Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Retreat / Pilgrimage

Would anyome be intersted in going here on a retreat / pilgrimage with me? There's nothing definite or immediate here, just asking right now. Has anyone been here? What was it like?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Some Changes to the Blog

I've made two changes to the Dossier.

First, I've created an archive of my favorite/best writing, organized (more or less) by subjects. You can find them under "Selected Previous Dispatches" on the left-hand side of the blog. Each archive sub-title will take you to the relevant archive. Once there, you will see a paragraph or so from each "Dispatch," so that you can see if you want to read the whole article. If you do, just click the title, which links back to the spot where the whole entry is found on the Dossier.

Second, I've disabled the Comments section. From now on, all commenting can be done by clicking the link at the end of each post, which invites all and sundry to discuss the matter/article/whatever at St. Blog's Parish Hall. That link will take you straight to the Hall, where registration is easy. You'll find me in the corner with a tumbler of Bushmill's surrounded by cloud of tobacco smoke. Pull up a chair and feel free to explain, in detail and at length, what kind of idiocy I've written. See you there!
A Small Note

Courtesy of Catholic World News, I read a story on the USCC's decision that the Catholic Answers voting guide should not be distributed on Church property. Titled "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics," it's a prescription for heartburn among the "peace and justice" types who think fighting abortion has little to do with peace or justice:
On most issues that come before voters or legislators, a Catholic can take one side or the other and not act contrary to his faith. Most matters do not have a ‘Catholic position.'

But some issues are so key, so elemental, that only one position accords with the teaching of the Christian gospel. No one endorsing the wrong side of these subjects can be said to act in accord with the Church's moral norms.

This voter's guide identifies five "non-negotiable" issues and helps you narrow down the list of acceptable candidates, whether they are running for national, state, or local offices.

Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

1. Abortion

The Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is "never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it" (EV 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.

The child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the fault is not the child's, who should not suffer death for others' sins.

Some things always are wrong, and no one may vote in favor of them, directly or indirectly. Citizens vote in favor of these evils if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them. Thus, Catholics should not vote for anyone who intends to push programs or laws that are intrinsically evil. . . . .

In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or more of the five non-negotiables. In such a case you may vote for the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or who seems least likely to be able to advance immoral legislation, or you may choose to vote for no one.
So much for the "Ono Ekeh Strategy" of eliminating abortions by using tax dollars to pay for them -- so long as tax dollars are also used to pay for Head Start programs (only non-aborted children need apply), extending social-security benefits to lesbian and gay families, and offering incentives for America's gay, lesbian, and "other" families to choose "fuel-efficient vehicles."

The USCC prefers a more, uh, nuanced approach to political stewardship. The Church, say her bishops, is not an "interest group" with some kind of agenda for the world. The Church endorses nothing. She's merely here to ask 'a series' of questions like these:
How will we protect the weakest in our midst—innocent unborn children? How can our nation not turn to violence to solve some of its most difficult problems—abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies; the death penalty to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness, and disability; and war to address international disputes? . . . How will we address the tragic fact that more than 30,000 children die every day as a result of hunger, international debt, and lack of development around the world?
Think of it like a moral Tinker Toy. You get all these rods and disks and build what you think is the best thing to build right now. You can leave out the "2 million babies a year aborted in America" disk, if you think the "10,950,000 children die every year from lack of foreign aid" disk fits better with the "no death penalty -- ever -- rod." Perhaps above all, no concern may be be thought more important than another -- that would be 'isolating' a particular element of Church doctrine, and Catholics are not to make political commitments to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine, as though they could rest on their anti-abortion laurels when rainforests are being threatened in Uruguay.

The Catholic Answers guide is a call to change the face of the American regime by an unswerving commitment to the dignity of human life. The USCC's guide is a call for business as usual. If you disagree, just ask yourself whether, in an election year where the polling error margins are larger than the difference between the two candidates, thirty million Catholics refusing to vote for pro-death candidates would cause more than a few major-party power brokers to sit back on their haunches and think really hard about what to do in the next cycle. Then ask yourself what, in that same election year, would be the impact of thirty million Catholics voting with the same distribution patterns as any secular voter who may or may not think that national worker-skill standards, DNA-evidence requirements for death-penalty cases, or sending the Vagina Monologues on a tour of Indonesia, is the best way to achieve the common good.

If the Catholic Answers guide were followed, John Kerry and the Democratic Party are toast. And Georgie Bush and his Mensheviks might not fare so well, either; they've been playing footsie with the culture of death for years. Interviewed by Tucker Carlson, Bush ridiculed Karla Faye Tucker's plea for clemency by puckering his lips in a parody of desperation and whispering, "Please don't kill me." That was before Georgie gave a Presidential blessing to embryonic stem-cell research. And now Dick Cheney wants America to reject the hate and bigotry behind Catholic teaching on sex. There's more than one party in America wearing boots fit to stamp on the human face, forever. They've got those boots because everyone's following the game plan outlined by the USCC's "questions" brochure -- we're fighting like wolverines to change everything just a little, and we end up keeping everything just the same.

So the USCC's decision is a sad one. But I've digressed a little bit from the main reason I'm writing about this. I can already hear St. Blog's "damn all lawyers" dynamos spooling up into another eruption of scorn for America's second-oldest profession. That's because the USCC's decided to hide its own censorious decision about the Catholic Answers voting guide behind us harmless pin-striped lawyers:
Interpreting Internal Revenue Service guidelines for non-profit organizations is at the heart of the voter guide question. IRS rules insist that non-profits may not engage in active campaigning for specific candidates or political parties. Though USCCB lawyers declined repeated requests for comment, an online memo makes it clear they believe in a very strict reading of the IRS code. "Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations," a document of the USCCB's Office of the General Counsel, stresses that guides and questionnaires must cover a "wide variety of issues selected solely on the basis of their importance to the electorate as a whole."
With all respect to Catholic World News, the meaning of IRS rules are about the last thing that factors into the USCC's decision.

According to the USCC's response, IRS guidelines require the Church to address "a wide variety of issues," and these in terms of "their importance to the electorate as a whole." In other words, the IRS practically wrote the USCC's guide for the bishops -- the IRS supposedly forbids listing "non-negotiable issues," and won't let anyone discuss voting decisions in terms of fidelity to the Magisterium.

That's nonsense. And even if it weren't, even if the IRS's laid down same the rules for the Church in America that the Reich Concordat laid down on the Church in Nazi Germany, then the USCC ought to retire what must be a kennel of legal Shi-Tzus and bring in some first-amendment pit bulls who'll have every Justice Department lawyer living on vending-machine food and sleeping under their desks for the next ten years. (I suggest putting the St. Thomas More Law Center on retainer as a start in the right direction.)

Henry Ford once remarked that he didn't hire lawyers to tell him what he couldn't do, and I doubt the USCC's paying its legal counsel with free scapulars. The USCC's getting the legal advice it already wants on this issue, nothing more or less than that. So I remind those who might be tempted to to unleash another Corrupt Lawyers Barrage that lawyers are mirrors; it's not just our fault if you don't like what you see.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Some friends and family . . . .

. . . still can't . . .

. . . understand why . . .

. . . I'm not a fan of . . .

. . . Halloween.

Links courtesy of A Saintly Salmagundi.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Olympic Shooting News

Yeah, I know. The media's got us all wired to associate firearms, crime, and violence. This is my small attempt at de-wiring. Here are the results for the Olympic shooting sports competitions. America's Kim Rhode took a gold medal in the womens' double trap. Russia had gold medals in Men's Free Pistol and Men's Trap and silver and bronze medals in Men's Running Target. China turned in a very impressive performance, medaling in Mens' Double Trap, Womens' Double Trap, and Womens' Skeet. Still to go -- Men's 50m 3-position rifle; Men's Rapid-Fire Pistol, Men's Skeet, Men's 50m prone rifle; and Women's 50m 3-position rifle.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Tim's Technological Touche

From Tim Enloe's Societas Christiana:
I find it especially interesting that Clarke was somewhat close to Lewis and Tolkien. Clarke is well known in science fiction circles for coining what has come to be called "Clarke's Law"--the naturalistic maxim that "Any sufficiently advanced technology will appear as magic to the unenlightened." This radical reduction of reality is interesting because Lewis and Tolkien as Christians seemed to have no trouble integrating the natural and the supernatural without said reductionism (e.g., Uncle Andrew's rings; Gandalf's staff and the the Rings of Power). One can amusingly imagine Clarke arriving at, say, Rivendell and being lectured by Elrond on the real truth of reality: "Any sufficiently advanced magic will appear as mere technology to the darkness of unbelief."

I think I'll steal that. "Any real magic will appear as technology to the unenlightened." I've thought Clarke's maxim interesting since his best novel, Childhood's End, relies exclusively on "magic" to fulfill human destiny. So I think Tim's post touches on another very interesting subject, the toxic effect materialists and athiests have on science.

If there's no magic, then man's need for it will be invested in his technology. (And isn't it interesting, that according to athiestic materialists, we "evolved" by natural selection to need something which doesn't really exist?). Instead of "de-mystifying" knowledge of the universe, the application of Clarke's maxim inevitably "mystifies" science as the praxis of pantheism, the belief that the universe is a solipsism. Or as Babylon5's Delenn and G'Kar kept telling us -- "we are the universe trying to understand itself." Once that's done, the death of individuality -- which requires the ability to distinguish between "I" and "thou" -- is not far behind. So it's not surprising that Childhood's End culminates with the death of human personality by the incorporation of man into the Overmind.

An indispensable part of knowing the difference between God and a chromosome is knowing God. A belief system like Clarke's, which prizes ignorance on that subject, doesn't end up de-mythologizing God. It ends up divinizing genetics, or psychology, or philosophy, sex, or anything else that inspires an overwhelming personal experience. People can inspire those experience too -- pop stars, the latest and greatest fuhrer, terrorists -- just about anyone can be a mysterium tremendens if the horizon of popular expectations is low enough. And why shouldn't it be low, very low indeed? If we are the universe trying to understand itself, the universe must be a very stupid thing.
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Saturday, August 14, 2004

Sometimes It's Little Things That Can Tell So Much . . .

From a story on New Jersey Governor James McGreevey: "New Jersey isn't the Bible Belt," said Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. "The governor only told us he was gay because he knew something untenable was coming down the road."

So we may conclude, then, that in a "Bible Belt" people have other reasons for telling the truth, and that makes them ridiculous and unsophisticated.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I thought this was revealing . . .

A description of the testimony of Amber Frey, the lover of accused murderer Scott Peterson, about their first tryst:
She said they danced in a karaoke bar before going to a nearby hotel. She said he went to some lengths to court her, pouring champagne and putting a strawberry in her glass.

What chivalry! Who could resist going to a motel with someone they'd known for a couple of hours after having a piece of fruit stuck in a champagne glass?
Lions for Christ

Two good priests, Fr. Brian Stanley and Fr. Rob Johansen,
show us a Church whose priests have a healthy sense of self.
Witness the content of their thoughts on "worthiness" and the leonine reaction to some ignorant jibbering.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I Support the Troops?

I began this last month, after reading a "Point to Ponder" from one of my favorite bloggers, Shawn McElhinney. He wrote:
I find myself not just a little confused by the mantras of those who say "we support the troops but oppose the war." I have to wonder if they realize how sophistic this stance really is. For if (I) they believe the war is immoral or evil and (ii) the troops they claim to "support" as a rule [ ] believe in what they are fighting and willing to die for and (iii) they claim to support the troops who are fighting in that war, then (iv) they are claiming to "support" people who by an overwhelming majority profess a belief in and willingness to sacrifice themselves for something that they (the antiwar crowd) believes is evil or immoral. In short, their positions are patently illogical and a classic example of sophistic rationale.
Since I "oppose the war," I thought it might help if I tried to write an answer.[1]

Just for the record, I have three reasons for opposing the war. First, I oppose it because I do not think it a just war. Second, I oppose it because my knowledge (however limited it may be) of Catholic theology on the subject of just warfare has not led me to the conclusion that all "just causes" require that war be fought, or fought immediately, or fought by direct recourse to violent arms. Moreover, whether or not the present struggle in Iraq is consistent with Catholic teaching, I think the whole affair is a blunder of nightmarish proportions and should be opposed on that ground alone. So, can I support the troops?

It seems to me that loyalty, like all good things, can be properly given unconditional scope only when it is directed to the highest good, namely to God alone. In reference to all other things or persons, loyalty must be qualified because its immediate object exists within a hierarchy of goods which God has created. To the extent a nation, an army, a lover, or any human cause participates in that hierarchy, it may justly demand loyalty and support. To the extent that something deviates from the hierarchy of good, whether in ends or means, it cannot demand or expect human loyalty.

It is a symptom of the times that what I have just written may well, and too easily, be mistaken as an apologia for treason. E.M. Forester wrote, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." Fortunately, that's a false choice. One's dilemma isn't who to "betray," but how to live the universal truth of charity with respect to everyone -- to one's country and one's friends. The alternative, which is to determine which human cause requires unconditional adherence or unqualified rejection, is ultimately idolatrous because it gives human allegiances a place in the moral landscape which only God can truly occupy.

Let's take the worst possible opinion of the war -- its moral equivalence to Roe v. Wade. That's not an opinion I hold myself. To begin with, the moral issues surrounding abortion are sufficiently clear to anyone with the use of right reason as to be undebatable. But the morality of the attack on Iraq is less clear, all the more so because the government insisted that it had secret information that justified the choice for war. When President Bush claimed -- and I do not brook casuistry on this subject, because the Administration's position was quite clear in the days before the war -- that Iraq posed a dire, direct, and immediate threat to the physical security of the United States, the manuals of moral theology on my shelves say that one may presume that he is speaking both truthfully and accurately. But when a physician points at a human being inside her mother's womb, noting the eyes, lips, fingers, etc., of a human body, observing the human being try to avoid the instruments which are pulling it to bits and says "See that? It's not to be respected as though it were a human being," one doesn't have that benefit, because the situation is clear enough to anyone with eyes and a conscience.

But let me assume that such equivalence exists anyway, and ask Shawn a question, not to avoid his own, but to illustrate my point. Is it patently illogical, sheer sophistry, to support our country while opposing one of her most basic constitutional rights, the right to have an abortion? It is no use answering that abortion is not a basic constitutional right, whether or not that answer is based in the natural law or the history of American jurisprudence. Natural law[2] is not and has never been recognized by the American legal order, which is (and has largely always been) firmly dedicated to the moral primacy of secular power exercised according to the "consent" of the enfranchised. Inquiring into jurisprudential history would only lead us on a merry chase through the obscurities of constitutional theory and history, neither of which are at all clear that a constitutional decision on the subject of Roe v. Wade is an illegitimate exercise of the sovereign power. Moreover, it is an undeniable fact that every American grants abortion the status of a constitutional right de facto if not de jure -- even those of us who oppose abortion condemn responses which one would naturally and ordinarily make to an illegal attack on life of another. We condemn such responses because, though abortion is evil, violent repudiation of the law also traduces moral imperatives which are equally, if not even more, significant than the simple right to life.[3] We are strange ducks, us pro-lifers. We "pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the Republic for which it stands" even though the republic's laws make a mockery of her claim to exist "under God."

My support for our troops is, I suspect, somewhat similar to Shawn and I saying the Pledge of Allegiance in its (present, but temporary) theocentric form. We both promise loyalty, but we do not mean thereby to step outside the hierarchy of good which God has ordained for ourselves, our country, her laws, or those who enforce them. In that respect, the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge is a saving clause, a thing which makes it possible for a Christian to recite the pledge at all. And we are glad of that. We do not look for chances to "betray" anyone or anything. We seek to witness God's charity and truth to everyone -- America's soldiers and lawyers, her armies and her courts. I can't say I approve of our troops having conquered and occupied Iraq, but I don't think that means I must wish them to be harmed, or even to fail in the goals of our occupation which are, broadly speaking and without reference to their institution, in general accordance with the natural law. Certainly Shawn needn't say that he hopes that disaster will strike our country because it permits -- indeed, encourages -- the slaughtering of innocent children as a form of moral and political triumph. I can wish for all our troops to come home safely, successfully, and unharmed, just as Shawn may wish for all our lawyers, legislators, and judges to shake off the chains of error and come home to the teachings of the Church. In neither case must we choose who to betray, who to reject and who to damn. That isn't required, because God is in His Heaven and all's contingent on His word.

I say, and shall continue to say until sufficient proof is brought to the contrary, that the Iraq war was not just. I'm not sure how that means I can't "support" our troops, unless the "support" demanded is the kind of unconditional approval referred to above. Even if I thought the troops were sinning -- something I don't need to believe in order to think the war was unjust -- I could still pray for them and hope for their safe and successful return. I can pray for the health and well-being of abortion doctors, and that they may succeed in supporting their families. One needn't wish for a person to be totally and completely consumed by all the evils of this life in order to oppose one signal sin in his character. In fact one mustn't do that, since God does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live. Sinners are miserable enough as it is -- nothing I'm aware of in God's plan requires me to wish that they were more miserable than they already are. "Thy will be done." God's will covers a good deal of human unclarity about the state of souls and the right way to weave the future from the present.

As I said, I don't believe there's a parallel between abortionists, pornographers, etc., and U.S. soldiers in Iraq. What I've said is that, even if there were such a parallel, one can still oppose the sin without hoping that every present aspect of every true good in the sinner's life be stripped away from him. I don't want Hugh Heffner to live in a cardboard box beneath an underpass, even if he does live in a sumptuous Babylonian hell-hole paid for with broken families, raped innocence, and ruined lives. I don't want Larry Flynt to be paralyzed, either. All I want is for them to have had their money, or met their misfortunes, while doing something honorable and good for mankind. If I can -- and should -- wish for that in the case of abortionists and pornographers, surely I can -- and should, and do -- wish for equal or even greater good in the lives of U.S. soldiers who are, at present, struggling to preserve Iraq from the barbarity that seems to be preferred by the Iraqis themselves. Yes, I wish they hadn't gone. I don't think it was just to have sent them there. But I support the troops. God bless them and keep them from harm, grant them victory in battle, and success in preserving Iraq from the clutches of Satan.

[1] There are, of course, persons to whom Shawn's point applies in full force. You can read about such people here. But I am writing to defend other people, not the John Kerrys, Jane Fondas, and Tom Haydens of the world.

[2] I do not speak here of "natural rights," which is the post-Enlightenment attempt to find the law in pure, unaided, rationality, in the sheer right operating of the human mind, acknowledging at the same time that "right operating" does not require or permit any recourse to divine revelation. One can -- and many American jurisprudes have -- made arguments against abortion on the basis of natural rights. One can -- and just as many American jurisprudes have -- made arguments for abortion on the basis of natural rights.

[3] I offer this brilliant exchange from Sir Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons, to illustrate the thinking behind this position. In the play, a government agent is about to leave Sir Thomas More's house in order to inform falsely on him and cause his doom. More's family -- his son-in-law, Jan Roper, and his wife Alice, have a heated argument about whether More should use his power (he was then Lord Chancellor of England) to stop the evil plot:
More: There is no law against that [being a false and evil man].

Roper: There is! God's law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Roper: Sophistication upon sophistication.

More: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

Roper: Then you set man's law above God's!

More: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact - I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forrester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God . . .

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Roper: I have long suspected this, this is the golden calf; the law's your god!

More: Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god....But I find him rather too subtle....I don't know where He is or what He wants.

Roper: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else!

More: Are you sure that's God? He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God - And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Letter to the Editor

August 8, 2004

Ms. Emily Bell
Editor in Chief, The Guardian Unlimited

Re: "Proposal to Curb Free Abortions Angers Italy."

Dear Ms. Bell:

I am writing in regard to the story, run for August 9, 2004, "Proposal to Curb Free Abortions Angers Italy." In the course of the story your reporter, Sophie Arie, took the occasion to refer to a Vatican document on gender in the following terms: "The proposal has angered politicians from other parties and women's rights advocates barely a week after the Vatican reiterated the Catholic church's stance that a woman's mission is to stay at home and breed."

If the "reiteration" in question is the recent Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 31, 2004, then I am at a loss to understand the reference in Ms. Arie's report. The word "breed" does not appear in the Letter, and after twelve years of Catholic life I do not recall ever hearing the Church speak of motherhood in that way. In fact, the Letter contains the following text which is exactly contrary to your newspaper's description of Catholic teaching:
Although motherhood is a key element of women's identity, this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation. In this area, there can be serious distortions, which extol biological fecundity in purely quantitative terms and are often accompanied by dangerous disrespect for women. The existence of the Christian vocation of virginity, radical with regard to both the Old Testament tradition and the demands made by many societies, is of the greatest importance in this regard. Virginity refutes any attempt to enclose women in mere biological destiny. Just as virginity receives from physical motherhood the insight that there is no Christian vocation except in the concrete gift of oneself to the other, so physical motherhood receives from virginity an insight into its fundamentally spiritual dimension: it is in not being content only to give physical life that the other truly comes into existence. This means that motherhood can find forms of full realization also where there is no physical procreation.
In short, and without going into elements of Catholic theology that are likely to further enrage the Guardian's apparent hostility to the Church, Catholicism finds those true elements of "self-control" and "freedom from exploitative stereotypes" -- elements which are mistakenly sought by secular society in contraception and abortion -- in the idea of virginity as a consecrated state in life. Whether or not a woman is called to that state, the very fact of its existence forbids characterizing women as "stay-at-home breeders."

I realize that many parts of our society dislike the Catholic Church. I will not tire you with the Catholic explanation for this phenomenon, which is much more charitable than you might suppose. Suffice it to say that neither you nor your reporters need to describe the Catholic Church as she herself does; simple good manners and a desire for reportorial accuracy would be enough to deter you from such derisive misrepresentations of the faith of nearly one billion people. Ms. Arie and your paper owe an apology to the Church whose tenets you have misrepresented and to the women who were, thereby, derisively described as staying at home and ‘breeding.' I'm sure that, if given sufficient time to reflect, Ms. Arie and the Guardian's editorial desk can accept that such terms are inappropriate, even if the women in question are Catholics, and that an apology will be forthcoming.

Very truly yours,

Ian McLean


Thanks to The Curt Jester for informing me about this story.
Priceless Wisdom

I don't get out much. My acquaintances tell me I was born 50 years old. Yesterday, for want of anything better to read, I picked up the local newspaper's Sunday supplement. "OUR MAN IN ATHENS," it read, "America's all wrapped up in MICHAEL PHELPS' quest for Olympic gold." That's nice, I thought to myself, I'd have hated to be wrapped up in something and not known it. It's the same reason I appreciate stories about how America's BUZZZING. I remember being told about the marriage / divorce / /terrorist bombing (it was a very confusing story, and I have to admit I wasn't paying lots of attention) between Jaylo and that Arab fellow Bin Aflic. I must have been BUZZING, but apparently I can't make sound or vibration. So stories like that help me stay in the loop. The bottom line is that I'm not as up on everything as I should be, whether or not it's good or bad.

That's preface to my saying I've just now found this great and well-known blog, called Mommentary. It's run by a lady who calls herself Elinor Dashwood, after a character in a Jane Austen novel:
Elinor Dashwood is the elder of two sisters whose troubles and actions drive the plot of Jane Austen's novel, Sense and Sensibility. "S&S" isn't Austen's best-constructed book; its two opposing ideas are perhaps too simplistically portrayed in the sisters, of whom Elinor is Sense and Marianne is Sensibility. Marianne is a Rousseauian, a passionately vivid spirit who lives for romance, emotion, perfect candor, freedom from societal constraints, and the World Well Lost For Love. That's why I'm Elinor: not only do people like Marianne do a lot of harm to themselves, to the family, and to society, but they also make me feel extremely unwell.
Bravo!! If any man deserved to live out his life in absolute, unremitted obscurity, it was Rousseau. "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." Bull. I can't stand Upstairs, Downstairs' Elizabeth Bellamy, or the legions of slogan-screaming, hairy-armpitted women who followed her. I went to college with Rousseauian people, and I helped restrain myself by giving them a theme song -- the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia."
So you been to school for a year or two
And you know you've seen it all
In daddy's car thinkin' you'll go far
Back east your type don't crawl
Play ethnicky jazz to parade your snazz
On your five grand stereo
Braggin that you know how the niggers feel cold
And the slums got so much soul

It's time to taste what you most fear
Right Guard will not help you here
Brace yourself, my dear

It's a holiday in Cambodia
It's tough kid, but it's life
It's a holiday in Cambodia
Don't forget to pack a wife

You're a star-belly sneech you suck like a leech
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch so you can get rich
But your boss gets richer on you
Well you'll work harder with a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers til you starve
Then your head skewered on a stake

Now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need my son:

Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you'll kiss ass or crack

Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot . . . . . .

And it's a holiday in Cambodia
Where you'll do what you're told
A holiday in Cambodia
Where the slums got so much soul.
Ahem. Well, anyway, I really don't like Rousseauian, Anna-Karenina, Madame-Bovary people. They make me ill, too, and that's why I've decided I like Mommentary.

Speaking of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, we get to the Priceless Wisdom I read over at Mommentary. Commenting on a story about Catholic marriages gone wrong, our heroine (oops, some melodrama slipped in there, sorry) writes the following:
I incline to the view that the most important factor [in an enduring marriage] after a well-formed Catholic conscience is grit. Anyone who can read a book or listen attentively to a lecture tape can learn in several hours what the Church teaches about marriage, its laws, and the graces available to the married state. It's another thing to have the discipline to remain faithful and calm when the teaching seems harsh and grace looks to be thin on the ground. All the knowledge in the world won't help if you're a spoiled princess who can't bear any kind of hardship, or a self-indulgent bum who feels aggrieved at being expected to postpone any pleasure. Knowledge is excellent and faith is superb, but they will fall without the self-command to look a problem in the eye and say that, whatever it is, it must be conquered, and giving up is not an option.
Too right. Married love is not something all couples are Wrapped Up In. It's not something they're always BUZZING with. It's work. Tough, hard work. That's why it's a vocation. No room for star-bellied sneetches who suck like leeches, nosir. In God's universe, the sweet comes after the bitter. Most human suffering is the result of trying to have the sweet before, or the bitter not at all. Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Anna Karenina are novels about losers. So that's why I like Elinor Dashwood and her Mommentary, a blog about how to be a winner.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Good News!!!

The Wonderful MaryH has restarted her blog. I say, "The Wonderful" for the reasons I wrote here. She also maintains one of the best discussion boards on the internet, which I sort-of reviewed here. The blogspot's been redesigned, it looks like a professional developer did it. Go check it out, and read regularly!

Friday, August 06, 2004

Butterflies, Traditionalists, and Training-Wheels

I came across this article while perusing one of my favorite blogs, Jeff Culbreath’s El Camino Real. I read it, and was rather surprised by the opinions of the author, Mr. George Sim Johnson, about "Traditionalists." I’m not what anyone would call a ‘Traditionalist.’ I’ve never been to a Latin Mass and have no particular desire to attend one. Nothing John Paul II does ever worries me or causes me alarm. I have a love-hate relationship with Traditionalists, and I’ve blogged about it before in entries you can find here, here, and here. Parts of Mr. Johnson’s article, especially the implications for his critique of Traditionalists, bothered me more than any thing I’ve read by any Traditionalist, whether of the schismatic branch or the faithful, Culbreathean type.

The article’s kernel, its "take" on the Traditionalist movement as a whole, is the story of the rich young man who told Jesus that he kept the law, but was surprised when our Lord told him that he had to do one more thing to inherit eternal life:
In that moral masterpiece, Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II begins with the Gospel episode of the rich young man before Christ, and it’s not a bad place to start a discussion of the Catholic Church since Vatican II. It is easy to think of this encounter as a parable, but it really happened and that well-to-do young man is somewhere right now. In the Gospel story, he’s a devout Israelite who, as John Paul puts it, has grown up "in the shadow of the Law." He has faithfully followed its precepts. But something is missing, and he asks Christ what it might be. Christ’s answer—"Come, follow me"—is completely unexpected. It goes well beyond the young man’s idea of "religion," and so he walks away sad and perplexed.

The rich young man is not unlike a pre–Vatican II Catholic in the affluent West. He has spent his life (mostly) following the rules and understands "eternal life" as an extrinsic reward for having done so. And yet despite the double consolation of economic security and religious correctness, it occurs to him that something more is needed. Christ tells him to keep the commandments. The young man replies, "I have kept all these. What do I still lack?" At this point, like a good pre–Vatican II Catholic, he’s probably expecting to be told to perform extra devotion: Go and recite the seven penitential Psalms. Or an extra discipline: Don’t eat meat on Fridays.

Instead, Christ offers him precisely the challenge that Vatican II made to the Catholic world. It is a challenge both personal and deeply supernatural. The council was a call to Catholics to break from their harness of legalism and externalism. To stop compartmentalizing their religion and risk a transformation in grace. To pass from a merely objective faith—something you have —to one fully lived. It suggested that the more fruitful line of questioning is not, What is prohibited? or, What is required? but rather, What sort of person am I to be? And it proposed the Person of Christ as the answer. Only after absorbing this truth can we fully comprehend why it is we follow His commandments, which otherwise can be a joyless burden.

Mr. Johnson’s mentioning the law’s shadow is a reference to Hebrews 10:1, which we shall discuss in a moment. Mr. Johnson goes on to develop his theme, writing that "The Second Vatican Council was a call to full spiritual maturity. It was time to take off the training wheels to stop living ‘in the shadow of the Law’ -- and take our vocations as Christians seriously." Traditionalists, a term which apparently includes anyone who finds the state of the Church before Vatican II equal or superior to the state of the Church today, prefer "minimalist, rules-oriented Catholicism" to God’s call for " full discipleship" and, like the rebels and dissenters who plagued the Church since the Council, are rejecting the Church’s call to "full spiritual adulthood."

Mr. Johnson’s grudging acknowledgment that the pre-conciliar Church managed to eke out a few full disciples and spiritual adults ("There’s no question that there were good and holy Catholics in the old days -- even some saints . . . .") isn’t nearly capable of lifting the pall of revulsion his essay has thrown over the Church’s history. It is ironic, given Mr. Johnson's glowing review of H.W. Crocker’s Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church which appeared in the same magazine’s May, 2002 issue:
To be immersed in history, Newman tells us, is to cease to be Protestant. There is a corollary: To be ignorant of history is to be vulnerable to evangelical Protestantism. Here in New York City, which is not exactly the heart of the Bible Belt, not a few Catholics find themselves in Protestant Bible study groups. These courses are supposed to be "non-denominational," but it isn’t long before the participants start hearing odd things about the Catholic Church . . . Some throw in the towel and become "Bible Christians."

* * *

Triumph is a splendid antidote to the sort of post-Vatican II Catholicism that apologizes for almost everything the Church has ever done. . . . Christ is the Lord of history, and he handed the keys to Peter. That authority has resonated for 2,000 years, and its story is indeed one of glory and triumph.
I don’t know how conversant Mr. Johnson actually is with Protestantism, evangelical or otherwise, but most Catholics who join Protestant communities do so because they perceive Catholicism to be a "minimalist, rules-oriented" faith which does not offer "full discipleship" and "spiritual adulthood." In fact, one may sum up the entire Protestant indictment of Catholicism with Mr. Johnson’s pet verse, Hebrews 10:1: "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect." The Protestant critic never tires of railing at Catholicism’s dead, "rules-oriented" sacramentalism, which -- it is claimed -- offers men only the shadow of the living Gospel and cannot "make the comers thereunto" full disciples, spiritual adults worthy of the Lamb’s promises. Thus do our separated brethren conclude that the (rule-oriented, minimalist) authority of the Church was not conferred by Christ. Any of them who are wont to take Crisis as a guide to Catholic thought, therefore, shall be happy to find in its pages a suggestion that the Church before the Second Vatican Council -- by which is included the Church of the First Vatican Council and the Church of Trent -- was in precisely that unhappy situation, and that her saints no more mirrored her worldview than St. Paul’s epistles represent the House of Hillel.

This is a most unfortunate blunder, particularly since Mr. Johnson attempts to give us an interesting and worthwhile account of the Church’s achievements since the council. But his repudiation of "historical" Catholicism keeps getting in the way of his message. Take, for example, this sweeping indictment of that great post-conciliar bugbear, "privatization":

[T]his pontificate is . . . a clarion call to evangelize the culture, which John Paul II insists is what really drives history. Catholics have to stop being preoccupied with intra-Church issues and recover a sense of having a message for the world. For centuries—maybe since the Treaty of Westphalia—the Faith has been privatized, so that many Catholics think it’s mainly something you carry around inside your head. Vatican II proposed evangelization as the deepest identity of the Church, but it’s going to require some digging to recover this lost truth.
I’m sure that, had he thought of them, Mr. Johnson wouldn’t have included the Catholics of the Cristeros revolt (1926-29), or the Kulturkampf (1871-1887) -- or for that matter, pre-Vatican II Catholics like Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, Frank Duff, Bl. Giorgio Frassati, Heinrich Bruning, St. Maximilian Kolbe, or St. Josemaria Escriva -- in this vast swath of interior, non-participatory Catholicism. In fact, one may see (and Johnson should have seen) a direct and full connection between our present Pope’s theology of solidarity, the theology of Quas Primas (1925) and the call of Bl. Miguel Pro (d. 1927), the martyred priest who met the firing squad with the cry, Viva Cristo Rey!. Had he reflected on it, I doubt Mr. Johnson would have characterized a Church whose members included J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Hillaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, Sigrid Undstet, Adolphe William Bougereau, Theodor William Achtermann -- and even two he quotes, Jacques Maritain and Christopher Dawson -- as one which had quailed at the task of broadly engaging the main streams of Western culture.

I realize that any generalization may be met with counter-examples. But set within the context of Mr. Johnson’s proto-Evangelical view of Vatican II, wherein the Catholics who came before us were rule-bound minimalists living out listless, spiritually-infantile lives under the culturally-barren domination of a clerical elite ("[O]ne change demanded by the council . . . has yet to happen: the retirement of the old clericalism, the idea that priests and nuns constitute the "real" Church. Most laity still have the odd notion that they must wait for a signal from the bishop or local pastor to do anything . . . "), his generalizations leave the strong impression that Mr. Johnson thinks the Second Vatican Council was convened to produce an aggiornamento -- not with the challenges of the modern world, but with Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Had Mr. Johnson some lingering antipathy to the Church of Vatican I, and been so poorly catechized in the Church’s nature and history that he felt able to engage in this revisionary discarding of the Catholic past in order to love the Church, one might understand his essay better. But he has read -- and praised -- Mr. Crocker’s book:
Triumph is a splendid antidote to the sort of post-Vatican II Catholicism that apologizes for almost everything the Church has ever done. . . . Christ is the Lord of history, and he handed the keys to Peter. That authority has resonated for 2,000 years, and its story is indeed one of glory and triumph.
We must, therefore, be content with our present state of confusion about Mr. Johnson’s apologetic description of the dull, frustrated Catholicism blighting the past one or two (or three? or six?) hundred years. I think, however, that a basic presupposition in Mr. Johnson’s essay may be addressed without speculating too rashly on the motive for its presence.

The modern world has been foxed by the idea that creation is a destructive act. I’ve had occasion to write about the influence of Marxism on modern Christian thought with respect to Fr. Rohnheimer’s criticisms of the pre-Vatican II Church and her response to the Nazis. In this case, my complaint doesn’t focus on a fallacious commitment to the predictable inevitability of history, but to the imaginary phenomenon of the life-from-destruction dialectic:
Butterflies, for example, spring from the egg by a negation of the egg, pass through certain transformations until they reach sexual maturity, pair and are in turn negated, dying as soon as the pairing process has been completed and the female has laid its numerous eggs. We are not concerned at the moment with the fact that with other plants and animals the process does not take such a simple form, that before they die they produce seeds, eggs or offspring not once but many times; our purpose here is only to show that the negation of the negation really does take place . . . And so, what is the negation of the negation? An extremely general — and for this reason extremely far-reaching and important — law of development of nature, history, and thought; a law which, as we have seen, holds good in the animal and plant kingdoms, in geology, in mathematics, in history and in philosophy — a law which even Herr Dühring, in spite of all his stubborn resistance, has unwittingly and in his own way to follow. It is obvious that I do not say anything concerning the particular process of development of, for example, a grain of barley from germination to the death of the fruit-bearing plant, if I say it is a negation of the negation. . . . When I say that all these processes are a negation of the negation, I bring them all together under this one law of motion, and for this very reason I leave out of account the specific peculiarities of each individual process. Dialectics, however, is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought. . . . .Every kind of thing therefore has a peculiar way of being negated in such manner that it gives rise to a development, and it is just the same with every kind of conception or idea. . . .
-- Freidrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, Chapter 13
So, perhaps, with Mr. Johnson. Unable to hold the process of development in mind, he turns to the dialectic in which a Conciliar "Anti-Thesis Church" negates a pre-Conciliar "Thesis Church," just as the butterfly negates the cocoon from which it hatches or, one assumes, the bicycle of adulthood negates the training-wheels of childhood. The most important thing in this process, its hinge, is a conflict between the prior mode of being and the newer mode engendered by the internal conflicts within the old order. Hence Mr. Johnson’s intimation of an internal conflict between the Catholicism of St. Pius X and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his insistence on spurning the former as a precondition to creating the new "springtime" of the latter.

No doubt unintentionally, Mr. Johnson’s rhetorical framework gives "Traditionalists" genuine cause to wonder what he, and like-minded Catholics, mean by phrases such as "We need a great relearning guided by the true ‘spirit’ of Vatican II," "The Church is going to have to rebuild itself from the bottom up," and by insisting on the need to "recover" some "lost truths." If the paradigm of change-repudiation adopted by Mr. Johnson is the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II, does he not necessarily imply that we must "re-learn" a theology that is not merely "different," but antithetical to the theology of Trent and Vatican I? If they say the Church must be "re-built from the bottom up" by the laity, acting independently of ecclesiastical authority, are they not implying that the Gospel must be achieved by standing the hierarchical constitution of the Church on its head? And if we say that the truths on behalf of which all this activity is to occur are "lost," then surely we imply that they cannot be found in the teaching documents of the same pre-conciliar Church whose negation is required to usher in the Novus Ordo’s age of butterflies? Mr. Johnson himself recognizes that the aggiornamento sought by the Council Fathers at Vatican II produced teaching whose "philosophical richness and originality" stunned "most of the bishops who attended the council," who had "little idea how to implement" its decisions, or adequately express its weltschaung. That task, he notes, has consumed almost the entire pontificate of John Paul II, which has in turn added more "philosophical richness and originality" to the Council’s legacy. I submit that Mr. Johnson’s metaphor, of "Traditionalists" refusing to put aside childish things, clinging to the "training-wheel Catholicism" of St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Padre Pio, is unjust to say the least. We might find a better metaphor in the image of drinking from a fire-hose -- however pure the water, its speed and quantity can overwhelm even the thirstiest soul.

It may be that the injustice in Mr. Johnson’s metaphor results from his having thought too little about Veritatis Splendor’s application to Traditionalists in particular, or to the Church in general. The rich man in the Gospel story did not go away sad because he had to abandon a rule-oriented religion:
"[T]he young man's commitment to respect all the moral demands of the commandments represents the absolutely essential ground in which the desire for perfection can take root and mature, the desire, that is, for the meaning of the commandments to be completely fulfilled in following Christ. Jesus' conversation with the young man helps us to grasp the conditions for the moral growth of man, who has been called to perfection."
-- Veritatis Splendor, ¶ 17 (1993).
The conditions of man’s moral growth are as eternal and consistent as the God who established them; there can be no point, ever, at which they become a dead and useless "harness of legalism and externalism," to be cast off as unsuited to the (imaginary) perfection of man. The perfect freedom Christ offered was not a freedom from order, but a freedom flowing from grace in which charity allows us to live easily the life God has ordained for us. Or, to put it in the words of an infantile, pre-conciliar Catholic who did not eat meat on Fridays and found great use for the seven penitential psalms:
In this respect the precepts of the New Law are more burdensome than those of the Old; because the New Law prohibits certain interior movements of the soul, which were not expressly forbidden in the Old Law in all cases, although they were forbidden in some, without, however, any punishment being attached to the prohibition. Now this is very difficult to a man without virtue: thus even the Philosopher states . . . that it is easy to do what a righteous man does; but that to do it in the same way, viz. with pleasure and promptitude, is difficult to a man who is not righteous. Accordingly we read also . . . that "His commandments are not heavy": which words Augustine expounds by saying that "they are not heavy to the man that loveth; whereas they are a burden to him that loveth not."
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa, II(I), a. 107, q.4. Christ’s message to the young man did not involve the "negation of the negation" so dear to the modern mind. He did not present the young man with a Gospel Anti-Thesis of "Freedom from Law" in order to negate a Mosaic Thesis of "Legalistic Externalism." That is the Protestant paradigm, and it is false. Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law, not obliterate its crucial role in man’s personal relationship to the God who created him and gave him a lawful place and purpose in the universe:
"Jesus brings God's commandments to fulfilment, particularly the commandment of love of neighbour, by interiorizing their demands and by bringing out their fullest meaning. Love of neighbour springs from a loving heart which, precisely because it loves, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. Jesus shows that the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love."
-- Veritatis Splendor, ¶ 15 (1993).
Thus, as Newman would say, the doctrine first given to Moses developed. In further illustration of the point, Mr. Johnson might try thinking of the Decalogue as a prophetic statement about the Son of Man and all who are united to Him by the loving bonds of baptism, rather than a "mere legalism" which impedes humanity’s destiny.

To my way of thinking, John Paul’s estimation of the purpose of Vatican II, of the aggiornamento desired by the Council Fathers, is here:
Jesus' conversation with the rich young man continues, in a sense, in every period of history, including our own. The question: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" arises in the heart of every individual, and it is Christ alone who is capable of giving the full and definitive answer. The Teacher who expounds God's commandments, who invites others to follow him and gives the grace for a new life, is always present and at work in our midst, as he himself promised: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). Christ's relevance for people of all times is shown forth in his body, which is the Church. For this reason the Lord promised his disciples the Holy Spirit, who would "bring to their remembrance" and teach them to understand his commandments (cf. Jn 14:26), and who would be the principle and constant source of a new life in the world (cf. Jn 3:5-8; Rom 8:1-13).

The moral prescriptions which God imparted in the Old Covenant, and which attained their perfection in the New and Eternal Covenant in the very person of the Son of God made man, must be faithfully kept and continually put into practicein the various different cultures throughout the course of history. The task of interpreting these prescriptions was entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and to their successors, with the special assistance of the Spirit of truth: "He who hears you hears me" (Lk 10:16). By the light and the strength of this Spirit the Apostles carried out their mission of preaching the Gospel and of pointing out the "way" of the Lord (cf. Acts 18:25), teaching above all how to follow and imitate Christ: "For to me to live is Christ" (Phil 1:21).
Veritatis Splendor, ¶ 25 (1993)
Our Lord’s conversation with the young man is not a conversation with "Traditionalists," and even less well regarded as a rebuke of the Church led by Pius XII. It is, rather, a conversation He has, has had, and shall have with everyone. It is a conversation in which the Church participates, for the Church is His guide, His mystical Body. The Church carries on this conversation by faithfully keeping and continually putting into practice the New and Eternal Covenant in the various different cultures throughout the course of history.

The Church of Vatican I was no less a part of this conversation than the Church which Mr. Johnson finds so inspiring. What would have become of John Paul II’s "theology of the body," had the Church of Pius IX and St. Pius X not successfully rejected the tenets of naturalism and modernism while at the same time endeavoring to answer their central questions about meaning and dignity of the human person? Or, for that matter, if the Thomists had not successfully fought for the integration of faith and reason, of anthropology and spirituality, which ensured Christianity’s place in that later debate? Three of Mr. Johnson’s "training-wheel" popes, Pius IX, Leo XIII, and St. Pius X, remained "prisoners of the Vatican," stubbornly refusing to recognize the seizure of the papal states and the denial of the papacy’s existence as an international entity whose status was at least equal to that of secular states. (Episcopal and papal coats of arms, which Mr. Johnson might find triumphal and evidence of a focus on external legalities, made the same claim). As a direct result of their insistence on "legalisms" and "externals," the international community recognizes the Vatican City as just such an entity, which in turn allowed the Catholic Church to represent John Paul II’s theology of the body at international meetings such as the U.N.'s 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Would Mr. Johnson care to explain from where the Militia Immaculata would have come without the supposed "externalism" of St. Catherine Laboure’s Catholic Church? Or from what soil the Legionaries of Christ would have sprung if not from the "legalisms" of Fr. Marcial Maciel’s Church? These are only a few examples, but I trust they are sufficient to demonstrate that the Roman butterfly has not come into existence by negating some kind of historical, theological, or devotional cocoon.

The dialogue, the aggiornamento, sought by the Second Vatican Council is not a radical turning away from the Catholic past. It is a continuation of the aggiornamento sought by every Council and every Pope since the fathers at Nicea began the Church’s doctrinal and pastoral dialogue with classical culture. Mr. Johnson may wish to establish a paradigm that describes the old christological controversialists as striving for "dogmatic truths about the divine order" rather than "focus[ing] on the human person . . . God wants us to be" but, should he succeed, he will only harm both endeavors; we cannot know what kind of human person God wants us to be until we know the kind of human person God became.

There is, however, one aspect of Mr. Johnson’s chosen metaphor which may serve to illuminate the tensions which exist between the Church of John Paul II and "Traditionalists." Contrary to Mr. Johnson’s version of the Gospel story, the young man did not go away because he could no longer live a graceless, rule-bound life. "He went away sorrowful," the Gospel tells us, because "he had great possessions." Matthew 19:22. At dawn on October 11, 1962, the Roman Catholic Church possessed a theological, cultural, liturgical, and devotional patrimony which should astound, even awe, anyone who is remotely familiar with its contents. She stood like a giant tree, grown from a mustard seed by the blood of a million martyrs and the prayers of innumerable saints, towering above the post-modern desolation which the rejection of her truths and her life had wreaked on Europe and the world. Within a few short years, as Mr. Johnson himself is compelled to admit, nobody had a very clear idea about what the Church was for. The adolescents, as Mr. Johnson calls them, had taken over. They created a church littered with mundane, mediocre, stupid, secular, and ugly things. And they did it with a vengeance and spite quite well displayed by Mr. Johnson’s dismissing St. Therese of Lisieux’s "Little Way" and Gerard Manley-Hopkins’ poetry as symptoms of an infantile refusal to enter into "spiritual adulthood."

I know a man who, by 1970, had a beautiful voice, fluency in Latin, and a fiery, innocent love of the Church. He loved the Latin Mass, and delighted in serving the Lord elegantly in what, according to Mr. Johnson, are the training-wheel, externalistic legalisms of its mysteries. Almost overnight, his services were no longer required, and the Church’s bishops and priests made that quite clear in the most brutal terms imaginable. He ought to have been a catechist, the leader of a schola, owning a celebrated life that was both use and ornament to his Church. But he lacked the skills needed in the post-Vatican II Church; he could not say, "that went out with Vatican II," he could not play an acoustic guitar, and he couldn’t open his mind to zen meditation techniques and alternative sexual theologies. He is now a bitter man, still clinging to the Holy See despite decades of spiritual, devotional and liturgical abuse from a Church ubiquitously characterized by sneaker-clad altar girls, carpeted sanctuaries, sloppy preaching, stunted catechesis, pop-music liturgy, and bishops who refuse to understand that any theology, let alone John Paul II’s theology of the body, demands practical, decisive, and consequential applications to their flocks. Yes, we might find some cause to censor my friend’s reluctance to immolate his devotionalism on the Cross of ecclesiastical obedience. But we should not do it as Mr. Johnson has; to follow him, we must be ready to say we have nothing in common with the "young man" in the Gospel according to St. Matthew and, thereby, make ourselves ready to pray with the Pharisee in the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Mr. Johnson claims that the "adolescence" of post-Vatican II clerics and laymen resulted from the oppressiveness of their pre-Vatican II upbringing. He calls the rebellious barbarity following the Council a "discharge of decades of narrow, rules-based formation and institutional frustration." I found that interesting, since it’s the same argument the "adolescents" themselves like to make whenever they’re explaining how pedophiles and sexual adventurers are created by the evils of narrow, rules-based celibacy. I think the cause of the adolescent rebellion lies elsewhere.

I think it lies in the false and juvenile belief that the creation of a happy present requires the repudiation of a miserable past, in the delinquent’s narcissistic castigation of his parents as being enervated, insufficient, out of touch with reality. If the Catholic restoration desired by Mr. Johnson occurs, it will not be achieved by an army of childish, shiny-eyed bigots who believe that they are the first generation to have discovered the true meaning of Catholicism. It will be achieved by men and women who realize that they’re bigger than the modern world because they’re standing on the shoulders of giants, who are conversant with the theology of the body and the theology of Trent, and who know that "Christ is the Lord of history, and he handed the keys to Peter. That authority has resonated for 2,000 years, and its story is indeed one of glory and triumph." To that end, Mr. Johnson has actually contributed. He has shown us how very far we have to go.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Wow! A Perfect Match!!!

Usually on-line quizzes are fun, but inaccurate. I’m not Robert E. Lee, my medieval personality isn’t El Cid, and I’m not "magenta," let alone much of a Rocky Horror fan. But this quiz, discovered courtesy of Southern Appeal, hits the nail on the head:
Your score is 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. You think Bush has some redeeming attributes, but generally speaking you are not a fan. You may have supported him at one point, but now you have misgivings about the job he has done as president. There's a chance you could bring yourself to vote for him, but at this point you are leaning against him.
I also took the Kerry version, which was also somewhat accurate.
Your score is 1 on a scale of 1 to 10. You hate John Kerry with every fiber of your being. He is the embodiment of everything you despise in a politician: a weak, liberal, flip-flopping, elitist, condescending appeaser who threatens all that is good and decent in America. Worst of all, you think he looks French.
That's only somewhat accurate because there are some very good-looking French people. Gerard Depardeiu is handsome in a Spencer-Tracy and Humphrey-Bogart way most Americans can’t stand anymore. And the girl who gets eaten by the critter at the beginning of the Brotherhood of the Wolf was really cute.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Back from the Great Lake State

As those who are crazy enough to read this blog regularly know, I was invited to speak on the Immaculate Conception at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Coldwater, Michigan. When I arrived Saturday afternoon, I was fortunate enough to attend the Mass at which Bishop James Murray consecrated a new altar which had been installed as part of the Church’s refurbishing. He gave a most excellent homily, weaving together the readings from Ecclesiastes, Colossians and Luke to express a central message -- worldliness, the unwholesome fascination with created things, is bad. Godliness, expressed as involvement with and longing for the things of Heaven, is good. I thought, how typically Catholic. Here we are, celebrating the new altar, the beautiful tilework on the floor, a magnificent statue of St. Joseph, new pews . . . . and the Bishop gives us a homily on the vanity which attends the pursuit of created things. The Church is full of those curious moments; the incarnational paradox baffles non-Catholics to no end.

Hours before, the Church had been the scene of a wedding of two (so I’m told) beautiful and faithful young people attended by hundreds of family, friends and well-wishers. Fr. Stanley’s secretary had suffered a ruptured spleen on Friday, and on that same Saturday the Rev. Mr. Alvin Provot, the parish’s deacon, had passed away after a serious illness. As a guest of a family so relentlessly tossed from one extreme to the next, from they joy of a wedding to the grief of loss, the happy celebration of a refurbished church to sorrowful concern over a serious illness, I could only marvel at the cheerful, frank, and charitable way in which everyone handled all of it. Especially Fr. Stanley, who gives the impression of a blur traveling at great speed who suddenly stops, gives someone his absolute and undivided attention, and then whirls into motion again. An energetic, faithful pastor with an energetic, faithful parish is a very attractive thing to experience. Everyone there is much holier than they think they are. I’m glad I had the chance to visit St. Charles Borromeo.