Sunday, April 30, 2017

And the Word was made Fuzzy

I've been Catholic long enough that I know what homily will be preached for any given reading.

And so when the Gospel is Jesus appearing to the men on the way to Emmaus, I cringe.  I know the homily.  The homily will be ...

They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread!  Isn't that great!!  Just like we do!!!

Except we don't.

It's hard to be frank on this subject without sounding bitter or becoming bitter, but if we are challenged to bear our cross daily, then we dare not ignore the cross or pretend as if it's not there.

And our cross in the Catholic Church is this.  The Catholic Church, at the parish level, is hardly recognizable as a Church.  We don't recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  We don't recognize Jesus.

As a rule, there are three types of homilies that you'll hear at 90% of American Catholic parishes across the country (and I have, remember, been to Mass all over the country, to hundreds and hundreds of different parishes over the years, and I am speaking from experience).  The three types of homilies (with rare exceptions) are ...

  1. The homilies that don't make any sense. 
  2. The homilies that make sense, but that portray Jesus as a vague nice guy who always loves us no matter what we do with a love that's indulgent like the love of suburban parents for their fornicating and depressed teenage children who are binge drinking and who get pulled over and arrested, but who get bailed out by daddy's good lawyer whenever they get in trouble: a love that is benign and ultimately neglectful.
  3. The homilies that are a combination of #1 and #2.
Oh, and one more ...

      4.  Joy!

Today's homily was #3 with a touch of #4.  Once we got past the introductory anecdote, which had no relation at all to the Gospel and which the priest tried to force by misreading the Gospel (the priest talked about getting lost while driving and deliberately continuing in the wrong direction out of stubbornness; he then asserted that the disciples on the way to Emmaus were just like that because they were going to Emmaus when they should have been going to Jerusalem, which is where they came from to begin with ... to which those who were paying attention responded, "huh"?) - once we got past the "huh?" factor, we got to, "They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread!  Just like we do!  Joy!"  

Which led to another ... "huh?"   

Jesus is never a particular person in the modern Church.  He desires nothing in particular.  He has no actual personality.  He's a blur.  He makes no demands upon us.  His "joy" doesn't even seem to be related to the cross.  The cross is mentioned, but the "joy" is not connected to it ... whatever that "joy" is.  It's certainly not related to the music they play at Mass, that's for sure ("music", I'm afraid, is too generous a term for it; and it's never a sound that brings "joy" or anything resembling it).  It's all Inconsequential.

Now, in the old days, when I used to complain about this sort of thing at Waiting for Godot to Leave, (my old blog, where I was foolish enough to allow comments), readers would say one or more of the following ...
  • It's not like that at my church!  I go to St. Somewhere, and it's great at St. Somewhere!
  • You are so judgmental.  You need to go to confession.
  • Why are you complaining?  I love the music at Mass.
But my point is this.

This is not something we should put up with.  I don't know the solution, but swallowing it is not the solution.

One obvious solution is this.  Read the Bible.  We are fed the Eucharist at Mass, but we are not really fed the Word.  But it is within our reach.  With the internet, you can read almost any translation that's out there, and you can even read Scripture in its original language.  And you can find the sort of homilies that we should be hearing but are not.  And if you read the Scripture daily, and study it, and pray over it, and read it in context over and over again in your life, you will at least be fed by the intellectual Word God has given us.  It takes effort, but so do all good things.

Putting up with what we've got, with or without complaint, does no good at all.


UPDATE - By coincidence, a Facebook friend, who is apparently a priest in Africa, has posted this ...
Do you have a Bible? How often do you read it? I have come to realize that people either read the Bible daily or almost never...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Scenes from Merchant of Venice

From the 2017 Nashville Shakespeare Celebration at Aquinas College.  Left to right: Joseph Pearce, Kevin O'Brien as Shylock, Kaiser Johnson as Bassanio, Maria Romine as Nerissa, Christine George as Portia, Benjamin Moats as Antionio in Scenes from Merchant of Venice.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Shakespeare and Me

3rd Annual Shakespeare Celebration

Saturday, April 22, 9:30 a.m. – 3:40 p.m.

Save the date for the 3rd Annual Shakespeare Celebration, a full day of talks and performances, featuring Gary Bouchard of Saint Anselm CollegeKevin O'Brienand Theater of the WordDr. Aaron Urbanczyk and Joseph Pearce of Aquinas College, and Santiago Sosa of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.
The drama departments of Saint Cecilia Academy and Father Ryan High School will also be staging scenes from Shakespeare's most well-known plays. There is a suggested donation of $15 per person for those attending the event.


9:30 – Registration
10:00 – Aaron Urbanczyk: “Statecraft, Christendom, and Machiavelli: Shakespeare on Political Theater”
11:00 – Father Ryan High School: “The Riddle of the Caskets in The Merchant of Venice
11:20 – Santiago Sosa of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival: “Seeking Shakespeare: A Dramatic Presentation”
12:15 – Lunch
1:00 – Presentation of the Shakespeare High School Essay Award & Reading of Winning Essay
1:20 – Gary Bouchard: “Shakespeare & the Jesuit Martyr”
2:20 – Saint Cecilia’s Academy: “Love and Marriage in Romeo and Juliet
2:40 – Joseph Pearce, Kevin O’Brien & Theatre of the Word: “The Christianity of The Merchant of Venice
3:40 – Closing Comments
4:00 – Travelers’ Mass in St. Jude Chapel at Aquinas College
Dr. Gary Bouchard of Saint Anshelm College
Joseph Pearce
Kevin O'Brien & Theater of the Word, Inc.
Dr. Aaron Urbanczyk
Santiago Sosa of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why Seems It So Particular with Thee?

John Henry Newman on a problem he noticed roughly 200 years ago ...

It is very much the fashion at present to regard the Saviour of the world in an irreverent and unreal way—as a mere idea or vision ... [offering] vague statements about His love ... [and] while the thought of Christ is but a creation of our minds, it may gradually be changed or fade away.

... so this is not a new problem.

Against this vagueness and blur, in opposition to the Unreality of Jesus the Nice Guy, Newman suggests something that most Catholics would consider novel.  He says to know this Person Jesus, you could simply read the Gospels.

... when we contemplate Christ as manifested in the Gospels, the Christ who exists therein, external to our own imaginings, and who is as really a living being, and sojourned on earth as truly as any of us, then we shall at length believe in Him with a conviction, a confidence, and an entireness, which can no more be annihilated than the belief in our senses. It is impossible for a Christian mind to meditate on the Gospels, without feeling, beyond all manner of doubt, that He who is the subject of them is God; but it is very possible to speak in a vague way of His love towards us, and to use the name of Christ, yet not at all to realize that He is the Living Son of the Father, or to have any anchor for our faith within us, so as to be fortified against the risk of future defection. 

I know this is difficult 19th century prose, but what he's saying is simply that Christ had a particular character, and was not an amorphous blob, blurry and fuzzy: and His character was, rather disturbingly, Divine.

The theological implication of this fact is what I would call the particularity of the saints.

We are sanctified not as indistinguishable blurry "nice guys" but as very particular individuals with zest and with deliberate things we are and are not.  Grace perfects nature, including the nature of our form, our limitations, our personalities.

Young people today seem to think that individuality is all about what music you like.  Demographic marketing and the niche of your favorite band defines who you are, and so if you find someone who likes the same garage band as you, you've found (one would assume) a compatible friend.  But, on the contrary, the mystery of who we are, and of what we are called to (our vocation) is much more personal and particular and even more biting and painful than the music we listen to.

It is like the stinging taste of salt.  And this ringing and stringent flavor is something we are not to deny.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.  (Mat. 5:13)

But when was the last time you went to a suburban Mass and had any sense that the particular - the particular anything - mattered?

Weigel Room

I am reading material in preparation for my Homeschool Connections class The Life and Legacy of St. John Paul II.  

This means I am re-reading George Weigel's biography, A Witness to Hope, a book I originally read 17 years ago when I became Catholic.

This time, rather, I'm listening to the audio book version ... that is, until Weigel's unctuous praise of the Theology of the Body, at which point I could take no more and I had to shut it off.

Weigel is apparently the one who got the weird TOB train moving.  There is something that is really cloying and a bit sick about the Pop-Catholic thrill over the Theology of the Body.  I wrote about it at length on Waiting for Godot to Leave.  The Wednesday Audiences (Pope John Paul's addresses that are loosely referred to as the Theology of the Body) themselves are fairly interesting, but they're about Marriage, not sex - and while sex is mentioned by JP2 in them, I certainly don't recall the apotheosis of so-called Natural Family Planning (NFP) that Weigel includes in his praise of the Wednesday Audiences.

Now, I know I'm treading on The Most Dangerous Ground There Is when I say this, for I know that of all the anger I stirred up on my old blog in my criticism of Torture, Lying, Pop-Catholic Theology of the Body, false prophets, bad bishops and other things - of all that anger, nothing came close to the furor over my criticism of so-called NFP.  But here goes.

NFP is just a tool: a neutral tool.  It is not a conduit of grace.  It is a tool that is abused more than properly used, from what I can tell by talking to young Catholics.  Periodic continence does not automatically make your marriage stronger, make you more holy, or make you a better Catholic in and of itself, especially if it is being used habitually as a way of avoiding babies (smell, messy babies) and for reasons that are as selfish as those of our fellow Catholics who, with less scruples but often the same intentions, simply cut the nonsense and take the Pill.  Periodic Continence is not "birth control", it is not a contraceptive, and it is, therefore, morally licit.  But the intentions behind its use may be self-giving or may be self-serving.  You may occasionally abstain from sex with your spouse as a penance or in prudence; or you may do so in order to afford a boat and a nice vacation - or because you're scared to death of the discomfort new life in the house may bring.  "NFP" may help you be mature or it may help you be infantile.  It may help you be responsible or it may enable you to be self-indulgent.  There is nothing magical about it.

But Weigel hails it as a kind of sacramental.  As do most of its boosters.

Maybe this is because he's contrasting it with contraception.  But we get into trouble when we measure ourselves not by the standards Christ sets for us, but by the standards of the world around us.  Pope Francis has waded into very turbulent waters because he's trying to accommodate what sinners actually do rather than emphasize what sinners are called to do.

But if we congratulate ourselves and one another for being among the probably less than 2% of Catholics who avoid taking the Pill, we are not only measuring ourselves by the wrong standard, we are feeding a spiritual pride that is deadly.  "I use NFP and how dare you criticize me!"  That summarizes the hundreds of complaints I got when I last wrote about this - except I've removed the profanity.

And it's this odor that offends me.  This praise of NFP stinks.  It smells funny.  It's not Catholic.  It's not Christian.  It's self-indulgent.  It's bourgeois.  It's having your cake and eating it too and bragging that you're on a diet in the process.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Pure Poetry

I found this poem about the internet.  It's by Hendrik Mans.    ...

The web is


all of humankind’s knowledge at


your fingertips.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Why I Believe

I became an atheist at age 9.   I became Catholic (of all things!) 30 years later.  This, after hating Catholics most of my life and agreeing with all of my artistic and theatrical friends that the Catholic Church was ridiculous at best, contemptuous at worst.

But, even now 17 years after my reception into the Church, I remain adamant about one thing.  If this is all a lie or a pleasant fiction, we should burn all the churches.  If this is all a lie, it is the worst lie in history.  If the Church is merely a human institution, then it will only get even more corrupt than it already is and it should be torn to pieces.  If people believe because it feels good, to hell with people and to hell with belief - and to hell with needing a lie to feel good.  You want the truth?  You can't handle the truth!  But if we're worthy of the name "men" or "women", we can handle the truth - God or no God.

After all, Jesus Christ told us, "The truth will make you free".  That much even atheists would agree on.  Or at least they should - if they were more than fad atheists playing party games with nihilism.

And I know, I know - it's Easter and that whole rising from the dead thing is a bit much, but that's not really what turns people off.  (By the way, if Jesus did not rise from the dead - crazy as that sounds - then the whole thing is false.  "If Christ be not raised, then is your faith in vain," as St. Paul was honest enough to say, "and we are the most miserable of men". - 1 Cor. 15:17  So don't be a "Christian" because Christ was a nice guy; He was God and the proof of that was His resurrection; if you don't believe that, well, that's understandable, but then stay home on Sundays and don't get a job as a fill-in pastor at a Presbyterian church ... which is a story I'll tell in my book.)

What turns people off, and what turned me off for all of my young life, was not the miracles or the resurrection or the weird Christian culture or the Bible.  Far from it.  The Gospels, in particular, always fascinated me, and I remain (I'm sorry to say) one of the few Catholics who regularly reads Scripture (apparently).

What turned me off then and what turns me off now was Christians and what they did with their faith.  As Groucho once said to Chico, "I want to join a club and beat you over the head with it."  That sums up a lot of what Christians do with "Christianity".

Bl. John Henry Newman described what's behind this attitude found in many Christians ...

They forget that all men are at best but learners in the school of Divine Truth, and that they themselves ought to be ever learning ... They find it a much more comfortable view, much more agreeable to the indolence of human nature, to give over seeking, and to believe they had nothing more to find.

This is the problem.  And it's endemic in the Catholic Church, at least.  Eric Voegelin describes it this way ...

Certainties, now, are in demand for the purpose of overcoming uncertainties with their accompaniment of anxiety ... [and yet] ... Uncertainty is the very essence of Christianity.  ...  "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1)
The bond [of faith] is tenuous, indeed, and it may snap easily. The life of the soul in openness toward God, the waiting, the periods of aridity and dullness, guilt and despondency, contrition and repentance, forsakenness and hope against hope, the silent stirrings of love and grace, trembling on the verge of a certainty which if gained is loss—the very lightness of this fabric may prove too heavy a burden for men who lust for massively possessive experience.

I love that last line.  We are "men who lust for massively possessive experience"!  We all are.

JRR Tolkien describes this very lust and the disenchantment that accompanies it.

[The things that become disenchanted] are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.

In other words, God becomes a mere tool for prideful man, for anxious man, for lazy man; a possession, a "thing" like other "things".

This is why we need a savior.  Because even the greatest gift we've been given - faith in a merciful and just God - is something we want to put in our pockets or "lock in our hord" and use for our own security, to allay our anxiety, or (what is worse) to use as a kind of weapon, a club we join and beat people over the head with.

Both believers and non-believers have this trait, this hard-heartedness, this possessiveness, this tendency not to be humble in the presence of the truths of God, but to appropriate and manipulate them.  One of the most apparently devout young Catholics I knew used faith in God as a giant contraceptive against reality, keeping the Spirit out while maintaining the bubble of fiction that was her life, a bubble she made certain He never pierced.   She lived a life devoted to Spiritual Contraception (and physical contraception, for that matter).  The quasi-atheist quasi-Catholic friend I described here is not intent on approaching God (and hence the meaning of life) with humility and genuine curiosity, but instead is set on constructing clever arguments that Jesus would be too foolish to penetrate.   And yet what is life but this reaching out in faith ... this anxious trust that what we do in time matters eternally, that if we seek we find, that if we love we will somehow be loved back - and that even if we're not, it's the offering, the act, that matters?

One of my best friends is an agnostic, or at least won't discuss matters of faith.  But she gives her entire heart and soul and being into educating children - a job which she finds eternally significant, though she would never describe it in those terms.  She knows, as we all do, that love outlasts time and death.  In that sense, she knows the inner meaning of the Resurrection better than most "massively possessive" Christians do.

Another friend of mine is a non-Christian and is in desperate need of cheap health insurance.  He looked into a Christian Health Share program, which would have saved him a lot of money, but refused to join it because they demand a profession of faith and he refused to lie in order to join the group.  He refused to lie!  He, a non-Christian, refused to claim to be a Christian, even though it would have benefited him to say so.  And yet, one of my most discouraging battles on the internet over the years was with "devout" Catholics who kept insisting that lying could be a good thing - a holy and righteous thing! - despite settled Church teaching on the contrary.

We could all give examples like this, examples of people who reject "Christianity" and yet behave better than most Christians, who believe in the transcendent nature of love, sacrifice, morality.

This is why I believe.  Because it's true.  I believe in the dogmas, but the dogmas are signposts, signposts to encourage us to keep seeking, to keep praying, to keep living "in openness toward God"; they are not walls in which to barricade ourselves and keep God and others out.  We search because even through passion, death and darkness, even through the horror of Good Friday and the loneliness of Holy Saturday, even through moods of despair and absurdity, even through all of this, if we seek, we find - we find in the depths, we find in the tomb, we find in one another, the silent secret of eternal life.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Come Down from the Cross

A friend of mine, who gladly accepts the consolations of God, rejects pretty much everything else about Him.

Here are some points he made yesterday in a talk with me ...

  • God is horrific if anyone is damned to hell.  What about the chance of repentance after death?  God is a monster if the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is true.
  • Why could Jesus not perform miracles in His home town?  Because they were on to His tricks!  
  • I'm a scientist.  I don't care that other scientist have been unable to find natural causes for miraculous cures in our day, including the many cures at Lourdes.  So tumors and terminal illnesses disappear?  What about a man growing a limb back!  What about a severed arm coming back!  Why don't we ever see a miracle like that?

Which reminds me of this ...

So You are the Christ
You're the great Jesus Christ
Prove to me that You're no fool
Walk across my swimming pool

Meanwhile, over the years, I've seen this man move the goalposts.  He sent his kids to Catholic schools and began to complain that they were not receiving solid religious education; then he began to complain that they didn't want to go to Mass and stopped going when they moved out of the house; then he began to complain that his older son was smoking a lot of weed; and now one of the kids is simply fornicating regularly with his girlfriend, and I no longer hear complaints about that.  Except last night I did hear this.  "My sons tell me they no longer believe in God and that bothers me!"

I tried to explain that Jesus' "inability" to perform miracles in His home town is a Sign - a Sign of the effects of hearts of stone.  

Today on Good Friday, the mockery still rings in His ears.  "Come down off the cross and we'll believe!  You saved others!  Save yourself!"

Well, we think we can save ourselves, so why not demand that He save Himself?  Miracles and resurrections are not enough - jump higher, Christ, jump higher. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bland Theology and Bland Churches

(Father Dwight posts on Facebook ...)

Belloc said, "Every argument is a theological argument." The reason modern Catholics build ugly, utilitarian preaching halls is because their theology has become Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.
In other words, their Catholicism has simply become a religion of good works--helping people and now and again giving one another stimulating sentimental thoughts about a God who is out there somewhere.
This type of religion does not require a beautiful temple which is the house of God. It does not require a beautiful Bethel--the meeting place of God and Man.
It requires a big empty meeting space in which the folks gather to hear a pep talk about being nicer people.
Or am I being harsh?

... No, Father Dwight, you are not being harsh.  Except Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a misnomer.  The Inconsequentialism that is practiced at most of our parishes is neither Moralistic (for we are told you can do whatever you want), Therapeutic (a good therapist is much more challenging than almost any homily you're likely to hear) or Deist (we believe God is a personal God, He's just Nice all the time and never to be feared).

Modern Catholics are not Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.  We are INCONSEQUENTIALISTS, and everything we believe and do is (we think) inconsequential.

We are in Eliot's hell, where "nothing connects with nothing".

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Greek Word for BS

I love my Homeschool Connections students, who are generally bright, creative and engaged with the material I'm teaching.

However, something disappointing occasionally happens when I ask for an essay from even the best of my students.  If I ask for a brief essay answer on a quiz, and ask for the student's reaction to what is most challenging or surprising or mysterious about the material we're reading, they frequently speak intelligently and from the heart.  But if I ask for an essay that's more formal, they gird up their loins, take a deep breath, and spew out BS.

Sometimes it's halfway decent BS.  Sometimes the essays are well structured and written without glaring errors in grammar or punctuation.  But the more formal the essay, the more I get the Party Line.  And the Party Line for Devout Catholic Homeschoolers goes something like this ...

What this course has taught me is the dangers of gay marriage and how we will all go astray unless we believe in God and how awful abortion is and what is this world coming to? and how people in the world are making huge mistakes and we will only be saved by being very careful and no wonder the world will end it's really awful.

Now, some of that is true.  But it's ... well, it's doxa.

What is doxa (δοχα)?  It's the Greek word for BS.

Gene Callahan writes ...

Plato made a very important distinction between philosophers and philodoxers. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom (σοφια). He tries to align his views with what is true. As such, the philosopher is always engaged in a search (ζετεσισ), since he realizes that he has views are never as true as they could be. We will see him continually updating and revising his views as he comes to see the truth more fully.
The philodoxer, on the hand, is a lover of appearances (δοχα). The philodoxer doesn't care about being good; the philodoxer cares about appearing good, in the opinion of others. The philodoxer doesn't care if his opinions are true; he cares about whether others will approve of his opinions.

And this is exactly what Harry G. Frankfurt says in his philosophical treatise "On Bullshit", describing, as carefully as possible, what "BS" is.  BS disregards truth and aims at impressing the hearer.  The BS-er is not concerned with what he says being true or not; he is only concerned with making the hearer think more highly of him.  A BS-ers claim is ...

... unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality. ... She concocts it out of whole cloth; or, if she got it from someone else, she is repeating it quite mindlessly and without any regard for how things really are. 

I have a friend, a middle aged housewife, who overheard me talking about utopias.  "St. Thomas More's Utopia - that's on my reading list!  I can't wait to read it."

Now this is pure BS.  St. Thomas More's Utopia is not on anyone's reading list - unless they're taking a college course that requires them to read it.  And this person is the last person on earth who would actually desire to read that book.  But my friend wants to make a good impression on me and so she dumps some BS.

This friend of mine also nods in silent understanding if a baseball sportscaster makes a detailed analysis of a play on the radio.  If a sportscaster says, "His open stance compromises his ability to hit a breaking ball if the shift is on and if the pitcher has a good cut fastball to offer up."  She'll nod at this knowingly - as if she's in agreement - with something she doesn't even begin to comprehend.

Well, this is BS.  And so many people live their lives in BS mode.  There is no truth, there is only doxa, opinions about the surface of things.  Thus, many Catholics adopt the sub-culture because the sub-culture is the Faith, in their eyes.  What makes a good Catholic?  Devotions, novenas, daily Mass, Scott Hahn CDs, EWTN, prayer cards ... in short, the trappings, the mere indicia.  Now, there's nothing wrong with these things (especially daily Mass, which is a great blessing).  But they are all means to an end, not the end itself.

And yet philodoxers and BS-ers care about appearances and shibboleths more than the truth that they may (or may not) point to.  Thus I get the Party Line in formal essays.

But here's something that really is amazing, if you think about it.  We all BS, and we all trust in BS, as if BS could save us.  But, whether you're a Christian or an atheist, there's one thing you have to admit.

One man in history lived without any BS.  Even if you don't think He was the Word incarnate, you have to admit that.