Saturday, December 20, 2014

Merry Christmas

The Bear is taking a break to enjoy his family and pick up the spiritual thread of Christmas. He wishes a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all his readers, without whom there would be no St. Corbinian's Bear.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If the Church Ran Your World...

If the Post-Vatican II Church ran your world...

You would live in an unadorned barn, the largely empty space echoing with amateur recordings of showtunes.

Your kitchen table would be... just the same as it is now. At every meal all the neighbors would be invited in to help serve.

Conjugal relations would subsist in the broader society of marriage, and members outside of yours would nonetheless enjoy certain privileges flowing therefrom. (Your guess is as good as the Bear's, but it sounds weird.)

Policemen would come and make a bonfire of all your books and belongings from before 1965. You would go to work in a tie-dyed suit.

English would be banned. You would be required to speak Esperanto. Actually, anything but English.

The previous president would be confusingly called Mr. President, and he would continue living in the White House.

The Supreme Court would issue a new opinion every week. In anagrams. No one would figure out what they meant before the next one came out, but there would be lots of heated discussion.

Half your kids would disappear overnight. You might see some of them Christmas and Easter.

Just when you think you had things figured out, Germans would change everything somehow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good Piece at Father Z's

Here's a good piece at Fr. Z's by Anthony Esolen about the libido delendi -- the lust for destruction of the Church. It's one of those essays the Bear wishes he had written.

Fr. Z's solution is to work until your parish is traditional, or at least offers a traditional Mass for those  will attend.

The Bear thinks that's excellent advice for Catholics living in a Metropolitan Statistical Area who can bring together the critical mass to overturn fifty years of bad architecture and worse liturgy.

For the rest of us, we may have to make do with nailing our foot in front of our favorite pew in our ghastly novus ordo church. Our victories will be of the nickle and dime sort, and we'll have to be content.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Poll: Do Pets Go to Heaven?

Buster and Dahlia.
The new puppies.
I've always thought the picture of Buster and Dahlia should be in an advertising campaign."She'd be the last to complain, but..." The product would be dog shampoo, or breath-freshening treats, or something.

One thing to consider is that we enjoy many pets in our lifetimes, if we are the pet sort. We're sorry when they pass away, but time heals all wounds, and we scarcely think of them in later years. But there are a few special animals that become part of us, such that we feel a pang no matter how much time has passed. Those are the ones we want to see again.

Under Islam, dogs are reviled and casually abused (which was hard to take for my son in Afghanistan). In the Christian West, dogs are generally appreciated, and often bring joy to their owners.

The truth is that of all religions, the Christian religion is the most silent concerning the afterlife. (The absence of fanciful promises or fleshly delights speaks to its truth, the Bear believes.) There are two mistakes we can make, it seems to the Bear.

One is to speak of Heaven as if we float in eternal, timeless bliss, absorbed into the godhead, the resurrection an irrelevancy.

The other is to imagine a materialistic Heaven where we're busy doing all the things we liked to do before, watched over by a benign, but remote deity.

The Church does not require of us belief that animals are not to be found in Heaven. Nor does it require us to believe they are. The Church's silence probably indicates it is not something we should worry too much about. Perhaps the best answer is: "But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthian 2:9)

The only thing we know for sure is that it will be perfect.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why Dogs Go to Heaven

St. Christopher Depicted With a Dog's Head

The buzz seems to be swinging away from Pope Francis having said dogs go to heaven. The fire brigade is out, citing theological consensus that animals lack an immortal soul. And Pope Francis would never depart from that, would he? The story says more about how we view Pope Francis than the eternal fate of pets. We'll believe any alleged quote by now.

Please forgive the Bear if he seems to engage in special pleading, being, after all, an animal himself. The Bear concedes better minds than his have concluded the sign over Heaven's gate reads "No Dogs Allowed." Nonetheless, the Bear will argue to the contrary, it not being, after all, de fido, er, fide.

We don't know very much about what it will be like to be in Heaven, except that we will enjoy the Beatific Vision. Coupled with another fact of our heavenly existence -- our resurrected bodies -- the Beatific Vision sounds unfortunately static and visual. We stand, we look at God, and enjoy bliss. The Church doesn't precisely teach this, at least the Bear doesn't think so, but let's say the theological terminology is more precise than evocative.

But our resurrected bodies are what the Bear can't stop thinking about. He suspects there will be a lot going on with those bodies. Why else would we have them? That implies a setting, and yes, there will be a new Earth. This will be another Paradise, and there were certainly animals there.

But will any of these animals be our pets? Each beloved animal companion of course remains complete in God's consciousness. It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to imagine that we "find" them in our contemplation of God. And why should they not be present bodily for our delight? If we are to have bodies, why, if not to rejoice in the Good God's gifts? And one of the greatest, innocent, everyday pleasures is petting and playing with a beloved pet.

Buster Wants to Play

We draw dogs, especially, into our human lives. Anyone who has loved a dog knows that it has its own personality. A dog feels, and thinks. The Bear rejects any argument that rests on the supposed lack of consciousness of dogs. Dogs are the symbol of loyalty. He anticipate his master's moves, mirrors his moods, remembers, solves problems and initiates interaction. Stories of dogs mourning their dead masters are too numerous to catalog. The Bear could fill a book with examples of his Yorkie's consciousness, and so could any dog owner.

Of course dogs do not have a human consciousness, and the Bear is not arguing that they have the same soul as a human. To speak in such terms is to get off track. The Christian Heaven is not Nirvana, where we are dissolved into the One. It is a bodily Paradise where every moment is suffused with the glory of God. The Bear is confident that God will not neglect to once again fill it with animals, and some of those will be our beloved pets.


No one is certain why St. Christopher is sometimes depicted with a dog's head in Orthodox iconography. The Bear notes that Roman light infantry of certain periods wore wolf heads with wolf skin capes, perhaps as an aid to recognizing individual soldiers. Others theorize it was a symbol of barbarism, although they do not explain why that should apply to a Roman soldier.

Animals are smarter than we give them credit for. Here's an amazing experiment involving a problem-solving crow.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Kind of a Disgraceful Excuse for a Blog Is This, Anyway?

Posts trailing off to once a week, lost comments, just what kind of a blog is this, anyway?

The Bear is quite sorry he has let things get slack lately, but, after all, he is a Bear. Laziness is considered a mark of character among bears, which is just as well, since one might as well make a virtue out of vice if you have no immortal soul, right?

But wait! Big news in the woodland! Pope Francis said that animals go to heaven.

Among those sending Tuffy to Hell, or at least oblivion, would be Pope Benedict and Fr. Mitch Pacwa from EWTN. (Bears have long memories.)

The Bear has to side with Pope Francis on this latest non-magisterial statement on the fate of animals.

So make that two posts this week, albeit at least one of them sort of lame.

A Bear Planning Next Week's Blog Articles

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Immaculate Conception

Bouguereau's "Innocence"
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is a Holy Day of Obligation. The United States is under the patronage of Mary, Immaculately Conceived. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854 in a rare exercise of papal infallibility.

It means that Mary was preserved from the taint of Adam's sin -- Original Sin -- right from the moment of her conception.

Of course, the Bear suspects his readers knew all that already.

The rest of us must struggle against the inclination to sin, which we call concupiscence. The psalmist's plaint is all too personal and real: "For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 50:7).

What does The Immaculate Conception mean to us? Is it a mere fact, a technicality required by dry exegesis?

The sinlessness of Mary can seem remote, even something which incites more shame in us than encouragement. We are so far from sinlessness ourselves. But she is first of all our mother, and loves our boldness with her.  She is not a standard for us poor, wounded sinners. That would,be impossible. She is, rather, a standard bearer. She is the first soldier on the ground in an army invading Paradise. We cannot go very wrong if we simply follow her the best we can.

William Wordsworth summed this day up in the wonderful phrase: "Our tainted nature's solitary boast." Here is the poem, "The Virgin," from which that line comes.

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

Where's My Comment?

SCB is not moderated. That means anyone can post in a current topic and it just shows up. The Bear relies on the good sense of his guests and Blogger's anti-spam measures. That way no one has to wait for the Bear to green light their contribution to a discussion.

But once a topic is "stale," (however Blogger defines that) comments do get held up. That's because the Bear doesn't keep track of 433 articles this year alone and would never see posts on older ones.

Sometimes Blogger does odd and unfortunate things. If you have commented on an older post recently, and don't see your comment, rest assured the Bear has not censored or ignored you. (It's not impossible that the Bear could click the wrong button, too, but he's putting the blame on Blogger absent a guilty recollection to the contrary.)

So please accept the Bear's apologies if your comment hasn't shown up. You can always try again, although the Bear realizes that is frustrating.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lady Marchmain on Animals

Bears Stealing Honey

The Bear found this amusing from the reading he is sharing with his mate: Brideshead Revisted.
"But of course," she said, "it's very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalog of unexpected things. It's not to be expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It's all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side of religion."
Oddest things indeed, the Bear mused. Do you suppose a bear was drawn to the lights and sounds of the Nativity, only to hold back, not so much fearful, as afraid of being fearsome? Yet perhaps he should have paid his respects, after all. The most terrible things can be the most comforting. The Bear becomes the Teddy Bear. God becomes a Baby. As long as they're on your side, the very best friends are the most ferocious.

Oddest things indeed. Heroic bears were the friends of Elisha, but ferocious to a dangerous mob of youths.
23 And he went up from thence to Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, little boys came out of the city and mocked him, saying: Go up, thou bald head, go up, thou bald head. 24 And looking back, he saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord: and there came forth two bears out of the forest, and tore of them, two and forty boys.
 (2 Ki 2:23–24. Douay-Rheims).

And, if the Bear may draw attention to his own place in the catalog of odd things, he permitted himself to be laden with St. Corbinian's baggage all the way to Rome.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "Aslan is not a tame lion," in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. He is ferocious, yet gentle. He lies down like a lamb, and might lie down with the lamb, but not because he is any less of the Lion.

If the Old Testament takes pains to illustrate God's ferocity, St. Luke's Gospel begins with a Babe and ends with a sacrificial Lamb. Yet the final book of the Bible reveals the truth: the Lamb of the Apocalypse with a two-edged sword issuing from His mouth, a terrible, wonderful Lamb.

If animals do the oddest thing in the lives of saints, it is because our God is the oddest God: the Warrior Lamb. What Lady Marchmain called the "Alice-in-Wonderland side of religion," appeals to our appreciation of the poetic and even the absurd. Credo quia absurdum.

A hand-fed Bear carrying baggage indeed!

Punch a Heretic Day

I came to give presents to kids and punch heretics. And I'm all out of presents.

St. Nicholas, shown above in the Russian iconic style was the bishop of Myra. His reputation for generosity stems from his surreptitiously leaving money at a poor man's home as a dowry, so that his three daughters would not be forced into prostitution. Tales have also come down regarding his miracles, which is why he is also called St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of sailors.

One of the most famous stories about St. Nicholas comes from his participation in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325. The old bishop apparently dozed through most of the proceedings. He did rouse himself, however, when Arius denied that Christ was both true man and true God. (Arianism would rip the nascent Christianity apart, so St. Nicholas' ire was warranted.) He seized Arius by the beard and punched him right in the face. St. Nicholas was arrested and locked up. However, the Virgin Mary miraculously freed him, which was good enough for the council fathers.

(Should any of his readers take the title of this article seriously, the Bear is available for the defense at a reduced fee and normal expenses, but must advise that the "St. Nicholas defense" is not likely to fly.)

Should you peradventure come across this after St. Nicholas' Day, remember, every day is Punch a Blasphemer Day. St. John Chrysostom told his assembly of the faithful to "sanctify thy right hand" by punching a blasphemer.

The first week of Advent almost gone!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Word of the Day: Apokatastasis

Apokatastasis means the belief that all will be saved. Something near to this repeatedly crops up on Fr. Robert Barron's Word on Fire blog.

Today's iteration is a meditation on the new Bill Murray movie -- which looks good -- St. Vincent. Murray plays his usual lovable rogue. An adulterer, a drunkard, and a thief. But, you see, he has some good qualities, too. He's not bad enough for Hell, but he's no saint, either. He's what Aristotle would call the incontinent man, according to the contributor, Fr. Damien Ference.

Catholicism knows what to do with people like this, he says. It's called Purgatory.

Think about this. You can revel in mortal sins, but if you're kind to dogs and visit your mother on occasion, you're not all bad. Surely Hell is out of the question.

Purgatory is becoming the routine layover for those not saintly enough for the nonstop flight to Heaven. Hell is occupied solely by a few Nazis of the absolute worst sort, and perhaps Osama bin Laden. You know, the very people our culture happens to condemn the most. (Imagine that.)

The road to Hell is narrow and few travel it. The road to Heaven is wide and nearly everybody makes it through the pearly gates, although there is a bad stretch through Purgatory.

This is quite different from the historical understanding of Heaven and Hell, as readers of this blog will know. The question is, why does Fr. Robert Barron, the Carl Sagan of Catholicism, promote this error?

The article quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Spe Salvi, which always reminds the Bear that he was a German theologian, after all.

For the great majority of people -- we may suppose -- there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil -- much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.

(Emphasis added.) Certainly, the tone of Catholic discussion over the last fifty years supports Fr. Barron and practical apokatastasis. Did the Church of yore overdo Hell? It would be so easy to drift along the lazy current to Paradise, secure in the knowledge the Bear managed not to be Hitler.

But, if that's all there is, life becomes a routine journey on a conveyer belt: birth, a not-too-horrible life, death, some Purgatory, then Heaven. What does that mean? Right or wrong, at least old Catholicism had some drama to it.

And it had something else: motivation. To be good. To spread the gospel. To fight for the truth.

Is it coincidental that the Church lost its supernatural motivation just as it nailed shut the door to Hell?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bear Without Pants

Bear in Freising, Germany with pants.

The small Polish town of Tuszyn has made international news by rejecting Winnie the Pooh as its park mascot.

The reason?

Pooh Bear doesn't wear pants. Worse, he may be a "hermaphrodite," by which the good people of Tuszyn seem to be referring to the pantless Bear's lack of, shall we say, bare necessities. One supposes they would prefer anatomically correct pantless Teddy Bears. Of course, Pooh's anatomy is, in fact, correct for a Teddy Bear. (I wonder what their position on Gummi Bears is?)

In any case, the lack of pants is a deal-breaker.

Oh bother.

The Bear has a new appreciation for his broad-minded readership. According to a recent scientific poll (and much to the Bear's delight) they properly relate to the author of this blog as a Bear, with or without pants.

Oddly, Poland ranks fourth in the Bear's audience. If people want Bear bad enough, they'll find a way to get it.

From the Winnie the Pooh Cookbook
Dutton Books, New York

1 1/2 sticks butter
6 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for rolling
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
2 cups finely chopped pecans

Oven 300 degrees

Beat butter and powdered sugar together until fluffy. Eat. Get more and do the same for the recipe. Slowly add flour, salt. vanilla extract and water. Stir in pecans, cover and refrigerate for four hours. Make little finger sized logs out of the dough and cook in oven on cookie sheets for 30 to 40 minutes. Cookies should be pale in color. Let cool slightly. While cookies are still warm, roll in powdered sugar. Makes two dozen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


The plain fact of history is that 56 years prior to the Protestant English colonists' version of Thanksgiving, the Catholic Spaniards had beat them to it, in St. Augustine, Florida.

Father Francisco L√≥pez, the fleet chaplain, preceded  the expedition commander Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Fr. Lopez held a cross and Mendendez de Aviles knelt and kissed it. They shared a meal with the local Indians.

The Spaniards instituted another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers. They did not have time to plant and grow food, so ate what they had lived on during the voyage to the New World.

St. Augustine is a favorite family vacation spot for Bears, who relish its history and touristy atmosphere.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of St. Corbinian's Bear. The Bear is thankful for both of you.

An Understandable Reaction


Did the President really say this?

"There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply upset, even angry. It's an understandable reaction."

Did the Attorney General really say this?

"This incident has sparked a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve."

The Bear supposes burning down the Dollar General is the way we have conversations these days, and that's an understandable reaction.

Juries take their jobs seriously. It's almost cute how these everyday folks get all earnest about "their case." Part of being an American is buying into things like juries and their decisions. And, believe it or not, that trust is not misplaced, at least in the Bear's experience.

Some people have forgotten how to American, if they ever knew.

An understandable reaction? Shouldn't we hold citizens to just a little bit higher standard?


Events like these present what the writer of Amusing Ourselves to Death, the late Neil Postman, called a "low information-action ratio." This occurs when we are bombarded with information about which there is nothing we can do. This produces a feeling of helplessness.

That's why it really is best to consume only as much news as you can reasonably digest. Ideally, you would only concern yourself with things you can do something about. We live in the age of the low information-action ratio. It's a good phrase to remember and remind yourself of, whether it is a riot in Ferguson, or the latest interview from Pope Francis.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Israel, Revelation, and Advent

It's that time already: Advent! Does your family do anything special during the weeks of Advent? Perhaps a wreath?

We have a wreath (must buy candles).

And so the story begins once again. It never really ended, nor did it begin. It always has been. God loves us and has loved us forever.

What does the Bear's visit to Israel and the book of Revelation and Advent have in common?

In Israel, it seemed that everywhere the Bear went, time was compressed, like an archeological tell whose layers had been smashed together into one. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, here was where Christ was crucified, and step over here to Adam's tomb. Look up into the Upper Room, and, in the same place, look down into King David's Tomb.

In the book of Revelation, past, present, and future are all at once. It is not so much that time has no meaning, but that it cannot contain the heavenly story. The woman clothed in the sun gives birth, the dragon will be cast out, the Lamb has been slain from the foundation of the ages.

So Advent is not just a memory, like Martin Luther King Day. Once again, we enter into the mystery of the Church's peculiar timelessness, and touch eternity with the tips of our fingers.

This Advent, the Bear will think to himself whether sometimes he has too much with time, and has lost the eternal perspective. For the dragon always wars against the saints and angels. And the dragon always lies defeated. Time cannot imprison the Babe in His manger. The Church is always reminding us that she owns time, not -- despite appearances -- the other way around. The daily cycle of Lauds and Vespers; the yearly calendar of celebrations Advent to Advent; and then again -- or is it only once and for all?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Fun Poll (At Least Fun for the Bear) UPDATE: Cooper & Beau Squee-worthy

UPDATE: Picture of Beau and the new puppy, Cooper. They couldn't be more different.

The Bear used to be a radio broadcaster. This was a great job for a Bear, if you think about it. People would frequently exclaim, "You're not at all how I imagined you!" (I bet!)

So how firmly established is the "Bear brand?" Do you relate to this blog as being written by a Bear? If so, what kind of Bear? Or is the whole thing as eccentric as Sebastian's teddy bear in Brideshead Revisited?

Things have been a bit polemical of late, so let's lighten the atmosphere. The Bear will consider your participation a personal favor.

Christ the King

A (Very) Brief History of David's Kingdom

It is interesting that God discouraged Israel from wanting a king like other nations. The power of a dynasty to do ill was at least as great as its power to do good, as history would prove. Yet the rule of the judges was chaotic and bloody. The Book of Judges ends with the depressing observation: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." (21:25)

Saul, the first king of Israel, was every inch the kingly figure. He was also mentally ill and murderous.

In David, the religious element was wedded to the semitic warlord. Yet he was an adulterer and cold-blooded murderer. The Davidic dynasty would last, as a united kingdom, only through his son, Solomon.

Solomon showed great promise at first, unless you count against him a bloody palace coup. But then he took up collecting wives and concubines. Seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines. He also worshiped their gods. He built a splendid temple to Yahweh, and an even more splendid palace complex to house himself and all those women.

When Solomon died, the people petitioned the new king, Rehoboam, to lighten the heavy taxation and forced labor necessitated by King Solomon's projects. His elderly counselors urged to him to agree. But Rehoboam listened to young hotheads with whom he had surrounded himself and increased the burden. This led to a civil war and split David's and Solomon's kingdom into Judah in the south, and Israel in the north.

So much for the great kingdom of David.

Not a one of the kings of Israel could be called a model. The kingdom of Israel, which we imagine to be this great, historical epoch, lasted through just three kings. They were men, with the flaws of men. Yet they were God's annointed, clothing their mortality with a divine ideal.

The world finally grew tired of kings, and got rid of them. They are a thing of the distant past and one would be thought eccentric to toast "the king over the water," or to declare his political persuasion "Royalist."

And yet...

Royalist To the Bone?

The movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King was one of the greatest commercial and critical successes of all time, grossing one billion dollars worldwide. It won 11 Academy Awards: tying Ben Hur and Titanic for the record.

Would a movie called The Reelection of the President resonate so strongly? Of course not. A king is clothed in an archetype. A president is just one of us, albeit more remote than most kings of history. A king might be persuaded, or at least change his mind. "Washington" is immovable and implacable.  We ritually cast our ballots and feel more detached from our government than the lowliest peasant under the mightiest king.

We should not romanticize kings, although our romances are full of them. They have hardly ever lived up to the standard of God's annointed. They have been feckless, reckless and cruel, though not, perhaps, to the degree our republican legend must have it. One can find saints among kings. They are not to be found among presidents. One with real Catholic sensibilities feels this.

And now we come to the real point of this little essay. What sense are we good republicans to make of Christ the King? Is the title and feast just an accident of history? Surely it originated in some despotic and unillumined time to prop up a corrupt Catholic dynasty?

The truth is that it was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. That holy pope wanted to remind us that Christ reigned over all. Christ, the Son of David, as His contemporaries called out to Him, the Ruler of the universe, Who can never disappoint, Who sets all things right, Who demands and elicits our willing love, worship and obedience. In Christ the King our aching hearts can find rest in that enduring, if unspoken, relationship of King and subject.

Another year draws to a close in the Church. Advent is mere days away. Christmas will soon follow, where we once again visit our King, this time in a manger.

Friday, November 21, 2014

All Dogs Go To Heaven, Unless They're Catholic

Will Cooper go to Heaven?

One of the Bear's most popular posts, now remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and presented to a (partly) new audience.

The Bear recalls a certain Herr Doktor Bear at the Bavarian Equestrian Culinary and Theology School who taught a class on Vatican II. To the best of his recollection, the Bear here records some highlights of his talk on Lumen Gentium. Lumen Gentium deals with the Church, and includes paragraphs explaining how everybody goes to Heaven. Well... almost everybody.

Herr Doktor Bear: If you will look at Paragraph 15, you will clearly see our separated brethren are not so separated after all. Being all part of the Church of Christ, the Holy Spirit works through their imperfect observances to provide sanctifying grace.

Bear: So Protestants are fine where they are?

Herr Doktor Bear: Indubitably. Have you not read the assignment.

Bear [not entirely truthfully]: Yes, I have.

Herr Doktor Bear: Protestants, our Orthodox sisters and brothers, they are all embraced by the Church of Christ.

Bear: What is this "Church of Christ?"

Herr Doktor Bear: Just what it says. Imagine the Catholic church as a circle. Now draw a bigger circle that encompasses the Catholic Church, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc. That should be clear enough.

Bear: What about extra ecclesiam nulla salus?

Herr Doktor Bear: What? What's that?

Bear: No salvation outside--

Herr Doktor Bear: Nonsense. No such dogma exists. Why, I've never heard of it. Have you been studying on your own again? Stop. If you ate a pony 500 years ago, would you still say you are full? Of course not! Vatican II is today's meal. You won't find nourishment in what came before it.

Bear: What about Moslems, are they saved, too?

Herr Doktor Bear: Why of course! How could we leave out The Religion of Peace? Where is it... ah, yes. "In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind." The Three Great Abrahamic Religions all share a belief in the same God. Judaism, Islam, and, of course, Christianity.
Allah = Holy Trinity?

Bear: Allah is the same as the God of the Bible, the Holy Trinity?

Herr Doktor Bear: Close enough. A Divine Person more or less is not important.

Bear: Don't Jews have to accept Christ as the messiah?

Herr Doktor Bear: Aren't you listening? Absolutely not. They are faithfully pursuing their own plan of salvation. God does not go back on his promises! That kind of talk will get you into trouble!

Bear: What about non-Abrahamic religions, then? Say, Hindus?

Herr Doktor Bear: I'm glad you asked. Paragraph 16. "Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Savior wills that all men be saved." So yes, Hindus, animists, all saved. Lumen Gentium says so.

Bear: The part that says "that all men be saved." That's 1 Timothy 2:4, isn't it?

Herr Doktor Bear [warily]: It might be.

Bear: Isn't the rest of the sentence "and to come to the knowledge of the truth?"

Herr Doktor Bear: Of course there was some editing of supporting scripture to focus on the main points, and to save printing costs.

Bear: Seems to me there isn't much need for missionaries.

Herr Doktor Bear: That's the first intelligent thing you've said, Bear. Priests should stay in civilized countries and present circus masses, don't you think? What Bear doesn't love a good circus mass? [Smiles and general agreement all around the classroom.]

Bear: Surely, Herr Doktor Bear, atheists need to come into the Church!

Herr Doktor Bear: Perish the thought! Do they not have human dignity? Paragraph 16: "Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life." So if an atheist strives to lead a good life, then of course he will be saved.

Bear: So let me get this straight. Jesus founded a Church that appears to be irrelevant to salvation, since nobody has to be a part of it to get to Heaven. Not Protestants, who tore the Church, not Jews or Muslims, who deny Christ, not pagans, who deny Christ and furthermore worship idols, and not atheists, who profess no belief in God whatsoever, and are often hostile to the very idea. Herr Doktor Bear, I must ask. Is anyone in danger of Hell?

Herr Doktor Bear: Well, there is one group.

Bear: Who?

Herr Doktor Bear: Perhaps ironically, Catholics.

Bear: Catholics?

Herr Doktor Bear: Yes. You see, in Paragraph 14, it says that since Catholics are in the Church and receive all the graces and benefits the Church provides, they will be strictly judged. And, should a Catholic leave the Church, I'm afraid the case is pretty much hopeless.

Bear: So the best strategy for salvation -- if you do not already have the misfortune of being Catholic -- would be to stay as far from the Church as possible, because it is only Catholics that are in danger of Hell.

Herr Doktor Bear: We're rather hoping not many connect the dots.
The Bear invents the blog.

Bear: Thank you, Herr Doktor Bear, this has been most educational. Some day, I'm going to start a blog and discuss issues like this.

Herr Doktor Bear: A blog? What's that?

Bear: Nothing yet. But it will be like a ship's log, where important matters are written down on a regular basis. And, since it will be written by a Bear, I've added a "b." Blog. Every day I'll write an essay onto parchment and nail it to a tree on the edge of the Big Clearing, where the woodland creatures can read it. Goodbye, Herr Doktor Bear.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Everybody Look at This Puppy

Cooper the Samoyed
My son's new puppy. Beau and Cooper are seeing who can bark the louder. Cooper looks like a cloud with a dog somewhere in it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Being There

The Weirdest Post and Comments Ever

This is a good example of a dumb post that shouldn't have been written, but managed to generate some excellent comments, even though the Bear and his readers don't seem to agree on what they're arguing about. The Bear sincerely hopes everyone is able to get a chuckle out of things (as well as appreciate some good comments) without taking offense. We are blessed with some passionate woodland creatures who exhibit youthful high spirits! -- The Bear

But for the excellent, well-reasoned comments, the Bear would just yank the article below about "dead" Catholics.

It isn't that the Bear thinks he got it wrong, or that it was mean-spirited, or the Pope is suddenly off-limits. (Although he is, after all, the Pope.)

The problem with the article is that we could do a "Pope Says Weird Stuff" piece twice a week. It's what he does. Nobody knows why.

The particular article in question didn't really advance the science of Francisology. Sure, he may have been talking about traditionalists, but that's not clear. He may have been making a point by saying "married in the Church," but while we're sensitized to these issues after the synod, there's no way of knowing.

As for the rest, in the best light, it is a salutary lesson about living your faith more fervently, mixed with some typical Franciscan oddities. And that's the way it is, as Walter Cronkite used to say.

In a word, the Bear's article wasn't edifying.

This does not reflect on anybody else's comments. They didn't write the piece the Bear is talking about. Mine was not much more than a "yay, we gotcha again" piece. The Bear is not apologizing, and it remains to be seen if it is confession-worthy. (You won't know.) His piece was below even the relaxed standards of a blog written by a Bear.

From now on, the Bear will report on Pope Francis' weird stuff only if it is clear and significant.

Death Penalty Poll

So more of the Bear's readers favor the death penalty than not.

The Bear can't say he's surprised since his audience certainly runs to the conservative side of the Church, and there is a correlation between "Church politics" and secular politics. (The Bear is still mulling over why that might be.)

When the Bear thinks of the Ft. Hood shooter, his every impulse is to wish for his destruction. Other cases do not provoke that reaction. And, indeed, we do not seek to execute every convicted murderer.

The Bear's ethical framework is what he falls back on when it comes to the issue. He certainly wants to see Hassan executed, but the reason we have ethics is to get us through those situations where we want what is not right. (And if you say that begs the question, every ethical issue requires some preliminary calls.) So while the Bear might dearly love to satisfy his urge for some very messy Special Bear Time with Hassan, the Bear's ethics check him.

The Bear (once again) does not say the Church demands a particular position, although recently it has certainly trended against the death penalty. The Bear believes there are good (and bad) arguments on both sides.

And if the Bear ever needs to be put down, just leave a couple of bottles of Nembutal and a tray of very dry gin martinis on the nightstand. Why we seem to have such problems with getting people dead is beyond a Bear's imagination. Even a garotte is lights out after ten seconds, and the guillotine does it in one whack.

And we'll leave it at that!

Ordinary Catholics "Dead"

In his homily on Tuesday, the Pope warned Catholics that it was not enough to attend Mass, avoid sin, pray, be married in the Church and keep up appearances. They might even be in a "state of grace," but they were dead without a life in the Holy Spirit leading them forward.

"Feeling spiritually comfortable is a state of sin," the Pope said. (Did you catch that "being married in the Church" seems to be downgraded here to not that big of a deal, not to mention the Mass?)

The Bear agrees that we should feel the "spurs" of the Spirit, and that even when we "kick against them," as did St. Paul, it is a sign of life.

And yet, is it not a contradiction to say one is in a state of grace, and also dead? In a state of grace, and also living in sin? Isn't the definition of being out of a state of grace spiritual death?

The message contains some good, but it is also confusing, as with nearly everything Pope Francis says. Moreover, it does not seem particularly Catholic. The Bear hasn't listened to enough of Pope Francis' discussions of the sacraments to form a definite opinion, but based on this, what would one make of his opinion of the Mass?

Keeping up appearances isn't enough, but it's not a bad start. Add to that making use of the sacraments, having a prayer life and avoiding sin, and you're well on your way, or so it seems to the Bear.

As for the Holy Spirit, how many Catholics in a thousand are being taught how to listen for the Holy Spirit's promptings, let alone live the kind of Spirit-filled life the Pope is demanding? What does the Pope even mean? Translated into the language of Bears, then back into English, it goes something like this:

The external practices like going to Mass; the marks of respectability, such as being married in the Church; and even an interior disposition to please God and remain in a state of grace do not mean very much. They make you pleased with yourself, keep others from gossiping about you, and, perhaps, point you in the right direction. But you cannot then stand still. You must walk forward, and you must have a personal relationship with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, or you are just dead.

We're not used to be challenged like this. One wonders if the Pope would be happier if we waved our arms about more. (Can demonstrations of emotional fervor be another way of "keeping up appearances?") To be fair to the Pope, Catholicism has been viewed as a sort of "check off" religion, where one does certain things, and (sometimes more importantly) doesn't do others, then calls it a day. The Bear believes that is what the Pope is speaking against here. Is that fair?

No doubt, he would put traditionalists into the "Dead Christian" pile.

But is that a fair assessment of what we would call "good" Catholics, and what the Pope would call "dead" Catholics? Or is he making unclear demands, perhaps based upon cultural differences? Can you be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit without external displays of emotion? The Bear prays "Come Holy Spirit..." every time he picks up a Bible to read. Is it less sincere for being a traditional prayer, less effective for the lack of arm waving?

Unfortunately, without clarity and a positive message, this comes across more of a carping damnation of how 99% of Catholics live out their religion in simplicity and faith than an inspiring exhortation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


The Bear's last was really two articles crammed into one long one. For the Bear's pretensions, this is a humbling reminder that he is an amateur at this, after all.

The Bear believes he will do two short articles. One will be on the difference between real science and the scientism that so often opposes religion these days.

The other will discuss the theological implications of the Pope's adoption of evolution, and why the laid-back: shrug, the Church has always accepted evolution doesn't quite cover the story.

So if you made it through the long one, you've got a bit more of the same coming. If you didn't, you can look forward to a couple of tightly-edited pieces.

As Chesterton said of amateurs: if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Franciscan Feint: Evolution

We Shouldn't Have Burned Galileo at the Stake for Teaching Evolution

The Bear thinks he may have mentioned the bestseller Darwin's Doubt and how it makes a compelling case against Darwinism. Darwin's Doubt is a fascinating book about paleontology, full of the wonder that science used to evoke, before it was just another stick to beat religion. Then there's the new kid on the block, epigenetics -- the passing on of traits by mechanisms other than DNA. You can forget the Copernican Principle after you read Privileged Planet. We may not be in the center of the universe, but there sure seem to be a lot of coincidences for us to be anywhere at all. The Big Bang is just the beginning of the story. The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Soul (and the more introductory Brain Wars by one of the same authors) land some solid blows against reductionist neuroscience.

The point is, the Catholic Church doesn't need to have an inferiority complex over science, if you look beyond the bogus Scientists Say articles. Yet it does. Why?

As everyone knows, the Church burnt Galileo at the stake because he claimed man descended from monkeys. This was a PR blunder that will likely last until we're all dead from global warming. Just like exterminating Islam in the Crusades, and helping Hitler round up Jews in WWII.

But, if we abase ourselves enough, perhaps everyone won't drag out poor old Galileo's charred bones to rattle at us.*

The Church has imbibed the Western poison of needing to be liked by everyone. Pathetic is the only word for it.

 She Blinded Me With Science

You won't have read it in the news, but the jury is still out on Darwinism.** (Too many new little critters in too short a time, see Cambrian explosion, and that's just one problem.)

Thousands of very smart guys are beavering away in front of blackboards whose size is measured by the acre, doing their best to gnaw away at the Big Bang. They'll prop up String Theory, the Multiverse, or some other gimcrack, flavor-of-the-month idea; anything rather than that horrible Genesis 1:1 Big Bang. Yet the Big Bang still echoes.

Neuroscientists are parroting Gertrude Stein's comment that "there's no there there." Only they're saying there's no "you" to have a "you," and that consciousness and free will (not to mention the soul) are illusions. But there's a reason it's called "the hard problem of consciousness:" nobody has come close to solving it.

In summary:

  • science is more uncertain in many areas than we are led to believe
  • Darwinism faces seemingly insurmountable challenges from paleontology and genetics 
  • the Big Bang may be the front runner among origin theories, but is not an article of faith
  • there is evidence to suggest that the brain may mediate, not originate consciousness, and that consciousness may be non-local (wow)
  • while Catholics have nothing to worry about from real science, unproven theories are being used as a beat stick against religion

The Bear thinks it is dangerous to link faith to any current scientific theory (e.g. Big Bang), lest they both be some day shipwrecked on the same rock. It is good, however, to educate yourself beyond the pop-science articles if your faith is troubled by our new secular religion of aggressive scientism. No matter what impression they want to create, science is not our enemy.

But that does not mean that miracles are, either.

What Does the Pope Mean? (Again)

After saying God is not a "magician," the Pope said: “evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

What does the Pope mean by "demiurge" as in "God is not" one (translated "a divine being" in English, which is bad enough)? Are the Gnostics a threat? Here's a good example of one of those Bergoglioisms that are just odd.

And what about God not being a magician who waves a magic wand and accomplishes things instantly? [Cue superior chuckles.] The Bear can't even guess, but it seems to be some sort of humorous contrast between clever people and the simple and superstitious. Are we supposed to drop a knowing chuckle at the idea of Jesus instantly changing the water into wine, too?

What does he mean by "evolution?" The Bear doesn't know, but he knows what reporters and editors think he means: Adam and Eve is just a myth, and, at best, God is carrying the water for Charles Darwin. They trot out the Aren't-Americans-In-Flyover-Country-Stupid poll showing 42% of us don't believe in evolution. Jolly good, Pope Francis! First homosexuality, now evolution! Once again we find you're one of us!

Does the Pope Believe in Adam and Eve?

Now, you wouldn't know it from the Pope, but it is at least theologically certain (to use the official term for those teachings near the top of the hierarchy of teachings) that two unique human beings, Adam and Eve, existed in time and place, and their transgression is the source of original sin. That means it is the teaching of the Church, should be believed, and is not subject to dispute. The proposition itself is not de fide (the very highest must-believe) but original sin is, and is hard to explain without an Adam.

Furthermore, the media cannot contain their joy over Pope Pius XII's provisional, non-absolute-rejection-in-principle mention of evolution in Humani Generis. (Finally, the press likes Pope Pius XII. Maybe he'll benefit from the Francis Effect as The Evolution Pope and finally be canonized.) First came the breathless, Francis Changes Church's Teaching on Evolution, followed by stories headlined: Shrug: Church Has Always Believed In Evolution. Both were equally ignorant.

Pius XII's 1950 encyclical could hardly be more cautious, and it reaffirmed the literal existence of Adam and Eve, from whom all humans have their beginning, while rejecting polygenism (human race came from many parents). To suggest that the Church "has always taught evolution" could not be more misleading. To the extent the Pope's statement suggests we "have outgrown" belief in Adam and Eve, it is flat wrong.

What does Pope Francis believe? Who cares as long as the press is eating it up! The Bear's most hopeful guess is he thinks God contrived to create the universe in an instant (Big Bang), very much like a magician with a magic wand. Then God twiddled his thumbs for several billion years because making a man (something even the Bear and his missus accomplished at regular intervals sometimes two at a time when we wished to show off) was beyond his "magic."

The main thing is that people like Pope Francis, and believe him to be a forward thinker very much like the reporters who write about him. His halo effect seems to best illuminate Pope Francis, though, rather than accomplish anything for the Church.

The Real Story

The Church formed an intellectual climate that fostered inquiry. Islam is said to have invented algebra in a spasm of uncharacteristic curiosity, but it was the Church that gave the scientific edge to the West. The occasional scientist or thinker, like Galileo, may have run into trouble, but, a little diplomacy could have saved Galileo a lot of trouble. We don't need to put the prestige of the Church behind paradigms that may not last the next generation. We certainly don't need to mislead people by omission about what the Church believes.

The Bear used to have issues with Adam and Eve. But if you're going to accept the Big Bang, everything else seems easy. God may not be a magician, but he is God, and can do things quickly as easily as he can do things slowly. We as Catholics hope that the Divine Magician will repeat his creation of Adam and Eve trick billions of times at the resurrection. The Bear doesn't know for sure, but has failed to be convinced by Darwinism. If some other mechanism, such as epigenetics, satisfies his questions, then, great. It's just not that important to him. What is important is that:

  • Adam and Eve's existence and Original Sin is taught by the Church
  • As a loyal son of the Church, he gives his assent, but doesn't think about it much
  • The Pope should not deliberately mislead people about what the Church teaches

This is a Pope Francis story we are familiar with now. Some ambiguous comment wins the adulation of the press, and causes confusion to Catholics. From now on, let's call it The Franciscan Feint.
*As the Bear is sure his readers know, the Galileo controversy was a bit more complicated than most people think, and had nothing to do with evolution, nor was he burned at the stake. The Crusades were an episode in a long, long series of defensive wars against a militant Islam, and the Church did more to help Jews in WWII than any agency in the world, especially Pope Pius XII.

**Darwinism here means change from one type of animal to another by the mechanism of blind chance. It's what secular media mean by "evolution." It fails to explain the "Cambrian explosion," the fossil record, "specified complexity" and other problems with Darwin's theory.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Souvenier From the Bear's Past

The Bear ran across an old item from his circus days. There really was a Pablo Fanque (the first black circus proprietor in the British Isles) and a Mr. Kite, and, yes, the Henderson's, too. If you'll look closely toward the lower left corner you'll see another distinguished performer, albeit one that did not make it into the Beatles' song.

(Henry the Horse disappeared mysteriously shortly after the Bear's arrival.)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Position Open at SCB

St. Corbinian's Bear is announcing a vacancy in the position of Blog Troll.

The ideal candidate will have a tenuous grasp on reality, and be utterly innocent of any logic. The ability to nonetheless adopt a superior stance is a plus, although a simple lack of manners will do.

Open auditions have begun in the combox of any SCB article.

On another subject, don't forget the Death Penalty Poll if you haven't voted. The Bear can't say he's surprised by the results.

God Wants a Clean Fight

The priest said:
God wants goodness
God wants light
God wants mayhem
God wants a clean fight

-- Roger Waters, "What God Wants"

There's a moment when you're focusing a camera that everything pops into perfect clarity. Has Michael Voris and Church Militant TV finally provided a sharp image?

Sometimes the Bear has been nettled by criticism on the Vortex that seems to suggest any Catholic bloggers who criticize the Pope are beyond the pale. In the past, the Bear has felt the swipe of a pretty broad brush.

"The Razor's Edge" makes it clear that it is not ordinary and occasional criticism that is a problem. Nor is it the majority of traditonalists. (If the Bear must be classified, then let him be classified as a traditionalist, since nothing else in currency seems to fit, although it is not a very tight fit.)

In other words, Michael Voris isn't talking about the Bear. He's not talking about anyone like the Bear. He's not talking about the "fair comment" crowd that comprises most of the bloggers the Bear knows or reads. That is not the "extreme," and he is not telling us to shut up.

Who is he talking about? The people who make a career out of criticizing the Pope. The ones who have (sadly, but understandably) been driven to spite. They range from the deranged to the cold and unrelenting. What they have in common is a lack of balance, a proper weight and proportion and good spirit.

Sometimes the Bear has gone there, but he hopes it has been rarely, and that his commentary has mostly been balanced and factual. He is a Bear, though, and has gotten by on a growl and a grin for centuries.

Let's face it. We are dealing with a problem Catholics have never before faced. A logorrheic pope of questionable personal orthodoxy who can't stop himself from stirring up the faithful (and unfaithful) using the latest instant media. Is it any wonder we have to sort out issues like this? Is it any wonder most of us are going a little nuts?

Inevitably, some will say, "Michael Voris has never said you can't criticize the pope? Come'on!" Fair enough. That perception certainly exists and has been earned. The Bear doubts Mr. Voris is on the brink of going nuclear on Pope Francis. However, perhaps it does mean he will find occasion to offer salutary criticism and commentary.

The other takeaway point is this. Bloggers who are sometimes critical of the Pope need not get their hackles up every time Michael Voris talks about damaging the Church and frightening the peasants. Chances are he's not talking about you.

God wants a clean fight. Gentlemen to your corners. Watch "The Razor's Edge" below.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Simcha Throws a Tantrum

Just when the Bear swears off dealing with personalities, a Big Name Professional Catholic announces that her writing strategy is to lie on her back drumming her heels on the floor with her fingers in her ears going "nah nah nah nah."

Fortunately, St. Louis Catholic has it covered.

So that's how you get in The Register and make money as a Catholic, huh? How would that work elsewhere?

Weatherman: "There's a hurricane approaching landfall, but I'm not going to tell you where, nah nah nah."

Political Reporter: The President made a major policy announcement today, but I deliberately skipped the news conference, nah nah nah."

Defense Lawyer: "Mr. Johnson has an ironclad alibi, but I'm not going to tell you what it is, nah nah nah."

Well, you get the idea.

Traddies and their worries are simply easier to dismiss and make fun of if you don't consider the merits of their concerns. And, oh, yes, I'm soooo above it all, don't you know!

To anyone tempted to say, "But Bear, you just did the same thing, like, one post ago!" he answers, no, he did not.

It is one thing to admit there are problems and conduct appropriate discussion, but try to keep perspective. It is quite another to simply throw a childish tantrum and dismiss an entire segment of the Church and their sadly valid concerns. That such a person is able to maintain any standing at all as a writer is hard to explain. The Bear guesses there is a profitable segment of Catholic moms who need constant reassurance that everything is just dandy, and that traddies are weird and wrong.

The Bear has to say it: the article is just a nasty piece. It's one thing (and probably not the best) to spitball other bloggers if they deserve it, but to just maliciously ridicule a large segment of good Catholics is mean spirited. The Bear doesn't read this blogger, and can only hope she was just having a bad day.

Oh, and:

Catholic Blogger: "They're attacking the bedrock beliefs of the Church but I'm going to throw a tantrum in my corner nah nah nah."

Fine Linen, Glist'ning and Pure

An occupational hazard of Catholic bloggers, and Catholics who read their blogs, is an insidious degradation in the way we view the Church. If we are not very careful, we risk seeing the Church as a collection of data to be processed, an object to be observed, as distant and irrelevant as an unusually fascinating comet.

The Church describes herself as a Bride. The Bride of Christ, no less! She is traditionally referred to as our Mother. These are very personal, even intimate terms. Even as the Barque of Peter the sense is not so much of a curious boat to be examined for holes as lifesaving refuge from perilous seas.

We can get caught up in personalities and controversies and labeling others to distinguish ourselves from people we don't particularly like. (But of course we have good reasons not to like them!)

What we think others will think about what the Pope said becomes more important than what he said. We're more concerned with who's in and who's out than making sure we're in, and bringing as many people with us as we can. The Bear does not exempt himself. In this he can truly apply 1 Timothy 1:15, "Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief."

What if we treated our own mothers like we treat the Church? The old girl's not quite what she used to be. Sometimes she forgets a word in mid-sentence, and need I mention her personal hygiene? And look at those wrinkles and sags! When she does manage a coherent statement, it's usually off the wall. And her singing! A cat being flayed by cackling geese would sound better!

What if we treated our own wives the same way? You know, my wife has really gained weight lately. Her age is showing. Half the time I just ignore what she's saying. I've checked out this website called Cherry Blossom Brides. Now they promise a real wife in the traditional mold!

Getting back to the Church, it doesn't mean we have to turn off our brains, or that there are not real problems. But the Bear has been sensitized lately as to just how often the Bible (and the Rule of St. Benedict) condemns too much talk, especially of a negative cast. An example is Ephesians 4:29: "Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers."

Let's proceed calmly, and with love, and not be on a wartime footing all the time. The Bear is not saying everything is fine -- it obviously isn't -- but he's also wondering if the Devil's real plan isn't to get inside our heads and choke off our hearts even as we do everything accurately, and with the best intentions. If we're starting to look at the Church as an object of criticism, and proceeding from anger, then the Bear must wonder if we are pleasing God.

The Revelation Canticle from Sunday's Second Vespers in our Liturgy of the Hours for Benedictine Oblates reminds us of something wonderful:

The marriage of the Lamb has come,
And his  bride has made herself ready.

She has been given for her clothing
Fine linen, glist'ning and pure.

The funny thing about the Divine Office is that you say it every day and think you're not getting anything out of it, then all of a sudden a little green sprout pops up.

As we follow, and, yes, comment on, this tempestuous papacy, please, let's not lose sight of the lovely bride, the loving mother. That human-divine loveable element is the hinge upon which our lives turn and the doors of heaven open for us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

And Catholics Complained Back Then, Too

In the woodland many centuries ago, one might have heard the following.

Stag:  Did you hear they made Martin of Tours a saint?

Beaver:  Really? How was he martyred?

Stag:  That's just it. He wasn't martyred at all!

Beaver:  Not martyred? You have to have been martyred to be a saint!

Stag: Apparently not anymore.

Beaver: Ah, me. What's the Church coming to?

Happy feast day of St. Martin of Tours, an uncommonly brave Roman soldier who is famed for cutting his magnificent cloak in two so he could share half with a nearly naked beggar.

He became a "conscientious objector" when he refused to fight some Gauls, although said he was willing to march out alone and unarmed for the sake of Christ. He was released from military service and went on to lead a long life in the service of the Church Militant.

He is the patron of beggars, tailors and wool weavers (due to the adventure of the cloak) and also soldiers. Add to that geese!

True Crime

Sometimes a conversation spills over the edge of the combox. If the Bear shares the excess, it is not because he has The Big Megaphone, but because the conversation is interesting and complex enough to share one more time. Don't worry, the Bear will not lose focus entirely. Frankly, though, he's a bit burnt out on the usual stuff, as you may have deduced from the decline in posts the last couple of weeks.

(See the poll to the right on the death penalty.)

The Bear has recently posted twice on the death penalty. Visitors have made some excellent comments and developed arguments that were not sufficiently developed in the earlier posts. The Bear does not wish to beat down the same ground, but also address some new points.

Bona Fides and Perspective

This is the Bear's favorite part, where he gets to talk about himself. (Feel free to skip it if you already know the story of a cub found clinging to a tree after a forest fire... no, that's another story.)

The Bear was an active death penalty trial lawyer for a couple of decades, and handled a couple of dozen death penalty cases. One was a prosecution, and the rest defense. Some you may have heard of, but they all had human persons at their core. Most were resolved short of actually going to the life-death stage before the jury. Nonetheless, preparation was complete, and many, many hours were spent with defendants. The Bear was also a sought-after lecturer on trial advocacy.

The Bear's attitude has, for the most part, been that he's not against the death penalty so much as someone trying to kill his clients. Takes it rather personally, that, does the Bear. When it looked like the death penalty was going to be abolished in Illinois, he jumped on the bandwagon and got one of the pens the governor used to sign the bill.

The Bear believes his experience is useful, particularly as it pertains to facts, but, of course, his opinion is worth no more than anyone else's, except, perhaps, where it is better informed as to facts.

Nobody's Perfect

We know that police and prosecutors sometimes go after the wrong suspect, and that sometimes those people are tried and convicted on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony, phony testimony by snitches and false confessions. Please, this is beyond dispute. And this doesn't happen in DUIs. It happens in murder cases, where emotions run high and there is tremendous pressure to arrest, convict, and obtain the death penalty if possible. Were anyone to claim that the criminal justice system is perfect, the Bear would love to sit down over a large pony steak or two and regal him with Tales From a Bearrister's Career.

Perhaps a single snippet from one trial might be illustrative. Officer Spiff  grew frustrated with the Bear's subtle cross-examination, and finally turned to the judge and said -- word for word -- "I don't know how to get around that question." The judge was one in a hundred who put the detective in his place. Thank God for giving the Bear some good judges, especially one where the State sought the life of an innocent man.  There's not a whole lot even a good lawyer can do with a bad judge, except give him enough opportunities to mess up for appeal.


The Bear hates murderers. But, once they become his clients, something amazing happens. They quickly transform from the TV gargoyle into a human being. The man he hated on the six o'clock news has become a real live person by next evening's newscast. Two of the Bear's clients turned out to be innocent. One, the prosecutor dropped after some solid defense work. The other -- Jeremy Pontius-- a jury found not guilty.

In thinking back, what the Bear most remembers are the crime scene photos of the victims. Sometimes they form a ghostly procession through his bedroom. Bashed, stomped, sliced, stabbed, shot, drowned, and choked. The Bear is pleased that no one has accused him of a lack of empathy for victims. But during the trial, all that gets pushed aside and people get divided up into neat categories of evidence.

Most murderers have not been the cold-blooded-plan-everything-out type. Many have identifiable brain damage or defect of a type that mitigates, while not excusing, the crime. Low IQs, psychopathy (an organic inability to feel empathy -- the really scary and dangerous guys), traumatic brain injury, autism. Stuff like that. Most -- but not all -- have had poor upbringings. "There but for the grace of God go I" used to be the pious expression.

Funny how people mock defense lawyers for talking about their client's abusive or neglectful upbringing. Do you allow your child to do anything he wants? Are you concerned about his friends? Are you careful about what he reads, what shows he watches? Do you see to his education? Do you try your best to get him to Mass every week?

Query: if upbringing isn't important, why do we, as good parents, act as if it is?

Of course substance abuse is another major factor. The Bear has a saying: no sober person commits a crime. Of course, that's not much of a mitigator since that was their choice in the first place.

The main thing is something you, dear reader, can probably never truly get, any more than the Bear can understand conducting a symphony orchestra. The Bear feels privileged and humbled to have an insight that goes beyond sixty seconds on a newscast. It would all be so much easier if we could kill the bad and save the good in a person, but as much might be said for any of us. (Purgatory anyone?)

A Tale of Two Ties

Ernst Bruny

One client had beaten a nine-year-old boy to death with a belt. This was covered by Life Magazine back in the day. And Oprah. So sad, poor kid didn't stand a chance. Ernst didn't mean to kill, but he did, and he paid the penultimate price. The jury pool was tainted by false rumors by certain radio stations that he chopped up the little boy put the pieces in a suitcase.

The Bear's driver, bodyguard and factotum, Red Death, God bless her, collected, washed and mended some suitable clothes from his house (still a murder scene). The Bear absent-mindedly complimented him on his tie. Once we finally got the State to remove the death penalty, he pleaded guilty and got life without parole. The last thing he did was to give me his tie. "I know you liked this tie," he told me. It was the only thing he had to give me, and I was the only person he had to whom he could give anything. Some impulse of gratitude -- which we should all recognize as a good -- prompted him to give the Bear everything he had.

Oddly, his sister went though medical school and is now a doctor. Haitians customarily deal out some pretty harsh punishment. He was unsuitable to keep the boy for a long time while the mother took a job in Florida. DCFS was supposed to keep an eye on th the child, but failed to do so. It was Ernst's fault, but everyone knew it was a bad situation and did nothing. (Mom went to prison, too.)

By the way, don't bet the farm on the gratitude of a client. Once they get to DOC, someone will have them saying anything they can imagine against their beloved lawyer to secure an appeal! 

One Mexican was accused of being a kingpin in the cartel. That was ludicrous! But all his co-defendants save one (old school) flipped on him, of course. The federal prosecutor mouthed the desired answers -- a new low. Federal Court is not the Bear's favorite.

The Bear thought he had done a decent job at sentencing -- at least before any judge who had not already made up his mind. The Bear even put his own money into commissary so the prisoner could buy snacks, and his own clothing. Most of all, the Bear gave him a rosary, which he received with tears.. As soon as the case was over, though, all that was forgotten, however, and now he was complaining of ineffective assistance of counsel. In other words my lousy lawyer messed up my case.

The Bear supposes they have to do something in, and you can't win if you don't play.

Niels Nielsen
It made the Bear recall another tie. Niels Nielsen shot his ex-girlfriend and her 13-year-old daughter. He was utterly obnoxious, to the point of being removed from the courtroom during his own sentencing. (He overturned his table and spit in the Bear's fuzzy ear.) The transcript of his profanity-laden dialogue with the judge continues to circulate as a kind of urban legend.

When the Bear sent him to death row, the Bear did not bat an eyelash. The Bear had nightmares about the bloody hand print of the 13-year-old on the inside of the trunk. Since the Bear was an assistant attorney General, his co-counsel snipped his tie with scissors. The Bear dutifully framed the trophy along with the sentencing order. It was a Chicago tradition. No doubt if we could have mounted the heads of the executed, we would have.

When Ernst Bruny gave me that tie, it sort of felt like that feeling you have after confession. The weight of the past had been lifted. Surely, from across the well of the courtroom, Niels Nielsen looked to the Bear much as murderers on television look to you. (Except the Bear was within spitting distance.) Had the Bear been representing him, perhaps even Niels Nielsen, a man with no redeeming value if ever there were, might have revealed -- like Gollum -- some flicker deserving sympathy.

The Bear was a zealous prosecutor. He was also a zealous defender. Zeal is characteristic of Bears given a difficult task.

Pulling a Patrick Henry

People sensibly imagine that the defense lawyer's job is over once he persuades the State to drop the death penalty. However, this is not the case. Regardless of polls that are not targeting people facing the actual choice, the Bear can assure you that the second argument is usually just as hard: the argument to the defendant why he should accept.

"Pulling a Patrick Henry" is a phrase one hears in death penalty work: a client who, in effect, says give me liberty or give me death. Many, if not most defendants yield to the life without parole option only after heroic and clever efforts by their lawyer. The fact of the Bear's experience is that defendants understand they'll be coming out of prison in a box either way, and wish to avoid the misery and uncertainty of a long prison term.

In fact, the Bear would go so far as to say most defendants are reluctant to take a plea bargain that trades death for life without parole. Strange but true.

Chris Coleman
In any event, murderers are rarely planning on getting caught, or planning anything at all. Planning is just not included in their pre-crime activities, therefore it cannot act as a deterrent. The "event horizon" of most criminals runs as far as their next foilie. If the Bear had discovered otherwise, he would tell you.

Oddly, when he has seen the odd instance of elaborate planning, -- such as the jury found during Chris Coleman's trial -- the death penalty is obviously not a deterrent, either. These people are weighing the odds and figuring they're going to get away with it. (Note, the Bear entered, did his bit, and withdrew from the case by stealth, so you will not find his tracks through the news media.)

 Abolishing Life Without Parole?

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that most cases are plea-bargained. The highest possible sentence sets the upper limit for that invaluable process. For example, when we had a death penalty, prosecutors could seek it, even while they were willing to come off for life without parole.

If you take life without parole off the table, now you've re-calibrated the whole plea bargaining system. Now a defendant doesn't have the downside protection incentive he had when the most he could get was probably what he would get anyway after an unsuccessful trial. The Bear promises that if you take away that top end of LWOP, you will have many, many more jury trials -- perhaps more than the system could sustain, at least until the system re-valued "how much a case is worth." And that would have to be lower than we have now.

Good days if you're a defense lawyer or a criminal.

The Bear bets no one has briefed the Holy Father on the intricacies of American plea bargaining!


If comments and page views are an indicator, "True Crime" posts are popular. One day, the Bear will take you into the bowels of the most secret and horrible place in the Illinois Department of Corrections. It is a prison system within a prison system. It was also the place Illinois' last execution took place (where a walking argument for the death penalty received lethal injection).

Again, the Bear is not here to tell you what the Church teaches. It is permissible to be against the death penalty. The Bear's arguments revolve around the human person at the center of each case, and spread out to cover the validity of policy arguments like deterrence. The Bear is not unsympathetic to those who favor the death penalty. But neither is he convinced that living out the rest of your life in a hellishly loud prison in a cell with a bed and a toilet is such a sweet deal. He suspects that once people really got to  know most murderers, they might think, "I'm still for the death penalty, but perhaps this one ought to be spared." After all, not every change of those things that may be changed is for the worse.

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...