Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallow's Eve

Well, All Hallow's Eve has come upon us again. Thankfully, All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) is one feast day that the Novus Ordo calendar didn' t mess with.

This time of year always presents a difficulty for my family and I. Seeing how ghoulish, demonic and dark the secular day of Halloween is, we always opt out of any kind of trick or treating or anything like that; we don't even hand out candy to others who come down our street. We just have our lights off like a family of trolls.

Perhaps I am being too puritanical, but I really don't think so. The costumes these days are not sheets with two holes poked in them, but are grotesque creations right out of horror movies that are disturbing even for me to see. Furthermore, in the past several years the amount of witchcraft paraphernalia out in the culture has increased dramatically. My wife and I have seen many little girls dressed up like witches this year so far and it is always confusing for my daughters because we have taught them (and rightfully so) that witchcraft is a terrible sin and that witches are evil. But then we have situations like the following: my eldest daughter's best friend is her cousin (non-Catholic family). That cousin is being a witch for Halloween. "So daddy, if witches are evil, why is my cousin being a witch for Halloween?" It is terribly confusing for her and very difficult for me to explain.

Though we homeschool and my kids are not exposed to the perfidious influences of the public school system, they inevitably get asked questions by family and friends like, "Where are you going trick or treating this year?" My kids just look at them in confusion. They have never trick or treated, not because I think there is anything wrong with going door to door asking for candy, but because I don't want my daughters to see all of the other hideous costumes out there. I don't even want them coming to my door because she could still see them. Why should I tell my daughters to be on guard against the devil and the demons 364 days out of the year and then invite them to my door and give them candy one day out of the year? If we are Catholics and realize who the devil is, why would we celebrate anything to do with the kingdom of darkness?

Thankfully, for the past 12 years we have gone to a Harvest Party at a nearby Catholic parish. All the kids dress up as saints or bible characters, go to Mass, bob for apples, go on hay-rides, hit pinatas and do fun stuff like that. But the witchy aspect of the secular holiday is getting more difficult to ignore. Across the street from my house, my neighbor set up this giant flashing skeleton and this odd creature (I can only describe it as a banshee or something) hanging from their roof so that it blows in the wind. It is visible right from my daughter's bedroom window and at night, the flashing skeleton lights up her room with its glow unless we close the blinds. Why does my daughter have to see skeletons and banshees out her bedroom window?

We went into Kroger's supermarket the other day to get some groceries and my daughter screamed as soon as we went in the door because there was this bigger than life-size rubber zombie looking thing at the door that was hidden so that when you walked into the door it growled at you and lit up its eyes. Is that really fun for anybody? I had to hold my daughter for the rest of the time we were in the store. Why should we be subjected to that in the grocery store?

The secular holiday serves one purpose: to show kids that dark, witchy-ghoulish things are not deviant and demonic, but are fun and interesting. Isn't Halloween always the kids' favorite holiday? Of course, there is a lot of money involved. In 2006, Halloween candy, costumes and decorations (who ever heard of Halloween decorations?) were a $5 billion industry.

Tonight, we will go to Mass, go to the Harvest Party, do some bobbing for apples, get my daughter some candy, donuts, cider, and then she will come home and go to bed, exhausted and blissfully ignorant of the celebration of death and evil going on all around her in the world. Tomorrow we will celebrate the solemnity of All Saints and the day after we will go to the local parish cemetery to pray for the Holy Souls. It's really a tragedy: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day are two of the most beautiful feasts of the Church when we get down to what they really are. All Saints Day is a beautiful holiday with a very ancient pedigree in the Church that has nothing to do with darkness, paganism, or ghoulishness. The secular corruption of Halloween, however, is pagan and demonic in almost every aspect.

My daughter's All Saint's Day costumes:

2003- Mother Teresa of Calcutta
2004- St. Catherine of Siena
2005- King David
2006- St. Joan of Arc
2007- St. Lucy (we even have a chalice with rubber eyeballs)

This is also the first All Saint's Day for my younger daughter; she is being the Blessed Virgin.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Do vice laws work or not?

Americans are perpetually debating about whether or not the so-called "vice laws" are effective means deterring activities. Let' s define what we mean by a "vice law". A vice law is a law which criminalizes an activity, not so much because it is a crime but because it is a vice. There are two prime examples in American law: the illegality of prostitution and marijuana. Other examples are the so-called "sabbtine laws" that prohibit purchasing liquor on Sundays before noon, old fashioned laws that prohibited spitting or swearing in front of a woman, as well as (now obsolete) military laws forbidding blasphemy. An additional example of a vice law would be (as is in place in several states) laws making sodomy a crime, as well as adultery. I do not know if adultery is still illegal anywhere, but I know this used to be the case in many states and colonies even before the Revolution. Now, from a Catholic perspective, do these laws work to deter the vices they target?

First, let's look at the opposition to the vice laws from proponents of prostitution and marijuana, to use two examples. The first critique is that these things (marijuana and prostitution) do not harm anybody. Sure, they may be destructive to the persons involved (and the pot-heads would certainly contest even that), but as long as the behavior does not harm anybody else, then we have no business telling people they can't engage in it. The second critique, which is the most powerful and often used critique, is that the vice laws actually create more crime than they prevent. The classic textbook case is Prohibition: (1) alcohol is outlawed (2) the only people still willing to deal in alcohol are outlaws (3) a huge criminal network of booze distribution pops up. When Prohibition was repealed and people could get booze legally, the need for people like Al Capone and the gangsters vanished. The third critique is that the activities targeted in the vice laws are admittedly moral issues (hence the term "vice laws") and it is not the job of government to legislate morality. Therefore, we ought not to have vice laws. The final critique is that the vice laws were set up by Christian men presupposing a Christian set of morals; our nation is no longer Christian, and therefore we ought not to have Christian morals be codified in law.

Now, what can we say to these charges? Is there a place for vice laws? I would say this: all of the above objections underly a fundamental misunderstanding about what the purpose of a "vice law" is. The question so often revolves around whether or not the vice laws" work," but perhaps people have not stopped to reason whether or not that is really the reason for the law. For example, most places have laws against bestiality. Now, if a man, in the privacy of his own barn, wants to engage in bestial sex with a sheep, how is that harming anybody? And secondly, even if we did outlaw bestiality, how on earth can you enforce it? By criminalizing something so private, you in effect make a law that is impossible to enforce (so proponents of legalized bestiality would say). However, the reason bestiality is illegal is not because we consider it a crime against some other person, but because we recognize that bestiality is a socially damaging behavior in itself; it is unacceptable that one single act of bestiality should in any barn anywhere happen even once. Though we know we cannot positively stop this action, we codify this sensus populorum into law. It is a symbolic action that probably can't be enforced but (if anyone was caught in the act) must be enforced in order to demonstrate and reaffirm society's opprobrium to the behavior. This ought to be the case with homosexuality as well.

Now let's look at the objections. First, I would argue that it is not true that vices targeted by the vice laws do not hurt anybody. Marijuana and prostitution certainly do damage to the persons involved and the persons who get addicted to them through others. Also, it is not the point whether anyone is harmed. The point is that we recognize these behaviors as damaging to society as a whole and thus proscribe them for the sake of the common good.

Second, that the vice laws create more crime than they prevent. This presupposes that people are going to continue doing the behavior no matter what. For example, "If you outlaw abortion, women will just have recourse to illegal and dangerous abortions by untrained hack-doctors." How many times have we heard this? They assume that people will do the action no matter what. First, I don't think this is necessarily true. I'm sure there are a lot of people who do not do drugs because they are illegal that if they were not illegal perhaps would take up the habit. If pornography were illegal, you don't think there would be a huge drop in the amount of people trying to buy porn? Sure, there will always be those die-hard addicts who will try to get their fix whether it is legal or not, but there are vastly more who will say, "It's not worth it," and will give up the addiction or switch to something else. Also, whether or not crime happens as a result of the law is not the point. Sure, making prostitution illegal necessarily brings into existence pimps, who are violent, unsavory individuals. But society is willing to tolerate the existence of a few pimps in exchange for not having to tolerate legal, open prostitution, which would certainly do much more damage to the nation's moral status. It's the principle of double-effect: keeping prostitution illegal is such a common good for the people that the fact that it causes a lesser evil (the existence of pimps) is tolerated but not willed.

Third, the allegation that vice laws legislate morality, which ought never be done. Newsflash: all our laws are attempts to legislate morality. That is why they are laws. Stealing is immoral, and hence, illegal. Same with murder, and so on. We legislate our morals because our morals are timeless and give us insight into the fundamental way society ought to be set up that is not subject to culture, time and place. So to the charge that we are legislating morality, I say, "Yep. So what?" Now, of course, not all of our laws are based on morality, but many of the fundamental ones are.

Fourth, that the laws come from a Christian culture and ought not apply. Well, I would say that you don't have to be a Christian to see that prostitution, marijuana, etc. are bad for society. But I have no problem with legislating specifically "Christian" laws, so long as they do not infringe on the religious practices of others. But Catholics often say that some of these laws, like the one prohibiting alcohol sales before noon on Sundays, reflect a puritan mentality that is not compatible with Catholicism, I would say this: there is absolutely no reason somebody needs to buy liquor on Sunday morning (unless it's the priest getting wine for the Eucharist). If somebody has to buy it that morning, that means they are intending on consuming it that morning (otherwise they could wait), and there is no reason people ought to be getting drunk on the morning that the Lord rose from the dead. I know many of you will disagree with me on this point. I want to look at the substance of the law; I don't care who instituted it. Sure, a chasm of difference divides us from the puritans. But I think this was a good law.

I say, bring back laws forbidding cussing in front of a woman or spitting in front of her. Bring back fines for blasphemy (our Social Security budget crisis would be solved in a week if that ever happened). We have lost sight of a fundamental truth that was understood by all our forefathers, even in the darkest of the dark ages: crimes are crimes exactly because they are vices (ie, vicious deeds) and society deserves to be free from vice.

Am I completely off the wall on this or do I have a good point? Click here to see a related article on legislating morality; in fact, it was the first post ever on this blog, posted on the last day of June, 2007.

Hey, Constantine!

I thought this was very funny...I took it from Hallowed Ground, which is linked on Athanasius' website today (statue images from the colossus of Constantine the Great, in the Capitoline Museum in Rome). Check it out:

Hey, Constantine!

How many true religions are there?

Thank you Constantine for your simple, straight-forward answer! How did you know that?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fr. Hardon Archives

I just wanted to make everybody aware of this excellent resource on the Web, the Fr. John Hardon Archives, put together by the Real Presence Association. This site contains online transcripts of everything Fr. Hardon ever wrote.

Fr. Hardon, S.J., was an extraordinary figure in the pre and post-conciliar Church. His massive Catholic Catechism (1975) collected all Catholic doctrine into one volume and prefigured the Cathecism of the Catholic Church that was published nearly 20 years later, and to which Fr. Hardon was a contributor. He is also remembered for his Marian Catechist courses, which he developed out of a series of retreats that he gave for Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity.

He was also very well known for his loathing of the modern tendency to ignore the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

His cause for beatification was taken up in 2005 by no one other than Archbishop Raymond Burke, who has since then been collecting testimonies from people who knew Fr. Hardon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

St. John Cantius in Detroit, MI.

Today the Detroit News/Free Press did a very sad story about the closing of St. John Cantius parish in Detroit, MI. While this parish is not unique in that it is but one of a number of Archdiocese of Detroit parishes that are being closed or clustered, it is unique because of its great beauty. Below is the Detroit News/Free Press article in its entirety, with my commentary in red (Fr. Z style). This is an excellent article and I want you to notice one theme: the effect of the aesthetic beauty of the Church on the "sense of the sacred" experienced by the faithful (all photos from St. John Cantius parish).

Worshippers bid a fond farewell as parish holds last Mass

Mark Hicks / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- At Christmas some six decades ago, the beauty and sanctity of St. John Cantius Catholic Church awed a young Helen Fujawa. During a midnight Mass at the reddish-brown brick mainstay on South Harbaugh, the soprano stood in the choir loft, above rows packed with families, singing a solemn Polish hymn alongside the choir. Before her was an array of arresting images: a decorative manger scene; opulently painted wooden altar statues; and warm candlelight illuminating the pews, accentuating the rich blue, red, emerald and gold hues of soaring stained-glass windows [ isn't this a great point? The "beauty and sanctity" of the old church, the "solemn" hymn, the "opulent" decorations and the candles all served to make the worshipper "awed." This church apparently succeeded in helping the worshipper ascend to the contemplation of the Divine].

"If you ever think of a church, that's the way it would look," [amen] said Fujawa, 75, now of Sterling Heights, who lived a block away and was baptized at the church. "It was always beautiful" [beauty has something that draws people to it]. That's why the past year has been bittersweet for the remaining congregants at the Delray neighborhood parish on Detroit's southwest side. Although it was identified last year for closure, the church was allowed to remain open to celebrate its 105th anniversary on Sunday with a final Mass. It will be the church's last event in a string of countless weddings, baptisms and celebrations.

"You go there for so many years, everything about it you miss," said Roman Matey, a Wyandotte retiree who began attending with his wife more than 50 years ago. "They don't make churches like that anymore" [notice the sadness in this man's statement: "They don't make churches like that anymore." It begs the question: why not?].The closure was forced by declining membership and rising utility costs, said Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Ned McGrath. St. John Cantius is down to about 200 members from an estimated 2,000 families at its peak, said the Rev. Edward Zaorski, the church's pastor.

"It's very hard to keep a building like that open with just a handful of parishioners," McGrath said. "It's a very pretty church. It's just unfortunate that it can't go on." It's the sixth parish to close under the archdiocese's Together in Faith Plan [isn't it funny that the plans for closing and shrinking Catholic parishes always have these deceptively optimistic names? Just like Ford Motor Company's plan "The Way Forward", which was actually a plan to lay off a ton of people and move to Mexico] launched in 2006, a reorganization reflecting a shifting Catholic population and the loss of priests. Several more churches could close, cluster or merge through 2011. Last fall, the St. John Cantius parish council requested that it remain open to mark its anniversary this month, Zaorski said. "It brought a good closure -- allowed people to recall their contributions. "It's not easy, but we have to move on."

There are no plans to sell the building, Zaorski said, but some relics will be donated to other parishes. Officials also hope to establish an endowment after the building's eventual sale to fund religious education so its "life will continue," Zaorski said.

Although the past year has been dedicated to memories -- tracing the founders' history, delighting in traditions such as an annual Polish festival -- and activities, that only softens the blow of losing a beloved church that shaped, comforted and rejuvenated generations.

"It's in my mind all of the time," said Evelyn Glowiak of Sterling Heights, who was baptized and married there and has visited often this year. "I wanted to see the church as often as I could before it's gone."

The first incarnation of the church -- a wood-frame structure built by some 40 families and established as a Polish parish -- opened in 1902 where the parking lot now stands. A second church was inside the school building that was constructed in 1910. The school, which once enrolled more than 1,000 students, closed in 1969. The twin-steepled Romanesque-style church, which seats about 1,200, was built in 1923 for $160,000 and named for a theologian and a professor at the Catholic college in the old Polish capital of Krakow. Some of the church's ornate stained-glass windows bear the names of founding Polish families, who contributed to construction [if poor Polish émigrés could scrape together enough to build a church like this, don't tell me that wealthy American middle-class Catholics couldn't today! The fact is, they just don't want to].

Drawn by the concord of the forming congregation, Polish émigrés Kanty and Frances Halat saved earnestly to help erect the church and later attended with their nine children. "What they had, they gave," said daughter Loretta Prohownik, 85, of Allen Park, who was baptized and wed there. "It made you feel close to the church." For many who flooded the area early last century, St. John Cantius "was their root -- the main part of the community," said Laurie Gomulka Palazzolo, vice president and executive director of the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society. "There was nothing without the church. They knew they couldn't be here without God's help" [this parish was everything a good Catholic parish should be: "the main part of the community"].
Years passed in cavalcades of convention: Church bells reverberating for blocks. A priest bearing a tabernacle during Corpus Christi processions. Early morning Easter services bolstered by lily decorations and, the day before, the blessing of baskets brimming with items such as bread, butter lambs and painted hard-boiled eggs. Parishioners fondly recall when yearly tuition for the church school cost less than a dollar; dances and kielbasa dinners thrived in a basement social hall; and attendance so burgeoned that wooden pew seats were assigned [what a beautiful recollection of old Catholic traditions! And why was tuition so low? Because the school was run by religious who worked for free. Average cost for one year of private Catholic school today: $6,000 per child] .

The murmurs of multigenerational members filling rows each Mass were a constant for attendees such as Eugene Drabczyk, whose grandparents both attended shortly after emigrating from Poland. His parents were both baptized there, as were he and his brother. Drabczyk and his wife, Patricia, wed in the church on Aug. 21, 1965. Their daughters, still members, were baptized there. So were two grandsons. Reassured by the familiar faces, Polish hymns and other customs, mother Mary Drabczyk insisted on returning years after she moved to Lincoln Park. In late 2004, her funeral was held at the church -- concluding an uninterrupted, nearly 90-year membership. "My mom said she would never go to another church," said Eugene Drabczyk, 71, a retired banker from Southgate. "She liked the church so much. It always drew you there."

Members reminisce about the church school, which was taught by Felician Sisters. There, students learned to volunteer for convent cleaning, respect elders and humbly utter, "Praised be Jesus Christ." The school leaders "really did model good behavior," said Madonna University President Sister Rose Marie Kujawa, the third St. John Cantius member to hold that post. "It did create a spiritual atmosphere an uplifting one. They made you want to come to school" [contrary to the stereotypical portrayal of the mean nun with the ruler]. Kujawa's parents were baptized in the church and once lived across the street. Her mother, Anna, continued attending after leaving Delray to bask in "a family community," Kujawa said. "The church was a spiritual home."

Membership dwindled as the neighborhood -- between West Jefferson and West Ford, near Zug Island -- gave way to industrial expansion. Interstate 75 entered in the 1960s. To comply with the U.S. Clean Water Act the next decade, the city expanded its sewage treatment plant after purchasing and demolishing nearby homes, groceries and other structures. It now surrounds the church on two sides. "It destroyed the neighborhood," Zaorski said. St. John Cantius also was slated to be removed, but parishioners, the then-Rev. Edwin Szczygiel and City Council allies such as Jack Kelley and former Detroit Tiger Billy Rogell prevailed.

Still, the church was affected. As homes vanished and industry sandwiched St. John Cantius between wire fences and train tracks, families relocated to suburbs and other areas. Despite the distance, some continue to return to the church. "They came back to their roots," said Patricia Drabczyk, 68, who with her husband travels some 20 minutes weekly from Southgate for services. "No matter how far we had to travel, it didn't matter. You feel at home."

Edward Pilch, 31, a police officer from White Lake Township, traveled several times yearly to the church where he was baptized. Last month, Pilch celebrated his wedding -- the church's last, more than 50 years after his grandparents. In the darkened church, his bride, Erin, stood flanked by flowers, near sunlight passing through the stained glass in kaleidoscopic streaks. "It was unbelievable the perfect setting," Pilch said [again, aesthetic beauty renders the soul more disposed to contemplate the divine, and thus helps the worshipper to receive more grace ex opere operantis from the sacraments, as this fellow apparently recalls about his wedding].

For organist Steven Frayer, 37, of Westland, crossing the threshold and passing statues instantly imparted a "sense of the sacred," he said. "You really felt like you were in a holy place" [this is the most telling phrase in the whole article: the beauty of the church created a "sense of the sacred" and made you feel that you were in a truly "holy" place. Does our modern church architecture do this?] . Prohownik, a lifetime member of the church, calls the closure "heartbreaking."

"It's all coming to an end," she said. "It's not just losing a church, but losing family."

You can reach Mark Hicks at (313) 222-2117 or

This is an excellent article, and I encourage you all to email Mark Hicks and tell him your thoughts on it. Seeing what everybody said about how the great beauty of the Church and all of the wonderful Catholic traditions that were celebrated there helped imbibe people with a sense of sacredness and holiness that kept them devoted to their church in a way few people are today, we must ask the question: they why deviate from a model which has proven so successful in the past? Will any congregants, fifty years from now, recall such fond memories about their whitewashed, ampitheatrical iconoclastic churches they now meet in? I seriously doubt it.

Many liturgists care more about maintaining the validity of their iconoclastic ideology than of assisting the Catholic to better worship God. If they did care about worship of God, they would get the message and pay attention to what the people say, as in this article. They would get the point when the man in the article sadly recalls, "They don't make churches like this anymore." But the fact is, they don't care. They don't care about what is best for the laity. They just care about vindicating the insane liturgical experimentation they have been carrying on for the past forty years. And so for them, perhaps it is better that St. John Cantius does close. It is one less high altar to give them nightmares, and every parish like this that is destroyed or closed is one more link with the past obliterated.

Mount Sinai (Jebel-Musa): Historical Evidence

I thought this would be an interesting question to take up for those of you who, like myself, have an interest in biblical archaeology. Like the Ark of the Covenant (and, to a lesser extent, Noah's Ark), the location of the Mount Sinai of the Scriptures has been a source of controversy for generations. Unlike the Ark of the Covenant, for which many explanations have been formed (see my Ark of the Covenant series on the sidebar), only two real contenders for the Scriptural Mount Sinai have ever been put forward: the traditional site is a mountain in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula called Jebel-Musa ("mountain of Moses") on which is situated the famous Byzantine monastery of St. Catherine. The other site, put forward as the true location of Sinai on and off in recent centuries, is a mountain called Jebel-al-Lawz in the Hejaz region of what is now Saudi Arabia, just across the sea from the Sinai Peninsula over the Gulf of Aqaba. There are other sites put forward by different people, but these two are the only real contenders.

Let me first say, before examining the merits of either of these two positions, that I do not believe that there is any theological import to either. There is no theological, historical or ecclesiological reason why I ought to be in favor or one site over another. It certainly sometimes happens that long-standing Catholic traditions about locations and relics and things of that nature can turn out to be errant (like the "Donation of Constantine"). It is also true that longstanding Catholic archaeological traditions are very often trustworthy; each case is individual. The important thing is that nothing regarding my faith or the powers of the Church is dependent in any way on the location of Mount Sinai. Therefore, I am open to either possibility. To tell you the truth, my mind is not made up on which is really the true location.

In this article, I will look at just the historical evidence for the traditional site, in the Egyptian Sinai at Jebel-Musa. I will go over the historical proofs cited for this location and then critique them. Next time, I will look at the Scriptural evidence for or against the traditional site.

First, what about the establishment of the monastery out there in the Sinai? Why did the first monks choose to settle there, and does this say anything about the historical veracity of the site? Christian monks had been in the Sinai since the earliest monastic periods. It was the Empress St. Helena (c. 330) who decided to establish a monastery on the spot in order to protect the desert monks from raids by local nomads. The reason the present location was chosen was because the local monks pointed out to St. Helena what they believed to be the location of the burning bush, and thus the monastery was erected around that site. This shows that by 330, there was already a tradition that Jebel-Musa was Mt. Sinai. Later polemicists (from about 1750 on) claimed that Constantine used a seer to find the site, but this seems unsubstantiated.

Justinian replaced the monastery-church with a larger, fortified monastery in 550 (it did not take the name St. Catherine's until the 13th century). So it is clear that from the earliest Christian ages, Christian pilgrims and monks believed that Jebel-Musa was Mount Sinai. But between the time of Moses (1400 BC) and the establishment of the church by Helena (330 AD) is a stretch of time almost 1700 years long; is the fact that early Christian hermits thought Jebel-Musa was Mount Sinai any real proof of the fact? Is there any earlier, Jewish evidence that Jebel-Musa is Mount Sinai?

Rabbinic literature of the period 100-200 AD describes Mt. Sinai as being 36 Roman miles from Paran; a later Christian pilgrim Egeria, who visited Jebel-Musa around 381-384, stated in her diary that the distance was 35 Roman miles, almost exactly the same distance as specified by the rabbis. This seems to indicate that well before the Christian monastic period, Jewish sages (at least prior to 100 AD) had identified Jebel-Musa as Mount Sinai. Furthermore, Josephus, writing in the 1st century, says in his work Against Apion that "Moses went up to a mountain that lay between Egypt and Arabia, which was called Sinai...." (Against Apion, 2:2 [2:5]). This demonstrates that in Josephus' time (c. 60 AD), it was a common assertion among learned Jews that Mt. Sinai was located "between Egypt and Arabia," which would seem to indicate the geographic Sinai Peninsula. This does not point to Jebel-Musa specifically, but shows that the site was at least believed to be in the Sinai Peninsula. Furthermore, the fact that Josephus repeats the teaching of the rabbis shows that the belief must go back even earlier than that, since Josephus is repeating what was standard rabbinic belief. Thus, I think we could safely say that the earliest confirmed placement of Mt, Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula in Judaism can be placed sometime between 100 BC - 30 AD (the Pharasaic period).

We know that historically, no other location was proposed for Mount Sinai other than Jebel-Musa until 1845, when another site was put forth by Prussian Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius. So, we have no other contenders for the title of Mount Sinai from around 100 BC to 1845 AD, an impressive span of time. But again, even at our earliest confirmed dating of Sinai as Jebel-Musa (c. 100 BC), we still have at least a 1300 gap between the events of the Exodus and the placement of Mount Sinai, a very long period in which the territory of the Sinai was ruled by the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Ptolemies and finally the Romans. Not to mention the fact that it was always home to bands of marauding tribes. That is a long, and confused history, and the possibility exists that place names could have gotten mixed up or lost over the ages.

Map of the traditional Exodus route, Jebel Musa in the south

Even so, though we have a placement of Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula by about 100 BC, it is not until the rabbinic literature of the century from 100-200 AD that we have any identification of Mount Sinai specifically with Jebel-Musa. This is a very long gap of time from the original events and leaves much uncertainty in our designation of Jebel-Musa as Mount Sinai.

Now, though we have not yet gone into the Scriptural evidence, what can we say about the historical evidence? Let's look at the pro's and con's of the Jebel-Musa site.

Historical Evidence in Favor of Jebel-Musa

1) Earliest site identified with Mount Sinai and no other claimants until 1845.

2) Hallowed by Christian and Jewish tradition.

All the evidence in favor of Jebel-Musa boils down to these two points: tradition, and the fact that there were no other claimans to the title until recently. But do these facts alone establish the veracity of the claim? Let's look at some of the historical evidence against Mount Sinai being Jebel-Musa:

Historical Evidence Against Jebel-Musa

1) Josephus says that Mount Sinai was "the highest of all the mountains thereabout," (Antiquities of the Jews, 2:12) which if true, would point not to Jebel-Musa (7,497 feet), but to a nearby mountain, Mt. Catherine (8,625 feet). It should be pointed out that the monastery of St. Catherine is at the foot of Mt. Catherine, not at the foot of Jebel-Musa, but it is Jebel-Musa that is today held to be the biblical Mount Sinai.

2) Sinai appears to have been part of the Egyptian empire at the time; if this is true, it would not make sense for Moses to flee to the Sinai if it was part of Egypt. The Exodus implies that Moses took the people "out of the land of Egypt," not into an adjacent territory that was still part of Egypt. How would that deliver them? This seems to indicate that Mount Sinai was not in the Sinai Peninsula.

3) Jebel-Musa is situated in the center of a great mass of mountains; there are no plains nearby that would be able to support the massive amounts of people and animals that the Exodus requires.

At best, it seems that the historical evidence in favor of Jebel-Musa is of the weakest kind (an argument from silence) and that the three arguments against it are very weighty. But are they insurmountable? Next time, we will look at the Scriptural evidence regarding Jebel-Musa and see if we can throw any light on the matter.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Upon Saint Crispin's Day"

Today, October 25th, the Feast of St. Crispin, marks one of the most pivotal battles in European history: the battle of Agincourt between the French and the English on this day in 1415. This battle (though of no real significance to the Catholic Church because it was a battle between two Catholic nations) gave the decisive upper hand to the English in the Hundred Years' War and delivered much of France into their hands.

King Henry V of England, after a successful but prolonged seige of Harfleur ending on September 22nd, decided to move his weary army back to Calais to rest and wait out the winter (in the Middle Ages, campaigning season went from April to late September only). The French under Charles d'Albret were in a position to cut the English off from their intended retreat, which they shortly did by positioning themselves between Harfleur and Calais. By doing so, d'Albret hoped to force a confrontation with Henry. The situation looked grim, as Henry's force was weary from 260 miles of marching and was suffering from shortage of food and dysentery, while d'Albret's force was fresh. Henry was not enthusiastic about engaging the French, but his supply lines to Calais had been cut off and he had no other choice.

Estimates of the forces involved vary from 6,000 to 9,000 for the English, and from about 15,000 to about 36,000 for the French. All historians agree that the English were badly outnumbered, at least three to one. The battle was fought in the narrow strip of open land formed between the woods of Tramecourt and Agincourt. The French army was positioned by d'Albret at the northern exit so as to bar the way to Calais. The night of 24 October was spent by the two armies on open ground, and the English had little shelter from the heavy rain. Henry ordered all his men to keep perfectly quiet so that everybody could get a good night's rest; indeed, they were so quiet that the French thought the English had retreated.

The decisive factor in the battle was terrain. The French had chosen the position, a large field that had been freshly plowed and made muddy by the rain of the previous night. The English were not anxious to press the fight, and Henry set up in the traditional English formation of several ranks of men-at-arms wedged in by archers, and the whole line protected by rows of sharpened spikes driven into the ground to ward off cavalry. For the morning of the battle, the armies just stared at each other, neither liking the prospects of charging across the damp field. The rains had left the turned up soil damp and the French knew it would turn to mud under the heavy gallop of the horses and the march of the French men-at-arms.

Finally, Henry forced the battle by moving his line forward and opening fire on the French with his longbowmen. The French made a furious assault on the English lines, but they were hampered by the mud, into which many of them fell to die by drowning, trampling or suffocation. The English longbowmen ultimately repelled them, and French reinforcements were brought up. Unfortunately, the field was too narrow to accomodate all of the French forces and the French were packed so tightly that some could barely use their weapons. The English longbowmen rained down death upon them, then joined the men-at-arms in making a general slaughter of the French. The latter only had to be pushed over into the mud, where they would most likely by trampled or drown from the weight of their armor.

The French had suffered a staggering defeat, both in numbers and in the amount of nobles lost in the battle. The Constable d'Albret, three dukes, five counts and 90 barons were among the dead, and a number of notable prisoners were taken, amongst them the Duke of Orléans and Jean Le Maingre, Marshal of France. English losses were low, somewhere between 150 and 450. But the French losses were immense, somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 men. Seldom in history had such a one-sided victory been won. The battle that Henry V had been reluctant to fight and only did so in order to get to the coast turned out to be pivotal in the war with France. Henry was able to fulfil all his objectives thereafter. He was recognised by the French in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) as the regent and heir to the French throne. This was cemented by his marriage to Catherine of Valois, the daughter of King Charles VI.

Despite these facts, the war, as we know, did not turn out well for the English in the end. Henry V died suddenly in 1422 from what appeared to be dysentery, and his young son Henry VI by Catherine was then only a few months old. Charles VI of France, whom Henry had hoped to succeed, actually outlived him by several months and was succeeded by his own son, Charles VII (though he was not crowned until 1429). Incidentally, following death of Henry V, his widow Catherine would secretly marry or have an affair with a Welsh courtier, Owen Tudor, and they would be the grandparents of King Henry VII of England.

Furthermore, we know that it was in the reing on Charles VII that St. Joan of Arc was raised up by God to drive the English from France and put and end to the Hundred Years' War. It was Joan's victories that allowed Charles VII to be crowned at Rheims in 1429. Following the defeats of the English under Joan, and the inept rule of England by the young Henry VI, England was plunged into the fratricidal Wars of the Roses that only terminated with the ascension of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. And we all know what good the Tudors did England.

Though Agincourt is not as important for the history of the Catholic Church as other battles like the Milvian Bridge, Tours, Lepanto or Vienna, it certainly is a very interesting and important turning point in European history. And who can talk about Agincourt without remembering the memorable and rousing speech of Henry from Shakespeare's Henry V? We will conclude this article on Agincourt with the speech in its entirety, for your enjoyment:

"If we are mark'd to die, we are now to do our country loss; and if to live,The fewer men, the greater share of honour. God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; It yearns me not if men my garments wear; Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet honour,I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England. God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour As one man more methinks would share from meFor the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,That he which hath no stomach to this fight,Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse; We would not die in that man's company that fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age,Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, But he'll remember, with advantages,What feats he did that day. Then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words-Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.This story shall the good man teach his son.

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world,But we in it shall be remembered-We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;For he to-day that sheds his blood with meShall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Those crazy Mormons

Have you ever delved into what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints really believes? Check out this old cartoon video that accurately explains Mormon doctrine. The Mormons claim that they are Christians; not only this, but they claim to be the true Church of Christ. After watching this cartoon, I think you will agree that Mormonism is not any branch of Christianity, but some type of bizarre heretical-cult of the most horrific kind. Its most basic tenet, that we can become Gods, is nothing other than a sin against the First Commandment and the very sin of Lucifer himself. This cartoon video is old, but very entertaining (by the way, this video has been banned by the Mormon Church).

Who searches for the most sex?

Google has recently come out with some statistics breaking down who does the most searches for certain key words by nation. Thus, for example, the new report states that Internet users in Germany, Mexico and Austria did the most Google searches worldwide for the name "Hitler." Which country or group of countries do you think did the most searching related to topics of a sexual/pornographic nature? I am sure most of you will say the United States, but this is fortunately not true; we are not even in the top three.

Then, surely it must be Europe. With their pornographic channels on the public airwaves and their legalized prostitution in many areas, they are so far down the path of secular humanism and their immorality is so widely known that they probably do the most searching for sex online, right?

Nope. Then it must be Asia, of course. Everybody knows that Asia is the center of some of the world's greatest centers of prostitution and pedophilia. God only knows how many innocent children have passed through the flesh markets of Singapore, Bangkok and Hanoi. Is it Asia? Again, the answer is no.

Then who in the world does do the most searching for sexual material on the Internet? The answer, according to Google, Inc. is the Islamic countries. Google relates that the single country that does the most Google searches for sex is Egypt. This is followed by India, and third place goes to Turkey. It looks like the Islamic countries are not as immune to western decadence as they would have us believe!

Also interesting is that the most Google searches for the word "jihad" came from Morocco, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the original report by Reuters, along with the rankings for other words like "burrito," and "Tom Cruise."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on RCIA

Any person who has ever wanted to join the Catholic Church after the 1960's has had to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This was seen as the restoration of the ancient catechumenate of the third and fourth centuries and had as its purpose the catechesis of new Catholics to ensure that they were well versed in the articles of the faith. The issue was addressed by the Second Vatican Council, which called for the reinstatement of the catechumenate. Bishops' voted on restoration of the catechumenate with a vote of 2,165 Yes's, 9 No's, and 1 null. In 1966 the provisional ritual was distributed followed by the 2nd draft in 1969 which was distributed for experimentation. In 1972 the Vatican promulgated the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults and in 1986 the US bishops approved US additions to the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults and National Statutes and a national plan of implementation. The current RCIA program as we now know it was not implemented in the United States until September, 1988.

Being involved in the RCIA process for several years, I can confidently say that it has its pros and cons, largely depending on who happens to be teaching the classes and what kind of curriculum is being followed. I follow the traditional division: Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, Lord's Prayer (and I also through in some miscellaneus stuff, like Church history, etc). This is the same formula followed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and is the traditional pedagogy of catechesis, going at least back to Augustine and much earlier.

However, I have often inquired into other parish RCIA programs and found the most arbitrary arrangements of material. One I saw in a parish in southeastern Michigan had a set up that was something like this:

Week 1: First Commandment

Week 2: Second Commandment

Week 3: Baptism

Week 4: Social Justice Issues

Week 5: Social Justice Issues (part 2)

Week 6: Social Justice Issues (part 3)

Week 7: Creation

First of all, is there any pedagogical order to this arrangement? It seems completely arbitrary. Secondly, it is obvious by the insistence on Social Justice (and yes, they really did spend three weeks on this) that this was probably a platform for the RCIA teacher to lecture on her support for illegal immigration, Marxism, etc. Now, if the RCIA teacher is following a good pedgogical form (which is mandated by Catechesi Tradendae) and is presenting the faith in an organic matter, seasoned with solid references to explanations from the Catechism, Scriptures, the Fathers, the Councils, Popes and Saints, then RCIA can be a very positive and formative experience. But it can also be the time where people can come to think the faith is just lame, or be inculcated in false doctrine. I was recently informed that years ago at my parish, a group of women used to burn fires at Advent, throw dirt into the air and pray to the North, South, East and West. Would any Catholic do that if they had proper formation?

Another issue with RCIA is the rites surrounding the acceptance of the catechumens into the Church. I was recently asked by a priest to write a brief article on the history of the Rite of Acceptance. As I began researching this rite, I quickly discovered that it had no history. Sure, it employed a few elements found in the ancient Church, mostly signing catechumens with the sign of the cross, but this is such a common Catholic gesture that it is hard to build a case of continuity on the sign of the cross alone. The manual for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults cites only one magisterial document for precedent: the 1965 document Ad Gentes, hardly a distinguished pedigree in Tradition (even Ad Gentes, which the RCIA manual cites, itself cites Lumen Gentium more than any other document, though in fairness it does make mention of several encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI).

The rites surrounding RCIA were completely invented out of thin air. In their case (unlike the case with the Novus Ordo) there was not even an attempt to assert that they were in continuity with an older, established Tradition; they were simply made up. This is not fair to unknowing persons entering the Church who (like myself years ago), believe errantly that they are going through an ancient and hallowed process by going through RCIA. Little did I know that what I thought was an ancient rite was only mandated when I was in 3rd grade!

I understand that RCIA cannot exactly just pick up where the Church left off, since for many centuries there was no established catechumenate, as they had in the ancient Church. But that does not mean the Church had no forms set up for people entering Her. One thing I would like to see changed is for more priests to get involved in RCIA (unless, of course, they are teaching heresy, in which case I'd like them to stay the hell away from it!). I think the period ought to be longer: a few months, even nine, is not enough to saturate a person in Catholic doctrine and spirituality. There ought to be more retreats and less classes on social justice. We should return to the practice of giving these people a ton of exorcisms (still maintained somewhat in the Three Scrutinies).

For so many Catholics, RCIA comes across as a bad experience. I pray that God would send catechists out there who can make RCIA both a period of intense spiritual formation and of great joy.

See here for a related post on how to put together a successful RCIA program.

Late for Mass?

The questions are often brought up: if a person is late to Mass, can they still receive Holy Communion? If so, does it matter whether they were late through negligence or through no fault of their own? How late can they be and still receive Communion? How late can they be and stil fulfill their Sunday obligation? Many have said that the cutoff point ought to be the reading of the Gospel, but Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at Regina Apostolorum University, says this need not necessarily be the case.

(From Zenit)Q: My parish priest made a regulation that anyone who arrives in Mass after the Gospel is not allowed to take Communion. According to him, the reason is that Jesus is "the Word made flesh." Therefore we must recognize Jesus in the Word before we recognize him in holy Communion. Another priest, who is a professor of liturgy, has another opinion. He said that people who arrive late in Mass with a valid reason (for example, an unusual traffic jam, attending sick children, etc.) should not be denied Communion. Could you please give a clarification on this matter? -- B.E., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We dealt with the question of late arrivals at Mass in one of our first columns, on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18, in 2003.Then as now, I would agree more with the second priest: that someone who arrives late out of no fault of their own should not be denied Communion.

I also consider it unwise to set any barrier point; I continue to insist that the faithful should assist at the whole Mass.It is quite possible that some members of the faithful could begin to see the Gospel as the cutoff moment and feel comfortable in habitually arriving for the second reading, thus assuring that the Mass is "valid."It is true that the Mass is a whole and that we must first recognize Jesus in the Word before we recognize him in the Eucharist. But this would include the entire Liturgy of the Word and not just the Gospel.

Also, while there is some certain logic in choosing the Gospel as such a moment, the reasons given are not sufficiently well grounded from the theological, canonical and moral standpoints to support such a blanket impediment to receiving Communion.The pastor has a duty to direct and inform the consciences of the faithful entrusted to him. And while I disagree with his suggesting the Gospel as a demarcation point for receiving Communion, it is at least clear that he his trying to perform his sacred duty.

Therefore, the onus of the decision whether or not to receive Communion, in this particular case of a late arrival, falls primarily upon the individual Catholic rather than upon the pastor who can hardly be expected to be attentive to every late arrival.

It is therefore incumbent on those arriving late to examine their conscience as to the reason behind their tardiness. If the reason is neglect or laziness, then they would do better attending another full Mass if this is possible. Even those who blamelessly arrive late should prefer to assist at a full Mass although they would be less bound to do so in conscience.

At the same time, there are some objective elements to be taken into account besides the reason for lateness. Someone who arrives after the consecration has not attended Mass, no matter what the reason for his belatedness. Such a person should not receive Communion, and if it is a Sunday, has the obligation to attend another Mass. It is true that Communion may be received outside of Mass, so Mass is not an essential prerequisite for receiving Communion. This would not, however, justify arriving just in time for Communion at a weekday Mass, as all of the rites for receiving Communion outside of Mass include a Liturgy of the Word and one should attend the entire rite.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good Marriage Prep

Check out this El Paso, Texas priests' outline for his marriage prep talks. There is a lot of hope if there are priests out there teaching like this. I got this from Los Pequenos Pepper, linked at the sidebar.

Feast of St. John Capistrano

Today is the feast of St. John Capistrano (1385-1456), the venerable Franciscan friar (and Cardinal) who expended his life on missions for the papacy and in the service of Christendom. He is best remembered for his role in urging the Hungarian crusade of 1456 which led to the defeat of the Turks and Mehmet II at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456. The stress of preaching the crusade and a sickness which he caught following the battle brought about his death on this day in 1456, only a few months after Janos Hunyadi, military leader of the crusade, succumbed to plague.

St. John was originally married, but in a dream St. Francis appeared to him and warned him to go into religious life. As the marriage was not yet consummated, he obtained a dispensation and entered the Franciscans in 1416 where he was a student of St. Bernardine of Siena. The Catholic Encyclopedia relates:

He traversed the whole of Italy; and so great were the crowds who came to listen to him that he often had to preach in the public squares. At the time of his preaching all business stopped. At Brescia on one occasion he preached to a crowd of one hundred and twenty-six thousand people, who had come from all the neighbouring provinces. On another occasion during a mission, over two thousand sick people were brought to him that he might sign them with the sign of the Cross, so great was his fame as a healer of the sick. Like St. Bernardine of Siena he greatly propagated devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and, together with that saint, was accused of heresy because of this devotion. While he was thus carrying on his apostolic work, he was actively engaged in assisting St. Bernardine in the reform of the Franciscan Order. In 1429 John, together with other Observant friars, was cited to Rome on the charge of heresy, and he was chosen by his companions to defend their cause; the friars were acquitted by the commission of cardinals.

In 1454, John was summoned to the Diet of Frankfort for the purpose of assisting in coming up with a plan of crusade against the Turks. He preached the crusade tirelessly in Vienna, Austria and lower Germany and actually went to Hungary to implement the holy war. His preaching swelled the armies of Janos Hunyadi to the thousands and the friar himself led the left wing of the Christian army against the Turks in victory outside Belgrade. As mentioned above, he died shortly afterwards at the venerable age of seventy-one. He was beatified in 1694 (only eleven years after the Catholic victory over the Turks at Vienna under Jan Sobieski, which bore striking resemblance to the Belgrade victory) and was canonized in 1724.

St. John Capistrano, ora pro nobis!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne as a young man

This fall I have been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales, edited by James McIntosh. Being a Traditional Catholic, I was unsure how much I would enjoy this writer of post-Revolutionary America (Hawthorne lived from 1804-1864) whose short stories take place mainly in Puritan New England. However, not only have I been greatly amused and delighted by Hawthorne's tales, but this author of the Romantic school has what one could call a natural affinity for Catholicism and a Catholic world view. This is often true of the Romantics: in opposing themselves to the cold logic of the Rationalists, they oftentimes come out siding with the enemies of those men of Reason, the Catholics. However, Romanticist love of Catholicism has little to do with theological adherence to truth and more to aesthetic sentimentality.

However, more than once this aesthetic respect for the Church has led to actual conversions. Hawthorne himself became very close to the Church towards the end of his life and it is a well known fact that his youngest daughter, Rose Hawthorne (Lathrup), converted to the Faith and became a nun.

Also, though of Puritan New-England stock, Hawthorne is no friend to the grim settlers of Massachussetts Bay and Plymouth. This is evident in such tales as Young Goodmand Brown (1835), the Scarlett Letter (1850) and the Maypole of Merrimount (1837), in the latter of which he says the following about the Puritans of the 1630's:

"Puritans [were] most dismal wretches, who said their prayers before daylight, and then wrought in the forest of cornfield, till evening made it prayer time again. Their weapons were always at hand, to shoot down the straggling savage. When they met in conclave, it was never to keep up the old English mirth, but to hear sermons three hours long, or to proclaim bounties on the heads of wolves and scalps of Indians. Their festivals were fast-days, and their chief pastime the singing of psalms. Woe to the youth or maiden, who did but dream of a dance! The select-man nodded to the constable; and there sat the light-heeled reprobate in the stocks; or if he danced, it was round the whipping-post, which might be termed the Puritan May-Pole."

Despite any religious or cultural undertones, Hawthorne is a truly good writer and his brief stories (usually no more than five pages) are very enjoyable to read. My favorite Hawthorne passage comes from Roger Malvin's Burial (1831); in this passage, Hawthorne attempts to explain the motivations of those who came to the New World to hack out homes for themselves out of the unfriendly wilderness:

"O, who, in the enthusiasm of a daydream, has not wished that he were a wanderer in a world of summer wilderness, with one fair and gentle being hanging lightly on his arm? In youth his free and exulting step would know no barrier but the rolling ocean or the snow-topped mountains; calmer manhood would choose a home where Nature had strewn a double wealth in the vale of some transparent stream; and when hoary age, after long, long years of theat pure life, stole on and found him there, it would find him the father of a race, the patriarch of a people, the founder of a mighty nation yet to be. When death, like the sweet sleep which we welcome after a day of happiness, came over him, his far descendants would mourn over the venerated dust. Enveloped by tradition in mysterious attributes, the men of future generations would call him godlike; and remote posterity would see him standing, dimly glorious, far up the valley of a hundred centuries."

Click here for a brief article on the life and work of Hawthorne's Catholic daughter, Rose Lathrup (Mother Mary Alphonsa Lathrup).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why is this awful movie a "Catholic classic?"

In every Catholic book and movie catalog I look through, the 1968 movie "The Shoes of the Fisherman" starring Anthony Quinn is listed in the "Catholic classics" section. This movie has been perennially popular among Catholics for a generation and in its day it was nominated for two oscars, won a Golden Globe and was nominated (and awarded) a few lesser awards. I thought I ought to rent this movie and see what all the acclaim was, so one night my wife and I settled down to watch "The Shoes of the Fisherman" and were soundly disappointed, especially since after almost forty years the obvious political-liberal themes of the movie were still woefully apparent.

The theme is this: Set in the late 1980's, Ukrainian Archbishop Kiril Lakota (Quinn) is set free after two decades as a political prisoner in Siberia. He is brought to Rome by Fr. David Telemond, a troubled young priest who befriends him. Once at the Vatican, he is immediately given an audience with the Pope, who elevates him to Cardinal Priest. The world is on the brink of war due to a Chinese-Soviet feud made worse by a famine caused by trade restrictions brought against China by the U.S. When the Pontiff suddenly dies, Lakota's genuine character and unique experience move the College of Cardinals to elect him as the new Pope. But Pope Kiril I must now deal with his own self-doubt, the struggle of his friend Fr. Telemond who is under scrutiny for his beliefs, and find a solution to the crisis in China.

This film is problematic for several reasons: first and foremost, the Pontiff in this movie, Kiril Lakota (who arrogantly takes his own real name as his pontifical name, becoming "Kiril I"), is portrayed as more of a political diplomat than a priest. Many popes have been diplomats, of course (Pius XII), but they have also been popes. This pope is all diplomat and no pope. He spends the majority of the movie trying to find a political solution between a fictitious quarrel between China and Russia. Besides refusing to take a pontifical name, he refuses to wear his ecclesiastical garments when meeting with the Russians and Chinese Communists (so as not to offend them) and instead wears a suit and tie.

Another problem witht his movie is the character of Fr. Telamond, a priest who befriends Pope Kiril and who advocates evolutionary views of the faith (a "cosmic Christ"). The pope does not understand his teachings, but nevertheless fails to really condemn them. In Fr. Telamond we see a very obvious type of Telihard de Chardin and a tacit support for his heretical teachings on evolutionary theology. The only good part about Fr. Telamond is that he has some kind of brain hemorrhage and dies just over half way through the movie.
Finally, the method that Pope Kiril uses to solve the Russian-Chinese crisis is utterly stupid: in order to feed the billion or so starving Chinese, he comes up with the brilliant solution of selling all of the artistic treasures of the Vatican in order to raise money to feed them. Well, isn't that nice! But there are a few problems (1) Even if he sold the Vatican treasures for billions of dollars, that would only be enough to feed the billions of Chinese for about a month. (2) Even if he could feed them, it wouldn't solve the fundamental socio-economic crisis that caused the famine and they would likely be starving again very soon (3) Even if he did try to sell all the Vatican treasures, it would probably take years before the details of the transactions were complete (nobody makes billion dollar deals too quickly!) and the movie portrays the starvation crisis as one that must be solved urgently. In reality, the Chinese would be long dead and WWIII broken out before the Pope found a buyer for the treasures of the Vatican.
In this movie, we see a version of what Hollywood would like the pope to be: a diplomat who cares nothing for Church Tradition and tacitly permits the teaching of theological-evolutionary heresy. The funny thing is the same people who want the pope to be a diplomat when it comes to matters of establishing world peace and ending world hunger are the same ones who want him to stay out of diplomacy when it comes to right to life issues. Bottom line: "The Shoes of the Fisherman" is an awful movie.
"The Shoes of the Fisherman" Facts:
The movie was based on the 1963 best selling book by Morris West.

The character of Pope Kiril was based on the Ukrainian Catholic Cardinal Josef Slipyj.

Critics said the direction of the film by Michael Anderson was "dull and uninspiring."

Author Morris West wrote the screenplay but was so disappointed by the results that he asked that his name be deleted from that credit, while keeping his novel's source credit onscreen.

Casting Quinn in the lead as the man who became the leader of the Church occasioned some laughter among wags who dubbed this movie "Zorba, the Pope."

The picture cost nearly $9 million and (Despite its nominations for several awards) failed at the box office.

A replica of the Sistine Chapel was built in California, then sent to Rome because commercial movie companies are not allowed to get too close to the Vatican.

In closing, this movie is terrible and gets no papal tiaras; in fact, it gets the flaming cow fart:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

St. John Cantius, Confessor

The holy priest St. John Cantius, a native of Kenty (Poland), was a professor at the University of Cracow. Famous for his heroic charity and zeal, he died in 1473.

In view of today's feast of St. John Cantius on the traditional Roman calendar I would like to remind our esteemed readership of the parish in Chicago dedicated to this saint. Saint John Cantius Parish is truly dedicated to the restoration of the sacred. I have heard Mass offered their according to the traditional roman missal, and I can assure you that God was glorified and I was edified. From their home page:

St. John Cantius Parish stands as a unique parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago. It offers the Novus Ordo Mass in both Latin and the vernacular, as well as the Tridentine Mass. Its imposing historic church, solemn liturgies, devotions, treasures of sacred art, and rich program of sacred music has helped many Catholics rediscover a profound sense of the sacred. In addition, throughout the year, St. John Cantius offers a diverse selection of presentations and classes in Latin, Greek, church heritage, catechetics, and Catholic culture... St. John Cantius Church is also the home of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a new religious community of men dedicated to the Restoration of the Sacred...

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius are also responsible for launching Sancta Missa, the excellent online tutorial on the Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum.

St. John Cantius, ora pro nobis!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The North American Martyrs

Today is the feast of the North American martyrs. These were eight Jesuits who were killed by the Iroquois between 1642 and 1649, most of them being martyred between March and December of 1649. The names of these illustrious martys are (in the order of their martyrdom), St. Rene Goupil (d. 1642), St. Isaac Jogues ( d. 1646), St. John de Lalande (d. 1646), St. Anthony Daniel (d. 1648), St. John de Brebeuf (d. 1649), St. Gabriel Lalemant (d. 1649), St. Charles Garnier (d. 1649) and St. Noel Chabanel (d. 1649).

The North American martyrs belong to a long distant time, a time when the hostility of the native population or the prospects of success (or likelihood of death) did not deter the evangelical efforts fo the Church but rather intensified them. The Jesuit martyrs are remembered as martyrs of the Iroquois, but it was to the Hurons along the St. Lawrence that they were laboring for souls. Many, if not most, of these Hurons had accepted the faith and were leaving in peaceful communion with the Jesuits. It was the Jesuits' support of the Huron, long time enemies of the Five Nations, that earned them the contempt of the Iroquois and led to their eventual martyrdom.

With the martyrdoms of these saints (in methods so cruel as had not been seen since the time of Diocletian) came also the largescale extermination of the Hurons as a tribe on the south of the St. Lawrence, many of them relocating to Michigan or Canada, where they were exposed to even further assaults by the vengeful Iroquois. Further efforts among the Indians by Fr. Marquette in the latter half of the 17th century and Bishop Fredric Baraga in the 18th brought to fruition the evangelical work began by Jogues and his companions. Those of us from Michigan know the names of Baraga and Marquette well, as two of our counties were named after these two apostles to the Indians

I think the North American martyrs serve as an example to us today, especially in looking at the evangelization of the Muslim countries. If there ever was a land that seemed completely inhospitable to Catholic evangelism, surely it was the wilds of New York, then belonging to the Iroquois empire, who were equal to the Aztecs in the warlike nature and hostility. Nevertheless, the attempt was made at evangelization, and much progress was made among the Hurons before the Jesuits met their bloody end.

Muslims have been called "unconvertable." Looking at the example of these martyrs, ought that to prevent us from trying? Suppose every missionary who entered a Muslim country was to be beheaded immediately upon arrival; I say we should still be sending them there in droves. What Tertullian said famously about the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the Church is no less true now than it was in the 2nd century. Who cares if the Muslims don't want us there? When did that ever stop Catholic missionary efforts? The Iroquois did not want us there either; nor the Aztecs, nor the Frisians, nor the Roman imperial bureauacracy. Whether or not the native populace desires our missionaries simply isn't an issue. The problem these days is the Church seems to think it should only undertake missionary activity where it is welcome by the population. If that is our criteria, we might as well just pack up and go home!

May God send us scores of zealous religious who are as eager to lose their heads in Muslim countries as Muslims are eager to blow themselves up in ours!

St. Isaac Jogues and companions, ora pro nobis!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Strongholds of Traditionalism

I have often made the assertion on this blog (and I have seen it repeated on other blogs) that the age we are living in now is like a new Dark Ages. The difference is this: the original Dark Ages were only dark for civilization but were bright times for the Church, which by its long list of saints and scholars made the early Middle Ages one of the best eras for Church growth in wisdom and piety. By contrast, the current Dark Ages are dark for the Church while the external forms of civilization (though not its substance) seem to be flourishing.

In the Dark Ages, learning was preserved in small fortresses of education: the monasteries. This brings me to consider the following question: where, if anywhere, is the true faith being passed on the most? Where are the strongholds of traditionalism, from which the forces of Catholic truth can sally forth and wreak havoc on the secular-liberal barbarians of our time?

I think there are five main locations where Traditionalism is really putting down roots and influencing the Church at large. What do I mean by "influencing?" I mean they have (a) not just preserved Tradition, but are making efforts to spread it to other places (b) they contribute in someway to either organization, providing resources, training, or information to efforts aimed at restoring Catholic Tradition, and (c) they seem to be gaining momentum/support from the Church and laity alike. I will rank them here, from least influential to most:

Fifth place goes to the old indult parishes. These faithful little communities carried on the Tridentine Mass and Gregorian Chant through decades when almost all of the Church was going against them. I salute them for their preservation. However, over the years I think some developed a defensive mentality and lacked in evangelical fervor. I also want to mention the SSPX chapels around the country, though I'd say those, too, did little to spread Traditional Catholicism and more or less just preserved what they had. Their awkward canonical situation mitigated their effectiveness to a large degree. Soem may take issue with this, but the few SSPX communities that I know of were very closed.

Fourth place goes to Catholic institutions of higher learning that are favorable to Catholic Tradition and to the Old Mass: I single out Christendom College, University of Dallas, the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, as well as the old Ave Maria College in Michigan prior to its tragic dismantling by Tom Monaghan. I emphatically do not mention Stubenville because I think its emphasis on "praise and worship" does not really endear it to Traditionalists, though I know there are Traditionalist enclaves there. Nor do I mention Ave Maria University in Florida, where the Extraordinary Form is subject to repression (see this article from Ave Watch).

Third place belongs to the various Gregorian Chant workshops around the world, like the Church Music Association of America, the Adoremus Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, and the training sessions offered Fr. Anthony Ross of Collegeville, Minnesota. These events often draw in many people who are at first only mildly interested in Catholic musical tradition and by the end leave them devoted Traditionalists, converted by the beauty of the Church's timeless music.

Second place belongs to clerical and lay organizations dedicated to spreading the use of the Traditional Latin Mass, like the FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, Una Voce, the Benedictines of Fontgambault, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius and Coalition Ecclesia Dei. These groups have proven to be pivotal in the spread of respect for the Church's Tradition and in making avaliable resources for parishes and priests who choose to celebrate according to the Extraordinary Form. We also know that when diocese are friendly to them (ala Fabian Bruskewitz) that they seldom lack vocations.

And the first place, the most influential fortress of Traditionalism contributing to the renewal of the Catholic Church and liturgy in the world is:

The Blogosphere!

That's right: via the Internet, Traditionalists are connected in ways they never were before. Blogs like the New Liturgical Movement and Fr. Zuhlsdorf's "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" have done more to advance the cause for Church Tradition than anything else. Because of them, Trads have realized that they are not alone and that they constitute a very potent force within the Church. Blogging has connected everybody into a united groundswell of support for the Church's authentic Tradition.

What do you think of this ranking? Do you agree with it or disagree? Are there any I have left out? I know we could mention isolated individual members of the hierarchy, but I did not think they compared in influence (unless we count Benedict XVI, who would be in a category all of his own). Let me hear your feedback.

The Pope-Fire of Poland

I wish Catholics would someday get away from this sort of embarrassing superstition, but it seems like it is going to go on until the Second Coming. Apparently, this guy in Poland was having a bonfire on April 2nd, which just happens to be the anniversary of John Paul II's death. For some reason, he decides to take pictures of his bonfire. Later, after looking at the pictures at home, he decides that one of them looks like John Paul II and he decides that it must be some kind of supernatural manifestation of JPII from beyond the grave. Check out the comparison:

Okay, so if that is not unbelievable enough, the Vatican TV picks up on the photo and does a story on it, complete with a Polish priest endorsing the image as an authentic supernatural manifestation. Jimmy Akin had a pretty good analysis of why this was bad for the Church. He lists three reasons:

"This is the kind of story that Vatican TV really shouldn't do. Even if they ran the story with all kinds of disclaimers, those disclaimers won't make it through into the popular media. The mere fact that Vatican News Service is carrying this story will be taken as indicating that the Vatican supports this interpretation of the bonfire image." People will take this as some sort of "miracle" proving John Paul II is among the blessed when in fact it is no such thing.

"This is bad because it strains credulity enough to have saintly images appearing in tortillas and pieces of toast and on the sides of buildings. Finding one in an image of something as dynamic and as constantly-changing-in-shape as fire is completely beyond the bounds. If you take enough pictures of any bonfire, you'll be able to find such images in it." True. This just makes Catholics look superstitious and stupid.

I think this third and final point by Jimmy Akin really needs to be taken into consideration. He says, "And then there is the fact that fire isn't exactly the most . . . er . . . traditional symbol of what it's like in heaven. I mean, if you want a message that JP2 is in heaven rather than . . . one of the hotter regions . . . is a bonfire the best place for such a message?" Point well taken!

Let's hope this dies away and that people don't start making pilgrimages to this guy's fire pit, just like they did to that fountain dedicated to JPII in Krakow (or it might have been another Polish city). Perhaps people will start claiming this is an authentic miracle because of all the good fruits that will come of it: pilgrimages to the holy fire pit, people saying the rosary there, priests hearing confessions, people weeping. After all, good fruit automatically validates any apparition, right?? It is a weak spirituality that seeks after such tenuous and silly "miracles."