In Formation

Friday, July 12


From St. Blog's Lady A.B.D.

A riff on Amy Welborn's review of Wills' books by The Lady of Shalott that includes some nice reflections on the challenges of advanced study (wrestling with intellectualism and faith), and the importance of friends (like James Taylor), the saints, and the Desert Fathers & Mothers.

In short, keeping the faith demands a commitment to do the work of maintaining the connection to the community through which we are saved. Furthermore, her experience reveals why living our faith is easier, by far, when we have witnesses of what it takes to balance the life of the mind with the life of the heart.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/12/2002 |

Sounds like a pseudonym to me

But who knows? Joshua Jericho has a new blog, which is called Little Latin, Less Greek. At this point, he seems to be focusing on semiology, hermeneutics, Fish (Stanley, that is), Gadamer, post-structuralism, and the relevance of all of the above for (Catholic) knowers today. In short, it looks like he's been reading to write his dissertation (he's an English A.B.D.), and letting it flow over into blogdom. (Good luck, Joshua!) He also includes some smart observations about recent articles and essays.

Some other new(ly noticed) blogs

Ordinary Time


Lex Communis

The New Gasperian

To Love, Honor, and Blog

et cetera

Welcome to all of you!

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/12/2002 |

Thursday, July 11


Well done, Welborn (yet again)

Amy has done all of us a favor. Yesterday she invited her many readers to come back for her take on a couple of Gary Wills' books, and today she made good on her promise. If you haven't done so already, go read what she has to say!

[Wills'] faith is predominately intellectual, not surprising, since that seems to be his basic prism for experience. His concerns are primarily intellectual. His solutions are intellectual. I put this book down with the impression, fairly or not, of a profoundly impersonal faith, one bereft of passion or relationship or trust. It is a faith in which the central issue is what Garry makes of the world and how he can squeeze God into that in an intellectually satisfying way, rather than a faith in which God as God is front and center, as source and root and end and ultimate standard . . .

In the end, Wills' answer is the typical modern answer, which is no answer at all. True, when it comes to the Church, history must be fully and honestly dealt with, and sometimes traditional apologists get wacky in their own interpretations and gloss over historical issues. But what we're left with, is not a Catholic Church. In fact, it doesn't seem to be a Church at all. Garry Wills leaves us with the impression that to him the Catholic faith is constructed, not out of flesh, blood, mystics, saints and sinners, artists, musicians, missionaries, mothers and fathers, children and the elderly, all joined as a living, vibrant, pilgrim Body formed and put here to serve God and love in His name, but rather is a collection of words in a book that don't violate his intellectual or cultural sensibilities. It is a lifeless spot, animated by the desire to prove that the smart little boy from Michigan isn't wrong rather than be profound gratitude that the boy exists at all.

What struck me about Amy's analysis was how Wills emphasized the content of faith more than the virtue of faith, the priority of propositions over person. He seeks truths he can hold more than the Truth who would hold, heal, and make him whole.

A surprising parallel to Fundamentalism

Though it manifests itself in very different ways and the "truths" they hold are often very different from the ones Wills proclaims, the emphasis on having the "right" ideas for oneself, in one's head, is a problem rather prevalent among our Sola Scriptura (and often anti-Catholic) separated brethren. Fearing that someone might be able to challenge the propositions they hold, they are often forced to invent the theological equivalent of epicycles to help them get past the heliocentric facts of their geocentric worldview. Of course, this impulse to get it right, for ourselves, is a problem for many Catholics, as well.

The answer to liberal Protestant and Catholic intellectuals and conservative Fundamentalists is faith. Not fideistic, naive, unthinking faith. But faith in Christ who promised the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth. At the end of the day, faith is an act of submission and obedience more than strictly intellectual effort.

Faith requires our willingness to have the Truth enfold us instead of striving always to prove to ourselves that we're smart enough to be saved. In other words, salvation (like faith) is not rooted in propositions, but in a Person. When faith gets reduced to "truths" we trot out for review, instead of confidence in the person to whom we must submit all we are and hope to be, we don't yet know the Truth that sets us free.

As Catholics, we embrace mystery as part of our faith. So we must trust, we must have faith, in Him who said He would guide the Church into all truth. That does not mean each of us will have all truth--nothing, in fact, is less likely. However, the Church makes up for what we lack. In fact, as St. Paul said, the Church is the Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth. I don't know about you, but I'd say that's real good news. I'm glad I don't have to work it all out for myself.

In contrast, the desire to possess tidy faith formulations that can pass muster with the world (on Wills' side) or Sola Scriptura (on the Fundamentalists') is vanity. In the end, it produces more pride than love. And it leads to the lifeless faith that Amy described so well.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/11/2002 |

Vocations, service, and sacrifice

A good column by Stanley Kurtz in National Review about our culture's changing response to three vocations that require service and sacrifice. Thanks to A Saintly Salmagundi for the link.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/11/2002 |

Stern words from Rome

Here's the CDF's response to the "ordination" of seven women June 29.

In order to give direction to the consciences of the Catholic faithful and dispel any doubts which may have arisen, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wishes to recall the teaching of the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of Pope John Paul II, which states that 'the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful' (n. 4). For this reason, the above-mentioned 'priestly ordination' constitutes the simulation of a sacrament and is thus invalid and null, as well as constituting a grave offense to the divine constitution of the Church. Furthermore, because the 'ordaining' Bishop belongs to a schismatic community, it is also a serious attack on the unity of the Church. Such an action is an affront to the dignity of women, whose specific role in the Church and society is distinctive and irreplaceable.

The present Declaration, recalling the preceding statements of the Bishop of Linz and the Episcopal Conference of Austria and in accordance with canon 1347 � 1 of the CIC, gives formal warning to the above-mentioned women that they will incur excommunication reserved to the Holy See if, by July 22, 2002, they do not (1) acknowledge the nullity of the 'orders' they have received from a schismatic Bishop in contradiction to the definitive doctrine of the Church and (2) state their repentance and ask forgiveness for the scandal caused to the faithful.

There are surely those who will see this as just another example of a "backward" Church that "doesn't get it," that is, simply put, insensitive and oppressive to women. Others, however, interpret this declaration as evidence that the Catholic Church is concerned enough about the welfare of the whole Church that it bids these women reconsider what they have done. It is an action of benign strength, rather than oppressive authoritarianism. I count myself among the latter group, and pray with the CDF and the entire Catholic Church for a change of heart among these seven schismatic women and the offending "bishop."

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/11/2002 |

Wednesday, July 10


An argument for natural law

Wow! Even the relativists in our culture are bound to conclude that this is wrong. And I suspect that most would say it's wrong because it goes against nature.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/10/2002 |

Simplistic anti-celibacy

I was recently thinking to myself that I hadn't read much lately about the need to relax the celibacy requirement, with all the facile and troubling assumptions that bubble beneath. But then, from my home state, we get this commentary in the Detroit Free Press.

My story is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And I may have learned that I was not cut out for the priesthood. But the fact that I couldn't pursue marriage and the priesthood is the key. I was a faithful Catholic, good student, athletic and well rounded, just the sort of lad the Church should be seeking. But the elderly leaders of my church, having never been married themselves, determined that one could not serve the Church and raise a family. Better to find those who can better accommodate the inwardly directed priesthood -- this, despite the fact that until the 12th Century marriage was possible for priests. In fact, I can't find any place where the teachings of Jesus prohibit either married or female priests.

But, the Church says, no man can serve God and raise a family at the same time. Better that a man be isolated from the natural order of special love and the marvelous gift of children. Better to cling to prayer, dogma and ritual and not add the arms of a loving spouse. I sometimes wonder how a priest can offer effective counsel to married couples with families, who constitute the vast majority of parishioners.

I detect much fear in the highest places and see that as the major stumbling block. I can almost hear them saying privately, "What if we do the right thing for our faithful and open up the priesthood to more rounded candidates who can marry, and even include women? Yes, that will give us more worthy candidates and enable us to better meet the needs of our flock. But if we give in on this issue, what will happen when our members want to divorce and remarry, or decide for themselves how to control the number of children they have?

The problem, evidently, is that the Church doesn't know as much as this man does. Let him tweak the disciplines (and the moral teachings, to boot) and everything would be set right. His comments about marriage counseling are a choice example. Isn't it obvious, he seems to think, that priests can't possibly have a clue about marriages; it's really an affront that they would speak about marriage and the difficulty of raising children.

Some priests, of course, don't have a clue, but that has little to do with their celibacy. (Let's be honest, many married couples don't have a clue.) On this question, it seems at least possible that priests might actually have some special insights about men and women that they gain from their training, the grace of ordination, insights from the confessional, and their role as spiritual fathers. Plus, think about our Lord and St. Paul. Should we discount their teachings, simply because they didn't know what it was like to be married?

Remarks like this man's are offensive to all the good, holy, and wise priests (including Jesus Christ, Paul, and countless other celibates) who have committed themselves in love to live for others. Celibate love is no less "natural" than the committed, agapeic, love of good marriages. Surely both require heavy doses of grace! However, because our culture is currently very confused about love, because eros often eclipses agape, we need the witness of celibate clergy now more than ever.

Married love is an excellent way to express love. But so is celibacy. Those who argue that allowing married men to become priests would solve our ills understand neither celibacy nor the agapeic love required of all of us, married and celibate alike. The problem is not celibacy, but that some priests are not living celibacy well. Now is not the time to jettison celibacy, for the world and the Church need good witnesses of celibate love more than ever.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/10/2002 |

Tuesday, July 9


Dealing with Dallas in Chicago

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly (a PBS program) did a report about how two Chicago parishes are responding to the implementation of the bishops' Dallas document. The second, Holy Angels, had their pastor removed because of past allegations (he is appealing his removal).

As part of my summer program, I happened to be at the mass where the co-pastor (who is the pastor's monitor) Fr. Bob Miller gave the homily quoted in the piece.

There can be no doubt that it was a difficult time to visit any parish, but the church was warm and receptive to me and my fellow-seminarians. During the homily, though, I felt like I was entirely out of place. The co-pastor's message unequivocally made the pastor the victim, and his the cause for justice.

He played that theme repeatedly, tapping into the language and rhythms of the Civil Rights struggle. In the homily, and after communion, the strains of "we shall overcome" came through loud and clear.

Father John is being sacrificed on the altar of ecclesiastical expediency and media pressure.

I'm gonna say it every Sunday and that's why it's plastered on that board outside: this is not about forgiveness. It is about justice... Justice. I don't care what any Dallas document says, I don't care what any cardinal says, Father John will be free to minister in this church any way, anyhow he wants.

Of course, he said these things because he believes his pastor is totally innocent of the allegations. However, his homily effectively drew battle lines with the Church. He cast the Dallas document and its implications for Father John as "us-versus-them," with the parish, behind their pastor, against the bishops. Now, even if they "win," they will have triumphed against what he has called an unjust Church. But what if they "lose"? What will they do if the appeal is denied?

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/09/2002 |

Monday, July 8


A need for macho priests?

Even though I can understand the frustration of Podles and Father Bryce Sibley concerning the "feminization" of the Church, I am unconvinced that the culture's stereotypical man is a helpful corrective. I somehow doubt that Jesus would be a Dirty Harry fan, even if he might well enjoy a good cigar and a glass of Scotch.

Christ was who (and how) he was, not in reaction to something else, but because he needed to be true to himself as God and man. If priests try to seem like men without really being manly, then they're playing games with themselves and those around them. Better, by far, that they be authentic men, marked deeply with virtue instead of the thin veneer of machismo.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/08/2002 |

Sunday, July 7


Rousing controversy about a feminized Church

Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, Amy Welborn quoted from a piece by Leon Podles of Touchstone Magazine that touched off a few fireworks of its own. Amy concluded her blog entry with the words Wake up, people. Wake up. Well, I'd say her readers did just that. The fifty-some comments on that post even include some remarks from Podles himself.

Gerard Serafin, of Catholic Blog for Lovers fame, weighed in early and he weighed in often. His last entry was a note saying he'd reread an earlier article by Podles in Touchstone and posted a reply.

In his article, as in his 1999 book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, Podles offers a provocative thesis: men stay away from the Church because they regard it as a threat to their hard-won masculinity. The problem, mind you, is not the men who stay away but the Church they avoid. Surely, he seems to assume, if the Church were different--more "masculine"--men would be coming in droves.

Gerard, in short, says it just ain't so. Now, I must admit that when I read Gerard's comments, I suspected he might be suffering a bit of indigestion. He threw out the label "wacko" to describe Podles more than once, and seemed a bit too defensive of the laity and Catholic luminaries like Bernard of Clairvaux, Han Urs von Balthasar, and the Holy Father.

But all of that was before I read Podles' piece. Now that I've read it, Gerard's comments seem closer to the mark. Though there is much to praise in Podles' essay, in the end, he seems to take "natural (even primal) man" as the standard of what it means to be "masculine." That is, the man who goes off to war and is authoritarian and combative as much as anything else.

Church attendance in the United States is about 60 percent female and 40 percent male. The more liberal the denomination, the higher the percentage of females. Fundamentalists are almost evenly divided, but the only religions that sometimes show a majority of men are Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and Eastern religions such as Buddhism. Men say they believe in God as much as women do, but the more Christian a practice or belief becomes, the fewer men will own up to it . . .

A closer analysis of the sociological data shows that it is not exactly being male or female that makes the difference, but being masculine or feminine. That is, men who have feminine personality characteristics tend to go to church far more often than other men do. Women who have masculine personalities tend to go to church less than other women do.

The age of the martyrs and the Fathers, the first millennium, evinced no great signs that Christianity was especially for women or that it was a threat to masculinity, although there are some patristic precursors of later feminization. Christianity is not, as Nietszche claimed, a religion of slaves and women, unfit for the hypermasculine Superman.

Men have sought their religious fulfillment outside Christianity. The Freemasons and similar organizations provided a confrontation with death and a rebirth as a new man. Sports became a new religion, as did war, nationalism, fascism, and Nazism. Men have sought and continue to seek the transcendent not in Christianity but in the new religions of masculinity . . .

It's as if getting back to "masculine Christianity" will bring everyone back. But, let's be honest, men and women will find Christian values unacceptable no matter how we package them.

He suggests re-emphasizing the role of fathers, and that's definitely important. Furthermore, he rightly suggests that priests and pastors:

Preach the whole gospel, including the uncomfortable parts. Hell and damnation are realities, and it does no one any good to forget them. Christianity is a matter of infinite seriousness, far more serious than economics or politics. Christianity can give the true initiation into the mysteries of life and death, of heaven and hell, of spiritual warfare and the destiny of the human race. Men need training in spiritual discipline, and will think it worthwhile if they see the importance of Christianity.

But since when did teaching the truth result in followers living by it? Was Christ soft on truth, teaching partial truths? No. But what happened to him? He was crucified in the most humiliating (and emasculating) way possible. Not exactly a masculine ideal--"turning the other cheek," going silent to the slaughter.

At the end of the day, Dr. Podles seems to want a fightin' religion, one he can be proud of, as a man. In fact, it's as if he's calling for a return to Christianity as a Crusading faith, a sectarian us-versus-them religion, that would as often wage battle as it would pray for its enemies. In this regard, I find it striking that Podles doesn't express disapproval of Nietzche's criterion for an acceptable faith. If we get tough again, masculine, that'll bring the men back! It might, but then again, it might no longer be the Christianity of our Christ.

There is no doubt that we need our priests to be strong, to preach the whole, difficult, truth about Christianity. And there are dangers that the Church is becoming feminized. But Podles' thesis and his implied remedy go too far. He is hacking away at the sources of the faith he says he wants to renew.

The point of our renewal cannot be "toughening up the faith" to bring back the men, but to preach the truth in all its fullness. There may be shortcuts to bringing back the men, but exchanging Christ and the Tradition for a Nietzchean spirituality is not what I call a bargain.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/07/2002 |