Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Ox, Ass, and the Master's Crib

The birth of Jesus Christ has been a favorite theme of Christian artists throughout history. And no wonder; the birth of the incarnate Word of God was the beginning of God's ultimate work of salvation. It was the beginning of the long journey that would end on Golgotha.

Christian artistic tradition has developed a standard manner of depicting Christ's birth in art, based on the accounts of the Gospels. The details may vary, but we recognize the different elements - a manger, the star, shepherds, angels, and of course, Mary and Joseph. In this post, I would like to focus on one of the more humble and overlooked elements of traditional nativity art: the animals.

In modern nativity scenes, we usually see a lot of sheep associated with the shepherds - camels show up closer to Epiphany to signify the journey of the Magi. But in traditional depictions, the ox and the ass are the default animals that always show up. You may not have noticed this - we don't often pay attention to the animals - but it is so common that constitutes its own particular design element. Consider the following examples, taken from the East and West:

The last image is particularly striking; taken from the Fresco of the Nativity At the Church of the Holy Cross in Palermo, Italy, this image omits St. Joseph but takes care to include the ox and the ass!

This is very interesting given that neither the Gospel of Luke nor Matthew mentions the presence of animals at the Nativity, although they both mention St. Joseph.

Of course, the fact that no animals are mentioned does not mean they were not present;  St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate renders Luke 2:7 as: "et reclinavit eum in praesepio," which the Douay-Rheims version renders as Mary "laid him in a manger." The Greek text for St. Jerome's praesepio is phatnei, which is the Greek word for a manger, a feeding-trough for animals. It is certainly no stretch to assume animals were present.

However, the presence of the ox and the ass in particular are not explained by the datum of the New Testament, but by the prophecies of the Old. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read the following, in which God laments the infidelity of Israel:

"Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken. I have brought up children, and exalted them: but they have despised me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood" (Is. 1:2-3).

 The immediate context of this prophecy is the rebellion of Israel. God notes to the prophet that even a dumb animal knows who its master is. Anyone who has ever had livestock knows this - if you go out to the sheep with a bucket of grain,  the sheep will come right to your hand. They recognize their owner and come to him for their necessities. God notes this to Isaiah as a form of irony; a dumb animal intuitively recognizes its master and comes to him for his needs, but the very people God has called for His own are unable to recognize Him and refuse to come to Him!

Thus, when the ox and the ass are depicted at the manger of Christ, it is an allusion to Isaiah 1. The people of Israel did not recognize the Messiah when He came to them, but the ox and the ass are depicted reverencing Jesus as their Master. The fidelity of these simple animals to the Incarnate Word is contrasted to the infidelity of Israel, which the ox and the ass foreshadow. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood."
It is true that no animals are mentioned in the infancy narratives. But the ox and the ass in depictions of the Nativity were never meant to infer the historical presence of these creatures at the birth of Jesus. Rather, they are iconographic symbols - rooted in the Old Testament prophets - meant to tell us something about the divine identity of Christ and call us to humble submission to Him.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Identity-Based Outreach Ministries Blur the Lines Between Overcoming Sin and Celebrating It

I want you to take a good, hard look at this advertisement for a Jesuit-sponsored retreat in - where else - California:

I have not wasted my time on this, but if I were to contact the organizers and object to this event, I am fairly certain they would respond very charitably with some line about reaching out to the margins, "the Church is a field hospital", Jesus ate with sinners, I have not come to call the just, go to the peripheries, reach out to the lost, and so on and so on and so on.

And this response would be very frustrating because, all those things are true - I would not be able to object to any of those statements individually. But I would still know that this event is very, very wrong.

Over the years I have gone round and round with people who argue in favor of a kind of "identity-based outreach ministries" for persons with same sex attraction. I have consistently argued that this is a bad idea, because it inevitably leads to a situation where a group of people are categorized according to their sins and disorders. And there is a fine line between going out to sinners and affirming sinners. There ought not to be a fine line; it is actually a very easy distinction to make - but our stupid generation makes it a fine line. 

I vehemently disagree with identifying groups of people by their sins - and this is not just true for sexual sins. I have multiple people in my family who have struggled with alcoholism, but I do not think of them as the alcoholic members I my family; they are regular, fallen humans struggling with a particular vice. I think of them as family, my family where everyone has their own problems, just like any other humans.

I've known people who do drugs; I don't define them as "the drug addicts" - they are sons and daughters of Adam whom my Lord died for, who are fighting - sometimes winning, sometimes losing - a war against a painful addiction. But these addictions, vices, and sins do not define who they are. Part of me feels like it would be an insult to the grace of God to allow them to be defined by their failures.

There is always a danger in making more of these sins than what they are, or turning people into little "communities" where one is identified and understood in terms of their vices. That's certainly not to say there is no place in the Church for ministries geared towards people with particular challenges - support groups for divorced, for substance abuse - I know of one young men's group that is organized to provide mutual support for its members to stop masturbation. This is all fine and well. But nobody speaks of the "Divorced community" or the "Masturbators Community", nor would we think of our friends by those identifiers. "Hey, it's Cheryl my divorced friend", or "Look, there's Joe the Masturbator!"

LGBT persons will respond, "Exactly. And I do not want to be identified as Michael the Homosexual or Julie the Lesbian." I agree 100%. But if that is the case, let's stop with this "LGBT community" nonsense. There is no LGBT community just like there is no masturbators community. There are just people struggling with various problems. If LGBT people do not want to be identified by their sexual activities, then stop perpetuating that identity by insisting on the "LGBT community."

I think when the Church starts adopting the identity based assumptions of the secular world, we risk shifting from the traditional Christian view of helping sinners overcome their sins to a more modern sociological view of "celebrating" the "gifts" that each distinct "community" brings. This is very dangerous - not because, say LGBT people don't have gifts, but none of the gifts they have are because they are LGBT. An LGBT person might be intelligent, have a great singing voice, be good with accounting, or whatever, but none of those gifts are grounded in their sexual disorders. 

One might object that a sinner can bring a particular insight as a result of struggling with their sin. Perhaps. But if I am a recovering alcoholic, I certainly may be able to speak more eloquently to the struggles of other alcoholics, but this gift of insight comes not from my alcoholism, but from my victory over it. It comes from the virtue developed in successfully overcoming a vice.

On the other hand, if I am not a recovering alcoholic - that is, if I am still down and out and drunk continually - then I have no business being in any ministry at all till I get my life together. Ergo, either one has a gift to share by virtue of overcoming their vice, or if they have not overcome it, they shouldn't be in any "ministry" - but in no case does a "gift" arise from possessing the vice itself.

No authentic "gift" to the Church can come directly from a person's sin or disorder. But if we insist on speaking of how these disorders can "enrich" the Church's experience, we end up with a kind of "affirmative action" approach to things. For example, what qualities do we look for in a lector? Well, he must be articulate, have a pleasant voice, be able to speak loudly and clearly, and read with the proper intonation and stress. If those qualities happen to be possessed by a man who incidentally is a struggling (chastely) with same sex attraction, then of course there is no problem with him serving as a lector. In this case, we want certain gifts and talents suitable to the office and the person who fills them happens to be struggling with homosexual attraction. His struggle is incidental; everyone struggles.

But suppose we took the approach that there was this LGBT "community" that we needed to reach out to in order to be more "inclusive." Now suppose we need a lector. Instead of looking for the right qualities suitable to the office (voice, projection, etc), we begin with the affirmative action mentality of "This is a great opportunity to showcase how inclusive we are. Let's recruit a gay man to fill this office", and all of the sudden his homosexual tendencies become not incidental, but essential to why he is chosen - because the parish wants to showcase its token homosexual to prove how inclusive they are. In such a case, how can anyone escape the conclusion that the man's same sex attraction is being celebrated, since this is the reason he was invited to lector?

Looking again at the retreat advertised above, do we get the impression that the LGBT persons will be helped to overcome their vices and live chastely? Or do we get the impression that the LGBT identity is being celebrated and mainstreamed?

In my opinion, identity-based ministries that create "communities" centered on a particular sin are counter-productive to helping people overcome that sin because they end up creating "communities" out of these persons where their "gifts" are celebrated, rather than their souls cleansed.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Is there a Catholic nationalism?

The media is rattling on about a "populist" or "nationalist" movement sweeping the western world. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are the movement's most notable victories; the defeat of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's referendum this Sunday is another. Whether we look to Viktor Orban's Hungary bucking the EU and building a border wall to deter refugee traffic, or the surge of Marie le Pen's National Front in the upcoming French elections, or the mainstreaming of the Fascist Golden Dawn in Greece, everywhere we look the media are seeing nationalist bogeymen.

I do not mean to lump all these disparate movements together; the bloc of U.S. voters who elected Donald Trump is very different from the environmentalist, E-Democratic Five Star Movement that took down Renzi in Italy; and the British voters who opted for Brexit have little in common with the Nazi-sympathizing Golden Dawn in Greece. Many of these folks aren't part of any "movenent"; they are just average people who are sick of getting screwed over by the globalist economy.

But all the hubbub about nationalism begs the question of whether there can be an authentic Catholic nationalism in the modern world? Many of my Catholic acquintances on the Right of the political spectrum see these nationalism movements as manifestations of a crude statism, patently opposed to the subsidiarist model proposed by Catholic tradition; my Catholic acquiatances on the Left (mostly Canadians and Simcha fans) are simply mortified by the alleged "xenophobia" of nationalism, which for them, means essentially taking a harder line on immigration than that proposed by the USCCB. On both sides of the spectrum, Catholics seem uncomfortable with a nationalist political platform.

This is not surprising, as "nationalism" is an extremely broad term. Depending on how one takes it, it can be either something perfectly in line with Catholic political thought, or totally repugnant to it. Thsi is because "nationalism" is a term that is often used as a point of reference to compare it to other ideologies; it is something that is necessarily opposed to some other -ism, and as such tends to take on meaning relative to whatever it is contrasted to.

In the 19th century, nationalism was opposed to the last vestigates of provincialism-feudalism that characterized the waning days of Christendom. The nation-state was unknown for most of Christendom; men thought of themselves not in terms of what national group they belonged to, nor what language they spoke, but to whom they owed fealty to. Political bonds were personal, not national. Thus Christendom was always a polygot concept, with many ethnic and language groups living together under multiple jurisdictions that were primarily local or regional, bound loosely together not by any national identity, but by personal loyalty to a particular family dynasty - but nevertheless all united in their shared Catholicity under the government of God.

19th century nationalism was in intentional antagonism towards this system. In place of dynastic loyalty is substituted national identity. It elevated the state over the Church, prefering the nation-state to be the ultimate expression of culture. It's guiding principle was the rather arbitrary assertion that   

people of a single language group should constitute their own political entity. France for the French, Germany for the Germans, and so on. The nation was the expression of a certain "folk" or unique culture. Localism and regionalism had to be suppressed in favor of centralized bureaucratic management. Tradition had to be dismantled and replaced with a more scientific, positivist approach to government. And the Church, to the degree it stood in the way of the centralization of the nation-state, had to be opposed. 

In the this sense, I do not think a Catholic can be a nationalist. That sort of nationalism was the kind of ideology that ushered in the destruction of the medieval synthesis. It was the nationalism of Bismarck; a kind of political reaction against the Catholicity of the Christian religion. By emphasizing ethnic and linguistic considerations as essential to the idea of the state, that kind of nationalism actually undermines the Catholicity of Christendom, which is composed of men of "every tribe and tongue and nation" (Rev. 7:9). 

Now, this was nationalism understood in contradistinction to the older, regional-localist systems traditionally associated with Christendom. But that is not necessarily the only way we could interpret nationalism. To put it in the tired old contemporary paradigm, 19th century nationalism was a movement for "big government" and statism, which is hardly what most Brexit voters or Trump supporters wanted. Indeed, the Brexit was a repudiation of the bloated, centralized bureaucracy in Brussels; the Trump bloc was pushing back against the outrageous government overreach that has characterized the Obama years. Clearly, the nationalism of 2016 is much different from the nationalism of 1848.

Broadly speaking, the nationalism we are seeing surge across the west could be defined as a desire for the independence of one's country - political, economic, and military independence. It would include an emphasis on promotion of its interests as opposed to those of other nations, and would approach policy issues on whether they value the interests of the nation-state over and above other nations. But most importantly, it is a reaction against globalism

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the origins of globalism and the agenda of the globalists, but by understanding contemporary nationalism as a reaction against globalism, we can begin to construct a spectrum to place nationalism on. The subsidiarist-regionalist structure of Christendom is preferable to the modern nation-state, but the modern nation-state is much more preferable to globalism. And what nationalism is exactly depends on what it is being opposed to.

Understood as a reaction to globalism, I think there is room for an authentic Catholic nationalism. If patriotism is a love of the fatherland, I think nationalism is the affection for the fatherland translated into a positive, political will to see it protected, strengthened, and extolled. Of course, I am talking about a nationalism that is in accord with right reason and the Catholic tradition (preserving it from a blind jingoism). If nationalism is understood in terms of a rejection of the principles of globalism and pluralism, it certainly can be a very Catholic impulse.

It could be asked, "If one wants to reject globalism, why not adopt subsidiarism instead? Why opt for nationalism?" I honestly do not think nationalism and subsidiarism are opposed to one another. I think one can have an authentic Catholic nationalism that is subsidiarist. But did I not above argue that 19th century nationalism was antagonistic towards the subsidiarist systems of Christendom?

Yes, I did, but I also argued that nationalism has many forms, and that it is often defined by what it is opposing, and that there is no necessary reason why nationalism must include, for example, a mono-lingual society or a bloated, centralized bureaucracy Nationalism has to do with how a nation fends for its own interests relative to other nations; subsidiarism has to do with how a nation organizes itself. As I see it, I don't get why a nation cannot have a fundamentally nationalist foreign policy but a subsidiarist domestic policy. This seems like common sense to me; the virtues, industry, and wealth generated by a robust regional economy could be put into a strong, nationalist foreign policy.

In the contemporary situation where the world's elites are enamored with a globalist vision, I will absolutely take a nationalist foreign policy any day over a globalist one, either of the neo-con or liberal variety. And I don't think such a foreign policy need necessarily conflict with subsidiarity at home, or a Catholic political ethos.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Sun of Justice

"But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays" (Mal. 4:2)

This passage from the book of the prophet Malachi was read at Mass in the Novus Ordo today, thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Malachi is the last prophetic book of the Old Testament; written after the Exile between 515-445 B.C. As such, it represents God's last canonically prophetic words to the people of Israel (of course other canonical books were composed after Malachi, but Malachi was the last strictly prophetic book).

As the last prophetic book, Malachi is brimming with references to the coming Messiah who will restore all things and usher in the Kingdom of God. The coming of St. John the Baptist in the spirit and power of Elijah is prophesied (3:1; 4:5-6); Christ's cleansing of the Temple (3:1); the institution of a new priesthood that will offer a pure sacrifice (1:11; 3:3), the universality-catholicity of God's new covenant (1:5; 1:11), the destruction of the Levitical priesthood (2:1-3). It is a book that perfectly sets the stage for the New Covenant.

In Malachi 4:2, we see the Messiah referred to as the "Sun of Justice", sometimes called the "Sun of Righteousness"; the Latin Vulgate translates this title as Sol Iustitiae, "Sun of Justice." This is an appropriate allegorical name for the Messiah. The period of waiting for the Messiah was a period of long darkness; but though the night is long, eventually the sun peaks above the horizon, casting its light slowly at first, but eventually illumining the entire earth under its brilliance. 

Thus the name "Sun of Justice" denotes a period of expectation through the darkness. Psalm 130:6 says, "My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen [wait] for the morning, more than the watchers for the morning." The prophet Isaiah also says: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Is. 60:1-3). This is also why in the Easter Vigil liturgy, the church is shrouded in darkness for the Old Testament readings until the eruption of the "Sun of Justice" into the fallen world, allegorically signified by the Easter candle.

This should call to mind Resurrection; just as the sun symbolically "dies" at the end of the day and "rises" in the morning, so the Messiah will be put to death, descend into the earth, and then rise again in glory. Again, this is potently set forth in the rites of the Easter liturgy, where light and Resurrection are synonymous.

"Sun of Justice" also implies glory. Obviously, the sun is the most glorious body in the heavens. It "rules the day" (cf. Gen 1:16) just as Christ rules the cosmos. This glorious light denotes the power and salvation of the Messiah to the entire world. As it is written in Isaiah, "It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the nations [Lat. lumen gentium], that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth" (Is. 49:6). The coming of the Messiah and His universal kingship are associated with the glory of God filling the earth, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). 

Wherever this glory spreads also goes the justice and universal dominion of God. This is the meaning of one of the most famous passages in Isaiah - and one which no one familiar with Handel's Messiah can ever read without humming:

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Is. 40:4-5)
The "glory" shall be seen by all flesh, like the rising sun that breaks upon the earth. And it will establish justice. This is the meaning of the Hebrew idiom "every valley shall be raised up; every mountain and hill made low"; in other words, there will be a great leveling. God will dispense justice that will throw down the mighty and elevate the lowly. This is all implied in the title "Sun of Justice."

We can see how it is a very fitting title for the Messiah. It also has an important liturgical connection. We know that for most of the Church's history, the Mass was always offered facing east, a position called ad orientem. This usually meant geographically east, but there is also a "liturgical east" which means the priest and the people facing the same direction as the Mass is offered, the position ad dominum, "facing the Lord" (as opposed to versus populum, "facing the people"). 

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain the liturgical, historical, and theological reasons for worship facing east; but we can note that, symbolically, it is very fitting. The Messiah is likened to the sun, which rises in the east. This ties in to a very ancient Christian tradition that when Christ returns, He will return from the east. And this is not based solely on an allegorical connection between Jesus and the sun; Christ Himself says in the Gospel of Matthew, "For as lightning comes out of the east, and appears even into the west: so shall the coming of the Son of man be" (Matt. 24:27).

Now, Christ certainly may not be teaching that He will literally appear in the east first; but symbolically, it makes sense to associate His coming with the east. The sun, our Lord's symbol, rises in the east. Jesus says His coming will be like lightning that comes from the east. In classical antiquity, the east signified brightness and daylight while the west signified darkness. In English etymology, the word east means towards dawn; daybreak, while the word west means "evening, night." The same connotation exists in Greek and Latin.

Thus, it makes sense that the liturgy should be oriented towards the east, for from here - symbolically at least - the faithful may expect the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the ad orientem posture demonstrates the Church's faith in Christ's return, professed in the Creed when we say, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."

May the Sun of Justice rise upon us. As we prepare to enter Advent, may we recall the words of the traditional hymn, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Guest Post: Critiquing the "Non-Negotiable" Distinction

Another U.S. presidential election is upon us. And what a whopper it has become. I have never seen so much nonsense. For me personally, this one is a no-brainer. I'm voting for Trump. And not as a "lesser" evil; I positively like him and have supported him since the primaries. In my opinion he has the best platform of any presidential candidate I've seen in my adult life. I have multiple Trump signs in my yard. So...this one is easy for me.

But it's not as easy for everyone. Many Catholics I know are having sincere scruples about how to vote this time around. Some sincerely believe they cannot cast a vote for Trump in good conscience. I have been party to many discussions - online and in person - where there is a lot of hand-wringing over what to do.

A friend of mine wrote a guest post on the popular approach of evaluating electoral issues in terms of "negotiables" and "non-negotaibles." This approach has been popularized by popular Catholic outlets like Catholic Answers and other conservative bishops, such as Archbishop Chaput.

There are few things so confusing as a situation where someone may come to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. In this guest post, our author says that the division of issues into "negotiables" and "non-negotiables" in fact breaks down and provides little help for a voter to really evaluate the issues. True, a voter may use the negotiable/non-negotiable approach and still end up making a "proper vote", but as a result of faulty reasoning. This article will recap the negotiable/non-negotiable distinction, offer a critique of it, and provide an alternate means of weighing candidate positions.

*  *  *  *  * 

Colin Donovan has a column in the most recent edition of the Register that succinctly states an argument I am hearing again and again; namely that there is a distinction between political "negotiables" and "non-negotiables", and that Catholics must vote based on the non-negotiables. In the following essay, I will restate his argument succinctly, critique it, and offer an alternative.

Donovan's Argument

Donovan quotes the famous letter of Joseph Ratzinger which states in a footnote: "When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons." 

Donovan asks the question what those proportionate reasons are, and answers it in reference to the terms "negotiable" and "non-negotiable", which he claims to find in the writings of Benedict XVI. In Donovan's view, the non-negotiable issues are cut and dry issues involving intrinsic evils, whereas those issues that are negotiable "involve multiple moral principles and complex social circumstances" and as such "are not directly comparable" to the non-negotiables.

The proportionate reasons Ratzinger mentioned are - for Donovan - when a candidate is worse in the "non-negotiables" than his opponent.  However, the "negotiables", such as "health care, the economy and foreign policy", since they "can admit of various possible means to achieve the objective policy, and so people of good will can reach differing conclusions" can never be the basis of proportionate reasons to vote for someone. Thus, one must always give primary consideration to the "non-negotiables", vote based on them, and resist the attempt to try to make the negotiables outweigh the non-negotiables by an appeal to proportionality.

Critiquing the "Non-Negotiable" Principle

There are three errors in this line of reasoning that I will bring forward: (I) Connecting proportionality to non-negotiables, (II) Defining non-negotiables as things that admit to reasonable disagreement vis-a-vis the means employed, and (III) Dividing issues into negotionables and non-negotiables.

I. The argument employed in the article - that if something cannot be the subject of reasonable disagreement, it is in a class different from those things that can be the subject of reasonable disagreement - is false. This is because it very often happens that the ends cannot be subject to reasonable disagreement, whereas the means can. For example, in Pope Benedict's address to participants of the Congress promoted by the European People's Party, which Donovan cites as the major source for the distinction between negotiables and non-negotiables, the pope lists as his third non-negotiable "the protection of the rights of parents to educate their children." But it cannot be denied that this protection may take different forms and involve different cultural institutions. Reasonable people may disagree about how this should be done while agreeing that it must be done. It follows, then, that some non-negotiable ends are only reached by negotiable means. 

Furthermore, we might not know what ends a particular candidate wishes, except by examining particular policies that constitute negotiable means. Therefore sometimes an issue that is negotiable can be the basis for proportionality insofar as behind the negotiable means is a non-negotiable principle that is proportionate. Similar things could be said vis-a-vis protecting religious liberty, or even vis-a-vis reducing abortion itself (although in that case it is clear that Catholics must oppose the legalization of abortion regardless of the effectiveness of law to reduce the numbers of abortions). 

Rather than proportionality being based on the non-negotiable character of something, proportionality is based on the proportional importance of the good at which something aims - and negotiable means can aim at even the highest goods. Here I would like to mention that Pope Benedict himself never connects proportionality to the non-negotiable status of something. That is a connection of two different texts which it is not obvious are meant to be connected.

II. It follows that the distinction Donovan employs between non-negotiables as things that do not admit to reasonable disagreement and negotiables as things that do is insufficient, because the means to accomplish non-negotiable ends often, or even usually, admit to reasonable disagreement. When we acknowledge that non-negotiable ends might not have a clear and decisive path to be reached, we can begin to see that there are many more "non-negotiables" than there seems to be at first blush. Ratzinger's 2002 document, approved by John Paul II, "On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life", appears to list a few surprising non-negotiables. After the common list of protection of human life and of marriage, it lists the right of parents to educate their children, the protection of minors, freedom from modern day slavery (such as prostitution), religious freedom, and, most surprisingly, "the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which "the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged". Who could fail to recognize that in counting the development of an economy in service to the human person as a "non-negotiable", John Paul II has established as a principle and an end something that is often the subject of bitter disagreement?

III. At this point, it should be obvious that the entire distinction between "negotiable" and "non-negotiable" is breaking down. This break down becomes even more apparent when it is recognized that neither Ratzinger, neither as Cardinal nor Pope, appears to have ever talked about "negotiables". The document Colin Donovan references does not talk speak of it, nor does the 2002 document, nor does Benedict XVI mention it in several other writings where be talks about "non-negotiables". While it may be a fair point to assume that if there are "non-negotiables" there are also "negotiables", Donovan puts words in the pope's mouth when he defines them in terms of the ability of people of good will to disagree. In fact, since the pope does not speak of "negotiables", it goes without saying he doesn't define what they are. But he does define what "non-negotiables" are, saying that these are matters of natural law where the dignity of the human person is at stake. Ironically, the Catechism (CCC 2288) lays out a natural law argument that health care is a right and societies have a duty to ensure its availability. This would elevate health care, too, to the level of non-negotiables, for while we can disagree about how best to provide it, we cannot disagree about its necessity or intrinsic value. 

It is evident from all of this that proportionality cannot be defined in terms of "negotiable" and "non-negotiable", and that the Magisterium has never proposed that framework. Not all non-negotiables are necessarily proportionate to each other, and very many things that appear to be negotiable actually aim at something non-negotiable, and proportionality can be established in these things as well.

An Alternative Criterion

If we are not to determine proportionality in terms of negotiables and non-negotiables, then how are we to determine it? 

I propose that we should determine it in terms of what is most closely connected to or affects the common good. There are goods that belongs more closely to the common good, and goods that are more distantly related to the common good. Among those that belong more closely, first place must be given to the religious freedom of Catholics and the rights of the Church, and after that to the peace and harmony of society, and then to life, to family and marriage, to property and the right to seek happiness, to justice for citizens, (especially the vulnerable and marginalized), to respect for women, for children, for sexuality, and so on and so forth. To use a list from the 2002 document: "the promotion and defense of goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity."

In determining proportionality, we must ask the question what parts of the common good does a particular candidate opposes, and how much does it hurt the common good? We must do this not only abstractly, but by attempting in prudence to gauge what the benefits and injuries to the common good will be if a particular candidate is elected. Then we must acknowledge that, while not every evil hurts the common good to the same degree, every evil takes from the common good some incommensurate part of it. Abortion does not hurt the common good is exactly the same way as unjust war, nor as a high percentage of elderly without health care, nor as gender ideology, nor as the loss or impairment of religious liberty, and so on.

Also we have to acknowledge that all these things admit to degrees. Someone may wish to reduce the number of abortions, but their efforts may not be likely to make any impact whatsoever, whereas someone else may wish to increase social acceptance of prostitution and have the means to do so. While abortion is objectively worse than prostitution, the actual circumstances may make prostitution a proportionate issue.

Figuring out the proportionality of these issues is not a scientific process, but an exercise of the virtue of prudence that every Catholic called upon to do. It is not something that can be farmed out to the Bishops or to professional theologians, but it is something that Catholics, listening to pastors and experts, have to reach their own conclusions about, in complete conformity to the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is because - while not all issues are proportionate - there is no such thing as a "super issue" that can bring about a justification for the toleration of every other deviation from the common good. It is not enough to say that X is in favor of legal abortion, and Y is in favor of restricting access to abortion (to one degree or another). Politics is the study of contingent things, and who to vote for requires an evaluation of contingent things, starting from the teaching of the Church. It is possible for multiple people to evaluate contingent affairs differently and even to reach different conclusions about who to vote for.

For instance, if one Catholic thinks the result of a particular policy will be promote a very important part of the common good, whereas someone else things the result will be less clearly good, the first will value highly something the second will not. Because it politics is the art of the contingent, two people engaging in politics with the same goals may, as a matter of fact, reach polar opposite positions and vote accordingly. What is important is that something that is directly harmful to the common not be tolerated by one's vote except in the case where there is a proportionate reason for tolerating it, and this proportionate reason has to be a part of the common good that is in some way as important - and which cannot be realized except by voting for that person.

As a practical example: Person A believes that the environment is being hurt by man-made global warming. He is also Pro-Life. In several elections, he has had to chose between an enemy of one good and an enemy of another. He has had to evaluate which is the greater is evil and whether the good of one is proportionate to the evil of the other. He has had to evaluate this not just abstractly, but in terms of the results he thinks the candidates will have on these goods that he cares about. In the end, he has decided in most elections that abortion is most surely the greater evil, and, while not entirely convinced, he nonetheless makes the prudential decision to vote for climate change skeptics. This man is a good voter. He is not a "single issue" voter, but, rather, he is one who has weighed everything with an educated mind and a carefully formed conscience. The fact that some people disagree with him in one way (that abortion poses less of a threat to the common good) or another (that global warming is a threat to the common good) does not change that he has made a good decision in voting, attempting, to the best of his ability, to not tolerate what he perceives to be evil with his vote except for a proportionately good reason.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

On Avoiding Servile Labor

The third commandment enjoins us to honor the Lord's Day and keep it holy. This command is part positive, part negative - positively, it commands us to worship God and devote this day to Him in a special way; in a negative sense, it prohibits us from engaging in certain activities that are traditionally referred to as "servile labor." 

However, what exactly constitutes servile labor is usually not spelled out except in the most general terms. To a large extent Christianity has never adopted the Judaic practice of compiling exhaustive, definitive lists of exactly what is and is not prohibited (e.g., exactly how long one can travel in a day, what household items can be used and what can not, how much weight it is acceptable to lift, etc). Christianity, being a faith of the spirit and not of the letter, has tended to prefer very general guidelines, leaving the specifics to the (presumably well-formed) conscience of the individual and the customs of the times.

Just because Christian tradition has tended to leave much of this to the individual's conscience does not mean there are no guidelines at all. Before the modern age, Catholic catechisms featured very helpful, concise lists of activities generally considered inappropriate for Sundays and Holy Days. This sort of instruction has generally disappeared from catechetics and homiletics since the Council.

Protestants, of course, working from an exaggerated dichotomy between the "freedom of the Gospel" and "legalism" have generally eschewed any restrictions on Sunday activity whatsoever. Work of all sorts is usually accepted; Most Protestants I speak with on the subject consider the prohibition of any work whatsoever on Sunday to be a Jewish legalism. Protestants do not even believe going to church on Sunday is an obligation - in fact, I know Protestants who will occasionally stay home on Sunday morning intentionally just to prove that they have no obligation to attend to any communal worship on Sunday. 

Of course, there is no obligation to attend Protestant worship; this applies only to the Catholic Mass, but we are speaking here only of principle. The point is that contemporary Christianity generally has very little sense of anything being unacceptable on Sunday, both among Catholics and Protestants.

Being Catholic, we have nothing to say about what Protestants choose to observe on Sunday; their unfortunate ubiquitous dualism between "works" and "freedom" is too radical for most to have a balanced approach to the question. But from a Catholic perspective, it would be helpful to return to the traditional concept of "servile labor." 

Servile labor traditionally means any sort of work that is heavy manual labor, or such work as in a given society people commonly associate with strenuous effort and do not engage in when they have the freedom to avoid it; it is work you do "for a living", versus something you might engage in for recreation, education, or the worship of God. I want to share - in an informal way - some of my attitudes towards this aspect of Sunday and some rules of thumb I follow in assessing what is and is not "servile labor." This is all just my own approach; I don't claim it's authoritative in any way.

I personally apply the label "servile labor" to any sort of job or chore that is strenuous. For example, I would personally not work on a home improvement project on Sunday. Tiling the bathroom, shingling a roof, pruning trees - in my household, these sorts of projects are off limits on Sundays. Even if they are not "for a living", they are just too strenuous and physical for me to feel comfortable doing them on the Lord's Day. It seems incompatible with the concept of rest.

In the modern age, however, it is not as helpful to focus on the "manual" aspect of servile labor, because a great many people no longer engage in any sort of strenuous physical work. Rather, I find it more helpful to associate servile labor with that which you do "for a living" - i.e., your job. Thus whereas in the old days farmers were encouraged to abstain from farm work on Sundays, nowadays it is common for Catholic business people to abstain from phone conversations relating to business or looking at work emails on Sunday, even though these actions are not strenuous physically. Even so, I think this is a good modern adaptation of the principle. I avoid anything work related on Sunday.

What about strenuous physical sports? In this case, I think it is alright, because, say, getting all worked up and sweaty playing basketball is still clearly recreational - it is merely strenuous recreation, and I think that distinction is important. Now some will immediately say, "But what if it is recreational for me to tile my bathroom or hang siding on my house? Should that not be allowed by your criteria?" To that I say, "Friend, if you can truly tell me that the tiling of your bathroom or the siding of your house is truly and solely a recreational pursuit, then be my guest, I suppose." But I don't know anyone who undertakes a home improvement project just for fun and without any utilitarian reason.

In general, I avoid anything that seems like a "chore." I have mentioned home improvement sorts of projects; I also avoid more routine chores. Doing laundry. Chopping firewood. Mowing the lawn. Vacuuming the house. Washing the windows. Weeding the garden. Going grocery shopping. This also includes homework; my kids are forbidden from doing homework on Sundays, and I will not grade student homework on Sundays. Anything that is a "chore" we avoid. 

However, we do make one exception - chores that have to do with simply maintaining basic sanitation and cleanliness are allowed. If the trash is overflowing, I will still take it out on Sunday. If the sink is full of dirty dishes, of course I wash them. I don't vacuum the house in general, but if the kids were eating popcorn and make a mess, of course I vacuum it up. So essentially anything that is like, maintaining basic sanitation and cleanliness we will do.

I will do other sorts of "work" that is recreational. I obviously blog on Sunday. I will spend time writing or working on books. I will exercise or do things for personal fulfillment. 

I often get the question on whether or not it is alright to go out to eat on a Sunday. The objection is that when we go out to eat, we are forcing other people to work on Sunday (i.e., the waitstaff, cooks, etc. who staff the restaurant). I suppose this question comes up because it is so common for people to go out for breakfast after Mass that it is a very common quandary.

I personally have never objected to going out to eat on Sundays and Holy Days. Feasting is a way the Holy Day is celebrated, and often times Sunday is the only everyone in the family is home from work and able to go out together. It is celebratory. Now, it could always be argued that it causes the restaurant staff to work. Perhaps. I assume they would be working that day whether or not I came in to the restaurant. I also assume - generally - that people who are working on Sunday morning are not Catholics anyway, so I don't scrupulize too much over whether they are doing unnecessary work on Sunday. At any rate, the concern has never stopped me from enjoying breakfast with my family on a Sunday. 

I do, however, try to support businesses that close on Sunday. 

One final thing: even though the disappearance of a real catechesis about the Lord's Day is a post-Conciliar phenomenon (perhaps with the exception of St. John Paul II's Dies Domini), do not be tempted to think that flaunting the prohibitions against work on the Lord's Day is something modern. As far back in history as one can find homilies, one can find examples of preaching against servile labor on Sundays. Even in the "golden age" of the 13th century, surviving homiletics reveal that working on Sundays and Holy Days was endemic; several chapters in the Fioretti of St. Francis are devoted to describing the misfortunes of peasants who worked on Holy Days. It is certainly not a post-Vatican II novelty. So please, no comments about how in the "old days" no Catholic would have ever dared work on Sunday.

We also should remember, in the Middle Ages there were many more days that were considered Holy Days where work was prohibited - so many so that many common folk complained about not having enough time to finish their work. I cannot cite the source, but I remember reading in one scholarly work on medieval calendars that in some places as many as 100 days out of the year were nominally supposed to be work-free. This was, of course, excessive, and by the 13th century many of these days were no longer being observed. This cluster happened as a result of the accumulation of universal and regional festal days over the centuries; it was not until after Lateran IV and the reforms of the late Middle Ages that the status of many of these feasts changed to make their observance more manageable.

Anyhow, such are my hodge-podge of random thoughts on the duty to abstain from servile labor on Sundays. Any comments or thoughts are welcome. Pax.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

So long, Father

[Nota: I edited the original post considerably as giving away too much information about Father's whereabouts and his activities could potentially endanger him]

Our pastor of 11 years left our parish this week.

When he hired me as Youth Director and DRE way back in 2007, I was only a year or so out of college; he hired me even though I had no real qualifications; he just wanted an orthodox Catholic young man who seemed like he'd be good with youth, and he took a chance.

It was as DRE that I started this blog. Fr. Gerald and I came into conflict about it more than once; he often times took me aside and reprimanded me for things I wrote here - but all the same, he never sought to stifle my opinion; he could have easily told me that as his DRE and a representative of the parish, he just didn't want me blogging at all. In fact I almost expected that monthly, every time he would call me into the church or his office to cross examine me on this or that matter. But he didn't. He would express his disagreement, we would argue a bit, and then he would go out of his way to make sure I knew it was okay to keep blogging. I was always grateful for this.

Not that Fr. Gerald was hostile to tradition; at the time Summorum Pontificum hit, he was training with the Canons of St. John Cantius in hopes of obtaining the celebret under the indult. As soon as the motu proprio came out, he started preparing to celebrate. It took him awhile, but our parish began offering its first Traditional Latin Masses in 2009. Since then Fr. Gerald faithfully said the TLM on the first Sunday of every month and very frequently offered other things as well; he would say the entire Pentecost Octave (which does not exist in the new rite), and always performed baptisms in the traditional rite upon request - my own son was baptized in the traditional rite.

As an employee, I often butted heads with him. But he was generally just and quick to apologize if he felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had offended me. And the man worked incessantly. He was the sort of priest who literally had to be forced to take a vacation because he was so immersed in his duties. It sometimes happened he would announce he was "taking a vacation", but us employees knew he was really in the rectory working all week. He was relentlessly devoted to his ministry. He always took the worst hours for Adoration - the 3:00 AM shifts. He prayed for his parishioners relentlessly.

After I quit working for the parish in 2010 I continued to see Fr. Gerald regularly; I continued to attend the parish and I worked there a few days a week at the local homeschool co-op. We continued to have cordial interactions over the years. My experience of Fr. Gerald was that he was a very decent diocesan priest - saying the Novus Ordo reverently, with Latin, chant, and ad orientem, but also saying the TLM, preaching traditional Catholic morality, encouraging frequent confession and Eucharistic adoration and devotion to Our Lady. He was not perfect or a saint by any means; he had his faults and quirks. He was painfully human. But he did a good job, and the fruits of sanctity were evident in the people he nourished through his ministry, imperfect though it was.

Earlier this summer, Fr. Gerald made an announcement that came very unexpectedly. He told us that he was leaving his ministry in the Diocese to go work with  Christian refugees in the Middle East. He had been personally invited by the Christian community there and agreed to a three year mission.

Throughout 2015, as ISIS continued taking territory in Iraq and Syria and horrifying the world with its brutality, Fr. Gerald had frequently preached against the indifference of the Christian west and the United States to the systematic de-Christianization of the middle east. He had a very strong burden in his heart for the forgotten Christians of the region. Earlier in the year - without telling the parish - he used one of his vacations to visit a war-torn region of the Middle East. He was told that no priests from the west had come to help. That the spiritual needs of the Christian refugees were going unmet. He was personally asked him to return.

And so he agreed, making the announcement to us earlier this summer. We were all tremendously proud of him; we have all been going on and on about what's going on in the Middle East and "Where is the west?" Even our own Pontiff has been somewhat disappointing in his support of mideast Christians. But when Fr. Gerald received the invitation, his priestly response was, "These people need me; how can I say no?"

Fr. Gerald will spend the next three years working with Christian refugees. He is not in ISIS controlled territory, but he is still in a region where there is unrest and could be trouble - hence the vagueness of the details in this post.

So long, Father. Please pray for Fr. Gerald and his work. And pray for our parish. Our new priest will not arrive until November; we are told he says the Traditional Latin Mass, so this is good. To our bishop's credit, he wanted to send a priest who would carry on the work Fr. Gerald had begun, so we are all relatively optimistic. But in the meantime we are getting visiting priests every week.

I didn't always get along with Fr. Gerald, and I have mixed feelings about him in various respects; but when it came down to it, he is doing what a priest is supposed to be doing - putting himself at the service of Christ's flock where it is most desperately needed. I am very proud of him. God bless him, and may God return him home safely.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Stewardship of the Mysteries of God

The epistle from Mass this past Friday was taken from the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians. It reads:

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God." (1 Cor. 4:1-5, Douay)

St. Paul is referring to those in active ministry within the Church. What is the relationship between those who minister in the Church and the divine things entrusted to them by Christ?

It is Catholic teaching that Christ left the Church with all of the means necessary for carrying out her divine mission. She possesses, by the grace of God, all the gifts necessary for her to teach, govern, and sanctify the faithful. Because she possesses the fullness of St. Paul addresses the question of how those who wield these powers should view their position. He says that ministers of God's mysteries are to be regarded as stewards.

Stewardship is a common theme when the subject matter is finances - or more likely these days, care of the environment. In contemporary usage, it is often used to denote our management of some tangible or worldly good, such as mammon or natural resources. But it is interesting to note that in the New Testament, the concept is primarily used with relation to God's supernatural gifts. In the Gospels, the concept of stewardship appears in the various parables of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30, for example), the talent left with the steward represents the supernatural graces God gives people for the building up of His kingdom.

In the passage from St. Paul, the minister of the Church is described as a steward of God's mysteries, which of course refers to the sacraments. We know that stewardship, of course, means that one is given authority over something, but in a relative way - it is not absolute, but relative to the parameters set by the one who has entrusted it to the steward. In the parable of the talents, the servants have stewardship over the money their master entrusts them to the degree that they use it in a manner conformable to His will. This is why the servant who merely buries his talent his cast out; he has been unfaithful to his stewardship of his master's money by using it in a way inconsistent with the master's wishes.

It is amazing to me how this concept - which is at the core of stewardship - is so easily understood and so fervently preached when it comes to our use of mammon or natural resources, but so seldom understood or preached on when it comes to the sacraments, which is astonishing because that is actually the context in which St, Paul uses the term - stewards of the mysteries of God.

How common has it become to think of the sacraments as something pastors have absolute discretion over! This is facilitated in part by the modern view of the Church's rites as a laboratory for constant experimentation, in part by the plenitude of "options" that gives the impression of a ritual subject only to the whims of the celebrant. So much is discretionary, we can forget that the sacraments are something we are called to exercise stewardship over, not absolute dominion.

"Stewardship of the mysteries of God", says St. Paul. And what if we act out of the best intentions? If we believe our rites and traditions must be continually upgraded to fit the mentality of the modern times - if we act like what God has entrusted to us may be used anyway we choose and at any whim - we are not exercising legitimate stewardship but unjust self-aggrandizement over the gift of God.

St. Paul says, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." The servant in the parable of the steward thought he was justified in burying the talent out of fear, but the Master did not share his assessment. That servant was cast out, for he had been reckless with what the Master entrusted to him.

Stewardship is not simply about money. It is about how we handle anything God has entrusted to us - especially the supernatural means Christ has given to the Church for the building up of the Mystical Body.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Amoris Laetitia Magisterial? A Guest Post by Ryan Grant

This morning, a Vatican newspaper printed an article declaring that Amoris Laetitia is part of the binding papal Magisterium and must be given religious submission of mind and will by the Catholic faithful.

We present here a guest commentary by Mr. Ryan Grant. Ryan is a long time friend and colleague of mine, whom most of you probably know from his work at Athanasius Contra Mundum and the excellent Mediatrix Press. Ryan, noting that the article coming out of the Vatican today is not from any official Church organ, offers reasons why Catholics concerned by Amoris Laetitia should just keep on doing what they've been doing.

* * * *

It is being said that Amoris Laetitia is now officially part of the Magisterium and Catholics must submit their intellect and will to it. This is entirely false. Here I completely prescind from discussing the merits of the document, footnote 351 or any other issue. I am only interested in its doctrinal status.

This morning I read: "Writing in the Vatican newspaper, a Spanish ecclesiology professor said that Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is part of the non-definitive ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff to which the faithful owe religious submission of intellect and will." (source)

FULL STOP. In the first place, an ecclesiology professor does not have the authority to define the status of the document. That can only be done by either the CDF or the Pope himself, unless the document itself makes it clear that Catholics are bound to give an assent to the teaching, which, as far as I can recollect, does not. By its nature, as a post-synodal exhortation, it does not bind Catholics in any way.

Secondly, the distinction made by certain theologians between the ordinary universal Magisterium (Vatican I) and the non-universal, or non-definitive Magisterium, is that it is not binding but should be respected. Amoris Laetitia imposes no decision upon Catholics, and is merely opinative.

Thirdly, this article lead is false because a religious submission of the intellect and will only obliges if it is promulgated as a law or interpretation of a law, whether by a Sacred Congregation or the Pope himself. (St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Theologia Moralis, lib. 1, tr. 2, n. 107; cf. Cardinal Franzelin, De Divina Traditione, Thesis 12, 7th corollary). In the absence of a clear decision by the competent congregation(CDF), or by the Pope himself, this document binds no one to anything.
Don't freak out, return to the normal things you do.

* * * *

For a more thorough theological exploration of the authority of non-universal Magisterial statements - and for a differing opinion - we recommend Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility by John Joy, available in the Cruachan Hill Press store.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NCR Firings: Martyrs or Loose Cannons?

There is a lot of hubbub this week over the recent shakeup at the NCR; I am speaking of course of the recent firings of John Paul Shimek, Mark Shea, and now Simcha Fisher.

When unexpected things happen, people generally try to create a narrative of why they happened. A narrative is a certain interpretation of what certain facts mean; narratives help people assimilate the events into our preexisting worldview in a way logically consistent with it. I discussed this some years ago when Benedict XVI resigned and Catholics were scrambling to come up with an explanation for it ("The Benedict Narrative Emerges", Feb. 2013).

Similarly, I am seeing mainstream Catholics kind of scrambling to come up with an explanation of why Shea, Fisher and Shimek were let go. The narrative emerging is very pathetic.

What I am seeing supporters of Shea and Simcha saying is that this has to do with his views on Catholic social teachings - essentially, Catholic conservatives uncomfortable with the fact that Shea opposes the conservative-Republican agenda and supports Catholic social teaching. In other words, making Shea into a martyr for the Catholic "middle way", as if his firing were about his political opinions. Similarly, Eye of the Tiber ran a piece satirically insinuating that Shea and Simcha were fired for "having opinions."

Of course, this makes these people into martyrs for their opinions, something they are encouraging (Shea's rant about Simcha's firing compares the sacking of an author to anti-Christian persecution); but it is very far from the truth.

These people were not terminated for having opinions, much less political opinions, but for being loose cannons.

John Paul Shimek - who said he wanted his mission in life to be making Traditional Catholicism an "unthinkable option" for the Church - had had his scathing articles censured for posting his dribble without authorization and bypassing any editorial review. And even those that weren't were horridly abusive to traditional Catholics in particular.

As for Shea, the official statement of the National Catholic Register states very clearly why he was sacked, and it had nothing to do with political opinions expressed in the Register. Rather, NCR cited Shea's behavior on forums outside the Register and questioned his charity in dealing with online debates:
"The Register is no longer publishing blogs or commentaries submitted by Mark Shea. Mark’s writings at the or published in our print edition were within our editorial guidelines. However, his writings and engagement on other forums were irreconcilable with our editorial vision or standards of charitable discussion."

"Irreconcilable with our editorial visions or standards of charitable discussion." He was fired for being uncharitable in his online debates. I had one with him last year in which I upheld the shocking proposition that gay men should not be ordained. While he was not personally uncharitable to me in this debate, he was slippery, and his disdain for the Church's traditional teaching was unsettling. 

As for Simcha...I don't know. I imagine more of the same. Simcha's writing was terrible whiny and unprofessional; consider her lovely little NCR piece she wrote about Cardinal Burke's transfer back in 2014, which we critiqued back then. Look at how she talks about people who were concerned about Burke's demotion:

You, with the subscription to Whimpers in Blogvillia! You, with your Blackberry set to play "Dies Irae" every time Four Lattes Daily resets their Novus Ordo End Times Ticker. You, with the Lady Cardinal robes in your closet, still in the dry cleaner bags, waiting to be whipped out the moment it Finally Happens. You, with your all your personal clocks set to Central European Time, so you don't miss a moment before you weep or break out the Chateau de Schutte '79 every time the doorman at the Roman Curia unlocks the front door, sweeps off the doormat, and chases the homeless cats away in preparation for another day of things that never do and never could have any affect on your personal life.

That is so terribly that the sort of rambling nonsense one wants to read in the NCR? Rorate Caeli is often held up as the epitome of mean rad-trad blogs, and Rorate never posts anything approximating this. I don't know why Simcha was fired, but if someone told me it was because she straight-up sucks as a professional writer, I would not be surprised.

So, forget the narrative of the top-notch, quality Catholic authors unjustly fired because they were valiantly supporting Church doctrine against greedy, Americanized conservatives uncomfortable with the Catholic social teaching. They were fired for being uncharitable loose cannons who never deserved to have the platform of the NCR from which to churn out their ridiculous nonsense. The message of NCR was clear: act like adults, or get fired.

One more thing: consider emailing Jeanette Demelo, Editor at the NCR, and thanking her for terminating these loose cannons. She can be reached at: jdemelo[at]

Monday, August 08, 2016

New USC eBook: Laudato Si: The 40 Concerns of an Exhausted Layman

I am not a fast person when it comes to churning out material. I write when I feel like it and take my time, if possible. Hence back in 2015, when there was a whole bunch of hubbub about Pope Francis' environment encyclical Laudato Si, I did not write anything on the matter. I wanted to spend some time digesting the encyclical and formulating my thoughts on it.

On my desk, I have had a copy of Laudato Si sitting out for the past year. I've been studying it whenever I have had time in order to really comprehend what the encyclical. Over that year, I have been working on a synopsis of my thoughts on the encyclical, which I am happy to offer now in the form of an eBook.

The book goes through the encyclical, pretty much paragraph by paragraph, and just goes through little observations I made about various aspects of the pope's thought. Though most of the book is dedicated to concerns I have with the document, I do mention the things I like about it as well. My purpose in writing this was to do beyond the pop-media "synopsis" that we always get about new documents and really dig into the meat, as well as looking at some of the real theological issues in the document and getting away from just discussing climate change - because the real revolutionary passages in this encyclical are not about climate change.

Here is a bit from the introduction:

The encyclical Laudato Si of Pope Francis was released with much fanfare on May 24th, 2015. There has been an abundance of commentary on the encyclical, though pop-Catholic editorials on Laudato Si have, to a large extent, suffered from the deficiency of trying to consider the encyclical very broadly; "summing up" the content of the document in 1500 words or less.
The problem is this cumbersome document does not lend itself easily to summation. It is certainly about "the environment", but from a pedagogical standpoint it has very little structure. It reads more like a disjointed connection of reflections on various environmental themes rather than a single, coherent body of thought. Because of this, each theme needs to be examined independently. Laudato Si has rightly been called a "platypus document", having characteristics of various strains of thought all merged together in a 246 paragraph hodge-podge. 
Thus, these meager attempts at "summing up" Laudato Si generally fail to give us an adequate view of the document because they do not delve into the text itself. One commentator who had published an article on the fundamentals of Laudato Si admitted to me privately that she had barely begun reading the document before publishing her apologia of it. If people are objecting to traditionalist critiques of Laudato Si as proceeding from a predetermined and irrational dislike of Francis, is not an apologia published prior to a reading of the encyclical evidence of a predetermined and irrational
We at at Unam Sanctam Catholicam have endeavored not to fall into this trap. I hitherto have offered no commentary on the encyclical because I hadn't finished reading it. I printed it the day of its publication and spent months patiently reading it, taking notes, and meditating on the implications of each segment. And there are parts of it I like very much. In fact, on my initial reading, I liked it more than I thought I would.
Still, I had some grave concerns. In fact, even though I liked it more than I thought I would, I have to say this was one of the most disappointing ecclesiastical documents I've ever read - on so many levels. With all going on in the Church and world, this is what the Pope thinks is pressing?
I do not want to keep my misgivings vague; I do not want to write short, broad apologias or condemnations, as so many others. And I did not want to write hastily. I did not sit down to write in the heat of the moment, but spent the better part of nine months reflecting on these passages and formulating my feelings into a somewhat cogent critique.

The eBook is 41 pages, $5.00 USD. It is available in ePub, Mobi, and PDF. If you are interested you can purchase from this page, or it is also listed on the Cruachan Hill Press website.

Special thanks to Ryan Grant from Mediatrix Press for the cover design and creating the eBook files.

Select File Type

Friday, August 05, 2016

Deaconess Commission: Building the Momentum

[Aug 5, 2016] Well, Pope Francis wants a commission to study the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate from a historical perspective.

Of course, the idea of female deacons is ludicrous. Historically, they were simply non-existent, and everybody knows that references to "deaconesses" in the New Testament (Rom. 16:1) and the Fathers refer not to the hierarchical office of Deacon as instituted in Acts 7, but to women working in the role of servants carrying out various auxiliary functions in the early Church. This confusion arises from the literal meaning of the Greek word diakonos, which means "servant." It can refer to a Deacon as a grade of Holy Orders, or it can refer to anyone who serves in general. References to "deaconesses" in early Church literature certainly use the word in the latter sense. Deaconesses as a grade of Holy Orders are specifically repudiated at Nicaea and other early synods. I thought everybody knew this. 

Now, for some, this fact gives comfort. "Don't worry! The Church won't approve female deacons. It can't. There is no historical precedent." Well...okay. Not having historical precedent didn't stop Mass facing the people or a host of other novelties...but whatever.

The real thing that bugs me is its like some people can't fathom that there are more sides to the problem than whether or not the Church will allow female deacons. Like, for some people, it's either the Church allows female deacons (lose) or she doesn't (win). Since we know the Church can't ultimately ordain female deacons, we know she won't; ergo, tradition "wins." Ergo, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, no cause for alarm, nothing to see here folks, move along, 12 things to know and share, blah, blah blah...

Look, the fact that the Church cannot ultimately ordain women deacons does not mean we "win." Simply because there are many other ways we can "lose" without getting to the actual ordination of female deacons.

I remember when I was in public office, there were times when merely creating a committee or commission to "study" something was a way of destablizing it, even if you knew in the end you could not get what you wanted. Like, so-and-so wants a certain public project done. But you know there is no funding for it and there's no way it can happen. But so-and-so says, "Well, let's just form a commission to study the various aspects of the question. The commission won't be able to make any decisions, just try to get a better knowledge of the issue. And you don't have any objection to just getting information, right?"

And of course, you don't want to look like you are afraid of information or mere knowledge, so you think, "Sure, go ahead and form your study commission. After all, they have no authority to make any changes. And if I don't like what they say, I can just disregard it." But the thing to realize is the mere fact of opening a subject to discussion makes it appear that its open for discussion. Even if there's no money for the project and it literally cannot happen, the fact it is being discussed makes people think it can.

And the impossibility of the project coming to fruition does not stop its partisans. They use the commission as a means of propagating their ideas and refining their arguments - of networking with the right people and putting the right mechanisms in place to further their agenda. Of putting out whatever message to the public they wish. Of building public support and leveraging pressure on those in charge to bend to their wishes.

In other words, they might know they are not going to get what they want, but they create a momentum towards it.

Why create momentum when they know it literally can't happen? Well, in politics nothing is ever ultimately impossible. But in the Church, literally women can never be ordained to the diaconate. It simply cannot happen any more than a woman could be ordained to the priesthood. But that does not mean its proponents - who think it is possible - will not try to create the momentum. And the momentum is what is so dangerous,  because even if we never have women deacons, the momentum is like a huge net that will drag all sorts of souls into error on this point, create dissension, false expectations, schisms, scandal, confusion and chaos. And the chaos itself is detrimental, whether or not we ever get women deacons.

People who think this is "no biggie" just because it "won't happen" don't understand the way people hijack parliamentary procedure and the commission-committee system to foment chaos to create momentum towards their goals. It is all destabilizing, and ultimately destabilization of the traditional Church structure is what the progressives are after.

The pope ought to have said, "There is no point in a commission to study. This can never happen, and if so, there's no point in studying it. I don't want to give Catholics the impression something could change when it can't." But by allowing a commission to "study" the question, Pope Francis is opening the door for partisans of women deacons to start building that momentum towards a female diaconate; whether they get it or not it irrelevant. The fact is, the traditional exclusion of women from Holy Orders is now open for discussion, and that fact alone - regardless of what conclusion they come to - is dangerous. 

By the way, if you are not clear on why there can never be a female diaconate, I refer you to the article "The Unity of Holy Orders" by Fr. Chad Ripperger, available as a PDF here. But essentially, there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders, and its characteristics are one across its three major grades. John Paul II infallibly taught that women could never be ordained to the priesthood in the 1994 encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Because there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders (not three), this infers necessarily that women could never be ordained deaconesses either. But I recommend the article of Fr. Ripperger for a much more thorough treatment.

In the meantime, get ready for more destabilization.