Thursday, March 24, 2005

New Pro-Life Religious Order

Fr. Frank Pavone, of Priests for Life, has founded a new religious order, the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. The new order can found seminaries, do ordinations, and send priests and brothers where needed. This will be an active order, based in the Diocese of Amarillo.

May this order raise up many holy priests.
May this order help move our culture back to a respect for human life.

Apostolic association summary
Press release
Diocese of Amarillo
Priests for Life

Monday, March 21, 2005

Name Calling

Opponents of the growing trend of traditional Christianity and morality, primarily so-called progressives, will often use unflattering terms to describe these traditionalists. The most common I've seen are Jansenists, Pharisees, and hypocrites.

Jansenists


In Catholic circles, they sometimes call us Jansenists, after the followers of a posthumous book written by Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), Bishop of Ypres. Although he was otherwise orthodox, this particular book gained a great heretical following in France. The thinking in it was condemned by both secular and religious authority. The Jesuits at this time were promoting daily communion, and the Jansenists were opposed to this, for the reason that many communicants were not worthy to receive. Tradition-minded Catholics question the contemporary practice of universal reception (also for reasons of worthiness), so that is perhaps a reason why the label "Jansenist" is applied to them. The Jansenists also claimed loyalty to Rome.

The Jansenists had this reasoning: a sinner would go to Confession on Saturday, receive Communion on Sunday, and then go off for the rest of the week committing the same sins earlier confessed, only to repeat the process the following week. That doesn't seem right at all. One would hope that this sinner would have a conversion of heart, and not repeat those sins week after week. The Jansenists thought that they were not really worthy to receive, and instead would abstain from communion, sometimes for years. That is a problem, Easter Duty notwithstanding; did they deny the effectiveness of Confession?

It seems that the Jansenists were opposed to someone like me! I go to confession, receive the Lord, and then go back to my old vices, and am confessing the same sins over and over and over again. Most traditional Catholics I've met take confession quite seriously, and more than a few of them came into Catholicism with a deep spirit of repentance for a life badly lived. But not a single one claims to be perfect. But it seems that modern folks who throw around the name Jansenist see little need for confession, and instead just encourage frequent reception. Contemporary traditional Catholics also encourage frequent reception...but also frequent confession, unlike the Jansenists.

The Jansenists were known for extreme asceticism and very high moral code. Contemporary traditional Catholics also enjoy the ascetic life and promote the traditional moral standards. But we differ in one aspect: Jansenists were almost Calvinist in their theology. They thought that only the very few were elect, and they denied free will. As a result, many people taught by Jansenists felt completely worthless and instead took up a very immoral lifestyle, thinking that they had no choice in the matter. This is quite unlike current Catholic associations known for severity: Opus Dei is very positive about the possibility of salvation for all, even though it is somewhat strict by contemporary standards. It is amusing to suggest that the critics of traditional Catholics are actually Jansenist in this way; since I would guess that most folks promoting "rechurching" are Modernist in denying free will. Contemporary philosophy is materialist, and denies objective morality and free will, since it thinks that behavior is caused by genetics and the environment. They tend to be a type of secular Calvinist. The US has a Calvinist public philosophy, so I would expect many secularist American Catholics having this attitude.

Pharisees


Remember the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple? The Pharisee was very proud of his observance, his tithing, his fasting, and thought himself superior to the tax collector, who felt miserable and worthless. Jesus condemned the Pharisee, who asked for no forgiveness, and got none. The tax collector only asked for forgiveness, and was justified.

The antitradition group likes the analogy. We think of the Pharisees as being self-righteous and arrogant, and feeling superior to sinners. So the critics call us Pharisees. But "church people" of all denominations and ideologies tend to think that way. They love their little powers and influences, and are very proud of being a lector, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, or of being the person who chooses the color of the banners displayed in the church. Or maybe they like their church's social justice charism or their prosperity-oriented 'health and wealth' philosophy, and feel superior for that fact. Fr. Benedict Groeschel makes the distinction between "church people" and disciples: the former already have their reward, while the latter have their reward in Heaven: a very humbling thought. The distinction does comes from humility. The Pharisee was proud, the tax collector was humble.

Historically, the Pharisees were known for their interpretation of the Law that applied it to the lives of everyday people, in normal circumstance anywhere. Their spirituality was not just about a sacrificial cult in a single temple, but a way of life for everyone, and they emphasized the idea of a priestly people of God. They built the synagogues and promoted education and literacy. It is not surprising, that when everything was in chaos among the Jews, the Pharisees kept society together and were the human instruments for keeping God's Chosen People intact. Otherwise, Hellenizing influences and foreign powers would have eliminated these people from the world. The Pharisees had as their main principles, "Be holy, as the Lord your God is holy" and "Love thy neighbor as thyself"', and indeed were the one group that was most similar to the teaching of Jesus. The Pharisees embraced the same ideas of personal holiness in, but not of, the world as proclaimed by Christ. The major difference in teaching was on ritual purity, which Christ rejects.

The Pharisees were responsible for keeping their religion intact; they did not have too narrow a view of religion, as being only for the Temple priests, which was also the practice of the Pagans, but applied it universally. They were the upright everyday men who kept the community together, taught their children in the Ways of God, and indeed even saved Judaism from near certain destruction by the wrath of Empire. Modern Jews are descended from the Pharisees. The other groups are lost forever. However, even an ancient Jewish source said that there were seven types of Pharisee; five that were foolish or hypocritical, one type who feared God like Job, and the God-loving Pharisee, like Abraham. Jesus apparently had many Pharisee friends, having dinner with them and teaching them. I would even suspect that many of his followers, those who are described as upright and holy, were Pharisees; for if they weren't of that group, they were usually described otherwise. The Pharisees fought the good fight and practiced spiritual warfare in their homes and communities, loving both King and People, Temple and Synagogue, and Ritual and Learning. Yes, some were bad, but many were heroic and exemplary.

Other groups during that time included the Sadducees, who were mainly concerned with the Temple rituals and matters of royalty and didn't care much about the holiness of the people; the Zealots, who fought a bloody and pointless revolution that ended up destroying the Temple and their country; and the Essenes who escaped the world of men and went to live in the desert. Another group were the Hellenized Jews, who embraced Greek culture and rejected the ways of the Jews. They were traitors to their people, and the tax collectors were a part of this despised group. The tax collectors were wealthy, oppressive to the taxpayers, and supported the immoral pagan Roman Empire.

This is the key to the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. The Pharisee should have known better, but showed a lack of humility. The tax collector had an immoral lifestyle, so nothing good would have been expected of him, but he begged for forgiveness. The people would have expected holiness from a Pharisee, and sacrilege from a tax collector, but Jesus teaches us that a contrite heart is what really matters.

So being called a Pharisee may actually be complimentary, unless you really are self-satisfied and have an attitude of superiority, given to appearances. Who are the tax collectors of our current age? Are they contrite? But ultimately, humility and repentance is required for all of us. And those who sin the worse and repent will be forgiven the most.

Hypocrites


If you don't practice what you preach, you are called a hypocrite. Christ often called the Scribes and Pharasees hypocrites, for loving to show external piety while being corrupt inside. When antitradition critics see a traditional Christian failing to live up to Christ's high moral standards, they love to call him a hypocrite.

The word hypocrite means 'actor' in ancient Greek.

The only people who are hypocrites are that minority who aspire to or promote high moral standards but fail to live up to it.
The only people who cannot be called hypocrites are the very tiny minority of Saints in the world (and we know that only Jesus and Mary were sinless) and the many who do not bother living to any moral standards. So some would say that hypocrisy can only be applied to the better people. "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."

Sometimes, hypocrisy is levied against those who believe in a kind of double standard, although this is incorrect.

The word hypocrite was often used by the ancient Greek Sophists, who were teachers paid to train boys in the art of Rhetoric. They did not provide a liberal education, but just the skills needed to win lawsuits and argue politics with the people of Athens. The Sophists, promising victory in legal arguments, didn't have much or any regard for the truth, for actual facts could get in the way of winning. Their form of argument, using appeals to emotion, logical fallacies, and the occasional bribe, were appalling to Socrates and his followers, who called themselves Philosophers, or lovers of wisdom. As you can imagine, based on their teachings, the Sophists were known to be greatly immoral, for indeed they did not believe in morality, but instead were mainly atheistic and cynical. They would attack their moralistic enemies, calling them hypocrites, if they showed any moral failings.

Contemporary Sophists are everywhere in our culture, and they have nothing but contempt for tradition and religion, and especially for those that preach a strong moral code. In this day, as in ancient days, the charge of hypocrisy comes usually from those who do not follow a moral code, but who instead do what they will. What they do not understand is the basic message of Christ: repent. Now, I'm sure that people who are self-satisfied would see no reason to repent, and the more intellectual among them would claim that there is no universal standard against which to repent. Consider, however, the addiction model of vice: an addiction is something objectively harmful that one does habitually, but cannot stop doing. Even a good Sophist or atheist may gain an addiction that WILL cause their self-destruction, if they do not turn back, or repent. Everyone can have these same addictions, without regard to philosophy or ideology, since human nature is so constant.

Some Christians are just church people, as we said, only interested in gaining some respectability or influence; they may very well be actors or hypocrites. But many others are disciples, who are very, very sorry for their addictions, and who do want to turn back, or repent, from their otherwise certain self-destruction. But turning back is very, very hard, and sometimes small or large failures can occur, and sometimes even the loss of the desire to turn back towards life. Helping others to turn back is the best way to turn back yourself, and experience proves this. So to call someone a hypocrite, when they are preaching against the very things that they are seriously struggling against, is cruel and heartless.

I would think that many who are drawn to traditional Christianity and moral principals do so out of very hard experience. However, we may very well be hypocrites from time to time, so let this be a lesson to us, when we become lazy or backslide. We cannot be entirely sinless, but we must constantly try.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Injustice to an Innocent

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed today. If no one intervenes, she will die a painful death from starvation and dehydration. She is innocent and is loved and wanted by her parents. She also reportedly has some congnition and awareness, so this will be a painful and horrible death for her.

That this unjust government-ordered torture and prelude to the death of an innocent takes place on a Friday in Lent, is far too symbolic for Christians, for that is the day and time when Our Lord was on the Cross, being unjustly tortured and executed.

In Jesus' case, both the accusing Sanhedrin and the presiding Pilate knew that He was innocent, but His life was inconvenient for them both, so they had him killed for practical reasons.

Next week is Holy Week, where we commemorate this unjust death. Again, consider the symbolism of this present injustice, which is taking place during Holy Week. The week ends, however, with triumph. May we also have victory for the life of this innocent this week.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Are the Instruments of Good Works?

From the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 4:


1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength.
2. Then, one's neighbor as oneself.
3. Then not to murder.
4. Not to commit adultery.
5. Not to steal.
6. Not to covet.
7. Not to bear false witness.
8. To respect all men.
9. And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.
10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.
11. To chastise the body.
12. Not to love pleasure.
13. To love fasting.
14. To comfort the poor.
15. To clothe the naked.
16. To visit the sick.
17. To bury the dead.
18. To help those in trouble.
19. To comfort the sorrowing.
20. To become a stranger to the world's ways.
21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
22. Not to give way to anger.
23. Not to nurse a grudge.
24. Not to entertain deceit in one's heart.
25. Not to give a false peace.
26. Not to forsake charity.
27. Not to swear, for fear of perjuring oneself.
28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.
29. Not to return evil for evil.
30. To do no wrong to anyone, and to bear patiently wrongs done to oneself.
31. To love one's enemies.
32. Not to curse those who curse us, but rather to bless them.
33. To bear persecution for justice's sake.
34. Not to be proud.
35. Not addicted to wine.
36. Not a great eater.
37. Not drowsy.
38. Not lazy.
39. Not a grumbler.
40. Not a detractor.
41. To put one's hope in God.
42. To attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good one sees in oneself.
43. But to recognize always that the evil is one's own doing, and to impute it to oneself.44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
47. To keep death daily before one's eyes.
48. To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life.
49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
50. When evil thoughts come into one's heart, to dash them against Christ immediately.
51. And to manifest them to one's spiritual advisor.
52. To guard one's tongue against evil and depraved speech.
53. Not to love much talking.
54. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
56. To listen willingly to holy reading.
57. To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
58. Daily in one's prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one's past sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
59. Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh; to hate one's own will.
60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot, even though he himself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the Lord's precept, "Do what they say, but not what they do."
61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.
62. To fulfill God's commandments daily in one's deeds.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no one.
65. Not to be jealous, not to harbor envy.
66. To hate strife.
67. To beware of haughtiness.
68. And to respect the seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one's enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with one's adversary before the sun sets.
72. And never to despair of God's mercy.

These, then, are the tools of the spiritual craft. If we employ them unceasingly day and night, and return them on the Day of Judgment, our compensation from the Lord will be that wage He has promised: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). But the workshop in which we must diligently execute all these tasks is the seclusion of the monastery and our stability in the community.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Parish Closings

Here are links to the Archdiocesan websites for the parishes in the South City Deanery in Saint Louis that are slated to close this year:

Holy Family
Holy Innocents
Immaculate Conception/Saint Henry
Resurrection of Our Lord
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
Saint Boniface
Saint Hedwig

These churches will become chapels, available for Masses and devotions on special occasions:

Saint John Nepomuk
Saint Mary of Victories
Saints Mary and Joseph

These churches will no longer be territorial parishes, but will have specific ministries:

Saint Francis de Sales, an oratory offering the Tridentine Latin Mass
Saint Cecilia, Hispanic personal parish
Saint Wenceslaus, ministry of the Missionaries of the Holy Family
Saint Agatha, personal parish for Polish language and ancestory

Please note that the Archdiocese will need extra funding to support Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Cecila. The former church needs a great amount of repair, while the latter church needs funding for the Hispanic ministry.

Saint Anthony and Saint Mary Magdalene schools will close.

Some of the parish bulletins for the above parishes are online; there is both great sadness but also acceptance of the closings.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Pain With No Gain

Athletics and sports have some positive influences, in my opinion: physical exercise is a strong motivation. Teaching teamwork, obedience to superiors, and learning to follow the rules are even better influences. Teaching good sportsmanship is perhaps the best influence of them all. Sports is also a fun way of tiring energetic boys, who otherwise would not have the attention span to spend hours a day on academic study.

Modern athletics negate or contradict the above good influences.

Under the above Catholic model of athletics, winning the contest is not the end of the athletic competing, but is just a minor motivational factor. We can describe a "virtuous pagan" type of athletics, which encourages good sportsmanship and teamwork, but also glorifies victory and the victor but within an amateur ideal; this type of athletics inspired the Masonic founders of the modern Olympic movement back in the late 19th century. Our contemporary view of athletics is quite postmodern and is akin to the Gladiatorial view of athletics during the Roman Empire: victory at all costs; riches and power to the victor; and athletics as a tool of Empire. This fits in well with our contemporary notions of efficiency, utility, radical individualism, and Darwinian survival of the fittest. Sports in the Empire consisted of pure carnage.

Most team sports are dangerous --they are not healthy activities for boys. I can't think of a major sport that does not almost guarantee broken bones and bloodshed, not to mention internal organ damage. And the same sports played many years ago are becoming more dangerous due to changes in rules, equipment, and aggressive attitudes. And now that girls are encouraged heavy-handedly to play sports, and even recruited -- thanks to the federal Title IX interpretations that claim that both boys and girls must be active in college sports in equal numbers -- injury rates for girls are also increasing. And girls are more prone to certain types of injuries, some of these due to the females' relatively wide pelvis bone and also due to less strength, and often because they are playing sports that were designed for boys and their particular physique.

"Serious" high school and college sports programs also push students far beyond their endurance; there has been an increase in heatstroke and death from hyperthermia due to training programs starting earlier in the summertime. These students are not just tired out, they are exhausted from their sports. At least these kids aren't on antihyperactivity medicines like their nonathletic peers.

And since high-paid athletes take steroids, and other endurance-enhancing and strengthening drugs to improve their income, young athletes are encouraged to take the same drugs, with severe and often unknown side-effects. Sometimes coaches or other staff will facilitate this drug use, but most often it is fellow athletes who recommend and sell them. Steroids in particular can misshape the athlete into a monstrosity. And a short-lived monstrosity, with a painful, early death.

Teamwork is in decline; football used to be a sport where massed formations would rule the gridiron; now plays are designed around the specific talents of star players who act independently. Basketball and hockey are doing the same. Only our most traditional sport, baseball, still has a requirement for strong teamwork, although only during defense. The move away from team sports started during the cultural chaos of the early 1970s, and individual sports like running and bicycling gained tremendous popularity, and self-centered goals such as body-sculpting and "personal bests" ruled the day instead of having a pleasant afternoon playing a game with good friends.

Also disturbing is the tendency to avoid playing by the rules. Especially in high-stakes contests like the Olympics, athletes are playing the judges and the rules as well as playing the game. Who won the gold medal? Who knows? It may change in the future, when some appeal to the judges or a blood test result changes what we thought was the settled outcome. The old rule was that the decision of the judges, made on the spot, was final and without appeal; the new rule nuances this and adds an uncomfortable flexibility. The spirit of obedience to the rules is being lost, unfortunately. The player who graciously accepts loss and congratulates his winning opponent is being replaced by the whining loser who blames everyone except himself. Perhaps this year's Super Bowl winner will be overturned by a Federal court ruling five years from now.

Knowing -- and accepting -- that you have lost a contest, even though the referees made an error, used to be a part of good sportsmanship. And good sportsmanship is a part of the virtue of Charity, the love for God and your fellow man. But charity is a Christian virtue, and only the most virtuous of pagans would understand the value of good sportsmanship. An athlete with a Gladiatorial mindset cannot accept good sportsmanship: to a gladiator, loss equals death, and even an ignoble or illegal victory is a good victory. With our highly-paid athletes, loss may not equal death, but it can equal bankruptcy.

The old virtuous pagan model of athletics celebrated the amateur, the man who ran just for the glory and the love of running. The Catholic model of athletics has people teaming together for joy and friendship. Contemporary athletes are not having fun, nor do they enjoy the company of their teammates.

Professional team sports has a wide influence beyond their own sphere of the game day. How many young men have dreams of becoming a professional player, live their lives according to that nearly unattainable dream, and end up with only disappointment, injury, and lack of job skills? Even college sports encourage the same mindset: male scholarship athletes, who attend a school purely because of their ability to play a major sport well, usually end up without either an athletic career or an education. And thanks to Title IX, equal numbers of girls are forced into sexually predatory and oppressive women's' sports programs just so that they can get and keep their scholarships; they may get an education, but it is with scars of both the physical and emotional kinds.

Sadly, many contemporary parents push their children to excel at sports for financial gain, instead of encouraging sports as a means of building character. Is this love or greed?

Some would say that we Saint Louisians are blessed with having 2-1/2 professional sports teams, but I think that this is like the "bread and circuses" that another Empire used to placate the restless masses. This is apparent when the government feels that it is its duty to pay for the stadiums where the teams play. Vast hours of media time and pages of periodicals are used to fuel interest in these sports. Perhaps being a fan is a harmless advocation. But following sports and attending games is now a great sink of both time and money. Many readers here are sports fans and would hate to see some Puritanical religionist ban these sports on moral grounds! But old-time fans agree that back in the days, when game tickets were cheap, and players were poor, sports were a pure joy, and not joylessly corrupt with money and arrogance.

The football film "Any Given Sunday" (rated by the USCCB as A-IV - Adults, with reservations) shows the difference between a virtuous model of athletics and the postmodern, Gladiatorial version. The team's star quarterback plays by the book, and encourages teamwork and friendship among the players. He has a joy for the sport and a love for his teammates. After he is removed due to injury, the replacement quarterback is arrogant, rude, hated by the other players, and motivated by greed. The film ends, however, by an acceptance of the style of the new player, and shows him and his coach progressing to the future with a new team that celebrates his radically independent personality. It is a story of the survival of the fittest, and of a man who follows no rule but the rule of personal victory.

Sports are getting uglier and more dangerous. The popularity of so-called extreme sports, which entail very real risks to the participants is increasing. Such sports as rock climbing, whitewater kicking, base jumping, and backcountry downhill skiing are highly dangerous and offer none of the advantages of the Catholic model of athletics, while offering a good chance of death or dismemberment. Some of these sports are more dangerous than being a soldier in combat. This is certainly another sign of what the Pope calls the "Culture of Death"; some folks will always do dangerous things, but only an immoral media would promote such dangerous sports. Prediction: within ten years a major nation will proclaim the legality of gladiatorial-type games. I hope that I'm wrong.