A Small Church? John 6 and Archbishop Chaput.

Recently, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently gave a stirring and magnificent talk on the state of Catholicism in America, the assimilation of Catholics into modern American commercial culture, and the subsequent “silent apostasy” of many American Catholics who have become too comfortable in the world to change it (1).  He urged that fear of losing members (for the Church is neither a club nor a business) should never make the Church afraid to proclaim the gospel and that if consequence of this is a smaller, lighter, more faithful Church, then so be it.

hail-mary-full-of-grace-punch-that-satan-in-the-4361430

Chaput referenced 13th century image of Mary punching the devil in the face.  So much for dialogue.  image from: google.com

To this reasonable suggestion, some have responded with horror and over-wrought hand-wringing.  Michael Sean Winters of the National catholic Reporter (2). He accused Chaput of Phariseeism, of not caring about losing members, and of denying his own need for God’s mercy (though how would MSW know that?) among other things.  Yet, in his criticism of the Archbishop, Winters shows seems to have forgotten about the example of Jesus Himself in the Bread of Life discourse.

For a brief moment early in his ministry, Jesus was overwhelmingly popular.  He had just fed 5000 men, as well as women and children, with miraculous bread and the crowds began to wonder if they had found a king who would keep their bellies full and their backs free of the dreaded imperial eagle of Rome.  And so they came by the crowds to hear this hoped for bread-king.  In the Bread of Life discourse (John 22:6-59), Jesus declared Himself the “bread come down from heaven” and that man could not have life within him unless he ate of the flesh and drank of the blood of the Son of Man.  Many of his hearers, however, drew back from these shocking words.  Jesus doubled down: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you shall not have life within you.  Even many of his disciples murmured, hesitated- Jesus doubled down again, The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life, but some of you believe not.

And that was too much.  A Messiah who gave bread- all well and good; As Fulton Sheen has commented, Caesar gave bread.  A Messiah who gave Himself?  Never.  From that day Jesus lost the crowds and even many of his disciples; scripture says, “After this, many of his disciples went back and followed him no more (Emphasis mine).”  He was a bread-king, but not the kind of bread-king for which the crowds had hoped!  And so they left.  Multiple times, the crowds and his disciples asked for clarification, giving Our Lord a chance to back off, to change His words, and multiple times, He refused to do so, knowing it would cost Him most of his followers.  He was left with only a few and, not fearing to lose them either, merely turned and asked “do you want to leave to?”  They did not, and left with only a dozen and perhaps no more, Jesus proceeded to transform the world.

Perhaps it was with that passage in mind that Archbishop Chaput said: “Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.”  Chaput never said, (as Winters dishonestly claims) that he does not care about those lost, but that we do need to speak the truth, clearly, honestly, and without fear of the consequences, even if it means many who call themselves disciples went back and followed Him no more.  To say this is not Phariseeism, unless Christ was a Pharisee.  But it is faithfulness, which is required regardless of the cost.

Kill All the Lawyers? The Place of Law and the Gospel (I)

The first of a two post series on canon law and some current issues in the Church

The great playwright, William Shakespeare, once had one of his characters in Henry VI say: “the first thing we do, let us kill all the lawyers.” The sentiment is one that one suspects would find a sympathetic audience today. Attacking lawyers is certainly fashionable today, both within the Catholic Church and without it, though it is the former that concerns us here. The great canonist Ed Peter’s has recently complained about the spirit of anti-nomianism that seems pervasive today as people reject the law, some in the name of mercy or the gospel, and some simply in the name of their own desires. Defend the law and one risks being labeled a Pharisee, a legalist, one who cares more for law than people.

But we cannot so easily do without canon law. Canon law, that is, the law of the Church, grew to maturity in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the same time that saw the founding of the universities and major reform movements in the medieval Church to free it from secular control. This was not mere coincidence. One strength of the law was its ability to draw distinctions, the same skill developed by the scholastic theologians. For instance, throughout Aquinas, when he takes on a problem, he often points out the much lies in how one makes fine distinctions. When discussing whether it was necessary that Christ become man, Aquinas explains that in an absolute sense it was not necessary, but in another sense, it was (because it was the most fitting and efficient way to work salvation). He distinguished sense, he drew lines.

Lawyer did the same things. The also drew lines. Those lines included the line between the sacred and the secular, as the drew a line around the Church as firm as the walls of Constantinople and said that no secular ruler might cross it. Drawing lines between the secular and sacred meant that, free of secular influence (in theory if not always in practice), the Church was free to reform and to grow in holiness.

The law had another advantage. It is said today that “the law is reason free from passion.” Certainly, this saying fits with the attitude of the medieval Church lawyers. Men are too easily given to passion, they find it too easy to put reason aside out of anger, greed, or even compassion. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, once said that “most men live by sense rather than reason.” It was not said as an insult, but a realistic account of human nature. But the men of the Middle Ages knew that passion was no safeguard. Their’s was, in a sense, the first real Age of Reason, for they believed in the power of reason to understand the world in a way few had before. Reason, the rules of logic, would take them to a just and true outcome regardless the personal feelings or preferences or those involved. By reason, man escaped prejudice, and moved away from the animals and toward the angels. Hence, one task of law, reason free from passion, was the justice and fairness that came from truth. This was the purpose of law, to discover justice, regardless the feelings of those involved.

This was important when, in the early thirteenth-century, King Phillip Augustus of France, the most powerful ruler in Europe asked (demanded) that the Pope, Innocent III, grant him a divorce of his wife. Pope Innocent III, however, was not a mere sentimentalist, rather, he was a canon lawyer. Hence, was able to look past the personal preference of himself (he would have preferred not to anger the king) and the king, and tell the king that the law found no justification to put aside the plain words of Christ in the gospel: when a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery. By the law, the Pope tried defend the innocent wife of a powerful king who had begun to find her inconvenient.

This is why it is so unfortunate today when some in the Church set the law against the gospel and try to claim that we must put aside the law in the name of the gospel. Nonsense, if the law, reason free from passion, is not allowed not draw out the implications of the gospel and to consider its application to particular situations, then the decision will be unjust. If reason cannot decide, then unreason will. And when two passions collide, the passion of the stronger person usually prevails. Hence Henry VIII, who also demanded a divorce, rejected the advice of his lawyer, Thomas More, who told him that he had no grounds to break up his marriage. Henry ignored him; since his reason would not rule, his passion did and the first thing Henry did, was to kill the lawyer.

One final thought. In Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons, Thomas More’s son-in-law told him that he would cut down every law in England to achieve a desired end. More’s reply was biting: “And when the last law was down, and the devil turned round on you– where would you hide Roper, the laws all being flat… if you cut them down– and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then…?” Kill the lawyers, put aside the law, but who, as Bolt’s More says, could stand upright in ensuing storm.

The World’s Hatred: A Letter to Catholics

This was initially submitted to my local diocesan paper as an OP-Ed.  The paper published it as a short letter.  Hence, I present the original here.  

As the Holy Father concludes his visit to the United States, the Catholic Church seems to wear a more attractive face. Pope Francis’s popularity and the enormously positive media coverage seem almost overwhelming. Doubtless too, it comes as a welcome relief to Catholics tired of being attacked for their supposedly backward and narrow views on a range of issues from abortion to marriage and beyond. The Pope is popular, the Church is popular, and all seems well. We need no longer talk about unpopular, controversial issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Instead, we can “reach out” to people, by talking about easier subjects. At least, so it seems.

Enjoying this period of popularity is perfectly understandable and probably even morally neutral. But a thing can be morally neutral and still lead one into danger. We may enjoy this period of popularity while it lasts, but herein lies the danger, that we might be tempted to try to make it last. We might be tempted to try to make this time of popularity last by trying to get along too well with the world or by not talking about “controversial” subjects. We might try to put aside Our Lord’s hard words: His talk about suffering, crosses, sin, and hell. We might focus on the Christ who said to help the poor and not to judge, but not the Christ who flipped tables, called his enemies “whitewashed tombs,” and told his closest follower, “get behind me Satan.”

This is the danger: that hoping to maintain present popularity, we may be tempted not to present the full truth of Christ. That we might be tempted to abandon it for mere popularity. And popularity is something no follower of Christ should expect. Our Lord never promised popularity, but a cross; and no one can follow Him and hope to escape it. The world says “blessed are the popular,” but Our Lord said, “blessed are you when they persecute you, revile you, and slander you because of me.” The world says, “woe to the unpopular,” but Our Lord says, “woe to you when men speak well of you.”

If we do not present the full truth of Christ to people, the hard as well as the easy, then we are not presenting the true Christ. If we are not presenting the true Christ, then we are presenting a false Christ. And to deprive people of the truth of Christ and hence of the true Christ is a betrayal of Christ, His gospel, and the poor themselves. Cardinal Sarah, an African Cardinal, and hence someone who knows something about poverty, has recently said that the worst form of discrimination against the poor is not to give them Christ.

Hence, failure to present the whole Gospel is a betrayal of the poor and the weak themselves. It is a betrayal of children— denied a father and a mother—who suffer most from the breakdown of marriage and the family. It is a betrayal of the unborn, the poorest of all, who have no one to defend them but us.

The world may hate us for that defense. But such is our duty, and Christ warned his followers that if the world hates them, know it hated Him first. In His life, same crowds that shouted “hosanna” on Sunday, shouted “crucify” the next Friday. He never sought to escape it. Neither can we.

Marriage Symbolism and the Question of Women Priests

I have suggested before that people in the Middle Ages simply did not see the same world that the modern man sees. Or to be more precise, they saw the same facts, but those facts had a different meaning. The world may have looked the same, but it did not mean the same thing. It did not mean the same because man in the Middle Ages looked out on a world made by God, a world with its meaning written into it by its Maker. And because the material world was not all there was, it could represent higher spiritual realities. Hence, St. Francis of Assisi loved the world, not as some neo-pagan nature worshiper, but (as the historian C.H. Lawrence put it), but because he saw it as a sign-book of its Creator’s love.

The modern world does not see the world this way, for the modern world has forgotten God, and so matter appears as little more than matter and symbolism- the use of matter to represent higher spiritual realities- is seen as something vague, arbitrary or subjective. To the Middle Ages, the marriage of a man and women was sign of a higher spiritual reality, the union of Christ and the Church, and so divorce was simply unthinkable. A man could no more divorce his wife than Christ could leave His Church. Yet, because the modern world does not see a marriage as having this higher symbolism, divorce is very natural to it and it cannot understand the Catholic world-view.

The same is true of the Catholic priesthood. The modern world sometimes asks why women cannot be priests, as if the priesthood were a right and all that was lacking was the permission of some overly backward pontiff. Yet, it is not so. The priesthood, like marriage, is based on certain symbolism, symbolism that defines its nature and makes it what it is. The symbolism is this: the relationship between God and his people, from Old Testament times, is described as a marriage. So too, the relationship between Christ and His Church. Jesus often spoke of Himself the bridegroom (“can the wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them?”), while heaven is described as the wedding feast of the lamb.

Hence, the physical reality of marriage represents the higher spiritual reality of the union of Christ and His bride, the Church. Yet, from this follow certain facts about the nature of the priesthood; for Jesus is Himself a priest (Hebrews 4:14- “A great High Priest”). And the job of the priest was to stand between God and the people and to offer sacrifice. This the priest does today as well, standing in the place of the Great High Priest, Jesus Himself. Standing in the place of Christ, the priest stands in His place in relation to the people. And Christ is the Bridegroom of his bride, the Church. Hence, standing in the place of Christ, the priest, as Christ, stands as the bridegroom in relation to the Church. For this reason, the priesthood was seen as the vocation of men, not by virtue of their worth, for they have none sufficient, but by virtue of spiritual reality.

The priesthood was thus not a matter of rights, but of the nature of reality. The marriage of a man and woman reflected the union of Christ and the Church, and the priest stood in the place of Christ. A female priesthood was simply impossible, perhaps even a contradiction in terms. The meaning did not work. And the meaning was not arbitrary, but objective, written into matter by the God that made it, and reflecting God’s own nature.

But the modern world cannot see this; it cannot see the material world as a sign of higher spiritual realities- for there are none. Symbolism thus becomes wholly arbitrary and subjective- something man made and something he might make otherwise if so wished. The American flag is a symbol of America with 50 stars and 13 stripes. But it need not have had those numbers of stars or stripes or, indeed, any stars and stripes at all. It might have had squares, or deus avertit, butterflies. In the Catholic world-view, some symbols were like that- a knight’s crest perhaps- but not all were. Some symbols had an objective meaning, a meaning because it was written into matter by matter’s maker. Marriage and the priesthood were among these and no one had the power to make it otherwise.

Man as a god, God as Man: Medieval and Modernity

In a previous blog post, I referred to the the late nineteenth-century philosophe Frederich Nietzsche, who was something of a prophet for modern society. Nietzsche looked at the present and into the future and saw there, a world for which he hoped—a world without God. While some of his non-theistic colleagues (the “humanists”) in particular, insisted the loss of God would have little effect on human affairs, Nietzsche held them in contempt. For him, the death of God meant the advent of nihilism, the destruction of all meaning and value in life. This meant the destruction of all traditional morality.

Hence Nietzsche ridiculed the humanists who thought they could rid society of Christianity, yet keep its values. He spoke instead of the need to reconstruct all of our own moral values and the need to become gods. God was dead, he said, we would have to be our own gods now. And so we have been.

The Middle Ages, of course, saw things the other way around. To them, God was God and man was not, even if some men (typically royalty ) had the usual delusions of grandeur. God made the world meaningful and moral values—good and evil, right and wrong–to exist. God was the yardstick no man could measure up to, all fell short. Since man could not raise himself up, God bent Himself down, a divine humility to humble the pride of man. The great became small, the strong, weak, and in return man had to become like a little child. Man could not reach God, so God became man to bring the Unreachable into the grasp of humanity. And so, in the end, man could become like god. Accepting his smallness, he could become large. In the traditional formula, the Son of God became man, so that men could become sons of God.

Not so in modernity, no God-man there to humble the pride of man, only man who, in the language of Nietzsche, had to become a god. And so he has, creating his own meaning, right and wrong, and good and evil. He decides what life is, what marriage is, what humanity is. When morality is seen as only a social construction, the typical result is moral destruction. So there is nothing surprising in the recent string of undercover videos showing planned parenthood casually discussing the destruction of unborn human beings. Nothing shocking in planned parenthood discussing “less crunchy” ways of destroying them or talking about cutting across the face to procure an intact brain- all in the interest of maximizing profit. When right and wrong become social constructs, the weakest always suffer. When man has to become god, in the Nietschean sense, he really becomes a demon, preying on the weakest.

The same is true in other areas as well. This is why the thought of euthanasia, euphemistically called “death with dignity,” (as the unborn are euphemistically called “specimens”), is of such concern to advocates of the disabled. When humans decide what makes life worthwhile, it becomes too easy to say that the lives are the weak are not worthwhile- as with the unborn, so with the elderly, perhaps someday soon, so also with the disabled as well. Marriage too becomes redefined and again, the weak suffer, as children- denied a father and mother– become tools in the fulfillment of adult desires. Hence, when man becomes a god, he really becomes a demon.

When God becomes man, however, the issue is reversed. Then the Powerful becomes weak and omnipotence becomes poverty. And when the Great becomes weak, then there is cause to care for the weak. And so the early Christians ended the ancient pagan practice of infanticide and abortion (though modern pagans have again begun it) and provided care for the poor and weak, while later Christians worked to abolish slavery.

If man is a god, in the Nietzschean sense, he is not much of a god. Worse, he is not even much of a man. He is something worse, something capable of supporting the destruction of innocent human beings, their dismemberment, and their sale, sacrifices to modern man’s real god- the almighty dollar and his own ego.

Why I Remain A Narnian (Catholic)

The following is written at the suggestion of Elizabeth Scalia, here, that people write why they remain Catholic in response to a Pew survey showing a decline of religious affiliation over the past seven years.  If anyone else wishes to write one, use the twitter hashtag, #WhyRemainCatholic  If someone wishes to write one and doesn’t have a blog, I will publish it here as a guest post. 

A recent Pew study has made waves by noting the decline of religiosity in American society over the past seven years. This has led to a certain silly season on the internet, as a brief (and mind-numbing) glance at the comment boxes at Huffington Post reveal. Certainly, many reasons can be given for this. Poor instruction in the faith, rejection of the rule associated with religion, and the influence of an increasingly secular society come to mind. The Catholic Church, we are told, is “out of touch” with the modern word, too backward, clinging to its old superstitions. Given this, why still remain Catholic in an unCatholic world? If the world is moving on, why not move on with it?

Others reasons will vary, but first, I remain Catholic because Catholicism is not in touch with the modern world. If the Catholic Church only happened to tell me everything that the modern world already told me, then I should suspect it was all made up. If it made no truth claims that contradicted the World’s, I would think it only offered the world. But as James Bond put it, the world is not enough. A man doesn’t join the Church because he wants this world, but because he wants the next one.

In the Middle Ages, the common assumption was that a true Church should not be worldly, but should be unworldly. Pope Gregory VII waged a fierce battle, dying in exile as German troops descended on Rome, to free the Catholic Church from the control of secular princes. He reasoned that a Church too tied up with the world was less spiritual. A Church that was more unworldly, was more other-worldly. A Church that was less material and political was more spiritual. This is the same sense in which Fulton Sheen wrote that were he not Catholic and looking for the true Church, he would not look for the Church that got on with the world, but the one that did not. Not the Church that was progressive, but the one accused of being behind the times:

 would look for the Church which the world hated… look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned… Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God… Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.… and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly… [then] the Church is Divine.” (2)

This is my first reason for remaining Catholic while Catholicism is out of touch with a world that is out of touch with God. A worldly Church would be mere vanity or conceit, an unwordly one might just be true. When the rest of world starts to run off a cliff, I want a Church that can stop and say, Humane Vitae.

The second reason is a matter of reason and may be dealt with more briefly here. I remain Catholic on the evidence. The Catholic Church may be ridiculed for its “ancient superstitions” and “bronze age gods,” but it is hard to see anything more superstitious than atheism. An atheist must believe that for no reason at all and with no explanation, the universe just happened to pop into existence out of nothing, that it just happened to be finely tuned for intelligent life, and that it just happened to lead to the development of conscious creatures capable of intelligence, reason, and discerning right from wrong. By contrast, in Catholicism, there is nothing strange about God creating a life permitting universe with creatures sharing in his own rationality. And once a man rejects atheism, there is no figure in any religion like the God-Man in the Gospels. There is no figure who claims that degree of divine authority, yet whose stories simply do not read like myths or legends, and whose followers went on to be tortured and killed in the belief that he was God crucified and risen from the dead.

Those two reasons probably account for why I remain Catholic, but there is one more consideration worth mentioning. Occasionally some atheist will make the very silly remark that atheism is not so different from Christianity; atheists simply disbelieve in one more God than Christians do. But, of course, this is absurd. Atheism is not simply disbelieving one more god than the Christians do, but a difference of world-view. It is the difference of being able to believe in a world of objective meaning, value, and purpose. It is a richer and larger world, where matter, with its meaning written into it by its maker, can represent a higher, more real, spiritual world. It means hope for the hopeless, a crown after the cross, and an Easter morning after a Good Friday.

And so even if there were no reason to be Catholic (and there are many), even if the God-Man in the Gospels were a deluded fool (and He is not), I think I should still have to say to the materialist, with C.S. Lewis:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things … Then all I can say is … the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. […] That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” (3)

And that is why I am Catholic, whatever the Pew studies may say and whatever others may say about the direction history is moving. A man can move with history or he can move history. The Church can, because it is not in touch with this world; it is in touch with a more real one.

(1) http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

(2) http://www.catholicfamilycatalog.com/fulton-sheens-if-i-were-not-catholic.htm

(3) The Silver Chair, chapter 12.