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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bring on the Mothers of Mercy!

So I've been pondering the role of women in the Church for some time. One oddity I've noticed: There is no role for women in the Church on earth that quite fits the Gospel portrayals of Mary and the women disciples of the early Church. So I've come up with a few possible ways to rectify that.

Note: I submit absolutely to the Church on all matters of faith and morals. This is speculation only. I am ready and willing to stand corrected. But given present circumstances, it seemed like this might be worth sharing.

There are two main ways I think women might play broader roles in the Church: in the workings of the processes of the canon law system, and in handling the finances of the Church.

The Mother of Mercy
If you read any of the excellent works of apologetics that have come out in the past couple of decades, seeking to explain and defend the role of Mary in the Catholic faith, you will probably have encountered the title of gebirah, referring to the role of the Queen Mother in the Davidic Kingdom. That role meant she served as an advocate, as a one-woman court of appeals, for the poor and the weak of the kingdom. And ordinarily, she would not be denied whatever she asked.

It is the understanding of the Church that Our Lady, the Advocate (so named, at least in part, because she is joined in a special and unique way to the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier and Advocate), continues to exercise the role of Advocate from Heaven. Indeed, in the writings of great saints such as Alphonsus Liguori (The Glories of Mary) and in near death experiences right down to the present day, we read again and again of Our Lady interceding for souls as they are judged by Jesus. We hear of souls who are condemned to hell, only for that sentence to be overturned at the request of Our Lady, who says to her Son that she wants that soul. That soul offered some small act of love or devotion to the Blessed Virgin in life; now, she wants them in Heaven with her in death.

She is not denied.

There is no comparable role for women in the Church on earth. Oh, sure, everyone knows of the church ladies, the indispensable women without whom nothing would run. Everyone's aware of the parish secretaries who see to the needs of the parish, of the religious women who teach, nurse, and serve in any and every capacity under the sun. There are more and more roles for wise women, theologians and lawyers, accountants and chancellors, sure. But there are no women with gebirah-like roles, and given that Israel and the Church have recognized female judges and queens in the past, there seems no reason to assume that there cannot be women with gebirah-like roles in the future.

Women cannot be ordained priests, that is for certain. But why would we assume that women could not constitute a sort of court of appeals in the canonical structure of the Church? Call them the Mothers of Mercy, to be established at the diocesan and the Roman levels. Perhaps they would constitute a religious order, or perhaps they would be something akin to the modern movements, open to qualified lay women and women religious of unimpeachable integrity, orthodoxy, and skill. All the women would be trained and professionally prepared canon lawyers and/or theologians, empowered to serve both as counsel and as judges in canonical cases. Canonical sentences could be appealed with the Mothers of Mercy. The rulings of the Mothers of Mercy would be like the rulings of Our Lady--requests made of her Son, phrased as requests, but never denied.

Further, some of the Mothers could perhaps also serve as advocates, as defense counsel to the poor and the weak, to those who would not otherwise have canonical representation--abuse victims; students; religious who are challenging their communities, or laity who do not have resources, but who need redress of liturgical, theological, or other issues.

Perhaps there could even be Mothers of Mercy with investigative powers when they were called upon to advocate for those with no other advocate, with no other recourse in the ordinary structure of the Church, or after the usual avenues were exhausted, who could look into financial, theological, liturgical, or other issues raised by laity, priests, seminarians, or others who would not normally have clout or power in the structure of the Church. They would have the ability to see whatever documentation they sought, speak to whoever they needed to speak to, all bound by the rights guaranteed by canon law, but otherwise, plenipotentiary.

And at the international level, why not have either a sort of supreme appeals court of Mothers of Mercy or a Mother of Mercy at the top? A last court of appeal, who could even, in certain cases, request and obtain clemency or even overturn certain juridical rulings of the Holy Father? And at the Roman level, an investigative service, prepared to come to the assistance of local Mothers who were confronted by cases of such size or with so many victims in need as to make broader assistance necessary.

Again--this would simply match the structure of the Church on earth to that of the Church Triumphant, of Our Lady's role in the Kingdom of God. She is Advocate for all; the Refuge of Sinners; the Mother of Mercy; the hope of the oppressed. She is the Queen Mother, the gebirah, the voice of the voiceless, the defender of the defenseless. She can efficaciously plead clemency for even the guilty, for those who would otherwise be damned, be condemned by the fairest, most just court in existence. And she vindicates the powerless, the innocent, the oppressed. She comes to the aid of those under attack, as Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, makes abundantly clear in his Champions of the Rosary. Why shouldn't some of her daughters here on earth serve in the same way?

I leave it to the canon lawyers to determine what is feasible here and what is not. There would certainly be limits on the powers of the Mothers, as there are limits on the powers of the Holy Father and the bishops. All would be bound by ex cathedra teaching, by infallible teaching, by Scripture and Tradition. I do not propose the impossible. But given the role of the Blessed Virgin in the Church, I see no reason to say that the sort of system I lay out here is impossible or unthinkable.

The Money
Simply: The rich women supported Jesus and the disciples, and were faithful to Calvary and the tomb. Judas held the purse; Satan entered in; Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. There may be something charismatic or vocational, then, about women in the Church being the best and most reliable hands in which to place the Church's money.

Why not prioritize having women handle the money as CFOs or stewards or whatever other such role there may be in dioceses or perhaps even parishes? Hire qualified female accountants.

Of course, women may fall just as men have fallen in the past. This is no guarantee against criminality or corruption. But one of the great successes of the American experiment in governance has been the division of powers into a number of different hands, of checks and balances. Given recent experience of what happens when all power is gathered into one set of hands, into the hands of the hierarchy, and that hierarchy loses its way, perhaps it's time to take a very serious look at what sort of division of power may be appropriate and possible, given the witness of Scripture, Tradition, and the nature of the Church. Putting the finances into female, lay hands is one relatively easy and painless form of division of power, one that does no harm to anything fundamental about the Church.

It's Just an Idea
Again: I put this out there as a proposal. It will need nuance and thought by those whose competence is the canon law of the Church. But it seemed worth sharing, given the present crisis.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Where was the (canon) law?: McCarrick and Pennsylvania

We're back in the heart of darkness, back in the midst of the abuse scandal.

First, we hear about the credible accusations against the former Cardinal McCarrick. That same day, we learn of the settlements made by dioceses in New Jersey over misconduct with adults. Shortly thereafter, bloggers and religion journalists announce that all this and much, much more was an open secret.

So that was bad enough, and led toward some sort of reckoning, especially coming as it all did at the same time as the Honduras, Chile, India, and African #metoo moments in the Church.

And then the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released.

Others have been and continue to comment well on all of this. I doubt I have anything of any originality or interest to add, save one thing. One question keeps coming to mind: Where was the canon law system? Where were the ecclesiastical courts and forms of oversight?

Don't we have in the Church a system that guarantees justice for all, laity as well as clergy? Then how come, time after time, did abusive priests end up with a lifetime system of benefits, silence from the Church about their crimes, and, it seems, a fair amount of protection from accountability to the civil courts or their victims? Canon law seems to have protected the clerics quite nicely. What of the rest of the Church?

I suspect the law is far better than the facts of the last 70 years would suggest. I suspect that post-conciliar anti-nominianism (a repugnance to law) that became quite common in the Church opened the door to this situation, to ineffective application of canon law. There have been, after all, a cavalcade of theological, liturgical, and other abuses over the course of the decades since the Council. At least on the front of canon law, the refusal of the Church to police herself, to consistently apply her own law has contributed to and exacerbated the sex abuse crisis, as well as every other form of crisis that we've been confronting.

Law can be abused by the powerful to oppress, it is true. But the failure to enforce the law can also be a means of oppression. Equal treatment before the law is the last safeguard of the weak against the strong. If it goes away,we get exactly the sort of behavior that's evidenced in the grand jury report, in McCarrick's career, and in all too many Catholic institutions of higher learning.

There's been a serious shortage of ease of reporting canonical crimes or violations of the Church's law by those in the hierarchy; a serious shortage of investigative follow through; and a serious failure to consistently, fairly, and publicly apply that law. Imagine how much different the Church's present situation would be if there'd been a full, rigorous, fair use of the Church's canonical remedies for the many and varied ways in which her law had been broken since the Council!

So among the many other questions and investigations going on right now, I would hope there would be someone asking what happened to the Church's law, and its application.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Anticlimax of Being Published

So. True.
... During the entire process of producing a book, the writer becomes a swirling vortex of neediness. First you’re begging for time to write, then you’re asking people to read and edit, then you’re querying agents, then you’re asking (oh god) for blurbs, then you’re contacting reviewers, then you’re emailing everyone you’ve ever met, then you’re posting on Facebook (again and again), and then you’re asking people to show up to some bookstore on a Wednesday night to listen to you read words at them. Later, you’ll ask them to write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Every day, you are making demands on people’s time and money. It’s terrible. ...

People will read your book. Almost certainly not as many people as you wish. But sometimes a friend from high school or a former teacher will surprise you by showing up to a reading, or posting a review online. Sometimes a stranger will email you out of the blue and say they loved it, and in those moments it will feel like you’ve accomplished something impossible. It will feel better than you ever thought it could. ...

As a writer, you need to approach every project with the understanding that you’re doing this work for yourself, and everything that happens once it’s in the world is out of your control. Whatever project you’re working on now doesn’t derive value from your friends’ approval, but rather from the love and energy you pour into it. You can do the work, and you can keep showing up, and that’s all you’ve got. Most of the time, it’s all you need.
I'd nuance that last bit by saying--if God is calling you to write, that doesn't include a guarantee that it'll be good; that it'll be published; or that it'll be read by anyone on earth. God may well be asking for fidelity, not success, as Mother Teresa pointed out. God has called you to write. He may want you to do it for an audience of One/Three/the Communion of Saints.

Or He may make you the next J.K. Rowling.

Whichever it is, it needs to be enough for you that He has called and you have obeyed.

If you feel a further call to publish/see your work on stage or the screen, then you also have a further call to work very hard on your craft.

But simply the call to write? One thing I needed to come to grips with was that a call to write is not necessarily the same thing as a call to have it go anywhere.

I've been blessed further. I've been published, and have screen credits for Franciscan University Presents. But none of that would have happened without the simple acceptance that I needed to write and just keep writing with no guarantee that I'd have any other audience than God. And I needed to find that enough.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Importance of Libraries

One of the most neglected parts of the New Evangelization is using the library.

There's a limited amount of shelfspace. Decisions are made on what to purchase based on client demand--that is, what will be used and checked out consistently.

If we are not checking out and reading good Catholic books, libraries will not stock good Catholic books.

If we are not eagerly requesting good Catholic books, libraries may not know said books exist.

If good Catholic books are in a library, you haven't just made a difference to one library in one town. You've introduced a witness for the faith into a network, a system. Most public libraries these days participate in some form of inter-library loan. If one library has a book, the potential audience can be hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.

How do we make a difference? Several ways:
  1. Acquire and use a library card regularly.
  2. Make reading good books a habit. Cut the screeen time! Read an old-fashioned ink and paper book. I believe it's better for your eyes, and it certainly leaves you feeling more satisfied, more like you've accomplished something, if you actually turn pages and close a cover when you're finished.
  3. Add at least one Catholic book a month to your reading pile. There're a ton of interesting, engaging, excellent writers out there, pumping out a ton of quality Catholic content. Explore them! Read them!
  4. Ideally, be getting your Catholic books from your local library. If they don't have them, ask if they can get it via inter-library loan. If that's not possible, ask how you can recommend they purchase a copy!
  5. Always be polite and appreciative for the librarians' efforts. Never get belligerent--if they can't afford a book, then they can't afford it. If no one besides you has ever expressed an interest, pass on to your friends, family, and fellow parishioners this plan. Build the audience--don't get mad at the librarians if one doesn't exist. Catholics are notoriously bad at reading Catholic books!
  6. Start a book club at your parish! Get other people reading good Catholic books, both literature and nonfiction. There's an endless wealth of books waiting to be discovered. 
  7. Have fun!
Looking for a place to start? I recommend--ahem--my own book, How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question. There's lots more recommended reading in the back of it!

There's a ton of great Catholic reading out there. Explore!

Monday, April 30, 2018

It's Not All Right if Our Guy Does It

This resonates with me:
... more than anything, Tillis wants to take a stand against what he calls “situational ethics”: Politicians changing their stances based on who is in the White House without sticking to any deeply held philosophical moorings.

“The only way you get these things done [is] when you have somebody who is willing to take the heat when you’re in the majority,” Tillis said. “You see it all the time. Hammer the table when it benefits you, not when it disadvantages your guy that has the same jersey on. There’s no rational explanation except being duplicitous.” ...”
One of the most aggravating parts of paying attention to politics these days is to watch Democrats assail Republicans for the sort of behavior they were just defending and promoting from their own party members an administration or three ago, and vice versa.
  • The imperial presidency was a threat to all that we hold dear as Americans, said Republicans under Clinton, while Democrats said all was well.
  • The imperial presidency is a threat to all that we hold dear as Americans, said Democrats under Bush, while Republicans said all was well.
  • And the wheel turned, and turned again.
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath, testimony he was compelled to give because he had had sexual relations with that woman. Such immorality cannot be tolerated, said Republicans. Now, somehow, Trump is their president, and all of our president, and we should rally behind him because he is our president, and, well, maybe he's a public and self-professedly unrepentant sinner, but that's all right. Because he's our president.

This is why the place of religion is to stand for timeless principles in season and out; to speak truth to power, no matter the party, no matter the president; to applaud actions that serve universal truths, and justice, and mercy, and peace, while speaking out against injustice, evil, and threats to all that is good and true.

We are not meant to have a permanent home on this earth; we are not meant to get comfortable with power and wealth. We are meant to be strangers and sojourners, to be charitable in every sense. We are meant to resemble our Master.

It's hard. I fall as much as anyone. But we all need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ as our standard, not a politician or a party. The Scriptures are very clear:
Put no trust in princes,
in children of Adam powerless to save.
Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
that day all his planning comes to nothing. (Ps 146:3-5)
It's time and past for us all to set aside bad religion and take up the fullness of the faith again, to stand athwart the path of American history crying, "Repent!"

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Prayer for Alfie Evans

In one of the most inexplicably awful cases of bureaucracy apparently getting in the way of common sense and mercy I've ever heard of, the British NHS decided to end life support for the infant Alfie Evans against the express wish of his parents. By life support in this case is apparently meant "ventilation," that is, assistance in breathing. Further, they are refusing to allow the infant Alfie Evans to be transferred to Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy, despite the pleas of the Evans couple, the Holy Father, the Italian government (which has granted Italian citizenship to Alfie), and to Bambino Gesu itself.

Bambino Gesu has offered to pay all costs associated with transferring the child.

The British courts are prohibiting the parents from moving their child.

The Evans are being treated as a flight risk.

I'm slightly speechless. This is the same sort of thing that has apparently happened in the case of Charlie Gard and Isaiah Haastrup: life support removed by decision of the hospital, against the wishes of the family.

Please pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet for everyone involved in this case, especially those making these rather unspeakable decisions about the life of a little boy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

When Law and Order Conservatives Turn on the Law

This is an awful meme. Awful logic and an awful understanding of law’s role in society.

We ban murder, even though people still get murdered.

We ban theft, even though people still steal.

Laws aren’t shown to be pointless or irrelevant simply because people break them. Nor is law enforcement pointless because there are still criminals.

I do not advocate for guns to be banned, but rather for an end to this culture among Second Amendment defenders to mock the notion that gun control laws could ever possibly do any good. First, just laws are always worth passing and enforcing—that is part of the heritage of the natural law tradition and our Catholic faith. Secondly, laws teach. Proper regulation of firearms that balances access and safety help create a culture of safe use of them.

Antinomianism isn’t conservative, Catholic, or a service to our nation.
... Among the most serious wounds of society today is the separation of legal culture from its metaphysical objective, which is moral law. In recent times this separation has been much accentuated, manifesting itself as a real antinomianism ... .

This antinomianism embedded in civil society has unfortunately infected post-Council ecclesial life, associating itself, regrettably, with so-called cultural novelties. ...-- Cardinal Raymond Burke

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Do You Pray for the Dead?

One of the things you often hear from people is that the news is so sad. Doesn't matter their political persuasion; doesn't matter their taste in music or movies; doesn't matter where they're from.

The news is enough to depress the hardiest soul.

Now, some of that is the nature of the medium itself. People in entertainment know that in order to keep eyes on screens, what's on the screen needs to compel your attention. It needs to be hard to look away from. So actors tend to either be awe-inspiringly beautiful, or eye-catchingly otherwise. Spectacle is important, and often used to the exclusion of story or anything else.

So some of the daily darkness of the news is the result of commercial calculation.

But some is simply the result of living at the end of an age, a hinge moment in history, the prelude to the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.

So what do we do, we who believe, in the face of darkness, death, and destruction? What do we do in the face of tragedy and loss?

Well, we pray, or at least we ought to. When we see the dead on the screen, the celebrities and the unnamed victims of war, disease, and disaster; when we see the body bags and the body counts from the latest school shooting; when we're confronted once again with a disaster, we should be praying.

And we should be praying for everyone involved. We don't get the easy way out of saying, "Oh, those poor victims! I'll pray for them. But I can't possibly pray for those monsters who did this to them!"

Nor do we have the luxury of praying for "our" politicians, for "our" side to win, and never offering a prayer for our enemies. Oh, our prayers may be for their conversion, for them to change their minds, but we must always be wishing them well, praying for their good. We must always be loving them, because they are our brethren, our family. The whole of humanity are brethren to us, are family to us. Some are closer than others, true; some must be opposed in order to defend the defenseless, true; but all are one in Adam, if not in Christ. And all are to be loved, according to the Gospel (see Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27-36).

And so we should pray, especially the Divine Mercy Chaplet, "for mercy on us, and on the whole world." We should adore the Eucharistic Lord on behalf of all, especially on behalf of those who "do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love" Him. We should live Fatima and Divine Mercy, praying for those most in need of God's mercy, and so seeking to save as many (or all) from hell, if our prayers and God's grace will make it so.

Pray for everyone. Pray for all the situations. We're given infinite power in the Mass, in the Rosary, in the Divine Mercy Chaplet. If we don't use it, many people will be the poorer.

Love! Pray!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the great Christian humanists of the 20th century, and acknowledged as an outstanding American by Pope Francis during his papal visit.
He and Servant of God Dorothy Day were contemporaries.
Since its beginnings in 1933, The Catholic Worker had carried articles about racism, the exploitation of black labor, and justice for minorities. When the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s, other articles added a clear voice for equality and justice among people of all races. When Martin Luther King was killed, Dorothy wrote:
Martin Luther King died daily, as St. Paul said. He faced death daily and said a number of times that he knew he would be killed for the faith that was in him. The faith that men could live together as brothers. The faith in the Gospel teaching of nonviolence. The faith that man is capable of change, of growth, of growing in love. (Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, April 1968)
It's worth noting that his Letter from a Birmingham Jail makes clear that his activism and his ministry were rooted in the natural law, the same sort of philosophical underpinning as undergirds the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among others.
"I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong... Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself."

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

American Anti-Catholicism

One of the oddities of history that many people forget is that the KKK didn't have just one "archenemy," one singular group of people who attracted all their hatred. No. The KKK had three targets in particular for its hatred. Black people, Jewish people, and Catholics.

There's something sort of jarring about the last one for a lot of people. After all. in the past century, the United States faced down Nazi efforts at extermination and enslavement of peoples across the world, much of it based on race, and took apart the Jim Crow laws that continued to legally enforce segregation across the South of our country. We know that the Jews and our black brothers and sisters have faced a real storm of hatred and persecution, and have needed protection.

But Catholics?

Yes, certainly. When I was covering the papal visit to the United States in 2015, I heard Archbishop Chaput recount the story of the building of Philadelphia's cathedral. He told those listening that the then-archbishop, St. John Neumann, had the strongest workman throw a heavy stone as high as he could. Then the archbishop said, "Build the cathedral's windows 10 feet higher than that."

Given the often virulent anti-Catholicism present in America, that cathedral might well have fallen afoul the passions of a mob, and so the church needed to be built to last.

Bishop Barron gives a survey of that history:

I suspect the reason why this comes as a shock to many people when first a Catholic or honest non-Catholic attempts to bring it up is that somewhere deep in the DNA of our country, there is the black legend of the Church as the endless oppressor, as the perpetual establishment, as the one to both create and enforce a status quo from which, it is supposed, the Church can only benefit.

And of course, if the Church is de facto oppressive--Look at the hierarchy! Look at the male-only priesthood! They even call some of their leaders "patriarchs"!--then de jure, we cannot be oppressed.

Now, that's not to deny that Catholics and even ecclesial institutions have been mistaken, committed grievous sins, or even been guilty of criminality. But it is to point out that in the United States, the Church has always existed under the somewhat uneasy scrutiny of the wider culture and country, rather than being monolithically powerful in the ways imagined by far too many Americans.

For more on all this:
See also:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Media Myths and the Life Issues

I was asked whether I really believed what I’d said about the news aiming to be objective, aiming to tell the truth, and not simply be politically biased about situations.

That’s a question with some nuanced answers, which I’ll get to later. But for right now, let me just say that I believe you can come to know people truly and deeply by the stories they tell themselves about themselves.

National myths; legends of the founding of organizations or institutions; the songs, the poems, the stories they tell themselves about themselves—that’s how you know what a people or an individual truly values. That’s how you can pick up on the themes and the boundaries of their own self-understanding.

And the media loves certain stories about itself. Consider the recently released Spielberg movie The Post.

Its theme, like the theme of almost every other movie or TV show about a heroic media, celebrates simply telling truth to power. Telling it like it is, without fear or favor. Serving the public’s right to know.

Consider All the President’s Men—ironically, a sort of sequel to The Post, though there would probably not be The Post without All the President’s Men.

There, you have a celebration of underdog reporters, sticking by their principles and protecting their source, all in the service of revealing criminal behavior originating from the highest offices in the land.

Consider Spotlight, called by Catholic sources perhaps the best movie on the sex abuse scandal one could have hoped for.

In spite of family and ecclesial pressure, in spite of a culture of secrecy and silence around priests and religious abusing children, in spite of every reason in the world not to put all the pieces together and tell the truth to the world, the Boston Globe ran a series in 2002 that shook the Catholic Church across the world. They told the truth. They exposed something badly needing exposure.

The stories the media tells itself, then, and loves deeply all celebrate truth telling. Not shading the truth to protect a political lobby or special interest; not suppressing the news about major events; not refusing people a voice. The media tells itself stories that celebrate objectivity, in spite of pressure from peers or friends (at the heart of The Post).

So yes, I believe the media truly believes it should be objective, it should tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and it aspires to be the sort of institution in which there would be full and fair coverage of the March for Life.

Now, there’re some necessary nuances to that story. Namely, the theme echoing throughout all of these stories is about telling truth to power. That is to say, they show plucky underdog media folk telling the truth to the Establishment or in spite of the Establishment (and yes, that does need a capital E). There’s nothing brave about telling a suffering person truths that will make them suffer more, nothing brave about exacerbating a woman’s pain, nothing to celebrate in ripping someone’s heart apart as they lay dying.

In short, you can and should do things to the strong that you have no business doing to the weak or to the oppressed. It’s balancing the scales and serving the cause of justice when you expose the weaknesses of the strong and the vices of the virtuous; it’s petty, spiteful, or acting a s a stooge to the powerful when you expose the weaknesses of the weak, reveal the vices of the vicious, or in any way make it harder for the oppressed to fight off their oppression.

Thus, those groups or individuals identified as victims are not to be dealt with in the same fashion as those presumed to be the powerful or agents if oppression.

It’s a perfectly understandable impulse; chivalrous, even. And yet if the media makes a mistake as oppressor and oppressed—say, for instance, they fail to realize that unborn children are the most powerless and defenseless of all victims of violence; they fail to perceive that many women, if they truly had a free choice, would not want to get an abortion, but rather are under severe pressure from family, friends, or their partner—then the media throws itself into the cause of the wrong party, or at least fails to fairly give a hearing to what they perceive to be the oppressive establishment, which already has all the strength it needs to make itself heard, and so doesn’t need any sort of assistance to get its perspective out there.

I believe they intend to do the right thing; there’s just confusion about the objective facts in play, as well as who has power in this situation. So the work of spreading the Gospel of Life goes on. We have an obligation to continue to share the truth that the dignity of human life and human rights must be defended from conception to natural death; that women are often forced into abortions and not making a free decision; that unborn children are the weakest of the weak, the poorest of the poor, and so deserve every chivalrous impulse to be roused on their behalf; that we need to work hard to make our civilization welcoming to life, animated by love, and one characterized by justice, mercy, and peace.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The March For Life: No One Sees It Coming

I can't believe it's almost time for the March for Life--where does the time go?

Yet here we are again (in this 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth), interestingly enough). There's so much to be said, and many people will be saying it. But there's one subject I think has been widely overlooked, and that's the connection between the media's coverage of the annual March for Life in D.C. (as well as their coverage of similar marches and pro-life events across the country) and the way in which the pro-life movement has always taken very seriously President Trump's dismissal of most of the mainstream media's coverage of anything as "fake news."

That is, there isn't coverage of the annual March for Life, as this piece by Terry Mattingly over at the reliably informative and always interesting Get Religion blog indicates. Not serious coverage, at least, and certainly not coverage comparable to that given to the Women's March in 2017, or the coverage given to pro-choice marches and events.

This has been the case for decades, to the point where it's a regular joke amongst pro-lifers and Catholics. We talk about the "ninja march," watch to see just how non-existent the coverage is, and then are confirmed in our belief that the media, when it wants to, can do an impressive job of pretending that tens of thousands of people don't exist; that the country is solidly behind Roe v.Wade as settled law; that there's nothing to see here.

We watch the coverage or the lack of coverage, and we all know that the mainstream media at times offers us fake news.

And it's not just the March for Life. People have been grumbling about media bias or misinformation for at least as long as the media has failed to properly cover subjects in which the average person may have some deep experience.

Catholicism, for instance. Media coverage of Catholicism regularly sucks. And Catholics notice. We often come to distrust or at least trust less those media outlets that regularly get the faith wrong.

Now, some of the errors aren't really their fault. After all, when "fake news" has been handed down in history textbooks and classrooms as the way things are, it's no wonder that it gets reported as fact. And yet supposedly skeptical, objective journalists ought to be able to do better. The resources exist, after all, to discover that what "everyone knows" or "everyone believes" isn't true. For a start:
If the media would fix its coverage of pro-life events, people, and organizations--that is, be as objective about them as they claim to be, and as (I truly believe) they actually aspire to be--then a great deal of trust could be restored in the reading, viewing, and listening public. Get your coverage of Christianity right--not that you must be orthodox, but merely that you have the sort of factual accuracy, insight, and objectivity that journalists such as the excellent John Allen bring to bear--and a great deal more trust could be restored. Cover all religious news with true objectivity and rigor, and you could change the world.

Anyway. All this was spawned by the upcoming March for Life. One other note on pro-life affairs, then, before I conclude.

I've heard it said several times, "Pro-life people care so much about the child in the womb, but can't be bothered to help take care of the child after birth!"

And I'm always amazed that somehow, no one has shown them Mother Teresa's talk from the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C, on February 5, 1994. Among many other things well worth reading, she said:
We are fighting abortion by adoption — by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives. We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: “Please don’t destroy the child; we will take the child.” So we always have someone tell the mothers in trouble: “Come, we will take care of you, we will get a home for your child.” And we have a tremendous demand from couples who cannot have a child — but I never give a child to a couple who have done something not to have a child. Jesus said, “Anyone who receives a child in my name, receives me.” By adopting a child, these couples receive Jesus but, by aborting a child, a couple refuses to receive Jesus.

Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child. From our children’s home in Calcutta alone, we have saved over 3000 children from abortion. These children have brought such love and joy to their adopting parents and have grown up so full of love and joy.

I know that couples have to plan their family and for that there is natural family planning. ...
And it's not just Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, as Helen Alvare and her coauthors explain:
In the United States there are some 2,300 affiliates of the three largest pregnancy resource center umbrella groups, Heartbeat International, CareNet, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA).

Over 1.9 million American women take advantage of these services each year. Many stay at one of the 350 residential facilities for women and children operated by pro-life groups. In New York City alone, there are twenty-two centers serving 12,000 women a year. These centers provide services including pre-natal care, STI testing, STI treatment, ultrasound, childbirth classes, labor coaching, midwife services, lactation consultation, nutrition consulting, social work, abstinence education, parenting classes, material assistance, and post-abortion counseling.

Religious groups also provide crucial services to needy mothers and infants. John Cardinal O’Connor, the late Archbishop of New York, famously pledged to assist any woman from anywhere experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and the current Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, recently renewed Cardinal O’Connor’s pledge.

The Catholic Church–perhaps the single most influential pro-life institution in the United States–makes the largest financial, institutional and personnel commitments to charitable causes of any private source in the United States. These include AIDS ministry, health care, education, housing services, and care for the elderly, disabled, and immigrants. In 2004 alone, 562 Catholic hospitals treated over 85 million patients; Catholic elementary and high schools educated over 2 million students; Catholic colleges educated nearly 800,000 students; Catholic Charities served over eight-and-a-half million different individuals. In 2007, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development awarded nine million dollars in grants to reduce poverty. And in 2009, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network spent nearly five million dollars in services for impoverished immigrants. ...
So as we approach the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, take some time to read up on the history of the debate, the arguments on both sides, and the accounts of those who have taken an active role in the abortion industry only to leave it all behind for pro-life causes.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Being Catholic in America

It's an interesting time to hang out with people of different political persuasions. There are the Democrats, who are almost uniformly aghast at the present administration; the Republicans, divided between NeverTrumpers, former Trumpers, and abiding supporters of the present administration; and a fairly mixed bag of independent, libertarian, or other people of less mainstream political stripes. And all of them tend to be quite vehement right now.

Faced with this hodgepodge on the one side and Catholic social teaching on the other, what's a Catholic to do?

Well, a few obligations are clear.
  1. First and foremost, only Jesus Christ is your savior, not a politician, party, or platform. I don't care who the enemy we face in a given generation is; it's not worth damning your soul in order to defeat them.
    Put no trust in princes,
    in children of Adam powerless to save.
    Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
    that day all his planning comes to nothing (Ps 146:3-4).
    Trust in Jesus. Trust in the merciful love that created and sustains the cosmos. Don't throw over the law of love in favor of pursuing vengeance or victory in the political arena. No earthly conflict is worth losing your soul over. Reject the temptation to make power or money, race or class, status or security an idol. Reject, in short, "bad religion," especially as diagnosed by Ross Douthat.
  2. No matter what else you do or do not do, pray. Pray for the country; pray for the common good; and pray for our elected officials, military and security folks, and all those who take part in the immense machinery of governance. Pray for those affected for good or for ill by the government. Pray for the people you like, and pray extra hard for those whom you do not like. Wish God's blessings on all of them, remembering that God blesses by helping people towards their ultimate good (sanctity), and so to pray for one's enemies or even for the enemies of humanity is not the same thing as to simply ask that good things happen to bad people.
  3. Read. Don't just watch, as important as the news, C-SPAN, and other forms of media may be. Read good, solidly researched and generally objective biographies of major figures. Look into the history of the country, of your state, of your community, and let that inform your prayers and participation. Read up on Catholic social teaching, starting with good books such as Brandon Vogt's Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World. Share what you read, and talk about it at the dinner table.
  4. Realize that Catholic teaching and reality do not fit cleanly into left/right categories. To be Catholic is to transcend partisanship often. To be faithful to Christ and to the facts while seeking to do one's duty as a citizen and be usefully involved in politics is to be in a party, but not of it.
  5. Vote. Brexit and President Trump's election victory should have proven to everyone that every vote counts. You know Benjamin Franklin's quote, "Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves."? Well, get out the vote and the election results will take care of themselves. What counts as a good result? Whenever policies conducive to the common good are enacted; whenever politicians seeking to serve the common good are elected. Now, of course, there will always be politicians and elected officials who are most interested in power, money, or self-aggrandizement. Human nature hasn't changed since our fall. At the same time, people can rise to the occasion. Confronted with stupendous challenges, they may respond with unexpected virtue. And even if they are not disinterested, their self-interest may motivate them to do a good job in order to get reelected.
  6. Help reform your party. Few people have really publicly acknowledged that the parties died in 2016. There were four parties, really, with possible presidents in play: The Bernie Sanders supporters; the Democrats with Clinton; the Republicans with their 16 primary candidates; and Donald Trump's Breitbart/alt-right/etc. wing. The two major political parties in the United States are the walking dead right now. The Republicans could not field a life-long Republican presidential candidate who could beat Trump (a very recent Republican) in the primaries., and the Democrats could not defeat Donald Trump in the general election. It's time for the reform and renewal of the parties. True fidelity to the teaching of the Church--the whole teaching of the Church--should lead a Catholic to oppose his or her party on a semi-regular basis. For instance, on the right, the push for torture/enhanced interrogation, the ready willingness to discard human rights in the name of national security, and more should certainly be met with steadfast opposition from Catholics who are conservative. Look to St. John Paul II or Alexander Solzhenitsyn to see why. On the left, the push for abortion, attempts to restrict or redefine religious freedom so as to remove the Church and her members from charitable works and the public sphere, and gender ideology ought to be met with principled, firm, and unyielding opposition from Catholics who are liberal. Look to Pope Francis and Dorothy Day to see why.
  7. Be willing to cooperate with your opponents when they're right. There are causes and laws that all people of good will should support. Certainly we ought to all be able to agree to pursue decent treatment of all our fellow men and women; certainly we ought to all be in favor of the protection and preservation of human rights. There are causes where we can and should cross the aisle to achieve a common goal. Democrats and Republicans can and should work together, live together, get married and raise children together, build homes, families, communities, and a country together. Differences and disagreements about means shouldn't prevent Catholics from seeing that we all (ought to) desire the same ends: our flourishing as one nation under God, indivisible.
  8. Get involved in your local communities. Real change goes deep, and it starts locally. Join civic organizations; get involved in school boards and county commissions; become a member of clubs and associations. Meet your neighbors. Listen to them. Love them, whether they be left or right, whether they be like you or wildly different. Live love. Do good works at your state, diocesan or archdiocesan, and regional level. Support the common good of your local communities, and that will foster the common good of the nation as a whole.
Whatever else you do, do something! Catholics are called to be in the world, even as we are not of it. We believe in a God who became incarnate, who became a citizen of a certain place at a certain time, and who even paid taxes to God and Caesar. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of Heaven, yes, but we are also citizens here below. Don't wait for someone else to come along and fix everything; take up what gifts and talents you possess and fix something.

Tell the truth. Live love. Contemplate your neighbor, and see Christ shining out through their eyes. Do the works of mercy, and work justice.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018! As we start this (extremely cold) New Year, let's make a resolution: Let's resolve to work especially hard in this New Year to end the many, many myths about Catholicism left over from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Now, I'm not saying all criticisms of the Catholic Church and Catholics are invalid--far from it! The truth is the truth. Where sins have been committed, we must acknowledge them, and repent, and resolve never to repeat them. I say as much in How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

But there are a great many crimes, sins, and scandals that common knowledge and "everybody" indicts the Church with that simply didn't happen, that have no connection to fact, and that simply are myths and "mythconceptions" that have been floating around for centuries. In the name of truth, honesty, and an end to "fake news" of all kinds, we owe it to ourselves and to the common good to get rid of those myths as yesterday's rubbish. Let's start fresh in this New Year. Let's start with a clean slate, with a mind freed of falsehood and a clearer view of history and the world.

Let's start with this one:
The medievals knew perfectly well that the earth was round. Heck, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) repeated the common consensus bluntly and casually in his Summa Theologiae:
The astronomer and the natural philosopher both conclude that the earth is round, but the astronomer does this through a mathematical middle that is abstracted from matter, whereas the natural philosopher considers a middle lodged in matter.
The myth of the medieval belief in the flat earth arises from a few sources:

  • The nigh-impregnable modern belief in medieval backwardness, ignorance, and refusal to use reason, and
  • Mythmaking around Christopher Columbus (c. 1451 – 1506), especially from the writer Washington Irving (1783 – 1859).

And more, of course—the workings of memory are rarely simple. But there’s a start to getting rid of some of the old, false baggage of the past, pursuing a truer perspective on one of the world’s most enduring institutions, and allowing us a better understanding of where we come from in order to better decide where we’re going.

Happy New Year!


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