Friday, April 12, 2019

Interview with a Homeless Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Praying Through the Mass


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Book Review: Zombies More Popular Than God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, March 03, 2019

Cardinal Pell and a Painful Reminder

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 16, 2019

St. Alphonsus' Letter on the State of the Church



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

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

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

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

Monday, February 04, 2019

Candlemas Liturgy Video

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




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

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Excommunication is a No-No


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

A few thoughts on this matter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Christ Will Give You Victory

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

Christ will give you victory.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Stop Whining About Media Coverage of the March for Life


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rant over. God bless you all.



Saturday, January 05, 2019

On the Concept of Celebration

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+AMDG+

Related Posts:

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