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.