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.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Elections sure do have consequences

Many Catholics voted for Barack Obama despite his support for abortion-on-demand. After all, they told us, he's so good on Social Justice issues.

Many Catholics voted for Democratic senatorial candidates despite their support for abortion-on-demand. After all, they told us, they're so good on Social Justice issues.

Having predicted the end of the world a few years ago if Republicans altered the Senate's filibuster rules to allow President Bush's bench nominees to be confirmed, Democrats did exactly that last month, when faced with filibusters or threats thereof against President Obama's nominees. Republicans backed away from this so-called "nuclear option" in 2005. Democrats welcomed it in 2013.

The Catholics who re-elected President Obama enabled him to nominate the astonishingly pro-abortion Cornelia Pillard to the District of Columbia's Circuit Court. arguably the most influential Federal Court of Appeal in the country, since cases which concern the White House and the federal bureaucracy get heard there first. Little issues, like the HHS mandate, for example.

Then those Senators whom Catholics elected despite their pro-abortion record changed the Senate rules and confirmed Ms. Pillard with a bare majority of 51 votes, when it would formerly have taken 60.

So now, you good Catholics, we all have a new lifetime judge among whose milder pronouncements is this:
Antiabortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce women’s incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a “vision of the woman’s role” as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection. Renewed attacks on abortion have turned attention to how the Equal Protection Clause, and the right to sex equality more generally, might advance reproductive self-determination.
She's also completely opposed to abstinence-based sex ed.
The abstinence-only approach is permeated with stereotyped messages and sex-based double standards about acceptable male and female sexual behavior and appropriate social roles. Public school teaching of gender stereotypes violates the constitutional bar against sex stereotyping and is vulnerable to equal protection challenge...
Catholics might want to remember that abstaining from sexual relations is exactly the Catholic Church's teaching on preventing unwanted pregnancy. Too bad that there's now a majority on the D.C. Circuit (it used to be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans) that thinks the Church's teaching is an affront to human rights.

And so the red tide of abortion will roll on, at a million dead children each year in the United States alone.

But I'll bet Ms. Pillard is so good on Social Justice issues...

Nelson Mandela, R.I.P.

The President of the USCCB has issued a statement mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela. You can read all of it here.

But a much better expression of Catholic witness was penned by Archbishop Tobin of Connecticut, as reported by LifeSite News:
“Many people around the world and in our own nation are mourning the loss of former South African President Nelson Mandela,” Bishop Tobin commented in a statement. “Indeed there is much to admire in Mandela’s long life and public service, particularly his personal courage and his stalwart defense of human rights. 
“There is part of President Mandela’s legacy, however, that is not at all praiseworthy, namely his shameful promotion of abortion in South Africa. In 1996 Mandela promoted and signed into law the ‘Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill’ that, according to the New York Times, ‘replaced one of the world’s toughest abortion laws with one of the most liberal.’” 
Tobin continues: “While we pray for the peaceful repose of President Mandela’s immortal soul and the forgiveness of his sins, we can only regret that his noble defense of human dignity did not include the youngest members of our human family, unborn children.”
To their great credit, the Catholic bishops of South Africa pointed out that same disconnect in Mandela's record. So did John Smeaton, a prominent pro-life leader in the United Kingdom:
“May God rest Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa who died last night,” he said. “But it is absolutely vital that Catholic leaders do not allow themselves to become respecters of persons, swept away by personality cults. Catholic leaders have a duty to stand up to public figures with  anti-life and anti-family records, however praiseworthy their record may be on other issues. The sanctity of human life and the dignity of the family are the foundation and guarantee of all other human rights.”
[Update]: Bishop Tobin is the Bishop of Rhode Island, not Connecticut. My bad.

About that Time magazine cover...

Much of the Catholic internet is abuzz with Pope Francis' selection as Time magazine's "Person of the Year." My take: Person of the Year is a recognition of notoriety, not of approval. But even if you think it's a positive thing, enjoy it while it lasts. The video below, from a riot demonstration by pro-abortion feminists outside a cathedral in the Pope's native Argentina, is an accurate expression of the pure hatred of Christ and His Church that bubbles just beneath the surface of Progressive niceness. In case it's not clear, the thing that gets set afire in the middle of the frame is an effigy of Pope Francis.

Michael Voris' post on this event has additional footage that shows how faithful Catholic men linked arms in a cordon around the cathedral to protect it, and absorbed without retaliation the verbal abuse and physical attacks heaped upon them by many in the crowd.

Now, those guys are real men, and real Catholics. How many of us American Catholic men, drowning in the lukewarm banality of the Church of Nice, still would have the guts to do what they did?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Still waiting...

Six years ago, I asked in this blog why Nancy Pelosi had still not been denied the Eucharist for her public, clear, and defiant persistence in supporting abortion in her congressional votes. Back then, we Catholics were told to be patient because the then-Archbishop of San Francisco was taking a "pastoral" approach to her correction.

Six years on, and Ms. Pelosi is still flaunting her leadership against even the slightest limitation upon abortion. No statement condemning her behavior has been forthcoming. No statement noting her self-excommunication under Canon Law and consequent inability to receive the Eucharist has been forthcoming. No repentance. Not even an acknowledgement that her actions are in contradiction to Church doctrine.

How long, O Lord, how long?

My JFK thoughts

I thought I'd wait until most of the noise surrounding the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination had dissipated, before adding my own reflections.

Most reminiscences from us Boomers start with where we were when we heard the news. But I don't have many strong memories of that day; just a bewildering announcement on our car's radio. What I do remember much more vividly are two incidents from the autumn of 1960, during the campaign.

The first memory is a conversation with a couple of neighbor boys I was playing with. They solemnly informed me that their public school teacher had told them that if Kennedy were to be elected, all Americans would be forced to convert to Catholicism. Despite the grudging respect that the Church had earned in 20th-century America by raising up great men like Fulton Sheen, that's the kind of casual Protestant anti-Catholicism that Kennedy, and all of us, still had to live with.

The second memory is being allowed to accompany my mom to a Kennedy campaign rally in Long Beach, California. I don't remember anything about his speech — not surprising, I guess, for a 10-year-old —but I do recall how tanned his face was, and how broad and sincere his smile looked. Our seats were only about 50 yards away from him. Closer than the sniper in Dallas.

I think he set a bad precedent in his famous apologia (to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association) for being a Catholic candidate, seeming to banish the Faith from the public square. This attitude of the Kennedy Democrats, after all, morphed into that of the Cuomo Democrats not long after, when Roe v. Wade was handed down: personally opposed to grave evil, but unwilling to "impose our morality" on others. At, Sheila Liaugminas quotes both Peggy Noonan and George Weigel at length about this; these will give you better background than I could.

Despite the many sins that drag down his legacy, he left behind many great statements that will always buoy it up. I'll just imitate Sheila, and close with this:
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. 
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

Pope Francis on Life, for real

Our liberal friends in the Catholic Church thought they heard a major policy change in Pope Francis' widely-quoted off-the-cuff remarks back in September, when he seemed to downplay the importance of the issue of abortion. Too bad they weren't paying attention the very next day, when, speaking with carefully-chosen words to a gathering of Catholic OB/GYNs, he said:
The third aspect is a mandate: be witnesses and speakers of this "culture of life" . Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility: first of all to yourself, to be committed to being consistent with the Christian vocation; and then to contemporary culture, to contribute to recognising the transcendent dimension in human life, the imprint of the creative work of God, from the very first moment of conception. This is a commitment to the new evangelization that often requires going against the current, at a cost to the person. The Lord counts on you to spread the "Gospel of life."
Read the rest:

It bears repeating that even in the earlier casual statement, the Pope was simply reminding Catholics that preaching Christ must always come first, before we try to advance any social issue.

"Without Me, you can do nothing," Our Lord said, and Francis was just reminding us that He meant it.