Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Distinction: Being Nice

What does it mean to be nice? It seems to me to mean basically that a person follows social conventions with a certain gracefulness, exhibiting socially and biologically attractive qualities. Those socially-attractive qualities are relative to the culture. In our society, they may include independence and personal resolve. The clothes we wear also reflect these qualities and project an image. Biological qualities may be things like confidence and self-sustenance (a form of independence).

Social conventions include mostly the different forms of etiquette as well as colloquial language (and slang). Clothing reflects an aesthetic sense as well as a sense of fashion. Hair, make up, and accessories also complement the image.

Basically, being nice means you fit into this particular culture well by exhibiting the qualities and behaviors that this culture proclaims are positive, good, "wholesome," uplifting, constructive, etc.

But just because you fit in, what does that matter to God? It matters to God only if we think God is nice. But God isn't nice. God commanded the genocide of entire peoples, slew the first born of Egypt, threatens unrepentant sinners with hell, and laughs at the folly of sinners. God wiped out the entire human population, crushed Sodom and Gomorrah, and sent His own people into exile.

But this culture rejects the Biblical God. Then what god does it believe in? What is the god that most people adhere to? Is it the god of nice? Where is this god of nice? Do we worship it? What will it do if we commit heinous crimes? What will it do if we sacrifice all that we have and are in service to others? Does any of it matter?

Therefore the issue must be clarified:

1) What God are we talking about here? The God of the Bible? Or the god of nice? What God is the object of our belief?

Answering this question reveals the trajectory of what follows. In fact, answering this question closes the conversation: if we answer the God of the Bible, the conversation ends because we know what the God of the Bible expects. If we answer the god of nice, then the conversation ends as well because the god of nice accepts everything, tolerates everything, cares about nothing. And if that's what a person believes in, all you can really say is, "Have a nice day then!" After all, if you said, "I'll pray for you," they could just as well say, "That's nice." There is no leading "nice" people to the truth because nice people don't care about the truth. Truth demands sometimes that we not be nice. Truth is a higher standard than niceness. Truth calls us beyond social expectations.

There are some people who reject and rebel against social convention because they see its emptiness. Although there is truth to this perception—social convention is mostly relative and changeable—, it tosses the baby out with the bathwater. After all, not everything that is nice is wrong or evil. Some nice things really are good things. But then again, many people use these nice conventions so emptily that humanity disappears, and when humanity disappears, manifold opportunities open up for mutual manipulation, the politics, the game playing, the lies.

Sadly, most "rebels" end up playing their own game because you can't overcome the game by rebelling against it. That sets off another game. Rebellion is as blind to the truth as niceness is. Only a reflective mind and a magnanimous heart can hear the call of truth and follow it.

Conceived in Lust

Consider that Mary and our Lord were conceived in the greatest purity. These were mystical moments that transcend our understanding. The effect of such purity was the Blessed Mother and the Lord.

In contrast, a child conceived in lust becomes immediately vulnerable to demonic influence. Why is this so? It has to do with the difference between suffering the guilt of an action and suffering its consequences. Even in the physical realm, a mother who smokes or does drugs or eats unhealthfully while pregnant endangers her child's development. Is it so surprising then that in the spiritual realm, a mother who engages in sinful behavior spiritually endangers her child? But this picture is a bit incomplete, for where there is a child, there is a man. Man and woman together beget a child, and therefore the child is influenced by the spiritual being of the father as much as by the mother. If the father is absent in some way, that certainly has an effect on the child's growth. If the father fosters an abusive or irresponsible atmosphere, that has an effect on the child. The responsibility for the physical and spiritual health of the child falls on both the father and mother equally.

But the consequence of a child suffering from the irresponsibilities of his parents does not mean that the child is guilty of his parents' sins. The child suffers merely from the consequences of those sins. And when a child is conceived in lust, the child is placed almost immediately into the hands of demons because nothing so quickly attracts demons as lust. Just as the Blessed Mother and our Lord were surrounded by holy love and angels in their conceptions, so too is a poor child conceived in lust surrounded by demons. And the fault lies with the parents alone. Nevertheless, the child will grow up having eventually to deal with the consequences of this situation.

And what is the proof? Well, just look around you. See for yourself the children, now growing up, who act as their parents do, blinded by all the same societal evils. Some act even worse. See the unhappiness, the staggering increase in mental disorder, in anxiety, in boredom. I see it every day at work, person after person, and you can even see it in the empty expressions and eyes of certain people who are so spiritually depraved.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paul VI on Obscenity in the Name of Art

We take this opportunity to address those who are engaged in education and all those whose right and duty it is to provide for the common good of human society. We would call their attention to the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.

Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men's baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities (§22).


Source: Pope Paul VI, Humanæ Vitæ, Encyclical letter on the Regulation of Birth, Vatican website, accessed April 29, 2014,, number 22.

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen on the Effects of Imperfections

[133] Because, writes [St. John of the Cross], dryness might very often proceed not from the Night, or purgation of the sensitive part of the soul, but from sins or imperfections, or from lukewarmness, or from some bodily indisposition, I here set down some signs whereby it may be known whether the dryness is owing to the said purgation, or to some other of the causes we have mentioned.

The first sign, he says, is that as the soul feels no pleasure and comfort in the things of God, so neither does it in creatures. This sign allows us to exclude one first cause: sins or recent imperfections. In fact these are often the reason why a soul falls into a sort of spiritual languor.

[134] Let us remember that, when he speaks, the Saint has in mind fervent souls, that is such as have set out eagerly on the spiritual road with a great longing to attain to sanctity. Since he knows that, in order to please God, he must be pure of heart, the novice who has entered religion really desiring to become holy has bravely undertaken the labour of perfect and absolute abnegation. He has definitely renounced certain pleasures, certain distractions, which held his heart in thrall in the world. He now sets himself faithfully to remove from his path everything that might be an obstacle to his spiritual progress. To speak in more concrete language: let us suppose the case of someone who, before entering the monastery, was passionately fond of playing cards. In itself a very innocent thing; in itself, yes, but not always in its consequences and under certain given circumstances. There are persons for whom card-playing is a source of continual imperfections, even sins: impatience, faults against charity, even against justice, are not rare among inveterate card-players. It is no matter for surprise if some soul, anxious to give itself completely to God and having experienced such difficulties, should have decided never to touch cards again. Perhaps he has felt the sacrifice in the early days, but to a spiritual person all these things soon come to appear but foolish trifles and the passion has been lulled to sleep fairly easily. But do not imagine that it is dead!

Since there are certain games not forbidden even to religious, it may happen that, in good company, our novice is invited to take part in a game which, for him, was once upon a time a continual source of failings. Before the urging of others, he gives way. He begins whilst keeping careful watch over himself but, forthwith, he feels that the passion is not dead! He is very quickly drawn into the old faults: impatience, temptations to cheating, anger become perceptible. Moreover, as he afterwards perceives, from beginning to end of the game all spiritual life seems to be forgotten.

When, on the same day, he goes to his prayer, or places himself in the presence of God, he feels that he no longer possesses the same serenity as before. He is a prey to certain agitation. In that hour of silence destined to converse with God, he finds he is pursued by vivid memories of the pleasure [135] felt some hours previously; he is even a little ashamed to perceive that he rather longs for other similar occasions. If the soul is generous, when faced with such an experience it reacts, asks God's forgiveness and renews, more decidedly than ever, its resolution to abstain from games of chance. In that case, it will be able to say: Felix culpa! But it is not always so, however. The first unfaithfulness will be followed by another, and that much more culpable because experience has rendered the subject aware of the consequences. These latter will make themselves felt much more strongly than on the former occasion. The passion will be fully roused and in the silence of prayer the soul will feel it so keenly that it will suffer disturbance and strong distractions from it. How can it hope that it sprayer will not suffer as a result?

"Every time," says the Mystical Doctor, "that the appetite gives way to some imperfection, forthwith it becomes inclined to it, more or less in the measure of the affection wherewith it applied itself to it" (Dark Night, I, c. 9, n. 2).

We have taken as an example at hint very innocent in itself and, already, we see how serious may be the consequences for the good progress of prayer… What will it be when there is a question of consenting to some inclination that is directly sinful, say in a matter of purity or singleness of heart? The religious who allows himself to be caught in the snare of a particular friendship puts a great obstacle in the way of his life of prayer. When we nourish within us a source of continual infidelities, the heart is inevitably drawn away by many inclinations to creatures. Now the more a heart is inclined to creatures the less free it is to occupy itself with the love for God. And as prayer chiefly consists in expressing our love of God, of necessity it will become less intense when there arise within us the evil tendencies aroused by our blameworthy failures. In expressing its love, the soul will speak less energetically; God's company, once its sole desire, will be less relished, will even be found boring, whilst recollection will be rendered difficult thanks to the numerous distractions which will be born spontaneously from the new attraction for creatures. Hence the soul falls into aridity; it no longer [136] finds pleasure and consolation in the things of God. But the same cannot be said with respect to created things. No, it has again taken pleasure in the things of the world and its heart desires to receive consolation from them. In this soul that has fallen into dryness, the first sign mentioned by St. John of the Cross is wanting. 

Many souls, on the other hand, fall into dryness without this having been preceded by any willful imperfection. Unexpectedly they have found themselves transported from a region irradiated by the warm light of the divine Sun into a polar desert; there is no food either for the imagination or for the heart. Yet this heart wants only God and remains faithful to its Beloved. Here distaste for prayer is conjoined with distaste for creatures. The first sign of the Mystical Doctor is verified, but this does not yet suffice to recognize with certainty the aridity sent by God.

"The second sign," St. John goes on, "is that the mind ordinarily turns to God with painful anxiety, the soul fearing lest it is not serving Him but has turned back; seeing that it finds itself with no relish for divine things" (Dark Night, I, c. 9). This sign excludes another cause of dryness: lukewarmness.

Lukewarmness is a cooling-off of the spiritual life, a diminution of the energy wherewith the soul was following after perfection. It is often found in unstable persons, in emotional and changeable temperaments, ruled chiefly by imagination and in whom their actions are the consequences of impressions rather than of real decision of the will. It is not rare to find a soul that at the beginning of the spiritual life seemed fire and flame, but in which all this ardor was seated only in the sensitive part. Its fancy had pictured sanctity as a sort of charm, as a life not without suffering, indeed, but one wherein the divine consolations so far surpassed the trials as to render them all very light. In short, it has imagined the spiritual road to be a path of roses, the perfume of which so consoled the soul as to prevent its feeling the pricks of the thorns. It was urged to the quest of this [137] imagined ideal more under the impulse of some strong emotion than as a result of a serious decision of the will. Now, however, that it has come into contact with the realities of life, and finds from experience how much energy is required in order to go forward, it becomes tired of the continual mortification imposed upon it. It would like to take a holiday and, since this is not granted, it takes it for itself and then … these holidays never end! So it returns to a life more free, less recollected, in search of little human satisfactions and, naturally, all the fair energy of its early days disappears.

Moreover, not only the emotional souls are exposed to lukewarmness. This happens in every soul that, after a period of generous life, grows weary of mortification and allows itself to be recaptured by its self-love. How many young clerics, for instance, lose their devotion by letting themselves be overcome by a passion for study! Instead of considering study as an instrument of the apostolate, they seek therein the natural satisfaction of their intellect, or even, if they are very successful, an occasion of compliments and applause that ministers to their vanity. How can it be expected that the soul that permits itself to be caught again in the snares of its self-love will succeed in saying to God with conviction: "I love Thee with all my heart"? It is simply not true! That heart is divided. Whereas in the early days of conversion, or the entrance not the novitiate, it beat for God alone, now it follows its desires of personal happiness, personal glorification. Naturally such a soul is overtaken by dryness. When love is feeble, prayer is necessarily tepid; and when the soul is cherishing another ideal than that of pleasing God, it loves itself far too well to be able to love God intensely. Prayer will be full of distractions, it will seem too long, it will be easily neglected… We are far from the soul that, amidst aridity, turns its thoughts to God in loving anxiety, fearing lest it should be no longer serving Him.

"Hence there is great difference between purgative aridity and tepidity," writes St. John, "since tepidity implies no [138] little sloth of the will and weakness of soul, without diligent care to serve God; whereas what is simply purgative aridity carries with it ordinary care, together with painful doubt lest the soul is not serving God" (Dark Night, I, c. 9).

A soul that remains full of longing to please God, that suffers at the thought that it is not serving Him as once it did, that notwithstanding all the trials it experiences in prayer goes to it faithfully, as to an appointment with God, and would not shorten even by a moment the time which it has decided to consecrate to His service, that soul may be tranquil; its dryness does not arise from lukewarmness. That soul loves God. Its carefulness, its painful anxiety are unmistakable signs; they are the proper effects of the love that is ever anxious for its object, for the Beloved. Yea, it is a precious anxiety which keeps love awake in the soul amidst aridity. Happy the soul that is aware of it within! It may thereby rest assured that its trial is not unto death but unto salvation.

Besides the two former signs, St. John mentions a third, which has also its special importance. It is: "Inability to meditate and make reflection, and to excite the imagination as before, notwithstanding all the efforts we may make" (Ibid.). 

This inability to meditate is scarcely distinguishable from the actual aridity; rather it seems to constitute an element of the latter. In fact the soul that is suffering from dryness is just precisely a soul that can no longer practice meditation. Therefore, for this to be a sign of the purgative aridity, it must be found conjointly with the two preceding signs; then, however, its value as a "sign" lies especially in the fact that this incapacity for reflection assumes a form that is ever more general, more thoroughgoing and more continuous. There is, indeed, a certain incapacity for meditation which results from temporary physical or psychological conditions. When we have risen very early in the morning, after a very hot summer night during which we have had very little sleep, we find our eyes heavy with sleep and, undoubtedly, this sleepiness will hinder the mental work of meditation.

[139] He who generously fights against sleep need not fear, for that reason, that he is not praying! He is doing even more than expressing his love, he is actually showing it in this trying struggle. We are supposing, however, that he resists the sleep; if he does not, and lets himself give way, he does not pray … he sleeps! The faithful soul knows how to profit by all the circumstances of life, whereas the lukewarm soul is continually losing opportunities. Hence he who is assailed by drowsiness is unable to meditate and suffers from dryness, but when the cooler weather comes and, with it, refreshing sleep at night, the obstacle will disappear and he will be able to return to his meditation. On the contrary, if the inability to meditate arises from the purgative aridity, it will tend rather to become permanent. At first there may be a certain alternation; sometimes the soul will feel inclined to practice meditation and at others will find it quite impossible to do so; finally, however, the distaste for meditation will become permanent.


Source: Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, St. John of the Cross: Doctor of Divine Love and Contemplation, trans. Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey (Cork: Mercier Press, 1947), 133-139.

Dr. Germain Grisez on Making Good Use of Time

Many people, for example, waste much of their time and energy in pastimes which, while perhaps sinless in themselves, bear no real fruit either for themselves or others: daydreaming, useless worrying, idle chatter, and passive entertainment. Even fairly well-organized people often fail to make good use of the time and energy still available while they engage in some necessary activity, for example, by allowing their minds to wander as they shower and dress or by using a radio for passive entertainment as they commute. Committed Christians should discipline themselves to replace useless activities with others which not only promise real benefit but further one or another element of their vocation, and, whenever possible, should do two or more such things at once. For example, while occupied with necessary activities which leave the mind free, a person can make plans, think through a problem, or pray; while commuting, someone might listen to worthwhile tape recordings. The ideal of faithfulness is set by the exhortation: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3.17; see CMP, 27.E).


Source: Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus: Living a Christian Life, ch. 2, q. E, 5, a, accessed April 29, 2014,

Notes on Fr. Thomas Joseph White's "Sociology as Theology"

Original article:

Robert Bellah's Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age seeks to explore the evolutionary roots of human religious behavior. It examines particularly Israel, Greece, China, and India. It ends with the "Axial Age" (~ 200 years before Christ), the moment "in history when human thought attained a genuinely universal character and a profound ethical maturity."

Two tendencies in modern times: Enlightenment thought and liberal Protestantism (a response to the Enlightenment; hereafter LP). LP sought to explain religion with a "bottom-up" approach, a sociological perspective that grounded religion in human nature itself, instilling ethical attitudes. This is a form of Christian humanism. In modernity, two other deeply-rooted worldviews have emerged: evolutionary atheism and postmodern pluralism.

Animals have adapted to allow better ways to survive. Language -> leisure -> culture -> philosophy, ritual, art, etc. Within culture, we tell stories, narratives of the history of the cosmos.

A problem with Bellah's work is that he doesn't address the deep metaphysical questions that have arisen in human consciousness that demand an answer. His evolutionary hypothesis, while given much food for thought, doesn't explain how we have spiritual qualities and concepts, such as justice.

Fr. White moves over to the topic of pluralism in Bellah's thought—what are we to make of many religions? Bellah rejects the idea that there is "one true religion." But he also rejects the Enlightenment's attempt to color history as the history of progress, from early myth to modern "reason." Rather, Bellah insists that the Axial Age gave rise to "a diversity of cultures in different, nonreducible ways." Religion and ritual have enduring importance and are not simply to be replaced by scientific thought.

Bellah, in this way, embraces what certain postmodern thinkers have begun to recognize: religions are different, and they must be treated as such and respected and studied for what each is and is not. From these religions, a framework emerged that allowed for the development of critical analysis. Each religion and tradition has its own narrative and norms that are irreducible to a single essence. So contrary to modern attempts to point out that all religions are basically the same, Bellah shows through rigorous history and cultural studies that "the universality of the Axial Age cannot be separated from the particularity of its religious embodiments." Bellah is "weary of a cheap religious syncretism that ignores the real differences of belief and practice among the ancient religions." Each religion partially converges but is also partially incompatible with the others in their proffered visions of reality.

But, Fr. White presses, does man seek the absolute? And why should LP ignore metaphysics? But the problem of religion without revelation is that "it's not rational."

But the plurality of religious traditions suggests that "by our own powers we cannot finally resolve all the questions." So can we ask: "What if God has revealed himself to humanity?" The revelation isn't the enemy of reason but its intelligent light and answer, the unity that we have always sought.

Our religiosity then is a "sign of our latent desire for the truth about God, but it is also a sign of our confusion and fallenness." Religion without grace is obscure and dangerous. The life of grace is distinct from fallen humanity's religiosity, even at its best.

True religion is neither bottom-up nor top-down entirely: it's (here it comes...) BOTH-AND. The balance was perfected and performed in Christ, the God-man. Christ heals, purifies, and elevates all attempts at religiosity by grace. Christ, the Alpha and Omega, "fulfills and perfects our native religiosity."

Distinction: Ethnic Cultures & Faith

The Faith always grows and spreads in a culture and with a culture. One danger is that what properly belongs to the Faith and what properly belongs to the culture may become confused. For example, now it's simply a joke that only the Catholic faith can bring together German, Polish, Italian, Irish, (etc.) people under the same roof. But all these different ethnic groups, despite their apparent Catholicity, have always been famous for their ethnic jingoism. This is also especially apparent in Eastern Europe.

People caught up in the midst of these ethnic rivalries and grudges may not realize just how St. Paul strikingly speaks against them: "There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Christ, when His relatives came asking to see Him and given a space because they were His blood kin, replied, "My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God, and do it" (Lk 8:21). A woman among the crowd cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck." And Christ responded in a way quite puzzling to those who place blood relations above everything else: "Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it" (Lk 11:28). To His Mother, this was not a rebuke but the highest compliment, for Mary heard and kept the Word of God above all others. It indicated the closest and most permanent relationship: the relationship of grace.

But when Faith develops alongside ethnic culture, these simple admonition may lose their clarity. Then actions against other ethnicities may be taken in the name of the Faith.

It isn't clear what steps must occur for there to be a collective realization that the Faith and the ethnic culture in which the Faith develops are separate principles. In America, perhaps the pluralism and secularism have allowed for this realization to occur at least among those who pay attention to such matters. Perhaps it requires a culture in which multiple ethnicities are accorded equal dignity or at least the attempt is made to do such.

Nevertheless, it remains that in Christ, the only relation that matters is that of grace. There are those in Christ and those who aren't. Hence Christ also warned:

Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And as a man's enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. (Mt 10:34-37)

Commentary on Maureen Dowd's "A Saint, He Ain't"

The New York Times published on April 22, 2014 an opinion article by Maureen Dowd on St. John Paul II's recent canonization, titled "A Saint, He Ain't" ( I discovered this article through a link on The Remnant website, a self-identified traditionalist, Catholic publication. Just a few comments on Dowd's article as well as its place on The Remnant website.

Dowd, while acknowledging that John Paul II did many good things during his pontificate, draws attention to the fact that the late pope did apparently very little to nothing to stop the burgeoning sex abuse crisis within the Church. She draws attention specifically to the very unfortunate re-assigment of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, and his the defense of Fr. Maciel of the Legionaries of Christ. Concluding the article, Dowd writes powerfully,
The church is giving its biggest prize to the person who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing. The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer, doesn’t stop here. There is something wounding and ugly about the church signaling that those thousands of betrayed, damaged victims are now taken for granted as a slowly fading asterisk. 
John Paul may be a revolutionary figure in the history of the church, but a man who looked away in a moral crisis cannot be described as a saint. 
When the church elevates him, it is winking at the hell it caused for so many children and young people in its care. 
A big holy wink.
I can't comment on the facticity of Dowd's claims because I'm ignorant about them, and I'm not here to comment on those. My comments are reserved for these concluding paragraphs that I have copied above because despite all the attention Dowd brings to John Paul II's apparent failings, her conclusions and understanding of sainthood are problematic and, even on a prima facie reading, inaccurate.

She claims that the saint "status" is something "given" by the Church to a person, but this understanding is incorrect. The implication of this understanding, however, is that the Church therefore "makes" a person a saint. But that is not what is meant by the canonization process. By declaring a person a saint, the Church simply recognizes what is already the case, namely, that a person is in heaven, which is all that is meant by "saint" in itself.

Now, being a saint, veneration follows. Dowd's criticism, then, would (or perhaps should) rather be that we should not venerate a man who has committed so many atrocities, specifically because he "looked away in a moral crisis" that caused hell "for so many children and young people in [the Church's] care."

But again, there is a misunderstanding of what it means to be a saint—it simply means a person is in heaven, and that possibility is open to anyone who has the least degree of sanctifying grace in his or her soul. Even Hitler could be in heaven for all we know. It doesn't mean that Hitler led a life that obviously should be venerated (although some do so regardless).

Now, the difficulty is that when a Church specifically declares a person a saint, she further declares the person worthy of veneration. Again, this is Dowd's specific problem (although she worded it in the problematic way that I have pointed out above). Her complaint actually gets to the heart of what many traditionalists have had with the late JPII, namely, how many people swiftly began to attach the title "the Great" to JPII's name—John Paul the Great. This title has been given only to two other popes in history—Pope Leo I and Pope Gregory I (makes one think that if anyone should have gotten the "Great" title, it should have been John Paul I just to keep the "I" theme going). The title has been given as an indication of the excellence of these popes as popes. Therefore, giving John Paul II the title implies that he was a great pope. This is the heart of Dowd's criticism (although she may not have articulated it in this way and in fact didn't). She is confusing two distinct issues—being a saint (which is being in heaven) and being a great pope worthy of veneration as a pope.

There is a second difficulty with Dowd's criticism, which is that we venerate saints because they are models of different aspects of the moral and spiritual life, such as attention to those who are poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned, sick, or those who are mystics, theologians, leaders, or those who are single, married, or priests, etc. To canonize two popes at the same time in the timespan given implies that these two popes were excellent and worthy of veneration as popes. The issue isn't (or shouldn't be) whether these two saints (or any saints for that matter) did in fact or apparently commit atrocities during their lives.* If we look closely enough, we will quickly see that we're all guilty of atrocities on different scales. Yes, everyone is a sinner. But were these popes excellent as popes? Did they lead the Church as "servants of the servants of God"?

Dowd's issue is that the Church's move to draw John Paul II into the public for veneration specifically as a pope implies that the victims of the sexual abuse scandal are "as a slowly fading asterisk." And perhaps she's right about that. Nevertheless, she goes too far in the next paragraph by saying that such a man "cannot be described as a saint." That's confusing the issue.


The second thing that I want to draw attention to is that I found this article through The Remnant website. I find it strange that a self-identified traditionalist, Catholic news publication would link to such an egregiously erroneous and even irreverent article—cf. Dowd's "The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer, doesn’t stop here" comment (we're talking about the infinitely holy Eucharist here! It's not a swap-out for a slang metaphor!). It's one thing to agree with people that a certain pope (in this case John Paul II) shouldn't have been canonized so quickly or even at all, much less given the title (not by the Church but unofficially by many people) "the Great." It's another thing to ally one's self with those who most likely do not look at the Faith in any way other than its political implications and end up naturalizing it through a culturally-imbibed modernism. It indicates, in other words, that The Remnant is at least unconsciously willing to do anything to make a point, even if it means siding with people, movements, and groups that are inspired (and perhaps run) by Satan himself, such as the New York Times and its op-ed articles. And that's pretty scary.


* A third aside, I would also note that being declared a saint by the Church doesn't mean that a specific saint never taught or held anything heretical. St. Thomas Aquinas very famously argued against the Immaculate Conception. Despite this error, the Church canonized St. Thomas and called for his veneration as a theologian because despite some major failings in his conclusions, his work in theology for the far greater part is worthy of study and imitation. Being declared a saint doesn't mean that the saint in question is free from errors or was "impeccable."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Seth Godin on Generosity

Good blog post by Seth Godin on generosity:

Here it is in a nutshell:

Generosity requires:

1. Meaningful sacrifice—it can't just be a "favor," which implies some sort of recompense;
2. Kindness—i.e. a cheerful giver, one who doesn't act begrudgingly;
3. Design—there must be the sense of deliberateness, that generosity very well may not have been given;
4. Vulnerability–putting ourselves out there despite the possibility of rejection.

Bitterness kills generosity.

Charlotte Catholic HS and Human Evil

The story was never really about the nun. She was collateral damage for those who wanted the scalp of Father Kauth and even more want to stem encroaching orthodoxy from this otherwise Catholic-light enclave. The larger story is about how the dissenting Church is dying in Charlotte, North Carolina and this is perhaps its dying gasps. [...] 
The angry parents yelled and screamed and demanded for what was supposed to be an hour and a half but stretched into two and a half hours. Their cries were like cries of pain from deep within their souls. They were smart not to challenge Church teaching. Very few are willing to come right out and say they disagree with Church teaching, to announce they contracept, or believe in a woman’s right to abort, or that men who have sex with men can marry each other. [...] 
So, at the meeting they did not yell and scream about Church teaching but about process, and yell and scream they did. “Why weren’t we told?” “Why didn’t you stop her?” After each emotional outburst, a crowd of parents, at least one gay couple included, would stand and cheer and it all came out like the stomping of little feet among those who have not gotten their way. 
Any parent who rose to defend the Priest and the school, were shouted down. Parents who tried to defend the priest and the school are now frightened, frightened physically and frightened for their children. That is why none of them wanted to go on the record.
As the meeting progressed, Father Kauth tried to answer their questions but the questions became all the same and the angry mob was not listening. Someone told me it reminded them of why Christ did not answer some of his questioners; the questioners simply were not interested in listening, only venting and getting a pound of flesh. Sympathetic parents said they had never seen such a display of anger and hatred directed at a priest.
Source: Austin Ruse, "What Really Happened at Charlotte Catholic HS," Crisis Magazine, April 25, 2014, accessed April 25, 2014,

Ruse's article covers the recent episode of the Dominican sister's talk at Charlotte Catholic HS and its bitter unfolding very well. I want to focus on one thing that he examines, namely, the hatred behind sin.

Sin is hatred of God, even the seemingly innocuous ones because there are no innocuous sins. A sin is not only an offense against the eternal law of God, but because we are made in His image and likeness, it is an offense against human nature itself, against personhood, against this concrete person committing this sin. It's shooting yourself in the head. Sin destroys us like water puts out fire. It is the antithesis of the person, whose spiritual dynamic is oriented towards love, towards self-diffusion. Goodness follows from being, and the good tends to diffuse of itself. Love is this dynamic of self-giving. Being is, as the late Thomistic philosopher Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J., as well as some of his fellow Thomists (notably Dr. David L. Schindler) showed, subsistent, oriented towards the other, and receptive of the other. It is esse-in, esse-ad, and esse-ab. Substance and relation are primordial dimensions of being. Being always exists in relation to being. Personhood is the full flowering of being itself because it deliberates and focuses this dynamic of relationality through reason (the understanding of being) and will (the activation of understanding). Hence one cause of sin is ignorance (the will acts faultily when the reason understands incorrectly).

But ignorance isn't the only cause of sin. What makes us higher than the animals is precisely our personhood, of which the rational mind is essential. But we are animals too, and hence we have passions (as opposed to the angels who are spiritual persons). The will in its activity finds itself either aided or impeded by the pulling and pushing of the passions. The will ignores right reason when the passions pull towards what is wrong, what is destructive. Hence one can commit sin out of weakness.

But ignorance and weakness still are not the only causes of sin. We can sin out of malice, i.e. hatred. This occurs when the will acts deliberately with the passions against right reason. Hence the person isn't just pulled out of his control but savors the descent into evil, follows it, seconds it, and acts upon it. The logic of hatred is the complete antithesis of love, of being, of relationality. It says, "I wish to destroy you," no matter how slightly. All of those sayings you hear about the actual opposite of love being apathy are true only insofar as love is considered as a passion. As an act of the will, the true opposite of love is hatred, the "Non serviam" of Satan as opposed to the "Serviam" of St. Michael. (There are also those who say that the opposite of love is "use," i.e. using the other person as an object rather than treating them on the level of their personhood, but the reduction of a person to an object is an act of hatred, so really "use" is one manifestation of hatred.)

Being fascinates by its polymorphic manifestations, its multifaceted efflorescences. When the reason comes to try to understand being, it finds being can be understood in many ways, categorized in many ways, abstracted in many ways. We can consider this concrete being in itself, or we can consider it as one instance of its kind or among different kinds (the act of abstraction that gives us mathematics and quantitative reasoning), or we can consider it in its foundational dynamics. We find that being can become, subsist, and fade. Hence matter, form, and privation. All three are essential for an explanation of the foundational dynamics of all manifestations of being. There are binaries and ternaries and n-naries.

But we can misunderstand what we experience. After all, many are unreflective, and many who are reflective are poor thinkers.

We are born into original sin. But what does that mean? It means that our will, our reason, our passions are all out of alignment. It means that the inner dynamic of our being is stifled and easily misdirected. It means that our internal elements can work against themselves and against others. But does this disorder explain how people can hate so viciously? Not entirely.

The disorder is necessary on a fundamental level for there to be hatred, but it does not explain how the hatred forms in the first place. So, matter, form, and privation are necessary to explain how beings exist and come and go, but these three principles are not enough for us to understand the things themselves as things. Hence we have the natural sciences to examine each kind and order of physical being. In the same way, we can "metaphysically" understand what conditions would be necessary for a person to hate, but we must now look psychologically at why in fact people hate.

Remember: sin is an offense against love, against being, against relationality. It is against the core of what and whom we are. But although there is an intrinsic capacity for a human person who lives in hatred, in sin, to come to recognize this dismal state (at least to some extent), in fact, hatred itself will only further deform the inner dynamic of our being until we can reach such a state that we are blind to our blindness. How else could Christ have been crucified? Hence, although there is always the potential for redemption from blindness, and there is also the potential for us to recognize to some extent that blindness, in fact, such redemption cannot occur until we receive an external light, a higher light, a purer light, the light full of grace and truth.

Are we born with a "stock" of hate already brewing in our souls, ready to burst out at the slightest offense? It's hard to imagine that this is the case. We should rather break hatred down into its component parts. The Catechism notes that the desire for revenge is synonymous with anger (n. 2302), which is consonant with the theological tradition. Anger can also be understood as the passion that resists the presence of evil (n. 1765), but in context anger as a sin flows right into hatred (n. 2303), which is directly against charity. Hatred is a form of anger, which is a form of desire and a reaction to evil. But what does it presuppose?

A reaction to evil that arouses anger presupposes that a person is vulnerable to evil (it also presupposes physicality by which we have passions in the first place). Some people, however, can be angry without feeling angry; that is, they can experience a strong movement of the will against an "evil" object even if they don't feel the resistance in its emotional form. Vulnerability means the possibility of pain, of hurt; its core points to the very possibility of non-being, the obliteration of what and whom we are. Thus where hatred works actively against being, vulnerability shows us the possibility of hatred's goal in the first place. Of course, we could still hate what we could not actually destroy—many hate God. But God does not hate back because it is impossible for Him to hate—His fullness of being cannot be diminished nor attacked. But finite being can be attacked, and therefore we are vulnerable.

We experience pain in our vulnerability, but here we notice that we don't have to react with anger or hatred. We could react with sadness. Or if we are like the Saints, we could react with spiritual joy. Hence the emotional response is conditioned by a previous belief in how we interpret the experience—either as favorable (+), unfavorable (–), or neutral/indifferent (Ø). The Saints respond to their experiences with a favorable light, seeing in them the hand of God and the possibility of a deeper union of love with Him. It should be noted that many who apparently act indifferently or believe themselves to act indifferently are in fact interpreting the event unfavorably and have learned to harden their hearts against the spontaneous pain that they feel from their experiences. This is a form of blindness contrary to self-reflexivity and honesty.

If a person believes he is prepared for a difficult task, he looks forward to it. If he believes he is unprepared, he dreads it. The emotion follows belief, even if that belief is unconscious. Hence most people don't first think, upon experiencing something, "What do I believe, and how does that belief interpret this event? Ok. Therefore, I feel ____." No, it happens all at once. A person afraid to fly immediately reacts with fear at turbulence.

Therefore, although original sin may set up the conditions in which we may be inclined to react unfavorably to difficult or potentially painful experiences, it is not enough because original sin does not instill any unconscious beliefs by which we interpret our experiences. These beliefs arise as our minds try to sort through our experience in childhood and as we give language to them and structure them in an apparently-coherent whole. How does a person come to view the world with cynicism or optimism? Through a series of experiences that become articulated in either way (even if the person doesn't do so in any self-reflective manner). Original sin helps incline us to form beliefs that would react contrary to reason—hence either naively optimistic about something that we should not consider favorable (such as considering something disordered or sinful to be perfectly OK) or unfavorable about something that we should embrace (such as Church teaching). Original sin sets up the condition in which our reason can err and hence by which our reason can form improper beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, by which we interpret the world around us.

But the beliefs themselves must arise from experience. And what do most people experience? They experience lives that do not prepare them properly to respond healthily to pain and vulnerability, that is, to respond with virtue. Most people are not virtuous, and most people have very inaccurate beliefs about reality. They are selfish, shortsighted, arrogant, impulsive, and spiteful.

In the aftermath of World War II, we all have intellectually acknowledged that we too could be Nazis because the Germans were, after all, ordinary people, and we too could support the same atrocities. Most people, however, don't realize that what this means is that we can act in such a blind way that we could commit the most horrendous evils. This conclusion was also pointed out by Stanley Milgram's experiment in the '60s in which subjects were instructed to give electrical shocks to other people out of obedience to an authority figure even if such an action went against their personal consciences. Most people, it turned out, were willing to do so, even administering what would have been (if the shocks were real) lethal levels of electricity. Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment showed another form of how quickly humans can devolve into inflicting evil on others.

The fact is, most people are cold, and their masks of pleasantness are quite shallow, covering massive layers and depths of pain and anger. And who knows what will set them off? Most people follow the crowd (this tendency is practically hardwired into us as animals) and will easily be swept away with a mob mentality. We desire what others desire simply because we see them desire things even if those things are not in any way helpful for us, except perhaps as a way to fit in.

But where do the beliefs behind the hatred come from? They must ultimately come from the formative years of each person, i.e., their childhood. It is in the formative years that a person experiences the world as it works on a microscale within either a family or the lack of one. During these formative years, the person learns to speak and to reason. With the growth of technology, it's easier to become exposed to the world at large. Hence there are children as young as 10 who are already quite hardened to the evil of the world, some of whom even embrace its game of manipulation for their own benefit.

The child learns from the parent (and then immediate peers) how to react to experiences. That's the gist of it. But these reactions are hardly ever guided under the context of instilling virtue. They are immediate, unreflected, and often dishonest contexts that form immediate, unreflected, and dishonest beliefs. These experiences and the feelings and beliefs they evoke in children are hardly ever examined by someone competent to help guide the child through his experiences. Most people are never given the language of honest communication but are manipulated from the beginning, many times treated as an unwanted object by their own parents and peers. Most people are never guided to form self-reflexivity. Most people are never guided to have patience and to plan things out. And hence most people go through their entire lives living in a sphere of superficiality, spontaneity, and dishonesty. They're nice when others are nice (but even then, sometimes not); mean when others are mean.

Disobedience to Church teaching has nothing to do with the Church per se but what the Church unconsciously represents to each person: an authority figure. Most of us disobey authority in multiple ways each day, usually unconsciously. Just pay attention when you're driving, for example, and you will see. Authority is for most people arbitrary, as arbitrary as an abusive, alcoholic parent or one with a short temper or in an unhappy marriage, etc. "Normality" is a cover for who knows what. The press often asks, "How could something so bad happen in a family that seems so normal?" Well, abusive families know best how to cover their abuse up, how each person has a role to play.

Appeals to reason are meaningless because we are dealing with something pre-rational, namely, the unconscious, which has its own logic and works like a language, but we can't reason our way out of how we unconsciously and fundamentally view things. Because most people are unreflective, although they may consciously come to understand something intellectually, they may never see how that belief ought to impact other beliefs or how they live. They never see its consequences and corollaries. That belief exists compartmentalized, stifled, placed on a shelf along with everything else, simply one more object among objects. They never understand its implications or its presuppositions and how if we accept or reject this belief, everything may change.

Or if they see it, they refuse to act on it because it is too much work, too much pain, too much change. In fact, we are so used to evil that we prefer evil to good. Evil is normal and hence comfortable. To be good is unknown, fearful, and dangerous. God is good, but what does that mean to the "normal" person? The normal person doesn't want good; he wants what is evil because evil looks good. We can say that actually a person who is lost in sin actually in their heart of hearts desires God and the good, and while that is all nice and good, it doesn't amount to anything because even those who crucified Christ were the same way. Yes, every human is built and designed to desire the good. What does it amount to in the concrete? In the concrete, most people actually don't want the good. They shun the good. They crucify the good. If they didn't, then the Gospels would never have the power that they do. There never would have been a crucifixion if pointing out that everyone actually deep down has a desire for the good meant anything.

No, what means anything is what we decide to do in spite of how we feel or are habituated to interpret experiences and act. Virtue isn't a strong wish but desire and action working together towards the reasoned good.

This is where people very easily fool themselves about moral evil. It's one thing to admit intellectually that "it's very bad, disgusting, etc." It's another thing to embrace this fact and to realize its full extent and application. Most people act unreasonably and pursue evil, believing themselves to pursue good. Most people are manipulative. Most people are vicious and like the beasts. And given the freedom, most people would have their own way.

The angry parents above in Ruse's article, as Ruse insightfully noted, acted like children because at heart they are still children, seeing as they did when growing up, reacting as they did. They spend most of their times hiding these infantile tendencies behind socialization, but it's all the same at the end of the day. All of their questions are demands, demands not for answers, but for the love they never received from their parents and peers. It is the love that alone can guide us to properly face our vulnerability and cope with it during this life. It is the love that we need to not only survive but to thrive as humans. It is the love that God offers to us, but because we never experienced it here below, we reject and fear God.

Father Kauth perhaps had to be at this meeting because he was under obedience to do so, but any person who can see what's really going on would have nothing to do with it. After all, people will not change if you give them a forum to act like children. Their sins are how they act out on hiding their vulnerability. Reveal their sins, reveal their vulnerability, reveal their lack of love. It's all connected. The diocese perhaps under some pretext of social convention or politeness went forward with this meeting, but honestly, they're quite stupid for doing so because you can't "nice" people into salvation. Treating people nicely amounts to nothing. Treating people with charity sometimes means letting them behave and feel as they want. Treating people with charity sometimes means treating people in a way that will come across as "mean" or harsh according to social convention. Sometimes treating people with charity even means, after warning them about the danger and evil of their ways, letting them send themselves to hell (or at least a psychological hell) if that's what they really want.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Distinction: St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas on Freedom for Excellence vs. Freedom to Sin

Chapter 6, lecture 3, n. 501: But the one who obeys God is made a slave of this obedience, because through the habit of obeying the mind is inclined more and more to obeying and as a result achieves holiness. Therefore, he says: or of obedience, namely, of the divine precepts, which leads to righteousness: “It is the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2:13). 

Chapter 6, lecture 4, n. 508: In regard to the first it should be noted that man is by nature free because of his reason and will, which cannot be forced but can be inclined by certain things. Therefore, in regard to the freedom of the will man is always free of compulsion, although he is not free of inclinations. For the free judgment is sometimes inclined to the good through the habit of grace 
or righteousness; and then it is in slavery to righteousness but free from sin. But sometimes the free judgment is inclined to evil through the habit of sin; and then it is in slavery to sin and free from righteousness. Now, slavery to sin consists in being drawn to consent to sin against the judgment of reason: “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn 8:34). 

And in regard to this he says: When you were slaves of sin. Freedom from righteousness, on the other hand, implies that a man rushes headlong into sin without the restraint of righteousness; in regard to this he says: you were free in regard to righteousness. This happens especially in those who sin of set purpose: “Long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve’” (Jer 2:20); “A vain man is lifted up into pride, and thinks himself born free like a wild ass’ colt” (Jb 11:12). 

509. Yet it should be noted that this state involves true slavery and only apparent freedom. For since man should act according to reason, be is truly a slave when he is led away from what is reasonable by something alien. Furthermore, if he is not restrained by the yoke of reason from following concupiscence, he is free only in the opinion of those who suppose that the highest good is to follow one’s concupiscence.


When we become slaves to sin, we are free from righteousness. But when we are free from sin, we are slaves to righteousness. Hence the arbitrary freedom of hedonism is diametrically opposed to the freedom for excellence although both make use of the will's profound dynamic energy behind habitus, whether virtuous or vicious.

Notice also how St. Thomas identified so clearly the false autonomy that exists in Western society today: "If he is not restrained by the yoke of reason from following concupiscence, he is free only in the opinion of those who suppose that the highest good is to follow one's concupiscence." Hence people say, for example, of a homosexual couple who "love" each other that they should be allowed to marry and follow their "love." The love itself is justification for the act. This is morality for excellence reduced to bestiality, the moral animal to the beasts.

St. Thomas also identifies the psychological indicator of slavery either to sin or righteousness: the predominant inclination to one or the other. Notice St. Thomas also says that we shall never be free of inclination itself, which is desire. If there is a predominant inclination to sin, such that we usually fall into sin by acting on that inclination, then we know we are enslaved to sin. But if the predominant inclination draws us to act righteously, then we know that we are enslaved to righteousness. 

Hence the psychological test that I have given elsewhere to demonstrate one's predominant inclination, namely, can you go at least three months without fixation on some object or action? For example, only recently I was reminded of a song I used to listen to over and over when I was younger. The fact that I haven't thought of that song in such a long time demonstrates to me that I have no attachment to it any longer. I am "free" from that song, not a slave to it. 

Then St. John of the Cross shows us that the way to freedom for excellence is to remove ourselves from that object of inclination and enter the dark nothings by which our desire can refocus on God. St. John of the Cross further shows that in the transforming union, the soul reaches such a state that although it may suffer temptations as God allows them, these are alien to its predominant desire, which is centered on God. Hence these temptations are hardly occasion for sin but rather occasions for further perfection.


Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, Lectures on the Letter to the Romans, trans. by Fabian Larcher, ed. by Jeremy Holmes, Nova et Vetera, accessed April 23, 2014,

Knowing What's Right and Waiting for Motivation

Oftentimes I have neglected doing the right thing because even though I knew clearly what I had to do, I was waiting for some confirmation, especially some motivation to go ahead and do it. St. John of the Cross has this to say on the matter, however:
Reflect that your guardian angel does not always move your desire for an action, but he does always enlighten your reason. Hence, in order to practice virtue do not wait until you feel like it, for your reason and intellect are sufficient (Sayings of Light and Love, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez, n. 37).
Blessed are they who, setting aside their own pleasure and inclination, consider things according to reason and justice before doing them (n. 45).
If you make use of your reason, you are like one who eats substantial food; but if you are moved by the satisfaction of your will, you are like one who eats insipid fruit (n. 46).
As Nike says, "Just do it."

Anthony Esolen: "Catholicism: Scandalous in Every Age"

I'm sharing this link to an excellent article by Anthony Esolen at Crisis magazine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Comments on Greg Erlandson's "A House Divided"

I read an interesting article today about the tension between Church teaching on gay "marriage" and the Western movement to embrace that behavior as morally acceptable. In it, this line appeared:
"What is not hard to believe is that many Catholics no longer accept the Church’s teaching."
Source: Greg Erlandson, "A House Divided," OSV Newsweekly, April 16, 2014, accessed April 22, 2014,

But I really do wonder, when has it been the case that "many Catholics" have accepted the Church's teaching? And how would we even measure that? There already exists the tendency to view the Middle Ages with rose-tinted glasses as though there existed a golden age of Catholicism. But what data do we have? There are no statistics for those times. And if it's objected that times past constituted a genuinely "Christian" society, this claim also has to be called into question. Is a Christian society the same as when Christianity constitutes a regular aspect of the worldview of, and let's grant it for argument's sake, most of society's members? But what does that worldview entail? How shall it be measured? By obedience to authority, to doctrine? By holiness attained? By the production of faith-inspired cultural artifacts? How much of this Christian or Catholic society is constituted by the general milieu of a society and its leisurely productions (such as in the arts and philosophy) and how much of it is constituted by individual adherence to the faith? Is this a false dichotomy, and who says so?

I don't mean to be that guy who makes the issue way more complicated than it should be. All I'm saying is that, because the author of this article mentions specifically how the Catholic youth are increasingly mirroring the beliefs of the society around them—and I count myself among the Catholic youth (or at least, young adults)—, what constitutes a Christian society is far from clear, at least prima facie. I want a Christian—no, Catholic—society as much as the next zealous Catholic. But what does it mean? What does it look like? How do we pursue the actualization of that goal? Is it by political means? My gut suspicion is that Catholic society always includes the political (necessarily so since we're dealing with humans) but transcends it in its self-understanding; that is, a Catholic society is more than about how many people call themselves Catholic and abide by Catholic "rules"; rather it is more about how many people think salvation and holiness of life, which is nothing other than making the glory of God their all, frames every other activity that they do. Is this too high a standard? And by what shall we compare our progress with? My assumption has always been that we should compare it with the heavenly Kingdom as hinted at in Revelation. Is that incorrect?

Then there's the other issue I have, which is that the Church's "political theory" is founded historically on a deception (namely, the Decretals of Isidore and the Donation of Constantine), and this theory forms how the Church interacts with "secular" society for the next 1000 years. What are we to make of that? Is it the Holy Ghost at work? Undoubtedly, but in what respects specifically?

Anyway, to get back to the article, the author also writes the following:
"As a result, the Church must find new ways, even a new language to articulate its teachings on marriage and sexuality to its own people. [...] It is clear that its teachings pose a big problem for the majority of young Catholics. It is posing a problem for many middle-aged Catholics as well."
Is the problem the language or is it the "Catholics" in question? Is it both? What are these "new ways"? Do they entail certain means of communication, the style of presentation, or the very content itself? What will the language look like? Will it incorporate the slang of the present generation? Oy vey, we all know from our satire that when we want to make a person look outmoded, we have them use the slang from the previous generation. They come across not only as "un-cool" but as desperate.

What about personal holiness? Is that a new way? And isn't holiness the taproot of all authentic and actually effective evangelization? Does holiness need a "new language"? Isn't that what this tension ultimately comes down to—the holy, the not yet holy, and those who don't wish to be holy? I think that's the basic threefold division that Pascal also formulated. The Church's teaching on sexuality poses a "problem" for many young and middle-aged people because many young and middle-aged people live unrepentant, sexually-devious lives. There, I said it. The second one makes any kind of effort—even a vastly unsuccessful effort—to live chastely, then the Church's teachings on sexuality all make great sense, it seems to me.

British Library Glossary on Illuminated Manuscripts

Gold mine!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Truth and Sin in the Heart

Psalm 4:
What you say in your hearts, regret upon your beds...
Psalm 14:
O Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent? Or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain?
He who walks without blemish, and does what is right;
Who speaks the truth in his heart, and deceives not with his tongue...
Psalm 15:
I will bless the Lord who has given me understanding; even in the night my heart exhorts me...
Matthew 5:28:
But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 15:18-19:
But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies.

St. John Chrysostom, commenting on Matthew 5:28, says:
If you permit yourself to gaze often on fair countenances you will assuredly be taken, even though you may be able to command your mind twice or thrice. For you are not exalted above nature and the strength of humanity. She too who dresses and adorns herself for the purpose of attracting men's eyes to her, though her endeavor should fail, yet shall she be punished hereafter; seeing she mixed the poison and offered the cup, though none was found who would drink thereof. For what the Lord seems to speak only to the man, is of equal application to the woman; inasmuch as when He speaks to the head, the warning is meant for the whole body.
St. Jerome, commenting on Matthew 15:18, writes:
[...] by this passage we may refute [p. 560] those who think that evil thoughts are suggestions of the Devil, and do not spring from our proper will. The Devil may encourage and abet evil thoughts, but not originate them. And if he be able, being always on the watch, to blow into flame any small spark of thought in us, we should not thence conclude that he searches the hidden places of the heart, but that from our manner and motions he judges of what is passing within us. For instance, if he see us direct frequent looks towards a fair woman, he understands that our heart is wounded through the eye.

These passages should lead us to reflect on how easy it is for us to corrupt our hearts, to harden them with sin. We should be inspired to a greater sensitivity of our inner motions. The mouth speaks what is first in the heart. We don't even need to outwardly speak evil things to our neighbors. Letting our heart speak these evils is enough to sin and corrupt ourselves and defile love. Therefore, the Holy Ghost tells us to regret the evil that we speak in our hearts. Those shall dwell with the Lord who speak truth in the heart and, with their hearts full of truth, proceed to speak the truth outwardly to their neighbors by not deceiving them.

Moral evil originates from the heart. The responsibility falls on us. The devil may suggest evil or fan it into flame as St. Jerome tells us, but we decide what goes into our hearts and what comes out of them.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Modernity's Unhappiness and Distractions

Pascal observed the problem in seventeenth-century France when he saw the obsession with entertainment as the offspring of the fallen human desire to be distracted from any thought of mortality. “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room,” he said. And: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

Today the problem is even greater: Entertainment has apparently become many people’s primary purpose of existence. I doubt that it would surprise Pascal that the world has increased the size, scope, and comprehensiveness of distraction. It would not puzzle him that death has been reduced to little more than a comic-book cartoon in countless action movies or into a mere momentary setback in soap operas and sitcoms. Indeed, he would not find it perplexing that the bleak spiritual violence of mortality leaves no lasting mark on the bereaved in the surreal yet seductive world of popular entertainment.

But he might well be taken aback that the churches have so enthusiastically endorsed this project of distraction and diversion. This is what much of modern worship amounts to: distraction and diversion. Praise bands and songs of triumph seem designed in form and content to distract worshipers from life’s more difficult realities.

Even funerals, the one religious context where one might have assumed the reality of death would be unavoidable, have become the context for that most ghastly and incoherent of acts: the celebration of a life now ended. The Twenty-Third Psalm and “Abide with Me” were funeral staples for many years but not so much today. References to the valley of the shadow of death and the ebbing out of life’s little day, reminders both of our mortality and of God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times, have been replaced as funeral favorites by “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “My Way.” The trickledown economics of worship as entertainment has reached even the last rites for the departed. [...]

Perhaps it is ironic, but the church that confronts people with the reality of the shortness of life lived under the shadow of death prepares them for resurrection better than the church that goes straight to resurrection triumphalism without that awkward mortality bit. 

Bonhoeffer once asked, “Why did it come about that the cinema really is often more interesting, more exciting, more human and gripping than the church?” Why, indeed. Maybe the situation is even worse than I have described; perhaps the churches are even more trivial than the entertainment industry. After all, in popular entertainment one does occasionally find the tragic clearly articulated, as in the movies of a Coppola or a Scorsese.

A church with a less realistic view of life than one can find in a movie theater? For some, that might be an amusing, even entertaining, thought; for me, it is a tragedy.


Source: Carl R. Trueman, "Tragic Worship, First Things, June 1, 2013, accessed April 18, 2014,

G.K. Chesterton on "Free Love"

They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.


Source: G.K. Chesterton, "A Defense of Rash Vows," American Chesterton Society, accessed April 18, 2014,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Morality of Convenience

The song "Live and Let Die" came to my mind and made me start reflecting on how it serves as a contrast to the common phrase "live and let live." The idea of "live and let die" is that one who began as a person who endorsed "live and let live," who went on one's happy way and allowed others to go on theirs without any sort of condemnatory judgment, eventually became hardened by the evils of the world, resulting in an apathetic cynicism, a kind of ennui towards life.

This reflection in turn made me consider that many of my coworkers and those I notice in society, either through media or social media, subscribe at least unconsciously to a "morality of convenience." Pope Benedict in his homily before the conclave upon his election to the Papacy in 2005 said (source:,
How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true. 
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.
 The Pope emeritus suggests that relativism is the most common go-to attitude among today's pluralistic society. It seems to be the only attitude that allows each viewpoint a "respectful space" to exist, to "COEXIST" rather, among other viewpoints.

I find, then, that working hand-in-hand with this attitude of relativism, and perhaps lending fuel to it, is the morality of convenience, a moral ethos established on, as Benedict said, "one's own ego and desires." A few examples may help draw out this morality of convenience at work in regular conversation:

1. A woman objects, "It's my body. I can do what I want with it!" Others reply, "Let the woman do what she wants!"

2. People retort, "What does the Church have to do with my private sex life?"

3. Others argue, "What's wrong with gay marriage? It won't harm me, and I don't see the harm that will come from it. I think others exaggerate when they say it will lead to the entire collapsing of our society."

4. COEXIST and TOLERANCE bumper stickers.

5. The oft-used dismissal: "Who are you to judge?" This dismissal is closely related to the other exclamation, usually said in a joking way, a phrase which I even used the other day, "Don't judge me!"

6. "Whatever floats your boat"; "Different strokes for different folks"; "That's good for you" (as opposed to, say, "That's good for you").

The examples can be multiplied. An intellectual argument is presented that can roughly be modeled as follows: my actions are as good as any other, so you cannot condemn them. Ultimately there is no "good." Those who are praised or condemned are treated as such either on the basis of what simply pleases or offends me. Desire and aversion become the framework by which moral action is judged.

And in fact, in this framework, moral action is reduced to something accidental to human life, not essential. We are no longer essentially moral beings with free will who work towards our proper flourishing. We are smart animals who try to get our way in a dog-eat-dog world, all the while paradoxically singing, "Live and let live." Yet we eat each other at any chance we get—a honk here, a flip of the bird there, an abortion here, a random stabbing there, etc.

We no longer have a direction but are like the crowd of swimmers in the tidal-wave pool, supported simply by our floatation devices, trying to stay above the waves that we create with our own machines.

We want to demand our rights and our absolute autonomy and exist as moral atoms.

There are so many contradictions in this viewpoint. An example that came to my mind is the cry of feminists who rail against patriarchal and sexist forces. These same feminists find nothing objectionable about a woman using her body to get what she wants, but the deliberate reduction of the body to an object is simply the same manipulation of a patriarchy but only in a different social sphere. Manipulation is manipulation, plain and simple. One cannot condemn the use of gender or sex-based power for one sex/gender and turn around and advocate it for the opposite sex/gender.

The morality of convenience is borne simply out of convenience, simply out of the most basic animal cognitive processes: the sorting of objects in an animal's awareness into either something 1) favorable, 2) unfavorable, or 3) neutral. All animals do this to the objects that come into their awareness. A morality of convenience simply is a more sophisticated version of this process, one that often makes use of sophistry to justify itself.

And this is why a morality of convenience goes hand in hand with the reduction of man from a moral being with a free will, the object of which ought to be the moral good, to a "smart animal," not much better than apes, self-determining and often acting like a baby or spoiled child.

The Cross is utterly antithetical to the morality of convenience.

How do we overcome the morality of convenience? It is simply the process of growing in holiness as all the Saints have taught. St. John of the Cross especially showed us its basic psychological element, which every spiritual theologian since then has reconfirmed and systematized:

1) We must detach ourselves from creaturely affections.
2) We must attach ourselves to the Divine.
3) Insofar as we detach ourselves from creaturely affections, we become free to reorient our psychological powers to the Divine and open a space in ourselves to be drawn by the Divine, for only by the grace of God can we desire God.

These three steps are a heuristic cycle; each step reinforces the other, and all lead eventually to that perfection of charity that is possible even here on earth.

In fact, St. John of the Cross's analysis is more relevant than ever, for what St. John of the Cross is telling us is the precise remedy to the morality of convenience. The morality of convenience has us pursue objects that please us and avoid or condemn those objects that repulse us. St. John of the Cross tells us to be indifferent to both—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, etc. What does it matter?

Obviously, some objects we ought to be attracted to—such as food when hungry or warmth when cold. Some objects we ought to be repelled by—such as behaviors or things that would probably or certainly entail our death or serious injury. Nevertheless, we ought to be indifferent to what Providence disposes for our experience; thus, if we get into a car accident (and weren't TRYING to get into one by some bizarre misapplication of St. John's teaching), we ought to be indifferent about such a matter and simply praise the will of God that has allowed such an event for our good.

How do we know what we are attached to? It is very easy—just look at what draws you. What do you find favorable? There is a psychological test for determining whether one is attached to something—can you live in the absence of that object for at least three months? This may seem rather strange, but consider—if a person gives up eating chocolate to test whether he is attached to it or not and never thinks about chocolate again (at least until it is accidentally brought to his attention by someone or something else), then it's clear that he isn't attached. But if a man gives up chocolate and finds, even if it's only several times a month, that he craves for it or "sneaks" some chocolate, then we know that he is attached. If his mind continuously fixates on chocolate, even to wonder, "Am I attached to it?" then we know that there is something off. After all, continuously pondering, "Am I attached to it," simply keeps it in mind. Well, if you're not attached to it, paradoxically, you just don't think about the object or the attachment.

As an aside, after I told some seminarians about St. John of the Cross's doctrine and this psychological test, one seminarian bitterly remarked, "Oh, so does that mean if I don't eat carrots for three months, then I'll know that I'm not attached to them?" (Subtext: "This is bullsh**"). The reply would be—yes, if you can continue on with your life without any concern for carrots for three months, then you'll know for sure that you have no attachment to carrots.

Now, having identified what you find favorable and unfavorable, remove yourself from favorable objects and accept unfavorable ones indifferently or even as if it were favorable.

But what about objects that are necessary for life that we may be attached to? Then you'll need to modify the behavior and bring it under a control; this is the place of virtue. For example, an attachment to sleeping—then set boundaries for the sleep and follow them strictly until they become easy, and you are indifferent to whether you get a chance to indulge in sleep or not. (This example may not be the best since most people are sleep deprived and to take the time to fix that would require considerable effort and possibly be impossible to coordinate with one's work schedule...) For eating food, one can follow a diet or give up certain foods or eat only certain amounts at certain times, etc.

Through this process, we transcend our most basic cognitive-psychological process of acting on our desires and provide a space to act in moral freedom, in pursuit of the good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"But I'm a 'Good Person'!"

This article by John-Mark Miravalle really hits the nail on the head about this phenomenon of "I'm a good person." I'll add more below.


In my experience, some people just don’t want to talk about the big questions – Does God exist? Is Jesus Lord and Savior? What must I do to be saved? – and their dismissal of these kinds of questions almost always appeals to the notion of “good person.” It usually goes something like this:

“If God exists, then all He cares about is whether you’re a good person. Because at the end of the day, all that really matters is being a good person. And I’m a good person, so I don’t really need to worry about anything else.”

What are we supposed to say to this? What do we say when someone pits “being a good person” against the urgency of accepting and spreading the Gospel?

Well, I think there are a couple of things you can say to a “good person” who doesn’t feel the need to worry about God or His Christ or His Church:

First off, ask the person: have you ever really tried being a good person? I mean a really good person? Because if you have, if you’ve really made an effort to be fair and courageous and to think your decisions through carefully, and only to say what should be said, and not to act on cravings or impulses you know are addictive and hurtful, and to really behave as though other people are just as important as you are – if you’ve ever tried to do that, then you know it’s incredibly difficult. It’s hard even to know how to be good, let alone actually being good. In fact, one of the best preparations for understanding who Jesus is and why we need Him as our Savior, is actually, sincerely putting “being a good person” as the number one priority of you life. When you make that your main goal, you’ll really see how desperately you need help–how desperately you need Christ.

Or maybe this “good person” dismissal is trying to say that the only thing that matters is to be an okay person. An average person. Not a psychopath or a sociopath. Maybe what some people mean by “good person” is just a “pretty good person.” But is that really all that matters? Would anybody really say that the main thing in life is to be mediocre? Because if mediocrity is your priority, if that’s what matters to you, then you actually have some very serious problems – you are lost in life, and you badly need to get some direction. You need to ask God for help, and you need to be open to the help He sends you.

Here’s another point: either Christianity is true or it isn’t. If it’s true then the things it says about how to be good are true as well. And if you don’t recognize that then you won’t know as much about how to be good. In other words, if Christianity is true then it matches up with reality – but in that case your ignoring or rejecting Christianity will set you in opposition to reality. And if you’re acting against reality then it doesn’t matter whether you’re a well-wishing sort of person, you’ll actually be doing a lot of harm. So if you really care about being good then you simply can’t ignore the special claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And finally, let’s talk about what God cares about. Remember, according to the Scriptures, God is our Father who loves us dearly. So He wants to be close to us, the way every good Father wants to be close to His children. Do you think it’s “good” to ignore the loving Father who gave you everything? To ignore His Son, to ignore his family? Do you think it would be admirable for a child in a loving family to ignore all his relatives because he was too busy being a “good person”?

Consider this illustration: one thing every schoolteacher notices is the difference in class between the students who have a strong, positive relationship with their parents and the students who don’t. All the students may be “good kids,” but that parental relationship makes a big difference, a difference in the way the students relate to their peers, to authority figures, to assignments. It makes a big difference even to the students’ self-image. Better to be a “good kid” with a positive parental relationship then to be a “good kid” on your own.

So too, it’s better to be a good person with a positive relationship with God the Father, and that’s precisely what Jesus Christ came to offer. You can be a good person and an orphan, but it’s a harder life without that core relationship. You can be a good person and a non-believer, but it’s a harder life without that core relationship.


Source: John-Mark Miravalle, "Is It Enough to Be a "Good Person"?," Prayer and Perspective Website, April 12, 2014, accessed April 14, 2014,


See this article for a deeper psychological analysis into this issue of being "nice":


If a sick person desires health without limitations, with greater reason we should desire the love of God, without limiting our desire to a certain degree. We do not know the degree to which God wishes to lead us and will lead us if we are faithful and generous. St. Thomas says: "Never can we love God as much as He ought to be loved, or believe and hope in Him as much as we should" (Ia IIae, q. 64, a. 4). In contrast to the moral virtues, the theological virtues do not consist essentially in a happy mean: their object, their formal motive, their essential measure is God Himself, His infinite truth and goodness. [...]

We cannot love God too much, believe too greatly in Him, hope too much in Him; we can never love Him as much as He should be loved. Thus we see more clearly that the supreme precept has no limit. It asks us all ever to strive here on earth for a purer and stronger love of God.

If hope is the mean between despair and presumption, this is not because the presumptuous man hopes too greatly in God, but because he displaces the motive of hope by hoping for what God could not promise, such as pardon without true repentance. Likewise, credulity does not consist in believing too greatly in God, but in believing what is only human invention or imagination as if it were revealed by him. [...]

To wish to make the theological virtues consist essentially in a golden mean as the moral virtues do, is characteristic of mediocrity or tepidity, erected into a system under pretext of moderation. Mediocrity is a mean between good and evil and, indeed, nearer evil than good. The reasonable, golden mean is already a summit, that is, moral good; the object of the theological virtues is infinite truth and goodness. This truth has at times been brought into relief by the comparison between the mediocre man and the true Christian. [1]



1. Cf. Ernest Hello, L'homme, Bk. 1, chap. 8: "The truly mediocre man admires everything a little and nothing with warmth.... He considers every affirmation insolent, because every affirmation excludes the contradictory proposition. But if you are slightly friendly and slightly hostile to all things, he will consider you wise and reserved. The mediocre man says there is good and evil in all things, and that we must not be absolute in our judgments. If you strongly affirm the truth, the mediocre man will say that you have too much confidence in yourself. The mediocre man regrets that the Christian religion has dogmas. He would like it to teach only ethics [à la Kant], and if you tell him that its code of morals comes from its dogmas as the consequence comes from the principle, he will answer that you exaggerate.... If the word 'exaggeration' did not exist, the mediocre man would invent it.

"The mediocre man appears habitually modest. He cannot be humble, or he would cease to be mediocre. The humble man scorns all lies, even were they glorified by the whole earth, and he bows the knee before every truth.... If the naturally mediocre man becomes seriously Christian, he ceases absolutely to be mediocre.... The man who loves is never mediocre."


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, trans. by M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1989), 200-201.


Would God send a "good person" to hell? Ultimately only God knows who will go to hell, for He alone will make the judgment. That being said, God has given us this little bit of insight into the process, which I think should make us pause (Matthew 7:13-27, DR):
[13] Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. [14] How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! [15] Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 
[16] By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?[17] Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. [18] A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. [19] Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. [20] Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. 
[21] Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.[22] Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? [23] And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. 
[24] Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 
[26] And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, [27] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.

Remember St. John of the Cross's commentary on verse 14 of the above passage. He calls attention to our Lord's choice of words—"How narrow!"—as if to say, "Yes, the gate is very narrow, narrower than you think" (cf. Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2.7.2 ff.).