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From the politically incorrect but always sensible Anthony Esolen, a Providence College (PC…the irony) prof I’d love to meet. Unless you’re rich, you don’t have the luxury to dabble in non-traditional gender roles, college isn’t for everyone, raise manly boys and girly girls with virtue, and society depends on the strength of fathers and the family.
From Crisis Magazine:
Let us suppose we are looking at people who are not going to Yale or Harvard, or even to the local state university. First, they can’t afford it, and second, they lack the capacity to immerse themselves in absurdity for the sake of a few courses here and there that will deepen their understanding of the world, or that will at least help them make a living. They are not going to write papers on Herbert Marcuse and Woodstock. Perhaps their intelligence lies elsewhere. Or perhaps their backs and their arms are stronger than their minds. What capital can we give them to help set them up in life?
Currently, we don’t give them any at all. We flush many billions of dollars into higher education, often of very dubious quality, so that our “best” students can afford to go to college. The colleges themselves count on that money, floating their sticker prices upward to take it all in. State schools milk the population quite well, taking in many thousands of students who have developed neither manual nor intellectual skills, squeezing them for what they are worth, and conferring upon them degrees that mean little more than that the graduate usually shows up to work on time and follows directions.
The net result, as I see it, is twofold. First, a skilled working man — let’s say a carpenter who has learned his trade well and has worked hard, who has a child with the intellectual capacity to attend one of the elite colleges — will be less able to afford it now than in 1940, when four years’ tuition at Harvard cost one and a half years of the national median household income. Second, that same man, if he does not have a child capable of going to one of those schools, will be rifled for all he is worth to send his children to lower-tier schools, or will watch helplessly as the children flit from service job to service job.
Again I ask, what capital can we give to people who are not going to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, stock brokers, or business executives? Maybe I could put it this way instead: What capital of theirs have we rifled these last several generations?
I call to mind here my grandfathers, who were hard workers but not saints, not by a long shot. One worked for 15 years in the coal mines. That was brutally hard and dangerous work. Imagine swinging a pickax against a wall for nine hours a day, when the ceiling is so low you can’t straighten up. Then, one day, he couldn’t take it anymore. He had a nervous breakdown. He would collapse if he were away from his home for even a day. By then, he was well on his way toward middle age, and he and his wife had three boys and three girls. The state took pity on him and considered him permanently disabled. So they received a monthly check.
It wasn’t much. They lived poor enough — but they did not live in squalor. For poverty is one thing, and squalor is another. You’re poor when you don’t have money, but you’re squalid when you don’t have any decency, and that is primarily a moral condition, not a material one. They kept clean by taking the weekly bath, with hot water poured from buckets into a metal tub. The privy was outside. Each child had one or two changes of clothes, handed down from one to the next. My grandmother cooked and washed constantly. That meant scrubbing the clothes on a washboard, wringing them out, and hanging them to dry on the line, just as all the neighbor wives did. It also meant trooping up the hill to the coop every so often, grabbing a chicken, cracking its neck, and plucking out all the feathers, to get it ready for soup.
My grandfather should never have been a coal miner. He should have been a farmer. He didn’t stay idle at home. The house came with a sizable piece of property, so he cut it into terraces, just as they did in Calabria, where he was a boy, and he farmed it. He once told me that he could put a seed in the ground and spit on it, and it would grow. He tended that land, his garden, as well as any piece of land could be tended. They got from it all the vegetables they needed: beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, corn, zucchini. They got plums, apples, peaches, and grapes. They got figs from a fig tree that had no business surviving so far north. They got eggs and chickens, and I believe he kept a pig or two for a while. They made do.
They had the advantage then, too, of no television, and so there was still a considerable sense of community. They knew all their neighbors. In fact, they knew their neighbors across the generations. That meant that they were never really alone. Italian was spoken up and down the street, though my grandfather did not want his children to speak it, and as they grew older they forgot what little they ever knew. When it came time to build a house, the men of the neighborhood would get together to do that. My grandfather himself had built the house his family lived in.
But there was much more. Here I dearly wish that Catholics would actually read the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII, rather than rely upon commentators who reduce them to a single political position, as for instance that workers have the right to form unions. For Leo’s social vision was an intricate and coherent whole, with the church and the family at the heart of it. The family, he saw, was itself a society, with its own duties and rights, and its own sphere of governance, with the father as the head. He wrote quite movingly about the dignity of the wife and the mutual love that characterizes a true Christian marriage. But a society needs a head, and without any sense of being controversial, as at that time he was not, he affirmed that the head was the father. He saw, too, that the growing ambitions of the state — he was thinking particularly about socialism in its various forms — came at the expense of the father. That is, he saw that to weaken the father is to weaken the family, and that weak families are exactly what the enlightened wanted. And this has not changed.
But my grandfather, as debilitated as he was in his spirit, was not a weak father. He might have been too stern in his bearing; he grew up believing that it was not a father’s place to be overly affectionate with his children, that he would lose their respect, and that that would hurt the children in the end. I don’t believe he was right about that, but that is what both he and his wife took for granted. But he did more than tell his children he loved them: He did love them. He made sure that they grew up respectful of their elders. He made sure that they worked hard. The girls did not fall backward into shamelessness. The boys did not get other people’s daughters pregnant. They did not cheat or lie or steal, or even use foul language. My grandfather — one of those old Italian men with a great respect for religion, though he did not himself often attend Mass — made sure that they all went to church, the boys included.
They had, you see, a great fund of moral capital. All the children worked when they were old enough for it. All the money, too, went back to the family. Even when my mother was engaged, she worked as a seamstress in one of the many local dress factories and gave her whole paycheck to her parents. The boys lent themselves out in the summer as seasonal farm workers. All three of them entered the service, one of them lying about his age to try to enlist at the end of the Second World War. All six children were married, without any out of wedlock births, and without divorces. All six, with some straying here and there, remained in the Church. All had families that thrived in a material way, at least. All of them ended up living within a half mile of their parents. When their parents needed the house painted, the boys were there to do it. Same thing with paving the driveway, installing pipes for plumbing, and putting siding over the old asphalt shingles. They wanted for nothing. And the 19 grandchildren were at that house constantly, eating homemade cookies and pie, watching television, or playing in the backyard. Their stricture against showing affection didn’t apply to grandchildren, so we were made much of.
My grandmother was a saint. I could write a great deal about her unfailing charity and her cheerful deference to a man who was often difficult to get along with. I mean to take nothing from her when I say that she couldn’t have raised those children without him there as the head of the family. The boys were physically strong and active; the girls were stubborn. They would have been unmanageable if she had been alone. But she wasn’t alone: He was there, powerfully built and remarkably intelligent — he with his second-grade education could put many of my students to shame, with his general knowledge of the world. He and she made that family into a society that spanned several generations.
Through their example, we can see that the main fund of capital for people whose children are not going to be doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs is moral. Now let us see how the well-to-do rob them of it.
The first thing to do is to cripple the family. That can be done most quickly by crippling the father, or removing him altogether. How do we accomplish that? We take aim at his authority. We say, for a while, that we merely wish that the marriage be egalitarian; but what we really want is that it should be egalitarian and weak. It’s not as if we are going to take some of the authority of the father and lend it to the mother. For the secret is that a good and strong father — not a patsy, and not a tyrant — enhances the authority of his wife, and a weak or absent father compromises it or destroys it altogether. So we look kindly upon single motherhood and invade the woman’s home with social workers. We embrace feminism. That always was a revolt of some women against other women: in our day, mainly well-to-do women, college graduates, against women whose husbands are not professionals and who might actually wish to raise their own children at home, with neither monetary assistance nor moral interference from the state.
I am thinking now of a family I know. The father is a manual laborer of considerable talent. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t go to the casino, and doesn’t sleep around. He works hard when he comes home, too, so the back yard is now half vegetable garden, half park. The children are bright but not the right fit for college. If this were a sane world, if the elites had not polluted the moral watershed upstream, there would be order in this household. That is, the family would exist as a zone of authority and law-abiding in its own right, and it would span the generations. It would not be truncated by divorces and made chaotic with out-of-wedlock births. The sons and daughters would be preparing themselves, in a clear and coherent way, for assuming the duties of fathers and mothers. It would resemble the family of my grandparents.
But though the mother and father are genuinely good people, they have no moral capital. It has been rifled. They cannot depend upon the local school to preach such difficult virtues as chastity, manly courage, and piety. The school preaches quite the opposite. The television is an open sewer. The local drug stores peddle porn. The churches have capitulated and preach niceness rather than holiness; and people, bored with niceness, turn instead to what is neither nice nor holy, but simply material — riches, if they can get them, and sexual thrills, in any case.
After we’ve crippled the family with no-fault divorce, easy sex, smiling upon unwed motherhood, abortion on demand, and perversion parades — after we have cut its muscles to ribbons, and made it a cringing ward of the state, hurting rich families somewhat, and devastating the poor and the working class — we go after the boys. Back during the potato famine in Ireland, a certain family named Harkins pooled its little money to send one boy, a “likely lad” of 14, alone to the United States, to keep the family alive there. He arrived in New York, worked hard, and raised a family. His grandson became the first bishop of the diocese of Providence and was the founder of the college where I teach.
He and thousands like him built bridges and skyscrapers, mined coal, farmed the land, paved roads, and raised churches, not with money in the collection plate, but with their own hands. Of course they had the inestimable assistance of their wives, who had to be strong, too, and far stronger and more skilled than most of our college graduates are today. But the Brooklyn Bridge was not going to be built by people named Mary. We have depreciated work that is done with back and hands, because we don’t have to do that work; we’re educated, you see, and can do such necessary things as come up with Five Year Plans for the teaching of gender diversity.
I have no quarrel with studying the humanities. It’s how I earn my living. But I know well that all that I’m privileged to do, I do upon the bent backs of thousands of men who sweated more than I ever will. I am reminded of it every time I take a walk; I see roads, and houses, and bridges, and stone walls, miles of stone walls that once were the boundaries of farms and pastures in my neighborhood, and I know that all those stones came from the acres and acres of fields cleared by man and horse, and all those walls were built up of stones either muscled into place by the men, or lifted to their place by winch and pulley.
My reasoning here is simple enough. Suppose your family is not going to do well or even survive if it places all its hope in academic study. Then your children have to make their way by skilled hands or strong back or both. But that means, as a brute practical fact, that you are going to have to raise boys and girls to be men and women. Those boys will have to learn a trade. They will have to be carpenters, roofers, road builders, plumbers, welders, auto mechanics. And they will have to be more, not less, traditional in their morals and in their view of manhood. The boy who is encouraged to be effeminate is not going to repair motorcycles.
Perhaps it’s easier to see these things by applying them to a specific family. Let’s say we have what my grandparents came to America with; not much schooling, not much money, and no real hope that the children would go to college. There are millions of such families in the United States now. Let’s also grant them an intact marriage, and no illegitimate children on the side. Let’s grant them both boys and girls. As I’ve said, these are not going to be doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs. What does this family need to do to ensure that, a hundred years hence, it will still be recognizable?
The boys have to be trained to be men. That is a sine qua non. They cannot be allowed to play around in effeminacy. The son of Lord Marchmain can do that, because he has a lot of money and a huge estate. The son of two college professors can do that, for the same reason. Not that the effeminacy will do those boys any good; it will hurt them, but they’ll still get by. But the working-class family has not that same margin for foolishness. They don’t get to pass their moral license along, hurting others more than themselves. They are at the base, not the top, of the watershed. If we are going to be depending upon Stan’s skilled hands and Sam’s strong back, then those hands had better soon be chapped and rough with calluses, and that back had better be straight and the shoulders broad.
In other words, if we really wanted to help the poor and the working class, we’d be preaching manliness and chivalry to the boys and training them up in hard but well-remunerated work. But if we didn’t care about them, we’d just continue in our own self-indulgent feminism, and let them go hang.
Next, we would cripple what was left of their neighborhood. Not much would be left; there isn’t much of a community once we’ve tossed the hand grenade into the family. But whatever is left would have to be dealt with. We remove their schools from their proximity and from their influence. We turn policemen into “safety officers,” who do not know the people they are charged with protecting, and who in some cases are no match for the boys now hanging about and delving into crime. Not satisfied with removing the father from the home, we remove the mother too, so that children spend most of their time with people who do not love them, and who move in and out of their lives as transients through a slum.
Finally, we would preach moral relativism, the rot that destroys the soul. If I have money, if I’ve graduated from Yale, if I teach at a nice college, I can indulge myself in intellectual nonsense, and perhaps my children will be eager enough for material comforts and worldly prestige that they too will go on to graduate from Yale. I can dump battery acid into the river with a carefree heart, knowing that I get my own water from somewhere else. But the virtues are sometimes the only thing a poor family has. The boy sent to America from Ireland had a few coins in his pocket but a great deal more in his soul. He had courage, perseverance, self-control, obedience to authority, and willingness to learn. My uncles had those same virtues. They were sufficient.
That, readers, is what Catholic social teaching builds upon. Outside of an integrated Catholic vision of life — outside of the virtues, and of family — it makes no sense. If we want to help the poor, we can begin by restoring some of the moral capital we have robbed.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest from South Carolina who is married with children, is an author, blogger, and all around sensible thinker. I guess that means I agree with him! I have reposted some of his articles and I link to his site under blogs I follow on the right–>
Here’s his latest:
Has anyone else noticed what I call the ‘sponge words’ we use increasingly? These are words that are amorphous, vague and spongy. They soak up huge amounts of sub-text, innuendo and connotation, but they can mean virtually anything.
Take the word ‘inappropriate’. What on earth does that mean? I hear it in the confessional all the time, “I did something inappropriate with my girlfriend.” Huh? So I say, “Son, you’ll have to be a little bit more precise. I don’t want the juicy details, but nobody really knows what ‘inappropriate’ means. Did you cheat at miniature golf? Rob a bank like Bonnie and Clyde? Use the wrong fork when you went out to dinner? Gossip about a friend? Hold her hand at the movies or have sexual intercourse?” Honestly, people have different standards, and the word ‘inappropriate’ can mean anything or nothing at all.
When it comes to sexual behaviors in our society today what is ‘inappropriate’? College kids who are ‘hooking up’ every weekend might think it ‘inappropriate’ to hook up with more than two people on one weekend. A couple who are dating might think it perfectly ‘appropriate’ to spend the night together or go on vacation together. Things are not what they once were. Standards in our society have shifted. I’ve known priests, for example, who think it totally ‘appropriate’ to have a sexual partner because, they argue, their vow of celibacy just means they can’t get married.
The word ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ is used to excuse sin and let ourselves off the hook, but it can also be used to condemn people unjustly because nobody really defines what the word means. Instead they throw it around at their own convenience. So Nancy Smith says in a shocked tone about a Catholic school teacher, “He had an inappropriate relationship with my daughter!” Turns out the poor had the girl’s cell phone number on his cell phone contacts list because he had to contact the girl when they were on a school field trip and now, due to the gossip everyone thinks he was sleeping with the girl.
Another sponge word is ‘affair’. “My husband is having an affair!” or “My wife was having an affair with another man for five years!” It turns out that it was “an emotional affair” which consisted of flirting and texting and meeting up for a meal. OK, such behavior doesn’t help a marriage. It’s a form of betrayal. It breeds jealousy and is dumb, and it can even be sinful. It destroys trust and can wreck a relationship, but it’s not an affair. An affair means adultery. Adultery is when you have sexual intercourse with someone who is married to somebody else, or with someone who is not your spouse. I know one woman who told everyone her husband was having an affair. His reputation is wrecked and all the other woman look down on him as a dirty beast when all he did was chat with an old girlfriend on Facebook.
The third sponge word is ‘abuse’. How do I hear, “My father was abusive!” or “My wife is abusive to the kids.” or “My boss is abusive.” This used to mean that a guy came home drunk three times a week, gave his wife a black eye, kicked his kids down the stairs, and locked his mother in law in the closet. Now, when you check the facts you find out that the ‘abusive father’ loses it and shouts at the kids sometimes, or the ‘abusive mother’ gets stroppy once a month and swears at the kids and maybe spanks them once in a while. Then there is ’emotional abuse’ and even ‘spiritual abuse’. Yes, I suppose all these things happen, but too often these spongy words contribute to a whiny, victim culture.
Meanwhile the ‘abusive institution’ may well be a Catholic school that has high standards of discipline and expects kids to behave themselves. I had a guy complain of ‘an abusive priest’ once and I thought he’d been molested by some pervert priest. It turns out that the man, when he was a kid, turned up to be an altar server wearing sneakers and the priest told him that he couldn’t serve wearing sneakers.
Instead of sponge words we need square facts. In general conversation, keep to the facts and avoid gossip and detraction and sponge words that are loaded with innuendo. In confession tell the priest what happened clearly and objectively without going into gory details. Use circumlocution and discreet language by all means to soften the shock and shame, if shocking and shameful it is, but be honest and transparent and don’t use weasly, cowardly spongy words like ‘inappropriate’, ‘affair’ and ‘abuse’.
Office of Readings: From a sermon by Saint Augustine
|No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven|
|The Visitation (The Cortona Altarpiece) Fra Angelico 1433-1434|
From a Sermon by St. Bede the Venerable
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favours, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.
It’s been 4 weeks since I posted anything — life gets pretty hectic — but I would be remiss if I let the feast day of my great patron, Philip Neri, go by without a mention. This blogs 3rd anniversary is approaching on the feast of Pentecost and I’ll be back at it in no time.
At eighteen, Philip was sent to the town of San Germano, where he lived with a childless relative who had a business there to train as an apprentice and heir. Philip had a strong aptitude for business. Soon after his arrival, Philip began speaking of his conversion, which dramatically changed his life. He left his relative’s home and set out for Rome, as he had a vision that he had a mission to fulfill there. He left without money or a specific plan, trusting in God’s providence.
In Rome, he found shelter in the home of Galeotto Caccia who offered him an attic and a few basic necessities in exchange for tutoring his two sons. During his first two years there, he lived as a recluse, spending time in prayer and eating small meals. Then, for the next three years, he studied philosophy and theology at the Sapienza and St. Augustine’s Monastery, where he was a brilliant student. Quite suddenly, he stopped taking classes, sold all his books and gave his money to the poor. Philip now set about on a new venture – to evangelize the people of Rome.
He started out in a very direct manner, making friends with people on street corners and in the public squares. His warm, friendly manner, his cheerfulness, and his wonderful sense of humor would catch the attention of passersby, and once caught, they found it difficult to escape. He had a magnetic personality and an appeal that drew others to him and held their interest. His usual question, “Well brothers, when shall we begin to do some good?” frequently brought a positive response. Without hesitation, he would take them with him to visit and care for the poor in the hospitals or to pray in the Seven Churches. His days were given up totally for others, but his nights were filled with solitude as he spent them either in a church porch or in the catacombs along the Appian Way.
During the Easter season of 1544, while praying in one of the grottos along the Appian Way, he received a vision of a globe of fire, which first entered his mouth and then his chest. He felt a dilation of the chest. He was filled with such strong divine love, that he fell to the ground, crying out in joy, “Enough, enough, Lord, I can bear no more!” When he stood up, he discovered a swelling over his heart, which gave him no pain.In the year 1548, when Philip had been carrying on his mission for ten years, he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity – a group of laymen who met regularly for spiritual growth. He also popularized the devotion of the forty hours – exposing the Blessed Sacrament for forty hours, on three successive days, in honor of the forty hours Christ spent in the tomb. Philip had accomplished much by the time he was thirty-four, but his spiritual director felt he could be even more effective as a priest.
On May 23, 1551, he was ordained. He carried on his mission mainly through the confessional. He started hearing confessions before dawn and continued for hours, while men of women of all ages and social rank flocked to him. In his later years, Philip became weak and suffered from many illnesses, each of which was cured through prayer.
On the feast of Corpus Christi, May 25, 1595, Philip was in a radiantly happy mood. All day he had heard confessions and met with visitors. About midnight, he had a severe hemorrhage and the other priests were called to his bedside. They prayed over him and then he raised his hand in Benediction to bless them one last time. As he raised his hand, he passed to his eternal reward.
Six years later, he was beatified and Pope Gregory XV canonized him in 1622. He was known not only as “The Humorous Saint”, but also as the “Apostle of Rome.”
Quotes From St. Philip Neri
“Bear the cross and do not make the cross bear you.”
“Sufferings are a kind of paradise to him who suffers them with patience, while they are a hell to him who has no patience.”
“The greatness of our love for God may be tested by the desire we have of suffering for His sake.”
“Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
~ Excerpted from Gold in the Furnace, Jean M. Heimann, copyright 2004
Jesus asked that the Feast of the Divine Mercy be preceded by a Novena to the Divine Mercy which would begin on Good Friday. He gave St. Faustina an intention to pray for on each day of the Novena, saving for the last day the most difficult intention of all, the lukewarm and indifferent of whom He said:
“These souls cause Me more suffering than any others; it was from such souls that My soul felt the most revulsion in the Garden of Olives. It was on their account that I said: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass Me by.’ The last hope of salvation for them is to flee to My Mercy.”
In her diary, St. Faustina wrote that Jesus told her:
“On each day of the novena you will bring to My heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy … On each day you will beg My Father, on the strength of My passion, for the graces for these souls.”
The different souls prayed for on each day of the novena are:
DAY 1 (Good Friday) – All mankind, especially sinners
DAY 2 (Holy Saturday) – The souls of priests and religious
DAY 3 (Easter Sunday) – All devout and faithful souls
DAY 4 (Easter Monday) – Those who do not believe in Jesus and those who do not yet know Him
DAY 5 (Easter Tuesday) – The souls of separated brethren
DAY 6 (Easter Wednesday) – The meek and humble souls and the souls of children
DAY 7 (Easter Thursday) – The souls who especially venerate and glorify Jesus’ mercy
DAY 8 (Easter Friday) – The souls who are detained in purgatory;
DAY 9 (Easter Saturday) – The souls who have become lukewarm.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy may also be offered each day for the day’s intention, but is not strictly necessary to the Novena.
|Annunciation by Andrea del Sarto, 1513|
When we think of the Incarnation, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14) we mostly think of Christmas and the baby Jesus. But nine months before Christmas, on March 25th, a life began at conception. Today the Church celebrates the very moment of the conception of the Son of God, when the Word–in fact–became flesh and dwelt among us in His mother’s womb: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,and you shall name him Jesus (Lk 1:31). This reality was recognized by St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. (Lk 1:43-44)
Is there no greater Pro-Life feast?
The incarnation of the Word was not only the work of the Father, Son and Spirit – the first consenting, the second descending, the third overshadowing – but it was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin. Without the three divine persons this design could not have been set in motion; but likewise the plan could not have been carried into effect without the consent and faith of the all-pure Virgin. Only after teaching and persuading her does God make her his Mother and receive from her the flesh which she consciously wills to offer him. Just as he was conceived by his own free choice, so in the same way she became his Mother voluntarily and with her free consent.
(St. Nicholas Cabasilas’ Homily on the Annunciation 4-5)
Here is another sneak peak trailer from the very anticipated Catholicism series by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire. Using one of St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God, Fr. Barron clearly and concisely explains how Christians understand God. (Some nice footage of the cloister at Sta. Sabina.)
Took the family to Blessed Sacrament in
Pope Benedict’s general prayer intention for October is: “That Catholic universities may more and more be places where, in the light of the Gospel, it is possible to experience the harmonious unity existing between faith and reason”.
His mission intention is: “That World Mission Day may afford an occasion for understanding that the task of proclaiming Christ is an absolutely necessary service to which the Church is called for the benefit of humanity”.
This was originally published in the New York edition of the New York Times on Sept. 20, 2010 and is remarkably positive.
The Pope and the Crowds
By ROSS DOUTHAT
All in all, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain over the weekend must have been a disappointment to his legions of detractors. Their bold promises notwithstanding, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens didn’t manage to clap the pope in irons and haul him off to jail. The protests against Benedict’s presence proved a sideshow to the visit, rather than the main event. And the threat (happily empty, it turned out) of an assassination plot provided a reminder of what real religious extremism looks like — as opposed to the gentle scholar, swathed in white, urging secular Britons to look with fresh eyes at their island’s ancient faith.
And the crowds came out, as they always do for papal visits — 85,000 for a prayer vigil in London, 125,000 lining Edinburgh’s streets, 50,000 in Birmingham to see Benedict beatify John Henry Newman, the famous Victorian convert from Anglicanism. Even at a time of Catholic scandal, even amid a pontificate that’s stumbled from one public-relations debacle to another, Benedict still managed to draw a warm and enthusiastic audience.
No doubt most of Britain’s five million Catholics do not believe exactly what Benedict believes and teaches. No doubt most of them are appalled at the Catholic hierarchy’s record on priestly child abuse, and disappointed that many of the scandal’s enablers still hold high office in the church.
But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain’s Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican’s critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren’t there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect — for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.
Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism’s neck. If it weren’t for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.
And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. Yes, sex abuse has been devastating to the church. But as Newsweek noted earlier this year, there’s no data suggesting that celibate priests commit abuse at higher rates than the population as a whole, or that married men are less prone to pedophilia. (The real problem was the hierarchy’s fear of scandal, which led to endless cover-ups and enabled serial predation.)
And yes, the church’s exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don’t go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism’s rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That’s what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades — and instead of gaining members, they’ve dwindled into irrelevance.
The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy’s purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.
Catholics do not — should not, must not — look to the Vatican to supply the church with all its saints and visionaries and prophets. (Indeed, many of Catholicism’s greatest figures have had fraught relationships with the Holy See — including John Henry Newman, the man beatified on Sunday.) They look to Rome instead to safeguard what those visionaries achieved, to guard Catholicism’s inheritance, and provide a symbol of unity for a far-flung, billion-member church. They look to Rome for the long view: for the wisdom that not all change is for the better, and that some revolutions are better outlasted than accepted.
On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain’s politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that’s consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.
This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham — because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive.
Catholic News Agency reports here about a recently published book linking the widespread use of contraception among Catholics to the the silence of priests presenting Church teachings on the subject. I read this headline Vatican analyst: Catholic use of contraception linked to silence of clergy and said, “Hey, no kidding”. Than I thought, what other earth-shattering headlines could I come up with: Loss of the Sense of Sin among Catholics linked to Silence of Clergy. How about this one: Empty Confessionals linked to Silence of Clergy. Or this: Support for Same-Sex Marriage among Catholics linked to Silence of Clergy. This: Ignorance of Catholic Doctrine among Catholics linked to Silence of Clergy. Somebody stop me anytime.
Ok…work still busy, Summer vacation done, house is painted, kids back to school (in the more than capable hands of the Nashville Dominican Sisters)…it’s time to get back to this neglected corner of the blogosphere. If you’re still out there, stay tuned.
Pope Benedict’s general prayer intention for August is: “That those who are without work or homes or who are otherwise in serious need may find understanding and welcome, as well as concrete help in overcoming their difficulties”.
His mission intention is: “That the Church may be a ‘home’ for all people, ready to open her doors to any who are suffering from racial or religious discrimination, hunger or wars forcing them to emigrate to other countries”.
Just this past March the Holy Father devoted two weeks of his Wednesday catechesis to one of the Church’s great medieval minds, Saint Bonaventure (who had a great impact on Pope Benedict’s own formation). You can read them in full here and here.
Happy 4th of July, everyone!
Fr. Barron has a great analysis of proper freedom in the “American Experiment”. Definitely worth a listen here.
We Americans embrace freedom. However, a proper understanding of freedom must inform our celebration of it. In both classical philosophy and the Bible, “freedom is not so much individual choice as the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good, first possible, then effortless.” This freedom may seem confining, but it is actually liberating for it aligns oneself to the truth. In Christ, by whom we are created equal in dignity, we become free. As Catholics, we can embrace America’s protection of equal rights, but we must be critical of modern interpretations of freedom.
From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
|My Lord and my God|
Pope Benedict’s general prayer intention for July is:
“That in every nation of the world the election of officials may be carried out with justice, transparency and honesty, respecting the free decisions of citizens”.
His mission intention is: “That Christians may strive to offer everywhere, but especially in great urban centres, an effective contribution to the promotion of education, justice, solidarity and peace”.
From a sermon by Saint Augustine
|The martyrs had seen what they proclaimed|