Monthly Archives: March 2015

Yes, Yes, You Can!

A friend wonders, for a variety of reasons, whether he has any authority or power to witness the Gospel now that he has wisely renounced a habit of striving–a focus on “winning” rather than “wooing,” so to speak (though both have a place).

As far as I can tell, the Church’s answer is emphatically “YES.”  We all share, in various kinds and degrees, the one Apostolate of the Church–even as there are those who are called to various specific apostolates among us.  As a Decree of the Second Vatican Council has it:

One engages in the apostolate through the faith, hope, and charity which the
Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church. Indeed, by the
precept of charity, which is the Lord’s greatest commandment, all the faithful
are impelled to promote the glory of God through the coming of His kingdom and
to obtain eternal life for all men-that they may know the only true God and Him
whom He sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). On all Christians therefore is laid
the preeminent responsibility of working to make the divine message of salvation
known and accepted by all men throughout the world.

(source: Decree on the Apostolate of Laity – Apostolicam Actuositatem [emphasis added here and throughout])

(source: Monasterio de Santa Cruz, Coímbra, Portugal–Poco a poco)

Or you can see also the encyclical of Paul VI from which the “New Evangelization” takes its name: Continue reading »

Sensus Fidelium Fidei

In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.

We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony

(source: » Nearly 500 priests in Britain urge synod to stand firm on Communion for the remarried)

This is what it looks like when it’s working.  The faithful, shaped by the teaching of the Church, expressing that teaching back to the Church.  This is how disciples ought to behave.

For Stormy Weather

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended you,
and I detest all my sins because of your just punishments,
but most of all because they offend you, my God,
who are all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve,
with the help of your grace, to sin no more
and to avoid the near occasions of sin.

(source: iBreviary)

The grace to truly regret the wrongs we pass on, or invent; the obedience of faith that intends to avoid such sin in the future (that is, the very next time, and please God the time after that, too); and first to last, the shocking love of Jesus, makes all the difference between this experience of suffering and struggle…

He long survives, who lives an hour
In ocean, self-upheld;
And so long he, with unspent pow’r,
His destiny repell’d;
And ever, as the minutes flew,
Entreated help, or cried—Adieu!


No voice divine the storm allay’d,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch’d from all effectual aid,
We perish’d, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm’d in deeper gulfs than he.

(source: The Castaway by William Cowper : The Poetry Foundation)

…and this one.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.


Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

(source: Light Shining out of Darkness by William Cowper : The Poetry Foundation)

Catholics in Japan, like the faithful everywhere, Need Help

This mission is accomplished above all in the family, where faith accompanies every age of life and enlightens all our relationships in society (cf. Lumen Fidei, 53-54). When we give our attention and resources to supporting the family, beginning with marriage preparation and continuing with catechesis for all stages of life, we enrich our parishes and local Churches. So too, our societies and cultures are permeated with the fragrance of the Gospel. Through the witness of the Japanese faithful, “the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the ‘beauty of her varied face’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 116). So often, when we find this witness lacking, it is not because the faithful do not want to be missionary disciples, but rather because they think themselves incapable of the task.

(source: To the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Japan on their “ad Limina” visit (20 March 2015))

A friend directed my attention to this article about a statement from the bishops in Japan, and reflecting on that statement led me to the Holy Father’s words, above.

From the article: Continue reading »

Wisdom for Wizards

Tolkien is one of those reliably wise souls.  Even when we are pretty sure we know what we’re doing, we should “not be too eager” in matters of life and death.

Want a hard one?  Apply this to your urge to “rally the troops” to any side of a life-and-death issue.  There are always some among us who are “too eager” to find the very most radical edge:  curb your urge to hurl them against the wall (or the enemy), or you may destroy them–and yourself.  In the middle of all that, the loss of your cause will come to be trivial.  Then you will see, too late, why you ought not to have been “too eager.”


Follow the Evidence

Think you know who this is aimed at? Read carefully, then follow links for more:

It is an ominous sign whenever a political movement dispenses with methods and approaches of gaining knowledge that are anchored to public revelation and, moreover, becomes openly hostile to them. Anti-intellectualism and a corresponding reliance on innate knowledge is one of the hallmarks of a cult or a totalitarian ideology.

(source: Sacred Beliefs)

One of the benefits of adopting a metaphysical realist’s approach to–well, to reality–is the ability to see moments when “reality happens” amid the constant cut-and-thrust of rhetorical and hypothetical claims as just that:  as contact between creatures-as-such and Creation-as-such, that is, as acknowledgement of what they are and the world is prior to their construals (or mine).  We get to stop trying to claim “wins” based on who is able to keep up a consistent defense of a certain claim longest (a worthy exercise, but in isolation productive of a nominalist habit of thought, not a way of living in the real world).  Instead, we can enjoy the moment of shared access to reality, and engage sympathetically with others in the effort to adjust our habits and expectations and commitments to match. Continue reading »

from today’s Psalms

As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked man; rather let him turn from his evil way and live.

Princes are hounding me for no reason.
Your words fill me with dread.
I shall rejoice over your sayings
like one who has found a great treasure.

I loathe and detest untruthfulness
but I love the truth of your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for the righteousness of your judgements.

Those who love you have abounding peace:
there is nothing to trip them up.
I looked forward to your salvation, O Lord,
and followed your commandments.

I keep your precepts in my heart:
I love them intensely.
I have followed your commands and your precepts.
All that I do is in your sight.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.

As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked man; rather let him turn from his evil way and live.

(source: Universalis: Sext)

Healing Begins with Diagnosis

I wonder if Gagnon has understood this right.  Specifically, embedded in his response is a claim that I have not been able to confirm from its source:

the City Church letter appeals to Jesus’ mission to outcasts as a basis for jettisoning a male-female requirement for marriage

(source: Why San Francisco’s City Church is Wrong About Sex | Robert A. J. Gagnon | First Things)

I say this because I am aware that Gagnon is trying to defend something true, though I cannot always follow him at every stage of his reasoning and rhetoric:

As a church inspired by Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and founded in the Reformed tradition, City Church is supposed to give preeminence to Scripture. Instead, on the matter of homosexual practice, the Pastor and Elder Board gave preeminence to their judgment regarding what conduces more to human flourishing and, oddly, to a scripturally misguided book written by former Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson called A Letter to My Congregation. The letter recommends it to church members for showing, “great empathy and maturity to model unity and patience with those who are in different places on this conversation, all the while dealing honestly with Scripture.”

Wilson contends wrongly that the biblical indictment of homosexual practice is limited to exploitative relationships with adolescents, slaves, and temple prostitutes, as though these were the only forms of homosexual practice known to persons of the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world.

(source: Why San Francisco’s City Church is Wrong About Sex | Robert A. J. Gagnon | First Things)

Again, if what these authors believe the letter advances is really what it’s getting at, then it is really understandable that they’re responding with such heavy rebuttals:

I don’t see this letter seeking a dialogue either. Human flourishing and personal suffering are not hermeneutical principles. Personal happiness is not a guide to biblical interpretation. The problem with trying to build a biblical, historical, and theological argument is how formidable a task it is. And it’s even more formidable with this issue because it won’t work. The error this letter advances is so profound and universal it amounts to a complete abandonment of all Scripture, 4,000 years of the Judeo-Christian heritage, and 2,000 years of church history – in which, and this is vital – there is not a single voice of dissent over this issue and practice. It is, quite literally, so completely outside the mind, worldview, and spirit of our history, creeds, and bible that it’s a bit astounding.

(source: A Response to the Statement from City Church San Francisco on Its Ministry to the LGBT People)

And I agree that what they take to be the question is not a subtle matter, certainly not an example of adiaphora, and not to be judged by radically individualist reductions of “human flourishing” or exegetical gymnastics whose foundations are obvious examples of special pleading and petitio principii.

But I am not certain that, based on the language in this confused product of a disordered thought process, what Gagnon and Robin think has happened has, in fact, happened.  Here is what seems to be the “bottom line” statement:

We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining. For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.

(source: A letter from the Elder Board | City Church San Francisco)

Left hanging, of course, is what “marriage” means.  Continue reading »


We have a tendency to respond to reduction with more reduction. Religious minimalism fits well with our iconoclastic, puritan American heritage. And too often, we approach the New Evangelization from a technocratic perspective. We are in danger of reducing even our evangelical and catechetical efforts to the mere transmission of information, to technical processes honed by data analysis to produce a particular outcome. Forming personal relationships cannot be reduced to metrics and algorithms. Instead, forming personal relationships depends on love. And love begins with an appreciation of the beloved’s beauty. Nine hundred years ago, Richard of St. Victor wrote “ubi amor, ibi oculos”—where there is love, there the eye is also.
I’d like to suggest three ways in which beauty can bring souls into communion with Jesus Christ. The first is the restoration of the beautiful to the world of art, architecture, and culture. We now suffer from a cult of ugliness and utility. And this is manifestly apparent in much of contemporary architecture. The architectural maxim that “form follows function” is a way of saying that design only exists to facilitate production. Architecture is overwhelmed by technocracy.

(source: Ubi Amor, Ibi Oculus | James D. Conley | First Things)

As the wonderfully witty Tom Wolfe once pointed out, Functionalism in architecture is about anything but function (Flat Roof.  Q.E.D.)–and when we see Functionalism and its multiple layers of reaction applied to ecclesial architecture, some of us begin to wonder about the possibility of consecrating train stations for worship, instead:

Beautiful train stations and ugly churches–it’s not just the thought that counts.

In Support of Capital Punishment, and Against Executions

I have to at least partially agree with Ed Peters (and I’d say it is usually prudent to try to agree with him):

As a Catholic squarely in line with the Catholic tradition that […] supports the just administration of the death penalty for capital crimes, I have grown used to having my motives for such support reduced to: my thirst for vengeance, my disdain for mercy, my obliviousness to Christ’s salvific will, my despair about conversion, and my contempt for compassion. I apparently do not understand that the death penalty does not bring murder victims back to life (gee, whodathunkit?) but that’s not to worry, because my support for the death penalty can be excused (and then dismissed) on purely demographic grounds (I am, after all, white, male, middle-aged, and usually vote conservative, so who cares what a heartless jerk like me thinks about anything?)

[…] So argue, if one will, the prudence of the death penalty—there are some very good prudential arguments against it, as Häring noted fifty years ago—but do not read the Catechism as making any principled points against the death penalty beyond those that have long been part of the Church teaching on the death penalty, that is, for the last 20 centuries during which no Catholic thinker, let alone any Magisterial pronouncement, asserted the inherent immorality of the death penalty. To the contrary, as Long points out, acknowledgment of the moral liceity of the death penalty justly administered, is the Catholic tradition.

(source: Okay, what about Catholics and the death penalty? | In the Light of the Law)

And I also agree with Dr. Peters that following reply merits some consideration.  This line of reasoning is why I would not consider myself a part of any of the “law-and-order” crowd that are sometimes aggressive “pro-capital punishment” advocates, although I am also a long way from joining hands with Sr. Prejean (who I interviewed, once, though the interview never made print):

Well, let me put it this way. The Church, we are told, is mater et magistra. The way we relate to a mother is not simply to obey abstract commands, but to serve her and to let ourselves be shaped by her and her mentorship and her thinking. This is part of what we refer to when we talk about the sentire cum Ecclesia. It is not just “What do I have to believe and what do I have a right not to believe?” It is, “Shaped by charity, how can I follow the Church where she beckons, educate my conscience so that it is more conformed to the mind of the Church, and serve her work of lighting the world on fire with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”

(source: The Death Penalty, The Catechism, The Living God)

I agree.  To the extent possible, I shape my thinking by what is consistently being taught, not only by what is dogmatically defined.

BUT in just exactly that same movement, I have to expect that what is finally intended–when all bywords and truly local concerns, all expressions referrable only to the milieu, all mistaken underlying science, and all degrees of emphasis are sifted by history and Providence–is going to be consistent with what has come before; and that it will move, however steep the grade and with whatever degree of vibration or acceleration or braking, down the rails of the depositum fidei without jumping the tracks.  “Gates of Hell shall not prevail,” etc.

And therefore I cannot accept the justice or wisdom of any rhetoric that simply equates opposition to the death penalty with opposition to abortion.  We must speak more clearly than that. Continue reading »

Don’t Use Exclamation Points

A two-part quiz for you.  First, who said each of these?  And second, which of these is most strongly worded?

[1] Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.

[2] the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman . . . is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.

[3] In other words they [advocates of same-sex marriage] want to reeingineer western civ into a slow extinction. We need healthy families with a mother and a father for the sake of the children and humanity!!!!

(source: Threatened for Her Zeal for the Faith | Matthew J. Franck | First Things)

Now, if you say, “Pope, Pope, Teacher,” you’re right.  So, which popes?

That’s right:  (1) Francis and (2) Benedict XVI.

So who is the teacher who is elevated to such august company?  (Read Franck to find out.)

Which of these statements is the most strongly worded?  Personally, I have to go with the attribution of particular (Argentinian) legislation directly to Satan, but maybe that’s just me; the claim that the future of humanity is at stake is also fairly heavy-duty.

But then, our famous “Who am I to judge” pontiff is pretty well known for his use of strong language about evil; one might even just say he calls it like it is.  To wit:

“Pope Francis never stops talking about the Devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him.”

(source: A modern pope gets old school on the Devil – The Washington Post)

And both those among the episcopate and those among the media who tend to be harder on good teachers than on the devil, well–may they find themselves humbled and listen to good teachers. Continue reading »

Born with Dignity, Called to Holiness

A fumble–nothing more than that, I think, but a definite fumble.  Matthew Hennessey comments:

Now, one might say that the bishop erred by presuming that both Down syndrome and homosexuality are unfortunate burdens that must be struggled with and overcome. Another might say that equating Down syndrome with homosexuality is a mistake because both things are in fact beautiful and completely normal states of being. But each view misses the point. 

We are all born broken — some in body, some in soul. We are all tainted by sin. We are all called to holiness.

What troubles me most about the bishop’s comments is the implication that disability and genetic difference are always a catastrophe for all involved. This tragic view of disability is not one I’m used to hearing from the Church. It’s demoralizing. In fact, for many families, including mine — and, it seems, Archbishop Kurtz’s — a child’s disability has enriched faith, deepened friendships, and cultivated a more joyful view of God’s world.

(source: A Bishop Sows Confusion about the Dignity of Life)

I’m happy to say that we really are usually better than this; we have to be.

Here, try chewing on this.  Enjoy!

I’ve always thought sex made no difference…

…when you’re being killed. And I’ve always thought that calling the mandatory funding and legal privileging of the optional killing of baby boys and baby girls–babies, male and female, who just happen not to be born yet–that calling that a “women’s issue” or a “women’s health issue” or a “reproductive health issue” was about the most offensive thing on offer in American politics today.

I still do.

But, hey, now there’s another way that talking about abortion is offensive:

Feminists are now arguing about whether or not it’s offensive to talk about abortion as a “women’s issue” because gender is not that simple and men have abortions too.

“We must acknowledge and come to terms with the implicit cissexism in assuming that only women have abortions,” feminist activist Lauren Rankin stated in July 2013.

Or, as Jos Truitt of Feministing explained: “Trans men have abortions. Gender queer people have abortions. Two spirit people have abortions. People who do not fit into the box of ‘woman’ have abortions.”

In response, abortion funds around the country have already been changing their names and language to be more “gender inclusive.” Last year, “Fund Texas Women” became “Fund Texas Choice,” because, in the words of co-founder Lenzi Scheible, the group “refuse[d] to deny the existence and humanity of trans* people any longer.”

(source: Abortion Is Not a Womens Issue Because Men Have Abortions Too)

By all means, let’s make sure we don’t “deny the existence and humanity” of any human being who bears the image of God.


Of course, to affirm “existence and humanity” of all people–a pretty low bar–doesn’t mean we must then also approve or even allow them to rob banks, kill babies, pretend they’re married in impossible combinations, embezzle, slander, become pirates, or demand that society pay for self-mutilation in the service of distorted self-image, though we may occasionally find that a desperately poor person’s stealing was not worth much punishing, and a desperately confused person may well need some accommodation.

But to affirm “existence and humanity” pretty definitely will mean not summarily executing them whenever those most responsible for their care wish to do so.

A low bar–but one we don’t seem able to reach.

Perhaps the Best of Ignatian Spirituality

I cannot help feeling as though Ignatian spirituality (at least as discussed and exemplified in popular literature) is a little too prone to solipsism, to seeing all Creation through the lens of one’s own interior desires, even where those desires are relentlessly turned outward toward others.

At times, though, I simply must admire the force and authenticity of the self-sacrificing and Christlike intentions it draws out of its practitioners:

Jesus, I have come to know that you do not want me to distinguish my sins from the other sins of the world, but to enter more deeply into your heart and consider myself responsible for the sins of those persons whom you may wish: those of Alain, of anyone else as it may please you. You make me feel, Jesus, that I must descend even lower, take with me the sins of others, accept as a result all the punishments that these may draw down upon me from your justice, and in a particular way the disdain of the persons for whom I will offer myself. To accept, or rather to long for dishonor, even in the eyes of those whom I love. To accept the great abasements, of which I am not worthy, in order to be ready at least to accept the small ones. Then, Jesus, my charity will resemble that with which you have loved me.

(source: Despising Jean Danielou | Matthew Schmitz | First Things)

So go read up on Danielou, Continue reading »