Thursday, August 30, 2018


For those of us who care, events are falling thick and fast. I wondered if perhaps we who care are living in a tiny self-referencing bubble. It seems to me all the people around me would simply blink at this, looking on the Church herself and Christianity in general as irrelevant, and so finding scandal within her, especially about homosexuals, a smirkingly comical irrelevancy within an irrelevancy.

But I may be wrong. There the headlines are, not shrieking but present, out in the world at Drudge and Yahoo. "Pope refuses comment." "Cardinals named deny," etc.

The events as they came to my attention, in order over the weekend (and now we are approaching another weekend), were:

Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan will investigate Chicago diocese: Cardinal Blase Cupich welcomes. The hen investigating the henhouse, I thought; these two liberals will come to a very satisfactory understanding.

Then that story vanished. Vigano says Benedict tried to discipline McCarrick, Francis rehabilitated him, and then for whatever reasons, McCarrick essentially appointed Cupich and Tobin (of Newark). Ho ho, Cupich in the hot seat. Maybe. Tobin, who in some pictures looks unfortunately a bit like Wolsey brought straight back and infuriated from Tudor England, now off to a synod on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. I hope that will be the last tone-deaf thing the American Catholic church does for a while. 

Then Father Robert Altier's magnificent homily at St. Raphael's in Minnesota from a few days ago, run twice in two days on Relevant Radio. I listened spellbound in the car before going grocery shopping and then listened again the next day (today). "Do you understand why all you hear is fluff 'n' stuff instead of good homilies?" he asked. Men who don't live Catholic morality will not teach Catholic morality.

But "the Virgin Mary's work has begun," he thinks. "Jesus is sending his Mom to clean the room."

And we must join her army, Bishop Barron agreed. He must be thanking God, if Cupich shooed him, conservative Thomist evangelizer, out to wacky California to make the best of it, that the best of it has been good. His Word on Fire ministry grows from strength to strength as far as I can see, and he in obedience has Chicago in his rear-view mirror.

And what do we do? "Join her army," "become the greatest of saints, to tower, because of these times, over the greatest saints of the past"? That was Father Altier's message. How to become so? By staying put, of course, or joining, by prayer and fasting and raising voices. But always be measured and charitable, as Bishop Barron's example shows. The Lady cannot make use, I don't think so anyway, of meanness and griping and interior wrath that does nothing. Like mine.

Amid all the stew of news and reports and ideas about launching committees and streams of comments on the Catholic websites' comment boards, I had a thought which is probably sterile and wrathful so I didn't put it out there. I'll put it here, where no one will see. I thought, a purge of the Church could start, and could make extraordinary progress in two weeks, in one: only let the Holy Father order that all priests in all parishes all over the world preach a homily, next Sunday, averring that homosexual activity is sinful. Not the people, not the inclination, the activity. We live in a secular culture for which homosexuality is the helmet of faith and the breastplate of salvation. Let the Holy Father command such preaching, and in two weeks you would see weeded out the men who can't choke out the words, and the faithful, soldiers (maybe unknowingly) in a different army, who can't choke down the message.

But here I'm being wrathful and proud. How do I know? Maybe lay-led committees investigating McCarrick -- even though he has already been truly found out and set aside -- are better. Maybe Cardinal Tobin is a very fine man whose prayers I am not worthy of. 

And I was thinking at Mass this morning (the feast of St. Augustine -- our good Father skipped any homily at all, maybe he is planning a bombshell of some sort of his own for Sunday and desired to save his energy) -- I was thinking, you really cannot decide how you will act to become a greater saint, to "tower like a cedar of Lebanon over a shrub," as Father Altier quoted Louis de Montfort. That alone is ego. You must still yourself, somehow, to a core of obedience to a Master, and to right action and right words. The Divine Office, for the hour of None, has this Psalm,

My soul is weary with longing, day and night, for your decrees (Ps. 118 (119): 17-24

Another thought. Years ago I remember hearing of veterans of World War II, that they tended to look back and say, of course in those days everyone either joined or knew they would be drafted. But whatever your anxiety, you didn't want to sit out this fight. "Everybody was going -- you didn't want to be the one who missed out." I think this may be like that.    

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The majesty of the package

Don't be put off by the way this starts. It has its origin, you will see, in the comments board below somebody else's writing; so I had in my mind the same material everyone else was addressing, and I could plunge right in, having come to some of the same conclusions and naturally taking up the same aggravated tone they did. This is what we moderns call an "online community." I began to type ...

I notice the drumbeat of prayers for migrants at Mass has stopped, at least in my parish for the last few weeks. Coincidence? The effect of a new pastor? The hierarchy somewhere in a Chicago high-rise, deciding for a while not to rub the wounds of a conquered people, just while the newest homosexual abuse scandal now reaching up to the cardinals' level unfolds? But if migrants needed prayers last month, don't they still? Do you turn off God's attention and power based on a sort of Lenin-style assessment of who is more useful when?

"Conquered people" is a strong term, perhaps unfair. It occurred to me because of an unrelated issue, namely music. Once again on Sunday we were permitted only the "traditional Caribbean folk melody" for the Alleluia, which is all we ever get, and which sounds just like the preschooler's foot-stompin' beach dance tune you would expect. Holl-lay, holl-lay, holl-lay, Looo-oooo-yah! The recessional was a "traditional South African" song which no one knew, neither the good (Ugandan) priest nor the deacon nor the people nor, I think, even the man playing the piano in the choir loft. Interestingly, he had played Panis Angelicus during communion, when it could be safely hidden as background noise. The recessional therefore proved a mostly silent fumble. This is what conquered people are made to do: sing songs not their own. It's a natural and an age-old political move. Whereas at the close of a blessedly silent weekday Mass the celebrating priest, or even a member of the congregation, has only to begin the Lourdes hymn ("Immaculate Mary") and everyone joins, with no guidance from the piano at all. We react naturally to our own music. I might almost dare say ... we are ready to be led home, by and with our own music.

I chronicle and I express crabbiness about all this because [here we go] I am still thinking about Elizabeth Scalia's article a few days ago at the Word on Fire blog. I don't think it's worthwhile my being the fortieth commenter on a piece that is, very naturally, already being bumped down the roster of the blog's main page as new things are published there. But it got me to thinking in terms of natural and unnatural.

It was natural for almost all the thirty-odd commenters there to come up with simple, strong responses to it. The man in the street tends to do that. Never mind, they scoffed, Ms. Scalia's advice to the laity to form "investigatory panels" and "become the Church you want to be by being a conduit of love." Being a conduit of love (I scoff) won't stop the propagation of cheap music for example, which affects us in our official, public worship life, as whatever went on at a cardinal's beach house decades ago does not. Not that it does not, however: we do feel this week's dark news personally. Is there a Latin way to say "hard to be a Catholic," and capture the rueful endurance of schwer zu sein ein yid?

But to stop that, I mean bad music, takes power, and after fifty years of other people's folk tunes, it looks like no one has that much power. "I'm not giving the Church any more of my money" was a natural response too. So was the great call, the frightening call, the repeated call throughout the comments board, which perhaps cannot be answered in the man in the street's lifetime, or yours or mine -- because it means really facing Satan, all tolerant, loving, funny, and with great taste in the finer things -- "The bishops need to say homosexuality is sin." For it is not natural that a man should lie with a man as with a woman.

It's not very natural that Catholics, buffeted now by witnessing a resurgence of '90s style immorality among their priests and bishops plus the Pope choosing this moment to change the catechism, -- it's not natural that they should be comforted or strengthened when they walk into a Mass of bad off-Broadway music, of a dozen "extraordinary ministers of communion" including young girls in miniskirts and hairy-legged middle aged men in shorts and t-shirts, and of the whole congregation reflexively adopting the hands-upheld "orans position" when the priest does, because no one has ever told them not to. That was new to me when I walked into my parish church last summer for the first time in thirty years. I thought it made everyone look like ecstatic, village idiot snake-handlers. Then I did some of my usual crabby research and found out you're not supposed to do this "orans posture" wheeze at all. All I can figure is that our good bishops, who don't dare call out a fellow who preys on boys, are certainly not going to speak out on something so minor in the face of people and offertory-makers far too culturally Protestantized to accept rebuke. And who can always now rejoin, "Really? You're upset about this?"

Ah, to rejoin. The rejoinder -- the come-back. The coming back. The answer to all this mess is not investigatory panels, or being a conduit of churchly love, or even fasting as such. The answer is to make the Church and its Mass seem like something that is above and outside and truer than time or the world or men or sex or anything. We cannot do that, our leadership must. They do that by returning somehow to the majesty of what it was, to the package it used to show to anyone who walked in the door; the package unchanging no matter where it was found or no matter what poor sinner or downright creep briefly kept the door. The package used to say: "we have to do this, and say this, because it is true and our 'colossal Master' (G.K. Chesterton's phrase, about Whom Joan of Arc obeyed) -- because He commanded it. Yes even of us sinners." Returning somehow to the majesty of the package ... what, shall the College of Cardinals (minus McCarrick) admit it is all really dreadfully traceable to Vatican II? Shall they say, sorry, we lowered some bars there and it was a mistake? That really cannot be. If the Holy Spirit presides over other Councils it  He must have presided over that one.

Perhaps what will prove to save everything will be that great Council's rumored exaltation of the laity and our responsibilities and rights. I don't know, I'm the man in the street, I never read the documents. Anyhow what previous Council ever insisted that the faithful, busy at loom and plow, should bestir themselves to "read the documents"? But suppose the laity now do take that responsibility, given from the Holy Spirit, seriously, and do read and do find their power, and start asking for old things? Unless of course they just demand validation for the new things they have been doing anyway, like getting divorced and taking the Pill. A hierarchy which can't condemn homosexuality may have a hard time pressing "Church teaching" on any other matter.

It may be that with my thirty years' absence I am insufferably behind the times. It may be that in fact the new and the young, starved of Catholic meat, have been asking for old true things and getting them, long since. It may be they are now middle-aged and making waves themselves. There are jokes on crabby online forums about Ugandan and Nigerian priests, doing missionary work among the suburban soccer moms of the U.S.A., pronouncing words like magisterium. Our own dear Father G. makes the sign of the cross after his homily, which is just what you can hear being done at traditional Masses on YouTube, Masses celebrated even sometimes by priests of those mysterious stern "Societies of St. Peter" (or Pius). They sign themselves before and after. Perhaps it had a meaning once. Wonderful Bishop Robert Barron comes to mind of course, talking of younger clerics feeding the starved.

But he's got these bloggers working for him who still seem to bar the gates, even emotionally, against the fuming man in the street, and the man knows it and that's why he responds with comments not remotely assessing her ideas, but simply brushing them aside. As if he is a force of nature, and knows that too.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Updated, August 17, 2018. I have been unjust in doling out the word anodyne. Elizabeth Scalia's latest set of prayers and meditations is very good indeed, much better than I could do.  

What an amazing set of responses to Ms. Scalia's article at Word on Fire. They mostly utterly ignore her points, every one of them, and speak instead with almost one voice in what amounts to the writing of another article: whose theme is, "dear bishops, can you gather up your courage in both hands and say something less-than-glowingly-'accompanying' about homosexuality?" For if it's not to be said, because that's hateful, then what did ex-Cardinal McCarrick actually do -- besides predation maybe -- that was wrong?

I read the article partly because I do believe Ms. Scalia has developed a following of readers who read her to ignore her, and to play among themselves in the quiet sandbox of the comments board below all her pieces, and I wanted to judge -- after a hiatus of a few months -- whether that is still true. I think it is. They see through her, and find themselves more interesting than she is. She is a talented word painter, but after a strong start at Bishop Barron's website about six months ago, turned rather anodyne

Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...