On a Sunday

It is no secret that I have all but ceased web-logging. Despite a few “return trips” to the ring, my interest faded fast. Long gone are the “good old days” of Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) blogging where bright and eccentric minds from far flung locales across America (and sometimes the world) traded in anecdotes that made Apostolic Christianity in this region of the globe seem equal parts quaint and insane. The blogs I am thinking of did not deal in Communio tropes, nor were they interested in the latest iteration of “Palamism.” These were the places you went to find out some inside baseball about a convert-heavy Antiochian Orthodox parish in the Midwest or which editor at First Things had no problem being a first-rate asshole when patronizing an elite used bookstore. Distributists, communists, hippies, royalists, traditionalists, anti-traditionalists, and a whole lot more lovable wackos populated these cyber lands. A “new guard” never sprang up. Instead, Twitter became the vehicle for ecclesiastical squabbling which, in turn, flung open the doors to grifters who pay for their family vacations on the fears of their followers.

Part of me thought this was a fad. After the predictable fall of Donald Trump, I thought Fearmongering, Inc. would go the way of the dodo. Boy, I was wrong. Nothing doubles-down faster than stupidity. Integralism, that once-fascinating and seemingly noble refreshment of a bygone ideal, degenerated swiftly into Trumpism with Latin; now it is little more than a joke being played by an unscrupulous Ivy League maniac on a cadre of mental midgets with demented dreams of serving before the altar of unchecked violence. The shadow of Trump does not end there; it covers almost all of what may be called right-wing American Catholicism. Even traditional Catholics who ought to know better than to subscribe to another rotten form of “Americanism” cannot help themselves. Without a strongman in Rome, they are desperate for one closer to home, even if every sane soul knows he is never coming back.

Lest I come across as ironically detached from all of this, let me assure you that is quite far from the truth. My sympathies run deep for all Catholics of good will who find themselves, for one reason or many, spiritually homeless. At the same time, I confess that I remain concerned over certain calls from traditional Catholics to seek shelter in the Christian East in light of ongoing crackdowns on the traditional Latin Mass. It is not that I believe Eastern Catholics should lock their doors. However, for decades I have witnessed debacle after debacle erupt from Roman Catholics (typically conservatives and traditionalists) rolling into Eastern parishes and immediately telling everyone what’s what. Whether it is the Latin chauvinist ripping on married clergy or the recently bearded chap whose convertitis compels him to dress like a 19th century serf, the result is too often disruptive. (I am leaving to the side for a moment the lunacy I find among my Eastern brethren when uncharitably attacking Roman Catholics. Rest assured, I am painfully aware of this phenomenon.)

This is probably where I should start singing War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” but nobody wants to hear that. The sky is falling, after all. Everything is terrible. These are the worst of times. Who would have thought we’d be living at the end of days? Nothing will save us unless Rod Dreher’s katechon, Victor Orban, revives the West while Vladimir Putin simultaneously vanquishes it on the banks of the Dnieper. Some opine that we now live in a “post-truth” world. For my part, I prefer Timothy Snyder’s observation that if everything is a lie, nothing is true—which may be the only truth, revealed not through reason but rather an “absolute moment” in crooked history. Perhaps this is what Dreher meant when he molested Solzhenitsyn’s call to “live not by lies.” Live not by the lies that envelop us; live by the absence of truth that frees one from all commitments, creeds, and conscience. Those perplexed by Dreher’s true meaning need only look to how he is publicly living his own life currently to find evidence that this was his intention all along.

Ah, but I digress…willingly…but still, I digress. Should this scribble dislodge me from my blogging slumber remains to be seen. The chances are far better than average I will lose interest quickly. There is a sizable portion of my heart that hopes this will not be the case.

What is “Convertitis” in Latin?

A traditional Catholic friend and writer recently lamented in private about the cabal of young-ish covert-to-traditionalism types who feel compelled to pontificate on “things [traditional] Catholic” on web-logs, online publications, and social media. He feels – rightly so – that these folks ought to put a lid on it, at least for the time being. I cannot say I disagree with him. Having been a convert myself at one time (to Eastern Orthodoxy) and young blogger (I started when I was 23), I understand the temptation to share every thought and feeling that springs forth from my being. I also get that with conversion comes a great deal of misplaced zealotry. Converts to traditional Catholicism (who may or may not have been nominal Catholics beforehand) revel in throwing stones at the so-called “Novus Ordo Church” while also taking potshots at other Christian confessions they deem “heretical” and/or “schismatic.” Converts to Orthodoxy are similar, though they typically spend their time going on about the supposed “laxity” of cradle Orthodox while ripping on Catholicism. (For those unaware, a vast majority of converts to Eastern Orthodoxy are former Protestants, most of whom cannot let go of their deep-rooted anti-Roman biases.)

Speaking for myself, there is very little that I wrote during my time as an Eastern Orthodox Christian that I stand by today. (Thank Heavens my old web-logs are but digital dust.) It was not until after I returned to Catholicism in 2011 that I finally gained some perspective on my Orthodox days. Here in 2019, it seems that too much time has passed for me to give that period a fair accounting. That is one reason why I now opt to tread lightly around Orthodoxy, qualifying my criticisms when warranted and doing my best to apply a hermeneutic of charity to the Orthodox despite the fact many (if not most) refuse to apply the same toward Catholicism (especially Greek Catholicism).

As for the current batch of neophyte traditional Catholic commentators, they are mostly harmless despite being unoriginal, unimaginative, and uninspiring. Any person of sound mind who has read the works of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Michael Davies knows all they need to of the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church. What more is there to say? God bless those who have something constructive to offer, but they are few and far between, and most have a decade or more of post-graduate life experience behind them. I cannot see for the life of me what benefit accrues to a single soul to read another digital screed against the “revisionist-homosexualist-relativist-ecumenist” mafia that apparently controls the Catholic Church. And no, neither I nor anyone else should be privy to what this-or-that traditional Catholic is “giving up” for Lent. I assure you: not only is it trite, but no serious ascetic will be impressed. (On this point I must mention that the normative fasting practices for the Eastern Orthodox Church are exponentially more demanding than anything a Latin Catholic blogger has thought up.)

I could offer up some words of caution, but no one is going to listen. If they did, I might say something to the effect of, “Be careful what you write today; it will come back to bite you tomorrow.” Or, to put it another way, “What future law firm/hospital/accounting office/fast food restaurant that you plan on applying to is going to be impressed that Googling your name instantly yields a dozen blog posts and 1,000 Tweets about how the Jews control the United Nations?” Should the Catholic Church begin healing her many wounds, particularly the ongoing sex-abuse scandal, I assure you it will not be because you blogged about it. In fact, I can super-super, double-dog guarantee that ecclesiastical healing will not come about because you ripped your local pastor a new one on the Internet for some minor infraction of the 1962 Missale Romanums’s rubrics or you shot off 15 paragraphs about how the Divine Mercy Chaplet is a fraud.

Rather than write, let me suggest you read. While I concede that some of Archbishop Lefebvre’s works are rather dry, Michael Davies’s are not. After you finish his corpus, expand your horizons a bit and take a walk on the Eastern side. Pick up Fr. Aidan Nichols’s Rome and the Eastern Churches; it will cure you of the delusion that “to be Catholic” is “to be Latin.” While you are at it, get ahold of Fr. Robert Taft’s magisterial study, The Liturgy of the Hours East and West. It ought to dispel any notion that the “Roman liturgical crisis” began a mere 50 years ago. And for Heaven’s sake, acquaint yourself with the Church’s authentic social magisterium, both through the original papal encyclicals (Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Quas Primas, etc.) and secondary works like Fr. Cahill’s The Framework of a Christian State. By the time you finish all of that while pursuing additional works that come to light during the course of your studies, you should be old enough to realize you should not blog or write anything on the Internet.

 I hope to get there someday myself.

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.