Mary, Henry Adams, and the Catholic Mind

Ah, this is a beautiful post – don’t miss it.

Not beautiful in a POD sense, but beautiful in the sociological sense. It took me years before I finally “got” Mary and the language of Catholic piety towards her. There is a bit of a theological problem when it comes to the failure of the medieval mind to attribute mercy to the Holy Trinity – but it’s not a fatal problem, and in the end it proves not to be true, because it is the Holy Trinity Who ultimately gave mankind the Mother of Divine Grace. God knows that for most men, the most convincing face of mercy is feminine.

The Will of the People?


Poll reveals a sharp regional divide among Californians:

The new Field Poll highlights the battleground for the fall campaign, showing the state splitting dramatically along regional, ideological and religious grounds.

The heavily Democratic urban areas strongly support same-sex marriage; 55 percent of Los Angeles County and an overwhelming 68 percent of the Bay Area are in favor.

By contrast, only 38 percent of the Central Valley and 41 percent of Southern California outside of Los Angeles are in favor.

Same-sex marriage also digs a chasm between California’s heavily populated coast and its inland areas; 55 percent of coastal voters back same-sex marriage compared with 40 percent in support inland.”

Tuesday morning

Lack of forgiveness can make you sick.

Texas FLDS updates: some good news.

Corpus Christi procession in Front Royal, Virginia.

Christine of “Laudem Gloriam” visits Lisieux, France.

Classical music online – New York City.

Classical music online – Fort Collins.

*****************************************************************

The latest California anti-spanking bill has died in committee. From today’s HSLDA e-mail update:

“We are very grateful to God to be able to report that AB 2943 failed to be passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee by the May 23rd legislative deadline.

God has used your phone calls and letters to the Legislature to bring this victory. As a result of our Action Alerts, many parents repeatedly wrote and called their legislators, sending a strong message encouraging them: 1) to let AB 2943 die in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and 2) to dissuade them from considering writing any such “anti-spanking” bill in the future. Thank you for all of your prayers, calls, and letters in response to our Alerts on this bill!

This is a tremendous victory! Like its identical predecessor (AB 755) by the same author, AB 2943 is now dead!

AB 2943 would have had the practical effect of making criminals out of those who spank with an implement (i.e. inanimate object, such as a small paddle or ruler) in California, which could have resulted in prison or jail time and loss of children. We believe very strongly that this bill was an extremely dangerous attack on the rights of all parents in California to be able to determine for themselves what is the best way to raise and discipline their children. If this bill had become law, it could have ended up destroying thousands of families.

NO further action is needed on AB 2943.”

Democracy and Marriage

An essay titled simply “Jay Sekulow on ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ Case” was published at Catholic Online today. In a glowing introduction to the essay, Deacon Fournier writes that Sekulow is “the finest Supreme Court Advocate I have ever encountered”. Let’s hope that Sekulow does a little more homework before going to court than he does before writing embarrassing and uninformed articles for Catholic Online.

Sekulow writes:

“By a vote of 4-3, the California Supreme Court struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage – changing the definition of marriage by judicial fiat.

The decision is a disappointing one and represents another example of an activist judiciary that overreached by taking this issue out of the hands of the state legislature where it belongs.”

The definition of marriage belongs to the state legislature? Let’s see where that gets us …

“The California high court failed to uphold what the state legislature and an overwhelming majority of California voters clearly understand – that the institution of marriage is limited to one man and one woman.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The California state legislature voted twice – twice! – in the last four years to legalize same-sex marriage. Both of these bills were vetoed by our stuffed-shirt windbag girly-man of a governor out of sheer political expediency. ( Yes, that would be the same governor who now “supports” this ruling and opposes the Protect Marriage initiative. With respect to same-sex marriage, Schwarzenegger told a reporter in an interview last week: “I’m against it, but I don’t have a problem with it”. Seeking to clarify, the reporter asked “So you’re against it?” “No”, replies the governor, “I said I don’t have a problem with it.” Gotcha. ) If the California state legislature had its way, we would have been a gay-marriage state in 2005.

As to the “overwhelming majority” of California voters, the vote in 2000 was 61% in an election where Democrat participation was unusually low. If the Protect Marriage initiative were voted on today (assuming a balanced voter turnout) the margin of victory would be razor-thin – not an “overwhelming majority” by a long shot.

In Massachusetts popular support for same-sex marriage increased dramatically after the 2004 ruling, which stands to reason since most people tend to view the law as a proximate measure of morality. Therefore it is quite possible that here in California, where “the people” have been gradually warming up to the idea of same-sex marriage for decades, there will not be sufficient votes come November to amend the constitution. We shall see.

The problem with today’s so-called “conservatives” is that the rhetoric of democracy no longer serves the cause of faith, family, and traditional values. This, of course, was easily forseen by those who bothered to think ahead. Democracy only works when there is a social consensus that agrees with the truth. That consensus is eroding because democracy itself – in the ideological form embodied in Sekulow’s remarks – weakens the very notion of truth.

We need a new political vocabulary.

“What is stunning about this decision is the fact that the court overreached and usurped the authority of the state legislature and the voters of California.”

The same tired, useless talking-points again. The legislature is not on our side, Dr. Sekulow. And the voters could turn on us in a heartbeat. California is arguably a center-right state, but most of our voters lack serious political convictions and eschew what they see as “partisanship”. In November they will vote for the side which seems the least partisan and makes them feel good about themselves.

“The majority … simply does not have the right to erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage, as virtually all societies have understood it, in order to satisfy its own contemporary notions of equality and justice.”

Quite so – and this applies not only to Supreme Court justices, but to any majority who would dare “erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage”.

“The California Constitution says nothing about the rights of same-sex couples to marry. On the contrary, as the majority concedes, our original Constitution, effective from the moment of statehood, evidenced an assumption that marriage was between partners of the opposite sex.”

True, but this knife cuts both ways. If the majority of the people, or their representatives, voted to legalize same-sex marriage in California, the Supreme Court would be obliged to override the “will of the people” in order to defend the traditional definition of marriage which is implicit in the constitution. And what would the American Center for Law and Justice have to say about it then?

“How to define marriage must rest with the People and not become, as Justice Baxter in his dissenting opinion put it, an ‘exercise in legal jujitsu.’”

How to define marriage must never “rest with the people”. That’s how we arrived at this disastrous juncture in the first place. “The people” have already redefined marriage as a voidable, transitory business contract, for the subjective purposes of sexual pleasure and personal fulfillment, having no intrinsic connection to the begetting and education of children, and without any essential relationship to the health of our civilization and social order. There is no reason for “the people” to oppose same-sex marriage other than what someone has called “the yuck factor”.

I’m glad that most Californians, thus far, still have “the yuck factor” when it comes to homosexuality. But the reality is that “the yuck factor” is all that stands between California and barbarism. The natural and theological underpinnings of marriage have already been destroyed by champions of democracy like Jay Sekulow. When “the yuck factor” disappears – and our sick, degraded culture knows how to deal with “the yuck factor” – California will have become what most people east of the Sierras, quite erroneously until now, have long believed it to be, a paradise for sodomites and a land defined by perversion.

Rosa Mystica

“How did Mary become the Rosa Mystica, the choice, delicate, perfect flower of God’s spiritual creation? It was by being born, nurtured and sheltered in the mystical garden or Paradise of God. Scripture makes use of the figure of a garden, when it would speak of heaven and its blessed inhabitants. A garden is a spot of ground set apart for trees and plants, all good, all various, for things that are sweet to the taste or fragrant in scent, or beautiful to look upon, or useful for nourishment; and accordingly in its spiritual sense it means the home of blessed spirits and holy souls dwelling there together, souls with both the flowers and the fruits upon them, which by the careful husbandry of God they have come to bear, flowers and fruits of grace, flowers more beautiful and more fragrant than those of any garden, fruits more delicious and exquisite than can be matured by earthly husbandman …

Thus our first parents were placed in “a garden of pleasure” shaded by trees, “fair to behold and pleasant to eat of,” with the Tree of Life in the midst, and a river to water the ground. Thus our Lord, speaking from the cross to the penitent robber, calls the blessed place, the heaven to which He was taking him, “paradise,” or a garden of pleasure. Therefore St. John, in the Apocalypse, speaks of heaven, the palace of God, as a garden or paradise, in which was the Tree of Life giving forth its fruits every month.

Such was the garden in which the Mystical Rose, the Immaculate Mary, was sheltered and nursed to be the Mother of the All Holy God, from her birth to her espousals to St. Joseph, a term of thirteen years. For three years of it she was in the arms of her holy mother, St. Anne, and then for ten years she lived in the temple of God. In those blessed gardens, as they may be called, she lived by herself, continually visited by the dew of God’s grace, and growing up a more and more heavenly flower, till at the end of that period she was meet for the inhabitation in her of the Most Holy. This was the outcome of the Immaculate Conception. Excepting her, the fairest rose in the paradise of God has had upon it blight, and has had the risk of canker-worm and locust. All but Mary; she from the first was perfect in her sweetness and her beautifulness, and at length when the angel Gabriel had to come to her, he found her “full of grace,” which had, from her good use of it, accumulated in her from the first moment of her being.”

From“Meditations on the Litany of Loretto for the Month of May“, by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Hope in the Garden

Image borrowed from Catholic Home and Garden.

“Freedom can be found in a garden. Great masses of modern men are shackled to the degrading work of our industrialized economy. We submit to the drudgery of efficiency, of specialized, repetitive, trivial tasks. We are, at the same time, active participants and victims of the exploitation. But when we work in our gardens, the chains fall off. We find escape. There is hope, and it is strongest in the springtime.

I have commenced to plant some seeds in my garden: lettuce, spinach, and parsley. To plant these properly, I must kneel in the soil. There are devices that allow one to plant while standing. But, no, I must kneel. And I will bow my head as I place the hard, lifeless specks in the furrow. Planting seeds in the garden is, after all, an act of faith. Faith and hope, seed-in-furrow, hand-in-hand, in the springtime.

The planting of seeds in my garden, by hand, on my knees, is a simple action of rebellion against the modern order. It is an act of wisdom and significance in the midst of a foolish and vacuous world. It is voluntary submission to an older, higher calling. There is hope in this doing, in this calling. And this hope is greatest in the springtime.”

This excerpt is taken from another fine essay by The Deliberate Agrarian titled “Gardening and Hope in the Springtime”.

Passport

Earlier this year I received a book in the mail, a yet unpublished novel written by Christopher Blunt of The Yeoman Farmer. He was kind enough to let me read it before the final editing was done. My wife, LeXuan, happened to get the mail that day and immediately started reading. I didn’t see the book again for two weeks. She brought it with her on all of her motherly errands – violin lessons, piano lessons, organ lessons, etc. – so that she could grab a page or two during her down time. She brought it with her to work to read on her lunch break. She kept the book handy so she could read it while nursing the baby. In our late night conversations, just before bedtime, she would try to tell me about the story without giving too much away. For several weeks, in fact, this book probably made up 10% of our daily conversation – even after we both had finished.

Suffice it to say that Passport is a real page-turner.

I don’t normally go in for books like this. It’s a work of fiction in a contemporary setting, my least favorite literary genre. But the book doesn’t feel like fiction at all. The characters and their lives are all-too real, their errors and failings all-too familiar. The book could be the story of anyone but for a few salient features that make this novel exceptional.

Passport” is written by a man who quite obviously has traveled some distance himself on the el camino real, the road to sanctity, and because of this he is able to capture the silent workings of grace in the lives of his characters in a way that is beyond the reach of most writers. The main characters – both of them – are faced with agonizing and frankly humiliating choices. Even I, a supposedly seasoned Catholic, found myself longing for the characters to take the easy way out, the way of respectability and comfort and happily-ever-after. Although there is plenty of romance (hence the attraction for female readers), the Catholic life is not romanticized or sugar-coated. In fact the book vindicates one of the primary reasons for my own conversion, the realization that Catholicism is a religion thoroughly obsessed with reality, no matter how messy, no matter the cost, and often the cost is high indeed.

The personalities of the book were meaningful to me. The central character is a man much like myself – in many respects a better man, and in others, perhaps less so. Stan Eigenbauer’s story was, at times, uncomfortable reading due to its honesty and familiarity. I don’t know how many other Catholic men will have the same reaction, but I can think of a few who might (note to self: make sure TSO sees this post and orders a copy). The other characters had remarkable similarities to people I know, or have known in the past, including a certain Vietnamese-born woman who converts from Buddhism to the Catholic Faith.

This is a story about an ordinary man who does an extraordinary thing: he takes up his cross and follows Christ. Despite his hopes of breaking free, he is nevertheless determined to go all the way if he must. In the process, he takes a few others with him – even those who don’t realize they are going – and discovers a new freedom that is beyond anything he has ever experienced.

Every book has a target readership. I’m not sure who Dr. Blunt has in mind, exactly, but in my opinion this is a book best suited for Catholic young people, maybe age 18-30, who are not strangers to the ways of the world. The book is utterly without any trace of obscenity, vulgarity, or objectionable material of any kind. But it does deal with “adult” issues and isn’t something you want your 13 year old homeschooled daughter picking up. The book presupposes a Catholic reader, but I can think of quite a few non-Catholics who would enjoy the book and benefit from it. It is one of those rare books that you will still be thinking about several months after finishing.

“Passport” can be ordered through one of the vendors linked here.

And thank you, Chris, for writing this book. As I told you on the phone, it is a book I should have read twenty years ago!

Holy Communion, Jansenism, and Scruples

There is nothing greater on this poor earth. To receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – and with Him all the graces that God can bestow upon the soul – is the most sublime and significant thing one can do in this life.

Such a magnificent gift is not to be trifled with.

All Catholics know that one should not receive the Eucharist when in a state of mortal sin. But many a Catholic would not know a mortal sin if it bit him on the arse. This is not a new problem. Saint Teresa of Avila, in her autobiography, describes some of her earliest priest-confessors who were themselves confused on the point and led her astray:

“What was venial they said was no sin at all, and what was serious mortal sin they said was venial. This did me so much harm that it should not surprise anyone that I speak of it here in order to warn others against so great an evil.”

Due to my own capacity for self-deception, I myself am not always sure about this, despite the clear teaching of the Church.

This occasional uncertainty, along with the weight of the sheer accumulation of venial sins, induces me to hold myself back from holy communion from time to time. Some have told me that this practice is “Jansenistic” and scrupulous. Perhaps there is a taint of scrupulosity in my personality, and perhaps not: that really isn’t the point. It just seems to me that the Holy Eucharist is important enough to prepare oneself well, and when one hasn’t prepared himself well, refraining from communion can provide the incentive and devotion needed to prepare for the next opportunity.

The Catholic Church, of course, does not require weekly reception of Holy Communion, but encourages it for those who are well prepared. Receiving Our Lord with indifference, distraction, lukewarmness and moral uncertainty – as I am so often inclined to do – does not strike me as being well prepared. That said, I expect that most of my neighbors are usually better prepared than I am, or at least have better internal assurances, and I would advise any Catholic with a properly formed conscience – including my own children – to receive communion whenever in doubt, with the intention of going to confession during the week.

I am reassured by the fact that the writer at Dust of the Time observes a similar devotional rule. She writes:

“On some occasions, I personally choose to stay behind and not receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Perhaps too many venial sins have piled up and I haven’t yet confessed my sins to the priest, or perhaps I have been inattentive and not prepared myself well for Holy Communion.”

“I believe denying oneself Holy Communion once in a while is useful not only for our own souls, but also serves as an example to others who may feel they are obligated to receive Holy Communion simply because they attend Mass.”

As for the charge of Jansenism, the practice of refraining from communion for devotional reasons long predates this heresy. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, which in retrospect seems to promote very frequent communion rather incautiously, the frequency of reception declined precisely as Faith was on the ascendancy:

“The Poor Clares, by rule, communicated six times a year; the Dominicanesses, fifteen times; the Third Order of St. Dominic, four times. Even saints received rarely: St. Louis six times a year, St. Elizabeth only three times.”

At a time when scrupulosity was a widespread problem, it made sense to promote frequent communion. But we live in different times: today the problem is presumption, not scrupulosity, and the greater danger is sacrilege.

I don’t want the Church to abandon the ideal of frequent communion, but let’s remove the stigma from not receiving. There are many reasons not to receive: not having confessed one’s mortal sins (or uncertainty about the same), not having fasted properly, not having recollected oneself, arriving late for Mass, etc. One should have a good confessor to help determine whether scrupulosity is an issue. All should try to receive weekly by preparing themselves well, beginning, if possible, on Saturday night. The preparation need not be perfect, of course. And it is good to remember that reception of the Eucharist bestows the forgiveness of venial sins. But let’s also remember that, for some, abstaining from holy communion on occasion is helpful in maintaining a proper reverence and respect for the Sacrament, so that the Eucharist is received more worthily and lovingly in the future.

The Pledge of Allegiance: Is it Idolatry?

The Western Confucian has lately linked to arguments ( here and here ) for abolishing the Pledge of Allegiance on the grounds that it is idolatrous. Considering the contribution of the Knights of Columbus to the Pledge, I have a hard time believing that it is idolatrous by Catholic standards. The Catholic Philippines, for example, has a similar Pledge:

I am a Filipino
I pledge my allegiance
To the flag of the Philippines
And to the country it represents
With honor, justice and freedom
Put in motion by one nation
For God, Nature,
Humanity and
Country.

I don’t see any idolatry there.

I do have reservations about oaths in general, and the U.S. Pledge in particular. For the Catholic, an oath of allegiance is always contingent. A good Catholic will “rebel” against the directives of any government insofar as it persecutes the Faith, requires its citizens to do something immoral, or otherwise denies or perverts the truth. We have only one absolute loyalty, and that is to God. Therefore we should be up front about this: our allegiance to the Pope and the Church precedes our loyalty to our flag and country. That’s always made some of our fellow Americans nervous. There is no reason why these loyalties should be in conflict, but it is possible that they might.

Let’s examine the American Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America,

Nothing wrong with that, so long as “allegiance” is rightly understood.

“and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God,”

So far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with this either. We do live in a Republic, which is indeed “one Nation under God”, and we ought to be loyal to our Republic.

“indivisible”

This is my one criticism of the Pledge. Our nation is not “indivisible”, in point of fact. Neither do I believe it was intended to be. Neither do I want it to be. Our nation will not last forever, undivided. If there is idolatry in the Pledge, it is contained in this one little word, which seems to almost – almost – ascribe to the nation an eternal, immutable, god-like character. So when I put my hand on my heart and recite the Pledge, I chalk the word “indivisible” up to rhetorical excess and practice the art of mental reservation.

“with liberty and justice for all.

A noble ideal to which I gladly give my allegiance.

Three Californias

This is a serious proposal. Here are my thoughts:

1. I’d prefer to see a smaller Northern California, cut off somewhere north of Sacramento, and including the northern coast. But this scheme will do, and I have to admit it makes good political sense.

2. As it stands, Northern California – probably one of the most conservative regions in the United States – is politically impotent and ultimately dominated by the Coastal and Southern liberals. Under this “three Californias” arrangement there will be a much better alignment of culture and politics.

3. Southern California, though presently suffering from all manner of decadence, has a decisively Catholic heritage that could be more easily recovered as an autonomous political unit.

4. Coastal California is breathtakingly beautiful, a veritable Eden in many places – despite the ugliness of a few Bay Area cities. With the creation of “three Californias”, many refugees from Coastal California will choose to settle in Northern California rather than the Midwest or the East Coast. And Coastal California will remain a lovely place for Northern Californians to spend their long weekends. Outside of San Francisco, the region’s political radicalism is not likely to last more than another generation or two.