Sunday, November 22, 2015

The unhappy man who lay with his mother

Our humble little publishing operation, Cruachan Hill Press, is about to release a new edition of the Life of St. Columba as told by St. Adamnan, Abbot of Iona. St. Columba (521-597), also known as Columcille, is one of the great saints of the Irish golden age and is known as the Apostle to the Picts and the Apostle of Scotland. The book will also contain several original essays on Columba and Irish Catholicism, as well as an appendix on the hymns of St. Columba. It should be available in the beginning of December.

In working my way through the Vita of this remarkable saint, I came across a section in which St. Columba encounters a penitent who had committed a particularly heinous sexual sin. The saint's reaction is very interesting, especially in light of our contemporary situation vis-a-vis the divorced and civilly remarried, finding "value" in homosexual relationships, etc. Let us read the section in its entirety, taken from St. Adamnan's Life of St. Columba, Book I, Chapter 1:

Regarding an Unhappy Man Who Lay With His Mother

At another time, the saint called out the brethren at the dead of night, and when they were assembled in the church said to them: "Now let us pray fervently to the Lord, for at this hour a sin unheard of in the world has been committed, for which rigorous vengeance that is justly due is very much to be feared."

The next day he spoke of this sin to a few who were asking him about it. "After a few months," he said, "that unhappy wretch will come here to the Iona with [Brother] Lugaid, who is unaware of the sin." Accordingly after the few months had passed away, the saint one day spoke to Diormit [his attendant], and ordered him, "Rise quickly; lo! Lugaid is coming. Tell him to send off the wretch whom he has with him in the ship to the Isle of Mull, that he may not tread the sod of this island." He went to the sea in obedience to the saint's injunction, and told Lugaid as he was approaching all the words of the saint regarding the unhappy man.

On hearing the directions, that unhappy man vowed that he would never eat food with others until he had seen St. Columba and spoken to him. Diormit therefore returned to the saint, and told him the words of the poor wretch. The saint, on hearing them, went down to the haven, and as [Brother] Baitan was citing the authority of Holy Scriptures, and suggesting that the repentance of the unhappy man should be received, the saint immediately replied to him, "O Baitan! This man has committed fratricide like Cain, and become an adulterer with his mother." 

Then the poor wretch, casting himself upon his knees on the beach, promised that he would comply with all the rules of penance, according to the judgment of the saint. The saint said to him, "If you do penance in tears and lamentations for twelve years among the Britons and never to the day of thy death return to Ireland, perhaps God may pardon thy sin." 
Having said these words, the saint turned to his own friends and said, "This man is a son of perdition, who will not perform the penance he has promised, but will soon return to Ireland, and there in a short time be killed by his enemies." All this happened exactly according to the saint's prophecy; for the wretched man, returning to Hibernia about the same time, fell into the hands of his enemies in the region called Lea (Firli, in Ulster), and was murdered."

The man appears to have killed his brother and committed incest with his own mother. I want to note Columba's reactions as the various aspects of this tale unfold. First, when he hears of this sin, his immediate response is horror at the wickedness that has been done. The sins of fratricide and of laying with one's mother is a sin against nature, "for which rigorous vengeance is justly due and very much to be feared." On account of this, he encourages his brethren to "pray fervently" on account of this monstrous act. Columba's initial response is revulsion at this act against nature - he is not interested in finding anything good in the incest and "walking together" from that point. His primary concern is the justice and vengeance of God.

Second, when he finds out that this "unhappy wretch" is planning on visiting the monastery of Iona, he tells his attendant to "send off the wretch whom he has with him in the ship to the Isle of Mull, that he may not tread the sod of this island." He recognizes Iona as a place consecrated to God and is concerned lest the the presence of an unrepentant sinner guilty of such a grotesque crime should pollute the sanctity of the island. He is not concerned with how the "wretch" will feel upon being sent off. He does not put up banners on his church proclaiming how "affirming" and "inclusive" it is. He does not believe that welcoming this unrepentant sinner into the congregation of Iona will be the first step in a gradual leading of the sinner towards the fullness of faith. No - he is mortified that such a person would want to set foot on his island and orders him to be sent off.

Well, in imitation of the Canaanite woman of the Gospel, the sinner begs to see St. Columba, and St. Columba finally relents. It is interesting that one of the monks, Brother Baitan "citing the authority of the scriptures", suggests that the man is penitent and should be received. Baitan seems prone to quickly and easily reconcile the sinner, perhaps moved by a kind of false mercy that would claim to restore grace without the requisite penance. Columba responds by explaining to Baitan the gravity of the sin - essentially saying that this is no ordinary sin, and that ordinary repentance will not be sufficient to restore this man to grace. Because this man has murdered his brother and lain with his mother, "a sin unheard of in the world", an extraordinary degree of penitence is necessary. Columba rightly states that it must be ascertained whether this man has demonstrated sufficient contrition and the willingness to do the proscribed penance. Thus Columba balances Baitan's swift application of reconciliation with a necessary obligation to justice.

The man seems willing to listen to the saint. He throws himself at Columba's feet and promises to do whatever the saint should tell him. This is a pivotal moment, the moment of grace. How does Columba respond? Is he overly anxious to assure the man that he is forgiven, that he should not be scrupulous about his sins? Does he quickly reconcile the man and tell him to follow his conscience regarding whether or not he should return to communion? Does he give him three Hail Mary's and tell him not to worry about it any more? On the contrary, he tells him, "If you do penance in tears and lamentations for twelve years among the Britons and never to the day of thy death return to Ireland, perhaps God may pardon thy sin."

Of course Columba, being a saint, has the gift of foreknowledge and knows that "this son of perdition" will not complete his penance but will return to Ireland impenitent and be murdered by his enemies.

I will not offer any further comment here except to note the gulf that exists between St. Columba's method of interacting with this sinner and the path favored by the modern apostles of mercy. Was St. Columba being unmerciful? It's hard to say how his foreknowledge changes things; would he have behaved differently if he did not already know this man would die impenitent? Who knows - but the point is that Columba's whole orientation is different than what we see being trotted out these days. The modern apostles of mercy have little concern with the objective state of the sinner's soul, no worry for God's vengeance, only trifling care for His justice, and practically no concept of holiness. They - and those who follow them - have become the "unhappy wretches."

Considering the man had committed murder and incest, Columba's penance was merciful. The point is that mercy does not always look the way the Kasperites think it should.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Thief in the Night

Where do you want to be when you die?  What would you like your last words to be?  Many saints and holy men died saying edifying words, Venerable Augustine Baker of the blessed sacrament died after singing the Salve Regina, Charlemegne is recounted as saying "Lord into Thy hands I commend my spirit."  Perhaps you might want to die in the arms of your wife like St. Nicholas Von Flue, or like a penitent thief.

Would you want to die singing the song "Kiss the Devil"?  A song that chorus actually says "I will love the devil and sing his song".  In fact there is not any substance to it, it almost reads as a satanic parody of the Divine Praises.  That was the song that apparently the band Eagles of Death metal started performing according to the Daily Mail when the gunmen showed up and starting their killing spree. 

"For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night." 1 Thessalonians 5:2 .  Consider what you listen to, consider what you do, consider where you go.  Our time is very limited, let us redeem it, because the awful day of judgement  awaits when we leave these frail bodies, and every idle word shall be judged.  If you listen to such music, or go to such places repent.  Pray for Paris, but forget not the need to make reparation to Christ, not just for those who take innocent life, but for those who mock Him, Hate him, and blaspheme Him.  God have mercy on us. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mercy, Annulments & Matrimony

Some reflections on the current state of things vis-a-vis matrimony, annulments, and mercy.

1. There has been a lot of talk about making sure the annulment process is merciful and compassionate. When people use this sort of language, they demonstrate that they do not understand what the annulment process is all about. The annulment process is primarily investigative; its purpose is to determine whether or not a putative marriage bond is valid or not. It has to do with research and investigation into the historical facts in a particular case. "Mercy" and "compassion" by their nature have nothing to do with such an investigative process. To say such a process should be "merciful" or "compassionate" is like suggesting an archaeologist needs to be more merciful when he is trying to figure out if there are ancient skeletons buried beneath a parking lot, or that a coroner doing an autopsy needs to incorporate compassion into his findings. If we told the archaeologist or the coroner this, they would rightfully look askance and wonder in what sense mercy was even relevant to their investigation. Investigation is about simply uncovering facts, and just as mercy and compassion are irrelevant to the facts of a scientific investigation, so they are irrelevant to the annulment process.

2. The annulment process is a legal process. Legal procedures can be just or unjust, but they cannot be merciful or unmerciful. It could be argued - because of the above point about the nature of investigative enterprises - that mercy has no place in legal proceedings. Mercy does have some place in legal proceedings when it comes to the prudence of a judge or magistrate in handing down a particular sentence. We may implore a judge to be merciful; there is a saying, to "throw oneself on the mercy of the court." But (and this is an important distinction) one is appealing for mercy regarding a sentence, not a procedural process. It is the sentence which elicits pleas for mercy, not the process of uncovering facts. A judge may be moved to mercy in issuing a sentence, but no judge would take seriously a plea that searching to uncover the facts of a case was unmerciful. So appeals to mercy are directed towards a sentence, not a process.

Furthermore, we appeal to mercy from persons, not procedures. A procedure can be more or less just, granted; but we do not make judgments about whether a system of procedures is merciful. Mercy is a moral act and can only be granted by a person, never a procedure. The talk about our annulment procedures being made more "merciful" is absurd.

3. It could be argued, of course, that an annulment is exactly that - a sentence. After all, the Tribunal issues a sentence at the end of the annulment process, and upon that sentence depends whether or not a previously contracted marriage is declared null. But the sentence is merely a sentence of fact, not a punitive sentence. The sentence is a statement that such-and-such are the facts of the case. One cannot appeal to mercy in such a judgment; it would make as little sense as saying that the judge's finding of fact that John Doe was spotted at the nightclub on the evening of July 25th is unmerciful. Facts are not merciful or unmerciful. They're just facts. And the annulment decree is a sentence of fact finding, not a punitive sentence. A person can argue that a fact is irrelevant, or needs to be understood in context, or that it is being understood errantly, but he cannot argue that a fact is unmerciful.

4. Finally, it is fascinating to me that there seems to be an eclipse of the concept of the sanctity of the marriage bond itself. For example, despite the great moral shift in the West, if you took a survey, most Americans would still say adultery or "cheating" is wrong. However, if you were to reword the survey and say, "Is it acceptable to have extramarital sex if your partner agrees to it?" we would see widespread agreement. If adultery is wrong, how could it be acceptable because a partner agrees to it? In other words, while many in the West still think adultery is wrong, they no longer understand why it is wrong. For most, adultery is wrong because it violates the trust of a spouse. This explains why so many will say it is acceptable in an "open marriage" situation or when the spouse assents to it. It is only wrong when the spouse has not consented. The betrayal of the spouse's trust is the real evil. Thus, the issue becomes whether mutual consent is violated - the Lockean libertarian principle applied to matrimony.

On the contrary, Catholic Tradition has always held that an extramarital affair is always immoral - even if the spouse consents to it - because it is an offense against the marriage bond. Of course violating trust is a bad thing, but it is not the only thing. The Catholic Tradition recognizes the marriage bond as something that exists objectively; it can be violated and sinned against by certain acts, even if both parties consent to them. But our culture no longer has any concept of an objective marriage bond; marriage is nothing other than consent - with consent, anything becomes permissible; without consent - a continuing consent - the marriage ceases to exist. Whereas Tradition sees the marriage bond as arising out of  a one-time act of consent, for the moderns the bond is nothing other than the consent itself. Thus, they do not understand why anything that is consented to can possibly be objectionable.

5. Finally, even if we could disregard all of the above and suggest that "mercy" should be applied in annulment cases, we ought to note that if "mercy" contradicts objective fact - that is, if in the name of mercy a declaration of nullity is issued that is not warranted by the objective facts of a case - well, this is not mercy; it is simply lying, which is an injustice.

We need to recognize as Christians that not only will our teachings be increasingly rejected, but they will not even be understood. When society cannot even understand that an objective marriage bond exists, the difference between a procedure and a sentence, an investigation of fact vs. a judgment, then the time has probably come to return to the deserts and lonely places and beat our breasts in prayer until renewal comes or the comes and smites the earth in flame.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Papal Rock: Milestone of Enculturation

Since the pontificate of John Paul II, we have witnessed the strange phenomenon of the "pop-star popes": a cult of personality surrounding the Roman Pontiff that has little to do with his office as successor or St. Peter and more to do with him being someone "important" and getting treated like a kind of celebrity. Some of this is natural and unavoidable when dealing with any truly important world figure - but much of it is fed by the popes themselves, who in their globe-trotting adventures, massive outdoor Masses, concerts at World Youth Day, and other grandiose events allow an aura of media celebrity to form about them.

Perhaps it will get worse. Maybe what was once described so optimistically at Vatican II as "enculturation" of society to the Gospel will become full blown descent of the Gospel to the culture - even more so than today. Maybe the popes will descend into the pop-entertainment milieu and describe it as a means of "evangelization." Perhaps some day the popes will record their own pop albums in hopes that such a medium will be more "relevant" to the youth of today.

Well, the future is here, because Pope Francis has recorded and released his first pop-rock album.

Or, to be more specific, Pope Francis has signed off on the release of an 11 track album called Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward! The album features what the U.K. Telegraph calls his "wise homilies and moving speeches" set to Indy rock music. Tony Pagliuca, who worked on the album, said the pope's rhythmic voice gave the tracks a feel of "slow rap."

The senior producer was Father Giulio Neroni, the director of St. Paul's Multimedia who is best remembered for compiling a Vatican playlist for MySpace that included a song by Tupac Shakur, who Fr. Neroni described as an artist who merely wanted to" aim to reach the heart of good minded people." Fr. Neroni released a sample track of the Wake Up! that has apparently been downloaded a billion times. The sample track is from a papal homily in South Korea. The pope's voice comes in around 2:00:

To what degree is the pope involved in this project? He signed off on the concept and was presented with a copy of the finished album by Fr. Neroni in August. The pope himself has not commented on the album.

John Paul II was the first to allow such a project to be recorded with his "Abba Pater" album. Pope Benedict XVI also had a similar album released, although in his case the album consisted of Gregorian chants and polyphony interspersed with papal homilies. Like World Youth Day, it looks like this papal album thing is just becoming something all popes do now, a real milestone ofThe mixing of enculturation.

I present this here merely "for the record" and will offer no further comment - though you are encouraged to! Or follow this blog on Facebook.

Contact: uscatholical[at]

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Obedience of Athanasius & Fall Articles

I apologize for the infrequency of my posts as of late; we spent the summer showing our house and then moved in September and are still getting settled in, so things are chaotic. But I did want to draw your attention to some articles published on the sister site over the past several months. 

Many of you mentioned interest in an article on the life of St. Athanasius. I would like to direct you to this article, "The Obedience of St. Athanasius." While I do not offer comparisons or commentary on any contemporary persons or groups, I attempt to demonstrate in this article that St. Athanasius was never disobedient to any legitimate ecclesiastical authority, never defied or "ignored" the pope, and is hardly a model to be appealed to for 'justified disobedience.' It is long, but I think worth the read if you have ever invoked Athanasius in this sort of context. I also have a PDF version of the article.

If you want to keep up with articles coming from the sister site on a more regular basis, I recommend following us on our Unam Sanctam Catholicam Facebook page.

Here are some recent articles from the website, going back to mid-summer:

Philippine Bishop: "Stop Homily Abuse!": An important Filipino primate admonishes against long, tendentious, boring homilies. 
Innocent III: Ten Reasons Why a Man Should Not Get Married: Greatest medieval pope attempts to discourage men from marriage. Hilarity ensures.
Why is Masturbation a Sin? Why masturbation is in fact sinful as well as some practical tips on overcoming this vice.
Canonizations: Old vs. New Comparison: Featuring a chart with a side-by-side comparison of the procedures of pre-Vatican II canonizations to today.
Life in Medieval Cluny: The influence, plan, and organization of the influential medieval French abbey of Cluny.
Balthasar and the Faith of Christ: Balthasar asserts that Jesus experienced faith, ignorance, and even positive error. This man is not a model of orthodoxy.
Anselm Contra Greeks: St. Anselm answers Greek accusations about the Filioque; from de processione Spiritus Sancti
Slick's Not-So-Slick Questions for Catholics: Our apologist Wes Hunt refutes Protestant pastor Matt Slick's inane "Questions for Catholics."

Movie Reviews

Ant Man (2015)
The Equalizer (2014)
Mr. Holmes (2015)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)
Minions (2015)
Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb (2014)
San Andreas (2015)

Sancti Obscuri

St. Thorfinn of Hamar

Thank you for your continued patronage of this blog and website.
Contact: uscatholicam[at]gmail[dot]com

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Synod II Wrap Up

The Synod on the Family is finally over.

Good. Lord.

Ugh...what a terrible month for the Church. I had to intentionally moderate my attention to this event because of how distressing it was. It will take some time to digest what really happened here and what it portents for the Church in the years to come, but here are some initial observations. I want to thank my friend Joseph for several of these insights.

(1) In all the discussion of the Pope and the Kasperites leading up to the Synod, I noticed a particular usage of the word "reality." There are many examples we could cite, but let us look at two statements from the relatio document of Circulus Anglicus C group at the Synod, moderated by Msgr, Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh. For example:

"We were equally insistent that we address this issue as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people's lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense."

Elsewhere, the same relatio makes this observation in regard to the Church's teaching on contraception:

"On the question of responsible parenthood, the discussion focused on the need for a pastoral approach which both promotes the teaching of Humanae Vitae and deals with the reality of people’s lives, providing ongoing formation of conscience which looks to a harmony between Church doctrine and personal decision."

We have only cited two passages from a single document, but examples of this concept of "reality" have been legion since the advance of the Kasperites began in February of 2014. According to this parlance, "reality" is something that is opposed to abstract doctrine. When we focus too exclusively on doctrine, we lose sight of "reality" and no longer comprehend the "reality" of people's lives. I do not deny that there can be an opposition between doctrine and charity, in the sense that a person can maintain the virtue of faith after the virtue of charity has been extinguished. But doctrine, strictly speaking, cannot be opposed to "reality." Doctrines (Latin: "teachings") correspond to reality. There is no way pure Christian doctrine can lead one away from reality. The beatific vision of God is an intellectual vision, the vivifying fulfillment of knowledge and all our other faculties. Our doctrine gives us our way of life which leads us to the ultimate reality. But the Kasperites hold that doctrine qua doctrine can actually be an obstacle to reality. Pope Francis has employed this false dichotomy, as well. When the annals of this sorry era are written, this should be noted as another aspect of the Kasperite heresy, along with their major thesis that one can receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin.

(2) Speaking of the Kasperites, this Synod was not a complete victory for those who wished a restatement of doctrine. Some doctrines were restated, but the key ones that are in the Kasper proposal regarding penance, the Eucharist, and the sinfulness of adultery were not restated. This is obviously why some secular outlets are trumpeting this as a conservative "victory."

(3) But if the Kasperite proposal was not affirmed, neither was it rejected. This despite several news articles published saying that it was. It also was not finally endorsed, and there was not language included asking the Pope to investigate the possibility. After a year of turmoil and divisiveness, it was like a big collective "nevermind." It was simply ignored in the final document. 

(4) Or mostly ignored. In fact, the language of accompaniment and the distinctions of culpability that were included in the final document were language that the Kasperites wanted to move forward their proposal. If pastors must "accompany" adulterers on their "journey" towards "an authentic conjugal project" (Final Relatio, #71), then this pastoral accompaniment makes it much more difficult to speak unambiguously about the fundamental sinfulness of adultery and cohabitation. If grades of culpability are introduced, it will obviously fall to pastors to determine which grade a particular couple falls into - and it is not too much of a stretch to imagine lax pastors basically absolving everybody from all culpability in a marriage that has "failed."

(5) Speaking of "failed marriages", let us remember that marriage is a sacrament. Sacraments do not fail. Are there "failed" baptisms, "failed" ordinations, "failed" confirmations? One is either baptized or one is not. One is either confirmed or one is not. One was either ordained or one wasn't. Similarly, one is either married or one isn't. You cannot have a valid, sacramental marriage which has "failed" in the sense that the problems of one marriage can render it null and permit a person or persons to be subjectively convinced that they are now free to remarry. Sacraments do  not fail. A marriage is a marriage. It is not an ideal that only the perfect arrive at. It is not "an authentic conjugal project." It is a sacrament - a sacrament which more or less grace may be available depending on the disposition of the spouses, but a sacrament nonetheless - and it is brought into being in its fullness and immediacy by the consent of the parties before the Church's minister. We must all be on guard against the subtle transformation of marriage from a fact to a mere ideal, and an excessive focus on its natural aspects versus its sacramental character.

(6) The Pope seemed disgusted with those who fought for doctrinal clarity and for practice to agree with doctrine. In his daily homilies, he continued to preach against the doctors of the law and those who would stifle mercy. In his final address, he spoke against "those who would 'indoctrinate' it in dead stones to be hurled at others... in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families" and insisted that some of the interventions were not well-intentioned.

(7) The Pope critiqued "a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible". It is not clear what language he had in mind. Kasper had earlier critiqued the language of "perpetual adultery" as incomprehensible. This language, unfortunately, does not seem to have made it into the final document. I suspect that it is precisely clear language like this which is incomprehensible to the modern mind which the Pope had in mind with this critique. The real question is whether this clear, unambiguous language is actually incomprehensible to the pope himself.

(8) The Kasperite Thesis is based on the theory that two people can be sleeping with each other whenever they want to without any intention to stop and not be responsible for doing so. This is what is mean by invoking "limitations on culpability." The idea of the bishops who promote it is that people are oftentimes trapped in a situation where they do not wish to sleep with each other but find they have no choice--a kind of lack of consent. That's rather demeaning to the couple, isn't it? "Well, honey, we're not really married, and, as a Catholic in the State of Grace, I love God above all things, but I am slave to our circumstances, unable to make a free choice, and so I am going to sleep with you, not as a free agent engaging in a personal act, but as an animal coerced by the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in." Very romantic, huh? No. Actually, it's pretty much rape. It is the old liberal talking point that sin is inevitable

(9) The Pope may be moving towards permitting the question of absolution for those living in an adulterous second union to eventually be answered by episcopal conferences. He said: 

"[W]e have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion" (Papal Homily, 10/24/15)

This may in part be a reference to the fact that the African Bishops (and others, such as the American Bishops, for the most part) rejected the Kasperite thesis vociferously. 

(10) The response of the pope to resistance to the "path of mercy" and "openness to the Newness of the Gospel" that he saw among "jealous older brothers" seems to be to "decentralize" the Church. He seems to be calling for a solution similar to the Anglican or Orthodox manner of doing things where practice can vary tremendously from place to place. How that will help Catholic unity is beyond me.

(11) Though Synod I was a conservative "victory" and though Synod II did  not incorporate the worst of the Kasperite heresy in its final document, we should not in any sense these Synods as successes. This 2014-2015 Synod on the Family was probably the most disastrous thing that has happened to the Church since Vatican II. It will take centuries for the damage to be undone - and the damage is already done, regardless of what the final document says, because it has given the impression that fundamental moral doctrines are up for debate. And either way, we should remember that in Synod I, the majority of bishops voted for the pro-homosexual passages; they were not included because the vote did not reach the requisite 2/3, but it did reach a simple majority. This should appall us. Similarly, the fact that one conservative commentator estimated that at Synod II not more than 35% of the episcopate would vote for the Kasper thesis should horrify us. for these numbers mean that between 1/3 and 1/2 of our global episcopate lacks the most basic understanding of Catholic moral theology. Our pastors.

(12) Once again, the heroes of the Synod were the Africans, although we should also note the heroic stance of the Polish Episcopal conference, who were inflamed by the memory of John Paul II and fidelity to Familiaris Consortio. God bless Bishop Stanisław Gądecki.

(13) However, while appealing to the memory of John Paul II and Familiaris Consortio may have helped save the day, traditionalist Catholics should not fall into the practice of opposing John Paul II or even Benedict XVI to Francis. Some Catholic blogs still like to paint Benedict as a traditionalist and compare the Benedictine "restoration" to Francis' lio. But who appointed these Kasperite bishops? Who put these heretics in office? Blaise Cupich was appointed by John Paul II. Kasper was made a bishop by John Paul as well, years after his heretical views were known. Maradiaga was also a John Paul II appointment. Nunzio Galatino, the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference - you know, the one who told the Italian newspaper La Nazione that “My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality" - he was an appointment of Benedict XVI. Reinhard "Kirchensteuer" Marx, the arch-heresiarch of Germany, was appointed by John Paul II and elevated to the cardinalate by Benedict XVI. This nonsense about affirming the good things in homosexual relationships was started by Benedict XVI himself. If you are appalled at the apostasy of these liberals, blame John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They appointed or elevated them. The entire global episcopate - at least at its senior levels - is the creation of John Paul II. I know John Paul II and Benedict XVI look pretty good now compared to Frankie Uno, but John Paul II and Benedict XVI were innovators, too. Taking refuge from the chaos of Francis in the example of John Paul II will get us nowhere.

(14) But more terrifying than any of the discussions about homosexuality or divorce and remarried was the pope's homily where he laid out his theology of the Church as an "inverted pyramid" and promised more decentralization, and assuring us that "new paths" the Lord will open up for the Church. This homily, more than anything else the pope has said, seems to indicate that he really has no clue. I mean none. It is like if your own local goofy, quirky, liberal parish priest became pope. I pray for Francis as often as I can, but it is increasingly evident that the man is utterly clueless about what is really wrong in the Church and how to best restore her. 

"Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye on the ways, and see and ask for the ancient paths which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls." - Jer. 6:16

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Anybody can chant

This beautiful rendition of Ave Maris Stella was performed by the choir of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Jackson, MI. The choir is directed by a good friend of mine. Before you continue reading, take a moment to listen to this lovely piece. It was actually recorded during Mass, so you will hear pew noises and people moving around for Holy Communion.

A wonderful example of polyphony, yes? Most of the singers are just amateurs...people who thought it would be nice to serve in the choir and volunteered. This is what they are capable of with just a little bit of training.

But here is the most amazing part - the choir director is also an amateur. Until he assumed leadership of this choir, he had never directed a singing group in his life; zero experience as a choir director. He was just an amateur singer who had cantored a few Tridentine Masses; eventually a few friends started cantoring with him and an impromptu choir sort of developed. He took charge of it about a year ago and this is where they are today. Zero experience leading a choir.

People who say chant is "too hard" are simply wrong. Anyone can chant. Any one can learn to teach others to chant. It is not insurmountable. All one needs is the will. The disappearance of chant from Catholic parishes has nothing to do with chant being inaccessible or too challenging; it is simply that people have decided they do not want chant.

Related: Our eBook "The Gregorian Schola for Beginners" by Ben Perry

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Synod & Council: The Conservatives' Failed Strategy

I have not offered much thought or commentary on the 2015 Synod thus far; my reasons are fairly the same as those offered by Ryan Grant in his recent article "Why no synod coverage?" (Athanasius Contra Mundum, Oct. 7, 2015); at any rate, by now there is ample evidence to prove that Synod 2014 was rigged, and nobody should be surprised that the 2015 Synod will be pushed towards a predetermined outcome as well. Rorate just had an excellent piece suggesting that the Synod is turning into Vatican III. Radicals will always hijack these sorts of deliberatory bodies, taking advantage of procedure to relentlessly drive their progressive agenda.

Is anyone really surprised by this? Anyone who has been paying attention should not be. What is surprising is not that the liberals are trying to turn this into Vatican III, but that the conservatives are making the same fundamental errors they made at Vatican II.

Say what you want about the liberals, but they know how to set an agenda and ram it through. They position themselves to get the right press at the right time. They appeal to the emotions. If they want something done, they get their people in the right places, dominate committee discussions, relentlessly use the parliamentary processes to drive their agenda, and shut down opposition. They find pretexts to eject orthodox candidates from seminary. They orchestrate the firing of faithful Catholic journalists. In short, they fight.

I have been in government before, and I tell you, those who win are not necessarily those who have the best or "right" ideas, but those who know how to use the existing authority structure to facilitate the implementation of their ideas. They fight and they use the system and its structures to fight for them.

Conservatives do not fight, at least not in this manner. Sure, they think they do; we talk about fighting the good fight and all that, but by and large conservatives do not try to drive their agenda.

Conservatives tend to take the misguided position that merely speaking the truth is sufficient. That, in the face of the liberal onslaught, it is enough to calmly reaffirm the Church's constant teaching, perhaps in the naive confidence that the truth will always win out in the free marketplace of ideas. Are the liberals ramming through a heterodox praxis? Publish an article on the Church's real teaching. Are they dominating the procedures of a meeting to get their people on the right committees and drive their agenda? Give a talk. Just speak the truth. Hand out copies of a book.

The liberals recognize that the Synod - or, in another historical context, the Second Vatican Council - presents an opportunity to get something done. They understand it as an event, a moment in history at which a turn can be taken. By and large the conservatives didn't (and don't) take this approach. They viewed it more reductively in terms of the language used in some documents - as if the momentous importance of an Ecumenical Council or this horrid Synod could be reduced to some vocabulary!

This was the approach the conservatives took at Vatican II. God bless them for what they did do, but as Dr. Mattei has pointed out in his excellent book The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, the conservatives fundamentally failed to understand what was happening at Vatican II (see here for our review of Dr. Mattei's book). By a narrow focus on what sorts of wording was creeping into the documents, the conservative fathers failed to understand that the Council was being used as an event from which to institute massive change in the Church in a manner that went far beyond the problems of the documents. Neo-Catholic apologists continue to make this error to this day whenever they choose to narrowly focus on the documents of Vatican II, as if the import of the Council was exhausted by the documents.

The same mistake is being made again with the Synod, although this time the conservatives are in a much weaker position. Why? Precisely because they have continued to make the same error for fifty years, a consequence of which is that liberalism has made such astonishing gains since Vatican II that a conservative reaction has much more against it than it did in the 1960's.

How could conservatives have conceivably "fought back" more than they did? It is interesting to read Pope St. Pius X's Pascendi with this in mind. Pascendi, of course, was the famous encyclical which exposed and condemned Modernism. But Pius X was not content to simply speak the truth; he put his convictions into practice by taking positive action against Modernism. Pascendi decrees that Modernists be deposed from teaching positions. If they are clerics, their bishops are to place them in the most obscure of offices where they can cause little trouble. Their books are to be censured. The Oath Against Modernism is instituted. Anti-Modernists are promoted while it is made known that no Modernist has any future possibility of promotion (if only that had remained true!). SO vigorous was his assault that the Modernists and progressives complained about his heavy hand.

In short, Pius X never thought merely stating the truth was sufficient; he needed to use the power at his disposal to see it pushed through.

What could conservative bishops do, or have done, that they have not?

  • Vigorously punish heresy in their own dioceses. Keep strict watch on the activities of certain priests and suspend, dismiss or defrock those who clearly dissent from Church teaching.
  • Preach the truth boldly, including explicit condemnations of particular groups or ideologies, even condemning heterodox teachers or priests by name when necessary. Go beyond the typical non-offensive, wishy-washy bishop-speak.
  • Use the resources of a diocese to publish actual informative and instructional materials, not the sort of nonsense most dioceses put out.
  • Actually issue liturgical directives to promote tradition. The contemporary Church documents offer considerable leeway in how liturgy can be done; the upside of this is that the bishop is given the final call on all of these options. A bishop could easily say, "No guitars and drums at any diocesan Mass", or mandate sacred chant, or compel every parish to offer at least a monthly Traditional Latin Mass. Novus Ordo Masses must at least incorporate Latin and be said ad orientam.
  • Dismiss lay persons or members of subversive religious orders from their diocesan committees.
  • Actually use the tool of excommunication against dissident theologians and dissenting Catholic politicians.
  • Use resources of the diocese for meaningful ( I stress meaningful) social activism. Example: One priest told me there used to be a scummy motel near his parish that was frequented by prostitutes. He raised some money, bought the motel, and had it torn down. What if the millions raised by our diocesan appeals were used for such uses?
  • Organize at the regional level and use their weight to push through appointments within the USCCB or elsewhere that were favorable to them while simultaneously using their influence to keep out liberal appointments.
  • Host guest-speakers friendly to tradition and forbid those who are not.
  • Forbid Catholic schools and hospitals from engaging in activities harmful to the Catholic faith and actually back up these directives with the appropriate force.
  • Fire all Catholic school teachers who are in immoral relationships.
  • Actually celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and require all seminarians to know it and be comfortable with Latin.
  • Publicly censure books and films hostile or dangerous to the Catholic faith.
  • Mandate traditional arrangements in the architecture of sanctuaries and churches; stipulate that no parish has the right to undertake any renovations unless personally approved by him.
  • Promote priests who cooperate with this agenda and punish those who don't.
  • In short, never, never miss an opportunity to promote tradition and actively punish and repress liberalism. Speak the truth boldly but also use the weight of the office to silence, retard, dismiss or dispirit the liberal opposition.

The thing is, though, because of fifty years of not doing these sorts of things, there is much fewer truly conservative bishops than there were in 1963 - and the likelihood that any one of them will take up such an aggressive program of orthodoxy. And, if they did, there is a good chance they might not find themselves in their See for very long.

But this position of weakness only comes from being weak for too long. The point is that speaking the truth alone is not enough. One must have an agenda and one must drive it relentlessly. That is what the liberals have done successfully for over 200 years. It's what faithful Catholics used to do. Perhaps the modern Church lost the stomach for that sort of thing when John XXIII advocated using the "medicine of mercy" instead of the Church's traditional arsenal of weapons. Who knows. But the fact is, episcopal defenders of tradition had better be prepared to not only speak the truth but to use the powers of their apostolic office to actually enforce it.

Otherwise, they (and we) will be like a man on a sinking ship, sitting calmly on a deck chair proclaiming that the ship is sinking while doing little else to stop it. Certainly, as the ship disappears beneath the icy, black waters, we may have the consolation of saying, "See, I was right! I told you the ship was sinking"; but then again, if the ship goes under and the passengers all die, this consolation is quite empty indeed.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Pope in Philadelphia

The following article was written by a friend of this blog, Mr. Paolo A. Belzoni. Paolo resides in the New Jersey area and was on hand for the Pope's recent visit to Philadelphia. I asked Paolo to play correspondent and put together an essay on what a day was like in Philadelphia with Franciscus in town.

Needless to say, this article represents the opinions of Mr. Belzoni, not necessarily those of Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

The Servant of the Servants of God Visits the City of Brotherly Love
by Paolo A. Belzoni

It has now been a week now since Pope Francis left American soil. Like many Catholic Americans, I am still absorbing the impact of the visit, still ruminating on the Holy Father’s words, as well as those of the manipulators in both the political and media realms. As part of my effort to assess the Holy Father’s impact, I offer the following very idiosyncratic interpretation of what I saw and experienced on the ground in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26.

My oldest daughter and I departed for Philadelphia with some trepidation that day, knowing that local, state and federal authorities had gone overboard on security measures. These included closing down major bridges and highways, limiting train service and issuing traffic alerts for the area that predicted gridlock similar to a major snowstorm. A huge area of downtown Philadelphia was also closed to all vehicular traffic. Even my little hamlet in New Jersey, a full seven miles away from where the festivities were to occur, had a flashing sign on the main drag warning of snarled traffic.

On Saturday, at least, all this was ridiculous overkill. If anything, traffic was lighter than usual. The parking lot at the train station was practically empty, and nobody had any trouble getting a seat on the train. Once in town, we met up with some friends from our parish and began a pilgrimage to some local holy places, hoping to skirt the dreaded “exclusion zone” near where the papal activities were to happen which required a pass through airport-style security to access.

Our first stop was Old St. Marys in Old City Philadelphia []. This historic church has a rather plain brick façade, but is beautiful inside. I used to go there occasionally to say a Rosary when I worked in town. It was originally built in the 18th century and has numerous connections to the founding of the republic. Unfortunately, the church was closed this day, so we just took a moment to read the historical markers outside, including a tribute to Irish Catholic Commodore John Barry, first commander of the US navy, who is buried in the grave yard behind the church.

The oldest church in Philly was our next stop – Old St. Joseph’s []. This one was originally built in 1733 during the time when Catholicism was banned in most of the American colonies and tolerated only in Quaker Pennsylvania--and barely there. When I worked in town, I used to attend Mass at Old St. Josephs on holy days and took an occasional trip there to make use of the confessional. It is run by the Jesuits now as it has been throughout its history. The church itself is in a remarkable state of preservation, with a stunning Romanesque altar and marble rail, which is a tribute to its Jesuit caretakers. To their discredit were the occasional bizarre calls for “women priests” that used to appear on the bulletin board over the years. None of that was in evidence this day, thankfully.

Next on the tour was Old Saint Augustine’s, another Philly church with a long and storied history []. Originally constructed in 1798, the church featured the “Sister Bell” of the famed Liberty Bell in its steeple—a bell which first hung in Independence Hall but was given to St. Augustine’s in 1830. The original church was set ablaze and completely destroyed by Know Nothing anti-Catholics in 1844. The Sister Bell fell from the tower and was destroyed—later to be recast and enshrined at Villanova University outside of Philly []. The magnificent interior of the church will be immediately familiar to fans of M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. Aside from the movie, I had never experienced the inside before, and was stunned at the gloriously beautiful stained glass and the larger-than-life paintings illustrating the life of Saint Augustine that lined the walls above the balcony. Above the high altar are the words, “The Lord Seeth” – a stark and useful reminder for us this day and every day. Numerous pilgrims were in evidence both inside and outside the church, most of them young folks.

Our final stop before running the security gauntlet was the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, whose huge gold dome is a fixture in the skyline to the immediate north of Center City Philadelphia []. Though somewhat off the beaten track, the Cathedral was well worth the walk. When we arrived, the vast interior was filled with pilgrims from the Philippines. Aside from the glittering iconostasis with a majestic mosaic of Our Lady and the Christ Child above, the main object of interest was a life-sized reproduction of the Shroud of Turin which was on display. After praying before the image, we retired to the hall next-door which advertised “Pyrohy for sale.” As we were all feeling a little hollow from the walk, this turned out to be quite fortuitous.

From there, it was on to the dreaded security barrier. The “line” was simply a mass of people. Fortunately, since most were good pilgrims anxious to see the Holy Father, line etiquette was observed even though the instructions received from the various security personnel on site were confused at best. It took us about half-an-hour to get through – which I’m told is a cake-walk compared to what others endured the following day where 3-4 hour waits were the rule.

Once through security, the atmosphere was oddly non-religious, not especially Catholic. The number of locals hawking pope-related merchandise – shirts, buttons, pictures, etc. – was amusing and completely expected. To a man, they were friendly and obviously having a very good time. We obliged by purchasing a few Vatican flags which now festoon our front garden. One particular merchant tried to get us to purchase a “Sanders for President” button, but we were no more likely to buy one of those than the “Jed [sic] Bush for President” buttons that were also featured on his cart. While one might object to the commercialization of the event by the small vendors, I didn’t have a problem with it. It seemed like subsidiarity in action.

The presence of several dozen Jumbotrons throughout the city was a little more obnoxious. This was particularly the case when Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, was given the podium immediately prior to the Holy Father’s speech at Independence Hall. It should be remembered that Mr. Nutter is an advocate of both abortion on demand and a promoter of all things “gay”, and he did not miss this opportunity to remind faithful Catholics that “our lesbian, gay, and bisexual citizens continue to fight for equality.” Nutter made several more comments about the “LGBT community” in his talk which at best showed a crass lack of respect for his audience as well as his guest of honor.

If the Holy Father understood or felt any dismay at this misuse of the podium, he did not bother to comment on it. I, for one, was unsurprised. Mr. Nutter and I are graduates of the same Jesuit high school. His speech was a good representation of the sort of worldly, politicized heterodox Catholicism I experienced at this elite school that has borne so little good fruit for the Church.

Adding to the largely secular atmosphere was the background music which alternated between general Latin American rhythm section and secular pop-culture anthems (eg., Can You Feel the Love Tonight). Religious songs of the Contemporary Christian variety were also on the playlist. Comic Jim Gaffigan did an awkward and embarrassingly out-of-place set that included a reference to Philly fans throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. Unsurprisingly, he was lustily booed. This is Philadelphia after all.

My daughter and I largely ignored all of this and headed for the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. Outside was an odd-looking shrine that appeared vaguely like a huge, white sea anemone. A helpful lady told us that it was dedicated to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots and encouraged us to add our own prayer intentions, which we did. We poked into the Cathedral quickly after that but, as Mass was about to begin, we ducked out again to secure a good location along the parkway for the Papal drive-by which was supposed to happen any minute. In our haste, we missed out on seeing the wedding dress worn by St. Gianna Molla which was on display inside the cathedral. A few of my friends managed to get photos with St. Gianna’s daughter who was on location in Philadelphia all week.

It turns out that we had plenty of time to go to Mass after all. We found a good spot along the barricades and a half-hour went by. Then an hour. By the time ninety minutes had gone by, people were reduced to cheering for the mounted police and trash carts. The next half-hour passed quickly as I was privileged to find myself next to Ave Maria Radio host, Coleen Kelly Mast and her husband, Kent, who were very amiable and happy to chat. When the Pope finally rode by, I hoisted my daughter up on my shoulders so she could see over the crowd—no mean feat, considering she’s 12—and she was able to get some decent video of the event.

I am not one for crowds. I despise cults of personality, particularly religious ones. But seeing the Pope—any pope—in person a mere 20 feet away was an experience I won’t soon forget. The video we captured of Pope Francis as he rode by at about 15 mph includes some soccer-style chanting from our nearby Latin American friends and some self-deprecating humor from Kent Mast who said, “Did you hear? He said my name! Something about ‘big sinner.’”

My daughter and I beat a hasty retreat after the Papal appearance. Without tickets, we knew we couldn’t get any closer to the stage where the rest of the evening’s entertainment was to take place, so we made a brief trek to the inner-city monastery of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters—casually referred to by many as the Pink Sisters []. We had heard that the adoration chapel would be open for pilgrims, but when we arrived, everything was locked up tight for the evening. Though we were disappointed, the walk did afford us the opportunity to hear the musical highlight of the evening: Andrea Bocelli’s soaring rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer”. Bocelli clearly delighted the Holy Father who greeted him warmly afterwards, and his live performance was only a few clicks less brilliant than the classic rendition by Mario Lanza [].

Our walk back to the train station was long but delightful. We enjoyed strolling down the middle of Broad Street – an activity that would get you killed on a normal night. But the surly attitude of Philly drivers and aggressive pedestrians were not in evidence this night. They were replaced by a magical feeling of benign camaraderie that rarely exists in Philadelphia. Even though it seemed most of the people in the street were not Catholic, there was an unmistakable sense of good will toward this Pope which one can only hope will result in many seeking out the beauty and truth of the Catholic Faith which he represents. Given the 60-second attention span of most folks today, one can only pray that this good feeling will be more than ephemeral. It will be up to Francis to lead this varied and confused throng in the right direction with clear and fearless expositions of Catholic teaching, particularly during the synod on the family this month.

Though I have been critical of Pope Francis on occasion, upon seeing him up-close, I felt empathy for the man. I reflected on his motto: “Miserando atque Eligendo” – Lowly but Chosen – and he really did seem to be quite a humble fellow. He moves slowly. His words come slowly and at times, his tone reminded me of St. John Paul II’s voice when it was partially strangled by Parkinson’s. He is an elderly gentleman who could be enjoying his retirement years in Buenos Aires, and who seems to struggle sometimes with the grave responsibility on his shoulders.

I often have lamented Francis’s vague and sometimes careless speech. In this trip to the US, the frustrating vagueness was occasionally in evidence. This was lamentably true in his tepid address to Congress where he had an opportunity to hit a home run before that august body, but grounded weakly into a fielder’s choice. That said, I did notice a greater care and attention to his words on this trip. He gave the Culture of Death very little to work with in terms of twisting his words to suit their purposes.

At times, the Pope’s words were truly transcendent, as when he said: “All that is beautiful leads us to God. Because God is good. God is beautiful. God is true.” These words came out during his unscripted remarks in Philadelphia on Saturday night. They were followed the next day during his homily at the Papal Mass:

“How many of us are here at this celebration! This is itself something prophetic, a kind of miracle in today’s world. Would that we could all be prophets! Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others!”

And what is the “narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others?” The Holy Father went on: “We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”

He is most certainly not referring to an openness to the kind of disordered, grotesque mockery of love that Mayor Nutter championed at Independence Hall. Pope Francis, instead, triumphantly proclaimed the love of a married man and woman which produces children. Shockingly, in our hideously corrupt culture, this has become the love that dare not speak its name.

Pope Francis also returned fire at Barack Obama when he said at Independence Hall: “In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”

Interestingly enough, the Holy Father saved some of his best material for the flight home. Perhaps this is an indication of his reaction to what he had seen during his American visit. On the topic of priestly sex abuse Pope Francis said: “We know the abuses are everywhere; in families, in the neighborhoods, in the schools, in the gyms, but when a priest abuses it is very serious because the vocation of the priest is to make that boy, that girl grow toward the love of God, toward maturity and toward good, but instead of that they squashed them and this is nearly a sacrilege. He betrayed his vocation, the calling of the Lord.”

On the topic of divorce, he offered some of his clearest statements yet regarding the recent motu proprio on annulment: “This document, this ‘motu proprio’ facilitates the processes and the timing, but it is not divorce because marriage is indissoluble when it is a sacrament. And this the Church cannot change. It's doctrine. It’s an indissoluble sacrament.”

And on one annoying recurring topic, he couldn’t have been more clear: “On women priests, that cannot be done.”

And then, we have Francis’s not-so secret meeting with Mrs. Kim Davis which unleashed a torrent of white hot abuse at the Holy Father from his erstwhile allies on the religious left. Those who demand not to be judged by others are unsurprisingly the harshest judges of all.

But from my point of view, perhaps the most promising statement I heard from Pope Francis during his trip came out during his return-flight interview. When asked his reaction to his “star” status in the United States, the Holy Father responded in a way that seemed to indicate an awareness that his cult was a mile wide and an inch deep among many, subject to being dispelled at a moment’s notice:

“The Pope must…Do you know what the title was of the Pope, which ought to be used? Servant of the servants of God. It’s a little different from the stars. Stars are beautiful to look at. I like to look at them in the summer when the sky is clear. But the Pope must be, must be the servant of the servants of God. Yes, in the media this is happening but there’s another truth. How many stars have we seen that go out and fall? It is a fleeting thing. On the other hand, being servant of the servants of God is something that doesn’t pass."

If nothing else, the Pope’s visit gave me a renewed sense of hope, along with a strong inclination to pray for him even more. Considering the tremendous responsibility he bears before Almighty God—when a few incautious words could potentially lead millions of souls to perdition—the next month should tell us much about whether he will have the courage to buck the incessant demands of the world and those worldly prelates in his inner circle. May Jesus protect him. May the Holy Spirit guide him. May Our Lady pray for him!