Church Buildings

God instructed the Jewish people how to construct sacred spaces and their temple and synagogues reflected those instructions, as do traditional Catholic Churches, as this very nice article about Church buildings from the Archdiocese of Washington writes.

An excerpt.

Most Catholics are unaware of the fact that our traditional church buildings are based on designs given by God Himself. Their designs stretch all the way back to Mount Sinai, when God set forth the design for the sanctuary in the desert and the tent of meeting. Many of the fundamental aspects of our church layouts still follow that plan and the stone version of it that became the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Our traditional church buildings also have numerous references to the Book of Revelation and the Book of Hebrews, both of which describe the heavenly liturgy and Heaven itself.

There is not time to develop these roots at length in this post today, though I hope to do so in a series of future posts.

Sadly, in recent decades there has been a casting aside of these biblical roots in favor of a “meeting house” approach to church design. No longer was the thinking that our churches should reflect heavenly realities, teach the faith, and follow biblical plans. Rather, the idea was that the church simply provided a space for people to meet and conduct various liturgies.

In some cases the liturgical space came to be considered “fungible” in that it could be reconfigured to suit various needs: Mass today, concert tomorrow, spaghetti dinner next Wednesday. This thinking began to be set forth as early as the 1950s. Pews were often replaced by chairs, which could easily be moved to suit various functions. And even in parishes that did not go so far as to allow spaghetti dinners in the nave (mine did in the 1970s), the notion of the church as essentially a meeting space still prevailed.

Thus churches began to look less and less like churches and more and more like meeting halls. The bare essentials such as an altar, pews or chairs, a pulpit, and very minimal statuary were still there, but the main point was simply to provide a place for people to come together. There was very little sense that the structure itself was to reflect Heaven or even remind us of it.

That is beginning to change as newer architects are returning more and more to sacred and biblical principles in church design. Further, many Catholics are becoming more educated on the meaning of church art as something more than merely that it is “pretty.” They are coming to understand the rich symbolism of the art and architecture as revealing the faith and expressing heavenly realities.

Retrieved July 29, 2014 from

Teilhard, Orthodox or Not?

An excellent article from Wanderer Press examines this question as well as any I’ve read.

An excerpt.

You can see why Catholics in the United States might be confused about where the Church stands on the theories of the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin. Recently, as reported by David Gibson in Religion News Service, “Gerhard [Cardinal] Mueller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,” warned the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the group representing more than 40,000 American sisters, that “the principles of ‘conscious evolution’ — that mankind is transforming thorough the integration of science, spirituality, and technology — are opposed to Christian revelation and lead to fundamental errors.” According to Gibson, Mueller warned that “if the nuns persist in pursuing such dangerous ideas, Rome could cut them loose.”

There is general agreement that the term “conscious evolution” is a reference to the theories of Teilhard (1881-1955), who achieved considerable fame as a philosopher, theologian, geologist, and paleontologist. Teilhard believed, writes Gibson, “that creation is still evolving and that mankind is changing with it; we are, he said, advancing in an interactive ‘noosphere’ of human thought that leads inexorably toward an Omega Point — Jesus Christ — that is pulling all the cosmos to itself.”

There was a time when Rome was highly suspicious of what Teilhard meant by this. In 1962, the Vatican issued a formal warning about the “dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and his followers.”

That was then. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, praised Teilhard’s “great vision” of the cosmos as a “living host.” One of Benedict’s spokesmen, according to Gibson, responded to questions about whether Benedict still felt that way, with a statement that read as follows: “By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied.” Beyond that, there are reports that Pope Francis is likely to make favorable comments about Teilhard in an encyclical on the environment that he is currently writing.

So which is it? Is Rome warning us about Teilhard’s message — as Cardinal Mueller’s strong words to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious would indicate? Or calling upon Catholics to ponder his work for insights into a correct understanding of Catholicism for our time — as the comments of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis seem to say?

Yes, and yes. The problem is that it is possible to interpret Teilhard’s theories in an orthodox manner, in line with Catholic teaching. But it is also possible to interpret them in a far different manner, as a call for an evolving consciousness that leaves no room for the Church and its teachings. We can’t get around it: There are secular humanists and proponents of an eccentric New Age spiritualism who are proponents of Teilhard’s theories. They see them as a vehicle for helping Catholics grow out of what they believe is an immature literal understanding of Jesus’ role in salvation history.

Consider some key passages from Teilhard’s The Divine Milieu. “Nothing is more certain, dogmatically, than that human action can be sanctified; the actions of life, of which we are speaking, should not be understood solely in the sense of religious and devotional works (prayer, fasting, almsgiving).” Christians should “dignify, ennoble, and transfigure in God the duties inherent to one’s station in life, the search for natural truth, and the development of human action.”

Does Teilhard mean by the above that we have an obligation to “remake all things in Christ,” as St. Paul instructed? To live our faith in our daily lives in the manner that a member of Opus Dei would call for? Or is he subtly hinting that we should leave behind the Church’s sacramental life and its concentration on saving our souls in favor of a new Catholicism that stresses transforming the physical world of our earthly existence? Is he placing less stress on prayer and fasting because they make no sense if there is no Creator who will reward us in an afterlife for these spiritual exercises?

Retrieved July 28, 2014 from

Broken Windows Policing Under Siege

And it is so in the city where it has had the greatest impact on reducing crime, New York City, as this article from City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald—the best criminal justice journalist in the country—writes.

An excerpt.

Longtime critics of the New York Police Department are seizing on the death of Eric Garner while in police custody to call for an end to proactive policing. Officers approached the 43-year-old Garner last Thursday in a high-crime area near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and accused him of illegally selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner had been arrested more than 30 times before, mostly for selling loose cigarettes but also for marijuana possession and other offenses. As captured in a cell-phone video, the 350-pound man loudly objected to the charge and broke free when an officer tried to handcuff him. The officer then put his arm around Garner’s neck and pulled him to the ground. Garner repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe, then went eerily stiff and quiet. After a seemingly interminable time on the ground without assistance, Garner was finally put on a stretcher to be taken to the emergency room. He died of cardiac arrest before arriving at the hospital. The autopsy has not yet been concluded, and it is too soon to say whether the officer’s apparent chokehold caused Garner’s death; Garner suffered from severe asthma and diabetes, among other ailments, which could have contributed to his heart attack.

Anger over Garner’s death is understandable. No one should die for selling untaxed cigarettes or even for resisting arrest, though the officers certainly did not intend to kill Garner, and a takedown may be justified when a suspect resists. Protests initially centered on the officer’s seeming use of a chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD and is thus against departmental policy. But NYPD critics have now expanded the campaign against the police to include misdemeanor enforcement—such as against Garner’s illegal vending—itself. This is pure opportunism. There is no connection between the theory and practice of quality-of-life enforcement, on the one hand, and Garner’s death, on the other. It was Garner’s resistance to arrest which triggered the events leading to his death, however disproportionate that outcome, not the policing of illegal cigarette sales. Suspects resist arrest for all sorts of crimes. The only way to prevent the remote possibility of death following an attempted arrest, beyond eliminating the use of choke-holds (if that is indeed what caused Garner’s heart attack), is to make no arrests at all, including for felonies. Nevertheless, we’re witnessing the start of the next chapter of anti-NYPD agitation. Having eviscerated the legitimate practice of pedestrian stops, the anti-cop brigades have now set their sights on broken-windows policing.

Broken-windows theory calls for the enforcement of low-level misdemeanor laws regulating public order, such as the ban on illegal cigarette selling that Garner repeatedly violated. Manhattan Institute fellow George Kelling and Harvard professor James Q. Wilson first articulated the theory in 1982 as a means of quelling public fear of crime and restoring order to fraying communities. William Bratton embraced the thinking in his first tour as NYPD commissioner in the 1990s; police commanders across the country have also adopted it.

Retrieved July 26, 2014 from

Capital Punishment: Debt & Restitution

An interesting article from the London Review of Books examining capital punishment as an outgrowth of commercialism , and an unintended warning about building intellectual structures on the thought of Nietzsche.

An excerpt.

‘Whence comes this bizarre, bizarre idea,’ Jacques Derrida asks, reading Nietzsche on debt in On the Genealogy of Morals, ‘this ancient, archaic (uralte) idea, this so very deeply rooted, perhaps indestructible idea, of a possible equivalence between injury and pain (Schaden und Schmerz)? Whence comes this strange hypothesis or presumption of an equivalence between two such incommensurable things? What can a wrong and a suffering have in common?’ By way of an answer, he points out that ‘the origin of the legal subject, and notably of penal law, is commercial law; it is the law of commerce, debt, the market, the exchange between things, bodies and monetary signs, with their general equivalent and their surplus value, their interest.’

In the first volume of The Death Penalty, Derrida considers the jus talionis, the principle of equivalence according to which a relation is set up ‘between the crime and the punishment, between the injury and the price to be paid’. Debt, in On the Genealogy of Morals, gives Nietzsche a way of understanding how ‘the “consciousness of guilt”, “bad conscience”’ came into the world. Earlier he laments ‘that whole sombre thing called reflection’, in which the self becomes its own object of relentless scrutiny and self-punishment. If one wants to keep a promise, one must burn memory into the will, submit to – or submit oneself to – a reign of terror in the name of morality, administer pain to oneself in order to ensure one’s continuity and calculability through time. If I am to be moral and keep my promises, I will remember what I promised and remain the same ‘I’ who first uttered that promise, resisting any circumstances that might alter its continuity through time, never dozing when wakefulness is needed. The promise takes on another meaning in Nietzsche when what I have promised is precisely to repay a debt, a promise by which I enter into, and become bound by, a certain kind of contract. What I have apparently burned into the will, or had burned there, is a promise to remember and repay that debt, to realise the promise within a calculable period of time, and so to become a calculable creature. I can be counted on to count the time and count up the money to make the repayment: that accountability is the promise. I can count on myself, and others can count on me. If I prove capable of making a contract, I can receive a loan and be relied on to pay it back with interest, so that the lender can accumulate wealth from my debt in a predictable way. And if I default, the law will intervene to protect his interest in the interest he exacts from me.

Nietzsche asks how debt and restitution became the primary framework for conceptualising criminality and punishment. Tracking the persistence of Roman law in 19th-century German jurisprudence, he argues that any injury is conceptualised as a debt, and every punishment understood as a payment. Hence the field of suffering is pervasively economised, and the contract becomes the salient model for human exchange. According to Nietzsche, all manner of injury is now modelled on the creditor-debtor relation. As injury comes to be conceived as payment in default, the psyche develops a penitentiary logic. The psychic form that payment takes is guilt, understood as a kind of perpetual payment, the debt never finally discharged. Punishment thus becomes a form of subjectivation: in punishing the criminal for having inflicted an injury/incurred a debt, a subject is formed who punishes her or himself for having failed to be calculable. And if she or he had proven to be calculable, would no injury have occurred? Not quite, for the only way to become a promising and calculable animal, according to Nietzsche, is precisely by inflicting injury on oneself, burning a memory into the will such that the memory burns time and again, every time the promise is broken and all the time until the promise is fulfilled.

Guilt becomes the psychic modality of the debtor who can neither quit nor fulfil the contract. What, then, is the psychic modality of the creditor? Nietzsche remarks on those Roman laws that allowed for debtors to be dismembered by their creditors or their legal proxies. Derrida continues the thought:

The creditor is granted a psychic reimbursement … Instead of a thing, instead of something or someone, he will be given some pleasure, some enjoyment [jouissance], a feeling of well-being or greater well-being (Wohlgefuehl), he will be given a pleasure that consists in the voluptuous pleasure of causing the other to suffer … ‘faire le mal pour le plaisir de le faire,’ that is, of doing harm for the pleasure of it … In place of some equivalent, something or someone, one grants in return, as payment, the pleasure of doing violence (Genuss in der Vergewaltigung).

Retrieved July 22, 2014 from

Death Row & Capital Punishment

The former is not serving the latter and that makes for a dysfunctional system, as this editorial from the New York Times reports.

An excerpt.

“How has it gone on this long?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked a lawyer for the State of Florida during oral arguments in March on a condemned inmate’s appeal. The legal issue in that case had to do with how states define intellectual disability, but Justice Scalia was troubled that Freddie Lee Hall had been on Florida’s death row for more than three decades.

In that same session, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the last 10 people executed by the state had spent an average of 24.9 years on death row.

“Do you think that that is consistent with the purposes of the death penalty,” Justice Kennedy asked the state’s lawyer, “and is it consistent with sound administration of the justice system?”

Last Wednesday, in an unrelated case, a federal judge in California answered that question with a resounding no. The state’s death-penalty system is “so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay,” wrote United States District Judge Cormac Carney, that it violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In a remarkable ruling overturning the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced in 1995 for the murder of his girlfriend’s mother, Judge Carney, an appointee of President George W. Bush, pointed out that of the more than 900 people California has sentenced to death since 1978, 13 have been executed. More than 40 percent of the rest have been on death row for at least 19 years, and the backlog is growing.

The judge found that the delays are primarily due not to inmates’ repeated appeals, as is often assumed, but to the state’s own foot-dragging and underfunding of its indigent defense system.

California law provides for an automatic appeal of all death sentences, but it takes three to five years before death-row inmates — all of whom are indigent — are even assigned a lawyer. It takes four more years for the lawyer to go through the voluminous trial record and file an appeal, and two to three years for the State Supreme Court, which hears only 20 to 25 death-penalty appeals per year, to schedule oral arguments.

Tack on another three to five years for state habeas corpus petitions, which bring claims that often don’t arise in the first appeal, such as ineffective assistance of counsel. Add 10 for federal habeas corpus claims, and the result is what Judge Carney charitably called a “completely dysfunctional” system.

Retrieved July 21, 2014 from

Priests, Women’s Ordination, & Celibacy

I believe that women should be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church and my research on this subject is that Christ also taught this by his actions and words.

I also believe that celibacy is an attribute of priesthood Christ taught, which this article from Chiesa, referring to remarks recently attributed to the pope, explains well.

An excerpt.

Although I have not enjoyed the privilege of meeting you in person, I would like to revisit your statements concerning celibacy contained in the account of your conversation with Pope Francis, published on July 13, 2014 and immediately disputed in their authenticity by the director of the Vatican press office. As an “old professor” who for thirty years taught Church history at the university, I would like to bring to your attention the current state of the research in this field.

In particular, it must be emphasized in the first place that celibacy by no means dates back to a law invented 900 years after the death of Christ. It is instead the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke that report the words of Jesus in this regard.

Matthew writes (19:29): “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”

What Mark writes (10:29) is very similar: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold.”

Luke (18:29ff.) is even more precise: “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Jesus does not address these words to the masses, but rather to those whom he sends out to spread his Gospel and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God.

In order to fulfill this mission it is necessary to free oneself from any earthly and human attachment. And seeing that this separation signifies the loss of what is taken for granted, Jesus promises a “recompense” that is more than appropriate.

Retrieved July 19, 2014 from

St. Mary Magdalen

Today is her feast day, and to commemorate it, here is an excerpt from my recent book about her.

“One of the cornerstones of the argument that only men can be priests comes from the documentation of the facts on the ground during Christ’s ministry on earth, where the Church has consistently maintained that the leader of the apostles was Peter and it was upon him that the Church was built by Christ and because only men were chosen as apostles, only men can be ordained as priests.

“Yet, Brock (2003) makes a good case that Mary Magdalene was the first apostle:

“Apostolic authority, without question, was a key issue in the early Christian churches. It insured that the one carrying the gospel message was a bona fide messenger. The criteria by which various early Christian authors attributed apostolic authority to certain followers of Jesus and not to others in early Christian documents provide insights into the politics of various factions of the early church. For example, Mary Magdalene was so esteemed among some early Christians that they bestowed on her the honorific title, “apostle to the apostles,” and yet for others she holds no apostolic status at all and is instead known as a reformed prostitute, a concept for which there is no biblical basis.

“What did it take to be an apostle and were women included in that group? Hippolytus, an early Christian bishop and martyr of Rome (ca. 170-ca. 236), wrote:

“Lest the female apostles doubt the angels, Christ himself came to them so that the women would be apostles of Christ and by their obedience rectify the sin of the ancient Eve….Christ showed himself to the (male) apostles and said to them…“It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.” (pp. 1-2) Brock, A. G. (2003). Mary Magdalene, the first apostle: The struggle for authority. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

“If this is true, and I believe it is, because I cannot see how God approves the unequal status of women which the world has proclaimed since time immemorial.” (pp. 29-30)

Lukenbill, D. (2014). Women in the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, & Criminal Reformation. Sacramento, California: The Lampstand Foundation.

Capital Punishment is Rare

One of the central elements in Pope John Paul II’s support for capital punishment as expressed in the Catechism’s section #2267, is that it should be rare, and this article from The New York Times indicates just how rare it really is.

An excerpt.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that California’s use of capital punishment was unconstitutional because the system was excessively arbitrary.

The arbitrariness that United States District Court Judge Cormac Carney highlighted is not that too many prisoners are being executed with insufficient due process, but that prisoners on death row are rarely executed, and when executions do occur, it is only after a lengthy and unpredictable delay.

This is unconstitutional, he argues, because a system “where so many are sentenced to death but only a random few are actually executed” is so arbitrary as to violate the Eighth Amendment’s protections against “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Judge Carney’s ruling calls into question a delicate political equilibrium that allows the public both to demand that their lawmakers pledge fealty to the death penalty when running for election, while not actually having to stomach the enormous number of executions that a systematic program of capital punishment would entail. The result is that death penalty statutes remain on the books in most states as death row continues to expand, yet relatively few are actually executed.

Some numbers put all this in perspective. The F.B.I. reports there were 14,827 cases of homicide or non-negligent manslaughter in 2012, of which 11,298 occurred in jurisdictions that have the death penalty. Research indicates that around one-fifth to a quarter of these homicides were for capital-eligible crimes, suggesting there were around 2,500 capital-eligible homicides in 2012, which is both high by global standards and much lower than in previous decades.

Yet there were only 45 executions last year. When fewer than one in 50 capital-eligible homicides leads to the death chamber, it is clear that capital punishment is rare.

Retrieved July 18, 2014 from

Women’s Ordination

I recently received and previewed two books I noted in postings on another blog,

I received Sr. Sara Butler’s 2007 book, “The Catholic Priesthood and Women” and, while it is well written, covers virtually the same territory that the Church has concerning women’s ordination, all three points (1. Christ called only men—he also only called Jews, and additionally, however, it is obvious—to me—with an objective reading of the Gospels that Mary Magdalene was of equal status with the apostles. 2. the Apostles affirmed it. 3. Tradition continued it.) all three have been well-disputed and—in my opinion—well-disproved by theological research, but Sr. Sara’s book is still of value as she writes from the perspective of someone who once supported women’s ordination.

I also received Phyllis Zagano’s 2013 book, “Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest” which is an excellent textbook presentation of mysticism from the perspectives of the major faith traditions introduced by members of their particular traditions and she introduces that of Christianity.

Catholics & the Catechism

During our period of study prior to becoming Catholic, my wife and I came to treasure the Catechism and I quickly learned that it was not as familiar to many of those teaching us about the faith as it should have been, so this article from The Wanderer is not necessarily a shock, though I am still surprised, after 20 years in publication, it is not more familiar to Catholics.

I think a large part of the reason it is not used is that too few priests or bishops ever mention it—also noted in the article.

An excerpt.

The title and subject of this article were suggested to me by a conversation I recently had with three Catholic friends — a man and two women in a parish where I often visit. I have known them for a long time, but not perhaps as well as I thought I did. I will call them John, Mary, and Susie.

John is a retired engineer. Susie, unmarried, is a retired hospital matron. Mary, who has scientific qualifications, is a widowed mother of a family. All three are faithful, if confused, practicing “cradle” Catholics. However, just how confused I only realized for the first time after we were talking about the Church and the faith the other day.

The ladies began with some criticisms, no doubt not entirely unmerited, of the way they had been taught the faith as children. You had to believe everything you were told without asking any questions. Then they moved on to the state of things today, and I quickly realized that they hadn’t a clue about what has been happening in the Church over the last 50 years or what should or should not be believed today.

This particularly applied to relations with other Christians. Mary, for example, asked me whether, if she moved to a village where there was no Catholic church she could worship regularly at the Anglican church. Surely if so many of them are such good Christians, their ideas can’t be all that wrong?

Like so many confused Catholics, she didn’t understand that the Church does not claim to have a monopoly of virtue. What the Church does claim, in the words of Vatican II, is to have the fullness of divine truth and means of grace and it is this, come what may, which Catholics must uphold at all costs if we are to be faithful to our Lord’s call.

When I mentioned a copy of the CCC or Catechism of the Catholic Church as the best way of discovering what the Church wants us to believe and do, none of the three had heard of it. Or if they had heard of it they had forgotten about it, which suggests that it is something rarely if ever talked about in the average parish or mentioned from the pulpit.

Earlier this year, during Lent, I had a somewhat similar experience in my home parish. I was taking part in a small lenten discussion group. Again it was a question of faithful practicing Catholics, but this time better informed ones. There were no doctrinal aberrations or doubts about what should be believed. But there were some uncertainties.

Retrieved July 12, 2014 from


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers