Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is Catholicism Really Go Big or Go Home?

Haven't really said much.  Been very busy working at Catholic Lane and Catholic Exchange, look to see some exciting news next week.

A few weeks ago I remarked that a lot of my traditionalist brethren look at Catholicism as a "go big or go home" type of religion.  By this they mean that if you aren't going to become fully immersed into everything the Catholic Church has to offer (the sacraments, her liturgy, her doctrine, her culture) then there really isn't much of a point to becoming Catholic.  This sounds right.  What's the point of doing something if you don't do it 100%?  That's the Alpha Catholic in me talking.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years (especially the past three as my life as a bachelor ended) it is that the whole concept of the Alpha-Catholic is a bunch of nonsense.  In fact, the way many look at the faith in the alpha fashion is one of the reasons why the crisis continues to deepen.

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Column at Catholic Exchange on TOB & the Sacraments

Now that we've laid the groundwork in a lot of recent columns, the time has come to start diving into the "big" stuff when it comes to TOB.  I've long held the premise (and over the last four months defended the premise at CE) that the majority of presentations on John Paul II's Catechesis on Human Love (or Theology of the Body) are badly flawed.

My main beef is they present a theology with little or no understanding of the reality of concupiscence.  As a result, they don't really see the need for the sacraments to enter into the discussion.  That's the subject of today's column.

In talking about this issue, Kevin O'Brien talks about a certain "madness" that can very easily overcome faithful Catholics who will go to extreme legnths to rationalize their behavior, just like anyone else.  Why do they do so?  Sin is a vicious mistress, and concupiscence is the affection we have for that mistress that we can never hope to beat on our own.  The only way to beat it is to forcefully repent and approach the sacraments and slowly but surely drive out those affections, and replace them with something good instead.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How Catholics Read the Bible Wrong

That's the subject of my latest at Catholic Lane today. If we ever hope to have a real reform of the Church, it starts with reform of ourselves, and that begins with greater devotion to the Bible.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Christ Unites Himself With Each Man - What Does That Mean?

I know what some of my readers are thinking.  "Kevin, aren't you done with the Francis interview stuff?  Have you suddenly morphed into a "neo-catholic papal apologist?"  I don't have much sympathy for a lot of the "papal defenders."  A lot of their statements really fall short, and they are just as guilty of trying to read Francis through their own ideological prisms as they accuse others of doing.  I try to do my best to let the man speak for himself, and then look back within our rich tradition, and see if there's anything to what he says.

Louie Verrecchio is feeling down in the dumps about how he isn't getting the writing opportunities he used to.  I'll give him a link, but only as an example of how not to do things.  He writes:

So, now that we can stop wondering whether or not this is the case, will the CPAs kindly offer a plausible explanation as to how one is to understand in a truly Catholic sense the novel notion of the Incarnation being intended to “infuse the feeling of brotherhood in men’s souls,” or any number of other items on the growing list of Papa’s humanist proclamations? (Operative word, plausible.)
Given the presence of the weasel word plausible, I'm well aware that no explanation anyone gives will ever match his predisposition to view the Pope preaching a false Gospel.  Yet for those who actually want an answer to the question:  it is very simple to present this in a truly Catholic sense.  It's Christology 101.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Amateur Hour Traditionalism

It appears the traditionalist movement has a new rockstar in the blogosphere. Louie Verrecchio has a ministry called "Harvesting the Fruit" in which his stated aim is "seperating the fruits from the nuts by the light of tradition." He's carved himself quite a little niche as well over the years, getting endorsements from major figures such as Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Sample.

A lot of this has changed with the election of Pope Francis. Verrecchio himself admits of "a shift in the focus of my writing" which is more or less that the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially Dignitatis Humanae, cannot be reconcilled with previous Church teaching. This is rather old hat in traditionalism, nothing new. Archbishop Lefebrve, argued essentially this position, while other traditionalists have said that while it can be reconilled with past tradition, it is far too ambigious for comfort. (That position in and of itself has varying forms, ranging from Fr. Brian Harrison, Dr. John Rao, Chris Ferrara, etc.)  Michael Davies didn't see how it could be reconciled,  but held out the possibility it could.  (See comment box for update, h/t dcs)

What differentiates Verrecchio from these more or less intellectual voices is his "toughness." He will call a spade and spade, and won't hold back. If social media makes society more coarser, Verrechio is exhibit A of that thesis. In it, Verrecchio, a Catholic with mainstream Church endorsements, calls for:

-Theorizing how God will intervene to prevent Pope Francis from canonizing John Paul II

-Pope Francis has essentially declared war on the Catholic Faith. It isn't just what he preaches is ambigious (standard traditionalist fare and more or less correct depending on the speech), but that he openly preaches a Jesus that is "not the Jesus of Catholic Doctrine."

-Since the Pope is a "generalissimo of the revolution" explicitly preaching a false Gospel, it's time to ask God for intervention, to remove him by "whatever means the merciful Lord may choose." Some have taken this to mean Mr. Verrecchio is calling for the Pope's death. People have strongly objected to the words, and he so far hasn't denied it, though he did have enough time to remove some of the sources he and his defenders were promoting once it was pointed out they were sedevacantists.

Like I said, this isn't a theological or intellectual traditionalism. This is gutter catholicism, one in which the main selling point isn't doctrinal precision or beatuy, but to see who can come up with the most outrageous outrage and clever insult. The only problem is that his main competition is those like Ann Barnhardt. Ms. Barnhardt also ponders about the state of the Church should we see "The Holy Spirit striking Francis dead tomorrow", since he is "not terribly bright" and a fascist.

This isn't Catholicism. Even calling it some silly label with Catholic in the sentence doesn't do it justice. It's porn in text form. They sit in their intellectual ivory tower echo chambers online and see who can come up with the most outlandish statement. The goal is simply to jack the outrage meter up to 11 constantly. In order to court this demographic, Mr. Verrecchio simply saying that things are ambigious won't do. He has to go far out there. Mission Accomplished?

When you get all jacked up on outrage, you are bound to be sloppy and say things that don't really make much sense. One of the unfortunate side effects of the gutter blogosphere is they fudge history. When Mr. Verrecchio wrote to Karl Keating, he stated the following:
As you know, during the Arian crisis, Pope Liberius and the majority of bishops fell into this error, with the pope even going so far as to condemn St. Athanasius for upholding the truth! (Notice which one is a saint.)
Note well what it said: During the Arian Crisis, The Roman Pontiff "fell into this error", that is, Arianism, and that he condemned St. Athanasius for his Orthodoxy. There's only one problem with this statement. It's all a lie, including and and the. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) has an insightful article on Liberius which gives an excellent summation of the entire controversey. We can use that to pick apart his statement:

1.) Liberius was not an Arian. He rather heroically resisted the Roman Emperor when, like all political leaders do, they tried to manipulate the faith into an arm of the State.

2.) As a result of this stand, he was exiled and an Anti-Pope was put in his place, whom the citizens of Rome reviled.

3.) For this or maybe another reason, the Emperor finally relented and recalled Liberius from exile. This is where the known facts stop, and the debate begins.

4.) The formal "condemnation" of Athanasius that Protestant scholars long advocated turned out to be a clear forgery by the Semi-Arians known as Studens Paci which has been acknowledged as a forgery in scholarly circles for the past several hundred years.

5.) There is a belief that Liberius, under clear duress and hence invalidly, signed the Semi-Arian Creed of Sirmium. If such existed, we have no access to it. Some contemporary sources of the time deny its existence, but Athanasius at least appears to have been aware of the rumors. The early church historian Sozomen (5th century, so less than 100 years after the event) calls the entire thing a lie. St. Jerome did believe it, but as with the deuterocanonicals, Church history was never his forte, and he was opposed by Rufinus (4th century historian) and later voices such as Theodoret. In the Eastern Orthodox Church he has always been St. Liberius, so combined with the favorable contemporary verdict, there is ample reason to doubt the accounting Mr. Verrecchio provides.
In truth, nobody knows with certainty what happened in regards to the 5th point. Historians have debated it for centuriers, and debated it even within the generation of its occurence. Even under the worst case scenario, we have a heroic pope who under duress was forced to adopt something he was admant in that he didn't believe it.

After this was pointed out, Mr. Verrecchio acknowledged this history (something tells me he learned a lot he never knew before) yet stated "It doesn't matter why he did it, only that he did it and was still Pope" and that this justified Mr. Verrechio's words. Except it isn't clear what Liberius actually did. And even if it was, there's no contemporary evidence that people are reacting in the way which Mr. Verrecchio are reacting, asking God to end this papacy "whatever means the merciful Lord may choose."

Mr. Verrecchio is free to say that sometimes Popes make mistakes, and people are justified in raising their concerns about them. He's also free to say there have been absolutely rotten popes in the 2,000 year history of the Church. Nobody is forced to defend Benedict IX or Alexander VI, or any of the popes leading up to the Protestant Reformation/Catholic Counter-Reformation. While doctrinally orthodox, their morals and practices caused great harm on the Church. If you want to argue this, you need to actually prove it though. It isn't good form to just state it. If there's a chance something the Bishop of Rome has said can be interpreted in an orthodox manner, this isn't rocket science: you go with the orthodox interpretation.

In regards to the Francis interviews, myself and many others have, without much difficulty, shown how the words are Orthodox. When confronted with these, Mr. Verrecchio does one of two things. First might as well be "well sure, you can prove that, but it's clear Francis doesn't believe that, it's make believe because..... MODERNIST!" When another person pointed out how Francis words could be justified within tradition, Mr. Verrecchio objected that..... Francis isn't speaking with enough clarity to as to satisfy Mr. Verrecchio, who wants to *winkwinknudgenudge* have God "end" Francis pontificate, but there's nothing bad about those words! He doesn't actually go through Francis words or Aquinas' to show how the Pope is wrong. It's just clear he didn't mean it because...... because...... FRANCIS IS A HUMANIST GENERALISSIMO! He's not even trying to have an intellectual discussion over what words mean.

So I've written a lot more than I normally care to write. People will see those endorsements from otherwise Orthodox Catholics and think what Mr. Verrecchio states is okay. People will see Mr. Verrecchio as a traditionalist, and think this is what healthy traditionalism is all about. There's nothing traditionalist about this. It is simply amateur hour where someone is not trying to meaningfully work through something, but just shout and scream and display outrageous outrage. In this challenging environment, faithful traditionalists are going to be marginalized. It would help if we didn't give the enemies of the cross inside and outside the Church any extra ammo.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Welcome Mark Shea Readers, Prepare to Hate Me

I see my traffic had quite a spike, and its due to Mark Shea being kind enough to provide a link to my work as a "Breath of Fresh Air."  I'd like to thank Mark for that.  The two of us have our differences, but we can do business.  Here's why.

Friday, October 11, 2013

No Reason to Convert?

The Catholic blogosphere has been ablaze lately by an individual named Steve Skojec, who wrote a work expressing concern for a lot of what has been happening since the election of Pope Francis.  I like Mr. Skojec.  Long time readers of my work will know that back in the day, the two of us did work together.  We were part of the same group of traditionalists, and a lot of my writing in 2004-2005 was influenced through discussions of the group he helped organize.  (I recently touched base with Hilary White again who also was in that group, and who went on to become a lot more successful and brilliant than all of us combined.)  Though it has been some time since we spoke, back then we were on good terms.  (There was no nasty parting.  We went onto different things, my different things just involved not writing/blogging for almost 6 years.)

I'm not really going to comment on much of Mr. Skojec's work.  I think Simcha Fischer should be a lot more careful when writing on traditionalist issues.  (Reference her remark before that if you hang out among trads, you will eventually find an Anti-Semite, an idea no doubt curious to 99% of traditionalists and the non-trads who consort with them!)  This was another example.  Mr. Skojec's concerns are not that of a "rigorist."  They are that of a concerned Catholic, even if he is mistaken and probably spoke in the wrong venue.  If anyone wants to see what I think of the concerns he raises, one can see my thoughts on the other Francis interviews.  The only thing I will comment on is the following:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Courage to Screw Up

We Catholic writers and bloggers are a bunch of narcissists sometimes.  Seriously.  We tend to think the world revolves around us, that what we talk about is what everyone else is talking about, and is obviously the most important thing facing the Church today.  We also treat things as cosmic events, and every time we go out evangelizing or doing apologetics someones eternal soul is on the line, and could very well be damned by our inaction.  It's a nice romantic picture, and sometimes might motivate people to take the business seriously.  There's only one problem:  chances are it is completely false.  I think this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he called it "solemn nonsense."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why There is a Crisis

Kevin O'Brien wonders just what is going on with the Church we love? He is one of the few bloggers really asking that question with sincerity. Many still deny there is much of a crisis, and if there is one, it can be fixed by tinkering at the edges.

Less talked about in all of this mess is the relation of it to the interview Pope Francis gave, which everyone sees as a shifting in emphasis on how the Gospel is presented. Everyone whines and complains, but the two are intimately related. Quite simply, our moral message means squat in the eyes of the world right now. It isn't because of the liberal media as we like to delude ourselves into thinking.

We haven't figured out how to adjust to the sex abuse scandals that are still ongoing. How can we expect our priests to be taken seriously when talking about Christ when this kind of stuff is rampant? We told ourselves the lie "this happens on average less in the Church then in secular professions." For crying out loud people, secular professions aren't the Bride of Christ and don't have the salvation of souls as their goal!  We tried tinkering at the edges. That didn't work.

Things like the abuse crisis are also why I'm deeply skeptical a renewed emphasis on "collegiality" and local governance of the Church is really the solution to the problem we face. How would this help solve the current abuse crisis and future crises? If it were in place during all this abuse, we have to concede there is a very real possibility the situation would have been worse. One of the reasons Benedict put the CDF in charge of the abuse crisis is because the locals weren't getting it done, and were making it worse. The CDF had no theoretical competence in this manner, it was just an organization that Benedict knew and trusted could be of some use. In some instances it was. In some, it clearly could have done more, and we need to learn from that.

I'm not going to pretend to have an answer. The scary part is that the only answer is that of time: over time, by the grace of God and with sufficient prayer, this wicked and perverse generation who did these acts will pass, and a better generation will take their place. That's all I got, and it is cold comfort to victims of abuse, and individual Catholics who see the moral message of the Church undercut not by Rome, but by these guys. Francis simply realized what was already true: nobody is listening to us right now.

Don't worry, I'm not going all dystopian now. I still have a lot of hope my generation when it comes to Catholicism. I still have hope that the next generation will find a way to bring authentic Catholic Social Teaching to the world, placing our robust pro-life message in greater context. But we individual Catholics need to wake up to the world around us, and stop blaming the world and the media for our present state, when we did more damage to ourselves than they could ever dream of doing.

Traditionalists and the Incarnation: New CL Column

Over at Catholic Lane today we discuss ways in which the Traditionalist movement (especially the Extraordinary Form of Mass which is at the center of our spirituality) can help us to ponder deeper the central mystery of our faith: The Incarnation. In the next few weeks you will see a lot more of stuff like this there.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Proselytism, Conversion, and a bunch of other "Solemn Nonsense"

I am frequently asked for my opinion on Pope Francis from my friends. Through it all, I've given roughly the same response each time.

I am deeply skeptical of the idea that the Church has a fevah and the only solution is more collegiality, just as I am deeply skeptical that the solution to a problem centuries in the making is the "real teachings" of one Ecumenical Council. This is simply a difference in approach upon which Catholics can disagree and have a good spirited debate.

All this being said, I still find myself fascinated by a lot this Pope does, even if I have some disagreements here and there. He has a far better grasp of the problems facing the Church and the world today than people give him credit for, and perhaps we should listen when he speaks.

Part of this fascination came from the recent interview Pope Francis conducted with an atheist. When the atheist asked if the purpose of the meeting was to "convert him", the Holy Father responded with the following:
Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas.
For some of my traditionalist brethren, this was yet more proof that Pope Francis is a modernist. For some "conservatives", the knots they twisted themselves into explaining things were laughable, when deep down it was clear they didn't like what he said and rejected it. Their attempts at harmonization failed not because of the Pope, but because they have an incorrect understanding. Pope Benedict said it best when he said the following:
The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction“- just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.
Now that we've established Francis isn't saying anything new, some will say "Kevin, it's a shame when people need to come out and explain what the Pope really means, that means there is a problem." In many instances, they would be correct. But here, the problem doesn't come from ambiguity. Speaking bluntly, it comes from the fact that the majority of today's commentators and Catholic thinkers are deeply ignorant of the Gospel and how the Bible says we should spread it. What follows will be long, and it is a shame that we need to go over Catholicism 101 with so many "educated" Catholics, but blame the horrible crisis in catechesis, even amongst more traditional circles.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guilty Pleasure Watch

I'm enjoying all the "mainstream" bloggers admitting they have been out of bounds in their interpretation of Pope Francis.  At least we are no longer hearing about how it is only "radical evangelical catholic reactionary miserly jansenistic traditionalists" (RECRMJT!) are the problem when it comes to this pontificate.

What's also interesting is that I as a traditionalist were telling them to calm down and realize that the Pope's words were less worse than they made it out to be, and in some instances, they were actually pretty insightful.

So seeing "Janet Smith and Fr. Longenecker Gratitiously Bash Pope" and "traditionalist defends Francis" is kind of a bizarro world, but I'm amused nonetheless.

Yesterday's post was modified a little bit and thrown up on Catholic Lane.

In the end, being a newlywed with a pregnant wife helps.  I'm too busy actually living life to pop off and say something stupid online.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reading Francis Through..... Leo XIII???

Here we go again. 

Pope Francis gave another shoot interview (1), and already everyone is screaming. The Pope endorses moral relativism! The Pope says we should no longer try to bring people to Christ and His Church! The Pope says unemployment is a bigger evil than abortion! I'm not going to focus on the first two. Fr. Z covers the first one sufficiently. As for the other, the only people who really think that are those who have never actually done apologetics or evangelizing to begin with. (Hint, if your goal in these endeavors is to convert people, you are going to have a really low rate of success. I will probably expand on this later) It is the third one I have an interest in. 

This is the following statement everyone seems to be freaking out about.
The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing. 
Your Holiness, I say, it is a largely a political and economic problem for states, governments, political parties, trade unions.
 "Yes, you are right, but it also concerns the Church, in fact, particularly the Church because this situation does not hurt only bodies but also souls. The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies."
Everyone seems to be focusing a lot on the bolded part, and, par for the course, ignoring everything else quoted. He's talking to an atheist. He says that at this moment, the biggest danger is not just unemployment and loneliness, but rather what they signify. What good is a society if they can't take care of their elderly, and also cannot provide any hope for the future? Everyone is stuck in the tyranny of the present, which is a very nasty and brutish tyranny. When Peter gave the Gospel, he didn't call for people to save themselves from events that already happened or from the world to come, but to save ourselves "from this wicked and perverse generation." (Acts 2:40) The world hasn't changed much in 2,000 years. If all we have to live for is the present, then things pretty much suck for the young and the old. Society has always mitigated that by providing for the elderly, and offering hope for the young that they can advance. 

That really isn't the case anymore.  (If it ever was to begin with.) The Global Financial Collapse of 2008 changed everything. Unemployment has become nearly permanent for the youth, and across the globe the elderly have mostly been abandoned by their families. (Or worse yet, euthanasia.) To make things worse, the young and the elderly realize this. My generation isn't optimistic about the future. They are downright dystopian about it, because for many of them, there isn't any hope to advance in their life. As many governments have enacted austerity in the wake of the crisis, the elderly have frequently been a casualty, as their personhood is reduced to numbers in an acturial table. If you happen to be elderly and poor, well good luck. 

In such a situation, it is next to impossible for the Gospel to take root. People won't look to an eternal home when they don't have much a chance of surviving in the present. Many will say this isn't the Churches business, as these are primarily political and economic concerns, not those of the Church which are spiritual. Francis rightly rejects this line of thought, insisting that the damage unleashed by these forces impacts not just bodies and political states, but first and foremost it impacts souls. In these words, one finds an echo of Leo XIII in that most splendid of papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum.
Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure -- twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance; it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance.
Mankind has abandoned the Gospel, and as a result, has abandoned the things which society depends on. Secular society has tried for centuries to come up with an alternative to the Church in promoting the welfare of society. So far, it has failed miserably. This is becuase the Catholic Church has a unique experience in this manner. She has rich and poor members, and must always look out for their well being, even (and especially) when governments don't. Leo spends paragraphs 27-42 talking about how the Church more or less achieved this balance throughout history, and offered suggestions for how nation states could do the same. (Go ahead, read them. Seriously. If you take nothing else from this rant, take Leo XIII's words!) 

Here's the depressing part, and something I don't think Catholics have really come to terms with. One of the reasons the Church was able to be such a balance was because she had extensive networks built up throughout society to help the poor, restrain the avarice of the rich, and use a leveling power to bring the two together. Almost all of those institutions are gone due to the Crisis in the Church of the last five decades. Nobody can afford them anymore. In other manners of social assistance, even most Catholics are free to let the welfare state help the poor instead of their own networks. Here in America, the last bastions of those old networks (Catholic hospitals) are now faced with closing their doors unless they violate their religious belief. As these institutions have disappeared, so has the Churches moral voice in society. Without that voice, the state has only been too happy to substitute its own wisdom, and the results ain't too pretty. Is it any wonder that such a nasty and brutish society has abortion as its primary sacrament? Is it any wonder that in such a society, the primary target of the world is the nuclear family, the only institution that can begin to fix this mess? Communism and materialism haven't fixed these problems, they've only made them worse. 

I don't know if this is the Pope's message or not. I also am not going to say I am optimistic about what can be accomplished by this Pope. (Hint: Even a fantastic superpope is only going to make a small dent in this problem. Leo XIII could be credibly called one of those, and the problem he saw coming in the 1890's came anyways.) I do think he has a keener understanding of socities problems than many are giving him credit for.

---- 1.) In Pro Wrestling, a "shoot" interview is where somebody breaks from the script and says what is really on their mind.