Saturday, January 31, 2009

Congrats. Anselm!

Congratulations to Anselm and Mrs. Anselm on the birth of their new baby boy, Thomas Joseph, who came into the world yesterday in an Austrian hospital. Blessings to the Anselm family on this joyous occasion!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Full Anglican Communion soon?

A (non) ordination being carried out in the Traditional Anglican Communion. At least they got the aesthetic elements correct!

This certainly has been a tremendous week for ecumenism, and no doubt connected with the Year of St. Paul and last weeks Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The big news today is that the Pope may be set to offer the 400,000 member Traditional Anglican Communion the status of a personal prelature within the Catholic Church. A personal prelature, from my understanding of it, is kind of like a Diocese without boundaries.

Before I say anything else, I want to applaud Benedict XVI for this true gesture of ecumenism. This, together with last week's lifting of the SSPX excommunications and the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum have done more for ecumenism than anything John Paul II ever did. Benedict's ecumenism is rightly focused on what it should be: Christian unity. There is a much clearer point here than whatever garbled messages JP2 was sending with his ecumenical and interreligious actions (Assisi, Koran kissing, etc.), which tended to harm Christian unity rather than promote it because they rightly scandalized orthodox Catholics and Protestants alike.

Certain members of the Traditional Anglican Communion had hoped that the Pope would make the TAC a 28th rite within the Catholic Church, but left the matter entirely up to the Pope's discretion. They signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, requested full union and left it up to the Pope to determine the terms. This humility, by the way, should be an example to the SSPX, who ought to remember Jesus' words to the Pharisees that "Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of Heaven before you." I know it is rough speech, but it is pertinent: here we have Anglicans, Protestants whose schism with Rome goes back not 20 but 500 years and who are separated from the Pope by a history of violence and ill-will, coming humbly to the Holy See and offering to come back on whatever terms the Holy See sets. If somebody like the Anglican bishops can do this, there is no reason why the SSPX, whose differences with Rome are trivial compared to that of the Anglican Church, cannot follow suit here.

Damian Thompson has speculated rightly that a receiving of the TAC into full communion would cause a greater influx of other Anglicans into the fold as well, leaving only the most liberal and wacked out elements of the Anglican Communion on their own, where they will probably go off into New Age obscurity or vanish away like the Old Catholics. If the Pope and the TAC reach this agreement, we may see the beginning of the end of Anglicanism, at least in its historic form.

There are several difficulties which I and others have speculated on, however. The biggest ones being:

Married Bishops: While there is a precedent for accepting married priests in the Roman Catholic Church, what will be done with the TAC's married (non)bishops? Perhaps new priests will have to be elevated to that rank - but will the TAC bishops be willing to resign their office as the price of communion?

Holy Orders: More fundamental is the issue of Holy Orders: none of the TAC, priest or bishop, have valid Holy Orders (unless they are among the few who sought ordination by Eastern Orthodox bishops, which would have to be examined on a case by case basis). In April 2007 the TAC bishops signed the Catechism on the altar of Marian shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, indicating that they agreed to everything the Church teaches. Will they also agree that their own ordinations are invalid? If they really are willing to come back on any terms the Holy See proposes, then ordinations of all its priests and bishops would be necessary-but even in my wildest dreams I can't imagine any Anglicans en masse admitting that their orders are invalid.

As a scholar of the Tudor era, a devotee of St. Thomas More and a lover of the beautiful English Catholic tradition, I think this is the most exciting news I have heard out of the Vatican since Summorum Pontificum. Let us pray, pray, pray for the full union of the TAC and Rome, and thank God for Pope Benedict XVI who, while he may not be as media savvy as JP2, certainly knows how to hunker down and get stuff done.

See Damian Thompson's article on the matter.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Priests who don't know why they're priests

In the recent Vatican report on the state of United States seminaries, the Apostolic Visitation reported that though there were some areas that needed improvement (specifically knowledge of patristics and a better understanding of the place of the priest in the Church), the United States seminaries had shown a marked improvement since the previous two decades and that they were "overall" sound.

However, one area of concern cited by the report and that stuck out to me as well was the statement that a great many of today's seminariams say they come "from backgrounds with little faith experience or knowledge of Catholic doctrine" (source).

Now that is very interesting. Becoming a priest is a huge commitment, perhaps the greatest any man can make on this earth. It is a vocation that takes as many years of study as a medical doctorate, takes up one's entire life and goes on into eternity. It also means, eschatologically, that the priest will face a stricter judgment and be held to a more rigorous standard by God: "Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment" (James 3:1). Becoming a priest is no light matter.

Therefore, why would so many seminarians come to the priesthood with "little faith experience or knowledge of Catholic doctrine"? What would possess them to say, "Wow, this is an almost superhuman commitment that is often full of perils and snares and gives little reward on this life. Well, I don't know anything about it, but it sounds good to me!" How is it that we get seminarians interested in making this commitment with little knowledge of Catholic dogma?

I think there are two answers for this. First has to do with the nature of modern ecclesiology. I think a great many of these men, though they may lack intellectual and dogmatic formation, feel an intense desire to serve. They may believe that the Catholic Church and the priesthood especially is entirely about service, and therefore desire the priesthood as a means of serving and helping their brother. In such a scenario, doctrinal elements would take a backseat, and indeed could even be perceived as a stumbling block to true service. I'd imagine this is how we get a lot of the social justice types in the priesthood. Their ecclesiological concept is more weighted horizontally than vertically, to use the common expressions.

The second element I think has to do with admission procedures within the seminary system. I know nothing about the internal functioning of a seminary, but I am going with a hunch here. It can't be the case that nobody but social justice horizontalists show up as candidates for the priesthood. In any Diocese I'm sure there are plenty who come with a real understanding of the Church's ecclesiology, wanting the priesthood not only as a means to serve (which it certainly is) but also as an answer to a call - a call to worship and adore God and sanctify souls by being dispensing the sacraments and offering the Sacrifice of the Mass. Now, I think that in many seminaries, these applicants are given a much shorter shrift than the horizontally focused social justice oriented ones. In short, I think many seminaries weed out doctrinally minded priests in favor of socially oriented ones.

I know a lot of work has been done in this area and I'm sure that this does in fact happen: the orthodox seminarian is rejected for rigid inflexibility while the doctrinally questionable but amiable social justice type is admitted, thus tilting the demographic of the seminarians. The thing I don't know about is how much is this a formal mandate from some seminaries that is carried out methodically as a matter of praxis and how much is it an unspoken, unwritten bias that works itself out in the personal likes and dislikes of the Director of Seminarians?

Well, praise God we have seminarians! But if you want to solve the vocations crisis, start promting an ecclesiology that is vertically oriented on the worship of God and less on social service and I guarantee the problem will be solved within a decade.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Does the Church need the Charismatic Renewal?

Anselm's wonderful quotes from different Magisterial documents on ecumenism really got me thinking about a topic that is not quite ecumenical in the strict sense but which is affected by many things pertaining to ecumenism, and that is the Charismatic Renewal.

I often laugh when Catholics complain about the excesses of charismatic worship within the Catholic Mass, because I myself came from Protestant Pentecostalism, which is about one-hundred times more extreme than Catholic charismatic worship. I sometime want to say, "You think waving your hands in Mass is extreme? You should've seen the churches I've been to!" I recall the yelling, people rolling on the floor, weeping, jumping, giving prophecies, laying on the ground beneath the pews jabbering...Of course, I understand the context is completely different. What is "extreme" in a Catholic Mass (or rather, what is or is not fitting) is different than a Pentecostal Protestant service, and there are entirely different criterion for judgment. But I still must snicker to myself, because I wonder how the same Catholics who are so put out by hand waving would react to the places I've been through...

But at any rate, that is really just food for thought. When I first returned to the Catholic Church, and even before, I started to feel a certain shallowness in the charismatic (Protestant) churches I had been attending, because it seemed to be based too heavily in emotionalism. I was thrilled when I returned to the Catholic Church to dive into the Church's rich intellectual and spiritual traditions, and to be able to study and grow my mind on stuff like Augustine and Thomas while being able to learn quiet contemplation at the feet of Teresa and Therese. In Catholicism, there is a perfect union between the active and contemplative, between intellectual and spiritual, between Peter and John, between flesh and spirit; it is a union that allows the devout worshipper to be a whole person and to truly find their own humanity even as they subject it to God's will.

It was in the middle of this new revert "high" that I first came in contact with Catholic charismatic practices through a "Life in the Spirit" seminar. I was shocked that such things existed in the Catholic Church, because as a baby Catholic coming out of Protestantism, I naturally (and I think somewhat rightly) thought of charismatic worship as a "Protestant" thing. I was surprised to find out that with all of the rich liturgical, intellectual and hagiographical traditions of the Church that there was anybody who was looking "outside" of this Catholic Tradition for anything else to supplement it. I dallied with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal a little bit, but found it unsatisfying and kind of wimpy (again, coming out of Pentecostalism, the charismatic worship of the Catholics seemed forced and inorganic - at least the Protestant Pentecostalism was more harmonious with the nature of their faith as a whole). There was something of a unnatural union in the idea of Catholic charismatic worship.

Now, as my pastor did when he recently preached on this, I am going to have to toe the line here and say that, yes, the charismatic renewal is a legitimate expression of Catholic worship and the Pope has in some way sanctioned it. But here is my real problem with it - the reason why while not outrightly rejecting it I have nevertheless been uncomfortable with it. The Charismatic Renewal is, in the last analysis, a spirituality from outside Catholicism that has been transplanted into it in recent times. This is where I take issue with some of the official or semi-official sanctions of the Renewal by the Magisterium. If the Magisterium wants to sanction this spirituality, then that's fine with me. That is it's perogative. But I question the grounds upon which it is sanctioned, and what I mean by this is the very tenuous attempt to connect the modern charismatic movement with the charismata and worship experienced by the first Christians.

Sure, the Church has never lacked charismatic gifts. That's obvious, but we are fostering a tremendous falsehood on people if we are trying to somehow connect modern charismatic worship with the charismatic gifts of the Church, simply because of the common use of the word charismata. I am much too busy to do all the research and cite the documents now, but if you look at John Paul II's letters endorsing the charismatic movement, you will see that they are based on a loose association of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the charismata of the Early Church with the alleged charismata manifest in the Charismatic Renewal. It is almost like he wanted to say "Yes, this is Catholic, and it is essentially Catholic; i.e., it has always been a part of Catholicism." One example I can give you is from his address to leaders of the Renewal on December 11, 1979. In that address, he made the statement that, "I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church" (source). I am not against saying that there is an important role that charismatics can play (as JPII said ), but is it going a bit far to say that this movement is a central component of the renewal of the entire Church?

One other example comes from then Cardinal Ratzinger, in the forward of a book written by Cardinal Suenens. In the forward, Ratzinger says:

At the heart of a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit suddenly burst forth. And, since then, that experience has assumed a breadth of a worldwide Renewal movement. What the New Testament tells us about the charisms - which were seen as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit - is not just ancient history, over and done with, for it is once again becoming extremely topical [Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, Leo Cardinal Suenens (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1983)].

Here we see what I was talking about - a mention of the Charismatic Renewal followed by an immediate connection with the New Testament, as if the type of charismatic stuff we see now that had its origin in the 1960's is the exact same thing that was going on in the New Testament!

I'm sorry, but that is where I must protest. If you are looking for the origins of the Charismatic Renewal, it is not to the Early Church you must turn but to the 1906 Protestant Azusa Street Revival in California. Charismatic worship, as it is practiced today in the Catholic Church, is fundamentally Protestant and foreign to Catholic spirituality. Perhaps some Catholics want to deceive themselves and pretend that the Early Church or some of the saints were doing the liturgy the way some charismatic churches now do it, but it simply isn't so. Protestants don't lie to themselves on this issue, and most Protestants who are aware of Catholic charismatic liturgies applaud it as an introduction of a certain element of Protestantism into the Catholic Church. The website of the Azusa Street Revival says it plainly: "Every Church member that is charismatic of pentecostal has roots that stem from the Asuza Street Revival" (source).

The problem for me is that in embracing the Charismatic Renewal in its fullness, the Church is somehow saying that it was in "need" of this movement. Many charismatics will say this openly - the Church "needs" the Charismatic Renewal. If they do indeed believe this, then it is heresy. It is evident that charismatic worship stems from Protestantism, and as Anselm quoted from the Holy Office's Instruction On the Ecumenical Movement, 20 December 1949, the Church says that anything or anyone coming into the Catholic Church ought not to imagine that they are giving the Church some essential element from without her that she was somehow in need of:

It should be made clear to them that, in returning to the Church, they will lose nothing of that good which by the grace of God has hitherto been implanted in them, but that it will rather be supplemented and completed by their return. However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked (II).

Yet this is exactly what we see with the Charismatic Renewal: a spirituality modern in its origin and fundamentally Protestant, hidden under a thin veneer of Catholicism and adopted whole-heartedly by the Magisterium which acts as if we are in dire need of this Protestant movement.

I do not doubt or deny the orthodoxy or fidelity of Catholics involved in the Renewal - the charismatic parish down the road from us gives out more seminarians every year than all the other parishes in the Diocese combined. But I do take issue with any idea that says that the Catholic Church, as it has traditionally existed, lived and prayed, is somehow deficient in the means it gives to people for their sanctification and that something "new" ought to be infused from the outside in order to renew it. As far as I can see, this idea is heresy, because all the means of grace and sanctification given to man are found within the Church and her sacraments as expressed in her traditional devotional life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

I know Whom I have believed, and I am certain that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him, against that day; being a just judge. (Psalm) Lord, Thou hast proved me and known me: Thou hast known my sitting down, and my rising up.

Anselm here again, with some thoughts on the closing day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25), the dates of which themselves admirably express the Church's understanding of what ecumenism is all about. Jan. 18 is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, while Jan. 25 is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Thus the Christian Unity for which we pray is unity with the Church of Rome (the Church of the holy apostles Peter and Paul), which entails both submission to the authority of the Holy Father (symbolized by the chair, the cathedra), and conversion to the true faith (as exemplified by St. Paul). Here a few of my personal favorite quotes from the most important magisterial documents on the subject of ecumenism (not intended to be fully representative of the contents of said documents).

~From Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Letter to the Bishops of Italy Quanto conficiamur moerore (On Promotion of False Doctrines), 10 August 1863.

God forbid that the children of the Catholic Church should even in any way be unfriendly to those who are not at all united to us by the same bonds of faith and love. On the contrary, let them be eager always to attend to their needs with all the kind services of Christian charity, whether they are poor or sick or suffering any other kind of visitation. First of all, let them rescue them from the darkness of the errors into which they have unhappily fallen and strive to guide them back to Catholic truth and to their most loving Mother who is ever holding out her maternal arms to receive them lovingly back into her fold.

~From Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Mortalium animos (On Religious Unity), 6 January 1928.

So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics:for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it. During the lapse of centuries, the mystical Spouse of Christ has never been contaminated, nor can she ever in the future be contaminated… 

Let, therefore, the separated children draw nigh to the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to that See, We repeat, which is "the root and womb whence the Church of God springs," not with the intention and the hope that "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" will cast aside the integrity of the faith and tolerate their errors, but, on the contrary, that they themselves submit to its teaching and government. Would that it were Our happy lot to do that which so many of Our predecessors could not, to embrace with fatherly affection those children, whose unhappy separation from Us We now bewail. Would that God our Savior, "Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," would hear us when We humbly beg that He would deign to recall all who stray to the unity of the Church!

~From The Holy Office, Instruction On the Ecumenical Movement, 20 December 1949.

Therefore the [whole] and [entire] Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained: by no means is it permitted to pass over in silence or to veil in ambiguous terms the Catholic truth regarding the nature and way of justification, the constitution of the Church, the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, and the only true union by the return of the dissidents to the one true Church of Christ. It should be made clear to them that, in returning to the Church, they will lose nothing of that good which by the grace of God has hitherto been implanted in them, but that it will rather be supplemented and completed by their return. However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked. It will be necessary to say these things clearly and openly, first because it is the truth that they themselves are seeking, and moreover because outside the truth no true union can ever be attained.

~From the Council of Vatican II, Session V, Decree Unitatis redintegratio (On Ecumenism), 21 November 1964.

[W]hen the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. (4)

It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded. (11)

~From Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (On Commitment to Ecumenism), 25 May 1995.

The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth? (18)

Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of any authentic quest for full communion between Christians. (36)

Full communion of course will have to come about through the acceptance of the whole truth into which the Holy Spirit guides Christ's disciples. Hence all forms of reductionism or facile "agreement" must be absolutely avoided. Serious questions must be resolved, for if not, they will reappear at another time, either in the same terms or in a different guise. (36)

~From the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal NoteOn Some Aspects of Evangelization, 3 December 2007.

There is today, however, a growing confusion which leads many to leave the missionary command of the Lord unheard and ineffective (cf. Mt 28:19). Often it is maintained that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom. From this perspective, it would only be legitimate to present one's own ideas and to invite people to act according to their consciences, without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith. It is enough, so they say, to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion; it is enough to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. Furthermore, some maintain that Christ should not be proclaimed to those who do not know him, nor should joining the Church be promoted, since it would also be possible to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ and without formal incorporation in the Church. (3)

Everywhere and always, each Catholic has the right and the duty to give the witness and the full proclamation of his faith. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideas, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one's partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ. (12)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chaldean Rite (conclusion)

Sorry it took me so long to get to this, but I had a lot of other stuff I wanted to post on. Here we pick up after the consecration with a rite called the Breaking and Signing that is absent in our current NO rite. The signing seems to be a liturgical affirmation of the dogma of concomitance, that Christ is equally present in Body and Blood under both species. We will also conclude with the Post Communion prayer and the final blessing.

Priest: We ask You Lord to transform our weakness into the strength of Your precious love. Thoroughly cleanse us of every stain of sin, O good shepherd, who searched for us, found us, and delights in our return. Forgive our faults and sins, by Your goodness and mercy.

People: Amen. Bless us Lord [all kneel].

Priest: Lord God, by Your goodness and mercy bring us close to these glorious, holy and divine mysteries, although we are unworthy.

People: Truly, we are unworthy [priest elevates the host].

Priest: This is truly the life giving bread that came down from heaven and gives life to all, so that all who eat Him will not die, and those who receive Him will not be lost, but will be saved and live in Him forever.

People: Amen.

Priest: We approach Your holy mysteries, O Lord, with true faith, we break and sign them in the seal of salvation; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, forever.

People: Amen.

Priest: The precious blood is signed with the life-giving body of our Lord Jesus Christ; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, forever.

People: Amen.

Priest: The sacred body is signed with the forgiving blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, forever.

People: Amen. [the priest elevates the holy cup]

People: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. The cherubim, seraphim and the archangels, in fear and in awe stand before the altar gazing upon the priest as he breaks and prepares the body of Christ for the forgiveness of sins [sit].

Priest: May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the joy of the Holy Spirit be with You all, now and forever.

People: Amen.

Deacon: Let us approach with awe and reverence the mysteries of the precious body and blood of our Savior. With overflowing love and true faith, let us receive the gift of eternal life. Let us prepare ourselves to participate in the mysteries of the Church with fervent prayer and true contrition. With hope to being forgiven, let us turn from evil and repent from our sins. Let us ask mercy from the Lord of all, and let us forgive our neighbors their offenses.

People: Lord, forgive us our sins.

Servers: Let us purify ourselves of hatred and hostility.

People: Lord, forgive us our sins.

Servers: Let us receive this communion and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

People: Lord, forgive us our sins.

Servers: United and with one accord, let us receive the holy communion.

People: Lord, forgive us our sins.

Servers: Lord, let these sacraments be for the resurrection of our bodies and the salvation of our souls.

People: And unto everlasting life, amen.

Servers: Let us pray; peace be with us. [stand]

Priest: Forgive in Your mercy Lord, the sins and offenses of Your humble people. By Your goodness, Lord, sanctify our lips that we may ever glorify You together with all the holy ones in Your kingdom. Make us worthy to stand before You with confidence and pure hearts; together we say:

People: Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil. Amen. [kneel]

Priest: Peace be with you.

People: And also with you.

Priest: Holy things are for the holy ones.

People: One Holy Father, one Holy Son, one Holy Spirit. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit forever, amen.

Servers: Praise the living God.

People: Glory be to God in His Church. May His mercy and kindness dwell in us now and forever. [priest elevates the Body of Christ]

Priest: May the Son who has given us His body and blood give us life in His kingdom.

Priest & People: Sanctify our bodies by Your holy body, and forgive us our sins by Your blood. Purify our consciences with Your love, forever, O Christ our hope. Amen. [the priest consumes the sacred host]

Priest: You have prepared Your blood as a cup of wine for the guests at Your banquet, O Heavenly Bridegroom, and You have invited us to drink from it. [the priest drinks the Blood]

Priest: May the gift of grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be fruitful in all of us through His mercies.

People: Forever and ever. Amen.

Deacon: Brothers and sisters, the Church calls us to receive the body of the Son and to drink from His cup in faith. [people receive holy communion]

Choir: {Hymn}

Deacon: May the Eucharist that we have received in faith be for the forgiveness of our offenses; O Christ King of all ages, You took the form of a slave while You are the Creator; through Your body and blood You have atoned for the sins and offenses of all who believe in You. Make us worthy, O Lord, to behold Your second coming with confidence; and with the multitudes of the heavenly hosts, we raise to You glory; Amen and Amen.

Deacon: Brothers and sisters, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have been made worhty to participate in the glorious, life giving and divine mysteries. Let us all together thank and give glory to God Who has given them to us.

People: Praise to Him because of His precious gift.

Priest: It is always right and fitting, O Lord, thatw e should thank and give glory to Your wondrous name. In Your goodness You have enabled our humble nature to bless Your name along with the angels. And that we might be participants in the mysteries of Your gift, and that we may take delight in the sweetness of Your words. May we ever lift up our voices in praise and thanksgiving to You, O Lord of all; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever.

People: Amen. May the Lord bless us.

Priest: Christ is our God, our King, our Savior, our Lord, the giver of life and the forgiver of sins. By His mercy and grace He made us worthy to receive His most blessed and sanctifying body and blood. Let us be pleasing to Him in our words and actions, in our thoughts and deeds. O Lord may what we have received be a pledge for us to obtain forgiveness of our sins. And through Your grace and mercy let it be our hope for the resurrection from the dead, and the new life, in the kingdom of heaven, with all who have pleased You forever. [stand]

Priest: Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil. Amen

Priest: God has blessed us with every spiritual grace in heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord, and has called us to share in His kingdom that will never fade, dissolve or end. As He promised us in His living Gospel when He said to the blessed disciples, "Amen, amen I say to you, whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood dwells in Me and I in him, and I shall raise him up on the last day, and he shall not come to judgment, but I shall let him pass from death to eternal life." May He bless our assembly, protect our community and sanctify our people who have come and have been renewed by the pwoer of the glorious, holy, life-giving and divine mysteries. And may the living sign of the Lord's Cross save us and preserve us from all evil, both hidden and manifest; now and forever and ever.

People: Amen.

Previous posts in this series:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A well-meaning but errant approach to abortion

Many Catholics have been sending around this great Pro-Life video regarding Barack Hussein Obama and his Pro-Abortion policies. If you have not yet seen it, please take a look:

While I applaud the makers of this video for their desire to promote life, I have to say that this is not the best or strongest argument against abortion, the fact that a child from a broken family can grow up to be president despite overwhelming odds. In college Ethics class, I recall this was addressed as the “Beethoven Argument” against abortion, an argument which while seeking to give a good Pro-Life argument on the one hand actually ends up damaging the Pro-Life position through the back door.

The essence of the Beethoven Argument is this:

Maj. Premise: Any child could grow up to be the next Beethoven (or find a cure for cancer, or whatever).

Min. Premise: If we kill that child, we may deprive the world of its next great genius or leader.

Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.

While this argument (logically at least) is true, it is based on a false premise: that the most important determining factor in whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is the potential of that child in the world. It is a utilitarian argument, because it backhandedly seems to say that only the possibility of a child growing up to be successful is relevant to whether they should live or die.

But what about those who are not Beethoven? What about the crippled, the blind or the just average? The problem comes with the minor premise, that killing the child may deprive the world of its next great genius. While it may be true, a better principle would be to say killing a child will deprive the world of its next child. This argument seems to suggest that the child only has value if he/she turns out to “be somebody.”

I know the makers of this video do not believe that. I know they are well intentioned. But the fact of the matter is, if we ever argue against abortion based on utilitarian factors like what a child could potentially do for society, we are arguing from a foundation of sand that fails to take into account that the dignity of the person comes from who they are not what they do.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Love & Matrimony

I have gotten a lot of comments on my post from last week on courtship and dating that took issue with my statement that love was not necessary for the sacrament of marriage. I feel that I must clarify this position and address some criticisms of it.

When I say that love is not necessary for marriage, I emphatically do not mean that true love (charity) is not requisite to have a happy marriage, or a good home, or that it is not commanded by Christ, not only to our spouses, but for everyone. In fact, it is indeed commanded by St. Paul in the context of marriage ("Husbands, love your wives"-Eph. 5:25). So, I am definitely not downplaying the importance of love in a marriage.

But it is nevertheless true that sacramentally, love is not necessary to bring forth the sacrament of marriage, which is the point I was getting at. The sacrament of marriage can be brought about without love. All it that is required for the form and the matter is a Catholic man and a woman free of any impediments, public vows, and a witness of the Church. That is the nuts n' bolts of a sacramental marriage. So, while I agree that love is essential for the practical working out of a good marriage, I maintain that it is not necessary in the least way for bringing about the sacrament of matrimony. I don't think this needs any "proofs" but I will submit two.

First, if we look at annulments (and yes, we all know they are abused) we will see that an annulment regards impediments to marriage that were in place at the time the marriage was celebrated, so that though the couple thought they were getting married in good faith (i.e., putative marriage), they were in fact not getting married at all due to the presence of an impeding or diriment impediment. Now, if "lack of love" was essential either as matter or form to bring about the sacrament, then "lack of love" or "He didn't really love me" would be grounds for an annulment. Of course, even in our modern Church where annulments can be granted for a variety of reasons, lack of love is not one of them. This may be an element in the "psychological" reasons for an annulment, but this alone is not grounds for an annulment and never has been. Therefore, since lack of love cannot annul a marriage, we have to assume that love is not (strictly) necessary to bring the sacrament about.

Second, if love were requisite for the sacrament, none of the world's many politically arranged marriages throughout history would have been valid. Consider in the Middle Ages, where a monarch might bargain with another monarch and receive the other king's daughter in marriage. He would have never seen her, and even the marriage itself was contracted over long distance, via a proxy (an odd rite where the king would ceremonially lay down in bed with a minister of the other family to symbolize comsummating the marriage). The King would meet his new bride for the first time after they were already married legally and sacramentally and then would proceed to consummate the union with a woman who was practically a complete stranger. This was the norm for Christian marriage among the upper nobility in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, a type which everybody, including the popes, recognized as valid. For example. Pope Julius II regarded the marriage of Arthur Tudor to Catherine of Aragon as valid, though the two had never met and were married by proxy. If love were a strict requirement, the pope could not have done this.

There is, however a degree of fidelity or truthfulness that is required to bring about the sacrament. The vows have to be said in good faith, and the vows of course state that the man promises to love and care for the spouse. We must notice something: in the vows, the man swears that he will love his wife, not that he already does. And how is the love to be manifest in these vows? By what comes next: in swearing to take care of her, defend her, care for her in sickness and in the raising up of children, etc. In other words, this love is presumed not by the affection that the husband bears the bride, but by the practical things he promises to do on her behalf.

So long as the husband promises these things in good faith, the sacrament occurs. But let us not confuse the promising of the things with the things themselves. It is necessary that the hubsand and the wife vow to care for each other in love (which is seen in this sacrament as the practical supporting of each other's physical needs and the raising of children), but it is not necessary that they possess that love at the time of the ceremony. In fact, the marriage rite's conception of love is very different from the modern idea of love as an emotive affection ("romantic fondness"). Therefore, traditionally speaking, it is possible for the paradox to arise of a man loving his wife but not liking her, because his matrimonial love is manifest in the tending to practical and material needs.

Now, let me be frank about something historically: it was always seen as ideal and beneficial for the spouses to have true affective attachment to each other. That was seen as a given. You get married, go off with your spouse and learn to love and cherish them as time goes on. However, people who married "for love" were considered to be fools, ignorant of how their union would affect their later lives. If someone did have a marriage for love that worked out well, it was considered a happy (but rare) occurrence. Thus the sister of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, when she married the Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon for love, was considered rash and foolhardy, and Henry even considered prosecuting against her for marrying without his consent. But he later relented and Mary and Charles had a happy marriage - that is not unusual, but we must look at how it was perceived, and the people of the day perceived their union as extraordinarily fortuitous, for usually such unions "for love" wound up ruinous, as in Romeo and Juliet, for example. Obviously the play is not a true story, but it demonstrates how people thought: though romantic unions for love were passionate, enticing and sometimes envied, in the end (it was thought) they were bound to turn out poorly.

Therefore, yes, of course we want to have love in our marriages. I never insinuated otherwise. But however much we may want to exalt marital love, we are bound to admit that strictly speaking, it is not necessary to bring about the sacrament of matrimony.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The tired old "fruits" argument

Here is a comment from a reader on a recent post I did on news from Rome that the Pope was going to announce some new (stricter) guidelines for dealing with alleged apparitions. Here is what this reader said:

Mathew [sic] 7:16 "You will know them by their fruits"

Despite opinions to the contrary, Medjugorje is bringing souls to Catholicism and Christ, including me. I was not interested in Catholicism until my wife dragged me there and I had an unexpected and uncoerced conversion. I'm now in RCIA, attend the Mass regularly and listen to the Catholic Channel on XM and EWTN whenever I can. No one can truly understand Medjugorje unless they visit there.

Medjugorje statistics for 2008:

Holy Communions distributed 1,357,100
Concelebrating priests - total: 31,724
Evening Holy Mass: 12,375
Largest number of languages in which the Gospel was read during the Evening Mass: 16
Meeting for leaders 125 participants
Meeting for priests 233 participants
Meeting for married couples 90 couples
Youth Festival more then 50,000 participants
Peace March 3,000 participants

Anniversary of the Apparitions Mass 50,000 participants
Mass on Cross Mountain 20,000 participants
New Year’s Vigil 10,000 participants
Statistics - “Domus Pacis” Retreat house
Fasting, prayer and silence seminars 21 seminars - 790 participants
Franciscan Youth Fraternity 10 seminars - 335 participants
Altar Boys 1 seminar - 32 boys
Seminars for young girls 7 seminars - 213 girls
Other seminars 13 seminars - 462 participants

First of all, I do want to congratulate this gentleman on his reception into the Church, but I find serious fault with this "fruits" argument. This is the same old canard that Medjugorje enthusiasts have been throwing around for decades now when any sensible criticism is leveled against the alleged apparitions: It must be from God because of all these good "fruits." This is an argument I totally reject, and I intend to give a thorough rebuttal to this oft made assertion here.

1) To borrow from Mr. Edmund Burke, these numbers would be great evidence for Medjugorje's authenticity, if the Kingdom of Heaven were a matter of mathematics.

This argument amounts to saying that it must be right because everybody is doing it. Sheer numbers do not mean anything at all. The Kingdom of Heaven is qualitative, not quantitative. On the last day it is not about how many people said "Lord, Lord," but about how many have done the will of the Father Who is in heaven. It has often been remarked by many theologians that the love of God is so magnanimous that Christ would still have come and died upon the Cross even if He knew that but a single soul would respond to His grace.

The fact that many people are buying into something, even within the Church, doesn't mean anything to me. In the Old Testament (and the New), one could make a strong argument that the Faith usually is preserved and handed on by what the Bible calls a "remnant." The theology behind the idea of the "remnant" is very interesting, but I will not go into it here. Suffice it to say that we must heed the warning of Christ: the true path is narrow. So don't come throwing around statistics about how many people go to Medjugorje. The Mormon Church has over 13 million members and 52,000 missionaries too, and I'm sure a lot of them are led to lead decent, moral lives by means of their faith. Are we going to apply this same argument to them? After all, they're making lots of baptisms!

2) Numbers especially do not matter if the message is wrong; i.e., the quantitative loses all value if the qualitative is errant.

This is the reason why nobody would make the same case about the Mormons - sure they have 52,000 missionaries and thousands of baptisms every year, but we all understand that the missionaries are spreading error and the baptisms are into an errant faith.

Now, Medjugorje is not as errant as the Mormons, don't get me wrong. But it is a fact that when people go to Medjugorje and defend it, they are defending a phenomenon that (1) Has been condemned by the local ordinary many times (2) Is in a manifest state of disobedience (3) Promulgates questionable doctrines via the alleged seers (4) Promotes a type of pseduo-spiritual emotionalism (5) Is radically different from anything in Catholic Tradition.

So, when you quote how many seminars and conferences, I must ask, "And what is being taught at these conferences?" If you point to the Youth Festival, I say, "So what? The NCYC Youth Festival had over 20,000 people there and it was hardly Catholic and had lots of heresy and was probably positively harmful to many souls." The fact that lot's of people participate in this stuff is meaningless if the content is bad. So you had 1,357,100 Holy Communions distributed? How many of these were done in the hand, by lay ministers, to people who had not fasted, were in a state of sin or did not believe in the Real Presence? Maybe many; maybe none -we have no way to know this, but in general, the bigger the gathering, the larger the abuses and the greater the margin of people who will receive with inappropriate dispositions.

3) Baptisms, conversions and seminars, while good, are not proof of supernatural activity.

This is one of my biggest hang-ups with Medjugorje. When I say that the apparitions are false, people say, like our reader, "I was not interested in Catholicism until my wife dragged me there and I had an unexpected and uncoerced conversion." Well, praise the Lord! But let me ask you, does that establish the supernatural nature of the apparitions? Is the fact that lots of people chose to amend their lives mean that Mary really appeared? The two have nothing to do with each other.

Remember the Millerites? William Miller preached that the end of the world was imminent and that Christ was about to return. Many people reformed their lives, had conversions and began to "get religion." Of course, when Christ did not return to earth in 1844 as Miller had predicted, his followers suffered disillusionment and what has been known as the "Great Disappointment." Many people had converted and amended their lives - but of course, that has nothing to do with whether or not the apparition or prediction is actually supernatural.

4) The fact that God uses something as a tool does not mean that it is good in itself or is to be promoted.

Now, let's give everybody the benefit of the doubt here. Let's say that our reader is truly and sincerely converted, and that he has a real relationship with God (which I do not doubt), and furthermore that this was in fact attributed to graces received through Medjugorje. Still, this does not establish Medjugorje's authenticity.

Let's look a simple biblical principle: God often uses things as tools to prod people to repentance that are not in themselves good. Take Assyria. God deliberately sent Assyria to conquer the northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC so that they might repent of their sins. I guess some could say, if we lived back then, "Wow! Ever since the Assyrian conquest, we have seen people repenting of their sins in the street, amending their lives, praying more and returning to God! Isn't Assyria wonderful?" Well, no, of course not. Though the Assyrian conquest brought about repentance and conversion (it's purpose), we understand that it is not in itself good. It is being used by the Lord as a rod to chasten the people. It says so much in Isaiah 10, when God promises to turn and judge Assyria for its haughtiness:

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!...Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! (v.1,13)

God is using Assyria as a "rod" to accomplish His purpose, but that does not mean the "rod" is in itself good. In fact, in this verse God is specifically saying that though He used the rod for a time, He is now going to turn against it and judge the rod because it has grown haughty.

Applied to Medjugorje, we could say that though God may use Medjugorje, as a rod, to move people to repentance and bring about conversion, that does not mean that Medjurgoje is in itself good, or true, nor does it mean that He will not in fact turn and judge it one day when it becomes too haughty (as in disobeying the local ordinary, for example) or when its purpose is accomplished.

5) God uses many means to bring us to where He wants us, some good, some bad.

This is an elaboration of point 4. Consider this: I had a conversion back to Christianity through the agency of a vibrant, Pentecostal Non-Denominational Protestant church. I actually owe my salvation to people from that Church. But under no circumstances would I refer people to it now. I was first introduced to Catholicism by a schismatic group (not the SSPX, another more obscure group). It is because of them that I am Catholic - but there's no way I'd ever defend them now or send people to their doors! Just because you had a conversion through the agency of something doesn't mean you are in the right place. It just means God wanted to touch you, nothing more nothing less. It's just the way things are. Everybody is on their own journey, but we have to disassociate our own journey essentially from any of the steps on that journey. A step is a step - it may not be a good one, but God may use it to get you where He wants you to go.

The Didache, which deals with discerning prophecy, tells us that one may even speak with the Holy Spirit but still bear a false message if He is not living in obedience to God. "Yet not every one that speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord" (11:12).

6) The fruits admonition in Matthew refers primarily to false prophets being signaled out by their nature of rapaciousness - i.e., being "ferocious wolves."

The entire verse from Matthew 7:15-20 reads:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Regarding Medjugorje, I would make two points. First, based on much of what I've said above, I don't think Medjugorje as a movement has good fruits. There may be good stories, just as I am sure there are good stories from some people who went to NCYC, but overall the phenomenon I think has negative fruits.

Two, using Christ's symbolism that a false prophet is a ferocious (or in some translations, "ravenous") wolf has to do with their desire to profit from their ministry - St. Peter fills this in for us in by attributing their deceptiveness to greed: Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up (2 Pet. 2-3). St. Paul tells us that these deceivers live to fill only themselves: many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach (Php. 3:18-20). So, using the Scriptures, we can see that one sign of a false prophet is a desire to make money or a sign of greed.

The Didache tells us plainly: "[B]ut if he ask money, he is a false prophet" (11:9). Now, to anyone who does not know, the seers of Medjurgorje (unlike St. Bernadette or Sr. Lucia) are fabulously wealthy and continue to profit by the Medjugorje phenomenon. This has been well documented, and if you do not believe it, do the research yourself. But some some will say, "But Boniface, they did not ask for the money - they just receive it when it is freely offered!" Well, okay. A technicality. But, in the Scriptures, simply receiving money for prophecy or spiritual things is condemned, even if you did not technically ask for it. Let's look in 2 Kings 5. This is the story of Naaman the Syrian who was cleansed by Elijah from leprosy by bathing in the Jordan seven times. After his healing:

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant."But he said,"As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none." And he urged him to take it, but he refused (2 Kings 5:15-16).

See? Elijah positively refused any material compensation, even though it was freely offered to him and he did not ask for it. But Elijah's servant, Gehazi, was greedy for the gifts that Naaman wanted to offer, and so went back and took advantage of Naaman's good nature to secure the gifts for himself. When he returned to Elijah, the prophet told him:

Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever." So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow (v.26-27).

Granted, Gehazi lied to get the money. But here is the point: Elijah considered it wrong to receive any payment for his prophecy and his miracles, even swearing by God that he would not take anything. Elijah chastises Gehazi not for lying to Naaman, but for thinking it was a prudent time to accept money and for doing so. Therefore God struck him with leprosy.


The numerical value of what goes on at Medjugorje is meaningless, especially if the substance of the visions is errant or doubtful, which it is, as I have documented in other posts. Even true conversions do not prove supernatural origin - a man could be converted just from a good homily, but that doesn't mean God inspired the homily supernaturally. Sometimes God uses external things (people, churches, movements) to move us by His grace towards some further end, but that cannot be taken as a validation of the agents (the "rods") that God uses to do so. Furthermore, the Medjurgorje seers are fabulously rich because of their "apparitions," and in the same verses where Christ says we shall know false prophets by their fruits, He also tells us to beware of greedy "wolves," and from the story of Elijah, Naaman and Gehazi we can see that it is not necessary to ask for money to incur condemnation - to simply accept money freely offered for a prophecy or spiritual good is reprobated.

So no more of this "fruits" argument please!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Definition of a Trad

This was pulled off the Catholic Answers Forum and sent to me - it is entitled "Definition of a Trad." Take it with a grain of salt; it's meant to be humorous. Thanks to Mr. S for sending it to me.

A traditional Catholic is not a person who "prefers" the old Latin Mass. Neither are they people simply passed Catechism class.

They are people who adhere to a type of spirituality that is largely lost in the 21st Century Catholic Church.

Truthfully, it's easier to describe their outward signs than their character: the old Latin Mass is the biggest identifier... though there are certainly traditional Catholics who are marooned in Novus Ordoland; there are likewise non-traditional Catholics who go to the TLM.

Trads are people who listen to Catholic Radio... skeptically. They might have a blog. They can list their "top-five" favorite Ecumenical Councils... none of which will rhyme with "Attican Shoe". Their friends think they're fuddy-duddys. They've got Holy Water fonts in all the bedrooms and by the front door. They quote the Douay Rheims bible. They have an opinion on offering Mass in baroque vestments while in a gothic chapel. They're tired of tinfoil hat jokes. They may not like Bishop Williamson, but concede that sometimes he's right, and when he's right, he's really right. They can tell you about Assisi. When they're at a Novus Ordo Mass, they've got their hands folded like a Catholic during the Our Father. The women have an extra mantilla in the van-- just in case. The men have an opinion on the best type of pipe tobacco for any occasion. The boys have their own cassock and surplice hanging in the closet. The girls know how to play Dies Irae on the organ. They wear a t-shirt while they go swimming so their brown scapular doesen't float away. They're willing to drive an hour to go to Mass... every Sunday. They know the confession times of at least 4 churches. They invite priests over to play cards and smoke cigars. They pray to saints that you think may not really exist. They ask you to finish the sentence when you say "John Paul the Great"... the great what? They might own a live chicken.

When they're at a Novus Ordo Mass, everyone watches them to figure out why they're hitting themselves during the "Lamb of God". They're kneel after Mass to pray... and miss out on the fun gladhanding with Father by the parish gift shop. They scoff when they pass the Masonic Lodge. They cross themselves when they pass a Catholic church. They mutter something about the "poor souls" when they pass a cemetary. They mutter something about St. Michael when an ambulance passes them. Their girls' first names are Mary. Their boys' middle names are Mary. Cappa Magna doesn't sound like a drink at Starbucks to them. They'll tell you at length why being "charitable" isn't always being nice and friendly.

It's complicated. Trads are not easily defined. You just kind of know them when you see them

Friday, January 09, 2009

Courtship & Dating

This is a post that is a response to an inquiry by a long time reader of this blog. The basic question was this: what is my opinion on courtship, on dating, on how a young Catholic man should go about wooing a woman and about acceptable courting practices. This is going to be a very in depth answer, and it is going to be hard to disentangle it from my own subjective experiences in this matter, but as a man married for almost eight years who has not “dated” for almost ten, I think I can reflect on it with some type of objectivity. But I must stress two things before I launch into this topic:

(1) All of the following is my opinion only. I do not profess it to be the Church’s ideas or even anybody’s ideas but my own. They are just my opinions, formed by a historical study.

(2) I have to warn everybody, my opinions on this issue may diverge from several commonly accepted notions, even notions accepted within the Traditionalist and Homeschooling communities. My opinions on courting/dating and marriage are simply part of a larger worldview, which I am not at this time able to clearly articulate for various reasons. However, because I am going to in this post threaten some sacred cows, I anticipate getting some disagreement. So be it.

So first, let’s come to terminology. Wooing a female. Well, it does not matter one bit to me what you call this process. Some homeschool parents get all bent out of shape about the terminology. My child will not “date”; they will “court.” Okay, well what really matters is the substance of what is going on at these liaisons, not what you call them. You can call it courting, dating, keeping company, going steady, (or, my mother’s annoying phrase from the 1960’s, “going with”), or whatever you want. Don’t get all upset about the name. I know of some families who don’t let their kids “date,” but allow their daughters to be in situations with other boys that would be tantamount to dating, but they for some reason allow it because it’s not called dating and because “we know their family,” as if that makes concupiscence and passion any less intense!

But let’s look at the definitions: courting or courtship, in a romantic sense, first appears in 1596. It grew out of the idea of medieval courtly love, and the idea of courting a woman came from the phrase “paying her court,” which originally meant a knight visiting the court of a noble lady whom he wished to woo. This phrase originally had nothing to do with how the visit was carried out; i.e., whether you visited the woman alone, or with her family present. Generally, this would have been a public display of affection for a lady followed by a solitary (and often amorous) encounter. I have news for people who think the term courting is somehow intrinsically better than dating: medieval courts could be some of the most immoral places on earth, especially from the time the term originates (late Renaissance, early modern period). Even in France, the home of courtly love, the courts of the French kings were known to be rottenly immoral sexually. Sexual promiscuity and adultery were so commonplace in the French courts that syphilis (first introduced into Europe around this time from the New World) was known as the “French Disease.”

Here’s my point (1) Courting, traditionally, had nothing to do with how a liaison was arranged (with family or without) but concerned itself rather with paying a visit to a lady at her court (2) These courts were rampant places of immorality. Therefore, we ought to not be all excited about saying we prefer “courting” to dating.

However, courting later did come to take on a more respectable tone: paying a lady a visit in her home (i.e., her court), presumably in the presence of her family, with a stated or unstated romantic intention. Talking with my grandmother, however, (who is now 90 years old), I am told that even in the old days among traditional families (mine was Sicilian Catholic), it was still common place for the boy and girl to go off alone. The boy might pay the girl a visit at her home, spend a little bit of time chatting with the family, then take the girl off for a picnic, bicycle ride, walk in the woods or boat ride. This modern idea that a boy and a girl who are interested in each other never spend any time alone is (a) not historical or traditional at all (b) stifling to any real intent of getting to know the other. Parents along time ago knew that for a boy to get to know a girl, they needed the opportunity to get to know each other one on one.

Therefore, the emphasis wasn’t on whether time was spent alone or not, but whether the two were put into any compromising positions. Therefore, though the two would be left alone, it would be outdoors, in public, etc., places where they could talk freely but would not be able to act on any temptation. I know two people definitely intent on fornicating cannot really be stopped – there is always a way to sneak off into the woods or go into a Port-a-Potty, like they used to do when I was in Basic Training, but the basic idea is sound: two persons together in a boat or on a walk in the park are much less likely to think about any shenanigans than two persons alone in a bedroom. That would have never been permitted nor do I think it should be.

Interestingly enough, the term dating first comes from the Victorian era (around 1898), a period of much stricter morals than the late Renaissance. Dating had an innocuous meaning originally: simply having a date or appointment set with someone. Therefore, if we are going to look at the eras that the terms dating and courtship came out of, I think dating had a much more wholesome and moral bent to it, since Victorian manners (on a whole) were much more moral and reserved than late Renaissance French morality. But this again just has to do with terminology, which is not the entirety of the argument at all. Dating, of course, has a bad name because it is at the end of the Victorian era that the automobile enters the picture and the date is transformed, with all the silliness about “Make Out Point” and that kind of thing. Like it or not, the automobile is now a factor in romantic liaisons, though it need not have the sinister connotation that it sometimes does.

Therefore, how should a Catholic boy go about in his relations with his female prospect? I’m going to try to be as systematic as I can in this, but because this is such a weighty topic, I’m going to take it for granted that the boy is of age to drive. If he’s not, he probably shouldn’t be worrying about it yet (although, traditionally boys were considered of marital age around 16 or 17. Therefore, let’s not push back dating/courtship until age 20 and pretend like we are being traditional. We might be being prudent, but let’s not deceive ourselves and say that is traditional. If we were really following tradition, we’d be giving our daughters in marriage at age 15).

I reject (my opinion) this modern fascination with “discerning who God wants you to marry.” Obviously we want to discern God’s will in all things to the best of our ability, but what exactly are we discerning and how precise can we be with our discernment? In my extensive reading of history, here is how it has always been done:

The discernment process has always been whether or not to get married, not to whom one gets married.

That is, in the Middle Ages and beyond there is a great focus in spiritual writings on discerning whether you are called to celibacy or the married state. But once one discerns they are called to the married life, there is almost nothing like we see nowadays about “figuring out who God wants you to marry.” There is a lot written, however, about how to best “pick” your spouse. That is to say, the choice of a spouse was not seen as a matter of God’s will but as a matter of human prudence, much like picking a good house or picking a good piece of fruit from the market. Love was never seen to be the basis for a marriage, though it was sought after to arise after the fact by mutual affection and sharing of a common life. The woman (or man) who married simply out of love was considered a fool, and there are no records that I know of any person being taught to ask who God wanted them to marry. It was seen as something that a person was supposed to use their human judgment (common sense) on and not try to be all vocationally oriented with. A man chose a wife based on several factors, and once the marriage was consummated, love was seen to be a worthy thing that could grow on the basis of that union, but it was not deemed essential. My RCIA classes always marvel when we get to the class on the Sacrament of Matrimony and they see that “love” is not required for either the form or matter of the sacrament.

But I want to stress this: the “discernment” came when you decided whether or not to be married at all. That is because, of course, there used to be a great emphasis on the superiority of the celibate state. However, nowadays, pop-Catholic culture would have everybody spend as much time discerning their spouse as they would the question of whether or not to remain celibate. This is because in the past 40 years, marriage has been stressed more and more as a “vocation,” or a calling. This has always been admitted, but the emphasis was different before. In the past, there was those called to virginity, and then there was everybody else. Nobody spoke of being “called” to marriage – marriage was referred to, with virginity, as a “state in life”; i.e., a state that you may find yourself in, not necessarily some heavenly calling. Obviously God has a will for everybody, and you are fulfilling that will to the extent that you conform to God’s design for your life. Therefore, God has a will or a call as to what career I should pursue in life, for example. But people don’t usually refer to their jobs as “callings” in the religious sense. God has a will for everything we do, but we don’t always apply the words “calling” and “vocation” to them. I think in the modern Church, because of the drastic decline in consecrated virginity, people are over-anxious to apply the terms “vocation,” “discernment” and “calling” to other endeavors besides consecrated virginity, in an attempt to make it seem like everybody is still seeking God’s will even though there are a drastic reduction in vocations. God, however, has not stopped calling people – but people have stopped listening.

But that is a digression. So, what criterion does one use to pick a good spouse? Traditionally, the pick of a spouse was foremost an economic decision, and I don’t think this was an entirely bad idea. Economics are very important in marriage, and a home is more likely to be happy if it was financially stable. Therefore, a bachelor might look for qualities in a woman that would lead him to believe she could help him establish a financially secure home. Did she have good work habits? How did she bear up under trials? Was she patient? In some cases, did she have strong arms and a sturdy back? Because a husband wanted his wife to be respectable as well, she had to be of solid moral character: Was she devout? Was she loyal? Would she make a good mother? Therefore, the husband did not so much choose a wife because of an intense love or a desire to do God’s will, but of practical considerations based on what the addition of the wife to the husband’s household would bring to the family collectively; children, financial security, a pious atmosphere and respectability. Of course, all men wanted their wives to be attractive. Attraction is the basis for all of these things, and it was the most fundamental type of desire from which true love could grow. After a man secured a wife who would fulfill all of these requirements, he was considered happy and blessed if, in time, he came to truly love her and she him. But love was seen as secondary and in the end non-essential. It was an ideal to be strived for, not a building block that everybody felt like they had to have to get started.

To some sense, I applied these principles in my own life when I was dating my wife, though I was only 19 and still pretty ignorant. When I was dating my own wife, I looked at her and admired certain qualities about her: her fidelity, joy, industriousness, beauty and virtue. Therefore, based on these factors, I approached her and informed her that I thought we ought to get married. It is kind of amusing: I never asked her to marry me, nor did she ask me, nor did I ever ask permission from her father. If I could do it over, I would no doubt do so. But at the same time, there is a simple logic in the way I went about it: I simply approached her like it was a mathematical formula and said, “Based on X, Y, and Z factors I think we are a good match and ought to get married.” And she agreed (she was young and ignorant, too: only about 18 – that’s the only reason she agreed to marry me!).

That brings up another point: if you are trying to discern whom you should marry, the worst time to do that is while you are already dating them. How can a person make an objective judgment about this when they are already emotionally involved with another person? Just like in college, guys who joined the pre-Theologate program were forbidden from having girlfriends. The reason was obvious – one has a hard time hearing a call to the priesthood if you have a girlfriend distracting you. In the same way, you can’t figure out if you should marry a person after you are already involved with them. This is why so many people get married while they are infatuated, fail to see their partner’s flaws and then accuse them bitterly of “changing” after the marriage is complete.

Here’s how I think it should work: a man ought to observe a woman from afar, from a vantage point of friendship only, and a remote friendship at that. He should look at her objectively, asking himself questions about her virtue, modesty, industriousness, etc. Only if she fulfills all of these requirements ought he to go ahead and pursue a romantic relationship – and even then I don’t think he has to say for sure “yes, this is the person I think God wants me to marry,” but she should at least be a potential. By the way, you will never know if the person you marry is the one you should have until you are old and ready to die. Only then can you look back on your life and really reflect on it. J.R.R. Tolkien said that all marriages were, in a sense, a gamble, and that most were probably mistakes. Here’s what he wrote to his son on the issue:

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

The last line emphasizes my thought exactly. Instead of worrying about who God wants you to pick (because you’ll never be able to be sure, and even if you are, you’ll second guess yourself as soon as things get hard and then start blaming God for your poor judgment), use the same common human prudence, enlightened by grace, that you would use if you were making any other long-term commitment. Date and marry based on this, and realize you are not marrying to make yourself happy but to make another happy and to establish a home – and in that your happiness will arise, and with it love.

Is it appropriate to be alone together while you are dating? Absolutely - in controlled environments. How can you really get to know a girl if you’re sitting around with her mom and dad all the time? You can’t, and though you want to get to know the family, you’re interested in the girl, not in her family. If you do marry her, you’ll see enough of them in the future anyways (haha), so pay your visits to her, show deference and respect to the family, enjoy some family gatherings, but make sure there is time for you and her to get on alone. There’s plenty of opportunities, besides just going to Mass together: go out for coffee together, take her out to dinner, go for a walk in the park or just down her street. Until you get to know her better, probably she should meet you at these places and drive separately (unless of course she has no car). If these are not options, a good middle ground is doing things together with her friends. This way, you are not alone with her, but neither is she in the company of her parents, and she will be freer to speak and be forthright with you in the company of her friends. Probably shouldn't spend a lot of time just driving around aimlessly, though. If you want to do something aimless, walking is a lot more wholesome than driving.

I have to throw out a closing gripe here: I dislike when people presume they are following traditional morality when in reality they are pursuing novelties. I’ve said this before: withholding your child from dating until they are 18 or 19 is not traditional morality. Talking about discerning whom God wants you to marry is not traditional morality. Adhering to the novel “courting” ideal where a boy and girl spend all their time together hanging out with the family is not traditional either. I’m not saying these are bad ideas – in our society, they may be necessary to protect chastity. But let’s stop pretending that we are going back to some lost moral code with these things, because we are not. We are simply adapting to the times and slapping the “traditional morality” label on it. If we were really being traditional, the father would find a husband for the daughter with no spiritual discernment at all, would base his judgment on financial factors, would betroth the two of them and marry her off around age 16. The wife would be expected to run the husband’s household and prosper him financially, and maybe down the road they would grow to love each other. That’s tradition. I’m not saying it’s the best way, but that is the traditional way – and anything else that claims to be “traditional” is really just a novelty. Maybe a good novelty, but a novelty nonetheless.

In closing: courting or dating? Doesn’t matter. Spend time alone? Sometimes, but not in imprudent circumstances. Hang out with the family constantly? If you can stomach that kind of thing. How to make your choice? Virtue, Industriousness, Beauty, Piety. Who does God want? You can’t really know – just do the best you can.

These are just my opinions, and I only post them here because someone made the foolish mistake of asking me what I think!
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