By Dr. Jeff Mirus
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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.
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.
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.
We have just released the fifth volume in the 2020-2021 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.
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.
Easter falls on April 4th this year, and so the Easter volume of our ebook series for the 2020-2021 liturgical year has been released in our ebooks download area: Easter. This fourth volume in the annual series covers the entire Easter season, from the Easter Vigil (April 3rd) through Pentecost (May 23rd). It may be downloaded free of charge in the following formats: .mobi (Kindle), .epub (Nook and other standard ereaders), and .pdf (most computer devices).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is remarkable that Fisher and More were executed two weeks apart in 1535—Fisher on June 22nd at age 65 and More on July 6th at age 57. They knew each other well and respected each other immensely. Fisher was the only bishop in England to stand firm for the Church founded by Jesus Christ. The sadness now, perhaps, is that so few in most Western countries would find this remarkable. For that reason alone, St. John Fisher is particularly relevant to our time.
We must again grasp the main point—that our own “spiritual” impetus in the reception of Communion is most important only when considering our own part in the sacrament. But our part is by far the lesser part when it comes to any of the sacraments, and that is what makes loose talk about spiritual communion so potentially confusing. The objective element of a sacrament is what carries its true power, by which I mean the active Presence, specific to each sacrament, of Jesus Christ Himself.
This free ebook covers the Biblical books written as the direct Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There are twenty-seven of them in all, but only twenty essays in the collection. The discrepancy is predictable: On the one hand I have included more than one of the shorter letters in each commentary that dealt with those writings; on the other hand, I thought the Book of Revelation sufficiently difficult to be covered in four separate parts.
I find myself ambivalent on the subject of tearing down statues erected to honor famous persons. But then I am ambivalent on the subject of erecting statues as well. My own admittedly narrow preference would be to establish no statue to anyone until he or she is canonized by the Catholic Church. But take warning: Even the lives of the saints are only very rarely so free of blame that nothing can be said against them.
We may be surprised by the remarkable similarity between problems faced in previous times and problems we are facing today. The Bubonic Plague fiercely returned to Jane de Chantal’s region of the world in 1629, and though men and women of that time would think it foolish to compare even this diminished version of the Plague with our own relatively feeble pandemic, it is interesting that people knew enough about contagion even then to make special provisions for the reception of the sacraments.
In surveying the last eight chapters of St. John’s Book of Revelation, I am concluding a long series of commentaries on all the books of the Bible by taking a look at God’s final victory. To understand this victory, we need to remember once again that the apocalyptic style of the book portrays a series of snapshots of the battle between good and evil. While in some ways generally chronological, in other ways this is simply a way of looking at the drama as a whole from multiple angles.
You are not going to get through post-divorce problems by reading a 200-page book. But under each heading, Lynn orients the reader to the dimensions of the problem, offers clear suggestions on what to do and (often even more important) what not to do in helping your children, and explains the ways in which the teachings of the Catholic Church bear directly on our understanding of these complex issues, enabling you to address them faithfully.
There are many things that go into this, including attentiveness to the teachings of the Church, sound Catholic education and spiritual formation, the cultivation of humility and the recognition of habitual faults, a clear apprehension of one’s duty, constant prayer, frequent confession, a willingness to take spiritual advice, and more. Perfect discernment does not comes “naturally” to anyone. Strong opinions driven by personal piety may or may not be the fruits of sound discernment.
Here we have a stunning publishing achievement. When the Church suffers under the weight of the sins of her members, it is always her most devoted sons and daughters who do the heavy lifting. What is truly remarkable about this book is the breadth and depth of the analysis of the entire sex abuse crisis, from men and women possessed of deep Catholic identity and firmly committed to authentic Catholic renewal.
Clarifying the issue is sufficient. There is no need for me here to belabor the various points at which I personally disagree with opinions that are not errors in faith, though I expect to write more about the issues surrounding Vatican II in the very near future. The Catholic reception of the Second Vatican Council is clearly an important topic—a rocky topic, in truth, which has frightened many incautious mariners into abandoning the barque of Peter, only to sink and drown.
The pivotal chapter in the Book of Revelation is the middle chapter, chapter twelve. This chapter combines with the two immediately following to give us the most information about the characters at the very center of the struggle between good and evil represented by the entire Book. In addition to the angels and saints taken generally, who are present in various ways throughout, I am referring to the figures of the Woman, the Dragon, and the Lamb.
Our bishops need not only to cease staking out prudential positions on one social issue after another. They must also exercise vigorously two of their central responsibilities. First, they must teach Christ’s truth to the laity without shaving it to fit the perceptions of the dominant culture. Second, when we as lay faithful engage the issues according to the best prudential decisions we can make, the bishops must encourage us in Christ in Christ.
Here we have St. John’s visions of the warfare between earth and heaven which characterizes the time remaining before Christ returns in glory. The Book of Revelation describes this in eschatological language, symbolic of the battle between good and evil, God and Satan which fulfill and conclude our history. In this installment, John begins to learn of these things through the opening of seven seals by the Lamb of God, seals which conceal the secrets of the times which lead up to the end.
Synodality is a far superior operational model for the Church than the model of a modern corporation, but by its very nature synodality requires each member of the Church to take true responsibility for the role he has been assigned by Divine Providence within the Body of Christ. The fundamental “givenness” of the Body must be kept firmly in mind, and no member can engage effectively for the good of the Church without understanding his own God-given role.
Penned by St. John near the end of his life, the Book of Revelation is the final piece of Divine Revelation, which closed with the death of this last of the apostles. As the name suggests, this revelation to St. John for the Church concerns itself with the consummation of all things, including the end of the world. It is therefore a prolonged exhortation to prepare for God’s judgment.
Feelings are never good or evil in themselves; they become so only through our unfaithful resistance or indulgence. It is their assessment in the light of faith, and the corresponding exercise of our wills conformed to God, that turns feelings to good account, no matter what they are.
Studying the saints ought not, I suppose, to be undertaken primarily for consolation, even if there is plenty of consolation to be found. But the saints usually teach us that consolations, important as they can be, are for beginners. They are a means to a higher end, not an end in themselves. To put it another way, reading about he saints can be immensely enjoyable. If that’s all it ever is, we have missed the point of sanctity—yet consolation remains an important part of spiritual development.
The problem is not that the bishops have generally accepted the universal pandemic restrictions. The problem is that they too often appear to be more concerned with maintaining their image as respectable “players” in the larger socio-political order, where they have approximately zero influence and certainly zero control, than they are with putting God’s house in order, where they still (even after decades of general incompetence and neglect) have nearly complete control.
We should be aware of the dangers, of course. They plagued us on every side before, and it is only natural and preternatural that they should plague us on every side now. But this is no time for rash judgments. When people are navigating confusedly through a crisis for which they have no blueprint, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. And that goes double for the pope and the bishops who—from Catholics, at least—always deserve the benefit of the doubt.
We know that some people do turn to God under duress, and especially under the duress of illness and death. That is fairly easy to explain in purely human terms. What is not so easy to explain is that many people do not. Instead they seem to grow more determined to resist the Christian understanding of God just when it could help them most. This ought to give us pause, for it suggests that our human refusals become, over time, not so much inadvertent as obdurate.
What attracts Hahn’s and Stimpson’s undivided attention in this book is modernity’s disregard and even contempt for the human body along with the need for a Christian understanding precisely to overcome this disregard and contempt. In our technocratic era we tend to see all matter, including bodily matter, as something to be manipulated in accordance with our own desires, and we tend to regard our desires as independent of and somehow superior to our bodies.
We now know a good deal about what is advocated in the draft documents arising from the so-called “Synodal Path” in Germany. Of course it is all predictable, because it is all simply a summary of the points on which secularists and the Catholic Church disagree, with the Synodalists on the side of the secularist cultural mainstream. Applied to any number of issues, this self-absorbed mode of analysis leads to absurd conclusions, none of them ascertained either by faith or reason.
Both our faith and the strength of our faith depend to a considerable degree on our purity of heart—the openness with which we receive Christ, the willingness with which we respond to the Good as brought to perfection in Him. Part of this willingness is reflected in the desire to learn more about Christ, the Church He has established for our benefit, the means of grace He offers, and the truths He reveals, not only through Divine Revelation but through the whole of creation from His bounty.
John’s letters are thought to have been written during the last fifteen years of the first century, almost two generations after the death and Resurrection of Christ. They capture John’s reflections on the Faith as an old man, not removed from the conflicts of the day (he died in exile on the island of Patmos), but having meditated for decades on the meaning of Christ and His Church. Awareness of this lifetime of spiritual development is essential to a fruitful understanding of the letters.
This book provides a light history of the Vatican Archives while surveying some of the more interesting chapters of the Church’s history: The Patristic era, the trial of the Knights Templar, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the conquistadors and missionaries in the New World, the Galileo Trial, the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the famous (and often exaggerated) silence of Pope Pius XII.
The word “heresy” comes from the Greek verb “to choose”, as in choosing some part over the whole, and so distorting the truth. The word “sin” most likely derives through Old English from the Latin word for “guilty”. We need to recover our horror of heresy and sin, and to become jealous once again for adherence to what is true, so that we do not prefer pleasing men to pleasing God.
In his first letter “to exiles of the Dispersion”, Peter begins with praise to God, through whose mercy “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you”. The entire letter is an exhortation to live in a manner worthy of so great a mercy and so great an inheritance.
Let us remember what sacraments are and how they work. I do not say that we receive no benefit from distant celebrations of Mass in rectories and closed churches, because we do, in common with the whole world, whether we watch the videos or not. But these Masses do not encompass our own active participation in the liturgy, nor our own personal engagement with the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The homeless lady asked for a ride and gave us each a plastic Easter egg with some candy in it. On this friendly basis, we all clambered into our car and pointed it in the direction she needed to go. On the way through our town, she mentioned that she had not had much to eat lately, and asked if we could stop at McDonald’s to get her something, so we turned around and got her lunch from the drive-through.
The Church’s first priority—and this goes for each one of us who claim to members of the Body of Christ—is never to avoid catching a disease, or even to avoid spreading a disease. Please: It just isn’t. Without diminishing the true spiritual wisdom involved in reasonable precautions, this avoidance simply is not the first priority for any child of God, let alone any Catholic, all of whom should know better.
In my commentary on the books of the Bible, we now turn to the brief letter of St. James and the even briefer letter by his brother, St. Jude. After spending so much time with St. Paul, this makes for a healthy combination. For if Paul repeatedly emphasizes the necessity of faith in Christ, both James and Jude warn us not to forget the importance of the works that we do.
It has been not only distressing but entertaining and instructive to see how much our actions and statements in response to the current pandemic run along in the same old groove. The greatest proof of my thesis comes through a simple survey of the news over the past two days. We should probably examine our own responses just as carefully, just as critically.
We must all grow in the ability to be aware that God is with us always, to consult Him in each course of action as we seek to act rightly and wisely, to rely on His grace in every present moment, and withal to learn to be more secure in trusting His presence and providence than in all the apparent human certainties within which we do live and move but do not have our being (cf. Acts 17:28). This is the work of a lifetime. But at every stage it becomes a fresh source of incomparable peace.
The Letter to the Hebrews is a sustained argument about the fulfillment and replacement of the Old Covenant through the institution of the New Covenant. Addressed to those who were well aware of the conflict between the covenants, the text is crafted to prove that the Old Covenant was a shadow of the New, and has found its decisive, permanent and complete fulfillment in the New, which must not be abandoned.
I do not say this this is an accurate physical description of our lives today, and I certainly think the example of Fr. Gerard and all the English martyrs ought to inspire and strengthen us to do more and to do better. But taken as a metaphor, it is not at all a bad indicator of the kind of public life we have thrust upon us today, which can be extraordinarily discouraging.
Economies are being destroyed around the world, including in the United States. This is happening not because of the devastation of the Coronavirus but because of government fear that the virus might be devastating if extreme anti-plague measures are not adopted. As the prevention measures become more and more stringent, most of the public assumes they are more and more necessary—that COVID-19 must really be a very serious threat. Is this prudence, or its lack?
We have no way of knowing that God will not permit any disease to spread among those who are gathered in a Catholic Church for Mass, or that He will prevent contagion and illness through reception of the Eucharist. This has not been revealed to us, and so each bishop, like the Pope, must pray for sufficient light to follow a prudent course. Moreover, the conclusions of good pastors can differ without proving anyone unfaithful or unholy.
There is a crisis today in how the sacraments are perceived and received. The modern mindset does not lend itself to a sacramental vision of reality, and the number of Catholics who receive the sacraments with little or no formation is large. We can see how frequently the sacraments must be received not only without a clear understanding of what they signify, but even with little personal understanding of or commitment to the Faith itself.
If you live in the United States but have had difficulty finding good doctors who both practice medicine morally and address patient concerns in the context of sound Catholic spirituality, then MyCatholicDoctor might be an excellent solution for you. The organization uses video-based consultation, maintains a referral network of “faithful healthcare professionals”, and offers a financial model which accommodates a significant variety of healthcare payment methods.
Any objective observer of our own trials in the Church today cannot help but realize how the Body of Christ has been betrayed precisely by religious, priests, bishops, teachers and theologians who constantly distort the teachings of Christ in order to seek favor, position and a good name in our secular culture.
I find it highly suspicious that opponents of national identity never seem to spare any concern for far greater and more widespread dangers like sexual license, divorce, the breakdown of the family, the redefinition of gender, the loss of reverence for both God and human life, the implosion of all sense of community (which requires a shared view of reality), and the universal condemnation of all moral judgment beyond the privileged platitudes of our dominant culture.
The vagaries of paganism are strange and horrifying. Once we forget that we do not belong to ourselves, it becomes all too easy to protect legally every form of “self-determination”. Still, it is a strange exaltation of the individual human will that coerces the rest of us to play along. Clearly, the deeper purpose here is to destroy the rights of those who believe there is an objective difference between good and evil, and that nobody may be legally forced to cooperate in evil.
These shorter letters reveal the common structure of all Paul’s writing simply because they are so brief. Paul’s standard format begins with a very Christian greeting, then expresses his prayers and thanksgiving for the faithfulness of the community, then offers encouragement and a little basic instruction to keep them on the right track, and finally mentions something of his present circumstances, before closing with particular greetings (if any) and a final blessing.
Too often in our modern sterility, art has degenerated into a habit of making explicit statements, or of striving aimlessly for individual difference, or of shocking, of novelty, of pretense in either artist or owner. Such choices also reveal something about the soul. But the soul is Catholic territory. It is ours not to impoverish, but to enrich in every way.
Pope Francis has been seriously burned over the last couple of years for decisions he has made and positions he has taken. He has supported the wrong people in cases of sexual abuse and lived to regret it deeply. He has set his hand to the plow of Curial reform, and though he has apparently looked back often enough that scandals continue to proliferate, we are now beginning to see the Vatican uncovering problems before they are widely reported elsewhere, particularly in the financial sector.
I frequently do not figure out what special spiritual reading I will do in Lent until after it starts. Even in the days of speedy delivery, this often leads me to find something on the shelf that I can read again. That’s not a bad practice—I mean reading great books repeatedly, especially in the Bible—but if you are looking for something brand new, you might find one of the following to be just what you need.
There are three caveats to consider. First, the motives for entering upon a particular way of life can be mixed. That decision does not tell us anything about the person’s holiness. In the end we will be judged not by the “vocation” we happen to “be in” but by our conformity to Christ. Second, it is the essence of having “a vocation” that it is the way of life to which God has called us. Not all receive the same call. Third, when it comes to vocations which demand a vow....
We cannot avoid endless wrangling over the thirteen verses in Ephesians that deal with the relationships between husbands and wives. We ignore the 118 verses which precede St. Paul’s comments on it (1:1 – 5:21), along with most of the small number of verses in the conclusion which follows (cf. 6:10-20). This is a huge mistake. The whole point of the letter is to explain that the Gentiles have been incorporated into God’s eternal plan and made heirs of His kingdom in Christ.
This collection of meditations can be used in almost any reading pattern and during any season of the year. Each of Newman’s thirty-eight meditations has been whittled to just over three pages in length. Topics covered include worship, reverence, the glories of Mary, dispositions for faith, the mystery of Godliness, martyrdom, love of friends, affliction, and a great many more, including love itself. Newman is always fresh, deep, astonishing, and in his sermons, accessible.
Now we may well wonder at these passages which portray temptation as very valuable, when in fact St. Paul claims that God does not tempt us beyond our strength. Does this mean temptation is easy? And again Our Lord tells us to pray not to be led into temptation, not to be put to the test. Is that not even easier? Finally, how are we to reconcile all of this with our own experience of temptation, and of the number of times we succumb to it?
None of this is cookie-cutter material. Men have long been permitted to absent themselves from their spouses and children almost as a matter of course for reasons of war, or even business, without the consent of their wives, though this is a different matter which does not involve the judgment of the Church. It is also true that parents or single women can give up their children for good reason, without any dispensation from the Church. But to enter religious life? Ecclesiastical judgment!
Going in standard Biblical order, Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins a series of ten shorter letters in which the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to meet the specific needs of a variety of groups and persons. But some of these letters are very rich theologically. Moreover, the main problem...
The furor over the Pachamama figure at the Amazon Synod raises several questions about the tension between evangelization and religious unity today. It raises questions about shared religious ceremonies, the repurposing of pagan images for Christian worship, and commonalities in religious belief. The one that interests me most here is whether it is right for Christians to attempt to strengthen bonds with non-Christians by claiming that both groups worship the same God.
Today it is not uncommon for the younger generation to spend large amounts of time within alternative “realities” generated and controlled by computers. The point is simply that we tend to be divorced from nature and, through the confluence of a number of different circumstances, we find it easy to conceive of nature not as something “given” with a “purpose” but as accidental material to be manipulated in accordance with our own desires.
The Church’s job is not to change the world through political advocacy at the macro level. The Church’s job is to make her members holy, so that in all their interactions they live and act as Christ has called them to do. It is in this way that her members will form, in many places, local Catholic cultures—vibrant cultures tangibly different from the surrounding wasteland.
Too frequently, the bureaucratic methods chosen serve to address generalities. The bishop does not personally ignite the purifying flame of the Spirit (“I came to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49). Nor does he personally and publicly address scandal (“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42).
In this second letter, St. Paul tries nearly everything he can think of to induce the Corinthians to make further spiritual progress. Once again he has postponed visiting them in person, in the hope that he will not have to exercise a harsh judgment when he comes. The apostle employs one rhetorical technique after another to prompt change. Interspersed with these various commendations, accusations and exhortations, Paul also teaches a great lesson about the Christian life.
Some are being called by God to commit themselves permanently to the single state in order to serve Him as He wishes them to serve, but without switching over to long-established vocational categories like priesthood, religious life, or even any organized form of consecrated life.
Two aspects of this Eucharistic miracle have immediately caught my attention. The first is merely tangential, a matter of current interest: The future Pope Francis initiated the investigation. The second is more significant: According to the report I received, it has been scientifically established that the heart tissue from the Buenos Aires miracle belongs to the same person as the flesh and blood at Lanciano
To me, practical theology refers to the basic theological understanding one ought to have in order to grasp firmly the principles of the Catholic Faith and to make orderly progress in the spiritual life. It is not at all uncommon that a faulty understanding of Divine Revelation or Catholic teaching on faith and morals can interfere with our growth in love of God and neighbor and our proper response to the challenges of our culture and our personal lives.
Every Catholic who has struggled to understand the nature and the importance of the Second Vatican Council owes an enormous debt to Aidan Nichols for this book. It is one of the best books of 2019, clarifying many of the human questions surrounding the Council and certainly increasing my respect for the Council’s achievement. The documents should have enabled the whole Church to grow in faith and love—without in the least justifying the widespread errors which followed.
The Pope wishes to encourage the family tradition of setting up a nativity scene and “also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares.” In this simple wish, the Pope acknowledges that he has ignored the memo from our increasingly secular culture and its leaders. Instead, he begins with St. Augustine’s observation about the birth of Christ: “Laid in a manger, he became our food”.
In the first part, Paul rebukes and warns the Corinthians for their worldly Christianity. In the second, he offers spiritual advice on matters that could easily be genuinely perplexing. And in the third, he teaches them about spiritual gifts, including the charismatic gifts, but in a way that sheds further light on what is really the main point throughout: The Corinthians wear their Christianity like spoiled children, and it is time to grow up.
For one reason or another, we conclude—based on our own purely private judgment of a pope’s character or impact on the Church or faith or morals—that this person who calls himself “the pope” has either ceased to be the pope or must never really have been the pope. We decide this, then, not by the historical fact of his election, but based on our own understanding of faith and morals, and of what God will or will not permit to happen in his Church.
The time is ripe because, at least in my opinion, too many ostensibly “good Catholics” are going to extremes in what they mistakenly believe is a service to orthodoxy, extremes that are now becoming mirror images of what has long been advocated on the side of heterodoxy. So let me make some distinctions.
As the spiritual stability of the Church has been undermined by the current papacy, a number of groups have engaged in the spiritual work of counseling the doubtful while consistently ignoring the spiritual works of bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving offenses. Some are also more prone to condemn than to instruct, counsel, admonish and comfort. This can never foster authentic Catholic renewal; all it can do is make angry Catholics feel better about themselves without spiritual growth.
You can imagine the importance of this truth in a period in which God’s chosen people, the Jews to whom Christ came, thought of themselves as a people set apart and made righteous by the Law. But Paul explains that the Law, while good in itself, actually awakens us to sin, and so the Jews turn it into an occasion of sin, even while the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, actually know the moral law through nature, and likewise are guilty of transgression.
Commentators must strive for a consistency of analysis of this pontificate: Justifying each response in terms of each particular incident; exhibiting a deeper understanding of the whole problem which leads to reasoned commentary, without emotional outbursts. Now, anybody who talks to anybody else has, in this sense, a public persona. Regardless of the mood of the moment, all should maintain a consistent wisdom—a wisdom that fully admits all aspects of the truth.
What one cannot debate, however, is that the best scholarship on the many complex topics addressed at these synods is produced by scholars whose Catholic identity is very firmly rooted, who are deeply committed to authentic renewal of the Church.... It is not only the best publishers and the best authors who are willing to step into the breach and do the necessary work, instead of merely going with the flow. This is what all seriously-committed Catholics do, each in his or her own sphere.
The so-called scientific experts are fond of telling us that the world and all that is in it are not the result of an intelligible process caused by an intelligent agent but rather the result of random combinations of elements. These people think that God creates as we do, by recombining elements to make new things. But that is not at all what they must explain. What they must explain is why there is something rather than nothing at all.
We will urge married clergy on the Amazon not primarily because they cannot understand sexual abstinence but because the secularized affluent West as a whole cannot understand it. We will urge some form of formal female ministry in the Amazon not because it would be impossible to call, inspire and send zealous males but because the secularized affluent West demands—even as it insists on sexual activity—the obliteration of distinctions between male and female.
Cardinal Sarah works hard at creating the illusion that he is following up lines of thought proposed by Pope Francis himself.... But in fact, the grand alliance of what we might call “The Friends of Pope Francis” constantly tries to bring against Cardinal Sarah this charge of opposition to the Pope, precisely because it is so obvious that Sarah’s constant recommendations are seriously at odds with much of what Pope Francis says.
The main reason the Holy Spirit inspired St. Luke to write the Acts of the Apostles is crystal clear in the pages of that book. But I wonder how many of us who have read and listened to readings from the Acts have realized what that purpose is. Things can be missed when we hear them piecemeal, and...
In an intriguing new book by Fr. Charles P. Connor, the Catholic position on slavery leading up to and during the American Civil War (1861-1865) is explored in considerable depth. What we learn from it is how much cultural conditioning and competing interests can modify or “slant” the...
[October 4, 2019: In response to many questions from those who had trouble with the argument, I have revised this essay from earlier in the week. If you found it confusing, I hope you will read it again.] One of the key drafters of the working document for the Amazon Synod, Bishop Erwin...
Let me speak frankly. It is a symptom of flabby, secularized Christianity to witness primarily in favor of popular and prudential causes. Yet from Pope Francis on down, this symptom is widespread among Catholic leaders today. Five significant mistakes are made by Christians whose witness in favor...
Think about it: We are absolutely obliged by God to grow into union with Him as far as possible—using the fullness of the means made available through the Church established by His Son. But at the same time, we have absolutely no claim to spiritual consolations. We have no right to...
I am happy to announce a new (and always free) ebook: No Offense Intended: Essays on wrong-headed Catholics. These essays, written between early 2017 and early 2019, are my most strongly-worded commentaries on the troubles created for the Church by wrong-headed Catholics, especially those in high...
In a world awash in both addictions and addiction programs, it is genuinely inspiring to see an organization helping people to conquer their addictions in Christ, through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. That’s the methodology of the Calix Society, which was founded originally in 1947...
It is commonly said that the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are “synoptic” (providing a synopsis of the life of Christ) but that the gospel of John is “theological” (probing important questions about the Christian Faith). In earlier installments of this series, I have...
Recently I had an interesting discussion with a frequent visitor to our website about the potential benefits to the Church of being without a pope for an extended number of years. In part the discussion was prompted by the deleterious impact the current pontificate seems to have on Catholic...
The Sunday before last, the Gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33) was that strange passage about the king who should sue for peace before throwing his ten thousand troops against an opposing force of twenty thousand; and about the builder who should not risk mockery by failing to make sure he has...
On the whole, I recommend to pope-watchers a close reading of Francis’ responses to questions raised by journalists on his flight from the capital of Madagascar back to Rome. These informal exchanges often present challenges, because Pope Francis has great difficulty speaking precisely. But...
Readers may recall that last year we reviewed Robert G. Marshall’s extraordinarily useful book, Reclaiming the Republic: How Christians and other conservatives can win back America. Now Marshall returns with the Reclaiming the Republic Podcast—an incisive nine-episode presentation...
Our readers frequently seek to identify good religious communities, especially if their children are considering a vocation to religious life. This puts me in mind of the Franciscan community of men founded by Mother Angelica in 1998, The Knights of the Holy Eucharist. The Franciscans as a...
I have done a good deal of soul searching about the future of CatholicCulture.org, as is only appropriate for a 71-year-old founder. Some of this involves adding appropriate expertise to our staff as my own ability to wear multiple hats diminishes. For example, we need to add a social media...
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