Friday, April 28, 2023

Goodness or holiness?

One of the most interesting points made Dennis Prager in his conversation with Matt Fradd about pornography and masturbation, is that what he care about when he is talking about how to live is not being a saint, but being a good person.  I think if you look at what Matt Fradd is trying to explain to him about the Catholic understanding of sexuality is that it is precisely saints that the Church wants, not just moral goodness. Sex itself, and not just marriage, as Prager affirms, can be holy, not just good. In fact, it should be the goal to make it holy, to make it a genuine act of love of the other, a holy, bodily union. As Leon Bloy famously said, the greatest tragedy in life is not becoming a saint. I think Prager may not agree. I wonder how much Prager reflects Judaism more broadly, or is his a specific approach to Judaism?

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

celibacy, continence, chastity

One thing I appreciate about the USCCB's Program for Priestly Formation, 6th edition is the emphasis on the virtue of chastity. The virtue was covered in the PPF 5, but there seems to be a slightly stronger focus in the PPF 6, if the number of times the term appears is any indication (14 in the PPF 5 and 32 in the PPF 6). 

Celibacy simply means not being married. Continence is avoiding sexual intercourse. Both of these are exterior conditions that do not require an interior regulation and transformation of the sexual powers.

I'm thinking of the recent heated discussion between Matt Fradd and Dennis Prager about masturbation and pornography. Prager's position is explicitly that morality is exclusively concerned with behavior. Lust and sexual desire are simply the same and that Jesus was wrong that a man can commit adultery in the heart. Fradd, on the other hand, considers the interior entertainment of a lustful impulse involving a person to whom one is not married to be in itself sinful. This, of course, is classic Catholic spiritual doctrine. One needs to cultivate the virtue of viewing the person to whom one is sexually attracted as a person made in the image and likeness of God with a dignity and destiny that would be derailed if he or she were to engage in a behavior that fulfilled your sexual desire. Not to mention your own soul! He or she is destined for something better and greater--the fulfillment of their sexual nature either in chaste marital embrace ordered to fruitfulness, or celibate chastity, which transforms the energies of the sexual desire into a spiritual fruitfulness. 

Archdeacon Claude Frollo could have used a little formation in celibate chastity! He could have learned a thing or two from Quasimodo. I would say that his seminary should have followed the PPF 6, although there were no seminaries in the 15th century.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Solitude and loneliness

The newly-released Program For Priestly Formation, Sixth Edition makes a close connection between the ability to live a chaste, celibate way of life and the ability to transform solitude from a context for isolation and loneliness into an opportunity for intimate communion with our Lord.

I believe this is a major challenge for our age (and all ages, I presume), especially with the advent of the smart phone, which gives us the ability to completely avoid the experience of quiet and solitude. I'm speaking from experience, here. How about taking a walk to work without earbuds? Or working in the garden? Or doing the dishes? Why do we need talk radio in the car, even if it is Catholic?

Some of this was already a challenge with the advent of the radio and recorded music. People almost immediately started listening to the radio while eating supper, which changes the focus. Of course, supper is not solitude, but having the radio on is still the intrusion of technological distraction on an opportunity for personal communion. 

And, of course, now we need the dopamine fix that comes from looking at our screens. Not surprising that those who can't live without that dopamine fix also can't live without sexual gratification.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

The privilege of the priesthood

I’ve been thinking a lot about priesthood lately. It is an occupational hazard working at a seminary.

One of the “tensions” in the theology of the priesthood is the affirmation that the sacramental character of ordination sets the priest apart and gives him a unique relationship with Christ. Specifically, he is conformed to Christ as head, unlike the laity. 

In his book, Alter Christus: priestly holiness on earth and in eternity (Sophia Institute Press, 2022), Fr. Ezra Sullivan asserts that the priest is a friend of Christ in a more intimate way than the lay person. 

Some friendships spring up because of family relations, or from acquaintance in a neighborhood, at school, or at work. Every Christian in a state of grace, even now, experiences something of friendship and transforming union with God. God's friendship for a priest is derived from the ontological bond established in the Sacrament of Ordination. Hence, priests have a special privilege of being called into God's "inner circle," as Christ said to His disciples: "No longer do I call you servants ... but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15: 15). He is such a good friend toward priests that He seeks priests out: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (John 15: 16). Aristotle famously observed that a friend is "another self." 326 This is much truer than he ever realized. The special vocation of a priest, his particular call, is to be such a close friend of Jesus of Nazareth that, when others see the priest, they also see Christ. This friendship begins in this life and will be fully realized in the next. Through Sacred Ordination, the priest is empowered to act as a living extension of his friend in the celebration of Holy Mass, and graces are made available to him in order to continually “incarnate” Christ in himself. [emphasis mine]

This, of course, gets the goat of the typical American egalitarian, who can’t stand any implication that someone may in fact in some way have a superior status than the rest of us. One thinks of the article in America Magazine by Fr. Jim McDermott “I’m a Catholic priest. But please don’t call me Father”, who emphasizes that he is just like anyone else. This aversion to ascribing a more intimate friendship with to priests is especially strong because of our sense that clericalism is a big problem and may have in part been responsible for the abuse scandal. 

The phrase “inner circle” makes one think of C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Inner Ring,” and, of course the series of concentric “inner rings” in That Hideous Strength. That there is an insidious inner ring among the clergy is a very common trope these days, which has been exacerbated by the McCarrick affair. 

On the other hand, Lewis himself doesn’t think “rings” can be avoided, nor should they be, so long as they aren’t aimed at or used for self-aggrandizement or nefarious purposes. 

There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should coincide with its actual workings. 

It is the desire to be “in” and therefore have a certain power that others don’t have that is the problem. On the other hand, Jesus himself made distinctions between the Apostles and his “inner circle,” Peter, James, and John. They had privileges and intimacy that the others didn’t have. Although I accept the Gospel’s judgment that Judas was motivated by greed, I wonder if he also wasn’t motivated by jealousy of the “inner circle.” And, of course, there is the beloved disciple, as if the others weren’t beloved. 

The solution, of course, is humility. “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (Jas. 4:10). Perhaps that is Fr. McDermott’s point. On the other hand, accepting a title you don’t feel worthy of is itself an act of humility. 

The specific attitude is for a priest to stay focused on the pursuit of holiness and on his mission. As Lewis says:

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.  

I have no reason to be jealous of priests because of their privileged, even exalted position. 

And, besides, I want a priest to be a father to me, even if he is 26. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Brains, muscles, character

 A quote from Sam Scalia, Antonin Scalia's dad.

[B[rains are like muscles; you can rent them by the hour. The only thing that’s not for sale is character.

You should work on all three, of course, but the priority should be on character. Piety being first (because of its connection to love of God and love of neighbor).

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Why people don't get anything out of the liturgy

I think one of the big reasons is that liturgies don't have much in the way of CGI and action. It can't complete with the MCU and commercials. It is boring by contemporary standards. Just like books vs. Youtube.

It doesn't help that modern liturgy are often so beige and lacking in flare. The music is bland like 70s pop. The walls are bare. No sparkle. I think maybe that is why more and more churches are bringing the sanctuary bells back. :)

Maybe that is why some young people are attracted to the Traditional Latin Mass. The vestments and decorations and music are more vibrant and awe-inspiring. A white alb with a rope just can't beat a lacy surplice.  Incense, chant, polyphony. It is much more glitzy and flashy.

Still, even the TLM is staid and static compared to the MCU, not the least because of the soberness that the Latin liturgical tradition is known for. 

Maybe television ruined liturgy for us boomers. 

The Byzantine liturgy is more immersive of all the senses and things are ratcheted up a few flamboyant notches from the Latin liturgy, even the TLM. Which could account for its increasing popularity

Sunday, April 02, 2023

You and thou

Today we sang "All Glory, Laud, and Honour" for Palm Sunday (surprise, surprise!). The version in the missalette says, "All Glory, Laud, and Honour to you Redeemer King." The version in our hymnal said, "to Thee, Redeemer King." The rest of the hymn was pretty much the same, except that the missalette had "yous" and the hymnal had "thees" and "thous" throughout. Our choir director chose to use the hymnal version, which to my mind was the right choice. 

I think people think of "thees" and "thous" as more formal and distancing than "yous," but my experience of this hymn was, strangely, the opposite. The "thees" and "thous" version, though seemingly more formal, also felt more intimate than the "yous" version. Perhaps it is because I know that originally "thou" in English was the familiar, intimate form, as the cognate du is in German. I don't know; saying "you" just seems to flatten the whole thing and at the same time put Christ at more of a distance. 

I vote for more "thees" and "thous" in the liturgy, but I doubt my vote is going to count for much.

Friday, March 31, 2023

The difference between Catholic Mass and Protestant "worship"

 I was reading an article from the Association of Theological Schools on the Asbury Revival ("Asbury provost reflects on revival," by Gregg A. Okesson).  I noticed this quote about the initial service that started the whole thing. 

The preacher that morning even texted his wife at the conclusion of the service that it had 'bombed.'

It struck me that a Catholic Mass cannot "bomb." If it is a valid Mass, it has succeeded infinitely. 

Just saying.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Signs of hope

Recently a friend ask me for signs of vitality in the US Church. The following is a list of what appear to me to be signs of hope (although no created reality is without potential inadequacies). These are all in the US. My focus is on my experience in Milwaukee. From, what I hear, the real youthful vitality in the Church is in Africa, about which I know next to nothing, being the parochial person that I am. This is just a sampling.
  • Fellowship of Catholic University Students.  See especially the SEEK conference that gathers thousands every January. Many of our men go to it.
  • The University of Mary, Msgr. James Shea, the President, is just on fire. He spoke at the recent Pallium Lecture in Milwaukee. You could say the same for Benedictine College, the University of Dallas, Franciscan University Steubenville, etc.
  • The Traditional Latin Mass movement. Go to St. Stan's in Milwaukee for their ten o'clock Mass some time. Okay, sometimes they are a little skeptical about Vatican II, but that is usually in reaction to the garbage they were fed by "Vatican II" pastors and DREs while growing up. 
  • And it isn't just TLM. You should go to the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Bismarck. You can hardly find a seat for all the young, growing Catholic families that fill the pews. And the same for Our Lady of Lourdes in Philadelphia. There are parishes like this everywhere.
  • Thomistic Institute. These guys are on secular and Catholic campuses everywhere. The St. Joseph Province of the Dominicans in general are really lighting the fire under young people.  Especially fr. Gregory Pine, OP (look him up on youtube). I was delighted to hear that these men have taken over Campus Ministry at CUA, where my son will be attending
  • Home school movement. For instance, every month on a Friday evening 30-35 teenagers (!) gather in the Greater Milwaukee area for a meeting of the Voices of the Holy Innocents, a high school pro-life group for Catholic homeschoolers. Okay, there are snacks afterwards, but still... 
  • Fr. Mike Schmitz's Bible in a Year was for a time the most popular podcast—of all podcasts. He is now doing Catechism in a Year.
  • The Hallow Catholic prayer app beat out Tiktok, Instagram, and Google on Ash Wednesday, 2023.
  • A few weeks ago I went to the fundraising dinner for the Women's Support Center. 450 people were there, many of them young and with growing families. 
  • Catholic Youth Expeditions, at the former St. Joseph Retreat Center in Bailey's Harbor. Hundreds of teenager go on these expeditions every year, many of them go again and again (including my sons) because they really get recharged in their faith. Fr. Luke Stand, the rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary, was the co-founder.
  • Speaking of Fr. Luke Strand and hundreds of young people, there is Cor Jesu at St. Robert's Parish every week. Fr. Luke also helped found this. Here is Fr. John LoCoco's description of it.
  • The John Paul II House of Discernment is also at St. Roberts. Many of the vocations at St. Francis de Sales Seminary come through there.
  • Another source of vocations is the vibrant Catholic campus ministry at UW Madison, St. Paul's Catholic Student Center.
  • I suppose I can't mention vocations without mentioning St. Francis de Sales Seminary itself. It is one of the model for seminaries in the US, surpassing the old stalwarts in vitality.
  • The John Paul II Healing Center has helped thousands of people around the world find healing for the deep wounds they are living with. They have had several weekends and other events here in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
  • Eucharistic Adoration everywhere, including in many cases perpetual adoration (St. John the Evangelist in Greenfield, WI for instance). And places that have perpetual adoration are also having a surge in vocations. 
It is all about Jesus, the Word made flesh, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

How not to love the sinner (Scylla and Charybdis)

Sage advice from Bishop Hying of Madison in "Statement from Bishop Hying on the ‘Synodal Way’ process from bishops in Germany."

We do not love people when we simply leave them in sin and error, nor do we love them when we harshly reject them without any compassion or feeling.

Yeah. this is a very hard line to walk. Partly because if you are attempting to "not...leave them in sin and error," you will often come off as, "harshly reject[ing] them without any compassion or feeling."

I'd say in general if you can't address sin and error without (even erroneously) seeming condemn, you should pull back and begin with sympathy and listening. Maybe you should always begin with sympathy and listening.

Now, what do you do with those in our society who are aggressively promoting "sin and error" to the detriment of the lives of thousands, if not millions? Can you publicly struggle against their error without seeming to "harshly reject[ing] them without any compassion or feeling"?