Friday, September 30, 2011

The silence of Jesus and ecclesial caution

In yesterday’s post on the silence of Jesus, I neglected to bring up an important concern: In Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, Jesus told the apostles in general, and St. Peter in particular, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In other words, the Church has the power to declare teachings binding on the Christian’s conscience.

This, I hasten to add, is not a blank check, nor has the Catholic Church ever construed it as such. Contra Lord Acton’s assertion of the papacy’s absolute power (and how it tends to corrupt absolutely), the pope and the bishops are “accountable to God’s revelation, to the fundamental structure of the Church given it by Christ, to the seven sacraments, to the creeds, to the doctrinal definitions of earlier ecumenical councils, and to ‘other obligations too numerous to mention …’”.[1] Nevertheless, the authority to bind and loose knocks the pins out of the claim, “Jesus didn’t say it, so I don’t have to believe it.”

But this point led one person to ask:

OK ... But then wouldn’t the Church have the authority to change at least some of these things later? I’m not saying that it necessarily should, but if you have a reform movement and a status quo movement (on say women as priests) it seems a tad convenient to say that Jesus’ silence on the issue can be used by the status quo side as evidence, while also supporting the power of the Church to modify, fill in the gaps, etc.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sherlock Holmes and the silence of Jesus

In his 1911 tongue-in-cheek essay, “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes”, Msgr. Ronald Knox coined the term Sherlockismus to describe “a special kind of epigram”, an ambiguous statement that is nevertheless memorable.

One example Knox gives is from the story “Silver Blaze”: While discussing the case with Holmes, Inspector Gregory of Scotland Yard asks him, “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” Holmes replies, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” Gregory, puzzled, objects, “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” To which Holmes rebuts, “That was the curious incident.”

Had the person who removed Silver Blaze from his stable been an outsider, the dog would have raised the alarm. Since the dog remained quiet, Holmes deduced, the perpetrator must have been an insider — the trainer, in fact, who was trying to hobble the horse to win a bet. Sir Arthur’s earliest biographer, John Dickson Carr, exclaimed: “Call this ‘Sherlockismus’; call it any other fancy name; the fact remains that it is a clue, and a thundering good one at that.”[1]

Joe Heschmeyer uses the Sherlockismus in a look at early Church Eucharistic theology. In one of those “D’oh!” moments that strike me much more often than you might think, I realized in reading Joe’s excellent post that the “dog that didn’t bark” also gives us a clue about what is not found in Scripture.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Contraceptives are for suckers

Before you read this post, you should go to What Does The Prayer Really Say and read this heart-tugging question Fr. John Zuhlsdorf received, as well as his compassionate reply. I’ll be here when you get back.

*          *          *

Let me start by setting up a hypothetical situation: You’re handed a pair of dice. To play this game, you roll the dice; if any number other than two comes up, you win $1; if you roll snake-eyes, though, you pay $40.

Now, elementary probability theory tells you that your odds of losing are 35:1 against on any given roll. Like any other casino game, of course, it’s structured so that over time people lose more money than they win. But that’s not going to happen to you if you only roll the dice once or twice, right? And, really, it’s possible to roll the dice sixty or seventy times before that costly deuce comes up, so you individually could win more than you lose, right?

And that’s how casinos make money off of suckers like you: the dice are under no obligation to conform to your optimistic expectations. A hot table doesn’t have to stay hot; a cold table doesn’t have to warm up. You could just as easily lose that forty clams on the first roll as on the thirty-second; you could roll deuces twice in just three rolls. Sooner or later, you will throw the two … you just don’t know when. The only way to prevent it is to step away from the table.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breaking the spell of Planned Parenthood

Some months ago, while discussing the cognitive dissonance infecting the pro-choice ranks and the “Lies and Lila Rose” issue, I got the sense that we were on the verge of a watershed event in the pro-life battle, that the supporters of the Great Western Atrocity were on the edge of a cascade failure. “As Saletan and other pro-choice advocates continue to struggle with their cognitive dissonance, ugly truths about abortion that NARAL and their intellectual puppets at the Alan Guttmacher Institute have tried so desperately to squelch continue to surface. I predict … that this will eventually trigger a series of revelations about Planned Barrenhood that the MSM won’t be able to ignore.”

Despite the questionable ethics of entrapment journalism, the fact remains that LiveAction’s videos shattered Planned Barrenhood’s façade of concern for women. Then came the revelation of Kermit Gosnell’s “little shop of horrors” and the fact that the Pennsylvania Department of Health “literally licensed Gosnell’s criminally dangerous behavior”. Then Virginia passed a health bill requiring abortion clinics to meet the same safety standards of hospitals, forcing opponents to defend access at the cost of appearing hypocritical about women’s health.

Now, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, has written a letter to Planned Barrenhood president Cecile Richards, asking her “to comply with current federal regulations and legal obligations by providing Congress with a wide range of documents within two weeks of the date of the letter,” according to LifeNews.

The other shoe has finally dropped.

Time to act is almost gone!

I've already posted on the new HHS rules on The Impractical Catholic. I don't need another 1,000-word essay on the matter. Just go over there, click the links and let our government hear your voice! That's what the democratic process is for! Now now now! September 30th is almost here!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hatred of homosexuals betrays Christ

On August 26th, Stacy Trasancos wrote “Can’t Even Go to the Park”, a modest little grump about homosexual PDAs that, due to some ill-meaning gay activists, suddenly went viral. It may not have been the most charitable thing ever written, but as gripes go it was pretty mild.

The same can’t be said for much of the international reaction. The forces of love and tolerance have inflicted upon her an international virtual blanket party, a worldwide vomit of unbalanced hatred completely unmerited by what she wrote.

As of this writing, the post itself has had 975 comments, the vast majority of them running from the merely pained to the viciously foul to the “Nurse, get me one hundred milligrams of thorazine STAT!” level of pure looniness. One charming example: “What a c**t. I hope her children are kidnapped, raped, and murdered. It would be better than having them grow up with such a twisted f**k for a mother!”

Worse than that, though, are all the LGBTQ apologists who have put on the mask of sober rationality to say, “Well, yes, such reactions are extreme and hard to condone, but you asked for it, you hateful b***h!” Or: “It’s only the natural frustration of people who have been oppressed by Christian bigots for two millennia.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Some thoughts on “Dating With An Audience”

There isn’t a St. Patrick’s Day that goes by that I don’t try to watch that great John Ford classic, The Quiet Man. The picture it gives of Ireland in the 1920s may strike modern sensibilities as a bit saccharine, especially in its almost total ignorance of Catholic-Protestant tensions (the Catholic priest even subtly helping the Church of Ireland vicar retain his benefice). However, it’s a great story, with fine moments from the whole cast, and fairly authentic in its portrayal of small-town Irish sensibilities.

The mainspring of the plot is the attempts of Sean Thornton (John Wayne), a man born in the little village of Innisfree but who grew up in America, to woo and win the fiery Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), the sister of a rival landowner, “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). But besides Squire Danaher’s malicious hatred, Thornton must also deal with the Irish rules of courtship and marriage; for all her seeming independence, Mary Kate can’t — or won’t — marry Thornton without Danaher’s acquiescence.

I bring all this up because Elizabeth Hillgrove’s fine essay on Virtuous, “Dating With An Audience”,  reminded me of one particular scene: Thornton trying to court Mary Kate traditionally while riding with her on a jogging cart under the vigilant (and quite intoxicated) eye of Michaleen Og Flynn (played to perfection by Barry Fitzgerald).

Elizabeth was talking of teens dating in the presence of chaperones. It occurred to me that adults could stand to be monitored by third parties as well.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Salvation and invincible ignorance

In the combox under “Startling revelation! Catholic Church against gay marriage!” writes concerned reader Lori Bisser:

Hi, I am respectfully wondering in this portion: “Should the liberals leave the Church? I’m sure a few of my fellow bloggers would wish for it. But when Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ they responded, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:67-68). If you care for someone, you wish for their conversion of heart; to wish them out of the Church is not much better than wishing them to go to hell … in fact, the two desires are almost equivalent.” Are you saying that if a person is not Catholic, they are going to hell? Or am I making a giant leap?

Yes, you are respectful, Ms. Bisser, and for that I thank you. As for whether it’s a leap …?

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus: “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” You hear this quite frequently with hard-line conservatives, especially those who wish Vatican II undone and hold little respect for the popes who have followed Ven. Pius XII (1939-1958). But this maxim is not as absolute as some might think (or wish).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Should we be “desirable” … or “sexy”?

  • Sexy adj. /ˈsɛksi/ From sex (Middle French sexe < Latin sexus (gender); thought to be connected with Latin seco, secare (divide, cut) by the concept of division, or “half” of the race) + -y — 1: sexually suggestive or stimulating; erotic. 2: generally attractive or interesting; appealing.
  • Desirable adj. /di-ˈzī-rə-bəl/ From desire (Middle English desiren < Old French desirer < Latin desiderare, orig., prob., to await from the stars < de-, from + sidus, star) + -able — 1: having pleasing qualities or properties; attractive. 2: worth seeking or doing as advantageous, beneficial, or wise; advisable.

If there’s a clear line between sexy and desirable, finding it is challenging enough.

Consider the picture of Penélope Cruz at left: I found the picture when I searched Bing for images of “desirable”. There’s no doubt she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world today. Sexy, yes, beyond shadow of a reasonable doubt. But without unnecessarily vilipending Ms. Cruz (since I don’t know her personally) — is she really desirable?

A certain kind of trousered ape, a type all too familiar to us, would answer, “Well, yeah! Duh! Who wouldn’t like to wake up to that in the morning?” This is precisely the attitude that gets us the perennial female complaint, “Men are pigs!” And, unfortunately, even the best of us aren’t so far from the trousered ape that we don’t wonder what Ms. Cruz would look like with bed hair, no makeup and the sleep still in her eyes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Startling revelation! Catholic Church against gay marriage!

You have to wonder what kind of bubble surrounds East Rutherford, New Jersey that manages to keep the city isolated from the news of the world. I could sometimes wish for such protective isolation for myself.

Wednesday, North staff writer Deon J. Hampton revealed that Robert Russell, the music minister at St. Joseph in East Rutherford for 22 years, has decided to give two weeks’ notice. On July 10th, Russell was surprised and dismayed to learn from a homily pastor Fr. Joseph Astarita gave that the Catholic Church doesn’t accept even the concept of same-sex marriage. And when he confronted Fr. Astarita to reveal that he is gay and has been with a single partner for 15 years, the pastor had the temerity to suggest that Russell could change his orientation through reparative therapy, and to express concern about his involvement with a yet-to-be-formed children’s choir (“allegedly [telling] him he would be a ‘poor example’”).

Wow, who would’a thunk it?

But besides announcing his intention to quit, Russell has also — wait for it! — retained the services of an attorney, David L. Wikstrom. Wikstrom stated that Russell “couldn’t properly perform his work because of his sexuality, thus creating a hostile and adverse work environment.” Either Wikstrom isn’t used to speaking to reporters or for posterity, or reporter Hampton butchered Wikstrom’s actual statement to cut the story down to size.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What’s going on in Amarillo?

At least this time there are no accusations of drug abuse or illicit sex. There aren’t even any direct accusations of mishandling funds. What we’ve got here is … oh, you can figure out the rest of the Strother Martin line.

Actually, what we’ve got here is Fr. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests For Life, butting heads with his Ordinary, the Most Rev. Patrick Zurek of Amarillo. And once again, American Catholics watch from the sidelines as another hero-priest comes under fire, scrabbling for any stray fact no matter how little relevant that can make sense of the matter.

Unlike the Black Sheepdog, we have no allegations of drug-sodden orgies and million-dollar ranches; unlike Alberto Cutié, we have no pictures of Fr. Pavone rolling in the sand with a divorcée. What we do have, according to Bp. Zurek, are “persistent questions and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently.” Ominously, he adds, “At a certain point, for me to hold all this knowledge about the PFL and to turn a blind eye would increase my culpability and quite possibly amount to material cooperation.”

If that’s not an indirect accusation of criminal fraud — or at least malfeasance — I don’t know what is. Yet Bp. Zurek’s letter is irritatingly unspecific; the rest of it simply hovers around the idea that Fr. Pavone has his hands on a boatload of cash, which has enabled him to disobey his bishop.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da …

We stood on the asphalt that paves our circle as we said goodbye to Kathy, Mom’s sister, and Peggy, my own sister, while the sun began its climb above the eastern horizon. Our family’s “goodbyes” after visits and holiday get-togethers can take several minutes; we’re constantly throwing in last-minute remarks and discussing small things we could just as easily chat about through e-mail or a later phone call, just so we can put off that moment of separation.

But the moment finally came, as Ted wheeled his F-150 around and the last two out-of-town relatives waved adieu to us. We watched them pull out of the cul-de-sac, then Mom turned to me with a wistful smile. “Well, it’s just us now.” We embraced, then walked into the house to begin a day full of an abnormal normality.

How could the mundane chores of an average weekday for an elderly woman and her middle-aged son be abnormal? Because over the last seventeen years our lives were increasingly defined and circumscribed by my younger brother, his illnesses and incapacities. Now they no longer obtain; God is taking far better care of him now. However, this leaves us with a curious and unsettling freedom to act: What do we do without Bob to take care of?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Nota Bene: I delivered a redacted version of this post at Bob's visitation and rosary on Friday, Sept. 9th. As well-received as it was, I was upstaged by my 10-year-old nephew, who told a marvellous story with the moral: "People are truly dead only when they are forgotten." Kids — ya gotta love 'em!

*     *     * 

For a while, whenever Bobby called me “Tonebone”, I called him “Bobfred”. In fact, there was a couple of years there when we addressed our Christmas gifts to each other that way.

Don’t ask me why; it was just one of those you-had-to-be-there things.

I only mention it because it shows how much closer we were as adults in the last eighteen years or so than we were as children, when I stepped into the big-brother-in-charge role that Ted vacated when he left for the Air Force and started his own family. But even then, we were close. Bob may have resented my bossiness and rejected any authority I had from Mom and Dad, but he would also stick up for me, just as I stuck up for him. And we may have fought physically, but 95% of the time it was just good, male-bonding-type fun (until one of us got hurt and got mad).

If I’d had any lingering resentments from that time, they disappeared the day I opened up my apartment door and saw a twenty-five-year-old man with a seventy-five-year-old face purporting to be my kid brother. It was a face such as I’d seen in pictures of victims of the Holocaust: underfed, malnourished, with a few rotting teeth left. And that was before I heard the dreadful word diabetes. From almost that day onward, a portion of my emotional and spiritual life has been spent preparing for this time; part of that was forgiving him and letting go of the petty boyhood injuries to my boyhood dignity.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The hardest prayer to understand

… consists of just four words: “Thy Will be done.”

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the truth of this as my younger brother, Bob, struggles with his own body to live just a bit longer, as the “awe-inspiring prince, That keep’st the world in fear”[1] now beckons him towards the final journey. Whether this is truly the end game, or whether the grim specter is simply reminding us of his presence, those four words remain like a bitter cup of medicine we must yet drain.

The hardest thing to remember about God is that, by the very nature of our beings, we are not and cannot be equal partners with Him. An intelligent Being with the power to design and call into existence such a multifarious and bewildering universe is not a Being whose mind we can ever fully comprehend. What He does and allows to be done, and the purposes for which He does so, we can know in neither depth nor detail. Even the revelation given to us by Christ in his gospel message has ramifications and transcendent implications that push the limits of human ken; if we’re wise, we don’t pretend it’s a complete explanation of God’s Will.

The worst thing about liberal Catholicism, or “Catholicism Lite”, is that it minimizes the transcendent grandeur of God and the mystery of the Trinity, boiling it down to a “walk with Jesus” as if we were strolling hand-in-hand with him on a boardwalk or a forest path, rather than carrying the heavy beams of our own crosses down the travertine-flagged streets of the Via Dolorosa in his footsteps.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The Immaculate Conception (Part II)

In addressing the historical objection, we state that, whether the early Christians explicitly believed in an Immaculate Conception or not, it’s a legitimate development from things they held true about Mary from the earliest days: that she gave birth to Christ without labor pains (a legacy of original sin), and that she is the “New Eve”. Indeed, not only did the early Christians believe in a painless birth, many have argued from that time forth that her hymen remained intact … a position not strictly necessary to maintain her perpetual virginity, perhaps, but not one completely out of court, either.

But the doctrine also derives from the belief in Mary’s life without sin. And here’s where we start running the proof-text gantlet:

Objection 2: In the Magnificat, Mary “rejoices in God my Savior”(Lk 1:47). How could she require a savior if she was born without original sin, and had not sinned in her life?

Consider the following scenario: You and your mother are on a cruise ship that runs into an iceberg and sinks. Fortunately, another ship is nearby, and you’re pulled from the water with the rest of the survivors. Your mother, however, is fortunate enough to step onto a helicopter and be flown to the rescue ship without getting so much as a toenail wet.

Here’s the question: Was she saved or not? The answer is, of course, that she was saved, just in a different manner from how you were saved. But notice that the objection contains the answer to a different objection——

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: The Immaculate Conception (Part I)

Non-Catholics — especially Protestants who reject what they call “Mariolatry” — have several issues with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Of course, as with many other distinctively Catholic/Eastern Orthodox beliefs, it’s crucial that the sola scriptura block be settled before addressing these objections, especially if the non-Catholic refuses to ascribe any authority to anything other than Scripture; otherwise, you probably won’t get as far as first base.

It’s not as common an error as it used to be for Protestant non-Catholics to confuse the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin with the conception of Christ. However, when dealing with a non-Catholic, especially one raised outside of Christianity or whose religious formation was sketchy, it’s best to make sure you understand which topic you’re addressing, so you’re not solving the wrong problem.

*          *          *

Objection 1: The early Christians didn’t believe in Mary’s immaculate conception.

One concept from our argument against sola scriptura bears repeating here: the occasional nature of the individual books of Scripture, especially the New Testament. By “occasional nature”, we mean that the Gospels and letters were written to address the particular needs and specific questions of their intended audiences, even though they’re useful for us to study today. The least likely thing for the writers to mention would be that which everyone believed or knew, except so far as they contributed to the topics to be discussed. We write letters and books like this even today; it would be tiresome and time-consuming to have to restate everything known and uncontested every time we tried to write about the little-known or the debated and debatable. In sum: Just because it isn’t in the Bible doesn’t mean the first Christians didn’t believe or teach it!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Sunday worship

Joe Heschmeyer of Shameless Popery posted some interesting material on Seventh-Day Adventists yesterday (9/1/11). While it’s worth reading in its own right, and I do recommend you check it out, I should also note that there are other, smaller Christian groups, like the Seventh-Day Baptists and Messianic Jews, who also insist on Saturday worship.

*     *     *

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27-28 NIV).

With these words, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, was commanded not for the benefit of God, who can be — and ought to be —worshipped any and every day of the week, but for the benefit of his creatures doomed to eat their bread in the sweat of their face (Gen 3:17-19), to give them a day of rest (Ex 20:10; cf. Ex 23:12, 31:15, Dt 5:14). Indeed, the English word holiday is a contraction of “holy day”, a fact G. K. Chesterton played on when he said of the ancients, "And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men."[1]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

EXTRA! Dumb statements that need to die

Simcha Fisher, in her delightfully droll way, has put together a list of things Catholics can do on comboxes without committing a sin. Overall, she makes the very valid points that to be charitable is not the same thing as to be uncritical, and to make judgments on a person’s art, work or thought is not to make a judgment on the state of his soul.

Since we seem to be moving into the “Sins of the Internet” month, where everyone takes turns griping about the kind of crud that loads up comboxes and weighs down discussion threads, I’d like to offer my own list of gasbag expressions, paralogisms and babble that waste time, space and letter counts. If you find yourself typing them, backspace, highlight and cut, or do whatever else you need to do, then rethink your statement.

*          *          *

Subjective opinion: While “subjective” implies that an argument comes from a person’s feelings or intuitions, it’s not synonymous with “personal” (in the sense of unique), nor is it synonymous with “stupid and worthless”. Conclusions from subjective feelings aren’t necessarily wrong, and should be respected since they sometimes give a clearer path to the truth than a tightly-drawn line of reasoning. If you find yourself typing this, you're not engaging the argument.

The unholy sacrament of abortion—UPDATED

If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
Florynce Kennedy (1916-2000), Abortion Rap

This story from Abby Johnson has been making its way around. Let me shorten it a little:

Despite her obvious distress, the woman had insisted to Abby that she had to have the abortion today. Now. But even sedation didn’t relieve her tension; she cried even harder. When the doctor asked her why she was crying so much, she sobbed, “Because I just know this is a sin.”

The doctor, holding her hand and smiling gently, replied, “No. It is not your sin. It is mine. I will take on your sin. I commit the sin. Not you.”

As Patrick Archbold sardonically remarked, “Now playing Jesus, the guy with the wire hanger.”

Unfortunately, it’s difficult if not impossible to track down the number of women suffering post-abortion syndrome. Not all the symptoms show up, at least not all at the same time. In many cases, the woman can’t relate her symptoms to the abortion. And then there’s flat-out denial … like the New York pro-abortion columnist who confessed earlier this year that she was glad she miscarried so she wouldn’t have to go through her third abortion, believing she would probably have ended up killing herself sometime afterward — and yet she continues to promote abortion rights.

As Elizabeth Hillgrove said about Yaz’s side effects, “Put that in my shopping cart, right away!”