Wednesday, December 3, 2014

God bless Mary McCarthy, who left the Catholic Church but paid affectionate homage to the Catholic culture of her childhood

Thirty-four people showed up at my home for Thanksgiving--my favorite holiday. Gathered around the television, we watched home movies of my wife Kim's family that were recorded during the early 1960s.

The movies were in no chronological order, and taken together they comprised a montage of Catholic family life during the mid-20th century, when Catholic kids still went to Catholic schools. For me the most moving segment was a home movie of my sister-in-law Cindy's first communion.  I saw a large group of children--75 or 80 I would estimate--all dressed in white and marching in two neat columns into Holy Family Church in Port Allen, Louisiana. Nuns (Marianites, I believe) wearing long black habits with stiff white bonnets that looked like huge visors herded the kids along and kept them in line. A priest briefly appeared on screen wearing a long black cassock and an old-fashioned biretta, looking very much like Bing Crosby in Going My Way.

As an adult Catholic convert, I confess that I have a tendency to romanticize American Catholic culture during the pre-Vatican II years.  I like to think of this as the golden era of American Catholicism, when families built wholesome lives around their parish churches and Catholic schools.

But what do I know? I grew up in a repressive Protestant family in southwestern Oklahoma where there were very few Catholics.  I did not come into the Church until I was an adult, many years after Vatican II shook the Church so profoundly. What was Catholic life really like in the United States prior to Vatican II?

Mary McCarthy, one of America's great 20th century novelists, had a Catholic childhood, which she described in a wonderful little book entitled Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Although she later lapsed from Catholicism, she wrote about it with bittersweet affection in her memoirs.  I would like to share a few brief passages:
'My mother is a Child of Mary,' I used to tell other children . . . . My mother, not long after her marriage, was converted to Catholicism, and though I did not know what a Child of Mary was (actually a member of a sodality of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart), I knew it was something wonderful from the way my mother spoke of it. She was proud and happy to be a convert, and her attitude made us feel that it was a special treat to be a Catholic, the crowning treat and privilege. Our religion was a present to us from God. Everything in our home life conspired to fix in our minds the idea that we were very precious little persons, precious to our parents and to God, too, who was listening to us with loving attention every night when we said our prayers. 'It gave you a basic complaisancy,' a psychoanalyst once told me (I think he mean 'complacency'), but I do not recall feeling smug, exactly. It was, rather, a sense of wondering, grateful privilege. 
A few pages on, McCarthy made a remarkably humble confession: "Looking back," McCarthy wrote, "I see it was religion that saved me." She wrote quite movingly of the beauty and splendor of ordinary Catholic life during her childhood years.
Our ugly church and parochial school provided me with my only aesthetic outlet, in the words of the Mass and the litanies and the old Latin hymns, in the Easter lilies around the altar, rosaries, ornamented prayer books, votive lamps, holy cards stamped in gold and decorated with flower wreathes and a saint's picture. This side of Catholicism, much of it cheapened and debased by mass production, was for me, nevertheless, the equivalent of Gothic cathedrals and illuminated manuscripts and mystery plays. I threw myself into it with ardour, this sensuous life . . . .
As I said, McCarthy left Catholicism, and she writes critically and clearly about the Catholic faith of her childhood. There were two distinct strains of Catholicism, she wrote.  "There was the Catholicism I learned from my mother and from the simple parish priests and nuns in Minneapolis, which was, on the whole, a religion of beauty and goodness."

But there was another strain that was not so beautiful. This was the strain of Catholicism, McCarthy wrote, that was practiced by her Grandmother McCarthy: "a sour, baleful doctrine in which  old hates and rancours had been stewing for generations, with ignorance proudly stirring the pot."

Mary McCarthy
In the end, McCarthy concluded, "religion is only good for good people" because '[o]nly good people can afford to be religious." For others, McCarthy believed, religion provides "too great a temptation--a temptation to the deadly sins of pride and anger, chiefly, but one might also add sloth." In fact, McCarthy believed her Grandmother McCarthy "would have been a better woman if she had been an atheist or an agnostic."

I am grateful for Mary McCarthy's reflections about her Catholic girlhood. She wrote with remarkable maturity and balance about a Catholic faith that offered great beauty but also had its ugly side.

Let's say a prayer for Mary McCarthy and strive to live as Mary McCarthy's mother lived--with gratitude and joy that God has offered us the "crowning treat and privilege" of being Catholic.


Mary McCarthy. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Hammondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1957.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pope Francis Is Right; Capital Punishment is Wrong

Late last month, Pope Francis spoke out against the death penalty. Addressing a delegation from the International Association of Penal Law, the Pope said this: "All Christians and men of good faith are therefore called upon today to fight . . . for the abolition of the death penalty--whether it is legal or illegal, and in all its forms . . . ."

Pope Francis also spoke out against life sentences. In fact, in the Pope's mind, opposition to the death penalty is linked to opposition to life sentences, since a sentence for life without the opportunity for parole "is a hidden death sentence."

God bless Pope Francis for speaking out on the issue on  capital punishment. Pope John Paul II also opposed the death penalty, which he condemned as "both cruel and unnecessary." In a 1999 homily, John Paul said that"[m]odern society has the means of protecting itself without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."

Unfortunately, capital punishment has not yet been condemned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  As Kathy Schiffer pointed out in her thoughtful blog essay on Pope Francis's comments, the Catechism states as follows:
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
The Catechism goes on to say this:
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
In short, as Kathy Schiffer correctly summarized, the Church's present position is that capital punishment should be used only rarely.  

As a Catholic, I hope Pope Francis will continue to publicly oppose the death penalty in all civil societies.  Surely both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II are right to condemn this heartless practice, which dehumanizes society as a whole.

Catholics confront the reality of capital punishment every time they attend a Mass or contemplate the crucifixes that many Catholics display in their homes. Christ died a horrible, gruesome death--hung naked on a tree and forced to lift his nail-implanted feet just to breath until he finally died of blood loss and asphyxiation. 

Surely, as Catholics, we are called upon to oppose any kind of execution by the instruments of government, whether by hanging, firing squad, electrocution, or lethal injection. In the way that he died, our Savior calls on us to respect the dignity of life--every life, even the life of the most hardened criminal. After all, Christ reassured St. Dismas on the cross that he would join Christ in paradise on the day of his death.

Catholic opposition to capital punishment is also a way of honoring all our saints and martyrs who died horrible deaths for their faith. Indeed, some of them died deaths by methods even  more cruel than the cross.  During the rein of Queen Elizabeth I, Catholics were publicly hanged, drawn, and quartered, which meant that they were first hanged by the neck, taken down while still conscious, and then eviscerated and sometimes even castrated while still alive.  Their bodies were then pulled apart (quartered) to the delight of watching crowds. St. Edward Campion was executed in just this way.

St. Edward Campion
Capital punishment, whether in its most benign or most malevolent form, degrades the societies that practice it, including the United States.  Our detractors point out that Catholics are far more vociferous  when opposing abortion than we are when speaking out against capital punishment; and they are right.

Let us follow the examples of Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II and speak out publicly against the death penalty. And let us support an amendment to the Catechism that makes it clear that capital punishment is contrary to the Catholic faith.


Kathy Schiffer, Pope Francis Opposes Capital Punishment; Calls Life Sentences for Violent Criminals "A Hidden Death Penalty." Seasons of Grace blog site, October 23, 2014. Accessible at:

The Death Penalty and the Catholic Church. Accessible at:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Blessed are the poor":The Synod on the Family Should Listen to the Voices of Catholic Africa

Cardinal emeritus Walter Kasper raised a ruckus a few days ago when he said in an interview that African Catholics should not tell the Vatican's synod on the family what to do and admitted that African Catholics are not being listened to at the synod. Basically, Cardinal Kasper implied, the Africans are just a bunch of dummkopfs when it comes to doctrinal matters.

Cardinal Walter Kasper discounts the voices of the African bishops.
The Cardinal denied his dismissive remarks about African Catholics, which some commentators interpreted as being arrogant and xenophobic. But Edward Pentin, the reporter who interviewed the Cardinal for Zenit, stuck by his story; and the interview was recorded.

What's this about? Some cardinals at the synod on the family want to liberalize Church doctrine on family issues and sexual morality, but the African Catholics are far more conservative than the Europeans and North Americans--especially on the issue of sexuality.  And Cardinal Kasper basically said the synod wasn't listening to the African Catholic point of view.

I am not an expert on African Catholicism, but I have visited East Africa on five occasions over the last decade. I have attended Mass at the cathedrals in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and a downtown Catholic church in Kampala. And I have shared communion in Catholic churches in the Tanzanian highlands that were nothing more than mud-brick huts.  I will never forget seeing stations of the cross made from construction paper and pinned to a a mud-brick church wall of a little chapel in the Mbeya Diocese near the Zambian border.

I am not worthy to comment on Catholic doctrine, but I have seen the power of Catholicism in one of the most impoverished regions of the earth. In East Africa, the Catholic population is exploding and there is an abundance of priests and nuns. People who survive on little more than corn mush find their strength and joy in the Eucharist, often walking many miles to participate in the Mass.  And they have remained true to their faith even though it is sometimes dangerous to do so, especially in Africa's Muslim areas, where Catholic priests have been attacked.

"Blessed are the poor," Christ reminded us; and the Catholic Church has always been the church of the poor. So surely it is fitting that the Catholic Church is strong and vibrant in Africa while it shrivels away in the most prosperous and cynical districts of postmodern Europe and North America.

God has blessed the poor and exploited Africans with an abundance of faith. Surely we should listen to the African Catholic voice as the Catholic Church gropes its way forward in a hostile world. Cardinal Kasper apparently wants harmony at the synod--harmony on his terms. But Cardinal Kasper may be leading the Church astray. If the African cardinals, who minister to the poorest Catholics on earth, bring disharmony to the synod, then perhaps disharmony is needed.

We know God is listening to the debates at the Vatican's synod on the family. Whose voices will be most pleasing to the ears of God--the voices of the rich, who often want nothing more than an easy life, or the voices of the poor? We know the answer to that question. So let us listen to the voices of the poor.  Let us listen to the voices of African Catholics at the Vatican's synod on the family.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Frank Bruni's got a good gig: The New York Times pays him a nice wage to spew anti-Catholic prejudice

In 1922, a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen kidnapped a Catholic priest in the rural Texas Hill Country, intending to whip, beat and terrorize him. Fortunately, the priest's servant slipped away undetected while the abduction was taking place and sounded the alarm.

Catholic farmers, mostly Germans, got in their cars and gave chase.  As I heard the story, the cavalcade of rescuers got longer and longer as more Catholic farmers joined in the pursuit, chasing the cowardly Klan in their 1920s jalopies.  Eventually, the Klansmen became so frightened that they pushed the priest out of a moving car and made their escape.

I love this story, which is true, because it is a reminder to all Catholics that we have an obligation to fight back when our faith is attacked. That is why I try to respond in this blog ever time a New York Times writer vilifies the Catholic Church.

Times op ed essayist Frank Bruni is the worst offender. Month after month, Bruni spews his anti-Catholic prejudice in the Times.  In fact, he has attacked the Catholic Church so often that his columns have become repetitive and boring.

Indeed, most of Bruni's venomous essays against Catholicism follow a template that contains these elements:

1) First, Bruni attacks some element of Catholic doctrine--usually a Catholic teaching on sexual morality.

2) Second, Bruni usually contains some flattering remarks about Pope Francis. Apparently, Bruni thinks he can persuade the Pope to change Catholic doctrine by buttering him up.

3) Third, Bruni's essays often hints that the Church's stance on sexual morality is driving lay Catholics out of the Church.
4)Fourth,  Bruni often rounds up a cranky Catholic dissident to provide a quote  that buttresses Bruni's criticisms of our Church.

I envision a large rolodex on Bruni's desk that contains the names and phone numbers of dissident Catholics who apparently stand by, ever ready to provide just the right barb to support Bruni's blather. Bruni's most recent column has a quote from James Martin, an alleged Jesuit, and Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theology professor at Boston College, reputedly a Catholic institution. 

Catholics have been the victims of bigotry since the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, but we have always fought back. After the Philadelphia Bible Riots, for example, when anti-Catholic Nativists burned several Philadelphia Catholic churches,  Bishop Hughes of New York told the New York City officials that Irish Catholics would basically destroy the city if even one Catholic church was damaged.

And during the early twentieth century, the Knights of Columbus prosecuted anti-Catholic bigots for criminal libel.  As late as the 1950s, a South Texas Protestant preacher was arrested for defaming the Knights of Columbus.  Those were the days!

So let us protest and respond every time someone attacks our Church in the press.  It is wearisome to rebut Bruni's op ed attacks in the Times, but we cannot let the Times writers assault our faith month after month and year after year without registering some protest.

Over the centuries, the most frightening reigns of terror began with mild criticism that eventually swelled into violence. It is deeply disturbing that the Times has allowed Frank Bruni to attack the Catholic faith on a regular basis over a period of years. Shame on the Times and shame on the postmodern culture that nurtures such a deep hostility to the Roman Catholic Church.


Bruni, Frank. The Church's Gay Obsession. New York Times, October 5, 2014, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Must have been a slow news day: David Barash argues in the New York Times that religion and science are not compatible

A Canadian friend told me the story of his Catholic mother who heard a guest priest deliver the homily at Sunday Mass. The priest was a theology professor, and his sermon was so full of scholarly  mumbo jumbo that the congregation had no idea what he was talking about.

When Mass concluded, the priest stood at the door to greet the departing parishioners. "I don't care what you say," my friend's mother told the scholarly priest. "I still believe in God.

I thought of that story as I read David Barash's essay in the Sunday Times, arguing that science and religious belief cannot be reconciled.  Barash insists that  evolution is no longer just a theory but "the underpinning of all biological science."

David P. Barash
Human beings are indeed complicated, he goes on to say, but that does not mean that humanity was divinely created. Rather, since Darwin, "we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness."

And, Barash continues, "[l]iving things are indeed wonderfully complex but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon."

 Moreover, Barash argues, there is nothing unique about human beings that distinguish us from other animals. "[N]o literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens," Barash maintains. "[W]e are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism."

In short, in Barash's views, we are just animals.  I suppose all that distinguishes Barash from the crocodiles is that he has tenure at the University of Washington and a listing in Wikipedia.

Why does the New York Times  print this drivel? Does it believe some benighted Christian is going to read David Barash's essay and proclaim, "I have seen the light!" and quit the Methodist Church?

After all, Barah's critiques of religion are not exactly hot news. Madelyn Murray O'Hare made a good living as a professional atheist back in the 1980s.

I think the Times prints this stuff because atheistic intellectualism peddled by pinhead professors like Barash reinforces the postmodern world view of its readers. Barash's view--that humans are nothing more than highly developed animals, fits perfectly with the postmodernist philosophy that all values are relative, that there are no ultimate truths and that we are all free to seek power, fame, money, and sexual gratification--which is very much the world view of lions, tigers, and python snakes.

I don't claim to be a learned biological scientist like Barash apparently is. But I'm not stupid. I graduated with honors from one of the nation's top law schools (University of Texas) and I have a doctorate from Harvard (although I admit that is no big deal).  And yet I know in my heart that people are not just advanced animals.

No, we are human beings, and all humanity lives in the palm of God's hand. And I believe the Christian story that is the foundation of the Catholic faith. I believe in the core of my being that God entered history in the form of Jesus Christ, and I am strengthened at each Mass by Christ's real presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Evolutionists like Barash like to think that people with religious beliefs are anti-intellectuals--maybe just plain stupid. But St. Thomas Aquinas argued, successfully I believe, that we can come to accept the existence of God through our intellect.

It is true that the Catholic faith goes beyond a mere belief in God. Catholics are in fact a mystical people. We believe in the intersession of the saints, in Mary's participation in God's plan for salvation, and in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist.  And of course we believe that men and women are more than animals rooting around for food and sex.

Young people who take Professor Barash's courses or courses from other postmodern professors will be attempted to abandon their Catholic faith. But I urge young people to do your own thinking. Read something other than what your professors tell you to read. Read How To Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski, for example.  Budziszewski is as smart as anyone a student is likely to meet on a college campus. In fact, he might even be smarter than Professor Barash. And Budziszewski is a Catholic.

And I recommend another book for people who need an antidote to postmodern gibberish like the stuff that Professor Barash slings about.  Read G.K. Chesterton's very short book entitled Catholicism and Conversion.

As for me, when I am tempted to abandon my faith to the sophistry of our modern age, I  meditate on the saints.  Why did Dorothy Day live as she lived? Why did Edith Stein die as she died? Why did Maximilian Kolbe volunteer to be starved to death in an Auschwitz bunker? Why did St. Kateri Tekawitha devote her miserable life to being a witness to the Catholic faith? Why did Father Damien live his life in a lepers colony on the island of Molokai?

I consider myself to be an intellectual. Yet as I have gotten older my faith has become more simple. I have come to believe that when I die I will be enfolded in the loving arms of God.  In some mysterious way, I believe I will be joined to the communion of saints throughout eternity.

What eternity will be like for me, I am not certain. But I feel quite sure I will be spending very little of it reading op ed essays in the New York Times, although I might find time to read Barish's recent book, Buddhist Biology.


Barash, David P. God, Darwin and My College Biology Class. New York Times, September 28,2014, Sunday Review section, p. 5.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

News Flash! General Franco is Still Dead and Frank Bruni is Still Upset With the Catholic Church

Chevy Chase mocked deceased General Francisco Franco during the first season of Saturday Night Live, reporting on his nightly news spoof that "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is Still Dead."  The gag went on for two years, according to a Wikipedia article on this very topic.

Maybe Saturday Night Live needs a fresh spoof. How about this? "Frank Bruni is still upset with the Catholic Church."  Today's New York Times ran another of Bruni's attack essays against Catholicism. This time he reported that a Catholic priest in Montana denied communion to two men who recently got married in Seattle.

I agree with Mr. Bruni that all people should be treated with respect and that no one should be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. But the Church's stance on sexual morality forms part of the Church's core doctrine, and it is not going to change simply because Mr. Bruni continually criticizes the Church in the New York Times.  And flattering Pope Francis (as Mr. Bruni often does in his columns) will not make the Pope rewrite the Catechism.

Frankly, I don't get it. The Catholic Church's position on marriage is basically identical to the doctrine of the Mormon Church and the Southern Baptist Church. But Bruni and the New York Times don't constantly criticize those denominations.

Sometimes I think the the Times has a 24-hour hot line for disaffected Catholics, a line that automatically rolls over to Frank Bruni's cell phone. It seems like the Times never passes up an opportunity to undermine the Catholic Church.  Just last week, the Times reported that Vice President Biden was chummy with a group of disaffected nuns--a real non-story if ever there was one.

I suspect the Times and Bruni think that these relentless attacks will eventually cause people to leave the Catholic Church.  In fact, Bruni quotes Andrew Sullivan, another unhappy Catholic, as saying, "There is only so much inhumanity that a church can be seen to represent before its own members lose faith in it."

And of course some people have left the Catholic Church.  There are thousands of people who refer to themselves as "recovering Catholics," as if the faith they forsook is a disease.

But the Church is still strong in the U.S.--there are 70 million of us, and the Catholic churches in my part of the country are packed. Frank Bruni's essays may cause some Catholics to abandon their faith, but not all of them.

As I have said before, millions of Catholic died for their faith during the twentieth century. A small number were canonized--St.Edith Stein, St. Maximilian Kolbe and a few people who were killed by the Calles regime during Mexico's Cristero rebellion--but most died obscure deaths and have been forgotten.  A couple of million Polish Catholics were murdered by the Nazis and who remembers them?

But I am inspired by people who refused to renounce their Catholic faith even when faced with death. Does Frank Bruni think his repetitive and petty carping will weaken us?

If the Times is really serious about undermining the Catholic faith in the United States, it is going to have to do more than underwrite Frank Bruni. It is going to have to invest in some concentration camps.

Still dead and Frank Bruni is still upset with the Catholic Church


Bruni, Frank. 'I Do' Means You're Done. New York Times, September 24, 2014, p. A29.

Generalissimo Franco is still dead. Wikipedia. Accessible at

Friday, September 19, 2014

The New York Times Gets It Wrong Again: Jason Horowitz's Article About Joe Biden and Dissident Nuns Contains 2 Errors and One Glaring Omission

Jason Horowitz's article in the New York Times about Vice President Joe Biden's affection for a group of dissident nuns contains two major errors and one glaring omission.

First, contrary to the assertion in Mr. Horowitz's article, the Vatican is not unhappy with the dissidents because they pay "too much attention to social justice and too little to promoting church teaching on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage."

The Vatican has never criticized any order of nuns for paying too much attention to social justice. I defy Mr. Horowitz to give me one example of any communication from the Vatican that criticizes or reprimands any order of nun or any individual nun for paying too much attention to social justice.

This is not the first time that the Times has distorted the conflict between the Vatican and Network, a group of dissident nuns who have publicly disagreed with fundamental Church doctrine on such issues as the priesthood and sexual morality. The Times seems to think it is not possible for someone to be a social justice activist and an orthodox Catholic. Apparently, no one at the Times has ever heard of Dorothy Day.

Second, Mr. Horowitz also wrote that "President Obama "has long ties with Catholic activism."  That isn't accurate either. Mr. Obama once had a job that was funded at least in part by a Catholic agency, but it is a fantasy to say that the President has long ties with Catholic activism. In fact, Mr. Obama has shown utter disdain for the Catholic Church throughout his presidency.

What's wrong with this picture?
Finally, Mr. Horowitz omitted any mention of the fact that Mr. Biden is an apostate Catholic who supports abortion in direct contradiction to core Catholic doctrine. Some Catholic politicians have been denied communion for supporting abortion--Kathleen Sebelius, for example, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services.

To my knowledge, Mr. Biden has not been denied the sacraments because of his pro-abortion stance; but Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs has said that Vice President Biden should be denied access to communion for this reason.

I'm sure millions of Catholics agree with Bishop Sheridan. If Biden thinks he won any votes for the Democratic Party by hamming it up with a group of cranky, dissident nuns, I'm sure he is very much mistaken.


Horowitz, Jason. Biden, Drawing on His Past, Expresses Common Cause with Activist Nuns. New York Times, September 18, 2014, p. A18.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Viva Cristo Rey, Y'All! American Catholicism is a lot stronger than its critics believe--especially in the South

Stephan Beale wrote an excellent essay in Crisis Magazine, arguing that the Catholic Church is becoming the most important refuge for Christians in America's post-Christian age. Beale challenged assertions made by Carl Trueman, who argued in a First Things essay that Reformed Protestantism is the proper refuge for today's Christians.

Beale makes a sturdy argument that the Roman Catholic Church is stronger than many people think.  As he accurately pointed out, the Catholic Church is booming in the South. Many people interpret the growth as being almost solely attributable to a growing Hispanic population in the South, but that is incorrect.

In North Texas, for example, the Catholic Church has exploded. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, Catholics have grown from about 2 percent of the population in the 1970s to about 25 percent of the population today.  The large Hispanic community in the Dallas area accounts for some of this growth, but not all of it.  St. Ann's Church in the north Dallas suburb of Coppell, is one of the largest Catholic parishes in the United States, with 6 Sunday Masses; and most of its members are Anglos.

And Texas, for some mysterious reason, seems to be particularly receptive to the Anglican Rite movement. Texas is home to six Anglican Rite Churches, all of them large parishes, that left the Episcopal Church to enter the Catholic Church as a body.  That is truly remarkable.

It is true that the Catholic Church has declined in the Northeast--in Boston and New York, in particular.  Philip Lawler's book, The Faithful Departed, accurately describes the collapse of Catholic culture in Boston--a sorrowful tale indeed. I think Catholics need to come to terms with the magnitude of the collapse of Catholic culture in the industrial Northeast--it is truly shocking.

In my view, the Northeast needs a huge spiritual revival, much like the one that Germany experienced during the 1860s and 1870s, when Germans responded to fervent preaching from evangelists from the religious orders, notably the Jesuits.  The Northeast needs strong religious evangelists--or maybe even lay evangelists, to remind Northeasterners of the splendor of the faith.

Regardless of how the Northeast goes, however, we should be heartened by the spectacular growth of Catholicism in the South.  In Louisiana, I myself have sponsored three men and three women who have  left  Protestantism to come into the Catholic Church; and I am certain that many Southern Protestants and nonreligious Southerners could be evangelized if only they were apprised of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This one mysterious and powerful tenet of our faith would bring hundreds of thousands of Americans into the Church if only they were confronted with it.

It is true, as Beale acknowledged, that the Catholic Church is being attacked all over the country, particularly in the North. As he noted, the Church has had to get out of the adoption business because it refuses to place orphans in the homes of same-sex couples.

But suffering will make us stronger. If Catholicism survived the persecutions and terrors of 20th century totalitarian--the Nazis, the Stalinists, the Maoists, the Calles regime in Mexico--we can certainly survive American postmodernism.

And we need to remind ourselves that Catholicism is stronger than the media elite thinks it is. The New York Times and other Northeastern based media, like to report on the decline of religiosity because they see the Church's decline in the Northeast and because they want to believe that Catholicism is on the wane.  Times writer Frank Bruno has already prepared our obituary and made funeral arrangements.  I think he's picked out a tasteful coffin for us.

But to all this postmodern nonsense, I say this: Viva Cristo Rey!  We will cling to the Ancient Faith and we will take strength from our saints and martyrs:  Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe, Dorothy Day, the Uganda Martyrs, the heroes who died during the Cristero Rebellion, and the unnamed millions of Catholics who died in Eastern Europe at the hands of the Nazis.

If these Catholic saints and martyrs were strong enough to stand up for their faith under great trials and hardships, surely we can stand up to the postmodern media and the anti-religious Obamacrats. And let us take heart from this simple demographic fact: the Catholic Church is on the move in the South.  Viva Cristo Rey, Y'all!.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hey, Frank Bruni, leave us the hell alone: A Catholic's reflections during Mass in Arroy Seco, New Mexico

Of all the witless essays that Frank Bruni has written in recent years on the subject of religion, "Between Godliness and Godlessness," the essay he wrote in a recent Sunday issue of the New York Times, may be his most idiotic.

Like most of the New York Times's stable of commentators, Bruni often finds the inspiration for his columns in public opinion  polls and best-selling books. Currently, Bruni is enamored with Sam Harris, who obtained his 15 minutes of fame in 2004 by writing a book on atheism. Apparently, Harris wants another 15 minutes of notoriety, because he has another book coming out soon--also on the topic of atheism.

According to Bruni, Harris's new book will argue that much of what people seek from religious faith can be obtained outside organized religion. In other words, the meaning of life which many people find in their religious faith can be found in the natural world through such activities as meditation, listening to music, communing with nature, and (presumably) from reading Sam Harris's books. 

Of course, Bruni and Harris aren't the first people to try to discern the meaning of life on their own terms. In fact, both men are late to the party. King Henry VIII, Martin Luther, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and thousands of inspirational speakers have cobbled together self-constructed spiritual castles based on their own psychic, political, or spiritual desires--or sometimes just to make a buck.

In fact, Bruni's recent essay reminded me of  a New York Times essay that T.L. Luhrmann wrote awhile back describing a man who created is own god to help him lose weight. Hey--whatever floats your boat!

In my opinion, Frank Bruni is trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to undermine Americans' religious faith and the faith of American Catholics in particular. He has certainly attacked the Catholic Church on numerous occasions. It's OK, he insinuated in his recent Times column, to have spiritual longings. Just try to fulfill them outside the faith and traditions of historical Christianity.

I thought about Bruni's essay while attending Mass recently at Holy Trinity Church in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, in the upper Rio Grande Valley. Catholicism entered this part of the world when Spanish Explorer Juan de Oñate led a party of soldiers and settlers up the Rio Grande Valley from El Paso in 1598.  The Spanish founded Santa Fe in 1610, 10 years before the Pilgrims planted their self-righteous feet on Plymouth Rock; and Taos was founded around 1615.  Arroyo Seco, located just a few miles from Taos, must have been founded in the very early 17th century.

Thus, Catholics have been celebrating Mass in or around Arroyo Seco for more than 400 years. Indeed this ground has been watered by the blood of Catholic martyrs--most of them forgotten--who were killed by the Comanches over a period of more than a century. Over the years, the Catholics of the Upper Rio Grande Valley have clung to the Ancient Faith; and they have placed their confidence in several particular saints: San Isidore, San Pasquale, Santiago, San Miguel, Santo Nino de Atocha, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As I joined my Hispanic brothers and sisters in celebrating the Mass in Arroyo Seco, I wondered what they would say about the Tinker-Toy spirituality that Bruni proposed in his New York Times essay. Why, they would probably ask, would anyone who has been enfolded in the grandeur, the beauty, and the eternal truths of the Catholic faith throw that faith away for the do-it-yourself brand of quasi-religion that Bruni is hawking? Why would anyone abandon the real and mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist to follow the advice of Sam Harris?

Bruni and his fellow travelers apparently think Catholicism is fading away and will soon be replaced by the postmodern sensibilities that the New York Times espouses. But that will never happen in Arroyo Seco.  The small congregation at Holy Trinity Church celebrated Mass with all the splendor that it could muster. The entrance procession included one priest, two deacons, and five altar children (boys and girls). Incense appeared on two occasions, and altar boys flanked a deacon with lighted candles as he read the Gospel. The liturgy, partly in English and partly in Spanish, was performed with all the piety and dignity of a High Mass at the Vatican. 

Cordero de Dios, que quitas el pecado del mundo, danos la paz, we all said before coming forward to receive the body and blood of Christ. Or in English: Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

And to  Frank Bruni, let me add this purely secular footnote: Leave us the hell alone.


Frank Bruni. Between Godliness and Godlessness. New York Times, August 30,2014. Available at:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

St Michael the Archangel--cast those evil spirits into hell! ISIS in Iraq and Syria

No writer has expressed the sheer joy and wonder of Catholic conversion better than G.K. Chesterton. "It is like discovering a new continent full of strange flowers and fantastic animals," Chesterton wrote, "which is at once wild and hospitable."

Chesterton got it exactly right; Catholic conversion is indeed like discovering a new continent. When I became Catholic, I was introduced to a whole new culture--a culture with its own distinctive art, architecture, music and literature. I was introduced to the glories of Catholic history, to Catholic mysticism, to the lives of the saints. I have been a Catholic for 17 years, and Catholicism has been my great life adventure.
All of this was unexpected.
And among the unexpected accouterments of my new faith are the special Catholic prayers, a few of which I have memorized: the Rosary, the Memorare, the Prayer of St. Francis, the Canticle of Mary, the Anima Christi, the Hail, Holy Queen and on and on.

But my favorite prayer is the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, a militant, almost pugnacious prayer calling for St. Michael to help us in our fight against evil. It first came into use during the papacy of Pius XIII and was said after Mass during the early 20th century. In 1964, the Prayer to St. Michael was dropped as a regular postlude of the Mass, but it is being revived. I've heard it said several times after Mass over the past few weeks.

This is the short version:
St. Micheal, the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Here's what I like about this prayer. First, it acknowledges that life is a battle against evil and that the devil is a corporeal and palpable presence in the world. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the devil is real, and I like to hear other people express this sentiment in a public prayer.

Second, people who say this prayer are candidly asking St. Michael to cast Satan into hell along with the other evil spirits "who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls." I confess that I find this image very appealing. If indeed there are ill-spirited people seeking our destruction--and of course there are such people, why shouldn't those people be cast into hell?  After all, isn't that what hell is for?

On the other hand, asking St. Michael to throw people into hell makes me uncomfortable, even if those people have evil spirits and are prowling around seeking the ruin of our souls.  It doesn't seem like a very charitable sentiment. Nevertheless, I like this prayer; and I enjoy saying it after Mass.

In our postmodern world, we have just about abolished the notion of evil that is articulated in the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Everything is relative, the college professors tell us; everyone's perspective is valid; no one's understanding of the world is more valid than another's.

But the militant Islamists in Syria and Iraq have unleashed hell. They have beheaded and crucified people; they have buried people alive; they've stoned people to death. They've murdered people who will not convert to their twisted religious beliefs.  These people are truly evil.

We may persuade ourselves that what is going on in Iraq doesn't directly concern us. Nothing is happening there that should interrupt President Obama's golf game, his vacation at Martha's Vineyard, his campaign fundraising events. But evil is creeping closer every day, and we may not be as insulated from it as we think.

Indeed, just today BBC News reported that ISIS had beheaded David Foley, an American journalist. Apparently, a video of the act was posted on the web; and the depiction of Foley's actual murder was deemed so disturbing that You Tube took the video of its web site.

Personally, I am glad the prayer to St. Michael is making a comeback. "St. Michael, defend us in battle."  Somehow these words are oddly comforting. And I sincerely hope St. Michael will cast the people who killed David Foley into the deepest bowels of hell.

David Foley: Beheaded by Islamist Extremists

Friday, August 15, 2014

I meet Mary in the Milk Grotto: Reflections on the the Feast of the Assumption in Lafayette, Louisiana

During the Christmas season of 2006, I accompanied a group of college students to Israel and the West Bank--the Holy Land. As I recall, I had no great desire to visit the Holy Land. I think I associated it with Protestantism because I had a dim childhood recollection that Baptists liked to visited the Holy Land so they could see the Jordan River.

So the Holy Land held no great interest for me. But my wife had visited Israel and the West Bank in 2004, and she was profoundly moved by the experience, so I took advantage of the opportunity to see the Holy Land for myself.

To my great surprise, I had several deeply moving experiences while I was there, which I will always remember. But my most profound experience occurred in the Milk Grotto of Bethlehem.   The Milk Grotto is basically a cave where Mary and Joseph spent the night before taking Jesus to Egypt to escape from Herod. Here is where an angel visited Joseph in a dream and instructed him to arise in the night and immediately take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

We celebrated Mass in the grotto, and then my group departed for the nearby Franciscan gift shop. I lingered, however, and reflected a moment about the frightened young couple who had huddled with their child in the darkness at the very place where I was standing more than 2000 years ago. At that moment, in my mind, Mary and Joseph and Jesus were not the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph were just a mother and father risking their own lives to keep their infant child from being murdered.

I recall two young sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) were also in the grotto, clad in their distinctive white habits with their striped blue veils. One of them licked her finger and pulled it across the milky substance that clung to the roof of the cave. Then she put her finger to her mouth to taste the residue that she had collected.   This milky substance, tradition tells us, represents the milk that flowed from Mary's breast in the grotto; and miracles of fertility have been attributed to it.

Seeing the sister's simple act of piety, I followed her example; and I too tasted the calcified deposits on the ceiling of the cave. It tasted like chalk.

And at that moment, I felt the distinct presence of Mary in the grotto with me, and I was seized with a brief certainty that she would grant me anything I asked if only I would ask immediately.  Without taking time to consider, I asked for something humble: "Mary," I asked, "make me a better person." And then the moment passed.

Today is the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation, when Catholics celebrate their belief that God assumed Mary into heaven immediately upon her death and that her body, which had been conceived without sin, suffered no corruption.   Being in Lafayette today, I attended Mass at St. John's Cathedral in downtown Lafayette.

As it happens, Our Lady of the Assumption is the special patroness of Acadiana, and the cathedral was at least half full for the noon Mass. We began the Mass by singing "Hail, Holy Queen," that beloved, simple and childlike song to Mary that I always associate with Catholic children.
Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above
Oh, Maria
Hail, Mother of Mercy and of Love
Oh, Maria
I was sitting near the front of the cathedral, and I heard hundred of voices swelling up behind me--the voices of young people and old people, most of them descendants of Le Grand Dérangement, the great deportation of the Catholic French Canadians by the wicked British in the 18th century.

 "Triumph, all you cherubim," I heard them sing. "Sing with us, you seraphim."  The words rolled over me, clear and strong, like a warm and benign physical force. "Heaven and earth resound the hymn," they sang. "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria."

And again I felt the presence of Mary. I felt she was pleased by our adoration, and pleased to be in our presence, just as she had been pleased to make her presence known to me years ago when I was alone in the Milk Grotto.

But I confess I am still waiting for Mary to answer my prayer. Mary, make me a better person.

The Milk Grotto, Bethlehem

Monday, August 11, 2014

For what cause would I send my own children or grandchildren to die overseas? Genocide in Iraq

As my small band of readers know, I have two blogs: a blog on Catholicism and culture and a blog on the federal student loan program. Occasionally, I comment on foreign affairs at both blog sites. Why do I do that?

Regarding my blog site on the federal student loan program, here is my explanation: The federal student loan program props up our nation's amoral, arrogant, and vapid higher education system; and it is this system that has educated our nation's political leaders who are now making disastrous foreign-policy decisions. 

President Obama and almost all his cronies were educated at places like Harvard Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Georgetown, etc., where they evidently learned no problem-solving skills or even the capacity to make foreign policy decisions based on our long-term national interests or fundamental principles of morality.

And you see where we are now: huge messes in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, sub-Saharan Africa, and Iraq.  So I have commented from time to time that the global mess we are in has its roots in our elitist, arrogant universities.

As for my blog on Catholic culture, I comment on international affairs because my Catholic faith compels me to take stands on international affairs if moral principles are at stake. Servant of God Dorothy Day was a pacifist; she even opposed American involvement in World War II. I am not a pacifist; but I believe we should not send Americans to die or be maimed in order to defend unjust national interests.

Now to the subject of this blog.  Ever since the United States abolished the draft, it has excused everyone from joining the military who choose not to do so.  Since that time, it has been mostly young men and women from working-class and impoverished families who went to war.  Barack  Obama's children will never put on a uniform, and neither will the children of most of the people who serve in his administration or in Congress. I can almost guarantee you that no hedge fund manager or corporate CEO has a child who served in a combat role in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And--to be fair, I would not willingly see my own children or grandchildren fight in Afghanistan or Iraq. I am grateful that none of my family members have had to go to either place.

So  for what cause would I send my own children or grandchildren to die overseas in a foreign war? To fight Hitler, obviously.  That would have been an easy decision for me. But I would not have supported the firebombing of a civilian population as the U.S. and Britain did in Germany. Nor would I have supported the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki--even though my own father was in a Japanese prison camp when those bombs were dropped and the dropping of those bombs may have saved his life.

So here is my position. I believe the United States should calibrate its policy of military intervention around basic human rights and the rights of religious minorities and virtually nothing else.  In the Middle East right now it is almost impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Is the Assad regime in Syria morally superior to the forces that oppose it? Who knows? Is the military regime that runs Egypt better than the Morsi government that the military overthrew? Again, who knows?

So I propose that the United States should take this stand: We will not go to war against any government that protects  basic human rights and respects the rights of religious minorities.  Thus if the Assad regime protects Christians in Syria, we would support it over ISIS.  If the Military junta respects Egyptian Christians, then we would support it over the Islamic Brotherhood. And we would intervene to help nations facing outrageous atrocities against innocent civilians like the genocide in Rwanda and the kidnapping of more than 200 school girls in Nigeria by Muslim extremists.

Right now, ISIS is overrunning parts of Iraq and threatening Kurdistan.  ISIS terrorists are committing genocide against religious minorities in the region--including Christians.

The Christians of the Middle East (and increasingly in sub-Saharan Africa) need American military help. With apologies to Dorothy Day, I think we should give it to them. Surely, if there is any emergency important enough to send a hedge fund manager's son to die in the Middle East it is the current crisis in Iraq.  God help me--this emergency might even justify sacrifices from my own family.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Russians turn to St. Sergius, but the New York Times is skeptical: Is postmodern America on the right side of history?

According to the New York Times, Russian pilgrims have been flocking to the shrine of St. Sergius, which is located not far from Moscow.  St. Sergius founded the first monastery in Russia and is sometimes seen as the father of a united Russia.

But the New York Times is skeptical and suggested in a recent article that President Vladimir Putin is exploiting St. Sergius to bolster his political agenda. "Some historians and church figures are crying foul . . . ," Times writer Neil MacFarquhar wrote, "over what they say are the Kremlin's efforts to reshape the saint's legacy to enhance political goals, fostering what one critic called an 'official cult.'"

Far be it from the Times to ever show respect for anyone's religious traditions--particularly the Russians' religious traditions, who have refused to bow down obsequiously to President Obama's postmodern vision for a new world order. Farquhar's article, just short of snarkiness, is yet another scornful piece about Vladimir Putin and Russia's foreign policy.  Indeed,it has become fashionable in America's elitist media to refer to Putin as a bully, an egotist, and a scheming manipulator. And Putin's espoused religious beliefs are given no credibility whatsoever.

Putin, after all, has unsettled the Obamacrats because he has so smoothly outmaneuvered the Obama administration--first in Syria and now in Ukraine. So--since the United States is unable to charm Putin or make him cower, let's scorn him and diminish him; let's convince ourselves that Putin and the new Russia are a mere distraction. In particular, let's convince ourselves that Russia's activities in Ukraine will come to nothing.

But I am not buying the Times' interpretation of Putin, Russia, or the current international crisis. I think the Obama administration and the elitist media have made two mistakes in interpreting the current tensions between the United States and Russia.

First, Obama's people and the Times believe that America and America's foreign policy are morally superior to Putin's Russia; and that's not true. Let's go back over recent events concerning relationships between Russia and the United States.

Obama first drew Putin's ire when his administration lied to Russia about American activities in Libya just before the fall of the Qaddafi regime.  The U.S. assured Russia that we were only going to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, and Russia acquiesced.  But in fact American military forces launched air strikes over Libya, ensuring Qaddafi's demise--and look how that turned out.

Putin concluded, as he said publicly, that the U.S. lied to Russia about its intentions in Libya, and you know what? Putin is right.

Moreover, a great deal has been made about Russia's annexation of Crimea.  How underhanded, the Americans say. But the American government was scheming to overthrow a democratically elected government in Kiev, maneuvering to replace Viktor Yanukovych with their favored politician.  Remember the Secretary of State official's dismissive comment about European opinion about American intervention--"Bleep the EU!" she said.

So the U.S. can't really say that it holds the high ground in the Ukrainian crisis. We helped create this mess by intervening in Ukrainian political affairs in a bumbling and condescending way.  And it backfired on us.

Second, I believe Obama and his supporters are wrong to say that Russia is on the wrong side of history.  Obama has referred to Russia as a "regional power," a nuanced insult meant to convey that Russia has been eclipsed on the world stage by Western-style postmodernism--exemplified by the United States and by Obama himself.

But I'm not so sure Russia is on the wrong side of history, and I'm certainly not convinced that the U.S. is on the right side of it.  The United States has cowed the world for a century, manipulating national economies, starting regional wars, killing civilians with drones in countries with which we are not at war.  We have acted arrogantly, ignorantly and with total disregard for other nation's cultures and values. And we've financed it by printing more money. Personally, I  don't see how this can go on forever.

Meanwhile, the Russians are returning to their Orthodox religious heritage--or at least some of them are. And if Putin's religious convictions are questionable, at least he proclaims religious convictions, which is more than we can say about almost anyone in President Obama's administration.

No--America's government is not morally superior to Russia's, and America may not be on the right side of history.  Obama can dismiss Russia as a minor regional player, but China--perhaps with Russia as a partner, is formidable. Meanwhile, militant Islam is on the move--shattering all of America's fragile accomplishments in Afghanistan and Iraq and driving relentlessly into sub-Saharan Africa.

I would feel much better about where our nation is going if Americans, like the Russians, turned to their saints--if we looked for spiritual guidance from Servant of God Dorothy Day as the Russians are looking to St. Sergius.

But we are not looking for spiritual guidance. Our nation's government, our President, our elitist media and our elitist universities are driven by nothing more than hubris, arrogance, greed, and the quest for power.

And we are underestimating Putin and the Russians. Napoleon and Hitler underestimated the Russians, and it didn't turn out so well for them.


Neil MacFarquhar. From Pilgrims, Putin Seeks Political Profit. New York Times, August 3, 2014, International Section, p. 4.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

House of Cards or another way of life: Americans have only two choices about how to live--we can be Postmodernists or we can be Catholic

Over the past couple of weeks, I have immersed myself in two outstanding works of fiction: House of Cards, the wildly popular television series about Washington politics; and Myles Connolly's elegant little novella entitled Mr. Blue.

Francis and Claire: Ruthless
Millions of people have watched House of Cards, in which Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright play Francis and Claire Underwood, an utterly ruthless political couple in Washington DC. Francis starts the series as the Congressional Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives but by late in the series he has schemed his way into the Vice President's Office. Claire ran a non-profit when the series began, but she gives that up to devote her life to full-time villainy.

As the series progresses from episode to episode, Francis and Claire throw just about every minor character under the bus. Francis frames an idealistic reporter and gets him thrown into federal prison. Claire betrays her former lover and leaves him publicly swinging in the wind. Francis murders an alcoholic Congressman named Peter Russo to help clear the way for Francis to become Vice President. And he shoves his old lover Zoe in front of a subway train.  Even Freddie, an elderly and lovable black guy who runs a barbecue joint in Columbia Heights, is totally destroyed because he became a pawn in Francis's international power game.

Interestingly enough, the power couple's names--Francis and Claire--evoke St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi--perhaps the most saintly of all Catholic saints. Saints Francis and Clare have remained famous over the centuries for their gentleness and their devotion to the poor. But modern-day Francis and Claire are the anti-St. Francis and the anti-St. Clare.  Indeed, most Christian viewers would probably view them as a sort of conjugal Antichrist.

The original Francis and Clare
Mr. Blue, which Myles Connolly published in 1928, is an entirely different kind of fictional work.  J. Blue, the protagonist, is a modern-day St. Francis of Assisi.  Like the original St. Francis, Blue walks away from a life of wealth and lives totally in the service of others.

Mr. Blue is a Catholic who fiercely declares that human life would be meaningless without Christ. "Without Christ," he tells a friend, "we would be little more than bacteria breeding on a pebble in space or glints of ideas in a whirling void of abstraction."

As the book ends, Blue is in a Boston hospital, where he is dying, worn down by a life of poverty and service to the others. Are you afraid of death, his friend asks him?  No, Blue replies, he has decided to "take a chance on God's mercy."

Blue has a keen sense of the glories of Catholic culture, which stands in opposition to the spirit of the age, and which he labels "scientific agnosticism."  "Scientific agnosticism is here for a long stay," Blue predicts, "because it is not a philosophy but a somewhat vainglorious state of mind."

Scientific agnosticism could not be  successfully opposed by reason or argument, Blue tells his friend, but only by another state of mind. And what I think Blue meant by that is that scientific agnosticism--what I would call postmodernism--can only be opposed by an entirely different kind of culture, a life-affirming culture that produces saints.

Today, most Americans are postmodernists; they are secularists, materialists and relativists.  They don't bother to call themselves atheists because they don't think enough about the existence of God to feel any need to declare themselves on the subject.  Most Americans--particularly affluent Americans educated in the nation's elite colleges and universities, are obsessed with power, recognition, and the accumulation of wealth.

In fact--a lot of us are well down the road to being Francis and Claire Underwood, the ruthless postmodernists who think about nothing but how to advance themselves.  I don't think many Americans would be willing to shove a young woman in front of a subway train as Francis Underwood did, even if they were educated at Harvard (where the ficional Francis Underwood went to law school). But a lot of Americans would betray a friend in an instant to move a little higher up the path to power.

No, there are very few Mr. Blues among us--very few saints. And if we were forced to locate our spiritual status on a sliding scale between Francis Underwood and Francis of Assisi, most of us would be much nearer the ruthless Congressman than the saint.

But, to be fair to everyone, we have few models to guide us toward the Catholic life.  There are many more Francis and Claire Underwoods in our society than Mr. Blues.

But let us at least look for models of wholesomeness; let us at least look for the flickering fires of Catholic culture and the joyous Catholic life.  And--I feel quite deeply--one of the best places to look is in the witness and writings of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.  Dorothy and Peter lived smack in the middle of America's industrial economy and yet they committed their lives to building a society "where it would be easier to be good."

And when we reach the end of our lives, what will we be thinking about? Those of us who lived like Francis Underwood will probably be thinking about our vitae, our accomplishments, our baubles and awards. Perhaps we will be thinking in our last moments about old hurts and grudges.

And those of us who lived the Catholic life, what will we be thinking about? I think, like J. Blue, we will be thinking that we took a chance on God's mercy; and we will be at peace.

In our postmodern age, we have only two choices about how to live: We can live like Francis and Claire Underwood in House of Cards or we can try to be good Catholics.   Really, we only have two choices before us--only two.

Dorothy Day

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A nun in a pink habit: The first sign of a Catholic Spring?

Sister Mary Lucy,DEF
The Catholic Church, the New York Times assures us, is a faltering institution. Its only a matter of time before we all become secular postmodernists, and the Catholic Church will be discarded in the dustbin of history, exposed as nothing more than a den of elderly white sexists and homophobes. President Obama has already written us off, and he's the smartest guy in the room--any room.

But what if President Obama is wrong? What if--in fact--the Catholic Church is on the verge of a great revival--something similar to the Counter Reformation, that wonderful revival of Catholicism that brought us St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross?

And this brings me to Sister Mary Lucy Astuto, the mother superior of a young religious order called the Daughters of the Eternal Father. I met Sister Mary Lucy at a Catholic Trade Conference in Chicago today and was drawn to her by her pink religious habit.
Although she heads a young religious order--only ten years old--Sister Mary Lucy is not herself young; she is 74. But her spirit is young and full of energy, and she conveys this spirit in a religious habit that she personally designed.

The Daughters of the Eternal Father wear traditional white habits enhanced by a pink veil, a pink cape, and a pink scapular. And such a pink--a bright, cheerful, childlike pink--the color of my granddaughter's Barbie bike.

Pink, Sister Mary Lucy told me, is the color of hope and joy. And after all, she pointed out, "joy is all around us; hope is all around us."

Wow! A young religious order has sprung up in the United States--the world-weary postmodern United States--an order that wears traditional religious habits enhanced with a bright pink flare.
Before Sister Mary Lucy founded her order, she encountered a Catholic woman--a mystic it seems--who told her that she had been visited by St. Ann, the grandmother of Christ. In this vision, St. Ann conveyed her assurance that Sister Mary Lucy would found a new religious order that would grow quickly.  And the mystic added this intriguing fact about St. Ann--her favorite color is pink.

So far, St. Ann's prediction has not come true; ten years on, the Daughters of the Eternal Father only has two sisters. But--as Sister Mary Lucy pointed out--God's time is not our time. Christ promised to return soon, and that was 2000 years ago. And in the Old Testament, God promised to heal our wounds quickly, and all our wounds have not yet been healed.

But the Holy Spirit constantly moves among us, and people who respond have changed the world. Edith Stein, a great Jewish intellectual, stumbled upon the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, read it, and declared, "This is the truth."  And Edith went on to become St.  Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who triumphed over the horrors of Auschwitz. And Francis of Assisi, a hedonist who was born into a wealthy family, stripped himself naked, disavowed all worldly goods, and founded a religious movement that has thrived for eight centuries.

So, isn't it plausible that God has called an elderly woman to found a new religious order--an order of nuns that wear pink habits--to bring new life into the American Catholic Church just as God blessed St. Elizabeth, an older woman and past the childbearing age, who bore a son who became John the Baptist?

And isn't also plausible that St. Ann would bless this new order? St. Ann, let us recall, is the patroness of grandparents; and how many of us know people whose lives were transformed and revived by the birth of their first grandchild?

So may St. Ann continue to bless the Daughters of the Eternal Father as a grandmother would bless her first grandchild.  And may this new order, clothed in the raiments of joy and hope, flourish among us. Perhaps these nuns, dressed in pink, are the first sign of a Catholic spring.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Would we be better Catholics if the bishops wore high heels? St. Margaret Clitherow would probably have said no

St. Margaret Clitherow
In an essay entitled, "Give Us a Bishop in High Heels," published recently in the New York Times, Jane  Gardam rejoiced in the Anglican Church's decision to allow women to become bishops.  The Anglicans have allowed women to become priests since 1992--and both male and female Anglican priests can marry. But allowing women to become bishops is another step forward toward modernizing the Anglican Church.  Indeed, the Anglicans' American cousin, the Episcopal Church, took that step some years  ago. America's chief Episcopal bishop is a woman.

I have no quarrel with the Anglicans on this issue.  I feel about it very much like Dorothy Day is said to have felt.  According to Rosalie Riegle, Dorothy was on record as being opposed to the ordination of women. Nevertheless, Dorothy thought the day would come when the  Catholic Church would ordain women. "We will have women priests," she is said to have predicted, "but I think the culture of the Catholic Church in the United State right now is not ready for it."

Dorothy predicted that the first step toward permitting Catholic women to become priests would be to allow male priests to marry. "And then when women are closer to the altar by being associated with priests, married to them, then the culture will be ready for women priests."  Riegle wrote that Dorothy seemed "very peaceful and calm" about this prospect.

And so am I. Nevertheless, I would like to respond to Jane Gardam's celebratory piece in the New York Times by making two brief observations. First, the Anglicans' recent decision toward modernization--permitting women to  become bishops--is just another step to make the Anglican Church more compatible with contemporary culture--married priests, women priests, and now female bishops.  And I believe I read somewhere that homosexual priests are permitted to live openly with their partners so long as they remain celibate. (I wonder how that's working for them.)

But where has all of this gotten the Anglicans? Have more Brits joined the Anglican faith? Have disaffected British Anglicans returned to the fold? I don't think so.

In America, where the Episcopal Church has made all the reforms that the Anglicans have made and more, the Episcopalians are in free fall--with their membership shrunk now to less than 2 million.  In fact, there are more Catholics in the Los Angeles Archdiocese than all the Episcopalians in the entire United States.

And the Episcopal communion in the U.S. is now hopelessly fractured, with some congregations affiliating with the Church of Uganda and some whole congregations reuniting with the Catholic Church.  In Texas, for example, six large Episcopal congregations have become Anglican Rite Catholic Churches. Like lost sheep, these Anglican Rite churches have returned to the Roman Catholic fold--an incredible testimony to the power and durability of the Ancient Faith.

G.K. Chesterton perceived the drift toward modernization among the Anglicans almost a century ago. "These people merely take the modern mood," Chesterton observed, "with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist, even without the creed."

In other words, many modern Protestants have reshaped the contours of their religious creeds to conform to their personal desires and preferences:
They say they want a religion to be social,when they would be social without any religion. They say they want a religion to practical, when they would be practical without any religion. They say they want a religion that is acceptable to science, when they would accept the science even if they did not accept  the religion. They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it. 
So I ask Ms. Gardam, will allowing women to be Anglican priests strengthen the Anglican Church? Will it make Anglicans better Christians? Will it reverse the downward spiral in the number of English people who  call themselves Anglicans?

Second, I think Gardam's references to women saints does not support the premise of her argument.  Gardam invokes St. Hilda, one of England's great Catholic saints. If she had been made a bishop, Gardam asks, would she be willing to be martyred for her faith as St. Thomas of Canterbury was? "Would she have gone swearing and cursing to her death in the cathedral, as it is said that he did?"

Well, here's my answer to that question. Of course, St. Hilda would have gladly suffered martyrdom as St. Thomas of Canterbury did. but she would have made that sacrifice whether or not she had been named a bishop.

Ms. Gardam needs to read the biography of St. Margaret Clithrow, who was crushed to death by the Anglican authorities in 1586 because she refused to renounce her Catholic faith.  St. Margaret was not a bishop; she was not a priest or a woman religious. She was simply a housewife who had converted to Catholicism and who refused to cease partaking of the Catholic Mass.

What do you think Margaret was thinking as the blood was literally being squeezed out of her naked body?  Was she thinking, "Boy, this would be so much better if I were only a bishop!"

I'm telling you, Ms. Gardam, all my favorite Catholic saints are women: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), who died in an Auschwitz gas chamber; St. Elizabeth Seton, who was denounced and disinherited by her upper-crust Episcopalian family after she converted to Catholicism; St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote with a golden pen and who reformed the Carmelites during the Counter Reformation; St. Catherine of Siena, who was almost illiterate and yet the prose of her letters was inflamed with the passion of her faith.

And of course there was Dorothy Day--Servant of God--who lived a saintly life of poverty and sacrifice and had no desire to be a bishop.   In fact, she had no desire to be a saint--although she will certainly be canonized one day.

You know what, Jane Gardam? None of the women saints of the Catholic Church--and there are hundreds of them--were bishops. In fact (and I mention this because fashion seems important to you), I don't believe any of them wore high heels.  So--do you think the Anglicans will have more women saints now that it allows women to be bishops?

And I end on a minor note. Please, Ms. Gardam,  don't refer to clerical collars as dog collars. To do so suggests a frivolous attitude toward the priesthood.   And you weren't being frivolous, were you, Jane, when you argued that bishops should wear high heels?


Jane Gardam. Give Us a Bishop in High Heels. New York Times, July 21, 2014.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Don't insult me by calling yourself a "recovering Catholic"

Nothing insults me more than hearing someone describe himself (or herself) as a "recovering Catholic."  To say such a thing is to assert that Catholicism is some kind of  an affliction or a disease, like alcoholism, drug addiction, or a personality disorder. 

Of course I respect the right of people to leave the Catholic faith.  Someone who grew up in an abusive Catholic family might leave the faith, for example; and it would be very difficult for me to argue that an abuse victim should try to differentiate between Catholicism and the personal abuse a  child experienced in a Catholic home.

I myself grew up in an abusive Methodist family,  and part of my larger reasons for becoming Catholic no doubt had something to do with making a complete break from the physical and psychological abuse of my childhood.  But my parents just happened to be Methodists. They would have been abusive regardless of their religious affiliation.

People who were abused by priests constitute a special case, in my opinion.  Without question, Satan captured the souls of these depraved priests; and the harm they did to children--mostly young boys--is simply bottomless.  How could I be so presumptuous as to tell someone who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest that he should remain Catholic?

I simply could not do it.  We've got to leave these innocents to the boundless mercy of God, trusting that God will have mercy on all Catholics who allowed this evil to occur. I wasn't even a Catholic when most of this abuse occurred, but this sin burdens me personally.  God will charge it against my spiritual account, I am certain. And woe be unto me if I try to convince Him I have an alibi.

And of course some people leave the Catholic Church to become Protestants, a decision that Catholics must respect.  Personally, I find it unfathomable why anyone would leave the richness of Catholicism and the solaces of the Eucharist to become a Methodist or an Episcopalian.  Why not just chuck the whole religious enterprise?

Besides, like Chesterton, I don't think many people leave Catholicism for theological reasons.  People don't leave the Catholic Church to become Episcopalians because they became convinced by Episcopal theology.  As far as I can discern,  the Episcopalians don't have much of a theology. They abandoned their theological groundings more than a century ago. 

No, as Chesterton pointed out, most people leave Catholicism "to have a high old time." And, as Chesterton conceded, "considering what a muddle we've made of modern morality, they can hardly be blamed."

But people who abandon their childhood faith should not refer to themselves as "recovering Catholics."  It's unseemly--sort of like gossiping about an ex-spouse.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In a New York Times essay, Timothy Egan blames all the world's current problems on religion: Wow, it's so obvious!

Maureen Dowd and Frank Bruni are resting , apparently, so the Times dispatched Timothy Egan to publish another intellectually lazy attack on religion. In an essay title "Faith-based Fanatics," Egan argues that much of this year's violence and sorrows have their roots in religious discord. 

"God is on a rampage in 2014," Egan writes, "a lot like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another." If it weren't for the contemporary references, I would have concluded that Egan was just recycling one of his old theme papers from his student days at the University of Washington.  The argument that religion is the source of all the world's problems is one of those fatuous conclusions that college sophomores come up with.

Much in the style of the Times' Maureen Dowd (I think it's called drive-by journalism), Egan engages in gratuitous insults to bulk up his vapid essay. He takes a swipe at Pope Benedict (kick 'em while he's down),  Texas Governor Rick Perry (what's he got to do with anything?), and the male Roman Catholic members of the Supreme Court. And why not? If you get an opportunity to write an op ed essay for the Times, you've got to be snarky, or the editors won't ask you back.

Of course, Egan undercut his whole sloppy essay by admitting that the world's biggest slaughters were not driven by religion.  Without a doubt, the 20th century was the most violent century in the history of mankind, but it was unleashed by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong.  If you want to get a sharper perspective on the source of all this mayhem, read Robert Royal's excellent history on the history of Catholic persecution in the 20th century. Millions of religious people were killed, most of them by non-religious people.

It is true of course, that much of the turmoil engulfing the Middle East is steeped in religious ideology and that the roots of the current conflicts can be traced to religious disputes that go back a thousand years.  But the Muslim extremists who are on the loose are essentially nihilists.  To say the violence in the Middle East can be blamed on religion is like arguing that American Express is responsible for Pol Pot's murders because Pol Pot had an American Express card. I don't actually know where Pol Pot banked, but you get my rhetorical point.

I could argue of course that religious faith (and more particularly my own Catholic faith) compels us to respect every person's human dignity and to alleviate the suffering of others.  I think there's something about that in the New Testament, maybe in the Book of Matthew.  But that would be about as useful as a high-school debate team competition. 

I will simply say this.  Our world is facing very serious problems. Ukraine, we've learned in the last 48 hours, is virtually in a shooting war with Russia, and the nation's most powerful nations cannot even retrieve the remains of  their citizens who were killed when a civilian airliner was shot down. We need very sharp analysis of an escalating cycle of violence by people who have some moral center and ethical core. Mr. Egan and the New York Times do not contribute to finding solutions to the world's pressing challenges by dredging up empty arguments about how religion is the source of the world's conflicts.

And I will say one more thing. I myself look for direction as to how I should live in a world soaked in blood and greed and brutal exploitation.  I'm telling you, Mr. Egan, I'm not looking for answers in the New York Times.  President Obama is going to get a chance to earn his Nobel Peace Prize, and God help us--I hope he's not drawing his inspiration from the New York Times op ed pages.

As for me and my house, I will turn to my Catholic faith. I will draw solace and courage from our Catholic saints and martyrs--the very people Mr. Egan disparaged in his witless op ed essay.  Instead of doing so much empty writing, Mr. Egan, I suggest you do some reading. Start by reading the works of  Dorothy Day, not yet a saint.  If we follow her example and try to live as she lived, God will lead us home--regardless of what happens in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and Gaza.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Miracles don't happen in our postmodern age--or do they? Dorothy Day and my friend Sarah

In The Keys of the Kingdom, A.J. Cronin's delightful novel about the spiritual journey of Father Francis Chisholm, a Scottish priest, Cronin sketches a story about Father Gerald Fitzgerald, who is hoodwinked by Charlotte Neily, a young woman who claims to have experienced a beatific vision of the Virgin Mary and to have discovered a miraculous spring of healing water. After reporting this amazing event, Charlotte takes to her bed,where she displays the stigmata and survives for nine days without any food or drink.

Father Fitzgerald is completely taken in and soon envisions the construction of a shrine like the one at Lourdes and an influx of pilgrims and tourists.  Unfortunately, Father Fitzgerald's junior curate, Father Francis, unmasks the miracle as a hoax when he comes to visit Charlotte and discovers her propped up in her sickbed, eating chicken and drinking beer.

Meanwhile, another Catholic family, the Warrens, are anticipating the death of their young son Owen, who is dying from an ulcerated leg. Without telling anyone, Warren's mother bathes Owen's leg in the spring that Charlotte discovered, and his leg is healed.

When Father Francis is invited to the Warren house to witness Owen's recovery, he thinks he is being summoned to administer last rites and even fears he may be too late.  But when he arrives, Father Francis finds a healthy young Owen along with Owen's physician, Dr. Willie Tulloch, a kind man but fiercely atheist.

Dr. Tulloch is happy to see his patient recover but he is somewhat angry as well. "There's bound to be a scientific explanation beyond the scope of our present knowledge," he tells Father Francis. "An intense desire for recovery--psychological regeneration of the cells."

Then Doctor Tulloch stops short and grabs Father Francis's arm. Almost desperately, he cries out: "Oh, God!--if there is a God!--let's all keep our bloody mouths shut about it!"

Even today, almost all of us know someone who was at death's door who mysteriously recovered. But, like skeptical Dr. Tulloch, most of us refuse to believe in miracles. There must be some scientific explanation, we tell ourselves. After all, we live in a postmodern age--an age of reason, rationality, and secularism. If there is a God, we damned sure don't want to know about it.

But in truth miracles happen every day. I have a good friend, Sarah Maple, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Her doctors told her she could expect to live about two years.

But in 2010, Sarah's brain tumor began to shrink and eventually disappeared. In early 2014, her doctors discovered a second brain tumor, but in July that tumor too began to shrink.

It is true that Sarah has received excellent medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Nevertheless, almost everyone who began treatment with Sarah at Mayo and who had the same diagnosis has died. Surely the fact that Sarah has survived so long is miraculous.

During this harrowing experience, Sarah experienced a second miracle. Although she had been raised in a severe Protestant denomination that is well known for its hostility to Catholicism, Sarah had abandoned that tradition before she became ill. And during her illness--at the age of 63--Sarah entered the Catholic Church.

Many people have prayed for Sarah. I myself invoked the aid of Servant of God Dorothy Day and I am absolutely sure that Dorothy heard my prayer and was sympathetic. My friends Mark and Louise Zwick, who run the Catholic Worker Hospitality House in Houston, also sought Dorothy's aid. Friends of mine from Tanzania--two Catholic priests--prayed for Sarah and asked the Ugandan Martyrs to intercede on her behalf, and I am satisfied that their prayers have great power.

And whatever one may think of the miraculous powers of the Catholic saints, almost everyone I have told about Sarah's story--Catholic or non-Catholic-- has said that Sarah's conversion to Catholicism is miraculous.

So let us look for miracles in our daily lives--let us expect them. Even though we live in a deeply cynical postmodern world, God's healing power is surely present now as in ages past. His spirit constantly moves among us as we give ourselves over to a childlike faith that we are not alone in a soulless universe. We are all sustained in the palm of God's loving hand.

And God sent Christ to dwell among us. Mysteriously, he is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. And though we are not worthy that he should come under our roofs, let us have confidence that if he but says the word, our souls shall be healed.

Dorothy Day


A.J. Cronin. The Keys of the Kingdom. Chicago: Loyola Classics, 1941.