Recent News

We’ve Got Issues – and They’re Cosmic

I’ve been re-reading St. Augustine’s City of God lately, both for the TCT course I’m teaching this Fall but also because it’s the most insightful – and influential – Catholic meditation on religion and politics. We have an election tomorrow, too – as you may have heard – in which various parties now seem to have a vested interest in claiming that what’s really at stake is an existential “threat to democracy.”

I don’t believe that for a moment – at least in the short run – though you’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to be troubled by the many deep crises we face, not least the continuing massacre of the innocents in abortion (and the scientific lying needed to rationalize it), our vicious identity politics cum cancel culture, and the grooming and mutilation of our children by sexual ne’er-do-wells.

To say nothing of a false understanding of America itself, which is not a pure democracy anyway, but a constitutional republic, because the Founders knew that, historically, bare popular majorities, by a strange paradox, often bring about tyrannies.

You should make every effort necessary to vote, if you haven’t already, for whomever you believe will best respond to those and many other challenges because all these things matter. And because any one of our current crises could put us on the road to ruin.

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What’s Said, What’s Communicated

Earlier this week, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who heads the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities noted that in a recent speech President Biden said, “Here’s the promise I make to you and the American people: The first bill that I will send to Congress [after the mid-term elections in November] will be to codify Roe v. Wade.” Lori rightly responded, “This single-minded extremism must end, and we implore President Biden to recognize the humanity in preborn children and the genuine life-giving care needed by women in this country.”

One of the central features of our new digital media environment is that there are immediate and obvious differences between what’s said and what gets communicated. Most politicians, of course, will say almost anything at a given moment to get votes, even if they know they’ll never act on their words. Biden, who long ago sold large swaths of his Catholic soul for advancement in the Democratic Party, was urging “the base” to work to hold Congress if they want the return of a federal license to kill babies in the womb.

It won’t work and Biden – or at least his handlers – must know it’s a sign of desperation to make that promise. Still, they communicated a continuing commitment to the abortion radicals. That “extremism,” as Archbishop Lori rightly called it, is already baked into certain segments of the voting public. Polls show that the Dobbs decision initially energized Democrats and some independents, but has receded as a main driver in next month’s elections.

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A Piecemeal Vatican III?

Our reading today is from the Book of Benedict XVI (A Life: Volume Two), in which he recounts to biographer Peter Seewald what often happened, even during the great decades of St. John Paul II’s papacy: “Whenever I went to Germany in the 1980s or 1990s. . .I always knew the questions in advance. They were about the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and similar problems, which kept coming back.”

Some things never change. The German synod alone is testimony to that, but the phenomenon now extends far beyond Germany. Benedict’s own greatness shows in his refusal to just accept the situation: “If we let ourselves be caught up in these discussions, then the Church becomes fixed on just a small number of rules or prohibitions. We stand there like moralists with a few old-fashioned views, and the real greatness of the faith does not appear at all.” [Emphasis added.]

Words very much worth keeping in mind now that Pope Francis has announced that he’s adding an extra year to the Synod on Synodality: “The fruits of the synodal process under way are many, but so that they might come to full maturity, it is necessary not to be in a rush.” The process was supposed to culminate in October 2023 with a month-long meeting of the bishops in Rome. There will now be a second bishops’ meeting in October 2024.

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Two Masses

My wife and I were in New Orleans recently, a Thursday to Monday trip that included two parties in celebration of the wedding of two friends. We ate too much.

But on Sunday I went to Mass.

St. Patrick’s Church on Camp Street is not the prettiest church in NOLA on the outside, although it’s very imposing. Inside, it’s stunning. I was there for the 9:15 Tridentine Mass. I became a Roman Catholic in 1973, and this was just the third Latin Mass I’ve attended in those nearly fifty years. The first was a friend’s funeral in 1998. The second was a decade later in the church I now attend, and I don’t think Latin has been heard there since – not in the liturgy anyway. There’s been some in the occasional homily (we have learned priests).

I’m linking to a video of the Traditional Latin Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s in May by our friend, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke. [Note: It’s long.] It will give you an idea of how beautifully Fr. William Farge, S.J. and the St. Patrick’s staff do the TLM.

And what I saw and heard on October 9th was truly stunning: Three priests in birettas; I counted sixteen altar servers; the choir was superb; many of the women and girls wore mantillas, and most of the men were well-dressed; the large church was nearly at capacity. This is clearly a thriving parish community committed to the TLM.

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So What’s to Fear?

Many people have been puzzled by the Synod on Synodality – the “walking together” that seems to have some figures in the Vatican (and their immediate allies) highly enthused, but almost no one else. Even many of the Cardinals assembled from every continent in consistory a month ago at the Vatican were still asking what “synodality” means, after over a year of “national level” consultations. We may now have some answers in remarks by two, very different, Cardinals.

Cardinal Mario Grech – secretary general of the Synod of Bishops – recently explained to the Church’s Leadership Roundtable that when it comes to controversies such as divorced and remarried Catholics being given Communion or same-sex couples receiving a blessing:

What has the Church to fear if these two groups within the faithful are given the opportunity to express their intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience? Might this be an opportunity for the Church, to listen to the Holy Spirit, speaking through them also.

He has also said that, whether Latin Mass goers or LGBTQ+, “everybody should be listened to” and “nobody is excluded.”

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Reading Augustine’s ‘City of God’. . .and More

In 410 A.D., the Visigoths invaded and sacked Rome, causing great destruction and widespread loss of life. Foreign armies had not entered the city of Rome in almost 700 years, and people began looking for someone to blame. And as has often happened in varying circumstances throughout history, they tried to blame Christians for having replaced the worship of the pagan gods – who allegedly had protected the city – with the Christian God. Christians were also criticized for promoting the softer virtues, like forgiveness and charity, rather than the military power that had made Rome the greatest empire in the world.

St. Augustine was the bishop of Hippo in North Africa at the time and was greatly shaken by the news. It’s hard for us to appreciate the shock people felt at an event so many centuries ago, but it was something like what many Americans experienced at the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Like those more recent attacks, the sack of Rome not only changed life for people at the time, but gave rise to large-scale historical consequences – and new ideas.

St. Augustine was not only deeply shocked by the destruction in the city; he was also greatly moved to respond to the slanders against the Faith and to lay out the Christian view of history. It took him sixteen years to write, but the result is a massive, wide-ranging, and profound work of Christian apologetics – The City of God – which is not only about the sack of Rome, but about the relationship between the sacred and the secular, the Church and the Empire, the two “Cities” – the City of God spread out between Heaven and Earth, and the City of Man which tries to live without God. And much more.

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A New Sign of Our Times

If exit polls hold, yesterday Italy elected its first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. The usual liberal voices will not be celebrating. Normally, Italian elections are of little interest. Since 1945, there have been seventy Italian governments – almost one a year, which might suggest instability. But Italians often say that the system is too stable. General elections just reshuffle members of the political class, which rarely change very much. Except maybe this time. A populist Italian prime minister (“extreme right,” “neo-fascist” in the mainstream media, of course) will have significant repercussions for Europe and America, and even the Catholic Church.

A prominent Italian theologian, now living in the United States has argued recently that Meloni’s election may “hurt Francis”: “The campaign has been vulgar and trashy, and all of the substantial issues – from the war in Ukraine to climate change – have been ignored.”

This account of “all the substantial issues,” like much political analysis these days, leaves out a lot. Namely, questions that daily concern most Italians – like crime, out-of-control inflation, and illegal immigration – in a country struggling economically and bewildered, as many Western nations are, by radical social changes, making their country unrecognizable to many citizens.

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On the great Good Way

I’ve been a pilgrim for the past two weeks in Portugal and Spain – and that place of prophetic miracle, Fatima – on the via Portuguesa. The Devil likes to play his little tricks when something good is about to happen. So before our Camino even started, the airline lost my luggage – with most of my walking gear and all my formal wear – in Rome, where I was covering the recent consistory. (The bag re-appeared at my home a few days ago, the night before I returned – infernal mockery.) One of our group discovered an expired passport right before departure, miraculously replaced in time by the interventions of several canny Catholics. But on pilgrimage, you commit yourself to dealing with whatever arises for the sake of the ultimate goal. Under the Mercy, we did.

I intended to write en route – and appreciate the messages from those of you worried over my absence. But writing about a pilgrimage – especially for someone whose everyday business is words – is not to be on pilgrimage. Even now, I’m a bit reluctant writing about the experience. Someday I may resurrect my notes here, or save them for – ahem – my Confessions. For now, though, a few reflections.

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Hidden Art

There are several reasons why a work of art owned by a museum is not on display: there is no room for it in already crowded galleries; the work is in some way too fragile to display; the artist or the subject are judged not of appeal in the moment; the work itself requires so much display space that it may be shown only very occasionally.

An example of this last reason is the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ by James Tissot. The 350 watercolor paintings are somewhere in the bowels of the Brooklyn Museum and, to my knowledge, have rarely been brought together in their entirety. For a couple of months in 2009 and 2010, the museum did put on a show of 124 of the paintings, but now Tissot’s great series is in storage.

I wasn’t aware of this when my younger son and I went to the Museum in 2017, and, as I bought our tickets, I asked the woman at the desk where we could find the Tissot paintings.

“Oh, we don’t have that here,” she said.

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‘Mother Teresa: No Greater Love’: a Review

In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton relates an encounter with his friend and fellow Columbia University student, Bob Lax. Merton had recently converted to Catholicism and told  Lax he wanted to be a good Catholic. Lax shook his head. “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

True, but easier said than done – evidence of which might be Fr. Merton himself – assuming he really wanted to be a saint.

Better is Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu’s way: abandonment to the will of God. That’s why she’s Saint Mother Teresa. It’s not what you say, but what you do.

Her life, with its successes and struggles, is the subject of a new docudrama directed by David Naglieri, Mother Teresa: No Greater Love, which will premiere with screenings by Fathom Events on October 3rd and 4th

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