Monday, June 30, 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (Solemnity of St.s Peter and Paul 2014)

     Today is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (either the fourth, or the fifth in many dioceses, Sunday solemnity in a row).  In asking us to celebrate these two great founding saints together, the Church invites us to contemplate (among other things) that our faith is a faith of particulars; God is not  an impersonal abstraction, but a God who loves each of us as individuals, who became man, a certain man named Jesus in a particular time and place under a Roman governor whose name has been carefully preserved.  We can see that same concern with particulars in the case of these two very different men, Peter and Paul.  Peter, the rough fisherman, Paul the scholarly and zealous Pharisee; the one the Apostle to the Jews, the other the Apostle to the Gentiles; Paul, whose dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus turned him around in a blinding instant, and Peter whose inner conversion was a much more gradual process, with misunderstandings (“Get behind me Satan!”, Mathew 16:23) and even the triple denial of his Lord along the way. Both served the same Jesus Christ, each in his own way, each was martyred at Rome, and the Bishops of Rome, the Popes, are the successors to both. I expect to return to the theme of Catholicism’s focus on concrete particulars in the coming week.
     You can get a small taste of Catholic unity in diversity from “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival” [here], a weekly gathering of diverse Catholic bloggers who share their posts for the week at This That and the Other Thing, home of our gracious host RAnn.
     I found myself discussing a number of things over the past week at Principium et Finis, but the topics of family and marriage seemed to predominate.  Here’s the weekly wrap-up:

Tuesday – Guess what? We Catholics support marriage not because we hate homosexuals (and in fact we don’t hate homosexuals) but because we love people (including homosexuals), and strong marriages are and healthy families are good for everyone. Really. “Love And Marriage” [here]

and - If God loves us, then however vast the universe, we can feel safe “What is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him?” [here] (added bonus: cool picture of my feet in the ocean)

Wednesday - It was about time for more Bach, wasn’t it?  This one’s a beauty “Motet, Hallelujah! J.S. Bach” [here]

Thursday - As long as you’re “personally opposed”, I suppose you can support anything at all, can’t you? “Abortion Myth #8 (Throwback Thursday Edition)” [here]

Saturday - His feast day was not formally celebrated this year, but the message of his life and death is too important, and too relevant, to miss. “St. John Fisher And The Contraception Mandate” [here]

Saturday, June 28, 2014

St. John Fisher And The Contraception Mandate

     Last Sunday (June 22nd) is usually commemorated by the Church as the Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More.  As the 22nd fell on a Sunday this year (and not only that, the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) the observance of the Saints day was suppressed.  Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want another year to go by without saying something about these two saints who have so much to say to us, especially St. John Fisher.

St. John Fisher
Saint John Fisher
     St. Thomas More is the more familiar of the two today, 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 on Blessed Margaret Pole (here) 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 XVIII’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 third annual Fortnight for Freedom is underway.  The bishops of the United States organized the first such fortnight two 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 Catholics in defense of their religious freedom.
     One of the highlights of the 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-six 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 this past 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 Humane 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 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. 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.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Abortion Myth #8 (Throwback Thursday Edition)

MYTH: “A compassionate response to abortion that respects the diverse opinions on this issue is to be ‘personally opposed but pro-choice;”; after all, it’s wrong to try to impose my morality on others. (The "personally opposed but . . ." formulation was most famously expressed by Catholic governor of New York Mario Cuomo in a speech at the Catholic University of Notre Dame in 1984; since then numerous self-described Catholics in public life such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi have adopted the same posture)

TRUTH:  Like many of the other Abortion Myths, the statement above is logically and morally incoherent; consider the following:  

Mario Cuomo: "personally opposed" BUT . . . not really

-There is nothing “compassionate” about allowing some people to hurt the innocent and defenseless.  Is it compassionate to be “pro-choice” on child abuse, or murder, or terrorism?

-If you are personally opposed, what is the reason? If it is because you know that abortion extinguishes an innocent life, how can you defend the “right” of others to perpetuate the killing?  If it’s not the taking of human life, why be opposed at all?  

-As we have seen in other posts, all laws involve moral judgments.  Do we also refrain from imposing on others our judgments about rape, drunk driving, or even non-violent crimes like embezzlement and fraud?

-Those who opposed the constitutionally permitted practice of slavery in the pre-civil war United States were ridiculed at the time as religious zealots trying to impose their morality on everyone else.  Those people, such as Stephen A. Douglas, who were “personally opposed but pro-choice” about slavery applauded themselves for their tolerance and open-mindedness.  What do you think of these two groups today?

The bottom line is this: if abortion is wrong, it is because it involves the intentional taking of an innocent human life.  If it’s not, there’s no reason to be opposed; if it is, it is a terrible crime that we cannot in good conscience allow to go unchallenged.   “All that is necessary for the triumph of Evil is for good men to do nothing” (usually attributed to Edmund Burke).


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)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him?

            When I look at the Heavens, the work of thy fingers,
            The work moon and the stars which thou hast established;
            What is man that thou art mindful of him,
            And the son of man that thou dost care for him?
            Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
            And dost crown him with glory and honor.  (Psalm 8:3-5)

The author's feet, Pine Point Beach, Maine, June 2014

Yesterday morning at the beach with my family, enjoying some beautiful early summer weather, I was reminded of a hymn we sing at Mass sometimes: “There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.”  Standing on the edge of the ocean we can find its vastness overwhelming: we can feel very, very small in comparison.  Sometimes when we look up at the heavens and think about the immensity of the universe , we can almost feel physically overwhelmed by it, as Edna St. Vincent Millay describes it in her poem “Renaissance”:

            So here upon my back I’ll lie
            And look my fill into the sky.
            And so I looked, and, after all,
            The sky was not so very tall.
            The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
            And – sure enough! – I see the top!
            The sky I thought, is not so grand;
            I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
            And reaching up my hand to try,
            I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
            I screamed and – lo! – Infinity
            Came down and settled over me;
            Forced back my scream into my chest,
            Bent back my arm upon my breast . . .

     How much more humbling than the vastness of creation is the infinite God who created it?  How can we not feel absolutely insignificant by comparison?  As I’ve said before, it’s not so much the existence of a creator-God that is so difficult for us to believe, it is that such a God could possibly even notice something as small as ourselves, much less love us.

     That’s part of the wonder of the Incarnation, which we just celebrated this past Sunday in the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16): God put himself on our level (to the degree that he can), he gave us a human face to gaze on, and in taking on human form sanctified humanity.  “If God is for us,” Saint Paul asks, “who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)  It is Christ Incarnate that allows us to feel the boundless immensity of creation not as an infinite indifference swallowing us up without a second thought, but the embrace of infinite Love, because by lowering himself to become man, and by suffering and dying for us, Jesus showed us in the flesh that, truly, “God is Love”(1John 4:8). 

Love and Marriage

A happy family: the vonTrapps
     Katherine Jean Lopez has a good piece in National Review Online (read article here) about the March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., with a focus on San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone.  The good Archbishop was scolded by various left-leaning types, including “Catholic” politician Nancy Pelosi for encouraging “hate” by attending the pro-traditional marriage event.  Lopez quotes extensively from Cordileone’s speech at the March to show that the Church is motivated not by hate but by love when it upholds traditional marriage.
     The charge that any opposition to the deconstruction of the institution of marriage is motivated solely by hatred has been repeated so often by those on the left that not only have they convinced themselves, they have persuaded half the country as well.  Even Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could find no reason other than “animus” against homosexuals to oppose the imposition of gay marriage.  Archbishop Cordileone knows better; after recounting various problems (economy, immigration, schools) he says:

But none of these solutions will have a lasting effect if we do not rebuild a marriage culture, a culture which recognizes and supports the good of intact families, built on the marriage between a man and a woman committed to loving faithfulness to each other and to their children . . . No justice, no peace, no end to poverty, without a strong culture of marriage and the family.

It’s amazing how hard it is for many people to understand this seemingly obvious truth: there’s no social problem that isn’t made worse by the dissolution of traditional families, and none that wouldn’t be significantly alleviated by more intact families.  It’s an argument I’ve made numerous times (here, here, and here, among others).  The problem is that we’ve convinced ourselves that we can live our lives with self-satisfaction our highest goal, which includes, thanks to contraception, enjoying the pleasures of marital intimacy without the responsibility of children.              
     It’s not as simple as it seems, of course, so while a declining birthrate means that there are fewer and fewer children to support us in our dotage, there are still very many born to parents who aren’t committed enough to each other to stay married or, increasingly, even get married in the first place.  The result is bad for everyone: a growing number of men who are essentially irrelevant to the families they have fathered, denied the full experience of the paternal role that is their highest calling; women who are crushed under the burden of being both mother and father, in a culture that is increasingly indifferent to or even disdainful of motherhood; children who grow up without the attention of two full-time parents, and without models of self-sacrificing complementary love – which is not to say they don’t see self-sacrificing love, often heroic self-sacrifice, on the part of the single parent (usually the mother) who is raising them, but the dynamic between parent and dependent child is very different than that between husband and wife. Children don’t learn how to be successful husbands and wives, and increasingly don’t see a lasting marriage as a real possibility.
     Notice that none of the above has anything to do with homosexuality.  Gay activists are quite correct when they point out that we heterosexuals had already made a thorough mess of the institution of marriage before they came on the scene.  The question is, do we complete the demolition of the one natural institution most essential to human flourishing and a stable society, or do we work to protect and, ultimately, restore it? Which, really, is the loving thing?

Related link: I just read about this on Fr. Z's blog: Children's Divorce Stories (here), hosted by Jennifer Roeback Morse at the Ruth Institute; there's some sobering reading here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Snippets (Corpus Christi)

     Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often referred to by the ancient Latin  name Corpus Christi.  This is the third Sunday in a row (or the fourth for those who observe Ascension Thursday on a Sunday) on which we celebrate an annual feast rich in theological significance.  As it happens, (and, again, this was not planned – although maybe it should be) several of my posts in the week leading up to Corpus Christi dealt with the theme of embodiment, of the word taking flesh in some sense or other.
     Speaking of posts for the week, this is Sunday Snippets, a Catholic Carnival, in which some of us Catholic bloggers assemble under the gracious auspices of  our hostess RAnn at This That and the Other Thing [here] to share said posts for the week.  And what a week: Summertime, and bloggin’ ain’t easy, as the Gershwins  might say.  Odd as it might seem, working only one job at a time leaves me less time for bloggery.  One consolation: my eldest son is working with me at my summer job, which is happily and unexpectedly adding a new dimension to our relationship before he goes away for his first year of college.
     But I was talking about my posts for the week; here goes:

Monday - A tangent from the previous week’s discussing of clothing, by way of Mozart’s observation that  Protestants were all “in the head” and didn’t understand Christ’s embodiment as Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God: “Mozart, Herbert, and John the Baptist” [here]

and – Which in turn made me think of this magnificent piece: “Agnus Dei From Mozart’s Coronation Mass; St. John Paul II, Herbert von Karajan and Kathleen Battle” [here]

Wednesday -  Has anyone accused you of being a religious fanatic and a would-be tyrant lately?  Trust me, they have “Abortion Myth #15” [here]

Thursday – In which we discuss how words need to be “embodied” in deeds: “Doing” the Truth in Love (Throwback Thursday Edition) [here]

Friday – We close out the week with a defense of Catholic schooling, sparked by another post by our own RAnn, in which we discuss the fact that we do not simply process information, but are formed by our experiences (there it is again!): “Apologia for Catholic Education [here]

Finally, third time pays for all, as Bilbo Baggins says; we’ll give Mozart the last word, so to speak, on this feast of Corpus Christi:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Apologia for Catholic Education

1953: the Good Old Days
     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. 
     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 they all 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.
     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.
     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 size will need to hire people who are not practicing Catholics to fill some positions, and 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 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 appreciably 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.

     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.  This is not the time to abandon Catholic education.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Doing" the Truth in Love (Throwback Thursday Edition)

The episcopal motto of a new bishop casts fresh light on a familiar passage from scripture; published February 19th, 2014

Earlier this year [14 February 2014] the Diocese of Portland, Maine, saw the consecration of a new Bishop, Robert Deeley.  His episcopal motto: "To Speak The Truth In Love."

Episcopal arms of Robert Deeley, Bishop of Portland, Maine
     That’s not a bad motto for any of us.  I remember many years ago hearing Mary Cunningham Agee explaining how this same Scripture (it comes from Ephesians 4:15) served as a sort of mission statement for The Nurturing Network [link], her ministry to women at risk for abortion.  In our family we have tried to make it a guiding principle as well; it has come to be called the “Prime Directive” (yes, that’s a Star Trek joke).  Sometimes, in our human frailty, we honor it more in the breach than in the observance.  Saint Paul tells us in another place that:  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-2

Some of the reasons why this should be so aren't hard to grasp, once we see them.  Even those who disagree with us, even when they are angry, abusive, or blasphemous, still carry with them the image and likeness of God, which we must honor.  Also, we will not be very convincing evangelists for the God who is Love (1 John 4:8) if we seem to be lacking in that quality ourselves. 
     But there’s more to it than that.  The old saying that “something is always lost in the translation” seems to be particularly true about scripture.  So it became clear in this case when I first saw our new Bishop’s episcopal arms, where his motto appears in Latin: Veritatem Facere in Caritate. I was struck by the fact that the word translated as “speak” in English wasn’t the Latin equivalent, dicere, as I would have expected, but facere, which more properly means “make” or “do.” A more literal translation would be “Doing The Truth In Love.” It seemed a curious (if not unpleasing) choice of word, and I suspected that the answer lay, at least in part, in the scriptural source. 
     That proved to be the case.  In the Vulgate Latin translation of Ephesians 4:15 St. Paul says: Veritatem autem faciens in caritate, crescamus in Illo per omnia Qui est Caput, Christus, “But speaking” (literally “doing”) the truth in love, let us grow through all things into him who is our Head, Christ.”  Veritatem faciens is itself a translation of St. Paul’s original Greek word aletheuontes, which can mean “speaking the truth”, but also “being true.”  St. Jerome could have chosen the narrower, more obvious meaning and used dicens, but he seems to have thought a broader meaning was called for. His choice is instructive, especially when we look at it in the context of the whole verse.  Truth should be more than what we say, but what we do.  St. Paul is talking about not just evangelization, but about becoming more like Christ (“growing into Him”) so we can take our place in His mystical body.  Evangelization is inseparable from our own growth in holiness.  It’s even clearer when we look at the larger context: 

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.   (Eph 4:11-16)  

It all comes down to love; it is love that binds together the body of Christ.  Without love we can say true things, but we can’t embody The Truth (as in 1 Cor 13:1 , above).  It’s that understanding of embodiment that is one of the great insights, and one of the great strengths, of the Catholic tradition.  It has often occurred to me that one of Martin Luther’s great mistakes was misunderstanding fides as simply “faith”, a largely internal and subjective experience.  Fides is, in fact, much wider than that: it is “fidelity”, or “faithfulness”, a whole way of acting and living.  Think of what we mean by faithfulness in marriage: it’s more than feelings or intentions, it involves doing certain definie things, and specifically not doing others.  So it is with veritatem facere.  It does not only mean speaking the truth lovingly (although that’s certainly a part of it), it means doing the truth, living it out in love, in order to make up a worthy body for our Divine Head.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abortion Myth #15

MYTH: Pro-lifers are a bunch of religious fanatics trying to impose their faith on everyone else.

-While it’s true that most pro-lifers are religious believers, so is the population as a whole, at least in the United States [see here].   Even if pro-lifers tend to be more observant than their fellow citizens, they adhere to a moral tradition that the vast majority shares.

-Also, the public arguments pro-lifers make against abortion are rooted in natural law and concrete scientific fact. The most fundamental pro-life argument is that science proves that unborn babies are both alive and human from the moment of conception, and so to destroy them is, by definition, the taking of a human life. The taking of innocent human life is always wrong in and of itself, and if we can declare some human lives expendable, then none of us has a clear right to exist.

-Since the pro-abortionists can’t produce any facts or scientific evidence that unborn babies are not living human beings, they need to create a philosophical definition such as “personhood” that is designed to exclude living humans who don’t meet certain subjective standards (brain activity, ability to feel pain, emotions, viability, etc.). Some also use quasi-theological arguments, such as that unborn babies do not yet have souls: I recall one “pro-choice” cleric, not a Catholic, who relied on the etymological connection in many languages between “breath” and “spirit” to argue that we don’t have souls until we are able to breathe (notice that the pro-life argument doesn’t use or need the concept of the soul). They also use emotional arguments to obscure the injustice done to aborted babies.

-Religious believers have the same right to try to persuade their fellow citizens as anyone else; if their fellow citizens don’t find their arguments persuasive, they don’t have to go along.  To paraphrase Saint John Paul II, we propose, we don’t impose.

-In the United States the purpose of the First Amendment to the Constitution is to protect religious believers from the state, not the other way around. Certain opinions are not prohibited simplt because they have a religious basis.

-Just because a law corresponds to religious convictions does not make it an imposition of religion.  Murder, theft and all sorts of other crimes are condemned in the Bible and in Church teaching, but I don’t hear anyone calling for the revocation of those laws on that basis.

-The abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and many similar movements for social improvement were led by believing Christians; should we reject the laws that resulted from these as an “imposition of religious faith”?

-There are agnostics and atheists who nonetheless recognize the injustice of abortion, such as the atheist writer Nat Hentoff, or the abortionist and NARAL founder Bernard Nathanson, who was still an atheist when he changed to a pro-life position (only later did he embrace the Catholic Faith).


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]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Agnus Dei from Mozart's Coronation Mass; St. John Paul II, Herbert von Karajan and Kathleen Battle

Yesterday we discussed Mozart's assertion that Protestant Christians did not understand the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi [here].  Whether he was right about that or not, Mozart himself did indeed understand, as is clear from the magnificent Agnus Dei from his Coronation Mass. This is from St. Peter's Basilica in 1985: Saint John Paul II is saying Mass, Herbert von Karajan is conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and Kathleen Battle is the Soprano.

Mozart, Herbert, and John the Baptist

George Herbert in clerical garb
     The great composer W.A. Mozart (who pops up fairly often on this blog) is reported to have said that “Protestantism was all in the head”, that “Protestants did not know the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi [Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world]”.  I would not put it so harshly, but with all due respect to my friends among the separated brethren, but I think he has a point.   Protestantism on the whole is very uncomfortable with the corporeality of more traditional expressions of Christianity, starting with its rejection of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the efficacy of sacraments in general, and carrying that same mind-set through to a suspicion of any physical expression of faith apart from the Scriptures (and, in some congregations, speaking in tongues).  As a consequence, the Sign of the Cross, genuflection, rosaries, icons and statues all seem foreign to them. It almost appears that many of our Protestant friends, relying on Sola Scriptura and focusing on just the Word, are trying to uncarnate (so to speak) the Word made Flesh.
     Many of them, but not all: there have always been some members of the reformation churches who nonetheless understand and embrace the sacramental outlook that has been preserved in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  One such is the 17th century English religious poet George Herbert.  Herbert was an Anglican cleric in addition to being a poet, and so devoted a portion of his poetry to defending his church.  Being an Anglican, he directed some of his fire at the Catholic Church, as one would expect, mostly criticism of the papacy and what he considered a certain superficiality (needless to say, I don’t concur in these objections).  He reserves his harshest and most substantive criticism, however, for the Puritans, accusing them of being “undrest” in his poem “The British Church”.   One needs to look at his Latin poetry (which is, unfortunately, rarely read today) to get the full context for this criticism.  The Puritans, according to Herbert, miss the importance and implications of the Incarnation.  In his poem “In Angelos” (“On the Angels”) he says:

            The perfected mind of Angels is not like ours at all,
            Which must by nature look to our senses
            For concrete images . . .
If it weren’t for concrete things,
we ourselves could not by thinking find
            what we are in ourselves.

            Intellectus adultus Angelorum
            Haud nostro similis, cui necesse,
            Ut dentur species, rogare sensum . . .
            Si non per species, nequimus ipsi,
            Quid ipsi sumus, assequi putando.

While Angels are pure intellect, we mortals must rely on sense experiences to attain knowledge.  That, it follows, is why God became Man, and why he continues to speak to us through Sacraments, sacramentals, liturgies, devotions, etc.  The Puritans, however, have lost this vital understanding.  In “De Rituum Usu” (“On the Use of Rites”) Herbert says:

            And so the Puritans, while they are covetous of a
            Lord’s bride bare of sacred rites, and while they wish
            All things regressed to their fathers’ barbaric state,
            Lay her, entirely ignorant of clothing, bare to conquest
            By Satan and her enemies.

            Non alio Cathari modo
            Dom sponsam Domini piis
            Orbam ritibus expetunt,
            Atque ad barbariem partum
            Vellent Omnia regredi,
            Illam tegminis insciam
            Prorsus Daemoni et hostibus
            Exponunt superabilem.

Herbert uses clothing to represent liturgical rites, which are the concrete channels of God’s grace.  By doing away with such outward signs, the Puritans are aspiring to an Angelic state of understanding and failing to take into account our human limitations.  In denying our physicality, the Puritans have actually eliminated the means of achieving spiritual understanding.
     I don’t believe that Herbert’s choice of symbol was lightly made.  He was fully committed to a very catholic version of Anglicanism. The fact is that clothing has important, often unconscious, symbolic meanings for people in every time and place (consider all the various uniforms, traditional attires, kinds of ritual or formal wear, etc. throughout the world), but especially for Catholic Christians because of our sacramental view of the universe.  Think back also through scripture to how often clothing is mentioned prominently: not just those first primitive garments worn by Adam and Eve that were the outward sign of their fall from grace, but Joseph’s coat that became a focus of his brothers’ jealousy, the special garments God commands the Aaronic priests to wear (which King David puts on to dance in front of the Arc of the Covenant), Jesus’
seamless garment for which his executioners cast dice, John the Baptist’s clothing of camel’s hair and skins.
John the Baptist, dressed for prophecy

     John the Baptist is an interesting case. One reader of my post on Mass attire last week [here] asserted that God must not care how we dress, citing John the Baptist’s less-than-formal clothing in the desert as proof. It may seem that way at first, but in fact John the Baptist is actually not a refutation, but a very good illustration of the deep significance of dress. He was very aware of his appearance.  Like the Old Testament prophets, he carefully chose his dress and actions in order to represent spiritual truths in the physical realm (this is also at least part of the reason for the habits worn by religious orders, which another commentor mentioned).  By dressing like the Prophet Elijah (see 2 Kings 1:8) John asserts his prophetic authority, and the austerity of his apparel is a rebuke to the extravagance of the Temple priests and the legalism of the Pharisees.  If only we were all as conscious of our dress as John the Baptist!
     For me, that earlier discussion of how we dress for Mass should be situated in the larger context of the sacramental view of the universe.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians are particularly aware of the deeper meaning of clothing, even when we resist it. Our tradition helps us to understand that how we dress for Mass is not important for its own sake (except, as I point out in the original post, for those cases in which one person’s provocative dress is a temptation to others to violate the sixth commandment in their hearts) so much as for what it says about the importance we place on the Sacrament, and an expression of our love for Jesus Christ.  We used to know a family in which the father drove a delivery truck for a living; he was required to wear a company uniform on the job, and his work schedule was such that he could not attend Mass with his family unless he came straight from the job without changing, so he attended Sunday Mass in his worn blue coveralls.  Very few of us would find fault with his attire; in fact, we would see his determination to be present as the spiritual head of his family as an exemplary thing.  It’s a very different matter when we show up for Mass dressed for a barbeque or the beach simply because we didn’t bother to put on something more formal (and perhaps a little less comfortable), which sends the message that attending Mass is nothing special.
     How does all of this fit together?  I think we all have a tendency to get stuck in our own heads, as Mozart accuses the Protestants of doing, and Herbert likewise accuses the Puritans.  We don’t open ourselves up to God’s Grace as he wants to confer it, but try to put everything in neat categories of our own devising.  Taking our focus off our own will and desires has always been at least part of the point of spiritual disciplines, including fasting and other mortifications, and of liturgical prayer like the Liturgy of the Hours.  If we find ourselves saying “God will understand  . . . “, well, of course, God understands everything.  The question is what, and how, do we understand?


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (Trinity Sunday 2014)

     Welcome to Sunday Snippets yet again.  Today is Trinity Sunday, on which we commemorate the unique and absolutely necessary Christian doctrine that God is simultaneously One and Three.  The word “Trinity” is the Anglicized form of the Latin Trinitas which was apparently coined by Tertullian in the early third century.  It is a combination of the prefix tri- (three) and unitas (unity).  I once took a class from a gentleman who was fond of saying that it’s almost impossible to discuss the Trinity in detail without falling into heresy. I’m sure he was only half-serious, although if you’ve ever wondered why Tertullian isn’t “Saint” Tertullian, well, he fell into heresy later in life . . . probably only a coincidence. If you want to hear from someone who’s not afraid to talk about the Trinity, try Fr. Barron here.

     Now, where was I? Ah yes, Sunday Snippets, A Catholic Carnival, a weekly gathering of Catholic bloggers who share their posts from the past week in a spirit of conviviality and good blogsmanship under the auspices of RAnn at This That and the Other Thing [main get-together here].

     Various complicating factors left less time than usual for bloggery here at Principium et Finis, but I still managed to squeeze out a few items:

Monday - The topic of how one dresses for Mass seems to be one of those “hot button” issues that everyone feels strongly about.  Not everyone liked it, but “Dressing For The Wedding Feast Of The Lamb” [here] received more page views in less than a week than any other post in the entire time since I started this blog at Christmas.

Tuesday - If you’ve seen much of Principium et Finis, you’ve probably figured out that I have a particular fondness for a certain composer from Salzburg.  I’ll have more to say about him in the coming week; this past week we enjoyed the beautiful:  “Mozart – Great Mass in C Minor – Gloria In Excelsis Deo” [here].

Thursday – They say that if you tell the same lie boldly enough, and often enough, a certain critical mass of people will just assume it’s true.  The abortion industry has raised this principle to an art form.  This week’s Big Lie is something about women and doctors; they don’t take it seriously themselves, and hope you won’t take the time to examine it for what it is . . . but that’s what the “Abortion Myths” series is all about:  “Abortion Myth #7 (Throwback Thursday Edition)” [here]

Friday – I’ve found myself more and more looking at the less well-known Saints.  After all, what can I say about St. Anthony of Padua that hasn’t already been said many times, by commentators more eloquent and knowledgeable than me? But anyone with “St.” in front of his name has a story worth telling, so this week I shine the spotlight on “St. Peregrinus: Martyr and Pilgrim” [here]

That’s it for this week – I hope to see you again next Sunday!

Friday, June 13, 2014

St. Peregrinus: Martyr and Pilgrim

     Over the past two millenia the Church has seen an endless flood of inspiring Saints.  Most of these heroes of The Faith are not officially recognized, but thousands of them are commemorated with a feast day (in most cases, the date of the saint’s death, which is to say the anniversary of when he or she joined God in Heaven).  The major commemoration today is for St. Anthony of Padua [here], one of the great Saints and a Doctor of the Church. But it is also the feast of St. Augustine of Huy, one of the Vietnamese Martyrs, of whom most of us westerners know far too little (the bio of the saint [here] on tells us that somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Catholics have been martyred in Vietnam over the past two centuries, both under the imperial government of the nineteenth century and the more recent communist regime, and often by horrific means: St. Augustine of Huy was literally sawed into pieces while still alive).  There are also saints about whom little more than the name has survived, such as the Irish St. Damhnade and the African Saints Fortunatus and Lucian.
     One of the lesser-known saints commemorated today is St. Peregrinus [bio here], whose actual name was Cetteus.  We are warned that his biography is largely unverifiable, but it seems believable enough.  He was bishop of the Italian city of Amiternum in the 6th century.  There was a feud between two of the invading Lombards, one of whom was threatened with death.  The bishop successfully pleaded to save his life, for which reason the other, assuming the bishop was simply taking his rival's side, had him thrown into a river with a large stone tied around his neck.  Cetteus was called "Peregrinus" (which means "pilgrim" or "traveler") by the fishermen who discovered his body, who knew he was a bishop by his vestments, but did not know his name.
     Several things stand out from the story of St. Peregrinus.  One, of course, is that Christ's followers would "be hated by all" (Matthew 10:22), even for doing nothing more than trying to spread peace. We don't need to look back to the early centuries of the Church to see the truth in that. We also see, in the Lombard chieftain whose imagination could not conceive of any motives higher than his own ambitions, the truth of St. Paul's assertion that "The wisdom of this world is folly with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19). The Saint's adopted name also reminds that, as St. Paul tells us (Phil. 3:20), our true citizenship is not here, but in heaven.  St. Augustine adds that "We are but travelers [peregrini] on a journey without yet a fixed abode . . ."
     Peregrini is sometimes translated as "pilgrims", because we are travelers on our way to a Holy Place (in our case, we hope, the Holiest of Places).  Let us ask St. Peregrinus to pray for us on our earthly journey, so that we might enjoy with him eternity in the Presence of Our Lord.