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Perceptive commentary: Scalia, Douthat, Schall, Allen

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 05, 2013

Over the past weekend, several internet sites posted thoughtful commentaries that our readers shouldn’t miss. We’ll offer only a bare-bones summary of each piece; we recommend reading each one in its entirety.

  • Writing for Catholic Answers, Father Paul Scalia asks us all to consider which we really long for, and which we belong to: The Church Militant or the Church Belligerent ? His point is that many Catholics have become so accustomed to arguing in defense of the faith that the argument—rather than the living faith—becomes their primary focus. As he puts it, “In short, the Church Belligerent succumbs to the temptation to win arguments instead of hearts—to break the bruised reed and quench the smoldering wick.” That’s not an effective way to win souls, he observes, and since winning souls is the mission of the Church, it’s a destructive tendency. Father Scalia has several useful suggestions for avoiding the “belligerent” temptation. For instance, he recommends imitating St. Philip Neri and St. Thomas More, who were noted for their joy and their humor even while they devoted themselves utterly to the faith. “We find no bitterness or rancor in these warriors. Now even if we cannot imitate their humor, we ought at least to strive for their joy.”
  • In the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat announces the Return of the Jesus Wars. Reza Aslan has won the attention of intellectuals with his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It is, Douthat notes, the latest in a long line of works that claim to examine the “real” Jesus. What they have in common, the Times columnist remarks, is that they all fail to capture the depth of the character portrayed in the Gospels; they fail to account for the devotion that Jesus inspired. In fact, Douthat writes, the various portraits of the “real” Jesus offered by critics of Christianity “tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.”
  • Father James Schall has retired from teaching at Georgetown, but fortunately he hasn’t stopped writing. For Catholic World Report, he examines The “Spirit” of the Pope's Return from Rio. His thesis is that liberal commentators are doing their best to read their own preferred messages into the statements of Pope Francis, so that the “spirit” of his trip to World Youth Day becomes something quite different from what his actual words conveyed—just as the “spirit of Vatican II,” advanced by some of the same commentators, differed radically from the actual teachings of the Council.
  • Many Vatican-watchers predict a series of reforms at the Vatican, beginning in the autumn. But the perceptive John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter already sees A revolution underway with Pope Francis. For one thing, he writes, “In just four months, Francis has revived the international prestige of the papacy and its moral capital.” At the same time, he reports, the established pecking order in the Vatican bureaucracy has been overthrown. There is no longer a “palace guard,” controlling access to the Pope and dispensing favors and influence. The age-old game of currying favor and seeking patronage within the Roman Curia is no longer being played by the same rules. The cult of Romanita is on the wane; Vatican officials are being held accountable. Even before making major structural changes, the new Pope is changing the culture of the Curia.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Aug. 06, 2013 10:35 PM ET USA

    Those of us who write and preach need constant reminders that charity is our call, not confrontation. Just the same, we need to identify evil actions and pray for the conversion of sinners. Also realizing that we are all the latter to a greater or lesser degree.