Pope Francis Feed

That Motu Proprio Business

I decided several years ago that I had had enough of intra-Catholic controversies, especially those surrounding and frequently caused by Pope Francis, and that I was going to start ignoring them. It seemed that I was just going to have to accept the fact that the Pope had renewed a conflict within the Church that I had thought, or at least hoped, was slowly dying down--I mean the conflict between the factions conventionally if inaccurately labeled "liberal" and "conservative."

So I stopped reading news stories about the Pope, whether in the secular religious press. It wasn't hard to do, as I've never been a Vatican-watcher, and, probably more importantly, he just didn't seem to be in the news as much. And I've been happier for it. But I can't resist taking a shot at the recent motu proprio which revokes the wide permission granted by Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the pre-Vatican-II Mass. In practical effect it seeks to extirpate the old Mass, and it's a weirdly punitive action, in startling contrast to Francis's talk about being inclusive etc. 

I am not a capital-T Traditionalist (little-t traditionalist, maybe), I don't attend the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), have no particular affection for it, and no direct personal interest in seeing it preserved, beyond a healthy respect for our liturgical heritage. What I do have is sympathy for those who are attached to it. (This is an odd and maybe significant parallel to my situation with regard to Donald Trump's presidency: I didn't support him, but I sympathized with those who did.) When the question is reduced (simplistically but frequently) to the choice between Latin and the vernacular, I'm firmly on the side of English, the only vernacular I care about.

But I've always been puzzled by the hostility of the proponents of the Novus Ordo (in other words, the vast majority of bishops, clergy, and academics) to the TLM. By "always" I mean since I became Catholic in 1981. I didn't grow up Catholic and had no experience whatsoever of the old Mass, therefore no attachment to it. But like the hypothetical space traveler landing on earth and wondering why we do certain things which strike him as odd, I was puzzled by the hostility. What I saw was a significant number of people, mostly older than me, who were very deeply attached to the old liturgy and were heartbroken by the change. And I couldn't understand why no accommodation was made for them, no gesture of concern at all that I could see. It seemed that they were held in contempt by the powers governing the Church for the bizarre crime of being attached to what the Church itself had encouraged them to love.

That picture is significantly different now. Forty years have passed, and most of the people I'm talking about are no longer with us. From what I see and hear the people now devoted to the TLM, the people who reportedly fill some parishes that are essentially TLM parishes, are middle-aged and younger, and could not possibly be acting out of some residual attachment to the Church of their childhood and youth. If anything they are reacting against that, against the Novus Ordo (for various well-known reasons that I won't bother with now). And maybe that's part of the reason the Pope has taken this action: we expected this thing to die, but it's growing, so we better kill it. The hostility toward the TLM in some quarters is at least as great as it was forty years ago. And I still don't understand it. 

The stereotype of Traditionalists is that they're rigid, cranky, suspicious, and so forth. As with almost all stereotypes, there's some truth in it. But it's not the whole story. The pope's letter accompanying the document emphasizes the harm done to the Church's unity by Traditionalists who reject Vatican II. But there is a world of middle-ground between the zealous progressive who thinks the only problem with Vatican II is that it didn't go far enough in erecting a new Church, and the zealous Traditionalist who denies the council's validity entirely. No doubt you can find some of those in TLM communities. But there's also no doubt that you could find many who believe that some aspects of the Council were unwise and that its implementation was misguided and botched. To believe that is in no way "comportment that contradicts communion,"  as Francis says in the letter accompanying his edict. His immediate predecessor often said things along those lines about the Council.

There's another stereotype involved here: the smiling progressive who is tolerant of everything except disagreement, ostentatiously compassionate, but having a mean streak. Francis shows something of that tendency. If Traditionalists are as alienated as he says, is this a wise way to deal with them? What happened to "accompaniment," "going to the margins," and all that stuff? If any group within the Catholic Church is marginalized right now, it's Traditionalists. This is like a father choosing to deal with an estranged child by telling him "Actually, I never liked you anyway. Also, I'm taking your dog to the shelter tomorrow."

Here are a couple of good responses. A fairly brief one from Amy Welborn, and a longer and liturgically erudite one from Dom Alcuin Reid.

And now I'll go back to not paying attention.

Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?

Some weeks ago I was asked about a remark attributed to Pope Francis by that journalist he talks to from time to time, Eugenio Scalifari. According to Scalifari, the pope said that the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen as a physical event. This was one of those conversations with the 90-plus-year-old journalist who neither records nor takes notes of his "interviews." So (1) who knows what Francis actually said? (2) who knows what Francis actually meant? (3) who really cares, unless something more definite is known about (1) and (2)?

So much for that. But my correspondent had searched for something like "does the pope believe in the resurrection?" and had turned up something more serious, albeit happily more obscure. The web site of a self-described "reformed, Calvinistic, conservative evangelical publisher" based in Edinburgh, "Banner of Truth," asserts that Benedict XVI clearly denies the resurrection. A look around the site reveals that it also pushes old-school anti-Catholicism: Far From Rome Near to God: Testimonies of Fifty Converted Catholic Priests. So it's not surprising that in an article called "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" Matthew Vogan says the answer is no:

Continue reading "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" »

About That Letter From Those Theologians

I mean the one in which they accuse Pope Francis of heresy. I've only read the first page, at which point I scrolled down to see the list of signers. The only one I recognize is Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. I've read several of his books and he is certainly not any sort of crank. Or at least he hasn't been in the past. I can only conclude that either there is something to the charges, or that Fr. Nichols has made a mistake in judgment. 

The first page includes the first charge: that the Pope has "publicly and pertinaciously demonstrated his belief" that

A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.

I've heard more or less the same charge from people who are theologically educated and are not cranks. It may be justifiable. Nevertheless, I don't plan to get into the controversy any further than the preceding remarks. It's been raised in a Facebook group for the Ordinariates to which I belong, and I posted the following comment there. I guess it's partly or mainly just an occasion for me to say something I've wanted to say for some time. And I want to say it more publicly.

This is a sort of meta-comment, about why I am not going to comment on the letter: as a lay Catholic with no knowledge of theology beyond some basics, I do not consider myself qualified or entitled or obligated to call anyone a heretic on any grounds more subtle than something like denying the physical Resurrection. This is much more emphatically the case where the accused is the pope. The same basic principle applies to the signatories of this letter: I am not qualified to evaluate their arguments. 

And on a personal level I have, in my going-on-40 years as a Catholic, become almost as sick of heresy-hunters as of heretics, especially of self-appointed heresy-hunters among the laity. By "heresy hunters" I mean those who are clearly looking avidly for anything that can be construed as heresy or just savoring of it. I have had a lot of reservations about Pope Francis and in particular about his governance, and have said so publicly. I had misgivings about him from the beginning, initially for nothing any more concrete than "I've got a bad feeling about this," and I think they have been somewhat justified. Somewhat. But I have deeper reservations about the anti-Francis people who seem determined to put the worst possible construction on everything he says.

(That emphasized "Somewhat" was not in the Facebook post, because you can't do italics in Facebook comments.)

The inquisitorial spirit I'm talking about is partly a somewhat (at least) understandable reaction against the toleration and even advocacy of heresy on the part of many elements of the Church, most harmfully within the hierarchy and the academic establishment. I was an enemy of what can loosely be called Modernism as soon as I understood what it was, and I still am. But the inquisitorial impulse quite clearly often has a strong taint of pride and malice. And is probably at least as great a risk to the soul of the person exercising it as the profession of doctrinal error. 

NobodyExpectsEtc(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Sunday Night Journal, June 10, 2018

I had a very strange experience last Friday night. Does everyone have the problem I have with "last" and "next" in this context? Today is Sunday. Does "last Friday" mean the day before yesterday, or a week before the day before yesterday? Similarly for "next." Anyway, I mean June 1, a week before the day before yesterday. There are several art galleries and a lot of artists in Fairhope, and on the first Friday evening of every month there's an "Art Walk," which means that a block or two in the middle of town is closed off to traffic, the shops--art galleries and everything else--are open, there are musicians here and there: a sort of fair, in other words, or a street party.

I have to preface this with the acknowledgement that I'm not much of a visual arts person. I'm not much of a visual person in general, as my wife, who is, will confirm: my attempts to describe anything I'm not actually looking at are frequently very inaccurate. Literature and music are my big artistic interests, with the visual arts a distant third. Sure, there are pictures I enjoy looking at, and artists I like, but it's just not something I devote a lot of attention to. And where abstract art is concerned I cross over from lack of interest to skepticism and even philistinism. As a rule the best I can say about abstract art is "Well, that's sort of pretty." (The worst is "Gosh, that's really ugly.")

So: we went to last Friday's Art Walk, the first one for me, though my wife may have been before. And we went into this gallery/shop which was full of what I think of as typical Fairhope art. Since this is a coastal town, there are lots of pelicans and piers and sunsets over the water. Some are better done than others, of course, and most of them are pleasant--I love pelicans and piers and sunsets, and if I could paint, that's the kind of thing I would paint so I don't really mean this as a putdown. I've posted a lot of pictures of sunsets here. And the ones in this gallery seemed well done, but still...just pleasant. I wandered through pretty quickly and found myself in the back of the shop looking at some abstractions.

That's when the strange thing happened: I was moved emotionally. I can't really say exactly what the emotion was. It was very similar to the feelings produced by certain moments in certain pieces of music: not really a specific emotion, but a sort of pleasurably piercing sensation felt definitely in the heart; I mean the physical heart. I was a little shocked. There were several paintings there, and most of them gripped me oddly, but there was one that really produced that sensation:

Christine Linson Gallery: Abstract &emdash; 41 - Red Intersecting

I would not have copied the image and posted it, but the web site provides the HTML for embedding it, so apparently it's okay with the artist. Her name, as you can see, is Christine Linson (the copyright notice you see here is not on the painting itself). This photo of it is just that, and isn't the painting itself anymore than a photo of a person is the person. The textures of the canvas and of the paint are a part of the effect, as is the size--roughly two feet wide, I think. Or maybe more like three?--you see what my visual memory is like.

Anyway...I have no conclusion to draw from this, no larger observation; it was just a new and interesting and very pleasurable experience. As far as I can remember I have never before had an emotional reaction to an abstract painting.

Here's a link to the artist's site.


A postscript to last week's discussion of Pope Francis as seen through Ross Douthat's To Change the Church, regarding the persistence of the "liberal" vs. "conservative" struggle over the meaning of Vatican II:

The bigger picture here is not the half-century-plus since the Council, but the century-plus in which the Church has been dealing with the challenge of theological modernism, by which I mean, very loosely, the skeptical spirit which tends to remove or explain away the supernatural elements of the faith, usually in the name of making it more acceptable to Modern Man. And, widening the view even further, the challenge of modernism in the whole broad sense of the incredulity of all Christian belief in the eyes of that same Modern Man. That struggle is far from over. No one reading this will see the end of it, unless the end of this world intervenes. 

I think this is a much deeper and more mysterious phenomenon than we think. We tend to look at specific ideas and specific people who push those ideas, whether world-view-definers like Darwin whose names everyone knows, or theologians and philosophers like Rudolf Bultmann whose names are familiar only to those interested in the subject. But the really significant thing is that millions and millions of ordinary people who never give much conscious attention to ideas think like them. Maybe that's entirely explainable as the effect of culture and education dominated by skeptical assumptions. But I tend to think there is something more powerful at work here. I don't mean to suggest that I think it's the work of the devil, any more than false ideas always are. It just seems to me sometimes that ideas really do have a life of their own--not a conscious will, but an ability to spread and thrive under favorable conditions.

At any rate I often think of something I quoted several years ago from a comment on Rod Dreher's blog: "No matter what the Church did, [modern man] was done with it." Here's the post where I discussed it.


If you were interested in Douthat's book, but not interested enough to read it, you can get a good idea of its gist from this interview with him. This paragraph is pretty much my own view of Pope Francis:

My provisional view is that the real Francis is what he appears to be — a devout, prayerful, pastoral Catholic who has a certain impatience with doctrinal niceties and who has come around to the fairly common Jesuit view that the Church’s teachings on sexual morality are a great impediment to evangelization and need to be tacitly relaxed. This is not the same thing as having a deliberate grand strategy for transforming Catholicism into Episcopalianism, and there are all kinds of ways in which Francis is not a theological liberal as the term is usually understood.

I keep remembering something I said to my wife within, if I remember correctly, a few weeks of Francis's election: "He seems like someone who would be a great parish priest, but I'm not so sure he'll be a good pope."


A few weeks ago in the comments on that post about Nordic mythology we were discussing the disparity between the hard and violent world of medieval Scandinavia and the seeming mild blandness of contemporary Scandinavia. Marianne suggested a connection between that old spirit and the gruesomeness of Nordic noir. Well. Over the past week or so my wife and I watched the first series of The Bridge, the Swedish-Danish crime drama, and I think Marianne has a point. It wasn't the gruesomeness as such, though that was there, but the hardness. After three or four episodes my impression was something like a cold place full of cold people. There was more to it than that, of course, and the impression changed somewhat. Still, it wasn't altogether off the mark. It was reinforced by the cinematography, which is relentlessly washed out, gray and white, almost monochrome. 

But the cinematography is beautiful, especially in HD. I guess I probably discussed here the British-French knockoff (remake, imitation--whatever it should be called) of The Bridge. The bridge of the original is the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and the story involves a crime that occurs on the bridge and is investigated by two police-persons, a Danish man and a Swedish woman who apparently has Asperger's Syndrome. The British-French version is called The Tunnel, with the English Channel tunnel serving a narrative function similar to that of the bridge. 

I liked The Tunnel, but I liked The Bridge better. The plots are pretty similar, but I thought The Bridge did a better job of integrating plot and character, especially that of the shall-we-say-eccentric policewoman. It does have some very gruesome moments, and one or two fairly explicit and unnecessary sex scenes. I've noticed before that some of these shows "front-load" their most sensational moments, as if they need to draw viewers in with sex-'n'-violence (or in this case violence-'n'-sex) before trusting the work to engage them. In this case it could backfire, as the gruesome scene in the first episode could certainly put people off the whole thing.

I discovered recently in the course of an initially very confusing conversation that there is a third variant on this plot, this one American-made and also called The Bridge, this bridge being one between El Paso and Juarez. I didn't know about it and the person I was talking to didn't know about the original. 


There are several magnolia trees in the woods around my house, but they don't bloom much, which is always a little disappointing to me because I really like these huge sweet-smelling flowers. Besides being delightful themselves, they're a pleasant childhood memory, because we had two large and vigorously blooming magnolia trees. When they were blooming there were often some of the flowers in the house. Apparently they need a lot of sun to thrive. I finally noticed this year that one of the ones near us does bloom at the top, where it gets the sun, forty feet or so up in the air. Yesterday at someone else's house I noticed their magnolia, which stands mostly away from other trees, had a lot of flowers, many within reach from the ground. I was able to experience their scent for the first time in a long time. My wife was laughing at the way I stuck my nose into this one. 


Sunday Night Journal, May 13, 2018

"The Murray project is dead." 

I saw that statement somewhere on Facebook some time ago, and I can't remember who said it, or I would give him or her credit. It struck me, though, and, obviously, stayed with me. The reference is to John Courtney Murray, S.J., whom I have never read, but I know that he is someone "who was especially known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, particularly focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state" (Wikipedia). He seems to have been a sort of intellectual father to the movement within American Catholicism represented by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, First Things magazine, et.al.--the Catholic neo-conservatives, in other words. 

I'm still thinking about Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, and that remark about the Murray project keeps coming back to me. Murray apparently believed, in a nutshell, not just that the Church and the liberal state could and should co-exist, but that they were in some fundamental way compatible and in agreement on questions such as religious pluralism. Like I said, I haven't read Murray, so I'm subject to correction on that. But I think it's a fair assessment of the Nogelhaus project (Novak, Weigel, Neuhaus). 

Maybe it would be more precise to say that Murray and his heirs believe(d) that Vatican II and liberalism were in agreement about liberalism (that would make sense, considering that Murray helped construct the Vatican II documents on religious pluralism). Anyway, whatever the intellectual lineage and precise nature of these ideas may be, I think there's reason now to question whether orthodox Christianity of any kind will be able to coexist peaceably with the liberal state for much longer. There were always reasons in principle why this might be a problem, and there has been a great deal of more or less abstract discussion of the question. But things have changed in the past ten-to-fifteen years, and it's now becoming a practical matter, with the question presenting itself as something like "To what degree will or can the liberal state tolerate Christianity?" meaning of course any form of Christianity that continues to hold the fundamental doctrinal and moral principles which have been central to it for most of its history.

The main thing that's changed, of course, is the liberal view of acceptable attitudes toward homosexuality, and sexuality in general. The ruling class in this country has pretty well reached a consensus that the belief that homosexual acts are immoral is not just comparable to but the exact equivalent of racism, and should be dealt with accordingly. This means that those who hold it should, at minimum, be pushed to the margins of society, and that actions based on that belief should be punishable by law; hence all the lawsuits involving bakers not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, etc. In addition, that class, as it has come to be constituted over the past twenty years or so, has in general a disdain, to say the least, for orthodox Christianity and orthodox Christians, and is little inclined to listen to arguments in their defense. How this will work out over the next few decades is, obviously, uncertain, but the outlook is not very good at the moment. If you think, for instance, that there is little or no chance that Christian colleges and universities will be faced with loss of accreditation if they teach that homosexual activity is in the same general class of immoral acts as adultery, you aren't paying attention.

I wouldn't normally apply the term "Vatican II Catholic" to myself, because it generally refers to a set of progressive views which are pretty compatible with liberal Protestantism of the Episcopalian type. I am to say the least not on board with that. But if you take away all those connotations, it does apply to me reasonably well, in that I have thought that Vatican II was basically a good thing, that its celebrated opening to the modern world was a good thing, and that the manifest problems which followed it were a result of distortions, willful and otherwise, of its teachings, distortions put into the service of a program of revolution which would fundamentally alter the faith. As a great admirer of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I held to the very widespread view that they were engaged in a sort of rescue of the Council, getting rid of those distortions and repudiating the revolution while salvaging what was good in it.

In that sense they could be seen as the ecclesiastical counterpart of the Murray project: they wanted to reconcile the Church to the modern world, which is as much as to say to liberalism, as far as was compatible with maintaining the faith. And lately a troubling thought has been nagging at me: is the Vatican II project, understood as the John Paul II and Benedict XVI project, like the Murray project, over--finished, dead for all practical purposes?

And further: if the papacy of Pope Francis is in fact, as many say, in perfect continuity with the project as just described, only attempting to go further toward a reconciliation with liberalism, is it the last losing battle in a losing war? Is it possible that no matter how a pope tries to make nice with the modern world, in the end the conflict cannot be resolved? That the whole attempt was a mistake--or, if not mistaken, merely futile? And that the Church of the 22nd century (if the world lasts) will look more like that of Pius X than that of Paul VI? Are the traditionalists right in saying that much of Vatican II--not just flagrant abuses, but much of what seems to be the core of it--was a wrong turn that must be corrected?

I'm not saying that I believe the answers are definitely "yes," but I've really begun to wonder.


Speaking of Pope Francis: I decided a year or two ago not to speak of Pope Francis, not publicly. Moreover, I've made an effort not to pay much attention to the controversies he's provoked. As I've said here more than once, whatever you think of Francis, you can't deny that he has re-ignited the Church's internal war between progressives and...let's just call them anti-progressives. When I came into the Church in the early '80s the extreme progressive interpretation of the Council was still dominant, and I rejoiced that it seemed to have been definitively put in its place by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I had thought that we had put all that behind us and were now reasonably well-united, and could look outward again.

I was, obviously, quite wrong, and have been heartsick that the war has flared up again. I am reluctant to think badly of Francis, but it's impossible to deny that the war is with us and that at best he doesn't seem to mind. I will say this one thing about him now: I don't have confidence in his judgment as ruler of the Church. Make of this what you will--and I don't know quite what to make of it myself--but from the moment he stepped out on that balcony as the newly-elected pope, I felt uneasy about him. I had no reason for it; I'd never heard of him. I've tried to quash that feeling, but it has never left me, and now and then something happens to revive it.  So I've decided that the best thing for me to do, for my own spiritual health, is to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the fight. 

But though I haven't spoken publicly about things like the Amoris Laetitia controversy, I haven't been able to ignore them completely. Sometimes I think Francis's critics are wrong and unreasonable; sometimes I think his supporters are gaslighting us, working to change important teachings while denying that they are doing any such thing. Mostly I try not to dwell on it all, which mostly is not very hard to do: I have all I can do to try to live a faithful life in my own little milieu. To attend closely to the controversies is to take sides in it, and to take part in a factional war within the Church is precisely what I do not want to do.

Accordingly, I did not plan to read Ross Douthat's new book about Francis, To Change the Church. However, I have read Craig Burrell's review of the book, and I recommend it strongly. I think you would have to look for a long time to find a more sensible, fair, judicious, perceptive assessment of the situation. Perhaps I'll even read the book, in case it's as good as this review.


I don't expect to find interesting popular music recommendations at The American Conservative, but this column about the progressive rock band Marillion got my attention. I've heard of them for years, but never gone out of my way to listen to them. For one thing, prog-rock is not my most favored genre, although I do like some of it. For another, I couldn't help suspecting, for reasons beginning with the name, that they might be both a bit pretentious and a bit twee--I consider a band name borrowed from Tolkien (The Silmarillion) to be a bad sign. (Mediocre metal and prog bands tend to go for it.) But this piece, especially its discussion of the album Brave, makes them sound very much worth investigating. What really convinced me was the fact that Steven Wilson thinks it's a great album and put a lot of work into a recent re-mix of it. Wilson is the main brain behind Porcupine Tree, a more-or-less prog band which is very highly regarded. The PT album Stupid Dream, the only one I've heard more than once, is highly regarded by me: interesting both musically and lyrically.

I sent the AmCon piece to a friend who is a very enthusiastic Marillion fan who says that Wilson's remix "took a great album and made it a masterpiece." So Brave is now pretty close to the top of my listening list. I'll report next week. 


Find the cat.


Sunday Night Journal, January 7, 2018

How, how is it possible that this is the year 2018 A.D.?  I have a clear memory of sitting in Mrs. Bruce's 6th grade class, which means it was 1959 or '60 and I was eleven or twelve years old, and wondering for the first time (as far as I remember) how old I would be in the year 2000. I remember doing the arithmetic to find out...borrow one, ten minus eight is two, nine minus four is five.


Astonishing! Inconceivable! I truly had no way to conceive of that length of time, much less what it would be like to be that age.

A few years later I was reading science fiction, much of which was set in that far-distant time. As late as 1969 Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick thought it reasonable to set their drama of the next step in human development (guided by those substitute gods, super-intelligent extraterrestrials) in 2001. They furnished their vision with a space travel infrastructure comparable to that which existed for air travel at the time. Well, that has strikingly failed to appear, along with many other visions of a future set in or just beyond the beginning of the millennium. The bright sleek shiny ultra-modern future has in general strikingly failed to appear (as has the dystopia that apparently became the preferred vision sometime after the 1960s). The only really significant technological development since 2000 has been the emergence and spread of the pocket-size supercomputer, otherwise known as the smart phone. Arguably the web of information and communication, and the computers which constitute and give access to it, are the only really significant technological development since 1970--at least if by "significant" we mean something that changes daily life in some important way for almost everyone. 

And culturally--well, some would say we've advanced, some that we've declined, and I favor the latter view, but all in all the change has not been so dramatic as science fiction writers expected. We've been pretty well stalled for most of the past fifty years, actually: the cultural revolution of the late 1960s happened, and things were rather different in 1975 from what they had been in 1965. But since then they've been fairly static, really, at least domestically--the culture war started and the antagonists have been locked in a struggle ever since, neither side winning a clear and decisive victory. 

Most striking to me is the swiftness of the passage of the eighteen years since 2000. It's a tiresome thing for an old person to say, I know, but it keeps occurring to me because it's so astonishing. The turn of the millennium is roughly as many years in the past for us no as the end of the Second Word War was at the arrival of the Beatles.  This year, children born in 2000 will be finishing high school.  They've gone from being newborns with everything to learn to having at least some level of education and ability to manage for themselves. But for me it's mostly been a sort of plateau, and I've traversed it very quickly.

For someone my age the phrase "the year 2000" once had the aura of distant, exciting, hardly imaginable futurity. Now it's just an ordinary and rather dull bit of the past, and for me not a very far distant past, as it must be for someone who will be, say, just old enough to vote and buy alcohol this year. 

And fifty-two seems fairly young. Or at least not old.

I'm happy to say, by the way, that I never was much worried about the Y2K disaster. There was a guy who gained a fair amount of fame for himself at the time by predicting, with a great deal of confidence and a fair amount of irrelevant or invented data, that civilization as we know it could not survive. I thought he was nuts, unless he was lying. A few years after the day had come and gone with barely a ripple, I went looking online to see what he had to say about having been proved wrong. I couldn't find any trace of him.


I'm also happy to say that I've managed pretty well to keep to my resolve to stay out of the controversy surrounding Amoris laetitia, and in general the controversies surrounding the papacy of Pope Francis. I've not only stayed out of them but have gotten pretty good at ignoring them. But yesterday someone recommended to me this piece by Christopher Altieri at Catholic World Report as being "the most balanced explanation" of the situation he'd read. Well, to be honest, he actually said "of the current mess." And it does seem to be something of a mess. Maybe it shouldn't be, maybe it's really much ado about nothing. But in that case the fact that it seems so important would have to be counted as part of the mess. At any rate, Altieri's piece does seem a pretty good explanation of why it isn't crazy (pharasaical, etc.) to have concerns about what the pope seems to want to do.

It strikes me, and it is not a happy stroke, that what's going on in the Church looks a lot like what's going on in American politics:  bitter factions hurling invective at each other, "Pope Francis can do no wrong" vs. "Pope Francis can do no right." As with the political situation, though, I don't really see that much effect in my own life and in my own place. My diocese, the parishes within it, and my Ordinariate group muddle along as usual, trying to practice the faith to the best of our ability. The Pope is far away and the fight doesn't directly affect us (not counting the clergy, for whom it may have immediate practical import in their ministry). I think I'll be glad if the era of the celebrity pope fades away. Much as I loved John Paul II, I was always a little concerned about that. 

One happy effect of all this, as Altieri notes (though not happily), is that the folks at America magazine, and the similarly-minded, now have the opportunity to denounce their opponents as "dissenters." It's a pretty silly charge, but it must feel pretty good to be able to make it, after several decades of digging in their heels against the last two popes. So let them have their fun, I say.


I've been meaning to mention that Francesca Murphy is now doing a bi-weekly blog post at First Things. They're excellent, and I think this piece, "The Secrets of the Confessional," is my favorite so far, a reflection on the fact that "Feeling great after confession is probably the most widespread experience in Catholicism, a religion not founded on religious experience as such."


I never was very good at learning the rules of grammar, and am only bothered by the mistakes which I don't usually make. One such has been bothering me lately. Isn't it the distinction between "transitive" and "intransitive" verbs that describes whether the subject is doing something or having something done to it? Whatever the correct terminology is, the distinction seems to be breaking down. I keep running across sentences which seem to be misusing transitive verbs, if that's the right way to describe it. For instance, I was about to subscribe to a certain magazine a few days ago, and the web site referred to "the Spring issue which releases in March." Shouldn't that be "is released"? 

And this: if you do this or that on your computer, you're told, "a message displays." Shouldn't that be "is displayed"?

And this: "It transforms into...." Shouldn't that be "is transformed into"?

Like I said, I don't really even know the rules. I just play by ear. But these are like off-key notes to me.

I'm giving up on "I'm going to lay down" and "He said to John and I." Those battles are hopelessly lost.

But I reserve the right to laugh when I hear individual persons referred to as "they" and "them" in deference to gender-bending fads. As in "My boyfriend has recently come out as transgender, and they are saying I'm a bigot because I'm thinking of breaking up with them." I actually read something like that a few days ago, though I can't find it now. As I've mentioned before, those who think Donald Trump is inaugurating the reign of Orwellian Newspeak and thoughtcrime are barking up the wrong tree entirely.  


We had an actual cold snap last week. By "actual" I mean that the temperature was low enough (mid-20s Fahrenheit) and the wind from the north strong enough (mid-20s MPH), to qualify as being, so to speak, objectively cold. Sometimes in winter, or in a hurricane that hits at the right angle, a strong north wind can blow much of the water right out of the bay. That was the case when this picture was taken on New Year's morning. Under normal conditions the only thing you would see besides water and sky in this picture would be the top of that furthest post. This debris by the way is partly trees fallen years ago and partly the remains of the city's original sewer line. I really should try to get them to remove it.


Banana trees do not take the cold very well. This was taken the following morning.


Sunday Night Journal, August 6, 2017

I've been out of town for a week and only got home late today, so this will be hasty, just a few notes on things I've read here and there over the past couple of weeks.

I've managed to avoid reading most of the reaction to that weird "ecumenism of hate" piece by Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa. But I did see a rather telling remark from him reacting to the reaction:

The reaction of the "haters" seems a clear sign that our article is telling the truth about the "ecumenism of hate".

That strikes me, first, as astonishingly juvenile, and, secondly, pretty much of a piece with the original article in its clarity of thought. If someone accuses Fr. Spadaro of being a bad priest, and he reacts angrily, does that prove the accusation? I read somewhere that he has written about Flannery O'Connor. I wonder what he said. I suppose he may have gotten the theology right but it's hard to believe that he understood the culture. Did he take Francis Tarwater to be a typical evangelical? 

One reaction that I did read was from Matthew Schmitz in The Catholic Herald, and he says something that struck me as possibly being the key not only to this little teapot-tempest but to an important aspect of what Pope Francis is doing and hopes to achieve. These two remarks, distant from each other in the article, are the nub of it:

[The article] is an attempt to defend the liberal order against what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat.

Pope Francis and his advisers believe the Church must defend the system of open borders and celebratory diversity exemplified by liberal Europe. 

You need to read the whole piece--it's not very long--to establish the context and flesh out what Schmitz means. It is at least in part a conjecture about a new Catholic order. Since sometime in the 19th century (at least), the Vatican and the Church at large have been trying to figure out what the place of the Church in the modern world can and should be. In a nutshell (if I'm not misreading him), Schmitz proposes that Francis and his allies are attempting to establish a relationship between the Church and the secular liberal state similar to the one it once had with the old order in Europe. It's a fascinating thesis, and if true would explain a lot.

I just skimmed the original piece again. What a dog's breakfast it is. It's not completely wrong, nor its concerns unwarranted, by any means. It's just a mess. 


It's not all that often that I read George Will. I saw a link to this piece somewhere and followed the link purely because the title was intriguing: "Trump Is Something the Nation Did Not Know It Needed."

Furthermore, today’s president is doing invaluable damage to Americans’ infantilizing assumption that the presidency magically envelops its occupant with a nimbus of seriousness....

Fastidious people who worry that the president’s West Virginia and Ohio performances — the alpha male as crybaby — diminished the presidency are missing the point, which is: For now, worse is better. Diminution drains this office of the sacerdotal pomposities that have encrusted it.

We very badly need to rein in the power, pomp, and circumstance of the presidency. He is not a king (nor will she be a queen, when that finally happens). Part of the reason that our factions consider it a matter of life and death to get one of their own in the office is the unconscious belief that he is. I often think that some form of monarchy really is most natural to mankind. Many Americans seem to want to revert to it. 


In a comment on a recent album of the week, Don linked to NPR's list of The 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women. It's an interesting list, if you find that sort of thing interesting, though it seemed to me that in a few cases "made by women" was a bit of a stretch (Fleetwood Mac?). But as I was reading along I was astonished to find the assertion that in 1992 Tori Amos was writing about "typically taboo topics including but not limited to sex, religion and sexism. " What?!?  How can anyone seriously assert that in 1992 any of those topics were "taboo"? I guess some people still get a thrill out of thinking that there's something courageous about saying things that might have been shocking in 1960 but have long since ceased to be so. It's a pretty cheap thrill, though.


Slightly related: in The Atlantic, James Parker has an account of visiting a San Francisco museum exhibit called "The Summer of Love Experience." He notes a striking omission:

...Where are the drugs? Their symptoms and sequelae are everywhere, of course, splattered wall-to-wall and chiming from the overhead speakers. But where, in this “Summer of Love Experience,” is LSD itself? Because—not to be too drearily materialistic about it—without that, none of this. Without the willing deliverance of an entire generation to artificially induced mental blowout, to swiftly sacramentalized psychic disruption/expansion, no Jefferson Airplane posters. Indeed, no Jefferson Airplane. A 50-year retrospective might have been a good moment to confront this a little more squarely: The pop culture of the ’60s, with all its ideological ramifications and projections, was a by-product of the drugs.

 I don't think that last sentence is quite accurate. Some sort of culturally revolutionary youth movement would have happened without the drugs. I'd put it this way: the movement as it actually happened was inseparable from the drugs. 


The view from behind a rest stop somewhere on Interstate 81 in central or western Virginia. I could stand to live among those big rolling hills and their vast green fields and pastures.


I could stand to live in a great many places that I've visited, actually, and probably a great many that I haven't. What a great variety of rich beauty the world offers us!


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."

I'm sorry, but these remarks from Pope Francis just sound silly and/or naive to me: 

“It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam," he said. "However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest."

Maybe in full context this and similar things quoted in the piece smack less of the "Co-exist" bumper sticker. Possible appearances to the contrary, I don't like feeling that an ordinary layman needs to school the Pope on a few elementary distinctions.

Update: The full interview is much better than the one quote above would indicate. I would still argue with his emphases and wish that he had made some other points, but it's more solid and less naive than that one quotation. As usual he is not well served by journalists.

Not A Post About Amoris Laetitia

Over the past couple of years when Pope Francis has published major documents I forced myself to sit out the wrangling that began--I started to say "the moment they were released," but really it started well before that. So I waited a few weeks or more before reading them and commenting on them. I think I'm going to go a step further this time and not even read the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, at least not anytime soon. The few comments that have come, unsought, into my field of vision seem agreed, whether approaching it from the conservative or progressive theological side, that it affirms the Church's teachings, but that there are a few ambiguous passages that can be interpreted as undermining certain teachings.

So apparently the controversialists are at each others' throats again, and if I read the document, I'll only be able to read it with that in mind. I'm deeply sick of hearing Catholics snarl at each other. And I doubt it will add anything to my understanding of marriage, or appreciation of the Church's teaching, though I'm sure there are some memorable passages in it. So I ask myself "Why bother?" I've been married for almost forty years, and I think I have a fairly good grasp of the thing, so I don't feel much need for instruction. And I'm not in the position of counseling or educating anyone else on the subject. Just now I saw a headline describing the exhortation as "Beautiful, Moving, and Divisive." And it's 256 pages long, or so I read somewhere.  I'm just going to let this one slide.