From the Great Litany

Remember not, Lord, our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.
Good Lord, deliver us.
That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to thy Holy Word.
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts.
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rosary Meditations

‘Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.’ This he said, signifying what death he should die. 
—The Gospel According to Saint John, 12.xxxi-xxxiii
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The Crucifixion has been one of the principal focuses of Christian piety since the first century, and naturally so. St Paul’s mystical assertion of the Coïnherence set the tone, and the King James translation (to my mind) still captures it more vividly in English than any other I know: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. The interanimation of our being with his, expressed in rare and exceptional cases by the Stigmata, is the principle of all Christian life.

The West has tended to accent identification with the suffering of the Cross. Various devotions to the Passion—the Stations of the Cross, meditations on the sorrows of the Virgin, the very use of the crucifix—are salient features of Latin Catholic piety. The East, by contrast, has tended to emphasize a different image: Christus Victor or ‘Christ the Conqueror,’ drawing on phrases of St Paul and especially of St John, the latter of whom in his Gospel depicts the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension as a single act of divine glory, which might rather be called the Exaltation. Neither image need (or, indeed, can) exclude the other; but different rites have different spiritual styles, and while this is a very good thing, it can lead to neglect of one image or the other.

The Anglican Use, though obviously about as Western as rites come in geographical terms, may bear some relation to the ancient rites of the East. [1] And there does seem to be a persistent tendency, if not to turn, yet at least to glance eastward, among Catholics of the English tradition; perhaps St Theodore of Canterbury [2] bequeathed it to us. In the spirit of the glance eastward, I’d like to suggest some Scriptural meditations for the mysteries of the Rosary, connecting them with the Exaltation seen as a single action.

The Joyful Mysteries

I. The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel
- In the holy tabernacle I served before him; and so was I established in Zion: and I took root in an honorable people, even in the portion of the Lord’s inheritance.
- I shall put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
II. The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
- The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant.
- By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people: insomuch that they brought the sick into the streets, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
III. The Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ at Bethlehem
- The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we beheld his glory.
- Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be shaken at his presence.
IV. The Presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
- Take thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
- There shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand as an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
V. The Discovery of the Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem
- Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
- As for that place wherein the ark is laid, it shall be unknown until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy.

The Luminous Mysteries

VI. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan
- Behold the lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.
- As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
VII. The Miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ at Cana
- Jesus said unto her, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.’
- When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand.
VIII. The Proclamation by the Lord Jesus Christ of the Kingdom
- This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
- The night is far spent; the day is at hand. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
IX. The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Mountain
- Behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.
- I have resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
X. The Institution by the Lord Jesus Christ of the Eucharist
- Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh.
- If then ye have been raised with Christ, set your minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

The Sorrowful Mysteries

XI. The Agony of the Lord Jesus Christ in Gethsemane
- By night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
- Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none on earth I desire but thee.
XII. The Scourging of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Pillar
- My beloved is radiant and red, the chiefest among ten thousand.
- Lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
XIII. The Crowning of the Lord Jesus Christ with Thorns
- Behold the king with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals, and on the day of the gladness of his heart.
- His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself; and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.
XIV. The Bearing by the Lord Jesus Christ of the Cross
- Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?
- Having despoiled principalities and powers, he made a spectacle of them openly, triumphing over them in his cross.
XV. The Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Death
- I sleep, but my heart is awake.
- As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The Glorious Mysteries

XVI. The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the Dead
- He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father.
- That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us.
XVII. The Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven
- Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.
- Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
XVIII. The Descent of the Holy Paraclete Spirit upon the Cenacle
- He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, rivers of living water shall flow from him.
- I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
XIX. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
- The Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
- The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
XX. The Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Theotokos
- I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.
- Christ is all and is in all.

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[1] Specifically: the Anglican Use (or Divine Worship as it is now officially called) derives from the Book of Common Prayer, the basis of all liturgies of the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer was itself derived from the Sarum Use, the most illustrious of the several local forms of the Mass in Mediæval England (and which even influenced rites outside the Isles, as far off as Norway and Portugal). The Sarum Use is descended from the Gallican Rite, which is widely conjectured to be of ultimately Eastern antecedents: either directly, according to the once-popular Ephesine theory that it was brought to Lyons by St Irenæus from Ephesus, or indirectly, through the heterogeneous ancestry of the Ambrosian Rite used in Milan. This may sound far-fetched to a modern reader, but Eastern influence on the whole of the Church was far greater in the first few centuries; monasticism was the child of Egypt, yet rapidly spread as far afield as Ireland, and as late as the eighth century there was a long string of Greek and Syriac Popes.
[2] St Theodore was originally from Tarsus in Asia Minor, and served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 668 to 690.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Telling a Suffolk College employee No today when she asked if she could pray for me felt freeing. Now, I spend most of my day talking privately in my head to God, so it’s not like I’m anti-Christian or anti-prayer. But so many times in my life prayer has been used as spiritual manipulation. It’s one element among many that makes communal faith difficult to navigate. I refuse to give up my power to straight Christians. I refuse to be someone who needs condescension from caring Christians to belong.

—Abel Potter [1]

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Compassion is power. That, I think, is why it is so frequently resented.

Both evil and good qualities can hamstring Christian witness and kindness. Evil—in the forms of rudeness, judgmentalism, scandalous behavior, and whatever else—does so in a fairly straightforward way. But even good qualities can inhibit evangelism, more subtly; and Christians are not always to blame for this, but at any rate we can’t do anything (except pray) for the flaws of others, and flaws of our own we can and should work on.

The assertion that good behavior can be bad evangelism may seem paradoxical: yet paradox or not, it is as old as Christianity. Christ commanded his disciples quite definitely to do whatever the Pharisees said, on the ground that they sat in Moses’ seat. Charles Williams offers a key to the mystery:
The hypothesis was that there was operative within the Church the sacred and eternal reconciliation of all things, which the Church did not and could not deserve. The Church (it was early decided) was not an organization of sinless men but of sinful, not a union of adepts but of less than neophytes, not of illuminati but of those that sat in darkness. Nevertheless, it carried within it an energy not its own, and it knew what it believed about that energy. …

But this was not sufficient; there had to be a new self to go on the new way. … There are always three degrees of consciousness, all infinitely divisible: (i) the old self on the old way; (ii) the old self on the new way; (iii) the new self on the new way. The second group is the largest, at all times and in all places. It is the frequent result of romantic love. It forms, at any one moment, the greatest part of the visibility of the Church, and, at most moments, practically all of oneself that one can know, for the new self does not know itself. … [The old self on the new way] transfers its activities from itself as a center to its belief as a center. It uses its angers on behalf of its religion or its morals, and its greed, and its fear, and its pride. It operates on behalf of its notion of God as it originally operated on behalf of itself. [2]
The problem with the old self on the new way being that the gospel is not about improved behavior, but about a fundamental change in one’s being. Or, to use the word preferred by the Gospels, a change in life. And no amount of good behavior adds up to a fundamental change in being; that is why salvation is by grace, by the gratuitous infusion of the life of the Trinity, whose operations are invisible and do not come by obedience to the law, however good the law remains.

The phrase passive-aggressive is familiar enough, signifying a resentment and resistance that refuses to express itself in a direct, honest mode. The particular vice—or, more clearly, the particular damaging virtue—that I wish to address is what I dub compassion-coäggression. I believe it’s one of the chief temptations of compassion, precisely because compassion is power.

Compassion, i.e. love directed specifically toward those who are enduring some evil, is a very good thing. Where it gets ticklish is in the diversity of evils that people endure. Compassion for pain and suffering is fairly straightforward, and aims to alleviate it, by removing the source of the pain or at least accompanying the sufferer. Compassion for intellectual and moral evils, however, requires a degree of mutual coöperation in its activity, that the simpler forms of compassion need not involve; it is more susceptible to the various lusts for superiority. Even without (immediately) ceasing to be sincerely loving, compassion easily embraces an admixture of self-righteousness, preachiness, condescension—in a word, the desire to control—that is incompatible with love in the end. And control means enjoying something as an extension of oneself.

Christians have shown this ambivalent love for others throughout history; the story of European colonists evangelizing the Americas and Africa, for instance, reads like a nightmare. But Christian-LGBT relations are the example I know best, and a very pertinent one in contemporary culture, so I will use it as a basis for analyzing compassion-coäggression, and leave to you, gentle reader, to apply the pattern to others areas.

The rise of the gay rights movement, lying in the expansion of liberal, revolutionary, and utilitarian ideas of how society and the state should work, has naturally met with a cold reception among most Catholics. Here in North America, and in some other parts of the world, things are less frosty; but a glance at the Church’s support [3] for severely homophobic policies in parts of Africa shows how cruel Catholic responses to LGBT people can be. Yet there in the Catechism, plain as day, is the exhortation to treat LGBTs with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, and to avoid every sign of unjust discrimination. Are this commands simply being ignored?

Yes; and no. Yes, in the sense that anything worth calling respect, compassion, sensitivity, or avoiding discrimination seems markedly absent from the words of men like Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who referred to homosexuality as ‘a perversion that is repulsive to normal human beings.’ Or Cardinal John Onaiyekan, who applauded a Nigerian bill placing further restrictions on LGBT freedoms, when same-sex intimacy was already illegal throughout the country and punishable by death in some parts of it. Or the illustrious Cardinal Robert Sarah, who compared ‘Western homosexuality’ to Nazism in its hostility to the Church. Or Archbishop Lewis Zeigler, who suggested that the outbreak of Ebola in his country might in part be divine punishment for homosexual behavior.

But no, in the sense that any amount of spiritual love can be practiced toward somebody who’s in the wrong, that doesn’t involve protecting them from any kind of harm. It would, of course, be outrageous and ridiculous to claim that any punishment is suitable for any offense; but without a definitive teaching from the Church on what respect, compassion, sensitivity, and unjust discrimination mean, there are several worlds of room in which to argue that there’s nothing respectful or compassionate about letting people sin, or that sensitivity can’t restrain us from speaking the truth, or that the prohibition on unjust discrimination doesn’t address the question of whether there’s such a thing as just discrimination.

And the problem with this kind of hypocrisy is, to the mind that is formed by it, it is completely plausible. Hypocrites are frequently not conscious frauds. The lie runs far deeper.
Jesus entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man, that had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored as whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. [4]
If the Catholic doctrine of chastity is to have the slightest credibility with those outside the Church—still more importantly, if Catholics have the slightest desire to love queer people not with words or tongue, but with deeds and in truth—then the rights and dignity of LGBT people must, must, be pushed to the forefront: both in the hearts of those who state that doctrine, and in what they say in stating it. Otherwise, all such statements do is provide a veneer of compassion that conceals and rationalizes brutality.

The silent complicity of many Catholics in homophobic discrimination and even violence, whether here or abroad, is partly due to ignorance. How many people follow which bishops have made what statements on which legal proposals in sub-Saharan Africa? And of course, if you aren’t queer yourself or don’t travel in substantially queer circles, it’s easy to miss a lot of things that we take for granted. Even supposing that you live a life of unimpeachable chastity (you do, don’t you? the Catholic requirements are the same for everybody, it isn’t like it’s unfair), if you are a heterosexual and mostly know others who profess heterosexuality, you don’t need to decide whether to come out. You don’t get lectured about identifying with Christ if you say I’m straight. You don’t risk getting kicked out of the house by your parents and forbidden to be along with your siblings, as happened to a schoolmate of mine last month. You don’t have to deal with Catholic clerics and administrators saying they love straight people with one breath, and explaining that that’s consistent with firing them in the next. Which, in all seriousness, good for you. Because this stuff sucks.

But the silent complicity needs to end, through greater light and greater love. Ignorance is (or can be) an innocent thing, but it’s not a good thing; it is, among other dangerous possibilities, a favorite tool of the tyrant. [5] And not all of this complicity is innocent, nor is it all silent. Complacency, bigotry, fear, and malice form part of it too. Fessing up to that complicity is needed from Catholics, and apologies, too. Better information about LGBT people is needed, information gleaned from sources other than NARTH pamphlets and decades-expired studies. A clearer grasp of Catholic teaching is needed, one that classifies sins according to their real gravity and accents what Scripture and the Catechism actually accent. And above all, what is needed is a deeper love of our neighbor. We’re here, we’re queer: look at us, talk to us, show with your actions that you care about us.

At the evening of life, said St John of the Cross, we will be judged on our love. We’re here. Love.

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[1] His name and the name of the academic institution in question have been altered.
[2] He Came Down From Heaven, pp. 118-119.
[3] When I speak here of the Church’s support, I am speaking of the endorsement of local Catholics and their hierarchs. The Vatican itself very rarely comments on the laws of particular countries.
[4] Mark 3.1-6.
[5] I’m not calling the Catholic Church a tyrant here. I am much more afraid of the state, that being the body which imposes civil and criminal laws—like sodomy laws, for example.

Friday, February 23, 2018

"Christ's Body, Christ's Wounds"

Now every time that I look at myself 
“I thought I told you, this world is not for you”
The room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair
“You sound so angry, just calm down, you found me”
I said please don’t slow me down if I’m going too fast
—Julian Casablancas
, “Reptilia,” Room on Fire

Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
—St Paul the Apostle
, Letter to the Colossians
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About a year and a half ago, Fr Mike Schmitz, who’s pretty much a bundle of boyish energy in a Roman collar, gave a talk at Steubenville about same-sex attraction. I’m going to critique it in certain ways, but I want first to say that it is head and shoulders above the majority of orthodox Catholic sources I’ve ever encountered on the subject. For instance, he opens by boldly rejecting the idea that Catholics should tolerate gay people, because tolerance is something you do at others, and gay people belong in the Church just like straight people; he says repeatedly that “It’s not about Them, it’s about Us.” He (occasionally) uses the word gay, without going into hysterics about possible cultural implications. He even goes as far as to distinguish within same-sex relationships between the illicit sexual element, if there is one, and the love that is not only permissible but beautiful, without immediately emptying it by wittering about scandal.

One of the shortcomings of the talk—if a natural one, as he’s primarily a Catholic explaining Catholic doctrine to Catholics, rather than a Catholic defending Catholic doctrine to non-Catholics—is that, though drawing an important connection between the nature of a thing, its purpose, and how it is used, Fr Schmitz fails to give a satisfying template for how to determine the natures and purposes of things and for determining which uses are legitimate. [1] He addresses the fear of loneliness with his characteristic goofiness, which unfortunately suggests an absence of empathy rather than its presence: his style here clashes with his substance. More seriously, Fr Schmitz also presents a much sunnier picture of the Church than most people actually experience; he fails to address the fact that pious Catholics and clergy (which is what most people mean by the Church, consciously or not) hurt an awful lot of people by their sins, by bad advice, even by well-meaning deeds and words insensitively offered. A little ironically, the only kind of homophobia he speaks about is internalized homophobia.

These are symptomatic of a broader and more serious flaw, typical of devout young Catholics: naïvety. [2] A natural fault, an excusable one, but one that’s still capable of doing immense damage when people are naïve and don’t realize it. (Incidentally, the only people I can think of who are naturally naïve and do realize it are children, which may give a new layer of meaning to the command to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as little children.) It nearly killed me and my ex-boyfriend. There may be a way to get past being naïve without having your heart broken and bleeding; but I don’t know what it is. The only thing I know is that naïvety has to be broken, in each person.

I recently had a poem published in a collection assembled by Eve Tushnet, titled Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds: Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church. This collection is precisely about the destruction of naïvety, via the nastier side of actual Catholic practice that Fr Schmitz fails to speak to: refused vocations, contempt for disabilities, molestation, homophobia, heresy, backbiting, financial corruption, cold-shouldering large families. All things that Catholic doctrine rightly disclaims, and that Catholic people most certainly do anyway—even if they call it “concerns about your Marian devotion” or “such a small percentage of the congregation,” “a matter we’re pursuing with the utmost attention” or “I don’t think you’re considering the possible scandal of your behavior,” “an outdated approach to penance” or “sharing an urgent prayer request,” “We prefer not to discuss why Father So-and-so was removed” or “It just isn’t respectful to the liturgy when they make so much noise.” Pretending that this stuff doesn’t happen is coöperating in spiritual abuse.

And no, that doesn’t mean that you have to believe every accusation and complaint, in advance of all evidence; but it does mean that you can’t reflexively dismiss such things without investigating them. Certainly not if you work in a pastoral capacity. It is a shepherd’s job to protect the sheep from wolves, and when the lambs start bleating for help, the shepherd’s instinct should not be to tell them to shut up. Nor should it be to assume that he already knows what they need. It should be to go find out.

I can’t really speak to the experiences of others (hence the importance of a book like Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds with its variety of testimony), but the Church’s pastoral failure in this regard is blatant in the case of the LGBT community. The scandalously milk-and-water profession of sympathy from our national bishops’ conference after the Pulse massacre, which happened just two months before Fr Schmitz gave this talk (and which he also failed to mention), is just one example of the mass refusal of Catholic clergy to deal seriously with homophobic behavior, whether among her members or in the world at large. Rehearsals of her teaching that gay people should be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” are appropriate, but without effective action they ring completely hollow. Even if the argument that they don’t want to give scandal by seeming to approve of homosexuality weren’t despicable—which it is—it would still be flat-out wrong, because if you embrace Catholic teaching then you need to embrace respect and sensitivity towards LGBT people just as much as we need to embrace chastity; and if you’re worried about credibility, proving by your actions that you care about gay people is a lot more convincing than vociferously avoiding any appearance of sympathy.

I know I write about this topic a lot. Some of my readers are probably bored of hearing about it. I’m not totally thrilled myself. But I write about it because we, the gay community, don’t get days off. We don’t get to not think about it. And while I’m still a Catholic because I’m stubborn as a mule, I know Catholics who’ve abandoned churchgoing, or even their faith as such, because they couldn’t face going back to a mother that keeps hitting them and then lying about it.

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[1] This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong, nor that such a template couldn’t be constructed; it just means that his analysis isn’t complete for every purpose.
[2] I specifically say naïvety and not innocence—a lovely word which we have spoilt. Innocence means, primarily, an absence (or more positive refusal) of corruption. Naïvety, on the other hand, connotes an immature simplicity of mind, a failure to draw fine distinctions between and within good and evil, or to recognize the importance of doing so. Either can exist without the other, though cynical people (who are usually naïve, however negative) habitually identify them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Lenten Plan for 2018

Well, tomorrow's Ash Wednesday. Lent is finally upon us. I'm planning to spend a few days off social media, but before I log out, I thought I'd share my Lenten plan, in case anybody'd like to join me in it.

1. Fasting and Abstinence. For Catholics of the Roman Rite, including the Ordinariate, Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent are days of obligatory abstinence from flesh meats. This basically means anything warm-blooded (fish, shellfish, amphibians, and reptiles are allowed, so if you have a serious craving for some frogs' legs or an alligator steak on a Friday in Lent, knock yourself out, I guess). Additionally, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting, which means no more than one full meal and two snacks per day. These rules only apply to those older than 14 and younger than 60, and the sick, the infirm, and pregnant or nursing mothers are also exempt.

I generally go meatless throughout Lent, and this year I'm going to take a stab at going fully vegan on Fridays. The Ordinariate also preserves the custom of Ember days: during the first full week of Lent (i.e., the week following the first Sunday), Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are observed with fasting and abstinence, thus opening the season with a more emphatic transition from ordinary life into a penitential frame of mind.

Do remember that, as my director likes to say, Lent is not a diet plan. The purpose of fasting is the discipline of the soul, not a beach body.

2. Almsgiving. This is the more correct term for what's usually referred to today as charity. Charity, that is, love, is a virtue that embodies considerably more than giving to the poor; however, giving to the poor is one of the most traditional and beneficial acts of charity (it blesseth him that gives and him that takes). Though alms are always appropriate—whether in the form of donations to charitable causes, volunteering in a soup kitchen, or just giving to panhandlers on the street—this is a specially fitting time to distribute them.

3. Lenten Discipline. This is entirely voluntary, and may or may not involve giving something up for Lent (although that exercise is so common that many people don’t realize there’s anything more to Lent than giving something up for it). Adding something, like a daily recitation of the Rosary or reading from Scripture, is just as fitting if not more so. This year, I’ve chosen to read through the Catechism. I’ve dipped into it before, chiefly as a reference work, but I’ve never actually read the thing cover to cover. Including Sundays—which are normally left out of the count, but to spread the task out a little more—it comes to a little over sixty paragraphs a day, which is ambitious but doable. Most of these paragraphs are only a sentence or two long, and many of them are summaries of earlier sections. The schedule I plan to follow, together with the topics treated in the segments being read each day, are as follows. (Dates marked with an asterisk are days when normal Lenten disciplines like abstinence are not obligatory. For Catholics of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, February 22nd, the commemoration of the Chair, is observed as a solemnity and is also exempt from Lenten rules.)

14 Feb. §§1-64. Using the Catechism. Man’s capacity for God; God’s self-revelation; Israel.
15. §§65-119. The finality of revelation; Scripture.
16. §§120-184. The canon. Faith.
17. §§185-248. The creeds. God’s being; God’s oneness.

*18. §§249-308. The Trinity. God’s power; creation.
19. §§309-370. The problem of evil. Angels; the earth; man.
20. §§371-435. The sexes. The Fall, Original Sin; the Incarnation.
21. §§436-498. The names of Christ; the mission of Christ; the Hypostatic Union; Mary.
22. §§499-560. Mary’s virgin motherhood. The mysteries of Christ’s life; the Kingdom of Heaven.
23. §§561-623. The Law, the Temple; the Passion, the Redemption.
24. §§624-682. Christ’s burial; the Resurrection; the Ascension; the Parousia.

*25. §§683-747. The Holy Ghost.
26. §§748-810. The Church.
27. §§811-870. The Church’s unity, holiness, catholicity, apostolicity.
28. §§871-933. The ministerial and magisterial priesthoods; the laity; consecrated life.
1 Mar. §§934-996. Spiritual communion among Christians; Mary, mother of the Church. The forgiveness of sins. Final resurrection.
2. §§997-1060. Death, particular judgment; Heaven; Purgatory; Hell; the Last Judgment.
3. §§1061-1121. The liturgy; the Trinity at work in the liturgy. The sacraments.

*4. §§1122-1178. The sacramental economy. The celebration of the liturgy; the sacred calendar.
5. §§1179-1245. The church building; diversity of liturgical traditions. Baptism.
6. §§1246-1305. The administration, graces of Baptism. Confirmation.
7. §§1306-1372. The administration of Confirmation. The Eucharist, the Mass.
8. §§1373-1429. The Real Presence; Holy Communion, its effects. Reconciliation.
9. §§1430-1498. Penance; contrition, confession, satisfaction; indulgences; the administration of Reconciliation.
10. §§1499-1553. Unction. Holy Orders; baptismal, ministerial priesthoods.

*11. §§1554-1617. The three degrees of Order; the administration, effects of Order. Marriage.
12. §§1618-1679. Consecrated virginity. Marital consent; the administration, effects of Marriage. Sacramentals.
13. §§1680-1742. Christian funerals. The image of God; beatitude; human freedom.
14. §§1743-1804. Ends, intentions, circumstances in morality; the passions; conscience.
15. §§1805-1869. The cardinal virtues; the theological virtues. Sin: venial, mortal.
16. §§1870-1927. Society; authority; the common good.
17. §§1928-1995. Human dignity; equality, solidarity; the moral law, the Torah, the New Law. Justification.

*18. §§1996-2051. Grace; merit; growth in holiness. The Magisterium.
*19. §§2052-2117. The Ten Commandments. The First Commandment: adoration, idolatry, magic.
20. §§2118-2179. Irreligion; icons. The Second Commandment: blasphemy, oaths. The Third Commandment.
21. §§2180-2243. The Sunday sabbath. The Fourth Commandment: the family, civil society.
22. §§2244-2306. Church and state. The Fifth Commandment: self-defense; murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide; scandal, respect for the body, respect for the dead; civil peace.
23. §§2307-2365. War. The Sixth Commandment: sexuality, chastity; forms of unchastity; fidelity.
24. §§2366-2425. Fertility; adultery, divorce, other offenses against Marriage. The Seventh Commandment: the universal destination of goods, personal property; social justice.

*25. §§2426-2492. Work, the rights of workers; international justice; the poor. The Eighth Commandment: honesty, witness; offenses against truth; privacy.
26. §§2493-2557. Freedom of speech, information; art. The Ninth Commandment: purity of heart. The Tenth Commandment: covetise, poverty of heart.
27. §§2558-2615. Prayer, communion with God. The Law, the Prophets, the Psalms; Christ’s model, teaching of prayer.
28. §§2616-2679. Adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, praise; the sources of prayer. Prayer in the Trinity; prayer in union with Mary.
29. §§2680-2737. The saints, fellow Christians, aids to prayer. Vocal prayer, meditation, contemplation; difficulties in prayer.
30. §§2738-2802. Perseverance in prayer. The tradition of the Lord’s Prayer.
31. §§2803-2865. The seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer; the final doxology.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Christendom and Christianity, Part IV

Dante was born and brought up Guelf, [1] and he liked the sturdy native quality of the Guelfs, their tang of the soil, as of an old-fashioned squirearchy, their rooted republican constitutionalism and their modern liberal outlook, their underlying puritanism in conduct and religion. But he did not like the commercialism and vulgarity of the self-made middle-class plutocracy that was growing up among them, and he came more and more to loathe and fear the temporal power of the Papacy which their policy supported and encouraged; the avarice and corruption of a wealthy church, the appalling prevalence of simony in every ecclesiastical office, and the undignified spectacle of the Vicar of Christ maneuvering, like a bishop on a chessboard, through that game of European politics in which kings and queens set the pace. 
Dorothy Sayers, Introduction to the ‘Inferno’

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I have been writing about Christendom, and why, as a Christian, I don’t hold with it. I consider it a fundamental mistake, a confusion of the proper functions of nature and grace; and I think that the monstrosities performed against heretics and reputed witches [2] are what naturally follows from that kind of confusion.

But there is a counterargument. What if all violent means were renounced by the Church in her evangelization? Which, sure, they should be anyway—they’re clean contrary to the example and express teaching of our Lord, who said My kingdom is not of this world. And sure, technically even the Mediæval Church didn’t itself torture heretics but ‘handed them over to the secular arm,’ even though she knew exactly what that was going to mean, but let’s suppose she was more honest and watchful and didn’t make that kind of hypocritical mistake next time. What if the persecutions and the wars are simply abuses of a fully, but imperfectly, Christian society—and a fully Christian society is, in itself, a good thing?

Well, first of all, let us be quite clear what we mean by a Christian society. Do we mean a society in which everybody is in fact a Christian? If so, I can accept that a Christian society is a good thing; I would add that it isn’t a particularly common or likely thing, but only because most societies are large enough that there is some diversity of belief. Outside of Vatican City, and maybe San Marino, I imagine most if not all societies include some religious diversity. But in that case, nearly every society on earth is not a Christian society and should not be expected ever to become one.

But that isn’t what most defenders of Christendom have in mind when they speak of Christian societies, or call America a Christian nation. They aren’t even (I don’t think) speaking of a culture that is predominantly Christian in confession. What they’re thinking of is God Save the Queen and In God We Trust, prayer in public schools, the President in church, the coronation in Westminster Abbey, Christmas specials with readings from Luke and Matthew; what they’re thinking of is Christianity having a privileged place in secular culture.

I am not totally sure that it’s intrinsically wrong for Christendom in that sense to exist; but I would point out that Christendom in that sense is a thing of virtually no importance. It isn’t something that Christ sought or commanded us to seek, still less to expect; on the contrary, he taught us to expect persecution, and defined persecution as something more and other than merely not being given pride of place. Hath the Lord as great delight in pledges of allegiance and federal holidays, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
And they asked him, saying, ‘Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?’ But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, ‘Why tempt ye me? Shew me a penny. Whose image and inscription hath it?’ They answered and said, ‘Caesar’s.’ And he said unto them, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.’ [3]
The ironical and alarming question here being, what isn’t God’s?

Okay, but what if what we’re talking about is a country that’s built on authentically Christian principles? Not just one with the trappings of Christianity, or even one where the Church has a privileged place in civil society, but one where the ideas the government and the culture operate on are in full accord with the belief of the Church?

Again—what does that mean? Because most of the principles that are actually taught by the New Testament (the primordial specifically Christian document) are not the kind of principles you can actually run a culture, still less a government, on: accept harsh treatment peacefully; endure insults and slanders joyfully; respond to violence not by standing your ground, but by running; give and expect nothing in return; imitate the one who lived and died for the good of his enemies and persecutors. Any civil government that attempted to operate on those ideas would collapse in a month: no law can be enforced when the very cops are rejoicing in being beaten, and citizens must make sure that thieves take any possessions that they missed during a mugging. This isn’t to say that there are no moral principles endorsed by the New Testament that could be embraced by a state: do not steal, do not murder, give to the poor, and so forth. But those are instantiations of justice, not grace; in other words, they are precisely exhortations to rational virtue that men know by their consciences apart from special revelation, not exhortations to the specifically Christian—that is, supernatural—mode of being. And if a Christian state doesn’t mean one that’s built on specifically Christian principles, then calling it a Christian state seems, to me, rather silly.

But I have more against this idea than its philosophical incoherence (if more were needed). I believe that the attempt on the part of Catholics and other Christians to obtain a socially central place for the Church and her beliefs is not only unnecessary, but a radical distraction from the Church’s proper prophetic role in society, and that it has led her astray from her genuine mission of justice and mercy. The ambivalent and tragic role of the Catholic Church in the history of the Third Reich and its treatment of the Jews is, maybe, the most dreadful instantiation of this straying. Fr Martin Rhonheimer, in his loving, exact, mournful piece on the Holocaust in First Things, writes:
The clearest example of this attitude was the pastoral letter of the Austrian Bishop Johannes Gföllner of Linz … which branded as ‘radically un-Christian’ all ‘contempt, hatred, and persecution of the Jewish people.’ No less irreconcilable with ‘the position of the Church’ was ‘the rejection of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament on racial grounds.’ ‘Nazi racial theories,’ Gföllner explained, were ‘regression into the worst kind of paganism’ … At the same time, however, he didn’t hesitate to claim that many ‘irreligious Jews had a very damaging influence in almost all areas of contemporary cultural life.’ This influence was also visible in business and trade, in the law, and in medicine. Indeed, ‘many of our social and political upheavals are permeated by materialistic and liberal principles stemming primarily from Jews. Every committed Christian has … the conscientious duty to fight and overcome the pernicious influence of such decadent Judaism.’ 
… Such an outlook made it difficult for Catholics to develop any clear and fundamental opposition to the Nazis’ Jewish policy. The constantly repeated rejection of ‘hatred’ and ‘persecution’ of Jews, with the insistence that the ‘Jewish question’ could only be solved in a framework of ‘justice and charity,’ should not blind us to the fact that Church spokesmen fundamentally approved of measures to limit Jewish influence. … Catholics were unable to react clearly to Nazi racial policy until the opportunity to influence events had long passed. … It is of course true that the Catholic Church was itself exposed to brutal persecution. Catholics of that time felt that they had quite enough to do defending their own interests. The tragedy is that due to Church-generated anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, [4] and also because of the Church’s initial sympathy for a government that fought against liberalism [5] and communism, the Church itself had done much to legitimize the very regime that persecuted it. 
… A letter [was] written by Cardinal Faulhaber on April 8, 1933 (a week after the Nazi-instigated boycott of Jews), to Alois Wurm. A Regensburg priest, Wurm had written the Cardinal protesting that following the proclamation of the boycott ‘not a single Catholic paper has had the courage to proclaim the teaching of the Catechism, that no one may be hated or persecuted’ … Wurm pleaded for a clear protest by the bishops against Nazi policy. What the Nazis were doing to the Jews, Faulhaber wrote, was ‘so un-Christian that not only every priest but every Christian must protest.’ At the moment, however, Church leaders had more important matters to deal with. ‘The preservation of our schools and Catholic organizations and the question of compulsory sterilization [of the mentally ill] are more important matters for Christianity in our country—especially when we consider that the Jews, as we have already seen in some recent instances, are quite able to look after themselves. We must not give the government an opportunity to turn the campaign against the Jews into a campaign against the Jesuits.’ … And at the same time, Church leaders were hoping they could achieve an understand with the regime regarding the ‘more important matters’ mentioned in Faulhaber’s letter to Wurm.

This is of course an extreme example. It is, also, a historical example; and the hideous fact is that we don’t need to search the archives of history to find instances of this warped approach to the Church. The more recent child abuse scandals are an even handier example: to do them justice, the priests and prelates who concealed abusers may not have been concerned to protect their own reputations as much as to protect the Church’s reputation—and not only ravaged that reputation far worse than the abusers by their hypocrisy, but showed that they literally cared more about the Church’s reputation than her work. On a smaller scale, the recent scandal at Christendom College exhibits the same contempt for the image of God, in its scrambling to keep the image of the Church spick and span (or rather, not even the image of the Church, but of a mere academic institution).

It all betrays a lack of confidence that God can do his work without us: this determination to protect a good name, whether our own or our order’s or our family’s or our chancery’s or that of the very Church Invisible, at the expense of the actual good of any individual. For of course it is expedient that one man should die for the people.

The attempt to build Christendom has had good as well as bad results. I’m grateful for them. But just as abusus non tollit usum, equally, usus non tollit abusum, or in other language, the ends do not justify the means. For the end is contained in the means. Whatever the intention of an act, the means used to effect the end control the end, and political means, however virtuous, however moderated, however gentle, will always and only and by nature effect political ends. Not spiritual ones. Not ever.

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[1] The Guelfs were one of the two principal political factions in Italy in the High Middle Ages, and were (roughly speaking) the constitutionalist, anti-imperial party. The other party, the Ghibellines, were aristocratic and more frequently anticlerical than the Guelfs. The names originally derived from the Germanic noble families of Welf and Wibellingen, though by Dante’s time the names had lost their dynastic connections.

[2] I don’t rule out the possibility that witchfinders and inquisitors may occasionally have captured actual witches. And there are a small number of witchcraft trials, like those of Duchess Eleanor Cobham of Gloucester, Baron Gilles de Rais, Catherine Monvoisin, and the Marquise Athenaïs de Montespan, whose evidence (as far as one can tell, centuries later) does seem to indicate that devils were really invoked in those cases; though it is harder to say whether devils responded. But the nature of mass hysteria is to find convenient scapegoats for the populace’s terror, whether or not they are guilty and whether or not there is in fact any guilt in the matter. And the results of the Inquisition in Spain (which, contrary to popular belief, was very strict about obtaining and checking concrete evidence in witchcraft trials) would suggest that the overwhelming majority of those tortured and executed for witchcraft were innocent, even if nothing else did.

[3] Luke 20.21-25.

[4] Fr Rhonheimer distinguishes between anti-Semitism, i.e. hatred or contempt of Jews as an ethnic group, and anti-Judaism, or hostility to the Jewish religion. The latter has been part of Christian history in varying degrees since the Church’s inception; the former was sometimes rebuked, sometimes tolerated, and sometimes even embraced. Since anti-Semitism received philosophical formulation in the nineteenth century, the Church has seen clearly enough to reject it, spotty though the record of her conduct is.

[5] I.e., the democratic ideals of the Enlightenment, as expressed in the American and French Revolutions. A lot of contemporary Americans, Catholic and otherwise, don’t realize that the Catholic Church and democracy have an extremely rocky, mutually suspicious history; Catholicism had been dealing with monarchies for well over a thousand years when democracies without even a veneer of monarchy emerged, and many Popes, notably Pius IX, preferred to keep it that way. It wasn’t until World War Two and the Cold War forced the papacy into a quasi-alliance with the NATO democracies, that the two began to be viewed as interrelated.