Monday, May 31, 2010

Fading memories of Memorial Days

John Farmer, "Memories fade; Memorial Day shouldn't" (, May 31, 2010), writes:
Time, which annually takes a toll of the men and women who fought our wars, has also taken its toll on the day set aside to honor the service of those who came back and the memory of those who never did.

Memorial Day, like so much of the national past, isn’t what it used to be. Some communities have canceled the observance altogether. Others report attendance at the parades and music performances and the day’s solemn grave-side observances is declining.

There are those of a certain age who can recall when Decoration Day, as it was known then, was observed with almost religious fervor, certainly in the years following World War II, but even in the depths of the Great Depression. In today’s helter-skelter world, Memorial Day seems little more than an artifact.

How did that happen?
Farmer suggests that the Korean war marked the beginning of this change, because it was too abstract a war: "For much of its three years, the fighting there didn’t even make the front page of this nation’s newspapers. And television coverage didn’t exist. It was a war that wore itself out; there was no peace treaty, merely an armistice of exhaustion. And though the U.S.-led effort did, in fact, stop the communist march, it didn’t seem like a victory. Korea was a “political war;” it didn’t leave much to celebrate."

Vietnam only accelerated the process: "It became an American tragedy that split the country, pitting an educated, younger generation against its older leaders. Some returning soldiers were spat upon or verbally abused and more than a few were wary of wearing the uniform on leave. Patriotism fell out of favor, and Memorial Day with it."

Farmer mentions yet another factor: "But the larger legacy of Vietnam — one that has inadvertently made Memorial Day seem less relevant to everyday Americans — is our volunteer Army. By all accounts, this volunteer force is the most proficient and dedicated Army we’ve ever fielded. Its men and women deserve gratitude and support. But it has undercut the notion of shared sacrifice that marked the two World Wars and even Korea."

Thus, Farmer concludes:
Not many Americans see military service any more. And lots of those who have are dying off. Last week, John W. Finn, last of the 15 Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor winners, died in California. He was 100 years old. Seems almost the end of an era.

If you’ve got nothing more important to do today, find a Memorial Day parade, buy a poppy and say a prayer for our service men and women and for John Finn, wherever he is. It’d be a nice thing to do.
If you have not seen either of the films featured above, Taking Chanceor Flags of Our Fathers,they are both worth watching.

Related: Two musical settings to Lt.-Colonel John MacRae's In Flanders Fields

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beyond the New English Ordinary Form Missal: Other Issues With Approved Translations – Part 3

This should provoke some good controversy! I find some of the views in what follows rather problematic. See what you think.

Tridentine Community News (May 23, 2010):
In Part 2 of this column series [see below], we compared English translations of the Holy Bible. We provided an example of the same passage of Holy Scripture as translated in the Douay-Rheims Bible (used in most translations of the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass), the New American Bible (used in the Ordinary Form in the United States), and the New Revised Standard Version (used in the Ordinary Form in Canada). Our argument was that the Douay’s use of hierarchical language when addressing God, along with other reverent constructs of English, are particularly fitting expressions of the content of the Bible, consistent with commonly-found English translations of the Ordinary and Orations of the Tridentine Mass.

We are always open to corrections and differing views. A reader of this column who happens to be a Biblical scholar e-mailed some interesting points that deserve mention:

1. When the Douay-Rheims was originally published, the language that it used was the common language of the day. It was not meant to be hierarchical language. That perception arose as “thee” and “thou” dropped out of everyday usage. Because nowadays most people only hear those pronouns used in Old English settings such as the works of Shakespeare, or in various Biblical translations, they have acquired a reputation of reverence which was not intended by the original translators.

2. In 1943, Pope Pius XII issued Divíno Afflánte Spíritu, an Encyclical which urged subsequent translations of the Bible to be made directly from the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The Douay and various other translations had been made from the Latin Vulgate, which itself was a translation from the original languages. As a translation of a translation, the Douay is, in principle, less accurate than the NAB or NRSV, both of which are direct translations from the original languages.

3. In the over 400 years since the Douay was originally published, considerable advances in Biblical scholarship have taken place. Increasing familiarity with the original texts, improved communications between those conducting Biblical studies, and discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s have resulted in more accurate translations being made in recent decades than have been possible in prior years.

4. Truly accurate translations might surprise us. For example, when our Lord addresses the Apostles in Matthew 4.19, and in the language many of us know, commands them to be “fishers of men”, the original Greek actually says “fishers of human beings”. Thus, accurate translations may require some adaptation on our part. It is not safe to make a blanket assumption that seemingly more modern expressions are inaccuracies, when in fact the contrary may be the case.

5. By and large, hierarchical language was not used in the original Biblical texts. Desiring it as a part of current-day ideologies is actually imposing a notion that was not there to begin with.

6. It is not pastorally appropriate to suggest that the judgment of the Canadian and American bishops in approving the NRSV and NAB translations may have been flawed. Our bishops did so recognizing that these particular translations were the work of Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish scholarly translating teams whose focus was accuracy. They are direct responses to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical and eminently suitable.

A Clarification of Our Own Thoughts

We cannot be cafeteria Catholics. We cannot accuse liberal Catholics of picking and choosing what they like, if we of a more traditional bent are guilty of the same. Our column was not meant to suggest that we approached the topic from a perspective of Biblical expertise. Quite the contrary: this author is relatively unfamiliar with the Holy Bible, and is not qualified to debate, for example, point 2 above. Our reader is one of this region’s noted experts on sacred Scripture, thus his observations bear weight.

We can agree to disagree on some points, however. A gender-neutral translation of Matthew 4.19 when “men” itself is widely acknowledged to be usable in a gender-neutral context is arguably an imposition of a current-day ideology, the very thing our reader seeks to avoid in point 5. Interestingly, the NAB uses “men” in this particular translated phrase, but the NRSV does not.

Our preference for the Douay-Rheims – for usage in the Extraordinary Form – is grounded in three areas:

First, hierarchical language (as we now perceive it) has intrinsic value. Our Protestant brethren use similar translations, such as the King James, in part because of that language. It’s an asset both aesthetic (subjective) and a matter of liturgical custom (objective).

Second, the vast majority of hand missals, and the English translations of the Extraordinary Form Roman Ritual book of blessings and Sacraments (the Rituále Románum and its abbreviated sister Colléctio Rítuum), use hierarchical English and Douay-Rheims translations of Biblical passages. One might draw an analogy to High Anglican services, whose Tridentine Mass-like rituals and Old English verbiage would seem familiar to those who attend the Extraordinary Form. In the English-speaking world, there is a culture of language around the Extraordinary Form. One cannot simply replace the Biblical passages with the NRSV or NAB; those readings would have a form inconsistent with the remainder of the Missal. Changing the rest of the Missal and Ritual into comparably less-hierarchical English would be a jarring, rather non-pastoral change to established traditions.

Third, over the past forty years, there has been only one newly-published hand missal for the Extraordinary Form that has an Imprimátur (the approval of a bishop): the Baronius Press Daily Missal. That missal incorporates…you guessed it ... Douay-Rheims readings. The bishop who gave the approval, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, is intimately familiar with the Extraordinary Form; this was no casual sign-off. Like the bishops who approved the NAB and NRSV, Bishop Bruskewitz made an informed decision, one that we must respect.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for May 23, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

Beyond the New English Ordinary Form Missal: Other Issues With Approved Translations – Part 2

Tridentine Community News (May 9, 2010):
With a full column of space to work with, this is an excellent opportunity to compare English translations of the readings. A reasonable example is the Gospel used on the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form, and on Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II in the Ordinary Form. The reading is from the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 9. 18-26.

As this example shows, the sections of Holy Scripture used in the Extraordinary Form are often not the same excerpts used on the comparable feast day in the Ordinary Form.

First, the Douay-Rheims Bible English translation, which is found in most hand missals for the Tridentine Mass:
At that time, as Jesus was speaking to the multitudes, behold a certain ruler came up, and adored Him, saying: Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus, rising up, followed him, with His disciples. And behold a woman, who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment. For she said within herself: If I shall touch only His garment, I shall be healed. But Jesus turning and seeing her, said: Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus was come into the house of the ruler, and saw the minstrels and the multitude making a tumult, He said: Give place; for the girl is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed Him to scorn. And when the multitude was put forth, He went in and took her by the hand. And the maid arose. And the fame thereof went abroad into all that country.
Second, the Confraternity Bible translation, as found in the transitional 1965 Missal:
At that time, Jesus had not finished speaking to the crowds when, suddenly, a magistrate came along, did him reverence, and said, “My daughter has just died. But please come and lay your hand on her and she will come back to life.” Jesus stood up and followed him, and his disciples did likewise. Now a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years came along behind him, and touched the tassel on his cloak. “If only I can touch his cloak,” she thought to herself, “I shall get well.” Jesus turned around, saw her, and said, “Courage, my daughter! Your faith has made you well.” That very moment the woman got well. When Jesus arrived at the magistrate’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a dreadful din, he said, “Get out of here. The little girl is not dead. She is asleep.” At this, they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put out, he entered, took her by the hand, and the little girl got up. News of this circulated around that entire district.
Third, the New American Bible translation used in the Ordinary Form in the United States:
While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward, knelt down before him, and said, “My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples. A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured. When Jesus arrived at the official's house and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion, he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they ridiculed him. When the crowd was put out, he came and took her by the hand, and the little girl arose. And news of this spread throughout all that land.
Fourth, the New Revised Standard Version translation used in the Ordinary Form in Canada:
While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.
The message conveyed by the various translations can vary from quite similar to rather different, depending on the subject matter. One can see the evolution from hierarchical verbiage, to a transitional feel, to a more modern and sometimes oddly 1970s-ism idiom. The NRSV even includes some gender-neutral pronouns in certain passages, reflecting the political correctness of our age. (N.B. The Canadian Bishops revised their laudable Catholic Book of Worship hymnal in a similar fashion: Its latest, third edition contains some gender-neutralized hymns.)

Some readers have commented that the Douay-Rheims version can be awkward to read, with outdated sentence structure, odd uses of punctuation, and various constructs that appear to be typos but are not (e.g.: non-capitalization of a sentence that starts after a question mark). However, much like the Latin language, the hierarchical language of the Douay-Rheims is timeless. It conveys its meaning without concern for the ever-changing colloquialisms of the modern vernacular. It is immune to watering down, to mis-translation as ever-evolving new editions are created, to lengthy debate over political issues, and to issues of copyright that complicate broad use of the modern translations. We have an edition that works, indeed whose style is similar to other English translations used by other Christian denominations; we can assume some intelligence on the part of readers. Church resources are arguably better spent on endeavors other than our lectionary.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for May 9, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Frozen human embryos "not life forms" . . .

. . . declares S.Korean court: "South Korea's Constitutional Court has ruled that human embryos left over from fertility treatment are not life forms and can be used for research or destroyed, a court spokesman said Friday." On whose authority? On its own authority. Now that's really credible, is it not? This is what "public reasoning" has come to in the name of scientific advancement: the abnegation of reason.

And note: "Following the ruling, shares related to stem-cell research surged on the local market." Thusly, the "good" is defined by sheer reference to "desire" and party "interest." Dictatorship of Relativism run amok.

Hahn New Testament with notes & commentary: endorsements

A reader writes:
Hahn's love of bad puns drives me nuts. But who cares! He has to be the answer to years of prayers for someone to cap the gushing well of liberal Scripture scholarship that was set loose last century with so much toxic damage. It's a certifiable miracle when arguably the most conservative Bible dictionary out today is published by Doubleday, or when Ignatius, the same publishing house that prints DeLubac and Balthasar, also happily and without as much as a hiccup prints a study Bible with notes every bit as conservative as anything printed by Crossway. And when a pro-gay marriage advocate at NRO can write an endorsement of it!
Speaking of whom, he also refers us to the following brief notice by Mike Potemra, "New Catholic Study New Testament" (National Review Online, May 26, 2010):
I recently got hold of an advance copy of Ignatius Press’s Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, and I recommend it strongly for Catholic parish Bible study groups and for personal reading. (While Catholic distinctives are addressed in the notes, the tone is not that of hectoring apologetics; typical Protestant readers, therefore, can profit from reading them. The only reason I don’t go particularly out of my way to recommend the book to that audience is that Protestants already have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to study Bibles, while this book meets a long-unmet need among Catholics for a conservative Bible resource.) The articles are impressively lucid — I was quite taken, in particular, with the editors’ fascinating suggested explanation for why Luke may have been right, after all, about the census of Quirinius; and their exposition of why Paul’s doctrine on faith and works does not conflict with that of James. The book is, in addition, quite a bargain — 711 large-format pages, with very clear print and maps, for $21.95, or, at Amazon, $14.93. Kudos to Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, who developed the book.

Hahn was a Presbyterian minister and is a Catholic convert, and his work combines the former’s love of Scripture with the latter’s love of the broader tradition of historical Western Christianity. (If he shepherds through an Old Testament volume of proportionate size to this one, he will also deserve credit for improving the physical fitness of any readers who chooses to carry it around without a wheelbarrow.)
[Hat tip to J.M.]

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pope to Schoenborn: no "rethinking" celibacy

Sandro Magister, "Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Argument over Celibacy" (www.chesia, May 28, 2010). Schoenborn seems to bow to public pressure in voicing his willingness to suggest that the issue requires "rethinking," while the Pope insists that strengthening the discipline is more needful now than ever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Home again

Thanks to Donna and the rest of you who sent up a prayer or two or three on our behalf. Travels were long and tiring, but we're home safe. God bless you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Absence from Blogsville

Most likely until the middle of next week. We have two trips to make -- one to a family wedding; and another to a conference with a colleague from SHMS. Your prayers for safety while traveling are solicited.

God bless,

Tridentine Community News

Tridentine Community News (May 16, 2010):
Assumption-Windsor To Debut Tuesday Evening Mass

We are pleased to announce that Fr. Paul Walsh, pastor of Windsor’s Assumption Church, has approved a weekly Tuesday 7:00 PM Tridentine Mass. Unlike Assumption’s other weekday Masses, which are held in the parish’s beautiful-but-small Rosary Chapel, the Tuesday evening Mass will be held in the main church, so that we may make use of the parish’s historic Casavant organ. Masses will ordinarily be Low Masses to respect people’s busy schedules. High Masses will be held for occasional special feasts.

The Tuesday evening Masses will begin on June 8. Fr. Peter Hrytsyk will be the principal celebrant of the Tuesday Masses.

Fr. Walsh deserves our thanks and prayers for his show of support to the Latin Mass Community.

Corpus Christi Masses & Processions

It has been a tradition in our churches to make use of the External Solemnity provision to move the Feast of Corpus Christi to the Sunday following the actual feast day. We shall do the same this year at both St. Josaphat and Assumption-Windsor. The Church’s thinking in permitting this move is to encourage as many of the faithful as possible to venerate our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. In particular, processions with the Blessed Sacrament that are customary on this feast are likely to have more participants on a Sunday.

We mention this because in addition to these two usual celebrations and processions, there will be one more celebration of the feast, followed by an outdoor procession, at Windsor’s St. Theresa Church on Thursday, June 3 at 7:00 PM. Thursday is the proper day of the feast, hence the decision.

St. Theresa Mass To End

There is a sad tinge to the above Mass. The pastor of St. Theresa, Fr. John Johnson, is being transferred out of Windsor this summer. As a result, at the time of this writing, the June 3 Mass will be the last Thursday Extraordinary Form Mass to be held at St. Theresa.

In addition to being an enthusiastic student of the liturgy, Fr. John has been an immense help behind the scenes with our local Tridentine Masses. He hopes to remain involved as an occasional celebrant in both Detroit and Windsor.

The debut of Assumption’s Tuesday Mass therefore comes at a fortuitous time. The very next week after the last St. Theresa Mass, the first Assumption Mass will be held.

While it is on a different day of the week, it still provides for one weekday Extraordinary Form Mass per week in Windsor. St. Theresa’s Mass has attracted faithful from far and wide; one individual drives one and a half hours each way from far north of Detroit to attend most weeks. While this is most impressive, we should note that this kind of dedication is not unknown elsewhere in the Extraordinary Form Mass world.

Tabernacle Location and the Altar Crucifix

While we are on the topic of St. Theresa Church, it is worth mentioning a rubric that may be counter-intuitive. In our historic churches, the tabernacle is in its traditional place in the center of the high altar. At St. Theresa, as in many modern churches, it is off to the side. In such a circumstance, what are the celebrant and servers to do in the way of reverences?

It is a little-known fact that the bows during Mass, such as during the Orémus before the Collects, are to the altar crucifix and not to the tabernacle. In the Extraordinary Form, every altar must have a crucifix on it. (A mosaic above and behind a high altar will suffice.) Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, encourages something similar in the Ordinary Form if it is celebrated facing the people: He recommends that the celebrant face a crucifix placed on the freestanding altar, as it provides a point of visual focus for the celebrant and congregation alike. It reminds all of the sacrificial nature of Holy Mass, plus it avoids the human tendency to stare at one another when in fact we are addressing God.

This begs the question of genuflections: To what do the celebrant and servers genuflect if the tabernacle is not on the altar? The rubrics specify that the celebrant is merely to make a bow to the crucifix at the points when he approaches or departs the altar. The servers are still to genuflect, probably to ensure that all servers are trained to do the same thing no matter the locale. During the Mass, of course, genuflections to the consecrated Blessed Sacrament are still done.

We would like to conclude with some food for thought: A centrally-located tabernacle has many advantages theologically: an easily-found focus for prayer, a throne-like placement of our Lord, and an unavoidable reminder to all to genuflect and adopt a reverent mindset as they enter their pews. Peoria, Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky recently ordered all of his churches to restore their tabernacles to a central point. Yet there is something unseemly in having the celebrant turn his back to the Blessed Sacrament as he celebrates Mass facing the people. Logic tells us this is another argument in favor of ad oriéntem celebration of Holy Mass.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for May 16, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

“Why do we men become dejected?”

"Blessed are you for believing'', said Elizabeth to our Mother. Union with God, supernatural virtue, always brings with it the attractive practice of human virtues: Mary brought joy to her cousin's home, because she brought Christ. (Furrow, 566)

Put not the slightest trust in those who present the virtue of humility as something degrading, or as a virtue condemning us to a permanent state of dejection. To know we are made of clay, riveted together again, is a continual source of joy. It means acknowledging our littleness in the eyes of God: a little child, a son. Can there be any joy to compare with that of the person who, knowing himself to be poor and weak, knows also that he is a son of God? Why do we men become dejected? It is because life on earth does not go the way we had hoped, or because obstacles arise which prevent us from satisfying our personal ambitions.

Nothing like this happens when a person lives the supernatural reality of his divine filiation. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ As I never tire of repeating: let them be sad who are determined not to recognize that they are children of God! (Friends of God, 108)

St. Josemaría Escrivá (Opus Dei, May 12, 2010).

[Hat tip to K.K.]

George Will having more fun ...

... than a human being should be allowed to have, in "In Politics, As Good As It Gets" (, May 19, 2010):
WASHINGTON -- The candidate who on Tuesday won the special election in a Pennsylvania congressional district is right-to-life and pro-gun. He accused his opponent of wanting heavier taxes. He said he would have voted against Barack Obama's health care plan and promised to vote against cap-and-trade legislation, which is a tax increase supposedly somehow related to turning down the planet's thermostat. This candidate, Mark Critz, is a Democrat.

And that just about exhausts the good news for Democrats on a surreal Tuesday when their presumptive candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut -- the state's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal -- chose to hold a news conference at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall to discuss why he had falsely said he fought in a foreign war. National Democrats may try to find a less damaged candidate for Connecticut, but first they may have to do that in Illinois.

Their candidate to hold the Senate seat Obama held, Alexi Giannoulias, has a problem: The failure of the bank owned by his family -- it made loans to Tony Rezko, the convicted developer who helped Obama with a 2006 property transaction -- may cost taxpayers many millions. Proving his credentials as a disciple of the president, Giannoulias blamed the bank's failure on George W. Bush.
And that's just the beginning ...

[Hat tip to our Seattle correspondent, K.K.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

Janet Smith's new ally in the culture wars: Raquel Welch

If you grew up when Raquel Welch was considered one of the "sex kittens" briefly dominating the silver screen, you might be surprised to hear what the star has to say about “sexual freedom.” Kathryn Jean Lopez, in "Raquel Welch’s Sexiest Storyline Yet" (National Review Online, May 17, 2010), writes:
If you need a quick primer on the birds and the bees, on how a culture has been misled, and on why Carrie and her friends from yet another Sex and the City movie have had miserable, not-so-pretty lives, the woman once declared “Most Desired Woman” by Playboy can help you out.

The actress has written a book, Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, which might just stand out on bookstore shelves. We need it to!

In an article that coincided with her book’s launch, she wrote: “Margaret Sanger opened the first American family-planning clinic in 1916, and nothing would be the same again. Since then the growing proliferation of birth-control methods has had an awesome effect on both sexes and led to a sea change in moral values.”

... [The concept of "sexual freedom" ushered in by the pill, she writes,] "has taken the caution and discernment out of choosing a sexual partner, which used to be the equivalent of choosing a life partner. Without a commitment, the trust and loyalty between couples of childbearing age is missing, and obviously leads to incidents of infidelity. No one seems immune.”

... Janet E. Smith, editor of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right, among other books, and professor of life ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, tells me, “I keep hoping common sense might have some force with the secular world.” In the spirit of that hope, Welch’s comments are a welcome change.
Some will undoubtedly scoff at all this, simply because Welch was once herself a "sex kitten," and because, like Nancy Pelosi, she has had her own share of face lifts (one reviewer of her book on Amazon was so shallow as to give the book a single star because Welch failed to include any new information about her face lift and beauty treatment strategies). Welch's own obsession with beauty and the cult of youth may be called shallow too. Yet she has been writing for some decades now in support of traditional family values in family magazines like Ladies' Home Journal (no, I don't have a subscription, though my wife used to). There is also something about her situation that is not altogether antithetical to those women in Rachel's Vineyard Ministries who have had abortions and repent of them. Welch, too, is a version of the mugged liberal turned conservative, if you will, someone who once embraced the image of the "sex kitten," but has witnessed the widespread damage to families that a culture of recreational pursuit of sex can yield. I don't know that one should expect her to wear sack cloth and ashes on that account. Welch's writing does not hold a candle to Janet Smith's articulate assault on the culture of death, but neither is it an unwelcome profession of awakening, and one that may have some impact in areas of popular culture where more articulate voices often remain unheard.

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What do Napolitano, Kagan & Elton John have in common?

Is there a reason why the people whom President Obama wants to run his government (Napolitano and Kagan, left) share an uncanny resemblance to Elton John (two photos on right)?

Hawaii: No more Obama birth certificate inquiries!

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle signed into law Wednesday a bill allowing state government agencies not to respond to follow-up requests for information regarding President Obama's birth certificate.

A genocidally anti-Jewish Muslim today ...

... has more civil rights in the U.S. than she would have in any Muslim country in the world.

Witness David Horowitz analyzing his ‘Chilling’ Encounter With a Muslim Student (, May 15, 2010).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Deliciously quotable Belloc

Here richly, with ridiculous display,
The Politician's corpse was laid away.
While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged
I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

("Epitaph on the Politician Himself")

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There's nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.

(Verses (1910) "Dedicatory Ode")

May all good fellows that here agree
Drink Audit Ale in heaven with me,
And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
May all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel!

(Drinking Song for Christmas from The Four Men)

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.
And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!

(The Pelagian Drinking Song)

The world is full of double beds
And most delightful maidenheads,
Which being so, there’s no excuse
For sodomy or self-abuse.

("The world is full of double beds")

Heroic Poem in Praise of Wine

To exalt, enthrone, establish and defend,
To welcome home mankind's mysterious friend
Wine, true begetter of all arts that be;
Wine, privilege of the completely free;
Wine the recorder; wine the sagely strong;
Wine, bright avenger of sly-dealing wrong,
Awake, Ausonian Muse, and sing the vineyard song!

By thee do seers the inward light discern;
By thee the statue lives, the Gods return.

When the ephemeral vision's lure is past
All, all, must face their Passion at the last.

So touch my dying lip: so bridge that deep:
So pledge my waking from the gift of sleep,
And, sacramental, raise me the Divine:
Strong brother in God and last companion, Wine.

Predestination for Dummies

Well, it's not quite that, but John Salza's The Mystery of Predestination: According to Scripture, the Church, and St Thomas Aquinas (Saint Benedict Press & Tan Books and Publishers, 2010) is about the clearest introduction you'll find to one of the most impossibly difficult subjects in theology. Here the publisher's summary:
How can an all-loving God choose some people for eternal salvation while permitting others to fall away? Doesn't God offer the same amount of saving grace to everyone? Isn't predestination a Protestant doctrine? In The Mystery of Predestination , author and apologist John Salza, seeks to answer these questions, and others, about that most ineffable and confounding of Christian beliefs: that God chooses to infallibly direct certain people to salvation but not others. Drawing deeply upon Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Salza says that a proper Catholic understanding of the doctrine of predestination is interconnected with two other central mysteries: the ability of mankind to choose freely to accept or reject God's saving grace, and the inability of mankind to accept God's grace without first being moved by His grace from within. By holding these truths always before us we can see how God may predestine His elect to heaven but never desire that anyone go to hell. We can also achieve a new clarity and depth of insight into a profound Christian truth: God is the primary mover in salvation. It is He who chooses, seeks, and saves us. Meticulously researched and written in a scholarly yet accessible style, The Mystery of Predestination is perfect for the serious Catholic who is confused by Bible verses or Magisterial statements in favor of predestination (and never hears about it in Sunday sermons), or who wants to defend Catholic truth against Calvinist error, and is seeking clear, traditional, and Thomistic answers. Or, indeed, for any thoughtful Christian who wants to come to terms with what the Bible teaches about the fundamental truths of our salvation.
The author is clearly well acquainted with not only the Biblical literature and Catholic theological tradition, but also with the Lutheran and Calvinist Protestant traditions that take issue, at points, with the Catholic position. This little book is a good place to start for anyone interested in the age-old problem and the debates surrounding it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A supply-side argument for a more demanding and disciplined Catholicism

John Lamont has done it again. He has written a very provocative article about which I've been intending to write a post for some time. The article, I'm convinced, has not received sufficient attention as yet, in part because of its playful but oblique title, which obscures his thesis, and in part because his thesis is not explicitly stated until his conclusion. The article is entitled "The Prophet Motive" (First Things, April, 2010). Clever, but what does it mean? The print edition of the article carries the following editorial header: "Why do so many Americans go to church? John Lamont argues that supply-side economics provides an explanation." The header points to one of the economic models used to explain American religious habits, but does not really get at his thesis.

What is Lamont's thesis? Simply put, that: "What will be necessary for ... a revival [in the Catholic Church] is for strict standards to be required, not just permitted (emphasis added)." In other words, the apparent present policy of merely reiterating Church teaching through repeated Vatican instructions and declarations, of promulgation without enforcement, may well be fatal for the future of Catholicism.

The thesis is not particularly novel in itself. There are ample precedents. The socio-economical argument for it, however, is not only quite interesting, but quite compelling; so let us have a look at Lamont's analysis.

Just one caveat: the explanatory models employed by sociologists of religion offer an account of religion purely from an external vantage point, so please be advised to have patience with a vocabulary and perspective utterly foreign to religious experience from a perspective internal to the Catholic Faith.

Lamont starts with the often-asked question, "Why do more Americans go to church regularly than people in any other country in the world?" What is interesting about this phenomenon is that it runs counter to the classic Durkheimian "secularization thesis" about the decline of religious practice as we moved from a traditional agrarian society to a modern industrialized and technically advanced one. Religious practice in the United States actually grew and flourished with industrialization and technical advance.

In order to explain this American phenomenon, sociologists have turned to accounts that apply principles of free-market capitalism to religion. This, of course, yielded the well-known argument that the "free market" of religions in the U.S. has permitted religious groups that adopt successful strategies and flourish at the expense of those which fail, while the history of established churches in Europe, each holding a monopoly within its state, has prevented competition in the religious marketplace, leaving declining, progressively secularized and unattractive religions as the only options for potential believers. This new school of sociologists of religion borrows from rational-choice theories of economics in developing its ideas and has thus come to be known as the "rational choice" school.

The rational-choice school explains American religious exceptionalism by a general theory of religious behavior comprised of two principal components. The first is a market model of religious competition, which focuses on the behavior of religious "consumers." The second is a supply-side analysis of the success of particular religions, which focuses on religious "firms" rather than merely upon religious "consumers."

The market model holds "that, when a religion enjoys a monopoly in a given market, its leaders, lacking the spur of competition, will not try very hard to make religious practice an attractive option," says Lamont. By contrast, "when a competitive market in religions replaces a monopoly, not only will the spur of competition be present, there also will be a process of natural selection among religions, with the more attractive religions gaining at the expense of the less attractive ones."

This (market model) is the model typically used by the rational-choice school to explain American religious exceptionalism. On its face, it offers a powerful explanation. In Lamont's words, it represents "a considerable achievement." Before the American Revolution, most of the colonies had established churches, and, by all accounts, Americans were not very religious. After the Revolution, however, these churches no longer had established status and had to compete for members in a free market. As Roger Finke and Rodney Stark show, in The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy(cited by Lamont), less than one-fifth of the American population at the time of the American Revolution claimed church membership. The rate rose to more than one-third in the mid-nineteenth century and to more than one-half today. This is what they refer to as the "churching of America." The claim is that the "free competition" of religions made the average church more effective at getting members, which led to an increased rise in church attendance throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the U.S., in contrast to Europe, where church attendance has steadily dwindled.

The problem with the market model, however, is that as a universal explanation of the strength of religious practice within societies, it does not fit the data. Lamont writes:
The market model predicts that that societies in which one religion has a monopoly will be religiously lax. But societies as varied as the Byzantine Empire, sixteenth-century Spain, Tibet under the Dalai Lama, Malta until the late twentieth-century, and many Islamic countries throughout history were not lacking in religious fervor. In general, prior to the American Revolution, free markets in religion were scarce or nonexistent, but religiously fervent societies, while not universal, were not uncommon.

Nor is it true that a free market in religion always leads to increased religiosity. Most areas of Western Europe have not had an established church for over a hundred years. The religiosity of these lands was significantly higher when they did possess established churches, and the removal of establishment has not produced any of the positive effects that the free-market component of the rational-choice school predicts.
Furthermore, Lamont points out, Reginald Bibby has shown, in his books Fragmented Gods: The Poverty and Potential of Religion in Canada(1987), Unknown Gods: The Ongoing Story of Religion in Canada(1993), and Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada(2003) that the Canadian experience furnishes especially clear evidence against the universal efficacy of a free market in religion.
Such a free market has existed in Canada since the British conquest in 1759, and, until the post-World War II period, Canadian religious observance seemed to confirm the free-market model. As recently as 1956, Canadians were considerably more religious than Americans, with an average claimed weekly church-attendance rate of 61 percent. After 1956, however, the rate of reported weekly church attendance in Canada fell below the American rate and has now stabilized at about 25 percent.... The drop in religious observance in Canada did not happen as a result of the existence of an established religion. As Bibby has found, the fall resulted largely from Canadian's continuing to have some attachment to a religion but ceasing to practice it.
The reason for the failure of the free-market model to explain religious practice in Western Europe and Canada, suggests Lamont, most likely stems from the fact that, for such a model to apply, "people have to think of a religious commitment as analogous to a purchasing decision, and to think of different religions as analogous to competing sellers of goods." While such thinking may apply to a large portion of American society, it is not universal. "Belonging to a particular religion often has been thought of as analogous to (or part of) membership in a family or an ethnic group, neither of which can be chosen or renounced," writes Lamont.

The other component of the rational-choice school -- its supply-side analysis of the success of religions -- offers a more promising model than the free-market component, according to Lamont. Based on the supply-side macroeconomic theory that emerged in the 1970s, in response to the failure of then dominant Keynesian ideas, the rational-choice school borrowed the idea of focusing on the supply of religion rather than the demand for it.

Lamont identifies two claims in the supply-side analysis. The first claim is that "religious practice involves effort, and reward for this effort largely depends on the existence and activity of the supernatural being or beings toward whom the effort is directed." In other words, to provide an incentive to make this effort, a religion must place great emphasis on the existence and power of these supernatural beings. Thus, "the more overtly and insistently otherworldly a religion is, the more successful it will be (emphasis added)."

The second claim is even more startling: religions succeed if they make "distinctive and demanding requirements of their adherents." Since the rewards of religion are supernatural and, therefore, unseen, religious commitment involves taking a risk, and "one's perception of this risk is lessened if the other members of one's religious community are zealous and committed." Lamont offers an illustration of the claim that a high average level of enthusiasm makes collective religious activities more rewarding: "compare, for example, singing hymns in a small and listless congregation with singing as a part of a large, enthusiastic group."

Only religions with zeal and commitment can overcome the "free rider" problem that plagues voluntary organizations and provide an appealing moral framework to structure one's life. Such a framework of moral principles are most effective when one sees that most of the people around one are following them. "Thus, a church has to set high standards for membership in order to be attractive, and churches that set high standards are churches that will grow." This is why, as Finke and Stark assert, "the churching of America was accomplished by agressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness."

Finke and Stark offer, in addition to their supply-side analysis, an explanation of why religions tend to forsake the demanding recipe of success:
Because of the long-term exchange relations that religious organizations require, people are forever paying the costs in the here and now while most of the rewards are to be realized elsewhere and later. As a result, humans are prone to backslide, to get behind on their payments.... Thus, other things being equal, people will always be in favor of a modest reduction in their costs. In this fashion, humans begin to bargain with their churches for lower tension and fewer sacrifices. They usually succeed, both because it is those with the most influence -- the clergy and the leading laity -- who most desire to lower the level of sacrifice and because each reduction seems so small and engenders widespread approval.
This lowering of standards has the immediate effect of pleasing people, but the long-term effect of driving them away. Finke and Stark's analysis offers a compelling supply-side model that explains why mainstream Protestant churches that make negligible demands of their members have declining memberships, while more demanding evangelical or Pentecostal churches continue to grow. In contrast to the free-market model, their supply-side model fits all the data, not only that of the American experience.

This supply-side analysis also explains why Canadians were significantly more religious than Americans at the close of the Second World War in 1945: they were stricter. Canadian Methodists, for example, were outraged when they discovered that card playing was widespread among Canadian troops. The French Canadian Catholic Church was formatively shaped by the strict conservative outlook stemming from the nineteenth-century arrival of priests fleeing the French Revolution. Instead of putting people off, such strict standards led to high standards of religious observance for reasons explained by the rational-choice theory. Following the Second World War, however, Canadian Protestants and Catholics liberalized more rapidly than their American counterparts, as a result of which Canadian churches had less to offer their members than American churches, and Canadian church attendance fell off quickly to a level well below that of the United States -- again, as the rational-choice theory predicts.

Lamont points out that the situation in Western Europe following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) offers a close parallel:
The post-conciliar changes (and, to a debated extent, the conciliar documents themselves) tried to erase, as far as possible, the many distinctions between Catholics and non-Catholics. This involved the abandonment of strict rules and distinctive dress for clergy and religious, the replacement of a distinctive liturgy by one that resembled Protestant worship, the legitimation of dissent on moral teaching, and the downplaying of strict Catholic doctrine in religious instruction. According to rational-choice theory, these were the best possible steps that could have been taken to diminish European Catholicism, and this prediction has been confirmed by events. The most vigorous religious movement in Europe today is extremist Islam -- a form of religion whose success is also predicted by rational-choice theory.
Fink and Stark comment on the devastating effect this abandonment of demands and distinctiveness by the Catholic Church particularly had on priests and nuns: "... many of the most distinctive aspects of Catholic liturgy, theology, and practice, abandoned by the Council, turned out to have been crucial for generating and sustaining vocations, especially vocations sufficient to meet the high costs of Catholic religious life." They predict that "no longer in tension with the surrounding culture, the church will generate less commitment from its membership and will gradually fail to compete with a new generation of upstart sects."

In assessing this prediction, says Lamont, one should bear in mind that the secularization school and the rational-choice school are the only serious positions currently to be found in sociology of religion. "There is no sociological theory or sociological evidence to support the claim that religions can preserve or increase their influence while lowering their standards and submitting to the society around them," he writes. Yet, as far as he knows, Lamont says, "the important discoveries of the rational-choice school are completely unknown to religious leaders." How do these religious leaders' policies and strategies stack up in light of these discoveries?
Muslims, whose extremism is increasing, are doing the right thing, as are Hasidic Jews and Protestants who preserve their otherworldy doctrines and strict standards. Liberal Protestant denominations generally seem not to be salvageable: It is easier for believers who seek stricter standards to move to another church than it is to try to reimpose such standards on a resistant institution. Benedict XVI has made some movement toward a revival of Catholic distinctiveness by encouraging traditionalism, but the rational-choice theory does not predict that this will cause a general revival within the Church.

What will be necessary for such a revival is for strict standards to be required, not just permitted. This, however, would be antithetical to the pope's approach, which focuses on gentle persuasion. On a brighter note, Benedict's attempts to clarify the teachings of the Second Vatican Council open possibilities. In the decades since the council, its teachings have been widely understood as mandating an abandonment of Catholic distinctiveness and virtual surrender to the modern secular world. What is needed now, in contrast, is an interpretation of council teachings that upholds traditional Catholic distinctiveness. If such an interpretation is not vigorously enforced as well as promulgated, howver, no Catholic revival is to be expected. Instead, the pressures of secularism and competing religions will continue to erode Catholic membership. This is what the supply-side analysis predicts, and its predictions cannot be faulted so far. In short, if the Catholic Church is to thrive, a revival of zeal and reimposition of doctrine within it is urgently necessary.
Talk about food for thought! Your thoughts?

A "pro-Catholic" Pelosi, in a twisted sort of way

In our "News that you may have missed" department, we thought you might want to comment on this: "House Speaker Pelosi Thanks Nuns for Supporting ‘Life Affirming’ Health Care Bill" (CNSNEWS.COM, May 6, 2010). You have to admit, Pelosi LOOKS charming here. It makes you wonder who might be suckered into BELIEVING her. The other day as I was driving home, I even heard Dennis Miller compare her face to one of the seven wonders of the world -- namely, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Perhaps that was mean; but you can't exactly describe her as a "wolf in sheep's clothing." She looks nothing like a sheep. I wonder how even a half-wit Catholic could buy into her gratitude for the "59,000 orders of nuns" who by their support helped to pass President Obama's "life-affirming" health care reform legislation. Notice that her comments were made at the Catholic Community Conference held on Capital Hill. Who speaks for the Church here? Bishops???

[Hat tip to S.K.]

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Latin Liturgy Association Detroit Convention update

Tridentine Community News (May 2, 2010):
Next LLA Convention Planning Meeting Scheduled

On Sunday, May 23 after St. Josaphat’s Tridentine Mass, (at approximately 11:00 AM), the next meeting will be held for volunteers for the July 16-18 Latin Liturgy Association National Convention. This meeting will again be held in the St. Josaphat Parish Hall, and refreshments will be served. Progress since our last meeting has included:
  • A full roster of speakers has been lined up. An organ recital has been added to the schedule.
  • The Marriott Ren Cen has been chosen as the host hotel because of its willingness to give our attendees a special rate that makes it more attractive than other local hotels in less desirable locations.
  • A four-page color flyer has been designed. It prints on 11 x 17” paper which folds in two, to create four 8.5 x 11” pages. The flyer includes the preliminary convention schedule, information about the Bus Tour, photos of the host churches, directions, and hotel information. Thanks to Jason Grossi for his design talents. (Online PDF link)
  • A registration form has been designed, with various incentive discounts for clergy, seminarians, LLA members, and those who register by May 31. The form fits inside the flyer. (Online PDF link)
The flyer and registration form will be mailed out to LLA members this week. Single sheet and glossy postcard versions of the flyer will be created for bulletin board posting and local mailings.
Our immediate challenge is to distribute these flyers to as many logical locations as possible, via mailings and drop-offs. We also need to discuss Bus Tour logistics, include who will serve as advance-men along the route. Between now and the meeting, we will be asking volunteers to place ads in various other media, and pursue other advertising and promotional opportunities.

Bus Tour Taking Shape

Those of our readers privileged to know Frank Greenia are aware that he is a walking encyclopedia of local church knowledge. From stained glass windows to statues to the names of former pastors, Frank knows Detroit’s historic churches like virtually no one else. It is only logical that Frank head up the Historic Church Bus Tour that is scheduled for Friday, July 16. The tour is so far expected to include:

Old St. Mary’s: This historically German church in Greektown is one of the best-preserved in the area. It has long been the home of a Novus Ordo Latin Mass and is known for its music program.

Holy Family: Currently clustered with Old St. Mary’s, Holy Family is an Italian / Sicilian parish that is known for having had essentially only (Novus Ordo) Latin Masses on its published schedule, ever. Only in unusual circumstances has Mass been celebrated in the vernacular, or versus pópulum. It’s all Latin, all ad oriéntem, all the time.

Transfiguration: This parish near Six Mile and Mound has a beautiful interior largely consisting of gold mosaics, reminiscent of an Eastern Rite church.

Holy Redeemer: A well-preserved church known for being the home of a large Hispanic community as well as the site of the filming of the movie The Rosary Murders.

Ste. Anne: Detroit’s oldest parish is located at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge. Like its sister parish, Assumption, at the other end of the bridge, Ste. Anne is administered by the Basilian Fathers. Michigan pioneer Fr. Gabriel Richard’s tomb is located in a chapel adjacent to the main church.

St. Francis d’Assisi: The west side of Detroit has its own Polish church cluster analogous to St. Josaphat’s. St. Francis is an immaculately preserved edifice whose extensive use of tiny light bulbs makes St. Josaphat look like a piker in comparison.

St. Florian: Hamtramck’s largest and most prominent church is the work of famed architect Ralph Adams Cram. It features an elaborate reredos (panel behind the high altar) and marble Communion Rail.

Shrine of the Little Flower: Many of us have visited Shrine, but few are aware of the various devotional chapels, unique architectural design elements, and nooks and crannies in this elaborate complex. A tour guide will show us the lesser-known areas of this historic church-in-the-round.

Discussions are pending with three other churches, as additions or substitutes: Special events such as a funeral may require last-minute changes to the itinerary. We are particularly hopeful that St. Aloysius can be included, as that church has perhaps the most unique design in the region.

The tour will include lunch at one of the churches; which one will depend upon how many sign up for the tour. The day will conclude with an optional visit to Windsor’s Assumption Church, where Vespers and Benediction will be held in the Extraordinary Form. Those who wish to go to Canada will need to have one of the following: a Passport, an Enhanced Driver’s License (the quickest and least expensive option), a Passport Card, or a Nexus Card. Apply for one of these as soon as possible so that you can join us.

DC Mass A Success As Expected

Tulsa Bishop Edward Slattery stepped in for Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos at the last minute to celebrate the Pontifical Mass last Saturday, April 24 at Washington, DC’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The church, which seats 4,000, was filled. EWTN broadcast the Mass and may make it available on DVD. Along with the 1996 landmark Pontifical Mass at New York’s St. Patrick Cathedral, this Mass is sure to break down barriers for further major event Extraordinary Form Masses to be celebrated in the future.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for May 2, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

John Paul II: A Character Study

By Raymond T. Gawronski

Holiness. There was a palpable holiness around him. Though of course only the Church can declare someone a saint, there was no doubt that those chanting santo subito at his funeral had been touched by something unmistakable. Odd as it may seem, every morning, at dawn, when he prayed in his chapel in the Vatican, it was like watching Aslan the Lion at the kneeler, for Pope John Paul II used to groan in his praying as if he were wrestling with God. Holiness is an unusual thing, an unworldly thing. John Paul was joyful but not frivolous, serious but not somber. Deeply believing, and so pious, but his piety was never a barrier nor yet a shield from people. It was simply real, for he was simply in the presence of God and he knew it.

So it was the times I was blessed to be present at his private Masses in the Vatican, during the five years when I studied in Rome. Sometimes I was with a small group. Once, I was one of two priests at the altar with him. Those were the days when I would take breaks from my doctoral studies and travel into the Soviet Union to give retreats, or to visit and minister to the long-persecuted Catholics there. Our Lady of Fatima was my special patroness on those visits.

I will confess at the outset that I have always loved John Paul II, from the moment I became aware of his existence, on his elevation to the papacy over thirty years ago now. Of course, there was a deep connection because we were both children of the Polish nation and, like all believing Poles, were prone to feel that his election was in a way the setting to rights the great crime committed when, at the end of World War II, her allies betrayed Poland by handing her over to Stalin and the cultural genocide long prepared by the communists. Perhaps the most Roman Catholic nation in Europe was simply written out of Europe. Now justice had come from God — and from God alone. It was worth the wait.

Unlike others, however, I was never invited to share a meal with him after those early morning Masses, and we did not communicate. Rather, our encounters were limited to concelebration at such Masses and simple greetings in various reception lines in Rome. Still, I felt I knew him, and even knew him intimately. For one thing, he looked like my father, moved like him. For another, we would have known the same history, unwritten because banned by the commissars of the Soviet Empire and their willing collaborators in the Western academy. We knew that truth suffers, is crucified and buried in this world: but that truth will be victorious. Yes, I believe we knew each other.

The day he was elected Pope was the happiest day of my life. None has surpassed it, and by now I suspect none could or ever will, short of the day I go home to the Lord. During his papacy, there was much expected opposition to him. At first, there was an ignorant hope among many in the West that any non-Italian would simply be a liberal. That hope was soon squashed, and the hostility commenced. It was worst in the Catholic world, where he was simply hated by many. It was a common experience for me to encounter people who for over twenty years would not hesitate to say they were eagerly awaiting his death: they wanted him dead. He opposed their vision of the Church — "agendas" that had emerged in the past decade or so — and this man, unapologetic about his rootedness in the Catholic tradition, was the living obstacle to the realization of the final dismantling of that tradition and the full embrace of the agendas set by the contemporary world. Rather quickly, this hostility became trite, expected, and really a testimony to the greatness — and the truth — of John Paul II. This was a persecution that redounded to his greatness and God's glory.

But there were other elements that were more problematic, because they came from people who saw in him both a great hope and a great ally. This criticism was much more powerful, and much nearer to home, and it continues. On a number of occasions, and a number of issues, he shocked and dismayed his loyal followers. A seemingly small matter — the allowing of altar girls — was a matter of tremendous demoralization to those who had been fighting what was at the time simple disobedience, a disobedience it seems Rome eventually rewarded. And there is the lingering, deeper, question of wisdom — and faithfulness to Scripture and Tradition — in the matter of gender in the contemporary Church.

Other problematic areas tended to emerge from John Paul's apparently excessive irenicism, especially as regards other religious traditions. Though applauded by many, the gathering of world religious leaders at Assisi greatly troubled some Catholics who are much concerned with syncretism and indifferentism. His visit to a mosque in Damascus, and apparent kissing of a Koran (denied by his assistant), is increasingly seen as deeply wrong, given what many are coming to learn — or to be reminded — of Islam. The apologies of the Pope for the sins of Catholics to other groups struck many as entirely unilateral and wide open to misunderstanding, the sort that allowed the enemies of the Church to say, "You see, they're just as bad as we've been saying all along."

Others criticize him severely for not being a good administrator. This is seen most painfully in the American Church's crisis of clerical sex abuse, revelations of which exploded toward the end of his papacy.

Finally, there is a sense that he was too much a showman, that in fact there was a cult of personality around him that he not only tolerated but may have encouraged. A great Polish scholar of my acquaintance, who personally knew and greatly admired John Paul, was horrified that he would allow statues of himself to be made during his lifetime: It reminded my friend of the cult of Stalin.

Now, five years after his death, John Paul has been declared a "Servant of God," and the road does in fact now lie open for his beatification and possible canonization. So a prayerful, studied reception of this Servant of God by the Church is very much needed.

It would be impossible to defend every decision, every action — or failure to act — of John Paul, if only for the simple fact, rooted in dogma, that as a man he was a sinner, he was imperfect. Even the greatest of saints have trouble shaking off venial sin. St. Peter himself denied Christ. It may well be that any one, or even all, of the actions that so trouble his recent critics were simply wrong-headed if good-hearted.

What I would like to suggest here is a different angle of viewing that may be of some help to people of good will, who saw something of the greatness and even holiness of John Paul, and yet were puzzled by his style. And here I turn to his Polish heritage, because I believe it is the key to understanding him.

The first and last thing to say about the Poles is that they are unique among the larger European Catholic nations in that they were never — never — part of the Roman Empire, though they became totally rooted in Roman Catholicism. But they were never part of the pagan empire or the "holy Roman" Empire. At some profound level that I keep touching but cannot quite specify, this is determinative. The Western European nations all have roots as Roman provinces; many of them — and Russia as well — have at one time or another seen themselves as "empires" in their own right, sometimes claiming actual descent from Rome. Though the Polish nobility adored everything Roman, it was the republic that the Poles always emulated, not the empire. Indeed, their traditions were so opposed to royal tyranny of any sort that they became prey to the rapacity of autocratic neighbors for several centuries. But their national instincts were different, and it can be argued that history has been proving them right. Part of that difference is a strong insistence on subsidiarity, on local government, and resistance to the sort of tyranny that came from Berlin or Moscow or, in another sphere, Rome.

Poland has been called the "state without stakes." While Western Europe went through long periods of savage religious wars, the phenomenon was virtually unknown in Poland. Poland's tolerance bordered on indifferentism, and was severely criticized by Western European Catholics for centuries.

Religious tolerance went along with what today we would call multiculturalism, obnoxious as that phrase has become. For most of its history, Poland was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state with a degree of tolerance unheard of elsewhere in the world. It was this tolerance that allowed various Protestant sects to thrive in Poland, much to the chagrin of Roman authorities; that allowed a Muslim presence to abide long after the invasions from the East; and that, perhaps most significantly, allowed the Jewish community to find a safe haven when Jews were being expelled from all of Western Europe and forbidden settlement in Russia.

I am reading a book on the Templars as I write this, a crusading order of the early second millennium. I am slightly surprised that I see so much of Europe involved in the crusades — including Hungary — but in the book Poland is not mentioned once, even though Poland became a kingdom at about the same time as Hungary. But Poland was not a significant presence in these crusades. Along with the crusades in the Holy Land, there was another crusade, the "Northern Crusade" against the pagan Baltic peoples, and when the Poles linked up with the recently converted Lithuanians for the biggest battle of their early history, it was against these "northern crusaders," the "Knights of the Cross," who simply saw anyone from Eastern Europe as a pagan, no matter that the Poles had already been Catholics for centuries. To defend themselves against the massed knights of Western Europe, the Poles did align themselves with Muslims and Tartars, something their Western neighbors would never forget, something that Hitler used in his propaganda, seven hundred years (of Catholicism!) later.

John Paul was from the heart of Europe, and he was profoundly European and Roman Catholic; but John Paul was from a country that has a unique history, a history that does not have historical roots in Rome itself or in the Western Europe that emerged with the breakdown of Rome. Moreover, he came from a part of the world that was eventually colonized by its neighbors in Western Europe and by Russia as well. The crusading "Teutonic Knights" became secularized, centuries later, and formed the Prussian state, which eventually became the ultimate nightmare for Poland. The former is so similar to the secularized Europe of today, with its Christian roots, but whose worldly success reveals that it was in fact a "failed Christianity." For all its own failings, Poland emerged as the most Catholic nation in Europe, and this Catholicism was confident and unashamed, if mindful of its sinfulness.

Yet John Paul's nation was a nation that for several centuries had been reduced to colonial status at best; in fact, the Poles were at various times in the past several centuries slated for destruction if not actual extermination. A nation of slaves was what the Nazis had decided for the Poles, quite literally. Slave labor was explicitly instituted in German-occupied Poland where the Poles were seen as sub-humans, and Soviet-occupied Poland had its own version of slave labor. Humiliation and exploitation were the rule of the day. Perhaps most killing of all was the need to destroy any and all traces of a Polish nation or state, let alone one that was highly cultured, intelligent, and refined. Sadly, some of this modern European prejudice has spilled over into our own country, and it was not helpful in this regard that Polish immigration to this country (unlike other Polish emigrations) was so predominantly of the desperately poor who generally came to earn money to buy more land — back home — and so invested more slowly in the host culture than other groups.

Someone who knows firsthand the arrogance and high-handedness of the colonial powers of the West (and East) would have an understanding of Muslim resentment that few Westerners could have. Noteworthy too is the great popularity John Paul experienced in Mexico and the Philippines, impoverished nations both, far surpassing anything he experienced in Western Europe. Misery loves company.

I have wondered why he was so beloved in so many of the poorer nations of the world, while the more prosperous nations of the world — most notably in Northern Europe — treated him with at best icy reserve. Photos from his visits to Krakow help me understand. At the edges of the vast parks there are not rows of single-family homes, as we have in the U.S. and other prosperous countries. Instead, the parkland yields instantly to blocks of poured-concrete apartment houses, the sort of "blocks" in which a very high proportion of the world's population live, "blocks" which until recently we in the U.S. used to call "projects." We live in a world formed by the rise of bourgeois societies stemming from the Reformation: these characterize Northwestern Europe and the U.S. But most of the globe is peopled by cultures that have not known the dominance of this class of people, of this style of living. Instead, a great proportion of the world is inhabited by peoples who were rapidly thrust from villages into "projects," from traditional — and religious — rural societies into the radically secularized world of modernity. Surrounded by the world of "blocks," of the particularly soulless projects built by atheist governments in Eastern Europe to shelter "the masses," John Paul emerged carrying the ultimate symbol of God and wounded humanity: the Crucified One. In this he proclaimed hope to all in Africa or Asia or Latin America who have known God, and long for God, and who find themselves in societies rapidly moving away from any traditional expression of the relation to God. It was the hope he fostered when he led the battle to have a church built in what the communists had planned to be a modern, godless workers' town near Krakow, called Nowa Huta.

At a deeper level, humans — especially economically deprived humans — are at risk of a profound dehumanization in the modern world. John Paul was profoundly human — that is, he was an actor, a being of dramatic performance, not cowed or subdued by the demands of any machine, political or physical. This ability to perform drew millions to him for whom he was vibrantly alive, far from the gray personage representing some bureaucracy or another. Somehow, one of their own had gotten into a position of great power, and the little people instinctively knew and loved it.

I have heard it said that "the saints have no resentment." Perhaps the most edifying virtue I see in John Paul is the absence of resentment. Looking at the Muslim world in hundreds of pictures and stories over dozens of years now, it is resentment above all that seems to characterize that world. It seems the experience of having once been great — memories of Baghdad and Muslim Spain, etc. — and then the humiliation of being divided up by European powers, and the symbolic insult of the state of Israel, have created and fed a seemingly bottomless pit of resentment in the Muslim world. I think John Paul instinctively understood this, through the history of his own people, who emerged from the utter wasteland of World War II only to spend the next fifty years under the boot heel of Stalinism — no Marshall Plan, no new state — and as the butt of Pollack jokes in global media. I suspect he understood the temptation to resentment — he would have had to — and overcame it. Perhaps with this in mind one can better appreciate his reaching out to Muslims, his desire to show human respect for fellow men who, at the very least, do not accept the modern atheist vision, even if some of his gestures certainly raise serious religious questions.

There is a theme I have encountered in Slavophile authors and even in Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz (in his poem "To Robinson Jeffers") in which the Slavic sensibility is contrasted with the Western: Whereas Western Europe is seen as profoundly pagan, haunted by notions of doom and fate, grim battles to the death with no reconciliation, the Slavic foundational myths hold out the hope that the inevitable fratricidal conflict will end up with reconciliation, everyone seated around one table, eating — and drinking! There was much of this largeness of soul to John Paul, something childlike in his desire to embrace everybody, with no cynical knife held behind his back. He was no fool, but he had so large and pure a soul that, to him, the sins of man — if he really could believe that men could be as wicked as they apparently were in Boston, among other places — were more like swarming mosquitoes that could simply be brushed away than products of a corrupt, cynical world.

This sweetness of soul, this heart reaching out to all, is what touched tens of millions of people worldwide who saw in John Paul's face a man who had worked in a stone quarry, who had known his people slaughtered in countless wars, who had known what it was like to have to rely on God alone, and not on a wealthy economy or worldly prestige.

His home culture offered something of an anima naturaliter Christiana, it offered a rich nature on which grace could build. But the heart of his greatness was beyond any culture, because it came from his union, in prayer, with his Lord and the Lord's Blessed Mother. This union in prayer — above all else — defined his papacy. It was a union that was unmistakable, and easily seen by the masses of people who thronged to see him, to touch him, as the very Vicar of Christ. Perhaps they did not begin a program of moral conversion, in spite of the Pope's admonitions. They simply loved him, and the unreachable God made accessible to them through His representative. It is for God's grace to work the many hidden miracles on the souls in which the seeds of His love were planted by the man whose constant companion, and very symbol, was the crucifix of his Lord.

Could he have...? Should he have...? These questions will always be there. No doubt John Paul was an unworthy servant of so great a Master. But then, what are we? What John Paul did do was offer the world an image of hope that grew out of that crucifix he always carried, the crucifix he always held forth to others. St. Paul says, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." Indeed there was something of that to the performer who certainly sat at center stage. Yet he never pointed to himself, but to the Lord, whom he encountered every dawn in prayer.

[Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski, S.J., a native of New York City, is a professor of dogmatic theology and a spiritual director at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. Fr. Gawrongski's foregoing article, "John Paul II: A Character Study," was originally published in New Oxford Review (April 2010), pp. 18-22, and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]

Monday, May 03, 2010

Divine grace & the conversion of Hadley Arkes

I first encountered the writings of the pro-life Jewish author in the pages of Crisis Magazine, back in its heyday. Now, blessed be God, he has converted to the Catholic Faith and has been received into the Church. Robert George captures beautifully the spirit of the occasion, in "The operation of divine grace on Hadley Arkes . . . and friends" (Mirror of Justice, April 26, 2010):
Evelyn Waugh described his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited as a story about "the operation of divine grace on a diverse but closely connected group of characters." Yesterday, I had the profoundly moving experience of witnessing the operation of grace on a particular person and a diverse group of people who were connected to each other through him. That person, Hadley Arkes, the Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, was received into the Catholic Church in a beautiful ceremony in the chapel of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Enveloped in the love of his many friends and admirers, Hadley was baptized, confirmed, and received his first communion.

Hadley is an outstanding political philosopher and constitutional theorist who has dedicated much of his professional life to defending the dignity and rights of the child in the womb. In remarks after the service yesterday, he explained that his faith in Christ had come through the Church. The Church's moral witness, especially on the sanctity of human life and on marriage and sexual morality---a witness that has in our time made the Church a "sign of contradiction" to the most powerful and influential elements of the elite sector of contemporary western culture---persuaded him that the Church is, despite the failings of so many of its members and leaders, fundamentally "a truth-teaching institution." In teachings that many find to be impediments, Hadley found decisive evidence that the Church is, indeed, what she claims to be.

Speaking of his Jewish identity, Hadley said that he neither would nor could ever leave the Jewish people. His entry into the Church was for him, he stated, a fulfillment of his Jewish faith, and in no way a repudiation of it. Invoking the testimony and authority of the late Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, he declared that he was and would always remain a Jew, though a Jew who, like the earliest Christians, had come to accept Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Hadley's sponsor was Michael Novak, who read aloud some charming verses he had composed for the occasion. The other speakers were Daniel Robinson of the Philosophy Faculty at Oxford University, Michael Uhlmann of the Political Science Department at Claremont Graduate School, David Forte of the Cleveland State University Law School, and your humble correspondent. The chapel was overflowing with people who had come from all over the country. The spirit of joy was extraordinary. Part of the reason for that, I believe, is that every person in the room had become a better Christian as a result of Hadley's friendship, long before Hadley himself entered the Church. More than a few people credited Hadley for their own conversions (or reversions). Like G.K. Chesterton, he spent years leading others into the Church before he walked through the door himself.
[Hat tip to E.E.]

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Mark Steyn, in "Vandals in the Churchyard" (American Spectator, May 2, 2010), reprints a column from a decade ago with an eerie applicability to events of today. He prefaces the column with the following remarks:
This American Spectator column from a decade back deals with a spate of church desecration. But, from the perspective of 2010, what most struck me upon rereading was the small aside that a ski-masked gang storming a cathedral at prayer, hurling used condoms at worshippers, desecrating paintings with bloody tampons, attempting to smash the tabernacle and lighting up a burning cross at the entrance doesn't qualify, under Quebec law, as a "hate crime". As Constable Sylvie Latour explains below, the "hate" law cannot be used against people who "in good faith" attempt "to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject" - even if you're "arguing" with sanitary napkins and condoms. Who knew? If only I'd hurled used tampons at Mohammed Elmasry and Khurrum Awan, I could have saved myself a whole heap of trouble. Just when you think Canada's "hate" laws can't any dumber or more worthless, they always do....
[Hat tip to S.K.]