The Postconciliar Moment

I wrote the following article shortly after the beginning of the new year.  At the time I was not sure what I wanted to do with it, but now, in the light of the negative responses to the Holy Father’s abdication, I think it is time for me to put it out.

Rather than revise it in the light of the recent events,  I am just going to leave it the way it is. It is long, but it provides significant research into crypto-traditionalism and why it is a pernicious problem that needs to be called out.

NB:  The links to the endnotes are not functioning at the moment.  I will try to fix them.

The Postconciliar Moment

The Year of Faith provides a backdrop for recent developments regarding the hoped for regularization of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and the ongoing controversy concerning the Second Vatican Council.  Not only have questions been raised about the doctrinal value of the Council itself, but also of what position Pope Benedict has taken on the matter of the Council’s continuity with Tradition.  I contend that those who denigrate the Council because they find major parts of it to be in rupture with Tradition do so along ideological linesand are therefore compelled either to publicly disagree with the Holy Father or to cherry-pick from his teaching.

Year of Faith

This Year of Faith, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, might be characterized as the postconciliar moment.  We are beneficiaries of both the patrimony of the conciliar texts and a very problematic postconciliar implementation of them.  We have witnessed extremes of all kinds, but mostly those of the progressive wing.  All the while, the postconciliar popes have been patiently and consistently working to restore the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council to both Tradition and legitimate progress.  In a particular way, Pope Benedict has made it his task to bring about a reconciliation with our past, without, however, backing away from the legitimate aspirations of the Council indicated in its actual texts.[1]

I believe the Year of Faith may be the postconciliar moment for two reasons:  First, we are witnessing a very definite shift from progressivism to traditionalism.  This has been occurring for some time, but is now plainly evident.  Progressivism is slowly growing out of fashion and the trend, at least in some circles, is moving definitely toward traditionalism. Continue reading

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Contracepting Religious Freedom

Thank God the bishops are using their clout against the attempt of the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception. Although I do not agree with Paul Moses entirely, I believe he has a point in suggesting that the effort could backfire.  But that is a risk we have to take.

Unfortunately, politics today is largely part of our sound bite culture.  So many people are more interested in the outcome of the Twitter war than they are about having an in-depth and clear understanding of the problem at hand.  Political persuasion is to a great extent about perception. Winning a debate  seems more important than dealing with the fundamental issues. Clarifying first principles often clouds the particular agenda and appeals more to the intellect than it does to the emotions. Emotional arguments work better.

Partisanship is also an issue.  I am all for distinctions and hard ones when they reflect reality, but Republican vs. Democrat generally does not reflect the complex reality of peoples real interests and positions.  Certainly, neither political party represents the fundamental interests of the Catholic Church.

Yet the current problem does reflect a reality that could be conveyed easily on Twitter.  It is President Obama against the Church.  The interests of the bishops relative to this issue are not political.  They are not even confessional.  It is the age old problem of the Church maintaining its liberty from incursions into relgious matters by civil authorities.  And the issue even simpler than the current debate frames it.  The real question is not whether religious institutions should be exempted from paying for something considered immoral by their confession.  The real question is why anyone at all is being forced by the government to act contrary to fundamental religious convictions rooted in natural law and in legal history of our country.

During the last presidential campaign Doug Kmiec successfully convinced many Catholics that Barack Obama was the most pro-life candidate in the race.  Many of us were astounded.  Recently, Kmiec wrote to the president in respect to the present debacle.  He said:

In deciding against a reasonable accommodation of Catholic concerns in the implementation of the health care program, you lost sight of your own beliefs.  For this reason, your words this morning touched neither soul nor heart in the room. . . .

Today, Sir, I ask you no longer as an Ambassador, but simply as a friend, why put the cold calculus of politics above faith and freedom?  Please respond, for friendship will not permit me to disregard duty to faith and country.  The Barack Obama I knew would never have asked me to make that choice.

I still think Kmiec is very naive–at best.

Politicians, journalists, pundits and bloggers will now “soundbite” and “twitter” us with irrelevancies about women dying from a lack of birth control because Catholics don’t want to pay for it and about how the bishop’s are too conservative and partisan.  Unfortunately, many will buy it, which is very ironic, since the official voter’s guide of the USCCB is hardly a conservative or partisan representation.

Another irony is Paul Moses’ suggestion that the bishops employ the methods of Saul Alinsky.  This, he says, could build consensus.  Moses counsels the bishops to garner enthusiastic support by community organizing.  Grassroots support, of course, if helpful.  However, the quintessentially alinskian element here is the way in which grassroots support is generated by the ulterior motives of radicals in order to implement a preconceived and elitist agenda.  Moses rightly points out that Obama knows all about this.  But this is not the mission of the bishops. The Church is a voluntary society.  No one has to belong to it, but those who do have an inalienable right to follow its precepts without the interference of the state.   This is not about political maneuvering.  It is about keeping the claws of the government out of religious matters.

Politics is tricky.  We cannot do without consensus because politics is a matter of persuasion.  However, I can hardly think of a situation that is more simple than the present one.  The Church must not sacrifice her independence and the general principle of religious liberty for the sake of some vague measure of political coexistence and popular support. There is hardly any way to prevent those who support Obama’s agenda from casting the bishops’ position as a partisan one.  Caesar must not be conceded an inch of God’s territory even if there are political costs.

A Radical’s Rule

If one defines radicalism as proceeding from the root (“going to the origin, essential“), then one might argue that Our Lord was a radical—of course, a different sort than described by Saul Alinsky in his Rules for Radicals. For Alinsky, “irreverence” is an essential quality of radicalism: “nothing is sacred”; the organizer “detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality.”  Certainly, this kind of radicalism is not constant with the moral integrity, the “rootedness, of Our Lord.  As the Word, Logos, Jesus is radical Truth.  Only the Truth will set us free.

It is radical to say that the truth is worth dying for, for example, the truth that all human life begins at conception and must be protected from that moment onward.  Many pro-lifers have risked life and limb to protect the unborn.  But it is also radical to say that the following truth is worth dying for:  the end does not justify the means, even when the means has the opportunity of undoing the work of Planned Parenthood.

Please check out Dawn Eden’s and William Doino’s Building a Culture of Lie, which offers a fair-minded critique of the work of Lila Rose and Live Action Films on the basis of the teaching of the Church.  See also these two critiques as well.  Dawn and William also have taken exception to the work of James O’Keefe who took on ACORN in much the same manor.  I commented on this myself.

Thank God for the courage of Dawn and William.  These are important issues to resolve if we wish to be radical in the sense of Jesus Christ, and not in the sense of Saul Alinsky.  It is one of the reasons why chivalry (courtesy and honesty) is so important.

Lost in the Archives

Well, not totally lost.  I am just reading most of the time that I don’t have other duties to which I must attend.  I hope to soon have a post on an interesting aspect of the occult pertaining to the difference between Christian mysticism and neopagan, magical consciousness.  The attraction of “alternative religion,” is that it promises “supernatural” or transcendent consciousness, the experience of unity, integration and joy without dogma.  It is a big temptation.

Please pray that I get this book on Harry Potter and the occult done soon.

I am uploading here a very cogent list of 10 non-religious reasons why same-sex marriage should not be legalized for your consideration.  (I am not the author of the list.  I neglected to mention this.  The author is anonymous.) BTW, did you know that 85% of all abortions, according to Planned Parenthood research arm, the Guttmacher Institute, are obtained by unmarried women.  My understanding is that the latest statistic has it up to 87%, but I have not been able to verify that.  Either way, it is a tremendous statistic.  The erosion of marriage is directly related to the incidence of abortion, and the elimination of children from the culture of marriage is obliterating the most fundamental social institution of our race.  If we want to stop abortion we have to address the problem with marriage.

Marian Chivalry and the Soul of the Apostolate

Updated below (6/21/10)

Since the new year I have been instructing our MIM Cenacle in Griswold on the spiritual life, on the basis of Dom Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate, a book, I have mentioned here a number of times before.   The book was not really written for laypeople, so I have been adapting it for my class.  Reflecting on this effort, I can see it also needs to be adapted to the needs of Marian Chivalry.

Dom Chautard was a Cistercian abbot, whose service of the Church took him frequently from the monastery and often placed him in circumstances less than conducive to the contemplative life. To a large extent, The Soul of the Apostolate is the fruit of his own soul searching—his effort to make sure that he remained a contemplative when he was forced to live outside of his monastery.

As anyone who is trying to live the interior life knows, there is an inherent tension between the interior and active life, and though in no way mutually exclusive, one can tend to dominate and destroy the other.  In the vast majority of cases it is the active life and encroaches on the interior life, because, in fact, it is easier to be active than prayerful.  In fact, Dom Chautard writes that nothing is more difficult than fidelity to the interior life.  It also may and does happen that certain interior souls adopt unsound habits and allow their personal devotions to impinge upon their responsibilities, for example, a mother to her children, but by far the most common problem is that we sacrifice our prayer to our work.  This problem is critical because of the primacy of prayer over action: without grace our work has no merit and prayer is our conduit to the grace of God.

When teaching the doctrine of Dom Chautard to laypeople, I have to emphasize in a particular way the great spiritual writer says that the idea that action is inherently harmful to the interior life is a heresy.  In fact, the exact opposite is true: when there is the proper ordering of the interior and active life, not only does action not harm prayer, action improves it.  In reality, there should be a reciprocal influence of prayer and action on one another.  Prayer leads us to perform our duties better, and our duty fulfilled is prayer made fruitful and sincere.

In a layman’s life, indeed, in anyone’s life, the primacy of prayer is not necessarily measured by the amount of time spent in prayer, relative to activity, but rather the fidelity with which one strives to cut out a reasonable measure of space and time for prayer, and the holy anxiety with which one gives up that time and space only to fulfill one’s duty.  For someone who strives to maintain this discipline, even a few moments respite from the din of family preoccupations can be of incalculable value.

I thought about how this might be applied to the ideals of Marian Chivalry while reading the third part of the book, where Dom Chautard expounds on the five characteristics that the power of Christ takes on in us.  (The author claims the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure as his source, which I have not been able to verify as the work cited, Compendium Theologiae, is not known to me.  It is likely a pseudo work, that is, something based on the doctrine of St. Bonaventure but not actually written by him.)

The characteristics of Christi’s strength in us are as follows:

The first is that it undertakes difficult things and confronts obstacles with courage: “Have courage and let your heart be strong” [Ps 30:25].

The second is contempt for the things of this earth: “I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them but as dung that I may gain Christ” [Phil 3:8].

The third is patience under trail: “Love is strong as death” [Cant 8:6].

The fourth is resistance to temptation: “As a roaring lion he goeth about . . . who resist ye, strong in faith” [1 Pt 5:8-9].

The fifth is interior martyrdom, that is, the testimony not of blood but of one’s very life crying out to Christ: “I want to belong to Thee alone.”  It consists in fighting the concupiscences, in overcoming vice and in working manfully for the acquistion of virtues: “I have fought the good fight” [2 Tim 4:7].

Courage, contempt of earth, patience in trial, resistance to temptation, and martyrdom are characteristics of the strength of Christ within us, first of all, but also of His strength in our actions.  Dom Chautard says that through the progress of a soul in the interior life the divine action works in inverse proportion to our own effort.  That is to say, in the beginning of our journey, we act under the influence of God’s grace, but it is we who act primarily, while God guides and often restrains us from compromising our life of prayer.  But in one who is more advanced, God’s power manifests itself more fully and directly, the apostle being moved by grace and collaborating more transparently with the Holy Spirit.

The trick here for a knight of Our Lady is to understand that the spiritual discipline of the “strength of Christ,” is a kind of surrender, trust and long-suffering, while the vigor of the active life is generosity and mercy.  The inverse proportion of God’s activity within the soul must not become a kind of quietism, where we just assume that our prayers will supply for our lack of zeal for the works of justice and mercy.  In fact the spiritual life itself is a battle and can only thrive where there is the courage to face and overcome obstacles and enemies.

This has too often been the case among religious men, who have either tried to imitate the piety of women, or who ceased being religious men altogether.  Dom Chautard makes reference to the principle of St. Ignatius, the great soldier saint, whose maxim has been popularly rendered: “Pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends on you:

Let this be the first rule of your undertakings: confide in God as if the success of those undertakings depended completely upon you and not at all upon God; nonetheless give your whole self to the undertakings as if you yourself would be doing nothing in them but God alone would be doing everything.

What St. Ignatius actually says is considerably more nuanced than the way it has been popularized.  St. Ignatius’ longer statement does more to integrate the active and interior.  He is not really speaking about the interior and active separately. His statement is about how the active life is to be conducted in a contemplative way. He says we must entrust the active life to God so as to be fully cognizant of how much our efforts make a difference and yet be docile enough in the actual doing to realize that our success depends entirely our union with God.

[The following insertion is from my email answer to a reader who had a concern about my lack of sourcing for the above quote allegedly from St. Ignatius and who notes that the CCC [2834] quotes St. Ignatius in a way that seems to him to be at odds with the quote I have used:

I will update the post to reflect the fact that I have not found a primary source. My source was a Jesuit blog. I have seen the passage quoted in a number of places without documentation. The particular site that I used is authored by more than one Jesuit priest, so I considered it safe enough. One may argue whether it meets an acceptable standard for a blog. In any case, I should make the lack sourcing clear.

In addition, I think several things are worthy of note. Maxims by their nature, truncate the truth into a slogan that can be easily remembered. They are by nature, statements of the truth (if they are true) that require some clarification. In this regard, it is a matter completely consistent with Church doctrine and the science of the saints that prayer and action are so integrally related, with the primacy of the former, that they must interpenetrate in order to survive and grow. Grace is always primary and free will always essential. So, there is a sense in which both prayer and action depend entirely upon God’ grace, but at the same time, there is a sense in which progress takes place only to the extent that we are heroically invested in the prayer or work, or better, in both.

So should we pray as though everything depends on God or pray as though everything depends on us?  Should we work as though everything depends on God or work as though everything depends on us?  The fact is that we can do nothing without God.  No prayer or action can happen without grace. Yet every good act also depends on the relative investment of our free will.

The catechism quotes the more well-known and shorter version of St. Ignatius’ words, but also without sourcing the quote. In fact the note says “attributed to St. Ignatius.” As I say, and in part, this is the point of the post in which I used the quote, it is helpful, especially for men, to see both sides of this.]

I have always said that a truly Catholic approach to spirituality that is suited for men will help translate the life of prayer into a plan of action.  But the inverse is true as well, the active knighthood of Christ will also make us men of deeper prayer.

Getting Something Done this Lent

On Ash Wednesday our lives round the bend on the road to Jerusalem only to find the hordes of Babylon blocking our way. We are marked with the cross and there can be no avoidance of the fight.  This is the imagery used by the nineteenth century Anglican, Father Congreve, SSJE to describe the “advance of Lent.” I can hardly think of anything more appropriate for our meditation:

Lent awakens spiritual hope in us, just as the sight of the enemy awakes the spirit of an army. They were lagging just now, tired with the march, dispirited; but a sudden signal, one turn in the road, shows them the enemy’s lines stretching right across their way. How the men’s hearts leap up: who is [wearied] now? So Lent awakes the energy of hope by showing us our enemy, the reality of the battle of life, of our conflict with evil. We all know that our fifty or seventy years in this world were given to us for a great achievement–to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil, to win holiness for eternity; but we easily forget this, and slip out of range. But Lent rallies us, reminds us of the seriousness of our moral life, of the reality of sin, of bad tendencies of our childhood not conquered yet, of the strength of sins of the flesh, of pride and temper, of love of the world, of cowardice in confessing Christ, of sloth and depression, of neglect of prayer and the sacraments.

The Two Standards

Though Congreve was not Catholic, his imagery reflects one of the most important metaphors used by St. Ignatius in The Spiritual Exercises, namely, the two standards.   Christ and Satan are captains of two immense armies that rally around them in the respective regions of Jerusalem and Babylon.  For St. Ignatius, this a fundamental image of the spiritual life: mortal strife, that can have only one of two outcomes, heaven or hell.

The strategy of Satan is as simple as it is deadly.  St. Ignatius tells us that the demons are sent forth by the Prince of Darkness to tempt us with love for the world:  a “longing for riches,” “vain honor” and “vast pride.”  He says that it is this love for the world  by which he opens the door to every other vice.

But the assets laid to bear against Satan by the Lord are more powerful: “highest poverty,”contumely and contempt, and “humility.”  As with the “beatitudes.”  This is an inversion of values, the paradox of the gospel:  life through death, going up by being brought down.

The Hardest Road

How is a man to in the word but not of the world? How is a man to be a soldier, a knight, and a courageous man without the arrogance and pride that are the tools of Satan? How are we to fight Satan without capitulating to his manipulative and dishonorable methods? In a word, how are we to be wise as serpent and simple as doves? (cf. Mt 10:16).

The first step consists in recognizing that the road that Our Lord took is the hardest road.  He remained in the fight to the end and at the same time never sought His own glory and good, but glory of His Father and our salvation.  This is the humility of which St. Ignatius speaks.  Here is Father Hardon’s commentary on the two standards in which he recommends humility, calmness of spirit and the discernment of spirits as the particular means by which we fight under the standard of Christ and overcome the devil.

Our battle is first of all one that must take place within, but for it to be brought to a victory for Christ, it must be extended to the ends of the earth.  It is a fight that we must never concede.

The Abomination of Desolation

Anthony Esolen has written an excellent article, entitled, Where the Battle Was Not Fought, in which he chronicles the woes of the Church in Canada. (Not to pick on Canada, we have our own similar problems in the U.S.) Esolen notes that there is really no place for men, because no one wants to fight, and because virtually no effort has been made to attract men to the faith, let alone to the priesthood.

The spiritual apathy of men, and by which men no longer have a place in the Church—a fight conceded or never fought—leaves us in a desperate situation.  For far two long our leaders have largely derelict of their duty, and we are left with the extremes of effeminacy and bravado.

Battle Scars

The solution consists in the rigors of an examined life that is bold enough to make mistakes and get hurt, and humble enough to reassess and revise in order to get it right.  This has to happen both spiritually and externally.

Recently, Dawn Eden and William Doino wrote a piece for Busted Halo, in which they called into question the adaptation of Saul Alinsky’s radicalized activist philosophy by conservatives being used against the expert liberal practitioners of that philosophy.  In particular, the writers criticized activist James E. O’Keefe for his syncretistic melding of the ideas of Alinsky and that of G.K. Chesterton, and for his practical application of that thinking which included the questionable participation of a young woman who posed as a prostitute in his ACORN exposé videos.  Eden and Doino, underscored the utilitarian ethics at the heart of O’Keefe’s methods, taken right out of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: “in war the end justifies almost any means.” In a subsequent interview Dawn Eden did not fail to mention that the work of Lila Rose, with whom O’Keefe has also collaborated, and who has been given favorable treatment on AirMaria, is not above critical review.

In response, Christian Hartsock, has penned, or should I say, slashed a rather purple piece of vitriol worthy of Keith Olbermann, in which he ostensibly adopts another rule from Alinsky’s playbook: “ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”  A comparison between the Eden/Doino essay and that of Hartsock, is the difference between a consideration of principles in view of success and a disregard of them justified by success.  We can leave everyone free to consider the question, but that the question ought to be considered, seems a difficult thing to reject.  That certainty may be something that Alinsky would ridicule, but it is not something that Chesterton would make fun of. On the contrary, for Chesterton such philosophical considerations belonged to the most practical order:

But there are some people, nevertheless—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy.

The Philosophy of Light

For Chesterton, this consideration of his enemy’s philosophy was not merely a tactical necessity, but a metaphysical and moral requirement, as he infers when he considers the philosophy of George Bernard Shaw.  He says that while his intellectual enemy was  genuinely “brilliant” and “honest,” his philosophy was “quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.”  A man’s philosophy has consequences in the practical order, and so the practical thing to do is

. . . revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done.

Activism, or better, Catholic Action, will ultimately be fruitful only if it is an examined energy, like our own moral lives.  It is the hardest road.  It is not the merely the rough and tumble road of unchecked prowess, nor is it comfy road of the false courtesy of human respect.  It is the hardest road of Christian chivalry.  And it is the only way of  really “getting something done.”

This is the road we find ourselves on this Ash Wednesday, and the hellish hosts from Babylon will not part and let us pass unmolested.  The fight is on, but it begins, continues and ends first within our hearts.  Yet, it is always to be fought in the midst of the world that must be conquered for Christ.

Followup News Items

  • The Underwear Bomber’s American born religious instructer, Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi, has a few things to say about the illegitimacy of democracy and any other law except that of Sharia.  Watch the videos in which young western men stare wistfully into their master’s eyes.  Truly frightening, and all the more reason to rub the Obama pixy dust out of our eyes.
  • The Pentagon is attempting to develop “synthetic organisms,” in a brave new effort to spawn a breed of super-soldiers.  We are on the edge of a whole new era of bio-bots, cyborgs and trans-human engineering.  I have discussed the impact of new technology relative to the values of chivalry before.  What could go wrong?:

Of course, Darpa’s got to prevent the super-species from being swayed to do enemy work — so they’ll encode loyalty right into DNA, by developing genetically programmed locks to create “tamper proof” cells. Plus, the synthetic organism will be traceable, using some kind of DNA manipulation, “similar to a serial number on a handgun.” And if that doesn’t work, don’t worry. In case Darpa’s plan somehow goes horribly awry, they’re also tossing in a last-resort, genetically-coded kill switch:

Develop strategies to create a synthetic organism “self-destruct” option to be implemented upon nefarious removal of organism.

St. Francis, the Sultan and Pope Benedict

The following excerpt is from yesterday’s Wednesday audience of the Holy Father in which he offered a reflection on the life of St. Francis.  This particular passage concerns St. Francis’ meeting with the sultan in Egypt in 1219, (my unofficial translation from the Italian):

Also the successor of Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, with the bull Cum dilecti of 1218 supported the singular development of the first Friars Minor, who went opening missions in various countries of Europe, and in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to go and speak, in Egypt, with the Muslim sultan Melek-el-Kâmel, in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus there also.  I wish to underscore that this episode of the life of Saint Francis that has great relevance.  In an age marked by an ongoing conflict between Christianity and Islam, Francis, armed only with the faith and his personal gentleness, effectively followed the path of dialogue. The reports speak about a benevolent acceptance and cordial reception to us from the Muslim sultan.  It is a model that even today must inspire relations between Christian and Muslims: promote dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding.  (cfr Nostra Aetate, 3).

Continue reading

St. Francis, the Sultan and the President

I wrote the following essay some weeks ago, but never found time to edit and post it.  Since today is the feast of the Protomartyrs of the Franciscan Order, St. Berard and Companions, I thought it would be an auspicious time to bring this to light.

While I realize the historical figure of St. Francis lends itself to romanticizing and mythologizing because of the singularly extraordinary nature of his person, as a Franciscan it irritates me to see his life used as a political tool.  Paul Moses on the CNN Opinion website, does precisely this as he attempts to have St. Francis sucked into vortex of Obama-mania.  In addition to being the author of the CNN article entitled “Is Religion about War—or Peace?” Mr. Moses is the author of a new book called The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace. Mr. Moses is at pains to state that he does not “mean to liken Obama to Francis,” but, goes on to do precisely that and, in the process of expressing his admiration for Mr. Obama, he historically misrepresents the Seraphic Saint. Continue reading