Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Be Sober and Vigilant: You-Know-Who is Prowling

      You wouldn't be wrong if you observed that it's becoming increasingly uncomfortable to be a professing Christian in our culture.  The good news is, being comfortable or safe has never been part of the job description for a follower of Christ (I'll bet you're feeling better already).  In fact, Jesus Himself is very emphatic on this point; this passage from the Gospel of John is just one example::

They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me.  But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. (John 16: 2-4) 

Japanese Martyrs

    We can see that persecution, even in times and places that claim to be Christian, has been more the rule than the exception throughout the history of the Church.  Just take a look at the Saints for today (September 10th) at Catholic.org. There are 59 separate entries for today, most of them martyrs. While many of them are from the same persecution in Japan in 1622, a random sampling finds Saints suffering for the Faith throughout the history of the Church. Let's take a look and see how, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same . . .

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Has Tradition Become A Dirty Word?

      Picture Sunday Mass in a typical parish.  A mother comes up for communion holding a small child in her arms.  As she approaches the priest, she awkwardly holds on to her infant with one arm in order to free up the other to take the Eucharistic host and quickly pop it into her mouth before she drops it, or her squirming child, to the floor.  I’ve witnessed this scene on numerous occasions over the years, and I always wonder why the harried parent doesn’t avail herself of a simple and effective method of protecting both the safety of her son or daughter and the dignity of all the parties involved (very much including Christ present in the Eucharist): hold her child securely in both arms, extend her tongue, and receive the Body of Christ in the same manner as her ancestors did for centuries before her: the manner that is still, officially, the norm for the entire Church.

"Les Premières Communiantes" by Blanchard,
Musée de la Civilisation, Québec
    But let’s set aside, for the moment, the issue of Church norms. Why should the young mother holding her baby receiving communion, or any of us for that matter, care what our ancestors did?  That is to say, what is the point of tradition?



     The question of the value of tradition has been given a certain currency by Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, which seeks to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). G.K. Chesterton called tradition “the democracy of the dead” because it gives our forebears a “vote” in how we conduct ourselves here and now.  This is something unique to humanity . . .

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Sunday, August 15, 2021

Liturgy Wars: What’s Latin Got To Do With It?

 Seven years ago, in the run-up to the Synod on the Family, there was a mild controversy over the Pope's decision to remove Latin from its place of honor as the official language of the meeting. By the time the synod convened the language issue had largely been overshadowed by . . . other things.  Nevertheless, I don’t think the Latin question should be forgotten. I felt compelled to write the post below at the time, both because the Latin language is a particular interest of mine (as I explain in the article), but more importantly because the discussion of its place in the Church helps illustrate some important aspects of Catholicism.  Now, with a rumored return to the bad old days of restricted opportunities to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass (as I discuss here and here), it seems like a good time to rerun my old (slightly revised) post:

  

Lingua Latina Aeterna

Passing the literary torch: Virgil and Dante Meeting  
Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucan by Nicola Consoni (c.1850)
Thus the Roman tongue is now first and foremost a sacred tongue, which resounds in the Sacred Liturgy, the halls of divinity, and the documents of the Apostolic See.  In this same tongue you yourselves again and again address a sweet salutation to the Queen of Heaven, your Mother, and to your Father who reigns on high.  This tongue is the key that unlocks for you the sources of history.  Nearly all the Roman and Christian past preserved for us, in inscriptions, writings and books, with some exceptions of later centuries, wears the vesture of the Latin tongue. - His Holiness Pope Pius XII's Address to the Student Youth of Rome, January 30, 1949   

  Over the last couple of days I have been watching two gentlemen going back and forth in the comments section about the Pope’s decision not to use Latin as the official language of the Synod of Bishops.  They both make some interesting points about the place and importance of the Latin language in the life of the Church. Their spirited discussion has got me thinking not just about the Latin language, but about some of the distinctive features of Catholicism . . . 

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Eucharistic Adoration: Sitting at the Feet of the Lord

     As Catholics, we are blessed to have some wonderful devotional practices that help us grow closer to Christ.  One of the most profound of these is Eucharistic Adoration.  My wife and I were recently asked to help encourage participation in Adoration in our parish, in the course of which we ourselves came to see dimensions of this great gift that we hadn’t considered before. 

     For one thing, we both thought immediately of scriptural connections. My lovely bride thought of the passage from First Kings (1 Kings 19:10-13) where the Lord tells the prophet Elijah to stand on the mountain, for “The Lord is about to pass by”.  There’s a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a roaring fire, but God is not in any of those things; instead, Elijah encounters the Lord in a “gentle whispering”. 

     Just as God does not appear to Elijah in any of the grand and dramatic forms we might expect, so Jesus enters the world as a tiny baby, and continues to manifest himself to us as a simple piece of bread.  Eucharistic Adoration gives us a chance to shut out all the storm and stress of our daily lives while we contemplate the infinite God embodied in that piece of bread, and hear his gentle whisper.

     My own first thought was the passage from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) where Jesus is visiting the sisters Martha and Mary.  Martha, who is “worried about many things”, is frantically bustling about the house, while Mary simply sits at the feet of Jesus . . . 

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Practical Apologetics: The Geometry of Faith

 Once upon a time I was a teacher in a (more or less) Catholic school, where I was occasionally called upon to teach an introductory theology course to the bright-eyed young men & women of the ninth grade.  Of the roughly 16 students per class there would usually be 2-3 Catholic students whose families attended Mass at least weekly, and a like number of non-Catholic Christians who were regular church goers.  The rest were raised in a secular environment, ranging from occasionally religious to explicitly atheist.  

     I soon found that most of these young people, even many of the regular church attendees, had been so indoctrinated into a materialist way of thinking by teachers, mass media, and society in general that I found it difficult to explain even basic religious ideas.  It was almost like speaking a foreign tongue.  Some of these students were fans of the then-popular "new atheists" (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.), and most had been affected to some degree by "scientistic" thinking, that it, the idea that scientific explanations were the only serious or valid explanations. I found that I had to get them outside of these narrow ways of understanding reality before they could even begin to understand the purpose of or the need for religious faith.

      Many of my blog posts grew out of discussions with these students, including some republished here ("Has Pascal's Wager Really Been 'Debunked'?", "God's Existence Isn't A Dark Matter").  The post below is another of these, in which I try to get my students to look at the world from a different - ahem - angle . . .

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Friday, July 30, 2021

The Bishops, the Politicians, and Abortion: What Would St. John Fisher Do?

 "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."


Joe and Jill Biden at Mass
     The quote above is often attributed to communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  There is no record of his actually having said it, but it's widely repeated because it pithily sums up a terrifying truth about the relentlessness of war.  In an age when a large and influential segment of the population wages political warfare on all who seem to stand in the way of their urgent drive to replace reality as it is with a vaguely envisioned utopia, we can amend that to "You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you."

 For a long time now the Catholic bishops in the United States have dabbled in politics, mostly in a manner that we would call "virtue signaling" today: a statement about nuclear war in the 1980s, expressions of concern about capital punishment in the 1990s, some hand-wringing about immigration in more recent years.  All issues with legitimate moral dimensions, it's true, but all likewise issues on which serious Catholics can have legitimate differences of opinion.  In none of them were the bishops confronting Catholics or others who were clearly advocating anything directly contrary to the moral law, or promoting an intrinsic evil.  And for what it's worth, none of them are areas in which Catholic bishops have particular competence.

  Over the same stretch of time there has been another issue looming, one which is indeed a matter of intrinsic evil, about which there is no room for prudential judgment, and which is very much within the competence of the episcopacy: abortion.

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Monday, July 19, 2021

Finding the Future in the Past: Why The Latin Mass is not Going Away

      The scene is a parish church.  A congregation has assembled for Sunday Mass. The opening hymn begins with a grand flourish.  The celebrant processes into the church amid alleluias and mighty blasts from the organ. We reach a mini-climax.  The music ends. Then, there is a moment of silence while the celebrant adjusts his microphone. He smiles.  And what are the first words out of his mouth? "Good morning, everybody" THUD! You can almost hear something collapsing . . . The church building, the music, and the celebrant in flowing robes all seem to to say, "This is a ritual," an event out of the ordinary.  Then, the "Good morning" intrudes itself and indicates that this is really a business meeting and not a liturgy, after all. -Thomas Day, Why Catholics Can't Sing

In Why Catholics Can't Sing Thomas Day takes a close and often acerbic look at what is wrong with the liturgy as it is all too often celebrated in Catholic churches. A major theme, as we can see in the excerpt above, is that reformers and others (both clerical and lay) who are responsible for planning and conducting liturgical celebrations ignore the importance of ritual - of sights, sounds, scents, and actions - in fostering our relationship with God.  While there have been some marked improvements since Day's book was first published in 1991 (most notably Pope Benedict  XVI's Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum in 2007, about which more below), we're nowhere near out of the woods yet.  

"David Bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem" by Domenico Gargiulo, c. 1640

     This is not just a matter of aesthetics, by the way.  Yes, a poorly celebrated or even a lackadaisical Mass can still be valid, and the Eucharist confected by an irreverent priest is still the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Mass, however, is more than just a delivery system for the Eucharist.  It is also the highest form of prayer. It helps us to find communion with our Lord on a number of different levels, and prepares us, ideally, to be properly receptive to the Grace of the Eucharist.  And, if we truly believe that the Mass is bringing us the Real Presence of the Second Person of the Trinity, well, can we possibly be reverent enough?

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A Brief Visit to Hell

"Lucifer" by Cornelius Galle, 1595
     Who wants to talk about Hell?  Just about nobody, and we can hardly blame them - why dwell on something as, well, hellish, as eternal torment?  Many people, both inside and outside the Church, only mention the Abode of the Damned at all in order to discount it.  At the same time, we don't have the luxury of ignoring it. Hell and eternal damnation are spoken of often and explicitly in Scripture, very often by Jesus Himself. He tells us in Matthew's Gospel, for example: "The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Matthew 13:41-42)  This is not an isolated statement, neither on the part of Jesus himself, nor elsewhere in the New Testament.  The most vivid description outside of the words of Christ is in the Book of Revelation, which on four separate occasions refers to the "Lake of Fire"  into which the Devil, his angels, and other evildoers are cast.


     It's difficult for us to balance the idea of a Hell of eternal torment with the image of a God who "is Love" (1 John 4:8), especially in our world today where sentiment is king: Hell "feels" wrong.  In fact, I recently had a reader of my discussion of Pascal's Wager who accused me of believing in a "monster" God who "would torture you forever" if you didn't believe in him. I answered that neither I nor the Catholic Church believe in a God who "tortures" people "forever" . . .

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Friday, July 2, 2021

A Tribute Vice Pays to Itself, or, The Joy of Getting Gelded

"Satan Cast Down From Heaven"
by Gustav Dore, 1866
      A vivid picture of sin has been given to us by St. Augustine: homo incurvatus in se, "man turned in upon himself."  The image that conjures up in my mind is rather like a dog chasing his tail . . . or myself, in some of my less glorious moments.  The point is, we direct ourselves inward, away from God, away from other people, hoping to find within ourselves what can only come from beyond.  The world in which we are living today is becoming more and more a world not so much turned in upon itself, because that would imply that we're doing it together, but a world in which each and every one of us is turned in upon ourselves, eight billion dogs simultaneously chasing their own tails.

    Such intense self-absorption is bad for us, of course, because we were made for love by the God Who is Love (1 John 4:8), and love is willing the good of another. And therein lies a problem, because one effect of sin turning us inside out is that it turns love inside out as well, so that we find ourselves actually willing evil for others.

     A few years back I ran across a story that perfectly captures the essence of a world full of people curved in upon themselves.  Please click below to find my exploration of the wonderful world of Vasectomy Showers:

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Discerning the Body: The Bishops, The Politicians, and The Eucharist

      It is now abundantly clear to all of us, I hope, that St. Paul's warning about the eternal battle "against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12) is not just a rhetorical trope.  It's raging all around us with a palpable intensity.  One of the clearest signs is that more and more of our institutions are taking up and loudly proclaiming the ancient lie first whispered by the Father of Lies to our first parents: "your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5) The New Orthodoxy, in fact, goes beyond determining good and evil for ourselves: even external realities like male and female must bow before the the power of the "awakened" human will.  Anyone with the temerity to question the new teachings will be told, as Lot was by the men of Sodom:  "This fellow came to sojourn, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them." (Genesis 19:9)

  
  When you consider the nature of the current struggle, it seems clear that language is one of the main fronts in the war right now.  Above I referred to Satan as the "father of lies".  That title is bestowed on him by Jesus himself: "When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me." (John 8:44-45) To the extent that we're wading through a sea of lies, we're fighting on the Enemy's chosen ground.  We need to find a way to move the battle back to dry land, to the truth . . . 

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