This is the Wood of the Cross

Thanks for your patience over the last month while I throttled back on the more regular and/or serious blogging to take some time with family. This summer has been hell, and I thought some time away from the computer would be a good thing, particularly in the dog days of summer when all the cool kids are frolicking at the beach or making nasty videos about other Catholics.

We went through the wringer this summer, with a sequence of family tragedies, illness, and other giant stressers, from the long illness and death of my father to the shocking and sudden betrayal of a business partner, and all manner of terribleness in between.

We had a season of death (6 funerals in a single year) early in my return to the Church, and looking back on it I remain in awe at the comfort and grace we found in God. The same things happened this time. Our losses and challenges were hard, but we faced them as any Christian should: as that part of the cross of the world which we were asked to bear for a little while.

“This is the wood of the cross / on which hung the savior of the world.”

Sometimes that works better than others, and sometimes the weight is crushing. Christ fell three times under the weight of humanity’s sin. I don’t see how we can expect to do any better under our far less crushing burdens.

The via dolorosa begins in the garden at Gethsemane, much like humanity began in the Garden of Eden. With Christ, humanity walks from garden to grave, and thereon to resurrection. We’re willing to embrace the gardens and the resurrection, but the parts in between are where we stumble and doubt. They stand out in stark relief to the days of pleasure and comfort, because man was made for delight and not for suffering. Suffering was our choice, and would be again were we given the chance to choose a second time. I would have eaten the fruit as surely as Adam. I know this because I freely choose to eat it again each time I sin. As the Scripture says

 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun. For if a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Qoheleth(Ecclesiastes) 11:7-8

So we turn our face to the sun, and hope in the Lord in times of trial. The Cross only seems foolish to those who reject it, but for those of us who accept it, it becomes the saving power of God. In this way we climb its bitter and splintered wood to redemption.

I wish there was an easier way, but this is cup we’ve been asked to drink. You can either drink it and be redeemed, or refuse it. One thing you can’t do is make the cup go away.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 38-40

Housekeeping Notes

I’m easing back into a regular blogging schedule. My kids still have a couple days of summer vacation left, and after losing most of their summer to our trials, they deserve to wring the last bit of fun out of the few days remaining.

I’m going to try to get on a regular pattern of posts alternating tech, history, and longer pieces. We’ll see how that works out.

This is my final semester in grad school. I’m doing a couple of scripture classes and then I sit for my comprehensive exams and I am HE-MAN: MASTER OF THEOLOGY!, making me well-qualified for work in the food service or hospitality sectors.

Actually, I’ll be following my masters by doing what my parish and diocese intended me to do when they asked me to return to school: creating an ongoing adult education program for my parish. We need to find ways to make adult catechesis a regular part of parish life. I imagine the process will look something like this:

More Anti-Catholic Bias From Reuters UPDATED

St. Margaret Clitherow, pressed to death for being Catholic

Every once in a while, I fail to take my own advice: I actually read mainstream coverage of church matters. This is never wise, since mainstream reporters are absolutely incapable of writing about religion. What they produce is usually laced with bias and innuendo masquerading as fact.

Even though I do read AP or CNN or the Times, I usually avoid the despicable Reuters: a nakedly biased, anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Catholic organization. Today, I made the mistake of reading this combination of flaccid banalities, mendacity, and negativity by Crispian Balmer and Philip Pullella.

The headline gives the game away: “Cardinals head to conclave to elect pope for troubled Church.”

Troubled? How? Quantify it, please, and if the best you can do is a minor Vatileaks story and the aging abuse story, then that’s not enough.

And why is that the lede? A real news service would have simply titled it “Cardinals head to conclave to elect pope.” We don’t need your elbow in our ribs nudging us in the goodthink direction you want.

But let’s get to the real heart of the stupidity from the writers and editors involved in this sham: the part when they call this “one of the most difficult periods in the Church’s history.”

See, I actually teach Church history. I know a little about the subject. 2013 wouldn’t even make the top-ten of “most difficult periods in Church history.”

Honestly? Given the way the church in the third world is thriving, I’d call it one of the best periods in Church  history.

Bl. Miguel Pro

Let’s not go by the subjective standards of anti-Catholic reporters. Let’s stick with the facts.

Here are some periods of Church history which Crispian Balmer and Philip Pullella believe are as bad as–or worse than–our current period of peace, prosperity, and growth in the Church:

*The execution of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

*The executions of

  • Pope St. Peter
  • Pope St. Anacletus
  • Pope St.  Sixtus
  • Pope St. Telesephorus
  • Pope St.  Hyginus
  • Pope St. Pius I
  • Pope St.  Anicetus
  • Pope St. Soter
  • Pope St. Eleuterus
  • Pope St. Callixtus I
  • Pope St. Urban I
  • Pope St. Pontian
  • Pope St. Fabian
  • Pope St. Cornelius
  • Pope St. Stephen I
  • Pope St. Sixtus II
  • Pope St. Martin I

*The assassinations of

  • Stephen VI
  • Benedict VI
  • John X
  • John XIV
  • Gregory V
  • and perhaps 6 or 7 other popes who died under suspicious circumstances

*The Persecution by Nero

*The Persecution by Diocletian

*Various other persecutions and executions up until the Edict of Milan

*The Arian heresy

*The collapse of the Roman Empire

*The sack of Rome by Alaric

*The sack of Rome by the Saracens

*The massacres by Timur (Tamerlane)

*Various other Islamic persecutions too numerous to mention

*The Cadaver Synod

*The Saeculum Obscurum

*The Great Schism

*The Western Schism

*Various antipopes

*The election of Gregory X (a conclave lasting three years)

*The Albigensian Crusade

*The Spanish Inquisition

*Pope Alexander VI

Alexander, The Borgia Pope

*The Protestant Reformation

*The Act of Succession and the dissolution of the monasteries in England

*The reign of Elizabeth I

*The Ascendancy in Ireland

*The French Revolution

*The invasion of the Papal States and the imprisonment of Pope Pius VII by Napoleon

*The anticlerical movement in Mexico

*The Spanish Civil War

*World War II and the Holocaust (estimates of Polish Catholics killed range from 2-3 million, not to mention clergy and religious killed by the Nazis)

*Persecutions under the Soviets and other communist regimes

*Ongoing persecutions in Islamic countries

The Korean martyrs

Although I checked the list of early pope martyrs, the rest is just off the top of my head, so I’m sure I’m missing some. If you’re going to be covering the oldest institution on the planet, one deeply rooted in history, and make claims about its current status in reference to that history, then you should have a tiny clue about the topic, or else maybe just shut up about it.

This is not only not “one of the most difficult periods in the Church’s history”: it’s not even close. I guess you could say this is “a” period in Church history, and there are some difficulties, as there always are. The abuse scandal continues to loom over us as one of those troubles, but under Benedict we’ve gone a long way toward addressing it. There is no current abuse scandal in the church: just facts emerging from abuse in the past.

In other words, we’ve already moved out of a troubled period, but the press won’t allow that. Whatever the Church does ever after, it will always be done “amidst scandal.” We will never be allowed any distance between us and the abuse scandal. For the media, it will always 2002.

This is not to underplay the tragedy and scandal of the sexual abuse crisis and the failures of certain bishops. But if you look at the list above, filled with literally millions of murdered Catholics and decades of trials and social collapse throughout the ages, how can we reasonably call our current state in 2013 “one of the most troubled”? It takes a particularly short view of history, a remarkably limited understanding of the world, and a narrow-minded modernist perspective to think there’s something unique–or even interesting–about our times.

Actually, it’s pretty simple: you just need to be a biased media institution looking to paint the Church in the worst possible light. Once you decide we’re a villain that needs to be put down, everything else is easy.

UPDATE: Reuters appears to be revising the story as the day goes on, but not backing off their slimy little attacks. Now the focus is on cardinals meeting “at a time of strife and scandal for the Roman Catholic Church.”

Try to parse this idiocy:

There are constant reminders of the scandals and controversies facing the Church.

In the past month, the only British cardinal elector recused himself from the conclave and apologized for sexual misconduct.

Police detained two women who staged a brief topless protest against the Church before the massed ranks of television crews who have come from around the world to follow the conclave.

And that’s where that useless section dribbles away into nothingness. So … “constant reminders” are two naked bozos and O’Brien recusing himself a month ago? Those are “constant” reminders? Do Reuters writers even need a basic familiarity with the English language, or do they just assume we don’t have one?

The rest is just bland nonsense any reporter for a high-school paper could have churned out with a couple of Google searches. What garbage. Quite clearly, it doesn’t take much to write for Reuters.

Actually, I’m wrong: it took five writers (Balmer and Pullella, plus Naomi O’Leary, Catherine Hornby and Tom Heneghan) plus four editors (Barry Moody, Alastair Macdonald, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood) to crank out this crap, reminding us why mainstream news is cratering. Bloated, biased, and incompetent is a poor combination.

4:50pm EST: From Aleteia, full transcription of Pope Francis’ remarks:

“Brothers and sisters, good evening!

“You know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as though my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are. I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has a bishop. Thank you!

“Before all else, I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may watch over him that Our Lady may watch over him” is a correction to the text I just sent.”

Then the crowd prayed the “Our Father, “ and the “Hail Mary,” and the “Glory Be” for Benedict XVI.

“And now let us begin this journey, [together] as bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome, which is to preside over all the Churches in charity. It is a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust between us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the world, so that a great brotherhood might come about. I hope that this journey of the Church—which we begin today and in which my Cardinal Vicar who is present here will assist me—will be fruitful for the Evangelization of this beautiful city.

“And now I would like to give you my blessing. But before I do, I would like to ask you a favor: before the bishop blesses the people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that He bless me…. the prayer of the people for a blessing upon their bishop. Let us take a moment of silence for you to offer your prayer for me.”

The crowd kept silence while the Pope Francis I bowed and received their prayers.

Then the Pope proceeded.

“Now I will give you my blessing and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.”

After making the sign of the Cross and uttering a prayer, Pope Francis I said:

“Brothers and Sisters,

“I leave you now. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me. And we’ll see one another again soon. Tomorrow I want to go and pray to Our Lady, asking her to watch over Rome. Good night and have a good rest.”

Piskie-Roman Dustup in San Francisco

On October 1st, Episcopalian bishop Marc Andrus published an obnoxious letter “welcoming” Salvatore Cordileone as the new Archbishop of San Francisco … by implying that he’s just a knuckle-dragging Iron Age bigot and decent Catholics should join the rapidly-draining Piskie Pond to get away from such a horrible person. (Why did he have to write a letter to his entire diocese about a Catholic bishop, other than to say, “Just look at how enlightened I am”?) I’ll let the incomparable Christopher Johnson, Anglican Investigator do the heavy lifting, but here are some excerpts:

We can and must both work together for the world’s good, and it is equally important, as I say in most of my blessings at the conclusion of the Eucharist, that “we make no peace with oppression.”  The recognition of the dignity and rights, within civil society and the Church of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people, and of women are as core to our proclamation of the Gospel as our solidarity with the poor, with victims of violence and political oppression, and with the Earth.

In working together with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, however, I will not change my course with regard to the full inclusion of all people in the full life of the church. I hope that public disagreements can be handled respectfully and that criticisms of public statements may be met with mutual respect. Some Catholics may find themselves less at home with Salvatore Cordileone’s installation and they may come to The Episcopal Church. We should welcome them as our sisters and brothers.

It is our Christian duty to take stands in public or from our pulpits when others — especially those of our own faith — are in error and trying to suppress the rights of others who, too, have been created in God’s image.

Charming stuff, innit? The scorn dripping from every line just screams “charity” and “ecumenical partnership.” All that Catholic talk about the dignity of all humans–including gays–is just so much whitewash. Sure, we care for the poor, heal the sick, uplift the miserable, preach peace and that silly thing called “the Gospel,” but pretending that two people of the same gender can marry is the Real Deal when it comes to Christian credentials. Thanks for clarifying that, bishop.

At some point prior to this hissy fit, Bishop Andrus got the standard ecumenical invite for Archbishop Cordileone’s installation. The Diocese did not rescind the invite. He arrived, either early (he says) or late (the diocese says). I’ll take Bishop Andrus’s word about what happened: he arrived early and was asked to wait when the others left the holding room for ecumenical guests:

An archdiocesan employee attempted to escort me upstairs with the Greek Orthodox group, but was stopped from doing so by the employee to whom I had first identified myself. This person, who appeared to be in a superior role, instructed another employee to stand with me.

At this point no other guests remained in the downstairs area. The employee and I chatted while waiting. I began to wonder about the time holdup. I checked my phone; it was 1:50PM. I asked the employee standing with me if the service indeed started at 2, which she affirmed.

At 2PM, when the service was to begin, I said to the employee, “I think I understand, and feel I should leave.” Her response was, “Thank you for being understanding.” I quietly walked out the door. No one attempted to stop me. No attempt was ever made to explain the delay or any process for seating. I arrived early, before the time given my assistant, and waited to leave until after the service had begun.

My read based on the two stories? Lower-level miscommunication and uncertainty about how to handle a controversial guest who had just insulted the man about to be installed. It’s possible someone high up at the Archdiocese wanted to just keep him waiting until he got the hint and left, and equally possible that no one was quite sure what to do with him and waited too long to make the call. Perhaps no one thought he’d actually have the nerve to show up.

In any case, it’s not the way we treat invited guests. We either disinvite them or simply be the bigger man. We can afford to be gracious with the Episcopalians. By the end of the millennium  they’ll be listed alongside the Arians and the Donatists as another vanished splinter of the true Church. Such is always the fate of those who preach the zeitgeist rather than the Gospel.

Pakistan: Christian Nurses Poisoned Because of Their Faith

It’s a horrifying story, and the details are still sketchy:

Eleven Pakistani Christian student nurses were allegedly deliberately poisoned with mercury on Sunday, July 29, 2012, at the Civil Hospital in Karachi.

According to one of the affected nurses, a colleague had made the tea for them and after 10pm they immediately fell ill after drinking it.

The nurses were taken to the Civil Hospital’s emergency ward and sent back after treatment. They developed complications the next morning and had to be taken to the hospital again.

Three student nurses were in very critical situation two went in ICU and one is on ventilator rest five is now in general ward. All the student nurses were Christians.

Chief Nursing Superintendent Mrs. Nasreen Gill said that a First Information Report (FIR) has been launched against unknown person and added that they are investigating how this incident took place and stated that they will do “a crystal clean investigation.”

Rumors initially suggested that the poisoning occurred as the nurses were drinking tea while their Muslim colleagues were fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramzan (or Ramadan).

This is not first time that Christian nurses have been victims in Pakistan and before this incident there have been many other incidents of this kind.

The local media of Pakistan is not exposing this news and none of the Pakistani TV channels are featuring this story.

It’s one of those crimes the American media don’t feel they can report because they may whip up anti-Muslim sentiment among us mouth-breathering Americans, particularly now that they finally have their first actual white supremacist mass murderer. (Did you notice that it took a couple hours for the tragic shooting at the Sikh temple to be labelled “domestic terrorism,” but we were lectured for months about how we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the motives of Nidal Hasan?)

Half of US Counties Now Disaster Areas

In case you had any doubts that we’re spending too damn much time going on about the wrong subject, consider the following: Google search results for “Chick-fil-A gay” returns 240,000,000 hits, while “US drought 2012” returns 12,700,000. Don’t ever chuckle about Nero fiddling while Rome burned. It’s human nature.

The story:

Nearly 220 counties in a dozen drought-stricken states were added Wednesday to the U.S. government’s list of natural disaster areas as the nation’s agriculture chief unveiled new help for frustrated, cash-strapped farmers and ranchers grappling with extreme dryness and heat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s addition of the 218 counties means that more than half of all U.S. counties — 1,584 in 32 states — have been designated primary disaster areas this growing season, the vast majority of them mired in a drought that’s considered the worst in decades.

Transcript: Remarks by Hillary Clinton on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report

Here’s another giant wad of transcription about the 2011 report on religious freedom, this time featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments on the report. She acknowledges the ongoing persecution against Christians, and notes the dangers in the current political upheavals rocking the Middle East, but it doesn’t seem like a particularly strong message of support. Christian persecution is just not high on this administration’s list of concerns. If they need to cut a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood for peace, and that deal requires throwing the Copts under the bus, you can bank on them doing so.

Transcript from the White House press office after the jump: Continue reading

Statement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

“Statement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia After Sentencing of Monsignor William Lynn” (as received):

“From the challenges the Church has faced both nationally and locally over the past decade, we understand the full gravity of sexual abuse. This year and even this week, Pennsylvania has been the epicenter of this issue, and we know there is legitimate anger in the broad community toward any incident or enabling of sexual abuse. The trial of the past several months has been especially difficult for victims, and we profoundly regret their pain.

“The public humiliation of the Church has emphasized the vital lesson that we must be constantly vigilant in our charge to protect the children in our parishes and schools. Since the events some ten years ago that were at the center of this trial, the Archdiocese has changed. We have taken dramatic steps to ensure that all young people in our care are safe, and these efforts will continue even more forcefully now and in the years ahead.

“We remain committed to protecting children and caring for victims. Fair-minded people will question the severity of the heavy, three to six year sentence imposed on Msgr. Lynn today. We hope that when this punishment is objectively reviewed, it will be adjusted.

“We pray for Msgr. Lynn and his family at this difficult time.”

More on the sentencing of Msgr. Lynn.



Msgr. Lynn is Sentenced, But Was Justice Satisfied? UPDATED

The first official of the Church to be found guilty of failing to protect children from sexual abuse has been sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison. Monsignor William Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia oversaw the assignment of priests and addressed (or, more accurately, failed to address) accusations of abuse from from 1992 to 2004.

From Reuters:

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said Lynn enabled “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children, to whom you turned a hard heart.”

She added: “You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong.”

A jury convicted him last month of felony child endangerment for his oversight of now-defrocked priest Edward Avery, who is serving a 2 1/2 to five-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting an altar boy in church.

Lynn’s lawyers sought probation, arguing that few Pennsylvanians serve long prison terms for child endangerment and their client shouldn’t serve more time than abusers. Defense attorneys, who have vowed an appeal of the landmark conviction, said the seven-year maximum term advocated by the commonwealth “would merely be cruel and unusual.”

The problem with the verdict and the sentence is that it was the result of a show trial initiated by a grandstanding prosecutor and presided over by a biased judge. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina simply lied in court when she said: “Anybody that doesn’t think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet.” She made it a trial about the Church, and not about Lynn and the actual abusers.

Catholic clergy abused at or below the levels of the general male population, and very few cases have arisen in the past decade, so for a judge to characterize the Church as somehow uniquely prone to abuse, and to imply in the face of all evidence that the problem persists at the same level to the present day, is wildly inappropriate. It also ignores that this primarily a gay male issue, with the vast majority of victims being post-pubescent males (ephebophilia, not pedophilia).

Our eagerness to see people punished for the disgusting sexual abuse scandal doesn’t mean we get to short-circuit the judicial process, and it doesn’t mean a judge gets to keep her thumb on one side of the scales of justice. The abuse crisis has struck at the very heart of our church not because there is “widespread sexual abuse in Catholic Church,” but because our leaders failed to address the issue.

Many Catholics may well choose to remain silent on the Lynn verdict because we want to see the end of this story, and jail time for a Church leader–any Church leader–when so many have gone unpunished seems to satisfy the demands of justice. To this extent, Msgr. Lynn was always going to be a kind of scapegoat, standing as proxy for the sins of many. But the sexual abuse story is far more complex than that, and one man’s crimes must always remain his crimes alone: not those of all the Catholic leadership (clergy and lay) who failed. Lynn’s prison term is close to the maximum allowed, which is unusual in child endangerment cases, particularly given the charges against him.

The nature of the trial, the public nature of the subject of clergy sexual abuse, the charges, the venue, and the judge made one thing certain: William Lynn was not merely on trial for things he failed to do. He was on trial for the entire leadership of the Church. For that reason alone, true justice–which must, above all, be fair, equal, and blind–was always going to be elusive.

UPDATE: As always, Rocco Palmo is essential reading for this story.

A Thank You To My Readers, and a Bit of Housekeeping

Thanks to all the readers who have used my Amazon links when accessing the Amazon site. It’s a small thing to do, but it yields great rewards for bloggers involved with the Amazon Affiliates program. Because of all your clicking, I was able to pick up a big, expensive tome needed for my studies: Book of Legends/Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, by Hayyim Nahman Bialik and Y.H. Rawnitzky.

This isn’t a brick: this is a cinderblock. It’s almost 1,000 pages long and oversized, and is a staggering collection of rabbinic lore from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and the midrashic literature. The beauty of the collection is that it focuses on the aggadah, which is the non-legal portions of the tradition, and groups them according to theme and topic, fully indexed by scripture citation and keyword. It’s something I really wish I had for Logos, and I imagine they’ll get to it eventually.

I kept various copies of this book out of the library for almost 8 months, so it’s good to finally have my own to mark up. The texts of the aggadah developed almost simultaneously with the emergence of Christianity, and provide a window into rabbinic perspectives on the texts of the Old Testament.

For instance, when I was doing exegesis on 1 Samuel 3, I wrote about the point in 1 Samuel 3:2 when we learn that Eli’s “sight is going dim.” This is not just his literal blindness, but also his prophetic sight and his ability to “see” the true will of Lord. The next line tells us that the “lamp of God had not yet gone out,” which is not merely a reference to the light hanging in the tabernacle, but also to the light of Eli.  As the midrash says, “No righteous man ever departs from the world until a righteous man like him is brought into being.” (Sefer Ha-Aggadah 114:59) The lamp is the light of Eli, fading but dim, and about to be extinguished in favor of the light of Samuel.

The book is jammed with material like this, and it’s a far more organized way to explore it than attempting to pour through the voluminous midrashic literature. So: thanks for book, and keep clicking!

In other news: Continue reading

But Wawa’s Ordering System IS Pretty Amazing

So this story has been making the rounds today. Smirking leftist tool Andrea Mitchell and some chattering jackass guffaw at a highly edited tape of Mitt Romney claiming to be amazed by Wawa’s touchscreen ordering system. Before rolling the tape, DNC operative Mitchell prepares the viewers for a George Bush Sr. “supermarket scanner” moment.

(Brief sidebar for you young’uns: Back when GHW Bush  was running for his second term, he supposedly was at some smile-and-shake in a supermarket and remarked about how amazing the bar-code scanning technology was, as though he had never seen it. I remember clearly the media tilt on this story, and I absorbed the message they wanted me to absorb: Bush was out of touch, and needed to go. Except it was all a lie. Bush was just making small talk. The media deliberately distorted the story.)

In the Mitchell clip, Romney talks about ordering subs at Wawa. There is a bunch of missing footage. It appears as if he is amazed that you can walk into a Wawa, construct a sub on a touch screen, place and pay for the order, and then pick up your sandwich. This amazement is supposed to tell us that Romney is your typical clueless millionaire dweeb out of touch with the way everybody lives. That’s certainly how Mitchell framed it, and her snickering response merely drove home the anti-Romney message.

Except … Continue reading