Friday, February 28, 2014

Reading Francis Through Juan

When I read this today, I wished I knew more about the mindset of Argentina. How much does Pope Francis owe of his world view to John Paul and how much of it to Juan Peron? I am not saying there's a connection, but you'd have to be an uncurious sort not to wonder about it. As someone who has traveled widely, and -- more importantly -- lived in other countries, my sense is that trying to understand Pope Francis without understanding Argentina seems a rather naive approach. South America is not just Europe at a lower latitude. Fr Z's "Reading Francis Through Benedict" has always seemed more of a brave front to me than actually illuminating. Perhaps "Reading Francis Through Juan?" Peronism is hardly a spent force in Argentina, and, after all, it is known for constant appeals to the poor. Of course, so is Christianity.

Even so, everyone seems to be constantly surprised by this pope. No one is this surprising. No, the issue is less with Pope Francis than people who are expecting someone somewhere along a Liberal-Conservative axis. They will be constantly surprised. We have seen that in the blogosphere. One day conservatives are down in the dumps, the next they're ecstatic because Francis said the word "devil" in public.

The Bear has suggested Pope Francis seems to have Protestant sensibilities (as always the disclaimer: this is not saying he is a Protestant). This makes hims less surprising. But perhaps the key to Francis lies in Argentina's frustrated aspirations, and... but now the Bear must recognize he's entering a woods he does not know. Which is exactly the point. We will always misunderstand Francis until we learn about Argentina.

A good example was the recent iPhone chat with Pentecostal televangelist Kenneth Copeland and the eerily hypnotic "Bishop" Tony Palmer. (Seriously, if you haven't watched that whole video I put up a few days ago, you need to.) It is claimed that Pope Francis entered into some sort of "pact" with his "brother Bishop" (oh, brother) to bring about Christian unity. We have all seen the picture of Jorge Bergoglio kneeling to receive a blessing from a Protestant minister of some sort.

Is Francis Kneeling For Blessing, or Did Protestant Slip One In On Him?
Some have tried to say he was not kneeling for a blessing, but the guy clearly holding his hand over the future pope's head took advantage of his posture to impose an uninvited blessing. Even if this is true, is there anything Pope Francis has ever said to make you believe he would not have welcomed such an ecumenical gesture?

What does it mean to be Pentecostal in South America, to speak in tongues, and get all excited? That holds all sorts of cultural associations in the United States, but what does it mean in Argentina? I bet it's very different. The Charismatic Catholic movement is pretty much dead in the U.S. after a brief burst of enthusiasm in the 70s. Or how about the ecumenical movement? Does it have more vitality in South America than the isolated (fortunately) gestures we see in the U.S.?

Let's say Cardinal Dolan had been elected pope. I suspect much of the world would have been scratching their heads at the first Yankee pontiff. Americans operate very differently from Italians, as any American who has had the opportunity to live there knows. Or maybe not. Americans are a known quantity worldwide. Italy we know. Poland we learned about, but it wasn't too different. The only mystery about our German pope was how un-German he turned out to be. (Guess he got all his crazy-German theologian thing out of his system in his youth.)

But Argentina? They've only got one kind of bear: the spectacled bear, considered hillbillies among bears. And that, Evita Peron, and the Falklands War of 1982 is all I know about Argentina. Terra Incognita. Kind of like Pope Francis.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


For the past few weekends, a helicopter has been flying extremely low, back and forth, over the Bear's cave, and the humble enclosure holding his goats. (Since horses are off the menu, a fat wether makes for a nice meal.) Last weekend it orbited for five hours, from three until eight p.m., at times sounding like it was landing in our front yard.

The Bear is as submissive as any American, and if some unknown persons in an unmarked Robinson-44 helicopter (often used by law  enforcement) wants to violate my Bearspace with loud and entertaining passes at extremely low altitude, well, then that's just dandy with him.

Not really. The Bear adheres to the old English description of property rights "down to the center of the earth, and as high as the heavens above." What good is property if you only own a 1 mm slice of topsoil? And if you've never complained about helicopters overflying your property, you're not a true patriot. (What would the founders say, anyway?)

So he called the local Flight Standards District Office, the guys pilots do not want to hear from -- the FAA. Because if there is one thing an American can count on, it's one part of the government protecting him against another part of the government.

After proposing several extremely improbable explanations (pipeline inspections, goose counting and Japanese beetle countermeasures) the FAA man finally said helicopters can do whatever they want. He suggested I get a registration number. When I told him it didn't have one, he said, "Yeah, if they put it on that skinny boom in non-contrasting paint, you can't really read 'em." Oh dear, the FAA defeated by tiny, unreadable numbers.

He tried to mollify me. I got the impression they deal with calls like this a lot. He promised "to do some checking." He said he'd get back to me if he turned up anything. He said, "Lots of times we can just say there's a [mentally unbalanced] guy at a certain address who would prefer you didn't fly over his goats or whatever, and they'll just avoid you."

Right, whatever. They shoot bears from helicopters. They don't have to avoid me, which is the whole point, isn't it? Even if I had a number, there's nothing the FAA could do. Terrorists take note: helicopters are above suspicion and immune to regulation

Short of training the goats to spell out rude messages at the sound of rotors there is nothing to be done. Or, we can just look at it as a 21st century opportunity to show Benedictine hospitality and put out a giant sign, "LAND HERE FOR FREE TOAST AND TEA."

Here is what you can do with the right dogs and a whole lot of LED:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You Have to See This To Believe It

Bizarre. Pope Francis makes an iPhone pitch for Christian unity with Pentecostal Anglican sub-sect "Bishop" Tony Palmer and Kenneth "Name It and Claim It" Copeland, a Joyce Meyer type televangelist.

Palmer sets it up by saying since the 1999 accord between the Vatican and Lutherans that we are saved by grace alone, there is nothing left to protest, and can therefore be no Protestants. Palmer is hypnotically persuasive, but it was unclear how Copeland's followers liked being told the were really some sort of small-c catholics.

Of course, by this point, sola fide is only one issue. How about sola scriptura? What about those books of the Bible they decided to trash? The Real Presence? Papal infallibility? Mary's perpetual virginity; her Immaculate Conception, Assumption and coronation as Queen of Heaven; let alone any discussion of her as Mediatrix of grace? Then there is purgatory, and the Communion of the Saints. Holy Orders would put a lot of TV preachers out of a very lucrative business if all Protestants became Catholic.

So there are many obstacles to reunion, and I hesitate to imagine the brainstorming that goes on between Francis and Tony about this quixotic quest for unity. Because it had one reason at the beginning, and can only have one cure.

The reason for Christian disunity is pride. There is nothing stopping the return of all Protestants if they will, in all humility, simply come back to the Church of Peter, the Church of the martyrs and saints, the Church of Christ for 1500 years and today.

What do we give up? Why nothing! There is nothing we can give up if we possess the truth. Or, rather, nothing beyond the considerable concessions we already made after Vatican II. The Bear submits, in all humility, that the Pope, our "papa" -- even if he will not take on the paternal name for his own obscure reasons -- should re-read the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The father, you will recall, did not follow his prodigal son into the mire and share his dissolute life among the pigs. The father was the fixed center. He preserved the family and its values without compromise. When the prodigal son took it upon himself to return, the father ran to meet him. He bestowed upon him the mark of their family, the ring, and the shared the family meal.

All previous popes have issued tender calls for their children to return to the Church. This pope has no history in him. He pretends that somehow both sides were to blame for wrecking the unity of Christ's Church. Luther boasted "Here I stand. I can do no other." Yet Protestantism did not stand. Like a house built on sand, it fell to pieces at once and is still falling to this very day. It is the Church that is still standing, centuries after Luther's bones have rotted and he has answered for his crimes.

Kenneth Copeland and his followers do not want to hear the truth. They do not want to listen to the saints. They do not want to be lifted up to the Catholic Church. They would have a union that cost them nothing, and that dragged the Church down to the level of televangelists. The Pope, with his Protestant sensibilities and Pentecostal background seems willing to make that deal, but is he really?

Right now, no one need answer that question. Perhaps the Pope is content just to talk. We don't know how much influence "Bishop" Tony Palmer has. Perhaps the Cardinals did not realize just how far away Argentina is from Europe, despite superficial similarities. The Church can survive the stunts and gaffes we've seen. Pray that is all we need worry about.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

We Are Living In the Age of Saints

Pope Paul VI
Vatican Insider reports that a miracle has been confirmed for Pope Paul VI, bringing his canonization a step closer to completion. The miracle involved a woman carrying a baby doctors said would suffer profound brain damage. They recommended an abortion. The woman prayed for the intercession of Pope Paul VI because of his famous Humanae Vitae encyclical, which asserted a strong position against birth control. The baby was born apparently normal, but was observed until puberty to rule out any late adverse developments. There were none, and the baby the doctors wanted to abort is now a healthy young person.

Pope John XXIII, who began the Vatican II council will soon be declared a saint, too. Pope Paul VI, who inherited the council, will also soon be declared a saint. And Pope John Paul II, who governed the Vatican II Church for much of the 20th century, will also be a saint.

Meanwhile, the cause of Blessed Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) who helped hundreds of thousands of Jews during WWII is stalled. He did not personally lead the Swiss Guard into Berlin in 1939 and overthrow Hitler, so he might not be saint material. No one dares move forward for the same reason the apostles met behind locked doors in John 20.19.

Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914) was a worthy man and the last pope to be canonized. Even that took 40 years, as the process wasn't completed until 1954.

Now watch carefully.

Before St. Pius X, you have to go back over 400 years to Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572) to find a pope who was canonized as a saint.

That skips over some pretty remarkable popes. Just in the 19th century, there were Blessed Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) of the First Vatican Council (yes, there was a Vatican I, although the faithful would not have noticed a difference between before and after.) There was also the scholarly, compassionate and prophetic Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903).

Pope Leo is reported to have had a vision during Mass -- although this is disputed by some -- and authored the Prayer to St. Michael, which he ordered be said at the end of every low mass. Pope Leo's widely reported vision foresaw The Adversary's big offensive in the 20th century, and the prayers were to help counter it.  They were discontinued after Vatican II. Perhaps they were no longer needed because Vatican II was "mission accomplished." We were, after all, in the Age of Saints.

From Pope John XXIII, who started Vatican II, to Pope John Paul II (already called "The Great" by many) who died in 2005, the Catholic Church has been governed by saints for nearly half a century. And to think this historic run of saints occurred in our lifetimes! Now, if you think 400 years from St. Pius V (d. 1572) and Pius X (d. 1914) is impressive, how long do you think we have to go back to find a similar run of saintly popes?

You have to go all the way back to the 5th century -- to the times of  Pope St. Leo the Great -- to find an equivalent blessing. Leo the Great saved Italy from an invasion by Attila the Hun in 452 just by talking to him. That was the last era when the Church had canonized saints on St. Peter's throne for half a century.

We don't notice these things, because we don't remember our history.

Pope John XXIII was popular in his lifetime, and many humorous stories are attached to his name. He called Vatican II, which he envisioned as a short "pastoral" council, but it quickly spun out of his control due to an alliance between German and French prelates and their experts (among them a young Joseph Ratzinger). They tore up the modest working documents that had been carefully prepared and pushed hard for a radical agenda. Pope John did not live to see its completion, but did live to worry about its outcome.

Pope Paul VI was never popular, and his papacy was plagued by unsavory rumors. His signature accomplishment, Humanae Vitae, best known for its uncompromising stand on contraception, was thrown back in his teeth by American churchmen and theologians the moment it was promulgated. It stands as a bold and noble monument to the Church's failure to control the powers unleashed by Vatican II, powers Pope Paul VI famously described as "the smoke of Satan" that had entered the Church.

It is a perilous business comparing popes, but it is difficult to maintain that Pope Paul VI is more worthy to become a saint than every other pope for the last 400 years, save St. Pius X.

Pope John Paul II had an enormously long reign -- within the top three, including St. Peter himself! He is often credited with helping bring down the Soviet Union. He traveled widely -- nearly constantly, it seemed. It has been said he was seen in person by more people than anyone in history. He barely survived an assassination attempt.

Yet his papacy was marred by interfaith fiascos such as his veneration of a Qur'an by kissing it, the installation of a statue of Buddha above the tabernacle at the ill-conceived Assisi event, and direct participation in "animist" rituals, all in the name of dialogue. Worst of all, of course, it was on his watch that the Church circled the drain of the homosexual abuse scandal, with little, if any, intervention from the Vatican. (It was his successor, however, who was allowed to bear the brunt of the opprobrium.)

Even so Pope John Paul II was the Church's first true celebrity.

Why the hurry to canonize three very different popes, who reigned so closely together, especially in a century marked primarily by the  Church's "autodemolition," as Pope Paul VI put it?  I am not saying they should be saints or they should not, merely observing that the common thread is Vatican II. (Although some might say it is bad taste to celebrate any pope who reigned during the homosexual abuse crimes and coverups.)

Ironically, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is as closely associated with Vatican II as anyone, having been a peritus, or theological advisor, during the conference itself. Yet somehow the Bear doubts there will be many calls of santo subito! Benedict issued a call that Vatican II should be interpreted in the "hermeneutic of continuity," not the "hermeneutic of disruption," which is really only stating the obvious. He also made it theoretically easier to obtain a Latin Mass. Because of these trivial insults to the Spirit of Vatican II, Benedict may fail the saint litmus test. (Out of all them, however, he is the only one to have St. Corbinians's Bear on his coat of arms, so you know what the Bear thinks,)

Could it be that some have a desire to see history view Vatican II as a council presided over by saints? Would that not tend to enhance its credibility? Could the speed be that, give 40 years (as with the last papal canonization) the momentum will have been lost?

Sheer speculation on my part, of course, without a scintilla of evidence. The closest thing the Bear has to a Vatican contact lives in the Rome Zoo. Perhaps it is just one of those coincidences that looks fishy, but have a perfectly reasonable explanation, and we truly are living in the Age of Saints.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

33 Days to Morning Glory

Maybe because I miss my own mom who we lost a year ago, I have had Mary on my mind. I, like so many sinners, popes (John Paul II) and saints, made the consecration to Jesus through Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort's program years ago. It is a simple, nearly foolproof plan for sanctity, that begins with the consecration.

The theory is that God chose Mary to bear Jesus. He protected her from original sin (the Immaculate Conception) and, beginning with her free assent -- her fiat that echoes God's fiat lux in Genesis --  Mary has had a maternal hand in salvation history ever since.

Catholics and Orthodox alike rejoice in her title of "Mother of God." If Jesus was both fully God in his divine nature, and fully human in his human nature, then of course the title fits. A mother does not give birth to a nature (human), but a person (God).

Moreover, the Church continues to teach that Mary is your mom and mine. When Jesus looked down from the cross, and each of His few words was an agony, He told the apostle John, "Behold your mother." Was Jesus merely remembering to make provision for a widow with no children? No. John represents the whole human race, to whom Christ gives His very own mother. Therefore Mary must have a continuing and important role to play.

God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, chose to give God the Son to us through Mary, and she remains to this very day the channel of grace. The simplest way of explaining it is that the Holy Spirit leads us to Mary and Mary leads us to Jesus. In St. Louis de Montfort's consecration, we give ourselves to Jesus through the mother we share. Nothing is taken away from Jesus. This is true not only in theory, but in practice, as those who have followed St. Louis de Montfort's little devotion know.

The chief external practice is simply a variation of the familiar Catholic daily offering upon rising: "I am all yours, and all I have I give to you, most loving Jesus, through your most holy mother, Mary." (Totus Tuus was JPII's motto: All Yours.) If you have a medal from the Confraternity, you kiss it. The reader may discover more in the saint's True Devotion to Mary, which contains the whole program (available in Kindle format and print).

Preparation for consecration (or reconsecration) consists of 33 days of daily readings and prayers. Nothing difficult, but the biggest endorsement the Bear can give it is that it seems as though the devil goes to great lengths to disrupt it. The program is contained in True Devotion, but also in an updated version called 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley. Instead of the prayers and litanies of True Devotion,  Fr. Gaitley provides a simple teaching related to the devotion, and a prayer short enough to reflect upon throughout the day. That's the one I'm using this time.

The inner part of the devotion is that the "all yours" means everything, including even your spiritual merits. So, for example, if you say a rosary with your family, and meet all the usual requirements, you would receive a plenary (full) indulgence. In your consecration, however, you surrender that so it may benefit another soul. Think of it as a form of extreme spiritual poverty and radical trust in God.

This all made perfect sense to the devout of the 17th century. Today, purgatory and indulgences are never spoken of anymore, and Mary is thought of -- if at all -- an impediment to ecumenism. Still, St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion is as theologically sound and spiritually enriching as when he first penned it.

33 Days to Morning Glory is a worthy modern addition to the Montfortian corpus. It plumbs some surprising depths of Mariology for a popular work, yet does it gently and in small pieces, as it takes you day-by-day through preparation for your consecration. The biggest difference between 33 Days and St. Louis de Montfort's classic True Devotion is the clear and up-to-date exposition of the devotion in lieu of the readings and longer prayers of the former. Having been through the Montfortian preparation three times, I am delighted by 33 Days. It should never replace True Devotion, but for many who might find it inaccessible, 33 Days may permit them to complete the program. For those renewing their consecrations, it is ideal for a new perspective. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Day's Miscellany With Inappropriate Giggles

My burgundy New Catholic Answers NABRE developed a flaw where the corners curled up. I reported it to Fireside and they told me the burgundy material was drying out. This did not affect the black ones with the tan backs. So today I received a free replacement in black, and they even embossed my name in gold. So a public thank you is in order for fair dealing. Fireside makes the very best NABRE I have ever found. (Just stay away from the burgundy.)

Today during our daily Bible study, my mate was seized with irrepressible giggles during Chapter 20 of Isaiah. Really. How long have we been studying together? Forty years. She deserves all the credit.

Ah, for a Popely Pope

Pope Pius XII: the last of the popely popes.
St. Benedict, in his famous Rule, required each monk to practice the same devotions as all the other monks. It is not because only one devotion is any good. It is because by conforming your will to the Rule and not trying to be the Special Monk, the monastery lives harmoniously, and the roots of pride are dug out.

I am thinking along these lines because it is that time again, time to seek our Abbot's permission for our chosen spiritual reading and mortification For Lent -- our bona opera. (In case you have forgotten, the Bear and his mate are Benedictine oblates: sort of monk wannabes out here enjoying the big wide world, but attached to a particular archabbey.)

The Great Vatican Garage Sale

It must be asked: should any pope cast off the regalia of office, to prefer to call himself "The Bishop of Rome," instead of our "papa" (Pope), and go in for one novelty after another? How about ostentatious displays of humility, and an accessibility that practically guarantees poorly-thought-out answers on important issues?

Have you noticed how once a part of the ceremonial kit is ditched, it never comes back? Can you imagine the press's reaction if Pope Francis' successor was crowned with the papal tiara? Or sat in the sedia gestatorium? Or even wore a mozzetta and red shoes! The horror! Regessing to Benedict XVI! Pius XII! Both of them Hitler's popes! 

Yet everything has its symbolism. All together they set apart the man and the unique and ancient -- Catholics would say divinely ordained -- institution of the papacy. What will be left to us in fifty years if every pope feels obligated to cast something aside as his contribution to a modernized and humble papacy?

At any rate, the spirit of monarchy is gone from the Church. Well, that's good, isn't it? Kings are wicked, like that tyrant King George III, who ate colonial babies three times a day. We got rid of ours 200 years ago and have been living the republican dream ever since. So who cares about monarchy? It's un-modern. That should be enough to dispose of it, right?

Just Who's Papacy Is This, Anyway?

The first thing that bothers me is that the papacy does not belong to any particular pope. When any pope makes a show of changing tradition, it seems to me he is showing a lack of respect for not only his predecessors, but his successors, not to mention the sheep he is charged with feeding. We have a right to graze undisturbed by novelties. (I'm probably kidding myself: likely as not the wandering sheep are eating it up like high clover.)

I hate to say it, but Francis seems always to make it all about Francis. That's an easy thing to do in this age. However, right from the beginning, he chose a unique name, one never before used. Nothing wrong with that per se, but what message was he sending? Benedict had fifteen predecessors with the same name. John XXIII was not only first the name of an antipope, but there were XXII before him. Paul was a sixth. (John-Paul I and II were special cases.)

Francis is the one saint non-Catholics know and like. Perhaps an pearly clue to his plans?

The King Is Dead, Who Cares?

The second thing that bothers me is that the Citizen Bergoglio approach tacitly admits that monarchy itself is discredited. We know better now.  This is the 21st century!

Bur if this is so, why do we have a feast for Christ the King? What does being "Queen of Heaven" mean? Are these just embarrassing Medieval relics that should be quietly taken off the calendar as lacking relevance and resonance? God forbid! Why ape the world, with it's succession of presidents, parties, prime ministers, and strong men? Is the world so irresistibly admirable and washed in success?

Monarchy means something deep that a president or prime minister, or even Secretary General of the United Nations can never possess. The Lord of the Rings is a publishing and film success because it is about the return of the king. That's what Christians are waiting for -- the King to come again in glory! If you don't get the idea of monarchy, there is much in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and later unfolding of apostolic realities you won't get, either.

One suspects Pope Francis imagines all the pomp and circumstance is for him, personally, so the humble thing to do is to resist it. Does he not understand that the more a pope is covered up and encrusted with the Church's past, the less he is Jorge Bergoglio and the more he is Pope Francis? The humblest thing to do is to be swallowed alive by the papacy. The Pope needs that distance, and, frankly, so do we, whether we know or or not. Many even secular roles require dress-up. If I went to court wearing a polo shirt and khaki slacks to demonstrate my humility, the judge would rightly hold me in contempt.

Or perhaps appearing less Catholic is designed to appeal to non-Catholics?

Dumbing Down the Church

How many changes have made under the excuse that we supposedly couldn't understand this, or that wasn't relevant? According to whoever "they" are, we keep getting dumber and dumber, unable to grasp the most basic concepts. Everything is dumbed down, chopped off, and pureed until we can suck it up through a straw. If someone else holds it for us. Our stupidity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seventy percent of Catholics don't know that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. How far are they poor souls, from being Protestants already?

Similarly, if the pope is seen as just another public figure, or worse, celebrity, it diminishes the office that Jesus Himself established. Before you know it, some silly Bear in the middle of nowhere has the temerity to tell you how to do your job.

Ineffective reformers try to reform the right thing at the wrong time. The world's problem today is not that we're too caught up in pomp and splendor, too enamored of titles. We need not always count the cost of the ointment. A pope once said that a worldly Church "can be a charitable NGO, but not the Church." Christ is indeed King, Mary is Queen of Heaven, and the Church is the Bride!

And the quote is from His Holiness Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Was St. Francis de Sales Ephebiphobic?

I am reading one of the best books I have ever read: The Fulfillment of All Desire by Dr. Ralph Martin.

Dr. Martin also wrote the much-needed Will Many Be Saved?, which reintroduced Hell to the post-Vatican II Church. (You may remember that Fr. Robert Barron -- the Carl Sagan of Catholicism -- didn't care much for the idea of scaring folks with a populated Hell, and made unfavorable remarks about Dr. Martin's book. That, in turn, caused Michael Voris to defend the dogma of Hell, causing Mark Shea to flip out on Michael Voris for attacking such a wonderful guy as Fr. Barron, which, of course, Voris never did. This recap is not gratuitous; I think it's useful to remember who stands for what.)

And my autocorrect insists on turning "Voris" into "Virus" so if I miss one, it does not mean I've canceled my premium membership to Church Militant TV. (By the way, I got in trouble for using the phrase "Christian soldier" in connection with Confirmation at RCIA because it was "too militaristic." Poor old Bear, just put a muzzle on him and have him ride a unicycle.)

While Dr. Martin still takes Hell seriously, this book finds the common thread in seven doctors of the Church's writings on attaining union with God. It is a tour de force and I cannot recommend it enough.

One of the saints is Francis de Sales. I read Introduction to the Devout Life a long time ago, and I was evidently not ready for it to leave much of an impression on me. I am looking forward to revisiting him.

His father married a 14 year-old girl. He did his son Francis the favor of arranging a match with a 14 year-old girl, too! Francis declined and went on to better things.

Of course, now, that would be illegal even in Arkansas. And I think that's a good thing. But there's no reason that should stand forever. People shouldn't be discriminated against no matter who they love, right? Does anyone else find it ironic that today we would condemn a good marriage with a 14 year old girl, but we bombard our own kids with sex 24 hours a day, put devices capable of making child pornography into their little hands, and instruct them only in immorality?

If you want to argue against the February-September marriage...

You can't argue the yuck factor.

You can't appeal to past norms.

You can't cite religious beliefs.

You must respect the self-determination of the young adult.

We're one hit sitcom about a winsome child bride and her 50 year-old doting husband away from Lolitapocolypse. But you don't want to be accused ephebiphobia, do you? (Ephebiphobia is the fear of youth, as if the actual definition matters.) 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Fireside's Catholic Family Bible

If nothing else, blogs are a great way to drop hints. Imagine my feigned surprise when I received the new Fireside Catholic Family Bible. The translation is the New American Bible, Revised Edition, fondly known as the NABRE. You may recall I previewed this a couple of entries back. So happy Valentine's Day for the Bear! To give you an idea of the size, here is how it compares with other Bibles. The Catholic Family Bible is the second from the bottom. As you can see, it is every bit as large as the humongous Douay Rheims with Haydock's commentary at the bottom of the stack. 

Fireside's New Catholic Answer Bible  --  another NABRE -- is advertised as large print, and is pretty big itself, though still portable. You can see it is dwarfed by the Catholic Family Bible, on which it rests. On top of it (second from the top) is a compact, zippered Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. And, finally, on top, is the nice St. Benedict Press Douay Rheims, what I call a "handy size." (These are all excellent, Bear-Approved translations, by the way. And thanks to the Bear's mate for the considerable exertion this photograph entailed.)

Big and Beautiful

So it's big. The Bear now has two unusually large Bibles, perfect for two-handed smiting. (Actually they're way too nice for smiting, but, if both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses show up at the same time...) The new Bible comes with a heavy slip cover with St. Peter's imprinted in gold, and two substantial ribbons. I wish more publishers considered two the minimum. I want to mark where my mate and I at in our Bible study, and also keep my place in my personal reading.

The cover itself is gorgeous: black with a striking red cross. You can see the ornate spine. There are ridges, although I believe the Bible is glued, which would make them ornamental. Even so, it recalls a more elegant era. Fireside Bibles are not made in China, which is something to think about, given China's anti-Catholic policies. Another thing you notice right away is the heavy paper. Real, luxurious, book paper, not thin Bible paper, with gilt edges. Forget text on the flip side shadowing through. So it's big, beautiful and seems to be well-made.

You might be wondering who would actually read such a large Bible. I get a lot of use from my DR with Haydock's commentary. which is the same size. It lives on my nightstand and it is comfortable for me to read in bed. There's something fun about dragging out a huge tome, and leafing through big pages. The new Bible shall rest next to my favorite chair. There is no reason a big Bible can't serve for home use, although, say, the Fireside New Catholic Answers Bible is handier.

Between the Covers

The most striking feature inside is the three-column format. I have only seen one other  book like this: a 1961 Catholic Bible. But, everything is a tradeoff: to get real paper, those three columns contain some fairly small print. Smaller than the burgundy NABRE pictured above at half its size. The Book of Ruth is all of two pages! With sitting in a chair with the book on my lap, the text was barely readable with my glasses, and not without. Brought up to chest level, which is my current sweet spot for reading anyway (if you know what I mean) it was fine. Still, if you have significant issues with small print, you might want to check out the New Catholic Answers Bible with Librosario instead. Nonetheless, I was able to get through our two chapters of Isaiah this morning, so I suspect it is simply a matter of getting used to it.

NABRE's notes are collected at the end of each book, rather than appearing at the bottom of the page. I believe that will make for smoother reading. It is better to get what you can out out of a passage on your own, anyway. The notes will wait.

Sour Notes

Many of the NABRE's notes have received the poisonous kiss of Modernism, which is another reason I don't mind them separated from the text. The vast majority of the notes are helpful, but I think all NABREs should come with a sticker:

WARNING: The U.S. Bishops would not let us print this Bible without their footnotes. The notes are not inspired. They represent the views of a segment of biblical scholarship from the last century. They should be used with caution.

That's not Fireside's fault, of course.

A Good Family Bible

In the end, this is what it says it is: a Catholic Family Bible. It has several color sections about things like the Vatican; the Mass (without using the word "sacrifice" once, unless I missed it); Parenting; and Grief; with special stories for children about the nativity, the visit of the Three Wise Men, etc. The Bear imagines grand-cubs jumping up and down, wanting him to read the Christmas story, or explain The Mass. Speaking of which, it has a very nice family record section with room for eight (!) kids, that goes back to your great-grandparents. There are even spaces for military service and -- I kid you not -- papal audiences!

I suspect this is a Bible that will be owned more than it will be read. It makes a grand display, if all the crucifixes and icons everywhere don't show visitors you're Catholic. It is not something anyone would buy for themselves, but it makes a nice gift for your Catholic parents or grandparents. While it has a surprisingly useful Catholic dictionary (it includes the word "heretic," I am pleased to report), there is not a single map. It won't replace any of my other Bibles, but it is nice to remember what Bibles and books used to be, long before Kindle. For me, it is a luxury to adorn the well-appointed den of the Catholic bear -- I mean gentleman. I expect it will get daily use for our lectio divina. And I resolve to fill out all the family history stuff, just like they did in the old days. Some day, a descendant might turn the pages in curiosity, and wonder about the names from long ago, and the faith that inspired them.

(Query: Does anyone know what kind of pen to use on slick paper?)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Catholics Can Learn From Cthulhu

"I'm back!"
H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who invented a world much like ours, except undermined by unspeakable conspiracies aimed at the destruction of everything sane and good. Okay, exactly like ours. At the heart of his writings are ancient gods who shall soon return, bringing madness and mayhem for humanity.

The most well-known is Cthulhu, who lies in troubled sleep deep beneath the ocean. The interesting thing about Lovecraft's gods is that they are not exactly evil as utterly alien. There are no points of reference to allow us to guess at their motives or judge their actions. At least one is literally insane.

We're pretty sure the luckiest humans will be the ones who get eaten first.

Say what you want about Cthulhu, but Richard Dawkins would not pretend to know his designs and methods better than Cthulhu himself. (Dawkins would be existing as a brain floating in a Mi-go jar on Pluto in the Cthulhu mythos. Cthulhu does not suffer fools gladly.)

Dawkins advised God that if He really wanted people to believe in Him, He should appear at everyone's bedside for a chat. Obviously, what Dawkins fails to consider is that perhaps God's desire is not merely that people acknowledge Him as a fact. His methods may suggest other motives. Plenty of people seem to have no problem believing in and even having a relationship with God through faith.

How often it is the Herods and Dawkinses of the world who, sneering, demand a miracle.

Nobody wants to wake up to find Cthulhu squeezed into their bedroom, pulling down the bed sheets with his mouth-tentacles. (Nor Dawkins, for that matter.) Dawkins would not dare to play at knowing someone as utterly alien as Cthulhu. How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.

Actually, that last sentence wasn't about Cthulhu. (NABRE, Romans 11:33.) It takes a whole book of the Bible -- Job -- to say just one thing:  God doesn't ask for our advice or approval, or tell us more than we need to know. He is Other.

It seems like 95% of the New Atheist arguments come down to some guy, perhaps with a string of failed marriages that testify to his own purely earthly incapacities, imaging himself as God, then snorting that he would do a better job. (The other arguments are the equally inept Orbiting Teapot, Flying Spaghetti Monster and Darwin. And believers are supposed to be the dumb ones?)

Sometimes the Bear wishes we all had a deeper appreciation for the mystery and otherness of God Almighty, and for our own limitations -- especially those of the intellect and imagination. A little humility, if you will. When well-meaning clerics try to humanize God, to make him "safe," they are robbing us of the reality they should be defending.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Psalm 111:10.

We do not have to imagine God as Cthulhu (in fact the Bear discourages that) but we should have a healthy fear of the Lord. For one thing, there is a judgment that each of us will face, and the possibility that it may not end well for us. But more to the point, we must have the humility not to make our own assumptions about the infinite, eternal, and all-powerful Holy Trinity. "Fear" is more like "awe," or, more completely, according to Rudolph Otto, the experience of the numinous.

Otto was a Lutheran theologian of the early 20th century who influenced, among others, C.S. Lewis in his The Problem of Pain. Otto wrote of the "non-rational factor" in religious experience. (This is not to say irrational.) He called the experience the mysterium tremendum. It is a holy dread, a desire to cover oneself, yet also a fascination.

The Bear knew a very small boy who found himself alone in his father's still and dimly lit office with an American flag affixed to the wall. This profound experience bore all of Otto's freight of fear and fascination, and of being in the presence of a mystery. This is of course a shadow of the encounter with the Living God! Here is what Isaiah, the greatest prophet of Israel, wrote:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said:"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1-5 RSV)
We also know that while God may be more alien than anything we can imagine, He is goodness itself. He wants us not only to believe in Him -- even the demons do that, and tremble (James 2:9) -- but to love Him. He sent his Son to a shameful death as a rescue and a ransom. How reckless and wonderful! The Book of Revelation depicts Jesus as hardly imaginable, even frightening. How often does our reception of Our Lord in the Eucharist do justice to the holy dread and fascination with which we should receive the very Son of God?

"Who Is This Who Darkens Counsel With Words of Ignorance?"

         For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
         nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. 
         For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
         so are my ways higher than your ways, 
         my thoughts higher than your thoughts. 

(Isaiah 55:8–9). 

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?" (Job 38:1–2). You can read the rest here, on the USCCB web site, or in your favorite Bible. It is a wonderful read, and speaks to the mystery that is God, a mystery that Catholics are privileged to participate in through His grace.

We began with H.P. Lovecraft, but, happily, will end with C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver attempts to communicate something Rudolph Otto might recognize. "'Safe?' said Mr. Beaver; 'Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king, I tell you.'"

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Who Said It? (ANSWER)

Catholics enjoy an "exalted status."
1. The Council of Trent
2. Pope Francis
3. Vatican II
4. St. Josemaria Escriva

"All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged."

Lumen Gentium. (Vatican II.)

The "pastoral" council, was not to be "negative" like Trent and others before it. That was the experiment, anyway. It avoided clarifying doctrines by use of the anathema. Instead it issued long, rambling, ambiguous documents which, moreover, were necessarily compromises. If you read them according to Pope Benedict's "hermeneutic of continuity," they do not force Modernist conclusions. Unfortunately, they don't necessarily rule them out, either. It would appear that the experiment was thus not successful. This is not to reject the Council, but to recognize its unique place in Church history.

I don't sweat Vatican II anymore. Most of the problems since then are not directly linked to the documents themselves. Vatican II provided the cover for what can only be called an attempted Modernist coup d'etat, whose outcome remains in doubt to this day.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Perfect Catholic Valentine's Day Gift

Forget The Pajamagram. (A Bear in a hoodie-footie is just ridiculous.) Give a gift St. Valentine will approve of. What better way to say "I love you" than helping that special someone to stay out of Hell? For the discriminating Catholic, Fireside offers a brand new premium hardcover edition of the NABRE.

It comes with a slipcover, two ribbons, and extra content. You probably won't be throwing this into the back seat for your RCIA class, but it would be perfect for study or lectio divina in your favorite chair. We're not Puritans. There's nothing wrong with the Word of God looking like it.

Naturally, this kind of quality is not cheap, but you can find it on Amazon for $73.

That's still way cheaper than a Pajamagram. And a Pajamagram won't help at all when the Bavarian Bible Bear pays a visit. You'll just look ridiculous running in a hoodie-footie.

God Wants Us to -- What?

I use Logos' Catholic "Verbum" software a lot. It is a fantastic tool and offers a whole lot more than just the Bible. (There's a permanent link to the right if you want to learn more; just make sure you navigate to their Verbum packages.) The "Word Study" feature allows me to drill down into the details of Greek and Hebrew words. You can also compare different Bible translations to broaden your perspective. I can't recommend it enough. I have been using their Android app on my Nexus 7 tablet too, lately, and even it is powerful.

Immorality or Fornication? Or Something Else?

A significant sin we're supposed to avoid is translated differently, depending on what version of the Bible you're reading. Let's take a look at a verse from the New American Bible, Revised Edition, 1 Thessalonians 4:3:

"This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality."

Well, okay. It seems pretty obvious that people who want to be holy should strive to be moral. The more curious will discover a long and unhelpful footnote that talks about shady business deals.

The old Douay-Rheims translates the Latin Vulgate like this:

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: That you should abstain from fornication."

The quaint word fornication has a very specific meaning. "2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman." Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 565). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

Well, it looks like no married person need pay attention to this verse, since, by definition, we can't commit fornication. The New Revised Standard Version, another Bible popular with Catholics, also has fornication.

But wait: the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, commands us to abstain from "unchastity."

So, on something as important as what we need to avoid to achieve sanctification, we're left to chose among (1) shady business deals; (2) sex between unmarried persons; or (3) unchastity, whatever that is.

Porn Is Greek for Porn

Pornography from Pompeii. Yes, there
was porn before the internet.
Just not as much.
Verbum's word study feature resolves the quandary. All of these terms are translations of the Greek word porneia. (If that reminds you of of the word "pornography" you're on the right track.) Porneia is not a rare word, and is used to mean different things, depending on the context, but always has to do with sexual misconduct. It is broad enough to cover any sexual activity other than that between a husband and wife. (And we might as well add "open to the blessing of children" from other Catholic teachings.)

The English Standard Version, a fairly new Protestant Bible, translates it as "sexual immorality," which pretty much nails it.

There is no perfect translation. I think the NABRE whiffs this one, especially given the footnote which dilutes the sexual component. The stolid RSVCE, popular with Catholics who eschew the NABRE, is better. The Douay-Rheims hews close to the Latin, as always, but "fornication" is too narrow these days; ditto for the mod NRSV. Being able to flick from one translation to another is another benefit of Verbum.

In the end, we all know what we should or shouldn't be up to, and our decadent culture is not a reliable guide. Sexual morality hasn't changed. That's still a sin, and, yes, that, too (and nobody ever told you, but probably even that). St. Augustine wrote grimly that keeping pure is a lifelong battle with few victories. I daresay our culture is even more sex-saturated than ancient Rome's. Saints have agreed that we must leave off all confidence in ourselves, place ourselves under God's protection, avoid discouragement, and avail ourselves of the gift of confession.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blog Orientation

Do you find it boring when bloggers talk about their blogs? Sure you do. Everybody does. But each blogger convinces himself that he will be the exception. Since the Bear considers his readers his guests, in good Benedictine fashion he must advise you to skip this entry. It's just a waste of time. Seriously.

Since I was absent for three months, I feel obligated to explain. I was not kidnapped by the circus (again). Were it only that simple. A far more unnatural and sinister adventure took me, which I shall relate when I have recovered from the diabolical disorientation that still seizes my brain.

After my escape, midway upon the journey of my life, I found myself half-dead, within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost. When I heard a voice, as one speaking from long ago:

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.

We have the theology.

We have the capability to make the world's first blogonic bear.

St. Corbinian's Bear will be that Bear.

Better than he was before.

Better... stronger... faster.

And so you might notice some changes. Three full-blown, researched essays a week doesn't leave time for all the other things a Bear-about-town must do. I am juggling no less than three murder cases at the moment, never mind the usual crop of lesser felonies, with only my faithful driver, bodyguard, and factotum, Red Death, to assist me. So I am not committing to a schedule as before. If you don't want to miss an installment, there's an email sign up. (I don't even see those, so I couldn't sell your address to buy some Korbinian's Dopplebock if I wanted to.)

I'm going to discipline myself to keep articles shorter.

I am not going to look at my numbers. Call it a mortification. But there is a subtle pull to do more of what generates the most page views. I don't want to operate like that. (I wonder if that's why Catholic blogs seem so similar?) I'll just imagine Mark Shea cries himself to sleep every night because he can't match the Bear's readership.

Products that are Bear-approved are not revenue-generating ads. They're just things I use and find exceptionally helpful.

All my old articles are gone. Not because I thought they weren't good, but because I was a little too pleased with them. I will revisit some old topics, though.

Finally, I know your little secret. You come for the Bear. So SCB 2.0 is increasing its Bear content by 25%.

Feast of St. Agatha

St. Agatha, depicted with the martyr's palm and the
traditional plate bearing her breasts that were cut off
during her martyrdom.
Saint Agatha lived in Catania (kuh-TAH-nya), a city on the east coast of Sicily, at the foot of Mt. Etna, in the third century. She was venerated from very early times and her feast is celebrated on February 5. (Sorry this did not get posted until late.)

The traditional account of her trials goes like this.

From an early age, the beautiful young girl from a noble family had consecrated her virginity to Christ, and resisted the advances of many suitors. A local official took advantage of a Roman persecution of Christians to have her brought before him. His real purpose was to have the chaste young woman for himself.

St. Agatha out-argued his best case for paganism, so, frustrated, he sent her to a brothel to despoil her virtue. We pass over in silence the indignities she bore, but her resistance only added luster to her virgin's crown. She proved more trouble than she was worth, and the proprietress of the brothel sent her back to the official. Next, he cast her into prison.

Neither the allure of a good marriage, the clever arguments against her Catholic faith, the humiliation of the brothel, nor the darkness of her prison cell would shake her faith or her vow of chastity. There was only one thing left to the wicked official. St. Agatha was to be tortured. The official decreed a degrading and excruciating torture for the young girl: her breasts were to be cut off.

She received the sentence calmly. This is what she prayed: "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil." Turning her eyes toward her unseen Lord, she joined her sufferings to His. The infamous deed done, she was thrown back into her cell to die. However, she was tended by St. Peter himself in a vision.

Furious at yet another setback, the official determined that St. Agatha would not survive. She was rolled naked over broken glass, and thrown onto a bed of coals. Finally, with a final prayer, her soul found its release, and she received the martyr's palm and the virgin's crown which she had won through her fortitude and faithfulness.

She is invoked by breast cancer patients, and during Mt. Etna's frequent eruptions.

St. Agatha is my daughter's patron saint. At one time we lived near Catania. We feel a special bond to those early Christian martyrs, who speak so eloquently of perseverance and faith. Nor do we forget our brothers and sisters who are martyred by Moslems in Africa and the Middle East to this very day.

Prayer From the 1962 Missal

"O God, Who among the other marvels of Thy power, hast granted even to the weaker sex the victory of martyrdom: grant that we who celebrate the heavenly birthday of blessed Agatha, Thy Virgin and Martyr, may by her example be drawn nearer to Thee. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen."

Women like St. Agatha, and Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, gave witness to the strength of their faith as bravely and effectively as did the men. Before we cringe at "the weaker sex," perhaps we should wonder if there was always the hint of irony in the phrase, given the importance of these early female martyrs, many of them mere girls. I recall the women in my life, their purpose and strength, and give thanks to God for their help and example.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

UN Still Molesting Children Worldwide; Takes Break to Bash Church

The UN is an international organization that sends "peace-keepers" around the world to molest children. Ironically, it also maintains a Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has just blasted the Vatican for failing to address the homosexual abuse of teenage boys. The UN wants predatory homosexual priests turned over to police and complaisant bishops identified. (The Bear agrees.) It also wants the Roman Catholic Church to stop calling homosexual acts sinful, and, for some reason, to accept contraception, too.

Let's be frank. The Roman Catholic Church is probably the largest international employer of homosexual men in the world. If they re-made The Bells of St. Mary, it would star Nathan Lane. It was some of those homosexual men who preyed on teenage boys, drawing the righteous ire of the UN in the first place. Avoiding scandal was no doubt one reason for the cover-up, but the gay lobby within the Church, by all accounts, protects its own. (You may remember Pope Francis laughed that one off by saying he'd never seen anyone with a name tag identifying him as a member of the gay lobby.)

According to the Jay Report, the vast majority of victims were adolescent boys. This is the signature of a homosexual problem, not a "pedophile" problem. Pedophiles victimize children of either sex, and young children, at that. No, younger. If you're thinking anywhere close to "jail bait," you need to move from Junior High School down to Elementary School, or even younger. (This from a specialist in that particular area of criminal justice.) The use of the word "pedophile" is a smokescreen to prevent the real threat from being identified.*

The committee said that condemning homosexual acts harmed the psyche of gay children, so the Church should stop that, too. Unless these kids are discussing the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2357 on the playground or watching Michael Voris, they have no idea the Catholic Church considers homosexual acts sinful. They've never heard it in Catholic Education classes, or from the pulpit, and Pope Francis himself shrugged it off with his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment on the plane.

The committee was on a roll and decided to throw in contraception, too. That's right: the Committee on the Rights of the Child, doesn't want any. That would certainly solve the problem of child abuse. (And, after a few decades, all other problems, because there would be nobody to have them.)

The Vatican responded that it has already made changes to protect children, and asserted its "freedom of religion." I can only imagine what pre-Vatican II popes would have said to some upstart in John Calvin's Geneva telling them what to do. They wouldn't prop their defense up with a newfangled notion of religious freedom that puts God's Church on the same footing as Scientology.

This story will only remain interesting if the Church does place itself under UN guidance (doubtful even in these days). Of course priests who sodomize teenage boys should be turned over to the police. The Church needs, however, to assess the gay lobby's role in the crimes and cover-up, and root out the homosexual culture in its chanceries, its orders, and the Vatican itself. That is something no one seems interested in doing. I can't help but wonder if that's because the problem is far worse than we imagine.


*The Jay Report volunteered that the sexual abuse could not be attributed to homosexuals. The victim profile clearly puts the lie to that claim, which can only be interpreted as a nod to political correctness.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Bear Who Woke Up

I truly miss the people this blog brought into my life. It has been a little poorer for that since the Bear waved goodbye last November due to educational commitments. To whoever finds their way back here, the Bear extends warm Catholic greetings.

World Communications Day Message

Francis has been on the cover of every
magazine except The Watchtower.
What has roused me out of hibernation are the continuing antics of everyone's favorite Catholic cover-boy. Now, you may recall, this was an ultramontanist blog when other conservatives and traddies were criticizing everything the new pope did or said. I thought it was fair and prudent to give him a chance, especially given his office. However, now I have seen enough evidence to be disappointed and worried.

The Pope's message for the 48th World Communication Day called the internet "a gift from God." Since it was World Communication Day, he couldn't condemn the internet as Satan's seal show without being judgmental toward pornographers and atheist trolls. That's not the big news, though. His other theme was beyond inane:

"Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute." Now, as with all of Francis' pronouncements, this could be spun into something acceptable. But, individually, they are ambiguous, and collectively, leave an overall impression that is simply not Catholic. Are we supposed to renounce the Church's claim to be the exclusive guardian of absolute truth? A superficial reading might say so. For that matter, a careful reading against the background of Vatican II teachings might lead to the same conclusion. The landmarks have been moved over the last forty years. Unless we take pains to make our meaning clear, we can easily lose control of the message. (Francis might humbly consider why his predecessors did not talk so much.)

The New Vocabulary of Church-Speak

Whenever I hear the word "dialogue," I want to reach for my revolver. "Dialogue," today, is not so much an activity as a display of plumage. It is intended to convey among the intellectually impoverished and insecure that a person is "the right sort." Underlying it is the secular shibboleth of tolerance and the religious heresy of indifferentism.

The pope has abandoned a muscular Catholic vocabulary for the hands-fluttering-in-the-air secular mewlings of the West's abrupt surrender. The more the world loves this pope, the less relevance he has to genuine Catholicism. Some of us have a historical turn of mind and ears that are not tickled by the latest Franciscan feather. Francis is speaking from the world to the world when he uses words like "dialogue." That has never been part of the Catholic vocabulary.

The New Evangelization can go nowhere unless Catholics believe we and we alone have what each person in the world desperately needs. In the pope's address, he said that while Catholics must "renounce" our insistence that only the Church possesses valid or absolute ideas and traditions. That's part of dialogue, you see. Obviously, we can't dialogue in good faith if we have a superior attitude that our religion is somehow better. Can the pope not conceive of sharing truth out of love, rather than a sense of superiority? It would be as if a brilliant medical researcher discovered the cure for cancer, then did not insist that it replace ineffective medicines out of sensitivity for the feelings of other doctors. If we really believed Christianity's truth, as preserved and unfolded through the Catholic Church, we'd be forced to preach, not dialogue; convert, not confirm. But in our day, Jews are -- incoherently -- urged to continue waiting for their messiah; Moslems are fine for believing in one god; Hindus are admired for having many; and atheists are good to go for having no god at all.

What is behind all this? Not Catholicism as understood since the time of martyrs who would rather die than so much as offer a pinch of incense to the Roman Emperor. Not Catholicism that converted the Roman Empire, the barbarians beyond, and the New World. Not Catholicism that sent missionaries like St. Francis Xavier to Japan, not to admire their native religion, but to offer people the precious gift of the Gospel according to Jesus' commission. Does not the current exaltation of dialogue and accommodation make fools of all martyrs and missionaries?

The Model of Martyrs

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, perhaps the most touching of the early martyrs. A young mother and her slave (who had just given birth herself) faced scourging and beasts in the amphitheater. They believed the New Faith was the True Faith and gave their lives in glorious martyrdom. They did not confirm their jailer in his pagan error, but converted him. Nor did they escape their horrifying deaths by simply accommodating the reasonable "interreligious invitation" to burn a pinch of incense to the Emperor's cult.

Dialogue and Accommodation

"Dialogue and accommodation" could be the motto of the modern Church. It is almost as if the Church has surveyed the world and concluded that her time is over. Everybody has been given their chance to accept the Church's teachings and most have rejected them. The Church's new mission is to make her peace with the world: to salvage -- as far as possible -- the brand and property, while re-positioning herself as the first among equals in whatever place the modern world shall be willing to grant religion. It is clear that religious certainty is not going to please the world. "Who am I to judge?" Now that's how you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone. And The Advocate. And become Time's Person of the Year.

A cunning, dare I say, Jesuitical plot? Or perhaps the answer is simpler. Pope Francis appears to despise the past, doctrine and tradition. (Which is perhaps why the only people he feels competent to judge are traditionalists.) On the other hand, he seems to respect the Bible. Perhaps, instead of trying to find out what kind of Catholic the pope is, we should discover what kind of Protestant he most resembles. That would explain much, especially the lack of Catholic vocabulary as revealed on World Communications Day. The pope is coming through loud and clear -- if only we would listen.

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