You Can’t Fight Religion without Religion

What is to be done about the influx of Islam into the West – besides accepting carnage (most recently in Barcelona) as the “new normal”? Some prominent voices pin their hopes on “reform” of one stripe or another. For them, some aspects of Islam should be embraced with the proviso that certain others are to be excluded. Make it a matter of emphasis rather than a wholesale evaluation regarding the question of compatibility between Islam and the West.

I understand the appeal but am not alone in thinking that this is too rosy a view. And unrealistic. Reform doesn’t seem a high priority within the Muslim world, nor where Muslims have taken up residence en masse in the West. In the final analysis, to “reform” Islam on Western principles is to sound its death knell; if you take away the rice, try making a reformed risotto.

St. Paul knew that a professing Christian would be pitiable if the Resurrection had not actually happened. For Muslims, everything hinges on the belief that Mohammed is the ultimate model for human conduct. You can’t disentangle that from the outbursts of malevolence that conform to his example.

A more prudent approach, it seems, would be to heed the rule of numbers. Violence, agitation, and demands for sharia compliance are quite rare at first but steadily increase as the concentration of Muslims expands. Where enclaves are vanishingly scarce, so too are incidents; that’s why residents of Poland and Hungary can rest much easier than those of France, the U.K., and Sweden. This – astonishingly – seems lost on those who imagine the solution lies simply with heightened magnanimity, understood as boundless accommodation.

Once the scales tip too far, you wind up with fewer and much less pleasant options. Majorities disinclined to violence may well populate certain enclaves, but they function nonetheless as harbors for the jihadi armada. David Goldman argues that perhaps the only option when we’re facing ongoing bouts of terrorism is to intrude upon the enclaves as a whole. To make them fear Western authorities more than the fomenters of jihad.

This would involve measures that are unpalatable, even “repugnant” under ordinary conditions, but in the context of asymmetric warfare are hard to avoid. Without a stiff incentive, what Muslim would abandon the passivity – a survival mechanism – that supplies cover for the perpetuation of atrocities? Far better not to let things get to such a point.

Further lessons – including concrete measures – may be retrieved from the Cold War. A recent article has pointed to the utility of the Communist Control Act of 1954, which was passed to deal with infiltration by subversives; put Jihadists for Communists (and maintain the same constitutionality) and you’d be cooking with gas.

Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese, 1572 [Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice]

Naturally, the Left would bristle at the analogy, but they can’t even be stirred to call out Islam on what they seem to hold most dear: the “right to privacy.” The notion of respecting genuine – as opposed to faux, euphemistic – privacy does not exist in Islam because, as Ibn Warraq relates, the collective imperatives of Islam override it.

Still, tension remains between retaining our freedoms and countering those who would use our freedoms against us. Writing as the Cold War was just getting underway, the esteemed 20th-century philosopher of science Karl Popper warned (as Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out) that “if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Reacting robustly – not tolerating the intolerant – may not be necessary when rational argument is possible, or when public opinion is united against oppression and intolerance. But some opponents disregard or forbid all rational argument, so “we should claim the rightto suppress them if necessary even by force.”

Think of the imam in Davis, California, who recently called for the “annihilation” of Jews – whom he maligned as “filth” – “down to the very last one.” Compare Popper’s contention that “we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.” Permitting such open belligerence has not turned out so well in London. And it’s not a requirement of authentic freedom.

Defending intolerance, paradoxically, in the name of tolerance implies situating tolerance within a hierarchy of larger truths concerning the source of human dignity and inalienable rights – i.e., God. Here I think T.S. Eliot, with the Cold War in mind, ultimately comes closest to the heart of the matter with his observation that “you can never fight a religion except with a different religion.”

By all means, take the necessary precautions. Enact sensible measures. But this is the plane on which the battle is fought. Belief is the font from which political countermeasures spring. An Enlightenment or secularist understanding of “values” just isn’t up to the task.

In the midst of the struggle between the West and Communism, Eliot saw that conviction matters – decisively:

If we are incapable of a faith at least as strong as that which appears to animate the ruling class of Russia, if we are incapable of dying for a cause, then Western Europe and the Americans might as well be reorganized on the Moscow model at once.

Or on the Mecca model.

The problem, he says, is that “people do not seem very eager to act” on the unavoidable, highly consequential religious matters at hand.

To ask what should be done about Islam is ultimately to ask how we should also combat the indifference – and now open hostility – to Christianity in the West.


1966 Letter Reveals Cardinal Ottaviani’s Post-Conciliar Concerns

Today, the French Catholic website, Riposte Catholique, made reference to Tradinews, another French Catholic website, which published an important 1966 confidential letter written by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then sent by him to all the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences in the world.

After our contacting the editors of Tradinews in order to find out more information about this letter, they kindly and promptly sent us a direct reference to the letter on the Vatican website. By means of this letter, Cardinal Ottaviani attempted to forestall the further spreading of erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, only ONE year after its formal ending! This letter is thus significant because it shows that the doctrinal confusion had started to spread right after the formal closing of the council.

Cardinal Ottaviani had every reason to be concerned since he had been fighting during the entirety of the council proceedings for the preservation of the entire Catholic Faith in its integrity. As The Washington Post tendentiously (and progressively) put it in 1979, upon his death:

He [Cardinal Ottaviani] bitterly opposed the efforts of Pope John XXIII in calling the Second Vatican Council to Modernize the church and was the leader and strategist for the most conservative forces in the church once the council got under way. […]

More than once the cardinal clashed with progressive bishops on the floor of the council in his opposition to modernizing trends, such as authorizing mass in the language of the people or breaking down the centuries-old walls of separation between Catholic and other Christian churches.

When most of the decisions went against him, he used his vast influence in the Roman Curia – the church’s central administrative body – to delay as long as possible implementing them.

Sometimes this tactic backfired. In 1967, he issued an order that Catholics were not to join with Protestants in special prayer services for Christian unity – activities that were well within the guidelines laid down by Vatican II. Many bishops already had given their approval for such services.

Pope Paul VI learned about the controversy and countermanded Cardinal Ottaviani’s order.

Cardinal Ottaviani opposed the council decision allowing translation of the mass from Latin into the language of the people, and at one time gave powerful Curia backing to an American priest [not identified] who started a movement to preserve the Latin mass.

Cardinal Ottaviani is the author (along with Cardinal Antonio Bacci) of the 1969 cri de coeur concerning the Novus Ordo Mass known colloquially as the “Ottaviani Intervention” — a commentary which is still very worthwhile to consider. For example, it presents us with these concluding words:

To abandon a liturgical tradition which for four centuries was both the sign and the pledge of unity of worship (and to replace it with another which cannot but be a sign of division by virtue of the countless liberties implicitly authorized, and which teems with insinuations or manifest errors against the integrity of the Catholic religion) is, we feel in conscience bound to proclaim, an incalculable error.

It is also of worth to remember that it was already very shortly after the beginning of the Second Vatican Council that Cardinal Ottaviani was himself being silenced, according to a report by Dr. Robert Moynihan (Dr. Moynihan’s full report is currently not available on the Internet. However, he was kind enough to send me the full text from which I now quote here below.). In 2012, Dr. Moynihan had met with the Church historian Monsignor Brunero Gherardini. Moynihan thus reports:

Then I asked [Monsignor Gherardini] about the Council. Whenever I think about the Council, I said, I always have one image in my mind: an aging Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, now blind, about age 80, limping, the head of the Holy Office and so the chief doctrinal officer of the Church, born in Trastevere to parents who had many children, so a Roman from Rome, from the people of Rome, takes the microphone to speak to the 2,000 assembled bishops. And, as he speaks, pleading for the bishops to consider the texts the curia has spent three years preparing, suddenly his microphone was shut off. He kept speaking, but no one could hear a word. Then, puzzled and flustered, he stopped speaking, in confusion. And the assembled fathers began to laugh, and then to cheer…

“Yes,” Gherardini said. “And it was only the third day.”

“What?” I said.

“Ottaviani’s microphone was turned off on the third day of the Council.”

“On the third day?” I said. “I didn’t know that. I thought it was later, in November, after the progressive group became more organized…”

“No, it was the third day, October 13, 1962. The Council began on October 11.”

“Do you know who turned off the microphone?”

“Yes,” he said. “It was Cardinal Lienart of Lille, France.”

“But then,” I said, “it could almost be argued, perhaps, that such a breech of protocol, making it impossible for Ottaviani to make his arguments, somehow renders what came after, well, in a certain sense, improper…”

“Some people make that argument,” Gherardini replied.

As can be seen from this description of this prelate’s fight, Cardinal Ottaviani did all he could to defend Catholic doctrinal tradition. In the following, we shall therefore present his 1966 letter in its fullness for the thoughtful reflection of our readers concerning the questions that Ottaviani raised as being especially pertinent and also dangerous.


Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences
regarding some sentences and errors arising
from the interpretation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council

Since the recent successful conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, many wise Documents have been promulgated, both in doctrinal and disciplinary matters, in order to efficaciously promote the life of the Church. All of the people of God are bound by the grave duty to strive with all diligence to put into effect all that has been solemnly proposed or decreed, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, by the universal assembly of the bishops presided over by the Supreme Pontiff.

It is the right and duty of the Hierarchy to monitor, guide, and promote the movement of renewal begun by the Council, so that the conciliar Documents and Decrees are properly interpreted and implemented with the utmost fidelity to their merit and their spirit. This doctrine, in fact, must be defended by the bishops, since they, with Peter as their Head, have the duty to teach with authority. Many Pastors have admirably already begun to explain the relevance of the doctrine of the Council.

Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged with sorrow that unfortunate news has been reported from various areas about abuses regarding the interpretation of the conciliar doctrine that are taking hold, as well as some brazen opinions circulating here and there causing great disturbance among the faithful. The studies and efforts to investigate the truth more profoundly are praiseworthy, especially when distinguishing honestly between that which is central to the faith and that which is open to opinion. But some of the documents examined by this Sacred Congregation contain affirmations which easily go beyond the limits of hypothesis or simple opinion, appearing to raise certain questions regarding the dogmas and fundamentals of the faith.

It is worthwhile to draw attention to some examples of these opinions and errors that have arisen both from the reports of competent persons and in published writings.

1) First of all regarding Sacred Revelation itself: There are some, in fact, who appeal to Sacred Scripture while deliberately leaving aside Tradition. But they then restrict the role and the strength of biblical inspiration and its inerrancy, abandoning a just notion of the true value of the historical texts.

2) In regards to the doctrine of the faith, some affirm that dogmatic formulas are subject to historical evolution even to the point that their objective meaning is susceptible to change.

3) The ordinary Magisterium of the Church, particularly that of the Roman Pontiff, is sometimes neglected and diminished, until it is relegated almost to the sphere of a mere opinion.

4) Some almost refuse to acknowledge truth that is objective, absolute, stable, and immutable, submitting everything to a certain relativism, with the pretext that every truth necessarily follows an evolutionary rhythm according to conscience and history.

5) The venerated Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ is called into question when, in the elaboration of the doctrines of Christology, certain concepts are used to describe his nature and his person though they are difficult to reconcile with that which has been dogmatically defined. A certain Christological humanism is twisted such that Christ is reduced to the condition of an ordinary man who, at a certain point, acquired a consciousness of his divinity as Son of God. The virginal birth, miracles, and the resurrection itself are admitted only as concepts, reduced to a purely natural order.

6) Similarly in sacramental theology, some elements are either ignored or are not taken into account, especially with regard to the Eucharist. There are some who talk about the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine as a kind of exaggerated symbolism, as though, the power of transubstantiation does not change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but simply invests them with a determined significance. There are those who, when considering the Mass, insist too much on the concept of agape love at the expense of the concept of Sacrifice.

7) Some would explain the Sacrament of Penance as a means of reconciliation with the Church, not expressing sufficiently the concept of reconciliation with God who has been offended. They affirm simply that in the celebration of this Sacrament it is not necessary to accuse oneself of sin, striving to express only the social function of reconciliation with the Church.

8) Some consider of little account the doctrine of the Council of Trent regarding original sin, or explain it in a way that at least obfuscates the original fault of Adam and the transmission of his sin.

9) The errors in the field of moral theology are no less trivial. Some, in fact, dare to reject the objective criteria of morality, while others do not acknowledge the natural law, preferring instead to advocate for the legitimacy of so-called situational ethics. Deleterious opinions are spread about morality and responsibility in the areas of sexuality and marriage.

10) In addition, it is necessary to comment about ecumenism. The Apostolic See praises, undoubtedly, those who promote initiatives, in the spirit of the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism, that foster charity toward our separated brothers and to draw them to unity in the Church. However, it is regrettable that some interpret the conciliar Decree in their own terms, proposing an ecumenical action that offends the truth about the unity of the faith and of the Church, fostering a pernicious irenicism [the error of creating a false unity among different Churches] and an indifferentism entirely alien to the mind of the Council.

These pernicious errors, scattered variously throughout the world, are recounted in this letter only in summary form for the local Ordinaries so that each one, according to his function and office, can strive to eradicate or hinder them.

This Sacred Dicastery fervently urges the same Ordinaries, gathered in their Episcopal Conferences, to take up this point of discussion and report back to the Holy See as appropriate, sending their own opinions before Christmas of this year.

The Ordinaries as well as those others who they reasonably choose to consult regarding this letter, are to keep it strictly confidential, since obvious reasons of prudence discourage its publication.

Rome, July 24, 1966.

Cardinal A. Ottaviani

Only one year after the 1966 publication of this Ottaviani letter – in mid-July of 1967 – Pope Paul VI quietly withdrew – and effectively canceled and abolished – the Oath against Modernism, which had been first established by Pope Saint Pius X.

Democrat Fingers in the Vatican Pie: Did Obama Force Benedict’s Abdication?

Alessandro Rico8/11/2017

On May 17, I published an article in the Italian newspaper La Verità about pope Benedict’s abdication. A few days before, in a renowned Italian geopolitical magazine called Limes, Professor Germano Dottori had argued that Joseph Ratzinger’s 2013 abdication, and the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation in 2011, after a financial storm sold to public opinion as a “public debt” crisis, were the result of pressures on the part of Obama administration in the United States.

According to Dottori, Obama was eager to dethrone Benedict XVI for two reasons. On the one hand, his presidency was close to fundamentalist Islam (de facto fostered by regime change in Libya and Egypt and civil war in Syria, provoked by U.S. former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy design), whereas Ratzinger, ever since his famous Regensburg lecture, had been identified internationally as a strong opponent of Islamism. On the other hand, Obama was worried about the Church’s reconciliatory efforts toward Moscow’s Orthodox patriarch, within the scope – Dottori wrote – “of a geopolitical project aimed at European-Russian integration, actively supported by Germany and Italy.”

The Obama administration may have resorted to two instruments: fostering scandals within the Church and the Italian government and threatening to drain away Italian and Vatican financial resources. Italy was at risk of being excluded from international financial markets. The menace against the Vatican was to bar the IOR (Istituto per le Opere di Religione, the Vatican bank) from the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network. Taking as an excuse the fact that the IOR did not abide by international rules of transparency, Deutsche Bank (which runs point-of-sale payment systems in the Vatican and was suspected by Bankitalia of hosting an IOR account where all money earned within the Vatican converged) had been induced to block all ATMs in Vatican City, a service curiously reactivated, Dottori noticed, right after Pope Benedict’s abdication.

With regard to this story, it is useful to spend a few more words on an important figure: former president of the IOR Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. Chosen by Pope Benedict in 2009 to reform the IOR and bring it back to international standards of transparency, in 2010, Tedeschi was the subject of a money-laundering investigation.

Notice how suspicious the events look: two years after the beginning of the inquiry, in 2012, Tedeschi was fired from his office; in 2014, after Pope Benedict’s resignation, Rome’s judge dismissed the inquiry and all allegations against Tedeschi; in 2015, in an interview with The Catholic Herald, Tedeschi declared that he had been kicked out by the IOR’s board of directors because of his intention to make radical reforms. And in a 2012 interview released to the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, Tedeschi had already revealed that in those months, he was so scared of being assassinated that he had written down a secret report on the IOR. (According to my sources, he had written his will as well.) The secret report had been entrusted to two of Tedeschi’s close friends as a sort of insurance policy on his own life. Tedeschi stated that he had discovered “something scary” and had engaged a struggle against the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was resolutely opposing any disclosure of the IOR’s secret archives to Italian authorities.

If you connect Tedeschi’s story to Dottori’s claim regarding financial blackmail enacted against the Vatican Bank in order to pressure Pope Benedict, you might suspect that Tedeschi was well aware that obscure forces, from within and without the Vatican, were swarming, and that his opposition to those influences was probably the cause of his misfortunes.

Dottori’s considerations should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, his interpretation of Berlusconi’s government crisis in 2011 is slightly in contrast with the prevailing reading, which assigns responsibility to German chancellor Angela Merkel and French former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Moreover, it has to be noticed that the Obama administration’s main concern was unlikely to be Ratzinger’s ideological opposition to radical Islam. It is probably more useful to focus on the Russian question.

On the one hand, the perspective of a tighter political integration between Europe and Russia, supported by the Catholic Church for the sake of the construction of a sort of religious “conservative front,” was a cause of anxiety for Obama and Clinton. The role of the pope could be that of a trait d’union (literally, a hyphen) between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin – as a German, and as a moral leader, Benedict XVI could mediate to ease friction between two politicians joined by a love-hate relationship, but whose intentions, beyond all, were to deepen the ties between their countries. That the United States backed Ukraine’s revolt against the pro-Russian government there and supported civil war in Donbas region (the Obama administration’s involvement was denounced by Foreign Affairs in 2014), and that they sabotaged the project for the South Stream pipeline (with the help of Senator John McCain, who literally threatened Bulgaria’s prime minister and obtained his withdrawal from the project), is proof that Democrats were willing to do anything they could to prevent a closer political and economic partnership between Europe and Russia. In this sense, Berlusconi, Putin’s (and Libyan dictator Gaddafi’s) personal friend, was a troublesome individual.

On the other hand, the Obama administration was likely to be frightened by Pope Benedict’s conservative stance on the liturgy, morals, and politics. A conservative pope, in a moment when the Church’s aid was no more required to fight communism in the Soviet Union – and Russia was becoming a conservative nation – could mean an undesired, and politically dangerous, rightist breakthrough for American Catholics and an unseen convergence between religious conservatives in the U.S. and Russia.

That Obama’s fear was well informed is apparent, since Donald Trump won the Catholic vote in the 2016 election in spite of a progressive pope who almost openly endorsed Hillary Clinton, and despite Catholics’ leftward turn in the two previous elections of 2008 and 2012.

In this light, one may also interpret the recent article in La Civiltà Cattolica (a journal whose content has to be supervised by the papacy for publication) that attacked the allegiance between Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States. The message from the Vatican is clear: according to Pope Francis, good American Catholics should vote for Democrats again. Why is the new papacy so worried that conservative Catholics and Protestants might join forces in politics when it favors “inter-religious dialogue” whenever it amounts to unconditional veneration of Lutheranism?

That the Catholic vote was at stake in the Obama administration’s conspiracy against Benedict XVI is also proved by WikiLeaks’ revelations on Hillary Clinton’s right-hand man, John Podesta. His leaked emails showed that he was planning to foster a “Catholic spring,” a revolution intended to supplant conservative sections of the Church and make progressives take over.

Now, try to read against this background the new papacy’s stances on moral and political issues. The Church is almost silent on abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and euthanasia. And it is astonishing that on the question of migrants, Pope Francis is embracing George Soros’s agenda. Do not forget that Soros is one of Clinton’s most generous financiers, with a $11-million donation for her electoral campaign and a $6-million donation from the Soros Foundation to the Clinton Foundation. Soros came up nearly 60 times in John Podesta’s leaked emails. One may admit that such a triangulation among a leftist presidential candidate, a liberal billionaire accused of several political conspiracies in different nations, undesired by the government of his country, and by Israel as well in spite of his Jewish birth, and the Catholic Church’s pope is, to put it lightly, bizarre.

Now, even if Italian journalist Sandro Magister, on August 3, published for L’Espresso an article where he declares that in fact, Pope Francis is still pursuing friendly relations with Russian Orthodoxy – thereby upsetting Catholics in Poland and Ukraine, who would rather look to NATO countries, especially now that the U.S. is governed by Trump – there seems to be a substantial difference between the Russian policies of Popes Benedict and Francis. The former could at least have been a moral mediator between Europe and Russia for political and economic integration, and he was keen to converge with Russian conservatives as regards religion in society and other moral priorities. Francis, for his part, seems to be moved by concerns for the condition of Christians in Syria, where only Russia has a clear long-term strategy. But apart from formal appreciation from liberal anti-Trump leaders like Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau, or complete outsiders like Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, Pope Francis is internationally isolated, especially after his ill advised support of Hillary Clinton.

Other commentators have thrown shadows over the Church’s ambiguous connections with American Democrats. On July 4, Piero Laporta published in La Verità an article about Libero Milone, a 67-year-old manager who had been appointed by pope Francis as supervisor of the Vatican’s finances in 2015. His mandate was supposed to last for five years, but in June 2017, he decided to resign after complaining of having his office violated and his computer hacked. However, the true story behind this unexpected resignation might be different. According to Laporta, Milone was nosing around in the ambiguous maneuvers alleged to have brought about an approximately $1-million donation to Hillary Clinton’s electoral campaign, taken from Peter’s Pence. Rumors about it were already circulating in February 2016, when Laporta gathered leaks by a secret source, ironically called “Pretino” (“Little Priest”), who declared that the Vatican was providing Clinton with financial aid but that Trump would win the election thanks to an FBI investigation against Clinton. According to Laporta, it is not by chance that at the same time as Milone resigned, Cardinal George Pell was being investigated on allegations of sexual abuse for events that had occurred forty years ago. Someone was trying to divert attention from the Peter’s Pence story, and at the same time was indirectly reassuring all subjects potentially involved in the scandal that silence would be maintained.

Now, while Laporta claims to be “90% sure” of this report, it is much harder to ascertain whether, or to what degree, Pope Francis was aware of a financial and political operation that, nonetheless, was likely to have been buttressed by the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, and to have required the American Apostolic Nunciature’s mediation. Laporta hypothesizes that during his visit to Rome, in June 2017, President Donald Trump might have had an animated discussion with Pope Francis, as he asked for elucidations on the Church’s aid to Clinton. According to him, the pope’s waxen and scrawny expression in the photographs taken next to the American president was due precisely to their quarrel and to Francis’s embarrassment.

Elucidations are precisely what we need. In the spirit of the letter addressed by The Remnant to Donald Trump, American Catholics should ask their new president to investigate the Obama administration’s involvement in the events that led to Pope Benedict’s abdication. Clarifications would be welcome also on the ambiguous maneuvers between the Holy See and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. These seem to be much more urgent questions than Russophobic hysteria over Trump’s alleged plot with Vladimir Putin.

Anyway, in this troubled time, we should also be confident that the Church has a certain strength its enemies lack: it is bound to survive in spite of herself.

This article has been updated.

Al Gore says that Pope Francis could cause him to become Catholic

I don’t know where, exactly, I saw this, but Al Gore says he might become Catholic because of Pope Francis…

My comment-Whether you are in love with Pope Francis or hate Pope Francis, or any other pope, or person on earth, there is only one reason to become Catholic.  That reason is because you know that Jesus is really present in the Catholic Church, living in all the tabernacles and monstrances in the world.  He’s really there.  That’s why I became Catholic, and that’s why I will stay Catholic.  And while I’m not particularly fond of Pope Francis because of his stance on several topics, marriage and the climate among them, one person could not get me to quit my Catholic faith.  I hope God will give me the grace to be Catholic, even if all the Catholics in the world fall away.

This point was brought home to me Sunday-the feast of the Transfiguration.  The priest presiding at Mass told me that the altar is also a place of Transfiguration, as was the mountaintop where Peter, James and John witnessed Christ as God.  Peter said, in all three Gospel accounts “It is good for us to be here.”  It is true at Mass too.  It is good for us to be there.  And if Christ could hide His divinity in a human form 2000 years ago, why could he not hide His divinity in the Eucharist as well.  The fact is, he promised he would, and the fact is, he does.  It is about time for us to realize it.

Over the last month or so, the Gospels have been about the seeds being sewn.  Christ here tells us that only about 25% of the wheat grows into 30, 60, hundred fold.  Only 25% falls on really fertile ground.  As I greet my confirmation students in a month or so, I will be asking them which category they will fall into…The truth is that, at any one time we all fall into one of those four categories, or some combination of them.  At times our hearts are hard as the ground, at others, something softens us and we listen only to fall away.  At others, outside influences, like TV, sports, the sexual nature of television these days, the internet, or something leads us astray.  Please pray that we can spend more time than not, as the fertile ground accepting the seed and growing to our full potential.  Strive always to be the best-version-of-yourself.

Catholic Parenting and the Protestant Reformation

Amid the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I like to remind myself of the stream of evangelicals flowing into the Tiber, blessing not only the Church, but ecumenical dialogue, for Catholics and Protestants alike, on the nature of tradition, the role of Mary, and the need for an objective apostolically derived authority.

We should add to that mix parenting. In converting from Calvinism to Catholicism, I discerned a remarkable divergence in the catechetical lessons I give my children, a distinction so important that it can make the difference between having little Christs or little pagans running around.

It starts with baptism. Many evangelicals – thank God – still practice infant baptism. Although most do not teach baptismal regeneration, they still baptize legitimately with water and the formula “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Whether they realize it or not, their children have received the Holy Spirit, inherited the theological gifts of faith, hope, and love, and been incorporated into the body of Christ.

Unfortunately, many others Protestants delay baptism until the children reach the “age of reason” and decide for themselves whether to receive the sacrament. Children in many Protestant families may thus never do. For families who neglect to communicate the Christ-derived rite, their children effectively remain pagans.

That is only the first failure in many Protestant households. Most evangelicals, and certainly my own previous Calvinist tradition, eschew images, icons, and catechetical tools historically appropriated by Christian families for teaching the ways of God. Students of history will remember that the Reformation stripped the altars, threw down the statues of saints, and removed Christ from the cross. Rosaries were destroyed, relics discarded, and pilgrimages abandoned.

In the rush to purify Christian faith and practice, the Reformed seemed to neglect an essential question: how do you communicate the fundamentals of the Christian faith to a two- or three-year-old?

For evangelicals still in touch with some form or fashion within the Reformed anti-Catholic tradition, what remains is a shell, a practical poverty of catechesis. You can still pray with a little child, read religious books or sing songs about God to him. These are all objectively good and beautiful practices, which my family embraces. But they are all cerebral in nature.

Any parent knows that cerebral is not a good pathway to toddlers or little children. Reformation Christianity in this respect manifests a certain Gnosticism, emphasizing a hidden, abstract knowledge at the cost of one of the most beautiful and essential aspects of our faith: its incarnation.

These Protestant tendencies show an incomplete comprehension of what John the Evangelist meant when he said of Christ “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) Or again, “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1)

Catholicism, by contrast, is thoroughly sensory: crucifixes, holy water, signs of the cross, saints cards, images, rosaries, and – ultimately – the Eucharist. Jesus inhabited a body, and his miracles occurred not just through His words, but his actions, through spit and mud, and pieces of clothing.

Devotional practices that recognize this enable even the youngest children to enter into the Christian faith. Jesus may have had that in mind when he exhorted the disciples to “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t think He had in mind giving kids an expository sermon on a Biblical text. Indeed, Jesus places his hands upon them! (Matthew 19:14-15) Think what it must have been like to be a child whose body was touched by our Lord!

When my family invites evangelical friends over for dinner, it’s always an amusing experience when our eldest daughter hasn’t yet gone to bed. Like any four-year-old, she loves visitors and loves sharing everything about her life: ballerina outfits, random toys, and the nightly bedtime routine.

Bedtime in our home involves cleaning your room, getting into pajamas, and brushing teeth. But it also involves explicit Catholic practices: kneeling and praying before a crucifix, singing Catholic songs out of the beat-up hymnal, and reading a book, which often, by my daughter’s own choice, is thoroughly Catholic.

I haven’t asked my Evangelical friends what they are thinking when my daughter talks to Jesus on the crucifix as if He were alive, requests a “Mary song” from the hymnal, or pulls TAN Books’ Saints for Girls down from her little bookshelf.

But I know how vibrant her devotion truly is. She carries prayer cards around with her constantly; blesses herself with holy water at church – not once, not twice, but probably a dozen times; places little cups of water with flowers before our small household altar as her own special gifts to Jesus.

I’m reminded of the young Cordelia in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, who in her youthful innocence and zeal, donates money to help the missionaries teaching children in Africa, and rejoicing that they will be baptized with her own name.

Evangelical readers, please understand: this isn’t sentimental Catholic claptrap, smells and bells with no theological substance. Living in Thailand, we have a Philippine babysitter, a Pentecostal very outspoken about her evangelical faith. She has repeatedly confessed her amazement that our eldest daughter knows so much about Jesus and the Bible.

More, she thinks, than children at her church. I surmise that’s because all the sensory parts of Catholicism make the stories of Scripture — which we routinely read her — come alive in her still developing understanding.

If I had stayed Calvinist, I would have tried to introduce my children to Christian faith and practice as early as possible. My many evangelical friends do exactly this, which obviously has potent effects.

Parents in the typical evangelical or Calvinist family have to work with one hand tied behind their backs – leaving their children unable to contemplate a religion that should engage not only their minds but their young bodies and whole being.


Small ‘c’ catholic

Our Lord concludes His parables of the Kingdom with that of the dragnet: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.” (Mt 13:47) This serves as a kind of bookend to the first parable of the Kingdom – the weeds among the wheat. Like the first, this last parable teaches that the imperfections of the Kingdom on earth will be sorted out (literally) at the end of the world.

But on its way to that lesson, the parable teaches us something else about the Kingdom and therefore about the Church. The net cast into the sea collects “fish of every kind.” Yes, this means good and bad, as we learn – but good and bad from fish of every kind. Which indicates the catholic character of the Kingdom, and of the Church.

People typically think of the word “Catholic” (capital “C”) as part of a brand name: the Catholic Church. So we might overlook the significance of the small-“c” catholic. The word “catholic” means universal. It indicates something whole and entire, bringing various parts into unity. We can understand the catholic nature of the Church by way of her threefold mission: to rule, to teach, and to sanctify.

First, the Church is catholic – universal – in the most common sense of that word: she is meant for all people. Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson observes that as our Lord attracted every sort of person – ignorant shepherds and wise men, poor and rich, sinners and saints, Jews and gentiles – so also does His Body, the Church.

The society that is the Church embraces people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Rev 7:9) She excludes no people and no kind of people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

In this sense, the Church is the most democratic institution in the world. She leaves no one outside her maternal solicitude and pastoral care. She has no class or caste system, no screening process or entrance exam. She requires (as her Lord did) only repentance and faith. At the same time, we cannot reduce her universal mission to something so trivial as “all are welcome in this place.” Which brings us to the second aspect of “catholic.”

The catholic mark of the Church does not mean merely that she welcomes all peoples. After all, Hell does the same. No, the Church not only welcomes all peoples but also brings them into unity. She unites all the disparate people of the earth in the truth. All become one because all profess the same faith. And without this principle of unity, the gathering of all people would be hellish indeed.

St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church by Giuseppi Rollini, c.1887 [Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio, Rome]

So we can also understand the Church as catholic because she possesses all truth. (By which is meant, of course, the truths about God, man, and salvation. The Church makes no claim to have the all the truths of science, politics, etc.)

Now, every religion possesses some aspect of the truth. They all see the truth somewhat, with varying degrees of clarity. But only the Church possesses and proclaims the fullness of the truth, of God’s revelation. This is a consequence of her being the Body, the continuing presence, of Him Who is the truth. (see Jn 14:6)

To be catholic, then, means to accept all the Church’s teachings, not just those we prefer. Likewise, it requires that we make known these truths “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2), not just when convenient. The Church’s members have always encountered the temptation to restrict their acceptance or proclamation of the truth.

Some choose the merciful, gentle teachings, others the harsh and rigorous. If we do not allow the truth to shape us, then the faith inevitably becomes just an expression of our personality, temperament, or mood. Catholic truth should expand our hearts and minds, not be constricted by them.

Finally, the Church is catholic in that she bears within herself every grace necessary for sanctification and salvation. She has the power to forgive all sins and to sanctify all sinners: “[T]he ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father.” (CCC 1476) This treasury of the Church is necessary for her mission. All are called to be saints. So the Church must have the power to sanctify all.

All are called to be saints – which means no one is off the hook . . . or beyond reach. Here again, her children experience the temptation to restrict what Mother Church provides. In this case, it would be to say that either the demands of holiness or the power of grace do not apply to this group or that, to this person or that . . . or to me.

The rigorists of the ancient world would have restricted certain sinners from the Church’s power to forgive. Today, the restriction of grace takes a different form – in the thought that certain Gospel demands (usually of the sexual variety) are beyond people’s ability to live or do not apply to certain groups. Which means that certain groups are beyond the power of grace to redeem and sanctify.

Thus not everyone is called to holiness, or the Church lacks the grace to sanctify. Either way, God’s arm is shortened.

Every Catholic must be catholic. This means, first of all, to desire that all people come into the Church. All people, not just the ones we like, admire, or get along with.

It means also to receive the Church’s teachings as catholic – whole and entire – not picking and choosing what we like and leaving the rest. It means to strive for holiness, confident that Mother Church holds the graces needed for our forgiveness and sanctification.


Rediscovering the Ideal Healthcare Plan

Many people do not realize that the hospital as it is known today was an invention of the Middle Ages. They were established from the desire to extend Christian charity to the poor and needy.


nunhealthThere is a prevailing idea that healthcare plans are necessarily complex and expensive schemes.  There was, however, an ideal healthcare plan in the distant past that was amazingly simple.  The plan did not list its benefits, clinical metrics or financial data.  The main emphasis of this plan was not so much on a plan but care and the health of both body and soul.

Faith Wallis describes this plan in her book called Medieval Medicine: A Reader.  Looking at this “medieval healthcare plan” is a refreshing glimpse at the kind of care that is sadly lacking today.

By proposing a medieval healthcare plan as an ideal, it does not mean to say that medieval medicine, primitive as it was, is the ideal formula for the present.  Medieval medicine was advanced for its time but certainly not for today.  However, the spirit with which people were treated does present an ideal that can and should be imitated.

Hospitals Return to Roots

Many people do not realize that the hospital as it is known today was an invention of the Middle Ages.  They were established from the desire to extend Christian charity to the poor and needy.  In the early Middle Ages, hospitals first became attached to monasteries where monks would minister to the sick and dying.  No other civilization was able to develop anything remotely comparable.

Medieval hospitals provided free care to the poor and needy.  They were usually under the supervision of a religious order that had members with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  They dedicated their lives to God and the cheerful service of all that sought their care — including non-Christians.

Not content with those who came to their doors, hospital attendants were obliged regularly to go out into the streets and bring in all those found in need of treatment.

Reception of Patients

The reception of patients was extremely touching in the broad charity extended to them.

Every possible effort was made to take care of their spiritual needs.  Upon entering the hospital, the patient, when a Catholic, went to confession and received Holy Communion, as the first steps in the healing process.  This provided spiritual peace of mind that often had its repercussion in the physical health of the body.

Once admitted, the patient was seen as another Christ.  Each was treated as the master of the house, for so each was, according to the hospital’s bylaws.  Every need was taken care of as if Christ himself were being served.

During a visit to the 2,000-bed Jerusalem Hospital of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, one cleric noted“It has happened on a number of occasions that when the space … proves insufficient for the multitude of the suffering, the dormitory of the brethren is taken over by the sick and the brethren themselves sleep on the floor.”

Those who attended the care of the sick did not see their role as just a job to be performed.  They did not think about their pleasure or profit.  They saw their service as something that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.  Caring for others was an important means to secure their salvation.

Excellent Care

Thus, the care was as excellent as it could be for the times.  Specialists were brought in to take care of extraordinary cases.  Doctors made the rounds daily to check on the progress of those in their care.  Regulations required that patients should never be left without an attendant and that nurses be on duty at all times both day and night.

The environment was clean and refreshing. In fact, major works of art were often painted on the hospital walls and ceilings to delight and edify the patients, using the same artistic skills that were employed to adorn churches.

The environment was clean and refreshing.  In fact, major works of art were often painted on the hospital walls and ceilings to delight and edify the patients, using the same artistic skills that were employed to adorn churches.  Such masterpieces can still be seen today in the buildings that survive.

Special attention was paid to cleanliness, ventilation and comfort.  Patients were supplied with clean mattresses, white linen sheets and “fleecy blankets.”  Care was so excellent that the cleric at the Jerusalem Hospital reported that there were “wealthy people who pretended to be poor to stay in the hospital.”

Solicitude for the sick was not limited to the doctors and attendants.  Likewise, all Christians saw the sick in a similar Christ-like manner.  Patients in ordinary hospitals were often heartened by the visits of persons of high or noble rank and charitable disposition.  Visitors might include even personages like Catherine of Sweden, Margaret, Queen of Scotland, or King Saint Louis IX of France.

A Touching Reciprocity

However, the sick were not just the recipients of charity.  They also had their duties inside the hospital whereby they extended charity to those around them.

Mindful of how God especially hears the prayers of the suffering, the patients, when Christian, were enjoined to intercede for their benefactors, the authorities and all in distress.  To the extent that they could, theirs was the duty of prayer, Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments.  At night-fall, the wards might end the day with litanies where the “sick lords” of the house would pray for those in need of prayers.  In this way, the sick gave their best to reciprocate for the enormous charity extended to them.  Above all, this offering gave meaning and purpose to their suffering.

Hospitals Flourish

As a result of practices like these, the hospitals of the Middle Ages flourished.  Every diocese and monastery was encouraged to have hospitals attached to them.  The Benedictine order alone is credited with founding 2,000 hospitals.  Imbued with this spirit of Christian charity, individuals, guilds, brotherhoods, and municipalities also established and generously endowed hospitals of their own.  The result was an extensive system of healthcare that provided for the care of body and soul on a scale never seen before in history.

This impressive system was largely destroyed by the upheavals of the sixteenth century when the Church and her hospitals were despoiled and plundered.  The infamous suppression of the monasteries by England’s Henry VIII in 1540 also suppressed the English healthcare system, leaving the poor in misery and putting an end to hospital building in that country for some 200 years.

In modern times, religious orders that once cared for the sick in this manner now face dwindling membership since they adhered to more “up-to-date” theological currents that focus more on quixotic and “liberating” social justice than concrete medical Christ-like care.

A Lost Ideal Never to Return?

With all the talk about rising premiums and healthcare costs, perhaps it is time to rediscover the ideal medieval healthcare system.  The dedicated spirit of this care is so needed in face of today’s ever-expanding medical bureaucracies.  Perhaps the massive number of complex government regulations and mandates might be better replaced by the selfless work of dedicated men and women who simply treat the sick as if each one is the Person of Christ Himself.

As a result of practices like these, the hospitals of the Middle Ages flourished. Every diocese and monastery was encouraged to have hospitals attached to them.

Someone might object that such an ideal system is impossible in today’s secular and hedonistic age.  People simply will not dedicate themselves to the service of the sick and needy.  The ideal medieval healthcare plan is a dream that will never again reappear.

This is not true.  Religious congregations like the Little Sisters of the Poor are flooded with youthful and cheerful young women who minister to the elderly poor in the medieval tradition.  Ironically, these same sisters are being prosecuted by the government for failure to comply with government healthcare mandates that would make them complicit in distributing abortion-causing drugs to their employees.

The problem is not the lack of people or even money, but a failure to present the ideal.  The ideal healthcare plan will be rediscovered when the Christian Faith is revived in society.  Until that return to order comes, there will always be the seeds of this plan inside the Christian souls that await that blessed day.

Source: Rediscovering the Ideal Healthcare Plan