out” (2 Tim. 4:2) and to “admonish the sinner”. It is not tolerance to refuse to condemn a wicked action or expose the errors of heretical or harmful philosophies. Modern “tolerance” is not tolerance but indecision.

It is not a coincidence that the idea of tolerance has been perverted to mean refusal to take a decisive stand against something; tolerance was originally about us. It was originally about my reactions to something, maintaining my tranquility and my charity. Its purpose was to help maintain is in a specific, objective state of grace in the face of daily annoyances. It used to be known as Christian forbearance, as St. Paul says "forbearing one another" (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:2). But modern tolerance is about the other; it is about not offending someone else, not disturbing them. And this shift to the other is a shift to the subjective, both because it is no longer focused on maintaining ourselves in an objective state of grace, but also because it is irrelevant whether the other’s perceived offense may be rightly or wrongly incurred. The mere fact of their possible offense is to be avoided at all costs; it is of no consequence why they are offended or whether they are right to be so. So we see in the modern corruption of tolerance of profound shift towards the subject that has robbed the concept of all its objective value.

And that is a profoundly harmful shift that we should have no desire to tolerate.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Evangelization vs Sales

Are sales and evangelizing the same? In a discussion I had once about persuasion and evangelization, it was asserted that they are. His reasoning was that both sales and religion are trying to convince someone that they need what you have to offer. The manner in which those truths are presented and the outcome of whether a person is persuaded (or the sale is made) determines whether one is good evangelizer (salesman) or not. Such a conclusion, to me, seems to go against those examples given by us by our Blessed Lord in the Gospel.

After Jesus Christ stated in John 6 that He is the bread of life, and that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life, what happened? First they complained “Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” John 6:60. Christ asserts that His words are truth and life, but to no avail, for “After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him” John 6:66

In sales, the success is dependent upon the ability to make the sale and close the deal. Successful evangelization is the faithful presentation of the Gospel for the love of God. Sure, both an evangelizer and a salesman could be dishonest, and they may both choose to attract people's attention with something attractive, or how this or that will avoid something terrible; to a salesman, it is ultimately about numbers, whereas the ultimate goal of an evangelizer is proclaiming the kingdom of God and the truth.

We are ambassadors sent on a mission from God with a message of salvation for all men. The goal of a salesman is to close a sale, while an ambassador is concerned about communicating the message that his King has given him. If an ambassador is rejected (and God has told us that we would be rejected as He was rejected John 15:18), he is not a failure, for many offerings of peace and good will go rejected.

What would cause displeasure in a king with an ambassador? Not going to those he sent them, not relaying the message he gave them, not being loyal to him. As the character of the ambassador reflects on the character of the king, in the case of the Christian, not being upright and virtuous would cause anger to our King.

Once a sale is complete, oftentimes a salesman moves on or may perhaps try to sell you something else in the future, but an ambassador who stays in the country helps maintain that good relationship between the king and those to whom the King sent him.

Efforts that are not grounded in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and that limit themselves to what makes our holy Religion most attractive in the hopes of getting all men under one big tent will ultimately fail because they are not a faithful Imitation of Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom, they are not rooted truth, neither are they sustained by grace.

On this feast of St.Matthew let us resolve to take our place amongst the Prophets and Apostles of old, who spoke God’s truth in and out of season, who were willing to suffer and even be put to death, and who concerned themselves more with fidelity to the words which God told them to speak, rather than on how they could alter the message to make it more enticing.

“They shall speak of the magnificence of the glory of thy holiness: and shall tell thy wondrous works.” Psalm 145:5.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Spirit blows where He will

Years ago, when I was a Director of Religious Education, I had a certain young man come into my RCIA program who had a pretty amazing journey to the Catholic Faith. He was raised with no religion whatsoever, in what I would call as redneck or white trash sort of upbringing. When he was 18, he got a girl knocked up. He wanted to continue dating her, but her father, an evangelical Christian of the Benny Hinn/Kenneth Copeland sort, refused unless the young man turned his life around. So the dad took him to a Promise Keepers rally and the young man had a genuine and powerful conversion to Christ.

Well, he turned his life around and became a committed evangelical Christian. He married the girl he knocked up and went on to have several more children with her. He studied the Scriptures, read spiritual books, and went to Protestant evangelical churches that had reputations for being dynamic. 

But he was restless in his spirituality, because he was a structured sort of fellow and evangelical Christianity provided him with little structure to guide his spiritual development. 

Anyhow, he ended up exploring Messianic-Judaism, which is essentially a kind of Christianity that still retains aspects of the Mosaic Law. He adopted dietary customs, proscribed fast days, ritual prayers, wearing the tzitzit tassles, attended a Messianic Christian church, and put the mezuzah on his house. His evangelical Christian friends (rightly) chided him for Judaizing and suggested his faith was weak or incomplete. I, who knew him casually, took another approach, suggesting the similarities between the ritual aspects of Judaism and the practices of Catholics. He was very excited to learn that there was another branch of Christianity that provided this sort of structure, and eventually I was able to demonstrate that Catholicism was the fulfillment of all the symbols and ceremonies of the Old Law. Once he realized this, he desired to enter the Church and enrolled in my RCIA program.

The next nine months were amazing. The guy was a sponge. He devoured Catholic books and articles, attended Extraordinary Form Masses with me, spent hours with me before and after classes talking about how eye-opening his conversion to the Faith had been. He cried during and after his First Confession. We prayed together. We developed a wonderful friendship. 

On Easter Vigil, he came into the Church alone; his wife refused to attend the service because she was in such opposition to his entry into the Church. But I rejoiced. He could not be daunted. He entered the Church of Christ with joy. Here was one who would glorify Christ by doing great things for God's kingdom.

Some years later, another man came to me seeking entry into the Church. He was an older fellow who had spent most of his life in a Lutheran assembly, but I got the impression this was solely because his extended family attended there. He did not seem to have any real spiritual or religious inclination one way or another; he wanted to get into the Church because his girl friend was Catholic and he wanted to marry her soon. So we let him through the program. He was a decent fellow; he came to all the classes (although he never asked any questions); he did not really ask for anything and did whatever we asked, although he demonstrated no particular spiritual or theological interest at all. He always left immediately after classes; I can't say I ever had a real spiritual conversation with him one on one. I had serious concerns about his commitment to the faith and whether or not he would still be practicing after his wedding. He just seemed like he was going through the motions. He lacked any of the zeal or knowledge of the other fellow.

Well, after making his first confession - what seemed to be a real uncomfortable chore to him - he was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil as well.

Many years have passed. Guess who is still practicing the Faith?

The first fellow, the zealous young man who had gone through agnosticism, evangelical Protestantism. and Messianic Christianity to get to Catholicism, very quickly abandoned the practice of the faith. Not long after being received into the Church, he began an affair with a friend of the family. He carried it on for some time before it eventually became public. All his friends were scandalized. His wife divorced him and took the kids. He began smoking pot and shacked up with his mistress. He never returned to the practice of the Faith. I saw him some years later and he tried to express some stumbling, insincere resolutions about "getting to Mass this Christmas" or something, but one could see that the spark of faith had long since died, extinguished by a string of adulteries and kept out by constant drug use.

What about the second man, the one whom I had little hope for? Yes, you guessed it. He has kept the Faith. I see him at Mass every single Sunday. I can't say he ever developed a spiritual disposition or an interest in anything theological, but year after year of Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments ennobled him with a certain humble joy. He is always smiling. He volunteers regularly for the Fish Fry, the festivals, the cemetery clean up - I see him at the Stations of the Cross during Lent and other public devotions. He regularly serves as an usher. His Mass observance is regular and his disposition always cheerful. I would have never suspected he would still be around, but he is. And the work of grace is evident.

What is the lesson of this? The Spirit blows where He wills. Nobody can predict how anyone will turn out. God's providence makes a mockery of the wisdom of men.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Who Can Take the Grace of God From Us?

“Just as the action of one and the same water acts differently on the earth, air, and sun, according to the nature of each, producing wine in the vine and oil in the olive tree, so does one and the same grace profit each person according to his needs.” St. John Damascene, 2nd Homily on the Assumption. Available here on Audiobook

Grace is what sustains us, what allows us to have good thoughts, good desires, and good deeds. To grow in grace is to have greater favor with God. Grace is what allowed St. John the Baptist to subsist on locusts and honey, for the Virgin Mary to remain spotless from all sin, for St. Laurence to jest even on the gridiron, and for St. Thomas to write the Summa. Grace was made manifest in them in different ways, according to their needs and God’s plan.

St. Thomas did not subsist on locusts and honey, yet who would say that he was not a great vessel of grace and friend of God? This is an important consideration when seeking after perfection, that the grace which we hope and labor for will be apportioned to us according to our nature. What do I mean by nature that which is necessary for us to fulfill the labors which God has put in front of us this day, and to grow in such a manner as to yield greater fruit and be given greater tasks for the honor and Glory of God in the future . 

“If a holy exercise be sometimes omitted for the sake of some act of piety, or of some brotherly kindness, it can easily be taken up afterwards; but if it be neglected through distaste or slothfulness, then it is sinful, and the mischief will be felt.” Imitation of Christ, Book One, Of the Exercises of a Religious Man 

To receive the fullness grace one must not be only doing the right things, but must also be doing them for the right reason, at the right time, and in the right manner. Please note that I said the fullness of grace. If through neglect a person omitted saying the Rosary which they normally say before dinner in order to make time for personal amusement, they may still receive grace by saying it before bed, but perhaps not the fullness of Grace by saying it in the time and manner which they are accustomed. 

It is more important that we seek after doing the good and acceptable will of God than even choosing things that, in and of themselves, exteriorly seem more pleasing when isolated in and of themselves. The Mass, for example, is an inexhaustible source of grace, but it only benefits us in proportion to our disposition to receive grace while in attendance at its celebration. It would seem more pleasing to hear Mass twice on a Sunday in and of itself, but such an exercise could be a hindrance to grace if to do so meant the neglect of small children, the abandonment of spiritual reading, and so on. It does not mean that to hear Mass twice will not lead to more grace, but that the fullness of grace is only received when these activities are in harmony with God’s will.  Hearing a second Mass may not lead to the reward or benefit that the attentive patient care of little children might lead to depending on circumstances.  

This is where great strife comes, because being aware of our own weaknesses and inclinations we cannot trust that an impulse always comes from grace. To counter this problem, the spiritual masters have written about the importance of religious obedience to a superior or spiritual director, and to that we add the importance of reading the works of the spiritual masters and lives of the Saints, following a trusted rule of life, and performing the Ignatian exercises. 

These ideas, such as the need for a spiritual director, are often times advances not only as something good but as something absolutely necessary. Dare I say many admonishments from the Saints on this point can even make people anxious to find a director, even to the point of possibly of picking one that is bad for them rather than good.

Ultimately, our greatest need is the Grace of God; not all of us have at our disposal the same means to it, but it is one grace that rather manifests its fruition in holy living and the perfecting of every good work.  Our greatest obstacle to this grace is our own sinfulness, weakness, and stubbornness.

One day in the near future, the public worship might be taken away from us, our Holy Bible may be made illegal or be prohibited from citing in public because it is too offensive, and anything in between. Yet, the government cannot outlaw grace, and in the future they may produce those circumstances in which we can obtain from God His favor in abundance.

Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. Matthew 5:11

If we can let this truth penetrate our hearts, on that frightful day when we may be stripped naked of all things that were previously beneficial or seemed so needful to us,we can stand with boldness and say with St. Paul:

"Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8 35-39

Friday, September 04, 2015

My First Attempt at Catholic Writing

I was a cradle Catholic in the sense that I was baptized as a baby. But I never was taken to Mass, never made a First Communion as a fact, I never even knew I was Catholic until I was an adult.

I had a powerful conversion to evangelical Protestantism in 1999, when I was 19 year old, but almost immediately saw the flaws in it and began exploring Catholicism in 2000. I was converted solely through historical and theological reading and was received into the Church on October 4, 2002, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

From the very beginning of my conversion, I was filled with a zeal to share the good news I had received with others, especially Protestants I knew who loved the Lord Jesus but did not know about the fullness of faith in the Holy Catholic Church. 

Last night when I was cleaning out some old boxes, I cam across an essay on the Blessed Virgin Mary I wrote in June, 2002, which was actually before I was even received into full communion. The essay was supposed to be part of a longer "book" meant to explain Mary to Protestants. The particular essay was entitled "The Role of the Woman in God's Salvific Plan." It was, essentially, my first foray into writing to defend the faith, though three years before I'd ever heard of blogging.

It is a rambling essay, and very theologically unsound; in fact it contains some serious errors. But the language is flowery and it has a charming style that is pleasant to read. I thought it would be fun to scan it and post it here; you can see my edits in several places where I'd planned on making revisions. It is 12 pages long. It's just funny for me to see how I was writing when I was 22.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Restoration of SSPX Faculties

"A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime,motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins."

My friends, this is good news. Undoubtedly, good news.

There are those who are arguing that this is a bad because it represents a further "concession" of Rome and a further "victory" for the SSPX. Yes, this is a concession from Rome; and yes, it certainly is a victory for the SSPX - but Rome and the SSPX are not "against" each other, as if the SSPX "wins" and Rome "loses." People who think that way see these two groups in fundamental and irreconcilable opposition; they do not want the SSPX to reconcile with Rome. They want the SSPX to go off into oblivion (or for Rome to).

My friends, I have argued in the past on this blog that I believed the SSPX were in an objective state of schism. I have argued for a traditionalism that is not yoked to the SSPX. I did not personally come to Catholic tradition through the SSPX nor do I feel I personally owe anything to Archbishop Lefebvre. Still, no matter what position you hold, this is good news. It is good because it is legitimate. It is undeniable. It removes us from the realm of speculation and debate and puts us on solid footing with something.

There are some who will say that Francis should not have restored their faculties for confession without first settling their irregular canonical status. There are those who will huff and say that they didn't need to have their faculties restored because they were never validly revoked. Whatever. I am going to rejoice in this, and rejoice in it fully, without any "yeah buts" or "should've beens."

It is ironic that Francis, in his obvious lack of any care for the specifics of doctrine, is better poised to reconcile the SSPX than Benedict, for whom every doctrinal issue had to be settled first. Francis' approach to the SSPX has only been generous thus far; it is not perfect. He no doubt sees the SSPX and traditionalism as one of many "ways" of "expressing" the infinite "creativity" of the Holy Spirit's movement within Catholicism. Trads are one member of the group under the big tent - a stodgy, ill-manner, sour-faced, funereal, rosary counting member, but a member none the less. And there is room under the tent for us, just like there is for charismatics, Novus Ordo Catholics, and every other little group within the Church (whatever he means by that word).

I am fairly certain this is Francis' ecclesiology. And from the point of view of the SSPX's situation, it is good, because it means that Francis values getting them in the tent rather than making sure they agree on everything before they can come in.

I am going out on a limb here, but I believe that once faculties are restored, it will be difficult to remove them again without some kind of precipitating event or crisis. Francis cited the SSPX's excellent character and behavior as reasons for restoring their faculties. I assume the next year is a time of testing and probation for the SSPX. If nothing goes wrong, I would be surprised if they are not fully reconciled before the end of Francis' pontificate. Is that too optimistic? If even Benedict, who was sympathetic to the Traditional Mass, could not reconcile them, how could Francis? Simple. Francis is way, way more likely to simply reconcile them immediately and work out the details later. Again, he doesn't care about the doctrinal details. He just wants them in the house. He is more likely to grant them unconditional reconciliation; no preambles, no agreements, just "come on in and we'll sort it out later."

Sure, some will say it is a plot - that he wants them regularized so he can begin dismantling them, as he did with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. I don't know; I grant that's a possibility, but my in my gut I do not think this is the case. I suspect, motivated by some happy-clappy "We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord" sort of mood, he just wants everybody together and everything else can ultimately be debated later.

One final point - I have argued in the past that the SSPX are/were in a state of schism. Many Catholics are divided on this, and honestly, not just because of axes to grind for or against the Society, but because the Magisterium itself has given contrary opinions on the matter and refused to definitively clarify their position. But one thing is clear: after yesterday's announcement, there is no way I can consider the SSPX to currently be in schism.

The reason is simple: the Pontiff cannot give faculties to a group truly in schism. If they were in schism, reconciliation would have to happen first. If the Pope wanted to make judgments pertaining to the faculties of some oriental schism or some other break-away group, reconciliation with Rome would be a sine qua non of such discussions. Can you imagine the Pope talking about the granting or removing of faculties to a group that had not even been reunited with Rome? It would be unthinkable; nonsense, even. Like restoring faculties to the Old Catholics without first getting them back into some sort of communion.

By granting the SSPX faculties, Francis has demonstrated his belief that they are not outside the pale. Not that they are in a perfect situation, either. The pope had said in his statement that he hopes the SSPX will recover "full communion" with Rome, which obviously speaks to the point that the Society's position is still irregular and that they are not in perfect communion. There is still work to be done. But I can't see how they can still be in schism.

That's not to say I believe they were never in schism, but I cannot see how they are still in that state now. Of course, there is one other option to consider - that neither the Pope, nor anyone at the Vatican, knows what their true status is; in fact, "status" may not even be a concept that this pope cares about. After all, this is a man who calls a Protestant pastor "my brother bishop." That words like "schism", "communion", "reconciliation" and so on no longer mean anything and anyone trying to sort out of objective status of the group is trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.

I do not know how to sort out the particulars; any attempt to do so presupposes a kind of consistency on the part of the Magisterium and a uniformity of the definitions of words and canonical terms, something nobody can presume upon anymore.

That is why it is enough for me to simply say, this is a good thing. I pray for my brethren in the SSPX. I pray they will find away, in the wisdom of God, to be fully reconciled in the Church with a regularized status in full union with Rome and exercising a legitimate ministry. This is a very powerful step, and it is one I rejoice in unconditionally.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Vice of Effeminacy

The Church teaches that persons afflicted with homosexual tendencies who wish to live in accordance with God's will are called to observe chastity. Hence the talk about "chaste homosexuals." 

All Christians are called to chastity, whatever their state in life. But this stress on the chastity required of homosexual Catholics sometimes tends to orient our focus too much on sexual activity alone. For example, take the case of a homosexual Catholic who is chaste but effeminate in his manner. As long as that person is chaste, there is a tendency to shrug off the question of effeminacy. An effeminate man is laughed off as "just being eccentric." Some people seem to find effeminate men endearing; "My, how friendly he is!" others will say.

The implication in this sort of laissez-faire attitude towards effeminacy is that it is completely acceptable so long as it is not accompanied by homosexual actions - that the chaste homosexual can be as effeminate and flaming as can be but is praiseworthy so long as he is not engaging in sodomy.

Such a view is very reductive and fails to comprehend the entirety of the problem posed by homosexuality. Homosexual acts are certainly immoral, but so is the homosexual tendency and all its manifestations, including effeminacy.

Is effeminacy actually a sin? St. Thomas Aquinas takes it further and says effeminacy is a vice - that is, a habitually sinful disposition.

Effeminacy in the classical tradition is seen as a kind of "softeness." The Latin, mollities, means literally "softness", but in various contexts can also mean irresolution, tenderness, wantonness, voluptuousness, weakness, or pliability. It essentially occurs when the traits traditionally associated with the feminine are found in the man.

The sum of these traits in a man constitute the vice of effeminacy, which St. Thomas, following Aristotle, says is a opposed to the virtue of fortitude. The effeminate man is he who is incapable of "manning up" and enduring the challenges of life. St. Thomas notes how this is opposed to fortitude or perseverance:

"Perseverance is deserving of praise because thereby a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance of difficulties and toils: and it is directly opposed to this, seemingly, for a man to be ready to forsake a good on account of difficulties which he cannot endure. This is what we understand by effeminacy, because a thing is said to be "soft" if it readily yields to the touch" (STh, II-II, Q. 138, Art. 1).

But it is not merely yielding to difficulties that make a man effeminate or soft; a soldier may be tortured for information and eventually yield, but that does not make him effeminate. Another thing is necessary. St. Thomas explains:

"Now a thing is not declared to be soft through yielding to a heavy blow, for walls yield to the battering-ram. Wherefore a man is not said to be effeminate if he yields to heavy blows. Hence the Philosopher says that "it is no wonder, if a person is overcome by strong and overwhelming pleasures or sorrows; but he is to be pardoned if he struggles against them." 
Now it is evident that fear of danger is more impelling than the desire of pleasure: wherefore Tully says under the heading "True magnanimity consists of two things: It is inconsistent for one who is not cast down by fear, to be defeated by lust, or who has proved himself unbeaten by toil, to yield to pleasure." Moreover, pleasure itself is a stronger motive of attraction than sorrow, for the lack of pleasure is a motive of withdrawal, since lack of pleasure is a pure privation. Wherefore, according to the Philosopher, properly speaking an effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion" (ibid).

So it is not merely yielding to challenge, but more specifically, refusing the challenge of pursuing the good because one is attracted to pleasure. He is fundamentally a weakling, one who sees the face of virtue and shrinks back from the effort. St. Thomas and the classical tradition associate this with "womanliness." For example:

"Now the delicate are those who cannot endure toils, nor anything that diminishes pleasure. Hence it is written (Deuteronomy 28:56): "The tender and delicate woman, that could not go upon the ground, nor set down her foot for softness"...Thus delicacy is a kind of effeminacy" (ibid).

St. Thomas cites the biblical passage from Deuteronomy on the delicate and tender woman as an example of the behavior he is talking about. Thus the effeminate man is the delicate man, the womanly man. And this sort of behavior, insofar as it is voluntary, constitutes a vice. The effeminate man is the man who does not have a strong and deep sense of his masculinity; rather than man-up and accept the challenge of understanding and growing in his identity has a man, he prefers to shrink back and adopt the attitudes and mannerisms of "the tender and delicate woman." And this disposition is a vice.

Effeminacy is a vice contrary to the virtue of fortitude. Which leaves one question - in what sense can an effeminate but chaste homosexual be said to lacking in fortitude when he exercises enough fortitude to remain chaste? If he has the self-control to keep his disordered passions in check, how can he simultaneously lack self-control and fortitude through the vice of effeminacy? How can he simultaneously have fortitude while lacking it?

Virtue is a habit, a stable disposition from which one generally performs good acts. Good acts that are done by the virtuous man are called virtuous in a participated sense, not in the particular of each act. If a man lacks fortitude in many areas of his life, his exercise of fortitude in a particular act may not constitute the presence of the virtue of fortitude; a man who rises to the challenge of performing a difficult act when called upon but does not have a habit of doing so is not virtuous; he has merely performed a good deed. Similarly, a man who may have disciplined himself with regards to sexual activity but has effeminate habits in every other aspect of his life may not really have the virtue of fortitude.

It could also be argued that we are talking about different virtues. His sexual abstinence could entail the presence of the virtue of temperance, while his effeminacy reveals a lack of fortitude. Thus he may be truly virtuous in some respects but lack virtue in others. This is where a very clear understanding of the relationship of virtues to each other, and how particular types of activities align with particular virtues is important.

Back to the chaste homosexual. Not all chaste homosexuals are effeminate. And not all effeminate men are homosexual. But effeminacy and homosexuality are connected, and we need to recognize that even if there is no homosexual activity taking place, effeminacy itself is a vice that should not be encouraged, coddled, laughed off, or ignored. Homosexuals are called to chastity, and the effeminate are called to overcome their effeminacy and grow into their manhood - this may be a great challenge and require deliberate effort on the part of the man sincerely struggling with effeminacy. But that's what fortitude is - manning up and overcoming the challenges we encounter in this vale of tears.

There is one more question that must be addressed: Since what is proper to females and males can fluctuate in different cultures and times, how can effeminacy exist as an objective vice? For example, to wear powdered wigs and lace was manly in 1750. For a man to do so now would be bizarre. Since what sort of fashions are proper to men and women change over time, is it not futile to try to nail down what sort of behaviors constitute effeminacy?

Remember, a virtue (or a vice) is a fundamental interior disposition. We are not talking about clothing fashions or hair styles; we are talking about a person's character. Fashions change, and in general, a man has an obligation not to take up fashions and dress popularly identified as womanly in his particular culture so as not to scandalize others.

But effeminacy is something deeper than fashion; it is the deep-seated, habitual disposition towards delicacy and withdrawal of effort for fear of lack of pleasure. The mere fact that we cannot come up with a systematic list of what behaviors constitute effeminacy or deduce exactly when one has become effeminate does not mean the vice does not exist. This is the same with any vice: for example, when does a person become cowardly? When he has run away from something once? Twice? How often and in what situations does he have to shirk before he can be categorized as a coward? Furthermore, what is considered cowardly varies from culture to culture. In some cultures it is considered brave to strike an enemy suddenly and then run away; in others it would be considered cowardly to strike someone and then flee. It is very difficult to pin down, but everybody agrees that cowardice exists.

Similarly, everybody acknowledges that effeminacy exists. Aristotle wrote about it in the Greek world. Cicero, centuries later and in a different cultural milieu, also condemned it. It was preached against and condemned by medieval moralists. Aquinas understands it and considers it a vice. It would be absurd to suggest that moral authors from Aristotle to Aquinas and beyond were only writing about a subjective, relative concept when they condemned effeminacy. Just like we all have a general consensus of what cowardice is, the Catholic tradition has a consistent picture of effeminacy. Aristotle, Aquinas and the rest had a clear idea of what they were writing about, just like most people today have a clear idea of what is meant by an "effeminate man" or a "girly man." You know it when you see it, even if it is difficult to systematically define.

Finally, it is important to note that one is never going to be perfectly actualizing fortitude, even though he has a stable disposition and could be called virtuous in that respect, until he reaches beatitude and has perfection of all virtues. Since we are judging particulars it is hard to treat of it scientifically, as if we were dealing with only principles. The point is not to dwell obsessively on whether a particular person has fortitude or not; God knows that. The point is to understand why this trait is considered vicious and how it relates to the other virtue which is its contrary.

Most of you are probably aware of this already, but Fr. James Mason wrote an excellent article on this vice for Homiletic and Pastoral Review, discussing how effeminacy ruins seminary candidates; I highly recommend his article ("Forgotten Vice in Seminary Formation"). I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Guest Post: Dunfermline Pilgrimage

The following is a guest post from a long-time contributor to this blog, although this is the first time he has written anything for us. John Goodall is a Traditional Catholic who lives in the Glasgow region of Scotland. For several years now he has worked behind the scenes lovingly editing all the articles on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website (because my punctuation and grammar was so bad I required another person to help clean them up). His job is very humble and thankless - and for that reason I am all the more thankful for him.

John has a special love for the saints of Scotland. This June he attended a historic pilgrimage in honor of St. Margaret in Dunfermline, Dunfermline is the biggest city in Fife and retains a special connection to St. Margaret, who wed King Malcolm III here in 1070 and subsequently established an important abbey here. The Dunfermline procession was held annually for centuries until it was discontinued in 1974. This year's procession marks a happy restoration of an ancient practice, although as John will explain, it was not without some unfortunate occurrences. Still, it is a pleasant event in a diocese that is plagued with problems.

Pictures from the pilgrimage can be found below.

* * * *

On a sunny afternoon on Sunday 28th June, my brother and I went to Dunfermline to a pilgrimage procession organised by the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Starting at 3pm, the procession was to pass through the centre of Dunfermline to end at St Margaret Memorial Church,
which has a shrine to the saintly queen.

The procession and pilgrimage was the first held in Dunfermline in 41 years. It had taken place in honour of Saint Margaret not long after her relics had been translated to a new shrine after her canonisation and then continued until the Reformation. It was then revived in 1899 and continued until 1974.

When we arrived at the park where the procession was to start, we were both pleasantly surprised at the large number of people there. When I spoke to a few of my friends and fellow parishioners in the line, they said that they too were surprised at the large turnout and we all reckoned there was about 1000 people in it. The clement weather, always an important factor in Scotland, must have helped a great deal. Others in the procession also showed me the literature that had been handed out. A booklet outlined various places in Dunfermline associated with Saint Margaret, such as Dunfermline Abbey, the Tower and Saint Margaret’s Cave.

The procession included banners from parishes under the patronage of Saint Margaret as well as a Glasgow parish under the patronage of Saint John Ogilvie, whose 400th anniversary of martyrdom was celebrated in March this year. There was also a gathering of the Knights of Saint Columba and an Edinburgh Scout troop singing hymns.

There seems to be a lack of hymnody to Saint Margaret as the procession was fairly silent apart from the small group of scouts and the bagpipes playing at the front (obligatory for all processions in Scotland, it seems). Hopefully in future there will be a little more singing.

The Mass itself was fairly standard. The Memorial Church which holds the relics of Saint Margaret was absolutely packed, with pilgrims gathering in the hall underneath the church to watch the Mass on television screens. The one thing that disappointed me greatly was the decision to have a woman minister from the local protestant church read the second reading, which I found quite scandalous. On the other hand, the absolute highlight of the whole pilgrimage was the opportunity to venerate the relic of Saint Margaret.

Happily, they plan to carry out the pilgrimage again next year and it is hoped that it will become a regular annual event. It was a beautiful occasion to give thanks to God for Saint Margaret’s intercession and example, and to display good Catholic sentiment and practice in public. May there be more such things throughout Scotland!

Saint Margaret, patroness of Scotland, pray for us!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Christian Marriage Video Project

Unam Sanctam Catholicam is proud to present an original series of videos on issues relating to homosexual so-called "marriage" and Catholicism. Unfortunately, many Christians, even those who support traditional marriage, have never been educated to explain the Christian opposition to homosexual acts beyond a vague conception that it is "wrong", "sinful", "against nature", or whatever.

These are all certainly true, but how many Christians can actually explain why it is against nature? Why is homosexual "marriage" not a civil right? How are laws seeking to ban same-sex marriage different from the old laws banning interracial marriage? If homosexual sex (as well as contraceptive sex) is wrong because it is closed to life, why is it not wrong when an elderly couple has sex or a married, infertile couple?

In my experience, most Catholics are totally unprepared to offer an answer to these sorts of questions. And - unfortunately - many in the Church's hierarchy are very hesitant to speak too boldly on this subject. This is truly a shame; the Catholic faithful are in desperate need of a logical and easy to understand exposition of the Church's rationale for its position, something grounded in the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. Instead, they have been fed nonsense about "religious liberty" and First Amendment rights, trying to make this a Constitutional issue instead of a theological issue - and when the Supreme Court tossed out those Constitutional arguments on June 26th, those Catholics who had never been educated in any other argument against same sex marriage were left in the lurch.

Here are out first two videos in the series: the first on homosexuality and the Bible, the second on the ends of marriage. It is important to note that these videos do not attempt to merely present talking points, nor force the question into an artificial paradigm of "religious liberty" and the First Amendment, as some American Catholics have tried to do. Rather, they approach the subject from the point of view of Catholic Tradition, theology and natural law. These videos are not meant to convince opponents but rather help Christians better understand their own tradition.

These videos were totally funded by donations. We currently have three more videos like these in various phases of production, on homosexual marriage and civil rights, material cooperation in sinful activities, and the duties of the Christian state. If you would like to help donate to this project, you can do so by clicking below:

Please share these videos and contribute if you believe this project is timely and necessary. Deo gratias.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Of California Missions and St. Joseph

Grace and peace to you friends! I will be out of commission for awhile; my wife and I are taking a long overdue vacation to sunny California. We will be visiting many of the historic Spanish missions, starting in San Diego and heading up the coast to end at Sacramento. I am particularly excited about getting a chance to venerate Bl. Junipero Serra only a month ahead of his canonization by Pope Francis in September. We will be stopping in San Diego, Laguna Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Sacramento and everywhere in between. If you are in the area and have any recommendations for masses or attractions, please let me know in the combox or email at

When we return home, my family and I will be making another major transition - we have sold our house of nine years and are moving to another part of Michigan. We will thus be very busy in September and I do not anticipate I will get a chance to post much. There may be some guest posts and my co-bloggers Noah and Maximus may post, but I doubt I will be around much. Please pray for us during this transition.

As a side note, I never had too much confidence in the practice of burying the statue of St. Joseph upside down to sell a house. It just sounded...well, really weird. We were confident our house would sell quickly; its a cute house, very well maintained, and with lake access - and homes are moving quick right now in Michigan. But we were very disheartened when a month and then two went by without even so much as a single offer on the home. Even lowering our price did nothing. Then we started into our third month with no activity. We began to think we'd be here all fall.

Then my wife suggested I buy the St. Joseph Home Seller Kit (I still don't like that name); we prayed the prayers, buried the statue, started saying the novena. Three days after the statue was buried, the house sold. And we found and purchased our dream house the next day.

Deo gratias!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Guest Post: The Changing Face of Apologetics

Today we again present a guest post by my friend, Kevin Tierney. Kevin most recently posted here on prejudices relating to the Traditional Latin Mass; I have also featured his Catholic Lane articles on the Propers of the Latin Mass on our Facebook page. Today, Kevin writes about the current state of things in mainstream American Catholic apologetics and in what sense the landscape desperately needs to change.

By the way, for some additional background on this post, see this article from the latest addition to the Patheos crowd.

*  *  *  * 

I have frequently said that the way apologetics is conducted in contemporary Catholicism needs to change. In light of recent events, I'll try to offer a explanation here.

Before I get too far, I don't hate apologetics, and I don't hate apologists. Nor do I "attack" apologetics as a discipline within the Church. Rather, I attack a certain subculture of apologetics that is prevelant today within American Catholicism.

One of the big problems with that mainstream subculture is that it tends to define apologetics mostly in terms of debate. Every article is "against so-and-so", the issues having long since subsided from relevance, giving way to a focus on personality. This isn't new. For a good decade or so from the 90's to the aughts, Catholic apologetics was centered around who was fighting James R. White, Eric Svendsen, William Webster, etc. These men certainly needed correction, but Catholic apologists took it far too personally and made the issue the people involved, not the false beliefs they had. (For example, see the Patti Bonds saga, the sister of James White, whose conversion to Catholicism was used as a club to personally embarrass White). We need a stronger emphasis on the issues, and less on the personalities involved.

This also requires a fresh look at the issues. Just because we have the fullness of truth does not mean there's nothing additional we can do. A lot of what passes for apologetics today is essentially stuck in a time-warp of the mid 1990's and earlier. Most Protestants are typecast as James White or Jack Chick. "30,000 denominations" is still a popular argument, no matter how many times it's been debunked. It is presupposed that those outside the Church still speak a common Christian langauge we can comprehend, or that the "institutional collapse" of American Catholicism hasn't happened. All of these realities should influence the way we cover apologetics.

For example, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wants a presentation of the papacy that takes into account a decentralized exercising of authority, and to "demystify" the papacy, as he has also said elsewhere. From an apologetical standpoint, this might be a good idea. A lot of our popular apologetics still presents the Bishop of Rome as an irresistible monarch, free to do as he pleases, and is the single most important part of Catholicism for the average Catholic. On issues like justification, very little is spent talking about mercy or how the soul is transformed by God's grace and mercy, instead simply talking about the role of works in justification and endless parsing over James 2. James 2 is important, but we need to present a whole picture, one that is actually answering the concerns of people, not just checking off a list of Biblical arguments.

A final way in which a lot (but not all!) of apologetics is out of touch is they adopt mentalities and approaches the Holy See has long abandoned. In their polemics, they still act as if a war is being waged with the SSPX for example. The SSPX are "outside the Church", "schismatic or a schismatic mentality", etc. The Church has instead lifted the excommunications and under Pope Francis has accelerated their integration back into full communion at a pretty astonishing pace. Gone is the hostile language of separation. The war is over; it's now time for the terms of the peace to be offered. How many of the big apologists operate according to this mentality? How many hyphenated names are some of them still using to describe brothers the Pope wishes to reconcile? Under their guise of "defending the Church" and defending the Pope, they are acting contrary to his wishes. Apologists should instead be seeking to remove barriers from our wayward brothers, not erecting more.

There's a lot else that needs changing. Some of it apologists have picked up on and are changing, and there's still a long way to go. But change is coming, be certain of that.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Nothing New: Work and Pray

Ever since the fall of Adam we have been under the divine decrees of labor and death, and we have never been dispensed from prayer since the very beginning. If we were to describe what carrying one’s cross is, that would be its definition: to manfully pray, work, suffer and die in purity of heart willingly for God’s sake. 

The Cross cannot be defeated, it can only be rejected. The Cross cannot be broken or destroyed, but it can be neglected. I have been pondering on the state of western civilization and the Church after the recent developments of the last few weeks. Many people would have you believe that the legalization of gay “marriage” is a game changer, that we have now passed into the era of persecution and that the days of living a comfortable life in the public square is over.

As the imitation of Christ says “JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross” (Book 2, Chapter 11). If we were living as holily and as uprightly as we ought to be, is now the moment when we shall first be persecuted? If we have been living as we ought to have been living, we should be at least somewhat practiced at enduring some persecution, even if only from bad Catholics and Christians when they object to the discipline of a good Christian life. Abstinence from bad movies, books, friends, and media do not win many friends, especially when these things are popular.

It is horrifying to witness how people have twisted and warped even the most basic Christian tenets to be accepting of perverse behavior, vilifying those who rightly condemn it. But if we believe what is contained in the Creeds of the Church, how can we be surprised that those who embrace heresy (whether of a protestant variety or a pseudo Catholic one) would not wholeheartedly embrace a new one, especially when it is so popular?. We must not forget that a person who even doubts a core teaching of the Church, sins against Faith, and sins against the faith lead to the loss of it, without which hope and charity cannot be present. 

What of the vigilant, have they not for years already been fighting: defending the words of prophets and God the Father, upholding the veracity of the holy Scriptures, fighting protestant errors, condemning syncretism and resisting the fundamental option theory (the belief that if a person is basically good they will go to heaven)?

The cross was there a year ago, five years ago, and 60 years ago, its burden and weight on each one of us, measured out according to the wisdom of God. Its burden was not sweet yesterday and bitter today, nor was its yoke light yesterday and heavy today; rather, it was and is given out with the grace to manfully carry it.

The immensity of the task before us as Christians (to make all men know, love and serve God) combined with the realization of both our leadership and somewhat meager resources, can lead us to feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Has anyone else felt that pull or seen with their eyes the cooling of charity that seems to be running through various apostolates? Those who trust in their own wits, nuances, intellectual devices or techniques will be confounded no matter how Catholic they believe themselves to be, no matter how many books they have read or clerics they know. 

Does anyone else long to see the dead raised in the name of Jesus Christ? I don’t mean in some figurative way, but a corpse coming back to life? I do. Does anyone else wish to witness sight being restored to the blind, or the dying healed of their infirmities? I do. I am convinced that the occurrence of such things, with prayers, would do a better job at turning around this society than all the slogans, strategies and other clever devices that we can come up with as men. Should we feel overwhelmed if God is on our side, and if he is on our side should we hesitate to ask for His manifest works? If you do not believe He is, have you already lost your faith? 

Just a short while ago, in the 1800’s, many pious laymen and laywomen made regular use of the St. Benedict’s medal, and their simple faith in the Holy Cross and the intercession of St. Benedict made itself known in numerous great works (which you can hear about on Alleluia Audiobooks). Do we have such a faith? Do we work with the conviction that we have received our duties through the direct ordering of God? Do we suffer with patience, trusting that God is choosing and ordering our suffering for our own good? 

It almost feels too simple: pray with belief, work with zeal, suffer with patience, die with a clean conscience and what we ask for with faith we will receive. This is what we must do, this is what we have always had to do. We don't need new slogans and options, we need to pick up our cross and carry it. 

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Not Abandoning the Boy Scouts of America... Yet

I am an Eagle Scout. I am a Vigil Honor Member of Scouting's National Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow. Scouting in many ways took care of me as a boy, and formed me into a man. As I grew, I eventually worked on summer camp staff at the local council's camp for 5 summers (the pay wasn't great), and also served on staff at the National Scout Jamboree (the pay was non-existent). While there were not a few occasions of getting into mischief along the way, nevertheless, I was formed in my conscience in a manner that reinforced Catholic beliefs, and also made relationships with my peers and elders that have lasted me a lifetime.

Since I have been working for the Church for the better part of a decade, my active involvement in Scouting has diminished, but I still keep in touch with old friends - if any of them needed me for any reason, I would not hesitate to drop what I was doing for them, and I know they would do the same for me. I would go so far as to say that the moral lessons, leadership skills, and the bonds of fraternity which I obtained through Scouting had a direct influence on my decision to serve the Church through pursuing an academic career in theology. Further, I know many Catholic Scouter priests who would say the same about their own experience as a boy, growing up in an environment which encouraged adventure and contemplation in the confines of the safe environment of the Scouting unit, and eventually led to their discernment of their call to the priesthood.

As a result of the decisions made by the National Scouting Office over the past two years, I have closely followed the developments in the Scouting policy towards the participation of those persons with homosexual tendencies, and reached out to friends who work within the professional structures that support Scouting in order to hear a bit more of the story.

Two years ago, the Scouting policy was changed in order that youths with homosexual inclinations might not be discriminated against, while at the same time reiterating the constant position of Scouting that sexual acts should only take place within the context of married relationships. At the time, there was a large outcry and a reaction from conservative Catholics which led to the establishment of various organizations that sought to duplicate Scouting in an explicitly Catholic context.

More recently, with the change in policy toward leaders, there has been not a little bit of a reaction from Catholics - most notably, the decision of the Bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck to discontinue the relationship of the diocese with all of the scout troops and packs which it sponsored. With all due respect to His Excellency, I would like to emphasize the word "reaction" in the decision to abandon the diocese's relationship with the Scouting movement.

The reason I think that these reactions are - at this present time - unwarranted is because I think they are founded upon a fundamental misunderstanding of how Scouting is organized. While it is true that there is a national organization that sets policies and guidelines for how the local organizations are to operate, Scouting is fundamentally based upon the principle of subsidiarity. Put more plainly, Scouting does not exist without chartered organizations to charter local units.

Chartered organizations in the BSA have, and have always had, the responsibility of selecting and approving the leaders who would be working with the youth in a manner which is consistent with the values of the chartering organization. This makes sense, because whether the chartered organization is a parish or community organization, most of the members of the local scout troop come from within the chartering organization. The District, Council, Regional, and National Scouting organizations fundamentally work to serve what is happening in the local scout troop, through which 99% of a scout's exposure to Scouting occurs, as is delineated in the Annual Charter Agreement.

The safeguard of the Chartered Organization for the Boy Scouts of America is and will remain a bulwark against unwelcome outside influence, whether that is ethical or political, in the devious battle that is happening in America. Naturally, the progressive movement has a heavily vested interest in gaining influence through the youth movements. While the Girl Scouts have been in bed with the likes of Planned Parenthood for decades, the Boy Scouts have tended toward being more conservative.

This brings us to the difficult political situation in our climate today. Though I can't agree with the decisions of the Scouting organization regarding adults with homosexual inclinations, I do have sympathy for their position regarding troubled youth - what better place to help them develop a healthy respect for themselves and grow into men who are able to function well in spite of their deviant inclinations? Is this not the opportunity to provide a young boy with the love that is so evidently lacking in his home environment?

Nevertheless, Scouting is not a religious organization, and is not protected in the same way (however little) that the Catholic Church might be protected in the public discourse. I think that the decision by the National organization was ultimately a political one, an attempt to find a middle way. At the same time, they have reiterated the autonomy of the Chartered Organization as possessing the real power to carry out the policy in accordance with their own beliefs and to choose the best leaders to create a safe environment for the youths in their care.

And so we come to the question of political prudence of how we as the Catholic Church should best interact in a pluralistic environment. Some have decided isolation is the best course, and have opted to set up alternatives to Scouting. I think this is imprudent, first of all, because of my experience with small and poor, but well-meaning Catholic initiatives, which lack real professional leadership and ultimately abuse their volunteers by stretching them too thin or asking too much of them to the point where the bad outweighs the good that is trying to be accomplished. Second, because the Tribes of St. Edward, or whatever, do not have the tradition and the respect in the public sphere which the Boy Scouts of America hold. As a small example, when an Eagle Scout enlists into military service, they are given a bump in rate to an E-3 from day one, which gives a great start to a future military career. Surely, the Tribes of St. Edward don't have the ability to influence the life of a lay man in his career living in the world in the manner that the Boy Scouts do.

More importantly, I think that members of the Church are being naive in taking a stand with the actions of the Boy Scouts. We aren't forming alternative little league organizations, or telling our Catholic state representatives to resign, or insisting that our public school teachers fall on their swords - why should we abandon the most influential youth movement in the world, and leave it to the mechanations of this world?

This is not to say that remaining with the Scouts is for the faint of heart. We need men who are prudent, just, temperate, and above all, men with fortitude to continue working with Catholic Scout Troops in order to weather the storm that is to come. Practically speaking, we should not be abandoning the local scout troops, but reinforcing them with greater support and oversight, both at the Diocesan and Bishop's Conference level. At this defining moment in American history, we don't need people to abandon our youth, but rather, we need lay men, priests, and bishops to double-down in their efforts. This will be hard work, but if in the process the opportunity can be provided to adequately form boys into men of virtue and fear of the Lord, then surely it is worth it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard"

I was recently contacted by Mr. Reid Turner, author of the book The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard, who graciously send me an advance copy of this excellent little work to review. Like Heralds of the Second Coming by Stephen Walford, Mr. Turner attempts to break fee of the standard eschatological tropes common in Catholic apocalyptic literature by restricting himself to a much narrower field of study. Rather than seeking to present the Church's whole teaching on the end times or exegete the Book of Revelation, he focuses in on a very specific study of the eschatological visions of St. Hildegard of Bingen.

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), blessed with visionary experiences since childhood, was encouraged by Pope Eugenius III to record them. After ten years she produced Scivias, Latin for "Know the Ways", which includes her famous vision of five beasts. The five beasts are symbolic animals that represent five historical periods of time that Hildegard said would precede the Antichrist. Each era experiences a unique spiritual crisis intended to inflict damage on the Church in preparation for the coming of the son of perdition. 

Mr. Turner argues convincingly that the symbolism described in the vision reflects today’s world, with the first of the five eras having begun in the 1870s. He identifies the loss of the Papal States in 1870 as the eschatological key that begins the clock that ticks down to the end. Mr. Turner presents each of Hildegard's beasts and correlates them with the spiritual crises and mores of particular historical epochs, coming to the conclusion that we are currently in the middle of the fourth of five beasts. Hildegard's description of the fifth beast thus serves as a guide for what to expect in the decades ahead.

The book is very cautious; when it makes connections and inferences, it does so in a very qualified manner, respecting the limits posed by the nature of eschatological speculation. That being said, the inferences it does make are very strong and convincing. I have never investigated the beasts of Hildegard before reading Mr. Turner's book, but I found his historical interpretation of the beasts to be both historically and exegetically sound - in some cases, it was quite extraordinary how the visions of Hildegard lined up with Mr. Turner's proposed chronology.

Any student of Catholic eschatology, especially that branch which studies the private revelations of the saints, will want to check our Mr. Turner's book. It is brief - 91 pages. I read it in a single weekend. Reid Turner is no amateur, either; he has a BA in Biblical Studies from Bethel University in St. Paul and pursued graudate studies in the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, where he converted to Catholicism and was received into the Church in 1987.

I highly recommend this little book to your collection of eschatological works. And the price is right, too; at only $11.05, who can complain? You can obtain the book from Amazon

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Great Moments in Interreligious Dialogue: St. Fernando III

July 25th is the feast of Santiago Matamoros, "St. James the Moor-Slayer", the patron saint of Spain. In honor of St. James - and calling to mind a former day and time when men of God had not yet started down the desolate path of "dialogue" with Islam - we bring you this marvelous little passage from the life of St. Fernando III.

Fernando III (r. 1217-1252), King of Castile and later of Leon and Galicia, won back more territory from the Moors than any other Spanish monarch of the Reconquista. In the passage quoted below, St. Fernando is speaking to his mother, Queen Berenguera, about his desire to make war on the Moors. This decision, which St. Fernando formulated around Pentecost, 1224, Fernando said was "revealed by almighty God." This inspiration would lead to the campaign that would almost entirely conquer Andalusia from the Moors. St. Fernando told his mother:

"Most beloved mother and sweet lady: Of what benefit to me is the kingdom of Castile, which, though due to you by right, your generosity abdicated and granted to me; of what benefit to me is the most noble consort [Princess Beatrice of Swabia] brought from distant lands through your solicitude and labor and joined to me in marriage with indescribable honor; of what benefit to me is it that you anticipate my desires with maternal sweetness, and before I have fully conceived them, you bring them to most brilliant effect: if I am dulled by laziness, if the flower of my youth is fading away without fruit, if the light of royal glory, which already had begun to shine like certain rays, is being extinguished and annihilated? Behold, the time is revealed by almighty God, in which, unless I want to pretend otherwise like a weak and deficient man, I am able to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom kings reign, against the enemies of the Christian faith, to the honor and glory of His name. The door is open indeed and the way is clear. Peace has been restored to us in our kingdom; discord and deadly enmities exist among the Moors; factions and quarrels have broken out anew. Christ, God and Man, is on our side; on that of the Moors , the infidel and damned apostate Muhammad. What more is there to say? Most kind mother, from whom, after God, I hold whatever I have, I beg that it may please you that I wage war against the Moors" [1].

A great moment in interreligious dialogue indeed! St. Fernando was under no illusion of how to deal with the threat of Islam. And he had greater success against the Moors than any modern democratic nation-builder. Were another great leader to arise who, like St. Fernando, was zealous for the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ, who knows what future victories God might grant?

For more on St. Fernando III, we recommend St. Fernando III: A Kingdom for Christ by James Fitzhenry, available for purchase here.

Also related: Our very non-PC Santiago Matamoros T-Shirt, available in the Cruachan Hill webstore.

Santiago Matamoros, ora pro nobis!
Sancte Fernando, ora pro nobis!

[1] Joseph F. O'Callaghan, The Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Tempe, AZ, 2002), pg. 88

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Adam Pontaby, Patron Saint of Catholic Traditionalism

Remember the classic film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? I think the oldest of the Pontaby brothers, Adam, ought to be the patron saint of Catholic Traditionalism today.

This classic barn raising scene from the movie reminds me a lot of our current situation. Adam (in the green shirt) represents the spirit of Catholic Tradition. His brothers, in the other colored shirts, represent the contemporary Church hierarchy who are just trying their darndest to get along. The black and white gang represent the atheists, progressives, and secularists of the world. The barn that the brothers and the other gang are raising represent the edifice of the modern secular humanist establishment.

The Church, represented by the brothers, has at first bought into the lie that they must "dialogue" and "get along" with the world because they "don't want no trouble," but Adam calls them to their senses and the brothers wake up and respond appropriately. The key dialogue to watch for is at the 2:00 mark. Remember, Adam is Catholic Tradition.

"They're out to murder you! And what do you do? Apologize for livin'!"

Friday, July 17, 2015

"Not to abolish, but to fulfill"

There are few Scripture passages that elicit as much confusion as our Lord's words in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Law and its fulfillment by Christ. Let us review our Lord's teaching, as found in the Douay-Rheims version of the New Testament:

"Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:17-18).

Other translations will use the word "abolish" in place of destroy, but the meaning remains the same. Thus our Lord Jesus seemingly teaches that He has not overturned the Law of Moses. In fact, He seems to say that the Law shall remain in force "until heaven and earth pass away." At face value, this would suggest that the Law of Moses was permanently binding in all its rigor. Our Lord makes it explicitly clear that "not one jot or one tittle" shall pass away from the Law, "till all be fulfilled."

Confusion arises because our Lord's words seem to conflict with the constant teaching of the New Testament, which is emphatic that Christians are not under the Law of Moses and that the Law of Moses has in fact been superseded by the Gospel. For example:

" are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4).
"Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal. 3:23-25).
"In speaking of a new covenant, he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear" (Heb. 8:13).

These teachings of St. Paul are fairly straightforward; the text of Hebrews 8:13, which says that the Old Covenant is "obsolete" and will "soon disappear" should be especially bookmarked by those who errantly assert that there is a permanent validity to the Old Covenant. Of course, this passage is not cited at all in the 2002 USCCB document "Reflections on Covenant and Mission."

Let us remind our readers of what exactly the Law of Moses consists of. Obviously, the Law refers to the series of commands and prohibitions given by God in the Old Testament that was to guide the life of the ancient Israelites, specifically those dictates found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Some of these laws are ceremonial, like proscriptions for certain Feast days. Some are dietary; some concern various liturgical rituals, others concern purity. Still others dictate norms for civil society and have the character of civil law. All of these aspects of the Law center around core which is moral - the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. The moral law gives meaning to the rest of the ceremonial laws. Some of the Law was merely provisional (the dietary law, rules for purity, etc) but the moral core of the Law abides forever because it reflects the natural law. This is a source of confusion for people; it means certain aspects of the Law of Moses are superseded by the New Testament but others are not.

This comes into play when comparing our Lord's statement that He did not come to abolish the Law to St. Paul's teaching that the Law is not obligatory. How can these passages be reconciled?

The most common approach to this is for people to simply play one passage off the others. For example, so-called "Messianic Christians" and "Messianic Jews" will tend to emphasize our Lord's words in Matthew while shrugging off St. Paul's teaching, thus asserting that the Law (or certain provisions of it) is still binding on Christians and offering various explanations to wiggle out of St. Paul's teachings. On the other hand, many Catholics will stand firm on St. Paul's teaching while scratching their head's as Jesus' words.

The answer is fairly simple, and hinges upon what it means to "fulfill" something.

Jesus notes that He did not come to earth to abolish the Law. Rather, the Law will be kept to its last jot and tittle "till all be fulfilled." This clause is critical.

Jesus says He has not come to "destroy" the Law; nothing will pass from the Law until it is "fulfilled." The implication, then, is that the "fulfillment" of the Law will bring about its "passing away." 

What we are looking at is a situation in which a single end can be brought about in two different ways. The end result is the "passing away" of the Law, there are two ways this can be brought about - "destroying" it, and "fulfilling" it. This is important to understand; our Lord does not teach that the Law will not pass away, only that it will not pass away by being destroyed. Those who misinterpret this passage typically miss this point.

Let us put forward an example to help exemplify this. The Law of Moses consists in a series of obligations binding upon its adherents. It is like a debt. To use this metaphor, suppose we incur a debt from the bank. The debt has certainly obligations, payment schedules, etc.

Now, how can I make my debt payments go away? There are two ways to get out of paying. First, I can simply repudiate the debt. I can just stop paying and default. Maybe I declare bankruptcy and have the court discharge the debt in some settlement. This would be sloppy, yes, and have other consequences, but I would make my monthly payments go away. This could be called getting out of the payments by destroying the relationship with the bank, the terms of the loan, etc.

Of course, there is another way to get out of my debt payments. I can make every debt payment down to the last penny and fulfill all the obligations of my loan to the letter. When the terms of the loan are fulfilled, the debt payments will go away. This could be seen as getting out of the payments by fulfilling the obligations of the loan down to the last jot and tittle.

Hopefully you can see the distinction and the solution to this problem. The Law of Moses had certain obligations: sacrifices, rituals, dietary code, festivals, etc. It also contained within it, because of its divine origin, various prophecies and fore-shadowing (such as Deut. 18:15, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; him you shall obey").

When Jesus came, the Pharisees saw many of His actions and words as in contradiction to that Law. They accused Him of trying to overthrow the Law of Moses. Of course, they did not understand the provisional nature of the Law; that it was, as St. Paul says, meant as a "custodian" until the age of grace. Our Lord emphasizes that He has not come to overthrow or destroy the Law. His actions are actually in continuity with the Law, insofar as the Law itself was meant to be fulfilled by the Messiah. Hence, when He reaches out and touches the leper to heal Him, in a certain sense, He seems to break the Law by touching an unclean man (cf. Matt. 8:3, Lev. 13:45-46). One who touches a leper contracts his uncleanliness. But in another sense, since Jesus is divine, He cannot become "unclean." The situation the Law was meant to prohibit (contracting uncleanliness) does not apply to Jesus because in His divinity He is the giver of the Law. He does not become unclean. Rather, He transmits His cleanliness to the leper, thus healing Him. Similarly, He cannot break the Law of the Sabbath because He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).Jesus does not "break" the Law; He is the incarnation of the Law. He fulfills it, exemplifies it, perfects it.

Jesus did not come to destroy the Law. He came to fulfill its precepts, obligations and prophecies to the last letter. He fulfills the function of all the sacrifices, He lives a perfect life and keeps the essence of its commandments flawlessly, and brings to fulfillment all its prophecies - the greatest being His atoning death on the cross, which ushers in the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah 31 and brings the Old Law to its natural conclusion.

Yes, the Old Law is obsolete and has passed away. No, our Lord did not "destroy" it or "abolish" it; rather, like so much else of the Old Testament, He took it up, transfigured it, ennobled it, and fulfilled it.

Email: uscatholicam[at]
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