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To Heal the Eyes of the Heart

In the spring of 430 AD, the Vandals – a Germanic horde numbering in the tens of thousands – began a siege of Hippo Regius, an affluent and important city on the North African coast (modern Annaba in Algeria). Today, that might seem an obscure episode within the movements of various “barbarian” peoples in the waning days of the Roman Empire (which “fell” just fifty years later), if not for the fact that the bishop of the city at the time was the great St. Augustine.

Augustine was 75 by then, and died within a few months, no doubt partly from the stress produced by the siege. The Vandals subsequently ransacked the city but left standing Augustine’s cathedral and library. Still, they destroyed almost everything he had labored to build as a bishop for over three decades.

As a longtime resident now of the Washington D.C. area, I often think of this history as I see various forces encircling the Church and the nation. So far, there’s enough resistance that there’s still hope. But sometimes history suggests some sharp lessons. Which is only one of many reasons why, at our moment, it’s still quite worthwhile to read and ponder the life of St. Augustine.

For the rest of the column, click here . . .

Getting Thanksgiving Right – Redux


In The Good Shepherd, Robert DeNiro’s film about how the CIA was founded through old, mostly WASP networks at Yale, Matt Damon (playing a CIA operative) visits Joe Pesci (playing a Mafia figure) in a Miami café. They work out an agreement that the mob will help the U.S. government take out Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro. Then Pesci – curious about the stiff WASP sitting in front of him – leans across the table:

“Lemme ask you a question. Italians, we got the Church, we got family. The Irish, they have their homeland. The Jews, they have their tradition. Even the n*****s got their music. What do you people have?”

(Damon): “The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.”

Things are no longer thus for ethnic Americans, partly because there are so many of them in the CIA, FBI, and the government generally that, it would be difficult for America to function without them. But there is still a warning here. For a large swath of us now, some formerly on the margins, America has become our religion.

For the rest of the column, click here . . .

A Luminous Life of Benedict

When Joseph Ratzinger did his book-length interview The Ratzinger Report with the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori in 1985, the future pope explained that the Second Vatican Council, during which he served as an adviser, “wanted to mark the transition from a protective to a missionary attitude. Many forget that for the Council the counter-concept to ‘conservative’ is not ‘progressive’ but ‘missionary.’”

That’s only one of the many gems in Joseph Pearce’s brief but big-hearted new book Benedict XVI: Defender of the Faith, a concise portrait of the figure who may have been the greatest theologian ever to become pope, to many “the Mozart of theology.”

It’s typical that he repeatedly refused the efforts on various sides to impose a political framework of Right and Left on the Church. Pearce is especially useful just now because of the polarization once again being stirred up among Catholics. Benedict’s wisdom might offer us a way forward.

That wisdom was most evident in the way he handled questions about liturgy. Pearce briskly recounts how the new liturgy was imposed on the whole Church within only six months, about which Benedict comments: “I was dismayed at the prohibition of the old missal since nothing of the sort had ever happened in the entire history of the liturgy.”

For the rest of the column, click here . . .

Dear Bishops, Ban Them

We probably won’t know until later today what the American bishops voted to do about the grave scandal of wayward “Catholic politicians” who have become some of the most defiant supporters of abortion in the nation. Joe Biden, somewhere along his politically ambitious way, has been persuaded to say – against all evidence provided by “The Science” – that human life does not begin at conception. Nancy Pelosi, in the course of an eccentric “Catholic” education, was taught that God gave “women” the freedom and ability to decide right and wrong. Not to address these sowers of falsehood and infant mayhem in strong terms, backed by action, would add another scandal on top of the one that already exists.

It won’t be easy, but let’s pray that our good bishops find a strong voice. And act.

For the rest of the column, click here . . .

Homosexuality in Scripture

What Is Man? is a new book – new anyway in English, having been published at the end of 2019 in Italian as Che cosa è l’uomo? – from the Pontifical Biblical Commission. As such, it has no identified author or authors. (The English version was prepared by Fathers Fearghus O’Fearghail and Adrian Graffy.) It carries the subtitle, A Journey through Biblical Anthropology and is a defense of the Biblical roots of Catholicism’s view of human beings and our relationship to God.

When first published, there was a flurry of rumors in the press claiming that the book (either subtly or explicitly) suggested homosexuality should be considered normative. Fr. James Martin, for one, asserted that What Is Man? explains one of the Bible’s key condemnations of homosexual acts, the story of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis, as not really about sexual transgression at all but, rather, a lack of hospitality among the Sodomites. And there is a passage in What Is Man? that confirms the sins of the Sodomites were not exclusively, well, sodomy. But it’s also clear that the “men of Sodom” sought to “know” Lot and his angelic visitors, and that “to know” in the context “is a euphemism for sexual relations.”

What Is Man? Is divided into four long chapters: 1. The Human Being Created by God; 2. The Human Being in the Garden; 3. The Human Family; and 4. The Human Being in History. I’m going to consider here just a part of that third chapter, because it’s the source of the controversy that wasn’t. This is unfair to the entirety of Commission’s work, but let me explain.

For the rest of the column, click here . . .

Sustaining the Catholic “Thing”

Whenever we begin an end-of-year fundraising campaign, as we must today if we’re going to continue our work into 2022 and beyond, I think back on how The Catholic Thing has developed over more than a dozen years now.

In 2008, when we started, Benedict XVI was pope. (Our engagement with things Roman was, therefore, quite different.) Barack Obama was soon to become president. (The current White House demonstrates that some things, even when a “Catholic” is elected, don’t much change.) For all the complexities then already in play, our mission of bringing the fullness of Catholicism to bear on the Church and the world was clear. I laid out that mission in our very first column and still believe in it (here).

The mission to the secular realm is as urgent as ever. The situation in the Church, even more so. That’s why we’re here 365 days a year (366 in leap years) every morning, bringing you the very best commentary, news, information that we can. I won’t brag about TCT – it contradicts the much-neglected Christian virtue of humility. But it’s because of my confidence in the high quality of our writers that I can ask for your support.

For the rest of Robert Royal’s column, click here . . .

The Pope and the President

I’ve been critical– on this page and via the Papal Posse at EWTN, among other venues – of many things Pope Francis has said and done. With a proper respect, I believe. But more than everything else – more than the indirect infidelities in Amoris Laetitia; the cringe-making chumminess with McCarrick, Zanchetta, Battista Ricca, and many other abusers; the harsh measures against the TLM; even the outrage of Pachamama – he’s done nothing more outrageous than telling Joe Biden – if the story’s true – that he’s a “good Catholic” and should “continue receiving Communion.”

Biden has demonstrated a very casual relationship with the truth over many years. And we may yet find out that something different was said behind closed doors. The Vatican was evidently nervous about this meeting, which is why it took the unusual step of not allowing any live filming. The Vatican press office has not denied Biden’s account and has only said that it was a private conversation. And that it doesn’t comment on private conversations.

This already is close to an outright lie. The president of the United States of America, claiming to be a Catholic, at a time when he is pushing the most extreme measures on abortion and the funding thereof, as well as other unnecessarily radical policies, is facing a rebuke, perhaps even condemnation, from the American bishops at their annual November meeting in Baltimore. Under the circumstances, a meeting with the pope in Rome is not a “private conversation.” It – like the earlier meeting with Nancy Pelosi – is essentially a public declaration.

For the rest of Robert Royal’s column, click here . . .

Ever Ancient, Ever New

Despite the Byzantine COVID regulations of three separate jurisdictions and woeful understaffing of multiple, formerly reliable airlines, I’m back from Rome, more or less in one piece. After a week following the wearying turmoil in the Vatican, I returned home to find on my desk a package from that Energizer Bunny of Catholic publishing houses, Sophia Institute Press: three thick volumes republishing books by another tireless evangelizer, Fulton J. Sheen. Which got me thinking about what, if anything now, can help us overcome all the divisions and obstacles to returning home to something like Church unity again.

You can predict two partisan reactions, neither helpful and both emblematic of the main divisions, to the republication of Archbishop Sheen’s works. The first, among traditionalists, is a kind of nostalgia for the good old days when the Church was the Church. I admit to a bit of this myself. But though partly true, it overlooks what were already emerging challenges. Indeed, Archbishop Sheen didn’t think he was living in ideal times and was working vigorously to shore up both the Church and a secular world already starting to veer in dangerous directions.

The second reaction, typical of progressives, is to dismiss a figure like Sheen out of hand as representative of everything that the Second Vatican Council tried to overcome: the Church’s overconfidence, clericalism, contempt for the world. And yes, sometimes Sheen’s television style looks corny today (as will our current “hip” media to future generations). But Sheen really knew how to talk to people – Catholic and not. Who even comes close to what he could do today?

For the rest of Prof. Royal’s column, click here . . .

Prudent to Pray: 007’s Latest

No Time to Die is the last of the cinematic incarnations of James Bond personified by Daniel Craig. In some ways, it’s a sequel to its most immediate predecessor, Spectre(2015), and includes several returning actors/characters from that film: Léa Seydoux as 007’s love interest (the only “Bond Girl” ever to reprise her role) and Christoph Waltz as archvillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

It’s another rollicking adventure and a fitting conclusion to Mr. Craig’s 16-year run as the most famous and notorious MI6 operative of them all. I suppose I’ll always think of Sean Connery as the best Bond, but Daniel Craig is second-best and a close second at that.

I’d rank Connery’s performance in Goldfinger (1964) as the best followed by Craig’s in Casino Royale (2006). That’s also the way I’d rank the films themselves, except in reverse.

The five Bond movies with Craig have given us a 007 with a somewhat richer psychological profile. He falls in love and suffers for it. First, it’s Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale and, last, it’s Madeleine Swann (Miss Seydoux). Now in his 50s, it’s not hard for Mr. Craig’s Bond to seem worn down by his life as a secret agent. He’s a man who wants out, as was starting to become apparent in Skyfall, high on my list of favorite Bond movies.

In that 2012 film, Bond escapes with MI6 head “M” (played by Judy Dench) – to his eponymous ancestral home in Scotland. It turns out Skyfall has a priest door (and tunnel), a place where – during the Reformation, when Catholic clergy faced death in England, Wales, and Scotland – a recusant family could hide a priest. Bond escapes pursuers via that 16th-century tunnel. M dies in Skyfall’s chapel. Bond, of course, survives.

For the rest of Mr. Miner’s column, click here . . .

Remembering 1066

It was quite a year.

School children (used to) know it as the year of the Norman Conquest, led by William, Duke of Normandy, a point of change in the course of history in what we now call England. But in the 11th century, the land that John of Gaunt (in Shakespeare’s Richard II) would call, “This earth of majesty, / This seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise, / This fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection and the hand of war” was a congeries of disputed and disputing fiefdoms and, as the invasion of 1066 showed, hardly an invulnerable fortress.

The two principal fiefdoms prior to William’s invasion were Mercia and Wessex, and they were constantly disputing, even warring with each other (and sometimes together against Vikings). And so it was until 1066, which was the last year in the life of the last true king of Wessex, Edward, son of Æthelred II, this latter famously styled, “the Unready.” Wessex had emerged, after all the sparring with neighbors and Vikings and Danes, as the more-or-less center of “this scepter’d isle.”

Edward’s mother, Emma, was a Norman, the daughter of Richard the Fearless, Count of Rouen, and Duke William’s great-aunt. (By the way, we need to revive the use of these epithets: Trump the Uninhibited? Biden the Unrepentant?) Edward himself had spent years in exile in Normandy, although that didn’t make Duke William’s invasion a family reunion.

The Romans were long gone, of course, although Rome had returned throughout Europe in the guise of Catholic missionaries, priests, and bishops, and the Norman invaders hadn’t come across the channel in an evangelical spirit.

For the rest of Mr. Miner’s column, click here . . .