Ritz Crackers and a Battery-Operated Candle

PlayMassI was flipping through the most recent edition (July 18–31) of the National Catholic Reporter today, and paused when I came to the Letters to the Editor. While NCR is a very good source of reporting on Catholic affairs, its editorial slant very much leans leftward and the readership oftentimes reflects that perspective. Sometimes the letters can be quite entertaining, and this time was no exception—at first glance anyway.

A reader wrote in response to a previous issue’s article on “the excommunication of leaders of We Are Church in Austria (NCR, June 6–19),” the excommunication levied because the group attempted to celebrate Mass without a priest. The reader sympathized with the problems experienced by those “who treasure the Mass but are deprived of attendance for an extended period” and explained how he and his wife celebrate “a memorial, not Mass” that “is a good reminder of who we are.” He stated: Continue reading

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I Must Decrease

One-time celebrity priest, Fr. Alberto Cutié

Fr. Alberto Cutié

Introduction: It hasn’t been long since I originally published this essay at the Catholic Answers Blog, and yet there is so much I still wish I could say on the subject of celebrity priests.

What has been gnawing at me lately is a subset of the problem: Priests who inject themselves far too freely into discussing politics, and in ways that demonize political opponents. Whether they hold forth on moral evils like abortion, or on subjects that allow for more than one viewpoint (e.g., immigration, welfare reform, gun control), these priestly political pundits too often speak in terms that alienate laity who disagree with them politically but still have a right to their priestly care.

In opposition to the priest-pundits is Pope Francis, who said not too long ago that he did not vote in Argentinian elections, even though voting is required by law there, because he felt that to involve himself directly in the political process was not appropriate for someone called by his priestly ordination to be “a father to all.” He acknowledged that entirely refraining from voting was not required of a priest, but he evidently considered it necessary for his own objectivity and accessibility to his spiritual flock. And while I agree with Pope Francis that abstaining from voting is not required of clergy, I do believe that it is a choice that can guard against the temptation to clergy to roll around in the political mud—and to become celebrity pundits solely on the basis of their ordination. . . .

Over the past couple of years, since Catholic Answers’ Director of Development Christopher Check joined the staff, the staff has had the pleasure of several visits from Chris’s brother, Fr. Paul Check. Fr. Check is a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport (Connecticut), and is the Executive Director of Courage, an apostolate that assists those who have same-sex attraction to live chaste lives in accordance with Church teaching. A couple of things impressed me during his visits.

The first time Fr. Check visited, he gave a talk to the staff about same-sex attraction and the work of Courage. Afterwards he made himself available to the staff for confession or private questions. I sought him out because I was wondering what his take was on recent stories in the headlines, in particular a case in which a longtime teacher was fired from a Catholic high school after the name of the teacher’s same-sex partner was listed in a newspaper obituary. I wondered how cases like this, which are becoming more common by the day, should be handled from a pastoral perspective. How do we both uphold the Church’s moral teachings while not being unduly punitive or cruel to individuals (and their families) who may suffer greatly because of immediate terminations?

Fr. Check was very honest and very blunt: He simply did not know. Continue reading

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The Priest and the Prostitute

PurgatoryThe day before the Independence Day holiday weekend, the Catholic Answers staff headed up to Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, California, for a retreat. It was led by a Norbertine priest from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. The priest chose Divine Mercy as his topic for the retreat.

As part of his talk, he told us a story from the private revelation allegedly given to Maria Simma. I don’t know much about Maria Simma, except that she was a mystic who died a decade ago. According to our retreat master, her visions of visits with the holy souls in purgatory, as recorded in her book Get Us Out of Here!, have the approval of her local bishop. Nonetheless, Catholics are not required to put stock in private revelations, as is affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations” (CCC 67).

But the story shared by our retreat master was so compelling that, even if the visions are not authentic, the story is a wonderful parable of the justice and mercy of God. For that reason, I’ll retell the story as a story rather than look up the incident in Simma’s writings and quote it directly.
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My Dear Grubmuck

ScrewtapeIntroduction: A few days ago, Brian C. Stiller, Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance, reported on his lunch with Pope Francis. Among other items of interest, he quoted the Pope as saying, “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community. There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s not spend our time on those. Rather, let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”

On cue, some Catholics began to scream.

What did Pope Francis mean by this? Yes, it’s ambiguous (and we only have a secondhand report of what was undoubtedly first spoken in either Spanish or Italian since the Pope does not converse easily in English). But he certainly did *not* say he was going to beat away converts from the door of the Church. He may have meant nothing more than he didn’t intend to actively proselytize (in the bad sense of that term).

I’ll leave it to others to analyze this incident more in-depth. But it did remind me of my single foray into Screwtapian satire, and so I invite you to read (or re-read) Screwtape’s take on Pope Francis and his minions. . . .

On the 13th day of March, in the despised year of our Enemy 2013.

My Dear Grubmuck,

I trust that it was made clear to you when you were contacted by Lower Command about this new assignment that I accepted you for this task with the gravest of concerns for your ability to accomplish the planned objective for Our Father Below. My hated nephew Wormwood—who managed to pin on his uncle that unfortunate incident of losing a patient to the Enemy some time ago (by the reckoning of the hairless bipeds) and has since descended more deeply into the bowels of Lowerarchy than I—recommended you to Our Father Below. Thus I was given no choice but to accept you, and so I will train you. I will also document everything, and you will find it most difficult to follow Wormwood’s path should you fail.

Let us review the assignment. On this day, within the Enemy’s Beachhead, called by some a “Church”—hell be upon her!—the bipeds selected a new Deputy to represent the Enemy. Continue reading

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How to Answer Stupid Questions

CheckoutIt’s become something of a genre for advice columnists: What not to say to . . . a pregnant woman, a grieving parent, someone who has cancer. Those are the times when unconsidered words can cause either distress or deep pain for someone who is already experiencing anything from stress to abject grief. Then there are also other primers on how to get ahead by not saying the wrong thing to . . . a customer service representative, your boyfriend (or your girlfriend), your boss.

People, being people, continue on engaging in what etiquette expert Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”) has called blather, which is (more or less) the practice of filling conversation gaps with any ill-considered question that enters a person’s head without filtering it first for appropriateness. There is not much that will stop people from asking questions without thinking, and so the victims of such rudeness are constantly on the hunt for the perfect put-down that will so crush the offender that he will never offend again.

I have to mention that I sympathize with this quest for the great one-liner that will stop stupid questions. I am not naturally a patient person, and have had to build some patience (and coping strategies) over the years for cracks like “You’re an apologist, huh? Why do you want to make a living always saying, ‘I’m sorry’?” Continue reading

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Binding Up Burdens

WashingFeetIf you have just returned from a vacation to Mars, you may not have heard that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently ruled that the Christian craft store Hobby Lobby qualifies for an exemption from the contraception coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the basis of religious freedom. The upshot of the decision is that “closely held corporations” cannot be forced to provide contraception coverage to employees if offering such coverage violates the consciences of the corporation’s owners.

Well, cyberspace exploded with reaction, both from social conservatives whooping it up that SCOTUS had protected the conscience rights of Christians, and from social liberals who seemed to fall into near despair. Personally, I found reactions on both sides to be entirely disproportionate to the news. I sympathized with the glee of the conservatives, although I found some of the remarks tasteless—and was annoyed to see some of the tasteless remarks instantly made over into tasteless memes, so that an insta-remark that might have later been regretted, quickly fallen into obscurity, and been forgotten will now live on forever on Facebook. But the reaction of some social liberals managed to top the conservatives for crudity. Jessica Valenti, feminist writer and a board member for NARAL ProChoice America, posted to Twitter (caveat: not safe for work):
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Will Blog For Clicks

ShakespeareBlogI read an article the other day on why you should not trust Facebook to provide you with all the details of the real lives of your friends and family. Among other surprise revelations, the article noted:

Everyone on Facebook looks like they’re having a great time. Fun adventures, deep romances, amazing jobs. It’s enough to make you feel inadequate, but it’s also a lie. Nobody is really as happy as their Facebook wall claims. . . . So the next time you’re driven to jealousy by a Facebook friend’s humblebragging about his or her awesome life, don’t forget: They’re probably embellishing it for social media, even if it’s unconsciously. 

In response, on my own Facebook page, I wrote:

I worry about people whose Facebook pages are completely accurate, unfiltered depictions of their real lives for all the world to see. . . . That’s because I consider what I do here a form of blogging, and my job is to be informative and entertaining.

But I got to thinking about the nature of blogging and how bloggers can manipulate their audiences for gain. Keep in mind that the gain is not always financial—although some bloggers do receive a small bit of regular compensation for their work, and a few of them have managed to turn their blog into a career. Sometimes the gain is attention, high rankings in search engines, or applause from their readers. And so there is a temptation to “spin” stories in a way that presses the readers’ buttons. Continue reading

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