Papal Biographies: The Door Stops of the Kingdom

” . . . and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

I own several papal biographies, yet I’ve never read them. I seriously question how many Catholics have ever read any of the full-length papal biographies. Maybe I underestimate the zeal of others’ papal personality cult, but I just doubt that anyone can read more than two pages of George Weigel* without suddenly deciding that it’s the perfect time to clean the grout out from between their bathroom tiles. I can’t really compare George Weigel to any other Catholic “talking heads” because he’s usually the author I compare other “talking heads” to when I’m criticizing them.

So how does he earn a living writing papal biographies? I’m guessing that it works like this. Through the buzz for his first papal biography, Weigel established that he was a supporter of Pope St. John Paul II. So a few tens of thousands of people identified Weigel as “one of the good guys.” Then, when he produces yet another book about everybody’s favorite “good guy” from the past 50 years (Pope St. John Paul II), the book becomes a very heavy, awkward stocking stuffer. The recipient thanks the giver for this fetishistic acknowledgment of their shared appreciation for the right team of good guys. Then the book goes on the shelf to proclaim the household’s allegiance to said team.

That, or maybe it just becomes a sturdy door stop.

*This post is inspired by this Catholic Kulchur review: https://catholickulchur.com/2017/07/30/george-weigel-letting-the-cat-out-of-the-bag/

Our Lady’s First Apparition

Strange, how the seeds of doubt are sown. I read a blog post by someone who touts himself as a traditional Catholic. The author made an observation. Earlier in Church art, images of Our Lady always include Our Lord. Think of the icons of the East, where Our Lady typically holds the Christ Child. Think of Romanesque and Gothic statues of Our Lady seated, with the Christ Child on her lap. The author contrasted this artistic tradition with Neo-Gothic statues of the modern era, which often show Our Lady standing alone, her arms outstretched. This pose is often associated with Our Lady of Lourdes or Our Lady of Fatima.

The author was implying that this artistic convention is un-traditional and divorces Our Lady from Our Lord. It makes her an independent force or mediator, separate from Our Lord, making the Protestant allegation of Mariolatry seem true. This thought now occurs to me when I see statues of Our Lady absent a representation of the Christ Child. It occurs to me when I venerate Our Lady at the Lady Altar in a local church, where the statue shows Our Lady in the pose described above. It’s a wicked thought, but it takes some insight to redress. For me, the insight was slow in coming. It came one day when praying the Rosary, specifically the mystery of the Visitation. Continue reading

Pickler of the Stars of Night

The Communion hymn at Mass last Sunday (the Fourth Sunday in Advent) was “Creator of the Stars of Night,” which is the English translation of “Conditor Alme Siderum.” Priests, monks, and nuns recite this hymn at Vespers during Advent. Reggie (Fr. Reginald Foster, O.C.D.) told us about “Conditor Alme Siderum” during our summer class in Rome back in 2007. As originally composed back in the early Middle Ages, the first word of the hymn was “conditor,” which should mean “creator, establisher,” from the verb “condo, condere” (“found, establish”). But because of the meter of the hymn, the stress falls on the second syllable (-di-), which would mean the word comes from the verb “condio, condire” (“pickle, preserve”). With that long-i, “conditor” would mean something like “condiment-maker.” Suffice it to say, don’t go to the early Middle Ages looking for stellar Latin (pun intended).
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Where Are Youth Groups in Scripture?

The next time a “Sola Scriptura”-type Protestant asks you where some Catholic practice is in Scripture (statues, candles, incense, etc.)*, ask them where the following are in Scripture:

–Organized youth groups. Where does St. Paul ever say, “Organize youth groups so teenagers can flirt with each other and have sleep-overs and get away from their parents”?

–Church camps. Ditto above.

–Church-affiliated schools and universities. Ditto yet again.

–Formal church buildings. I don’t remember Our Lord ever building a physical church building. To our knowledge, the Apostles didn’t, either. They met in a dining room (the Cenacle).

–Pews at church. If you have an issue with statues, why not with pews, or stained glass, or steeples, or bells, or tacky banners?

–Asking people if they’re saved. Where in Scripture does a Christian ever walk up to someone and ask them point-blank, “Are you saved?” Continue reading

American Catholic Parochialism: Some Preliminary Remarks

Tribalism has been a major point of discussion during this election season in the United States, so I thought I might make some remarks on the topic of American Catholic parochialism. I define this as the tendency of some self-identifying Catholics in the United States to interpret American history in light of the specific experience of American Catholics.

I’ll very briefly give two examples: 1.) the entire complex of historical interpretations propagated by E. Michael Jones et al. in “Culture Wars,” Fidelity Press, etc., and 2.) the “Catholic Confederate” meme. That’s the apparently persistent tendency of self-identifying Catholics (often chest-thumping trads) on the Internet who pledge their allegiance to the heritage of the Southern Confederacy on the grounds that the Confederacy was somehow more congenial to Catholic principles.*

Having given those examples, let me ask a question that has been around since America’s Founding, possibly since the foundation of Jamestown: can a Catholic be a good American? By “good American,” I mean an American citizen fulfilling his proper duties under natural, divine, and human law to the commonwealth of the state where he lives and to the federal republic as a whole. I give two answers:

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The Theology of the Rational Soul

This is a (partly) cranky post, about the theological and philosophical sediment of Pope St. John Paul II’s Papacy. It’s inspired by a post at Just Thomism about a contemporary Catholic theologian’s (?) attempt at theodicy. The author of the post points out that not all divine actions are best explained in terms of love. Some are better explained in terms of intellection.

I attribute the sentimental exaggeration of “love” to Pope St. John Paul II’s so-called “Theology of the Body” (TOB). This “theology” (this usage seems wrong; shouldn’t it be “theological school” or something like that?) seems to place the image and likeness of God primarily in the body. Traditionally, the Church has said this image and likeness resides primarily in the rational soul. Continue reading

The Empty Cross

I once listened to a Protestant radio show where the host was explaining why Protestants display a cross instead of a crucifix. The distinction is that a crucifix includes a corpus, an image of Our Lord’s Body. He said something like, “Because the crucifixion is over! It was once and for all! Christ is no longer on the cross — He is risen.”

This argument is preposterous. What he was saying was, “It is inappropriate to display artistic representations of past historical events.” If that is the case, why is it okay to represent the crucifixion in Holy Scripture, which is a work of literary art? All four Gospels have a Passion narrative. Why? It’s over. Why are we still talking about it? Christ is risen! But St. Paul said at I Cor. 2:2, “For I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Just as St. Paul’s preaching focused on the redemption Christ wrought for us on the Cross, so too does Catholic visual artwork focus on the Crucifixion.

In contrast, the Protestant radio host exposed himself as an irrational fool. If you belong to some heretical sect that is scared to portray Christ’s saving death on the Cross, get out of it and join the one true Church, which Christ founded and which still honors His Crucifixion.

St. Joseph the Worker

As a traditionalist-leaning (post-trad?) Catholic, I admit I “have issues” with today’s* Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. You can consult other blogs to see reasons why, which are reducible to three:

1.) It’s an imposition on the calendar, having evicted the Apostles Philip and James the Lesser from their traditional feast day. This ad hoc feast was whipped up from scratch in the 1950s.

2.) It smacks of political pandering. The Communists celebrated May 1 as May Day, so the Church in the most transparent manner possible tried to “baptize” this modern celebration. Also, it seems untraditional to cast a saint in such modern, Marxist terms; Joseph the Worker as opposed to carpenter, etc. When else has the Church ever celebrated a saint as patron of an entire social class, the modern undifferentiated proletariat?**

3.) I’ve read that the Latin texts for the feast are inferior. I really don’t know.

So, there’s that. Like I said, you can find any number of trad cranks and critics (the two categories don’t necessarily overlap, but they often do . . .) pointing this out. And I allow that there’s a lot to their arguments.

But in God’s Providence, such things as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker do arise, and God can use them to His purposes. I know this from personal experience. Here’s my story: Continue reading