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Some Impractical, Imprudent (Possibly Impudent) New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. If they didn’t, year after year, we’d see constant improvement in the world, in people around us, in our own selves. Sadly, we don’t.  Steps forward – if any – are usually offset by steps backward or sideways, or To put this theologically, redemption – even humble change of heart or habit – is a gratuitous gift, the secularized notion of progress mostly an illusion. Yes, your new Smartphone has more features than the old one, and your doctor may have some better ways to treat you in 2019. But don’t confuse these technical advances with greater humanity – we abort a million babies a year without batting an eye and euthanasia is just getting started – let alone holiness (which, in the end, is what matters).mere marching in place.

Still, it may not hurt to lay out some public desiderata anno Domini 2019, fully aware that they will likely never come to pass. But also with the hope that at least identifying what we need may help us to orient ourselves in coming days.

First Resolution: In 2019 we should never lose sight of the fact that the world, especially our American world, has gone mad. The world first went mad in the Garden of Eden, but it sometimes slows down to catch its breath. We’re now going full tilt.

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

Vermeer’s Catholic “Allegory”

The Dutch painter Johannes (often Jan) Vermeer (1632-1675) was born in Delft and was baptized in a Dutch Reformed church there. When he was 21, he married Catharina Bolenes, the Catholic daughter of a well-connected Delft woman, who was very much involved in a “hidden” Jesuit church (schuilkerk) next door. (It was illegal then to celebrate Mass in the Netherlands, although the Dutch were then – as now – more tolerant than some other Protestant countries. Back when that was a virtue.)

It’s assumed Vermeer embraced Catholicism before the wedding.

But he was not thereafter merely Catholic-in-marriage-only. The faith mattered greatly to him, and this can be seen clearly in one of the canvases he painted between 1670 and 1672,  Allegory of the Catholic Faith (the image above) or, as Protestant sources often refer to it, simply Allegory of Faith.

Thank goodness New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which owns the painting and features it in a new show, “In Praise of Painting” (on display until October 4, 2020), has the integrity to call it by the name the artist intended.

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

Instant Family: a Review

No one is sure what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant when he scribbled a note in his unfinished last manuscript that: “There are no second acts in American lives.” The critic Edmund Wilson, who cobbled together what Fitzgerald left behind as The Last Tycoon, never – as far as I know – explained what he thought the author meant, but it has ever since been taken as an expression of the star-making machinery in American life (the novel’s hero is named Stahr), especially in Hollywood, where people rise quickly from obscurity directly to fame and sometimes death. Monroe Stahr was based on Hollywood’s ultimate wunderkind, Irving Thalberg, the MGM producer who died at the age of 37. (Fitzgerald was 44 when he died.)

Mark Wahlberg is 47 – and may he live a hundred years! Mr. Wahlberg may be taken as a man according to the Fitzgerald formula: from a troubled youth of drugs (cocaine) and crime (attempted murder) to early success as a rap performer (Marky Mark) and underwear model (Calvin Klein) to movie stardom (47 films and counting) – all this failure and success before he was 25. He is also a devout, albeit liberal, Catholic. This may explain how he survived such a bad beginning.

How devout is he? Well, that’s between him and God, of course, but he recently described his thoroughly monkish daily routine, which begins at 2:30 AM, followed by half-an-hour of prayer, a couple of sessions of exercise, and – according to most sources – daily Mass. He goes to bed at 7:30 in the evening. As is often the case with people serious about fitness, he eats seven times a day – all according to schedule.

As his film career has progressed, his roles have come to be defined by mayhem and comedy: from The Departed to Shooter and from Daddy’s Home to, most recently, Instant Family.

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

C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves” -and Counting?

Probably the greatest discovery a Catholic, young or old, can make is how rich the Church’s tradition is, in terms of both pure thought and practical wisdom. If (taking your cues from mass media and entertainment) you think Catholicism is just a jumble of outdated rules and awful scandals, a quick look into Augustine and Aquinas and Pascal and Newman, Dante and Michelangelo and Mozart, should put that nonsense to rest.

Yes, but we know so much more than all that, someone might argue. Just look at the advances we’ve made in science, and technology, particularly medicine and psychology. All that old stuff was fine in its time, but we have much more knowledge available to help us deal with the human condition.

True, if you have a toothache or a heart problem, you’d rather be treated by a modern dentist or cardiologist than anyone in the past. But as our tradition and all good thinking tells us, in other matters, you have to be able to make careful distinctions between good and bad – and good and evil – if you want to understand anything at all.

Because it’s on the most important questions of all that we’ve gone not forward, but woefully, heedlessly, backwards. Take, as the key instance, questions about love.

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

All Seven

If we lived just five or ten years between birth, maturity, and death, we might more easily – assuming proper faith formation – hold to the high moral requirements of Christianity. But living 80 or 90 years – all those days and hours – makes it hard not to sin and then, as the Protestants like to say, backslide. The Catholic Church has a remedy for that: Confession.

Consider Christ’s words about forgiveness to Peter (Matthew 18:21-35). The future first pope asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And you know what Jesus replied: not seven times but seventy times seven. (He says a lot more in the parable that follows, and it’s really, really chilling.)

Now Biblical scholars tell us that the Lord isn’t being specific doing math here: He’s not saying we ought to forgive a sinning brother 490 times. He is saying that forgiveness, which ultimately comes from the Father, is all but limitless. Although, again, what follows in the Lord’s oration is a portent about Purgatory, if not of Hell itself.

From this we may conclude that when a man heads to the Sacrament of Penance to confess the same sin for the 491st time. . . it’s okay! Praise the Lord!, as our Protestant friends would say.

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

Before 1066 and All That

As a brief respite from the turmoil in Church and State these days, I’ve been indulging myself with a very pleasant read through Alfred Duggan’s novel (1960) The Cunning of the Dove – a fictional re-creation of the turmoil in Church and State in the days of King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Some things, it seems, never really change.

Duggan was a friend of Evelyn Waugh’s, a conservative Catholic, a powerful yet graceful writer who deserves to be better known for a series of novels set in the Middle Ages. As Waugh wrote of him: “This century has been prolific in historical novels, many garish, some scholarly. I know of none which give the same sense of intimacy as Alfred’s – as though he were describing personal experiences and observations.”

There’s probably no more realistic and insightful account of the life of a saintly king. Saintly rulers are a great rarity: after St. Edward there’s St. Louis and – who? Duggan’s novel raises a question: Can a saintly man also be a good ruler? To run the worldly city well requires worldly – not merely heavenly – virtues. Hence his title, which shuffles the Gospel verse so that the innocent dove (Edward) is as cunning as the serpent.

A hard truth, one that a Christian instinctively resists.

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

How Long, Lord?

I’ve been on the road and much occupied the past two days; my first glance at the news about the Vatican’s request that our American bishops not vote on steps to resolve the abuse crisis came as I was boarding a plane. It’s been almost twenty-four hours since then, as I’m writing – and trying, on the move, to catch up with this odd development. Second thoughts may follow, but for now, I find it hard to believe that it’s not just a bad dream.

The Vatican knew for months that the bishops would deal with abuse at their regular Fall gathering. The pope asked them to cancel it and hold a spiritual retreat instead until the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world meet in February. It’s hard to say with any degree of precision what Pope Francis fears might happen at such a gathering.

We’re hearing vague claims that decisions by the American bishops might conflict with canon law. But when has this papacy ever been held up by law – or wanted bishops everywhere in the world to follow universal rules – when it really wanted to get something done?

Whatever the fear, to wait until the very day the meeting opened to request no voting take place is almost without precedent. For many Americans, sad to say, the pope has probably just confirmed what he was forced to admit in Chile: he’s part of the problem.

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

Code 33: “Daredevil” Season 3

Our friend Fr. George William Rutler lives in the rectory adjacent to the Church of St. Michael in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side – right in the middle of the territory over which the comic-book hero Daredevil stands guard like a gargoyle. I wonder if Fr. Rutler has ever seen this particular lapsed Catholic hiding in the shadows of his great church.

Daredevil is the alter ego of Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer, whose inability to see has amplified his other senses. Fr. Rutler would be a much better confessor than the fictional, diffident Fr. Paul Lantom (Peter McRobbie), and he would surely refute Matt’s angst-filled assertion that, in crime-fighting, “darkness only responds to darkness.”

Besides, Fr. Rutler knows how to box, a skill Murdock practices almost without cessation through all thirteen episodes of Daredevil’s third season (now streaming on Netflix) – though Daredevil’s fisticuffs are not in accord with the Marquess of Queensberry Rules (neither do they conform with common sense). Daredevil is admired for his vow never to kill the villains he chastens, but few could survive the beatings he dishes out, nor could he endure the thumpings the bad guys mete out upon his apparently concrete skull.

That said, this new season is the best thing in the entire Universe – the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is.

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

Synod 2018: An Intermediate Reckoning

A few days ago, I promised one last report on the Synod and its final document, but only after I had taken time to read the whole text – which still only exists in Italian – and to consider it carefully. There were many quick journalistic reactions, useful in themselves, but they tend to focus on the usual controversial points and stir up emotions that are then forgotten within a couple of news cycles. If we want to be a Church, however, that does more than just try to grab onto a few shreds of truth among the swirling digital and spiritual waters around us, we owe it to ourselves to make a serious effort – even in online forums such as TCT – whenever we can to move more deliberately, dive more deeply.

Still, it’s less than a week since the final document was approved, so this is only an “intermediate-range” assessment. More, much more, will need to be said and done in coming days because the fallout from this synod will probably be with us for decades.

But at least I’ve done a first, penitential slog through all 25,652 words now – which is mercifully about 10,000 fewer than the original Working Document – though partly through the fog of jet lag and despite several mishaps in the course of traveling home. (A New Commandment I give unto you: Do not trust NJ Transit to get you from Manhattan to Newark Airport.)

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

Which Future for the Church?

A formerly evanescent creature called “Synodality” has been spotted with increasing frequency in these last days of the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment (to give the synod its full working title). The bishops vote on the final document later today – and several crucial questions remain in play.

The cynical among observers in Rome say that the emergence of “synodality” as a theme at this late hour is no accident. The explicit LGBT language that was in the Working Document, written prior to the Synod, was effectively blocked early in the process by the firmly expressed opposition of dozens of African bishops and others from around the world.

The first draft of the final document still contains a paragraph about young people being confused and wanting “clear and open” discussion of male and female, sexual orientation, etc., which – if it survives into the final document – could still perpetrate great mischief.

Which is why the Synod Fathers must stand strong when they vote this afternoon against this fallback language as well, because it’s clear that this is a Trojan Horse. Some of the most prominent figures in the Vatican hope to pursue what they are calling a deeper “elaboration” of these themes in anthropological, theological, and pastoral terms.

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