As For Me and My House: A Reflection on Staying Catholic

I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. I say those words every Sunday and I still believe them, including that the Church is holy. Yes, she is full of the rottenness of men, the stink of sin rising to the very top. But she is still the Church.

In today’s Mass readings (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018), we hear from St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-32) that Christ loved the Church and loves her still, despite her flaws and sin. He doesn’t just love her, He died for her, to sanctify her, to cleanse her. He loves her so as to become one with her, to make her part of His mystical divine body. Just as the Old Testament prophet Hosea stayed faithful to Gomer, his wife who was also a harlot, so much more so will Christ stay faithful to His Church, even as she is unfaithful to Him and stinks to high heaven of sin.

After all, where else can we go? Even as I read last night the riveting and earth-shattering testimony of Archbishop Vigano, who names names and demands that Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials resign their offices for their failures to protect the Church from predators and underminers like Theodore McCarrick, I wept for my Church. And yet it never entered my mind that I would leave. This morning, my family was there in our parish, sitting in our regular pew, to celebrate Mass. And we heard Jesus challenge His disciples (John 6:60-69), after they have received the hard teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist from Him, “Do you also want to leave?”

How does Peter respond? He doesn’t say, “O Lord, I understand what you’re teaching me. I know what you mean when you said we must gnaw upon your flesh to have eternal life. Those other guys just haven’t given it deep enough thought.” No, what Peter says is, “Master, to whom shall we go?” To whom, indeed. Peter is admitting he doesn’t understand and perhaps even that what Jesus just said is troubling, but that he also knows deep down to the roots of his being that Jesus is Who He says He is, that He is the One who has come to seek and save the lost, that He comes from the Father. And that’s good enough for him.

It’s good enough for me. I won’t leave, no matter what priests, bishops, or popes do, because the “words of eternal life” aren’t from them. They are not “the Holy One of God” that Peter proclaims. And, sure, Peter doesn’t quite live up to his promise in that moment, denying Christ at the cross, but he comes back and is forgiven. So, I too, may be shaken by the events to come, the revelations of misdeeds and sin, but I won’t stray far. I will come back to the Way.

Because, as Joshua says in the first reading (Joshua 24:15), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” My first loyalty is to the Lord, not to men. And we will serve the Lord in whatever way He calls us, in whatever way restores His Church and advances the kingdom. The alternative is to proclaim I will not serve (“non serviam”), but that way is the way of hell, literally.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24: 16, 18). Whatever may come, my house will serve the Lord, will stay faithful, will cling to the Sacraments, even as we do what we can to support the housecleaning to come in the Church.

You Can’t Just Declare Yourself Catholic

Imagine I’m nose tackle for the New England Patriots. One day, Coach Belichick calls me in his office and tells me I’m being cut from the team. Well, I don’t want to be cut from the team so I go down the street to a high school stadium and declare that I am still part of the New England Patriots, that being a Patriot is bigger than the NFL team owned by Bob Kraft, that I will bring in other players and coaches, hold games and sell tickets, and that the games will be valid NFL games leading to the Super Bowl. Right about the same time I’m being served the lawsuit from Kraft and the NFL, the men in white coats would be carting me off to the loony bin.

Meanwhile, reporter Bella English and the Boston Globe1 continues to feed the delusions of the people in Scituate who believe that they are still a valid parish despite rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church.

Here’s how Maryellen Rogers describes it: “We are an ecumenical Catholic church, we are still valid practicing Catholics, part of the universal Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church. So if you join our church community, you would see a welcoming Catholic experience but you would not be supporting the Roman Catholic Church or the Archdiocese of Boston.”

Jon Rogers says that the new church wants to draw from other towns south of Boston, not just Scituate. “This is the seeds of a brand new church, a simple structure, the way Christ would have it,” he says. “It will just be a spiritual home where people can be comfortable without being awestruck or overwhelmed by a hierarchical system. It will be run by the people and for the people.”

Both stress that the church remains Catholic. “We are valid, practicing Catholics,” she says.

I’m sorry, but it’s just not so. I hate to tell them that this doesn’t make them Catholic. All they’ve done is re-invent Protestantism because this is exactly how the Protestant Reformation began. They saw themselves as recovering the true Church while throwing off the hierarchy yet retaining the sacraments and other trappings at first. How long until they even give up those trappings, even if they survive at all?

  1. English, who is semi-retired from the Globe now, has been championing the Scituate protesters ever since they began. Something tells me she has an axe to grind.

Dissent is Not Objectivity

Here’s Ken Briggs’ National Catholic Reporter commentary in a nutshell: “How can Crux be considered journalism if it doesn’t treat heterodoxy as a valid approach to Catholicism?”

Briggs is concerned at Crux’s move from the control of the Boston Globe to the Knights of Columbus, and especially that editor John Allen won’t be open to publishing dissent as an alternative to, you know, actual Church teaching.

The Knights have legitimately and powerfully advocated for and bankrolled every significant religious and ethical movement that the pope and the bishops have appealed for over the years, from opposition to abortion and artificial birth control to defense of an all-male priesthood and banning of same sex marriage.

These are not simply “movements” by the popes and bishops. These are the Church’s valid teachings from time immemorial, the unchanging bedrock of doctrine based on the teachings given by Christ to the Church and safeguarded by her since then. And look at how he phrases them all in the negative. The Church isn’t simply “opposed to abortion”; she values every human life from conception to natural death. She’s not opposed to artificial birth control; she acknowledges that fruitfulness of marriage comes from total self-giving between husband and wife. She doesn’t just ban same-sex marriage; she recognizes that marriage is, and always has been, a union of man and woman.

Briggs seems to think that for religion journalism to be taken seriously, it has to treat even those who dissent from a religion’s core tenets and beliefs as equal-standard bearers for that faith. That’s not objectivity. In the case of the Catholic Church anyway, it’s journalistic advocacy for dissent.

Just as, for example, the Democratic National Committee gets to decide what its official party platform is–no matter what some fringe group of activists insists–so too does the Church’s teaching get decided, not by the fringe dissenters, but by her bishops in union with the pope.

Uncatechized Catholics reject Church teaching

In the Boston Globe‘s coverage of Laetitia Amoris, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the family, they include the results of a poll of Catholics on Catholic teaching about marriage, sex, and family. Surprise! They disagree with Church teaching.

Indeed, “Amoris Laetitia” clearly states that same-sex unions “may not simply be equated with marriage” and that children need both a mother and a father. That reflects long-held Catholic teachings. …

The papal exhortation also proposes no changes to the church’s opposition to artificial forms of birth control, a prohibition that polls suggest all but a small fraction of American Catholics ignore.

Meanwhile, water remains wet. And the anti-Pope Francis crowd among some conservative Catholics continue to criticize him for undermining Church teaching, when he isn’t, apparently because they believe the media and pundits when they say he is.  

Did you expect a Catholic college to stand up?

Here’s the story: An instructor at a Catholic university restricts the free speech of a student because he defends the Catholic teaching on marriage between a man and a woman. A tenured professor defends the student and he is censured by the school and told he must deliver an apology before he can return to teaching. Meanwhile the university says it wasn’t the instructors view on marriage that resulted in the suspension and possible termination of the professor:

When Marquette moved to fire McAdams last year, it said that he has been unprofessional in publicly criticizing Abbate — and doing so in a way that Marquette and Abbate said had distorted what happened in class that day. It was his unprofessionalism and mistreatment of a graduate student, not his views, that led the university to suspend and investigate McAdams, officials said.

So the instructor says she wasn’t trying to censor the student for his views, but to keep classroom discussion on track. Still, can you imagine if the situation were reversed that the Jesuit Marquette would suspend a professor over his criticism of an instructor who shut down conversation by a student in favor of gay marriage?

I can’t either.

Archdiocese of Boston surveys Catholics about church and its leaders

Archdiocese of Boston surveys Catholics about church and its leaders – The Boston Globe:

“The Archdiocese of Boston has hired a top Democratic consultant to poll Catholics in Eastern Massachusetts — most of whom no longer attend weekly Mass — to find out what they think about the church and its leaders.

John Marttila, who served as a strategist for Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, and Deval Patrick, has overseen a phone survey this month on behalf of the church, asking active and inactive Catholics a wide-ranging series of 90 questions.”

They’re asking questions about whether people support abortion or want to see women in leadership positions in the Church, in addition to how often they go to Mass and why they might not go, among others. Inevitably some will say that this is the archdiocese watering down the Church’s teachings or catering to dissent, but that’s a shortsighted approach.

Before you make plans for evangelization, you need to find out where people stand. There are a lot of assumptions out there about what people believe, but what do people actually understand about Church teaching? Why do they dissent? What is their understanding of those teachings? What do they need to know?

When a pastor knows where his people are then he knows how to approach them. He can change what is available for change without attempting to change what is immutable.

Cardinal O’Malley, N.E. Lutheran bishop express hope for ‘full unity’.

Cardinal O’Malley, N.E. Lutheran bishop express hope for ‘full unity’.: “Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and Bishop James Hazelwood of the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s New England Synod have released a joint letter announcing preparations for the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.”

The letter looks to October 2017 and connects with national and international efforts to mark the occasion. 500 years of separation is enough. It’s time to come home.

Of Gnostics and Religion Professors

The Gospel of Jesus Wife papyrus

In September, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King ignited an international controversy when she claimed to have found a piece of what she claims is a fourth-century papyrus that refers to Jesus’ “wife”.[1] (To be fair, she doesn’t claim that she believes that Jesus was married, only that whomever wrote the scroll believed He was. Of course, most of the media coverage didn’t make the fine distinction and played it up as evidence that orthodox Christianity was wrong and/or hiding the truth.) There’s been plenty of criticism of King and her claim and even the way she went public about it.

However, on Sunday the Boston Globe–which was one of the few media outlets that King and Harvard went to for an exclusive on the papyrus in September– did a profile of King and her background.

What I find interesting in the profile is how King–an Episcopalian raised as a Methodist and now a professor of religion who was one of the founders of the women’s studies department at Harvard–views what many of us consider heretical–or at least heterodox–beliefs in the past and today.

King began to consider how this insight might apply to the Nag Hammadi literature and other ancient Coptic texts discovered since the late 1800s, which included prayers, revelations, and teachings of Jesus that ultimately did not make it into the New Testament canon in later centuries. The “Gospel of Mary of Magdala,” for example, presents Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ favorite disciple and has her relating a strange vision she alone received from him.

All these texts had been lumped together as “heretical” or “Gnostic.” King began to argue that those labels were misnomers. When the texts were written, there was no such thing as orthodox Christianity — or Gnosticism, she argued. There were only tiny communities of a minority faith, scattered across the ancient Mediterranean, each caught up in their own political and cultural realities, and struggling to make sense of Jesus’ teachings and death.

“I started seeing that the lines that were being drawn between orthodox or correct Christianity and heretical Christianity couldn’t be drawn that way,” she said. “I had to step back and start sort of fresh and say, ‘What are the similarities and differences among [ancient] Christians, and how might we account for them, in terms of them belonging to this place?’ ”

King argued that these texts should be seen as part of the story of Christianity, not as distortions of a complete belief system articulated by the Gospels and handed down by the fathers of the early church. She contends that the early history of Christianity needs to be rewritten to include these previously marginalized voices, taking into account how “a limited set of perspectives has shaped what people believe.”

From a liberal Protestant perspective this makes perfect sense. When you reject the authority of the Church, then who’s to say what is authoritative or orthodox? The decisions on canon, for example, are just arbitrary. History is written by the victors and orthodoxy is determined by those who hold hierarchical power. From there, it’s just a matter of deciding what you want to consider is authoritative.

However, from a traditional Catholic Christian perspective, this doesn’t make any sense because, of course, there was an authority in the ancient world that wasn’t just based on powerful sects, but on the office of apostle starting with those directly appointed by Christ and then by their descendants. We believe that the Holy Spirit protects and guides the Church, especially in this case with the understanding of what is inspired by Spirit and what isn’t and thus what is canon and what isn’t. but once Luther and Calvin and the rest threw out the authority of the Church, then the logical consequence is to throw out that which was decided by the Church.

It’s also a case of reading into the past the biases and categories of our present ideologies. The fact that King is a liberal academic–which we know from her background–influences her mindset. This happens across the academic humanities disciplines, so that, for example, literary critics turn Jane Austen into a 20th-century feminist or ancient Gnostics into liberal Protestants. I’ve even seen an anti-Catholic fundamentalist turn Anabaptists, Maniecheans, and Gnostics into orthodox Christians so that he could trace his splinter of Protestantism back to the apostles without having to acknowledge that indeed had split from the Catholic Church.

So when liberal academics like King or Elaine Pagels or the like attach some equal significance to some scrap of payprus that any random person could have jotted down that they do to the Gospel of Mark[2], it shouldn’t surprise us because they’re just being consistent with their overall approach to faith, religion, and the world.

Photo from Harvard Divinity School and Karen King 2012.

  1. “Historian’s finding hints that Jesus was married”, The Boston Globe, September 19, 2012  ↩


  3. It’s like someone in the year 3812 finding a scrap of page from The DaVinci Code and concluding from it that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  ↩


The Last Things

I saw a link on Twitter to a post on entitled What Happens After I Die?. Being a curious Catholic sort, I clicked on the link, which took me to another site, a completely black web page that scrolled down “infinitely”.

My first reaction: “Har, har. Oh, what wit. How clever you are. When we die we are annihilated. That’s hysterical We sure showed those religious types.”

But then I thought about the fear evident behind this web page and the posting on Digg (as well as the hundreds of comments and thousands of “diggs” on the web page). What would prompt someone to create this page? Where does this false bravado and antagonism? I recognize there could be legitimate anger against the excesses of some religious adherents. History is replete with people who have committed atrocities in the name of religion. They could merely be offering adolescent rebellion against the faith of their parents or grandparents or rebellion against the moral law they find so restrictive. Yet there might be something more as well.

If someone truly believed that after life was only nothingness and annihilation, I think they would live in terror of death and its inevitability. Like a gazelle being stalked by a pride of lions in the open savannah, death will come for all of us, sooner or later. If after death, there is nothing, how terrifying it would be to contemplate the abyss. But these people do continue to function in their lives. Certainly, denial is a powerful mental process that aids all of us to continue down some paths at one time or another. (Every habitual sinner is intimately familiar with denial.) Still, I believe there is also in them an innate knowledge that death is not the end. Knit into the very fabric of our being is an understanding that we are immortal, a knowledge that lives in our breast beside the natural law.

Melanie reminded me that C.S. Lewis wrote that, unlike the lower species like animals, we experience time because we are ultimately meant to live outside of time. (I’m paraphrasing her parphrase, so excuse my imprecision, if you will.) A fish does not contemplate the water he lives in, but we experience the time we live in many ways. We are observers of time. Time flies and it drags. We mark time and take time. One day, we will see time as God does, from his vantage point. We live in time for a time, so that one day we may live timelessly.

I pity the fearful who mock the darkness with the semblance of a brave front. If only they knew that on the other side of the veil of life is a new life. Not darkness, but light and joy and Life. I pray for them that one day, before it’s too late, they will embrace the Light and Life. Because the alternative is not nothingness, but something worse.


Two new arrivals: Gorillapod and Denzinger

Two new and very different purchases arrived in the mail today.


The first was the book, “The Sources of Catholic Dogma” by Denzinger. This is a classic resource of theology, so classic in fact that Vatican documents, including papal encyclicals reference it as a source and have done so for 150 years. It is also known by its Latin name, the “Enchiridion Symbolorum”. The book catalogs all the creeds and articles of the Catholic faith and every dogmatic definition, every magisterial decree, every papal bull, every major pronouncement of the Vatican up to 1957 when this particular edition was issued.

This is an indispensable work of theology, which should sit on the shelf next to the Bible and the Catechism. Which is why it surprises me it took so long to get one, although I do have other less authoritative, but no less valuable compendiums of Catholic doctrine, such as Ludwig Ott’s tome. So when I saw a tweet from Aquinas and More recently about having the book at a reasonable price, I decided it was time to complete my theological library.

Gorillapod 1.jpg

The other purchase couldn’t be more different. It’s the Gorillapod Mobile by Joby. Joby makes a kind of articulated, grippy tripod of all shapes and sizes that attach to just about anything. The legs are made up of a series of connected spheres, each with an equator of a rubber-like grippy material. This combination allows you to place the Gorillapod in every conceivable place. Not only can you just stand it on a table, you can wrap the legs around anything whose diameter isn’t larger than the length of the legs.

This particular verison comes with an iPhone case, a screw mount for a camera (although only a point and shoot is small enough not to tip over this model), and a couple of adhesive backs for other random items. I plan to use it on my desk as an iPhone stand, but also in the summer to attach to the handle of my lawnmower as well as the baby stroller. I think I may also use it when I donate blood platelets to watch movies on my iPhone. Right now my free arm gets mighty tired holding the phone up the whole time.

Gorillapod 2.jpg

The Gorillapod is very versatile and I look forward to finding many uses for it.

There you go. An eclectic duo of items whose only connection is that they both arrived at my house today.


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