Courage and public witness

Went to confession for the first time since the lockdown. Wow!!

Later the same day, was walking into a store as a priest was walking out. “Hi, Father!” You don’t often see priests wearing their collars in public nowadays. Like policemen, I like to give them a little moral support when I do.

Afterwards the image of the Roman collar stuck in my mind. This is the symbol of the priesthood of my faith. Regardless of the man wearing it, it stands for the power of the Faith, power to forgive sins and offer the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary.

It takes courage to wear the collar in public in this time and place. Speaking of which:

Catholic youths heroically stop California mob from tearing down saint’s statue

Maybe “heroically” is a bit much. But courageously, sure. I’m going to guess that some of these young people were students of Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura County. These kids don’t take the Faith lightly. Also, one was a priest in a Roman collar.

The current trend being to punish people posthumously for historic misdeeds and violations of political correctness, how long before we’re called to stand in front of our churches the way these people stood in front of the Serra statue?

 

Days of anguish and tribulation

In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.

The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship – or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labours and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.

I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture.

Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps. In another place he says: The name of the Lord is an impregnable tower. The just man seeks refuge in it and he will be saved.

Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.

Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.

Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season . . . .

A Letter by St. Boniface, Office of Readings, Friday of 9th Week in Ordinary Time.

The banquet is ready

Christ speaks to Adam in Hades:
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, Office of Readings, universalis.com, April 11, 2020.
christ harrowing of hell

People who advocate for uploading ourselves into computers …

People who advocate for uploading ourselves into computers in order to live indefinitely, admit that the soul is immaterial; or in other words, our bodies are not ourselves. If our bodies were ourselves, then transferring our minds from one physical medium to another would make us different persons.

 

The very idea of transferring information from one physical medium to another and having it remain the same information, entails that the information itself is not physical; otherwise it would be different information in every instance in which it is physically manifested.

Truth and practicality

With the abolition of the vita contemplativa and its transcendent order of nature, being, and truth, thought inevitably becomes a mere instrument of action. The distinction between a theoria that seeks to understand reality and a practical reason aimed at the achievement of some practical good all but disappears, leaving a void that is inevitably filled by politics, the science of power, which is as dominant in the Church as it is in the rest of modern life. Truth, being, and nature in their traditional, metaphysical sense are replaced by the functional truths of the sciences and what Machiavelli called the effectual truth (verità effettuale) of politics: what is needful for securing and maintaining power or even for achieving some legitimate good, such as the unity of the Church. What really matters within this paradigm, then, is control over institutions and personnel, influence over public policy, and, above all, message control and skillful management of the media. Images become more important than reality, seeming more important than being. The stage is set for a culture of falsehood long before there is ever a secret to conceal and before the time of trial arrives to test the virtue of men.

Michael Hanby, “A False Paradigm,” First Things magazine, November 2018.

I work for a large corporation and I see this all the time. Influence over public policy, message control, media management, images more important than reality. It’s a great company in some ways, led by people who I really think are decent and well-meaning. But you just can’t do business in a big way without this sort of functional and effectual, i.e. non-transcendent, truth. And the Church has fallen into the same trap. You get in the habit of “managing the message” and thinking in those terms, and what happens to truth for its own sake?

Objective truth the basis of liberty

Recently I had a discussion with someone close to me regarding the U.S. founding. Her position was that the Founding Fathers introduced political ideas that were new and had never been tried before, for example that all men are created equal and that our rights come from our Creator. I’m suspicious of the idea of rights being given by God, yet remaining undiscovered by Christ’s Church for over 1,700 years.

Therefore I disputed whether these were really new ideas. Depending on what you mean by “equal”, I think it can be argued that “all men are created equal” is an old idea. But what do we mean by “equal”? Obviously we’re not all equal in terms of height, weight, strength and various talents. We’re not equal in terms of our individual traits. What we’re equal in is our nature: we’re all human beings. As such, we’re equally obliged to obey God’s commands. We’re obliged not to steal from each other, lie to each other, kill each other, be unfaithful to each other, etc.

“When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal.”

Pope St. John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 96.

The flip side of these obligations is that we have a right not to be stolen from, lied to, killed, etc., on the basis of our human nature. Thus, we have always had rights that were given by God. “By protecting the inviolable personal dignity of every human being [universal moral norms] help to preserve the human social fabric and its proper and fruitful development.” VS 97.

The Declaration of Independence speaks of the rights with which we are endowed by our Creator as including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Obviously life is a right deriving from the commandment to not kill. What about liberty and the pursuit of happiness? The problem with “liberty” is that it has now been interpreted to mean that each of us can define for himself what is right and wrong; what is true or false; and indeed what each of us is in his essence. But if truth isn’t objective, liberty can’t survive: 

“Totalitarianism arises out of a denial of truth in the objective sense. If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people. . . . If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others. People are then respected only to the extent that they can be exploited for selfish ends. Thus, the root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate, no individual, group, class, nation or State.”

Pope St. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 44.

The mistake of the Founders, then, is not codifying objective truth or any way in which objective truth might be determined and imposed. This is thought to be their great breakthrough, but it’s actually their major flaw. The universal moral norms which make us all equal collapse without objective truth. If there’s no established religion, if there’s a “wall” between church and state, then there’s equally a wall between objective truth and civil law, which means rights and equality have nothing on which to stand:

“The Church’s firmness in defending the universal and unchanging moral norms is not demeaning at all. Its only purpose is to serve man’s true freedom. Because there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical–unyielding and uncompromising–defense of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom. . . . These norms in fact represent the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy, which can come into being and develop only on the basis of the equality of all its members, who possess common rights and duties.” VS 96.

For whose sinfulness is the preacher’s word withheld?

I have often said that the Gospel is no longer preached in the Church, and it’s not preached because it’s not believed. Clearly there are some who believe, and who also preach the Gospel, but the overwhelming trend is to subordinate the Gospel to the demands of secular culture. Thus you almost never hear chastity preached from the pulpit, nor the sinfulness of homosexual acts, nor the danger of receiving communion in the state of mortal sin. This would seem to indicate an indifference to the eternal welfare of the flock; except that it might also indicate a lack of belief in hell. The latter to me seems more likely.

But is the failure of preaching in the Church entirely the fault of our shepherds? I came across the following which puts the matter in another light:

Look about you and see how full the world is of priests, yet in God’s harvest a labourer is rarely to be found; for although we have accepted the priestly office, we do not fulfill its demands.

Beloved brothers … [p]ray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.

For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly.

With reference to the wickedness of the preacher, the psalmist says: “But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments?” And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: “I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house.” He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Office of Readings for Saturday of Week 27 in Ordinary Time.

It has always seemed natural to me to blame the plight of the Church on the shepherds, since they’re in charge and will be held responsible (Jer. 23:1). But sometimes the flock is bad too. This is not a fully formed idea for me, but something to think about.

 

 

Encourage one another

I’m really very happy that many American Catholics are so faithful. They really are — and maybe they don’t know this but I know — the backbone for us European Catholics. We’re really happy that we see there are possibilities in America to be publicly and openly Catholic and traditional without too many problems. In Europe we have a society that is always strongly connected with the Church, which was of course good, and has brought us a great amount of culture and teaching and knowledge, but right now I see the Church is not leading the way anymore, but following the world.

So in Europe we have some really good people left, and as long as American faithful are a backbone and help us get stronger again, then we can be a big group of faithful Catholics again.

Alexander Tschugguel, the Austrian Catholic who removed “Pachamama” statues from a Catholic church in Rome and threw them into the Tiber river. National Catholic Register (ncregister.com), “Austrian Catholic: Why I Threw Pachamama Statues into the Tiber,” November 4, 2019.

The spiritual is higher than the physical, part 4

St. Thomas says the desire for wealth in a sense is infinite, because “it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed …”.

He is responding to the argument that man’s happiness consists in wealth. The argument starts with the premise that happiness consists in the sovereign good. The desire for the sovereign good is infinite. Since the desire for wealth is infinite, perhaps wealth is the sovereign good, and therefore that in which happiness consists.

St. Thomas replies:

‘[T]he desire for artificial wealth is infinite, for it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed, …. Yet this desire for wealth is infinite otherwise than the desire for the sovereign good. For the more perfectly the sovereign good is possessed, the more it is loved, and other things despised: because the more we possess it, the more we know it. Hence it is written (Sirach 24:29): “They that eat me shall yet hunger.” Whereas in the desire for wealth and for whatsoever temporal goods, the contrary is the case: for when we already possess them, we despise them, and seek others: which is the sense of Our Lord’s words (John 4:13): “Whosoever drinketh of this water,” by which temporal goods are signified, “shall thirst again.” The reason of this is that we realize more their insufficiency when we possess them: and this very fact shows that they are imperfect, and the sovereign good does not consist therein.’

S.T. I-II, Q. 2, A. 1.

The desire for wealth and the desire for the sovereign good are both infinite, in that we can never get enough of either — but for different reasons. We can’t get enough of temporal goods because they never satisfy. We want some physical thing, but when we get it the novelty quickly wears off and we want something else. “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again.” Whereas the reason we can’t get enough of the sovereign good is the more we have it, the more we love it, and the more we despise other things in its favor. It’s both satisfying and inexhaustible.

There’s no physical thing that’s both satisfying, causing us to despise all other things, and inexhaustible. Therefore the sovereign good is spiritual.

Thus, the spiritual is higher than the physical.

[See also this, this and this.]