Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (1 June 2014)

Christ has ascended, the Holy Spirit is yet to descend upon the Disciples gathered in the Upper Room and we find ourselves celebrating our Lord’s Resurrection on the 7th Sunday of Easter. 
     It being Sunday, it is also time for another “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, a weekly gathering of Catholic bloggers who share their blog posts from the past week.  You can beam up to the Mother Ship here, at This That and the Other Thing, captained by our fearless leader RAnn.  Below you can find the links for this particular outpost, the space station known as Principium et Finis.

We observed St. Joan of Arc's Feast Day Friday, May 30
  As I have said before, I don’t intentionally set out to follow certain themes in a given week, but sometimes something in one post sets off a spark that leads to another; other times it just happens.  We had a little of both this week, as we explored the connection between the decay of public morals and the decline of peoples and states.  The advocates of relativism, libertinism, and other unsavory “ isms” try to ridicule those of us who try to stand for the good, the true, the right, etc. as prudes who are simply out to spoil the fun and glower self-importantly at everyone else.  On the contrary, nothing is more practical than morality and moral behavior, because without it everything else falls apart.

Monday – The previous weeks’s post on St. Julia of Corsica [here] reminded me of certain statements I had heard attributed to Fr. Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI; looking into those led to this: “Fr. Ratzinger’s Prediction of a ‘Smaller, Purer Church’” [here]

Tuesday – A Memorial Day column by Robert Royal led to this reflection, which cites commentators from Titus Livius through John Adams, with a special cameo appearance by Augustus  Caesar: “License is Enemy to Liberty” [here]

Wednesday – This was the feast day of Blessed Margaret Pole, a believer in Faith and Family who ran afoul of the living embodiment of self-righteous self-indulgence, Henry VIII: “Blessed Margaret Pole: Martyred for Church and Marriage” [here]

and – in anticipation of Ascension Thursday: “J.S. Bach Ascension Oratorio” [here]

Thursday – The abortion industry, as we know, is sustained by a vast web of lies, none more notorious than this one:  “Abortion Myth #6 (Throwback Thursday Edition) [here]

Friday – Somebody shared a curious little article from a couple years back; who knew that atheist agitator Richard Dawkins harbored fond memories of his Anglican youth? “The ‘Cultural Christianity’ of Richard Dawkins [here]

And so goes another week - the next time we snippetize, it will be the great Feast of Pentacost - Valete Amici!

Friday, May 30, 2014

The "Cultural Christianity" of Richard Dawkins

Dawkins' Flying Spaghetti Monster (with Meatballs)
    I don’t often find myself agreeing with Richard Dawkins, the chief evangelist (dysangelist? cacangelist?) of the “New Atheism”.  I recently ran across an article, however, from a publication called Christian Today (not to be confused with Christianity Today) featuring this same Prof. Dawkins [here].   It seems that as Dawkins was out hawking his memoirs he was asked a question by "an American minister in the audience who said he continued to preach the teachings of Christ and considered himself a Christian despite not believing in Jesus’s miracles or His resurrection anymore."  Dawkins quite properly responded: “But if you don’t have the supernatural, it’s not clear to me why you would call yourself a minister.”  Now, I myself wouldn’t call it “the supernatural”, but I know what he means.  As I’ve said before [here], a man who does not believe in the Resurrection of Christ has no business standing up in front of a congregation in the guise of a Christian minister, or pastor, or priest.  He’s guilty of fraud, for one thing; also, what in the world does he do with a passage like this:

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1Corinthians 15:14-19)

Sadly, Prof. Dawkins and I have little ground for agreement after that.  In fact, this little article, whose main focus is he atheist apologist’s Anglican origins, is a good illustration of the emotionalist and sheer illogic that underlies much of the currently fashionable atheism.  Consider the following:

Dawkins, Author of The Selfish Gene, went on to say he believed there was a “magnetic pull” that kicks in if humans stray off the path they were destined to take.
          “I think there are always paths not taken but if a different path is taken, I think there is a magnetic pull.  There is a sort of something that pulls you back to the pathway having taken a fork in the road.”

In The Selfish Gene and in other places Dawkins, whose training is in insect biology, has argued that our actions and choices are genetically determined.  A “destined path” sounds quite a bit less random than simple genetic determination.  And how is it that we “wander off the path” in the first place if our genes are determining our actions?
     Or how about this:

He said he felt “grateful” to the Church of England because of its “benign tolerance” that allowed people to be a part of its ceremonies and traditions without having to believe in the faith.
He suspects, he says, that many Anglicans “don’t believe any of it” but “vaguely enjoy” it, and goes on to compare “evensong in a country church” to “a village cricket match on the village green”.  If what he says is true, the Anglican Church either lies that it believes what it does not, or really does believe it has a truth vital to salvation but makes no effort to impress it upon anyone, not even those who enter its doors.  Shouldn’t Dawkins be angry at its dishonesty?
     Well, he is angry, in fact – but he is angry instead at Christians who actually believe what they claim to believe.  According to the article:

. . . Dawkins admitted he was a little “angry” with God [!!] and those who believe in him.
          “I do believe in truth.  I am moved by the beauty of life, as it has evolved.  I think any child who is being denied that knowledge is being cheated.  It’s wicked that children are being brought up that way by parents, teachers, priests – deliberately, systematically deprived of that knowledge,” he said.

Where to begin with this emotion-charged pile of inconsistencies?  Claiming to be angry with a God he says doesn’t exist is probably just a rhetorical trope, but what is the “truth” he’s talking about?  Most Christians would agree that life “has evolved”; the difference is that they believe that any “evolution” has been guided by the hand of an infinitely loving God, while Dawkins claims that it is all a big, random, meaningless accident.  Is it “wicked” to find the Christian view more beautiful?  And given that Dawkins’ position is unproven and, in fact, completely unprovable, how can he assert an absolute like “truth”?  Why should he be angry with people who are just following their genetic programming?  And finally, how can anything possibly be “wicked” (wicked!) in a world that is ultimately meaningless?
     And this, of course, is the irony at the heart of atheism as a belief system: atheists claim that theirs is the “rational” view because we can’t point to ironclad “proof” of God’s existence.  There is in fact quite a bit of proof, both empirical and logical, of course, but even if we concede their premise, nobody has ever offered a rational proof, or offered physical evidence, of God’s non-existence.  While one can come up with a logical defense of agnosticism, perhaps, atheism is and can only be an opinion, no more.  Notice how Dawkins himself answers this criticism: he claims to believe in “The Flying Spaghetti Monster”; sure, he can’t prove it, just like Christians can’t prove the existence of God, and therefore his Spaghetti Monster is equally plausible.  He pretends that a critique of his own position is instead a defense of his antagonist’s position, and having created a straw man, ridicules it with an absurdity.  That’s a pretty cheap trick for the champion of “reason”.
     One final, interesting, detail: Dawkins, the article tells us, “became atheist in his teens” (much like his fellow New Atheist, the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens, who became an atheist as a preteen).  It’s theoretically possible, I suppose, that an adolescent could have the knowledge, wisdom, and objectivity to come up with the logical argument that disproves Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and other great minds throughout the ages, but if Dawkins has done it, he hasn’t shared it with us.  There are a number of well-written books that fairly easily shred the arguments that he and his fellow militant non-believers have offered (my favorite: The Last Superstition by Edward Feser).
     The Richard Dawkinses of this world are badly in need of our prayers.  It shouldn’t surprise us that he feels a strange fondness for Christian observance: a rational person might even conclude that if he feels a “magnetic pull” back to church that something – someone? – is pulling him, well, back to church.  Who knows? He may, like famed atheist philosopher Anthony Flew [see here], reason his way back.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Abortion Myth #6 (Throwback Thursday Edition)

Myth: “If abortion becomes illegal, tens of thousands of women in the U.S. will die again from back-alley and coat hanger abortions.”


-Women never died “by the thousands” in the United States: this figure was fabricated by pro-abortionists (see Abortion Myth #1).  The highest verified figure is 388 maternal deaths in 1948, before antibiotics became available.

New, improved post-Roe abortionist Kermit Gosnell
-For decades prior to legalization, 90% of abortions were performed by doctors in their offices, about the same number as today. 

- Women still die from legal abortions in the United States [here, here].

- The same pro-abortion activists who warn about coat hangers and the back alley fight strenuously against any regulation of abortion clinics, even minimal health regulations, that they believe might discourage abortions (see Davis, Wendy).

-Because pro-abortion activists oppose regulation of abortion facilities, and the politicians who rely on their financial support look the other way, brutal and deadly abortionists like Kermit Gosnell are able to flourish.

-Every year more than half a million unborn women die in legal abortions in the United States.

-Poland went from 148,200 abortions in 1975 to only 253 in 1998, and maternal deaths decreased by 30%, and miscarriages decreased by 25!

Much of the information above comes from Randy Alcorn’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments.


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link

Links to entire Abortion Myths Series:

Abortion Myth # 1 [link

Abortion Myth # 2 [link] 

Abortion Myth # 3 [link]

Abortion Myth # 4 [link

Abortion Myth # 5 [link

Abortion Myth # 6 [link

Abortion Myth # 7 [link

Abortion Myth # 8 [link

Abortion Myth # 9 [link

Abortion Myth # 10 [link

Abortion Myth # 11 [link

Abortion Myth # 12[link

Abortion Myth # 13 [link

Abortion Myth # 14 [link

Abortion Myth # 15 [link

Abortion Myth # 16 [link]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

J.S. Bach, Ascension Oratorio

The joyous opening to Bach's Ascension Oratorio.  It's a beautiful performance, but the equally beautiful painting used in the Youtube clip is actually a depiction of the Transfiguration.  To make amends, I'm posting this Ascension painting first:

And now for Bach:

Blessed Margaret Pole: Martyred for Church and Marriage

Blessed Margaret Pole
Martyr of England. She was born Margaret Plantagenet, the niece of Edward IV and Richard III. She married Sir Reginald Pole about 1491 and bore five sons, including Reginald Cardinal Pole. Margaret was widowed, named countess of Salisbury, and appointed governess to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon, Spain. She opposed Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the king exiled her from court, although he called her “the holiest woman in England.” When her son, Cardinal Pole, denied Henry’s Act of Supremacy, the king imprisoned Margaret in the Tower of London for two years and then beheaded her on May 28. In 1538, her other two sons were executed. She was never given a legal trial. She was seventy when she was martyred. Margaret was beatified in 1886. (from Butler's Lives of the Saints)

     I called my piece last week on St. Julia of Corsica [here] “A Saint For Our Times”; when I think about it, I have yet to find a Saint who isn’t for our times. But today’s Saint, Blessed Margaret Pole, who gave her life in defense of the sanctity of marriage, seems especially suited to the situation of our increasingly post-Christian culture. The niece of kings, Blessed Margaret was martyred because she refused to applaud publicly the sacrifice of Holy Matrimony to a third king’s lust.

     Blessed Margaret’s antagonist, Henry VIII, 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, a quick mind that he applied to writing and musical composition as well as to 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.
     People come and go, but human nature doesn’t change. King Henry is long gone, but his imitators are still with us. Like Henry, they are not satisfied with mere tolerance or tacit assent: they require full-throated public approval, and so the Margaret Poles must be silenced. Nobody is literally being led to the block, thankfully, and pray God it never comes to that. Nevertheless, as we have seen over and over again,  those who stand up for Church, family, and traditional moral norms today, even if they do so privately, can expect to have their character blackened and their livelihoods threatened.
     I have often heard Blessed Margaret’s younger and much better known contemporary, St. Thomas More, proposed as a Patron Saint for our times because of his martyrdom in defense of the Church and Marriage. Like him, Blessed Margaret's firm reliance on Christ's loving care gave her the strength to stand fast in face of mortal threats, and the serenity not to be swallowed up in bitterness against her persecutors.  We would do well to invoke Blessed Margaret Pole along with St. Thomas More, and to pray for her intercession against the ravenous spirit of Henry VIII that yet again threatens both Faith and Family.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

License is Enemy to Liberty

Is there an Augustus in our future?
      Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States, which was first instituted a century and a half ago to honor those who fell in the Civil War.  Robert Royal published an essay to commemorate the holiday yesterday at The Catholic Thing [here] which, although addressed specifically to the situation in the U.S., applies to republics everywhere, and fits in well with certain themes that I have been exploring here, in particular the relationship between Christian faith and citizenship.     
     Near the end of his essay, Royal writes: “At the bottom of our current woes lies a question about what freedom means today. America’s founders put freedom near the center of national life, but not absolute freedom, which they regarded as ‘license.’”   He then quotes John Adams, who in 1776 said that political leaders 

may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. . . .They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.
Regular readers of this blog know that Adams is eminently quotable, and that this wasn’t the last time he expressed such sentiments.  Nor is he the first to do so; Royal also cites the Roman historian Livy, who lived during the reign of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.  At the end of the first century B.C.  Livy writes: 

let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies. 

It was obvious to Livy that the root of Rome’s troubles was the deterioration of public morals. “He was right”, concurs Royal, “yet Rome did not ‘fall’ until 500 years later, though you could argue that in the meantime it became something other than a moral exemplar among nations.” One could also point out that while Rome did not at that time cease to be, it certainly ceased to be a republic, because immoral men are incapable of self- government.  License, as I often point out to my libertarian friends, is the enemy of Liberty [see here, for instance].  And so the Romans of Livy’s time needed an Augustus to do for (and to) them what their ancestors had done for themselves.  We would be very unwise to assume that the same could not happen to our own homelands.      
     This also has some application to the Church.  The Church is not a republic, but in its institutional aspect it shares some things in common with republics, particularly in that both rely for their maintenance on the efforts of committed but fallible human beings (Papal Infallibility notwithstanding).  Also, as I discussed in yesterday’s post [here], while Christ promised that the “Gates of Hell will not prevail” against his Church (Matthew 16:18), individual Christians and indeed local churches can and will be lost along the way.  Consider that Hippo, the episcopal see of the great Saint Augustine, as well as the ancient Patriarchal sees of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Constantinople have been largely Muslim for longer than they were ever Christian.  What Livy calls the “decay of character” can have disastrous consequences for the Churches and the people of particular times and places.           
     So where does this leave us?  There are those not only in the public sphere but also in the Church (you can hear them beating the drums about divorce and communion even now) who seem to dismiss the moral law as little more than a chew-toy for the scrupulous and the obsessive (that is, us). And we know that morality is a means, not the end of religion, but we also remember that St. Paul said: “Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, with minds set on earthly things” (Phillipians 3:19).  It was clear to both the Apostle Paul and the pagan Livy that human institutions are built on the foundation of public morality; consequently, men enslaved to vice are worthy of neither the sovereignty of free citizens nor the Freedom of Christ.  Christ himself  is assured of victory in the end but we, individually and communally, must still work out our salvation in fear and trembling (see Phillipians 2:12).


Monday, May 26, 2014

Fr. Ratzinger's Prediction of a "Smaller, Purer Church"

Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI 
     I have often heard mention of a remark by Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, anticipating a “smaller, purer church”.  I was reminded of the this remark last week as I was wrapping up my post on St. Julia of Corsica [here], and reflecting on the fact that we seem to need to suffer many smaller defeats on the way to enjoying Christ’s final victory over sin and death.  I was curious to find out exactly what the future Pope said, and when and where he said it.
     I found that the original statement came as the last of a series of radio addresses that Fr. Ratzinger, at that time a professor of Theology, delivered over the radio in Germany in 1969 [full text here].  His prophetic vision of a “smaller, purer Church” (someone else’s paraphrase, I think, because I don’t see that wording in the original text) was broadcast on Christmas day.  It makes interesting reading 45 years later.
     Fr. Ratzinger starts out saying that “The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and live from the pure fullness of their faith.”  Ah yes, personal holiness: sounds good. “It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods . . .”  Hmmm, sounds like time for some self-examination.  “nor will it issue”, he says

from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality.

Got it.  The future of the Church lies with those who are ready to make a deep commitment to self-sacrifice, who aren’t looking for easy answers.  But how does this lead to a smaller Church?  He goes on to explain:

We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist; who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.

In other words, the corporal works of mercy may be an essential part of Christianity, but they can’t be the sole or primary focus of the Church (“I’ll show you the faith that underlies my works” James 2:18), since there are secular agencies and individuals who can perform them just as well.  Who needs the Church, if you can get the same somewhere else?  The thing that only the Church can provide is the encounter with Jesus Christ through his sacraments.  Everything else, Fr. Ratzinger says, will be burned away, but much like the man St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3:15, who “will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire”, what remains will be pure metal:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge - a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she loose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members . . . But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.

     This fire-tempered, more faithful Church, Fr.  Ratzinger says, will stand as a refuge for those driven to “horror” by the spiritual poverty of a now Godless world.
     The future Pope wraps up with a peroration that is both grim and hopeful:

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

      The future Pope’s “prophecy” can be misunderstood.  Some commentators seem to believe that he is advocating a much smaller Church.  Not so.  He is looking at the “Signs of the Times” and extrapolating from that, tempering his predictions with the knowledge that Christ has promised that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church (see Matthew 16:18).  The past four and a half decades have certainly developed just as Fr. Ratzinger suggested they would.  Church attendance has fallen as the weakly committed no longer feel the social pressure to attend Mass, the number of priests has plummeted, and most religious orders have shrunk dramatically.  At the same time, religious orders grounded in a traditional understanding of the doctrines and disciplines of the Church are growing, and we have seen an explosion of lay evangelization unlike anything the world has seen in a long time.
    It seems to me that Fr. Ratzinger’s vision of the near future of the Church, much like Paul VI’s admonitions in Humanae Vitae [here], has been more than confirmed by events since, and should serve as a serious warning of what is to come.  Christ’s final victory is guaranteed, but individuals and whole nations can be lost before its consummation.  We all still need to choose whether we’ll follow Christ’s Standard, or Satan’s.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sunday Snippets (25 May 2014)

     Here we are, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and the sixth "Sunday Snippets (A Catholic Carnival)" of this Holiest of Seasons.  Did I mention that Sunday Snippets is a gathering of Catholic bloggers who share their posts for the past week in a spirit of good fellowship and bloggish conviviality? This larger gathering happens at This That and the Other Thing [here], where we all try not to spill dark colored drinks on our host RAnn's carpet.
     Having learned from experience, we have simply done away with carpeting here at Principium et Finis.  We try to make up for it by covering a wide range of topics every week (sorry about that, but it's been a long week):

Spring has arrived Down East at last: Iam ver egelidos refert tepores . . . 

Monday - A fruitful staff retreat last Friday: I found an interesting book, and it got me thinking about sharing the Faith with the (almost) invincibly apathetic . . . "Evangelizing The Lukewarm" [here]

Tuesday - I couldn't resist one more foray into the whole altar girl morass, with an admixture of mortar gunnery and a little American history: "The Call to Self-Sacrifice" [here]

Wednesday - One of the enduring fables of pro-abortionism is that abortion is essential for the preservation of women's rights.  Here's where they're wrong: "Abortion Myth #13"[here]

Thursday - A recurrent feature of the current Pontificate is the attempted hijacking of various of his statements by self-appointed "agents of change" and a compliant media. This past February I used one such occasion to locate Francis where he belongs, in the company of his predecessors Leo, Pius, and John Paul. "Pope Francis Is Not A Communist! (Throwback Thursday Edition)" [here]

and -  Heard this one at Mass last Sunday, although not, of course, sung by the ladies in this clip.  My words can't do it justice. "Antonio Vivaldi - Laudamus Te" [here]

Friday - Some "minor" Saints have very Major stories to tell, such as one whose feast falls on May 23rd: "St. Julia of Corsica - A Saint For Our Times" [here]

Friday, May 23, 2014

St. Julia of Corsica - A Saint For Our Times

     Today is not a major feast day in the Church's liturgical calendar but, as always, there are saints whose feasts are celebrated.  One of the more interesting of today's saints is St. Julia of Corsica (also known as St. Julia of Carthage).  There is an account below taken from Butler's Lives of the Saints, with my commentary afterward:

St. Julia of Corsica
St. Julia was a noble virgin of Carthage, who, when the city was taken by Genseric in 489 [sic -  Carthage was actually captured by Genseric and the Vandals in 439], was sold for a slave to a pagan merchant of Syria named Eusebius. Under the most mortifying employments of her station, by cheerfulness and patience she found a happiness and comfort which the world could not have afforded.
      All the time she was not employed in her master's business was devoted to prayer and reading books of piety. Her master, who was charmed with her fidelity and other virtues, carried her with him on one of his voyages to Gaul. Having reached the northern part of Corsica, he cast anchor, and went on shore to join the pagans of the place in an idolatrous festival. Julia was left at some distance, because she would not be defiled by the superstitious ceremonies which she openly reviled.
     Felix, the governor of the island, who was a bigoted pagan, asked who this woman was who dared to insult the gods. Eusebius informed him that she was a Christian, and that all his authority over her was too weak to prevail with her to renounce her religion, but that he found her so diligent and faithful he could not part with her. The governor offered him four of his best female slaves in exchange for her. But the merchant replied, "No; all you are worth will not purchase her; for I would freely lose the most valuable thing I have in the world rather than be deprived of her." However, the governor, while Eusebius was drunk and asleep, took upon him to compel her to sacrifice to his gods. He offered to procure her liberty if she would comply. The Saint made answer that she was as free as she desired to be as long as she was allowed to serve Jesus Christ. Felix, thinking himself derided by her undaunted and resolute air, in a transport of rage caused her to be struck on the face, and the hair of head to be torn off, and lastly, ordered her to be hanged on a cross till she expired. Certain monks of the isle of Gorgon carried off her body; but in 768 Desiderius, King Of Lombardy, removed her relics to Brescia, where her memory is celebrated with great devotion.

     A few points stand out from the account of St. Julia’s life.  First and foremost, her devotion to Christ and her courage in the face of unspeakable suffering is an inspiration to us.  Maybe, the next time I’m tempted to “go along with the crowd” simply because I’m afraid of the disapproval or verbal abuse of others, I’ll take some strength from Julia’s fortitude in the face of much, much worse persecution.
     Julia also shows us the power of example.  Clearly, her character and virtue made a large impression on her master Eusebius. While her diligence and fidelity alone were not enough to win him over to the faith, at least not right away, they did give him the courage to stand up to the governor Felix, and convince him not to give her up for, literally, any price.  None of the accounts I have seen, unfortunately, tell us anything about what eventually happened to Eusebius.  One wonders whether the example of her heroic martyrdom was finally enough to make him a Christian.  We do know that the witness of the martyrs was crucial to the conversion of very many people, for which reason Tertullian said: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
     Julia's story also tells us something about the nature of sin.  I am reminded yet again of Father Richard John Neuhaus’ aphorism:  “When orthodoxy becomes optional, sooner or later it will become proscribed”.  What he meant was that simply by doing the right thing one is seen as a rebuke to those who are not doing right.  Look at Julia: she wasn’t interfering with the pagan festival, she was simply staying away.  The governor, however, couldn’t tolerate anyone who was not actively endorsing his activities.  How often we have seen this same attitude today.  Granted, at least in the United States, nobody is literally being crucified, although the advocates of a “New Orthodoxy” will certainly try to destroy the reputation and livelihood of anyone who does not publicly cheer for their innovations.  The most recent example is that of the Benham Brothers, whose planned home improvement program on the HGTV network was cancelled [see here] because the brothers, who are evangelical Christians, publicly oppose abortion and gay marriage.  It appears that the activists who intimidated HGTV also successfully pressured the bank with whom the Benhams have worked for years to sever ties – at least until the counter-reaction from Christians and others concerned with the erosion of personal freedom caused them to reconsider.  The bank now claims that the whole thing was simply a misunderstanding [here].
     But sin's not the end of the story, either.  We have seen throughout the history of the Church the truth of the aphorism, "The bigger they come, the harder they fall"; zealous persecutors from St. Paul himself to the Nazi death-camp guards who were awed by the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe have been converted, often by witnessing the faith and Christ-like serenity of their victims.  The ancient accounts don't tell us, but the governor Felix might well have been one of these.  Whether or not he himself was moved in this way, we can be sure that many of the other pagan witnesses were.  
     Finally, the example of St. Julia of Corsica has continued to inspire people through the centuries and is still with us to this day as a reminder that, although there there will always be defeats along the way, Christ wins in the end.  If we can put our faith in that, as Julia did, we can persevere. As St. Peter said: " Rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 13).


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Antonio Vivaldi Laudamus te

What a joyful song of praise! Laudamus Te ("We Praise You") by the magnificent Antonio Vivaldi, a.k.a The Red Priest (no, he wasn't a communist, either; he had red hair).

Pope Francis Is Not A Communist! (Throwback Thursday Edition)

Carl Olson posted an article this week (here) situating certain recent statements by Pope Francis on economics in the context of magisterial teachings from other recent Popes and showed -  surprise! –  that the Pope is Catholic.  You wouldn’t know it from the media reports.  As it happens, I wrote a similar piece earlier this year, which I’m re-posting for Throwback Thursday:

  Pope Francis certainly makes things interesting.  Aside from keeping former kremlinologists employed trying to discern the intent behind his appointments, he can’t seem to help saying things that get people in an uproar.  The most notorious case was an interview with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, in which the Pope seemed to be endorsing a rather generous (i.e., relativistic ) concept of conscience.  As it turns out, however, Scalfari, who is an atheist, did not record his discussion with the Pope nor did he take notes; the “interview” was actually his own recollection of the conversation (link).  He eventually admitted “some of the Pope’s words I reported were not shared by Pope Francis.” Oops.  The Vatican removed the interview from its website.  The Pope, it appears, is learning to be more careful.

Don't point the finger at Pope Francis . . . 

     More surprising (perhaps) is the uproar over a statement in the Pope’s Encyclical Gaudium Evangelii (Joy of the Gospel) that seemed to be a condemnation of Capitalism . . . at least that’s the way the press reported it, and considering the great gaudium sinistri (Joy of the Left) that accompanied it, how could they be wrong?  
     Easily, as it turns out.  We’ll get to that in a moment, but we need a little context for the Church’s teaching on matters economic.  Let’s start with four stipulations:

-1. The Magisterium of the Church in general, and the Pope (any Pope) in particular, claims no particular competence in economics.
 -2. The Magisterium and the Pope do, however, have the competence to teach authoritatively on moral principles that Catholics are to apply in their economic life.
-3. Since Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891 the Popes have been developing a body of Magisterial teaching on said principles.
-4.  A pope cannot simply reverse prior magisterial teaching, even in a formal proclamation such as an encyclical letter (and of course, he can’t say anything authoritative at all in a newspaper interview).

     Given that, the proper way to evaluate what Francis said about the free market economy is to consider his remarks in the context of the existing teaching.  A good place to start is Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, issued one hundred years after Rerum Novarum (hence the name: “hundredth year”), in which he looks back at Leo’s encyclical, Pius XI’s1931 encyclical QuadrigesimoAnno (“The Fortieth Year” – do you see a pattern here?) and the economic events of the twentieth century.  While the scope of The Blessed John Paul’s encyclical is too vast to explore here, we can at least get a glimpse at what he has to say about socialism and capitalism.      
     Pope John Paul tells us, first of all, that the “guiding principle of Pope Leo's Encyclical, and of all of the Church's social doctrine, is a correct view of the human person and of his unique value, inasmuch as ‘man ... is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself”’ . . .and  “his essential dignity as a person.” (Centesimus Annus  5) These are not the concerns of socialism.  John Paul quotes from Rerum Novarum, which criticizes the socialists because they "encourage the poor man's envy of the rich and strive to do away with private property” and  

their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that, were they carried into effect, the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are moreover emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community. (Rerum Novarum 99

All of which proved true on the occasions when socialism was put into practice during the twentieth century. This is not to say, however, that the Church favors an unfettered free market: 

There is certainly a legitimate sphere of autonomy in economic life which the State should not enter. The State, however, has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted, and thus of safeguarding the prerequisites of a free economy, which presumes a certain equality between the parties, such that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience. (Centesimus Annus 15). 

The state’s role should be determined by the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity

. . . according to the principle of subsidiarity, by creating favourable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth. Directly and according to the principle of solidarity, by defending the weakest, by placing certain limits on the autonomy of the parties who determine working conditions, and by ensuring in every case the necessary minimum support for the unemployed worker. (Centesimus Annus 15

The meaning of solidarity should be evident in the passage above; subsidiarity is described by Pius XI in Quadrigesimo Anno 79 as follows:

[I]t is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them . . .

Pope John Paul also says: 

It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs . . .  But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish. It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. (Centesimus Annus 35

Notice that the Pope is not describing a particular system, but putting forward certain principles that should under gird the system: a relatively free market, a state that protects property and ensures the rule of law, protects the weak from exploitation, and in the process respects the appropriate freedom to conduct their own affairs that everyone possesses as part of his innate dignity as a human being made in the image of God.   The market (note well: properly regulated) is the best means of producing the most prosperity for everyone; as Christians we need to find ways to include everyone in its benefits.
     Which brings us back to our starting point.  No system can take the place of the “unique value” of each human person.  In the matter “of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector”, for instance” primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the State but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.” (Centesimus Annus 48)  As John Adams said of the U.S. Constitution: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”, so can we say of the market economy. No system can be truly just apart from the free choices of those who populate it.  As Pope John Paul says in another place: 

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a "new program". The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem.  (Novo Millenio Ineunto 29

     Pardon the lengthy excursus into papal documents, but this is the backdrop against which we need to look at Pope Francis’ remarks on economic systems.  In Evangelii Gaudium 54 Pope Francis says, according to the official English translation:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably  succeed in bringing about greater justice and  inclusiveness in the world. 

Catholic blogger extraordinaire Fr. Z rightly points out (link) that the Spanish phrase por mismo, translated “inevitably” above, is more accurately rendered “by itself”.  That is an important distinction, although even with the less accurate translation any objective observer can see that what New Model Pope Francis is saying is completely consistent with the teaching of the rigid, right-wing, authoritarian, pre-Vatican II neo-Torquemada John Paul II in Centesimus Annus: The system can’t do it alone, no system can, it can at most provide the opportunity.  In fact, the system is only as just as those people who animate it, who can only find true justice in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

     So, what’s all the uproar about?  The key lies in the phrase “objective of observer.”  As I pointed out in an earlier post (link), those on the left, both in the Church and in the secular world, need to protect their worldview at all costs, and will often cite in their own support authorities who, on even cursory inspection, don’t support them at all.  I once knew of a high school campus minister who had previously been a 100% pro-abortion state legislator, but nevertheless would brandish (I mean physically brandish) a copy of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae when arguing against capital punishment.  She seemed unaware (or maybe she just didn't care) that abortion comes in for much harsher treatment in that document.

     That’s the story here.  The secular press and their religious counterparts will continue to snatch up and loudly trumpet any remarks by this Pope that can even remotely be construed to support their heterodoxy.  So if you want to know what the pope really said, go to a more sober source.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


MYTH: "Legalized abortion is necessary for the protection of women’s rights."

TRUTH: Abortion demeans and exploits women.

-Pregnancy is a natural, healthy state for women; it is the most significant difference between women and men.  Treating pregnancy like a disease implies that there’s something wrong with the nature of women's bodies.  The group Feminists for Life says in their Debate Handbook:

When women feel that a pregnant body is a body out of control, deviant, diseased, they are internalizing attitudes of low self-esteem toward the female body.  These attitudes contradict the rightful feminist affirmation of pregnancy as a natural bodily function which deserves societal respect and accommodation.

-It is also natural for women to want to protect and nurture their children; to destroy their own children when they are most in need of protection violates an essential part of women's nature.

Mother and Child, by Frederic Leighton

-Abortion denies the most basic right, the right to life, to hundreds of thousands of unborn women every year.

-Most women who abort do so because they believe they have no choice: many are coerced, and often abused and threatened with violence if they don’t abort (see ). Shouldn't we protect their right not to be forced to kill their own children?

-Legalized abortion empowers irresponsible men, because it enables them to exploit women sexually without having to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood.

-Pro-abortion activists fight strenuously at every turn against laws requiring women be given information about abortion and its alternatives.  What about women's right to make informed choices?

-The original feminists (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, for instance) opposed abortion on the grounds that abortion was a crime against women as well as their children.  Alice Paul said “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.”


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)

Links to entire Abortion Myths Series:

Abortion Myth # 1 [link

Abortion Myth # 2 [link] 

Abortion Myth # 3 [link]

Abortion Myth # 4 [link

Abortion Myth # 5 [link

Abortion Myth # 6 [link

Abortion Myth # 7 [link

Abortion Myth # 8 [link

Abortion Myth # 9 [link

Abortion Myth # 10 [link

Abortion Myth # 11 [link

Abortion Myth # 12[link

Abortion Myth # 13 [link

Abortion Myth # 14 [link

Abortion Myth # 15 [link

Abortion Myth # 16 [link]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Call to Self-Sacrifice

The author (r., hands on table) Ft. Dix, New Jersey, 1990
     A long time ago I was a mortarman in the United States Army Reserve, and later in the National Guard.  Everyone in the mortar section had his own role: the gunner, assistant gunner, ammo bearer, etc. I was a Fire Direction Center Computer: I didn’t actually have a computer, at least not until shortly before my discharge in 1991; I was the computer, using a plotting table, pins, pencil, and paper to generate the data that enabled the gun crews to hit their unseen target.  In order to fulfill the mission, everyone needed to know his own job and do it without hesitation when the time came.  This willingness to do what each man must, rather than what he might want to do, was particularly important in the case of the unexpected, such as in the case of a “hang fire”.

     A hang fire is a very dangerous situation in which a live round does not fire, presumably because it has become stuck in the cannon (the “tube”) before striking the firing pin at the bottom.  This happened to one of the 4.2 inch mortars in my New York Army National Guard unit during a live fire exercise in Ft. Dix, New Jersey in the spring of 1990.  We carefully followed the parts assigned to us by Army regulations: everyone moved back a safe distance for a minute or so in case the charge was just slow to go off; next the gunner went back and kicked the tube (yes, this was the proper procedure) to try to knock the round loose; after that, the assistant gunner lifted the back end of the tube while the gunner cupped his hands over its mouth to catch the live round should it slide forward; after all those measures failed, we called the base demolition team who blew the cannon to bits with plastic explosives (for years afterwards I kept a jagged, twisted piece of the steel cannon as a keepsake).  Everyone did his own job, and nobody got hurt.
     I mention this, oddly enough, in the context of the discussion of female altar servers that has been occurring not only on this blog, but around the Catholic blogosphere in recent days. The connection has to do with with a different gun crew, in a different part of New Jersey, in a different century; and this was not a training exercise, but the Battle of Monmouth, in 1778. It was an extremely hot day in June, and Molly Pitcher was bringing water to her husband and and his companions as they manned a cannon during the battle.  When her husband fell, Molly took his place, swabbing and loading the cannon for the remainder of the battle.  Molly is quite appropriately celebrated for her bravery and patriotism.  She also showed that a woman could work quite capably as part of an artillery crew.  But she remains an exception: the United States Army did not, and does not to this day allow women to serve in combat specialties (although, regrettably, that policy is slated to change by January 1st, 2016 - a discussion for another day).  It is not simply a question of whether a women could do it, but also whether, given all other considerations, they should.
Molly Pitcher

     My post a week ago about female altar servers generated a lot of commentary, as one would expect from an issue that has so many emotional connections for people (as of this morning there were two gentlemen who were still going at it in the comboxes).  Several readers mentioned what a wonderful experience serving Mass was for their daughters. I believe them.  I don't want to devalue anyone's service to the Church: your daughters have earned our thanks for their contributions (which are, may I say again, explicitly allowed). My argument, however, was that given our overall mission there are good prudential reasons to limit service at the altar to boys (and that was before news of a survey showing that 82% of new priests previously served as altar boys, here).  Let's return to my NYNG mortar platoon for a moment: I'm sure the gunner was quite as capable of lifting up the back end of the gun, and the assistant gunner equally capable of catching the live round sliding back out; if he had done so everyone would have been grateful (including the gunner, who would have been spared the risky task), and he would have had good reason to feel proud of himself.  But the mission was better served by assigning one task to the gunner, a different task to the assistant.
     Now, I know that the Church is not the Army, although there have been plenty of people over the centuries, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who have seen fit to use military imagery to describe certain aspects of the Christian mission (and of course there have been actual military orders, such as the Knights Templar).  In any case, I'm looking at a more basic principle, and one that applies to much more than this relatively narrow issue: the need to subordinate our own desires, however understandable and even justified, to the greater good, and to accept the role we have been given.  The refusal to do so is at the root of so much that is wrong with our culture, but it is seen most starkly in the refusal to accept the fundamental reality of the sex with which we were created (do I need to mention the "58 genders", here, yet again?).  By keeping a clear and bright distinction between the complementary roles of male and female, we fulfill our Christian duty to be a Sign of Contradiction (as per Luke 2:34); the more we blur that distinction, the more we resemble the Wisdom of This World (1 Corinthians 3:19).