Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Christians Offending People

I know is one week late, but I wanted to offer a reflection on the epistle readings from last week's liturgy, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Novus Ordo. The epistle reading was taken from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 10. St. Paul writes:

...whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1)

The Douay-Rheims has it this way:

...whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God. Be without offence to the Jews, and to the Gentiles, and to the church of God: As I also in all things please all men, not seeking that which is profitable to myself, but to many, that may be saved. Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. 

What does St. Paul mean when he says "avoid giving offense", and that he tries "to please everyone in every way"? He wants to "be without offence" and hence strive "in all things to please all men."

A cursory reading of this passage might suggest that he means we should avoid doing anything a person might find offensive. That, if a person is subjectively offended by something we are doing or saying, we have an obligation to cease that offensive behavior. Now, since there are all manner of things people could be offended by, this would include a very broad spectrum of human behavior and would necessitate a very intimate knowledge of the attitudes and preferences of the people one comes in contact with. It's mind-boggling to think of the degree of egg-shell-walking we would have to perform to keep St. Paul's command understood this way.

In the minds of our progressive friends, this passage would mean we ought not to speak about the truths of the faith to somebody who might be offended by some aspect of them. These days, speaking about Catholicism to someone who is in disagreement with it is often considered inherently offensive.  For example, speaking to a Muslim about Jesus Christ. Understood this way, the passage "avoid giving offense" is utilized in the same sense as "judge not" and "do not do your works before men" - that is, as objections to any vocalization of the faith which may be even remotely confrontational.

However, St. Paul does not mean "avoid giving offence" in this sense. Let us look at three relevant Scripture passages. I think there are probably more, but three should be sufficient to make our case.

First, if St. Paul meant that Christians are forbidden from ever subjectively offending anybody, it would be ridiculous for St. Paul to  write in Romans 9:33 (citing Isaiah) that Christ is "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence." If it is always wrong to give offence, then in what sense can Christ Himself be a "rock of offence"?

Second, if the sense of Paul's words is that we ought to always make sure we are pleasing to men, how can he say in the Epistle to the Galatians, "do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). Clearly St. Paul does not believe we are to always make certain we never offend anyone if he identifies a disposition of man-pleasing contrary to the servanthood Christ requires.

Furthermore, when delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Matt. 11:6). Now, how can Christ admonish His listeners not to be offended by Him if, according to our progressive friends, it would be the responsibility of the speaker to make sure his hearers are not offended? This passage would make no sense; Christ acknowledges no responsibility on His own part to make sure His hearers are not offended by Him. Rather, He simply speaks the truth and tells His hearers it is their responsibility to not be offended by it.

Given all this, how can St. Paul say "avoid giving offense"? Of course, the answer is that when St. Paul admonishes us to "avoid giving offence", he means we should avoid doing actions which are objectively worthy of offence. He does not mean that it is always our problem if somebody is subjectively offended by our words or deeds.

Moderns forget that offense is not a totally subjective thing, even if they want to treat it as such. There are some things one is right to be offended about, other things one is wrong to be offended about. The objective cause of offense matters. One who is offended because of evil is rightly offended and has a kind of just anger; one who is offended because of the truth is in error, of which their offense constitutes a sort of evidence of their blindness. When St. Paul says we must avoid giving offense, he is essentially saying, "Do not commit evil deeds that people are rightly offended by."  He is not saying, "It is your job to make sure no person you interact with is ever offended by you in any respect." That would be unworkable practically and contrary to the meaning of other scriptural passages that mention offense.

This is related to St. Thomas' distinction between various types of scandal. We have an obligation to avoid scandalizing individuals through our sinful behavior, but it is not our concern if people are scandalized by righteous behavior, as the Pharisees were scandalized by the healings of Christ. In that case, such persons are actually guilty of their own scandal due to hardness of heart.

Incidentally - and time for a little crass self-promotion - I have two chapters in my work Book of Non-Contradiction on similar arguments where progressives take passages and try to interpret them in ways to suggest Christians should keep their faith quiet or keep their opinions to themselves.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

St. John of the Cross Academy Building Appeal

Blessings and grace!

The following is some information about Saint John of the Cross Academy, a classical Catholic academy in the vicinity of Lafayette, Louisiana. They are fundraising to construct some new facilities and asked me to promote the project, which I am happy to do.

Saint John of the Cross Academy was founded in 2015 by Tim and Nick  Trosclair and Peter Youngblood with the express purpose of implementing a truly classical and Catholic education. The three had a collective twenty years of experience in diocesan, public, and independent schools, and were frustrated by the insurmountable obstacles to actually teaching anything, let alone to implementing either a true Catholic or classical education. These obstacles resulted from at least four of the following causes: First, pure bureaucratic sloth and lack of any idea of subsidiarity, coupled with a daily dose of garden variety incompetence. Second, class sizes that demonstrate an overemphasis on financial stability (usually resulting from a board that does not understand the principles of education and prefers wealth to wisdom). Third, a clear lack of understanding of what a classical education means. Fourth, a clear lack of understanding of what a Catholic education means (these last two are the most damaging).

For this reason, we decided to remove ourselves from the modern system and place our families and pupils deep within the traditions of Holy Mother Church, as well as the classical heritage of our own western civilization.

The Academy follows four guiding principles:

● First, the Academy must set as its highest end the worship of God in the Traditional Latin Mass.Closely connected with this is praying the Divine Office, which tills the soil of the heart to better receive the infinite graces flowing from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (as of now we are able to daily pray the little hours from Prime to None).
● Second, the Academy must be rural and utilize the land in order to incarnate the Benedictine principle ora et labora so that the pupils may be truly immersed in the prayer and work of God.
● Third, the Academy must remain small, allowing the tutors and pupils the ability to learn from one another and grow in virtue. This is why our bylaws state that the Academy can operate at a maximum tutor to pupil ratio of one to eight.
● Four, the Academy must be classical in its very essence. This means that both the content (fundamentally the Latin and Greek languages) and the method of teaching must comply with the content and methods of those who have taught in this tradition--from Socrates to St.Thomas Aquinas and beyond.
The successes of the program have necessitated a plan for growth to get out of their current quarters (a converted garage) into something more conducive to the Academy's vision. With that in mind, the families of St. John of the Cross Academy have purchased 14 acres of land in rural Sunset, Louisiana in hopes of realizing their vision. They are trying to fund raise $40,000 to build a modest school building. 

Here is the land they have already purchased and hope to develop:

Since Tim Trosclair is a friend and long-time patron of this blog, I told him I would help spread the word about the work of St. John of the Cross Academy. I encourage you to review their materials and their appeal and consider making a donation for this worthy cause. Saint John of the Cross Academy is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Tax ID: 47-4658860.

Website of St. John of the Cross Academy

Click here to read more about the Academy's appeal

To make a donation, please click here.

Please share this with anyone you know who might be interested in supporting this pious endeavor, especially those who live in Louisiana and might have the prospect of getting acquainted with the project in a more personal way.

Pax et bonum

Friday, February 09, 2018

Quiet Grace

The other night, I unexpectedly had to drive my eldest daughter to her ballet class. I rarely do this as I'm usually working in the evenings and this is something that her mother is much more engaged in. But I always relish the chance of spending more time with my eldest and so set my evening plans aside to drive her to her class.

Her class was a few towns over, across about fifteen miles of open country. She has the last class of the evening, so it was already quite dark when I dropped her off at 8:30 PM. What would I do with myself for that free hour? Lately I have taken to jogging whenever I have free time, which is great for clearing my mind on top of the obvious health benefits.

Though it was only about 8 degrees, I started jogging around the town. It's a very small town; those who are from the Midwest will recognize it's type intuitively in my description. An old, Victorian era settlement with all it's historic buildings clustered along one main strip. Tall, two and three story stately brick structures with their Italianate facades, ornate cornices, and oversized rounded-arched windows, all running together. The side streets filled with imposing, Victorian homes of equal splendor, but still quaint in their own small-town USA sorta way.

I started jogging down the main strip, my breath a vaporous fog in front of my face as I moved. I passed by the dark windows of boutiques and resale shops, offices of lawyers and insurance agents, and flower shops - by now all closed. The town was still and quiet. I have always found a certain kind of loveliness in the stillness of a cold, winter night, a beauty that even the ridiculously frigid temperatures of a February winter night in Michigan cannot efface. The snow, the ice, the cold...there has always been a sort of purity about it for me.

I passed under the eerie flash of the town's solitary blinking yellow traffic light. Presently I passed out of the main section of town and saw ahead the looming spire of a church. Upon getting closer, I saw it was an incredible old neo-Gothic structure made entirely out of fieldstone. In the old days it used to be a custom that when a rural congregation was ready to construct it's permanent church, farmers would all contribute stones from their fields to the building of the church. The resulting structure would be neo-Gothic stylistically but constructed entirely out of raw, rounded fieldstone instead of brick. This is somewhat common in rural communities around the Midwest; I assume there are similar traditions elsewhere.

I was pleased to see it was a Catholic church, and even more pleased when I spied warm, yellow light glowing inside the windows. Could they possibly be open, I wondered? In this desolate, cold little village could the Catholic church alone have its doors unlocked at this time of night? I jogged over to the parish steps, huffing, and walked up. Sure enough, not only was the church unlocked, but they were having Eucharistic Adoration. Two older gentlemen were reading and praying quietly. Of course! It's a First Friday, I said to myself.

I was pleasantly surprised with the interior of the church (the pic atop this post). Sure, it had a table altar and the original high altar had been removed. But at least the tabernacle was in its rightful place. Sure, some of it had been modernized.  But by and large it was very aesthetically pleasing. And when the Lord is on the altar, everything is more beautiful.

As I walked in and crossed myself, I noticed the confessional light was on and door ajar. Could I be so fortunate? Yes, indeed! A priest was waiting in the confessional...and there was no line! I had not planned on making a confession this night, but I wasn't about to pass this up. I ducked right in there and did the best I could to make a spontaneous confession. I could tell from his voice that the priest was African. Considered naturally, how very out of place, an African priest in a town like this! But in the order of grace, it was just as it should be. I made a decent confession, received some very consoling words from the warm, slow voice on the other side of the screen, and walked out with my soul lighter.

I knelt in the pew and spent some time adoring the Lord and thanking Him for this unexpected, quiet moment of grace He had made for me here, in this unexpected place. But that's all how the beautiful things in life are. It is easy to point out the ugly, the wicked, the cold, the disappointing...these things manifest themselves easily to us and require no labor to search out. But the beautiful, the good, the unexpected little quiet moments of grace...these things are found only by the diligent who search for them, who are willing to labor on their behalf. The beautiful things in life do not yield themselves up easily, but when they do, they compensate for the ugliness fourfold.

After sometime I meandered back down the main street to my daughter's ballet studio. I was able to spend some time warming up before she came out. She's old enough now that I was able to slump into the passenger seat of my truck and let her drive me home - deo gratias!

Yes, the quiet simple moments of grace are always there. They might not always be a little Catholic parish with the Blessed Sacrament exposed and an open confessional, but grace is always there for those who are disposed to see it. Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Boniface hath returned from exile

Peace and grace in Jesus Christ our Lord!

As you may know, I have been on an extended vacation since November. When I decided to take some time off, I was stressed out, overworked, and had to rectify a lot of chaos in my personal life. It's been almost three months, and a lot has changed since then. Am I still stressed? To some degree. Still overworked? Oh yes. Still a lot of chaos? Yes, but much less so. I feel things are much more ordered now than they were in the fall and I am feeling a lot happier about life in general.

Ergo, I'm going to announce my official return to blogging - tentatively at least. I offer no promises on how frequently I will post, but I definitely am starting to feel the bloggy itch again.

What have I been doing with myself these past three months? A lot. Living life. In many respects, I've been doing things I should have been doing a long time ago. I do not want to go into a lot of detail out of fear of sounding virtuous, but essentially I've been working on just trying to be a better Christian in the ever-changing circumstances of my life. I've been able to spend more time with my children; I've made unexpected friendships with people I never would have probably been open to befriending before; I've stepped outside my comfort zone and engaged with people suffering from all manner of problems, sometimes being able to offer valuable help, sometimes having to stand by helplessly while I watch them destroy themselves. I got caught up writing letters to old friends. I've been able to attend to my health more and am in the best shape of my life. Rectified a lot of issues in my personal life that needed attention. And I've learned many valuable lessons about grace, honesty, love, and humility.

Professionally, things are going better than they've ever gone. Spiritually, I suppose I am responding to the continuing crisis in the Church by enfolding myself further in my own spiritual life - on letting Christ be formed in me, and worrying less and less about following up with the latest cluster at the Vatican. Earlier this month, a certain neo-Catholic apologist contacted me and asked me to participate in a debate with a well-known theologian on Amoris Laetitia and whether Francis is a good pope or a bad pope, in which I would represent the "traditionalist position." Aside from noting that what constitutes a "good" or "bad" pope can be riddled with subjectivities, I had to tell him I was not interested, because I had not even followed the debate. I haven't read Amoris Laetitia, and not following the controversy around it, I am not competent to argue about it. I'm just...past the point where I see what is going on in Rome as vitally connected with my own day to day walk with Christ.

Yes, my friends, I know the big stuff matters. I'm not suggesting it doesn't. But I do think the best we can do in times like this, if we are not to go mad, is to keep our hearts focused on the truth, maintain our integrity, perform our duties, and cling to the cross. Ultimately, my faith does not hinge on what happens in the Vatican. In the Middle Ages, there were plenty of Catholics in places like Ireland or Poland who, by virtue of their distance, might not even know who the current pontiff was, let alone be following what was going on in Vatican politics. That's what I have been as if I was a Catholic in Greenland circa 1150 AD. And living in Michigan in the winter, it might as well be Greenland. The picture atop this post is one I snapped of my yard and the field across the road last month.

So yes, dear friends, I am back and happy to bring Unam Sanctam Catholicam into its 11th year. Bless you all!