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All Catholic commentary from September 2022

Michelangelo movies w/ Elizabeth Lev

Catholic art historian Elizabeth Lev returns to Criteria to discuss two films about Michelangelo: The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) and Sin (2019). Both deal with the tension between artistic/religious integrity and working for patrons who may be commissioning religious works for worldly motives.

Again I say, “Discern!”

After Francis issued Amoris Laetitia in 2016, many Catholics asked for clarifications. These requests frustrated the Pope immensely; in fact, they made him angry, and he never answered them. But in occasional outbursts, and without offering any guidance, he stressed that what he was asking bishops and priests to do was to discern. His response seemed to indicate that if discernment were required, no hard and fast rules were possible.

Duc in Altum: Deepening our Relationships

A son to college brings both parents and child to the next steps of a relationship with Christ and relationship with family, reminded by the Gospel, "Duc in Altum"--Put out into the deep, as encouraged by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Who are we to judge? We are Catholics who believe in the Catholic faith as it has been given and received for some 2000 years. Judge, we must.

141—Libertarianism, Jazz & Critical Race Theory—Edward Feser

Catholic philosopher Edward Feser joins the podcast to discuss his new book, All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory. But before getting to that, he and Thomas discuss their similar paths away from libertarianism, and their shared appreciation for the music of Thelonious Monk.

The coming population implosion

Even Pope Paul VI, insofar as he incorporated worries about overpopulation into Humanae Vitae, was wrong.

Hopefulness and the assessment of Pope Francis

With respect to the difficulty of striking the right balance in ecclesiastical criticism, please note that scandal can be given either by calling attention to a problem of which someone was happily unaware; or by encouraging delight in those who, already aware of the problems, are are not only relieved but somewhat gleeful to see a bright light shining on the deficiencies they abhor.

St. John Henry Newman—The Idea of a University | Introductory

"The views to which I have referred have grown into my whole system of thought, and are, as it were, part of myself. Many changes has my mind gone through: here it has known no variation or vacillation of opinion..."

Just a speed bump on the Synodal Path?

Synodality apparently means that a small cadre of Catholic activists— in a country where Church attendance is in freefall and hundreds of thousands of Catholics are formally renouncing their faith— should be allowed to lead the universal Church, changing fundamental moral and doctrinal tenets that have stood unchallenged for centuries.

Pius XII & Critical Race Theory: New books tell the truth

Some readers may find themselves in a battle against those who wish to use the Holocaust to defame the Church or to adopt Critical Race Theory as the latest “all-embracing insight”.These are wonderful ways to dismiss previous generations as amoral and unreflective knaves and fools. If you would like to understand either issue more completely, or if you are in a position to expose the preposterous misrepresentations of reality that both claims entail, then these are the books for you.

Mary: Terrible as an Army, Arrayed for Battle

The holiness of Mary provides a stark argument in favor of the truth of traditional Judaism. Indeed, Mary illustrates how Jewish belief complements the Catholic understanding of the Old Testament.

142—The Genesis of Gender—Abigail Favale

Abigail Favale returns to the show to discuss her new book, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. Topics include: --Understanding "lived experience" in light of theology and anthropology --Learning from people with gender dysphoria who have transitioned and detransitioned --The spike in transgender identity among teenagers --"What about intersex people?" --How potency and actuality can help us to understand sex difference --Manhood and womanhood as symbols of theological realities

Drinking with the Saints Podcast

Drinking with the Saints Podcast by Michael and Alexandra Foley is a fun and informative podcast for liturgical living in the Liturgical Year, with great stories of saints and cocktail mixing and drinking to connect to the saint or feast of the day.

Peace or a sword? Is the whole truth always out of season?

There are good reasons to avoid unnecessary conflict and to seek legitimate accommodations to minimize hostility. But surely this cannot always be the Christian approach to potential conflict, which is rooted above all in sin. Christians cannot content themselves with a merely worldly peace—that is, the absence of conflict at any cost—the refusal to offer the challenge of the Gospel, since there is no solution to human relationships apart from the acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

St. John Henry Newman—The Idea of a University | Theology a Branch of Knowledge

"Religious doctrine is knowledge, in as full a sense as Newton's doctrine is knowledge. University Teaching without Theology is simply unphilosophical."

2.7 Third Constantinople: Where There’s a Will, There’s Two

Leave it to intellectuals (in any age) to "solve" the world's problems in ways that create bigger problems. Monothelitism was a religious idea concocted by policy wonks in boardrooms. It was supposed to remedy the doctrinal differences that divided Constantinople from Egypt. It failed to do that, and it also provoked a schism between Constantinople and all of western Christendom. The Third Council of Constantinople was called in 680 to clean up the mess.

Who are the abortion extremists? A political analysis

Clearly, Democrats think that the abortion issue is a winner for them, and many Republicans agree. So the prophecies become self-confirming.

Why is The Rings of Power Boring?

Thomas Mirus, James Majewski, and Nathan Douglas discuss the new Amazon series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The show thus far is not so much offensive as it is bland in ways similar to much popular film and television today. This discussion attempts to understand why the show generally fails to move, focusing especially on its frequent small-mindedness or arbitrariness in characterization and writing, and on its habit of signalling emotion rather than genuinely conveying it.

On losing sight of fundamental beliefs

Sadly, many Catholics have lost their confidence in the Church’s leadership as a result of the scandals. Almost as sadly, many others have clung to their confidence in the leaders, at the cost of forgetting their mission.

Getting it right: On religious differences and God’s will

But there is only an attenuated sense in which all religions are willed by God, and it is an assertion which no Catholic can accept apart from this attenuated form. In other words, we know that nothing whatsoever can happen outside the will of God. Everything that happens is encompassed in either God’s active or God’s permissive will. Therefore, it is through God’s permissive will that every religion on the face of the earth exists. But what of God’s active will?

Politics from the Pulpit

The lack of clerical restraint in maintaining the distinction separating religious principles from political prudential judgments advances the false sense that “everything is politics.”

143—The Sacrament of Church Architecture—Denis McNamara

"Architecture is the built form of ideas, and church architecture is the built form of theology." Denis McNamara joins the show to give a crash course in the underlying principles of Catholic church architecture, and make the case for classical architecture as the method that should be used by today's sacred architects.

Correct the Pope? Or assist him in his Catholic mission…

Self-evidently, if we credit Pope Francis with even this rudimentary understanding of the meaning of “faith” (a living definition, as it were, apart from a scholastic definition or common usage in theological manuals), then it is wholly gratuitous and even bizarre to assume that he intended the term in some common “natural” sense. And as I have indicated, even in our “natural” use of the term today, the argument fails utterly.

St. John Henry Newman—The Idea of a University | Bearing of Theology on Other Branches of Knowledge

"In a word, Religious Truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unravelling the web of University Teaching."

The Pope’s betrayal of Cardinal Zen

A Prince of the Church is being tried as a criminal, by a regime that tramples on human rights, and the Roman Pontiff can only say that he “thinks” he is briefed on the trial schedule?

St. Francis de Sales—Introduction to the Devout Life | Pt. 2 (Ch.1-9)

"It may be, my child, that you do not know how to practice mental prayer, for unfortunately it is a thing much neglected nowadays. I will therefore give you a short and easy method for using it..."

Cocksure or losing heart? Confidence, despair, and prayer

For those of us who regard Catholicism as the supreme corrective to diabolical ways of thinking and deadly temptations, some painful self-reflection or self-examination is likely to intrude on our certainties from time to time simply because we want to ensure that it is not ourselves but Christ who is the source of our confidence. In fact, if we do not experience such moments, it is a good sign that we have not “put on Christ” as fully and as thoroughly as we imagine.

A Behind the Scenes Look

Updates to Catholic Culture's Liturgical Year section, including saints for the 2004 Roman Martyrology, formatting code, adding Station Churches, Ember Days.

The Mystery of Punishment and Suffering

Some suffering is innocent, the mysterious result of Original Sin. God allows suffering to test us; we cannot rule out demonic activity with innocent suffering.

Random Thoughts on the Feast of the Archangels

September 29 is the Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, also popularly known as Michaelmas. This is such a popular feast. Let this feast inspire prayer of gratitude, let art be the inspiration, and for us to remember to invoke the angels.

The Vatican’s weak defense of the Rome-Beijing accord

To achieve its stated goal— a full Catholic hierarchy in communion with Rome— the Vatican-Beijing agreement would need to produce results at several times the current rate. Meanwhile the “underground” Church still faces sanctions, the Patriotic Association still issues orders, and the Vatican, fearful of upsetting the negotiations for a continuation of this questionable accord, remains silent as Cardinal Zen faces trial.

Abortion and heartbeat hypocrites

“A fetal heartbeat may first be detected by a vaginal ultrasound as early as 5 1/2 to 6 weeks. Your baby's heart starts beating approximately 22 days after conception. It won't be detectable yet—even though it's beating an average of 110 times a minute. But thanks to ultrasound technology, you (and your doctor) should be able to hear baby’s heartbeat soon.”—Parents magazine

On avoiding repentance

If we have escaped final Divine punishment for our sins thus far, it is because God’s mercy is intended to prompt in us contrition and a change of heart. Fools say in in their hearts that there is no God (Ps 14:1), or that God does not see (Ps 94:7; Ps 10:11), or that the only thing we need to know about God is that He loves us. But the lesson we are supposed to draw from God’s forbearance is that He wants each of us to repent, so that we can take advantage of His help to amend our lives.

2.8 Picture This: Iconoclasm and Second Nicaea

In the run-up to the Second Council of Nicaea we encounter an emperor known as "Poopyhead," who summons a synod known as the "Headless Council" — all for the sake of forbidding the use of devotional images. Eventually the emperor got around to condemning any honor paid to saints. He desecrated their relics. He tried to ban celibacy, and he closed monasteries and turned them into hotels. Second Nicaea, in 787, was called to repair all that damage.

Checking up on the Catholic fact-checkers

Recently, on a tip from an alert reader, I checked back on the site, to see what new information the site has provided in the last several months. The answer: none at all.

Two very different Oz movies

The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Return to Oz (1985) offer very different takes on L. Frank Baum's source material and approaches to children's fantasy. Wizard's fantasy is overtly artificial and ultimately illusory, yet attempts to provide a contrived moral to its story. Return's fantasy is more fully realized and darker, but attempts no particular moral lesson.


We are expected to participate fully in the transformation God seeks to effect in us, but there is a “catch” in the classic human problem of devaluing what becomes familiar. It takes a well-balanced soul not to take God’s presence for granted. We stumble over our own big feet—our own worldly expectations and preoccupying plans through which we so often keep God at bay, conveniently boxing up God’s mysterious and sometimes terrifying love in the dusty attic of our souls.

Establishing Intentional Liturgical Living Routines

Reflecting on family birthday traditions can be extended to living liturgically or living the Liturgical Year routines. Keep them simple and essential.

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