Saturday, October 24, 2015

"To Whom Shall We Go? You Have The Words Of Eternal Life" (from Nisi Dominus)

    Our first child seemed reluctant to be born.  The baby (we didn't yet know whether boy or girl) was almost two weeks overdue, however, when we went to Mass one Sunday in March, so we knew that we would have a newborn child in our home before the Lord's day came around again.  We heard this first reading at that Mass:

And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here."
And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he."
Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
(1 Samuel 16:10-13)

St. Frances X. Cabrini Church, Scituate, MA (Boston Globe photo)
We had not yet settled on a name for our baby, although "David" was on the short list. Now we were sure that our child would be a boy, and that we would name him David (as an aside, we heard the same reading six years later before the birth of our youngest son, whom we had already decided would be named Samuel if he were a boy).
    Now, almost twenty years later and several states away, I see this same little church is in the news, but the news is not as happy as it was for us and our son David.  Granted, if you look at the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini website, you see all the signs of thriving, vibrant parish: a wide range of charitable works and causes, parish activities such as craft fairs and picnics, prayer services, etc.  Most pastors would be ecstatic to have such involved, committed parishioners, except . . . there is no pastor.  There is, in fact, no parish any longer.  St. Francis X. Cabrini was one of several dozen parishes ordered closed by the Archdiocese of Boston 11 years ago, and the people devoting so much time and energy to their local church in Scituate have been occupying the property all these years in direct defiance of their bishop . . .

(To read the rest of this post go HERE)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Dark Matter: "Proving" God In A Materialist World

(This Throwback was first published on 30 January 2015)

Nasa graphic of the Big Bang theory from "Dark Energy, Dark Matter"
     How do you show young people that Christian belief is reasonable?  I’ve seen more and more over the years in which I have been teaching in Catholic High Schools that most of my students have been formed in a materialist worldview – even when they are professing Christians.  It’s an unspoken assumption in most of the classes they’ve taken, particularly the science classes.  They just assume that a transcendent God who cannot be measured or detected with scientific instruments cannot be shown to exist.  I have found that, with a little help from NASA and modern cosmology, many students can better understand that belief in God is at least as reasonable as many “scientific” concepts that are accepted almost without question.  
     Cosmological science offers a good illustration of some ways in which we apply reason to our world and experience.  You may occasionally hear in the news, for instance, reports of planets discovered in other solar systems.  We do not now have any instruments capable of “seeing” the planet itself; instead, we detect it by observing its effects on other things, such as the miniscule wobble its gravitational pull causes in the star it orbits, or the very slight changes in the light we observe from the star as the planet passes in front of it (read more here).  On an even grander scale, consider the question of “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy.” Over the past century, scientists have formulated what is known as the Big Bang Theory to account for the fact that the entire universe appears to be expanding at a consistent rate.  At the same time, they have calculated that in order for the universe to do what it seems to be doing, there needs to be much more matter and energy than we can detect – many times more.  As the NASA publication “Dark Energy, Dark Matter” explains (my italics): 

More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn't be called "normal" matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe. (full publication here

Notice that physicists say that more than 95% of the matter and energy in the universe is completely undetectable, and we may never be able to detect it.  There is no direct evidence of the existence of Dark Energy and Dark Matter, and yet they are sure it is there, only because of the effects we observe on other things.
     Much of the evidence for God’s involvement in our world is of a similar sort, at least for those who have not themselves had a direct experience of God.  Like Dark Energy, God cannot be measured with scientific instruments, but his effects are very clear.  Consider the case of Bernard Nathanson, an atheist doctor from a Jewish family who was one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).  Nathanson himself performed or presided over tens of thousands of abortions until he was convinced by ultrasound images of the humanity of the unborn.  Deeply disturbed by his involvement in the taking of so many innocent lives, Nathanson, still an atheist, became active in pro-life activities, where he encountered many committed Christians.  He noticed something different about his religious friends, which he eventually recognized as what St. Paul called “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).  It was clear to him that the difference he saw was due to the religious dimension of their lives, the visible effects of their relationship with God.  He eventually converted from atheism to Catholicism.

Merging Galaxy Cluster Abell 520 from "Dark Energy, Dark Matter" 
     Literally millions of people have come to Faith in the same way over the last two thousand years.  Like Nathanson, they were first attracted by the effects they saw in others, and after embracing Christ, found the same changes in their own lives.  They very reasonably based their faith on the real results they saw in others, and in themselves. 
     That, by the way, is one way in which belief in God is different from a belief in Dark Energy or Dark Matter.  Nobody has ever had a personal encounter with Dark Energy, or seen a miracle performed by Dark Matter; countless people throughout the ages have had direct experiences of God, or witnessed His miracles, which continue up to the present day.  One might say that, when we examine the evidence of the world around us, belief in God is actually quite reasonable.

Related Posts: 

"What Would Darwin Do?"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Christ Is The Only Firm Foundation For Western Civilization

Given the crisis surrounding the current influx of refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries into Europe, it seems Worth Revisiting this post from August 12th, 2014 (originally titled "If they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization”). To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

It's never really safe to be a Christian

It’s never completely safe to be a Christian in this world.  In my recent Sunday Snippets post [here] I briefly discussed the plight of Christians in Iraq, who are facing brutal persecution at the hands of ISIS, an armed movement embracing a particularly virulent strain of radical Islam. I illustrated the post with the Arabic “N”, with which ISIS terrorists target Christian homes, and which has since become an emblem of solidarity and a badge of honor for Christians around the world.
The Fall of Rome
     That explicit identification as Christians, and with other Christians, is vitally important. I made the point the week before [here] that radical Islam would pose little threat to “a Christendom united in Faith and fortified with Prayer”. Unfortunately, what had been Christendom is rapidly de-Christianizing, which creates a twofold threat, both from within and from without.  The external threat, a radicalized and aggressive Islam, still looks relatively distant to those of us in the United States; it seems a lot more formidable in Europe.  There, a growing, poorly assimilated, and increasingly alienated and hostile  Muslim population  is combining with the forces of societal destruction under the guise of secularism and “multiculturism” to attack the very basis of historic (which means, essentially, Christian) European culture, as described by Joseph Pearce in a piece that is appearing on Life Site News [here].  The article is well worth reading in its entirety; the best summation of Pearce’s point comes in a quote from actor John Rhys-Davies, who played the dwarf Gimli in the screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Rhys-Davies says: “I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged, and if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization”.  Since the actor first spoke these words several years ago, the concrete evidence of their truth has been rapidly multiplying, and so although the multi-culti wrecking ball pounds on, an increasing number of Europeans are starting to see multiculturalism for the civilizational suicide that it is.

"If we falter and lose our freedoms, 
it will be because we destroyed ourselves" -Abraham Lincoln

     To those of us in the United States the threat of islamism, although real, still seems remote.  The incidence of jihadism here can be seen as sporadic, with only a few serious incidents (9/11, the Fort Hood Massacre), and the local Muslim population is still quite small and has shown only scattered signs of radicalization – so far.  The heedless dismantling of our culture from within, however, proceeds apace.  I’ll provide just two recent examples.  First, the College Board, which through the content of its Advanced Placement (AP) exams determines the curriculum of thousands of high school classes around the country, has come with a new AP American History course [article herethat ignores great Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, jr.  Instead it emphasizes impersonal “historical forces” - and not so much those familiar to earlier generations of students like the development of democratic institutions, or religious tolerance.  From the Fox News article: 

“ . . . you’re not going to find Thomas Jefferson and the House of Burgesses and the cradle of democracy either,” said Larry Krieger, who retired in 2005 after more than three decades in the classroom.  And finally, you’re not going to find Benjamin Franklin and the birth of American entrepreneurialism . . . what you’re going to find is our nation’s founders portrayed as bigots who developed a belief in white superiority . . .”

The article adds that students will find, overall, “a narrative laden with tyranny and subjugation.”  
     As if it’s not enough that individual classes are convincing young people that their country is and always has been irredeemably corrupt, we now have entire schools dedicated to the purpose – at your expense.  We now have “social justice” charter schools [here], government schools funded with taxpayer money.  And while the term social justice has an honorable origin in Catholic social teaching, it has long since been hijacked by the left.  No, the students at these schools won’t be studying Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, they’ll be training in “social activism”, a.k.a. leftist political agitation.  All of which means that in certain localities in the United States we’ll have the curious phenomenon of the government expending public funds to set up public schools dedicated to training young people to tear it all down. 

"The Church of the Living God, the pillar 
and the foundation of the Truth." -1 Timothy 3:15

     Tearing it all down seems to be the program of the cultural and political left, whether we’re talking about multi-culturalism, the redefinition of marriage, revisionist history, or Robin Hood economic activism.  Very often, they don’t even seem to pretend anymore to have a coherent positive vision of what might replace all the institutions they seek to eradicate.  Not that it would help much if they did: every attempt to destroy a society that had developed over time in response to the real needs and experiences of human beings and construct on its ruins a society hatched in the brains of men (e.g., the French Revolution, Soviet Communism) has been a disaster; bloody, inhuman disaster, such as is still playing out in North Korea.  In similar fashion, the man-made religion of Islam has had a track record over the past millennium and a half of spawning anti-human horrors such the one currently on display in Iraq and Syria.
     The most profound and radical revolution in human history, on the other hand, was the transformation of the Greco-Roman civilization by the unlikely spread of Christianity.  It was no mere human idea, but the revelation of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ that subdued “the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” (props to Edgar Allan Poe).  And notice that the Church didn’t so much destroy and replace the institutions of the Roman Empire as it “baptized” them and made them the bulwarks of a more humane culture [for more on that, see here and here].  When Rome did fall to invaders from the North, the Church worked the same transformation on the newcomers.
     And now here we are in a society that wants to do away with both the Church of Jesus Christ and the institutions passed on by our ancestors.  Do we really think that the empty shell that will be left can stand against the legions of the New Caliphate, or any other motivated and determined conqueror from without or within?


Friday, October 16, 2015

Abortion Myth # 3

MYTH: "There are few psychological consequences of abortion; most women simply feel relief."


- A study of the medical records of 56,741 California medicaid patients revealed that women who had abortions were 160 percent more likely than delivering women to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment in the first 90 days following abortion or delivery. Rates of psychiatric treatment remained significantly higher for at least four years. (link)

Approximately 60 percent of women who experience post-abortion sequelae report suicidal ideation, with 28 percent actually attempting suicide, of which half attempted suicide two or more times. (link)

-Over twenty studies have linked abortion to increased rates of drug and alcohol use. (link)

- Abortion is linked with increased depression, violent behavior, alcohol and drug abuse, replacement pregnancies, and reduced maternal bonding with children born subsequently. These factors are closely associated with child abuse and would appear to confirm individual clinical assessments linking post-abortion trauma with subsequent child abuse. (link)

- Post-abortion couples are more likely to divorce or separate. Many post-abortion women develop a greater difficulty forming lasting bonds with a male partner. (link)

- Women who have one abortion are at increased risk of having additional abortions in the future. Women with a prior abortion experience are four times more likely to abort a current pregnancy than those with no prior abortion history. (link)

- Some women experience all or some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (link)

-Some claim that having the "products of conception" removed in an abortion is no more traumatic than having a tooth pulled.  Yet many thousands of women belong to postabortion support groups such as Silent No More, Women Exploited By Abortion, and  American Victims of Abortion, or seek healing from programs like  Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard.  Why don’t survivors of other "common medical procedures" need support groups?

 To read the testimonies of women scarred by abortion, see Silent no More,Women Exploited By AbortionThe Elliot Institute

Another extensive resource on the documented psychological effects of abortion can be found here.


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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Choice" and The Father of Lies

(Here in Maine we will be holding our Annual Right to Life Convention this coming weekend; it seemed to good time to re-publish this post from January 23rd of this year, 42 years and a day after the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision voided the abortion laws of all 50 states).

"He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)    

March For Life in Washington 22 January, 2015 (Washington Times photo)

     As we mark the ugly anniversary of Roe vs. Wade this week, it is only appropriate that we take a look at “Old Scratch” himself, the Devil.  In John’s Gospel our Lord tells us everything we need to know about the Devil: “He was a murderer from the beginning”, and “He is a liar, the father of lies”.  And what is his first lie, the Big Lie that is still his primary murder weapon? “You will not die . . . you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. (Genesis 3:4-5)  There will be no eternal consequences, Satan tells us, we can decide for ourselves what is good and evil, we are gods.  For this reason he is called “the Devil”, from the Greek διάβολος (diabolos), which means “slanderer, perjurer, false accuser, and can also mean “deceiver, one who misleads”.  It derives from the verb διαβάλλω (diaballo)whose original meaning is “drive through”, or destroy.  Satan seeks to destroy us, eternally, by using falsehood and deception to separate us from God.

     I got to thinking about all this the other day due to a comment from my Lovely Bride.  She had just run across this article [here] from the National Right To Life News, detailing certain pro-abortion "prayers" that are being circulated by our old friends at Planned Parenthood, and she couldn’t help but think of the observation of C.S. Lewis (and many others) to the effect that Satan can’t create anything on his own, all he can do is mock and falsify God’s creation.  I think she has a point.  PP calls their campaign by the inelegant title “40 Days of Prayer For Women Everywhere”, an obvious mockery of 40 Days For Life.  Here is a sample of a few of the Planned Parenthood “prayers”, from the NRTL News article:

     “We give thanks for the doctors who provide quality abortion care"

     “We pray for a cloud of gentleness to surround every abortion facility.”

     “We pray for all the staff at abortion clinics around the nation.  May they be daily            confirmed in the sacred care that they offer women.”

     “We give thanks for abortion escorts who guide women safely through the hostile gauntlet of protesters.”

     “We pray for women who have been made afraid of their own power [of choice, i.e.      abortion] by their religion.  May they learn to reject fear and live bravely.”

National Right To Life News notes that these “prayers” were composed by a group calling itself “Faith Aloud”, and that “Infamous late term abortionist Dr. Leroy Carhart is a member of the board.”
     My first reaction on reading this was: do these people really believe that God will surround their butchery of unborn babies made in His image and likeness with “a cloud of gentleness”? That this butchery could be in any sense called “sacred care”? That the Lord would smile upon their request to separate women from their (most often Christian) religion?  Well, maybe they don't, because these petitions are not actually addressed to God, or to anyone else for that matter.  Is it due to a lack of faith, or perhaps a realization that a just and loving God would not be likely to answer prayers such as these? Whatever the case may be,  these are the same people who mocked the words of the Heavenly Host with “Choice on Earth” Christmas cards (in Planned Parenthood newspeak, “choice” always means “abortion”); these are the same people who thought it a generous gesture after the terrorist attack on 9/11 to offer free abortions to pregnant widows of men who died in the World Trade Towers.  This macabre mockery of religious faith has been a part of the pro-abortion industry/movement for a long time, and it isn’t limited to that movement’s flagship enterprise: immediately after the Roe decision in 1973 a group calling itself the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) was founded, which soon, recognizing that the truth in this case was a rather unlovely thing, changed their name to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  And that ugly truth is the reason for the euphemisms and the bizarre, phony prayers: if they’re honest, they lose, and so they must pretend to be something they’re not.

The Anti-Christ and the Father of Lies
     So, let’s see now, lies, mockery of God and sacred things, death, who does that sound like? Could it be…? Yes, you know where this is going.  Now, I’m not saying that the people at PP and their fellow travelers in the abortion industrial complex are Satans themselves: I’m willing to believe that most of them think they’re doing the right thing, and that they’re on the side of the angels.  The problem is, they are on the side of the fallen angels, led by the father of lies himself.  I am again reminded of the words of St. Paul: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the  powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly place” (Ephesians 6:12). 
     So how do we go about combating the powers of darkness?  St. Paul tells us to take on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:13)  and pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18that utterance may be given me in boldly proclaiming the Gospel (Ephesians 6:19).  
     It is a two-pronged strategy: first prayer and reliance on God, next a bold proclamation of the truth.  Thats why, before the March for Life in Washington and our local marches, we attend Mass or a prayer service.  We need to remember that, and remember that this isnt simply a matter of politics, its a matter of Good and Evil, the God of Truth and the father of lies.  Lets make sure we stay on the right side.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Marriages Are Made In Heaven

(My lovely bride and I celebrated our 29th Wedding Anniversary this past weekend; given that, as well as the Synod on the Family currently unfolding in Rome, it seems Worth Revisiting this post about marriage from January 14th, 2015. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

    Marriage is our oldest human institution, and the indispensible foundation for any successful society, and hence is a perennial topic of discussion.  Just this past week I’ve run across two different articles, one from a positive perspective, the other from the negative; together, they say a lot about marriage today, which is to say that they say a lot about the challenges facing our world.
     First, the good news.  This is a feature article from called “Seven ways to stay married” [full article here].  The author starts out by explaining that he wanted to know, “What can people do to have a happy, fulfilling, lifelong marriage?”  Rather than ask the so-called experts (“psychologist or self-help gurus”), he went to the real experts: “older Americans who have been married 50, 60, 70 years and more.”  What he found turns out to be not that surprising, at least the first six points (not all are really presented as “ways”): “ 1. Marriage is hard . . .  2. But marriage for a lifetime is worth it . . . 3. Marry someone a lot like you . . . 4. Think small . . . 5. Talk, talk, talk  . . . 6. Stop trying to change your partner.”  Number 7 looks like a new one at first: “Are we hungry?”  “The elders”, our author tells us, recommend stopping to eat when a big fight is in the offing.  As it turns out, the food is just a way of buying some “cooling off” time, which is another tried and true technique.

     The good news about the good news is that all of these things are commonsensical and accessible to anyone, once you know them.  My lovely bride and I have benefited from them (sometimes, it is true, after learning them the hard way) in our own experience over twenty-eight years of marriage.  The bad news is that such obvious things, most of which would have been conventional wisdom passed on from mothers and fathers to their children a couple generations ago, are now presented as revelations.  But it makes sense: how many newlyweds today can turn for advice to parents who are still married to each other?  The number is shrinking all the time.
     Which brings us to Exhibit B: a article called “Young men giving up on marriage: ‘Women aren’t women anymore’” [hat tip to Fr. Z; full article here].  The article draws on a survey from the Pew Research Center detailing attitudes about marriage among various people from various age groups.  One section focuses on data showing that young men are growing less interested in marriage: only 29% say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things, a six-point drop since 1997, while the number of women saying the same thing rose nine points to 37% over the same period (perhaps a reflection of the fact that women and their children suffer the brunt of family erosion more directly).  There are plenty of other frightening statistics in the article; I found this one particularly alarming:: “Just 20 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960.”  In other words, four out of five people in their prime child-bearing years are unmarried, which means they are either denying their children the enormous advantages of married parents who are committed to each other and to the family, or they are having no children at all.  Those who do get married after thirty will have much less time for building a family (fertility starts declining sharply after 35, here), but a surprisingly large number of them will never marry at all, according to Pew’s own updated summary [full summary here] of their survey:

                In 1960, some 12% of adults ages 25-34 had never been married.  After 10 years, when that group was between the ages of 35 and 44, 7% of them still hadn’t wed.  By 1980, when they were in their mid-40s to -50s, only 5% had still never married.  The next cohort starting in 1970 followed a similar trajectory.  However, each new cohort of young adults since then has had a higher share of never-married members than the cohort that came before it.  If current trends continue, 25% of young adults in the most recent cohort (ages 25-24 in 2010) will have never married by 2030.  That would be the highest share in modern history. (Pew Research: “Record Share of Americans Have Never Married” – bold mine)

     We are headed into uncharted waters.  In most western countries we are not producing enough babies to replace our current population as it dies, and an increasing proportion of those children who are being born are being raised outside of the framework of the traditional family, with all the well-documented implications for their own well-being and the health and stability of society as a whole.  And, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better soon: the Pew report also tells us that 67% of those aged 18-29, the prime family-building years, are off the opinion that “society is just as well off if people have other priorities than marriage and children”. This is a recipe for societal suicide.

     And yet . . . I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.  Let’s return to the first article for a moment, on the Seven Ways to Stay Married.  We are told that marriage is hard, “both because of the range of stresses and problems that confront all couples, but also because of the fundamental difficulty of merging two separate and different people into one single life.”  Nonetheless, for those who persevere, “It is a sublime experience, a connection to another person unlike any other relationship.  The elders describe it as the experience of a lifetime.” 
     Now, I’m not privy to the author’s private notes, but I can’t help but suspect he’s left something out.  Where do people find the strength and perseverance to stay at it long enough to merge themselves ”into one single life” with another person?  In effect, to sacrifice themselves? One might almost say, to become one flesh? I find it very surprising that none of these long-married couples seem to make any mention of Faith, or relying on the help of God.  Most of the long-married couples I know (not all, it is true, but most) would put those things at the very top of their list.  Surely many of those who spoke to this author did the same. In any case, we know, as Psalm 127 puts it, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor”, and also “Truly sons are a gift from the Lord, a blessing, the fruit of the womb”.  Not only that, Jesus Christ provides us with both a model of self-sacrifice, and help in bearing our own burdens. 
     Just as God is the only sure foundation for individual marriages, so he is for society as a whole.   Scripture tells us to be ready with reasons for the Hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15), which means we need to be prepared to speak out on the importance of marriage and family; we also know that those who are not amenable to reason can often be swayed by the power of example, and so we need to show by our actions we honor and support marriage and family life, and that we find it a joyous, "sublime" experience.  Above all, we need to pray for marriage, families, and for our society, and ask the Lord to yet again “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6) and heal our wounded culture.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What Is A "Hermeneutic Of Suspicion", And Why Does It Matter?

What The Heck Is Hermeneutics?  

Back in my undergraduate days my roommate took a class called "Hermeneutics." Not surprisingly, I felt compelled to ask, "What the heck is hermeneutics?" He explained that the word comes from the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuo) "to interpret", and is related to the name of the god Hermes, bringer and interpreter of dreams. Hermeneutics, then, means interpretation, and when we speak of a hermeneutic, we mean a framework through which one interprets raw information.  Even if we don't know the term, we all know the concept: if we say someone "sees the world through rose colored glasses", for instance, we mean that they employ a "hermeneutic of optimism"; if you refer to another person as being "always under a dark cloud", they have a "hermeneutic of pessimism".  If we want a somewhat more sophisticated example, someone who uses a Marxist hermeneutic interprets everything through to the lens of Class Struggle.

Hermes the Interpreter
    For most of us it seems a pretty esoteric word, and even if it's a part of our working vocabulary, it's probably not included in our everyday vocabulary.  Nonetheless, it's a handy term to have.  It gave Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), for instance, a very clear and precise way of summing up the the foundational error of both the "Spirit of Vatican II" progressives and the Lefebvrist ultra-traditionalists: both camps interpret the Second Vatican Council through a "hermeneutic of rupture", when the council should more properly be viewed through a "hermeneutic of continuity".  In other words, both groups operate with the assumption that Vatican II is a decisive break with the previous nineteen centuries of Catholic Tradition, the only difference being one group thinks that's a good thing, the other decidedly not.  Ratzinger was proposing that instead we should interpret the council with and through that Tradition.

The Hermeneutic of Suspicion

     A similar problem, one that can be found not only among die-hard progressives and rad trads, but also among many people who consider themselves "faithful Catholics, but . . ." (and in fact it's a temptation for all of us), is the "Hermeneutic of Suspicion". In other words, the default position that for any issue on which the Church takes a stance contrary to my preconceived ideas, political loyalties, the prevailing popular wisdom, or whatever else, She must convince me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my position is wrong and that her position is right.  This hermeneutic of suspicion is most conspicuously at play in the massive dissent from the traditional Catholic teaching on sexuality and family (which is not limited, by the way, to those who consider themselves "progressive").
    Am I saying that to be a good Catholic we need to stop thinking for ourselves, or "mindlessly" go along with the Church, as anti-Catholics are fond of telling us?  Not at all.   But nobody thinks and decides in a vacuum, we all need some basis for interpreting our world; "give me a place to stand", said Archimedes, "and I will move the world".  Being Catholic has always meant that we stand on the moral and metaphysical framework provided by Christ 's Church, and the Gospel as understood by that Church, not by the conventional wisdom or the prejudices of the cultural elite.

The Pillar and Foundation of Truth

    The demand that the Church must exhaustively prove to my satisfaction any teaching that does not correspond to my preferences before I believe, in fact,  seems to me to be the exact opposite of what has been normative for those who consider themselves faithful Catholics throughout the history of the Church.  St. Paul refers to “the church of the living God” as “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), and in another place he makes explicit where the believer is to stand in case of conflict between the Truth of God and the conventional wisdom:
           Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: "He catches the wise in their own ruses," and again: "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain."  (1 Cor. 3:18-20)
It was understood in the early Church as well, where the authority to make final and binding decisions lay.  St. Augustine once said:
For already two councils on this question have been sent to the apostolic see; and replies have also come from there.  The cause is finished [causa finita est]; would that the error might be sometime finished also! (Sermon 131:10)
The expression causa finita est  comes from the practice of law; the modern expression that most closely corresponds to causa finita est is “case closed!”  To Augustine it seems a given that the replies from Rome have ended the discussion.
           More than a thousand years later St. Ignatius of Loyola is even more explicit in the Spiritual Exercises when he lists the rules “to have the true sentiment which we ought to have in the Church Militant”:  

Pope Paul III and St. Ignatius Loyola

To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit see which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.
    St. Ignatius is not urging that Catholics leave their brain behind when they enter the Church: notice that he does not refer simply to white, but "the white which I see".  In other words, when it comes to fundamental categories (i.e., right and wrong), we need to trust the Church's judgment over our own, because she has been promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit, while we, as individuals, have not.

Every Man A Pope

    It really could not be any other way.  If we make ourselves the ultimate arbiters of truth instead of deferring to the Church, then the individual believer becomes, in effect, infallible, his or her own Pope, the result of which could only be thousands upon thousands of little schisms; any sort of real communion becomes impossible.  In fact, that is exactly what we see among our separated brethren in the Protestant communities, whose separate denominations are now said to number in the tens of thousands, less than five hundred years after Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg.
    In the end, faith itself becomes an impossibility, if there is no Truth greater than my own personal "truth".  And if I’m the supreme judge, why do I need a church to teach me anything? For that matter, what use is religion at all, or a Divine Savior, if it’s up to me to determine whether there’s any sin from which to save me? Isn’t that the logical end-point of the Hermeneutic of Suspicion?  Just myself, closed in upon myself. That’s an awfully cold, lonely way to spend eternity; it brings to mind what St. Paul says: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).  Paul, of course, knows the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).  Only Christ can save me from myself, I myself who “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19).  This same Christ has given His Church the power to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18); who am I, or any of us, to be its judge?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Feed The Birds" - Mary Poppins & The Synod On The Family

I just love the song "Feed The Birds", a beautiful little paean to compassion from the movie Mary Poppins:

All around the Cathedral the Saints and Apostles
Look down as she sells her wares
Although you can't see it, you know that they're smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares

It's evident, I think, that it's compassion for the "little old bird woman" herself, and not merely for the birds, that brings joy to the Saints and Apostles.
     Below I also provide a few thoughts on why the Bishops gathered in the Synod on the Family would do well to watch Mary Poppins before they do anything else.

     I think it could only help if the bishops assembled in Rome for the Synod on the Family took a couple hours off to watch the movie Mary Poppins.  Since they seem interested in talking about everything but "The Family", taking a little film break can't hurt, but more than that, they need to see this movie.
     I say this, by the way, as someone who is decidedly not a Disney fan.  My children saw few Disney movies growing up, none more than once, except this one.  Sure, it has it's flaws (not the least of which is Dick Van Dyke's atrocious attempt at a cockney accent), and it's share of Disney goofiness, but there's something beautiful about it.  At the beginning, the family is falling apart, and moving in opposite directions: the father, Mr. Banks, is so caught up in his career that barely notices his surroundings, including his wife and children; Mrs. Banks devotes most of her attention to political advocacy, and the neglected children, Jane and Michael, respond by running wild and tormenting the governesses to whom the parents leave the task of "molding" their "breed".  That is, until Mary Poppins becomes their new governess.

Jane Darwell as the bird woman in Mary Poppins
     Much of the fun in the film comes the magical adventures the children experience in the company of Mary Poppins: jumping into sidewalk drawings, visiting a house where laughing causes them to float up to the ceiling (and where they can only come back to earth by thinking sad thoughts), flying up through the chimney and dancing on the London rooftops, and so on.  The most magical thing Mary Poppins does, however, is to bring the divided family back together . . . and then take herself out of the picture, sacrificing her own feelings so she won't come between them.  The movie ends with Parents and Children united in love, and Mary Poppins, the catalyst, quietly moving on to her next assignment.
     It certainly couldn't hurt the Synod Fathers to take a little break from their deliberations, where, if we can trust the news reports, they seem to be paying little attention to anything that could reunite the family.  After the film, they might want to take a look at the Book of Malachi, whose closing verse starts with the same theme we see at the end of Mary Poppins :

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:6)

But that's not the end; the second half of the verse, the final words in the Old Testament, leave us with a warning:

lest I come and smite the land with a curse.

Let us please pray that the Lord grant our shepherds the wisdom to heed His Word.