Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Faithful Island Has Become a Harlot


"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes" (Luke 19:41-42).

Our Lord spoke these words about the city of Jerusalem, but they could easily be applied to Ireland in the wake of its shameful referendum yesterday legitimizing homosexual marriage. 

The faithful isle has become a whore; the land of saints and sages has become drunk with the abominations of the nations and is reeling in its inebriation. Éire has betrayed St. Patrick. Éire has betrayed the Irish martyrs. Éire has betrayed its own constitution, which begins with the words, "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial..."

Yes, a disappointment to all Catholics, especially those who love the Catholic heritage of Ireland. Yet it is hard to tell what is more disappointing, the referendum results, or the lame excuses offered by the Irish Church's prelates. Rorate Caeli has documented how the bishops of Dublin and Derry offered the most mediocre, ambiguous, limp-wristed resistance to the vote, basically telling Irish Catholics that it was better to vote 'Yes' than to vote 'No' for the "wrong reasons."

After the vote, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin placed the blame squarely on the Church, conveniently omitting any mention of the degenerate morals of his flock.

“I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?’ ” 

This reveals immediately the error in his thinking. If a reality check is needed, it is not because the Church has "drifted away" from young people - indeed, the Church doesn't drift away from people, people drift away from the Church - rather, the reality check needed is that this wishy-washy affirming dialogue centered nonsense that passes for Catholicism in most of the West is incapable of attracting young people. They're bored to tears with it. It means nothing to them. It's a fundamental failure of "modern" Catholicism.

But does the Archbishop recognize this? Nooooo. Of course not. The problem isn't that the Church has reformed; it's that she hasn't reformed far enough! More dialogue! More new language! More reaching out!

"It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.”

Somebody tell the Archbishop that the "language" needed to address this issue does not need to be "found." It has always been here in the Church's traditional moral theology, which has always taught that homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity and that even the homosexual tendency is intrinsically disordered.

Yet, for Archbishop Martin, the problem is not the immorality of homosexual acts but rather hand-wringing concerns that the Catholic Church is becoming a "safe space for the like-minded." He dislikes the clear moral teaching proposed by the Catholic Tradition. Instead he prefers to lounge about in Satan's favorite area, the grayscale:

“We need to find...a new language which is fundamentally ours, that speaks to, is understood and becomes appreciated by others. We tend to think in black and white but most of us live in the area of grey, and if the church has a harsh teaching, it seems to be condemning those who are not in line with it. But all of us live in the grey area. All of us fail. All of us are intolerant. All of us make mistakes. All of us sin and all of us pick ourselves up again with the help of that institution which should be there to do that."

Gray area indeed. This sounds like the realm of the lukewarm, and we know what Christ said about that. Is it not obvious that this is the voice of Satan speaking through this man?

He wraps up his interview with this gem:

“The church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love - then it’s got it wrong."

Of course, truth must always be spoken in love. The problem with these days however is that the truth isn't spoken at all. The Archbishop made the most equivocating, minimal resistance to the homosexual marriage referendum; and then, when it unsurprisingly passed, blamed the Church for "getting it wrong" and "drifting away" from the young and now calls for "a new language" to rectify the problem he helped create.

The solution for the problems created by the revolution is always more revolution, isn't it Archbishop Martin?

So, where are the angry counter protests? Where are heroic calls by the country's Catholic politicians and clergy for repeal? Where are the spirited vows that same sex so-called marriage will never be recognized by Catholic Ireland, regardless of the law of the land? Not a peep. Martin could care less. I personally believe the man is relieved that this issue is "settled", as he now has the luxury of throwing up his hands and saying, "It's the law of the land. What can I do?"

Indeed.

In the beginning of this post, I cited our Lord's lament over Jerusalem and suggested it could be applied to Ireland. In fact, it could probably be applied to western civilization in its entirety, which continues to decay because it does not know what will bring it peace. But if this passage does apply to western civilization, let us also remember how the passage ends:

"The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:43-44)

"See how the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness used to dwell in her- but now murderers!"(Isaiah 1:21)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Guest Post: Latin Mass Prejudices


The following is a guest post by a friend and fellow blogger Kevin Tierney. Kevin posts regularly at Catholic Lane. Unam Sanctam Catholicam's has regularly promoted his excellent series of articles introducing Novus Ordo attendees to the Propers of the Extraordinary Form. We are grateful for this lovely post on the question of the Traditional Latin Mass and why calls for a "better tone" among online defenders of the TLM are meaningless.

*  *  *  *  *

"I love the Latin Mass - but at the same time, how much preservation does it really need? It isn't as though it's going to disappear from the face of the earth."

This is an query sometimes posed by Catholics who are perhaps sympathetic to the Traditional Latin Mass but don't get what all the hubbub is about. It is a serious question and it deserves an explanation.

I don't think traditionalists are calling for the Latin Mass to be "preserved." In the worst case of trad fantasy booking, Francis could re-institute the 1984 Indult, and it would last only as long as he is breathing. The culture has changed. There was a time where it was an open question if the Latin Mass would go away. That time is long passed. The Latin Mass will definitely be "preserved."

But is the Latin Mass at least equal to the Novus Ordo? I think that's where the interesting question is. According to Vatican II, Ecclesia Dei and Summorum Pontificum (amongst many others) the answer is an unqualified yes. It is an approved form of worship within the Church, and like all of the liturgical life of the Church, it is worth cherishing and celebrating.

Does that sound like the way the Latin Mass is treated? The answer is an unqualified no. According to Robert Cardinal Sarah, Summorum Pontificum is not a reality within the dioceses of the world because a spirit of exclusion exists within Catholics who celebrate both forms. They weaponize the liturgy with hate and malice. Those are interesting words, but they don't convey the reality of why those words in Summorum Pontificum are often pious aspirations.

In several dioceses here in America, there is a de facto ban on advertising the availability of Latin Masses on websites, parish bulletins, etc. Other times there are countless hurdles being placed for celebrating the Latin Mass, including the bishop determining for himself whether or not someone is "competent" to celebrate it, something Ecclesia Dei has made clear is wrong. Saying the priest should tell the bishop to go screw while he appeals to Rome is nice in theory, but is probably going to make life quite difficult for the priest, and his congregation. In any such case, when priests have their visas revoked for saying that both the faithful trads and bishops need to be more accommodating towards each other, that is not faithful to the spirit of the Magesterium.

There is also the fact that individual traditionalists have to live up to a pretty ridiculous standard. They are not just ambassadors for themselves in all they do, but for the Latin Mass and all of Tradition as well. Any negative behavior can and will be attributed to the Latin Mass by popular bloggers, thinkers, and quite a few priests and bishops. When a random conservative Catholic blogger (both politically and religiously) is a jerk, nobody says that's because of the Novus Ordo. But with the Traditional Latin Mass it is another story. It is automatically assumed that the Latin Mass is the source of the divisive views, and that the Latin Mass contributes to a spiritually rotten subculture. That any one individual trad says "I don't do this!" doesn't make any difference. To say "such is life, deal with it", is true, but those outside the Latin Mass have the luxury of knowing that it will never be so with them. 

So given those realities, should anyone be surprised that when I hear "the biggest barriers to expanding the Latin Mass are bitter internet commenters" I roll my eyes and view them completely out of touch? Yes, everyone needs to be nicer to each other, more understanding, and promote true reconciliation. But do you think that message of reconciliation is going to be very effective in parishes where a lot of this crap takes place? There's a cold reality: every trad could be a saint and a paragon of tolerance and acceptance, and the situation today would change only at the margins, if at all. Once basic obligations are being done, then maybe the call for better tone can be taken with a shred of credibility. Right now, it has zero credibility.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Logo for Year of Mercy

In case you have not yet seen it, the above image is the official logo for the upcoming Year of Mercy. The art is the work of Slovenian Jesuit artist Fr. Marko Rupnik (click on the image for a bigger view if it is too small to see).

Notice that between Christ and the other figure, there are only three eyes, signifying apparently that "Christ sees through the eye of Adam and Adam sees through the eye of Christ." The motto of the Year of Mercy is "Merciful Like the Father", despite the fact that Pope Francis says the purpose of the year is to the demonstrate "the church's maternal solicitude."

Lest you have any doubt that this Year of Mercy will be used as a propaganda tool to push for greater acceptance of deviant lifestyles, Archbishop Reno Fisichella, spokesman for the Year of Mercy, stated that "The motto, 'Merciful Like the Father,' serves as an invitation to follow the merciful example of the Father who asks us not to judge or condemn but to forgive and to give love and forgiveness without measure.”

I offer no new commentary here, but refer you to our article "Children's Crusade and the Age of Mercy" from March 21st, 2015.

All quotes and information from this Catholic Register article.
H/T to Blog for Dallas Area Catholics

Sunday, May 03, 2015

It's a Salvation Issue

In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Saint Paul exhorts us to all agree with one another and let there be no divisions among us. Disunity, however, is a reality that we have to deal with. Our Lord says that weeds will grow alongside the wheat, and in the fifth chapter of Galatians, contentions, dissensions and sects are listed amongst the works of the flesh. The difficulty in unity is that even if a person where perfect in charity, it would only take his companions being imperfect to cause disunity and quarreling.

It can be very frustrating to be on the sidelines of a fight between Christian brethren who are acting in passions of anger. There does appear to be occasional break periods where a journal here, a blog there, a bishop over there, and so on, will scream the need to stop fighting and unite to (insert noble cause here).

Have you read the exhortations to stop arguing over issues like canonical jurisdiction to make a united Trad Catholic Voice. Like this call for Unity that Rorate Caeli Posted in January of last year.

Calls to unity can also be found from the Russian Orthodox, asking for an end to confrontation between Catholics and Orthodox and a relationship of solidarity so that we might fight relativism and secularism. (Like Archbishop Hilarion said during an address to the Sant’Egidio community on September 17 or extreme examples like Saint John Paul II inviting the leaders of the worlds religion to pray for and work towards the promoting of peace.) Some Eastern Catholics on the internet express upset (the self identified "Orthodox in Communion with Rome") that the West cannot just jettison 1000 years of theology in the name of unity and nuance the meaning out of Papal Supremacy so we can be united with the Orthodox again (thus betraying Christ, and the noble Eastern Catholic Martyrs and Confessors) . Father Laurent Cleenewreck, an Eastern Orthodox Priest, wants Christians to return to a pre-Nicene confession of the faith, so that all us Christians can stop fighting.

We have been exhorted to dwell in unity; so why do some Christians insist on fighting over dogma or practice?

Because these can be salvation issues.

When people unite at the expense of truth, they construct a new tower of Babel destined to not only fail, but to cause even greater disunity. Our faith is weak, or possibly dead, if we think our numbers will make a difference. God cares not for numbers, but faithfulness, even if the numbers are reduced to a remnant of "the remnant".

Should people remain silent if they believe (Insert dis-unifying belief here) will actually result in someone going to Hell? Admonishing the sinner has guidelines, we must not throw our pearls before swine, and Our Lord admonishes us to correct someone only so many times before (in effect) shunning them.

If a person is wrong about a belief being a salvation issue, it may be a salvation issue to them for if they violate their conscience and they would actually commit a soul-destroying mortal sin. “Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. (Rom 14:13–15)”

How must we deal with salvation issues, whether we our or neighbor believes that X is a salvation issue? By supplying evidence with patience and charity.

The Rule of the Poor Knights provides an excellent outline for how we should speak, and not speak, in these inevitable disagreements in our fallen world.

Do not give free play to wrath, do not bear anyone a grudge, do not nurse deceit in your heart, do not give a false greeting of peace, do not abandon charity…. Speak the truth with your heart and your lips, do not render evil for evil, do not wrong anyone, love your enemies, do not return insults or slander, but rather respond with benevolence towards our offendersChapter 4, The Instruments of Good Deeds.

Are we in the position to lay down the sword of truth if our friend wants to join the the Eastern Schism so we can avoid contention? Will we stay silent if a dogma of our Faith is questioned by a protestant standing next to us at a Pro-Life demonstration, because he is "basically a good person"? Are we going to let our friends go to Sedevacantist church with our blessing because they have been scandalized and are "traditional"? Should we stay silent if our family wishes to attend the illegal ordination of a priest who, upon ordination, would be suspended?

I hope to God that I be found not wanting for words then. "Love thy neighbor as thyself." If you believe something is necessary to do, or to avoid for your salvation, do not be silent because your words might stir up contention. “Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And as a man's enemies shall be they of his own household.” Matthew 10:34-36

It only takes one mortal sin for a person to lose the grace of God. What if God's providence chose you to be the person  to warn somebody about their impending spiritual suicide? So what if we have a united "Trad Front" if a quarter of those trads go to hell? So what if we have a united Christianity if a large segment of that rejects Dogma necessary for belief in order to be saved? And you won't avoid one day of warfare by different religious leaders pledging peace when God decides if we will have war or peace, lest we forget that the Angel of War is sent to punish those who reject the Gospel. I would hope that if I was in danger of losing my soul a friend would take the time to patiently and charitably correct me.

We can make our arguments firm, we can use strong evidence and even be forceful if need be, but we must always strive to do it in charity. If we cannot start with charity it is be better to stay silent, but not for unity’s sake, for God’s sake. "A judicious silence is always better than truth spoken without charity." ~St. Francis De Sales

We must always keep charity, and that is also a salvation issue.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dissolution of the Medieval World


If there was one ideal that characterizes the Middle Ages and sums up the entire character of that long epoch in a single word, it would be harmony. Not harmony in the sense of temporal peace, for the Middle Ages were as tumultuous and violent as any age of the sons of Adam. No, we do not mean harmony in the sense of peace, but harmony in the sense of the belief that everything can and should work together.

No human era tried so hard to find a place for everything within a single system as did the Middle Ages. It was an age of synthesis, when the most contradictions were only apparent, when it was believed that centrifugal forces in society could be held together, when it was assumed that the world was a single, gigantic system in which everything from the highest angel to the most fragmentary piece of prime matter had its place in God's great cosmos. No culture ever worked as diligently to reconcile the One and Many as the medievals.

And what sort of divergent forces did the medievals manage to reconcile? In my opinion, I believe the medieval synthesis consisted in three fundamental harmonies: Faith and Reason, Church and State, Spirit and Flesh. The medieval synthesis consisted in being able to maintain a harmonious balance between these three sets of contraries, reconciling them all in God's goodness. So long as this great balance was maintained, medieval life flourished.

These three great syntheses gave rise to multiple other syntheses that flowed from them: mercy and justice, hierarchy and equality, localism and universality, collective and individual, law and custom, town and country, poverty and wealth, will and grace, private good and public good, position and humility. We could go on and on. Of course medieval society was far from perfect; but at least the medievals believed these things could all be reconciled with one another.

But do you want to know why the Middle Ages broke down? It was not the rise of the nation state. It was not the Black Death. It was not the printing press or even the Protestant Revolution. What, then, caused the dissolution of the medieval world?

Quite frankly, people got tired. We particularly value the medieval synthesis - but maintaining that kind of synthesis is difficult. It means a constant vigilance - avoiding extremes of defects and excess, maintaining a delicate balance between divergent forces, persisting in a careful study of problems to ensure that both poles in the harmony were maintained. And the medieval world got tired of it.

People began to want Church or State, Faith or Reason, Spirit or Flesh. They revolted against the diligence required to maintain these hard-won harmonies and wanted to abdicate that effort in favor of a seemingly "easy" solution to the problems of the sons of men. Was the relationship between Church and State complicated? Then the solution was to terminate the rights of the Church and exalt the State.  Tired of reconciling the place of the Flesh and Spirit, the founders of what would become Puritanism exaggerated the realm of the spirit at the expense of the flesh. The new philosophers, exhausted at the effort required to maintain the unity of Faith and Reason, cast off Faith to worship before Reason alone, while other Protestants, taking Luther's maxims to their conclusion, retreated into a citadel of pure Faith.

Thus the medieval world died because men could no longer bear the effort that was required to maintain the great syntheses. And thus that world and all therein collapsed.

The desire for universality - for synthesis - did not die, however. This desire is passed along through the Catholic sense and is present in anyone who truly loves the Catholic Faith. And as with the medieval world, a fidelity to the Catholic Faith in its fullness requires the same careful, diligent effort necessary to maintain harmony.

And yet, I fear again we are in a time where people do not want to take the effort to maintain the harmony between contrary pressures. And what pressures do I speak of? Between a man and his office, between the Church's human and divine elements; between good and bad among our pastors, wheat and tares, truth and obedience, the spiritual and physical aspects of the Church, precision and ambiguity.

As at the end of the Middle Ages, many Catholics are tired of maintaining these delicate harmonies: to choose blind obedience at the expense of truth, or a bold stand for truth at the expense of obedience. People either confuse the man with the office by making the office into the man, or else they denigrate the man to such a degree that the office itself is held contemptible. I do not want to call anybody out by name or delve into any specific issues; I leave you with this principle to ruminate upon and see to what it is applied.

The harmony of Faith is hard, but it is necessary; it holds all things together. It is nothing else than the place where the Cross comes together. Staying at this center point is really the only option if we do not want the small remnant we have to dissolve as did the medieval world. But the center must hold; the disparate ends of the spectrum must be bound together and maintained in the love and truth of God, "in whom all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). Anything less is a surrender to despair.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Curé of Ars on True Contrition


In traditional Catholic sacramental theology, four things are necessary to have a valid and fruitful Confession: contrition, confession, absolution, and satisfaction. Too often we tend to minimize the importance of contrition, taking it to simply mean a momentary sorrow or regret. It certainly is a kind of regret, but not merely momentary, for contrition also necessitates the firm desire not to commit that particular sin again. Of course, though through human weakness our resolutions often fail us, they are still essential. An act of contrition for a particular sin requires the sincere desire to avoid committing that sin in the future.

This means obviously that true sorrow for sin is incompatible with the intentional to continue committing it. One cannot simultaneously repent of sin and receive absolution while lacking any will to cease committing the offense. One cannot be absolved from a state of sin while continuing to persist in that sinful state.

This principle is excellently elucidated by the great Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, in his sermon, "Merit Absolution":

"When anyone has really given up his sins, he must not be content simply with bewailing them. He must also give up, leave far behind, and fly from anything which is capable of leading him in the direction of them again. In other words, my dear brethren, we must be ready to suffer anything rather than fall back into those sins which we have just confessed. People should be able to see a complete change in us; otherwise we have not merited Absolution, and it could even be possible that we have indeed committed sacrilege.
Alas, that there are few in whom this change is apparent after having received Absolution! Dear God, what sacrileges are committed! If in every thirty Absolutions there were but one genuine case, how soon would the world be converted!
Those people do not merit Absolution, then, who do not give sufficient signs of contrition. Alas, how many times, because they are sent away, do they not come back anymore! This, of course, is because they have no real urge to be converted, for if they truly had, very far from leaving their Confession until another Easter, they would be working with all their hearts to change their lives and return to make their peace with God." [1]

I will not offer any further commentary upon the point, but those with ears to hear can easily see its relevance to our contemporary situation.

[1] Sermons of the Curé of Ars, trans. Una Morrissey (TAN Books: Rockford, Ill, 1995), pp. 125-126

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two Reviews: War Against the Papacy by James Larson and Rending of Christendom Sourcebook

When we launched the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website back in 2012, we originally featured a little store to sell our self-published books and other merchandise. 

Last month, I revamped the USC web-store and hosted it at a separate site called Cruachan Hill Press. Cruachan Hill is the name I self-published my earliest books under; I have retained the name for all subsequent works. We now have 8 books published under the Cruachan Hill name, along with 1 eBook and the always popular "Free Constantinople" T-shirt.

We are kicking off the new Cruachan Hill web store by offering a series of new books. First, the Rending of Christendom Primary Document Catholic Study Guide and Answer Key. These books are designed for home schoolers studying the history of the Protestant Revolt who wish to use primary sources.

From ancient Greece until the early 20th century, the study of history consisted in reading primary sources: documents written first-hand by persons involved in historical events. This reliance on primary sources was abandoned at the dawn of the 20th century by educational ‘reformers’ who pushed learning by textbook instead - with the result that most students now have no contact with the great documents of the past.

Featuring biographies, theological treatises, papal bulls and polemics from the towering figures of the 16th and 17th centuries, The Rending of Christendom sourcebook puts students in direct contact with the past by immersing them in the controversies of the period to learn its history first hand from those who were there. Catholic writings such as those Bellarmine, Borromeo, and the martyrdom of Thomas More, but also Protestant sources like Luther's 95 Theses and excerpts from the ecclesiastical ordinances of Calvin come together to give students a firsthand look at the religious landscape of the tumultuous period.

The book was originally designed to supplement one of my courses I teach through Homeschool Connections, but it can stand alone and includes a recommended reading schedule for semester long course to help parents pace the course accordingly. And - if you are not the sort of parent that likes grading essays, there is an answer key (sold separately) to help you along with this.  Click here for a review of the Rending of Christendom sourcebook from Mary Ellen Barrett's website.

Contains readings and study questions intended for ages 14–18, 110 pages, paperback.We are currently offering a special on the Rending of Christendom sourcebook and Answer Key for $19.99. To take advantage of this offer, please visit the Cruachan Hill webstore here

Our second book is War Against the Papacy by author James Larson. James Larson is one of the best traditional Catholic authors out there. Many of you may have visited his website, War Against Being, where his voluminous articles advocate a return to God using the golden wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have always appreciated Mr. Larson's essays; not your typical traditionalist, Mr. Larson does not harp on Vatican II or the 1960's as the source of our troubles but takes us way back to the 14th century, showing how our troubles all began when Catholics started to abandon Thomistic metaphysics. If you have never frequented Mr. Larson's site, I strongly recommend it.

"Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18). It was to St. Peter that our Lord entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom and vowed that his faith would never fail. For centuries the Petrine office has been the bulwark of truth against heresies and ideologies which threaten the integrity of the Church's faith. In War Against the Papacy, James Larson explains why the apparent auto-demolition of the papacy under the post-conciliar popes has not changed this fundamental reality - and why attacks against the papacy, even in the name of tradition, betray a lack of trust in Christ's promise to St. Peter.

Larson presents a much needed balance in contemporary discussions of the papacy. While not denying the troubling and often scandalous actions of the modern popes, he nevertheless argues convincingly that no pope has lost the faith, and why full and formal union with Rome remains a Catholic's only option. Liberal errors about a new ecclesiology in the spirit of Vatican II are refuted, but Larson is equally harsh with Sedevacantists, as well as the arguments put forward by certain traditionalists, whom Larson critiques from a traditionalist standpoint. Those looking for balance in a traditionalist approach to the papacy will appreciate Larson's studious, patient, and deeply spiritual examination of the papal office.

War Against the Papacy is 160 pages, paperback, $16.49 + shipping. Please click here to purchase War Against the Papacy from the Cruachan Hill product page.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Enemies of Contrition

The Mercy of God cannot be praised, worshiped, honored or exaggerated too much. As children of wrath, inheritors of that first sin of Adam we are hoping in the Lords mercy to avoid the just punishments which we all have merited through our daily sins and negligence.

"The effect of the divine mercy is the foundation of all the divine works." St Thomas Aquinas Summa ,Q. 21, A. 4

If one has the Passion as the chief wellspring from which one drinks when one thirsts for righteousness, then you drink also from the well of mercy, for as St Thomas Aquinas teaches:

“But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. ” Summa Question 48

But, perhaps you, dear reader cringe at the mention of the Lords mercy. The Fear of the Lord, one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the beginning of wisdom, and a great gift to restrain vice and sin today seems to be despised by many, and if they do grant the idea of it they are quick to dismiss any ideas of a wrathful God (which one would get even from an elementary reading of Scripture). 

In fact to them fearing God is the exact opposite of what we should do, and it is certainly nothing we should ever preach or teach, as that might turn people away they say. People might feel that they are being condemned, and not realize how merciful God is.

The problem with this line of thinking is simple: the entire human race save those who have been regenerated in baptism are condemned! Anyone who has ever committed a mortal sin after baptism, without repentance is also condemned. And you know what, the fact that they feel condemned is actually a good thing! Our Lord explicitly teaches “and He (the Holy Ghost), when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgementJohn 16:8

I hope no one actually believes they are doing Gods work when they present God to the world as some sort of cosmic muffin man who does not even get the respect you might give to an officer when getting a speeding ticket.

We spend a lot of time discussing what the enemies are of Tradition, but these attitudes come from the enemies of Contrition. Would you agree that it is too common that many of our brethren forget that our Lord cares for how he is approached? 

There is only one way for a sinner to approach the Lord, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Psalm 51:17

Isn't that the whole root of the problem with giving adulterers holy communion? These people may very well be sorry for their situations, but they are not broken hearted enough, not contrite enough to stop breaking the 6th commandment and remove themselves from occasions of sin. 

“For, whilst the sinner is in a state of mortal sin, his back is, as it were turned upon God; but when he is in a state of grace his face is joyfully turned toward God. Now, this change, namely, the sorrow of heart, and detestation of sin, is necessary; as, otherwise, the sinner would be and would not be, at the same time, turned towards God. If there were no contrition, no change of heart required, the sinner could be, at the same time, both the friend and enemy of God, which is absurdFather O’Keefe from  "Contrition" on Alleluia Audiobooks

“A Christian in mortal sin may be saved without confession or absolution, but he cannot be saved without contrition.”  Father O’Keefe from  "Contrition"

Without contrition, without sorrow for our sins, without detesting our sins and turning away from them, without amendment of life we cannot be forgiven. It cannot be any other way.

However, once we have turned our back on sin, once we have sorrow for them, once we have received absolution and have resolved to make amends to the extent of our power for evil done, we can and should hope in obtaining pardon, satisfaction, and that our fall was a means of obtaining greater grace.   To not hope and have confidence in the mercy of God when we have done what he has asked of us, that is repent of our sins, is to insult Him.

“Of true contrition and humbling of the heart, arises hope of forgiveness; the troubled conscience is reconciled; the grace which was lost, is recovered; man is preserved from the wrath to come; and God and the penitent soul meet together with a holy kiss.

Humble contrition for sins is an acceptable sacrifice unto You, O Lord giving forth a savor far sweeter in Your sight than the perfume of frankincense.” Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

You think such a thing is obvious? I assure you it is not. How do I know? Because God has to keep sending us reminders of these fact through his servants, confirmed by miracles, and spread by ecclesiastical mandate. We all know that we fail to trust our Lord when we prefer our own will to His when we disobey the commandments, when we think we can find some shortcut to happiness other than walking in His ways. So, let us approach our Lord with a broken and contrite heart this Divine Mercy Sunday, and trust that God will not only pardon us, but renew our baptismal garments completely pure in that blood which he shed for us on Calvary. 

Jesus I trust in you. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

USC Videos: "Spirit of Vatican II Song"

Winter is past and spring is here, and with the coming of spring, let us celebrate the "New Springtime" we now enjoys thanks to the Second Vatican Council, of which 2015 marks the 50th year of its closing.

In honor of the fruits of the New Springtime, I have composed a little song about the Spirit of Vatican II. I could have spent some more time polishing up the recording and singing, but it was pretty much just something I whipped out and recorded on Audacity quickly while it was in my head. Therefore, I present to you, the "Spirit of Vatican II Song", and original by Unam Sanctam Catholicam.


Reactions may be mixed. Some of you may react with humor and find it hilarious. Others of you may be profoundly saddened, as much of this is no laughing matter. I count it a success if your reaction is a little of both.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

God Loves You

Happy Easter everybody! I am going to deviate from my usual routine here, in that this post is not directed at my usual readership. Rather, this article is for those of who have stumbled upon this blog accidentally: you who are sitting around this Easter with anxious hearts wondering whether you should become a Christian - or, if you already are a Christian, why you should hang on to your tottering faith.

Yes, tottering faith. There are many obstacles to faith in today's world. Modern reductive science that has conditioned us to think that to understand a thing is simply to explain what it is made out of; the world is full of unspeakable evils at home and abroad, all of which challenge our confidence in an all-good God; there are the temptations of the world - pleasure, wealth, and the good opinion of men - all of which make a Christian life seem fraught with difficulty; finally, there is the scandal frequently offered by those who bear the name of Christ, who fall far short of Christ's call and serve as painful reminders of the sinfulness of us all.

But an obstacle is not an impossibility. "Nothing shall be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). God can overcome all, even death. Even your faltering faith. Ask Him. Ask Him for the gift of faith. And then be humble enough to receive it when it was given, knowing that it is often given in seed form - just a very small measure, which must be nourished and protected before it can grow up into a mighty tree.

Why do we need God? We all fall short, my friend. All of us, despite our best intentions, have messed up. We might not all have killed someone; we might not all have committed adultery, but we have all really fouled things up. No matter what we will, we tend to choose selfishly. That's part of our nature, see. The world has told us that if we just tweak a little here, offer some more programs there, that we can build a material utopia. Well, even when the will and the means are there, human nature tends towards selfishness. It's just the way it is.

Not that our nature is bad. It is from God. People are good. But not perfect. We are flawed. Christians call this original sin - the fact that, while we are basically oriented to the good, we are unable to carry it out because there is also a streak of selfishness within all of us. Our whole race is fallen. This is why attempts to fall back on human ingenuity and materialist ideologies to build a better world are doomed to fail.

But God did not leave us in this darkness. When the time was right, He sent His only Son to take flesh and become a man. Jesus Christ took on human nature in its fullness. He felt the sweat of a hard day's work, endured the drudgery of human life, saw the world in all its frailty. But He did not succumb to its evil; though a man like us, He never committed or experienced sin, because He was also fully divine. Coming from God He was fully God; in becoming man He was fully man. Both God and Man - a Godman, and as such, the only one capable of reconciling man and God.

He came to earth in obscurity, lived a perfect life, and then suffered the humiliating death of crucifixion, though He was innocent. In giving Himself to the very last, He showed Himself utterly selfless and thus undid the selfishness of mankind; because He was divine, the love with which He carried out this act of self-sacrifice was so eminently pleasing to God that it wiped away the debt of sin that separated man from God. Just as God and Man come together in the Person of Christ, so God and Man are brought into harmony by the death of Christ.

And because that death was so perfect, that love so fulsome, that sacrifice so perfect, death could not keep Him chained. Yes, He rose from the dead, for "love is stronger than death" (Song of Solomon 8:6). This Resurrection was a vindication - a vindication of His teaching, but also of His identity. He manifest Himself to His disciples, who bore witness that Christ was truly risen from the dead.

And how does this effect you, dear friend? You see, Christ rose not just for Himself but on behalf of the whole human race. In Him, God has elevated and ennobled human nature. His death merited glory for Himself, but grace for all. He rose to glory, yes, but He makes possible your rise to glory as well. His Resurrection makes possible newness of life for you through His grace. Freedom from your sins. Freedom from your past. Freedom from whatever characterization you or others have created for yourself. Free from your passions which enslave you. Free to live as a son of God.

Yes, this is all for you. He died for all mankind, but He also died for you individually - because He created you, because He loves you. Yes, God loves you. I know its cliche, but its true. But don't get too cozy with that. The idea that the God of the Universe loves you is no cause for laziness or sloth; if He loves, He expects something from you, just we all do of those whom we love. "Doesn't God love me right where I am? Why does He demand I change?" Oh yes, God loves you right where you are - but He loves you too much to leave you in that condition.

What holds you back? Yes, there will always be objections, questions, uncertainties. Faith is a knowing but its also a kind of darkness. Faith does not depend on a mass of probabilities or on whether or not you have every detail worked out. Faith comes down to this: Do you or do you not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? If He did, then He is who He says He is and everything else follows. If He did not, the whole Christian faith is in vain. Yes, vain.

What is your answer to the question? Did He rise from the dead?

And if so - if you know down in your heart that it is true, then rejoice! You have the gift of faith, the seed of eternal life. Do not let it die. Nourish it. Nourish it in the truth. When our Lord rose, He did not leave us orphans, but sent the Holy Spirit among the Church that He founded, thus promising to lead it into all truth, so that though He is no longer on the earth according to the flesh, the Spirit of Christ can forever lead the brethren of Christ in the true Church of Christ - and this is that Church of which Peter was given the keys and made head.

Yes, there will be scandal. Yes, there will be embarrassment due to human error, arrogance and sin. But ultimately it is irrelevant to your own faith. Did Jesus rise or didn't He? He rose in power; that is what this day commemorates. And if you hold close to Him, you have power too. Power to remake the world according to God's law, starting with yourself, then the Church, then the world. It doesn't matter what they do; you keep doing what you know you need to do. If the Church needs holiness, you be holy. If the world needs compassion, you be compassionate. If you do not see Christians devoted to prayer, you be devoted to prayer. The kingdom is within you and it starts with you. You have questions? So did I. But there are answers. Many, many people have walked this path before you and there is no difficulty that has not been considered and resolved.

Believe the Gospel. Repent of your sins and resolve by the help of God's grace to put them away forever. Live in the freedom of the children of God. Drink the pure milk of Christ from the Church which Christ endowed with His Spirit. Frequent the sacraments. Pray intensively and make the acquaintance of other prayerful people. Honor the Church. Love God above all, as He has loved you. Make no compromise with the world. Do these things and you will experience the power of Christ's Resurrection, and the joy and freedom you possess in Christ now is but a foretaste of the eternal reward your faith will bring you in Christ, who brings all things to fulfillment.

And if you do not yet have faith, then pray for it. God will grant it if you are sincere in following Him. That's really all it takes is an assent of mind and will to follow God and put Him above all. He will bring it to completion.

Amen and amen! He is Risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Foot Washing: What's the big deal?


Pope Francis has again made headlines by announcing he will spend Holy Thursday washing the feet of inmates at the Rebiba prison in Rome. This is the third time the Holy Father has chosen to perform the foot washing ceremony in such facilities, visiting the Casal del Marmo prison in 2013 and the Don Gnocchi center for the elderly and disabled in 2014. 

Saying the Holy Thursday Mass in the prison in 2013 was one of the first gestures of Francis' pontificate, which earned him the respect of many while provoking apprehension among traditional Catholics. This misgiving among traditionalists provoked (and continues to provoke) ire among those who "don't see what the problem is" and can't understand why this is such a "big deal."

I would say this is one issue where the traditionalist objection is totally misunderstood - willfully, I believe. "Don't like it when Peter goes around with tax collectors and sinners, huh?" "Yeah, Jesus was offensive to the Pharisees, too." These are the sorts of shallow rebuttals our criticisms have been met with, as if there is really nothing deeper to traditionalist objections beyond the stupid old "tax collectors and sinners" trope.

So - even though I know they will not listen - let me once and for all clarify what the "big deal" is about the pontiff spending Holy Thursday washing the feet of inmates.

First off, lets clear the air about one thing: there is no problem with the pope celebrating a Mass at a prison or other such facility. Benedict XVI celebrated a Mass at Casal del Marmo prison during Lent of 2007 - the same location Francis used in 2013. The issue is not the location of the Mass, or that the pope wants to celebrate with prisoners, elderly, indigent, whatever. Not an issue.

Benedict, however, did not celebrate this Mass on Holy Thursday, and that is a big difference. This brings me to my first objection: The traditional location of the Holy Thursday evening Mass is St. John Lateran, the pope's cathedral. But John Paul II was had performed the rite in St. Peter's Basilica, which made the Holy Thursday Mass much more available to the faithful. St. Peter's Basilica (according to its website) is capable of seating 15,000 people; if Mass is held in the square, it can accommodate 80,000. Whatever one may want to say about Masses of that magnitude, it cannot be denied that a Mass in a basilica offers a much greater opportunity for participation of the faithful than a Mass in a small prison or nursing home. The Holy Thursday Mass, which inaugurates the sacred Triduum and which (until 1642) was a holy day of obligation is in a totally different category than, say, a daily Mass. This is why when Benedict XVI wanted to celebrate Mass in the Casal del Marmo, he did so in a daily Mass, not the Holy Thursday Mass, which as part of the sacred Triduum, is of a much more solemn and public nature than a mere daily Mass.

Remember, the pope is also Bishop of the diocese of Rome. This means that for the past three years, the faithful of that diocese have been deprived of access to the celebration of one of the most sacred Masses of the year by their bishop. I admit this is not a huge issue or a monumental scandal - but it is something.

Regarding the importance of this inaugural Mass of the Sacred Triduum, it is well to recall that its proper name is the "Mass of the Lord's Supper." The "theme" or focal point of this Mass has always been the double institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood by our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. 

In his last Holy Thursday homily delivered in 2004, St. John Paul II preached on the centrality of the Eucharist and its connection to the priesthood in the context of Holy Thursday:

"While we fix our gaze on Christ who institutes the Eucharist, we have a renewed awareness of the importance of the priests in the Church and of their union with the Eucharistic sacrament. In the Letter that I wrote to priests for this holy day, I wished to repeat that the Sacrament of the altar is gift and mystery, and that the priesthood is gift and mystery, both having flowed from the Heart of Christ during the Last Supper." (source)

This is why one of the readings from the Holy Thursday Mass has always been the institution of the Eucharist as described in 1 Cor. 11:23-32. This has been part of the readings for the day as far back as we have records. In Pope Francis' Holy Thursday celebrations, there is little emphasis on these traditional themes. For example, Francis' 2013 homily does not mention the Eucharist at all; the refrain was a very generic message of "Help one another"; Francis' 2014 homily focused entirely on the foot washing ceremony and admonished Christians to "be servants to one another." No mention of the priesthood at all, and only a passing comment on the Eucharist, which he strangely subordinates to "service"; service is the main theme of the Mass in Coena Domini, and the Eucharist is an afterthought to service. This is an inversion from the familiar formula that the Eucharist, in fact, is the source and summit of the faith.

It must be remembered that though foot washing in general is a sign of service (cf. 1 Tim. 5:10), the Holy Thursday foot washing in particular is much more than that. Christ did not just wash His disciples' feet as a sign of service to mankind in general, but of the service the hierarchy renders to the clergy in particular. This is why most liturgical foot washing in the Church's history has always focused on the bishop's service to his clergy; priests, canons, deacons and subdeacons have been the recipients of foot washing; this was true of diocesan bishops as well as the pope. It is an ecclesiological ritual relating to the clergy and their superiors, not a general sign of service to mankind.

It is certainly not "wrong" to wash the feet of persons not among the clergy; obviously as the parish level, a priest does not have any clergy beneath him whose feet he can wash and the washing of laymen's feet is the norm (still, in some parishes, the priest will not wash the feet of anybody willy-nilly; he will choose representatives of different parish apostolates - Knights of Columbus, the DRE, ushers, etc). As mentioned above, foot washing was a sign of general obeisance in the early church. But at a pontifical Holy Thursday Mass, we would expect a bishop or the pope especially to recognize this clerical aspect of the rite by performing the Mandatum on the clergy subject to him. This gets obscured when the focus of the rite is reduced to mere "service" without reference to the clergy.

An interesting side note - it was always understood that the Lord's command to serve, while understood primarily in terms of the clergy, also had a broader significance. For this reason, beginning in the Carolingian era, there used to be two foot washing ceremonies, one for the poor, one for the clergy. This was practiced in monasteries as well as in the papal liturgies of Rome. The Mandatum of the poor was eventually discontinued, however, and only the Mandatum of the clergy remained. This illustrates the point that the "service to the poor" aspect of the Holy Thursday Mandatum was always secondary to the clerical aspect.

Incidentally, for a great summary of the history of the Holy Thursday foot washing ceremony, I recommend my new article "Mandatum: Liturgical History" on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam sister site.

If the Holy Thursday foot washing is supposed to signify the service of the hierarchy to the Church - and to the clergy in particular - then we can easily understand why it is totally inappropriate that non-Christians should be the recipients of the ceremony. In what fantasy land can a Muslim or atheist in any way represent the Church?

Finally, of course, we all know that the rubrics for Holy Thursday say the recipient of the foot washing must be a vir (Lat. "man"). In 2013, the decision of the Holy Father to wash the feet of women prompted some apologists to simply shrug and say, "Well, the Holy Father is the supreme interpreter of the Church's liturgical law and canon law. He can change it how he sees fit."

That's true to an extent. But it seems lost on many that to say one has an authority to change a law is not the same thing as suggesting he can simply break the law. We all understand this. If the Holy Father does not like the current legislation, he has the power to change it. He can promulgate new rubrics or new norms if he so chooses. But for law to be law, this is accomplished by an act of law; i.e., the lawgiver changing the law by an legitimate exercise of his legislative power. The law is not changed by the lawgiver simply breaking the law.

Suppose the speed limit in your town was 30 mph. Suppose your small town Mayor decided he did not like that speed limit. Suppose, on the premise that he was the "supreme authority" in your small town, he just decided to start breaking the speed limit with impunity. How would you react? You would be indignant! You would say, "If the Mayor doesn't like the speed limit, then change the law, but for heaven's sake, don't just break it!"

Since the rubrics for Holy Thursday have not changed, the fact remains that Pope Francis is simply violating the rubrics. You may say the law should change. You may applaud his inclusiveness. You may affirm that he has the power to change the law. But you cannot deny that he is breaking the law every time he washes the foot of a female on Holy Thursday. There's no other way to explain it.

Let us also remember that the conservative apologists who are now saying that the pope can do whatever he wants are the very same who, under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, loudly insisted that the letter of the law must be observed when it came to liberal priests washing women's feet.

It is not because I or anyone else has a "problem" with the pope fraternizing with the poor, or prisoners, or whatever. It is not because we think women are inferior or any nonsense like that. The substance of the traditionalist critique of Pope Francis' venues for Holy Thursday is that this is a violation of liturgical law and hence an abuse of power; that it obscures the ecclesiological symbolism of the Mandatum rite and constitutes a detraction from the Eucharistic and clerical focus of the Mass of the Lord's Supper; and that it deprives the Catholics of the Diocese of Rome from the ability to publicly celebrate the beginning of the Triduum with their bishop, thus depriving them of special graces.

You may read all this and shrug and say, "Eh. You're nitpicking." Maybe you think that. Maybe you are right. God knows. But it is definitely not a matter of traditional Catholics somehow objecting to the poor, or women, or prisoners receiving papal attention. You may think the objections are not worthy of consideration; but at least acknowledge that there are legitimate objections that go far beyond the tired old "tax collectors and sinners" mantra. It was never about that anyway.

See also:
Mandatum: Liturgical History (from USC)
How the Cistercians Can Help Us Disentangle the Washing of Feet (Dr. Peter Kwaskiewski, New Liturgical Movement)

Contact: uscatholicam[at]gmail.com

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Training for the Fall Classic


I don't know about you, but, frankly, I am simply sick of the Catholic news regarding SynodGate 2014/2015.

The Synod was given the title "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization", and perhaps this is the beginning of the disaster. Were one to propose a thesis dissertation with such a title, the advisor would immediately tell the advisee to limit their focus. It would be not unlike calling a synod on the topic of "the Church", or "Sin" - great, but what are you going to talk about?

The subject seems pretty clear - it's about the Family. Now, if we stop here and ask a simple question, and that is "what does the Church understand a family to be?", then I think that, based upon the answer, this would narrow the focus of the Synod, at least a bit.

Okay, next, we see that there is a modifier - it is not just the family in general, we are presupposing a definition of "family" to some extent, and now we are going to see that there are Pastoral Challenges. So far so good - had they stopped here, I am sure that topics such as the universal call to holiness, or sacramental life in the Catholic family, or remaining a Catholic in modern times as a family, etc.

Instead, some genius decides, "oh, we need to be all about Evangelization, so let's make that the 'context' for talking about the family." Now, this is really the kicker because "evangelization" used to mean something. It used to mean going out to the un-churched; however, ever since Paul VI and JPII, there is a "new" evangelization and that means looking inward at ourselves and asking whether or not we are in fact the unchurched.

So, what do the Synod Fathers envision? Perhaps, building off of the word "evangelization", the Synod would have considered looking at renewal in the life of the Church as starting with the family (an excellent topic!), or looking at the un-churched's version of what a family is and trying to evangelize to it. I should say that the latter is also, potentially, an excellent topic, though it is much more limited as to what could be said by the Church about it, and so therefore perhaps not requiring a synod to discuss. (Indeed, calling for a synod on such a subject would seem to invite chaos)

Instead, what we got was some sort of confused version of both. The focus has been, on the one hand how to expand our understanding as a Church to encompass notions of family which are manifestly disordered and sinful, and on the other, how to go as far out of our way not use the word "sin" to describe the state which faithful Catholics have fallen into by adopting "the world's" notion of family.

What a farce this whole thing has become.

The problem, now, is this - the liberals were able to win the day by directing the initial conversations with their own distractions. Now, if the Synod takes up their silly ideas, they win. If the Synod spends  serious time on these fruitless discussions, then the liberals still win, because nothing true, good, or beautiful comes from the Synod in support of the Family.

Thus, I would propose a re-direction of the entire strategy regarding the Synod. All discussion of these more contentious subjects should be dealt with off-line - there is this little-known congregation called the CDF for dealing with heresy.

Instead, I think the conservative team should go in with a unified strategy on how to get the Synod back on track. This is a hard thing because the conservatives are not unified within themselves. It's easy for the liberals because they all want one thing: the destruction of the Church. The conservatives, however, are divided between those who on the one hand want the benefits of the world and so have a tendency toward compromising the perennial teachings of the Church, and those who on the other hand reject the world as being too easily under the manipulation of Satan, and so regard legitimately good things as suspicious. The liberals have abandoned the notion of truth entirely, and so there is room for everyone in their camp, so long as they don't hold on to a truth, absolutely. The conservatives, on the other hand, are utterly convinced that there is a truth, and, due to their disagreement about the relation of the world (and, perhaps disagreement on the difference between progress and development),  spend all of their efforts trying to convince everyone else that the SSPX are in schism (when they aren't), or that capitalism is of the devil (which it isn't).

Perhaps, then, let's look at some subjects we are (mostly) in agreement on, and begin by re-affirming their truth and goodness:

  • The relation between marriage in nature and sacramental marriage, and the Public Discourse
  • Procreation as the primary good of marriage
  • Holiness as being attainable through the married state of life
  • Vocations fostered in the context of the Catholic family life

Then, perhaps, let's look at the challenges and threats to this in the modern world. Perhaps even offer up some real, practical solutions for overcoming those challenges and combating those threats. We could look at such subjects as:

  • That thing which is repugnantly called "sexual education"
  • Contemplation in a world which despises the word.
  • Maintaining the primacy of the married relationship in a culture that is focused on kids

There are some other things, such as the prevalence of mixed marriages, etc, but haven't these all been done before? Why open the can of worms on a subject the liberals will run away with?

So, conservative team. It's the spring time, and that means spring training. If we hope to make it to October and win the Big One, then we have to work on our fundamentals. Let's not get too creative with our plays, so leave the phenomenology in the locker room. While we're at it, let's stick with what's in our wheelhouse - leave the psychology and sociology to the secularists. We have a sound theology, rooted in a philosophical and theological anthropology, so let's tease that out a bit and see if we can come up with an application to the problems in the Church and the World today. If we can keep from getting caught out on errors, then we just might be able to learn from last year's mistakes and get the big W this Fall.






Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ask Dr. Boniface


Many years ago, when I first started blogging while I was a DRE and Youth Group director, I did a series of posts on questions relating to dating, courtship, marriage, etc. I have not written much on this topic lately, but over time several queries have trickled in on these subjects, so I thought I would respond to a few of them - it is time for Ask Dr. Boniface!

Just so you know where I am coming from, I have been married for 14 years this June and have four kids. I was 20 years old when I got married; my wife was 19. I went to college after marriage. My wife and I both basically got married out of high school. We were relatively poor for the first - eh, four years of marriage - but now have settled down into a comfortable bourgeois existence in the Midwest.

By the way, all the questions happened to come from men, and being a man myself, these answers will necessarily be a bit "masculocentric."

Q. I keep hearing this line from priests that one should be "financially ready" for marriage before dating. I've been thinking about this, and it just doesn't seem right. Like, if you go to college, you're gonna be up to your neck in debt. If you don't go to college, you may just be making around 10 dollars an hour, and that's not a lot for supporting a family. In other words, the system is screwed up, and unless you're born with silver spoon in hand, or get lucky with a really good job, you're going to have financial problems. What's your opinion?

A. Well, I would question your assumptions. You may not be "up to your neck" in debt if you choose an inexpensive community college or vocational school or if you work industriously during the summers to at least pay down some of your debt. I know a young woman who finished college with nursing certification with zero debt because she paid her whole way. I would also question the assumption that if you don't go to college you'll be making ten dollars an hour. My neighbor is a plumber who makes $65,000 a year working for another plumber who makes about $350,000 per year. Neither went to college. Another guy I know is a master electrician (no college) who makes about $200,000 per year and lives on a piece of property worth a million. I also know some lawyers who got great educations and law degrees and are struggling. So there are no guarantees.

But in response to your question, finances are very important in marriage; they are not all important, but they are important. In the old days, many marriages were essentially financial arrangements in which questions of affection, compatibility were more of an afterthought. Given that one of the top reasons cited for marital difficulties is financial problems, you would be foolish not to at least take this into consideration. Love will not pay the bills, and if the bills aren't paid, fridge isn't full, and utilities shut off, well, it's hard to feel affection. You're wife isn't gonna want to go near you in a scenario like that. Believe me, I have been there. A woman thrives in a secure environment and freaks in an insecure one.

So, yes, you need to have some sort of financial game plan, some sort of feasible means for how things will be paid, as well as the flexibility for in case something happens, if possible.

That being said, "financially ready" need not be taken to the extreme. A lot of secular people think "financially ready" means both partners making $75,000 each, college completed, loans paid off, and ready to purchase a $450K home immediately after the wedding. Obviously the world's conception of "financially ready" is crazy. And no, this certainly does not mean poor people can't get married. However, I am addressing this article to people in the western world who are (typically) not in abject poverty. Obviously in the third world, people will make do with what they can.

So in short, you need to have a stable job that can support you and your spouse with the addition of possibly a baby (though babies are cheap; they cost next to nothing - it's not till they get to be around 10-12 that kids really get expensive). A stable job with prospects for some advancement is fine, just something that can support you in a crappy apartment or rental for a time and maybe allow you to buy a house in a few years. You must have some form of income; what father would consent to their daughter marrying a man who had no job and no intentions of finding one? So, financially ready, yes. Financially settled for life, no. 

Q. Do you think it is generally possible to learn enough about a woman only meeting them at Church and occasionally talking to them, and if not how would you propose getting to know them better prior to starting an intentional relationship?

A. It is good to observe a woman from a distance - at first. Church is a decent place to start: to learn about her modesty, maybe her family, to find out if the way she breathes through her nose while praying the Our Father is too annoying, etc. Obviously, though, you need to get more familiar with her before starting an intentionally romantic relationship.

I have for some time repudiated the "courtship" concept of dating that is popular among many conservative Christians. Thus idea ultimately has its roots in evangelical fundamentalism; if you don't know what courtship is and why it is fundamentally flawed, I recommend the aptly titled article "Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed" by Thomas Umstaddt. How can you ever get to know a woman privately if you only ever see her sitting in her living room with all her family around? If you are a single man, it is certainly okay to have a platonic, social engagement with another woman without any romantic commitments. But how to arrange these? 

This should be very non-chalant; just invite her to do something socially with you and another group of friends - ideally, mutual friends. This is very non-threatening, and she can comfortably attend without feeling like it is a commitment to you personally, although it is setting the stage for a possible commitment, and that is what is important.

If you can get her hanging out socially once or twice, try bumping up to the next level by inviting her on a solo engagement. Don't make a big deal out of it or invest it with a solemnity it does not yet have. "I am considering you for a future spouse and would like the opportunity to evaluate your character more intensively. Would you like to go to the movies?"  Of course not. Just something like, "Hey, I'm gonna be in your neck of the woods next Tuesday. Wanna meet up and grab lunch?" Totally simple. Once you get to the one-on-one hang-out (which, goes without saying, should be in public or otherwise open settings to keep things easy and safe), it is much simpler to start making the assessments you need to decide whether you want to pursue things further with this female.

Q. Do you have an opinion the proper age to get married in our current times and on the ideal and acceptable age differences between husband and wife? I ask because at the age of 30 I already find myself becoming hesitant to pursue a relationship with someone my own age due to the desire to have a large family but would feel awkward marrying someone significantly younger than myself. It so happens that there are very few eligible young women between the ages of 25 and 30 at my TLM parish.
A. Well, first of all, you will probably need to broaden your horizons beyond the girls at your TLM parish. That is a pretty small pool.

But secondly, the rule-of-thumb for age compatibility (if you believe in such things), is half your age plus seven. If you are 30 years old, then 30/2 = 15 + 7 = 22. The reason for this is because women are said to mature more quickly than men, so a younger woman is more compatible with an older man. 

That is the ideal compatibility, according to some obscure custom whose origin escapes me. As far as what is acceptable...well, I have come to see over the years that age is really irrelevant. People are people. I am 34. I recently had the opportunity to develop a very deep friendship with an elderly man over the past two years. I never thought I could have such an open and meaningful relationship with a man so much my elder. But we are buds. We call and talk on the phone, meet for lunch, hang out, etc. My wife thinks it is a little weird, but hey, amicitia is amicitia.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my best friends is a boy who used to be one of my students and is now a young adult. He is 21. We have a very deep friendship.

So, regarding what is acceptable, as long as she is legal, I'd say it is irrelevant. I know two Catholic couples who have a 12 and 13 year age gap between husband and wife. In both cases the husband is the elder. I would not suggest marrying a woman 12 to 13 years older than you. In my opinion, the age gap works best only going one way. See my response to the last question on this post as to why that is.

Q. My parish priest is making my fiance and I take a compatibility test. He is attaching a lot of weight to it; seems like too much weight, maybe. I find the whole thing suspect. What's your opinion on modern marriage prep in the Catholic Church?

A. Whew...don't get me started on that. I'll have to restrain myself to speak only of the immediate question on compatibility tests.

In general, there is a trend towards over-intellectualizing marriage: focusing on personality tests, psychology, and all sorts of pseudo-intellectual stuff while downplaying the role of grace. I recommend my article "Intellectualizing Marriage?" (USC, June, 2012) for more on this trend.

Compatibility tests are stupid. I will restate the what a very kick-ass priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit once said to some friends of mine when they came to him for marriage prep: "If you haven't figured out by now if you're compatible, there's nothing I can do for you."

Two more great quotes on this, the first from Chesteron:

"If Americans can be divorced for 'incompatibility of temper' I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one" ("The Free Family", What's Wrong With the World).

Second, from the letter of J.R.R. Tolkien:

"Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to" (Tolkien to his son Michael, March, 1941).

How can a compatibility test predict how you two will respond to each other five, ten, or twenty years into marriage anyway? It obviously can't. People change. Such tests' usefulness is very limited. If you guys like each other and have come as far as starting marriage prep, you have obviously figured out you are compatible. For the rest, stay close to Mary and leave to grace.

Q. I am a 29 year old man. I've been hoping that I would have been settled down and married by now, but I am starting to get worried because I am turning 30 this year and have no prospects. Should I be worried about this?

A. I can't answer that. It depends on how bad "you want" to be married. I personally never advise people to strongly desire marriage in that way; St. Paul tells us to be content in whatever state we find ourselves in. "Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife" (1 Cor. 7:27). I typically congratulate a man who has made it to 30 without getting snagged.

Okay, I'm only half-joking. Still, if you really believe you want to be married and this is your calling, I would not worry. You see, time works for men but against women. A man at 18 has very little to offer a woman. He is a new adult, no financial security, probably kind of scrawny and dorky looking. No stature in the world. He has very little "capital", shall we say? An 18 year old girl, on the other hand, has everything in the world to offer. She has no strings. She will probably never be more beautiful. She is fertile and able to bear children. She is prime marriage material. She has a lot of "capital", if you get my drift.

But notice, as that scrawny 18 year old goes out into the world and becomes a man, he gets more capital. By the time he is 30, if he is not a total screw-up, he has probably built up quite a bit. More manly and handsome. More successful. Able to make his way in the world, able to take care of a woman. Now that is desirable. His capital has gone up. And - again, as long as he isn't a screw-up - a man's capital will continue to go up as he moves into middle age. Not that we care what the secular world thinks, but have you ever noticed how the "world's sexiest men" are always in their mid-40's or early-50's?

Now what about that 18 year old girl? What happens when she gets older? Well, her "capital" goes down. An unmarried girl has less to offer at age 30 than at 18. Her looks have deteriorated severely. She is almost past childbearing years. If she has gone to college, she may have debt that any potential husband will have to deal with. She has much less to bring to the table. Her capital has gone down.

Bottom line: a 30 year old single man is at the top of his game and has every reason to be confident he will find a woman because time works for the man. A 30 year old woman who is still single is running out the clock because time works against her. So, rejoice, my friend. The world is yours, and all things being equal, I would not worry. In fact, I would consider your position somewhat envious.

Now my female readers will undoubtedly be saying, "Well shoot, I am that 30 year old single woman looking for man. Now you say time is working against me? What am I to do? Why haven't I found my man and what should I do about that?"

The answer to that is a bit more complex and will have to wait for another time. Sorry ladies!

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