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All Catholic commentary from December 2020

The Abdication of Fatherhood—Dekalog: Four (1988)

A father is challenged to definitively embrace his paternal role as authority and protector, lest his already ambiguous relationship with daughter be perverted into something truly monstrous.

St. Augustine—De Doctrina Christiana | Book 3 (Ch.24-37)

“Students of these revered writings should be advised not only to learn the kinds of expressions in the Holy Scriptures… but also to pray that they may understand them.”

Pell and von Balthasar: Works by two warriors in later years

Pell does not, perhaps, strike the reader as in the same class with, say, St. Thomas More in the Tower, but then More knew he was awaiting death, and his personal reputation was not in question. In contrast, Pell was in disgrace but not on death row; of necessity he kept one foot firmly in this world: different situation, different time, and different place. But Pell is a man of our times and our sensibilities; he stands with and for the very best of us today, in grace under immense stress.

Quick hits on Covid: ethical vaccines, unintended experiments

"During the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is unwittingly conducting what amounts to the largest immunological experiment in history on our own children."

92—Claudel’s Cosmic Vision—Jonathan Geltner

In his Five Great Odes, the great French Catholic poet Paul Claudel (1868-1955) offers a cosmic vision in which man, in his contemplative and poetic capacity, stands as mediator between God and all creation.

Covid vaccines and fetal tissues: the moral calculus

From a Catholic moral perspective, the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are clearly objectionable; to use them is to become involved in causal chain that began with an abortion.

Discernment: The First Rule

Many decisions require discernment, from what job to take to when and how to intervene personally in a difficult human situation. But the Book of Numbers gave the Jews the single most important rule for the discernment of right and wrong: Discernment “at the command of the LORD”. The difference today is simple: Whereas the Jews accepted that the command of the LORD was known through Moses, Catholics accept that the command of the LORD is known through the Church.

Spiritual Strategic Planning

"I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to recalibrate my vision, set appropriate goals, gather and analyze information, and formulate and implement a strategy..."

St. John Henry Newman—Shrinking from Christ’s Coming

“Consider what it is you mean by praying, and you will see that, at that very time that you are asking for the coming of His kingdom, you are anticipating that coming, and accomplishing the thing you fear.”

Second Rule of Discernment (or) How we rescue the Church

While we can point out many particular things that should be done to renew the Church, there is no single particular reform program on offer anywhere that we can all unite behind to make happen. There is no question of joining one organization or committing all to one particular facet of the cause. Rather, the way the Church continually renews herself is through her members living their baptismal promises in the myriad situations, stations and offices in which they find themselves.

After the McCarrick Report, an odd episcopal appointment

When a new bishop is appointed, he is given instructions from Rome about what will be expected of him. Specifically, my friend suggested, perhaps he is told “which bodies are to stay buried.”

29—Basil and the Beginning of Christian Social Thought

Basil the Great was a brilliant theologian whose works are foundational in Christian social thought. But he didn't just think about these things. He did something about them. As bishop he was a model administrator, marshaling the resources of Christians in order to build a "new city" dedicated to worship and service of those in need; there he constructed one of the first hospitals, a poorhouse, a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, a hospice, and a trade school.

The Machine-Whore of Babylon: Metropolis (1927)

Almost one hundred years ago, the great German director Fritz Lang offered us a beautiful yet nightmarish vision of a world strangely similar to our present. Society is unimaginably prosperous yet produces mass misery. There is a sense of an end coming for Babel.

Quick hits on Covid: one bold bishop, and a plea for more

While bishops have been restricting access to the sacraments, and explaining that the restrictions will save lives, Hennessey questions how many souls are being lost in the process.

93—An Introduction to Thomas Tallis—Kerry McCarthy

This is an episode about one of England’s greatest composers, Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). As a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, he composed sacred music for four successive monarchs, starting with Henry VIII and ending with Elizabeth.

Another balanced moral perspective on fetal tissues and Covid vaccines

Father Pacholczyk the “serious reasons” that might weigh in favor of taking the vaccine, for “an elderly person or someone with multiple health issues.” Most people do not fall into those categories.

A ‘disastrous’ message from Notre Dame

With the award, Notre Dame was testifying to the world that Sheen, by his participation in a show that advanced the “pro-choice” agenda, had “illustrated the ideas of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Virtual Indulgences?

Witnessing the celebration of a Mass on the internet is not real participation. The live-streamed Eucharist is a mere electronic image. There is no “Real Presence” in the pixels on the screen, so the devotion cannot be the same.

Driving out love: The modern bureaucratic lifestyle

Again and again ordinary human initiatives are thwarted in modern states because of both the immense regulatory burden of attempting to meet the bureaucratic “requirements” and the monumental tax burdens imposed in the name of such allegedly superior and comprehensive systems. I say all this without even yet touching on the exclusion of God which characterizes all bureaucratic systems, in keeping with the myth that such systems can and must “control reality” to suit themselves.

Just how important is Joe Biden’s faith really?

Whatever “faith” may be important to Joe Biden, it is not the Catholic faith. It is a mockery of God to try to convince others to the contrary—and a mockery of the Blessed Virgin Mary to let it be known that you carry a Rosary, as if this too is very important. There is a huge disconnect concerning religion in the modern secular world. We tend to regard it as a sentiment, and rely on it only insofar as we are successful and pretending it is a sentiment which justifies whatever we think and do.

A corrective to the Schneider statement on the COVID vaccines

Let me address the statement promulgated a week ago by five bishops insisting that it is in all cases immoral to allow oneself to be vaccinated with any vaccine which has been tainted by the use of fetal cell lines. There are two aspects or levels to this debate, and these two aspects or levels are necessarily in tension with each other. I don’t want to write a book on this subject, but let me just make ten points, each brief enough in itself to prevent overload.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) w/ Patrick Coffin

James and Thomas discuss Catholic director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life with popular podcaster and writer Patrick Coffin.

St. Augustine—De Doctrina Christiana | Book 4 (Ch.1-16)

“Thus, in praying for himself and for those whom he is about to address, [the orator] should be a suppliant before he is a speaker… Who can make us say what we should, and say it in the way we should, except Him in whose ‘hand are both we and our words’?”

94—Understanding Postmodern “Social Justice”—Darel Paul

"Woke" ideas that were only a few years ago complacently dismissed as the perennial agitation of a few campus loonies are now pervasive in the corporate world, mass media and pop culture. This is a discussion of the book Cynical Theories, a very helpful primer on the development of modern radical left activism from 1960s postmodernist philosophy.

On the limitations of episcopal poachers

In the tenth point in my recent corrective to the Schneider statement on the COVID vaccines, I outlined one of the limits of the episcopal teaching authority: “[B]ishops have no teaching authority outside their own dioceses, and it is an abuse of their office to make individual or joint statements pretending to answer critical moral questions for the whole Church.” I can see how this can be read as too sweeping. Therefore, I want to make sure here that my intended meaning is not misunderstood.

30—Gregory Nazianzen: Greatness in the Passive Voice

All Gregory wanted was a quiet place where he could relax with his books. But history kept dragging him into its current. First he was coerced him into priesthood, then into the episcopacy. Both times he put up little resistance, but later resented the actions as violence. Both times he fled the demands of his office. Eventually he became bishop in Constantinople and led the ecumenical council in 380. Along the way he wrote the best Trinitarian theology of his time — and reams of great poetry.

The Church’s Policies on Families

We need care, compassion, and understanding— Gospel teaching and the sacraments. We need the hard work that comes with imitating the virtues of the Holy Family. But let’s not try to redefine reality.

Celebrating the conception of Jesus?

But as a matter of significant human reality, the birth of a child is the natural and normal time for celebration, the first moment in which we can at last see the child and begin to get to know the child: The moment of that child’s emergence onto the human stage, the beginning of the baby’s interaction with a human family and with all who will come to know him and be influenced by him.

St. John Henry Newman—On the Name of Jesus

“Consider what it is you mean by praying, and you will see that, at that very time that you are asking for the coming of His kingdom, you are anticipating that coming, and accomplishing the thing you fear.”

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