Recent News

May is Mary’s Month

I admire the work of the late Irish-Canadian-American novelist, Brian [bree-Ahn] Moore. Three of his books in particular: Catholics (1972); Cold Heaven (1983); and Black Robe(1985 – and made into a film worth watching). His novels are concise: Catholics, the story of an American Jesuit sent to an Irish island monastery with the aim of shutting down the monks’ practice of the Latin Mass, is only 108 pages, whereas Black Robe, about Jesuits in 17th-century Canada, is more than twice as long, yet still short compared to most contemporary fiction. And I have a story to tell about Cold Heaven.

One day in 1983, a colleague came into my office to ask if I knew Moore’s work. I did. She asked if I would read the manuscript of Cold Heaven. I said yes.

A few days later in our weekly editorial meeting, I was asked for my opinion of Moore’s story, which is the tale of a lapsed-Catholic woman who receives a visitation from Our Lady – and rejects it.

“I like it,” I said, “so far. But I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve read the rest of it.”

Two others who’d read it laughed, and the woman who’d given me the manuscript, said: “I’m afraid that’s all there is, Brad.”

Moore could be concise to the point of abrupt.

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Who Are the Abortion Extremists?

The protests – and outright threats – against the six “extremist Catholic” justices of the Supreme Court now considering revoking Roe, including noisy demonstrations at their homes (one lives two streets over from me), were only to be expected. And that’s precisely the problem.

Intimidating members of the judiciary, who are supposed to be protected from the pressures of partisan politics, is the kind of thing you expect – and condemn – when you see it in the news, usually in some banana republic – or a Mafia trial. That these kinds of pressure tactics have invaded every nook and cranny of our public space – mobs outside the homes of mayors, police chiefs, judges, and now even Supreme Court justices – is not good for our constitutional order. Or American life in general.

Who would have believed even a decade ago that a Democrat leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, could say (in words that cannot be repeated enough), “I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

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Making the Desert Bloom

If America and the West are to not merely survive, but are to recover from our self-induced decadence, it will require many radical changes. To begin with, we have to get over the childish attitude towards our past as nothing but a series of outrages – against women, races, cultures, homosexuals, and whatever other faddish victim groups we allow to blind us to our quite varied and interesting human inheritance. We’ve been turning a (somewhat wild) garden into a desert, and need to find the wisdom to restore that garden to what it might be again.

Paul Horgan

I’ve recently been working on a sequel to A Deeper Vision, my long (perhaps too long – but the richness of the subject required it) treatment of modern Catholic thought and practice. The new book will focus on our American Catholic tradition, equally rich and varied, even more than I realized earlier.

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Riding the Waves of History

This is a special religious season. The Western Easter Octave ended Sunday, which was also Eastern Orthodox Easter. The Jewish Passover closed Saturday, in the midst of the Islamic month of prayer and fasting, Ramadan. Sadly – though predictably – there was no Easter truce, as Pope Francis requested, in the assault on Ukraine, which Russians (and some misguided Westerners) believe is a “holy” war to defend the True Faith from Western decadence and apostasy.

Russia didn’t pause the killing and destruction, as true Christian warriors have in the past on Christian feasts; beneath the religious rationalization lies the crudest hypocrisy.

“Holy wars” have existed, true holy wars, in which courageous fighting men have indeed served a sacred cause – the Crusades, for instance, despite their sometimes-gross imperfections. But we now mostly have unholy wars, of various kinds, because our spiritual level is much lower than in the past.

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‘Father Stu’: a Review

Particularly offensive scenes open Father Stu, the new film about Stuart Long, a boxer of apparently questionable morals who became a Catholic priest. Mark Wahlberg plays our hero. In those early scenes, Mel Gibson, as Stu’s father, Bill, taunts the boy Stu (Tenz McCall) with a monologue about excretion, which transitions into scenes from the grown Stu’s amateur boxing career. Mr. Wahlberg shadow boxes wearing only a groin guard – very much like the underwear ads he used to do for Calvin Klein. Then in the ring, there are violent punches, spitting of blood, and copious F-bombs.

Stu leaves his home in Montana for Hollywood, hoping for a career as an actor. He is reluctantly reunited with his father. There is swearing. And drunkenness.

It’s possible to put up with such nastiness in an allegedly “Catholic” film only in expectation of the transformation of Stu Long. Mr. Wahlberg is reasonably convincing as a scumbag, as is Mr. Gibson. Father Stu is directed by Mr. Gibson’s romantic partner, Rosalind Ross. Mr. Gibson, 66, and Miss Ross, 32, have a child, Gibson’s ninth.

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Of New Things and Old

The Catholic tradition is, by its very nature, a dynamic mix of things old and new. Without the old – things that even go back beyond all memory into the mists of time to the very beginning – we would not be anchored in what the Creator intended when He brought us into existence on this earth. Neither would we know how He then revealed Himself to us, in historical stages, as the times required. Those times, however, are also a crucial part of the tradition because the Bible shows us that God is always freshly at work in history, which means that He remains and guides us in every time and place, whatever human changes may come to the fore.

Which is one reason why we’ve got many new things planned.

I am in Rome for several days at present and will be posting several times in the coming week to “The Vatican Thing,” a new initiative for us. As regular readers know, in the past we’ve covered conclaves and synods as they have occurred, with special sections of reporting in addition to the regular daily column, which will continue to appear each morning.

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Theology and Human Conflicts

Cardinal Manning – a contemporary and follower of Cardinal Newman – once remarked that “All human conflict is ultimately theological.” (You could even say all things human inevitably involve theology, but that’s a complex subject for another day.) In Russia’s current war against Ukraine, the theology is not an ultimate consideration. It’s near the surface. Even if the war ends in some tolerable outcome, the theological divisions are going to be with us for a long time.

Because it’s not only Vladimir Putin who has declared Ukraine a “holy war,” but also religious leaders such as Moscow Patriarch Kirill. Putin is cynically using the Orthodox as moral cover for his ambitions. But he’s also intuited that to “make Russia great again,” Russian Orthodoxy – the bearer of many deep elements in the myth of Holy Mother Russia and its secular projection, “Russian world” – is crucial to the political plan.

The Russian Orthodox leaders have no such political excuse.

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A Week of Big Changes

By the end of this week, the Vatican will have carried out two large acts. This past Saturday, the Feast of St. Joseph and the ninth anniversary of the pope’s election, Rome finally released the long-awaited blueprint for reform of the Curia, Predicate evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”). Next Friday, the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine, in the midst of Russia’s brutal aggression, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It will be interesting to see what consequences may follow from the one and the other move.

Some of the pope’s most unwavering acolytes have claimed that he was elected to be “the great reformer.” Given the divisions, confusions, and worse of the past nine years and the ongoing problems with the Vatican’s finances and handling of abuse cases, history may see things differently.

But his “Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia and its Service to the Church in the World” (its full title) is ambitious. It’s clearly intended to streamline various Vatican offices (partly, it may be, because of fiscal deficits) and to point them in a more outward-facing direction. It replaces St. John Paul II’s 1983 Pastor Bonus, which also attempted curial reform but, as the past four decades show, did not resolve some major administrative problems.

The Catholic Thing will be bringing you pointed commentary on the many proposed changes in coming weeks and months, as we see where they lead. But it’s important in the short run to get a few of the larger points clear to help prevent some alleged “spirit of the reform” from blotting out everything else – as happened after Vatican II.

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The Beacons Are Lit: “Unraveling Gender”

John S. Grabowski is a professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University of America, and the epigram to the first chapter of his new book, Unraveling Gender: The Battle over Sexual Difference comes from Tolkien’s The Return of the King – Gandalf’s rallying cry (in part) to the people of Gondor to defend their way of life: “See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled.”

But Unraveling Gender is not a manifesto for conflict. In fact, it’s a compassionate appeal for Christian charity and clarity. “Our battle is against the powers of evil – sin and the devil – in ourselves, and in the world around us (see Eph 6:10–17). Other human beings are not the real enemy in this battle.” Perhaps. But it seems clear that those of us who reject the idea of gender fluidity are the enemy to those who endorse it – just ask them.

Grabowski takes pains to show the long (since St. Paul VI’s papacy) Catholic history of compassion in matters of sexuality. But he also sees the new gender ideology as aligned with what St. John Paul II so memorably called “the culture of death.”

Underlining this whole business is a simple question: Is sex (or gender) binary? The simple answer is yes, although there is such a thing as intersex, a very rare genetic anomaly (and like “gender” a word that’s been hijacked by contemporary enthusiasts). Grabowski refers to this as the Babel Effect: “Gender ideology rejects both the realist’s belief in a reality where things have common natures or essences and in the ability of language to correspond with that reality.”

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The Psalms in Times of War

reader asked the other day, how is it that with the millions of prayers offered daily for Ukraine (actually billions around the world) that God allows the ongoing death and destruction? It’s a good question. A hard one.

It’s been asked for thousands of years in times of war, as well as during plagues, floods, fires, earthquakes, drought, famine that – pace the environmentalists – are part of the natural history of the human race. Anyone who reads the psalms in the Bible or daily prays the Liturgy of the Hours, knows that it’s been a central lament even in Scripture. Lord, we trust in you, but are you really there for us when we need you most?

This existential question is even more troubling than the usual questions of war and diplomacy. In secular terms, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has united Europe, America, and most of the world’s nations. Despite differences of opinion about earlier policies or the threat of Western decadence, even Poland and Hungary, which in the recent past leaned towards Putin on cultural questions and resisted the European Union’s “woke” cultural imperialism, have joined the rest of the civilized world in calling the invasion wrong.

If that can happen at the mundane human level, where is the divine solidarity we would expect in this just cause?

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