Friday, April 12, 2019

Interview with a Homeless Man

Lent is a time for works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. The traditional call to almsgiving made me think about the situation of the homeless in the United States.

I recently reconnected with an old childhood friend of mine named Mark who is homeless and has been so for most of his adult life (he is my age, late 30's). Mark lives in the Pacific Northwest as a transient with no real possessions except some clothes, a backpack, and his dog. I asked him if I could interview him about his experiences as a homeless person and pick his brain about things he would like people to understand about the homeless in this country. He graciously agreed.

Below is my interview with him. Please note, Mark and I are of completely different worldviews.

USC: Thank you for being willing to talk about this.

MARK: I am an expert. I have answers, ha.  I'll try to answer the best I can, but keep in mind everyone's situation is different.

USC: To start off, how did you become homeless? Was it due to circumstances or was it a lifestyle choice?
MARK: I prefer the term transient, as originally I left my hometown and all that behind because of trouble with the law. Got myself a greyhound ticket to Portland, Maine, to meet a girl I met online. Stayed with her for a while until we all got kicked out, that was when I became a full-fledge squatter, and started hitchhiking around.

USC: Many people say they won't give homeless people money because they are afraid they'll spend it on booze, so they give food instead. Would you rather receive food or money? Explain.

Honestly, most homeless people do spend quite a bit on alcohol and drugs; some people are homeless because of their addictions, getting arrested for possession, losing everything while in jail. Others start using once they become homeless to cope with the feelings of hopelessness and depression. So I understand why people are hesitant to give out cash. While receiving food is nice, believe it or not a lot of those homeless hippy types are vegetarians so a bag of burgers is kind of a slap in the face. My recommendation is if you don't want your cash to go towards drugs is, gift cards. But here's something to consider: Giving homeless people money instead of food can save their lives, especially in the winter. Shelters can cost money. Being able to sit in McDonalds and sip a Coke for an hour while you warm up costs money. In some cities public toilets cost money, to use or just sit in to warm up. Giving a homeless person money in the winter can save their life. Food is easy to come by. Money, not so much.

USC: What are the biggest challenges you face as a homeless person?

MARK: The number one struggle being homeless is getting sleep. Gets cold at night, and if you're just camping out you take the chance of getting rolled on by jackers and police. Constantly being sleepy makes it that much harder to improve your situation. Shelters are sometimes available in bigger cities, but are stinky, overcrowded, and can be sketchy, to say the least.

USC: In America, there is a prejudice that if a person is homeless he/she must have done something to "deserve" that situation. In your experience, why are most homeless people homeless. Is there a single main cause?

MARK: People's stories are different. I choose this lifestyle.
But probably more than half of all homeless people have some type of mental health issue, not to mention all those returning vets. Nobody "deserves" to be homeless.
USC: West coast regions like San Francisco and Seattle have been making news for mandating minimum wages of $15 and $16 an hour. The argument is that these higher minimum wages will help the poor. Have these increases affected you in any way?
MARK: What people need to realize is that every time the minimum wage increases, so does the cost of living. That's why there are so many homeless people in those cities, the simply can't make ends meet. Also, when they raised the minimum wage in Seattle, McDonalds cut their dollar menu. This hurt homeless people because of lot of them depend on the dollar menu for food. Higher minimum wages don't really help us.

USC: People will say that the homeless should "just get a job." Why can't the homeless just get a job?

MARK: Who says homeless people don't have jobs?
I've been homeless while working full time. The cost of living is so high. Many homeless people do have jobs. Some also work temp jobs or side hustles to make ends meet. Just cuz someone is homeless doesn't mean they don't have a job.

USC: How important are religious facilities in assisting the homeless? This may include thrift stores (Salvation Army or Vincent de Paul), but also shelters/food pantries, soup kitchens. How big a difference to religious organizations really make in helping the poor?

A lot of churches help tremendously, I've found the Baptists help the most. Sally's is pretty good, but other organizations like Goodwill don't help at all, they accept free donations and turn around and sell them for profit. Google the CEO's salary and you'll see.
USC: Politicians spend a lot of time talking about fighting poverty. But from your point of view, what would actually help the homeless most?

Politicians have many different views, depending on region. Tends to be places with more temperate climate that "fight" homelessness, which translates to arresting people for vagrancy or trespassing. Other places, like northern states, or where I'm at here in Washington have a different approach. This last winter, here in my town, the city approved a designated area for a homeless tent city, right behind city hall, which I find appropriate. We also have a lot of resources, the Opportunity Council was actually the group that helped me find my first job here, taught me how to make a resume, supplied hygiene supplies so I wouldn't show up to the interview smelling like a bum. YMCA helps with showers.

USC: Cities often speak of "combating" homelessness but in reality try to simply make life difficult for homeless people. Have you ever experienced this?

MARK: Like I said, it usually means arresting people for vagrancy or loitering, putting bars around ledges to stop homeless people from sleeping there, ordinances against panhandling, and stuff like that. Cities don't combat homelessness. Most of the time they want to combat homeless people by driving them off.

USC: What is something you would like people to understand about the homeless?

MARK: What I would want people to understand about homelessness is that not all of those people are bums, many have just given up. How frustrating is it to apply for a job and you have no address or phone number to put down..? And also, I don't think people of wealth see the difference between "making a living" and "not dying for 2 more weeks"

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Praying Through the Mass

Last weekend I attended the Extraordinary Form Mass at Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Jackson, Michigan. I am blessed to live within an hour of several weekly EF Mass options and Star of the Sea is a beautiful historic urban church particularly well suited to the splendor of the Mass of Ages (pictured above).

I was feeling kind of lethargic and depressed when I went in. I didn't bother picking up the Mass booklet or the printed worship aid. I wasn't interested in following along or anything. I just slumped down and leaned my head on the pew in front of me and started to pray.

The music was beautiful, though, as always. It's easy to just relax and let the chant seep into your heart the way the smoke of the incense wafts into your head. I confess, by the time the Kyrie had begun, I was kind of in my own inner world. The beauty of the music had got me moved and I began contemplating the issues in my life, sorting through my troubles and bringing them before God.

I continued in this manner for some time, nominally going through the motions of standing, kneeling, etc. but the entire time deeply immersed in my own inner life and not giving much heed to externals. I don't think I even noticed the homily. 

Before I knew it, it was the final blessing and the Last Gospel. It was then that I realized that I had been in prayer the entire Mass. I don't think I have ever prayed continuously through the entirety of a Mass before, not like this at least. And I felt great afterward.

As I left the church, I realized that such an experience probably could never have happened at a Novus Ordo Mass. The Novus Ordo has too many "interruptions" and makes too many external demands upon the worshiper with the gestures and responses one is expected to make. The "active participation" that the architects of the Novus Ordo envisioned too often turns out to be a kind of surface activism ("I'm participating because I am physically moving and saying lots of things"). If I were to spend the entire Novus Ordo in prayer in this manner, it would necessitate me positively tuning out of the Mass—intentionally ignoring the liturgy.

Now it's true that in a certain sense, I was not paying attention to the Mass in this experience either, but not in the same way. I didn't have to tune out of the Mass. It was more like, the very structure of the Mass itself allowed for this particular sort of experience of it. It is as if in the Extraordinary Form, there is a hidden "low road" built into the form of the liturgy itself that allows oneself pass through it in a contemplative "mode." I'm grasping at straw trying to explain what I mean, but hopefully my meager words convey the substance of what I am getting at.

I'm not one of those people who believes the Novus Ordo is intrinsically offensive to God or impious or anything like that; but between the NO and the EF, it is crystal clear which one has a structure more conducive to prayer.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Book Review: Zombies More Popular Than God?

In 2015, author Thomas McFadden gave us the excellent book Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism, a timely work which addressed the problem of theistic evolution within Catholic thought. McFadden’s debut work was broad and well-researched, covering a wide spectrum of subjects. At the heart of the book, however, was the idea that, while theistic creation "works" for some Catholics, it certainly does not "work" for everybody. Because many mainstream Catholics have adopted the position that there's "no contradiction" between evolution and Catholic theology, it has become accepted to assume there are no real problems with theistic evolution. Consequently, there is little real discussion about the science behind evolution, and Catholics who do not find an easy harmony between Scripture and evolution are left with little to go on. Readers interested in my complete review of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism can find it here.

Mr. McFadden has now put together a splendid follow up to his first book in his new work, Zombies More Popular Than God?: The Evolution of Unbelief. The title caught my attention with its novelty, but don’t be fooled—though the book begins with some observations on the current cultural faddishness surrounding zombie-lore, the real subject of the book is the “scientific zombies” of the secular humanist scientific establishment. A “scientific zombie” is a discredited scientific theory that is nevertheless still getting traction in scientific textbooks and pop science publications. Just as a zombie is a corpse that is animated despite being dead, scientific zombies are intellectually dead ideas that nevertheless continue to be promulgated. An example would be the idea that embryos of all vertebrates look similar at a certain stage of development, or that the dinosaur Archaeopteryx was a transitional creature between a lizard and a bird, both of which have been scientifically discredited but continue to appear in science textbooks used in public schools.

Zombies More Popular Than God? does an excellent job cataloguing these scientific zombies. This is an especially pressing need, as McFadden demonstrates that perceived conflict between science and religion is the top reason why young people lose faith, according to polling. The Catholic Church’s response to this crisis of faith has been pathetic; in response to an overwhelming onslaught from evolutionists promoting unguided Darwinism as the mechanism for the development of species, the response of Catholic thinkers has been to shrug and say, “Even if that happened, God did it.” This explanation not only fundamentally ignores the essential incompatibility of Darwinism with divine revelation, but fails to tackle the actual scientific claims of Darwinism, which effectually cedes the ground of argument to secular humanism, granting the privilege of dictating the extent of divine revelation to junk science.

Throughout both of McFadden’s books is the recurring them that simply saying “God did it” is utterly destructive to faith. While some Catholics may be satisfied by this explanation, many are not (as poll numbers consistently show); and even those who are content with theistic evolution inevitably fall prey to the dual dangers of creeping mythologization of creation theology and a slavish subservience to the latest pop scientific theory.

What is the solution? Not shrugging our shoulders and saying “Well, even if evolution happened, God did it”, but really educating ourselves and our children about natural science so that these “scientific zombies” can be exposed for what they are. The scientific data supports an intelligent, guided design behind life on this earth and Catholics need to understand this; similarly, data does not support the Darwinian idea of survival of the fittest through random mutation as the mechanism for explaining why things are the way they are. Catholics need to engage secular humanist junk science on the plane of science and continue to offer compelling alternatives to the Darwinist narrative—alternatives that offer not only more palatable theological implications, but which are simply better science.

There’s a lot of great information in Zombies More Popular Than God? It is not a scholarly work itself, but does an admirable job of identifying the major fault lines in current evolutionary theory and directing the reader to other scientific-scholarly writings on the subject. I found myself taking copious notes and getting lots of suggestions for further study. It’s a handy reference that anyone interested in the problems of theistic evolution needs to read attentively. With two books now under his belt, Thomas McFadden is making valuable contributions to the discussion of evolution within Catholicism and I hope he continues his work.

Zombies More Popular Than God?, as well as McFadden's original book, can be found online at his website for a donation of $15.00.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Cardinal Pell and a Painful Reminder

This big news this past week was the conviction of Cardinal Pell in Australia on sex abuse charges. This trial was noted for its irregularity, at least from an American perspective. The gag orders, secret evidence, and general inaccessibility of the facts of the case to the media have given this trial the character of a kangaroo court. In the United States, Pell's trial certainly would not have met the threshold for anything considered just and objective.

Still, I am surprised the degree to which many Catholics are leaping on this and rushing to exonerate Pell. Some are even publishing ridiculous statements calling him a martyr and postng "I stand with Cardinal Pell" pictures on social media. There is almost something like a knee-jerk reaction to vindicate Pell's innocence. I suspect this is because (unlike the figures of McCarrick or Wuerl) many orthodox Catholics seemed to like Cardinal Pell. His conviction was thus easy to read as an attempt of the vindictive, aggressively secularist government of Australia to rid itself of a gadfly of orthodoxy.

Certainly his trial was all screwy, but I have no idea whether he is guilty or innocent based on that. And the fact that Australian trial procedure is different than that in the U.S. is no indication either. But here's what troubles me most about the reaction to the Pell conviction—it seems to me that traditionally minded Catholics are rushing to defend Pell mainly because of his orthodox credentials; in other words, because someone on "our" side simply can't be guilty of the same things we see from progressives like McCarrick. 

For one thing, I want to remind everyone that Cardinal Pell isn't some bastion of orthodoxy. I was never very impressed with him. Honestly, he struck me as the Cardinal Dolan of Australia, a guy who seldom spoke heresy but also wasn't interested in making any strong and principled stand for the faith either. I vividly remember him several years ago insisting there was no literal Adam and Eve in a pathetic attempt to look cool and sophisticated for Richard Dawkins; Dawkins turned on him and (rightfully) said if there was no Adam and Eve then there couldn't be original sin and the entire claim of Christianity was groundless. Pell had no response. He just never impressed me as a great bishop or defender of orthodoxy.

But—and I think this is more important—we have to realize that the scourge of homosexuality in the clergy cuts across lines of orthodoxy. It is not true that the homosexual and progressive groups are identical. As the filth in the Church continues to be exposed, we need to realize that many of "our" people are going to be exposed as well. The Vigano testimony makes this clear—it's not just a liberal problem. The only difference between liberals and conservatives in this regard is that liberals want the open acceptance of homosexuality within the Church while conservatives do not, but that is a different question than whether particular clerics are or are not themselves homosexuals.

Frederic Martel's book In the Closet of the Vatican says four out of every five clerics in the Vatican are gay. But the book is being dismissed by some because many of the allegedly gay prelates named in the book are conservatives. Martel claims, for example, that Cardinal Burke is homosexual, a thought that is untenable to many Catholics. 

I make no claims about the veracity of Martel's book, just like I can't opine on the facts of the Pell trial. A lot of his book seems to be based on hearsay. But what I can say is that we cannot be inherently opposed to the idea that otherwise conservative, orthodox prelates might also be homosexuals. A person might be a homosexual and even have acted on it in the past while still being a conservative who teaches homosexuality is wrong, just like I know unchastity is wrong and can speak against it even if I have no always been chaste in my own life. I would have no problem believing Cardinal Burke was homosexual. But whether I thought so or not, it would depend on the specific evidence, not on a knee-jerk reaction about "so-and-so simply can't be gay because they have made principled stands against homosexuality" or "I bet so-and-so is gay because he's liberal."

So, I'm not saying Pell is guilty or Burke is gay or anything else. But I am saying, get it out of your head that the homosexual problem is only a progressive problem. I'm sure there are parallels, but the lines are not contiguous. If we can't get it through our heads that the purge we desire is going to expose "our people" too, then we're not really ready for the cleansing that is coming.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

St. Alphonsus' Letter on the State of the Church

The following letter of St. Alphonsus Ligouri has been making the rounds on Catholic Twitter this weekend. What is especially remarkable is the degree of candor we see from saintly Ligouri on the real possibility of a pope "that does not have the glory of God for his sole purpose" and warnings that, if such a man were elected, "things from their present condition would go from bad to worse." Today, such language from a theologian would get him accused of fomenting a "coup against the pope" or being branded "the great accuser." At any rate it demonstrates that even centuries ago in a supposed age of burgeoning ultramontanism, it was not remiss for a theologian—and a sainted one at that—to speak candidly about the scandalous state of affairs in the Church and to consider the realistic possibility of a worldly pope whose priorities are not the salvaton of souls but his own "human respect." Let us look at the pertinent section of this remarkable letter:

24 October 1774
You Excellency my dear friend and Lord,
As regards my opinions concerning the present state of the Church with relation to the election of the new Pope, what opinion of any weight could a miserable, ignorant, and unspiritual person like myself possibly give? There is need for prayer and much prayer. All the human science and prudence that there is cannot extricate the Church from the present state of relaxation and confusion in which every section finds itself; the all-powerful arm of God is necessary. As regards the bishops, very few of them possess genuine zeal for souls. Almost all religious communities—and one could omit the "almost"—are relaxed. As a result of the present state of general confusion, observance has collapsed and obedience is a thing of the past. The state of the secular clergy is still worse; so, in a word, there is a need for a general reform of all clerics and ecclesiastics if there is to be any improvement in the present great corruption of morals among the laity.
So we have to pray to Jesus Christ that He would give us as head of the Church one possessed of more spirit and zeal for the glory of God than of learning and human prudence. He should be free of all party attachments and devoid of human respect. If, by chance, for our great misfortune, we should get a Pope that does not have the glory of God as his sole purpose, the Lord will not help him greatly and things from their present condition will go from bad to worse. However, prayer, which can provide a remedy for so many present ills, will move the Lord to put His hand to the problem and remedy the situation. 
St. Alphonsus Ligouri to Don Traiano Trabisonda (Letter #791)

A little context: This letter was written to a noble friend of Ligouri's and was meant to be read to the cardinals assembled for the conclave of 1774—a conclave which lasted 134 days and cast an astonishing 265 ballots before electing Pius VI, whose pontificate would be filled with one disaster after another, such as the anti-ecclesiastical aggression of Emperor Joseph II and the heretical Synod of Pistoia, the outbreak of the French Revolution and the invasion of Italy by Napoleon, among many other things. The great contention of this conclave had to do with the question of the Society of Jesus, who had been suppressed in the previous pontificate of Clement XIV, with the cardinals lined up in parties that were essentially pro and anti-Jesuit.

St. Alphonsus understood that in times of great crisis, the reform of the clergy is always at the heart of the restoration of the Church, that genuine "reform" is always a return to obedience, observance, and the care of souls--and that the personal character and priorities of the Pope can have tremendous import on such attempts at reform. By God's grace, may the ideals enunciated by St. Alphonsus in this letter be the the priorities of the clergy in our own troubled day. Amen.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Candlemas Liturgy Video

Saturday I attended a Candlemas liturgy in the Extraordinary Form in Ann Arbor, MI. put on by Juventutem Michigan. The celebrant and sponsors of the Mass were kind enough to let me bring my camera and record the procession and Mass. Please enjoy this montage of footage from the Mass, set to some traditional chants for the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

By the way, we also have an Unam Sanctam Catholicam YouTube channel. I don't post on it too frequently, but if you want to subscribe here you go.

Special thanks to Juventutem Michigan for putting making this wonderful Mass possible.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Excommunication is a No-No

The very brave Bishop Tobin—in a shrug heard round the world—has suggested that there's no point in trying to use canonical discipline against what he admits as "pseudo-Catholic" politicians like Governor Cuomo. Why? "The Church lost her ability/will to discipline them a long time ago." Several clergymen like Tobin are speaking out on the subject as well, attempting to justify the appalling and mystifying refusal of the Catholic hierarchy to impose any sort of sanction whatsoever against Cuomo in light of New York's barbaric new abortion law. Tobin argues that a gesture such as excommunication would be pointless since such canonical penalties are no longer effective.

A few thoughts on this matter:

It is good to revisit the passage in the Scriptures where St. Paul speaks of the concept of excommunication, though that word is not used specifically. I am referring to 1 Corinthians 5. In this passage, St. Paul addresses a situation of extreme immorality unfolding within the Corinthian church:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? (1 Cor. 5:1-2)

The only comment I will offer here is to note that St. Paul is not only appalled at the sin itself, but on the attitude of the Corinthians towards it. I'm not sure what he means exactly that they were "arrogant", but his words call to mind the celebratory attitude of Governor Cuomo and the Assembly of New York upon the passage of the abortion bill.

St. Paul goes on to call for excommunication against the man:

Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:2-5)

The phrase "deliver this man to Satan" is another way to say "remove this person from the communion of the Church." The desired outcome is that, by being cut off from the access to the community and the grace of the sacraments (i.e., being delivered to the kingdom of Satan), that this person's fleshly attitude may be prodded to repentance by the shock of being deprived of the sacraments.

However, excommunication is not solely remedial. St. Paul hopes the man will come to repentance, but that is not it's only purpose. In the following verses he explains the value of excommunication to the Christian community:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

Let us really contemplate this passage—the purpose of excommunication is not merely for the good of the sinner's soul; it is also for the edification and protection of the community. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump." St. Paul teaches that excommunication helps purge the body of "leaven", and that without this purging such leaven will cause a rot throughout the body. When the offender is singled out and has judgment pronounced upon him, the faithful at least see that such behavior is proscripted. St. Paul is not only worried about the sinner, but about the boasting of the congregation, that is, their attitude about the sinner. By excommunicating him, St. Paul judges not only the sinner, but the broader attitude that allows sin to flourish unchecked.

To bring this back to Governor Cuomo: from the biblical perspective, whether Cuomo will repent or not, whether he respects the authority of the Church or not, whether the Church can claim any socio-political leverage in these matters, is not ultimately the main concern. The fact is, the good of the Catholic Church in America demands that this man be thrown out. At least make an attempt to purify the lump of its leaven. If we don't, we are celebrating with the old leaven. It's about the integrity of the community as much as it is about the sinner.

* * * * * *

There have often been times in Church history where discipline has been lost or seriously eroded. We can think of various monastic reforms throughout the centuries. Or the era of the Counter Reform and the Council of Trent when the Church had to fight an uphill battle to transform the episcopacy from a class of political courtiers into something more in line with what Christ intended. Countless regional synods from the first millennium and the era of the barbarian invasions attest to the Church's commitment to maintaining or restoring discipline in an age of chaos when order seemed to be falling apart everywhere.

Yes, there will be times when the Church loses her will and ability to discipline. But the lesson we see from these varied examples is that the will to discipline is restored by...disciplining. It is common sense. If the will to discipline has been lost and you will it to be restored, then you discipline. Imagine we swap out the issue of discipline for something else...say, painting your house:

You: "Hey man, the paint on your house is peeling off everywhere. It looks really awful. It's kind of an eye-sore. You really ought to paint it."
Me: "That's not a realistic option."
You: "Why not? There's nothing stopping you from doing it."
Me: "I lost the will to paint it a long time ago. It's hard to recapture that will now."

In such a dialogue, you would rightfully infer that it's not really a matter of me having "lost the will" to paint the house, but more that I simply do not care if the house is painted or not. I have kind of washed my hands over the state of the house. It is no longer of pressing concern to me whether it is an eye sore or not. If I truly cared about how it looked, I would find the will and ability, whether painting it myself or devoting resources to hiring someone else. When people care about something, they make effort. If I refuse to make effort, you rightfully deduce that I don't care.

And that's the sad truth here. Cardinal Tobin, Dolan and the like don't care what the optics are here. They don't care whether the House of the Lord is an eye sore, an abomination to the people. "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Rom. 2:24); but they don't care. If discipline has been lost, then the common sense approach is to restore it. You restore it by making examples of people and actually asserting your will to enforce discipline. If you can't do that or refuse to, it simply means you don't even want discipline restored. You're happy with the status quo. This is the inescapable conclusion: Cuomo will not face excommunication because the princes of the Church are content with the current situation.

* * * * * *

Why are they content? Why do they prefer this current state of things to something else? The fact is, if Dolan, Tobin, etc. were to excommunicate these pro-abort politicians, they would raise the ire of liberal Catholics who would probably cut off what paltry financial support they already give. Someone like Dolan looks at his archdiocese and says, "Hmm...okay, I have so-and-so many million Catholics here, donating about such-and-such million dollars annually. I know demographically (in New York) that somewhere between 60-70% of them identify as liberal and favor liberal causes." He does a quick mental calculus and figures out that angering this constituency can cost him a net loss of X million dollars every year. With declining Mass attendance, the collapsing parochial school system, and the shadow of impending gargantuan abuse scandal settlement payouts, he dare not endanger his financial outlook any more. He simply cannot afford to agitate the liberal Catholic demographic.

And truth be told, he doesn't really want to even if he could. A prelate who attains Dolan-level prominence is not an ideologue. He is a bureaucrat and a pragmatist. He wants to walk the path of least resistance; if the diocese is heavily liberalized liturgically and ideologically, he is content to just go with the flow, keeping his head down as much as possible—not drawing the attention of the Vatican but neither doing anything to inspire their flock. To expect the bishops to take a man like Cuomo to task is like a man sitting in the warm comfort of his home being asked to go outside and pick a fight with a bear that's knocking over his trash with nothing to be gained from such effort save guaranteed pain and massive hospital bills. It's easier to just sit in the fluffy arm-chair sipping wine with the Wall Street Journal on your lap, watch the bear thrash your garbage bins through the window, shrug and say, "What can I do?"

None of us would risk our lives just to run a bear away from our trash; it just doesn't make sense. They view this political problem the same way; it doesn't make sense to them. Of course, they are seeing it errantly, and our own  resolve would change if that were our children and not the garbage the bear was destroying. And of course, it is our children who are at stake here. That they even see the question in any other terms betrays an appalling, scandalous lack of testicular fortitude.

* * * * * *

Like the contemporary discussion about capital punishment, these prelates' attitudes focus way too exclusively on the remedial-corrective aspect of the subject while ignoring the retributive-justice side of the question (see "Death Penalty and Retributive Justice", USC). There is too much hand-wringing about "Oh well Cuomo won't care about an excommunication; excommunications don't carry that sort of weight anymore...this will accomplish nothing." Regardless of whether it "accomplished" anything in the temporal order, justice and the integrity of the Faith demands it. The heinous nature of the New York law cries out for it on principle.

Consider the famous scene from the film Becket, depicted here. Doesn't that give you chills? If only we had that kind of leadership today. But let's delve into the historical background of this scene a bit. This scene is meant to encapsulate the historic excommunications of several agents of King Henry II of England by Becket throughout the 1160's over the issue of the royal power infringing on the rights of the Church. Did Becket think his excommunications were going to change King Henry's policies? Perhaps, perhaps not. Becket had worked with King Henry for years as his royal chancellor and must have known how iron-willed the king was. But ultimately the temporal success of his efforts, while important, was secondary.

Did Pius VII think excommunication was going to change Napoleon? Did St. Pius V think Queen Elizabeth was going to repent when he excommunicated her? I'd have to assume not. But they acted because they knew the rights of the Church were at stake and that they must be defended. They were able and willing to act on principle. That is what is lacking in men like Tobin and Dolan.

* * * * * *

Finally, let's remember that we can't limit God's grace. Maybe, just maybe an excommunication would have some desirable temporal affect. Maybe Cuomo would be shocked into repenting. Maybe this could be the occasion of an infusion of grace that could change his heart. Maybe it would rally the faithful Catholics of New York and lead to some sort of pro-life renaissance in the state. Maybe, amidst the hostility, expressions of solidarity would pour in from faithful Catholics around the country, who would renew their prayers for New York and the governor and the Church. Maybe miracles of grace would happen that we can't conceive of. Stranger things have happened in the history of the Church. It's not impossible.

That is, not impossible if the bishops man up and do their job. But since Vatican II, positive excommunication by decree (as opposed to latae sententiae) has really only been used against clerics, like Marcel Lefbvre, Simon Lokodo, and Ezinwanne Igbo. Excommunicating laity by positive decree is an unspoken no-no.

Ultimately, as the adage goes, you miss 100% of the shots you never take.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Christ Will Give You Victory

This morning I did a very general confession by appointment to a very excellent diocesan priest a few towns over from me. After confession we talked for about an hour, and I had some very helpful insights that I wanted to share. None of this is novel, but even so, revealed to me in the right moment it all proved to be "a word in season" (Prov. 15:23). If you are waling through a dark cloud, perhaps this will help you.

I. Do we spend too much time picking bad fruit off of our tree rather than looking at the root and finding out why it is producing bad fruit to begin with? Confessing the same sins over and over again and beginning to doubt it will ever be different? It's good to recall that God's will for you is not to "manage" your sins; His will is to have total victory over them. Have you sunken into a place where you have given up hope that you will ever have victory over your sins and have begun to settle for just maintaining your current place—treading water while you try to manage your sins? This is not why Christ died for you. His death gives you the power you need to have total victory over your sins and that should be our goal and our hope.

II. We often use a language of "distance" when speaking about our spiritual lives. Saints are "closer" to God; sin puts us "farther" from Him. However, given that God is omnipresent, "not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27), we have to remember that this language of distance is a metaphor for something else—its a way of quantifying our likeness to him; those who are more transformed by grace are "closer" to God, those who resemble Him less are "further." But really we are only ever as far from God as we put ourselves. When we sin we can feel like God is very distant, like we are prodigals suffering in a distant land. But the truth is, there is a bit of a Wizard of Oz illusion; though we may feel distant, we can go home at any time if he just really will to. The distance is only as great as we think it is. All you need to do is turn your face towards home like the prodigal son and the father will run from the house to meet you where you are.

III. It's easy to reduce grace to merely a legal concept: an abstract state we are either in or out of. That certainly is part of it, but it's not the whole part. What is the point of being "in" grace? I have sometimes prioritized the mere fact of being technically, 'legally' in a state of grace while ignoring the purpose of what is supposed to happen while I am in that state. Grace is not merely an indicator of whether I am in a state of friendship with God or not; it is also a vital force from God whose purpose is to work in my life to transform me. That is to say, grace is not merely adjectival ("state of grace"), but it is a noun. It is a thing; it is like a power or energy that is the very life of God which is lavished on us in order to ennoble us and enable us to love God beyond what our natural limitations would permit. What's the point of being "in a state of grace" if I am not actualizing the growth that being in such a state is supposed to make possible? 

* * * * *

My friend, you can have victory over your sins. Begin by believing this, trusting Christ to grant you this triumph, and take things one day at a time.

Even if you feel apathetic or distant from God, whether from sin or just lethargy, remember you can go home if you only will to. The distance between yourself and God is only as great as you let it be.

Don't focus only on being in a state of grace, but once there, on letting grace change the state of your life. Grace is not merely a place to be in, but a vital power God gives us to transform our lives. Be aware of it's work in your life and rejoice in the small victories it wins.

Christ will give you victory.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Stop Whining About Media Coverage of the March for Life

The 2019 March for Life has only been over for a day and already Catholics are engaged in the annual mantra of whining about how the media "ignores" the event. Tens of thousands of Washington selfies are being plastered across social media platforms with comments like "The media isn't reporting this!" Various Pro-Life sites are running an article titled "All Three Networks Ignore March for Life." Et cetera, et cetera.

It was probably three or four years ago that I started noticing the way Catholics just repeated this like a mantra. They get back from the March, post pics of the swelling crowds, and say something like, "Too bad the media doesn't cover this" or something similar. In fact, it was being so oft repeated that I started thinking, "This must be false," so I started following media coverage of the March. This is my third year tracking the media coverage, and I want to tell you Catholics who are repeating this, please stop. The main stream media does not ignore the March for Life. It is covered pretty consistently every year.

As of today, here are the major news outlets that have done stories about the 2019 March for Life:

USA Today
The Washington Post
FOX News
Associated Press
NBC Affiliate (example)
CBS News
CBS Chicago
Now This News (livestream)
Huffington Post
The Washington Times
New York Times (this one even shows nuns marching)
TIME Magazine

If these don't count as "main stream media", then I don't know what does. It is clearly untrue that all the major networks "ignored" the March for Life. As far as I can tell, MSNBC is the only network that had no mention of the march, although NBC and other NBC affiliates did.

All of these organizations covered the March from different angles: Some focused on the issue of abortion itself, while others zeroed in on the comments of Vice-President Pence; some networks wanted to contrast the March for Life with the Women's March, while others were more interested in exploring Trump's relationship with the Pro-Life movement. Some were merely giving directions and noting which streets were closed; still others were complaining about Ben Shapiro's comments or the Kentucky teens in the MAGA hats who disrespected some Native American elder. The sorts of coverage varied, but there was certainly coverage. It's patently false to say all the major networks "ignore" the March for Life.

The organizers of the March for Life itself seem to be cognizant of the perpetuation of this myth, because on their website they have a page dedicated to chronicling media coverage of the March. This seemed to be unique to 2017 because that was the first March during the Trump administration, but nevertheless we can see there was ample media coverage. The March media page from 2017 states:
The following outlets covered the March for Life (this is not an exhaustive list):
EWTN, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, FOX, Washington Post, New York Times, AP, LA Times, BBC, USA Today, Fortune, The Economist, Politico, Business Insider, Roll Call, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Real Clear Politics, US News and World Report, The Hill, McLatchy, Yahoo, People Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Vox, Slate, Buzzfeed, Aljazeera, National Review, the Federalist, IJ Review, Washington Times, Newsmax, Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, Townhall, The Blaze, American Spectator, Lifezette, First Things. 

But all that coverage did not stop people from complaining about the March being "ignored" in 2017 too, nor in any of the other years. It's just become some thing that people repeat every year without even bothering to verify or think.

Now, I can grant that you might not have liked the type of coverage these media outlets provided. You might think their coverage was too brief, that they focused on the wrong aspects of the March, that the coverage portrays the Pro-Life movement negatively, that it focuses too much on novelties rather than on the Pro-Life message itself. Fine. Complain all you want about the nature of the media coverage, but stop perpetuating the falsehood that the march is "ignored" or that no media outlets cover it.

I was actually talking to a Catholic acquaintance about this who works for an NBC affiliate. People were telling him that they were dismayed by the lack of media coverage of the March. He, like me, noted first that it's simply not true. But second, he explained why he thought the March was not getting the right kind of coverage and suggested what Pro-Lifers should do it they want to garner more attention for the March. I have reposted his comments with permission:

To those Catholics who are dismayed at the "lack of coverage" of the March for Life this year, I want to offer a few thoughts. For may have heard how there was absolutely no coverage from the major networks. I want to tell you that's not true. I work for an NBC affiliate, and I can tell you for a fact, the network dedicated two live feeds to it with its own resources, not relying on the local affiliate on the ground. I saw the March on several videos that were offered that day to use in newscasts.
That said... I know it's not as much coverage as you would have liked. And I can weigh in on that. You guys have a serious problem when it comes to understanding how the media works. Take this quote for example, Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review noted at the time that "the March for Life actually deserves more coverage than either of the other marches because it is a recurring event and grows every year." your problem! It's like you guys are in World War I being led by a bunch of old cavalry generals who don't understand how this thing works. The very thing you are doing which you think should earn you more results, is the exact reason why you are getting less!!! And instead of addressing the real issue, you just throw greater numbers thinking that will solve it...not unlike a WWI general who thinks his charge will work this time. 
The fact it's a recurring event is the very reason why it gets downplayed. I'm not saying this methodology is right or wrong, but I know the media tends to be more interested in things which have novelty (something liberals are more prone to be good at). When it becomes the "same old, same old" ritual every year...the media gradually loses interest until it only gives it a footnote. Even this year I see they are giving the Women's March far less coverage than years past because it's becoming more of a yearly ritual. The March for Life really needs a PR shakeup. If you want massive coverage, I can tell you it's rather easy. If you did an unannounced demonstration on a random day that shuts down traffic in a mid-size city that's not Washington, I guarantee the networks would go wild. The problem is...that's not something conservatives are prone to do.

This is something I've been pondering for awhile; the March for Life is simply old news. It's not a novelty anymore. It gets an obligatory mention, a footnote, but that's about it. I think this gentleman's suggestion to do "an unannounced demonstration on a random day that shuts down traffic in a mid-size city that's not Washington" is pretty much what Pro-Lifers ought to be thinking about. But, as he notes, "that's not something conservatives are prone to do." Indeed.

So some of you are probably asking why I am harping about this? "Gosh, Boniface, it's like you're on the side of the main stream media or something.. These people went to march against abortion. Stop ragging on them" Pfft. Don't be silly. God bless them for marching, and I'm certainly not on the side of the media. The main stream media sucks, but the reason I am talking about this is because it is counterproductive; it ultimately hurts the Pro-Life cause when Catholics ignorantly repeat false hearsay as fact.

And on a personal level, it drives me crazy because when some college kid comes back from the March and goes on Facebook and posts selfies of himself in D.C. and snorts, "Heh...too bad the networks ignored the March," well, I am fairly certain that kid has not bothered to do any research to see if what he is saying is true; did he take the time to investigate the coverage of each network and media outlet? Almost assuredly not. He's simply repeating some mantra Catholics have got in their head that it's cool to say every year.

If you want to complain about the media coverage, do something to make it more media attractive. You can't do the exact same event in the exact same place on the exact same weekend for 46 years and expect it to be this huge media phenomenon. Do something different; be innovative. Engage in critical discussion about the type of media coverage of the march, why it is so, and how it can be changed, but stop repeating the falsehood that the March for Life is "ignored." I've been following this for years now and it's never been the case. You discredit us when you say this so please stop.

Rant over. God bless you all.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

On the Concept of Celebration

In case you have not seen the footage yet, here is a video of what occurred at Pope Francis' weekly audience on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019:

I am beyond numb by seeing this sort of thing; it's just more par for the course. It's outrageous. It's embarrassing. It is literally the farthest thing imaginable from my mind when I think of the phrase "dignity of the See of St. Peter".

It did get me thinking about why this sort of thing happens, and I think it has to do with a fundamentally over-simplistic view celebrating. You see, at some point the modern Church got into its head the idea that Catholicism was too dour and pessimistic and gloomy. And so part of the campaign to "Throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through", as Pope John XXIII phrased it, came this idea that Catholic worship in general needed to be more celebratory. It became commonplace to refer to the Mass as a "celebration"; priests no longer "say" Mass, they "celebrate" it; hymnals have names like Celebration and missalettes titles Celebremos!/Let us Celebrate!.

Of course, the Eucharist is a celebration and Christianity as a whole should be a joyous, celebratory religion. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy" says St. Paul (Rom. 15:13); and the Psalmist says “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Ps. 126:2-3). A Christian ought to be joyful, and he ought to celebrate the good things God has done for him.

But the problem is that people take "celebration" in the most banal, simplistic way possible. "Celebration" is a very nuanced concept, and how people express joy is quite varied. For example, consider the following situations:

  • A ceremony in which a wounded combat veteran receives a medal in honor of his service.
  • A group of intoxicated Irishmen singing boisterously in a pub
  • A banquet held in honor of a couple's 50th wedding anniversary
  • A gaggle of peasants holding hands and dancing around a Maypole
  • A formal dinner where a toast is made in honor of one of the attendees
  • A Fourth of July parade
All of these occasions are celebratory, but you will notice the mood and atmosphere of each is very different, running the gamut of human expression from solemnly dignified to casually festive to straight up rowdy and boisterous.

The point is, there's no one way "celebration" looks. Celebration is not a fixed absolute that always appears in the same manner. Rather, it is a fluid concept which is given its form by the concrete circumstance and the nuance inherent in any social gathering.

But those in the Church who idolize the sort of nonsense we see in this video don't care what celebration really means; they are not interested in asking the question, "What kind of celebratory attitude befits the Sacrifice of the Mass?" Because for them celebration means a single thing - desacralization and profaneness. 

I know this event was not a liturgy, only a Wednesday audience. That's kind of beside the point. This post is really just about the banal, watered-down, overly-simplistic view of "celebration" contemporary Catholicism has adopted. How stupid. How utterly, utterly stupid.

Is Christianity a joyous, celebratory religion? Yes, of course. How does that celebration look? That depends; tell me the particular life circumstance you are envisioning and I will tell you what sort of celebration is fitting. 


Related Posts:

"David Danced Before the Lord" (USC, Jan. 2011)
"Excuses for Liturgical Dancing" (USC, July, 2013)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Posts of 2018

Another year has passed us by. It went so quickly, and so much unfolded. The McCarrick scandal. Archbishop Vigano. Changes to the CCC on the death penalty. The fall of Wuerl. The Vatican directive Cor Orans on religious life. The Vatican-China deal.

This was a tough year for me to follow, too. If you recall, I was on sabbatical from blogging from November 2017 until about February of this year. From then on it felt just like playing catch-up. In an age when other bloggers are updating their content twice a day, I was lucky if I could post once every two weeks. But no matter; tis not about the swiftness with which one updates content, but the quality of the content that is posted. I've had a lot of professional and personal change over the past year, but I'm definitely not going anywhere. I'll still be posting drivel so long as the Internet exist...and so long as its free.

Here are some of my personal favorite posts from 2018. See you all next year!

Why Sacred Music Should be Beautiful: A short tale on the evangelical power of music that is truly sacred and understands beauty.

Archbishop Vigano and our Vale of Tears: My initial response to Archbishop Vigano's groundbreaking first letter in August.

The Future of Contra Protestant Apologetics: In the current epoch of the Church, with our fundamental Catholic identity under attack from those who should be protecting it, the old Catholic Answers style contra-Protestant apologetics is less and less relevant.

St. Patrick was not Named "Maewyn Succat": An unnecessarily lengthy and nerdy essay arguing that St. Patrick's birth name was not Maewyn Succat as is often repeated by people looking for click bait around St. Patrick's Day.

Clerical Abuse? Yes but the Church is also Huuuuuman: Please stop responding to clerical sex abuse scandals by saying, "Well, we're not Pharisees who demand perfection. The Church is human, too."

The Meta-Problem: From Magisterium to Policy Objectives: The modern Magisterium looks and acts less and less like a teaching authority and more like a political administration with its own "policy objectives" that are reshaped by each successive pontificate.

More Traddie Sniping: Observations on the latest round of traditionalists attacking each other.

Cor Orans: Into the Woods: The new Vatican directive Cor Orans on contemplative religious life will make it more likely that men and women who want to live an authentic contemplative vocation free from charism-destroying episcopal interference will have to resort to methods outside of the institutional Church.

Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelization: My most read article of 2018, why poor liturgies actually hinder our attempts at sharing the Catholic faith with people.

On Christians Offending People: When St. Paul says we should avoid "giving offense", he absolutely does not mean we should be afraid to offend people.

Lay Control is Not the Answer: In light of the scandals, many people are calling for lay control or at least lay oversight of the episcopate. This is not the manner Christ envisioned for the Church to be administered.

The Hvalsey Option: What's the best way to respond to Vatican scandals? A visit to medieval Greenland to imagine how Catholics of that age might have handled such problems.

"Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead" : In which I offer three possible interpretations for Jesus' words in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Cringiest Christmas Homily Ever

This Christmas Eve I sat through what was undoubtedly the cringiest homily I have ever heard in my life. 

Now I’d like to think I am (mostly) beyond the “Oh my gosh listen to what abuses I saw at Mass!” sort of posts, but sometimes I run across something that still drops my jaw. And this Christmas Eve, I heard something that made me realize that, no, after sixteen years as a practicing Catholic in the U.S.A. there are still things that can surprise me.

I was with a non-Catholic friend who had a sincere interest in going to a Catholic Mass. I selected a historic church in one of Michigan’s urban centers that is known for its beauty, as well as its liturgy. This place has a weekly TLM said by the pastor, generally solid preaching, and a very robust Catholic community. I thought it would be an excellent first exposure to Catholic worship. 

The liturgy was a Novus Ordo, but that is irrelevant to the story. The homilist was a very old priest-- so old he had to lean on an altar server when he moved. As he shuffled over to the ambo at the homily I kind of gulped; this guy was not the usual pastor, and in my experience whenever a severely elderly, visiting priest gets a hold of a microphone the resulting sermon is usually the homilectical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. 

Anyhow, he began his homily by telling a story about the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska. The story took place many years ago, when the orphanage was under the administration of Fr. Edward Flanagan (now Servant of God Edward Flanagan). The story took place on one Christmas Eve long ago as a father Flanagan tried to compose a homily for the holy day mass. However, he found himself distracted by all the boys who lived in his quarters. Or, in the words of the homilist, “You know it’s hard for a priest to focus when there’s so many young boys living with him.”

At that point I kind of smirked and thought to myself “Okay, poor choice of words, Father, but I'll give you a pass.” But it got much, much worse. 

The homilist went on to relate that while composing his homily, Fr. Flanagan was approached by a nun, who told him that a little boy named Paul was hiding under his bed crying and refused to come out. Repeated admonition had failed to get Paul to come out from under the bed. Frustrated, Fr. Flanagan left his desk to go attend to the crying boy. 

Fr. Flanagan found Paul just as the nun had said, hiding under the bed crying. Father asked him what was wrong; Paul said he was lonely at the orphanage and had not had any visitors. 

Here’s where the homily got real cringey. The priest related that Fr. Flanagan decided to “climb under the bed in order to comfort Paul.” Once under the bed, Fr. Flanagan held Paul and cried alongside him. As the priest put it, “Fr. Flanagan day there under the bed alone in the dark with Paul, holding him and crying.” By now everybody in the congregation was shifting around, literally, I could see people all over shuffling around in their seats and looking at their feet. But the priest continued. 

“Father,” said Paul. “I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

Oh should have seen my face. My jaw must have been on the ground. I could not believe the priest was narrating this.

“I’ll stay here with you,” said Fr. Flanagan, “and I’ll be here when you wake up.” Then the priest related how Fr. Flanagan sat their cuddling the boy until he fell asleep and stayed with the boy in his room while he slept rather than finish his Christmas homily.

By this time many in the congregation were looking around in profound confusion and disbelief. My mouth was agape wondering how on earth this old priest could have thought this was suitable material for a Christmas homily in late 2018. More astonishing was the priest’s attempt to relate this story to Christmas and the Incarnation: 

“And that’s exactly what our Lord did for us. Just like Fr. Flanagan climbed under the bed to comfort Paul, so our Lord came down to console our human nature in its weakness.” And that was it. That entire story just for that little tie in at the end. Out of all the things ever written or said about the Incarnation in the vast, rich history of the Church, the best analogy this homilist could come up with was a story about a priest crawling under a bed to cuddle a boy alone in the dark.

The entire congregation breathed a collective sigh of relief when this awkward homily ended. We were all cringing and shifting about in our seats wondering how this priest could have thought such a homily was prudent. I was just eager to forget it and get on to the Eucharist.

I pass no judgment on the original story or the person of Fr. Flanagan; but I think it is beyond dispute the selection of this particular tale and the manner of its retelling at this specific moment in the Church’s life displays an astonishing level of disconnect from reality on the part of the homilist. Thankfully my friend, who as I said was not Catholic and was also from a foreign country, had no knowledge of the clerical abuse scandals in the USA and did not pick up on the discomfort I had at the story. 

And that’s the real sad thing about what’s going on today in the Church. The story told about Fr. Flanagan probably was just an innocent story about a priest trying to console a lonely child. But anything with priests and boys alone now makes Catholics cringe, and the ongoing revelations attest that our cringing is not unjustified. And the cringing will continue.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

More Traddie Sniping

There's a lot of snark and calumny going around on blogs and social media recently with Trads sniping each other. The so-called "circular firing squad" strikes again. I would have assumed that with the liberal coterie in the Church in full ascendancy, traditional Catholics would be forming alliances and finding new unity in a common effort.

Nope. If anything, the opposite seems to have happened. Traditionalist outlets and commentators are descending into mutual accusation and recrimination of each other. The reasons for this are varied, and some are bigger offenders than others. "The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them" (Deut. 28:25). This curse seems to have befallen us, as we not only flee seven ways but make sure to take pot-shots at our brethren while we do so.

Yes, there are always rationales. "I'm just defending my reputation"; "So-and-so is leading people astray"; "All Catholics have an obligation to speak out against X"; "They started the battle, not me." And so on.

Personally, I love Rorate Caeli. I love 1P5; I count Steve Skojec as a friend of mine and have always enjoyed my banter with him. I also respect Michael Voris and Church Militant. I love The Remnant. I love Vox Cantoris. I chuckle when I read Mundabor. I love Ryan Grant. I love Fr. Zuhlsdorf. And there's a whole slew of other traditional blogs, media outlets, and individuals whom I respect and count as allies. I don't find liking anyone of them precludes me from liking any other, nor does 

Do I agree with them all? Of course not. But that's okay. We are really in uncharted waters here, and everybody is pursuing the course they think best. Everybody is just trying to make sense of our situation. I've taken my fair share of sniping as well; one of the outlets mentioned above once said I was "doing the devil's work" and unlinked me because I disagreed with them on an extraordinarily minute issue that was entirely prudential. And I myself have doled it out in the past as well.

But I don't think now is the time for it. Now more than ever we need to set aside petty squabbling; not to say all disagreements are "petty"—a person who is insisting that Francis is not the Roman pontiff is making an extremely serious accusation. But to be honest, most of this sniping is petty. It's about people preserving their "turf" and maintaining their street-cred as traddie luminaries. I guess a charitable explanation would be that the developments in the Church have everybody on edge and are making us overly sensitive and irritable, like how people get when on a long car ride and someone takes a wrong turn and gets lost and everybody becomes cranky because of the situation.

A less charitable explanation would be that some traditionalist outlets have begun to think of themselves as a "Trad Magisterium", veritable thought leaders and opinion setters who equate their own positions with orthodoxy itself. I spoke about this some time ago in a post called "No Trad Magisterium" (Feb. 2015), the central thesis of which was that "there is no one website or blog, no organization, no one author, no one order or society, no one publication, no one prelate, no one individual who authoritatively speaks for Catholic traditionalists, and whom to disagree with is to risk ostracism. There is no trad Magisterium." But if you want to read a more eloquent explanation of this, I recommend the essay "Faithful Catholics and Theological Positions -- A Difference Which Must be Overlooked" (Dec. 2014) on Eponymous Flower by guest contributor Victor Clemens Oldendorf.

People have often challenged me publicly in my 10+ years of blogging; often someone with the attitude of "Boniface, I debunked you on this very long post (**includes link**); how will you answer? Debate me!" My response is usually to yawn, congratulate them on such a witty rebuttal, and move on without answering or sometimes even reading the article. I don't personally care. Perhaps I should care more. Perhaps I'm just a bad blogger. 

Well, whatever. People are gonna do what they're gonna do. Let's just not take ourselves too seriously. We ought to always take the Faith seriously while maintaining a certain amount of levity about ourselves.

God bless all my fellow bloggers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Josiah in the American Episcopate

We read in Chapter 22 of the Second Book of Kings concerning the righteous King Josiah of Judah:

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem...And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left...
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying, "Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book [of the law]: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us."
So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe...and they communed with her. And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, thus saith the Lord: 
"Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read:Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.
But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the Lord, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard: Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place." (2 Kings 22:1-2, 13-20)

King Josiah was in fact killed, taken from life prematurely at the Battle of Megiddo at the age of 39 by an Egyptian arrow (2. Kings 23). Josiah by no means a bad king; he was one of Judah's most righteous kings, with a righteousness and piety that stood out even more because of the darkness of the times in which he lived. He, of all people, did not "deserve" to be taken from this world so soon. Had he lived and had his religious reforms continued, he could have potentially restored the fortunes of Judah and averted the judgment of his people. That is the effect a righteous leader can have on his nation.

Ironically, though, it was precisely because of that righteousness that the Lord struck him down. Judah's sins were so great that God had determined to punish them. But because of the goodness of Josiah, God decided to preserve him from the evil that was to come upon the kingdom by taking him from life prematurely so he would not need to witness God's fearsome judgment. In a wicked, barbarous time, the death of the righteous is a mercy to them.

I could not help thinking of the story of King Josiah upon hearing of the death of Bishop Morlino last month. And I thought the same thing upon the sudden and unexpected death of Antonin Scalia. And Cardinal Caffarra.

The lights are going out all over the Church and they will not be lit again in our lifetime.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Why Sacred Music Should be Beautiful

Ten long years ago I did a post on my favorite Christmas hymns, which I believe are underrated. Back then I listed as my favorite Christmas song the hymn Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. Ten years on, upon reviewing this post, I think these five are still my favorites, and Jesus Christ the Apple Tree still the most beautiful.

If you are not familiar with the tune, please listen to this beautiful rendition of it by the choir of King's College, Cambridge (you'll have to open in YouTube to watch probably):

I have argued in many ways over the years for a return to authentically sacred, beautiful music in our worship. There are so many different reasons would could support this: consistency with sacred tradition, fidelity to repeated magisterial pronouncements about the nature of sacred music, its fittingness to the worship of God, its ability to lift our souls in praise. There's so much can be said. I'll never tire of arguing this point, while simultaneously my soul bears a burden of frustrated exhaustion at even having to make these arguments to begin with. There seems to be nothing more self-evident in the world as that the worship of God should be marked by beautiful things.

But, in case you need one singular, poignant argument in favor of retaining beautiful music for our worship of God, consider the following: After watching to the above recording of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, I was clicking around YouTube listening to various renditions of the song and reading the comments and came across this gem:

My friends, that is the argument for the return of beautiful, sacred music. This is what happens when the human soul encounters beauty. I guarantee no atheists are saying such things about Gather Us In. And I have to admit, when I read this comment, I also was cut to the heart and my eyes became moist. Beauty softens the heart and helps us to be like children. The Church needs more beauty. The world needs more beauty. For the love of God and the salvation of souls, let the rays of beauty shine upon the Church once more.

And God, grant my soul may be beautiful, ever fresh and blossoming in virtue and watered by your graces. 

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Image result for beautiful apple tree

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Future of Contra Protestant Apologetics

Recently on social media I saw a certain Catholic apologist trying to sell off some of his books online in a special sale. He was offering significant discounts, offering multiple books at cuts of 50% or more. Most of the books had to do with contra Protestant apologetics, the sorta stuff that made Catholic Answers famous back in the 1990s.  In order to offer books at that kind of rate, he must have either been hurting for money, or simply wanting to offload titles that weren't selling anymore.

I'm betting it was the latter, because judging from the responses on the thread, there was not a lot of traction on the sale. But what was really interesting were several comments people made about the content of such works. More than one person said, "Apologetics to Protestants is not my area of focus right now", or "I'm not interested in that currently"; others echoed the sentiment. It was a kind of "we've got bigger fish to fry" sort of response.

I am not going to mention the apologist. This isn't really about him anyway; plus he has a Beetlejuice-sort of way of showing up whenever his name is mentioned. And I of all people know what it's like to be an author wanting to offload books. What I am really interested in is the attitude of the people on the thread who essentially said that Catholic apologetics to Protestants was simply not on their radar at the moment.

Earlier this year I wrote a piece entitled "Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism" (USC, July 2018). The premise of that article was that the poor quality of the liturgy in most Catholic parishes offers nothing to pique the interest of non-Catholics into wanting to learn about the faith. We could posit a corollary principle: if bad liturgy cripples the evangelical effect of the Mass, the Church herself being in a state of chaos diminishes the impulse Catholics experience for bringing others into it. 

I do not believe this is because such Catholics are ashamed of the Church or do not desire the salvation of others or anything like that; rather, I think it has to do with the fact that their energies and attention are taken up by what is going on inside the Church. In other words, Catholics' natural impulse is to put the fire out inside their own home before they invite others inside.

What will the future of contra Protestant apologetics be? My hunch is it is diminishing, and apologists who have made their careers debunking Protestantism will find themselves more and more irrelevant. 

The main reason for this is simply that the essential divisions within Christianity are no longer confessional. It used to be that Christianity was divided up into several confessions and that the members of each confession were presumed to be faithful at least to the tenets of their own confession. A man was a Baptist because he affirmed the Baptist confession and denied those that were at odds with his. And of course a Catholic was a Catholic because he affirmed the teachings of the Catholic faith. To be sure, the Baptist or the Catholic may have been born into these communities, but did not detract from the expectation that one who belonged to a certain confession actually professed it.

In that sort of climate, it was easy for confessions to dispute with one another. Persons professing some sort of formulaic creed can argue with others who profess a different creed because they had the common ground of both professing some creed. "Look here, you and I both acknowledge Christians live by a creed. Your creed is different than mine. Let's argue about whose is correct." It was in this atmosphere that Catholic apologetics contra Protestantism could flourish. 

But the situation has changed drastically. The contemporary division within global Christianity is not creed vs. creed, but people who profess a creed vs. people who have no creed—those whose faith has a doctrinal skeleton and those whose faith has no structure at all, but is a kind of gelatinous mass. This division transcends all forms of Christianity. Across the Catholic Church, the world of the Orthodox, and the Protestant confessions there is a profound de facto schism between those who believe Christianity has an objective, definable form whose boundaries are delineated by particular doctrines and, on the other hand, those who believe Christianity to be essentially whatever its adherents wish it to be at any given time.

In this atmosphere, creed vs. creed apologetics no longer has the weight it once did when most sincere Christians of any stripe are fighting bitterly simply to affirm the existence of any creed within their respective communities.

This is not to say contra Protestant apologetics will go away. It will always have a place, but it will probably give ground to other forms of apologetics which are not textual and doctrinal but rather more about defending an entire way of viewing religious belief in general. It will be about conflicting worldviews, not about the right interpretation of biblical texts. At least in the near future.

It is possible, of course, as Christians who are faithful to their own confessions fight the doctrinal devolution that is dissolving the creeds of Christendom, that Catholics and Protestants may find themselves arguing more or less along the same lines. The Protestant apologist arguing for the existence of revealed truth is going to be making more or less a similar argument to the Catholic apologist who does the same—the content of that revealed truth and how it is transmitted are a different matter, of course. But it is possible that in making arguing for the existence of confessional religion, Catholics and Protestants unwittingly become allies and many of the latter return home to the former. 

This is similar to how the Anglicans of the 19th century British Oxford Movement, in arguing against low church Anglicanism, actually argued themselves back into the Catholic Church because they realized the arguments they made against low church Anglicanism also undermined Anglicanism itself. Thus, contemporary Protestants compelled to argue for confessional Christianity may find their arguments undermine the existence of their own confessions and end up returning to the Catholic Church as a result.

Regardless of what may come, one thing is certain: it is not the 1980s and 1990s anymore. The days of the supremacy of Catholicism and Fundamentalism Surprised by Truth and similar such works is rapidly fading. The average Catholic, if he is faithful, is much more concerned with the corruption in the episcopate, the homosexual clerical scandals, the erosion of the liturgy. and the auto-demolition of the Church coming from the Vatican than he is about convincing a Protestant about the canonicity of the Book of Tobit. What logical reason does he have to argue with a Protestant about the Church's doctrines just to bring said Protestant into a Church whose leaders are overthrowing the very doctrines the apologist argued in favor of?

Please understand I am not saying the Great Commission is no longer valid or that we ought not to witness to Protestants; I am saying that the current situation it makes it difficult to prioritize such apologetics. This is why, I think, this apologist attempting to sell contra Protestant books found that astute Catholics were simply not interested in that right now, nor will they be until the fire in our own house has been extinguished.

"It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God." ~1 Peter 4:17

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