Saturday, August 1, 2015

Join the Bear, and Do Your Part to Save the World

Damian Thompson
There's an article by Damian Thompson on the Catholic Herald site about the sorry state of affairs in Catholic blogging. If a Bear's opinion counts, it's rambling and unhelpful. After talking about Fr. Robert Barron, then the success of his own blog "Holy Smoke," he then says the following (in so many words): The heyday of Catholic blogging was in the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Since Pope Francis wandered onto the balcony with a tentative wave of the hand, Catholic bloggers have collapsed in exhaustion and discouragement. Except a few malcontents typified by someone who writes about "Frankie the Evil Clown."


While this blog tries to live up to its billing as being written by the Only Catholic Real Bear, if it is nothing but bitter snark, then the Bear is truly lost in the woods. Other conservative (as a broad term) Catholic blogs (such as those to whom the Bear links), seem to display a lot of variety, enthusiasm and sound Catholicism.

If it seems as though Pope Francis dominates some blogs, it is because we are the ragtag flotilla of pinging destroyers trying to expose the submarines that threaten the unarmed convoys of our fellow Catholics. You can't expect a peacetime cruise when we're at battle stations. Of course not many of us are going to make a big difference. But all of us? Well, the Bear thinks we do.

Even so, the Bear just published three stories that gently used Gospel accounts of the poor and the costly oil, when Jesus left the poor hungry, and God and mammon, to wonder why the Church has lost its taste for the supernatural. The Bear has recently written on the Liturgy of the Hours, meeting an elderly priest whose ministry is blessing items purchased at a Catholic gift shop, and just today, a piece about St. Alphonsus Liguori. Despite frequently writing about Pope Francis, including his psychological effect on faithful Catholics, the author of this blog is by no means a one-trick Bear. Furthermore, the Bear has yet to lose his sense of humor, as his readers (hopefully) know.

Any discouragement is very temporary. The Bear loves what he does, and St. Corbinian's Bear blog is growing steadily. This article marks it's 600th piece. The Bear has been seriously blogging only since February of last year. We are closing in on a quarter million views. The graph to the left shows this blog's actual growth between February of last year and now. (The first article, The Bear Who Woke Up, looks in even sharper focus today than when it was written.)

That's not to brag. The Bear is aware he is still a pipsqueak compared to more established blogs. And that's okay, because, big or small, the mission is the same. The point is to dispel any notion that conservative Catholic blogs are on the retreat.

Damian Thompson has probably never heard of St. Corbinian's Bear. He's evidently never heard of a a lot of blogs if he thinks the Catholic blogosphere is deflated.

Yeah, saving the world's a big job. But haven't you heard? The Catholic Bloggers aren't going anywhere.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri

The Saint's head was left permanently bowed by an illness.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri is one of our lawyer-saints. He was of a noble family and afforded all the benefits of that state. He was a prodigy on the harpsichord (but only through grueling practice) and a fencer. He loved the opera, but removed his glasses so he could not see the performers. He was comfortable in the world and met with success, but partly because the influence of his pious father, did not fall into sin.

It is said that he never lost a case. That is, until his last one. Let us read from the Catholic Encyclopedia of a courtroom humiliation that shook to the core this young star of the Neapolitan courts. It was a civil suit involving a large sum of money. Even today, is there a lawyer who can read the following without cringing?

When the day came the future Saint made a brilliant opening speech and sat down confident of victory. But before he called a witness the opposing counsel said to him in chilling tones: "Your arguments are wasted breath. You have overlooked a document which destroys your whole case." "What document is that?" said Alphonsus somewhat piqued. "Let us have it." A piece of evidence was handed to him which he had read and re-read many times, but always in a sense the exact contrary of that which he now saw it to have. The poor advocate turned pale. He remained thunderstruck for a moment; then said in a broken voice: "You are right. I have been mistaken. This document gives you the case." In vain those around him and even the judge on the bench tried to console him. He was crushed to the earth. He thought his mistake would be ascribed not to oversight but to deliberate deceit. He felt as if his career was ruined, and left the court almost beside himself, saying: "World, I know you now. Courts, you shall never see me more." For three days he refused all food. Then the storm subsided, and he began to see that his humiliation had been sent him by God to break down his pride and wean him from the world.

On August 28, 1723, he received a spiritual calling and left his sword before a statue of the Virgin Mary. His long career was challenged by intrigue, controversy and ill health, but he made a vow not to waste a moment's time. The massive corpus of work he left behind remains a testament to his keeping of that vow.

He died on August 1, 1787. He was canonized by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839, and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871. He advocated a middle course for confessors, that avoided both the rigorism of Jansenism and laxity. He is the patron saint of confessors.

Undoubtedly, he his best known today for The Glories of Mary. It is a veritable encyclopedia of Marian devotion, much beloved by generations of Catholics, written in a time when Jansenists were attacking Marian piety. Quoting St. Bonaventure, St. Alphonsus wrote: "No one can enter Heaven unless by Mary, as though through a door."

He also counseled Catholics to speak to God humbly, but familiarly about their ordinary concerns.

Apropos of of our discussion about the Liturgy of the Hours, today is a good example of ribbon flippin' aplenty! Everything is from the Common of Pastors, except what is from the Common of Doctors of the Church. But don't forget to use the psalms from Sunday, week 1 (which are fortunately printed on a card, so one less ribbon), and the hymn, of course. Finally, there is also the following prayer from the Proper of Saints. (The Bear knows it sounds crazy, but it really isn't that hard once you understand the way it works. Good manual dexterity helps.)

Father, you constantly build up your Church
by the lives of your Saints.
Give us grace to follow Saint Alphonsus in his loving concern for all men,
and so come to share his reward in heaven.
Grant this through our lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever.

--Christian Prayer

Thursday, July 30, 2015

When Papacy Fails -- There's a Reason Pope Francis Drives You Crazy

It is late in the evening of December 20th, 1954. A group of expectant men and women have gathered in the home of Chicago housewife Dorothy Martin. As midnight approaches, they begin to remove zippers, bra straps, anything that might contain metal. Many have gotten rid of more than that: jobs, college, possessions, even spouses. According to Martin, the world was about to end for everyone except these few believers, who would be rescued by a flying saucer at midnight.

Those gathered are stunned when midnight comes and nothing happens. Some possible explanations are floated, and discarded. At 4 a.m. Martin begins to cry.

Then at 4:45 a.m., Martin receives a message through automatic writing. The God of Earth has taken note of their faith and has decided to spare the world.

Far from giving up, the previously reclusive cult initiates a publicity drive, and engages in fervent proselytization.

This bizarre story is the basis for a 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger, a psychologist who had actually infiltrated the cult. It was Festinger who came up with the concept of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two incompatible beliefs at the same time. The result is an uncomfortable psychological feeling of dissonance. If we find ourselves suffering from cognitive dissonance, we will naturally take measures to reduce the dissonance, and to feel better.

In the case of the flying saucer cultists, they channeled their energy into growing their ranks, reducing their cognitive dissonance by recruiting more believers. History is full of failed doomsday cults that have bounced back with even more vigor than they previously enjoyed. (Someone should do a study on climate change!) Faithfulness and proselytization can often be psychological defense mechanisms.

Pope Francis and Cognitive Dissonance

St. Corbinian's Bear Poll
The Bear suggests many Catholics are experiencing this today, in what might be called When Papacy Fails. Pope Francis may not be driving you crazy, but there is reason to believe he might be causing you very real psychological stress.

There is nothing scientific about the blog poll to the left, of course. This is a self-selected group visiting a blog that is one of the most critical of this papacy. The Bear only added the psychological questions at the last minute, and did not suspect they would see much interest.

So imagine the Bear's surprise when he learned that nearly as many people thought the Papacy of Francis had harmed them psychologically as spiritually. But why not? Couldn't this sample, and many, many more Catholics beyond the poll's reach, be experiencing real psychological discomfort due to cognitive dissonance?

If you believe that the Church is a divine institution, carrying out God's plan of evangelization and the cure of souls, maintaining a tradition that ensures its integrity, and if you envision popes in the mold of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and even Pius XII, Pope Francis comes as much of a shock as a spaceman from Dorothy Martin's planet Clarion.

Sixty years late, but I'm finally here!

You can't shake the feeing that something is terribly wrong. It's not supposed to be this way. Popes aren't supposed to be as off-kilter as Pope Francis. The Church is not supposed to be talking about changing things as settled as Jesus' condemnation of remarriage after divorce, let alone homosexual unions. Nor should it be refereeing scientific debates, and in general showing interest in everything but the supernatural.

So, on the one hand, you have everything you believe in your core about the Catholic Church. On the other, you have the undeniable fact of Pope Francis. If a Grand Canyon sized split like that is not enough to cause cognitive dissonance, the Bear does not know what is.

Of course, if you don't hold a view of the Church similar to the one described above, then, naturally, you're not likely to experience dissonance. You can be Catholic and enjoy it, free from the slightest cognitive dissonance, no matter what happens! (Also, you have to be seriously invested in a belief before it can generate cognitive dissonance.)

By the way, cognitive dissonance is not a mental illness, but the mind's natural reaction to conflicting beliefs.

Dealing With Cognitive Dissonance

So how do we deal with cognitive dissonance? The Bear is not pretending to provide counseling, but will propose a few ideas. In general, there are four effective defense mechanisms that kick in to reducing dissonance.

The perfect example (perfect as an example, not as a model) is the sedevacantist. Get rid of the Pope and you get rid of the dissonance! They have changed one of the conflicting cognitions ("Francis is Pope"). Similarly, others may leave the Church. They have changed their cognition the opposite way from the sedevacantists by getting rid of the Church.

Another way is to keep the Pope and the Church while turning a blind eye to anything distressing that the Pope may do or say. This is the ultramontanist solution. A variation is to blame everybody in the Church but the Pope. This is the well-known position of Church Militant's Michael Voris. It's the Pope's "bad advisors," or the bishops. Both simply ignore the conflicting cognition. This means simply disregarding all evidence that Francis' Papacy is deeply flawed. The Bear, by the way, is not saying this is a bad approach. In fact, it is probably very effective for some for whom criticizing the pope is off limits as a means of relieving dissonance. (Blaming everything unfortunate on advisors and bishops might also be considered as adding another cognition, discussed two paragraphs down,)

Still others may physically stay in the Church, but just disengage. It's easier to shrug it all off than deal with the pain. "Oh, I don't follow all that." They have justified the conflicting cognition by changing it ("It's not all that important").

One might also find a way to justify a cognition by adding another cognition to it. Perhaps by telling oneself, "Pope Francis may be Pope, but is so bad that normal pope rules just don't apply to him." This is probably where St. Corbinian's Bear falls. If it were just an ordinary difference on a papal opinion or two, the Bear would not dare growl so.

These are all natural psychological defense measures that may kick in according to the individual's needs and beliefs. Some of them have very bad "side effects." What can we do consciously to help us deal with cognitive dissonance caused by Pope Francis?

Self Care for Cognitive Dissonance

If you are reading this, you are probably remaining faithful, but experience real psychological distress to a greater or lesser degree. We do not quite know what to do with a Pope who seems to have departed from the Petrine program, if not the neighborhood of reason. Even worse, we have the added stressors that we are not supposed to criticize the Pope, and that we can rely on his ordinary magisterium. The problem is exacerbated by the relentless train of unfortunate comments and visuals.

So what can we do? These are some ideas. You may find some more appealing than others. Not all of them are for everybody.

  • nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there (Holy Stubbornness)
  • seek out the pre-1960 comfort zone of the past in different ways, e.g. the traditional Latin Mass, Douay Rheims Bible, etc.
  • draw comfort from like-minded people at blogs like St. Corbinian's Bear and others (if others are with you, you will feel safer), and that may include using comment boxes
  • on the other hand, avoid, as much as possible, all news and discussion of Pope Francis
  • more Jesus, less Francis -- a regular classic prayer life (Divine Office, rosary, etc.), reading scripture (which has many examples of suffering under bad leaders)
  • recognize that this will be a relatively short papacy, and things will undoubtedly get better
  • therapy -- the biggest thing in your life is being seriously messed with; people who are particularly at risk might benefit
  • God permitted this to happen -- you don't need to know everything, but it does test our faith

In the end, perhaps the best we can do is hold on to our beliefs about the Church, while at the same time acknowledging the problems Francis poses. We don't have to have all the answers. But we know what is right, and what is wrong, and we know nothing Pope Francis can do is able to change one to the other.

Bruno and Cecil -- Together

Together in Large Predator Heaven: Bruno and Cecil
How long will humans' war against nature continue?

Assassinated 2006 by order of Bavarian President Edmund Stoiber.

Assassinated 2015 by a dentist.

Bears and lions don't usually hang out together. But the Bear imagines them now, each cut down in his prime, but enjoying textured vegetable protein antelope and faux guinea pigs. (Yes, guinea pigs. One of the animals Bruno supposedly killed as he roamed through Bavaria under diplomatic immunity was a guinea pig. Seriously, who leaves their guinea pigs out to get eaten by larger animals, which would include just about all of them?) Neither one of these stories stack up. Call the Bear crazy, but it's almost like men are deliberately killing us for some reason!