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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Taking a break from all your worries, Part The Last.

[Update: Paul Mitchell--with my wife agreeing--pointed out that I didn't really explain "the break in the clouds" moment. And I didn't. Yeesh. Since it doesn't reflect well on me, but it does on Him, I have expanded it below, hopefully explaining what was explicitly hinted at in Part I. Also, I added some tying it together material which makes Part II a little more integrated. Apologies for not making any of that clear.]

[Part I of the series here.]
[Part II here.]
[Part III here.]

At the end of the exceptionally looooong previous installment, I mentioned that I reject the label "conservative Catholic." And I do--wholeheartedly. It is no longer accurate.


[Aside: James Stockdale was the smartest man on the ballot in 1992, and was a careful thinker and heroic patriot. It is to our discredit that he is remembered as a punchline. God rest his soul.]

So, what am I? That's a good question. Hopefully the following will assuage those who seem to think that my criticisms of the Pope's words are tantamount to putting air quotes around his title. I hope, but I have ample reason to doubt it will be universal. Nevertheless, let's start with what I will not be. Namely, a constant flyspecker of the Pope, looking for gotcha! moments and, in a way, perversely hoping to be scandalized. That's the spiritual equivalent of exposing yourself to gamma radiation, and at some point it will become lethal.

Not that I think I've done any such thing, by any fair standard of judgment. As far as I can tell, I have spoken reasonably, and, I am certain, charitably. Unfortunately, fair standards aren't the order of the day, and some folks clearly think otherwise.

There are things I genuinely like about the Pope, and appreciate, and I keep those in mind. In addition to what I mentioned in Part II (yeah, you need to read the whole thing), I like the human touch, and am genuinely moved by moments like this. I also love his moments of crystalline Gospel clarity. Read that one twice. Then print and save. It's superb stuff: vitamin-fortified, good-for-you Gospel, right there. And, given my concerns about the American and world economies, a poor church for the poor will be more relevant and embrace a lot more of us soon, I think.

I have and will continue to remember him in prayer and Adoration, practices we have in joyful common. That is essential, and has been helpful to me, as I hope my prayers have been to him. He did ask for them, after all. And hey--we even drive old, crappy cars together!

"Price has that creaky Buick with, what--275,000 kilometers on it? A horse like that would be envelope glue five times over. Mine has a new engine, amico
Then again, it's a Renault....Good thing I only need it for short trips."

And I do owe him for strengthening my faith, however inadvertent and sideways the process. What has emerged from the crisis of faith is stronger and better than it was before. Tested by fire, it even feels clearer, for lack of a better term. But I'm still disappointed with the fact that there will now be one less Catholic priest in our corner when it comes to the path of discipleship we've followed with respect to contraception. Oh, sure, I'm sure he supports the teaching. But now he'll be like all of the other Catholic clerics we've heard from, minus one--avoiding the issue in favor of others.

Which is a shame. Because in addition to giving us our wonderful children, it also gave us the opportunity to rub shoulders with and stand in the shoes of the poor the Pope is talking about. If we'd done what 90% of Catholics do, we'd have our two or three and would have lived and live in "nicer" neighborhoods, with "nicer" people, far from such concerns.

What am I then? Still Catholic. I've said it before, but let me re-emphasize to be clear: Catholicism is (and no doubt certain evangelical/fundamentalist minds will recoil in horror) where I met and began to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Really.



So I'm still here. I'll also admit that I've taken a decided trad-ward lurch in my spiritual life, and that's all to the good. Yes, traditionalism.

Waiting for it...

....There!


Whoa, dude--those guys?

Yeah, I know how they are. I even coined a less-than-polite term for dealing with traditionalism's Jerk Wing, and this post got some notice and debate at Angelqueen of all places. Hell, given that I am a jerk...takes one to know one, right? My people--I have found you!


But I am really cognizant of the shining fact that what got me through this crisis wasn't a dose of modern spirituality, but rather the age-old, the tried, the true and the tested. God poured His grace into my confused and battered soul through the Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, a Counter-Reformation Saint and formerly-indulged prayers. Scripture, too, natch. Though I'd argue all day long the previous links are all formed and informed by Holy Writ, too. Along with a long-despised Welsh layman who went through the wringer and was praised upon his death by some guy who later became Pope.

If I had to point to one moment where the dam started to break, it was managing to grind out a rosary at Assumption Grotto for the Pope two Wednesdays ago. I was there with my kids for their weekly homeschool co-op. Really, it was the most pro-forma, contractual-obligation-only prayer of my life. I felt nothing save annoyance, but in retrospect it helped a lot. An hour later, my wife almost physically forced me to go to Eucharistic Adoration at the nuns' chapel. I resisted with the surliness of a teenager, finally telling my wife something along the lines of "Fine--I'll go, but it won't help." Yeah, one of my finer moments.

To which Jesus said: "Riiight." Because that did help, shattering some of the gloom. Even in my funk, I was fully cognizant that Adoration is a peculiarly Catholic devotion, which since it worked some good, prompted a Hmmm.

sLater in the day, around 4pm, the question from my Anglican buddy cracked through: "If being a papal maximalist is the problem, then why be a papal maximalist?"

You know...I...don't have to be. In fact, I can't be one, not in good conscience. So I'm not going to be one. And I gotta tell ya, it feels phenomenal!

I just like this scene. The whole film, in fact.

Also, I'm fully convinced of the grace that flows through the Sacrament of Marriage. Throw in a confessor priest who didn't think I needed an exorcism because of my doubts, and voila--Tradition.

This actually fits...painfully well. Though my kids didn't get upset.

It worked, and works. When push comes to shove, I'm not a spiritual point man striding boldly forth into the unknown. Steady as she goes, fire as you bear: that is what I'm looking for. For my part, I don't regard it as some kind of retreat into Fortress Catholicism, pouring boiling oil down the vents on those who want in. To the contrary--this makes me more able to witness. As I said in the first post in the series: Viva Cristo Rey! He is Risen, indeed, and working in my life more than I've ever known.

As I hope you have noticed, I've tried to keep this somewhat light. But now I have to venture into slightly less cheery territory.

I haven't shaken my concerns with the Pope. I've put them in perspective though. Also, I've spelled those out with specificity, and I won't repeat them here. I'll add that this sort of Catholicism Wow! episcopal cheerleading does not cheer. I also have a brief meditation about fatherhood which I think crystallizes why I haven't warmed to the Pope like most everyone else, but that can wait.

But that is, at the moment, less worrying to me than the way concerns with the Pope are parried. Frankly, I've taken bulls--t, and it's not pleasant. Scroll down to part III, and the "love" bombing in the post immediately below this. I also have taken some "love" from a My-All-Knowing-Jackassery-Is-Good-For-You Francis booster at another blog. I responded by analogizing him to a guy on the short bus who's proud of the fact he has the biggest equipment of all his fellow riders. "Not much to be proud of, buddy!" So to speak. I'm not sure if I should feel sorry about that, or if I wasn't harsh enough. I'm working my way to sorry one of these days, but it will not be this day. I'm a sinner, and I fail.

In my eye-opening experience, some boosters of the Pope regard conscience as a guide for the following two groups only:

(1) non-Catholics, and

(2) Catholics who unreservedly applaud the Pope in all particulars. 

I've already lost a follower of this blog after I expressed my concerns. I was also de-friended on Facebook by someone you would likely recognize for the high crime and misdemeanor of being friends with a Francis skeptic. These are not good signs of the climate. Apparently journeying with the wounded, seeking truth together and offering the fragrance of the Gospel again only applies to Groups (1) and (2). I, on the other hand, am irrational. Under spiritual attack. A veritable whiny jerk, to quote another Franciscan tough-love advocate. The spiritual attack angle at least has the virtue of being true, but that's universal, and true for these guys, too:

This, too, means something. Something cult-y, I daresay.
Or daren't I?

If my concerns are offensive to you, I can't help you with that. If you think they put me beyond the pale, render me unclean and unworthy of associating with, I also can't help you with that. In fact, I don't even know how to respond to that. I, too, have a conscience, one that I have tried to and continue to try to inform on these concerns. If such is enough to prompt you to sever your relationship with me, whether real or virtual, then it has to be that way. I say this sincerely: Go with God.

I only ask this: if you've had any regard for me in the past, then bear with me for at least a while. In the final analysis, I don't think you'll be disappointed, let alone horrified.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Taking a break from all your worries, Part III.

[Part I of the series is here.]
[Part II is here.]

1. The Bishop.

He was a beloved itinerant shepherd who lived simply, residing in a single spartan room when he wasn’t visiting the flock. Known for his humility and down-to-earth speaking style, he was deeply beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He emphasized ecumenism to an unprecedented degree, and believed that the Second Vatican Council was the watershed event in Catholic history. He encouraged modern biblical study, presenting historical-critical hypotheses from the pulpit, chided Catholics who “looked backward” to older ways, and urged the embrace of dynamic change.

His name was Kenneth Untener, and he was the bishop of Saginaw from 1980 until his death in 2004. The parishes in his domain were my first experience with progressive Catholicism, and they stirred and shaped my--there is no other word for it--hostility to the entire progressive religious project. Now, let me clarify one thing here: there is a distinction between religious progressivism and the political version. For my part, I think one can be a devout Catholic and support what are generally regarded as progressive political policies. The late, great Robert Casey, Sr. of Pennsylvania (but not his wayward, sail-trimming fraud of a son) embodied this possibility--and did so well. But, as with Catholics who align toward the right side of the spectrum, if you're doing your faith right, you will inevitably conflict with certain political shibboleths of your non-Catholic brothers in arms. Or at least you'd better. And it is clear that getting your hands dirty living and working with the poor, a la Catholic Worker, is wholly, utterly and unimpeachably Catholic.

These are to be distinguished from religious progressivism, which is diagnosed comprehensively here. It is always and everywhere bad news. Which is not to say that people who hold modernist views are to be treated like bad news--they shouldn't. But you have your work cut out, no question. The contemporary flavor of modernism is fond of emotivism and is less susceptible to, or even interested in, logical argument. And if they're in power, buckle up and heads to the storm.

Anyway, back to the narrative:

The servant-leader was determined to reshape the Faith in his own image, and to a horrible extent, he succeeded. An avatar of the Spirit of Vatican II, he used it to oppose the Letter, shutting down the diaconate program immediately upon being appointed. That way, he could appoint female parish administrators, which he did in truckload lots.  Which he would--conveniently?--also need, given that he inspired very few men to follow in his priestly footsteps.

You could find an official liturgical offering which referred to God as “she” in Saginaw, but no extraordinary form Mass. For all the celebration of the Diocese’s genuine ethnic diversity, progressive imperatives had a way of steamrolling organic ethnic expressions of faith and shutting down the "dialogue" once they had their way. For modernists, dialogue is simply a weapon in the struggle--and once the end is reached, the ratchet sets for all eternity. Thank you, please move along. If you're curious, you can find more examples of tender Saginaw pastoral care in the comments. Tolerance for everything save Catholic orthodoxy is the end result. Note also that my experience was of four separate parishes scattered across fifty miles--no isolated St. Joan's loony bin skewing the sample here.

And the liturgies…God have mercy. Walking out of Mass growling is not good for me. I simply won’t do it again. Which is not to say the Diocese lacked good features: one of the finest priests I have ever met was a priest in my hometown—a genuine, faithful servant glad to help his flock at all hours, but not one to water down the harder stuff. If he had been the norm, the fruit of the Great Leap Forward…but he was not. There were and are people who admired Bishop Untener and his vision. For me, his vision is one that fills me with dread and anger, and, on a practical level, simply bleeds out even where it is embraced in full--e.g., without those nasty old celibates in Rome mucking things up.

More to the point, at least as embraced and lived in the West, it is a narrow vision that appeals only to the comfortably left-of-center folks with solid portfolios and nice neighborhoods. Far from charging up the laity and sending them into the world, it instead clericalized a select militia. Very select, alas, as it consists only of those layfolk able to attend the requisite workshops and obtain the necessary ministry certifications, giving them the secret handshake and passwords to enter the "real" church--parish administration, preaching from the pulpit and leading communion services. Far from going out to sanctify the world, the laity took chancery and parish office jobs instead.

I suppose it would be one thing if it worked--if it pulled people in and sanctified the world, inspired vocations. It didn't. The Diocese has contracted by 32 percent since 1988. Can you lay all of that at the feet of the late Bishop? Times change, the economy greatly changes as manufacturing collapses and people move away--or at least their kids seek greener pastures (raises hand). I get that, so no, of course not--it's hardly all his fault. But apparently the New Thing didn't draw in new people, either. There's still a large pool of people to be evangelized, right? Plenty of poor and dislocated folks out in both urban and rural areas in desperate need of both assistance and the Gospel. If the disaffected Catholics were anywhere, they were flocking to your local evangelical churches, which typically has a hefty leaven of ex-Catholics.

Perhaps it's simply that the appeal of the trendier aspects of the historical-critical method and a transgender divinity have grown more selective.

In the main, though, if you want a poor church for the poor, a religion that makes middle class Western religious progressives comfortable is not going to work. Ultimately, when faced with a choice, the poor, the desperate, the lost and the lonely will shun religions of trendy ambiguity in favor of those with solid answers.

2. The Pope.

So when I hear the Pope praised for the same things the late ordinary of Saginaw was lauded for, I mentally crouch into a fighting stance. Am I saying the Bishop of Rome is just like the late Bishop of Saginaw? No, but there is much more overlap than I am comfortable with. Which is why my spiritual weather forecast is reading "cloudy with a chance of showers" right now.

Oh, Dale, come now. Where are you getting this from? Well, certain troubling statements by the Pope, alas. It's not just the imprecise off-the-cuffery.

When he's crystal clear there are sometimes problems.

Working my way up: there was the labeling of people who presented him with a rosary bouquet as "Pelagians." I wonder how those poor folks took it--besides in the shorts, that is. Oh, and sure, his one zinger thus far at progressive spirituality came in the same exchange. But it was offered as an equivalent, and it is a profoundly false one at that. I don't see how anyone could reasonably compare rosary counting to a spirituality that denies the Incarnation of Our Lord. Then there's the matter of which group is more likely to be, say, teaching at Catholic schools, offering retreats, etc.

He really, really dislikes anything that smacks of traditional Catholicism, with multiple jabs at restorationism, empty prayers, and the like. So many, in fact, that to deny the trend--or target--requires a marathon of special pleading. Especially in the near absence of swipes at newage goofballery, despite the fact he recognizes it exists. The imbalance is worrisome to me. Especially since it was the Rosary and Adoration that propped me up in my bleakest hours. Yes, I take the Pope at his word when he says he is devoted to the Rosary and Adoration, which is all to the good. I remembered that common ground as I jabbed at the cooling embers of faith, and it helped me think better of him. But I am compelled to point out that progressives don't have much use for either, with the more contemptible of their champions going so far as to outlaw the latter. I mean, really--look at Lynch's arbitrary and subjective diktat. I know--it's difficult to believe that the only sitting American bishop to pay a six figure same-sex harassment settlement to a former employee or multi-millions in no-bid diocesan contracts to his very close friend could be an unreliable guide to Tradition, but there you go.

Then there's the emphasis on dynamism and change. The criticism of doctrinal security, discipline, and censorship.

OK, you say. "And? How does that empower the bad guys to run roughshod?" First, there's the phenomenon of code-talking, mentioned before. There's a reason the left side of the aisle is going squee! And you really need to stop thinking they're all on peyote, folks.

Second, try this on for size: What if the Pope had said "Roger Cardinal Mahony has shown us the way!" "Rembert Weakland is a father to the whole Church!" "Kenneth Untener was a prophetic figure!"

If he'd said that, you would be smelling whatever beverage you'd just aspirated through your nostrils for a few hours. And then you'd wonder "What. The. Hell?"

Guess what? He said that about the late, great archprogressive and fellow Jesuit, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini. 

A prophetic figure, a father to the whole church.

Gah. Turn off the spin cycle. It can't be spun. Yes, I know Pope Benedict said very nice things about Martini when he died. That's what classy Christian people do. He didn't call him prophetic or a father to the whole church, though. And he probably wouldn't have been so nice if he'd known Martini's post-mortem stinkbomb was inbound.

Soooo...if Martini is a prophetic father figure, this prompts questions. Does Pope Francis think the Church is 200 years behind the times? If so, in what way? Are our Masses really "pompous"? (Perhaps so, there...) What kind of "radical" transformation do we need? What nettlesome questions of sexuality do we need to discuss?

Hard to say, obviously. [For what it's worth, I think the late cardinal had a point about cases of abandonment.] But I'm not the one who regards the late Cardinal Archbishop of Milan as a prophet-father and am offering him as such to the whole Church.

But be assured the progressives have noted the praise of Cardinal Martini, who was also a brother in arms with the late Cardinal Bernardin, too.


3.  Escaping The Papal Personality Cult.

Oh, that's right. It's meaningless. The left is composed entirely--to the last one of them--of brain-damaged idiots who lack even fundamental reading comprehension. Thick as a Brick wall (of Tamlands)?


How do I know this? Because the Pope's Conservative Cheering Section insists that it must be so. And they've deployed the circular Catholic firing squad to address those who argue differently. Sorry, no. I disagree with the left vehemently, but I don't for a moment believe they are hallucinatory idiots.

This brings me to my final, and most painful, observation: conservative Catholicism in America is a papal personality cult. Full stop.

I know this, because I was a member in good standing, too. And that was the root cause of my crisis, when I took a clear look at it with the timely assistance of the Holy Spirit. My faith was too-papalcentric, to coin an adjective. So when the Pope began to sound weird and set off alarm bells, I couldn't process it. Seeing all my brothers and sisters in arms eating it all up made it worse. Crisis bad.



OK, not quite that bad.

What broke it? Prayer, a timely suggestion from my Anglican brother by another mother, and a smarmy bit of chutzpa from progressive religious educational theorist Thomas Groome in the recent NBC story on the subject of conservative discontent.

"I think it will be a real test for conservative Catholics," he said. "They have always pointed the finger, quoting the pope for the last 35 years. Suddenly, will they stop quoting the pope. It'll be a good test of whether or not they're really Catholics."

OK. The man most responsible for mis-educating American Catholics into a frothy Episcopalianism over the past thirty years and a gent who happily told the Popes to stuff it on women's ordination starts getting huffily ultramontane? My initial reaction was "f--k you." That's a quote. Yes, I need to work on my language. But I'd still argue it's the right reflex, although I'd change the wording. A man who has been arguing against Catholicism itself now tells me I have to salute and regurgitate confused and confusing language from papal interviews like they were the Sunday Gospel? I'll pass, Tommy me boy-o.

No, I decline to make an oblation on the altar of the Pope's informal malapropisms (or, if you prefer, malapapalisms). Nor do I care for the proffered spiritual fatherhood of a man (Martini) whose vision is not remotely mine. My problem with this Pope's words is that they are sometimes confusing and out of step with Catholicism. Groome's problems with previous popes was that they were all too clear and consonant with it. False equivalence.

And the horse you rode in on is out there waiting for you, too, TG. Don't let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you.

The final piece of the puzzle was Deal Hudson's execution of the wounded whose confusion was outlined in a recent Washington Post article.

His response? Sit down and shut up--he's a Jesuit theologian and embodiment of the New Evangelization, and you're not. Quod erat demonstrandum.

That's not an argument--it is a declaration of personal righteousness, of one's superior understanding in the face of benightedness. I also bleakly enjoyed the dismissal of previous papal evangelism in the "embodiment" reference. In defense of the Pope, that's hugely unfair, and it puts impossible expectations on the shoulders of a 77 year old Argentinian Jesuit, folks.

And yet, this response was celebrated. Yikes. Because it is a pitch-perfect example of how a personality cult responds to deviationism. Again, yikes. The bottom line is this: troubling statements don't cease to be troubling simply because the one uttering them is the Pope. If Pope Francis is angling toward a less-hierarchical, more horizontal Church (and that's what he says he wants), then this is even more true.

But I agree with Dr. Hudson on one point: I, too, no longer want to be called a conservative Catholic.

To the extent I want a label, it will be explored in the final installment. Which will be shorter than this one.

After all, it could hardly be longer.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A musical interlude.

Rare is a dance-pop music number a source of sunny reassurance, but "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities qualifies. It should be an annoyance--repetitive, synthesized and not especially creative lyrically. But for some reason it really works (have no fears about the video--the conceit is a dance contest involving people from different eras):



For those following along, Part III is in the revision stage, and will go up no later than tomorrow.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Taking a break from all your worries, Part II.

[Part I of the series is here.]
[Part III is here.]

Bear with me as I expand on Apologia Pro Vita Schlub-a.

No, it was not all Blatz and Twinkies when I poped. Sure, the centrality of Christ, the theological structure, and the prospects of being able to find more to read than is possible in a lifetime--these beckoned joyfully. However, there was one slight, teensy, uncontroversial little teaching that I hadn't quite signed on to.

Yeah, that one.

It wasn't that I thought it wrong, either. Rather, I thought it impossible. And since my bride had also not exactly embraced it, it took some time to work it out. I confessed it regularly, but it was not until we both ran into a crotchety old priest in a Mount Clemens confessional that we managed to sign on, however nervously. Father was stern kindliness with me, pointing out that my old age would be unpleasant without children. He was rather more stern than kindly with Heather, but I let her tell that if she wishes. The point is, slapped upside the head with the Church's unadorned teaching, we decided to walk in faith.

Eleven months later, Madeleine was born. And, yes, we sent a word of thanks and appreciation to the faithful priest.

Those who teach you NFP tell you that it will work--and it can--and does. They'll also tell you you have to develop new methods of communicating love to your spouse during the no-no-unless-you-want-another phase. That is also true.

But they don't ever quite convey how damn difficult that is. That you will glare at a thermometer, verbally question its mating proclivities and stare hot-death hatred at it and its lying bastard chart accomplice at the worst of times.

NFP: You'll Learn To Die To Self--Very, Very, Very Slowly!

Oddly enough, that's not the motto on the box. But that's what it is.

And the kids kept a'comin. And the house kept a-stayin' the same size. Please, do not misunderstand, though: the children are wonderful, and I love all six of them a little more every day. They amaze, amuse and infuriate--often in the same action, but I wouldn't trade it for all the tea in China. Sure, there are always troubles, but each day is a little worse than the next in that regard. One day they'll all have moved out and I won't know what to do in the weird, off-putting quiet.

But that's hard to convey to those unfamiliar with the concept. And the incredulity of those unfamiliar with the notion of being "open to children" kept mounting. I would like to say that everyone was understanding, kind, and respected our decision to have more than 2.1 children, without putting a top-end number on it. I would like to, but that would be untrue. It strained relationships, some badly, and prompted total strangers to offer advice that would get them tased in a civilized society.

I'm going to snap one day and offer something like this:

Thank you for your not-at-all-creepy-or-inappropriate interest in my genitalia and their function! But frankly, I'm far, far more interested in yours! Oh, I'm sorry--do they no longer work properly?

And, of course, I'll be the bad guy.

Anyhoo, you may have noticed I digress some. So, to end the digression: Fr. Endearingly Cranky was the first Catholic cleric to personally confront us on contraception. As far as I can recall, in the 13 years since, there hasn't been another.

Let's call this NR!S (Nice Roof! Syndrome). Or The Most Well-Hidden Dogmatic Obsession Ever.

Now, believe it or not, the reference to NFP and our burgeoning family does have a larger point, in that it takes me back to our original neighborhood where we lived for 9 years. It was interesting, often in the same sense as the apocryphal Chinese curse. Actually, it was more than that--it was a thoroughly human place, with the potential for dozens of books, all of them worth reading.

We bought our house--naturally--just before the real estate bubble peaked in Michigan. And then housing values dove like kamikaze pilots. It was a renovated-and-flipped job, albeit somewhat low quality. No, really low quality. Jerktastic! We even learned that a previous owner had shot her dirtbag (?) husband (?) in it. No restless shades, but some really weird moments. Apart from being drafty, its real drawback was that we hadn't planned to live there for more than 4 years, as we knew in our bones that the real estate market just kept going up up up! Even in dicey suburban neighborhoods--flip it, baby! But the combination of rising family numbers and plummeting house value meant we lived there longer than planned.

By Year 9, I was calling it the Beige Submarine, and that was an accurate description of its cramped-ness. I've slept on roomier submarines--honest. And when it went up for a sheriff's sale, it sold at a little north of  10 percent of what we paid for it. We actually had a potential buyer offer a lot more than that, but the arcane world of finance meant foreclosure was better. Can't say as I care much for the banking world these days.

The neighbors were a variety of folks, from a robotics company supervisor and his then-not-Catholic-no-sir wife and family (whom we befriended), along with waitresses, a cop, school janitors, plumbers, retail service workers, flailing welfare recipients with Section 8 funds, recent immigrants and people with serious criminal records. Or on their way to developing them. We found out, only after the seemingly legal-residents were evicted, that two nearby houses held squatters. For years. In the main, though, it was working class people in starter homes with big mortgages, no matter how long they'd lived there. The Great Recession, which started earlier in Michigan, planted foreclosure stickers on the windows with plague-like finality. If I never see another clean-out dumpster in a driveway, it will be far too soon. Alas, they appear in our new neighborhood, too. Welcome to the New Normal.

It was loud, and the Stop signs which fronted our corner lot were given a wide variety of interpretations. It was War of the Stereos and Fireworks during the summer months, with our poor dog developing a twitch during warm weather that only faded with the first frost.

A couple of times, you could have filmed episodes of Cops on our street, complete with blurred-out-innocent-until-proven-guilty Solid Citizens screaming bleeped obscenities at remarkably patient suburban cops. Such as the time they had to remove Screaming Redneck Riot Mamma and her jerk offender son from their local criminal center. I was not surprised that the neighbors cheered the cops on and jeered--some, rather openly--the dysfunctional louts. Despite the problems, I really wouldn't call it a "bad" neighborhood. I liked the people, or at least most of them. It was a rough neighborhood, with rough people, but most had their hearts in the right place. Including across-the-street Mike, who greeted us when we moved in holding a Bud and wearing his best boxer shorts. He also let kids pick flowers from his rosebush and professed his love for his common-law wife of a couple decades (yeah, I know they don't exist any more, but that's what she was) to all and sundry. When his heart gave out suddenly a few years later, the whole neighborhood mourned.

Long after we settled in, we were informed by the neighborhood's human newsstand that we had become known as "the church people." She said it affectionately, to our relief. They saw us going to Mass every Sunday, and watched the kidlets appear every 18 months or so. For whatever reason, our little corner fridge box became a go-to place for people. For kids to play, sure. All the toys in the backyard! Someone seriously asked if we ran a home day care.

But also more dramatic, even harrowing stuff, including domestic disputes (one which involved a successful plan to sneak the victim and her kids out of the house, and the other a drive to a crappy part of Detroit on a Friday evening), being chased by bullies, the drunken and deeply-weird, the other drunk who needed an escort home (he came back sobered up--as he was periodically--and gave my kids stuffed animals), or even to dump off cats, whether healthy or seemingly undead. I'm not saying this as some kind of evidence of heroic virtue--ha! In fact, I think a great job for a priest the Archbishop of Detroit is annoyed with would be to assign him as a postulator for my cause. [Hysterical shriek: "There's nothing there--NOTHING! NOOOOOOTHINNNNGGGGG!!! I've never wanted so much to kill someone who's already dead--and then burn the ashes--and perform an exorcism--just to be sure!"]

The stories are really pretty endless about the folks of the old stomping grounds and the tragedies deserve mention, too: the sweetheart of a kid with fetal alcohol syndrome deformities, the two suicides--one a sweet old lady a block up, and the other, Vic, who was always nice to Heather and the kids when she went for a walk. Whom we last saw handing out Halloween candy before the demons made him pull the trigger.

Well, what's the point of describing my old neighborhood? It actually relates to the new Pope, and it's one of the things that cheers me about him: the reaching out to the working class, the poor, the marginalized, those barely hanging on. The thing is, we shouldn't have been "the church people." They all should have been. Sure, we did invite people to church, but our success on that score was limited to the Catholics-are-weird-no-way neighbors.

The thing is, they all should be. But they're not. And if your American parish is anything like mine, the working class of whatever race--the Fishtowners, to crib from a recent study--aren't there. They need to be, for the love of the Christ who died for them. But we need them, too, so we don't become self-absorbed in our middle class or higher bubbles/gated communities and concerns. So when the Pope visits these folks and reaches out to them, I'm right there with him. Amen. More. Bravo!

So, yes, kudos to the Holy Father for taking that approach, and may we all follow suit and do likewise.

And now on to Part III, wherein I'll probably tick off people by mentioning what freaks me out about the Pope.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Taking a break from all your worries, Part I.





Until about 4pm Wednesday, I would have described my faith as a weakened, flailing thing, a drag, a spiritual stockade. It was especially trying since I am juggling a lot of balls in in my family's life, right now, and it's not pleasant. Having my Catholicism wither just made it a horror show.

Late Wednesday afternoon? Viva Cristo Rey. He lives, indeed.

This post is, and is not, about the Pope. I think that many of you will not care for it, but I ask you to give it a listen anyway. It will take a couple-three parts to address, but I think an explanation of where I am coming from should start it off. This is going to be long, too--multi-parter! You've been warned.

I'm the son of two loving parents from rural central Michigan. My Dad is a retired fire chief and supervisor for the former GTE corporation. My Mom is a former guidance counselor and teacher who worked at an alternative school for high risk students. I'm the first member of my family to go to and graduate college right out of high school. I have a little brother who is taller than me now and carries a gun, working as a supervisory investigator for Customs and Border Protection. Public service runs in our family, as you can see. I'm the black sheep of the family, having decided to go to law school back when it was a merely uncertain career proposition, as opposed to an insane one. I went to the Jesuity Catholic one, the University of Detroit-Mercy, and graduated in 1996, passing the bar through some kind of divine favor. No, really--I don't know how I pulled it off.

I'm a husband, married to a delightful woman for fourteen years on October 23. Yep, in 1999, when I was pulling in non-L.A. Law bucks, and she was getting newbie public school teacher money. Starting in 2001, we began having children. Currently, six marvelous, astounding, confounding children, ranging from ages 12 to 2. I practice public interest law, which means I get a salary and if you win, I get bupkis. That's perfectly cool with me, as I used to have to chase clients down for money, but haven't had to for years. I can look into the mirror with confidence to shave, if you catch my meaning. My wife is a French and Spanish teacher, though she hasn't worked outside the home since shortly after our second child was born. She works like hell inside it, though.

It hasn't been all joy, but no family's road is. At one point, after the birth of our youngest daughter, we had seven of us crammed into a two bedroom, one bath, no basement nor garage ranch home. 880 square feet. I still don't know how we did that, frankly. Faced with growing necessity, we moved out of our home to purchase a new one, being told by a real estate professional that we would easily get approved for a short sale. That proved to be exceptionally *bad* advice. Malpractice bad.

We got foreclosed on instead. Still, we do have a roof over our heads, even if our credit rating has been nuked from orbit.

We have two vehicles, the newest of which is eleven years old, and both have more than 160,000 miles on them. As I mentioned in the book review post below, we now live a few blocks north of the famous Eight Mile Road. It's not a bad neighborhood--our car insurance actually went down by moving a mile closer to Detroit, if that means anything.

Last, for the purposes of the intro, but not life--we are Catholic. My wife is a cradle Catholic, with a father whose Catholicism shone deeply in his actions, even if he couldn't articulate why. Still, she got what all young Catholics got in the 1970s: proto-Groomeian glitterchesis, wherein she learned that God is love and glitter is sticky.

I received even less Catholic formation than she did, being baptized a Methodist as an infant and raised somewhat indifferently in that tradition. I always believed there was a God, and I had a religious impulse, however dulled, but I couldn't articulate what or why. I didn't like the hard sell approach of evangelicals, even if I had a sneaking admiration for their peace. It turned out that I liked even less the politicized creed of the Religious Left, seen through the prism of the regular Free Press (and later a shorter run at the Detroit News) columns of Episcopal priest Harry Cook. Cook's gospel was one of seething contempt for anyone to the right of Fidel Castro and his Jesus an ineffectual sidekick who played a reticent Ed McMahon to the perfections of the Rev. Cook. I might not have been well-trained in religion at the time, but I could sense a pseud and a fraud, and Cook was it. So when my future bride delicately broached religion, suggesting Episcopalianism as a meeting point, I apparently signaled my rejection with something between a spit and a snarl. I then said I would be more than willing to look at Catholicism first.

God can draw straight with the crookedest of lines, can't He? An ironic, but real, thanks to the gilded hackery of Harry Cook.

So, instead, I stumbled into RCIA and began the process of becoming a Catholic. To my shock, it hit me as very congenial. But more importantly, I began to seriously face up, for the first time, with the life and person of Jesus Christ. And I decided to follow Him. Oh, not always perfectly--much more often like a one-legged cat at a hockey rink. But limping and spinning, I try to follow.

And the cincher for me was that I believe He makes himself present at the Eucharist. I had an experience--not exactly mystical, but convincing on that point. The Eucharist, both the Person and the ritual, as related in the Gospels and by Paul, convinced me about Jesus: that He was Someone very, very different, on a divine mission, and that He knew what was coming and what He was doing. Most of the rest of the dominoes toppled after that. So turning away from the altar is not something I would do lightly.

So, as I said, most of the rest of the Church's teachings clicked into place.

Most being the operative word here.

End Part I.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Land ho!

It's gale-swept, rocky and rather cold, but Catholic.



[Photo credit.]

Yesterday at around 4pm or so, the spiritual dam burst. Thank you for your prayers, as I am certain they helped. A long-ish post is coming soon, but in the interim, the following question will give you a hint as to my thought process:

Is Catholicism a papal personality cult?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

All at sea.




I recognize that the blog has become painfully self-absorbed, and understand fully if you are sick and tired of it. I sympathize, really. I'd rather be posting about the Byzantine Empire myself. Or the latest Steve Stirling book.

Which I've finished, by the way, and is really well done. The flash-forward ending is a transitional classic, he says obliquely. Later, though.

Yeah, I'm sick and tired of me, and I have to imagine God is, too. Frankly, this has become my way of dealing with the worst case of spiritual chaos I've had since the revelations of the abuse crisis started hitting with wave-like repetition a few years back. Some days, I feel shoved halfway out the door. Today, it's three-quarters.

I think I have isolated the problem, and it involves certitudes. Not mine, obviously. I don't have much in the certainty department these days.

No, rather the problem is the certitude of those who genuinely love the Pope. That the Holy Spirit is clearly on the move. Deacon Greg Kandra posted this on his popular blog, without any framing commentary.

I guess this sort of thing is supposed to be good news now, in the sense of "there is no such thing as bad publicity." The Times is paying attention to us!

Note that the only person quoted is Seattle University's Jesuit president, happy that the more secularized locals think well of him now. Apparently, being one of the zeitgeist's collared batmen wasn't sufficient to win over the lefty locals. I guess his Stuart Smalley moment makes it all worthwhile.

No, I suppose the real reason the essay was posted was that it was, somehow, emblematic of the "Second Look at Catholicism" caused by the Pope.

Which would be fine if, in the essay, there was some evidence for it other than a Land O'Lakes apparatchik's self-esteem boost. Sadly, there is is not.

It is a remarkably nasty piece, so linking to it with silent approval left my jaw dropping. A bitter taste:

It’s long been known that most North American and European Catholics ignore church teachings on gays, contraception and abortion. These teachings range from absurd to unscientific to outright hateful. Without specifically changing the official line, Francis prompted millions of Catholics to give the church a second look when he criticized the hierarchy for being “obsessed” with those issues. Amen, said nearly 70 percent American Catholics who agreed with him in a Quinnipiac poll.

The anecdotal reaction is equally intriguing. “People come up to me all the time on the street or at a restaurant and say things like, ‘I just need to tell someone how much I like this pope of yours,’” said Father Stephen Sundborg, a Jesuit (like Francis) who is president of Seattle University, based in one of the most secular cities in the United States. “Suddenly, it seems O.K. to be a priest out there.”

All of this is by design. Francis is working two broad strategies. The first is aimed at lapsed Catholics, and those who are open to a spiritual life with an intellectual framework. Thus, he dismissed proselytizing as “solemn nonsense,” in a recent interview. “It makes no sense,” he said of the blunt harangues over whose God is better.

The Jesuits have always tried to get people to think for themselves, to arrive at belief through an arduous process. When bishops started telling parishioners that their gay and lesbian siblings were sinners, and that family planning was a grievous wrong, people stopped listening to them — for good reason.

This father of six thanks you for the gut punch. Which are my wife and I: absurd, unscientific or outright hateful? No, really--Get bent, you smug prick.

And, really--the Church had no intellectual framework in the bleak years Before Francis? Waiter, my essay has a Pseud in it--please take it back.

I'd point out the obvious, that Mr. Egan is obsessed with pelvic issues, but apparently this represents an Important Sign. And the home office has said ixnay on that strategy, so there you have it.

On one point, at least, the Era of Francis in America has one point of continuity with pre-Francis times: the desperate craving of American Catholics for validation from non-Catholics. Starting with Rev. Sundborg, but also, apparently, with more grounded members of the church, willing to post screeds like Egan's without a murmur of protest.

Proselytism may be solemn nonsense, but self-flagellation is in, baby.

If I am coming across as out of sorts, it is simply because I am. In the face of mounting personal stresses, the sense that I am one of the Pope’s redheaded stepsons is a burden I never imagined I’d encounter. Not having any money coming in assuredly plays into my mental state these days, but I've been out of kilter since the first faboo interview. Seeing Catholics cite sneering contempt as--I don't know, the Spirit in motion?-- is something I can't begin to process.


More encounters with the Spirit? Stay tuned!

I feel profoundly out of step with other Catholics, so much so that I haven’t taken communion in three weeks. Frankly, it would feel like a lie, even if I was otherwise disposed to receive. It's not getting better.


Regarding the "older brother" argument.

John Allen spends some time here examining the so-called "older brother" reaction to the Pope's barbs.

Well, the thing is, the analogy doesn't fit, at least not as far as the father's reaction is chronicled in the parable:

And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’

The thing is, the cumulative effect of the Pope's words on the so-called "older brothers" is not "Son, all I have is yours--celebrate with me over the return of your brother!"

Instead, it comes across as "Well, pal, the thing is, I don't even like you. Do you want to know why? Tough--I'm going to tell you anyway. I have the list right here. Number 1..."

So, yeah, if all analogies limp, this one is a double amputee.


Elegy for a dream.



Charlie LeDuff's beautiful and haunting Detroit: An American Autopsy is marketed as a journalist's-eye-view of the tragic plight Detroit has descended into over the past decade. Indeed, it is that--but most readers may be missing the lede if they blip over the adjective in the title.

Because the Pulitzer Prize-winning LeDuff's larger point is that Detroit is not unique: it has simply arrived at its current, nightmarish state earlier than the rest of the country. Gawk at the trainwreck all you like--but the odds are, you're riding on a parallel track.

As he told Stephen Colbert in his interview, "Detroit is what happens when the money runs out."

I like to joke, channeling Tina Fey, that "I can see Detroit from my house!" That's actually true--from the second story, I can see a billboard on the Detroit side of the notorious Eight Mile Road, Motown's northern border, separating it from the suburbs of Oakland and Macomb counties. I graduated from the University of Detroit-Mercy Law School, work in Detroit proper, and have for more than a decade. Many of my neighbors are working class blacks who have decamped from the city as the spiral has worsened.

And has it ever worsened--please note that the book came out before the City filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.

LeDuff's book is not a history of "how we got here." Rather, it is a chronicle of the city as it is, in its mortal hours, along with a sort of homecoming on the part of the author. LeDuff, who was raised on Joy Road in next-door Redford Township, engages in a personal and familial taking stock, with family dysfunction and tragedy mirroring that of the city itself.

It is a work that chronicles the acts of many villains: short-sighted, greedy politicians (including the recently sentenced corruption machine and former Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick); short-sighted, greedy bureaucrats; short-sighted, greedy corporate executives; short-sighted, greedy newspaper management covering for the sins of said executives and politicos; short-sighted, greedy criminal thugs and short-sighted, greedy regular folks like LeDuff and his family members.

That last may be the most haunting of them all, because LeDuff spares no one in his analysis--not even himself. He indicts his generation for mocking what made their fathers successful:

What our generation failed to learn was the nobility of work. An honest day's labor. The worthiness of the man in the white socks who would pull out a picture of his grandkids from his wallet. For us, the factory would never do. And turning away from our birthright--our grandfather in the white socks--is the thing that ruined us....Instead of working, we figured we could be hustlers and salesmen and gamblers and partiers. Work was for suckers. If anybody had told us such a thing existed, we probably would have become New York bankers and stockbrokers. And I have no doubt we would have been good at it too. Work versus The Hustle. That was the internal conflict on Joy Road, USA.

It is a story with precious few (but genuine) heroes, and even fewer victories. The heroes are the honest folk: firemen in delapidated stations without toilet paper, police detectives who have to take the bus to homicide scenes, residents struggling to get blight removed, a brave mother who tries to find peace after the death of her daughter and, yes, even a freelance political consultant who cuts through the insanity to explain the realities on the ground.

 The victories in Detroit happen when the honest folk keep manning their stations and performing their duties despite the fact everything around them is crumbling. And because of that, occasionally justice is done. Very, very occasionally. But just staying at the station is usually the most you can hope for.

And if you think it can't happen anywhere else, I would simply ask you to consider the possibilities of a nation whose decks are awash with mounting debt, and whose social dysfunctions are not different in kind from those of the once-great Motor City. If it stays with you long after you have finished it, then you read it correctly.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fun with the National Park Service as arm of the DNC.

Yes, the shutdown is a clarifying moment. Our compassionate chief executive is evicting the elderly from their homes, shuttering private businesses, trying to block access to scenery, along with a host of other petty, spiteful actions that give us the true measure of the small, brittle man in charge.

The latest is refusing to pay funded death benefits to military families.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Vicious little twerp, isn't he?

And our watchdog media is giving him ample cover. It's who they are,  and what they do--endless in-kind payments to one, and only one, political party, and relentless defense of the empty suit at the top.

Fortunately, there is an option to respond to some of it--civil disobedience. And here is a nice pictorial chronicle of civil disobedience in action.

Here's the thing: if you show that you're willing to eat a shit sandwich, then that's what you're going to get.

So stop eating.

A true company man in action!

I saw this before, but just to show you how the American episcopate is taking its cues, here's Archbishop Dolan, telling the world that Pope Benedict was soooo 2012.

So, I guess the 8 years of Papa B were the equivalent of tailpipe huffing? It seems so.

Set phasers for FUN, papal nerds.

I'll change the subject from my internal spiritual trainwreck to something more positive soon: a review of a book about contemporary Detroit.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Is this Catholicism?

Asks the very unnerved Elliot Bougis in this essay.

Yes, I have been linking a lot to him of late, but (1) he presents a lot of what I'm thinking, only much better, and (2) misery loves company.

What I'm learning about Catholicism is that how it is lived by those who genuinely love orthodoxy is rather at odds with how it is presented by the Church.

When push comes to shove:

  • We will in effect defend as infallible, despite the clear limits of the charism, every statement that comes from the Pope's mouth. In some cases, we will argue that the statements are inerrant. On a par with Scripture. No, I've seen this--and felt gut-punched. Blessed Pius IX may have lost the battle at Vatican I, but the faithful have ensured that he won the war.
  • Related: if we like the new Pope enough, we will always have been at war with Eastasia.
  • Even (especially?) if that Pope preaches eloquently against the evils of clericalism. Pardon the relevant aside:

  • In the name of charity, we berate those who honestly disagree with us.
  • In the name of a big, welcoming Church, we shoot the wounded.
  • We deride as Pharisees those who fail to agree with us on every particular.
But--please--dismiss my views as those of the jealous older brother, a hateful Pharisee who longs for a Church that the size of phone booth. With mirrors on the inside.

I'm getting used to it.

It has become increasingly obvious to me that my problem isn't so much the contents of the Pope's statements (though the content is sometimes deeply problematic), but rather how it is being defended by the Faithful. And that's the most disorienting and dismaying part of it all.


Monday, October 07, 2013

The other "Francis Effect."

The one I've been warning about--the re-energizing of the previously-chastened thugs of AmChurch:

This weekend our pastor wrote a column in which he compared people who identify as pro-life to his old friend Tim, a morbidly obese individual who washed down his bacon-cheeseburger and fries with diet coke in the hopes of losing weight. He went on to say that the agenda of pro-lifers is far too often anti-abortion, when it should be much broader and include gun control, environmental issues, the death penalty, yada, yada.  Abortion “cannot trump the vast myriad of other life issues”.  He cited the Pope’s interview as “long-overdue” support of this position.  Needless to say, those of us on the parish pro-life committee feel as if we’ve been punched in the gut.  

Very, very pastoral, her padre.

They're baaaaack...

Buckle up, brace yourselves, batten down the hatches, dig the hole for the survival bunker--as is your wont. Things are going to get uglier.

And where from here?

I've come to the conclusion that, regardless of the actual temporal length (and may God grant Pope Francis many healthy years), this is going to be a loooooong papacy.

1. The first problem is what my crisis buddy Elliot colorfully describes as "soft ultramontanism." To which I will add "by reflex."

This manifests itself in instant circle-the-wagons mentality against any criticism. Sorry, Mark, but this is emblematic. The fact that Scalfari didn't take notes is majoring in minors. No less an authority than the Vatican itself offers the interview for perusal on the official website.

That strikes me as a sotto voce endorsement of its accuracy. Not very sotto, in fact. More like a megaphone admission.

Also, it seems to me that criticism from such respectable non-fringe figures as Fr. Germain Grisez, fellow Jesuit James Schall and the very level-headed Carl Olson deserve a hearing. Ditto Robert Royal, who was clearly thrown by the first interview.

In other words, those who "get Francis" need to try to understand those of us who don't. And, yeah, I don't.

Frankly, the most evident fruit of the papacy thus far seems to be the willingness of orthodox Catholics to break out the cutlery and start stabbing whenever someone expresses unease over the Pope's actions and words.

2. The substantive criticisms are worthy of consideration.

Arguments like "the Pope is acting just like Jesus" or "you're just like the elder brother in the Prodigal Son!" aren't really arguments: they're declarations of the speaker's moral superiority, QEDs that are supposed to batter the benighted sinner on the other side into repentance. Quite simply, they won't do.

That said, I'll limit myself to two examples of problematic statements by the Pope from each interview. First, his quote about the Gregorian/Extraordinary Form Mass:

The Tridentine Mass was meant for those who could not make the transition from Latin to English [or other languages] after the Council.

Oh, no, I'm sorry--that was Roger Cardinal Mahony, not the Pope. Still, the despicable, Hell-ish Mahony is a big fan, I think we have to admit. Not that I blame the Pope for that. Bad people can like you, and there's nothing you can do about it. Manson and the Beatles.

No, what the Pope actually said was:

I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. 

Honestly, Mahony's contrafactual take was the first thing that leapt to mind when I read the Pope's words on the "Vetus Ordo" (a telling formulation in itself). The dismissive mindsets are certainly kissing cousins. Throw in the Pope's repeated jabs at Pelagianism, Rosary bouquets, "restorationism" and the like, and it's clear he's not a good friend of the old Mass nor of traditionalists in general.

Yes, the Pope had a bad experience with jackhole traditionalists in the Argentine. I readily accept that that would legitimately poison fair-minded people against the proponents of and possible spiritual fruits of the old liturgy. It would me. Straining at gnats doesn't begin to describe it.

But here's the thing: we've been told--in yet another of the many declarations of moral superiority by his myriad defenders--that the Church is bigger than the concerns and experiences of American Catholics. True enough. But likewise: She is also bigger than the concerns and experiences of the even smaller population of Argentine Catholics. Even those experienced by the Archbishop Emeritus of Buenos Aires. The traditionalists I know and rub elbows with, that my children weekly attend co-op with, haven't disappeared human rights activists, nor cheered the work of a fascist state. They are struggling to pay bills and raise children in our increasingly dysfunctional economy and culture, driving long distances to pray, share and teach such things as art, Latin, and literature, and I imagine much the same obtains among traditionalist communities worldwide.

Frankly, the Pope's take on the Extraordinary Form discounts entirely the rich theological work of Benedict XVI explaining why the older rite is important, and should be widely celebrated. The break in the continuity is obvious on this point. And it is a source of legitimate concern.

The second example is the notorious "Catholic God" statement in the second interview:

And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.

Hoo, boy. First of all, substitute "Christian" for "Catholic," and you start to cringe, right? You'd better.

Honestly, I think it is only because we have an ecumenism-of-self-flagellation, one that regards any hint of "triumphalism" as the sin against the Holy Spirit, that more people didn't cringe at the actual formulation. If you are Catholic, you believe in the God revealed in and through the Catholic Church, one that has defined numerous formulae about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, pondered and filtered by numerous saints and a protective magisterium, about how to understand the Triune God, going so far as to defend them at the cost of martyrdom. If you don't accept that, you are not Catholic. Full stop. As Elliot pointed out in a discussion on Facebook, the Pope's formulation wades into some dangerous riptides, providing ammunition for an argument against the Church herself.

3. The final analysis from my perspective:


For the love of God and His Saints, no more stream of consciousness interviews. EVER.

There are many things I appreciate about this Pope--preaching Christ, reaching out of the bubble to touch people, especially going into impoverished areas, pointing out the corrosive evil of unemployment (even if it's far from the worst of evils--yeesh) and its ripple effects on the family and even family formation, the choice of a simple lifestyle (though Benedict was far from opulent, contrary to the popular false meme), his prayer life, his joyousness and ability to connect with people. All to the good.

But his undisciplined, erratic streak keeps me from embracing and trusting him. I'm getting older, and I need a steady hand at the wheel. Apart from the substance in the interviews, the problems are many: the unnecessary jabs at decent Catholics, and the failure to recognize the harm that it causes. The offhand dismissals of his predecessors' work. The empowering of the stripped-altar left. The promises of big change, and the horizontal emphasis unnerves me greatly. He's in the same position now as Pope Paul VI after the leak of the Majority Report endorsing birth control in 1967: expectations--feverish ones--are rising, and the backlash will be brutal when/if he disappoints. I wonder if he fully understands the nature of the expectations (declarations of humility aside) and the demands that will follow. Riding the tiger is easy--compared to the dismount.

For my part, he's the Pope. I'll pray for him and offer filial respect. But I'm going to gird myself and my loved ones with Tradition, and I'm not remotely going to try to defend every stray sentence that comes out of his mouth or pen. Down that path lay madness, and in my case, despair. The Papacy is not one long run-on infallible monologue, and can't be defended as such. At least, it shouldn't.

If that approach leaves me as easy insult-bait, the target of Gospel proof-texting, snarky assaults and the like--whatever. There are worse fates.

Like the loss of faith.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

A mixed message.

The high wire was 150 feet in the air, trembling as the turbulent air buffeted it, first from one direction, then from another. Below, there was no net.

The veteran trapeze artist climbed with confidence, a large wicker basket secured to his back. His ascent was purposeful and quick, reaching the platform in less than three minutes, the spotlight following him smoothly as he rose. With him went the encouragement and praise of the enthusiastic MC, barking adulation as the artist neared the platform.

"This is one of the high points of the night, ladies and gentlemen: in center ring we present to you the Amazing Rollo, unicyclist and juggler extraordinaire--working, as always, without a net! You've never seen anything like this, folks!

And I'd like to take the time to remind you that, as with every show, a generous portion of the proceeds go to the ASPCA to fund the good work they do with animals every single day! Let's hear a round of applause for both Rollo and the Society!"

When he reached the top, Rollo doffed the basket, placing it on the platform. With practiced ease, he loosened the straps, then reached over to grab the unicycle lashed to the side of the platform. He mounted the unicycle on the wire, then reached into the basket and removed four golden retriever puppies. Clutching the puppies, he did a backflip onto the unicycle and pedaled backwards to the middle of the wire.

"You can really tell how much Rollo loves those puppies, folks: see how glossy their coats are?"

Friday, October 04, 2013

More shiny happy people.

Elliot Bougis is doing yeoman's work. Keep scrolling down. If you're ever in the neighborhood, Elliot, the brewpub rounds are on me.

And my real-life as well as blogging buddy, Steve Skojec, offers this cry of the heart.


Losing the narrative.

I'd barely had a chance to process my vertigo about the first interview when the second broke. I have a more detailed list of concerns about it for another post, but I'm just going to focus on the popular conversion exchange:

And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: "Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me."

It's a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.

He smiles again and replies: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense."

Uh...OK. Sure, proselytism has--now, in ecumenical dialogue--a negative connotation, smacking of coercion of the will. It has a rather more mixed one in the New Testament, just to let you know--sometimes negative, sometime merely descriptive of converts to Judaism.

The point is, Scalfari was talking about conversion, not coercion. From the context, it doesn't appear the Swiss Guards had their halberds menacingly lowered at Mr. Atheist. Scalfari was making a joke about mere conversion, not force.

Here's an analogy: an Eckrich salesman invites me over to his house, and I joke "Are you going to try to sell me some hot dogs?" and he replies: "Bratwursts are ridiculous."

Er...all right.

Now, those of you who have no problem with the interview are probably going: "A-ha--see how clever the pope was: he was playing a smart rhetorical game with Scalfari here!"

Well, no. First, is it fair to Scalfari unlikely as he is to be up on the distinction between good evangelizing and bad proselytism? Isn't wordsmithing here a bridge too far?

Second, the distinction gets watered down later in the interview:

Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed.

"We cannot know that, but I don't have any such intention."


Okay...so...um...

I'm at sea here. Is any intent or desire for conversion of another, expressly-stated or not, proselytism?

No, no, no, no, no, we're reassured. No, not at all.

Well, I respect Jimmy and Kathy a lot, but there's a difference between terminology in a limited, technical church-y sense and terminology as it is understood by non-believers. Jimmy especially notes the difference between the common and the church-technical version.

But none of that was stated in the actual text of the interview. He's not being more precise, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, he's not giving you the material to make him say what you want him to. When you have to supply that much subtext and cross-referencing to make it "work," it's damage control. Pure and simple. All damage control at this point, and that's how it comes across.

Non-Catholics have this rather exalted notion that the Pope is a dictator, we hang on his every word, and that we march to him lighting up the Pope Signal or getting the Secret Message from the PBS test pattern after sign off.

A message that is being--stunner!--reinforced by the way the Catholic Left is brandishing him. Francis, unfiltered! The world's parish priest!

Compare Jimmy and Kathy with David Gibson of the Religion News Service. Also a Commonweal blogger, to say Gibson hates your orthodox guts...is entirely accurate. As he demonstrated on his Facebook page today, linking to his own deeply objective story gloating about the discomfiture of people who actually believe in what marriage really means, that abortion is evil, who struggle to follow Humanae Vitae:

"Don't worry about your right flank, Pope Francis -- American Catholics have your back."

But compare the first Gibson link with the attempted rebuttals. Gibson simply lets Francis speak for himself. There's nothing for him to have to explain, no multi-paragraph excurses on wayward sentences, none of that. Because there's nothing there to discomfit him. And just where do you think regular journos will get their Francis stuff from? Hint: RNS, the National Catholic Reporter, Tom Reese, Dick McBrien--the usual gang on speed dial. Not from Patheos.

And where do you think the average Catholic in the pews (you know, the ones who say "gay marriage--suh-weet!") will get their Francis fix from? The regular journos.

And why not? Gibson, NCRep, etc. are all poised, confident, and not engaging in damage control. But their read is wrong--or so I'm reassured.

In addition to drinking heavily, I recommend taking a look at this and pondering it carefully.