Recent News

Beyond the Fog of Politics

It’s not easy to interpret the recent European Union elections. Mainstream liberal and conservative parties lost considerable ground while “populists” and, in some countries, Greens showed strong gains. But the raw numbers call for careful parsing.

Pope Francis was clearly upset by the results. On Sunday, he released a message intended for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (September 29), sharply criticizing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, claiming that it reflects fear and racism, as well as failures in Christian charity and humanitarian engagement. [Author’s correction: An earlier version of this column said that the release was four months in advance, which is true, but it appears such messages are often released earlier. The deliberate timing to the EU elections, then underway, however, remains clear.]

Welcoming the stranger and the refugee is, of course, a serious Christian obligation. And the pope is right to make sure that vulnerable people do not disappear from the world’s attention. But whether that general principle can be simply translated into national immigration policies – where other urgent questions also come into play – and whether the election results really stem from some lack of charity, is a far more debatable proposition.

The results actually reflect not only immigration questions, but other factors people in many nations are vaguely feeling: particularly alienation from “democratic” institutions, both national and international, which seem more to reflect the values and concerns of elites and less those of ordinary people.

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

The Last Full Measure

Memorial Day, the unofficial first day of summer, is when we pause to remember those who, in Mr. Lincoln’s words, gave the last full measure of devotion to defend America in combat.

And let’s be clear: Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address, from which that great phrase comes, on the back of an envelope on the train from Washington, D.C. to that small town in Pennsylvania. As Abraham Lincoln Online notes, “Lincoln carefully prepared his major speeches in advance; his steady, even script in every manuscript is consistent with a firm writing surface . . .” He was too thoughtful a man and too careful a writer to work in any other way.

I suspect the legend of the president dashing off the speech as he made his way to dedicate the cemetery at Gettysburg derives from the speech’s brevity: just 275 words – 279 if “cannot” is written, as Mr. Lincoln did in its three uses, as two words.

When I was a kid in elementary school, we memorized the speech. We studied it. It taught us a great deal about rhetoric, the art of speaking and writing in such a way that your words have power and clarity. Indeed, power comes from clarity.

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

The Midwife: a Review of “Mary Magdalene”

Like Judas leaving the Last Supper but in reverse, Mary Magdalene, the newish film by Garth Davis, skulked into American theaters in April.

This is Mr. Davis’ second feature after 2016’s Lion, the story of a lost boy in India who eventually finds his way home. It was a very fine film. Mary Magdalene is not. It gets lost. And stays lost.

I say newish because Mr. Davis actually shot the film in 2016, and it had its English premiere in March of 2018. So why did it take more than a year for it to open in the United States? Begin with the fact that it was a Harvey Weinstein project, and enough said about that. Then there’s its treatment of the Gospel story, which, by definition, must be its basis. The movie’s take on Jesus and Magdalene is not exactly traditional.

To wit: Mr. Davis has made a neo-feminist film about the way the men in Jesus’ entourage rejected his closest follower, Mary of Magdala (played by Rooney Mara), who was (allegedly) the only one among the followers of Jesus who really understood him.

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

The New Pro-Life Moment

Something out of the ordinary happened this past week. On Saturday, over 10,000 people walked the streets of Rome in defense of children in the womb. Italian lay people have organized a march for nine years now, and it grows – despite no support from the Italian bishops – including the pope.

On Friday, Francis did encourage members of the Catholic Medical Association to “defend life,” though so vaguely that you couldn’t tell whether he was talking about abortion, euthanasia, immigration, climate, poverty – or all of them (more of this below).

 

But as usual no Italian bishops participated in the Marcia per la Vita– they’ve been saying that they don’t want it to be seen as only “Catholic,” though why is not clear. And that they prefer to work through elected officials rather than public protest (though they seem to support other public demonstrations, e.g., on immigration and poverty, and don’t have any natural partners in government now that the Christian Democrats have splintered). Italian television, accordingly, didn’t even mention the march occurred.

The lone Italian prelate in the past, Archbishop Viganò, was missing, for good reasons.

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

“Tolkien”: a Review

J.R.R. Tolkien was a writer who, it sometimes seems, launched a thousand books and now a thousand movies. (I exaggerate.) And at the start, I have to say that I am not a fan.

Of course, I love the life of Tolkien – the idea of him: the young scholar who became a soldier and then an Oxford don, and later creator of what, beyond his scholarly work as linguist and philologist, may surely be called an unequaled legacy of fantasy literature. Unequaled except, perhaps, by his friend and Oxford colleague C.S. Lewis.

Lewis’s books are – to me – more accessible, and that includes his scholarly work. His The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition is a favorite of mine. And my sons, when they were young, truly loved The Chronicles of Narnia.

I’ve tried to read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and failed. My problem with Tolkien is similar to my struggles with Tolstoy: prolixity. And I’ve never found the Tolkien equivalent of Anna Karenina, a better, shorter book than the tedious War and Peace.

The work of the aforementioned writers has been given excellent screen treatment, although Peter Jackson’s versions of the LOTR trilogy (and the Hobbit film trilogy) have far surpassed the those of Lewis’s Chronicles series in terms of critical acclaim and financial success. Again, I find the Narnia movies (directed by Andrew Adamson and Michael Apted) more entertaining.

Now comes the biopic, Tolkien, by the Finnish director Dome Karukoski – designed to do what, by his own plain words, Tolkien said he never wanted to have done: generally, films made from his fantasy novels and, specifically, any attempts to explain where he “got” Middle-earth.

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

The Many and the One

An old philosophical question concerns the relationship between the Many and the One, which seems like the kind of abstraction that only troubled long-dead philosophers and theologians. But there’s more at stake – much more – in the question than first appears, everything from living a life of integrity to the meaning of heresy.

Most of us assume that everything just fits together – somehow – until we encounter deep divisions, in ourselves and others. And realize things do not much fit together at all, particularly in times of trouble, which means all times. That’s why every civilization, until our own lately, has labored just to keep from falling to pieces.

The Church was once the universal institution in the West, the one body that tried not just to include but to reconcile all truth, so far as humanly possible. That reconciliation allowed for legitimate differences and freedom, but also wisely insisted that there are limits built into the nature of things. (LGBTQ+. . .has no limit.)

The Church’s absence from the living center of our civilization explains why there’s so much that’s ec-centric and worse in our world. And it’s regrettable that, even within the Church, there’s also been a steep decline lately in valuing the fullness of truth.

W.B. Yeats famously wrote, “the center cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Lots of people today, for various reasons, don’t want the center to hold – with entirely predictable results. You can understand that, given the centralizing power of globalist economics and politics. And why God’s commands, too, transmitted by the Church, can look like just another global tyranny. But merely invoking “diversity” and “inclusivity” doesn’t eliminate such dangers, and in fact may make things worse.

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

Recalled to Life: a Review of “Breakthrough”

Book I of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is titled “Recalled to Life,” which refers to a man’s release from the Bastille after eighteen years of imprisonment. That could have been a suitable title for the true story of John Smith told in Roxann Dawson’s new film, Breakthrough, the true tale of a teenager who fell through the ice of a small lake near St. Louis in 2015, was under water for a quarter of an hour and without a pulse for another forty-five minutes (“clinically dead,” in other words), but was recalled to life after his mother prayed over his lifeless body in the hospital. And that’s when the story really comes to life.

But . . . will the boy, John Smith (played by Marcel Ruiz), survive after being deprived of oxygen for so long? If he makes it through the first night in the hospital, will he have suffered permanent neurological impairment? Will he ever have a normal life after that? Everybody tells Mrs. Smith not to get her hopes up; to prepare for the worst. Joyce barks at them: “No negative talk!”

The film is based on the book The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection by John’s adoptive mother, Joyce. That subtitle pretty well serves as a spoiler alert about the film’s resolution, which is a very happy ending, indeed.

Chrissy Metz (of TV’s This Is Us) plays Joyce Smith as a bit of a churl, as perhaps Mrs. Smith was – perfectly understandable during the ordeal depicted. In any case, in Miss Metz’ performance you certainly feel like you’re watching a real person.

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

Faith in Motion

“Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

At Mass on the second Sunday of Lent, the homilist at my church decried films about Jesus and the saints as shallow and, in some cases, profane. Instead of watching movies during Lent (and, I presume, Holy Week), he suggested reading good biographies about the saints. I take the point, although I’d add that such books are sometimes hagiography, not history.

In an earlier column about portrayals of Jesus in the movies, I mentioned that Jesus never laughs on screen. Father Schall told me it’s also true in Scripture. But he referred me to Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which speaks about Christ’s openness (“He never concealed His tears. . .”) although Jesus did keep something hidden: “one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

I want to expand at length on that earlier column by focusing on three films about faith you may not have seen. I beg the reader’s indulgence because all are from the Silent Era: From the Manger to the Cross (1912); Ben-Hur (1925); and The King of Kings (1927). The links below are to YouTube versions, but these films do pop up now and then on Turner Classic Movies.

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

Of Hell and Logic

In 1294, Celestine V was elected pope, after an interregnum of two years without one, owing to a deadlock among the Cardinals. He resigned only five months later because, though he had founded and run the Celestines, an offshoot of the Benedictines, he felt himself inadequate to the papal office. In 1415, Pope Gregory XII “withdrew” in a somewhat different case – in order to prevent schism over the apostolic succession. Celestine’s, therefore, was the last pure resignation prior to that of Benedict XVI in 2013.

Most Dante scholars have believed over the centuries that Dante was referring to Celestine in Inferno Canto 3 (the place that contains souls who were so indifferent that they refused to choose God or anything else for eternity). He speaks of meeting one, without naming him, “who out of cowardice made the great refusal,” (che per viltade fece il gran rifiuto).

Dante thought this a profound betrayal of the Church, not least because Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII (a political schemer) was involved in Dante’s exile from Florence.

Boniface himself had a troubled life after that because of his constant efforts to expand papal powers. His famous Bull Unam Sanctam claimed authority over secular rulers, which led to his condemnation on a whole list of charges by French bishops. And French King Philip the Fair sent forces that captured and humiliated Boniface, an experience that contributed to his death.

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

 

In Search of Young People

Some years ago, my pastor talked me into teaching “Catholic Morals” to high-school sophomores. I can’t say that I look back to those three years with, uh, pleasure. Or satisfaction. Some of my students are still Catholic; others lapsed. The whole experience left me with profound appreciation for anyone who knows how to work with and really reach young people with the Good News in a dying culture like our post-truth West.

I’m, therefore, somewhat indulgent towards anyone who even tries to evangelize young people, especially since the dreaded Millennials have made their appearance. It’s easy to criticize failures; hard to know what to do – or sometimes even where to start. If you think you have an answer, try it out somewhere – see what happens. I’ve written here about a few outfits who may yet save us. The harvest could be great, but there aren’t nearly enough laborers (or good ideas) in the vineyard.

I also wrote almost daily about the Synod on Youth last October, with a mixture of hope about the goals and doubts about the approach. And I read Pope Francis’ Post Synodal Exhortation for that synod, Christus vivit! (“Christ Lives!”), which was released Tuesday, with similar expectations.

There are some quite moving pages in this lengthy document, encouraging young people to aspire to great things, to become themselves actors in their own stories, to speak to the Church, even when they have doubts, and be open to answers they may receive from older relatives and trusted authority figures in the Church. And above all to be open to the reality of Jesus Christ.

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