Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's All Been Said

It's so simple.

I had a hard time conceiving my second child. By the time I got pregnant, I walked on eggshells to make sure I didn't do anything to lose "the baby." Because I was trying, I knew I was pregnant from about the second week on, and I did everything possible to protect "the baby."

When I told people, they wanted to know when "the baby" was due. They would ask whether I wanted a boy or a girl, making the automatic assumption that it was a human.

Nobody asked me how my fetus (or parasite) was doing, or if I planned to "keep or kill." 

I know there are horrible circumstances under which women can become pregnant; I know there are horrifying circumstances under which they can carry a child. But none of that changes the fact that it is a child that's in question.

What we are in effect saying is that because this human is small, helpless, and hidden, and because we have absolute power to do so, we can kill it with impunity. Worse, we are saying that a human becomes a human when we say so. (So much for "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights...)

This kind of thinking is so horribly, horribly wrong - why is it so hard for us to see how easily it can,once established, be used against us? Think selfishly, if nothing else. We don't want to be the small, helpless and hidden person (and most of us are, after all) who is dispensable. So we have to be sure we don't let anyone else be that person, either.

Friday, May 1, 2009

And the Point Is...

The comment on my previous post deserves a full response.

First, a distinction needs to be made between people outside the Faith being able to attain heaven, and people who have rejected the Faith being able to attain heaven.

First of all, I don't know, nobody knows, exactly what God has in store for us. What we do know is what Jesus taught us.

It bothers me terribly that the words of Jesus have been cherry-picked; that Jesus himself has been co-opted; and that even his own representatives on earth (his priests) don't pass on what he taught faithfully.

The fact is, Jesus 1)said he had come to fulfill the Old Law (as in, put it away); 2) he said he was establishing a Church; 3) he said the only way to the Father was through him (not through Mohammad, not through Buddha, not through secular humanism); 4) he said that many would be called but few would be chosen (not everybody was gonig to make the grade). He also said some other revealing things, such as, you had to feel strongly about him - if you were "lukewarm" he would spit you out of his mouth. He said we should be prepared to sell all our possessions (give up the things of this world) and follow him. (Not follow a "good enough" path.)

I think if Jesus meant to tell us that it didn't matter which path we followed as long as we were good people, he would have said that. He said a lot of pointed and controversial things - controversial enough that his own people figured they'd better get rid of him because he was threatening all that they knew.

Jesus said a) he was God; b) he was the Messiah.

Ok. So, for my money, you either believe him, or you don't. If you believe him, then you've at the very least got to be Christian; ideally, you will be Catholic (if you believe that the Faith was passed down through the popes, bishops, and priests). The God of Mohammed is not the God of Christianity. The God of Christianity sent his SON to be our Redeemer. The God of Mohammed sent a prophet in the person of Jesus. Jesus brought a new and deeper understanding of God, in which the punitive Father was enhanced by the loving Son and the wise spirit. This has not happened in Islam, for example. And I don't even need to go into the other world religions to make it clear that their understanding of "God" it quite different from that of Christianity.

Now, I'm not saying that even the Catholic Church doesn't teach that someone who truly does not know about, or does not accept what the Church teaches can't get to heaven. I don't understand what the equation is there - what kind of behavior such a person has to exhibit, or what kind of "heaven" awaits him. (The Church is fully accepting of the idea of "mystery," after all.) I was never taught that someone who had never heard of Christ was doomed to hell. What I was taught that someone who believed and who chose to reject Jesus because the path was too hard, or the lure of the world too great, was putting himself in a danger of losing his soul.

So for me, the real issue is: do you believe what Jesus told us? As C. S Lewis has pointed out: either Jesus was crazy, a con man, or he really was the son of God. Take your pick.

But don't try to reinvent what he said, or what he asked us to do, because what he said, and what he asked, aren't to your liking. What's the point??

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Moral Nation

As usually happens when I ready anything by C. S. Lewis, I was struck with an insight - oddly enough, about politics, our President, and the nature of Christianity.

Lewis, in Mere Christianity, is discussing "love your neighbor as yourself." This is, as he rightly points out, not an easy concept for humans to wrap their arms around - no pun intended.

Typically, Lewis puts it in order for me: he asks us to consider how we love ourselves. He reminds us that we don't necessarily "like" ourselves or our actions all the time; we can be harsh in our judgement of ourselves. We can be impatient with ourselves when we fail, and we can demand that we do better the "next time."

Too often, he says, Christians think that "loving one's neighbor" means being all warm and fuzzy toward him, approving him, almost feeling "infatuated" with him. And of course, we can't do this with most people.

Christ wasn't expecting us to be all cuddly with everyone we encounter. Just as he cautioned us, again and again, to keep try - to "sin no more" - there is no reason why we can't expect the same from our neighbors. Just as we judge our lapses and falls from grace, try to obtain forgiveness (from God and ourselves), and try again - this is how we should be "loving" our neighbor as we "love" ourselves. 

This got me to thinking about Obama's policy of non-judgemental interaction - bowing to the Saudi King, for example - as opposed to having moral standards that we live by, and while we may have to accept other standards as "real," this does not mean we have to accept them as "moral." We can and we should judge them as not meeting our standards.

"Judge" has become such a bad word. But in fact, we judge every day of our lives: we choose this restaurant over that; this brand of shoes over another; Winesap apples are better than Delicious. By our standards, one things fails to measure up to another.

So, we do not believe that stoning adulterers is appropriate. On the other hand, we can also believe that adultery is wrong - we can judge it wrong, without going all the way to stoning. We can acknowledge in a  public arena that we disapprove of this behavior, and our relationship with anyone who indulges in it will be tempered by that behavior.

I had an argument with my sister and niece some years ago, when I was still off in exploratory mode. It was the typical intellectual elite versus fundamental Christian dispute: I said that any person who was honestly trying to live by his principles, his religion, was worthy of salvation; my niece argued that one religion was not as good as another. A religion that nodded to, for example, infibulation, was simply misguided, wrong, and not worthy of the same respect as Christianity.

Well, it could be argued that a lot of bad things have been done in the name of Christianity. Gays would argue that fundamental Christianity persecutes them, for example. And what about (pulling a few chestnuts out) The Inquisition or The Crusades?

The difference, I was reminded, is that Christianity does not recommend that gays be castrated in the name of purity. It simply suggests that they not act on their impulses, and that to do so is simply a sin like many others. While adultery may be a sin according to Christian morals, the punishment recommended is not stoning. (In fact, wasn't the heart of Christ's message, "I forgive you, I came here to die for you so that you could be forgiven, now go and don't do this again?"

That's a vastly different message from "We condemn you for this, we will now bury you up to your neck in the ground and throw stones at you."

How about the bad things done in the name of Christianity - Catholicism in particular? What about the Inquisition? While it's impossible to clear the Church's name where events like these are concerned, the more important point is: was the Church acting according to Christian principles when these things were done? Of course not.

These events were the result of an unhappy marriage between the Church and monarchies - a thing that the United States, at least, has been at pains to correct for. Even Catholics, who desire the Kingship of Christ, don't presume to want the Kingship of the Pope, for example. We know that's probably not a safe thing, as, much as he is the Vicar of Christ, and his representative on earth, he is still human, and is only "infallible" when speaking on matters of faith and morals, not when speaking on matters of politics and commerce.

So, getting back to "loving our neighbors," and our moral standards as both Christians, and as citizens of the United States: Obama's brand of tolerance is like my old, and I now think misguided notion that all paths to God are equal. The United States has to stand for decent, moral, humane behavior (we can get into torture another time). We may not always live up to our own standard, but we've got to try. (Just as, individually, we may not always live up to our own standards but we must judge both ourselves and our neighbors when we fall short - and we must expect the same behavior of both ourselves and our neighbors.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Fullness in God's House

I realize that what I'm about to relate in this post is completely subjective, but here goes.

When I entered my Church on Good Friday I was struck by its emptiness. I know that this is at least in part because all the accoutrements of the altar are gone - the altar cloths, the candles, the reliquaries, the flowers. But it's more than that. There is a spiritual emptiness, as well.

Father instructed us in the seven last words, and between each instruction, we prayed. I was also struck by how much these prayers felt like the praying at the Protestant services I had attended from time to time. The praying itself was sincere - the sense of the presence of God was missing.

I went to Mass at my sister's NO church on Easter Sunday. And I was struck again, in a church decorated to the nines, and full of people, how empty that church was, as well. With the applause, with the people running up and down the aisles, with the guitar music (yes, guitar music) and hand shaking and Father singing a pop song while he consecrated (I think) the host, the church still felt empty.

I realize that I run the risk of fooling myself with this "feeling" thing.

I can only honestly say that when I enter our shabby little Church, there is a feeling of "fullness," which C.S. Lewis so perfectly describes in the Space Trilogy when he talks about how the main character feels in the presense of the Eldil (angels). I could no more run and shout, or applaud, or call across the room to a friend (all things I see in NO churches) that I could pull out a sandwich and eat it. My sense of "other" is far too great. Is this conditioned reflex? I don't know...

In a way, perhaps, it doesn't matter. Perhaps what matters is being open to the numinous. If little children are taught to behave with great deference in Church - to whisper, to genuflect, to pray quietly - then perhaps these very acts open our hearts to the presence of God, and then we can feel it more acutely. And if we just go about our ordinary business, while God is still there, and while yes, we should feel the presence of God in all that we do, perhaps we are not experiencing it as fully as we might.

And after all, isn't this what Sunday is all about? God is with us everyday, in everything that we do. Sunday Mass is setting aside time devoted utterly to Him, and as such, He is with us in a special way. It is a time when we should be doing something outside our ordinary routines.

I can't help but grieve again for all that the Church lost when it chose to give in to the pressures of the world.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mere Anarchy

I read this feedback on a website this morning. The specific reference was to Tony Blair's taking the Pope to task for his "archaic" stance on homosexuality.

"This is why the bible should only be considered as an average novel, not literal instructions on how to live your life. What is immoral should be assessed by the values of the day and not be prescribed by an archaic book. To survive, we must modernise."

What's dangerous about this thinking is twofold:
1) all things "modern" become the next generation's "archaic."
2) simply adopting something "modern" is no guarantee that it will be better.

If we go down the road of "whatever, as long as it's new," we fail to grasp the concept of entropy. What is it the poet says?

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

- William Butler Yeats, from The Second Coming

Systems tend toward chaos. Society has persevered simply because some human do cling to "the old ways," and demand moral behavior that is not relative, but absolute. It is in the dynamic tension between the inevitible pull toward chaos, and this human tendency to absolutism (given by God?) that our survival subsists. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spiritual Muscle Building

On Sundays, after Mass, our pastor holds Catechism class for adults. It's a wonderful addition to the day.

This past Sunday, he talked about defeating bad habits, and practicing virtue. He said you can do this in steps: first, get rid of the mortal sins. Then, the venial sins. Next attack the bad habits, and finally, start seeking out virtuous behavior.

I have to admit I never thought about it this way before - it's a bit like planning to run a marathon when you're not even running yet. Where to start? By walking each day, of course.

He even suggested keeping a notebook in your pocket, and when you catch yourself doing something you shouldn't and don't want to be doing, you mark it down. Keep track of the type and nature of the fault. A picture begins to emerge.

Another priest addressed the enumeration of sins in the confessional. I have to admit I had also never really understood why we are supposed to say what we did and how many times we did it. The how many times, I now see, is a clue to how ingrained this behavior is in our personalities, in our day to day lives. Of course we all lie. But do I lie ten or twenty times a day, or ten to twenty times per month?

I've said before, but I reiterate here: Thank God for these men who devote their lives to the salvation of our souls.

And it also got me thinking how our Church needs so much to return to this kind of pastoral care - really helping us find ways to be better people on a daily basis.

When I was about 10 or so, it struck me very forcefully that we modern humans are very comfortable with the idea of building our minds (school, study, books, etc.), and our bodies (workouts, running, gyms), but we gloss over and neglect our spiritual selves. We understand that learning and physical training will demand an element of discipline and pain: getting out and starting that run is not going to feel "good." Yes, I'll feel better after, but not for the first 6 or so minutes. Why do we expect that training our souls is going to be any different?

An even bigger question: why have we completely abandoned the idea that our spirits even need to be disciplined? We seem to shy away from that idea - or even reject it with hostile vehemence. The "do you own thing" of my childhood became "you're perfect as you are," and finally, "you are God," as if you were perfect and all powerful spiritually just the way you are.

It strikes me this is kind of absurd, and even dangerous. We know that our bodies will decline and become ill if we don't discipline them (watch what we eat, get exercise, etc.). We know that our minds will slow down if we don't keep them active (reading, practicing music, even playing games). Why would we presume to think that third leg of our selves is any less in need of a good workout?

I realized that the Catholic Church, with it's "medieval" practices of fasting, abstinence, Confession, penance, etc., was actually on to something. When I deny myself something, however small, I'm taking control of my spiritual self - I'm building my spiritual vocabulary, my soul's muscles. These small acts build up; eventually I can take on greater challenges. And the payoff is when something truly big comes up: I'm tempted to cheat on my taxes or my spouse, for example. Because I have practiced saying no, because I have taken the time and suffered the pain of spiritual muscle building... maybe I can reach deep and actually avoid this temptation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The World's Ten Worst

Just an observation:

In today's Parade Magazine, the worlds ten worst dictators are named.

None of them are Christian; certainly none are Catholic.

But if you read the press recently, you'd swear the Pope was on that list.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Note to a Friend

I wrote this to a friend when he worried that his fearful complaints had sounded a little crazy:


What else can we do but sit helplessly by and watch these clowns flounder miserably in their incredible ineptitude?

But seriously, I blame Bush & Co. as well as, perhaps more so, the thieves and scoundrels in Congress, for paving the way for this to happen.

If we can't learn to be responsible and exhibit a fragment of decency and honesty, then we'll, as they say, "reap the whirlwind."  If businesses cannot police themselves, then they've in effect opened their doors for the government to rush in - as it's salivating to do, and has now done.

I don't care so much for me, though I feel a tad miserable at heading into my last act impoverished and uncertain, but I think about my kids and grandchildren, and wonder how on earth they're going to cope? What kind of a world are we handing off?

We eviscerated our Church because we were too selfish to want to obey its rules and we were so young and tasteless we didn't even know what incredible beauty it once offered; we've turned politics into glamor contests among jejeune poseurs; we've allowed government to regulate every aspect of our lives so that we can't even go sledding without a helmet and a permit; we've emasculated our culture - and let men remain children most of their lives, while women have become humorless, androgynous, angry harpies; we lie to our children routinely in school, teaching them not the truth but whatever nonsense is being spewed this year by the Ministry of Truth.

It's discouraging to say the least - and all we can do is rant a little to people who see it, too.

And I guess we can pray. One of the reasons I so treasure my little parish is that is really is like stepping back in time. The liturgy is intact. Our priests are tough and don't let you get away with anything - including caling them "Father Joe." I watched a nun go up the aisle to a child who was misbehaving and settle him down quickly. Boys are boys, girls are girls, and great respect is paid to the difference.

I don't think that everything from the past is "better" automatically. In order to thrive, every institution has to move and change as needed. So I'm sure the Church needed to address some issues at the time of VII. I do think that ecumenism needed to be addressed for the simple reason that life put us in touch with many more people than the average person came in contact with in 1850. Divorce had become a major problem for people who were now more routinely marrying out of the faith. If priests were getting lazy and sloppy in the way they offered Mass, or in instructing their congregations, then that needed to be looked at.

But what we got was another Protestant Reformation. Some day, long after you and I are gone, they'll have a name for this - when, I hope, the Church and society have recovered some sense (but usually it takes some kind of calamity for that to happen).

But in the meantime, I just complain (to relieve the pain), and pray (to hope for a better tomorrow). 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Rambling Rant

I stumbled across an article by Lisa Sowle Cahill recently.

I'd never heard of her before, but she is a self-described "Catholic Feminist." (Yes, the quotes around this term mean I think this is a contradiction in terms.)

In this particular article, she was expressing dismay over the fact that many priests had taken to the pulpit (ok, they stood at a lectern...) and let their parishioners know that voting for a pro-abortion candidate was a sin in the eyes of the Church.

She took the position that abortion was just one issue among many, and that Catholics had to vote their consciences, and that support for life took many forms in light of "Catholic social justice" teachings, blah, blah.

The article was published in the National Catholic Reporter. What distressed me most in reading this article wasn't her opinions, sadly misinformed and selfish as I think them to be. It was the posts that followed that made me feel downright sad and confounded.

From people who classify themselves as Catholic came assorted comments about how "Nobody knows when 'ensoulment' occurs, therefore, it's ok to abort." (I couldn't resist, I wrote a rebuttal comment asking - if you don't know, then why would you ever take the chance that you missed it by a day and actually killed an 'ensouled' child rather than an 'unensouled' human being in utero?) Another writer insisted that "viability" was the determiner for when it is ok to abort. And I couldn't help but state the obvious - 100 years ago, viability was a vastly different thing from what it is today. And viability varies enormously from developing child to developing child. My huge and well-developed son might have survived on his own at 22 weeks; my more delicate daughter might not have survived at 25 weeks.

Then you have to ask the question: what about medical intervention? Neonatal care has advanced enormously, enabling children who, 100 years ago, would inevitably have died, to survive, thrive, and grow up healthy. Why is one child, born at 20 week and wanted the object of care, prayer, and enormous outlays of money and effort; a child aborted at 20 weeks is biomedical waste? Why is the first child a human being (with the rights of a human - if I were to burst into the neonatal care nursery and shoot this child, I'd be accused of murder) and the second child just tissue with no rights?

Does anybody but me see the pitiful, terrifying irony in all this?

This - the illogic of it all - was disturbing enough.

But the fact that these so-called "Catholics" were so vehement, so dismissive, so sure of themselves, about how it matters more to "care for the living mothers and children" than to protect the unborn. How sure they were of themselves about "Catholics have always been told to behave according to their consciences" (what they neglect, of course, is the part about "well-formed consciences," that is to say, consciences that are the result of knowing, understanding, and accepting the teaching of the Church).

I wonder who these people are, where they came from, and why do they claim to be part of the Catholic Church?

But then, I feel the same way when I read some of the passionate and ugly controversy surrounding the liturgy.

The so-called "extraordinary form" of the Mass - the Tridentine Latin Mass - was the normative Mass for hundreds of years. As others have pointed out, it was the liturgy that inspired and consoled many, many saints. It was a form of liturgy that developed in a direct arc from the Apostles. This is not to say that it is identical to what the first Christians did. Of course not. They were also hiding beneath the streets of Rome, or sequestered out of sight in caves.

But that's another article - my point here is the uninformed and ugly debate that goes on about it. Many Catholics in their 40s today don't even understand the older liturgy - and, failing to understand it, can't see how rich, beautiful, and full of the story of our Faith it is. But they insist - as I pointed out in a previous post about a woman complaining about the return of the "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof" prayer - that "their" Mass is being degraded; "their" Church is being compromised.

Again I want to know: who are these people? Who taught them? Where did this new Catholicism come from? Since when is it ok for a Catholic to support abortion, in any form whatsoever? When did Catholics lose their love of saints, icons, devotions, (as the aforementioned "Catholic Feminist" writer put it, "magic formulas"), sacred space, Christ as King... I could go on and on.

Moreover, what's going to happen to the Church? How can the forces of tradition and the forces of neo-Catholicism ever be reconciled?

Pope Benedict is moving wisely - small step by small step, or as Father Zuhlsdorf (What Does the Prayer Really Say blog) says, "brick by brick." But even his small steps toward a restored, enriched Catholicism are being met with resistence and criticism.

When I'm confronted by this stuff, my first reaction is to debate it - to argue, to "prove" my case, to sit down and write an empassioned blog entry. And then I am overwhelmed by grief and helplessness. I feel as though the damage is too great, the split too profound, the change in belief too basic for these opposing forces to ever find common ground.

What next? I can only say I am glad that the Holy Spirit has guided us toward the Pope we now have. Surely this means something...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Inquisition Redux?

(I also posted this on my main blog: The Emperor's New Clothes.)
Now, this really scares me:

"Williamson apologized for his remarks Thursday. But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, or that he no longer believed them.

He had denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and maintained that no Jew was gassed.

The Vatican on Feb. 4 said Williamson must "absolutely and unequivocally distance himself" from his remarks if he wants to be admitted as a prelate in the church."

The reference, of course, is to the SSPX Bishop Williamson, who was foolish enough to answer questions about his attitudes toward the Holocaust during a television interview.

Of course, the history of the Holocaust has absolutely nothing to do with his work as a priest. While some are trying to suggest that his read of history demonstrates that he is anti-Semitic, and that that is somehow going against his Church and its teachings, in point of fact, he is free to hold all manner of private opinions about history, art, music, food, etc., and not be in violation of his duties as a Catholic priest.

He was ordered to make a public apology, which he did.

This was not enough.

So here's what bothers me: we are ordering someone to say he believes something he does not believe. He does not believe the Holocaust took place. Why is an admission that it happened the only acceptable thing for him to say?

I assume it did, but here's a confession: I wasn't there. I don't know. I am told that it did by reputable historians, though it is true that nobody has a verifiable count for how many people perished. But likewise, I was not there for the Inquisition. I am told that it took place, even though there is a great deal of dispute over how many people were killed, how and why. I assume I am being told the truth. I wasn't there for the Crusades, and while I have been told that it was an aggressive move by the Church on the middle east, recent historians have disputed that, and suggested that it was not as one-sided a dispute as we have been led to believe.

My point is this: history, as we know, is written by the victors. Often, things are written in the light most favorable to those victors. Much later, we may revise that history in what we assume is a more honest fashion, but in truth, that revision may be as faulty as the original because it is written through yet another distorting prism. History is constantly being rewritten, questioned, poked at and prodded to evaluate it in the light of new ideas, attitudes, and discoveries. Historians know full well that what has been written into the history books is not necessarily what "really" happened.

I'm not suggesting that the Holocaust didn't happen. I believe it did, and it is a shameful chapter in human history. What I am defending the is the right of historians, professional and amateur, for whatever  motivation, to re-examine the record as often, and as apparently foolishly as they wish. It is our obligation as free people to revisit history, to question the record, and to try to get the facts straight. So while we may not like the motivations for, or the outcome of, such an investigation, we should never forbid it.

Back to Williamson: How is forcing this man to make a public recantation any different from what was done to Galileo - a thing for which the Church has been castigated for hundreds of years? We say, "Oh, because Galileo was right!" But nobody - or at least, very few - knew that at the time. The evil was not what was said, but that he was forced to acknowledge something as true that he did not believe. Therefore, he was being forced to lie, publicly (which of course, Williamson is going to have a problem with as a Catholic priest) in order to save his skin.

Talk about the Inquisition! Aren't these the very tactics of that august body - let's just put you on the rack and torture you until you admit that you did something you didn't, or that you believe something you don't.

Williamson made a public apology for causing a scandal and embarassing his Church. That's as far as it needs to go. You can still think he's a crank for his beliefs, but unless we want to succumb to rule by the Thought Police, that ought to be enough.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Your God, My God, His or Her God

I was reading an article today about Nancy Pelosi and the Great Abortion Confrontation, in which Nancy has supposedly been chastised by both the Pope and her Bishop about her outspoken support of killing babies in utero.

I was struck by this phrase: "that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god."

What exactly is "her God?"

I know we use the phrase, "My God," when we pray. But I think this usage claims association - it is a statement of affiliation, acceptance.

But this "her god" - oh, and note the lower case G on the "god." This really means, "one view of god among many that this particular woman claims ownership of."

Ok, that may be the case. But if Nancy is a Catholic, then she has a view of God (capital G) which is transcendant, and which she should also believe is the true understanding of God as He has revealed Himself to us.

So she's either saying there are many gods of equal value, or many personal interpretations of this vague numinous thingie, and what it wants from us is totally dependent on what any individual wants that to be - that is, "god" is really just a construct of each individual, having no will of its own. That's pretty much the prevailing secular notion of "god" as a relic of our primitive and superstitious past, isn't it? "God" is sort of a quaint Lares and Penates good luck charm whose friendly assistance we invoke when we're in trouble. (I always shudder when I hear news folks say, "Our prayers go out to so and so, to whom something bad just happened." Huh? Our prayers go out "for" so and so, perhaps... but certainly not "to!")

I can only hope that the Church continues to be steadfast in its vocal corrections of these so-called "Catholics" who choose to pontificate in public on matters they clearly don't understand - or worse, willfully mis-state.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Christian Economy

"If there were such a society (ruled by Christian principles) in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious imprssion. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, "advanced," but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fasthioned - perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further; and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity."
C. S. Lewis

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dumb Bloggers

Here's a post from a "Catholic" blog that made me want to laugh/cry/spit up, simultaneously:

"

Great idea! Or not.

Oh boy. Just what the U.S. Catholic Church needs: one more apparently arbitrary change that directly affects lay members who are already on the brink of alienation.
Some of the changes they did adopt are minor, but in other cases Catholics will have to learn longer and more awkward versions of familiar prayers. For example, instead of saying, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," in the prayer before Communion, they will say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof."
Call me nutty (and I know many of you do -- it's OK; the feeling is probably mutual!), but the new translation seems to lose a lot of the meaning inherent in the old one. "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you" is broad enough that it could be taken to mean "into my heart," which is how I always thought of it. "Under my roof" adds jarring literalism that distracts from the intensely personal moment of "Yes, please, come in." Oh well. It's not my problem now. My sympathies are with those of you who will have to put up with it."

I'm going to be completely un-Christian here and say: what a dolt!

Here are the fruits of VII, folks - a CINO who has no idea why the words of the Mass were written as they were, how the liturgy has been mangled, denuded of meaning, and crippled in its ability to instruct, and who then magnifies her ignorance by posting it for all to see! She claims to be a "journalist," but made no effort to discover why that particular change in wording was being made - does the question "WHY?" never cross the mind of a professional "reporter??"

As one commenter finally pointed out, the original wording came from a Gospel in which a Centurion, seeking a healing, said to Christ, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof..." The words were lifted as written in the Gospel, and used in the prayer at Communion to express the deep faith of the man who originally said them. The faith that Jesus himself called out as the sort of faith we need in order to attain heaven. The whole point of repeating the words is to call to mind the Gospel and all of its meaning... not whatever made-up meaning the blogger chose to give it.

Which, of course, is/was/will be the danger of VII - that Catholics no longer understand the richness of their religion. They no longer know it, forget believe it.

Catholic-and-Water

I went to an "EF" Mass on Sunday.

This is the Mass offered by the diocese to placate traditionalists.

There had, previously, been a small parish that practiced a traditional form of liturgy. It was a busy, vibrant little group - with a large choir struggling manfully to learn the Gregorian chant, devout regular parishioners, and even extra-curricular activities.

The diocese closed it down.

It was replaced with a "regular" Sunday Mass - at 4pm - in the basilica.

It's a low Mass. It's said on the main altar, behind the NO table, which obscures most of what the priest and servers are doing. The church, being extremely large, seems empty, and the parishioners are not quite sure what the postures are for them, and because they are spread out through a very large space, they are even more awkward and uncertain.

(There are five altars in this church - why don't they simply offer the Mass at one of the side altars, providing a more intimate feel, and allowing the priest to be seen, without trying to look through the "table?")

Why, for that matter, don't they offer a High Mass? It's Sunday, it's the main EF Mass of the day. The congregation could then sing the responses, and feel more a part of the Mass. The chant is not all that difficult to learn.

And then there was the sermon. I admit it - I sinned in my thoughts as I listened. It was not a sermon, it was a feel-good statement that "God is good and loves us, all of us, each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we do."

Huh?

The gospel was the story of the householder who hires workers throughout the day, and at the end of the day, pays them all the same wage. The guys who worked throughout the day were not happy that they weren't paid a premium when they learned that the ones who worked only 1 hour got full pay. The householder says, that was the deal when you signed on.

The parable is about the fact that God will reward us all equally - with heaven - no matter when we sign up. And it goes on to say that "many are called, but few are chosen."

So the message really isn't about "God loves us all no matter who we are," it's about God's reward is what it is - eternal salvation - no matter when we come to it. And moreover, it's about the fact that while salvation is available to us all, "few" of us will actually find it. Wow! How different that is from the touchy-feely message of today - the "protestantized" message of universal, once and for all, salvation.

The Catholic Church always taught that Jesus' sacrifice was renewed again and again at the Mass, and that even after our baptism (the initial washing away of original sin) our salvation was not complete. We had to continue to earn it with our good life and our adherence to the Church. This is a very different message from what is being modeled now, and what is taught in Protestantism.

I'm not here to say what is "right." I'm just noting what I see going on - and what we were told at the EF Mass on Sunday.

I guess this is in part what the SSPX and others have been trying to say: it's not just the liturgy, though that is a huge part of what has happened. It's the other teachings, which have strayed far from what they had been. So even though there is an EF Mass available (however inconveniently, and however badly executed), it is still a watered-down version of Catholicism that is being taught.

Anti What?

I'm having an interesting email "conversation" with a friend about the recent doings re: the SSPX. He commented that he had a problem with the apparent anti-Semitism in the SSPX. Here is what I wrote him:

Here's a question for you - what do you believe happens at the Consecration? I don't mean what we're taught... I mean, what do you really, really believe? It's not a trick question or anything... I am seriously just curious.

I think part of the problem with the anti-Semitism is that the truth is the Catholic Church was what we would now call "anti-Semitic" for a long time. Not in a vicious way, but there really was an attitude of, "Oh, the poor, benighted Jews. Bad things will continue to happen to them if they don't convert."

I remember that we were always to be a tad suspicious of anyone non-Catholic. Protestants were kind of like our slightly dumb cousins from the hills... or perhaps more appropriately, our girl cousin who ran off and married a dumb guy from the hills. She was family, but she had shamed us. Jews were "other," more like a branch of the same species from which we had diverged a long time ago because we wanted to move along with evolution and they didn't. But if we were not to participate in Protestant religious ceremonies, we were certainly not to participate in Jewish ones!

I understood that the issue wasn't that these were bad people - they were good people with the wrong information. We had two obligations where they were concerned from a religious point of view: convert them if you can, and do not be converted BY them. So all in all, you as a lay person are better off not spending a lot of time in spiritual conversation with them. * More on that later * I think that as little kids, the idea of "just stay away" was because little kids can get their heads full of ideas for which they have little frame of reference. As we get older and are more comfortable in who we are - and frankly, as our thinking has been more shaped,  it becomes safer to engage with other ideas.

I think there are two things the SSPX has trouble with, and I think that the interpretation of these things is "anti-Semitism." One is what I've stated above - the SSPX still holds to the old Catholic notion, the pre-ecumenical notion, that if it is dangerous to have too many deep discussions with people of other faiths, it is even more dangerous to say, "This religion, that one, what difference does it make?" (If that is so, then why be anything at all? That's not a challenging question, it's actually something I've spent a lot of time wrestling with.) The other thing they object to is what they call "modernism," which is actually something all priests of Lefebre's and even Fellay's era took an oath against. (They were required to as part of their seminary training.) Lefebre took it seriously. It said that we had this body of belief that was solid and for the most part unchanging, passed along from the Apostles who got it straight from Christ. It was not to be tampered with - "Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical' misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely." (You can Google Anti-Modernist Oath and read the whole thing if you haven't already. I might even have taken it for all I remember...)

So anyway... Lefebre said, what can I do? I swore an oath, how do I go back on that and now say that all religions are equally valid paths to God, and other things that VII is leading toward?

So he and the SSPX continued to teach that the Jews were wrong to reject Jesus, and that the Protestants were wrong to break away from the Church, and that we should probably not spend a lot of time in philosophical conversation with them, because if they had erred in not accepting the Church, then who can we blame but Satan?

So then you have this tangle of a goofball like Williamson, who actually does say a lot of crazy things (but of course, you also have a goofball like Mahoney who has dancing girls perform in front of him while he sits on a throne.... check out the photos). We take his personal goofy notions (that the Holocaust was not as severe as is made out - he never "denied" it, btw, he just said it wasn't that many people who were killed in gas chambers) and we merge them with the old Church teaching that we, as Catholics, believe that the Jews and the Protestants and so on are wrong, and the whole picture adds up to "anti-Semitism."

I am no SSPX scholar - I just attend the Mass there because it is reverent and beautiful. But I do know that in the years that I've gone to Mass there, I have never heard a word from anyone anti-Jew or anti-Pope. The Pope is prayed for at every Benediction - "Tu es petra, etc." And the only time the Jews are mentioned is in readings from the Bible and when they are prayed for.

* On a personal note, I have to say that I think there is something to my mom's old dictum "Marry a Catholic." A fully "modern" woman, I was sure that religion didn't matter - that you could marry anyone and it wouldn't matter. My experience has taught me that I was dead wrong about that. I married a Jewish man, and I can only tell you that his world view was 180 degrees opposite from mine. Some of it was him, personally, I'm sure, but I also think that a lot of it was the way he was raised - with what values and attitudes. And our association did not make me a better person, but dragged me down into a mode of life that was nothing I am proud of. He was comfortable with it - I was not!

I think this is what the Church, what my mom, were trying to tell me. I had been raised, for better or worse, to believe that humans are corruptible, and that we have to try all the time to do good, to be conscious of God, and to be alert to the pulls of what we can call Satan or our worse natures. He thought that anything he wanted, whenever and wherever he wanted it was ok, as long as you a) didn't get caught and b) it didn't effect you materially (therefore, for example, the reason you didn't have sex with a 16 year old was because if you got caught you'd be in terrible trouble and would not be able to earn a good living... it was not about the harm done to the kid, or the existential "wrongness" of the deed, it was about the harm done to you). This thinking was so utterly different from mine, and as I said, my association with him didn't make him a better person (and honestly I did try... not in a religious sense, but in a personal sense), it made me a worse person. 

So I think there was a good reason why the Church tried to keep its people somewhat insular. It's hard to resist the pulls of the world. It's hard to say no to yourself. It's frankly hard to believe that there is a God, and that Jesus Christ is His incarnation, and that we have a direct contact with him.

So the question is - is it better for us to open the doors to all kinds of ideas, or is it better for us to focus on what we believe?

You and I would say open the doors - because that's what we were taught in school - that it is narrow-minded and ignorant to not look with an open mind at all ideas. Part of me is pulled very strongly to that. But... I had 9 years of old-fashioned parochial school. I had a foundation. I had something I could compare all the new ideas to. I did lose my faith in the process of all that examination - but the pull of it was somewhere in there. The idea of it was always there as something against which to contrast all the new thinking. Nothing I found in all my exploration came anywhere close to the peace and focus and frankly, value to my own way of life that I have found in the Catholic Church. And nothing else ever gave me the experience of the numinous like the Catholic Church.

Monday, January 26, 2009

SSPX Excommuniations Lifted, But Bishop Williamson is Still Not Honest

On Saturday, January 24, 2009, Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops, deo gratias.

And the press was chock full of Bishop Williamson's holocaust denial.

This is such a great example of how the press simply does not understand - not Catholicism, not anything.

What Bishop Williamson thinks about the holocaust has absolutely nothing to do with his position in the Church, and his ability to offer the sacraments. It is stupid, ill-informed, foolish, and does not do honor to his office of Bishop. But it has nothing to do with the Pope's lifting of the excommunications.

In effect, the Pope is saying that as the old liturgy was never "abrogated," that is to say, it was never forbidden and never replaced, these priests continuing to offer it, and to insist upon it being offered, was not "wrong," and was certainly not an excommunicable offense.

He is not suggesting that everything any of them ever said is right, is not sinful, is not worthy of reproach, and doesn't make him look like a fool. He is simply saying they have done nothing worthy of excommunication.

A murderer is not necessarily excommunicated.

Bishop Williamson is a liar. Lying is not an excommunicable offense.

Would that the press would understand this, and concentrate on why the excommunications were lifted, and treat the holocaust story as a separate issue. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Priestly Tradition

Reading an entry in What Does the Prayer Really Say blog. It's about lay people administering blessings, and whether it is appropriate for them to do so, particularly during the distribution of Holy Communion.

Of course, in my traditional Mass, there is no question of this - only the priests distribute Communion.

The comments following the post were most interesting. While most people were opposed to the idea of lay people imitating priests and giving blessings, Father Z went a step further and reminded us that Communion was probably not the place to be giving blessings, though it has become common for small children to be blessed if they come up with their parents. (In my church, Father will bless little ones who come to the altar rail with mom and dad.)

One wag wrote, "TJM, so when a layman asks a blessing of God, He plugs his ears and yells “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”? Just checking."

Of course, it's a good point. Surely God doesn't ignore anyone who asks a blessing on anyone else.

But that's not really the point. The point is the degradation of the office of the priest.

Like it or not, Catholicism is a priestly religion. Priests act as intercessors to God. In the case of Catholicism, they act "in persona Christi," (I think I've spelled that right!). That is, "in the person of Christ" for the rest of the people. They offer the sacrifice of the Mass, in the name of the people assembled. We come out of a tradition that consecrated certain people (priests) to the service of God. We have tabernacles - literal dwelling places for the Lord - in our Churches. We have sacraments, which only priests are qualified to administer except in the most grave and extraordinary circumstances (imminent death, for example). And even then, a lay person cannot absolve sin.

I'm not exactly sure why there is a desire on the part of modern Catholics to get rid of the priesthood.

Maybe "priest" smacks of "ancient and therefore unenlightened." Certainly among many of the "educated," priests are always villains. I had a conversation with a man the other night, and he was castigating the Catholic priesthood for its horrible predatory ways. I tried the best I could to defend not the actions of the sinning priests, but the priesthood in general. But in essence, he was really suggesting that people become priests to gain an unnatural power over the rest of us, and this "abuse of children" is just symptomatic of that.

How could I explain the gratefulness I feel when I watch the priests in our Church hear Confessions for an hour, then celebrate Mass, deliver a 40-minute, well-thought-out sermon (I can tell you as an actor, this requires a tremendous amount of energy!), then teach a Catechism class, then travel and hour to another mission church to go to it all again. And this is just Sunday. They have given up all the comforts of home, wife, children, in order to help save my soul. They have dedicated themselves to the service of God, and to my welfare. They are special. They can do special things that the rest of us cannot do by virtue of this dedication. It is, in my view, small compensation for all they have given up - but then, I'm not a priest. For these men, I am sure, to be able to hold the Blessed Sacrament in their hands, to be able to "make" it so, is more than enough for all that they have to sacrifice. It is their calling in life.

Why have the Catholic faithful become so self-centered, so self-important, that we can't live with this?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

For God So Loved the World

Trying to be God-centered in this world is very difficult; I also find that some people talk about it, but don't really mean it - it is almost like a badge they like to wear without having earned it. One of the things that C. S. Lewis stresses is the sternness of Christianity, the manliness of it - it is not a religion for wimps, even though modern man has made it seem that way, including much of the Catholic Church. I am lucky enough to attend the old Mass, but even at the new mass I find it all about how wonderful we are and how much God loves us - but loves us in a gooey, sweetie-pie way. And I think... wait a second! This is a God who humbled himself by assuming our form, and then dying a horrible, humiliating death, because we were so wretched in our behavior, and doomed otherwise. If a dad ran into a burning house and pulled out his child and died of horrible burns himself, we would not think, awww, how sweet! We would think, what a brave and loving father! What a wonderful man! (The new mass doesn't even refer to it being a "sacrifice" but stresses the "meal" aspect of it, as if this were not a great and terrible thing we were witnessing, but just having a Happy Meal!)

For that reason, I loved Lewis' Narnia books - Aslan (the Christ figure) was strong, and noble, a true teacher. He loved his friends, and they loved him desperately, but it was always with respect and the knowledge that he could destroy them in a moment...

And he demands them to be strong and bold, not wishy-washy and soft. I just finished reading Goodbye, Good Men, about the crisis in vocations in the Church, and while the thought is not new (to me, or to many), it was re-inforced in reading it: the Church has been feminized out of all proportion.

The Faith as I knew it as a child was not a Faith for the faint of heart. It required discipline, self-sacrifice, self-awareness, difficult challenges (you really were expected to be celibate until marriage, for example, or for life if you chose a religious life), and plenty of time devoted to God, services, prayer, and practicing your religion. (Today, for example, our sermon was an hour - an hour - long! I mentioned to someone recently how long our sermons are - usually 30-40 minutes, and he said, "I wouldn't like that." Awww.) Fasting, abstaining, penance, financial deprivation, personal sacrifice - these things were expected of a Catholic.

Now, it's all about me, how I feel, my "community," sharing a meal of love and brotherhood, standing rather than kneeling (it is both uncomfortable and beneath my "dignity" to kneel - come on, guys, this is GOD we're talking about!), my personal fulfillment (I'm a woman and I want to be a priest, and I don't care what Jesus did, or about 2000 years of tradition... I want to be a priest, so I can wear vestments and stand up on the altar, rather than be "second best!").

I remember reading The Nun's Story when I was a child. It was one of my favorite books, because I wanted to be a nun, and it described in great detail what the life of a sister was all about. I read this book probably 40 times, all told.

In one particular episode, Sister Luke (our heroine), who is a very good medical student (she is studying to be a nurse), is asked to fail her examinations. She is asked to do this because another sister has become jealous of her skill and intelligence. The Mother Superior feels that Sister Luke's act of self-mortification will be good both for Sister Luke's pride, and for the other sister's spiritual crisis.

Sister Luke feels that this is a waste, and that she is more valuable to the Church if she passes her exams and goes to the missions as a nurse. She compromises by doing less well than she is capable of doing so that the other nun outscores her, but not so badly that she fails.

I struggled with that request. Could I have so humiliated myself? I doubt it. But the old Church, and God, would not hesitate to ask us for these kinds of sacrifices. We were expected to "man up" and do it.

Today, in our long, long sermon, Father said, we should be joyful when God sends us trouble. He sends it to us for our good - he is the author of troubles. We should say thank you, and see these as opportunities to grow, and to have something we can offer God to demonstrate our friendship and willingness to bow to his will.

How many times have I said in recent months, "I submit to your will, just show me what it is." And perhaps He is showing me what it is, I just don't like what I see... so I keep waiting for it to be something else. Something not so painful for me.

Yes, God is about love - and there is a tender quality to God's love. But it is also very much the love of a father - and while mothers nurture and love unconditionally, father's love was, at least in the old view of things, based upon conditions. Dad expected us to perform: he set standards, and we tried to live up to them.

He was the one who, no matter how many times we fell off our bike, would pick us up, set us back up on the seat, and say, "Try again."

And most of the time, we did. And sooner or later, we learned to ride the bike.