Wednesday, October 29, 2014

To a friend who is leaving the Catholic Church



A Hard Saying

I so totally admire your love of the Catholic Church Tony. I am saddened that some of the rules I can not live with and will be joining a Lutheran one that will accept me.
What could I say? Facebook is where I keep in touch with my family and friends; I don’t go there to engage in verbal fisticuffs or stand on my soapbox. And yet, I can’t help feeling the answer I gave — “Forget it, lady. You gotta do a lot worse than that to lose my friendship” — was well-meaning but unsatisfactory.

I suppose I could have been a smartass and built some quibbles based on the precepts of the Church or on canon law. But either of those sallies would have ended in an exasperated “You know what I mean!”

In fact, I do know what you meant, my friend. It’s not really the rules you can’t live with, but rather some of the teachings. It isn’t a question of whether the Catholic Church accepts you: she does, and always has. Rather, it’s a question of what you accept — or, rather, what you reject.

You’re not the first person to abandon the Church over a teaching that sticks in the craw. Read the “Bread of Life” discourse (John 6:22-66): as Jesus insists that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53), his verbs in the Greek become more graphic, switching from phagō (to eat) to trōgō (to chew, or gnaw like an animal). At the end of it, many of his disciples leave him, telling themselves and each other, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (vv. 60, 66)

Jesus Never Promised Us a Rose Garden

Jesus came not just to forgive our sins but also to free us from the propensity to sin. Jesus did not, however, redefine sin or make the concept of sin “outmoded and irrelevant”. When Jesus stopped the scribes and Pharisees from stoning the adulteress, he did so by reminding them that they, too, were sinners; he did not, however, excuse the woman’s adultery, but rather told her, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:2-11). She did not die for her sexual adventurism — but neither had Jesus made it no longer a sin.

Jesus didn’t promise his followers an “easy” religion. Indeed, he taught that it were better to tear out your eye or cut off your hand if either leads you to sin (Matthew 5:29-30), and that “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). While these are examples of rabbinic hyperbole, they’re meant to underscore the necessity of avoiding sin.


Discipleship costs. I’m not just thinking of the physical and economic threats that face Christians in various parts of the globe, from hostile cultures and unfriendly governments; I’m also thinking of the cost, in relationships broken, lifestyles irretrievably altered, and careers stunted, to those who have committed themselves to living out the Church’s teachings in their fullness.

Putting Handcuffs on God

If you can’t accept some of the harder truths of the Faith, my friend, I can’t blame or judge you. My own discipleship is nowhere near perfect. And yet, without meaning to insult or degrade my friends and family from other communions, it would be more intellectually honest to give up Christianity altogether rather than leave the Catholic Church for a Protestant denomination.

I don’t recommend apostasy; nor do I make any judgment against the souls of Protestants. Here’s what I mean:

All Protestantism is, at its core, the rejection of religious authority — that is, the capability of any one or group of humans to be final arbiters over the meaning of the gospel message. This rejection, sadly, isn’t always principled; for a significant motive in rejecting the infallibility of the Church is found in the desire to change the rules so life as a Christian can be made easier. It’s not just that human beings make mistakes; rather, it’s that the mean ol’ corrupt bishops have laid such intolerable burdens on us with their rules that they must have made mistakes.

And yet, if you reject the authority of the bishops, how can you accept Scripture as authoritative, when it was the bishops of the Church who decided which books were divinely inspired? (Saint Augustine: “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” [Against the Fundamental Letter of Manichaeus 5]) 

If you reject Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Matthew 19:4-9; cf. Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18), then on what grounds do you repeat his command, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1)? 

If Christ giving St. Peter the power of the keys (Matthew 16:19) is “a later insertion by the Church”, why isn’t the tale of the adulteress whom Jesus saved from stoning (John 8:2-11) also a later insertion? 

If the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus to the apostles (John 16:13) couldn’t prevent the Church from getting at least one doctrine wrong, how could it prevent the Church from getting everything Jesus taught wrong? 

Then again, if the Holy Spirit couldn’t prevent the Church from getting something wrong, then what assurance do you have that the Holy Spirit will keep you from getting it wrong? This is the trap Martin Luther inadvertently laid for himself and all Protestantism: denying the infallibility of religious authority necessarily denies the power of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church, or even individual preachers. Sola scriptura handcuffs God Himself.

No Merely Human Institution

Yes, it’s difficult to live with complete faithfulness to the teachings of the Church — not impossible, for “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), but difficult nonetheless. Even bishops struggle to live the Faith authentically; their failure can be scandalous.

But consider: Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for not practicing what they preached: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. … [They] shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for [they] neither enter [themselves], nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:4, 13) However, before he denounced the scribes and Pharisees, he instructed the people of Jerusalem to “practice and observe whatever they tell you”, for they “sit on Moses’ seat”; i.e., they were heirs to the teaching authority of Moses. (vv. 2-3) In other words, Jesus confirmed the scribes’ and Pharisees’ religious authority even as he condemned them for their hypocrisy.

So it is with the bishops of the Church. Not only did the early Church consider the bishops successors to the functions of the apostles, there is evidence, as I’ve shown elsewhere, that the apostles themselves considered their authority transferable. We consider their teaching protected from error, not because they’re uniformly wise, good and holy, but because they’re eminently human. Hilaire Belloc once quipped, “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

So again I say, if you choose to convert to the Lutheran church, I won’t stop being your friend. Nor will I presume to cast judgment on the state of your soul. But I would ask you to prayerfully consider just what it is that’s leading you from the Church. Ask yourself not why you don’t believe everything the Church teaches, but rather why you believe anything the Church teaches.

Ask yourself how you’re different from those disciples who abandoned Jesus in Capernaum two thousand years ago.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What’s procreation got to do with sex?

Have you seen this child lately?

Ask a Stupid Question

I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me. I neglected to save the link, so I can’t prove it happened; I can’t even remember which blog it happened on (either Creative Minority Report or The American Conservative … I think). But, in the midst of a discussion a few years ago — was it about gay marriage? abortion? — an apparently intelligent and educated woman asked, in all seriousness, “Who said reproduction has anything to do with sex?”

I know — “You honestly expect us to believe that? Seriously? No one’s that dumb!”

Truly, most people, when they’re thinking about it, know that you don’t get pregnant from germs spread around the office, or from a bad batch of chicken or kale you bought at Walmart. Parents who don’t stop having children, like Damien and Simcha Fisher, can testify to this common knowledge from the many stale repetitions they get of the fake-hearty jab whenever a new baby is on the way: “You do know what causes that, don’t you?”. And God knows how many times I’ve heard other people jovially refer to the act as “making babies”, even when creation of a newborn was the last thing the participants wanted.

And yet ….

If you really pay attention to arguments concerning abortion, contraception, gay marriage and other pelvic issues, you do get the sense that many people believe reproduction to be incidental to sex, even accidental, rather than its biological raison d’être. You ever notice how many times they refer to penises and vaginas as if they were the only sexually distinct organs, as if testes and uteri had no known function to fill? And that they mention ovaries only to rhyme with “rosaries”?

In less than one hundred years, we have gone from accepting pregnancy as the natural consequence of sex to regarding ourselves entitled to sex without consequences … at least, those we don’t want just right now. So powerful is this sense of entitlement that we’re driven to treat reproduction as an unnatural “occasional side effect” of sex, or even as a disease. Reality must not be allowed to intrude upon our human right to get our freak on.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pope Francis, Islam and jihad


A troubling passage in Evangelii Gaudium

Andrew Bieszad, a scholar on Islam, seems to believe Pope Francis is teaching error — or, at least, opiniones intolerata — about the “Ishmaelites”:

For Islamic scholars, there is a statement in the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, which is particularly troubling:
Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence. (p. 253)
As the situation in the Middle East escalates, and the violence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) spills rivers of innocent Christian blood, this statement seems incongruous with reality.

From Bieszad’s perspective, Francis is apparently taking an attitude not taken by our forefathers in the faith; to assert this, Bieszad not only quotes the defiance spoken by a big handful of martyrs, but also theological heavyweight Saints John Damascene, Thomas Aquinas, and Alphonse Ligouri, not to mention latter-day hero Hilaire Belloc. If Bieszad doesn’t go so far as to call the pope a heretic, he does manage to imply that Francis is both wrong and a Neville Chamberlain-type appeaser.

The funny thing, though, is that the Islamic scholar doesn’t directly dispute Francis’ assertion, “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence,” with any citation of the Koran or mainstream Islamic scholars. Rather, he seems content to let the juxtaposition of Francis’ words and ISIS’ deeds do the work for him.

Another funny thing: When I began writing about eleven years ago, I was initially writing to defend the Catholic faith against the slanders and misunderstandings of Protestants and non-believers. Now, I spend an increasing amount of time correcting fellow Catholics. And thereby hangs a point.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Free-market economics and bad philosophy

Reading doctrine through ideological glasses

The most pervasive problem facing the Catholic Church in America today is our predilection for reading both Scripture and Tradition through ideological glasses. If bad philosophy leads inevitably to bad science, it leads even more quickly to bad theology.

The left has a history of trying to reconcile Catholicism with socialism, even Marxism, despite the explicit condemnations of various popes beginning with Bl. Pius IX (cf. Syllabus of Errors). The right’s version sometimes goes so far as to baptize Randian objectivism — to which Ayn Rand herself would  have objected — but more often settles for its own version of the “health and wealth gospel”; i.e., invocation of free-market capitalism.

As I’ve outlined before, “cafeteria Catholicism” on the right tends to play a game I call the “appeal to theological weight”. If a citation of pope or dicastery runs counter to a free-market position, the tactic is to claim it sits on a level of theological certainty low enough that a Catholic of good conscience can dispute or ignore it.

Even when the authority of a document, such as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, is treated as authoritative, it’s creatively interpreted so that all the troublesome bits get ignored. For example, read this post in Ethika Politika, in which Gabriel S. Sanchez takes Joe Hargreaves to task for his sins of omission.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Praying for Obama

Is he really praying? Does it really matter?

Respecting the President’s Name

Living in Texas, I often have occasion to reflect on Elton John’s satirical “Texas Love Song”. The link takes you to a live version of it performed in Austin, possibly the bluest city in Texas, in 1998, with Sir Elton’s pre-performance caution, “Don’t be offended.” Probably they weren’t; many square miles of Texas hold people who still wouldn’t recognize the song as satire, and the people of Austin most likely hold them in as much contempt as did lyricist Bernie Taupin.

One line especially stands out to me right now: “And kids still respected the President’s name.” Personally, I can’t think of a single POTUS whose name was universally respected in his lifetime; even ol’ George Washington came in for some calumny during his second term, and didn’t achieve veneration second only to the Blessed Virgin Mother until some years after he passed. When Taupin wrote the song, the President was Richard M. Nixon, who had succeeded Lyndon B. Johnson — ’nuf ced; hippies weren’t totally to blame.

Still ….

Father Erik Richtsteig at Orthometer and I have a couple of things in common: 1) We’re both friends of Katrina Fernandez (and, I believe, Frank Weathers); 2) We’re both Knights of Columbus. Yesterday, attending the Knights’ annual convention in Orlando, he posted on his status:


The cold silence didn’t bother me; that was possibly the least disrespectful thing the Knights could have done in response to Pres. Obama’s message. Nor did the reactions of Fr. Erik’s followers, which all told wasn’t a Facebook “two-minutes’ hate” so much as an all-day grump, bother me … except for one:


“Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” Brrr, yikes.

Friday, August 1, 2014

McDonald’s and the Screwing of the American Worker

Protesters outside of McDonald's Oak Brook, Ill. HQ,
20 May 2014. (© Fast Food Forward)
McDonald’s is facing more problems … and I’m not referring to their relatively disappointing revenue performance. Or their ill-considered sponsorship of VH-1’s absurd time-slot filler Dating Naked.

No, the new problem is that, on Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the Golden Arches could be named as “joint employer” in a number of workers’-rights complaints against franchise-owned stores. AP’s Candace Choi tells us that the franchisees aren’t happy about it either. “If franchisors are joint employers with their franchisees, these thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations and equity they worked so hard to build,” said a statement released by the International Franchise Association. And that’s no small source of worry, because franchisees have little control over their operations and equity to begin with.

For those of you without any QSR experience, let me give you my perspective on it: In one way, buying a franchise is like buying a house —the only thing you really own is the promissory note you signed for the loan. On the other hand, there are significant differences: In your house, you can have the décor, the furniture, the food and the clothes you like. When you’re a franchisee, you’re not really your own boss; the major difference between you and a regional manager is that you have assets at risk.

General managers (the ones who run individual stores) see it clearly. Choi’s story mentions the frequent visits corporate reps make “to check up on how franchisees are running restaurants, including by standing outside the drive-thru to time how quickly cars go through. Said longtime employee Richard Eiker, ‘Managers go crazy when corporate comes in for these inspections.’”

They do; I know.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why I’m neither a conservative nor a liberal


The other night, I ran across a headline in my Facebook feed which said that Michele Bachmann had suggested the children of illegal immigrants be put into labor camps. I forgot my own rule and “shared” it; in mitigation of my own stupidity, I did ask that someone tell me the story was a distortion of something she actually said.

Not fifteen seconds after “sharing” it, I came across a status update from Simcha Fisher that said in essence, “Stop sharing the Michele Bachmann story. It’s a satire.” Quickly I took it down and replaced it with an apology and Tom McDonald’s meme (left).

Minutes later, a friend of mine who’s a member of the Omaha tribe posted yet another headline, in which Ted Nugent allegedly called Native Americans “vermin”. I told Verdel (my friend) what had just occurred with me, giving him a “heads up” that the story might not be what it appeared. In fact, it seems that the quote may have been taken out of context, and Nugent’s organization has posted an official denial on his website. I’m willing to give Nugent the benefit of the doubt because I distrust journalists more than I dislike him.

It’s not just liberals who do this. Just over a month ago, I debunked a clip that took a couple of phrases spoken by Pres. Obama in his Address to European Youth out of context, mashed them together and created a Hitleresque sentiment that, on his worst, most careless day, the man would never say in front of cameras. (He may or may not think like that, but he’s too smart a politician to ever publicly say it.)

Once upon a time, the self-dubbed electronic journalists of the new media loudly proclaimed that they would keep the mainstream media honest. Unfortunately, all they seem to do now is make the MSM look honest by comparison.

Friday, July 18, 2014

“The Mass of All Time”: Epilogue

No accounting for taste

De gustibus non est disputandum has been loosely translated as, “There’s no accounting for taste.” But when we say it like that, we imply flippantly that someone has chosen to pursue a godawful aesthetic choice despite our best efforts to point them in the right direction.

Unless there’s some objective criteria to which both sides agree, then no dispute over tastes can ever be resolved — you like what you like, and there’s an end of the matter. No matter how detailed your technical analysis, you’re not going to make a Billy Joel fan give up “the Piano Man” in favor of Elvis Costello, or force a person to get more pleasure out of listening to Metallica than to Barry Manilow. Concerning tastes there are no common grounds for disputation, and therefore no hope for resolution: you’re arguing for the sake of being ornery, that’s all.

Now, I’m not such a naïf as to believe that Anthony J. J. Mathison’s essay, which I’ve posted over the last four days, is The Last Word on the Novus Ordo Mass. People have been writing Last Words on topical issues since people have had writing, and the disputes have gone merrily on despite such thunder from the rostrum. The same is true for Catholics; we never resemble sheep so much as when we go astray, each of us turning to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). Rome may have spoken, but not everybody gets the memo that the case is now closed.[*]

What Mathison has done is clear the field of some errors, both historical and liturgical. This gives us room to consider the debate between traditionalists and “neo-Catholics” on grounds other than that of aesthetic “taste”, if you will.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"The Mass of All Time": Part IV

[This is the last installment of a Facebook post by a Dominican novice, Anthony J. J. Mathison. I’ve done some minor detail work, such as replacing straight quotes with “smart quotes”, justification of the margins, inclusion of links, and so forth. I’ve also broken down long paragraphs into two or three smaller paragraphs for easier reading. Otherwise, I've left it pretty much as it appeared in Facebook. For this last installment, the combox will be open; I'll have my own final observations posted tomorrow.—ASL]

Part IV

“Organic Development” Reconsidered

Perhaps now it would be best to leave the weeds of this issue of “organic development” and revisit the larger paradigm; especially considering how fundamental it is to criticisms of the liturgical reforms.

I contend that the “organic development” of the Sacred Liturgy is better understood as a garden than a forest. I grew up in the country, so I ask that the reader please humor me. A forest grows wild and the changes that occur in its environment are due to natural events (storms, wildfires, animal life, etc.) which lack any human design or interference (generally speaking). A garden however is often changed due to the decisions of the gardener. Of course the gardener cannot change the nature of what he is growing or alter the substance of the herbage(!); he can and should however intervene (sometimes rather violently) in moving plants, pruning them, or even rooting them up entirely.

So it is with the Sacred Liturgy. The Pope and the Bishops alone are the stewards of the liturgical practice of the Church. Period. Like gardeners, they watch over and intervene in the liturgical life of God’s People to better allow the Sacred Liturgy to perform its intended action. If things arise in it that are detrimental to this goal, or are even simply seen as detrimental by the Magisterium, she will remove or change them as she sees fit. A Coptic Catholic helped to teach me that, so it’s not just a “Roman” thing.

Many reject this view however as giving too much authority to the Pope, but this not the case at all. To support their opinion, the critics quote Joseph Ratzinger before his election to the Papacy, but I hesitate to remind these same critics that a Cardinal’s words are not immediately given authority at the election of that hierarch to the Papacy. This especially goes for the previously mentioned and famous “banal, fabricated” quote that is used both out of context and endlessly. In any case, the quotes cited do not say what critics appear to think they are saying; but even if they did, it does not really help them. Why? Because Pope Benedict XVI said this about the OF in relation to the EF:

“There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.” (Letter to the Bishops w/ SP)


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"The Mass of All Time": Part III

[For the next four days, I will be reprinting in its full length a Facebook post from a Dominican novice, Anthony J. J. Mathison. I’ve done some minor detail work — replacing straight quotation marks with “smart quotes”, justification of the margins, inclusion of links, etc. — broken it into four subtitled sections because of the length (over 5,300 words), and broken long paragraphs into two or three for easier reading. In all other respects, the essay is just as it appeared in Facebook. I’ll reserve my own comments until Friday; I’ll also turn the combox off until the final post.]

Part III

The “Organic Development”

More sophisticated critics of the reform rest most of their arguments on the question of the “organic development” of the Roman Liturgy. Their contention, more or less, is that the changes made by Ven. Paul VI were too abrupt, drastic, and different from the EF to be justified. They quote both Ven. Pius XII in this matter (see above) as well as Vatican II itself, which mandated that no changes be made unless it is for the good of the Church and that such changes come organically from forms that already exist.

While it is quite true that liturgy is an organic thing (in that it grows under the guidance of the Church), there is false understanding running around lately that suggests that the organic development aspect is far more “powerful” or authoritative than it really is. Let us remember that not everything that develops organically is good. Barnacles, parasites, pathogen-borne illnesses, and genetic deviations are all natural organic developments; yet they often cause malaise or even death in the organisms to whom they attach themselves.

Vatican II understood this and openly noted that many things that had “organically developed” in the Roman Rite were simply unnecessary and even detrimental. That was a decision of the Church solemnly convened in Ecumenical Council; we must remind ourselves of this. We must also remember that the judge of what is “organic” (not to mention the interpretation and implementation of Ecumenical Councils in general) is the Magisterium: the Pope and the Bishops. Theologians and liturgists can assist the Magisterium in its work, but the latter alone has both the authority and prerogative to determine how the reforms are carried out.

Despite this, these same critics (many of them theologians and liturgists, sadly) continue their objections by pointing out what appear to be two glaring “inorganic” developments: more than one anaphora, and the new offertory prayers. Indeed, these two changes are the only ones that lacked prior Roman liturgical antecedents. In the Church’s wisdom however, she decided that their addition was both needed and laudatory. I will begin showing this by talking a little about the original Roman Canon and the new Eucharistic Prayers.