Archive for February, 2009

Universal Patriotism

G. K. Chesterton is uncomfortable with both pessimism and optimism in the way that they are commonly defined. This is not such a novel view since we all assume that there is a “middle way” between the despair of the pessimist and the naivete of the optimist. Chesterton’s real insight is that the real problem with both the optimist and the pessimist is that each comments on the universe as a critic, as one looking over a piece of art in a gallery. A critic is one who, supposedly, critiques something from the outside as a “impartial observer”; but such an idea is ludicrous when critiquing the cosmos. We cannot stand outside of the universe and judge it impartially, for we are a very part of this universe. There is no outside of all that is.

Chesterton says that his attitude towards the cosmos is not something akin to pessimism or optimism, but rather patriotism. In Orthodoxy (GKC Collected Works Vol. 1, Ignatius, 1986) he writes:

Whatever the reason, it seemed and still seems to me that that our attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with a flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more…

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne of the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico; for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico; to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles… If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual historyof mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.


Recalled to Life

It is Easter’s Eve. Dr. Faust has passed the night in his study agonizing over his search for truth that has ended is such desolation. As morning dawns he mixes a deadly elixir with which he will end his life. Despair has prevailed. The light is extinguished; only the void remains. As Dr. Faust bravely raises the goblet of despair to his lips, he hears the choirs of heaven singing for joy: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

(Faust, Part One, Goethe, transl. David Luke, Oxford, 1998)

FAUST. You gentle puissant choirs of heaven, why
Do you come seeking me? The dust is stronger!
Go, chant elsewhere to tenderer souls! For I
Can hear the message, but believe no longer.
Wonders are dear to faith, by it they live and die.
I cannot venture to those far-off spheres,
Their sweet evangel is not for my ears.
And yet – these strains, so long familiar, still
They call me back to life. There was time
Of quiet, solemn sabbaths when heaven’s kiss would fill
Me with its love’s descent, when a bell’s chime
Was deep mysterious music, and to pray
Was fervent ecstasy. I could not understand
The sweet desire that drove me far away
Out through the woods, over the meadowland:
There I would weep a thousand tears and feel
A whole world come to birth, my own yet real.
Those hymns would herald youthful games we played
To celebrate the spring. As I recall
That childhood, I am moved, my hand is stayed,
I cannot take this last and gravest step of all.
Oh sing, dear heaven-voices, as before!
Now my tears flow, I love the earth once more!

Dr. Faust is, but for a time, recalled to life.

The Maddening Search for Truth

As much as we Christians talk about the complimentary nature of faith and reason, we are still all to tethered to the post-Enlightenment ideal of certainty through reason. As we search for “the Truth” we expect all of our arguments to make perfect sense, so that logically each piece of the puzzle fits in nicely within a coherent whole. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it doesn’t quite work out that way. Paradox is at the heart of our religion, and if you don’t believe that read a little G. K. Chesterton. He will paint a vivid picture for you on how paradox informs our faith at almost every turn. Of course, this should not be taken as a weakness of religion, for as Chesterton says (paraphrasing), “the belief in reason takes faith”. There are those who have faith and know it, and there are those who have faith and do not know it.

The search for “the Truth” when using reason alone (solo ratio!) can be a maddening experience. I suspect all who have read a good deal of philosophy, especially of the last 300 years, have had a glimpse into this terrible maelstrom of reason. Nothing expresses this madness quite like the words of Dr. Faust in the opening sequence of Goethe’s famous play (Faust – a wonderful translation by David Luke – Oxford University Press, 1998):

FAUST [sitting restlessly at his desk]

Well, that’s Philosophy I’ve read,
And Law and Medicine, and I fear
Theology too, from A to Z;
Hard studies all, that have cost me dear.
And so I sit, poor silly man,
No wiser now than when I began.
They call me Professor and Doctor, forsooth,
For misleading many an innocent youth
These last ten years now, I suppose,
Pulling them to and fro by the nose;
And I see all our search for knowledge is vain,
And this burns my heart with bitter pain.
I’ve more sense, to be sure, than the learned fools,
The masters and pastors, the scribes from the schools;
No scruples to plague me, no irksome doubt,
No hell-fire or devil to worry about –
Yet I take no pleasure in anything now;
For I know I know nothing, I wonder how
I can still keep up the pretense of teaching
Or bettering mankind with my empty preaching.

LC Behind the Scenes

Since I have been referencing the ongoing crisis with the Legion of Christ (LC), I should call attention to the latest post by Thomas Peters at the American Papist. Peters has been covering this story extensively, and, as far as I know, he was the one to actually break the story in early February, getting the scoop before the New York Times. How’s that for the power of the blogosphere!

In the linked post below, Peters gives us some insight into what is (likely) happening within the LC as they deal with this crisis and prepare to address it.

The Legion: What is Happening Behind the Scenes

If you are interested in this story, continue to frequent the American Papist blog, as no one is covering the Fr. Maciel scandal as well as Thomas Peters.

That is all on this story (at least for now). Now onto other topics!

The Register and the LC Update

Before writing the foregoing post, I should have read through my latest issue of the National Catholic Register. There are two items worth mentioning. One is a brief article giving hope for the future of the Legion of Christ (LC). Entitled “Theologian: Legion Can Recover”, the article is a synopsis of an interview by Register correspondent John Allen with Father Ronald Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. In the article, Fr. Rolheiser gives hope to the LC by pointing out that an order’s founder is not necessarily what attracts vocations. It is an order’s charism that attracts vocations, thus a distinction is made between the founder who infused the order with that charism, and the charism itself. In essence, focus on Christ. That’s sage advice, but I would hope every religious order is doing that no matter who founded them or what their charism might be. At any rate, the article is intended to give hope to the Legion, which is why I can understand why it was printed in a newspaper read by the majority of LC priests. However, this is hardly the hard nose investigative reporting that Fr. de Souza was suggesting the Register undertake. So we continue to wait….

The second item of note, and the item most worth noting, is the weekly blurb from the newspaper’s publisher, Father Owen Kearns, LC. I will quote the words of Fr. Kearns in full, as it gives us some insight into why the general silence prevails:

This has been a painful time for the Legionaries. It is only recently that we learned of the misdeeds of Father Marcial Maciel, our founder, who we now know fathered a daughter.

People would like the Legion to tell them everything – now. We can’t do that because we simply don’t know everything. The nature of these things is such that it will take sorting out carefully over time. In all cases, the Legion intends to do what must be done: Deal with each case in justice and charity.

Please bear with Legionaries as we all try to process this information. The Legion of Christ is preparing materials to inform the Church and the public about all of this. Watch for news.

For now, I want to thank so many people for the words of consolation and support for Legionaries at this time. Your encouragement has meant so much to us. I’m also grateful for those who have expressed their indignation and their hurt. I know that it comes from their concern for the Church we all love so well, and which the Register is dedicated to serving.

This is obviously a very painful time for the LC, a religious order with many, many good priests in its ranks – several of whom write for the Register. We need to keep the LC in our prayers. Understanding that this is a painful time for the Legion, it still remains that the “carefully sorting out over time” that Fr. Kearns mentioned is what I, and many others, hope the Register will be a big part of in the coming future.

The Register and the LC

For those that do not know, the National Catholic Register is an excellent weekly newspaper which happens to be owned and by the Legion of Christ (LC).  I have a subscription to the Register and have greatly enjoyed its coverage on all things Catholic these four years hence. For the most part, the Register is extremely loyal to the magisterium of the Catholic Church (an oft noted charism of the LC) such that its reporting tends to follow “the party line,” if you will. It doesn’t bother me. I’m a party line kind of guy and happen to love my Church. Nonetheless, the Register is also not afraid to proclaim the fullness of Catholic teaching, even if it offends some of their readership; which they have done in the past.

To take one example, in 2005 the Register did an opinion piece on the devastating effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the flat out immorality of dropping the bomb. It’s that last part that caused quite a stir. In the following weeks, there were more than a few letters covering the Editorial pages questioning the wisdom of printing such an article. If my memory serves me correctly, at least one reader was so infuriated that they said their subscription was canceled and there was nothing the Register could do to change their mind. Several other readers threatened to do the same. As the weeks rolled by the Register stood by its story and stood by it firm, backed up by plenty of papal pronouncements, not to mention the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Their case was air tight, and they would not abandon the Church no matter who’s political party was offended. I, for one, was very impressed and promptly extended my subscription for another two years.

So why am I not as impressed now? As I mentioned earlier the Register is run by the LC, a religious order in the grip of turmoil due to the outright betrayal of its deceased founder. If you know not of which I speak, the American Papist has you covered. Thomas Peters has done an excellent job covering this story. The Register has not. In fact, the only thing I have seen in the Register is a brief editorial blurb asking for prayers, but not much more. This is a newspaper that has done tough stories before, but now shies away when it is obvious for all to see that  this is the time they should be the most candid and forthright. This is their religious order. Is it not their duty to report the news, especially when it pertains to them?

On Monday, Father Raymond J. de Souza, a 12 year veteran of the Register, posted a piece on the First Things blog questioning the Register’s lack of reporting in this important time. As one of the newspaper’s subscribers, I ask the same. Fr. de Souza is respectful, yet firm with the LC and their need to change course. He outlines 5 stories the Register ought to pursue:

  1. Just be honest about what has happened. Write candidly about Fr. Maciel and the wrong he has done.
  2. How did Fr. Maciel’s perversion shape the LC formation process in its seminaries? Is this why secrecy is such a noted “feature” of the LC?
  3. What did senior LC priests know and when? Where false statements defending Fr. Maciel made knowingly by those now running the LC?
  4. Did the LC leadership try to frustrate the investigation of the CDF into the accusations against Fr. Maciel?
  5. High profile Catholics were invited by the LC to come to the defense of Fr. Maciel over the years. How were they persuaded, and were any deceptive tactics used?

If the Register did these stories, I would be impressed beyond all measure. This would be reporting, and I would renew my subscription for another two years or more! Furthermore, I am willing to bet (and it is likely a safe bet) that the overall subscriptions for the Register would go up tremendously if these stories were persued with all the tenacity and veracity that they demand. Imagine. A Catholic newspaper going after the dirt in its own Church, and even in its own religious order. A little in-house cleaning, when done with all honesty, is a very revitalizing agent in the life of the Church. I will be watching, and I know others will be as well. The ball is now in the Register’s court. Let’s see what happens. Perhaps the Register can do what the LC leadership has yet been able to do: speak candidly about what has happened and what it means for the order. To be honest, I’m not very optimistic.


Please see The Register and the LC Update post

Come and Get It!

Your worthless journalism of the day.

It’s really hard to take Fox News seriously when this is what they have on their website’s homepage:


Here is the link to the worthless story that is linked with the picture. I call attention to this because it is so confounding. They do a poll (not a Fox News poll, mind you – they just report; you decide) by asking people who their hero is. This is not a pick a name off the list thing – that may have been a tick more worthwhile – but an “interactive” poll. I am a devout Christian (if I do say so myself), but if you were to talk to me about whom I admire, I may mention many people; and Jesus is likely not one of them. I tend to put Him in the God/Savior/Almighty/Transcendent category, not the (merely) heroic category.

This is where my un-evangelical-ness (how’s that for a triple hyphenated word!) comes out. I tend to cringe when I hear things like “Jesus is my friend” especially when these words are put into what they call “praise and worship” music. I suppose Jesus is my friend, if that is the only alternative to enemy. But I prefer to think of Him as one in being with the Father, God from God, Light from Light, that sort of thing. It just makes me feel better and less blasphemous. When I walk into church, I genuflect before my Lord and King, not my friend. Jesus as my BFF just doesn’t fit too well within the Catholic ethos, gladly. I know. Catholics are uptight.

But I have digressed (a lot). To take this to a close (and quickly), so what do we eagerly learn from this “poll”? Obama is more popular than Jesus and the Beatles. Wowser! Obama must be really popular, which means he must be really great. People like him. Isn’t that so nice.


UPDATE: I add this because  what I wrote above can be taken the wrong way. Evangelical is much too broad of a term. I hope the flippancy with which I wrote speaks for itself. What I wrote was not meant to be a swipe at Evangelicalism, a cross-section of Christianity with which I have much in common – even some of that “praise and worship” music. However, I still prefer a Chris Tomlin song about “How great is our God” (which would be proper worship) to a song about “Jesus is my friend” (which doesn’t sound like worship at all).

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