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Showing posts from November, 2010

Re: The Benedict Book and Condoms

I have thought for a long time that the most serious and insightful writer among what you can call the "right wing pundit" class was Ross Douthat, formerly of The Atlantic and now of the New York Times.  This blog post on Benedict's comments on condoms is one of the best discussions of the topic of the Church's position on birth control.

A couple of thoughts on Douthat's post.  First, the comment by then-Cardinal Ratzinger that specific scenarios regarding a couple's use of birth control cannot "be projected into the abstract" is interesting, for several reasons.  First, the entire focus of the birth control teaching as presented is about projecting the question into the abstract.  No greater example of this can be found that in Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body program, which more or less spiritualizes every aspect of non-contraceptive married sex.  It is really, really hard to square the circle of the approach taken by Ratzinger/Benedict a…

More on Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict has a new book coming out on Wednesday, which takes the form of a long interview with journalist Peter Seewald.  "L'Osservatore Romano", the Vatican City newspaper, published some very interesting excerpts from the book.  The big story for most commentators is the Pope's comment that it is more moral for an HIV infected male prostitute to use a condom than not use a condom.  That would seem to be a non-story: condoms are a problem from a Catholic perspective because they are a form of birth control, not because they are some kind of morally cursed object.  If you are engaging in sexual activity that is inherently not capable of leading to conception (i.e. gay sex), then it doesn't matter whether you are wearing a condom, except insofar as it prevents someone else from getting an STD.  That seems to me to be completely divorced from the question of whether condom use is OK to prevent the spread of HIV via heterosexual sex, a topic which, based on the…

In Praise of Tribalism

"If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

But the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods.

For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we passed.

At our approach the LORD drove out (all the peoples, including) the Amorites who dwelt in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."


Joshua 24:15-18 (NAB translation)


Prior to beginning to write this blog, I was going through a bit of spiritual crisis with regard to Catholicism, which seems to happen with me periodically.  I was depressed by the sexual…

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Pope Benedict

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On the day Pope Benedict XVI was elected, I remember very clearly getting a phone call from a friend giving me the news.  She was very excited about the development, and she knew that I would be disappointed.  I was of the view that a new direction was needed after the "lost years" of John Paul II's pontificate when he was sick.  I thought that many of John Paul's selections of American bishops were very poor--pure institutional men, who did not have the pastoral or personal skills to respond to the sex abuse crisis or the other challenges facing the Church.  I thought we had become locked into a tired fight over the meaning of Vatican II, one that had come to drown out every other concern.

I still believe all of that.  However, I assumed the election of Josef Ratzinger was a sign that we were going to continue in the status quo for the foreseeable future, and that Pope Benedict would govern just like Pope John Paul did.  In that, I was wrong.

My problem, I think, is…

What We Have Lost (And Maybe Getting Back): Decent Music

I have no musical training.  My friend Father Justin once said I have a "good natural instrument," but I think he was just trying to be nice.  Nevertheless, I make a point to sing all of the songs in Church--active participation in the Liturgy and all that.  So, I feel qualified to pass judgment on the music that is the staple of most Catholic Masses.  And the judgment is simple--it's mostly terrible.

I am certainly not the first person to complain about the music, but this is my blog so I will vent.  The music is terrible for two reasons.  First, much of it is bizarrely hard to sing.  Take for example the "old" standard "On Eagle's Wings."  Now, I have a soft spot in my heart for this song, but it is very tough for men to sing, since so much of it is in the high registers.  Don't believe me?  Listen to this rendition, focusing on the ends of the verses.


Now, these guys are exactly Andrea Bocelli, but there are giving it the old college try, a…

What We Have Gained: "Our Elder Brothers"

A theme of Pope Benedict's speeches and writings is the idea of the "Hermaneutic of Continuity" with regards to Vatican II.  In other words, the proper starting point for understanding the documents of Vatican II is that they reflect a continuation of what came before, and are consistent with what came before, even if the presentation is different.  Much can be said about this concept, but I think even Pope Benedict would agree that the following passage from the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time") is a profound departure from what came before it:

Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3:9)....

True, the…

More from Michael Voris

As I mentioned yesterday, Archbishop Dolan believes the New York Times has an anti-Catholic agenda, seen in its highlighting of the clergy sex-abuse scandals.  You may be surprised to learn that Michael Voris would vehemently disagree.  In fact, Voris believes the media is an instrument of God's will in the world, and that the New York Times reporting can be seen as part of the divine plan.  What is the divine plan, you ask?  Well, let Michael explain.


In other words, God is using the media (which, I am sure he would argue, supports The Gay Agenda) to expose and undermine The Gay Agenda!  Very clever, I must say.

Old School

People of my generation (as in + or - 15 years) are unique in the history of Catholicism, in that we have no experience of the Latin Mass as the central point of contact with the Catholic faith.  My only contact with the Latin Mass is through the stories of my parents, whose opinions on it are mixed, to say the least.  My father more or less takes the position that the loss of the Latin Mass took everything that was special about Catholicism and flushed it away, while my mother more or less would say "good riddance."

New York, New York

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There is nothing more inside baseball than the goings-on of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  While the Bishop's Conference is a vehicle for the U.S. Bishops to speak with a unified voice, it's more like the Chamber of Commerce than a legislature--it can't really tell the individual Bishops what to do.

Still, I think it is relevant that today the Bishops elected Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York as the President of the Conference.  This is surprising because the standard practice is for the Vice-President of the Conference to move up to the top spot as a pro forma matter after the sitting President finishes his 3 year term.  Dolan, however, defeated the Vice President, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson. 

The Power of Christ Compels You

Very interesting case out of Texas, via dotCommonweal blog.

All of the exorcisms you see on TV and in movies are Catholic exorcisms, because Catholic exorcisms make for good theatre--the Old Priest, the Young Priest, Latin, Holy Water, etc.  But most of the exorcisms (or, for the cynical, purported exorcisms) that occur in the U.S. are done by Pentecostal churches.   

The video below is of a Pentecostal exorcism in a Spanish-speaking church (not sure the location)


The lawyer in me sees massive opportunities for liability in that video. 

I haven't read the Texas case--I hope to do so soon and update.

Historical Nostalgia and Subsidiarity, Part II

I don't have a copy of the Bible in front of me right now, but in numerous places in the Old Testament there are passages that more or less say "as you were slaves in the land of Egypt, do not oppress the slaves in your lands."  In other words, hold on to the institutional memory of what it is like to be the oppressed , the outcast, the minority, and do not repeat the same behavior.

People like to forget the fact that we, as Catholics, spent 200 years in this country as a minority suffering persecution at the hands of the Protestants.  As one of the commentators on Arturo's blog points out, for most of American history, all of the tools of local governance and autonomy that Mr. Esolen lauds were directed mostly at us.  Prayer in schools was not the fuzzy ecumenical exercise we see today--it was an attempt to make the Catholic immigrant kids into good little Protestants. 

John Jay, a co-author of the Federalist Papers (though, in fairness, definitely the third wheel …

Historical Nostalga and Subsidiarity

Brilliant post by Arturo Vasquez discussing this article.

It is fashionable to bash John Rawls, but his Veil of Ignorance concept does prevent one flaw of historical nostalgia, which is to project yourself back into a historical culture's most favorable role.  It's one thing to say "it would be really great to be a member of the polis in ancient Athens" but when you realize that you are statistically much more likely to be an Spartan doulos (or a woman, which more or less amounted to the same thing), all of the sudden 5th Century Greece loses its luster. 

My friend Jason and I once discussed which ancient culture would be the best situation for us if you kept our socio-economic status constant, and we concluded it was probably Ancient Rome circa about 150 A.D., because it had the greatest social mobility--we would not have been born into the upper class, so we would want a society where you could rise up.  Rome 150 A.D. is pretty much the polar opposite of the Greek…

Regnum Christi

The year I was living in the Dominican Priory, I was finishing my last year of college at nearby Dominican University.  When I went into that year, I don't think I have been less interested in learning for the sake of learning.  I simply wanted to get my degree as quickly and painlessly as possible to get on with the business of becoming a priest.  As it turns out, I ended up getting the best year of education I have ever gotten, mostly because I spent most of the time learning political theory from the Professors Colmo, a husband and wife team who were both dynamite.  Ever since, political theory has been an real area of passionate interest for me.

Which brings me to talking about Michael Voris.

Michael Voris is an ex-television news executive who has become a YouTube sensation with his "RealCatholicTV" channel.  RealCatholicTV is targeted at those folks that think that EWTN is for wimps that are too afraid to tell the "real story."  Many of his videos talk ab…

Some Culture

My parish, St. Dominic's in San Francisco, performed Bruckner's Requiem Mass in D Minor for All Souls Day last week.  I wasn't at all familiar with the piece, but it was beautiful, and beautifully done by the outstanding choir.

Intentional Communities

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I got an e-mail from a reader (I have a reader! Sweet) regarding my Ave Maria posts. The reader asked whether I thought that there is a rise in people splitting off and forming their own communities of those who agree with them, whether those communities are real or virtual.

The first thing that strikes me is that the idea of community has changed. If you think back to previous societies, community was simply the place where you happened to be born, since chances are you were never leaving that particular village. Community, like race or religion or culture, was something you just received in the lottery of life, and you had to make the best of it.
Now we can move from one place to another, and so we have the ability to choose which community we wish to associate with, based on whatever criteria we choose. That applies not just to geographic and economic factors, but also to cultural factors. If you want to be a movie star, you probably need to move to LA—but if you just want to hang ou…

"And the Subdivision Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us", Part II

Ave Maria clearly represents the logical end-point for a certain style of Catholicism. Because it is such a grandiose and over-the-top project, I think it makes visible a couple of elements of what some commentators have called “neo-conservative Catholicism” (though I am not sure I like that term) that is not always easy to see in the more run-of-the-mill manifestations. The first thing, which I think is symbolized with the Oratory, is the ambiguous relationship it has to “traditional Catholicism.” Everywhere you look at Ave Maria, you see things that are clearly designed to be homages to traditional Catholicism (the church at the center of the town, the Gothic plan of the Oratory, etc.). But the actual implementation is thoroughly new and modern.

The church may be at the center of town, but people are clearly expected to live in “the suburbs”—the subdivisions—and “commute” to work. The Oratory is Gothic in plan but modernist in execution. Compared to my parish in San Francisco, it i…

"And the Subdivision Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us"*, Part I

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* Hat Tip to Arturo Vasquez, now of the Reditus blog, for the Title


Poor logistical planning, for which my father would be very disappointed in me, led to me finding myself sitting in a coffee shop in the town of Ave Maria, Florida.

I took a red-eye flight Thursday night to Fort Lauderdale to go to the wedding of a law school classmate of mine. The wedding was being held in Marco Island, which is on the other side of the peninsula from Fort Lauderdale, across the Everglades. The problem was that my flight arrived in Florida at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, but I couldn’t check into my hotel on Marco Island until 4 p.m. Since it only takes two hours to cross the Everglades, I had 6 hours to kill, and no sleep the night before.

As you might expect, there is not much to see when crossing the Everglades, and I felt myself starting to zone out. As if on cue, I saw a large billboard for the community of Ave Maria, just off I-75. A combination of fatigue, the promise of some food and a cup of coffee,…

Who I Am and What This Is About

It has been now almost ten years since I moved to River Forest, Illinois, to live in a massive, beautiful, but silent, Dominican priory. I believed that it was the beginning of a journey that would lead to entering the Dominicans, becoming a priest, and having a long and contented career with the Catholic Church. I remember how certain I was, about everything. Certain about what I was doing. Certain about the faith. Certain about my place in the world.



I am not as certain now. I don’t question the existence of God—strangely, in some ways, I never have—but I do question my faith and my place in it (and, to be truthful, my place in the world more generally). These questions have ebbed and flowed in how central they are to my consciousness from time to time. Right now, they are very central.


To try to wrestle with them, I find it useful to write. I have been doing it for a while—annoying, I am sure, my friends with my long e-mail rants and screeds. In the hopes of limiting the cluttering…