Thursday, December 31, 2020

Best Posts of 2020

We have finally made it to the end of 2020. So much has happened this year, it seems difficult to process that only twelve months have gone by. Do you remember the big news around December 31, 2019? I will remind you—we were arguing about whether Pope Francis slapped a Chinese woman or not. Crazy how much the ground has shifted since then in so many ways. Twelve months later we are at a place where the faithful are fighting just to attend Mass in many places and basic liberties are under attack throughout the world in a way few of us imagined.

The year was formative for me in many ways as well. Though it was challenging socially, it was not bad for me professionally; in fact 2020 was probably my most professionally successful year ever. I also seem to have had several breakthroughs in my spiritual life that have shifted me into a richer and more rewarding Christian life. I hope you all also had some unexpected blessings in 2020. For me, I will always remember it as a challenging year, but a formative year that was good for me personally.

I was unable to blog as much as I would have liked this year, and honestly sometimes there was so much going on that by the time I had something to say I questioned whether it was still relevant. Even so, there were a few articles this year that were among my personal favorites:

Some Hard Talk about the Knights of Columbus: One of my most popular posts of the year, addressing the elephant in the room about the Knights of Columbus declining membership—young men are bored by an organization whose obligations are tedious and unfulfilling.

Our New Civic Religion: The ideology of Black Lives Matter has assumed the form of a new civic religion. 

It's not "Crucifying Your Neighbor" to Attend Mass: Responding to an essay by one of our favorite interlocutors who was arguing that it is "crucifying your neighbor" to attend Mass during the pandemic.

"Utilitarianism": The Latest Word Being Used Incorrectly: Responding to objections that anti-lockdown Catholics are taking a "utilitarian" approach to human life in the pandemic.

Some Coronavirus Catch-Up: Though probably dated now, this article from the first weeks of the lockdowns was my first attempt to respond to some of the stupidity that only became more endemic as 2020 wore on.

Balancing Truth and Humility: My most recent article, encouraging us all to balance our zeal for the truth with authentic Christian humility.

On the Ridiculous Extension of the Term "Pro-Life": Liberal Catholics have a tendency to continuously expand the definition of "Pro-Life" until it becomes equated entirely with political progressivism.

On Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church:
This was by far my most popular article of the year, in terms of views. Examining the reasons a well-known Catholic family gave for leaving the Church and how they were related to the phenomenon of "Wokeness."

The Problem of the "Reverent Novus Ordo": The fact that the Novus Ordo can be celebrated reverently is not an argument in its favor; in fact, it exemplifies its greatest weakness.

I look forward to another year of blogging. A special blessing to those of my friends who have stuck with me this long. What news of your own lives?

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Balancing Truth and Humility

"The truth shall set you free", our Lord promises in the Gospel (John 8:32). To stand in the truth gives one's life stability, direction, and purpose. It gives balance to our spiritual lives and prevents us from "from being tossed to and for by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14). The desire for truth is inherent in human nature, as Aristotle observed, "all men by nature desire to know." This is a consequent of our rational nature imparted to us by God.

The subjective possession of that truth, however, can work strangely in us. Universal human experience reveals that often there are no more intransigent people than those convinced that they are right. Whether they actually are right matters little—the subjective belief that one is right is enough. Arguing with a person who is utterly certain of their rectitude can be endlessly frustrating. Such experiences demonstrate that, though truth can set us free, it can also make one arrogant. The universality of this experience should be sufficient to point to some connection between certitude and arrogance.

I would never claim that certainty makes one arrogant; that the connection exists does not mean it is necessary. There are a great many of us who live the truth faithfully while cultivating a genuine spirit of humility. Some of you, readers of this blog, whom I have been blessed to know in real life And the saints furnish innumerable examples as well. St. Bernard and St. Francis, despite their profound spiritual insights, were exceptionally humble men. St. Catherine of Siena remonstrated with popes but was docile and meek. If anyone had a right to be arrogant about his knowledge it was Moses, of whom Scripture says "the LORD would speak to Moses personally, as a man speaks to his friend" (Ex. 33:11); and yet Scripture also says "Moses was a man exceedingly meek above all men that dwelt upon earth" (Num. 12:3). Moses' unique knowledge of God did not make him arrogant; rather, it made him humble. 

Clearly a firm grasp of the truth need not necessarily make one prideful or intransigent. But it is a common enough pitfall nonetheless. I know this truth painfully, as I myself have frequently fallen into it in my life. There is a certain perverse sort of pride that can come with knowing you are right, especially in matters of faith where one is professing the very truth revealed by God Himself. A kind of ego contra mundum attitude can spring up, swelling ever greater to the degree one is opposed or contradicted. It's easy to feel like we are a noble martyr for the truth when in reality our defense is much more about being right. 

And obviously it's not an either-or proposition: sometimes we really are defending God's truth but doing so from selfish motives or with off-putting behavior. It can be hard to tease out the dividing line when we reflect on it. 

The question then, brethren, is how can we maintain a faith with such certainty that we are willing to be slain for it whilst simultaneously avoiding the vice of pride that is always liable to ensnare us? How can we be strong of faith but not obnoxiously strong-willed, arrogant, or just annoying when it comes to discussing it? How can we make sure we have removed the plank from our own eye before removing the speck from our brother's?

The only real answer is a continuous examination of our motives and focus on our own spiritual life and disposition, which is really the obligation of all Christians. However, I have found the following specific methods helpful over the years in cultivating humility about the treasure we possess:

(1) Resist the Temptation to view Faith in Sectarian Terms. It is easy to view the Faith—especially traditional Catholicism—as a sort of socio-political "movement", viewing it through a lens that is almost sectarian. Traditional Catholicism has its own media outlets, its own talking heads, its own "talking points", its own publications, its own partisans, and its own agenda. Not that it is wrong to have these things by any means, but it does mean we must always be on guard against treating the Faith the way we treat our own moribund secular politics. The Faith certain has socio-political ramifications, but it is not, at its heart, a socio-political "movement", and refusing to treat it as such helps dissipate some of the hostility that comes with sectarianism.

(2) Examen of Conscience for the Fruits of the Spirit. St. Paul teaches us that the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our souls are nine: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law." (Gal 5:22-23) When I was a younger Catholic, I was prone to skim over passages like this and focus my attention more on meaty doctrinal verses. Not that I thought this stuff was unimportant. More like, I took it for granted that I already possessed these fruits and did not need to worry about it. But a soul that cannot deal with disagreement without becoming arrogant and puffed up is not demonstrating these fruits. That is why St. Paul warns that if someone is arrogant in their talk it may be a sign that they lack the power of God in their life (1 Cor. 4:18); he also warns against Christians whose lives are characterized by "quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, [and] conceit" (2 Cor. 12:20). As I have gotten older, I have become more introspective about whether I possess these fruits, and more cognizant that a spirit that is joyful, patient, and gentle is not one that is habitually arrogant. I realize this is a little subjective, and there will always be those people who are wrongly accused of being arrogant merely because they are taking a stand for the truth. But in my experience, when a person is peaceful it is not difficult to disagree with them in a friendly manner.

(3) Remember Faith is a Gift: The awareness of faith as a gift is tremendous antidote against being puffed up with pride. Sometimes I think when we get arrogant about the truth we possess, it is because we somehow view the truth as "ours"—often, it feels like something we discovered through our own study, our own labors, our own searching; something we built with our own mental and spiritual blood, sweat, and tears. We must remember, however, that faith is a gift. It is a gift of God in a threefold sense: (a) Divine Revelation itself is a communication from God to man, given gratuitously out of love, of truths that we would have no way of knowing by reason alone (b) the faith we enjoy today is something that was passed on to us by the Church of ages past delivered "once and for all to the saints" (Jude 1:3) which we receive as an inheritance (c) the theological virtue of faith itself is a gift bestowed on each one of us by God through baptism and maintained by grace. None of us saves himself. It is very difficult to be prideful about the certitude of faith we possess when we view it wholly as a gift.

(4) A Lively Awareness of Grace: What does it mean to have "eyes to see" as the Scriptures say (Ezk. 12:2)? To see with eyes of flesh is one thing, to see with eyes of the spirit is another. Spiritual sight is awareness of the movements of grace behind the scenes that form men's souls and bring about the will of God in the affairs of men. Focusing on the working of grace helps us to decrease and Christ to increase, because we become more aware of the actions of God behind our affairs. Though of course we always understand the power of a good argument, we become less inclined to think, "It is my job to change this person's mind through my persuasive rhetoric" and more accustomed to see these things as in the hand of God. When I dispense divine truth, I am merely as one beggar trying to show another beggar where to find some food. See also: "Christ Will Give You Victory" (USC, Jan. 2019)