Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mmm, yeah, Peter...

Life intrudes, as it often does. The play, then the Advent run-up to Christmas.

My kids shone brightly in the theatre, and I was especially proud of Madeleine. She had the lead role, which doesn't have much in the way of laughs. I had more (built-in) laugh lines, and Rachel had a scene which she could chew like a plug of Hawken. And did, to the delight of the crowd. Dale's lines were also deliberately funny.

Maddie had to carry the play, as there was only one scene that didn't feature her framing commentary. She did so brilliantly. If I know you, I'd be happy to show off the DVD once we get it.

As to the rest, well, it's the usual mix of busy, busier and infuriating. The last features my *#@$ driver's side car door. Which now won't open properly, and is damaging the front quarter panel, slowly bending it in, every time I open it.

I. Don't. Even.

But everyone's pretty much healthy, we're getting prepped for Christmas (ham this year, a first) and things are slowly slowing down again.

I've decided I'm going to finish the Maradiaga analysis and then walk away from pope stuff for a while. I printed up a copy of EG, read a bit, and then tossed it into the recycler. I'm not particularly interested in reading it further at this point, and we don't need more unattended clutter in the burrow.

Frankly (no pun intended), I don't get this pope, and I'm no longer interested in trying to get him. He's going to recede to the background of my spiritual life, he and his intentions the subject of the regular family rosary, remembered as part of the liturgy on holy days of obligation, and...that's it. Like it was in the old days, before instant information made it possible for someone to be omnipresent.

Honestly, I'm not one for being hectored and scolded into action, much less into joy. Seems rather counter-intuitive to me, actually. The whole "Beatings will continue until morale improves" school of thought. In fact, one of the things I've always appreciated about Catholicism is that it's not a monochrome, in-your-face, feel-the-brotherhood-in-the-spirit, no-really-FEEL-IT kind of religion. Yes, it has that component--but it's an option among many. Or at least it was. In the new dispensation, the breakroom poster reads Joyful Newness! and woe unto thee, oh sourpuss, who happens to have a case of the Mondays.

Hey, if you're inspired by this papacy, don't let me stomp your buzz. Please. Good on you, and I hope you make the most of it. If it inspires you to grow in the Lord Jesus, drawing others to Christ and offering the works of mercy--that's fantastic! Do so, and be a saint. And I mean that sincerely, despite my (well-deserved) reputation for sarcasm.

For my part, I've grown tired of trying to explain my non-fan-ness. And it seems that many of those who are more laudatory have pretty well washed their hands of the other side, too, lumping us together with cranks and apostates. Eh, so be it. There are worse things than mutual incomprehension.

It's going to be an interesting ride, one I fear filled with interesting compromises, interesting disciplinary decisions (moral of the story? Orders being investigated had better (1) be rich like the LCs, and (2) not celebrate the EF) and potentially interesting decisions regarding the sacramental life of the Church.

I'll just be over here for a while, sitting quietly. I'll pop up on other boards and in other conversations, but apart from that and barring a major development, I'm done commenting on the Francis Effect.

So, what's going on with you guys?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hope you and yours had a Happy Thanksgiving.

We did. Heather roasted another perfect turkey, and we added (cooked) bacon to the stuffing, which really worked out well. Plenty of leftovers, too, along with the turkey soup I enjoy making.

Still--yes--still working on the fisk. I should have part II up around Sunday.

What's that?

Ah, yes. The exhortation.

I've printed it, and probably will get around to reading it in detail eventually.

No, the economic parts don't offend me. Frankly, Catholic social teaching has always had problems with liberal (read "capitalism") economics. Even in places where you might least expect to find it, such as condemnations of the horror that is communism (e.g., paragraph 15). I flinch at some of the emphases in EG, and would appreciate a return to that version of CST which acknowledged limits to the healing powers of Caesar in the economic realm. But I think you're fooling yourself if you do not see something morally amiss in modern Western economics. The system that vomits up Miley Cyrus for your consideration, sponsors increasingly...interesting...forms of transgression for family time (e.g., the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade), and is pressuring formerly-solid youth organizations to bend to the zeitgeist is not our friend. If you watch American politics at all, you'll see the business wing of the GOP increasingly agitating for the excising of social conservatives.

Despite them getting their way and successfully nominating and running two of the least culture-warry candidates possible in the last two cycles. Running them right into buzzsaws, in fact.

Nevertheless, count on them to succeed--that's just the way it's going.

So, yes, their discomfort over this document is good. Salutary, even. Their rage-sweat is a perfume, in fact.


But. But. But.

I'm really not interested in reading it in detail right now. My problem is that our genuinely pastoral pontiff has etched his blind-spot disdain into the magisterium. Paragraph 94. So, yeah, he made his perturbation with rosary counters Officially Catholic.

Yep, I'm intransigently faithful to a Catholic style from the past, all right. I have this irrational attachment to the idea that the Church that existed before 1962 has something to offer the world--something more than cherry-picking from the occasional doctor or saint. I have this weird notion that Pius XII and those who preceded him might also have a little something to say about evangelization. I suspect that Vatican II wasn't a consummate vade mecum for how to deal with the world henceforth and in perpetuity. Especially after fifty years of that world's brutish decay from the optimistic New Frontier 1960s.

Yet, good luck trying to find anything that suggests that in the document, whose earliest encyclical cite dates to 1964, and whose sole pre-V2 papal citation can be found in footnote 174. Which is good, since I'm a big Pius XI fan. But there should be more.

Be that as it may, the pique is more personal. Despite reaching out to a traditionalist critic in genuine charity a few weeks back, he now offers this slappy broadside. Please, just stop it, Holy Father. It is unbiblical. It is unworthy. It is unnecessary. It is worse than an insult--it is a blunder. I'm sure I'd get something out of it, but I'm not going to pick it up for a while as a result. I know I'm not the only one.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The cache groweth.

So, Dear Reader, if civilisation starts swirling down the tubes, swing by my place to help save your humble booklegger's collection.

According to the stat markers at LibraryThing, we literally have over one ton of books. Whew.

There are many fascinating things about the Obamacare rollout.

Besides the schadenfreude buffet line, which Chris Johnson is doing a yeoman's job of chronicling here, here, and here.

The invaluable Ace of Spades points out the media's dereliction of duty, as they fraudulently claim they're just as surprised as we are.

If only we had some kind of institution whose primary mission it was to scrutinize the claims of politicians, contact experts, and report the major facts about major new legislation to the public.
But alas, it seems we don't.

They've chosen to be the President's Digital Praetorians, and they sense--correctly--that their prostituted credibility is swirling down the crapper along with this legislative debacle. Good.

Couldn't happen to a nicer group of whores.

The most astonishing story you will read this week.

Allow me to goad you into reading it with this sentence:

"Today, Davis is not only a musician, he is a person who befriends KKK members and, as a result, collects the robes and hoods of Klansmen who choose to leave the organization because of their friendship with him."

Read it here.

Yes, I'm working on part two of the Maradiaga fisk, but whew--it's daunting. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The early harvest.

I hear stories about Pope Francis inspiring people in Italy to return to Mass, and people in South America to return to confession. And I fervently hope the stories are as advertised, that such is lasting and bears good fruit for the future.

Because, for my part, the most visible fruit of this pontificate has been the occasion to watch intelligent people--my friends--who genuinely love the Church and want what is best for her hurl anathemas, come to blows and engage in a rhetorical civil war.

Good times, as they say.

Good times.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The pastoral disconnect.

The New York Times has an interesting article about "conservative" Catholics feeling swatted aside during this papacy.

It's worth reading not only because it features my friend and newly-minted media speed-dial guy, Steve Skojec, but also because it's a solid article.

First of all, a bit of a chuckle--Veep Steve holds that office in his wife Jamie's real estate agency, which consists of...the two of them. So, subtract the spats-and-monocle look you may be attaching to his visage. Not so by the way, Jamie knows real estate like nobody's business, and helped us navigate a problem we were having a while back. So, if you're in NoVa and need to sell or buy real estate, go her way.


I think the article is well done, showing a range of reactions, and fairly so. It misses part of the problem, though--the Pope's steady jabs at what would normally be described as "conservative" spirituality.

That's a crucial point, and one that needs to be remembered. Especially in light of the by-now tedious "older brother" accusation. Which, of course, has turned up in soundbite reactions to this article with the same frequency as yellow snow near a Malamute on Lasix.

The "older brother" retort would fit better if the parable had featured the father repeatedly needling and deriding his older son before welcoming the prodigal back. If certain Catholics have felt like redheaded stepchildren, it's because the Pope has, at times, been a bit slappy, and exclusively toward gingers. For a man with undeniable pastoral gifts, it's equally clear he has his blind spots, and I hope he grows in that respect. Right now, I'm in the position of loving the pontiff, but not really liking him. I am hoping and praying that changes.

While I work on Part II of the fisk, here's something to ponder.

John Zmirak takes Cardinal Maradiaga to the cleaners, albeit not for modernism:

So democracies like ours are “neoliberal dictatorships,” which the Church will help reform through the “globalization of mercy and solidarity,” that is, by helping governments to seize wealth from some people, skim its own share off the top, and distribute that wealth to others. Those “others” will doubtless be grateful, as Hugo Chavez’s supporters were in Venezuela; indeed, they will form powerful voting blocs dependent on state redistribution of wealth, as directed by humble clergymen.

This shows no awareness of decades of research about the true causes of poverty: the lack of clear property rights, political corruption, crony capitalism, populist politics, and centralized bureaucracy. Such problems cannot be solved by foreigners, but by local action to build up a culture of enterprise and institutions that protect small business owners. But it’s much more convenient, comfortable, and conducive to grabbing power to blame everything on the Yanquis. 

The good cardinal has already shown in the past his proclivity for shifting blame. In May 2002, the cardinal explained who was really to blame for the sex abuse scandal: Jews in the media.

Tiny coteries of evil investors cause starvation in the developing world, while cabals of Jewish journalists try to smear the innocent bishops. Is it all clear now? Based on Manichean, conspiratorial analyses such as these, we humble, loving “Samaritans” must reject the pharisaical Church of the past, and march forward to use the guns and prisons of the state to enforce “mercy” and “solidarity” among the classes and the nations.

Read it all.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The "White Hurricane" of 1913.

The deadliest storm ever to strike the Great Lakes began a century ago today. Here's my post from last year about it.

Here is the list of all the ships wrecked in the storm.

The shipwreck location map (click to enlarge). Some locations are approximate, 
as four ships have still not been found. The most recent find was this summer, the 
tragic Henry B. Smith in Lake Superior.

The overturned hull of the Charles S. Price, the  504 foot long steamer and
"mystery ship" that floated down the St. Clair River before a diver was able 
to go underwater to identify her.

A storm headline.

Finally, Psalm 107 (Douay 106). May God grant rest to the souls of the dead, and guard all who go down to the sea in ships.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Mater et Pedisequa, Part I.

I hate to do the multi-parter thing again so soon, but this one is important, and requires it.

There are times, in Catholic life, when one stumbles across something so gobsmackey that you have to read it twice and walk away to enjoy a relaxing stroll through the autumn sunshine. Then, you return and read it again to make sure your eyes and brain had not, after all, decided to go on a general strike together. To your immense discomfort, you realize you read it correctly the first time.

This presentation by Oscar Andres Rodriguez Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras is one of those times. Maradiaga is no ordinary prince of the Church--he has been appointed as coordinator of the Pope's "Gang of Eight" which is spearheading reform of the Vatican's bureaucracy.

Which means, naturally, that we should employ a lens of charitable presumption, assuming the best even in presentations which are clearly not ad hoc Night At The Improv oops-I-brainfarted-again gaffery.

I came up snake eyes. Unless the Cardinal is a prankster whose comic touch extends to preparing and lighting bags of modernist poo on the doorsteps of Catholic ministry folks and university students the week before Halloween...in which case--Zany!

Would that it were. No, no it's not.

No, this one is a humdinger, and needs to be explored closely.

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
University of Dallas Ministry Conference
Irving Convention Center
25 October 2013
The title is rather interesting, because as you will see it's not exactly clear, in light of the entire presentation, where evangelizing fits in. No, really, it's that bad. Despite citing them, the Cardinal untethers himself completely from the documents of Vatican II and seems to use the conciliar spirit as a sort of ecclesial feng shui, an astonishing effort to harmonize the Gospel with the world.

Which is a shame--and then a horror--because it gets off to something of a good start. With one caveat.

1. Introduction: It is not possible to talk about the Church, or about the Church today, without referring to the crucial moment in contemporary history that Vatican II has been for her, both as an event of grace and a paradigmatic reference.

During a pre-conclave speech, the then-Cardinal Bergoglio issued a warning about what happens when the Church becomes "self-referential." While Cardinal Maradiaga would no doubt disagree, his speech is loaded with one of the more common self-referential sins of modern Catholic churchmen: the endless appeal to the 21st ecumenical council.

Some of you are probably crying foul, itching to throw a yellow flag, but think about it--how do you think constant, self-praising references to Vatican II sound to non-Catholic ears? 

"We gathered together, thought and talked about the modern world for three years and bam--I tell you! Wow, it just hit us! Now we know how this utterly unique and unprecedented modern world thing works! We even prepared several mission statements! Minds. Blown! Let me tell you humbly--it's the most important event in our recent history, and we are just brimming with insights from our big meeting that we just gotta share! Let us hit you with some knowledge. Incessantly."

Note that he says it is simply "not possible to talk about the Church" without referring back to it. And, my, does he ever refer to it. Over and over and over again. Let me humbly submit that constantly talking about your fabulous insights seems to be the dictionary definition of self-referential.

The Church is rising. There is a significant increment of the faith in Africa, where the Church has grown tremendously during the 20th century. Such vitality can also be seen in some sectors of the Church in Asia –in India, Vietnam, the Philippines. But, at the same time, we are seeing in Europe institutions of considerable size but little energy, as well as a very hostile culture, fed by secularism and laicism. At the same time, we are watching a continent that “is committing demographic suicide at an alarming pace.” Similarly, here, in the United States of America, not everything is gloom, not everything is scandal and sin. No. Here, the Gospel of Christ is also alive and effective. For instance, George Weigel assures us in The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books, 2000) that, 200,000 people embraced the Catholic faith in the United States in Easter of 2002, a number that for us is cheerful, and optimistic, and “a vital sign.”

A fair assessment. Perhaps a little over-optimistic, but fine.

2. Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council was the main event in the Church in the 20
th Century. In principle, it meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council. On the contrary: neither the world is the realm of evil and sin –these are conclusions clearly achieved in Vatican II—nor is the Church the sole refuge of good and virtue. Modernism was, most of the time, a reaction against injustices and abuses that disparaged the dignity and the rights of the person.

Well, that certainly is....

I mean you have to agree....

Looked at one way....

Holy hopping snot. I can't make sense of it, at least not without a friend employing some herbal assistance.

"No, dude, it totally makes sense. You see, the Church and modernism are like oil and water, but if you have, like, God's totally ultimate hand mixer, you could make a kind of oil and water vinaigrette without, you know, vinegar. Just like that water-burning car the oil companies are hiding from us, man. Hey? Where are the Cheetos?"

Okay, still no help. 

Oooof. Well, let's see what Vatican I says:

3. If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.

As StrongBad might say, "I'm no theologist, but I think 'anathema' is bad."

And, if I may be so cheeky, let me point out what modernism meant to the Saint who decided to brain it:

Still it must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ's kingdom itself. 

Soooo...Vatican II was an armistice with the enemies of the cross of Christ? Who were just poor ol' misled social justice crusa--er, collaborators trying to make the world a better place?

No no no. NO. Modernism is better thought of as an attempted palace coup against God Himself, staged within the Church herself. Sure, all revolutions cloak themselves in good motives, in terms of justice. That doesn't justify them, much less their tactics.

Oy, vey. One fears that the Cardinal is writing Anthony Cekada's ad copy for him. Really, there's no salvaging this--it's a clusterfark. If the Cardinal's argument is accepted, the Church isn't descending into a hermeneutic of rupture. It's worse than that--it's a hermeneutic of malleability, with Vatican II the funhouse mirror-shaped lens used to examine Tradition. 

And then burn it like ants on a sidewalk.
The Vatican II Council officially acknowledged that things had changed, and captured the need for such a change in its Documents, which emphasized truths such as these:
Is that what the Council officially acknowledged--that modernism had a lot  of really, really good points? Turning previous councils like Vatican I on their head?

Emphasis added even though it shouldn't have to be.

So, we're just jettisoning the documents and winging it now, I guess? Vatican II: I'm OK, You're OK.

1º) The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God. “The People of God” is, for the Council, the all-encompassing reality of the Church that goes back to the basic and the common stuff of our ecclesial condition; namely, our condition as believers. And that is a condition shared by us all. The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as“Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church. The hierarchy is a ministry (diakonia = service) that requires lowering ourselves to the condition of servants. To take that place (the place of weakness and poverty) is her own, her very own responsibility.
The Suffering Servant is one of my favorite images of Christ. However, it is far from the only valid one. It's not, as anyone with a fleeting grasp of the New Testament can admit. Christ Pantocrator arose out of that NT datum that He is Lord. Also, that the wind and waves obey Him. That at His Name, every knee is to bow. That He is the Son of Man

And Christ Pantocrator--Christ the King--was--and is--a handy reminder to those who hold power, from Emperors all the way down to drain commissioners, that they answer to a King who stands over all. One who expects them to do justice to all.

The examples can be multiplied--I mean, I haven't gotten into the really heavyweight stuff in John. But the point remains--a vision of the Church based on only one facet of Jesus is going to be an impoverished and distorted one. Yes, I want ordained deacons, priests and bishops to serve, but I also expect them to rule when necessary--as did Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave us four gospels, with a plenitude of images of Christ and the Church. Why fixate on only one? Be all things to all men, so that you might save some, as a wise man facing a world of multiple beliefs--and no beliefs at all--once said.

Part II to follow.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Dad Brag Time!

Because this isn't All Francis--All the Time!

If you are in the Metro Detroit area during the weekend of December 6-8, please come on down to the Warren Civic Theatre to see the troupe's presentation of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Based on the novel by Barbara Robinson, which features a family of juvenile delinquents barging into the local church's Christmas pageant audition, getting all the starring roles, and--mirabile dictu--eventually getting into the spirit of the season, the story is a hoot. We read it to our children every year.

My older three children auditioned, and all three have lines. Maddie is...drumroll please...the lead character, Beth Bradley, who essentially frames and narrates the story! Rachel is Gladys Herdman, the youngest of the delinquents, and the Angel of the Lord character featured on the cover. The trick will be for Rachel to become intimidating ("Gladys is fast--and she bites!"), but we're reminding her of how much her big brother annoys her, giving her motivation to "mean up." 

Oh, and Dale III also has a speaking role, with a amusing zinger about his double-jointed little brother. Not too shabby for a competitive casting audition!

See you there!

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...


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.

Well and truly tired of this.

Edward Feser is an admirable thinker and superb digital pugilist. He makes the Thomist case with considerable energy, and is a welcome read....