Recent News

On Judging Others – Wrongly, and Rightly

Jesus said (Matthew 7:1): “Judge not lest ye be judged.” And many people since, including many Christians catechized by modern culture, have translated this to mean that the whole law and the prophets – indeed, the whole teaching of Christianity, is that Christians should simply refrain from assessing what others are and do. Especially, it seems, if what they are and do contradicts Christianity. It’s devilish madness, of course. And even as a matter of sheer logic, so obviously impossible and self-contradictory, that it’s hard to believe such nonsense has become so widely accepted as the very essence of what it means to be Christian.

And yet it has. And has been reinforced – intentionally or not – even within the Church. It’s become tiresome to have to point out how even the current pope and others close to him feed these confusions. But let us gird up our loins and, once again, try to make sense about this crucial matter.

The root of the recent problem began, of course, with the pope’s infamous remark – “Who am I to judge?” – on a plane back from Brazil early in his pontificate. A reporter asked about Battista Ricca, a prelate with a notoriously homosexual past in Uruguay, whom Francis had just appointed as director of the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where the pope has chosen to live. (Francis’s remark actually wasn’t a judgment about homosexuality in general. It was – properly – conditional: “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”)

The smart-aleck response to “Who am I to judge?,” however, has been given for all time: “Who do you need to be?” And anyway, the reporter hadn’t asked what Francis thought about homosexuality. If you’re the pope, you’re the one who has to decide who is suitable, and not, for many sensitive positions serving God’s faithful people in the Church – like the place where you and many of your colleagues will be living. You’re not, at the moment, being asked about someone’s eternal destiny. So why pivot to a current cliché?

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An Insufficient Truth

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was the Swiss psychoanalyst and founder of Analytical Psychology whose contributions to the field may end up being more lasting (and closer to the truth) than those of his mentor, friend, and antagonist Sigmund Freud. Both men believed sexual development is important, but Jung thought human personality was notdriven by the libido to the extent Freud insisted it was. Jung saw a spiritual purpose in human life.

His work was influenced by his Christian upbringing, and he was among the few Christians in the first generation of psychologists.

I am fascinated by what Jung said about the “death of God” in modern culture, which he believed was at the heart of the modernist/nihilist project: it means not that God is rejected entirely but that He has descended into the subconscious. Maybe that’s a recapitulation of the Crucifixion and entombment of Christ. So, if Jung was right, we may suppose what happens next: a resurrection.

Yet when a friend converted to Catholicism, Jung wrote to him, “I am for those who are out of the Church.” I have the sense that this may have also been true – so far anyway – of the contemporary Jungian psychologist, Jordan Peterson (author of 12 Rules for Life), whose wife, Tammy, entered the Catholic Church this past Easter. Whether or not Jordan will follow remains an open question, but he should.

I believe Dr. Peterson may be a transitional figure. At the very least, he is – through his enormously popular books and lectures – leading many young men to reconsider the role the Bible can play in helping them improve their lives. But Peterson is also transitional because he is (or certainly seems to be) a man in transition, and to get where he is headed may require a break with Jung.

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About that ‘Personal Relationship with Jesus’

It’s a good idea, of course, that “personal relationship” with Jesus. It works itself around any number of contemporary roadblocks to the faith. Which is unusual for Christian truths in current conditions. But without some other, very good, ideas, the personal relationship turns into a very bad idea.

Because if, as in most of the “relationships” we have these days, we limit what transpires between us and Him only to what we’re willing to agree to, we’re not in a personal relationship with Jesus. We’re in a toxic relationship with our own egos, a cocoon we create for our own comfort, but which, ironically, is one of the deepest reasons for our current unease.

The whole problem can be seen by asking a simple question: Which Jesus are we supposed to have that relationship with, anyway?

  • The Jesus of the Scriptures and Early Church Fathers
  • The Byzantine Pantocrator
  • The Mystic Lamb of the Ghent Altarpiece
  • The Da Vinci Salvator Mundi
  • The Reformation Christ of sola fide and sola Scriptura
  • The Enlightenment rationalist Jesus (miracles optional)
  • The early modern, liberal Protestant, or Social Gospel Jesus
  • The countercultural hippie Jesus of the 1960s
  • The Marxist guerilla Jesus of liberation theology
  • The Cosmic Christ of Teilhard
  • The Rahnerian Jesus of “anonymous Christians”
  • The prosperity gospel Jesus
  • The uncertain, terminally debatable, and mutually contradictory figures conjured up by the historical/critical scripture scholars?

If these seem too tied to other times and places, we’ve now gotten the todos, todos, todos Jesus, who loves us all just the way we are – well, not exactly all, equally, more LGBT+ and other “irregulars” than the rigid, the backwardist, the Latin-lovers. This Jesus doesn’t (formally) change His teachings, but can swiftly turn previously unchallenged Catholic practicesby 180° – with far-reaching implications about the teaching at some future date.

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Snippets: Ethan Hawke’s Biopic about Flannery O’Connor

In Wildcat, the recent film by Ethan Hawke based on the life and work of Flannery O’Connor, one hopes to see, you know, Flannery O’Connor’s life. But Mr. Hawke mostly gives us her writing instead – and only snippets at that – dramatizations from her novels or short stories that come across as scenes students might perform in classes at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City.

It’s mostly talk with little action.

Hawke might have given us more of Wildcat’s best scene in which Flannery (played by Maya Hawke, the director’s daughter) is surrounded by intellectuals, including poet Robert Lowell (Philip Ettinger) and writer Elizabeth Hardwick (Willa Fitzgerald). The subject of the Eucharist comes up and Hardwick inanely says it’s a lovely symbol, to which O’Connor replies, “If it’s a symbol, then the hell with it.” And she evangelizes the highbrows, eviscerating their dismissal of the Real Presence.

Innovative creativity is always risky, and Mr. Hawke has taken a big risk in choosing notto make a classic biopic. In Wildcat, a subtle mention of an O’Connor story title in a biographical scene morphs into a dramatic “excerpt” from the story itself, sometimes effectively, as in an interracial confrontation from “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” or less effectively in “Parker’s Back,” when Miss Hawke provides voiceover narration for the absentminded Parker’s tractor collision with a tree, which has the effect of being the audio equivalent of title cards in a silent movie.

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Europe’s Elections: Right, But Not Far

It’s worth paying careful attention to the significant gains recently by so-called “hard right” parties in the European elections. They tell us something not only about a whole group of kindred nations at this juncture in history, but also about what may happen this November in the United States as well. On the whole, it’s good news that resistance has grown to the progressive juggernaut, which is most conspicuous by the rainbow flags that have sprouted all over the world. That “hard left” movement has been a far greater “threat to democracy” than its opponents, and the threat goes well beyond homosexual and trans questions to many other matters of culture, nationhood, and religion.

Pope Francis and several European bishops have repeatedly warned against the “sirens of populism” and “simplistic solutions” to problems like massive illegal immigration – and the many disorders that inevitably follow. But Sweden – Sweden! – has become the rape capital of Europe, and experiences on average three stabbings a day, a bombing every other day, to say nothing of less spectacular troubles. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that maybe something’s wrong with soft immigration policies – to say nothing of the whole post-Christian guilt complex about welcoming the stranger or wanting to preserve national identity.

Sweden is hardly alone in experiencing such problems. Under the circumstances, simplistic solutions – like border walls, incarceration for criminals, and swift deportations – indeed, any real solutions at all, start to look better and better to people in dozens of nations compared to the status quo.

The pope and many bishops – in America as well – tend to view the migrant problems through a very narrow lens, as if even having a border-control policy is basically contrary to the Gospel.  Prior to COVID, America was admitting 2 million legal immigrants a year, odd for a supposedly xenophobic nation. Europe, too, had allowed large influxes of legal migrants. Blaming developed countries for not admitting even more, and then blaming them again because they can’t integrate the huge numbers they’ve taken in – as many churchmen do – those are the simplistic solutions based in a kind of religious fundamentalism.

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Pope Francis’ Truly Shocking Remark

No, it wasn’t his comment to the Italian bishops about frociaggine (“faggotry”), homosexual cliques in seminaries, which the Vatican felt required a semi-apology. Nor the subsequent remark to young priests about gossip being “a women’s thing.” (Apology, probably, to come.)  Forget calling conservatives “suicidal” (and any apology). Not even the stark “No” he pronounced during his CBS interview with Norah O’Donnell when she asked whether women will ever be deacons or have some other ordained status in the Church.
The truly shocking thing he said was lost amid the usual “culture war” issues. It came, instead, when he gave the reason why he has not and cannot authorize the blessing of “irregular couples.” (CBS transcript, 27:32) Many Catholics and others aren’t so sure he hasn’t done so with Fiducia supplicans. Most African bishops rejected the document. The Orthodox made public statements about it harming ecumenical relations. But Francis said, and on network television to millions, that he can only bless individuals not those couples because, “The Lord made it that way.” (El Señor lo hizo así.)
He made this truly shocking remark quickly, in passing, almost under his breath. No one has much noticed. But the whole of Catholicism stands – or falls – with those six (original, cinco) words. Either what we believe and what we believe we are supposed to do correspond to what God, the Creator and Lord of the cosmos, ordained eternally, or we’re just following what the media think of as Church “policies,” which can be altered – as they are in secular politics – by pressure groups and leaders’ shifting opinions.
The liberal media weren’t prepared to hear that and, as a result, didn’t.  If they had, it might have raised an even more ferocious outcry than all the controversies of this papacy combined.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Sociology is the softest of the sciences – according to sociological surveys – and its practitioners, with noteworthy exceptions, largely lean – and more than lean – Left. Which may explain why a recent New York Times essay seems puzzled and not a little irritated by the fact, noted by the sociologists, that conservatives are measurably happier (and have been for half a century) than liberals in our radically rabid era. Their explanations tend towards the judgment that conservative happiness may be deplorable – for instance, that conservatives are (allegedly) less troubled than their liberal counterparts by inequality and injustice in the world. But it doesn’t take much insight into human existence to see that, on the question of happiness, the sociological dogs may be barking up several wrong sociological trees.

Let’s stipulate at the outset that, to a reflective mind, it’s not immediately evident what it means to be conservative or liberal. Pope Francis recently remarked in his CBS interview that conservatism is “a suicidal attitude,” characterizing conservatives as people whose hearts are “closed up inside a dogmatic box.” The world is wide, and it may indeed contain such strange creatures. But that rather illiberal judgment doesn’t come within a country mile of the vast majority of persons – inside or outside the Church – whom a sociologist would classify as a conservative.

Meanwhile, recent surveys show that almost all younger priests in the United States and large majorities in Germany (!) are what the pope would doubtless regard as conservative without showing any signs of clinging to the past and failing to engage the present. In fact, for many of us, their resistance to many currents in the world offers a viable shelter while the world – especially the Western world – seems hell-bent on suicide.

But for the sake of a manageable argument, let’s say that the sociologists have a street-level understanding of who counts as a conservative. And for the same reason, let’s accept that what they mean by such a person being happier than liberals is also – in ordinary, everyday terms – an adequate description. The reasons for this, however, seem to lie elsewhere than usually thought.

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‘Sacred Service’ at the National WWI Museum

“A good chaplain is as valuable as a good general.”
– British field marshal Sir Douglas Haig, 1915

Growing up in Worthington, Ohio, Memorial Day was always accompanied – as where was it not – by a parade down High Street that included veterans, our high school band, some active-duty servicemen, and lots of spectators.

There were many WWII-era soldiers, Marines, and sailors in our town, and a few veterans of World War I too.

My memories are vivid of flags on veteran graves at Walnut Grove Cemetery and of band members in their full, fall uniforms, especially one 80+-degree day, on which occasion a clarinet player collapsed from heat exhaustion after the mile-long parade.

That cemetery is always the parade’s terminus (1300 veterans are buried there). A trumpeter always steps forward to play “Taps.”

These days the band members wear shorts and t-shirts, and the procession is followed by medical personnel – and plenty of water.

A diminishing number of WWII vets remain among us, but the last American veteran of WWI, Frank Buckles, died on February 27, 2011 – at the tender age of 110.

And it’s CPL Buckles’ war, the Great War, I want to discuss today, in thoughts prompted by a remarkable exhibit at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

Sacred Service, which opened this past Thursday, presents stories about (and artifacts from) chaplains who ministered to soldiers between 1914 and 1918. All images herein are from the exhibit.

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Unmaking a Mess

faithful Catholic finds him or herself in a complicated situation these days. It’s not just the age-old opposition from “the world.” Too many people, including Catholics in the pews and even in the Vatican, now seem to think that the world’s opposition arises because of something we’ve done wrong – e.g., offending LGBT activists or actually believing what’s been revealed by God. Or, in line with the Church’s longstanding cultivation of our God-given capacities, we stubbornly insist on the truths discoverable by the interplay of Faith and Reason.

By contrast, a Certain Person warned us from the beginning: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) And there’s a clear reason for this: “it hates Me, because I testify that its works are evil.” (John 7:7)

It’s a troubling feature of the postmodern condition that talk of Good and Evil is regarded as “simplistic” by many people, even – the horror! – judgmental. At least when Christians are concerned.  Yet at the same time, our culture is full of very poorly formulated, but quite absolute, condemnations of people judged to be engaged in evils like racism, sexism, patriarchy, “colonialism,” Western civilization, transphobia, Islamophobia – all usually regarded as, in some vague way, connected to traditional Christianity.

Untangling this mess of half-truths and outright fictions presents one of the greatest challenges to Christian life in our time – an urgent task, not just for the scholars but for all of us on a daily basis. Jesus was not afraid to speak of Good and Evil – as valid distinctions for all people in every place at all times. He didn’t think that there was liberation or sophistication in speaking of “my truth” and “your truth” as the most up-to-date marker of your personal dignity, as if there were no overarching common and real Truth.

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‘Keane’ on Rupnik

Father Marko Rupnik’s work reminds me of the art attributed to Walter Keane, the American artist who was popular in the 1960s. His paintings of big-eyed girls and women, and of animals remain enduringly popular on posters, prints, and plates.

Keane and Rupnik are also alike in being frauds. In Keane’s case, he took credit for work actually painted by his wife, Margaret. In Rupnik’s case, the fraud was more moral and canonical; he’s been credibly accused of being a serial fornicator and a kind of spiritual rapist.

We could categorize the artistic work of both Keane and Rupnik as “Naïve.”

That term is defined by the Tate – London’s leading museum of modern art – as “simple, unaffected and unsophisticated. . .art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy.” This doesn’t mean Naïve art cannot be great. Among the artists lumped into the category are Henri Rousseau and Anna Mary Robertson, aka “Grandma” Moses.

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