Monday, October 27, 2014

From the Files of Secularism 101: Yep, What You Need is More Self-Assertion

Yes, lyrics get stuck in your head. And those drafters of those jingles called pop songs came up with this gem:

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely

I know, you think the next line will be something like this:

And that was great 
because meekness is my fate
and I use it on every date.

But no, you are wrong - that's not how the song goes. It is - believe it or not  - a song about encouraging, yes, encouraging, people to assert themselves, contrary to the governing rule of our culture, articulated by that phrase that young people can't stop quoting, 

"I am young in years and you are old; Therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think. "I thought age should speak, And increased years should teach wisdom. (Job 32:6-7)

Kids love Job! Man, I wish they would stop quoting this phrase in all those Disney movies! It's so been done! Disney movie after Disney movie about how young people love to listen to their elders, and thereby thrive.
Oh, shut up about Job, Twitter!

But, no, as I've suggested, this rebel-siren has come up with something different. For once, finally, someone is encouraging young people to stand up for themselves. She believes there is another way. She believes that we must even roar, as it were. 

And no one need worry that with so many people roaring there will be too many chefs spoiling the broth, too many chiefs and not enough Indians. No, I think what our society needs is to hear from our young people. They have the gift in freshness, of inexperience, of naivete even, which is precisely what these times require. Old people have been listened to way too much, put up such a tall pedestal that it's just ridiculous. I say, for once, let's listen to people not weighted down by too much knowledge and experience, and leave the bloody old people alone in their old-age homes so they can get some peace and quiet for a change!

And then I talked to my mom and she had this totally downer thing to say:

Not my mom, but what's the difference -
all old people are like this, all the time.
Colin, have you ever noticed that pop songs always encourage people to do exactly what they want to do, that they always tell people to follow the path of least resistance, which is, after all, what 'going with your feelings' is?

She went on and on, quoting song after song, referencing movie after movie, pointing out what she thought were examples of this.

"Imagine a song that said 'obey your parents when they tell you to act responsibly, think about your future, not to drink too much, stop spending your money on yourself'."

I was like, "Yeah, imagine, how the Black Eyed Peas Song, "I Gotta Feeling" would go. Instead of saying:

Tonight's the night
Let's live it up
I got my money
Let's spend it up

Go out and smash it
Like Oh My God
Jump off that sofa
Let's get get OFF

I know that we'll have a ball
If we get down
And go out
And just loose it all

In my mom's world it would say something like this:

Tonight's the night
Let's help someone
I got my money
Let's help someone

Go out and help
Thanks, dear God,
Jump off that sofa,
Let's get, get helpful

I know we'll spread some joy
If we stop thinking about ourselves
Find someone 
to treat with love

Now, how lame would that be! It doesn't even rhyme! And, aren't there enough songs like this anyway? 

She ended off our conversation this way, "Josh..."


"Right, Colin. Listen Colin, why do you think pop culture urges self-assertion rather than meekness? is it because one is objectively better? Well, in themselves neither is better, if we understand them as polar-opposites, that is to say, one is about giving in and the other about not giving in to the other. Of course, that's not how Aquinas would define meekness. (My Baptist mother is always quoting St. Thomas!) But anyway, just for argument's sake, let's just say that that's what those two words mean and those are your two options in life - to give in or to not give in to another. Why is not giving in always trumpeted?"

"Well, a lot of these songs are by women, so is it feminism?"

"You have a degree, right?"

"Mom! I have more than one degree and you know that."

"You know how to distinguish causes and effect, right? If so, feminism is a product of modernity just as these songs are. And more than anything, modern culture is a capitalistic culture where everything is about selling."

Aha, now I had her. "Now you are the one who is mistaken: confusing accidents and essences."

"Am I?" she grinned through her caked-on red lipstick. "What is democracy and why did Aristotle not like it?"

"Cuz the masses are not..."

"Cuz the masses are not..." she interrupted me in the snottiest tone. "And you see the links between our materialistic culture and democracy?"

"But what does that have to do with the songs?"

"Songs are not meant for your entertainment. They are meant to sell you something."

"That's unduly cynical!" I said, stomping out of the room.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Virtue, That’s the Thing

            In preparation for what I think will be a great issue of the Catholic Review of Books, I have started to read a number of wonderful books on marriage. The fine people at Ignatius Press sent me several and those other fine people at Sophia Institute Press have sent me a few on the topic too. Ignatius has those ‘controversial’ books taking on Kasper directly with robust historical, canonical and theological essays. Power-punches, for lack of a better phrase. Sophia has sent a book that has kind of stopped me short, called “When Divorce is not an Option.”  It is written by Dr. Gregory Popcak, a psychologist.

            I don’t like books like this in general. No, that’s not right. I don’t like to read books like this. I think they are very useful for people, but I don’t enjoy reading them. But this one had me right from the get-go with two points: 1) the author accepts the possibility that a marriage can fail because of one person (yes, it’s almost always the fault of both, but there are cases, I am convinced, where it is 99% one person’s fault), 2) he promises he can help a marriage even when only one of the partners wants to fix it. Having been sold by this book so quickly, I thought, “Hey, Anne-Marie and I should read this together,” laughing at myself, because I desperately hate when she makes this suggestion to me. Keep in mind she never suggests we read theological encyclopaedias. Rotter.

            Anyway, I also started to read the short book by Cardinal Müller, Hope of the Family. The good cardinal and his interviewer begin by noting statistical tendencies in marriage. This information is always interesting, but seems to me almost beside the point. One thing people never seem to notice – whether we are talking about writers, journalists, theologians, psychiatrists, Synod-members – is that from a statistical standpoint, marriage has never worked . I read a lot of stuff from Antiquity. I read a lot of Medieval and Modern history. To say that ‘marriage is in a state of crisis’ suggests that it hasn't always been. And there is no such thing as a permanent crisis, is there? I blogged a few months ago about that new difficulties that young people have now in their marriages that were not there before. Am I going to hereby contradict myself? Nope, just perhaps to look at things in a broader perspective. I argued in that post that without the help of a Catholic community, grace, good-guidance of parents, that marriage is nearly impossible today. I stand by that. What I want to say here is that even with these things it is not easy, and it has never been easy, nor known ‘statistical success.’

            The common-denominator is virtue. While marriage is certainly good for us, and not only that, necessary to our nature, and, indeed, a fulfillment of our nature, to move it from merely fulfilling the biological imperative and developing its economic potential, to something that is holy, something that cradles, sustains and nourishes virtue, well, that is something altogether different. Do these books, synods, psychiatrists miss that? As a theologian, that is the part to which I must attend.

            Does the literature properly attend to this distinction? Probably not. In the case of the defense of marriage, vis à vis homosexualism, I have seen no rigorous attempt (and this is like wishing for oranges from apple trees) to speak of the economic meaning, versus the biological meaning, the moral meaning, and the theological meaning of marriage. I have no doubt that the public is incapable of working through the complex issue of homosexuality. It is one that at least requires an extensive knowledge of human psycho-sexual development – not to mention having a serious handle on logic, and when it comes to talking about whether it’s good or not (biology can talk about whether it is biologically ‘fit,’ but not anything more than that) you kind of have to have a handle on ethics. Whether it is natural in the sense of ‘good,’ as fulfilling the theological notion of man as found in the revelation of Christ – that is so far out of the capacity of the great unwashed masses. And, how it is to be understood in light of ethics (i.e. Aristotle’s happiness principle and/or Kant’s categorical imperative) that is also well beyond the capacity of 99% of people.

            Judges like to think that they are operating from a position that is at least comprehensive of the biological and ethical dimensions, but people would have to be seriously self-deluded to think that it is not about popularity, serving demagogic forces, i.e., the way the wind is blowing. People-pleasing is their subconscious drive, I'd say. (Everything is politics, and in the judiciary, this is conspicuously so.) Consciously, judges think about how to make things fair and equal. But equal does not make for fair if there are reasons why heterosexual unions need to be distinguished from homosexual ones. Treating cats and dogs equally is to give both of them cat food. Equal does not necessarily mean fair. In any case, is it fair to forbid tax breaks to one class of sex-union granted to another? Yes, it is. A nation has an obvious vested interest in favouring one type of union over the other. Every medical system is based on making distinctions between people: people who smoke do not get heart transplants, for instance. If there were an unlimited number of spare hearts it would be unethical to deny the smoker a new heart. Any money given to person X is money taken from person Y. Tax breaks for X is money taken from Y. Money is a finite commodity. Not only is it in the nation’s best interest to promote heterosexuality for the obvious short-term economic reasons of population sustenance and growth, but a morally healthy populace is civilly fit one. Moral health is the only foundation for the civic virtues without which no society can thrive. Otherwise we descend into the chaos of the ghetto, for instance, where there is a serious dearth of moral and, therefore, civic virtues. The question about homosexuality must be a comprehensive one. It is obviously an unhealthy lifestyle choice. But why? Is that intrinsic to homosexuality or to society’s poor regard for it? It is evident that it is to a great extent intrinsic to it. So what? So everything. A society that does not promote various physically and/or morally healthy activities seems like a rather pointless one. What is the point of the state? It is meant to produce a greater good than can be gained without voluntary co-operation. If it cannot do this, it has no point. Nor is this an infinite type of calculus which is meant to reduce people to mere cogs in the efficiency machine. For force characteristically has an inverse relationship with human happiness. We cannot force people to not be gay, nor can we force people to think well of it, if we are interested in being a truly healthy culture.

            So, governments have an interest and a role to play in marriage but it is not the comprehensive one some, or many, imagine it to be. Governments are at the service of marriages, not the reverse. Governments are meant to help families, not families help governments. In a certain sense one could say that insofar as governments help families, they are legitimate. But the definition of a family has nothing to do with government. In the worst case we could say that a family is what the government defines it to be for the sake of its political objectives. That is how the communists in Russia and China defined it. They had realized a long time ago that the traditional notion of the family was one that undermined the hegemony of the state.

            If there is one thing that links the moral views of the great philosophers from Antiquity and the pre-Modern era as a whole (and there are many things that unites the moral thinking of these great philosophers – read my up-coming book, Philosophers Behaving Well – I am not kidding, I have been working on this for a while. Someone give me some bloody money so I can keep working on it!), if there is one thing that unites their moral view, it is that a state’s usefulness is defined in terms of how it serves the basic good of the human person. Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, the Stoics, all looked at things this way. They did not begin with the state and figure out from it how people could make it stronger; they began with the person and asked how the state can make people happier. What kind of state there should be was determined by how good it was thought to be at making people happy.

            In this light, marriage is properly considered 'in the interest of the state' in this service sense. But it does not get to design marriages and families. If it wants to be of service to people’s happiness it must ask what things are working against family flourishing, and attempt to deal with some of these things. But it must not force compliance with programs. A happy family is a self-determined one.

            Okay, it has taken me a long way to get to this word, self-determination. I suppose I could have dispensed with the last four or five paragraphs, or really everything after my third paragraph, but the above digression does at least provide some political context. There is nothing a Church program can do to make marriages better; nothing statements can do – statements in addition to the crystal clear articulations of the Faith we have received up to this point.  In fact, statements seem most often to have the very opposite effect. I know I am going to get into trouble with this one, but you know what a great waste of time, talent and treasure is: episcopal conferences. More paper work, more meetings, less clarity, energy dissipated. Lots of money spent on generating documents no one will ever read or benefit from. Let the popes speak, let the bishops speak, let priests speak, let conferences go by the wayside. They perform no essential enculturating service, which is how they explain their existence. Can’t Quebecois read and understand papal encyclicals and the Catechism for themselves? If they can’t, what’s wrong with the Catechism?

            Self-determination. What families need is human virtue. Any and every happy marriage in the past or in the present had one thing as a part of it: people trying to live well, being selfless, caring, loving, self-sacrificing, working hard in service to the other. The question of how we can have good marriages is first and foremost, how can we have moral people? Ideological confusion is a part of the problem in that it falsely defines the good. Church documents can help with this, but, as I said, we have more than enough of these already, and the more produced the less weighty each one becomes (basic supply and demand theory here). Economics and politics can help and hurt, as I’ve said above. Taxes that promote family life, indeed, are pro-life, and not based upon the cynicism of life’s meaninglessness and a belief in the arbitrariness of social covenants, are indeed helpful, but they are not sufficient to make a marriage succeed. Nor can knowledge of psychology or even of theology makes for a happy marriage – these things help. The only thing that makes for a happy marriage, again, is virtue. Other things can bolster virtue, but not take its place.

            There is no marriage crisis. There is a virtue crisis and this has been the case since the Fall of man. If you get rid of false ideologies, if states stop harming families by supporting sinful structures with their resources, if the Church clearly articulates the Faith, if, if, if, then we will get back to square one: the basic problem of being good in light of the Fall. Then we have to work on that problem. What separated the relatively divorce-free past from today are the above things that have added problems on top of the basic problem of original sin. Nevertheless, even if you remove all the Kaspers,all the homosexualists,all the United Nations, and the communists, all the pessimistic philosophies, you will take us back to a better age, yes, but not to a time where marriage was statistically working.

           Sometimes our analysis can lead us into a false nostalgia, false in that it considers the past to have been some golden age that we must return to. Certainly, there were fewer divorces in the past than now. Certainly, a society that has a heterosexual notion of marriage, certainly, one that has a sacramental notion of marriages is for that reason better than ones that do not. However, that does not mean that that is enough for good marriages. The absence of divorce, homosexuality, abortion and pornography will not make good marriages. Through most of the millennium that was dominated by a sacramental notion of marriage, marriage was still a struggle. Sure, economic forces helped families cohere in a sort of unity. This was a unity of work and of geographical unity, not necessarily a unity of hearts. Of course. 'no fault divorce' has made the world a worse place, but it came in because people wanted it, not by the force of 'some enemy in the night.' Marriage is always hard. Modernity did not make it so. We need to insist on these facts because when we define problems inaccurately, we cannot hope to discover how to fix them. Subsistence agriculture was hard on families and marriages. But this does not mean that the more leisure couples have the happier marriages will be. We've never had so much leisure; coincidentally, we have never had so much marital unhappiness. Short skirts cause problems in marriages, but long skirts do not cure marriages. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's Called the Internet, Your Eminences

It has now become apparent to many, an inescapable uncomfortable conclusion to all of us faithful conservatives who would rather die than to find ourselves guilty of preferring manna to God, the Synod was an unmitigated PR disaster. But this disaster was not initiated just two weeks ago. No, this one was a long time in the making. It started when someone had the bright idea to do that most democratic of things and do a survey of Catholics' views on marriage, etc. I don't recall St. John Paul doing that, Bl. Paul VI, Leo XIII, Pius XI, Paul III, Innocent III, Gregory VII, Gregory I, Leo I, Callistus, or any other pope all the way down to Peter doing that.

This is not the age of hand-written letters, written with perfect penmanship, sent on a boat special delivery, from Baltimore to Rome, written by the Primate of the American Church with long-winded, elegance by someone deeply aware of the teachings of the Church, to address concerns that a Church Council should deal with, if His Holiness so deems it expedient to do so...

Nor, is it the 1960s when radio and television carried sound-bites delivered through channels that, it seems, were still fighting hard to prove their journalistic competence.

For better and for worse, this is the age of the internet. The relatios can be seen and translated within hours of their production.

But losing was a foregone conclusion ever before the Synod was convoked. It started with the surveys, which allowed people to remember the error that the Church can 'produce' doctrine. When did he ever say, 'no' simply and straightforwardly, that pope who says judge not? And every day since then doubt and uncertainty was propounded through lamentable lack of clarity. The pope is charged with one thing: to protect the deposit of Faith above all. No, this one is not the gifted theologian that Benedict and John Paul were, but I have now read up on his history, he has always been a very strong person, not a push-over. He exudes leadership, having been made Jesuit Provincial just two years after his final profession.

There is a significant learning curve here. When isn't there? Well, I suppose when you are Ratzinger, who spent the two decades previous to his elevation to the papacy in Rome.

Every pope must realize sooner or later that the only way to be loved and to create love in the world is to first be hated by standing for something. Jesus wasn't afraid of being hated. But He was hated in an unmerciful age for urging mercy, not for urging mercy in an age that does not believe in sin in the first place.

And again, this is an age that has no secrets. Like never before, the internet links the most
interested and insistent Catholics in the world to where they'd like to be. Liberals on the periphery of the Church will not check every word for spelling and punctuation, They are uninterested in the details and just make it up as they go along anyway. The conservatives will check every pen stroke.

Images like this permitted us to believe something great was occurring.
We couldn't see any closer, we couldn't see the warts and the politics.
This is no longer possible.
This creates unprecedented scrutiny and makes the task of being pope basically impossible. Pope Francis thought he could improve something. It was perhaps wishful thinking for a man who thought that in Rome he had still to contend with the same forces that had made him loved in Buenos Aires. No, love for the poor is not enough, as it was there, as it was for the Archbishop of a diocese in the Third World, as it was for Mother Theresa. It is not enough for a pope. Being poor is not a sin. Divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, adultery, these things do in some capacity or another involve sin and accountability.

Pope Francis came on the scene with all the largeness with which St. John Paul came on the scene. But that was a different man and this is a different time. Pope Benedict created no expectations he could not manage. He was not the 'size' of his bookend popes and yet, even still, had the wherewithal to stay within the humble frame with which he had been blessed by God.

But all is not lost, even when one crushing defeat after another has been delivered to him. Francis has now had his Pearl Harbor (as a Canadian, I should say, his Dieppe), I suspect, but not his Waterloo. It is interesting to note how he was able to manage his Jesuit province well even under the very difficult strain of liberation theology among his Jesuits, all the while contending with a brutal governmental regime. Francis gives the impression that he thinks that all problems can be worked out without recourse to force. Bergoglio the Jesuit Provincial was not that kind of man: he understood that there are times when we are confronted with an either/or choice: either I can be a Jesuit or I can be an Argentinian. He had had to let many priests go when it became apparent that it was no longer possible for them to remain linked to Ignatius because of their commitment to their politics. I suspect that soon he will see how far 'every opinion on the table' will get him. From one liberal to another, no, we are wrong, men do not by nature love the truth and naturally seek it. 

This age of the internet has recreated the theologians of the Vatican II era, the talking-head spin-doctors, like Schillebeeckx and his ilk, but this time it is the cardinals, not the theologians, doing all the talking out of turn.

Cardinals, of their nature, are advisers to the pope. Why are they talking to people other than the pope, then? It all comes down to Kasper. Silence this heretic and then there is a right to enforce discipline on the conservative cardinals. They shouldn't be speaking either.

Too many poor Catholics like me have given up too much and embraced too much suffering for the sake of the Church's teaching on marriage as taught in the catechism, in Humane Vitae and elsewhere, for it to be merciful to let this heretic continue to speak as if "everything's possible."

"If there is no God", said Ivan Karamazov, "everything's permissible."

"If marriage is not exclusive, permanent and fruitful, it is nothing."

"If there is no pope to defend the hard things I have done for Christ in my marriage, I have nothing."

Contraceptors chose against the Church. The divorced and remarried (not annulled) chose against the Church. Homosexuals who want their 'bond' equated with marriage and not to exercise the requisite self-discipline out of faith in the Church, the Bible and Christ, what have they chose and what will they chose once their demands are not given in to?

I know how to use contraception, by the way. And, I find women other than my wife attractive. But what I do and what I don't do means that the pope is mine, the Cardinals are mine. They answer to me, says Canon 212.3 (oh, just read the whole section: The Obligations and Rights of all the Christian Faithful (Cann. 208 - 223).

See what I did there? I went on the internet and quickly consulted Canon Law, in order to throw it back in the faces of the very people who crafted it. Today this is possible. Thousands of people may read this post. Today that is possible. Even twenty years ago this was not, after all, I am but a man without office, without mandate, without insider's knowledge, without much of anything.

This is the age of the internet, let the Church beware. This isn't your granddad's Church anymore, for better and for worse.

I have thought long and hard about how the changes in technology, economic changes, cultural, educational, and sociological changes, impact Catholic life and how the Gospel should be and must be presented now. I have arrived at some conclusions, though not many. I know the history of the Church quite well. Some of our institutions, of course, are not essential to the Church, some are. The Church has been a leader in using the modern means of communication, but we still have light-years to go, as the October Roman Marriage Debacle has proven.

Yes, as St. Athanasius spoke all the
enemies of Christ's divinity fell silent in
amazement. Or something like that.
There are no secrets anymore. St. John Paul's image was carefully crafted, and yet he beneath this he was still a saint, and yet the craft was there. Maciel's image was crafted too, but fell apart when, in part, technology brought an end to his lies. In addition to what I have said so far, one reason why the Synod has failed, has failed to promote that cherished institution called marriage, is because we have finally seen as never before, the very human nature of Roman politics. Cardinals fighting each other, that has always been the way of things, if you know Church history at all. What has changed? Well, before only the very few were privy to it. It's hard to see the Holy Spirit at work in this. There is no doubt that there was a lot of very earthly things going on in the minds of the Council Fathers at Vatican II, and the previous councils, but other than the people who were there, no one but the specialist-historian knows about these things.

I enjoy a good rip-roaring debate as much as anyone, but there are limits. I will not debate about things for which no reasonable quarter ought to be given. One ought not debate the morality of the Holocaust. With a Christian one does not debate whether or not Jesus is God. With a Catholic one does not debate the essential elements of the sacrament of marriage as found in the New Testament and in the Tradition of the Church. One is welcome to believe whatever one chooses to believe, but as a cardinal of the Church, a bishop of the Church, you espouse the clearly evident Faith or you go away. Origen did not know how to understand the 'subordination' of the Son to the Father. Ignorance about that today is inexcusable in a prelate. So too marriage. Augustine defined its sacramental profile in about the year 400 AD, but the Lord spelled it out pretty clearly four centuries earlier. Since Augustine, we have the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas, the Catechism of the Council of Trent and now that of St. John Paul. There are no excuses here.

A captive audience was waiting to hear that, "no, it is impossible to commit sacrilege against marriage and yet receive communion, and why." But no one heard this, did they? Will anyone listen ever again?

The Apostle Luke does not flatter the Athenians when he says that they loved nothing more than to hear new things (Acts 17:21). The secular media and the people the Church hoped to reach out to were only interested in hearing something new. No, it wasn't served up quite as they had hoped, but then again, to them it was but a passing idle curiosity, which would have led them to no further thought about the authenticity of the Church as God's Church. These liberals try so hard to impress the world, a world which they can't imagine as other than deeply interested in their efforts to accommodate them. To the outsiders, especially homosexual activists, the Church is just one more opponent to conquer, to bring to compliance, the ultimate disgrace. No one respects an enemy that surrenders. Stalin and Hitler respected Pius XII, not by choice but by necessity; Napoleon Pius VII; Henry IV Gregory VII; Attila Gregory I.

A great theological mind is astounded that he had 'alienated an entire continent,' but it was a fact, he had said it, and the world of Catholic bloggers was writing about it even before his words had hit the ground. There are no more secrets and there are no more sacred Roman protocols.

When you get rid of the red shoes you invite people to look at your feet and yours alone; when you chose to live in a smaller room, your room replaces the entirety of the tradition of which you were meant to be but a part. When you undo tradition, you become the sole focus of scrutiny. Only Christ could stand that, and have it declared, there was nothing in Him lacking.

But where did these prelates come from? We had thirty years of perfect popes. I was in the seminary for one year with him who is now the Archbishop of Toronto. In that time homosexuals and others advanced to ordination while the less slippery did not. It's not that the popes were incompetent; they were, alas, imperfect. I don't know how Kasper continues to get away with these things. he was elevated by Saint John Paul, survived under Benedict and now seems to thrive under Francis. How?! Well, have you met the bishops in Canada, for instance? We could ask the same question about school teachers in the Catholic system, about the priests in the parishes, about the lay-workers in chanceries. What were you expecting - people who know and love the faith and are not influenced by the world?

Here is a very good article by Russell Shaw on the very topic I attempt to address in the above post . He entertains the idea that the Synod was not a display of profound incompetence, but a shrewdly managed farce ordered toward furthering the aims of liberals.

And, again, here is Canada, we are expected to believe the pablum served up, for instance, by Father Rosica over at Salt and Light. Some will, but not those who will play a much more active role in the Church in the years to come. Wow, how insightful. Let's all have abortions so we can all have one child too.

I guess Fr. Rosica does not understand that such a sentiment is a favorite one of abortionists. It's not meant to be so. It's just more of the mushiness that Salt and Light attempts to pedal as if all things are a-okay. We don't need to be reminded that there are irregular domestic arrangements in the world today. We need to be reminded about the norm from which they depart. We need to be reminded about why the abnormal is also the unhealthy. It's not a statistical aberration, mind you. No, the irregular is the statistical norm. But thanks for opening our eyes, Father, to what everybody sees around them all the time anyway, while continuing to keep us in the dark about the real division between the City of God and the City of Man.

Again, where did these cardinals comes from? From the same place Father Rosica did - the staus quo that attains power and importance through avoiding the issues that really matter. Not from a coherent political party. No, from the very predictable tendency of majority who would do anything to avoid looking like an outsider, a persona non gratis.

Pope Francis is not afraid to be that person. I am sure of that. He does not dwell in the mushy middle out of fear. He does so out of holy conviction. He is not afraid of anyone or anything. Unlike most of the clerics who adore him, we add. Yet he fails to grasp - so far - how the one job of the pope is not to advocate for the poor, but to teach and defend the Faith of the Church. In Argentina it was cool for clerics to look down on advanced learned as esoteric and decadent. So too did Marx, though quite inconsistently, in The German Ideology. The head must lead.

Doctrine is usually advanced through the pushing away of shadows. Perhaps the point of all this in the great and holy history of the Church, is just that, to teach the faithful that the head leads the body and that doctrine is not superfluous in comparison with orthopraxy. One cannot do rightly when one does not understand rightly.

There is much more to come from this pope. The chaff will have to be blown away. And they will be as the result of this debacle.

Let me just conclude with two points:

1) The Church does not need another document on marriage. You might not like that I have said this, but I am 100% correct.

2) No Synod has ever been surrounded by this much kerfuffle. Indeed, you reading this, can you even name another Synod? Whether you love or hate Francis, love or hate NFP, love or hate Kasper, you cannot disagree with me on this one. And what does this fact tell you?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Lies we Lie to Women

A woman, far more articulate, intelligent and knowledgeable than me wrote an excellent 'response' to the whole egg-freezing offer of super-cool companies Apple and Facebook to their female employees. Please read Lea's post here.

I have been thinking about this and just want to add a few points.

This is just one more lie we tell women to get on their good side, flattery so that they will do what we want them to: vote for whom we want, comply with what we want, sexually, etc.

The first lie (in order of immediate gravity) is that abortion has no negative consequences. This is so astounding a lie that it should make any thinking woman stop to think, despite her investment in the culture of death.

The next is that sex has no emotional toll. This is a commonly discussed one, but one which people are just not getting. Or, maybe they are getting it, but feel ashamed to have to dissent from the party line our of weakness. Sex is best in a loving, safe relationship. Everyone deserves this and everyone needs this. Everything else is a poor runner-up prize. If no one wants to marry you, but to have brief sexual encounters with you, that probably makes you feel like crap. It should.
It is insulting. And, many people have turned themselves into that cold calloused person who protects herself from the hurt of being used. That's not a person easily loved. Using people thus becomes that much more sensible - there is no one out there who can be loved, it seems! People who are capable of loving for life are the kinds of people that one could be married to for life. The culture of death does not make many of these. Who would want to marry a woman (or man) who puts that person second to their work, their ambition?

The next is that you are only valuable if you are like men economically. This is one that far too many woman buy into. It makes sense when the first two lies are in place: your love is not worth living for and your babies are just junk. So, what do you have to live for? Making money and 'being somebody.' Life is altogether devalued and all that is left is material. Your virtues and your heart are worthless. Since values are relative, the only thing we can agree on is that money is concretely good. It's the one thing that you can't relativize. In the multicultural urban setting, it's the one thing that unites all the people scurrying about who have not worked on their insides nearly enough. But just picture it, I mean outside of the snow job that Hollywood has been giving to it.

If only she got to work 12 hour days for people
who don't care about her!
What could possibly be more rewarding - being the emotional heart of a family, surrounded by children and a husband who love you and turn to you first of all the people in the world for support and guidance, a husband who will grow old and die by your side, children who will unconditionally love you as babies and children and then grow up and serve you and cherish you in your old age, on the one hand, or fighting your way through the cruel world of business, crushing and being crushed, and going from one exploitative relationship to another, only to die alone, never really sure if you made a different to anyone or to anything? But this isn't the picture you get from Hollywood, or now from Apple and Facebook. No, you can be successful in a Fortune 500 company, have lots of interesting and emotionally fulfilling relationships, thaw your eggs, and then go on and be a great mother. We all know the best mothers are the ones who squeeze in motherhood at the end of all the other stuff they wanted to do.

For Christians, it's the relationships we have that come first - God and family. etc. For pagans it's me and stuff. And so mothers who froze their eggs in order to do that last thing they wanted to do in their lives, and then proceed to do the bear minimum for these children - put them in daycare at 6 months, etc., will raise children who will, in turn, do the same when their turn comes. And civilization will just be so great!

Hollywood has told us that:

1) bad people live in the country, good people in the city

2) religious people are dumb and hateful

3) what's makes you a great person is to be found only by suffocated your feminine, maternal nature

If the world is right, and everything is about money, then who's making money off the lies we tell to women? I think you can make a pretty good list yourself.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marriage and Beauty

One of my favorite bloggers is one of my favorite people - Sarah, who writes with Tess over at The Feminine Gift. She wrote this nice piece about marriage ideals falling apart and all that. "Replying" to it a good chance for me to get away from Synod nonsense.

You should probably share a great many of the beliefs of your friends, because otherwise, why are you friends? And so I do with Sarah. I am not going to disagree with anything she wrote, just comment on and amplify a few things, and this for a few reasons.

Adjusting to marriage is an incredibly hard thing. And Sarah is right to point to the huge disservice media does to this end. Media ruins everything good. One example that never ceases to cause me to chuckle: sex on TV. The thrashing about and frantic ripping off of clothes. Have the directors of these shows and movies ever even had sex? What they are portraying is, to my mind, unpleasant, kind of like wolfing down an ice-cream bar as fast as you can, as opposed to actually tasting it and enjoying it. I know these scenes are meant to be titillating but I find them so absurd! Do you like my analogy with the ice-cream bar?

That's just one little example. It's not just religious people who have myths to sustain them. Some of secular cultures most basic and important myths revolve around sex. Conrad Black, I just noticed, a person with good political judgement but silly religious judgement wants the pope to change his mind on the pill. Now, why would he do that? Is pill culture really working out for anybody? I know you would like to think it is, but is it, by any measure that means something, like human happiness?

Other myths: artificially (or naturally) swollen body parts are important to human happiness, whether these be attached to men or to women. Living together before and without marrying is all fine and good, and one can go happily from one cohabitation to another happily and with self-respect. One can be happy without marriage: i.e. realizing that no one in the world wants to be committed to you for life. Sex-acts are the same as love-acts. My high-schooler is being subjected to this myth right now in 'health class.' And so on and so on.

Sarah mentioned the move 'Hall Pass.' I think I watched ten minutes of it, or just read the preview on Netflix. And yes, I am morally superior to Sarah. If I wanted some addition freedom 'granted' to me from Anne-Marie it wouldn't be having sex with another woman. That only sounds attractive to someone who hasn't thought it through. Most of us haven't. Yes, one is still attracted to other people, The idea of them sexually can be compelling, but sex by itself doesn't fulfill so why do we act like it does, allow ourselves to think that it does? One way to help you stay on track against temptations like this is to remember the reality of relationships: sex without love is dehumanizing, people who we are attracted to our wonderful (probably) and, therefore, just having sex with them would hurt them. People are great and wonderful - and they have all sorts of baggage. That baggage is not a part of a casual sexual rendezvous - and that's too bad!

If I wanted a special "freedom granted to me" by Anne-Marie it would be... I don't even know, I suppose her washing the dishes and letting me have a nap. That's way hotter! I think all Catholic men who deserve that name will agree with me here. Their special favor might consist in a poker night with the guys or something like that, but it wouldn't involve the punishment that would be sex with someone who didn't love us.

I want to put an accent on something Sarah didn't though, and she didn't because she is not a man. I have seen plastered here and there on Facebook an article saying something to the effect that "men don't need porn and woman don't need to give it to them". I haven't read it, but I see that it is about the Hunger Games girl's nude pictures. She said that she did it to keep her man from looking at other naked women. Yes, that's silly and stupid, but everything non-Christians do is silly and stupid. (But not Seneca, of course. I am reading him and loving that pagan!) I am sure I agree with everything in this article and that's why I have no intention of reading it.

On the other hand, it is too easy to dismiss men's sexuality because it doesn't coincide with a woman's. I see well-meaning Catholic women tending to this. I am not saying Sarah is one of them by any means! Rather, that article's title made me think of it and the context of disappointment in marriage that Sarah does actually raise made me want to talk about it in this context. Men are not perverts because the visual has a greater meaning for them than it does for women. Of course, pornography is no answer. A man should be enjoying his wife's beauty, not pictures of it, as the Hunger Games girl suggested, but the actual thing. A man who has not disciplined himself against pornography will not be kept from it with pictures of his wife, no matter how infinite in number nor how attractive she is. That's not the nature of the beast called lust.

Let me say this. It's something I've thought a lot about but not something I have 'figured out.' Let me try this: Men are visual creatures. They should be more stimulated by inner-beauty and spiritual values than by physical beauty. but it is not for the woman to make this switch for him by guilt or by ascetic measures she imposes upon him. He has to do it himself. His enjoyment of his wife's inner and outer beauty is an important part of his growth towards less of the lesser kind of beauty and more of the better kind.

I thought this picture was so funny when I first saw it.
And then I realized that it's actually sweet.
One kind of disappointment we might face in marriage is how he or she no longer puts the same effort into his or her appearance. And you are right, very few married 30- or 40-year-olds put as much attention into their appearance as they did when they were unmarried 20-year-olds. I would say if they did they are probably not spiritually maturing very well. Sarah says 'to each his own,' whatever the couple wants. I agree, of course, within reason, as I am sure Sarah would agree too. I cannot insist that my wife wear a ballgown and be coiffed to the max all day every day. But I should be attentive to her wants to some extent and she me. If it's flowers, then flowers. If it's a clean t-shirt, then a clean t-shirt. But the essential truth I discovered ten years too late was realizing that I must love my wife even if she never changes a single one of the things I don't like about her. Can you do that? And, for goodness sake, don't take ten years to come to that realization, as I did!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Love of the Good is also Bad

I came up with a  great idea for a post at mass the other day. Nothing unusual about that. But I forgot what it was! Now, finally, Tuesday night, I remembered...

No, despite appearances, this isn't the ultimate Jansenistic or Manichaen testimony. Good is good, but you can also sin in relation to it. Theologians like Augustine insist that there must be a sort of hierarchy among things. The world is good, spiritual things are good, but God alone is good per se.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes something about someone's religious life doesn't seem quite right? And yet, it is a holy thing, so you fell that you must be criticizing it because of your insecurity. Not necessarily.

Sometimes a good is loved more than it ought to be. Sometimes a transitory good is loved as an ultimate or final good. Sometimes a spiritual good can, in our hands, develop a negative aspect.

There are so many examples we can point to. The most common is love. We justify so many things because of love.

But even our spiritual practices can have negative, often egotistical, sides to them. These things can creep in even when these originally resided on a fairly solid foundation. A ready example might be Medjugorje. But I don't want to stop there. I want to look at what it is that leads to an originally good thing turning bad.

An interest in man's spiritual working may itself become a means of tearing people down to size, by means of the genealogical argument: you only say that because you are this kind of person. You have no doubt been on the receiving end of such pigeon-holing. That's denigrating. But we do it, believing it's wisdom and therefore beneficial. How self-deceived we are! No, we do it to take someone down a peg.

I love adoration. I love that I can go to a special spiritual place and spend some time alone. Yes, I like being alone. I am an introvert. I like to read spiritual books. I like to learn. I like to think. These are pleasures for me. Does that mean it's good or bad, indulgence or sacrifice?

Of course, according to virtue-based ethics, which we espouse as Catholics, we are supposed to be in a position where we enjoy doing good things. Ogling women is supposed to be unpleasant. It's not, though, because you are not yet virtuous. Fidelity in marriage is supposed to be pleasant, not because it's too much bother to be unfaithful and you don't like a bother, but because there is something in your heart that makes it impossible to sexually desire another woman.

Sometimes we trick ourselves into believing that we enjoy good things because we know we are supposed to. We love wearing long skirts - eh ladies?- praying the rosary, etc. I think we need to be honest with ourselves. And, pray the rosary even if you hate it. Fasting is not supposed to be enjoyable. The great saints came to enjoy such a state of spiritual perfection that they just no longer had any desire for food. But it's okay to find a Lenten fast just miserable. It's not a state of perfection if you find it miserable, but it's hard to become perfect without having spent a lot of time doing things you hate, purely for love of God.

And, again, disguising things you like as if they were a spiritual chore for you. We can spot others doing this far more easily than we can see ourselves doing it. Going to mass to get away from your annoying kids is not pure unalloyed piety. Going to prayer groups, this and that because it is funner than not going. Let's face it, you are not all you might think you are.

But there's no exact science to this, is there? Just because you like it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it; just because you hate it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. We are a psychological mess aren't we? Paul says that he has his conscience to guide him, but he knows it's not infallible. (1 Cor 4:4)

Chances are, of course, if you are too comfortable in your prayer routine, if it is a routine, then it is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. Shake it up and do something that is not second nature to you. If you got the chastity thing down, go on to tackle pride by doing something embarrassing for Jesus. If you love doing embarrassing things, shut up for a while and allow others to speak.

What am I trying to say with these pictures? Come on, you know me well enough by now, right?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Once More Unto the Breach

It's hard to escape the madness in Rome, the madness those people in Rome - both prelates and journalists cannot get enough of. My inbox is full of articles on it; Facebook; the news sites, both Catholic and secular.

I don't want to hear about it anymore. I am trying to avoid it but people keep pulling me back in.

Let me just say this, as a theologian I ought to say at least something for those who don't know.

1) There will always be wars and rumors of wars (Mt 24:6). You won't click on a site that doesn't say something about the Church perhaps reconsidering X or Y. When is the last time you clicked on a site that said nothing has changed in Ottawa, Washington, Poland, Syria...? Why would news on the Church be any different. You got to sell papers and ads on websites. Sensationalizing. That's been the case since I was first brought into the Church. I didn't understand it then, but I do now.

2) We may have a bad pope who has failed to teach the greatness of the Gospel. By 'may' I mean it is doctrinally possible. We have had many ineffective teachers in the past. It is doubtful that we have such a pope now. It may be 1% his fault that the synod has gotten and is daily getting bad press; 10%, 50%, 99%. No one can control the press, just as even great bishops cannot control all nay-sayers, like Archbishop Prendergast cannot (nor should he try). But when a Pope says 'full freedom' to express themselves, there are certain things presupposed in this that every bishop and cardinal presuppose: 1) these prelates know the Faith, 2) desire the Faith be propagated. I think every pope has a right to assume that.

Now the National Post is carrying a story by the Associated Press that wants to hint that the prelates are focusing on the positive aspects of homosexual relationships. It is entirely possible that 1) a prelate said something to this effect, 2) something to this effect will make its way into the final document of the synod. This would be unfortunate. The Church is not in the habit of saying that there are also good aspect in the devil, in war, in pollution, etc., although, of course, there are. It would be imprudent to the extreme for the Church to do this. Any idiot can see that. If the pope permits such a thing that would be remarkably imprudent, as he should have learned from the 'who am I to judge' thing, and, let us not forget, Benedict XVI did with the male prostitute condom thing.

It's not possible to control how information is passed on, but neither can we be foolish. Leo XIII was faced with massive problems relating to communism and workers' rights, an impossible course to navigate, but somehow he managed it, by the grace of Christ. No one concluded support for communism from Rerum Novarum, and yet, yes, for the rights of workers and the dignity of work. No one concluded from Evangelium Vitae an overturning of just war theory, but the dignity of human life was expressed nowhere more powerfully or eloquently.

I have taught in classrooms and now I write and publish daily. I am misunderstood all the time, even by interpreters of goodwill. Some interpreters manipulate what they know to be true for ulterior reasons. They will always be servants of the devil, but never mind them. Sometimes I like to be misunderstood, because I like to provoke reactions and debate. In such cases my goal is a greater engagement with the truth. Jesus did this all the time - like when he called a non-Jew a dog. (Mt 15:21-8) You get misunderstood no matter how hard you try, and we cannot refuse to speak out of fear of this. People interpret things. I was accused of heresy at OLSWA periodically. I was accused to being too harsh and too soft many times teaching elsewhere. Just like JP II, B XVI and F I. These things happen. To Jesus too and St. Paul and St. Ignatius of Loyola, and so on.

But none of this negates the possibility that we have a bad pope, a stupid pope. It is still a doctrinal possibility. What minimizes the possibility is two things: 1) nothing from his past indicates either stupidity, or priestly or doctrinal incompetence. Saint Benedict Press just sent me an e-copy of Bergoglio's List, which I hope to start reading very soon. Based upon the rough summary of the book's contents, one may easily see that Bergoglio is not the type of Christian who is light on the faith and morals even in the face of deadly opposition. I shall let you know in the Christmas edition of the Catholic Review of Books how this book turns out.

Now, let me pour out my scorn upon the prelates who get a rush from being admired for their compassion. Wanting to appear compassionate is wanting to live without humility. Court dandies never change.

I think in time we will see Bergoglio's dark side. Dark is good here; it is for a modern pope, the only person who is able to hold back the gates of hell that come in the form of relativism. It is eminently kind to be unkind now. And soon we will see his unkindness and that will be a great blessing to the world.

We can have a bad and stupid pope, but God will not do that to us right now. He sends bad and stupid popes when we can afford them.