Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday in Lent 2015: Spring Cleaning the Conscience

First Reading: Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-6,7-9
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15

In the first reading, God makes a covenant with every mortal being on earth through Noah: “Never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood.” (Genesis 9:11) In the second reading, St. Peter tells us this flood “prefigured” the sacrament of Baptism, “not as a cleansing of dirt from the body, but as an eperōtēma of a good conscience to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

The meaning of eperōtēma is uncertain. The Vulgate, following St. Jerome, translates it as interrogatio — a question, an interrogation, a cross-examination, perhaps even an argument or syllogism. The New American Bible, Revised Edition notes that it could also be rendered as pledge; “that is, a promise on the part of Christians to live with a good conscience before God, or a pledge from God of forgiveness and therefore a good conscience for us.” And Thayer’s Lexicon argues that “As the terms of inquiry and demand often include the idea of desire, the word thus gets the signification of earnest seeking, i.e. a craving, an intense desire ….

So what did St. Peter mean by calling Baptism an eperōtēma? It helps us to step backwards, not only in the epistle, but also in Genesis.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pope Francis, Humanae Vitae, and Margery Eagen’s devastating fallacies—UPDATED ALREADY?

Filipinos at Pope Francis’ Mass in Manila, Jan. 18.
(Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe.)
You would think that a writer billed as a “spirituality columnist” for a website that professes to cover “all things Catholic” would have some familiarity with Catholic teaching, especially the most controversial doctrines. However, Margery Eagen, writing for Crux, talks about Pope Francis’ recent speech at the Mall of Asia as though her only knowledge of Catholicism came from Planned Parenthood.

Although he has not lived it himself, I had thought [Pope Francis] understood something about good people living real lives in real marriages. I had thought he even understood something about the beauty of sex in marriage, the need for sex in marriage.

I was wrong.

In the United States, his words will have little practical impact. Most Catholic women have used birth control for decades. There are no more families with 12 and 14 kids in the Sunday morning pews. But his words do reveal a heartbreakingly backward perspective: that the highest calling of married women is sacrificing all to rear children, as many as come along, no matter those women’s talents or skills or dreams.

These aren’t the words of a person who’s well-educated in Catholic doctrine, let alone someone who should be discussing Catholic spirituality. These are the words of a journalist content to work with the straw-man “Catholic beliefs” constructed for her by second-wave feminism, the kind of nonsense which led Elizabeth Dias at TIME to write that “the mainstream media has nearly no understanding of the Church.”

In fact, Francis’ words reveal no such chauvinist nonsense. To be sure, he offered a doughty defense of the goodness of family and childrearing against “ideological colonization”, a branch of “cultural imperialism”. Eagen’s criticism presents us with the kind of false dilemma demagogues love: you’re either for contraception or you’re against women working outside the home.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Talking smack about the Pope

It’s been over a week now, and certain people still haven’t gotten over the spanking Maureen Mullarkey received for her rather slanderous attack on Pope Francis. And a spanking it was; R. R. Reno, the editor-in-chief of First Things, not only washed his hands of her post but offered his own rebuttal to it, calling her criticisms and caricatures of Francis “overdrawn and ill-tempered”.

Oh, wait a minute — that’s not the spanking they’re not over. Rather, they’re not over the explosion from the Patheos blog, Catholic and Enjoying It, written by The Blogger Whom I’m Damn Well Going to Name for Just This Once, Mark Shea.

You see, Shea had just written the day before about the Catholic right’s pre-dismissal of Francis’ yet-to-be-completed encyclical on climate change; and lo and behold, out comes Mullarkey’s hit piece. (You could almost hear him yelling at the clay pigeon launcher, “Pull!”) So he unloaded on Mullarkey, as well as her First Things combox followers, calling it a “festival of crazy contempt for Francis” and a “revolting (in every sense) smear job”.

Christopher Ferrara at The Remnant promptly got upset on Mullarkey’s behalf, deploying even more right-wing buzzwords and straw men, along with a healthy dollop of radical-traditionalist contempt for “neo-Catholics”. (Apparently, Francis “kissed the Koran” when he posed for that shot holding the anti-fracking T-shirt.) Nevertheless, we might have been able to walk away from the shindy — certainly it doesn’t appear Shea’s given the matter any further attention — had not my Catholic Stand colleague Donald R. McClarey weighed in with further acid, preceded with the biggest straw man of them all:

“…[C]riticism of this Pope is verboten in the eyes of some bloggers.”

Monday, December 29, 2014

What took Robert Tracinski so long?

You know things are getting pretty bad when a libertarian atheist devoté of Ayn Rand links arms (albeit grudgingly) with conservative religious types. That’s just what Robert Tracinski does in his Federalist post, “Confessions of a Reluctant Culture Warrior”.

Why would it be such as surprise? Because libertarians tend to be liberal where a Christian who takes traditional Christian morality seriously ought to be conservative, and vice versa. Because many atheists, like Tracinski himself, object to select parts of traditional Christian morality, and clamor that adopting anything they don’t like into law is tantamount to enacting a “Judeo-Christian Sharia” or a “theocracy”. Because Ayn Rand’s objectivism is, as Marina Galperina so charmingly put it, “the philosophical system for people who pleasure themselves over thoughts of laissez-faire capitalism and believe that self-interest is the highest moral purpose and that’s that, the objective truth, f**k you;” Tracinski proposes it as a “third way” precisely because it isn’t and can’t be considered a religion-based ethos.

Whatever else you can say about self-interest, though, it can occasionally prompt you to recognize that precedents established to destroy your cultural nemeses can — and often will — be turned against you and your allies sooner or later. And in the struggles over the last year, from the Hobby Lobby decision to gendered toys, Tracinski, whose normal position on cultural issues was “Could we talk about something else, please?”, heard Martin Niemöller begin his famous poem with a new line: “First they came for the Christians ….”

Tracinski the libertarian objectivist atheist has finally seen the Progressivist Thought Police on the march.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Shut your computer off. Go play with your kids; eat some food; hug your spouse; go to midnight Mass ... whatever. Do something with your Christmas that isn't staring at a monitor and is engaging with the people in your house and neighborhood.

Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Virginity is Not Purity

Purity ring. (Photo source: JamesMarner.com)
There are three posts you should read: “Christians, Stop Staying Pure Till [sic] Marriage” by Sarah (last name unknown), “I Didn’t Wait For My Future Spouse, and You Shouldn’t Either” by Daniel Wilde, and “I Kept My Virginity, But Not My Purity” by Danielle Renfrow. By no means do these young Christian writers — two single, one married — suggest that other Christians engage in premarital sex. Rather, all three are critics of the Evangelical “purity movement” and the language with which it’s been taught.

Until recently, there’s never really been an explicit Christian theology of sexuality to tie the various prescriptions and proscriptions of sexual behavior together. You could even say, with some justice, that Christianity has always been ambivalent about sex.

On the one hand, the Church long ago rejected the Gnostic position that even sex for the sake of reproduction was sinful; on the contrary, she taught that marriage, childbearing and childrearing were positive goods. On the other hand, passages from both Christ and St. Paul suggest that people could pursue celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12), that there is something of value to celibacy that doesn’t obtain to marriage (vide 1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

This ambivalence persists about fornication. Considered strictly as sex between two unmarried people, with the implication that neither one intends or is committed to marry the other, it has always been considered a sin (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II:154:2 SC); however, as a pastoral matter, its gravity was (and still is) often underplayed. And premarital sex — that is, sex between people who do intend to marry — hasn’t always been considered a grave matter in every time by every communion.

So marriage has always been good — but not better than celibacy, while fornication has always been bad — but not always as bad as other sexual sins. Nevertheless, the idea that sex is an unclean necessity isn’t authentic to the Christian tradition. That fact, however, hasn’t stopped some Christian idiots from teaching it as a “biblical” principle. (Exhibit #2,623 in the case against sola scriptura.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Final Report: three decades too late

Religious Sisters of Mercy. (Source: vocationblog.com)
Tuesday, December 16, saw the Holy See’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) release its long-awaited final report on the apostolic visitation of American institutes of women religious. Initiated during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, many of us saw it as the beginning of a thorough house-cleaning, while many nuns and liberals saw it as the beginning of a misogynistic oppression by a patriarchal Church.

The Final Report, however, was not the severe tongue-lashing many orthodox Catholics expected. Between the initiation of the visitation in December 2008 and its conclusion in 2012, the dicastery changed prefects, from the outspoken Lazarist Cdl. Franc Rode to the more conciliatory secular bishop Cdl. João Braz de Aviz. (Secular, in this context, simply means “not attached to any specific religious order”.) Both men have had concerns about the weakening of religious orders by liberalizing trends; +de Aviz said in an interview that he was nearly driven out of the seminary and the Church by liberation theology. Nevertheless, +de Aviz chose to take a more soft-pedaled approach with the skittish, distrusting women religious the Congregation would study.

As a result, the Final Report — which is more of a generalized executive summary — has copious praise for the work women religious have done and are still doing. Specific criticisms are presumably restricted to the reports the Congregation “foresees” will be issued to “those Institutes which hosted an onsite visitation and to those Institutes whose individual reports indicated areas of concern.”

Nevertheless, there is some steel underneath the velvet glove: not every paragraph is either laudatory or exculpating. Moreover, the report points to data which indicate that, for many American institutes, the visitation has come two or three decades too late to save them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Battle at the Communion Rail

Communion rail, Church of the Holy Ghost, Tiverton, RI
(© 2012 Fr. Jay Finelli)
The new pastor of the Windy City, my fellow Omahan the Most Rev. Blase Cupich, didn’t wait too long to start the usual suspects huffing about the “Francis Effect”. In an interview with CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell, Abp. Cupich stated — or rather implied — that he wouldn’t deny participation in the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who hold positions contrary to Church teaching.

I say “implied” because, in context, +Cupich seems to be talking about an ad hoc decision during a Mass to withhold Communion: “I would not use the Eucharist, or as they call it ‘the communion rail,’ as a place to have those discussions or a way in which people would be either excluded from the life of the church.

“The Eucharist is an opportunity of grace and conversion,” he told [O’Donnell] in an interview that aired on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It’s also a time of forgiveness of sins, so my hope would be that grace would be instrumental in bringing people to the truth.”

Naturally, this is the kind of thing that leads Huffington Post’s Carol Kuruvilla, playing the classic “good Church/bad Church” game, to gush, “Cupich’s softened approach stands in stark contrast to the position held by Cardinal Raymond Burke, a prominent conservative Catholic archbishop who has led campaigns to ban Catholic politicians who support abortions from receiving communion.” Just as naturally, it leads many in the Catholic commentariat, such as Brian Williams of One Peter Five, to wail and harrumph:

Let us hope and pray that Our Lord is not subjected to further sacrilege, and His Church to further scandal, by an outright refusal to enforce Canon 915 in Chicago. The Church loses credibility when she rightly advocates for protecting the unborn, but then gives Holy Communion to high profile, unrepentant, Catholic politicians who support the “right” to an abortion.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Are Pope Francis’ defenders missing the point?

If you haven’t been following the story of Cdl. Raymond L. Burke’s transfer from Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the High Court of the Catholic Church, if you will) to Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta … well, I can’t say as I blame you. Overall, the reactions have been a classic illustration of the Catholic Circular Firing Squad back in action: traditionalist overreaction, liberal jubilation, and my little group of ultramontanists — to be honest — somewhat missing the point.

There’s some fun to be had watching the Vatican Follies, and speculating over what happens backstage and in the wings. Nevertheless, I agree with Simcha Fisher: there’s much too much agonizing over the shambling monster Frank Weathers is pleased to call the KasperBurke.

A “Calamitous Pope”?

Michelle Arnold of Catholic Answers recently made the excellent point that to call St. John Paul “the worst pope ever” is to show an appalling ignorance of papal history. Similarly, to imply that Pope Francis is “calamitous”, as Rorate Caeli has done in a post uncritically copied and pasted by other rad-trad blogs, is to exaggerate hysterically.

But in our zeal to defend the orthodoxy of Papa Bergoglio against the cheers of the left and the jeers of the right, I’ve begun to think that we’ve discounted criticism we should be listening to, whether we agree fully with it or not. To put it differently, it’s past time for the honeymoon to come to an end and face the reality of Francis’ reign.

This started for me when The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named wrote a piece about the facepalm-inducing, completely Holy-Dude-what-were-you-thinking selection of Cdl. Godfried Danneels for the Synod on the Family — an appointment that could only be overshadowed in insensitivity by nominating Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler to head up the Office of Papal Charities. Whatever the choice says about Francis’ orthodoxy, it was a bonehead play.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beast writer confuses snark with legal analysis

A Steaming Pile of Outrage Porn


Imagine you’re Crash Davis. Yes, the minor-league baseball player memorably portrayed by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham. You know you’re not going to make it to the big leagues. You even know your team is unlikely to win in the minors. But you’re a professional, and you give it all you’ve got.
This, it seems to me, is the position of Appellate Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a respected conservative thinker who’s unlikely to make it either to the Supreme Court bench or the right side of history when it comes to same-sex marriage, but who is still a judge’s judge, a consummate professional. What would you do?

This lede, from Jay Michaelson’s “All The Wrong Reasons To Ban Gay Marriage” in The Daily Beast, tells us exactly where the author is going … and it’s going nowhere pretty. Instead of offering a thoughtful deconstruction of Judge Sutton’s majority opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, he’s going to whine, snark and ad hominem Sutton to death.

Granted, so much is to be expected from anyone who deliberately writes for The Beast, one of too many e-zines that exist simply to grunt out steaming piles of outrage porn for the consumption of a polarized, perpetually angry public. Writing for these vendors of schlock journalism must be easy — all you have to do is emote for 1,500 words or so.

But whine, snark and ad hominem arguments aren’t legal analysis. I don’t mean they’re not legal analysis because they come from a journalist or a blogger; I mean they’re not legal analysis even if Justice Anthony Kennedy does it, as he did in United States v. Windsor (2013). Whine, snark and ad hominems are a feature of playground name-calling, which is often interchangeable with political rabble-rousing and (unfortunately) certain brands of comedy.