Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thoughts on Penance

Medieval English pilgrims en route to Canterbury

This morning I went to my monthly confession. For my penance, I was told to "imagine Jesus wrapping His arms around me and giving me a great big hug." Well, I was a little confused, but I did it anyway. I went into the chapel and imagined that. It took me about two seconds. Then, feeling like this alone was somehow inadequate, I stayed for several more minutes lamenting my sins, begging for grace and mercy and resolving to walk closer to God from now on.

Of course, it is Christ's blood which cleanses us from sin, not the severity of our penance. But we firmly believe (against Luther and the Protestants) in the true remedial value of doing penance, both for our own sins and the sins of the world. Penance helps us to taste a little bit of what Christ suffered for us and in some little way to meagerly contribute to our own salvation. As St. Paul phrases it, we can "complete what is lacking" in the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24). Doesn't it seem, then, that a penance ought to be more in keeping with the idea of some type of sacrifice or suffering? It at least ought to be moderately challenging or outside of our regular routine.

Penance is meant to be both remedial and penal in nature. But since God is simple, the penal nature of the penance is not opposed to the remedial, just as God's love is not opposed to His justice. Penance ought to lead to my sanctification and be an actual work that requires effort. Remember, part of penance (or "punishment") is that we are doing it here so that we won't have to endure it in purgatory. When confessors give wimpy, limp-noodle penances that aren't actually penances at all, they are actually causing their penitents to spend more time in purgatory. Most people barely do any penance ever. The confessional is the one place you have an opportunity to exhort them to do so: why talk them out of it by giving them wimpy things that aren't even penitential in nature? Think of my penance: what is so penitential about imagining Jesus giving me a great big hug? And what virtue or power is there in simple imagination? It's like telling an alcoholic that the way to get sober is to imagine himself sober. That might be part of it, but that alone ain't going to get you there! (yeah, I said "ain't", cuz' it's my blog and I kan spell however I wanna spell).

Perhaps the issue is that for too many, confession has become a psychological rather than a theological reality. It has become a place where people "come to terms" with themselves and look to forgive themselves rather than seek forgiveness from God. In this type of mentality, the idea of laboring to do penance for your sins would not make very much sense, because it wouldn't be connected with the idea of "self-forgiveness" or feeling good about oneself. But penance was originally supposed to be discomforting. Forty days on bread and water. A barefoot pilgrimage to the shrine in the next valley over. Abstinence from sexual relations for one year. These things were all unpleasant. They were do-able, but they were challenging, and to accomplish them was a true conquest of self and a triumph of self-mastery aided by grace. What is so self-conquering about imagining Jesus hugging me?

I'm not suggesting everybody needs a harsh penance. Although, I tend to think that if I were a priest, it would be hard to resist saying to someone, "For your penance, I want you to sell all your possessions and walk to Jerusalem barefoot...just kidding!" Perhaps, though, priests need to remember the remedial/penal nature of penance and not be afraid to challenge people a little more. There are only two choices: the penitents can love you now because you are known as one who gives "easy penances" and hate you later when they have an extra four decades in purgatory because of them, or rather they can do the challenging penances now and thank you later when their guardian angel ushers them straight into the throne room of God among the seraphim and saints in glory.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More rock music at Mass

Recently my wife and I were compelled to attend a parish we do not usually attend. It was packed to overflowing, and we made our way back to the cry room (as we often do these days since we have two kids 3 and under). The parish was desperately ugly: architecture from the 1960's, paint and tile that had not been updated since, and lot's of banners, at least a dozen of them. The design was a traditional straight church (though not cruciform), but the altar was moved way out into the center (a recent renovation), which caused the sanctuary to be awkwardly large, and also had the strange effect of trying to attain an ampitheather feel in a recntangular building. Very odd. They had a massive old choir loft, which was used for storage. Up next to the altar, we saw a bunch of music stands, a drum set, amplifiers and electric guitars, and soon the "worship team" was in place and doing their sound check.

As you can imagine, the music was contemporary Protestant praise and worship. The worship team leader was a graduate of Stubenville, so at least the music was in timing and the instruments were all in tune (which is more than I can say about many improvised parish "rock band" worship teams I've seen, where guitars are out of tune, drums too loud and nobody can keep a rhythm.

The interesting thing, however, is that when the music started up, my kids began dancing wildly in the pews. I tried to set them down a few times and tell them how the behave in Mass, but they continued to get up and gyrate around in the pews. I angrily told them that they were going to get in trouble after Mass was over. However, when we got out to the car, my wife remarked that it was not entirely their fault: they are very young, and when they hear heavily rhythmic rock n' roll music, what else are they supposed to deduce other than that they are supposed to be moving around? For them, it is common sense: if you play dance music, you're gonna want to dance. And of course, much Protestant praise and worship was originally composed to be danced to in extremely charismatic parishes of conferences.

This brings up one problem with the Novus Ordo Mass the way it is celebrated in 95% of Catholic parishes: the huge disconnect between what is actually going on and what we profess is going on. How do I explain to my kids that they need to be on their best behavior and piously recollect themselves because the Lord Jesus Himself is about the come into their midst when the music (and I should say, art and architecture) gives a completely different message? The result is that Catholics are forced to engage in a sort of Orwellian doublethink: we must profess belief in the timeless truth of the Sacrifice of the Mass and all the glory that goes along with it while experiencing something vastly different in our practice. Even for those who are able to pull this off, if is disheartening and difficult.

For the conservative Catholic, the answer is that none of this ultimately matters: all that matters is that we receive Jesus, and provided we believe this, none of the externals matter in the least. Of course, I would say that beautiful art and appropriate music make the understanding of Christ's Real Presence come much easier to the intellect. It is hard to focus on Christ's Real Presence as greatly when every other element of the parish is secularized, ugly and banal. Increased recollection of Christ's Presence means we can recollect ourselves better and receive more grace ex opere operantis.

For others, they fall to one side or the other: stop believing in the Sacrifice of the Mass entirely, or else leave and go to a more traditional parish. But the real victims are those like my kids, who are too innocent and simple to engage in doublethink and simply do what the liturgy suggests to them. If it is dance, then they dance. Music and art do not exist in isolation. They have real effects on our dispositions.

By the way, yes, I still got my kids in trouble. They know better than that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Towards the New Dystopia

This post is meant to be read in correlation with brother Athanasius' most recent post on the financial crisis in Wall Street, which you can read here. First, let get a few things out in the open: I cannot say that I am a Distributist, not because I do not believe it is a practical system, but because I simply have not read that much about it. I like what I have heard, and I think that if Chesterton and Belloc were so trustworthy in other areas, then they are probably worth listening to in economics as well. I'd like to read more about it. Economically, I am like so many others: anti-socialist, disgusted with capitalism, looking for that ideal via media. At heart I guess you could say I am part feudalist, part Jeffersonian agrarian-republican, part 1890's populist, and part distributist.

Now that you know where I am coming from, let me also say that I don't understand a lot about modern economics. I have read a lot on economy, but the modern maze of financial terms and realities on Wall Street confuses the heck out of me, as it does to many! I heard an interview recently in which one professional financial analyst confessed that even many in the financial business are confused about what a lot of these things are. Why should something so important be so freakin' difficult to understand or make sense of?

At any rate, I do not want to comment on the economic aspect of the crisis because I confess I am too ignorant about it. However, just because I am ignorant of the specifics does not mean that I (or anyone for that matter) does not know when something is fishy, or when someone is being cheated. However, I would like to talk about where we will wind up as a result of this crisis, which Athanasius hinted at in his article.

I for one am shocked that the analysts keep saying that "nobody saw this coming." That's bunk! I saw this coming at least as early as 2000. True, I did not foresee the way it would fall out, but one thing was always self-evident from taking even a cursory look at our financial system: it was and is unsustainable. That's what I knew in my gut. I came to this conclusion based on several factors:

(1) There was too much debt.
(2) Everything was too expensive, especially home prices, which were almost prohibitive to someone not choosing to put their wife into the workforce.
(3) Too much was purchased from overseas.
(4) Too much labor (and thus capital) was exported and outsourced.
(5) The economy was driven not by necessities by by luxury items.

It does not take a genius to see that such a system cannot perpetuate itself for ever. At the time, I believed (and still believe) that the system would eventually crash and that (as Athanasius said) slavery and the abolition of the middle class would be the result. Influenced by historical studies, I conceived this slavery in terms of a new feudalism. Let me explain.

In the feudal system, serf did work for a lord and were granted protection and a space to live in exchange for working on the lord's land and turning over a good amount of the crop to him. The serf never owned his own land and had little rights against his lord (though most of the time the system worked out tolerably well). I imagined that in the age to come, because of massive debt, the middle class would shrink to a point where home ownership became the exclusive domain of the rich. We would still have all our houses, but we would no longer own them (not like we own them now anyway). But instead of paying off a mortgage, we would be just renting perpetually. Instead of renting from a lord, we would rent from some faceless corporation or management company. There would be the rich and the renters, and that'd be it. I still think this a highly likely scenario.

It is interesting how everybody has a universal pessimism for the future. The Victorian ideas of progress are dead in the dust. Everybody universally believes that the future will just get worse and worse for us until the End, but we differ in what ways we imagine this dystopia. I personally have always wondered what type of world the age to come after the fall of our system would be, and I think I always hovered between two-options:

1) A repressive, ultra-authoritarian, surveillance society as described by Orwell in 1984, in which technology is put to use to dull our pleasures and make us slaves in the truest sense.

2) An excessively recreation-luxury focused society in which pop-culture is the only culture and technology is put to use to bury us in an ocean of pleasurable distractions, as described by Huxley in Brave New World.

While I used to greatly fear scenario 1 (and such a nightmare is always possible), I'd have to say that the way culture is moving, the Brave New World dystopia seems a lot more plausible, and a lot sooner than I previously thought. If we are to lose our freedom, it will be in such a way that our slavery is more desirable than true freedom. We will have so many iPods, Google applications, mind-altering substances and Netflix to choose from that nothing else will be of real concern to us, and we will gradually lose our individuality and gel into one stupid blob of ignorance.

This situation cannot prevail ultimately: the Church will always exist, dissent (the good kind) will always exist, and men will always be there with the courage to think freely. One disheartening thing about modernity is the way it crushes the individual, the way it makes us all feel so helpless against "forces" (i.e., results of evil choices) beyond our control. This is what is so romantic about the Middle Ages or the classical age: back then, you knew who your enemy was, and if he was threatening you, you could arm up, face him in combat and hurl a spear at him. How I wish to God that the answer was as simple as facing our corrupt financial system and hurling a spear at it with the fury of Achilles.

I think we are done. What do I mean by done? I mean done. Done as Rome was in 476. Done as Athens was after the Athenian defeat in Sicily. Done as Israel was when Nebuchadnezzar came knocking. At least done insofar as the present form of our society is concerned. Why did it have to happen during my life? Part of me is happy (as Athanasius says, "the anarchist in me"), but it is not pleasing to pay so much for gas, watch food prices go up, wonder whether or not I'll be able to get a student loan next semester, and meanwhile have nothing in my savings: not because I blow my money on junk, God knows I don't! But because just the cost of paying my mortgage, bills and gas alone is 99% of my income.

Get ready for the new dark ages, the coming brave new world. Better get some food stored, get your weapons loaded and head for the hills!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Great DVD for kids

If you are like me, then you have a very difficult time finding anything suitable for kids to watch that is not full of worldly innuendos and value systems. I mean sure, you can show them Veggietales and those old CCC movies, but those get old quick.

About a year ago, I came across the Animusic DVD's and I think they are one of the greatest video purchases I have ever made. Animusic is a style of animated music: unlike other attempts at making solely musical pictures (like Fantasia), Animusic is coordinated so that every single sound you hear is produced by something on the screen-and every movement likewise produces a sound. Here's an example called "Pipe Dream" from the Animusic 2 DVD:

Besides being thorougly entertaining (I can watch a whole 55 minutes DVD of this stuff straight through), my kids love to watch it as well. I can put this on and my kids will become engrossed in it, and I don't have to worry about what they are watching. This is one of their favorite videos and they often beg me to be allowed to watch it.

Here's another one called "Starship Groove":

Now finally, my favorite, "Pogo Sticks," from Animusic 2 (my kids love to imitate these pogo sticks and hop-around while this one is playing):

Each DVD comes with about eight or ten of these on them. I'll probably get some angry comments from people who dislike any music at all after the Baroque period, but I say that this stuff is really cool (from a musical and animation standpoint) and my kids and I get a lot of enjoyment from watching these videos. I don't have any stock in Animusic or anything; I just think it's cool and I feel good letting my kids get into it. Here is Animusic's website if you are interested in learning more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Responses on voting queries

My last post on voting drew some interesting questions in my comment box that I would like to address here. I do not mean to be getting into political stuff too much, but it is important and it is something where (unlike theology) there is room for a vast amount of differing opinions and no specific right answer, though there certainly are a variety of wrong answers!

First question:

How do you respond to the claim that you cannot complain about the actions of the elected government if you did not vote? It makes a bit of sense to me.

This argument does seem to have some sense to it on the surface, and it is hard to have a comeback to this if you have not taken a lot of time to think about this issue. As I wrestled with this question over the past week, I came to the conclusion that this argument is bad for two reasons.

First, it is ultimately saying that only those who participate in electing the government have a right to complain about it, but fails to distinguish that though many people may vote in an election, only the majority actually elects the government. If there are two candidates, only one can win. What about the minority whose candidate lost? Can they not complain? After all, technically, they had nothing to do with electing the person in power since they voted for somebody else, yet nobody suggests that people who voted for a losing candidate cannot complain...in fact, it is commonly accepted that they have even more cause to complain because their complaints then have an added "See, I told you so" strength to them. This does not really prove why people who do not vote have a positive right to complain, but only shows that the argument that they can't complain is illogical.

Second, if voting is the criteria for who can complain, are we going to suggest that children under the age of 18 cannot complain about the political system? I doubt it: teens are commonly encouraged to understand and critique the political system as a type of initiation into the responsibilities of political citizenship that come with attaining majority.

Third, we could point out that most people don't vote in their city elections, or for the school board, things like that. The numbers are that around 75% of people do not vote locally. If that is the case, then we can retort that most people would then have no right to complain about their local school districts, local road construction projects, local scandals or anything else locally. Of course, if any of these people are caught in the midst of an irritating and useless construction jam, they will still complain anyway, even if they didn't vote for the County Road Commissioner, and they will still feel justified in complaining if the actions of government are inconveniencing them, whether or not they voted. That is my point and the crux of this post: if somebody suffers because of government, the burden is on government to explain why it is harming people, not on us to justify why we are complaining.

But can we establish a positive right to complain apart from showing that denying that right to people who don't vote is illogical? Well, anybody has the right to complain about anything anytime they please-that's one of our First Amendment rights, and actually, the right to criticize the government was closer to what the Founder had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment (as opposed to those who interpret it to justify smut and filth).

But beyond our First Amendment right, I'd say that the argument "if you didn't vote don't complain" suffers from a very fundamental flaw: it mistakes the act of voting for the totality of participation in government. In other words, participating means nothing over and above the act of voting. We are encouraged in the Catechism to "actively participate" (ugghh...nice choice of words, huh?) in our government. What is active participation? Many would reduce the idea of participation to voting alone. This is a gross misunderstanding of what participation in government is. If voting alone were participation, then why did the Founders restrict the franchise so narrowly? Voting was originally accorded only to property-owning males. How could they claim to set up a government "by the people and for the people" if voting was so stringently restricted? Modernist interpretation would just say that it was because the Founders were all racists and hypocrites. Or perhaps they had a different understanding of participation than we do now?

So what is our expanded definition of participation? First and foremost, the right to criticize the government, which has been denied people in totalitarian countries. The right to freely discuss and talk about politics without fear or recrimination and to publish your ideas. The right to form organizations for the end of influencing the political system or attaining political goals. The right to run for political office yourself. The right and ability to contact your congressman and make your grievances known to him. The right to know what is going on in government and to make all government records public. The right to be treated fairly and humanely by your government and to protest when you are not treated fairly. The right to be educated about politics and make yourself knowledgeable about our own political system and about the abstract concepts of politics in general. All of these rights can be exercised apart from the right to vote. A person could still do all of these things and not vote, as I know many Catholics do. In fact, I'd say a person who does all of these things but refrains from voting participates in government much more than a person who only votes and doesn't do anything else mentioned above. Therefore, the idea that voting alone constitutes participation is fatally flawed. It may be important, but it is not the only thing.

Our second person asked this question in response to my comment that most people were too ignorant to vote:

I should be delighted to know what criteria you would propose to determine voter competence. Suppose, for example, only citizens who have completed post-graduate studies were allowed to vote. I think the outcome of the upcoming presidential election would be quite clear in that case. And if that is not a good criterion, would you instead require a minimum income?

No, I would not require a minimum level of education nor any sort of minimum income, per se. With this question, we must distinguish between what I would propose in a vastly different, perfect society, or what I would propose realistically in our current system.

In a perfect world, I would propose as criteria for voting the solemn recitation of the Nicene Creed before the Blessed Sacrament, coupled with an abjuration of Communism and another solemn, deprecatory oath upholding the truthfulness of one's profession. That would be ideal. The goal (in my mind) is to make sure that only moral people are voting, and I think this would be a good way.

But, realistically, that would not be feasible in our current system. I realize now, however, that when I said most people were too incompetent to vote, I was not primarily referring to intellectual capacity (as our commentator said, if only people with advanced degrees could vote, we know how that would go); rather, I think I was referring to one's moral trustworthiness. We want people to vote who have good morals and will not compromise them. Ultimately, I want people who have Christian morals to vote and everybody else to stay home. I don't care if certain persons are disenfranchised, because I don't see voting as an ultimate good. But anyhow, what criteria would I propose for voting in our current system?

1) A property qualification: you must own some kind of property. Some may object that this is the same as an income qualification. It is insofar as you must have some kind of income to purchase property, but it is not the same thing. There are a lot of poor people out there who own their own home, because their homes are in cities where property is cheap, like Flint, MI.

2) An oath of loyalty to the Constitution, much like our military personnel swear upon enlistment. It would not stop subversives from voting, but it would at least remind people of what a serious matter voting was.

3) 100 hours of community service prior to being allowed to register to vote

4) You must have been a citizen in this nation for a least 4 years prior to being allowed to register (this would apply only to immigrants, not to people born here). In other words, you can't vote as soon as you get your citizenship. You have to live as a citizen for four years before being allowed to exercise that right.

5) You must not be enrolled in welfare (not counting unemployment or disability) and must have been off of welfare for at least one year. We have to restore the unity between voting and responsibility, which is opposed to our modern concept of voting as some unconditional good which is inalienable.

In addition to these qualifications, I would propose the following changes to our existing system:

1) As one person suggested in the comment box, military service would accord one the right to vote irrespective of all of these other requirements (except 2, which is part of military enlistment).

2) Voting would not be a "have it or don't have it" type of thing where you either can vote unconditionally or you can't ever. It would be like a license: it could be suspended for certain things and then regranted (like it would be suspended while a person went on welfare).

3) In keeping with number 2, I don't think felons ought to universally lose their right to vote forever. They ought to get it back ten years after their release from prison, provided they meet the five requirements above.

4) If a person who could vote failed to exercise their right for a period of six years, it would be revoked and would only be regranted in exchange for another 100 hours of community service and a fine.

I'm sure I could think of a lot more things, but these are some preliminary ideas. Many of you will probably think they are stupid, and I welcome any critiques or complaints (or compliments!). Designing ideal political systems is a venerable and ancient tradition in Western Culture.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Voting is not intrinsically good

The other day I did a post on the fact that there are many things that our society treats as things intrinsically good which are only relatively good. The post was ultimately about prayer, but I pointed out that reading is another thing that is treated as good in and of itself, regardless of what a person happens to be reading. This, of course, is false (otherwise, why would the popes have thought it good to institute an Index of Forbidden Books?).

But perhaps the biggest thing that Americans hold to be good in and of itself and at all times is voting. "Regardless of which candidate you support, the important thing is that you get out there and exercise your right to vote." Why is that so important? There are so many tired old canards about voting repeated ad nauseam in this country that I am shocked that anybody still says them, much less believes them.

"Voting is a sacred right. Our forefathers fought and died so that we could have the right to vote."

What exactly does this refer to? Which forefathers? Are you talking about the American Revolution? We had elected our leaders for a long time before the Revolution, and before the Revolution, people had a keener sense of the importance of local government, as well. In fact, I'd say people had a much better understanding of and participation in the democratic process prior to the American Revolution. Our forefathers of 1776 certainly weren't fighting for the right to vote.

Was it those who fought in the War of 1812? I don't think so; that was about stopping British impressment and (in a sloppy sort of way) about conquering Canada. The Mexican War? Nope, voting wasn't on the line there, either? Perhaps the Civil War? Only if you were black could this apply to the Civil War I suppose, but even in that war, nobody was fighting over a right to vote. Freeing the slaves wasn't even contemplated until half way through. World War I wasn't about the right to vote. Yes, I know Germany and the central powers were monarchies, but they all had elected bodies as well, and realistically it takes a person completely ignorant of history to think that the United States proper was ever threatened in World War II. Germany couldn't even get more than a little way in to France and they were going to conquer America? Give me a break.

I would say the case is a little stronger in World War II that we were "fighting to keep our democracy." But it can (and has) been argued that there was never much of a chance that Hitler could have actually invaded the United States, especially after 1942. Goering wanted to bomb New York, but nobody seriously talked of an invasion of America, and contrary to popular belief, Hitler was not out to "conquer the world."

Korea? Vietnam? One of the dozens of measly little conflicts of the Reagan or Clinton eras? Where are these wars that were fought so that we'd have the right to vote? The fact is that no war was ever fought to preserve Americans' right to vote.

"The important thing is that you exercise your right to vote, regardless of who you vote for."

That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! Of course it matters who you vote for! That's the whole purpose of voting is to be able to vote in somebody! There's no intrinsic value in voting itself that is automatically virtuous! This line about "the important thing is that you exercise your right" is a line used by liberals because they know that the larger the franchise, the more likely it is that they will get into power. Why? Because the more prisoners, illegal immigrants and other down-and-out, uneducated people they can grant the power to vote to, the greater chance there is that they will swallow their insane agenda.

I'll tell you something: I hope more people stay home on election day. I honestly do. Why? Because I think most people are too incompetent to vote, and that you ought not to be allowed to have a say in how the country is run unless you have a stake in the welfare of the country. This was the original idea behind property qualifications for eligible voters: if you owned no property, you were not trusted to vote in the best interests of the country but only out of self-interest.

But that aside, the fact remains that we are fully capable of exercising our right to vote to elect an evil person to the highest office in the land. If the majority of people will be swayed by evil, then I hope they stay home. Turning out en masse to vote for someone who promotes evil is not a good. It is good, as the Catechism says, that people be allowed to participate in the political process. But, as well all know, democracy is only good insofar as the people doing the electing (and the elected) are themselves committed to goodness and morality. As soon as that is no longer the case, voting no longer is universally good, but derives its goodness (or badness) from the person you are voting for.

I would be in favor of greatly restricting the franchise in this country. Isn't it a rule of thumb in business and administration that the more people you involve in decision making the bigger the mess you wind up with?

Please click here to read Part II of this post in which I answer common objections to these ideas!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jesus is my friend

This is good. I especially love verse three (ZAP!).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Diocese clustered-parishes closed

Six parishes closed. Five merged. Twenty-four clustered. One school closed. Four parishes downgraded to chapel status.

Well, after over a year of preparatory work and research, the diocese announced its plans to cluster and close several parishes in our diocese this week. Since I have gotten into trouble in the past by mentioning my diocese by name on here, I will refrain from mentioning it or any of the personnel involved in this process. Many of you out there may have undergone similar clustering or merging programs, and I hope you will share some of your input on how this made you feel and what kind of effects it had on your parish and your own spiritual life.

The first thing I'd like to observe is how these terrible programs for reductions and cutbacks always have these optimistic names that cloak the real intent. For example, consider Ford Corporation's restructuring plan entitled The Way Forward, which as any autoworker in this area will tell you, is another way to say Reduce the worker's benefits, lay off thousands and ship the jobs to Mexico. The Way Forward indeed. Our diocese has likewise chosen another name full of false optimism: Planning Tomorrow's Churches. Planning Tomorrow's Churches means Closing Today's Churches. Kind of like Planned Parenthood "plans" families by making sure kids aren't born. Planning tomorrow's churches "plans" them by closing them.

Of course, I understand that Ford had to restructure, and I fully agree that my diocese had to do something. But why are we impelled to be such die-hard optimists that we can't call a thing for what it is? Perhaps if we named this thing what it really was, people would realize the severity of the Church's crisis and be more motivated to pray and sacrifice. Instead of Planning Tomorrow's Churches, why not call it We're Closing Churches Because We Lack Priests, People Have Stopped Attending Mass, and Those Who Do Attend Don't Give? That would be more accurate. I guess it's too long, though.

So, let's look at what happened. First of all, in my own parish, it was announced that we would be clustered with a neighboring parish "if and when" it became necessary, and that we would receive pastoral support from a third parish nearby. It was the vaguest thing you could imagine. Any parish will be clustered if and when it needs to be. I guess I am glad we did not definitively get clustered, but basically after all this time the diocese just told us, "We'll cluster you if we need to." At least we were told who we'd be cluster-buddies with, though.

Overall, the reactions from many people in my diocese were that the clustering plan was flawed in some serious ways. First off, financial insolvency was said (by the people at the diocese) to be the reason why certain parishes were closing. A few were closed in Flint a few weeks back who couldn't afford to turn their heat on, pay their electric bills, etc. But many immediately noticed that there was a huge problem with the parishes who were clustered: two well-off parishes in one region were clustered together, even though one parish has no debt and has experienced an increase in giving in the past year, and the other is one of the most affluent in the region. Meanwhile, the only parish in the region that was not clustered just took out millions in debt to build a brand new church building (that many said was not needed) and currently has two mortgages. Why cluster the affluent parish and the one with no debt and leave the one with millions in debt to itself? Clearly, financial insolvency is not the only factor at work here.

Second, there was one single region in our diocese in which no parish was touched or clustered, not even the rural parish with no weekday Masses and a dinky congregation. One parish in this region is so in debt that the employee's paychecks have been bouncing for years, and another took out a huge loan to build a new parish church and school. They built the school but then ran out of money for the church. It remains unfinished. Neither of these two fiscally insolvent parishes were clustered. Why was this one region alone spared any clustering? The diocese says it was because of growing population, but I know for a fact that at least two and maybe three of these parishes have lost hundreds of members in the past few years. Clearly the population boom is not affecting them. What gives?

I know very little about the process of what parishes were closed, clustered and left alone. Perhaps there were politics involved, like some priest on some vicariate didn't like some pastor. Maybe some other parishes stood to gain by the losses of others. Or maybe there was no alterior motive, just plain blundering. Whatever. I don't know. I only know what we were told, and we were told that it was largely a financial question. If that is the case, then it makes very little sense to me.

However, part of this plan was also supposed to be based on a priest shortage. I do not doubt there is a real priest shortage, but hasn't this become a buzz-phrase to justify every sort of alteration in parish management? It is ironic that one of the parishes clustered is the one that accounts for 40% of the seminarians in the entire diocese. That's right: for years now, dozens of parishes have had no vocations, but this one parish has churned out three or four per year for many years. It must be thriving, right? Even so, it got clustered.

Many of the parishes that were set to be clustered are not going have their clustering implemented until their priest gets a new assigment or finds somewhere else to go. But wait a minute...what does that mean? It's like they are saying, "We'll cluster your parish just as soon as we find something for your priest to do." But I thought there was a priest shortage? If there is, surely there ought to always be something for the priest to do, or somewhere for him to go? So, on the one hand, we have to close and cluster because of a shortage. On the other hand, in the meantime some priests just have to hang tight until we can find somewhere for them to go. It just all seems weird...

Well, I don't understand the reasoning. But in everything I've seen from my diocese in the past seven years, the strategy is always retreat, withdraw and sullenly accept the status quo. A diocesan paper a few months back lamented the shortage of priests and trumpeted as the ideal solution the giving over of more power and control to the lay people. The article featured a picture of a fifty-some year old female "pastoral coordinator" with a butch hair cut as the model lay-ruler of "tomorrow's parishes." Brilliant! How about actually making a real effort to attract more vocations? I'll tell you: the model of the Church that we have been operating under here is not one that attracts vocations, that's why. And the more we give over control to laity, the less of a persona the priest will be in the life of the Church and even less people will want to become priests. We don't need priests who act like us and talk like us: we need priests who are signs of contradiction, who by their dress, demeanor and words are a constant reminder of the life to come and whose very presence reminds us of our spiritual life. They ought to be set apart, isolated from us in many ways, so that the laymen perceives them as something mysterious and wholly other, and from that other (which is God), the priest must draw his strength, and that strength alone will draw men to seek out what the priesthood alone gives to men: a special union with Christ and the power of Christ to do good on this earth.

Well, back to my diocese: no further cutbacks or clusters are planned for the future, but there will inevitably be more and more until Catholicism is extinct, or until the Church at large jettisons this bankrupt ecclesiological vision they've been nursing for the past forty years and gets back to reality.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Prayer is not intrinsically powerful

Interfaith prayer in Detroit

First off, apologies for my prolonged absence of four days (and Anselm's absence of several months until his post from Thursday). As Anselm would tell you, we just keep getting busier and busier. I just started three classes for my education program (which I am thankfully getting close to being done with) and Anselm is back at the ITI in Austria with seven classes. I also went camping last week, where I was introduced to the phenomenon known as "foxfire," or glowing wood, something which many people know about but I had never seen, and so it freaked me out when I found a glowing, rotten piece of wood out in the woods. Anybody else ever seen that stuff? It's caused by a fungus, I understand.

Anyhow, in my education classes and in the world at large I often notice people attaching ultimate, intrinsic goodness to things that are only good relatively speaking. In the education world, it is reading. The goal is set as getting kids to read. Read what? Well, it doesn't matter, so long as they are reading. This was the argument when I was a boy and the horrid R.L. Stine Goosebumps books were popular. Some parents and educators protested that the books (published by Scholastic) ought not be encouraged or assigned in school because of their ghoulish subject matter and their adult content (which frequenltly included murder and many other things you'd find in any horror film). The response of the teachers and the partisans of degeneracy was that "at least the kids were reading something" and that given all of the teenage illiteracy, we ought to be thankful that the kids were reading Goosebumps. This debate was resurrected when the Harry Potter books came out a decade later.

Nobody ever stopped to think that perhaps in some cases not reading at all is better than reading something bad. I definitely think this is the case, but reading had been assigned an intrinsic value, as if reading in and of itself was beneficial regardless of what was being read. As if it were some exercise like sit-ups or jumping jacks that would strengthen the mind just by doing it! They tended to ignore the fact that reading involves the communication and assimilation of ideas, ideas which can be disastrously harmful. Is there really no difference between reading Tom Sawyer and Mein Kampf? Well, as long as they're reading...

Prayer is the same way! I heard a Protestant talk show host make an excellent point this morning. He was referencing a "Pray for Detroit" rally held in the city this week to pray for the Detroit area given all of the scandal with the mayor and all that...the rally was sponsored by a unity church, and welcomed Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, Christians, Hindus and everybody else to come together in "unity" to offer up prayers for the city. Prayer was described as "a bonding force that can bring us together," the event organizer was quoted as saying in the local paper.

The Protestant host asked this question: Is there power in prayer? Yes, but with this qualification: the prayer derives its power entirely from the Person to whom it is addressed. There is power in prayer, but that power comes from the True God (or by extension, one of the Blessed in communion with Him who mediates it). Prayer offered to a false god is worthless. There is no power intrinsically in prayer if it be not addressed to the True God. However, many in the interfaith movement (and in the New Age movement as well) act as if the act of praying itself is meritorious and always good, regardless of to whom it is addressed. The importance in this type of "prayer" is not in drawing down strength and grace from heaven, but in using prayer as a type of "meditation" to unlock powers inherent in us. Nothing could be more anti-Christian.

I realize many Catholics and Christians who participate in interfaith prayer gatherings with people of other religions are not intending to pray in the New Age style, but what else are they doing? The prayers of Muslims to Allah are worthless. That's right: worthless. Of course, the True God can hear them if He so chooses, but not by any right on the part of the Muslims to be heard by Him; only by virtue of His omnipotence. And of course, whether or not a prayer is heard is entirely different from whether or not it is meritorious. If I pray to Baal, it is not only worthless in that Baal does not exist, but it is actually a mortal sin. Sometimes, prayer can be damning.

Therefore, it does not recommend itself to me as a compliment when people say "Muslims are so devout; they pray five times a day!" or anything like that. To whom do they pray? To the God whose Incarnation they deny as a tenet of Faith? Of which St. John said that anyone who denies Christ has come in the flesh in antichrist?

Let us recall: prayer is infinitely powerful, but only by virtue of the Infinite One to whom it brings us.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Anselm is back in Austria!

Grüß Gott! I'm back at school for another year of graduate studies. Summer was ridiculously busy, please forgive my prolonged absence (I'm surprised, but happy, that Boniface didn't give up on me altogether).

I arrived only little more than a week ago, but have already participated in an anti-homosexual [fake]marriage demonstration in front of the Parliament building in Vienna. By the grace of God, an attempt to legalize the same was thwarted last year partly through popular resistance.

Below is a picture of my little town taken from one of the little mountains which surround us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

USCCB Historical Curriculum

At my parish, I am registered with a program through the USCCB that sends me advance copies of books and instructional materials that the USCCB plans on publishing and allows our parish discounts if we want to buy copies in advance. I usually get something once every other month, and most of the stuff is pretty dull. But today I got something that at least interested me, and I was rather surprised with what I found.

The document has the cumbersome name of Doctrinal Development of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechectical Materials for Young People of High School Age. It consists of a series of outlines for various topics (mainly various branches of theology) and gives suggestions for how to develop a pedagogical method for teaching high school children in these areas. What piqued my attention was the an elective option on Church History. The USCCB, traditionally, has implicitly disliked Catholic history, for the very reason that it has taken positions contrary to Catholic tradition and the Church's historical development. What could the USCCB have to say about teaching Church History to high schoolers?

Overall, the content of the curriculum they proposed was actually pretty good. It emphasized all of the formative points and events of Church History and highlighted the lessons with biographical information on several important saints. It seemed like it was following the Seton Model for Church History, which is why it seemed so familiar to me since my family uses Seton.

I thought the biggest problems would be in the treatment of the Midde Ages, but the most distressing aspects of the instruction were actually in the patristic era. The treatment of the first three centuries had a distinctively archaeologist appraoch to it: the past is interpreted in light of present practice to try to legitimize what most Catholics experience in an NO by way of errantly insinuating that that is how th early Church worshipped. For example, the fact that liturgies were held in houses is especially stressed, with an emphasis on the Eucharist as the "Breaking of Bread." Public worship in Church buildings is portrayed as an entirely post-Constantinian innovation, which is not true (it is well known that public churches existed in the early and mid 3rd century: Diocletian had one across the street from his palace before he began his persecution).

A further attempt to impose post-Vatican II ideals on the Fathers is a section on "inculturation" and how readily the Church Fathers adopted Greco-Roman philosophy, kind of back-handedly making the assertion that the "inculutration" of the faith in places like India today is really no different from the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Mother Teresa allowing her nuns to go to Hindu services was just another form of inculturation, something practiced in the early Church. Of course, little distinction is made between Chrysostom's concept of "inculturation" and that practiced by today's missionaries.

In the development of the papacy, while giving credit to the divine origin of the Church, the USCCB seems to take the mistaken position that the primacy of the See of Rome and the development of its political power were solely accidents of history and not part of the divine plan (see this post for more on this).

The instruction does a good job of pointng out the contributions of monks to the development of agriculture and education, something universally overlooked in secular histories. When it get's the the period of the Council of Trent, it refers to the Traditional Mass as the "Mass of St. Pius V," which I guess is accurate, but seems to try to establish the Traditional Mass as some kind of novelty of the post-Trent period, kind of discounting the pre-Tridentine continuity of Mass from Pope St. Gregory the Great throughout the Middle Ages.

When we get to the modern period, an exorbitant amount of time is devoted to Catholic social teaching. The pontificate of Pius X is interesting: it praises him for lowering the communion age, but says that he "popularized" Gregorian Chant, as the case with the Tridentine Mass, making it seem like Gregorian Chant was something that only got "popular" after Pius X promoted it, ignoring its history prior to the early 20th century. Most annoying is that the heresy of modernism is always mentioned in quotation marks ("modernism"), which is a degrading was of implying that it was not a true heresy at all, kind of like when anti-Catholics put the word "heresy" in quotation marks when they want to attack the Church for defending the truth. But modernism is a real heresy, just as real as Arianism or Lutheranism. Imagine if whenever we talked about St. Athanasius we mentioned his struggles against "Arianism." Why put this one heresy in quotation marks but not all others as well? This is especially odd since Pius X thought modernism was more serious than the older heresies.

A whole section is devoted to John Paul II, and as I predicted, he is praised for all the wrong reasons: he was the first non-Italian, he was "vigorous" and "dramatic." He faced down Communism, and made 104 papal trips, making him the most widely traveled pope ever. He survived an assassination attempt and was an example of "courage." These are literally the bullet points for the chapter on John Paul II. These are all noteworthy things, but do any of them have to do with the actual governance of the Church and its state under JPII? Not at all. The praise is entirely for the personality of the man John Paul II and not for his actual achievements with regards to the Church, which were few. By the way, the little section on Benedict XVI mentions Deus Caritas Est and Sacramentum Caritatis but not Summorum Pontificum.

Where we really see the "Spirit of Vatican II" at work is not in the curriculum itself, but in the discussion questions at the end of it. Let's look at seven proposed topics from one section and see if they have anything in common (just in case you miss it, I'll highlight them):

1) How can the Church claim to be holy and a protector of truth when there are things in her history like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of Jews and the Galileo case?

2) The Church is a source and means of holiness for people because God has made it so. The failures of the Church's members during her history are lamentable. The virtuous lives of the saints validate the truth and power of the Church's sacraments and teaching.

3) Though the members of the Church are prone to sin, the Church herself is sinless and holy.

4) Despite the sins of her members, including the ordained, the Church is entrusted by God with the truth of the Gospel and the graced means of salvation.

5) Many members of the Church are also holy and possess a heroic sanctity witnessed to by the countless sacrifices many have made, often to the point of martyrdom.

6) Pope John Paul II, on various occasions, apologized for the sins of the members of the Church in her history, including harm caused by the excesses of the Inquisition and atrocities committed during the Crusades.

7) The historical context in which these events happened: the people of those days dealt differently with threats and problems than we might do so now. They used means that were commonly used in their society then. We cannot judge them as harshly as some people judge them today.
Now, it might be just me, but do you see an excessive focus on the sins and failures of the Church instead of her victories? Even ones that don't mention sins and failures (like number 7) are still focused on apologizing or explaining them away. This is all the discussion points for 2,000 years of history? How about something like "How did the interaction of the Church and State vary over the centuries?" or "What were the major contributions of the Church to civilization?" Nope, just an absurd focus on the shortcomings and failings of the Church of the past (until 1963, that is). I like the way number five is worded: "Many members of the Church are also holy." Maybe I'm making too much of it, but what is that also in there all about? Doesn't that seem to say, "Most of the Church are sinners, but there's also some who are holy, too."

Focusing excessively on the "sins" of the traditional Church, forcing modern ideologies onto the patristic age and trying to present a clear, flawless continuity from the past to the present without acknowledging the turmoil of the past 40 years: this seems to be the USCCB's vision of Catholic history.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

When DRE's are superfluous

Well, another year of parish religious education began today. In many ways it was more of the same: kid's in religious ed for years not knowing the most basic elements of the faith, parents wanting sacraments for their kids but indignant that they are expected to go to Mass every Sunday, and homeschooler's skeptically aloof from the institutional parish religious education program. I stopped in on the Confirmation class today and the catechist told me that none of the kids (class of eight, I think) knew what a sacrament was. They had all been in parish religious education classes for K-8. In those nine years did they never get told what a sacrament was!? I guess part of the blame comes on the previous administration, but not all of it: heck, I've been overseeing these programs for almost a year and a half and a lot of this is going on under my watch!

What is the problem with these kids? When my pastor first arrived in this parish several years ago, I am told the religious ed program was a mess. Kids being taught nothing other than that "God loves them," spending their classes doing plays and coloring pictures, being whisked through CCD and on to sacramental prep with no understanding whatsoever (but, interestingly enough, the program was very large, well over 100 kids). It is better now, but some are still wary of this idea of actually "teaching" young people: A mother asked me last week, "What is this I hear about an interview before First Communion?" I said, "This is just a ten minute talk with your child to make sure they understand what they are about to receive when they make their First Communion." She balked and said, "Well at this age, do you really expect them to understand anything?" Another piece of evidence to support my thesis that the biggest problem with our youth is that adults think they are too dumb to catch on to anything. But that is another rant.

But, when my pastor took over, he hired a reliable and faithful DRE (our own Anselm, actually) who made several changes in the program. He chucked the worthless Pflaum lessons that had been in use and put the program on the Ignatius Press Faith and Life series. Then, when he had the chance, he replaced a lot of the old catechists with orthodox catechists who were eager to teach the Faith. Immediately a lot of parents pulled their kids from the program, shocked that they were actually being expected to learn information, take quizzes, read homework, etc. Yet still Anselm related to me that he had kids in eighth grade who honestly told him that the Holy Trinity consisted of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

When I took over the program, I made further revisions. I was able to bring in even more trustworthy catechists, and I had my catechists come to catechist formation classes that I began offering here and there. I pulled down the Ligouri Press cartoony looking posters that had decorated the rooms and replaced them with posters of Raphael's works, Da Vinci's Annunciation and many other such classically themed pieces of art. I instituted regular meeting with all of the catechists to go over specifics of the program and get feedback (and encourage comraderie), and yet still class after class of ignorant kids is churned out. What more can be done? And of course, as the quality of the program gets better, the numbers registered decrease, because parents actually begin to view religious ed as a commitment. One family that was in the program last year decided not to re-register because their kids played hockey too much and didn't have time.

Well, the simple fact of the matter is this: you can have the best books and the best catechists and the most aesthetically appealing rooms, but if the parents don't do their part, you are beating your hands against a wall. That's right. It is not for nothing that parents are called the primary educators of their children. It is true that it is their job to do religious education, but it is also negatively true that if they abdicate their role, nobody else can really fill it. Did you buy some great books for religious ed? Try getting the parents to make their kids read them or read it with them! Did you tell the kids all about how wonderous the Mass is? Try getting the parents to go regularly! Trying to instill a love of the spiritual in the children? Good luck, when by their parents' leave they are innundated in the values and styles of the world 24/7, until the stuff you talk about in your one hour with them per week seems bizarre and strange.

Yes, it is the case that nothing can substitute for parental involvement in a child's religious upbringing, and it is the one common denominator in all the ignorant children I have seen: no parental involvement and poor (or no) Mass attendance.

This brought to my mind (by a fellow DRE actually) an interesting point. Homeschoolers abstain from our religious ed program, not because they don't trust it, but because they rightfully point out that their kids don't need it, and that Sunday school detracts from their family time on that day. Diocesan policy is to try to get the homeschoolers involved in CCD, but personally I believe that they are right to abstain: they don't need it, for their parents have done their job, and the best and brightest on First Communion interview day are always the homeschoolers. But the interesting thing, I realized, is this:

If parents all did their job, my job as a DRE would be superfluous.

That's right! The reason I exist as a DRE is to pick up the slack of what parents don't do. If everybody was educated at home and had no need for religious ed, there would be no religious ed program, and hence no DRE to run it, get catechists, etc. If we had more priests, then probably a priest (or religious) would run RCIA, another thing I would not be doing. And, furthermore, if all Catholics were raising their kids to be godly and only have godly associations (that is, if the youth culture was a lot more Christian friendly), they might not need a special Youth Group to go to once a week to have fun at. Thus, I find myself thinking that if the Church and the world were as I would wish it to be, my job would be superfluous and not exist.

Ought I to yearn for this reality or, like some at the Diocesan level in many places, enthusiastically embrace the current situation as an excuse to get more lay people involved? Obviously, I value the good of the Church above my own. Let everybody homeschool, and let me say my job is no longer needed! That would mean that every parent was doing their part, every child being educated, and nobody slipping through the cracks. That is greater than my own job.

It is utopian, I know. It will never happen. Until the Second Coming there will always be lax Catholics showing up once a year to ask for sacraments with no concept of what they are. But fortunately I know God is interested not in the numbers of who comes and asks for what, but in what we do with the people who do come to us, and it is with this vision that I have thus far undertaken all my "ministry" work at this parish and will continue to do so. Take each one as they come, take them where they are, and help nudge them, however slightly, however little you may see the fruit now, closer to the reward of the Heavenly bliss with the Trinity.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The End of Politics

Watching the political hype unfold this summer has convinced me of the reality of something that I have long felt to be true: that we are witnessing the end of the American political tradition as we know it. "But what do you mean, Boniface? We've got politicians left and right! We've got political channels, political pundits, politics up the wazoo. How can you say this is the end of politics?"

Well, it may not be the end of corruption, or the end of manipulation of consciences, or the end of pandering and demagoguery or vain imaginings and empty promises. But it is the end of politics. Perhaps it has been this way for so long that we have inherently associated politics itself with all of these dirty things listed above, but politics and slime are not inherently linked, though they are often found together (at least in democracies!).

I think we need to go back to Aristotle, and remember that "the state or political community, which is the highest of all [communities], and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good" (Pol. 1.1). As a Catholic, I would take issue with his assertion that the political community is capable of attaining the highest good, but he brings up a point that is often forgotten: on the natural level, it is in the fair exercise of politics that mankind most gloriously shows forth the virtue, excellence and wisdom that man is capable of. It is one thing to be just and wise, but to diffuse justice and widsom throughout the entire body politic is something marvellous, and something which has never quite been done, though men from Plato to St. Thomas More ruminated upon it. But the essence of what I am getting at is that, abstractly speaking, politics is good and a forum for men to act with virtue and excellence.

Okay, stop laughing now. You have to admit that it is true in the abstract at least. Governments have the greatest tendency to go corrupt in democracies, because there is the greatest amount of people involved, all of whom are sinful (as all men are). Also, because strength lies in numbers and votes rather than in the resoluteness of one man's will, democracy is more given to being corrupted by persuasive demagogues than, say, monarchy.

But, when democracy works right and when men are righteous, then it works fairly well. Here is a concept that people these days have lost or forgotten about democracy: the power really is with the people. Most people today participate only in national elections, when the local city council is a lot more influential in the situations that will affect their day to day lives. The school board, the city council, the state representatives and the local judiciary are all touch the voter a lot more closely than the senatorial or presidential races. Yet who knows who their district judge is? Who votes and does research on school board elections, whether the candidates are pro-gay or not? Who turns out to vote for city councilmen, even though they decide whether the field behind your house stays a field or becomes a Wal-Greens?

People in the old days understood this, and if you are a student of American history, you will know that the president used to be a rather weak figure in American politics. There were decades when senators and state representatives were much more powerful men than the president, and the citizenry knew this. People flooded town hall meetings to hear local men (people whom they knew intimately) to debate the running of the city, and politics was seen to be primarily local and only national secondarily. "Writing your congressman" was a much more effective means of getting involved in government, and a political party's convention was truly a platform to decide who was going to be nominated for an office, not just a rubber-stamping of a predetermined candidate who was media savvy. Indeed, before television and radio, what a candidate sounded like or how he carried himself was much less important than his policies and his ideas for leadership.

But nowadays, people rarely get involved locally, and this is manifested by an absurd confidence in national political figures, especially our presidential candidates. The first rule of advertising is not to promise what you can't deliver. Yet what kind of stuff are these candidates saying? They are going to fix health care, clean up corruption, take on the oil companies, make sure no hurricanes ever destroy a city again, win the war in Iraq, fix our entire public education system, pay off the national debt, strengthen the economy, bring gas prices down, stop the mortgage crisis, fix social security and make us popular again. And how, pray tell, are they going to do all this?





What!? I believe a candidate should be inspirational, as long as they also have something substantive to say! These problems with our nation took decades to emerge and are the results of the efforts (and blunders) of thousands of people! One person can't fix them! Obama can't fix the economy, let alone do it with "change." Same goes for McCain. "Experience" won't fix anything. Deomcracies, at the end of the day, are governed bottom up, and that is the only way anything can really change.

The fact that so many people are placing all of their hopes in solitary humans to fix these tremendous problems shows me that people have (a) no understanding of how the democratic process really works, and (b) if they do understand it, they have lost faith in it. It reminds me of the late Roman Republic, where people stopped going through the consuls and assemblies to get things done and instead put blind, implicit faith in a few extraordinarily powerful individuals (who acted above the law) and promised to make all their dreams come true.

Well, whatever. I'm surprised at the amount of people on the poll who voted to just chuck the whole system and set up a monarchy, but monarchies have a lot better historical track-record than democracies do. Political historians from Polybius to Aristotle on down have recognized that democracies are a rare phenomemon that only pop up at certain specific times in history, but that they are soon corrupted and thing dissolve back into monarchy or totalitarianism. I think we are well nigh to that point, if we haven't irrevocably passed it already.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

CDF condemns Fr. Vlasic!

Now this is exciting! The Vatican has not condemned Medjugorje as such, but it came awfully close by imposing harsh restrictions on Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, OFM, the prime spiritual leader of the alleged seers and chief promoter of the Medjugorje movement. The announcement of the sanctions was made through the Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, but it must be stressed that this condemnation come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself, so no one ought to be going around after this saying that it is only the local bishop who is opposed to Medjugorje. Let's look at the statement (from Te Deum) [my emphases]:

The CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH with its letter prot. 144/1985-27164 of 30 May 2008, has authorized me as the local Bishop of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno to inform the diocesan community of the canonical status of Fr. Tomislav Vlašić, the founder of the association “Kraljice mira potpuno Tvoji – po Mariji k Isusu” – (Queen of Peace, totally Yours – Through Mary to Jesus).

The letter signed by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato, states the following:

“Within the context of the phenomenon Medjugorje, this Dicastery is studying the case of Father Tomislav VLASIC OFM, originally from that region and the founder of the association ‘Kraljice mira potpuno Tvoji – po Mariji k Isusu’ (Queen of Peace, Totally Yours-Through Mary to Jesus).

On 25 January 2008, through a properly issued Decree, this Dicastery imposed severe cautionary and disciplinary measures on Fr. Vlasic.

The non-groundless news that reached this Congregation reveals that the religious priest in question did not respond, even partially, to the demands of ecclesiastical obedience required by the very delicate situation he finds himself in, justifying himself by citing his zealous activity in the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno and surrounding territories, in initiating religious activities, buildings, etc.

Since Fr. Vlasic has fallen into a censure of interdict latae sententiae reserved to this Dicastery, I kindly ask Your Excellency, for the good of the faithful, to inform the community of the canonical status of Fr. Vlasic and at the same time to report on the situation in question…”.

This regards the fact that the same Congregation of the Holy See applied ecclesiastical sanctions against Rev. Father Tomislav Vlašić, through a Decree of the Congregation (prot. 144/1985) of 25 January 2008, signed by Cardinal William Levada, Prefect, and by Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation along with the “Concordat cum originali” of 30 January 2008, verified by Msgr. John Kennedy, Official of the Congregation.

The Decree was handed over to Rev. Fr. Tomislav Vlašić in the General Curia of the OFM in Rome on 16 February 2008 and the notification was co-signed by the Minister General of the Franciscan Minor Order, Father José R. Carballo, the Ordinary of Fr. Vlašić.
The Decree of the Congregation mentions that Rev. Fr. Tomislav Vlašić, a cleric of the Franciscan Minor Order – the founder of the association ‘Kraljice mira potpuno Tvoji – po Mariji k Isusu’ and who is involved in the “phenomenon Medjugorje” – has been reported to the Congregation “for the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism, disobedience towards legitimately issued orders and charges contra sextum.”
Having studied the case, the Congregation during its special Congress decreed the following sanctions against Rev. Fr. Tomislav Vlasic:

“1. Mandatory residence in one of the houses of the Order in the region of Lombardy (Italy) to be determined by the Minister General of the Order and to be realized within thirty days from the time of the legitimate notification of this decree;
2. All contacts with the “Kraljice Mira…” community and with its members are prohibited;

3. Any actions involving juridical contracts and administrative organizations, whether canonical or civil, effected without the written permission ad actum of the Minister General of the Order and under his responsibility are prohibited;

4. A mandatory course of theological-spiritual formation, with a final evaluation along with a prior recognitio of this Congregation, and a solemn professio fidei;

5. The following are also prohibited: activities involving the ‘care of souls’, preaching, public appearances, while the faculty to hear confessions is also revoked up until the conclusion of the terms described in the previous number, barring an evaluation of the case.

An additional sanction of a latae sententiae interdict (can. 1332) reserved to the Apostolic See is adjoined in the case of the violation of the mandatory residence (n. 1) and the other prohibited acts mentioned in n. 3 and n. 5.
Fr. Vlasic is forewarned that in the case of stubbornness a juridical penal process will begin with the aim of still harsher sanctions, not excluding dismissal, having in mind the suspicion of heresy and schism, as well as scandalous acts contra sextum, aggravated by mystical motivations.

All the priests, religious and faithful in the Dioceses of Mostar-Duvno and Trebnje-Mrkan, as well as all those concerned “in the pertinent territories”, are hereby informed on the current canonical status of Rev. Father Tomislav Vlašić.

With the sentiments of my highest consideration,

+ Ratko Perić, Bishop
Fr. Ante Luburić, Chancellor