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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.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

I'm In For Hugs If You Need Them

Something touched me here. It just did, and now we have to talk about it. First off, as you read, shut off that part of yourself that needs to punch holes, to correct, and to minimize. It's always something. I'm an orthodox Catholic; you can imagine I have a few things to leave at the door, if I want to enter in with any kind of empathy.

In some ways, I'm the literal worst person to do this. "Fervent," "zealous," maybe even "unyielding" might be words people use to describe me. I cannot understand myself without God. There is no me, in fact. This reality uneasily coexists with the fact of my weakness, failure, and hypocrisy, but I suppose this isn't news. I'm a personality that is certain, and in most things. There was once a man I was friends with, and I told him I really loved the David Horowitz memoir, "Radical Son." He said he didn't like its "conversionist" aspect. I get it; people like me and Horowitz change our minds, but never with doubt, hesitation, or humility. I'm the kind of person who takes 10 people with me, whatever I'm doing.

I've never doubted my faith. On the other hand, going from Reformed Protestant to Catholic has some interesting analogs. What do you do when it seems you have lost everything you relied on? I can tell you that I needed something familiar, something human, to remind me that I was still me. Friendships died, but some survived. Those that had their self-image wrapped up in particular dogmas may have tolerated me, so long as I didn't threaten that self-image, but as I did, they went away at their pleasure. I wish them well. One of the tough things, being a proclaimer, being a leader, is that you tend to go, "How do you not see X, Y, and Z?" and lack a certain patience with those who can't see what you see. People are funny, aren't they? Even me. I don't have a current practice of dialogue with my former co-religionists, for this reason. Right now, I have to love certain people more abstractly, for their good and mine.

I wasn't turned off by hypocrisy, or harmed by anyone in any grave way. It's funny, though: if people don't want to take you seriously, they'll find any reason they can to convince themselves they don't have to. I am proud enough that this does fill me with something akin to rage, if I don't watch it. In the end, I have had a lifetime of being brushed aside, patronized, or similar reactions.

I'm not sure Chris here would describe where he is as unbelief, but maybe he would. In any case, I saw signs for hope and joy, mainly because I read him and say, "He doesn't seem to be radically different than before, in some bad way." Who are we? What do I know to be true about myself, others, and the world around me that has not changed? There is a limited usefulness to the phrase, "be true to yourself," mainly in the fact that what we construct is only as good and true as we are, but I think it can be helpful here. We do not live in a world of no truth, goodness, or beauty, and in fact, those things do not subsist in my ability to apprehend them! God doesn't need me! There may be all manner of bad outcomes for me to decide I do not need God, but the reverse is not true.

Meditating on the fact of my uselessness, in fact, reminds me of something Bishop Barron has been saying. If the Almighty truly is Almighty, He need not coerce. If I am breathing and doing all the things I do, God is more behind it all than my capacity to know, or to thwart. I may indeed incur debts for my unbelief, but it will not change the fact of my dependence.

Love is an interesting consideration. We could use some definition of terms, but what do we do with our greatest desire, our highest aspiration? I suppose right now, [In 2013.--ed.] Chris doesn't know, really, and that's OK. There is something oddly hopeful about being alive. We are metaphysical oddities, even in the darkness of not wanting to be here. What's it all about? I'm not entirely an expert, but I'm in for hugs, if you need them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Divorce: Stop "Explaining," And Listen

You probably don't have any idea how horrible divorce really is, for a child. One slogan we hear is kind of true: "Kids are resilient." It's kind of true, because children are often amazingly courageous and loving, many times. The real question is, "How courageous do you want to force your children to be?"

I read a thing the other day on that site Scary Mommy. This woman said she had a B+ marriage, but told her husband to try something exciting. He said no. It came out that he was resenting being controlled, and he'd finally had enough. They divorced. This woman inflicted carnage and suffering on the world over a "B+". And apparently, she's so controlling that a little conversation about trying a dance class erupted into this ending. They're still friends. How precious! Get back together, you scumbags. If you love your kids at all. If you were dumb enough to get "re-married," break that off, if at all possible. I'm not kidding. The kids are most definitely not all right.

I sat in the seminary chapel where I was once in school crying like a baby. A guy that was probably way too personal wanted my advice. It was just a question. He said he knew a kid whose parents were divorcing. "What would you say to that kid?" I was 29 years old. My parents were divorced 27 years prior. In fact, my father has been dead since 1989. By the time I finished my brief answer, I was a fountain. "It's not your fault." That's all I said. That's all I needed to say. That's what that little kid doesn't know, even if you tell him until he is old. That kid will have holes he doesn't understand, and can't even describe. And his parents put them there.

What about abuse? If you're in danger, absolutely, get out. Be safe. That doesn't mean divorce, and marry someone else. It just doesn't. Most folks aren't in grave danger. They just don't know how to get along. For those people, I have only one thing to say: Suck it up, and figure it out. I'm absolutely encouraging staying together for the kids. Whatever literature saying otherwise there is, it's garbage.

Go see Gottman, or read his books. Work on whatever toxic communication strategies are in play. WORK IT OUT.

If I'm totally honest, I'm envious of people from intact families of origin. It's not normal for me. It seems like a dream, or a TV show. You want to know where all this suicide, drug abuse, and violence is coming from? Divorce. You don't want to hear it, I know. It's still true. Homosexuality? Gender confusion? Divorce.

Some of you will feel threatened by this, because you are divorced. Maybe even abandoned. I'm sorry. I truly am. But in general, we have normalized a grave crime against our own children, in order to serve a god of personal fulfillment. Take up and read.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Yes, Blinders Do Blind

I'm really pro-life. And by "really," I mean that when someone says, "If you were really pro-life, you would..." my response is, "OK, let's talk about that." If you're out on the sidewalks praying the Rosary, counseling, working in a crisis pregnancy center, none of this criticism applies to you.

I see whataboutism all over the place, to the effect that because "The Left" supports abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc, then every moral criticism of Right-leaning political engagement is invalid. Worse still, some of us have effectively or explicitly decided that our alleged blind spots on other issues aren't really blind spots at all. Some of us have decided that inconsistency on one point renders all other moral judgments suspect. In fact, people on our side love to do this, because it deflects attention from immoralities we have tolerated, or explicitly endorsed. Well, to be blunt about it, just because we're putatively in no danger of having Holy Communion denied to us for obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin doesn't mean we've honored the spirit or the letter of our social doctrine.

And a word about the "seamless garment": This phrase gets a bad rap in right-wing Catholic circles. It tends to be shorthand for, "These liberals think failing to provide just wages is of the same gravity as killing a baby!" That's not what it means. It means that the outworking of a truly Christian anthropology is holistic. It means that if we fail to uphold some aspect of dignity in one case, then our stand against another violation could be imperiled by our inconsistency. It means practically that we should have the guts to say, "It's possible that I/we have failed to grasp the moral implications of the gospel in this part of human society." Be bolder still: "My ideological commitments and predilections have made me incapable of fruitful engagement with actual arguments on these issues." I'd pay real money for someone to say this.

For my part, I must draw a distinction between acts through the lenses of moral theology, and the same issue or issues in terms of political engagement. Are we prepared to ignore everything except that which pertains to sexual conduct? Even there, hypocrisy is in evidence, because a certain presidential candidate's--now the president's--failures in sexual conduct didn't seem to matter much.

At what point does a philosophy become so incoherent that it should be abandoned?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Catholicism Without Rules?

A friend was saying he found some Catholic church at the "Pride" parade who in effect described themselves as Catholicism without all the meddlesome rules. As a note off the top, I won't belabor the point on homosexuality, because my views aren't hard to find or understand.

What about rules? On the one hand, a religion that subsists entirely in its rules is not from God. Revealed truth as we know it comes from a God whose very being is Love. On the other hand, rules in fact are a means to an end. The end is everlasting communion with God. We know from our own experience that a parent that gives his or her children no rules is deficient in love. Still, we don't want to push the analogy too far. Providence--God's ordering of everything--is too big for us, and we end up speculating dangerously (and doing a fair amount of complaining) instead of humbly seeking.

In any case, rules can be a problem if we ignore them, or if we make them an end, instead of a means.

Frankly, some people seem to imagine Jesus however he suits them. Funnily enough, this "Jesus" never challenges them, or says they are wrong. But then, remember my saying: "One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time." In simple words, if you decide for yourself what God says, your god is you.

Even our "rules" discussion is a little more complicated, because there are things we are able to know through our natural reason (e.g. "You shall not murder") and things we can't know by reason alone (e.g., God is three Persons in one Substance/essence). There exist divinely-instituted natural moral laws, and supernaturally revealed truths about God we wouldn't know, except that God has revealed them.

In practical terms, when someone says, "I'm not into organized religion," firstly, she's being redundant, since the definition of religion is something like, "An organized system of beliefs and practices," and secondly, she's probably saying she wants to find her own way. But if you do that, 1. You'll bump into something you already could and should have known; and 2. You don't need God for that. That's "self-help."

All that is rather interesting, in this respect: It never made sense for any sociologist to say, "Religion's main function is to provide humankind with comfort in this life," because revealed religion on its own terms is not, strictly speaking, for this life at all. Yet the statement hides his or her true premise: The supernatural as such does not exist.

The idea that the supernatural does not exist is called, "naturalism." I suspect that even an ardent naturalist isn't truly fond of--and does not actually envision--a world without rules. And I thank God for that. In other news, have you ever heard someone argue that humankind turned to religion because we lacked knowledge of the natural world? Isn't that silly? I mean, I'm glad somebody knows the truths of empirical science, but my religion doesn't cover that. And, interesting thought: Aren't some of these popular atheists conflating knowledge with meaning?

To conclude, you can trust someone to tell you what it all means, or you can try to find it for yourself. As for me, I always want to go up to the person who confidently pronounces that the point of everything is, "Be kind to everyone" (who wouldn't ever darken the door of a church) and ask, "Why, exactly? And isn't that a rule?"

Friday, June 22, 2018

We're All Right (And The Culture War Is Terrible)

Again, to the extent that family separation is happening at all, it should not be happening. If a progressive says this, they're right. Let me repeat: if a progressive says this, they're right. What you, O "Conservative," must decide is whether you want to feel superior, or whether you want to build a society worth living in. I'm 38 now. My rage against the Democrats and their galling hypocrisies is far spent. I had my twenties and half my thirties to be angry to little effect. What "whataboutism" does is blind us to the holes in our anthropology. We can't learn whilst scoring points.

If I turn to "liberal" issues, it's because they're in front of me. I don't need to repeat things I've already said. No effort to stop prison rape, or to save spotted owls, or curb carbon emissions, either explicitly or implicitly, signifies that I have changed my position on anything else. Take a moment to actually digest that.

I supported an unjust and horribly destructive war, war crimes, and other inhumanities in the effort to give the Democrats the finger. And in so doing, I didn't learn anything. I wonder what we might learn today, if we stop giving people the finger for being wrong about something.

In fact, no-fault divorce is just as bad as whatever outrages ICE or ORR has perpetrated at the border. It's true. It's also true that we'll be long dead before convincing Obama or Pelosi of this, most likely. In the end, though, if the progressives are right, they're right. Most of the chatter about "reclaiming" the social doctrine from the "Left" is an articulation of exactly which critiques from the Left will be ignored.

I can't lie to you and say that I have perfected some kind of Wise Moderate stance; I haven't. A friend pointed out that political culture drove our votes more than political issues, and that's been true for a while. I'm only hammering the Right now because I don't like its political culture. It doesn't feel like "home" anymore. If I could say it without sanctimony, I might say nowhere does.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

We Shouldn't Be Separating ANY Kids From Their Parents At The Border

I don't know why this is hard. Apparently, we have to say this. It's also ridiculous and indefensible to treat asylum-seekers as criminals. That position doesn't even make sense. If someone falsely claims asylum, that could be a crime. It is not required that the United States accept every claim, but a claim as such is not a criminal act.

We could grant that inhumane conditions and treatment of immigrants predates this administration. Indeed, advocates for immigrants had been suing the Obama administration throughout, and in many cases, rightly so. This policy of actively separating asylum-seekers from their children is weeks old.

Some advocates for the present administration blame a Flores directive from 1997, but the only relevant fact there is a limit to the detention of a child. Are you really suggesting that holding a child even longer would be acceptable?

Child psychology experts are telling us that the separation inflicts a trauma that may not be able to be undone. If we are somehow unable to know that this is wrong, we have corroborating evidence.

If indeed there is a risk of sex trafficking by releasing "families" intact, this does not permit the government to break apart actual families, in service to another dubious end.


Monday, June 18, 2018

On The Other Hand

You know, back when I was a contrarian, and that seemed like conservatism, I would often get annoyed when "liberals" found some "Be kind to the foreigner" verse, and tried to shame us with it. It's quite true that nothing is ever as easy as it seems, especially in politics. I still absolutely agree that most things are complex, more complex than we realize. A certain "anti-politics" driven by emotivism loses patience with the compromise of negotiation, lawmaking, even the very idea of statecraft.

On the other hand, have you noticed the sheer number of references to aliens and sojourners in the Scriptures? And we're just speaking of the Old Testament, the place where people who haven't actually read the Bible go when imagining God as mean and scary. If we throw in the covenant of Our Lord Jesus Christ as well? Forget it; if we built luxury hotels on the border for every sojourner, we might get close to fulfilling that command.

So while it's bad to take a verse and say, "Therefore, X," it's worth a note that many references equals a theme, a thrust, a heart. If we don't allow that to really challenge us, we have to consider the possibility that our religion is only a proxy for something else.

It may behoove our leaders to work backwards and say, "The dignity of the human person is such that we cannot do..." and then choose from among whatever is left.

I always laugh at those people who shout, "Our country is not a theocracy!" More's the pity. They might get more of what they want if it were.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tu Quoque, While Injustice Reigns

It's absolutely true that I am not privy to the millions of deportation case files adjudicated and recorded in the administration of Barack Obama. I'll be willing to concede as a matter of course that real injustice took place. One cannot expect consistency from an ethical paradigm where situation ethics plays such a prominent role.

However, it seems to me that the most pressing questions are these: "Do you believe it is morally acceptable to separate children from their families? Is it morally acceptable to detain people in cages? Do you believe that all methods of punishment are acceptable--against either the accused or the guilty--at any time? Finally, is crossing the US border in an irregular fashion the highest crime against the people of the United States?"

You are free to bring any charge against Barack Obama that you wish, provided there is evidence. But I would like an answer to my questions. You may protest that the questions are extreme, suggesting extreme measures that are not being taken. That may or may not be the case. I know one thing for sure: "But Obama did it, too!" is not actually an answer.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Now, We Can Begin

I walked to noon Mass with my mom. It's nice when we essentially live in the neighborhood. Fr. Todd Shepherd, of Wichita, KS, had a Mass of Thanksgiving here, having served as our Deacon this past year. Truthfully, I had forgotten this was taking place. It was just noon Mass to me.

I came in the door, and I happened upon the procession, about to begin. "Good morning, Jason," said the Monsignor. "Good morning, Monsignor," said I. [I don't think it was morning.--ed.] I had the same thought. But what Monsignor wants, Monsignor gets. He paused, and got a little twinkle in his eye. "I guess now we can begin!"

On the contrary; if Linus isn't there, we have a problem. In any case, Fr. Rubie--apparently loitering until his new assignment begins--had a chuckle. So did I, I must say.

There's a big fuss about evangelization. Rightly so, I suppose. But I have a bone to pick. It's not a thing that we do; it's something that we are. We are the good news, because Christ is transforming us.

And let's get it clear: we do use words, because they are usually necessary. But they are words that flow naturally from our lives, because His love flows "naturally" from our hearts.

"And after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." Christ continues to draw us to himself, even us who believe, because there is an endless depth to the mystery of communion with God. The forgiveness of sins is only the beginning, although He is glad to return with us to the beginning, as often as necessary. If we can internalize the fact that God loves us more than we do, then and only then, we can begin to impact others.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Follow-Up To Yesterday (CCC, 2357-2359)

I won't ever be a credible "gay-hater," because it's not who I am. I've probably made jokes and the like, as young men have been known to do when they lack experience. Yet my culture is one of acceptance, even celebration. I am affected by this, even as I am constrained to hold otherwise. And what gay activists would find from me and many others is a certain kind of acceptance, born of common humanity. Nevertheless, we are constrained by an anthropology--that is, that which concerns humanity's destiny and purpose--to profess what we profess. It is not a "phobia," or animus, but a fundamental disagreement about what human life actually is. Associate Justice Kennedy once famously opined that rights in this society confer the opportunity to define one's own destiny and purpose. It is at precisely this point, we part ways. I am constrained to acknowledge reality, not to create it for myself.

Suppose for the moment that the reason people are expending so much energy defining themselves is that all the ways people used to know have been shattered. Our families have been shattered, along with our sense of community, in countless ways. You have to hand it to classical liberalism: even as it takes away everything people rely on--without them realizing it--it convinces us all that these changes are the fruit of our "liberty." Liberty to do what?

Emotivism is on the rise. Emotivism may be the reason why you're not prepared to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the relevant paragraphs, giving the ideas a fair hearing. As many wiser than me have noted, take note of how often you or other people make a declarative statement that begins, "I feel..." What we intend to say is, "I think..." but we don't. "I think" is a relic from the time when truth was not "my truth" or "your truth," but something outside of us, something we either conformed to, or fruitlessly fought against. The indomitable Dr. Bryan Cross noted:

"When philosophical skepticism is the dominant background philosophy, not only is the very discoverability and intelligibility of the order by which actions are rationally judged to be ordered or disordered denied, but such rational judgments can only be seen as bigoted and emotivist, and therefore as irrational and coercive exercises of power and control over others."

We're dealing with so much more than cakes and rainbow flags, if we take a moment to reflect upon this. And I might suggest that a person who rejects truth claims when it comes to what they ought to do with their sex organs will not be so sure when ICE is taking children from their families. If you surrender the claim of truth, feelings are all that remain, and your interlocutors and opponents take the opportunity to reject those moral claims, such as they are. In the process, I find to my horror that some deny any value of feelings at all, or surrender to their worst instincts and emotional responses, as if those feelings were as valid as any truth claim.

One other thing: Some people offer the opinion that the true humanity and compassion is offered by those who profess no faith at all. Careful, now: do you offer what amounts to an emotivist claim about what others believe, and why? I'd be hard-pressed to convict the man who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop of bigotry, unless I decided that his truth claim was per se evidence of it. Before I got too comfortable in my alleged superiority, I might try to figure out exactly how I know the things I think I know.

What if "Love is love" is a conceptual house of cards? I hope it hasn't been too long since you have asked a question that shakes the foundations of how you lean into the world. It's daring to ask; it's even more daring to build upon the true truth of what you find.

Actually, We Know What Jesus Thinks Of Homosexual Acts (CCC, 2357-2359)

I saw another meme earlier. It said, "All I'm saying is, I think Jesus would bake the d--- cake." It's the perfect socially acceptable sentiment. It's also, to use a metaphor, bull excrement.

I would like to make two basic points: The Sacred Scriptures nowhere approve of homosexual acts, in either testament. That some try to marshal some texts to say otherwise is exactly why we have a Magisterium in holy Church. Second, the teaching in the Catechism harks back not only to revealed truth, but natural law. This means--no matter how fiercely one professes atheism or antipathy to organized religion--at some level, one cannot help but know that these things are wrong. So, in point of fact, this is a "religious debate" in only the most general sense. We could say that supernaturally revealed truth--presuming it exists--supplements something we're already supposed to know.

It's not my place to tell Christians bearing this unique cross what words to use in self-description, or why. In fact, Eve Tushnet, a Catholic writer who calls herself "gay," can offer you compelling reasons why one might still use such words while remaining committed to Church teaching on human sexuality. Others have a different view. That's a community discussion, as it were. My opinions and thoughts are offered as a member of a wider overlapping circle: those who defend and live what the Church teaches.

What of, "intrinsically disordered"? Isn't this provocative and hurtful language? Well, it could be hurtful, in two ways: 1. The person who hears it does not understand what is meant by its usage, and thereby imports a meaning it does not have, either objectively, or in this particular case; and 2. The person who hears it personalizes the words in a way that those using them do not intend.

What does it mean? Well, if we picture the entire created order including ourselves, and that God made all that we see, we could also surmise that every created thing has a purpose for which it's been designed. Human beings by their very nature are created to love and serve God, and remain in His friendship forever. "Intrinsically" means, "by its very nature." That which helps us love and serve God is ordered to that end. If we say something is "intrinsically disordered," that means that, by the very nature of what the thing is, it cannot be ordered to the proper end. Some acts are contrary to God's design because it's the wrong time or circumstance. Other things might be good in themselves, but they are done with the wrong motive, so they are bad acts. Intrinsically disordered acts are always wrong, even if they are done with good intentions. Or even if the circumstances are so tough or strange that a person wouldn't be fully responsible.

It's not my place also to say that homosexual acts are "icky" or strange, or that I can't imagine what all that would be like, though in that case, that's true. I don't think people who experience their sexuality this way are lepers, or bad people. In the sense that all sin is common, it's part of the human experience. Though it would be a mistake to say all sins have the same gravity, it is in fact true that we all come into this world with an unpayable debt, and it is foolish for a servant to elevate himself or herself above other servants, when the King stands ready to forgive us both. Forgive us, as we forgive our debtors.

Moreover, it could definitely be true that we need to "build a bridge" to the community of people who experience attractions to the same sex. This remains true, even if some notable clergy use the motive of outreach to curry favor with the watching world. In other words, it's possible to be right on this point, while not having the slightest clue about how to, or desire to actually build, a bridge.

On the other hand, even though "accompaniment" gets a bad rap as a kind of going soft on people in presenting the truth so they will like us, in real life, people don't understand everything all at once. Real accompaniment means walking with someone at their pace toward the truth and God's will. This is actually really hard, because you face the risk of losing sight of God's revealed will--as feared, identifying so much with sinners that you don't lead them toward the truth--or that other people think the particular struggles of your friends and neighbors aren't that hard, so they call you a false teacher or something, because people don't become conformed to God's will at the speed others deem necessary.

In the end, compassion is sharing another's suffering. I can't share in it, truly, by compounding it. Love is willing the good of another. I cannot will the good if I do not know it. And it cannot be the true good, if I determine it for myself. One thing we must all answer at some point: Am I experiencing the "judgment" of others because they lack love, or am I being accused by my own conscience? Am I running from the fragrance of the truth, and mistaking it as the fault of others?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Gratitude: The Theme For The Month

I went to Mass yesterday, as I customarily do. Father is leaving, so he preached a bit longer, and with more emotion. He said that the key to the life of holiness is gratitude. That is true. Often when you hear this, though, the tendency is to say something like, "I will be thankful for ALL THE THINGS! I'm going to pray 12 hours of every 24, the Rosary, Chaplet, etc."

And that's fine, if you can. Most of us will fail, though, and were we to dwell on it, we would question the very gift of our faith. God does not want this.

I went through the Mass, and I know it is becoming normal again when I know what the celebrant will say. I am hearing the words, praying them in my soul. If they vary too much, we become disoriented. Perhaps the essence of being Catholic is doing the same good things over and over again.

We're conditioned to believe that doing things by rote is bad, that it is exactly the sameness that destroys Catholicism. On the contrary; the things we want and need are things which we do not yet possess in full measure. If you know you need peace, holiness, and obedience to God's will, there is little point in asking for other things.

I received the Blessed Sacrament, and as much as some people might like to talk to Jesus about whatever they have, I like to let Him sit there with me. He just sits there, and somehow I know that I am known and loved in a way that no one else can. He has this weighty presence that other people just don't have. Sometimes, I silently mention a person or two, but this is not news for either of us. When I turned to leave, I felt the gratitude like a great wave. I felt the tears well up. At times, it's the only language that makes any sense.

I'm still a man, and even sensitive men don't like to show much emotion in front of other men. It was the kind of day where tears could pass for sweat or allergies, and no one has to know. So God knows my gratitude, and now so do you, but I don't have to endure a big fuss and production.

All that is to say, we don't need to be ostentatiously doing everything. We just have to be the sort of people for whom peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation is normal. And if God chooses to make us aware of how glorious and majestic the whole matter really is, we accept the tears and the awestruck joy, and we offer it back.

About Patriotism

You know, I can't be a "rights" absolutist as a Christian. Christian freedom, properly speaking, is only to do that which is good. To confess virtue as praiseworthy, and vice as blameworthy is in effect to say that freedom is limited in precisely this way. Such is the nature of the error of voluntarism: that a thing is good because it is willed, not willed because it is good.

These considerations lead without too much effort to the argument that if the good is not arbitrary, and patriotism is the love of country, then true patriotism is the love of that which is good about one's country. The error of nationalism is precisely opposite: What my country does or wills, so to speak, is good because she wills it. "My country, right or wrong," but even worse.

If I were to agree entirely with that possible misattribution to Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," I would make the mistake of saying that any possible thing a person could say is neutral or good, when this is clearly not the case. On the other hand, free inquiry and dialogue might require that the State restrain itself from silencing every possible error or odious opinion.

In the service of finding a middle or mean, we could say that there could be and should be room for legitimate disagreement, even among people who agree that particular things are right or wrong, respectively. I would have to agree that there could be ideas with which I do not agree, but which nevertheless are not vicious in themselves. Those ideas therefore have no legitimate cause to be censured or silenced by the State. That is not to say that we Americans would be amenable to that, anyway, since we have--haphazardly, anyway--accepted the idea that the government shouldn't censor anything at all, or so many claim. In the end, no one believes this fully, as we'll see, if we don't already.

Surely some will claim--especially knowing what provokes this writing--that the government isn't silencing anyone at all. People are free to say whatever they like when they are not at work. Realize what you are actually saying: "Feel free to put the world in order, to call it like you see it, when you are not engaged in making money for someone else." In those stark terms, I know I raise the hackles. You say, "Capitalism is the most cooperative and mutually beneficial system ever devised!" Even if I could grant this assertion of dogma against all evidence to the contrary, it's beside the point: The argument put forward is that freedom itself is subject to dollars and cents. Value is value only in economic terms.

As a side note, we have the most powerful official in the government arrogating to himself the right to decide what is "acceptable" speech. Even a personal opinion in this context could be chilling, and wholly undesirable. Some people just don't know when--for the sake of everyone--to shut up.

As another aside, our classically liberal tradition exalts individual choice above every other good, so I must not only tolerate difference that is not vicious, I must accept and even celebrate difference for its own sake, without regard to its goodness or not, as such. It's no wonder that money is power and "goodness," because economic arrangements are the only thing we've allowed the State absolutely to facilitate. Libertarians (classical liberals) are fond of saying they're not anarchists. But the Darwinian anarchy of economic power is as close to Hell on Earth as you'll find, perhaps with the exception of the socialist gulags. And it all circles back on itself: they both agree that the person exists at the whim of someone else.

As for me, I have a duty, I believe, to not participate in the NFL, and its inhuman machinations. I'll miss all the great players and teams. I'll miss the speed and artistry. I'll miss my team. But I think people have the right to stand up--or kneel--for what they believe in, even at work. I certainly don't think patriotism should be sold to the highest bidder, either way. (You could easily say that the health of players shouldn't have a price, either, and I respect that. It didn't seem to me that the league was culpably at fault, at least not entirely. I digress.)

I can sacrifice some small pleasure for solidarity, and I intend to. It takes a great love of country to say that one's country could and should be better. Better because ideals are not imaginary; they are as real as those over the decades whose dignity has been denied, whose full personhood is under threat even today. It's not the only threat out there, but that's not of itself relevant.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Sin Christians Ignore: Fornication

I saw one of those listicles the other day. Maybe it had 8 things. And the things listed were definitely sins. But you know what wasn't there? Fornication. That's sex between a man and woman who aren't married. I know it's common. I know that most people don't even see it as wrong. They think we're weird even holding the traditional view. Fornication is still wrong.

When there is a baby, I think we're just relieved when they decide not to kill the baby. I can understand that. That special murder is so normal and so grave, our relief makes a certain sense. Fornication is still wrong.

There is often that couple who promises to have a "church wedding" later. Look, if you're a baptized Catholic, your civil marriage doesn't count. You can't licitly have sex until you get married in the Church.

I'm not saying you can't be forgiven; I am saying you need to be, if you fornicate. Confess it, and don't do it again.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Define Your Terms: Pet Peeve Edition

"every day"--tells you that some occurrence happens each day, e.g. "I walk by this school every day."
"everyday"--an adjective modifying some noun that tends to connote "commonplace" or "ordinary," e.g. "As an engineer, he had trouble grasping the nuances of everyday conversation."

These two uses, though bearing some close relationship to each other, are in fact not the same.

Thank you, and good day.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Vote For The Democrat? Under These Conditions

You know, I made a huge mistake in 2008, in my thought process for presidential voting. I was dead-right about most of the positive things regarding Barack Obama that I spoke or wrote about him. The bad things are deadly grave. And the truth is, I didn't give those things enough weight. I wasn't Catholic. Had I been, I'm not sure what I would have done. I know I would have been fairer to John McCain.

Anyway, we're at the point now where, even if the Democratic Party is more fervently committed to graver evils, it's not at all clear that casting a vote for a Democratic nominee is out of the question, precisely because the Republican Party platform is out of step with our ethics, also. To be clear, it is important to maintain that not all evils carry equal weight, either in this thought process, or in a straightforward look through the eyes of moral theology: acts according to their object, intention, and circumstances. However, if a candidate's ideology countenances enough non-intrinsic evils, the good that may be done by his or her opposition to abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, et cetera, may be dwarfed by the evil. So it is with Trump, in the policies he promotes, the way he promotes them, and the damage his lack of virtue does to the public square. I chose to abstain, because even as Secretary Clinton should have been indicted--the reasoning for not doing so is incoherent--and promoted grave evils arguably with more fervor than anyone prior--she was still the better choice, in my opinion.

A brief personal note, with some bluntness: "It's all about the policy!" I was told by many friends. If that's true, the choice isn't in your favor, my friends, even then. Someone should say it.

Lots of people have cast votes for the Democrat in 2016: I'll bet Mark Shea did. Simcha Fisher, perhaps. Rebecca Bratten Weiss. Charles Camosy. Jacob W. Torbeck, perhaps. E. Bruenig. Those examples suffice. I cannot say that all these people have not reckoned with the gravity of the immoral aspects of the Democratic Party platform. To the extent that I have accused any of them of doing so, or even of being unconcerned about those evils, I renounce it and apologize. I can only ask forgiveness. As Dr. Haidt observes, this political culture does not reward nuance and reasoned debate, or help to foster it. Yet as a culture-maker, I can do better. I will.

What about the judges? Indeed, that was the best argument in favor of selecting Trump. It doesn't work, for 2 reasons: 1. Electoral incentives suggest that the GOP has adopted the pro-life cause in the service of what David Mayhew called "position taking": vociferous speaking, married to as little action as victory allows. I no longer believe Roe v. Wade will fall in a short time. 2. Even if it did, it wouldn't be worth it, by itself.

Additional thoughts about judges at all levels: If I start including every issue that could come before a judge, it becomes clear that in some respects, I ought to prefer judges that Democrats would favor. The day that criminal justice reform inspires the Federalist Society to oppose the death penalty, say, or to endorse implicit bias training, would be a great day. It's not coming soon.

----

One thing more: This republic is so far down a dark path in some estimations that extensive political participation seems a fool's errand. A spiritualized cynicism seems in fashion, almost Anabaptist in nature. Others aim to "reclaim" our social teaching from "the Left." Instead, perhaps we need to be active citizens, as we've been taught, and then to do more thinking, and less feeling. My feelings were but the catalyst to the intuition that something was and is wrong. I have had a tribe, a culture from which to learn what is right and wrong. Now is the time to lead, and to continue learning.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Checking In With "The Notorious RBG"

So there I was, arrested by one of those "meme-videos"--they show you still photos or video punctuated with short text--with the purpose of making some political point. There's a guy saying he was the primary earner for some time, and they had some challenges, so they switched roles. This husband became the primary daytime caregiver for infant twin girls. [AWWWWW!--ed.] I know, right? So the rest of the text was pretty neutral, in fact, and this man is mainly telling us what he's learned about how hard his wife's work is. Fair enough, and amen.

At the end, it had this quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court: "Women will only have true equality when men share the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

A few thoughts, Your Honor:

Define "true equality."

It is possible that, once defined, "true equality" would not in fact be desirable.

I don't think your conditions for "true equality" have ever been universally or even mostly lacking. Thus, one counter-claim might be that true equality has been achieved.

Bonus: Unfortunately, I have a little voice in my head that sounds like Dr. Bryan Cross, and "he" just said: "One problem with studies that have attempted to put a monetary value on the work of stay-at-home mothers is that the totalizing reality of classical liberalism strips all goods of everything except their monetary value. Therefore, those who want this work to be more highly valued risk unwittingly commoditizing an invaluable part of the common good, thus lessening its true value."

(Note for the culturally illiterate: "The Notorious B.I.G." refers to Christopher L. Wallace, 1972-1997, a California rapper of considerable fame, murdered in the year of his death. This nickname given to Justice Ginsburg expresses considerable appreciation and affection for her by progressives, what they regard as her "mic drop" willingness to write fearless opinions with which they agree.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

You Said, "Go Slow"

I've been sick since Sunday. Aside from the obvious reflection on my own mortality--which would not be an incorrect application--it occurs to me that oftentimes a great mercy of God to take away a certain willfulness is to make us not able to really will anything at all. Is that funny? I think so. It's also true, in this case. It's another spin on, "My power is made perfect in weakness," and I will take it.

It brings me joy to write that, and even more, to think about it. If I may say, those crazy saints asking to suffer sound more like the normal ones every day.

Sports is an ingenious vehicle to prevent humans from killing each other more routinely. It's also a picture of the Good News. How many great comebacks started with something that seemed innocuous or inconsequential? All of them, right? When I am weak, then I am strong. You could say it's counter-intuitive, but with the eyes of faith, it becomes intuitive. With the eyes of faith formed by love, it becomes welcome.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Be A Point Of Reconciliation

"Forget religion, and just be human." It's an understandable sentiment. Church people aren't the best, many times. And we find in outsiders often enviable qualities we do not find in ourselves, or in our co-religionists.

The trouble is when we get to defining "human." Without God who reveals, there is no reference point for our aspiration. Every time men conspire to define themselves apart from revealed truth, "human" can mean any number of things, many of which define cataclysm and disaster. The best case in the realm of error is a fuzzy sentimentality. When it gets right down to it, nobody wants this either.

"Religion" isn't very popular these days. I should have stopped rolling my eyes at, "It's not religion; it's a relationship" and made t-shirts. But what do people mean when they use "religion" pejoratively like this? They mean that things have become stale, that the plethora of rules has no intelligible meaning deep in their hearts. That this entire thing is about as enthralling as a trip to the DMV. No wonder people leave; I'd leave, too.

There are no precepts without the reality of the Incarnation. If Jesus came as a man to die on the cross and be raised from the dead, then there are reasons to commemorate that as the redeemed community, the family of God. You cannot rule-follow your way to Heaven. The redeemed life is intelligible by a personal encounter with the risen Christ. Without this, it's crazy. In fact, we should acknowledge the fact that it's crazy anyway. There is a sense in which we need rules, but they don't need us. That is, any person is probably aware of the failure to meet some standard, but knowing that standard, even meeting it fleetingly, won't fill us. Probably people try religion at times trying to fill that gnawing, I could be better in their hearts. It doesn't work; it can't.

There's an edifice to Christianity, there's a civilization, but there was no power in that either, but for the fact that millions of people and perhaps billions, had a personal encounter with Christ, and decided to share experiences. Consider this: That the peaks of human civilization occurred because Jesus spoke into the darkness of this world. It's not something we can claim as our own to preserve, because without Him, it falls apart.

I digress.

I have seen a movie called "Field of Dreams" many times. Besides the charm of this baseball fairy story--and that's exactly what it is--I love a part of one scene. Our protagonist Ray is attempting to discern whether to follow the presumptive leadings of Heaven's messengers, risking the financial health of his family in the effort, while his wife Annie tells him all the reasons it's a terrible idea. They're behind on the mortgage, the baseball field Ray built ate up their savings, she says, and, "We could lose this farm." Simple words, and I don't know if Amy Madigan messed up acting this line, or if she nailed it, but it has a certain unreality to it, almost inviting Ray and us to believe that it's going to work out, that ignoring the call is worse than losing the farm and their home. (I say "Heaven's messengers" because both the book and the movie are a kind of Christian story, but the good news is in fact baseball, if you will pardon the scandal.)

Suffering and trial are a bit like possibly losing the farm. They have a reality that pulls you, they offer a legitimate counter-invitation, but next to God's invitation, it sounds like a poorly-delivered line one barely stops to consider. When we start hearing God clearly, all the trial and pain of the world in a sense has an unreality, an ephemeral existence that pales in contrast. There are times not to say this, of course, but anyone on the other side of a trial knows what I'm saying.

We can be a point of reconciliation when the defining reality of our existence is that Christ loves us. We can't simply know this; we have to taste it in the air. What do you taste in the air when there is no one else around?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Pope Thoughts, Continued

You know, I lost my father when I was young. Simultaneously, my experience of human fatherhood was not at all good. I will spare you the details. Let's just say that being in the Church--an intact family--is one of the greatest joys of my life. I experience that joy every time I see a priest. Perhaps you have had the luxury of taking the Church for granted. Perhaps you have had the blessing of an intact family of origin. In both cases, I have not.

I did not know I could love a person as much as I love Benedict XVI, both as pope, and now as Pope Emeritus. I was doing a Holy Hour at the moment he left the Chair of Peter. It was hard. The Blessed Trinity reminded me that the heavenly throne will not be abdicated. The time between popes is terrible; I hate it. In any case, as we used to say, "God is good, all the time."

And now, with Pope Francis, it's in his eyes, his face. That joy. It can only be the joy of the Holy Spirit. If I never read a word of him, it'd be alright if I could see that smile. Whenever I see him, it's there. There have been hard days, I'm sure. You'd never know it, though. If you think of him, and there are not warm feelings, something is wrong. Pray until you find them. This stands apart from anything that starts out, "I wish he had said..." or, "I wish he hadn't said..." We all have them; they're close to irrelevant here. Some people pray for the pope, but they are hate-praying. They're praying mad, or worried, or something else. God and the saints have power we just don't. You do realize that prayer is communion with Almighty God? Sovereign, all-powerful immovable God. Suffering may not cease, the job may not come, et cetera, but if I pray for an increase in charity, or fortitude, or any spiritual good thing, I will get it. If we had any idea the plutonium we are playing with, we'd pray bigger than we do. All of us. But, I tell you, I do begin to understand.

What do I think of Pope Francis? People ask me that sometimes. I have no idea how to answer. It's like asking me if I like my Dad. I realize for some of us that is a very imperfect analogy, and in that, I mourn. Still, the way some people ask it, I can tell Pope Francis isn't family for them like he is to me. I mourn for that, too.

I suppose one day, we could have a truly wicked pope, who brings scandal and shame to us continually, and maybe after the fact. Then it'd be harder to love. But what a luxury to be here now! What mercy has come to us! If we find love for our spiritual father difficult, the problem is us.

I have nothing to add. Read and take what is good. The joy of the Lord be with you.

The Pope Has Nothing To Prove

I will not tell you that every utterance is the greatest wisdom ever produced. I will not tell you that no criticism of the pope is ever acceptable. I will say that most people shouldn't and can't. If that bothers you, good. Do you realize that John Paul II is a saint? I'm not God, obviously, but there is a strong possibility that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI probably is as well. And besides that, arguably the greatest theologian you'll ever live to see. Do you want the job following those guys? It seems like some people do, and it's as silly as it sounds.

What a great gift the Catechism of the Catholic Church is to us! Don't let anyone ever tell you that nothing good came from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, because that Catechism is its fruit. Those two magnificent popes made it their life's work implementing the Council, and taking us out into the world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. You could spend the rest of your intellectual life reading those two guys, and it would not be a waste. Far from it! Read older things too, but the previous two popes as popes and as private theologians are top-notch.

Did you also know that we have older catechisms that are just as good today as the day they were written? The Baltimore Catechism and the Catechism of the Council of Trent can educate and edify you as well. In short, if you need to know the faith once delivered, it's all there. Talk with your priest or a trusted spiritual director if you have questions, or even doubts.

My job as a member of the faithful in the Body of Christ is to listen and obey. Let me say that again: our job is to listen and obey. That sounds scary and undemocratic. Yeah, well, this ain't the United States Senate; it's the Church. Jesus is already King, and he left His Vicar here as well. The positions are filled. I'm so glad we didn't have Facebook and Twitter and cable during the "Babylonian Captivity" (one real Pope, two antipopes at the same time) or the Borgia popes! You think the printing press made the Reformation schism and heresies worse? Hoo boy! I'm thankful for St. Catherine of Siena, who told the successor of Peter to suck it up and get back to Rome, where he belonged. Now the only problem is, everyone thinks they are her.

If I'm being direct about it, I wouldn't watch EWTN (the global Catholic network) if I could, with the exception of the Holy Mass broadcast and other prayers. I don't care what Raymond Arroyo thinks about the state of the Church, or Pope Francis, or American politics. God love him. But it's really not my job to save the Church from itself, or to rebuke Pope Francis. My job is to listen and obey. That includes praying as well.

As long as we're being direct still, so-called "dubia" are used in the Church when there is an unsolvable confusion about a theological matter of great importance. As far as I know, it's never been used as a shot across the bow of the pope, so to speak, until now. If those four cardinals knew the teaching on marriage, they're not confused, and they didn't need to ask. How weak is our faith, if we need the Holy Father to feed us culture war scraps, just so we know the sky isn't falling? Just asking.

If I can't square something Pope Francis says with what I already know, I have the option to stick with what I do know, until it is made clear. I can stay silent and pray. I can humbly ask my pastor. I might even recognize the difference between a private opinion, and something else. The psalmist, whilst lamenting the apparent triumph of the wicked in the 73rd psalm, says in verse 15, "If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have been untrue to the generation of thy children." If you ask me why I don't have anything to say in criticism of the pope, I'm going to quote this verse. If this Catholic Church is the household of faith, we'd better get used to obeying the human father Jesus gave us. You know, my Dad was far from perfect. But what kind of son would I be, if I ran him down in public, in front of the watching world? In the name of truth-telling, let's say. My father was a good man; I'd be a horrible son, even if everything I said were true. We're living in the very Kingdom of God as the Body of Christ. Grace builds upon nature, and yet some Catholics treat the Vicar of Christ like a stranger. That's no way to live.