Maundy Thursday

God could have eliminated the stain of Original Sin from our world altogether. He could speak a single Word of power and wipe it out. Why didn’t he? Why instead did he become a man and suffer death? Why did he then put us through the perils of this life?

It’s simple: the only way he could have wiped out sin is to unmake the world as we now find it.

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Queen of Heaven: a Working Hypothesis

God willing, I shall be confirmed a Catholic at the Vigil of Easter. In preparation since September, I have (among other things) read and studied the Catechism. It’s been edifying to have the Faith completely spelled out, at least in outline. I’ve learned that as a traditional Anglican, the orthodox theology to which I have long adhered is thoroughly Catholic – at least with respect to those doctrines of the Faith that I had yet tried to understand.

One domain of doctrine I had not ever much thought about or understood concerns Mary. Anglicans venerate Mary, of course, but are not as fascinated with her as Catholics. So I’ve been studying up a bit on Mary. I’ve not been concerned so much with this or that controversial Marian dogma, as with far more general questions of how we ought to think about her – e.g., what is her function in the plan of salvation, what is her status in the economy of Heaven (including this little cosmos), and so forth. I figured that if I understood that, then the rest of Mariology would fall into place without too much fuss.

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Catholics and the Pope, a year later

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Fr. Hunwicke had a great post up a few days ago reflecting on the Pontificate of Francis one year after his election. He remains prayerful and hopeful but frankly acknowledges the Holy Father’s contribution to a certain poisoning of the discourse among orthodox Catholics (with predictable consequences), which he attributes to their tendency toward servility and Papal idolatry:

Despite the facile cliches which are so invariably abundant after conclaves, we have no divine assurance that any Pope since S Peter ever has been or is “God’s choice”. Even as a corporate collegium, the Cardinals are not protected in their prudential decisions. That would be an absurd dogma. I will not insult my readers by inserting here a history lesson about ‘bad popes’ … except to say that we can find more whole-hearted moral evil in quite a number of First Millennium popes than in the iniquities of an occasional Renaissance libertine. Popes, needless to say, are protected from proclaiming heretical propositions ex cathedra; but they are not vi ipsius muneris necessarily good or wise or nice men. Continue reading

A plea for mercy

We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried.  Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage.  However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces.  Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church.  I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.

Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress.  Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship.  We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love.  Not to condemn them!  To walk with them!  And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.

What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church?  Do we not presume to judge them?  Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort?  Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy?  Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister.  But this is cruelly unrealistic!  A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress.  Illegitimate children might be involved.  Plus, she might be totally hot.

Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful.  Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?

What should the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses.  The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers.  It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion.  But if one, why not the other?  Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament.  The question that is posed in response is:  is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others?  Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?

Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful.  However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars.  Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance.  We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love!  Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people.  So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.

Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior.  Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman.  That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.

Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone:  the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.

The Biological Solution

Rorate Caeli reports here that Bishop Michael Olson (age: 47, ordained 1994) of Fort Worth, TX has banned the Traditional Latin Mass at Fisher More College.  This decision appears plainly to violate the law of the Church.

It illuminates a larger point.  One of the characteristic slogans of conservative Catholics is “the biological solution.”  In theory, because younger priests are significantly more orthodox than are older priests, soon the hierarchy of the Church will become more orthodox.  The orthodox priests will rise through the hierarchy, you see, becoming bishops and cardinals and someday popes.

This is a dumb idea.  There are about 5000 bishops in the world and about 400K priests.  Thus, there are about 80 priests for each bishop.  In 80 randomly selected young priests, there are going to be several very liberal ones.  Young priests are better, not uniformly good.  Thus, if the hierarchy wants heterodox or disobedient bishops, it will have little difficulty in finding them.  There tend to be around 100 voting cardinals.  That’s one cardinal for each 4000 priests.  Making sure the guys with the red hats are mostly or all liberals is very easy.

Personnel is policy, and selection is a very powerful force.  Just because Chinese are, on average, quite short does not mean that Chinese professional basketball players are, on average, quite short.

The pastoral exception, the Magisterium of the moment, and the end of Catholic marriage

Recently, I mentioned fighting other Catholics over gay “marriage” and similar issues. What is especially maddening about them is their tendency to affirm the doctrinal question in a technically minimal way, but then to articulate a pastoral exception so broad that it devours the doctrinal rule. Yes, of course gay “marriage” is a grave moral evil and a mockery of divinely-ordained matrimony; but we mustn’t say so out loud! We might offend someone, and it’s hardly very Christian to do that, now is it? And meanwhile you shouldn’t order your life or act in any way as if you believe gay “marriage” is evil, because Christ calls us to love one another in a way higher than mere doctrinal correctness, and –

Well, you can see the problem. Are there any limits to the “pastoral exception”? None that are typically spoken of, certainly none that are evident to me. The result of this line of thinking is a world where gay “marriage” in the abstract is accepted to be a moral evil, even if no particular gay “marriage” can be said to be.

We are seeing this already in anticipation of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which certain elements in the Church (evidently with at least some sympathy on the part of the Holy Father) desire to make into an occasion to (very quietly) affirm the Church’s ancient teachings on the indissolubility of marriage while (very publicly and aggressively) relaxing the disciplines that support the lived reality of those teachings; in other words, to canonize the current arrangement of practical lawlessness in the administration of the Sacraments and to formalize the Church’s heretofore merely material complicity in adultery. It’s hard to say what direction the Synod will go in, of course, but the trend here is not encouraging. It is very possible that, by this time next year, the Church will have automated the American annulment factory and exported it to the entire world, and that divorce-for-any-reason-or-none-at-all will become, if not doctrinally acceptable, tolerated with a knowing wink and nudge.

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Consider the options

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Here’s the headline version of the relevant story: a Catholic high school hires a vice-principal who is (whether known or not to the school) a practicing homosexual. As part of the terms of his employment, he signs a contract obligating him to publicly abide by the teachings of the Church. At some point later on, he “marries” his boyfriend, a public repudiation of those teachings that earn him the termination of his employment — whereupon the Catholic students at the school rebel.

Suppose you were the pastor, or even the bishop. What would this tell you about the state of affairs in the local church, or in the Church in America more broadly, or the Church in general?

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Pope Francis and synodality

Nearly everyone agrees the period surrounding Vatican II saw great damage done to the Catholic faith, but nearly no one understands why. Much has been said about “ambiguities” in the conciliar texts, their questionable Magisterial status, etc., all of which misses the point: people do not live in a purely abstract, rationalistic sphere of minimalist orthodoxy. Faith rather is lived in a real world of concrete institutions and networks of relations, and if the faith is not fused with that lived reality, then it will not be lived at all. The Council endeavored, in the service of aggiornamento and ecumenism, to destroy the carefully-cultivated synthesis of faith and life that had prevailed for centuries, and this was its primary error: the hubris of thinking that it could dismantle what generations of saints had built over two millennia and replace it with something engineered on the fly in under a decade without expecting disastrous consequences.

The dynamic of ignoring the practical realities to fixate on extraneous questions of doctrine has played out too with Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. While some folk are functionally apostasizing over a throwaway line about the Old Covenant, the poison was baked into the cake at section 32:

Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.

He wants, in other words, to uproot the subsidiary administrative model of at least two centuries with an Orthodox-style synodal model alien to our patrimony, devolving doctrinal and presumably liturgical authority to corrupt episcopal conferences invented five minutes ago. Can you imagine these clowns with yet more power? If Francis gets his way, the forces of schism will positively explode. Worse, synodality will make it nearly impossible to undo the damage foisted on the Church through the very same central administrative organs he now wants to dismantle. I am coming to think we will never live to see things righted.

The Church and the brokenhearted

I’m in the habit of tuning out homilies nowadays, especially at daily Mass, but a few weeks ago the homilist — a newly-minted permanent deacon — caught my attention in talking about joy. He said something to the effect that he wanted to punch people who approach the Eucharist with insufficient joyfulness, with too much solemnity and reverence.

Normally I’d tune that out, too, except that it was the third or fourth time I’d heard a homilist express a nearly-identical sentiment in the last two years. Such is the new pastorality: get with the program or eat linoleum.

It occurred to me then that the Church, in its modern zeal to be seen as joyful, has in practice left behind those who are mourning, brokenhearted, clinically depressed, or just plain dour, who have as much a right to be at Mass as anyone else. Looking around I noticed many of the people in attendance at that daily Mass were aging: nearly all of them had gray hair, many had walkers and canes, etc. It would not be unreasonable to think that many of them had reason for great personal sadness, with children outgrowing their need for their parents or falling away from the Christian faith completely, spouses and other family members dying, health failing, finances tightening, etc. I don’t generally pay attention to the communion lines but I wonder how many who were otherwise well-disposed to receive communion took the homilist’s chastising personally and elected to remain in the pews.

Life is filled with joys, and faith, hope, and charity offer many more; but it is filled, too, with sorrows, and those sorrows are not always of a purely natural character. Blessed are those who mourn, Christ tells us from the pages of Scripture. Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears, we cry out to the Blessed Virgin. With tears do I water my couch, bemoans the Psalmist. The Church forgets that to her own detriment, and at the risk of making her ‘joy’ look hollow and alien and inauthentic. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; is it much to ask that his shepherds be, as well?

An ancillary note: we often hear talk about ‘clericalism’ given our new Holy Father’s inclinations. What I described above is a kind of clericalism in that it involves clerics exhibiting an unseemly fixation on external appearances to the exclusion and neglect of more meaningful interior realities. There’s an older and more immediately recognizable word for that kind of clericalism, and it’s ‘Pharisaism.’