Toward Glorious Times

If Sam Kriss can return to web-logging by ironically referring to himself as an “idiot” after being #MeToo’d out of social media for being a sexual predator, I believe I am entitled to leap back in the ring after five of some of the most hectic months of my life.

For the past month or so, I have been quietly observing—and occasionally participating in—an online group dedicated to those who were once a part of, but have since left (or at least distanced themselves from), the Eastern Orthodox Church. As I am sworn to secrecy regarding the membership of the group and the information shared, I cannot get into specifics. What I will say (and this should come as little surprise to anyone who has followed “things Orthodox”), there is much that is rotten “out East.” No, Orthodoxy (at least in the West) does not have the same highly concentrated, visible scandals as those which currently afflict the Catholic Church, but it is not difficult to find credible tales of spiritual, psychological, and even physical/sexual abuse in the Orthodox Church. The problem of “guruism,” a problem recognized by the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann, runs rampant in Ameri-doxy and far too many priests, unequipped with any formal training, believe they have the authority and ability to direct their flocks like serf-holding nobility. This problem is distinct from the “cult of personality” phenomenon too often seen in Catholic circles, particularly around the figure of the pope. Sure, Orthodoxy has its own personality cults, but those tend to be far less insidious than the cleric-as-oracle or monk-as-prophet phenomena which so easily set the stage for abuse in the Orthodox Church. Due to Orthodoxy’s powerful “last outpost” narrative whereby all other Christianities are marginalized to the point of being characterized as demonic delusions, many souls burned by the false promises of the Eastern Church find themselves turning not to Catholicism or some form of Protestantism after Orthodoxy, but rather to agnosticism if not full-blown atheism. A soul that falls away from Orthodoxy is not picked back up by another confession, but rather resigns itself to a disquieting nothingness that must, at a certain level, feel comforting compared to the overbearing spiritual manipulation that proceeds largely unnoticed behind parish doors.

Not that Catholics don’t have plenty to lament over themselves. However, given the mountain of commentary on the ongoing abuse crisis (most of it trash) that is already floating around in cyberspace, I see no pressing need to contribute to it.

As some of you may know, in my “free time” I do a bit of consumer protection work, specifically debt defense for consumer, medical, and student loan debt. Though sometimes inadequate to the task, there exists a number of federal and state laws intended to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive debt-collection practices. While some attorneys go into this line of work in the hopes of scoring a “big one” against a larger debt collector, perhaps in a class-action context, I have found a great deal of professional comfort in taking on collectors and their attorneys one case at a time. The harsh reality is that 98% of consumers being sued on an alleged debt never have representation and nearly 80% default, that is, fail to respond to the legal complaint issued against them. This sad situation encourages debt-collection firms to file thousands upon thousands of auto-generated lawsuits, many of which fail to meet state and/or federal legal standards. Instead of fighting, however, consumers are apt to just throw the lawsuits in the trash, defaulting, and then eventually coming to learn that their wages and/or tax returns are being garnished. While it is never too late to fight back, it’s much easier to stop collectors on the front end than look for remedies on the back end. If you or someone you know is staring down the barrel of a collection action and/or garnishment, please know that help is available. While I operate out of Michigan, you can find debt-defense attorneys all over the country through the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

And speaking of consumer defense, in the past people have challenged my adherence to Catholic social principles by saying that they are unrealistic and are only workable in the context of a Catholic confessional state—the sort which is unlikely to reappear on the timeline at any point in the foreseeable future. Maybe. However, it is important to understand that even in a suboptimal socio-political context, it is still possible for all persons, regardless of class or station, to effectuate Catholic social principles in their daily lives. As an attorney, I can think of no better way to do this than to come to the assistance of those being exploited by an immoral, usury-based economic ordo that often runs roughshod over the most vulnerable populations in society. No, the laws of the United States are not properly configured to uphold the full panoply of Catholic social principles, but there are avenues available under statutory and common law to defend individuals from unlawful and immoral practices. Seeking economic justice is a good in and of itself, even if there are costs and setbacks. Even lawyers otherwise disinclined from pursuing this line of work full time can still get involved through legal aid organizations or just answering the call of a needy potential client, regardless of their primary practice area. It is one way to put principles into practice, and I would encourage all attorneys to put some time and effort into it.

With all that said, I have no plan for what the next iteration of this blogging endeavor will look like. Given my full plate, I doubt I will be able to post as often as I did several years ago. If you are new to this web-log, I encourage you to scan through the archives to get a sense of what my writing is all about. (I apologize in advance for all of the broken links; I assure you that the internal content which they connect to is still available.) If you are a longtime reader, then please let others know I am “back at it.” What that means in practice…we’ll see.

Lawyering Beyond Convention

Note: This post first appeared at the “Legal News” section of The Maul Law Group website. For more of my ongoing posts on law and related topics, please visit over there.

Giambattista Vico, writing in chapter two of his De Antiquissima, observed: “An esteemed jurist is, therefore, not someone who, with the help of good memory, masters positive law, but rather someone who, with sharp judgment, knows hw to look into cases and see the ultimate circumstances of facts that merit equitable consideration and exceptions from general rules.”

Most lawyers today, for better or worse, needn’t master positive law; they have numerous subscription databases at their fingertips for that. That hasn’t made them better jurists, at least not in the Viconian sense. Attorneys no less than judges are beholden to what the retired federal judge and scholar Richard Posner called “the law made me do it” conception. That is, lawyers will look at the positive law (statutes, cases, or both) and too often believe that a “right answer” emerges from it, even if that answer is not right for their clients. Judges, not wanting to reason through difficult problems dynamically, will look for an easy escape hatch, such as flat textualism or an over reliance on precedents (precedents which may have been formed in different contexts than case at issue).

Some will want to brush this concern to the side, arguing that law should be neither a dynamic nor an innovative profession, but a static and predictable one. Certainly, predictability is a virtue in any legal system. However, lawyers and layman alike place too great of a premium on it. The truth is that the application of many rules, even at the lower-court level, is always fraught with uncertainty due to the different temperaments, interests, and sophistication of judges. Even in Michigan, what flies in a judge’s court in one county crashes and burns in another. Lawyers who recognize this and adjust tactics accordingly tend to be more successful across the board, but many in and out of the legal profession are, understandably, left with a sense that this degree of variance is a legitimate problem that ought to be rectified.

Maybe, but how likely is that to happen? Michigan, like many states in the Union, has an elected judiciary and most voters have neither the time nor the inclination to research judicial candidates thoroughly. An appointed judiciary wouldn’t necessarily solve the predictability problem either as those appointments will be made by an official or officials with varying policy preferences and judicial goals. (For more on this problem, see my 2014 article in Bridge magazine.)

Circling back to lawyers in particular, how should they reasonably face a situation where the law does not appear to be “on the side” of their clients? Appellate attorneys are naturally better situated than those who tough it out at the trial level to get the law shifted in their clients’ direction, but that doesn’t mean trial-court lawyers have to accept the constraints of “the law made me do it” approach to both lawyering and judging. Numerous Michigan statutes are open-ended, vague, and poorly worded, and binding interpretations on what they mean are few and far between. Lawyers, in concert with judges, may love to say they “start with the text,” but that’s not entirely true; they likely start with what they want and look to see if the text confirms or denies it. Or, more dismally, some do start (and end) with the text, thinking—wrongly—that their personal take on the words and that take alone should guide them toward an outcome than may be suboptimal for their clients.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that attorneys are all that interested in these and related matters. It stands to reason than most people go to law school and pass the bar not to wrestle with the “meta” problems of law and representation, but to make a (hopefully good) living. Fine. But professional pursuits need not come at the sense of introspection. When it comes to how best to service clients, thinking about law in a three-dimensional manner, including the way in which we believe the legal system ought to function, can pass on considerable benefits to those attorneys are charged to represent (and represent zealously).

Ephemera XVII: New Year’s Edition

It’s something of an open secret that my wife and I were married by Fr. Patrick Reardon, the pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago and senior editor of Touchstone magazine. When my wife was accepted to the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, we relocated to the Hyde Park neighborhood and left the parish. Being a foolish young man of 24-25, I didn’t appreciate everything Reardon taught me. In fact, in a foolish pursuit of “pure Orthodoxy” untainted by “Western thinking,” I can say quite honestly that I shelved a great deal of what I learned at All Saints . . . until I returned to the Catholic Church.

I have joked—and continue to joke—that All Saints is an Orthodox parish where a Catholic priest ministers to Protestants. (I mean that in the best way.) While Reardon is probably best known for his deep knowledge of the Scriptures, theology, and history, he is one of the few Orthodox clerics in the Anglophone world who vigorously upholds his communion’s longstanding—now widely ignored—teaching on contraception. Moreover, Reardon remains steadfast on bioethical questions, including the immorality of in vitro fertilization and sterilization. Most who go through All Saints at some time or another leave with sound knowledge of fundamental Christian morality. From what I have gathered, however, those teachings go straight out the window when convenience and cleric-shopping take center stage. Remember: In Orthodoxy, if Fr. Cosmas says the pill is off limits, Fr. Damian down the street is there to give you the exact opposite answer.

The reason I make mention of this is not to jump down anyone’s throat or open up another useless debate about Orthodox moral catechesis, but rather to express openly a debt of gratitude to Reardon and other Orthodox clerics who, in various ways, taught me that a Christian life, whether Orthodox or Catholic, is replete with moral hardships that no man has a right to ignore. Mind you, knowing that and living it out are two very different things, and I cannot in any way, shape, or form claim that I have lived my life according to the full precepts of the Church. And here I should also thank Reardon for helping me see that Confession is reconciliation with Christ, the one who died an ignoble death on the Cross for the salvation of the world, rather than a rapid-fire listing of sins divided into the neat categories of “venial” and “mortal.” It would take a decade for that to really sink-in, however.

There are those out there who, for reasons both good and bad, believe that I am anti-Orthodox. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am, of course, critical of certain currents in contemporary Orthodoxy, though far less so than I am of the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church. There are times when I am more than a bit envious of Orthodoxy’s confederate structure if only because it provides ample opportunities to run and hide from this-or-that jurisdiction’s internal problems. (How many Catholics today wish they could look over their shoulders at Francis and declare, “Well, he’s not my Patriarch!”?)

With that said, I cannot and will not ever encourage anyone to convert to, or stay, Orthodox. Lately, I have been thinking of those past acquaintances and friends who have opted to walk a dark road out of convenience in flagrant disregard for natural and revealed law. If they had not been Orthodox, that is, had they come to the Catholic Church where, despite dissenting clerics and laity, the truth of things is articulated clearly, would that have chosen to forego sterilization and in vitro fertilization by accepting the cross Christ gave them to bear? I’ll never know the answer to that; but I imagine that question will haunt me for a good long while.

Let me close by affirming, without hesitation, that I am the chief among sinners and in no way, shape, or form believe myself to be more moral, more holy, or more Christlike than my estranged Orthodox brethren. I am as bereft of virtue now as a Catholic as I was as an Orthodox Christian, only thankfully more aware of that fact. Any tempering of my character which has occurred over the past 15 years is due only to the grace of God; my individualized efforts to be a better man by sheer force of will have all ended in failure. As 2017 begins, my dear readers, I ask you to pray for me as I, in my own weak way, will pray for you.

Ephemera XVI: Gifts and Wrestling

If you haven’t done your Christmas shopping yet, allow me to begin by offering up three suggestions for you.

  • First, click on over to Chews Life, a Catholic small-business venture rooted in my home city of Grand Rapids, MI that my wife is heavily involved in. Chews Life — as the punny brand name indicates — offers Rosaries and other devotional items for not only mothers, but their small children as well. They also carry bracelets, baby carriers, and special seasonal items. They also have some excellent deals going right now, but you will need to order no later than December 13 to guarantee delivery by Christmas. (If you celebrate Nativity according to the Julian Calendar, then December 26 should suffice.)
  • Second, Angelus Press has a host of new and reprinted titles available, including a beautifully bound Latin/English edition of Vespers according to the 1962 Breviarium Romanum and A Young Catholic’s Daily Missal.  There is also a host of other recent titles available, including a newly typeset edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a traditional version of Catholic Trivia, and the annual Angelus Press wall calendar, which focuses on the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Last, if you’re someone like me who can never have enough calendars, then pop over to the website of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (Transalpine Redemptorists) and pick up the 2017 Papa Stronsay calendar. Not only does the calendar follow the traditional Roman Rite liturgical year, but it also includes the feasts for many Redemptorist saints along with noting special anniversaries and commemorations from Catholic history.

Since I am plugging things, allow me to direct you to the latest issue of The Angelus magazine which features two articles by yours truly, “Latins and Greeks on Purgatory” and “Celebrating the Nativity with the Redemptorists.” (The online version is available here.) If you don’t have a subscription to The Angelus yet, let me suggest you get on that right now as 2017 has a number of excellent thematic issues planned on topics such as politics, Luther and the Reformation, Fatima, and Middle Eastern Christianity. Also, if you are interested in contributing to The Angelus, please feel free to drop me a line through the “Contact” page.

Although I do enjoy writing the occasional pro-wrestling post, time will not permit me to follow through on my original plan of putting together several “Best of . . .” 2016 installments covering both matches and wrestlers from around the world. For those who care, the most consistently good (if not great) wrestling to be found in 2016 was from the (primarily) east-coast independent promotion EVOLVE. Now that they have struck a deal with FloSlam, you can have access to their live shows via iPPV and on-demand steaming of past events for $20/month. Also included in the package are several other independent promotions, along with a reservoir of archival material. However, I must also recommend that everyone go out of their way to watch the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), which aired on the WWE Network during the summer. This unique tournament, which brought together light heavyweight wrestlers from all over the world, delivered some of the best pro-wrestling seen in the United States in decades. By presenting the tournament as a sport and focusing on the real-life struggles and aspirations of the participants, the CWC demonstrated that even in a day and age when everybody knows pro-wrestling is “a work,” it is still possible to draw audiences in through the natural drama that accompanies any competitive event.

Ephemera XV: Church Crisis Edition 2

Rod Dreher supports the Eastern Orthodox Church’s late-model practice of communing adulterers, that is, those who have divorced and remarried while their first spouse is still alive. In a blog post over at The American Conservative where Dreher discusses the ongoing turmoil in the Catholic Church over the dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia submitted by four cardinals to Pope Francis, he states that “what Pope Francis wishes to teach on communion and remarriage is closer to the Orthodox view of things, which I believe is true” (emphasis added). Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this, though there are still Orthodox out there who still believe in the indissolubility of marriage. Given Dreher’s time in the Catholic Church, I thought he may have been inoculated against some of Orthodoxy’s more questionable and incoherent practices, but so it goes. I should note, however, that it’s not entirely clear that Francis wishes to follow the Orthodox sensu stricto. He has not, after all, come out in support of dissolving the sacramental bond of marriage, nor has he suggested that abandonment, adultery, or apostasy during any point in the course of a marriage would be grounds for sacramental dissolution (which is now the common view among most Orthodox jurisdictions). On the other hand, between the Pope’s decision last year to loosen the canons government annulments coupled with the ambiguous passages found throughout Amoris Laetitia, it is certainly arguable that the Catholic Church, in practice, takes a far looser view of the marital bond than the Orthodox do. Unsettling times these be.

Oh, in the same piece where Dreher discusses Francis and the cardinals, he calls attention to a recent article by neo-Catholic extraordinaire John Zmirak in which the latter hyperventilates over what the Pope’s recent words and deeds mean for every teaching of the Church since 1054 A.D. (I’m serious). Buying into the contestable view that a pope can never be declared a heretic and deposed, Zmirak goes a step further by claiming that if Francis is indeed teaching errors, then not only is he a heretic but the doctrine of Papal Infallibility is rubbish. For Zmirak (and so many other Catholics intoxicated by papalotry), infallibility is a meta-surety over early everything a pope does while in office. Of course, the First Vatican Council taught no such thing, but don’t tell Zmirak that. It appears that his faith rises and falls with the papacy. Pray for him. Not only is the man caught in a delusion, but his writings are likely to lead other Catholics to believe that Francis’s sorrowful pontificate marks the end of Catholicism as we know it. I have to wonder at this point if Zmirak isn’t setting himself up for a trip on the Bosphorus where he and his package of liberal ideology will become Orthodoxy’s problem.

None of this is to say that there isn’t a real crisis in the Church — one that is extremely difficult to understand. Whenever I find myself losing heart, I return to Bishop Bernard Fellay’s sermon, given during the 2012 Angelus Press conference on the Papacy, in which he compares the mystery of the ongoing crisis of the Church to the mystery of our Lord’s Passion. Just as the Apostles could not initially comprehend how Christ, who is truly God, could suffer and die, many faithful Catholics today cannot fathom how to reconcile the Church’s indefectibility with the confusion being sown by so many of her shepherds, including the Pope. It is a painful mystery — one which the Church, in due time, will grasp and clarify just as the Church was called upon throughout the first millennium to to answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?,” that is, to affirm over-and-against numerous heretical opinions what it means to say that Christ is fully God and fully man. Above all else, Catholics must not give in to fear; we must not despair. For what Christ promised 2,000 years ago, that the gates of hell will not prevail, has not ceased to be true. And for that we should give thanks to God.

Ephemera XIV: Dead Dictator Edition

Alright, despite the title, I really have very little to say about the passing of Fidel Castro except good riddance. While I will not speculate on the final destiny of his immortal soul, the idea that Catholics of any stripe should praise such a man is noxious. Of course, seeing Catholics intoxicated with Americanism celebrating the aged dictator’s demise is also disappointing. Castro, to be clear, was not a bad man because he opposed liberalism and capitalism; he was bad because he was a tyrant who used the understandable rage of his people for his own personal gain. Whatever good he did in Cuba and around the world (and, yes, he did do some good) does not erase the many crimes he carried out. Castro, like so many political leaders of the modern age, was a public sinner who never followed through on his obligation to repent publicly. Even if God, in His infinite mercy, gave this deplorable man the extraordinary grace to make a perfect act of repentance in his final moments on earth, it’s something we’ll never know for sure until we go to our own final reward. Finally, let’s not forget that despite rubbing elbows with three popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis), Fidel Castro was excommunicated from the Church by John XXIII in 1962. To the best of my knowledge, that excommunication has never been lifted.

As a small aside, between the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series and nature doing to Castro what the Central Intelligence Agency could never do, is it wrong to think that perhaps God is tying up some loose ends before the centenary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima? And before anybody jumps down my throat, please rest assured that I take Our Lord Jesus’s words from Matthew 24:36 quite seriously. However, it is hard to shake the idea that something . . . is . . . happening. Were I a better Christian I might resist all temptation to idle speculation and take a thorough spiritual inventory of my own soul. If the events of 2016 (as opposed to all of the events that transpired during my previous 35 years of life) inspire me to do just that, it’ll have been a tremendous year.

A friend of mine who spent many years being schooled by the Jesuits once summarized Ignatian spirituality as “sitting around and imagining Scripture.” I responded by asking, “Is that why Jesuits sit around and imagine doctrine, too?” In all seriousness, I will be honest and admit right now that I have never been particularly fond of Ignatian spirituality or the Jesuit approach to prayer in general. Although he no doubt meant well, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s decision to dispense his order from reciting the Divine Office in choir had mighty ripple effects still felt to this day. Even among traditional Latin Catholics, the liturgical hours of prayer are something for priests to read while they listen to scrupulous confessions. (“How many times did you pick your nose at Mass, my son?”) Today, most Latin Catholic spirituality is private, internalized, and self-focused. Instead of looking upwards and outwards to give praise and thanksgiving to God, interiority reigns supreme. Granted, all Christians should partake in daily self-examination and build-up a robust devotional life outside of the Sunday liturgy, but not at the expense of the Church’s official prayer — or so I believe. However, I am sure there is an argument to be made that I don’t pray the Rosary enough . . .

Ephemera XIII: Church Crisis Edition

Cardinal Raymond Burke is drawing a line in the sand over Amoris Laetitia. After news broke that Burke and three other cardinals had submitted five dubia in September to Pope Francis seeking clarification on some of the more controversial points of the papal document, Burke is stating that it may be necessary for at least some of the Church’s hierarchy to correct the Pope. I must admit that it is a bit surprising to see so many conservative and traditional Catholics supporting this course of action during a period when so many still hold to an absolutist model of the papacy. For instance, when the Eastern Orthodox suggest that it may be necessary at times for the Church’s patriarchs to correct an errant pope, Latins intoxicated with a high-octane conception of papal power will scoff. The Pope is the absolute head of the Church, they say, and the bishops are his highly honored (but practically powerless) helpmates. (These are the same Catholics who, for decades, have fought against the idea of any collegiality in the Church.) For my part, I see no problem with what Cardinal Burke is proposing; I just hope is that he can gather a strong band of hierarchical supporters before taking any official action. Of course, let’s not forget that Cardinal Burke is not the first bishop of the Church called to correct papal errors in modern times. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the saintly founder of the Society of St. Pius X, stood firm for the Church’s timeless teachings against the confusion sown during the pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II. Indeed, Archbishop Lefebvre went so far as to submit his own dubia regarding Dignitatis Humanae in 1986 — dubia which were also not properly answered by either the Pope or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

According to news reported by 1 Peter 5, dear Pope Francis has said that “it is the communists who think like Christians.” John, who runs the Eastern Orthodox blog Ad Orientem, went understandable apoplectic over the statement. Allow me to quote him in full.

I’m done with restraint in expressing my views of this heretic. Communism occupies the exact same spot on the moral plane as Nazism. This Pope just spit on the graves of millions of martyrs.

Forget the Orthodox. How about the Catholics of Spain, Poland, Hungary, what used to be Czechoslovakia and Ukraine, especially the Greek Rite Catholics? “Scandalous” does not even begin to describe this pontificate. Where are the bishops and cardinals? Is there no one with courage in the Roman Church to call this man out? Is there no one who is willing to confront this man and demand for the good of their church his immediate abdication?

While it’s not entirely rare to find Orthodox Christians calling the Pope (any pope) a heretic, John’s indignation is spot on. Millions upon millions of Christians — Catholic and Orthodox — perished under the communist regimes Eastern Europe during the 20th Century and millions today still face persecution in China. What a shame to see Francis the Merciful once again speaking with so little tact or concern for his flock. No doubt these very foolish, indeed reckless, words will give comfort to certain Catholics who seem to think that Marxism, not the magisterium, provides the way ahead for “re-Christianizing” society.

Ephemera XII: Donald Trump Edition

Unless 2016 has another surprise up its sleeve, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States in January. His victory, which has left liberals weeping and gnashing their teeth, has to come as a surprise, even to some of his most ardent followers. While popular polling is often far from what some hold to be “scientific,” and even the best assumptions can be seriously flawed, the “sense in the air” is that Trump would not be able to pull in the requisite number of voters needed to overtake Hillary Clinton, particularly in states that had gone for Barack Obama during the last two elections. While various theories have been posited about why the pollsters were wrong and Trump was able to draw more support from black and Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney in 2012, it seems to me that up until the zero hour, there was still a significant contingent of Americans unwilling to publicly voice support for Trump. Coupled with that was the fact that a number of Bernie Sanders supporters, along with undecided moderates, simply could not buy into the Democratic Party’s open willingness to foreordain Clinton. Sure, other factors no doubt played a role, not the least of which being that the Democrats have glibly ignored the “uneducated white male” (read: blue collar) population for years—and now it has come back to bite them. It bit them most visibly with the election of Trump, but keeping Congress red sends an equally powerful message that the alleged achievements of the Obama Administration—domestic and foreign—were not unmitigated blessings for all Americans.

I do not follow contemporary American politics closely enough to predict confidently what Trump will do when he gets into office. However, it seems that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will be an easy target, as well nominating a fresh conservative to the Supreme Court. Should Trump follow through on his promise to reform (or scrap) the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we could see Trump doing something no Republican has even tried for decades, namely cultivate strong union support (and, by extension, support from those Democrats with large union constituencies). While I do expect to also see some immigration reform, such as increasing the budget for border security and imposing higher hurdles for entry into the country, I don’t think anyone seriously expects Trump to build a giant new wall along the U.S./Mexico border. With respect to foreign policy, I think we can rest assured Trump will not follow Clinton’s antagonist rhetoric toward Russia, but what that means in the concrete remains to be seen. If Trump can keep Putin happy by staying out of Syria, then so be it. Ukrainians, on the other hand, ought to be doing everything they can to curry favor with Europe; we won’t be doing anything in the immediate future to curtail Russian incursions into their land.

Many conservative and traditional Catholics are, naturally, overjoyed at news of a pending Trump presidency. This is largely because they believe that Trump will uphold religious freedom and take forceful steps toward curtailing abortion-on-demand access. Maybe. Catholics should keep in mind that Trump is not a true conservative, and he certainly isn’t a cultural warrior. If he does make good on his commitment to appoint pro-life federal judges and bring the abortion issue back to the states, that’s probably as good as it will get. Despite the Republicans controlling two branches of government, it is difficult to imagine that the party will be willing to risk serious blowback by defying the courts with open legislation and other regulatory measures intended to slow down abortion access. I am not getting my hopes up, but we’ll see. If anything I think Trump’s reign will help relieve some of the pressure that has been placed on Catholics and other conservative Christians since Obama took office. Maybe that’s enough for now.

In closing, let me say that while I did not vote for Trump or Clinton on Tuesday, I am less concerned about Trump holding the highest office in the land than Clinton. And yet I remain disgusted with those Catholics who attempted to bully their fellow faithful into believing they had a moral duty to vote for Trump, just as I am nauseated by those limousine liberals and champagne socialists who flatter secular democracy at every turn—until they don’t get what they want. This election cycle, like so many election cycles which preceded it, provided more than enough evidence concerning the shortcomings of democracy and the failures of liberalism. I hope and pray that my fellow Catholics who are pleased at Trump’s victory will not use it as an opportunity to draw closer to a liberal order the Church forcefully condemned in the past. If Trump’s presidency offers us a bit of a reprieve from official and open persecution, then let us take this time to strengthen our bonds and stand against the demonic spirits that still rule this age.

Ephemera XI

Peter E. Gordon has a review up at The New York Review of Books of a(nother) new book on Søren Kierkegaard, this one by a staunch non-Christian. Based on Gordon’s summary, the book sounds ghastly; his remarks, however, merit some attention. Kierkegaard is a vexing figure in the history of theology/philosophy. The kids love him, but by the time they settled into their mid-to-late 20s, the gloomy Dane’s writings start to lose their savor. Kierkegaard the seeming non-conformist is “cool”; the real man behind the writings is decidedly less so, what with his melancholy religiosity fueled by fideism, individualism, and maybe a wee bit more Hegelianism than Kierkegaard himself would admit. His call for others to live as “authentic Christians” (a height he may or may not have achieved during his relatively short stay on earth) has a certain attractiveness to it, at least until people have to get jobs, juggle marriages, deal with kids, etc. Gordon, naturally, tries to find contradictions in Kierkegaard, such as his support for the old Danish regime over and against 19th C. liberalizing reforms. How can such a staunch individualist like Kierkegaard not buy into the promises of liberalism? Gordon doesn’t really bother with what Kieregaard had to say on the subject (it’s really not all that much anyways). He just shakes his head in disappointment, unable to reconcile how someone who saw Christianity to be the narrowest path in life couldn’t be bothered to embrace the wide and easy road to comfort, entertainment, and indifference — the unholy trinity of the liberal imagination.

Rorate Caeli may have blocked me on Twitter for not agreeing with their pro-Trump heterodoxy, but I still check-in on their blog. Their latest post, an op-ed, discusses the perennial importance of Latin in the Roman Rite. While I find the piece a tad it ahistorical and maybe a little too enamored with the exoticness of Latin, I remain generally favorable toward the idea of Latin being retained as the Romans’ primary liturgical tongue. Today, in the age of hand missals, it is not terribly difficult for a layman unschooled in Latin to follow the Tridentine Mass. Moreover, basic ecclesial Latin is far easier to pick up than other extant liturgical languages such as Byzantine Greek and Church Slavonic. In fact, some time ago, I posted a defense of Church Slavonic which, for better or worse, was met with some mixed reactions. My point then — which some missed — is not that Slavonic should hold primacy of place in the Slavo-Byzantine Rite, but that it should not be abandoned wholesale. There is much to be said about retaining a basic sense of liturgical continuity through the ages and for local churches not to abandon their patrimony fully even as they seek appropriate ways to spread the Gospel.

Yesterday’s post, “Heaven Forbid,” along with “All Earthly Cares,” were not intended to signal a new direction for Opus Publicum, though I can understand how some may have interpreted them that way. If anything, they represent a “summation” of certain views which I have developed over the course of this particular blogging endeavor, though I doubt either post constitutes my “last word” on the fraught matter of religion and politics. What is starting to become clear to me is how tempting it is to turn Catholicism, particularly traditional Catholicism, into a political religion that fills-in certain moral and metaphysical gaps left by liberalism. It is disturbingly easy for an authentic concern for the common good to degrade into an ideology or, worse, associate itself with an extant ideology (e.g. Marxism) to the point where advancing the ideology becomes more crucial than preparing for the return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a temptation to flee, to build-up a quasi-Gnostic existence that shuns the world entirely and hope that something — anything — saves us.

As a final remark, let me say that yesterday’s post in no way, shape, or form questions the reality that the entire deposit of faith is to be found in the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In discussing the Eastern Orthodox, my point was entirely empirical and I believe I was clear enough on the fact that contemporary Orthodoxy limps when it comes to certain moral matters. Obviously the Orthodox do not agree with the Catholic conception of primacy in the Church, a crucial fact that sadly keeps the East/West estrangement alive to this day. However, on any given Sunday, what an Orthodox priest thinks privately about the Ordinary of Rome and the extent of his jurisdiction is peripheral to what he preaches based on the infallible Word of God. A priest who believes it is his duty to share his personal theological opinions or pet social causes from the pulpit is in dereliction of his duty, or so I believe. This is not to say there aren’t Orthodox priests who go down that road; they just appear to do it far, far less on average than Latin Catholic clerics. If Latin Catholics are uncomfortable with that reality, then praise be. Do something about it; don’t just sit there and lament and make excuses.

Ephemera X

Call me crazy, but I had no idea that linking excerpts on Facebook from a talk Archimandrite Gabriel Bunge gave recently in Ukraine would elicit so much critical feedback. Bunge, for those unaware, is a former Catholic Benedictine monk-turned-Russian Orthodox who has penned several books on Evagrius Ponticus. A former student of one Joseph Ratzinger, this line seems to be raising some hackles: “My teacher and professor who later became Pope Benedict XVI understood many things but did nothing.” If spoken by a traditional Catholic, I imagine it would generate more than a few likes; uttered from the mouth of a “schismatic,” however, it immediately draws Catholic ire. For the record, I think Bunge (and extreme traditionalists) are wrong: Summorum Pontificum was not “nothing”; the symbolic value of lifting the (illicit) excommunications of the Society of St. Pius X bishops was not “nothing”; and many of the strong words Benedict XVI had concerning Islam, secularization in Europe, and the loss of direction in the Catholic Church were not “nothing.” Although I believe Papa Ratzinger fell way short of correcting many major problems in the Church and likely even contributed to some of them consciously, his pontificate — like most pontificates — deserves to be approached with nuance and charity. As for Bunge’s other remarks regarding Catholicism, it’s hard not to see them as much more than an expression of Byzantine chauvinism mixed with a serious lack of understanding of how “Protestantized” parts of Orthodoxy have become. Yes, the Catholic Church has many serious issues facing it; so does the Orthodox Church. The sooner both camps realize this and tend to those issues the better off we’ll all be.

I know this is a little offbeat for me to write about, but for those of you who, like me, have fallen out of shape and/or are dealing with nagging injuries from past athletic activity (two bum knees and right shoulder issues for yours truly), let me recommend that you seriously consider trying DDP Yoga. DDP stands for “Diamond Dallas Page,” a former professional wrestler who made it big in World Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s and early 00s. DDP designed the program to aide in his own recovery and it has helped numerous other wrestlers (past and present) rehabilitate themselves while — according to the testimonials — transforming numerous lives. Personally, I don’t know anything about that. What I do know is that my slow immersion into DDP’s low-impact, high energy workouts has resulted in noticeable improvement in my shoulder mobility, considerably less knee pain, and an overall sense of just feeling better. Granted, I haven’t been as committed to the program as I should be (that’s now changed) and I definitely had some changes to make in my diet (ugh kale), but this is the first program I have come across that literally anybody can do, regardless of where they are physically. Every workout — even the most basic — comes with numerous examples of modifications people can make based on their fitness level and the beginner workouts are very accessible. If, like me, you prefer to use a mobile device for streaming, there is also DDP Yoga Nowwhich has all of the current workouts; past workouts from earlier iterations of the DDP Yoga program; and new live workouts added at regular intervals. The site/app also allows you to track your workouts, receive great advice from others who have tried the program, and pick up other helpful hints. If you are worried about this form of “yoga” meaning “Eastern spiritualism” or some other fluffy nonsense, don’t. It is 100% practical; geared to be fun; and — dare I say? — inspirational.

Not to make this post too plug heavy, but this one won’t cost you a dime — and it will improve your mind and Catholic outlook. The Uncommon Good, from Iowa Catholic Radio, is hosted by Bo Bonner and Dr. Bud Marr. The show is dedicated to discussing the common good, Catholic social teaching, and the social reign of Christ the King. It airs every Wednesday at 9am and 9pm CST and can be streamed from the link above. If you are interested in listening to past shows, they are readily available from iTunes here. If all goes according to plan, I will be appearing on the show in the near future. When that happens, I will certainly post about it here.