The Priesthood is Not a Path to Wealth

A longish blog post is making the rounds right now, in which a Catholic lay employee is looking at a new national study on what priests earn and concluding that priests have it easy compared to lay employees of the Church.

As someone who worked for the Church for a decade and who knows many priests (and even lived in a parish rectory for a number of years), I think I have some insight. Here’s my general reaction to A.J. Boyd’s article: While he makes some good points, he paints with too broad a brush, universalizing anecdotal data; being selective with other data to reinforce his point; and missing data that would undermine his point. He’s also unnecessarily hostile to priests1.

Now, I am on record as saying that I think the Church needs to do better by its lay employees. I think that some of the policies I and other have encountered are downright unjust and while others may be in line with secular practice, the Church should live up to her principles and do better. Let’s also stipulate that most lay employees of the Church give what’s often called the “Church discount” in their salary, i.e. they could make much more at comparable private sector jobs.

I’ll take his points one by one, but I want to first begin by refuting his premise:

Fr. Scrooge’s attitude got me thinking about the apparent disparity between compensation for equally qualified people with a vocation to ecclesial ministry.

Look at two people of reasonably comparable demographic – single, no children, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology/divinity, committed to a life of ministry in the Church – and consider them in a similar parish, similar ministry, with similar qualifications, experience, and responsibility. One is a priest, the other a lay ecclesial minister.

You can’t compare the spiritual vocation of a priest and the apostolate of a layman, even one who has entered a lay ministry position (e.g. youth minister). A priest has been called by God, formed by the Church, and ordained by his bishop in a vocation he will retain in most cases until his death. He has made a lifelong commitment that isn’t easily broken (albeit some do), while a layman can switch jobs whenever a better opportunity comes along.

Read More and Comment

Catholic Wedding Hospitality Doesn’t Mean an Open Bar

It’s one thing to look at the state of the wedding-industrial complex in America today and bemoan it’s focus on the material and ephemeral to the detriment of the lasting and transcendent.1 Too often weddings become excuses for lavish spending so the bride and her mother can pretend at royalty or some such. However, it’s another thing to cloak a complaint about weddings today in a thin veneer of Catholic piety as an excuse to rant about your bourgeois sensibilities being violated.

Crisis offers up this article by Anne Maloney under the headline “Some Wedding Planning Violations of Catholic Hospitality.” The author assures us that the problem of people shacking up before marriage is understood and so that’s not one of her complaints. Instead her complaint is that people don’t throw weddings like she thinks they should and that’s wrong, so she searches out justifications for her preferences in the Catechism and the Bible.

We’re not talking about key aspects of the sacrament here. For one thing, she believes it is so gauche that couples today don’t register for china or silver anymore because they wouldn’t use it.

Read More and Comment

Join Your Local Historical Society

A few months ago, I saw a notice on Facebook about an open house day at our small New England town’s historical society, focusing on the history of the town’s fire department over the last hundred years or so. It would also include a chance for the kids to see our town’s fire equipment and meet firefighters, which I always encourage1, and so we stopped by.

It was a nice little event that only took about 20 minutes out of our Saturday. We met the firefighters and the Boy Scouts who organized it as well as the folks who run the town’s historical society. After chatting with them a bit, I ended up joining the society for a whopping $10 in annual dues.

Lots of small towns have historical societies, especially in the older parts of the country, and I encourage others to join like we did. We get a monthly newsletter that highlights events in the couple-hundred-year history of my adopted (and the kids’ actual) hometown and the knowledge that we are helping to preserve the past. It makes a difference to know that our town has a past as we look to the future.

I love knowing that the road called Johns Avenue is called that because there was a convenience store on the spot 100 years ago owned by a man named John.

Supporting the small institutions of your hometown is a nice lesson for the kids in civic duties and responsibility and community spirit. It’s also a reminder to me that being an American citizen isn’t just about what happens in Washington, DC, or even Boston, but is first and foremost what happens in the little town where I live among the people I call neighbors.

  1. We encourage the kids to get to know and recognize our local emergency services personnel so that they aren’t strangers to them. We also encourage them to pray for them in our bedtime prayers.

iPhone Was More Than Cool Tech

In 2005, I owned a Blackberry Pearl. I thought it was pretty cool. I could type out emails and even access the internet… sort of. In reality, it wasn’t all that great. You could tap out an email after a fashion on the tiny keyboard and the the “internet” was a janky AT&T-specific set of web services in a weird interface.

In 2004, I recall spending an October evening with Melanie as she was dress shopping for a friend’s wedding, even as the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in what would become the greatest comeback in baseball history on the road to an historic World Series win. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a deserted department store trying to follow the game’s box score on my tiny phone and its text interface.

Back to 2005, Melanie and I got married and spent our honeymoon driving through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, much of which was as a desert as far as cell signals went. We spent a lot of the time in the car talking and I recall one conversation in which I told Melanie that very soon we would have ubiquitous internet, where we would have constant access to every web site and be in constant contact with anyone virtually anywhere. It seemed like science fiction then, but two years later it started to become reality.

Read More and Comment

Ben Franklin Urges Us to Pray

On this date 230 years ago—June 28, 1787—Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Constitutional Convention, which had been fruitlessly wrestling toward a compromise so we could finally form a functioning government to serve the United States of America. For weeks, they had been stuck at an impasse. But Dr. Franklin, now 81 years old, rose at his place with difficulty and addressed the convention with his diagnosis of the problem and his prescription for the cure.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

My final note: In 2017, our country is more divided than ever, divided by our partial interests, and threatening to make the Tower of Babel look like a knitting circle. Maybe we’ve forgotten something that our Founding Fathers knew about becoming a United States of America.

That All May Not Be Lost: Considering The Benedict Option

For a number of years now, I’ve been hearing about the Benedict Option—an idea, a movement, a prescription, a diagnosis, and now a book—put forward by the writer Rod Dreher to mark out how he believes traditional and conservative people should deal with what society has become.

I met Rod and his wife more than a decade ago after we’d corresponded a bit online. I was in Dallas with Melanie when we were still dating and Rod was living there with his family. He and his wife graciously invited us to their home and we had a great evening. He’d not yet published his earlier book Crunchy Cons, about the different kinds of political and social conservatives than we usually saw portrayed in the media, but I know he’d already begun exploring the ideas that would result in the Benedict Option.

Around the same time, Dreher had been struggling as a Catholic with the sex-abuse scandal in the Church and how to reconcile the attitudes and behavior of even those bishops we consider the “good” ones in dealing with the crisis with the divine nature of the Church. It’s a struggle that would eventually lead Rod out of the Catholic Church into Eastern Orthodoxy. In some ways, that struggle is also at the root of the Benedict Option.

So what is the Benedict Option? I think many people—in their rush to give their hot take on the book as soon as it came out— have misconstrued it as a call for Christians to abandon the world, to retreat into enclaves and cut themselves off, to turn away from evangelization and engagement, to stop trying to make the world better (or prevent it from getting worse), in order to await the day when we can re-emerge into a new world eager to receive the Gospel again.

But that’s not it at all. If you take your time reading it—as I have—you realize that there’s a lot more to the idea. For one thing, Rod is not advocating a retreat or a capitulation. Nor, as he writes, does he offer a political agenda, a spiritual how-to manual or a standard decline-and-fall lament.

From Rod’s point of view, “The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization.” While there are still many who believe we can turn the culture around through new law and policies and keep secularism at bay, for Rod and those like him, the cultural revolution cannot be turned back. And as Christianity, especially a traditional practice of an orthodox Christianity, slinks ever more into the minority, what are we to do?

According to the Benedict Option, we are to build new forms of community that help sustain us and enrich us and keep our beliefs and traditions alive. In some ways, it will be not unlike the traditional Hasidic Jewish communities who live and work in a world hostile to them, but who sustain a unique identity and communal life despite it.

The Benedict Option is not about politics, per se, but if politics is a concern it’s all about the local. Rod doesn’t believe Supreme Court rulings and state and federal laws allowing abortion, same-sex marriage, and indoctrination of children, and requiring us to acquiesce to the same, will ever be reversed in our lifetimes, but he does believe that by banding together in geographically small and morally united communities, we can continue to influence how our local towns and communities are run.

Now, I have not completely bought into Rod’s view that we have reached a point of no return just yet. The fact that I work for a pro-life organization actively working to pass laws that end abortion and stop assisted suicide in a blue state like Massachusetts is proof of that much. But even if you don’t believe everything has crumbled already, there’s value to the Benedict Option.

What Rod gets right is his diagnosis of the primary ailment of Western society, a loss of Christianity as the principle that unifies us.

When we lost our Christian religion in modernity, we lost the thing that bound ourselves together and to our neighbors and anchored us in both the eternal and the temporal orders.

This is why we are so divided today. People no longer agree to disagree; we go for the jugular. People don’t just hold wrong opinions or views; they are evil and must be destroyed. Just look at the response by those were most aghast at the election of Donald Trump toward those who voted for him. They wanted apologies, at least, and blood, at worst. In the past, we had a framework for how a civil society functions. Even if we weren’t Christian, Christianity is what provided the common framework. But now we have lost the unifying principles.

The Rule of St. Benedict

The original St. Benedict, founder of monasticism, created a Rule for monasteries that has stood the test of 1,500 years and is the basis for the rule governing most monastic communities today. Because the Rule helped the monasteries survive the original so-called Dark Ages (from about 600 to 1000AD) and bring Christianity back to a full flowering in the Middle Ages, Rod sees it as a tool to help all of us organize and prepare ourselves for a new Dark Age. Throughout the book, but especially in the third chapter, Rod adapts the tenets of Benedict’s Rule to our modern life through interviews with the current Benedictine monks living in Benedict’s hometown of Norcia, Italy.

He reviews the parts of the Rule as they apply to communities of monks and then looks at them in terms of how families and communities can apply them today. He looks at the right Order of the world; The importance and value of Work; the need for Ascetism; the importance of Stability; the contribution of Community; the value of Hospitality, especially with regard to evangelization; the need for Balance between power and autonomy, self and community, monasticism and comfort, work and family life.

The remainder of the book looks at a new way of Christian politics; how to preserve and live out the Christian faith of your Church even if your leaders don’t have a clue; how to protect your family and build a community of likeminded people; what to do about education for your children (i.e. don’t put them in public schools); getting ready to be persecuted for your beliefs in your career; the culture’s obsession with disordered sex; and the effects of technology on culture.

On the last, it’s not just another warning that looking at your smartphone too much is bad for you (although that’s in there). What I found interesting was the discussion of the technological mindset of our era that believes that (a) if technology can do it, then it must be good and (b) that technological solutions to problems can always be had.

For citizens of a technocracy, if the technology exists to give you what you want, no one has a right to object. The mind of Technological Man cannot resist his heart’s desires, because he has been trained by his culture not to question them. Technological Man comes to believe that the limits on what he can do to nature lie primarily in his capacity to subdue it to his will. The Christian must rebel against this.

And so if you believe in your heart that you can undo your nature and be a man when you were a woman or vice versa or something completely different, this is a symptom of the technocracy. And it’s why those of us who still hold to a classical way of thinking find you incomprehensible and why you find us so as well.

I think this section was the most thought-provoking for me, although I do not completely agree with him that churches encouraging their congregations to use social media is a problem. But his encouragement of a technological asceticism bears some consideration.

Thinking that the world mediated by technology is the real world is a fatal error. We don’t see reality then; we only see ourselves. If we do not understand this, if we don’t believe that all things exist independently of our desires, that there is a world beyond our heads, then there is no reason to pay attention, because there is nothing to contemplate. If feeling defines reality, then contemplation is useless, and so is resistance. If we live as if boredom were the root of all evil, we will not be able to fight back, and if we do not fight back, we will find that our machines have mastered us. Perhaps they already have.

The Beacon Fires of Gondor

Rod is not some survivalist stockpiling beans in 50-gallon drums in a bomb shelter. He’s not just the latest crazy doomsayer to ignore as we go about our daily lives. Arguing about whether Dreher is wrong about Western Christian civilization having passed the point of no return or is only just approaching it kind of misses the point because whether the edge of the cliff is approaching or behind us, we need to figure out for ourselves and our families what to do about it.

It’s undeniable that our culture has crumbled a great deal over the past 70 years. Heck, even five years ago could you imagine someone apologizing on the radio for using “heteronormative” analogies to explain something? It is this secular liberal deconstruction that Rod is warning us to take even more seriously than other threats to our way of life.

In these pages, I have attempted to sound the alarm for conservative Christians in the West, warning them that the greatest danger we face today does not come from aggressive left-wing politics or radical Islam, as many seem to think. … For us, the greatest danger comes from the liberal secular order itself. And our failure to understand this reinforces our cultural captivity and the seemingly unstoppable assimilation of the next generations.

Rod’s suggestion of the Benedict Option is one way forward, a way that does not entail “constructing communities of the pure, cut off from the real world.” It’s a small-scale idea for ordering your life, not a large-scale strategy to save the world.

“The moment the Benedict Option becomes about anything other than communion with Christ and dwelling with our neighbors in love, it ceases to be Benedictine,” he said. “It can’t be a strategy for self-improvement or for saving the church or the world.”

One thing has become clear, though. The time for business as usual is over. The culture and society have moved away from us and traditional, orthodox Christians are no longer either in control or in the majority. The question is how we survive and thrive and provide for our children’s future.

Losing My Old Parish, But Can Something Be Saved?

From the “You should have listened to me before” file: The Archdiocese of Boston parish collaborative that includes my former parish in Salem where Melanie and I were married is in deep financial trouble, so now they’re going to turn one parish into a Polish shrine to St. John Paul II and merge my old parish and another one.

Three years ago, Salem was one of the first collaboratives under the Disciples in Mission pastoral plan and had Salem’s four parishes included. They quickly determined that four was too many and St. Anne’s was split off, leaving Immaculate Conception (my old parish), St. James, and St. John the Baptist, which was previously a Polish national parish. The pastor of the collaborative was unable to get the finances of the collaborative under control and ended up resigning last year.

Now the temporary administrator and the parish leaders have come up with this new plan to turn St. John the Baptist into a Polish shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II and merge Immaculate Conception and St. James into one parish while keeping the two churches open, which will let them sell off redundant property.
Read More and Comment

Asking Pope Francis to Canonize Pier Giorgio Frassati

I’ve had a devotion to Bl. Giorgio Frassati for over two decades and built the first web site dedicated to him (which now exists as part of this site).

This past May 20 marked the 27th anniversary of the beatification of Pier Giorgio and in that time, devotion to this remarkable young man has spread throughout the world.

Now, the Spirit has moved those closest to Frassati to ask the Holy Father to move to the next step, to canonize PGF, perhaps at the upcoming Synod on Young People in October 2018. This is part of the cause for canonization, showing evidence that devotion to the blessed has spread throughout the Church, which it most certainly has.

To that end, they have asked everyone to go to to sign the letter to the Holy Father and then to spread the word to let everyone know to do so. I hope you’ll join me in this effort.

Without Dale, Does NASCAR Go On?

I’ve been a NASCAR fan for two decades, but was a casual watcher for a decade beyond that. I remember the good old days of Southern boys beating and banging on each others’ cars and occasionally each other. I also remember the bad old days of drivers dying in accidents. I’m so old that Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., retiring comes as a shock because those are the young guys, or so I thought.

NASCAR has grown up a lot in the past 30 years, moving away from its backwoods-racing, moonshining Southern roots to its sleek, international, highly technological form that it has today. Mary Katharine Ham writes about her history around NASCAR that began with covering the sport as a cub reporter in Rockingham, North Carolina and how it has changed over the years.

As NASCAR prepares to say goodbye to Dale Jr. at the end of this year, it is the acknowledged end of an era. Everyone is taking stock (no pun intended) and wondering where the sport—which has begun to struggle to find viewers and attendees lately—will go from here. Have attention spans shortened to the point where viewers won’t watch a whole 3-hour race?1 Is the end of the shade-tree mechanic car culture in the US a harbinger of the end of car racing fascination?
Read More and Comment

Better Dead Than Disabled?

Laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide send the message to both the disabled and to those around them that being dead is preferable to being disabled and that we shouldn’t respect those who choose to live.

Zachary Schmoll is disabled and writes a great essay in Public Discourse about this phenomenon. He contrasts the effect of laws banning assisted suicide with those that legalize it.

Laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide encourage a worldview that says there is value to life and it ought not to be thrown away based on an individual’s subjective perception of his or her situation. Such laws teach us that our lives are objectively valuable, even if we do not recognize our own value. And they teach everyone else to help us in finding value and enjoyment in our lives.

But by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, we make a different statement. Such laws communicate the idea that suicide can be a reasonable, moral, and socially acceptable choice, because some lives are no longer valuable. Suicide is prohibited in all other circumstances, sending the message that most lives have value that ought to be protected by law, even when the person in question does not see that value. In certain circumstances, however—specifically, when an individual is losing his or her own independence—such protections need not apply. Society is affirming, by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, that it is better to be dead than disabled. It is better to be in the grave than to live with reduced independence. This message is sent both to people with disabilities like me and everyone else who interacts with us.

This is what is meant by “creating a culture of death.” When we fail to affirm the value of every life in our laws, then we create a condition and a context where some lives are not only less valuable, but that are expendable. And the expectation is created that such lives should be ended.

We’re already seeing this in practice. In the Netherlands and Belgium, they’ve already extended assisted suicide for the terminally ill to now include those who are mentally ill or merely tired of living. Rather than extend treatment and help, such people are killed.

Even worse, the killing is now sometimes involuntary, i.e. doctors are taking it upon themselves to kill the elderly, the infirm, the mentally ill, the disabled without being asked for it, but because in the doctors’ estimation, those lives aren’t worth living.

We already see it starting in this country. In Oregon, patients seeking coverage for cancer treatment are being refused chemotherapy, but are told that assisted suicide would be covered by insurance. We know where this story ends: in furnaces and gas chambers. Does that seem hyperbolic? People are already dying.

Next Page →