Monthly Archives: April 2012
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the good news is that things may be looking up for the U.S. Catholic Church.
Despite all of the bad press it has endured in recent decades, the number of vocations to the priesthood—the all male, celibate priesthood—is up. Perhaps the Vatican’s incessant calls for priestly celibacy and its denunciation of women’s ordination have struck a resonant chord among some young U.S. Catholic males.
According to the article, these candidates for the priesthood
…are attracted to the philosophy, the art, the literature and the theology that make Catholicism countercultural. They are drawn to the beauty of the liturgy and the church’s commitment to the dignity of the individual. They want to be contributors to that commitment—alongside faithful and courageous bishops who ask them to make sacrifices.
- A new seminary is in the planning stages near Charlotte, NC.
- The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, has expanded its seminary facilities to accommodate the increase in number of candidates.
- In 2003, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston was advised to close the seminary. But there are now 70 candidates. More surprisingly, the seminary has had to turn away candidates due to a lack of space.
- In 2011, there were 467 new priests ordained in the U.S. last year, up from 442 in 2001. Eighteen priests were ordained for Washington in 2011 and 26 for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Astoundingly, the Diocese of Lincoln (NE)—where Catholics are 16% of the population, ordained 10 priests in 2011.
Of course the critics will say, “There’s nothing like an economic downturn to stimulate vocations.” And, The Motley Monk would note that there is historical precedent to support that assessment. However, the much-touted end of the celibate male priesthood and glorious future of the U.S. Catholic Church featuring the ordination of women seems to be a Siren song that’s falling on deaf ears.
Beneath the radar, the winds of change—perhaps the authentic “signs of the times”—seem to be empowering the long-dormant turbines of seminaries. Popular books like “Full Pews and Empty Altars” and “The Death of Priesthood” may end up being the stuff of pulp fiction.
The Wall Street Journal is researching what may be transpiring beneath the radar. The article notes:
Our preliminary research on the correlates of priestly ordinations reveals that the dioceses with the largest numbers of new priests are led by courageous bishops with faithful and inspirational vocations offices.
Uh, oh! Success correlates with “intolerant” and “conservative” bishops, like the Most Reverend Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, NE.
Of course, many who populate the Catholic left don’t much like this trend and believe these young Catholic men who are being attracted to the priesthood by these conservative bishops have been characterized, shall The Motley Monk say, as being “somewhat unusual.”
It’s all been said before.
They are “conservative, even traditionalists” who “cling to extrinsics” to reinforce an immature self-image shaped by a domineering father, and are “pastorally insensitive.” Worse yet, these “John Paul II priests” don’t challenge Church teaching but dogmatically preach it. They view the Church as a hierarchy, not as a Quaker Meeting. And, worst of all, they are misogynists if not homophobes or potential pedophiles. In short, they will be the death of the U.S. Catholic Church.
“Just you wait and see, Motley Monk. You’ll be sorry.”
While many “Baby Boomer” priests and theologians continue to preach about the Holy Grail of the “unfulfilled promise” of Vatican II, these aging progressives and their Siren song criticizing the Church’s teachings about so-called “reproductive “rights,” homosexual marriage, and women’s ordination aren’t resonating with some young people in this generation.
The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, may have inserted his finger directly into the wound when he delivered a homily in which he pronounced liberal Catholicism “an exhausted project…parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.”
The truth is that the Church is countercultural, challenging American Catholics in this generation to turn way from the ideologies of secularism, materialism, and consumerism. Perhaps these so-called “John Paul II” and “Benedict XVI” priests will be well-equipped to evangelize the lapsed Catholic faithful and non-faithful alike. After all, these men grew up hearing nothing but the Siren song and looked beyond American Catholic progressives to the Roman Catholic Church for leadership and guidance.
But, as with all things of this world, The Motley Monk would note, “time will tell.” Ultimately, Divine Providence always will achieve its end, which is always nothing other than the good.
To read the Wall Street Journal article, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, click on the following link:
Now that the Weathervane is going to be the nominee it is time to start looking at the electoral map for the fall. Go here to view an interactive electoral map with my prediction of the outcome in November.
Actually, that is my cautious prediction based upon current conditions: Romney 291-Obama 247. I think it possible, perhaps probable, that either Wisconsin or Pennsylvania will also go Republican in the Presidential contest. With Pennsylvania the final tally would be Romney 311-Obama 227. With Wisconsin it is Romney 301-Obama 237. With both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania it is an electoral landslide of Romney 321-Obama 217. Continue reading
One hundred years ago Father Thomas Byles was journeying to New York City aboard the RMS Titanic to say the Mass at his brother William’s wedding.
Born on February 26, 1870, he was the eldest of seven children of a Congregationalist minister. While attending Oxford, from which he graduated in 1894, he converted to Catholicism. Ordained a priest in 1902, he was assigned to be the parish priest at Saint Helen’s in Ongar, Essex in 1905. The parish was poor and had few parishioners, but Father Byles was devoted to them and labored mightily for them until 1912 when he left to answer the call of his brother to celebrate his marriage.
Father Byles did not view his trip on the Titanic as a vacation from his priestly duties. He spent Saturday April 13, hearing confessions, and on Sunday April 14, he said two masses for the second and third class passengers. Continue reading
Maybe the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass. This echoes the injunctions of the Council Fathers in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and reflects our deeply held instinct that the majority of the texts contained in the Missal can and in many cases should be sung. This means not only the congregational acclamations of the Order of Mass, but also the orations, the chants in response to the readings, the Eucharistic prayer and the antiphons which accompany the Entrance, the Offertory, and the Communion processions. These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed by the Missal or the Graduale Romanum and as such a whole element of the liturgy of the day is lost or consigned to oblivion. For the most part, they exist only as spoken texts. We are much the poorer for this, as these texts (which are often either Scriptural or a gloss on the Biblical text) represent the Church’s own reading and meditation on the Scriptures. As chants, they are a sort of musical lectio divina pointing us towards the riches expressed in that day’s liturgy.
For this reason, I believe that it is seriously deficient to consider that planning music for the liturgy ever begins with a blank sheet: there are texts given for every Mass in the Missal and these texts are intended for singing.
Quasimodo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Quasi modo géniti infántes, rationábile, sine dolo lac concupíscite, ut in eo crescátis in salútem, allelúia.
Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation, alleluia.
[T]he attitude of a child is the truest and most profound attitude of a Christian before his Savior, who nourishes him with his Body and Blood … The word of Christ, which invites us to receive the Kingdom of God like a child (see Luke 18:17), can find its illustration in that very beautiful and impressive manner of receiving the Eucharistic Bread directly into one’s mouth and on one’s knees. This ritual manifests in an opportune and felicitous way the interior attitude of a child who allows himself to be fed, united to the gesture of the centurion’s humility and to the gesture of ‘wonder and adoration’ (Schneider, 29).
A happy ending. The bear was captured unharmed and the oblivious texter, and isn’t he a typical figure of our time, will now have something worth texting about!
We occasionally hold a reading group at our home in which someone brings a selection, and we read aloud. This past Thursday, we read through a short book (and essay, really) that I obtained back in 2009. It prompted me to dig up the review I wrote. Enjoy!
“It is true that if it is possible to receive on the tongue, one can also receive on the hand, both being bodily organs of equal dignity…. Yet, whatever the reasons put forth to sustain this practice, we cannot ignore what happens at the practical level when this method is used. This practice contributes to a gradual, growing weakening of the attitude of reverence toward the Scared Eucharistic Species. The earlier practice, on the other hand, better safeguards the sense of reverence. Instead, an alarming lack of recollection and an overall spirit of carelessness have entered into liturgical celebrations.”
The above words were written by the Most Reverend Malcom Ranjith, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in the Preface of a timely and concise book called Dominus Est!- It is the Lord! by the Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider. Archbishop Ranjith concludes his Preface, “I think it is now time to evaluate carefully the practice of Communion-in-the-hand and, if necessary, to abandon what was actually never called for in the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium nor by the Council Fathers but was, in fact, “accepted” after it was introduced as an abuse in some countries.”
This brief 33 page work by Bishop Schneider comes at a time when many in the Church are discussing postures during the Holy Mass. In fact, the publisher of the book muses that one cannot help but wonder whether the text itself had a role to play in the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to return to the traditional mode of distributing Communion at his Masses, on the tongue to kneeling communicants.
In order to answer this question of the correct posture for reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, we must divide the inquiry itself into two more refined questions. The first is, what is the most appropriate bodily response to the reality present in the Sacred Eucharistic Species? The second is, what are the practical implications of the suggested postures in forming our attitudes towards the God of the Universe who is fully present in the Sacrament? As noted in the previous post the fundamental principle of sacramentality is that the sacrament effects what it signifies. Therefore, not only must the postures with which we approach the Eucharist as well as our mode of reception conform to the dignity of the Sacrament itself, but also that same posture and mode of reception will affect the attitudes we form in regards to the Eucharist. In other words, our actions are not only indicative of our person, but also our person is formed by our actions.
Regarding the first question, the most appropriate bodily response to the reality present in the Sacred Eucharist Species, Bishop Schneider takes the reader through a vast array of evidence from the testimony of the Fathers of the Church, the Early Church, the Magisterium, the Liturgical Rites themselves, Holy Scripture, and finally the Eastern Churches and even the Protestant Communities. The tradition of the Church is unanimous in the insistence that the only proper response to an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ is to fall down on one’s knees.
It is interesting to note that the liturgical norms of the Church require a separate act of reverence and adoration if one receives standing, typically a bow. However, if one receives kneeling, no such gesture is required since kneeling is already a gesture of reverence and adoration. It is true that in the United States, as elsewhere in the world, when a dignitary enters the room, the people give their sign of respect by standing up. However, Jesus Christ is no mere dignitary. The fact that we stand for important persons necessitates that we have a separate, even more dignifying response to the God of the universe.
Regarding reception on the tongue, we begin with the principle that “the attitude of a child is the truest and most profound attitude of a Christian before his Savior, who nourishes him with his Body and Blood” (Schneider, 29). We can then see that,
“The word of Christ, which invites us to receive the Kingdom of God like a child (see Luke 18:17), can find its illustration in that very beautiful and impressive manner of receiving the Eucharistic Bread directly into one’s mouth and on one’s knees. This ritual manifests in an opportune and felicitous way the interior attitude of a child who allows himself to be fed, united to the gesture of the centurion’s humility and to the gesture of ‘wonder and adoration’” (Schneider, 29).
While issues regarding the proper posture of the individual due to the sacredness of the Sacrament, the very practical implication should not go overlooked. That is, it is in receiving on the tongue that we can best minimize the risks of losing even the tiniest particle of the Sacred Host. Quoting St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop Schneider exhorts us to “take care to lose no part of It [the Body of the Lord]. Such a loss would be the mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold-dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast, not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer? How much more carefully, then, will you guard against losing so much as a crumb of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?” (34). (St. Cyril lived in the fourth century.)
Regarding the second question, the practical implications of the suggested postures in forming our attitudes towards the God of the Universe who is fully present in the Sacrament, it is time, roughly 30 or 40 years after the practice of communion standing and in-the-hand became widespread, to ask ourselves the inevitable question. Did the experiment work? Have we seen greater Eucharistic reverence, or have we seen an increase in lackadaisical attitudes? Has attendance at Mass gone up or down? Are people better able to explain and internalize the Real Presence in the Eucharist? An honest evaluation of the state of Eucharistic Piety in our time is bound to be dismal and disappointing.
What, then, are we to do? Must we have a long, drawn out process of educating the laity before we can return to the posture and mode of reception that has been far more prevalent in the history of our Church? Perhaps Romano Guardini was ahead of his time in 1965 when he prophetically wrote, “The man of today is not capable of a liturgical act. For this action, it is not enough to have instruction or education; no, initiation is needed, which at root is nothing but the performance of the act” (quoted in Schneider, 47). This is a much more eloquent way of saying that orthopraxy will bring about orthodoxy. Right actions will educate and enliven doctrine. It should be pointed out that the Holy Father, in his return to distributing communion on the tongue while kneeling, seems to have subscribe to the advice of Guardini. He simply made the return, and the people have responded.
While the mode of reception is at the center of Biship Schneider’s book Dominus Est, the book is an inspiring exposition of how to best reverence the miracle of the Eucharistic Lord.
Hattip to Instapundit. As faithful readers of this blog know, I am, for my sins no doubt, an attorney. My bankruptcy practice has grown 20-25% each year of the Obama administration:
Tax refunds being used to pay for bankruptcy filings. “More than 200,000 money-strapped households will use their tax refunds this year to pay for bankruptcy filing and legal fees, says a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.” Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The song Captain Buffalo from the 1960 movie Sergeant Rutledge (1960), John Ford’s salute to the regular army black soldiers who fought in the West in post Civil War America. Called Buffalo Soldiers, the black troops made up the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. While confronting the extreme prejudice of that time, the troops earned accolades for their courage and professionalism. Continue reading
Judging from this statement on religious liberty issued yesterday, the Bishops understand that the stakes are very high indeed this year:
A Statement on Religious Liberty
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together. Freedom is not only for Americans, but we think of it as something of our special inheritance, fought for at a great price, and a heritage to be guarded now. We are stewards of this gift, not only for ourselves but for all nations and peoples who yearn to be free. Catholics in America have discharged this duty of guarding freedom admirably for many generations. In 1887, when the archbishop of Baltimore, James Gibbons, was made the second American cardinal, he defended the American heritage of religious liberty during his visit to Rome to receive the red hat. Speaking of the great progress the Catholic Church had made in the United States, he attributed it to the “civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic.” Indeed, he made a bolder claim, namely that “in the genial atmosphere of liberty [the Church] blossoms like a rose.”1 From well before Cardinal Gibbons, Catholics in America have been advocates for religious liberty, and the landmark teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty was influenced by the American experience. It is among the proudest boasts of the Church on these shores. We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today. We need, therefore, to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened. Now is such a time. As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad. This has been noticed both near and far. Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about his worry that religious liberty in the United States is being weakened. He called it the “most cherished of American freedoms”—and indeed it is. All the more reason to heed the warning of the Holy Father, a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom, in his recent address to American bishops:
Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience. Continue reading
I’d like to post a question that reader G-Veg sent to me regarding states and the primary process.
Cursory research suggests that the most common reason cited for states running Primaries is to avoid fraud. This is certainly the reason cited by Progressives in Teddy Roosevelt’s time for campaign reform. While not strictly focused on Primaries, 19th and early 20th Century Progressives made huge strides in dismantling political machines. (Interestingly, at least in Pennsylvania and New York, primary contests have been paid for and managed by the state for as far back as I could research on line. In Pennsylvania, for example, election officials ran primary contests at least as early as Lincoln’s election and there are records of New York City primaries for Mayor going back to 1850.)
Research suggests that we’ve been doing state paid for and managed primaries for quite some time with almost no thought as to whether there is even a legitimate state interest in the contests to begin with. I suggest that there is no legitimate interest and that state patronage is both unconstitutional and irrational.
First, I’ll note what we all know: that we have a “Two Party System” by default, not law. The Constitution of the United States makes no mention of the country’s political makeup or character. That reality gives particular significance to Washington’s warnings about factionalism.
Second, the argument that State sponsorship controls fraud is, itself, a farce. It does nothing of the kind because the “back room deals” Progressives sought to control continue to rule the process. It seems like a well-intentioned but failed experiment. It is an expensive one too. In Pennsylvania, for example, a statewide election, whether primary or general, costs a touch more than $1 million (2010).
Third, even if State sponsorship controlled a host of ill effects like fraud, disputed outcomes, and mob selections of candidates, the state has no interest in contests. So what if Party X chooses a union bullied candidate or one purchased lock, stock, and barrel by monied interests? Party X can do what it wishes. They can select by heredity if they want to. As long as there is a robust general election, how candidates get on the ballot is largely irrelevant.
Fourth, state paid for and managed primaries force out of elections many millions of qualified citizens because there can never be more than two “real” parties as long as the coercive powers of the state are used to keep alternatives marginalized and disenfranchized. Surely the state has an interest in promoting greater levels of public service among the citizenry and anything that discourages such participation should be overhauled.
For these reasons, I believe that states should stop paying for and managing primaries. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Personally I don’t think there’s much under the constitution that would allow the federal government to get the states out of elections, and any large-scale attempt to get the states out of the business may only enhance the power of the two-party system. But I’d like to hear thoughts on this.
“War means fighting. And fighting means killing.”
Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest
Hattip to my co-blogger Paul Zummo. One hundred and fifty years later we are still learning about the greatest war in US history, even in regard to such a basic fact of the conflict as the number of men killed in it:
For 110 years, the numbers stood as gospel: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — by far the greatest toll of any war in American history.
But new research shows that the numbers were far too low.
By combing through newly digitized census data from the 19th century, J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York, has recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000. Continue reading
I’ve had it suggested that I write about motherhood a bit; be careful what you ask for.
….Yeah, I’m posting on that. Some idiot talking head makes a slam at a grandmother with MS and everyone has to comment about it. I think I have something worth saying, though, rather than just talking about it because it’s big.
I’m a stay at home mom. A home-maker. A house wife.
I have worked outside the home, before I got married, in a very similar field—I was a Petty Officer in the Navy, specializing in calibration. (Making sure things that measure are accurate enough.) Before that, I was in another similar field, at least sort of—I was a ranch kid.
Perhaps some folks look at those things and are curious—what on earth is the connection between being a mother, working with cows and fixing stuff that’s used to fix planes and ships?
“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”
G. K. Chesterton
Ah poor Ireland. As the Faith has become weaker in the Emerald Isle, strange new gods are arising, and one of the strangest is Che Guevara, deceased Argentinian revolutionary and hero of politically correct fools everywhere. In Galway of all places the local government passed a measure approving of a memorial to Castro’s Himmler.
The minutes of Galway City Council’s meeting of Monday, 16 May 2011, include the following proposal: ‘That Galway City Council commit itself to honoring one of its own, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, descendant of two of our Tribes, the Lynch family of Lydican House, and the Blakes. The project to be furthered by liaising with the Argentinean and Cuban Embassies.’
Billy Cameron, an Irish Labor Party councillor in Galway, has scoffed at the claims made by fellow city councillors that they didn’t know they had voted to approve a monument in honor of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
That last comment is rich. What business is it of Ireland to honor a man who helped install a brutal tyranny in Cuba? Of course this is being done because nature abhors a vacuum, and without a belief in Christ, people will search for substitute religions and for many in the West Leftism of various stripes is the favored choice. It is gratifying that this attempt to honor “Saint” Che is drawing such fire. Castro’s hangman deserves it: Continue reading
Back in 2011 I reported that Mel Gibson was working on a screenplay about the Maccabean revolt. Go here to read the post. I hoped that this movie would help Gibson work out the personal demons that afflict him. Alas, such is not the case. The project has been shelved, and the screenwriter of the play Joe Eszterhas has unloaded on Gibson in a nine page letter that may be read here. (Caution as to strong language.) Mel Gibson is the most prominent Catholic of his generation in Hollywood. His Passion of the Christ is a masterful film that inspired, and inspires, huge numbers of people around the globe. To see him destroy his life and reputation since then has been painful. Gibson needs our prayers and a swift kick in the hind end.
Update I: Hattip to commenter Chris P. Go here to read Gibson’s response to the Eszterhas letter.
Update II: Go here to read Eszterhas’ response to Gibson.
Ever since Congressman Paul Ryan announced his budget plan, claiming that it was inspired by his understanding of Catholic social teaching (CST) in general and subsidiarity in particular, old debates about the meaning of CST have flared up once again. Michael Sean Winters of NCR blasted Ryan’s conception of “subsidiarity”; then Stephen White of Catholic Vote critiqued some of Winter’s own oversimplifications. Since everyone and their aunt in the Catholic blogosphere will weigh in on this at some point, I’ll get it over with and throw in my two-cents now.
First: I do believe that some of Ryan’s statements are oversimplifications. For instance, he claimed that subsidiarity and federalism were more or less synonyms for one another. They are not. Stephen White pointed out that these concepts are complimentary, however, and they are.
Secondly: Winters, and he is not alone in this, repeats Vatican statements about “access” to health care as if they were an exact equivalent with Obamacare or other types of government-run healthcare schemes. As White pointed out, Winters presents his leftist policy preferences as non-negotiable points of CST.
Third: I think the entire framework of this discussion needs a serious overhaul.
I am happy to be blogging at The American Catholic, which I have always known to be one of the most significant blogs covering the intersection of politics and the Faith. To have a public space in which Catholics are not expected to apologize for being Americans or espousing American values is more important today than perhaps it has ever been. And it is my belief that the values that have defined America are not incompatible with the truths of the Catholic faith, but are in many respects extensions of them.
So let me tell you about myself and what you can expect from me.
By education and profession, I am a political theorist. I greatly enjoy exploring Catholic Social Teaching, particularly the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII. I don’t have much to say about theological or liturgical disputes, though I will let it be known that I frequent the Latin Mass.
I espouse political views that can be classifed as “paleo”, whether they are paleo-conservative or paleo-libertarian (depending on the issue). My political influences are John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Pope Leo XIII, the Austrian school of economics, Pat Buchanan, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Thomas Woods Jr., and of course, Ron Paul, the man who converted me to the paleo-political diet in the first place.
I am not the least bit ashamed of Catholic history. I do not apologize for the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or any of the other “black legends” that were spread by the lying enemies of the Church. I do not believe that the history of the Church has been one of terrible crimes against humanity for which she must atone. On the contrary, I am an unahsamed cultural elitist. I believe Western Christian culture is the best thing to ever happen to humanity, providing us with the most magnificent technology, art, architecture, and moral values known on the planet, and that none of it would have been possible without the guidance of the Catholic Church.
I don’t bow to political correctness, and that includes the right-wing version alongside the more familiar left-wing version. Chances are I will offend you at some point if I haven’t already. At the same time, there is no position I take that I am not willing to defend with arguments, and there are many issues I would be willing to change my mind on.
Again, its a pleasure to be here!
It’s Easter, so naturally it’s time for idiocy like Newsweek’s cover story written by Andrew Sullivan. It looks like Sullivan has added theologian to his list of other professions, which include pundit and gynecologist. It’s about what you’d expect from the combination of Newsweek and Sullivan. Christianity is dying and it’s because of all those stuffed-shirts who have distorted Jesus’s message.
Fr. Barron is on the case, and he completely dismantles Sullivan. A few highlights:
The solution Sullivan proposes is a repristinizing of Christianity, a return to its roots and essential teachings. And here he invokes, as a sort of patron saint, Thomas Jefferson, who as a young man literally took a straight razor to the pages of the New Testament and cut out any passages dealing with the miraculous, the supernatural, or the resurrection and divinity of Jesus.
The result of this Jeffersonian surgery is Jesus the enlightened sage, the teacher of timeless moral truths concerning love, forgiveness and non-violence. Both Jefferson and Sullivan urge that this Christ, freed from churchly distortions, can still speak in a liberating way to an intelligent and non-superstitious audience.
As the reference to Jefferson should make clear, there is nothing particularly new in Sullivan’s proposal. The liberation of Jesus the wisdom figure from the shackles of supernatural doctrine has been a preoccupation of much of the liberal theology of the last 200 years.
The Jefferson “Bible” is, if nothing else, an impressive work of art. Jefferson took passages from Scripture written in English, Latin, Greek, and French. He carefully pasted the passages side-by-side. It’s an awesome display of craftsmanship. Of course it completely distorts the life and mission of Christ and turns our Lord and Saviour into nothing more than a wise philosopher. It’s a good representation of Jefferson’s uber-rationalistic mindset, and part of an extended effort to de-fang the real Christ.
Fr. Barron has more.
The first problem with this type of theorizing is that it has little to do with the New Testament. As Jefferson’s Bible makes clear, the excision of references to the miraculous, to the resurrection, and to the divinity of Jesus delivers to us mere fragments of the Gospels.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were massively interested in the miracles and exorcisms of Jesus and they were positively obsessed with his dying and rising. The Gospels have been accurately characterized as “passion narratives with long introductions.”
Further, the earliest Christian texts that we have are the epistles of St. Paul, and in those letters that St. Paul wrote to the communities he founded, there are but a tiny handful of references to the teaching of Jesus. What clearly preoccupied Paul was not the moral doctrine of Jesus, but the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Indeed, by removing the miracles and resurrection from the account of Jesus’s life you’ve almost completely stripped his mission of any meaning.
And this leads to the second major problem with a proposal like Sullivan’s. It offers absolutely no challenge to the powers that be. It is precisely the bland and harmless version of Christianity with which the regnant culture is comfortable.
Go back to Peter’s sermon for a moment. “You killed him,” said the chief of Jesus’s disciples. The “you” here includes the power structures of the time, both Jewish and Roman, which depended for their endurance in power on their ability to frighten their subjects through threats of lethal punishment.
“But God raised him.” The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the clearest affirmation possible that God is more powerful than the corrupt and violent authorities that govern the world — which is precisely why the tyrants have always been terrified of it. When the first Christians held up the cross, the greatest expression of state-sponsored terrorism, they were purposely taunting the leaders of their time: “You think that frightens us?”
The opening line of the Gospel of Mark is a direct challenge to Rome: “beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). “Good news” (euangelion in Mark’s Greek) was a term used to describe an imperial victory. The first Christian evangelist is saying, not so subtly, that the real good news hasn’t a thing to do with Caesar.
Rather, it has to do with someone whom Caesar killed and whom God raised from the dead. And just to rub it in, he refers to this resurrected Lord as the “Son of God.” Ever since the time of Augustus, “Son of God” was a title claimed by the Roman emperor. Not so, says Mark. The authentic Son of God is the one who is more powerful than Caesar.
Again and again, Sullivan says that he wants a Jesus who is “apolitical.” Quite right — and that’s just why the cultural and political leaders of the contemporary West will be perfectly at home with his proposal. A defanged, privatized, spiritual teacher poses little threat to the status quo.
This is a great passage, and one of the reasons that Fr. Barron is truly a treasure. I love how he completely turns around Sullivan’s argument and makes him the champion of the status quo. It’s a really great insight, and one that completely sticks it to Dr. Sullivan. Well played.
(Thanks RL for the tip.)