Thursday, February 13, 2020

Anything in the Name of the Tsar

As I've said before, Our Lady at Fatima spoke of the errors of Russia, not simply the errors of Communism.

Let me add a quick note: I am not here saying that Communism is not an error, that the Fatima secret does not refer to Communism as among the errors of Russia, or in any way trying to rescue the reputation of the murderous Soviet regime. Not at all.

Again, our touchstone for truth, our way of testing to see what is erroneous and what is real is the teaching of the Church, and the Church has condemned, fought, and often overcome Communism.

However, I reiterate: Our Lady spoke of the errors (plural) of Russia (not the Soviet Union). To presume that the errors of Russia referred to in Fatima must only refer to Communism, one must overlook the way that "anything in the name of" also characterized tsarist rule in Russia.

And perhaps the easiest way to make the point that there was something dramatically wrong with pre-revolutionary Russia is simply to point to Rasputin.

Mistaken in his own lifetime for a holy man, Rasputin slept his way through Russian high society, held enormous sway over Tsarina Alexandra because she believed him the only person who could heal her son of hemophilia, and before he died, had so hollowed out the Russian government through his control of the royal family that the revolutions of 1917 followed.

How did such a man not just gain access to the ruling classes, but to the imperial family itself? How did such a strange figure become so immensely consequential in Russia?

"Anything in the name of."

The tsarina would do anything in the name of her son's health. The tsar would do anything in the name of his wife. And under the absolutist rule of the tsar, the whole of Russia would do anything in the name of the tsar...until they'd suffered beyond endurance, and turned to do anything in the name of eating; anything in the name of survival; anything in the name of changing the status quo.

It should be a matter of fascination for historians that the Russian Orthodox hierarchy wasn't able to serve as an immune system against Rasputin's ascent. Indeed, his place in the royal family exposes another toxic element of the pre-revolutionary period: There was a lot of occultism extant in Russia at the time. In "Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis," Dr. Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, professor emeritus of history at Fordham University, writes:
The occultism of prerevolutionary Russia is important, firstly because aspects of the most popular doctrines—Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Anthroposophy—became embedded in the wider culture; secondly because occultists
who emigrated after the Bolshevik Revolution gained European and American admirers who disseminated their ideas; and thirdly because ideas drawn from the above doctrines were recycled (with some modifications) in the 1960s and after in both the Soviet Union and the West. ...
And a few more notes, working from the teachings of the Church.
  • Tsarism, like the royal absolutism of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in England, claimed for the secular monarch authority over the sacred, over the Church, in a way that the Catholic Church has made clear is illegitimate.
  • Further, such centralization of power in, essentially, a despot leads to the creation of a national church, an ecclesial community that quickly attaches to its membership criteria of patriotism, and membership in a particular ethnicity or nation.
  • That means that on both theological and political grounds, any sort of communion with the bishop of Rome, let alone abiding under his authority as the Vicar of Christ, becomes difficult to impossible for nationalist churches or ecclesial communities.
It was just such vesting of all power in a single figure in Nazi Germany; just such a fascination with the occult; just such an ethno-nationalism and a co-opting of Christianity (or purported Christianity) into the service of narrow nationalist interests that characterized the Third Reich. The errors of Russia certainly had spread to many nations, and certainly caused the destruction of many nations.

But the rot didn't stop with World War II. Rather, World War II was both caused by the errors of Russia and helped launch the errors of Russia into geo-politics as the ordinary means of policy and statecraft. More on that to follow.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Central Error of Russia

The heart of the errors of Russia, and the error behind all the errors that would spew forth into the world, causing WWII and then being spread across the globe by WWII, was diagnosed by the creator of Hobbits, Ents, and Middle-Earth.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a rare genius. Among his greatest achievements is the core moral theme at the heart of The Lord of the Rings: do not do evil so that good may come of it.

Or, to put it another way, always refuse to do "anything in the name of."

Saruman was willing to do "anything in the name of" bringing about the rule of the wise in Middle-Earth, and so he became a fool.

Denethor was willing to do "anything in the name of" victory over Sauron, and so he destroyed himself and almost destroyed his line.

Character after character is tempted to take up the One Ring, the Master Ring, the Ring of Power, and usually, they are tempted to do so for some particular good. Gandalf was tempted to take it to do good. Galadriel, the same. Sam, to establish the garden to end all gardens.

Again and again and again, the characters of Lord of the Rings are tempted to take up the ultimate weapon in order to serve a good cause, home, family, justice, the common good. They are tempted to do evil so that good may come of it, tempted to accept any cost in the name of a particular good.

They are tempted by the oldest temptation in the world, in other words, and by the temptation that undergirds all ideologies and excuses that led to WWII.

Nazism? A system built around doing anything in the name of the Volk, the German people, the Fuhrer; anything in the name of power, of strength, of appetite. In the end, this led to slaughter, to extermination of scapegoats, of the weak. Anything in the name of Germany turned into a willingness to destroy Germany.

Communism? A system built from Marx's ideology, an ideology with an absolute faith in historical processes in place of God, a system looking to the Revolution to do atheistically what Judaism and Christianity look for in the day of the Lord. And at the heart of the expectation of the Revolution as the day when all wrongs shall be made right, all injustices corrected, all inequities remedied, is the essential willingness to do anything in the name of justice. Anything in the name of the Revolution. From there flowed every other evil of Communism enacted in Russia--anything in the name of Lenin, for he was the bringer of the Revolution. Anything in the name of the Party, for they bring the Revolution. Anything in the name of Comrade Stalin, for he is synonymous with the Party. Anything in the name of the Soviet Union, for that is the place where Communism has been made real, the Revolution has occurred, where all is just, because it must be just, because the Revolution has occurred...

But don't stop there. Look also at Tsarism. Of that, more tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What are the Errors of Russia?

So Our Lady of Fatima didn't reveal everything she had come to convey in 1917. No indeed: The secret of Fatima, given in July 1917, clearly indicates that Our Lady would be visiting again later in order to reveal the First Saturdays devotion and the essential elements of the consecration of Russia.

But she also revealed a great deal in that secret, including that if her requests were not heeded, World War II would come because of the spread and effects of the errors of Russia..

And that crucial warning caught my attention in the midst of reading and study.

After all, the average Catholic who pays attention to Fatima associates the errors of Russia with the Communist totalitarianism that came into being in Russia in October/November, 1917. Many have childhood memories of praying the Rosary for peace in the world and for the conversion of Russia, and given the hard years of the Cold War, this interpretation is hardly surprising.

But it overlooks the crucial point that the errors of Russia caused World War II, according to Our Lady, and while Stalin's Russia certainly helped launch the war with his unlikely alliance with Hitler's Germany, it's a stretch to say that Communism caused Nazism, or to attempt to claim that Nazism would not have caused a world war without Communism.

How, then, can we look at the causes of the war and find their roots in Russia?

Several crucial ways.

1) One of the most influential texts in Nazi Germany was the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. According to the noted scholar Hannah Arendt, the Protocols didn't just serve the Nazis' propaganda goals of supposedly laying out a shadowy Jewish conspiracy to control the world. No--the Nazis actually used the Protocols as a "textbook for global conquest." They modeled their Third Reich off of the Protocols--and the Protocols were fabricated in Russia, and published in 1902-1903.

2) Why do we assume that when Our Lady spoke of the errors of Russia in July 1917 she was necessarily referring to solely to the errors of Communism? July was between revolutions. The Tsar had lost power, but Lenin and his heirs had not yet seized it. Indeed, had Our Lady meant to solely speak of Communism, she could easily have said so. In fact, she probably would not have spoken of Russia. She would have said, "The Soviet Union," or some other phrase that would have pointed solely at what was to come.

No. I think that when we read the secret, we need to look at Russia, both before and after the Revolutions of 1917, in order to find what Our Lady meant by the errors of Russia.

Now--a few necessary qualifications.

Key among them: There is nothing new under the sun. In the secret of Fatima, the errors of Russia are nowhere said to be new, or somehow unheard of before 1917. The errors of Russia will be errors that have been present in Russia in a particularly powerful or dominant way, not necessarily emerging for the first or only time from Russia.

Second, the errors of Russia will lead to World War II. The war was the sign that the best hour had come and gone for the First Saturdays and the consecration of Russia. It's the crucial symptom that a virus had gotten loose into the whole world.

Thirdly, our guide to which errors are at play cannot be our political party, our personal biases, or our preferences for whom Heaven condemns. Rather, our guide to error must be truth. We must know the right answers in order to discern where Russia had gone wrong, and where her errors had spread to lead the world wrong. What, then, is our touchstone? The Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth (see 1 Tim 3:15). Relying upon Scripture and Tradition, the magisterial teaching of popes and ecumenical councils, and the writings of saints and doctors, we can come to a clear perception of the errors at play by comparing them to the truth taught by the Church.

And at the core of all of the errors of Russia, I think there's one error in particular--one that a certain professor of languages diagnosed in the heart of the war itself. More to come.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Church Could Have Averted WWII

So in 2016-2017, I did a bunch of reading, research, and writing about Fatima. It was the 100th anniversary of the apparitions, it was timely, and it was interesting.

As I was doing this work, one thing came into clear focus for me: World War II was an optional event.

I mean, living in the world that World War II created, it can easily be mistaken (by American eyes like mine) an inevitable, apocalyptic clash in which the Allies took on the forces of Anti-Christ, goodness won, and a free world was reborn. The world was saved, and blessed are we if we have leaders as great as those who then strode the earth.

But I realized that's not the view of the world given by Our Lady of Fatima.

Rather, the second part of the secret of Fatima indicates that World War II was avoidable if her requests were heeded, if the Church reacted in a timely fashion, making the First Saturdays of reparation and the consecration of Russia. If the requested devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart had spread, then the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart would have come before the start of World War II. Indeed, there never would have been a war. Millions of lives could have been saved. An ocean of suffering could have been avoided.

Studying Fatima further, I even encountered the turning point in history, the year when the Church could have redirected the world away from war, according to Our Lady of Fatima. As Fr. Apostoli's excellent book Fatima for Today lays out, drawing on Sr. Lucia's own writings, the apparitions of Fatima didn't just come in 1917. There were the apparitions of the angel of peace, the angel of Portugal in 1916, and there were a number of subsequent apparitions to Sr. Lucia--as of course there had to be.

When you read the 1917 secret, look at it as though for the first time, as though we didn't know anything more than the events up to July 1917. You'll notice that she promises she will come again (emphasis added):

... If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. ...
Our Lady did not ask for the consecration of Russia in 1917, nor did she then ask for the first Saturdays of reparation. 1917 was not the turning point toward or away from World War II.

When, then?

She came in 1925 to ask for the First Saturdays, and for the first time explained what they entailed. The Church could not have responded to this request until then. And Our Lady came to ask for the consecration of Russia in 1929.

And then she and Jesus both came to Sr. Lucia in 1930, complained that "they"--the hierarchy--were not listening. They said that the consecration would be made, but it would be made late.

And here we have the crucial year, the hinge, the turning point. 1929-1930. Perhaps the progress toward war could still have been arrested till the predicted unknown light shone in the sky Jan. 25-26, 1938. Perhaps we had our chance for several years.

But these are the crucial years when we could have averted WWII.

And that forced me to another conclusion: The errors of Russia can't have merely been the errors of Communism. More on that tomorrow.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Avengers and the Errors of Russia

I just finished watching The Avengers for the umpteenth time, and was struck once again by how Marvel's story people are somehow writing celebrations of the culture of life. Nick Fury refuses a direct order from the shadowy Council that oversees S.H.I.E.L.D because it's an unjust, wrongful order--to nuke Manhattan in a desperate attempt to stop the Chitauri invasion.

It's a classic Cold War move. Mutually Assured Destruction (MADD) rather than accepting defeat. We would rather cast fire upon the earth and perish with our enemies rather than accept subjugation.

And of course, on some level, I understand the instinct. Human beings are certainly capable of such wrath, tempted to it. I have been furious at bullies in my past, furious to the point of not caring what the consequences were so long as I was able to land a punch.

But the Council's choice--the Cold War choice--was born out of the heart of the errors of Russia, out of the error that undergirds most all of the other errors.

Do anything in the name of a good cause.

Do anything in the name of defending freedom, of protecting planet Earth, of winning over the alien invader.

Do anything in the name of goodness, even embracing evil, even becoming evil.

It's an ancient temptation; the first temptation, in fact. Take the forbidden fruit in order to be like God. It looks tasty, and much to be desired for the wisdom it promises. Take that which God has forbidden, and set aside that God which has permitted. Take, and eat, and seize divinity for yourselves!

The thing is that if Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of life, they would have also gained knowledge of good and evil, for experience is the best of teachers. They would have also gained divinity, for Adam's life had come through the breath, the Spirit of God being breathed into his nostrils, and the Trinity indwelt Adam and Eve through the sanctifying grace animating their souls till original sin. Adam is listed in the genealogy of Christ as the Son of God, and so he would have remained--indeed, even entered into glory--had he remained faithful (see Lk 3:38).

The devil tempted them with what they already had in their grasp, and they fell.

So, too, is it with the temptation today of doing anything in the name of a particular good.

We have faced much evil and suffering these past 400 years, since the apparition of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the request for the consecration of France to the Sacred Heart. The Church and the world have seen unprecedented slaughters, and acts of terrible inhumanity, fueled by the extraordinary technological achievements of the modern age. Far too many Stark Industries have built far too many weapons of mass destruction. And far too many people have fallen to the lies that undergird our current crises.

"Are you willing to give 110%?"
"Are you willing to do whatever it takes?"

Thank God for the sane and healthy ordinary folk for whom these are simple motivational slogans. Thank God for the many for whom there are lines they will not cross, evil deeds they will not do, compromises they will not make.

Thank God for fairy tales, and the warnings they convey, of stories about deals made with Rumpelstiltskin, or with Ursula the Witch, of the dangers of love potions and the price that crones will ask for their magic. Thank God for stories warning that your first-born child is all too often the price of professional advancement, of power, of wealth, of following the left-hand path to gain the golden calves of this world.

These are the errors of Russia, the errors that spread out from Russia, weaponized and contagious in WWII, prophesied at Fatima in 1917 and again in 1930, when Jesus and Mary lamented that the consecration would be made late.

These are the errors of Russia. Look at Communism, with its complete faith in historical processes grinding their way through human lives to a revolution that would solve everything, that would establish justice in the world through the dictatorship of the proletariat, the slaughter of the "oppressors," and in whose name every evil could be and was justified. Look at Tsarism, in which one man is given autocratic rule of a country, where he and his family turn to spiritualism and ultimately the demonic deceptions of Rasputin--anything in the name of the heir; anything in the name of the Tsar's rule, anything in the name of the Tsar.

Then look at the way war was waged during World War II. Look at the ethos that began with Stalin and Hitler, with any evil done in the name of the leader of the Communist Party and any evil done in the name of the Fuhrer, the volk, the German people. Look at the ethos that spread to the Allies throughout the war--anything in the name of victory, including Japanese internment camps, the firebombing of cities, and ultimately the Manhattan Project's terrible fruits. Look at how that ethos governed the waging of the Cold War--MADD is the doctrine and ruthless the war, and the waging of it. Any manipulation of the facts in the name of Communism or stopping Communism; any weapon to hand; anything in the name of--not even victory, for in the event of a nuclear war, there was no expectation of victory. No--anything in the name of no surrender.

Anything--and so it was spy versus spy; intelligence service versus intelligence service; the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, seized and eaten again and again and again, for we sought salvation in knowledge, in intelligence, in gnosis, in secrets and the Inner Ring, in blunt instruments of government policy (Ian Fleming's description of James Bond) doing anything in the name of Queen and country in order to stop the Soviet agents from doing anything in the name of the Revolution and the Party.

The same errors at the roots, the same bad first premises skewing our worldviews and our understanding for the last several hundred years--all for the lack of a consecration of France, and a late consecration of Russia.

An ideological infection that began in France in the 1600s and spread to the world bore terrible fruit, especially in 1917, in 1929-1945, and has continued to bear fruit ever since then.

The remedies? They exist; they are powerful; they have been used to a certain extent, but we must take them up in our turn and hasten the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart as much as possible. The sooner the Queen of Heaven wins her victory, the better.

For the wise, there are more complicated tools at hand--revising our understanding of history to spotlight and help us fight particular errors.

For all of us, there is devotion to the Immaculate Heart. Possible ways to live this:
  • living a good, ordinary Christian life
    • receiving the Sacraments regularly
    • attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation
    • performing the works of mercy
  • the First Saturdays of reparation
  • Marian consecration
  • the daily Rosary for peace in the world
  • other Marian devotions, such as the Miraculous Medal, the scapulars (especially the Brown, the Green, and the Blue)
  • enthroning a statue or another image of Our Lady in your home, especially of her showing her Immaculate Heart
  • leading devotions in your parish
  • Marian processions
  • studying Mariology
A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting "in order to be seen by men").

The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it ...
Some rules apply in every case:
- One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
- the Golden Rule: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."
- charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: "Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ." Therefore "it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1755-1756, 1789).

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Living with Other People

It's always interesting encountering people with whom one disagrees on fundamental things in everyday life.

On the one hand, there's the option of simply ignoring the differences, focusing on the things held in common, and moving on.

On the other hand, there's more and more an insistence that everyone else be in accord on certain fundamentals, whether those be the priorities of the left or of the right, before a person may be accorded any kind of respect or treated with any dignity.

It's a tricky thing--of course, human dignity is intrinsic and inalienable. Fundamental respect and love for our neighbor is essential, in the full, philosophical sense.

And yet that doesn't mean every opinion can be allowed to pass unremarked, can it?

Certainly people in power need to be challenged on matters of fact, on areas where they jeopardize other peoples' well being. Certainly we now look back and wish for a world in which Hitler had been greeted by an outraged uprising of the whole world, an utter refusal to countenance his racial and nationalistic insanity, and a swift and certain challenge that could have headed off Holocaust and the slaughter of war.

So there are certain opinions, certain attitudes, that ought bring out a resolute opposition from us, reflecting perhaps the example of Dietrich von Hildebrand, recognizing certain evils as fully incompatible with Christianity or civilization.

And yet in an era where the errors of Russia influence almost all of us; when our first premises are so often out of whack in ways of which we are completely unconscious, what gives us the right to decide that we have accurately discerned whose opinions we must repudiate utterly? Left and right justify dehumanizing policies, governing choices that do actively lead to the deaths of innocents. We are faced with a world looking more and more like the milieu of the Caesars than the city of God.

How are we to oppose when we are so often, unconsciously, part of the problem?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Chernobyl, the Dictatorship of Relativism, and the Errors of Russia

I'd been listening to Whittaker Chambers' book Witness recently. And last night, I first got into some of the coverage of the new HBO miniseries Chernobyl. Both give a glimpse into the nobility and sacrifice inherent in the Russian character, as well as the insanity, lies, and slaughter at the heart of Communism.

In light of Our Lady's clear warning at Fatima about Russia and the toxic intellectual pollution that was and would emanate from the ancient country, there is something perfectly symbolic about Chernobyl. There is something perfectly symbolic about a series of lies, of acts of insanity and/or carelessness, of hubris, leading to a tragedy of historic proportions. And there is something symbolic about the further lies told in order to save face, in order to protect the reputation, the influence, the misplaced trust in the Communist Party, in the Soviet system, in man and his ability to control all things, to replace God.

Our Lady warned us:
... If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. ...
Like the toxic cloud arising from the exposed core of Chernobyl, those many errors have arisen and spread out of Russia these past 100 years. And chief among them is "anything in the name of."

Anything in the name of the worker.

Anything in the name of justice.

Anything in the name of our party, or our state, or our country, or my family, or national security, or...

Anything in the name of the true, the good, and the beautiful, including telling a lie; doing evil; creating ugliness.

Anything in the name of, which inevitably leads to betraying the thing in whose name you have been acting.

Everything in the name of--yes, do everything in the name of God! Do everything with your eyes fixed on the good, the true, the beautiful, and do everything for love of them.

But anything in the name of is a fast track into the lowermost depths of hell.

J.R.R.Tolkien did a masterful job of dissecting this temptation in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf, Galadriel, Sam, Aragorn, Faramir--all are tempted to take up the One Ring, the Master Ring, in order to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron, and all refuse it, knowing that they could win, but in the winning, would lose everything. Denethor, Boromir, and Saruman were not so wise.

So it was at the root of Communism, and before, in Tsarist Russia. Anything in the name of the state; anything in the name of the preservation of our system; anything in the name of the Revolution; anything in the name of Soviet Communism; anything in the name of Comrade Stalin; anything in the name of defeating the Nazis; anything in the name of winning the Cold War; anything in the name of putting down counter-revolutionary forces; anything in the name of political correctness; anything in the name of...

So the tsars and their Okhrana helped give birth to the Revolution and to the many iterations of an internal security apparatus that eventually became the KGB, and then post-Soviet FSB, and the Russia of Vladimir Putin. Anything in the name of helped spawn anything in the name of once again. Oppressors and oppressed switched places, and set in motion the next cycle of revolution; switched places again, or perhaps merely reshuffled the cards for the next hand.

Anything in the name of gave us Chernobyl. Anything in the name of gave us the Cold War.

Anything in the name of justified the culture of the lie in the Soviet Union so well exposed and so aptly criticized by Chernobyl. Anything in the name of creates the People of the Lie dissected by M. Scott Peck, George Orwell, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Vaclav Havel, and St. John Paul II.

Anything in the name of is the dominant mode of politics and economics tempting us across the world today.

Time, once again, to say: Pray the Rosary daily for peace in the world. Make the First Saturday devotion. Learn about the Blessed Virgin Mary, and do the devotions to the Immaculate Heart.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Black Panther and the Errors of Russia

T'Challa: You want to see us become just like the people you hate so much! Divide and conquer the land as they did!
Killmonger: Nah, I learned from my enemies. Beat them at they own game.
T'Challa: You have become them! You will destroy the world, Wakanda included! (Black Panther, 2018
Here is the secret that should no longer be a secret.

Here is the truth about the state of the world today.

We are ruled, many of us, in our hearts and in our minds, by the "errors of Russia"--by the errors that Russia unleashed on the world, beginning in 1917. We know this because Our Lady of Fatima told us so. Those errors are many, and have spread across the world, causing the destruction of many nations. They continue to poison our world to this day, and are perhaps the dominant cause of conflict right now.

You can see them on full display in Marvel's Black Panther--that is, you can see those errors detected, exposed, and left out for all to see.

What are those errors?

We can detect them and their slimy trail by examining Russia's history shortly before 1917 through 1929 and by looking at the errors' first great historical effect: causing World War II.

Briefly, here are some of the errors:
  • "Anything in the name of." That is, being willing to do anything, no matter how evil, in the name of a cause or entity. Even the Jesuits, famous for their absolute obedience to their superiors and to the Holy Father, have always had a caveat to that obedience: They are not bound to commit mortal sin under obedience to a superior. Nothing and no one is worth losing our souls, not even God. God calls us to give everything to Him, not be willing to do anything without limits in His service. He is a God of order, a God who gives rules and binds Himself with covenants. He is not the unfettered, lawless, willfull bully in the sky. The heart and core of the errors of Russia is this: "anything in the name of." We see this in Black Panther in Killmonger's willingness to kill indiscriminately in the name of justice, to do anything in the name of liberation, even take away liberty; to do anything in the name of justice, even to commit injustice; to do whatever it takes to set the African diaspora free, even by subjugating the rest of the world and whatever Africans might be loyal to T'Challah.
  • Communism. This is one of the clearest errors of Russia, and one of the deadliest. But Communism is not one single idea. It is a complex web of ideas, consisting of a number of errors intertwined with some truths. The best way to discern its errors and sort out what is true is to go deeply into the life and writings of Pope St. John Paul II, a man of long experience in living under the terror of Soviet Communist rule, as well as an intellectual man of faith who could pick out the truths that swayed people to become fellow travelers with the Communist system. The errors contained within Communism include:
    • Atheism. As has been clearly pointed out in works such as de Lubac's The Drama of Atheist Humanism, atheism destroys human dignity in the name of human dignity, stripping away the religious understanding of the meaning of humanity and history, and replacing it with a howling void. Catholicism's answer comes in Gaudium et Spes, 22.
    • An idolatrous approach to history, and ironically, an ahistorical one. Marx replaced the "day of the Lord" with the Revolution in his system, expecting historical processes to somehow produce a day of perfect justice without an eternal, omniscient just judge. He expected, really, everything to sort itself out in the end. History would right every wrong.
    • The two most important realities in human history are political power and economics, or money. These are the prime movers of all of history, and necessary and sufficient explanations for every motive, every action, every aspect of human history. You can see this error on full display in every political party's campaign strategies and in every news network's broadcasts. What truly matters? What truly rests behind every shift of culture, every human act? Power and money get "serious" coverage. Everything else is practical (the weather; traffic), entertainment (sports, movies, TV shows, morning shows, etc.), or human interest puff pieces. Hence, the media both is certain that entertainment is just entertainment, never to blame for a change in morality or any serious consequences. At the same time, advertising is a multibillion dollar business. And of course, the press just doesn't GetReligion
There are more, and there is much more to discuss in Black Panther, and indeed, in all the Marvel movies, some of the greatest proclamations of the Gospel of Life out there. But let me just close by saying once again: We have all the clarity we need on the solution to the problems of today, problems caused or exacerbated by the errors of Russia.

We are to turn to the Immaculate Heart.

We are make the First Saturdays devotion--at least the five, but really, I think that those of us who know of this devotion and its importance should make a committment to try to be faithful to it as best we can to the end of our lives. If we hope to lead others to it, we must be setting an example of taking it seriously and in finding it doable and rewarding.

We should be praying the Rosary daily for peace in the world, as Our Lady of the Rosary requested at Fatima. Getting a blessed image of the Immaculate Heart (or even better, of the Alliance of the Two Hearts) up in your home is a good move. Lighting a blessed candle in her honor, etc.--all very good.

And do the works of mercy. Pick one. Stick with it. Perform them faithfully. (And, speaking as someone who's bad at it, be nice to yourself when you don't stick with it. Pick yourself back up, get to Confession, and start again.)

We are to become immaculate through the grace of God, given in the Sacraments, given in Christ. We are to become like Mary, and thereby overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are to become what we love, not what we hate. We are to become good in order to fight evil, not become evil in order to overmaster the former Dark Lord. Victory looks like Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, not Saruman, Denethor, and Gollum; like Aslan, not the White Witch.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Under Pope Francis, What's a Trad to Do?

I appreciate traditionalist Catholics.

They have a good instinct in appreciating the past, and refusing to abandon ways that have worked before, ways that have led to sanctity, to true communion with God. Often, once the fashions of the age have swung around a few times on their axis, we come to appreciate the folkways preserved by those whom fashion had derided, had called out of date or passed by on the way to today.

The great G. K. Chesterton was perfectly right, after all, when he said:
“My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” – New York Times Magazine, Feb. 11, 1923
I have a great gratitude for the traditionalist/conservative/whatever label promotion and preservation of the Rosary especially, but a whole host of traditional devotions, in spite of a faddish disdain for them in the wake of Vatican II. I share some of the same instincts, in fact, as a number of conservatives and traditionalists. I tend to like primary sources, for instance. Want to know how to be holy? Let's look to the saints. Why would their witness ever be out of date? True, they practiced the faith in a whole different context, but humanity hasn't changed that radically in 2,000 years such that there's no such thing as perennial wisdom. Why not listen to the great masters and mistresses of prayer, of mercy?

And so when I see a lot of traditionalists and conservatives having a real problem with Pope Francis, I'm inclined to be sympathetic--up to a point.

I understand that Jesuits can be disconcerting. Heck, from the time of St. Ignatius of Loyola, their founder, up to the present day, the Society of Jesus has been reliably followed by a certain cloud of consistent criticism, fear, and misunderstanding, largely occasioned by St. Ignatius' remarkable spiritual genius in spawning an order of incredibly effective, incredibly brilliant, incredibly potent men. Further, those men have all been formed according to the first principle and foundation, which at its best leads them to do all ad majorem Dei gloriam--all for the greater glory of God. That has meant several centuries of men willing to go anywhere, take up any style of life, preach to anyone, practice the works of mercy for anyone under any circumstances, and, chameleon-like, accommodate themselves to any environment in order to bring Jesus to people.

At their best, they've been anchored by their obedience to their legitimate superiors, and in a special way, their obedience to the Holy Father. Rooted by that tether, they've been able to go to the ends of the world, to the furthest reaches of the lands of unbelief, in order to draw people from the furthest periphery into the center, which is Jesus Christ. They've been modeled on the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep; the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, who leaves Heaven to come to earth and even harrows the depths of hell in order to draw up to eternal life all those saints who lived and died before the Incarnation.

The Jesuits are, then, the ones who go farther than anyone else; who have historically provoked protests and outrage from the other religious communities in mission lands; who have run afoul of the Inquisition; who were shut down by the Holy See for a time, and later restored; who, if they go wrong, go almost farther wrong than any other, and who, when they're good, are better than any others.

The Jesuits, at their best, embody dreaming the impossible dream.

And for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a Jesuit is the pope.

This was not ever really envisioned by the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits are bound to report any of their brethren whom they hear "ambitioning" to be made a bishop, or who seek any sort of ecclesiastical preferment. They are meant to be priests, and that's it. They've given the Church a number of outstanding bishops and cardinals over the years, rather against the will of their founder. And Francis is the first Jesuit pope.

So of course, in some ways, it should be expected that he might provoke a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Compound that with his habit of giving impromptu press conferences on the papal plane or interviews to secular journalists who don't take notes and reconstruct what they thought the pope said from memory. Yes, that can certainly be a recipe for disconcerting headlines, for strange claims about Church teaching, and for confusing news stories, clarified by Vatican releases that the average person never sees.

That's as far as I go in my sympathy with the traditionalist and conservative concerns about Pope Francis.

After that--well. We've been here before.

We should have learned, after long experience across a number of pontificates (for me personally, it's been the pontificates of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis), that if you want to know what the pope has said on any given subject, you really must search out the primary source text or the transcript of the words spoken. The media coverage invariably ranges from the well-informed to the utterly uncomprehending. GetReligion does a great job of chronicling that range of coverage.

Under St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, that coverage usually made it sound like the popes were always and forever hidebound, reactionary conservatives, against everything modern, progressive, and new. Oh, sure, there were occasional stories about papal concern for immigrants, the environment, and other topics that in the Anglosphere fall on the liberal side of things, but somehow that didn't penetrate to the average reader or media consumer. No--what came through confirmed American conservatives in both the media hostility to religion, conservatism, and them personally, as well as that the media didn't hear or understand what was coming from the Vatican.

Under Pope Francis, that same media reports everything the pope says or does that supports a narrative of him as a major liberal reformer--and those same American conservatives who should know better, given the decades of bad coverage of previous popes, tend to follow that line, as well.

"Oh, but Amoris Laetitia!"

The whole controversy--or at least 99.99999999% of the controversy--over Amoris Laetitia is a controversy over a few footnotes.


I object to the level of controversy erupting over the contents of several footnotes. Whether or not there's dubious expressions in those footnotes, this sort of scandal being taken by Catholics is grossly disproportionate to the import of a footnote. If the Holy Father had attempted some sort of doctrinal definition of error, excommunication of holders of the perennial teaching of the Church for so holding that perennial teaching, or had anathematized irreplaceable elements of the teaching, then I get the reaction.

But for a footnote? Even a few footnotes? No. Grossly inappropriate, remarkably overblown, and a greater contribution to confusion in the Church than Amoris Laetitia itself.

Poor liturgical choices? Those have happened before, under a variety of popes, and they'll happen again.

Poor personnel decisions? Same.

Poor prudential decisions? Yup.

Has Francis made those sorts of decisions? I dunno. I distrust snap judgments about popes and other world leaders. Maybe; maybe not. But no matter what, I can guarantee you this: We've been through far worse than Pope Francis.

My position on Pope Francis, quite simply, is that the first, foremost, and underlying fact about him is that he is Peter. He is the Holy Father, the bishop of Rome, and so to be in communion with Christ's Church, I must be in communion with him.

Now, given the guarantees given to Peter and his successors, on the one hand, the Holy Father is infallible teaching ex cathedra on matters and faith and morals. On the other hand, he may be wrong on matters of discipline, policy, prudential judgment, and much else. As Scripture shows us quite clearly, Peter screwed up a number of times, both in word and in deed. But Jesus did not deprive him of his office.

And certainly there was no provision for the other Apostles to deprive Peter of his office.
... the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) ... The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful.(30*)
He's not formally teaching error. All the most dubious stuff has been in interviews, often interviews with no notes taken, or coming from the mouths of those surrounding him. He evinces clear supernatural faith on a regular basis, speaking of spiritual combat, the reality of the devil, the importance of devotions such as the Rosary, praying to the saints, the Divine Mercy message and devotion, and more. His track record in Argentina on orthodoxy was pretty largely unobjectionable.

On everything he's pushed as pope, there may be/have been questions of prudence or whether they're the best policies, but he's never gone near to doing anything a successor could not undo or walk back. He's behaving like a Jesuit from the oldest days of that order--go out to the furthest corners of the world in order to spread the Gospel to those furthest from the Church--and the Good Shepherd--leave the 99 in order to go after the 1 fallen away.

If ever there were a time to put into practice patient, prayerful love of a spiritual father who freaks one out, it's with this guy. And honestly, most Catholics ought easily to be able to just completely ignore most all news from Rome, if they need to, and plug away at their local parish in the Sacraments, prayer, works of mercy, and the new evangelization/growing the culture of life running off Scripture, the Catechism, the Compendium of Social Teaching, and the writings of whichever Doctor or saint most speaks to them. If Francis freaks people out, then just abide in the fullness of the faith and don't look over there. God's got it all well in hand.

So pray for Pope Francis, certainly. Study the teachings of the Church from past ages earnestly, sure--Scripture, Tradition, liturgy, creeds, catechisms, papal magisteria, saints, Doctors, and approved mystics. And no matter the controversies that may erupt or the questions that arise in the course of the Church's pilgrimage here below--the sins or betrayals of the clergy or our fellow Catholics, or even our own sins and preferences--don't ever leave the barque of Peter.

Monday, May 6, 2019

On Why to Stay Catholic and Fatima as the Answer

Hopefully convincingly; hopefully well. Let me reiterate my closing point briefly:

The remedy Heaven has given us for the present age is in the message of Fatima: devotion to the Immaculate Heart, especially through the First Saturdays devotion and the daily Rosary for peace in the world.
Our Lady explained those Five First Saturdays to Sr. Lucia dos Santos, one of the Fatima visionaries, on Dec. 10, 1925, in the following way:
See, my daughter, my Heart encircled by thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Do you, at least, strive to console me. Tell them that I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, in order to make reparation to me, on the First Saturday of five successive months, go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour, meditating on the … mysteries of the Rosary. ...
If you immediately dismissed the above, I pray you, think again. If you nodded, went, "Yeah, yeah," and are eagerly anticipating me changing the subject--guys, diagnose that.

Pay attention to how hard it is to pay attention to the First Saturdays and the daily Rosary for peace.

Notice your resistance to thinking about these things seriously. Notice how easily your attention slips away.

Where we meet the greatest resistance, there the enemy fights hardest to protect himself.

Our Lady has given us the remedy to the present day--five smooth stones to take down the Goliaths of the modern age. Our Lady has given us everything we need to heal the world of the errors of Russia, beginning by healing ourselves with the Sacraments, prayer, and meditation on the mysteries of the Incarnation. Our Lady has given us the path to peace.

Use these means. Follow this path. And commit to it.

In order to lead the rest of the people of God along Our Lady's way, we who know the message of Fatima have a special obligation to live her requests. We need to simply commit to make the First Saturdays as best we can continuously till the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart or till the end of our lives, whichever comes first.

We who know the remedy need to take it ourselves, and invite our neighbors to join us on that road. We must do this for the sake of the victims of the errors of Russia, past, present, and future. We must do this for the sake of the Church, and especially for the sake of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, which feel so keenly every loss of a soul, every act of sin, every time someone falls.

We know what we need to do. We have everything we need in order to do it. Let's go.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

On Public Sinners and Apparent Saints

There's a lot of people whose preferred method of evangelization looks like this:
Son of man, I have appointed you a sentinel for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.

If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked and they still do not turn from their wickedness and evil conduct, they shall die for their sin, but you shall save your life.

But if the just turn away from their right conduct and do evil when I place a stumbling block before them, then they shall die. Since you did not warn them about their sin, they shall still die, and the just deeds that they performed will not be remembered on their behalf. I will, however, hold you responsible for their blood. If, on the other hand, you warn the just to avoid sin, and they do not sin, they will surely live because of the warning, and you in turn shall save your own life. (Ezekiel 3:17-21)
And of course, given the Scriptural warrant, there's something real and important to this. There's a time and a place for a stark prophetic witness, for a determined denunciation of real evil, of real wickedness. We look for it in the dark days of the Third Reich, and are encouraged to discover Dietrich von Hildebrand, the papal encyclicals Mit Brennender Sorge and Summi Pontificatus, the writings and public addresses of Cardinal von Galen, the heroic work of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty in rescuing thousands from the Nazis, and more. Public witness against evil and for the good matters. It matters in the time of a great evil, and it matters to those who come after, who look back and see how to do it when they confront the evils of their own times.

But what happens when the evils become smaller, become more everyday, become fashionable sins and vices, become faults and falls of ourselves, our immediate neighbors, our friends and family, our own? What then?

Caritas in veritate. Truth in charity. Both, inextricably intertwined. And that demands discernment. That demands a recognition that we are to be rock solid in the truth, yes; we are to study it, adhere to it, assent to the teachings of the Church on faith and morals, and work assiduously to understand and accept those that we find most challenging. We must hold and defend all that the Catholic Church holds and defends.

But when it comes to proclaiming it to the people, we have to take a lesson from the divine pedagogy of the Scriptures. God came to the people of a given time period and spoke to them in ways they understood, in language that they understood. He is a perfectly just and merciful judge. His justice takes into account our weakness, ignorance, and concupiscence. His mercy provides remedies for them, and offers a way home even after the umpteenth fall. And more: When Jesus comes, He has a very particular method. He is gentle with the weak and the broken.
"A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:20-21)
He is firm, even stentorian, with the strong, the purportedly righteous, with all those who should know better. He calls out in the strongest terms those who hold themselves to be faithful adherents to the Law, and eats with tax collectors and prostitutes.

So apply all this to the present day.

Most people have a very clear idea of what they're doing wrong by Catholic standards. They're relieved to be loved by people who believe they're doing wrong, relieved not to have that sin be the first or only thing we Catholics see when we look at them, relieved that religious people can engage them as people rather than some part of their life that our faith tells us isn't right.

Also, the Church is in such a deep mess these days that Catholics leading with making clear what we don't condone doesn't often make sense to many people inside or outside the Church. Far better we lead with a smile (as Mother Teresa said), friendly conversation, sincere interest in the other person and their loves and lives, and a rueful acknowledgment that these days, we all done screwed up.

There's certainly a time and a place for public witness against evil--stand against abortion; stand against human trafficking; stand against racism; and so forth. But usually when we're one on one with people, what's called for is simple love and gratitude for the other person. They almost always know where we believe they're going wrong. We don't have to say it. Simply not giving assent to things that are wrong can speak louder than a thousand homilies--see Thomas More for more.

Yeah, it's a mess of a discernment process. I think, though, that Jesus' example tended toward the "eat with the public sinners; chew out the publicly righteous" model of evangelization. The outcasts and disreputable in a society are reminded of their sin by the society itself, by their daily existence; the self-righteous, respectable folks have their vices cloaked by an approving society, overlooked by their peers, and their pride upheld.

The pendulum is certainly swinging in our society as to what's approved and what's disapproved, and what is respectable and what's not. But I think most people are abundantly clear on Catholic teaching on the crucial things; they're not nearly so clear on their intrinsic dignity, God's unfailing love for them even though they sin, and that any religious person could find them worthy of love, let alone time, attention, and friendliness.

And then one last subtlety--we're meant to be witnesses at all times and places by our love, not necessarily by an obvious proclamation of the Gospel. We are called to live lives in this world, we lay people, called to sometimes merely be doing a task, merely to be a customer, merely to be a patient. As Simcha Fisher once pointed out (if memory serves), we are meant to be salt and light in the world, which means not so much salt that people gag on the Good News and not so much light that people are blinded, sunburned, scarred. We are to lend savor to life and be a leading kindly light, instead.

We are to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents; to be servants of the truth, but also of Logos, of reason, and of the Hagia Sophia, of holy wisdom, as well. We are called to be fishers of men. That means there will be times to be silent as well as to speak, times to bait the hook and leave it in the water while we hold very still, waiting patiently on the Holy Spirit. He makes converts, not us.

In other words--when in doubt, just love. When in doubt, live well. When in doubt, hold on to the fullness of the faith, and share only as much truth as a person can hear without tuning out, giving up, or despairing.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Stand with Peter

Recently, a number of folks have put their signatures to a letter calling Pope Francis a heretic. Catholic Answers senior apologist Jimmy Akin gives an analysis and response here (minute 29:37):

Akin expanded on his response in a piece for the National Catholic Register. Excerpts:

Many of the Open Letter’s charges deal with the issue of divorce and civil remarriage, as discussed in the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, but as Cardinal Gerhard Müller has shown, the relevant statements in this document can be understood in harmony with Church teaching.

Akin replies to the reply from one of the signatories. Excerpt:

... By stating that the definitions I have offered for dogma and heresy are “ridiculous,” Kwasniewski reveals either (1) that he does not know how the Magisterium uses these terms or (2) that he considers the Magisterium’s use to be “ridiculous,” in which case his problem is with the Magisterium, not with me.

The use of these definitions in no way renders “many of the condemnations made by the Church Fathers” pointless. They retain their full force.

Kwasniewski complains about parsing out “canonical niceties,” but this is precisely the area that he and his co-signatories have ventured into by writing—in their words (in the Open Letter)—“to accuse Pope Francis of the canonical delict of heresy.”

You can’t accuse people of canonical delicts and then complain if you are being held to a canonical standard of proof. That is moving the goal post.

As I said before, it’s one thing to ask for clarifications, voice concerns, or express disagreement, but it’s another to start making charges of the canonical crime of heresy. When you do that, you’d better be able to prove your case, but Kwasniewski’s responses indicate that he can’t.

The whole of Jimmy's responses are well worth reading. I think my own reaction may be summed up briefly: When it comes to a theological faceoff between the successor to St. Peter and a handful of academics, no matter how well regarded, my first instinct will be to sit back, examine the arguments, and wait for clarity while continuing to try to live a full Catholic life.

No matter the disputes between bishops; no matter the uncertainty amongst the leadership of the Church; no matter how clearly or not we understand and feel comfortable with what's happening in the broader Church, we know what we are to do. We must live a life of Sacraments and Scripture, of works of mercy and regular prayer, of reading the writings of the saints, councils, doctors, and popes, past and present. We know where we are to stand. We have the creeds. We know what we are to proclaim. We have the Scriptures and the Catechisms. We know where to look for wisdom. Follow the canons of Scripture and of the saints.

We have everything we need. Let time heal all confusion. We have our bedrock with the faith handed on from the apostles. While doctrine develops, while synods sit, while popes legislate, reform, and deal with the crises of the present age, we across the world can simply attend to the perennial things, waiting on the Holy Spirit.

And then ... well, my other main thought is simply that we've been given the successor to St. Peter as our spiritual father of fathers, not academics. We are told that the Holy Father is the bedrock, the one who confirms the brethren in their faith (Lk 22:32; Gal 2:9). Compared to every other authority in the Church, the successor to St. Peter has a unique primacy, a unique standing. There may well be times when people feel in good conscience they must oppose Peter to his face (Gal 2:11), but I would hope that would be done with a certain trepidation, a certain sense of personal danger, and a careful process of discernment. For all of us average Catholics out there, then, I think a safe general rule is: When in doubt, stand with Peter. When everything is clear, stand with Peter. When the world seems to be crashing down around your ears, stand with Peter. Prefer Peter over other authorities on matters of faith and morals. Regard Peter's rulings as superior to the rulings of other authorities within the Church. Trust the gift given to Peter by Christ, and stand.

Matthew 16:13-20 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah

Monday, March 4, 2019

On the Eternity of Hell and God's Love

Hell. How can you still be Catholic when you have to believe in hell?

How can you believe that a good and loving God could condemn anyone, no matter how bad, to an eternity of torment? How does that make sense?

It's a good question, and a long-standing one. I think the answer comes from the nature of humans and the nature of God.

You see, human beings are more than just animals, more than just haunted meatsacks, or whatever the dismissive term for us is these days. We're greater than we seem, greater than we often act. In fact, as C.S. Lewis pointed out masterfully in The Weight of Glory, human beings are potential gods or monsters, potential heavenly beings or potential monsters. We are matter and spirit, body and soul. We are persons who will live forever, no matter what, no matter who we are. Once created, always existing--why?

What makes human beings immortal?

Well, there have been a number of theories down through the ages, a number of different ways of addressing what happens to us after we die. I'm going to dismiss the atheist contention that it's night and silence for us upon death, the argument that once the biological machinery ceases ticking over, then it's curtains for the strange combination of electric impulses and chemical reactions that make me who I am. I'm going to dismiss that because it's such a minority view in terms of human history that it barely warrants a mention by the numbers. Across the ages and cultures, you have some notion of an afterlife, some notion of a part of us that endures beyond the grave--even if we may face dissolution and destruction at the hands of gods or devils past that point--that we really ought to be able to take the existence of some sort of soul as well established,

But what is it that makes us immortal?

Well, we are made in the image and likeness of God, originally. God breathed life into us, and with that breath of earthly life also came divine life, at the outset. Since that time, Adam and Eve took a bite out of a forbidden fruit, and so we lost that original inspiration, that original inbreathing of divine life, only to be regained through Baptism, Holy Communion, and retained through Confession and Anointing of the Sick. But we've never lost the image of God.

We are persons. And all persons are immortal.

All persons, divine, human, or angelic (including fallen angels) have spiritual souls. All persons, once created, will never pass out of existence again, though some will experience the "second death," whatever that will entail. The Last Judgment seems a dismal prospect for the goats; but as best we know, people who have once come into existence will never pass away fully and finally.

That means that beatitude for the blessed will last forever, and damnation for the damned will last forever.

But why must it be so?

Fundamentally, it comes down to the fact that God is not Harvey Weinstein. That is, God respects human free will. He is a gentleman, and will take no as the refusal for a relationship that it is. He comes to us, sacred Scripture tells us repeatedly, like a bridegroom seeking His bride; like a lover seeking His beloved. He comes to us, in other words, pursuing a love affair with the created order, a union that marriage only resembles in a shadowy, distant sort of way.

Marriage is the union of two lovers; the union God is pursuing with us is the union between Love Itself and--well, us.

But of course, true love seeks freely willed, freely chosen love. Love Itself must be met with love, or else it will go away. God created us free in order to allow our love to be free. So there is the option to say no to Him.

Now, during our lifetimes, we may be saying yes and no to Him at different points along the way; just as in an ordinary relationship, sometimes things can get rocky. Couples break up, get back together, and go through all sorts of ups and downs together. But with God, there comes the time of a definite choice, where all the lesser choices of a lifetime culminate, or are overcome by grace.

That is to say, one day we die.

There are a few options for last minute interventions, of course--Our Lady can step in, as St. Alphonsus Liguori details in story after story in The Glories of Mary. Jesus comes to the soul in its final moments three times, as St. Faustina details in her Diary (1496; see also 1698). But at a certain point, our destiny is fixed--for spirits, such choices are all or nothing affairs. Human spiritual souls will experience this, just as it was for the angels and the demons at the time of their testing.

And then--well, we remain in our choices forever after. We choose either the company of God, His angels and His saints, or we choose the company of those who cannot stand company, those for whom the existence of others is a burden and a bore, whose egos reign supreme, whose vices have overtaken them and swallowed any goodness in them. We choose God and an afterlife of radical self-giving and receiving love, or we choose ourselves and an afterlife of radical selfishness, of closed mindedness, closed heartedness, closed soul.

If we choose ourselves rather than loving ourselves and opening ourselves up to God and His beloved creation, we choose to become the Dead Sea, salt, stagnant, and blocked off, rather than the Sea of Galilee, receiving new water and giving out water. We choose to become misers, neither spending nor receiving, neither welcoming others nor seeking out the true good for ourselves. We choose hell--as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the gates of hell would of course be locked from the inside, would be furiously closed off against anything outside of hell's control, blocking out light, life, and the unwanted, intolerable intrusion of other people, other ways of being, other ways of living.

But must it be forever?

Yes--because God is love, and God is eternal. God creates and sustains all that is through His love. You exist right now because of God's love, because God knows and loves you, remembers you and pours out His heart to you, shares His being with you, and calls you good.

You exist from moment to moment because God chooses you. God loves you. God calls you worthy.

And God can never stop loving His creation. It's not in His nature. He is love, not hate; wisdom, not forgetfullness. God is eternal life and love, and so He holds His beloved fellow people in existence for all eternity.

As Diane Duane puts it so well in the Young Wizards Series, nothing that is loved is ever lost.

So even the devils in hell are loved by God. He must, or else they would cease to exist. He loves us so much that He sustains us even in our furious rejection of Him, even in our sins. He loves us and remembers us even as we lash out against Him, even as we doubt His existence, forget our obligations to Him, fail to show Him gratitude, and do evil against God and neighbor. God loves us so much that He lets us choose freely what to do. He loves us so much that there are consequences to our choices, even eternal consequences.

And He can never stop loving us, because that would demand that God ceases to be God.

That is to say, He can never stop sustaining us; He can never stop holding us in existence, even if we have rejected Him, even if we have chosen life without Love, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Being--life without God.

He can never stop loving us into existence, even if we have chosen hell.

That is how eternal damnation and divine love make sense in my head, at least.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Of Modernity and Magic

We're reading Madeline Miller's book Circe in one of my book groups. It's nicely written and certainly evocative, but there's one underlying assumption that I find peculiar--the notion that magic could come as a new power, one even mightier than the gods themselves.

It's a notion I've encountered in my brushes with the show Supernatural, as well, a show that, for all its ostensibly Christian angels, satanic devils, and showrunner God, is essentially a story of pagan deities and Greek heroes. The angels and demons may be "slain," God can run out of power or even be threatened--indeed, he has a sister, darkness to his light--and the throne of hell is unsteady indeed.

And in that world, magic again rules supreme.

The runes on Michael's spear are what make it so powerful, for instance. The heroes use magic to defeat apparently immortal foes.

So, too, with Circe, daughter of the sun and a nymph, and her siblings. Their power can threaten even the gods themselves, a power drawn from the earth and her fruits.

I assume that on some level both works show that high regard for the products of human ingenuity, of reason and science, that characterizes modernity. In a universe where magic works, after all, with reliable results and precise formulas, it would seem to be less the magical arts and more another branch of the natural sciences. So in some sense at the back of both works of art, there's simply one more modern valorization of reason over faith, of trust and belief when one can seize power. Indeed, Prometheus is the wise God to Circe, the first to make her think, to seize her own divine fire and challenge the gods.

The thing is, the cosmos isn't built that way.

Oh, sure, the Greek gods could have been threatened by mortals. As Socrates pointed out, they weren't real gods after all. Surely we all know on some level what we mean by divinity, he pointed out, and the gods of the Greek myths do not consistently live up to that standard.

But God--the source of all being; Being itself--could not be so threatened by its own creatures. The source of all that is must be outside of and independent from creation, or else it would be incapable of giving rise to creation. That which is the source of time must itself be outside of time, in eternity, native to eternity, to timelessness. The source of all cannot be threatened by all, or manipulated by all. When Aslan speaks of the deeper magic in the Chronicles of Narnia, he's speaking of a deeper reading and understanding of himself, for he is Logos, he is Word, he is God.

And yet here we find the root of attempts at magic, and the difference between magic and true religion: Magic is the attempt to manipulate God. Religion is right worship, logika latreia, rational worship, liturgy, the work of the people.

Magic is fundamentally an attempt at seizing divinity; worship is receiving divinity in the palms of open, trusting, generous hands.

Magic is a matter of power; worship, rightly understood and done, of love and trust.

You see this voluntaristic character of magic in the attempt to rule things through the knowledge of the Tetragrammaton, the supposed secret, hidden name of God, or the longing to know the language of creation, to be able to exercise the same power that God used when he spoke all things into being, that Adam perhaps possessed when he named the animals before the fall. You see the endless gnostic, occultic desire to be like God through consuming the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

And there is the fatal error. There is the misunderstanding of hell.

For to be like God isn't simply to be powerful, or to be able to create, or to be able to shape things with a word, a movement of the will. That isn't God in his essence, in his own nature, eternal, outside of time. God is Creator in relation to creation; God is lord of angels, of the heavens and the earth, upon his creation of them.

No, to be like God in his eternity, as he always has been and always will be, as he would have been even if he had chosen not to create, if he had rested satisfied in his own perfect beatitude, is to be family, to be love, to be communion, to be. To be like God, we must eat of the fruit of the tree of life. We must embrace trust. We must live love, and self-gift.

That is the font of his power--that he is constantly giving it all away. He is endlessly self-emptying, endlessly generous, and endlessly receiving everything back again. The dynamic of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the One who gives life; the One who receives life; and the Life that they are constantly, endlessly giving to each other.

God is not subject to our manipulations, nor do we need to manipulate him. He gives us life every moment of every day. Indeed, we cannot cease to exist now that we have begun to exist because he loves us into existence, moment by moment. Our continued existence endlessly depends upon him remembering us and loving us. God is eternal, and unchanging in his perfection--he can't stop loving us, can't stop remembering us. He can never let us go out of existence now--thus the eternity of hell. We have free will. We can reject the gift, reject the love, but he can't stop loving us; can't stop remembering us; can't stop holding us in being.

And so if we put ourselves out of heaven, the endless dance of life and love, by refusing to take part, we are trapped outside of the meaning and goal of our existence.

One last thought--in some sense, the idea of Prometheus put forward in Circe resonated with me as an intense foreshadowing of Christ. Prometheus, Miller points out, is a god of prophecy. He knew, then, what would happen when he brought fire to mankind, and chose to do it anyway. He chose to accept the torment of being chained to a rock, of his liver being plucked out by an eagle each day, of endlessly regrowing the organ only to repeat his torment again in swift succession.

In Christianity, we understand that what happens to an eternal person takes on an eternal character, to a certain extent. So Christ in eternity, in some sense, is always the Lamb who was slain. Good Friday is always present in the life of the Trinity. That day of absolute self-donation, self-emptying, is outside of time because the protagonist is a person whose native world is outside of time.

And even with that, Jesus chose us. He chose fidelity to his own divine nature, to the Father's life and love that he had always shared in and would always share in, of utter self gift for the lives of others.

That gift of life is more powerful than the knowledge of good and evil. Knowing what is means you will be able to discern what is not. Knowing God on his terms means a greater knowledge of the devil than the most dedicated satanist, the most eager devourer of the forbidden fruit. Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Devour the lies, and your darkness shall be great indeed.

Trust, and love, is mightier than magic.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Prayer, Sine Qua Non

So the sex abuse scandal in the Church is an absolute, world historic, hellish mess of tragedy, betrayal, hurt, and confusion. Lots of people in and out of the Church are furious; the bishops are (at top Ent speed) scrambling; and there's a lot of talk right now about reform, renewal, and how to get there. I even threw in my two cents on a few things.

But one key, essential element that's not necessarily being remembered in the midst of the mess is this: In the life of the Church, true, lasting, transformative reform comes about through the grace, inspiration, and strength of the Holy Spirit, or it doesn't happen at all.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, after all. And yes, that can sound all too abstract and metaphorical. It's easy to believe that references to prayer, grace, and the Sacraments are all a subtle way of saying, "Laity, sit down, shut up, and keep praying, paying, and obeying. Be good little sheep. Don't do anything to rock the boat."

Yeah. That's an incredibly secular read on the call to prayer.

Karl Marx thought religion was the opiate of the masses, when in reality, it's more like medicine that heals, energizes, transforms. It makes us superhuman, because it opens us up to the divine life, to grace and God, to live and love with the strength from beyond the stars. It's all part of sanctification, of making us saints, which is to say making us sons and daughters of the loving God, which means more than human. Superhuman. Divinized.

Prayer can certainly calm a storm, it's true, but it can also kick up a storm. It can work like Jesus rebuking the storm in the boat, or it can work like Moses praying to God, and God sending the plagues on the Egyptians. Prayer can send off accusers, or prayer can raise up accusers pursuing justice.

Prayer is powerful, as powerful as the One who is receiving the prayers, as powerful as the Being sustaining the universe, as strong as Love, as Truth, as Goodness, as Beauty. Prayer brings justice and peace, which means mercy and goodness. Prayer invites in light and love. Prayer sets us free.

Prayer is, at its best, saying, "I love You, God, and I trust You. Come in. Do whatever You will." That's the most powerful prayer--not my will be done, but Thy will be done. Not begging for the outcome that I believe to be right, just, and proper, but rather setting aside all preconceived notions, all expectations, all plans, and simply being like Mary. Simply saying to God, "They have no wine," and then saying to the world, "Do whatever He tells you."

Prayer at its height is radical openness to God, radical communion because you allow Him in, no matter what He wants or plans. Oh, you can certainly come to Him with requests, with expectations, with problems and solutions--but you cannot come to Him as though He was your servant, as though He was in your employ, as though He's a grace and miracle dispensing machine, controllable by your hand.

But you can come to Him as a love, a spouse, and a friend. You can come to Him as a son or daughter to a Father. You can come to Him as you would to Goodness Itself, Beauty Itself, Being Itself, Truth Itself, Love Itself, and expect of Him what you would of those transcendentals. You will never be ultimately disappointed.

Oh, we will be disappointed at times in the short term, because God is the Lord of Heaven and earth, and of history. God is outside of time, and has all the time in the world, and tends to work in patient, subtle ways. Perseverance in prayer and patient expectation, in opening the door of your will, your heart, and your mind to His Holy Spirit--His Love, His Truth, and His Power--is indispensable, We are being trained for eternity, for an endless, steady way of being in love, of living in love. We are being prepared for eternity, and so part of that preparation is training in abiding in communion with God. Abide in prayer. Come to the place where all your life is a prayer, all your works are a dance of delighted love of God and neighbor, all has its place in the giving and receiving that is the life and love of God, and you are doing well, and you shall see miracles.

All of that is a long, wordy way to say--prayer is powerful, but often in unexpected ways.

How do we know this for sure? Look at the lives of the saints. Look at the consequences of lives and hearts radically open to God, open to Truth and to Love, to Beauty and to Being, to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Look at their miracles, their impossible triumphs. Historically, Joan of Arc makes no sense, unless she really was hearing God in prayer; unless her voices really were the saints; unless she actually was sent by heaven

Look at Padre Pio and Jean Vianney, two men whose lives are redolent with the supernatural. They make no sense without the Holy Spirit, without the spiritual combat, without the reality of God.

Look at the Apostles, facing down the world and all opposition to launch a 2,000 year project of faith, hope, and charity.

Look at the saints. The deeper you go, the more you'll understand everything above.

All of this is a long way to say--writing to the bishops, making pointed remarks about "reform now or no more checks," and supporting independent investigations and consequences for malfeasance all have their place. They're all important.

But they must all be accompanied by, preceded by, and followed by prayer.

The Church is more than just those of us walking about on the face of the earth. The Church also includes the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the saints of Heaven. If you want reform of the Church on earth, best get the rest of the Church involved as soon as possible, and continue to hold open the door to their involvement throughout the process.


Take seriously the patron saints, especially the patrons of your parish, your diocese, and your nation. Celebrate their feast days with Masses and devotions, and ask their intercession (perhaps with votive candles, prayers from the treasury of the Church's Tradition and tradition, and regular conversations with them as you go about your day). Get them involved in the problems of your parish. They can act. They can help. They can make change happen in ways that currently seem impossible. They can overcome anything. But they tend not to act unless they're asked, and tend not to remain involved if they are forgotten. As with the Lord, so with the disciples. Free will matters. Invitations matter.

Take seriously the devotions in the treasurehouse of the Church, Take seriously the enormous promises attached to the Rosary and other great devotions to Our Lady. Take seriously the promises attached to the Divine Mercy message and devotion. And use them! Something or someone frustrate you in regard to the crisis? Pray a Rosary for them. Faced with insurmountable problems? Bring out the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Pray it before the Divine Mercy Image. Do it at 3 p.m. Jesus promised that the Chaplet could obtain all things; that venerating the Divine Mercy image meant victory over enemies in this life and the next; and that at 3 p.m., the hour of His death for the salvation of the world, the floodgates of Heaven were open so that every grace and blessing could be obtained--well, no problem stands a chance, no matter how big it is.

Take seriously the divine element of the Church. The Church isn't just an organization. It's not just run by men on earth. It's not the property of the cardinals, bishops, and pope. It's the Mystical Body of Christ. That means that the very life and strength of the institution, its very spirit--the Holy Spirit--is a Spirit of Life and Truth, of light in the darkness, of salvation, of conversion. So the organism is self-correcting, if only we open the doors to the Holy Spirit. God loves to send prophets--ask for a few! God loves to overcome the gates of hell--ask Him to do it in our generation! Evil sits uneasily within the Church--very active and present throughout our history, but the Church is sustained and abides through the Holy Spirit. Face down evil. Follow Christ's lead. Accept the Cross and the Crucifixion; the Resurrection is only a few days away.

The Church is a supernatural reality. Any attempts at reform that forget that fact will keep running into brick walls. Reforms and renewals grounded firmly in that reality? Well, they can renew the face of the earth.

Monday, August 27, 2018

This is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart

I am increasingly convinced that everything we're watching on the world scene right now is part of the unfolding of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.

Consider: The current, unfolding crisis engulfing the Church is beyond imagining.

That's not just a convenient phrase. It is really and truly beyond imagining--that is to say, this sort of ecclesial meltdown is practically unprecedented in the recent history of the Church. This is bizarre. This is not the way things work. This is improbable, though not impossible.

Oh, yes, cynical non-Catholics and wounded ex-Catholics will claim they knew all along, all of it was foreseeable, of course they are this corrupt, etc., etc., ad infinitam.

You're not seeing what I'm saying.

This sort of institutional meltdown is unexpected. We had 2002. Why on earth would McCarrick's crimes and sins hit so hard? We knew already that a parade of horrors had taken place throughout the last century. Why does the PA grand jury report hit so hard now? Why are we suddenly seeing calls for accountability, and a groundswell of rage from the laity that the hierarchy is scrambling to stay ahead of?

And pull back the lens. McCarrick's malfeasance was reportedly an open secret throughout much of his ecclesial career. Journalists such as Rod Dreher and Julia Duin have both emerged in the wake of the June outing of several of his misdeeds to announce that. So good people as well as corrupt people knew.

The abuse of kids was something of an open secret among the professional Catholics of Boston, as the movie Spotlight shows so well. Why did 2002 make such a difference?

We'd seen the litigation and been reading the stories since 2002. But the PA grand jury report hit like a rock through a cracked window, shattering it.

Why did it all make a difference now?

As I said, this is all beyond imagining because all too many victims of abuse had been conditioned by their experiences, both of abuse and their attempts to report that abuse, to expect cover up; to expect to be attacked; to expect not to be believed; to expect for nothing to happen.

There have been three great eruptions in the sex abuse scandal: 1992, documented by Philip Jenkins in Pedophiles and Priests; 2002, the "Long Lent," thanks (and I do mean thanks) to the Boston Globe's Spotlight team; and now 2018.

And I'd say there is no Abuse Crisis of 2018 in the Catholic Church without the #metoo movement, the fall of Harvey Weinstein, and especially the fall of Kevin Spacey.

There's a ton that could and should be said about all of that, but I want to focus on one particular oddity that most people might not notice, but that resonates for someone whose work tends to involve both Fatima and Divine Mercy.

The Weinstein scandal broke on October 5, 2017.

That matters because:
  • Oct. 5 is the feast of St. Faustina, the secretary and apostle of the Divine Mercy, a Polish nun and mystic whose visions of Jesus are the source for the Divine Mercy message and devotion, transmitted through her Diary. Experts say her revelations are the fulfillment and culmination of the Sacred Heart devotion.
  • October 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, which took place on Oct. 13, 1917.
Weinstein had been known by some of the richest, most powerful, most famous, most influential people in the world to be malfeasant when it came to sex. Some knew more; some knew less; and his victims included some of the elite of Hollywood.

Why did the stories matter in 2017 when they hadn't risen above the level of rumor, innuendo, and Oscar jokes until then?

Why did #metoo launch in the 100th anniversary of Fatima on the feast of St. Faustina?

I'd say because any Triumph of Our Lady is going to look like the Magnificat. Give it a read:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever. (Lk 1:46-55)
She will vindicate her children. She will vindicate the innocent victims. And she will not stop until this is all purged.

That is why, today, we see this bombshell of coverage of abuse in Catholic orphanages in the U.S., and this call for a grand jury to be empaneled in every state in the U.S., and significantly, this indication of who knew what and when about Cardinal McCarrick.

This is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.

Here is the source of my present hope for the next years of the Church:
... You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world”. ...
So the answer to present circumstances is quite clear:
  • Pray the Rosary daily for peace in the world.
  • Make the First Saturdays of reparation.
  • Be devoted to the Immaculate Heart, especially through total consecration to Jesus through Mary.
  • Spread the devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, as well as to the Divine Mercy.
Note: The Triumph is a lot bigger than just this one purging of the Church--but I bet you it's part of it.


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