Monday, March 31, 2008

A little April Fool's Fun...

I know April Fool's Day is not until tomorrow, but I thought I'd start livening things up a bit early...

A Modern Seminarian’s Dictionary
Published in "Fidelity", September 1987, pp. 23-25.

Brother seminarians! Are you troubled by the nonjudgmental expectations of the seminary? Are you confused by their concerns? Fear not. Before your eyes you have the key to ordination in this person’s seminary. Add these terms to your theological lexicon and believe me, you could well be ordained one or two years early!

AUTHORITY: Cannot exist or be invoked unless vested in a sensitive, flexible, nonjudgmental and compassionate person.

CATHOLIC FUNDAMENTALIST: A simplistic person who tries to live the Faith in a docile and pious way; also a Catholic who frequently prays the Rosary.

CELIBACY: Refraining from heterosexual genital activity.

CHALLENGE: To recognize that my views are better than your views.

CHURCH: Me.

CLOWN MASS: Liturgical innovation comparable to the innovation of Gregorian chant.

COLLEGIALITY: The doctrine defined by the Spirit of Vatican II stating that bishops have exactly the same authority as the Bishop of Rome.

COMPLEX TECHNOLOGICAL WORLD: The reason for resisting one’s conscience when opposing the teaching of the Catholic Church; also, the standard response a flexible person uses when a rigid person seems to be winning an argument.

CONCERN: The response that sensitive, flexible, non-judgmental and compassionate people in authority have when someone doesn't agree with them.

CONSCIENCE: The final arbiter of the correctness of one’s action always tobe guided by the latest in Church dissent.

CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING: The method of argumentation used by radical feminists moving adult males to action: "Better to live in a corner of the housetop than have a nagging wife and a brawling household" (Prov.21:9).

ECUMENISM: The process of transforming the liturgical rites of the mainline Christian denominations into a single rite of coffee, donuts and dialogue.

EXPECTATIONS: Flexible guidelines which change as frequently as the feelings of the Rector; not to be confused with RULES or LEGALISM.

FEELING: The highest faculty of the human person left fully untouched by original sin.

FEMININITY: A word created by a sexist, maledominated society to subjugate women in the maternal role; the presence of femininity in women religious is a cause to recommend psychological counseling.

FLEXIBLE: You agree with me; a flexible person is open and dialogues on any issue, smiles knowingly and does precisely what he started out to do.

FORMATION: Kindergarten.

GETTING IN TOUCH WITH ONE’S FEMININE SIDE: An essential requirement for ordination to the priesthood.

GROWTH: For you to assimilate my way of thinking into your life.

HOMOPHOBIC: The psychological condition of those who witness and report acts of homosexuality to seminary authorities.

HUMANAE VITAE: The biggest mistake the Church has made since the Council of Trent.

IN TOUCH WITH FEELINGS: Using the intellect to explicitly identify what one is feeling so that speech patterns can be altered to communicate one’s sensitivity and compassion; not to be confused with "intellectualizing your feelings".

LAITY: The future of the Church; cannot be ignored unless associated with ultra-conservative groups.

LEGALISM: Accepting at face value and obediently implementing what a document, law, or guideline mandates.

LIBERATION: The replacement of existing structures of constraint with new and improved structures of constraint.

LITURGICAL DANCE: Liturgical innovation comparable to the innovation of Gregorian
chant.

LITURGISTS: “A society of men among us, bred from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid” (Swift, Gulliver's Travels).

MACROCHURCH: The male-dominated, sexist, oppressive, authoritarian hierarchical Church.

MALE DOMINATION: The irritating interest men have in sports, cigars, and male- bonding, especially in the hierarchy of the Church; the only mortal personal sin.

MICROCHURCH: The pastoral, flexible, open and honest, compassionate, open-to-change, local Christian community (Columbian Father Camilo Torres Restrepo was a member of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group and a fine example of the microchurch).

MISSION STATEMENT: A written objective or goal of a pastoral program upon which the success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends.

OBEDIENCE: No longer in usage. Obsolete.

OFFICIAL CHURCH TEACHING: “I don't expect it to change anybody's mind one way or another. Catholics today have learned what it means to be selectively obedient to the Church’s teaching” (Father Richard McBrien, Washington Post, December16,1981).

OPEN AND HONEST: Telling religious superiors what they want to hear.

ORIGINAL SIN: See SEXISM.

PASTORAL: Effeminate; an attribute lacking in a man who demonstrates overt masculine
attributes of clarity, decisiveness, and orthodoxy: G.K. Chesterton was not pastoral.

PLURALISM: The acceptance of all points of view except those with a point of view which doesn't accept all points of view.

PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR: Socialism.

PRE-VATICAN II: A person who accepts at face value the teaching of the Church and who reads the documents of the Second Vatican Council without reference to a commentary.

PROCESS: The spontaneous movement in the dialogue of group therapy sessions never to be disrupted by thinking.

PROGRESSIVE: Pouring the wine of old heresies into new wineskins.

PSYCHOLOGIST: Infallible teaching authority in the Church.

RELEVANT: Anything to do with dissent from Church teaching.

RIGID: a simplistic view of Catholic doctrine

SAFE SEX: Taking appropriate precautions during high risk sexual activity

SENSITIVITY: The ability to identify and agree with the conventional wisdom of left-wing political issues such as feminism, gay rights, dissent, etc.

SEXISM: The sin associated with being male.

SEXUAL PREFERENCE: Feeling good about some or all objects of desire whether animal, vegetable or mineral.

SHARE: The practice of discussing the deepest intimacies of one’s life in front of complete strangers.

SPEAK OUT: The activity springing from the virtue of Social Justice whereby sensitive and compassionate persons, with great emotion, promote the platform of the Democratic
Party.

SPIRIT OF VATICAN II: Church activities and programs which have absolutely no relationship to the letter of the documents of Vatican II.

THINKING: The most dangerous activity in a seminary; cause for psychological counseling; those who think “disrupt the process”; see PROCESS.

TOTAL COMMITMENT: The intensity of involvement in charitable works until one finds that one “doesn’t feel good” about oneself; total commitments usually last six months to a year.

VALUING YOUR SEXUALITY: Obsession with the usual adolescent preoccupations.

VOCATIONS CRISIS: Refers to the Church’s failure to relax the rules on celibacy and failure to ordain women.

WORKSHOP: A church-sponsored meeting to ensure that the issues of optional celibacy, women's ordination, the Sandinistas and leisure suits are still being addressed.

YOU’RE NOT LISTENING: The way a flexible, non-judgmental person expresses disappointment that a rigid, dogmatic person doesn’t agree with him; example: the Pope is “not listening” to the American Church.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Understanding & Tolerance?

I am going to shock some of you: I think we need to study and understand other religions much more than we do now. Let me explain.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption behind the modernist interreligious dialogue movements, both within the Catholic Church and among adherents of other religions. This assumption underlies the whole supposed reason why we ought to have "dialogue" in the first place. What assumption do I speak of? I speak of the idea that if we just "understand" each other's religions better, then we will see how great there are and come to respect each other. The assumption is that the problem is that we do not adequately "understand" Islam, Hinduism or the other religions of the world. If we just had a better understanding of them, we would de facto like them and their adherents better and everybody would get along. Is there any merit to this point at all?

How about the reality that sometimes really understanding an ideology can make you dislike it even further? One could make the claim that we went to war against Hitler in World War II precisely because we understood exactly what kind of ideology Naziism was. It was the appeasement crowd, like Chamberlain, who failed to understand what kind of a man Hitler was.

In the same way, I have been reading the agnostic Will Durant's classic history text on Asia "Our Oriental Heritage," in which he gushes with 400 pages of praise about India, Hindu religion and classic Indian "philosophy." I have been immersed in the writings and historical developments, cultural institutions and religious traditions of India for two weeks now. I have learned a whole lot more about Hinudism and the Indian subcontinent than I ever knew before and I must say, never have I been so disgusted with it all. I knew Hinduism was a false religion, but it was not until I really studied it and learned what it was all about (ie, that I "understood" it) that I really saw what a despicable, horrid, hopeless and terrible religion it is.

Maybe the interreligious dialogue crowd is right: maybe we do need to study other religions more. Sometimes, to see the warts on somebody, you have to look at them really close.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Resurrection Appearances


It is Easter Season, and unfortunately along with the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord, we have to contend with a multitude of secular reports on the historicity of the Resurrection. You can be sure that anytime a secular institution does a report on the "historicity" of any mystery of the faith, we know what the verdict will be. On NPR, I heard a Jewish professor of New Testament history at Oxford repeating the tired old explanation that the Resurrection could be explained as a mass hallucination (and this explanation fails for so many reasons). He cited as his evidence for the falsity of a historical Resurrection the supposed "contradictions" in the Resurrection narratives presented in the four Gospels.

Are there contradictions in the Gospel accounts? Let's look at each of the Resurrection stories, summarized below:

Matthew (28:1-10)

Mary and the women come to the tomb. As they are on their way, there is an earthquake, the stone is rolled back and an angel sits upon it (the guards apparently pass out). He sends them away to tell the disciples that Christ is risen. On the way back, they encounter the risen Christ, clasp His feet and worship Him. He reiterates the angels command and tells them to go back to tell the disciples.

Mark (16:1-11)

Mary and the women come to the tomb. When they get there, the stone is already rolled away. They find an angel sitting inside the tomb on the right side who sends them away to tell the disciples of the Resurrection. They go. No encounter with Christ is recorded.

Luke (24:1-12)

Mary and the women come to the tomb. They find the stone already rolled away. While they are examing the scene, two angels in dazzling apparel appear. They tell them to leave and go tell the disciples. They do, and Peter runs back to the tomb to verify the story.

John (20:1-18)

Mary Magdalen, apparently alone, goes to the tomb, sees the stone turned away and the tomb empty and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and John run to the tomb together and both look into the tomb. Mary lingers outside, sees two angels, then sees Jesus, whom she at first does not recognize. Jesus and is warned by Him not to touch her. He sends her back to tell the disciples that He is truly risen.

Now, it is true that none of these accounts, taken at face value, seem to line up with each other. In two accounts we have one angel mentioned, and in two accounts two angels. In Matthew the angel sits on the rock while in Mark he is in the tomb. In Luke the two angels are simply standing before the women. In Matthew, it says explicitly that the women clutched Jesus' feet and worshiped Him; in John, Jesus commands Mary not to touch Him. In Matthew, the stone is miraculously rolled away by an angel, accompanied by an earthquake. In all of the other Gospels, the stone is presented as already having been rolled away when the women arrive. Are these true contradictions, as many claim?

The answer, of course, is no. But before we can resolve this issue, we need to understand a certain Scriptural principle that I call the Principle of Non-Exclusion. This means that when the Scriptures mention a certain event as occuring, other possible events not mentioned in the text are not not thereby excluded, unless they directly contradict what is written. For example, the Gospel of John seems to say that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone: "Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark." Nothing is mentioned of anybody else. However, the fact that only Mary is mentioned does not exclude the possibility that others were with her, and we know from the other Gospels that she was in fact not alone: Luke mentions "Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women" as being there, as well (Lk. 24:10). So, the fact that Mary alone is mentioned by John does not conflict with the account of Luke for one simple reason: though Mary alone is mentioned by John, John nowhere asserts that Mary only was at the tomb. This is the flip-side of the Principle of Non-Exclusion: while nothing is excluded that would not contradict what is recorded, anything that would contradict it must be excluded.

How does this apply to the Resurrection narratives? Well, we have to look not at what the accounts don't say but what they do say. Then, we fill in the gaps. Let's start with the issue of the stone.

Matthew says that the stone was rolled away miraculously by means of an earthquake and an accompanying angel. Therefore, since the Scriptures specifically assert and earthquake, we must believe that the movement of the stone was due to an earthquake. Do the other accounts contradict this? Not at all: none of the other three Gospels mention how the stone was moved, they only say that the women found it turned away when they got there. This leaves us free to make the obvious connection that the stone was rolled away by means of the earthquake mentioned in Matthew; in fact, to claim otherwise would be to accuse Sacred Scripture of being untrustworthy.

The time the stone was rolled away is also in question. Matthew seems to say that the stone was rolled away before the eyes of the women:

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it (Matt. 28:1-2).

However, if we examine the text minutely, we will see that it does not imply that these two events (the women coming to the tomb and the earthquake) were simultaneous. We only assume it to be so because of the order in which Scripture relates these events. But sentence order does not necessarily imply anything chronologically; look at a similar passage a chapter earlier from the death of Jesus:

And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. And the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" (Matt. 27:51-54)

Now, the sentence order of this section seems to insinuate that all of these events happened right after Jesus' death, especially since Matthew uses the word 'Behold' to draw our attention. But if you look at the section about the tombs of the saints opening, the Gospel says that they came out of their tombs "after His resurrection"; ie, three days later at least. But Matthew puts this event in the same section as the centurion's act of faith and the splitting of the temple curtain, both of which occurred at the time Christ died.

Now, applying this to the stone, we see that it is not necessary to maintain that the stone was rolled away by an earthquake in the presence of the women. Mark, Luke and John all say that they found the stone rolled away when they got there. Probably we ought to interpret Matthew as saying that while the women were setting out, or while they were on the way there, the earthquake happened, leaving the stone rolled away for them to find. Using our principle, we see that Mark, Luke and John all specifically mention that the stone was moved when the women got there, and so this we must believe. Matthew is ambiguous on the time, and so we interpret the gap in Matthew using the information provided by the other three Gospels.

What about the angels? Matthew has one, Mark one, Luke two, and John none. In Matthew, the angel sits upon the rolled back stone. In Mark, the angel is sitting in the tomb. In Luke, there are two angels, both of them simply "appearing" before the women and standing there. Well, if Luke mentions two, then there must have been two. The fact that Matthew or Mark mention one angel does not exclude the possibility of a second one not mentioned by them, as John's exclusion of any angel's does not not mean they were not there, only that he chose not to include them.

If we take Luke's statement that there were two angels, then the fact that the angel in Matthew sits on the stone while Mark's angel is in the tomb need not trouble us, for we simply agree with Luke that there were two angels, each in a different location. But what of the fact that Luke says that the angels "stood" by them, while Matthew and Mark both have their angels sitting? Well, "stood" is a pretty all-encompassing verb. For example, if I say that me and my friends were "standing" around outside my apartment, it could mean that two of us were standing, one was sitting on the front steps, one was reclining on the grass, and one was leaning up against a tree. Still, the phrase "standing around" would be appropriate for this scenario. So, the fact that Luke uses the word "stood" need not force us to accept that the angels were literally standing up.

Or, if they were, it does not compel us to believe they stood the whole time. Whose to say that the angel in Mark's Gospel, who was sitting in the tomb, could not have gotten up and stood when he saw the women walk in? We cannot derive too much from what the Gospel says about the posture of the angels. In the past five minutes, as I have been typing this, I have sat, reclined in my chair, got up, paced around, went to the bathroom, ran upstairs, etc. But if you were to ask me what I've been doing for the past ten minutes, I'd say, "Sitting around."

Another problematic issue is Mary's encounter with Jesus. Matthew records it, as does John, but the sequence is different and the events surrounding it are different. First, in Matthew, the women are specifically said to have clung to Jesus' feet. In John, Jesus tells Mary, "Do not hold Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). How can she hold Him in Matthew and be told not to hold Him in John?

Well, Matthew directly says that they did hold Jesus, so we must accept that He was touched by the women. But what does John say? Although most commentators tend to interpret John in the sense that Mary tried to touch Him but Jesus pulled away from her before she was able, the text does not actually say whether Jesus was touched or not. Actually, Jesus' words seem to imply that she did indeed touch Him. He does not say, "Do not touch Me," but, "Do not hold Me," the use of this verb "hold" seeming to imply that she had in fact been holding Him before He gave her this command (Vul: Iam noli me tenere). Therefore, Matthew and John are reconcilable. Matthew records that Jesus' feet were clasped, John records that Jesus told them to let go of Him.

Matthew's Gospel records that Mary Magdelene and the women ran into Jesus after fleeing the tomb and the encounter with the angel ( v.28:10). There He repeats the message of the angel and tells them to go tell the disicples about His resurrection.

John presents a more dfficult sequence (20:11-18). Mary comes to the tomb and sees it empty (no angels are mentioned), she runs back and tells the disciples and Peter and John race to the tomb to investigate. Mary encounters Jesus, does not know who He is, recognizes Him, and is commanded to go back and tell the disciples that He is risen.

Peter and John's race to the tomb is not problematic; this is mentioned in Luke as well. What is problematic is Mary's meeting with Jesus. In Matthew, the only other Gospel to mention this meeting, she meets Jesus after leaving the tomb the first time. He there commands her to go tell the disciples that He is risen. In John's Gospel, she apparently accompanies Peter and John back to the tomb to show them and has her encounter with Christ after they leave, which would make this her second time seeing the Risen Lord. He gives her the same command, go tell the disciples that He is risen, and she again does so. What are we to make of this?

There are only two possibilities:

1) Mary went to the tomb twice (once with the women, once with Peter and John), saw the Risen Lord twice, received the same instructions twice and carried them out twice.

2) Mary only saw Jesus once: the meeting of Jesus and Mary in Matthew is the same meeting as described in John.

I think position two is much more likely. If we look at John's Gospel, though Mary's encounter with Jesus is mentioned after Peter and John go to the tomb, it doe snot specifically say that this is when it occurred. It could have happened on her first vists and was mentioned in this place only because John wanted to emphasize Peter's visit to the tomb instead of Mary's visit from Jesus. This appears afterward, as a footnote to the episode with Peter and John.

If we postulate two appearances to Mary, we are stuck trying to explain the awkward position of Jesus commanding Mary to go tell the disicples about His resurrection, Mary doing so and bringing two of them back to the tomb, and then being again commissioned by Jesus to do the same thing she had already done and her going to tell the disciples again that Jesus rose even though they had already visited the tomb and seen it. It seems easier to simply say that John's narrative of Mary's visit with Jesus in non-sequential while Matthew's is.

Okay, so if we put them all together, what really happened Easter morning?

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary and some other unnamed women arose early to go to the tomb. While they were on their way (but before they arrived), there was an earthquake and the stone was rolled away by an angel. The guards were striken "like dead men." The women probably heard the earthquake or felt it from a distance.

When the women arrived, they found the guards passed out and the stone rolled away. Curious, they went inside the tomb to investigate and found the body gone. At this point, two angels appeared, one on the stone, another in the tomb. They told these women that Jesus was not dead, but had risen, and that they ought to go and tell the disicples. The women fled in fear.

On the way out, they ran into Jesus and did not recognize Him (Mary thought He was the gardener). When He said Mary's name, they recognized Him and clasped His feet in worship. However, He commanded them to cease holding Him, but commanded them to go, as the angel had said, to tell the disciples the good news about the Resurrection.

The women went back, and Mary told the disciples. Most of them did not believe, but Peter and John raced to the tomb. John got there first, but he waited for Peter. They went into the tomb, saw the linen cloths, and went away marveling.

There. This account is consistent with all of the Gospels. The people who say the Gospel accounts contradict each other are people who want the Gospels to contradict each other and who have not given any time to thinking this thing out. They arrogantly assume that in 2,000 years Christians have never noticed that the Resurrection accounts are divergent. But remember the story of the three blind men trying to describe an elephant: each person has their own point of view and will describe things differently, and any police officer will tell you that four stories that line up exactly always looks suspicious.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Oberammergau

A scene from the Passion Play of Oberammergau

"O God, Who, by the Passion of Thy Christ, our Lord, hast loosened the bonds of death, that heritage of the first sin to which all men of later times did succeed: make us so conformed to Him that, as we must needs have borne the likeness of earthly nature, so we may by sanctification bear the likeness of heavenly grace. Through the same Christ our Lord, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen."

Today is the most solemn day of the Church's calendar, the day upon which Our Lord Jesus Christ, after hours of agony, was crucified and expired upon the cross for the sins of man. For centuries, this paramount event in salvation history was acted out upon innumerable stages thoughout Europe in a cultural institution known as the Passion Play. Passion play's were once found in every hamlet and village throughout Christendom and were considered as integral to the season of Easter as the Nativity scene is to Advent.

With the Reformation, the Passion Plays were phased out in many Protestant lands, while in Catholic lands they gradually fell away as the populace turned to rationalism in the 1700's. Many nations actually banned Passion Plays under their atheist-socialist governments of the 19th century. Often times, the Church itself stepped in to phase out these plays, as they had by the 15th century grown very secular in character and sometimes contained obscene or bawdy content. Today, there is only one Passion Play that survives in complete continuity from centuries ago: the famous Passion Play of Oberammergau, Germany.

Oberammergau (a town of Bavaria, the German province which did not follow Luther into heresy) is home to the most well known Passion Play in the world. In the middle of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), during which it is estimated that a third of Germany's population perished, the town of Oberammergau found itself ravaged by a periodic recurrence of the bubonic plague. Therefore, they made a solemn vow to God that, if they were spared the plague, they would perform a Passion Play every ten years until the end of the world. This was in 1633, and the first play was performed in 1634, on a stage set up over the graves of those who had been killed by the plague. The plague did indeed recede, and the vow has been kept ever since, with the play being performed once every ten years, with only a few exceptions.

Once, in 1770, the play was banned by the Elector Maximilian Joseph. The play was restore din 1780 under a different title and with some of the content rearranged. During the chaos of World War II, the play lapsed as well.

The next scheduled performance of the play is in 2010. In 2000, the play drew 530,000 spectators. It runs for seven hours with a meal half-way through and is one of the most elaborate Passion Plays in the world. Prices (including lodging and food) are $1,200 per person. Thikning of going? Don't bother: I believe it is already sold out, although last minute tickets at exorbitant prices from scapers are always available.

See you all after Easter!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Traditional Palm Sunday


Well, this past Sunday I had the privilege of attending my first Palm Sunday Mass celebrated according to the Extraordinary Form. I also took with me several aqcuaintances who had never before been to a Tridentine Mass. I was very happy to have them along, but upon retrospect I think that perhaps the traditional Palm Sunday liturgy is not the best place to bring somebody who has never been to the old Mass and who may already have a knee-jerk reaction that it is dull or boring. This is mainly due to the length of the liturgy; I think we walked in at 9:30 and didn't walk out until 12:00. Nevertheless, they all said they enjoyed it, and so it was a good time for all.

The most beautiful part for me was the distribution of the blessed palms and the procession, which are two aspects of Palm Sunday that are often lacking in reverence in Novus Ordo parishes. The priests blessed the palms and then everybody came up to the communion rails and received their palm kneeling straight from the hand of the priest, furthermore kissing it before taking it into their hands. As I knelt and kissed the palm and smelled the incense, I reflected on the majesty of the Lord's sacrifice. If we kneel at the communion rails and kiss even the palms with which we celebrate His entry into Jerusalem, how awesome must be our veneration towards the Lord Himself, especially when He gives Himself in the Sacrifice of the Mass? The Church has many other forms of veneration in Holy Week, notably the kissing of the cross on Good Friday. These rituals to me suggest that the true gravity and awesomeness of the Lord's death is so beyond the capability of man to adequately grasp that we feebly attempt to give Him due honor by venerating the implements of the Passion and of Holy Week, like the palms and the cross, because we know that the honor we give Him directly falls far short of what He deserves. But, if we do these things to a wooden cross and some palms, what ought we to do before God Himself in the Sacrament?

Then the procession: the chant was heavenly, and for a moment in my mind it took on almost a Middle Eastern quality and seemed to be something similar to what would have been chanted during Paschal time in ancient Palestine. This might not be too far off: some scholars have suggested that Gregorian Chant developed from earlier forms of chant used by Jewish-Christian communities that were themselves taken from chants used at the Jerusalem Temple. I don't know if there is any merit to this theory or not, but as I processed around the Church with my palm listening to this gorgeous chant, it was not too far of a stretch for me to place myself there at Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.I don't know how long this procession wen ton, but I could have done it all day I think because the ritual action, coupled by the heavenly chant and the collective reverence and piety of the people made it a joy.

Everything was so orderly and reverent. I have already explained how we went up to receive our palms with a pious kiss at the rails from the hands of a priest (and only after they had been incensed, prayed over and blessed several times). Now, the Novus Ordo parish I used to go to handed out the palms on Palm Sunday in the following manner: everybody would show up about fifteen minutes before Mass and go into the fellowship hall (the same place where we have coffee and donuts after Mass). There, the palms would be sitting on a table. We'd all just grab one and stand around waiting for the procession to start.

At the Traditional Mass, we filed out of our pews into a long line two wide and processed solemnly around the Church (which was rather large) two times. We walked solemnly and listened to the chanting emanating from the choir loft. In my old parish, to contrast, we waited for the priest to walk in, he grabbed his palm, and then we simply walked from the fellowship hall into the Church in a big, incoherent group (a distance of about thirty feet). It was very anticlimactic.

I think there is nothing more moving and worshipful than a reverently done procession, whether it is for Palm Sunday, Corpus Christi or whatever. Like fasting, it is one of those things that traditionally has been known to "move God" to act. Look at the procession around Jericho that brought forth God's miraculous destruction of the city walls. Josephus mentions that the Temple priests processed forth from Jerusalem when petitioning God to spare their city from Alexander, which indeed happened. There is a long and beautiful tradition in Russia and all of the Eastern Orthodox Churches of processing with icons around the city before a battle or especially when the city was under attack. If I remember correctly, Charlemagne and the Pope had a procession in Rome praying for God to avert a plague on the French troops in Lombardy, afterwhich the plague miraculoulsy lifted and struck the Lombards instead!

A procession is meant to move God's hand by mass acts of piety and devotion. If we did them more often and with greater solemnity, especially with the Holy Eucharist, I think amazing things would happen to the Church. But, to too many, processions are just another medieval encrustation that is superstitious and expendable in the modern progressive Church.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Irish Independence


As most of us are aware, the early glories of Ireland and the Irish people are often overshadowed on the later end of their history by the tragic subjugation of their island by the Protestant English and by the barbarous treatment of the Catholic subjects of North Ireland (Ulster) in a manner reminiscent of the Jewish ghettos of Poland during the Nazi occupation. Most of the world watched in stunned confusion as one of the most "civilized" and wealthy nations of the West continued to wage a religious war on the Irish of Ulster for much of the 20th century. As I mentioned last time, it was as if the passions and bloodlust of the Reformation-era were still raging with their full vigor in the island that had once converted much of Europe.

Ireland had been subjugated by her stronger neighbor many times. Henry II had invaded, as had Edward I. It was conquered by the Norman warlord Strongbow took it in the 1170's and set up his government at the Rock of Cashel, but it was not until the time of Cromwell that the whole of the island fell irretreivably into the hands of the English. Irish lords were driven out and replaced by English (a process called "the Ascendancy") and for two centuries the British practiced the barbaric policy of planned starvation of the Irish yeomanry to get the off of their land, making Ireland a depopulated and economically depressed place. This is in part what caused the mass Irish migrations to the new world in the late 18th and middle 19th centuries. In fact, until the 1990's, Ireland averaged about 20,000 emigrations a year, quite a large amount considering the small populace of the island. As the native Irish fled, emigrated or were starved, Protestant Scots and English were brought in to settle and cultivate the land, especially in the north, which had a closer geographic and cultural tie to Scotland and England. Ireland was formally, legally incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801.

Following the ascendancy of political liberalism in Britain from the 1880's on, many in England favored Home Rule for the Irish (this was actually the third such bill that had come to Parliament). Parliament considered a Home Rule bill in 1914, but put it off when World War I broke out. Not content to wait, the Irish revolted in the 1916 Easter Rising. Militant Irish Republicans seized a few key areas of Dublin and other strategic points and proclaimed an Irish Republic independent of Britain. The British troops moved in and put the revolt down in six days, but Republicanism became a major force in Ireland. Pro-independence Republicans won 73 seats to the British Parliament. The Home Rule act was in fact adopted, but it excluded certain unnamed portions of Ulster (now Northern Ireland). The Ulster Protestants (Unionists) violently opposed Home Rule, as it meant they would be minorities in a nation of Catholics.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein (meaning "We alone"), established in 1905, convened the first Irish parliament (Dail Eireann) and proclaimed an Irish Republic in 1919. The British government, of course, did not accept the legitimacy of the new government and from 1919 to 1921, brigades of Irish volunteers were constituted the army of the Republic by Sinn Fein and waged a guerilla war against the British Army; this group went on to become the IRA. Both sides resorted to terror, the British (called Black and Tans) burning villages and torturing those suspected of sympathizing with the IRA, while the IRA torched homes of those connected with Unionism. During these years, 34% or Ireland's Protestant population fled Eire.

As a temporary solution, the British Government established the state of North Ireland in 1920. This was to be part of a "two-state solution." Both North and South would remain part of the UK, but the North would take in all the Protestants while the South would be for the Catholics and have some degree of Home Rule. However, the institutions of "Southern Ireland" were boycotted by the nationalists and the south became a de facto independent nation. In 1921, the two sides agreed to the Anglo-Irish treaty, which contained the following provisions:

1) All of Ireland would be given a semi-free status called "Dominion Status," comparable to that enjoyed by Canada. The island would be called the "Irish Free State."

2) North Ireland could opt out of the Free State if it so chose and remain united to the UK.

Given the Unionist hatred for the Catholic Irish, they chose to retain their allegiance to the UK. The Irish Dail approved the treaty in 1922 and went about creating the Free State, but some dissented. A vocal minority led by Eamon de Valera asserted that the treay was unacceptable for several reasons. First, it partitioned the island. Second, the state was still not fully independent, and third, the government was still to be required to swear allegiance to the British monarch.
De Valera and his supporters (including most of the IRA) left the Dail and a bloody civil war ensued until 1923, in which more Irish were killed than had been in the Anglo-Irish conflict.

Eventually, the supporters of the Free State won out, and Ireland existed as a semi-autonomous constitutional monarchy, ruled titularly by the British Monarch, who was referred to as the "King of Ireland." A commission was set up to formalize the borders between the Free State and the North and was supposed to allow for Nationalists to remain in the Free State while Unionists and Protestants wound up in Ulster. However, the borders were drawn up according to economic factors instead, with the end result being that much land of the Catholic south was ceded to the North, creating a Catholic minority within Ulster.

Eamon de Valera, the former anti-treatyite, campaigned against this and won Ireland's 1932 election to become president. He gradually altered the composition of the Free State and in 1937 gave Ireland a new constitution, renaming the nation simply "Ireland" and abolishing much of the political machinery set up by the British to keep the island's ties with the homeland. The British monarch was still titular head of Ireland, however.

During World War II, to Irish maintained a cool neutrality, not wanting to expend their blood to aid the English, whom they feared would come out too powerful after the war and use their force to resubjugate Ireland. Though the island was officially neutral, it provided tacit support to the Allies. But just so the British did not get too comfortable, it also gave subtle support to the Axis (following the suicide of Adolf Hitler, de Valera, following diplomatic protocol, controversially offered condolences to the German ambassador).

Finally, On 1 April 1949, the Republic of Ireland Act was enacted. The new state was unambiguously described as a republic, with the international and diplomatic functions previously vested in or exercised by the King now vested in the President of Ireland who finally became unambiguously the Irish head of state. Though the official name of the state remained Ireland, the term Republic of Ireland though officially just the 'description' of the new state, came to be commonly used as its name. Under the Commonwealth rules then in force, the declaration of a republic automatically terminated the state's membership of the British Commonwealth. Unlike India, which became a republic at the same time, the Republic of Ireland chose not to reapply for admittance to the Commonwealth. This came about not so much from the UK's desire to free Ireland as much as from succumbing to the anti-colonial atmosphere that was leading nations all over the world to grant independence to their colonies. Ireland was free at last.

But not so in the North. The North, six counties representing over a million people and almost a third of the nation's populace, remained under Great Britain and subject to pre-1920 laws and institutions. The same 1949 Ireland Act that freed the South also stated that the North would remain united to England. De Valera, always opposed to a divided nation, wanted to reunite with the North, as did many in the South. In 1973, a plebscite was held in which the populace of the North (mainly Unionists, but with a substantial Catholic minority) voted whether or not to join the Irish Republic and 98% voted in favor of the status quo (though it should be noted that many Catholic Nationalists boycotted the election).

Meanwhile, trouble had been brewing in the North, beginning around 1968 when the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association began marching and protesting for more civil rights for Catholics and Nationalists. Hitherto, Catholics had been gerrymandered into a few electoral wards to curb their voting power, and Nationalists as well as Catholics were subject to the "Special Powers Act," by which martial law could be enacted if the peace was threatened. Though the North was plagued by both Unionist and Nationalist agitators, the law was almost uniformally invoked against the Catholics.

O'Neill, Prime Minister of the North, promised reform, but a hardline of Catholic-hating Unionists led by Ian Paisley formed up behind O'Niell and accused him of selling out to the papists. Paisley was supported by thousands of Unionists who resented the idea of Catholic equality in a Protestant state. The first violence erupted in 1969 when a Unionist group staged a bombing an unsuccessfully attempted to frame the IRA for it. Vicious sectarian riots broke out all over the North, and in Belfast, over 1500 Catholic families were turned out of their homes and seven were killed by Protestant mobs. The IRA was criticized for failing to protect the persecuted Catholics during these assaults.

Northern Ireland petitioned the UK to send in troops to restore order in the North, and Britain complied with this request. The Army restored order, but used such heavy-handed tactics that they quickly made more enemies and created more tension, especially since they were widely known to be in sympathy with the Unionists. In response, the IRA reformed itself in 1969 and began a counter-offensive in the North against the British Army and the Northern Police. Violence was at its peak from 1970-1972, and in 1972 alone 500 people were killed. In 1971, internment without trial was instituted, and of 350 people arrested under the new code, not a single one was Protestant. Between 1971 and 1975, 1,981 people were detained; 1,874 were Catholic/republican, while 107 were Protestant/loyalist. There were widespread allegations from the nationalist community of abuse and even torture of detainees. In 1972, the British Army in Derry shot and killed 14 unarmed demonstrators in an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday. Many of those killed were found to be shot in the back while running away.

The IRA retailiated with a series of bombings in Belfast, which provoked the creation of the Ulster Defense Association, a newly formed group which went around assasinating Catholics, all of whom were lumped together as Nationalists. These murders produced much outrage, especially those of the Shankhill Bucthers, who tortured their victims before killing them. Neighborhoods became segregated, with Protestants fleeing Catholic areas and vice versa. The Catholics who could not felle from Protestant areas were penned up in ghettos surrounded by walls and fences. To control the violence, London suspended the Ulster government and instituted Direct Rule from London in 1972.

After this, a coalition based on a conciliatory treaty called the Sunningdale Treaty emerged promoting cooperation between Unionists and Nationalists, but it quickly collapsed in 1974 following massive protests from radical Unionists who were against any collaboration with the Catholics. In 1976, the IRA resumed violence and prepared for what it called the "Long War," a sustained programm of guerilla war against the British that could be carried on indefinitely. Britain attempted to end the crisis in North Ireland, but upon being unable to restore order, it simply attempted to "normalize" the bizarre situation there with a series of reforms.

For example, internment without trial was abolished in 1976, but paramilitary Nationalists were still being tried without juries, ostensibly to protect juries from intimidation. In 1980 and 1981, the IRA prisoners went on a series of hunger strikes that won wide support for the Catholic cause, especially after ten strikers starved themselves to death in 1981.

The violence dragged on intermittently, leaving North Ireland desolate and depressed, until a 1994 cease fire was called. Part of the problem in the North was that members of local police and governmental agencies by day were members of paramilitary organizations by night, who continued to assasinate Catholic civilians. By this time, both the Protestant and Catholic civilian populations were weary of the violence and a peace was brokered in 1994, but in the year leading up to the agreement there were many more atrocities, including an increase in the number of Catholic civilians murdered. The IRA responded with more bombings, and then this was in turn followed by more random shootings of Catholic civilians. But finally, the IRA declared a cease-fire in August 1994, reciprocated by the radical Unionists a few weeks later.

However, the UK continued to drag its feet in the peace process, and the IRA started another bombing campaign in 1996, destroying the large downtown of Manchester in the largest bombing in Britain since World War II. The last soldier of the British killed by the IRA was killed in 1997, shortly before the IRA called their next cease-fire. As Sinn Fein was invited to talks (the so-called Mitchell Principles), many groups on both sides split as it became evident that an agreement was within reach.

The IRA began bombing again, this time discrediting themselves because of 29 civilians killed in their 1998 bombing in Omagh. In 1998, self-government was restored to the north on a coalition basis between four organizations, Sinn Fein being one of them. The Republican elements of the struggle have become much less violent, except for occasional internecine warfare against their own members and traitors. The Ulster organizations, like the UDA, have turned to organized crime as a way to maintain power and influence in their cities.

Violence almost broke out in 2002 over the exposure of an IRA spy ring in the government, but the agent in questions (Denis Donaldson) was the only casualty, murdered by the IRA. Though actual violence has ceased, animosity is still high, and the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods remain extremely segregated. Violence occaisonally breaks out when the group known as the Orange Order makes its annual march throughout North Ireland. The Order is a group dedicated to celebrating the victory of William of Orange in 1690 at the Battle of Boyne that caused Ireland to pass into the hands of the Protestant English (William also ousted the Catholic James II in the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1688).

Since 1969, 3,523 people have been killed in Northern Ireland, most in Belfast. Occasionally, violence still flares up; 3 people were killed in 2006. North Ireland remains subject to Protestant Great Britain with its Catholic population segregated and subject to much social persecution from the dominant Unionist majority.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Irish Missionaries

The following is taken from The Irish Moment by Terrence Sheehy, an excellent book with mnay beautiful pictures of Eire and an excellent commentary on the role of the Irish in Catholicism and European history:

The famous German monk Walafridus Strabo wrote: 'Going on pilgrimages to foreign parts has become, for Irish monks, second nature.' It is difficult to make a head count of Irish missionaries to the Continent, but during the earliest days of the 'wanderers'. it is estimated that about twenty-five Irish monks went to Scotland, fifty to England, nearly one-hundred to France, over one-hundred to Germany and twenty to Italy. Each monastic foundation in these countries sent out hundreds more missionaries, so that from the beginning of the fifth century to the end of the tenth their numbers could have been counted in the thousands.

The spiritual invaders of the Europe of the Dark Ages frequently travelled in groups of twelve like the first apostles, and were often led by a learned monk, abbot or bishop. A noisy bunch, they were also an astonishing sight. Dressed in a coarse, white woolen over-tunic and sometimes the semblance of a cowl, they had no possessions except knowledge - no gold, no silver. Some may have appeared to be rough and ready, not to say uncouth. Yet their deep-seated piety was unmistakeable. Such was their obvious delight in voyaging across dangerous and sometimes unchartered waters and tramping across unknown wastelands that many were said to have been born under a wandering star. Their passion for travel was insatiable, but their passion was a genuine vocation to higher things, to the leading of a more ascetic life. They were not all that far distant in time from the days of Christ and the primitive faith set out by St. Paul.


Iona Abbey in Scotland, founded by St. Columba (Columcille) in 563, and from which he converted the Picts and brought Scotland into the fold.

They travelled on foot. Unlike any other men in the religious life - who favored the small tonsure on the crown of the head - the Irish monks wore their hair in a fashion that was peculiar to the Druidic Celts. Continentals were astonished by, and in awe of, these men with their heads shaven right across from ear to ear, leaving unshorn, however, half the crown towards the front of the head. They wore their hair long at the back of the neck, their locks hanging down to their shoulders. Each wore simple, hand-made sandals and carried a crude, wooden staff, a leather gourd for water and a small wallet for food and writing materials. They spoke with passion and eloquence, at first through interpreters until they had mastered the language of the country in which they were preaching and teaching.

Their primary targets were the pagan tribes that had overrun Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire. Rome finally fell to the German Visigoths, led by Alaric, in 410. After them had come the Huns, led by Attila, together with Gothic infantry - in all a horde of a million or so barbarians without a written language or rule of law between them. And after them had come the Moslems who followed the teachings of Mahomet. Their progress west had only been halted by the Franks in 732 under Charles Martel, at Poitiers. Not all that many years later Charlemagne held back the barbaric hordes from the forests beyond the Rhine , and prevented the Saracens from taking Provence.

The 'counter-invasion' of Irish monks was to lead to the gradual cultivation of the intellectual wasteland that was Europe after the invasions of the Dark Ages. Universities and other centers of learning in Europe established by these men were based on the monasteries at Armagh, Bangor, Clonamacnoise and Durrow from which they came. The 'wanderers' swept through Wales, Scotland and England and on to France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, reaching as far as the Danube and even the Volga. Their was no stopping their progress - they travelled as far as Greenland and Iceland in the north and as far to the east as Jerusalem and even Kiev.

In France their main base was established at Luxeuil. Charlemagne, who had witnessed them setting up their stalls in the markets and shouting 'No visible goods, knowledge for sale!', invited them to reform religion and education throughout his empire. Irish monasteries sprang from the famous monastery of Saint Gall in Switzerland. St. Kilian evangelized France and Thuringia. Irish monks founded monasteries at Strasbourg and Friesing, Virgil became the Bishop of Slazburg, St. Colman became the martyr-apostle of southern Austria [martyred and buried at Melk Abbey, where I have personally visited, though at the time I had no idea who the heck St. Colman was] and St. Frindolin became the very first apostle of Alsace. Marianus Scotus founded the monastery at Ratisbon, from which twelve other monasteries were born . All were Irishmen.

The Irish tide soon swept over the Alps. In the middle of the sixth century, St. Ursus was at work in Val d'Aosta and St. Freidan was Bishop of Lucca. In the seventh century, mighty St. Columbanus founded the famous monastery at Bobbio. St. Cataladus of Lismore, County Waterford, was cast up by the sea on the coast of Taranto in a violent storm, ultimately to become the Bishop of Taranto. In the ninth century, St. Donatus was made Bishop of Fiesole.

The great monasteries brought about a cultural revolution in Europe, and the Continent was once again drawn into the production of classical and liturgical manuscripts and studies of all kinds in the spiritual life. During the Irish Golden Age, students at monastic universities sometimes numbered up to three thousand. From these misson stations they carried Christianity to every corner of pagan Europe, being in the full flower of missionary activity until the year 1000 or so. To them is owed the rebirth of Christianity in Western Europe. It is held by some that one of the secretaries of the great St. Thomas Aquinas was an Irish monk from Cork. It is certain that a man known as Peter the Irishman was an early professor of St. Thomas at Naples. He taught the 'Dumb Ox of Sicily, whose lowing would soon be heard all over the world', to read Aristotle in the original Greek, setting the Angelic Doctor on his special path to becoming one of the greatest doctors in the history of the Church, renowned for his Summa Theologica.

The wandering monks were a disturbing lot sometimes. Many were abbots or bishops and local episcopal authority did not always welcome their using their episcopal powers in the course of their wanderings. Then also, the Irish monks celebrated Easter at a different time from everyone else. They followed the old Paschal cycle, the same one St. Patrick followed when he lit the first Pachal fire in Ireland on the Hill of Slane in County Meath, causing the High King of Tara to send for him for breaking the sacred annual black-out of the pagan Druids. And the strange tonsure of the Irish monks was ever a problem. For sure, the world did not always always appreciate the work of these men at the time, but with hindsight, European civilization has learned to understand their major contribution to restoring Christianity to the Continent of the Dark Ages.

The Irish monks turned the spiritual world upside down for, unlike the monks of other nations who lived and died in their monasteries, Irish monks figuratively took their monasteries with them on their spiritual wanderings. The record of the Celts in receiving the message of Christ from St. Patrick was also unique, inasmuch as the pagan Irish never martyred a missionary sent among them. As natural orators who loved truth, Irish missionaries were unusually good preachers and teachers, fortunate too in preaching the Gospel from th soundly united Christian base. Unlike their kind today, they were not obliged to suffer either a divided Christendom in Europe, or the horror of a native land where men and women destroy each other in the name of religious bigotry based on hate.

The last sentence, of course, is a reference to the tragic state of North Ireland today, where for decades Catholics have been savagely repressed by the Protestant English people of Ulster. I will have something in a few days about the modern crisis in Ireland between the Unionists, IRA, Sinn Fein, the Republicans, Orange Order, the Ascendancy and all of these other bizarre groups who are fighting in Ulster, perhaps the only place on earth where the passions and violence of the Reformation area are still a reality for thousands.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Conversion of Ireland

The Hill of Slemish in Ireland, where St. Patrick spent three years as a slave and according to his memoirs "prayed one hundred times each day and one hundred times each night."


Everybody who is reading this blog is most likely sufficiently knowledgeable of the life and history of St. Patrick for me to avoid a detailed retelling: of his birth from moderately well-to do Christian parents in Roman Britain, his kidnapping by pirates at a young age and slavery as a shepherd on Mt Slemish in Ireland, his miraculous escape, ordination to the priesthood, his dream bidding him return to Eire, his famous fire at the Hill of Tara and his stand against the Celtic druids, and the eventual conversion of the entire kingdom to the faith of Christ. It is a wonderful story and one of the most glorious chapters in the Catholic Church's history.

Ireland was not the first country to convert whole-scale to Catholicism (Armenia was, around the year 300), nor was it even the first country outside of the Roman Empire to convert (that distinction goes to Ethiopia, converted by St. Frumentius around 330). However, Ireland was the first country be be converted whose subsequent history tremendously impacted the life and development of the Church. Armenia was quickly lost to the Monophysite and Nestorian heresies, only to be swallowed up by the Sassanid Persians two generations after its conversion. Ethiopia, converted by St. Frumentius by means of his friendship with King Ezana, quickly became inward looking and cut-off from the wider life of the Church (to this day, Ethiopian Christianity is one of the bizarrest forms of the Faith found anywhere on earth). Yet Ireland did not look inward, but outward. Chesterton, after visiting Ireland, once remarked that though Ireland was but a tiny island, it seemed to reach out and spread its arms about the whole world, as he recalled that there had once issued forth from this isle innumerable hordes of saints and sages bringing the light of Christ to Europe in a dark time. Irish Christianity, from the beginning, was evangelistic and fruitful.

I propose that the conversion of Ireland (and the closely linked conversion of Scotland by the Irish) are textbook exemplars of how evangelism ought to be carried out. If we take the example of Patrick lighting the Paschal fire on the Hill of Tara, we see that Christianity was introduced as something over and against the prevailing religious systems. On one hill, the light of the druidic priests was lit, but the Paschal fire on another, to symbolize the light of Christ coming into the land darkened by druidic error. They were not the same light, but two opposing lights on two opposing hills. Whether or not the stories of Patrick's often miraculous conflicts with the druids are historical, in them we see a man who viewed his God as being against the gods of the heathen, who were evil spirits. Patrick would never have confused people by trying to show how Lugh and Jesus were actually the same god; he confronted paganism when he saw it.

The confrontations were always in the spirit of charity; Patrick won over every king and ruler he met by his gentle demeanor and honest character. But he harbored no doubt that the gods he contended with were false, and his contests with the druids demonstrate this. For example, when the druids caused it to snow, and then Patrick, in the name of God, made the snow go away, we see the understanding that the gods of the heathen were either (a) nonexistent, or (b) malevolent spirits hostile to the true God. Like St. Benedict with the famous altar of Apollo, Patrick once destroyed a large boulder that was being worshipped. His God was the Lord of Hosts, Who loved the Irish people but detested the abominations into which they had plunged themselves. However much Patrick loved the Irish, he never thought twice about destroying their idols.

Furthermore, Patrick understood the best means to win over people. As he went about baptizing and ordaining bishops, he did not leave behind ecclesiastical institutions but founded monasteries. Patrick and the Irish conversion demonstrates the long held conventional wisdom of the Church that those committed to the religious life are the best persons fit to bring the Gospel to the new lands. By their vows, their simplicity of life and their humble servitude, they bear witness to the truth of Christ's Gospel and lead others to follow Him. All of the early Irish saints are monks, all of them famous for setting up monasteries (like St. Columba on Iona) and all of them viewed monasticism as the best way to Christian perfection.

What do I imply here? Well, contrast what Patrick did with what would have been done today. Ireland would have been sent as missionaries several organizations of lay persons who were married. Instead of setting up contests challenging the power of Lugh, Goibniu and the other Celtic deities, these lay persons would organize up dialoguing sessions to explain to the druids how they have really been worshipping Jesus all along every time they pray to Lugh and that there are many elements of truth to be found in druidism. The missionaries would start adopting druid customs and making token appearances at the Samhain festivals, where they would be invited to pray to the Lord of the Dead along with the druids. When other missionaries came over trying to actually convert and baptize these druidic pagans, committees would be established made up of missionaries and druid priests issuing joint declarations against proselytizing.

Then somebody would come up with a high-blown dogmatic statement as to why the druids don't really need to accept Jesus and renounce druidism. Altars to Lugh would be set up at Fatima and Lourdes to demonstrate solidarity with all persons of the earth with a religious impulse. Meanwhile, the Irish missionaries would live many long years this way in Ireland: nobody would convert, prospective candidates would be turned down and told to find god within druidism, the missionaries would end up becoming quasi-druids themselves, and the druids would remark to each other what pleasant people these Christians were.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

St. Ciaran & the Irish

A ruined Church in the region of Ossory, near the original hermitage of St. Ciaran (c.420)

Unfortunately, my favorite saint's feast day falls during Holy Week this year and will be largely ignored in many places in the United States. That's right, I am talking about St. Patrick. Though I took Francis if Assisi as my Confirmation name, now that I am a bit more educated, I think if I could do it again I would choose Patrick. During my last six years as a Catholic, I have done a great deal of reading about Patrick, the great Irish saints, the Church in Ireland and the history of Ireland in general and I have come to the conclusion that Ireland has played a more important role in the history and spirituality of the Church than any other country except Italy (and perhaps France). Furthermore, I think Irish spirituality and the great Irish saints are some of the best exemplars of what Catholicism can do for a culture and also what power the Catholic faith can have in the lives on individual men and women who are willing to take it seriously. And few have ever taken Catholicism more seriously than the Irish. Thus, for this entire last week of Lent, I am going to devote each post to something to do with Patrick, Ireland, Irish history or Irish saints. Please feel free to share whatever love you may have for the Island of Saints and Scholars as well.

Catholicism did not actually begin in Ireland with St. Patrick, though the inroads there before him were meager indeed. St. Palladius had been consecrated first bishop of Ireland by Pope Celestine I. But St. Ciaran was the first truly notable Catholic presence in Ireland. As there are over two-dozen St. Ciarans in Ireland, this one is known as Ciaran the Elder. His date of birth is uncertain, but it appears that he was a Christian of some relation to the royal house of Ulster. He travelled to France and studied the faith there, then went on to Rome where he was ordained priest and bishop. When he returned to Ireland, he set up a monastic cell at Ossory and had been living there in monastic solitude for some years when St. Patrick first arrived. When Patrick first came upon the holy man, he already had a small community of monks living about him.

St. Ciaran willingly helped St. Patrick and became the first Bishop of Ossory. Ciaran went on to help Patrick in his conversion of Eire and worked many miracles, even raising many to life. Ciaran is remembered as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, along with other such greats as St. Finian and St. Columba of Iona. The date of his death is unknown, but it is believed that he preceded Patrick in death.

The most famous legend associated with St. Ciaran is that of the bell of St. Patrick. It is said that while Ciaran was studying in Rome, he made the acquaintance of the young Patrick, who was also studying for the priesthood there. When they were about to part ways, Patrick gave Ciaran a bell which he told him would ring the next time the met each other. Ciaran carried the bell with him back to Ireland and kept it in his hermitage.

Years later, as Patrick passed by the region of Ossory, and while Ciaran was in his hut at his prayers, the bell began miraculously ringing at Patrick's approach. Ciaran went out to meet his old friend, and the two were joyously reunited in the work of Christ.

Something interesting to be pointed out about Ciaran: all accounts agree that he was already a Christian when he left to study and that he was brought up in a Christian family. It would have been around 390 when Ciaran left Ireland to study in France and Rome. This means that prior to 390, Christianity was well enough established in Ireland to have claimed converts among some of the most noble families (remember, Ciaran was related to the royal house of Ulster). This would push the date of the Christian incursion into Ireland way back from its traditional mid 5th century date to a mid-4th century date.

Also, by about 420 when Patrick arrived in Ossory, Ciaran was already living there as unofficial abbot of a group of monks according to some kind of primitive rule. Consider what this means: St. Benedict, founder of Western Monasticism, did not even depart into the region of Subiaco until 494, and the Rule was not written until around 530, over one hundred and ten years after St. Ciaran was already living a monastic life in the wilds of Irish Ossory!

As much as I love St. Benedict, his title as Founder of Western Monasticism is simply not true, at least chronologically (though it definitely is in the matter of his influence). From whence did St. Ciaran learn his monastic lifestyle? What type of rule bound these primitive Irish hermits? How we would love to know the answers to these questions.

Next time: conversion of Ireland & Scotland

Thursday, March 06, 2008

St. Alphonsus on Lukewarmess


By my bedside I have the Tan Books edition of the Sermons of St. Alphonsus Liguori. It is one of those handy little pieces of literature that give you the sermons of a particular saint for every Sunday of the year. I thought this sermon for the upcoming 5th Sunday of Lent was very profitable (it was called Passion Sunday in the pre-1970 calendar before they for some reason started calling Palm Sunday Passion Sunday). Here the famous saint speaks on the dangers of lukewarmness, venial sin and doing just the bare minimum:

What then are we to understand by a tepid soul? A tepid soul is one that frequently falls into fully deliberate venial sins,-such as deliberate lies, deliberate acts of impatience, deliberate imprecations and the like. These faults may be easily avoided by those who are resolved to suffer death, rather than commit a deliberate venial offense against God. St. Teresa used to say that one venial sin does us more harm than all the devils in Hell. Hence she would say to her nuns: "My children, from deliberate sin, however venial it may be, may the Lord deliver you." Some complain of being left in aridity and dryness and without any spiritual sweetness. But how can we expect that God will be liberal of His favours to us, when we are ungenerous to Him? We know that such a lie, such an imprecation, such an injury to our neighbor, and such detraction, though not mortal sins, are displeasing to God; and still we do not abstain from them. Why then should we expect that God will give us His divine consolations?

But some of you will say: Venial sins, however great they may be, do not deprive the soul of the graces of God: even though I commit them, I will be saved; and for me it is enough to obtain eternal life. You say, that, for you it is enough to be saved. Remember that St. Augustine says, that, where you have said, "it is enough," there you have perished. To understand correctly the meaning of these words of St. Augustine, and to see the danger to which the state of tepidity exposes those who commit habitual and deliberate venial sins, without feeling remorse for them, and without endeavoring to avoid them, it is necessary to know that the habit of light faults leads to soul insensibly to mortal sins. For example: the habit of venial acts of aversion leads to mortal hatred; the habit of small thefts leads to greivous rapine; the habit of venial attachments leads to affections which are mortally sinful. "The soul," says St. Gregory, "never lies where it falls" -Moral., lib. XXI. No; it continues to sink still deeper. Mortal diseases do not generally proceed from serious indisposition, but from many slight and continued infirmities. so, likewise, the fall of many souls into mortal sin follows from habitual venial sins; for, these render the soul so weak, that, when a strong temptation assails her, she has not strength to resist it, and she falls.

What an excellent quote from St. Augustine: "Where you have said, "It is enough," there you have perished." I have not often heard such a strong message against venial sins. For that matter, when is the last time you really heard a good homily against mortal sins?
St. Alphonsus, ora pro nobis!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Washington Times article on Catholic Tradition

On February 28th of this year, the Washington Times had this interesting article on something we have all known about for years: that Catholic tradition is fading the America and that the demographics for the Church are not good. This article is interesting because it contains some commentary about what happens to Catholics after they leave the Church. As it turns out, it looks like the exodus from the Church is what is keeping evangelical Protestantism alive. Many Protestant churches are made up of almost 80% ex-Catholics (or we ought to call them backslidden Catholics). Here is the article with my comments and emphases:

Catholic Tradition Fading in US
by Julia Dunn (28 Feb 2008)

Evangelical Christianity has become the largest religious tradition in this country, supplanting Roman Catholicism, which is slowly bleeding members, according to a survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Evangelical Protestants outnumber Catholics by 26.3 percent (59 million) to 24 percent (54 million) of the population, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, a massive 45-question poll conducted last summer of more than 35,000 American adults.

"There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in past few decades toward evangelical churches," said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. "They are now the mainline of American Protestantism."

The traditional mainline Protestant churches, which in 1957 constituted about 66 percent of the populace, now count just 18 percent as adherents [by traditional mainline, I think she means the denominational Protestant Churches like Presbyterian, Congregational, etc. Those that are "Reformation era." These are losing adherents even quicker than the Catholic Church because of their compromise with modernism and biblical criticism which goes back to the German theological school of Protestantism that flourished from around 1880-1930 adn changed the shape of Protestantism].

Although one in three Americans are raised Roman Catholic, only one in four adults describe themselves as such, despite the huge numbers of immigrants swelling American churches [this is because religious immigrants, who are often devout but ignorant, quickly lose their piety once they get accustomed to our secular consumerist culture] researchers said.

"Immigration is what is keeping them afloat," said John Green, a Pew senior fellow. "If everyone who was raised Catholic stayed Catholic, it'd be a third of the country" [What a sad statement! We could run this country if we (a) were faithful to our Tradition and (b) actively tried to evangelize others. I'd also point out that the immigrants who are "keeping us afloat" are hardly the caliber of Catholics we need. I'm planning a future article on the state of Catholicism in Latin America when I get more time, but the point is that oftentimes Catholicism in South America and Mexico is little more than paganism with a veneer of Catholicism, as we shall soon see. Of course, there are faithful and educated Catholics among them as well, but as is the case with America, I think they are the exception, not the norm].

Those who leave Catholicism mostly either drop out of church entirely or join Pentecostal or evangelical Protestant churches, Pew Forum director Luis Lugo said. One out of every 10 evangelicals is a former Catholic, he said, with Hispanic Catholics leaving at higher rates; 20 percent of them end up in evangelical or Pentecostal churches.

"It's a desire for a closer experience of God," he said. "It's not so much disenchantment with the teachings of the Catholic Church but the pull of what they see in Pentecostalism" [It is not disenchantment with the teachings of Catholicism because most of them have no idea what the teaching of Catholicism is, otherwise they wouldn't have left. It is not that Pentecostalism has somethign we do not, but that we are not giving them what we do have. Unfortunately, many who see this trend this errantly that the solution is therefore to adopt more "Pentecostal" practices into Catholicsm].

Switching denominations is not unique to Catholics. More than one-quarter of American adults have left their childhood faith for another religion or none [I would like to see if these statistics were the same for pre-Vatican II Catholics. I somehow doubt it]. Factor in changes of affiliation from one form of Protestantism to another, and the number of switchers rises to 44 percent.

The survey, which reveals the rapidly shifting religious leanings of some 225 million American adults, has a margin of error of less than one percentage point. It also revealed there are twice as many Jewish adults (3.8 million) as there are Muslim adults (1.3 million).

Black and Hispanic Americans were the two most religious ethnic groups, although not all of the historically black churches are monochromatic. More than 10 percent of the Church of God in Christ are white and 13 percent are Hispanic.

And the group with the highest losses? [Here's some good news, at least] Jehovah's Witnesses: Two-thirds of those raised in the faith depart it as an adult. At the other end, three out of every four U.S. Buddhists is a convert [Mostly yuppies I'm guessing].

The survey, the first of several parts to be released this year, comes with an array of graphs and maps posted on http://www.pewforums.org/ by which one can determine America's "religious geography": what percentage of each state's population is affiliated with various religious groups.

The country's religious mix changes so quickly that "if you rest on your laurels, you'll soon be out of business," Mr. Lugo said.

One of the fastest-growing groups is Americans unaffiliated with any religion, now at 16 percent, although just 4 percent of the population identified itself as agnostic or atheist. The West Coast shows the highest percentage of nonchurched people [Did we need a survey to tell us this?]. Even this group experiences huge shifts; more than half of those polled who were raised outside a religion ended up affiliating with one as an adult, and the unaffiliated also showing the highest rates of marriage to someone outside their group.

Hindus and Mormons showed the lowest rates of intermarriage. Hindus stood out for their unusually high education levels, with 48 percent having post-graduate degrees, the survey said.

The Episcopal Church may have the most gray hairs: more than six in 10 are older than age 50 compared to a national average of four in 10 Americans that age [This is because the Episcopal Church has absolutely nothing to offer people. It most clearly exemplifies a Church shorn of all its substance, conformed to the changing winds of the politically correct landscape and populated by devotees who are there because it is a half-way house between various other religious groups].

Well, we ought not to get too upset by surveys like this, despite the bleak news. Surveys only give us brief glimpses into cross-sections of society and are fond of using language like "If current trends continue," which really don't mean anything because nobody can predict if current trends continue. If Pew Research was around in the old days, they might have reported these statistics:

Future Grim for Catholic Church in Europe

In Ireland in 380 AD, 95% of the population identified itself as pagan with only 5% claiming to be Catholic.

In The Roman Empire c. 313 AD, only 10% of the population identified themselves as Catholics. Of that 10%, about 2% belonged to various heretical sects and schismatic groups.

Around 320 AD, 80% of bishops polled identified themselves as Arians.

If current trends continue, Catholicism in Europe is doomed.

Now, we see of course that things changes, and that demographics give way to shifts in culture and thinking. Of course, the Irish statistic did not take into account the arrival of St. Patrick soon after, nor did the second one take into account what would happen because of Constantine, nor the third one the zeal and piety of men like St. Athanasius and others. In the end, Catholicism triumphed in Europe, regardless of what demographics might have said. It happened once, it can happen again, but it depends on us. Will we make it happen?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Could Oprah be the Antichrist?

Please take what I am about to say with a grain of salt, because I am probably 60% joking with my comments here on the possibility that Oprah Winfrey is the Antichrist mentioned in the Bible. But then again, that means that I am 40% serious. As you scroll down on the sidebar, you will see a link that says "Antichrist Revealed," in which I speculated that Oprah Winfrey was the Antichrist and Dr. Phil was the False Prophet mentioned by Revelation. I here want to update that assertion a little, because Dr. Phil seems to be losing some of his steam and I don't think he is the False Prophet; but Oprah has gained in momentum, power and influence, and I think the possibility that she could be the Antichrist has gone up tremendously in my mind.

The Scriptures say that the Antichrist will be one who teaches false doctrine and will blaspheme the truth (Rev. 13:5-7). It's words are described as "haughty," something that fits Oprah well. Consider this story from June, 2007 in which Oprah and her entourage arrived at the luxury store Hermes in Paris after the store was closed and demanded entry. When a security guard explained to her that the store was already closed (something that was verified by security cameras), Oprah pulled the whole, "Don't you know who I am??" routine, but was still denied entry.

The following week, she blasted the store publicly on her show, using it as a forum to vent her personal outrage. The store began to get angry calls and emails from Oprah devotees the world over. The store tried to do some emergency PR, and Oprah ended up dragging the president of the corporation on the air to discuss the "incident." Did they reconcile? Not at all! Hermes CEO Robert Chavez was forced to listen to more of Oprah's angry tirade at the incident and apologized several times, saying he was sorry for one "rigid" employee "who wasn't aware of Oprah's stature, and expressed his regret at the incident."

So wait a second, Oprah gets turned away for trying to get into a store that is closed, and the CEO of the company ends up apologizing to her? She is certainly tyrannical in the prerogatives she assumes for herself and in her quick resort to her program to speak about her personal, petty grievances.

Another incident: when Martin Luther King's widow Coretta Scott King passed away a year ago, thousands of people waited all day in the rain to pay their last respects. But when Oprah Winfrey showed up, they shooed all the people away and closed the memorial so Oprah could go in alone.

More serious is the false spirituality that Oprah fosters on her program. There are many people involved in New Age spirituality, and this in itself is bad. But with the amount of visibility Oprah has (her show has 20 million viewers in 132 countries). Oprah Winfrey will be letting out all the stops on her XM Satellite Radio program this coming year. Beginning January 1, 2008, “Oprah & Friends” will offer a year-long course on the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles. A lesson a day throughout the year will completely cover the 365 lessons from the Course in Miracles “Workbook.”For example, Lesson #29 asks you to go through your day affirming that “God is in everything I see.” Lesson #61 tells each person to repeat the affirmation “I am the light of the world.” Lesson #70 teaches the student to say and believe “My salvation comes from me.”By the end of the year, “Oprah & Friends” listeners will have completed all of the lessons laid out in the Course in Miracles Workbook.

She also fits the biblical image of the Antichrist in another way. Look at this verse from the Book of Revelation 13:14,15: It [the Beast] deceives those who dwell on earth, bidding them make an image for the beast...and to cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Now, Oprah does in fact have an "image" made of her, in two ways. First, in the most literal sense, is the golden "Oprah Sarcophagus" seen at left, by American sculptor Daniel Edwards, who commented on the piece that it "pays homage to the closest thing America has to a living deity." The sarcophagus is modeled after royal Egyptian sarcophogi, which were meant to confer eternal life on the god-kings of ancient Egypt. So, in the truest sense of the word "image," Oprah fits this description of the Antichrist (although Revelation 13:15 also says that the False Prophet causes the image to come to life, which so far we have not seen with this particular statue yet).

But consider, more symbolically, Oprah's relentless self-aggrandizement through the medium of her magazine, "O," which besides being named after her features portraits of herself on every single cover. Just look at the covers of the past several issues of her magazine "O":











And it goes on an on like that, right back to to her first issue in May, 2000. Dozens of magazine covers all featuring Oprah. Who can deny that through this medium she is attempting to get people to "worship" her "image?"

And what about the Bible's warning that the Antichrist causes any who will not worship its image to be slain? Well, consider this: in 2007, a former employee of Oprah's corporation broke away from the Oprah Empire and sought to publish a book which purported to expose the cruelty and greed of the media mogul. Winfrey heard about the intended book and made a few calls to the publishing houses in New York and after that no company would touch the book. So, I guess at least as far as books are concerned, Oprah has the power to "slay" those which criticize her. Even large publishing firms like Random House were so afraid of Oprah's power that they refused to go near the book.

Another case: in 1996, Oprah made a remark about the quality of Texas beef which led viewers to believe that the beef was less than good. So powerful was her word that beef sales plummeted and stocks in Texas Beef became worthless over night, all at Oprah's fiat. Well, it turns out that the accusations Oprah made were incorrect, prompting the Texas Beef Council to sue her for slander. Oprah acted as if her show and info and words were nothing - that her show just put out info and she had no influence on how that info or her remarks were taken by the public. The judge sided with Oprah, but the question remains: does Oprah have a huge influence on what people think and do in America? The obvious answer is yes, she has a huge following and yes, she tries to influence people, which is why she is so dangerous when she tries to influence them into adopting New Ages teachings, like those in the Course in Miracles.

In case you doubt the influence of Oprah, or the devotion people have to her (many want her to run for president), consider these following real quotes from Oprah fans (from Gifts from the Heart, an Oprah tribute site):

"Dear Oprah, I believe in your spirit. You are truly a wonderful woman who has made me laugh, made me cry, made me open my eyes to many things...You have saved my life without ever knowing it. ... You are my hero, to be sure!" - Lisa Pittock

"She was a mother, a teacher and a friend," writes one fan, Sean. "Oprah not only educated me for that hour I shared with her through a glass window, but her warmth made me care for her. It made me want to make her proud."


Can you deny that Oprah's followers are almost religious in their zeal? But perhaps most sinister is this: the Antichrist is a character who mixes false religion with politics. Is Oprah involved in politics at all? I'll leave you with the following images to ponder.



Let's keep an eye on this woman, and on her accomplice here.