Recent News

Untimely Reflections on ‘Hate’

It’s never easy to bring unwelcome truths into the public realm. And it’s become increasingly difficult, for obvious reasons, since the advent of the Internet – to say nothing of the deep divisions we face at the start of this crazed election year. Or equally deep divisions in the Church. So, what light and steadiness can we possibly find at a moment like this in our untimely, ancient Catholic Faith?

To start, I’d suggest resisting something truly toxic that’s been little noticed: letting public and private polarization – even over matters as transitory as mere policy differences – turn into “hate.” We just observed Martin Luther King Day and there are many things about that pivotal American worth recalling in our time, perhaps nothing more urgent, however, than his warning: “Don’t let them get you to hate them.”

Crucial spiritual advice. A lot of people, whom you might expect would admire Dr. King, claim to find “hate” everywhere: “hate speech,” “preaching hate,” “hating women,” “hating blacks,” “hating LGBT.” These are clever rhetorical tropes intended to hide their own thinly disguised “hatred” towards: Christianity, pro-lifers, opponents of LGBT ideology, or of “anti-racist” racism, and much more.

Still, we have to be constantly alert to the temptation to embrace “hatred” ourselves, even as we seek to counteract evil and promote goodness and truth.  The term hatred, as it’s commonly used these days, banishes the other into the outer darkness as damnably evil. King knew that even when you’re facing monstrous evils, such hatreds might themselves become mortal sins. That it’s possible to turn yourself into the very kind of people you “hate” unless you stand careful watch over your own soul.

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Empire of Hope: A Review of ‘Cabrini’

In 1850, a small and sickly girl, the youngest of thirteen children, was born two months prematurely to a farm family in the Italian region of Lombardy. Francesca Cabrini would suffer from poor health her entire life.

When in her teens she decided to give her life to Christ, she was rejected by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, who considered her too weak to endure convent life. But she persisted and became a nun in 1877, taking the name by which we know her now: Frances Xavier Cabrini.

Years before, while visiting her uncle, Fr. Don Luigi Oldini, she placed violets into paper boats, dropped them into a stream, and imagined they carried her and other missionaries to China, where the great St. Francis Xavier had journeyed 300 years before.

When she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880, she told Pope Leo XIII of her wish to travel with her small group of Sisters to Asia to bring the Lord’s love to the suffering poor there. But the pope had a better idea and sent her to the United States.

Pope Leo expressed skepticism even of that journey and its challenges, given her weakness (a worry compounded when people met her by the fact that she was barely 5 feet tall), but she told him, “We can serve our weakness, or we can serve our purpose. We can’t do both.”

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Reality Is Greater Than Their Ideas

Last week, Pope Francis spent 40 minutes – a long time for a busy man – with representatives of DIALOP, a group that engages in Christian-Marxist “dialogue.” It was formed in 2014 after he met with some of the founders. It will probably only be remembered as a mere blip compared with much more momentous things that he’s done. But for the hundreds of millions of people who suffered and are still suffering under Communist regimes – and for many of us who worked with St. John Paul II towards the demise of the Soviet Union and other murderous Marxist outposts – the disinterment of this long-dead corpse is no small matter.

Given Marxism’s record of tyranny and death – a body count three times as great as Nazism’s (itself National Socialism) – where was the pope’s principle in Evangelii gaudium [231] that, “Realities are greater than ideas”? There are good reasons why there’s no Christian-Nazi dialogue. Why does Communism get a pass?

Even in its heyday a half-century ago, the Christian-Marxist “dialogue” did little other than weaken Christian resistance to what every modern pope has condemned as a fundamentally evil ideology. Leo XIII prophesied in Rerum novarum (1891), just a few years after Marx’s death, that if socialist ideas were “carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer.” [4]

It’s a great historical irony that it was the largely Catholic workers of Polish Solidarnośćwho lit the fuse that blew up Communism. In Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio sometimes argued that “God’s faithful people” didn’t want Marxism. But at the recent Vatican meeting, he praised the search for a kind of common humanitarian project, “instead of rigid approaches that divide, let us cultivate, with open hearts, discussion and listening.”

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The True Meaning of Christmas

This is not a sermon such as Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) gives at the end of the film The Bishop’s Wife. And no angel has intervened to write this. Not as far as I know anyhow.

But this does come from watching Christmas movies, which, for a fortnight, television featured at Christmastime. Some were sweet and charming, and others were the more “serious” Biblical narratives that span the Greatest Story from the Incarnation to the Resurrection.

A few of those Biblical epics deal only tangentially with the beginning and end of the life of Christ on earth, focusing instead on stories derived from the persecution of the early Church – films in which St. Peter is a central character, although rarely the star:

Quo Vadis, 1951 (Finlay Currie as Peter)
The Robe, 1953 (Michael Rennie), and its sequel,
Demetrius and the Gladiators, 1954 (Mr. Rennie again)
The Silver Chalice, 1954 (Loren Greene), and
The Big Fisherman, 1959 (Howard Keel).

This last is a total mess, even worse than The Silver Chalice, in which Paul Newman “starred,” a lifelong embarrassment to him. The final scene in The Big Fisherman has Peter in a boat with an Arabian princess setting sail for heaven knows where. Rome, I suppose.

Only in Quo Vadis is Peter’s martyrdom portrayed – dramatically and properly.


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By Their Fruits

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the Declaration Fiducia supplicans (FS), which says it’s possible to give “non-liturgical blessings” to people in “irregular relationships” (divorced and remarried, living together, same-sex “couples”), on December 18, 2023.  The very next day, a photograph of Fr. James Martin, S.J. blessing a same-sex “couple,” who had been civilly married some time earlier, appeared in the New York Times, though the document had warned against that kind of public attention. Ten days later, Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, who “identifies as Catholic” and was once a stout defender of marriage, cited FS for his shift to supporting same-sex marriage, saying “even the Church is changing.”

You would have to be very dense or very naïve to be surprised. Many of us predicted that this would be the result. And – only two weeks into the aftermath of this ill-conceived effort – things are just getting started.

Cardinal Fernández

It’s no surprise when political hacks or renegade clergy do whatever it is they’re inclined to do. But it’s the nature of things in an Internet age that their personal defections will have a much wider snowball effect, aided and abetted by anti-Catholic forces.

The tsunami of controversy after the publication of the Declaration mostly revolved around whether FS allowed blessings of “same-sex unions” (which it does not) or same-sex “couples” (which it does, Intro, paras 2, 31, 41). Some defenders of the document tried to claim the blessings were for “individuals” – mentioned once (para. 38), but that is not really the thrust of the whole text.

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‘The World’s Desire’

There are two, and only two, rational attitudes towards the Christmas season. One is P.G. Wodehouse’s: “It was December, and another Christmas was at our throats.” (I quote, accurately I hope, from memory). Whether it is the forced fellowship of most Christmas parties or just a sign of descent into premature curmudgeondom, each year I find myself more and more of this persuasion, as soon as Thanksgiving disappears and the real shopping craze begins.

The other attitude, which I wish I could say is more my own, may be best represented by a man criticized sometimes from the Jansenist/”Sourpuss” chorus (to invoke a sharp category of Pope Francis’s) within the Christian persuasion:

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright).

G.K. Chesterton may have smoked, drank, laughed, and enjoyed himself more than a certain type of Catholic thinks seemly. At least he was enough of a Catholic that he never tried to argue that his own religious (and other) practices should become a universal rule for the whole Church: that we should, say, try to draw out particularly uncommunicative Trappists or tell abstemious Franciscans to lighten up a little. He performed the useful service of reminding us – us weary, adult Catholics – that joy and repose either are the very heart of our faith or we may have no true faith at all.

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Are Catholic Colleges Catholic

Where has the time gone?

In 1990, when I was Literary Editor of National Review, I suggested that we do a college guide. It had the obvious title with a less obvious subtitle, “America’s Top Liberal Arts Schools.” I recruited Charles J. Sykes to help with the project. He’d recently published a fascinating book, ProfScam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education. We then recruited five conservative scholars, flew them to New York, and developed, with them, criteria for evaluating American colleges and universities. William F. Buckley Jr. wrote the Introduction.

I insisted that at the end of our endeavors, Charlie and I choose the school we’d want to attend were we 17 again. He considered the University of Chicago, University of the South, and St. John’s College (the 2-campus liberal arts school), opting for the last. I titled my squib, “Somewhere in Indiana,” and made the case for Wabash College and Notre Dame, opting for the Irish.

The second edition of the book came out exactly 40 years ago. My, how things have changed!

Of course, the term “politically correct” was very much in the air in the 1990s, so prophetic commentators might have seen our current (then future) madness coming, although even the most Isaiah-like seer couldn’t have imagined the extent to which higher education would become subordinated to indoctrination. Transgenderism? Really?

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‘The Only Truth on Earth’

Since Last Friday, we’ve had a remarkable string of feasts: the Immaculate Conception, St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, Pope St. Damasus I (who reshaped the Western Church by asking St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin and by turning the liturgical language to Latin from Greek), St. Lucy (today), St. John of the Cross (tomorrow, one of the greatest mystics the world has ever seen). But above all, yesterday, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Guadalupe, of course, has great significance for us in the Americas; not least because it had the unprecedented effect of converting, with astounding speed, virtually a whole continent.

It’s never happened elsewhere in Christian history. In the end, it’s a mystery of God’s grace. But Sophia Institute Press has just published an illuminating account by Joseph Julián González and Monique González, Guadalupe and the Flower World Prophecy: How God Prepared the Americas for Conversion Before the Lady Appeared. In short, as the subtitle indicates, there was a kind of preparatio evangelica going on in Meso-American cultures for thousands of years before the arrival of the missionaries who accompanied the Spanish explorers.

Guiding native peoples into Catholicism was difficult, as the missionaries quickly discovered. At first contact, there was enough cultural material present on both sides to put the two cultures at least on reasonable speaking terms. But there were few converts. It took a divine spark to jump the gap between very different peoples and bring what seemed impossible divisions into fruitful harmony.

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Of Pilgrimages and Synodality

It could almost be a riddle: What’s the difference between a pilgrimage and synodality? Almost. There’s a long, legitimate place for synods in the life of the Church (“synodality,” by contrast, is quite a different and doubtful thing, since no one seems to be able to say what it is, or isn’t, other than more people talking). So, there need not be an opposition, much less a division, between a synod and the equally legitimate – and even longer – tradition of pilgrimage. But nota bene: in this man’s view, if you want real “walking together,” it’s best found on foot, body and soul on the way together – in the midst of God’s Creation – rather than sitting and talking, for hours, days, weeks, a month around tables in a large conference hall.

A pilgrimage has the further advantage of  a journey to a specific destination for a clear purpose, not a perpetual “process.” Jesus, Mary, and Joseph made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem together at least once (that we know of) when the boy Jesus was lost and later found in the Temple with the learned rabbis. (Luke 2:41-49) In His day, Jewish men – following an already centuries-old tradition – were supposed to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year (Passover, Pentecost, Sukkoth). That’s what he was also doing when He presented Himself to be crucified.

People go on pilgrimage for all sorts of reasons. Besides the Jews, even ancient Greeks and Romans made pilgrimages to places like Delphi or Epidaurus (the Lourdes of the classical world). There’s Mecca, of course, for Muslims.  And Buddhist and Hindu sites all over Asia. There’s something about this impulse to leave home – not permanently, but on a journey that will take you to a “home” of a different order than the everyday one, from which – if all goes well – you bring back something that enhances, even reveals unsuspected depths in your ordinary dwelling place.

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Most Unkindest Cuts: a review of ‘Journey to Bethlehem’

Director Adam Anders has made Journey to Bethlehem, a singing-and-dancing version of the Infancy Narrative in Luke’s Gospel, that seems like a remake of Disney’s Aladdin, although less like the 1992 animated version, in which the genie was exuberantly voiced by Robin Williams, and more like the 2019 live-action version with Will Smith as a joyless jinni.

Journey to Bethlehem is a wholly non-sectarian re-telling of events culminating in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and it includes some questionable interpolations about how that all went down. Of course, every film about the birth of our Lord has taken poetic license. In fact, as the end credits roll, we read: “While taking some creative license, the filmmakers strive to remain true to the message of the greatest story ever told.”

Mr. Anders, the Swedish music producer behind the TV series Glee, wrote Journey to Bethlehem with Peter Barsocchini, whose most famous credits are (speaking of Disney) the three very popular High School Musical films. Anders’ wife, Nikki, is lyricist. These good people probably have the pulse of teenagers as well as any filmmakers do.

But Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice wrote more interesting music and lyrics for Aladdin (as did Mr. Rice with Andrew Lloyd Webber for Jesus Christ Superstar).

The story begins, in Shakespearean style, with the prattle of fools – in this case the three magi. Balthazar has seen the star through his (anachronistic) telescope (the first was invented in the 17th century), and he shows Gaspar. Together they run to tell Melchior, who thinks about nothing but food. But he knows where they need to go: Judah.

“Are you certain?” Balthazar asks. “Those are King Herod’s lands.”

“You, don’t insult me!” Melchior says sharply to Balthazar and then to Gaspar, “You, get me a kebab!”

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