Wednesday, July 31, 2002

How many scandals are too many?

I had this thought the other day, and since I have a blog, every thought must be published! Here it is: there have been lots of people recently who claim that they just can't belong to a church which has so many abusive clerics. But what if there were only one priest who abused a child? Would that be enough to get you out of the Church? How about two? Three? If not three, then maybe ten? How about fifty? If one isn't enough, then how come fifty or a hundred is enough? Where is the limit? If one scandal is not enough to destroy your faith, but a hundred is enough, then we can put a value on your faith. John Doe's faith is strong enough to withstand 49 scandals, but no more. Mary Jane's faith can only withstand 10 scandals.

But faith is not a deal made with God: "I'll believe in You and follow You as long as less than 49 of Your ministers don't betray me!" It is a personal relationship with God which involves putting all of one's eggs into God's basket. We accept the free gift of salvation from God. But like all gifts, we can't put conditions on it. We can't say to Grandma that she can give us Christmas presents as long as it's an electric train and not a sweater. We just have to accept what we are given. We can't have faith in God and then reject it if difficulties arise. It would be bad manners. It wouldn't really be faith.

Juan Diego is to be canonized today

You can watch it on EWTN. Deo Gratias!

Further evidence we live in a warped culture

The new Reader's Digest describes Susan Sarandon (age 55) as "Still sexy as ever!" If I were a 55 year-old woman, I would much rather be recognized for intelligence, wit, charm, perhaps beauty, hopefully sanctity, but not "sexiness."

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Upon reflection

Perhaps my post on Leon Panetta is a bit shrill in tone. Maybe the bishops have some good reason for appointing pro-partial-birth abortion politicians to their National Review Board. I wish someone would explain it to me.

What are you doing reading me when Emily Stimpson has this wonderful post?

Raider Girls and Human Nature

I got up this morning and flipped on ESPN to check out baseball trade reports. My favorite team, the White Sox, are currently conducting a fire sale. While I was watching, commercials for a show called "The Season" came on, in which a bunch of scantily-clad young lovelies bounced across the screen. ESPN will be showing a documentary on women who try out to be Raiders cheerleaders. I needed to avert my eyes. There have also been commercials on Fox for a new series that consists of nothing, so far I as I can tell, other than fast cars and softcore pornography.

In philosophy classes I would bring up the sexual content of television and ask whether it was a good thing or not. I argued that due to the fact that human beings have settled dispositions of character, or habits, which are acquired by the actions we do, that watching such things could be damaging. In other words, if chastity is a virtue, one needs to act chastely in order to make that virtue a habit, to become chaste. The constant exposure to sexually licentious material can be very damaging to one's character. If I sit and watch Raider girls, I am likely to do more than experience aesthetic appreciation of their dancing skills; I am probably going to start thinking unchaste thoughts.

The response from the students in class was something like this: "You can't blame TV for how people act. People are going to do what they want to do. TV doesn't make people bad." In other words, the content of entertainment has no effect on character. This is why someone like Britney Spears can produce explicit teasing videos but still can preach virginity to teen girls: the videos don't affect the behavior of the girls, Miss Spears probably thinks. People will do what they do, and what they see won't change that. Very few of the students were willing to admit that some content should be censored, and they defended their opinion by erecting a brick wall between entertainment content and human behavior.

But this wall can't stand. I asked the students how many of them wore Nike shoes. About 75% of the class raised their hands. Did they research shoes and find out that Nikes were the best? Of course not. They saw Nike advertisements, and the content of the ads changed their behavior. If Nike ads can change behavior, then why not a sexually charged music video or a documentary on Raiderettes? Advertising clearly works, which is why so many millions of dollars are spent on it. What we see does affect what we do.

The consequence of this is that those who work in the entertainment industry ought to exercise restraint. Yes, one can make more money by showing a bit of skin, but there will be damage done to the viewers.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Leon Panetta? Shame on you bishops!

Kathryn Jean Lopez has written an article on the appontment of pro-late-term abortion Leon Panetta to the U.S. bishops' oversight committee. She quotes a letter that Panetta wrote to a constituent on the subject of abortion. Panetta relies on an old Jesuit ethicist named Austin Fagothey, who said: A state, especially the pluralistic state of today, must operate within the framework of popular consensus. The argument for the immorality of abortion, the theory of rights on which it rests, and the philosophy underlying the ethics there outlined is not accepted by a large part of the population. I can be convinced of it beyond the shadow of a doubt and steer my own life by it, yet be unable to convince my fellow citizens of my views. Do I then have the right to impose my philosophical convictions any more than my religious convictions on others who disagree with me? I think not, and this is the reason why I think there should be no laws on abortion. I believe the best way to cope with abortion is not by punitive legislation but by a persuasive program of moral education aimed at building up a respect for life.

This is blatant idiocy. We are supposed to refrain from legislating about certain things because not everyone agrees that abortion is wrong. How many people have to agree that a law is needed before we can make a law? 100%? If we need to wait until 100% agree that abortion is wrong, we won't need the law. How about 51%? 43%? 10%? When does it become permissible to make such a law?

The idea that we can't legislate morality is also ludicrously stupid. We legislate morality all the time: there are laws against murder, fraud, perjury, and any number of other morally bad acts. Fagothey and Panetta are working from the notion that morality is a simple matter of taste, something like preferring vanilla to chocalate ice cream. Who am I to impose my love for vanilla on the chocalate-lovers? But destroying life in the womb is not a matter of taste. There is an objective reality here: the child who is killed, the mother who kills her child, the doctor who takes her money to kill it, and the father who approves. These are moral realities, and no difference of opinion on the rightness of abortion can make these terrible acts right. Wrong actions have bad effects whether we know they are wrong or not. A child who sticks his hand in a fire will be burned, whatever his opinions on the power of the fire to burn him. Those who participate in the abortion will be terribly damaged, whether or not they know the wrongness of the act. Legislation to prevent abortion is not the "imposition of philosophical views," but is an act of charity to prevent people from ruining their lives by committing a horrible crime that will affect their lives for the worse forever.

Fr. Fagothey should have had his teaching faculties revoked for this sort of poppycock that allows pro-abortion Catholic politicians to take cover. This is what Ex corde ecclesiae would have stopped, were it ever implemented. Perhaps the fact that Panetta is on the panel gives a clue why the bishops won't reign in the Catholic schools: they don't want to! Too many of the bishops do not accept the authoritative teachings of the Church, and so see Leon Panetta, notorious abortion promoter, as a perfectly acceptable person to be on a panel to protect children.

Note to the bishops: if you need practicing Catholics to serve on a panel to make sure that you are complying with your policy on priestly sex abuse, may I nominate Amy Welborn or Emily Stimpson or any of the numerous members of St. Blog's?

Friday, July 26, 2002

The Holy Spirit isn't the only spirit that speaks

Garry Wills has been ubiquitous recently, promoting his new book Why I am a Catholic. Generally his arguments are that since a sufficiently large number of the Catholic laity believes X, then the Church ought to teach X. For example, in a recent interview in the Boston Globe, he says Catholics have now reached a very large consensus that on certain things, the Vatican is simply nutty. To say that women cannot be priests because they don't look like Jesus is nutty. It's nutty to say, as the Vatican does, that a husband who is HIV-positive, and loves his wife, cannot use a condom. Catholics have no problem recognizing that it is nutty, and that hasn't disturbed their faith over the last 30 years, so I don't think their faith will be disturbed now. In other words, if enough people think it is crazy, the Church ought to change. In another recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Wills claimed that women would be ordained soon, because "The Spirit is talking."

His thinking is based on a false understanding of a theological concept called the sensus fidei, which Lumen Gentium explains:"The whole body of the faithful. . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals." Folks like Wills and his allies take this to mean that if the body of the faithful shows general consent on something, such as the use of contraception or women priests, then this consent must be evidence of the supernatural sense of the faith, or in other words "The work of the Holy Spirit."

But notice the definition is more restrictive than that. All it means is that the whole Church won't fail, and that if the whole Church believes something, we can be sure it is true. Pope John Paul II has a wonderful explanation of this concept of sensus fidei in his exhortation to Christian families, Familiaris Consortio. According to the Pope, the sense of the faith gives the Church the ability to discern the truth about theological matters. But this discernment doesn't come from a mere taking of a poll: it is the work of the whole Church according to the diversity of the various gifts and charisms that, together with and according to the responsibility proper to each one, work together for a more profound understanding and activation of the word of God. We don't count heads (64% for birth control? Then repeal Humanae Vitae!), but we use discernment, judgment done by the appropriate people in the appropriate ways. The pope adds, and this is most important, Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion. Yes, opinion polls can be useful tools for bishops, but they are not the ultimate determinant. Rather, we always discern according to the rule of faith, and the most proper guardians of the faith, despite all their failings, are the bishops.

It is a very grave mistake to take majority opinion to be the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit talks, certainly, but he always speaks through the Church Christ founded. The spirit that speaks through majority opinion may very well be the spirit of the age, the rince of this world, who Jesus says was a murderer from the beginning.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Two Old Priests

I was watching EWTN today and saw the pope speaking to the young. As he was speaking, a little river of saliva dripped out of his mouth. Without stopping his speech, the pope reached up with a cloth and wiped his face, while he continued. He looked like any other 82 year old man. He should have been at home resting, but here he was in Toronto, bringing the hope of Christ to the world. No-one would blame him if he stayed in Rome. But he has a duty to fulfill, and he is doing so, heroically.

I saw Fr. Ray at daily Mass today. Fr. Ray recently celebrated his fiftieth anniversary as a priest. He is a small, frail, old man. Today he concelebrated and read the gospel. After reading the gospel, the priest or deacon is supposed to lift the book and say "The gospel of the Lord." Fr. Ray cannot lift the book easily. In order to lift it, he has to pull the book down a little over the edge of the lectern. Then he pushes down with a sharp movement in order to rotate the book off the lectern. Quickly he has to shift his arms to get them underneath in order to have leverage to lift the book. The entire procedure looks painful. No-one would blame him if he left the book on the stand. But there is a right way to do things, and Fr. Ray is apparently willing to sacrifice his comfort in order to say Mass correctly.

I think the witness of both these old priests speaks for itself.

My wife is reading the Little Flower's book

Her reaction so far to St. Therese's writings is, "I'm nothing like she is."

Me neither.

Voice of the Faithful is all about power, power power

VOTF has set up a fund, the Voice of Compassion, to allow Catholics who don't like Cardinal Law to donate money to the poor without going through the diocesan administration. On the surface this may seem to be a good thing--after all, who wants his money to go to paying abuse settlements? But upon closer view, this becomes clearly a power grab.

Just the other day, the VOTF brought their money to the archdiocese, and said, in effect, "You can have this money, but you can't spend it on administration, development, or indirect costs of the charities." In other words, there are strings attached. Here are the details from their website:

- 90% of net donations will be distributed, on a quarterly basis, to the Archdiocese of Boston to support ministries traditionally funded by the Cardinal’s Appeal. The distribution will occur after receipt of detailed information regarding the expected allocation of the funds, which will be in the same proportion that the total cost of each program is to the total cost of all supported ministries. However, the funds will be applied only to direct costs of these ministries, not to their indirect costs or to development or general administrative expenses of the Archdiocese.

- The Archdiocese will be asked to provide to NCCF an accounting of the use of the distributed funds. If adequate information regarding the use of the funds is not made available, distributions will instead be made to Catholic Charities. If Catholic Charities does not accept the donation, NCCF, in consultation with VOTF, will determine the distribution of the assets to Catholic programs in the Archdiocese such as lesser-advantaged parish schools and programs for women religious.

So the archdiocese can have the money as long as they don't spend it on the costs of running the archdiocese. It reminds me of the old western: "I'll let you live, but you gotta dance first. Now dance! " The cardinal quite properly rejected the money. Imagine what would happen if Cardinal Law did take the money: there would be a precedent of targeted donations. Who wants his or her donation to be used to pay administrative costs? We all want our money to go directly to the poor. Nobody wants to pay for salaries. If we can all earmark our donations, we all would, and there would be no money to run the diocese. Whatever you think of Cardinal Law, he has a duty to the archdiocese and to his successor not to make it impossible to run the archdiocese.

There is no need for this Voice of Compassion fund. If you don't want to give to the Cardinal's Appeal, don't. Give your money directly to the charities themselves. Don't take a bag of money to the cardinal and say "You want it? You can have it if you surrender power to us!"

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Giving compliments where they are due

Recently I have been running to morning Mass. It is about 2.5 miles away, and so makes for a good 5 mile run. The priests at the parish, St. George in Tinley Park IL, have tended recently to take their homilies from the Office of Readings. If you don't know, the Office of Readings is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily prayer of the Church. All priests and deacons are obliged to say this prayer, which consists of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer (Vespers), Daytime Prayer, Office of Readings, and Night Prayer. The various "hours" consist of psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, intercessory prayers, and the Our Father. The Office of Readings has longer readings from Scripture and from Church Fathers and the saints. The laity are also encouraged to pray these prayers, which have their root in the temple prayer of the Jews. Aquinas called the psalms the gymnasium of the soul, and Jesus himself prayed the psalms daily. We have evidence in his words on the cross, "My God My God why have you forsaken me?" which is from Psalm 22. If you want to get started saying the prayers, you can buy the books in a Catholic book store, or you can get started at the Universalis website. It is a bit complicated, but well worth the effort.

Back to St. George: they have been taking daily mass homilies from the Office of Readings. This is a wonderful practice. There is so much treasure in the teachings of the Church, many of which are present in the daily office. Today, for example, is the feast day of St. Bridget of Sweden. The office includes her wonderful prayerful reflection on the passion of Christ. So the priest mentioned the life of Bridget and the prayer she wrote in the homily. On the way out of the church, the assistant pastor was handing out xeroxed copies of the prayer. What a wonderful thing! The priests care so much about the spiritual life of their parishioners that they take the time to make copies of a prayer of a great saint and hand them out.

Bravo to St. George parish.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Should the faithful vote for bishops?

Sure! But who are the faithful?

Bishops such as Augustine and Ambrose were named by popular acclaim in their cities, and both turned out to be giants of the Church. But here is the problem: in those days, membership in the Church was still somewhat of a scary and dangerous thing. The pagan persecutions of the past had recently been overcome, but the Arian heretics still had political power. Being a Catholic was perilous. What this means is that the faithful, those who self-identified as Catholic, were much more likely in the fourth century actually to believe what the Church teaches, and therefore were also more likely to be good judges in who would make a good defender of that faith. Why would you be Catholic if it could get you killed or exiled (as Athanasius was) if you didn't believe the Catholic faith?

But now, there are no persecutions or political pressure on Catholics. You can call yourself Catholic without any fear of public reprisal. You also don't need to believe anything in order say you are a Catholic, as the Church enforces no penalties. There are lots of Catholic politicians and entertainers who push for abortion rights and sexual "freedom." Less than one quarter of Catholics believe in the teachings of the Church. Would you be comfortable with them voting for a new bishop?

If Voice of the Faithful was really the voice of the faithful, it would be fine. However, if the group represents a cross-section of average Catholics in America, then we should be leary of it.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

I've added links to some of my better postings on the left.
If you are a new reader, go take a look. You will have to scroll through the page to find the article. As always, comments are welcome!

Friday, July 19, 2002

Even the Devil can quote Vatican II documents for his purposes

Steve Mattson (whom you should read) quotes an article by Fr. McBrien in Tidings on the Voice of the Faithful. McBrien argues that VOTF is a good thing, as it fulfills the supposed goals of Vatican II to have the laity take part in Church governance. In fact, he says "the hopes of Vatican II will never be fulfilled without the direct and meaningful involvement of laity in the life and mission of the Catholic Church." By "meaningful" one should understand that McBrien means for the laity to be in charge of the bishops, in other words for the laity to take on the role of ruling.

Fr. McBrien then quotes some documents of Vatican II to support his case, which is good. Most often, people will cite the amorphous "Spirit of Vatican II" without giving sources. However, McBrien quotes these documents in misleading ways. He points out the parts of the documents that call for the laity to participate actively in the sanctifying mission of the Church, but leaves out the parts that specify the obligations of the laity.

For example, he quotes the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, n.10, which says that "the laity have an active part to play in the life and activity of the Church." [McBrien doesn't capitalize "church," as it should be. Perhaps he is talking about some other church than the Catholic Church?] But McBrien leaves out quotes such as n.24: "But no enterprise must lay claim to the name 'Catholic' if it has not the approval of legitimate ecclesiastical authority."

McBrien quotes the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, n.31, on how the laity is also charged with the threefold mission of Christ to teach, rule, and sanctify. But he leaves out n.37 on the obedience that the laity is the show: "Like all Christians, the laity should promptly accept in Christian obedience what is decided by the pastors who, as teachers and rulers of the Church, represent Christ. In this they will follow Christ's example who, by his obedience unto death, opened the blessed way of libery of the sons of God to all men." So obedience is a holy duty for the laity, by which we imitate Christ, who perfectly obeyed the saving will of God the Father.

Finally, McBrien quotes the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, n.9, on the duty of parish priests to listen to their parishioners and to strive to collaborate with them. But he leaves out the part on the obligations of the laity to their priests: "They should treat them with filial love as being their fathers and pastors."

One must be very careful whenever one encounters Fr. Richard McBrien. He is very skilled at making himself seem to be just another faithful priest, but he is no such thing. He uses every opportunity available to him (and they are many, as he is always on the television screen) to tear down the Mystical Body of Christ and replace it with the Elected Body of Man. But we must always remember that the Church is not a democracy, but rather is a monarchy with Christ as the King. We have the current hierarchical structure, as unwieldy and difficult as it may be, because Christ set it up that way. The apostles (sinners all) were entrusted with the role of governing the Church in order to safeguard the precious truths handed on to them by Jesus. If we undergo the kind of structural change supported by McBrien and intimated by the mission statement of VOTF, "Keep the faith, change the church," we will not keep the faith. The faith only comes to us by the Church. If we change the Church, making it more democratic or responsive to the modern age, we run the risk of losing our faith.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

If you are a priest and want to be a saint, hear confessions daily!

I have done an unscientific survey of priests who have been canonized, and one thing that they all have in common is that they were known as good and holy confessors. One does not get such a reputation just by hearing confessions for half an hour on Saturdays: these saints heard them every day. For example. St. Phillip Neri had a reputation as a holy confessor. Likewise for St. Joseph Cupertino, who incidentally is the patron of air travel, since he used to levitate during Mass. St. John Neumann learned French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and even Gaelic so that he could hear confessions. St. Louis de Montfort encouraged confessions. Finally, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day in the confessional.

If I have any priestly readers, they ought to think: what would these saints think of the current Catholic practice of confessions only on Saturday for 45 minutes? If you want to be a saint, as we all should, then you should seriously consider hearing confessions every day. Let me suggest something simple: go sit in the confessional for half an hour every day before daily Mass. If no-one comes in, read the office, say a rosary, or even take a nap. But go sit in the room. You have been given a great gift, the ability to absolve sins, and you should use it. Gifts are given to be used.

Confessions on Saturdays would be fine if people only sinned on Saturday morning. What if someone commits a mortal sin on Sunday? He has to wait a week for the opportunity to confess it. Perhaps he feels ashamed, and doesn't want to ask a priest to hear his confession. After all, the devil works through shame. "Don't bother the priest. Why must you be such a bother?" The line about confessions being available "by appointment" is often not true. So consider that poor person who commits a grave sin on Sunday. All week he must wait, and perhaps he becomes hardened in his sin. His pride tells him that it can't be that bad. He would have confessed it the next day if he could have, but after waiting a week, he may even forget. It may be weeks and weeks before he confesses it. Meanwhile the life of sanctifying grace is dead in his soul, and should he die, he will go to Hell. Confessions on Saturday would be fine if people only died on Saturday night.

In the apostolic age, great miracles occured as people were raised from the dead and cured of all sorts of diseases. You as a priest today might complain that you don't get to work such miracles. Consider what blessed Josemaria Escriva says of the miracles that priests can do:Today too blind men, who had lost the ability to look up to heaven and contemplate the wonderful works of God, recover their sight. Lame and crippled men, who were bound by their passions and whose hearts had forgotten love, recover their freedom. Deaf men, who did not want to know God are given back their hearing. Dumb men, whose tongues were bound because they did not want to acknowledge their defeats, begin to talk. And dead men, in whom sin had destroyed life, come to life again. We see once more that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword." And just as the first Christians did, we rejoice when we contemplate the power of the Holy Spirit and see the results of his action on the mind and will of his creatures.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Good news from the Divine Office
Psalm 68: "The Almighy has defeated a numberless army
and kings and armies are in flight, in flight
while you were at rest among the sheepfolds."

The Missing El Greco has been found

Thanks to one of my readers, the painting of Christ as a child walking with St. Joseph has been found. Keep in mind that the colors don't really come through your screen, and that the original painting is nine feet tall. As I said before, I stood looking at this picture and felt like tagging along. Don't they look like they are having fun? It makes me think of time with my own father. What a wonderful thing the Incarnation is!

MacIntyre on the brain

I've been reading a book by Alasdair MacIntyre recently, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?. MacIntyre is one of the smartest philosophers working today, and incidentally has recently become a Catholic. (I saw him at a liturgy after a conference a few years ago, and it was neat to see this intellectual giant of a man kneeling in the pews like a pious altar boy.) He is of the opinion that modern moral discourse is unintelligible because, although we use the same words, we don't mean the same things. For example, I would argue that a fetus has a right to life, whereas Patty Ireland would argue that she has a right to her own body. The two senses of "right" are different. I mean that the child has a right in that it deserves respect as a creation in the image and likeness of God, she means that she has a right in the sense of possession and use.

MacIntyre frames the primary issue of moral debate as a conflict between those who seek the good of effectiveness and those who seek excellence or virtue. Effectiveness means success, money, power, pleasure, economic stability. Excellence means duty, honor, temperance, magnanimity, the traditional virtues. Most moral talk these days has to do with effectiveness: how can we make more people happy? How can we give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number? If achieving this effectiveness requires that some excellence be compromised, so be it. Why should we worry about a president who lies about sexual relationships in the Oval Office if the economy is humming along? Effectiveness trumps excellence. The recent business scandals are another example: what if the accountanting shenanigans had not been discovered? The stock market would still be up, Enron and Worldcom would still be in business, and no one would care that the CEO's and accountants were liars and cheats. No harm, no foul, right?

Philosophically speaking, MacIntyre (and Plato and Aristotle) argues that it is impossible to give any coherent view of what effectiveness is without understanding its relationship to excellence. We see this in Mill: he develops his utilitarianism on the basis that pleasure is the highest good. But what if I can get lots of pleasure for you by the minimal pleasure of torturing someone to death in an arena? How do we judge between different pleasures? Without some understanding of the basic excellence of human beings, that is, how good pleasures are different from bad pleasures, we end up in a muddle. Mill himself imports Aristotelian ideas into his philosophy. His utilitarianism is not pure, for the simple reason that a pure utilitarianism would be anarchy.

Did Jesus propose goods of effectiveness or excellence? It is clear that Jesus proposes a virtue/excellence morality: we are to be perfect, as our Father is perfect. Jesus tells us to be good, he doesn't tell us to be successful. So folks like Rupert Everett, Andrew Sullivan, and many squishy bishops who propose that moral rules be changed, either to prevent the spread of a disease, to reduce shame, to increase collections, or to make the churches full again, miss the point completely. We are to do good no matter if the mountains fall, not because by doing good we will accomplish great things, but because by doing good we are acting like God. We may never achieve victory in this life. But we can do better. We can become Christlike.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Say it ain't so, Emily!

Emily Stimpson, who writes my favorite blog Fool's Folly, says that she is going to shut down the blog so she can concentrate on her graduate studies.

Take it from me, Emily: it is possible to get the highest degree in the land even if one has the attention span of a gnat. My entire career in grad school was a desperate search for something to distract me from my classes, my comprehensive exam, and my dissertation. No matter how much you love your topic, you will get sick of it, and you will need a sanity release. A half-hour of blogging a day should be just the ticket, enough to provide us Stimpson-philes with a fix, but not so much that you flunk out of school.

Thoughts on Rupert Everett and the "Middle Way"

Mi esposa and I were in Spain last week, and the only news we could get was the BBC. They reported on the World Aids Day in Barcelona, and give a snippet of comments from Rupert Everett, complaining that "for the Catholic Church, one is either a sinner or a saint. There is no middle way." The Church claims that abstinence is the only acceptable way to combat AIDS. But real people can't be expected to abstain from sexual activity; we can't all be saints. The Church needs to change, in order to conform to the weaknesses of human beings.

What folks like Everett want is more, however: rather than declaring sin to be an understandable and regrettable part of life, they want sin to be declared not to be a sin. All sorts of sexual activity are to be allowed simply because people desire and commit all forms of sexual activity. The reason that this is an attractive option is that it removes responsibility. If I have some habit that I can't conquer, it will be a great relief to me if someone were to say "Don't worry about the habit. It isn't bad after all." In the words of a popular song, if it makes you happy, it can't be that bad! Can't we just relax the sexual rules and make everyone happy?

No, we can't. The problem is that what is sinful is not a matter of personal choice. Sin belongs to the law of the universe created by God. Frank Sheed says that the law against adultery is every bit as solid and permanent as the law of gravity. We cannot just wave our hands and make a sinful activity benign. Homosexuality, a sin dear to Everett's heart, is wrong whether we want it to be or not. Such behavior is always damaging to the human person. Such a change in Church policy as Everett proposes would be like a town reducing the level of people running red lights by having all the traffic lights shine green all the time. Sure, there wouldn't be tickets for red-light running, but there would be lots of deadly accidents.

Finally, Rupert Everett is wrong to claim that the Church has two ways, that of sinners and that of saints. There is only one way, that of sinners striving to be saints. We must do our best to act in accord with God's law, knowing that we will fail, but also having a divine hope: there is forgiveness available! The difference between a sinner and a saint is not that one sins and the other doesn't. It is that the saint gets up after he falls, whereas the sinner stays down in the mud.

Here is a link to the BBC story, although it has been edited down to a mere nugget.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

A good introduction to Islam

I was poking around the web and found this site by Fr. Kenny, OP, a scholar who has done much work on Islam. It is a collection of answers to questions that Christians may have about Islam, and provides some answers to Muslim questions about Christianity. I have read most of it, and it seems wonderful. Please take a look. We all need to take seriously our missionary call, and that includes preaching the gospel to Muslims. We cannot just abandon a fifth of the world to Islam just because missionaries have not been very successful. We are all created for Christ, and that includes Muslims. The meaning of human life is to know Christ Jesus, no matter who we are.

I'm back from Spain

I have a new dream in life. My old dream was to get a job teaching philosophy at Christendom or Ave Maria. My new dream is to teach philosophy at the seminary in Toledo, Spain, so that I can go look at El Greco paintings every day. (I would still love Christendom or Ave Maria, bt they don't have El Greco.) If you don't know who El Greco is, go look at this. I saw it in person. The painting depicts the miracle that was supposed to have happened at the burial of Count Orgaz, where the mourners saw St. Augustine and St. Stephen bury the body, and an angel take up the soul to heaven. Note how the bottom half is strictly realistic, whereas the upper half of the painting shows the spiritual realm. Keep in mind that this painting is about twelve feet tall, and that the colors do not come throuh the monitor.

My favorite painting was a picture of Jesus and St. Joseph walking along as a father and son, but I cannot find this painting on the internet. I wanted to walk into the painting and join Jesus and Joseph, or maybe just run along happily behind them, listening to the conversation. If you don't like El Greco, you must be completely without taste and feeling.

I have lots of blogs stored up in my head, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

I'm going to Fatima (and Spain) for the next ten days,

and so will be on blogging hiatus. I thank all my loyal readers, and I hope you will check back when I start writing again. Perhaps I will keep a travelogue.

If you haven't been reading Steve Mattson, you should.

I had the pleasure of teaching him for a semester in seminary, and now have the pleasure of reading his almost-daily blogging. I think he is going to be a real treasure for his diocese.

Church government by the bishops is the worst possible system. . .

except for all the other ones. At least, that is my impression after reading this story cited on Amy Welborn's blog.

Monday, July 01, 2002

A Priceless Treasure

There have been many stories recently of various reform groups attempting to change the Church. Lots of people have taken the opportunity of the recent scandals to push for a radical transformation of the Church, especially in matters of doctrine. If only we had women priests, or allowed stable homosexual relationships, or got rid of celibacy, or allowed abortion and contraception, then all of the problems of the Church would evaporate.

What people don't realize is that the solutions would destroy the very Church that they want to save. Stop and think for a minute what our mother the Church really is: she is the sacrament of our salvation, and is the only means by which we can be sure to reach it.

Let me speak personally. I was probably a typical college student in that I left my faith behind. I was too smart for it. Those silly Catholics couldn't see all the problems in with their faith that I could see. I quit attending Mass for about three or four years, and started searching for some kind of truth. What was the world like without God?

If there is no God, there is no hope. Those who disbelieve in God because of the problem of evil have it wrong: evil doesn't disprove God, God disproves evil! Without God, evil is all there is. With God, there is salvation. A precocious young relative of mine (I think he is six) recently told his mother "If all this Jesus stuff is false, we are in big trouble!" He is duplicating my thoughts, only fourteen years early. As I sat in my apartment at graduate school trying to figure out what I ought to do with my life, it didn't seem to matter. Wherever I turned, life was nothing but darkness. It was just a matter of choosing which shade of darkness I preferred. I could do great things or terrible things or venal things in the world, but the world all ends in ashes, so what does it matter?

At this point, a light shone in the darkness. I had some friends who are ordinary Catholic believers, who used to drag me to Mass with them. I used to visit their family, and I discovered joy in their lives. (There is joy in my family as well, but I was too close to it to see it.) The father always calls his wife "my sweet angel," and there is a palpable love in the house. Or at least that was the way it seemed to me. I sat and thought, "What is the difference between these joyful people and miserable me?" The difference was that they had faith.

Thanks to the last vestiges of good catechesis in the 1970's, I had a good background in my faith, so that when I returned, I had something to return to. I dug up all the books I could find and read everything I could about the claims of the Catholic Church. Do you know what I found? The world is indeed a mess, and truth is very hard to find. In fact, if there is truth, it can only be in the Catholic Church.

Our faith claims that God so loved the world that he became man for our sake and died on the cross for our sins. He redeemed our debts and provided us fountains of grace called sacraments. If I do my part and stay in the state of grace, I can be assured that at my death, God will count me (as unworthy as I am) as one of his adopted sons. Furthermore, all the worthless activity of the present life takes on eternal value, since the whole world was created for the sake of the salvation and eternal beatitude of human beings.

How do I know any of this?

I only know that God became man for me because the Church tells me so. The bible speaks of Jesus, certainly, but the bible was compiled and written by members of the Church. But there is more. I know that I eat and drink the body and blood of Christ because I take them from a minister ordained into the valid apostolic succession preserved in the Catholic Church. I know that my sins are forgiven because the Church interprets the promises of Christ as entailing the sacrament of Confession. If it wasn't for the Church, I wouldn't know anything for certain! I wouldn't even have the bible.

How do I know that the Catholic Church is identical with the Church founded by God? I know this because it doesn't matter how hard someone looks: the Catholic Church has never taught falsehood in its official teachings. There is a remarkable, nay miraculous uniformity and consistency of teaching from the Church as preserved by the bishops of Rome. Pick any saint you want. Justin, Athanasius, Augustine, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas: they were all Catholics, and believed just as I believe today.

Why 'reform' destroys the Church

Those who seek to reform the Church by changing some part of her 2000-year-old patrimony of teachings will destroy her miraculous unity and consistency. If we ordain women, or allow homosexual behavior, or change the teaching on contraception, divorce, or abortion, then we will no longer be able to claim to be Catholic. Or rather, whatever Saints Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas were, they won't have been members of the same faith to which we belong. We will lose our historical continuity with Christ. We will all become schismatics or heretics, because we will no longer believe the faith that God himself handed on personally to St. Peter and the apostles. There will be no longer any reason to be Catholic rather than Episcopalian or Baptist or Lutheran.

We cannot change our core teachings. If we do, we lose sight of Christ, and we become ships without rudders, without any compass to help us get to the blessed shores of the Kingdom of Heaven.