; charset=UTF-8" A Plumbline in the Wind — The world is going to the dogs, but I refuse to learn to bark

A Plumbline in the Wind

The world is going to the dogs, but I refuse to learn to bark

Psalm 119:146 I cry to thee; save me, that I may observe thy testimonies.

A Plumbline in the Wind Paris: Jardin des Tuileries

A New St. Erlembald?

19 October 2018 · Comments Off on A New St. Erlembald?

In response to the recent scandals in the Catholic Church, many people have called for lay initiative to cleanse the Church of priests and bishops who abuse children and otherwise violate their oaths of celibacy. Those who respond to this call might well take St. Erlembald as their patron.

Who was St. Erlembald?

In the eleventh century, St. Peter Damian complained to the Pope that “the befouling cancer of sodomy is … spreading so among the clergy.” Priests, who were required by canon law to be celibate, lived openly with concubines or unofficial wives. Under the influence of simony, bishops bought and sold offices with the collaboration of lay rulers. The first part of the century saw popes deposed and reinstated, as the Emperors and various Roman families contended for power. These abuses stimulated what has become known as the Gregorian reform, associated with Pope Gregory VII, although it began before he was elected Pope, and with the Cluniac Benedictine monks. In Milan, the laity too were deeply involved in reform.

Beginning in 1045, laymen, encouraged by a few priests, began to protest against the archbishop imposed on them by the Emperor. They refused to accept communion from priests suspected of simony or sexual immorality. When the archbishop responded by excommunicating their leaders, the canon Arialdus and the lay nobleman Lambert Cotta, they appealed to the pope, who reinstated them. Lambert died in 1065 as his brother Erlembald was returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, intending to become a monk. Arialdus called on him instead to take up his brother’s role as lay leader of the movement, now known as the Patarenes. The following year the archbishop’s thugs managed to kill Arialdus; so Erlembald and his lay followers took up the cause, attempting to replace the archbishop with a worthier candidate by force if necessary.

The Patarenes had the support of several influential cardinals, including Peter Damian, Humbert of Silva Candida, who called on “faithful laymen” to “arm themselves to avenge” the insults to the Church, and Hildebrand, who later became Gregory VII. When Hildebrand became pope and the Emperor was occupied elsewhere, the reforming candidate was able to take over in Milan, but Erlembald was killed by the Milanese resistance. Along with Arialdus, he was hailed as a martyr; both men were canonized by Pope Urban II in 1095.

The Patarene movement is only one case of the laity leading a reform in the Catholic Church. In fact, almost every reform movement in the history of the Church has been led by the laity. This lay role has been obscured by the tendency in such movements for the leaders to become clergy or for the movement itself to produce special forms of religious life.

The earliest such movement, the ascetic or monastic movement, began with individual hermits, like St. Anthony of Egypt, who was never ordained. Even a century later, in the time of St. Pachomius, most monks were still laymen. The distinct order of monks was the result of a lay movement, although the order it produced came to be associated with the clergy.

Like Anthony and Pachomius, Francis of Assisi, the founder of the first of the mendicant orders, was a layman when he began to gather followers to his new group. Although he was later ordained a deacon in order to be able to preach in churches, he was never a priest. Like the monks, the friars eventually came to be a distinct order in the Church, generally clerical in character.

At the time of the Catholic Reformation, Ignatius Loyola and Philip Neri each began their ministries as laymen, gathering followers and engaging in active apostolate. They were only ordained after their mission had been underway for some time.

Of course, no one is born a priest. In a larger sense, every decision to enter religious life or the priesthood is the decision of a lay man or woman. Saints, too, are made, not born. It is only in retrospect that sanctity is recognized. Joan of Arc, as a lay woman who saw heavenly visions and a peasant woman who led armies into battle, was very controversial in her day. Catherine of Siena, although venerated as a Dominican saint, was a tertiary who never lived in a convent. Both these women are both examples of lay piety and products of a society in which lay piety was encouraged.

The notion that the laity, or the “Christian faithful” (Christifideles), as recent Catholic documents refer to them, are the Church is often credited to the Second Vatican Council, but the reality is nothing new. In the Middle Ages the laity had considerable power in the Church at many levels. Lay activity and influence are often hard to see because the clergy produced most of the records that are our sources. The only kind of lay influence we can see easily is that of royalty and nobility in appointments to Church offices and the patronage of religious orders. What we don’t see is the constant activity of the laity at the local level.

My own research field has been urban parish life and in particular the confraternities or lay brotherhoods that were a major part of it. I have studied one parish in Liège, Belgium, at end of fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, very closely. For the time and place, this was not an unusual parish. Here a group of laymen—well-off but not extremely wealthy burghers—administered most of the parish’s money, hired the priests who assisted the vicar (sometimes their own sons), and provided the decorations for the church and its side chapels. The administration of the parish was in the hands of two churchwardens together with the vicar. This arrangement was not unusual—at another parish in Liège, the parishioners elected the vicar themselves. In many parishes throughout Europe, the rector or vicar was chosen by lay notables, but more humble members of the community, either in the parish or in a confraternity, provided the living for the unbeneficed priests who constituted a large portion of the secular clergy.

Lay control of appointments in the Church gradually declined after the Council of Trent, but lay religious life did not. The Church of the Catholic Reformation developed new structures or adapted old ones to energize the body of the devout. St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life was written for lay people explicitly. The early Jesuits and other new orders organized confraternities and other lay organizations at the local level. The Jesuits educated the sons of the lay élite as a tool of conversion: in Austria, Bohemia, and Poland, they turned the sons of Protestant aristocrats into a new generation of Catholic ones. The early modern Catholic Church depended on the help of the lay elite to bring about the conversion called for by the Council of Trent.

It is, perhaps, the very success of the Tridentine strategy in bringing about the cooperation of the laity with the clergy that leads to the impression that the normal role of the laity in the Catholic Church is to be passive. Closer examination of Church history suggests otherwise. When the clergy have failed, or when older models of religious organization have been ineffective, the laity have stepped up and been the instruments of reform.

It should be clear to any observer of the Catholic Church today that something is wrong. The scandal of Archbishop McCarrick and the revelations of Archbishop Viganò, the reports of investigations not only in the United States but in Europe and Latin America as well, are evidence of a deep and pervasive corruption no less virulent that the one that Peter Damian identified in the eleventh century.

Maybe what the Church needs now is a new Saint Erlembald.

Comments Off on A New St. Erlembald?Tags: Theology and scripture

Myrrh Is Mine

3 January 2016 · Comments Off on Myrrh Is Mine

Today, in the United States at least, we Roman Catholics celebrated Epiphany, and heard the Gospel story of the three magi and their gifts to the child Jesus. I, and probably you too, heard a homily that mentioned the symbolic significance of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold symbolizes kingship; frankincense, being the primary component of incense used in worship by the Jews as well as other ancient peoples (and modern Christians), signifies deity. Again like me, you probably heard that myrrh signifies Jesus’ death, since it was used in the preparation of corpses for burial and specifically, Jesus’ body (Jn 19:39). This interpretation, made famous in J.H. Hopkins’s carol “We Three Kings,” has its origin in the writing of some of the Fathers of the Church, including St. Gregory the Great and St. Augustine. Myrrh was in fact used in the ancient world as part of the embalming process. Thus the magi bringing myrrh to the infant Jesus foreshadows Nicodemus bringing myrrh to lay Him in the tomb.

The reference in John 19, however, is the only reference to myrrh in Scripture that is connected with embalming. Jesus is also offered a drink containing myrrh as He goes to the Cross in Mark 15:23. They offered Him this, and He refused it, because it would dull the pain of crucifixion. Myrrh actually is an analgesic, and the ancient world knew it. In the Old Testament, however, myrrh occurs in two contexts that also render it a rich symbol at Jesus’ birth.

The first occurs only once, but significantly, in Exodus 30:23. Myrrh is an important ingredient in the sacred oil that is to anoint the Tabernacle, the holy vessels, and the high priest himself. It had this use through the whole history of the Temple period of Judaism. It retains it today as part of the sacred chrism used in Confirmation and Ordination. As a gift of the magi, it indicates that Jesus was to be the great High Priest who offered the sacrifice of reconciliation for all mankind. Of course, He was also the victim in this sacrifice; Hopkins’s line “king and God and sacrifice” is not out of place. But He offered His own anointed Body in sacrifice as the anointed High Priest, anointed with the precious myrrh of consecration.

The other use of myrrh, which occurs in various books, is as a perfume. We see it in lists of valuable commodities being traded in Genesis, 1 Kings, and 2 Chronicles, with an echo in Revelation 18:13, the lament over Babylon. In Sirach 24:15, Wisdom tells us that she spread a fine odor “like choice myrrh.” Esther (2:12) is prepared for her encounter with the king by treatments with, among other things, oil of myrrh. Myrrh is not simply a desirable odor, it is the odor of desire. In Proverbs 7:17, the seductress has perfumed her bed with “myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon,” but she is only turning her bed into an imitation, for the foolish youth, of the marriage bed.

Myrrh and marriage go together in Psalm 45, where the bridegroom’s robes are fragrant with “myrrh, aloes, and cassia.” Myrrh is the sign of the bridegroom, and nowhere more than in the Song of Songs. This book mentions myrrh more often than any other. Here, I believe, we must look for its deepest significance. From the first chapter, where the Bride calls her Beloved “a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts” (1:13), he is associated with myrrh. His caravan approaches from the wilderness “like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense” (3:6); he hastens to the “mountains of myrrh” (4:6) to await his Bride, who herself has myrrh in her garden (4:14). He invites her to come to his garden, where he gathers his own myrrh (5:1) along with other sweet and savory things.

The most powerful and touching image of myrrh in the Song of Songs is the incident of the Bride awakened in the night. She hears the Beloved knocking, but hesitates to open the door, since she has already gone to bed. By the time she gets up and opens the door, the Beloved has gone. But as she opens the door, she says, “My hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt” (5:15). The Beloved has left behind a sign of his presence. She will search for him, but will, for the moment, find only suffering, as the watchmen beat her and take her cloak. When the daughters of Jerusalem ask her why they should watch for the Beloved, she describes him with a series of similes that echo the Beloved’s descriptions of her. Among these, “his lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh.”

Myrrh is the taste of love, of the perfect marriage, of the Bride and the Beloved, of Israel and her Creator, of the Church and her Lord. Jesus is our Beloved, who stands at the door and knocks. Even if we are slow to answer Him, everything He has touched is anointed with the myrrh of His presence. The perfume of myrrh comes forth from His pure lips in His precious Word that calls us to enter His embrace and be joined to Him in the nuptial embrace. Myrrh tells us, yes, of the Priest and the sacrificial Victim, but also of the consummation that lies beyond, for the sake of which the sacrifice is made, the eternal and perfect union with the Beloved.

Comments Off on Myrrh Is MineTags: Christmas · Spirituality · Theology and scripture

After Obergefell

26 June 2015 · Comments Off on After Obergefell

Now, as a distinguished Catholic friend of mine once said, the shit has hit the fan. The Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, has declared that all states must recognize marriages between persons of the same sex. There will, no doubt, be many Catholics and other Christians, and others of good will and good sense, who will strive to overturn it. This will likely be as quixotic a notion as overturning Roe v. Wade has been. In the absence of any likelihood that this regime will end in our lifetimes, what can we do about marriage? I think there are things that can be done in both the civil sphere and in the practice of the Church.

In the civil sphere, we should push to abolish civil marriage in the form it now has. The legislature of Alabama is moving in that direction with a proposal to abolish marriage licenses. Marriage licenses are a relatively recent innovation in this country, having been introduced to prevent marriages between close relatives, to control venereal disease, and, most importantly in many places, to prevent marriages between men and women who were defined as belonging to different races. We don’t need them and we won’t miss them.

What Alabama wants to do is to substitute marriage registration for a marriage license. Persons can go to a state office and formally declare that they are married, without any question as to how this came about—or not, if they choose to live as a couple without any official notice.

I think this would be a good option for everyone to adopt. First the legislature would create a form of contract that would have all the legal implications of marriage. This form of contract could be modified with respect to common property or other features by the parties, or they could accept a default set of conditions established by statute. This contract could be made between any two persons, but for any individual, only with one person at a time. It would say nothing about common domicile, sexual relations, or any other matter. It could specify what will happen when the contract is dissolved, and what the implications are for the estates of each party in case of intestacy. The contract would be registered with a local court, and its dissolution, and the fulfillment of the terms of the contract, would likewise be registered with the court. You could call these acts “marriage” and “divorce” or anything else you wanted, and you could attach any sort of immunities to the participants in such a contract with respect to taxes, court testimony, transfers of property, probate, or anything else.

The big problem when it comes to marriage and divorce today, of course, is the custody of children. However, it is clear to any observer that marriage and the bearing and rearing of children are having less and less to do with one another. We should make provisions for children that are not tied to the contractual relations between the parents—as is true in many cases already.

I propose that all parental rights and duties should begin with the biological parents of the child. All birth certificates should bear the names of both biological (that is genetic, not uterine in cases of surrogacy) parents of the child. Even the names of sperm donors, in cases of artificial insemination, should be listed, although they may be sealed. These two parents (or the mother if the father is truly unknown) should be presumed to have parental rights (and duties—I will simply say “rights” to save words). Each of them can surrender, by legal act, their parental rights, on condition that at least one person will accept these rights. Both parents, in this sense, should have obligations toward the support of the children that are enforceable at law, but these can be adjusted by mutual agreement with the approval of a court, or, in the worst case, terminated by a court in the event of criminal behavior. This would be similar to the disposition of children in cases of divorce, but would not necessarily be tied to the civil partnership described above. It would hold in cases where the biological parents have no partnership, or even in cases where one or both are in partnerships with other persons.

Someone may protest that this will result in children being raised in unhealthy family situations. Alas, this is true; but these unhealthy situations already exist and are multiplying anyway. We can’t prevent the existence of “families” with two parents of the same sex, because now, even where same-sex marriage has not existed, adoption by same-sex couples is legal. Now all limits are gone, and that is unlikely to change.

In the sphere of the Church, the time has come to take some measures that are long overdue. What the civil society means by marriage and what the Church means by marriage have been radically different for a long time; Obergefell just makes it obvious. The Church needs to recognize this by her treatment of marriage.

I would suggest that the Church, first of all, cease solemnizing marriages and signing marriage licenses in jurisdictions that have marriage licenses. This would preempt the coming campaign to force Catholic clergy to solemnize same-sex marriages. Beyond that, I would suggest that the Church should not recognize any marriages that have been entered into purely as a civil contract or celebrated in a church or religious body where marriage is not recognized as a sacrament. This would mean that persons who have passed through a sequence of sacramentally meaningless marriages would be free of these entanglements if they come into the Church. It is true that the sacrament of Matrimony is made by the couple themselves, not by the minister who witnesses it, but given the state of marriage in our society, it is reasonable to assume that the conditions for entering into a valid marriage have usually not been met outside the Catholic or Orthodox Churches. The pastoral issue of how to deal with a couple who are living as husband and wife and both seek to enter the Church as such would have to be settled, possibly case by case.

In the case of Catholic marriages, we need to strengthen the catechesis of marriage in the Church, and provide special preparation for couples who have been raised in a society that does not recognize marriage as Catholics do, so that they realize that the requirements of fidelity, permanence, and openness to life must be fully accepted and lived out. We must also be very sure of the capability and freedom of consent. I hope that the current considerations in the highest levels of the Church will bear fruit that will help that.

Catholics, and other Christians, are and always have been called to be counter-cultural. We do not belong to this world. Sometimes it has not been very obvious. Now it is and those who do not rise to the occasion will be judged severely before the throne of God.

Comments Off on After ObergefellTags: Politics and society

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

14 April 2015 · Comments Off on What’s Love Got to Do with It?

On same-sex marriage

I am a Catholic, and as such I have certain beliefs about marriage and sexuality that would be, I think, sufficiently well known, but not shared, perhaps, by many of my fellow citizens. However, I am presently undertaking to write on the subject of same-sex marriage not as a Catholic or a Christian, but as a historian with some knowledge about human societies.

It appears to me that the arguments advanced on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are faulty, and faulty in such a way that the arguments advanced by the opponents of same-sex marriage fail to meet those advanced by its proponents. There are three main lines of argument raised against same-sex marriage: first, that homosexual acts are immoral, unhealthy, or both; that children are best raised by two parents of different sexes; and that having same-sex marriage is the first step on a slippery slope to polygamy and incestuous unions. The proponents argue in their turn that their opponents are motivated by an unreasoning animus toward homosexuality or homosexual persons (which may be a reaction, if not a reasoned response, to the first objection); that not allowing same-sex marriage is discrimination against a class of persons; and that “the government should not tell us whom we can love.”

We can dispose of the last easily. Anyone who thinks that love and marriage “go together like a horse and carriage” in the sense that they are inseparable, and that “you won’t find one without the other” has more faith in Sammy Cahn than in the evidence of his own eyes. Inseparability is not, of course, even a feature of horses and carriages; I have seen many more horses without carriages than with them in the course of my life. While one might argue that love in marriage is a good thing, experience teaches us that there are marriages without love. Indeed, it is only in the last few centuries that love, in particular romantic love, has been considered a good basis for marriage. If love in marriage were automatic, St. Paul would not have needed to tell husbands to love their wives any more than he needed to tell them to swallow their food. Nor does a person always marry the person he or she loves. History—indeed daily life—provides many examples of persons who enjoyed romantic love, and even sexual relations, without marrying or demanding to be married. While many societies have or have had strong regulations against sexual activity, if not love, outside of marriage, the modern West is not one of them.

Many opponents of same-sex marriage conflate their opposition to it with their opposition to sexual activity outside of a lifelong, exclusive marriage commitment. They contend that marriage is “one man and one woman for life” and that any deviation from that standard is roughly equal in wrongness. One violation in a society might lead to another; thus stopping same-sex marriage is essential for stopping the progress to polygamy. They have it backwards. When marriage is considered as a social institution apart from any religious definition, polygamy partakes of the essential nature of marriage in a way that same-sex marriage does not. That is, polygamy does not change the definition of marriage; same-sex marriage does.

Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. Different cultures have regulated it in different ways. These differences include how closely the man and woman may be related to one another by blood, with how many women a man (or how many men a woman) may be in this relationship at the same time; the degree to which the relationship is sexually exclusive; and whether the relationship is permanent or temporary. There have also been restrictions on which social groups, be they racial or ethnic groups, social classes, or clans, may intermarry with one another. But a man and a woman are always the parties to this relationship.

In the case of polygamy (when we use the term, we generally mean polygyny—a man with multiple wives—although there are societies where polyandry occurs and a woman may have more than one husband), it is not the case that there are more than two persons in a marriage, but rather that the man has entered into marriage with more than one woman. Solomon’s seven hundred wives were not married to one another; Solomon had entered into seven hundred marriages.

Similarly, there may be limits on whom one can marry. In the state of Michigan, I cannot marry my mother, my daughter, my sister, my niece, or my first cousin. However—except perhaps in the case of my mother or my daughter—there have been societies in which none of these restrictions applied. The pharoahs of ancient Egypt regularly married their sisters; uncle-niece and first-cousin marriages are not uncommon in many societies today. On the other hand, some societies have restricted marriage partners more strictly; in traditional China, two persons of the same surname, even if no blood relation could be discovered, could not marry.

Societies have also differed on the permanence of the relationship. In the contemporary Western world, it is fairly easy for either party to dissolve the bond; in imperial Rome it was almost as easy. In many places, it is not difficult for a man to divorce his wife, but not the reverse. Likewise, many societies have tolerated a man’s keeping concubines or otherwise engaging in sexual relations with women other than his wife. Generally the same liberty was not allowed to a married woman; but one hears of places where a man’s hospitality includes access to his wife as well as to his table.

Despite the great variety in customs and regulations regarding marriage, there is always one essential: it involves a man and a woman.

This description of marriage holds regardless of the attitude of a society regarding attraction between persons of the same sex or homosexual relations. In the history of the West, the most striking example of a society that approved homosexual relations is ancient Greece, specifically Athens. The Athenian gentleman’s boy lover was a standard feature of his life, and the relationship was presumed to be good for both the adult and the youth. In theory, sexual acts were considered demeaning and impure, but we have sufficient evidence, including the visual evidence of vase-paintings that could not be shown on family television, that they were not uncommon. (We might note in passing that, given the age of the boys involved, these acts would, in modern America, get the adult male thrown in jail, but times have changed.) Most or all of the men involved in these relationships had wives with whom they also had sexual relations, and we know that many of them had sexual involvement with other women as well. Nevertheless, literary evidence suggests that love for a beautiful boy was considered more ennobling and spiritual (especially if kept on a spiritual level) than love for a mere woman, since women were generally of low status in ancient Athens, and assumed to be incapable of higher thought and sentiment. But the most dedicated pederast in Athens, even if he might prefer boys to women for his satisfaction, ever confused the relation with his lover and that with his wife. Love was one thing; marriage, perhaps, was another.

Marriage is a feature of human societies created first by custom and only later by law. To regulate marriage by law characteristic of settled cultures; in some of those it is also a religious institution. In the Western tradition, laws involving marriage in the secular sphere have recognized marriage and defined its effects on such issues as property rather than creating it. Until the beginning of the modern era, the formation of marriages was the work of the Church (or synagogue, in Jewish communities). The notion of a marriage created under state auspices has only been part of the civil order in the United States over about the last 150 years, and partially to some other countries over the last 225 years. Before the late nineteenth century in the United States, and before 1789 anywhere else, there was no such thing as civil marriage. All marriages were carried out under the auspices of a church or other religious body, or were common-law marriages, entered into privately. Marriage licenses were first introduced in the Church of England to avoid the need for posting banns of marriage for three weeks before the wedding, so that the wedding could take place quickly. State-issued marriage licenses were introduced in the United States largely to enforce laws against cousins marrying, to control sexually transmitted disease by requiring a medical exam, and, in some places, to prevent miscegenation. In continental Europe, civil marriage was introduced after the French Revolution as a way of having the state take over the functions of the Church.

Before there were marriage licenses, the state only defined what the legal and economic implications were to a man’s and a woman’s being in the state of marriage. With the civil regulation of marriage, the state also took on the task of defining the restrictions on the formation of marriage. The prohibition of bigamy was a feature of common law deriving from cultural traditions as well as from Church law. The advent of polygamy among the early Mormons strengthened this prohibition with statutory measures. In many jurisdictions, there were prohibitions of the contraction of marriage between persons defined to be members of different racial groups. These prohibitions would not have been considered necessary if the marriages in question would not have otherwise been possible: indeed, in other contemporary societies, even in the Americas, marriages that would have been forbidden in the United States were recognized.

We now see the state not only regulating marriage, and not only forming marriages, but actually defining what the relationship is. This is a different matter from regulating the contractual relationship of marriage. The state could easily pass laws stating that the marriage relationship had no effect at all on the property relations or other legal actions of the parties: for example, providing that in case of intestacy, the decedent’s property would pass to his or her blood relatives or to the state, with the spouse having no claim on it. This would not change the nature of marriage at all. Similarly the state could define other contractual relationships that would have exactly the same terms as marriage; indeed, the state could define some other contractual relationship in that very way. To define marriage as a relation between members of the same sex, however, is to redefine fundamentally a feature, not of the legal system, but of human culture.

I oppose the redefinition of marriage, therefore, not because it will lead to other bad things, or because homosexual acts are immoral, much less because I think I can tell people whether they can love one another or not. Marriage between a man and a woman, regardless of its terms, is a foundation of human culture. To redefine it fundamentally is to remove the most essential cornerstone of human society. It is not social change; it is social suicide. There is no wrong that demands so fundamental a disruption in order to right it.

Comments Off on What’s Love Got to Do with It?Tags: Politics and society

Is it all about the rules?

16 April 2013 · No Comments

I have many friends whom I have loved in my life who have either never known Christ, or, having once known Him, have separated themselves from Him. As I pray daily for them, my heart longs that they should come to Him, and I know that it is His longing as well. Many of them, I think, when they consider Christianity, see only a lot of rules, which they consider arbitrary, unjust, or simply difficult. All those who preach Christ are doing is trying to force me and other people to follow their rules—at least that is what I once thought. Certainly it would appear that the Church teaches a great many rules, but is that what it is all about? Is it all about the rules?

When I am teaching people who are entering the Church about the faith, I begin with God’s plan, which is summarized in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: to unite all things in Christ. This plan reveals, to begin with, the nature of God as an interpersonal Being, a loving union of three Persons, in whom is all being, all life, all truth, and all love. This God freely chose to share His being with creation, causing all things to be. He chose to share His life with living things, that contain within them some image of His creative life. He chose to share His personal nature by creating human beings in His image, male and female, that they might, by coming together in a union of love, continue His creative work. To them He gave the ability to love, which can come only by a free choice, which raises them above the animals and above inanimate being.

Even when man and woman abused the gift of freedom by choosing not to love Him, but to love something else, God was not deterred from His plan. He left them with a mark of Himself within them, the mark of conscience, though it was weakened and often distorted by their separation from Him. He began to prepare a people for Himself by revealing to them His nature, and how to live in accordance with that nature. These are what we might call the rules, hidden in the conscience of every human being, but revealed by God to one people. He revealed what it meant to live in accordance with His nature, with the image of God that He had created them for in the beginning, and hedged them around with other rules, that this people might preserve them. He revealed it even though He knew that they would not be capable, on their own power, to follow them, but at least they could know and love them.

To overcome at last the separation from God that could not be overcome by any human act, He Himself took on human nature and underwent human death, in order that those who accepted Him might at last share the divine nature and be restored to the union with God for which they were created. It was for this union, that these free created beings might be united with Him, that the whole of creation was brought into being. It was that God’s interpersonal love might be shared with other persons, that they might be incorporated into it and thus enjoy complete happiness, love, life, and truth, that the universe exists. The divine Person of Christ, who took on human nature and brought it beyond death into a new life, is now the leader and source of life for a new humanity; as St. Paul writes, “he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.” To be joined to Christ is to share the divine nature; to share the divine nature means to live by virtue of that nature; and that way of life is what God has revealed.

Therefore, it is really about union, about sharing the nature of God, about living in that love. The rules are not the goal; they are the description of how a human being lives the way human beings are created to live in union with God. We are still wounded in our nature and easily confused; we can lose sight of God and be pulled away by our selfish wills. We can still break that union with God by departing in serious ways from the nature that He has placed within us. He has provided, however, the means to be restored to this union. Departing from union with God leads to the loss of all good, a loss that can be permanent in death. No matter how we have departed, however, we can always be reunited with God by embracing the cross of Christ, on which He underwent our death in order to give us His life; and here we can receive that love again and again, and the ability to live in that union until it becomes the eternal union beyond this world.

He is constantly calling, and no one is beyond that call. He is calling the man who, from anger or greed or whatever other motive, unjustly deprived another human being of life. He is calling the woman who, after promising to give herself completely to one man, gave herself to another. He is calling the man who unjustly deprived others of the fruits of their labors. He is calling the man who has used women as objects of selfish pleasure rather than making the total gift of himself to one. He is calling the woman who, out of confusion or fear, killed the child growing in the sanctuary of her womb. He is calling the man who, out of disordered desire, rather than giving himself to a woman in creative union, sought similar pleasure with other men or with children. God’s fierce love for these and for all his beloved children blazes against the things that have separated them from Him, not because He wants to punish them, but because He wants to cherish them and heal them and unite them to Himself forever, where true love and true pleasure and true life are to be found. The rules are just the signposts that tell us to turn back home to where our great Lover awaits.

→ No CommentsTags: Spirituality · Theology and scripture

A chronicle of the last days

14 November 2012 · No Comments

I have decided to revive this blog after about four years of inactivity. I guess it was President Obama’s first election that knocked the stuffing out of me. Now that he has been reelected, and the direction of the country and of our civilization is clear, I have returned to chronicle the end. My online publishing has been limited to excessively verbose comments on Facebook, with the occasional post of my own, and several well-meaning people who have read these comments have suggested that, if I posted to the blog, I might gain a wider audience. We’ll see if that happens. For now I am leaving the format the same, but I will probably make some changes when I feel up to it. Comments are still moderated, and, especially if your comment is hostile, I reserve the right to reject or edit it. I still will not tolerate abusive or obscene language.

My motto is the same, and gains greater and greater force with every day and every disaster: The world is going to the dogs, but I refuse to learn to bark.

It appears to me that the recent election was no ordinary one. Not only has it renewed the mandate of a President whose values are opposed to those held by believing Catholics and those that informed the United States Constitution, it has also revealed that such a President is what the citizens of this country want, and that the values of this country have fundamentally changed from the kind that can sustain republican liberty. The end of the American experiment is at hand, and financial bankruptcy will be the least of its consequences.

The was the last election in which there could be any hope of Catholics, as such, influencing the political life of the country. We had our chance, this time, if not to arrest the progress of the moral decline of our society, at least to preserve the liberty of those who desire to escape it. We had our chance, and we blew it. Whether is was the failure of nerve on the part of the Republican campaigns, or the scruples of some who thought Mr. Romney’s positions were not pure enough, or simply the inexorable weight of the media elite on Mr. Obama’s side, we failed to eject from office a President whose own supporters, even while they called for his reelection, admitted he was incompetent. We will not have another chance. It is not merely that the current administration supports morally repugnant practices such as abortion, recognition of same-sex “marriages,” and so on; even more significant will be the extension of executive power contained in the control of the health-care system, which will affect not only the behavior of doctors and hospitals, but every part of the lives of every citizen. This extension of power will mean that conformity with the policies favored by the executive branch of government will be increasingly required of private citizens and businesses in order to conduct the most mundane aspects of their lives. Those who cannot in conscience accept the practices promoted by the government will be increasingly marginalized, and their ability even to make their views known will be jeopardized.

A second development that will affect the world more than it will America is the inclination of the administration to defer to the United Nations and to Europe rather than to assert American interests, and in particular, its apparent withdrawal from America’s sixty-year policy of support for the state of Israel. An attitude of hostility to the West and to America, a fashionable tiermondisme that exploits post-colonial guilt, and a naive belief in plebiscitary democracy are now entrenched in the highest councils of the United States. Totalitarian regimes will now be tolerated, provided they wear a democratic mask.

What should be our response? I cannot say. We could simply withdraw from political activity, at least at the national level, abandoning the claim to be citizens of a Republic that does not recognize the legitimacy of our values, and adopt the position of the subjects of a totalitarian state beyond our control. In a frank tyranny we should have no other choice. But a democratic regime that has abandoned the guarantees of individual liberty of conscience is just as much a tyranny as an absolute monarchy. I am not sure that is the only course, however. There may be ways that the more clever among us may be able to bring some influence to bear, and salvage little scraps of freedom here and there. All in all, I believe that the way out of our situation does not lie in politics, but in conversion of hearts and transformation of the culture by conversion to Christ, something which we can try to promote and to participate in as the Holy Spirit leads us, but over which we have, ultimately no control. The battle at this point belongs to God. The most effective thing we can do is to pray.

On the morrow of the election, I was led to focus on three intentions, which I believe would be a good start to the only campaign that will make a difference now:

1. The long life and health of the justices of the Supreme Court, especially of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy. If President Obama is allowed to appoint anyone to take their places, his regime will continue forever.

2. Christians in the Middle East. We always needed to pray for them, but even more now. President Obama’s reelection will guarantee the establishment of Islamist regimes from Pakistan to Syria and Egypt, and put extreme pressure on Lebanon and Israel. They will try to eliminate the ancient Christian communities within their borders.

3. Revival of faith in the Catholic Church in the Western world. We are on our own now, in a culture that will not support us and with a government that will attack us. We need to be prepared to maintain the Church without the secular benefits we have enjoyed, such as tax exemptions. We will need to stand firm when persecution comes over our defense of marriage and of life.

Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, Patroness of the United States, pray for us and for our prodigal nation!

→ No CommentsTags: Politics and society

The unity election

16 November 2008 · No Comments

Here’s a story that demonstrates just how tolerant good liberals are:

Catherine Vogt, 14, is an Illinois 8th grader, the daughter of a liberal mom and a conservative dad. She wanted to conduct an experiment in political tolerance and diversity of opinion at her school in the liberal suburb of Oak Park.

She noticed that fellow students at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama for president. His campaign kept preaching “inclusion,” and she decided to see how included she could be.

So just before the election, Catherine consulted with her history teacher, then bravely wore a unique T-shirt to school and recorded the comments of teachers and students in her journal. The T-shirt bore the simple yet quite subversive words drawn with a red marker: “McCain Girl.” [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: Politics and society · Uncategorized

Causes of human laughter

9 November 2008 · No Comments

Nothing like making a mistake to provoke comments, I guess. My last post but one has aroused a remarkable amount of comment, including a reply from the author of the original Facebook comment that stimulated the post in the first place. Whether my error is to be attributed to purity of heart, as Julie charitably suggests, or to gross naïveté, as is more likely, it leads to some interesting observations. [Read more →]

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Some predictions

7 November 2008 · No Comments

So, the election has been held, and Mr. Obama is President-elect (well, technically not until the electors have voted next month, but I have been enjoined not to be technical). For whatever reason, in some cases deceived by “an engine called the Press,” the American people have made what I would call a very bad decision. I will now venture a few predictions. I will confess to being a pessimist, so if you want you can argue with me. I will class my predictions under three headings: moral and religious (the most important), foreign affairs, and domestic affairs. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: Politics and society

But it’s not fun!

5 October 2008 · No Comments

One of my Facebook friends, who is definitely not a supporter of Senator McCain, joined, for what reason I cannot guess, a Facebook group in favor of the McCain-Palin ticket. Perhaps it was in order to leave this comment:

This is the most pitiful group in the world…you people are being screwed…and it’s not even fun! Vote OBAMA and get a real life!

Every clause of this could bear some comment, but the one that caught my attention was the one about “not even fun.”

There is first of all the question of whether politics should be fun. Politics is, after all, the use or restraint of the state’s monopoly of force in pursuit of one’s goals or principles. The thought of someone doing this to me for fun is a bit disturbing. It’s a bit like the thought of a surgeon operating on me, or a policeman throwing me in jail, or a broker investing my money, for fun.

I have vague recollection of a time when being fun was not the ultimate test of all activities. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: Politics and society