Dallas, Cupich, Sarah, Kondo, Francis, the Reign of Gay, and more

Trigger warning: This new edition of "Carl’s Cuts" is filled with opinions and facts that will challenge the dominant paradigm while shamelessly peddling my two new books.

• Yesterday, I had already written most of what follows below before the news of the shootings in Dallas, Texas, began to break. I don’t have much to say about that at the moment except, of course, that I am praying for those killed and injured in such an evil fashion. Last night, I heard a politician on television making a plea for “unity” and stating that American “needs to come together as nation”. My response, as cynical or harsh as it might sound, is that the ship sailed on those clichéd exhortations a long time ago; they simply don’t mean much or really accomplish anything. I’ve already seen the usual articles by the usual finger-pointing experts insisting the blame be placed on guns, as if specific people didn’t make a free choice to commit acts of evil. As the Daily Mail reports:

Before he died however, the gunman told the hostage negotiator his motivations behind the attack. ‘The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He said he was upset about the recent police shootings of black suspects. He said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,’ Dallas Police Chief David Brown revealed at a 7:30am press conference.

We need not dismiss the understandable questions and concerns about police brutality and racial tensions in simply noting that the actions in Dallas reflect, at their heart, a profound spiritual crisis and a clear choosing of evil over good.

• From Saint Augustine: “Wherefore the man who lives according to God, and not according to man, ought to be a lover of good, and therefore a hater of evil. And since no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice, he who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice, nor love the vice because of the man, but hate the vice and love the man. For the vice being cursed, all that ought to be loved, and nothing that ought to be hated, will remain.” (The City of God, 14, 6).

• After the news came out yesterday morning that Abp. Blaise Cupich of Chicago was named by Pope Francis to the Congregation for Bishops, veteran Vatican reporter Francis X. Rocca tweeted: “The pope has named Archbishop Cupich of Chicago to Vatican’s congregation for bishops, a sign of where he intends to move US episcopate”. And where is that, exactly? To be rather blunt about it, Abp. Cupich’s record, as it were, is underwhelming at best. He almost destroyed the seminaries in his two previous stops (Rapid City, SD, and Spokane, WA), and his record in Spokane was, in sum, anemic. Perhaps because he was hardly ever actually in the diocese, as I reported early last year:

The overall sense, expressed in varying degrees of detail, is that Cupich’s time in Spokane was quite disappointing and frustrating, especially for those looking for vibrant, clear, and accessible leadership. Those familiar with Cupich’s schedule and activities say that he was often out of the diocese for long periods of time, even more so than the amount of time Skylstad traveled while president of the USCCB. When Cupich was in the diocese, he was not readily available, rarely meeting with diocesan priests, especially not on an individual basis, although he apparently met often with certain, older Jesuit priests at Gonzaga.

And that is one of the more mild criticisms. Cupich is often described as “pastoral”, but I’ve talked to some two dozen people who have first-hand knowledge of his style, and none of them use that word or anything similar to it. Quite the contrary. For more, see my editorial “A Tale of Two Bishops” (Feb 2015).

• Cardinal Robert Sarah’s recent address “Towards An Authentic Implementation of ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium'” seems to have caused a bit of a stir in a number of circles. It certainly deserves some attention as it frankly addresses many of the failures of the liturgical revolution wrought in the name of the Second Vatican Council. The biggest point of discussion is, of course, facing liturgical East. CRUX’s article “Cardinal’s call for eastward stance at Mass stirs debate” is indicative of that focus; the piece also suggests the sort of nervous feet shuffling in some corners:

Although his comments were phrased as suggestions rather than an edict, Sarah’s desire for a return to the ad orientem posture nevertheless has generated wide reaction and debate, in large part because it’s associated with the older Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

To be clear, Sarah was not calling for rejection of the post-Vatican II form of the liturgy, but for a more traditional way of celebrating that liturgy by incorporating the ad orientem stance. While the posture was largely abandoned after Vatican II, in principle there’s no reason why it can’t be used in the new liturgy, and in a handful of dioceses around the world doing so is already common.

The piece does not quote Sacrosanctum Concilium‘s directive for rejecting the ad orientem stance, but that’s only because no such directive is in the document. Many Catholics know this, but a surprising number of them do not. This came home to me a couple of years ago when the men’s reading group I’ve helped lead for over a decade read and discussed the Council’s four Constitutions (Lumen Gentium, Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, and Sacrosanctum Concilium); several of the men were rather surprised by what was and was not in the document on the Sacred Liturgy. To say that facing liturgical East was “largely abandoned” after the Council is an interesting way of putting it, as the change was part of a most dubious, even radical, reworking of the Western Mass by various experts and committees. As Fr. Uwe Michael Lang put it in his important book Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (Ignatius Press, 2009; second edition):

The versus populum celebration was adopted throughout the Latin Church, and, with few exceptions, it has become the prevailing practice during Mass for the celebrant to stand behind the altar facing the congregation. This uniformity has led to the widespread misunderstanding that the priest’s “turning his back on the people” is characteristic of the rite of Mass according to the Missal of Pope Saint Pius V whereas the priest’s “turning towards the people” belongs to the Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI. It is also widely assumed by the general public that the celebration of Mass “facing the people” is required, indeed even imposed, by the liturgical reform that was inaugurated by Vatican II. However, the relevant conciliar and post-conciliar documents present quite a different picture.

It should be noted that the emphasis by Cardinal Sarah is directly in keeping with the thought of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who wrote the Foreword to Fr. Lang’s book. Fr. Lang writes:

Cardinal Ratzinger is equally emphatic that the celebration of the Eucharist, just as Christian prayer in general, has a trinitarian direction and discusses the question of how this can be communicated most fittingly in liturgical gesture. When we speak to someone, we obviously face that person. Accordingly, the whole liturgical assembly, priest and people, should face the same way, turning towards God to whom prayers and offerings are addressed in this common act of trinitarian worship. Ratzinger rightly protests against the mistaken idea that in this case the celebrating priest is facing “towards the altar”, “towards the tabernacle”, or even “towards the wall”.

Read more here. And here, in part, is what Cardinal Sarah stated this past week:

I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction—Eastwards or at least towards the apse—to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.

And don’t miss this: “Indeed, I can say that when I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and of how to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite.”

• The CRUX piece finishes with this curious note: “Aside from debates over policy and theology, observers have noted at least one practical obstacle to implementing Sarah’s suggestion: While churches built before Vatican II were designed to accommodate the ad orientem posture, many constructed afterwards were not, and in some cases it would require significant internal renovations to move the altar.” Two thoughts come to mind immediately: 1) How much thought and concern about money went into the wholesale stripping of so many churches following the liturgical changes the Council? Granted, it’s usually cheaper to destroy than to restore; it takes a real commitment to do the latter. 2) How much is proper worship worth? Seriously: how much?

• Our family has attended a Byzantine parish since 2000, and I am convinced that facing liturgical East is essential for an authentic reform of the reform in the West. Yes, there are many other issues. But this one is key.

• From the sublime to the “war on stuff”: the New York Times recently had a rather fascinating feature on Marie Kondo, “whose name is now a verb and whose nickname is being trademarked and whose life has become a philosophy.” What does Kondo do? She helps people get rid of stuff. How? Part of the process involves

piling five categories of material possessions — clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items, including photos, in that order — one at a time, surveying how much of each you have, seeing that it’s way too much and then holding each item to see if it sparks joy in your body. The ones that spark joy get to stay. The ones that don’t get a heartfelt and generous goodbye, via actual verbal communication, and are then sent on their way to their next life.

I read Kondo’s 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (which has now sold over 6 million copies), and I found it one part helpful, one part humorous, and one part New Age nonsense. Did it bring me joy? No, but it had some practical tips of moderate value. Anyhow, some folks who are disciples of Kondo—yes, fighting “stuff” is a sort of faith—take things to an extreme that is disconcerting:

A woman named Diana, who wore star-and-flower earrings, said that before she tidied, her life was out of control. Her job had been recently eliminated when she found the book. “It’s a powerful message for women that you should be surrounded by things that make you happy,” she said, and her and everyone else’s faces engaged in wide-eyed, open-mouthed incredulous agreement, nodding emphatically up and down, skull to spine and chin to chest. “I found the opposite of happiness is not sadness,” Diana told us. “It’s chaos.” Another woman said she KonMaried a bad boyfriend. Having tidied everything in her home and finding she still distinctly lacked happiness, she held her boyfriend in her hands, realized he no longer sparked joy and got rid of him.

Pope Francis often (and rightly) laments a “throwaway culture”. Methinks Ms. Kondo might want to provide her faithful followers with some prudent words of caution. As for men who discover their spouses reading Kondo’s book, well, they might want to KondoProof themselves.

• This great quote was left in the CWR comment boxes recently: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., once famously put it: “The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”

• Which is a good preface to a recent piece in the Huff-and-Puff Post, titled “Gay, Catholic, Proud”. The author is a young man who insists that God not only accepts that he is “gay”, but that God thinks it’s a good thing. And then this:

I would like to think the Catholic Church will one day change its mind, but it’s almost irrelevant because the Catholic Church has been wrong about a great many things. I grew up in a time when Boston was littered with sexual abuse victim stories daily. I know the Catholic Church would rather people in Africa die of AIDS than give them contraception. I know the Church is still incredibly and shamefully sexist in almost every regard.

But that is the Church. And to be honest, I hate the Catholic Church as much as anyone. Catholicism has not lasted for 2,000 years because of priests or the institution. In fact it has lasted in spite of both. Its longevity stems from millions of people across the world who still connect to the beliefs of forgiveness, do unto others what you want done, and the self-sacrificing love of our creator.

This is not only confused, it is confused at a level that goes far beyond basic facts. Yet some of those facts should be noted: the Church is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the household of God. To say you love God but hate God’s Church is incoherent in every possible way. And to say this based on the authority of one’s feelings about one’s sexuality is sad. But it’s a good indication of where we are: living in the Reign of Gay, being told to embrace the New Gnosticism.

• Over at First Things, Sherif Girgis summarizes some of this very well:

It’s not that the New Gnostics are an especially vindictive bunch. It’s that a certain kind of coercion is built into their view from the start. If your most valuable, defining core just is the self that you choose to express, there can be no real difference between you as a person, and your acts of self-expression; I can’t affirm you and oppose those acts. Not to embrace self-expressive acts is to despise the self those acts express. I don’t simply err by gainsaying your sense of self. I deny your existence, and do you an injustice. For the New Gnostic, then, a just society cannot live and let live, when it comes to sex. Sooner or later, the common good—respect for people as self-defining subjects—will require social approval of their self-definition and -expression.

Put another way, in more simplistic terms: more and more people cannot distinguish between persons and actions, between will and emotions, between passions and identity. And that’s a serious problem in so many ways.

• Speaking of the Reign of Gay, do read this recent First Things post by Evangelical theologian Carl R. Trueman.

• As expected, my recent editorial “10 things Michael Cook gets wrong in his criticism of papal critics” drummed up some interesting responses, both pro and con in nature. I’ve been involved in a couple of Facebook conversations about the piece, and I’m happy to say that good Catholics who disagree on this topic are actually able to discuss it with calmness and charity. Alas, that is probably the exception, not the rule. Anyhow, I think it is notable that Monsignor Charles Pope recently wrote a piece expressing his concerns about Pope Francis’ description of certain priests as “animals”:

But it is beyond lamentable that the Pope, as initially reported, should have called priests (or any human being for that matter) “animals.” Such a word should never have come out of his mouth, and I would hope for an apology for this offensive characterization, not merely a Vatican “clarification.” I certainly have some differences with brother priests, I would call my differences with dissenting priests significant. But this does not permit me to call them animals, and the Pope, who seems to have done so, has no business doing it either. Admittedly the recorded comments are hard to follow, but the cleansed Vatican transcript is more in the mode of “Let’s pretend this was never said as recorded” rather than a clear denial—“The Pope wants to say he not consider priest animals, even though he thinks some are too hard-lined on this matter.”

• Unfortunately, I don’t think Francis is going to cut back on his “off-the-cuff” remarks, which are often marked by a lack of precision and a propensity for strong and scolding language. That’s who he is. He often doesn’t appear to realize how his words will be taken, even when uttered in complete innocence.

For instance, after Francis tossed out the idea of revisiting the possibility of deaconesses, I asked: “Does Pope Francis have any idea of the needless can of worms he opened up with his statement earlier today, made to a gathering of superiors general of women religious communities, that the issue of female deacons should be revisited and possibly studied by a ‘commission’?”

The answer was given by Francis during his return from his visit to Armenia: “But, one can study, if it is the doctrine of the Church and if one might create this commission. They said: ‘The Church opens the door to deaconesses.’ Really? I am a bit angry because this is not telling the truth of things.” He’s right: that’s not what he said. The issue here is how well he understands the way many people will use his words against him. Of course, one’s words can be twisted no matter how clear they are. My concern, however, was about how prudent it was to revisit a topic that not only had already been addressed in rather exhaustive fashion but could very easily—a predictably—be used by those pushing for the ordination of women. Oh well.

• Speaking of women who insist they are ordained, note the complete lack of logic or coherence here:

Although ordained women priests are not officially permitted to practice in a Catholic church, their services are “absolutely Catholic,” McGrath said. “That is a part of why we are doing this, because even though they say we have been excommunicated, we do not accept excommunication,” she said. “So that’s what makes the excommunication null and void, because in a sense excommunication is kind of like a contract. We are legally ordained as Roman Catholic priests, and we are doing Roman Catholic liturgies.”

Right. And although the football games I host in my back yard aren’t officially recognized by the Oregon Ducks, I know I am the starting quarterback of the Oregon Duck football team because I have a football, I own a Ducks’ t-shirt, and I occasionally go to Ducks’ games. Why do I need to the University of Oregon to recognize me as a member of the football team when I, on my own authority, say I am the QB of the team?
• My book Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? (Ignatius Press-Augustine Institute, 2016) has been getting some kind reviews. Over at The Catholic Herald, Edward Short writes: “Throughout this admirably argued and consistently instructive book, Olson never loses sight of why understanding the Resurrection is so vital.”

Russell E. Saltzman, writing for Aleteia.org, says: “But if you already believe the resurrection, do you still need to read about it? Yes. Because you will find people who do not believe it largely because they’ve never given it any real critical thought. How do you argue the resurrection of Christ in a highly secularized, skeptical culture? Don’t know? Then you need this book.”

And, most recently, K.V. Turley writes the following in his CatholicExchange.com review:

Olson has done his research. He knows the classic Catholic texts, both ancient and modern, from the Magisterium and elsewhere; he also has a good grasp of the more orthodox voices from Evangelical Protestantism. This is not surprising given his earlier formation. As befits the editor of a Catholic news site (Catholic World Report), he is more than aware of the latest atheistic challenges to Christian beliefs, as well as those coming from unorthodox Christian fellow travellers. Not only does he know who these writers are, and their positions, he is well able to demolish them. This is because, as with all the best apologists, he sees the bigger picture: 2,000 years of it. …

Olson never ‘plays the man’ but instead considers the arguments in play in today’s debates. This adds strength to his writings, and is a reminder to us all that there is nothing less edifying than watching a Christian writer descend to bitter attack that may win a debate but lose an audience, and sometimes even one’s own supporters. Present here, instead, is a learned man who wears his learning lightly, but who, nevertheless, is writing in the full knowledge that he is entering into the fray of often cantankerous contemporary debate.

• I’ve never been much for comic books and super heroes, but one of my favorite television shows of the past couple years is Netflix “Daredevil”. Yes, the show is quite violent and dark at times, but it tackles issue of good and evil, conscience, free will, and morality with a remarkable amount of depth and seriousness. And it is very Catholic; in fact, the priest in the show, Father Lantom, is quite fabulous in every way. So Catholic is “Daredevil” that a recent article in Christianity Today was titled “Why I’m Envious of the Church in Marvel’s ‘Daredevil'” and led off with the following:

I have to confess: I’m envious of the church in Netflix’s Daredevil. I want Matt Murdock, the titular vigilante of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, to be a Baptist. I want him to come to my church for counsel about the issues he wrestles with in his fight against injustice. I want our evangelical faith to have the kind of gravitas that would draw a battered and bruised superhero through our open doors.


In the end, then, Father Lantom and the church are strong anchors that keep Matt from becoming as big a monster as Fisk. Even though Matt operates outside of the law, his faith is such that he submits, at least partially, to the law of God mediated to him through his local body—largely because it serves as a place of refuge and light in the midst of the city’s deadly shadows.

• I know it’s trendy these days to not hate, but I confess to rather hating stupidity served up in the guise of sophistication. A good example of such is the essay “The Orlando massacre’s moral imperative: Don’t propagate hate”, written by the Princeton-educated editor of The Nation:

We need more wisdom and less posturing about the underlying factors — hate, guns and terrorism — rooted in this horror. The United States is a large, diverse country. Diversity is a strength, but also a source of division. The struggle for equal opportunity across race, religion, gender and sexual orientation has always generated harsh reaction, often with cynical politicians mining the lodes of anger and hate. A few, often isolated and unstable, strike out from that anger. We saw that in the mass murder at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; we witnessed it in the slaughter at Pulse. We must actively challenge the purveyors of division and hate, and resist the temptation to blame the “other,” even while knowing that some of the haters may never be reached.

Hatred, in itself, is the emotional expression of enmity or hostility against someone or something, and so the wise question is ask: “Why this specific animosity by Person A against Person B or Thing C?” When the Psalmist declares, “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love thy law” (Ps 119:163), we know that he is expressing an act of the will, embracing what God has given him and renouncing what is contrary to truth. The very same idea is expressed by Saint Paul: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good” (Rom 12:9).

The author of the above essay suggests, incorrectly, that all hate is wrong and thus misconstrues the nature of hatred (after all, she hates hate); she also refuses to admit the necessity of seeking out the “underlying factors” that are part of the murderous actions in Orlando and other places. Put another way, this is the typically shallow American way of avoiding the fact that ideas really do have consequences, that belief systems and religions do in fact disagree on many essential points, and that one can actually hate what is evil without seeking to injure and kill those who practice particular evils. 

• An excerpt from the Introduction to Called To Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification (Ignatius Press, 2016), which I co-edited with Fr. David Meconi, SJ:

By giving himself up for all who have fallen short of the law, Christ has come into this world not to reestablish a law-based religion but to offer his children the freedom of allowing him to live their lives. Through our Lady’s fiat, God has come not only to us and for us, but he has come as one of us, sanctifying and thus offering us his very own divine life.

This is what the earliest Christian thinkers called the “great exchange”. In the Incarnation the Son lowers himself to humanity so as to elevate humans to divinity. In his kenosis is our theosis. To explain this, could the Church enroll any more foundational theologians than Saint Peter, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Saint Athanasius, and Saint Thomas Aquinas? This is precisely what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has done; it points us to the heart of the faith by teaching that

the Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4): “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939). “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius, De inc., 54, 3: PG 25, 192B). “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57:1–4).

Notice that the Christian understanding of deification is one of participating, of becoming a partaker, never the possessor, of divinity—that is, Christian deification is never an autonomous sovereignty but one of humble reliance on God to inform us of all we are, to fulfill that divine image and likeness originally implanted deep within every human soul. Christian deification is not a matter of autonomy as in Mormonism, but a matter of eternally receiving the divine attributes that Christ longs to give his saints: charity, true wisdom, unalloyed joy, incorruptibility, and immortality.

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About Carl E. Olson 1191 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.