Monday, April 30, 2018

A good deed

Pope Francis took a vigorous role in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save Alfie Evans from the clutches of the UK's National Health Service. It was exactly the right thing to do, and it has helped the Papacy regain a modicum of its moral authority.

I've deplored the many missteps we've had to endure during Francis' papacy, but Credit Where Credit is Due. He got this one very right.

Monday, April 16, 2018

We shouldn't have been surprised

Since the beginning of his pontificate, people have been lauding Pope Francis as an exceptionally humble man (usually with the veiled false accusation that his predecessors were not so). So in the light of his frequent demonstrations that he will brook no opposition, and his rudeness in dismissing the legitimate requests from Cardinals that he clarify his notoriously careless and ambiguous remarks and writings, one wonders whether we should have seen this coming. It's worthwhile to note that his very first Papal action -- his choice of name -- should have given us warning that not all was as humble as was claimed.

For more than a thousand years, no Pope since Lando (913-914), had adopted a name that had never been used before. Of his two predecessors, St. John Paul II took the names of John XXIII and Paul VI, and Benedict took a name used by fifteen previous popes.

But along comes Jorge Bergoglio, and he must have something new and different.

If you are truly humble when taking on the mantle of St. Peter, perhaps you choose a well-worn papal name, one that will emphasize your sense of being an unworthy part of a worthy tradition.

Perhaps, if he had been a reader of Charles Dickens, he should have taken a different brand-new name: Uriah.

Not as in The Hittite, but as in Heep.


Thursday, December 07, 2017

Give us Barabbas!

A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing the California Bach Society perform Bach's magnificent St. Matthew Passion. Midway in that three-hour masterpiece comes the moment when Pilate, desperate to appease the bloodthirsty mob, tries to get them to let him save Jesus as the one condemned criminal he pardons each year at Passover-time. Hoping to skew the results, he sets up a choice that he thinks is a slam-dunk: it's got to be either the inconvenient but blameless Jesus, he declares, or the scum-of-the-earth armed robber and murderer Barabbas.

To his utter astonishment, the crowd chooses life for the guilty, and death for the innocent.

I hear an echo of the Jerusalem crowd's choice in the present intense clamor to abolish the death penalty in California, especially among certain professional Catholics here. Give us the convicted serial murderer, they shout; but when our Pilate-equivalent asks what is to be done with the inconvenient but innocent baby in the womb, they clamor for his death. Let him be crucified!

The final effect of this moral collapse in California is yet to play out. We probably should remember, though, that the Jerusalem mob also cried out His blood be upon us and upon our children! At least they understood that if they were wrong, there would and should be dreadful consequences. There's a certain defiant honesty in that which leaves them with just the barest shred of honor.

Of course, they didn't really think anything would happen to them. They went back to their homes and workshops, taverns and brothels. They quickly forgot the inconvenient but innocent itinerant preacher from Nazareth, and what they had done to him.

Nothing happened for forty years or so. Then the Romans razed Jerusalem, massacred most of its people, and sold the remnant into slavery.

Defending the Faith when the clergy won't

Most faithful Catholics have encountered priests and bishops who either won't defend Catholic doctrine and practice, or who disagree with it themselves and argue against it. What's to be done about it?

Many appear to argue that because priests and bishops are consecrated men holding positions that deserve respect, it's therefore wrong to point out ways they aren't doing their jobs right -- preaching incorrect or incomplete doctrine from the pulpit, substituting their own words for the words of the Liturgy, taking public stands that run counter to Church teaching, failing to speak up when popular culture announces its almost-daily new attack on the truth.

I disagree with that attitude. Laity surely have to avoid being genuinely disrespectful to the clergy's positions and legitimate functions, yes. Heck it's because we respect those functions that we're bothered when they don't do them! When men in such positions act unworthily, they must be countered, corrected if possible, or pushed out if correction fails.

Priests are there to be good shepherds of their flocks. If a cowardly shepherd hides behind a rock when the wolves show up, the sheep who haven't gotten eaten (this time, that is) have a right to complain to the boss shepherd and expect him at least to chastise the coward, or remove him and put another, better shepherd in his place. If a perverted shepherd is actually in cahoots with the wolves because he's acquired a taste for rack of lamb, all the more do the sheep have a right to bleat out their justified outrage.

If the clerical sex-abuse scandal told us laity anything, surely it told us not to trust that everything's being taken care of.

Monday, June 01, 2015

A supernatural sign for Romero? Well, maybe...

CNS reports quite a bit of chatter about a "small miracle" that occurred during the beatification Mass for Archbishop Romero in San Salvador recently: the appearance of a halo around the sun. I understand the excitement this must have called forth among those who had gathered to honor Romero, but attributing it to a miracle, even a small one, exposes both the Church and the Faith to ridicule.

That's because such solar halos are actually quite common throughout the year and can be seen from any latitude. They're caused by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Remember, no matter how warm it is down where we're standing, including in Central America, the atmosphere gets very cold above 10,000 feet. Those ice crystals can happen anywhere, anytime.

I have no more idea than you do whether the presence of a solar halo observed at this time and place was miraculous. It may have been. It may not have been. We'll have to wait until we can ask God face-to-face.

My concern is that being even a little too free to introduce the possibility of a miracle in a case like this can backfire. Unbelievers will likely immediately call to mind the last time when they heard about some miraculous claim that was debunked either as a misunderstanding of a natural phenomenon, or an outright fraud. Think of all those natural markings on trees, walls, and so forth in which some have claimed to see the face of Jesus or Mary.

Romero should be remembered for his deeds. If those who were there that day wish to deepen their experience by believing that the timing of the halo was too unlikely to be completely natural, no harm is done. I just think they ought to do so quietly, inwardly—where it counts the most, anyway.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Avenging and bright

The Islamic State has reportedly claimed responsibility for the beheading of James Foley, a journalist whom they (or one of their sorry lot of collaborators) kidnapped some time ago.

Commentators have slandered our Western ancestors by characterizing the slow beheading as "medieval." Yes, medieval (and Renaissance) Europe saw many beheadings, but they were done with a sword or an axe, usually with a single blow, with death coming nearly instantaneously. Not by sawing at the victim's neck for five minutes with a knife, as these fine representatives of The Religion of Peace did.

The media has taken little note that James Foley was a Catholic, and even less that he had leaned on his Faith during a previous captivity at the hands of Muslim extremists in Libya. He likely did so again in his final months of life.

As I consider what should be done in the aftermath of his murder, and of the murders of thousands of other Christians in the Middle East lately, I think I'll just recall the words of Irish poet Thomas Moore:

    We swear to avenge them! -- no joy shall be tasted, 
    The harp shall be silent, the maiden unwed, 
    Our halls shall be mute, and our fields shall lie wasted, 
    Till vengeance is wreak'd on the murderer's head.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Friday, December 13, 2013

One way it's good to imitate NYC

The Catholic League has again built a créche in New York's prime public forum, Central Park. Their reasons:
  • We are celebrating the true purpose of Christmas, which is the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
  • We want Christians to know that they have every legal right to display religious symbols on public property, unadorned by secular symbols, just so long as the property is regarded as a public forum (e.g., we do not seek to erect crèches on the grounds of City Hall).
  • We are sending a message to militant secularists that Christians will never retreat from exercising their First Amendment right to religious liberty. We favor, as does Pope Francis, a robust public expression of religion. We will never settle [merely] for freedom to worship.
If the League can do this in one of the country's most aggressively secularized cities, what's wrong with the rest of us, wherever we are? What are we afraid of?

Pope Francis' message to the Americas

The Pope delivered a fine special message to the Americas yesterday:
...When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity. 
That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.
Many people will quickly fasten onto the statement's explicit connection with immigration policies. Fewer will notice its explicit mention of abortion and euthanasia, or that these things are actually mentioned before the bit about welcoming immigrants, the poor, and the marginalized.

I'd like to point out that economic freedom such as the people of the United States have enjoyed for two centuries is also a form of embrace. People have flocked here from everywhere else because they had some justified confidence that if they offered goods or services with honesty and goodwill, they would be rewarded with personal prosperity, without facing insuperable barriers because of their race, their ethnicity, or who their parents were.

Mind you, I said insuperable. This is a fallen world. This side of Heaven, there is no perfect ubiquitous fairness or justice. There is only the daily struggle to make those things happen a little more often in our own families, neighborhoods, and businesses. 

That's the Catholic doctrine of Subsidiarity, and it is the friend, not the foe, of economic liberty.