24 June 2009

Happy Solemnity of St. John the Baptist!

Today, Holy Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, he who was born to pave the way for Christ. He also happens to be one of my favorite saints and characters from the Bible. Jesus spoke of him thus:

Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: 'Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.' Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:9-11.
Pretty cool, no? John is also the focal point of one of my favorite passages from Scripture, and one that always brings a smile to my face when I meditate on the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.' Luke 1:41-45.
The reason this makes me smile has to do with John leaping for joy at the presence of his Lord, and this passage will forever be linked in my mind with the first time Rosie and I saw our son (though we didn't know he was a he at that time!) using ultrasound. We went straight from Mass to the doctor's office. During the appointment, the technicians could barely get him to stay stationary for long enough to take the necessary measurements. The first thing that popped into my head was this passage, and I knew that he wouldn't stay still because he had just received the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
This solemnity also gives me to share one of my favorite paintings, Raphael's Alba Madonna, which I included at the top of this post. Unlike some other paintings from this period which feature the same three figures, the hierarchy in this painting is different. In others, John is portrayed as looking at Jesus, who in turn is looking at his Blessed Mother. However, Raphael portrays them as all focusing on one thing: the cross. Which, y'know, happens to be kind of important for our salvation. Anyway, this painting is by far my favorite work in the National Gallery of Art, and I've been known on more than one occasion to go to the museum just to see it.

23 April 2009

God willing, this won't be the last letter like this

The Bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, wrote a pastoral letter last month encouraging the people of his Diocese to "rediscover" the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year. Speaking as one who prayerfully came to the same conclusion last year, I can only hope that more bishops will speak out on this matter. I won't post the full text of the letter here, but here are a few snippets so you get the gist of what Bishop Conlon is saying (emphasis mine):


We cannot become literally other Christs. We can be transformed by his life and be instruments of his life for others. Just as he accomplished salvation through his supreme sacrifice on the cross, we can fulfill our Christian mission through sacrifice. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, fast and care for the poor as types of sacrifice.

Maybe we separate these three activities into distinct functions. Jesus drew them together in feeding the multitude. He took the meager food of the apostles, prayed over it and distributed it to the poor. On Calvary, after a day with no food or drink, he gave his life for us sinners, all the while praying to his Father.

We can do the same in a very simple way. I am inviting the Catholic people of the Diocese of Steubenville to resume the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, but with a twist. I am asking that this be not only a penitential practice but also an experience of prayer and service. This can happen by connecting abstinence with our witness to the sacredness of human life.


Abstinence is a form of fasting—a discipline of the body. It can remind us of the beautiful gift of life that God has given to us personally. It can also remind us and each other of how sacred everyone else’s life is. As a public witness, it can be a service to those whose life and human dignity are at risk.

Next to Sunday, Friday has always been a special day in the Catholic Church for prayer. Offering prayer for life--praising God as the source of life and begging him to turn away threats to life--is a fitting addition to abstinence. This prayer can be in the parish setting, in the family or alone. Abstinence itself can be offered consciously as a prayer for life and in reparation for sins against life.


Until 1966, Catholics around the world were required to abstain from meat on all Fridays. That year, Pope Paul VI determined that the rules for fasting and abstinence should be set by the various episcopal conferences according to local circumstances. At the same time, he reminded us that doing penance was commanded by Christ himself and is an important part of our spiritual life.

The bishops of the United States eliminated mandatory abstinence from meat on Fridays except during Lent. However, they insisted that all Catholics should observe some penitential practice on Fridays, in remembrance of the Lord’s passion and death, and they highly recommended continuing abstinence from meat.

So, the present challenge to the people in our diocese is not really radical. It is a call to what many if not most of us have put aside. And it is a way for us, like the apostles, to give up a little food and help Jesus feed the world.

15 April 2009

On allegedly Catholic institutions

As if the hoopla surrounding Notre Dame's invitation to the President to speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree wasn't enough (more on that in a minute), another Catholic institution has gone and bowed to the great presence of the almighty Messiah, Barack Obama. I clearly never expected Georgetown to not permit Obama to come and speak (it lost sense of its Catholic identity some time ago), but it would have been nice if they hadn't covered up the IHS Christogram in the room where Obama spoke. I really wonder whose idea this was -- did Georgetown not want to offend Obama, or could Obama not stand the sight of something that reminded him of the actual Messiah? Gun to my head, I guess I'd choose the former, but it would be a tough call.

Not that the Notre Dame debacle is anything new, but on a related note, I wanted to share a snippet of the letter that Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, sent to Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame:
Permit me to add my name as well to the long list of Bishops of the Catholic Church who are utterly appalled at your dedication to immorality and wrong-doing represented by your support for the obscenity called "The Vagina Monologues" and your absolute indifference to the murderous abortion program and beliefs of this President of the United States…I can assure you of my prayers for your conversion, and for the conversion of your formerly Catholic University.

Harsh words, yes, but sometimes they are necessary to change hearts. Bishop Bruskewitz is one of 33 American prelates who have written to Fr. Jenkins to express their concern over Obama's speech and honorary degree. American Papist has the full list, if you're interested.

08 April 2009

On people who need to keep their mouths shut

It's that time of year, when I start writing more blog posts instead of studying for exams. Oh, what fun.

Anyway, there's been a lot that has happened recently that is worth noting, but I'd like to focus on something that just happened today. In an interview with Attitude, a gay magazine in the UK, Blair basically criticized the Pope and the Church for being "anti-gay" (which is far from the truth, regardless of how much gay rights activists want to smear the Church -- they might want to consider doing their research before embarking on crusades like these). In relevant part, Blair's interview reads:
"Look, there are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you'd be surprised at how liberal-minded people were."


On many issues, I think the leaders of the Church and the Church will be in complete agreement. But I think on some of these issues, if you went and asked the congregation, I think you’d find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes. If you asked "what makes you religious?" and "what does your faith mean to you?" they would immediately go into compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering. I would be really surprised if they went to "actually, it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong" or "it’s to do with believing this part of the ritual or doctrine should be done in this particular way".

Right off the bat, Tony Blair might want to think about his own views on things before he criticizes anyone else's. I was cautiously optimistic when Blair was first received into the Church, but I knew that he would have to change a lot of his stances on things, especially his well-known, long-standing support for abortion rights and homosexuality. Now, I see that my caution was well-founded, as it seems that Blair has no intention of renouncing his views in these areas. I must ask, Tony, if you weren't willing to accept the teachings of the Church and were probably just as happy being Anglican (a church in which your views were accepted and lauded), why did you convert?

In the excerpt above, Blair uses a dangerous argument, and one that is more and more common these days. He argues that since your average Catholic parish is more "liberal-minded" than the Pope and other Church leaders, Catholic doctrine and dogma should be liberalized to match the views of the majority. Fortunately for him, truth is not and has never been decided by a majority vote. Otherwise, the Church would have caved long ago to forces seeking her destruction. People use this argument to say that the Church should change her attitudes on a whole host of issues, including abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. The Church's stance on each of these "hot-button" issues has been temperately formed over many, many years, and it's a shame that the culture of "me" has made people think that they know better.

What the Church actually teaches about homosexuality is a hefty topic that deserves its own post, but for the sake of openness, I'll post two relevant sections of the Catechism here:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

It would be one thing if Blair were calling for increased "respect, compassion, and sensitivity," echoing the words of the Catechism. I don't think any Catholic would argue that we should not reach out with respect and compassion to homosexuals. But this isn't what he's saying, and it's incredibly damaging.

My advice for Tony Blair: take this opportunity as an exercise in humility. The Church's views on life and marriage have been formed by hundreds and thousands of years of observing and living the human experience (plus, y'know, her God-given authority). Try giving that experience some thought and respect -- and consider why you think you have the authority and experience to argue for change. Spend an hour (or four) in front of the Blessed Sacrament and surrender yourself to God's will. You might not like what you hear, but it might just help your soul.

18 February 2009

Pelosi Gets a Stern Talking-To

Nancy Pelosi, as part of a congressional delegation to Europe, met briefly with the Pope today. It seems to me like she was looking for a photo-op, but it seems that she got more than that. From Vatican Radio:
Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.

Good for you, Papa! Not that it will do any good in the face of such obstinately evil views, but with rebuke and prayer, perhaps she will come to her senses eventually.

04 February 2009

Williamson and Modernism

I'm sure most people have heard by now (unfortunately, for the wrong reasons) of the Pope's decision to lift the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops who were consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre back in 1988. At the outset, I'd like to say that I'm very pleased about this action (though less so about the negative--and unwarranted--criticism of the Holy Father). It shows a true commitment on the part of this pontiff to unifying the Church (as evidenced by the fact that he took this action during the week in which the Church prays for Christian Unity). I've thought for a while now that SSPX has many valid points about the issues the Church has encountered over the past 50 years, though I can't say that I approve of the course of action they decided to take.

This has come into the news most prominently because of comments made by one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, regarding his views on the Holocaust (mainly, that it didn't happen, at least not on the scale that is generally accepted). The "progressive" wing of the Church has taken this opportunity to lambast the Holy Father at every turn for this decision. Those outside the Church somehow see vindication of their long-held beliefs that the Pope is a closet Nazi (he was a member of the Hitler Youth, after all!).

What both of these groups fail to realize is what exactly excommunication is. The revocation of excommunication does not involve or depend on personally held beliefs (though the Pope has since made it clear that Williamson must recant his views on the Holocaust before being received back into the fold).

As is excellently made clear in this article, however, it seems like the liberal wing of the Church is not much concerned with the Jews, but with losing the grip they have on . Pope Benedict has devoted much of his pontificate to a reexamination of Vatican II and its "misimplementation." By demonstrating a continued desire to bring "traditionalists" back from the fringes (through the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, this lifting of excommuncations, and the like), the Pope is threatening the monopoly that progressives have had on modernist dogma in the past four decades. Shame on the Pope for trying to turn the tide of modernism toward a more authentic and traditional theology and form of worship!

It is also ironic that the members of the Church that champion the "spirit of Vatican II" are the ones who do not understand what the Council actually did. It did NOT mandate the removal of Latin from Holy Mass (in fact, it specifically encouraged its use) or mandate celebration of the sacred liturgy facing the people. These actions and other related ones were taken after the Council and were not approved by a synod of bishops. In fact, I seriously doubt that many of these people have taken the time to read the documents produced by the Council (or any other Council, for that matter). This includes people such as our esteemed Vice-President, who calls himself a "John XXIII Catholic." Bl. John XXIII is rolling in his grave, methinks.

An interesting question I came across earlier today: if the progressives in the Church are demanding that SSPX accept Vatican II before they are reconciled with the Church, can those of us who value Tradition demand that they accept Trent to stay in the Church? Not a sermon, just a thought.

19 January 2009

Wow, it's been a while since I've updated this...

Apparently, I've only written a couple of posts since June. After the whirlwind that has been the past six months (subject for another post), I might have a bit more free time, so I'm going to try to write more regularly (the key word in that sentence is try, however).

This post will (hopefully) be the first and last on the subject of our President-Elect. After tomorrow, he will be my President, and I will respect him because he occupies that office. Right now, however, I think some things must be said about the utter madness surrounding him and his Inauguration.

As much as I try, it seems impossible these days to avoid the Inauguration hoopla. Having been up in D.C. this weekend, it's amazing how downright insane most people are right now. It really makes me worry about the state of (and it's not just me saying this...several people I've talked to who voted for Obama are concerned about the blind fanaticism being exhibited by much of the country right now). It's one thing to have voted for Obama for political reasons. I don't agree with those people, but I respect their choice. It's an entirely different matter to have voted for him because he's the second coming of Jesus Christ himself and will fix all the world's problems with platitudes. These people are buying fully into the cult of personality surrounding Obama, and it's truly frightening.

This brings me to another point. What, exactly, has Obama done to merit this adulation? Thus far in his career, he's been little more than a professional candidate for office. He hasn't stayed in any elected position for more than a few years, which has been just enough time to run the next campaign. What will he do now that there is no other office for which he can run? Only time will tell, I suppose, and it will be my constant prayer that he will rise to the occasion and be an effective president. However, the constant comparisons between him and other great presidents (notably, Abraham Lincoln) are completely unjustified. Unfortunately, Obama's ego has gotten involved, and he has fully embraced the comparison (by using Lincoln's Bible for the Inauguration, by traveling to D.C. along the same route that Lincoln did, etc.). I can't fathom how someone could be so arrogant, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. In addition to being annoyed because of his elitism, I think all of this hoopla will lead to an unintended (and potentially deadly) result: the public is putting him on such a high pedestal that there's no way he could ever live up to what everyone expects of him. I guess that's a good thing from my point of view -- it makes him easier to beat in 2012, but I just hope that he doesn't endanger the country through his actions.

Anyway, needless to say, I will stay as far away from TVs as possible tomorrow (which should prove difficult, since the Law School is throwing a big hoopla and showing it on every available television).

Lastly, I came across this video today, and it speaks volumes about the real change that so many of us hope will happen to our new President. It's definitely worth watching. Little needs to be said about Obama's positions when it comes to abortion (notably, his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, which would eliminate all possible "restrictions" on abortion, such as parental notification, and would force all hospitals to perform abortions at taxpayer expense). It has been my prayer every day since the election that Obama's positions on abortion will change and that God will protect the lives of the unborn. Obama has admirable ideas in many other areas (poverty, education, etc.), and it would be a shame to be so inconsistent in his thinking (but that's a problem that most of those on the Left have). Not to mention the fact that it would be an utter tragedy to the lives that would continue to be ended on his watch.