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They Also Serve

An intelligent woman who has studied iconography with another intelligent woman (who happens to be my wife) was recently in Florence. An art historian by training, she was lecturing on and revisiting the old Catholic masterworks there, long-time objects of affection. Many were produced during the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation in order to reinforce Catholic belief and combat the Protestant revolt. (Elizabeth Lev has a fine book, How Catholic Art Saved the Faith, on this subject.)

But this trip, she was especially aware of the even older, rich, pre-Renaissance, Eastern-inspired icons and similar works in the city, which she hadn’t noticed during multiple earlier trips. There’s a lesson here for those of us caught up in – otherwise quite crucial – polemics and activism: We often suffer from limited connection with our richer tradition. And we need to remedy that narrowness, even for the sake of practical action. Because as a Catholic should realize, we are in a struggle not only over Church practices and public policies; we are in a battle, as St. Paul says, with diabolical principalities and powers.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Immediacy of Mark: Pakaluk’s “Memoirs of St. Peter”

In 1981, an older publishing colleague took me to the Playhouse Theater in Manhattan to see the English actor Alec McCowen in a revival of his one-man show, St. Mark’s Gospel: McCowen on stage, no props or scenery save a table upon which he placed a paperback copy of the Gospel (saying with a wink, “Just in case . . .”), and in about an hour and forty-five riveting minutes recited all 11,304 words. McCowen described Mark’s writing as moving “with wonderful speed from event to event,” and of Mark (as author) that he “constructed his Gospel with the skill of a great dramatist.”

Michael Pakaluk, a regular contributor to The Catholic Thing and a professor at the Catholic University of America, does something similar in his new book, The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark. Professor Pakaluk provides not only a thrilling new rendering of the ancient Greek text but also provides lively scholarship in the commentary that follows his translation of Mark’s sixteen chapters.

Prior translators of the Bible have tended to level out Koine Greek verb forms as a way, by their lights, of making Scripture more understandable. Since everything recorded in the Bible happened in the past, nearly everything we read there should be stated in the past tense. The Bible as history.

But that’s not necessarily the way it was actually written.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Abuse Summit: It’s Only the Beginning

February is not high tourist season in Rome. Skies are gray and temperatures low. St. Peter’s Square is relatively empty. But journalists filled the nearby Press Office earlier this week – more, according to one veteran, than since the death of St. John Paul II –because of the summit on the sex abuse crisis, which begins this evening with meetings between abuse survivors and participants, and continues Thursday through Saturday with formal sessions, parts of which will be streamed on the Vatican website. A video of the opening press briefing with remarks by Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop Scicluna, and other key figures is available by clicking here.

To be frank, it’s hard to say why so many journalists are here since no one, including Church spokesmen, expects that anything very dramatic will happen over the next few days – at least not in the formal sessions. What happens outside and around them, however, may be a different matter.

When the summit was announced last September, partly because of papal missteps in handling abuse cases in Chile, it seemed that the Church was going to take some large steps forward. There have been many smaller steps for years in many places around the world, everything from easier reporting mechanisms to better human formation in seminaries to the unprecedented laicization last weekend of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Expectations ran high, not least because the Holy Father asked the American bishops, during their annual November meeting, not to vote on ways to hold bishops accountable – whether they are abusers themselves, like McCarrick, or covered up abuse by people under their authority. They were told to wait until a uniform approach could be developed in February when many of the presidents of bishops’ conferences and heads of religious orders would gather together in Rome.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s reports on the sex-abuse summit at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Problem of Worldly Art

Here’s a question: How much secular culture can you live with and enjoy, without becoming an unwitting secularist? I mean: functionally not Catholic.

I admit I don’t know. Recent history clearly shows the inexorable flow of the worst of secular culture, like lava from Kilauea, is scorching traditional Judeo-Christian life. You know what I mean; no need to recite a litany of profane outrages.

Anyway, my concern is with how a devout Catholic may watch and listen and even appreciate contemporary arts and culture without succumbing to embedded premises antithetical to faith.

Of course, we must always remember the faith and its transforming power. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) And we’re all sinners. Remember too that Christ ate and drank with “those” people. The folks at Levi’s banquet (Luke again: 5:29-39) are pretty much the ones who today churn out much of what passes for popular culture: Hollywood, Madison Avenue and other parts of New York – and the rest of these United States.

The sludge is pervasive. You feast on the Super Bowl or the World Series and you’ll get extra helpings of woke-ness and immorality that, if you’re not steeled against it, can ruin the games and, slowly, slowly your life too.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Mueller Manifesto

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller published a “Manifesto of Faith” (see here) last week. Actually, it was leaked prematurely by a Polish group. The Manifesto was supposed to appear yesterday, the eve of the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s announcement of his resignation, which also happens to be the eve of the anniversary of Mueller’s ordination, both anniversaries falling on February 11, i.e., today.

Like everything Mueller has published since Pope Francis removed him from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it’s rich in a multitude of ways, though it is only four pages long. Many people have been asking him to clarify Catholic teachings that have seemed to be in doubt in recent years. So, in an indirect way, we finally have responses to the Dubia presented to the pope, which Francis chose not to answer.

The Manifesto addresses the pope’s seeming indifferentism in the recent declaration he signed with Muslims claiming that God wills a plurality of religions. As Mueller points out, the Trinitarian revelation of the Gospels “marks a fundamental difference in the belief in God and the image of man from that of other religions,” even the other monotheistic faiths. And this is crucially important for our understanding not only of God, but ourselves.

The Church is an integral part of God’s special plan because it “conveys with the authority of Christ the divine revelation, which extends to all the elements of doctrine, ‘including the moral teaching, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, and observed.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2035)

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Things I Refer To

Getting out of bed the other day, I moaned.

Why am I sore?

Then I reminded myself, “Not sore, just old.”

And as the body begins to creak, the mind begins to leak, so I’ve begun both to do more vigorous physical exercise and to write things down. I can’t remember everything, of course, and as Cardinal Newman wrote, “We must make up our minds to be ignorant of much, if we would know anything.”

Anyway, my forgetting isn’t dementia, just aging – although nobody has measured the beta-amyloid deposits, hippocampal neurofibrillary tangles, or neuritic plaques in my brain.

It began with my Norma Shearer problem. She was a luminous beauty and a fine actress, and when first I saw her in Marie Antoinette (1938), I said to myself, This is an unforgettable actress. Yet for some mysterious reason, I seemed never able to recall her name. I would think of her, visualize her, and name her movies and recall her first husband (Irving Thalberg), but for the life of me I couldn’t dredge up her name. Funny, huh? Well, no.

And so, I started a computer document: “Things I Refer to.” I considered dubbing it “Things I Can’t Remember” but that seemed wrong, given that what I actually can’t remember can’t be listed, and because my concern is for things I do remember in part(faces but not names): of people I sometimes like to write or talk about. As far as I’m concerned, the rest of what I can’t remember is a pack of sleeping dogs. Norma is my alpha.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Our Tribal Warfare

We have already all heard enough – and more than enough – about the Covington Catholic boys involved in one of the morality plays that social media these days conjure up instantly, out of thin air. White Catholic boys wearing MAGA hats, marching in Washington to end abortion, from a “prep” school in the South? They just had to be racists and smugly affirming “white privilege.” And don’t forget: denying women reproductive rights.

So what, in reality, began near the Lincoln Memorial as an attack on the boys by Black Hebrew activists calling them “faggots” and worse (it’s on the tape); followed by the encounter with an Indian activist that (again to judge by the full tape) shows no more than some confused interaction, pointing to absolutely nothing; we have, once again, full-blown tribal warfare in America.

Social media are largely now a sewer of outrage – your virtue signaling is greater the more it’s sensitive and offended, outraged and violent towards the other side. Worse, the mainstream media now also get into this shameful act. Outlets like the New York Times and CNN repeated the slurs about the boys – and then were forced to admit that further video “changed the context.”

Serious media are supposed to get context and balance right before they enflame the kind of social divisions already only too evident now. None that I’ve seen has issued a retraction and apology.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Jesus on Screen

Some famous actors have played our Lord on film, as well as some you’ve probably never heard of. It’s unclear how many portrayals of Christ there have been – hundreds probably. I’m aware  of several dozen: from Robert Henderson-Bland in the Silent Era epic, From the Manger to the Cross (1912), to Joaquin Phoenix in Mary Magdalene, a 2018 film that has been shown overseas but not yet in the U.S., in part because it was a Harvey Weinstein project and also, perhaps, because it reflects a sensibility about Jesus similar to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

I mention Messrs. Henderson-Bland and Phoenix because every film about the life of Jesus – or, as in The Passion of the Christ (2004), an aspect of His life – succeeds or fails largely because of the performance of the actor portraying Him.

In George Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Jesus is played by Max von Sydow, a now eminent actor and familiar face in movies, who was then mostly unknown to American audiences – except to arthouse film buffs enamored of the work of Ingmar Bergman. It was von Sydow’s first English-language film, and Stevens hired him because he wanted an actor whose image (in the senses both of visage and reputation) was unfamiliar and unsullied. He probably also admired von Sydow’s Scandinavian placidity and icy blue eyes.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Faith, Reason, Life

Today’s 46th March for Life in Washington is not a Catholic thing. It’s been gratifying over the years to see the growing numbers of Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, Jews – you gotta love the blowing of the shofar from the stage just before marchers set out – Mormons, Muslims, and others. All of whom have come to realize that killing the smallest and most vulnerable of our human kind is not humane, and no favor to women, tens of millions of whom are targeted around the world while still in the womb for the mere fact of being female.

But the March – and the pro-life cause – are not even, strictly speaking, religious things. Seeing “Atheists for Life” walking around the National Mall always boosts your spirits, but it’s also a sharp reminder. We do not oppose abortion because it bumps up against some religious dogma. If that were the case – as defenders of abortion often, and wrongly, claim – it would be difficult in pluralistic modern democracies like ours to avoid the false charge that we’re trying to “impose our religion” on others. To the contrary, we’re trying to keep people from practicing an unreasonable, false, and murderous form of idolatry.


Because it’s reason, not revelation, that tells us that – if we believe killing is wrong – then killing children in the womb is wrong. And with each year, the scientific support for that moral stand becomes ever clearer. When Roe v. Wade came down in 1973, we had nothing like the medical evidence we have today. We now know, for example, that a child’s heart begins to beat about four weeks after conception – and much else is going on that makes it clear that this growing, living thing is human (with its own unique DNA) and from the start male or female.  It’s simply rational to say: Whoever would end that life, even in its earliest development, is making a grave moral mistake.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Idol of Our Age

In times like these, when so much is deeply unsettled in both the Church and the world, there are few reliable guides to our predicament. But one has just appeared: Daniel Mahoney’s brief but powerful book: The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity.

A few decades back, American evangelicals used to denounce secular humanism, rightly – but without knowing what it was other than a denial of religion. During the same period, St. John Paul II tried to recover an authentic Christian humanism, i.e., a rich “anthropology” in which the human person is only rightly understood in relation to God.

A Christian humanism is necessary because unless we properly value life in this world, religion can become distorted, a kind of Puritanism that denies our nature as creatures with bodies, minds, and spirits.

A Christian humanism is necessary, however, because without God, we close in on ourselves. The sciences discover truths about our world, but cannot say anything about why we’re here, what our lives mean, or where we go after death.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .