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Friday, December 14, 2018

A Night Of Rain

It's been raining often here for weeks. I had that semi-serious thought all semi-liberals and liberals have, that if it's raining this much this late into December, we've really done a number on our climate system. This isn't Florida; we have snow here.

Anyway.

While I usually love rain, because it reminds me of the waters of baptism, I'm getting a little sick of it. Last night, I thought it was starting to really get to me, and then I remembered the storms were in my soul. I went to Confession. Admittedly, I went to another priest, because although I can't quite figure out how not to break the heart of God, I didn't want to break Father's heart. Not yesterday.

I had another image for rain that came to mind: tears. Heaven knows I have had enough of those. Rain is a plot device in many stories. Writers got together and decided that "It was a dark and stormy night" is a terribly ham-handed way to start a story, and a sloppy way to convey sadness or foreboding. How'd we let the maker(s) of Blade Runner get away with that?

I'm pretty sure I don't have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but if this keeps up, all bets are off.

When the Scriptures tell us about the times before the Flood, the Lord says plainly, "I am grieved that I have made man on the earth." This of course brings up as many questions as it answers, one of which is, "How does a perfect, simple Being experience this?" And granted that us being told all this in our baby-talk that is human language doesn't possibly exhaust the reality of whatever this means, it is a mystery.

Water, in the mind of the Jewish people who received this story, was more than a bit dangerous and threatening. The sea symbolized destruction, great distance, and the goyim, the Gentile heathen who were not them.

That's part of why "the land" was so prominent: it was a promise from God, and it was not "the water."

Isn't it so that water reveals our vulnerability, our smallness? I was in the rain last night, and I thought about just how pitiable we are. Here one day, and gone the next.

And yet, a great saint says all our sins are but one drop of water, burned up in the consuming fire of God's love.

It is altogether fitting that baptism should be in water, and that it pictures dying, and rising again. Christ, in a way, mocks death in His victory. We will mock it also when we rise, though we die. St. Paul mocks death, saying, "O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?" This will be our song at the last resurrection, much like the song of Miriam, when Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land, while their pursuers were lost to the waves.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In Praise Of Bernie Sanders (Again)

One of the things that we have to recognize at a minimum is that "real" socialism--where a central government controls all aspects of economic life--doesn't work. It doesn't work--and is morally defective--partly because it denies the existence of private property as such; that the prudential decisions of what one individual determines, up to and including his material needs, and those of his or her family, are not to be subordinated and denied for the sake of the State and its self-preservation. The first part of that, you'd get wide agreement, I'd imagine. One of the problems of various totalitarian regimes ostensibly devoted to socialism, especially in the last century, is that they acquired enough power that the rights and duties of individuals were ruthlessly crushed, and subsumed. As seems to happen, the regime apparatchiks never seem to struggle to find food, and frankly, a lavish lifestyle. Anyway, numerous people on the "Right" in countries around the world have made plenty of hay out of this.

Left unaddressed of course, is the justice of capitalism, or lack thereof. Since I was born at the end of the Cold War, and I'm an American, I know the strict binary: It's either Soviet communism, or capitalism. We were right, and we're better, because we don't have gulags. It's really that simple, for many people. In reality, though, we have to think abstractly, that is, at the level of principle, to get where I'm going. Is it true that all economic transactions are morally neutral? Is it true that government as such exists, or ought to exist, solely to protect property rights? Is it true that the regulation of severe economic inequalities by government is per se illegitimate? Sorry to barrage you with questions that are actually statements, but my answer to all these questions is "no."

The only person I heard talking in moral terms about wealth, whether its scale or purpose, was Bernie Sanders.

Now, don't get me wrong; he might be leading us incrementally back to the failed experiments of the statist past; I don't know. And the mind of the Catholic Church on this question is nuanced, to say the least. I do know that to say the Doctors and saints and popes would be ambivalent about capitalism is grossly understating the matter. Even if Anthony Esolen isn't ready to accept that. I digress.

Still other people look at the Senator's alleged hypocrisy as reason enough to reject all of what he says. That might be satisfying, but that's not an argument, either.

As for me, I'm a Catholic, obedient to the Magisterium. So I find myself unable to be an obedient American. Americans have "dogmas," too. Problem is, they aren't true.

On a personal note, I have the privilege of seeing what happens when we treat the government--who has primary responsibility for the common good in all its facets--as a necessary evil. We leave people behind. People who have as much dignity and right to exist as anyone else.

By the way, you don't have to vote for Bernie, or anyone else in particular. But we'd better start listening. We can't build a better country until we start rejecting false choices, and articulating better ones.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Clarity Time: You Have No "Church"

I know I shouldn't get frustrated. Evangelicals don't know the mess they're actually in. They can't. The imperatives of Sola Scriptura do what they do. You have to account and explain for the reality of visible Christian division, and conceiving of the church universal as invisible seems to solve the most pressing problem, which is how Christians could be united when their visible communities so obviously aren't. More than the apparent obvious division, which any snarky papist could use simply as a talking point, is the dogmatic uncertainty this push for a false unity tries to hide.

The reality is this: Christians under the paradigm of Sola Scriptura do not agree on major points of dogma and Christian practice.

Just exactly how will you have a coherent Christian answer to any question?

Some people within smaller "conservative" communities are doing yeoman work, rediscovering natural law, ancient creeds, and all manner of things, and for that, I'm grateful. I'll save you time in this argument: all those things you're rediscovering are Catholic things. For all the rhetorical flourishes about the Reformers not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the Church of Rome is the baby.

At this point, an objection is raised: "You're divided, too!" And that's true. But we also have a notion of free will, that in fact, the Church has solemnly defined its teaching, and Catholics are choosing to dissent. It's not intrinsic to the paradigm itself. The "Church" as you define it can't define anything, because it doesn't actually exist. When someone says, "The church should do better on..." or even, "We the church as the Body of Christ should..." only the speaker knows what the referent "church" is supposed to be. Even if two or three people agree notionally that it is "all those who name Christ as Lord and Savior," exactly how is that to be accomplished? As a side issue, isn't it exhausting, having to answer for every person who claims to be a Christian? No wonder all these people are frustrated with the "Church"! What else could you be?

I'll say it again: Pretty much every single person who returns "home" to the Catholic Church started by asking, "What is the Church?"

It's not a mystery why the shortest flight back as it were, is through sexual ethics. There are plenty of people who have decided that Jesus doesn't care about that stuff. Still others, of course, naturally ask, "Why would God change His mind about this?" (He wouldn't.) You gonna tell Nadia Bolz-Weber she's betrayed Christ on sexual ethics? "Who died and made you Pope?"

That's why my other inquiring question was, "How do I know what I know, with respect to Christ, and the gospel?" Or, "Where does dogma come from?"

I get it, brethren. Submitting to the pope is not going to be easy. We know; we lived through all of them. But how much more can you lose, before you can't recognize Christianity anymore?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Restore The Years

People often joke, and are flippant about so-called "trigger warnings." I'm not going to do that. In fact, I'm giving you one now. This post may be hard to read, for all manner of reasons. If you can't make it through, I understand.

I have had a lot of opportunities to reflect upon death the past few months. I think one of the more difficult aspects of death, besides losing a particular person whom you love, is being reminded of all the others you have lost. We can be told a thousand times, "It really wasn't your fault," and we know the right answer; we can even say it. And still we find ourselves saying, "Did I do enough so that they knew how much I loved them?" The fragility of life confronts us ironically with our complacency, the knowledge that in many ways, we take our days for granted, as though they will never end.

In another context, I identify strongly with Will Hunting, the brilliant, haunted, abused working-class kid from Boston, played on film by Matt Damon. There he is, talking with Robin Williams' character. The psychologist tells him repeatedly, "It's not your fault." "I know," he replies. But you see moments later, he understands, but he has nowhere to go with his grief. He goes into the therapist's arms, sobbing. It's not really an answer, but then, if he doesn't let go, he may well turn that grief in on himself.

In one way, it's absolutely absurd to say that religion helps us cope with death, and with the world as it is. My friend James from high school is still dead. Alive one day, and gone the next. It was 21 years ago, and I think of him most days. He was really hurting inside, but he was funny and kind. Always helpful. I never would have made it out of high school without him. I wish I'd known him better! Truthfully, I took him for granted. You look to the sky and say, "Am I going to be whole again? Will we get that back?" Every tear, every thought, says those words. And as you get closer into the circle of your loved ones, those words echo louder. There is a reason why people toss around the word, "senseless" all the time, because death truly is. There are gradations of tragedy and unfairness, but you don't have to look far to see or hear about something that, for all appearances, is completely outrageous.

I can't really blame folks for the question, "Where is the all-powerful, good God?" If we dare to answer, we can only say, "There is something better on the other side." I should hope so! Fathoming worse is sometimes difficult. My pious soul can't handle being angry at God, but there is something comforting about the person who does. When God answers from the whirlwind, the person might be humbled, but he will still be. My read of the Scriptures is surely a picture of an enigmatic God, with ways I don't begin to understand, but insofar as I'm able to know "goodness," He is that. On the other hand, He doesn't see fit to spare us this trouble and sadness. I don't need to make sense of it; I need to get through it. When people make a mistake, it's this one. A tough balance to strike, to be sure.

The death of my father was a huge moment in my life. In some ways, it's the event that defines me. I have found healing in odd places. Interstellar was a 2014 film that helped. The noble Matthew McConaughey plays "Coop," a retired astronaut, recently widowed, with 2 kids. He's especially close to his daughter "Murph" (Murphy) a tomboy scientist much like himself. Coop is pressed back into service in the hope of saving humanity. He knows he'll likely miss most of her life, even if he does return. In the course of relating to her wisdom gleaned from his dying wife, he says, "We're just here to be memories for our children." It's the emotional heart of the film, and it lands like an Ali knockout punch. I understand this. I know what it's like to be the child of a memory, to subsist in a sense on the love of a father I barely knew. There is no way Mr. McConaughey could know what that meant. As I simply shook in my seat at the end, I realized that grief and healing were co-mingled. Joy and suffering. It truly seemed like the words of wisdom could have been my father's words to me. There is no accounting for taste, and feel free to hate it, but I'm thankful every single day for that story, and all those who helped it to be told.

Love is stronger than death. It's a lesson we know, but often forget. Not sentiment, or at least, not only that, but some power of Being that refutes death itself. It must have been Love that raised Christ from the dead. Therefore, the Father is Love itself. To live and to touch someone in a positive way may not save your soul by itself, but it can get close, or so it seems. If we did what we know to do, we might all get closer to the purpose of our lives, without a big arduous philosophical to-do. What is kindness, but the seeds of enduring love?

It's too simple to say, "Cherish your loved ones, because you never know" though that is true. We have to live as though everything we are will become one moment. Heaven is an abiding eternal moment of enduring Love. The tears will not be wiped away here. Absolutely, they are not. The best we can do is reflect the love we have received. With any mercy, our sadness here will be a passing shadow or cloud, when Love swallows up this world we know. Or, we could live in the darkness of our wounds. We could share the darkness. We could decide to turn the sorrow into rage. Not only to shake our fist at the whirlwind, but to be a whirlwind that destroys all semblance of joy or peace to be found here. We have known those who have done this. We shouldn't allow ourselves to become like this. Let's grieve in hope, a hope that lives on our solidarity with one another.

I don't know Todd Rundgren, mind you. He wrote a song called, "Love Is The Answer" in or about 1977. It became an Adult Contemporary hit for the duo of England Dan and John Ford Coley in 1979. Frankly though, Rundgren's version with his band Utopia is the best one. Anyway, it's a song about death, meaning, and love. I know Rundgren has some Christian experience, though he's probably mixing it syncretistically with other things. I tell you, I'm encouraged every time I hear it.

There is something about suffering that testifies to wholeness. What is suffering, but an awareness of a lack that should not be? Therefore, to suffer is to bear witness to evil, whether physical or moral. To bear up under it is to be a living refutation of it. Joy does not erase the suffering, but we are a conduit of joy, when we refuse to be subsumed. I can't tell you exactly how this is accomplished, but to speak of our sorrows and our loves is one way to begin.

In this way, "celebrations of life" get a bad rap, though we should pray in the face of death. If sin were not real and a problem, we would not need forgiveness. We are not saints simply by existing. On the other hand, the most unhelpful, unloving person you know could probably coax a serviceable eulogy out of someone. That's a testimony to what we are, and what we're meant to be.

We can't make a meaning out of this sorrow and death, but we might be able to find it, with God's help. Or to make a start, through the tears.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

My Yoke Is Easy

Some people find it very difficult to go to Mass. Other than the logistics of having a disability, I never have. Jesus said, "And after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to my myself." The Church teaches us that at the offertory, this is when we prepare to offer ourselves and our lives in union with Christ. And especially when the celebrant prays, "Through him, with him, in him..."

In a typical morning offering, we pray, "O Lord, I offer You all my prayers, joys, works, and sufferings [in union with Christ offered in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass]."

Everything flows from Calvary, from the cross of Christ.

Not as though it isn't finished, but indeed, because it is. Jesus wants to bring the power of His Cross, indeed, His whole paschal mystery, into every corner of our lives. This is why we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass over and over. The petition of the Our Father, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done" is a recognition that we have yet to experience "It is finished!" in so many ways. Hope is to keep desiring this, for ourselves, and all who are dear to us.

The Mass wears grooves in your soul. The Eucharistic prayers especially strike me as a definitive stand against "the world, the flesh, and the devil." Exorcisms get all the press, but the fundamental ordering of the universe that is the Mass is the reality that I understand.

There is no possible way I'd have gotten through this year without the Mass. Sooner or later, the sorrow of life has to go somewhere. People get weird, sick, and sad when they try to make meaning out of this life by themselves. Are you kidding? Sometimes,--Lord, have mercy!--they even give up.

But perhaps it seems like another burden to carry. One thing keeps me going. I see Our Lord on the cross. I see Our Lady keeping watch. And St. John, the beloved disciple, is there. Somehow, I know that I never have cried, I never have lost anything or anyone, without them there. If that's crazy, I'll take it. The "sanity" of this world has no power against that.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Man Of Sorrows

I do not understand this mystery: the Father's love envelops us and surrounds us, but He does not (usually) take away the Cross. In my limited way, this might seem like a contradiction, but it's not. I long to understand its meaning, but all I have is to love God in the midst of it.

At other times, it has seemed like grief was a deep hole or chasm from which I would never emerge. Now, it seems like an alternate reality. It's not denial, but it's close, like a bewildered confusion. The world makes no sense now. It goes on, just as it did before, but I go on, with effort.

There have been moments where I said, "I don't think I can do this," and Jesus answered, "Yes, you can." Jesus the great high priest is exalted, of course, but he is our brother. I can see him weeping with us, and holding us near.

We need the hope of the resurrection, but sometimes, not yet. You can't look at the sorrow and tragedy in the world and go, "Well, that's enough of that." We need to live there, to sorrow and to weep. Jesus wept, and he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew! What is the weight of that sorrow?

Yet I know one thing as the oddest comfort: I'm alive. Not just my body, but my spirit. No one who is dead inside is able to feel sorrow. We are the oddest creatures: we start here in this sad world, all the while knowing we are more. We might hide it, or deny it, but we know.

All the loves end up the same. If they are good, they are eternal, and they are one. I don't quite understand this, either, but I know it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

If You End Up At "The Church Is Wrong," Turn Around

I just read a really long piece from a Catholic guy who's same-sex attracted. "Gay," if you like. He was faithful. He lived in a great community. He was ashamed and afraid for a while. But when he was honest, it seems like he faced less hostility than he figured. Well, yeah. True Catholicism is love for literally everyone. Few practice it, but it's true. I can't claim success in that practice, but I do try. With God's power, I will succeed. Anyway, this guy believed in the Church's teaching, so he tried every celibate path known to mankind. I believe him. I can also believe it's terribly hard.

It's also true that he just gave up.

And there is a cottage industry of people not only ready to celebrate that, but ready to place the blame on orthodox faithful, who simply believe what the Church teaches on faith and morals. If you ask, "Is it really true that God said..." the answer is likely "Yes."

We don't follow the Church's teaching because we're fearful of those who don't, or how they live. We follow the Church's teaching on faith and morals because it is revealed by God, either in nature, or revealed supernaturally. If something about human beings and how they should live is revealed by God, it must be true. God cannot deceive, or be deceived. In all the chatter about inflexible people and their old traditions, they forget God. There could be a debate about whether a particular thing is revealed by God, but the Church can both discern that, and make it clear. The Church was founded by Christ Our Lord, and he can't deceive, or be deceived, either. He's God.

Some people say that the Holy Spirit blows in new ways and directions, but the Holy Spirit is also God. So either God contradicts Himself, or people are wrong. It also strikes me as especially convenient that people find these new interpretations where sex is involved.

Most of the time, I just wish people had the brass to say, "It's too hard; I'm giving up, and doing something else."

Outside this particular issue, someone was telling a story of someone they know who's "been together" with his girlfriend 5 years. To be plain about it, I got tired of the lack of clarity, and I said, "There is no 'together.' You're either married, or not married." My friend said, "That's a narrow-minded view." I replied, "Yeah, yeah, it is. You know what else is narrow? The way to Heaven."

Don't get me wrong; I understand weakness better than most people. If there weren't an authentic "gradualism," I'd have been tossed out of the Church on day 2. Bottom line, though: We're either made for God, or religion actually is "the opiate of the masses." If we choose the latter, there's no point in hectoring people about being more like Jesus, because Jesus would be a fiction, a figure for the imagination. Other people choose the former, but they are so fond of the pleasure of approval, they think somehow that they will avoid the hostility heaped on Jesus and His followers. Let me know how that works out.

I can remember the next leader of the free world saying that marriage involves a man, and a woman. 10 years ago. In fact, he said it was revealed by God, and that as a result, he didn't have the right to believe otherwise. Either the entire world has been composed of hapless bigots in every time and place, or people are making things up. I think people yell, "Love is love!" because they know it isn't.

Monday, November 12, 2018

You Shall Not Murder

We're still struggling to get this right. This one gets broken all the time, in every place you can think of. It's actually not a wonder that King David committed murder to cover up his adultery, because illicit sex makes men unable to think clearly. How many people today are committing a worse crime to cover their shame?

You can drop balloons from the ceiling of a sports venue to celebrate the chance to become the leader of the free world. Imagine the fawning press. Imagine the euphoria, and rightly so. You might even win. I dare the Washington Post to ask that man about his meditations on "You shall not murder." I would like to see it.

Even the second-best newspaper in the land is apt to cloud the matter with an array of euphemisms. We let them, really. In a lot of ways, no one likes to be uncomfortable. I'd rather ask him if he thinks Villanova can beat Duke in basketball. The smoke from the evil incense offered at the wicked altar smells like springtime flowers.

People have this funny way of needing to be heroes. It's almost like we're made for something big, you know? But if a man is a coward and a failure, he has to pretend he isn't.

This culture isn't "sensitive," it's guilty. Several million camels have been swallowed, and there are still gnats around. We somehow think if we stay active, the truth will not find us. How is that working out?

I don't have the answer for you, necessarily. I won't tell anyone what to think when the familiar scenes play out, as they tend to do. I do know that reality has a way of intruding, forcing us to reflect on things we'd rather ignore.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Thoughts On The Elections

It went about how we all thought: the Democrats took the House, and the Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate. In 2 years, the GOP will have more seats to defend in the Senate. That should benefit the Democrats. Events, of course, have a way of upending that, as always.

I absolutely think this election was a referendum on President Trump. I also think he both hurt, and helped his party. The moderate GOP of Romney and Kasich is dead, at least in the Congress. They lost over and over in districts carried by Clinton. They'll keep losing, until Trump is gone. There was nothing to be learned for the young progressive Democrats. They'll feel vindicated by their close losses, and give no quarter to the disaffected moderate Republicans. I call all that a net negative for the nation. After all, the establishment found the same hostility within the GOP.

I don't mourn for the loss of Senator Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. I'll tell you why. Even if he's less enthusiastic about abortion than activists would want him to be,--even having personal convictions against it--he isn't willing to speak about it as a matter of public morality, and objective reality. It helps Democrats even to this day to appear to struggle with it, even as a matter of religious conviction. Yet that natural law reality is not being discussed. It's not a matter of religious conviction, as such; it is a matter of basic moral reasoning. There will, and ought to be, an ongoing discussion about the surrounding economic and social circumstances that fuel abortion. I have no problem with a gradualism of many kinds, with respect to which evils to combat first. That said, I have no use for politicians who cannot see the moral issue clearly, and to speak accurately about it. I suppose that results in having no use for most politicians.

So even as it may be of a benefit that the Democrats are getting younger, and less white--for a slew of good reasons--this moral blight upon them tempers any celebrating I might do, as thoroughly disgusted and disaffected as I may be with the GOP. It is true that the GOP have ceased to be a serious political party, essentially ceding or denying a great many issues of great consequence. They have become servants of their voters' irrational appetites and resentments. They deserve whatever electoral disaster befalls them. Nevertheless, I don't see a case for joining the Democrats. The same things are true of them.

If there is anything left of our nation, we'll need leaders with more courage, wisdom, and foresight. I don't mind saying, perhaps the nation needs me. That's neither here nor there, for now.

I lament the continued death and dearth of civility, not as a matter of sentiment, but as the means to create the civic space to think, to reason together, and to compromise. Notice we don't even make gestures of civility and unity toward opponents anymore. That is tragic.

I was overall satisfied for now, at the results. Anything other than divided government would have been worse in the short-term.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Kidnapping Is Wrong, But...

Would it really be that wrong to kidnap Dr. Patrick Deneen, and force him to go on a car trip with me, and Confirmation Sponsor Guy? Does he even know how awesome that would be? [Probably not, since you said "kidnapping".--ed.] It's a term of art, OK? [It's also an aggravated felony in most states.--ed.] Details, details! Anyway, he would become aware of my elite fanboy status, which is fine. It's not my fault his books are great! Whether he wins the argument(s) is almost secondary to the sheer pleasure in reading the guy, in thinking his thoughts after him, and so forth. I definitely wish I had studied political science with him as an instructor! [Are you ever going to review "Why Liberalism Failed"?--ed.] Yes. My real life has intruded, but yes. And then I'm going to read Dr. Jordan Peterson. He's earned the right. I'm guessing Deneen has better things to say, but everyone is reading, watching, and talking about Peterson. I might want this blog to be relevant at some point. [Are you now saying Deneen is irrelevant?--ed.] Absolutely not! But if you translate his name from the original Gaelic or whatever it is, it means, "papist niche market". [Touche.--ed.] So there! [So you're boldly implementing Deneen's grand vision of localism, tradition, and virtue ethics by capitulating to market demand for Jordan Peterson.--ed.] Exactly! Uhh, wait.

So anyway, I think the blog will be fairly entertaining the next few weeks. Stop in! America's foremost public intellectuals have their books shredded--I mean, reviewed--by yours truly! And no kidnapping. Hopefully.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Love Is The Answer, Redux

I was thinking about my favorite movies, and especially what makes them effective in terms of pathos. The writer sets up for the things he wants you to feel; he or she seeds the ground, so to speak, so that when the big climax comes, it doesn't feel forced, cheap, or silly. One of the great things about the troika of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley--better known as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy--is that those actors spent a lot of time thinking about their characters in relation to the others. What would it be like if I were this guy, and these other two guys were my closest friends in the universe? Everything you would say, or could say, changes as a result. In the greatest scene in Star Trek history--the climax of The Wrath of Khan--the whole thing was set up by another scene in Spock's quarters. Kirk just found out that someone has blocked his radio transmission with Dr. Carol Marcus, as they tried to find out who is playing games with Marcus's Genesis project. The Enterprise is ordered to investigate, and now Admiral Kirk is authorized to take command. (Captain Spock is technically in command, training Starfleet cadets.)

Kirk is emotionally invested in convincing Spock that he has no interest in poaching his command. He's possibly feeling guilt from having done so many years before, when he took command from an inexperienced Will Decker at the outset of the V'Ger probe crisis. Spock first says his first iconic axiom in response to Kirk's continued resistance to take command. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." Kirk continues his protest, and Spock says, "Jim, you proceed from a false assumption. I am a Vulcan; I have no ego to bruise." Spock tells him that his "first best destiny" is commanding a starship, and quite probably, the Enterprise. Kirk never should have accepted the promotion to Admiral, Spock says. And then Spock ends the scene with this: "You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been, and always shall be, yours." Kirk takes his next steps boldly, in the confidence of that support and loyalty. When Spock later sacrifices himself to save his comrades using the same words he used in the prior scene, Kirk realizes the depth of Spock's love, for him, and for the crew. Powerful bookends.

As a side-note, many people remind us rightly that love is not a feeling, but a determined willing of the good for another. Observers often say these things in response to a perceived pervasive sentimentalism without content. Yet it is also true that strong emotions of thankfulness and affection are appropriate responses to heroic acts of love. I can recall reading a story of one of many Christians who sheltered Jews during the Nazi reign of terror. The unalloyed justice of that action overwhelms one, as well it should.

Feelings are not the whole story, but they are valuable and good. In fact, when people have inappropriate emotional reactions to reality, that can be the first sign that something is wrong. In any case, I have observed a kind of spiritualizing of stoicism. Expressing emotion is for Them, and you know how those people are. It spills into all sorts of areas in life. If I become aware of some injustice, as a matter of emotion and intellect, I should desire to address the injustice, thinking of possible ways to do that. There is no purpose in prattling on about being people of "logic" and "facts,"--unlike others--when what one intends to say is, "I don't care about this." You may find yourself morally at fault in such an admission. Yet it's better than hiding the truth. The Love that begets all other loves can free us from that fault as well.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Don't Lose Your Audience

I'm not the "Resistance," if you didn't know. For some, the presidential absurdity that is Donald Trump afforded them the opportunity to shout what they already believed even louder than they did before. One of the dangers of being politically engaged, and specifically in something that you're truly passionate about, is that you might think more people are with you than actually are. Not that what I think is--or ought to be--is determined by how popular it is, but depending on the audience, I try to calibrate what I'm saying to be at least in terms that those people will agree with, and understand. Persuasion can be an act of love, and a cooperative act of walking together, if you do it right. I'm not saying I'm good at it, but I do try.

Still, to this day, I agree with Mark Shea more than I disagree. I believe there is probably a moderate pro-life Democrat in there somewhere. Like a lot of us, he was a Republican at some point in the past, because abortion and related sex politics hangs over the Democrats like an albatross. Maybe to talk in party terms isn't even helpful, because a coherent anthropology of what a human being is and does goes beyond a party system. Since many people aren't ready to question things like classical liberalism and capitalism--and I'm still working this out on the fly--we have to interact with the political system and people in it where we find them.

I still kind of think like a Republican.

I like Republicans, mostly. I recognize myself in them. They are familiar to me. To be more direct, they are family, both in reality, and in my imagination. No matter what comes out of my re-imagining of my own political philosophy, that will remain true. That's just how it happened. If I want to persuade someone who identifies as Republican, or who once did, I will talk like I know how.

Mark Shea forgot how.

More than that, I don't blame any "conservative" person for thinking he just doesn't like them. I told him this. He told me I was a Trump cultist, and an anti-Semitic apologist. Me! He obviously hasn't been reading this blog! I could think of no more obvious proof of my accusation that he was a "clanging cymbal" than this interaction. Yeah, I was spoiling for a fight. But he needs it.

He needs to go dark, for a while. Come back when he is actually "enjoying" being Catholic.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I Pray In The Bathroom

I've always had a big bathroom. Ever since I was 12 years old, I've had a giant bathroom. It comes with the territory I guess, as a person with a disability. When I moved out of my house into an apartment in the city, I got another giant bathroom. Maybe it's not as big as the other one, but it's big enough.

Most people spend a lot of time in there, for reasons both obvious and less obvious, and it got me to thinking. I remember a music video from the time I was in high school from that pop singer, Jewel. She's singing her song in the bathroom. Actually, it's a public one as I recall, and I wouldn't say the video is worth your time, on the whole. Still, someone asked her about it, and she said, "A bathroom is a sanctuary."

She's right, you know.

When Jesus said we should go into our inner rooms and close the door, and pray to our Father in heaven, it carries a deeper meaning than simply to go someplace private. After all, you can pray anywhere. Yet a bathroom is a unique place of intimacy and vulnerability. I can think of no more Catholic notion than to do with my body what I intend to do with my soul.

I'm just as weak as any man, so I don't truly understand how much God, the Creator of the entire universe, loves me. I believe it; it's something I understand by faith that is beyond my natural capacity. Yet I long to understand it, to live in it as my experiential reality. Our conversations tend to be of the postmortem variety, because I just botched something up. They're not very formal, though. They are conversations between two friends. I can say that without hesitation. As a side note, do you think that all the people who complain about "religion" are thinking about the intimacy of addressing God as a close friend, and as "Father"?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"I Can't Be Civil To Someone Who Supports...."

"Votes are blunt instruments for expressing voter preference." I still remember this from my undergraduate studies. Voters are actually bands of coalitions, gathered together in the tent of the parties, which are supposed to serve as a heuristic for people who have better things to do. If I tell you that I voted for Bush twice, depending on where you sit, you could draw all sorts of conclusions. Some people would be pleased, and others would be horrified. Yet I can't show my work on that; unless I tell you what I was thinking, my preferences, my beliefs, everything about who I am is hidden to you. What if the heuristic tells you really nothing about me?

Because I also voted for Obama.

I might even say, it could have been a mistake. But it happened, and I don't think I was incorrect about those things in his favor. I still agree with myself on that. But this underlying philosophy that is so omnipresent in our society that we don't notice it--classical liberalism--conspires to leave us with only the heuristic, only the shorthand, as the content of politics. Issues only serve as latch-on points for the incitement of tribal loyalties. There will be as little actual discussion of issues as possible. To the extent that MacIntyre is saying this, he's right. The democratic process cannot bear the weight of the legitimacy it purports to convey, because that legitimacy is social and relational. You can't get solidarity from the democratic process, especially when liberalism's companion--capitalism--completes the work of ripping people from their social bonds and identities, and forges them into allegedly autonomous individuals. We're like fish out of water, and we think marking a piece of paper and accepting the result will heal this giant wound we've given ourselves!

The median voter in each political party--incoherent as their respective philosophies are--has common ground on most, if not all, the issues of the day. We can't access it, because the electoral system itself creates an impasse: It rewards private goods--even a large group of people in a congressional district is a collection of private (that is, individual) goods--but purports to serve the common good. If you actually put the good of everyone, even future generations, ahead of your electoral interests, you're toast. This is why polls show people love their congressman or woman, and hate Congress. Mayhew says the government is deliberately inefficient and frustrating, so that this powerful elected class can cut the red tape, in Fred or Sue's case, and sail to re-election, because Sue told all her friends that Rep. Johnson helped her out with that thing.

One other thing: If we start losing the things that make us whole, e.g. "I am the son/daughter of [Mom] and [Dad]. We are from this town, in this state. I lived with these other neighbors. We worshiped here; we volunteered here" people will, out of a sheer need to cope, create an identity, some community, that fills that role. Democrat. Republican. Other parties. "Gay," "trans," etc. To be direct about it, Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz or whomever might have really bad idea X, or evil idea Y, but the only reason anyone is denying civility to anyone is because we're asking them to fill needs that they cannot fill, even if they were heroes and saints.

I agree that certain things are beyond the pale, that "agree to disagree" only goes so far. The problem is, the pale keeps moving. A political yard sign is not an affront to my "dignity," because no matter how bad it gets, no ruler on this Earth can take that. Define your terms, because reality isn't something we create. There will always be an aspect of politics where one person or group says to another that what they fear is exaggerated. In healthier times, this could be said. It was often said. If we abandon reason, we truly are animals. Politics looks like a collective primal scream, because that's what scared and wounded animals do.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Why I Do Not Receive The Chalice

The primary reason is our faith. One reason the Council Fathers at the Second Vatican Council were skittish about Communion under both species is that the Council of Trent of happy memory had taught that the whole Christ is substantially present in one. That is, if you receive the Host alone, you have received the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord. Likewise, the chalice, if for some odd reason one did receive only the chalice.

It is actually confusing for the ministers of Holy Communion to say, "The Body of Christ," and "The Blood of Christ," respectively. This teaches the average person that part of Jesus is in the Host, and part of Jesus is in the chalice. This isn't what Our Lord is telling us to believe! I'm sure you've seen the surveys about what Joe and Sue Catholic believe about the Eucharist. It's not good.

Secondly, spillage and other desecration remains a perennial and valid concern. It is manifest silliness that Communion under both species was a rallying cry for the "Reformers," because nothing truly had been withheld from the people, if we understand the teaching. But notice how heresy affects even how we can see the prudential decisions of the Church. If we stop believing that Jesus speaks through His Church, almost anything becomes an occasion for hostility and separation.

As a person with a disability, I also do not care to touch anything that ought never be dropped. If the priest or his designated helper in the effort of giving Holy Communion to the people gets his finger licked, well, that's your cross today, pal. This is serious business. I can recall being in Denver several years ago, before I decided to receive only the Host. I took the chalice, I received, and the wise and holy minister noticed that the exchange was imperfect, let's say. I did not mind that he spent several moments in my face, making sure Our Lord was not left where He ought not be. I'm pretty high functioning, for a guy with a severe disability. Still, drinking things is always--always--interesting. Don't do it in these most sacred moments, if you don't have to.

We need to stop thinking in terms of privileges denied, and start honestly reflecting upon the generous gift of the Holy Sacrifice and Communion for us.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Voting For President In 2020

I'll probably abstain. There's no way Trump gets my vote. I shouldn't have to say this. I shouldn't have to prove why this is a rational and moral decision. Because people are so invested in defeating "The Left," they have ignored all the evil that he represents. More than this, the manifest ignorance, authoritarian tendencies, and damage to the civic space increases each day. Trump must go. He was unfit from before day 1, and that remains true.

I will not sacrifice everything to defeat the cultural Left. Because you can't, just by voting.

I understand why people have gotten to this point, where they ignore things they shouldn't ignore. The cultural tides are strong; the Democrats are beholden to inhuman and vile philosophies that countenance the murder of human beings, the destruction of the family, a disastrously false view of the human person, and the list could take hours. Even to get some relief from the attacks on religious freedom, I could see why people have done what they've done.

But the philosophy underlying the Republicans is equally faulty, and no one sees it. It's the same philosophy: liberal individualism. Capitalism. Market economics. All different versions of the same thing. The Left took the personal conduct side; (sexual conduct, mostly) the Right took the economic "freedom" side.

What if they're both wrong? If you kill people in slower motion, and not in an abortion clinic, people will fall for it. Especially if the ghost of the USSR is still around. Better yet, college professors and other eggheads, eager to try it again. Easy foils for a Rightism that isn't any more human, or correct. If you give people a boogeyman big enough, you can lead them anywhere. Propaganda.

"Socialism" and abortion. That's all you need to rile up the partisans. I'm not playing anymore. There are whole books dedicated to this truncated Rightism.

We want to belong, and we want to be good citizens, too. We dutifully vote Republican, because that's what good Christians do, right?

The Democrats have a siren song, too: They want you to ignore what a "person" is. They want to "keep religion out of politics," unless it helps them. The abortion industry's financial hold on the Democrats is secure. They focus on "sexual minorities," because they long ago gave up caring about poverty. All the other issues matter only insofar as they can beat the Republicans with them.

And yet, here I am. I'm supposed to participate; I'm supposed to try to do what's best, in accord with the common good, neither ignoring intrinsic evils, nor tolerating other evils. Do you know what that would be? I don't. It's in the end a prudential judgment, and that doesn't mean, "Ignore every issue except abortion, and gay marriage."

You'll have to pardon the cynicism here. I'll go back to being ignored, because I don't hate Obama enough.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Dumb Argument

"Don't like abortion? Don't get one!" You'll find some abortion rights progressive saying this in every comment section on every article on this issue ever published in the internet age. (You can find an individualist libertarian saying the same thing.) There are a myriad of assumptions in this statement. Let's unpack a few:

1. My individual free choice is the most important thing in the entire universe.
2. There is no public, moral dimension to this question.
3. My body is the only thing involved.

All three are false. In reply to the first, I can say that I could eat a bowl of arsenic shaped to look like corn flakes. It's possible. That'd be idiotic, and morally wrong, but I could do it. I could steal my neighbor's movie collection. Again, idiotic and wrong, but possible. That is, it's theoretically within my ability to do. Is it within my rights, my freedom, to do? No. Because my freedom is limited in reality to what is morally licit. It is within my rights to choose morally licit means to accomplish morally licit ends.

Secondly, generations of American mothers choosing to kill their own children has had massive social consequences. How many people don't even exist, because they barely got to live? Or were never born? Something on the order of 150 million people, considering the generations. How many families have been destroyed--or never even formed--because of so-called "reproductive choice/autonomy"? Naturally, the moral questions go far beyond abortion, but elective abortion is the fail safe to an entire philosophy of sexual autonomy.

And to the third, the reply is plain: It's not your body; it's someone else's. No one has the right to murder someone else. The fact that people murder each other all the time is no excuse to approve of it. Yet abortion rights advocates essentially retreat here all the time. Moreover, the issue has to be re-framed; if it isn't, you'll have people contemplating their obligations to unchanging moral principles, and, "Ain't nobody got time for that," as some have put it.

You'll hear one other argument: "Separation of Church and State!" as if that's an entire argument by itself. In a more sophisticated form, it comes to us as, "Universal moral claims have no place in politics," and literally, this is a contradiction. Politics is the art and science of adjudicating universal moral claims, and individual interests and desires. We've done everything possible to avoid seeing what politics really is, or to truncate the disappointment of not getting what we want to only fall on those we hate, but it never seems to work. I digress.

I'm a Bible teacher, for lack of a better term. I know that lots of people will avoid darkening the door of my Catholic parish for all of their lives, if they can help it. And they want nothing to do with Jesus, and that is fine, as far as it goes. But just because I am a religious man, and depending on what you ask me, I see the world in those terms, does not mean that my universal public morality--my politics--is an imposition of religion. It's not, and it won't be.

It's amazing how many people confuse morality and moral questions with religion. Perhaps they think that by avoiding one, they avoid the other. This is obviously not the case.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Arguments Concerning Sexual Identity

I saw an argument today:

People who identify as gay (or another sexual identity) believe that the Catholic Church, and Christians in general, hate them;

Some Christians do in fact hate such people;

But in fact, Jesus loves all people, their sins notwithstanding;

Therefore, Catholics and other Christians should attend gay weddings (and other ceremonies) to show solidarity with the people involved.

And the counter-argument:

The Church (the Catholic Church) teaches that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, (CCC, 2357) that is, by their nature contrary to God's design for the body, and for human sexuality and cannot be approved under any circumstances; (stipulate to the compassion, respect, and sensitivity commanded of Christians by Jesus in CCC, 2358)

Attendance at a wedding signifies approval and celebration of the union, or putative union;

To approve and celebrate such unions would be to commit the sin of scandal; (CCC, 2284-2285)

Therefore, Catholics and other Christians should not attend such ceremonies.

---
There's usually an unstated premise in the first argument that to disapprove of homosexual relations in any degree constitutes the "hate" under discussion. Indeed, it is the definitions of "love" and "hate" that are unclear in the first argument, and may even constitute an equivocation, with respect to the love of Jesus.

It seems that it is possible to question the second premise of the second argument, namely that attendance does not constitute approval and acceptance of the union (or putative union). Many have made this argument. However, other pro-gay arguments rely on this premise, (that attendance shows approval and acceptance) to show hypocrisy in other cases (e.g. divorce and remarriage). You can't have it both ways.

Scandal is a unique sin, because it need not involve participating in the sinful act itself, but it causes doubt about the sinful character of particular acts.

Additionally, particular observers may want to consider their relationship to the following premise: "All that the Catholic Church believes, proclaims, and teaches is revealed by God." One cannot realistically understand the second argument without this premise. And in fact, the first argument relies on it, too, but in an ad hoc way. The love of Jesus is unintelligible without the revelation of who Jesus is. Notice also that part of what the Catholic Church teaches and proclaims is the natural law, specifically pertaining to man and woman united in marriage. So, other Christians may agree with this part, and disagree in some matter of supernaturally revealed truth.

My general read of things is that, sentiment toward some people, and antipathy toward others, cause people not to be able to reason clearly. It happens all over, but adherents of the first argument are particularly prone to this lately, in my experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Public Education: Its Foundation, And The Red Herring That Obscures It

The system of public education exists philosophically and theoretically upon the foundation that the purpose of education is being formed in virtue. The good, the true, and the beautiful were once the foundation of the liberal arts, and in fact, the definition of the liberal arts.

If the common good exists as something more than a set or collection of private goods, then it stands to reason that some baseline education in the liberal arts ought to be a matter for public concern. That is to say, it is a worthy matter for significant public funding. This contention is irrespective of other arguments that could be had about subsidiarity, or parental rights and duties.

Knowledge itself is a part of the common good, because it does not diminish when it is shared. What is known to be true benefits those who do not know that a particular thing is true, and also those who take great pains to deny that a particular thing is true.

It is a red herring to use the content of public school curricula in the United States today to attack the basic philosophical foundation for public education. The content of what should be taught to children and young adults is a separate discussion from whether a significant public investment should be made.

In fact, I assert that an individualistic, technocratic, and ultimately inhuman ideology drives most of the criticism of public education today, and is itself contrary to the idea of the liberal arts. Consider how much of the "conservative" critiques are explicitly in economic terms. What is most "efficient" in terms of the market economy is not necessarily synonymous with what is best in terms of being formed in virtue. I do not even consider that a "market-based" approach is appropriate. We should be a bunch of raving socialists on this point in particular, because whether this effort costs "too much" is a function of what we are trying to accomplish. Anything that casts people in exclusively economic terms is contrary to their flourishing, and to the flourishing of all of us together.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Thinking Of Robin Again

I never saw "Mork and Mindy". It was before I was born, and "goofy space alien lost on Earth" isn't exactly a timeless premise. It introduced us to Robin Williams, though, and he managed to do roles that really mattered after this, dramatic and powerful roles. He's an Oscar winner, you know, and long enough ago that you can't brush it aside. Anyway, I saw a clip remarking that Mork and Mindy debuted 40 years ago, and I got to thinking.

"Hook" means the most to me, and I don't care what people think. Spielberg himself disavowed it, but all that means is, even a legendary director might not know what he's talking about. That movie is about fathers and their kids. It's about learning to value what's most important. One character says to Peter, "I wish I had a dad just like you." Me too, kid. Me too.

"What Dreams May Come". I have never seen or felt the reality of grief at sudden loss portrayed so accurately. It affects me so much, I can't really watch the movie. But Robin's character gives a eulogy at a funeral, and I hope when I die, I'm remembered similarly. Other people get hung up on the theology of the film. I get that, but you need to let it go.

"Good Will Hunting". Robin plays a psychologist helping a brilliant young man deal with the trauma of abuse in his youth. They absolutely nailed that part, and Matt Damon should have won a statue for his performance, if he didn't. I would thank Mr. Damon for that, if I could get the words out.

"Dead Poets Society". Even if the underlying philosophy is Epicurean or something, I think a lot of men in my generation have that one teacher who inspired us, who changed our view of the world. Late teens and early twenties is a dangerous time for us. We can become self-involved, and very cynical. Williams's John Keating wouldn't allow it.

I guess I just miss him, like a lot of people.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Basis For A Public, Universal Morality

The ground of a public universal morality is the inherent dignity of the human person. This dignity cannot be given or acquired; it is recognized, facilitated, appreciated, and deepened. If it were conferred as the result of some action, the person would be a mere instrumentality, whose utility to someone or something would merit special rights or privileges. No, this cannot be correct, for the dignity of people is not subject to some valuation of their capacities in some technocratic sense. In another sense, the human capacity transcends illness, misfortune, and defect. It is the capax Dei, though the State concerns itself primarily with the natural end, both individual and common.

The basis for legitimate government as such is this common good, and the end for which government exists. If the very definition of public life presupposes the community, then the legitimacy of the State cannot be subject to the consent of any individual, even a great many individuals. Consent indicates the willingness to participate in the common life; it is not a veto power over the moral law itself, or of the State's moral legitimacy as such. Therefore, it is foolishness to assert that morality has no place in politics; politics is morality; it is public morality. The unstated premise of keeping morality out of politics is that there actually exists some aspect of public life that has no moral dimension. This, in fact, I deny. The State, in taking actions proper to the end for which it exists, is illegitimate only when it violates the moral law, or denies the right of people to choose how to best honor that moral law in their individual circumstances, given the moral justice of all available choices. Pluralism is the reality of disagreement about humanity's end, and how to reach it. If sought as an end in itself, it becomes a celebration of confusion, error, and disunity. Humanity is so bound to this moral law that it is immoral in some sense to withhold consent from a government acting legitimately, as surely as it would be a duty to oppose a government acting illegitimately. The pursuit of happiness is variously understood, but it is not variously defined, in reality.

There is a hierarchy of truth in this moral law, or a hierarchy of truths, as they are considered individually. This, however, does not mean that only the gravest moral questions are a matter for public concern. It does mean that we cannot be agnostic on the most grave questions. It is interesting that most people agree that what is currently legal does not exactly coincide with what is morally acceptable. Oddly enough, no one--even those who think morality should be kept out of politics--fails to miss the connection between politics and morality when you try to make something he cherishes illegal. All politics is morality, and if I didn't think my politics was better than another one, I wouldn't offer it as an alternative.

Our problem today is that we're really good at rejecting someone else's public morality--their politics--as morally deficient, without taking each issue seriously as a moral claim, comparing it, and our own philosophy, to the moral law. We're better at pointing out hypocrisy than we are at taking politics seriously. And that's odd, considering how passionate we are about politics. That person over there isn't any more governed by feelings than you are; he might be wrong about some moral question--that is, a public moral question--but he's aware when you or I change the subject. It might turn out that his overall outlook might even be out of balance with respect to the hierarchy of moral truths, but if we're talking about environmental policy, I'd better be talking about the environment. Before we get to the possible answers to a problem, we ought to acknowledge a moral claim when we hear one. Displaying the exact positions of the knobs, dials, and switches--so to speak--on the sound board of my public morality without meaningfully engaging others is worse than a waste. You hate when people do it to you; you call it "virtue signaling".

Politics is literally life and death. Not only ours and that of others alive now, but those yet to be. We need a more serious public space, because public morality is a serious subject. Civility is not an end in itself, but creates the space for serious reflection on the questions of public morality, and even the personal space to correct errors in judgment. We owe all of this to one another, because our ends in this life are inextricably bound together.

Monday, September 10, 2018

One Obvious Problem With "Differently Ordered"

As you may know, the Catechism says that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. Fr. James Martin, SJ, proposes this paragraph say, "differently ordered". We'll take Father at many of his other words that he backs this change in order to avoid causing unnecessary hurt to all the people who experience sexual attraction to people of the same sex. It's not a small point; we are not generally known at the moment to be the fond home of such people.

The big problem is this: (wait for it)

"Differently ordered" implies moral neutrality with respect to the acts themselves.

Notice that this paragraph refers to acts, and not to persons, as well. That's because the philosophical language does suggest that our sex organs have an end or purpose for which they are designed.

[You can almost hear the affirming Mom going, "Sweetie, it's not bad; it's just different!"--ed.]

We're talking about two separate questions: 1. The moral liceity of particular acts, and 2. Evangelical outreach to people who experience same-sex attraction. One can certainly think we have done a bad job of the latter, without changing the Church's stance on the former (as if the Church could change it). Woe to those who intentionally conflate the two.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Re-Thinking "The New Pro-Life Movement"

Nothing could ever remove from me the basic conviction that abortion is gravely immoral, and never acceptable. It still causes me to ask myself, "What would you trade to end abortion?" Would I trade a universal basic guaranteed income? How about universal health care? Strict gun laws? High taxes on the rich? My answer is an emphatic "Yes!" to all of these.

I haven't really thought about precisely what I think about those things in themselves; I might still reserve the right to think all those other ideas are imprudent, or incomplete. But the benefit of asking myself this question is getting at the gravity of "intrinsically evil." If I prefer my ideology to the truths about the dignity of the human person, then I must at least consider that, for all my passion for innocent children, I'm not really prepared to do anything and everything licit to stop it. A Catholic priest in Confession has to weigh all these mitigating factors when assessing culpability, even when hearing sins this grave. If I consent to an economic system that puts such pressure on people that abortion becomes a live option via grave fear, these mitigating factors become aggravating factors in my sins of omission. If we sit and think about this, the NPLM doesn't seem so crazy.

Don't hear what I'm not saying. You are not obligated to support a $15 minimum wage, or Medicare for all, as though failing to do so is the same as holding the abortionist's scalpel. It is incumbent upon us to question a possible correlation between two things, however, and to at least consider that we're not doing much to take the scalpel out of his hand. That he might continue to have demand, because of things we have advocated.

At the very least, I owe it to the truth to consider the merits of other ideas in themselves, and to stop using the scandal of abortion as a substitute for the licitness of my ideology. Some person's advocacy for "choice" might be inconsistent with other advocacy on behalf of the weak, but that is no permission to ignore the weak, or to actively harm them. I cannot really pursue the good, if I do not consider the possibility that I may have caused harm, or consented to it. Because of this consideration, I cannot worry only about intrinsic evils.  Anything that is morally licit is therefore a valid public policy option. Or do I believe that the truth about climate change (for instance) stands or falls on the perfection of those who raise the alarm? If that were so, it's a kind of political Donatism. Whataboutism is the disease of the political Donatist. May we quickly recover from this disease, and get about doing good in cooperation and solidarity with all people of good will.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Firmly, Or Not At All

Solidarity is the firm determination to act for the common good. Because the pursuit of any virtue benefits everyone, not only the one who seeks it, the pursuit of virtue is intrinsic to the common good, and the noblest expression of solidarity. Current events indicate that the lack of virtue is graver than many suspected. It may at times feel overwhelming. Most of us will not be investigating the crimes, or advising the pope. We can however pursue virtue, and reject vice. By grace, we can draw closer to God. Many wise people are saying this, and it's correct.

One of my earliest lessons as a candidate, a learner in holy mother Church, was that grace builds upon nature, but does not destroy it. Practically, what this means now is that civil authorities uncovering the sin and evil are serving Truth Himself, no matter how they relate (or don't relate) to Him personally. When clergy have covered things up, undoubtedly hoping that sin would not be seen to mar the Church's beauty, they were taking the Church away from Christ, if that were possible. It is He who knows exactly what we are. It's Jesus who didn't wait for us to pull it together, but as it is written, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." To have the privilege to partner with God on the order of grace is a great honor, especially as a ministerial priest. Yet the human being of the highest priestly rank is a slave, not only to his brethren, but to reality as a whole. There is no way to compartmentalize, though we do try, don't we? There is no homily, or sacramental power that could erase or balance out a sin unacknowledged and unforgiven.

Because these unimaginably heinous crimes were committed by clergy, many people want to leave the Church. Catholics have a unique relationship to their clergy, because he is Christ to us. The priest is not only engaged in proclamation; he is the proclamation. To say that these violations are a countersign to the gospel is a staggering understatement. An abusive priest is a living, breathing lie. Of course the evil one is ultimately behind it; who else could be, but the father of lies?

I will not only express emotion, but I will act in accord with the truth. If we live in truth, we'll be lights in the darkness.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Eucharist As Catalyst For Unity And Conversion

I have a friend who is in the process of possibly revising his theology. He told me that the "memorialist" position on the Eucharist that characterizes the communities of the radical Reformation no longer makes sense with how he reads John chapter 6. Obviously, I agree. Yet if someone is Protestant, there must be some sort of juxtaposition between faith in Jesus as the Bread of Life, and the Eucharist as the Bread of Life. Certainly, the end of the passage (vv. 51-68) is the part that Catholics point to as the clearest exposition of Catholic Eucharistic faith. It makes sense to spiritualize the graphic parts that a plain reading--and in the ears of the Jewish audience--suggest cannibalism. Jesus makes no effort to comfort the listeners, however. And in fact, a Catholic reading sees no juxtaposition between faith in Christ, and Eucharistic piety. The spiritual and the sacramental are one.

I said to my friend, “It's not definitive evidence by itself, but the best refutation of the memorialist view is the sustained, frequent reception of the Lord's Supper, no matter the community.”

The Council Fathers noted in Unitatis redintegratio, 22,

"[Protestant ecclesial communities]  when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory."

Earlier, in Lumen Gentium, they said:

"This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic,  which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity." (LG, 8)

I could "hear" Christ calling out to me in the Eucharist, though I could not partake in it for two years. I had not even begun to examine the evidence for believing that Christ founded the Catholic Church. I had only known that a mere memorial of Christ's finished work on the Cross could not account for my experience. I wept aloud at the retelling of the story of the papal nuncio saying Christ called to every person from the altar. I wonder if Bryan Cross remembers this. I most certainly do.

We should say that many Christians take Holy Communion seriously. But to be drawn near involves more than devotion. It involves professing what is true, and only that, about the Eucharist. The Catholic doctrines concerning the Eucharist are not true because they are majestic; they are majestic because they are true. An Anabaptist community can not only learn from Catholic reverence; a deeper union with Christ must certainly imply a greater correspondence with those true doctrines.

"And after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself."


Friday, August 24, 2018

A Note On "Clericalism"

"Clericalism" is an idea that inordinate honor and deference is given to those in the clerical state. It does happen. The people of God at an individual level have placed too much trust in clergy with whom they have been associated, and have been exploited as victims on some occasions. Predators often misuse trust; that's how these crimes happen.

Clericalism as an explanation might be a lazy explanation for what's happening, if the reason one believes that inordinate honor has been given to the clerical state is that no honor should be given at all. To be direct, if someone believes in the abolition of the sacramental priesthood, they should just say that. It's unprincipled to decry clericalism when you don't believe in clerics at all.

Still, we should do our best to remember that no cleric--even the pope--has the right to command that which is evil. We should know the Commandments, and our catechisms, and refuse obedience if we're commanded to participate in sin.

In the freedom of holiness and truth, we can rightly celebrate the great gift of the priesthood. For without the priesthood, we would have no sacraments, including the Blessed Sacrament, and therefore, no reasonable hope of salvation. Those who casually toss this truth aside must ask themselves if the life of Heaven means anything to them at all, or if religion truly is only a coping mechanism.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Loss Of Identity, But A Liberation

I think it no longer wise to identify with any political party. As a Catholic, I am duty-bound--and joyfully hold to--the teachings of the Catholic Church. In regard to, "You shall not commit adultery," and the teachings of our Catechism, it had never been difficult to identify as a Republican, because at least regarding public policy on these questions, progressive ideology has almost nothing to offer. Abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, divorce, contraception, and a host of other evils are actively promoted.

We also know that vicious totalitarianism of a socialist nature gripped large portions of the world in the twentieth century, and the United States spent much of its time and treasure combating both the ideology, and the nations promoting it, for good and ill. Socialism that manifests especially in atheistic materialism has been roundly condemned as contrary to the dignity of the human person by the Church since the late 19th century. I think the postwar ascendance of the United States, and the consensus of the Greatest Generation that occasioned a brief time of good feelings in domestic politics--that happens to coincide with most Americans getting very rich, especially relative to the rest of the world--has blinded us to the ways that capitalism--not distortions or misuses, mind you--degrades the human person: personally, in the family, in community, and in regard to other nations. I have only scratched the surface of the encyclicals that comprise our social teaching, but the longstanding Catholic suspicion of market ideology and the individual accumulation of great wealth only intensified when the implications of classical liberalism came into view.

To be crude about it, if all you're worried about is not being "those commies," you're going to miss a lot of instruction from holy mother Church.

Wasn't the main problem of European Christian social democracy that it failed to be Christian?

Americans and Catholics typically uncritically accept libertarian critiques of government excess as though there is no distinction between an imprudent decision by government at any level, and one motivated by malice, incompetence, and the usurpation of individual rights. Yet an ideology that makes the existence of government as such contingent upon individual whim cannot be Catholic. The individual is not the focal point of a Christian account of human purpose and destiny. There is no real subsidiarity, if the common good--and social groups dedicated to it, including government--is denied. Needless to say, solidarity is also a fiction, if so.

I think I personally have spent most of my life playing at politics, as if it were a sport, instead of the serious matter it is. There was "them" and "us", and the ends of theories and particular policies--as well as real conversations about what we're supposed to be doing--never really took place. Maybe it's too late for that, but I hope not.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Father Of Mercies

I know this guy. Frankly, I wish you did, too. He's one of those special people who changes the world some small way every time he says anything. Those are dangerous and wonderful people. And I feel something of what he's feeling and trying to communicate here, but from an odd direction: as a son who lost a father long ago. My one enduring memory is a happy one, and it made me think of a story.

I was in the house of a guy Russ probably knows, and my college buddy lent me a hand, and left me alone for a few minutes. My friend--we'll call him "Jim"--went back to the kitchen to speak to his father. We'll call him "Larry".

Larry was lamenting that day, all his putative failures great and small. I heard him apologize to Jim more than once. It still shakes me, what I heard next.

"All I remember is that you loved me, Dad."

It's not sacramental absolution, but it's pretty close.

When you entrust yourself and your son to God's mercy, his own words to you, spoken honestly, are the sum and substance of that mercy, and it will be an act of faith for you to accept it.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Truth Is The Truth

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. It's better to live in the truth and be occasionally reminded that you hate and resist the truth than it is to pretend the truth is other than it is.

I don't have anything to add to discussions of current events, except to say that the truth about any situation is preferable to any comforting lies. It is indeed a comforting thing to know that the Church does not need me, in a sense. When I offer my gifts to the Body of Christ, I do so in the complete knowledge of God's sovereign care. Jesus will preserve His Church; he does not promise to preserve the reputations of those who have done wickedness in darkness.

I think some people read this--especially the part about freedom--and secretly go, "Yeah, but..." It's easier to blame God than it is to face the darkness within. Then again, why does God permit all manner of evil to be visited upon the innocent? Your guess is as good as mine. It's an age-old difficulty, one that doesn't become easier or harder. It just is.

If the all-good God asked me to suffer for the good of another, even without knowing why, or seeing the fruit, would I do it? Yeah. I've seen this movie lots of times before. I may stumble, but I know the Way. I start to understand: We make the "little" sacrifices so that when the big ones come, we're not overwhelmed.

I gave to Jesus a great pain I have been feeling. Once upon a time, I did a very hard thing. It's the right thing, but it was hard. But maybe I hadn't said fully to Him, "But I hate this. It hurts. I would do this all differently." Because I hadn't done that, I was struggling to go forward in obedience. Jesus knows what I really think; it's my image of myself that has to die.

What else has to die for the sake of the truth?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Who Am I To Argue?

Here's some news: human beings are sinners. Sometimes, heinous evil on a large scale is in evidence. We know this. On the one hand, we cannot overstate the human capacity to do the wrong things. On the other hand, if Jesus loves me enough to give His life for me on the Cross, I don't have the right to say that I am worthless, unlovable, et cetera. That would be a lie. I'm valuable enough that the most beloved Son of the Father shed His blood to redeem me, and would have done it if I were the only one.

Before we move on to the warm feelings and affections that meditating on this reality almost always provokes, we need to realize that anything in me that denies this, insofar as I indulge it, is a sin against the truth.

Any honest accounting of our sins is the acknowledgement of our failure, our great distance from His perfection, but that perfection is not a standard as such; it is God's very existence, His communion. He wants us to be with Him. If I don't want me to be with Him, I need to prayerfully find out why.

(If you need to start by abandoning any idea that Christ didn't die for all people, do that.)

Most of us just get tripped up by an apparent good out of weakness. Still, walking around talking about how wretched you are is a bit like campaigning for the Humility Award. 

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Catholics And The Death Penalty: A Brief Note On Theological Method

It didn't take long, but many observers began to think that the revised paragraph CCC, 2267 was ambiguous. There is some talk of asking for clarification in some official capacity. If something could be read in continuity with the tradition, or it could be read in discontinuity, the most charitable and sensible thing is to read it in continuity. Sensible, because a radical discontinuity is in many respects impossible, and charitable, because it's reasonable to think that the pope, whoever he is, wants both continuity and clarity. I think it would be reasonable to say, "This or that wording might be better, because..." but I cannot help but be concerned when the first reaction to something like this is suspicion and fear.

One thing at a time: "What do I understand the teaching to have been? Do I need to look more extensively at things previously offered? Do I understand what is being said now? What are major key terms used? Are they similar in meaning/intent to what's been used terminologically in the past? What are alternate plausible reasons for using different terms now? If I wanted to arrive at the same conclusion, but with different words, what might I say?"

If I have a serious concern that no information to this point can assuage, have I spoken to a trusted priest, or spiritual director? Or if it is of an intellectual nature, can I find a trusted theologian who will speak informally and privately with me about it? Is it at all reasonably possible to avoid criticism of the Holy Father and his brother bishops in public, so as to avoid scandal?

It's actually two separate discussions often conflated together: Prudential opinions about the needs and struggles of the flock at this time--how to address them--and how to understand the teaching of the Church. Various battles in the "culture wars" make us adept at sharing and arguing the former, and not at doing the latter.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why Liberalism Failed (Patrick Deneen) JK's Opening Remarks

I have not been able so far to give this book the attention it deserves, but now I'm ready. At present, I am re-reading both the Introduction and the first chapter, and I've been looking things up. When I am ready, you'll get my summaries with questions, comments, and wider reflections. Once more, I take the posture of a student to a teacher. I saw him at a recent conference with Professor Cross, but Deneen was practicing what he's been preaching, and joined one of his children at an event, so I didn't get to introduce myself. I can say that what he's arguing is deeply resonant with my own experience, my own biography, and my sense as a person with a profound disability that the anthropology of our whole world order is wrong.

Someone offered a blurb on the back that this book would have something to challenge both sides of our political culture, so to speak. I suppose that's true. But I come to this book having largely removed myself from politics, at least in terms of partisan or even ideological identification. I hope that being in this place allows me to ascertain what Deneen is saying, firstly, and then to perhaps be able to offer something constructive to him, and with him.

The sorting of ourselves into tribes and parties happens with a particular intensity, precisely when we believe that some person or group wants to harm us, to take away something that we love. When this happens, claims or arguments made by someone who is Other become almost impossible to regard seriously. I am able to say that my shields are down with Dr. Deneen. I believe that he wants what's best for me and all of us. Consequently, if any part of these reflections does venture into critique, it will be that of a friend, if that isn't too presumptuous to say. [I'm sure Deneen will be thrilled and honored that he's in the same category as Barack Obama.--ed.] Be nice. [You do accord the former president too much respect.--ed.] Perhaps so. Someone has to balance the tendency to accord him too little.

There are some potential readers who will find Deneen insufficiently critical of "The Left" (though I don't think that's a fair criticism, based upon what I have read). I think this particular criticism will be offered by those who have accepted their own skewed views, at least in some areas, as normative Catholic teaching.

He holds a profoundly conservative worldview, when considered apart from the political and ideological baggage with which "conservative" usually comes. It is definitionally conservative to aim at preserving and defending that which makes for human flourishing, and in that way, this is a conservative book. It will be a radical book in the ways he suggests that we must re-build, or build from scratch, institutions dedicated to the common good.

With that, read along with me, and I hope you enjoy it!


Friday, July 27, 2018

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books, Karen Swallow Prior

Firstly, I want to thank Dr. Prior for the privilege of reading an advance copy of this her new book. If it is even secondarily offered as an invitation to read many of these great books, then it succeeds wildly. I kept reflecting on what sort of phrase I could use to describe this book. Finally, it came to me and it never left: this book is a meditation on the virtues. Calling it a meditation on the virtues sounds kind of heavy, and it obscures a certain friendly and unobtrusive tone that this work possesses. Although we've never met personally, I felt like I was talking to Karen about these books, or that I was a student in one of her classes.

The premise of this work seems to be that in reading the great books and in contemplating their characters, we learn a little more about ourselves, and what it means to be human. If this is the principal goal of the work, it succeeds beyond what I suppose the author imagines, based upon the few notes of self-assessment she provides. Given this premise, the book contributes to a Christian anthropology, and will be of benefit to any Christian.

I was moved nearly to the point of tears in a couple of places in this book. That is no small feat for a book about books. I suppose we might attribute it to the skill of the authors discussed therein, and the greatness of their stories, but I think it also fair to say that Dr. Prior has put her heart into this book. It's not difficult for the reader to notice.

I don't know the first thing about literary criticism, but it was not a hindrance to my understanding of this work. It is both readable and comprehensible for anyone. The prose wasn't irritating or clunky at all. As I said, it reads like a conversation. I still don't know what I think about endnotes, but in a book like this, they're better than footnotes.

My least favorite part of the book was in the chapter on the virtue of diligence. I suppose I have to note my personal antipathy for Pilgrim's Progress, but the writing here seem to lose focus on the virtue, in favor of reflections on John Bunyan himself. In addition, not all the likely readers of this book would share the theological outlook of Bunyan, and so they might not sympathize with him as the author intends. Still, if that's the only thing that bothered or confused me in a book of nearly 240 pages, some good work has been done.

Finally, the good folks at Brazos Press deserve praise for publishing this book. It will be right and just if this book makes a ton of money. Dear friends, head on over to karenswallowprior.com to pre-order this book right now! (I reserve the right to blather on about this more later.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Religion Is A Crutch," They Said

You haven't practiced much religion, have you? Why would I use a crutch that weighs a ton? A mobility device is supposed to help. I have some experience here, as you may or may not know. [But it provides meaning, doesn't it?--ed.] Sure, but it's not intelligible from outside itself. Religion--let's just say "Christianity" to save time--doesn't help to live this life at all. What the truth revealed in Jesus Christ will do is transform how you see ordinary things.

Two guys walking and talking. Picture this, now.

"I can't believe it, but he said that horrible accident was the best thing that's ever happened to him!"

"Well, he got religion, so."

"Yeah. He's nuts. Still, I've never seen him so happy."



Now, I ask you, what changed? The experiences and things in the world didn't. The people didn't change, at least by normal appearances. The man's relationship to the things in his life changed.

Christianity says that suffering can be good. Christianity says that death isn't the worst thing that could happen to you. Is the world painful and tragic? Yes, almost always. This is why that "evangelical" atheism won't go anywhere. Everybody knows the world is often tragic and painful. If there's nothing but this, life really isn't worth it. The existentialists figured this out, eventually to their detriment, in many cases. I agree with them.

You can't make meaning out of life. You just can't. But if Someone comes and explains everything to you, that's different. If the Author of the Great Story comes to you and says, "I know it looks bad, but trust Me, it's worth it!" then OK, I'm in.

That's why Christianity truly exists only in personal encounter. The great edifice of Western civilization is crumbling because the people no longer acknowledge the Person whose entry into the world breathed life into our collective lungs. He's there, but we're not talking to Him. He is everlasting; we are not. We live, we die. I'm not trying to make it in this world; I'm living for the next. If I succeed in living "on Earth, as it is in Heaven," that really blazes a trail, though.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Justification Across The Divide, In Brief

I was asked by a reader to compare notions of justification--the state of being in right relationship to God--across the Catholic-Protestant divide. I'm going to try to keep it as simple as I can, and I don't want to spend hours wading through sources and footnotes, but, by all means, if I make a mistake, let me know.

It's somewhat erroneous to simplify the debate to "Faith Alone" versus "Faith plus works." Indeed, that formulation is a very Protestant way of framing the question. There is an absolute supremacy of grace in Catholic theology, so much so that we agree that man is not able to save himself by his own effort.

The absolute point of departure between Catholics and Protestants is the fall of mankind, and its aftermath. For the original Protestants, man's nature has become completely corrupt. Man has lost innocence and right standing before God, such that he can't even properly desire what he lost. Indeed, the classical Protestant account of justification has God triumphing over man's nature in bringing him back to Himself, because if this account of the fall is correct, man cannot cooperate in any meaningful sense. God declares or reckons man righteous, by faith in His Son, quite simply because it could not have happened any other way, according to this view. The sinner is imputed righteous, with the righteousness of Christ by faith, and faith alone, at that. Man has no righteousness of his own, as we might say, in the course of holding this view.

With a little thought, you can imagine why people who think of faith and justification this way would begin to see the Catholic sacramental system as an enemy to a certain peace and freedom, as they understand it. If God the Father has declared me innocent in His Son by faith, why am I here wallowing in this penance ritual, as if my sins remain unforgiven? You can sense the force of this objection, can't you? I hope it begins to make a certain sense.

We might reply with a certain humor, "We wallow in this penance ritual because in fact, these particular sins I bring are not forgiven until I am absolved by the priest." In Catholic theology, the sacraments effect what they signify, that is, when the priest declares the sinner forgiven, she's forgiven. She's not reckoned as forgiven, or merely declared to be so. Christ, acting in the person of the priest, does it himself. When we renounce our sins, firmly resolving not to commit them again, this constitutes our acceptance of God's mercy, and our desire to live in that mercy. In short, God offers us friendship of a remarkable kind. He elevates us by His grace into His friendship, a friendship only lost through mortal sin. This grace of justification--a state of justice and righteousness before God--is called "sanctifying grace." The sacrament of Penance/Confession/Reconciliation, when celebrated worthily, restores sanctifying grace to the soul, if it has been lost through mortal sin.

Sanctifying grace carries with it three theological virtues, as we call them: Faith, hope, and charity. They are supernatural virtues; that is, pertaining to God and the life of Heaven. Also, that super- indicates something above nature, or the virtues or vices we might acquire through practice in ordinary life. Grace and friendship with God, the very life of Heaven, is and always will be a gift. We can't earn it or deserve it. And to be plain about it, you can only get this gift through the sacraments of the Church, the Catholic Church. There is an objection you often hear in response to this, that these realities leave the Catholic in a state of fear, as she never knows that God in Christ truly loves her. On the contrary; I am immensely comforted by the nearness of Christ, his willingness to literally meet me where I really am. God's love for me has never been in doubt; my acceptance and correspondence with His love often is.

We're leaving out a big aspect of the question of justification. Protestants and Catholics are divided over that theological virtue of charity. For the Catholic, justification consists primarily in charity, or supernatural love for God. Charity is a gift, a fruit, of the sacraments primarily and fundamentally. Friendship with God consists in charity, and is synonymous with it. So justification by faith is faith formed by love (charity). For the Protestant, this supernatural love comes with his justifying faith, but it doesn't consist in charity. It's a fine distinction, to be sure. "Faith alone" was the rallying cry of the Reformers, precisely because they believed that sinners could not co-operate with grace, any grace, while sinners. Here's where it gets interesting: the Catholic Church teaches that even a "dead" faith along the lines St. James describes, is a gift of grace. To even profess the correct doctrine--even if it won't save your soul by itself--is a fruit of grace. For the Protestant, a person with no "works" as St. James describes them is a person whose faith is fraudulent. It has no supernatural origin at all. It's a very technical discussion, since both sides agree that charity is important.

Let me back up and briefly explain the Catholic view of the fall, as simply as I can. When man fell, he lost many gifts, the most important of which was sanctifying grace. In the moments when Adam and Eve hid from God as God walked in the cool of the day, they experienced the loss of their communion and friendship with Him. They lost more than sanctifying grace; they lost preternatural gifts also. Adam and Eve lost immortality; they lost impassibility, the freedom from suffering. They also lost what we call integrity, the subjection of the passions to reason. And they had special infused knowledge from God. This loss of integrity, the experience of desiring to do the wrong thing almost continually, we call concupiscence. Hugely Important Note: The Catholic Church does not consider the experience of concupiscence as such to be a personal sin. Generally speaking, the communities of the Reformation do consider it a sin. Or, better said, they don't find it useful to distinguish "sin" (see Romans chapter 7) as an experience of the fall from the commission of a personal sin. One often hears a little phrase among Protestant Christians: "fallen nature." Be careful with this phrase, I say. Because it can obscure the goodness of humanity's creation itself, and of the individual's responsibility before God. Indeed, the critique from Catholic theologians to the basic Protestant system is that it conflates nature and grace. On the one hand, the Church through St. Augustine has always maintained that communion with God in Heaven requires grace. The beloved Augustine stood against the heretic Pelagius, who maintained that doing God's will was within the ability of a man, and simply required effort. Protestants and Catholics at least agree that this is a mistake. Martin Luther wasn't particularly persuaded by the Catholic account of humanity's fall and the loss of sanctifying grace. He compared it to losing a fancy ornament on a Christmas tree. On the one hand, he didn't think humanity by nature was capable of anything but sin. On the other, he thought man possessed grace by nature. That mistake will certainly foul some things up, when trying to operate within the Catholic system. Grace is a gift. It cannot be otherwise.

Significantly, grace is, in layman's terms, God's presence and power. It's not simply God's favorable disposition toward us, though it includes that. This is why we can co-operate with grace, or not. This is why sanctifying grace leaves the soul of someone who commits mortal sin. God cannot dwell in the presence of sin. For the Protestant, there is no distinction between venial and mortal sin. Every sin is mortal, and paradoxically in practice, no sin is mortal. Anyway, back to Luther for a moment. Luther confused the capacity to receive grace--and fellowship with God being our final end--with having grace from the start.

The great appeal of the Protestant system is that it takes the problematic sinners out of the equation. God loves you because He loves you. He gives you the gift of faith in His Son, empowering you to believe in Him, and forgives you all of your sins when Jesus dies on the cross (and rises again). The Father clothes you in the righteousness of Christ, ever and always. You can't earn it, and you can't mess it up.

What we can learn from this account is that God really does love everyone to an unimaginable degree. He really did send His Son to die for us. Jesus really did rise from the dead. The prophets really spoke to Israel by the Holy Spirit. In short, God's action of creation and redemption, especially as recorded in the Scriptures, testifies to the depth of God's "desire," if I can speak that way, to be with us, and to bring us to Him. I think sometimes Catholics underplay all this, by a lot. Go talk to a Protestant, especially an evangelical. You might begin to think, if you have been raised Catholic, that you don't understand or appreciate a tenth of the love story of Christianity, or the Person at its heart.

It hurts me to think of Luther sometimes: terribly fearful, horrified by his own sinfulness--another true word you have to be careful with--and simply searching for a personal experience of God's love. I can empathize with a man like that. But the determination of exactly what God has revealed is not done by sentiment. Being reminded of God's love for me--which should be a regular thing for all Christians--is not the same as being vivified by that love, no matter how closely they are related.

It's not hard to see why Protestants formed alternative communities: If you think the dogma is wrong, you naturally reject the authority proclaiming it. Certainly they could not foresee the disunity this would produce. And you may say to yourself, "I thought Scripture Alone was the fundamental point of Protestantism." Well, "Sola Scriptura" is an alternative method of knowing dogma, in the absence of knowing it through the mediation of the Church. Sacred Tradition was rejected by the Reformers. Sacred Tradition is, in a sense, the prayerful reflection upon the Scriptures, as we live them out in community. Protestants to varying degrees do not reject traditions, per se. Rather, they reject the binding nature of Tradition. As people of various communities re-integrate practices from older times, they find it consonant with Scripture as they read it. They may find that it is unwise to juxtapose Scripture and Tradition so sharply. The fundamental principle of Protestantism is the right to individually interpret the Scriptures, for both good and ill.

This is but a cursory examination. I tried to keep it free of technicality as much as possible. If you need sources, let me know. Sorry for the length.