American Catholicism: Worship ’58 – ’62

October 31, 2011

The dawn of the year of Our Lord 2011 found Worship, a liturgical journal published by the monks of Saint John’s Abby in Minnesota, entering its eighty-third year of publication.  Known as Orate Fratres before 1951, the journal was originally edited by the famous liturgical theologian Dom Virgil Michel OSB.  According to it’s current website the primary aim of the journal is “to develop a better understanding of the spiritual impact of the liturgy and to promote active participation on the part of all men and women in the worship of the Church.”

The December 1958 edition of Worship finds the editorial heirs of Dom Michel prognosticating as to the new Pope’s attitude regarding liturgical reforms already well underway.  In the same issue that Worship notes the proliferation of support for the liturgical reforms by citing Bishops, laity and scholars from Spain to Louvain, their concern for an unknown future is evident.  “Ever since the election of the new Pope, letters and telephone calls have inquired whether it is likely that he will carry forward the liturgical reforms initiated by Pope Pius XII.  Quite frankly, we wish we knew.”

Such uncertainty and hesitation in their evaluation of John XXIII would not last long.  It is with great excitement (and perhaps a hint of pride) that the following report is given in spring of 1959: “for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the Pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s on Christmas day for the people of Rome… at his expressed wish, it was a dialogue Mass.”

Worship, during the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, is both a pastoral and theological journal.  It’s written both for an educated and invested laity, and for those Pastors seeking practical advice on how to “revitalize” (a frequently used word) the liturgical life of their Parish.  Through all of this Worship strives to hit a tone of hierarchical respect, faithful ressourcement, and attention to the changing signs of the times.  It attends to the parish as the unquestioned center of Catholic culture, clarifies practical questions about celebrating Mass, and supports devotional practices – especially those associated with Our Lady.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hurrah for Mormons!

October 31, 2011

As for this mortal life, which ends after a few days’ course, what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts.

—St. Augustine

Augustine’s above words might need a bit of contextualizing—clearly some rulers are better than others—but they do provide a healthy dose of perspective for faithful citizens as the race to chose Caesar’s modern day successor comes to occupy more and more of our airwaves and much of our mental territory as well.  The political process itself can become an idol, particularly in the age of cable television and the blogosphere, when off-hand comments by politicians and their supporters are whipped into a froth of headlines, commentary, and spin to feed the never-ending news cycle.

Some of this dynamic—our media addiction to controversy and spin—has been in play over the past several weeks in the brouhaha over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.  Talking heads nearly spun with glee when a supporter of one of Romney’s opponents, a Baptist minister, declared that Romney isn’t a Christian.  Other candidates and observers were quick to pounce.  Time’s Jon Meacham used the opportunity to attack the “religious right” and its “religious bigotry.”  Romney had already declared, according to Meacham, that “he would be loyal to the country and the Constitution, not his church.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

October 29, 2011


As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ . . . . Call no one on earth your father … Do not be called ‘Master’ . . . .” (Mt 23:8-10)

At first glance, it seems that following Jesus involves abandoning all formal names and official titles—teacher, father, master—as if the Church should be some sort of folksy commune.  And there are at least some Christians who look upon the Catholic custom of calling priests “father” as sure proof of their ignorance of Scripture.  However, not even the first generation of Christians took Jesus to be condemning all names of social standing.  After all, the Evangelists don’t scruple to call Joseph and Mary the “father and mother” of Jesus (e.g., Lk 2:33).  St. Paul even calls himself the “father” of the Church in Corinth, reminding them, “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1Cor 4:15).

But if Jesus isn’t simply condemning the words “teacher,” “father,” and “master,” what is he up to?  There’s a similar episode from the life of the Chinese Philosopher Confucius that may give us a clue. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesuit Reform

October 28, 2011

In a prior blog a long time ago I wrote about Jesuit reform and what it should look like.  I offered a couple of suggestions in a post entitled “Jesuits, Legionaries, and Reform”:

For a second example, I think many of us Jesuits watch too much TV. Would a Legionary do that?  Probably not.  Could we cut out a lot to make more time for prayer?  Yes.  So I would recommend these two to ourselves as possibly ways of beginning renewal: increasing our prayer and cutting out television.  These are two things I offer to my brother Jesuits.  We are in desperate need of renewal.  This is no time for us to gloat at the Legion.  Instead, let us look deeply into ourselves and “rend our hearts, not our garments.”
But I would also like to hear from you, the readers, about how you observe the Society of Jesus. This is how transparency works.  The Legion was not able to self-criticize, and so this fed into their downfall.  So I think for me, Lent would be much more beneficial if I can hear some criticism about the Jesuits from you.  What do we need to change? How do we need to reform? This is what I will ask in the next post.
I did subsequently ask for suggestions in the post “So, In Your Opinion, What Reform  do the Jesuits Need?” and I received 76 responses.  In a spirit of Ignatian repetition, I was looking over some of those, and this particular response stood out to me.   Read the rest of this entry »

Catholic Liberal or Liberal Catholic

October 27, 2011
From Mark Gordon at Vox Nova:

There is a distinction to be made, I think, between “Catholic liberals” and “liberal Catholics.” I interpret the former in a distinctly political sense and the latter in a decidedly theological sense. A Catholic liberal is one whose political views tend to the left side of the American political spectrum. A liberal Catholic is one whose views of Church teaching fall outside the orbit of what might be called “orthodoxy.” A Catholic liberal might be one who, for instance, favors single-payer universal healthcare, while a liberal Catholic might be one who favors the ordination of women. The extent to which many Catholic liberals are also liberal Catholics is, in my mind, a further manifestation of the blurring of our language, both political and theological, brought about by Roe v. Wade. In the heyday of the Catholic Church in America, most leading lights in the Church were both politically liberal and theologically “conservative,” in the general sense of simple orthodoxy.

I think the same distinctions between “Catholic conservative” and “conservative Catholic,” with the former denoting an adherence to the conservative political agenda and the latter referring to an orthodox adherence to Church teaching. I suppose that these days that would make me both a “conservative Catholic” and a “Catholic liberal,” which is why I simply prefer the term, “Catholic.”

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

October 22, 2011


For the folks a Gesu parish.  With a partial credit to C.S. Lewis’ essay, “First Things and Second Things” …

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Mt 22:39-40).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus leaves us his classic formulation of love, a teaching so simple that a child could grasp it, and yet so challenging that not even the saints quite live it.  Christ clearly distinguishes between love of God and love of neighbor, calling love of God the first and greatest commandment and love of neighbor the second.  But even though he distinguishes them in this way, Jesus does not separate them.  He instead insists that the second is like the first, and uses the same Greek word for both God-love and neighbor-love (ἀγαπάω).

By ranking and relating God-love and neighbor-love in this way, Jesus establishes an order of loves—a hierarchy of first things and second things.  There’s a certain rule that applies to everything arranged in this way, a rule that we’ll call the rule of “second things.”  The rule goes like this: whenever we prefer the lower to the higher, the part to the whole, and—in general—“second things” to “first things”, we lose not only the first thing (which one would expect), but we lose the second thing as well.

Illustrations of this rule are everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Cafeteria Catholicism, Occupy Wall Street, and the Sensus Fidelium

October 21, 2011

In a recent post at In All Things, the blog of America Magazine, Tom Beaudoin asks the provocative question: “What if ‘Occupy Wall Street’ could be attempted in the Catholic Church?” What could lead to such a movement in the Catholic Church? He muses on the reasons in the following way:

Or, like the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, would the precipitating awareness that would lead you to join such a movement simply be a recognition of the intractibilty of the the near invisibility, in everyday church governance, of the overwhelming majority (all non-ordained persons) as compared to the small minority (the ordained)?

At Mirror of Justice, on October 10, a Jesuit, Fr. Robert Araujo, SJ, responded:

Did it occur to him that the teachings of the Church are not designed to reflect what any society appears to want at any given time? Still, he imaginatively pits the “overwhelming majority (all non-ordained persons)” against “the small minority (the ordained).” I happen to be in the latter category, but I find the reality of being one of the ordained unlike the broad characterization offered by Professor Beaudoin does not pit me against those whom I am called by my particular vocation to serve. Read the rest of this entry »

A Calling in Crisis

October 20, 2011

In light of the upcoming Diaconate Ordinations of several good friends of mine in Oakland this weekend, I thought I’d publish a review I wrote in class for Andrew Greeley’s Priests: A Calling In Crisis. I was particularly impressed by his sociological defense of celibacy.  Enjoy.  

This book is hopeful, terrifying, insightful, angry, and challenging.  There is no other book about priests quite like it.  It is hopeful because it explodes the myth of celibacy and reveals priests to be happy, healthy men.  It is terrifying because it shows that these men who are happy and healthy are also isolated and aloof behind the walls of clerical culture.  It is insightful because it offers to policy makers in the Church the data and statistics they need to make constructive decisions.

How is this book hopeful?  For a man like myself who is studying to be a priest and who has heard often enough that celibacy is repressive and psychologically unhealthy, Fr. Andrew Greeley’s analysis of the data offers a perspective rooted in real study.  Greeley begins his book by explaining what sociology is not.  It is not Eugene Cullen Kennedy’s “sweeping generalizations” based on personal opinions.  Nor is A.W. Richard Sipe’s “blithe disregard for elementary methodology” honest sociology.  Greeley instead bases his analysis on the 1993 and 2002 Los Angeles Times Poll: Survey of Roman Catholic Priests – which has the benefit of providing a before and after of the Year of the Pedophile – and on the doctoral dissertation of Thomas Nestor, a study of priests in the archdiocese of Chicago.

The findings about celibacy are surprising.  Nestor found that in all levels of intimacy, “priests were either significantly better equipped than the controls for close relationships or, at least, were equal to the controls in the practice of engaging, developing, and sustaining close relationships.” Scrutinizing the L.A. Times survey, Greeley also notes that 83% of priests successfully live their vow of celibacy, and only 3% consider it “not relevant to my priesthood.”  Priests are also more satisfied with their job than Protestant ministers, and 92% said they would “chose the priesthood again.”  Only 1 out of 6 men leave the priesthood because of celibacy.  Most leave, Greeley contentiously maintains, because of “dissatisfaction with the work he has been doing.”

How is this book terrifying?  “Do priests have extraordinary skills of denial or do they live in a world apart, protected by the vestiges of lay respect that existed a half century ago?”  Greeley answers in the affirmative to the latter.  Out of 1,854, only 19 priests listed “bad sermons or liturgy” as a problem – though a notorious concern for the laity.  3 out of 5 priests attribute the problems of the laity to their own failings or to cultural forces.  When asked about what troubled them most about abuse allegations in 2002, “only 5% said that it was the suffering of the victims.”  Greeley chalks these problems up to the “iron law of denial” reinforced by “clerical culture,” a “male-bonding, band-of-brothers phenomenon that has gone to far.”  As many young priests seem to be re-plastering the cracks that Vatican II made in this clerical wall, there is great reason for concern about the future of the priesthood.  Read the rest of this entry »

American Catholicism: America Magazine ’54 – ’58

October 17, 2011

This week we take a look at the state of the American Catholic Church as shown by America Magazine between the years of 1954 to 1958.

In the pages of America we find a 1956 missive entitled “Five Live Problems for Catholics” which gives the interested reader a concise initial listing of the main concerns facing Catholics during the Cold Wars years of ’54 to ’58.  We might be helped in our efforts to examine Catholicism as presented in America during this time by using the author’s list a sort of schema.

First we are able to note a genuine desire for social acceptance, a desire well-captured in the virulent rejection of the phrase “Catholic ghetto” – whether it be used to describe the Catholic sociological situation, jobs appropriate for Catholics, or the isolationist quality of much Catholic intellectual work.  Examples of such concern abound in America’s pages during these years.  See for example the continuing, and dominating, worry over Communism.  In a short piece on the visit of Soviet Premier Khrushchev to England we see a glimpse of such a Cold War Catholic mindset.  The editors seem shockingly suspicious, writing that despite Khruschev’s “smiling” face, the Western powers have been “too thoroughly educated in Soviet duplicity” to be anything less than over prepared.  And this preparation, at least in the pages of America, does not limit itself to military might.  Indeed, the true task is to fight the “materialism of the Communist state, which reduces the human being to a numberless tool” by “defending the spiritual worth of the individual.”  Here again we see the holy trinity of mid-century Catholic identity: anti-communism, patriotism and a free society upheld by strict morality. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

October 16, 2011


For the folks at Gesu Parish in Miami …

Cyrus' Cylinder

For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by name, giving you a title, though you knew me not (Isa 45:4).

In its original setting, today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah must have been rather provocative.  This prophetic oracle, probably written down during great Exile of Israel, addresses Cyrus, who was King of the Persians, Israel’s master and foreign occupier.  This in itself is not surprising.  The prophetic books are full of all sorts of oracles of doom against Israel’s enemies.

This, however, is not an oracle of doom.

On the contrary, here God calls Cyrus “his anointed” (the only non-Israelite to be called משיח in the OT).  God identifies Cyrus as the one “whose right hand I grasp,” the one whom he has “called by name,” and the one to whom He has given military might.  Most provocatively, of course, God claims to have raised up Israel’s foreign occupier “for the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one.”  Cyrus, who to all appearances represents Israel’s oppressor, will turn out to be, by God’s design, their servant and instrument.  This was the challenge to Israel’s faith.

For the prophecy called Israel to consider two truths about God’s providence that are never easy to believe:  Read the rest of this entry »

“In The End, Concession and Surrender May Be Our Greatest Accomplishments”

October 15, 2011

I was moved by this line in a reflection by fellow classmate and Jesuit Joe Hoover in a new book “2012: The Best Spiritual Writing.”  His piece is called “A Figure in Black and Gray,” and is actually a reflection on observing a nun while on retreat.  But I found the following two paragraphs on who us young Jesuits are these days to be humorous, apt, and inspirational:

“I am here with Jesuits from all over the country, all of us in the middle stage: no longer novices but not yet priests, working for a spell ‘in the vineyard,’ as some might say. (Officially we are called ‘regents’ — a term used by the Society of Jesus that means, roughly, ‘You will teach high school.’)  I am proud of these regents, these vinedressers, these men.  If you are looking for an expose by a discontented seminarian, you will have to look elsewhere.  I like  being in this outfit.  They are for the most part ‘regular guys,’ which is a somewhat prideful way we talk about ourselves: Regular guys who lift weights, write blogs, and make mix CDs of songs by famously unknown bands.  Guys who won’t be caught in a chapel every minute of the day (said usually with a hint of bravado). Read the rest of this entry »

On the (Belated) Feast of Bl. J. H. Newman (cont’d)

October 15, 2011


When I started replying in the comment box to Nathan’s question about my post on Newman’s toast to conscience, I found myself going long.  So I just decided kick it upstairs into another post.  Here’s Nathan’s question:

So the fault would be in holding that lotteries are intrinsically evil, not in disobeying the command of the Pope. Equally, the fault for a faithful Catholic couple who uses birth control to regulate their family would be in holding that birth control is not intrinsically evil rather than in disobeying the Pope.

There seems to be an impasse here:

They commit a sin if they obey the Pope, says Newman, since they believe that contraception is ok and that not using it could harm their family life, financially, emotionally, etc, (let’s suppose).

But they also commit a sin if they don’t obey the Pope since they have withheld the assent of faith.

But don’t they have to withhold the assent of faith, so that they don’t sin against their consciences? How does one avoid going in circles?

To me, the question seems to boil down to whether the dissenter ends up perplexus (i.e., in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation) on Newman’s schematization of conscience.  I think that Newman can get around this impasse by a distinction between discrete acts and stable virtues/vices.

Read the rest of this entry »

5th Amendment Violation

October 12, 2011

By ordering the assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, Obama violated the 5th amendment right to due process and cooperated in an evil that no Catholic can condone.  Kyle Cupp at Vox Nova warns us of the slippery slope that we are well on our way down.  God help us.


On the (Belated) Feast of Bl. J. H. Newman

October 11, 2011


Since the second annual observance of the feast of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman was trumped by the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I feel justified transferring it to the present day (at least for readers of Whosoever Desires).  In honor of our displaced beatus, I thought I might offer a comment or two on Newman’s “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” where he explains the relationship between Catholic conscience and papal infallibility.  He concludes the chapter on conscience with a famous “toast”:

Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please,—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.

At least in certain senses, then, Newman exalts private judgment (i.e., conscience) above the authority of the Church (i.e., the Pope); if he had not intended this in some sense, he would not have so written.  However, I would argue that these “certain senses” do not include what one would nowadays call theological dissent.

Newman’s statement easily lends itself to misinterpretation because conscience, like being, “is said in many ways.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ignatius, civility, and Annotation 22

October 10, 2011

Last year I wrote a post arguing for a link between civility and truth; the reason we should speak with civility in the blogosphere or anywhere else is because doing so helps us to find the truth.  Understanding this connection helps us to spot those rare occasions in which a false civility actually stands in the way of the truth.

After observing some of the contentious turns discussion on Whosoever Desires has taken this month, I thought a return to this theme might be in order.  St. Ignatius had a few thoughts on the subject, many of which are as useful today as they were 400 years ago.

First, a bit of background.  Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises are a manual for giving retreats, which the saint composed over many years based on his experiences of prayer and spiritual conversation.  The first part of the manual contains “annotations” or instructions for the person conducting the retreat.  “Annotation 22” is one of the best known; in fact, it’s quoted in the Catechism (#2478)—which suggests that its implications for Christian life go well beyond retreats.

Read the rest of this entry »

American Catholicism: Time Magazine ’49 – ’53

October 4, 2011

While enjoying the sunshine and companionship of my brothers here in the Jesuit School of Theology I’m actually enrolled in a few classes as well.  One of them is a provocative course on the transformation that occurred in the religious life and culture of the American Catholic Church around the second Vatican Council.  I say provocative because our professor has the dozen or so of us reading various magazines from the years before, during, and after the council in order to get a plurality of perspectives on the Church in our country during these years.  I have to say that it’s been fascinating for me.  Just the style of writing alone (not mention the crazy advertisements!) can make the hours of wading through yellowed pages worthwhile.  Anyway, I thought that this kind of thing might be interesting for us here at Whosoever as well.  This week’s post is my effort to summarize what is happening in the American Catholic Church through the perspective of Time Magazine between the years 1949-53.  I found it incredible.  Hope the same is true for you.


Time Magazine, founded in 1923, has had from its founding the oddly contemporary habit of conveying the news through the people who made it. News of the Catholic Church in United States during the years 1949 to 1953 is no exception to this policy as it is Catholic individuals, especially their particular charismatic quirks, who draw attention. Through these figures familiar tropes emerge: the sickly young boy who studies hard and grows into an imposing (yet kind) cleric clad in scarlet and ermine, the builder Bishop, the erudite yet worldly scholar-priest, the Catholic sports hero.  Read the rest of this entry »

On the Feast of St. Francis Borgia

October 3, 2011


St. Francis Borgia, SJ

Despite the evident sanctity of St. Francis Borgia (1510-1572), third general of the Society of Jesus, he has not been altogether immune from criticism.  Having introduced detailed “rules” on dress, prayer, and social interaction across the course of his generalate, Borgia is not uncommonly identified as the figure overseeing the transition from a charismatic and spontaneous Society to an “order” marked by military discipline and rigid uniformity.  Whatever the justice of these remarks, I thought I would at least present the direction methods of Bl. Peter Faber, SJ (1506-1546), methods which suggest how, from the very beginning of the Society, discipline and uniformity coincided with spontaneity and charism.  (This also relates to Fr. Monnig’s post about the “religious experience” and “holiness” models of spiritual direction).

Ignatius himself considered Bl. Peter Faber the most gifted director of the Exercises, and voted to elect him the first Jesuit general (the only vote Bl. Peter received).  It was Bl. Peter Faber’s custom, however, to give “Instructions” toward the end of the Exercises in order to help exercitants “consolidate their fruit.”  This “consolidation,” not surprisingly, required that uniform disciplines be undertaken by the exercitants:

 In these [“Instructions”] Bl. Peter Faber recalls the end that must determine all the actions and the order that must be present in them so that they remain regulated according to God. Read the rest of this entry »


October 3, 2011

It’s easy when one is working fulltime for the Church or studying theology or sharing opinions on the Catholic blogosphere (do all of you have jobs?) to get caught up in minutiae and the controversies of the moment and lose sight of the Big Picture or forget just how remarkable the Big Picture really is.  (And just so we’re clear, when I say, “Big Picture,” I mean, “The Gospel.”)

Last week, after slop buckets of minutiae, a few frustrations, and a futile circle or two, I decided I needed a day off the reservation (literally).  So I pulled on my jeans and my cowboy boots and grabbed a volume of Greek tragedies (you can take the nerd out of the university, but you can’t take the nerdiness out of the nerd) and drove down to Valentine, Nebraska to sit on the porch of Auntie D’s Coffee Shop and read Aeschylus in the late-September warmth, as trucks full of hay bales drove past on Main Street.

Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

October 2, 2011


For the folks at Gesu in Miami …

I don’t know that we often reflect on how much we depend on “knowing the whole story” or “seeing the big picture” to understand the deeper significance of events.  Most things that we view only as a snapshot and without context, we tend to understand only superficially.  An example: there’s a famous picture of Pope John Paul II visiting a young Turkish man in his room.  Someone who knows nothing of John Paul and his life will probably look at the snapshot get a superficial understanding of the encounter: it seems friendly, personal, and vaguely good.  The one who knows that the young Turk is the same man who tried to assassinate John Paul II a year earlier, on the other hand, sees deeper significance.  The picture passes from capturing something vaguely good to capturing Pope John Paul’s moral heroism.  But we can see this added dimension of meaning only when we know the “whole story.”

In today’s “Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen,” Jesus seems to be trying to give us this “whole story,” the “big picture” that will help us to understand the deeper significance of our religious observance.  However, in this case he uses the parable not to reveal the deeper goodness of our actions, but to reveal the deeper badness of our failure to “produce fruits at the proper time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Benedict XVI in Bundestag: “The Windows Must Be Flung Open Again”

October 1, 2011

Whatever you may say about Benedict XVI, you must admit that he is a brilliant thinker and orator.  The man can write, and he can craft an idea.  His recent speech to the Bundestag in Berlin is a perfect example of his erudition.  I’ve selected portions for you, but you should go read the full text. Most impressively, in his defense of natural law, Benedict extends his defense to all of nature itself, to the fact of an objective will, a Will placed within nature, more normative than Kantian self-legislation, and providing the reason for the “ought.”  We must return to the earth, to listen to her again, to feel with her again, to stop seeing self-fulfilling freedom as the only ethical guide. As the way out of our positivist ethical “bunker,” the “importance of ecology is no longer disputed.”  I say he’s right.

Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”, as Saint Augustine once said . We Germans know from our own experience that these words are no empty spectre. We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right – a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss. To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician. At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, this task takes on a particular urgency. Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity. Read the rest of this entry »