Recent News

Of Witness and the Only True Safety

Popular processions and pilgrimages are among the most beautiful Catholic practices all over the United States and the world. (I myself, along with 300 others, walked the thirty miles of an Order-of-Malta-sponsored Advent Pilgrimage from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, Florida, last weekend – about which more, much more, in the future.) These types of events have a long history and great spiritual value, properly done, because they differ from the demonstrations and marches for specific causes, important as those are. They simply witness that the Church – and God – are present in the world, not only within the walls of church buildings but in our common public life.

Of course, opponents and outright enemies of that presence don’t like it. At all. Though religious voices have a right to exist in the public square as much as secular voices, we see increasing efforts to curb religious expression, as if, by its very nature, it doesn’t belong in civil society – or is even dangerous. And that’s true not only of America, but many other places in the world.

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Having and Not Having

Years ago, I was watching some late-night television talk show (why I would do such a thing,  lying down, unless I was inert with jetlag, now escapes me). A young actress, who’d been “raised Catholic” – of course, by then “ex” – somehow started talking with the host about the Church. Which – she said – “Has something they call Black Friday” (viz., Good Friday).  The slip, which went uncorrected, was annoying. But then it struck me as a small sign that the Faith leaves a mark, even if imperfectly remembered, even on people who choose to make their way to places of gross self-indulgence, like Hollywood.

We’ve just experienced a “Black Friday,” as most Americans now call it. And on this first weekday of the new liturgical year (alas, “Cyber Monday”), I find myself wanting to leave a mark on the season, to make some Catholic New Year resolutions for Advent, which like Lent is supposed to be a time of preparation. Because a self-indulgent “Spirit of Black Friday” is everywhere now and will continue to wreak havoc in the weeks leading up to Christmas if we don’t recover or consciously inject some counter-measures into the mix.

Dr. Johnson was a wise Christian and once remarked: “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” And where labor and trade are honest, which they mostly are, he’s right.

Black Friday used to be fairly innocent – the day on which many businesses moved “into the black,” i.e., became profitable. Judge, not, and all that. Still, from a normal human point of view, Black Friday (its advertising in particular) now appears to have all the hallmarks of diabolical temptation.

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To Stay in the Fight

People often ask me: What can I do about the current state of the Church and the world? The question is urgent. The situation, dire. Even Pope Francis, who personally and through his appointments tries to avoid conflicts, has called the Church a “field hospital.” A field hospital only makes sense where there’s a battle. And a battle where combatants are seriously wounded, and need to be treated. Which requires resources, supply lines, coordinated efforts, multiple institutions, and – above all – healing knowledge. So what we need to do now is, basically, everything. All at once. Wherever we find ourselves.

In many ways, this is nothing new. Our current situation is – more obviously than usual, to be sure – a clash between the City of God and the City of Man. And in its way is actually helpful. It’s brought to light, for anyone with eyes to see, a battle that is always going on, has now spread rapidly, and allowed enemy forces to gain significant territory without a proper counteroffensive. No more.

Besides, the experiments in matters political, sexual, cultural, ecclesial are self-destructing before our very eyes. They’ll take a lot more of us with them before we can rebuild. Much that we once thought unshakeable will be shaken to the core. Which is why we have to hold such territory as we still control and plan on what to do as new opportunities present themselves.

And one of the first things necessary is not to let propaganda by the other side define the struggle or set the rules of engagement.

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Mary the Great

Who was she really? Can we even agree on what to call her? Is she Mary Magdalene or Mary Magdalen; Mary of Magdala or The Magdalene; maybe simply Madeleine?

Her proper name aside (which would have been Miryam in Hebrew or Maryamin Aramaic), we know that she was very important among the Lord’s disciples – so much so that she’s mentioned in the Gospels more often than most of the apostles.

Luke (8:2-3) tells us she “had been cured of evil spirits” and that “seven demons had gone out” of her, and Mark says so too, a detail he adds to the story of her visit to the tomb and Christ’s appearance to her in the garden after His Resurrection. When she told the apostles of the Lord’s rising, they didn’t believe her. (Mk 16:9-11)

Matthew mentions her three times (27:56 and 61 and 28:1), again in the context of Easter. And John, witness to the Crucifixion, notes that Mary Magdalene was at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary, wife of Clopas. (Jn. 19:25)

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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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