Tuesday, June 11, 2002

I've added some links on the left
Check them out!
I made a comment about atheism and Catholicism the other day

One of my uncounted legions of readers makes some comments:

1. You said a few days back that the only intellectually reasonable
positions were Atheism and the Roman Catholic Church. I disagree as I think
Atheism is fundamentally irrational. It's a belief in the non-existence of
something else. Seems fruity to me. Agnosticism seems more reasonable -
that is to say that there might or might not be a God but that you have no
evidence to know.

Which is more irrational, atheism or agnosticism? I agree that atheism, defined as unbelief in the existence of God, seems silly to me. The heavens show forth the glory of God, as the psalms say, and the existence of God seems obvious. But it is possible that for someone with a morbid temperament, the existence of God is not so obvious. I am thinking of Sartre, who saw nothing but darkness when he looked at the world. For him, atheism was not irrational, but was a reasonable response to the way he saw the world. Perhaps he should have lightened up, or found a more cheerful girlfriend than Simone De Beauvoir. I don't think he was irrational to be an atheist, since the judgment fit his experience. Atheism is always a mistake, but isn't always irrational. I agree that if someone were to say "there is no God, and I can prove it," he is as foolish as I would be if I said "There is a Trinity, and I can prove it." But simply to say "I don't believe there is a God" is not irrational.

Agnosticism is a different story. The agnostic claims not to be sure of the existence of God. The way I see it, there are two sorts of agnosticism, the first of which is reasonable, and the second of which is the worst kind of silliness. One could not be sure of the existence of God, but be actively trying to figure out the truth of the matter. Such a person recognizes the importance of the question, and is working to solve it. This is an admirable state. But there is the agnosticism of those who don't know and don't care if there is a God. They are not sure, and use their lack of surety to justify their failure to search out the truth. In effect, they are saying that it doesn't matter if there is a God or not. This is a very silly state to be in. Pascal says somewhere that such people are like lemmings running towards a cliff. Isn't it crucial to how you lead your life whether there is a God or not?

Monday, June 10, 2002

Some thoughts about the 1961 document on seminary formation.

This document, which was supposed to be binding (and was never abrogated), was never enforced. Everyone knows that it prohibits homosexuals from being ordained. But among the other things that will disqualify a seminarian is that he "shows himself certainly unable to observe religious and priestly chastity, either because of frequent sins against chastity or because of a sexual bent of mind or excessive weakness of will, is not to be admitted to the minor seminary and, much less, to the novitiate or to profession." So those who screw around are not to be admitted, and those who are obsessed with sex are not admitted either.

Also, "any candidate who has a habit of solitary sins and who has not given well-founded hope that he can break this habit within a period of time to be determined prudently, is not to be admitted to the novitiate. Nor can a candidate be admitted to first profession or to renewal of vows unless he has really amended his ways." So those men with a habit of masturbation cannot be ordained.

Ok, stop and think about this. Men who are obsessed with sex, who can't keep it in their pants, or who cannot conquer habits of masturbation are not to be ordained. Ask yourself: how many men do you know who can pass these tests? You can look up statistics on these various behaviors yourself, since I don't want to link to the "self-love is good" websites that give out the statistics. But the percentage of men who engage in the "solitary sin" is very high.

My question: do we have any men left who can be ordained? Or rather, have we allowed the pool of potential vocations to be drastically reduced by our over-sexualized society? Try an experiment: flip channels once around the dial and see if it is possible to do it without coming across some borderline pornographic image. Try listening to a top-40 radio station for twenty minutes without hearing obscene lyrics. If you are a man, try driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on a summer day without having distracting thoughts about the women walking by.

We live in a world that presents sexual pleasure as the highest good. It is in the air we breathe. The question is, in such an environment, is it possible not to have a vocations shortage? The men who can navigate the minefield of modern culture without developing some sort of unchaste habits are probably quite rare. It is no wonder we don't have lots of vocations, and that we have lots of priests who are unable to live chastely: why should we expect them to be able to do what so many of us cannot do?

What can we do? I think that it is vital for those of us with children to guard their chastity. I think a good first step (we will see if I can do it) is to get rid of the television. Boys especially should be kept on a short leash. I don't think, for example, that boys ought to have their own rooms, since it is a breeding ground for unchaste behavior. Girls should be encouraged to dress modestly on account of boys' weakness, and should have drummed into their heads that having sex with boys won't make the boys love them. Change will be slow, but the vocation shortage can be conquered if we have a renewal of holiness. Part of that renewal of holiness is a renewal of chastity as a virtue, since without it we won't have a pool of candidates to be ordained.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us!

Sunday, June 09, 2002

I have a blogging block
and can't think of anything in particular to say. So I am going to give you a prayer from the end of the Paraclisis, which is a Byzantine liturgical prayer for times of great distress. I believe that recent months certainly suffice. The Byzantine Daily Worship book says that this office "consists in hymns of supplication to obtain consolation and courage. It should be recited in times of temptation, discouragement, or sickness." The last few months certainly are a time of discouragement for me, and I imagine it is true for many of you as well. Here is the concluding prayer:

Gracious Virgin, victory will come to those who put their trust in the strength of your arm, for we sinners who stoop with the wight of our sins have none before God to plead for us but you.

O Mother of God most high, we bend our knee to you: deliver your faithful servatns from every kind of trouble.

You are joy to the distressed, you are strength to the oppressed, you are food to those who sink into despair.

You console all the strangers, you support all the blind, and you come and visit all the sick. You are shelter to the weary, you are comfort to the crushed, you are heavenly assistance to the orphans.

You are the Mother of God most high, and so we pray to you: hasten, O immaculate one, and save your faithful servants!

In you is all my hope, O Mother of God: place me under the wings of your protection

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

If you are interest in the whole Office of Paraclisis, you can look here. It is an Orthodox monastery in England, and they appear to have a large collection of liturgical texts there. To make the prayers Catholic, just pray for the pope when the litanies pray for the bishop and patriarch.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

School's out for the summer
As you may know, I spent the last year teaching scripture and physics at a girls' high school. I am going to spend the next year attempting to write and publish some philosophy articles, so as to get a job teaching at a college. Getting the Ph.D. was the easy part!

One thought about high school students: character is about a million times more important than native intelligence. The students who want to learn almost invariably will learn, no matter what their intelligence. Those who don't want to learn won't, no matter how smart they are. So, although I am not yet a father, let me give some parental advice: try to be interested in learning. If you aren't interested in learning, pretend! Your kids desperately need to develop habits of inquisitive thought. They need especially to learn to read books. So turn off the television and read to them, or at least let them see you reading.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Why I am not blogging about the Scandal

I haven't written much about the Scandal recently, and don't intend to much in the future. The reason is mostly because it is a profoundly depressing subject, and I would rather find more cheerful topics to write about. It is also depressing to hear Catholic laity, some 90% of whom ignore Church teachings on sexuality and most other subjects, complaining about bishops and priests not being perfect, and offering "solutions" to the crisis, most of which would screw the Church up more. Remove the beam from your own eye! It is simply not the case that the laity are to any great degree better than the clerical class. We are probably worse! Calls for democratization of the Church are just silly.

Also, hopes are being fanned that somehow, Rome will "do something." The bad bishops and priests must be rooted out! But who is going to do it? Assuming the pope had the energy to devote himself to a crisis affecting 6% of the Church, disciplining bishops and excommunicating obstinate ones, what would happen? Schism, that's what! For all the complaints about the pope telling Catholics what to do or think, that is really all the pope can do. He can tell us what we ought to think or do, but he can't make us do it. And that applies to bishops as well. The disciplinary stick that the pope carries is a twig. To expect something dramatic to happen is probably a mistake.

A sense of Church history also makes the Scandal fade in importance a bit. Yes, it is a crucial issue for our times, but anyone who has read history knows that this is not the worst time ever for the Church, not even by a longshot. How would you like to have most of the bishops be heretical? Or the French Revolution outlawing the Church and confiscating all the property? Or three popes at once? Or a schism with half of Christianity leaving communion with the Vicar of Christ? Or the fall of Christendom in the Protestant Reformation? None of these scandals or catastrophes killed the Church, and this one won't either. Jesus promised the gates of Hell wouldn't prevail. This doesn't mean things won't be bad; they will. But keep calm. Christianity is like a book when one has read the last page first. We know that no matter what happens, God wins. So don't let the Scandal get you down or make you lose faith.

How will we get out of this problem? I don't think that anything dramatic is going to happen, or that someone will wave a magic wand and whisk us back to times when priests were good and the laity pious. It isn't going to happen that way. The only way out of this Scandal is through holiness. We need saints (another word for holy ones). But this doesn't mean waiting around for a new St. Francis. Look in the mirror: the saint we need is you. We all must cling closer to God, learn our faith, frequent the sacraments, raise our children up to God, pray, and defend the true teachings of Christ. We must be prepared to defend the faith whenever challenged, even when the challenging is done by a bishop or priest. Act in all charity, but remember that it is not charity to let falsehood go unanswered. If we are all saints, then the Church will shine like a jewel.

Concretely what does this mean? I will give a few examples. Encourage men to consider the priesthood. Don't just encourage the men who happen to be unmarried and pious at age 35: "You're not married, maybe you should be a priest." Rather, encourage the best of men to think about it, the ones that you think would make wonderful husbands and fathers. That is just what we need, men like the apostles who will evangelize the world, not milquetoast bachelors who got ordained because they can't do anything else. Also, when wacky things happen in your parish, stop them! Join committees, attend meetings, and speak up for the way things are supposed to be. When so-and-so says that we need to have dancing girls handing out lollipops at communion for the little kids, speak up. Lots of silliness happens at meetings that no-one attends. So make sure you attend. (This is a real white martyrdom, by the way.) Finally, evangelize the world. The Scandal is a golden opportunity: lots of people are talking about the Church who probably haven't talked or thought about religion for years. Use this chance to tell them about God, the sacraments, sin, grace, and redemption.

These are a few of my solutions. But since they aren't instant, and will take twenty years or more to bear real fruit, I have little to blog about concering the Scandal. So I am going to avoid the topic, at least until the meeting in Dallas.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Final grades are due tomorrow
So I won't be blogging too much. Scroll down a bit and read the stuff I wrote on ordination, if you haven't already.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

I met some young Franciscans yesterday
I was browsing in the Pauline Books and Media store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and had a nice conversation with Jose and Julio, who are entering the Franciscan order based at Marytown in Mundelein. The neat thing, in this age of late vocations, was that they were 20 and 21 years old.

They said they would pray for me, so I got that going for me.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Canon Lawyer with Good Thoughts
Taking the girlfriend for a test drive hurts the prospects of a marriage, which would come as no surpise to anyone, except that our society has gone completely mad on the subject of sex.

Everyone, repeat after me: "Sex is not the ultimate good of human life."

My parish has a new webpage!
Go look at Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Parish. Especially look at the pictures. If you ever in the Chicago area, stop on by. Liturgy starts at 10:00 am on Sunday. Drop me a note and I will show you around.
Is God a Sexist? Part II

In part I I tried to show that sex differences are both essential and willed by God. Now I will try to show what consequences arise from the fact that God became a man.

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, that he has two natures, a divine nature that is shared by the three persons of the Trinity, and a human nature which is proper to him. (In fact, the proper way to do the sign of the cross for Eastern Catholics is with the thumb, index, and second finger together to represent the Trinity, and the pinky and ring finger pointed back into the palm to represent the two natures of Christ.) But what does it mean for Christ to have a human nature? It means he was like us in all things but sin (Heb 4:15). So it is a theological rule that everything that is true about ordinary human beings is true about Jesus, except for committing sin. So what can we conclude? We all have a human intellect; so also does Jesus have a human intellect. We all have a human will; so also does Jesus have a human will. We all are subject to pain and death; so also Jesus was subject to pain and death. And so on. But there is an important and essential aspect of humanity that he also shares: every human being has a biological sex; so also for Jesus.

When we say "The Word became man" we don't mean that the second person of the Trinity put on a human suit, sort of like we can put on a gorilla suit. No, we mean that God became a man, a particular, historical, flesh and blood man. Not an androgynous hominid, but a human male, with all that this entails. The incarnation is a great mystery, but we cannot minimize it. Jesus became a man, born to Mary according to the flesh, of the tribe of Judah, descendant of King David. He had a particular height and weight, had teeth, skin, hair, internal organs just like any other man. In addition, he had male sexual organs. He was (and is, since he lives now) a human, but a human man.

The earliest and most dangerous heresies all tried to deny the incarnation. The question is "who was Jesus Christ?" The answers given were that he was a human given lots of grace from God (Arianism) or he was God wearing a human suit (Nestorianism) or that he didn't really have a human nature (Monophysitism) or a human will (Monothelitism) or that he wasn't the son of God at all, but was merely a great prophet. The way to distinguish the true Catholic faith throughout history is that it always teaches that Christ is both God and man, without minimizing either the divinity or the manhood.

So what does this have to do with the ordination of men only? A priest is one who takes the place of Christ, who acts in persona Christi in the mass. Now, of course all Christians when they are baptized have put on Christ, and should be living images of Christ. But the priest is a representative of Christ in a special way, because he is the one who "do[es] this in commemoration of me." The priest takes on the role of Christ in the Last Supper, and makes present the saving sacrifice of Christ at every mass. He is a sacramental symbol. As a child I was taught that a sacrament is an efficacious (effective) sign of grace. The priest in the mass is such an efficacious sign, but an efficacious sign of Jesus. He doesn't just symbolize Christ in the way that you or I can, in that we represent the love of Christ to others in our actions, but the priest represents Christ effectively, making him really and truly present, so that the bread and wine are no longer bread and wine, but the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

Now, symbols must be congruent with the reality they represent. We don't baptize in peanut butter, but in water, since water is an appropriate symbol. It represents the life-giving Spirit of God, as well as dying to sin (the original baptismal fonts looked like graves: one walked in one side, was submerged, died to sin, and rose up the other side, alive in Christ), washing, Noah's ark and the flood, crossing the Red Sea, and crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. The symbol is appropriate for the reality it represents. Similarly, a mass celebrated with Oreo cookies and milk just won't work, since it is bread and wine that symbolize and actually miraculously become the reality they symbolize, the body and blood of Christ.

In the mass, the priest is an efficacious sign of Jesus. So he must be appropriate to the reality he represents. But the reality is Christ, who is a human male, not a human female or an androgynous hominid. So it is more fitting that Christ be represented by a man. To say that a woman can act in persona Christi in the sacrifice of the mass could be seen as a denial of the masculinity and hence a denial of the incarnate humanity of Christ. Now, of course women put on Christ in baptism just as men do, but the conformity to Christ of the ordinary faithful is not the issue. It is the specific performance of a sacramental role in the liturgy that is at issue. To say that the sex of the person presiding at the Eucharist doesn't matter is like saying that we could baptize in ice cream, have cookies and milk instead of bread and wine at mass, or have a marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. To have priests be men is a continuous affirmation that God became man, that the Word was incarnate in a human being who was like us in all things, including having a biological sex. To have women priests would perhaps lead to a minimization of the incarnation, since it would be tantamount to saying that Christ's humanity is not important, or at least that a significant chunk of his humanity, his sex, is not important.

I want to sound a great big caveat lector. I am arguing by using the age-old theological technique of determining what is "fitting." It seems appropriate or fitting to have human males represent God, who became a human male, in the liturgy. But this is an a posteriori way of arguing. We must remember that human beings do not decide what the symbol for the sacrament is. It is God who decides. If humans could decide, then maybe we could baptize in soap, or peanut butter, or Chanel No. 5. We use water because Jesus told us to, in John 3:5. We marry men and women to each other because God told us in Genesis that man and woman cleave together and become one. We use oil for confirmation because oil is the traditional symbol of the Spirit of God, going back to the anointing of kings. So also we ordain men because Jesus ordained only men, and so did the apostles who followed him. We have to take the fact as given by God. All we can do as theologians (and I am an amateur theologian, at that) is try to explain why God did this. So there is no way I could start from scratch and give you a list of premises that lead to the conclusion: therefore only men can be priests. Rather I take the fact that God himself chose only men, and then try to figure out why. One reason why God may have done what he did is the appropriateness of having men symbolize Christ the man.

As always, comments, corrections, or disagreements are always welcome. More will be coming, including a reflection on the essential differences between men and women. (Hey Old Oligarch, I will be including Edith Stein.)

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Short Review of Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000 Year History

1) It is an entertaining and well-written book.

2) You should know that Crocker is not a historian. He doesn't read any original sources, but quotes other historians' work. If he quotes Leo the Great, for example, he won't cite the exact document of St. Leo, but rather will cite it "as quoted by so-and-so." So-and-so is usually Will Durant.

3) Ok, I will admit that the patriarch of Constantinople has spent most of his time either in heresy or schism over the centuries, but isn't there anything good to be said about the eastern Church? What about St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascene, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Gregory Nanzianzen, the desert Fathers, the Jesus prayer, the beautiful liturgy? When Crocker speaks of Vladimir choosing the Byzantine church for his people, he neglects to give the quote from his emissaries, who had visited the divine liturgy in Hagia Sophia: "We didn't know if we were in heaven or on earth." The liturgies of John Chrysostom and Basil are by themselves enough for us to speak well of eastern Christianity, no matter how schismatic and heretical it is.

4) The fall of Christendom was probably the greatest tragedy ever.

5) I remain convinced that if one thinks clearly, there are only two possible religions: atheism and the Catholic Church. Who that knows the history of Christianity could be a protestant?

Don't forget to pray for peace in India and Pakistan!

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Go read this, and then read this:

Is God a Sexist?

The discussion of whether or not women can be ordained tends to be negative: we can't do it because Jesus didn't do it, the apostles didn't do it, and the pope said in an infallible document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church can't do it. So it is not going to happen, ever. But arguments like this are ultimately unconvincing to many people because they only tell us of the legal fact that it is not going to happen. But they don't tell us the reasoning or justification for the fact. It is like asking "why do we drive on the right side of the street?" and getting the answer "because we don't drive on the left side." It is an answer, but not what the questioner is seeking. What is the why of it? In philosophical terms, what is the final cause? If we assume the Church is correct, and that God doesn't want women to be ordained, what is God after? What is the point of the restriction? Is God a sexist, or is it a case of the wisdom of God looking like foolishness to us?

I want to try to defend God on this score. Of course, I can't give an argument of premise A, premise B, therefore women can't be priests. Who can plumb the depths of God's wisdom? I wouldn't presume to try. In addition, Aquinas warns in the Summa Contra Gentiles that we shouldn't try to prove things we know only by revelation: it is not possible, and to do so only opens us up to ridicule. The proper job for philosophers in defending the faith is to show that although the given doctrine cannot be proven, neither is it ridiculous. So we get long explanations in the thirteenth century, not to prove the Real Presence, but to show that it isn't contrary to reason, just beyond reason; thus we get the word "transubstantiation." I am going to try to show that ordaining only males is not ridiculous or contrary to reason. I won't pretend to be able to give a precis of God's thinking on the matter.

  1. Does Sex Matter? What difference does a person's sex make? (Sex is the correct term: human beings have sex, nouns and adjectives have gender.) The conventional thinking is "not much." For example, a common argument for women's ordination goes like this: "You say that Jesus chose only male apostles, and that is why the Church ordains men only. But Jesus only chose poor men from Galilee, and so by your reasoning only Galileans should be ordained." The problem with this argument (aside from the fact that the apostles, who presumably knew Jesus' mind better than we, did in fact ordain non-Galileans, but did not ordain women) is that it equates a person's sex with a person's point of origin or economic status. Is being male or female just an accidental fact? Is the fact that I am a man of as little importance as the fact that I was born in Chicago Heights?

    We must address a residual Platonism in the minds of many people. Lots of people have the idea that the body isn't important at all. What I really am is what I think I am, not what my body is. This is why people substitute "gender" for "sex": sex is something imposed on us by biology, gender is something we can construct with our minds. Plato taught that the soul was trapped in a body, and that the real path for a true philosopher was to practice death, the separation from bodily existence. Being in a body is a tragedy, and the nature of one's body is inconsequential. (Perhaps one can see this in the trend of young people towards self-mutilation. They use their bodies as canvases for tattooing or piercing just like one would use any other object. The body is just an object for them.) The dominant thinking is that the soul is like a captain of a ship: if the ship is red, we don't apply redness to the captain. If the body is female, we don't really apply femaleness to the soul. Sex is something secondary, accidental to the true essence.

    If this view of the relationship between body and soul is true, then God would seem very silly to make any decisions based on sex. Hiring someone on the basis of the tie he is wearing in the interview is silly, and so is refraining to choose someone for a job because she is female. Femaleness carries no more import than wearing-red-tie-edness. God would in fact seem unjust for making a decision on something so inconsequential. This is what most people think: the Church doesn't ordain women. Being a woman is of little or no importance. Therefore, the Church is restricting ordination to men for a reason of little or no importance, and is unjust.

    But both theologically and philosophically, sex is something much more essential. Look at the beginning of Genesis: God creates man male and female: the differentiation of the sexes is divinely willed. God did it on purpose. Look at the descriptions of the two: woman is a help-mate, created because man alone was lonely. Man and woman are created for each other, and we are different so that we can complete each other. These differences are essential. Note also the different punishments as a result of original sin: man's punishment is related to his work, attempting to bring forth food from the earth. Woman's punishment is tied to childbirth and family: there will be pain in childbirth, and family life will be disordered into a role of subjugation. If sex is something accidental to being human, the punishments would be the same.

    Philosophically this separation of body and soul is a relic of Platonism or perhaps Cartesianism, as I said above. Plato taught that the human soul pre-existed the body, and that living in a body was a tragedy, since it prevented the view of the true reality of the ideas. The true philosopher practices death, as he says, since death is preferable to being trapped in a material body. But Platonism has been repudiated on this point: if the soul were trapped in the body, then existence would be pointless. Why would we have bodies at all? Why would we be punished by being put in a body? Further, why is it that when you cut my finger, I say "Stop cutting me?"In a very real sense, I ammy body. If you step on my foot, you hurt me. If you shoot my through the heart, Idie. If light enters the eyes, I see. The body is the sine qua non if human existence. It is not something separate from me, it is me. We are bodies.

    Aristotle's explanation makes much more sense: the soul is the first actuality of a body capable of having life. The soul is nothing more than the actuality of the body, the form of the body. We are not body-soul mixtures, but bodysoul creatures, or soulbodies. The soul is the essence of the body. No soul, no body. No body, the soul is an orphan. All of the soul's faculties are designed to work through the agency of a body. I see with eyes, hear with ears, think with a brain. I don't have faculties for life as a pure spirit. I would make a very poor angel. My soul needs a body to exist in its fullness. This is in fact why the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so comforting: we aren't going to spend eternity as disembodied ghosts (who would want that?), but as real flesh-and-blood human beings.

    Sex does in fact matter, and there are essential, though complimentary, differences between men and women. If you have followed me so far, then you are ready for the next step: if sex is a matter of essence, and there are differences, isn't it possible, just maybe, that there is something in the essences of men and women that make it a good idea for God to pick men for the ordained priesthood and not to pick women?

    The next installment will attempt to come up with some guesses for what these essential differences are. Stay tuned!

If you are building a new church, you should hire these guys!
Thanks to Ad Orientum for pointing it out.

A PR firm hired by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to deal with sex abuse scandals
Go here for the link. The article says it might cost $400,000 of the parishoner's money, or almost as much as it cost Milwaukee to pay off Archbishop Weakland's paramour. If the Archdiocese hired me, I would just have them read this, and then say "go thou and do likewise."

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

I've added "I should be reading" to my bloglist.
Let me know if you want me to put you on the list too.

Michael Shirley, in response to my response to his response to my stuff on the duty of dissent, says that, although he isn't sure about the infallibility of the papal statement on women's ordination (I honestly don't see any wiggle room, since the pope himself says it is infallible), "I disagree, and I think it's wrong, but I accept that that is the way it is."

Do we have to like everything that the Church teaches? No. I certainly don't like everything, and have my favorite sins that I would like to see taken off the sin list. But we have to accept it. I think there is a slight problem with Michael's statement "I disagree, and think it's wrong." We can't do that on infallible statements: if we think they are wrong, we are disputing infallibility, which is a denial of the Church. I would prefer he said "I don't like the decision, and would have done differently if I were God, but I accept that that is the way it is."

In any case, soon (probably tomorrow) I am going to post a series of reflections on why God might not have been ridiculous to restrict the priesthood to men. Of course I can't prove from some argument that God was right (who can know the depths of God's wisdom?) but at least I can use my poor human reason to try to explain why God might not be wrong.

Can someone please send me a note on how to set up comments? I must have missed the memo.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Belated response for for Michael Shirley
I should be reading had comments about my earlier post on conscience and the duties of dissenters. I apologize for not getting to this sooner, but there are lots of bloggers at St. Blog's, and only so much time. Anyway, he asks me to clarify the terms "dissent" and "prayerful acceptance." As I see it, dissent is refusing to believe a particular teaching of the Church is true. In the context of women's ordination this would mean refusing to believe that women will never be ordained, or that the Church has no power to ordain them, since this has been defined infallibly by the pope. So if you hold out hope for it to happen, you are dissenting.

Does this mean that one has to like everything taught by the Church? Of course not. I don't particularly like the rules that I have to love my enemies; I would rather cheerfully hate them. Does this mean one has to understand everything taught by the Church? Of course not. I don't understand the Trinity, and don't have any hope that I will. But it means I have to accept them with the "obedience of faith," to quote Saint Paul and Lumen Gentium. I accept them as true, not because I like them or because I understand, but because the Church founded by Christ and preserved by the Holy Spirit teaches them to be true. We have a duty to accept prayerfully that which the Church teaches. So we say to ourselves "it must be true, even though I don't like it or understand it. I will take it on faith, but I will study and pray to understand it."

In the case of women's ordination this is particularly important, because people who hold out hope for a change to the rules on ordination generally tend not to encourage young men to consider the priesthood. All of us need to be on board, encouraging the best of our men to consider serving Christ in the ordained priesthood. The continued recalcitrance on this issue is hurting the Church.

In any case, I am sorry I didn't get to this post sooner. If you post a reply to something I've written, do me a favor and send me a note so I know about it, and I will try to do the same. Thanks for reading!
Duty to annoy
I was thinking about the possibility for reform in the Church. Have you ever noticed that those who get the most attention and acquiescence from priests and bishops are the dissenters, the warm and fuzzy newchurchers, those who refuse to call God "father" and want the Church to accept abortion, contraception, homosexual behavior, and the Unitarian equivalence of religion? The bishops of the Church seem to be afraid of these people! The doctrine of the Church that is preached is limited by the amount of annoyance that the opponents of the doctrine will have to endure. Are some people in the Church offended by "sexist" language? Then I better say "sisters and brothers" all the time, and God forbid I say "God the Father." Are some people offended by Humanae Vitae? Then I better not ever mention that birth control is a mortal sin! Do some people think that the liturgy is too "vertical" and not "horizontal" enough? Then I better eliminate all reverence from the liturgy and make it into an extended verse of Kumbaya. Do we have Muslims or Buddhists in the neighborhood? Then I better not say that Catholicism is the One True Faith, and that people need to be Catholic to be saved! I might offend people.

My oldest brother, who says lots of smart things (and plenty of stupid ones), said one extremely smart thing a while back: "If people are going to try to be offended, I am going to work to offend them!" I think we worry far too much what the world will think of us, should we preach the fullness of our Faith. But think of it this way: if people are offended by the truth, and it is our duty to teach the truth, it becomes our duty to offend them! If doing the right thing offends people, we must offend them. If Sister Steinem thinks that abortion should be legal and free, and we know that abortion is a grave evil, then we are duty bound to tick off Sr. Steinem.

Why is it that the faithful feel uncomfortable in the Church, and the unfaithful feel comfortable? We need to reverse this. Those who oppose the teachings of Christ, whether priest, bishop, or laity, must not be allowed to be comfortable in their unbelief. If they insist on riding in the Barque of Peter, they should at least get seasick when they rock the boat.
Cure for what ails you
Read Church history. Currently I am reading Triumph, a gift from my wonderful wife, and it is good to see that Things Have Been Worse. Which would you rather have, a clergy scandal, or a majority of bishops supporting heresy with Attila the Hun waiting outside the gates? It helps to have some perspective. Yes, the current scandal is very bad, but things have been as bad or worse before, lots of times, and God always wins.

A friend of mine used to say to me that I shouldn't worry: the war is over: God won when Christ died and rose from the dead. The devil has been conquered, but battles are still being fought. Be confident that we are on the winning side, and that in fact we have already won.

(I'll give a review of Triumph when I finish it.)

Sunday, May 26, 2002

God and marriage

I went to a Catholic wedding yesterday; no blue stone toads except
that the priest said "thank you" after we said "and
also with you." The bride chose Ephesians 5 for the reading. You
know, the one about wives submitting to their husbands. St. Paul
compares the relationship of husband and wife to the relationship
between God and his Church. I started to think about how this works:
how exactly does marriage symbolize our relationship to God? In
particular, how does the sexual act symbolize it? One must remember,
as Pseudo-Dionysius points out, that the whole world is symbolic of
God in some way, since he created it all. So even something like
sexuality is a fruitful place to look for symbols of divine

If God is the groom, and we are the bride, then the symbol works
like this: God corresponds to the male, and we to the female. This
holds true if we extend the symbol from the bride/groom concept to
the actual physical relationship between bride and groom. (I'm going
to get a little R-rated here.) Think of what happens: the woman
invites the man, opens herself to the man and takes him within
herself. The man is not changed by this action, but the woman can be
profoundly changed: as a result of giving herself to the man, she can
become pregnant, bringing new life from within herself. This
pregnancy, if it is to come to term, is going to take nine months and
will change the woman's entire physiology, until through the pains of
labor the new child is brought forth into the world.

I want to compare this with the life of a Christian. Keep in mind
that from God's point of view in this symbol, we are all female. We
must pray and frequent the sacraments, and we must open ourselves to
the graces that may come. Should we do so, we become pregnant, in a
sense: God begins a great work within us that takes time and pain to
come to its fulfillment. Just as the sexual act doesn't change the
man, openness to God doesn't change God. But it does change us, as
profoundly as pregnancy changes a woman. We must cooperate with that
grace, no matter how difficult it gets, just as the pregnant woman
must take care not to damage the fragile life growing within her.
Furthermore, to bring the gifts of God to their proper fulfillment in
the world is going to involve suffering, just like childbirth.

For example, consider if one asks Jesus: "Lord, I believe.
Help my unbelief." (Mar 9:24) Perhaps someone has a difficulty in accepting
some aspect of the faith, and prays for understanding. The answer is
going to require that person to be open to God, open to the
possibility that God is right and that he or she is wrong. The grace
of understanding may take time to develop just as the pregnancy takes
nine months to come to term. The person who prayed for understanding
of God will find that he or she has to abandon many things, many
concepts once held dear, just as a pregnant woman must deny herself
many things for the health of the child. Finally, one will be
standing next to the chasm between the wisdom of man and the
foolishness of God, facing a choice: does one give birth to faith?
Does one take God at his word, and believe in things such as the
resurrection, the eucharist, and the forgiveness of sins, things that
no reasonable person could believe? It will be painful! Belief in God
carries consequences: if one does assent, life will never be the same
(just like the life of a new mother is never quite the same again).
We will not be able to act as we did before we believed: there are
moral and spiritual consequences of faith. (In fact, often
difficulties in faith can be traced back to difficulties in moral
matters.) It is painful to give birth. But what comes after the
birth? Despite the pain, the self-denial, and the great changes that
come about through pregnancy, afterwards there is a new life! If we
commit ourselves to God in faith, despite all the pain and
difficulty, we get new life, more abundant and joyful than the old

Friday, May 24, 2002

Memo to parents

74% of high school kids cheat on their school work. So your precious angel probably cheats. Do teachers a favor: when they catch your kids cheating, don't assume the kid is innocent. Don't call the teacher to try to bully him or her into changing the grade.

Bishop Weakland says he paid the diocese back with his speaking honoraria
for the half a million he had to pay because he couldn't keep his pants on. How big of him. Just one question: does he have any money left to pay the diocese so they can fix the mess he made of the cathedral?

Thursday, May 23, 2002

A short response to Sursum Corda on ordination of women

Peter Nixon writes about the magisterial authority of the church:

In the Catholic community, the Pope and the Bishops have been given a special responsibility to safeguard the faith that has been received from those who came before us and to pass it intact to those who will come after us. It is they who determine—after consultation with each other, theologians, and the community as a whole—whether particular beliefs are practices are consistent with what the Catholic community has believed through the centuries. For a Catholic, submission to the teachings of these authorities is the ordinary and expected response.

He is leaving out a big ingredient: the Holy Spirit. The Pope and the bishops do not simply determine what the Catholic community has believed throughout the centuries. We believe, rather, that they safeguard and teach the faith handed on to the Church by Christ and that their teaching is guarded by the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of theological consultation; if it were, Humanae Vitae would never have been written.

Now, on to the important question: Is it possible for a correctly formed Catholic conscience to reject the restriction of orders to men? I think the answer must be no. Why? Catholics are required to accept with the obedience of faith all infallible teachings of the magisterium of the church. The restriction of orders to men is an infallible teaching. Therefore, Catholics are required to accept this teaching. There is no wiggle room. If it is infallible, it must be accepted.

Let's look a little closer at the dissenting conscience. In order to reject the teaching on ordination, one must not just reject this particular teaching, one must reject the teaching on infallibility from Vatican I, reaffirmed at Vatican II. If one rejects infalliblity, one must it seems reject the indefectability of the Church promised by none other than Christ himself. In other words, to reject the Church on this point means that one rejects that the Church is the true Church. Let me schematize:

1) The Church says: We are the true Church.
2) An integral part of being the true Church is the infallibility of the pope and bishops united to the pope.
3) The Church says women cannot be ordained. Further
4) The Church says this teaching is infallible.
Ok, so if the Church is wrong about women's ordination (3), that means that (4) is wrong, which means that (2) is wrong. If a church claims to be the Church founded by God, but makes such a big blunder on an important theological question, could it be the true Church? If 2, 3, and 4 are wrong, doesn't it mean that 1 is wrong?

So where does that put the dissenter? It seems to me that he or she has no other choice but to leave the Church. If you don't believe as the Church believes, why would you stay? I wouldn't be a Muslim if I didn't believe Mohammed was a prophet. So how can one be a Catholic who doesn't believe in the infallibility of the pope? A conscience that tells someone not to accept an infallibly declared teaching of the Church must also tell the person not to remain in that church. Anything less would be inconsistent. Of course, if the person were to balk at leaving the Church, I would suggest that rather than dissent, prayerful acceptance is the answer. There is faith that tugs at the person, leading him to remain in the Church; the dissenter ought to pray and work that this faith succeed in seeking understanding.

Oh, by the way, I am not directing this personally at Peter Nixon. I am just trying to work out the logical consequences of dissenting from Church teaching.

Blogging maybe light for a few days
since final grades are due soon and my weekend is booked. I should have a somewhat lengthy post tonight about dissenting and the duty of the dissenter. Oh, and thanks to all the people who have linked to me. If you linked to me and I didn't link to you, send me a note and I will try to add you to my bloglist.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Head and Heart

I had a rough 24 hours yesterday. I checked five late papers and found out that three had been plagiarized. Then the next day, I caught two students sharing a paper during a test. Five cheaters in one day!

Today I had to do the teacherly duty of calling the parents. The mother of one of the girls kept repeating that she had a really good relationship with her daughter, and that she just can't believe that her daughter would do something like that. In other words, my interpretation of the plain fact that her daughter's paper was in front of someone else should bow to the mother's warm feelings for her child. I very politely pointed out to the mother that it was possible, just barely, that her daughter actually did cheat.

The mother's thinking is an example of a widespread problem, that people think with their hearts (metaphorically speaking) rather than their heads. She feels that her daughter isn't a cheater, and therefore thinks that her daughter isn't a cheater, never mind the plain evidence. She is using her heart as a device to discover the truth. But here is the problem: the heart isn't designed for that. The intellect is the organ of truth in human beings; the heart is the organ of value. It is good to feel, because feeling gives us an insight into what is good. But we must think by means of the intellect in order to see if any particular thing is good or bad, true or false. The intellect gets to truth, the will chooses the good, the heart or affections help to tell us what is good.

But note that the heart cannot act on its own: it is not a reliable guide. For example, after discovering the cheaters, my heart was filled with anger, and would have led me to extremely bad actions if I had followed it. I needed to use my mind to figure out the right thing to do. Or consider the many horrible and failed marriages today: when asked why the women married that alcoholic, abusive man, she invariably answers "Because I love him!" To quote Golda from Fiddler, what does love have to do with marriage? Yes, use the heart as the guide, but use the intellect as the rudder to steer the heart. And don't ever say "feel" when you mean "think!"

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

E. L. Core read my women's ordination post
and pointed out to me an article he wrote on the subject. His
article is excellent, has references to the original documents of Vatican I, and also uses the words "plumb silly," which I like.
Adding some links
The Schultz's were kind enough to link to me, so I am returning the favor. See especially the discussion of clapping in church.
Also, there is a new seminarian at St. Blog's parish, Todd Reitmeyer. Apparently, he isn't just a sem, but is a Deacon! Go visit the Reverend Mister.
Blog was having troubles earlier today. I have fixed it, I think.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Is the restriction of orders to men an infallible teaching?
(I figured as long as I have this increase in audience, I ought to say something important.)

Take a look at the declaration Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which John Paul II wrote in 1994. Concerning the possibility, he writes: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Read that closely. Now take a look at what Vatican II says about papal infallibity in Lumen Gentium: "And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, (2) as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, (3) by a definitive act he proclaims a (1) doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment."

So what, according to Vatican II, makes a papal teaching infallible? When he (1) proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals as (2) supreme shepherd and teacher of the faithful (3) by a definitive act. Now look at the declartion on women's ordination: the pope says "by virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren", therefore as supreme shepherd (2), he defines (3): "I declare that the Church has no authority. . . and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful" a doctrine of faith and morals (1): "no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women."

It looks like the restriction of orders to men is infallible! But don't take my word for it: look at what the Congregation fo the Doctrine of the Faith says: "This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published."

So the pope approved a document that said that the teaching on the ordination of women is infallible. This means not only won't it change in the near future, but that it will never ever change.

The uniqueness of the Catholic Church is that it claims infallibility in its teachings. If you argue for women's ordination, you are not just arguing for a particular point of sacramental discipline, but you are arguing that the Catholic Church is not the Catholic Church. The debate goes to the heart of the Church, and indicates that there is a fundamental problem with our ecclesiology. You are saying, when you argue that the pope was wrong, even though he was speaking infallibly, that the pope doesn't have the charism of infallibility, and that the Church was wrong to say so at Vatican I and II. This means that the Catholic Church isn't the One True Church.

May I suggest if you don't like this teaching, or don't understand it, embrace it! It is given to you by the Church Jesus founded. I don't quite understand why Jesus chose and chooses only men--I will ask him when I see him. But it is universally the case that by prayerfully embracing a difficult teaching, one finds grace and hidden depths.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Cranky Professor has a few thoughts on Cardinal George.

He notes that Cardinal George has taken a vow of poverty, but that the priests of the diocese have not. This is certainly true. But priests are also to lead lives of simplicity, as it says in Canon 282. Yes, diocesan priests are not required to sell all they have and live in poverty, but they are encouraged to lead a simple life. It is not a strict duty, but a supererogatory duty, sort of like "Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you." The rule itself doesn't say how we are to fulfill the rule, but leaves it up to us. A good example from the Cardinal may encourage his priests to fulfill this duty better.

Cranky Professor worries that selling the episcopal mansion will be used as a justification for priests moving further from their parishes. I am not certain that this will be used as a reason to sell off property. Rectories are adjacent to churches, and cannot easily be sold. Condos and priest-houses can be sold. I think this would rather encourage priests to live back in the rectories. Remember, the bishop's mansion is not adjacent to the cathedral, but is in fact quite a distance away.

He asks where the Cardinal will live. I don't know yet. There are archdiocesan buildings adjacent to the cathedral. I hope that he will just take a few rooms there. I will let you know if I hear anything.

Interestingly, the Chicago Tribune has a short article on the ordinations that talks only about the scandal, and mentions nothing about the sale of the mansion.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

God Bless Cardinal George!

There is exciting news from the archdiocese of Chicago today.
During ordinations, Cardinal George instructed the newly ordained
priests, as well as the assembled priests of the archdiocese, about
their need to be obedient, especially in matters of liturgy, and that
they must embrace celibacy as a sacrifice in order to follow Christ,
and that they should lead lives of holy simplicity. At that point, he
announced that he plans to sell the bishop's mansion
as an
example to his priests. He said something like this (I was jotting
notes onto my program, and so may be inaccurate): "As
Archbishop, I will celebrate the liturgy in splendor; as priest I
will live poor, as Christ did."

The mansion is situated in the near north side, close to the
Hancock building. The property alone must be worth tens of millions
of dollars.

It will be interesting to see the reaction. I think it is
wonderful. Without coercion or necessity, the Cardinal is leading the
Church in Chicago back to apostolic simplicity, which if accompanied
by apostolic faithfulness and courage, will lead to a rebirth of this

I wonder where he will live. If the Cardinal needs a place to
stay, he can always bunk with me and my wife: we have a spare room,
complete with Winnie the Pooh wallpaper!

Friday, May 17, 2002

We have a seminarian at St. Blog's parish!
Steve Mattson, a seminarian in a large midwestern seminary, has started a blog of his own. Go take a look. I used to be his teacher, and found him to be intelligent and faithful. (I think I gave him an A.) I have also done some overdue updating of my links list.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

I get to go to an ordination Saturday

May is the month of ordinations and first masses, a time of renewal and hope for the Church. I am fortunate enough to have been invited to the ordinations for the Archdiocese of Chicago; I even get to be in the procession, since I taught a class at Mundelein last year. I was invited last year as well, but didn't go. I am going this year because I believe it is a more important time than ever to celebrate the great gift of Holy Orders. I have been privileged to go to about four or five ordinations, and I get teary-eyed every time, especially when the ordinandi are prostrate on the floor and we sing the litany of the saints. I have a vision of the entire Church, militant, triumphant, and suffering, joined as one, as we pray for the men who will soon become personae Christi for the rest of us. I can almost see Dominic and Francis (always mentioned together), Thomas and Bonaventure (likewise), John Vianney, John, Paul, Peter, James, the rest of the apostles, the great doctors and fathers of the Church, the desert monks, the saintly women, Catherine of Siena, Therese, Edith Stein, Mary of Egypt, Claire, Scholastica, and of course all of the untold millions of martyrs. I feel not just a part of a local church, but a part of a universal Church, a Catholic Church, that cuts across time and distance. At moments like that I believe that we can do anything, overcome any scandal, and weather any storm. We Catholics are not left alone to face the trials of sin and death; we have an uncounted number of saints and angels joining in the fight with us.

These twelve men who will be ordained are twelve more examples of Apostolic Succession. Cardinal George will place his hands on their heads, and by the power of the Holy Spirit they will be changed into priests, just as Cardinal George himself was changed through the imposition of hands by some previous bishop years ago. Imagine the chain of events: that bishop was ordained by another bishop, who was ordained by another, back and back further into time, through all of the history of the Church, the wars, scandals, heresies, and schisms, in an unbroken line until we reach a humble man, one of the Eleven gathered in a room to celebrate the Passover with their Lord, teacher, and friend. Every priest you see is a living link to Jesus Christ himself. Shake his hand! You will be taking part in that living chain back to our Lord.

But as much as Apostolic succession is a miracle, we have a much grander miracle. These twelve men, after they are ordained, will eagerly await their faculties from the Cardinal giving them permission to celebrate the sacraments in the Archdiocese. The next day they will gather with friends, family, and benefactors, perhaps in the parish of their own baptism, first communion, and confirmation, to celebrate their first masses. They will look down at the bread and wine, and nervously will say the ancient words of institution. They may have said these words before, and they have read them again and again in the gospels, but this time it is different: the words are efficacious, they are active, even miraculous. For, after they say "This is my body. . . ." that white object in their hands is no longer bread, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The priest holds his very Creator in his hands. After continuing the words of the prayer, wonder of wonders, the miracle, which would be enough majesty for one lifetime, is repeated, for the cup has become filled with the blood of Christ, the very blood poured out for our salvation. The new priest then hands out God to his friends and family, for the nourishment of their souls and bodies. Such grace has God shown mortal man, that it is a wonder we can bear it.

These men are given other gifts, the ability to anoint the sick, to bless marriages, and to give the forgiveness of Christ to us when we fall away. Yes, they bear great treasures within vessels of clay, but no matter how much some priests have sinned, no matter how many have betrayed the great gift they have been given, we must always remember that the gift remains. They are Christ among us, and should be revered as such. What would we do without them?

Pray for priests. Pray for vocations, and encourage your sons to take up this wondrous burden. Also, attend an ordination or a first mass if you get a chance. It is the season!

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Jesuits, Schmesuits
I came across this article while browsing the Women for Faith and Family website, which by the way my wife says I should recommend. Could the pope supress some religious orders again?
First in a probably long-running series of reasons why I think the New Jerome Bible Commentary is lousy
I was looking up Ephesians 5:21-33 in the NJBC, since I plan to do a few days on Paul's words about women and marriage, and what should I find but an explanation of the Christ=groom, bride=Church imagery: "Against the background of the ancient Near Eastern sacred marriage of the gods, the author presents Jesus as the bridegroom who cleanses the church, his bride, in the waters of baptism. . . ." (p. 890)

Ancient Near Eastern marriage of the gods? Don't these people read the old testament? There many images in the OT about God as groom and Israel as bride. Sample: Isaiah 62:5 "As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." The passage in Ephesians was written against the background of the Jewish scriptures, which talk about God as husband all the time. Paul was probably thinking of Isaiah since he had just quoted Isaiah in the previous chapter. Ancient Near East marriage of the gods, my foot!

Speaking of Edith Stein, here is a quote: "The distinction of the female sex is that a woman was the person who was permitted to help establish God's new kingdom; the distinction of the male sex is that redemption came through the Son of Man, the new Adam."
Thanks to Fr. O'Neal and Emily Stimpson for linking to my little attempt at moral theology.
If you haven't read it, take a look, and let me know if I've screwed something up. All comments are appreciated, especially negative ones.

Like most everyone else, I got a letter from Mars Hill Review: check out their website. And as long as you are looking for brain-stretching journals, check out First Things. (Fr. Neuhaus, if you see this, perhaps you could give me a free subscription renewal for linking you. Please???)

I've been reading Goodbye Good Men and have one thought: if they ever want to reform the teaching at the seminaries, they should shop for faculty here in Blogland! There are lots of smart, sensible people: just check out the links on the left and see for yourself. But if anyone happens to need a mostly Thomistic philosopher who knows a bit of Edith Stein to teach seminarians, send me an email.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Please help me out
I've spent some time and effort on today's blog. It has to do with whether priests making up the liturgy as they go is sinful, and if so what kind of sin it is. I would appreciate comments both positive and negative, but mostly negative; you will help me refine my argument. Amy Welborn especially should read this and write me a note, since I bought one of her books today!

Here it is:

Is Liturgical Disobedience a Mortal Sin?

We have all seen the problems with disobedient priests who adjust
the mass often beyond recognition. Is this practice acceptable?? Or
is it in fact a sinful practice? If it is sinful, what is the degree?
Is it grave matter? I wish to examine these topics. It is my opinion
that liturgical disobedience in fact constitutes grave matter, and
that those who willfully disregard Church law on this matter are in a
state of mortal sin. This is of course my opinion, and if I am wrong
in anything, I gladly retract it. [All emphases in quoted texts are

Is obedience to liturgical rubrics required by the Church?

Sacrosanctum Concilium
puts forward the various levels of authority for liturgical
adaptation in paragraph 22: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy
depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the
Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop." So
the authority to change the liturgy resides in the pope or in the
bishops, as designated. The document also recognizes the possibility
that bishops' conferences may have this authority delegated to them,
so that within limits, a national bishops' council may make changes.

But there is an important and
often-ignored passage: "Therefore no other person, not
even a priest
, may add, remove, or change anything in the
liturgy on his own authority." (SC 22) So here is a direct
command from a document of an ecumenical council of the Church saying
that priests are not allowed to change the liturgy.
The canon
law of the Church reiterates the council: "The liturgical
, approved by the competent authority, are to be
faithfully followed
in the celebration of the sacraments.
Accordingly, no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or
alter anything in those books." (CIC 846§1) So liturgical
innovation is clearly against Church law.

What are the penalties for breaking this command, either canonical or spiritual?

This is an important question, since disobedience on this matter
is pandemic. Canon law leaves the juridical disciplining of
individual offending priests to bishops. I am not interested in these
penalties, since as far as I know they do not exist: I don't know of
any bishop that has set out regular penalties to deal with liturgical
cowboys. But what sort of sin is it?

In the pope's letter
Vicesimus Quintus Annus, he
describes the seriousness of the offense of liturgical innovation:
"Others have promoted outlandish innovations, departing from the
norms issued by the authority of the Apostolic See or the bishops,
disrupting the unity of the Church and the piety of
the faithful, and even on occasion contradicting matters of
[Emphases mine.] (VQA 11) Further in the same document: "It
cannot be tolerated that certain priests should take upon themselves
the right to compose Eucharistic Prayers or to substitute profane
readings for texts from Sacred Scripture. Initiatives of this sort,
far from being linked with the liturgical reform as such, or with the
books which have issued from it, are in direct contradiction to
it, disfigure it, and deprive the Christian people of the genuine
treasures of the liturgy of the Church.
making stuff up in the liturgy disrupts the unity of the Church,
which could be considered a form of schism, and can be apostasy when
it contradicts the faith. (Think back to when the parts of the
Eucharistic Prayer are changed from "God the Father" to
"God", thus making the economy of the prayer an offering of
Christ through the Holy Spirit to God. Not God the Father, but to
God. This is in effect Arianism, a denial of the true nature of
Christ.) Both schism and apostasy are mortal sins.

John Paul II says more in Dominicae Cenae.
From paragraph 12 there are some relevant quotes: deviating from the
liturgical books sometimes may seem the right thing to do, but
"objectively it is always a betrayal of that union which
should find its proper expression in the sacrament of unity.
So it is an act tending towards schism, breaking apart the unity of
the Church. Even though in extreme situations (in a death camp, for
instance) one can deviate from the texts, "nevertheless in
normal conditions to ignore the liturgical directives can be
interpreted as a lack of respect towards the Eucharist. . . ."
Failure to show proper respect to holy things is the sin of
sacrilege, which is also a mortal sin.

What about the obedience that the
priest owes to the bishop and to the pope? Each priest makes a solemn
promise of obedience at ordination. He is expected to act entirely in
accord with the ministry of the bishop of his diocese. In fact,
Pastores Dabo Vobis says
"Indeed, there can be no genuine priestly ministry except in
communion with the supreme pontiff and the episcopal college,
especially with one's own diocesan bishop, who deserves that 'filial
respect and obedience' promised during the rite of ordination."
(PDV 28)
Lumen Gentium
says the same: "the priests should see in him [the bishop] a
true father and obey him with all respect." (LG 28)
Presbyterorum Ordinis 15, it
says that priests "will accept and carry out in the spirit of
faith the commands and suggestions of the Pope and of the bishop and
other superiors." What sort of sin would it be for a priest to
disobey? It seems to me that disobedience can be grave matter, if the
subject of the disobedience is serious. The texts of the Holy Father
given above make it clear that the liturgy is the treasure of the
Church, and is certainly serious matter. Thus disobedience could very
well be a mortal sin. Furthermore, if a priest breaks his promise of
celibacy, it is mortal sin: isn't it reasonable to expect that
violations of obedience are as well?

Consequences and Reflections

If I am correct, priests who make up the mass as they go are not
just breaking Church rules, they are endangering their immortal
souls. If they cannot be convinced to follow the rules for the sake
of the people, they could be convinced by the threat of losing their
salvation. If a large number of priests are in a state of mortal sin,
think of the consequences: mortal sin kills the life of sanctifying
grace in the soul. Without sanctifying grace, one loses the
supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Without these
virtues, it is more difficult, if not impossible, to believe what the
Church teaches, to maintain a hope in salvation, or to act with
Christlike love. Is it any wonder that so many priests do not teach
the truth of the Faith? They don't teach it because they are unable
to believe it themselves, having lost the supernatural virtue of
faith. I may be wrong in my moral theology, but my theory certainly
explains the deplorable state of much of the presbyterate.


If you have gotten this far, you've shown heroic perseverance and
I thank you. If you disagree with me, please do me the service of
writing me a note, telling me where I have gone wrong. I would like
to refine and tighten up this argument. So just click on the email
link on the left side of this blog and let me know. Thanks!

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Star Wars Thoughts

I've begun reading Michael Rose's book on seminary shenanigans, and I'm too furious to write anything churchy, except to recall Athanasius' quote: "The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." Maybe when I calm down I can write something rational. For now I want to talk about Star Wars.

I find myself with little urge to go see the new movie. The hype leading up to its release has caused me to think back on The Phantom Menace, and I have decided that I liked nothing about that movie except for the music, the final light sabre battle, and the ET aliens in the senate chamber. In fact, in thinking about the franchise, I find that I have only really liked two of the four movies: Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Ewoks spoiled Episode VI for me. Will the new movie be any better? The odds are 50-50, and the sight of Natalie Portman in a midriff-bearing outfit makes me think that Episode II isn't likely to be better.

I will probably just go see Lord of the Rings for the fourth or fifth time. It has arrived at the local discount theater.