Saturday, December 22, 2007

"The Church is the conscience of the state." says Jim Wallis.

Not really. My conscience is a part or a dimension of my person. The Church is not bound to the state by any such analogy. At least I think that's what a good Hauerwasian would say. I note that Wallis is still thinking about Christian politics in terms of "values" and a "values agenda." Yawn.

Huckabee vs. Paul

Good to see alarm bells of more and more Catholics going off over the Huckster. When Ron Paul first mentioned the saying about the Anti-Christ, that he will come draped in a flag and toting a cross, I thought he was just making an oblique but suggestive statement in response to Huckabee's Xmas ad. But the more I think about it, I'm coming to see it as prescient about Huck. Here are some others who have raised their Catholic eyebrows with the rise of the latest evangelical aspirant to national power.

Catholic News Agency
The Bride and the Dragon
Bonfire of the Vanities
Mark Stricherz
Peggy Noonan
Robert Novak

Some of them link to each other, such is the blogosphere.

I don't think I've ever been as excited about a presidential candidate till Ron Paul. I never thought I could like a libertarian. Maybe the label needs to be redefined after Paul. I do remember feeling my pulse rise a little over Ralph Nader, but he was uncritically pro-choice and eventually got ensnared in personality politics, which I've learned recently was mostly the fault of Democratic Party operatives who brutally stonewalled and trashed Nader. The Nader treatment isn't too different what Bob Casey Sr. got previously. The GOP hasn't shown much more humanity in their machinations either apparently, which is why it should be a little more grateful to have a man like Ron Paul running on their ticket.

My only wish right now is that RP would do or say something to scare off all those anarcho-nihilist-conspiracy-theory nutjobs who keep jumping all over his platform.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Weak dollar, weak evies

I didn't think there was much good in a weak dollar other than increased exports...till I read this in Christianity Today:
Campus Crusade for Christ missionaries to France Dan and May Workman ended their October newsletter with a prayer request for a strengthened U.S. dollar. But in November, the dollar hit an all-time low. It traded at $1.4641 to the euro. (emphasis added)
Of course, I don't celebrate the fact that well-intentioned evangelical missionaries are feeling a few more rumblings in their bellies. But evangelical models of missions are repugnant, once you get past the glossy pictures of plump white people surrounded by the poor brown/yellow folk. Without a vow of stability and/or poverty, they're glorified spiritual vacations for naive denominational entrepreneurs. Without much respect for the missionary traditions that predate Protestantism, they have little respect for the cultures and communities they invade. Without a finely honed sense of the complexity of religion and politics in different countries, they end up being mostly distribution agents for wealthy churches back home to feel good about themselves with fancy presentations and displays of their poor little rice Christians. And to demonstrate the depth of their faith, they pray to the God of the Currency Market. If that's not a sign of a "bankrupt" missions model...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Purg

The Anastasis Dialogue has some great reflections on the vibrant discussion over at the Reformed Catholicism blog on Purgatory. Usually I steer clear of Purgatorial theology, mainly cuz it's a mystery that polemcists don't fear treading upon enough. But Hieromonk Maximos noted that Fr. Al Kimel, who I miss, has posted some good stuff in the comboxes so I had to check it out. HM sets up a common Catholic attitude for a good paddling:
"Of course we Catholics don't believe that our salvation is automatically assured just because we make a single act of faith in 'Jesus my personal Lord and Savior.' But that doesn't mean we are left in complete and utter anxiety about our future. Right now I am not conscious that I have committed any mortal sins since I went to Confession last week. That means I'm in a state of grace, which means I can be morally certain that if I died right now I'd go to heaven. Of course, I may have a few venial sins or some other imperfections that need to be purified. I can't rule out some time in Purgatory! But even that could be eliminated if God gives me the extra grace of receiving the Sacrament of Anointing before I die, or of receiving a Plenary Indulgence. So yes, I don't think my assurance of salvation is any less real than any Protestant's."

I hope I have been fair in reproducing this monologue. At any rate it contains nothing that is not strictly in accord with what I understand to be Roman Catholic teaching.

Yet it's horrifying.
If a large number of Catholics previously believed that the state of one's soul can be mapped out on an accountant's ledger, then Vatican II indeed was necessary and a true work of the Spirit. Read the rest of HM's careful critique.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Naivety in the Nativity

Philosopher Paul Ricoeur spoke of a "second naivete" necessary for the mature adult mind. It's not romanticism or nostalgia, both of which have bitter axes to grind with some objectified thing or person as symbol of all they hate about the world. But I think Garrison Keillor's got the real deal:
This magical story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith and I am sorry if it's a big hurdle for the skeptical young. It is to the Church what his Kryptonian heritage was to Clark Kent -- it enables us to stop speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings at a single bound, and also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Without the Nativity, we become a sort of lecture series and coffee club, with not very good coffee and sort of aimless lectures.

On Christmas Eve, the snow on the ground, the stars in the sky, the spruce tree glittering with beloved ornaments, we stand in the dimness and sing about the silent holy night and tears come to our eyes and the vast invisible forces of Christmas stir in the world. Skeptics, stand back. Hush. Hark. There is much in this world that doubt cannot explain.
HT: Mark Shea

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Ringwreaths

I've always felt this a little, but now I'm convicted enough to say it: Advent candle wreaths are kinda lame. I'm not opposed to them. I just think they're nothing to feel much of anything for, so why has it become THE Catholic visual for Advent? They all have this pastel mass-produced flatness to them, even with (or because of?) the Martha Stewart flourish. We light a candle every week at one Sunday Mass. And then who knows how it works between the 8am and 10am Masses? Someone puts one out after every Mass; they light it again, put it out once everyone's scurrying off to Sunday brunch. Like it's a show, a party favor. Yes, the candle symbolizes the coming Light of Christ which we bless with this holy water, etc, etc. But it's a one-fingered "Mary Had A Little Lamb" on the piano when the Church should be jamming to something with a little more groove.

Somehow this brainfart was inspired by a Fr. Stephen Freeman post on the Romney speech:
Thus to say merely, “Jesus wishes you to be saved from your sins,” is true. But stated so flatly it quickly becomes banal and of little significance. It is Mary Had a Little Lamb, repeated until you come to hate the tune. Such banality among Christians makes them easy prey for those who would say, “Mormonism is Christianity.” It also makes them easy prey for those who would exploit their simplicity in far more sinister manners.

Orthodox Christianity is not just the fullness of the faith tossed about like a slogan (”Look at us! We have the fullness and you don’t!”). Such fullness is not fullness but stupidity. It is fullness that is found only in relationship to Christ who draws us towards a freedom with regard to nature that we become Rubensteins of the spiritual life - or whatever calling it is God sets before us. We become not merely human beings who are individual instances of a general thing we can call human nature. We become persons, birthed in freedom which is the gift of the Spirit. In that freedom we are not determined by the limitations of our nature, but persons determined by their freedom as we turn to Christ.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Consistent Ethics

The term "consistent ethic of life" has been seeing bear market days. But for all the wrong-headed political conclusions it has spawned, the idea itself is correct, at least from an apophatic reading. To me it wisely commends that our ethically-inspired political agendas, however righteous, have an intrinsic limitation according to the degree to which we actually live consistently with that ethic.

Environmentalists demand political and legal solutions to problems that are intrinsically ethical and personal. To oppose those legislative proposals is not necessarily an opposition to the ethic, but a suspicion that ethics from above have counterintuitive and contradictory consequences. We want governments to force change upon polluters when we the lay public are doing everything to encourage, even require, the polluters to behave the way they do. So long as environmentalism absolves the people of their cult of consumerism, convenience, and gluttony, there's a natural limit to what Kyoto-style agreements can really accomplish.

That limitation must be recognized if we are going to be sane and dispassionate about this issue. Without such a recognition, we're liable to fetishize and moralize the environment, and play political games to browbeat and step on others who disagree with us. Without it, our polis is just a breeding ground for more ideological manipulation.

Similarly, the pro-life movement has made precise, correct attacks on the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, but has done scant little to even acknowledge that abortion is much bigger than Supreme Court opinions. We've come to hate the pro-choice ideology so much that we've divorced the pro-life issue from the reality of human choices altogether. How does the cult of individual private Choice in all matters limit what we can expect out of our legal victories against Roe et al? Beyond legal battles, what kinds of choices do I need to be making to help inaugurate a pro-life universe?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Protest & Moral Sentimentality

The rhetorical pose of protest today is indeed moral sentimentality. There are videos all over youtube in which street interviews of pro-life and pro-choice protesters demonstrate how ridiculously mindless and shallow their positions are. And it's not their views themselves, it's the form of protest that's to blame. In my past life as a social justice dude, I ran the whole protest gauntlet several times and learned the Seeger protest hymnal. I don't care how much MLK loved it - "We Shall Overcome" is as limpy whimpy tune as I've ever heard. But after a while I felt the two sides just feed off each other. It's dualistic, dialectical, demonizing morality politics at its goofiest. Protest today does seem to make you stupid.

I think this has been one of the downsides of evangelicals joining the Catholic pro-life dance - they brought an Urbana/megachurch rah-rah attitude to a complex moral-political-cultural-religious-social issue. It's not just a megachurch thing. I can't watch the presidential debates or the Daily Show anymore because of the self-bovinizing ways American audiences cheer and jeer. Listen to Prime Minister's Questions for an example of cheering-jeering that's raucous but intelligent and attentive, almost choral. There's something so utterly vacuous in the American "woo-hoo," which unfortunately has made its way into every public venue, including our churches along with applause as if liturgy were just a type of townhall meeting.

For apostolic Christianity, liturgy is the primary weapon in our battle with the demons of this world and though protest may have liturgical resonances, it's ultimately anti-liturgical. There's infinitely more power in a Eucharistic procession or Stations of the Cross or even May Day processions than in any protest.

But what about the Civil Rights marches? That which brought a racist empire to its knees was far more specific and clear-headed in its goals and methodology. Today we have annual rallies which have the goal of allowing political co-religionists the comfort of feeling like they're doing something or standing up for something. Posturing becomes a substitute for substance. Look underneath and they're expressions of impotency. In Liturgy, the posturing is theological symbol, and thus heavily stylized and iconic.

This interview with Eugene McCarraher, always the historian/writer provocateur of the Hauerwasian-Catholic mold, reinforces my thinking on this. I strongly disagree with some of his positions, but I appreciate his way of thinking which is rarely given any voice in the Catholic pro-life movement. A good test for me is the reflexive moralistic tone with which pro-lifers will automatically pounce on him for being "soft" on abortion. He may very well be soft on abortion, but the reflexive response of the herd is equally telling.

He has some insightful points on the ties that bind capitalism and American pro-life movement culture. He doesn't draw nearly fine enough of a distinction between pro-life culture and pro-life ethical reasoning as I'd like and he collapses capitalism with "the world" more than I'd like, but he's not trying to skin those cats.
Some of the other advice I'd offer probably won't go down as easily. First, I think that Christians should stop yakking about "consumerism." "Consumerism" is not the problem—capitalism is. Consumerism is the work ethic of consumption, the transformation of leisure and pleasure into duties. Talking about consumerism is a way of not talking about capitalism, and I've come to think that that's the reason why so many people, including Christians, whine about it so much. It's just too easy a target. There's a long history behind this, but the creation of consumer culture is very much about compensating workers for loss of control and creativity at work, and those things were stolen because capital needed to subject workers to industrial discipline. (I don't, by the way, believe that we inhabit a "post-industrial" society. Our current regimes of work are, indeed, super-industrial.) Telling people that they're materialistic is both tiresome and wrong-headed: tiresome, because it clearly doesn't work, and wrong-headed, because it gives people the impression that matter and spirit are antithetical. As Christians, we should be reminding everyone that material reality is sacramental, and that therefore material production, exchange, and consumption can be ways of mediating the divine.

As for abortion, I think we have to stop seeing it as the primary culprit in a "culture of death." Abortion becomes conceivable as a moral practice once we take individual autonomy as the beau ideal of the self; but to recognize that is, if we're logical, to indict not only abortion but also our cherished idyll of "choice" or "freedom." But that, then, is to indict capitalism, which employs a similar language of sovereignty both to legitimate itself and to obscure the remarkable lack of creative freedom at work. I know that I'll catch a lot of hell for saying this, but I think that a lot of opposition to abortion is sheer moral sentimentality which turns the fetus into a fetish. (You'll notice that I think fetishism of some sort or other is a pretty salient feature of the contemporary American moral imagination.) Many of the same people who oppose abortion are champions of laissez-faire capitalism, and they either don't see or don't care to see the linguistic and cultural affinities between themselves and the pro-choice advocates they fight. They'll retort that capitalism doesn't kill anyone in its normal operations, but, first, that's just not true—capitalism has never been instituted or maintained anywhere, not even in the North Atlantic, without considerable coercion and violence—and second, it doesn't matter, because the exercise of market "autonomy" has devastating effects on individuals and communities regardless of whether or not they wind up dead. ("Yeah, the company cut your medical benefits or cut your job or left your town a mess, but hey, you're still alive!") When I say this, a lot of people retort that I'm "changing the subject." In one way, yes I am, but for a reason—because I want them to see that it is the same subject, in a different guise. Talking about abortion is a way of not talking about the "autonomous individual," the latest ideological guise of libido dominandi, discussion of which would topple quite a few idols, and not just "reproductive choice."

Friday, November 30, 2007

No 'hope' for the Progs

John Allen reports on some complaints from the "reform wing(nuts) of Catholicism" over the new encyclical Saved in Hope:
The deliberately wide appeal of Spe Salvi does not mean that early reaction has been uniformly positive. The “Wir Sind Kirche” [We Are Church] statement, for example, posed three critical questions about the encyclical:

• Why doesn’t it rely more on Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” the Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which has long been a sort of charter document for the reform wing of Catholicism?
• Why doesn’t the pope ask whether the current structures and disciplinary systems of the church actually promote an atmosphere of hope?
• Will this encyclical generate real hope for progress towards ecumenical reunion?
Forgive their childish petulance for a moment. But reading used to have something to do with entering into the mind and imagination of another - a true communicative act. Today reading is mostly about shoehorning texts into agendas like meat through a grinder.

P.S. I've noticed that a lot of sites are translating the title as "Saved By Hope." "In" seems more theologically evocative and correct, and ecumenically less distracting. The Vatican's English translation quotes Romans in the first line: "in [not 'by'] hope we were saved." The West, especially the Protestant side, is used to hearing that we are "saved by faith." Benedict makes a good point in the first paragraph on the essential equivalence between faith and hope. But why let a dubious preposition furrow the brow of every Protestant before he/she even gets to the first sentence? Better to call it "Saved In Hope."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chrysostom on Diocesan Assets

St. John Chrysostom scratches his beard, a bit perturbed by the sight of his brother bishops clamoring for legislative judgment-proofing of church assets:
What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of our goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. Homily Before His Exile, 1-3
In other words, religious freedom for Christians consists of far more than the boundaries of state beneficence. This is where Dignitatis Humanae is at its weakest.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Paprocki and {sigh} ecclesiology

Reading Bp. Paprocki's recent Red Mass homily contrasting the angelic policy of charitable immunity against the "demonic" attacks on it in the wake of the pervert priest scandal so tickles the irony bone when read alongside Pope Benedict's recent statements.

In his address to the Indonesian ambassador, Benedict condemns the manipulation of religion for political ends. Chicago Trib quotes Bp. Paprocki:
"This attack is particularly directed against bishops and priests, since the most effective way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd," he told worshipers in Grand Rapids. "We must also use our religious discernment to recognize that the principal force behind these attacks is none other than the devil."

"I'm not saying the plaintiffs in that case or the lawyer were acting demonically," he explained later. "I'm saying it is in a sense a diabolical consequence when you can no longer provide a charitable service."
Hmmm. Then I read another Zenit piece (on corporate America's profligate rewarding of failed CEOs) which cites Pope Benedict's 9/23 addresses:
"Basically, it is a matter of choosing between selfishness and love, between justice and dishonesty and ultimately, between God and Satan," the Pontiff commented.

In the midday Angelus, back at Castel Gandolfo the same day, Benedict XVI added further reflections on the Gospel text. "Money is not 'dishonest' in itself, but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism."
See supra, right? But back to Paprocki:
"The settlement or award of civil damages is punishing the wrong people, namely the average parishioner or donor whose financial contributions support the church but who have no role in the supervision of clergy," he said.
Blind egocentrism, you say, Your Holiness?

I hate to disagree with Ed Peters, and he has honorably made full disclosure of his personal ties to Bp. Paprocki, but as a recent JD and fledgling canon law student, I must side with ecclesiology over law, canon or civil. Gerald Augustinus and Off the Record are spot on in essentially calling out the bishops who are groveling before secular courts and legislatures for fiscal salvation, and promulgating bad theology in a weak effort to drum up support for their latest damage control plan.

Arguing the legal merits of charitable immunity as Bp. Paprocki is attempting to do just seems so belittling of what is and has been at stake when it comes to the Church I know and love: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Roman Martyrs, and all the Saints of the True Body of Christ. Some major random discombobulated thoughts:

Ecclesiology - Paprocki insists that the laity is unjustly "punished" by these massive litigation figures because we had no role in the supervision of priests. Really? Of course we can eliminate our role in the actual abuse and negligent transfer of offending priests, but that's merely a lawyer's analysis of responsibility. As I understand it, Catholic ecclesiology leans towards, if you will, a Three Musketeers understanding of the Church: yes, we all have different and unique parts and roles to play, but when push comes to shove we're all for one and one for all. Add to that our seamless garment understanding of solidarity with all who share sacramental union with Christ which includes the Faithful Departed and the Church Triumphant (ie. the Communion of Saints). We are beholden to each other and if one part suffers the rest does. If one part sins, then though culpability can be narrowly identified in individual persons, it's never individualized theologically.

The American laity by almost all counts have demonstrated its higher allegiance to American paganism and gnosticism over apostolic Catholicism; we spearheaded with abandon the "Spirit of Vatican II" and all its hostility to the Apostolic Tradition, including its strict, but life-giving and cruciform disciplines and aesthetic/ascetic virtues. (The Linacre Institute report is an underappreciated analysis of how loss of asceticism leads to moral degeneration.) Passions? The Fathers and the East always taught that we must subdue and mortify the passions via holy ascesis and prayer. The V2 Church pretty much rejected all that, stupidly confusing it with puritanism. Instead it taught us how we're supposed to just accept and love ourselves including our sexualities, which no longer could be "disordered." Now I never subscribed to the modernizing heterodoxies of AmChurch, but as a Catholic I am obliged to acknowledge that I am a part of it and it is a part of me. I am no SSPXer who thinks being Catholic allows you to cut yourself off from the maddening crowds just because you've discovered a tidy purified corner on traditional orthodoxy.

Those pervert priests and clueless/spineless bishops who recycled them are part of my ecclesial Self - that's just a function of being Catholic. Bishops and priests were all lay at some point, were raised by lay Catholics, had lay Catholic family, friends, and teachers, all of whom played their small parts in cooperating either materially, formally, or efficiently in our moral collapse; how could the clergy be immune? They fed on the theological junk food of our AmChurch and regurgitated it right back for our consumption, and its been clogging our arteries ever since; no surprise that we'd experience a catastrophic arterial rupture sooner or later. So it's awfully demoralizing to hear a bishop of the Church essentially preaching a corporate shareholder ecclesiology that disingenuously paints the laity as innocent, passive victims of some Diabolus ex machina. The Church is not Enron or the Red Cross. Paprocki is arguing as if the Church is essentially just another secular nonprofit charitable institution offering religious goods and services to civil society. Alisdair MacIntyre's managerial emotivism is on full display right here. I'm still waiting for a bishop to sound like an actual heir of the Holy Apostles, Martyrs, and Fathers, who understood they were humble stewards of a Great Pearl not executives of nonprofit religious corporations or corporations sole, who did not expect a dime from the State, who never would have prostrated themselves before Caesar or popular opinion polls, who even when absolutely innocent, went to the slaughter like lambs in imitation of their Lord. That's the ecclesiology that makes the Catholic Church worth living and dying for; that's the ecclesiology that sees the Body of Christ as the Church Militant against the world in our battle with the passions as the path to saving the world.

But an apostolic, eucharistic, communio ecclesiology is contemptible to most American Catholics, clergy and lay alike. The average American Catholic feels victimized by the use of Latin in the Mass for crying out loud. We're a flabby, lazy, and indolent Church; we were practically begging for our priests to follow their "creative" passions wherever they led because that's the same homily we want to hear from the pulpit. In ecumenism, we've hankered for the me- and now-centrism of the Protestants and barely know a thing about our Eastern rite brethren or the Orthodox who uniquely share in our apostolic heritage and have stores of wisdom to impart to us. We've forgotten who we are as Church, Bride of Christ. No, America owes us nothing for the ways we've abandoned our priestly identity and vocation to her.

Justice - OK so the actual damages we're looking at are basically lots of closings and sales of parishes, schools, charitable institutions, and other assets. Paprocki argues this is unjust because it wrongly levies punishment upon those who rely on these goods and services. He's probably saving the Poor People card for later when the anti-Catholic attack dogs are barking at their loudest. (God help me if a bishop is clueless enough to argue that the lawsuits will harm all the poor children who the Church serves.) But meanwhile it seems awfully consequentialist to say that justice should be determined by the ripple effect the resolution of this matter will have on third party beneficiaries, especially when there is an obvious unwillingness to treat the real victims as the real victims. Clearly lawyers and anti-Catholic Catholics are seeking vengeance for all sorts of collateral issues, but that just comes with the territory. You don't FUBAR over innocent children and then demand that the public not be excessively pissed off at you. Add it all up and you're still not arriving at anything disproportionate to the sins. All's fair when you baby and coddle sick priests but treat their victims and families like annoying salesmen. If bishops are not seeing this as a case of comeuppance, their eyes aren't on the ball.

Furthermore, Paprocki's argument betrays a glaring indifference or callousness to the atrocious nature of the injuries committed by so many of our clergy. His argument is more fitting if the Church were being sued over slip and fall torts, not the extensive sexual abuse of Catholic children entrusted to our guardians of the Sacred Mysteries and the subsequent episcopal coverups. It's barely legitimate to want to remind the world about the marginal percentages of offenders compared to other professions, but if you stop there (as too many Catholics do), you're just not getting it. What ius demands from our Church is incalculable. And it's not the goal of the plaintiff's to eradicate the Church, as Paprocki acknowledges, but it's also not just for us to cry victim and beg for State to rescue the Church. The Church has committed grievous wrongs, and if our spotless Lord went to the whipping post without protest, how should we who are pockmarked by infidelity and sin submit to our discipline?

So no, I do not think there is any injustice in the way plaintiffs are attacking Church assets, especially since no serious effort has been made to pierce the corporate veil or impose personal liability on individual lay Catholics or beneficiaries of Catholic services. Even if the American Church were to be completely eradicated and liquidated, America would still allow us to have our priests, popes, and sacraments. We'd have Mass in homes and rented warehouses, but that wouldn't be much of downgrade from the architectural "innovations" of the last few decades anyway. So please spare us the patronizing suggestions that this is some massive attack on the Church. America ain't got nuthin' on Diocletian Rome.

Public Relations - It's a manipulative racket of a business which should be kept far away from the Church but even if you wanted to adopt some of its strategies, don't look to Paprocki as any good example. He looks like he's ripping from the Karen Hughes PR playbook. Let's take the most sympathetic red herring of the indigent and voiceless who derive food, shelter, and clothing from the Church's social ministries. If there is truly an injury to the poor, then shouldn't all the other advocacy groups be voicing concern or outrage over the excessive bleeding inflicted by plaintiffs' bar? If I were bishops' counsel, I'd be speaking to the non-Catholic organizations who could credibly articulate the injustice of steamrolling over charitable immunity. They might demur because of the political heat but they're the only mouthpiece free of obvious conflicts of interest. If the bishops alone are arguing for charitable immunity on behalf of their putative beneficiaries, they only end up looking manipulative and opportunistic because the public has no way of knowing whether they're genuinely for the poor or for their own power and prestige.

What sort of message does it send to the world that the Church needs the State to bail her out from the fruit of her own sins? This is where public relations and ecclesiology overlap. America has been good to Catholics and Catholic things, but not very good for Catholicism. We can be thankful for the privileges enjoyed by the Church under the American flag but we should never be lulled into thinking that the Church needs America or that America has given us our freedom of religion. Christ is the ground of our freedom whether we live in an violently anti-Catholic totalitarian regime or not, period. So the Church does not depend on the state to practice charity - a reminder for us who have come to overvalue Catholicism as the great and marvelous font of human services when arguably it has become a cog in the welfare state machine. I'll defend the existence of Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals any day, but let's admit that they can serve as a cheap substitute for real evangelical charity. The real heart of the Church is the Eucharist, not charitable institutions, or rather the Body and Blood of Christ is our primary charitable work. Paprocki may assume this, but if he's crying victim over loss of our charitable operations, he's sending conflicting messages about what constitutes the Church.

Someone in the USCCB needs to go over Shelby Steele's work on the psychological phenomenon of white man's guilt and how it spill over into foolish, irrational decision-making. What we're witnessing in our bishops is a similar phenomenon of bishop's guilt. They've been traumatized in their own way and their nerves have been frayed by this whole ordeal, so I can sympathize too with our bishops. But they're acting with the same defensiveness of America's desperate but flatfooted attempts to make the race issue go away. Liberals insist on affirmative action even if it might harm black America. Conservatives gripe mindlessly about reverse racism. Bishops are going through something similar, but they need to get a grip. I don't expect spiritually rootless Americans to accomplish this, but I'd think bishops have deeper resources.

Law - Some bishops have symbolically donned the sackcloth and prostrated themselves before the aggrieved parties in humble contrition (eg. O'Malley), but most continue to hide behind slick corporate lawyers. Canon law too can be susceptible to the self-reproducing cycle of rationalizations and sophistry, so self-assured in its clean codifications of canonical equity. But our canons tried so hard to mimic secular Enlightenment civil code systems, with all their lexical pliability that it's so easy to forget about simple apostolic sensibility. Even if the law is on our side and even if charitable immunity is in the best interests of reason, justice, and the common good, it is also beneath the dignity of the Church to stand on the law. We may use the law for our apostolic ends, but as Church we don't strut the law; we don't circle the wagons around clever legal arguments or manipulate the law to our advantage against people we've injured, no matter how greedy they and their lawyers may be. It just looks ridiculous. The job of church lawyers is to render smooth legal representation of the Church in the courts and to ensure our clergy are honorably upholding and complying with the law, always conscientious that their client is not just any organizational client; anything more adversarial than that, the Church assumes the mind of Wall Street and Walmart.

St. Thomas More understood that the law stops at the water's edge and the rest is fidelity to Mother Church unto death. He didn't lobby for legislative reforms or public sympathy or rope in innocent third parties as a buffer - again, he was innocent of wrongdoing but fictitiously guilty of treachery against the King. Meanwhile our bishops are guilty of considerable wrongdoing but essentially immune from criminal prosecution and still they're complaining about state laws that seek to liquidate their financial assets in order to make some restitution and retribution for unfathomable destruction of souls conducted in the name of the Church. I really don't understand where we get the nerve.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

If the Church is our Mother

...then this really does capture the "Spirit of V2" church:
Here is what one of her [Alice Thomas Ellis'] characters says about the post–Vatican II Church: “It is as though . . . one’s revered, dignified and darling old mother had slapped on a mini-skirt and fishnet tights and started ogling strangers. A kind of menopausal madness, a sudden yearning to be attractive to all. It is tragic and hilarious and awfully embarrassing.”
Which is a witty variation on the "She might be a whore, but she's our Mother" ecclesiology. From First Things' On the Square by Marian Crowe on the Catholic Novel in England.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bellas and whistles

Barbara Nicolosi, the de facto dean of Catholic film arts in America, strips off all the hype surrounding Bella, and even questions its pro-life bonafides [gasp].
Could you ever see us pro-lifers being heart-warmed and won over by a subtly pro-choice film, you know, and kind of not see that it is undermining our world-view? And aren't pro-choice people minimally as smart as we are? You're damn right they are. So, regardless of what is being said, this movie is not strongly pro-life. It doesn't represent common-ground. It just takes a very complex, divisive social issue and handles it, well, sloppily enough that neither side in the argument knows exactly what case is being made. I don't even think it is pro-adoption as some have claimed. If it was, then the bookend at the beginning would have Jose looking somewhat healed after five years with the child. As it is, he looks like a pedophile who hasn't moved an inch from the last time we saw him. If it is supposed to be "pro-adoption," it's just sadly sloppy.
The underlying lesson here is what draws my interest to this story, that of American Catholicism's shallow aesthetic sense, which infects both liberals and conservatives alike. Ideology destroys aesthetics. And it's because the pro-life movement has become so ideologized that pro-choice ethics can still look so half-reasonable to so many people. It all comes back to Liturgy. Sloppy lex orandi leads to sloppy lex credendi leads to sloppy art, politics, morals, you name it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ecumenism vs. the Ecumenical Movement

...just like there's Vatican II vs the "Spirit of Vatican II." Ochlophobist explains why the "ecumenical movement," as it has been expressed in the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the legions of joint commissions, and all so-called "interdenominational" orgs, is dead. He's not singing any Panikhidas for this corpse though. Memory infernal, in fact:
No serious Orthodox theologian or bishop ever went to a WCC meeting expecting to learn something true which Orthodoxy lacked, and then come home and teach the flock, "you know, we need to start doing (or believing) this..." That being the case, the only person who could still believe that the WCC was actually for the unification of the different sects and Churches would be that person who believed that all the groups actually believed the same thing, or that none of them believed anything that was not in some fashion negotiable (such people believing such things do exist). The WCC ended up a self-righteous bureaucracy that is functionally impotent. The NCC is a political propaganda machine, a fact which even most on the theological left admit, and it remains solvent only through the financial support of groups that have no interest in ecumenism, that are not even churches at all but political groups - and every player in the current and former NCC scene knows as much.
On a simple fact that Catholic apologists refuse to honestly address:
We [the Orthodox] have very, very, few bishops who speak grave theological error in public, and this is in part because we take hierarchical order so seriously. Make fun of us as you will, we prefer disputes over who stands where in line to all of our bishops holding hands in a circle while each pursues his own particular theological, liturgical, and sociological agendas.
On the naivete of the current "reunification" pipe-dream in fashion in RC circles:
If the RCC returns to Tradition, it will be the work of the Holy Spirit, which is generally subversive, confronts banality at every turn, and is frequently almost absurd. This does not happen through meetings of high ranking ecclesial Tradition consultants. Many Orthodox (and not a few Catholics) think that a dose of Orthodox Tradition could fix some of the serious problems in the RCC. It simply does not work that way. Even more overt, perhaps, is the belief that the Papacy will fix the problems of the EOC. If we reunited with the RCC, especially under the terms that Catholic friend Mike Liccione suggests, there would still be Orthodox bishops walking out of rooms when other Orthodox bishops walked in. If the Pope tried to arbitrate between them simply as the authority, the losing side (and there would be a losing side) would in most cases go into schism and reunite with those Orthodox Churches which never joined with Rome in the first place.
On the iron cage of dialecticism in the West:
It is worth noting that Christ, as the Gospels well show, refuses dialectic at every turn, and especially at the most brutal turn. He does not defeat Death by Life. He defeats Death by death. He refuses to enter into a relationship of necessary conflict even with death. Because of this, death is destroyed, as Death had set itself up in a necessary dialectic with Life. Life refused to honor a necessary conflict, and thus we have the situation where Life itself goes to Death, and the bargains Death makes, those petty existential resolutions made between life and death, are now pointless. Death is thereby overcome, and there is no Death, now only Life. Christ honors no determinism, He accepts no terms but those the Father has given. There is no synthesis of necessary conflicts, there is only Christ, all in all. The reconciliation of Christ is that of bringing persons who have in reality embraced irresolvable futility (perhaps seeking dialectic resolution), turning them in the opposite direction (repentance, as opposed to progressive movement towards dialectic resolution), and having their lives recapitulated in Christ.
The only authentic ecumenism:
We should hold no hope in programs or schools, including ecumenism, but we should cultivate real things, such as friendship....the most significant shared relationship that Christians of different traditions can have with one another is a relationship of shared suffering....It seems to me that those Christians who are serious about unity are those who suffer in the Name of Christ. If the state or Islam or some other foe is not attacking us at the moment, let us outdo one another in our voluntary sufferings for Christ - serious prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Let us give up our vain attempts at projects and schoolings, and give ourselves over to be recapitulated into the Man who emptied Himself. There is our only unity.
There's really too much to blockquote. Just read it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cardinal Daneels at CUA

American Papist has a fine summary of the lecture delivered yesterday by Cardinal Daneels of Belgium on Catholic liturgy 40 years after Sacrosanctum Concilium. One point which particularly warmed me heart:
The presider is crucial to the praxis of liturgy. The presider must be humble. He must not look at his homily as the "high point" of the Mass. So too, an equal portion of time (at least) must be given to the liturgy of the Eucharist as to the liturgy of the Word.
An ancillary point His Eminence made was that liturgy is ultimately not a theatrical performance, which ruffled one priest's thespian feathers and became the subject of the 2nd Q&A. He apparently did not appreciate the way Daneels's praise of humility denigrated the uplifting contribution a little theatricality can make to worship. He waxed on about once witnessing at Mass the "most profound bow" he had ever seen which he claims inspired reverence in the people. I rolled my eyes: give me a break - if I wanted to see profound bows, I'd hang out more with my Japanese or Korean friends who really know how to do it. I thought the priest's comments proved Daneels' point that once the Mass is no longer centered in Christ who IS the divine-human nexus, the true spirit of the liturgy is lost (not his words).

Drama queens in liturgy deceptively draw attention away from Christ to themselves or to some experience extrinsic or incidental to the Mass. They invariably fetishize and eroticize individual liturgical acts; they inflate the subjective experiential dimension of "reverence" which effectively distorts liturgy. The priest also egotistically suggested that just because he was once an actor/performer, his former occupation needs to be validated at the altar and thrust upon the congregants. It's this "Sheilaism" that has ruined so many Catholic liturgies. (Forget bad liturgy, it's bad acting as well.) Daneels however had already made the important point in his lecture that the celebrant should "almost become invisible," which I even found a bit extreme. (I thought "translucent" or "iconic" would have been more accurate.)

There's a huge difference between liturgical reverence that is manufactured out of self-assertion and liturgical reverence that effortlessly emanates out of kenosis. I only wish Daneels had stuck to his guns and confronted this obviously heterodox priest. Instead, he responded weakly by conceding how the West has different cultural attitudes towards what is reverent (I think he really was getting tired at that point).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Free marketplace of ideas what the university loves to pride itself as being. What happens when the ivory towers of the West tire of the quest for Truth and marriage to Reason? This.
Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu says he will not accept an invitation to speak at the University of St. Thomas unless a demoted professor is reinstated as director of the university's peace and justice studies program.

"I will make an acceptance on my part dependent on your reinstatement and the clearing of your file," the Anglican archbishop wrote to Cris Toffolo, who was dismissed from her position on Aug. 1 following a dispute over whether Tutu should be invited to speak at the St. Paul campus.
Academic speaking engagements as political ping-pong, or as the Chinese say, ping-pong.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Faith in the Halls of Power

Fascinating new OUP (Oxford U Press) blog by Prof. D. Michael Lindsay of Rice U. (sociology). His new book, Faith in the Halls of Power, takes an insider's look at the new generation of "cosmopolitan evangelicals" that are being trained in our elite institutions and appointed to positions of great power, a phenomenon mostly ignored by the MSM because it religiously restricts its evie diet to the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells. Lindsay relies primarily on Barbara Walter-styled interviews with CEOs, megachurch pastors, Beltway mavens, Hollywood bohemians, and entrepreneurs to reveal a very hip and "with-it" evangelical substratum.

While I find it all fascinating, I'm also deeply skeptical of evangelicalism's capacity to really make a lasting Christian mark on our postmodern society. Its ecclesiological integrity is too thin to take a soaking from secular utilitarianism and technocracy, such that every attempt to be "in the world" invariably leads to becoming more "of it." I still have trouble distinguishing most of evangelicalism from American self-help Gnosticism and Lindsay's book doesn't seem to do much to disspell my harsh opinion. Lindsay's blog is full of quaint anecdotes of the many ways that evangelicals are making their voice heard -- but they're just too quaint, almost too cute, to take seriously. The resurgent evangelicalism that Lindsay presents is primarily subcultural identity politics, full of vague privatized spirituality and "values," devoid of religious substance.

Take for example his interview with this evangelical exec:
One of my favorite stories was I interviewed Debra Waller, she’s the CEO of Jockey underwear. And we met here in New York in their showroom where they bring buyers in. And the room is plastered with larger-than-life photo shoots from their advertising. And I don’t know if you’ve seen underwear advertising recently, but it’s got a lot of flesh in it. And I told her I had never given an interview surrounded by so much flesh, it was rather distracting. And so we were talking about advertising, and I said, “You know, what difference does your faith make in how you advertise, or does it make any difference?” And she told me an interesting story. Jockey is something that she has been involved with for a long time, and she said, “You know, I wanted my faith to have some kind of involvement in our advertising decisions, or our spokespersons, and who represented the company.” And so she made a decision a number of years ago that if they had a picture with a man and a woman that was in the same photo shoot that they would be wearing wedding bands. And she said, “You know, that’s not something that’s necessarily hitting them over the head with the Bible, or anything like that, but it is a way in which I sort of try to encourage that there is a norm where we’re not trying to say this is the most promiscuous thing that we can do.” And she said, “We don’t have models who are twisted together like pretzels.” She alluded to a couple of other advertisers which I won’t mention.
A kindler, gentler Bible-thumping, all fine and dandy, but there's a certain fey and naive pretentiousness here that seems quite common among the evangelicals I've known.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The problem of "magisterialism"

A fine piece by Fr. Ripperger of the FSSP seminary in Nebraska, on the distinction between traditionalists and neo-conservative Catholics:
Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking i.e. the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium. Traditionalists, as a general rule, tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about some aspects of current magisterial teachings which seem to contradict the previous magisterium (e.g. the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current magisterium as their norm but Scripture(41), intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking. This is what distinguishes traditionalists and neo-conservatives i.e. their perspectives regarding the role of ecclesiastical tradition and how the current magisterium relates to it.
My only gripe is that Fr. Ripperger's analysis doesn't go far enough; he doesn't root the problem of magisterialism in our collective abandonment of the fourth note of the Church: apostolicity. In fact, he seems to take for granted how the Catholic Church has largely reduced "apostolicity" itself to a positivistic attribute, a quasi-magical and mechanical passing down from bishop to bishop of that precious lump of ecclesiastical authority. Apostolicity, however, is, more broadly, the mens ecclesiae which he speaks of. Furthermore, he doesn't address the way "traditionalist Catholicism" has its own problems with amnesia by paying little more than lip service to the first millennium of undivided Catholic Christianity and hence has no sense of a shared apostolicity with the other ancient churches of the East and Orient. Finally there's no confrontation with the way our doctrines on the papacy (particularly its juridical aggrandizement) have been interpreted and applied to contribute to the magisterial positivism he so reviles.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Virile and strong chant

From Sandro Magister of La Chiesa thru Amy:
There’s still much to do to bring back to life in St. Peter’s what was, in ancient times, the Cappella Giulia – the choir specifically founded for the basilica – and to revive the splendors of the Roman musical style, a style in which the sacred polyphony pioneered by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Gregorian chant, also sung in the Roman manner (virile and strong, not like the monastic models inspired by Solesmes), alternate and enrich each other.

But there has been a new beginning. And Benedict XVI wanted to tell the chapter that this is the right path.
Amen! I wish more traddies would not just drool over anything that's not Haugen/Haas but realize how so much of that crap shares the same DNA with the gooey, effete chanting of Solesmes. And enough already with the meme that Gregorian chant is the be-all of Roman liturgy.

What remains lacking is a confrontation with the root causes of the problem. This current "restorationist" mode we're seeing under Benedict could be just that: a swing, a phase based on nothing more than papal whims. Liturgical norms become analogous to the weather: if you don't like them, just wait till the winds change. This would only invite the next ambitious pope to foist his own tastes on the rest of us. Catholics have yet to dig themselves out of the hole that reduces Liturgy to a voluntaristic exercise of papal authority in dialectic tension with the will to power of local liturgists. Unfortunately, most of Western liturgy is still stuck in the logic of power analysis.

RCC-EOC reunification proposals

Read Mike Liccione's here. Ad Orientem comments here:
But the bottom line is this… If Vatican I is not heresy, we Orthodox have no business doing anything other than kneeling in front of the Pope and kissing his ring. And the Pope has no need or legitimate reason for not exercising his universal jurisdiction throughout The Church. If God gave him the authority it was not done with a view to only using it in the West. And if Vatican I is heresy, then Orthodoxy must never ever under any circumstances compromise with it. Whatever failings I have (and they are legion) I am not a relativist. Any attempted compromise in a matter of Truth is a recipe for disaster. It is the foundation for another Florence. As Owen the Ochlophobist once observed in one of his more memorable quotes (I paraphrase) 'In order for communion between Rome and Orthodoxy to be restored, one or the other must cease to exist.' Either Rome is right or we are.

Those are not comfortable words. But there it is.
Oh, East, have a heart. Rome's still struggling to shake off the burden of its barbarian infiltration. And where were you during the era of Byzantine glory? You basically left Rome, the seat of Sts. Peter and Paul's martyrdoms, to shrivel into an outpost in the Gothic sticks. Why didn't the emperor convene a council to stop the Western slide towards theological Gomorrah? Of course, it's not that simple, but Rome is more frequently seen as perpetrator than victim, when, as we now know from criminal sociology, the two types are usually flip sides of each other.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Are there closets in heaven?"

More Catholic Babel over sexuality in the Church of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

I'm becoming more convinced that Pat Buchanan is right: we are an "infantile nation," which makes AmChurch an infantile religion. Look, it's all quite simple in a way and really doesn't demand all the adolescent blood, sweat, and tears that people are pouring into the sexuality wars. Here it goes: we are far, far more than our sexuality. That's pretty much it.

Yes, sexuality is a critical aspect of our human nature. But it's extraordinarily complex (and therein lies its simplicity). It cannot be reduced to biology/genetics on the one hand, or individual choice on the other, nor is it just social/cultural conditioning. Why can't it be a multivariate thing or a "mystery," as is everything else that's truly human? I really don't see how this is a controvertible point at least from a Catholic POV.

Sexuality is but one dimension of our individuality. It is NOT identical with the self, personhood, or one's identity. Therefore there is no such thing as a "homosexual" or a "heterosexual," ontologically speaking. Humans have the capacity to reduce themselves to one dimension of their appetites, as in the case of over/undereating, but few would accept that individuals are reducible to their eating habits and inclinations. I may be a bulimic, but that's just one part of who I am, and not a very good part at that. It's not just eating, we do it with our political ideologies, ethnicities, families, anything appetitive.

Eros is poorly understood in American culture. Rather than seeing the erotic in all dimensions of our humanity, we've fragmented, demonized, reified, ontologized, and fetishized it. As Catholics, we should have no problem admitting that the erotic underlies all intimate human relationships, including those between family members, friends of the same sex, even between ourselves and Christ. Eros does not mean sexual, coital, or erogenous, though they all are clearly dimensions of it. Eros is also expressed through our food, our music and arts, through our liturgies and prayers. It's a good thing in and of itself. We'd save ourselves a lot of trouble if we created a culture that celebrated a healthy sense of eros in which we can admit same-sex attraction without automatically fearing the onset of sex, with all its naughtiness and eroticism. Same-sex attraction needs a culture that isn't afraid of it and thus can properly guide, mold, and sanctify it. We don't live in that culture unfortunately. When bishops and priests play right into this "Dignity" game, they're capitulating to this radically eros-phobic culture's terms. They're no longer true shepherds but wolves in sheep's clothing.

There's nothing in the sexual teachings of the Church that exempts heterosexual behavior from the judgments laid upon homosexual behavior. If I have any complaint with the Church's predominant magisterial and pastoral approach to homosexuality, it's in the way its communicators have made homosexuality out to be a special case, something ontologically different from heterosexuality. In so doing it buys into the world's definitions of what eros is. But sin has corrupted eros in human sexuality, all of it, which therefore needs redemption and deification. To obsess over sexual orientation (or the silly issue of which gender in general really turns your erogenous zones on) is a myopia that's causing so much of this distracting and foolish sturm und drang we call sexual politics.

Church teachers on sexuality need to tie together more explicitly how pornography, sex addiction, adultery, masturbation, fornication, pederasty, pedo/ephebophilia, sodomy, etc. are all of a piece in the mind of the Church; they're all distortions and perversions of human eros. Whether heterosexuals are committing them or homosexuals are committing them is really a secondary issue, if one at all. In this sense, "homoes" aren't all that different from "heteroes."

Things get really messy when gays demand that the Church not just accept them as sinners like all the rest of us, but their hypersexualized anthropology (sexuality-is-identity). And the Church rightly rejects this anthropological doctrine, which derives mostly from the same victimization culture that demands America view blacks as ontologically victimized blacks first and foremost. This anthropology is just as, if not more, dehumanizing as homosexual acts themselves. The evilness of homosexual acts derives from this demonic anthropology. So I refuse to look at my self-proclaimed gay, straight, bi, or whatever friend as a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation doesn't even have the same ontological density that race/ethnicity does because it is far less determined by genetics than skin color, and the Church doesn't even grant skin color ontological status.

The Church ultimately calls us to one sexual orientation: spouse-sexuality, not heterosexuality per se. I'm not supposed to be attracted to every member of the opposite sex. Rather my sexuality must be oriented, expressed, trained, and sanctified towards my spouse exclusively, whether that be a wife, husband, parish, diocese, Christ, apostolate, or mission. But being a "spousesexual" is not normlessly determined by individual will and desire, nor is it primarily a "pelvic" matter. Like everything else it must conform to natural and divine law. Hence, the otherness of human gender is implicated and requires that spouses be Other to each other. Homosexual unions cannot be spouses in any Christian sense because they deny the otherness of gender, which is carved no less into our very DNA and our theological origins as male and female. If the Logos did not think human gender mattered, it would have assumed hermaphroditic flesh or angelic androgyny.

In conclusion, is homosexuality disordered? Yes, no less than heterosexuality in the modern world is, but differently nonetheless. We go off the rails once we start differentiating sexual heresies quantitatively, rather than theologically. Too many Catholics think the Church teaches homosexuality to be more sinful than heterosexuality, as if sin operated on a scale of one to ten. The Catholic gay agenda is warped for its anthropological heresy. The hyper/pan/heterosexed culture we live in is warped for its denial of eros and ascesis. Are there "closets in heaven?" Of course not, but heaven is redeemed, deified eros. Only the most grotesquely childish, infantile religion would suggest heaven is a place where we get to freely express our sexual deviancies like finger paint.

Catholics who have same-sex orientation definitely have a difficult cross to bear, one I dare not suppose comprehension, but so do porn addicts and pedophiles (calm down, stop being defensive; of course they're not morally equivalent, for what it's worth). Sexual orientation is no more and no less under the jurisdiction of individual will. Therefore, to speak of SSA simply as a matter of choice on the one hand or determinism of any kind on the other is ridiculous. Redemption is never just about individual choice or will. It is a participation in the divine energies of Christ. It is a battle in which holy ascesis and virtue determine victory and defeat. But any Catholicism that plays to the gay agenda is a clear path to disaster and theological suicide.

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Orthodox balm for Europe

...and for Western Christianity, particularly Catholicism. From Christian Science Monitor:
With the exception of Greece, this sad legacy has made Western Europeans notoriously slow to accept countries with large Orthodox populations into pan-European institutions. In the current expansion eastward, however, it is inevitable that the values and mores of European institutions and alliances will be shaped more and more by the traditionalist views of Orthodox Christian believers and less and less by the modern, secularized Protestant assumptions of Western European democracies. Orthodox believers already far outnumber Protestants across Europe, and by some estimates they may eventually even surpass Roman Catholics. If 21st-century Europe ever develops a religious complexion, it will be predominantly Eastern Orthodox.
Amin, amin.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More liberal high dudgeon

Michael Perry needs a break:
Give me a break!

In response to Kenneth Slattery, C.M. (here), who is no doubt a good man, those of who who believe that contraceptive intercourse is *not* immoral are at least--at least!--as warranted in calling those who believe that contraceptive intercourse is immoral "invincibly ignorant" as Kenneth Slattery is in calling us invincibly ignorant. My God, why can't we just accept that there is room for reasonable disagreement here?
Who's the one having difficulty accepting that there is room for reasonable disagreement here?

Taiwanese appointed to Pontifical Academy of Sciences

One of the few international arenas where Taiwanese can still function relatively free from the meddling of the Mainlanders. It might not be much from a secular perspective, but for Taiwanese-American Catholics (all ten of us), it's proud moment.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI appointed two new members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. They are Klaus von Klitzing, professor of physics at the Max-Planck-Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgard (Germany), and Yuan-Tseh Lee, professor of chemistry and president of the Academia Sinica in Taipei.

Yuan Tseh Lee was born on November 19, 1936, in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and earned a B.Sc. in 1959 from the National Taiwan University. After a M.Sc. from the National Tsing Hua University, he moved to the United States where he got a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965. As a post-doctoral student he began experiments on reactive scattering in ionic-molecular reaction.

In 1968 he became assistant professor at the University of Chicago, which in a few years became an important centre for the study of crossed molecular beams.

In 1974, he returned to Berkeley as professor of chemistry. Here he pursued his research into various primary photochemical processes and the spectroscopy of ionic and molecular clusters.

In 1994 he retired as professor and principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC-Berkeley, and was appointed president of Taiwan’s Academia Sinica

In 2006 he became President Emeritus and Distinguished Research Fellow.

Professor Lee was also awarded many international prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1986.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

After Asceticism & Bankruptcy

There's something wonderfully apt and ironic about dioceses filing for "bankruptcy." Bishops appeal to the mercy of the State, requesting absolution and salvation, by putting on the sackcloth of Chapter 11 of the Gospel According to Civil Bankruptcy. Woe's me, I am financially (but not morally or spiritually) bankrupt! Grant me mercy from the onslaught of judgment creditors, o thou great bankruptcy judge! It's divine comedy.

Has anyone in the American Church read the Linacre Institute's study, After Asceticism, on the deeper disciplinary and formation issues that conditioned the pedophile priest scandal? It doesn't seem like it, from Bishop Brom of San Diego's latest diocesan appeal, which asks priests to "donate" a month's salary and extends a "personal invitation" to the laity to contribute generously to a fund for "compassionate outreach to our brothers and sisters who have suffered sexual abuse within the family of the Church." Did earlier Christians ever "donate" anything to the Church? We used to use the language of alms, tithes, indulgences, penance; today it's tax-deductible donations and invitations.

More Oprah-esque therapeutic-bureaucratic claptrap that has come to be the hallmark of USCCB lingo. Total absence of language from the Catholic tradition. Zero ascesis. Why should anyone "donate" a dime to a hierarchy that looks to public relations science and the legal system for solutions rather than its own 2000-yr old traditions which it either callously ignores or contemptuously spurns. Where's the pentitential and sacramental framework for all this? Where's the soul-searching for the root spiritual causes of the scandal? I only hear about bankruptcy proceedings (legal), zero-tolerance policies (bureaucratic), compassion and forgiveness (therapeutic).

The "spirit of Vatican II" which suffeuses Bishop Brom's letter demonstrates how little the Catholic hierarchy has learned from the scandal. Too much of our clergy are functional atheists who slurp and swig language as if it were a smoothie, when it's not. Truth-language emanates out of the logos of God, and without a recognition of this dimension of episcopal authority, their statements have the roar of papers nervously shuffling.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Exegeting SCOTUS

David B. Hart, "The Pornography Culture," The New Atlantis, shows us how the theologian-cultural critic can relativize and contextualize constitutional jurisprudence without looking like a Con law dilettante:
We have, as a society, long accepted the legal fiction that we are incapable of even that minimal prudential wisdom necessary to distinguish speech or art worthy of protection from the most debased products of the imagination, and so have become content to rely upon the abstract promise of free speech as our only sure defense against the lure of authoritarianism. And perhaps, at this juncture in cultural history, this lack of judgment is no longer really a fiction.
This is why I profess so little interest in the question of the constitutionality of COPA [Child Online Protection Act]; the more interesting question, it seems to me, concerns what sort of society we have succeeded in creating if the conclusions we draw from the fundamental principles of our republic oblige us to defend pornographers’ access to a medium as pervasive, porous, complex, and malleable as the Internet against laws intended to protect children.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ad Orientem - not just a liturgical rubric

From Daniel Greeson's blog, The Way of a Pilgrim
“Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world… The ‘old polemical theology’ has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western ‘textbooks.’ A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new ‘polemical theology.’ But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.” - Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology II, pp. 302-304
We've all witnessed how easy it is these days for "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics to be more attached to their secular ideological bedpartners than to Catholicism. It's telling that the term "Catholicism" is becoming ever more difficult to utter without any modifiers. Even among "traditionalist" Catholics, the tendency to read Catholicism with all the polemical imbalance of a hyper-Tridentine mindset/aesthetic continues to distort our ancient faith as much as it defends against the invasive heresies du jour.

But let us admit that the travesty of the Episcopal Church USA is just a canary in the coal mine that is Western Christianity (whose mother is the Church of Rome), that the liturgical and spiritual chaos arising in the aftermath of Vatican II shares a common pathology with the nihilistic mockeries of Christianity in modern aesthetics and rationality. Amidst the confusion of what is truly Catholic (not just in terms of propositional faith and morals but phronema), I'm becoming more convinced that Orthodoxy's the only thing left that can help us find our way back to the Church of the Martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul - truly Western, truly Apostolic.

So "ad orientem" is not just a sound rubric for our Masses, but consistent with the lex orandi, lex credendi principle, it signifies the only future and hope for contemporary Catholic theology. The familiar Catholic megaphone needs to also be a satellite dish pointed east, tuned to the long-lost voices of the Fathers (besides selective bits of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas). Along with Fr. Florovsky's commendation of Orthodoxy's witness, it remains up to Catholics to figure out how to reconcile our doctrinal and liturgical "developments" since the Carolingian era (pace Newman) with the mind of the Apostolic Churches. It's the only way V2's aggiornamento and novus habitus mentis can be interpreted without dissolving into the nothingness of the modern world.

Liberals love to talk about "active participation" of the laity; listening to the Eastern Churches would be a new, constructive start, especially seeing how stalled discourse between left and right currently stands. It's the only ecumenism that matters today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Classic Neuhaus

From his column in the latest First Things issue
I see Garry Wills has a new book out, What Jesus Meant. It purports to explain what Jesus meant to say and no doubt would have said had he the advantage of being Garry Wills.
And this on the ECUSA priestess who has publicly embraced her inner Muslim:
In any case, the lady in Seattle said it all. Of her simultaneous adherence to Christianity and Islam she commented: “It wasn’t about intellect. All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.” It wasn’t about intellect. This is a journal of ideas and it is beyond our competence to comment on a person who says she has no idea what she is doing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Liturgical Lace or Lingerie?

The MP seems to have created a bull market for lace these days. But the reform of the reform will not be complete until we eliminate the liturgical lingerie that bedecks our supposedly male clergy. I really cannot comprehend how the Triddies drool over all the negligees and peignoir that pass for vestments, and yet expect to combat the gaying of our clergy. Lace should only be permitted as a trim no wider than a couple of inches. And if it must be wider than that, it absolutely CANNOT be sheer, which is what really gives our clergy that Baroque-transvestite look. It's particularly perverted when we force our little altar boys to dress up in those girly outfits. Makes you wonder about the role of lace in the ephebo/pedophile cases.

Exhibit A: this obscenity to the right here even has the little dainty satin bow and a plunging neckline for our viewing pleasure. Get yours at Victoria's Sacristy.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Scripture & CLT

Prof. Rob Vischer has been hanging with the evangelicals and wonders aloud why Catholic Legal Theory does so little to incorporate Scripture. I wonder in response, why should it? CLT is not a theological discipline but a rarefied hybrid field that works off the distillation of Catholic teaching and practice. To expect Scripture to provide direct guidance or insight into specific aspects of secular law is to demand too much and too little of it -- too much in that Scripture is not primarily a rulebook or answer key to legal/political problems; too little in that Scripture is diminished when it's mined for anything but liturgical formation.

Along with all the apostolic churches, Catholicism requires that Scripture be read and interpreted liturgically. Only out of the Liturgy, that is, prayer of one mind with the Tradition, can the Bible be understood properly. Moral and legal insights can only be gleaned from Scripture through Liturgy. It makes sense that evangelicals, in mostly ignoring this critical principle, would misuse Scripture by presuming it has some direct, practical "application" to the law, which just opens the door to all sorts of ideological invasions and proof-texting flights of fancy.

Tridentine Vernacular

Ad Orientem has posted an excerpt from Fr. Stanley Harakas on the confusion in both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches over the ancient liturgical tongues.
But there is a rub in all this for the Orthodox. Though we use many different languages in our worship, Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Romanian and other traditional languages, for many Orthodox these function just like Latin does for the Roman Catholics. It is the language, precisely because it is not understood, because it is exotic, and because of the lack of understanding, that carries for many people the sense of the holy, and not what actually is said and done in worship! Language becomes a barrier to true worship, that is, worship that invites the Orthodox Christian to say with St. Paul "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also."
I still have yet to hear a traditionalist Catholic explain why V2 couldn't have simply vernacularized the Tridentine Mass. It eludes me how a Tridentine Mass in Douay-Rheims English could possibly be inferior in any way to the stripped-down Pauline Mass. I would disagree with Harakas's suggestion that the old, non-vernacular liturgical tongue possesses no spiritual value for the synaxis, but I would agree that too many traditionalists in the apostolic churches make a fetish out of the ancient languages. The real issue is whether the language we use in our liturgy connects and binds us to the fullness of the Faith in unity, and Latin achieves this probably better than all the rest, but the rationale gets flipped on its head when defense of Latin becomes its own proxy for doctrinal orthodoxy.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Of shorts and men

Todd Aglialoro's piece in Crisis on "The New Catholic Manliness" has been met with many head nods from all about St. Blogs. So why are Catholic men so consistently and abundantly wearing shorts to Mass? Nothing represents the suburbanization heresy, and its invariable devolution into consumerist effeminacy, more than men in shorts at Mass. Today at the noon choir Mass at the Shrine, by my sampling at least 1/3 of the men decided that their Sunday best included showing off their legs. Of course, the declension rule for intergenerational Mass dress thereby gives their sons license to dress like slobs. Some fifty-something chump had it in him to ascend the altar steps and present the offertory gifts in those ubiquitous khaki shorts and white sneakers for our viewing pleasure. I wanted to take the offering basket-on-a-stick to his bare backthighs.

But wait, how superficial of me. Jesus doesn't care about how we dress but how we love our neighbor.... But that's not really the issue, is it? The issue is what kind of man would willingly be caught dead sporting preppie shorts in a sanctuary of the Catholic Church.

That we need our bishops to formally prohibit what is patently offensive dress at Mass is yet another sign of the impotence of our post-V2 catechesis against the culture of adolescence in the Western church. What, do we need another motu proprio?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Who has title to the Apostolic Tradition?

The Whappsters have some clippings of Sacrosanctum Concilium and this one deserves inclusion in the sacramentary in some form.
For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth "the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church" (13).
Why is the rhetoric of our canons often so much more prayerful and theologically rich than our V2 prayers (or their translations) themselves? This is another point the Orthodox remind us of and actually practice: prayer first, official rulings second. Official doctrinal statements may reinforce and guide prayer, but the treasures of our apostolic faith should be stored in the prayers themselves; doctrinal pronouncements are merely the Church's ecclesiastical (legal) instruments that protect title in those treasures.

Speaking of title, all that the motu proprio does essentially is quiet title after an adverse possession. Modernist bishops in the Church had roped off everything predating V2, telling us no one is allowed to come onto that parcel of land without their permission. Well, that didn't stop the SSPX, who went ahead to trespass and occupy it hostilely, openly and notoriously, actually, exclusively, and continuously. Nor did it stop their less seditious cousins who followed the rules but argued all along that they had been unjustly ousted and that the bishops had wrongfully appropriated exclusive title to themselves for land that belonged to all the faithful.

So I like the descriptions of Summorum Ponticum as a "liberalizing" act because it 1) restores some worth to the term "liberal," after its many decades of corrosion and perversion by Liberals and 2) truly does give our Apostolic inheritance back to the laity, which raises the analogy of testamentary challenges, subject for another day perhaps. In the meantime, we can enjoy the recognition by our court of highest earthly appeal that apostolicity in liturgy remains one of the notes of the Catholic Church. The Church Militant retains a life tenancy in that tradition, which means the doctrine of waste must be applied to determine its duties to the grantor (Christ) and remainderman (the Church Triumphant)...or something like that. Back to bar review.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Best Argument against DVC

and all the other Gnostic Gospel crackpots, not to mention torture. From Frederica Mathewes-Green retelling stories of Romanian persecution of Orthodox clergy:
One way guards particularly taunted Christians was by telling them that Christ and Mary Magdalene had had a sexual relationship. Fr. Roman noted, laughing, that in Romania this constituted torture, but in America people line up to pay for it in movies and books (“Here in the land of so-called freedom—I am not so sure you are free.”)

Sunday, June 24, 2007


I, and most proud Catholics, have reason to fear a blogger who puts out lines like:

In a nation with this many manicured lawns, abortion is a necessity.

Any Christian should know that nothing moral is determined by the majority, and, in fact, the majority qua majority is nearly always immoral.

I was simply unable to pray at RC masses, both conservative and liberal, traditional and novus ordo.

Liturgical recapitulation, not revolution

Fr. Martin Fox has some parting thoughts on the annual Sacred Music Colloquium at CUA:
Why should we rekindle and bring back out the treasures of chant and polyphony? Because it is part of who we are, because it expresses the faith so well, because -- as music specifically composed for the Mass -- it conveys something special, and above all, because it is beautiful.

The Sacred Liturgy must be beautiful.
Beautiful, but not pretty or fancy. Not that Fr. Fox is saying otherwise. But I'm finding in a lot of wealthier Catholic parishes the mentality that the duty to liturgical Tradition is fulfilled by having virtuosic polyphony sung by professional choirs and well-polished organ blaring away. This always comes off to me as Anglican-lite. I've noticed this off-putting aesthetic both at the Roman Catholic St. Matthew's Cathedral and the Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception here in DC. I think it's the cross-town osmotic effect of the ECUSA-run National Cathedral, as well as the general federal, Beltway snootiness that infects the Archdiocese of Washington. True Christian Beauty, as any Balthasarian will tell you, cannot be self-referential or performance-oriented at all; it must rather be screaming the Truth and the Good with every inch and beat of its existence. So while the pretty fancy liturgies at many Catholic parishes are a welcome change from the folk liturgical mockeries, we've still many miles to go before we can sleep in these liturgy wars.
This doesn't mean only chant and polyphony; but it does mean these must not be excluded. On the contary, the Church, at the highest level, teaches they merit "pride of place" (particularly chant).
The modernist spirit of the post-V2 era was so wrong to think that liturgical innovation or development could occur by the logic of revolution. Revolution abandons the past, and deems it unworthy of even a moment's pause much less a drink. Development, in the Catholic sense, however requires immersion in and internalization of the Tradition before anything new under the sun can emerge. That means we sip, slurp, swirl, swish, and swig the Tradition down deep into our bellies before we try the new stuff. Why? Because instead of the law of revolution, our Lord gave us the law of recapitulation. Yeah, it's not just a soteriological concept.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Knowing God

From Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog:
In a conversation with the Abbot, she asks some questions about a passage in Maximus the Confessor. The Abbot reacts with alarm, “You’ve been reading the Fathers?” She replies in the affirmative. He is concerned that she may have done herself damage. “You should never read more hours in a day than you pray,” was his admonition.
I have known brilliant men and women, with degrees from very prestigious institutions, indeed with degrees in various forms of religious disciplines, whose knowledge of God was less than my average catechumen, but whose very “knowledge” reduced the possibility of discovering their ignorance and coming to a knowledge of the truth. Again, knowledge that is not accompanied by ascesis is dangerous - no matter whether the knowledge is of an academic character or of a mystical character. We cannot know God and at the same time not be like Him to some degree. Such conformity to His image is itself a result of such knowledge. It is for this reason that the Scriptures tell us that “by their fruit you shall know them.” If someone
claims knowledge of God, but his life is not in conformity with the commandments of Christ, then we know that what we are hearing is largely delusional in character.
Much of modern Pentecostal and Charismatic teaching has offered false information on religious experience to an audience of Americans who wants everything. Too often we want the interior life of Mother Teresa and all of the shoes of Imelda Marcos. It just doesn’t work like that.

The story is told in the Lives of the Desert Fathers that one of the Fathers was in prayer when the devil sought to trick him. A demon appeared in the cell of the monk (who was in prayer) and said, “I am the angel Gabriel sent from God.” Without looking up the monk replied, “You must be in the wrong cell. I am not worthy for an angel to visit me.” The demon disappeared, defeated by the humility of the monk.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Numbers game?

WaPo piece on the "art" of counting denominational membership:
Next month, Ascol [a Southern Baptist pastor] plans to bring a resolution to the denomination's annual meeting in San Antonio calling for "integrity in the way we regard our membership rolls in our churches and also in the way we report statistics."
Integrity? As in picking out who are the real Baptists? I always thought that was a job for the Great Thresher of Heaven. Everyone knows there is a big number gap between those who claim Catholicism as demographic identity marker and those who claim it as their personal all-encompassing faith. That seems to give Protestants cause to shake their heads at the way we inflate our numbers way beyond actual "practicing" Catholics. But what defines membership? The individuals who have privately marked the Church as their own or the Church's mark (or to be more accurate, seal) on the individual as one of its own? I'd say the latter is a far more fair and consistent measurement, both demographically and ecclesiologically.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


LA Times has the story on Cdl. Mahony's sale of the diocesan HQ building Apparently, if you sell parishes off, you're evil. If you avoid selling parishes and instead put chancery office space up on the auction block, you're still evil.
"The cardinal has instructed his attorneys to pull out every weapon to try to deny victims a single nickel," said plaintiffs attorney John Manly. He said the church has enough insurance coverage and other assets to settle the cases without unloading real estate. "The notion that the cardinal would have to sell buildings to pay settlements is just laughable," Manly said.
Mary Grant, Western regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday's announcement was "probably the first of several shrewd moves Mahony will make to claim poverty."
Everyone knows the LA Archdiocese is wealthy, as are all the metropolitan archdioceses; that's why no archdiocese has yet declared bankruptcy. Even if I think Mahony's scum, he's not crying poverty here; hopefully he's just privileging worship space over office space. Of course, the Catholic Church is very used to a secular society that refuses to see anything but evil in the Church. Plaintiffs should be aware that their attorneys' strategies are not helping their class in the long run. If bishops will always be publicly imputed the worst motives for everything they do, they're not getting much incentive to do the right thing. I just hope the bishops' awareness of this lose-lose situation doesn't disorient them and cause them to lose sight of the real Prize.

Excommunicate them anyway

From The Hill, through the Religion Clause blog on the 18 Catholic House members who are shameless enough to strut their skills at casting pebbles at the Pope for show:
“I’ve always thought also that those bishops and archbishops who for decades hid pederasts and are now being protected by the Vatican should be indicted,” said Catholic Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who spoke to reporters last week.
Since that has been tried by a bunch of state attorneys general and found legally unsupportable, Sen. Leahy must be advocating for a special law that ensures indictment, custom-fit for bishops who won't shut up about abortion. But as far as I know, he hasn't sought any new legislation (which would invariably be struck down as a bill of attainder). So he's just ranting for political theater. I happen to agree that there should be some way of exacting legal punishment for the bishops' negligence. But Leahy's cheap shots are just despicable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Obviously, Liberation Theology's social science has changed over the years. No more Marxist analysis. This is obviously a good thing, but I don't think jettisoning Marxist frameworks fundamentally changes the substance or significance of Liberation Theology. Marxism was never really essential to Liberation Theology, conservative critics notwithstanding. Liberation Theology is fundamentally a methodology: doing theology in light of concrete work with and on behalf of the poor. As long as theologians continue to engage in this reflection in light of liberating praxis, they will continue to produce theology that challenges the priorities of the institutional Church, which is committed to (and organized around) a fundamentally different model. This will inevitably lead to tension, and at times even conflict. But this tension can be a positive thing, and, at the end of the day, I think there's room for both models.
Prof. Penalver just doesn't get it. Christianity is not about the free flow of theological models. Models packaged as "alternative" or anything separate from orthodoxy are always doomed from the getgo because their foundation is not Christ of the Apostles but some imagined Christ of the philosophers, in this case, those who believe the world to be ontologically divided between rich and poor. They insist that orthodoxy conservatively privileges the rich. But Christianity has never reduced poverty and injustice to materialist categories (which is the Marxist and capitalist sine qua non, so sorry, liberation theology is still Marxist at its core).

It's always telling to me when dissenters simply skip over orthodoxy and glom onto some hip new "prophetic" "model." Because if Catholic orthodoxy does not stand for a true justice and liberation, distinct from but encompassing secular categories, why bother with Catholicism at all? Here's the simplest example of liberation theology's folly: to its advocates, if you reject liberation theology, you're automatically anti-poor. It's neat and simple, but ridiculous. It never enters their mind that orthodoxy might be more pro-poor and that it might have something precious to say about our failures and sins against the poor, just not the way liberation theology childishly may want it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

No more, no less

You Are 63% American

Most times you are proud to be an American.
Though sometimes the good ole US of A makes you cringe
Still, you know there's no place better suited to be your home.
You love your freedom and no one's going to take it away from you!
Nationalism is an abstraction created by the modern State to supplant true religion and thereby monopolize control of bodies and souls.