Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Posts of 2018

Another year has passed us by. It went so quickly, and so much unfolded. The McCarrick scandal. Archbishop Vigano. Changes to the CCC on the death penalty. The fall of Wuerl. The Vatican directive Cor Orans on religious life. The Vatican-China deal.

This was a tough year for me to follow, too. If you recall, I was on sabbatical from blogging from November 2017 until about February of this year. From then on it felt just like playing catch-up. In an age when other bloggers are updating their content twice a day, I was lucky if I could post once every two weeks. But no matter; tis not about the swiftness with which one updates content, but the quality of the content that is posted. I've had a lot of professional and personal change over the past year, but I'm definitely not going anywhere. I'll still be posting drivel so long as the Internet exist...and so long as its free.

Here are some of my personal favorite posts from 2018. See you all next year!

Why Sacred Music Should be Beautiful: A short tale on the evangelical power of music that is truly sacred and understands beauty.

Archbishop Vigano and our Vale of Tears: My initial response to Archbishop Vigano's groundbreaking first letter in August.

The Future of Contra Protestant Apologetics: In the current epoch of the Church, with our fundamental Catholic identity under attack from those who should be protecting it, the old Catholic Answers style contra-Protestant apologetics is less and less relevant.

St. Patrick was not Named "Maewyn Succat": An unnecessarily lengthy and nerdy essay arguing that St. Patrick's birth name was not Maewyn Succat as is often repeated by people looking for click bait around St. Patrick's Day.

Clerical Abuse? Yes but the Church is also Huuuuuman: Please stop responding to clerical sex abuse scandals by saying, "Well, we're not Pharisees who demand perfection. The Church is human, too."

The Meta-Problem: From Magisterium to Policy Objectives: The modern Magisterium looks and acts less and less like a teaching authority and more like a political administration with its own "policy objectives" that are reshaped by each successive pontificate.

More Traddie Sniping: Observations on the latest round of traditionalists attacking each other.

Cor Orans: Into the Woods: The new Vatican directive Cor Orans on contemplative religious life will make it more likely that men and women who want to live an authentic contemplative vocation free from charism-destroying episcopal interference will have to resort to methods outside of the institutional Church.

Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelization: My most read article of 2018, why poor liturgies actually hinder our attempts at sharing the Catholic faith with people.

On Christians Offending People: When St. Paul says we should avoid "giving offense", he absolutely does not mean we should be afraid to offend people.

Lay Control is Not the Answer: In light of the scandals, many people are calling for lay control or at least lay oversight of the episcopate. This is not the manner Christ envisioned for the Church to be administered.

The Hvalsey Option: What's the best way to respond to Vatican scandals? A visit to medieval Greenland to imagine how Catholics of that age might have handled such problems.

"Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead" : In which I offer three possible interpretations for Jesus' words in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Cringiest Christmas Homily Ever

This Christmas Eve I sat through what was undoubtedly the cringiest homily I have ever heard in my life. 

Now I’d like to think I am (mostly) beyond the “Oh my gosh listen to what abuses I saw at Mass!” sort of posts, but sometimes I run across something that still drops my jaw. And this Christmas Eve, I heard something that made me realize that, no, after sixteen years as a practicing Catholic in the U.S.A. there are still things that can surprise me.

I was with a non-Catholic friend who had a sincere interest in going to a Catholic Mass. I selected a historic church in one of Michigan’s urban centers that is known for its beauty, as well as its liturgy. This place has a weekly TLM said by the pastor, generally solid preaching, and a very robust Catholic community. I thought it would be an excellent first exposure to Catholic worship. 

The liturgy was a Novus Ordo, but that is irrelevant to the story. The homilist was a very old priest-- so old he had to lean on an altar server when he moved. As he shuffled over to the ambo at the homily I kind of gulped; this guy was not the usual pastor, and in my experience whenever a severely elderly, visiting priest gets a hold of a microphone the resulting sermon is usually the homilectical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. 

Anyhow, he began his homily by telling a story about the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska. The story took place many years ago, when the orphanage was under the administration of Fr. Edward Flanagan (now Servant of God Edward Flanagan). The story took place on one Christmas Eve long ago as a father Flanagan tried to compose a homily for the holy day mass. However, he found himself distracted by all the boys who lived in his quarters. Or, in the words of the homilist, “You know it’s hard for a priest to focus when there’s so many young boys living with him.”

At that point I kind of smirked and thought to myself “Okay, poor choice of words, Father, but I'll give you a pass.” But it got much, much worse. 

The homilist went on to relate that while composing his homily, Fr. Flanagan was approached by a nun, who told him that a little boy named Paul was hiding under his bed crying and refused to come out. Repeated admonition had failed to get Paul to come out from under the bed. Frustrated, Fr. Flanagan left his desk to go attend to the crying boy. 

Fr. Flanagan found Paul just as the nun had said, hiding under the bed crying. Father asked him what was wrong; Paul said he was lonely at the orphanage and had not had any visitors. 

Here’s where the homily got real cringey. The priest related that Fr. Flanagan decided to “climb under the bed in order to comfort Paul.” Once under the bed, Fr. Flanagan held Paul and cried alongside him. As the priest put it, “Fr. Flanagan day there under the bed alone in the dark with Paul, holding him and crying.” By now everybody in the congregation was shifting around, literally, I could see people all over shuffling around in their seats and looking at their feet. But the priest continued. 

“Father,” said Paul. “I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

Oh should have seen my face. My jaw must have been on the ground. I could not believe the priest was narrating this.

“I’ll stay here with you,” said Fr. Flanagan, “and I’ll be here when you wake up.” Then the priest related how Fr. Flanagan sat their cuddling the boy until he fell asleep and stayed with the boy in his room while he slept rather than finish his Christmas homily.

By this time many in the congregation were looking around in profound confusion and disbelief. My mouth was agape wondering how on earth this old priest could have thought this was suitable material for a Christmas homily in late 2018. More astonishing was the priest’s attempt to relate this story to Christmas and the Incarnation: 

“And that’s exactly what our Lord did for us. Just like Fr. Flanagan climbed under the bed to comfort Paul, so our Lord came down to console our human nature in its weakness.” And that was it. That entire story just for that little tie in at the end. Out of all the things ever written or said about the Incarnation in the vast, rich history of the Church, the best analogy this homilist could come up with was a story about a priest crawling under a bed to cuddle a boy alone in the dark.

The entire congregation breathed a collective sigh of relief when this awkward homily ended. We were all cringing and shifting about in our seats wondering how this priest could have thought such a homily was prudent. I was just eager to forget it and get on to the Eucharist.

I pass no judgment on the original story or the person of Fr. Flanagan; but I think it is beyond dispute the selection of this particular tale and the manner of its retelling at this specific moment in the Church’s life displays an astonishing level of disconnect from reality on the part of the homilist. Thankfully my friend, who as I said was not Catholic and was also from a foreign country, had no knowledge of the clerical abuse scandals in the USA and did not pick up on the discomfort I had at the story. 

And that’s the real sad thing about what’s going on today in the Church. The story told about Fr. Flanagan probably was just an innocent story about a priest trying to console a lonely child. But anything with priests and boys alone now makes Catholics cringe, and the ongoing revelations attest that our cringing is not unjustified. And the cringing will continue.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

More Traddie Sniping

There's a lot of snark and calumny going around on blogs and social media recently with Trads sniping each other. The so-called "circular firing squad" strikes again. I would have assumed that with the liberal coterie in the Church in full ascendancy, traditional Catholics would be forming alliances and finding new unity in a common effort.

Nope. If anything, the opposite seems to have happened. Traditionalist outlets and commentators are descending into mutual accusation and recrimination of each other. The reasons for this are varied, and some are bigger offenders than others. "The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them" (Deut. 28:25). This curse seems to have befallen us, as we not only flee seven ways but make sure to take pot-shots at our brethren while we do so.

Yes, there are always rationales. "I'm just defending my reputation"; "So-and-so is leading people astray"; "All Catholics have an obligation to speak out against X"; "They started the battle, not me." And so on.

Personally, I love Rorate Caeli. I love 1P5; I count Steve Skojec as a friend of mine and have always enjoyed my banter with him. I also respect Michael Voris and Church Militant. I love The Remnant. I love Vox Cantoris. I chuckle when I read Mundabor. I love Ryan Grant. I love Fr. Zuhlsdorf. And there's a whole slew of other traditional blogs, media outlets, and individuals whom I respect and count as allies. I don't find liking anyone of them precludes me from liking any other, nor does 

Do I agree with them all? Of course not. But that's okay. We are really in uncharted waters here, and everybody is pursuing the course they think best. Everybody is just trying to make sense of our situation. I've taken my fair share of sniping as well; one of the outlets mentioned above once said I was "doing the devil's work" and unlinked me because I disagreed with them on an extraordinarily minute issue that was entirely prudential. And I myself have doled it out in the past as well.

But I don't think now is the time for it. Now more than ever we need to set aside petty squabbling; not to say all disagreements are "petty"—a person who is insisting that Francis is not the Roman pontiff is making an extremely serious accusation. But to be honest, most of this sniping is petty. It's about people preserving their "turf" and maintaining their street-cred as traddie luminaries. I guess a charitable explanation would be that the developments in the Church have everybody on edge and are making us overly sensitive and irritable, like how people get when on a long car ride and someone takes a wrong turn and gets lost and everybody becomes cranky because of the situation.

A less charitable explanation would be that some traditionalist outlets have begun to think of themselves as a "Trad Magisterium", veritable thought leaders and opinion setters who equate their own positions with orthodoxy itself. I spoke about this some time ago in a post called "No Trad Magisterium" (Feb. 2015), the central thesis of which was that "there is no one website or blog, no organization, no one author, no one order or society, no one publication, no one prelate, no one individual who authoritatively speaks for Catholic traditionalists, and whom to disagree with is to risk ostracism. There is no trad Magisterium." But if you want to read a more eloquent explanation of this, I recommend the essay "Faithful Catholics and Theological Positions -- A Difference Which Must be Overlooked" (Dec. 2014) on Eponymous Flower by guest contributor Victor Clemens Oldendorf.

People have often challenged me publicly in my 10+ years of blogging; often someone with the attitude of "Boniface, I debunked you on this very long post (**includes link**); how will you answer? Debate me!" My response is usually to yawn, congratulate them on such a witty rebuttal, and move on without answering or sometimes even reading the article. I don't personally care. Perhaps I should care more. Perhaps I'm just a bad blogger. 

Well, whatever. People are gonna do what they're gonna do. Let's just not take ourselves too seriously. We ought to always take the Faith seriously while maintaining a certain amount of levity about ourselves.

God bless all my fellow bloggers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Josiah in the American Episcopate

We read in Chapter 22 of the Second Book of Kings concerning the righteous King Josiah of Judah:

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem...And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left...
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying, "Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book [of the law]: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us."
So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe...and they communed with her. And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, thus saith the Lord: 
"Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read:Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.
But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the Lord, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard: Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place." (2 Kings 22:1-2, 13-20)

King Josiah was in fact killed, taken from life prematurely at the Battle of Megiddo at the age of 39 by an Egyptian arrow (2. Kings 23). Josiah by no means a bad king; he was one of Judah's most righteous kings, with a righteousness and piety that stood out even more because of the darkness of the times in which he lived. He, of all people, did not "deserve" to be taken from this world so soon. Had he lived and had his religious reforms continued, he could have potentially restored the fortunes of Judah and averted the judgment of his people. That is the effect a righteous leader can have on his nation.

Ironically, though, it was precisely because of that righteousness that the Lord struck him down. Judah's sins were so great that God had determined to punish them. But because of the goodness of Josiah, God decided to preserve him from the evil that was to come upon the kingdom by taking him from life prematurely so he would not need to witness God's fearsome judgment. In a wicked, barbarous time, the death of the righteous is a mercy to them.

I could not help thinking of the story of King Josiah upon hearing of the death of Bishop Morlino last month. And I thought the same thing upon the sudden and unexpected death of Antonin Scalia. And Cardinal Caffarra.

The lights are going out all over the Church and they will not be lit again in our lifetime.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Why Sacred Music Should be Beautiful

Ten long years ago I did a post on my favorite Christmas hymns, which I believe are underrated. Back then I listed as my favorite Christmas song the hymn Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. Ten years on, upon reviewing this post, I think these five are still my favorites, and Jesus Christ the Apple Tree still the most beautiful.

If you are not familiar with the tune, please listen to this beautiful rendition of it by the choir of King's College, Cambridge (you'll have to open in YouTube to watch probably):

I have argued in many ways over the years for a return to authentically sacred, beautiful music in our worship. There are so many different reasons would could support this: consistency with sacred tradition, fidelity to repeated magisterial pronouncements about the nature of sacred music, its fittingness to the worship of God, its ability to lift our souls in praise. There's so much can be said. I'll never tire of arguing this point, while simultaneously my soul bears a burden of frustrated exhaustion at even having to make these arguments to begin with. There seems to be nothing more self-evident in the world as that the worship of God should be marked by beautiful things.

But, in case you need one singular, poignant argument in favor of retaining beautiful music for our worship of God, consider the following: After watching to the above recording of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, I was clicking around YouTube listening to various renditions of the song and reading the comments and came across this gem:

My friends, that is the argument for the return of beautiful, sacred music. This is what happens when the human soul encounters beauty. I guarantee no atheists are saying such things about Gather Us In. And I have to admit, when I read this comment, I also was cut to the heart and my eyes became moist. Beauty softens the heart and helps us to be like children. The Church needs more beauty. The world needs more beauty. For the love of God and the salvation of souls, let the rays of beauty shine upon the Church once more.

And God, grant my soul may be beautiful, ever fresh and blossoming in virtue and watered by your graces. 

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Image result for beautiful apple tree

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Future of Contra Protestant Apologetics

Recently on social media I saw a certain Catholic apologist trying to sell off some of his books online in a special sale. He was offering significant discounts, offering multiple books at cuts of 50% or more. Most of the books had to do with contra Protestant apologetics, the sorta stuff that made Catholic Answers famous back in the 1990s.  In order to offer books at that kind of rate, he must have either been hurting for money, or simply wanting to offload titles that weren't selling anymore.

I'm betting it was the latter, because judging from the responses on the thread, there was not a lot of traction on the sale. But what was really interesting were several comments people made about the content of such works. More than one person said, "Apologetics to Protestants is not my area of focus right now", or "I'm not interested in that currently"; others echoed the sentiment. It was a kind of "we've got bigger fish to fry" sort of response.

I am not going to mention the apologist. This isn't really about him anyway; plus he has a Beetlejuice-sort of way of showing up whenever his name is mentioned. And I of all people know what it's like to be an author wanting to offload books. What I am really interested in is the attitude of the people on the thread who essentially said that Catholic apologetics to Protestants was simply not on their radar at the moment.

Earlier this year I wrote a piece entitled "Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism" (USC, July 2018). The premise of that article was that the poor quality of the liturgy in most Catholic parishes offers nothing to pique the interest of non-Catholics into wanting to learn about the faith. We could posit a corollary principle: if bad liturgy cripples the evangelical effect of the Mass, the Church herself being in a state of chaos diminishes the impulse Catholics experience for bringing others into it. 

I do not believe this is because such Catholics are ashamed of the Church or do not desire the salvation of others or anything like that; rather, I think it has to do with the fact that their energies and attention are taken up by what is going on inside the Church. In other words, Catholics' natural impulse is to put the fire out inside their own home before they invite others inside.

What will the future of contra Protestant apologetics be? My hunch is it is diminishing, and apologists who have made their careers debunking Protestantism will find themselves more and more irrelevant. 

The main reason for this is simply that the essential divisions within Christianity are no longer confessional. It used to be that Christianity was divided up into several confessions and that the members of each confession were presumed to be faithful at least to the tenets of their own confession. A man was a Baptist because he affirmed the Baptist confession and denied those that were at odds with his. And of course a Catholic was a Catholic because he affirmed the teachings of the Catholic faith. To be sure, the Baptist or the Catholic may have been born into these communities, but did not detract from the expectation that one who belonged to a certain confession actually professed it.

In that sort of climate, it was easy for confessions to dispute with one another. Persons professing some sort of formulaic creed can argue with others who profess a different creed because they had the common ground of both professing some creed. "Look here, you and I both acknowledge Christians live by a creed. Your creed is different than mine. Let's argue about whose is correct." It was in this atmosphere that Catholic apologetics contra Protestantism could flourish. 

But the situation has changed drastically. The contemporary division within global Christianity is not creed vs. creed, but people who profess a creed vs. people who have no creed—those whose faith has a doctrinal skeleton and those whose faith has no structure at all, but is a kind of gelatinous mass. This division transcends all forms of Christianity. Across the Catholic Church, the world of the Orthodox, and the Protestant confessions there is a profound de facto schism between those who believe Christianity has an objective, definable form whose boundaries are delineated by particular doctrines and, on the other hand, those who believe Christianity to be essentially whatever its adherents wish it to be at any given time.

In this atmosphere, creed vs. creed apologetics no longer has the weight it once did when most sincere Christians of any stripe are fighting bitterly simply to affirm the existence of any creed within their respective communities.

This is not to say contra Protestant apologetics will go away. It will always have a place, but it will probably give ground to other forms of apologetics which are not textual and doctrinal but rather more about defending an entire way of viewing religious belief in general. It will be about conflicting worldviews, not about the right interpretation of biblical texts. At least in the near future.

It is possible, of course, as Christians who are faithful to their own confessions fight the doctrinal devolution that is dissolving the creeds of Christendom, that Catholics and Protestants may find themselves arguing more or less along the same lines. The Protestant apologist arguing for the existence of revealed truth is going to be making more or less a similar argument to the Catholic apologist who does the same—the content of that revealed truth and how it is transmitted are a different matter, of course. But it is possible that in making arguing for the existence of confessional religion, Catholics and Protestants unwittingly become allies and many of the latter return home to the former. 

This is similar to how the Anglicans of the 19th century British Oxford Movement, in arguing against low church Anglicanism, actually argued themselves back into the Catholic Church because they realized the arguments they made against low church Anglicanism also undermined Anglicanism itself. Thus, contemporary Protestants compelled to argue for confessional Christianity may find their arguments undermine the existence of their own confessions and end up returning to the Catholic Church as a result.

Regardless of what may come, one thing is certain: it is not the 1980s and 1990s anymore. The days of the supremacy of Catholicism and Fundamentalism Surprised by Truth and similar such works is rapidly fading. The average Catholic, if he is faithful, is much more concerned with the corruption in the episcopate, the homosexual clerical scandals, the erosion of the liturgy. and the auto-demolition of the Church coming from the Vatican than he is about convincing a Protestant about the canonicity of the Book of Tobit. What logical reason does he have to argue with a Protestant about the Church's doctrines just to bring said Protestant into a Church whose leaders are overthrowing the very doctrines the apologist argued in favor of?

Please understand I am not saying the Great Commission is no longer valid or that we ought not to witness to Protestants; I am saying that the current situation it makes it difficult to prioritize such apologetics. This is why, I think, this apologist attempting to sell contra Protestant books found that astute Catholics were simply not interested in that right now, nor will they be until the fire in our own house has been extinguished.

"It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God." ~1 Peter 4:17

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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Hvalsey Option

Some time ago, I did an article on the other website about the ruins of Hvalsey church, the ruins of a Norse parish located on the southwestern coast of Greenland. It dates from the 10th century during the apex of Norse colonization. Hvalsey was part of the Greenlandic Norse "Eastern Settlement", which at its height contained only a few thousand Norse settlers scattered over a handful of towns and about 500 rural farmsteads. The settlement of Hvalsey gradually dwindled and was evacuated sometime in the 15th century; the last recorded activity there was a wedding in 1408.

The environment of southern Greenland is harsh and unforgiving. Even in the warmest months it seldom rises above 60° F. The winters are long, with blistering snows and gale force winds blowing in off the Atlantic. From November to January the night lasts twenty hours a day, covering the region in a kind of perpetual twilight. The shallow, rocky soil makes for poor farming; most of the Norse settlers survived off the grazing of cattle or hunting and fishing. Contact with mainland Europe (or even the Norse settlements at Iceland) was infrequent.

The Catholic Norse here were part of the now defunct Diocese of Gardar, which was administered by resident bishops from 1124 until the end of the 13th century, when communication between Greenland and Norway began to break down and the see went many years at a time without a bishop. 

Being historically minded, I have often wondered what it would be like to live out the Catholic faith in such a remote locale before the advent of modern communication. What would it have meant to be Catholic for these people? For Catholics living around the Hvalsey settlement, the universal Church would have had no other reality or expression other than what they experienced right then and there in their community. Their faith would have been radically localized. 

And there is nothing wrong with that. Remember, the Church's mark of universality/Catholicity means two things: (1) that local churches are universal because the profess the faith and administer the same sacraments that bind the Church Universal together, but also (2) because every local church is itself an expression of the Universal Church in a particular time and culture. The mark of Catholicity is as present in an isolated, cold stone church on the southern fjords of Greenland as it is in Rome or Paris, so long as the faith is being prayed and lived there. It is not necessary for a local church to be "plugged in" to the contemporary events of the Church Universal; being part of the Universal Church does not mean maintaining a certain degree of communication or media awareness of the events in Rome. It means living the faith of the Universal Church in your own local church.

It is doubtful the people of Hvalsey had any accurate knowledge of who the pope even was. In an age when it could take news four months to get from Rome just to Britain, the people of Hvalsey's knowledge of current events on the continent might have been two or three years outdated, probably more. The name of the pontiff mentioned in the Roman canon at Mass each week might have been a pope that had been dead for four years. Similarly, the mainland Norse had little knowledge of what was going on out in the Diocese of Gardar; once, in 1347, Norway ordained a new bishop to administer Gardar and sent him out to Greenland only to find the previous bishop was still alive. The communication was so sparse and it had been so long since word had come from Greenland that the Norse authorities assumed the previous bishop had died. There was a great chasm separating Hvalsey and the Norse settlements from the outside world, at least in terms of keeping atop of current events.

If the Hvalsey congregation had no certain knowledge of who the pope was, they certainly weren't abreast of the latest gossip going on in the Roman Curia. The pope to them would have been a very distant juridical concept, someone whose existence they knew of and whose authority they acknowledged but whose judgments rarely if ever touched their lives personally—similarly to how an American might view the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, except even more remote since we at least know who John Roberts is and what he looks like. The pope was not someone who impacted their daily life, if they even knew who he was.

My friends, that is how I have been living these past few years. Not burying my head in the sand and ignoring bad things I hear, but remembering that the expression of the Universal Church that affects me most is the one right in front of me that makes up the community I live in. My actual, tangible experience of the Catholic Church is not what is happening in Rome, but what is happening in my parish, in my community, or in front of the quaint little candle-lit altar in my own home. But when it comes to Rome, I'm mentally existing as if I'm in the Hvalsey settlement in the year 1000. That's my option for living the faith in these troubled days.

Stuff in the Vatican is getting wilder by the day. I'm thankful there's sites like 1 Peter 5 covering it, and I'm sad there's people whose faith is being harmed by the scandals. It hasn't harmed my faith, though, and for me it is simply one of those things where I shrug, say some extra prayers for the Church in my daily routine, and go back to reading more wholesome spiritual materials from an earlier time. What's going on is objectively bad, but there is a sense in which focusing too intensively on it can be damaging. I am not saying to ignore the realities we are in or totally disconnect, but I am saying let us remember that the ground beneath our feet is the most appropriate locus of action for bringing Christ to the world. Think local. Act local. Pray local. If the Church needs exemplars of faithful Christian living, be that example in your own community. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Ave Verum Corpus

It's was one of those Sundays where I walked in late for Mass, which in my small parish, can sometimes mean not being able to find a place to sit. That's okay, though. Sometimes I prefer to stand in the back. I find that standing often helps me be more attentive. I meander to the back of the parish and take my position at once of my favorite spots: over a very old, iron grate atop a vent connected to the parish's ancient furnace. It's a chilly fall day, so when the deep rumbling from the basement signifies the heat is turning on, atop this vent is a very nice place to be standing.

The Mass itself is not very memorable. To be honest, my mind is not where it needs to be. Five minutes after the readings, I can't remember what they were. The homily seeps into my head and just as easily drains back out. My responses are mouthed coldly and thoughtlessly. The prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy all blur together. I try to focus and prepare my soul for Communion the best I can, but my soul feels dreary.

After the Agnus Dei and the communication of the priest, the congregation begins filing up to receive Holy Communion. I am kneeling over the grate, my legs super-heated from the furnace. The playing of the organ commences, and a familiar melody flows out of the choir loft. "Ah, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus," I think. A feeling of warm, pious nostalgia settles over me as I watch the lines of people slowly processing to the front of the church to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The soft glow of the candles, heat blowing up from the grate beneath my feet, the sweet melody wafting on the air—they all seem to bathe the scene in golden warmth. My heart begins to be deeply moved, not only from the melody of Mozart's timeless piece, but by old memories stirring in my breast.

* * * * *

It was a warm, spring day in 1998. The kind of day where the Mr. Bushey, the choir director, would prop the doors to the choir room open to let in the sweet, fresh air outside. I am Tenor 2, seated in the third row of the center. There's not very many of us Tenor 2's in the high school's Acapella Choir, so if I am not up to par on my parts, it becomes very evident. I'm not very good at sight-reading though. At 17 years old, I'd only begun my formal musical instruction a year earlier. I still rely on the few superstar singers in the choir to orient myself; I often "copy" the other tenors without understanding what I'm doing. I'm sure some time I am singing Tenor 1, sometimes Baritone depending on whose voice talent I am siphoning off of.

Even so, choir is a fun class. We'd been preparing for our spring concert all morning, and Mr. Bushey was attempting the impossible task of keeping several sections of the choir hushed while he worked with the sopranos and altos on their parts; it seemed like the soprano section always got the most attention. Most of the songs were banal and forgettable: sappy Barbara Streisand sort of stuff, or old Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes from musicals most of the students had never watched. I probably devoted only a third of my energy to concentrating on the music; the rest of the time I was fooling around with my buddies or completely daydreaming. That's why most high schoolers signed up for choir anyway. 

After a few moments Mr. Bushey ends his work with the girls and announces he is introducing a new piece to the spring concert. We all groan. It's already late in the year, and we all know that introducing a new piece this late will mean lots of very intensive rehearsals. He passes out the sheet music. Ave Verum Corpus. Arranged by W.A. Mozart it says atop the music. Now, I knew nothing of Latin at the time, but I knew enough to at leas recognize this as a Latin title and to know who Mozart was. It was not entirely surprising we were singing a religious text; yes, it was a public school, but because so much musical heritage of the West is religious in nature, the educational guidelines dictated by the government allowed for a certain percentage of religious music to be sung in school choirs, otherwise public school choir programs would have little to sing; such was the vast size of the religious musical patrimony of the west! This song piqued my attention; though not religious, I definitely preferred singing a Baroque religious melody to a 1960's musical show-tune.

Mr. Bushey got our attention and gave us some introductory remarks on the piece. As he spoke, I flipped through the little booklet. The Latin was not translated; it was simply there on the page, asking neither to be translated nor understood but merely sung. I was intrigued by these words and phrases. De Maria cruce pro mortis examine. The words meant nothing to me, but the very look of them, the structure, the sounds...they had an almost mystical quality, like some kind of ancient runes or sigils.

Then Mr. Bushey got to explaining the meaning of the text. He said he'd been down to visit one of the literature teachers who had a working knowledge of Latin and got a rudimentary translation (this was before most people were using the Internet). He then gave us a clause by clause translation. I was enthralled by these strange words. "Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary, having truly suffered, etc." Everything was so matter-of-fact. He offered only the translation of the words, no context or meaning
—and indeed, how could he? He was just a choir teacher who had found a good piece of music, not a theologian nor even a Catholic. The most interesting phrase for me was the last: "Be to us a sweet foretaste of life everlasting in the hour of death." I jotted the translation down with a pencil in the margins of the sheet music while Mr. Bushey read it.

Then came the first run through. He gave the music to the pianist and selected a few students who were excellent sight readers to preview the tune for everybody. There, for the first time in my life, on the rustic piano in my high school choir room, I heard the beautiful, iconic introduction to the famous Ave Verum Corpus of Mozart.

Though the rudimentary run through I heard sung to me that day was far from perfect, it was enough for me to be moved deeply by the melody and the words. I did not understand what I was hearing; the aesthetics alone were responsible for softening my heart. It was absolutely beautiful. As the choir director began teaching us our respective parts, I really had a strong desire to do this piece well. It's very beauty demanded it.

I remember taking the sheet music home and reading those mysterious Latin words and their penciled in translation to myself in my bedroom alone. "Be to us a sweet foretaste of life everlasting"; these words were cryptic and beautiful, but what could they possibly refer to?

* * * * *

I remember that spring our choir went on a little tour. The school chartered a bus and we drove down to Pittsburgh to sing in some of the historic theaters around the city. The bus ride down was a big gaggle. Just a bunch of seniors laughing and messing around and throwing things, all of us at that peculiar age when one is old enough to take on adult responsibilities but still enjoy acting like a child whenever possible.

The ruckus in the back was getting a little out of hand. Mr. Bushey, who was seated in the front, got up and shuffled his way to back of the bus. He did not scold us; rather, he tried to divert our energy to something more productive. "C'mon gang," he said, taking a seat, "let's rehearse a little bit. How about we run through the Ave Verum Corpus?" The choir began to settle down and compose ourselves in preparation. Mr. Bushey stood up and assumed his directorial manner, though hunched over to avoid bumping his head on the ceiling of the bus. He took out a pitch pipe and sounded the notes for each section, then waving his hand to set the tempo, we began the song.

"Ave, ave...verum corpus...natum, de Maria Virgine," we all began. The acoustics inside the school bus were actually perfect. There's something surreal about such lovely music arising suddenly in such an unlikely venue. I didn't know what this piece really meant, but I do know that there was something so very moving about a group of high schoolers sitting around in the back of a bus going down I-80 towards Pittsburgh singing this beautiful hymn. The splendor of the song brought out something, made us come together...made us get a glimpse—even if in an imperfect manner—of a whole realm of goodness and truth and beauty and culture beyond what we would normally experience in our small town high school in southern Michigan.

In later years, I have often thought about how far away from Mozart's intentions we were when singing that song. Mozart composed that music for solemn use in the Catholic liturgy; that a bunch of sloppily dressed, rambunctious high school students in the United States should ever be rehearsing it in the back of a school bus for a secular concert tour was never something Mozart ever would have contemplated. But then again, in another way we were fulfilling his intentions perfectly. For in composing such a piece, Mozart undoubtedly wanted to show forth the beauty and deep mystery of the Incarnation. And while I could not have understood it in such explicit terms, there is no doubt that I, that all of us, were deeply, profoundly moved by the beauty of the piece. And in experiencing such beauty, even on the back of a school bus, I was in a sense experiencing a foretaste God Himself. The eruption of the divinely beautiful into the ordinary world is what the Incarnation is all about, and as such it is a true manner of coming to know and appreciate God. And surely that experience would have been well within Mozart's intentions, for what composer does not wish his music to be found beautiful?

* * * * *

It was early June, 1998, the week of the spring concert. I was mulling around backstage in my long, choir robes—green and yellow, the color of my school, the school district I had attended for thirteen years. It was a bittersweet time. This was the the last time I would ever walk out onto this stage, the last time I'd ever sing with these people, most of whom I'd attended school with since the very beginning. Graduation was only a few days away. A whole new epoch of life was about to begin even as the only one I'd ever known was closing.

We were all milling about backstage waiting for our cue to go on. The high school had many different choirs, of which Acapella was only one and by no means the best. It was a very emotional moment, waiting to take my place on the choir stands the last time. I had not always taken choir very seriously, but in this moment, as my time here was about to end, I found myself wishing I had.

As I walked about backstage I ran into a fellow classmate, a girl name Jamie. I had known Jamie a long time. Way back when I started 1st Grade, I remember the students all had to share lockers in my tiny elementary school. Jamie was my locker partner back then. We both stood there momentarily in our green robes backstage, looking at each other silently. My mind raced back to the first day of 1st grade in 1986; I remembered my teacher introducing me to Jamie outside my locker. "This is Jamie. She's going to be your locker partner." We shared our locker all that year, but after 1st grade I never talked with her much. Ah, how much time had elapsed between that first day of 1st grade and now, when graduation was only a few short days away! Was it all over already!? How much had happened in those intervening twelve years, but then again, how brief it had all seemed. And there Jamie was again, like a punctuation mark at the end of my public school career.

I don't know what she was thinking, but I imagine similar thoughts must have went through her mind. Her eyes got blurry with tears. And at the sight of her my lip began to twitch and quiver and my eyes welled up, too. We both began balling simultaneously and embraced each other in a hug of sincere affection and esteem. I hadn't talked to Jamie in a long, long time. I had no idea where she was in life nor did she know much about where I was. It didn't matter. We knew this was a special moment. We hugged for a long time, then looked at each other with tears in our eyes and big dumb smiles and said nothing.

Our hug was broken by the sound of applause from the crowd. "Acapella, you're on!" called someone. We all rushed out onto the stage and took our places on the stands. On a stage like this, you can't see the crowd. You have no idea who is out there or how many. All you see is the blinding stage lights beaming their heated brightness down upon you—and beyond them, just a black void. That's probably a good thing for the performer.

Mr. Bushey came out, dressed in his black suit with tails and white bow tie. The pianist was before us, elegantly robed in a long, flowing green dress. The choir director smiled and composed us, focusing our attention on him and only him. "We're starting with the Ave Verum," he whispered. We were ready. We'd spent several weeks intensively learning the piece and every one of us knew every note intuitively.

The pianist's hands fell upon the keys gently, playing the introduction to the piece we had all come to recognize. Mr. Bushey raised his hands and drew the music out of our open mouths.

Ave, ave...verum corpus...

The music did not seem to be seemed to simply, emerge or arise from us; emanating from our mouths. It was so soft, but so beautiful. We always sung better on concert nights. It was as if the pressure compelled us to polish our skill to a level we didn't know we possessed.

The basses and baritones droned their low notes:

...Natum, de Maria Virgine...

By God, it was powerful. Women the world over search, often in vain, for that elusive man who is both powerful and gentle—tender but strong, for that is the essence of true masculinity. I tell you, there is nothing that so perfectly exemplifies this curious balance of power and gentleness than men's voices singing bass and baritone with great skill. There was something so moving about these deep, masculine voices singing of the Incarnation in the womb of Mary.

...vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine...

The little crescendo on immolatum makes you feel like you are approaching the climax of the song, but Mozart doesn't take you there yet. He resolves the crescendo in beautiful harmony on the word homine. How perfect. The tension on the word "sacrificed" ends with harmonious balance on the word "mankind."

...cuius latus perforatum fluixit aqua et sanguine...

The way the melody shifts to a minor on the word sanguine tells you something is about to change. The music regroups, preparing for the high point of the song. We all took deep breaths; long hours of practice had taught us to know that we would need a lot of air for the next lines.

...esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine...

When we all closed our mouths on the last syllable of examine, Mr. Bushey raised his hand aloft, calling forth the power of the altos and sopranos to exalt the mystery of Christ's redemptive power in the face of the mystery of human death.


Ah! That moment is always so chilling, so beautiful. The sopranos stand alone, their voices piercing the darkness. As I reflected on this years later, it reminds me of the light of Christ piercing the darkness of death as He goes down to the dead to bring the faithful souls into beatitude. But I didn't know that in 1998. All I knew was that this moment was the most important moment of the song, when its beauty reached highest, when everything seemed to be hanging on a knife's edge. I took a deep breath.

Mr. Bushey held out his hand in an agonized, clenched pose, and looked at the men. His hand reached down, forward towards us, as if he wanted to grab us by our guts and rip the power out of us—force us to put our soul in to it ad give this moment the sheer power it deserved. We knew it was time.

In morrrrrr...

We followed the sopranos, our voices ascending higher, chasing theirs. This was the absolute climax of the song, the crescendo towards which everything else was building. And it is the climax of every person's life, as well. The moment of death. In final trial at the hour of death. In mortis examine. It is fitting that Mozart chose to focus his crescendo on this phrase.

Mr. Bushey's clenched hand trembled as he raised it aloft. Our voices followed, almost magnetically. I could see the sweat beading upon his brow and feel it on my own.

Then, the resolution. The completion. The parts of the girls and the men (which had diverged for one, beautiful, tense moment) resolved themselves into an elegant, simple harmony on the last syllable of mortis and then brought everything back to harmony on the word examine. Stretched out into five syllables, the choir's stepped us down singing of examine takes us from the heights of that crescendo and brings us back to the world of human concerns, the place where our lives actually exist and where God's grace is operative mysteriously.

Mr. Bushey closed his hands. Our lips fell silent and we stared out into the dark in a moment of silence before the crowd erupted in applause.

* * * * *

All this memory and richness has passed through my heart in a matter of moments. I am again in my parish church, kneeling alone in the back atop the vent. My eyes are full of tears. The parish choir is in the middle of the Ave Verum Corpus. I hear the familiar lines, "esto nobis praegustatum..." I know what is coming. I take a deep breath. The sopranos launch their notes up into the heavens, and then, following behind momentarily, my own wavering voice takes up the part I learned so long ago. "In morrrrrrrrrrtis, examine." I remember the part as if it was yesterday, though some twenty-years have passed. My heart is on fire, my soul deeply stirred. Nostalgia, piety, the richness of the Christian mystery and just...the sheer aesthetic beauty of the music all overwhelm me.

I make my way up the line, blinking away my tears. I throw myself upon the kneeler before the old Neo-Gothic wooden altar rail and receive the Body of Christ, which is truly that sweet foretaste of life everlasting. I am deeply conscious, much more so than usual, or the working of grace in my life and the imperceptible ways God had been nudging me, always nudging me, towards His truth for my entire life.

God, when my hour comes, let me die in that grace. And let me always be cognizant of your providence. And let every moment of truth, or goodness, or beauty be to me a sweet foretaste of life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Thoughts on the Canonization of Paul VI

Because everybody seems to be weighing in with their opinion on the canonization of Pope Paul VI two weeks ago, I have put together an essay, "Argument for the Infallibility of Canonizations", on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website addressing some of the speculations I am seeing. It is not so much my own argument as it is a synthesis of others. It does not address Paul VI directly but rather examines the theological arguments in favor of the infallibility of canonizations, an argument to which I adhere.

I completely understand the frustration, confusion, anger, and exasperation of many of my fellow Catholics on this topic. Many of them, people I admire and count as friends, have taken a different position and argued that this canonization is invalid. I do not at all doubt their good intentions. I wish them the best, but I cannot follow along in that conclusion. I remember how vehemently I argued against (what I still take to be) the rash and imprudent canonization of John Paul II. But he has been canonized nonetheless, and I accepted it and moved on. That's what I am doing with Paul VI. If the Church ever decides to suppress the (non-existent) cultus of Paul VI, I will accept that as well. I still think Paul VI was a sub-par pope—and that's being charitable. Ideally, a canonization is supposed to be not only a declaration that so-and-so is enrolled among the saints, but that the manner of their life (and how they carry out the obligations relevant to their state in life) is worthy of imitation. This has never meant that every thing a saint does has had to be approve; canonization was never meant to be the canonization of a saint's every word and deed. But, to borrow the language of the Catechism, it nevertheless was meant to identify that saint's life as a "sure norm" for Christian living.

That aspect of canonization has been totally compromised due to the canonization of "mixed bag" sort of popes who, though they may have had a deep personal piety worthy of admiration, nevertheless left a lot to be desired in their exercise of public office. The bar is supposed to be very high. There is a reason why only two popes from 1566 to 1914 had been canonized.

Even so, I personally am not willing to cast doubt on the certitude of Church's entire process of canonization rather than accept that one man has been declared a saint. I understand that others are, but that's not a line I am going to cross. It's much more reasonable for me to shrug and say "Well, Paul VI is a saint now" than to try to argue that canonizations are not infallible or that Francis is not really the pope. And make no mistake, if you argue against this canonization, those are the only two alternatives: either none of the Church's canonizations are certain, or Francis is not pope. In my opinion, both of those assertions put you out in la-la land. Maybe you want to say, "No, Boniface, I'm not casting doubt on all canonizations, just those after a certain date." Okay, when? Was it 1965 at the close of the Council? Or 1969 when Paul VI began tinkering with the methodology of canonization? Was it 1983 with the publication of Divinis Perfectionis Magister, the document of John Paul II which created the current process? When do you cut it off and why?

And if canonizations were not always possessed of infallible certitude, then pray tell when did they become infallible? Was it in 1170 when Pope Alexander III declared canonizations reserved to the Holy See? If we insist on the procedural argument, it's important to note that Alexander III did not institute any new procedures in 1170; he merely translated the jurisdiction of canonization from local bishops to the Holy See, so if we hang our hats on the date 1170 based on a procedural argument, no new procedures were instituted then. They came in gradually later, piecemeal, here a little, there a little. The rigorous process we associate with the pre-conciliar methodology did not become completely standardized until the 1750's.

But maybe 1170 is not our date. Perhaps it was when the role of the Devil's Advocate was first utilized by Leo X (1513-1521), or was it when the office of Promoter Fidei was formally established in 1587? Was it in 1634 when Urban VIII reserved the entire process, including beatification, to the Roman pontiff? Was it in 1588 when the Congregation of Rites was established, or perhaps in 1607 when the Promoter Fidei (Devil's Advocate) was made the supreme official of that Congregation with authority over scrutinizing beati? Was it during the late 1700s when the excellent principles of Prospero Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV) enunciated in De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et de Beatorum Canonizatione became the norms of the canonization process? Who knows? The fact is, if we argue that canonizations only became infallible at a certain time or only lost their certitude at a certain time, we are left with totally arbitrary, subjective determinations of when, how, and why; subjective determinations that solve no problems, answer no questions, and leave the entire canonization process open to skepticism.

So yes, I am shrugging and moving on. That's how I handled the canonization of John Paul II, and I have to say, it was not damaging to my faith at all. Ultimately, I am just a lay person and the Church's solemn judgments have more authority to me than my own subjective opinions about a person.

Also, I am not interested in debating this endlessly. Everything I have to say is said in the above article and the other resources I linked within it. You all can say whatever you want about it, but that's my two cents. Quod scripsi, scripsi

Friday, September 28, 2018

The China-Vatican Deal: A Bowl of Pottage

This month the Vatican and China have entered into some sort of agreement that is meant to allow China's Catholics to recognize the pope as the head of the Church while granting the Communist government of China a say in nominating bishops. This is supposed to normalize relations between Church and State there.

I say "some sort of agreement" because the details of this concordat are being kept confidential. For example, while the agreement calls for the legitimization of the current bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, it's uncertain exactly how future bishops are going to be selected—although it seems likely that the Communist government will select bishops, but the Vatican will have some sort of "veto" power, but it's unclear how often the Vatican can exercise it.

There are many facets of this bizarre agreement we could question. For example, in an age when the Vatican is so woke that it vigorously denounces plastic litter in our oceans and issues documents on the "Ten Commandments for Drivers", why the silence on China's egregious litany of human rights abuses?

Why is the Vatican ignoring the aspirations of Chinese Catholics, both lay and clergy, who have suffered for their fidelity to the true, underground Church?

What are we supposed to think when the details of the agreement are secret? If this agreement is so great, why are the details secret?

Why does the Vatican have any confidence that the Communist Party of China is acting in good faith, especially since even as the agreement was being drafted, Christian churches were being vandalized and demolished throughout China by government agents?

Why no adamant, principled stand for religious liberty in a place where Catholic priests of the underground Church regularly die in custody or under mysterious circumstances? Or is religious liberty and dialogue only something we trot out when Catholics want to do things like spend money to build Mosques for Muslims?

Yes, there are a lot of ways we can consider this; in my opinion, none of them make this deal look any better. But, as I see it, the crux of the matter is this:

Pope Francis has given up the very real authority to name bishops in exchange for a largely symbolic recognition as head of China's Catholics.

The pope has effectively washed its hands of the underground Catholic Church in China in exchange for some momentary media coverage and a mention in the history books.

The true faith in China is going to be hopelessly muddled now. The distinction between the true Church and the state Church will be obliterated. Who is validly consecrated will become a moot point; way back in 2007, Pope Benedict lamented that the status of those government bishops who had been legitimized remained murky even after legitimization due to misinformation. "In most cases," Benedict said, "priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized" (Benedict XVI, Letter to Chinese Catholics, 2007). This problem will only grow worse with more legitimization coming. The Catholics who have remained faithful to the underground Church will increasingly wonder why they are suffering so much on behalf of an institution that seems embarrassed by their existence.

Francis has exchanged China's birthright for a bowl of pottage.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Update: Traditional Wedding Mass in Jackson

So, in the midst of all the garbage coming out, I thought I'd share some good news. In May I posted an appeal to help a friend of mine, Bill Price, who had fallen off a scaffold and suffered severe injuries to his leg. Bill is the choir director at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Jackson, Michigan for the traditional Latin Mass. At the time of his injury, his wedding was only a few weeks away.

I just wanted to post an update that the appeal was able to raise over $20,000 for Bill's medical expenses (Deo gratias). Bill is recovering fine and was able to finally get married, albeit after postponing the wedding for a few months. I recently attended the wedding of Bill and Sipjke at Our Lady Star of the Sea. It was a beautiful wedding in the traditional Roman rite, only the second traditional rite wedding I have been to in a decade. Bill was not totally back to his old self yet; he had to go up the aisle and approach the altar on crutches. I was very moved by the sight.

Here's a picture of the bride and groom, crutches and all.

On behalf of myself and the Price's, thank you for your kindness. And if you want to hear Bill's schola, I actually have a recording of them on the USC Youtube Channel.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Lay Control is Not the Answer

In the midst of this crisis, I am seeing many well-intentioned Catholics reaching a point of total loss of faith in the hierarchy and calling essentially for lay oversight of the Catholic episcopacy.

This is just another dead end. Besides being antithetical to the entire hierarchical constitution of the Church, lay control in other areas of the Church has been a debacle. Has lay control of Catholic schools improved their quality? It's interesting that in the memoirs of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former President of Notre Dame, he essentially identifies the turning of the university over to lay control as the moment when it lost it's Catholic identity. Have our Catholic dioceses become any better managed over the past fifty years since being stocked with lay committees? Is religious education in our parishes more vibrant that priests and sisters have been replaced with lay volunteers? 

Lay people do have an active vocation within the Church. I do not believe that lay people simply need to shut up and pray. They can work for change in the Church by how they allocate their resources. They can form organizations whose purpose is to advocate for certain reforms. They can leverage their numbers to put moral pressure upon corrupt diocesan officials to act justly. Those lay persons who are employed in diocesan administration can commit themselves to total transparency if they see any civil crimes being committed and can refuse to participate in any cover up or obfuscation. Lay persons who have knowledge of criminal activity on the part of the clergy can take this information to civil law enforcement. Lay people who are in the media or gifted writers can use their positions to advocate for needed reforms within the Church. They can protest the transfer or rehabilitation of known abusers. All of these things are valid and praiseworthy exercises of the energy of the laity directed towards reform.

But the laity themselves are not the answer. The laity cannot be exalted above the clergy. The laity cannot be put in positions of authority over the bishops, as if the bishops are answerable to some lay committee. The laity cannot become a functional part of the hierarchy. Besides being totally foreign to the Church as it was constituted by Christ, this risks turning the laity essentially against the clergy. If the laity are taught to believe that lay "policing" actions are all prevents the clergy from descending into criminality and abuse, it's hard to see how the laity will not end up holding the clergy in contempt. They will essentially become infected by the secular spirit that sees all celibate clergy as suspected criminals. It treads the same waters as the spirit of persecution where every clergyman is de facto an enemy of the state by virtue of being ordained.

Lumen Gentium, the Church's most authoritative document on the lay vocation, says:

"Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church" (LG 34:4).

It is clear that the laity have a role in building up the Church, "working to extend the divine plan" and that they are to have opportunities to do so "according to their abilities." But in what sphere does the Church envision these lay persons "extending the divine plan?" Does this really entail giving lay people supervisory control over clerical bodies?

Lumen Gentium goes on:

"Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling "against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness" (LG 35:1)

The Council does call for the laity to "zealously participate" in the life of the Church, but that participation is to be carried out "in the program of their secular life" by means of "continuing conversion," not by assuming literal control of institutions run by clergy. The laity are to sanctify their own lives and act for change specifically within the spheres of their secular activity—not by assuming the roles the clergy. That actually goes against what LG specifically calls for. It's very similar to the way people misunderstand the concept of "active participation" when it comes to the liturgy.

Let's look at one final paragraph from Lumen Gentium:

"Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity.However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city"(LG, 37).

Pastors are to respect the ambitions of the laity, support their plans, and "assign them duties," but nowhere does it suggest that the managerial roles of the laity and the clergy be switched, especially within the hierarchical administration of the Church itself.

The calls for lay oversight of the clergy will simply exacerbate the problems within the Church. To posit the current situation as continued clerical corruption vs. lay control is nothing other than a Scylla and Charybdis dilemma. One of the central characteristics of liberalism is that the liberal cure for the problems of revolution is always more revolution. The revolution of the Lavender Mafia is producing a tidal wave of chaos; predictably, people are calling for greater revolution as the cure to the ills of the revolution.

One more is indicative of the modern mentality that we always seek institutional, structural changes to address what are ultimately personal failings. To be sure we need our institutions to be strong and our structures just, but bureaucratic solutions will not ultimately fix what is, at is core, a moral rot.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Archbishop ViganĂ² and our Vale of Tears

Greetings in Christ our Lord, my friends. I want to ask your forgiveness ahead of time for the length of this post, but as you know, these are very extraordinary times in the life of our beloved Church. News has been developing almost hourly. We are in a state of crisis.

The following post are simply some observations that have come to me over the past few days since the publication of Archbishop Vigano's letter on August 25th.

It is ridiculous how the media has played this as a "conservative coup" against Pope Francis. It is the Achilles heel of the secular media that they can only view any issue as part of a conservative versus liberal dichotomy. This is what the stupid two-party system has done to the American mind; binary politics leads to binary thinking. It's not unexpected, but it is sad. To secularists, this is just a political power struggle between conservatives and liberals. Unfortunately, many Catholics are buying into that thinking as well; for example, this dimwitted statement by Ave Maria University President Jim Towey. Yes, Catholic defenders of Pope Francis are also turning this into a political football, as when Cardinal Blaise Cupich said the accusations of Vigano were just a "rabbit hole" and that Francis was too busy to deal with the matter because of the "bigger agenda" of environmentalism and migrants' rights.

Of course, this "conservative reaction" narrative is ridiculous; I am not supporting a full investigation of American dioceses because I am a bitter conservative, nor am I suggesting Wuerl or Francis or anyone else resign because they are liberals. Wanting justice for those who have been sexually abused by clergy—and wanting to make sure Catholics of all ages and states in life can live their faith in an atmosphere of safety—is something that transcends the liberal-conservative divide. It is just a basic, fundamental good that everybody should agree on. It's disgusting that it is being politicized. But rest assured, Cardinal Cupich, this time Catholics are not going to be thrown off the scent. This time, no appeal to immigrant families or the environment or the death penalty or anything else will be able to save you. You tried to tweet a quote from John Paul II about peace and your followers simply responded with "RESIGN!" No, we're not being distracted again. This time it's your head. And Wuerl's. And Tobin's. And all the rest of you ilk. Even if you all somehow manage to avoid resignation in disgrace, the small semblance of moral authority you still think you possess is obliterated. The Vigano letter is just the beginning.

2. The story of how the Vigano letter came to publication is almost as fascinating as the letter itself. In case you have not familiarized yourself with the back story, I recommend the article "The Amazing Story of How Archbishop Vigano's Report Came to Be" on One Peter Five. It contains the English translation of the account of Italian journalist Dr. Aldo Maria Valli, who received and published the Vigano letter. Dr. Valli's story is illuminating and heart-wrenching; it presents Archbishop Vigano as a man wore out from a lifetime of dealing with the Vatican bureaucracy who is seeking to simply make his peace with God and his conscience before facing the judgement seat of Christ. But what is especially intriguing are Vigano's last words to Dr. Valli. Valli reports:

"He tells me he has already purchased an airplane ticket. He will leave the country. He cannot tell me where he is going. I am not to look for him. His old cell phone number will no longer work. We say goodbye for the last time."

Is the corruption in the upper echelons of the Church so advanced that a man must go into hiding and get off the grid for merely telling the truth? Clearly Vigano thinks so; clearly he fears for his very life. What powers does the Vatican have at its disposal that Vigano would be in fear of his life? Does it not put the sudden death of Cardinal Caffarra, one of the four signatories to the dubia, into a new perspective? This should really give us pause as we contemplate what sort of darkness we are facing.

3. Even the Neo-Catholics are getting on board. Steve Ray is calling for the resignation of Cupich, but more notably said "Even if the Lord doesn't come back for 1000 years, there will never be a pope who takes the name Francis II." He also tweeted "I never liked this pope...something from the beginning told me something was wrong with this guy." In a controversy with Ave Maria University President Jim Towey, Ray said, "Being loyal to the pope, THIS pope, is not remaining Catholic but denying it and being way out of touch with reality." Scott Hahn publicly thanked Archbishop Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, who had said the Vigano letter was credible and called for a full investigation into everyone implicated in the letter, including Pope Francis. Dr. Taylor Marshall apologized to Rorate Caeli. Karl Keating blasted Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, the latter of whom is publicly opposing a full investigation; Keating says the church should "welcome the sunshine" as a disinfectant, no matter who it brings down. It is getting harder and harder to remain neutral and aloof. Those who continue to defend the status quo are looking increasingly ridiculous. Everywhere people are being forced by circumstance to line up.

4. Of course, the big news on this front is that Michael Voris and Church Militant TV have finally gotten on board with criticizing the actions of Pope Francis. In order to not appear contradictory, Voris has offered the explanation that lay people should not judge the pope in theological matters, but that lay criticism is warranted when the pope's failings are moral. There is some truth to this; for example, if we look back at history, it took a body of professionally trained theologians to rebuke Pope John XXII for his erroneous teaching on the beatific vision; however, moral scandals of a pope (fornication, simony, nepotism, etc) have traditionally been more publicly derided by lay populace at large. I get the angle Voris is trying to take. That being said, I don't find the distinction of CMTV personally convincing, as in this particular case, theology and morality are all wrapped up together and have been for some time. The cover up of sex abuse has to do with preserving the homosexual networks within the Church, which is intimately bound up with clandestine efforts to weaken the Church's doctrinal teaching on homosexuality, which in turn is bound up with the rest of the post-Conciliar novelties. This problem cannot be compartmentalized. It is all part of the same general movement towards apostasy. The problem must be viewed in totu.

Of course, everybody has their thresholds; it's any writer's editorial decision whether they will or will not criticize a sitting prelate. All of us bloggers have had to make that call. I once got into a private argument with New Catholic at Rorate because he believed something Cardinal Kasper said was qualitatively racist whereas Kasper's statements did not meet that threshold for me. That doesn't mean I would ever attack or insult Rorate for making an editorial judgment different than my own. I have a priest friend who reads this blog. Sometimes he agrees with me, other times he tells me I'm full of shit (God bless you, Fr. Scott). We smile and go on as friends. That's the way it isor ought to bewhen you do this. One can't take oneself too seriously, even though paradoxically the things we write about are very serious.

It is thus unfortunate that Church Militant couldn't simply make that call on their own without calling other outletssuch as Rorate, The Remnant, and Steve Skojecspiritual pornographers. It's one thing to make an editorial call, but quite another to insult others who haven't made the same call as yourself. Really what's happened, as I see it, is that Francis has transgressed in what, for Mr. Voris, is his particular pet issue and now he is comfortable jumping in to the fray because his particular threshold has been crossed. I would like to see Mr. Voris apologize to Michael Matt, Steve Skojec, and The Remnant the way Dr. Taylor Marshall did. But either way, I am happy Church Militant has finally come around, and I have to say their coverage of this unfolding scandal has been top-notch. I like CMTV, and I also like The Remnant, Skojec and a lot of other bloggers. A lot of people have done a lot of good work; I've been reading Steve Skojec's Facebook thread daily to keep up on the developments. Everybody deserves commendation who has helped bring this filth into the light, regardless of how late they got in to the game. The important thing is that light is shining and the wheat and the chaff are being separated. God grant me that I may stand with Him and His saints. God grant treasure in heaven to those who have truly merited it.

5. When the McCarrick scandal was first breaking, I posted an info-graphic on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam Facebook page with some statistics from the John Jay Center, which researched the demographics on clerical abuse victims since 2002. The John Jay research clearly indicates that the abuse problem in the Catholic Church is predominantly homosexual in nature; that predatory homosexuality, not pedophilia, is the primary problem. My goodness, I have seldom got so much hate and ridicule as for drawing the rather obvious connection between homosexuality and sex abuse! So many people want to believe that the real problem is "clericalism", or a culture of secrecy, or pedophilia, or anything but secret networks of predominantly homosexual priests who use their positions of power to gratify their homosexual lusts. Anything but that.

That position may have been tenable even as recently as a few weeks ago. But now, with so many clergy speaking up about what they know and have experienced, with the fallout from the Vigano letter, I notice the chorus shouting "This is not a homosexual problem!" has grown far quieter. This is because it's becoming increasingly ludicrous to argue such. The real issue is summed up aptly by the official statement of Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, who wrote (emphasis mine):

"But to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual—almost exclusively homosexual—acts by clerics. We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals....There has been a great deal of effort to keep separate acts which fall under the category of now-culturally-acceptable acts of homosexuality from the publicly-deplorable acts of pedophilia. That is to say, until recently the problems of the Church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia—this despite clear evidence to the contrary. It is time to be honest that the problems are both and they are more...While recent credible accusations of child sexual abuse by Archbishop McCarrick have brought a whole slew of issues to light, long-ignored was the issue of abuse of his power for the sake of homosexual gratification. It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord" (Bishop Robert C. Morlino's "Letter to the Faithful Regarding the Ongoing Sex Abuse Crisis in the Church")

Archbishop Vigano, who in his position as nuncio to the United States had a unique and privileged view into the situation in the American Church, noted in his letter:

"Regarding Cupich, one cannot fail to note his ostentatious arrogance, and the insolence with which he denies the evidence that is now obvious to all: that 80% of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims... In fact, Father Hans Zollner, S.J., Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, President of the Centre for Child Protection, and Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recently told the newspaper La Stampa that “in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse.”"

More poignantly, in his conclusion he calls for the destruction of "homosexual networks", which he says are at the heart of the crisis:

"The deeper problem lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated. These homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church."

It is definitely a homosexual problem, and Vigano should be in the position to know. But if you don't believe Vigano, read about the investigations of the lay association Christifideles into the homosexual networks of the Diocese of Miami. Or check out the candidly honest assessment of gay Catholic Daniel Mattson in his article "Why Men Like Me Should Not Be Priests" (First Things, August 2018), who notes:

"What unites all of these scandals is homosexuality in our seminaries and the priesthood...Because the sex scandals of the Church are overwhelmingly homosexual, the Church can no longer risk ordaining men with homosexual inclinations in the hopes that those inclinations turn out to be transitory."

Or read Rod Dreher's "Inside the Seminary Closet" in The American Conservative. It is a painful article, highlighting the first hand experience of a seminarian who had to undergo constant homosexual harassment and was even told "Come on, you must know that everyone is staring at you all the time. You know full well that every guy here including the priests and even the bishop would f*ck you if they had the chance.” Heck, go back and read Goodbye, Good Men again. Any of these sources will demonstrate that this is not a problem with sexual secrecy and the fact that some of the perpetrators happen to be gay is incidental. No; this is essentially and primarily a homosexual problem.

Can anyone read through all this material—the grueling experiences of men who have been through the seminary or (like Morlino and Vigano) are intimately familiar with clerical culture—and tell me straight-faced that this is not a homosexual problem? It's so painfully, ridiculously, hideously obvious that you'd have to be intentionally negligent and/or intellectually dishonest to deny the homosexual nature of the current crisis. Yes, I know there are other aspects to the problem. Of course, reality is complex. But from here on out, after everything that has been revealed, if you still deny this is primarily a homosexual problem, then you have zero credibility in my opinion.

6. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has a poignant piece entitled "The Silence of Pope Francis and the Pain of a Church" which discusses how devastating it is for the faith of ordinary Catholics that the pope will offer no response whatsoever to Vigano's letter. Kass seems a little confused by the pope's silence, as he notes that Francis is "revered as a humble and good man" and he's not sure why such a "humble and good man" would drop the ball so colossally. I'm sorry, but I am just astonished at how could anyone have ever thought Francis was humble. I am actually appalled. This may be a little bit of a rant, but I need to get this out. I am so disappointed at how many Catholics went along with this idea that Francis was "humble." He's not humble. He's never been humble. Nothing he has ever done has led me to believe he was humble. I'm seriously astonished that anybody was ever fooled. From the first moment he stepped onto the loggia of St. Peter's I knew the man was not humble.

I remember, in my professional life, I was once in a job where I had to screen resumes. Every now and then I would get a candidate who would write about how he was perfect for the job because he was going to come in and improve all our internal operations, show us how to be more efficient, and bless us with his wealth of knowledge. I used to toss these in the trash. They reeked of arrogance, of a person who doesn't know how to simply learn and receive what is being handed on—the sort of person who isn't satisfied unless he's remade everything he touches with his own personal stamp. Such did Francis' gestures all seem to me: asking the people to pray for him on election night, shunning the red shoes and the papal attire, living in Domus Sancte Marthae, and on and on and on. He has never ever appeared as humble to me and I'm frankly astonished that any thinking person ever thought he was. But everyone seemed so carried away with the galactic humility of this man it was astounding (Related: "Humility and Station in Life").

7. Not long ago I did a post entitled "Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism", in which I lamented that limp-wristed, anthropocentric liturgies constituted a real barrier to evangelism of non-Catholics. Talk about obstacles to evangelism! This current round of sex-abuse scandals takes the cake. I honestly can't imagine why a non-Catholic would want to join the Catholic Church right now, and no, saying "They just need to understand it's Jesus in the Eucharist!" isn't going to change it. As I said in my previous essay, why would anyone care what we think is in the Eucharist if it appears (and quite reasonably at this point) that our institution is a criminal racket organized for the purpose of institutional sexual abuse? There are some who are leaving the Church now over these scandals; predictably, other Catholics are piling on them and shaming them for leaving, or suggesting their "faith wasn't strong enough" or whatever. But Jesus wants us to go after the one sheep who goes astray, not condemn them for leaving. This is only going to shrink the Church's credibility more, and this will only continue until, in the words of Vigano, the homosexual networks are eradicated. Heads need to roll this time. No more "we are deeply saddened" statements, no more committees with new plans, no more useless platitudes. Action. Everyone involved needs to resign and possibly face criminal charges depending on the gravity of their complicity.

8. One final consideration. Take a look at this chart of all the prelates named in the Vigano letter. I offer no comment on how complicit any of these men are in any abuse or cover up; I only list them here because Archbiship Vigano has implicated them in some degree. Look at it carefully and deeply consider it:

 I know there's a lot of things to consider and it's not this easy. Yes. But....I do want to say, this is way "Santo subito!" is never a good idea. This is precisely why you wait for the patient judgment of history before you rush to canonize a prelate.

9. This is a painful time for all of us. Has my faith in Christ and His Church been shaken? I honestly have to say no, but only because I never believed that this sort of thing couldn't happen to begin with. When the scandal first broke, my first impulse was not to blog about it, but to have a difficult conversation with my 16 year old daughter, who obviously has many questions and concerns over the current situation. I grieve for the souls who will be scandalized because of this. I think my faith isn't shaken so much because anyone who has extensively studied history knows that this kind of corruption is absolutely possible within the Church. It's only those who have deluded themselves into thinking this is a new Springtime and Francis is a saint that have to deal with the full brunt of this. As for me, I've never lost sight of the Church's human side. Am I horrified? Yes of course I am. Surprised? No. Unfortunately not.

And so we go on, through the Vale of Tears until Christ makes all things right.