Archive for the ‘Holidays & Festivals’ Category.

Catholicism and Secularism and Nostaligia


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Is a Christian cakemaker required to make a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, in violation of his religious beliefs? That is the issue in a case currently before the US Supreme Court. The case looks like yet another major clash between the forces of secular progressive liberalism and their Christian targets. And yet some Christians are so optimistic as to hope for a truce. For instance, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat has appealed to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who as so often will almost certainly cast the deciding vote. Despite Kennedy’s record – he composed the 2015 Obergefell decision which divined a right of same-sex marriage in the Constitution – Douthat hopes that the judge will vote to protect the baker, and so bring about some peace, of uncertain duration, between liberalism and Christianity.

In so doing, Douthat illustrates a pervasive tendency among Catholic intellectuals today: the temptation of nostalgia. He casts a wistful glance backwards, to a time in which secular progressive liberalism and what he calls “religious conservatism” peacefully coexisted. When exactly? One candidate is the period just before the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, but it seems likely that by 2014 it was already too late to disband the competing forces. A better candidate is 1950-70, which Douthat believes future historians will identify as the glorious peak of the American polity. Douthat is slightly coy about whether he thinks these future historians will be correct, but it is clear that he thinks something went very wrong in American life in the 1970s, and that Hugh Hefner played an important role. One can see why 1950-1970 would appeal to a certain strain of traditional Catholic. The immediate postwar period was a time in which Catholics peacefully coexisted with the liberal Imperium, and indeed became increasingly integrated into it, helping to elect a quasi-Catholic President. Anthony Kennedy is no John F Kennedy, as it were, but in Douthat’s view “you appeal to the emperor you have.”

. . .

Why are self-described “trad” Catholics prone to nostalgia? The typical mistake is to conflate the traditions of the Church with the traditions of the broader society. These are very different things; the Church is an ark afloat on a dangerous sea, which preserves its own internal traditions in part with walls that prevent it from being deluged by secular practices and mores. 1 Peter thus connects Catholic rootlessness and homelessness with a rejection of human political traditions, enjoining Catholics to “live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe, for you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood …” Catholicism is not Burkeanism. Because Catholics are exiled in the world, they can ultimately have no attachment to man’s places and traditions, including political traditions. They can have no final affection for the misty English landscape that always stands just behind Scruton’s prose, for Reno’s polite distinction of liberal tradition and liberal creed, for the bipartisan fedora-hatted governance of Douthat’s postwar golden age, or even for Ahmari’s era of the triumph (albeit short-lived) of liberal democratic freedom after 1989.

As secular liberalism attacks the Church, Catholics can’t afford to be nostalgic

I am going to risk a prediction: 2018 will be the year we see an end to the fighting over Amoris Laetitia.

This might seem rather presumptuous, given that just this week five bishops have underscored the Church’s traditional teaching on the reception of Communion by the divorced and remarried. The bishops’ statement is a positive delight to read for its clarity of thought and expression – especially after some of the tortured sophistries we have had to endure of late.

The document unflinchingly reminds us that some things are just wrong, and no amount of personal reflection or mitigating circumstances can change that.

Seeming to address directly the various interpretations of that single contentious footnote in Amoris Laetitia (the one Pope Francis cannot remember), the five bishops quote St John Paul II: “The confusion created in the conscience of many faithful by the differences of opinions and teachings … about serious and delicate questions of Christian morals, ends up by diminishing the true sense of sin almost to the point of eliminating it.” This describes all too well the results, and I would say the intentions, of many of the opaque and tendentious “pastoral” guidelines which have followed Amoris Laetitia.

The doctrinal errors in interpreting Amoris Laetitia are part of a serious movement afoot in the Church to undermine her clarity of thought and expression on the moral order, especially regarding marriage, sexuality and personal conscience. What drives this movement? Let’s be clear: it has nothing to do with helping divorced and remarried Catholics. Those of us who work in marriage tribunals, where canonists and priests have more contact with such couples on a daily basis than most working in bishops’ conferences have in a year, can tell you that the divorced and remarried are, in the vast majority of cases, desperately seeking clarity from the Church, not to be told to “do whatever they think is right.”

. . .

At the time of the cultural and sexual revolution, the Church spoke powerfully and prophetically against the inevitable consequences of what was happening. In the last half-century, Paul VI’s encyclical has proven ever more prescient and relevant. It is a bitterly comical irony that, just as wider society is beginning to wake up to the consequences of a sexual ethic based solely on consent and the pursuit of personal fulfilment, the Church is having to defend herself against those within who deny not just the Church’s teaching, but the last 50 years of history which have so convincingly vindicated it.

There’s a movement to undermine Catholic morality – Communion is just the start

Growing in wisdom involves growing in the discernment of who is wise, and who only parodies wisdom. While there are many ways to parody wisdom, two stand out in the age of the internet. At first glance they might seem to be opposites, but (on closer inspection) they reveal themselves to be alter-egos of one another. Tragically, each of these tendencies has plenty of public representation. Let us label their distinctive brands as “Prophetic Performers,” and “Authenticity Acts.”

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“Prophetic Performers” prey upon the humans’ natural (and good) instinct to respond to certain modes of rhetoric and prophetic inflexibility. Since humans are sometimes liable (some more than others) to say “whatever” too often, to be morally lazy, or to fail in their capacity to protect sheep from wolves, it is important that we can nevertheless be psychologically accessed by a strong rebuke, by a reminder that some things are hard, that some bits of reality are unsavory and rough-edged, sometimes you have to confront your own will and sentiments, etc.

. . .

More popular in our era is the “Authenticity Act.” Sometimes, but not always, this person started out in the first camp and ends in the second. One will frequently hear this sort waxing eloquent about how “messy” and “complicated” life is. Rather than reducing the complexity of life, they will tend to reduce the complexity of God’s law (not to mention His character) to some vague platitudes about infinite empathy. These persons are frequently hurting and broken, and use the public platform they have to tell their personal narrative, process their lives, and garner empathy for their spiritual destination, or the turns their “journey” has taken.

. . .

What do these two characters have in common? Fundamentally, they have a narcissistic relationship to reality. Even when they are correct (as they sometimes accidentally are), their relationship to the reality that they presumably elucidate is inflected through their final goals of self justification – whether it be of the deeply fearful valiant badass for Jesus in the case of the former, or the deeply broken demander of infinite affirmation in the case of the latter.

In both cases, what is required is getting out of one’s own head and into the world. Wise men do not safely wax about a reality which functions as their shield, but speak of it with fear and trembling. Wise men are humble before God. Wise men often admit that life is complicated. Wise men sometimes do not know the answer. Wise men are also willing to receive an answer that they find unsavory. And most importantly, wise men will ask divine help to bend their will to savor reality over their distorted sentiments.

Prophetic Performers, Authenticity Acts, and the Need for Wisdom


The Butterfly Circus

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Merry Christmas!

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:12-14). According to the evangelist, the angels “said” this. But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present. And so, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent. It continues down the centuries in constantly new forms and it resounds ever anew at the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is only natural that simple believers would then hear the shepherds singing too, and to this day they join in their caroling on the Holy Night, proclaiming in song the great joy that, from then until the end of time, is bestowed on all people.

— Pope Benedict XVI


The King’s Singers – Christmas

It was impossible. Mary may have lived in a time before science, before the polite and clinical agents of reason had scrubbed the angels and demons and desert spirits away from all but the dark outer edges of our minds, but she was a woman — she knew where babies came from and how they got made. She knew that she was a virgin and that she had not become a wife to the man to whom she was engaged. She also knew what being pregnant and unmarried was likely to mean to her — socially, religiously, economically, physically — in first-century Palestine.

She’d probably witnessed her share of stonings.

Religious people sometimes get a pat on the head from their non-believing friends, who say things like, “All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.” But why would Mary have wished to believe it when the angel Gabriel visited her with that joyous and terrible announcement — “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus; He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” — when it would have been so much more comforting to believe that she’d simply had a strange dream? “Mary was greatly troubled at his words,” Luke’s gospel says.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. Easy for you to say, Gabriel.

. . .

But step away for a moment from the manger scene at the Christmas pageant, which surely does not smell like a real barn smells, and dwell for a moment in the world of real people: the terrified young woman, her uncertain husband-to-be, the worried politician, the simple shepherds and great holy men alike wondering in the backs of their minds if they were maybe kidding themselves, if they might possibly have it all wrong, if they’d misunderstood something along the way. “Be not afraid.” Maybe they could endure the terror of the night and the cold, the rigors and dangers of travel, even the threat of Herod’s sword — but what of that other fear, the fear that they’d made a mistake, that this was all a bizarre misunderstanding or the work of credulous fanatics? A manger is a feed-trough for livestock. “Feed my sheep,” He would later say, to confused and fearful people still not quite getting the point.

“Well, they had faith,” we tell ourselves. “They believed.” As though these little words put together in that order would be enough to exorcise doubt, terror, and the unbearable loneliness at the heart of this story. (“All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.”) Try to imagine the physical facts of birth in that setting, the rigors of the long road to Bethlehem and the long road home.

He Himself Carried the Fire

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Economist’s Christmas

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Gaudete Sunday

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Family in the High Tech and Affluent West

Social psychologist Jonathon Haidt writes in his book The Righteous Mind about “WEIRD” people — the people who live in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich Democracies who are very different from most of the world, and yet we are used by most psychological research studies to stand for all of humanity.

Haidt compared “weird” people to typical people elsewhere. “When asked to write 20 statements beginning with the words ‘I am,'” he said, “Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).”

Maybe in our history Americans were more connected to others. We aren’t now.

“Weird” Americans: Black Friday vs. Thanksgiving

Ozymandias

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Richard Overton, WWII Veteran

Memorial Day, 2017

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The Wickedness of Judas

We should never think ourselves beyond the wickedness of Judas. Proximity to Jesus does not always mean intimacy with Him.

. . .

Greed is grasping. It’s really not so much about possessions but control – about having such means at our disposal that we do not need to rely on others, or even God. It is “practical” in the worst sense of that word.

. . .

Judas fails to repent. No doubt, he feels remorse over what he has done. And this is no small thing. In the tangle of his heart he still bore at least some love for Jesus. But notice: he returns not to Jesus but to the chief priests – to his coconspirators. To them, he acknowledges his sin. Judas possesses not repentance but regret. By repentance we look to the good God, to the Redeemer, to the one Who is Mercy. In His light, we reject sin. By regret we look to ourselves, turn further inward, and close ourselves off from the reconciliation and healing that come from God alone.

One of the Twelve

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Hallelujah Christmas

Hallelujah Christmas, by Cloverton

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

Christmas

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Merry Christmas!


The 24th Annual Christmas Concert for Charity

That child lying in the manger in our Christmas crèches, then, the Word who will one day speak to us in our own human words, is a singular occasion for love and joy, as are all human children, and touches our hearts with a truth and tenderness that doesn’t grow stale from one Christmas to the next.

The Word was partly hidden, for the moment, however, probably because it would otherwise engulf us with such enormous light and sound in our current state that it would have rendered us even more deaf, more blind to the really real than we usually are.


Angels We have Heard on High

It’s right that we get the warm fuzzies and are comforted at this time of year because we get it almost nowhere else, at any other time. And given what we do to one another and ourselves the rest of the time, we need comforting. Still, that comfort is a pale reflection of what awaits those blessed to someday see its source. There will be many things not so comforting in the meantime, not least the great challenges of the Word, which is why the angels are constantly telling everyone – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – “Be not afraid!”

Words and the Word


The Holly and the Ivy

[In a live radio broadcast from England to America on Christmas Day, 1931, G.K.] Chesterton pointed out that there is no substitute for Christmas. No new religion has made a new festival anything like it. No new philosophy has been popular enough to make a popular holiday. The pleasure-seekers with their nightclub life are not happy people. Chesterton says it is unfair to call them Pagans. It is unfair to the Pagans.

“The Pagan gods and poets of the past were never so cheap or tenth-rate as the fast sets and smart people of the present. Venus was never so vulgar as what they now call Sex Appeal. Cupid was never so coarse and common as a modern realistic novel. The old Pagans were imaginative and creative; they made things and built things. Somehow that habit went out of the world… The modern Pagans are merely atheists; who worship nothing and therefore create nothing. They could not, for instance, even make a substitute for Thanksgiving Day. For half of them are pessimists who say they have nothing to be thankful for; and the other half are atheists who have nobody to thank.”

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Even though “centuries of misunderstanding” grew between the birth of Christ and the modern world, Charles Dickens captured the “that mysterious revelation that brought joy upon the earth,” and he handed on this tradition “in an uncongenial time, by an instinct that was almost inspiration. He knew enough about it to enjoy it; and to enjoy himself; and now, in the name of all such things, let us all go and do the same.”

G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, and the Joy of Christmas


The King’s Singers – Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2016

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In the Bleak Midwinter

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