Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Feed My Sheep (Worth Revisiting)


This Worth Revisiting post was one of my very first, originally published January 10th, 2014; a revised version was posted February 11th of this year.
     To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers visit Worth Revisiting Wednesday,hosted by Elizabeth Reardon of theologyisaverb.com and Allison Gingras at reconciledtoyou.com.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.”    JN 21:15-17




It's Greek To Me


     You’re probably familiar with the beautiful passage from John’s Gospel above.  As he sits with the risen Christ at a charcoal fire on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Peter has the opportunity to redeem himself for what he did the last time we saw him at a charcoal fire: on that occasion he denied Jesus three times; here Jesus invites Peter three times to tell his Lord, face to face, that he loves Him.
    The first time I read this passage in the original Greek I was intrigued by the fact that two different words for “love” are used, which is not reflected in English translations.  The first two times Jesus asks, “do you love me?” he say ἀγαπᾷς (agapais), and when Peter answers  “I love you” he says φιλῶ (philo).  Now, knowing that, among Christians, the verb ἀγαπῶ came to mean all-embracing divine love, whereas φιλῶ referred to ordinary human affection, I thought I had stumbled onto Something Big.  It seems that many others have had the same idea, because I soon learned that there has been quite a lot written on this topic (who knew?).  Scripture scholars warn us, however, not to make too much of the different verbs.  It appears that at the time John wrote his Gospel the two verbs were used more or less interchangeably, although φιλῶwas much more common.  John, the scholars tell us, was probably doing no more than making his language more interesting by avoiding redundancy.


More Than Words

     I’m not one to pick a fight with the experts on their own turf; on the other hand, we know that John is a careful and subtle writer, and if he were that concerned with varying his vocabulary for purely stylistic reasons the prologue to his Gospel would read rather differently.  In any case, even if we can’t find a Big Linguistic-Theological Significance here, it seems to me that John is nonetheless showing us something.  Here’s what he have in the passage: Jesus asks “do you love me?” using one verb (ἀγαπᾷς), Peter answers affirmatively using what appears to be a synonym (φιλῶ); then they repeat, each using the same separate verbs they used before; finally, as Peter grows visibly distressed by Jesus repeating the question (but knowing all too well why it needs repeating), the Lord asks a third time . . . only this time He uses Peter’s word, as if to say, “All right, Peter, you love me, but do you love me?”.   
     I think we can see in this a reflection of how Grace works in our life.  Christ comes to Peter, who does not at first recognize Him; after Peter realizes with whom he’s talking, Christ invites him to express his love, and in so doing repudiate his earlier sin; Peter is willing, but can’t quite bring himself to use the same word that Jesus uses, instead replying with a (possibly more humble) synonym; after the same thing happens the second time, Jesus finally moves a little closer, and when He asks him the third time he echoes Peter’s own word back to him.  And every time Peter proclaims his love, Christ calls on him to share that love with others (“feed my sheep”).  


The Word Becomes Flesh

     Just so, God is always the initiator, inviting us to share His grace; He often comes to us in a tangible form (the Incarnation, the Eucharist, his ordained ministers acting In Persona Christi); He calls on us to act out the love we proclaim (audible confession, acts of mercy, evangelization). And He’s always willing to move a little closer, if it will bring us closer to Him.  Christ is asking us, "Do you love Me?"  Will we answer, along with Peter, φιλῶ ?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Being A Child Of This Age

G. K. Chesterton
The great G.K. Chesterton said of the Catholic Church: “ It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” If you doubt that the slavery of our particular age is getting more degrading by the day, consider the following random samples from the unraveling of our once-Christian culture:

- The big news from last week, of course, was the U.S. Supreme Court’s “finding” that the Constitution of the United States mandates that states may not exclude same-sex couples from their definition of marriage.  In his dissent from the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts  wrote “The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.” No, but it is perfectly attuned to the Spirit of this Age.

- A major newspaper in Pennsylvania announces that it “will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage”, with the grudging exception that it would “for a limited time, accept letters and op-Eds on the high court's decision and its legal merits.”  Journalists in the United States may claim to have an unshakable commitment to free speech, but the Spirit of our Age does not tolerate opposition.

- It is equally intolerant of any disagreement on the new conventional wisdom that sex, or “gender”, is not something inborn, but a thing we can create for ourselves and change at will. Actress Alice Eve learned this the hard way after she pointed out via social media the seemingly obvious fact that cosmetic surgery can’t turn male Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner into an actual woman.  After a torrent of abuse from the forces of tolerance, she was soon sounding uncannily like the victim of one of Stalin’s show trials: “Maybe this needs a little thought. I felt confused and now I feel enlightened and like I know what education I need to move forward.” 

-Since “gender reassignment” surgery is such a good thing, how can we withhold it from anyone? The New York Times, in an article celebrating surgical intervention of this sort for teens, reports that in Oregon 15 year-olds can undergo this mutilating, life-changing procedure at state expense . . . and without parental consent. The Times reports that “advocates say that extending treatment to teenagers will alleviate depression and suicide”, although it concedes that “The evidence is mixed. A large-scale Swedish study at the Karolinska Institute found that starting about a decade after gender reassignment surgery, transgender people were still more than 19 times as likely to die by suicide as the general population [link here, which the NYT somehow forgot to include].”  Other researchers have published similarly grim results, such as this U.S. study that found more than four out of ten transsexuals have attempted suicide. Perhaps it would more “mixed” if they could point to other studies  demonstrating an upside?

     - This article at Life Site News reports on Laura, a healthy, 24 year-old woman in Belgium who will be killed by lethal injection this summer, simply because she doesn’t want to live.  She says, “Life, that’s not for me.”  Well, to each his or her own, I suppose.  After all, she has received official approval. Interestingly, one of the psychiatrists who signed off on her case is currently hawking a book touting “euthanasia for psychological reasons”, so Laura can get what she wants and give the doc a little publicity as well.  The Spirit of the Age calls that a win-win!


I could go on, but you get the idea.  The proverbial Visitor From Another World could only conclude that we are in the midst of some sort of suicidal societal dementia, or possessed by a malevolent demon that renders us incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, and that is intent on destroying not only us as individuals but also the institutions that sustain us.  Or perhaps, if he’s familiar with Earth literature, he might see us as an entire world full of Victor Frankensteins who, like the eponymous protagonist of Mary Shelley’s novel, seek to usurp God’s power of creation, only to spawn a destructive force beyond our control.  It would be easy to look at the Signs of the Times and despair.



    Despair, however, is not an option for us, because despair means giving up hope. Christian hope is the confidence that God will fulfill his promises of mercy and salvation, and if we surrender that trust, we are giving up on God; we are in fact, committing a grave sin. Instead, St. Paul instructs us to “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).  In other words, if we stay connected to our Lord, and endure our present hardships with His help, we will be with Him in His final victory. That’s not a bad deal.
    Clinging to the Lord, of course, is not simply a personal matter; we are called to be witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Who knows? Our wayward countrymen may yet amaze us like the Ninevites surprised Jonah when they repented in sackcloth and ashes (see Jonah 3).  Short of that happy but unlikely outcome, we might at least rescue some fortunate individuals; as scripture tells us,“whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).  Finally, by remaining faithful to Christ we can serve as one of his instruments in preserving his Church, which will be a source of healing after today’s craziness has run its course.  As the future Pope Benedict XVI said in a famous radio address almost half a century ago, “when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.”
    Which brings us back to where we started. Chesterton tells us that the Catholic Church is the only thing that frees us from enslavement to whatever the current foolishness happens to be.  But it is not a freedom for our own sake alone, it is freedom for service: service to our Lord and our fellow men and women, and service to the Truth . . . and the truth about humanity is and always has been that we were made to love and serve the Lord in this world, and to be eternally happy with him in the next.  Isn’t that infinitely better than anything the Spirit of This Age has to offer?
    


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Johann Christian Bach, Requiem Mass & Weekly Roundup


Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of J.C. Bach
   Johann Christian Bach (J. C. Bach) was the eleventh and youngest son of the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Like his father and most of his siblings, J. C. Bach was endowed by his creator with an impressive musical talent.  His compositional style bore more resemblance to that of his classical late eighteenth century contemporaries Joseph Haydn and Mozart (who was also his friend) than it did to the baroque compositions of his father, who was fifty years old when when Johann Sebastian was born.
     The clip below is from is from J. C. Bach's Requiem Mass, which he composed at the age of 22 when he was a student in Italy (where he also converted to Catholicism).
     






Weekly Roundup of Posts


“St. John Fisher and Religious Freedom” St. John Fisher was the only English bishop to resist King Henry VIII’s plan to turn the Catholic Church in England into a possession of the crown. Not a bad example for us today, as we again are faced with a state intent on swallowing absolutely everything else. [here]


“Forgiveness Reveals The Power Of The Gospel” In the aftermath of the horrific massacre at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, we see that Love informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ overcomes hate. [here]


“In Defense Of Catholic Education” As the world around us becomes ever more insane, the need for education that is truly Catholic is greater than ever. [here]


“We Are Blind To Ourselves” God knows us better, much better, than we know ourselves, and his Church is just what we need. [here]


“‘Real Funny Jokes About Abortion?’ Dispatches From The Culture Of Death Part Two” Come on, laugh! You’re not one of those anti-choice nuts, are you? [here]

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Real Funny Jokes About Abortion"? Dispatches From The Culture Of Death Part Two

“Be Sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith.”  (1 Peter 8-9)

     Last week, in my discussion of an essay by Ezekiel Emmanuel supporting the idea that we should not try to keep people alive beyond 75 years old, I said:

The more often such opinions come from such sources, the less unthinkable such opinionThes become in the wider world until they eventually become commonplace.  We have seen this strategy employed to perfection in recent years in regard to the redefinition of marriage. 


The Successful Game Plan

The picture-perfect example of how to bring about a massive change in public perceptions and sentiment, in fact, has been the Gay Rights movement, which eventually built the stunningly successful Gay Marriage campaign.  The strategy was explicitly laid out almost three decades ago in 1987, in an article by Marshall Kirk and Erastes Pill (later expanded into a book) called “The Overhauling Of Straight America” (entire article here). Kirk and Pill call for a graduated media campaign to change public opinion, starting with making homosexuality seem commonplace by talking about it constantly, particularly in the entertainment media; then by portraying homosexuals as victims, at which point they can enlist supporters outside their own circles by appealing to a sense of justice, and only then seeking to destroy the credibility of any critics by using their media reach to portray opponents  as ignorant haters, bigots, etc.  Anyone who has been paying attention for the last three decades has seen this strategy play out precisely as scripted (we are now in the final “destroy the opposition” phase).
     This idea didn’t start with Kirk and Pill, of course, nor with the Gay Rights movement.  Some might recognize the ideas of master “community organizer” Saul Alinsky, who in turn was simply putting a groovy spin on long-standing communist agitprop doctrine - the need to use the entertainment media to shape public opinion explains why the communists were so interested in Hollywood in the thirties and the forties.  Kirk and Pill also saw the potential of the entertainment industry, but they had a resource that was not available to Stalin-era agitators: television.  Therefore:

Where we talk is important. The visual media, film and television, are plainly the most powerful image-makers in Western civilization. The average American household watches over seven hours of TV daily. Those hours open up a gateway into the private world of straights, through which a Trojan horse might be passed. As far as desensitization is concerned, the medium is the message--of normalcy.

“Desensitization” was necessary before the public would accept the rest of the gay rights program, and television did in fact prove to be the perfect medium (feel free explore the links here if you don’t believe that this strategy was employed to the fullest).

If it worked for Gay Marriage, why not abortion?

Mindy Kaling
     This brings us to today, and the curious case of Mindy Kaling, as recounted by Brent Bozell [article here]. Mindy, Bozell tells us, “not only stars in her own sitcom on Fox called 'The Mindy Project,' she’s in charge of it.”  Her character on the show is an OB/GYN.  Professional feminist and pro-abortion activist Amanda Marcotte sees Kaling’s show as a ready-made vehicle for the same sort of desensitization that the Gay Rights people carried out so successfully:

Abortion is actually a perfect topic for a half-hour comedy because it touches on so many themes that comedy writers love to mine for the laughs . . . How easy it is, if you let go of the fear of getting letters from anti-choice nuts, to make some really funny jokes about abortion.

     The problem for Marcotte is that most people, even those who are generally in favor of legal abortion, don’t see the humorous potential in the intentional slaughter of innocent life in the womb.  Kaling herself, who doesn’t appear to be pro-life but does seem to know her craft, at first politely rejected the idea of using her show “to make some really funny jokes about abortion”, telling an interviewer: “It would be demeaning to the topic to talk about it in a half-hour sitcom”.  Unfortunately for Mindy, nobody is allowed to sit on the sidelines for this battle, and the abortion industry and its cheerleaders turned up the heat.  Soon she was apologizing for her failure to humorously promote abortion on her program, and has now reached the point where she says she “has faith” that she will find a “hilarious take on abortion that’s saying something new.”  Don’t worry, folks, “The Mindy Project” will be rolling out its abortion laugh-riot any day now.
     This is not the first recent attempt by the abortionists to follow the gay marriage media  playbook: there was the Abortion Comedy “Obvious Child”, and creepy “comedienne” Sarah Silverman has been trying to mine the laugh-potential of abortion for some time.  “Obvious Child”, however, was much more popular with pro-abortion movie critics than it was with the public, so maybe Anthony Esolen is right [see here] that the average person’s innate common sense won’t allow too many of them to be taken in too deeply by the Culture of Death for too long.  Maybe . . . but I’m not sure that he isn’t underestimating the power of people in our fallen state to convince themselves of just about anything, especially if it means the orgy can continue.  Be that as it may, brace yourself: I suspect we’ll be seeing more and more of the “lighter side” of abortion from the entertainment media in the future. Be sober and be watchful . . .
    
(This throwback was first published in September of 2014)




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We Are Blind To Ourselves

The Bread of Life
  There is a Protestant radio station just two clicks away from the local Catholic station on my radio dial.  I was listening in my car on my way to work recently, and heard a brief snippet of the non-Catholic station.  Someone was saying: ". . . The importance of sin.  So, we'll be taking a walk through John's Gospel this morning . . ."  At which point, as I turned to the Catholic station, I thought to myself: "But what will he say about John chapter 6?", where we find "He who eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:53).  Interestingly, the first thing I heard when I arrived at the Catholic station (The Presence FM) was a priest discussing . . . John chapter 6.  
    Now, one might say this was just a coincidence, but if so, it certainly is a very suggestive coincidence.  As it happens, it reminded me of something I'd been mulling over since my recent post on Pascal's Wager.  I had quoted an atheist critic of the Wager, who said "most disbelievers disbelieve simply because they knows of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe."  In that particular post I dismissed this assertion as no more than unsupported opinion, and pointed out that, if true, it actually undermined the argument it was supposed to be supporting.  And I really don't know how one could prove it anyway, or disprove it, given not only the impossibility of knowing what is in another person's heart, but our own inability, at times at least, to recognize our own true motivations.  I do know that a number of non-believers have told me explicitly that they turned away from God not because they were persuaded first by rational arguments, but because His laws forbid doing things they wanted to do; in other words, they had an incentive to disbelieve.  I suspect that for all of us, whether or not we find something to be "compelling" depends, to some degree, on whether or not it is what we want (or expect) to hear.
    I think something like this may be at least part of the reason that our separated brethren in the Protestant communities similarly seem to miss the more "Catholic" passages in scripture (missing, for example, what seems to us to be the rather obvious import of Christ’s Eucharistic Discourse in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel).  Let me hasten to add that I'm not equating them to atheists in other respects; on the contrary, very many Protestants have a deep and sincere faith, and live exemplary Christian lives (case in point: the relatives of the nine people murdered last week at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, whose willingness to forgive the killer [here] is nothing if not Christ-like).  They have been formed in a tradition, however, that to varying degrees has rejected the incarnational aspects of Christianity as it was understood and practiced for the first millennium and a half after Christ said "You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church." (Matthew 16:18) They simply can not maintain their understanding of what Christianity means and at the same time take at face value what Jesus says here:


I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. (John 6:51-55)


Pieter Breugel's "The Blind Leading The Blind"
 
  It is part of our nature, of course, to be blind to ourselves, and to interpret things from our personal perspective, which is as true for Catholics as it is for protestants and atheists.  I think that is a very large part of the reason why formal prayers, including private devotions (the rosary, novenas, etc) and liturgical prayer such as the Liturgy of the Hours play so prominent a part in traditional Christianity. There is certainly a place for spontaneous and personal prayer; sometimes it’s appropriate and necessary to focus on ourselves and needs of which we are consciously aware. There is a danger, however, that we can start to see our spiritual lives as being primarily about . . . us.  That is the reverse of what St. Paul is talking about when he says: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) Liturgical prayer, on the other hand, is "inside out" prayer, which flows from us toward God. Instead of trying to draw God to us,it pulls us out of ourselves and unites us with Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.  That is the beautiful and powerful symbolism of the traditional manner of saying Mass with the whole congregation, including the priest, facing the East together, not looking to ourselves or at each other, but as one body looking outward at the rising sun (literally ad orientem), representing the God who rises again and brings us life.  
    Liturgical prayer is just one tangible way in which the Church reminds us that we are part of something bigger, that we are “members” of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians chapter 12). We need to be reminded that, like Jesus’ Disciples, we sometimes need to be told how to pray (see Luke chapter 11 and Matthew chapter 6), and because we are both soul and body we need tangible reminders, and concrete means of praying to the God who is pure spirit.  Like St. Thomas, we need to touch Christ’s wounds (see John chapter 20).  And, of course, unless we eat his body and drink his blood we have no life in us.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

In Defense Of Catholic Education (Worth Revisiting)



This Worth Revisiting post was originally published in June of 2014To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers visit Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by by Elizabeth Reardon at theologyisaverb.com and Allison Gingras at reconciledtoyou.com.



1953: the Good Old Days

Should We Have Catholic Schools?
   
 Fellow Catholic blogger RAnn at This That and the Other Thing recently published a post called “Catholic Schools – Should We Have Them?” [here].  She raises some interesting points, and asks a number of questions well worth asking, in particular “whether we as a church should be investing so many resources in our schools”.  Let me say at the outset that I have a lot of experience in this area: I have taught in Catholic High Schools for the past twenty-seven years; at the same time, I attended both Catholic and public schools (I graduated from a public high school), and my own children are home-schooled, so I’m drawing on a wide range of experience. While there are definitely things that Catholic schools can and should do better, I would argue that they are more important than ever.
     I’d like to start with a point on which I respectfully disagree with RAnn.  She had been reviewing a book on the integration of segregated schools in the 1950’s and 60’s, and points out that the first black students in the previously all-white schools had a very hard time of it: she ties that to the question of whether to send her children to public or to Catholic schools. “In both cases”, she says, “I think there is a choice that is right for society and a different choice that may be right for individual kids.”   I don’t think the analogy holds.  In the case of integration, black students had been unjustly deprived of choice of schools, and forced to attend inferior ones; integration really did put them into better schools, despite the hardships and indignities suffered by the first black students to integrate; superior schools at least potentially gave them more and better options later in life, and of course paved the way for a much better educational outcome for those who followed them.  The temporary disadvantages were for the sake of future benefit not just for society as a whole, but for those children themselves. 



Catholic Schools Are Good For Students

     The question of whether to choose a public or private school for your children today is very different.  As I argue below, putting them into a public rather than a Catholic school may in fact be to the detriment of society as a whole, and very often means putting them into a worse school, rather than a better. Catholic schools have always out-performed public schools in every measurable academic category, as long such categories have been measured (see here and here).  My own experience backs this up: I’ve taught Latin and English in three different high schools in three different states, all of which draw students from a wide area and from a wide number of grammar and middle schools, and I have consistently found the Catholic school students much more prepared for high school level language study than the students from the public schools.   
     Also, in light of the integration issue, it’s worth noting that minority students derive particular benefit from Catholic schools: they are much more likely to graduate from high school than their peers in public schools, and two and one half times more likely to attend college (here). Catholic schools, in fact, have long been recognized as an unparalleled path to success for minority students, and their closure has a more profound impact on these students than on other students (here).  So, if we’re talking about Catholic schools in the context of the civil rights era integration of the public schools, we might point out that Catholic schools, by effectively preparing African American and other minority students to participate successfully in society as adults, do an excellent job of accomplishing what was the primary purpose of school integration in the first place.  In this regard, supporting Catholic schools is good for both the individual students and society as a whole.



Sometimes It's Even Good For Their Souls

     What is true for minority students is true for all other students as well: the purpose of education is to prepare them for adulthood.  From society’s point of view, the end of education is that children are good and productive citizens.  We Catholics want the same, but we also have a higher aim: we want our children to be formed into moral and faith-filled adults.  This is even more important than intellectual excellence; it is better to be illiterate before the Throne of God than to be the smartest man in Hell. Happily, as we saw above, Catholic education in fact does a superior job of training the intellect, but its primary purpose is to point the students under its care in the direction of sainthood.


     If we remember that we’re talking about formation and not simply instruction, the case for specifically Catholic schools becomes even clearer.  We are corporeal beings, unlike the Angels (see here), and as students we are formed by the entire school environment as much as we are by the content of the curriculum.  When I last attended public schools three and a half decades ago they were already committed to a secularist worldview, and had already abandoned any effort to teach the natural virtues.  Today’s public schools have gone beyond that, and beyond where they were even twenty or fifteen years ago to the point where many of them have Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider and a zealous fornication promoter (take a look here get a feel for their agenda) providing “health” instruction; an increasing number are instituting mandatory “diversity” classes. The courts in some states have ruled there is no right to exempt your children from objectionable classes.  Add on top of that an environment that crushes any dissent on various leftist enthusiasms from global warming (or is it now “climate change”?) to gay marriage.  That's before we even start to talk about the whole Common Core fiasco.  We’re kidding ourselves if we think that our children will absorb the good things and somehow be immune to the bad things. I’ve heard the argument that “we went to public schools and we came out all right.”  First of all, as I pointed out above, these are not your father’s public schools, or even your children’s father’s public schools; also, quite frankly, not all of us do come out all right: I know plenty of people who didn’t, and speaking for myself, there were experiences and hard-to-shed habits I picked up in my public high school that I could have done without.



Catholic Schools Aren't Perfect, But . . . 

     One might counter that Catholic schools have their imperfections as well: there may well be administrators and teachers who undermine the Faith; as a practical matter, a school of any significant  size will need to hire people who are not practicing Catholics to fill some positions.  Also, as is the case in any school, the peer group will exercise a powerful formative influence, and many, probably most, students will be there not from religious devotion, but in order to benefit from the safer environment and the superior academic rigor.  It was partly for these reasons (we wanted our children to model themselves on us rather than their peers), but also because we wanted to have more control over the process, that my lovely bride and I decided to home school our children.  Most people are not going to go that route, however, and for all their unavoidable imperfections, good Catholic schools provide an environment where Christ is at the center, the Catholic faith is both taught and lived out, and moral excellence is promoted. 
     I'm also not a big fan of the idea that our children can or should be sent into the maw of the government-run educational complex as Ambassadors for Christ.  I don’t think it’s fair, reasonable or, frankly, even safe to send our not-fully-formed children into the public school system and expect them to improve the environment there in the face of a peer culture that is hostile to religious faith and a system that ever more aggressively proselytizes for extreme secularism; all but the most heroic are more likely to be converted themselves.  They have a better chance to be successful evangelizers as well-formed adult Catholics.  Also, a good Catholic school will not only bring some, at least, of the Catholic students from lukewarm families into a closer relationship with Christ and his Church, but will also convert some of its non-Catholic students.  In the school where I currently teach we typically see several of these students receive the Sacraments of Initiation and enter the Church at the last school Mass of the year. Even those not converted will at least be "levened" by the experience, a levening they will bring with them throughout life.



"Be Not Afraid!"



     There’s a lot more that can be said on this topic, and this is already a long post, so here’s my final point: it might well be the case that the traditional model of the parish school is no longer viable, but that’s no reason to abandon Catholic Education itself in a culture that is rapidly shedding its Christian heritage.  We need to find structures that fit the times.  Already a growing number of homeschooling families are participating in a wide variety  of groups and organizations; some families in my area have actually created their own school, independent of any official Church body; and it may well be that the new ecclesial movements that are doing so much to energize other parts of the Body of Christ will have something to contribute here.  We need to be open to the Holy Spirit and, as Saint John Paul II often said (and as it says many times in scripture), "Be not afraid!".  Whaever form it takes, this is not the time to abandon Catholic education.

Forgiveness Reveals The Power Of The Gospel

 We have witnessed an extraordinary demonstration of the power of the the Gospel in the past week. A rabid racist named Dylann Roof slaughtered nine people who were participating in a Bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  The shooter had hoped to ignite a race war between blacks and whites, but the families and friends of Roof’s innocent victims had a different idea.  Faithful to their Lord who said “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44),  they spoke movingly at Roof’s bond hearing about the unfathomable pain the shooting had caused them, but also expressed forgiveness for the shooter.
    Their bold act of forgiveness has drawn a lot of positive commentary, but it has also led to some confusion and bemusement.  Dennis Prager, for instance, in his column on the subject, disagrees with the families’ reaction, saying: “I am not aware of Roof’s having repented.  And even God Himself doesn’t forgive those who never repent.”
    Prager’s statement reveals some fairly common misunderstandings of Christian forgiveness.  For the Christian forgiveness is a decision of the will on the part of an aggrieved party to let go of anger and resentment at the person who has wronged him or her.  In the passage from Matthew’s Gospel above, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors; he doesn’t say that the the other parties need to first cease their enmity or their persecution.  Nor does forgiveness mean releasing a wrongdoer from the requirements of justice: innocent people need to be protected from further harm on the part of the perpetrator, other potential offenders must be deterred by seeing the consequences of his misdeeds, and objective wrongs he has committed need to be righted. When we forgive, we are not freeing the transgressor from the consequences of his actions, we are freeing ourselves from enslavement to the passions his transgression has provoked.  God likewise offers His forgiveness to all, and we only remain in unforgiveness if we refuse it (hence the Catholic belief that Hell is something that we choose for ourselves, not something imposed upon us); our repentance, if we do repent, is a response to His prior forgiveness, not a prerequisite for it.
    The events in Charleston are also a vivid reminder of St. Paul’s words to the Romans:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)


The decision of the relatives of the victims to turn to the Lord and to Love instead of to Hatred and Anger has completely frustrated Roof's plan.  Instead of racial strife, it has led to an unprecedented show of unity and mutual support in the city that was the birthplace of the Confederacy a century and a half ago. By refusing to be overcome by evil, they have indeed overcome evil with good.
     Finally, as has often happened throughout history, the loving, peaceful response of persecuted Christians has given a beautiful testimony to the beauty and efficacy of Christ’s Gospel, which has been broadcast throughout the United States and the rest of the world. And all because some terribly wronged Christians in South Carolina turned to the Lord and his message of forgiveness, instead of giving in to the temptation to anger and vengeance.  
         
    



Monday, June 22, 2015

St. John Fisher and Religious Freedom

The Church commemorates June 22nd as the Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, both martyred for the Faith and the Catholic Church by the English King Henry VIII.  Below is an updated version of a post I originally last year about these still very relevant saints.

St. John Fisher

Saint John Fisher
     St. Thomas More is more familiar than his contemporary St. John Fisher, partly because his magnetic personality still resonates almost five centuries later, but also in large part because of Robert Bolt’s play and film A Man For All Seasons.  St. John Fisher’s story is no less compelling, however, and is in fact given greater prominence by the Church (both Saints are commemorated on the anniversary of his death, although they were not martyred on the same day).
     Who was St. John Fisher?  At the time of his death he was bishop of the English See of Rochester, and he died defending the authority of the Church (and its vicar the Pope), and the sanctity of marriage, against a monarch whose recklessness has done incalculable harm over the centuries to both: King Henry VIII.  In my previous post (hereon Blessed Margaret Pole, who gave her life in the same cause, I wrote of Henry VIII that he

could serve as a sort of patron “anti-saint” for our times.  He was a man possessed of great gifts; he was given a strong, handsome, athletic body, [and] a quick mind that he applied to writing and musical composition as well as governing, and the rule of a rich and powerful kingdom.  Henry never mastered himself, however, and so his prodigious talents were put at the service, not of his people, but of his equally prodigious cravings for women, wealth, and power.  In the end he tried to swallow even the Church.  In his later years his grossly obese body became a living image of his insatiable appetites.

Henry VIII
     Before his episcopal ordination, Fisher had been the confessor of Margaret Beauford, Henry’s grandmother, and reportedly tutored the future Monarch himself.  The bishop’s long familiarity with the king and his family did him no more good than layman Thomas More’s personal friendship with Henry did him.  Fisher had championed the marriage of Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, and had resisted the king’s encroachments on the Church.  At last, when he refused to take an oath recognizing the offspring of Henry’s new wife Ann Boleyn as the legitimate successors to the throne, he was put to death.  He alone of the English bishops resisted to the bitter end King Henry’s usurpation of the authority of the Church and mockery of the sanctity of marriage.

The Fortnight For Freedom
     Henry VIII’s bloated specter casts a longer shadow over the world today than at any time since his death almost five hundred years ago, now when a voracious state is devouring more and more of our freedoms, and casting an especially greedy eye on the free exercise of religion.  It is in this context that the fourth annual Fortnight for Freedom is underway.  The bishops of the United States organized the first such fortnight three years ago in response to the mandate of President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services that almost all employers, including most Catholic employers (the religious exemption was so narrow that one bishop remarked that even Jesus and his Apostles  wouldn’t have qualified) provide free contraceptive coverage in all employee health plans.  Alarmed at this attempt to force Catholics to pay for and promote something that the Church has always taught is intrinsically evil, the bishops designated the two weeks (a fortnight) before the 4th of July as a special observance, first of all to remind the government that our founding documents affirm that we “ have been endowed” by our “Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (from the Declaration of Independence), and promise us that “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise” of religion  (from Amendment 1, United States Constitution).  The fortnight is also an opportunity to rally American Catholics in defense of their religious freedom.
     One of the highlights of last year's Fortnight for Freedom in the Diocese of Portland was a talk by Catholic Answers apologist Tim Staples.  He hit upon a number of themes that have been explored in this space, among them the inextricable connection between morality, faith, and the health of a culture.  And given the role contraception has played in both the decline of morality and the undermining of faith in the Church, it is fitting that it was the attempt to force contraception on the Church that precipitated  the unprecedented and virtually unanimous response by the U.S. bishops.

Contraception and the Clergy
     At the same time, there is an irony here.  From its earliest years the Church has condemned contraception as a grave evil.  Today, however, a majority of professed Catholics don’t accept the teaching; many may not even know it’s a sin, and most have probably never heard a good explanation of Catholic doctrine on this point. I can attest to the shock and confusion on the faces of both the engaged couples and the organizers of the event when my lovely bride and I attempted to explain the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage at a Pre-Cana conference to which we had been invited to do just that (for a fuller discussion see here).   Despite the clear and uncompromising nature of the doctrine, however, the seriousness of the sin, and the manifestation (with a vengeance) of all the evils that forty-seven years ago in Humanae Vitae (full text here) Pope Paul VI had predicted would follow the widespread acceptance of contraception, the clergy below the papal level have been a little shy about discussing it.  There have been some notable exceptions, for instance 
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska
then-Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput’s magnificent pastoral letter on the 30th anniversary of Pope Paul’s encyclical (here), but on the whole the matter has not received due justice.  Bishops and priests are starting to talk about the sin of contraception more often, but usually very briefly in reference to the HHS Mandate; there is still very little teaching taking place (although the exceptions are becoming more frequent: the latest example is Lincoln, Nebraska, bishop James Conley’s beautiful pastoral letter on marriage and contraception last March, full text here).
     The reasons for this reticence are clear enough.  First, much of the ordained clergy was no doubt intimidated by the ferocious (and premeditated) backlash against Humanae Vitae; also, in an age which exalts personal experience over universal principles many have been reluctant to speak out on a matter which affects laypersons, but not themselves; they social atmosphere at the time was neatly encapsulated forty years ago in U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz’s notorious remark in reference to Paul VI, “He no play-a the game, he no make-a the rules”. 
     Times change, however.  In the last twenty or so years with the explosion of lay apologetics there are now many prominent lay Catholics speaking eloquently and forcefully about the Catholic teaching on contraception.  Also, the HHS mandate has forced the American clergy into a corner where they must either surrender their rightful authority to a bullying secular state, as almost all the English bishops eventually did in the time of Henry VIII, or, like St. John Fisher, take a bold stand for the truth (with the difference that they are unlikely to lose their heads for it). 
     Speaking of which, in the question and answer session after his talk in Portland, Tim Staples said that faith in Christ without his Church is faith in a head without a body, because the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth. In a similar vein, the laity without the leadership of the hierarchy is like a body without a head, or, to use another image, an army without officers.  Capable and motivated sergeants have emerged over last couple decades to instruct and rally the faithful, but God has commissioned his ordained priests and bishops to lead us into battle against the “principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).  As St. Thomas More is a Patron Saint for us laymen in the present crisis, so is St. John Fisher for our ordained leaders. 

St. John Fisher, pray for all Catholic bishops and priests, and be an inspiration to them, that they may follow your lead in bravely defending Christ’s Church and his Holy Sacrament of Marriage. Amen.