Monthly Archives: September 2015

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.

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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?

Cynicism?

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.