The Creature Named Catholic Internet

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I have expressed my concerns about Catholic Internet culture many times before. Mostly it appears to be a problem with some bloggers, who seem to transform into a fiend returned from the dead as soon as they sit down in front of a computer. But I am of the opinion that the problem runs much deeper than just some mutant bloggers.

Now, I don’t want to generalize. I am probably just from the wrong side of the blogosphere, and aware of my own shortcomings, but where I come from this is a widespread problem. So if this does not gel with your experience just forget everything I am about to say and don’t bother to finish reading. But if, on the other hand, any of this makes any sense to you, then read to the end and assess. Continue reading

Guest Post from Kevin O’Brien on Don Quixote

My friend Kevin O’Brien over at Waiting for Godot to Leave, has kindly given me permission to cross-post his excellent essay “Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Us.”  I have covered the here the differences between true and ephemeral chivalry before.  But it is extraordinarily important and I very much appreciate Kevin’s perspective.  Reality is our friend as much as it hurts us to admit it.

For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator–He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books.  We’ve lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.

It’s a 40 hour long production, and we’re only about five hours into it.  But we’re listening to parts that I’ve never read (my printed version is abridged).

We’ve come to the “pastoral interlude” where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds.  We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who’s a bit too idealistic for his own good.  While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.

In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the “golden age”, a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  Then we hear one of the yuppies who’s living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his “lady”, the disdainful woman he’s pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death.  We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism – a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism – is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her.  Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.

And that’s the way we often are, even when we’re at our best.  The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism.  Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady – all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals – ideals that they can’t quite seem to make work in the real world.  (Kind of like all of us!)  And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they’re spinning – and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.

What does this have to do with the Faith?

I write a lot on about Unreality.  This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth.  We know what it means to “get real” with someone; getting “unreal” is just the opposite.  Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue.  Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of “Christian Courtship“, the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) – and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality – and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.

This is all dreadful stuff.  And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin.  Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the “Do Not Enter” signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).

Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that’s dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake.  Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life.  Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real.  Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) – for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal – even if it’s the innocent children who are caught up in it all.  In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we’ve been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street.  God’s “judgment” is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie.  Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.

But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry.  If we were all “realists” or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom.  Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function – but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual “nose” as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.

Fiction is made to lead us to Fact.  But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we’d rather become gods than serve one.

Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts – Will, Reason and Imagination.  This trinity of gifts – Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term “Imagination” I mean to include what Tolkien calls “sub-creation”) – this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful.  All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected.  What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc.  We are not ourselves designed to negate this design.  We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal.  God gives us these gifts – Free Will, Reason and Imagination – to be ordered to Him – for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.

So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner – and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.

Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills – or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too.  In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism.  I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them.  And somehow all of this is true – the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.

And so we pray

Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10).  Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us.  Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You.  Give us the grace “to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God” (Acts 14:15) – for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9).  Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy.  And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a “shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17).

The Spirit(s) of the Synod

That Pope Francis would have executed the synod in the manner in which he did was predictable from many things he has said over the course of his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, esp. 32-39. From what he says there, especially about the “conversion of the papacy,” it seems he is not adverse to critique, as long as there is ultimate unity with Peter and under Peter (cum Petro et sub Petro).

One ought to make a distinction between legitimate but respectful criticism from those who are genuinely concerned about the preservation of the deposit of faith, and the radicalizing tendencies of certain factions who will use anything to promote their own interests. One group uses Francis’ openness to sinners as an excuse to justify the unjustifiable, and the other is bent on using the synod to prove that everything since Vatican II was a mistake. Continue reading

Peace for the Afflicted

The Church never abandons her children, especially those who suffer.  Dawn Eden, through her book My Peace I Give Youcontinues to be an instrument of Christ for the healing of those who have suffered sexual abuse.

Anthony Esolen, a writer I greatly admire, has written an essay in defense of the innocence of children inspired by reading Dawn’s book.   And The Catholic Herald picked up on her work, occasioned by her recent speaking engagements in the UK.

Her she is speaking on the healing of memory, a subject, which I believe is terribly important:

Teaching from Lost Teaching Moments

Good for him. I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya. I don’t think, look, the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, “Bravo.”

–Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Michael Sam’s coming out

I have received a number of frustrated and angry emails about this.  Though I think it should be fairly obvious that the Cardinal is not condoning homosexual behavior, His Eminence clearly fell into the trap set for him.

Without a doubt, no matter what any person with same sex attraction actually believes about his or her sexual orientation and the acts that might proceed from that attraction, letting other people know about it involves the risk of public embarrassment and rejection.  The answer that society at large presents us is that there is nothing wrong with either the attraction or the acts and that rather than be embarrassed by one’s homosexuality, gay people and the rest of us should celebrate it.  Unfortunately the Cardinal’s remarks only reinforce this idea, even if he is otherwise clear that same sex attraction is disordered and homosexual acts sinful. Continue reading

In the Eye of the Vortex

More evidence of the wedge being driven between the Benedictine and Franciscan pontificates can be seen in the recent disclaimer/clarification of Michael Voris in which he refuses to publically criticize Pope Francis.  In itself this is only a small example of the difficulty, but it is also another instance of a mounting problem manifesting itself at various levels: doctrinal, liturgical, pastoral.  Voris knows he is on the cutting edge of the problem.

You might legitimately ask why I think his refusal to publically criticize Pope Francis is a problem.  I don’t.  But Voris does find himself to be part of the wedge between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, and in my estimation he has not really got himself out of it.  Let me explain. Continue reading

Vatican Insider Interview with FI Spokesman

Unofficial translation of the Italian original follows:

Vatican City
In an order whose predominant attention is to the traditional liturgy. A decree of the Pope appoints an apostolic commissioner

Alessandro Speciale
Vatican City

The Congregation for Religious, with the approval of Pope Francis, decided last July 11 to appoint a commissioner to the Congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a religious order in which the spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi had, in recent years, been combined with a predominant attention given to the traditional liturgy.

The appointing of a commissioner, one reads in the decree of the vatican ‘ministry’ for religious orders, aims to “protect and promote the internal unity of religious institutes and their fraternal communion, their adequate formation in religious and consecrated life, the organization of apostolic activities “and” the proper management of temporal goods. ” Continue reading

Pope Francis on Ideology

The following remarks were made by Pope Francis yesterday to the leadership of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean concerning he Church in Latin America.  Take it for what it is.  Personally, I do not believe the critiques apply only to that part of the world.  Stay away from the fringes.

4. Some temptations against missionary discipleship

The decision for missionary discipleship will encounter temptation. It is important to know where the evil spirit is afoot in order to aid our discernment. It is not a matter of chasing after demons, but simply one of clear-sightedness and evangelical astuteness. I will mention only a few attitudes which are evidence of a Church which is “tempted”. It has to do with recognizing certain contemporary proposals which can parody the process of missionary discipleship and hold back, even bring to a halt, the process of Pastoral Conversion.

1. Making the Gospel message an ideology. This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of “see, judge and act” (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of “seeing” which was completely “antiseptic”, detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we “see” is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an “antiseptic” hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship. This is the way Nos. 20-32 are to be understood. There are other ways of making the message an ideology, and at present proposals of this sort are appearing in Latin America and the Caribbean. I mention only a few:

a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.

b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self- awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.

c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.

2. Functionalism. Its effect on the Church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of “theology of prosperity” to the organization of pastoral work.

3. Clericalism is also a temptation very present in Latin America. Curiously, in the majority of cases, it has to do with a sinful complicity: the priest clericalizes the lay person and the lay person kindly asks to be clericalized, because deep down it is easier. The phenomenon of clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity. Either they simply do not grow (the majority), or else they take refuge in forms of ideology like those we have just seen, or in partial and limited ways of belonging. Yet in our countries there does exist a form of freedom of the laity which finds expression in communal experiences: Catholic as community. Here one sees a greater autonomy, which on the whole is a healthy thing, basically expressed through popular piety. The chapter of the Aparecida document on popular piety describes this dimension in detail. The spread of bible study groups, of ecclesial basic communities and of Pastoral Councils is in fact helping to overcome clericalism and to increase lay responsibility.

We could continue by describing other temptations against missionary discipleship, but I consider these to be the most important and influential at present for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Queen of the May

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest” is an extra-liturgical May crowning hymn that seems to be a rather sentimental nod to the ambiguity of modern May “devotion,” and perhaps (or perhaps not) an assault upon it.  It is a preconciliar hymn that I have often heard characterized as “schmaltzy” and inappropriate for the liturgy, though I have heard it many times used in traditional circles for Holy Mass.

What interests me here is its relation to the pagan or neopagan celebrations associated with May Day, the spring festival.  The “Queen of the May” or “May Queen” is a personification of Spring which is ritualized in May Day celebrations by the selection of a young girl dressed in white and crowned with flowers who leads the May Day parade. British folklore has it that of old the ritual ended with the blood sacrifice of the May Queen. Continue reading

St. George and the Damsel

Here is an excerpt from an old post “Damsels in Distress,” in which I mention St. George whose feast we celebrate today:

That brings me more directly to the question of the “damsel in distress.”  It is a chivalric image of vulnerability and innocence.  Of course, such an image is not complete without the “knight in shining armor,” who conveys the sense of courage and heroism.  The image, completed with the damsel in distress being saved by the knight in shining armor, is the picture of courtesy and contains as happy an ending as anyone could hope for.  Perhaps the word that best describes it is one coined by Tolkien: eucatastrophe, meaning the complete reversal of catastrophe, idealized as the triumph of the Cross made available to all of us in the Eucharist.

Historically one of the earliest and most important examples of the image as it entered the West is the legend of St. George and the Dragon.  The story is by no means an exclusively Western treasure (I think of Russia and Lebanon, for example), but it is particularly important for an understanding of Western chivalry (especially in England).

As the legend goes, or at least one version of it, a dragon took up its abode at the spring from which the locals drew their water.  The dragon thus took custody of the spring and demanded a price for its use.  The only way the townsfolk could draw their water was by the offering of someone to the dragon as a human sacrifice.  Each day a new victim was selected by common agreement through the drawing of lots.  One fateful day, the lot fell to the princess of the kingdom, and even the intervention of her father, the king, was not enough to save her from the dragon; the people insisted that the arrangement be respected.  At this point, St. George providentially ride up on his steed and volunteered his services to face the dragon, which he did to great effect, the dragon being slain and the damsel rescued.  The awestruck townspeople as a result abandoned the ways of paganism and became Christians.

Crusaders, it is said, brought the story back from the East, and retold it as a courtly romance.  In a way typical of the Middle Ages, Christian tradition and hagiography was transformed into quasi-secular romance.  Certainly, for courtiers who heard this story the “art of courtly love,” could easily serve as the hermeneutic for the understanding of the story, in which case, it would not be any different from the story of the rescue of a damsel in the Arthurian cycle.  However, the Christian symbolism, even in the most embellished version of the legend, is unmistakable: the Christ figure enters into combat with the Demon and rescues the Virgin Church from his clutches.  This is paradise regained.  In some versions of the legend, there is even a tree (Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) to which the maiden is tied and from which she is rescued.

The damsel in distress is the bride of Ephesians 5.  This passage of St. Paul on marriage is a holy incantation and exorcism that scatters the feminist demons to their dark and gloomy pits.  St. Paul, the “misogynist,” is actually the guardian of feminine weakness and the promoter of chivalry.  He admonishes the coward Adam and kneels at the feet of the hero Christ.  Both men and women are better for it, if by casting off the modern prejudice they can just for a moment wave away the wafting mist of the Ms. Rambo deception and see the Bridegroom and Bride for who they truly are.