Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Rationalism

The Church and Socialism

An enemy of the Church is Socialism. Some have said that the current administration incarnates it. Not sure about that because I am not a political scientist. What I do find interesting is the consistent teachings of the Popes while reflecting on our current state of affairs here in the United States. Thought I would share from TFP Student Action:

What Popes Really Say about Socialism

“Hideous”, “destructive”, “wicked”, and “perverted” are only some of the adjectives used by the Popes to describe socialism.  From Pius IX to Benedict XVI, the popes have thoroughly and consistently condemned socialism.  Given the advance of socialism in America, TFP Student Action is glad to offer its readers a brief selection of thought-provoking quotes from the Popes on the topic.

PIUS IX (1846-1878)

The Overthrow of Order

“You are aware indeed, that the goal of this most iniquitous plot is to drive people to overthrow the entire order of human affairs and to draw them over to the wicked theories of this Socialism and Communism, by confusing them with perverted teachings.”
(Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, December 8, 1849)

LEO XIII (1878-1903)

Overthrow is Deliberately Planned

“… For, the fear of God and reverence for divine laws being taken away, the authority of rulers despised, sedition permitted and approved, and the popular passions urged on to lawlessness, with no restraint save that of punishment, a change and overthrow of all things will necessarily follow. Yea, this change and overthrow is deliberately planned and put forward by many associations of communists and socialists.”
(Encyclical Humanum Genus, April 20, 1884, n. 27)

Debasing the Natural Union of Man and Woman

“They [socialists, communists, or nihilists] debase the natural union of man and woman, which is held sacred even among barbarous peoples; and its bond, by which the family is chiefly held together, they weaken, or even deliver up to lust.
(Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris, December 28, 1878, n. 1)

The Harvest of Misery

“…there is need for a union of brave minds with all the resources they can command. The harvest of misery is before our eyes, and the dreadful projects of the most disastrous national upheavals are threatening us from the growing power of the socialistic movement.”
(Encyclical Graves de Communi Re, January 18, 1901, n. 21)

SAINT PIUS X (1903-1914)

The Dream of Re-Shaping Society will Bring Socialism

“But stranger still, alarming and saddening at the same time, are the audacity and frivolity of men who call themselves Catholics and dream of re-shaping society under such conditions, and of establishing on earth, over and beyond the pale of the Catholic Church, ‘the reign of love and justice’ … What are they going to produce? … A mere verbal and chimerical construction in which we shall see, glowing in a jumble, and in seductive confusion, the words Liberty, Justice, Fraternity, Love, Equality, and human exultation, all resting upon an ill-understood human dignity. It will be a tumultuous agitation, sterile for the end proposed, but which will benefit the less Utopian exploiters of the people. Yes, we can truly say that the Sillon, its eyes fixed on a chimera, brings Socialism in its train.”
(Apostolic Letter Notre Charge Apostolique [“Our Apostolic Mandate”] to the French Bishops, August 15, 1910, condemning the movement Le Sillon)

BENEDICT XV (1914-1922)

Never Forget the Condemnation of Socialism

“It is not our intention here to repeat the arguments which clearly expose the errors of Socialism and of similar doctrines. Our predecessor, Leo XIII, most wisely did so in truly memorable Encyclicals; and you, Venerable Brethren, will take the greatest care that those grave precepts are never forgotten, but that whenever circumstances call for it, they should be clearly expounded and inculcated in Catholic associations and congresses, in sermons and in the Catholic press.”
(Encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, November 1, 1914, n. 13)

PIUS XI (1922-1939)

Socialism Cannot Be Reconciled with Catholic Doctrine

“We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.”
(Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931, n. 117)

Catholic Socialism is a Contradiction

“[Socialism] is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (Ibid. n. 120)

PIUS XII (1939-1958)

The Church Will Fight Socialism to the End

“[The Church undertook] the protection of the individual and the family against a current threatening to bring about a total socialization which in the end would make the specter of the ‘Leviathan’ become a shocking reality. The Church will fight this battle to the end, for it is a question of supreme values: the dignity of man and the salvation of souls.” (“Radio message to the Katholikentag of Vienna,” September 14, 1952 in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol. XIV, p. 314)

The All-Powerful State Harms True Prosperity

“To consider the State as something ultimate to which everything else should be subordinated and directed, cannot fail to harm the true and lasting prosperity of nations.” (Encyclical Summi Pontificatus, October 20, 1939, n. 60)

JOHN XXIII (1958-1963)

“No Catholic could subscribe even to moderate socialism”

“Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism. The reason is that Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. Since, therefore, it proposes a form of social organization which aims solely at production; it places too severe a restraint on human liberty, at the same time flouting the true notion of social authority.” (Encyclical Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961, n. 34)

PAUL VI (1963-1978)

Christians Tend to Idealize Socialism

“Too often Christians attracted by socialism tend to idealize it in terms which, apart from anything else, are very general: a will for justice, solidarity and equality. They refuse to recognize the limitations of the historical socialist movements, which remain conditioned by the ideologies from which they originated.” (Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, May 14, 1971, n. 31)

JOHN PAUL II (1978-2005)

Socialism: Danger of a “simple and radical solution”

“It may seem surprising that ‘socialism’ appeared at the beginning of the Pope’s critique of solutions to the ‘question of the working class’ at a time when ‘socialism’ was not yet in the form of a strong and powerful State, with all the resources which that implies, as was later to happen. However, he correctly judged the danger posed to the masses by the attractive presentation of this simple and radical solution to the ‘question of the working class.’” (Encyclical Centesimus Annus – On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, May 1, 1991, n. 12)

BENEDICT XVI (2005 – present)

We do not Need a State which Controls Everything

“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person – every person – needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) – a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005, n. 28)

Ideas Have Consequences: The Need for Universals

Needs to share this article written by Dennis Buonafede at the Integrated Catholic Life Blog. One of the greatest challenges with teaching (at any grade level) is the rampant philosophical system of nominalism. Additionally, the lack of critical thinking is overwhelming. What is worrisome to me is the idea that many of those who teach in religious education or work with our youth do not feel the need for continuing education – or any at all. We spend so much time accumulating knowledge that the little we know we never take the time to understand. Words have meaning, ideas have consequences and actions determine eternal destinies.This is a must read!

Ideas Have Consequences: – The Need for Universals

“Wonder and the passion for philosophy, let us explore all aspects of life and understand all that it has to offer.

“I had claimed to have learned little to nothing in regards to valuable life lessons in the past four years. For that much, I was correct. But in the past five months, philosophy has taught me not to ‘know’ as much as I can about life, but to ‘understand’ as much as I can about life, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

-Gr. 12 Philosophy Student, June 2010

In my previous article, I mentioned that the Holy Father expressed concern over what he called “the eclipse of reason.” I suggested that common sense is no longer common because of the relativistic mindsets within our culture. Unless we can begin to reconnect young people to reality as it is, rather than as we wish it to be, we will lose another generation to the malaise of relativism and, by extension, a lack of faith. This is why, as a teacher, I place a great deal of emphasis on our human capacity to reason in an attempt to instill a love for wisdom and God. It may seem that teaching common sense is simply stating the obvious, but as George Orwell (d. 1950) observed, “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

A Small Mistake at the Beginning

In order to understand what we as parents and teachers should do in our current situation, we have to step back for a moment and examine how we got here. There is no simple answer to this question. I’m currently halfway through a book entitled, A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher. At over 700 pages it is a tough go, but very detailed. The process has been a very long one – over 500 years – and it has many elements to it, but for my purposes I start with one turning point in philosophy.

St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “A small error in the beginning is a great one in the end.” As in geometry, so in philosophy – if you’re navigating a ship over thousands of miles, being off just 1 degree in your initial course plotting will leave you hundreds of miles off course at the end. The same with philosophy; if the beginning premise is just a little flawed, you will end up with some very serious errors at the end.

In the 14th Century, William of Ockham and others broke from the then common school of thought and began a small and gradual movement that has led to where we are today. His approach countered the position of Aristotle and Aquinas, who both held that universals had real objectivity (real meaning) in themselves as concepts. Instead, he argued that universals have only subjective value and no meaning in themselves. For example, Aquinas would say that the concept of “triangle” is a universal that captures the essence of what a triangle is, though triangles can only be experienced as a particular – this triangle or that triangle. William of Ockham argued that there is only “this triangle” or “that triangle” and the concept of triangle is just a mental construct, an image useful for discussion. When we extend this idea, then “human nature” has no meaning in itself except in individual observable human beings. Thus we cannot say that human beings by nature are curious: only individual men are curious as individuals.

If you do not completely understand the concept of universals, perhaps this comparison will help you to understand the impact of the idea. The Protestant Revolt by Martin Luther is analogous to what happened with Nominalism in philosophy. As Luther’s main premise, Sola Scriptura, eventually led to the rapid fragmentation of Protestantism, so that there are now over 40,000 registered Protestant Christian denominations, so too did the rejection of universals cause a fragmentation in philosophy into many different “-isms” that in our day has prompted the Holy Father to coin the phrase “The Dictatorship of Relativism.”

The current attitude towards philosophy that is prevalent today is another consequence of this abandonment of universals. Many people see philosophy as an esoteric, academic study that has no valuable application in the real world. That mentality is unfortunate because we are all philosophers. Recently, Dr. Peter Kreeft, in a 2010 address to the Catholic Medical Association, stated that, “Everyone needs not to have a philosopher, but to be a philosopher, though not everyone needs to be a professional philosopher… You can avoid being a professional philosopher, but you can’t avoid being a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. To love wisdom is simply to be human…” Therefore, with these two realizations in mind we gain a glimpse of the task before us. Philosophy needs to be reclaimed as a proper and worthwhile human endeavour, one that must be founded on reality as it is and not merely as we perceive it to be. Simple ..but not easy.

Ideas have Consequences

My approach to teaching philosophy focuses on the consequences of ideas, rather than just the ideas themselves. Today’s students are of a mindset that “actions have consequences” and only then, if you get caught. A connection needs to be re-established between the actions and the ideas that precede them. For example, if your idea of a good time is to get together with friends and get as drunk as possible, then your actions will follow that idea. You will purchase a large amount of alcohol, get together at someone’s house or cottage and then proceed to drink a great deal – usually by playing drinking games. This leads, of course, to other more serious consequences. Change your idea of a good time and your actions will change also.

Now, I don’t tell students this right away. When I begin teaching a new semester I introduce the topic that “Ideas have Consequences” and proceed to ask questions right away. Teenagers, generally speaking, tend to suffer from overconfidence in their understanding of life. That’s a nice way of saying they think they know it all. Since none of us do know it all, I immediately try to dispel them of that fantasy. It goes something like this.

Teacher: “Show of hands, how many of you are NOT the same person you were back in Grade 1?”

(All hands go up)

Teacher: “So, when did you change your name and obtain new identification?”

(Stunned looks from students)

Teacher: “Well, if you’re not the same person you were in Grade 1, then you can’t be going by the same name or identity because that’s not you. The you that used to be you is no longer the you that you are now. So… are you going to change your name and ID or will you continue to live under a false identity???”

Students: “But Sir, that’s not what we meant!!!!”

Teacher: “But that IS what I asked and you held up your hand. So what is it? Are you the same person or not?”

That little exchange leads us to discuss the difference between who I am – my personhood – and my constantly changing attributes, characteristics, personality, etc. This little exercise will serve a role later when we discuss human nature, ethics, marriage, etc.

I follow the same format for questions like, “How many of you want to marry someone who will make you happy?”

Of course, many hands go up (which leads me to wonder about the owners of the hands that didn’t go up). I call them “foolish”. After the initial shock wears out, I explain to them that no one can make us happy because happiness comes from within. We also have an infinite capacity for happiness that no one person can fill. Therefore, it’s unfair to ask our spouse to “make us happy” and to do so is a sure recipe for divorce. Interestingly enough, a former student came to visit me last week and informed me that she had separated from her boyfriend for just this reason. Apparently, he said that she wasn’t doing enough “to make him happy” and she told him what she thought of THAT idea! It’s a real joy when your teaching pays off!

The big question I eventually ask concerns freedom, which students define as being able to do what they want, when they want, with no restrictions. By that definition, no one is free and any freedom you might have is an illusion. This leads to examining the idea that freedom is the capacity to choose the good… which leads to the question of what is good… which leads to the question of why we should choose the good… and so on.

G.K. Chesterton once described education as initiation, “It is in its nature a progression from one thing to another; the arrangement of ideas in a certain order.” As teachers and parents (parents are by definition teachers), we serve our students and children best when we lay out ideas “in a certain order.” Fortunately, when we see reality as objective – that is, real in itself and not just a construct of our minds, hence the recapturing of universals I spoke of above – this order comes out naturally. Take any subject, remember that good ideas have good consequences and that bad ideas have bad consequences, then follow the logic.

This will be my approach in this series; you can use it in class or with your children during dinner – because it is my experience that the best philosophy is done where food is involved!

One Soul at a Time

I would like to conclude with a word of encouragement. The state of our culture did not come about overnight and it will not be resolved overnight. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow; today’s trouble is enough for today (cf. Matthew 6: 24-34). God gives us, as parents, the children we need and He gives our children the parents they need. As much as we might be tempted to think otherwise, this was not a mistake. We should use every teachable moment that comes up (especially the evening meal) as an opportunity to examine life, for as Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.

The same goes for teachers. Every student we have in our classroom is there for a reason. Nothing is random for God. This is all within God’s plan. Once we are comfortable with this reality, we then daily take St. Augustine’s advice to heart – work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.

The Necessary Link Between Knowledge and Virtue

The Catholic University of America has a new President. If he holds true to his inaugural address, CUA will be entering into another season of the glory years. I STRONGLY encourage you to read his address, chew it for a while and then read it again. WOW! My initial thoughts…he is a closet Bonaventurian theologian (just as good as a Thomist). Anyway, enjoy!

Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University
John Garvey, President
The Catholic University of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Great Upper Church
Jan. 25, 2011

I have been thinking a lot about Cardinal Newman this year. He was beatified in September, and that’s something for academics to celebrate. (We rarely warrant such attention from Holy Mother Church.) He was a Cardinal, and now so am I. He was the first rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, which opened its doors in 1854. Here am I now, president and rector of The Catholic University of America, begun two decades later.

I have in my office a letter Newman wrote to Cardinal Gibbons back then. He says

At a time when there is so much in this part of the world to depress and trouble us as to our religious prospects, the tidings which your circular conveys of the actual commencement of so great an undertaking on the other side of the ocean . . . will rejoice the hearts of all educated Catholics in these Islands.

Newman thanks Gibbons and the board for “introducing into their appeal a quotation from what I wrote years ago upon the subject of universities.” He is referring to The Idea of a University, discourses delivered when he became rector of the Catholic University of Ireland.

Thinking I might learn something to the purpose, I turned to them with interest. The first thing I noticed was how much we disagreed. Newman thought it was not the business of a university to extend the boundaries of knowledge. “To discover and to teach,” he says, “are distinct functions; they are also distinct gifts, and are not commonly found united in the same person.”1 The Catholic University of America was begun strictly as a graduate research institution, after the pattern of the ancient Catholic University of Louvain, or closer to home, the Johns Hopkins University begun in 1876.

Newman defended the idea of a liberal education – a notion I heartily endorse. But he thought that imparting scientific, technical, and professional knowledge was not the business of a university. He had one foot in the Oxford of the eighteenth century, and on this point too we part company.

Then there is his nineteenth century prose. It’s a style I loved in my youth (when I also loved Chopin and Turner and Melville). But it doesn’t work for lawyers. Legal ideas are hard enough. You can’t let your writing compete with them for the reader’s attention. You won’t catch me writing a sentence like this:2

How much more genuine an education is that of the poor boy in the Poem – a Poem, whether in conception or in execution, one of the most touching in our language – who, not in the wide world, but ranging day by day around his widowed mother’s home, “a dexterous gleaner” in a narrow field, and with only such slender outfit
“as the village school and books a few/Supplied,”
contrived from the beach, and the quay, and the fisher’s boat, and the inn’s fireside, and the tradesman’s shop, and the shepherd’s walk, and the smuggler’s hut, and the mossy moor, and the screaming gulls, and the restless waves, to fashion for himself a philosophy and a poetry of his own!

But there is one point we agree on. Newman’s first four discourses are an argument for the place of theology in the university curriculum. By theology he meant not “acquaintance with the Scriptures” but everything “we know about God.”3 In Ireland at the time there was a fight going on about ‘mixed education’ (Catholics and Protestants). Trinity College, like Oxford, was an Anglican institution where Catholics were not welcome. To quell the rising Catholic resentment at this exclusion Peel’s government introduced a bill in Parliament to create three Queen’s Colleges (Belfast, Cork, and Limerick). They would have no religious test for admission; nor would religion figure in the curriculum. The Irish bishops, and Newman, resisted this approach. The new Catholic University of Ireland was their proposed solution. And The Idea of a University is an argument for why it was necessary.

Fast forward now 150 years. The mixed or secular model of education is the norm in America. In public schools we say the Constitution requires it. In private schools, where the first amendment does not apply, faith is unwelcome for epistemological reasons. Whether it is emotion or fantasy or paranormal perception, it is (we suppose) different from serious thinking – a distraction at best; probably misleading. In this view of things The Catholic University of America has ambitions (to be Catholic and to be a university) that are in conflict with each other.

Our discussions of this subject have a two-dimensional character, and this is the point I want to address today. We speak of an opposition of faith and reason, as different ways of knowing. The self-styled advocates of reason say we come to know things through processes of induction and deduction, the methods of science and logic. They describe faith as a commitment to divine revelation, usually found in scripture, though it might be read in the book of nature. The battlefront lies along two propositions of physics and biology – how the universe and human life came to be.

  • Genesis tells us God created the world from nothing.
  • Stephen Hawking says the world created itself from nothing.4
  • Genesis tells us God created man on the sixth day.
  • Stephen J. Gould says man evolved over a very long time from simpler forms of life.5

The story of this war is so familiar that we often redescribe the conflict of faith and reason as a conflict of religion and science. And the challenge for Catholic universities is finding a place for bibles and papal decrees between our telescopes and microscopes.

I think the fault for this flat, crabbed, cartoonish vision of Catholic higher education lies not with the critics of religion but with us. We have been so intent on defending ourselves against charges of fundamentalism and censorship that we have failed to create, let alone promote, a serious Catholic intellectual culture. Think of the schools of thought we have seen come (and go) in the academy in our lifetimes: Marxism, modernism, post-modernism, feminism, law and economics, critical race theory, queer theory, and so on. And ask yourself whether, in the Catholic intellectual tradition, there is not enough material to get our own movement going.

Here are two steps we might take in that direction. First, let us bracket the virtue of faith, and consider the role that other virtues might play in our intellectual life. Second, let us consider the contribution that Catholic intellectual culture might make outside the field of science. Or to compress both points into one proposition, let us look at the interplay of intellect and virtue across the full field of university life.

The Role of Virtue in the Intellectual Life

My wife and I have sent our five children to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. In some ways their college education was the most important part of their formation. We hoped that, in the right environment, they would grow in wisdom, age, and grace. We wanted their schools to provide a nurturing sacramental life. We wanted our children to discern their vocations, in married or religious life, in the company of friends and teachers who loved God and the Church.

This suggests, if we examine practice and not theory, that one mark of a Catholic university is the nature of student life. A Catholic university should be concerned with the formation of its students. Campus ministry, residence life, service opportunities, athletics, student activities, are an integral part of our mission. The measure of our success is how our graduates live their daily lives: do they pray and receive the sacraments; do they love the poor; do they observe the rest of the beatitudes?

They Are Connected

You’re probably thinking that I digress already. But we and Cardinal Newman thought alike. One of my favorite sermons, from his time in Ireland, he preached on the feast of St. Monica, the first Sunday of their school year. Like the Garveys, Monica watched her son Augustine go off to college in Carthage. There he fell into bad company and bad habits. Newman says,

Bad company creates a distaste for good; and hence it happens that, when a youth has gone the length I have been supposing, he is repelled . . . from those places and scenes which would do him good. . . . So he begins to form his own ideas of things, and these please and satisfy him for a time; then he . . . tires of them, and he takes up others; and now he has begun that everlasting round of seeking and never finding; at length . . . he gives up the search altogether, and decides that nothing can be known, and there is no such thing as truth[.]

The problem arises, Newman observes, when we make the mistake of separating intellect and virtue. And returning to our subject, he concludes

Here, then, I conceive, is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up Universities; it is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God, and have been put asunder by man. Some persons will say that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons.

But what, you may ask, is the connection? Sure, Monica wanted to reform Augustine’s behavior. But what bearing would that have on his intellectual life? Aren’t we committing a sort of category mistake in supposing the two to be related? That is the received wisdom in some quarters. Consider the observation of John Mearsheimer, the Wendell Harris Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago:6

Today, elite universities operate on the belief that there is a clear separation between intellectual and moral purpose, and they pursue the former while largely ignoring the latter. There is no question that the University of Chicago makes hardly any effort to provide you with moral guidance. Moreover, I would bet that you will take few classes here at Chicago where you discuss ethics or morality in any detail, mainly because those kind[s] of courses do not exist.

That was ten years ago. Today teaching ethics is all the rage. In 2009 Harvard Business School proudly announced an effort by its graduating students to get classmates to sign the MBA Oath, a pledge to act ethically in the business world. Students pledge to refrain from corruption, unfair competition, and harmful business practices; to protect human rights; and to set an example of integrity. Last fall Harvard announced a gift of $12.5 million to fund a five-year cross-disciplinary effort to study ethics and institutional corruption. The intriguing thing about this is that at Harvard there is a connection between the oath and the study, between the cultivation of virtue and the intellectual life. What is it?

Does Intellect Lead Us To Virtue?

Academics like to think that intellect is the key thing – that if we know the good we will cultivate and pursue it. This is not surprising. Academics are intellectuals. Thinking is what we are good at. Abraham Maslow once said if you only have a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. But there are two difficulties with the academics’ approach. One is that it fails to account for weakness of will. We all have the experience of knowing what is right or good, and failing to do it. (I have this problem about chocolate.) The second is that it flattens the concept of knowing into something most of us wouldn’t recognize. We do not come to understand what is right, or good, or beautiful, through mental exercises conducted from an armchair.

Aristotle observed, what every parent knows, that young people can develop abilities in geometry and mathematics, but they can’t be proficient at politics, or philosophy, or (he says) physics, because “the first principles of these other subjects come from experience, and . . . young [people] have no conviction about the latter but merely use the proper language.”7 I am reminded of my own experience in Louis Jaffe’s class in Administrative Law – a subject about the role, processes, and powers of government agencies. I got an A in the class by saying the right things, but it was like a game in a foreign language I had memorized but did not speak. I had no idea what the subject was about until, 10 years later, I represented dozens of agencies as a young lawyer in the Solicitor General’s Office. I remember thinking, “So this is what Administrative Law is about.”

Part of what I had learned was the objects and practices that the foreign language denoted – what it meant to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. That connected the purely intellectual exercise of reading Jaffe’s casebook to things in the real world. Another part of what I learned was the craft of doing administrative law well. A baseball pitcher needs to learn a lot of mechanics to throw well; a fielder needs to be in the right position for each hitter and situation. So too with learning the law. Good administrative lawyers know from practice that agencies must follow their own regulations (the Accardi8 rule). Richard Nixon ignored this when he refused the special prosecutor’s demand for the Watergate tapes.

There is a third thing one learns from the experience of legal practice – it acquaints one with the virtue of justice. A good lawyer is not just skilled in the craft of argument. She is also honest, fair, prudent, temperate, and just. There is an inscription on the Department of Justice building where I worked that says, “The United States wins its case whenever justice is done one of its citizens in the courts.” Working with good lawyers, you learn there are cases you could win but should not. You learn the difference between playing by the rules and doing the right thing. You are reminded that the agencies whose behavior is regulated by administrative law exist to serve the people of the United States (veterans, homeless, unemployed, widows and orphans, victims of crime, consumers, taxpayers), and you are one of the people standing at the counter.

St. Bonaventure, in his little treatise Bringing Forth Christ, observes9

“Anyone who keeps close to a holy man discovers that by seeing him often, listening to his words and witnessing his exemplary behavior, he is set on fire with love of the truth, keeps away from the darkness of sin, and is inflamed by the love of divine light.” . . . “Seek the company of good people. If you share their company, you will also share their virtue.”

We come to know virtue by seeing it, we learn virtue by practicing it, we become virtuous when our practice makes it habitual, a part of our character.

Virtue Guides Intellect

Let us return to Aristotle and our theory of education. He goes on to say that if you want to listen intelligently to lectures on ethics you “must have been brought up in good habits.”10 It is virtue that leads the intellect to the right result, not the other way around. The particular goals we set for ourselves are illuminated by our character or moral orientation. In our efforts, Aristotle says, “virtue makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means.”11

Aristotle talks about listening intelligently to lectures on ethics, but his point is not limited to Philosophy 101. I spoke earlier about Law. I might have said the same thing about any of the social sciences. You cannot study migration, the environment, the economy, interpersonal relationships, death and dying, or the history of capitalism without making ethical judgments of the kind Aristotle had in mind. Sociology is not, pace Comte, a value-free science. Nor is Anthropology, Economics, Psychology, or History.

I have been talking about the social sciences, but I might make a similar observation about aesthetics. Our appreciation of beauty in art and music, in poetry and architecture, is not just an intellectual judgment. We speak of the sense, the experience, the love of beauty, and these are not just metaphors. It is beauty that first enchants us when we fall in love, that draws us out of ourselves to want something other. And though there is more scope for taste in this realm, there are true and there are meretricious appeals of beauty, and we learn them not by solitary contemplation but in the same way we learn the appropriation of virtue.

Cardinal Ratzinger, a few years before he became pope, observed how some appeals can be like the “experience of beauty of which Genesis speaks in the account of the Original Sin. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was ‘beautiful’ to eat and was ‘delightful to the eyes.’” “Who would not recognize,” he went on to say, “in advertising, the images made with supreme skill that are created to tempt the human being irresistibly, to make him want to grab everything and seek the passing satisfaction rather than be open to others.”12 He contrasted this with an experience he had in Munich soon after the death of Karl Richter. He was sitting at a Bach concert, next to the Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselmann, and when the performance was over he said,

When the last note of one of the great Thomas Kantor Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other [and] said, “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.”
The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.

I have been arguing that the arrow between intellect and virtue travels in a different direction than scholars sometimes suppose. That the cultivation of virtue prepares the ground for the work of the intellect, because “virtue makes us aim at the right mark.” Let me give one more example. When we went off to college my mother would say, after the fashion of St. Monica, “Don’t forget your prayers.” After I got out of law school she came to visit me in New York, and I told her about a book I had just read (by J.N.D. Kelly, as I recall) on early Christian doctrine. I asked if she knew that the words “light from light” that we recited in the Nicene Creed were meant to resolve the Arian heresy about the relation between God the Father and God the Son. She said, “Dear, the important thing is not that you understand it. The important thing is that you believe it.”

The older I get the more I find that my mother was right. I don’t mean to embrace the full import of her observation. The Council of Nicea was really important, and it met to iron this out. But Mother was giving me the same advice she had when I went off to college: the most important thing is to say your prayers before you go off on your intellectual wanderings. Pascal said precisely the same thing in the Pensées,13 after describing the reasonableness of his wager:

The external must be joined to the internal to obtain anything from God, that is to say, we must kneel, pray with the lips, etc., in order that proud man, who would not submit himself to God, may be now subject to the creature. . . . [C]ustom . . . without violence, without art, without argument, makes us believe things and inclines all our powers to this belief, so that our soul falls naturally into it.

Mother, St. Monica, and Pascal were all saying that the path to the study of theology begins with prayer, not speculation. Or to return to the reflections of Pope Benedict, “the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated.”14

The Institution’s Role

I have been arguing that the acquisition of virtue has a bearing on how we learn. This is a lesson all university students should take to heart. Students at the University of Kentucky should find the Newman Center. Harvard students should meet the chaplain at St. Paul’s Church. But this is an incomplete argument. What is the particular contribution a Catholic university makes to the integration of virtue and intellect?

Let me close with four brief observations about this point. First, although we sometimes speak (as Bonaventure does) of learning virtue from a holy man (a kind of moral Bruce Harmon, or yoga master), we learn it better as members of a group. As the Catechism says, the Christian “learns the example of holiness [from the Church;] he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it . . . .”15 Both the yogi and the group provide the necessary illustration. But it’s like learning a foreign language. No tutor alive can match the experience of living with a family that speaks Korean.

Groups have this additional advantage over yogis: besides offering round-the-clock instruction, they also provide a counterweight to the culture. In raising our children my wife and I have found that it is hard to fight the culture. We deliver one message about materialism, sex, self-sacrifice, and alcohol; our children see another in school and the media. Our lesson gains credibility if the children see a community of people they know and admire living it.

Second, as Christians we believe that the community we live in here is not just us. It is God with us, in the sacraments we celebrate every day. His grace is more important than our mutual example in helping us see and drawing us to the life of virtue.

Third, we must not lose sight of the essential connectedness of intellect and virtue. When Aristotle says that if you want to listen intelligently to lectures on ethics you “must have been brought up in good habits,” he does not mean simply that you must do a before b. (As we might say, if you want to get from Boston to Washington you must first go through New York.) The cultivation of virtue enables the student to learn what the teacher is teaching. It is part of the language they both speak.

To put it in concrete terms, Student Life, Campus Ministry, Residential Life, Athletics, and Student Organizations are not offices concerned with different parts of the day and places on campus than academic affairs. They are integrally related. As Pope Benedict said at this University in 2008, this “is a place to encounter the living God . . . . This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching.”

Finally, I have been talking about the role of virtue in the life of the intellect. But I want to conclude by observing that the intellectual life of a Catholic university is something that is unique among institutions of higher education. Whatever your intellectual field, you are probably familiar with the phenomenon I might call the coffeehouse effect. Carl Schorske describes in his interesting book Fin de Siècle Vienna how intellectuals from many different fields gathered in the coffeehouses of Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century and created a special intellectual culture: Kokoschka and Schoenberg, Freud and Klimt, Mahler and Mach. We can see the same thing at other times and places. Elizabethan London was a city the size of Lubbock, Texas, and it produced Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Sidney, Jonson, and Bacon. Bach, Handel, and Telemann were all born around 1685 and studied each others’ work. The world’s best violins have all come from Cremona, Italy where they were made by the Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari families.

The Catholic University of America is a university – a community of scholars united in a common effort to find goodness, truth, and beauty. It is a place where we learn things St. Monica could not teach her son. Holy as she was, she could not have written the Confessions or The City of God. Smart as he was, neither could Augustine have written them without the intellectual companionship he found first at Carthage and later among the Platonists in Milan. The intellectual life, like the acquisition of virtue, is a communal (not a solitary) undertaking. We learn from each other. The intellectual culture we create is the product of our collective effort. A Catholic intellectual culture will be something both distinctive and wonderful if we bring the right people into the conversation and if we work really hard at it.


Let me close as Cardinal Newman did his discourses on The Idea of a University. He ended with a note of fitting modesty about the contribution any one person can make to so great an enterprise as this. I want to associate myself with his comments:

For me, if it be God’s blessed will that in the years now coming I am to have a share in the great undertaking, which has been the occasion and the subject of [my remarks], so far I can say for certain that, whether or not I can do any thing at all in [Blessed John Newman’s] way, at least I can do nothing in any other. Neither by my habits of life, nor by vigour of age, am I fitted for the task of authority, or of rule, or of initiation. I do but aspire, if strength is given me, to be your minister in a work which must employ younger minds and stronger lives than mine. I am but fit to bear my witness, . . . to throw such light upon general questions, . . . as past reflection and experience enable me to contribute. I shall have to make appeals to your consideration, . . . of which I have had so many instances . . . ; and [we must not] be surprised, should it so happen that the Hand of Him, with whom are the springs of life and death, weighs heavy on me, and makes me unequal to anticipations in which you have been too kind, and to hopes in which I may have been too sanguine.

1 The Idea of a University xl (University of Notre Dame Press 1982).
2 Id. at 113.
3 Id. at 46.
4 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (2010).
5 Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002).
6 The Aims of Education (2001)
7 Nicomachean Ethics Bk. VI, ch. 8.
8 United States ex rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 347 U.S. 260 (1954).
9 He’s quoting St. Gregory and St. Isidore.
10 Nicomachean Ethics 1095b.
11 Nicomachean Ethics 1144a.
12 The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty, on line at The Crossroads Initiative (August 2002).
13 Blaise Pascal, Pensées 250, 252.
14 The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty.
15 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2030.

Modernist Revisionism and the ‘Smoke of Satan’

Fr. Dwight Longenecker at the Standing on My Head blog published an insightful post, entitled, The Smoke of Satan:

There are many problems in the Catholic Church that might be thought to be the ‘smoke of Satan’ entering the church, but for my money one thing, above all others, has been the successful work of Satan, which has undermined the church, emasculated her ministry, sabotaged the aims of the Holy Spirit and captured a multitude of souls.

It is the modernist re-interpretation of the Catholic faith.

The reductionist results of modern Biblical scholarship and the infiltration of a modernist, rationalistic and materialistic mindset meant that the supernatural was assumed to be impossible, and therefore the Bible stories (and also any supernatural elements of the faith) had to be ‘de-mythologized.’ Everything supernatural within the Biblical account and within the lives of the saints and within the teaching of the church were assumed to be impossible and had to be ‘re-interpreted’ so they would make sense to modern, scientifically minded people.

So the feeding of the five thousand wasn’t a miracle. Instead the ‘real miracle’ was that everyone shared their lunch. Everything had to be questioned and ‘re-interpreted’ in such a way that it could be accepted and understood by modern people. So when we call Jesus Christ “God Incarnate” what we really mean was that he was so fully human, and that as he reached his potential as a man that he shows us what divinity looks like. When we speak of the Blessed Virgin we mean she was ‘a very good and holy Jewish young woman.’ When we speak of the ‘Real Presence’ we mean that we see the ‘Christ that is within each one of us.”

I hate this crap.

It’s the smoke of Satan, and it’s virtually triumphant within the mainstream Protestant churches, and sadly, the modern Catholic Church in the USA is riddled through with the same noxious heresy. The reason it is so obnoxious and disgusting is because priests and clergy of all sorts still use all the traditional language of the liturgy, the Scriptures and the creeds, but they have changed the meaning of it altogether. They never actually stand up and say that they have changed the meaning, and that they no longer believe the faith once delivered to the saints. They don’t discuss the fact that they have not only changed the meaning, but robbed it of meaning altogether. Instead they still stand up week by week and recite the creed as if they think it is true, but what they mean by ‘true’ is totally different from what their people mean.

So ‘Father Flannel’ stands up on Easter Day and says, “Alleluia! Today we rejoice in the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.” His people think he really believes that Jesus’ dead body came back to life by the power of God and that he went on to live forever. In fact what Father Flannel really means is that “in some way the beautiful teachings of Jesus were remembered and continued by his followers long after his tragic death.” The people don’t know why Father Flannel’s Catholic life is so lightweight and limp and they don’t know why his style is so lacking in substance, and they go on in their muddled way thinking that he really does believe the Catholic faith when, in fact, he doesn’t at all.

Consequently, Fr Flannel doesn’t really have much of a message at all. He doesn’t believe any of the gospel except as some sort of beautiful story which inspires people to be nicer to each other. All that is left of his priesthood, therefore, is to be a nice guy to entertain people with inspirational thoughts and get everyone to be nicer to one another and try to save the planet.

The poor faithful have swallowed this stuff for two or three generations now, and they don’t even know what poison they’re swallowing because the lies are all dressed up in the same traditional language the church has always used. It’s like someone has put battery acid into a milk bottle and given it to a baby, and never imagined that there was anything wrong with doing so–indeed thought it was the best thing for baby.

The faithful don’t know why their church has become like a cross between a Joan Baez concert and a political activism meeting. They don’t understand why they never hear the need for confession or repentance or hear about old fashioned terms like ‘the precious blood’ or ‘ the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord and Savior” The fact of the matter is Father Flannel doesn’t really think that sort of thing is ‘helpful’.

This is why evangelization of the American Catholics in the pew is probably the most difficult task of all. They don’t know what they don’t know. For three generations now they have been given watered down milk and been told it was wine. They actually think that Catholic lite is what it’s all about, and are astounded to think that there are some of us who think that they have actually been fed a version of Christianity that is scarcely Christianity at all.

Liturgical Amnesia: Missing the Point

Those close to me know that I love researching, reading and understanding various Catholic traditions; whether they be local, regional and/or universal. The Church is rich with so many beautiful customs and devotions which reinforce the theology which She teaches. Over the past three weeks, as is my custom in October, I have been reading the various articles and blogs concerning Halloween. I have been sorely disappointed by many of the Catholic blogs that are looking to invent reasons, or discredit objections, on why it is good to participate in the secular, or commercialized, version of Halloween. I would suggest that ninety-nine percent of them are missing the point.

I am all for a good celebration or party! Hey, we are Catholic and we encourage parties for everything. We baptize our children and throw a party. Our child receives their First Communion, we have a party. We party for getting engaged and then dance the night away with another party when we get married. And, of course, our families throw a party after they bury us (hopefully, not because they just buried us). Celebrations are part of who we are as Catholics. Frankly, it is our Lord’s fault. He is the one that said,

I have come to give life and give to the full. (John 10:10b)

We are just obeying His command.

My problem with Halloween is not because I believe it is an exaltation of the Satanic (although gaze at the movies that open this weekend). I do not have a problem with skulls and skeletons hanging around – hey, the Church encourages it. In my own life, my wife won’t let me keep a skull, or representation of one on my desk…she says it is morbid and gross. Oh, contraire! Our Mater et Magistra, as the Church is often called, even encourages us to frequently meditate and have material reminders that reinforce the truth of our mortality and death (as if being forty and looking in the mirror did not do that already). Remember what we say on Ash Wednesday? We pray, “Remember man, from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

Do I believe in ghosts? No, and nor does our Church. She, in fact, has bound us to reject such assertions as Catholics with a prohibition against encouraging the belief of, or the false glorification that this lie implies in the Directory On Popular Piety And The Liturgy Principles And Guidelines (Yes, Catholic bloggers, there is actually an official Church document that addresses this subject.). It says:

258. In matters relating to doctrine, the following are to be avoided:

  • the invocation of the dead in practices involving divination;
  • the interpretation or attribution of imaginary effects to dreams relating to the dead, which often arises from fear;
  • any suggestion of a belief in reincarnation;
  • the danger of denying the immortality of the soul or of detaching death from the resurrection, so as to make the Christian religion seem like a religion of the dead;
  • the application of spacio-temporal categories to the dead.

For those who do not understand Church-ese, the bolded line means we don’t believe, or encourage, belief in ghosts.

I do believe in demons and devils and that they may influence not only us, but nature itself. The Church even requires our assent to this belief through dogmatic decree. Although I find that that the costumes are all wrong…Scripture says that Satan was an angel of light, beautiful beyond compare. I understand that we are trying to physically illustrate that they are twisted to the core, but that also would be a lie. It is also dogma that all of creation- including the angels, even the fallen angels who are eternally depraved, are substantially good. Why? Simply because they were created by the Father. It may difficult to conceive and yet it is nonetheless true.

So you might ask, “Q, What’s your problem?!?” I have three, actually. The first and foremost is that the way America celebrates Halloween is very bad liturgy. You read it correctly, Halloween is a Catholic liturgy. I know that when we look back in American history we do not see that it was celebrated in the form we typically understand as liturgical. What we do see in America are fun harvest parties and lots of misplaced religious symbols. And, there is a very good reason for this. Any historian worth his or her salt would tell you that Catholicism and her liturgies were suppressed if not illegal for most of our countries history. There is a reason why we have Maryland (although she has become our disgrace – that is a topic for another day). We live in a Protestant country whose traditions are uniquely, not Catholic. And yes, there is a lot of Old World superstition that entered into the evening, but let’s stick to the topic at hand.

Just as a reminder, replacing Catholic celebrations and feasts with secular celebrations has been the modus operandi for Europe. By way of example, in England, the Feast of the Incarnation (Otherwise known as Christmas) was replaced with the Winter Festival and St. Nicholas with Father Christmas. Here in the states it has been no different. Maybe I should write a blog just on this topic.

All Hallow’s Eve, is our liturgical celebration of the evening of All Saints. Solemnities begin at sunset or, in the case of America, 4:00 pm as understood by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Please, help me understand how dressing up as Yoda (Answer, you must!) celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints? “But Q, you say it is a liturgy – I disagree.” May I remind you of the Greek understanding or definition of leitourgia? It is a public celebration and or remembrance in which a repeated ritual takes place at an agreed time or during an agreed upon season. Let’s see:

  • Public – everywhere in the United States…check!
  • Celebration – happiness and joy to receive candy or play tricks…check!
  • Remembrance – celebration of the dead…check!
  • Repeated ritual – doing the same thing every year…check!
  • Agreed time or season…evening of October 31…check!

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…it is a duck! Say what you must, but the truth will set you free.

Most Catholics take offense when one of her liturgies is shown any type of disrespect – whether purposeful or not. So why, instead of being offended about a celebration that is supposed to honor the saints and respectfully remember those who have passed into eternity before us, are we not only honoring Big Bird or the Green Power Ranger, we full-heartedly encourage it. In sacramental theology, we call this sacrilege.

Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin…(CCC 2120)[emphasis mine]

My second issue deals with the virtue of veracity[1] and the 20th/21st century (broken) psyche. As kids (regardless of age), we tend to choose our costume to be like the hero or heroine that we want to be. Other times, we pick our costumes because they are just fun. In rare cases, we pick out costumes because we are just messed up and need to be in counseling. For one night we like to hide who we are and pretend to be someone else. So what… right?

St. Thomas, in the Summa, addresses veracity and pretending. He posits that truth (the correspondence between what we think, say and reality) and veracity (the correspondence between what we do, think and reality) are so integral to who we are and the very nature of what it means to be human, that we should only deviate from it for two reasons. The first is to teach a moral lesson in order that those who are watching, or observing, can learn and either obtain the virtue or avoid a vice. What he had in mind at the time was actors and the production of plays. St. Thomas (as well as St. Augustine) went on further to say that to act or pretend for no moral reason was a violation of what it means to be human.


As a slight sidebar, Pope John Paul II speaks to this in his Letter to Artists. As an accomplished writer, actor and director himself, he always was looking at the impact of the play upon the hearts and minds of the audience to either encourage a moral virtue or reveal a depravity that needed to be corrected.

Back to St. Thomas

The second reason St. Thomas gave was to emulate a person or being who is greater than us in order to practice their virtue in an effort to acquire it. Practical application… would you rather obtain the virtues of Hannibal Lecter or St. Menas? Better yet, which person would you like your child to emulate? Some might say I am being too Puritanical and a killjoy. I’m okay with that, though. The reason is that I daily deal with broken individuals who have no idea who they are and are grasping at anything and everything to mask and create a new “me”. Everybody wants to be (fill in the blank) or I hear the women say, “I wish I had her figure!”. Um, God does not make mistakes. He made you perfect just the way you are.

We live during an age where we have lost the sense of identity and prefer the lie over the truth. Our actions, which are meant to be guided by virtue and the laws of our Church, have been relegated to Sundays…for maybe an hour if we try really hard.

Some parents complain and say, “But the other kids are doing it and mine will feel left out.” I understand the pressure, but virtue and emulating a real hero or heroine (truth is always stranger than fiction) seems far more constructive as a life lesson. The next question that follows is about alternatives. Well, you could always dress up as a Saint. Include the torturous wounds and weird instruments in which the saint had to endure their sufferings. As Catholics, we believe that the wounds of our martyrdom will be glorified in the Resurrection. In our family, we used to go to All Saint’s parties at the local churches where the kids brought home ten times the amount of candy they would have collected working the streets (Yes, I chose that specific phrase for a reason). A few years ago the kids objected and said they would rather buy their own candy and play games with us . They seem quite mentally and emotionally adjusted to me. We have made this our tradition and it is something they look forward to every year…what can be more fun than eating pizza picnic style in our den, pigging out on candy (my wife takes them to the store and lets them each pick out their favorite kind) and playing all kinds of games together as a family? And, we honor the all those who have gone before us by praying the Litany of the Saints.

The second suggestion is my favorite. Throw a Masquerade. “Q, didn’t you just tell us not to hide ourselves.” No, I said emulate what virtues you want to obtain. A masquerade is different. The purpose of a masquerade is actually to reveal oneself through questions and hints while temporary hiding your face – the mask is supposed to come off. The masquerade mask is also supposed to express the key virtue or characteristic that describes you. It teaches us an important lesson about the human person. The first is that we are mysteries that need to be revealed. The second is that we are completely ourselves and, frankly, it is fun to dress up in a formal gown or tuxedo while having to figure out how we will reveal ourselves without making it too easy. This requires self knowledge and reflection which is good for the soul. Besides, there is a great deal of formality and etiquette that we seem to always enjoy in the end. Lastly, and most importantly, tie it to a liturgy for the remembrance of the dead. The priest would love it to see everyone dressed in formal attire.

My third issue is connected with C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. At one point, Screwtape is explaining to Wormwood that it is important for the patient not to understand or see the actions and influences of their work. He suggests two different tactics. The first is to encourage the rationalization of the intellect in order to remove the possibility for the spiritual to exist. This would then give Wormwood free reign to do anything and everything because the patient would not even consider outside influences other than the material world. The second tactic is to blame everything on the devil so as to make it sound so ridiculous that it becomes unbelievable. It is the Flip Wilson method, “The devil made me do it.” Wormwood goes on to say that the first option is better because the second risks their presence being revealed.

We live in a society, and dare I say, an ecclesial environment that rejects wholesale the influence of the devil and his minions. I was thoroughly amused last year when major Catholic bloggers thought it ridiculous that the Holy Father’s exorcist and chief liturgists said that Christians should not participate in Halloween. They said that no one needed to listen because the L’Obesseratore Romano (Halloween’s Dangerous Messages – sorry, can’t find the original in English) is not a magisterial document and is not binding. They are quite correct. But, whatever happened to listening to your elders and considering the wisdom that they speak?

The fact is that Fr. Canals, a liturgical expert in Rome (remember my first objection) said, “Halloween has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian.” No matter what you say and how you package it, from a Catholic perspective due to liturgy and virtue, he is right. Remember, occultism is not always about demonic possession. Witchcraft and the occult is about rebellion against the practices and laws of God. That includes liturgical rubrics. The article also stated that the conference of Italian Bishops said that Halloween is a “dangerous celebration of horror and the macabre” which could encourage “pitiless [Satanic] sects without scruples.” Why do we find this hard to believe here in America? The FBI believes it. They have a unit dedicated to this and the last time I heard them speak during a seminar, they said that this is their least favorite time of year. Fairfax County police believe it. They too have a unit dedicated to Occult crimes and have seen far more than they care to remember.

Bishop of Siguenza-Guadalajara, Jose Sanchez, said there was a risk that Halloween could “replace Christian customs like devotion to saints and praying for the dead.”

Any objection to that statement? When was the last time you went to a cemetery to pray for the dead? You know that is the proper devotion related to this Solemnity. But, most people are so thanaphobic (By the way, all the research shows that there is a direct correlation between the fear of death and promiscuity. Have you seen the costume catalogs this year? You get the best of both worlds) , they avoid them at every turn. The Directory in paragraph 257 explains,

Modern society refuses to accept the “visibility of death”, and hence tries to conceal its presence. In some places, recourse is even made to conserving the bodies of the dead by chemical means in an effort to prolong the appearance of life.

The Christian, who must be conscious of and familiar with the idea of death, cannot interiorly accept the phenomenon of the “intolerance of the dead”, which deprives the dead of all acceptance in the city of the living. Neither can he refuse to acknowledge the signs of death, especially when intolerance and rejection encourage a flight from reality, or a materialist cosmology, devoid of hope and alien to belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

How much money a year do we spend on slowing aging? Hmmmm?

It is our family custom to either make a sign of the cross or pray every time we pass a cemetery:

Eternal rest grant unto thee, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

By the way, we pass one every day driving to our house from the main artery we live off of.  The Directory in paragraph 260 further explains correct devotion:

260. In accordance with time, place and tradition, popular devotions to the dead take on a multitude of forms:

  • the novena for the dead in preparation for November 2, and the octave prolonging it, should be celebrated in accordance with liturgical norms;
  • visits to the cemetery; in some places this is done in a community manner on November 2, at the end of the parochial mission, when the parish priest takes possession of the parish; visiting the cemetery can also be done privately, when the faithful go to the graves of their own families to maintain them or decorate them with flowers and lamps. Such visits should be seen as deriving from the bonds existing between the living and the dead and not from any form of obligation, non-fulfilment of which involves a superstitious fear;
  • membership of a confraternity or other pious association whose objects include “burial of the dead” in a the light of the Christian vision of death, praying for the dead, and providing support for the relatives of the dead;
  • suffrage for the dead through alms deeds, works of mercy, fasting, applying indulgences, and especially prayers, such as the De profundis, and the formula Requiem aeternam, which often accompanies the recitation of the Angelus, the rosary, and at prayers before and after meals.

Where does this leave us? Well, again, Fr. Canals said,

Parents should “be aware of this and try to direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty rather than terror, fear and death,”

He is right. But I would add that we should also be discouraging flippancy about this solemn feast day. It is to be celebrated, but in accordance with our liturgical traditions and rites. All these bloggers who argue against these basic truths and for the base harvest parties (How many of them are farmers?) seem to be avoiding all the rites that are meant to make them more human. Have an Octoberfest (invite me too, please.)! Just not on Halloween.

It saddens me that tomorrow parties will be thrown by Catholics of all ages who willingly choose to set aside a Solemnity and/or implicitly (or explicitly) reject the liturgical teachings of the Church to celebrate more like a pagan even pagan than a Catholic. Shoots, even many of the Protestant Churches throw biblical saint parties or at least festivals that offer thanks to the Father. I am all about the fun and, as Catholics, we have more fun and are able to grow in virtue at the same time. I am heartened by those churches, whether Catholic or not, that see the importance of celebrating the saints that have gone before us.

A final thought…why do we celebrate the saints at this time of year? Because liturgically, starting this Sunday, all the liturgies for the next four weeks will be celebrating the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. This celebration and the Feast of Christ the King (Last Sunday of the liturgical year) is supposed to keep them in perspective. Sadly, my first grade girls in the religion class I teach are dressing up as witches tomorrow night. We, as Catholics, seem to be missing the point.

[1] Veracity is the correspondence of the outward expression given to thought with the thought itself. It must not be confused with verbal truth (veritas locutionis), which is the correspondence of the outward or verbal expression with the thing that it is intended to express. The latter supposes on the part of the speaker not only the intention of speaking truly, but also the power so to do, i.e. it supposes (1) true knowledge and (2) a right use of words. Moral truth, on the other hand, exists whenever the speaker expresses what is in his mind even if de facto he be mistaken, provided only that he says what he thinks to be true. This latter condition however, is necessary. Hence a better definition of moral truth would be “the correspondence of the outward expression of thought with the thing as conceived by the speaker”. Moral truth, therefore, does not imply true knowledge. But, though a deviation from moral truth would be only materially a lie, and hence not blameworthy, unless the use of words or signs were intentionally incorrect, moral truth does imply a correct use of words or other signs. A lie therefore, is an intentional deviation from moral truth, and is defined as a locutio contra mentem; i.e. it is the outward expression of a thought which is intentionally diverse from the thing as conceived by the speaker. It is important to observe, however, that the expression of the thought, whether by word or by sign, must in all cases be taken in its context; for both in regard to words and to signs, custom and circumstances make a considerable difference with respect to their interpretation. Veracity, or the habit of speaking the truth, is a virtue; and the obligation of practising it arises from a twofold source. First, “since man is a social animal, naturally one man owes to another that without which human society could not go on. But men could not live together if they did not believe one another to be speaking the truth. Hence the virtue of veracity comes to some extent under the head of justice [rationem debiti]” (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiæ II-II.109.3). The second source of the obligation to veracity arises from the fact that speech is clearly of its very nature intended for the communication of knowledge by one to another. It should be used, therefore, for the purpose for which it is naturally intended, and lies should be avoided. For lies are not merely a misuse, but an abuse, of the gift of speech, since, by destroying man’s instinctive belief in the veracity of his neighbour, they tend to destroy the efficacy of that gift.

(Source: Walker, L. (1912). Truth. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 29, 2010 from New Advent:

Vocation of Christians in America: Abp Chaput

To celebrate the Lord’s Day here is a fantastic video on Faith and Reason at Houston Baptist University (HBU). They hosted Archbishop Chaput and he agreed to take their questions. Learned something new – he is the first Amer-Indian Bishop in the United States.

Got Grace?Mmmmm, Does the Person Good.

Over the past thirty years, nominalism has entrenched itself in all parts of society. Once only relegated to academia, colleges and universities have done well in evangelizing society. So what does this have to do with grace?

This philosophical cancer comes in at least two flavors. The most common that comes to mind is the rejection of universals, or in the case of everyday conversation: absolute truth. We are not interested in this flavor today. The second poison is a little more subtle(making it effective) and actually was part and parcel of Luther’s (and the reformers) understanding of grace. It denies metaphysical properties or abstract objects.

We would all agree that each person is a particular which in philosophy means a kind of entity. Modern society would agree with Luther in understanding this distinction. We also naturally understand that we have real properties that provides distinctions and effects upon us. Being tall, short, rotund (me), white, black, etc. are examples of properties or accidents of particulars. Luther holding high the Cartesian inspired banner of nominalism denies properties, though no reasonable person would admit this out of fear of looking foolish. For most, it is abstract or immaterial not physical properties that are the issue. I could make a case though, for the physical issues being ignored if we consider unisex clothes, the push for a genderless society, and/or even the difference between a father or mother. This not our discussion topic today though.

Luther looked at grace as a gift of God but not having the real property or quality to effect a change. Basically, he stripped grace of its power. Maybe this understanding helps you understand why Luther said that Baptism does not cause an effective change but we are snow-covered dung. With this understanding, the implications for all Sacramental Theology is cataclysmic which also explains why he thought of only Baptism and the Holy Eucharist as Sacraments – albeit only because of Scriptural evidence. I know, you are thinking, “But his whole theology rests on faith (BTW, lively faith not a dead one based on doctrine and dogma) inspired by grace”  – go figure.

Hopefully, we have taken a moment to pause and consider whether we are practical nominalists. Few of us would deny that grace and sacraments are effective. Few of us would rely on just ourselves when struggling with an area of vice but would immediately turn to prayer asking for the grace to overcome. Yet, most of, I would argue, treat grace as if it was cheap or just another religious word.

The Lord gives us grace but do we respond to it in His time or ours. For some reason, we think that grace just hangs around until we are ready to respond or we are “ready for it.” Are we forgetting our Lord’s words parable of the old wine skins or Matthew 6:34 which proclaims a practical application of grace?

Ever had an experience with another person in ministry when God is pouring out His lavish grace and they look at you and say, “I’m not ready for this”, “I like my life as it is” or “Why do I need to change this or that part of my life “? Without being harsh, Scripture has a phrase for this, “a dog returning to its vomit.”

Why do we prefer to live in the wretchedness of our own brokenness and vice? Why, when the Lord pours out an abundance of grace do we reject it? Who are we to tell the Lord or the community (means family too) He has given us to love us and assist us that we are not responding to grace?

The beauty of what we believe concerning  grace is a treasure to be sought with all our might. Grace is real (not a  cause and effect theory), effective, transforming, life-giving, beautifying, explosive, dynamic, and the list goes on. More importantly, it’s FREE and not taxable! But we MUST respond in docility and humility. We need it!

Our hearts are wounded and whether we like it or not, there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. Those of who think that holiness is a private affair or we should be independent of a community that we are responsible to have fallen for a pernicious and perditious lie. It is telling that monks may not become hermits until they have successfully demonstrated growing in holiness while living within community. Besides, our Lord wants us to be healed for holiness.

Take heart! His grace is ever new each and every day. Let’s work together to respond to the grace He has for us today and let tomorrow care for itself. And after this reflection…I am off to confession. Got grace? Does the person (body and soul) good.

Under Siege: Mass Modernity

Today I wanted to meet two goals for the Q Continuum. The first is to encourage the reading of Fr. Jonathan Robinson’s book, The Mass and Modernity published by Ignatius Press. Fr. Robinson reflects over the past eight years of his life and shares his troubling observation of how the Divine Liturgy has been assailed and seemly conquered by Modernity.  His book has now been translated into Italian and its Preface is strikingly beautiful by itself and should cause us to pause. Which brings me to my second goal – reading the Preface.

One of the gifts the United States has been able to offer to Rome was that of (now) the Archbishop Augustine di Noia. A faithful son of St. Dominic, he is now the current Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the author of the Preface. With striking clarity, I believe he summarizes Fr. Jonathan’s book and places in context its necessity. Frankly, the Preface could stand alone as a short essay which is very much a clarion call to retrieve our liturgical patrimony. It is a must read! Of course, I would like to use Archbishop di Noia’s words when he says that Fr. Robinson’s book is “one of the most important books on the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy to have appeared in the last ten years.”

Thanks to the New Liturgical Movement blog, I have re-posted the Preface in toto:


This is one of the most important books on the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy to have appeared in the last ten years. It is particularly valuable for venturing and achieving an overview of modernity, a secularising view of the world all but taken for granted in the contemporary West, with philosophical origins in the thought of Kant, Hegel, Hume and Comte.

The author of The Mass and Modernity is Father Jonathan Robinson, founder and provost of the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in Toronto and sometime professor and Chairman of the Faculty of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal. His background explains the rigour and clarity with which his analysis unfolds. Modernity, as Fr Robinson presents it, denies the presence of Incarnate Truth within temporal and historical change. In this sense, modernity accords with modernism: a restricted conception of the ‘modern’ which builds exclusively upon the ‘new’ and refuses what is unchanging.

As The Mass and Modernity shows, this philosophy has become a social and cultural commonplace, with profound consequences for our understanding of the liturgy of the Church. We no longer worship God as one who is objective, independent of our understanding or experience; God has been made subjective, reflecting only what we want him to be. The implementation of the post-conciliar liturgical reforms has contributed to this loss of objectivity. As Pope Benedict XVI has suggested, the new Missal “was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear.” St Peter’s Successor, the Supreme Pastor of the Church, has voiced his grave concern for the “arbitrary distortions of the liturgy” that have inflicted so many wounds on the People of God.1

According to Robinson, modern philosophy has generated conceptions of ‘community’, ‘science’, ‘reason’ and what it means to be ‘modern’ which have shaped contemporary self-understanding and, having entered Catholic consciousness, have contributed to the present deformations of Catholic liturgy. One of the book’s particular strengths lies in its masterful disclosure of how deeply rooted such conceptions are in the development of modern Western thought.

In the first part of the book, arrestingly entitled “Wingless Chickens,” Robinson discusses the Enlightenment’s refusal of Revelation: God’s self-manifestation in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Kant accordingly extrudes from ‘enlightened’ consciousness any conception of the Sacraments or of the supernatural mission of the Church, confining religion within the limits of a purely rational morality and according it a merely instrumental significance in the ethical regulation of society. In Hume, empiricism replaces metaphysics and so not only the Church but God Himself is excluded and made irrelevant both to his human creatures and to creation as a whole. In Hegel and Comte we see God and his significance to human self understanding progressively replaced by, respectively, the human community and by sociology.

It has become a commonplace to point to the Enlightenment’s devastating effects on the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, but the particular harm done by Hegel’s notion of community has not always been appreciated. Among Robinson’s original insights is that in desiring to overcome the Kantian antinomies by which God is rendered unknowable, Hegel reconfigured him as the embodiment of the exigencies of human community.

The damage done by this inverted hypothesis to our understanding of the worship of God, which is reconfigured as the community’s celebration of itself and the denial of anything lying beyond it, has been identified by authors of very different background and education, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, Peter L Berger, and Aidan Nichols.2 Above all, Joseph Ratzinger’s writings have drawn attention to this tendency to conceive of the liturgy as communal self-consciousness: “In this manner, the liturgy is no longer a lifting up to Him, but a lowering of God to our own dimensions. . . . Thus worship becomes a community’s celebration of itself, a celebration that does nothing more than confirm itself. From the adoration of God we move to a circle that devours itself. In the end there remains a kind of frustration, a sense of the void. There is no longer that experience of liberation which takes place in a true encounter with the living God.”3

In the second part of his book, with the equally intriguing title of “The Night Battle,” Robinson points out that “various strands of the Enlightenment and of its heritage still affect the practice of the Church” (167). While Post-modernism is critical of the Enlightenment, it is equally determined to deny God; the apparently inescapable deepening of the process of secularization that results, means that even within the Church one can find the thought expressed that liturgical reform means that “the worship of God must be radically altered because the liturgy does not relate to the secularized consciousness of modern man” (169).

Is there a way out of this dilemma? Robinson discusses various solutions proposed by contemporary intellectuals. The first of these, Iris Murdoch, departed from both modernism and post-modernism to embrace a metaphysical vision in which the Good is ontologically transcendent but nonetheless truly manifests itself as a reality that can be known and pursued. Murdoch’s intention of replacing God with the Good is something which neither as a novelist nor as a philosopher she is able to vindicate. Nonetheless, her project of retrieving for contemporary reflection the important ideas of transcendence and objectivity has succeeded in stimulating an important debate.

Charles Taylor, in his book The Malaise of Modernity, points out how the quintessentially modern desire for self-realisation can exceed the resources of technological and bureaucratic conceptions of existence. “Subjectivity and freedom are real goods, and they encapsulate modernity” (221). Contemporary man, freeing himself from secularizing conceptions of modernity, can therefore find room for religion; but, as Robinson points out, Taylor’s idea of religion does not always accord with historical Christianity. In a way reminiscent of Hegel, Taylor thinks that if the Christian influence upon society is to endure, the Church must relinquish its responsibilities to the state. But as Robinson points out, “It would not be cooperation but capitulation to hand over the Gospel to the state” (227).

Jacques Derrida shows how the post-modernist dissolution of stable and objective points of reference culminates in a blank canvas and, from this perspective, although the Christian narrative is among the most dominating and comprehensive, ultimately the Gospel can be considered only as “one story among many others.”

In the third part of his book, Fr. Robinson invites us “Ad coenam Agni”, examining the meaning of the Paschal Mystery and showing that a renewed awareness of God’s transcendence is necessary for both the very worship of God and to grasping the supernatural dimension of the Christian community. In retracing the significance of the paschal mystery, Robinson is able to restate what belongs essentially to the worship of God and to the Mass without getting bogged down in the difficulties about ‘sacrifice’ characteristic of modernity.

In this more practically-orientated part of his book, Robinson asks us to consider the 6th-century mystic, known to tradition as the Pseudo-Dionysius, or Dionysius the Areopagite. Through the centuries Dionysius has enjoyed a very high reputation among theologians and philosophers. Robinson’s choice of Pseudo-Dionysius is a happy one, which Benedict XVI has seemed to confirm in dedicating a general audience to exploring his significance, focusing on his “liturgical theology” according to which “God is found above all in praising him, not only in reflection, and the liturgy is not something made by us, something invented in order to have a religious experience for a certain period of time; it is singing with the choir of creatures and entering into the cosmic reality itself. And in this very way the liturgy, apparently only ecclesiastical, becomes expansive and great, it becomes our union with the language of all creatures.”

In Robinson’s exegesis, Pseudo-Dionysius places the heart of the liturgy in the sacrificial love of Christ for His people, who respond with a love that is not merely intellectual but is manifested in enacting the liturgy. Only the love of God can give birth to authentic human community, in contrast to the community conceived by Hegel, to which the value of the individual person is subordinate. In order to grasp the essence of Christian community, it is the worship of God which must be considered first and foremost. “Community costs something; and what it costs is the effort to respond to God’s call to live as he wants us to live” (290).

Now in his eighties, Father Robinson has lived through the history of the Church and her liturgy during the second half of the 20th century, “with all its hopes and its confusion” (Benedict XVI)4 and this means the perspective on things which he offers us is deeply considered. Of course the liturgy on the eve of the Second Vatican Council needed renewal, but not that hermeneutic of discontinuity which has brought “a diminishment of that ability ‘to reach out and touch the Divine’ — that was once the central thrust of the liturgy” (301). So the desire to return to “the way things used to be” (303) (or to the usus antiquior, according to the terminology established by the Holy Father,) is not due to an antiquarian passion, but to “an anguished plea for a liturgy that draws the worshipper into the hidden mysteries of God made visible in Christ” (304). What is at stake here is not harking back to a situation that even fifty years ago was perceived as needing reform, and which for many today is only a distant memory. Rather, Robinson suggests that “[t]he deformation of the liturgy has to be understood as the result of cultural and intellectual forces that will have to be recognized before anything very serious can be accomplished in the way of serious liturgical reform” (307). And so, with pastoral sensitivity, we must proceed to re-establish a liturgy that shows forth the transcendence of God, his Incarnation and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Father Robinson, whose book predates Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, adopts an unambiguous position: “I think the only way out of this morass is to move the Novus Ordo to what the Old rite in fact was: the worship of the transcendent God, through participating in the sacrifice of His Son. The role of the Old Rite in this will be to provide a standard of worship, of mystery, and of catechesis toward which the celebrations of the Novus Ordo must be moved” (313). He concludes with some practical proposals for restoring to the heart of the liturgy that adoration of God which is lacking in many celebrations today.

Fr. Robinson begins his book with some striking words from a homily by the great English theologian and Oratorian, John Henry Newman, whose beatification we shall celebrate this year: “We walk to heaven backward.” These prophetic words illuminate the path of liturgical reform traveled during the last fifty years. In retrospect, one can see clearly the choices which were right and those which were mistaken. Above all, we can in this history confirmation of the profound conviction expressed by Benedict XVI in the preface to the first volume of his Opera Omnia, entitled “The Theology of the Liturgy”, that the worship of God must take priority in the life of the Church. “When the focus is not on God, everything else loses its orientation. The words of the Benedictine rule ‘So let nothing be put before the work of God’ (43,3) apply specifically to monasticism, but as a statement of priority they are also true for the life of the Church, and of each of its members, each in his own way.”5

+ J. Augustine Di Noia, OP
Vatican City, 30 April 2010


1. Benedict XVI, “Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops on the occasion of the publication of the Apostolic Letter ‘motu proprio data’ Summorum Pontificum on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970”(July 7, 2007).

2. c.f. U.M. Lang, Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer, [Rivolti al Signore. L’orientamento della preghiera liturgica, secunda edizione, Cantagalli, Siena 2008, pp. 75-77]

3. J. Ratzinger, Davanti al Protagonista, Cantagalli, Siena 2009, pp. 79-80 [Seemingly no English edition

4. Cited only by the Pope’s name as a parenthetical note in the Italian, the reference is to the letter already cited of the the present Pope on the occasion of the 7/7/07 motu proprio.

5. Benedict XVI, “Zum Eröffnungsband meiner Schriften”, in J. Ratzinger, Theologie der Liturgie: die sakramentale Begründung christlicher Existenz (Gesammelte Schriften 11), Herder, Freiburg 2008, p. 5-6 (English translation:; c.f. “Homily for the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord” 24 December, 2009.

Public Policy through Music – Glee

Teens and a few of those in youth ministry continue to encourage me to watch an up-and-coming show called Glee – even if only to hear the talent of the actors.  So, I thought I would do some research and then watch a few episodes.

What did I find? Turns out this popular musical comedy-drama was ranked the eighth best television show of 2009 by James Poniewozik of Time commenting:

…when Glee works—which is often—it is transcendent, tear-jerking and thrilling like nothing else on TV. […] It can be a mess, but it’s what great TV should be: reckless, ambitious, heart-on-its-sleeve and, thanks especially to Jane Lynch as drill-sergeant cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, gaspingly funny. When it hits its high notes, nothing else matters.[i]

Sounds exciting.  What else… The show is enormously popular with teens and young adults.  There are even a number of adults who have succumbed to the sirens’ song.  It has amazing musical performances and is reminiscent of High School Musical. David Hinckley of the New York Daily caught my attention who commented that the target audience of Glee is teens. Sounds good. He complimented the show by likening it to the 1980’s cult-classic Porkey’s (Huh?!?) saying,

The new musical-comedy drama “Glee” dresses like “High School Musical” and has the heart of “Porky’s.”

That’s a compliment.

For those under 28, which is most of the target audience for “Glee,” “Porky’s” was a low-budget, early-’80s teen classic that seemed to sell raunch, but whose real appeal was suggesting outsiders with good hearts could beat all the jerks who had none.[ii]

Now, maybe it is me, but I feel like we cannot divorce the storyline from the story that is told.  My English professors taught me that how something is said is just as important as what is said.  They taught me that the how and what together provide a good picture of the intent and beliefs of the storyteller.

Admittedly, I must confess, as a stupid 12 year old over at a friend’s house I have seen clips of Porkey’s – and my Pastor was happy to hear my confession. Again, why do we want to subject our children to this low-brow entertainment that is not good for the soul? As you know, Porkey’s has also been associated with the introduction of mainstream smut into society. A good story line – I’ll take his word for it. The review did not win me over. I decided to ask for some help and committed to watch the season finale.

How does one look for an example of the best parts of the show? I went to the music aficionado of the family, my wife, and asked her.  It just so happens that she had pulled up on YouTube a few of the musical numbers that she enjoyed immensely.  Since Glee is a television show, we thought it was just as important to watch as well as listen and we were SORELY disappointed and frankly angered. Here is what I watched:

The Wind-up

Case in point. Children are a gift and a blessing of God the Father regardless of the manner in which the child was conceived – it is neither the child’s fault nor concern (let’s avoid the extreme situations at the moment). The latest numbers reported by the National Center of Health Statistics is that 38.5 percent, roughly 1.64 million children are born out of wedlock.[iii] Considering the present view of marriage and statistics (1 in 2 marriages fail in the United States); it is not surprising. Should we be surprised that society as a whole has become utilitarian and tends to love things and use people – all with sincerity? Probably not. But would you ever, in all sincerity, relate the birth of a child to being handed over to Beelzebub? No? That’s what Glee did.

The Pitch…a Swing and a Miss

During the Season 1 finale, Episode 22, Journey to Regionals the producers coordinated the Glee Clubs regional performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody with the onset, labor, birth and recovery of Gwen and her newborn daughter. It caught me by surprise that the producers chose to coordinate the onset of labor and the rushing into the hospital with the following lyrics,

Mama just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life has just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away

I guess I could somewhat understand for a teenage mother – even though that train of thought reduces the child to an object that is disposable and a leech.  My eyebrows raised when, as the father was being berated, he looked on with a painfully glance to the birth and the following lyric was sung:

He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity

But, most alarmingly was the music and acting associated with the birth of that beautiful gift of God. They sang, with the line,

Beelzebub has the devil put aside for me, for me, for me!

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye
So you think you can love me and leave me to die
Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here

The reference to “gotta get out” – nothing to do with the baby wanting to enter the loving and maternal embrace of Gwen. What message was just communicated to the target audience of teens and young adults? Well, you know the old saying; faith is more caught than taught.  Fact: They are hearing some rather great musical performances. Fact: They are also hearing, and we all know that music is the most effective means of teaching, that pregnancy=a life thrown away and a baby=Beelzebub handing us over to the devil himself.

Hmmm? So of course there was a happy ending right? You know, the one where the new mother sees the child and smiles, cries, hugs the child and then refuses to give the child up for adoption. Nope! This is reality television. She smiles, hugs the child and without blinking an eye or reservation says that she has no intention of keeping the child (Wait, I think I have a small tear in the corner of my eye – oh, that is a tear of disgust).


Since we are discussing childbirth, have you ever noticed that Hollywood portrays childbirth as if the mother was being drawn and quartered? Ladies, my wife had four difficult labors and births but she did not carry on like a wailing Banshee all the while dressing me down in a low guttural voice exclaiming, “Look what you have done to me!” There are many women that have challenges in their deliveries and I am sure that more than one hates their child for the pain that they had endured or the new-found stretch marks the child caused. In my house, those are the badges of the sanctity of life and the reward for being a tabernacle. But seriously, the majority of births are not like what you see on television or the movies. It is or can be a joy-filled experience and time of intimacy with your husband. The last three births of our children, we played Scrabble.

Romans 12:9

Back to the topic at hand. We who value life need to start making hard decisions about what we choose to support and fills our ears and hearts.  We also need to not check our minds at the door when listening to an artist. I am sure that I will receive a number of complaints telling me to lighten up because this is entertainment and we need something to enjoy.  I will, if you remember to avoid Rome where so many of the early martyrs were killed because they refused to tolerate that ages version of entertainment. At least the Romans were open about it and didn’t try to subversively win hearts and minds with psychological slight of hand.

Oh, by the way…the ability to have the Church Baptize in public, that is a result of their gift of intolerance. The Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. (Tertullian)

[i] Poniewozik, James (December 8, 2009). “The Top 10 Everything of 2009″. Time. Time Inc..,28804,1945379_1944142_1944160,00.html. (Retrieved July 2, 2010)

[ii] Hinckley, David (September 9, 2009). “On ‘Glee,’ sex is the keynote at musical high school in Ohio”. (Retrieved July 2, 2010)

[iii] CDC. 2006. Unmarried Childbearing. (Retrieved July 2, 2010)

The Root and Face of Relativism

Traces spoke with David Schindler, editor of the North American edition of Communio, and Academic Dean and Edouard Cardinal Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America

Edited by Michelle Riconscente

Could you explain what relativism means?
In the etymological sense, it has to do with relation, from the Latin, “refero,” to refer or carry back to. Relativism implies reference to many, not to one: there is no universal truth, only many different truths.
It’s important to see that the origin of relativism actually lies in the sin of Adam, in his refusal to obey: his failure to accept being bound to another, which is to say, his premature assertion of his own creative capacity. In the most radical sense, relativism is a refusal of being a creature and thus making oneself the creator. Insofar as you act in the way that Adam did, you’re removing the source of truth from the Other and in that act seeking to become the source yourself. The first point, then, especially if we’re going to talk about America, is that the problem of relativism is finally the problem of God, because it’s a problem of what is ultimately the single, overarching measure of things.
In ontological terms, Adam’s sin consists in the replacement of the idea that “the true and the good and the beautiful are first given with being” with the notion that “things become true and good and beautiful insofar as they are the product of human agency.” You can see how this flows from what Adam did, because Adam refused to accept the given-ness of things, of being bound to this order. That is, according to this false understanding, truth is no longer something I first receive. The good and the beautiful are no longer in the first place things that happen to me and elicit my response, but rather things take on their value first by being projections of human freedom, products or objects of human choice. Truth becomes something we first make; and if we have that view, it’s going to be relativistic, by definition, precisely because truth then is no longer relative to the single ultimate source and measure of truth. I think that that’s the core.

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