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Sunday Night Journal, February 19, 2017

It was not long after Pope Francis was elected that I remarked to my wife that he seemed like someone who would be a wonderful parish priest, but I wasn't so sure that he would be good at running the Church. I've said it several times since, and it looks like there was something in it. I certainly never expected to see the amount of internal strife that is going on now. I guess I was naive in thinking that the "liberal" and "conservative" split in the Church was fading away under John Paul and Benedict, because it's back and very much alive. "Back with a vengeance" seems unusually appropriate.

I'm sticking to my resolution to refrain from taking a position on the Amoris Laetitia-induced controversy about communion for the divorced and remarried. I'm aided in this resolution by a prior one not to even read it (see this and this). But I can't ignore the fact that the controversy is happening, and it's not pretty. I did try to ignore it, and hoped that the critics were making too much of their reservations, but I realized that it must be serious when I saw that Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., had signed a letter asking for clarification on the question. I don't recognize the names of most of the signers, but I've read several books by Fr. Nichols, and he is a solid man, certainly not a crank.

Some say that no change at all is proposed beyond the encouragement of kindness and charity toward people in those "irregular situations." But this seems to be an attempt to avoid or squelch the controversy, because many on both sides, in and out of authority, seems to think that it's quite clear that the pope wants to change the traditional teaching. As far as I know he has not explicitly stated this. Instead, what we have is ambiguity, and persons in authority contradicting each other. Some say that the pope (as understood in Amoris) intends to change the sacramental discipline, but not the teaching. Others argue that the proposal does involve a change, more precisely a reversal, of the teaching. Others say that to change the practice would make a dead letter of the teaching. I admit I don't see how the last of these would not be a natural consequence, given human nature.

There are bishops contradicting each other. I am in an odd situation of having, in a sense, two bishops. Juridicially my bishop is Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (aka the Anglican Ordinariate, which is an officially forbidden term, because apparently it makes people think we are not Catholic). But geographically I'm in the diocese of Mobile, Alabama, whose bishop is Thomas Rodi. Both of "my" bishops seemed to be concerned by the change which many seemed to expect, and quickly issued statements saying that the practice is not going to change. Bishop Lopes seems to have been alarmed; at any rate he took the trouble of writing and publishing a substantial pastoral letter. You can read it at this page.  I think the matter may seem more urgent to Lopes because, as the bishop of a prelature specifically meant for converts, he was concerned that potential converts might get the wrong idea.  Archbishop Rodi made it the subject of his column in the biweekly archdiocesan newspaper.

Other bishops, apparently some in Germany and definitely those in Malta, have said, more or less, that it's up to the consciences of the individuals involved.

Worse, Cardinal Mueller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has taken the "nothing is changing" position, while Cardinal Coccopalmerio of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (I didn't know there was such a thing), has published what sounds like a sort of pamphlet in which he seems to take the position that seems to be the one that the pope seems to want to win out: that the divorced and remarried should have "absolution and access to the Eucharist as long as–I repeat–there is the impossibility of immediately changing the situation of sin."

Surely no one with a heart can fail to sympathize with people who made a serious mistake when they were young, or who have been betrayed, abused, or abandoned by a spouse. God knows I do, having been in "an irregular situation" myself. But you don't have to be a theologian to see that Cardinal Coccopalmerio's view is not only problematic in itself but has enormous implications far beyond the specific question. 

The pope created this confusion, and he could resolve it, but refuses to. I seem to remember him saying something to the effect that priests should be willing to make a mess. Well, he's following his own counsel, apparently.


We do not know how the Lord will call us to testify to the truth, but in the end there is no evasion. You will volunteer for the army of God, or you will be conscripted into the ranks of the enemy.

--Anthony Esolen, in Magnificat

Or, as Dylan said: "It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gonna have to serve somebody."


In one of her letters Flannery O'Connor writes about the difficulty she's having in finishing The Violent Bear It Away. She says something to the effect that she's trying to convince her impatient publisher that it takes seven years to write a novel. I remembered that with alarm the other day. I'm afraid the book I'm working on will take that long. I can't allow that to happen, but I am moving very slowly at the moment, too slowly.

Starting last summer sometime I began working in a really disciplined way. Ordinarily I spend most of the morning working on the book. (It turns out I'm only about two-thirds retired; the biggest part of the afternoon is taken up with work for my not-quite-former employer.) I required myself to fill at least two pages of a legal pad, which generally comes to something between 700 and 800 words. I filled several pads that way, and now I probably have 80% or so of the book in rough draft (very rough). Maybe more, maybe less, depending on how much detail I want to go into about certain things I haven't yet discussed; certainly the main body of it. At that point I decided I'd better take stock, especially as I sometimes find myself unsure of whether I'm repeating myself or not.

So I started typing the manuscript into Open Office files, and quickly found that I couldn't just do it mechanically, but was revising fairly heavily as I went. And of course I have to do this at the computer, instead of getting out of the house with just pen and paper, as I did all summer and fall. I find it very hard to stay focused--i.e., to stay off the Internet. And it's also easy to be distracted by things around the house, e.g. the refrigerator and the pantry. And when I'm revising I often find myself stuck for ten or twenty minutes on one sentence or even one word, trying to get say exactly what I want to say or to say it in a vivid way. (I may regret having admitted that, because I doubt anyone is going to say "Well, that sentence was certainly worth any amount of the author's time." Maybe it would be better to say I just dashed it off and never looked back.)

Anyway, my progress at the moment is slow. Worse, the result seems pretty dull to me. Really, I think if I weren't so old I would give it up as a bad job and a waste of time. I also suspect age may be reducing the quality of my writing, but there's nothing I can do about that. In any case it's getting late and I have to press on. I'm ready to have some feedback, so I hope sometime in the next few weeks to pull out a few thousand words or so, post them here, and solicit your opinions.


I've been playing, very intermittently for months, an interesting video game called Kentucky Route Zero, which one of my children gave me last year. (The game is not one of the distractions I referred to above, by the way--I don't have any trouble keeping it in its place.) "Game" is not really the right word for it; it's more a sort of illustrated story which can take different paths depending on your choices. And it's a very strange story.  You start out as a truck driver who's supposed to make a delivery at 5 Dogwood Lane. You stop at a gas station and ask for directions, and are told that you can only get there by taking Route Zero. That's not easy to do, because it exists in a sort of alternate reality. And once you get onto Route Zero....

Anyway, I finished it last night, and the scene below occurs not long before the end. And I thought the exchange between Ezra and Clara, which is about music, was apropos to my work on the book, and to any artistic effort. I sometimes find it difficult just to put the pen to the paper and write something. But as Clara says, there's only one way to find out.


The green and yellow/orange lines at the bottom of the text are possible responses Ezra can make to Clara. You choose one and click on it .

I say I finished it, and I did get to the end of it. A rather unsatisfying end: it just stopped. Then I found out that the game is still incomplete. There are currently four acts, and a fifth one is due out this year sometime. I'll definitely be getting it.


Seen on Facebook: "If they were really pro-life they'd have used low-flow showerheads."


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I thought reception of the Eucharist was always "up to the consciences of the individuals", Mac. Even if you have just confessed how long can you stay sin-free before getting to the front of the line? Thoughts, not just action or state of your home-life, can lead you to sin as well.

In one sense it is always up to the conscience, but you're supposed to know that, for instance, that there are some sins that keep you from receiving communion until/unless they are confessed. If someone committed a murder on the way to Mass he shouldn't receive communion, even if his conscience tells him the guy deserved it.

The mortal-venial distinction can get kind of legalistic but it's pretty important.

I suppose without "cafeteria Catholics" the Church would be pretty small. My interest in the rules imposed by Rome is non-existent. I guess I've never gotten over my Protestant upbringing.

Stu, reception of the Eucharist is up to the individual's conscience, but the teaching about right and wrong cannot change. Also, venial sins don't prevent us receiving, only mortal.

Maclin, I loved your point about the fridge, internet etc. I can totally relate. But then, I'm not trying to write a book. Good luck - I hope you succeed, and I look forward to reading the excerpts.

Mac, Just got word that Fr. Borbridge died this morning at 2:30. He had been retired out to Grand Coteau, Louisiana where I visited him several times in the past three years. When I tried to see him in December he was in an Alzheimer's facility, so I was unable to. May he rest in peace with the Lord.

RIP. I didn't really know him, just knew who he was. I didn't know he had Alzheimer's.

Thanks, Louise. Regarding the internet: QED--it's 9:24 and I'm sitting at the computer with the book file open but replying to comments on my blog.

Replying to comments is more fun than working!

Thanks for the clarification, Louise!

I don't mean to sound snarky about rules of the Church everyone. Thanks for putting up with me.

I don't like the term "cafeteria Catholic" and I don't think I've ever used it. There are different levels of importance and authority in what the Church teaches, and different requirements of assent. There's a big difference between "rules imposed by Rome" and the core teachings of the faith.

Cross-posted. Don't worry Stu, we love you.:-)

What I mean about "cafeteria Catholic": it was so often used from the "conservative" side in a way that made it sound like you could not ever disagree with the pope about anything and still consider yourself a Catholic in good standing. It was usually way too broad a brush. I always thought, besides the fact that it wasn't always fair, that it might come back to bite some of the people who used it, because we were not always going to have a pope they agreed with on everything. I think that's happened now.

It's funny that you say that because I was thinking something similar. That while I have my own resistance to some Church teachings, of course mainly due to my life and marriage and the direction it seems to be headed, whoever is the pope doesn't really make much difference to me. I just hope he does a good job. But then those of you who are more conservative and concerned about what is going on in Rome .... aren't you all supposed to just take as gospel what Francis says due to his being God's representative here on earth? This would be easier to express in a conversation than in writing. What I'm trying to say is I might never really think that, but I would think those who are more traditionalist would be more likely to. Since I read this blog regularly I know that most of you are unhappy with not Francis the man, but Francis as the head of the Church, and do you have a right to be? Sort of like those who want us to respect the POTUS because of the position. Strangely it might be the reverse in the current case, respecting the position more than the man, since he seems to be a nut. Okay, I am now rambling, but perhaps I have made a small point.

Too big a question to answer while I'm supposed to be working, but remember how, in Brideshead Revisited, Julia's younger sister made Julia's husband Rex Mottram look ridiculous.

"But then those of you who are more conservative and concerned about what is going on in Rome .... aren't you all supposed to just take as gospel what Francis says due to his being God's representative here on earth?"

No. I don't want to comment much on this topic here, but it's just not that simple.

Anyway, we like you, Stu. I don't have any sense of having to "put up with" you. Whether others have to "put up with" me is another matter, and probably not my business! :)

We love you, too, Louise. :-) I know what you think about Francis. I hope you're wrong.

But, Stu--no, no, no! Whatever "conservatives" may have said over the past 30 years or so, Catholics are most definitely not "supposed to just take as gospel what Francis says due to his being God's representative here on earth." The pope is the servant, not the master, of the faith. His doctrinal authority is very limited. If he wakes up one morning and decides, say, to embrace the Anglican understanding of the Eucharist, we would not be obliged to say "Oh, ok, that's what we believe now, too."

Dante places several popes in hell.

Far be it from me to offer advice, but when I'm working on a translation and finding it hard to stay off the internet, I go to a public library. We do have the advantage that it's only a mile away.

Of course, in the States that may not be a way of getting away from the internet in any case. I doubt it would be in the UK, where so many libraries are now "information service points" rather than repositories of books.

It's true that the internet is available in most libraries here, and in my local library specifically. I think I could stay off it there, though, but would be distracted by other things.

It's not so much when I'm composing that I have the problem, especially when the weather was warm. I took a folding chair and a pad and pen and sat by the bay. That worked pretty well, even though I also had my phone with me, in case my part-time employer had an emergency. For the most part I was able to leave the phone alone. When the weather turned cooler and I had to stay inside it was worse, even though I could work somewhere well away from the computer. But I did manage to get a fair amount done. It was when I got to this point, typing and revising, and *had* to be at the computer, that it started getting out of control--when all it takes is a couple of mouse clicks.

Can you turn off your wifi? I don't mean turn it off on your computer, but someplace away from the computer? I have DSL so I could do that. Or, maybe you could get an old desktop without wifi. There must be a ton of them out there cheap.


From a sympathetic long time lurker (and friend of Craig's), I've found the 'Freedom' app pretty helpful at avoiding the internet as distraction over the years. Set it for x number of minutes and it stops you from surfing (or surfing specific sites) unless you restart your computer. Creates just enough of a delay for me.

The Freedom app sounds like a good possibility--thanks.

Turning off the network (it's actually cabled, not wi-fi, not that that makes any difference) would work but would also cause other hassles. For instance, my files actually reside on an internal server (just an old PC) that gets backed up automatically every night. Etc.

What I mean about "cafeteria Catholic": it was so often used from the "conservative" side in a way that made it sound like you could not ever disagree with the pope about anything and still consider yourself a Catholic in good standing.

I first heard the term about 30 years ago uttered by a bishop in Southern California. He was describing a pro-abortion politician (whose name might have been something like 'Lucy Killea'). I don't think Catholic politicians of that ilk merit delicate terminology. The 'cafeteria Catholic' is an element among the laity who generally aren't doing much systematic thinking at all about matters religious (in my experience). With most of the church-o-cracy, you're looking at a different phenomenon (which Amy Welborn characterized in part as 'bored out of their minds careerism').

Can you set the Freedom app for "All Eternity?"


It would be cheaper to drop your internet service altogether.

It's true that "cafeteria Catholic" describes a real phenomenon. But it was overused as a simplistic way of shutting someone down, and it's not surprising now that progressives are having fun throwing it at people who disagree with some of Francis's political or economic views.

I suspect it's more or less always been the case that the majority of lay Catholics don't do much systematic thinking about matters religious. Most people don't do much of it about anything. That doesn't mean they're stupid, but they just don't tend to look at things that way.

Hey, I wasn't throwing it at you folks, I was describing my own shortcomings! Unless I am not one of the progressives you are referring to. I never see too many people hanging back when it becomes time for communion, but I suspect that my particular parish are all in full compliance!

Oh, I know, I didn't take it that way.

I suspect it's more or less always been the case that the majority of lay Catholics don't do much systematic thinking about matters religious. Most people don't do much of it about anything. That doesn't mean they're stupid, but they just don't tend to look at things that way.

They immersed themselves in a Catholic (or at least, generically Christian) culture. You don't have to do much systematic thinking to come to a realization that the legal profession, corporate HR, and academe are force-feeding you something rather at a variance with the catechism. However, that's thinking the professional class numbskulls who enrolled their children in Charlotte Catholic High School are refusing to do.

By "always" I meant the whole of Christian history. But yeah, that's pretty true. Though in the professional class you're talking about it may be more likely that they don't care rather than that they don't think.

I was wondering if there was some reason you named Charlotte High School. This?

Thanks Maclin. :)


No this. Makes depressing reading.

Indeed it does. That was a good comment from you on one of those posts, about the school's financial viability possibly being dependent on the objecting parents. That's a fundamental dilemma facing a lot of Catholic institutions that might wish to be faithful.

If they were really pro-choice, they wouldn't care if you chose low flow shower heads.


Somebody was riffing on that very annoying rhetorical tactic and the shower head one was my favorite.

Very good. I can't always tell satire from reality any more.

I might have wondered except that it was in the comments on someone's impassioned post about the trashing of the pro-life movement for being insufficiently active about other issues, or being on the "wrong" side of them. Though as I've said before I think on the whole "pro-life" is in some ways an unfortunate name for the movement, however accurate it is, because it practically invites that kind of attack.

Stu (and everyone else), As today is the feast of the Chair of Peter, here is a link to Pope St. Leo the Great's homily on who the pope is.

As Maclin said, we don't have to believe every word that the pope says. We can even strongly disagree with him, but we should always treat him with the respect that is due that person described in the homily. He's different from a secular leader.

Also, I think we ought to at least consider the possibility that when we disagree with him, we might be wrong. When you read the scripture from Matthew where Jesus gives Peter the Keys, it is right after Peter says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." And Jesus says that it was the Father that told Peter that AND SO he is Peter, etc. Peter wasn't perfect or infallible in himself in any way, but he heard the Father clearly, and this scripture seems to me to emphasize that. So it may just be that the Lord speaks more clearly to the Pope than he does to me.

I have been so absolutely wrong about so many things that I thought I was absolutely right about, I think that I ought to at least keep my mouth shut and pray for a good long while before I contradict the visible head of the Church on earth. And if I believe I must say something, I shouldn't be flip or disrespectful about it, and I should say it to the correct person--not on Facebook, or in a gossipy, whiny conversation.


Thanks, Janet. Went to Mass this morning so got to hear my parish priest talk for longer than you might think about Peter, and many other popes. It made for a nice time of prayer.

"I have been so absolutely wrong about so many things that I thought I was absolutely right about..."

Date of birth comes to mind.


Date of birth comes to mind.

Well, I wasn't absolutely sure about that. It was done on the spur of the moment.

What made me think about that at all was that someone dropped off old (1894) KJV Bible. He said he didn't want to throw it away, so he brought it here. There were names and dates i the Bible and the owner was born in 1854, which is really a lot closer to the end of the Civil War than my birth date.


I love looking at old books like that. I have a few in my library, but none with interesting inscriptions.

I haven't had a chance to look through it. It's falling apart.


We have a lot of old stuff like that--some books but also newspaper clippings, letters, and the like, in our family. It's fascinating.

Sometimes after paying a dollar or so for an interesting old (not antique) book at a library sale or something, I've found inscriptions like "To Helen with love, Stan, Christmas 1949". It's almost tear-jerking. You figure Helen and Stan are probably dead, and you picture the middle-aged children standing around saying "What are we going to do with all these books?" "Just put 'em in a box and take 'em to the library."

About the pope, by the way, criticism of: I tried to make it clear, but in case I didn't, I'm not appropriating to myself the right to judge the doctrinal question. I'm criticizing the way he's handling it. And I'll admit that the *way* he's doing it gives me reason to be concerned about *what* he's doing. But I'm not making any definite pronouncement on it.

But when a pope says something that has nothing to do with the faith, and is plainly wrong as a matter of simple fact, I don't feel so constrained. I'm thinking of his saying the other day that "There is no such thing as Islamic terrorism." Presumably he was making the valid and uncontroversial point that most Muslims are not terrorists, but...well, frankly it made me think of Trump, and the way you have to look sometimes for the valid point behind the absurd way it's made.

I hate to have to do this, but I haven't had time to more than give what you wrote a very quick scan. I just saw Stu's question and was responding to that.

Hopefully Friday I'll have some time. ;-)


I find the inscriptions in books to be very deeply moving.

I've never told anyone, but I've more than once reflected on what seemed to me to be a similarity between Trump's approach to things and Pope Francis's.

I'm so delighted to hear you say that. I wondered if it was just me.

Me too, Grumpy. There was one I came across just within the past month or two but I can't remember which book it was.


By that do you mean that they just blurt things out on the spur of the moment and then other people have to clean up the mess?


Yes, and that they tend to foment chaos in general. Plus, Pope Francis is prone to be verbally less than gentle with people he doesn't think much of--although it is usually not individual, but groups that he scolds and embarrasses.

I'm going to be verbally less than gentle with Mac if we don't see today's album pretty soon! :)

Hey, be patient, I have many commitments: last night I had to watch a second episode of Twin Peaks when I would otherwise have been working up the album post.

You do need to be prepared when the new Twin Peaks stuff comes out!!

Yes, and more immediately, I got Mark Frost's Secret History of Twin Peaks for Christmas, and when I'd gotten a couple of chapters in I decided I really needed to see the series again.

Before reading any further, I mean.

What Robert says above is pretty much what I meant about the Francis-Trump similarity, too.

And that's an element of what I mean in the post about Francis and the government of the Church. A father shouldn't give the impression that he really dislikes some of his children.

Or in my case, a stepfather...

Here's a year-old article on the Francis/Trump comparison: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/02/19/what-donald-trump-and-pope-francis-actually-have-in-common/?utm_term=.b9be704307b2

To me the strongest connection between them is that their personal popularity comes at the expense of the institutions they lead. In some sense they present themselves against the offices they occupy. Maybe it was Ross Douthat made that point, but I can't recall where.

"...at the expense of the institutions they lead.." Yes, that's a good insight.

The Schmitz piece is quite interesting. I agree with a great deal of it, not 100% of course. I was particularly struck by this:

'This may be because, as the German writer Martin Mosebach has observed, Francis presents himself as a “dynamic, unconventional, courageous pope with a golden heart” in contrast to a church that is a “crusty, dead, faithless, rigid machine.” Why go to church? Better to follow the pope on Twitter.'

I've wondered about this all along, ever since he became something of a darling to secular liberals, which of course was pretty quick. Is he likely to cause people outside the Church to think "Hmm, maybe there's something to this Catholic business after all", or "Well, good, maybe they're beginning to come around to the right way of looking at things."

Anecdote: yesterday I "heard" an online conversation in which people who appeared to be somewhat disaffected Catholics were praising Francis but seemed to separate him from the Church.

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