Monday, May 13, 2024

Take Good Care Now [la fin]

Hi everyone,

I think I've reached the point where it's time to retire. 

It's not that I don't enjoy writing (I do), and it's not that I don't have anything to write about (I do). I just think it's time. In some ways, I feel like that guy in the office that stayed on ten years too long, or the sitcom that should have gone off the air three seasons ago. Catholic blogging (aka, the "blogosphere") is just not a thing anymore in 2024. Should have gotten the memo, but didn't. Embarrassing but true.

I am not starting a Substack. I am not going to start writing for Medium. I am not creating a YouTube channel. I honestly don't know what the next step for me is. But I would invite you to enjoy the 838 posts on this blog if you like, it's not going anywhere. Should serve as a nice museum to house the dustier ones. We're all tired, I think. I totally get it. Enjoy the white space and one less thing to spend your time on.

Thank you to all the faithful readers over the years. I never really grew to any kind of standing or popularity in the online Catholic sphere, and that's okay. I am proud that I wrote consistently, faithfully, and honestly for these past fifteen years or so as the Holy Spirit called me to. I was faithful in little things. I was never much of a Thomist, but I always so identified with St. Thomas' last words on December 6, 1273: “Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears as so much straw.” What a man. What a disciple.

I used to smile when a kind old mentor of mine would end conversations with, "Take good care now." So that is how I would like to leave you. No drama, no finger wagging, no sadness. Just some fitting words from St. Peter's epistle:

"The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Take good care now. And keep me in your prayers.

Rob (Paul)

13 May, 2024

Edit (added at the suggestion of a friend): For anyone who is interested in the "Best of" essays in physical copy, organized topically, my book is available on Amazon here.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

More Thoughts On Friendship, From the Isle of Inisherin


Last night I got around to watching the critically acclaimed dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The synopsis is rather easy to relay and develops quickly straight out of gate: Pádraic and Colm are long time friends living in a village on a remote island off the mainland coast of 1920's Ireland. One day Colm decides he doesn't want to be friends with Pádraic anymore. When the stunned Pádraic asks why, Colm informs him it's because he is dull and he wants to spend his remaining years composing and playing music rather than engaging in the inane pub chatter that has composed their friendship til this point. Pádraic has trouble accepting this sudden "divorce" and Colm feels forced to take drastic measures to make it clear he wants nothing to do with Pádraic anymore: every time Pádraic attempts to talk to him, Colm will cut off one of his fingers (which, for an accomplished string musician, should indicate that he means business). What ensues is a string of escalating and tragic Quixotic events which leaves one eventually wondering "How did we get to this point?"

We don't know much about the friendship of the two prior to Colm's declaration of independence, but I found myself straddling the fence of sympathy for both characters in the aftermath: for Colm, because I don't blame him for his desire to live in silence and preserve his peace; and also for Pádraic who sees himself as a "nice" guy whose small world has just been turned upside down by his former friend. Pádraic hasn't done anything wrong; Colm has simply changed. And so there is an ideological war raging behind the character front between the opposing forces of "being nice" and "telling the truth." And because of the interdependent ecosystem of the small remote village, the social ripples emanating forth from this parting is not as without consequence as it may be in, say, a large city or other impersonal setting.  

When I was compiling the chapters for my book, Wisdom and Folly, I led off with a chapter of essays on the topic of friendship. I thought that was curious, amidst weightier topics like Faith, Prayer, Discipleship, Marriage, and Manhood. Why friendship? Maybe it is because friendship is a curious thing. In the case of Pádraic and Colm, it takes the guise of a kind of long-standing, yet non-contractual marriage in which one person can one day say "I just don't like you anymore" and walk away from it. It can hurt just as much as a marriage partner abandoning their vows, but on the face of it, friendship is not a marriage. There is no intentionality about it, but a kind of "social slide" of unspoken assumptions into a partnership of utility. And since this is what most modern friendships are founded upon (the basest level of relationship, according to the philosophers), when it no longer suits us or starts to cramp the life we envision for ourselves, we are free to leave it.  The way Colm did this in The Banshees of Inisherin is actually more admirable because he was honest and forthright, preferring to rip off the bandaid in one swoop rather than lead Pádraic on. Today Pádraic would have most likely just been ghosted via text.

The reaction of Pádraic to Colm's "breakup" with him is equal parts sad and cringe. Pádraic is incredulous to the fact that someone might find it tiresome to keep company with him and engaged in the most mundane of superfluous small talk, as if there might be more to life (as Colm does). He's a simple and nice guy, content with the smallness of his world and whose needs were being met as long as Colm played the part assigned in their friendship. As if this wasn't bad enough, he simply cannot accept Colm's proposition and reacts in a spirit of possessive, shallow narcissism.

The shadow around the corner, however, is that we know many marriages like the friendship between Pádraic and Colm--long standing marriages that lay roots for years and years in a particular time and place, ensconced in a community of friends and neighbors, yet one that may not have been founded on anything particularly meaningful. These could be marriages of convenience or of opportunity, or of mutual interest (running clubs, workplaces, pubs, etc).  The difference is, however, one cannot (or at least is not supposed to) walk so easily away from this legal and sacramental contract that knits two pieces of flesh into one garment. One falls in love and then makes a willful choice--to have and to hold, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, til death do you part. The contract is ratified, with one's solemn word, as well as legally and sacramentally. And yet how many of us have known someone who woke up and suddenly thought to themselves about their partners "I just don't love you no more" and seek to dissolve the bonds of the one's solemn word.

In the case of friendship, while a rare friendship goes beyond purposes of utility and has a mutual agape at its core, there is still the matter of like. Liking another person is a tenuous thing; for liking is unlike loving in that loving is an act of the will. One cannot will themselves to like another person. Where, then, does it rest if not in the will? And if one does not like the person they are bound to in friendship, why then would they choose to stay bound thus? They are under no contract to do so. In many ways, it is almost easier to love a person than to like them, for at least one can love against their will and one is forced to work through the barriers to love by way of the vows undertaken. No such contract exists in a friendship. 

The narcissism I noticed in Pádraic is the same narcissism I notice in myself. Rather than honoring Colm's request to leave him alone (essentially "letting him go"), and not taking it personally, he filters everything about the friendship in terms of how it relates to him. What did I do? WTH is wrong with him? Not being liked was a fate worse than death for the town "nice guy." He becomes depressed, spiteful and envious of Colm's music students that come to learn from him (rather than experiencing joy for a man finding meaning and purpose for his life). He even makes friends with the local idiot savant, Dominic, because unlike Colm, Pádraic cannot stand to be alone. The film in this sense is kind of a melding of social-existential and absurdist themes: one would rather burn a man's house down or dismember their hand then put a feud to rest. Perhaps this is the stubborn Irish-ness that is not in my blood. But it does lend itself to a kind of artistic Dadaism that seems to work for the purposes of the film.

But I also notice in Colm aspects of myself as well--the weariness with which I found myself, for years, having endured the superficial pub talk of nonsense and in the process feeling like I was betraying something of myself but too weak to walk away from such friendships. I was being used, and I used. Perhaps I did not know that I longed for something my friends could not provide me, something like an aquifer that flowed for years beneath the crust of my soul, until one day you wake up to--the day your friends all become strangers. You want to love with an agape love, but you realize how self-centered you are and you don't know how. You want more from a friendship, but realize no one has the time. You want to stay the course while recognizing that friendship is always conditional.

It seems like such a far cry from the concept of friendship as Jesus Christ imagined it--a man willing to lay down his life for his friends, friends who turned on him and ran away and left him during his time of need but those same friends he himself never abandoned. He loved them with a love that was not fickle, and hand-chose them for a privileged place in his life. He not only loved them--he liked them too. He prepared a place for them in his eternal home. He poured out his last ounces of love for them from the cross. He judged no one, and made time for everyone. 

One thing we lack today that the characters in The Banshees of Inisherin just took for granted was that village community in which people were knit together at the local level. For some (like Pádraic's sister, Shioban, who flees for the  mainland), the small-mindedness of such insular, inter-dependent communities can be insufferable. 

But I think we are suffering from a worse, more disconnected fate in the modern "social" media era, where we are maintain complete control and autonomy, choosing when and how we respond to someone, hiding behind avatars and monikers, indentured to no man, offering up cheap prayers and hollow consolations because they don't cost us anything, don't mean anything, relationships we can seamlessly step back from with no consequence and no follow up. I don't know which world would be harder to live in. This side of heaven, it all leaves a God-shaped hole.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Means and Ends of the Mass

Note: I have submitted this piece to various publications, some of which I'm still waiting to hear back from. In the event it is published, I will remove this post and direct you to the link.

One would think attending Mass every Sunday has the potential to make one holy, but we know there are plenty of people who attend Mass weekly who would not fit such a description. On the flipside, were someone not to attend Mass at least weekly, assuming they are able to, we would not typically think of such people as especially pious or holy. That does not mean they can’t be “good” people, but to willfully neglect the 3rd Commandment is a grave matter and objectively contrary to the worship of God by faith, hope, and charity demanded in justice and at odds with the virtue of religion. I don’t think it is unreasonable to deduce that one cannot become holy as a Catholic outside of assisting at Mass, provided there are no impediments from one attending. Mass, then, is one of the means by which we attain the end of knowing, loving, and serving God.

Weekly Mass attendance (for the 17% of Catholics in the U.S. who do so) is one matter at hand being discussed here. Some may see Mass attendance as the end (fulfilling one’s obligation, receiving Eucharist, seeing one’s friends, etc), rather than a means of holiness. But there is another matter; for if holiness (and not simply Mass attendance) is both our means and our end in this life, what bearing does the form of Mass one attends have on the attainment of holiness?

This question has been kicking at the backdoor of my mind since we have been exclusively assisting at the Traditional Latin Mass as a family for the past five years. At times I have had to ask myself why we made the switch over: is it because we feel more at home among those who attend the TLM, with people of like mind? Is it because we know what to expect and can set our watch by the rubrics? Is it because it fosters an atmosphere of devotion (it does) and rightful orientation (ditto)? Is it because it gives us some kind of bragging rights, since the Traditional Latin Mass is defacto and objectively a “better” Mass that reflects its true sacrificial nature? Has the Mass, in this way, become a kind of “end?”

And do the degree that we are talking about the means: has the Traditional Latin Mass made me holier?

This is an unnerving question to ask oneself. On the one hand, God often shields our eyes from our spiritual progress for our own benefit. Were we to see the degree to which we have progressed in the spiritual life, we may get puffed up with pride or believe we ourselves are the reasons for our advancement. 

But on the other hand, what if the form of Mass that we attend truly has no bearing on the ultimate means and ends of personal holiness? What if we are simply “trading” sins and imperfections in transferring our record from one Mass to another, like playing Spiritual Whac-a-Mole?—we were once lax and presumptive, but now we are haughty and judgmental, for example. What if the Mass is akin to a Sacrament which always give grace, but only if we receive it with the right disposition? In other words, just because we have the form down, doesn’t mean our dispositions are worthy. And at the end of the day, isn’t holiness for God’s sake the end we should be seeking, by whatever means we are afforded?

The first lesson in the Baltimore Catechism concerns itself with the End of Man--the purpose for which he was created: namely, to know, love, and serve God. Children recount this from their St. Joseph’s catechism: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” This is in accordance with the greatest and first Commandment given to us by our Lord himself in Mt 22:37: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” 

In the 19th chapter of Matthew’s gospel preceding this proscription, a man approaches Jesus seeking the end of attaining everlasting life (Mt 19:16), to which Jesus gives him the means: to keep the Commandments (v 17). The man replies that he has kept all these, to which Jesus replies, “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me” (Mt 19:21).

St. Peter exhorts in his first epistle, “According to him that hath called you, who is holy, be you also in all manner of conversation holy. Because it is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Of course he is simply reiterating what Yahweh communicates to His people in the Torah, “Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2).

An end of something is the goal, the destination, what one seeks. The means, in contrast, are what one uses to achieve the end. According to Paul Tatter, “Ends are about the present, not about the future.  A present end may not survive into the future, but it might be helpful now.  Ends help us to decide what to do in the present; they are useful guides in our activity.[1]

So, what then, is our end as Christians? To secure eternal life for ourselves? Or to be holy? Are they one and the same? And in what does holiness consist? In faith? In works? In perfection (detachment)? 

Even then, we must ask, “is holiness itself a means or an end?” If we fulfill the Greatest Commandment to “know, love, and serve” God with our “whole heart, soul, and mind,” we have achieved the end, the purpose for which we were created according to the Catechism. But to pursue holiness for its own sake as an end is gravely misleading; for as Scripture also attests, “no one is righteous, no not one” (Rom 3:10). To the degree that we attain holiness in this life as a means, however, this gets us closer to the state of union with God, which should be our ultimate end both in this life and the afterlife. What must we do to save our souls? To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.  

What, then, is the purpose of the Mass? When we ask ourselves if holiness is a means or an end in order to determine that “useful guide in our activity” in this life, and if we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity in order to save our souls, we should remember that the means instituted by our Lord to enable men at all times to share in the fruits of His Redemption are the Church and the Sacraments (BC, Q114). 

The ends for which the sacrifice of the Cross was offered were:  1. To honor and glorify God;  2. To thank Him for all the graces bestowed on the whole world;  3. To satisfy God's justice for the sins of men;  4. To obtain all graces and blessings  (Q267). Likewise, the four ends of the Mass (the memorial of the sacrifice of the Cross) are: Adoration, Thanksgiving, Atonement and Petition

Ask any ordinary Catholic on the street why they attend Mass on Sundays and you might get any of the following responses:

“The Church says I have to.”

“I enjoy seeing and interacting with the people in my faith community.”

“I desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.”

“I recognize that God’s justice demands due worship.”

“It keeps me in line and makes me a better person.”

If one googles “What is the purpose of going to Mass?” you get back a varied number of responses ranging from “The Mass is an opportunity for us to join together as a community of believers and pray and celebrate together” to “its purpose is to send forth the faithful to bring forth the Good News of Jesus, and to be His presence in the world.” Some responses focus more on why one should go to Mass, or spits out bullet-point “Five Good Reasons to go to Mass” type articles.

Simple observation would preclude me from being able to deduce that the Latin Mass has made me a holier person by itself. Does it have the potential to do so like a sacramental that excites in us pious dispositions, by means of which we may obtain grace (in contrast to a Sacrament which gives the grace itself)? Yes it does, of course. But so does the Novus Ordo Missae, as countless canonized saints from the twentieth century who never attended the Latin Mass but only the N.O. attest to. They have run the race and attained the end of holiness, men and women and children who lived in the friendship of God in this life and are now eternally with him in the next.

What I am realizing—whether it was five years ago at my standard-fare suburban parish or now as a devoted TLM adherent—is that at the end of the day after Mass has ended, it is me that is kneeling in the pew. 

Still me. Same me. 

Now, can I say that if we would have remained in the New Mass I would have had to contend with barriers to attaining holiness, or perhaps we would have “bloomed where we were planted” as a family?; On the flipside, can I really affirm that the Latin Mass has defacto made me a better, more sanctified Catholic—or simply one with an liturgically ideological prerogative? It’s hard to say outside the mind of God.

To the degree that I am abandoning myself more and more to the mercy of God and becoming imperceptibly holier day by day in the process is the degree to which the means I am employing attain the ends which I am seeking; ie, a “means to an end.” But when I ascribe the form of the Mass—or even just attending Mass by itself in whatever form—as an end in and of itself, I can be assured that it will not “make” me holier of its own accord. At the end of the day, I remain. The same me, failing to be reborn and attain my end and pointing to this or that as the reason why; the same me in need of regular confession, mercy, and grace. A beggar takes grace like bread--wherever he can get it. And we are all no better than hungry beggars before the majesty of God.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Will & Grace...and the SSPX


I was just starting college when the NBC sitcom Will and Grace premiered in 1998. (Then) U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was quoted as saying that the sitcom "probably did more to educate the American public" on LGBT issues "than almost anything anybody has ever done so far". I was familiar with the show but didn't watch it regularly. It was also around this time one of my best friends in college came out to me as gay. Smithsonian curator Dwight Blocker Bowers stated that the sitcom used "comedy to familiarize a mainstream audience with gay culture" in a way that was "daring and broke ground" in American media. Which was certainly the case for me, as a 19 year old college sophomore. 

The fact was, there wasn't much resistance to the mainstreaming of gay culture, at least in the circles I was in. I had only been a Catholic for a year, and prior to that had no ideological opposition to homosexuality. My parents were pretty gay-accepting in general. I was starting to realize that there were a lot of "good Catholics" in our campus Catholic community who were active in retreats, mission trips, and service projects…and also gay. And I'm sure some of the priests were homosexuals as well. So for whatever reason, I never got the memo that there was anything inherently wrong about being gay, or living the gay lifestyle, as a new Catholic. 

For those not familiar with the show, Will (played by Eric McCormick) is a gay man who is a successful corporate lawyer who studied at Columbia University, where he met Grace (played by Debra Messing) as a freshman; they have been best friends ever since. He is very precise and obsessive when it comes to certain tasks, especially cleaning, dressing, and decorating. However, Will does have a very patient and compassionate nature towards those close to him, often to a fault. Grace--a straight, non-practicing Jewish interior decorator, is somewhat neurotic and relies on Will for moral and emotional support. The two secondary characters to these to primary ones are Karen, a wealthy socialite who serves as a Grace's assistant and has a penchant for food and alcohol; and Jack, a free-spirited and flamboyant gay actor who has been Will's longtime friend. All the characters are very likable, in their own way.

I don't think the mainstreaming of gay culture for the general non-gay public as a result of this pioneering show can be overstated. I have known many gay people like Will--good looking, successful, well-educated, caring, clean, nice, welcoming, non-judgmental, funny. None of those characteristics are antithetical to being a homosexual. In fact, I would argue, many of them are due in part to being someone who came from an underdog "class" (which homosexuals were up until the last half century). And aren't those admirable characteristics in any case?

Like many social minorities, gays had to prove themselves in a way--not that they weren't smart, capable, and able to be loving and compassionate towards others, of course. But it would not surprise me if they felt they had to work twice as hard to be accepted in a society that did not accommodate them, for their accomplishments and as people, and so they got really good and doing just that. They couldn't take anything for granted because they did not have that privilege. In many ways, I wouldn't be surprised if they took a cue from the epistle to Titus, "Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn't have anything bad to say about us" (Titus 2:8).

While I'm on the topic, an ancillary story that relates to this involves Elon Musk's father, Errol Musk, who called his son a “loser” and took the side of the bully who beat him up. “His father made him stand in front of him for two hours, while the father tells him he's a loser, that it was his fault.”  I think those kinds of traumas make an indelible impression on people, especially when they are young, that they spend a lifetime dealing with. There is this hole that achievement, success, recognition, solving the world's problems can never heal--and yet you keep trying, achieving, solving. At the end of the day, you're a billionaire genius that has advanced humanity...while your father still haunts you.

Now I don't want to speak for homosexuals, their psyche or lives, because I am not one and because like all things, there is great diversity among those in that population--it's not all Will and Jack caricatures. But I do have a theory that most gay people you or I know are "so nice!" or "awesome parents!", "more loving" or "less judgmental than most Christians" because they see Judeo-Christian morality as the father berating them for two hours for getting hospitalized by a bully. But in the end, they are going to beat them with their own hand. The wounding runs deep.

Now, I know this is going to be a jolting hard pivot given the subject matter, but the way I see the so-nice, uber-successful, less-judgmental, more-loving former minority of mainstreamed gays that rule the roost and make the rules in society today as having some parallels with the growing popularity of the Society of St. Pius X in the trad Catholic world. 

Most of my readers probably are familiar with the standing of the SSPX in the Church today, but for those who aren't, it can be hard to explain. The long and short of it is, they do not have a canonical status, and their ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries. Rather than get into the weeds on this very historical and complicated matter, I would point you to Cathy Caridi's Canon Law Made Easy blog here here and here to get some background education on the Society as it relates to Canon law (Note, I realize these links are outdated, but many of the information as a primer still stands, with a few exceptions).

The pandemic was probably the best thing that ever happened to the Society. During COVID, many newbie trads and trad-adjacent Catholics saw the SSPX keeping churches open when normie parishes were shuttering their doors left and right. Society priests could be heard speaking out against "the jab," and were bold and unapologetically Catholic in their teaching and their witness. The priests were solid, the liturgies were beautiful, and people were starting to get trad-exposed to not only the FSSP, the ICKSP, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, but the Society as well. Just as you may have trouble telling the difference between a Russian Orthodox or an Eastern Rite (Byzantine) Catholic liturgy (both use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) were you to wander into either, one might also struggle to tell the difference between these various traditionalist groups (and "trad-lite" in the case of the Canons Regular). And, if we're being honest, the SSPX is the O.G. of traditionalism, with Levebvrists predating the ICKSP and FSSP who were formed in response.

So, why wouldn't one just attend a Society chapel (they are not called parishes because they do not have a standing in the Church and are not part of one's local diocese) on Sundays since their priests validly celebrate the Latin Mass, are solid in their teaching, have evangelical zeal, and seem beyond reproach in their witness to the faith? 

Just as many homosexuals are "beyond reproach" in the externals of being "super nice," "extremely welcoming," "non-judgmental," "compassionate," "loving parents to children," etc. and may be better people than your own parents, friends, and family members, there is a problem: the Catholic Church still defines homosexuality as objectively and intrinsically disordered, and She has spoken:


"Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." (CCC 2357)

That means you can do all sorts of PR acrobats like Fr. James Martin attempts to contort around this point; but at the end of the day, you can't square it. While most of the world has largely ceded to the gay-affirming culture (which is no longer a "sub" culture), the only holdouts are those religious conservatives who in fact are not taken in by all the ancillary reasons for tactic approval of homosexual acts, homosexual "marriage," or mainstreaming homosexuality as simply a "different' lifestyle choice on par with that of heterosexuality. 

I have found, likewise, that there is this sort of cognitive dissonance in the trad world (that I myself struggle with as well)--a kind of sympathy to the Society that elevates them over the beige normie suburban parish Novus Ordo, all things being equal, while downplaying that their ministers do not exercise legitimate authority within the Church and have no standing. I've written as well about my own reservations over the marriage issue here. SSPX apologists will often point out that the ushering in of the New (Protestantized) Mass justifies an "emergency" situation such that because it puts the faith of Catholics in danger (that is, attendance at the New Mass), that one is under no obligation to attend it even if it is one's only option; ie, they are obligated to avoid it and stay home instead. In the eyes of the Society, the New Mass is objectively wrong

SSPX priests, and those who assist at SSPX masses, can of course be good and pious people full of charity and good will, and reverent in their worship. I know some. But to me, the Society as a whole seems like a form and growing sect of neo-Donatism, and because many of their priests and those who live out the Catholic faith under their auspices appear to be beyond reproach in their piety, knowledge of the faith, and devotion, it can be confusing to ordinary Catholics who may prioritize traditional worship over the other more stodgy issues (such as rightful authority to exercise ministry, and obedience and fidelity to the Holy See), even if that traditional worship is illicit.

For this reason, the SSPX is off the table for us, even though everything about them is attractive in a way for me. It's not just a "different" liturgical entity equal among others, but one that--at least at present--has not been reconciled with Rome and thus should, at the very least, been approached mindful of that fact. It's also very hard to articulate for the average Catholic, especially when you have very knowledgeable and passionate pro-SSPX apologists online green-lighting them, and cringey anti-SSPX hyper papalists doing the opposite.  

It's uncomfortable for me to say this, but I'd take the most banal beige and uninspiring Novus Ordo Mass over the most beautiful and inspiring SSPX TLM if it meant maintaining unity with Rome. I judge no one else for choices to the contrary. We will all go before God having to draw account. And no man can go against his conscience. 

Saturday, May 4, 2024

By Any Means Necessary

 The other night I had a couple guys over for beers on the patio--one guy I knew fairly well, the other guy was friends with my friend, and I didn't know as well though we all go to the same parish. As we were shooting the breeze about work and kids, the friend of the friend mentioned casually that he had gotten "the snip." Both my friend and I were somewhat taken aback, but let it slide with half-hearted protests ("that's reversible you know," "aw, that's sad man.") and uncomfortably changed the subject after a minute or so.

But all day at work yesterday I kept thinking about it; it's not every day someone is honest like that, and knowing the company they were in to make such an admission. I was so surprised in the moment, and didn't know the guy real well, that I didn't really push back on it. I didn't know if he a) knew getting sterilized was wrong, and didn't care; b) was ignorant of Church teaching on the matter; c) didn't think it was serious enough to warrant the hellfire. Even though I was kind of stunned in the moment, I regretted being sheepish and not saying something more, even after I had had a couple glasses of Jack Daniels. 

Was this a sin of omission on my part? Or was I being respectful and reserving judgment of a situation I wasn't in a position to comment effectively on? That night taught me a lesson that I'm still attempting to learn and put into practice, a good general policy for any Christian concerned with the salvation of souls:

Just say the thing.

Time is short. My oldest son is twelve. In four years he will be driving. In six he will be going off to college. Then there's a good chance he will be gone, and I won't get the moments with him I take for granted now. Same goes for the other two.

So too with our opportunities to share the Gospel, even when that entails looking foolish or coming across as lacking bedside manners. Thankfully, as I've gotten older I'm more cognizant of the outweighing of "just saying the thing" over looking ignorant or offending someone. You say the offensive thing (even better when you do with a smile) and they listen to you, you save someone from the worm, and that's a win. You say the offensive thing and they don't listen to you, you get some grief or lose a potential acquaintance and....and? Who cares, seriously. Ain't nobody got time for that.

St. Paul knew this. If eating meat would scandalize one of his brothers, he wouldn't eat it (1 Cor 8:12-13). He would debase himself and do whatever was needed, by any means necessary, to win a soul to Christ:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:19-23)

About a month ago, I took off my worn Miraculous Medal from around my neck and gave it to my dad, placing it around his neck. I don't know why, only....why not? He texted me a few days ago with an update about his ability to walk normally again after many falls and loss of balance: 

I told him it was important to thank the Mother of God, were it attributable to her miraculous intercession. And what better way to do that than by establishing a relationship with her? So I just said the thing to my dad, and I thought his response was pretty cool:


At our parish picnic today I was chatting with an elderly woman who was raised as a Southern Baptist in Tennessee. When she moved up to this area, a woman who lived across the street (who was Catholic) was essentially bold enough to tell her about the Church and that she should become Catholic. And so she (and her five daughters) did! If that neighbor had politely kept her mouth shut, the spiritual trajectory of this woman at our parish would have been drastically different. 

I'm not a real "make a statement" guy; I don't wear a lot of branded stuff, or feel the need to identify with "my tribe." Catholicism is not a membership club for's a lifetime debt to pay. Nonetheless, I have curiously found myself lately trying out different methods of evangelizing in the empty airwave space to try to save some, as St. Paul says, by any means necessary. The Gospel is not a pitch, but I do sometimes feel it helpful to think of it those terms--when a screenwriter gets 5 seconds in the elevator with a movie exec to pitch his idea, he'd better be succinct, convincing, and make a lasting impact. I've been trying to do this in little ways--wearing a unmistakable CHOOSE LIFE t-shirt when I go out in secular settings, or the bumper stickers I designed recently for my car that simply state the inevitable (but will hopefully get someone to consider their ultimate end, even if only for a moment at a red light). [Edit: my wife will not let me put them on the car, so they have been relegated to the fridge]

Am I a little embarrassed at the brashness of this messaging I'm employing on my bodily property? Maybe. But the day is now far-spent, and we are a far way from home. If you're going to advertise, at least don't waste it on purposeless branding. We have to start not only letting people know there's a way out of this mess, but giving them the roadmap and directions as well...staying up with them doing so, saying the ignorant thing, risking looking like fools. Going out on limb. Saying the thing.

These are the people who will give glory to God with you in Heaven, and exclaim "Hey! I know YOU! You were THAT GUY who..." The things we risk to lose in this life--our jobs, our reputations, our friends--do seem like big things in this life, but mean ultimately very little in the next. "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away" (Ps 90:10). And likewise, the tongues we hold here on earth will lap bitter dregs from the barrel of unspoken regret in Hell. "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (Prov 18:21).

So, don't hold your tongue. Say the truth and charity, of course. But yours is a reconnaissance mission. Use everything at your disposal for the sake of the Gospel, and free the slaves by any means necessary.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Theological Parsimony


 St. Augustine, the wisdom-loving brilliant and talented rhetorician, was put off by the Christian scriptures initially after reading Cicero and being stirred for a love of wisdom, citing the Bible’s “painfully unstylish Latin.” He was seduced for almost a decade by the Manichean sect, whose esoteric teachings appealed to his intellect. Augustine would realize later, however, that the Christian Scriptures are “a text lowly to the beginner but, on further reading, of mountainous difficulty and enveloped in mysteries.”

I recently wrote an article for publication titled The Means and Ends of the Mass. It was a bit of a tenuous threading of the needle to get the premise I wanted to communicate across (and I'm not even convinced I did it well), but in doing so I stuck to the most basic of sources: scripture and the Baltimore Catechism, which I was a little embarrassed about because both are not the most sophisticated sources. 

Like Augustine, prior to and early in my conversion, I was put off by the Ned Flanders cultural banality of Christianity as I saw it, but was nonetheless seduced by more esoteric variants that sought to meld New Age, Gnostic, and Eastern ways of thinking with Christianity. Bede Griffiths, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and Thomas Keating were standard fare on my bookshelf. I would read Pierre Theilard de Chardin's thesis on the Omega Point and the "Noosphere" and think myself pretty theologically sophisticated, when the fact of the matter is I didn't really understand it at all (I sometimes feel that way trying to follow Fr. Ripperger as well, albeit in a different way). In my mind, Christianity on its own was like steak and potatoes, vanilla sex, and Volvo station wagons.  It needed some "dressing up," the way my buddies in high school would adorn their stock 1996 VW Jettas with racing stripes and rear spoilers. 

This, of course, led me to various wayward forays into dangerous spiritual territory, that Grace had to once again reach down and set me straight from. Now I find myself, as I get older, appreciating a kind of "theological parsimony" when it comes to making sense of the faith and the challenges of the modern world. 

Parsimony, as it relates to the philosophical principal inherent in Occam's Razor, suggests that we should prefer simpler explanations and solutions over more complex ones, all other things being equal. This came to mind as I brushed across a recent video of Jordan Peterson talking with Russel Brand (who had recently been baptized) on the topic of "the Collective Unconscious, Christ, and the Covenant." Now, it seems both these men are on a journey to faith, and I don't want to reproach a man who is turning away from sin, as my friend Boniface adjures, by being too critical. These men are deep thinkers and public quasi-intellectuals, and they wildly gesticulate for hours while slurping the intellectual marrow from the femur of faith. But sometimes the simplest solution to life's problems are right in front of your face:

Repent, and believe in the Gospel

The lives of the Fathers give a kind of alternative to the philosophical pontificating with meat and potatoes metanoia lived out. Take, for example, St. Anthony's single-mindedness in unlocking the door to paradise with the key given to us in the Living Word:

When Saint Anthony was about twenty years old, he lost his parents, but he was responsible for the care of his younger sister. Going to church about six months later, the youth reflected on how the faithful, in the Acts of the Apostles (4:35), sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for the needy.

Then he entered the church and heard the Gospel passage where Christ speaks to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Mt.19:21). Anthony felt that these words applied to him. Therefore, he sold the property that he received after the death of his parents, then distributed the money to the poor, and left his sister in the care of pious virgins in a convent. [1]

I may have mentioned this before, but my favorite figure in the Bible is the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, whose model of docility to teaching, firm intention of purpose, and purity of heart is one I hold close to my heart:

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying: Arise, go towards the south, to the way that goeth down from Jerusalem into Gaza: this is desert.

And rising up, he went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch, of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge over all her treasures, had come to Jerusalem to adore.

And he was returning, sitting in his chariot, and reading Isaias the prophet.

And the Spirit said to Philip: Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

And Philip running thither, heard him reading the prophet Isaias. And he said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?

Who said: And how can I, unless some man shew me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

And the place of the scripture which he was reading was this: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb without voice before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth.

In humility his judgment was taken away. His generation who shall declare, for his life shall be taken from the earth?

And the eunuch answering Philip, said: I beseech thee, of whom doth the prophet speak this? of himself, or of some other man?

Then Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus.

And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more. And he went on his way rejoicing.

It's neat to see these public intellectuals and cultural figures lately approaching the shores of Christianity and wrestling with its claims. Perhaps God is using them, and as He said to Isaiah the prophet, "see, I am doing a new thing." But I think the theological parsimony of the Ethiopian eunuch and the simple obedience of St. Anthony is refreshing amidst the torrent of words and conjectures that some of these figures employ, as if Christianity is not "enough" on its own that it needs to be re-baptized in the waters of Jungian archetypes or tantric vibrations. 

Sometimes the simplest explanation is best: you are a helpless sinner who must submit to the Lordship of Christ to be saved. Fear Him, do not sin. Ponder on your bed and be still. Make justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord (Ps 4:4). All the dancing and pontificating we do to get to that point serves its purpose...provided it does in fact lead one to that pivotal decision to leave their nets and follow him. After that, watch out, because grace has a way of changing you from the inside out.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Prediction: Podcasts Will Go The Way of MySpace

I half-heartedly started the Rogan/Tucker Carlson interview (conversation? Idk what you call it these days) during a lull in my day. About half an hour in to the three-hour long thing, around the mark where Tucker is going full-redpill and equating UFOs with spiritual beings, I had an epiphany--

no one cares. 

Whether its Chris Williamson or Lex Fridman in the secular world at large cross breeding with various off-the-beaten-path internet personalities (Brett Weinstein, Elon Musk, Peter Attia, etc), or Matt Fradd or Kennedy Hall or Trent Horn or Taylor Marshall in the church world, these 30 minute to 3 hour dialogues have, I think, have been around for a bit but have (imo) peaked in popularity as a medium and are now simply trying to keep the hamster wheel spinning with the long-form talkitytalk gone stale. Talking ad nauseum. Peak leisure. 

I think there's some roots here when you start tugging on the stalks. Maybe it is that I don't trust anything these days--not the government, not the hierarchy, and not even the alt-talking heads pontificating for the algorithm or doing their conservative peacock version of virtue signaling. Lots of mentors, but not many teachers. Save one, of course:


Silence does not seek an audience. It does not charge a subscription fee and does not have negative side effects. Silence makes its home in the castle of humility and awe. Silence concentrates its lifeforce in potent tinctures. It wastes nothing and holds the DNA of truth in its marrow. It is only unsettling because it is a foreigner to us. It has everything to teach us and assigns no textbook. Anyone is free to audit its class.

But instead, we continue to insist that "the truth" is in these podcasts, which we play as white noise or background music. We get mentally greased up on the fact that this "truth" is suppressed in the mainstream, and so we enjoy a kind of Gnostic Delight in listening to this secret Spotify knowledge. Or maybe it's just the cringey banter that we are most comfortable with, back and forth for twenty minutes before talking about anything of substance. We squander the supreme gift of leisure to sit, be bored, daydream, and think for ourselves.

Not that there aren't things to learn from these exchanges. But I think their usefulness is waning. For one thing, our collective attention span has been highjacked by this kind of passive flacid listening over the active work of reading, not unlike the way we can't read maps anymore because the muscles in our brain have atrophied with the advent of GPS. When it's conversations for the sake of conversations with the circuit of internet personalities cycling through to feed the algorithm to pay the mortgage--well, maybe it's just my opinion but I think we're all getting--tired. Tired of the talking. Tired of the "dialogue." Tired of Professional Amateurs (TM).  Tired of the scrolling. Tired of the static. Tired of being fed.

I do miss the purer days of mySpace and early 2000 Facebook, though it had its day and that day has passed. I wouldn't be surprised if the quasi-novel podcast phenomenon sunsetted in the same way...with people just getting tired of it, when we look back and think, "man, I wasted a lot of time listening to with each other." 

Until, of course, something else comes in to hijack its place. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

When You Don't Feel The Love

Since Easter, I have been going through the motions in my faith life. Sunday Mass, daily morning offering, weekly holy hour, monthly Confession. But I feel like I'm on autopilot. I feel nothing. The truth of the matter is, I am suffering from the consequences of the sin of indifference. It doesn't seem like it should be, but I'm pretty sure this is a deadly sin. For why else would the Lord vomit the lukewarm from his mouth, and say "I wish you were either hot or cold" (Rev 3:16)?

As a largely emotional person, I recognize the danger in being beholden to one's emotional flux. This is where I think left-brained people have a slight advantage by shelving how they "feel" about something and just doing it--either by force of habit or simple logic. 

The Devil is wily, and has certainly been working on me lately by a thousand cuts. I've been feeling burnt out, out of step with the Catholic "scene," having little to draw from for writing, feeling neglected, cynical, distracted, worldly, and a host of other little things that make it easy to snip away at the hair-like roots holding the spiritual dunes together and erosion at bay. It reminds me of a story of the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who 

fostered a paternal love for priests, men worn out by the ministry, men fallen on hard times, addicted to alcohol or other vices, and then the most despised of all: priests who had abused. In a Church where the ministry of priests is taken for granted and many are forgotten, left to their work, not cared for, Fr Benedict was one who reached out to them to rebuild and restore what had crumbled through years of neglect, fatigue and loneliness. He said that often when burnt-out priests arrived to speak to him, or those who were considering leaving the ministry, the first question he asked them was: "When did you stop praying?" Inevitably all of them had abandoned prayer, and Fr Benedict's first piece of advice was to begin praying again. No priest can live without prayer, no priest can work without prayer, no priest can be a priest without prayer. 

It is not just priests that cannot live without prayer, but lay disciples like you and I who can admittedly take the work of prayer for granted...until you let it fall by the wayside and realize how far you have the potential to drift without it. And admittedly, it's not just that one stops praying one day...just as one drifts from their spouse a little bit at a time, day after day, until they find themselves in a bed far from their own. Divorce lawyer James Sexton related an insightful little story on Rogan to illustrate this point:

The problem is these little disconnections. This woman, my client, we were sitting outside the courtroom...late thirties, very attractive. And I said to her, "Was there a moment when you realized the marriage was over?" And she said "Yes," 

"There was this granola I liked, and they only sold it at a particular grocery store. And I liked to put it in my yogurt. Whenever I'd be running low on it, I'd just open the thing and a new bag would be there. And it made me feel so loved. I didn't have to ask, he didn't want credit for it. He would just do this thing...and it would always make me smile. 

"And one day, the granola ran out. And I thought that's weird, maybe he didn't see it. So I left the bag in there, because I thought at some point I figured he would notice.  And he didn't notice. So I took the bag out. And I waited. And he didn't get a new bag. And I thought, "Okay, this thing's going down..."

We all have these little 'canaries in the cage' in our marriages, our friendships, our work, and yes, our spiritual lives. They start slowly and innocuously but create little divots in the turf that over time create an indentation deep enough to get your car stuck in the mud. 

For me, it's usually my daily rosary that falls by the wayside. Missing one day turns into two or three per week, which is curiously when other sins and temptations start to sneak under the fence, ones that wouldn't have bothered or tempted me otherwise. Then it becomes easier for the Devil to discharge the demons of sloth, acedia, and hatred of all spiritual things. All because, little by little, I dropped my defenses of prayer which kept them at bay.

The thing is, I know the response I would give--either to myself or a close friend--were he to say "I just don't feel the love anymore," or "I just don't love him/her anymore." The response?:

"So? Who cares? Get back to work."

The work, of course, is the work of love. We show love by our devotion, not our emotion. And, sadly, many of us in the spiritual life fail the tests that the Lord subjects us to to test our faith: when we don't feel the love of the Lord, when He has hidden himself from us (Is 45:15), we lose our incentive and impetus to pray, adore, and sacrifice. We feel like the fool who says, "there is no God" because we do not feel His presence (Ps 14:1). And yet, you made a're not going anywhere son. 

What we really need to do is get our butts in the chapel pew, double down, and give God the time even when it feels completely wasted. If you're being tested, it's not the time to dial back off the gas. The thing is, we usually realize how much we've taken our loves for granted too late. In a marriage that depends on two fallible people, that can lead to rifts difficult to repair. With the Lord, however, we are only one confession away from healing. We are the ones that veer off into the night--the Lord is a constant (Heb 13:8) waiting for us to return. 

Continue your prayer routine, even when you have seemingly nothing to give, when everything is dry and seems meaningless.  Quit making shallow excuses. Your tinder offering is a worthy oblation because it's divorced from what you "get out of it." When you don't feel the love, stay the course, double down on the work, and keep your butt in the marriage and the pew.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

An Observable Proof of the Fewness of the Saved


“Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!" 

(Mt 7:13-14)

If Sensus Fidelium videos are any kind of litmus, I find traditional Catholics generally amenable to the idea of the "fewness of the saved." You have websites like this one devoted entirely to the idea, and a plethora of historical quotes from the saints on the topic, such as St. Louis de Montfort's sobering observation: "The number of the elect is so small — so small — that, were we to know how small it is, we would faint away with grief: one here and there, scattered up and down the world.

Of course, like many Calvinists and their view of the Elect who are predeterminately saved, Catholics who hold that few are saved may generally count themselves among those on the path to salvation. For why would a good Presbyterian bother attending church every Sunday if he was helplessly reprobate? Similarly, a Catholic who espouses the fewness of the saved: a) recognizes he is on the right path, and at the very least will be saved by the fires of purgatory, or b) if he thinks he is indeed damned by his way of life, at least he has the integrity to support the correct soteriology.

Then, of course, we have theologians and other figures on the other end of the spectrum (including the holy pontiff) who hold the optimistic hope that hell will be empty. This is a tenuous wager, since it does not seem to have the support of scripture, tradition, or the spiritual insight of the saints. It seems in the same line of thinking as the justifications for adultery through divorce and remarriage: our Lord was very clear in Scripture regarding this teaching, but we don't like the answer so we do theological acrobats to try to justify one more to our liking. Thus we take comfort in this life by way of these justifications, but may wake up one day on the other side of eternity in a less settled state of mind by minimizing the words of our Lord and listening instead to men.

All that being said, if I had to wager with my own spiritual currency, I am more apt to believe the words of the Lord in Matthew 7:13-14: the way to hell is wide, and many meet their fate by way of that path, says the Lord. Those who find the true path to life are few. This would seem to support the idea of the "fewness of the saved," sober as that "pessimistic" soteriological view is. 

And here is why I would wager, through general observation, that we underestimate our own sinfulness, and overestimate the number of the saved when in fact it is the opposite: we are much more sinful in the Lord's eyes than we ourselves see, and much more apt to be traversing through life on the wide path that leads to destruction.

Take any worldly event--be that a presential Trump rally, or a Taylor Swift concert, or free Rita's water ice, or the launch of the latest iPhone 20--and you will generally see sizable queues, packed stadiums, and/or a lot of "buzz" around the event. Parking lots may be jammed, admission prices may be gouging, and seating limited. 

Now, visit your local Adoration chapel where the King of the Universe sits on His glorious throne, in quiet repose, waiting for people to come and give due worship. There is no admission cost, no parking issues, no onerous travel requirements, no barriers to entry, no fighting for room in the pew. 

And yet when you enter, you will generally not find a packed house or limited seating--in fact, you may be the only person there. And this would track pretty similarly no matter where you were in the country, what town or church: the proportion of people outside that adoration chapel to those inside of it, I would wager, would track pretty closely the proportion of the damned to those who will find themselves in the heavenly court at death.

What does this say about us and our priorities? Well, for one thing it shows that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) because we have failed to live out the first and most fundamental Commandment, which is to love the Lord thy God with all one's heart and soul and strength and mind. (Lk 10:27). For if one truly believes that the Lord God is present in one of these chapels, what horse or guard could keep the ardent man from adoring his savior? No, the fact is, we are not ardent, and have put other priorities (idols) on the altar of our hearts, violating this most fundamental Commandment. And thus have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

We pay nothing for the ticket to Heaven, and yet it costs us everything. Were we able to truly see, and not through a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12), we would lament every wasted opportunity to fall at our knees in worship and adoration in this life when we prioritized the most trivial of trifles over a private audience with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords...and then only too late. The fact that when we do make time to be with Him in the flesh that there are so few there kneeling with us is, I think, reasonable proof that Hell will not, in fact, be empty as some wish to believe. That we do not, in fact, love God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind means we, too, are in need of purification after death assuming we fall asleep in His friendship and not cast out as one He never knew. That love can grow weary, grow cold over time and need periodic renewal. Similarly, even when we have found the narrow way that leads to life, we sometimes get sidetracked and detoured by temptation--to shortcuts, easier routes, wider ways--and need to be brought back in line by grace. 

Rather than lead us to despair, this general observable "proof" of the fewness of the saved should encourage us to keep vigilant, taunt, sober and awake. Take the words of St. Leonard of Port Maurice to heart:

"Brothers, I want to send all of you away comforted today. So if you ask me my sentiment on the number of those who are saved, here it is: Whether there are many or few that are saved, I say that whoever wants to be saved, will be saved; and that no one can be damned if he does not want to be. And if it is true that few are saved, it is because there are few who live well.

What is the use of knowing whether few or many are saved? Saint Peter says to us, "Strive by good works to make your election sure." When Saint Thomas Aquinas's sister asked him what she must do to go to heaven, he said, "You will be saved if you want to be." I say the same thing to you, and here is proof of my declaration. No one is damned unless he commits mortal sin: that is of faith. And no one commits mortal sin unless he wants to: that is an undeniable theological proposition. Therefore, no one goes to hell unless he wants to; the consequence is obvious. Does that not suffice to comfort you? Weep over past sins, make a good confession, sin no more in the future, and you will all be saved. Why torment yourself so? For it is certain that you have to commit mortal sin to go to hell, and that to commit mortal sin you must want to, and that consequently no one goes to hell unless he wants to. That is not just an opinion, it is an undeniable and very comforting truth; may God give you to understand it, and may He bless you. Amen.

Attaining Heaven has little to do with "earning" entrance and so much to do rather with the desire to enter. Remember St. Thomas' words: You will be saved if you want to be. And the Little Flower's confidence that "when we love, we can't go there" (ie, Purgatory). The question is, do you really want to be saved? Or do you prefer your trifles to the Kingdom?

When you look around in the chapel during times of worship and wonder where everyone else is, be reminded that the wide road is a well-advertised toll highway, and the path to life one that is not so obvious and generally requires the help of a local (the saints) to find with directions (scripture and tradition) and four wheel drive (virtue and the grace of final perseverance). You are in good company in that lonely pew wasting away the hours at the feet of the King, contributing nothing and needing everything. For if you spend enough time there learning how to love you will, eventually, find your way home.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Contraception in the Heat Of Summer: An Illustration

Our home was built in the 1950's, a two story, brick split level. I would take a home built fifty years ago over today's stick-and-plywood construction, since in general they were built to last. 

What's advantageous about our home is various thought-out little details that make good use of the natural environment in its orientation and layout that minimize energy costs. For one, the front of the house is oriented due-south with a huge south-facing bay window in the living room and two large south-facing skylights over the master bedroom. There is also a protruded roof overhand in the front of the house. In the winter time, the solar gain from this orientation allows over 10kw of heat into the home during the day when the sun is low in the sky. In the summer, we cover these windows and skylights to keep the heat out, and the roof overhang helps shield some of that sun as well since it is higher in the sky that time of year. Additionally, the lower level of our home is built half below-grade, so it stays a more-or-less constant temperature: cooler in summer and warmer in winter than the rest of the house due to the thermal mass of the surrounding earth. This is just low-tech, common sense stuff that sadly has been left by the wayside in modern cost-cutting construction.

What I have found that with these various details, when paid attention to and taken advantage of, is that we burned only one hundred gallons of oil this winter for heating, and we can avoid running our central AC most of the summer, except on the hottest of days (which is good, because it's almost thirty years old at this point and probably on its last legs). One thing we do to minimize the use of AC is utilizing a modified "whole house fan." The idea is that when the nighttime temps are lower than the inside temperature, you crack the windows on the ground floor (where it is cooler), and run a 4,000cfm fan in the upstairs bedroom that points out the window (usually these fans are in an attic, but because we our attic is a walkup rather than a hatch, this won't work). This creates a vacuum effect that exhausts hot air from the upstairs and draws the cool nighttime air up from the ground floor and throughout the house. Then  in the morning, when you get up, you shut the windows and seal in all that cooler air and keep the hot daytime air out. This works best in the shoulder seasons when it's not super humid and not sweltering at night. But combined with blocking the solar radiation at the windows from entering and heating the home, it can still work well in the summer to reduce, if not eliminate, your need for AC. I do have a window AC unit for our bedroom in those hottest parts of the summer when the whole house fan is less effective. 

Living this way (my wife is a real sport) requires a bit of a shift in how one thinks about and approaches the idea of comfort. Is the goal to live in an hermetically sealed environment at a constant 72 degrees using mechanical means? Can one tolerate a degree of slight discomfort at certain periods of the year? And why am I writing about all this eco-weenie stuff, and what does it have to do with birth control, as alluded to in the title of this post?

Well, it got me thinking about how we approach what we see as "problems" in our lives. In the summer, in the Northeast where I live, that "problem" is how to stay cool inside when it's blazing hot outside. For the vast majority of people, the "solution" is the tap the thermostat and blast their central air. Since I'm not normal, I like the approach we take that isn't so artificial/mechanical and divorced from the seasons, and which also conditions our bodies for cold and heat tolerance so that we are more adaptable and less...well, soft.

It also occurred to me that this approach we take mimicks how we approach the "problem" (although it's not really a problem, of course) of the regulation of births. As Catholics, we live by the teachings of Christ as revealed to us through Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Natural Law. One must understand the Natural Law to make sense of WHY the Church condemns the use of artificial contraception as mortally sinful. This is not rocket science and does not require a degree in Philosophy or Theology, but simply that we are to use our faculties for their intended purpose. The intended purpose of the female reproductive cycle is to give rise to life. But we reverse this in the modern world by seeing pregnancy as the "problem", that something went wrong and haywire. This is in large part due to the acceptance and mainstreaming of artificial contraception which takes a healthy reproductive system and renders it infertile. 

Now, life is a great gift and blessing, but that does not mean the Church expects people to maximize the number of births in their lifetimes. She respects the judicious employment of our faculty of reason and free-will within the confines of the moral law, so that the discernment of the the number of children a couple has rests with them. Now, one can argue that this "planning" is itself contra to the will of God--that to be truly aligned with the divine will one cedes any and all control of how many children they have to God and let the chips fall where they will. Perhaps it is for the sake of human weakness in this way that the Church allows this concession of the moral means of the regulation of births by way of Natural Family Planning (NFP). That is debatable depending on which circles you run in. Nevertheless, a couple can always morally choose when to engage and when to abstain in the act of sexual intimacy so as to achieve the end of either avoiding or achieving pregnancy. What they cannot do is separate the means and the ends--that is, to have sexual intimacy without openness to life--through artificial means or coitus interruptus--in a way that is morally justifiable. 

This approach to the regulation of births by "natural" (basal body temperature monitoring, observing cervical fluid, cervix position, etc) means certainly takes a shift in mindset away from the modern mentality of '100% control-on-demand' in popping a pill or slipping on a condom. Because as any Catholic couple knows, NFP, while largely effective, is not foolproof in terms of preventing pregnancy. You have to think and communicate, adjust your behavior around your cycles, and work in tandem with the natural rhythms of the wife's body. You also have to accept that you are not 100% in control here. Kind of like when you have to crack the windows at night and turn on the upstairs fan, remember to shut it off in the morning and shut the windows, and deal with some slight discomfort when it gets a little warm. When one employs artificial contraception, you don't think about this stuff, you just take your pill every day and get your IUD implanted like setting your thermostat to 72 and not thinking about it. What is also disconcerting is that many grown women on the pill do not even know how their natural cycles work, or have any cogent understanding of their reproductive biology as a result.

The naturalist Wendell Berry, although not a Christian, wrote about how artificial contraception is out of step with the natural environment. From the Public Discourse:

In The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry states that “birth control is a serious matter, both culturally and biologically,” but what is really “horrifying is not that we are relying so exclusively on a technology of birth control that is still experimental, but that we are using it casually, in utter cultural nakedness, unceremoniously, without sufficient understanding, and as a substitute for cultural solutions . . . and to promote these means without cultural insight.” In other words, a serious matter requiring careful deliberation and sound judgment has been handled carelessly and thoughtlessly—we have been forgetful.

Berry continues by noting that such thoughtless neglect is made possible, and subsequently exploited, by specialists; in this case the separation of sexuality from fertility has resulted in two groups of specialists, “the sexual clinicians and the pornographers, both of whom subsist on the increasing possibility of sex between people who neither know nor care about each other.” Both groups separate sexuality from fertility in the name of freedom and “thrive in a profound cultural rift” where sex is free “from thought, responsibility, and the issue of quality.”

As Catholics, we are not Luddites--we utilize and celebrate technological advancements when they are in accordance with the moral law. Air conditioning is one of those that is; artificial contraception is not. It can be argued that AC made residing in desert environments like Las Vegas and Phoenix possible, and made us all more comfortable; it can also be argued that the Pill made commonplace abortion, infidelity, promiscuity, and a greater proportion of women in the workforce. These are arguably not good things, but as moderns we are so far removed from being in tune with both our natural environment and our bodies that we can "afford" to not pay attention to these things and can gloss over them as the inevitable cost of comfort and control--our modern day golden calves.