Sunday, November 28, 2021

Mandates And Motu Proprios

"It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job." 

--Douglas Adams

On this first Sunday of Advent, after two years of low Masses, our parish has finally gotten to the point where we have a schola and are in a place where we can assist at a sung High Mass, replete with 10+ servers and a MC. Although I have never had a problem with low Masses (and because of our circumstances, I always just figured they were the norm, though they should in fact be the exception), it felt so fitting to come to a place where the Misa Cantata is now in place. To top it off, after a year-long absence, we had hospitality once again in the basement. A High Mass and donuts--can you ask for anything more?  

I give our young pastor a lot of credit and respect for deftly navigating not only the size restrictions during COVID 2020, adding additional Latin masses, dealing with the disgruntled contingent of hardline parishoners who left because of masking, all while managing three parishes and serving as the vicar for the diocese (the diocese in which the POTUS attends Mass, mind you) while a new bishop was ordained and installed. 

It's a weird place to be in currently, though. After Traditionis Custodes was issued this past July, many of us felt punched in the gut and feeling like we were on shifting sands and borrowed time. I had read the motu proprio when it came out; it felt not only sloppy, I also had to agree with Fr. Peter Stravinskas who wrote at Catholic World Report that 

"Francis’ letter to the bishops comes off as judgmental and mean-spirited, reeking with a hermeneutic of suspicion. It is highly ironic that the Pope intent on extending “mercy” to gay activists and adulterers (that is, the divorced and remarried) should not exhibit one ounce of pastoral solicitude for faithful Catholics. If the dire situation of disunity he posits is in evidence somewhere, would it not be incumbent on the diocesan bishop to deal with it? Someone suffering from a hangnail doesn’t qualify for the amputation of his finger or hand. In reality, it is perversely amusing that the Pope engages in the very conduct some “Rad-Trads” do when they come upon a liturgical abuse in the “mainstream” Church and thus accuse the OF of the problem."

What exactly is a apostolic letter written "motu proprio?" From New Advent:

"The name given to certain papal rescripts on account of the clause motu proprio (of his own accord) used in the document. The words signify that the provisions of the rescript were decided on by the pope personally, that is, not on the advice of the cardinals or others, but for reasons which he himself deemed sufficient. The document has generally the form of a decree: in style it resembles a Brief rather than a Bull, but differs from both especially in not being sealed or countersigned. It issues from the Dataria Apostolica, and is usually written in Italian or Latin. It begins by stating the reason inducing the sovereign pontiff to act, after which is stated the law or regulation made, or the favour granted, It is signed, personally by the pope, his name and the date being always in Latin. A Motu Proprio was first issued by Innocent VIII in 1484. It was always unpopular in France, where it was regarded as an infringement of Gallican liberties, for it implied that the sovereign pontiff had an immediate jurisdiction in the affairs of the French Church. "

It's been almost five months, though, and to be honest, we have continued on with our liturgical worship as if it never happened. Whether that will change remains to be seen.  It would certainly not make our bishop's life any easier were he to come down on the Latin Mass community, as he would be cutting off the hand that feeds the diocese and potentially driving many to the SSPX.  

I am not enough of a hardliner or trad-idealist to want a return to a monarchy or that the Novus Ordo would be abolished. I just want to be able to worship God in the way most fitting for us as a family, and that is in the Tridentine Mass. I imagine those not especially warm to the TLM would want the same freedom to attend a charismatic Mass, your standard-fare N.O, or whatever. Summorum Pontificum (another apostolic letter issued, motu proprio, by Benedict XVI) gave us that freedom to do so with liturgical and ecclesial sensitivity (though, arguably by dyed-in-the-wool trads, that patrimony should have never been stolen from us). Live and let live, I suppose. 

The vaccine mandates issued by President Biden had the same spirit in the U.S. when they were issued as Traditionis Custodes did for the Church. Heavy-handed and unnecessary except for means of control, potentially unconstitutional, and supported by questionable science. It made me think of the quote attributed to John Basil Barnhill, "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty." The "uncooperative" minority of unvaccinated become scapegoats in the same way the minority of traditional Catholics are "threatening the unity" of the universal Church by the way they desire to give God due worship and are set up with strawmen arguments of "rigidity" and "uncharity." 

Translation: Get in line, or pay the price.

It's one thing if you feel this particular President or this particular Pope are competent to make these decrees and have our best interests at heart. But I don't actually feel that way, and I don't think I'm alone. That doesn't mean we become anarchists or Protestants. For better or worse, we have a Constitution, due process, freedom of speech, right to assembly, freedom of religion, the Second Amendment, to name a few defining pillars of our particular nation. How they get interpreted and instituted, I suppose, is for judges, and constitutional scholars to sort out. In the Church, likewise, we have a Pope, a magisterium, and apostolic authority. But there is also the sensus fidei fidelium--the sense of the faith on the part of the faithful--as well as the rights of conscience (informed by the true faith). 

Personally, I think both are an overstep that comes from a place of feeling threatened; they feel like power-plays. I don't want to see our traditional parishes and orders get shut down, and I don't want to see my friends lose their jobs because of these mandates should they choose not to get vaccinated. I know this desire probably doesn't mean much to those staring down the barrel of a gun, though. 

I guess we will see how this all plays out. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Mountains and Homepaths: Reflections on Having "A Family To Go Home To"

After I graduated high school I set off to hike the Appalachian Trail for the summer. I started out with a friend who accompanied me for a few weeks; when he had to leave the trail to head back home, I faced a hard bout of loneliness. One night in a lonely A-frame shelter, I was reading the Psalms in a bible that was left there and feeling especially homesick, quietly crying to myself. Another hiker showed up and I was embarrassed at what I felt was a weakness of character; I confessed to him that I felt like bagging the rest of the trip, and I'll never forget what he said to me, "You know kid, a lot of these guys on the trail are out here because they don't have a family to go home to. Sounds like you do." 

One of my buddies from high school (not the same guy who accompanied me on my AT hike) and I grew up hiking and camping and roadtripping together out West, picking up hitchikers in Tucson, pitching a tent in White Sands, and sleeping in our borrowed Explorer in the Gila wilderness. Ivan's* (named changed for privacy) parents were divorced, and his mom was remarried to a guy he regarded as a kind of ogre whom he had no love or regard for. Ivan was a very good looking guy with rugged features, who had done some modeling. While he always seemed to be the kind of guy who would be featured in a Men's Health or GQ magazine, I always felt there was a deep insecurity about not knowing how or what it meant to be a man that lived beneath the surface. His father didn't really raise him, and his stepfather was a kind of stranger in his home. 

As we went to college and even after college, we stayed in touch. I settled down in my late twenties and got married, but my buddy never did. He continued to live a nomadic life that I lived vicariously through. I would send him texts, "Where in the world is Ivan today?" and he would text me back from a sailboat in Iceland or some remote village in a far-off country. He was a talented photographer, who had gone to grad school to learn it. "Man, he is living the life," I thought.

At some point, he became a Mormon and did a two year mission in Russia. I believe the Mormon religion was attractive to him because it offered the prospect of the family he never had and always wanted. The community he joined seemed to take him in, though he found it difficult to meet a "nice girl" to settle down with given that he was now in his late thirties and never had a steady job or way to provide. He eventually left the Church of LDS; I assume he just became disillusioned, possibly with the theology, but also that perhaps he never ultimately found what he was looking for: a family and a home. 

The last time I texted Ivan he had converted a van while crashing on a friend's couch in L.A. and was living on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land somewhere in California. He was the definition of an conquistador adventurer, but we were now in our forties and I got the sense in corresponding with my friend that all he really wanted was a family, and by this time it was too late. Whether he was suited for that, or was running from something that haunted him deep down I'll never know, as we fell out of touch. 

Behind the perceived Instagram glory of adventure and the nomadic life, I tend to think a lot of people living "on the road" are not doing it for "kicks" as the Beats would say, but because many don't have a place to go home to or a family to open the door for them. Somewhere along the way the adventures of one's twenties becomes the loneliness of one's forties, running from something, the way a trilobite gets ensconced in amber.

I used to think I was "selling out" in leaving this fledgling life of a wanderer and settling down to get married and start a family in the suburbs. But now that I am in it, I realize it was where I was called to be. I'm grateful to have found my vocation and can devote myself to the business of living it out. I know many who want to, but haven't yet met the person to do it with. On days like today, it's a good opportunity to open your home to these friends and strangers if you are able. One of the gifts many of us have been blessed with that makes for the envy of many is, simply, a family and a home, something we can often take for granted. 

Happy Thanksgiving, Christian pilgrims. May you always have a door to be opened to you when the road gets weary. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

"I No Longer Fear God, But I Love Him": On Contrition of Charity

In the last post, we spoke about ejaculatory prayer, and how this method of "praying without ceasing" helps to keep the lifeline to God open with short, frequent fiery darts of love shot into the heart of God. It is neither too hard to do, nor too burdensome, nor too time consuming. It is both a grace and a habit of the will to pray in this way, for it disposes us to a habit of gratitude, love, hope, and trust.

"I no longer fear God," said the great Abba Anthony, "but I love Him." For perfect love casts out fear. “If a man loves God with all his heart, all his thoughts, all his will, and all his strength, he will gain the fear of God; the fear will produce tears, tears will produce strength; by the perfection of this the soul will bear all kinds of fruits.”

So then, without love for God, we cannot know the fear of God. And without the fear of God, we cannot love Him and be made perfect. Remember, "fear of the Lord" is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which brings to perfection the virtue of hope. 

During the month of November, I have been trying to stop by the cemetery every day to pray and gain indulgences for the souls in purgatory. Part of the conditions for this, of course, is to be "detached from all sin" which can be intimidating. I have to have confidence, however, that God would not place in us the desire to be made saints and not give us the means to attain this state, nor would he set the bar for gaining such graces (indulgences) so high that we would not be able to merit them. For we tend to fall back on scrupulosity when we do not trust. We tend to doubt when we lack in faith. We overcomplicate what should be simply in this faith. And we tend to fear when we do not love. 

So it is with contrition of charity, or perfect contrition. It is a great grace we should ask for frequently, and if we ask in love and trust, He will grant it to us.

And what is perfect contrition? Quite simply, it is the sorrow for sins that arises from pure love of God, rather than fear of punishment or damnation. Like detachment from sin, it is not easy, but it is attainable and within our reach by grace. The Sacrament of Confession is a great grace, but when it is not available in times of distress, the Lord does not abandon us on technicalities. As He granted paradise to the good thief Dismas, so too He fills us with true and honest sorrow so that we are truly forgiven and absolved even before making it to Confession when it becomes available. Of course, we must avail ourselves of the Sacrament as soon as possible. See here

No doubt, it is more difficult to make an act of Perfect Contrition than an Imperfect one, which suffices when we go to Confession. But still, there is no one who, if he sincerely wishes it, cannot, with the grace of God, make an act of Perfect Contrition. Sorrow is in the will, not in the senses or feelings. All that is needed is that we repent because we love God above everything else; that is all. True it is that Perfect Contrition has its degrees, but it is none the less perfect because it does not reach the intensity and sublimity of the sorrow of St. Peter, of St. Mary Magdalene, or of St. Aloysius. Such a degree is very desirable, but is by no means necessary. A lesser degree, but, provided it proceeds from the love of God, and not through fear of His punishments, is quite sufficient. And it is very consoling to remember that for the 4000 years before the coming of Christ the only means sinners had of obtaining pardon was this same Perfect Contrition. There was no Sacrament of Penance in those days. Even today for thousands-aye, for millions-of pagans, of non-Catholics, and of Catholics, too, who have no time to call a priest to their bedside, the only means of pardon and salvation is an act of Perfect Contrition.

But during dangerous periods of near-death, the temptation for the man who does not know the Lord intimately yet who fears death and Judgement is to not trust in God's great mercy out of love, but to revert to trepidation and rationalization. He may know he will face the Lord soon, but be unable to bring himself to contrition out of love. For how can you love what you do not know? Of course, God can grant these great graces to anyone he chooses; naturally speaking, however, it is similar to deathbed conversions for great sinners: not as common as one may think without great grace. We tend to die as we have lived, as St. Robert Bellarmine wrote. 

Now, if it is true that God does not wish the death of a sinner, it follows that He does not wish to impose on His creatures a contrition or sorrow beyond their powers, but one that is within the reach of everyone. And so, if millions of poor creatures who, through no fault of their own, live and die outside the True Fold, if these can obtain the grace of Perfect Contrition, do you imagine, dear reader, that it will be difficult for you-you who enjoy the happiness of being a Christian and a Catholic, and so are capable of receiving much greater graces than they-you who are far better instructed in things divine than the poor infidels are?

For one who has done his best to love God, to know Him, to trust Him, to serve Him, should he find himself in the occasion of death without a priest available, he should not fear or doubt. For this is how the Devil will work in these final moments to strip the penitent of his confidence with legalism: "With no priest present to absolve you, how do you expect to be saved? You are damned, you are mine." 

But I dare to go even further. Often, very often, without even thinking of it, you have Perfect Contrition for your sins. For example, when you hear Mass devoutly or make the Stations of the Cross properly; when you reflect before your crucifix or an image of the Sacred Heart. What is more, every time you say the 'Our Father,' in the first three petitions you make three acts of perfect charity, each of which is sufficient to cancel every sin from your soul.

I wrote about the benefit of aspirations yesterday, but see how they prepare us for this great act of faith in perfect contrition, the contrition of charity:

Very often, a few words suffice to express the most ardent love and the most profound sorrow -for instance, the little ejaculations, 'My Jesus, mercy,' 'My God and my All,' 'My God, I love Thee above all things,' 'My God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.' Aided by the grace of God (and God has promised to give to all who ask), it is by no means difficult to make an Act of Contrition. Take the case of David, who for one curious look fell into the sin of adultery, and then of murder. Having committed these sins, he lived on quite unconcerned about the state of his soul till the prophet Nathan came to reprove him. And this reproach induced David to make an act of Perfect Contrition in a few words, 'Pec- cavi Domino' ('I have sinned against the Lord'). So efficacious was his contrition that the prophet, inspired by God, exclaimed, 'The Lord has forgiven you.'

The reason I do the First Fridays and First Saturday devotions is because I, like all fervent Catholics, recognize my weakness. I need the grace of final perseverance, and to receive the Sacraments in my final hours would be a great grace. So, I liken it to a spiritual insurance policy and last testament of will. Regardless, though, love in this life for--for one's spouse, family, friends, and enemies--is never wasted. And love for the Lord is not either. In it we prepare to meet him, and that He will not cast us out as one of those whom He knows not, but as friends welcomed to the banquet. When we forget, when we sin, we fly back to Him in sorrow, because we love Him and want to make amends by way of contrition and penance. For we know that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18)

If we have seen the fruits of fear, we have seen it in the past couple years. It has lead to chemical dependencies and overdoes; suicides; anxiety and depression; tribalism which seeks comfort in the absence of control. It is not of God. Even for Catholics, we must learn that even though we know "No priests, no Church," we cannot rely on them for everything. Like God's love, the gift of faith, fear of God, wisdom, and forgiveness, everything is a gift and a grace. So, let us learn to love God more and more in this life--through frequent ejaculations, adoration, and begging for the grace of true sorrow, so that we made perfect by the contrition of charity. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Life By A Thousand Aspirations

Years ago I read a small book, The Way of The Pilgrim, an Eastern spiritual classic in which a man wanders throughout Russia seeking the answer to the question of how one might "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17). In discovering the Jesus Prayer, he finds sweetness for his soul, and recites it day and night. On a plane ride to New Mexico when I was 19, I sat next to an Orthodox priest who gifted me with a prayer rope, and he taught me the prayer and the breathing to accompany it: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I have prayed it often over the years. Like the Pater Noster, it is a "complete protein" of a prayer, efficacious to contemplation.

When I write these days, I often have to do so in spits and spurts, fitting in posts and articles in between work and family responsibilities. I often do not spend more than an hour at most on any one piece. But when I look back at the volumes of what I have written and published, it's not insignificant. This should be a testament to the ability not to waste moments, and take to heart the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, "we cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love."

We all have heard the expression, "death by a thousand cuts," by which it is meant that seemingly insignificant injurious effects can bring a man down over time. In the spiritual life, we know that venial sin--which is far from insignificant, but nonetheless is not death-dealing (1 Jn 5:17)--can coat the soul with soot over time and weaken the resolve against mortal sin. For this reason it is good that they be confessed in the Sacrament of Penance so that we never predispose ourselves to the sin that leads to death. 

If a thousand small cuts can rob a man of his breath, it should follow that the so-called ejaculations of praise, petition, adoration, and thanksgiving for a Christian can help lead a man to life. 

"The great work of our perfection," writes St. Francis de Sales, "is born, grows, and maintains its life by means of two small but precious exercises--aspirations and spiritual retirement." And the 16th century Abbott Bl Louis de Blois wrote, 

"The diligent darting forth of aspirations and prayers of ejaculation and fervent desires to God, joined with true mortification and self-denial, is the most certain as well as the shortest way by which a soul can easily and quickly come to perfection."

What do we mean by ejaculatory prayer? The Latin iaculum ('a dart') connotates arrows being shot from a bow. These are short, concise, uncomplicated prayers to aid us in times of temptation, offer God due praise, and lend themselves to petition. I have often relied on ejaculatory prayers as the brickwork in my spiritual life. Often, I get down on myself for not spending hours in contemplation and so accuse myself (sometimes in Confession) of "not praying." The fact is, though, that these seemingly insignificant prayers are uttered throughout the day on many occasions, such that the "left hand does not know what the right hand is doing" (Mt 6:3). Example of some of my favorite and more common aspirations include:

"Jesus! Mercy!"

"My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28)

"Come Lord Jesus." (Rev 22:20)

"I love you Jesus."

 "Lord, save me!" (Mt 14:30)

"God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk 18:13)

"Help me, Lord."

"I believe. Help my unbelief." (Mk 9:24)

These are just a few. They do not take much time at all, they come from the heart, and they can be prayed anywhere throughout the day to help us learn to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17)

In my next post, I will be writing about Contrition of Charity, that is, making an act of perfect contrition and how efficacious this practice is. While it is the work of grace ultimately, we can dispose ourselves towards it through learning to love God more so that when we offend him, we are "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). We grieve because we have injured our Lord "whom we should love above all things," and not only because of the fear of Hell which we incur by our sins. I believe frequent ejaculations help build this simple love of God and trust in His infinite mercy, and that He will not spurn these fiery darts of love, the "arrows that wound God's heart," as St. Pio said. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

"The Hardest Thing For A Person To Do Is Go Against Their Tribe"

I've been thinking about this for a long time. 

My family and I are 100% "in" on the Catholic faith. By extension, that means we are 100% in on the Catholic CHURCH, apart from which the Catholic faith cannot exist. 

But to lead with "we are 100% "in" on the Catholic Church" does not feel accurate or even appropriate. I have experienced enough insider baseball, abuse, dysfunction, manipulation, maleficence, obscurification, and ineptitude to say that I do not trust the Church with every fiber of my being. I give Christ my faith. He gives us the Church. For better or worse...til death do we part. But were it up to me, apart from Him, I would want nothing to do with this organization. I really can't explain it other than grace and perhaps, a kind of benevolent pair of blinders I've been gifted with.

But that's Big 'C' Church. Our little 'c' church is a healthy, thriving community for us. Our immediate parish, but also our larger Catholic community and fellowship of other homeschoolers, trads and non-trads, and everything in between. The faith is what binds us, the common thread that cinches us together. Were that to unravel for us, or lead us to some kind of dramatic apostasy, we may find ourselves 'on the outs' with our local IRL tribe.  

Maybe it is a spirit of self-preservation, but I tend to try to keep a healthy distance of investment in anything "too Catholic" the same way I don't engage too much with my immediate neighbors: we waive hi on the street, chit chat about this or that, watch out for one another, but there is a thick layer of insulating privacy there that keeps our relationship healthy. After all, we HAVE to live next to one another.

After hearing about the (what seemed to me to be) suffocating insularity of the lay Veritatis Splendor community and the unfortunate fall from grace in its leadership, I took it as a cautionary tale: I can say with pretty full confidence that I will never move my family to any kind of intentional/planned community, Catholic or otherwise. I've had some burns in the past, so maybe it is a degree of healthy skepticism/realism that it never seems to end well, and this unfortunate incident simply confirms that gut feeling. 

That being said, it's an incredibly confusing time for many people, myself included. I wish we would all just admit to one another that we're all just trying to figure things out and that no body really knows what is going on with one hundred percent certainty. I think because of that insecurity, many of us traditionally-minded Catholics find solace in our respective "tribes" of belonging. Where we can share what we are really thinking and feeling and working out, be supported and confirmed, and not feel so scared, crazy, and alone. After all, the world seems to be increasingly hostile to people of faith.

For the most part, I have been a 'floater' the majority of my life. In high school, I was friends with the jocks, the theater kids, the drug dealers, the poets and artists, the math whizzes; I floated from group to group, never establishing residency, as I was more comfortable not pledging allegiance. 

As I've gotten older, my "tribes" have changed, and are never set in stone. Though I will say I find great comfort and affinity with any brother or sister in Christ of good will who is a son or daughter of the Church, isn't a weirdo, and wants to do God's will. It is a healthy soil for potential friendships to take root. 

Social media gave me a false sense of belonging; I subconsciously tailored things I posted and said publicly so as not to make myself anathema. There was also that sense of selective-reinforcement of being bothered by dissenting push-back for something I might post among my liberal friends...and so I would prune and cut them out. As a result, my 'tribe' got tighter and more insular. I always kept an open mind about most things, though, so I was never especially dogmatic about many of my beliefs either. I was invested in the macro-items, but could take or leave the micro, or adjust accordingly. 

Then COVID happened, and I found myself straddling the aisle--not only trying to make sense of the world, the politics, and matters of personal and public health, but doing so in a compressed time period of instability where it was difficult to sift through all the facts and figures. I had to figure out who was full of crap, who had ulterior motives and agendas, who was playing favorites, who had vested interests. Sometimes, in trying to get straight and unbiased info, you find that some of the offenders may very well be members of your own tribe. "A man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Mt 10:36).

When the Dave Chappelle / trans thing blew up last month, Dave said something that stuck with me when was telling the story of his transgendered friend who stuck up for him even when s/he was getting raked over the coals on Twitter: "The hardest thing for a person to do," he said, "is go against their tribe." S/he eventually committed suicide in the wake of this public hazing (by her own "tribe"). How right he was.

I'm in a strange position as it relates to "the vax": I "got the jab" last year, not out of fear or even enthusiasm, but as a reasoned wager given our particular circumstances, using the best information I had at the time and knowing that I may or may not have made the best choice.  (Truth be told, I'm close to sick of hearing about it, and wish this whole issue would just go to die). 

The people I ended up trusting more were not always members of my "tribe." In fact, I felt quite a bit of shame and would keep quiet about my decision because I knew I was one of the only ones. I did consult with a trusted Christian MD/MPH who is also an epidemiologist and a man of integrity, as well as a level-headed Catholic buddy whom I had back-and-forths with over the phone. He, too, was getting confused and somewhat disgusted with the knee-jerk misinformation that seemed to be polluting our ability to make informed choices with solid data. 

All that being said, I did not make any kind of admirable choice, or "did it for the sake of others, the loving option." I know full well I conceded, in a way, in what I felt was a roll of the dice. I experienced no side effects. I guess time will tell if I will "die within two years." My rationale, right or wrong, was to place myself on a kind of pseudo-trial, being asked the simple question: "Why did you decide to refuse the shot?" (which is what I initially wanted to do) and realized my reasons and testimony were not convincing, to me at least, and did not feel like they would hold up in court as I couldn't articulate in a convincing way why I would refuse it. 

And yet, the large majority of my friends, and the men in my men's group, have come to a different conclusion, and as a matter of conscience, feel strongly that they do not want to take this vaccine for various reasons. Some are concerned about long term unknown effects, some feel it is too compromised morally as the cell lines were tested with abortion-tainted cells, others just stand on principal and don't feel that the threat of COVID warrants taking it. I can respect all that. That wasn't how things played out for me in my imperfect line of reasoning and decision making. But for them, they came to different conclusions. 

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,” Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schacter wrote in When Prophecy Fails, their 1957 book about this study. “Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point … Suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.

“You spread stories because you know that they’re likely to be a kind of litmus test, and the way people react will show whether they’re prepared to side with you or not,” Boyer says. “Having social support, from an evolutionary standpoint, is far more important than knowing the truth about some facts that do not directly impinge on your life.” The meditation and sense of belonging that Daniel Shaw got from Siddha Yoga, for example, was at one time more important to his life than the alleged misdeeds of the gurus who led the group.

Shaw describes the motivated reasoning that happens in these groups: “You’re in a position of defending your choices no matter what information is presented,” he says, “because if you don’t, it means that you lose your membership in this group that’s become so important to you.” Though cults are an intense example, Shaw says people act the same way with regard to their families or other groups that are important to them.

(The Atlantic, This Article Won't Change Your Mind, 13 Mar 2017)

I have no desire to change anyone's mind about anything except with regards to the moral imperative of Christ for those who do not know him. Even that, I try not to be heavy handed with, but present the 'evidence' of faith (and reason) that warrants belief. In the matters reserved for prudential judgment--whether you drive a F150 or a Prius, whether you are devoted to this or that apparition, whether you eat meat or don't, etc--I try to respect the freedom we have as children of God to "love, and do what you will" (St. Augustine).

But this vax thing is tough, tiring, and contentious. I know for a fact I don't have all the answers. I also know I love my friends. But I am not afraid to follow in a different way on matters of conscience, as long as it is not sin, because ultimately I do not have to give an account to them--I must give account to Christ. 

I try to remember that Peter and Paul (both saints) almost came to blows over certain matters in the early Church. Yet they loved with a fraternal love each other, and loved Christ above all. I pray for their intercession in navigating these confusing times, when we all need our tribes...but not at the expense of being true to ourselves in conscience. We can sometimes do things to stay in other people's good graces, even when it goes against that still small voice inside of us that shouldn't be so swayed. 

The need to belong, the desire to belong, is so strong, I think we underestimate it sometimes. Rejection packs a hell of a sting. But tribal belonging is not what we were made for; it's simply a nice byproduct. We were made to know God, to love Him, and to do His this world, and the next. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Glass Pedestal

In the 25th chapter of the Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis recounts the wretched state of the lukewarm religious constrained, as it were, by his vows on one side, and his lack of freedom in virtue on the other:

"A fervent religious accepts all the things that are commanded him and does them well, but a negligent and lukewarm religious has trial upon trial, and suffers anguish from every side because he has no consolation within and is forbidden to seek it from without. The religious who does not live up to his rule exposes himself to dreadful ruin, and he who wishes to be more free and untrammeled will always be in trouble, for something or other will always displease him."

"No consolation within and being forbidden to seek it from without"...Though A Kempis wrote this in reference to monks and nuns, his observation has always struck me as relevant to the particular cross of men and women who, by the grace of God, come into the Catholic Church and leave their "gay" identity at the entrance. Those who wish to be "born again" in the waters of baptism and live by a different compulsion--the desire to do God's will (Ps 40:8).

Of course there are those who come into the Church who do not leave the old man behind (Eph 4:22), but seek to baptize their former way of life. Those who abet such distortions of the Cross and true religion with various "gay-affirming" ministries (New Ways, Dignity, etc) do these men and women no favors. In their false compassion, they advise and encourage with a well-intentioned but misguided love devoid of truth (Eph 4:15). They may convince themselves that there is no reason to "forbid to seek consolation" and they may settle their inner cognitive dissonance by calling what is evil good (Is 5:20), but they continue to live in darkness because their life is a lie--the truth is not in them (1 Jn 2:4).

And yet there are those also who do "suffer anguish from all sides" within the Church because they do take to heart that they are "forbidden to seek consolation" in the arms of another man or woman but do not have the consolation within to sustain them in this deprivation of the senses. They seek the "glorious rest" across the Jordan promised to St. Mary of Egypt, but are not mortified to the degree that they find it within themselves. 

Can the Church help these men and women, those who have left the poisoned wells of their former disordered lifestyles in search of the Bread of Life, which is true food, true drink (Jn 6:55)? Yes, She can--by providing them with the keys to unlock their cells. In this way, there is no particularity that distinguishes these men and women from their "straight" brothers and sisters--we are all called to die to ourselves, to pick up our cross, and follow Christ (Mt 16:24). To deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:12). To regard our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). 

Because of the inherent dignity of each man and woman, the Church does not reduce us to our particular sins and disorders. We are ALL sinners in need of grace. And yet, what kind of effective "ministry" would help a man or woman who has left the gay lifestyle find their new identity in Christ and achieve wholeness of being? Courage (and EnCourage) is one such formal apostolate (the only one I know of) which promotes chastity while supporting those with same-sex attraction (SSA) be faithful to Church teaching and achieve holiness. 

I've often thought my role as a Catholic man seeking to love not just some, but ALL people, needs to include some sort of "ally" role. Not in the LGBTQA "ALLY" sense (which is a political role and one antithetical to truth, goodness, and freedom as we understand it as Christians), but in the way St. Paul says, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I may save some" (1 Cor 9:22). For me personally, that included attending a Courage conference to learn more about SSA and meet Catholic brothers and sisters living with SSA. It also led me to fly cross-country to do some unorthodox "boots on the ground" Catholic evangelization in a Silas-type role at the largest gay-pride festival in the country. "You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). 

But I have found just as it is difficult for even a righteous man to be saved (1 Pt 4:18), the healing which must take place in a formerly-gay man or woman is substantive, because of the depths of the wound which may have caused the condition in the first place. And there are things one must watch out for as well; whereas we all to a degree struggle with issues like narcissism, self-absorption, and vanity, these qualities can be amplified in SSA individuals because of the nature and character of the particular wound which gave rise to the disorder. Dr. Joseph Nicholosi, whose recent death was met with jeers and celebration by those in the LGBTQ community for his work in reparative therapy for men and women dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction, wrote about the vulnerability of those who return to their former (gay) lifestyle:

"For many SSA men, the deepest problem they must wrestle with is not sexual identity, but core identity. The original source of this struggle is not the more obvious problem in bonding with the father, but a breach in the primary attachment with the mother. For these men, their deepest-level problem is not about sexual orientation but about something more fundamental: identity, attachment and belonging. Gender-identity conflict and attraction to men are only surface symptoms. This is the problem that the media chooses to ignore, and which both sides of the debate fail to acknowledge.

As such a man’s identity evolves, there will be an excited “discovery of my True Self,” followed by disillusionment, then a new “real discovery of my True Self,” and then again, disillusionment. At the base of this desperate search is the anguished grasp for a stable personhood, a profound emptiness and beneath it, a self-hatred. That self-hatred is often expressed in deconstructing and condemning every previous aspect of the person’s own former life, including the influence of persons most near to him.

Radical shifts in “the discovery of my True Self” are associated, in some such people, with Borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and gender confusion, since gender identity is built upon an earlier foundation of self-identity. A fragile self-identity makes the later structuring of gender identity particularly perilous.

The restlessness such people feel is shown in a chronic state of dissatisfaction; in the narcissistic expectation that “if others really love me, they must take this pain away from me; and they [or what they stand for] are responsible for my pain.” When others fail to do this, there is a deep sense of betrayal; betrayal that these individuals failed to take away the core emptiness, and so the person in conflict may become angry at the people that participated in his former life. The pain of an identity search and the need for escape from the ordinariness of life can be alleviated for awhile by adulation. The narcissistic inflation found in celebrity, for example, can be an intoxicating balm.

This periodic disillusionment leaves behind devastated individuals who have invested deeply in the person.

The gay community wants to frame changes from ex-gay back to gay as proof that people who experience SSA were simply designed and created for homosexuality, but we would be deceived if we believed this simplistic paradigm.

Where core identity is the foundational problem, we suspect a breach in the primary attachment with the mother. From my clinical experience, there is a particular kind of client who, although he is deeply dissatisfied with gay life and does succeed in developing good heterosexual functioning, will, over time, struggle to muster the self-discipline and maturity to put in a hard day’s work, come home to wife and family, help the children with the homework, have dinner and settle down to a good conversation with his wife, and go to bed. Such a life of day-to-day investment in one’s loved ones seems too confining: it is boring, lusterless, unexciting, “just not enough.” Underneath the boredom and restlessness remains this deep, chronic dissatisfaction.

It’s not just about needing to find a partner of a different gender; it’s about getting attention, flirting, being made to feel special, distracting oneself from one’s chronic dissatisfaction with life through parties and other high-animation activities, such as the gay community offers on its well-known, drug-saturated party circuits. I suspect that “excitement” was what John was looking for when he went to the gay bar in Washington, D.C. many years ago, just after speaking at a Love Won Out conference, when he created a public-relations crisis while working for the ministry Focus on the Family. I don’t believe John was there looking for sex. I suspect he was bored with the Christian community and its expectations – I believe he sought diversion, flirtation, adventure, and – a favored word in gay politics- “transgression.” Of course, every shift the person makes from “I thought I was such-and-such…” to “Now I really know who I am,” will always have its cheering admirers." 

Getting attention. Wanting to be special. Feeling confined. Deep, chronic dissatisfaction. In my experience, just because one takes on a new identity as a Catholic, it does not all of a sudden heal one "at the root" from all disorders and attachments. This goes back to the words of A Kempis, who laments this pitiable state of being for the lukewarm religious. In this instance, for the formerly gay-man, he cannot indulge himself as he used to, and so is confined by the law of God. And yet, because he has not learned to heal in the way he needs to be made whole psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, he "has no consolation within" either. 

When Christ was made to carry his cross, I always found it interesting that in salvation history Simon was written into the story as an instrumental figure in ensuring Jesus made it to Calvary. We are often called to carry our own cross most of the way, but when we falter, we benefit from the help of other Christians who lift us up. 

For Christian men and women with SSA, their cross can feel like a solitary one, one that precludes any such Simons, were someone see them "as they really are." As a heterosexual man, I have tried to be a "helper" to those I know who experience SSA while living as faithful Catholics; not in any formal type of "ministry" which can often reduce people to their particular sexual orientation, but simply as a man and a friend to a fellow brother in Christ. Dr. Nicolosi writes of the latent trauma in need of healing in the gay man or woman in the following way:

"Homosexuality is, in my view, primarily a symptom of gender trauma. Although some people may have been born with biological conditions (prenatal hormonal influences, inborn emotional sensitivity) that make them especially vulnerable to such trauma, what distinguishes the male homosexual condition is that there was an interruption in the normal masculine identification process.

Homosexual behavior is a symptomatic attempt to “repair” the original wound that left the boy alienated from the innate masculinity that he has failed to claim. This differentiates it from heterosexuality, which arises naturally from undisturbed gender-identity development.

The basic conflict in most homosexuality is this: the boy—usually a sensitive child, more prone than average to emotional injury—desires love and acceptance from the same-sex parent, yet feels frustration and rage against him because the parent is experienced by this particular child as unresponsive or abusive. (Note that this child may have siblings who experienced the same parent differently).

Homosexual activity will be the erotic reenactment of this love-hate relationship. Like all the “perversions”—and I use that term not to be unkind, but in the sense that homosexual development “perverts,” or “turns a person away from,” the biologically appropriate object of erotic attachment—same-sex eroticism contains an intrinsic dimension of hostility."

The gay "issue" (and, most recently, the "trans" issue) at the forefront of social, cultural, and political today is a juggernaut that can often set Christians on the defensive.  While it is true the LGBTQ movement is an "enemy" to the Faith as a body politic, it's individual members are brothers and sisters who are not yet redeemed but are not beyond such grace. 

I think this is something a formerly gay friend of mine did well--seeing the trannies, the BDSMs, the "freaks" of the streets of San Francisco--as children of God worthy of love and not outside the possibility for redemption. He was a kind of formerly gay Paul of Tarsus in the Catholic underground, and I felt called to be his Silas. It was a queer type of ministry (no pun intended), certainly unorthodox, and not that effective ultimately. Like everyone today, I think this man (and myself, by extension) were simply trying to figure things out as we went along, and address a need that the Church did not seem to be able to as a top-heavy bureaucracy without much integrity or credibility on the issue anyway.

Unfortunately, that last point seems to have driven this man from the Church, as if he is, as A Kempis describes, "suffering anguish from every side because he has no consolation within and is forbidden to seek it from without." Whether it is unhealed trauma, a lack of accountability, an unaddressed narcissism, or a kind of cognitive dissonance he can no longer reconcile internally, I do not know. He has since turned to Russian Orthodoxy, I believe, as perhaps a way to remain on the path of hopeful salvation. He would not be the first, and certainly not the last. We are living through an age of apostasy as Our Lady predicted, after all. 

One thing I resented of the Catholic peanut gallery, the Church fanclub who put this man on a glass pedestal during those years of his high-profile social media life was the way they canonized him in this life. "Oh, you are a saint!" "He is a hero, a saint!" This is befitting of no one in this earthly life, and we should be ashamed to burden people with such adulations, opening them up to temptations to pride and vainglory. There is no one who is good, no not one. (Rom 3:10). 

Looking back in hindsight, I think this stemmed from a misplaced hope--hope for those mothers with a gay son, a lesbian daughter who had left the Church; for heterosexual Catholics who didn't understand what it meant to be gay and had so few people to look up to who seemed to be both (formerly) gay and orthodox, challenging the bishops and being "in the trenches". We all wanted this type of ministry to be effective, because the odds were so against us all.  I also think, in hindsight, that this friend of mine was not yet healed "in the root" and the restless desire to do perhaps prematurely took people's hopes and trusts and ultimately betrayed them. Of course, he is answerable to no one but God alone, who will judge him. And really, the blame lies with us for such premature canonizations and should be a warning to us all. "Take heed, lest you fall." (1 Cor 10:12)

We are all working out our salvation, and we should be doing so not in confident self-assuredness, but with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). The celebrity priests, the overconfident religious pundits, the lay Catholic influencers and talking heads--no one will escape the judgement. Maybe we can all just have the humility to admit we are doing the best we can to figure it out as we go what we don't always understand with one hundred percent surety. Glass pedestals have a tendency to break rather easily.

I held on to the shirt in the photo below for a number of years. It was a reminder of that time when I didn't think, but simply obeyed, the directives of the Holy Spirit to fly out to Pride and "do the work" in the vineyard. I did my part, and I also paid the price for this obedience. But great grace came with it too. I always thought some day it may be a relic of sorts, not because of me, but because of the one who gifted me with it. I admitted recently, though, that I may have been mislead. That is not the fault of my friend, but mine. 

And maybe it touched a nerve--maybe my friend's leaving the faith was simply a mirror held up to my face; what is to keep me from the same fate? Perhaps I just haven't gotten close enough, dug deep enough, and am living in a kind of blissful ignorance of the Stockholm-nature of the Catholic Church, which is nothing but rot, hypocrisy, and deceptiveness. It can be a very hard time to hold the line today. Apostasy and betrayal tends to touch a nerve.  

I laid the shirt in the garbage a couple weeks ago, and took out the trash, to put it to rest. I still pray for my friend--he has, admittedly, been through a litany of traumas. But if anything, through this and many other past incidents of feeling let down by others, I have come closer to learning the meaning of the scripture, 

"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God." (Ps 146:3-5)


Friday, November 12, 2021

"Nowhere Near The Man I Thought I Was"

My post yesterday (People Want Abortion) was my attempt to flesh out the inability of our culture, blinded by sin, to change course by way of reason, logic and common sense alone. I argued this also in The Time For Teaching And Preaching Is Over to the degree that the 1990's "presentation of Catholic truths" socratic-type method of moral reasoning may still have it's place but not it's day in our present culture; i.e., the idea that "if we just catechize and teach the faith better to people, the Truth will become self-evident and they will naturally become Catholic." My conversation with a friend from that post:

"I once had a vigorous disagreement with a religious, who was absolutely right. He said, "The time for preaching and teaching is over."" I was shocked by that, but...he was profoundly right."

"What did he mean by it?" I asked, still reeling a bit from the cold stiff truth.

 "He meant it on a large scale, a metaphysical scale, a historical epoch scale. Not that one couldn't teach and such...but that the preparations now are not evangelistic. They are one hundred percent witness and prayer."

In On Avoiding True Friends, I noted the lack of true intimacy and transformation in online-friendships because it removes the risk of vulnerability and replaces it with keeping the locus of control within one's grasp:

"By placing a screen between yourself and the friend, while retaining ultimate control over what appears on that screen, you also hide from the real encounter--forbidding to the other the power and freedom to challenge you in your deeper nature and to call on you here and now to take responsibility for yourself and for him" (Scruton, 96).

I often wonder why some of my prayers for miracles go unanswered. If I'm honest, there is probably a degree of pride, self-assurance, and doubt laced in with those petitions. Of wanting to retain control, save face. In short, I have not learned to pray in a spirit of self-abandonment. "And he wrought not many miracles there, because of their unbelief" (Mt 13:58).

We can see Peter's self-heavy bravado in the Gospels: "Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!" (Mt 26:35). And yet he does deny him before men not once, not twice, but three times (Lk 22:54-62). What is the fate of such a denial? "But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 10:33). 

Peter was filled with shame, and repented. But more importantly, he learned a valuable lesson: one cannot rely on their own strength to endure the test.

One of my favorite modern disciples (hopefully on the path to sainthood) is Fr. Walter Ciszek, who grew up in the hard-scrabble coal country of Pennsylvania and had a tough-as-nails character. This character would serve him well as a priest. However, when he joined the Jesuits and found himself in a Siberian prison after sneaking into Russia to minister to Catholics there, he similarly learned a lesson in relying on his own strength when he was put to the test. From WAU:

"Initially, Fr. Ciszek wasn’t too worried. He was innocent, after all. And he had "a great deal of confidence" in his ability to stand firm against any interrogator.

His strength, discipline, and habits of prayer certainly helped. But Lubianka wore him down with its constant hunger and isolation and the all-night interrogations, with their mind games and agonizing afterthoughts. After a year—brutalized, drugged, threatened with death—Ciszek did what he had been sure he would never do: He signed papers that gave the impression he had been spying for the Vatican.

Afterward, burning with shame and guilt for being "nowhere near the man I thought I was," he finally faced the truth.

'I had asked for God’s help but had really believed in my ability to avoid evil and to meet every challenge. . . . I had been thanking God all the while that I was not like the rest of men. . . . I had relied almost completely on myself in this most critical test—and I had failed.'

The interrogations continued, and Ciszek fell into black despair. Terrified, he threw himself on God, pleading his utter helplessness. Then, in a moment of blinding light, he was able to see "the grace God had been offering me all my life."

'I knew that I must abandon myself completely to the will of the Father and live from now on in this spirit of self-abandonment to God. And I did it. I can only describe the experience as a sense of "letting go," giving over totally my last effort or even any will to guide the reins of my own life. It is all too simply said, yet that one decision has affected every subsequent moment of my life. I have to call it a conversion. . . . It was at once a death and a resurrection.'

St. Paul learned one of his greatest lessons in humility and abandonment not because of his great fortitude, but in his weakness.

"Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:7-10).

In humanist psychology, individuals are taught they are stronger and more capable than they give themselves credit for. For the Christian, however, we know that self-reliance can only take one so far, and will ultimately be our downfall if we rely on it when put to the test.  

I know for a lot of guys I know, they will be facing some hard decisions of being put to their own personal test with regards to vaccine mandates and their jobs in the ensuing months. Though I'm reticent to attach an objective religious or spiritual dimension to these decisions myself, for the individuals facing these difficult situations in conscience, that may be the case for them. They may find themselves saying "I will never get the jab" and staring down the barrel of a proverbial gun as a result. They will either have to face the consequences of these decisions, or perhaps be delivered from them. 

'I had asked for God’s help but had really believed in my ability to avoid evil and to meet every challenge. . . . I had been thanking God all the while that I was not like the rest of men. . . . I had relied almost completely on myself in this most critical test—and I had failed.'

In reality, none of us are "near the men we think we are." We will all be put to our own personal tests. For Fr. Ciszek, his strength became his weakness, and in his weakness he found his strength. But in it, he learned a powerful lesson: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." (Prov 3:5-6)

Ora Pro Nobis.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

People Want Abortion

 In the 1992 movie Singles, urban planner Campbell Scott is having a passionate conversation about the future of transportation with Kyra Sedgwick in his apartment. His dream is to transform Seattle with his idea for a "supertrain:"

Scott: "Let me ask you a question. You think about traffic? Because I do, constantly. Traffic is caused by the single car driver. Single people get in their cars every morning. They drive and wonder why there's gridlock. 

This is what I've been working on. If you had a give people a reason to get out of their cars. Coffee, great music...they will park and ride. I know they will."

Sedwick: "But I still love my car, though."

Scott: "Well... Oh."

There's another one, in which Scott has a sit-down with the mayor of Seattle where he gives the same pitch, and receives the same response: People love their cars. He gets flummoxed, his pitch-window closing quickly. It's as if he couldn't believe that people would hold such an illogical view (driving a car) in the face of all the seemingly obvious advantages of public transportation.  

I've thought about that scene a lot over the years, and more recently, in light of the work of those involved in the pro-life movement. I'm sure those working tirelessly to support pregnant mothers, found crisis pregnancy centers, change legislation, and provide alternatives to abortion have found themselves from time to time feeling like their pitch to choose life comes up against a wall similar to that of the transportation planner in the film. And the wall is this:

People choose abortion because they want abortion

Despite it being healthy, natural, effective, and virtually free, less than 2% of the U.S. population utilizes Natural Family Planning.  The "inconvenience" of unwanted pregnancies in most people's minds far outweighs any potential advantages this system of regulation of births promises. It's a tough pitch to skeptics, because it requires a metanoia of mind and heart--in how we think of children, the Natural Law, and the means and ends of human sexuality, and the nature of personal sacrifice.

I bring up NFP because for many people, abortion has served as a kind of backup contraceptive in today's culture. Abortion-as-contraception doesn't prevent pregnancy, obviously, but is used to prevent the live birth of a child. Not all those who abort their child do so willingly--some are coerced by family members or boyfriends, even if they would in fact want the child. But many do choose abortion willingly as the most convenient, lowest-cost, least intrusive way to deal with their unwanted pregnancy. Even when they have the option to give up their child for adoption, or receive help in raising it.

I also get hot under the collar when I think of all those couples who DO want children but can't, and so are open to adoption. Is it a supply-and-demand issue that creates such financial and bureaucratic barriers to doing so? Even when a couple would pay for everything and beg and plead with a young woman tempted to abort to have the child, it is a rare incidence in which they decide to do so--they may not want to carry to term, or have people know they are pregnant. Abortion is "convenient," "easy." It makes the "problem" go away.

Abortion ushers in not only the death of a child but the death of the soul. It is not healthy--it deforms cultures and warps consciences. But when contrasted with what an individual is called to when they decide to raise up a child, the sacrifices called for, the commitment and potential difficulties, is it a wonder abortion is chosen as the "path of least resistance," the most "convenient" option? That doesn't make it good (an evil that can never be justified). But why are we surprised when people of a wicked generation choose what is wicked, even when presented with life-giving and live-saving alternatives? When 98% of people actively work to prevent pregnancy in their relationships through contraception, and when that fails always have abortion as a "backup?" 

I really don't have any answers. Maybe it's not a fair analogy, but sometimes I feel like the pro-life movement is that Supertrain pitch to try to get people out of their cars. Public transportation is a good thing in a lot of ways; it's efficient, it makes sense. And yet, people love their cars. They won't easily part with them. 

I hope I'm wrong. I wish we would have a mass-conversion away from the scourge of abortion-on-demand and a transformation to a culture of life. I don't know if this is the ethos of organizations like Live Action, etc. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those fighting in the trenches day after day, proposing alternatives and doing the good work. They are up against a lot. But people want abortion, because their ways are evil. Try to take it away and see what happens. We will not be delivered as a generation, but by grace.

I have to think that the words of St. Peter are a sober reminder, though, "And if a righteous person is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:18).  God wiped out humanity with a flood because of their wickedness. His patience will not last forever (Rom 9:22-24). 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

What Makes An Artist, An Artist?


It's a hard-knocks lesson in juxtaposition being a Catholic artist.

Orthodox Catholicism, by definition and nature, is "conservative" in that it seeks to conserve the depositum fidei in its original form, and preserve it for generations to come. Change is often made slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately; "a U-boat doesn't turn on a dime," as they say. Creative license is somewhat frowned upon, and often for good reason. Order, syntax, tradition--these are the qualities that make for predictability and creating an establishment to last. And the Catholic Church is very much establishment.

But there is also in the life of faith the unpredictable "wild goose" of the Holy Spirit and His work of grace. The Holy Spirit is the mystical, the wind [which] blows wherever it pleases. "You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (Jn 3:8). There are also the diverse body of the saints, who have perfected the art of being. They are always depicted with a halo, because they know who they are, and from whom they come. They see with eyes that see; that is, they see reality for what it is, where others would rather not go. Their lives are not formulaic quid-pro-quo arrangements with the Divine, but the creative living out of their vocations as they are particularly called to do. They constrain themselves--by mortification, doctrine, and material reductionism, so that they might be truly free. And if "conservatism" has one great core value, it is freedom.

Conservatives, in general, though, tend to be suspicious and reticent about art. When I use the word 'artist' I mean it in the big-bucket sense to encompass all those who seek to create: musicians, writers, visual artists, film makers, poets, etc. The difficult thing about creating anything is that it tends not to want to be constrained. "Life finds a way" as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park. In the novel, the good doctor elaborates,

"Physics has had great success at describing certain kinds of behavior: planets in orbit, spacecraft going to the moon, pendulums and springs and rolling balls, that sort of thing. The regular movement of objects. These are described by what are called linear equations, and mathematicians can solve those equations easily. We've been doing it for hundreds of years.

But there is another kind of behavior, which physics handles badly. For example, anything to do with turbulence. Water coming out of a spout. Air moving over an airplane wing. Weather. Blood flowing through the heart. Turbulent events are described by nonlinear equations. They're hard to solve-in fact, they're usually impossible to solve. So physics has never understood this whole class of events. Until about ten years ago. The new theory that describes them is called chaos theory.

Chaos theory originally grew out of attempts to make computer models of weather in the 1960s. Weather is a big complicated system, namely the earth's atmosphere as it interacts with the land and the sun. The behavior of this big complicated system always defied understanding. So naturally we couldn't predict weather. But what the early researchers learned from computer models was that, even if you could understand it, you still couldn't predict it. Weather prediction is absolutely impossible. The reason is that the behavior of the system is sensitively dependent on initial conditions.

Use a cannon to fire a shell of a certain weight, at a certain speed, and a certain angle of inclination-and if I then fire a second shell with almost the same weight, speed, and angle-what will happen? The two shells will land at almost the same spot - That's linear dynamics. But if I have a weather system that I start up with a certain temperature and a certain wind speed and a certain humidity-and if I then repeat it with almost the same temperature, wind, and humidity-the second system will not behave almost the same. It'll wander off and rapidly will become very different from the first. Thunderstorms instead of sunshine. That's nonlinear dynamics. They are sensitive to initial conditions: tiny differences become amplified.

The shorthand is the "butterfly effect." A butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, and weather in New York is different.

Chaos is not just random and unpredictable. We actually find hidden regularities within the complex variety of a system's behavior. That's why chaos has now become a very broad theory that's used to study everything from the stock market, to rioting crowds, to brain waves during epilepsy. Any sort of complex system where there is confusion and unpredictability. We can find an underlying order. An underlying order is essentially characterized by the movement of the system within phase space.

Chaos theory says two things. First, that complex systems like weather have an underlying order. Second, the reverse of that-that simple systems can produce complex behavior. For example, pool balls. You hit a pool ball, and it starts to carom off the sides of the table. In theory, that's a fairly simple system, almost a Newtonian system. Since you can know the force imparted to the ball, and the mass of the ball, and you can calculate the angles at which it will strike the walls, you can predict the future behavior of the ball. In theory, you could predict the behavior of the ball far into the future, as it keeps bouncing from side to side. You could predict where it will end up three hours from now, in theory.

But in fact, it turns out you can't predict more than a few seconds into the future. Because almost immediately very small effects-imperfections in the surface of the ball, tiny indentations in the wood of the table-start to make a difference. And it doesn't take long before they overpower your careful calculations. So it turns out that this simple system of a pool ball on a table has unpredictable behavior."

Is there a place for so-called "conservative" artists? Well, if you're talking about the kitschy paintings of Thomas Kinkade or the juvenile political functionalism of Jon McNaughton's "Liberalism Is A Disease", I'd take a hard pass. 

There are the curious (and somewhat meticulously obsessive) conservative religious artists such as the obscure American James Hampton's religiously themed The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, which took him 14 laborious years to create. He lived, worked, and died in obscurity as a janitor. His piece was discovered in a D.C. storage unit posthumously and transferred to the Smithsonian. 

But maybe the time is ripe for conservative artists to find their place. After all, decades of modernist chaos, destruction, revolution, and perversion ad nauseum has created a dearth of order, goodness, and beauty in the world. Isn't it perhaps time to re-introduce it in a way that touches the soul and infuses grace and hope? 

I remember when The Passion of the Christ came out in theaters--it was not a film, but a work of art. And yet, it was thoroughly "traditional" through-and-through. Mel Gibson, of course, had taken some creative license, drawing on the visions of Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich. The cinematography was beautiful, the acting impeccable, and the ability to conjure not only the emotions but the spirit of those who watched it was, quite simply, what good art sets out to do.  

I watched an interesting interview with music producer Rick Rubin (founder of Def Jam records) who can't play any instruments and doesn't know how to use a mixing board. Self-admittedly, his "only real talent is listening." His Malibu recording studio Shangi-La is completely minimalist and painted all white, "Generally speaking, the creative process is subtractive. You have to remove as many distractions as possible. There's not a television, there's not a's like a blank canvas." Rubin notes,

"The goal is to create a setting where an artist can be completely vulnerable and feel completely free to be themselves one hundred percent. No shame or feeling of needing to perform a certain way, and no expectation...really, a safe be naked, basically." 

The "bearded super-producer" Rick Rubin takes the opposite approach of most record producers in that he doesn't try to interject himself into the albums, but take himself out of it. The more invisible, the better. So, really, his only role (and the secret to his creative success) is being a kind of guide to accompany others into themselves. 

"If you really listen to what people say, usually....they tell you everything. I just really pay attention to what people say and through that I can then reflect back thoughts that they've told me about themselves that they don't know about themselves....and allow them to unlock those doors to get to the places they want to go artistically."
It's like fishing. You can go out fishing, but you can't say 'I'm going to catch three fish today.' You have very little control over this process. It's magic, really."

The "lack of control" can be scary for conservative-minded people sometimes. But interjecting such control into art is akin to trying to catch and cage a dove. The creative infusion of the Holy Spirit in the life of grace lends itself to a lack of control, in which you are following the wind where it leads, which is where creativity in art comes from. 

A man must be free to choose sin for his love to be authentic. An artist, likewise, must be free to explore the depths of his soul in order to bring it to the surface. Removing judgement and condemnation (which comes from the Enemy, the Great Accuser) may do wonders for any person of faith seeking to touch the Spirit of God which is within them. We all have that place within us. God sets the fence around the edge of the mountain so the children can play free from fear. The Devil, by contrast, cannot create, and so he resorts to legalism. Legalism is boring, predictable--the opposite of what makes for good art. 

Chesterton said, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." An artist is one who has learned to bring to the surface for the world to see and enjoy, free of charge, the beauty of God within. Not only that, but also what it means to be truly human. This is the great mystery of the Christian faith--how the Eternal, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent Eternal God of the Universe also stooped to enter into the fray of time and space, and human existence as a man. There must, also then, be a place for Christians to be great artists in post-modern society. Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic filmmaker I greatly admirer, said it well,

"People are thirsty for story, because, as Aristotle noted, human nature is driven to it and they are going to the movies to find something to feed them. But most of the time, when we go to the movies hungry, we come away still hungry and also disgusted. So why doesn’t the church step in and fill the vacuum? Why don’t we teach people how to make story? That’s what we should be doing. The Church should serve the culture." 


The Shortcut Through Samaria

 My first class in grad school was a summer seminar on Romans, taught by a scholar who had spent his entire academic career studying this one book of the Bible. Yikes! I had been accepted to the program on a provisional basis, since I didn't have a background in theology. To boot, I had only been Catholic for a few years and was still "learning the lingo" as they say. It didn't help that beginning grad school commenced with one of the worst depressions I had experienced. It was so bad that my mother had to pick me up from my apartment once a week and drive me to class while waiting in the commons for me to finish. Every night I had to go home and look words up in the dictionary just to keep my head above water. I finished out the class with an A-. It was to be the beginning of an arduous five year period of grinding through the program while feeling like a complete outsider that didn't speak the language. 

I had moved to Philly from Harrisburg, where I worked and ministered in one of the roughest parts of the city, Allison Hill. My neighbors were the drug addicted, the dealers, the working girls. I remember one morning after Mass a young seminarian assigned at the parish across the street was in our rowhouse kitchen; his lexicon was composed almost exclusively of what we would call "church speak." I knew what a "trick," an "eight-ball," and a "john" were, but I didn't know what we he was talking about when he referenced an "alb" or a "ciborium." He was a nice guy, but from a different world.

As Catholics, we tend to seek out and fall in with our own. Like many cultures, we have our own lexicon we sometimes use as proving ground to show how Catholic we are. Msgr Pope has a great post on this here, where he notes,

"One time I proudly announced, “RCIA classes will begin next week, so if you know anyone who is interested in attending please fill out an information card on the table just outside the sacristy door.” I thought I’d been perfectly clear, but then a new member approached me after Mass to inquire about the availability of classes to become Catholic and when they would begin. Wondering if she’d forgotten the announcement I reminded her what I had said about RCIA classes. She looked at me blankly. “Oh,” I said, “Let me explain what I mean by RCIA.” After I did so, I mentioned that she could pick up a flyer over by the sacristy door. Again I got a blank stare, followed by the question “What’s a sacristy?” Did I dare tell her that the classes would be held in the rectory?"

The problem with this kind of "insider baseball" is that it can insulate us from the challenging work of sharing the Good News and making disciples of all nations. Those nations may be pagan, and they may be the places "where men fear to tread" because they are so foreign. In John 4 we see Jesus "had to go through Samaria" (Jn 4:4). He took the direct route north from Jerusalem to Galilee through Samaria, in contrast to most Jews who took the longer, indirect route east of the River Jordan through Peraea because of their hatred for the Samaritans. When I would visit clients for work when I lived in the city, I would cut across the most dangerous parts of the city on my bike because I didn't think to take a roundabout route. As a result, I had a lot of "encounters" that helped open my eyes to an societal underbelly where the Son of God is desperately needed but seen as a foreigner who would never deign to enter into this world if he knew what was good for him.

These places had their own language, their own lexicon, their own code of conduct. I read a lot of spiritual and churchy books, but I try not to limit myself either. One of these underbelly books I would like to read is Pimp written by a man who went by the moniker Iceberg Slim. Without glorifying or apologizing, he details his foray into and decades as a pimp in Chicago. It's a savage world that most of us cannot imagine. Because this was "his world" he writes in a way that many people would have to decipher, the way I would look up church words in the dictionary each night that first summer of grad school. As a result, he includes a "Glossary of Terms" he uses throughout the book. I thought it was interesting to contrast a sample of his gangster lexicon with the 'church speak' we commonly use as reputable Catholics. I'll include a truncated version of each at the bottom of this post.

The thing is, those who most desperately need the grace of God and the ransoming blood of Christ are those often most alienated by the spaces in which they can receive it. The Inquirer ran a story a few years ago about the infamous Kensington section of Philadelphia, and the abandoned churches there. If you've ever been there, it's like a scene from the Walking Dead--a former working class neighborhood that is now Philadelphia's largest open air heroin market. Even for those in the depths of addiction, there is a recognition of the divine and the sacred--even if it feels like a place far, far away:

"Day and night addicted people come and go by the dozens through once-boarded windows. Some get high and collapse onto mattresses. Some come looking for prostitutes. Others have made it a home. Even in the depths of addiction, they are drawn to the familiar, the normal. First, a library lawn, now a church.

"I know it's probably not the right thing to do," said Josh Green, who is 28 and originally from Kensington. For three months he has been sleeping on blankets in the filth of a lower church office. "But I honestly feel a little more comfortable because I know I am in God's house."

They talked of the church as a safe place – a place they show respect. As proof, Steven said, they rarely shoot up in the main church.

"We wouldn't disrespect it," he said, squeezing his fist tight and injecting his forearm, before falling back onto a mattress."

Across the hall, in what looked to be a former devotional chapel, someone had spray-painted a plea: "Forgive me, father, for my sins."


A former seminarian I used to be friends with and I used to park our cars at the Cathedral in Center City and set off on foot to the "tent cities" with bottles of water and rosaries/Miraculous Medals. We would sit with those on the streets and they would invite us into the "vestibule" of their homes. We would listen to their stories--of struggle and hurt, but also hope--and pray for and with them. That's it. Maybe this is the "field hospital" church that Pope Francis encourages us to be a part of. 

One of the greatest thing about charity (love) is that it is a universal language.  When we use street talk or church speak, we confine ourselves to our respective worlds and populations. But the Son of God came into the world not to condemn it, but that the world through him might be saved (Jn 3:17), as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). As our Lord said, it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Mk 2:17).


APPLE, New York City

BANG, injection of narcotics

BEEF, criminal complaint

BELL, notoriety connected to one’s name

BILL, a hundred dollars

BIT, prison term

BITE, price

BLACK GUNION, powerful, thick, dark, gummy marijuana

BOO KOOS, plenty

BOOSTER, shoplifter

BOSS, very good, excellent

BOTTOM WOMAN, pimp’s main woman, his foundation

BOY, heroin

BREAKING LUCK, a whore’s first trick of working day

BRIGHT, morning

BULL SCARE, blustering bluff

BUSTED, arrested and/or convicted

C, cocaine

CANNON, pickpocket

CAN, derriere

CAP, a small glycerin container for drugs

CHILI PIMP, small-time one-whore pimp

CHIPPIED, light periodic use of heavy drugs

CIRCUS LOVE, to run the gamut of the sexual perversions

COAST, somnolent nodding state of heroin addict

COCKTAILED, to put a marijuana butt into the end of a conventional cigarette for smoking

COME DOWN, return to normal state after drug use

COP AND BLOW, pimp theory, to get as many whores as leave him

COPPED, get or capture

CRACK WISE, usually applied to an underworld neophyte who spouts hip terminology to gain status

CROAK, kill

CROSSES, to trick or trap

CUT LOOSE, to refuse to help, to disdain

DAMPER, a place holding savings, a bank, safe deposit box, etc.; to stop or quell

DIRTY, in possession of incriminating evidence

DOG, older, hardened whore, or young sexual libertine

DOSSING, sleeping

DOWN, a pimp’s pressure on a whore, or his adherence to the rules of the pimp game; when a whore starts to work

FIX, to bribe so an illegal operation can go with impunity; also an injection of narcotics

FREAK, sexual libertine


Part of the sacrament of penance. It is the formal declaration by the priest that a penitent's sins are forgiven.


Refraining from certain kinds of food or drink as an act of self-denial. Usually refraining from eating meat. Official days of abstinence from meat for Catholics are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.


A less common synonym for sloth, one of the seven "capital" sins.


A liturgical minister appointed to assist at liturgical celebrations. Priests and deacons receive this ministry before they are ordained. Lay men may be installed permanently in the ministry of acolyte through a rite of institution and blessing.


Money or goods given to the poor as an act of penance or fraternal charity. Almsgiving, together with prayer and fasting, are traditionally recommended to foster the state of interior penance.


A form of prayer said 3 times per day; morning, noon and evening.


A symbol of the Holy Spirit, whose anointing of Jesus as Messiah fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. Christ in Hebrew - Messiah means the one anointed by the Holy Spirit. Anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation, called Chrismation in the Churches of the East. Anointings form part of the liturgical rites of the catechumenate, and of the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Orders.


The total repudiation of the Christian faith.


The activity of the Christian which fulfills the apostolic nature of the whole Church by working to extend the reign of Christ to the entire world.


The taking up of Jesus into Heaven forty days after the resurrection and witnessed by the Apostles. Ascension Thursday is celebrated forty days after Easter.


The taking up of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, into Heaven. Celebrated on August 15.


The first step in the process by which a dead person is officially declared to be a Saint.

Beatific Vision:

The contemplation of God in heavenly glory, a gift of God which is a constitutive element of the happiness of heaven.


Happiness or blessedness, especially the eternal happiness of heaven, which is described as the vision of God, or entering into God's rest by those whom he makes partakers of the divine nature.


A short service in which the consecrated Host is placed in a monstrance where it can be seen and venerated by the people.


From the Greek word "episcopos" meaning "overseer". A bishop is in charge of the Church in a local area. One who has received the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which makes him a member of the episcopal college and a successor of the Apostles. He is the shepherd of a particular Church entrusted to him.


Speech, thought, or action involving contempt for God or the Church, or persons or things dedicated to God. Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment.

Blessed Sacrament:

A term Catholics use when referring to the consecrated Host-especially when it is reserved in the Tabernacle. A name given to the Holy Eucharist, especially the consecrated elements reserved in the tabernacle for adoration, or for the sick.


A book containing the prayers, hymns, psalms and readings which make up the Divine Office (a form of prayer said by the Clergy.)


A false statement which harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

Canon of the Mass:

The central part of the Mass, also known as the Eucharistic Prayer or "Anaphora," which contains the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration.


The solemn declaration by the Pope that a deceased member of the faithful may be proposed as a model and intercessor to the Christian faithful and venerated as a Saint on the basis of the fact that the person lived a life of heroic virtue or remained faithful to God through martyrdom.


System of tunnels used by early Catholics as hiding places when they were being persecuted.


A popular summary or compendium of Catholic doctrine about faith and morals and designed for use in catechists.


Someone who teaches Christian doctrine, especially in Parish or School.


The official Church of the bishop of a diocese. The Greek word cathedra means chair or throne; the bishop's "Chair" symbolizes his teaching and governing authority, and is located in the principal Church or "cathedral" of the local diocese of which he is the chief pastor.


The one who presides at a religious service. The priest at Mass is referred to as the Celebrant.


The cup used at Mass to hold the wine.


A specific gift or grace of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefits the Church, given in order to help a person live out the Christian life, or to serve the common good in building up the Church.


The moral virtue which, under the cardinal virtue of temperance, provides for the successful integration of sexuality within the person leading to the inner unity of the bodily and spiritual being. Chastity is called one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.


The name used in the Eastern Churches for the sacrament of Confirmation, from the "chrism" or "myron" used in the anointing.


A bowl or chalice-shaped vessel to hold the consecrated Hosts for the distribution of Holy Communion.


A term applied to men who have been Ordained for ministry within the Church. Bishops, Priests and Deacons are members of the Clergy.


A place of religious seclusion.


A norm of moral and/or religious action; above all, the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. Jesus summarized all the commandments in the twofold command of love of God and love of neighbor.


Holy Communion, the reception of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. More generally, our fellowship and union with Jesus and other baptized Christians in the Church, which has its source and summit in the celebration of the Eucharist.


The meeting of the Cardinals in complete seclusion, when they assemble to elect a Pope.


Human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin.


A Priest who hears confessions.


The interior voice of a human being, within whose heart the inner law of God is inscribed. Moral conscience is a judgment of practical reason about the moral quality of a human action. It moves a person at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. An examination of conscience is recommended as a preparation for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance.


The dedication of a thing or person to divine service by a prayer or blessing. The consecration at Mass is that part of the Eucharistic Prayer during which the Lord's words of institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper are recited by the priestly minister, making Christ's Body and Blood his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine.


A form of wordless prayer in which mind and heart focus on God's greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration; to look on Jesus and the mysteries of his life with faith and love.


Sorrow of the soul and hatred for the sin committed, together with a resolution not to sin again. Contrition is the most important act of the penitent, and is necessary for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance.


The place where a community of Nuns live.


A radical reorientation of the whole life away from sin and evil, and toward God. This change of heart or conversion is a central element of Christ's preaching, of the Church's ministry of evangelization, and of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.


An assembly of representatives from the whole Church called together by the Pope to make decisions.


A brief, normative summary statement or profession of Christian faith, e.g., the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed. The word "Creed" comes from the latin credo, meaning "I Believe," with which the Creed begins. Creeds are also called symbols of faith.


A cross with the figure of the crucified Jesus upon it. Used by Catholics to bring to mind the sufferings of Christ.


Several parishes form a Deanery. This unit is administered by one of the Priests' of the Deanery who has the title; 'Dean'.


A fallen angel, who sinned against God by refusing to accept His reign. Satan or the devil, the Evil One, and the other demons were at first good angels, created naturally good, who became evil by their own doing.


A "particular Church", a community of the faithful in communion of faith and sacraments whose bishop has been ordained in apostolic succession. A diocese is usually a determined geographic area; sometimes it may be constituted as a group of people of the same rite or language. In Eastern churches, an eparchy.


Those who accepted Jesus' message to follow him are called his disciples. Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the kingdom to the disciples and gave them a share in his mission, His joy, and his sufferings.


Exemption from a Church law in a particular case for a special reason.

Divine Office:

The Liturgy of the Hours, the public prayer of the Church which sanctifies the whole course of the day and night. Christ thus continues his priestly work through the prayer of his priestly people.


The revealed teachings of Christ which are proclaimed by the fullest extent of the exercise of the authority of the Church's Magisterium. The faithful are obliged to believe the truths or dogmas contained in divine revelation and defined by the Magisterium.


Christian prayer which gives praise and glory to God, often in a special way to the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity. Liturgical Prayers traditionally conclude with the doxology "to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit"; the final doxology of the Lord's Prayer renews the prayer's first three petitions in the form of adoration and praise.


Pertaining to or of the Church (Greek/Latin: ecclesia). Hence ecclesiastical government is Church government; an ecclesiastical province is a grouping of Church jurisdictions or dioceses; an ecclesiastic is a Church official.


Promotion of the restoration of unity among all Christians, the unity which is a gift of Christ and to which the Church is called by the Holy Spirit. For the Catholic Church, the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council provides a charter for ecumenical efforts.


That part of a convent or monastery to which outsiders are not permitted.


A pastoral letter written by the Pope and sent to the whole Church and even to the whole world, to express Church teaching on some important matter. Encyclicals are expressions of the ordinary papal magisterium.


A "particular Church", a community of the faithful in communion of faith and sacraments whose bishop has been ordained in apostolic succession. A diocese is usually a determined geographic area; sometimes it may be constituted as a group of people of the same rite or language. In Eastern Churches, an eparchy.


The prayer petitioning God to send the Holy Spirit so that the offerings at the Eucharist may become the Body and Blood of Christ and thus the faithful, by receiving them, may themselves become a living offering to God. In every sacrament, the prayer asking for the sanctifying power of God's Holy Spirit is an "epiclesis".


The feast which celebrates the manifestation to the world of the newborn Christ as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of the world. The feast of epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men, magi, from the East, together with his Baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee.


Pertaining to the office of bishop Greek: episkopos), hence episcopal consecration, the episcopal college, episcopal conferences. Episcopate is a collective noun referring to all those who have received sacramental ordination as bishops.


From the Greek word meaning "letter," This word refers to the 21 books in the New Testament that were written as letters to instruct and encourage the members of the early Church.

Eremitical Life:

The life of a hermit, separate from the world in praise of God and for the salvation of the world, in the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer, and penance.


From the Greek word eschaton, meaning "last." Eschatology refers to the area of Christian faith which is concerned about "the last things," and the coming of Jesus on "the last day": our human destiny, death, judgment, resurrection of the body, heaven, purgatory, and hell all of which are contained in the final articles of the Creed.


The ritual, sacramental action of thanksgiving to God which constitutes the principal Christian liturgical celebration of and communion in the paschal mystery of Christ. The liturgical action called the Eucharist is also traditionally known as the holy sacrifice of the Mass. It is one of the seven sacraments of the Church; the Holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the heart of the Church's life.


An action or an omission which, of itself or by intention, causes the death of handicapped, sick, or dying persons sometimes with an attempt to justify the act as a means of eliminating suffering. Euthanasia violates the fifth commandment of the law of God.


According to the creation story in Genesis, the first woman; wife of Adam. God did not create man a solitary being; from the beginning, "male and female he created them". Because she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, Jesus Christ the "new adam," Mary is called the "new eve," the "mother of the living" in the order of grace.

Examination of Conscience:

Prayerful self-reflection on our words and deeds in the light of the Gospel to determine how we may have sinned against God. The reception of the Sacrament of Penance ought to be prepared for by such an examination of conscience.


A severe ecclesiastical penalty, resulting from grave crimes against the Catholic religion, imposed by ecclesiastical authority or incurred as a direct result of the commission of an offense. Excommunication excludes the offender from taking part in the Eucharist or other sacraments and from the exercise of any ecclesiastical office, ministry, or function.


The public and authoritative act of the Church to protect or liberate a person or object from the power of the devil (e.g., demonic possession) in the name of Christ. A simple exorcism prayer in preparation for Baptism invokes God's help in overcoming the power of Satan and the spirit of evil.


The act of redemption and atonement for sin which Christ won for us by the pouring out of his Blood on the cross, by His obedient love "even to the end". The expiation of sins continues in the mystical Body of Christ and the communion of saints by joining our human acts of atonement to the redemptive action of Christ, both in this life and in Purgatory.


Refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desert. Fasting is an ascetical practice recommended in Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers; it is sometimes prescribed by a precept of the Church, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.


A word meaning "and from the Son," added to the Latin version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, by which the Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son".


A basin or bowl in a Church used for the Baptismal water.


Sexual intercourse between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. Fornication is a serious violation of the sixth commandment of God.

Free Will:

Human experience which governs our actions and gives us the freedom to make choices regarding our full expression of God's love.


A reverence made by bending the knee, especially to express adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.


The sponsor of one who is baptized, who assumes a responsibility to assist the newly baptized child or adult on the road of Christian life.

Guardian Angels:

Angels assigned to protect and intercede for each person.


The distinctive form of dress worn by members of religious communities.

Hail Mary:

The prayer known in Latin as the Ave Maria. The first part of the prayer praises God for the gifts he gave to Mary as Mother of the Redeemer; the second part seeks her maternal intercession for the members of the Body of Christ, the Church, of which she is the Mother.


The obstinate denial after Baptism of a truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.


One who lives the eremitical life. Through silence and solitude, in prayer and penance, the hermit or anchorite vows, although not necessarily publicly, to follow the evangelical counsels out of love for God and desire for the salvation of the world.


The Apostles and their successors, the college of bishops, to whom Christ gave the authority to teach, sanctify, and rule the Church in his name.


Preaching by an ordained minister to explain the Scriptures proclaimed in the liturgy and to exhort the people to accept them as the Word of God.


Sexual attraction or orientation toward persons of the same sex and/or sexual acts between persons of the same sex. Homosexual acts are morally wrong because they violate God's purpose for human sexual activity.


The theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it.


The wafer of consecrated bread which Catholics receive at Holy Communion. It is usually disc-shaped and thin for convenience and there are two sizes; the larger is used by the Priest at the altar.

Hypostatic Union:

The union of the divine and human natures in the one divine Person (Greek: hypostasis) of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.


A heresy which aintained that veneration of religious images is unlawful. Iconoclasm was condemned as unfaithful to Christian tradition at the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D.


The divinization of a creature in place of God; the substitution of some one (or thing) for God; worshiping a creature (even money, pleasure, or power) instead of the Creator.


The remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven. A properly disposed member of the Christian faithful can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions through the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial if it removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it removes all punishment.


The attribute of the books of Scripture whereby they faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to have confided through the Sacred Scriptures.


The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church whereby the pastors of the Church, the pope and bishops in union with him, can definitively proclaim a doctrine of faith or morals for the belief of the faithful. This gift is related to the inability of the whole body of the faithful to err in matters of faith and morals.


Official investigations by the Church of suspected heresies.


A form of prayer of petition on behalf of others. The prayer of intercession leads us to pray as Christ, our unique Intercessor, prayed.


Participation or sharing in the reception of the Eucharist or Holy Communion by Christians who are not fully united to or in full communion with the Catholic Church.


A vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion. Irreligion directs us away from rendering to God what we as creatures owe him in justice.


three letters from the Greek name, Jesus.


the initial letters form the Latin inscription written on the cross: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).


a monogram of the first two Greek letters for 'Christus'.


The gracious action of God which frees us from sin and communicates "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Rom 3:22). Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.

Kyrie EleiSon:

Greek words meaning; "Lord have mercy". Sometimes said or sung in Greek during the penitential rite of the Mass.