By Dr. Jeff Mirus
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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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
His accounts of the various figures—the “lives of rage and stillness” in which the purifying work of the Holy Spirit burns—make for an immensely dramatic and entertaining book. Tom Hiney is now preparing for ordination as a Catholic priest.
It reveals a great deal about the materialist prejudices and desires of our intellectual “elites” that the discoveries of modern science over the past century have not driven the “intellectual establishment” back to an apprehension of the existence of God in the same way that the nineteenth-century theory of evolution was, in its very under-developed infancy, used to help drive the “intellectual establishment” into the denial of God.
There seems to be a presumption among our advanced modern thinkers that nobody before the late twentieth-century understood natural law, temptation, sin and rationalization; and that nobody could make distinctions between inclinations and acting on those inclinations. And yet if you read even very ancient literature, we find that, in truth, people had at least as thorough an understanding of these deeply human issues two or three thousand years ago as we have today.
Our liturgical year ebooks include all the liturgical day information for each season just as it appears on CatholicCulture.org. These offer a rich set of resources for families to use in living the liturgical year in the domestic church. Resources include biographies of the saints to match each feast day, histories of the various celebrations and devotions, descriptions of customs from around the world, prayers, activities and recipes.
Gioia is correct that Christian poetry can make a comeback. First, “it never entirely went away. Although its role in worship and education was curtailed and its music flattened…, there was simply too much of it to vanish.” Second, the necessary change in attitude has already gotten slowly underway: a growing “conviction that perfunctory and platitudinous language will not suffice, an awareness that the goal of liturgy, homily, and education is not to condescend but to enliven and elevate.”
The Church may have many members or few; she may have great worldly influence or almost none. That is largely hidden in the Providence of God. But to the degree that she is not significantly distinguishable from the larger human culture that surrounds her, she is burdened by a depressing human baggage which has blurred her essential identity, undermined her essential claims, and subverted that synodality which is the very strength of her mission in the world.
Our Guardian Angels can be of enormous help. We can pray to our angels, asking them to allow concern about any sin we have not yet confessed to come through and prick our consciences, and also to make us see anything we have already confessed as a cause to renew our joy in the surpassing mercy of God.
Undset saw the spiritual disease of the modern period very clearly. For her, conversion entails a deliberate embrace of reality, and the rejection of Satan’s pomps, or empty promises, which are quite simply the antithesis to what is real. This perverse pattern of diminishing reality led Undset to disdain not only overt secularism but even Protestantism, which Undset saw as a vain effort to flee from reality in such a way that Christianity could mean whatever people wanted it to mean.
What St. Vincent was getting at is what St. John Henry Newman spelled out. Newman’s point was that each legitimate doctrinal development will tend toward greater precision. In other words, while this may sometimes serve to correct what some erroneously thought the doctrine to imply, it will do so by corroborating, confirming and more fully explicating the truth of the Church’s authoritative earlier form of expression.
Christian results simply cannot be evaluated in worldly terms: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36), said Our Lord. Worldly success for the Church is more often than not, in one respect or another, a serious failure, and the Church ought not to seek to ally herself with worldly powers.
The question here is whether the current form of the liturgy tends to be a kind of “vertical” (that is, transcendent) experience which draws us into the sacred mysteries which the liturgy celebrates and seeks to make present to us, or whether it tends to be a very “horizontal” (that is, immanent) affair which falls back into a celebration of a very human community not yet absorbed in these mysteries.
Appropriate compromises in the face of conflicting perceptions of reality are extremely difficult. It is in fact impossible to compromise appropriately without the virtue of prudence employed in service to a genuine comprehension of reality, which is to say, in service to the truth. But these conditions can be created only through the development of self-control and discipline over our passions. The further difficulty is that these qualities are rare.
Another way of putting this is to observe that our culture now tends to insist that reality is determined by the human will rather than perceived as a given by the human intellect. Inescapably, this has led to the destruction of a human moral consensus, which leaves us to arrange our affairs as a people based on political and legal formulations which are very often divorced from the very realities from which they had once been abstracted.
The only answer is that we must discern the moral structure of our being either through careful reasoning on the magnificent panorama of reality we did not create; or by learning what, if anything, the Creator has explicitly revealed about this moral structure. The first thing that we can say about those who are unwilling to do this is that they are not serious about discerning the difference between right and wrong, but only about fulfilling their own desires.
It is chilling to note our religious indifference today, as reflected not only in the celebration of “Christian” marriages (which often proceed without any real Christian commitment) but also in the celebration of “Christian” funerals (which often consist of vague but rosy Christian reflections relative to deceased persons who consistently refused to have anything significant to do with Jesus Christ during the course of their lives).
With each cultural shift, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion that the Catholic Church can enjoy a favored worldly status by living within the ever-diminishing space afforded by an increasingly corrupt culture. Sadly, a church that begins by speaking platitudes to power ends by giving few coherent reasons why anyone—Catholic, Christian or otherwise—should rally to her standard, or (more to the point) see in her the distinctive Presence of Jesus Christ.
Once our children are old enough to reason about their behavior, almost the first thing to which we must alert them is the problem of rationalization. This is important not only for their own moral understanding but so that they do not lose a contest which has extraordinarily high stakes. When the intellect proposes some good to the will, if the will is prone to reject that good, the will immediately asks the intellect to provide reasons why this undesired good is actually bad: Rationalization.
The solution to the problem is approximately the same as the solution to all our problems: Christian families and communities which nurture and take care of their own, far better than any State or regime can possibly do. If we do not keep praying and working toward that, we deceive ourselves. This does not mean that we should not work on other specific, ad hoc solutions as well. It just means that we should not be fooled into thinking they will ever be enough.
I was tempted a few times to stop the flow of my analysis in order to emphasize that most of us are not going to come to an initial position of Faith either by a general interpretation of God’s Providence or by a comparison of the Jewish and Christian understanding of morality. The shortest distance between God and ourselves is through the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. That is, we are unlikely to respond to anything with faith until the unique person of Jesus Christ becomes our focal point.
Each of us must ask whether we are getting the Message, whether we are taking advantage of the Plan. What the Jews slid over by focusing on external prescriptions we may well slide over in the name of personal liberty, self-fulfillment and “what everybody knows”. If they used an externalized grasp of the law as an excuse to justify themselves, we may well use a dim awareness of the life of grace as an excuse to follow our personal inclinations, and so do whatever we wish.
We have just released the fifth volume in the 2021-2022 Liturgical Year series of ebooks. Volume five covers the first half of the long stretch of Ordinary Time between the close of the Easter Season on Pentecost and the beginning of Advent. Like all CatholicCulture.org ebooks, this volume is downloadable free of charge.
Divine Providence will always be somewhat difficult to grasp. While the Jews had many poets and prophets who could offer considerable insight into what God was up to, there was always a tension between what we might call the spirit and the letter of the Law. Thus we may be able to look back and perceive the overall salvific situation of the Jews from afar, in order to understand the distinctive pressures under which they lived, and the Providential strengths and weaknesses of their response.
There was a great deal of law in the lives of the Jews as chronicled in the Old Testament, and of law quite different from our own religious laws today. But if we think Old Covenant morality was markedly different from New Covenant morality, we must ask ourselves what the most fundamental moral code for the Jews actually was. And then we realize at once that this law was spelled out in the Ten Commandments as revealed by God to Moses, the Law that was etched in stone on Mount Sinai.
The Christian life is a great paradox of suffering and joy. I don’t mean to claim that I have suffered a great deal—certainly not very much in comparison with many others! But the “triumph of the cross” is always on display in Catholicism, the power of resurrection shining through shortcomings and setbacks. Those who take Christ and the Church seriously nearly always have to experience the threat of failure before they can work at making things better for another season or so.
The denial of reality is the operational mode not only of government but of academia, the mass media, and corporate life. And if the simple repetition of abject nonsense is not sufficient to brainwash everybody, then everybody must be subject to increasing bureaucratic control, so that independent speech and independent action are regulated out of existence, leaving an ever-narrowing space even for critical thought.
Throughout the sermon, a positive spirituality eclipses (without minimizing) avoidance of the most obvious sins: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder... But I say to you that everyone who is angry with this brother will be liable to judgment’” (5:21-22). And so it goes throughout the text. But there is a glimpse of something far more dramatic than that.
It is the Magisterium of the Catholic Church which infallibly protects us against the arbitrary “choices”, by which, in rejecting the richness of the whole, we can and do distort the mystery of Christ. Like undisciplined children, we proceed even to the point of using our own opinions as reasons to reject the ecclesiastical authority Our Lord established to help us! The result is always either our own peculiar ideas or a slavish adherence to fashion.
There can be no true religion that does not incarnate within itself the authority of Christ. Here we find the correction of a misguided territorial Orthodoxy, the correction of Protestantism’s dependence on private and personal judgment, and even the correction of Catholics—when we listen to our own “interpretations”, forgetting that not a single one of us has merited the promises of Jesus Christ.
There remain large numbers of good bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay people who pray and work to renew the Church, bear witness to Christ, preach and teach the Faith, give courageous counter-cultural example, and invite others to make their own commitment to Christ and the Church. But all of these collide with the trends nearly everywhere: Baptisms are down, conversions are down, Mass attendance is down, and the influence of Christianity on human culture continues to decline. Why?
Even God cannot force us to love Him and still call it love. Therefore, the whole economy of salvation works for each of us only insofar as we cooperate with the graces we are given to know the truth and choose the good. When we open our minds and turn our wills to what we are given to know of God, this is true love, and it is just this that makes sense out of the verses cited above from Romans chapter 8, which begin “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”
What is different this time around is that a growing number of Catholic bishops are willing to reject publicly the culturally-popular manipulation of Catholic faith, morals and practice, and (even better) to make a point of keeping their own dioceses firmly on a Catholic course. There are many countries with weak and even heterodox bishops, of course, but so far they have been able to dominate the synodal process only in a small number of places.
But there is only one passage in Jerome’s book that brushes these heights and depths, so often tinged with the most poignant human folly, and the reader will see at once that the perception is entirely wrong—an opportunity lost not only for lightness but for light itself.
CatholicCulture.org ended 2021 with income and expenditures breaking even at $446,000. As the 74-year-old founder, I can see we need to get to $500,000 for all of my major duties to be offloaded. But that is a remarkably low budget for an apostolate as resource-productive, far-reaching and available around the world as CatholicCulture.org. Few organizations can match our low cost per person served. Please pray for the success of our Catholic mission, and contribute financially if you can.
The only organization that has a rational claim to be able to settle difficult questions is the Catholic Church, and even she confines her certainties to what has been disclosed through Divine Revelation. Her competence depends on a privileged source of information concerning the plan of God. Our understanding of the material conditions of life in this world, by contrast, relies entirely on human study, which is prone to honest mistakes, subjectivity, cultural conditioning, and special pleading.
Easter falls on April 17th this year, and so the Easter volume of our ebook series for the 2021-2022 liturgical year has been released in our ebooks download area. This fourth volume in the annual series covers the entire Easter season, from the Easter Vigil (April 16th) through Pentecost (June 5th). It may be downloaded free of charge in the following formats: .mobi (Kindle), .epub (Nook and other standard ereaders), and .pdf (most computer devices).
In response to a person’s sins, some priests will say, “Don't worry about it. No big deal. Don't let your conscience bother you. Move on with your life.” But they haven't really helped the person. They have swept it under the rug.
From Edmund Campion’s favous “brag” against the Elizabethan functionaries who executed him for his priestly ministry: “I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation.”
Mike can cover more material in these books, which also make better long-term references for family and friends, without sacrificing his trademark entertaining style.
Doubtless everyone would prefer that their taxes be used for the benefit of families, healthcare, work and to fight poverty and hunger, instead of for military spending. But families, healthcare, work, and material well-being in Ukraine are currently being destroyed because the Ukrainian government did not put itself in a position to deter a Russian invasion.
James Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, grasps the reality that in today’s world, everything is seen on a material plain, as a series of elements subject to material manipulation to get whatever we want. Manipulation of “nature” is in high demand, but genuine personal fulfillment remains elusive. People do not even understand what a person is. In such a culture, the Church must commit herself once again to a truly Apostolic form of mission.
The inaction of the Curia should never be an excuse for a bishop to do nothing or to do the wrong thing, any more than the action of the Curia should be an excuse to disclaim any responsibility. Every bishop should both defend and advance the Catholic faith as the very core of his mission, and must recognize that curial structures make comparatively little difference in the exercise of that responsibility.
Given C.’s upbringing, which was minimal, and the lack of parental affection shown him, which was in many ways normal for the class and the period, this lack of drive is understandable. Clearly there is much of Maurice Baring in C., and key traits of many other characters are thought largely to have been borrowed from Baring’s friends. Baring himself insisted that he took personality traits from a great many people, and combined them differently in his characters.
Most people on the winning side regard military victory as self-justifying. If they do not believe in Providence, of course they prefer victory. And if they do believe in Providence, they generally prefer whatever reading of the meaning of Providence is most favorable to themselves. But of course the victory of one nation over another tells us absolutely nothing about God’s active will. All we know is that He has at least permitted this conquest so that some good can be realized from it.
One of the great problems in the life of the Church is the assumption that the disasters inevitably brought on by sin are so far off that sinners need not worry about the adverse consequences of their actions. Of course, a Christian ought to see the consequences all around him. But those who rationalize (as most of us do when we sin) are often protected from despair by a blindness to the deep consequences of their infidelity.
Why, I wonder, have recent popes not put St. Joseph in charge of the Church’s effort to cleanse herself from the oppressive worldliness within—not the ordinary worldliness of laziness and personal comfort but the extraordinary worldliness of a professoriate and clergy profoundly infected by Modernism, liberalism, relativism, secularism? Or make it positive: Why not a Josephine campaign to restore Joseph’s most important role throughout the Church: The security of the those within.
Some Catholics in the United States, anxious to find a worldly power—any worldly power!—sympathetic to their own moral concerns, like to think of Vladimir Putin as a kind of Christian knight. But Putin himself rose to prominence as a KGB foreign intelligence operator and he is now, well, a politician. It is difficult to know when politicians really mean what they say. It is even more difficult to assume that because a politician favors one good thing he must also favor other good things.
Liberalism—which is the dominant theory behind politics as operative in the world today—trivializes the Real in the same way it trivializes both tradition and religious belief, that is, by positing that every belief outside of politics is purely personal and idiosyncratic. Thus there are no truths readable either through nature or Revelation which can command more than a private commitment; there is simply nothing there which is essentially public and belongs to the common good.
The Book of Lamentations teaches us one of the primary ways in which Providence works. God can bring it about that any person or group should experience any kind of good—or any kind of evil—in order that this person or group should have the maximum opportunity to turn to the Lord and be saved. But there is an inescapable connection between succumbing to worldly temptations and drifting away from God. As societies decline spiritually, rebellion and a corresponding desolation increase.
It is not too much to say that my own pilgrimage to Joseph was similar to that of the whole Church, which came only slowly to develop a strong devotion to Our Lady’s protector and Our Lord’s foster father—and has remained a little confused about how best to portray Joseph in both prayer and art.
Our liturgical year ebooks include all the liturgical day information for each season just as it appears on CatholicCulture.org. These offer a rich set of resources for families to use in living the liturgical year in the domestic church. Resources include biographies of the saints to match each feast day, histories of the various celebrations and devotions, descriptions of customs from around the world, prayers, activities and recipes.
Moreover, since we are all baptized priests in the universal sense, every lay person should also be able see the importance of these patterns of “closeness”—to God, to our bishop, to our priests, and to others for whom we bear responsibility—and apply them to his or her own life. We must make no mistake about this: Such closeness, in all four aspects, is an essential component of what it means to be not only a priest but a Catholic.
There can be no question, of course, that the response to the call for synodality ought to be a missionary response by Catholics, on every level, both to the larger society and to the non-believers who choose to remain within the Church. Such a response would clarify matters almost immediately, since so many who seek to remake the Church in their own worldly image would be prompted to either convert or depart.
These recommendations are listed in alphabetical order by the last name or the saint name of the author. I provide a link to the web page where each item is thoroughly described and available for purchase (or, in the case of one video series, for streaming). By following these links you can get full details and decide whether or not to place an order. Plan ahead to get some extra spiritual sustenance for Lent!
Regardless of our state in life, we may have good reason to believe that a religious superior—a priest, a bishop, even a pope—has placed a restriction on us for very bad reasons, or has even denigrated the service we hoped to perform. But the bare fact of the matter is that in this and a million other cases, the superior in question has not commanded us to do something evil; he has simply indicated that, for whatever reason, he does not want us to do one particular good thing, but something else.
Sometimes liturgical petitionary prayers can miss the mark. They can be ill-conceived—perhaps trivial, offered for the wrong things, influenced by contemporary fashions, spiritually shallow, or even an apparent effort to instruct God.
The the world, the flesh and the devil are defended and advanced always in the same way: By enlisting the schools, the media, and the law to inculcate, publicize, and justify the worldview of those who control prosperity, position, and power. As a general rule, only those who are willing to decline in prosperity, position, and power will follow Christ honestly in thought, word and deed.
Ask Paul in the first century, or Augustine in the fifth. Ask Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century or Mother Teresa in the twentieth. Apart from their source of love, we can offer only broken slivers of the good.
In the Christian scheme, we listen for two reasons: (a) To understand another’s need; and (b) To express love for another through both material and spiritual assistance. We never listen as an excuse for not proclaiming the Gospel, for not adhering to the truth of Christ, or for opening up greater opportunity (as some will seek to do in a more “synodal” Church) for those who refuse to accept Christ as the way, the truth and the life.
The Council noted that religious liberty must always be upheld within the limits of the common good. To assert, as many Western states do now, that religious liberty can be allowed only privately, without broad public expression, is in fact to deny religious liberty nearly altogether. On this view, religious liberty is properly upheld as long as a person can hold a religious view in his mind and heart without expressing it, which makes nonsense of both the word “religious” and the word “liberty”.
Chesterton’s topsy-turvydom was rooted initially in his strong sense of the fundamental nature of things, so often distorted in our minds and hearts through wayward human desire; and it was rooted ultimately in his deep Catholic faith. For Chesterton recognized a fundamental goodness which is everywhere defaced by sin, both original and personal. It was precisely because he could see the goodness that he could see the sin; and also precisely because he could see the sin that he could see the goodness.
Most of the commentaries I wrote over the past three years that remain relevant deal with the problems in the Church today, the ways in which we all feel trapped in the current ecclesiastical and cultural situation, and observations which (I hope) make it easier for all of us to live each day full of Christian hope. These emphases are reflected in the titles of the three new ebooks, all free, into which these essays have been collected.
As the last vestiges disappear of a civilization substantially formed through Catholic influence, it is an anomaly that the Church still has a small territory and still retains a diplomatic role which is generally recognized around the world. This presents a routine way for the Church to advocate with most governments for peace, the enhancement of the common good, and the recognition of her own spiritual liberty. But what if it never goes beyond common ground?
This liturgical year ebook includes all the liturgical day information for the period of Ordinary Time before Lent just as it appears on CatholicCulture.org. It offers a rich set of resources for families to use in living the liturgical year in the domestic church. Resources include biographies of the saints to match each feast day, histories of the various celebrations and devotions, descriptions of customs from around the world, prayers, activities and recipes.
But we must remember that a great deal of what we find in the Old Testament, which is true of God’s activity in Israel historically, is also a foreshadowing of Christ and the Church. Moses is a foreshadowing or “type” of Christ; Israel and Jerusalem are foreshadowings or “types” of both the Church and of Heaven itself. This is why we can read many distressing things, especially in the prophets, as referring to the situation of the Church on earth now, even in our own time.
Archbishop Farrell places his hope in the “synodal pathway” advocated by Pope Francis. But slogans based around new catch-phrases never accomplish anything. What is lacking in the Church in the West is, more than anything else, the Faith. The vast majority of Catholic leaders (cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, professors, and even politicians) are unwilling to embrace, preach and teach the hard sayings of the Gospel, beginning with Our Lord’s claims about His own Body and Blood.
To me, in the context of Psalm 110, the phrase “therefore he will lift up his head” implies not merely victory but worthiness of victory. The one who can “lift” or “hold” up his head is the one who has no cause for shame. This last verse seems to say that Our Lord, so often described in the Psalms in terms of his rejection, disfigurement and passion, will now be able to “lift up his head” precisely because he will have drunk “from the brook by the way”.
These ten principles capture an essentially Catholic understanding of how we are to respond to the Sacred Liturgy—an understanding which ought to reduce our own personal preferences in liturgical matters to just exactly that—preferences which, on careful study and consideration, can be recommended to the Church for her official consideration; but preferences which we do not allow to obscure or diminish our own reception of the Divine Liturgy as made available to us through the Church herself.
In other words, we are bound to follow our consciences—to do what we grasp as good and avoid what we grasp as evil. But we are not off the moral hook unless we also take seriously the profound moral obligation to form our consciences as fully and accurately as we can. Not caring to do that is already a grave evil, and few can go very long down this path without willful complicity in this failure.
The line between personal experience and virtual entertainment is continuing to blur. Major virtual reality companies are now in the process of creating interconnected “realities” in which you and others can live and move and have your being through everything from virtual reality glasses to gloves with “haptic feedback” (transmitting sensations to your fingers which enable you to touch and feel things in virtual reality). The interconnected system of virtual reality is called the “metaverse”.
But as the Church cannot at one and the same time be herself and avoid a continuing witness against the paganism she finds all around her (and even among her own members), the Church will always be a scapegoat for those who despise her mostly because they must, as a matter interior comfort, close their ears to moral commitments which extend beyond the demands of the general culture of which they are a part.
All governmental forms can be used for either good or evil, and this is almost completely dependent on the virtue of those who govern. The ancient Greeks already knew that monarchy could be good or bad depending on the monarch, that aristocracy could easily degenerate into oligarchy, and that democracy can degenerate into mob rule or even, in a direct mockery of monarchy, into tyranny itself, as when a “strong man” arises in the name of setting things right.
The interior design proposed for the renovation of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris is reported to be nothing short of “politically correct Disneyland”. You’ve heard of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and you’ve also heard of the seven capital sins. Here I am going to suggest seven conceptual juxtapositions that must be successfully navigated by Catholics, both in Church design and in life.
If the contemplation of the four last things—death, judgment, heaven and hell—does not press us toward a deeply Catholic outlook on life, it is doubtful that anything can do so short of a spontaneously grateful participation in Divine love. Fortunately, that possibility remains up to the point of death, and it typically requires very little more than a genuine humility. We must all recognize our extreme human poverty, a poverty that can be eliminated only by a Divine gift.
Should the Church have investments at all? Ideally, or so I suppose, the Church would collect contributions more or less continuously for its Catholic spiritual and material purposes, and regularly use up all it collects for these purposes. One does not make investments, after all, unless one has a surplus, and there is an important sense in which the Church ought not to have a surplus. As important as this question is, however, it offers a warning more than a definitive answer.
The original developer of the RC brand has decided to create a new set of merchandise to be sold through CatholicCulture.org, so you will see RC-branded items advertised once again on the website. You can purchase them through one of the “print on demand” services which have been developed over the years to provide branded merchandise to organizations of all kinds. Trinity will get a percentage of the proceeds to plough back into the work of CatholicCulture.org.
So many Catholic leaders have used the threat to physical health safety as an excuse to minimize spiritual health and spiritual safety.
Our free liturgical year ebooks offer a rich set of resources for families to use in living the liturgical year in the domestic church. Resources include biographies of the saints to match each feast day, histories of the various celebrations and devotions, descriptions of customs from around the world, prayers, activities and recipes.
Unfortunately, the same social pressures which led to religious liberty in modern Western circumstances also led to widespread religious indifference. Intractable religious disagreements seemed to “prove” any or all of the following: (a) that any authoritative establishment of religion is presumptuous and damaging; (b) that religious or spiritual truth really cannot be known; and (c) that, in any case, religion is irrelevant (at best) or even damaging (at worst) to public peace and security.
What struck me most forcefully during my current re-reading is the advanced understanding reflected in the text of key matters which we regard as having been fully clarified only in the light of Christ. Yet here, even before Christ, we see an inspired Biblical text expressing the amazing depth of the Jewish understanding of the moral life and of the glorious destiny of the righteous for all eternity with God.
Our Lady of Ransom Scholarship Fund sets an important precedent. This approach to Catholic education, along with many variations, needs to be followed everywhere. Parishes are the logical centers for this dynamism, though they are not the only possibility. There may be many communities that do not have an existing Catholic school and cannot start one, but can still support parents in the decision to home-school their children, and to help form a home-schooling association.
Nobody would argue that courtesy and an effort at mutual understanding, along with an emphasis on our common humanity, should be ignored in the relationships we attempt to develop with others, regardless of their background. But it is interesting to note that the very age in which Catholic mission work has rapidly declined, and in some places disappeared, is the age in which all we can find to emphasize to each other is humanistic ideas which may not even rise above the level of human platitudes.
Ever since politicians began to commit themselves to both the expansion of the “right” to abortion and enforced financial support for it, the bishops in the afflicted countries have, with very rare exceptions, lacked the courage to withhold the Eucharist. Political leaders who self-identify as Catholics while publicly advocating and enacting into law such grave moral evils have almost always been able to present themselves for Communion without fear of refusal. Our reaction ought to be that of St. Paul.
Joseph Biden felt free to report that Francis had called him a “good Catholic” and encouraged him to keep receiving Communion. Many hoped, perhaps, that the deliberate Vatican privacy imposed on the meeting indicated the Pope’s willingness to offer hard sayings for the President’s serious consideration. But there have been no precedents in this papacy which could have led anyone to that conclusion.
The first distinction concerns why we ought to help others. This obligation does not arise by virtue of some ideological vision of the perfect world. We learn from both nature and Christianity that we cannot achieve perfection in this world, and that the effort to fit everyone into some ideological mold in the name of “perfection” is just another way of attempting to remake the world in accordance with our own theories—which we neither have the wisdom nor the ability to do.
Sometimes we catch an unconfused glimpse of reality here on earth, though I admit this is rare. The occasional news story, appearing at precisely the right moment, can speak volumes about the state of the world. Usually we find this in accounts of unprecedented evils which are not even recognized as evils by those doing the reporting. But occasionally a clear-headed report actually rises to the top.
In the regions in which Christianity gained the most traction, its very worldly success seemed to breed not an increase but a diminution of the Faith. Christianity frequently expressed itself through, and then degenerated into, a set of cultural identifiers. In time, the spirituality beneath these identifiers could not sustain them. Now, throughout the once-Christian West, the faith is dwindling away. What are those who remain faithful to make of all this?
More than any other topic, the Fathers of the Church constitute Aquilina’s persistent and extensive expertise. This is a happy choice of specialties because we find in the Patristic writings such a wide variety of topics and styles that there is always something available to engage and even captivate readers of almost any background or interest.
Ecclesiastical discipline matters not only to the heath of the Church but also to the Catholic impact on the secular order, including the outcome of political elections. All “progressive” Catholics understand this instinctively, which is one of several reasons they are horrified by discipline. After the inevitable pruning process and some time for new growth, the impact of a well-disciplined Catholic Church would—as it has sometimes in the past—actually make a calculable difference at the polls.
I am sick and tired of the theological sleight-of-hand so often practiced by prelates with no discernible counter-cultural Christian commitments. They resort to a kind of verbal trickery to undermine the effort to restore discipline within the Catholic Church, which is vital to forming existing Catholics and to attracting those outside who respond positively to a witness that must be Christian because it cannot be mistaken for anything else.
With essentially no supernatural tendency to bureaucracy, the Church is so constituted that the pope, bishops and priests ensure the transmission of both sacramental grace and the truths of the Faith within the Church herself, while the laity, by their inescapable presence as leaven through the whole world, act creatively to shape all of human culture in accordance with the light of Christ.
While San Marino did lag over forty years behind Italy in getting on the abortion train, its bid to “catch up” illustrates very clearly the failure of the Catholic Church in this era of Western civilization’s spiral into paganism. A key feature of this illustration is the ease with which people can self-identify as Catholics while voting to legalize the murder of unborn children.
Each vocation has its own built-in parameters, its own clear channels of prayer and action, its own kinds of grace, its own triumphs of love and responsibility, its own particular forms of loss and failure, and its own temptations to inaction and even despair. This means that every vocation can experience its own doldrums—periods of drifting slowly and aimlessly, with no sense of progress or fulfillment.
Of course, apologetics in itself is designed to clear away the obstacles to belief, so that those with concerns and questions about Christ and the Church can become more open to evangelization, which (taken in full) is the proclamation of the mercy, love and redemption offered to all by Jesus Christ through His body the Church. And both evangelization and apologetics must be further distinguished from catechesis, which is simply teaching the Catholic faith to those who already believe.
I am interested in the positive aspects of Pope Francis’ desire to shake things up. We already know, I think, that this desire is full of contradictory elements which make it very difficult to fulfill in any consistent way. There is still something substantial in the Pope’s consistent message of going outside our comfort zones. But if the Pope is right about the Church being inside a box, does he also understand how this box was made, and what it really takes to break out of it?
She then recalls how much Christ in his earthly ministry wanted to be loved, wanted helpers, wanted friends—and how often he was refused: “When He gave gifts, when He cured ten and was thanked by only one, He revealed to us His suffering human heart: ‘Where are the nine?’ And yet, she explains, “We do not find Jesus saying the equivalent of, ‘Well, that is that! That is the last time I shall ever do anything for lepers. What is the use? Why scatter gifts to people who do not even thank me for them?”
Though some at Vatican II hoped Synod of Bishops could gain something like a permanent conciliar status, they were preempted by Paul VI’s establishment of a synodal mechanism that is purely advisory to the Pope. The benefits grow murkier when the topic to be vetted by the Synod is synodality itself—a favorite word of Pope Francis, but one that is almost infinitely malleable. This topic is encapsulated in a single world which nobody understands because, in fact, it has no set meaning.
In a society which, at the adult consensual level, typically defends all manner of sexual abuse as “love”, those who “love” children in the same ways may well perceive themselves as riding the next great wave of positive change. May they not reasonably hope it is only a matter of time before their own form of abuse is recognized as liberating, wise and good? They cannot help but recognize that the opprobrium heaped upon them alone, for their own sexual desires, is not fair.
Spiritual growth is undermined by bad spiritual advice. This may even harden a person in serious sins of which he is unaware. It unquestionably reduces the accuracy of the person’s perception of reality. Moreover, while the guilt attributable to sin is conditioned by knowledge of the evil and consent to it by the will, the evil done through the sin to others is not lessened, nor are its disordering consequences for the sinner eliminated.
So what do we know from the actual clarifications of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church? We know that, on the one hand, if you have conscientiously decided to take the vaccine, you are not to be dismissed as deficient in your Catholicism. And, on the other hand, if you have conscientiously decided not to take the vaccine, you are not to be dismissed as deficient in your Catholicism, and further that it is immoral for any Churchman to tell you otherwise, or any civil authority to force you to take it.
As persons possessed of both intellect and will, we are morally obligated not only to follow the promptings of our consciences but also to continuously form our consciences with an ever-growing understanding of the Good, and to strengthen our own ability to respond correctly to the promptings of conscience through the cultivation of virtuous habits. We also need to learn to discern the difference between the genuine promptings of conscience and mere rationalizations.
Understanding cannot be purchased with gold; silver cannot be weighed as its price. It cannot be valued in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels. We need not even mention coral or crystal—the price of wisdom is beyond pearls! The finest topaz cannot compare with it; it cannot be valued even with the rarest of jewels set in gold.
To one extent or another, we all partake of the characteristics of “nominal” Catholics, or worse. Converting these alter egos is a lifelong battle. We struggle to know ourselves as God knows us, just as we struggle to grow out of our poor spiritual habits even after we recognize them. In ways often hidden even to ourselves we are resistant to union with God.
It should be one of the highest priorities of parents either to homeschool their children or to send them to (faithful) Catholic schools. Insofar as Catholic parents send their children to public schools, as a general rule they are subjecting them to constant indoctrination in falsehood. Gender ideology is only the latest in a long line of falsehoods that are deliberately inculcated in children through state-controlled education.
Besides matter and space, the cosmos involves time, because space and time came into existence simultaneously. And if matter glorifies God, then we will not be surprised to find that time does, too. There is a temporal component to the adoration of God in the cosmic liturgy. Even if creation had only existed for one brief flash, like a lightning strike in the darkness, sandwiched between a nothingness on both sides, that momentary blaze of being would have honored God.
Most socio-political and economic “orders” are unjust in significant ways. It is to temper such injustices that the prophets of the Old Testament so frequently reminded the Israelites to care particularly for those who fell through the gaps in the prevailing order—especially widows and orphans. We think about this as modern society evolves into a perpetually “managed” society, not so much because of a brutal power group as because of the shared values of the dominant commercial/political class.
As you might imagine, this is a challenging book. We should never minimize the challenge of the liturgical action of the Church, because it creates the most complete connection possible between God and ourselves here on earth, and it will actually continue with that purpose in Heaven, in what is perhaps an even more mysterious yet also far more experiential and even intelligible way.
The whole problem of the Catholic Church is that, one way or another, it is her lot to side with the ultimate underdog—the Crucified—against the constant tantrums of worldly people who will not be associated with Him unless He approves and encourages their desires. Accordingly, these same worldly people criticize witness to Christian Faith as a flight into pure doctrine and witness to Christian Morals as (all together, on 3) DIVISIVE.
I will let you in on a secret: We live in an all but worldwide society which is now generally conditioned to being “taken care of” by bureaucratic states, and in which people are now very uncomfortable with the prospect of making their own fundamental decisions about anything, lest, by exercising personal responsibility, they will be held responsible. In other words, there is a marked psychological tendency toward totalitarianism almost everywhere today.
We know, simply from universal human experience and constant human intuition, the basic reality of the existence of God and His concern for the moral order. We can figure out much more about morality through reason, but we need some revelation from God to disclose more about His Being, His inner life, which transcends our own being and understanding. But these two perceptions, of the existence of God and a moral order, may reasonably be taken as the first two points of the natural law.
These standards cannot come from the positive law, which simply reflects the human arrangements, arising from the relative intelligence and imperfect will, of human agents like you and me. They have a merely human authority, and they can be foolish or even evil arrangements. But the natural law, communicated to us through the things God has made, has a Divine authority, which explains the legal axiom of more enlightened ages that any positive law which contradicts the natural law is null and void.
The following question inescapably arises: Why should we prefer the vision of national polity adopted by our eighteenth-century founders to the dominant cultural vision of polity which is emerging today? Or, to put the question in somewhat broader but probably clearer terms, why should we think that the vision of the Common Good articulated by the American founders (who were the elites of their day) is superior to that represented by the proponents of the Equality Act (who are the elites of our day).
Without the human faculty of memory, we would experience life as a disconnected series of moments, not an intelligible whole. Without deliberately bringing our lives before God as partially embodied in our memory, we could not bring our lives before God at all, nor seek His counsel, nor grow in understanding and virtue through His help.
We are entering an historical cycle—indeed, we have already entered it—in which the most outrageous anti-social and anti-religious attacks can be launched against Catholics, and indeed against society itself, because the diabolical hatred of the Good has been able to come out in the open and reveal itself in all its ugliness.
Those whose consciences are malformed or dead do not recognize grave sin. They are intellectually and morally enslaved to the dominant culture. They are (often willfully) blind to reality—even in flight from reality—and they are seeking to strengthen what we might call an anti-culture to shield them from uncomfortable reminders of the true and the good. The Church must make clear that their advocacy of evil is an attack on the Good, on Christ, on His Church and on the souls entrusted to her care.
It seems that an apology is demanded whenever some horrendous wrong is discovered to have been committed in the distant past by Catholic priests and religious, on the one hand, and/or agents of the State, on the other hand. By distant past, I mean a period of time far enough back that nobody in the present Church and/or government is responsible for it.
It is not a priority of any kind for Catholics to eliminate sinners from the Church; we are all sinners. Nor is it a top priority to eliminate suffering for Christ; we are all called to carry the Cross. But it is a very high priority indeed to eliminate ambiguity; for we are also called to let our yes be yes and our no be no—simply because anything else comes from the Evil One (Mt 5:37).
If you are looking for a way to understand the Bible better, and to make the Word of God more fully your own, I recommend a careful reading of Jeremy Holmes’ new book, Cur Deus Verba: Why the WORD became Words. Holmes, who is Associate Professor of Theology at Wyoming Catholic College is a highly credentialed theologian who has put his wisdom at the service of helping us to understand Sacred Scripture, and what it means to incorporate it into our lives.
The generally misunderstood strategy of synodality is selectively advocated by its proponents. Clerics such as the high-ranking Blase Cardinal Cupich promote it only when it promises to be a path toward the approval of their own ideas. For deeply secularized Church leaders, in fact, you can lay it down as an axiom that synodality is perceived as a “tactic from below” to change the Church in accordance with the spirit of the times. But that is not what it should be.
For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.
There is a big difference between “policy” and “virtue” and, choosing between these two, the Church’s business is virtue. A similar difference exists between “facts” and “truth” and, again choosing between the two, the business of the Church is truth. But if what I have just declared were really the case, why would so many ecclesiastical statements over the past fifty years concern themselves with social, environmental and managerial facts and policies? And so little with faith and morals?
Although a straightforward paganism is growing today with the decline of Christianity in the West, most contemporary leaders would not admit to any formal pagan worship or the consultation of sorcerers and soothsayers. But their continuous record of latching onto convenient moral lies is a parallel case. Paganism was essentially religion without morality. It is the same today, except that our leaders do not typically refer to their oracles as “gods”.
Enumerating these six possibilities does not exclude others. As I suggested above, the barriers for some may simply melt away through exposure to the penetrating vision so consistently present in great Christian works of art. And of course, there is no getting away from the simple witness of apparently ordinary men and women to whom gravitate for no other reason than that they radiate some Presence which is greater than themselves.
I found myself thinking today of the various saints throughout history who had discerned their future course by opening up a Bible at random and reading that page—or perhaps opening the Bible, plunking their finger down on the page, and reading that verse. I’ve tried this myself from time to time, with no discernible result.
It is one of the most peculiar characteristics of post-modernity that the dominant culture has a love-hate relationship with the concept of “order”. On the one hand, the contemporary mindset seeks to justify every desire that was formerly considered “disordered” through the assumption that the universe is the product of chaos; on the other, this same contemporary mindset insists upon a socially uniform, consistent and orderly stance against challenges to this assumption.
I have previously called attention to Gerard Verschuuren’s latest book on the Shroud of Turin. But having finished a careful reading of his argument, I decided it would be useful summarize the main points.
We might also have expected some very good preaching during the Pandemic to the effect that we ought not to be particularly fearful in times like this, but rather to express a simple confidence in God, knowing that whatever He permits to happen will draw us closer to Him, if only we will trust Him with our entire lives as we should. Searching my memory, I don’t think I heard any preaching to that effect ever, not even once. That seems strange to me, perhaps even ominous.
Right out of the gate, in an introduction entitled “Living Dangerously”, Lawler poses the ultimate questions of life and death which are (or ought to be) answered so differently by pagans and Christians. This sets the stage for an examination of the Catholic response to Covid—a response which, whatever it may do for the body, certainly chills the soul.
We can pick any period of the Church’s history and we will find, along with any obvious successes, the following three characteristics: The Church ran into trouble with worldly power wherever she was true to her mission; serious Christians experienced frustration far more often than not; and wherever the Church appeared to be culturally dominant, or tried to cling to cultural dominance, she was in grave need of reform.
Reading any or all of these books will be far too little to alter the course of history, or the progressive slide into ever-increasing infidelity on the part of the once-Christian West. For that a far-deeper conversion is needed than can come from reading alone—but also a far more widespread conversion, in God’s own time, inspired and nourished now by the few who lead the way.
Catholics have a traditional expression which captures the proper attitude: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But more often than not, the person who hates the sins loved by the dominant culture is rebuked for being uncharitable, narrow, unfeeling, judgmental, and dogmatic. In other words: Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. The explanation of all this is blindingly obvious. It is rooted in that “respect of persons” which causes us to praise what our “betters” approve and to denounce what our “betters” condemn.
God never acts in ways that are bad for us. But He does reach a time when, on any given trajectory, He knows He has done all He can do. He reaches a time when He recognizes our definitive refusal to take refuge in the shadow of his hand (Is 49:2)—a time when He can only lament for us, for the Church we claim to honor, and for the nation we inhabit, as he lamented for Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not!”
Suppose instead that we stop playing games with the Christ of our own imaginings. Suppose we really do place Christ in His own concrete, human historical context. Suppose we figure out what the Jews of the first century understood Him to do and to say and to mean, and why their leaders were so sure they had to crucify Him. Suppose we find Him thus, receive him thus, recognizing rightly that it is the shoddiest of all methodologies to refabricate Him as a myth in order to explain Him away.
The danger of scholarship lies not so much in the intelligence and diligence of scholars as in the bully platform which society affords them as “voices” on radio, “talking heads” on television, and “quotes” in newspapers and magazines—not to forget, of course, the rights of the fraternity to pass along its strictly uniform values and theories to countless students. There is nothing, for sheer intellectual conformity, like the modern university.
Since the Equality Act is directly aimed at the destruction of distinctions between male and female and restrictions of the liberty of Christians who must uphold the fundamental realities of God’s creation, CatholicCulture.org welcomes this important initiative to inform everyone of the problems with this Act, advanced by those in the United States, including the Biden Administration, who deny not only Divine Revelation but the natural law which is knowable by all.
One reason modern poetry is often very difficult to appreciate is that it draws so often only from the peculiar imagination of the poet, employing only symbols invented for the particular context of a particular poem. This arises partly from an unfortunate thirst for intellectual cleverness, but it owes much also to the breakdown (and deliberate repudiation) of our Western Classical and especially Christian worldview, which embodied a strong symbolism that once resonated through our entire culture.
We are wise to reflect on the difference in what we might call the quality of the miraculous. Are the results obtained by the Divine manipulation of human emotions, of fear or courage? Are the results obtained through real human effort, either in response to specific instructions from God or through strenuous prayer? Or are the results far beyond the human mode, effortless, effected through the simplicity of a genuine personal authority—as with Jesus Christ.
Those who start the history of nonjudgmentalism in the last century begin their accounts six to eight thousand years too late—depending, that is, on when a Biblical historian of the strictest literal school would date the creation of Adam and Eve. The deliberate weakening of our desire and ability to make moral judgments can be traced back to the famous quip of Satan Himself in Genesis: “You will not die...your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5).
I want to emphasize that the EPPC statement does not contradict anything taught on this matter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, through that Congregation, authorized by the Pope. The purpose of the EPPC statement is to emphasize how very remote is the material cooperation with evil in the decision to use one of these vaccines.
As a second and even more important step, we need to recognize that the solution to alarming “statistics” is not a mathematical solution or even its political equivalent, an ideological solution. Neither throwing numbers around nor simply changing “systems” can ever solve human problems.
Every healthy person perceives the existence of his or her own free will. We all have the experience of making choices, sometimes even difficult choices, between two or more options. These choices may be value-neutral, such as what color shirt to wear today; or they may be strategically different, such as choosing the best way to reach a particular goal; or they may be morally crucial, such as whether or not to cheat on a spouse, betray a friend, or compromise our moral principles to gain advancement.
Perhaps it is time for Catholic parishes to become centers of public, outdoor events to serve those in need, with occasional rallies and parades devoted to the kind of evangelization and service that not only draws the needy into seeking help, but draws an ever growing number of inspired onlookers to join in helping them. We need, if you will, a bit of Catholic theater in all of our communities.
Von Balthasar very helpfully conceived of God’s plan of salvation as a great drama, which led to many fruitful insights in his vast theological work. The main line of this work was developed in some fifteen volumes, five in his Theo-Drama series, three in his Theo-Logic series, and seven in his Theological Aesthetics series (The Glory of the Lord). But who will read all this? Hardly anyone. And most of us are certainly not called to do so, even in Lent!
The problem is that we do not always benefit from inspiration, partly because our hearts are not disposed to listen to what will truly train us in righteousness, and partly because we sometimes find ourselves in the position of the eunuch to whom an angel sent St. Philip. Here, if there ever was one, is a caution about our own spiritual sterility.
When we elect someone to public office, we are not hiring unskilled labor to complete a particular task for us, like polishing our shoes or running errands. We are commissioning someone to superintend a wide range of issues in ways that best serve the common good—against which the taking of innocent human life is the most fundamental of all crimes. What could possess any sentient and moral voter to entrust the commonwealth to a person devoid of the most fundamental moral understanding?
It is vitally important to have younger staff involved in these operations, so that we can bring new ideas and a more energetic engagement to all our communications with our users, from responding to inquiries and solving problems to shaping and executing more effective development campaigns.
The modern West seems to be guided by the conviction that each shift in the values of the dominant culture constitutes moral progress. Anyone who studies history should know that this is not true, but the elites of nearly every era tend to be both proud and vain, rendering them certain that in their special case, every new desire is automatically accompanied by a superior moral sensibility. Thus it becomes ever harder to avoid confusion about what constitutes the Good.
Another kind of polarization arises from clear conflicts between good and evil. In the United States and in most nations around the world today, the primary polarization is between those on the one hand who uphold the clear moral principles all men and women can know through natural law and those, on the other hand, who deliberately subvert this moral order, even if they do so blindly. These primary polarizing issues are immediately tied to human sexuality, the family, and human life itself.
One writer who has looked into this question closely and come up with a list of suggestions is Stacy Trasancos, who has advanced degrees in both Chemistry and Theology. Her article in the National Catholic Register earlier this month provides not only seven specific steps that might be taken but also excellent advice on how to keep properly informed so that we can offer a credible witness against the tainted vaccines.
It is hard to know how to handle a rant. As a general rule, I am convinced that it is better to use bad news as a motive to deepen our commitment to Christ, grow spiritually, and engage more fully in Catholic mission. That’s true even if mission depends increasingly on prayer as our public opportunities for success become more and more constricted.
What is to stop you from continuing to discern God’s will by trying various things—perhaps various organizations in your parish devoted to different apostolic works, or various other forms of volunteer activities—in order to learn by experience whether you can combine genuine Christian service with genuine joy of serving in a particular way? This is a perfectly reasonable pattern of discernment, by trial and retrial.
A video promoting universal fraternity, posted by the Vatican on Pope Francis’s Twitter account (Pontifex), has raised more than a few eyebrows. Because the video continues Pope Francis’ now common emphasis on reciprocal respect and charity among people of all religions, the video has prompted fresh discussions of the growing problem of universalism, or the idea that there are many paths to God, and all of them are valid.
I daresay it is even important to learn to slow down and effectively listen in our discussions with those we regard as wrong or even sinful. Every form of listening is an act of humility, which leads to insight that reaches beyond ourselves. Bringing this back to prayer, silences in which we truly listen will become more frequent, and more fruitful for discernment over time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The current, widespread, cultural secularization of Catholics in our time has led to a situation in which strongly committed Catholics become understandably nervous when Church leaders do nothing but follow State recommendations, mounting no resistance to bureaucratic overreach, and claiming no ultimate authority for themselves. Even in legitimate cooperation between Church and State, it must be clear that a bishop is willing to make his own decisions, with the good of souls in mind.
In a fascinating, inspiring and entertaining new book, Mike Aquilina has hit the target once again with a look at the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout history. The title is History’s Queen: Exploring Mary’s Pivotal Role from Age to Age. Mike’s treatment of his subject is light and even breezy at times, but that just means this spiritually deep book is meant to be read, not stored on a book shelf.
The Barque of Peter carries a crew eager to pound holes in her hull, so that all might drown together in a sea of confusion. In the midst of all this, CatholicCulture.org seeks to foster good, seamanlike habits, providing the information and formation needed to live the Faith wisely and confidently, while contributing significantly to authentic renewal for individuals, families and the Church as a whole.
It is one of the great weaknesses of the Church in recent generations that there has been so much emphasis on Catholic social teaching and so little on Catholic morality. “Helping the materially marginalized” has often been proposed as a substitute for “helping the spiritually marginalized”. Dubious governmental action has often been portrayed as not only absolute in character but as far more important than any serious engagement with personal and familial responsibility.
The generation before mine was deaf to talk of human brokenness—Catholicism as therapy. But how quickly things can change! My own distrust of this model is not shared by the bulk of people my age, and this is still less true of the generation after mine. On the other hand, is it not true that our very departure from our social commitment to Christ has led to a culture in which one evil after another, especially in families, is precisely of that kind which creates especially deep wounds?
The book is a powerful witness to the destruction all around us. Moreover, Martin remains sound and balanced throughout; he is never tempted by the need for Catholic renewal to fall into ideological solutions or any sort of Traditionalist separation. He is able to look at matters reasonably and objectively. For example, realizing that Pope Francis has both weaknesses and strengths, he does not feel the need to reject everything just because he finds fault with some things.
Even among Catholics, far too many people live in the hope that Catholic scientists won’t let their Faith bias their research. The convictions and even fears which lead the contemporary world to question the scientific competence and veracity of Christian scientists are enormously widespread. But they arise from the materialist reductionism which so severely limits our contemporary cultural worldview.
But once we understand the principles at stake, further prudential analysis is needed: Supposing X is a worthy goal, what are the consequences of attempting to implement X through government control? There is always a danger that no matter what the theoretical capabilities of government might be, the practical results of a particular effort will fail or even do more harm than good.
The problem is that, as far as Christ and Christianity are concerned, fundamental human progress—whether for our earthly sojourn or our supernatural destiny—simply cannot be made without a radical conversion to Jesus Christ. For this reason, all human progress is illusory unless it is motivated by and oriented toward Jesus Christ. In other words, it will never work for the Church simply to piggyback onto the causes that the dominant secular culture believes in.
Dr. Fauci commits intellectual fraud in an attempt to make environmental opinions scientifically plausible. To prove pandemics have been getting worse, Fauci claims 50 million deaths from the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century. The real number is about 136 million, and adjusted for population, in today’s numbers it would be about 2.7 billion. It is an irresponsible stretch of the imagination to claim that bad environmental practices are increasing the severity of worldwide disease.
There are many kinds of prayer, and the model for one of them is found in no fewer than four different psalms along with a heartfelt question offered by the remarkable prophet Isaiah. The form of this prayer is expressed in the recurring words: “How long, O Lord?” We can and should use the “How long” form of prayer, applied to the vexing question of how long Pope Francis will remain in the Chair of Peter. We have been given too many legitimate occasions to experience his leadership as a cross.
As Newman argued over a hundred years ago, no discipline can usurp the place of another without darkening the human mind. Science, philosophy, theology and every other branch of study ought not to quarrel, but work in harmony to see each aspect of reality more clearly, so that all can better grasp the whole.
All this comes from the account of Jewish life some 3,300 years ago. We tend to dismiss much of the Old Testament as coming from a very primitive time. And yet here we are: At list six highly significant insights from which all of us, including our whole culture, could benefit enormously today. And all are within the space of a thousand words in a single chapter of the second oldest book of the Bible.
The idea of extending what we perceive as a Divine calling through the action of a number of persons operating in a well-ordered manner—that is, the idea of developing an organization—is often foreign to the lone apostle. But it is not at all foreign to human work, and when we look more closely, we will find that an assessment of the human components appropriate to any particular Catholic mission is of vital importance.
Morality is not simply a series of ends and means to which we adhere by virtue of our perception of the natural law when it seems reasonable and within our abilities. It is much more than that, but this “much more” is clearly visible only in the light of Revelation and Catholic teaching. Moral behavior is a participation in the life of God and, ultimately, a willingness to recognize that God is God, that we are not, and that God’s will is not only theoretically sovereign but always best.
Fratelli tutti is devoted to “solidarity”, especially as the bond of genuine solidarity reaches across lines of division, such as those of class, geography, and ethnicity. It is a fairly straightforward examination of the tendencies in our world that engender division and the attitudes and approaches we must adopt to build genuine community, both locally and globally, through an authentically human culture—a culture which takes its inspiration from the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Pope offers St. Jerome’s example of constant reading and study of Scripture, along with devoted acceptance of the authority of the See of Peter as the rule of Faith, to encourage a greater devotion to the Bible at every level of the Church.
This collection presents two homilies on each of the seven sacraments, book-ended by homilies which express more fully the essential sacramentality of the Church. These are not scholarly texts but real words spoken to real congregations on real sacramental occasions. They communicate their wisdom through specific moments in time, and at what we recognize as a genuinely human length. They are marked by a profound simplicity from which we can all benefit as participants in the sacred.
It ought to be extraordinarily easy to see that it is self-defeating for the Church to avoid taking any public stand which requires the use of heavy artillery with no guarantee of success, not to mention bad press. For there are two huge problems with this reluctance. The first is that it has ruled now almost exclusively for at least two generations and things have only gotten worse. The second is that it is difficult to find a strategy more at odds with the word of God.
If God’s Providence includes everything, then it includes even everything that happens within the Church, where we are right to think that evil is particularly abhorrent. But we are just as right to recognize that God permits evils to beset the Church for one reason and one reason only: His thirst for souls. A smoothly running Church is no guarantee of the salvation of individual souls, and a Church in need or reform is no guarantee of their damnation. Either way, God calls us Providentially.
Recent news confirms deep flaws in the Catholic Church’s practical commitment to objective moral norms. By “practical commitment”, I do not mean official Church teaching but practical decisions by huge numbers of Catholics, both high and low, to favor and support social movements and political platforms that advocate objectively immoral laws. Again, these decisions are typically based not on Church teaching but on culturally-borrowed perceptions of which causes and candidates are “humane”, or “caring”, or “nice”.
Among the few very interesting and worthwhile books that have come across my desk recently are one on “the secret history of Christianity” and one on “the first humans”, back in the days before we had a historical record to consult. In conception, both books are quite complex. In execution, both provide what I would call permanent insights to readers willing to hear out the authors’ extended arguments.
Mike Aquilina’s presentation of the “forgotten” prophecy of Malachi, though grounded in his thorough study of the Fathers, succeeds where a more academic approach would fail. His book expands our vision, teaching us once again to take Malachi seriously—in other words, to recognize an eternity already present on earth, in which we are called to participate ever more fully.
Cardinal Hollerich (a Jesuit) does say that “We must always think about the evangelization of Europe”, but this is presumably to be effected through the abandonment of the “Eurocentrism present in our thoughts” as the Church is “inspired by a humility that allows us to reorganize better” in order to create all those “new missionary structures”.
The most underrated problem with new liturgical translations over the past few generations is not that they are no longer Latin, and not that they have taken certain liberties with the Church’s official Latin text, and not even that they have sometimes been tendentious and even puerile. All these are worth discussing, but the biggest problem has been their frequency.
Fr. Moloney treats many things in exploring the meaning of mercy, including: Mercy as a political virtue, justice-only politics, solidarity and mercy, the role of mercy in civil and ecclesiastical punishment, mercy in the sacraments of the Church, mercy and the nature of God, God’s merciful discipline, mercy and the Fall of man, Our Lord’s covenant of mercy, our own devotion to mercy, works of mercy, and a last chapter on Mary which is brilliantly entitled “Mother of Mercy, Mirror of Justice”.
Paglia essentially resorts to the “seamless garment” tactic, which takes the truth that all problems adversely affecting the human person are issues of “human life”, and then emphasizes that very marginal insight to the point where it becomes immoral to prioritize these issues.
I hope that the bug for rethinking the nature of religion, politics, government and mercy is thoroughly mixed into the air we breathe and the water we drink. The Western world is well into a personal spiritual and moral collapse, with a corresponding social collapse that starts with the family and ends in government and law. Change must necessarily begin with thought, and perhaps even with imagination. We cannot believe we have unlimited time to right the ship.
Someone once objected to my arguments for the Resurrection by pointing out that Christians frequently believe without requiring or depending upon particular arguments. I see the point of the objection, but the issue here is very complex, and we must consider the different factors involved. These factors depending not only on the personality of each Christian but also on the degree of commitment to the Faith reflected by the culture in which each Christian lives.
But there is a peculiar thing about governmental controls: They always tend to serve the interests of a culture’s elites. In the COVID era, this is already playing out in America in efforts to discourage religious worship while permitting many other kinds of gatherings, and in efforts to force religious schools to adopt the same problematic and expensive policies as public schools, which are funded by enforced taxation. God forbid that any “counter-cultural” group should succeed in an activity for which failure has been mandated!
The need for an authority principle in any religion which claims to be based on a Revelation of God is crystal clear by now. Indeed, the situation is so bad that, as soon as our secular culture goes through a moral shift—such as approving abortion or homosexuality or gay marriage—just as quickly do various churches, having illogically appropriated the name of Christ, begin to change their tenets of faith and morals to suit their own worldly comfort and satisfaction.
The problem with contemporary materials from major publishers is that they tend to be ideologically driven. This is true not only in the sex-and-gender area but with respect to many other intellectual, social and religious problems which are rapidly destroying modern culture. Indeed, Western culture is pretty much in unbridled rebellion against both God and nature.
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