Faust Disapproves of Satan: Harvard Pres Responds to Black Mass

Harvard University President Drew Faust released the following statement today in response to plans for a Black Mass on campus:

The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding. Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy. Freedom of expression, as Justice Holmes famously said long ago, protects not only free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

But even as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree. The ‘black mass’ had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory.

Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.

I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul’s Church on our campus on Monday evening in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.

Oh, I think I could come up with a good little list of things President Faust wouldn’t allow on her campus, but as these kind of statements go, it’s fine.

And good for her for attending Holy Hour. No one can ever go wrong being exposed to the love of Christ, and it’s an appropriate gesture of respect.

The problem is that the Satanic Temple is a well-known sham derided by its founder’s own Satanic mentor.  I know more about the content of an historical black mass than they do. From their comments, they appeared to be completely unaware of readily available literature. That means the educational content is nonexistent, and the context within a program exploring other, real religions is wildly inappropriate.

And please be aware that, despite being asked, I have no intention of ever describing the contents of these false, dangerous, and destructive rites in this space or any other. It’s bad enough that I’ve read the books. I don’t intend to expose others.

h/t: Joe Grabowski, Robin Hardy



And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

By now you’ve heard the name of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombing yesterday. This is Martin:

This picture filled my social media and news feeds this morning, and it just hit me in the gut. My wife is a sacrament coordinator, and Martin is dressed in his first communion suit and holding the same banners she has all her students make each year.

We’re in the First Communion season now, so she’s having retreats and preparing kids like Martin to receive the Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. It’s a wonderful age of openness and wonder and joy, and teaching religion to kids this age is to understand why Jesus said to let the little children come unto him. Theirs of the kingdom of heaven. They are open to the work of the Spirit in beautiful and simple ways. We’ve seen the giddy joy of kids who get it–really get it–coming to the Lord’s table for the first time. They’re touched by God, and they feel it.

To imagine, then, that beauty snuffed out in a second in the most brutal and pointless way imaginable is enough to make you weep and rage. Martin was waiting for his dad to finish so he could give him a drink. He was excited. He’d just had ice cream. He was standing in a crowd with his mother and sister, and then he was gone. He’s left behind a room full of toys and clothes and books that will stab his parents in the heart as each one recalls a gift that brought happiness and a moment lost in time. He’s left behind parents who will carry the intolerable burden of losing a child for all their remaining days. He’s left behind a whole school and Church and neighborhood and extended family full of people who are now touched by a violence from which they normally feel immune.

The first question after an outrage like this is often, “Where is God?”

Theology can offer no comfort to the grieving: only grace can do that. The Holy Spirit sometimes does His most powerful work without any words at all: in someone to hold a hand, bring over a meal, cry with those pain, and simply say, “I’m sorry.” Even commonplaces like “He’s in a better place,” though said with good intentions, are of little help and may actually hurt. Words fail us at these times. Love suffices, and sometimes love just means showing up.

But for the rest of the world, looking at this tragedy from the outside, the question presses on us: “Where is God?”

No one yet has found a better explanation than Augustine: evil is allowed to exist so that good may come of it. And good does come of it. It’s cold comfort to the grieving, but it helps us understand how this world fits together. We see the truth of it in the wake of Newtown, where a deep and impenetrable evil is yielding to good in the actions of those who survive. We already see it in Boston, where people reminded us that there is more good than bad.

Every time the forces of darkness crack open our world, the light rushes in. There is nothing in science, evolution, or psychology that can sufficiently explain people rushing towards danger to help strangers. Nothing. All the materialist explanations are just nonsense. It’s simply a function of grace. Sentient sacks of meat don’t rush into explosions to save other sentient sacks of meat. Only the human soul, which ties us to all others with bonds of love, is capable of that.

So where was God in Boston?

Right here.

And here.

And here.

You see, evil can only triumph for a little while. Its victories are all Pyrrhic. Certainly, evil acts can generate more evil acts, but in the annals of human history evil acts have given us something in much greater quantity: saints. And the worst evil act of them all–the death of the incarnate Word–threw open the doors of heaven for us all. We already know the ending: God triumphs. Evil loses.

Sometimes, humanity is shown our capacity for evil so that we may show our even greater capacity for good.

The Broken Places

There is a darkness in the world. It’s always been there, since we made our first wrong step and chose ourselves over God. Most of the time, the darkness is just a shadow on our souls where sin more readily grows. Sometimes, it erupts in spasms of violence or disease and knocks us back on our heels, changing the course of our lives. And sometimes, the darkness cracks a hole in the world and breaks through in a monstrous wave of evil so overwhelming we can’t even fathom it.

And so we pray. Yesterday, we prayed for the innocent souls murdered in Newtown, because that’s what we do. We prayed at mass, in a time and space that is sacred. We prayed for healing. For understanding. For mercy.

In the evening, I had to face a room full of 14-year-olds, and I knew there were questions in their minds. I was there to lecture on Church history: a lecture that normally begins with the Ascension and Pentecost.

Last night, instead, we began where it all ends and begins again. Here:

In darkened room lit only by three Advent candles and the glow of a projector, the picture above was on the wall. It’s a horrible image, isn’t it? A detail from Grunewald’s famous Isenheim Altarpiece, showing the twisted and tormented body of one who was true man yet also true God.

It always has to begin here. Nothing makes sense without it. Until we grasp that, we will never find peace in the face of tragedy. Until we understand that people of their own freewill coldly plotted and executed the death of the incarnate God, we can never really understand what life and death mean as we travel through this vale of tears.

And even once we do understand it, it doesn’t always help. We’re human, after all. We recoil from pain and tragedy. We demand answers. We tremble in rage at the prospect of a God who seems to have turned away from us.

Good. That’s the normal response. If your first response is, “It’s God’s will” or “This is what you get when you take God out of schools” or “God doesn’t go where he’s not wanted,” then to hell with you.

First, it’s not God’s will. Evil is the absence of God, meaning this is the opposite of His will.

But God also draws good out of evil events. Sorrow is a hole in the heart, and grace rushes in to fill it. “The world breaks everyone,” Hemingway wrote, “and afterwards, many are strong at the broken places.” There is a wound in Newtown. Forty wounded parents of young children. Eighty grandparents. Hundreds more brothers, sisters, husbands, friends, cousins, teachers, pastors, school mates: each person touching so many lives. Grief rippling outward, growing exponentially, until thousands of people have a direct connection to this tragedy.

It’s worse, of course, for the parents: their souls torn, their minds wrenched. The sorrow will be unbearable at times. Some will not recover. None will ever recover completely. The scars will never fade, and they never should; neither on them, nor on us. But there will be healing, and there will be grace: the grace that we only allow to enter at the broken places.

Second, God is not “out of the schools” because bureaucrats made some rules about prayer. God was in the heart of every child in that school, and no doubt in the hearts of many of the teachers. God is where we are, and the folly of the  fundamentalists (of both the atheist and Christian varieties) is to think legislation can somehow change that.

God was in my classroom last night, I can tell you that much. Teenagers who are rather bored and irritable about sitting in a room learning their catechism for 90 minutes on a Sunday were suddenly plunged into the ancient forms of mourning and remembrance that are the gift of the Church. I explained why we pray for the dead, and a very passing explanation about the nature of evil. And then, from a list projected on the wall, we read 27 names:

Charlotte Bacon, age 6

Daniel Barden, age 7

Olivia Engel, age 6

Josephine Gay, age 7

Ana M Marquez-Greene, age 6

Dylan Hockley, age 6

Madeleine F Hsu, age 6

Catherine V Hubbard, age 6

Chase Kowalski , age 7

Jesse Lewis, age 6

James Mattioli, age 6

Grace McDonnell, age 7

Emilie Parker, age 6

Jack Pinto, age 6

Noah Pozner, age 6

Caroline Previdi, age 6

Jessica Rekos, age 6

Avielle Richman, age 6

Benjamin Wheeler, age 6

Allison N Wyatt, age 6

Rachel Davino, age 29

Dawn Hochsprung, age 47

Anne Marie Murphy, age 52

Lauren Rousseau, age 30

Mary Sherlach, age 56

Victoria Soto, age 27

Nancy Lanza, age 52

We also prayed for Adam Lanza, that God may have mercy on his soul.

They were people we never knew, and now would never know. People who were–nonetheless–our brothers and sisters. Yes, I understand that we only feel particularly close to these people because the media brings them into our homes. I don’t understand why that’s a problem. People die tragically every day, unknown to us. If we can connect to their suffering and loss even by the illusion of pictures and words on a screen, then we become closer to them and, by extension, all mankind. In a world numbed by violence-as-entertainment, we need to awaken to the real thing and remind ourselves that we’re part of the something bigger. Our suffering may be minor, and theirs is certainly great, but we are all united in our pain through the nexus of the cross.

We concluded our prayer with words, ever-ancient, ever-new. We prayed to a God who is the father of a murdered son. I began with the Latin, and then they recited the English together:

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine,
et lux perpetuae luceat eis.
Requiescant in pace.
Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.