Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My blog, my soapbox, my combox

Before you read any further, please refer to my comment policy.

You’ll note that there’s only one rule: Be clean and polite! But while cleanliness is pretty obvious even to the most jaded, porn-addicted libertine ever to write a rap lyric, politeness seems to be a folkway dying in the narcissistic echo chambers of the blogosphere, its parameters fading slowly away like Tom Cruise’s movie career. So I’ve taken some trouble to define the parameters for you.

Now, yesterday I wrote a post on what one wit called “the Circular Catholic Firing Squad” (I got the first two words swapped around in the title, for which I should be sorry … but it actually works better). The post was an effort to reinforce the valid and necessary distinction between dissent and other sins, as well as to remind folks that “Jesus instructed us to forgive the repentant [sinner], not to speculate on his motives for repenting or the firmness of his intent to amend his life.”

But I made a crucial mistake: I mentioned Mark Shea. In fact, my post built on a couple of others that he’d written. (Thus T. S. Eliot: “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”) So a couple of people left comments denigrating him. One I left up with an appropriate smackdown pour l’encourager les autres; the other’s two comments are now lost to the world, and I’ve declared that rabbit hole closed.

[Addendum: Since then, the person whose comment I left came back to show Mr. Shea, who popped in for a quick comment, some more love. This is the first person I've ever had to ban.]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Catholic circular firing squad

Lyndon Johnson once quipped that he didn’t play favorites with any of his staff: “I treat everyone with the same general inconsideration.”

Mark Shea is fair in a similar fashion — he’s just as sarcastic towards the idiots on the right as he is towards the idiots on the left. One day he defends Michael Voris and his webmaster Simon Rafe against unjust accusations; another day he tells us what Voris’ real failings are. How can you not like him?

(Very easily; some people just can’t get past the snark to see the passionate, sincere concern that drives his incessant output. For all that, I find I like his brand of no-holds-barred apologetics much better than I like Voris’.)

But Shea believes that, to a certain extent, many of the attacks on Rafe are logical outcomes of the “inquisitorial culture Voris is fostering”; that is, many Catholic pundits are no longer drawing bright lines between fraternal correction and judgmentalism. “This sort of rubbish illustrates everything I was trying to say [in criticism of Michael Voris (see the above link)] about the tendency of this small but growing subculture in the Church to eat its young,” he huffed this morning.

One comment, by Dale Price, captured the image perfectly: “The Circular Catholic Firing Squad is an awful thing to watch.” [Alas! since The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named has moved his blog to Patheos, you can't see the comment in context — the old Blogger site forwards you to the copy on Patheos.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Killing a public conscience

Today we observe in memorial the beheading of St. John the Baptist. For what was he beheaded? Well, the proximate cause was Herodias’ daughter, Salome, whose dance at Herod’s birthday feast was so … um, enchanting that he rashly promised her anything she wanted (Mk 6:17-29; cf. Mt 14:3-12).

But the final cause was Herodias’ desire to shut St. John up forever. Why? Because he pointed out loudly and publicly that her adulterous relationship with Herod (she was married to his brother Philip) was sinful. At her prompting, Herod had already imprisoned the Baptist; nevertheless, apparently he was still a goad to either Herod’s or her conscience.

Every now and again, this determination to squash one’s personal Jiminy Cricket gets played out on the world stage. Especially notorious are the deaths of Ss. Thomas Becket and Thomas More, both done in by kings who had been personal friends but who couldn’t stand public opposition on moral grounds. But we also have more recent examples in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and — with some qualification — Harvey Milk.

Stacy Trasancos — scientist, theologian-in-training, wife, mother of five and author of the increasingly popular blog Accepting Abundance — is undergoing a kind of martyrdom right now. So far it hasn’t led to her death (quod Deus avertat!), but it has led to death threats. Why? Because she had the temerity to express her indignation with gay PDAs.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Of clocks, toothpaste and other dumb similes

Since I wrote about the altar girl flap in Phoenix yesterday, a couple more articles have come to my attention that demonstrate something wrong with certain liberal Catholics.

First, we have a quick blurb from Bryan Cones of US Catholic, a magazine destined to enter the Hall of Shame along with America and other “Catholic Lite” publications:

The main problem here, though, is baptismal: Does that baptism of girls and women not configure them for service among the people of God[?] So far Rome has said that it doesn’t for the ministries of priest and bishop—deacon still being an open question [no, not really]. But altar server? And just for practical purposes, how much longer will the parents of girls keep taking them to a church that now won’t even let them serve at the altar, much less eventually become priests?

If you’re not serving at the altar, you’re not doing jack squat for the People of God … is that it, Mr. Cones? I’m sure a lot of people, both men and women, working in non-liturgical ministries will be enchanted by your appraisal of their efforts’ worth. Think before you write, please.

As to your second question: A lot longer than you think. Like the women of the Women’s Ordination Conference, you’ve bought into the second-wave feminist premiss that “boys’ stuff is better than girls’ stuff”.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spoiling the boys' fun

Those of you who follow Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s blog What Does The Prayer Really Say are probably fully informed of the altar server flap taking place down at the Cathedral of SS. Simon and Jude in Phoenix, where reigns the notable Defensor Fidei Bp. Thomas Olmstead. Apparently the issue has grown enough that’s Dr. William Oddie has noticed it.

If you’re not aware of what’s going on, then let me fill you in:

Altar servers, for the non-Catholic, assist the celebrant at the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, providing the priest with liturgical vessels such as the cruets, the lavabo and finger towels, holding candles or the cross during the processional and recessional, and other minor duties. Prior to the formation of seminaries and the professional training of priests, the role of altar server acted as a kind of apprenticeship; even today, the vast majority of seminarians have been altar boys.

On August 21, The Arizona Republic released the story that Fr. John Lankeit, rector of SS. Simon and Jude, had decided that girls would no longer be permitted to be altar servers. The next day, Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, blasted the decision, saying:

If young women in the Phoenix diocese want to grow up to work for the Church — or even aspire to the priesthood — I, and the vast majority of U.S. Catholics, don’t see the harm in that. … Around the country, young women have been lawfully serving at the altar for well over a decade.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pod pedophiles and a culture fit to live

One of the oddest phenomena I witness as I grow older is that certain changes suddenly start cropping up everywhere like the “pod people” in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. For example, when Walgreen’s started building stand-alone stores in the 1990s, it seemed I couldn’t drive anywhere in Omaha without seeing yet a new Walgreen’s being thrown up; it was as if the corporation were trying to make up overnight for all the years the stores had filled bays in strip malls.

Cue the sinister music: The same thing seems to be happening with pedophilia.

Just last week I wrote a couple of pieces on new efforts to “normalize” pedophiles and pedophilia. The first, posted on The Impractical Catholic (“How do you normalize pedophilia?”), jumped off from a Daily Caller news story about a conference in Baltimore sponsored by B4U-ACT, a group of pro-pedophile mental health professionals and sympathetic activists. The other (“Pedophilia: the one boundary progressives can’t push?”), started from the recent flap over Vogue Paris using ten year old Thylane Blondeau as a “cover girl”.

You’d think more than a week would go by before the subject would have a chance to come up again. But no-ooo-o! Now, according to Susan Brinkman OCDS at Women of Grace, a French lingerie designer — what is it with the French, anyway? — has a new line of age-inappropriate underwear called Jours Après Lunes (Days After Moons), supposedly aimed at the four-to-twelve bracket, featuring “a range of very adult-looking panties, bras, camisoles and lace-edged t-shirts.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can freedom of religion survive?

Yesterday presented two news stories that, at first glance, could almost bookend each other.

The first story concerned a ruling in the Sangamon (Ill.) County Circuit Court — ironically, Abraham Lincoln’s old stomping grounds — that the State of Illinois could refuse to renew its child foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities over the latter’s refusal to place children with homosexual couples. The second concerns the proliferation of “no-go” zones in Europe as a growing Islamic minority starts flexing its muscles and imposing Shariah in Moslem neighborhoods.

On the surface, both appear to be issues of religious liberty. For on the one hand, a person might argue, the Islamic communities of Europe want no more and no less than what the Catholic Church wants — to obey the moral dictates of their religion. Isn’t Catholic Charities claiming an exemption from anti-discrimination laws on the basis of religion? Well, then, what relevant difference could there be?

Very simple: Catholic organizations are mostly content to work within the framework of the relevant community, state and national laws. If Catholic Charities can’t afford to run without the state contract and they lose all relevant legal action, why, then their state adoption services will simply shut up shop … which may or may not be a loss, depending on what perspective you come from.

But Catholic Charities won’t simply ignore the law. Nor will the Church.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

News flash! HuffPo (almost) gets a religious concept right!

Yes, folks, you read that right. I would sooner expect for Ann Coulter to sing the praises of Norman Lear than for me to agree with anything a HuffPo writer scribbled about Christ and Christianity. But Maria Mayo, a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt, wrote a piece on forgiveness in Scripture the other day that bears thoughtful attention.

Why is this so stunning? The Huffington Post, to put it as charitably as possible, is a mouthpiece for leftist progressivism. As such, its writers tend to plunk for a vision of Christ's teachings that lean very heavily towards "Buddy Christ": so tolerant that repentance, even basic recognition of sin, is unnecessary … in fact, a Christianity-and-water that exists solely to affirm the believer's basic goodness, not call her to sainthood.

Mayo's piece, "5 Myths About Forgiveness in the Bible", takes this stance apart. (Indeed, it also undermines "once saved always saved".) So to find in a progressivist broadsheet an explanation that tends more towards Christian orthodoxy is much like finding an old issue of Pravda asserting an absolute individual right of property.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Overheard at a Denny's - V

“Isn’t it nice just to have a couple of hours to yourself, Denise? No kids, no husband, no boss ….”

“Every once in a while. Though Derek isn’t tough to manage. He’s pretty neat, though he’s not Adrian Monk obsessive about it. Just every once in a while, he misses the dirty clothes hamper.” Chuckle. “In fact, sometimes he irritates me. You know, Damian’s at that stage where if he’s not careful, he’ll get food in his mouth instead of on the floor. But I’ll bet you that when I walk in the door tonight, the kitchen will look like we’ve never had a kid inside the house, Damian will be asleep in his crib and Derek will be reading a book on the couch like a monument to Patience. When he comes home after a night out with Dan or Mark, the kitchen still looks like an explosion in the Gerber factory.”

Laugh. “Oh, my God! How does he do it?”

“He just shrugs and says, ‘Clean as you go.’ That gets me even worse.”

“Was he always like that?”

“I have to assume so. We never talked about house chores before we got married, and there was no period of him getting used to cleaning ….”

“Well, wait. Didn’t you live together before you got married?”

“Oh, Lord no! Why would any woman want to do that to herself?”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The sound of one hand clapping

In his marvelous book The Joys of Yiddish, the late Leo Rosten tells a joke about Josef Goebbels demanding that a rabbi teach him about Talmud. The rabbi runs him through a test given to children before they go to yeshiva to see if they can understand Talmud. The test consists of the same question asked three times: “Two men fall through a chimney. One comes out clean, and the other comes out dirty. Which one washes?”

The first answer is that the clean one washes, because he sees the dirty one and believes he came out dirty too. The second answer is that the dirty one washes, because the dirty one looks at the clean one, then looks at himself and realizes he didn’t come out clean. The third answer “is that this is a silly question. How can two men fall through a chimney and only one come out dirty? Anyone who doesn’t understand that will never understand Talmud.”

This story came to my mind while reading William Saletan’s post “Half Aborted”, a think piece on “reductions”. I’ve written before about the cognitive dissonance now making its way through the pro-abortion ranks, the reluctantly growing realization of the moral wrong even as they maintain the necessity of the legal right. “Half Aborted” not only confirms the dissonance but confronts head-on pro-abortion rationalizations about the life and humanity of the unborn.

Pedophilia: the one boundary progressives can’t push?

She looks out from the picture with hazel eyes, buttered blonde hair falling from her scalp in the kind of artful disarray only an expensive stylist could manage, her carefully painted lips pouting over her naked shoulder. Her name is Thylane Blondeau, the daughter of soccer player Patrick Blondeau and fashion designer Véronika Loubry, and she is an up-and-coming fashion model.

And she’s only ten years old.

Certainly she’s not the first young girl ever exploited by the fashion industry in this manner. I’m old enough to remember the ruckus raised by the risqué advertisement shot of 15-year-old Brooke Shields wearing Calvin Klein jeans. (This was the same year her first teen sexploitation film The Blue Lagoon was released … an ephebophile fantasy flick if ever there was one.) At the top levels of the industry, the fashion world makes its money by objectifying women; it would be expecting too much to believe they wouldn’t turn a child into a sex object … especially not if the designers and photographers can convince themselves they’re being daring and original by doing so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Assumption of Mary

I'd intended to get this out much earlier; however, yesterday was hectic beyond belief. My apologies to one and all.
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Yesterday, August 15th, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation.[1] In the Eastern tradition, it's also known as the Dormition (Latinization of the Greek Koímēsis, "falling asleep") of the Theotókos ("God-bearer").

Both the Eastern and Latin traditions hold that Mary was taken bodily into heaven, in the same manner as had her Son. The Eastern tradition maintains that she died and was resurrected on earth before the assumption; the Latin tradition leaves it an open question. Certainly, when Ven. Pius XII promulgated the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950, he didn't insist that the Blessed Mother remained alive right up to that point; in fact, he alluded to her death several times.

However, like many Marian teachings, Protestants, especially Evangelicals, hold that because the Assumption isn't spoken of in Scripture it must not be a doctrine requiring Christian assent, let alone faith. Now, we've already spoken of the many problems inherent in sola scriptura; if you need reminding, then start with Part I. Suffice it for now to say that authority within the Catholic Church is a three-legged stool, resting not only on Scripture but also from the apostolic tradition and the teaching magisterium of the Church, which reconciles the other two.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unanswered prayers and unwanted gifts

This is a difficult post for me to write because it deals with prayer, and prayer is the least consistent aspect of my spiritual life.

Then why write about it? Because I read Dr. Randall Smith’s excellent comments on the intercessory prayers of the faithful that take place at the end of the Liturgy of the Word in a Catholic Mass. For the substance of his remarks, please follow the link; suffice it to say that many of these “intentions” aren’t directed at God so much as they are at the faithful, and that many of these “intentions” are prayed for only so long as they’re hot news items.

Among the combox entries was one from “Grump”, who was apparently trying to dig a rabbit hole:

As one whose prayers have never gotten higher than the ceiling in 40+ years of making requests and asking for help for myself and others, I am reminded by [sic] Kierkegaard’s comment about prayer: “Prayer doesn’t change God, but it changes us.” Which in my case is true since it has made me an unbeliever.
When Jesus said, “Ask anything in my name and it shall be done” [Jn 14:13-14]. I took Him at His word. I’m still waiting for Him to keep it.

So what do we say to that?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Separation of church and sex

One night, my buddy Larry was driving me home from the house he shared with his then-fiancée, Mary. The two of them were in the early stages of wedding planning; I was to wear two hats — music coordinator and best man. As part of the process, to satisfy Mary’s parents, they were also going through the archdiocesan wedding preparation classes so the marriage could be blessed by the Catholic Church.

Larry, a generic Methodist, was grumbling about the unnecessary megillah (as he saw it) of taking the classes; although I was veering towards liberalism, I tried to play devil’s advocate. Finally, he stated, “I just don’t believe priests can say anything useful to me about marriage.” I asked why not.

He glanced at me in surprise, and barked, “Because I can f***!

After a moment to swallow my irritation, I decided to paraphrase a riposte made by John Randolph when ridiculed for his impotence. “Congratulations; you’ve just declared yourself the equal of every dog and jackass in the world.”

After almost twenty years’ reflection, I’ve decided that the reason so many people — men more than women, I would hazard a guess — take such silly, inordinate pride over a successful conquest is because we’re not like other animals. With animals, pheromones and cerebral cortices take over; consent is rarely an issue, though male dogs and cats have been known to rape neuters. But a human can say no … worse, s/he can laugh derisively.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

But for Wales, Father Bourgeois?

On April 10, I wrote an open letter to Fr. Roy Bourgeois of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. This was in refutation of a letter Fr. Bourgeois had written to his superior general, Fr. Edward M. Dougherty, published openly on the Women’s Ordination Conference website.

To give a little more background: Fr. Bourgeois, an open supporter of women’s ordination, has been a thorn in Maryknoll’s paw for a couple of years. In 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent Maryknoll a letter advising them that Fr. Bourgeois’ opposition had incurred excommunication latae sententiae (that is, by the fact of the delict’s commission, somewhat comparable to a mandatory sentence) reserved to the Holy See. Since then, Maryknoll has warned Fr. Bourgeois at least twice that his refusal to recant would lead to his dismissal from the order.

On July 27, 2011, Fr. Dougherty sent Fr. Bourgeois a second canonical warning: if the latter did not recant within fifteen days, the superior general would start the dismissal proceedings [H/T Deacon Greg Kandra]. And yesterday Fr. Bourgeois sent back his own letter indicating his final Non serviam:

What you are asking me to do in your letter is not possible without betraying my conscience. In essence, you are telling me to lie and say I do not believe that God calls both men and women to the priesthood. This I cannot do, therefore I will not recant.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Some thoughts on Mass improvisations

Auxiliary Bishop Chris Coyne of Indianapolis had an interesting story yesterday about "Why I Didn't Go to Confession Today". While, to do the full story justice, you should read his account of the matter let me give you a précis of it:

It seems Bp. Coyne had need of an early morning Saturday Mass, but couldn't find one until late Friday night, when it was too late to make arrangements to concelebrate it. So he went as an attendant; whether he went in his episcopal robes or in mufti he doesn't say.

When Mass began, the priest, a guy about my age, came out and said, "Hello," and then proceeded with the Mass. The only problem was he had forgotten the Sign of the Cross. Well, maybe he was just a little distracted. I think we did the penitential rite but I'm not sure. There was no "Gloria" so I was beginning to think we weren't going to be celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration since it hadn't been mentioned yet but eventually we got there when he "prayed" a spontaneous opening prayer that did mention the Transfiguration.

And it didn't get any better after that. Though Bp. Coyne conceded the validity of the celebration, he decided, for both his sake and that of the offending priest, not to have his confession heard by "Father X".

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dog day afternoons

How can you tell I have writer's block?

Simple: I post other people's poetry on The Impractical Catholic instead of writing something myself. (But, hey, at least it was T. S. Eliot; I would have really deserved your rotten tomatoes if I'd posted any of Jewel Kilcher's stuff.

During the summer, it seems everything wilts from the heat. Even the doomsday claims that have arisen in the wake of the debt-ceiling deal and the downgrading of the government's credit rating seem perfunctory: "Okay, we've made the necessary noises. Now let's go take a nap someplace air-conditioned."

In the afternoons, Bob (my invalid younger brother whom I take care of) usually takes a nap. This normally affords me three or four hours in which to compose my thoughts without fear of interruption. The last couple of days, though, a couple of those hours have been spent idly surfing the web for sources to je ne sais quoi, followed by an indefinite period of unconsciousness in my naugahyde captain's chair, as the day's heat finally sinks through the valiant efforts of AC and ceiling fan to entice me into the arms of Morpheus.

Not good for productivity.

So here's my apology and my assurance that I will eventually think of something to write ....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Of boxerjocks and jolly people

The last couple of days, in despair of the diminishing number of loincloths in my drawer without evidence of shoddy workmanship, I’ve gone to Wal-Mart to replenish my stock. (Tommy Hilfiger underwear does something I’ve never seen skivvies do: the panels separate from the waistband.) O the joy to find sales of four, five and even seven pairs of Hanes per bag for only $9.47!

(Obiter dictum: Boxerjocks are one of the best developments in male clothing of the last twenty years.)

The downside, of course, is that there’s ordinarily one or two bags in a size that won’t have me singing male soprano. Nevertheless, I bought one bag on Tuesday and another yesterday. I’m still puzzled why anyone would need boxerjocks in a camouflage pattern — who goes hunting in their underwear? — but I wasn’t prepared to complain so long as they fit.

I also wasn’t prepared to pay $11.46 a bag. I let the matter go Tuesday because I was short on time. Wednesday, however, I confronted the checker on the discrepancy between the advertised price and the register price. She took one look at the bag and said, with a sheepish grin, “Ah. It’s the size.”

Ah, yes. The “fat-ass tax”. That’s the extra markup clothing manufacturers and retailers assess on obese people rather than averaging the extra cost of material out over the rest of the sizing bell curve.

God is not a comic-book superhero

Because Jennifer Fulweiler converted to Catholicism from atheism, her blog attracts quite a few atheists … especially since, at one point, P. Z. Myers made her post “5 Catholic Teachings That Make Sense to Atheists” the focus of his anti-Christian rage.

On July 22, Fulweiler asked a pair of related questions that spun off into a reflection on abortion in her post “When the Best Place to be Born is the Worst Place to be Conceived”. Naturally, such a post begs for trolls and drive-by harangues, though at the time of this writing the comments are all relatively calm and thoughtful.

At least until “ac” showed up:

Abortions are not ideal and can affect a woman deeply but then I know of four that were thrown into depression by the miscarriage of a foetus at around 5 months. That’s God’s will is it?  I also know several women who would have died in childbirth without modern medical practice. God’s will again?
Someone has already mention the high rate of miscarriages, but there is also the high rate of maternal deaths that would occur without medical help, and in too many parts of the world does occur. This is God’s love in action? …
So, I return to a question I asked in another thread: In what way does God make life better for the people of Malawi, say?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The ten percent solution

What could I say that I, like many other Catholic writers, haven’t said before? That artificial contraception actually encourages poor decision-making, inflating the numbers of unintended pregnancies? Nope; checked that box. That condoms provide little protection against most STDs, which risk-compensation behavior functionally negates? Nope; been there, said that.

Even the news that HHS is rushing the implementation so college students can take advantage of free services during the fall 2011 semester doesn’t increase the outrage. Proof that the Administration tramples on the conscience rights of Catholic colleges? So sorry, already shown in the case of Belmont Abbey College a year and a half ago. You really don’t have to look very hard to find proof that the Obama Administration cares not a whit for rights of conscience where contraception and abortion are concerned.

Catholic pro-life writers have known for some time that contraception feeds the abortion mills. It’s hard not to conclude that the HHS ruling signals a massive investment by the Obama Administration in the Great Western Atrocity … yet what else is new? We’re talking about a president who said he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act as soon as it landed on his desk (fortunately, as many predicted, it died in committee). Sigh. Yawn.