A Pope of the People?

There once was a cardinal from a country with a large Catholic population but a secular, anti-Catholic government. He had something of a reputation in his homeland, in Rome, and among the Catholic commentariat, if you will, but wasn’t really known to the average priest or layperson, or especially most non-Catholics. As a bishop and Cardinal, he seemed to be just like the bishop in Les Miserables. He didn’t like to be addressed as “Your Emminence,” “Your Excellency,” or even “Father,” but told people to call him “Uncle.” He enjoyed hiking and outdoor sports, and preferred hanging out with laity to clergy, and when he hung out with clergy, he didn’t “pull rank”–even to the extent that, on a weekend vacation with various priests, an old monseignor, not knowing who he was, decided to boss around the unassuming middle-aged “priest,” until the monseignor was embarrased to learn he had spent the weekend ordering a cardinal to fetch his tea or his newspaper.
When a papacy was suddenly cut short, there was an emergency conclave though it seemed one had just happened recently. There were rumors that this cardinal had been a front runner during the previous conclave, or that another cardinal had actually been elected first then rejected because of political lobbying, but either way people suggested for almost his entire papacy that this popular, populist cardinal was actually a communist agent.
He was elected Pope, and shocked the world with his unassuming greeting. For the first few years of his Papacy, he seemed to embody the “hopes” of the Vatican II generation for a “radical” who would strip away wall the remaining trappings and traditions. He appointed some key bishops and cardinals who emphasized a “pastoral” approach. He shunned some of the security measures and other trappings of the papacy to be “close to the people.” A few of his appointments, most notably his Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, seemed to have a more “conservative” or “traditional” bent. His erstwhile admirers began to be concerned that that he wasn’t the Pope they’d been looking for, although those inclined to mistrust him largely retained their mistrust.
Then, after a time, something happened. He was shot. After, he adopted more security. His teachings became more bold. His appointments became, generally, more “traditional.” Within a few years, though some of those who suspected he was a secret Communist never relinquished that view, even as he helped topple communist and other secular regimes around the world, but the progressives who had embraced him early on began to denounce him as a traditonalist and a reactionary. They began to express hope that he’d die soon so they could get a “Pope who will get rid of all that canon law stuff, allow contraception and divorce and abortion and women priests. . . . ” When he or his prefects at the CDF and the CDW issued strong statements on moral or liturgical issues, they’d say things like, “he’s trying to stop his successor from making the changes we want.” Yet when his CDF prefect became his successor, they ignored him.
And now I think we’re seeing the same process with Francis that we saw 30 years ago with St. John Paul II.

Of Monsters and Muppets: Cynicism and kids

After “Miss Piggy,” always a satire of feminism, proclaimed herself “pro-choice” in a promotional appearance for ABC’s new _Muppets_, I was ready to completely boycott it, but having seen such conflicting responses, I decided to watch and review it myself.

First, I’d like to recommend this review, the best I’ve seen:

What were previously sly winks to a grownup audience are now grotesque full-body grimaces, delivered with depressing sledgehammer brutality. In one scene, Animal laments his consequence-free promiscuity. In another, Zoot from The Electric Mayhem is outed as an alcoholic. And then, most heartbreakingly of all, there’s Kermit.

This version of Kermit is absolutely unrecognisable from anything that’s ever come before. This Kermit badmouths fellow celebrities, openly discusses his sex life and, at one point, describes his life as “a living hell”. That’s not who Kermit is. Kermit is the perennial wide-eyed optimist, the figure who grounds the chaos around him in sincerity. Kermit is the dreamer who believes in the power of people. He’s the one who sings The Rainbow Connection. He is most definitely not the stress-eating, coffee-drinking executive that The Muppets paints him as. It physically hurts to see what ABC have done to him.

As Steven D. Graydanus put it on Facebook, “they’ve given us the Moopets, ‘A hard, cynical act for a hard, cynical world.'”

On the other hand, many viewers are saying there is not much of a difference, and the “Million Moms” group and others who complain are confusing The Muppet Show with Sesame Street.

To an extent, I’m surprised to say I agree with the latter group.

Superficially, the humor is the same, and I laughed quite a bit.  If the reality-show-parody sitcom is outdated now, what about the Vaudeville format of _The Muppet Show_?

The reference to Animal being a womanizer?


And, speaking of Sam the American Eagle, it always amuses me how the same basic situation will be praised or condemned by the same people.  Age of Ultron depicts everyone teasing Captain America for calling people on their profanity, and people say, “It’s great seeing a character do that.”  Sam does it on The Muppets, and people are focusing on the language itself.

Nevertheless, there is something missing.  The examples above are cynical, but playful.  The new show is just kind of nasty.  It embodies so much of what’s wrong in most comedy of the past quarter century or so, the world of Comedy Central, of Letterman, Stewart and Colbert, where cynicism and satire are confused, and pure bullying nastiness is seen as humor.

One of the funniest moments in 1987’s Muppet Family Christmas is when Kermit says, “The heck you say.” Anyone who was watching was aware he was euphemizing, but that’s what makes it funny.  The attempt to “make Kermit edgy” by saying “bacon-wrapped hell on earth” was not nearly as funny as “bacon-wrapped heck” would have been.

In  Monsters, Inc., (2001), “today’s” kids are too cynical to be scared by monsters in their closets, so the monsters turn to comedy.  The new Muppets tells us that our society is too cynical to appreciate whimsy and fun.

What does it mean to be a “Successful” Parent?

Our Lady told St. Bernadette, “I cannot promise you happiness.” Many parents, however, say, “I just want you to be happy.” I say, “I just want you to be a Saint.” As Mother Angelica says in the opening sequence, “We are all called to be great Saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.” That should be every parent’s priority. Education is about formation of the person. Careers are how we provide for needs. They should also be apostolates–as CS Lewis and St. Josemaria, among so many others have said, being the best scientist, showing people a God’s hand in creation, or the best housewife, showing His love to everyone, is a more important and effective Apostolate than being a theologian–but work, like the Sabbath, was made for man. We treat our children like they exist only to be money-making or power-grabbing machines in a competitive world. It can be difficult to teach them how to honor God by doing their best to be their best while teaching them to avoid unnecessary stress or the “rat race.”There can be an equal temptation, though, to turn that quest for sanctity into a competition if its own, as if a formally recognized “St.” Degree, as Mother Angelica calls it, is the objective.  There is no more perfect formula to raising holy kids than there is to raising kids to be MDs or music stars.  

The popular but misused teaching of St. Augustine, dilige et quod vis fac, often mistranslated as “love and then do as you will,” really means “Love your duty and then do it.” Dilige is, after all, the root of “diligence,”though also of “delight,” etc.  Years ago,  I read a fantastic “testimony,” as the Evangelicals would say, by a Catholic “revert” who was led astray by the popular misuse of that expression.  I can’t find it offhand but here are a couple other sites that share the same critique of the popular version.  In reality, it’s the Little Way of St. Therese, or the maxim of Teresa of Avila (requoted by her popular namesakes) to do small things with great love and find God among the pots and pans.

Any parent who gets that message through is successful.

Mohammed never gets the credit he deserves

Many men in history have built empires.  We honor men like Nimrod, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander,  Caesar, Attila, Genghis, Ivan, Charlemagne and Napoleon for their military genius and worldly conquests.  We know them by their given names.  Scripture even tells us they can, like Cyrus, be God’s instruments.  For some reason,    Probably the reason why people brag if their great-grandfather was a pirate but lie if their father is a thief, we regard Hitler with contempt more than others who did comparable things. 

Anyway, one thing almost all of them have in common is their empires fell.  They nominally conquered huge portions of the Earth, yet they died, and in some way or another their territories were split or conquered.

Mohammed, the salesman-warlord, came up with a great formula.  No one who’s tried it since (Joseph Smith, for example) has been quite so successful.  He took the methods of the great conquerors: invade a town, make examples of a few noteworthy leaders and random citizenship then demand submission.  Yet he added a religion.  Who knows?  Maybe he did start with an authentic private revelation and corrupt it.  Maybe it was an apparition of Satan.  Maybe the Koran is a mistranslation into Arabic of Aramaic  Christian theology.   Certainly, as the singer Bono argued of Christianity, there is something at least preternatural about Mahonet’s success.  

In his lifetime, he conquered much of Arabia.  His immediate successors kept his purpose, compared to Alexander’s generals who formed separate empires. They conquered, in a relatively short time, Arabia, Persia, most of what had been the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and even Iberia. By tying religion to military zeal, Mohammed has inspired zealots for 1400 years, and in true sociopathic fashion, offer only a tu quoque.  It is a brilliant strategic plan which deserves more attention in history classes.

What the Pew Poll on Catholics can tell us about Muslims.

This week, yet another Survey came out showing that most who identify as “Catholic” are not,morally.  Whatever happened to Catholics needing to “believe all the Church believes and teaches”?  Where would we be if the priest who gave Dietrich Von Hildebrand instruction hadn’t required him to accept everything?

Yet we’re told that, because the vast majority of “Catholics” use contraception without batting an eye, that means it’s O.K.  for Catholics to contracept.  The majority of Cstholics think the Eucharist is a “symbol,” which in the old days would have meant anathema, yet somehow that tells society that “the Church” (including much of the hierarchy) thinks differently than the Magisterium, but those of us who *do* believe (and go to Confession when we fall short rather than literally parading our sins) are “extremists.”

So, when the media, politicians and even well meaning Catholics insist “Islam is a religion of peace, the majority of Muslims are peaceful,” I don’t buy it.

I went to a nominally Catholic high school where, for “religion,” we once had to sit through a lesson on Islam from one student.  Back then, everyone said, “‘Islam’ means ‘submission.'”  That’s what my classmate said in a pro-Islam talk.  It’s what my professor and textbook in the Islamic history class I took for my multicultural requirement said.   Only after 9/11 did it suddenly start meaning “peace.”

Jesus Christ preached to fight spiritually, not physically.  As Tim Rice puts it, “To conquer death, you only have to die.”  He was crucified–in part, because the crowds rejected Him for *not* conquering.  Yes, Moses and the Judges took the Holy Land by force, and that is a Mystery in understanding God (most straightforward answer is that, before Christ, all mortal sin was literally mortal).  Regardless, we regard Vlad the 

Impaler, who protected all of Europe for a generation, as a monster.  Do 

Muslims do the same to their impalers?  No, they honor them as caliphs because they follow in the footsteps of Mohammed.

That is the difference.  Even when we honor those who’ve fought in just wars as Saints, it’s usually for what happened after more than before.

Yet why, in Islam or Christianity, does society point to the majorit’s beliefs and actions to represent the religion?  As Fr. Dubay put it, you don’t judge a belief system by those who do it badly.  You judge it by its heroes who best e employ its teachings.

A Question for Pastors

I have a serious question to ask to any priests who may happen to read this, but first, I’d like to begin with an example.
Arguably, the worst pope in history was Alexander VI, aka Rodrigo Borgia: we say “Borgia Popes” when there was really only one, but his reputation defined an era; his daughter(!) Lucretia is ranked in history and myth with the likes of Jezebel and Medea; his son(!) is believed to be the model for the behaviors Machiavelli describes in _The Prince_.
During an era when women were forbidden, both in canonical and civil law, from preaching, a woman who claimed to be a locutionary and prophetess was brought before the throne of Alexander VI on charges of witchcraft.  She began to recite and denounce the sins of Rodrigo Borgia.  The Pope, not known for any particular respect for human life, could have publically or privately ordered her tortured or killed in any way he wanted, but he acknowledge the truth of her words and ordered that she be released.
I have known few local pastors willing to demonstrate such humility when laity have even so much as questioned their decisions on morally neutral matters, much less challenged them for setting a bad example or being outright cruel.  13 years after the so-called “scandals,”  which were really for some reason a sudden media outburst about problems long known and rumored, have we learned nothing?
While the Church has addressed child sexual abuse nominally by targeting parents and making up draconian policies based more on legal, insurance and PR concerns than morality–which was the problem to begin with–and while some reports suggest the cases of sexual abuse have gone down, verbal and emotional abuse by pastors goes on unabated.
When a few lay organizations perhaps go overboard in their zeal for prophetic witness, they are dismissed as “causing division,” while the average Catholic who cares about the Church is still ignored or dismissed or even banned.
The Holy Father worries about pastors “obsessing” in homilies about a “few disjointed moral issues,” yet most of us have rarely, if ever, heard those moral issues addressed from the pulpit, except by priests who preach of “tolerance” and “more important issues,” and the ones who do preach about them tend to “disappear,” get  passed up for pastoral appointments, or suddenly adopt a softer tone.
You see, if a rich liberal Catholic writes an angry letter to the bishop, that letter gets heard, but if a traditionalist, whether rich or not (but usually we have less disposable income because we actually have kids) writes to the bishop, in that case the letter-writer gets ignored or worse.

Poll after poll shows that most Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of Our Faith, and it’s not preached about, even when we have the Bread of Life discourse every three years.  Poll after poll shows that only a small percentage, if only a fraction of a percent, of Catholics are using NFP.
We’re told, if we point to the lack of children in the pews as a cause for pastoral concern, that we’re “being judgemental” and that maybe all those people are suffering infertility.  If that’s the case, then priests should be preaching about adoption or about how the birth control hormones polluting our water supply are causing rising infertility rates.

Yet, when the saints, and the Popes (including Pope Francis) suggest avoiding preaching against sin, they usually do it with the alternative of preaching prayer.  St. Louis de Montfort and St. Teresa of Avila both call on priests to teach prayer and devotion to Our Lady, that sinners want to know how to repent, and God will open the truth to them in prayer.

We’re told about the Pope’s admonitions against using air conditioning, but not his admonitions against priests living in luxury and his calls for pastors to “smell like the sheep” and go out among the poor.

And the question that I always come back to is: Father(s), do you care more about saving souls or about saving money?

Do you care that the majority of your flock are likely to go to Hell?  Why don’t you warn them?   Do you understand that, when you don’t encourage families to be in the church, when you tear down playgrounds or forbid people from using them, you’re telling people “children aren’t welcome”?  Do you care about the souls of people you push away?  St. Alphonsus warns that pastors will be held accountable for every soul lost to Hell because of their sins of deed or omission.  Even St. John Bosco had a vision, late in life, where St. Dominic Savio admonished him for permitting too many boys to be lost to Hell because he lacked enough faith!

If you find yourself wishing that the most fervent of your followers would die off or get over the alleged “fad” of Tradition, think about it.
If you find yourself suggesting you’d leave the priesthood rather than following Pope Benedict’s call to offer the Extraordinary Form to any group who requests it, or St. John Paul’s call to say part of every Mass in Latin, think about it.
If you find yourself saying things like a hole in one is the greatest moment in your life, think about it.
If you’re more concerned about money issues than whether children or families with children feel welcome in your parish, think about it.
If you find yourself too proud to read something like this and take fraternal correction in humility the way even Rodrigo Borgia was able to do, think about it.

And when you’ve thought about it, I invite you to make or renew a total consecration to Our Lady.  Start today.  Even if it’s not 33 days from a Marian feast, there’s no time like the present.

A guide to St. Louis de Montfort’s Consecration
A guide to St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Consecration
Please, Father, whoever you are reading this, please act now.

The Key to a “Perfect Marriage”

Is not to think there is one.

Back in the late 90s, Mary Beth Bonacci wrote a column about how the purpose of dating is to break up.  So often, that seems to be the purpose not just of dating but of most “relationship” articles.  “How to tell if your [guy/girl] is [cheating/wrong for you/the right one,” “How to tell if your relationship is failing.”  “What do all successful marriages have in common?”

Bai MacFarlane once observed of her divorce that there’s a certain attitude of the “perfect Catholic marriage” that has grown out of the JP2/NFP/TOB movement that sets a certain standard, and people are often led to stress about trying to achieve that standard.

A few years ago, Matt Walsh wrote a piece called “My Marriage Wasn’t Meant to Be,” which he apparently recently revised for his new Blaze column in response to the Sparks divorce.  His point is that we have free will, and the notion of being “destined” to marry someone takes away from free will but also creates an ideal that is too easily lost to sentimentalism–or questioning whether “this is the right one.”  I’d argue that a Mystery is far more complicated than that, and he is quite literally touching on the basic question of free will versus predestination and God’s plans versus our own, but he makes a good point.

Closer to home, my wife, thinking about cases like the MacFarlanes, or Nicholas Sparks and his wife, or of how every celebrity couple who give an interview about their great marriage seem to divorce shortly thereafter, always says, “Don’t say we have a ‘happy marriage.’  Saying that is just inviting the Devil to tempt us.  There’s no such thing as a ‘happy marriage’ or a ‘perfect marriage.'”  It wasn’t until recently that I connected all those thoughts and realized that’s what she means.

Maggie Gallagher a few years ago wrote of attending a 50th anniversary party, where the husband was asked the secret to staying married 50 years, and he said, “Arrive for your wedding and then wait.”

That, really, sums it up.  There are plenty of good points available for guidance in discerning whether someone is the “right” person to marry, and there is plenty of good advice for trying to do better.  But there is a great danger in constantly thinking that a relationship must be “perfect,” that a person must be “perfect,” that if you’re *not* living up to the standard, that you should call it quits.

Nonetheless, however you get there, presuming proper formation and discernment, and no canonical impediments, whether you’re “best friends,” “soul mates,” or arranged, or whatever, after the vows are exchanged, the key to marriage is a) to remember that divorce is never an option; b) to always keep working at it; c) to remember that you’ve given yourselves to each other and be grateful for that gift.

And that’s really all there is to it.