Saturday, June 28, 2014

Let's Not Discourage Latin Masses: Reflections on Brian Moore's Novel and Recent Events in the New York Archdiocese

I recently finished reading Brian Moore's short novel, entitled simply Catholics, which is set in Ireland in a fictional future time. Vatican IV has taken place, and the Church no longer believes in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. Latin masses have been banned along with private confessions, and clerical dress has been abandoned.

Nevertheless, an abbey off the western coast of Ireland continues to celebrate the Latin Mass and to receive believers for private confessions. The Vatican dispatches an American priest by the name of Father Kinsella to tell the Abbot that the Latin Masses must stop.

Father Kinsella arrives on the island by helicopter, and Father Manus, one of the monks, confronts him almost immediately, outraged by the thought that he and his fellow monks might be banned from celebrating the Latin Mass.
The Mass! the Mass in Latin, the priest with his back turned to the congregation because both he and the congregation faced the altar where God was.  Offering up the daily sacrifice of the Mass to God. Changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ just the way Jesus told his disciples to do it at the Last Supper. 'This is my body and this is my blood. Do ye this in commemoration of me.'
Later, after the Abbot informs Father Matthew, another monk, that Rome now considers the Mass to be merely symbolic, Father Matthew rebels. "That is heresy, pure and simple!" Father Matthew cries.

And why is that, the abbot asks him. 
Because the Mass is the daily miracle of the Catholic faith. The Mass, in which bread and wine are changed by the priest into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Without that, what is the church?
Reading Brian Moore's novel, I was struck by just how fragile our Catholic faith is.  Although it seems timeless, the very Rock of Ages, just a few simple variations in our core beliefs would destroy us in an instant. To proclaim that the Mass is merely a symbolic act would be the end of us.

I confess, however, that I have no deep attachment to the Latin Mass, having come into the Church as a post-Vatican II adult convert. But I am fiercely attached to the notion that the Latin Mass should continue in those places where there is a longing for it.

Thus, I was disturbed that the Archdiocese of New York might stop the Latin Mass at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, the only Catholic church in New York City where the Latin Mass is celebrated. Indeed, Father Justin Wylie was dismissed from his post at the Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations after speaking in defense of the Latin Mass.

Our Catholic leaders may believe that the Latin Mass will disaffect youthful Catholics who might prefer guitar Masses and more contemporary liturgies.  But I think the opposite may be true. As I observe the young Catholics at my parish church, which serves the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge, I find many of them are quite traditional. Some LSU students disdain the kneeling benches, for example, and kneel on the floor during the Mass.  And a few young women even wear the mantilla.

These traditional young Catholics make their older coreligionists nervous, but by their actions I think they are telling us something important.  Do not water down the ancient faith to make it fit the fashion of the day, I believe they are saying.  Do not compromise our deepest beliefs in order to accommodate ourselves to the postmodern age.

In fact, I will go further. I think there is a great longing among young people for truth and certitude. If Catholics were to witness to their faith unapologetically, even militantly, if we were to proclaim our belief in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, our reliance on the saints, our devotion to Mary, and our confidence in the natural law as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas, I believe a great revival would occur and that millions of young Americans would flock to the Catholic faith.

But we will not evangelize today's postmodern generation by compromising with it. That is the underlying message in Brian Moore's novel, published more than 40 years ago. And if we need further confirmation, we need only contemplate the Episcopalians.


Brian Moore. Catholics. Chicago: Loyola Classics, 1972

Sharon Otterman. New York Parish Fears Losing Daily Dose of 'Spiritus Sancti.' New York Times, June 28, 2014, p. 1.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Humiliate Yourself To Get Into An Ivy League College: The Search For a Richer Life

Years ago I had a professor at the University of Texas who hung his college diploma in his guest bathroom--right above the toilet.  As I recall he was a Harvard graduate.

I remember being offended by the gesture, intended I suppose to be ironic. If I had the opportunity to go to Harvard or any Ivy League university, I told myself, I would hang my diploma in a place of honor.

Years later I obtained a doctorate degree from Harvard, one of the stupidest things I ever did. For years I hung my diploma in my office, but today it hangs in a back hallway of my home.  I didn't put my Harvard diploma in an obscure place to be ironic.  I just came to realize how meaningless my Harvard degree really is.

Yesterday, Frank Bruni had an op ed piece in the New York Times about people humiliating themselves in their college admissions essays in order to stand out and perhaps improve their chances of being accepted at an elite college.  One young woman, Bruni wrote, confessed in her essay that she had once urinated on herself rather than interrupt an intellectually stimulating conversation with a teacher. Another young man revealed his disappointment with the size of his genitals. Other students enroll in college-application camps, which can cost up to $14,000, where they are taught how to polish their college admissions essays to make them more appealing to Ivy League admissions officers.

Why do young people turn themselves inside out to get into an elite American university--Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Duke, Columbia, etc. I suppose they believe that these institutions hold the key that unlocks the golden door. If only I can get a degree from Harvard, these people tell themselves, I will have a richer life.

But I think many people who hanker to go to an elite college will be disappointed if they actually enroll. For the most part, these institutions are intellectually vapid, surreptitiously  racist, and pathetically provincial in their outlook on the world. They are openly contemptuous of American culture and traditional American values.  The people who run these cesspools of privilege think they embrace diverse philosophies and points of view, yet they harass traditional Christian student groups.  The professors and administrators of these intellectual ghettos think they are guardians of truth and beauty, yet they scorn the very notion that there are universal truths. Indeed, a great many people who inhabit our elitist universities seek nothing more from life than money, power, and public recognition.

If only I could get into Harvard!
Moreover, our elite institutions are not producing people who can analyze and solve problems, as evidenced by the way the Obama administration is running the country. Almost everyone connected with the present  administration in Washington has a degree from an elite British or American university, and yet it is evident to nearly everyone that these folks do not know what they are doing.

And of course, all these prestigious colleges and universities are outrageously expensive. It will cost you around sixty grand a year to hang out with a bunch of nincompoops.

I was ruminating on Bruni's essay yesterday morning when I walked into my parish church to attend Mass. I saw four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity sitting in the back of the church--sisters of Mother Teresa's order. They are quite distinctive in their white veils with the blue stripes--veils that always remind me of my grandmother's tea towels.

As I looked at these nuns I realized that there is a great gulf between a humiliating life and a life lived in humility. Some people are willing to humiliate themselves in order to get into Harvard or Yale. Others are humble enough to give their lives to God.

And I wondered, as I turned to genuflect before the tabernacle, who has the richer life--the people who turn to God or the people who get a degree from Harvard?


Frank Bruni. Naked Confessions of the College Bound. New York Times, June 15, 2015, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bowdoin College Kicks a Christian Prayer Group Off Campus: Slowly, But with Accelerating Speed, Catholics Will Be Driven Out of the Universities and Public Life

The New York Times carried a front page story today about a decision by Bowdoin College to withdraw recognition of a Christian prayer group as an official student organization.

And what did the Christians do to cause Bowdoin to cast them into the outer darkness? The group refused to allow non-Christians to be appointed as their organizational leaders.

Bowdoin is one of many so-called elite colleges and universities around the country that are withdrawing recognition to Christian student groups, which generally means these groups will be denied access to facilities and services that are open to other student groups--the local S &M club for example.  Vanderbilt has done the same thing, along with Tufts, State University of New York at Buffalo and Hastings Law School in California.


Edith Stein
Later St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
(Did not attend Bowdoin)
What happened to the constitutional right to freedom of religion, you may be asking? Didn't the Supreme Court rule in Widmar v. Vincent that a state university could not deny recognition to a Christian student group if it recognized other student organizations?

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court overturned Widmar v. Vincent as a constitutional  precedent, although the Court did not have the courage or the intellectual honesty to say so.  In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, as cynical a piece of sophistry as anything the Court ever wrote, Justice Ruth Ginsberg upheld a decision by Hastings Law School to deny recognition to the Christian Legal Society because the CLS limited its members to Christians who agreed to abide by traditional Christian beliefs about sexual morality.

Justice Ginsberg said that Hastings had a compelling governmental interest in enforcing an open-to-all-comers policy for all student groups and could deny recognition to any student group that refused to comply. CLS denied membership to anyone who did not commit to the Christian standard of sexual morality, which prohibits all sexual activity outside the relationship of marriage between a woman and a man.

The bottom line is this: According to the morality that prevails at some of America's most prestigious (and expensive) colleges, Christian groups discriminate against people who do not adhere to Christian sexual values.  Thus they should be kicked off campus. In the postmodern academic mind, Christian students who hold traditional religious beliefs about sexual morality are reprehensible--as reprehensible, I suppose as racists.

The universities' anti-Christian policies are not expressly aimed at Catholics.  So far, from what I can gather, it has been evangelical Protestant groups that have been exiled.  But Catholic student organizations are as vulnerable as Protestant groups to expulsion.  Catholics believe, after all, in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist--a belief not held by Protestants. Catholic will never allow a Protestant or non-Catholic to be a leader of a Catholic student organization.

And--under Justice Ginsberg's wacky reasoning, a Catholic student organization that refuses to allow an abortion advocate to be an elected leader would also fall afoul of the CLS v. Martinez ruling.

So Catholic student groups are going to be pushed off college campuses. In fact, I'm sure that has already begun happening.

What does this mean? Three things I think:


First of all, the decision by Bowdoin, Tufts, Vanderbilt and other elitist institutions to censor Christian student groups demonstrates just how shallow, vacuous and intellectually dishonest our nation's colleges and universities have become. Based on no basis other than the fashions of the day,  colleges and universities that Americans once trusted to preserve and pass on our nation's cultural and religious heritage have declared that Christianity--or at least traditional forms of Christianity--is a shameful cult that does not deserve to even have a presence on an American college campus.

Of course, the new campus groupthink won't have any effect on the mainstream Protestant organizations--the Methodists, Episcopalians, and the Disciples of Christ.  Those folks don't have any firm religious convictions; their doctrine changes with the whims of the New York Times editorial page. As long as they keep their Times subscription current and do what the Times editorial-page writers tell them to do, they will be fine.

But if you are a Catholic, a Mormon, a Muslim, or a Southern Baptist then you are a bigot in the minds of many campus administrators; and it will be the job of the university to re-educate you--just as China re-educated its dissidents during the Cultural Revolution.

But at least the Chinese didn't require its nonconformists to pay outrageous tuition  to brain wash you.  The rural re-education camps were free!


Second,the higher education communities' accelerating trend into mendacity, deceit, and sophistry will push faithful Catholics out of the nation's leading universities and out of the professions, which have shown a distressing trend to censor Christian views.  The day will come when law, medicine, education, counseling, and academia in general will be closed to anyone who professes a belief in the doctrines and tenets of the Catholic faith.


And third, I think Catholics and evangelical Protestants will grow closer as the kulterkampe expands its reach and America's intellectual elites become bolder in their bigotry.  Personally, I have a growing admiration for our Protestant brothers and sisters who have taken their place in the front lines in the fight against abortion. And I believe evangelical Protestants are looking more tolerantly toward Catholicism.

Now may be an opportunity for Catholics to reach out and evangelize the evangelical Protestants. I think we might be surprised by how receptive they are to our Catholic faith.


Certainly, as evangelical Protestants and Catholics go down into the catacombs together, we will have plenty of time to contemplate the Gospel and to ask ourselves what God requires of us as the Postmodern Age sweeps aside the culture, the traditions and the moral principles that are the bedrock of Western Civilization.

And while we are down in those catacombs, let us mediate on the life of St. Edith Stein, who was a great intellectual who held two doctoral degrees and has been named a Doctor of the Catholic Church.  If Edith were alive today, her views would not be welcome at Bowdoin College.  I don't think Bowdoin would gas her as the Nazis did at Auschwitz; but  in the coming years, who knows how far the new anti-Christian bigotry will go?


 Michael Paulson. Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy. New York Times, June 10, 2014, p. 1.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Your People Are My People; Your God is My God: A Catholic Convert Reflects on His Protestant Ancestors

Last Friday, I attended an appreciation dinner sponsored by Christ the King Church, my local parish, given as a way of saying thank you to the parish's many volunteers.  Father Bob led us in the Catholic grace before we sat down to eat our dinners.

Bless us O Lord,
And these thy gifts which we are about to receive
From Thy Bounty
Though Christ Our Lord
I have come to love this brief table prayer, said daily by millions of Catholics all over the world.  Those of us who say it are acknowledging our dependence on God and our gratitude for all the blessings of life, including the food we eat.

And I find its brevity, its humility, its almost childlike simplicity strangely touching.  This little prayer is utterly refreshing to me compared to the long-winded Protestant table graces of my youth, with pastors going on and on and on as the fried chicken got cold in front of us.  If anyone wants to know what these Protestant prayers are like, they should see the movie August: Osage County. Chris Cooper's character gives a lengthy mealtime grace, delivered in the sweltering heat of an Oklahoma farm house, that is a pretty good approximation of the real thing.

This prayer forms part of our Catholic heritage--my  Catholic heritage. As I say it, I feel a kinship with all the American Catholics over the centuries who clung to their faith in spite of scorn and prejudice from  the predominant American culture.  The Irish immigrants of Boston, the Italians of New York, the Poles of Chicago, the German Catholics of Texas and the upper Midwest, the Hispanic immigrants of California--all these people are my people.  Their God is my God.

Sometimes when I reflect on my Catholic heritage--freely given to me when I came into the Church--I feel pity for my Protestant ancestors who gave up the power, the beauty and the glory of Catholicism--and for what?  To become Methodists? To become Presbyterians? To become Episcopalians? They threw their inheritance away for a crust of stale bread.

And I wonder sometimes, over the centuries that have passed since the Reformation, did any of my Protestant ancestors turn back to the Mother Faith?  Did some Fossey in ages past marry a Catholic French girl or an Irish-American girl and return to the Church?  Did one of the Andersons stumble upon the reality of Christ in the Eucharist and begin to weep as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did more than 200 years ago on the coast of Italy?  Did even one of my Protestant ancestors ever wander into a Mass and be overcome by its beauty  as happened to Dorothy Day early in the last century?

Or am I the only one among all the generations of my Protestant ancestors stretching back to Henry VIII who turned back?  Did God call me alone of all my family to return to the fold? Of all my blood relatives who crossed the River Styx in error, am I the only one--through the wideness of God's mercy-- to mysteriously come floating back toward the abundance of life on the healing streams of the Tiber?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Everyone's problem is no one's problem": Elliot Rodger, the UC Santa Barbara shooting spree, and Dorothy Day

With distressing regularity, young American men are committing mass murder.  The Columbine killings in 1999,  the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, Jared Loughner's killing spree in 2011, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December 2012.  And now we learn about Elliot Rodger, a 22-year old student at UC Santa Barbara, who killed six people last week before taking his own life.

Every case is different of course--particularly with regard to the casualty lists. So far, I think, Seung-Hui Cho's attack at Virginia Tech holds the casualty record: 32 killed and 17 wounded.

But most follow a common pattern.  First, all the attacks were planned and some were planned meticulously over a period of many months. All the attackers were students or had recently been students at American schools or colleges. All the attackers gave some warning or clear indication that they were contemplating violence. And all were male. (The Amy Bishop killings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville was a case of workplace violence and is in a different category altogether.)

In most cases, the attackers killed themselves before they could be captured; but Jarod Loughhner and James Holmes (the Aurora, Colorado movie-theater shooter) were captured alive.

In most of these cases, the attackers used at least one semi-automatic weapon to shoot their victims. Often they were well supplied with ammunition and extended-ammunition magazines. But Elliot Rodger stabbed three of his victims to death and injured some people with his automobile.

All these cases have provided fodder for media commentaries--from Bill O'Reilly of Fox News to Frank Bruni of the New York Times. (After all, Frank can't devote all of his columns to attacking the Catholic Church.) And everyone has a solution for stopping these killing sprees, which seem to be escalating in frequency.

Some argue for better gun control--particularly restrictions on access to semi-automatic weapons and extended-ammunition clips. Some argue for better mental health care. Some blame violent video games, and some blame America's supposedly misogynistic culture.

I found myself wondering what Dorothy Day would say about all of this. Dorothy died in 1980, but she saw her share of violence and mental illness. Her writings and diaries contain frequent descriptions of  mentally ill people that the Catholic Worker took in and sheltered. Indeed, she wrote in 1972 that "[i]nsanity is the problem of our era. . . . One can call it many names, alienation, withdrawal, depression, nervous breakdown--we have them all . . ."

Dorothy thought the Catholic Worker's farm settlements were one solution to violence.  She called one CW farm "a school for the living, a school of nonviolence."  Musing in her diary in September 1972, she reflected on our society's tendency to see violence as a collective problem, not a problem that requires an individual response. "'Everybody's problem is no one's problem,'" she wrote. ""Seems to me there is some kind of proverb or aphorism like that."

Dorothy did not have any clear solution to the problem of violence in American society, although she thought state-sponsored abortions--by sanctioning violence against the unborn--might be contributing to the problem.

I do think, however, that Dorothy would counsel us to be kind to all the troubled, unstable people we meet, even though mentally ill people can truly be a bother and an irritation.  Dorothy and her CW comrades certainly lived by that philosophy. They sheltered a number of truly exasperating people--people who clearly suffered from mental illness.

And this causes me to wonder whether Elliot Rodger would have murdered six people last week if just one person had showed him a little kindness on the day before he went on his killing spree.  But who knows? Maybe someone had been kind to Elliot Rodger on the day before he stabbed and shot people. But maybe that person wasn't quite kind enough, patient enough, compassionate enough to turn the tide.

I'm not saying of course that Elliot's friends and acquaintances share responsibility for what Elliot did. But I am saying that we all have opportunities in our day-to-day lives to show a little patience, a little compassion, and a little kindness to the abrasive and annoying people we meet. We never really know, do we, just how close to the edge that any person might be in any given moment.


Dorothy Day. The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2008.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Edge of Sadness: Pedophile Priests Deserve No Mercy From Our Bishops

I will do what needs to be done, though I'm damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me. 
                            Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the movie Doubt
Years ago, while practicing law in Alaska, I knew a woman attorney who had once been married to an Inuit--or as people in the Lower 48 commonly say--an Eskimo.  She told me once that her former husband had confided to her that the Inuits had a forthright way of dealing with child molesters in their villages. If the villagers caught a child predator, they would simply take him out on the ice and kill him.

I was not a Catholic at the time I heard this story and our Church's priest pedophile scandal was still in the future, but I remember thinking that the Eskimos had a sensible way of dealing with child abusers. And I haven't changed my mind.

Scene from Doubt
Today--well into the second decade of the 21st century--we know just about all we need to know about the pedophile Catholic priests who preyed on children during the last half of the 20th century. We know there were hundreds of victims and that they were mostly boys. And we know that many, many bishops--probably dozens--helped cover up the scandal.

But what we still don't know is why. Why was the Church afflicted with so many evil men and why did our bishops respond so cravenly? In Goodbye, Good Men, Michael Rose argued that some Catholic seminaries became afflicted with a sexually permissive culture.  Rose's thesis may partly explain the pedophile tragedy, but it doesn't explain why the bishops didn't call the police when they learned they had child abusers in their parishes.

Last week, I thought again about that question while reading The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O'Connor's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about Father Hugh Kennedy, a Catholic priest in Boston during the pre-Vatican II era.  Father Kennedy is a good man, but he drifts into alcoholism after his father died. Slowly his affliction comes to the attention of his parishioners and finally to the attention of his bishop.

Father Kennedy is summoned to the Bishop's office, where he expects to receive a harsh reprimand and be removed from his parish. But the Bishop skips the lecture.

"Almost everything I could say to you," the Bishop reasoned, "you know as well as I do. To give you a talking-to, a lecture, would simply be empty punishment. Rubbing it in. I'm not much interested in that."

The Bishop then comes straight to the point. "What I'm interested in," he tells Father Kennedy, "is that all this stops. As soon as possible. Right now. That's all I say to you, Father. I want you to stop."

Father Kennedy is stunned by the Bishop's unexpected mercy and kindness, and he tries to stop drinking. For a few months he is successful but then he lapse back into abusive drinking. The Bishop summons him a second time, and Father Kennedy is sent to an alcohol-treatment center in Arizona for four years. Father Kennedy conquers his addiction to alcohol while in Arizona and then returns to his diocese, where he resumes his priestly duties as a more humble and more deeply spiritual man.

Reading The Edge of Sadness, it occurred to me that many of our bishops may have thought they were acting as good pastors when they gave child-molesting priests second and third chances. Perhaps, like the bishop in Edwin O'Connor's novel, who gave Father Kennedy a second and a third chance, they believed that sexual abusers could be redeemed by the mercy of Christ and the aid of psychiatric counseling.

But the bishops were wrong. Very few priests who were serial child abusers--perhaps none-were redeemed.  The recidivism rate for this particular disorder is very low--quite close to zero.

So by restoring child-abusing priests to their pastoral duties, the bishops were, for the most part, releasing evil men back into the parishes, where more children were injured.

So I put this proposition before my fellow Catholics and the bishops. Perhaps there are some men who are so infested with evil that they are beyond all human intervention--beyond all redemption in the world of humankind.  Such men, surely, must be cast out from our Catholic communities and never allowed to return.

Men who rape children are truly evil, as evil as the men who operated the World War II concentration camps. And such men deserve no mercy, no mercy whatsoever.  And if they are to receive forgiveness and redemption of any kind let it come solely from God.


Edwin O'Connor. The Edge of Sadness. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1961.

Michael S. Rose. Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Company, 2002.