Monday, May 10, 2021

What Do We Do When Our Priest Is A Communist? (Part II)

   In my prior post, "What Do We Do When Our Priest Is A Communist? (Part I)" we saw that the true Church is not reducible to the people who occupy its offices at any particular point in time, not even to those in the highest positions of authority.  The true Church is the Mystical Body of Christ extending through time. We depend upon that Church for our salvation, and we can't abandon it because of the malfeasance of its temporary caretakers, whether they are priests, bishops, or even (if you can believe it) popes.

Bad popes: "Pope Formosus and Stephen VII"
by Jean-Paul Laurens, 1870
 At the same time, while the immorality and infidelity of bad clerics can't unmake the Church itself, it can do a lot of damage to members of the Church, and Church institutions, in particular times and places.  It can cause souls to be lost.  That was in fact the concern of the original comment that led to these posts.  A father was afraid that the bad example and erroneous teaching of certain prominent churchmen (including some at a decidedly higher pay grade than his parish priest) would damage the faith of his children, and that he might need to leave the Church for their protection . . . 

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Tertullian for our Time: Merton for Better and for Worse

 "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church"

    You’re probably familiar with the quote above, a favorite of Pope St. John Paul II.  It’s author is Tertullian (c. A.D. 160 – c. A.D. 220), one of the foremost Christian writers and apologists of his age, who also gave us such essential terms as “Trinity” (Trinitas) and “Three Persons, One Substance” (Tres Personae, Una Substantia).  Despite his enormous achievements, however, and his lasting influence, Tertullian is not considered a Father of the Church; we don’t even call him “Saint” Tertullian:  he chose, sadly, to follow his own judgment rather than that of the Apostolic Church, and fell into heresy in the latter part of his life.


     I first wrote this post six years ago, as a follow-up to my essay "Merton's Parable of the Trappists and Icarians".  I had been reminded of Tertullian by several things I read at that time about the Trappist monk Thomas Merton who, if he had still been with us, would have been celebrating his 100th birthday at the time (January 31st 2015).  I don’t mean to suggest that Merton was a figure on a par with Tertullian: the late Trappist made no lasting contribution to the development of Catholic Doctrine, and added no new words to our vocabulary, although he was quite influential in his time (and still is, to a degree).  Like Tertullian, however, he didn’t stay the course: while he never considered himself to have left the Church, his growing involvement with Zen Buddhism in his last years appeared to be carrying him outside the bounds of Christian belief and practice . . .

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What Do We Do When Our Priest Is A Communist? (Part I)

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68)


Is this your parish priest?
  We live in scary times.  It looks like our secular institutions in the West are collapsing, to be replaced by mob rule (which really means, as always, a tyranny of the elite who manipulate the mob).  More frightening still for Catholics, the institutional Church appears to be experiencing a parallel slide.  A commenter on my post about the Trappists and Icarians  expressed his unhappiness at attending Mass where, as he put it, the priest "preaches communism."  He was not just concerned, however, that many Catholic clerics, from parish priest on up, are abandoning the Faith for a poisonous brand of politics, but also, on a more practical level, that the Catholic Church itself was not a safe place for his children.

    The commenter raises some valid and important points, which deserve a better answer than I can give off the cuff in a social media combox . . . I was thinking about how to approach this topic Friday morning, when I received some timely help from the daily Mass readings.  . . . 

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Merton's Parable of the Trappists and the Icarians (Spes in Domino)

Thomas Merton at Gethsemani
Thomas Merton is a name that can provoke a reaction from all manner of Catholics . . . all manner of reactions as well, depending on whether you invoke the Merton of the 1940's, a doctrinally orthodox convert to Catholicism who was enamored of his new life in a Trappist monastery, or the Merton of the 1960's who, although still a monk, seemed more interested in anti-Vietnam politics and Buddhist mysticism.  This article, an update of a post I first published six years ago at the time of Merton's hundredth birthday, is about an illuminating story in one of his early (i.e., orthodox) books.  I'll publish a follow-up post about Merton himself next week.

       Although vowed to silence in his everyday life in the Trappist abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, Thomas Merton was a gifted writer whose literary work was first permitted, and then encouraged by his superiors.  His first and best book is The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography he published in 1948.  It's a  beautifully written, compelling story of his conversion to Christ and to Catholicism.  He was not without his failings, however, some of them rather serious. Not only that, but toward the end of his life in the mid to late 1960’s he became increasingly drawn to Zen Buddhism.  It was not clear that he could still be truly considered a Catholic at the time of his unexpected death in Thailand in 1968 . . . 

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

What We Owe to Caesar

      Deciding how to balance what we really owe to Caesar with what we owe to God is a perennial issue for a believing Christian.  In the age of Covid and related governmental tomfoolery that question has become, let us say, even more acute.  This coming weekend I'll take a more specific look at recent events; today I'm posting an updated version of something I first published a few years ago drawing upon the work of a certain Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger when he was head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  It's an oldie (in keeping with Throwback Thursday), but, as they say, a goodie.

Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)

One need not buy in to the confusing and often intentionally obfuscating "Wall of Separation" language here in the United States to understand that the proper role for a believing Christian in public and political life is not always clear. As in other areas of decision-making, we need to apply our personal judgment in determining how to act in specific situations, but we should form those decisions in the light of the moral law and the teaching of the Church.  An enormously helpful guide in sorting out these questions is the Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding The Participation Of Catholics In Political Life [text here], published November 2002 with the authorization of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II, and under the name of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

     The Doctrinal Note, despite its brevity (it’s only about eight pages long) is a wonderfully rich yet concise discussion . . . 

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Why the Church is not a Granfalloon

      The word "community" must test well in focus groups. It pops up everywhere.  Pay attention to advertisements, and you'll find that all sorts of people and businesses are claiming to be able to provide it to you. Just one example: I heard an ad on the radio last week from a local savings bank suggesting I go there for "community" - and here I thought the bank was just a place to keep my money.  


  I'm not the only one to notice how often the term community is tossed around. Casey Chalk had an article in Crisis this past week called "The Problem with Peloton and Other Faux Communities." Peloton, apparently, is a self-proclaimed community in which one can commune online with other people around the world while pedalling a false bicycle that never actually goes anywhere . . . and the starting price is only $1,900.  Chalk contrasts the simulacrum of community offered by Peloton and other online entities  . . . 

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Aborigines, Atheists, and the Authenticity of the Gospels


A few years ago I ran across an amazing story ("Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately For 10,000 Years") from Scientific American, detailing how aboriginal Australians have preserved, via oral tradition, accurate information about geographical features that have been underwater since the end of the last Ice Age, circa 10,000 years ago. The article is fascinating for its own sake, but it also shows some of the limitations of the modern skeptical, ostensibly scientific (but more accurately “scientistic”) worldview.  Not only that, it has some relevance to our Faith, and particularly to the question of the veracity of Scripture.  In the post below I discuss how the amazing memories of Australia's oldest inhabitants inform our defense of the authenticity of the Gospels.

  Let’s start with the scriptural question.  A common line of attack by well-trained atheist enthusiasts is that the books of the New Testament weren’t even written down until 30-60 years after the death of Jesus: how can we expect them to be reliable?  There are a number of good answers to this . . .

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Welcome to Mission Territory

 "When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything."


G. K. Chesterton
    You have probably run across the quote above, usually attributed to G.K. Chesterton.  While Chesterton never actually said it in quite those words, it does appear that he really did express this sentiment in a somewhat different form in several places (for more information, see this discussion on the website of The Apostolate of Common Sense).  More to the point, the events of the recent past have shown this observation by the  "The Prince of Paradox" to be tragically on target.

      In that regard, allow me to direct your attention to some other quotes (albeit somewhat less witty) that you have probably run across.  In the run up to last year's election yard signs started popping up with a rainbow colored litany that ran something like this . . . 

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

God's Existence isn't a Dark Matter


"Ancient of Days" by William Blake,
Europe a Prophecy, 1794
Once upon a time I taught in a (more or less) Catholic high school.  Occasionally I was called upon to teach religion to the bright-eyed young men and women of the 9th grade. At the time the so-called "New Atheists" (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, etc.) were in vogue, and so class usually contained two or three students eager to try out the  latest anti-Christian tropes that they had picked up online or wherever it is that aspiring atheist proselytizers hang out.  Needless to say, we had many a lively discussion. A number of these discussions became blog posts.

      In the course of these conversations I became aware just how much our educational system and our cultural institutions have become imbued with an unspoken materialist  orientation. Virtually all my students, even professed Christians, seemed to take it for granted that a transcendent God who cannot be measured or detected with scientific instruments could not be shown to exist . . .

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Something Strange is Happening: Holy Saturday

 Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.

Those are the opening sentences in the non-scriptural reading in today's Office of Readings, an "ancient homily on Holy Saturday." It's true that Holy Saturday is not quite like any other day in the liturgical calendar.  There is a pause after the intense liturgical activity of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  There is a sense of expectancy, and, as the author of the reading above put it, "a great silence and stillness."

     So it seems, to us.  If we read on, we see that the King may appear, to us, to be "asleep" but that is not really the case . . .

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