The Left is Sad, the Right Happy

What we have all known forever, and it is not temporary, but built in, as this article examining the Left’s unhappiness, from the Boston Review notes.

An excerpt.

November 9, 2016, was a strange day to walk through the liberal enclave of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At home and on the streets, melancholy was the shared affect, the dull pain after the sudden shock, the heartache for all bleeding hearts. Everyone spoke in the hushed and earnest tones typically heard at a funeral. In 1621, Robert Burton wrote in The Anatomy of Melancholy that “What cannot be cured must be endured.” In November in Cambridge, everybody endured, though nobody knew quite what to do. They knew only that they would spend the next two months awaiting the inevitable, much like the French during the drôle-de-guerre (Phoney War) of 1939-1940, when they could do little more than brace themselves for the German invasion.

Enzo Traverso, an Italian-born historian at Cornell University, has written the perfect meditation for our melancholy age. His Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory is not quite a book so much as it is a set of variations on a theme: namely, that ever since the fall of communism, a culture of defeat has characterized the left’s understanding of political history and theoretical critique. The book does not fasten on a specific argument so much as it wanders through its topics in a melancholy mood, tracing the affect of failure and defeat that pervades leftist culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Between Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968, much of the intellectual enthusiasm for communist regimes had already dimmed, but the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 served as the final disappointment for many Marxists, as well as for other stalwarts on the left who never quite managed to break their cathexis with official communism. It was not a shattering surprise, but the collapse of Soviet-style communist governments across Eastern Europe brought to an end a romance with communist dictatorship that was never much more than a fantastical projection of Western dreams. Today, Traverso observes, we live in an era that suffers from this “eclipse of utopias.” In the twenty-first century, here and there, the left still finds itself burdened with a sadness it cannot dispel.

Faithful to his melancholy theme, Traverso’s book worries away at its questions without working them through. Nearly all of the chapters have been published before as essays, and though it is not always clear what holds them together, the wandering may be the ideal compositional form for a cultural history that explores left-wing melancholy as an affect born of defeat. A world without utopia, after all, looks not forward but back: it plumbs our cultural memory and fashions for itself (in Pierre Nora’s phrase) “realms of memory.” Traverso’s book explores these realms of defeated utopia in film and in the written word. In one chapter he compares films by Theo Angelopoulos, Ken Loach, Carmen Castillo, Chris Marker, and Gillo Pontecorvo. He holds Pontecorvo, the Italian director of The Battle of Algiers and Burn!, in highest regard, extolling him as “the filmmaker of glorious defeats.” But perhaps the most iconic and most haunting image for left-wing melancholy appears in Angelopoulos’s 1995 film Ulysses’ Gaze, when we watch a dismembered statue of Lenin, bound Gulliver-like with ropes to a barge, drifting slowly down a canal. Lenin’s arm is still raised, though less in triumph than in a kind of quotation of the past, as if the bearded Bolshevik has been demoted to little more than a tour guide who points the way downstream. Not only Lenin, Traverso notes, but all of the symbols of bureaucratic socialism, have become “desacralized.” In their brokenness they stand as “melancholy guards of a defeated utopia.” Traverso is our guide into this realm of shattered dreams, but he emerges from the darkness with an instructive lesson for the political left: melancholy, he claims, may be a necessity.

A Remarkable Priest

I had never heard of this priest, but thanks to Mary Eberstadt writing in The Catholic Thing, now I know about him and—being a longtime fan of Opus Dei—I am not surprised he was a member of that order.

An excerpt.

This morning, the funeral Mass for a priest named Fr. Arne Panula will be offered by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and others at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, D.C. A former head of Opus Dei, U.S.A. who died of cancer earlier this week, and long one of the most influential spiritual figures inside the nation’s capital and out, this “Fr. Arne,” as he’s been known to many friends and admirers, was a priest in full. His is not – yet – a household name. But it would shock no one who knew him if that relative obscurity were someday to change.

There is, for starters, his extraordinary story, including the fact that seeming paradoxes of his life resolved one by one in favor of beauty and holiness. A math and science wunderkind, he nevertheless graduated from college an English major with a lifelong devotion to Shakespeare and Keats; the resulting sharp feel for language would prove to be one of the surgical tools in his conversion kit. Educated at Harvard and other secular venues, and surrounded by worldly friends, he nonetheless and cheerily threw his life at God, being ordained in 1973. Strikingly handsome, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the young Karol Wojtyla, he would go on to witness to many people – especially young people – that their souls depended on what was beautiful inside, not out.

Or consider Fr. Arne’s missionary work in what might seem to be one of the least promising spiritual territories on earth: the nation’s capital. There, in a business district packed with lawyers and lobbyists, he presided with infectious elan over the blandly named Catholic Information Center – a social, spiritual, and intellectual powerhouse like no other, set squarely on DC’s notoriously louche K Street.

Like his predecessors Fr. C.J. McCloskey and Msgr. William Stetson, and with the aid of a dedicated team led by Mitchell Boersma, Fr. Arne saw to it that pilgrims of every kind would migrate to the place: Senators and Supreme Court Justices, tourists and browsers of books, young professionals, troubled spirits in search of help, and other wanderers. Some are drawn in by the CIC’s chapel, the closest tabernacle to the White House. Some come for fellowship, including the convivial social scene. Others seek out the CIC’s intellectual comforts: the outstanding collection of books; the Leonine Forum fellowship for studying the classics of Catholic social thought; the lifetime reading series; the evening speaking programs featuring authors from around the world.

Whatever their individual stories, this blended family of converts, reverts, cradle Catholics, non-Catholics – and even a few anti-Catholics – amount to living proof of an audacious spiritual fact in a time marked by secularization: piece by fortified piece, a packed Trojan horse for the new evangelization has been rolled into the city’s most fabled power corridor – one that will continue its deep countercultural work under Fr. Arne’s successor, Fr. Charles Trullols.

One must also reckon with another rarity: the grace with which Fr. Arne handled life as the sands ran out. Following months during which he continued work at the CIC, the doctors finally dispatched him home with hospice care in winter 2017 – right before Lent. Then Providence threw another curveball. Contrary to forecasts, Fr. Arne ended up living not days or weeks, but months longer than medical algorithms predicted.

Just as his failing to succumb on schedule seemed to defy explanation, so did his vigor. “I’m dying,” he laughed a few weeks ago, “And I’m enjoying some of the best hours of my life.” Until the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour, he radiated a vitality hard to square with the knowledge that death cells had detonated all over inside. “He’s teaching us how to die,” one friend observed. “He’s acting like a saint,” said others.

Such unsettling effects on bystanders – in a good way – kept reverberating. A few months before he entered hospice care, some friends commissioned a portrait of Fr. Arne from master artist Igor Babailov. One of the world’s leading portraitists, Babailov has rendered many influential figures, among them industry titans, heads of state, and three popes. It was characteristic of Fr. Arne’s humility that he would assent to a charcoal portrait only; any rendition in color, he said, might have appeared immodest.

Igor Babailov has said that this priest’s sitting was one of the two most emotional experiences he’s had ever had of a subject (the other, he said, was the experience of painting Pope John Paul II). Simultaneously, while the artist was working on this piece, his wife Mary told friends another story that soon made the rounds. “I always go to the studio, to see whatever Igor’s up to,” she said. “There’s one portrait he’s creating now that I can’t stop staring at. I’ve never known that D.C. priest he’s drawing. But I cannot shake the feeling I have every time I see it: This must be a truly holy man.”

It’s a thought on the minds of other people now bidding goodbye. A few weeks ago, I asked Fr. Arne to share his recollections of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, whom he’d known in Spain before becoming a priest. “All my friends and others wanted to know the same thing when Josemaria was canonized,” Fr. Arne said casually. “Everyone asked the exact same question of me: ‘Did you ever think you’d known a saint?’”

Fatima & the Brown Scapular

A beautiful reflection on both from the Remnant Newspaper.

An excerpt.

In the Liturgical Calendar, last Sunday was the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost.  In the hearts of those who love the Blessed Virgin Mary – which should be ALL of us – that Sunday, July 16, was the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: “Beatae Mariae Virginis de Monte Carmelo.”

During this 100th Anniversary Year of the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima, recall that on October 13, 1917 the Mother of God appeared at one point during the Great Miracle of the Sun to Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, holding forth a Brown Scapular.  Keep in mind that whenever Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the three shepherd children, She always had a star on the hem of Her gown.

That star can represent Our Lady of Mount Carmel as the ‘Star of the Sea’ that traditionally leads sailors on troubled waters back to safe harbor.  Our Lady of Mount Carmel can be seen as representing the Star of the Sea that first appeared to Saint Elijah the Prophet as a “small foot shaped cloud” (3 Kings 18: 44/Douay-Rheims).  In doing so, She appeared to symbolize not only the end of the drought which afflicted the Israelites, but also to signify the end of their doctrinal confusion.

The Message of Fatima is a compendium of traditional Catholic Church teaching and a reaffirmation of the Gospel.  The star of Our Lady of Fatima is our special Star of the Sea in this age of darkness for the Church polluted by the murky doctrinal waters of Modernism, where very few other stars are shining.

The Star near the hem of Our Lady’s gown shines bright with Her words of hope: “In Portugal, the Dogma of the Faith will always be preserved etc.”  This statement indicates that the Dogma of the Faith would be lost in other parts of the world, but preserved by the Message of Fatima.

We are in perhaps the greatest period of doctrinal uncertainty among the people and clergy that the Church has ever known.

This is an indication that we need the Star of Our Lady of Fatima – the Star of the Sea – Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to guide us through these troubled waters.  At the time of the Prophet Elijah, Israel was plagued by false prophets leading the chosen people astray with false doctrine and the worship of false gods.

This is familiar to us, as self-styled ‘prophets’ in our day, claiming to be ‘Catholic,’ are shamelessly leading Christ’s flock to spiritual ruin.  King Achab of Juda, the son of Amri, “did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him” (3 Kings 16: 30).

We too are in a time of unprecedented evil brought on by wolves in shepherd’s clothing. King Achab led the northern kingdom, Israel, into the worship of pagan gods.

It was the politically correct thing to do, as Israel wanted to get along with their pagan neighbors for peace and for economic reasons.  In our age, it seems that politically correct leaders of the Church, in an effort to get along with non-Catholic Christians and non-Christian sects, have modified Church teaching and worship to conform to the ways of the world.

Therefore, the King of Israel, Achab, entered into a marriage with a pagan woman by the name of Jezabel and made her his queen.  She brought along her pagan religion that worshipped, in particular, the false god, Baal.  False prophets and priests flooded into Israel to ‘minister’ at pagan temples erected to Jezabel’s gods.  An altar was set up for Baal within the kingdom, greatly offending Almighty God.

We too have seen new ‘altars/tables’ and configurations set up in our Catholic sanctuaries; many of which seem to be offering worship to the ‘cult of man,’ as opposed to the worship of Almighty God.  Elijah the Prophet then came upon the scene and declared to Achab that because of their sinful ways there would be a drought for years of neither dew nor rain (3 Kings 17:1).  The Catholic Church has been experiencing a drought of vocations for the past fifty years of priests and religious. along with numerous church closings.

Should this not be telling us, in the most forceful way, that God is not pleased with the direction that the Bark of Peter, the Catholic Church, is drifting? The true Prophets of the Lord were killed by the evil Queen Jezabel (3 Kings 18:4).  Elijah, however, kept the Faith as he declared: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant: they have thrown down thy altars, they have slain Thy prophets with the sword, and I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away” (3 Kings 19: 10).  In recent decades, many Catholic priests and religious who preach and teach the fullness of the Dogma of the Faith are persecuted as if they are criminals by Church authorities.

Our high altars have been torn down.  With zeal may we always defend the Catholic Faith no matter what the odds. Finally, it came to a ‘showdown’ between Elijah and the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  On Mount Carmel, two altars were set up: one for the Prophet Elijah and one for the four hundred and fifty false prophets of Baal.  Offerings would be prepared by each side on their respective altars.  The offering that was accepted by Almighty God, would be the one which was consumed by fire from Heaven. Needless to say, the sacrifice of Elijah, prefiguring the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, was acceptable to Almighty God, Who sent fire down from Heaven to consume it.

Giving hope to our troubled times, the people who had been led into apostasy at the time of Elijah by their evil leaders, repented as the light of truth came upon them, as they cried out: “The Lord He is God, the Lord He is God!” (3 Kings 18: 39).  The false prophets of Baal were then put to death by the people for having brought a blasphemous religion to the people of God.  Pray to God through Our Lady of Fatima/Our Lady of Mount Carmel that the time of accounting soon comes for the false priests and prophets of our time leading souls astray.  May they repent of their scandalous sins and return to the One True Faith founded by Christ before Divine judgment is visited upon them. It was after this victory that Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel casting himself down upon the earth.  Elijah directed his servants to look toward the sea.  They saw nothing.

He told them to return seven times.  At the seventh time, a small foot shaped cloud arose out of the sea and torrents of rain came ending the great drought caused by the peoples’ apostasy from the faith. The small foot-shaped cloud, representing the Immaculate Virgin Mary, conceived without the stain of Original Sin, arose from what can be described as ‘the sea of sinful humanity.’

Tradition says that after this encounter with the “type” of Our Blessed Mother, Elijah made his abode on Mount Carmel awaiting the birth of the Mother of the Messiah (Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ).  Devotion then began to Our Lady of Mount Carmel before the time of Christ.  The Prophet Elijah is thus considered to be the Founder of the Carmelite Order devoted to the Mother of God.  When Our Lady of Mount Carmel gave the Brown Scapular to the Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, some 766 years ago, on July 16, 1251, She said: “Whoever dies in this garment will not suffer everlasting fire.  It is a token of salvation.

It safeguards in danger.  It pledges us to peace and the Covenant.”  Pope Pius XII said that the Brown Scapular was a “Sign of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”  Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is one of the central teachings in the Message of Fatima.  Sister Lucia of Fatima would say that the Rosary and the Brown Scapular are inseparable.

Capital Punishment is Necessary

The sound argument, in line with Catholic teaching, from this article in Catholic World Report.

An excerpt.

As we showed in Part 1 of this  essay, for two millennia the Catholic Church has taught that the death penalty can be a legitimate punishment for heinous crimes, not merely to protect the public from the immediate danger posed by the offender but also to secure retributive justice and to deter serious crime.   This was the uniform teaching of scripture and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and it was reaffirmed by popes and also codified in the universal catechism of the Church promulgated by Pope St. Pius V in the sixteenth century, as well as in numerous local catechisms.

Consider the standard language of the Baltimore Catechism, which was used throughout Catholic parishes in the United States for educating children in the faith for much of the twentieth century:

  1. 1276. Under what circumstances may human life be lawfully taken?
  2. Human life may be lawfully taken: 1. In self-defense, when we are unjustly attacked and have no other means of saving our own lives;  2. In a just war, when the safety or rights of the nation require it;  3. By the lawful execution of a criminal, fairly tried and found guilty of a crime punishable by death when the preservation of law and order and the good of the community require such execution. 1

Thus, killing another human being in self-defense, during a just war, or through the lawful execution of a criminal does not violate the Fifth Commandment’s rule “Thou shall not kill” (which many modern editions of the Bible translate as “Thou shall not murder”). The permissibility of these three types of lawful killing (unlike the deliberate killing of the innocent, which is always prohibited) depends on contingent circumstances.  As long as (in the words of Pope Innocent III) “the punishment is carried out not in hatred but with good judgment, not inconsiderately but after mature deliberation,” the death penalty may be imposed if it genuinely serves the common good.

Generally, the Church has left these and similar prudential judgments to public officials.  For example, the current Catechism of the Catholic Church expressly affirms that when it comes to judging whether a decision to go to war is morally justified, “the evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good.”  The institutional Church respects the authority and responsibility of public officials, guided by the sound moral principles it preserves and promulgates, to make these judgments.  Similarly, to the best of our knowledge, the Church has fully respected the authority of lawmakers to write statutes on self-defense that detail the conditions under which individuals may use force, including deadly force, to protect themselves and others.

Unfortunately, in recent years churchmen have not been equally respectful of the authority and duty of public officials to exercise their prudential judgments in applying Catholic teaching when it comes to the death penalty, despite the fact that churchmen bring to the debate over capital punishment no particular expertise derived from their religious training and pastoral experience.  Given the Church’s longstanding and irreformable teaching that death may in principle be a legitimate punishment for grievous crimes, the key issue for Catholics is the empirical and practical question of whether the death penalty more effectively promotes public safety and the common good than do lesser punishments.  We maintain that it does and thus devote about half of our book, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty, to making this case.

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church  affirms that “[l]egitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense” and that “[p]unishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense.” 2 Thus, punishment is fundamentally retributive, inflicting on the offender a penalty commensurate with the gravity of his crime, though it may serve other purposes as well, such as incapacitating the offender, deterring others, and promoting the offender’s rehabilitation.

The significance of this point cannot be overstated.  Secular critics of capital punishment often reject the very idea of retribution—the principle that an offender simply deserves a punishment proportionate to the gravity of his offense—but no Catholic can possibly do so. For unless an offender deserves a certain punishment—whether that be a fine, imprisonment, or whatever—and deserves a punishment of that specific degree of severity, then it would be unjust to inflict the punishment on him.  Hence all the other ends of punishment—deterrence, rehabilitation, protection of society, and so on—presuppose the retributive aim of giving the offender what he deserves. This is why the Catechism promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II reaffirms the traditional Catholic teaching that retribution is the “primary aim” of punishment.

Among the many reasons why capital punishment ought to be preserved (all of which we set out at length in our forthcoming book), the most fundamental one is that for extremely heinous crimes, no lesser punishment could possibly respect this Catholic principle that a punishment ought to be proportional to the offense.  We devote the remainder of this article to developing this point.

Artificial Intelligence Changing Work, Big Time

And this excellent article from City Journal examines how much has already changed and how much will change, an important trend for reforming criminals.

An excerpt.

Warning: don’t read too much about the future of jobs in an era of Artificial Intelligence if you are—psychologically speaking—in a dark place. If you’re a lover of the arts and humanities, for example, you should probably go full hermit in the basement of a university library with plenty of provisions (but no WiFi). If you greet all technological advances with gee-whiz enthusiasm, you’d best avoid long conversations with people who make a living driving trucks or reading X-rays. If you’re an antiglobalization protectionist, get ready to look with longing on a time when the biggest threats to jobs were NAFTA and an ascendant China. And even if you believe in the long-term benefits of what economist Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction—as I do—prepare to have your convictions tested.

People have feared artificial intelligence since Mary Shelley introduced the world to Dr. Frankenstein’s hideous creature. The Luddites, who battled against the automated loom in the early nineteenth century, are now regarded as so wrongheaded that they have an economic error named after them. The Luddite fallacy refers to the fact that in the long run, disruptive technologies create more jobs—not to mention reduce drudgery, save lives, expand leisure, and enrich us all. Optimists argue that AI, too, will bring material and social progress. Things will cost less; people will live longer. They’ll have more time to enjoy their hobbies and interests. The work-life balance problem? Solved—once robots do the laundry, drive the kids to soccer, and take over the less interesting but time-consuming tasks at the office. Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, is not alone in seeing AI as “a development that will free us to do lots of incredible things that are more aligned with what it means to be human.”

So let’s stipulate: no one knows for sure what’s about to happen to the labor market. Most observers agree, however, on at least two things. First, the pace of AI discoveries and implementation is accelerating. Robots are now doing things that seemed like science fiction just a short time ago. Was anyone talking about a retail-sector meltdown, driven in good measure by AI-facilitated e-commerce, last year? Second, fasten your seatbelts. Whether you call it “the second machine age”—as MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee do, in a 2014 book by that name—or the fourth industrial revolution, this will be big. Most Silicon Valley honchos, scientists, and economists think that this time is different. Exactly how many jobs will be lost, which kinds of jobs and when, and what to do to prepare for these losses may be matters of dispute. No longer questioned is that a massive disruption in the way we earn a living is coming and that it will transform communities, education—and perhaps even our notion of an America defined by industriousness and upward mobility.

This is not to say that AI optimists don’t have plenty of evidence on their side. AI, defined as “fully autonomous machines that don’t need a human operator and can be reprogrammed to perform several manual tasks,” is already helping save workers’ lives and limbs. Much of this is happening not because machines are replacing humans but because they are helping them do their jobs more efficiently and safely. Military drones are an obvious example. Drones don’t reduce the need for soldiers—humans still need to operate and service the machines—but they do lessen the need for soldiers and military-intelligence officers on treacherous battlefields or in jets at risk of antiaircraft attacks. Similarly, firefighters use drones to get a live-video look at a forest fire or to search for victims before sending men into danger. In March, the New York City Fire Department used a drone to help place firefighters on a damaged roof during a dangerous fire in the Bronx.

For decades, robots have been assisting physicians in the operating room. A robotic system called Da Vinci has “arms” equipped with cameras and precision tools to perform everything from knee replacements to hair transplants to tumor removal. Da Vinci can operate in hard-to-reach crevices of the body with tiny tools in ways that far exceed the physical capacities of human doctors. By the latest count, 3,803 Da Vinci units are in use worldwide—2,501 in the United States. Studies have found that Da Vinci can mean smaller incisions, less blood loss, and shorter recovery periods than conventional surgery. And because surgeons use magnified, high-definition, 3-D computer-screen images of a kidney or knee, for example, to guide the robot, they don’t need to be in the same room or, for that matter, the same continent as their patient. “Telesurgery” lets a doctor in New York operate on a patient in Ghana and still be home for dinner. The potential benefits for the billions living in remote or medically underserved areas are incalculable.

More recently, robots have also been “collaborating” with doctors as they make diagnosis and treatment decisions. IBM’s cutely named robot Watson became a celebrity when he defeated Ken Jennings, famous for winning 74 consecutive Jeopardy games. Now, Watson is in training to become an Olympian medical expert. In fact, without robotic technology, we probably wouldn’t be anticipating personalized medicine. Robots like Watson are tireless info-vores; they don’t suffer overload or need naps or caffeine breaks; they can digest more medical journals, reports, patient records, websites, records, and diagnostic materials in an hour than a doctor could in a lifetime. A Watson designed to analyze genomics consumes something like 10,000 scientific articles and 100 new clinical trials that become available every month. Tell Watson the genomic makeup of a tumor, and it will sift through all the research in order to customize treatment.

The optimists can also rightfully claim to have history in their corner. In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes fretted about “technological unemployment” but assumed that it would be temporary. In that respect, at least, Keynesianism has been vindicated. Machinery has obliterated some jobs while boosting productivity and consumer wealth, which, in turn, has created new, often higher-paying, jobs. No one could have predicted that automated looms’ cheaper clothes would change the calculus of consumer demand, leading to more jobs for weavers, as ultimately happened. Henry Ford’s Model T devastated blacksmiths, saddle and harness artisans, stable boys, and carriage makers, among others. But the automobile was a creative destructor, swelling the ranks of steel, glass, rubber, textile, and oil and gas workers and, for better or worse, giving birth to the motel and fast-food industries.

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

A great article from Huffington Post on Mary Magdalene’s Feast day.

An excerpt.

On 22 July each year, the Christian community venerates a saint who is the single best argument for why women should be priests: Mary of Magdala, more commonly called Mary Magdalene and traditionally known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Given what we know about her, it’s a scandal that some Christian communities—most notably the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention—still consider women unworthy of ordination.

The Roman Church’s refusal to ordain women is succinctly stated in its official Catechism:

The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry…For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. #1577

The Southern Baptist Convention bases its refusal on several passages in the Pauline letters to Titus and Timothy that seem to disallow women from serving as pastors. (Never mind that biblical scholars agree that the letters were almost certainly not written by Paul himself.) Predictably, perhaps, the Convention adds that pastoral ministry would interfere with women’s single-minded dedication to their God-appointed “family roles.”

Such objections to the ordination of women strike rational people, including millions of Christians, as absurd. But Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, who served as theologian of the papal household for Pope Benedict XVI, adds risibility to absurdity when he argues that women simply don’t have the mechanical know-how of men, and so would be helpless when it comes to guy-stuff like church repairs.

I don’t know how handy she was with a hammer or screwdriver, but the scriptural accounts of Mary Magdalene certainly confound these arguments against women priests and pastors. Her prominence in the New Testament is indisputable.

She’s presented as one of the earliest disciples of Jesus, joining his band of followers after being cleansed of “seven demons” (Mark and Luke). Although she actually isn’t the New Testament “sinner” who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears or anointed them with precious oil she’s often thought to be—this is an identification invented by Gregory the Great in the 6th century—she’s still mentioned more often in the Gospels, no fewer than 12 times, than nearly all the male apostles.

The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John recognize her as one of the women who followed Jesus to Golgotha, when all the male apostles except John had fled in terror. All four gospels also announce that she was either the very first person (Mark and John) or one of the first (Matthew and Luke), her companions also being women, to whom the Risen Christ appeared, and that she was the messenger who carried the good news to the male apostles.

Luke tells us that the other disciples didn’t believe her, either because she was a woman or because the tale was so fantastical, and ran to see the empty tomb for themselves. In the apocryphal Gospel of Mary, dating from sometime in the 2nd century, the disbelief of the male apostles, especially the brothers Andrew and Peter, is clearly rancorous. “Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?” In the later Gospel of Philip, another apocryphal text, the anger directed against Mary by the male apostles is even more intense.

These texts suggest that even at this early stage in the Church’s history, animosity toward women in leadership positions was present. But the more important point here is that both canonical and non-canonical texts affirm Mary as the witness-bearer for the risen Christ. There simply is no debate in the ancient texts about her centrality.

Interior Life & the Mass

A very nice article from The Catholic Thing, examining the classic Catholic book—The Three Ages of the Interior Life ( a must-have for your library)—and its relation to the Mass.

An excerpt.

The desire to be holy is natural to us.  But the pursuit of holiness should be reasonable, compatible with human nature and open to the ineffable mysteries of God.  Christianity extends over the entire history of the human race and in so doing not only reveals the eternal love of God but the dignity and the sanctification of history as well.

Our individual return to God must be understood within the context of the spiritual journey of the entire People of God in history. In our lonely spiritual battles, we participate in the same spiritual struggles of our forefathers, and we can look to their example for guidance.

The spiritual classic The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. provides a roadmap for our struggle and quest, we enter into communion with Him.

The first age is the “Purgative Way,” where we in prayer identify our sins against God and repent of them.  The second age is the “Illuminative Way,” when we contemplate God’s self-revelation and apply the truths of faith to ourselves. The third age is the “Unitive Way,” the pinnacle of holiness where we enter into communion with God.

But the Three Ages are not only stages of personal prayer.  They describe distinct communal and historical dimensions. Examining the Three Ages, in outline form, can help us enter into the mystery of God’s revelation over the entire expanse of history.

The essential message of the Old Testament is the first tenet of the Decalogue:  “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3) In preparation for the Redeemer, it was necessary to purify the Chosen People of all false worship, setting them apart from every other nation.  The history of the Old Testament is a history of God’s fidelity to His people, the worship of the One God, with repeated relapses into false worship. The preaching of John the Baptist sums up the essential “Purgative Way” of the Old Testament in a single sentence: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:2, NAB)

In the “fullness of time,” Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is born into the world.  He is God’s Word made flesh (John 1: 14) and “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col. 1:15)  For He is “the way and the truth and the life” and “no one comes to the Father” except through Him. (John 14:6) The Person and teachings of Christ represent the “Illuminative Way” in our return to God.

Jesus wants us to be holy, to be in communion with Him. “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” (St. Irenaeus)  “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas)

Holiness is our destiny ordained by God.

The Church is the Sacrament of Christ, and His instrument of this communion.  On Pentecost – upon the Descent of the Holy Spirit – the Church was born. Through the Holy Spirit, Mary and the disciples are definitively incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. This mysterious communion is truly the “Unitive Way.” Through the Church and her Sacraments, we intimately encounter the risen Lord and deepen our communion with Him.

But the Three Ages apply not only to us individually and as a people in history; they can help us understand the purpose and structure of the Mass. Indeed, the Mass can be said to be a mysterious “microcosm” of all salvation history (although the Mass is really quite the opposite, ushering us into eternity!).

Interpreting Vatican II

It is vital that Vatican II be interpreted correctly, the reason for the 1985 synod discussed in this article from The Catholic Thing.

It focuses on the four constitutions and I have found the recent translation of them, The Second Vatican Council: The Four Constitutions, with introductions by five cardinals, to be the best study version available and surely should be part of your library.

An excerpt from The Catholic Thing article.

In 1985, on the twentieth anniversary of the close of Vatican II, John Paul II convened an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops with the aim of encouraging a deeper reception and implementation of the Council. The Synod set forth, in the document A Message to the People of God and The Final Report, a proper framework for interpreting the Conciliar texts. In particular, six hermeneutical principles for sound interpretation of these texts were set forth.

All would-be interpreters of Vatican II, who make claims about what the Council actually teaches, should adhere to these principles. These hermeneutical principles are important, particularly in our time, since we seem to be living in an ecclesial culture where some are suffering from amnesia about the invaluable contributions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the authoritative interpretation of Vatican II.

Massimo Faggioli, for one, claims that Pope Francis “perceives Vatican II as a matter not to be reinterpreted or restricted, but implemented.” Unlike his predecessors, adds Faggioli, Francis has “shown a full and unequivocal reception of Vatican II.” Another commentator, Richard Gaillardetz, claims that “Francis wishes to release Vatican II’s bold vision from captivity.”

I have elsewhere discussed the various types of Vatican II interpretations. Here, I will briefly explain the principles postulated by the 1985 synod for interpreting Vatican II texts:

  1. The theological interpretation of the Conciliar doctrine must show attention to all the documents, in themselves and in their close inter-relationship, in such a way that the integral meaning of the Council’s affirmations – often very complex – might be understood and expressed.
  2. The four “constitutions” of the Council (those on liturgy, the Church, revelation, and the Church in the modern world) are the hermeneutical key to the other documents – namely, the Council’s nine decrees and three declarations.
  3. The pastoral import of the documents ought not to be separated from, or set in opposition to, their doctrinal content.
  4. No opposition may be made between the spirit and the letter of Vatican II.
  5. The Council must be interpreted in continuity with the great tradition of the Church, including earlier councils. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.
  6. Vatican II should be accepted as illuminating the problems of our own day.

The hermeneutical norm of the first and second principles is twofold: one, intratextuality, meaning thereby interpreting the meaning of a particular passage within the context of the whole document; and two, intertextuality, meaning thereby interpreting any specific document in the context of the whole body of documents, particularly attending to the authoritative priority of the constitutions. The third principle states the unity and interdependence of the doctrinal and pastoral dimensions of the council documents.

This third principle is particularly important today where some Catholic theologians, such as Gaillardetz and Christoph Theobald, S.J., advance a so-called “pastoral orientation of doctrine.” That orientation is historicist in perspective. It collapses the dogmatic distinction of unchanging truth and its formulations into a historical context, meaning thereby, as Theobald puts it, “subject to continual reinterpretation according to the situation of those to whom it is transmitted.”

This historicist turn in a pastoral-oriented model of doctrinal change results in a model in which both truth itself and its formulations are subject to reform and continual reinterpretation and re-contextualization

News Flash! American Communism Controlled by Russia

Wow, who knew.

An excerpt from the New York Times article.

From its founding in 1919 in the wake of the Russian Revolution until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Communist Party of the United States of America was an instrument of Soviet foreign policy. The Communist International, or Comintern, which was set up under Lenin in 1919 and then disbanded by Stalin in 1943 as a gesture of unity to his World War II allies, regularly sent delegates to oversee the C.P.U.S.A. and transmitted orders from Moscow dictating who should lead the American party and what policies it should pursue.

The dissolution of the Comintern did not end Soviet control over the C.P.U.S.A. Supervision was simply transferred to the newly formed international department of the Soviet Union’s own Communist party.

At certain times, this Soviet domination was blatant. In both 1929 and 1945, Moscow demanded, and got, a change of party leadership. Jay Lovestone had the support of 90 percent of the party members in 1929, but his support for the Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin led Stalin to remove Lovestone as the American party’s general secretary. When, at a hearing chaired by Stalin himself, Lovestone and several of his lieutenants refused to back down, Stalin angrily denounced them and turned the C.P.U.S.A. over to its factional opponents. When the Lovestoneites set up a dissident movement, fewer than 200 American Communists joined.

Later, Lovestone’s Stalin-approved successor, Earl Browder, concluded that the American-Soviet alliance of World War II would continue after the defeat of Nazi Germany. For this reason, in 1944, he boldly engineered the transformation of the C.P.U.S.A. into a pressure group designed to work within the Democratic Party. When Browder refused to accept Soviet criticism of his policies the following year, he, too, was unceremoniously removed — expelled from the party for his heresy.

With the C.P.U.S.A. reconstituted, virtually every Communist who had hailed Browder for years as the symbol of an Americanized Communism then shunned him. He was even forced to find a new dentist and a different insurance agent.

Public displays of Soviet control over C.P.U.S.A. policies were hard to miss. After years of attacking Franklin D. Roosevelt for “fascist” policies and denouncing the New Deal as an elaborate plot to deceive the working class, the C.P.U.S.A. was stunned in 1935 when the Comintern, alarmed by the growing menace of Nazi Germany, abruptly changed course and called for a popular front against fascism. In place of the Comintern’s previous policy of treating any alliance with socialists and liberals as anathema, Moscow’s U-turn involved demanding that its constituent parties reach out to all and sundry to stop fascism.

Running for president in 1936, Browder offered indirect support to Roosevelt. Two years later, Communists — who had formerly regarded Roosevelt as a harbinger of American fascism — hailed the president for his calls for a democratic alliance against Hitler.

The hosannas for antifascism ended suddenly in 1939 with the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The same Communists who had lauded Roosevelt now denounced him again, this time as a warmonger for such policies as Lend-Lease aid to Britain. The somersaults demanded by Moscow continued when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941: The C.P.U.S.A.’s calls for peace were quickly replaced by demands that the United States do everything possible to aid the Allies.

Such major shifts in party line were only the most dramatic and public signs of fealty to the Kremlin. In 1938, at the height of the popular front policy, the C.P.U.S.A.’s slogan “Communism Is 20th-Century Americanism” demonstrated its effort to prove its patriotism. But that same year, a C.P.U.S.A. representative in Moscow sent a secret letter warning that Comintern leaders thought the slogan ideologically incorrect and subversive. Without any discussion or debate, the party stopped using it.

While most of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who joined the C.P.U.S.A. over the years did so because they supported the policies or ideals the party promoted, a great majority quickly abandoned it after a policy reversal occasioned by a shift in Soviet foreign policy. Anyone who remained a Communist for more than a few years, though, had to be aware that the one constant was support for whatever policy the Soviet Union followed. Open criticism of the U.S.S.R. was grounds for expulsion. For all members of the C.P.U.S.A., the Soviet Union was the homeland of socialism, the first workers’ state, which had to be defended against the machinations of capitalism.

The C.P.U.S.A. dutifully spread the lies put out by Moscow. The party thus insisted that the show trials during Stalin’s purges had uncovered a vast capitalist plot against the Soviet leader. Party members dutifully repeated Soviet fabrications that Trotsky had been in the pay of the Nazis. Worst of all, many Communists applauded the execution of tens of thousands of Soviet comrades, denouncing those who were executed as bourgeois spies and provocateurs. When Finnish-Americans who had returned to Soviet Karelia in the late 1920s and early ’30s to build socialism were purged, their American relatives were warned by party authorities to remain silent, and most did so.

Neither did the Communist movement limit its disinformation to Russian matters. In the 1960s, the K.G.B. secretly subsidized a left-wing publishing house in New York run by a former party member, Carl Marzani, that published the first book claiming that John F. Kennedy’s assassination had been arranged by a cabal of American right-wing businessmen and C.I.A. operatives.

It was not until 1956, when Khrushchev told Soviet Communists that Stalin had been a mass murderer, that American Communists were willing to believe what had been widely known for years. The persecutions of McCarthyism and the Cold War seriously depleted the ranks of the C.P.U.S.A., but it took the word of a Soviet Communist leader to destroy the faith in Communism that had sustained many Americans. By 1959, the C.P.U.S.A., which had once numbered nearly 100,000 members, was reduced to fewer than 3,000.

Catholic Soft Communism

Though not using that term, this article from The Catholic Thing, is certainly describing it; and you can read how I describe it in a Lampstand E Letter on the Lampstand website.

An excerpt from The Catholic Thing article

In common with many other countries, the Catholic Church in America today is closely intertwined with the major party on the left. In my religious congregation, for example, the U.S. Province is 60 to 80 percent Democrat. This is also the case in other religious orders and many whole dioceses. People caught up in this mixing of worlds have to flip back and forth between Catholic concepts and Democrat ideology as they go through the day. Unfortunately, many bishops do not show them anything better.

Catholicism was never meant to be a department of a political party, either party: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.” (Vatican II)

As its name indicates, Catholicism deals in universals. The dictionary tells us that the word universal means “pertaining to the whole of something, occurring everywhere.” Catholicism holds the total and ultimate meaning for everyone everywhere.

The Church is the Body of Christ who really is the Way, the Truth and the Life – for everyone. For the New Left, however – the Left that we have seen in action over the past few years – this is not and cannot be true. The New Left holds that it holds the total meaning of the world for the world. There can be no legitimate rivals. This mindset comes from the radical wing of the Enlightenment, via various later developments, with its vicious hostility to Catholicism and its denial of the role of Christ.

Now, for example, from Divine Revelation, Catholicism teaches the universals of human nature. Thus, seeing an individual human being means seeing all of the possibilities of that human being. This is the exact opposite of working to kill a human being, born or unborn. Here we come to the foundation of the Left’s thinking. The Left is all about power over human beings – carefully disguised with the claim that it’s for their own good, of course.

Catholicism, on the other hand, is not about power, but simply about the truth. Although some Catholics have misused power over the centuries, for the rest (a very large number), the Catholic truth is Christ taken in the fullness of His presence as the Divine Word – and is its own reward.

For the Left, the reward is power for the Left’s elite core. Their constituent groups get various kinds of payoff.

Catholic thinking is only Catholic thinking when it sets out the universal aspects of man and nature, and our relation to God. So, as might be expected, there is a long tradition of social, legal, and political reflection.

Catholicism conceives of a nation as an entity with sovereignty, a legal structure and its just application, all concepts that the Left only uses when it is convenient.

Historically, the Left always has to leech on wealth and institutions that it did not create, and in the process, the Left elites become prosperous. These pre-existing resources provide power bases for the growth of the Left. Catholicism, on the other hand, is not parasitic. Real Catholicism provides vast services to millions and does not expect anything in return.

The Church knows too, for example, that there are objectively evil acts. The Left does not. Catholicism knows what marriage is. It knows what calumny and detraction are. Acting as if the Church does not know – the radical Enlightenment position as well as the current socialist position – means that God’s revelation in Judeo-Christian history did not happen. And does not matter.

Trying to shoehorn Leftist slogans into the Catholic doctrine and practice eats away at the value of the Church from the inside. When I think of much that has transpired in the Church in the past half-century and more, it reminds me of the Hagfish, which are known to devour their prey from the inside.