• Having recently published Dale Ahlquist’s review of Fr. Robert Wild’s book, The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as Mystic (Angelico Press, 2013), I was reading a bit about Servant of God, Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1886-1995), as Fr. Wild is the postulator for her cause. I confess that I knew very little about her life and work until then. Here is a good example of her writing:
One of the things I noticed going on today is a constant discussion of the fact that the Church is too structured, too this, too that, and that we have to start a movement of liberation from the structures. I prayed about this and it came to me that the simplest answer to ‘structure’ is holiness. People are over-structured when they are not holy. Holiness is total security, because holiness is total surrender. Holiness is a total commitment for others. Now when you have that kind of attitude, there is no problem of structure.
Can you imagine St. Francis worrying about structures? If they came his way, he accepted them. If they did not come his way, he couldn’t care less about them. They didn’t bother him very much. What he cared about was our love for God and man.
If we want to unstructure a structure that is no good, the simplest way is to become holy. Those wonderful people called saints unstructured things by their holiness.
• Joseph Bottum recently wrote a piece for Commonweal (paid for by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation) outlining “A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage”. Actually, “outlining” is not the right word, as the 9,000-word-long essay is more like a sprawling, unedited ramble delivered by one’s quirky Uncle So-and-So, who possesses a plentitude of ideas but doesn’t seem quite sure of his argument or stance—yet is going to keep at it as long as need be. Here is just one quote, from the opening of the essay:
We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.
For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about. There’s a reasonable case to be made that the struggle against abortion is slowly winning, but the fight against public acceptance of same-sex behavior has been utterly lost.
Of course, if Bottum had written a piece titled, “A Catholic’s Case for Abortion”, in 1975 or so, it would likely say, “We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of abortion simply because they are Americans.” And so forth. Frankly, I’m quite grateful that becoming Catholic has freed me to see the many errors of doing this or that just because that is what Americans believe and do. In addition, being Catholic has taught me that some fights aren’t won in this lifetime; in fact, the fight against sin—whatever it might be—will continue until the eschaton. Bottum, it seems, is suggesting a path shaped by prudential judgment, but capitulation to falsehood and immorality is never prudent, and I don’t see how his approach can be described as anything other than capitulation. There have already been many responses. Two that might be of interest are; first, the one given by Mattias A. Caro on the Ethika Politika site, which is more positive than my own general assessment, and, secondly, this one from the keyboard of Robert Royal, on The Catholic Thing site, which I think hits the most important nails squarely on the heads.
• Bottum talks a great deal about “enchantment”, stating, for example, “The goal of the church today must primarily be the re-enchantment of reality.” It’s an intriguing assertion, and I certainly don’t dismiss it out of hand. But it involves an entire discussion of what said “enchantment” really is. I think it must begin with the very first things, specifically the nature of God, of creation, and of the creature called man.
Earlier this month, I taught a 15-hour course in ecclesiology in the lay ministry program of the Archdiocese of Portland. I think some of the students were surprised that I didn’t talk about hierarchy, laity, and the external structures of the Church until Day 4—not because those aren’t important subjects (they certainly are), but because I’m convinced that ecclesiology must begin with the questions, “Who is God? Why did he create? What is man?” Ecclesiology, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church certainly expresses, is based on a solid theo-logy and a sound anthropology.
We begin our investigation of the Church’s mystery by meditating on her origin in the Holy Trinity’s plan and her progressive realization in history. “The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life,” (CCC 758-59; cf. Lumen Gentium, 2)
Real enchantment is not found, of course, in materialism, nor will be found in various forms of monism and pantheism, for to be enchanted requires being in right relationship, especially in right relationship with the One who is the origin of life and the source of real love. But I’ll save that for another time.
• At the end of the lay formation class week in Portland, the new Archbishop, His Excellency Alexander Sample, came and said Mass for the teachers and students. I was able to visit with him for a few minutes, along with some other teachers, and in that short time he went right to the heart of the matter, stating that one daunting, serious challenge we face as Catholics is that we no longer share any sort of common anthropology with our non-Christian neighbors, friends, co-workers, and such. More and more Americans have no clear or convicting idea as to why they exist, from whence they come, and to what end they are called. Worse, many of them don’t seem to care at all. Rather, they want to be loved and satisfied right now, based often on what feels right or beings them immediate pleasure or comfort.
• I see that Bottum has now stated, in an interview with Al Kresta yesterday, that he regrets some of what he wrote in his controversial essay: “There are a couple things that I regret in the article, beginning with its very structure as a personal essay instead of a didactic argument, just because I didn’t really think that it would be misread in quite the way that it has been.” He says that what changed for him is not his belief but his perspective: “What’s changed is my encounter with young people, or what has changed me is my encounter with young people. My reading of the rising generation of Catholic bloggers…these are 20-somethings. They’re out of college, they’re serious Catholics […] and they’re saying, ‘Look I understand the theology and I accept the theology but I have a phenomenological crisis, because here in front of me are these people who are growing […] to see the Catholic Church as the image and the focus—to use a literary word, as the synecdoche—for all oppression of homosexuals.’”
Huh. Well, I was raised in a Fundamentalist home in which I was taught, either directly or otherwise, that the Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon, a false religion, an apostate mixture of paganism and Christianity, a bloody mechanism of Jesuit trickery, and a Mary-worshipping institution filled with brainwashed simpletons. And at the age of 28, I became Catholic. However, it wasn’t because I listened to “20-somethings,” but because I listened to the Catholic Church herself and realized that she was my Mother—and being my Mother, she knew a great deal more than I did about, well, everything. Sorry, Mr. Bottum, but something seems upside down in all of this.
• Back to Archbishop Sample, who discussed, in a recent column, the “the three ‘fronts’ on which the New Evangelization will be conducted”, stating, “They are catechesis and faith formation, the sacred liturgy, and works of charity.” Of the second front, he writes:
Vatican II emphasized to us that the sacred liturgy is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. All the other apostolic works of the Church are wrapped up and directed toward the celebration of the Holy Mass, and the Church draws her life from the Holy Eucharist. It is the most important thing that we do, while not minimizing the other aspects of the life of the Church. The liturgy itself catechizes and forms us, being a unique and irreplaceable space for evangelization.
So we must get our divine worship right if we are truly going to be renewed and reformed as the living Body of Christ, the Church. I will have a lot more to say in time concerning the sacred liturgy. For now, let me just say that we have much to recover in the sense of reverence, prayerfulness, beauty and appreciation of the awesome mystery we celebrate in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. But this is essential to being formed as the People of God, sanctified and ready for the works of evangelization.
• Still thinking of squeezing in a novel before summer is over? Or before fall is has run its course? Visit the new Ignatius Press site, www.IPNovels.com.
• Not interested in fiction but want a bracing read? Against Inclusiveness (Angelico Press, 2013; see CWR review by Jerry Salyer) by James Kalb, author of the exceptional book, The Tyranny of Liberalism (see my CWR review), might be of interest. Here’s a taste:
The indoctrination is direct, it never stops, and it has been remarkably successful. The more intelligent and highly educated people are today, the more they believe what they are supposed to believe. The less intelligent absorb less of what they are told and retain more of their original way of thinking, but they are inarticulate and increasingly nonfunctional, so they pose no threat to the regime as long as they are disarmed.
To say that Kalb, who writes a regular column for CWR, is politically incorrect would be correct, period.
• If you read the following and were told it was written by Pope Francis, would you think him a “liberal”?
The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of “superdevelopment” of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. “The scandal of glaring inequalities” continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones.
And if you read the following and were told it was from a homily by Benedict XVI, would it confirm that he is a “conservative”?
Look around us — it is enough to open a newspaper, as I said — we see the presence of evil, the Devil is acting. However, I would like to say out loud: God is stronger! Do you believe this, that God is stronger? Let us say it together, let us say it all together: God is stronger! And do you know why he is stronger? Because He is Lord, the only Lord. And I would like to add that reality, at times dark and marked by evil, can change, if we first bring the light of the Gospel especially through our lives.
Many other examples could be given, but you already know that the first quote is from Benedict XVI (Caritas in veritate, par 22) and the second from Francis (General audience, June 12, 2013). The fact is, neither man fits into the “liberal” and “conservative” categories, but it’s much easier to present each in those ways, if only for the sake of cookie cutter stories fed to readers widely trained to think in such conflicting terms. Tim Stanley, in a piece last week for The Telegraph, took on this convenient spin, writing,
Pope Francis is a beguiling, confusing pontiff. Some in the media imagine him to be Fr Liberal, parachuting into the slums to feed the hungry and chastise the rich. Others regard him as positively medieval – all that crazy talk about demons and exorcisms (“The power of Christ compels you!”). He’s a New World man doing the oldest job in the Old World; an Argentine with Italian blood who doesn’t like Latin. He writes very little yet talks incessantly. He is, one Left-wing journalist reassures the obsessive critics of the Church, still a Catholic. That’s a relief, because traditionalists tell me that we’ve elected a Buddhist.
Check out the entire essay, “Pope Francis: neither a liberal nor a conservative, but a radical Christian with a heroic gospel” (Aug 21, 2013).
• William Patenaude, who has written several pieces for CWR over the past year or so, was recently interviewed on the “On the Brink” blog:
What does the Catholic Church teach one individually about living a more environmentally-friendly life?
Living a sustainable, environmentally friendly life is really just part of the Church’s desire for individual holiness. As we see in the lives of the saints, holiness implies virtuous living, and virtuous living means temperate, sober lifestyles. This does not mean that we don’t enjoy the beauty and goodness of creation. It means we do so in moderation so that this goodness and beauty can be passed along to future generations. If your aim is to be holy, you’ll be working to protect creation whether you want to or not.
Read the entire interview, which covers a lot of important ground, and does so with clarity and orthodoxy, two qualities not always evident in Catholic discussions of environmental issues.
• I always look forward to each issue of Saint Austin Review, co-edited by Joseph Pearce and Robert Asch, and dedicated to “Catholic culture, literature, and ideas.” For selfish reasons, I’m looking forward to the September/October issue, as it contains the following: “The regular full-colour art feature focuses on ‘the art of reality’ of Carl E. Olson.” My thanks for Joseph, who upon finding out a few years ago that I have done a fair amount of artwork over the years, coaxed me into letting StAR feature some of it, along with an essay I wrote about my approach to painting. Here is one example of my artwork, from my early twenties:
• Speaking of Joseph, he recently was interviewed about the idea of Chesterton being eventually canonized as a saint. Good stuff, as always, from the prolific Pearce.
• From a recent piece on the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform site about author and pundit Mark Steyn:
“Why does anyone think Europe needs huge numbers of Muslim immigrants?” Steyn replied, “Supposedly to keep their welfare state in business, because they are the children that Europeans couldn’t be bothered to have themselves. One third of German women are childless. If you just take your average, dopey Western feminist at a university campus in North America today, and she’s concerned about patriarchy, [she thinks that by] forming a pro-life club you’re forcing your backwards, patriarchal views on her. If she thinks you’re the big, stern, dominating patriarch, she ought to wait twenty or thirty years in the average Canadian city. She’ll be figuring out what the people in Amsterdam and Brussels and Malmo and Paris are beginning to figure out right now—that there’s a whole, far more motivated breed of patriarch that’s going to be walking around those cities. That’s what the dopey, clap-trapped, cobwebbed 1960’s feminist doesn’t get—that abortion is an indulgence and the indulgence only works for a generation or two before a bunch of other people take over and rebuild the future you weren’t interested in building for yourselves.”
• Has Fr. James Schall, SJ, actually retired? No, not really.
• Do books still matter? Do Catholic books still matter? Yes, explains Christopher Hagen, in a great interview with Brandon Vogt:
Perhaps the poverty of a landscape without rooms full of books is best seen by the positive power of a room full of books. A room full of books has a profound impact on a person. He is struck with the magnitude of what he doesn’t know. There are simply so many books to be read on so many important topics. This realization engenders humility. Good books, even just sitting on shelves unopened, silently beckon him to a life of virtue by their presence. Knowing that each book in a room was selected by a librarian or other caretaker of the books draws out of him submission to the authority of another mind. The great rooms of books are the realization of a great mind, a mind at which to sit and learn.
Lastly, a room full of books inevitably leads to unexpected delightful discoveries. Every room of books has titles he didn’t know about and would never have found except that it is THERE in front of him now. So there are varied and powerful ways that a room full of books impacts persons for the better.
Screen reading has the advantage of portability and affordability but is much more isolating and myopic than a room full of books. Rooms full of books tend to produce greater intellectual and spiritual fruit than a Kindle. God save the rooms full of books and give us “more bookish Catholics” as Thomas Loome was fond of saying.
Amen and amen. Hagen later notes that the “best book I’ve ever read” is Michael O’Brien’s novel, Island of the World.
• Speaking of O’Brien, I’d be woefully remiss if I didn’t point you to my 2007 interview with him about Island of the World, as well as letting you know that his next novel, due out in November, is a work of science fiction.
• British writer and sociology/politics teacher Neil Davenport let’s it rip:
Where once the campaign for gay equality was once about enlarging freedom and individual choice, now protecting gays from apparently offensive views is a key way through which moral choice is eradicated and conformity is institutionalised. Traditional religious communities are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conforming drive, because their attachment to traditional marriage, as well as to adult/child boundaries, is viewed as a pesky buffer against the state’s drive to colonise personal relationships and informal networks. Traditional communities’ belief in the importance of family relationships, and their trust in faith schools to socialise their children, is taken as an affront by those who are naturally suspicious of unregulated familial and educational relationships between adults and children. Clamping down on what is taught in faith schools is simply the latest attempt by suspicious campaigners and parts of the state to diminish parental and communal autonomy over the raising of children.
• What’s your favorite conspiracy involving the Catholic Church? There are some fun ones, but World Domination is always a strong candidate:
According to conspiracy theorists, the Jesuits’ goal is global domination. Their priests are trained in the ways of the Dark Side and are taught skills such as hypnosis, telepathy, and levitation. The Jesuits also act as an umbrella organization for conspiracy theory bogeymen such as the Illuminati, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Mafia, the Club of Rome, Opus Dei, the Freemasons, international bankers, and the New Age Movement. They also oversee companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Disney, and—horrors—Home Depot.
• No conspiracy here: just Carl’s Cuts, delivered whenever the Freemasons provide me with enough Coca-Cola to empower me to cut-and-paste these posts from notes taken at top secret Opus Dei meetings run by international bankers and the Mafia.