Monday, October 28, 2002

Okay, so this really really is my last posting.
I just came across Owl Among the Ruins.
When you have the time, check it out.
I hope to visit there often.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

I have tried to avoid speculation on this weblog but today's posting is highly speculative. It begins to address a train of thought that I feel compelled to pursue. This pursuit, by its very nature, will be highly speculative and therefore is inappropriate to a public forum. Due to time constraints, this will be my last posting. I want to thank everyone for their kind attention and their aid in my journey through the blogosphere.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

An Aside or Two

James Wood over at It's A Mystery links to a great piece on The Black Christ Festival

Kevin Miller over at De Virtutibus has an excellent link to The Church's Mission in the World

Friday, October 18, 2002

Notes from all over --

There is a beautiful article Called To... on the nature of our calling as Catholics. It's by Ono Ekeh over at Ono's Thoughts. I intend to refer to it as I develop my thoughts on our lay calling and the question of wealth. I'll be linking to it again later in one of my posts but (since I'm long winded,and I'm afraid you might skip over it) today I'm giving it pride of place.

Matt Collins over at Trust the Truth has an exposé of Opus Dei. It's really worth checking out.

I don't know how I missed it since I visit his site daily but Seminarian Todd Reitmeyer has a beautiful posting on The Altar of the Lie

I also liked the insight on the rosary that Karl Schudt from Summa Contra Mundum offers in his piece I was never a big fan of the Rosary

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Today's posting was too darn long. I realize it is demanding too much to ask anyone to read it in one sitting. I thought about retracting the second two segments and re-posting them sequentially on Friday and Monday next. I'm afraid that this would simply lead to confusion.

Instead I've decided to highlight the section headings and request that you read one section today, one on Friday and one on Monday. I apologize for my lack of consideration.

Rick Private has posted a comments at Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It.

Here's why the Holy Father is encouraging the Rosary now, in his own words:

<<40. The grave challenges confronting the world at the start of this new Millennium lead us to think that only an intervention from on high, capable of guiding the hearts of those living in situations of conflict and those governing the destinies of nations, can give reason to hope for a brighter future.>>

Please take the time to read Rick's remarks

The Problem of Wealth is now listed in the sidebar

Sunday, October 13, 2002

A week ago Sunday, Gerard Serafin over at A Catholic Blog for Lovers posted the following remarks which he attributed to Hans Urs von Balthasar: The difference between Trent and Vatican II is this: Trent took a Church that was in chaos and disrepair, and put it in good order and renewed holiness. Vatican II took a Church in good order and put it into chaos and disrepair. The difference being that Trent was implemented by saints; while Vatican II was implemented by bureaucrats. I think that the quote makes a wonderful sound byte but it greatly simplifies things. I think that it is far more likely that Vatican 2 was implemented by men who, living in a state of Christian order, were naive in their approach to evil. I think that they were well-intended...and essentially correct in recognizing a need for Catholic renewal.

On Friday, I tried to paint a picture of pre-Conciliar Catholic life. In doing so, I raised the question "Should they have done more?" I think this question lies at the heart of the Second Vatican Council. The Church looked not only at the role of the laity but also at the role of the religious orders. As I've tried to illustrate, the faithful laity were applying traditional Catholic answers to their lives. They practiced personal piety, maintained strong family affiliations and supported the missionary and charitable works of the Church. Like prior generations, many hoped to see their children in her service. They prayed for vocations. The religious, for their part, served the Church faithfully either in the contemplative orders or in service to God's people. As did their predecessors, they feed the hungry, clothed the naked, educated the ignorant and ministered to the infirm. They brought the Gospel and their good works to all the corners of the globe. It was a charity centered more on providing 'fish' than on teaching one 'how to fish'. Mother Theresa exemplifies this traditional form of service to the poor and the desperate.

I think that it is easy to see the beauty and magnificence in this great 'corporate' work where each 'limb' of the Body of Christ performed it's essential service and, in doing so shared, in the salvational works of the whole. Yet the question remains "could the Church, this great Mystical Body, do more?" Like it or not, the answer provided by the Vatican Council was "Yes, we can and yes, we must".

Today, we live in the chaos and disrepair of the post-Vatican Church. We look back on the Council as the time when everything changed and everything started to go wrong. One moment there was the glory and the power of the pre-Vatican Church; in the blink of an eye, we have chaos and discord and perversion. We have broken lives and broken families and broken institutions. We want desperately to rebuild... yet still, and despite all of this, there remains the demand that the Council set before us. We can and should do more. However, glorious the past, it remains inadequate to the future. The Vatican Council was a necessary response to a world suddenly made complex by modern technology. However, painful our present state might be, it is a necessary moment of transition to a Catholic tomorrow. A return to the past is insufficient. The Church demands more of us.

The sixties were a heady time in the recent history of man. It may be impossible to overstate the enthusiasm of that age. People believed that all things were possible to man. Every problem had a solution. Every one -young and old - imagined that all the world might live the good life that could found in our own back yard. We would use all the new tools of our human understanding as well as all of our vast resources and scientific knowledge to create a 'great society', We would apply our knowledge both at home and abroad. Our particular problem was complacency, the solution was enthusiasm.

This belief was the prevailing myth of that age. It was one that people were willing to make tremendous sacrifices to achieve. With a hopeless romanticism, people imagined that we might re-fashion the whole of the earth as a land of milk and honey. For practicing Christians, there were added incentives. Couldn't we in good faith, join hands with our secularist neighbors in so noble an endeavor? As Christians, weren't we called upon to do more than they? Wouldn't our actions serve as a sign and a proof of the relevance of God?

Underlying this hubris was an unexamined belief in the inherent goodness of man. The story of the Fall was re-told, and in some circles is still being retold, as the story of man's ascension into consciousness and the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil. It was argued that this was the evolutionary moment when ape became man. I suspect that it was this assumption of innocence that gave rise to the chaos that we now experience as every day life. If man is created good and human nature is untarnished by original sin, then the natural and unschooled impulses of individuals were to be encouraged as authentic humanist living. The evil resident in the world was seen as structural. There was an assumption that children must be 'carefully taught' in order that they might participate in sin. Absent this influence, a new world of loving adulthood was just within our reach.

Hard to believe now but the sixties were an "age of innocence" completely ignorant of the foundation on which the 'just society' must rest. How does that song go? ..."you don't know what you've got till it's gone." In the years since then, I have often wonder where one draws the line between naivete and stupidity. It seems impossible that the Human Potential Movement could have developed in the face of the Holocaust. Yet it did develop, and it captured the imagination of an entire generation.

When you combine this presumption of innate goodness, with a sense of ordained calling to transform the world into a secular heaven, you are bound to come up with interesting results. Add to this, the prevailing wisdom that, if God was not yet dead, he most certainly was keeping a hands-off approach to His creation. Suddenly, in addition to the ordinary problems that man might be expected to resolve, he had the additional responsibility of 'filling in' for an absent God. We were faced with global problems that required global solutions. World hunger was a global issue of human proportions. Population control was a necessary usurpation of "divine authority." One way or another, though, we could, and we would, build the perfect world for the perfect beings that God and nature had intended us to be.

Now, throw in a touch of perfectionism that rejects what is good in preference for what is perfect. Add music, hit the black lights and up pops the 'woodstock generation'. Apparently there is truth in the pope's argument that "Man can build a world without God, but this world will end by turning against him."

Yet, Pope John Paul II also assures us that "The world and history are not at the mercy of chance, chaos or blind necessity. They are governed by a mysterious God, who desires that humanity live in stability, through just and authentic relations."

The $64,000 question is: How do we get from here to there?

Friday, October 11, 2002

The Prayers of the Poor Win Salvation for the Rich

Since the sixties, a lot of accusations have been hurled at the WW2 generation. I suspect that most were merely anti-capitalist propaganda. Tell a lie often enough and it begins to sound true. In my mind, the character -ization of the WW2 generation as materialistic is inaccurate. Or at least it is when you apply it to Catholics of that era. (Pre-conciliar American Catholicism was very insular so I can't really address the charge in terms of the larger population). The accusation certainly fails to describe the adults of my childhood. I think TV had a lot to do with the subsequent materialism of our culture, but that's just a suspicion. Anyway in the hope of making a more effective argument, I'll try to follow Caroline's advice by presenting an illustrative example:

At five, he asked his mother for a penny to buy a balloon. Embarrassed by her poverty in front of the neighbors, she gave him the money he would not otherwise have received. He had not expected her generosity and, in sudden realization of his faux pas, he didn't spend it. Later in the day, he returned the money to private. By the time he was eleven, he was frequently the only income producer for a family of five. Times were hard, work was scarce and the signs read "No Irish need apply". He graduated from high school when times were again tough and work was again scarce. He applied to the fire department and civil service. He worked odd jobs and, since the city colleges were free, he got a degree in one of the safe professions: accounting. Though he served honorably in WW2, he later lied to his children claiming that he had never seen action. Even second hand, the travesty of war was not meant for children.

After the war, he obtained a promising job with a good firm. He married and raised a family. With the birth of his first son, he moved out of the Bronx to the suburbs of Westchester County. In the early years, he often worked late and his job frequently took him away on business trips. His wife took care of the home. Over time, the couple came to own a nice house and nice things and they were respectful of their possessions. Their home was a place of beautiful welcoming where they frequently entertained business associates and clients They belonged to a country club. In those days, it was a social necessity for a business man who was obliged to entertain clients and associates. (So was a good game of golf.) They could have lived differently, If they had, however, the man would not have been eligible for the promotions that permitted him to meet his financial obligations. The husband enjoyed the pleasure of occasionally gifting his wife with a small extravagance. She enjoyed his delight and appreciated his gifts. When their children were grown, they became frequent travelers. It seems that the one gift that all their children could agree upon was the value of an exotic vacation spent in Portugal, Rome, or the Caribbean.

Both of these Catholics were members of the Rosary Society. The man was active in the Holy Name Society. Each night, the family would gather around their parent's bed, and pray the rosary on their knees. Masses were never missed or even rushed. Days of abstinence were always observed as were the seasons of sacrifice and the various vigils. Both adults served as Eucharistic Ministers until issues were raised about the legitimacy of the practice. Both then resigned. They continue to attend daily mass and observe a weekly fastday.

She raised their children, made their 'dress' clothes and did all of the minor repairs and odd jobs around the home, For the first year or two in their new home, she cooked meals on an antiquated coal-burning stove. No one in the family ever missed mealtimes and, even with a gaggle of children in the house, family life was always calm, orderly and companionable. The family prospered but... there was always one more mouth to feed or one more emergency obligation to meet.

The children all attended parochial school and the father, without financial assistance, put all of his children through college. At that time, college for daughters was still considered a luxury. Most women who attended college did so hoping to graduate with an MRS. Still, at his wife's insistence, the daughters all received the same educational opportunities as their brothers. The parents never took a separate vacation and most family vacations were spent in this country's various state parks.

Both adults attended to their own parents needs and there was harmony between the generations. The older generation, when made incompetent by age, lived with the couple's family. They were catered to and 'nursed' by the entire family. Truthfully most of the burden fell on the wife. The woman had a sense about her that recognized the nearness of death, so each of these old folks met death surrounded by their own sons and daughters.

In addition to their own brood, there were frequently two or three 'temporary' siblings residing in the home for long stretches of time. The various 'temps' visited through a parish sistering arrangement while their own mothers did a six- or eight- week stint in the out-of-state Lenox facility for drug rehabilitation. There was no financial remuneration for their visits and the children were always treated as family. These were children of the inner-city and a temporary stay in the suburbs seemed more of a vacation than a fostering, especially since contact with relatives was encouraged.

Both adults were active in the Church. The woman taught ccd classes. She initiated and ran programs for the elderly. When her own children were all of school age, she returned to school for a bachelor's degree in Religion. The family contributed generously to the Church and to a wide range of charities. When the famines in Africa made the headlines, the children celebrated Christmas by giving up their celebration and gifts in favor of an equivalent contribution to the Hunger Fund. This type of 'social awareness' was commonplace in the home.

Upon retirement, the couple moved to the country and became active in service to their new community. The husband volunteered his expertise to programs like SCORE and tax counseling for seniors. He served on the township board. He volunteered his financial services to the parish and assisted in its computerization.The man also served on a variety of parish advisory boards, The woman served in St Veronica's Guild and started a parish library. She initiated and participated in various adult education projects. Several times a week, she visited the parish sick, the hospitalized and the homebound. When a parish family hit a rough spot, the man always discovered home improvement projects that required the skilled services of the temporarily dis-enfranchised. Arrangements were made and the work was honorably contracted and discharged. Both Catholics were long-time activists in the fight against abortion.

Each has their own checkbook and a reading of their check registers would sound like a rollcall of Catholic relief agencies. They have sponsored several third world children and third world seminarians. They have supported the missions. They provide financial support a the new breed of Catholic colleges. When finally they became too old to safely maintain their country home, they moved to a small house in a small city.They donated their previous home and their land to the Church. It is now a retreat center for throw-away children. Today, although they may have some difficulty walking, they still get down on their knees to pray.

You are right, these people aren't saints. They are simply a Catholic man and a Catholic woman typical of their generation. Nothing about their lives surprised their neighbors or attracted any comment. In other words, their behavior was unremarkable to others of their generations. This couple never set out to be rich. They did, however, set out to meet their obligations to their family and that included financial obligations. The fact that they were successful beyond the next generation's measurement of acceptable limits is not a discredit to them. Because they were well-to-do, their financial contributions to charity were much greater than if they had never possessed the money that they gave away. Because they were Catholic, their charity was discreet and often anonymous.

I only know the burden of responsibility for one dependent. I can not begin to fathom the weight of fourteen people dependent on my ability to provide for them spiritually, morally and financially. I am not wealthy and so...I can not tend to my parent's most basic needs in their infirmity. Instead, I must work a day-job to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. I can not take troubled children into my home and care for them as my own. There would be no one at home to mend them. In my lifetime, I will not donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to relieve the starved and suffering. There are times I have trouble paying the rent. Who do you imagine that the desperate of the world will miss more? This couple or myself?

This couple was not atypical, I have at least twenty other similar tales I could tell you. And these would be only the stories of people that I know intimately enough to know the charity that they did secretly (as the Bible recommends) Based my personal experience with people in that generation, the idea that 'the only change in lifestyle the WW2 generation ever demonstrated was the creation of the phrase “keeping up with the Jones’ appears simply erroneous. I never met anyone in that generation of Catholics for whom keeping up with the Jones was even an afterthought. I think that they were just concerned with getting by and meeting their obligations. I agree that they never experienced "a real change in lifestyle" to meet the requirements of justice, but I think that they did a better job meeting those requirements than many in subsequent generations. Could they have done more? Should they have done more? I don't know. I do know that these questions haunt them.

Living in this world requires some accommodation with the evil of a fallen world. It is only thus that one can effect change and transform the world in the image of Christ. It is not money that is the root of evil but rather the love of money. Those who have it should husband it well for the good of the world. I suspect that, as a whole, the WW2 generation of Catholics were good and faithful stewards. Not all of them and none of them perfectly. But I will reserve my condemnation until my generosity matches theirs in actual dollars, actual hours and in humility of spirit.

Without a doubt, we should be on guard against the incursion of materialism in our own lives and the lives of those for whom we are responsible. We should be equally on guard against an indiscriminate accusation against others whose lives we aren't positioned to judge. Our accusations are most safely made when we stick with the old standard of "I accuse myself."

I don't substantially disagree with the idea that there can very real difficulties in reconciling the practice of Catholicism with being members of the richest segment of society. At the same time, I do agree with your earlier observation that Calvinism might do well in such an environment. Therefore I don't necessarily know that it is incompatible with Christianity per se. One of the areas I would love to explore is the relationship between Catholicism and our American version of democratic rule and capitalist enterprise. I am also interested in the relationship between Protestantism and wealth. Much as people disparage the creation of wealth, there is a whole heck of a lot to be said for a theology that created a nation where the majority of people are well-fed. I suspect that, except for capitalism, we would all be 'third world nations'. Of course, I am also of the opinion that it was the printing press that really changed the availability of wealth.

Either way, I think wealth creation is a worthwhile pursuit. It creates the possibility of charity since one can only give away what one actually possesses. I tend to think that capitalism is one of those scenarios where the virtues cut loose - one from the other - run wild and can lead to more damage than the corresponding vices. It strikes me that it would be a good thing if we could devise a way to truly and fully harness the virtue of wealth-creation in the service of Christ. I don't really know the possibilities. I do think that they are worth exploring. I also think that we must be careful that whatever we devise as a cure is not worse than the initial disease.

And Now for a bit of chauvinism

We're the men who built the railroads, we're the men who fought the wars
We're the men who manned the police force, we're the men who drove street cars
We're the men who formed your unions, we're the men who sang your songs
We're the men who filled your history and tried to right your wrongs


Whoever writ it, writ it well,
For the same is writ on the Gates of Hell:
No Irish Need Apply
-- Anonymous

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

An open letter in response to, and with gratitude for, M. Dammeyer's comments:

I'm surprised and saddened that you would consider this particular essay a declaration of generational warfare. Even on re-reading my post after reviewing your comments, I don't see it in that light. (And I do apologize for my myopic vision.) Perhaps, it would help to backtrack. If you read the prior essay, you will notice my statement that, in the pre-Vatican Church, parents assumed that, by placing their children in the care of the parochial school, they were fulfilling their Catholic responsibility. In doing so, they allowed the mutually supportive yet separate paths of Catholic authority to merge and overlap into one generic area that was neither the priesthood nor the family. This concentration of authority meant that neither the priest nor the parent was pro-actively involved in their designated duties.

This situation was severely exacerbated in the post-Vatican Church ...And post-Vatican religious education did indeed veer very far from what had been the norm. The change in religious education was the 'fault' of reformers but, as I mentioned in the previous posting, the Catholic education system ...did eventually stray ... and far worse, no one with legitimate authority noticed. Catholic parents had permitted themselves the luxury of complacency. They had abdicated their parental obligations to the professional class of experts.

You ask Did you ever consider that the problem might be precisely that Catholics were "well on their way to becoming the richest segment of society?" Blame the “Reformers” all you will – but the 50’s generation and their children walked willingly into agnosticism with cash gripped tightly in both hands. Of course these weren't the Catholics that I had in mind when I used the phrase. I was thinking about the amazing success of the WW2 generation who were both secularly successful and religiously faithful. In a large measure, it was these faithful Catholics who lost their children to the "Catholic Enlightenment." It is precisely this generation with whom I suggest we reconnect.

Additionally, the 50's generation is one that would now fall within my 'suspect' range. I suggest that, rather than mere materialism, it was a particularly humanistic 'theology' that was most devastating to Catholic culture. It is this substitution of humanism for Christianity that still captivates the commitment of Catholics who, in my mind, distort the Faith beyond all recognition. I think that it is legitimate to argue against these distortions. I consider them more detrimental to the Faith than the 'desert wanderings' of "children who lost their religion while embracing a secular world.". I also think it only fair to point out that many, if not most, of these young people (particularly in the 60's and 70's) left on 'spiritual quests' since the Catholicism they received was deficit in its transcendental aspect.

In faith, I hope that a great many of these stray Catholics will someday remember the Faith of their parents and return to the fold. When they do, I imagine most will 'study the Faith' before their return and that they will essentially be embracing the Faith of their inheritance. In rejecting secularism and/or alternate theologies , they will probably adopt a theocentric worldview. As far as assigning blame for their apostasy, I imagine that, like the rest of us, they are ultimately responsible for their own choices and their own souls.

I don't think that I blame "Reformers" any more that I blame any other group. I think that reformers were prideful, well-intended and naive; I think that parents were complacent, well-intended and naive; I think that children were conformist, well-intended and naive. I don't think that it's a matter of assigning blame. It is an issue of reclaiming our legacy.

You also claim that "American Catholics prior to Vatican II gleefully participated in the greatest acquisition of wealth in the history of the world while simultaneously presiding over the most complete destruction of the family imaginable." To the best of my knowledge, up until the "reform", Catholic families were pretty much intact. Most of the Catholic families I grew up around were wealthy, intact, large and religious. The families of those children, with whom I have kept in touch, are generally smaller (but large by today's standards), intact, wealthy and religious. Wealth does not necessarily equate with apostasy or small families.

By the same token, looking at the larger picture, I think that your observation about materialism ( combined with secular humanism) is on target. I think that more than wealth, our problem was, and continues to be, a certain preference for the self that is a part of the larger milieu. These changes in Catholic society may have been partially the result of opening up the Church to the larger milieu. However, the possibility that this was an unintended consequence, should not be seen as an indictment of Vatican reforms. It could just as easily be seen an indictment of the pre-Vatican Church.

I don't disagree with your claim that "the 50’s generation and their children walked willingly into agnosticism with cash gripped tightly in both hands." Nor would I entirely deny your observation that "The blame belongs with the parents and children who lost their religion while embracing a secular world", but my more urgent concern is with the quality of religious education that the current generation of practicing Catholics have received. Their understanding of their faith is deficit in a lot of ways. I would suggest that people who see the Church primarily as a human service and social justice agent have a distorted sense of religion in general. Yet many current Catholics seem to see the Church in just that light.

I think the Vatican Council was a tremendous blessing for the Church. I think that it was an essential and authentic movement of the Holy Spirit. In the long run, I imagine that the fruits of the Council will far outweigh the costs. None of this, however, changes the facts that the implementation of post-Vatican reform was brutal and that it did decimate "family faith transmissions." My clearest recollection of the reformer's contempt was the often applied metaphor of the "old Italian woman saying her beads." Any one who hesitated or objected to change was met with derogatory comments comparing them to superstitious, ignorant immigrants whose only sense of the faith was to mutter Rosary prayers like a thoughtless mantra. This is just one of the images that were used to invoke shame and insecurity. Whether or not, the goal was worthy, the implementation was savage, unjust and a cheat.

Although my assessment is not unique, quite possibly it is unjust. You are right to point out that possibility. Personally, however, I remain unconvinced by your argument. My memory is too strong. My post accurately reflects that memory. Of course, as I freely point out, my voice is only one among many. I most fervently hope that all of my posts are taken with a grain of salt. After all, I'm just shy of that 'suspect' generation and I'm well within the 'age of apostasy.' To quote my brother, I may be "one of the people who grew up to be the people our parents warned us about."

Anyway, perhaps within this larger context, it might be easier to view my claim that without rejecting the authentic fruits of the Vatican Council, we must reach beyond the gray-haired revolutionaries to the people whose lives they so violently altered...What we are seeking is an integration of personal experiential wisdom with lessons transmitted through a long line of family and faith lore. In reclaiming our cultural past, we lend historic authority to our own efforts to reclaim our rightful place in the Church. We are doing more than starting from scratch. We are starting from legitimate authority. Between the wisdom of the past and the pressures of the present, we can grow quite quickly in authority.

Oh, and for informational purposes only, since I live in immigrant, urban Queens (NYC), my parish doesn't even have a parking lot, let alone SUV's to fill it. ;-)

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Just a few quick Notes:
David Reuter has a fabulous new blog 'dedicated to the struggle to fully understand and fulfill our mission as Catholic families.' It's called Become What You Are and it's well worth visiting.

I'm sure that most of you have read Seminarian Todd Reitmeyer's two postings by Father James Mason but I have to recommend them anyway. They are that good.

And one other exciting bit of good news Back to History: Returning Students Have New Textbook is an interesting and hope inspiring article written by Tim Drake over at Stream of Consciousness