31 October 2015

Key Texts in the Douthat Affair

Just in case you haven't been following:

1.  Here is Ross Douthat's opening volley against the heretical Catholic "left".  Douthat, you should know, is the only seriously conservative voice on the New York Times Opinion Page, and is a traditionalist Catholic.  He has written this book, which critiques the banal fluffiness of modern American religiosity.  Douthat has a history of being extremely soft-spoken and polite.  He tends to maintain his position without polemics or open hostilities, and he has a gift for grasping the reality of situations a step or two ahead of everyone else.

2.  In the wake of last week's column, there were two responses of note.  First was a letter signed by a large number of Catholic faculty at American universities.  The letter is preposterous, for various reasons.  First, there's the notion that Douthat has no right to comment on theology because of his lack of a graduate degree in theology. (Bishop Robert Barron had a good reply to that point.) Second, the non-denial denial given by these theologians, which amounts to saying "heretic isn't a nice word!" Well sure.  It's not a nice word, because heresy isn't such a nice thing.  But whether or not it's nice is beside the point—Is it true?  Third, right now is probably the safest time to be a public heretic in the Church since the 1400s, by the way, so claims that it's a serious charge that could be damaging are kind of silly.  Fourth, the accusation of political bias is preposterous, given how overtly political the slant of the signers is. Why start complaining now, and not any time over the past X years of overtly political Maureen Dowd or Frank Bruni columns?

3.  The second response of note was an appeal by Fr. James Martin, editor of America Magazine, (that thoroughly smothered former beacon of Catholicism).  Fr. Martin writes with great feeling about the Douthat Affair, but his column is almost (though not quite) as baffling as the letter mentioned above.  Fr. Martin's response amounts to complaining about all the hate-filled people in the Church who name-call.  (Isn't calling people malicious or hateful an act of name-calling?)  What's sad about Fr. Martin's response is that, it's true, we could all use a little more love and fraternal compassion, but he puts these virtues to use in service of... calling people names and denouncing those who are opposed to his version of the Gospel, and willing to speak out about it.  In other words, for all his good intent, Fr. Martin is playing the same game loud media voices on the left have been playing for the past twenty years: publicly tarring your opponents by denouncing them for tarring people.

4.  Finally, Mr. Douthat has now responded to the letter of the theologians.  Read it.  It's good.  (h/t to PJ Smith of Semiduplex for the link)

UPDATE:  On 3 November, Mr. Douthat posted a follow-up to his Sunday column.

30 October 2015

Two Notes on Terminator: Genisys

There was an article when this movie came out, maybe several articles, about how it inverts the "pro-life" theme (save the unborn) of the earlier movies into a "pro-abortion" theme (kill it before it's born).  It also inverts the "figuring out our predetermined role" theme of the earlier films into a "radical freedom" theme.  But most interesting to me is the extent to which this movie acts as a kind of apologia for arranged marriage.  Isn't that kind of weird?  Arnold refers to Sarah as "his Sarah", and raises her telling her about her betrothed.  The betrothed appears, and has to keep her safe and prove his worth.  In the end, she consents to the arranged match, and is both bound and free at the same time.

Perhaps I'm deceiving myself, but once again one of the striking things about this movie (like Terminator: Salvation, which I enjoyed greatly), is the way its characters seem suffused with a kind of honestas.  Sure, they've got attitude and they're not always well-spoken, but what do they want above all?  To give themselves up for the life of the world.  And what do they value in their own lives?  The trust and friendship of their elders.  So, my takeaway from Genisys?

It's a glorification of filial piety and arranged marriage.

Two Updates

Since my recent post, a number of people have purchased copies of the first volume of Pastor's History of the Popes.  To those who have: congratulations, and I hope you find the book as interesting as I have.

Having completed the introductory volume, I am skipping ahead in the series to the Popes of the Protestant Reformation, starting with Leo X, who confronted and eventually excommunicated Martin Luther.  The first volume of Pastor's two-part history of Leo X's papacy is now available.  The second should be up by the end of next week.


Additionally, it was suggested that I should make available a less expensive version of the series, in paperback.  I hope to do this eventually using Amazon's "CreateSpace" site, but as currently I'm having issues getting them to co-operate with my PDF files, I decided to settle in the short term for a Lulu paperback.  The first volume of the series is now available in paperback, for $22.28.  (I would have made the price lower, but Lulu literally will not let me.)

The new, paperback edition of the first volume is available by clicking the image below.  (The cover image is different, to distinguish it from the hardcover edition.)

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (2) – Marriage as a Natural Union

Today I continue my exposition of the Roman Catechism's chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony.  The previous installment is here.  As before, the text of the Catechism is given in red and each paragraph is summarized in black. Passages I find especially important are set in boldface.  

Those who find the wording of the Catechism difficult are invited to read only the summaries, or to skip to the end, where the essential points of the text are restated in short form.
When these matters have been explained, it should be taught that matrimony is to be considered from two points of view, either as a natural union, since it was not invented by man but instituted by nature; or as a Sacrament, the efficacy of which transcends the order of nature.
[Matrimony can be considered under two different aspects. Matrimony as natural union is an exercise of a function of human nature and sociability; Matrimony as a Sacrament transcends the capacities of human nature and is an operation of grace.  Furthermore, it is important to note that natural matrimony is not a human invention but a natural institution, i.e. a mode of activity which follows from the very nature of the human species, and was established for us by the author of nature, God.]
As grace perfects nature, and as that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual, the order of our matter requires that we first treat of Matrimony as a natural contract, imposing natural duties, and next consider what pertains to it as a Sacrament.
[Grace perfects, and does not destroy, nature.  To properly understand the work of grace, one ought to understand the natural order which it perfects.  If one does not understand what it means to anoint, the sacramental anointing in Confirmation will have less meaning.  If one does not understand the natural idea of sacrifice, the Eucharistic sacrifice will make little sense.  Likewise in the order of exposition, natural matrimony ought to precede sacramental matrimony, as the ground on which the house is erected.]
The faithful, therefore, are to be taught in the first place that marriage was instituted by God. We read in Genesis that God created them male and female, and blessed them, saying: "Increase and multiply"; and also: "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." And a little further on: But for Adam there was not found a helper like himself. Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam; and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built a rib which he took from Adam. into a woman, and brought her to Adam; and Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man: wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh," These words, according to the authority of our Lord Himself, as we read in St. Matthew, prove the divine institution. of Matrimony.
[The the account in Genesis which unites the creation of man by God with the institution of marriage, together with the words of Christ in St. Matthew's Gospel prove that marriage is a divine institution, and not merely a human convention.]
Not only did God institute marriage; He also, as the Council of Trent declares, rendered it perpetual and indissoluble.' What God hath joined together, says our Lord, let not man separate.  Although it belongs to marriage as a natural contract to be indissoluble, yet its indissolubility arises principally from its nature as a Sacrament, as it is the sacramental character that, in all its natural relations, elevates marriage to the highest perfection. In any event, dissolubility is at once opposed to the proper education of children, and to the other advantages of marriage.
[By nature all marriages are indissoluble, including natural marriages.  There are two reasons for this:
  1. Dissolubility is opposed to the natural goods for which marriage was instituted: mainly the primary good of begetting and rearing children, but also the secondary goods of mutual aid and friendship.  If marriage were not the sort of thing that cannot be dissolved, these goods would no longer be safeguarded by its guarantee of lifelong care and fidelity.
  2. Sacramental marriage is essentially indissoluble, as will be discussed later, and because natural marriage is ordered to the perfection of sacramental marriage, it naturally participates to an extent in the perfection of the higher form of the bond.]
The words increase and multiply, which were uttered by the Lord, do not impose on every individual an obligation to marry, but only declare the purpose of the institution of marriage. Now that the human race is widely diffused, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly exalted and strongly recommended in Scripture as superior to marriage, and as a state of greater perfection and holiness. For our Lord and Saviour taught as follows: He that can take it, let him take it; and the Apostle says: Concerning virgins I have no commandment from the Lord; but I give counsel as having obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful.
[The text adds a clarification: the text in Genesis, "increase and multiply", indicates what marriage as a natural institution is for (procreation), and does not make it binding on all mankind.  Again it is emphasized that virginity is superior to marriage, as a state of life which invites greater perfection and holiness.  Christ and St. Paul both attest to this fact in Scripture.]
We have now to explain why man and woman should be joined in marriage. First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life and the infirmities of old age.
[There are three reasons why people should join in the natural union of marriage. These reasons are not given in order of priority, since the second is the primary reason (as will be explained shortly). The first reason people should join in natural marriage is that marriage fulfills a natural instinct for companionship between men and woman, whereby each is aided by the other in the difficulties of life and age.]
A second reason for marriage is the desire of family, not so much, however, with a view to leave after us heirs to inherit our property and fortune, as to bring up children in the true faith and in the service of God. That such was the principal object of the holy Patriarchs when they married is clear from Scripture. Hence the Angel, when informing Tobias of the means of repelling the violent assaults of the evil demon, says: I will show thee who they are over whom the devil can prevail; for they who in such manner receive matrimony as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. He then adds: Thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayest obtain a blessing in children. It was also for this reason that God instituted marriage from the beginning; and therefore married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime ­­ nothing less than wicked conspiracy to commit murder.
[The second reason people should join in natural marriage is for the sake of family and to rear children in the service of God. This was the reason God established the natural institution of marriage. The text offers several warnings along with this reason for marriage:
  • First, that the desire for family should not be based primarily on a desire for heirs to whom we can pass on our material possessions.
  • Second, it gives an arresting quotation from the book of Tobit, in which the angel warns Tobias against marrying in order to indulge his lusts, and says that those who do are easy victims for the devil.
  • Third, it warns that those who employ medicines (or medical procedures) for contraception or abortion are guilty of "nothing less than wicked conspiracy to commit murder".]
A third reason has been added, as a consequence of the fall of our first parents. On account of the loss of original innocence the passions began to rise in rebellion against right reason; and man, conscious of his own frailty and unwilling to fight the battles of the flesh, is supplied by marriage with an antidote by which to avoid sins of lust. For fear of fornication, says the Apostle, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband; and a little after, having recommended to married persons a temporary abstinence from the marriage debt, to give themselves to prayer, he adds: Return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.
[The third reason people should join in natural marriage is that it serves as a remedy for the unruliness of the passions (concupiscence) which accompanies the fallen state of human nature.  The text cites St. Paul's advice that married couples should refrain from relations to give themselves up to prayer, but not to the point where their passions drive them to incontinence.]
These are ends, some one of which, those who desire to contract marriage piously and religiously, as becomes the children of the Saints, should propose to themselves. If to these we add other causes which induce to contract marriage, and, in choosing a wife, to prefer one person to another, such as the desire of leaving an heir, wealth, beauty, illustrious descent, congeniality of disposition such motives, because not inconsistent with the holiness of marriage, are not to be condemned. We do not find that the Sacred Scriptures condemn the Patriarch Jacob for having chosen Rachel for her beauty, in preference to Lia.
[Finally, the text notes that, given the three motives for entering into marriage listed above, it is not wrong for people to have additional, more worldly motives, including the preference of a particular person on account of wealth, beauty, personality, or descent, or the desire to beget an heir.]
So much should be explained regarding Matrimony as a natural contract.

Summary of Today's Catechesis

  1. Marriage can be considered from two points of view: as a natural union, and as a sacrament.
  2. Natural marriage was established by God at the creation of mankind, and is not a human convention.
  3. Sacramental marriage builds on and supernaturally perfects natural marriage.  Therefore the proper understanding of sacramental marriage depends on a clear understanding of natural marriage.
  4. All marriage is naturally indissoluble, first because indissolubility is necessary to protect the goods for which marriage is contracted; second, because all marriage is ordered to the essential indissolubility of sacramental marriage.
  5. Virginity is preferable to marriage, as being more conducive to perfection and growth in sanctity.
  6. Not everyone is bound to marry.
  7. There are three principle reasons why people should enter into the natural union of marriage:
    —First, to fulfill the natural human inclination for mutual aid and companionship from those of the opposite sex.
    —Second, to rear children in faith and service to God.  This is the primary reason for marriage, the reason for which it was instituted by God.
    —Third, as an alternative to fornication, for the unruly passions of fallen humanity.
  8. It is wrong to desire marriage principally as a way to beget an heir.
  9. It is likewise wrong to desire marriage merely in order to give oneself over to lust.
  10. Contraception and abortion are grave evils, equivalent in gravity to murder.
  11. It is not wrong to add to the principle reasons for marrying other accessory motivations, such as beauty, congeniality, descent, wealth, or the desire for an heir, though these ought not to be the principle reason for marrying.

29 October 2015

The Broad Path that Leads to Destruction

"The Catholic tradition is larger and more multifarious than Douthat imagines, or wishes to imagine. His suggestion that those who favor reform are simply betraying the tradition and Protestantizing the church is especially troubling."
– Paul Baumann in Commonweal

28 October 2015

Update on a Personal Project

Right now, I have several small projects running.  I am working intermittently on a commentary on the first tract of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, directed at beginners.  Aside from that, I have been blogging a lot (as is evident...), re-reading Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor, and trying to decide whether a Ph.D. in theology would be worth pursuing.

Readers of this blog may have noticed an increase in references to the Austrian Catholic historian Ludwig von Pastor in my posts lately (for example here and here).  Perhaps they even read the excellent excerpt of his work I published on the political philosophy site The Josias.  Pastor's classic History of the Popes has been out of print for the better part of a century.  Its 40 volumes cover the years 1300-1800, and give a precise chronicle of the efforts, crises and confusions of the Popes from the Babylonian Captivity at Avignon to the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Today I received the final proof copy of Volume I of Pastor's History, which I am re-publishing through Lulu.  The volume is beautiful and satisfies all my scruples as a bibliophile.  The page design has been improved, the text is crisp and clean, the binding is sturdy but flexible, and it has beautiful cover art.  This volume confirms that I have perfected the page layout and cover design for the book.  Now that everything is in place, the other volumes will follow.

The more one reads of the theological commentary and the ecclesiastical politics of today's Church, the clearer it becomes that Catholics are overwhelmingly ignorant of the history of the Church and the history of what Catholicism has meant as a practiced faith for the past two millennia.

Even among those who know a good deal about Church History, knowledge is generally limited to a few common loci: the Arian Crisis, the thought of St. Thomas, the writings of Augustine, the Saints of the Counter-Reformation.  The vitality of the Church, the lived understanding of the Faith as practiced in the vast swathes of history that separate these great figures, is left untouched, stuffed away in research libraries and rare book stores.  Without this knowledge, it is easy for us to slip into comfortable misconceptions about what Catholicism means.  We fall victim to presumption, and fuzzy spiritualism, and are susceptible to all the popular modern heresies and compromises.

Particularly neglected are the years since the Protestant Reformation, when the leaders of the Church have had to face wave after wave of confrontation and crisis, while "the ruin of the great political unity of the Middle Ages brought forth the selfish spirit of modern times".  Pastor's History of the Popes is concerned with this period above all, and through his close chronicle of events he gives us a precise sense of the conditions and struggles of the Church in the modern world.

Western Civilization today is driven by a progressive narrative: History moves forward.  The past is not as good as the present.  Everything is getting better all the time.  Catholics tend to internalize this belief, and assume that the Church must also be getting better: new superstar popes, new "relevant" theology, new evangelization, new catechesis, new liturgy.  All of this must signal improvement.  The mood of progressivism was enshrined in the tone of Vatican II's pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, the authors of which were befuddled by the hopeful rhetoric of the age.

But the authority of the Church is based on what was laid down in the past, and received through tradition.  If the Church were to give up the claim that its doctrine is the doctrine given by Christ, the Son of God, to his apostles in the first century, then would lose all divine authority.  Such a Church would become what the Holy Father has reviled from the first moments of his pontificate: just another global NGO, preaching niceness and community service for the benefit of mankind.

So, for Catholics today, there is a basic choice to be made.  We were not catechized properly in school.  Our priests were not taught sound theology.  The doctrinal identity of the Church seems (from a worldly perspective) to be up for grabs.  In the midst of this confusion, we can allow the Church to be silenced and disfigured, by subjugating its authentic doctrine it to the secular hope of comfort in a future paradise.  Or we can deepen our roots in the past, and seek out the forgotten wellsprings of Catholicism in the unceasing traditions of the Church, her moral teaching, her theology, her way of life—so that we, or our children, or theirs, can bring forth once again the ancient fruit of Christ, which was once the glory of Christendom.

Anyway, I will continue to post updates as new volumes become available.  Please consider buying a copy of the first volume.

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (1)

For some time, I have wanted to review basic Catholic doctrine on the Sacrament of Matrimony. In today's post I will work through the first part of the Roman Catechism's chapter on Marriage. The text of the Catechism is given in red and each paragraph is summarized in black. Passages I find especially important are set in boldface.  

Those who find the wording of the Catechism difficult are invited to read only the summaries, or to skip to the end, where the essential points of the text are restated in short form.

As it is the duty of the pastor to seek the holiness and perfection of the faithful, his earnest desires must be in full accordance with those expressed by the Apostle when writing to the Corinthians: I would that all men were even as myself, that is, that all should embrace the virtue of continence. No greater happiness can befall the faithful in this life than to have their souls distracted by no worldly cares, the unruly desires of the flesh tranquilized and restrained, and the mind fixed on the practice of piety and the contemplation of heavenly things.
[The Church first sets forth the teaching of St. Paul: that continence, i.e. perfect chastity without marriage, is the ideal.  To be sure, marriage has its own dignity, as will be discussed shortly, but as a state of life, perfect chastity is preferable to marriage. This is because in perfect chastity the soul is distracted by no worldly cares (i.e. the material concerns which accompany family life), and the desires of the flesh are tranquilized and restrained (as opposed to the marriage debt, which is owed by the spouses to each other), leaving us free to devote ourselves to piety and contemplation.]
But as, according to the same Apostle, every one has his proper gift from God, one of this sort, and another of that sort; and as marriage is bestowed with great and divine blessings, so much so as truly and properly to hold a place among the other Sacraments of the Catholic Church, and as its celebration was honoured by the presence of our Lord Himself, it is clear that this subject should be explained, particularly since we find that St. Paul and the Prince of the Apostles have in many places minutely described to us not only the dignity but also the duties of the married state. 
[Although perfect chastity is preferable, marriage is still greatly blessed, is truly a sacrament, and was a subject of concern to Ss. Peter and Paul, and to Christ Himself.  Therefore it should be discussed.]
Filled with the Spirit of God (these Apostles) well understood the numerous and important advantages which must flow to Christian society from a knowledge, and an inviolable observance by the faithful of the sanctity of marriage; while they saw that from ignorance or disregard of (its holiness), many and serious calamities and losses must be brought upon the Church.
[Moreover, a proper understanding of matrimony is very advantageous to Christian society, and the ignorance of the sanctity of marriage tends to bring serious calamities upon the Church.]
The nature and meaning of marriage are, therefore, to be first explained. Vice not infrequently assumes the semblance of virtue, and hence care must be taken that the faithful be not deceived by a false appearance of marriage, and thus stain their souls with turpitude and wicked lusts. To explain this subject, let us begin with the meaning of the word itself.
[As a good teacher, the Church names the sacrament and defines it first, to avoid confusion about the subject matter, and to avoid the improper identification of matrimony with things that are not matrimony.]
The word matrimony is derived from the fact that the principal object which a female should propose to herself in marriage is to become a mother; or from the fact that to a mother it belongs to conceive, bring forth and train her offspring.
[The first name of the sacrament comes from its intrinsic connection to the bearing of children.]
It is also called wedlock (conjugium) from joining together, because a lawful wife is united to her husband, as it were, by a common yoke.
[The second name comes from the "common yoke" which husband and wife share.  Note that they are united by a yoke, which signifies a burden of mutual care for each other, and, above this, for something which they bear together: children.]
It is called nuptials, because, as St. Ambrose observes, the bride veiled her face through modesty ­­ a custom which would also seem to imply that she was to be subject and obedient to her husband.
[The third name comes from the order obtained within the marital bond: the obedience of wife to husband.  The veil also represents the modesty of the bride, and therefore also the chastity of both bride and groom.]
Matrimony, according to the general opinion of theologians, is defined: The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.
[Matrimony is defined, in general.  Note that this definition is not specific to either sacramental or natural marriage, but applies to both.  Matrimony is:
  • a conjugal union
  • of man and woman
  • contracted between two qualified persons
  • which obliges them to live together throughout life.]
In order that the different parts of this definition may be better understood, it should be taught that, although a perfect marriage has all the following conditions, ­­ namely, internal consent, external compact expressed by words, the obligation and tie which arise from the contract, and the marriage debt by which it is consummated; yet the obligation and tie expressed by the word "union" alone have the force and nature of marriage.
[The Church distinguishes between perfect and imperfect marriages:

In an Imperfect Marriage (which still possesses the force and nature of marriage) there is internal consent and an external compact expressed in words, which produce an obligation and bond between the bride and groom, but without consummation of the bond.

In a Perfect Marriage the marriage debt is fulfilled by the consummation of the bond in intercourse.]
The special character of this union is marked by the word "conjugal". This word is added because other contracts, by which men and women bind themselves to help each other in consideration of money received or other reason, differ essentially from matrimony.
[Matrimony differs essentially from useful friendships or contracts of convenience which are entered for the sake of material convenience or profit.]
Next follow the words "between qualified persons"; for persons excluded by law cannot contract marriage, and if they do their marriage is invalid. Persons, for instance, within the fourth degree of kindred, a boy before his fourteenth year, and a female before her twelfth, the ages established by law, cannot contract marriage.
[The Church teaches that only those qualified to enter into marriage can do so: marriages between unqualified persons, whether on account of consanguinity or age or some other impediment, are not only illicit, but also invalid.]
The words "which obliges them to live together throughout life", express the indissolubility of the tie which binds husband and wife.
[Marriage as such is taught to be indissoluble, and this indissolubility is not specific to sacramental marriage, but covers both forms, generically.]
Hence it is evident that marriage consists in the bond spoken of above. Some eminent theologians, it is true, say that it consists in the consent, as when they define it: The consent of the man and woman. But we are to understand them to mean that the consent is the efficient cause of marriage, which is the doctrine of the Fathers of the Council of Florence; because, without the consent and contract, the obligation and tie cannot possibly exist.
[This paragraph contains two points:
  1. The essence of marriage consists in the tie or bond between husband and wife.
  2. The marital bond is brought about by the internal consent and external words of the pair.
Additionally, it cites the Bull of Union with the Armenians, which was promulgated in the 8th Session of the Council of Florence, on 22 November 1439.  This decree contains a wonderful summary of the Christian Faith, and includes in particular this paragraph on Matrimony:
The seventh [Sacrament] is the Sacrament of Matrimony, which is a sign of the union of Christ and the church according to the words of the apostle: This sacrament is a great one, but I speak in Christ and in the church. (Eph 5:32) The efficient cause of matrimony according to the rule is mutual consent expressed in words about the present.  A threefold good is attributed to matrimony.  The first is the procreation and education of children for the worship of God.  The second is the mutual fidelity of the spouses to each other.  The third is the indissolubility of marriage, since it signifies the indivisible union of Christ and the church.  Al though separation of bed is lawful on account of fornication, it is not lawful to contract another marriage, since the bond of a legitimately contracted marriage is perpetual.]
It is most necessary that the consent be expressed in words denoting present time.
[In other words, the marriage vows must not take the form "I did", or "I will", or "I would", but "I do".  The vows are speech-acts, by which a person manifests a present consent and intention to bind himself to another.  This is emphasized below.]
Marriage is not a mere donation, but a mutual agreement; and therefore the consent of one of the parties is insufficient for marriage, the consent of both being essential.
[The Church rejects the idea of marriage as a transfer of property between two families, and sees the bond as based on the mutual consent of the spouses.]
To declare this consent words are obviously necessary. If the internal consent alone, without any external indication, would be sufficient for marriage, it would then seem to follow as a necessary consequence, that were two persons, living in the most separate and distant countries, to consent to marry, they would contract a true and indissoluble marriage, even before they had mutually signified to each other their consent by letter or messenger ­­ a consequence as repugnant to reason as it is opposed to the decrees and established usage of holy Church.
[An outward demonstration of consent is necessary, so as to avoid all sorts of absurd situations.]
Rightly was it said that the consent must be expressed in words which have reference to present time; for words which signify a future time, promise, but do not actually unite in marriage. Besides, it is evident that what is to be done has no present existence, and what has no present existence can have little or no firmness or stability. Hence a man who has only promised to marry a certain woman acquires by the promise no marriage rights, since his promise has not yet been fulfilled. Such promises are, it is true, obligatory, and their violation involves the offending party in a breach of faith. But he who has once entered into the matrimonial alliance, regret it as he afterwards may, cannot possibly change, or invalidate, or undo what has been done.
[Again, the words expressing consent must reflect a present act and intention.]
As, then, the marriage contract is not a mere promise, but a transfer of right, by which the man actually yields the dominion of his body to the woman, the woman the dominion of her body to the man, it must therefore be made in words which designate the present time, the force of which words abides with undiminished efficacy from the moment of their utterance, and binds the husband and wife by a tie that cannot be broken.
[The marriage contract is a transfer of right, by which each spouse gives dominion of his or her body to the other.  Note that the act of submission and donation is mutual, and not on the part of the woman only, or the man only.]
Instead of words, however, it may be sufficient for marriage to substitute a nod or other unequivocal sign of internal consent. Even silence, when the result of female modesty, may be sufficient, provided the parents answer for their daughter.
[The particular mode by which consent is expressed can be adjusted according to the needs of the situation.  Note that the essential form of the act of contracting matrimony is a mutual expression of consent to the bond, generally, and not with any particular formula (in contrast to the Sacrament of Baptism, for example).]
Hence pastors should teach the faithful that the nature and force of marriage consists in the tie and obligation; and that, without consummation, the consent of the parties, expressed in the manner already explained, is sufficient to constitute a true marriage. It is certain that our first parents before their fall, when, according to the holy Fathers, no consummation took place, were really united in marriage. Hence the Fathers say that marriage consists not in its use but in the consent. This doctrine is repeated by St. Ambrose in his book On Virgins.
[The text emphasizes again the following points:
  • that the force and nature of marriage consists in the bond and mutual obligation of the spouses
  • that an unconsummated marriage is still truly a marriage, though imperfect.
In support of the latter point, it raises the interesting case of the marriage of Adam and Eve, prior to the fall: there is no doubt that they were truly wed (since Scripture itself attests to this), though Scripture also seems to indicate that they had not yet consummated the bond, since this is mentioned only later on.]

Summary of Today's Catechesis:

  1. Perfect Chastity is preferable to Marriage as a state of life, because it leaves the soul free to devote itself to piety and contemplation.
  2. Marriage has been bestowed with many blessings and is a true Sacrament.
  3. Ignorance of the nature of Matrimony is deeply injurious to the Church.
  4. Marriage has three names:
    —Matrimony, which reflects its essential connection to childbearing;
    —Conjugium (wedlock), which indicates that the spouses are yoked together;
    —Nuptials, which indicates the chastity and modesty of the spouses, and the submission of wife to husband.
  5. Matrimony is defined as follows: the conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.
  6. Impediments to marriage (for example, age or consanguinity) render it invalid, regardless of the intention of the pair.
  7. An imperfect marriage, which has been properly contracted but not consummated, is still a true marriage.
  8. Marriage (including natural marriage) is lifelong and therefore indissoluble.
  9. The essence of marriage is the bond which ties husband and wife together for life.
  10. The internal consent and external expression of consent is the cause which brings about the marriage bond.
  11. Consent must be expressed in words denoting the present, not a future promise.
  12. Consent must be mutual; marriage is not a mere donation.
  13. Consent must be expressed outwardly, and not merely in the mind.
  14. By their consent, the two spouses each surrender dominion of their bodies to the other.
  15. The words by which consent may be expressed can be adjusted according to the needs of the situation.

27 October 2015

In the Absence of a Shepherd

Portrait of a Jesuit High School

Midway through the last century Loyola Academy was relocated from the neighborhood of Rogers Park (where it was founded in 1909) to a newly constructed campus in the prosperous and insular North Shore, just outside Chicago.  Architecturally, the new campus is an expression of the modernism of Cold War era institutional architecture: a series of bland cinderblock units arranged along pale hallways, without any ornament or character.  The more recent additions to the building mimic its original spirit, and a number of classrooms have no windows.

Despite its architectural design, which might be described as a mix of "cinderblock dungeon" and "potter's field of the soul", any visitor who arrives at 1100 Laramie Avenue on a school day will immediately perceive the wealth of the place.  Surveying the parking lot, one will find a reasonable number of BMWs and Mercedes—gifts from proud parents upon the acquisition of a license.  The grounds are well-kept, and include ten new tennis courts, three playing fields, two large gymnasia and a swimming pool.  (This does not include the six further playing fields, four baseball diamonds, and field house located at the school's athletic campus in nearby Glenview.  And of course it omits the school's ample boating equipment.)

Loyola's population is striking in its uniformity.  The student body adheres overwhelmingly to a narrow stylistic ideal: big brand, preppy, athletic.  Eight years ago everyone owned the same North Face fleece jacket and wore the same Ugg boots.  Nowadays UnderArmor is everywhere, and boat shoes are seeing a small renaissance.

Student culture mirrors the architecture of the place: conformity is valued above all, and conformity not to a heroic ideal so much as to the tasteless, quantitative standards of bourgeois "success".  Good grades and college acceptance function as everyman's lofty spiritual goal, and a solid athletic record is the object of his daily labor.  In terms of actual moral values and aspirations, cynicism is the norm. Everyone knows that personal distinction (whether in service, sports, or academics) is a means to college acceptance and little more.

The school styles itself a "Jesuit College Preparatory Experience".  The heart of this is "college preparatory", just as the heart of student formation is the preparation for the college admissions process. This is, after all, the chief desire of the parents who keep the school running. But this central goal is framed by the words "Jesuit" and "Experience".  What do they mean?

Like many Jesuit institutions nowadays, Loyola is a bit ashamed of its Catholic roots.  When the term "Catholic" pops up in official correspondence, it is usually prefaced by "Jesuit" or "Ignatian", as if Ignatian Catholic were a distinct religious identity to which the school subscribed.  This subtle distinction is amply internalized by the student body.  Students periodically refer to themselves as "Jesuit"; I have even heard it used in contrast to "Catholic" as an expression of deprecation for the Church.

The Ignatian ideals of the school are informed by the mission of social justice, which the Society of Jesus embraced following the Second Vatican Council.  Superior General Pedro Arrupe is frequently invoked, as are his catchphrases "educating for justice" and "men and women for others".

Loyola Academy, like the Jesuits themselves, is caught in a lifestyle contradiction between its material reality and its rhetoric of choice.  The school is insular and wealthy, but it idealizes solidarity with the poor and community service.  Its students are touted as "leaders in service", but the main cultural distinction of the place is its ability to compete athletically with the neighboring public school, which is three times its size.

The spiritual identity of the place is captured by the word Experience.  The school's "Chapel of the Sacred Heart" (a dedication few people are aware of, as it is totally devoid of iconography related to the Sacred Heart) inspires slightly less solemnity than an airport chapel.  The tabernacle is hidden in a back corner, where awareness of it will not trouble the relaxed conviviality of the space.  For the most part, students only enter this place for "Gesu Chapel Services", in which episodes from the life of Ignatius of Loyola are used to lead them to reflect on their own experiences and struggles.  Mass is offered daily, but few students attend.  The atmosphere fits the ideal of the liturgical movement: the president of the assembly leads a dialogical reflection on the experiences of the community and the call of the Gospel.

If you ask a Loyola student what the Gospel is about, they are likely to answer "service".  If you ask them what prayer is about, they are likely to tell you "reflecting on your experiences".  Service and self-awareness make up the heart of Ignatian Catholicism.  In the theology classroom, these two themes predominate.  Other, more doctrinal strains occasionally enter and fade, but from the first semester "Sacramental Journeys", to the senior elective "Justice Seminar", theology courses are centered on coming to terms with one's own narrative, being authentic, and seeing how Christian stories of justice, solidarity, community and leadership offer valuable tools in these tasks.

My Experience at Loyola

From 2003 to 2007 I was a student at Loyola Academy.  I experienced the school as an evangelical protestant, and it left me with a very cynical understanding of what Catholicism is about.  Catholicism, I would have said in 2007, is an old religion that has recently tried to modernize, and done a bad job of it.  Catholics do not have any special respect for Scripture.  In order not to have to say that the Bible is a bunch of fables, they warp their understanding of "truth" into something relativistic and experiential.  Throughout my years there, I saw atheist classmates repeatedly praised by religion teachers as being more "advanced" than the rest of us, which led me to question whether my teachers really believed in anything.  Catholicism, I thought, was vague, overly political, and sentimental.  It was a spiritualization of socialist politics that had collapsed into all-inclusive formlessness.

After entering the Church in college and earning a graduate degree in theology with the Dominican Friars, I returned to Loyola to work in its theology department.  To this day, I'm not sure how I got the job.  They had a last minute opening, and I was familiar enough with Ignatian jargon to make a good impression in the interviews.  My first day at work with the department, I was subjected to a conversation about the future of Catholicism.  The consensus among my co-workers was that the hierarchical, institutional Church needed to go, and would eventually fall apart.  They thought institutional collapse would liberate the Church and enable it to become something new, something better suited to meet the needs of the age.

I was never sure to what extent the department saw through me.  I'm not very good at dissembling, though I held my tongue and generally avoided confrontation.  What I experienced in most of my colleagues there was a deep loathing for many of the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith: the hierarchy, tradition, Catholic morals, the idea of doctrinal orthodoxy, the sacraments, the truth of the Gospel—even, in one case, the person of Christ.  Day after day, I quietly witnessed conversations in which religious were mocked for wearing habits, the Catechism reviled, proponents of chastity lambasted, the virgin birth casually rejected, and Christ displaced from the Gospel.  I was given syllabi for courses in which I was required to teach the primacy of individual conscience over Magisterial teaching, explain that grace is "God's ubiquitously offered gift of self", and direct students to adopt a "realized eschatology" in which heaven is seen as nothing more than an aspect of the present life.

All of this was deeply scandalous to me, and upsetting when I thought of the spiritual corruption that awaited my students after they left my classroom.  I laboriously reframed all the "Ignatian" spiritualistic nonsense in terms of actual Catholic doctrine, and tried to make sure that all of my students had at least a basic grasp of the Gospel.

New teachers were required to attend Ignatian formation seminars, in which we were informed that the population collapse in the Society of Jesus meant that lay educators needed to be ready to carry the "Ignatian Identity" forward to the next generation.  My first year, I read the autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola so I could understand the man better.  It left me very clear on one point, at least:  Ignatius was not "Ignatian" at all.

Without a Shepherd

Throughout my first year, as I felt the weight of my colleagues' hatred for the Catholic Faith and their hostility toward my "inauthentic" adherence to orthodoxy and the tradition, one consoling thought I had was that, when I inevitably left Loyola for something else, I would be able to write to someone in the Archdiocesan administration and make them aware of the rank heresy and outright anti-Catholicism among many of the theology faculty there.

That, at least, was my thought until fall of 2014, when Blase Cupich was named successor of Cardinal George as Archbishop of Chicago.  Cardinal George's tenure as Archbishop was not perfect.  In many ways he was an American version of Cardinal Ratzinger: fiercely orthodox, committed to reform, but too tolerant with the corruption and error of the "Conciliar Church", and too hesitant to take disciplinary action against dissidents.  Whatever his weaknesses as Archbishop, Cardinal George was a friendly face—someone who believed in the Gospel, believed in the weight of his office, and was ready to defend the truth out of zeal for the souls under his care.

Not so Archbishop Cupich.  Since taking office, the Most Reverent Archbishop has indicated, by word and deed, that his idea of a healthy Church is a multicultural community celebration, in which the primary values are diversity and inclusiveness, with everyone doing their best to advance something very close to the platform of the Democratic Party.  More recently he has informed us that personal conscience is supreme and inviolable, and that the Church needs to respect the decisions made in conscience by the faithful, and move forward with them.  Whatever His Excellency's intentions may be, whatever his confusion of speech or befuddlement of mind, this is not the sort of man you could comfortably approach with concerns about the spiritual destruction of thousands of children at the hands of heretical, anti-catholic "Ignatian Educators".  This is a man who is in all probability perfectly in step with all of that.

And if we climb higher, to Rome, and look to the Holy Father, what do we see?  More of the same. Just as Francis George was the American version of Ratzinger, so Blase Cupich is the American version of Bergoglio.  I do not judge either man's spiritual condition or intentions, but a certain strain of befuddlement is so evident in their words and actions that one cannot doubt their antipathy to traditional orthodoxy.

In such a Church, where do you look for guidance and support when the wolves are devouring Christ's lambs? What authority is on your side?  The general absence of legitimate authority, the absence of clerics ready to stand up for the truth, makes it almost impossible to speak in defense of the orthodox faith.  In the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, we have been scattered because there is no shepherd, and when we are scattered we become food for all the wild animals.

It is against this background that I experience the protestations of many Catholics, who are committed to believing that Everything Is Fine in the Church.  Somehow their insular context or good fortune has spared them from seeing the massive damage and scandal being done by our clerics.  These people do not have to stand before hundreds of children who are already mostly committed to the corruption of the present age, and hear the words of the Supreme Pontiff quoted as evidence against the teachings of Christ.  They do not have to hear conversations about how X pastor feels emboldened in his tendencies by Francis's perceived liberalism, or how Y priest is now secure enough under the present Archbishop that he will officiate at the marriage ceremony of two men.  And not knowing these things, even committed, it sometimes seems, to remaining oblivious of them, these Catholics turn those of us who cannot help but know them into the enemies of the Church.  We are cranks, unhinged, hysterical, wackos. We are crypto-schismatics.  We are to blame for the present sense of chaos.  How could we dare to lose faith in the Holy Spirit's protection of the Pope and the Hierarchy!  We must affirm!  Everything is fine! Really!

How easy it must be to stand by "Everything is Fine", when the life of the Church is an abstraction, and not dozens of real faces one has to see and attempt to guide day after day.  How comforting it must be to say "Things have been this bad before!" when the corruption of the times is thought of generally and not with respect to a particular person's spiritual development and eternal destiny, which is being visibly impacted for the worse by the scandalous vagueness of those in authority.  With such an easy frame of mind at stake, who can blame these Catholics for defending the comfortable abstraction against the doomsayers and cranks?

Where does that leave us, fellow Christians, Pastors?  When the Church is divided between those fighting for heresy and those struggling to pretend that nothing is wrong, where can the faithful find refuge?  This is, I believe, the growing crisis of those committed to the ancient faith.  What can we do but put our hope in Christ?
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
We must pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out worthy laborers.  We must be like Mary and John, who remained with the Body of Christ when everyone else had fallen away.  And may God preserve us in Faith, Hope, and Charity unto everlasting life.

In te Domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.

25 October 2015

On Declaring the See of Peter Vacant

Just now I came across this post, courtesy of someone on Catholic Reddit.  It includes the following point:
To be sure, it’s possible that the sedevacantists are right that a heretical pope in fact loses his office, just as does a heretical bishop. But in the case of the heretical bishop, there is a competent forum superior to the bishop who has jurisdiction and may therefore authoritatively adjudge the question and depose the bishop. But in the case of a heretical pope, there is, in his lifetime, no competent forum superior to him who can authoritatively judge the question and depose him. A subsequent pope could do so; Pope Pius XIII, after his election, might turn around and say that Francis I was an antipope, that he invalidated his office as of such and such a date, and that all his acts are therefore void. But we may not. We don’t have the authority. (Nor does a council, by the way, for if a council could depose a pope, the implication would be that a council is a hierarchically-superior forum to the pope, which is the heresy of conciliarism into which the Council of Basel lapsed in 1439.)
Good point, I think.  Feel free to read the entire post.

[Update: A more thorough treatment of the question, which contradicts the quote above, is found in this lengthy and impressive article.]

24 October 2015

Cupich Triumphant

What follows is a machine translation of §§84-86 of the Final Relatio from the 2015 Synod of Bishops.  The original text is available here.

84. The faithful who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more integrated in the Christian communities in different ways as possible, avoiding any chance of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, because they only know that they belong to the Body of Christ which is the Church, but it can have a joyful and fruitful experience. Are baptized, are brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit pours into their gifts and talents for the good of all. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services: it is therefore necessary to discern which of the various forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgy, pastoral, educational and institutional framework can be overcome. They not only do not have to feel excommunicated, but can live and grow as living members of the Church, feeling like a mother who welcomes them always, he takes care of them with affection and encourages them in the path of life and of the Gospel. This integration is also needed for the care and Christian education of their children, who must be considered the most important. For the Christian community, take care of these people is not a weakening of their faith and testimony about the indissolubility of marriage: rather, the Church expresses in this very carefully his charity.

85. St. John Paul II offered a comprehensive policy, which remains the basis for the evaluation of these situations: "Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, are obliged to discern situations. There is indeed a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have contracted a second marriage for the sake of the children, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous marriage, irreparably broken, had never been valid "( FC , ​​84). It is therefore the duty of priests to accompany the people concerned on the way of understanding according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the Bishop. This process will be useful to make an examination of conscience, by moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves how they have behaved towards their children when the conjugal union has entered into crisis; Though there have been attempts at reconciliation; as is the situation of the partners abandoned; what effect has the new report on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; as such it offers to young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God that is not denied to anyone.

Moreover, one can not deny that in some circumstances "imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified" ( CCC , 1735) due to several constraints. Accordingly, the judgment of an objective situation should not lead to a judgment on the 'subjective culpability "(Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a). Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while supporting a general rule, it must recognize that the responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. The pastoral discernment, while taking account of a properly formed conscience of the people, must take responsibility for these situations. The consequences of acts are not necessarily the same in all cases.

86. The process of discernment and directs these faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. The interview with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and the steps that can foster it and make it grow. Given that the same law no gradation (cf. FC , ​​34), this discernment will never consider the needs of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church. For this to happen, are guaranteed the necessary conditions of humility, confidence, love for the Church and its teaching, in the sincere search for God's will and the desire to achieve a more perfect answer to it.

The Pope's Closing Speech, Highlighted

(Striking passages are in red. Comments in green.)

Dear Beatitudes, Eminences and Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like first of all to thank the Lord, who has guided our synodal process in these years by his Holy Spirit, whose support is never lacking to the Church.

My heartfelt thanks go to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, its Under-Secretary, and, together with them, the Relator, Cardinal Peter Erdő, and the Special Secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the Delegate Presidents, the writers, consultors and translators, and all those who have worked tirelessly and with total dedication to the Church: My deepest thanks!

I likewise thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors and Assessors, parish priests and families, for your active and fruitful participation.

And I thank all those unnamed men and women who contributed generously to the labours of this Synod by quietly working behind the scenes.

Be assured of my prayers, that the Lord will reward all of you with his abundant gifts of grace!

As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?

Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and 2,000-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.

Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.

It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.

It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.

It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.

It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.  [One wonders who he is referring to.]

It was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.

[No judging!]

It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.

It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways [One wonders who he is referring to.] – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.

Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and each general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.2 The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”.

Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.
We have seen, also by the richness of our diversity, that the same challenge is ever before us: that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.

And without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonizing others, we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that “all be saved” (cf. 1 Tm 2:4). In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy which the Church is called to celebrated.

Dear Brothers,

The Synod experience also made us better realise that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness.

This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:37-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).

In this sense, the necessary human repentance, works and efforts take on a deeper meaning, not as the price of that salvation freely won for us by Christ on the cross, but as a response to the One who loved us first and saved us at the cost of his innocent blood, while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5:6).

The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).

Blessed Paul VI expressed this eloquently: “”We can imagine, then, that each of our sins, our attempts to turn our back on God, kindles in him a more intense flame of love, a desire to bring us back to himself and to his saving plan… God, in Christ, shows himself to be infinitely good… God is good. Not only in himself; God is – let us say it with tears – good for us. He loves us, he seeks us out, he thinks of us, he knows us, he touches our hearts us and he waits for us. He will be – so to say – delighted on the day when we return and say: ‘Lord, in your goodness, forgive me. Thus our repentance becomes God’s joy”.5

Saint John Paul II also stated that: “the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy… and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser”.6

Benedict XVI, too, said: “Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God… May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for mankind. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth, or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10)”.7

In light of all this, and thanks to this time of grace which the Church has experienced in discussing the family, we feel mutually enriched. Many of us have felt the working of the Holy Spirit who is the real protagonist and guide of the Synod. For all of us, the word “family” has a new resonance, so much so that the word itself already evokes the richness of the family’s vocation and the significance of the labours of the Synod.8

In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true “journeying together” in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!

Thank you!

22 October 2015

The Best Catholic Bloggers (2) –
Fr. Raymond Blake

(I continue my series on the best Catholic Bloggers.  Previous post here.)

Last time I talked about Fr. John Hunwicke.  Today I will highlight another English priest, Fr. Raymond Blake.  Fr. Blake keeps a blog called "Fr. Ray Blake's Blog" at marymagdalen.blogspot.co.uk.  He is very good.

I'm not sure why either of the two men who top my list happen to also have conspicuously awful web design.  Fr. Blake's blog is, if anything, worse than Fr. Hunwicke's in terms of its visual design and coloring.  I think in charity we should chalk this up to the fact that both men are agéd and wise, and their wisdom concerns the real more than the virtual.  Perhaps we should be grateful that their inattention to web design has liberated each man to devote himself to higher things.

In any case, the aesthetic idiosyncrasies of Fr. Blake's site are made up for many times over by the excellence of what he has to say.  I have been following his blog for a little over a year, and find it pleasant, edifying, and generally interesting.  Most of the time he writes reflections based on his pastoral work, often relating them back to current events in the Church.

Based on this description, one might wonder what distinguishes Fr. Blake from the many other clerical writers.  Could it be that I have singled him out merely as the expression of some subconscious anglophilia? No, that's certainly not it.

Rather, what distinguishes Fr. Blake from other clerical writers I'm aware of is his directness and apparent integrity, and the extent to which his thoughtful (and frequently insightful) commentary on experiences and developments reflects the life of a man who has that rarest of contemporary virtues: honesty.

Please visit his blog and consider adding him to your RSS Reader, Blog Roll, or set of perpetually-open browser tabs.

"Discernment" and "Wondering"

Elizabeth Scalia has now reframed her recent post espousing agnosticism and calls it an act of public "discernment" or "wondering".  She offers no retraction, clarification or apology—instead she defends her rejection of existing doctrine as a mode of speech. (She claims she is no Kasperite, but then, so would any Kasperite.)

She asks:
If we do not wonder in public, how will the church know us, and teach us? How will it be moved to consider itself and see where its teaching has perhaps become complacent, or is falling short? If no one is permitted a public-wondering, how do we learn to talk to each other, generously, respectfully, in a spirit of Christian charity, and toward the strengthening of the whole community?

Some thoughts on this: Catholic Doctrine on the subject of Eucharistic discipline is not the property of the Church, nor can this doctrine be complacent or "fall short".  This teaching is the teaching of Christ, based on a reality, which Christians are obliged to accept, as an integral part of the divine virtue of faith.  This is not a matter for deliberation or pondering, but of obedience to the revealed word of God.

Publicly flaunting one's doubts, whether or not one wants to call them "acts of discernment" or "wondering", is scandalous to one's brothers and sisters in Christ, and the evil of this scandal is magnified according to one's position and visibility.  Ms. Scalia is extremely visible, and people respect her word and think of her as a witness to the Catholic Faith.  By airing her doubts, which are themselves objectively sinful, because they detract from the rule of faith which she is bound by divine law to profess, Scalia is directing hundreds, perhaps thousands of her readers to turn aside from the path of truth into the murky realm of "wondering" which she has chosen to explore.

And let there be no doubt: what is at stake here is not simply the precision of a few people's ideas about God or abstract morality, but the eternal destiny of souls. The Council Fathers at Trent found Scalia's error to be so deadly that they promulgated this canon excommunicating anyone who teaches it:
...And for fear lest so great a sacrament may be received unworthily, and so unto death and condemnation, this holy Synod ordains and declares, that sacramental confession, when a confessor may be had, is of necessity to be made beforehand, by those whose conscience is burthened with mortal sin, however contrite they may think themselves. But if any one shall presume to teach, preach, or obstinately to assert, or even in public disputation to defend the contrary, he shall be thereupon excommunicated.
Ms. Scalia refers to Philip Neri and Frances de Sales in her article.  Both men, because they had zeal for the truth and for the salvation of souls, would fiercely condemn her actions as being irresponsible and contrary to the good of the Church.  The task of the theologian, as has been stressed many times, is not to "wonder" or "discern" whether the articles of faith are true, but to accept and teach them, and to present to others the riches that flow from them, in a spirit of humility and obedience to the truth.


Regarding "discernment": How often that word appears lately!  What does it even mean?  "Deliberation", I think, is the closest thing it has to an actual meaning.  But in practice the use of "discernment" tends to swathe whatever one is doing in a fuzzy mysticism, rendering the standards of reason and prudence inapplicable, because something inscrutable and "spiritual" is going on. This is generally nonsense.  Beware the language of "discerning".

21 October 2015

"Gallicus C"

Msgr. Paul-André Durocher, Author of the Gallicus C Report

I'm working through the synod small group reports, to the extent that I can.  I just read through Gallicus C, with the help of Google Translate. The document is longer than average, and manages to say approximately nothing.  It was too absurd not to share, and the worst part is that the absurdity is clearly not, for the most part, the result of translation error.  Excerpts below (unedited):

"As agronomists who discuss various water supply methods, we discussed the method of our Synod. Is it well adjusted to its purpose? We make a huge amount of energy, all points of view. People are exhausted by dint of working. The result he will be worth the candle? Perhaps could we identify some specific issues to be addressed between the two synods, and give us more time to study? Will he appoint pontifical commissions the work we were hoping to do? And this third part: it hardly corresponds to the last stage of the 'see-judge-act' where we would have had to review the findings of the first stage to suggest possible solutions or action. She would have won multiple naming pastoral practices already existing in the various spheres of the Church. The fact remains that we enjoyed the increased time that was given to us in small groups. Our exchanges emerges strongly the ministry of communion that is ours as bishops."

"Each of us is different as a stream of water coming watering the fields. Some currents come from the east, some from the west, some from the northern glaciers and other tropical rain seasons. Each with its very specific minerals which water the fields of their various nutrients. There are also the great river of the Bible and the living Tradition of the Church, the many streams of ecclesial experience of our commitments, the two major streams of theology and pastoral which at their confluence, produce waves and swirls. How to channel these two torrents, and all other tributaries, into a whole able to irrigate various fields according to their own needs?"

"And you give us an example of this pastoral conversion to which we are invited, we first bishops. We must abandon itself to reach out to families, especially those that are more remote. We should marry that attitude. In that sense, we feel that the Synod is doing something in us. Should we feel at the end of this Synod, the Church is opening a new dialogue with families: not just for us to repeat what we have always said, but to meet families where they are in all their complex realities. In doing so, we need the treasure of our message clearer, and that, too, we have much to do. A conviction within us: to bring water to these fields, we must find a way to 'tell it'. It's not only a content, but a way of being. And in this research, we feel that the key is the Word itself, that which was sown by the Sower. This does not just recite verses, but to tell a story. And find this story in our world today. To say that the Church teaching is not enough: you have these stories that give life to our convictions."

"Each of us leave here changed a bit: perhaps this an essential criterion in assessing the success of the synod. We experienced a real time theological and pastoral recycling, retirement time, even, that invites us to rethink the way we live our ministry in the heart of the Church. We can dream of speaking various family fields that host the seed, by sketching water supply methods, naming our hopes for fruits. But can we achieve these dreams? Do we have the resources to do so? Concrete life does allow us to do so? And these desired fruits for the glory of God and the salvation of the world, what does it happen? This world is it so sated he will not want these fruits? Is it so fed other products that will not even have the curiosity to taste it? What will the media of our proposals, how governments respond, which conjure the challenges of poverty, persecution and war? This is the reality that awaits us."

Someone needs to do a dramatic reading of this document.