Monday, December 31, 2007

Papal teaching on gender roles in the married state

Over at The God Fearin' Forum, a small discussion exists in the comments about the difference between Pius XI's (in the encyclical Casti Connubii) and John Paul II's (in the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem as well as in his Theology of the Body audiences) teaching on gender roles in the married state. It is a very, very interesting issue to me - particularly because I read a lot of these sources when writing my undergraduate thesis. Let's examine the question in brief.

26. Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that "order of love," as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church."[29]

27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.

28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact .

29. With great wisdom Our predecessor Leo XIII, of happy memory, in the Encyclical on Christian marriage which We have already mentioned, speaking of this order to be maintained between man and wife, teaches: "The man is the ruler of the family, and the head of the woman; but because she is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, let her be subject and obedient to the man, not as a servant but as a companion, so that nothing be lacking of honor or of dignity in the obedience which she pays. Let divine charity be the constant guide of their mutual relations, both in him who rules and in her who obeys, since each bears the image, the one of Christ, the other of the Church."[30]


Most modern dwellers are shocked to read the above quote and it is a sad indictment indeed - their mourning that is, not the truth of the quote. It is clear above that this Catholic teaching is reflected in the Papal teaching of both Pius XI and Leo XIII. There is no novelty. There is nothing new to see here. It is traditional Catholic teaching. Pius XI explains it very well. The family, being as it is a society, must follow an order of love with the husband as the head and the wife submitted to his leadership. He is quick to note what this headship does not entail: it does not take away in any way the dignity of the woman which must be always held in high regard, nor does it mean she is to obey his every command (if it be not in accord with right reason or her dignity), nor does it lessen the fact that if the husband should fail his duty the wife may take over for the good of the family. Just as secular society must be ordered, with an authoritative head to keep it in order, so too the domestic family.

Who can miss the beauty and force of Pius XI's teaching, succinctly put in the following passage: "it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love." That is the essence of it: both the head and the heart, functioning properly in their own capacities, are necessary to keep the family healthy.

Now may we turn to John Paul II's apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem:

24. The text is addressed to the spouses as real women and men. It reminds them of the "ethos" of spousal love which goes back to the divine institution of marriage from the "beginning". Corresponding to the truth of this institution is the exhortation: "Husbands, love your wives", love them because of that special and unique bond whereby in marriage a man and a woman become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31). In this love there is a fundamental affirmation of the woman as a person. This affirmation makes it possible for the female personality to develop fully and be enriched. This is precisely the way Christ acts as the bridegroom of the Church; he desires that she be "in splendour, without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27). One can say that this fully captures the whole "style" of Christ in dealing with women. Husbands should make their own the elements of this style in regard to their wives; analogously, all men should do the same in regard to women in every situation. In this way both men and women bring about "the sincere gift of self".

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife" (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the "head" of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give "himself up for her" (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual.


It is important to keep John Paul II's main focus in content. His emphasis is the Apostle's emphasis on love. The former-Pontiff states: "It reminds them of the 'ethos' of spousal love which goes back to the divine institution of marriage from the 'beginning'." In the following paragraph he refers to "a 'mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ' (cf. Eph 5:21)." One of the greatest problems here is that he does not develop this phrase. In addition, it is in quotes and appears to find a basis in Ephesians 5:21, which states "Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ." This mutual subjection may be fine if understood that in some sense the husband enacts this subjection by being subject to the wife in her capacity as heart of the family (which in no way means he is not the head of the family). However John Paul II never develops this aspect in depth or necessary clarity.

We come now to the problematic reference in Mulieris Dignitatem when compared to Pius XI's and Leo XIII's teaching: "However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the 'subjection' is not one-sided but mutual." One of the greatest difficulties here is the fact that the Apostle is using the relationship of Christ to the Church as a parallel to the husband and his wife. When John Paul II says that this parallel breaks down, it makes one wonder why the Apostle would use such an imperfect analogy.

On the other hand, the teaching of Pius XI and Leo XIII - that the husband is the head, the wife the heart, in the order of love in the domestic society of the family - fits quite well with the teaching of the Apostle in Ephesians 5. Just as Christ is head of the Church, so too the husband is head of the wife and his family - which includes, mind you, that he must be willing to give himself up for her, out of love for her. He must always love her. Just as the Church, led by Christ, must nourish her members and bring them to full stature in Christ so must the wife nourish and raise her family in love.

It is safe to say that John Paul II is emphasizing Ephesians 5:21 as a key to interpreting the entire passage. It is true that in the love due to each person we ought to be subject to each other. However, it appears John Paul II takes this idea a bit too far. The mutual subjection that we owe to one another out of reverence for Christ must be understood properly with the analogy the Apostle gives of Christ and the Church. This mutual subjection out of love cannot negate the order necessary in the family. What the Apostle says after Ephesians 5:21 must be understood in conjunction with it rather than negated by it in any way. John Paul II never does say that Ephesians 5:21 negates the teaching of verse 24 ("Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things") nor could he. It is more likely he is including a further dimension, that in some way the husband is subject to his wife insofar as we are all to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, the principle found in 5:21.

One of the greatest difficulties here is that John Paul II's teaching is not entirely clear. A variety of ideas could be construed from the paragraphs in Mulieris Dignitatem. At very least we can say that in a world of great confusion, especially in the family, this ambiguity only makes it more difficult to know the true teaching on the order of love in the family. The idea of "mutual subjection" sounds as if the authority of the husband has been discounted and both parties are equal in regard to authority. The idea of equality in authority only leads to chaos and anarchy in the family where there is no clear head leading the way. It also discounts the mother's role as the heart of the family, leading women to disregard their role in raising the family in love in favor of handling other concerns.

One final point, the teaching of John Paul II came in the form of an apostolic letter rather than an encyclical. The teaching of Pius XI and Leo XIII must hold greater sway, coming in the form of two encyclicals which taught in one accord and in full agreement with the tradition before them beginning with the Apostle. We can learn from John Paul II's emphasis on the mutual subjection we all owe to one another in Christ, based on Ephesians 5:21, but we must always understand it without disregarding the husband as head and wife as heart in the family's order of love.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the fullness of time, Christ comes to us

"While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course," explains the Introit in the traditional Latin liturgy, "Thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven from Thy royal throne." The Nativity of Our Lord, His glorious day of birth we celebrate, occured at the fullness of time according to Divine Providence. During this liturgical season, we are often quite aware of the details surrounding Christ's birth but yet fail to realize their significance for our lives today. We all face darkness - the darkness of sinfulness yet overcome, the darkness we find at times in prayer or the darkness we see in the world around us. The circumstances of Our Savior's birth has much to teach us about God's will to vanquish the darkness found in all of our lives.

One of the important aspects mentioned in the Introit above is darkness: "the night was in the midst of her course." This darkness is first of all spiritual darkness - that darkness into which we are all born. It is the darkness of sin. One of the principle effects of the fall in the Garden of Eden was the darkening of our intellect. We do not see clearly. The truth often evades us. Left to our own devices, we err. Our mind fails to know the truth, devoid of grace, while our weakened will cannot do the good that we do understand. Every member of humanity suffers under this darkness because of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. While much time had passed since the fall, the darkness was "in the midst of her course." The dawn had yet to break. Mankind was still lost in the darkness of sin and error, captive to satan.

One of our holy and blessed spiritual fathers had touched on the silence and darkness into which the Word came. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, suffered his martyrdom during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan in 98-117 A.D.[1]. In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius mentions "three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God's silence"[2]. He states:

"Now, Mary's virginity and her giving birth escaped the notice of the prince of this world, as did the Lord's death - those three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God's silence. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone in heaven brighter than all the stars. Its light was indescribable and its novelty caused amazement. The rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a ring around it; yet it outshone them all, and there was bewilderment whence this unique novelty had arisen. As a result all magic lost its power and all witchcraft ceased. Ignorance was done away with, and the ancient kingdom [of evil] was utterly destroyed, for God was revealing himself as a man, to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Hence everything was in confusion as the destruction of death was being taken in hand"[3].

Before the birth of Christ our Savior, the kingdom of darkness ruled. Nothing appeared to be changing. Everything remained the same. Satan had no reason to believe his rule of darkness would come to a definitive end. Yet in the midst of this silence - that silence that gave no warning of coming to an end - God became man. When it appeared all was lost the "almighty Word [...] leaped down from heaven from [His] royal throne," to borrow words from the Introit. Light broke into the overwhelming darkness: "The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up" (Matthew 4:16). Who are the people who found sitting in darkness but each one of us, once in the darkness of sin and death but now ransomed from it by Christ in Holy Baptism? Christ is still the light shining in our darkness as we struggle to allow Him to more completely illuminate our soul.

While the primary interpretation of the silence and darkness relates to the Incarnate whereby the Son of God Himself descended from His glory to set us free from the shackles of sin and death, a secondary spiritual application applies to our everyday life. Very often we find ourselves in a state where we cannot see or hear God. He is silent. We're surrounding by darkness. More often then not it seems as if He has abandoned us, left us, and no longer takes concern for us. This silence and darkness may be found when we attempt prayer or when we ask for His assistance but see no apparent answer. We may wait days, weeks or months for His intervention only to find ourselves feeling alone.

We can all derive great comfort from the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. All of creation sat in darkness, still bound under the power of satan. There was no hope of salvation for us, sinners all. In terms of temporal concerns, Israel found itself under the heavy yoke of Roman oppression. Two thousand years later we still understand. We yet battle against the powers of darkness, of sin, in our own members. The modern world is often against all we believe. We may have recourse to prayer only to experience abandonment, seemingly alone. The cry of the Psalmist echos in our night: "We are become a reproach to our neighbours: a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, O Lord, wilt thou be angry for ever: shall thy zeal be kindled like a fire?" (Psalm 78:4-5)

Our faith however must be strong. The Nativity of Our Lord, which we celebrate, teaches us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. In our moments of darkness, in times when God is silent, He looks upon us in love. We may not understand His will in the moment but we can rest assured that He is caring for us just as much as He cared for a world in darkness before He sent His Word for their salvation. As the Apostle says, "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). In the glorious mystery of Divine Providence, we do not always see God at work but He is always with us.

First and foremost we must rejoice in the fact that God sent His Son, at the perfect time, to adopt us as Sons. He has set us free from sin, darkness and death. Secondarily, however, we must realize that He still comes to us at "the fulness of the time." We may find ourselves lost in darkness in our prayer life or in our temporal concerns, but God continues to care for us in the darkness. He will shine His glorious light to us, to help and save us, at the perfect time - that perfect time which is known to God in His infinite wisdom but often escapes us in our finite limitation. As His adopted sons, we are never forsaken. That is the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, that glorious birth wrought in the silence and darkness but coming at the fullness of time. Our Lord always comes to save us at the perfect time even though we find ourselves lost in the silence and darkness. May we have a strong faith, always trusting in the goodness of Our Lord Who comes to save us in His love for us.

1. Cyril C. Richardson Ed., "Early Christian Fathers" (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996), 75.

2. Ibid., 93.

3. Ibid., 93.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And man thought himself to be God

This Washington Post article, "Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms," shows the arrogance and hard-hardheartedness of modern man. While most of them reject the very idea of God they attempt to take his place: to create. Holding up Darwinian evolution as dogma they exclaim that not only did God not create everything ex nihilo (out of nothing) but that now they shall take his place in creation. No longer is nature sacred and inviolate. No longer is man separate from machine. Everything is the same: matter to be manipulated.

The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial -- and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive. (bold emphasis mine)
Modern man is caught in his own trap of lies. Since he has redefined what it means to be a human being living in the world - basically that man has no correlate relation to God - then modern man has to make sense of his existence. Why is he here? Since life in this world is all that is acknowledged then how can he live forever in this world and escape death? Ever since reason became the pagan god of choice, born of the Enlightenment, philosophers and other intellectuals have claimed that man would evolve rationally to such an extent that at some point religion would disappear - religion being as it is just a fiction to explain the unexplainable. Once we explain it all then religion would be useless, they say.

What modern man is doing is to make sense out of life by cheating death, by doing away with physical limitations by science. However, sickness and suffering and death are all ramifications of the Fall in the garden. They cannot be defeated but by the very life, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Even then we will still die only to live forever with God. Science cannot defeat sickness, suffering and death. It may be able to solve some of the riddles but a punishment given to mankind by God cannot be destroyed simply by human ingenuity.

The article elsewhere states the following:
"We're heading into an era where people will be writing DNA programs like the early days of computer programming, but who will own these programs?" asked Drew Endy, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Man is likened to a computer program - something to be created, manipulated, controlled. Man simply cannot create new life or modify existing life forms without the true Creator reacting. While every natural disaster and terror may not be an explicit judgment by God, many of them are proof that He is preparing to shake the earth. He will not stand by idle.

Sacred Scripture says that it will be in the last days as it was in the days of Noah. What was it like in the days of Noah? They scoffed at him. Noah explained what was to take place, what God was about to do and what they should do in order to be saved, and they mocked. In their arrogance and sin they rejected the Creator's plan and challenged Him. Modern man mocks and scoffs at God once again. When we proclaim that His Divine Majesty, Christ our King, will one day return to judge the living and the dead few tremble. Instead of fearing God they mock all the more. But God will not be silent forever.

The human being is not something to be modified and created by man himself. Man is not the creator nor will he ever be. Either these scientific "advances" will fail or else mankind will have to answer to God, the true Creator. It is such a confused world in which we live, when spiritual realities are denied and the majority are living for this world alone. More and more satan is making his stand, gathering others around his flag: we shall be like God. It makes one wonder just how long God will remain silent - or just how very close we may be to that wonderful and terrible day of Our Lord when He will reveal Himself in glory and will bring His justice with Him. If He remains silent it is because His patience is aimed at leading us to repentance but there will be a final day. May the Lord have mercy upon us all and lead us along His straight paths.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Now we're talkin!

God is good. Don't have much time to write but check out the link in the title (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/ukcorrespondents/holysmoke/dec07/trainee-priests.htm).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is Vatican II fading into the sunset?

The Toledo Blade has an interesting article on Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical Spe Salvi ("Saved by Hope"). The link to it can be found by clicking on this entry's title. Here is an especially interesting part of the article:

One especially noteworthy element of the encyclical, both Father Bacick and Mr. Gaillardetz said, is that Pope Benedict makes no reference to the Second Vatican Council and its influential document Gaudium et Spes, Latin for “Joy and Hope,” yet repeatedly cites fifth century saint Augustine.

Both Father Bacik and Mr. Gaillardetz said Augustine’s views on hope are “more pessimistic” than the Vatican II document.

The frequent references to St. Augustine “reveals him as an Augustinian theologian,” Father Bacik said. “That is becoming clearer and clearer.”

“This shows Pope Benedict’s preference for early Christian writers,” Mr. Gaillardetz said. “He cites Augustine 13 times but it is striking that the most influential document of Vatican II, about how the church should engage the world in solidarity with the joy and hope of ordinary people, is not cited once in his encyclical about hope.” (emphasis mine)


It is interesting indeed, and I've read about this fact elsewhere, that Pope Benedict does not quote the Second Vatican Council once in Spe Salvi. Not once. In John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, released in 1998, Vatican II is mentioned 14 times in the encyclical itself. Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict's first encyclical mentions the Second Vatican Council only three times. Is it a sign of the times? Or are we reading too much into it? It is of such significance, being that it has been a staple of Vatican documents to refer back to Vatican II, that it can hardly be something unintentional. Pope Benedict knows full well of Gaudium et Spes yet wrote an entire encyclical on hope without mentioning the council document touching on the same topic.

Notice, also, that St. Augustine is described as being more pessimistic than Gaudium et Spes and Pope Benedict is showing he is a firm Augustinian. Is Pope Benedict being grouped in as a Augustinian pessimist? I hope so, not because we have anything to be pessimistic about but rather because there is nothing especially pessimistic about St. Augustine's theology. I would call him more of a realist, an orthodox theologian firmly rooted in the truths of our Faith. There was no compromise. He did not state something in order to please anybody. If it was true, he said it (or wrote it). The question wasn't about subjective comfort but more about truth. And the truth of our Faith is never pessimistic, we who believe in so great a Redeemer Who has overcome this world! There has never been more reason for hope and the Christian is the only one who has true hope.

It may be a sign of the times, a turning tide. Pope Benedict XVI makes the traditional Latin Mass the extraordinary Roman rite liturgy thus giving it a full, official status in its own right. He concerns himself with bringing traditionalists back into the fold. He then writes an encyclical without one mention of the Second Vatican Council. Could it be there is a renewal taking place?

There is also rumor of a document to be released very soon by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the topic of evangelization (as CWNews.com has reported). The report is that this document will take Dominus Iesus, that document which created such a stir in the world, a step further - basically saying that since the Catholic Church is the means of salvation, we ought to seek to bring others into communion with her for their salvation.

Let us all pray, and hope, that the many heresies which have had free rein in the Church are coming to an end; that there is a cleansing and strengthening taking place, an enforcement of the truths of our Faith. Pope Benedict XVI appears to be fighting for the splendor of the truths of our Catholic Faith and for the good of the Church. May the our Almighty Lord grant him strength, courage and perseverance.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

The sickness unto death rampant in a God-less society

The article linked to in the title of this post is about the gunman who went on a shooting rampage in Omaha, Nebraska. It begins:

OMAHA, Neb. - Robert Hawkins had been kicked out of his family’s house, fired from McDonald’s and had broken up with his girlfriend. He was 19, about the same age another sick man was when he terrified the state of Nebraska and the nation 50 years earlier.

Hawkins left a suicide note Wednesday at the home where he had been living. It said that he wouldn’t be a burden on his family anymore and that “now I’ll be famous,” according to Debora Maruca-Kovac, who owns the home. (emphasis mine)

A sick man. Yes, I would have to agree but I am quite sure I would disagree about the nature of his sickness. In our materialist society, too oft informed by erroneous psychology, individuals who commit such crimes, as also apparent in the Virginia Tech shootings, are considered mentally ill. Obviously, the logic runs, the individual must be chemically imbalanced because who would do such a heinous thing in their right mind? If only we had a safety net to catch these individuals before they act then we could ... medicate them. Once again we are faced with the logic of those who deny the deepest spiritual principle in man, his soul.

Not only is the soul ignored, and terrible acts like the one in this article attributed to brain chemicals, but the truth about man's situation is not properly understood. In our anthropocentric age, man is good - very good. He does what is right to him and any inkling of evil or sin is ignored. This notion is one reason why people cannot understand evil actions, why they think the individual is chemically imbalanced: "no one in their right mind would do such a thing." But what is a right mind?

One of the effects of original sin, of the fall, is a darkened intellect. Sin clouds our understanding. Our will is also, in the words of the Ecumenical Council of Trent, downward bent. We can all exclaim with St. Paul that what we want to do we do not do but what we do not want to do, that is what we do. It is a tremendous error of modernity to consider man better than he is, able to do all he desires and to do what is right on his own. It is Pelagianism restored.

Apart from the gratuitous grace of Christ man is lost in sin and stands in a state of death. Without grace we have no hope. The more we sin the greater our intellect is darkened, the weaker our will becomes. The fact remains that individuals are responsible. Chemicals in the mind can be altered by the soul, by acts of reason and of will. In Catholic theology the body and soul are fused, not separate. Individuals can choose to commit evil acts and apart from conversion to Christ - to become new in His through the grace of Holy Baptism - we should not be surprised if someone commits such evil acts - even more so when we consider the times.

Soren Kirkegaard, in The Sickness Unto Death, argued that any individual who does not believe in and obey God is in despair. This despair is that great sickness unto death. It is unto death because without God will cannot hope for eternal life and without God we can only despair of our existence. We live in an age where the spiritual is rejected, the material exalted and God mocked. Atheism is gaining ground and becoming more militant. Without God we have no hope. Without a Savior we can only despair of our situation.

What Kirkegaard put forth as the sick unto death is becoming a rule for entire societies. The true religion, the Catholic faith, is mocked and rejected by nations as well as individual people. It is only by acknowledging God and coming to Him that we can know the truth. It is our only hope. We can agree that people and nations are becoming sicker but not because of an imbalance of chemicals but rather from the despair that is inevitable when God is rejected.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Benedict XVI - Fighting Behind Closed Doors

I really find the linked article (in the post title) both interesting and encouraging. Among some the sedevacantists who claim greater faithfulness than the Pope himself, Benedict XVI is merely the latest installment in a modern line of anti-popes. While I can agree Benedict XVI does not appear to us in the mold of a Pius X or Pius XII or Leo XIII in every respect, we must not overlook the great blessing the current Pope is for the universal Church. He appears more theological and more traditional than his predecessor. He is somewhat, to some degree, critical of aspects of the ecumenical movement (read: he questions whether inter-religious prayer is even possible). One of the greatest things he has done for the Church was to make the traditional Latin liturgy an extraordinary form of the Roman rite - granting it an official status and taking away the local bishop's right to ban it. Yet we do not know what he does, what he endures, day-in and day-out in the Vatican among the curia.

"Pope Benedict is isolated," I was told when I visited Rome last week. "So many people, even in the Vatican, oppose him, and he feels the strain immensely." Yet he is ploughing ahead. He reminds me of another conservative revolutionary, Margaret Thatcher, who waited a couple of years before taking on the Cabinet "wets" sabotaging her reforms.

As Robinson notes in this BBC article, there is more than meets the eye. We know Benedict XVI is theologically astute and that his view is preferential toward a smaller, purer Church (if that is how it needs to be). The very fact that it is rumored he offers a traditional Latin Mass privately, and has elevated the liturgy to the extraordinary form, shows his respect and knowledge of the Church's liturgy. His latest encyclical, Spe Salvi is full of powerful theological reflections of hope, on faith and a critique of modern atheism and materialism. But there may very well be more he hopes to do, is attempting to do, that we do not see.

It is apparent that the Church has been infiltrated by the heterodox and those who do not put love of God and the salvation of souls as a priority. The wolves have dug their claws deep within the walls of the Church. It is naive to think they are not all around our dear Pope in the Roman curia. Robinson likens Benedict XVI to a "conservative revolutionary" but the fact of the matter is that he is neither a conservative nor a revolutionary. He is a Catholic, orthodox and faithful. He sees the Church in light of tradition (which is evident when in The Spirit of the Liturgy, I believe, he states that a liturgy esteemed throughout the history of the Church cannot simply be discarded). Benedict XVI is nothing more or less than a true Pope. The world may call it what they want.

The sedevacantist position is untenable but attractive. In an age when the Church's light burns dim in the midst of the thickening fog of darkness, there is a temptation to despair. It can appear easier to say that the entire Church, the Pope included, has gone astray and therefore a certain group is the lone remnant. "I/we alone," stated in all nobility and pride, "have remained pure and true." But what of Christ's promises to His Church? What of that earthen rock upon which Christ built His Church? A rock is not much of a foundation if it continues corroding until it disintegrates.

There is a temptation to think, in all shades of pride, that we could do a better job than the Pope. It may be attractive to crown ourselves as our own Pope, as the sedevacantists. We all want the Church to shine forth in splendor - refuting the rampant heresies of our times, calling all to a genuine conversion to Christ, and destroying the errors attributed to Vatican II! Not only do we desire it, we want it now. But it may be wise and charitable - ultimately most pleasing to Christ - to surrender ourselves to Divine Providence in the realization that God guides His Church, never abandoning her. It may take time. It may not happen in our time frame. Yet all things work to the good of those who love the Lord and work according to His purpose. His Divine Majesty has not forsaken us.

We do not know everything Pope Benedict XVI is working to do in the Church, surrounded as he is by those wolves that he prayed for the grace not to flee from in fear. If he needs anything from us, it is not our prideful criticisms but rather our prayers. If we have one need in this current stage of our valley of tears, it is to pray for the Church and for all the souls of the world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Celebrating the evolving ape

Today is a sad day for many as Washington Redskins professional football player Sean Taylor has died from a gunshot wound he suffered yesterday. May the Lord have mercy upon Him and let His face shine upon Him in love.

It raises, however, a existential question about the human being. We're told in this day and age that there is no such thing as an eternal soul; there is no spiritual aspect to man. Many would have us believe that we have all just evolved from apes since, after all, we look similar to them in some ways (although over time we ditched the excess hair). We may also have evolved from fish, it seems to me, since human beings swim in water. Fish swim in water. Perhaps we just lost the fins over time too.

Natural selection is beyond dispute while no evidence exists of its process in time.

Yet a funny thing remains: death. Suddenly the professed atheist and the strict Darwinian evolutionist weep. They stand with us at candlelight vigils. They are profoundly affected by the death of a human being. But why?

If a human being - any individual human being - is simply skin and bones, evolved from our foreapes (nevermind forefathers), then why does the death of a single human being matter? Why should anyone care? We do not experience the same sense of profound loss over an animal dying. An ape could die at the zoo but we don't post it on all the news sites as we do with a human being. All of a sudden, the death of a human being creates a profound sense of loss - as if something extremely unique, special and lasting has been taken away. While the person is alive, we act as if they will always be but once they are gone we experience a deep loss. It is as if we have always believed they would live forever but now we have been deprived of them unexpectedly.

It is as if we thought they would live forever, as if there is something profound about a single human being. There is a general understanding, perhaps at times falling into the subconscious, that this human being is different from all other life on the planet. He is not an ape because we would not morn the death of an ape in the same way nor would we experience a loss that borders of deception. The deception is our belief that this person should live forever but then they have left us at their death. Yes, we believed he was eternal. He was far too special, too interesting, too unique to ever entirely be gone from existence. He was far too something, a something we cannot quite explain.

The human being is ultimately eternal. Yes his body may rest in the ground until the Day of the Lord but that deep something we cannot explain, express or grasp cannot ever cease to exist. It must continue on. We were right - all of us - and not a one was deceived, except that some of us believed he was a hunk of matter without an eternal soul. The spiritual reality of man, that soul, is what differentiates him from the apes, the fish, and the dirt. It is that reality, which makes the person, that we weep for at the moment of physical death. Therein was the person and the person is gone from this temporal sphere.

The atheist, the materialist, the Darwinist, all must face death. It is convenient to ignore it and rationalize it away before the reality hits. One may be able to convince himself that man possesses no eternal soul so long as the reality of birth and death, particularly death, is pushed from the mind. When death hits, however, I know of no man that treats the individual human being who has left us as mere matter, as an evolved ape. If they did - if they were truly internally consistent - they should not weep or hold candlelight vigils or even have a funeral, unless you really believe you'd do the same for a spider, an ape or your favorite tree. Why not? They would be no more unique, no more eternal than a human being since they would only be, in the very same way, just a group of matter composed in a certain way.

No, the truth confronts us all within. We either fight against it and struggle to convince ourselves otherwise, finding ourselves inconsistent, or else we embrace it as truth, finding ourselves not only alive but on the path to the fullness of truth.

They are right to remember Sean Taylor, to weep over his death, and to experience a profound sense of loss. May His eternal soul be welcomed by Our Lord and may we all prepare for the moment when we will leave this temporal dwelling.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Despising oneself with love

Unfortunately today is simply one of those wherein everything seems to be blank, dull and mute. There is no song in my heart, no dreams in my mind. The body seems to go through its routine out of necessity rather than consciousness. However I can conjure up one thought.

Dom Scupoli in The Spiritual Combat makes despising oneself essential for spiritual progress. This principle is nothing new - except to the modernites who consider self-confidence the first principle. Yet in our twisted and confusing age, it is difficult to understand what it means to despise oneself. It is very easy to take it to mean, literally, self-hatred - that we are horrible sinners to such a degree that we must despise ourself. Yet this idea cannot be what Dom Scupoli and the many spiritual Fathers of our faith have in mind in their exhortation. For to hate ourselves, in very essence, would mean to despise one of God's creations. It would be similar to hating the beauty of another human being. Love is that which is eternal. All that God has made is good and therefore deserves to be loved at very least because it exists.

Guardini, in The Practice of Prayer, somewhere, makes the point that, in fact, to despise oneself in this manner does not mean to hate ourselves or to wallow in self-pity. It means, and Dom Scupoli does explain it, that we must realize that we can do nothing of our own selves. To despise ourselves requires the humility to really believe that apart from Christ we can do nothing but - and this is his second principle - with God all things are possible. We must despise our own ability to save ourselves (for left to ourselves, apart from grace, we have only sin) while having a tremendous confidence in God to save us. Both of these principles must be rooted in love - love of God and care for our own soul. It requires humility because it means we must acknowledge our weak state in truth. Ultimately it means salvation is of Christ, not of us.

The more we rely on our own ability to save our soul then the greater pride grows within us. Suddenly we no longer see our sinfulness, as we think of ourselves as accomplishing much in our own strength. Over time the sacrifice and work of Christ is lessened in the eyes of our mind and heart because we are striving on our own, hanging spiritual accomplishment plaques on the walls of our soul. Before we know it, we fall and are befuddled: "how could I fall?" Hence we hate ourselves: "I should have been better." No, dear soul, you did what a sinner can only do when his confidence is in his own strength. You fell.

In our modern, anthropocentric age, we're exhorted by many psychologists and self-help masters that we must have confidence in ourselves. Yes, we ought to believe in our capabilities that God has given to us. However when it comes to the spiritual life, these ideas fail. Confidence in our ability to save our soul is a farce because of the effects and consequences of the Fall. We need a Savior; we need our Redeemer.

Once we make Jesus Christ our entire love, our one goal - once we realize that He is the Strong Man Who saves the lost - then we can cling to Him as our strength. He saves us. That is how we understand the exhortation to despise self. We cannot hate our very being but we must realize our inability to save ourselves and God's great goodness and strength to accomplish our salvation as we cling to Him.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Conversions to witchcraft? Or, thank you Harry Potter.

This Reuters article - click the title of this post to view since I do not know how else to do it - is very telling to say the least. In my personal meanderings, both electronic and human, I've encountered many a person - and many a Christian - who will claim that Harry Potter is a wonderful story of good versus evil where magic may be employed but certainly not to any dangerous extent. The Reuters story paints a different Potter.

The article states:

"Inbaal said that while her interest in witchcraft was sparked by a love of Tarot cards, for most people nowadays it was sparked by television programmes such as 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'."

And we can all add, with a sigh, "or Harry Potter." Harry Potter is mentioned in the opening of the article. When a self-proclaimed "high priestess" explains the situation as such, based on her experience in the occult world which many of us happily do not know, then do the arguments about the merits of Mr. Potter really carry much weight? No, honestly, they begin to collapse in the name of reality. While there may be some degree of literary merit to the books (or not), while there may be some aspects of good versus evil portrayed in them (who would read anything that does not correspond at least in some basic way to human experience?), that does not cancel out the elements which may lead children to think more of learning magic than of being a virtuous person when they grow up.

Why isn't "The Lord of the Rings" mentioned in the article alongside such infamy as Buffy and Harry (both of which, unconsequentially, are quite attractive and simple names ending in "eee")? Here is a fundamental difference between two widely popular literature mammoths turned theatrical blockbusters. While Gandalf may be a wizard, there is no mention of going to wizard school to learn every detail of wizardry nor is there any emphasis on the details of magic spells and the ways of wizards. Sure he has a wonderful white staff which accomplishes dazzling and powerful feats, but who is really going to obtain such a staff? It is perfectly imaginative and intangible, quite ambiguous except for the power it possesses. And that power is used as analogy, it points us to the higher reality of God's power used to vanquish the dark enemy. "Harry Potter," from what I ascertain since I don't expect to spend any time or effort on him, actually goes to school to learn all of the details of spells and potions, all things warlock- and witch-like. J.K. Rowling has apparently, from what I understand, done her research into the world of magic to make her literature as accurate as possible. Thus we come to the essential difference: Gandalf in no way is of a sort that a child may hope to actually emulate his magic powers but Harry's powers are practiced by many every day in our fallen world. Just ask Inbaal, your local "high priestess."

Evil persuades us in many ways. If it only came out, growling with blood dripping fangs and red irises, we may easily avoid it. Yet satan prowls swiftly and attacks using many diverse strategies. He may attempt to lure us in unassumingly, then weaken us for awhile, before he actually jumps for the jugular in order to send us to eternal ruin. Quite often he takes his time, using a variety of seemingly insignificant means, to get us weak enough for the kill. He is no fool, at least not in the ways of destruction. Notice how it works with sin: many venial sins dispose us to commit mortal sins. First we're weakened with the seemingly insignificant - although we ought never think such a thing of any sin, venial or mortal! - before we're brought to the death blow.

A further distinction can be made about the nature and circumstances of characters. For instance, some stories may have homosexual characters but not all literary use of such a character is in itself problematic. For example, one of the characters - forgive me if I do not recall the name since, as I said, I am not a Harry Potter reader - is now said to be homosexual, something long thought to be the case by devoted Potterites. The character they say is lovely, warm, such a great individual which, Rowling tells us, shows us that homosexual individuals need to be accept and loved because they are so wonderful. Now switch to "Brideshead Revisited." Brideshead employs quite a few characters meant to be homosexual but as the story progresses, they end up being the ones who are always searching. They never seem content - even with each other. Their relationships come and go, never quite stable. Charles is never quite as happy with Sebastian as he is with Julia (but even the relationship with Julia eats away at them because of their affair). Two different messages. For Potter, a message - however implicit - is given that homosexual individuals are great people. Brideshead, on the contrary, portrays that such individuals are unpeaceful, unrested, never quite at peace (regardless of whether or not they are otherwise swell guys).

But our day is one of tolerance. Our "priestess" Inbaal speaks with horror of her native land, Israel, outlawing witchcraft and sorcery. Here in England, she proclaims with magnificent and horrendous joy, the people are more tolerant of witches. We ought to learn to tolerate homosexuals, Rowling said in her meeting with readers, because they are so wonderful just like her character. Yes, the world is warm and fuzzy Inbaal and J.K. Everything is smiles. Let us hug and accept all things, even sin, lest our comfort and pleasures perish - but nevermind that talk of an eternal soul.

It is a tricky battle, this spiritual warfare. Oh it sounds so serious! Too serious! Maybe we should relax - only to fall right into the teeth of our enemy.