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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