14 Reasons I Stay Catholic #WhyRemainCatholic

1. Jesus is Lord

The incarnation is the pivot point of history. God became man so that man could become God. Once you understand and accept this it’s like a thunderclap.

Durer's "Adoration of the Trinity" captures some of the grandeur of Catholic faith

Durer’s “Adoration of the Trinity” captures some of the grandeur of Catholic faith

I spent a long time not believing it. When I found myself no longer able to deny it, it was like door being opened to a new understanding of reality. I now had to measure everything in my life and my mind and my world against the certainty that the immaterial and transcendent Origin of all that is had chosen to bridge the gap between Himself and His creation in order to heal the broken bond with man and give us a very simple message: Love one another as I have loved you. God showed us his face.

And then he left us a Church, and Himself in the Eucharist.

2. Catholicism is true

As I wrote a few years ago when I answered this question, I had searched for truth all my life, passing through agnosticism and quasi-paganism and a whole host of other beliefs until I could no longer deny the Christian God. The absolute last thing I wanted was to return to the Church of my childhood. I was out! I was free! I didn’t want to go back. I had to go back. Other belief systems I’d studied and flirted with had offered pieces of the truth. Only one offered the fullness of the Truth.

3. It’s hard

The dumbest thing anti-religious people say is that religion is a crutch for the weak and feeble-minded. If I had to create a system of belief, this wouldn’t be it. I’d find something where I could sleep in on Sundays, ignore the needs of others, stick my genitals where-ever I want, lie a whole lot, treat my enemies without mercy, avoid contact with a lot of strangers I don’t like, and ignore this silly relationship with God thing.

Religion is hard.

Anything worth doing is hard.

4. I tried inventing my own reality. It doesn’t work

The idea that, in the short span of a human life, you can invent yourself and your entire model of the universe is not merely hubris or vanity: it’s flat-out impossible. Even the most obnoxious fedora atheist borrows his system of belief from another.

We don’t invent knowledge. We find it and test it.

I did not create a belief system: I discovered it. It’s a system that allows me to see the world as it is, not as I wish it was.

5. Mystery is at the heart of human experience

Man is born to love the mysterious: the unanswered question, the unexplored frontier, the unknown. Modern man, however, is conditioned to hate the unknown. All questions, he is told, can be answered: indeed, they must be answered. Catholicism is a system that raises as many questions as it answers, and this keeps me on my toes. It embraces the mystery of life with a passion.

The priest holds aloft the thin wafer and says “This is my body.”

The skeptic says, “How? Why? No.”

I say, “God would not come to us in material form only to leave us hungry for His presence. ‘How’ does not matter. Yes.”

6. Sanctifying time

The Church provides a shape and rhythm to life. It sanctifies time. The minutes, the hours, the days, the years, the life. From birth to death, the life of the believer is an hourglass, and each grain of sand that falls is blessed.

Time is the great mystery that’s vexed my mind since I was a child: its passing, its brutality, its inexorable quality. The pulse of the individual, the ebb and flow of life through all its majestic and tragic and ordinary moments, are all measured out, considered, and sacralized by the Church.

7. The communion of saints

We travel on an endless stream of time that has carried other travelers before us. Saints and sinner, kings and peasants, the extraordinary and the ordinary: they’ve all left markers along the way. Others have passed beyond the cataract that separates the material world from the spiritual, and now they stand by the shore offering us guidance, and aiding in our way. We are on a strange and challenging journey, but we do not travel it alone.
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Are You A Welcome Light?

There’s a prayer in the Divine Office that asks

Teach us to work for the good of all,
whether the time is right or not;
make your Church a welcome light for
the whole human family.

Am I a welcoming light? When I speak and write and teach about the Church, do I draw people in, or push them away?

Wikimedia commons

Wikimedia commons

I listen to a lot of presentations to Catholics with children in religious education. Many of those Catholics aren’t serious about, or even practicing, their faith. The speakers try to present a reason for re-engaging that faith, and though their points are correct, the tone often is flat and even off-putting. There’s nothing to draw people in to the life and joy of the gospel, which can only really be lived in its fullness in the Church. If I was not already a regular mass-goer, little in those presentations would convince me to show up on Sunday.

We are commanded to always be prepared to give a reason for our joy, but do we? Do we even feel the joy? Do we know our reasons? When we speak of our faith, is it a lived thing of hope and goodness, or simply another American ideological splinter group?

The internet once seemed to be full of grand possibility for evangelization and faith formation. It certainly helped me make friends, develop my prayer life, and deepen my understand of the faith by interactions with knowledgeable people. There’s still a lot of that out there. Fr. Barron, Jimmy Akin, Scott Hahn, and many others continue to be welcoming light for many: firm and orthodox in their teaching, but radiating peace and joy in the truth of the faith.

But the divisions in the American church become stark and aggressive in the amplifying environment of the internet. Every parish has their cranks, but now those cranks set up blogs and attract thousands of readers who flock to read insults and invective. Pride leads both dissidents and traditionalists into ego-driven acts of exclusion.

We hold our truths in a tension that doesn’t sit well on any ideological spectrum. There may be truth in the particulars of a rant against, for example, the gay agenda or the use of torture, but what is the total effect of that rant?

The truth serves a purpose, which is to lead others to it. Jesus himself was told “This is a hard truth; who can hear it?” The goal is to have those who listen embrace the completeness of the truth. Some truths are hard, and they don’t get any easier by wrapping them in euphemism.

And, of course, they cannot compromised.

But the real distinction isn’t a matter of whether what you’re saying is right or wrong. If we’re saying something that conforms to the teaching of the Church, then it is always right. The question is whether it is effective or ineffective.

This instantly raises another question: effective for what?

Obviously, everyone has their own reason for writing or speaking about the faith in public. Some are working through their own doubts and troubles, some are evangelizing, some are teaching or defending, some are just expressing their joy at a life in Christ. There is certainly no shortage of error in the world and the Church that needs to be confronted and corrected lest it lead others into error. But there is a fine line between addressing something that needs to be corrected, and just wallowing in hatred and fear. And fear has become the dominant emotion of way too many public Catholics.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the only Catholic a person will encounter, either in real life or in something you’ve written or shared on the internet.

Will that person, who either knows nothing of the faith or has fallen away, see the Church as something of power and truth and love and happiness in what you say or do or share?

I’m not asking if they’ll agree with you. Since people in the modern world are conditioned to accept lies as truth, persuasion is another, more difficult matter. I’m asking if that person will see the light of Christ shine through you in spite of, or perhaps even because of, your expression of a hard truth.

When Jesus was confronted over his “hard saying,” he replied that his words were full of spirit and life. Ours must be as well.

The first step in being a Christian is to repent and believe in the Gospel. Neither of those things is easy, and there may be years of struggle hidden in that little word “and” before people succeed. Conversion is a process, and those of us who are further along in the journey need to find the most effective ways to accompany those still in the dark woods or on the rocky path.

We need to let the spirit and life of Christ shine through us, so we can be a light others will want to follow.

Bishop O’Connell On His Recovery, the Synod, and More

oconnellI had a chance to interview the Most Reverend David O’Connell, Bishop of Trenton, about his recovery from an emergency amputation, his Lent, the synod, and his diocese. An excerpt:

Has [your recovery] given this Lent any added meaning?

It’s something that has been part of my own movement into Lent. I’m conscious of this disability, and that it is requiring sacrifice on my part. The biggest sacrifice is the fact that I can’t get out and see my people. I’m here in the residence, and I do a lot of work from here, but this has been a real challenge. There’s something about confronting real challenges in life that does test your faith, and that’s what Lent is all about.

Lent is recognition of the challenges you have to face and the resolution that you make to overcome them to be better. In the course of my ministry and many years as a priest, I’ve can’t tell you how many people I’ve told, “Don’t lose faith, hope, don’t give up, don’t be afraid.”

Now this Lent and this experience has been my chance to listen to my own advice. God has been ever-present. I’ve had that sense very clearly in the crosses and also the successes each day. This is a Lent that I won’t soon forget.

We are drawn closer to the Lord because we become aware of our shared dependence. That’s something as human beings we don’t think about a whole lot. We are totally dependent on God and on others. When you don’t have a leg you can’t walk. You need people to get you out of bed, you need people to help you. I need people to teach me how to relearn how to take a step, stand up, sit down, walk up a stair. You don’t think about these things. I do feel that this experience has deepened my realization of dependency, and that maybe isn’t the worst thing.

Read the whole thing at the National Catholic Register.

Bishop O’Connell is my bishop, and I’m glad to see him healing so well.

“The Rule” Documents a Benedictine Success Story in Newark

sbpI’m working on a story for the Register about a film called The Rule, which documents the monks of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark and their success in applying the Rule of St. Benedict to the education of at-risk youth in Newark.

This is a film that needs to be seen and a story that needs to be told. These men, who stayed behind when the rest of their order fled Newark in the wake of the 67 riots and subsequent upheavals, are heroes. Their methods are working, with a college acceptance rate of almost 100% and an 88% college completion rate. This is in the 7th most violent city in the country, with 14% unemployment and 1/3rd of the population in poverty.

Check out the trailer and the SBP blog, and I’ll link the story when it’s done.

‘Desire of the Everlasting Hills’: A Powerful Witness to Catholic Teachings on Same-Sex Attraction

Last Saturday, I spent the evening at Villanova speaking with three impressive and eloquent people. Paul, Dan, and Rilene all have same-sex attraction, and all have embraced the Church’s teaching on chastity.

Their stories are told in Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a new documentary from Courage International. The approach is powerful and effective because it completely avoids buzzwords and polemic. It tells three very human, very moving stories.

My article on the film is up now at the National Catholic Register. Here’s an excerpt.

Their stories are unique, as befits detailed portraits of individuals, but the broader contours of their lives will be familiar to many with same-sex attraction. There is a movement into a lifestyle that is embraced with various degrees of acceptance and gusto, a life as a person attracted to persons of the same sex and then an interruption: an epiphany. Something radical and unexpected breaks through.

The most striking story is Paul’s. While driving to get his HIV test results, his sense of impending doom is interrupted by a feeling of peace and comfort and a voice: “Paul, you do not have AIDS because you have too much to do to make up for the way you’ve been living.” He was, indeed, HIV-negative, which was something he never expected, given his number of partners.

These moments are what drove the three to go public with their stories. Paul calls the documentary “a prayer answered. I felt that I came back to the truth very late in life, so, suddenly, I felt that need to use any time I have to express my love to God and my appreciativeness for all he’s done and that he never forgot me during all the decades I forgot him and turned against him. I prayed: Jesus, please give me a few years of strength and energy. It’s not because I don’t feel he has given total forgiveness and mercy, but so I can make up for the lost years when I couldn’t tell him how much I loved him.”

Read the whole thing.

Due to length, I cut some of my interview material that seems worth printing here.

Paul, from “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”

Paul was a member of Dignity (a dissident pro-homosexual “Catholic” group) before he found Courage, and I asked him to compare the two approaches to same-sex attraction. He faults Dignity’s “feel good” approach of affirming that what he was doing was good. “It’s very feel good and everybody loves you and God loves you no matter what you do. It was an affirmation that what I was doing was okay. It made me feel good because I thought I could have it all and be the person I wanted to be, and these people are thinking God is liking the way I am.

“There was never discussion in Dignity about consequences. We were never striving for anything. There was no goal. It was buttressing out entire being in what we are doing. The Catholic Church is more welcoming because it really cares so much that we find God in our hearts and once we do that we do that we follow that relationship. I didn’t feel like anyone [in Dignity] cared about me.”

Taking the Devil Seriously

The reality of the devil was one of the hardest things for me to accept when I returned to the Church. When I made my choice to assent and submit to all the Church teaches, I knew I had a long road ahead of me. I knew that much pride and intellectual vanity and modernist funk would have to be scraped away before I could conform myself fully to the Church.

This process of death to self and the world in order to allow a new life in the Spirit to take root is not easy, and indeed it is ongoing. Each Catholic is in a different places in his or her journey. If you would have questioned me about my faith in my early 20s, I would have dismissed many key elements of Church teachings and sounded like a typical cafeteria Catholic. Faith is not a static thing. It’s organic. It has its seasons of growth and seasons where it seems to lay fallow.

And we all have those weaker moments. Not moments of disbelief, necessarily, but of weakness, of a lessening ardor, of a gentle fading of the passion for the Lord. The distractions and pressures of the world batter us and threaten to push faith to the fringes.

That’s the place where Satan wants us. When we aren’t looking, when we are distracted, when we are weak or sick in body or mind, when we have doubts: those are moments for him to do his work.

Families are organic, and thus they, too, have their cycles from fallow to fruiting. The Church is always under attack, from within and without, and the family is an image of the Church. Why think it could be any less under attack? One look around us shows a society where the meaning of marriage has collapsing. Gay marriage didn’t do it. That was just a final bullet to the head after the damage wrought by no-fault divorce and other family-destroying policies and social trends.

So when Francis speaks of the family being under attack by the Devil, he’s speaking a truth more need to hear:

 Families are the home Church where Jesus grows. He grows in the spouses’ love and in the children’s lives. For this reason, the enemy attacks the family so much. The devil does not want it. He tries to destroy it, to prevent love from becoming free. Families are the home church. But married people are sinners like everyone else, they do not want to go in faith, in its fertility, in children and the faith of their children. May the Lord bless the family, and make it strong in the face of the crisis by which the devil wants to destroy it.

We need to start acting like the devil is real and threatening, particularly in our families. The Church cannot stand without the family. One is a reflection of the other.

Dealing with the devil: tie him and give him a heavy burden.

The problem is that we don’t like to think about demonic activity in our world, and we certainly don’t like to talk about it. When was the last time you ever heard Satan mentioned in a homily? I don’t think I ever have. The recent controversy about the Black Mass at Harvard pushed it forward and forced us to deal discuss it in the open, and we shouldn’t let that moment go to waste.

There’s one basic fact you must accept: you cannot be a Christian and reject the existence of the devil. It’s that simple. Jesus talks about the devil more than anyone else in scripture.  He’s not a metaphor. He’s not another word for evil or sin. He’s a fallen angel, and he’s real.

That’s tough stuff for modern man to grasp. The devil was used so effectively as a boogeyman for so many years that eventually the real understanding of his existence was lost, and only the boogeyman remains. And what do parents tell frightened children? “There is no boogeyman.”

Satan’s had a pretty good run lately. A look around the world seems to show that it’s pretty much his playground. We see it the broken families and broken lives. We see it in the anxiety and doubt of faithful Catholics and the boldness of the forces of disbelief. We see it in a government and society that dehumanizes the individual.

And yet we see hope, too, and though it’s never as flashy or as evil, it’s a powerful thread binding us all together in the Catholic community, the larger Christian community, and in human family. We’re all either tending upwards towards heaven or downwards towards hell.

In the face of so much evil at work in the world, the differences separating Catholics from each other and even Catholics from Christians and other faiths shouldn’t occupy as much energy as they do. We have a common enemy, and it’s trying to destroy faith and destroy families, since it knows it can’t destroy the Church is itself. Convincing the world he didn’t exist was Satan’s most powerful act, but shattering Christian unity and fomenting discord runs a close second. We can’t fight him and each other at the same time.

Let’s begin by taking the devil seriously. If you don’t already pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel every day, you should start. Teach it to your children and students.

Indeed, it’s well past time that we returned the prayer to its rightful place at the end of each mass. It keeps the enemy always in sight, and reminds us that we are not alone in this struggle against the powers of this present darkness.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Satan: A Small Skirmish Won, But the Battle Goes On

This has been an interesting week for the devil.

Something extremely grave prompted Catholics to action: the proposed desecration of the Eucharist in a Satanic ceremony.  We can’t be naive about this: it goes on with some regularity, although how much no one can say. Satanism is secretive, and they don’t advertise what they do.

 

But this time, we knew about it: more, we knew the place and time it was to happen, and that it was to occur under the name of one of our most prestigious universities.

Inaction–which is usually the best course to follow with people merely seeking attention–was no longer an option. Catholics have given their lives to protect the Real Presence. The very least we could do was raise our voices, even if that gave the offenders just what they wanted: an angry audience.

And then something unexpected happened. The tide turned. What began on blogs, begun by Women of Grace and driven by the tireless Elizabeth Scalia, migrated to the mainstream media. Harvard was forced to respond. They started out being arrogant and dismissive, and ended with the university president correctly acknowledging the grave offense and promising to attend Holy Hour in support of the Catholic community.

Let’s look at just what happened in this Week of Satan.

Before we even got to Harvard, the stage was set by Pope Francis. He’s been talking about the devil a lot, and the people who like to fantasize that he’s something other than a Catholic Pope finally noticed.

Naturally, the man the press had assumed was a kind of genial social worker in white–a global community organizer like their beloved president–turned out to actually believe all that Catholicy stuff about the devil. He was even more vocal about it than his predecessor. It must be a quaint South American thing, they probably thought, but didn’t quite know how to say that without sounding like condescending bigots.

Washington Post published this head-scratching, gently clueless piece pondering the pope’s continued warnings about the devil, and, of course, sounded like condescending bigots. (The author also keeps invoking the word “mystical,” which he clearly does not understand in context.) Francis is indeed constantly warning people about the devil, as well he should. It’s a hard teaching, and people need to be reminded that Satan is real and dangerous.

Some revisionist Catholics like to imagine that Vatican II did away with that belief so we could all move forward without worrying about such “primitive superstitions.” Francis is here to correct that notion, and good for him. Recognizing the enemy is an important step in fighting him, and reducing the enemy to metaphor (“Satan is merely what we call sin/temptation/etc”) is exactly what he wants. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

It’s interesting, then, that a so-called “Satanic Temple” (which is neither Satanic nor a temple) chose this time to start trying to attract attention. These are, of course, not Satanists, who believe in God and have chosen the side of the adversary, but atheists who have wrapped themselves in a BS philosophy of protest, anti-social behavior, and sex. And now, thanks to this stunt, they’ve been exposed as little more than scam artists looking to score free ink and make a buck.

In the process, we were given two gifts: a fight for the Body of Christ, and a teaching moment. Thanks to the media attention, the teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist has reached more people than was otherwise possible.

Will that bear fruit? I sure hope so.

I hope people watching and reading the news will learn of this powerful reality and become intrigued. “You mean Catholics claim to receive Jesus himself–the actual body and blood of Christ–in the Eucharist at every mass? Tell me more.”

And then there was this:

Magnificent. A couple thousand people gathered in procession and adoration. People who were there are saying it was an incredibly powerful outpouring of the spirit.

Catholics have been reminded of something important: our precious Sacrament is the target of wicked people, and even though this incident was stopped, others continue. Now more people are aware of that fact, and are offering acts of reparation for this wounding. That would not have happened if this incident had not forced the issue into public consciousness.

We also needed to be reminded that these people–both fake Satanists and real–are also children of God. They’ve invited demons into their souls, almost certainly without realizing what that means. Jesus did not curse the possessed: he exorcised them. We, too, should pray for these tools of the enemy, that they may be freed from their bondage to evil and welcome into the light of Christ, where they shall always have a loving home.

More than one Satanist has found his way to Holy Mother Church, and if we are to be Christians, we must not lose sight that it’s our job to lead them back, while also fighting the evil they wish to bring into the world.

And while we do this, we must remember that the battleground of Satan is within us as well. As Solzhenitsyn wrote, the line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart. I’d rather not lose a single soul to Hell. Not one. Not even the soul of my worst enemy.

This was a very small skirmish–little more than a probing maneuver–in a very large battle that will never cease until He comes again. We need to be vigilant, we need to be aware of the enemy and his deceits, and we need to pray constantly.  We are well past the time when  the Prayer to St. Michael should be returned to each mass, but the least we can do is pray it ourselves every day:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen
Amen and amen.

How Badly Does Vox Explain Baptism in 130 Words?

Pretty badly.

For those who don’t know, Vox is a website that attempts to “explain” the news in tiny little bits of compressed pseudo-information.

When Sarah Palin made a spectacularly offensive comment about using water-boarding to baptize terrorists, the non-theists at Vox put on their ‘splaining caps and broke it down for us thusly. Let’s go through it line by line.

What is baptism?

Only three words and we have our first problem. What is baptism to whom? Baptism means different things in different churches. There is the actual historical meaning of baptism dating back to the first century, which is the meaning understood by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Reformed Christians. In this understanding, baptism is a channel of grace. It is a sacrament in that it effects what it signifies. The Catechism:

1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.

Those without a sacramental worldview, however, see it merely as a sign or symbol.

Baptism is a common ritual in the Christian church.

In all but a very few fringe groups, it is not a “common” ritual but a central, defining ritual.

Different branches of Christianity do baptism differently

I’m not sure what “do baptism” means, aside from the fact that Vox writers don’t know how to use English particularly well. There seems to be a confusion of two things: the means by which a baptism is performed (immersion or pouring, and the ritual during which it takes place) and the person to whom the baptism is granted.

— some typically baptize babies or children, while others baptize adults —

Vox continues to mash together different ideas, and get them wrong.

Catholics, Orthodox, and some Reformed Christian baptize both babies and adults. Traditionally, the Christian community baptizes a child as the first rite of initiation, but they will also baptize people later in life.

Other Reformed Christians only baptize mature people to signify their belief. This is a misunderstanding of baptism and of  sacramental theology that runs through certain strains of Protestantism, and only in this sense can baptism be said to be a “symbol.”

but the basic idea is that a minister puts water on a person’s head or, in some traditions, completely submerges the person as an act representing a new life with God.

The water would be “poured” not “put.” Put is just the wrong word to use. As for complete submersion, it’s only required for some churches, but others do it as well. A Catholic can certainly have a full submersion baptism if he or she likes to stand around a chilly church dripping wet.

What else is missing in this account?

They make it sound like “putting” water on your head or dunking someone is baptism. Baptism requires both water and the invocation of the Trinity, and usually other words and prayers. You must baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, you’re just splashing someone.

And your faith tradition has to have a non-defective understanding of that Trinity for it to work. This is why the baptisms of Mormons, for example, are invalid: their understanding of the nature of the Trinity is not even close to being grounded in an accurate, historical understanding.

A sacrament doesn’t “represent” anything. It’s not a symbolic act. It actually puts an indelible mark on the soul and actually washes away original sin.

What is the meaning of baptism?

Second question, same as the first:  what is the meaning to whom?

Baptism means different things for different branches of Christianity,

Fair enough, as far as it goes, and at least they’re making a gesture toward recognizing the diversity of thought about baptism. But then they speed right ahead and rattle off a few mushy examples of “what the ritual can symbolize.”

but a few of the key things the ritual can symbolize include admission into the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, and the start of a new life with God.

“Can” is a weasel word which points up the problem of attempting to summarize something like this is a few quick words, and “symbolize” is, as we’ve discussed, entirely inappropriate for the majority of Christians, who don’t see the sacrament as “symbolic” at all.

It is given special significance in the gospels because Jesus himself is baptized and after his resurrection tells his disciples to baptize others.

Hrm… I’m not sure what this even means. “Given a special significance”? I … guess, but that phrase is just a bunch of words being mashed together by someone who neither knows nor cares what she’s attempting to say. Jesus is baptized. He commands others to be baptized. Baptism is the central sacrament of initiation in the life of the Christian, and its “significance” stretches well beyond the Gospels. The passive voice of “it is given” prompts the question, “given by whom?”

This is what happens when your bold new website can best be summarized as News for Dummies, and is based around catering to low-information Millennials who find Wikipedia a difficult and challenging read. Not everything is reducible to pithy summaries. Heck, Wikipedia even does a better job grasping baptism, and in very few words.

If Vox sees their mandate as “explaining the news,” then perhaps their explanations should not leave people knowing less than they did before.

 

The Canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II: The Opposition

Two diametrically opposed complaints about the upcoming canonizations of two beloved popes landed in my news feed within minutes of each other. That each comes from radically different camps–modernist and anti-modernist–shows that the fringes are almost always united in their wrongness, if divided in their reasoning.

First up is this blast of badly-argued nonsense from USA Today (with the extremely silly headline “Pope puts Catholic rebirth at risk”) by a writer, Brett M. Decker, who tips his hand right in the very first paragraph:

Few moves could so quickly undo his popular efforts to make the Roman Catholic Church more sensitive to the values of modern churchgoers.

One of the absolute least important things in the life of the church is sensitivity to the “values of modern churchgoers.” Modern churchgoers tend to have values which need to be treated with far less sensitivity.

He then falls back and punts with the standard complaint that we’ll be hearing from modernists from now till doomsday: the abuse scandals. He twists himself into contortions making the point that John XXIII and John Paul II were to blame for the scandals, that they did nothing to address them, and that this makes them unworthy of canonization whatever else they may have achieved.

That the scope and nature of the scandals was, in fact, unbelievable to everybody as it first came to be revealed (and most particularly to John Paul, who was accustomed to the use of false sexual abuse allegations against priests  by the communist authorities) seems not to matter.

Decker’s summary is weak:

The Catholic Church declares individuals to be saints to give the faithful role models of heroic virtue and show how one should live life to get to heaven. Because of their sins of omission in face of horrors at the hands of their clergy, neither John Paul II nor John XXIII should be canonized as exemplars of sanctity.

Clearly, the use of the phrase “sins of omission” is just a rhetorical fillip that the writer doesn’t actually understand. You would have to assume, of course, that these were actually “sins,” of omission or otherwise, and not errors of judgment or a failure to grasp to the exact scope and nature of the problem. You would have to imagine that someone said to these men, “Our priests are abusing children,” and they replied, “Eh, who cares. Cover it up.”

Was the abuse scandal horrible? Of course.

Were there things the church could have done differently? In retrospect, that’s obvious.

Does it mean that these two holy men are not now with God? Only a fool would argue so.

Speaking of fools, Bernard Fellay, leader of the SSPX, is certainly not one. In contrast to the sustained cluelessness of the USA Today article, Fellay lays out a meticulous case against the canonizations, full of citations and carefully constructed rhetoric.

That his conclusions are, of course, completely wrong doesn’t make his argument less impressive. People can master facts and arguments and come to the wrong conclusions.

After all, if Fellay wasn’t inherently wrong about these matters, he wouldn’t be the head of SSPX. He’s basically a high-church Protestant with a fluency in Latin.

Fellay’s case is based on two simple conclusions: John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II embodied it. (That’s what Fellay’s “Pope of Assisi” dig is supposed to mean. It’s a reference to John Paul’s ecumenical gestures.) Since the Council is the root of all evil and error in the contemporary Church, goes the logic, these men are therefore not to be considered saintly.

As an argument against their sanctity it’s about as valid as that found in USA Today, but man, does Fellay try like heck to make the case with a sustained attack on all elements of the post-Conciliar Church. After the tired thoughtlessness of USA Today, it’s almost refreshing to get a real argument by someone who’s deeply read on the subject, even if he is a heretic. One gets the impression that he realizes people will pay attention to this one, and he wants to lay out the entire SSPX argument in one place.

He comes out fighting:

But there is also the deeper problem of what will appear to be an unprecedented recognition of catholicity: how is it possible to put the Church’s stamp of approval and sanctity on the teachings of such a Council, which inspired all of Karol Wojtyla’s action and whose rotten fruits are the indisputable indication of the Church’s self-destruction? This second problem offers the solution: the errors contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and in the reforms that followed, especially in the liturgical reform, could not possibly be the work of the Holy Ghost, who is at once the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Holiness.

And then he lists every perceived error in the Council documents.

Indeed, John and John Paul are almost completely forgotten as he runs through the kind of well-rehearsed arguments that animate traditionalist comboxes and publications. It’s little more than erudite rant, shot through with misunderstanding of the continuity of the faith and the nature and teaching of the Conciliar documents. It’s the kind of thing that rallies the troops, but fails to convince others because it was conceived and executed in a hothouse environment.

It also proves another obvious truth: at the far ends of many spectra, the fringes meet. The modernists and anti-modernists are in lockstep on this one. That’s usually a pretty good indication that both are wrong.

The rest of us will just greet our two new saints with joy.

Saint John XXIII, pray for us.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

 

Catholics Coming Unglued: It’s Time to Calm Down

Christ the King (Ghent Altarpiece)

A segment of the faithful Catholic population has been growing more and more distressed since the election of Pope Francis, and it’s really time they get a grip.

Traditionalist site Rorate Caeli kicked off the madness by declaring the Holy Father “The Horror” and posting a string of increasingly demented attacks. That seemed to set the tone, as though declaring Open Season on Francis.

Critics post on Facebook mocking the pope and and deriding anyone who doesn’t think we’re heading towards the Great Apostasy. (They like to call it the “October Schism” in reference to the upcoming Synod.) They write thin-skinned blog posts banging on about irrelevant issues having to do with access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. They subject the pope’s every word to overheated analysis as though it’s some magisterial statement. They unfurl 10,000-word long articles about The End Times, complete with illustrations showing Rome in flames. They pour over obscure prophesies from various apparitions like the gullible pour over Nostradamus. They repeatedly reveal their pure contempt for Vatican II and the Novus Ordo.

All of these people are intelligent, faithful Catholics. And all of them are experiencing some deep emotional turmoil about the fate of the church.

I understand some of the emotions churning deep in their guts. A lot of this is playing out against the general unease of the times, from pointless wars to economic ruin to government perfidy. I haven’t felt like I belong in this country since the election of Obama. It’s become an alien place, with things happening that just don’t make sense. I feel less like an American with each passing year. I’m retreating to the margins and tuning out of the civil life of the nation.

But the one thing I didn’t retreat from is the Church. It’s not that I don’t see the same things they see: it’s just that I’m not letting the poisonous atmosphere in this country cloud my judgment about the Church, the pope, and my fellow Catholics.

And I’m refusing to subject myself to micro-reactions about every single fart and hiccup in the life of the Church, which are now broadcast instantly everywhere, picked apart, refuted, clarified, amplified, corrected, derided, and dumped into the social media churn.

I know at least some of the most vocal critics of Francis would call themselves admirers of John Paul II, but if the words and deeds of the John Paul II pontificate had been passed through the current media filter, those same people would have soiled themselves on a daily basis. Imagine the photos posted to Facebook (“OMG John Paul kissed a Koran! Islam is taking over the Church!”) or the news items turned into grist for a blog post (“Apostate pope apologizes for crusades!”).

The Church isn’t meant to be analyzed at this kind granular level, at this kind of speed.

And by the way, John Paul did both those things, and we’re still here.

Hell, we had a pope dig up the rotting corpse of another pope, subject him to trial, find him guilty, strip him of his vestments, cut off the fingers he used for blessings, and cast the remains into the Tiber … and we’re still here.

And we always will be.

Although I usually refuse any label other than just plain “Catholic,” I am a political conservative and a dedicated Ratzingerian. The transition to Francis was jarring. His language can be imprecise and his pontificate feels like a bit of a high-wire act at times. I like my liturgy formal, my theology clear, and my popes in mozzettas.

That said, I can’t help but admire his approach. His analogy of the Church as a “field hospital” for souls is precisely right. He’s an appealing face for the Church. There are times to collect ourselves and focus on fundamentals, theology, and liturgical forms, and times to get down in the mud with sinners.

I’m not at all comfortable in the mud with sinners, taking risks, but that is my problem and my failing, not his.

Many of these Catholics are reacting exactly like the liberal Catholics they like to deride, trusting in the Magisterium of Me rather than in the Magisterium of the Church. They are doing to Francis what they never would have tolerated anyone to do to Benedict.

I’m not exactly sure what they think will happen because Francis reaches out to sinners or eschews some of the trappings of the office. The worst that can happen, has already happened.

In a history that begins with the murder of the Son of God and includes the execution of all of our founding leaders, Arianism and dozens of lesser heresies, schisms, the sacking of Rome, the shattering of Christendom in the Reformation, dueling popes, the Cadaver Synod, Alexander VI, the loss of the papal states, the abuse crisis, and any number of other terrible moments, the idea that we’re sailing into some new nightmare of the Church because Francis mutters “Who am I to judge?” about priests who have same-sex attraction is laughable.

Continuity.

Meanwhile, Fr. Z and Michael Voris–two traditional Catholics you might expect to join the chorus of critics–have kept their heads while all about them are losing theirs. I’m sure both these men have concerns about the direction of the Francis papacy. I may well share those concerns to some degree.

I’m just willing to wait, and listen, and pray, and not lean on the panic klaxon day after wearying day. And I certainly will not disrespect the Holy Father, ever.

The bigger problem I see in these critics is a crisis of faith. Which part of “shall not prevail against it” do they not understand?

Do they think we’re living in uniquely horrible times? If so, are they frigging kidding me?

Do they think Francis is some kind of anti-Christ who seized the throne of Peter and is busy leading the entire church into perdition with his wicked … outreach to the disaffected and lost? Do they really think the Church will be undone because She considers minor revisions to the pastoral care of divorced and remarried couples, or the pope washes the feet of women on Holy Thursday, or a Latin mass is not available somewhere?

And do they realize that this relentless criticism helps no one at all, and risks damaging the faith of many, including themselves? Do they understand that they are leading others into sin? What are they trying to prove?

And finally, if we are sailing into the End Times, So what? Isn’t that what we’ve been longing for these past 2000 years? What we’ve been training for?

We shouldn’t be wringing our hands and writing interminable panicky posts about the pending apocalypse. We should be shouting Bring it on! We should be sharpening our swords and joining St. Michael at the front lines. We’re not in this church to preserve the dogma and liturgy for its own purpose. It’s merely there while we help shepherd souls for a little while until Jesus returns.

If we are indeed seeing the beginning of the dark times that herald the coming of the anti-Christ, followed by the return of Jesus, good. Perhaps Francis is mustering as many troops as possible–sinner and pious alike–for the final battle.

Let’s stop whining and get fighting, not each other, not the Church, not the pope, not people who are fine with a plain ole Novus Ordo mass, but the enemy we’ve been trained to fight: the devil and his minions.

The fight is out there, not in here.

Those who have faith don’t fear the future. We already know the end: we win.

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