Monday, December 27, 2021

My First Christmas as a Christian

This December I have been remembering my first Christmas as a Christian. It was Christmas of 1999. I had only come to Christ scarcely two months earlier. What a whirlwind those early days of faith were! It reminds me of the passage about the scales falling from St. Paul's eyes. Finding Christ—or rather being found by Him—was like having my mind flooded with light, the ground of my being shaken, and seeing life anew. Sometimes I felt like I was gazing out upon creation as if I were the first man, Adam looking upon a new world fresh from the hands of its maker, the breath of God still in his lungs.

When Christmas came that year, I was profoundly aware that it would henceforth take on a new meaning for me. For twenty years I had celebrated Christmas with my family according to secular custom: vaguely aware of its commemoration of the birth of Christ but primarily as a holiday about Santa Claus, family, and gift giving. But even as a child I'd always felt something special about Christmas, especially Christmas Eve. It seemed like a charmed night, a night where the wonder and magic of the old days lived and walked again.

After I had embraced Christ, I realized that, in a certain sense, that year would be my first "real" Christmas. It would be the first time observing the birth of Christ as a brother in Christ. This realization overwhelmed me with gratitude for the holy day I had grown up with but only then begun to understand. Knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He means enriched the celebration of His birth in ways I'd never appreciated. But how would this new realization change my celebration? How would I observe Christmas differently?

This was tricky. I was still living at home and thus how the day was observed was going to very much depend on my parents, who were secular. Furthermore, I had not yet revealed my conversion to them. They knew I was acting a bit differently, but I had not yet figured out how or when to tell them. My conversion was still very new, and I did not want to "cast my pearls before swine", as our Lord said. I believed if I told them of my conversion too soon they would not take me seriously or mock my sudden piety after years of heathenism. So I didn't feel like I could make any requests of them to celebrate any differently.

In the end, the one tangible thing I did was I got my own little Christmas tree. My parents had the large family tree downstairs, but I had this small artificial tree, about two feet tall, that I had previously had in an apartment. I set the tree up upstairs on a table in my parent's sitting room and decorated it with the few ornaments I possessed of my own. When Christmas Eve came, I spent a lot of time up in that room on my knees before the little tree in prayer. I was not yet Catholic, so it had not occurred to me that going to church was fitting for the night. But I at least had enough Christian sense to know I should be praying.

It was snowy that Christmas Eve, but not snowing. It had snowed hard the day before; this night it was peaceful. The land was blanketed in about a foot. The sky was bright and clear, illumined by a moon almost full. The Michigan countryside about was silent, the pine branches, weighted down with snow, drooped. The snow was immaculate, untouched save for the occasional rabbit track. It shone white and twinkled like crystal in the moonlight.  Beams of pale moonlight streamed into the windows of the room and fell on the carpeted floor. I knelt there in the moonlight, before the little Christmas tree, with my arms spread in the ancient orans posture (though I knew neither the name of the posture nor its antiquity).

I again had that sense that this of is if this was the first night. The countryside draped in freshly fallen gave a feeling of purity, of cleansing, of freshness. The light of the moon streaming into the window seemed to me like the light of the Star of Bethlehem. I don't recall what I was praying about that Christmas Eve; but I remember vividly how I felt. I felt like that Christmas was the first Christmas. I felt like Christ was being born right then, as if I were a witness alongside the shepherds and animals of the stable. It was such a tender sentiment...I was so new in faith, and in a very real way, Christ was being born in me at the time as well. Everything I saw on the outside seemed to reflect the reality I recognized on the inside.

I've never had a Christmas quite like that one. It's been hard to recapture that. I had no worldly cares that year. I was just living at my parents, not married, no kids, no girlfriend, just a low maintenance gas station job. I was completely unencumbered. Then, gradually, year after year, life closed in on me. To some degree, there's a paradox where the busyness of preparing for a holiday can obstruct one from actually entering into the spirit of the holiday. Too many Christmases since have been marred this way. I suppose it's just part of dealing with holidays with a large family, kids, and so on.

But, ah, one day when I am old and my face is weathered and my hands are cracked with the rigors of age, and I am closer to my life's end than its beginning, I hope again to come to the feast of the birth of our Lord with nothing save my piety, kneeling in the moonlight of a midwinter's night.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Pope Denethor: Reflections on the CDW Responsa

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment in the legendary Lord of the Rings film trilogy. In the Lord of the Rings, you will recall the character of Denethor, the Chief Steward of Gondor. While the city of Gondor is collapsing before the onslaught of Mordor, Denethor abandons his obligations to defend his city. Instead, he prioritizes the burning of himself and his son Faramir alive in a despairing ritual murder-suicide. The hobbit Pippin, who has pledged to defend Gondor, tells Denethor that there is still hope and tries to prevent him from carrying out his mad plan. Determined to autodestruct himself and his kingdom, Denethor throws Pippin out of his chambers, telling him, "I release you from my service. Go now and die in what way seems best to you."

Like Denethor, Pope Francis, another autocrat drunk with power and intent on continuing his mad murder-suicide of the Church, now throws traditional Catholics out of ecclesial life, telling us, "Go now and die in what way seems best to you." That's right, friends, I am talking about the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments' Responsa ad dubia, issued today clarifying certain questions about the implementation of  Traditionis Custodes. There's been a lot of commentary on this today, most of it more eloquent and well-researched than anything I could slap together. But as always, I present you with my own humble reflections.

I. The logic of the Responsa is right out of bizarro world. I am used to reading nonsense from the Vatican, but what I read in the Responsa beggars belief in its inversion of cause and effect. From the explanatory note on Article 4:

All seminary formators, seeking to walk with solicitude in the direction indicated by Pope Francis, are encouraged to accompany future Deacons and Priests to an understanding and experience of the richness of the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council. This reform has enhanced every element of the Roman Rite and has fostered—as hoped for by the Council Fathers—the full, conscious and active participation of the entire People of God in the liturgy, the primary source of authentic Christian spirituality.

So, if a prospective ordinand looks at the chaos in the Church, looks at the flatlined vocations, rampant sex abuse, pathetic liturgies, doctrinal aberrations, plummeting demographics, and general malaise across the Catholic world and questions whether the Second Vatican Council might just maybe have some relation to this, he is to be lovingly told that the problems in the Church are not due to the Council, but to our failure to appreciate the "richness" the Council bequeathed upon us! The amount of ignorance, duplicity, dishonesty, brainwashing (or all of the above) it takes to assert that is stunning, even by Vatican standards. And the whole document reeks of such backwards logic. 

II. Indeed, the Responsa's condemnation of the very things the Vatican itself is causing is reminiscent of the institutional gaslighting perpetrated by Communist governments. Roche says it is sad that the liturgy has become a cause for division; who is currently guilty of fanning the flames of that division? It is certainly not traditionalists. He condemns "sterile polemics" and the exploitation of the liturgy for "ideological viewpoints", yet "sterile polemics" have been the very fuel of the Vatican's assault on the traditional liturgy—and as for liturgy in service of ideology, it is the progressives who have made the Spirit of the Council into the "super-dogma" Ratzinger once spoke of, applying it to the liturgy for the purpose of fostering the new ecclesiology. The Vatican accuses traditional Catholics of its own vices and then stomps on us in the name of mercy. It is like Orwell's Ministry of Peace, whose task is to wage relentless war. And like the antagonist of 1984, we are to believe that Big Brother crushes us because he loves us.

III. Also, isn't it funny how quickly the Vatican can respond to dubia when it wants to? Administering any large organization requires bureaucracy, but the Vatican is a bureaucracy of the worst kind: it either hides behind ambiguity and implied meaning or issues diktat after diktat as the situation requires—the "requirement" of the situation being not the cura animarum, but the centralization of power on the Peronist model. Authority, legislation, appointments, clarifications, communication, even the truth itself: these are wielded in the service of raw power, and that is their only consistency. When and if the Vatican "clarifies" anything has to do with the preservation of power. That's it.
IV. Also, who are the morons who even asked for this "clarification"? Everyone knows that when you get a directive that allows some wiggle room, you shut up about it. The bishops who asked for clarification are like that kid in high school who, two minutes before the bell rings, raises his hand and tells the teacher, "You forgot to assign homework!" Seriously. When a directive is issued in such a way that allows you to maintain some modicum of independence, you don't ask for clarification. You read the instruction, say, "Got it," and go do your thing.

V. "But Boniface" you say, "the bishops who asked for clarification are supporters of Traditionis Custodes! It makes sense for them to ask because they want to clamp down the Traditional Latin Mass even further!" Yes, yes, of course—but it is still moronic for such bishops to ask because Traditionis Custodes was not only an assault on the ancient liturgy, it was also an unprecedented attack on episcopal authority. Any bishop who supports Traditionis Custodes is sawing off the branch he sits upon, regardless of his view of the TLM. Traditionis Custodes claimed to be able to tell a bishop how and when he can utilize diocesan facilities. The Responsa goes even further, as it literally tells a bishop what can be advertised in parish bulletins and what times parish activities like coffee and donuts can be held. Check out the commentary on Article 3§2

...such a celebration [of the Traditional Mass] should not be included in the parish Mass schedule, since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group. Finally, it should not be held at the same time as the pastoral activities of the parish community. It is to be understood that when another venue becomes available, this permission will be withdrawn.

This is why I say any bishop who supports Traditionis Custodes is stupid, simply from the point of view of preserving episcopal prerogatives. What bishop is daft enough to want to encourage such micromanaging? Any bishop who supports this is encouraging further Vatican intrusions into the minutiae of diocesan life. And to the extent you find a bishop who is even going to bother to enforce this, in the age of social media how much does such a prohibition on advertising in the Church bulletin matter? It's something only a dying 85 year old man with no concept of modern technology would write. Bishops aren't going to micromanage this, and even if they did, everyone would just go elsewhere after Mass, or congregate in the parking lot, like they do now anyways. Pathetic. An increasingly feckless and impotent Church, trying to hyper-control what is outside their grasp to convince themselves of the delusion they are in control of a situation (h/t to Kevin Tierney for this take).

IV. The explanatory note on Article 3§2 is one of the most condescending things I have ever read. On the prohibition of using a parish church for celebration of the traditional Mass, it states:

The exclusion of the parish church is intended to affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist according to the previous rite, being a concession limited to these groups, is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.

Wow. I am not part of the ordinary life of the parish community. That is just incredibly insulting. But what's even more insulting is the statement that follows:

There is no intention in these provisions to marginalize the faithful who are rooted in the previous form of celebration: they are only meant to remind them that this is a concession to provide for their good.

Ha! No intention to marginalize! What a sterling example of the contemporary Church's obsession with fiat truth: something is so merely because we say it is. We attack, we crush, we ghettoize, we marginalize, but you are not marginalized because we say you are not. Just like the declarations that the Novus Ordo preserves the tradition of the Roman rite, or that the post-Conciliar Church and pre-Conciliar Church are in continuity (see: "Phantasm of Fiat Continuity", USC, May, 2016). Reality conforms to our desires merely because we will it to. Where have I heard this before? Oh that's is the same perverse ideology that is destroying western civilization! It's the same mindset behind "My gender is whatever I will it to be." Or, "The Church's destruction is actually a New Springtime!" It's all the same rot. But fortunately reality does not yield to administrative dictate. "There is no intention in these provisions to marginalize"; here the Vatican destroys us while saying, "It's not personal." Well, in the words of Captain America, "It kinda feels personal."

VI. As an example of the weak logic in this document, let's take the issue of the Pontificale Romanum. The Pontificale Romanum contains the liturgical rites typically performed by bishops. It includes the Mass, but also things like the consecration of chrism, administration of Confirmation, etc. Now remember, Traditionis Custodes concerns itself only with the celebration of Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962; it is silent on these other ancillary rites. Traditionis Custodes 8 says, "Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated." Since the provisions of Traditionis Custodes do not concern themselves with the sorts of rites found in the Pontificale, one may surmise that celebrating these rites does not contradict Traditionis Custodes and hence are still permitted. Since restrictive legislation needs to be interpreted strictly, the fact that TC does not specifically mention these other rituals would imply they are exempt. Essentially, Traditionis Custodes 8 does not imply the pre-conciliar Pontificale is abrogated; in fact, the opposite is inferred. In light of this possibility, a dubium was submitted specifically asking if the provisions of Traditionis Custodes allow for the use of the pre-conciliar Pontificale. The CDW's Responsa says: order to make progress in the direction indicated by the Motu Proprio, [the Congregation] should not grant permission to use the Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum which predate the liturgical reform, these are liturgical books which, like all previous norms, instructions, concessions and customs, have been abrogated (cf. Traditionis Custodes, n. 8).

Notice it states that the Pontificale has been abrogated and cites Traditionis Custodes 8 as its authority for this. But not only does Traditionis Custodes 8 not say this, but there is good reason to infer the opposite. In fact, a question about Traditionis Custodes 8 was the very thing that prompted the dubium to begin with! And yet the CDW responds to the query about the meaning of TC 8 by citing TC 8. The Pontificale is simply declared abrogated with no legislative text quoted in support. TC 8 cannot be the authority for questions about the meaning of TC 8. It's like if a student in math class says to the teacher, "I do not understand how to solve the equation in problem number 8" and the teacher says "Okay. See problem number 8 for clarification." The reasoning is entirely circular.

VII. Continuing on examining the awful response to Article 3§2, we see how ignorant the Vatican is about who actually goes to the Traditional Latin Mass. It naively assumes that everyone who attends the Traditional Latin Mass is part of an officially established dedicated group. On the matter of the exclusion of the parish church as a setting for Traditional Latin Masses, it says:

The exclusion of the parish church is intended to affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist according to the previous rite, being a concession limited to these groups, is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community...Moreover, such a celebration should not be included in the parish Mass schedule, since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group.

The CDW and Holy Father seem to envision a rigid distinction between Novus Ordo Catholics and Traditionalist Catholics, as if the two categories never ever overlap; there are "ordinary" Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo, and then there are "these groups" out there who are completely divorced from the parish structure and are "not part of the ordinary life of the parish community." Francis seems entirely ignorant of the fact that there are many Novus Ordo Catholics who go to the Traditional Latin Mass and that not everyone who attends the TLM does so exclusively. I wish I could remember where I read this, but some years after Summorum Pontificum, a study was published indicating that about 80% of Latin Masses in the United States were diocesan Latin Masses—that is, they were offered by diocesan priests at Novus Ordo parishes as an additional Mass in the regular weekly lineup. Some of the Mass attendees were people who went exclusively to TLMs, but a great many were Novus Ordo attendees who enjoyed going to both forms of the Mass or were learning about the TLM. For example, the parish I am registered at has a TLM once per month. The attendees at that TLM are probably 90% Novus Ordo Catholics. They are not outside the ordinary life of the parish; they are the parish. What about them? What about the tens of thousands of Catholics who are not part of "groups" but are in fact "part of the ordinary life of the parish community"? The fact that Francis has never acknowledged this overlap demonstrates the degree to which he is ignorant of who he is legislating about—and why he should absolutely not be making judgments about these matters.

VIII. Despite the darkness of the current situation, I believe it is the last gasp of a withering regime about to be consigned to the dust bin of history. Our current moment is akin to the second Iconoclast persecution, or the final years of the Diocletianic persecution. It is the final, desperate bid of a dying man to consolidate his power before he goes the way of all flesh. That's not to say there I think there is going to be some sudden restoration of tradition; I don't buy into the traddie wet dream that one day some future pope is going to anathematize and condemn all this modern garbage and formally restore tradition. When and if a restoration comes, it won't be nearly so sudden or tidy. But I do believe that Traditionis Custodes specifically will be overturned in short order. Francis is not popular outside of his circle of sycophants, and I predict TC will be gone shortly after he is.  

IX. You know, on a natural level, if you are part of any institution, there are bound to be decisions made that you disagree with. And it's infinitely easier to acquiesce to disagreeable decisions when you can still presume good faith on the part of others within the organization. I used to work in local government as an elected official, and of course there were frequent disagreements with my fellow city council members. But they were all sincerely civic minded people who were trying their best. Even when we disagreed, there was this sense of "Hey, we all want what's best for the community. We just have different opinions on how to get there." This attitude, this presumption of good faith, made compromise possible; furthermore, it made it easier in those situations when you had to say, "I might not agree with what's happening, but I've been outvoted and I have to work with what I've been given." But if that presumption of good faith is destroyed, there's nothing left except a power struggle, a state of war within the institution. I think Pope Francis destroyed what little presumption of good faith existed with Traditionis Custodes. But now good faith is not only destroyed; it's been thoroughly defecated upon. And now the liturgical wars Benedict put to bed have been renewed. And all for nothing. 

X. "What are we to do?" Why is everyone so obsessed with asking this question? I don't know. How can there be any uniform response? It all depends on the situation within your specific diocese, your own spiritual life, priorities, and centrality of the traditional liturgy within your life. Vague platitudes like "pray" or "resist" mean little outside of the particulars "on the ground" in your diocese. I will tell you one reflection I had today though: sometimes the obstacles we face become so enormous, the dishonesty of our opponents so brazen, the malice so vicious, the scope of the disaster so broad and overwhelming that the circle of tragedy comes full circle, and you find yourself just laughing at it all. During the years of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, there was more a place for impassioned pleas and eloquent argumentation fueled by righteous indignation. Now, confronted with shenanigans of Francis and his ilk, all one can do is squeeze the clown nose and say, "Honk honk. Boomer's gonna boom." And that itself is a consolation. They can take the Mass away from me. They can banish all beauty from the churches, strip every vestige of tradition from the liturgy, and stuff the cathedrals of yesteryear with Pachamamas galore. They can ostracize me, tie me to the stake, and light the fire. They can take my very life. But one thing that escapes their power, the one thing they can never do, is to stop me from laughing at their dumb asses. No sir, I will still be laughing at this ridiculous debacle until the end of the world. So that is the one thing I would suggest we do: laugh scathingly at the sheer idiocy of the entire situation, not just with TC, but the entire post-Conciliar experiment. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Discouragement from Habitual Sin

Do you struggle with discouragement from habitual sin? For many Catholics this is a huge problem. There is a pattern we tend to fall into: we do well for a while, but when faced with temptation we give in and sin. The sin brings apathy, a sense of "Well, I already blew it, what's the use in trying?" So you go into a slump—your prayer life suffers, you keep committing the same sin over again (because you already messed up, so what does it matter?), and you get apathetic. Maybe a week goes by. Maybe a month. You feel like a slob, spiritually and in other respects. Eventually you are so unhappy and angry with your life that you rouse yourself; you say, "I have to get right with God." You go to confession and lay your soul bare before a confessor. He gives you some good advice, you repent tearfully, receive absolution, and go out rejoicing, resolved to do better this time. You are grateful for God's mercy and kindness at giving you another shot and things go well for you spiritually. Things continue this way for a time—maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months—until you get complacent, get tempted, and fall again. Then the cycle repeats. Year after year after year. Maybe decade after decade.

This can be frustrating in the short term, but the long term consequences are more dire. Repetition of this pattern over many years can lead us down a dark path, the steps of which include:

  • Acedia (spiritual sloth): "It's inevitable I'm going to commit serious sin sooner or later so there's no point trying to make spiritual progress."

  • Distraction: Unhealthy focus or preoccupation with just "that one sin" such that you ignore other important aspects of your spiritual life (see USC, "Distraction of That One Sin").

  • Resentment: Simmering bitterness towards God. "It is unfair of God to prohibit something I am unable to restrain myself from doing. It puts me in an impossible position."

  • Blindness: Inability to see the working of grace in ones own life.

  • Dulling of Conscience: Having accepted the inevitability of certain sins, one's conscience dulls to them; we get used to that sin or at least to the idea of living with the sin.

  • More Time Outside of Grace: The lengths of time we perceive ourselves to be in a state of mortal sin grow longer and longer; the times we are disposed to receive Communion grow shorter and fewer, until they are like small islands of grace in a vast sea of sin.

  • Loss of charity: A gradual hardening of heart takes over. We become jaded and angry, impatient with ourselves and others. The very ideas of spiritual progress, grace, etc. seem like jokes.

  • Loss of Hope: "At the rate this is going, It'll be a miracle if I make Purgatory." 

  • Despair: "How can I—or anyone—possibly avoid going to Hell? The vast majority of us are simply doomed." 

  • Loss of Faith: You no longer perceive the issue as your problem, but as a problem with the faith itself. "The Catholic religion doesn't work. It only gives me stress and anxiety. This system simply can't be the truth. I can no longer assent to this."

As we can see, discouragement at habitual sin can create a slow decline that ultimately leads to loss of faith. It is good to recall that Satan is in this for the long haul; while individual sins certainly matter, the devil aiming bigger than that; he is trying to create an overall trajectory in our life that leads us away from God. He is attacking us tactically, while we tend to get bogged down in the bushes, unable to see the forest for the trees.

Do you recognize this pattern in your life? Even if you are not to the point of despair or loss of faith, does any of this sound familiar? It very well may. I've been here for sure. And so have many Catholics, for whom the pattern above is the reality of their spiritual life. Not all will eventually lose faith, of course; people walk spiral down this vortex to varying degrees. Many of us have been (or are on) this path somewhere.

So what's the way out? The real problem is that "Try harder next time" and like advice doesn't seem to help. Most have been struggling every way we know how to free ourselves from habitual sin for years. Some eventually have victory; many don't. Is there a better way?

We ultimately need to reframe how we look at this problem, and it starts with revisiting the idea of "winning" and "losing" against temptation. When we are tempted, we are thrown into a spiritual battle, a battle we can either win or lose. But when do we win or lose—at what point is a particular spiritual conflict won, or conversely, at what point is it lost? Most of us will answer that the battle is won when we pass on without committing the sin, and that it is lost if we commit the sin we are struggling with. How many of us, after fighting with a temptation, fail to persevere and then think, "Well, I lost that battle", or something similar?

While it's true that victory of temptation is a "win", it is not always true that committing the sin is a "loss", at least in a certain sense. What I mean is this: thinking "I lost that battle" implies that the spiritual battle is over once you have committed the sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. What happens after we sin is just as important. The battle isn't just whether you will sin; it is how you will respond to the victory or failure. If you have victory, will you become complacent and idle? If you are defeated, will you become discouraged, fall into a slump, and go down the slope described above? The battle after the sin is pivotal, as it determines whether you will be solidified in a certain spiritual "trajectory."

Therefore, when you commit a habitual sin, rather than thinking, "I've lost again", or "I blew it", or "There's no point in praying or trying now that I'm already in a state of sin", instead think, "The battle is not over. I am moving into a new stage of the battle. I can still win." Even if you have sinned, your prayers still matter. God is still just as invested in helping you. You don't need to throw in the towel. You don't need to beat yourself up; focusing excessively on your own failures is itself a trap of pride. The battle has not ended; I can have victory at any time if I choose God now in this moment. The moment of grace was not at some place in the past when you were struggling between light and darkness; the moment of grace is now; it is always now. All you have to do is strike now and you win. Every time. The victories will be varied and the journey will be bumpy, but you'll get to where you want to go. Where you are heading is more important than whether the road you are on has potholes. It's not so much whether you hit potholes; it's whether the potholes eventually cause you to give up and turn around. 

Maybe this is nothing new. I am certainly not promising any breakthroughs. But I am sharing something that has been extremely helpful to me in my own spiritual life. Realizing that the battle does not end if I sin, that the moment of grace is now, and that as long as I seek God in any given moment I always win have been transformational principles. Perhaps they will be of some help to you as well.

Happy Advent brethren

Related: "Christ Will Give You Victory" (Jan. 2019, USC)

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Some Updates

A few months ago I posted an appeal for donations in conjunction with the fourteenth year anniversary of this blog. The purpose of the appeal was to help defray the expenses of updating the woefully dated USC sister site, fund the professional design for some new book projects, and translate my RCIA notes and outlines into Spanish. Unfortunately I did not raise enough to cover all these projects, but enough of you stepped forward that I was able to make some progress. The new Unam Sanctam Catholicam sister site has been constructed, and I am currently migrating all the content over. There is still some design stuff I need to work out, but it feels good to be getting this underway. I especially want to thank one reader who gave an extremely generous donation that covered a big chunk of cost. Deo gratias. 

Anyhow, not much else I wanted to say except that work is going on. I hope to have the new site launched by the time we celebrate this blog's fifteenth anniversary in June of 2022. If you'd still like to contribute, you can use this Paypal link to make a one time donation or set up a recurring donation, which some of you were generous enough to do. Thank you sincerely. It is my hope that once the new site is complete I can turn my attention to working to get the RCIA outlines translated into Spanish, and then Arabic, Lord willing. But for now, one step at a time.

Blessings and grace to you and pray for me, a poor sinner


Sunday, November 14, 2021

We Should Watch for Signs of Christ's Return

It is mid-November, and the Church is contemplating the Last Things. There is a really awful strain of thought out there when it comes to dealing with eschatology and the Second Coming. These are the people who say, "God doesn't want us to think about this. We don't know when it's going to happen; it could be tomorrow or ten-thousand years from now. We're not supposed to look for signs anyway. It's not worth focusing on." Usually, they trot out Mark 13:32: "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The reasoning seems to be, "Since Jesus Himself says He doesn't know the hour, what purpose is there for us to think about it?"

This is such a sadly misguided reductivist reading of the text. If we read the entirety of Mark 13, we will see that the whole chapter is a string of signs that Jesus specifically tells us to watch for. I'm not going to parse the entire chapter, but let's look at the immediate context of Mark 13:32. Jesus was asked about the signs of the end of the age. After listing various indicators (such as persecution), He says:

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:24-37)

First, notice the lesson of the fig tree: "As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates." In this passage Jesus is specifically saying that signs manifested on the earth will give us knowledge that His coming is near. How anybody can read this passage and think we are not supposed to pay attention to signs in the world as indicator's of Christ's return is beyond me. He literally says, "There's going to be signs that will give you insight into the proximity of my return."

Only after saying this does He say that nobody knows the day or the hour. How does this fit in with what Christ said in the previous verse? In verse 31 He says to pay attention because the signs of the times will let us know when He will return, while in verse 32 He says no man knows the day nor the hour. How do these go together?

The answer is pretty simple. Just because nobody knows the precise moment when Christ will return does not mean there isn't anything we can know about it. While cautioning us that knowledge of the exact time is not possible, Jesus wants us to know that we can discern the season of His coming. That's why His parables on this question are seasonal: when we see the fig tree putting forth leaves, we know we are moving into the season of summer—and what to expect when summer comes. Similarly, we cannot know the exact day nor the hour, but through attention to the "signs of the times", we can know when it is near.

Jesus uses another seasonal-weather parable to address this same issue. In Matthew 16:2-3, He tells the Pharisees:

When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

There are two implications here:

(1) Discerning the "signs of the times" is akin to discerning the weather. You don't know exactly when the first rain drops will fall, but you know that a storm is coming "soon" when all the signs are there.

(2) The tone of Jesus's words tells us that we should be attempting to make this discernment. He seems to express surprise that His hearers are not already doing so.

To return to Mark 13, we see that Jesus's final admonition is for watchfulness. He uses an example of servants waiting for their master to return from a journey. The servants do not know exactly when the master will return, "in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow." Does that mean they should not watch because they don't know the precise moment? On the contrary, Jesus says, "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come...And what I say to you I say to all: Watch." The fact that we do not know the exact time is an argument to pay closer attention for the Master's return. You may not know what time of night he will return, but you know He is coming and that His return is close.

Thus when we read all of Mark 13, the message that emerges is this:

The coming of Christ will be preceded by a series of signs. The signs are not specific enough to let us know the exact day or time, and speculating on such would be futile. But nevertheless, the signs will be sufficient for us to know that we are moving into the "season" of Christ's return. We are to be attentive to these things and prepare ourselves for His coming, even more so to the degree we know the "season" is near.

Sure, I get there is significant debate over what constitutes a "sign", what the signs means, and so on. But the point is this: Anyone who tells you we are not supposed to try to discern the signs of His coming is being disingenuous about what the Bible actually says.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Crises of Faith: The Operation of Grace

When I read the testimonies of those who have lost faith or had their faith severely shaken, I frequently notice these persons will mention the imperceptibility of grace as an issue. Usually commenting on the uncharity of other Catholics, they will say things like, "The operation of grace does not seem present in the Catholics I know; if we are the true Faith, shouldn't it be more noticeable?" or, "I don't see the effects of grace in their life." 

What this ultimately comes down to is people aren't as good as we expect they should be. And it's not an empty argument: The essential trait of a Christian is supposed to be that we are "Christ-like", which supposes the sanctification of the person through the working of grace. And this is not an abstract principle; it is supposed to bear fruit in all manner of tangible signs: fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), corporal works of mercy (Jas. 1:27), and the development of virtue. This is all made possible by grace. If grace is real, shouldn't we clearly notice these manifestations of it?

Furthermore, when Christians fail to respond with grace in sensitive situations, it stings. Hard. Too often Christians, who should be the most reassuring, respond with coldness or astonishing hubris. I seldom speak of my own life on here, but I want to share some of my own experiences in this regard: I am a divorced Catholic and have been so for several years. When this happened, I received virtually no support from my Catholic friends whatsoever. I'm not talking about institutional support from the Church; I don't care about that. I'm talking about Catholic friends reaching out and saying, "Hey, how are you doing?" Or saying, "Wanna go out and do something?" Nobody started a sign-up to bring me any dinners. Invitations to social events dropped off; I stopped getting invited to weddings. They quietly stopped interacting with me online. Even my kids stopped getting  invited on play dates and stuff like that. People stopped chit-chatting with me after Mass or at Sunday coffee and donuts. It's not that people were expressing outright judgment towards me; its just that they weren't...anything. It was so disappointing. I ended up having to make a whole new set of Catholic friends (by and large people I met online).

But...guess who was right there for me? My secular or non-Catholic friends were right there. They wanted to take me out for drinks to soothe my wounds. They texted me "Hey how are you feeling?" They were right there to say, "Aw shit happens man, I'm sorry." They did good to me without any expectation or sense of obligation. May God reward them.

Feeling abandoned by my Catholic social circle was devastating. I'm still kind of angry about it. And I don't understand it. Did they think that by simply being my friend through a hard time they were supporting divorce or something? If so, that's ridiculous; that would be like saying I can't visit someone in prison lest it be construed I support his crimes. I don't know. But it was extremely hurtful to see that persons who I believed ought to have been the most charitable and grace-filled were being outpaced by non-believers. It was my most painful experience with Catholics I ever had, and it wasn't with the clergy or institution, but with the rank and file schlubs in the pews who I thought were my friends. 

Shouldn't these people—who receive the Body of Christ weekly or even daily—have responded with more grace to my pain?

As I've reflected on this over the years, I've come to see it this way: people generally do the best that they can with the knowledge and gifts they have available to them. It is easy for me to say, "If you really had grace, you should have done X or Y in a given situation." But I can't evaluate a person's objective state on the spectrum of grace. Perhaps someone's behavior to me was a little off-putting; I don't know how much worse it would have been without grace. Maybe someone is a braggart and has always been a braggart for the last ten years you've known them, and despite all their communions and prayers, they are the same bragging fool as they've always been. Well, thank God they are the same bragging fool and not a worse one! That, too, is grace. Perhaps so-and-so comes to Mass dutifully every week, says little, contributes little, understands little, and makes little progress. But how do you know that simply maintaining this station does not require everything he has? Is not the meaning of the widow's mite parable that it's hard to judge the true value of a person's progress on mere externals?

Life is hard, and even with grace it is still a struggle. God knows I have let people down, too. I have had friends call me in need, and I blew them off because their need was inconvenient to me at the time. I've looked the other way. I've sinned by omission. I've been arrogant. But that doesn't mean grace hasn't been working in my life; when I look at where I've come from and where I am now, my entire life is a miracle of grace. I know I have a long way to go still, but that's just because I am a work in progress, and "it hath not yet appeared what we shall be" (1 John 3:2). But this is ultimately a journey and we are all pilgrims. If I am walking from Detroit to Los Angeles, the fact that I have not arrived at Los Angeles is no argument that I never left Detroit. A traveler must not only consider where he needs to go but how far he has come. And thus it is with grace. So, I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible for me to judge how and to what degree grace works in peoples' lives. I simply don't know where people are on their individual journeys. I rejoice when I see moments of grace, but I cannot use these moments to make any sort of judgment on a person's overall state.

And of course, it's rare for someone to become truly saintly. We know where we all want to be: fruits of the spirit, works of mercy, virtue, etc. But few people progress in the spiritual life to the point where these things become resplendent; few reach sanctity this side of heaven. Think about something like physical exercise. Of all the persons who say, "This year I'm going to get in shape this year!", how many of them do you think actually persevere in that resolution? How many of them are actually in shape by next year? The minority. Most make nominal gains, then give up. Only a few make demonstrable progress that is noticeable by others. Given that the spiritual life is compared to athletic training, requiring similar endurance and discipline, should we be surprised that so few become exceptional?

Of course, there certainly are many circumstances when grace is discernible. I mean, starting with my own life, I can discern many places where grace has worked me over the years and brought about real, substantial change. Is this the sort of change that others can easily see from the outside? Not necessarily. Again, others don't know what I struggle with, just like I don't know what others struggle with. Sometimes we have victory in one area and continue to fight elsewhere. I am infinitely more patient and loving now than I was 15 years ago. That's grace. But I also have failures, sins, and bad habits I continue to struggle with. I may be more patient now, but I am just as much of a blabbermouth as I was 15 years ago. It's grace that I am not worse. Someone may easily discern I am an inveterate blabbermouth, but they may not discern that I am more patient or loving. Thus, anyone who would presume to judge the work of grace in my life based on the former without knowledge of the latter would be horridly mistaken in their judgment. 

Similarly, when I spend the time to really talk to my Catholic friends, all of them have stories of grace to tell. And in many cases it is discernible in their life, but only after you have really gotten to know them, entered into their world, and understood where they are coming from. Grace, after all, works like a "still, small voice"; it is engendered by the Spirit, which "blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes" (1 Kings 19:12; John 3:8). It is always working. And when we complain that we don't see it, we are merely complaining that it does not work the way we think it should work, bearing the fruit we think it should bear, visible in a way we think we should see it, in the times we believe it should be seen.

Instead of looking about at the Church and saying, "Grace doesn't seem to be working in these peoples' lives", actually sit down with these people and say, "Brother, tell me a story of how grace has been working in your life", and you'll hear an astonishing tale almost every single time. It will be more interesting and edifying than whatever you assumed grace ought to be doing. After His resurrection, the disciples asked Christ, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Imagine the disappointment of those who could not let go of their own conception of what Christ's work ought to be! But for those who let go of their own expectations of what should be and instead received what Christ actually wanted to give, how rich their joy must have been!

Ultimately, we must avoid trying to judge where and how grace is working in the lives of others, and especially avoid sitting in judgment over how we think it should be working. That is a recipe for frustration and impatience with others—loss of charity, loss of hope, and ultimately loss of faith. Christ's teachings "Judge not lest ye be judged" and "Remove the plank from your own eye before removing the speck from your brother's eye" are not just platitudes to help us be nice; they are life-giving principles that keep us humble, grounded, and seeing the way God sees.  And once we see with His wisdom, the works of grace become manifest.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Book Review: Are Canonizations Infallible?

Arouca Press has published an excellent work for those interested in the debate about the infallibility of canonizations. Are Canonizations Infallible?, edited by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, sets out be a comprehensive tome of reference for the subject, and in this it succeeds admirably. The book is set up as a series of essays on various aspects of the question; (in full-disclosure, I, too, have an essay in the book on the history of the Advocatus Diaboli, the Devil's Advocate). The structure of the book as a collection of essays makes it easily digestible, as the reader can peruse ala carte those subjects of highest interest to him. 

My thoughts on this book are several:

I. First, I want to stress that this is a solid theological text, not a polemical work. I think some were expecting this book to be a collection of traditionalist maledictions on the canonizations of John Paul II and Paul VI; when I said I had an essay published in this book, Dave Armstrong immediately expressed dismay and embarrassment that I would participate in the project. I think he assumed it was just going to be a hackneyed trad critique of the modern papal saints. It's anything but. I was consistently struck by the scholarly tone of the book and how its authors are determined to get to the principles that underlay the question. This is a book for people serious about understanding the theological questions behind canonization. Some of the essays are dense and of a very technical nature.  Expect an enlightening read, but not necessarily an easy one. 

II. The book is not an anti-infallibilist apologetic. I would say the majority of the essays are anti-infallibilist, but certainly not all of them. Both sides are represented fairly, and the arguments are much weightier than "I don't like Paul VI therefore he's not a saint" (anti-infallibilist caricature), or "The Church has spoken, shut up" (infallibilist caricature). On the contrary, the format of this book as a running dialogue between proponents of various positions along the spectrum sheds light on a host of issues of which I'd never been aware. I can't say the anti-infallibilist arguments were wholly convincing, but whether you are pro or anti-infallibilist, this book should make it clear that the questions run a lot deeper than you'd probably assumed.  

III. It may be wondered if this book was written simply as a traddie protest in the wake of the canonizations of John Paul II and Paul VI. While its true that these canonizations have brought the question to the fore, you may be surprised to learn that the infallibility of canonizations has been debated for centuries. This book introduces the reader to the historical arguments, some dating back to the Reformation. Some of the essays in this book predate the canonizations of the modern popes; one of the pivotal essays, by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, dates from 2003, long before the canonizations of John Paul II, Mother Teresa, or Paul VI were even issues. So, again, this book is not just a trad screed. It's a summary of a debate that has gone on for centuries. I wonder if the neo-Caths who immediately condemned this book before its publication are even aware that theologians have been discussing the matter since before Trent.

IV. Within that debate, however, it is freely admitted that non-infallibilism is the minority position; not just a minority position, but a small minority. Even anti-infallibilists like Msgr. Gherardini admit that they are a very small minority, that the weight of theological tradition is against them. While the question has not been definitively settled, the tradition of the Church is weightily in favor of infallibility. Gherardini says, "The overwhelming majority of theologians responded in the affirmative [i.e., favoring infallibility of canonizations as directly connected to Christian revelation]; those who lean towards a negative response or even a only a doubtful one are very few" (pg. 138). The same admits that the theologians marshalled in favor of infallibility are formidable: St. Thomas Aquinas, Melchior Cano, Suarez, and even "the acknowledged master in this matter", Prospero Lambertini himself (pg. 142). It is ironic, then, that the Traditionalist who seeks to demonstrate the non-infallibility of canonizations does so against the weight of the selfsame Tradition he seeks to defend. Of course, this issue has not been dogmatically defined, so there is room for discussion and development, but that does not change the fact that anti-infallibilism is not the traditional theological conclusion. What interesting times! 

V. One thing I appreciated about this book is its continued explication over various essays on what infallibility does and does not mean. Since its definition in 1870, papal infallibility has resulted in a kind of "mission creep", investing supreme authority behind judgments of the Holy See that Christians should not have been required to assent to. There are precedents prior to Vatican II, but in modern times the most blatant example is how every casual utterance of a pope is taken as authoritative teaching. The result of all this is that the average Catholic has no clue what infallibility actually pertains to and what it means. For example, conservative Novus Ordo Catholics tend to extend infallibility to everything the pope says, such that they suffer from a kind of cognitive dissonance when forced to grapple with papal nonsense. On the other hand, Traditionalists tend to think if something is not infallible—or if its infallibility is merely doubtful—that it can be dismissed entirely, basically acting as though any official action of the pope can be entirely discarded if it does not proceed from the highest authority. This is the unconvincing "That's invalid so I don't have to listen to it" approach that rank and file Trads have been lazily trotting out for decades to avoid doing the heavy intellectual work of sorting through these difficulties. Are Canonizations Infallible? definitely does that heavy lifting for you. You will be educated about infallibility almost as much as about canonization. What does infallibility entail? What does it not entail? What is the ordinary vs. extraordinary Magisterium? What are the primary and secondary ends of an infallible declaration? What are dogmatic facts? What obligations does infallibility impose upon the faithful, and how do these obligations change if something is not infallible? This book will give you an excellent schooling in these questions.

VI. "Canonizations aren't infallible, therefore I can simply ignore canonizations I disapprove of." That is not the message of this book. Even those authors that argue against canonization are careful to point out that solemn but non-infallible teachings of the Church still oblige the respectful submission of the faithful, reservations not-withstanding. This book does not open the flood gates to every Catholic creating one's own hodge-podge pantheon of saints based one's own scruples. If it wasn't for contemporary concerns about a few specific canonizations, this book would hardly be controversial at all. Are Canonizations Infallible? is an excellent read for traditional Catholics, but it is especially appropriate for conservative Novus Ordo Catholics who want a scholarly, non-polemical introduction to the question.  

In conclusion, I highly recommend Are Canonizations Infallible? and I commend the folks at Arouca Press for doing such good work on this and their other publications. I also want to thank Arouca and Dr. Kwasniewski for including me in such a scholarly and important work, something my credentials and scholarship hardly merit. But still, don't let my inclusion in the book be an argument against it; get yourself a copy and educate yourself about this important issue.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Athanasius Schneider Pontifical High Mass in Detroit

There's no real theme to today's post, just some random smattering of thoughts I put together after returning from Detroit:

Today the great Bishop Athanasius Schneider said Mass in Detroit as part of the Call to Holiness event put on by Assumption Grotto. If the name Assumption Grotto sounds familiar, this is the parish of traditional priest Fr. Eduard Perrone of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Some years ago Fr. Perrone was accused of sex abuse and suspended from ministry. Fr. Perrone fought back, however, and was successfully able to demonstrate that the allegation was fabricated by a detective. Perrone sued the detective for defamation and won a $125,000 judgment against her. Meanwhile, the CDF declined to pursue any discipline against Fr. Perrone, effectively dropping the case—though to my knowledge, the Archdiocese of Detroit has still not reinstated Fr. Perrone to public ministry, but I may be mistaken.

Anyhow, that's the parish this was at. It's a beautiful old urban church in the best style of the golden age of Midwest Catholicism. The church was absolutely packed for Bishop Schneider's Mass. If people are losing interest in Catholic Tradition, there was no sign of it at this event. I had to wait in line in my car out on the main street before I even got onto parish property; once I got onto parish grounds they had ushers outside directing the overflow traffic to park on the grass. And I was there a half hour early!

I was fortunate enough to get a seat very close to the front, maybe third row. Assumption Grotto had produced an extremely fine worship aid that not only gave you both the prayers/readings and fixed Mass parts in one place, but also had an extremely interesting page explaining how a Pontifical High Mass is different from a Solemn High Mass. It had a lot of minutiae on it that even I'd never heard before. I meant to save it and I did bring it home but...of course now I cannot find it :/

I have been to Pontifical High Masses before, but what really impressed me about Bishop Schneider's Mass was the universality represented in who was present. It was truly reflective of the Catholicity of the Church. The diversity was spectacular. There were whites, blacks, Filipinos, Indians, Hispanics, and Japanese. I saw plenty of young families with children, lots of old folks, and many people in between. Millennial hipster Catholics with their beards and slicked back hair sitting side-by-side with boomer homeschool marms. Academic looking tweed jacket types and blue collar schlubs. The Knights of Columbus were there, resplendent in full regalia. I saw some religious, both men and women. The choir was made up of a mixture of ages from teenagers up to elderly. All presided over by a central Asian bishop whose native language is German saying an ancient liturgy in Latin. It truly was a "multitude of every tribe and tongue and nation" (Rev. 7:9), diversity in the best sense—not the ridiculous Babel of woke individualism, but people of every social, ethnic, and demographic background finding unity in the worship of Christ through the traditional rite of the Church. 

Bishop Schneider spoke on several themes: the action of the Holy Spirit within the Church, the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Christian, and the Mass as the highest act of worship the Church can offer. It was such a solid homily. There was no ripping on anyone or trashing different segments of the Church, such as you hear whenever Pope Francis opens his mouth. There was no alarmism about vaccines, nor any of the sort of quasi-political nonsense you get when you read Viganò. It was just good, wholesome, spiritual preaching. 

Year ago, I read Athanasius Schneider's Dominus Est. It remains one of the greatest apologetical works on why we should receive communion on the tongue. During his Mass, watching him seated on the faldstool, eyes cast down in humility, while the subdeacon read the Epistle, more than once I thought, "In what world do we live in where this man is on the margins of the hierarchy? Why can't we have this guy for pope?"

Whatever Pope Francis or others want to say, Tradition is alive and well. It was not created by papal fiat and it won't be destroyed by papal fiat. I am fortunate I got to assist at a Mass said by this good prelate, and I pray for more like him.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

A Sorority Girl Tells Me About Ritual

Not long ago I was talking to an acquaintance of mine, a young woman who is a college junior. I saw her in town and we were standing by her car catching up. She came from a respectable Methodist family, but of very secular attitude. She told me a little bit about how college was going, and from what she said I gathered that she had regrettably fallen into the lifestyle that is so common in many American colleges: frequent partying, drinking, promiscuousness. She mentioned a boyfriend she was "staying with", and also told me she was struggling in some of her classes because she was always staying out too late with friends drinking and having a hard time getting motivated in the mornings. Typical college girl stuff.

But that's not what this story is about. This story is about something else she told me. She mentioned she was heavily involved with one of the college sororities. She was one of the committee officers. I asked her what her role was and she said Master of Ceremonies. This piqued my interest. "Ah, you're a ritualist?" I asked. She said yes; her job was to coordinate the ceremonies of the sorority for all its various occasions, like the initiation of new members, promotion of members, commemorative events, etc. I asked if she liked it and she said very much so. In fact, she told me she was just then at the store picking up some ritual items. She showed me the back of her car and it was full of candles, satins, what looked to be robes or gowns, and various other ritual objects one could imagine a sorority making use of. I wanted to ask if she had giant paddles but I thought that would be cliché.

Anyhow, I was curious about their ceremonial. Obviously, being a sorority, this was "secret" and she couldn't tell an uninitiated outsider the details. But she told me the rituals went back to the founding of the sorority, which was in 1896. So, by American standards, the organization was quite old. I asked, "How closely do your rituals today reflect the rites as created by the founders of the sorority?" 

"Oh they're exactly the same," she answered. I was very surprised. I said, "They never thought to change or amend them? They never felt they needed to update them for modernity?" She made a disgusted face, as if the very suggestion that the rituals be changed was offensive. "Oh heck no," she said. "It's very serious for us to carry on the rituals as the founders intended." Then she explained that performing the rites as handed down from the past provided a vital link with the history of the sorority, its previous members, and kept it grounded in its mission. It created historical continuity. She was very zealous explaining this to me; whatever else was going on in her life, I could tell that she attached great importance to her office as Master of Ceremonies.

Then she told me that the sorority's by-laws actually punished members who were found to be guilty of deviating from the received rituals of the organization, including expulsion from the sorority for repeated infractions. "So, yeah, we take it pretty seriously!" she said. 

I thanked her for her time, wished her well, and was on my way. But as I left the encounter, I had a startling thought: This young woman—a junior in college living a secular lifestyle shacking up with her boyfriend and getting plastered every night—understands and values liturgy more than the current Successor of St. Peter.

"Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes" (Matt. 11:25)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Pope Francis' Tragic Misunderstanding of Latin

On September 12, Pope Francis met with the Jesuits of Slovakia in Bratislava. The Holy Father staged an impromptu question and answer session. The text of the session was reported by Antonio Spadaro on La Civilta Cattolica on September 21 ("Freedom Scares Us": Pope Francis' Conversation with Slovak Jesuits). 

During the session, one of the Jesuits observed that Francis was perceived as heterodox by many Catholics within Slovakia, while others idolized him. He then asked the pope how he deals with people who look at him with suspicion. Even though the question did not such on the Traditional Latin Mass or traditionalism, Pope Francis took the opportunity to offer the following reflections about Traditionis Custodes:

Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year. From now on those who want to celebrate with the vetus ordo must ask permission from as is done with biritualism. But there are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for it. This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.

A cardinal told me that two newly ordained priests came to him asking him for permission to study Latin so as to celebrate well. With a sense of humor he replied: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.” So he made them “land,” he made them return to earth. I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.

How we "return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI" by overturning his signature legislation is a piece of Jesuitical-Peronist sophistry that is beyond me, but I want to focus on the second paragraph, where Francis tells the story of the cardinal dissuading his priests from learning Latin, because these statements are indicative of the pope's thinking on the matter of Latin. I offer the following observations:

I. The anecdote about "There are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach, etc." reveals that Pope Francis does not even understand the concept of a liturgical language at all. He sees liturgical language in a utilitarian way, wholly functional and devoid of any value that is not homiletical. Without reference to tradition, without reference to history, without reference to liturgical integrity. Mere functionalism. 

II. The concept of a priest needing permission from his ordinary to study Latin is manifestly contrary to the Code of Canon Law. Code of Canon Law 249 says, "The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry." We can see that the Code insists on study of Latin in addition to whatever foreign language is necessary for ministry. The liturgical language of the Church is in a different category than those languages which may be needful for ministry. The Church's liturgical language is essential to her, while other languages are incidental and relate to time, place, and circumstance. Also, given the directive to study Latin is enshrined in the Church's universal legislation, no priest needs "permission" to study it. By relating this story in the manner he does, Pope Francis is essentially winking at bishops depriving priests of their canonical rights. 

III. His line of thought nurtures an inherent hypocrisy because we know that the pope would never say these things to Christians of other rites. Can you imagine the pontiff dissuading Eastern Catholics from learning Old Slavonic? Or telling Chaldeans to go learn Farsi and Kurdish before they are allowed to study Aramaic, or making fun of an Egyptian Christian for wanting to study Coptic? Of course not. And since such an attitude would never be promoted amongst other rites, we may conclude it is merely another expression of anti-Latin rite prejudice.

IV. Pope Francis's comments reveal an ignorance of all the reasons why the Church has, even unto recent times, stressed the importance of preserving Latin. We need look no further than Pope John XXIII's encyclical Veterum Sapientia (1962) on the promotion of Latin studies. Here, the father of the Second Vatican Council offered a comprehensive rationale for why Latin should be studied. Every traditional Catholic should review this encyclical, but I will offer a summary of Pope John's rationale for studying Latin with relevant quotes:

Latin is a testimony to the historic witness of the Church: "By their use in sacred liturgies and in versions of Holy Scripture, they have remained in force in certain regions even to the present day, bearing constant witness to the living voice of antiquity."

Latin unifies Christians: it provides "a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe."

It is neutral, its universality favoring no one ethnicity of nation: "Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all"

Latin is uniquely suitable for precision and dignity required by theological expression: "the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression."

It's "non-vernacularity" gives Latin a special strength to bind the past, present, and future of the Church together in "wonderful continuity", making the treasures of the past accessible: "the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular...the Latin language can be called truly catholic. It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed a treasure of incomparable worth. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching. It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity."

After enunciating these reasons, John XXIII concludes with the following:

For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws.” She further requires her sacred ministers to use it...Thus the “knowledge and use of this language,” so intimately bound up with the Church’s life, “is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons.” These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church’s nature. “For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.

The reader will notice that none of the reasons listed by Pope John XXIII concerned themselves with homiletics. Whatever else one may say about "Good Pope John", the man understood the concept of a liturgical language, the Church's need for such a language, the "non-vernacularity" of this language, and the eminent suitability of Latin to be said language in the west. The fact that Pope Francis understands none of these concepts is disappointing, frightening, and evidence that the Holy Father is, once again, speaking about things he knows precious little about.

V. The idea that the Church's liturgical language is somehow in rivalry with learning other vernacular languages is insulting to all the great Catholic missionaries who did both. When I read these comments by Francis, I think of St. Jean de Brebeuf, S.J. (d. 1649), who labored for twelve years to compile a dictionary in the Huron tongue while simultaneously celebrating Mass in Latin. I am reminded of Spanish missionaries to the Philippines, like Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina, S.J. (d. 1674), who worked for 37 years among the Visayans patiently creating dictionaries of Visayan language and translating their literature into Spanish whilst also celebrating the Mass in Latin. Or the Carmelite priest, Fr. John Thaddeus (d. 1633) who said Mass in Latin while also learning Persian and Turkic for his mission in Ishfahan, Persia (Iran), a mission that was so successful he became a friend and confidant of the Shah. In other words, the use of liturgical Latin has never been an obstacle to Catholic pastors learning vernacular languages. For Pope Francis to suggest the two are in competition is disparaging to the witness of these heroic missionaries who demonstrated the marvelous complementarity of being well versed in Latin as well as learning local dialects for homiletical reasons.

VI. Finally, the dilemma the cardinal in the story brings up about not wanting his priests to study Latin because they need to devote their time to other vernacular languages could have been totally avoided had the priests been trained in Latin in seminary, as they were supposed to be. That way, by the time of their ordination they would be ready to begin studies of whatever other languages were necessary, already having a solid grounding in Latin. By not promoting the study of Latin in the seminary, this cardinal has created the very problem he complains about.

* * * * * 

It is a sad testimony to our current state that the head of the Latin Rite is so uneducated about the Latin language. And not uneducated by some innocent mistake, but by culpable ignorance and duplicitousness. The tragedy in this story is that a man with such opinions was ever raised to the Chair of Peter. But this all begs the question: If this is how Francis thinks about Latin, we are justified in asking: What does "Latin rite" mean to Francis? In what sense is the Latin rite Latin at all

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Crises of Faith: The Waves of Darkness

Three months ago I published a piece called "
Alcuin to Higbald on the Christian View of Temporal Disasters." This post was about an interesting letter I came across from the Carolingian era monk Alcuin writing to Abbot Higbald of Lindisfarne to console him after his monastery was sacked by Vikings. Alcuin essentially tells Higbald, "This, too, is an act of God's love. Use it as an occasion to better yourself, pray more, and move on." I highlighted this as an example of the traditional way Christians contextualized disasters in their lives. In the comments, an anonymous reader left the following comment (it is long, but I think it necessary to include it in its entirety):

I find explanations like this sufficient for car crashes and cancers...but we are dealing with something more which tempts me to doubt. We have all heard that God, when He is truly angry with his people will send them wolves rather than pastors. Here in the US, at least, the people have always voted down issues like abortion and gay marriage, when given the chance. These crimes are thrust upon us by the courts and duplicitous politicians. It is so bad today, that every single institution in the world, is run by evil people who hate God, and hate the people under their charge.So it is not enough that we have a fallen nature and tend towards sin. It is not enough that we are tempted constantly by evil angelic powers who are super-intelligent and have access to our imaginations and never sleep. It is not enough that we are surrounded by the general misbehaviours of our fellow humans and the weakness of the flesh, and all the things that make the World a dangerous place for our souls.

No, it is not enough.

In these times, we also have every single institution, world wide, run by human devils that actively seek to corrupt us, destroy our families, and enslave us. It is these human devils that control politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. And these human devils have all the money, all the power, and all the voice, far above any simple sheep.

On top of all that, the Catholic Religion is almost completely shattered. The Hierarchy is cowardly at best, shameful most often, and heretical at worst. There are no two priests that preach the same thing. A close look at the Novus Ordo, the TLM, and the Byzantine rites appear to be almost completely different religions. (Although at the moment, the Sacraments seem to be relatively preserved.) Constant Scandal makes evangelization very difficult, if not impossible. And us sheep, to whom most of these questions are way above our paygrade, are forced to walk the line between deciding what is true, and becoming protestant/our own pope.

Yet God wills all men to be saved. And the saints assure us that most souls will perish into an eternal hell. I don't know why we all don't collapse in despair. We have no Saints, no Signs, and no Signal Graces. Just a book the purports to be God's Word, though we are often told by the "experts" it is no such thing. We have an institution that purports to be Divine, but its leaders and teachers display tendencies that are more diabolic. And we have a world that has, for the most part, forced God out of their daily lives, more through ignorance than choice.

How are we supposed to save our own souls, let alone help save those of our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, and others? Or do we just wait for God to smite us, write off all the sinners of whatever category, and hope to rebuild if we live through whatever is coming? Thoughts like these terrify me.

It's a doozy of a comment. He brings up a lot of things. Constant scandals. Liturgical chaos. "Human devils" that control all aspects of life. He mentions politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. Money and power in the hands of the enemy. Every institution under the sway of darkness. Unrelenting war against the family. Cowardly hierarchy. A veritable litany of chaos.

When I read this comment, my response is, "Friend, who told you to worry about such things?"

When were these problems entrusted to your care? "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). I am convinced that this passage from the Beatitudes is instrumental in staving off despair. The commenter is right; power, influence, money, media, institutions—all of it is under the power of the evil one. Little has changed since the beginning: "And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it." (Luke 4:5-7). But none of that is my business. My response to this evil is the same as Christ's: "Worship the Lord thy God, and Him alone shall you serve." None of those issues are my problem. 

Our Lord told us to focus on today, on what is before us, on our small little sphere of influence God has entrusted to us. "Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs" (1 Thess. 4:11), "that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives" (1 Tim. 2:2). I don't have the resources to fix all or even any of the world's problems. Christ asks us to only be faithful with the little we have been entrusted with. To those who have been given much, much will be required. Those with ten talents will have to account for how they invested those ten talents. But, my friends, the vast majority of us can have no influence on these matters. And since we cannot, what good does it do to worry about them? What does the Psalmist say?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me (Ps. 131:1)

I can't speak for anyone else, but my faith has been great right now and for the past year at least. I feel like I have finally made real strides in my spiritual life, overcoming things I struggled with for years. God's providence has never seemed so real, and it becomes ever easier to see the working of grace in my day to day life. I have a deeper peace and more profound sense of God's mercy than I have in years past. That's just my experience. I understand that for someone who is in crisis, that will certainly not be their experience. But don't tell me my religion is "broken" because you are in crisis. My faith is not in crisis, and nothing is broken for me

One may say that such a solipsistic approach is merely sticking my head in the sand, ignoring the very real problems in the world that are destroying souls and making a shipwreck of faith. I disagree. I know these problems are real, and I do what I can to combat them within the sphere of my influence. But that little sphere is all I have responsibility over, and beyond that I commend it all to God. Maybe I am excessively focused on my own affairs. But the reality is, that's all I am responsible for. Why load yourself up with the responsibilities to save the world, Church, and civilization? Are the crosses Jesus has given you not heavy enough? Are your sins so miniscule that you need to worry about the sins of everyone else? 

Here's the great paradox: Focusing on the little things God entrusts to us is not turning our back on the world and the Church. It is, in fact, the only way to save them. Christendom was not created because a lot of angry men got together to bitch about the government and the hierarchy and create a "movement" to address it. It was created because a man went out in the desert to be alone with God; because a man walked on the beach with his friend and had a heart to heart conversation about Christ, because a woman decided she wanted to dedicate her virginity to God; because a Roman rhetorician went out into a garden to weep for his sins; because a man decided to live in a cave on the slopes of Mount Subiaco; because slave boy prayed a hundred times a night alone before a rough hewn wooden cross jabbed into the rocky slopes of Mount Slemish while he watched sheep; because a solitary Jesuit father, isolated and suffering immensely from his captors' torments, carved crosses in the trunks of trees in the wilderness of Canada; because a priest decided to work and die with some lepers on the other side of the world. Because the Son of God—when faced with all the hatred and sin and darkness the world had to offer—chose to be silent and do nothing. In such acts was Christendom formed, and in such acts shall our Faith be preserved.

Be faithful to whatever little was entrusted to you in your own sphere of influence. You own little life is all you have to focus on. Stay grounded there and you will have a much better chance of weathering the waves of darkness rushing over the world.

For Part 1 in this series, see: Crises of Faith: Escaping Our Subjectivity