Recent News

The Legend of Homer Smith

In celebration of the first century of motion pictures, the Vatican published a 1995 list of what somebody there considered the top 45 films of all time: fifteen each in the categories of religion, values, and art. Although broadly international in flavor, the list includes a dozen or so American films, although not some of the best actually Catholic films made in the U.S. Not Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, or the biggest miss of all: Lilies of the Field, a film worthy of inclusion in each of those categories.

Lilies is best known, of course, as the breakout movie for Sidney Poitier, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1964. Director Ralph Nelson’s film was also nominated in five other categories, including Best Picture – and might well have won the top prize were it not for Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, which was nominated for ten Oscars and won four. (Albert Finney would have won that best-actor award as Tom Jones had he not been up against Poitier’s Homer Smith.)

Lilies was based upon the 1962 novella of the same name by William E. Barrett, which differs in some ways from the movie, although both are meditations on faith and freedom; about how God can use us humans to achieve ends we never intended to pursue.

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

 

The Amazon Synod That Could Have Been

On Friday, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller – former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – published a second commentary on the Synod for the Amazon, to be held in Rome this October. It follows an earlier critique of his, both of them blistering about the radical nature of what is largely a German “paradigm,” not only for the rainforests of South America, but for the whole Church.

The good Cardinal begins by noting something that has been widely reported but not sufficiently appreciated: the Church in Germany lost more than 216,000 members in 2018, on top of similar departures in past years. The response to this crisis has not been – as happened during similar periods of trouble in the Church (i.e., in the Counter-Reformation) – to re-commit to preaching the Gospel even more forcefully. Instead, the German Church has chosen to “secularize” by accepting many things in our postmodern, post-truth world that have never been part of Catholicism.

The result was predictable. Many people concluded that they didn’t really need even this secularized, supposedly more attractive, German Church, since they could already get most of what it was pushing without bothering about Mass, Confession, Communion, monogamy, self-denial, charity, etc.

Even worse, many German Catholics now believe that the Church is not the Mystical Body of Christ, a communion that persists through time, chosen by God, as He had earlier chosen the Jewish people, to carry out his “self-revelation.”

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

Da Vinci’s Saint Jerome

My wife and I are museum rats. We spend a lot of time in museums when we travel and a lot when we stay at home – home being the New York City metro area. New York City itself is home to about seventy art museums (plus many others devoted to science and industry), and the greatest of these is the venerable MET: the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue between 80thand 84thStreets.

The MET is one of the largest museums on earth and the third most-visited (after the Louvre in Paris and Beijing’s National Museum of China) – 6,953,927 visitors last year to be exact, of which those 27 must be the Miners. Our MET membership pays wonderful dividends.

“Museum” comes from the Greek, mouseion the seat of the Muses – and nearly every museum I’ve ever visited has been an inspiration. A great museum is a close cousin of a great cathedral, with similar echoing footfalls and hushed voices. Your eyes are pulled to every compass point, and there are occasions of awe.

The MET collection includes 2,000,000 works of art, so it would take you something like a century to see everything, although, even then, you’d probably be rushing too much through each daily visit.

From the standpoint of The Catholic Thing, the MET offers a treasure of 406,000 hi-res digital images of works in its collections – 1,700 from its holdings of European paintings – not a few of which have illustrated our columns over the last decade.

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

The Mind’s Ascent

It’s easy to be agitated over what’s happening these days in the Church and the world. Much harder to see what might be promising, especially when secular leaders and bishops not only appear incapable of addressing looming challenges, but actually contribute to our sense of an age spinning out of control.

In such circumstances, there are two possible reactions. The first is to cry Woe. And again Woe. And to wring your hands in despair that no one is doing anything. The second is to find motivation in the very challenges we face and put your efforts into the multiple tasks at hand. The potential harvest is great, and the workers too few.

I wrote here recently about some initiatives we’ve undertaken internationally that have had palpable success. But at the risk of appearing naïvely optimistic – believe me, I often wake up perplexed myself – there are things going on in this country as well that offer real hope.

I was involved with one of them this weekend: the Thomistic Institutes (TI) that have been created by the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. The Dominicans have set up student chapters on college campuses all over the country and help them to run programs with distinguished speakers – real Catholics – who lecture on philosophy, theology, literature, and more.

There are about forty-five such chapters now and at a dinner in Washington Saturday night I met student leaders of chapters at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale, the University of Texas, Brown, Trinity College, Columbia, the University of Utah, Toronto, Oxford, to name just a few. The Dominicans have been drawing numerous vocations from such institutions for some time now and, as befits the Order of Preachers, are quite able to operate at as high an intellectual level as any institution you can name.

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

Mess of Pottage

Esau was hungry. Jacob was clever. So famished was the older brother that he promised to surrender his birthright to Jacob in exchange for some of the stew his younger-by-a-few-minutes brother was cooking.

“Look,” he said, “I am on the point of dying. What good is the right as firstborn to me?”As we know (from Genesis 25: 29-34), Jacob was happy to comply. “Thus did Esau treat his right as firstborn with disdain.”

From the standpoint of a purely economic transaction, it makes some sense, although Esau clearly let his hunger get the best of him. But the birthright (bekorah) was his to squander according to the law of primogeniture under which the firstborn son – and only he – had inheritance rights.

Back in 2000, as the Oval Office was about to change hands, “news” emerged that the Clintons had backed up a U-Haul to a White House entrance and were loading it up with stuff from the People’s House. There was some truth in this, although it had to do with private gifts given to the President and First Lady (they ended up repaying the government about $100,000), but there were no public, historical items involved. Those, by law, must stay put and pass on to the next POTUS – in perpetuity.

Point being: you cannot give away (or take away) what you do not personally and legally possess.

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

Reflections from an Institution

It’s a commonplace today that people have lost faith in institutions. And it’s no wonder. Wherever you look – politics, culture, education, even the Church – the institutions that normally provide us with stable identity and points of reference have become sources of disorder and disorientation.

Hillary Clinton famously wrote a book: It Takes a Village. She was expressing something not so much wrong as deceptive. It does take a village – and a family, and a church, and a school, and a community – to form children into mature and responsible adults. The “village” that progressive politicians talk about, however, is not an assembly of these natural civil society institutions, but an array of government programs designed to replace and, often, hasten the demise of real human connections.

In healthy times, people identify with family, faith, nation. At least among our cultural elites, identity these days revolves around race, class, and gender.

The paradox, of course, is that those elites say that they want to eliminate differences owing to race and class, and the woozy recent notions of gender fluidity. But if they did, what would people identify with other than their own individual choices? That’s a very weak reed on which to build a truly human life, especially given the social chaos that such radical individualism inevitably produces.

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

“Transjacking” Sports

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo (July 24 to August 9, 2020) are about a year away, but controversy is already building. There’s always Olympic controversy, of course, most often about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, host-country athletes and “scientists” were so widely involved in cheating (especially in urinalyses) that the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended Russia be banned from participating in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. That didn’t happen, although Russia was subsequently banned at the ‘18 Winter Games in PyeongChang, although some Russian athletes did compete, as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” but without the Russian flag or national anthem. (Several of them failed drug tests at the Games.)

Overall, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a strong and oft-stated interest – one shared by the governing bodies of all participant sports – of keeping the Olympics free of PEDs. This is not just because of the competitive advantages these substances provide but also because of the danger drugs present to the long-term health of athletes.

The ideal of the amateur athlete may be gone from the Games, but a belief in the importance of healthy, natural athletes persists.

Or does it?

The IOC and many – if not most (and by next July perhaps all) – athletic federations now condone some of the most extreme drug use imaginable: mandated testosterone-suppressant drugs for men who wish to compete as women – i.e. male-to-female (MtF) “transgender” athletes.

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

Transgenderism and Perfect Freedom

There are many reasons to read Dante’s Divine Comedy, not least the pleasure of encountering sheer imaginative genius. But in the end, the most important reason is one he identifies in a letter to a patron, Can Grande della Scala: “the subject is man according as by his merits or demerits in the exercise of his free will he is deserving of reward or punishment by justice.”

This choice becomes stark in the fate of Lucifer. You can get tangled up trying to figure out how certain sinners warrant specific punishments in Dante’s Hell. But Satan in Dante represents one large choice.

He’s not Milton’s romantic rebel in Paradise Lost or some clever tempter like C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape. He’s the being who has – radically, purely, eternally – rejected God and the whole order of the universe He created. Satan thinks he’s struck out on the path to total freedom from all that, but he literally could not be more wrong.

Dante shows this in an unforgettable image. Satan is frozen in ice at the very bottom of the universe, the lowest reaches of Hell. He flaps bat-like wings seeking to free himself. But the wind they create only freezes him further. It’s like the old “Chinese handcuffs” that we used to play with as children. You stick your fingers into the ends of a kind of tube, and the harder you try to pull them out the tighter it gets.

For rebels against God, it can’t be any other way.

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

The Church is Not an NGO

An Italian priest visits our parish a few times a year to say Sunday Mass. He’s remarkable: tall, ascetic, and very serious. When he elevates the host and then the chalice, they stay elevated longer than in the hands of any priest I’ve ever seen – almost to the point of seeming theatrical. But it’s not. He is simply reverent. He’s also a fine and courageous homilist, which is to say he’s one of the only priests I’ve ever heard condemn abortion from the pulpit, and one of the few who takes the time to discuss what the Church actually teaches about moral and spiritual matters.

He recently spoke about holiness. I’ve heard other priests speak about that too, but never so starkly against the trend to present faith in the context of public policy: migration, pollution, poverty. I’m sure he’s committed to an orthodox understanding of social justice, but, again, his homily was against an emphasis on social and economic issues that ignores Christ’s call to holiness.

What struck me most was his insistence that, when the call to holiness is replaced by a call for social and economic justice, the Church risks presenting itself as a non-governmental organization (NGO), at which point it makes sense that folks stop coming to Mass.

When what seems to define a “good Christian” is volunteering and check-writing, when the assertion that “I’m religious in my own way” seems plausible, why wouldn’t I sleep in on Sunday morning? Especially true, I suspect, for those who neither volunteer time nor contribute money.

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

Our Tower of Babel

You have to work at it not to notice similarities between the postmodern world and that very old, Old Testament story about the Tower of Babel. (Gen. 11:1-9) Like those ancient builders, we have been trying for several centuries now to raise a purely human edifice in Western nations, with no reference – no real need, we think – for God.

It can’t be done, of course, though it can seem to, temporarily. (Country music’s Gospel truth: “Ain’t it funny how fallin’ seems like flying/ For a little while.”) God is the absolute foundation and absolute truth about all things, including human nature. As the American Founders knew, if human dignity doesn’t come from the Creator, where will it come from? Ignoring that truth, like all denials of reality, cannot help but end, sooner or later, in disaster.

How do we know when the collapse has happened? In the Bible, not only does the tower crumble, but the builders fall into deep conflict. Their speech grows confused, so that they cannot understand one another any longer. Game of Thrones is only half the story – and in some ways not the worst.

The Bible is not merely saying that in some far distant time, people took a wrong turn and afterward fought over differences. They were capable of that since Cain and Abel. The Babel account probes much deeper: to the human capacity for mutually intelligible speech, the thing that distinguishes us from all other beings because it makes it possible that we can come to know truth.

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