Hands blessed for blessing

A crack runs through the sanctuary of God,
     a crevice across the floor,
     spewing smoke from under the altar;
The crack widens into a chasm,
     the crevice into an abyss,
     belching clouds to hide the heavens.
From the blackness emerges a scorpion,
     a locust with sting in its tail,
     and takes its stand at the altar;
From the deep creeps a face like a man’s,
     a head with hair like a woman’s,
     and presides over the mystery of ages.
Locusts swarm over locusts,
     the mass of scorpions writhes,
     it kindles a coarse fire.
Locusts entangled with locusts,
     scorpion legs around scorpion tails,
     in a fire that burns but does not warm,
     a fire that consumes but gives no light,
          and they smile with teeth like a human’s.
The people shuffle into the Temple,
     they drag their feet into the sanctuary;
     they are obliged to Mass every Sunday.
They come like lambs to the slaughter,
     they breathe the smoke and the ashes;
     there is no other path to communion.

Lord, Lord, if I could only look away.

Hands blessed for blessing
     impart a curse by their touch;
fingers crumbed with God’s body
     grope the feet of children;
     small boys curl in agony.
Mouths ordained as fonts of law
      decry commandments in flattery;
tongues bent around the Gospel
      straighten out to deceive;
      the simple grope in a labyrinth.

Strong guardians are at hand;
     fierce protectors take note.
Their swords are upraised,
     their muscles tensed;
     they surround their own
          like an angel stationed before the sacred garden.
Their wrath falls on the children,
     their blows on the parents of boys;
     their chasubles enfold the aggressors,
     they shield the predator from its prey.

Lord, Lord, permit me to look away!

But the Lord God said to me:

The day is coming when none shall look away,
     none shall avert his gaze,
     but each shall see what he does not want to see.
The hour is near when every eye shall be imprisoned,
     every glance in chains,
     and every man shall fix his gaze on evil.
For the day of the Lord is brighter than every day,
     the light of the Lord is brighter than every light,
     banishing every darkness and every shadow,
driving away the darkness of night,
     the gloom under trees at midnight,
casting out the murk of caves,
     the stifling blackness of mines,
routing the shadows of the valleys,
     the dim shadows of steep alleys,
blazing into corners and crevices,
     into closets and under beds,
shining beneath every leaf of every bush,
     under every belly and backside,
flaring inside the tea pots, the wine casks, the ink wells,
     inside the soda cans, the bank vaults, and every pocket,
inside every clenched fist,
inside every closed mouth,
inside every eyelid,
until every eye shall see what you see,
     and every heart shall long to look away,
     and shall not.

From vision shall come a voice,
     from comprehension a cry of command,
     and good men will tremble to hear it;
with the day shall come a storm,
     from the light a hurricane,
     and evil men will run for refuge.
It rages over the ocean,
     tossing waves up to the sky,
     its progress unstoppable;
it crashes against the shore,
     leaps over the beach,
     admitting no obstacle.
dirt whips through the air,
     sand whirls in circles,
     pebbles roll and rush and lift and soar.
trees bend, lose first leaves
     and then branches,
     crack, and fall.
Windows explode,
     shingles fly,
     toofs lift and fall and crumble.
The very house of God groans,
     the Temple sways,
     his people cry aloud for fear;
the doors burst inward,
     the structure heaves,
     the wind drowns every cry but its own.
And the east wind,
     the strong east wind,
     carries away pew and people,
          banner and book,
          speaker and podium,
          glory and praise,
          bishop and priest,
          locust and scorpion,
until the sanctuary of God is left
     like a booth in a cucumber field,
     like a rock in the desert,
     the altar of God immoveable.

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Basic Catholicism in a Crisis

As the crisis surrounding Cardinal McCarrick and the Vigano letters unfolds, I have not said much.  For the most part, my thoughts have already been put out there by others, and to be honest, I’m too tired most of the time to write something fresh. But as I see more evidence that Catholics in the trenches are feeling their faith shudder under the impact of cascading revelations of corruption among Church officials, I think it might be good to review just a couple of basic points of Catholic belief.

Now, let’s be clear: I think the crisis is big. In fact, I am personally inclined to think that a tremendous punishment is looming over the Church, and I am inclined to think that the current crisis is the tip of that punishment.  Preparation for next week’s classes required that I re-read the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, and I felt chills run up and down my spine.  But still and all, we have to keep our heads.  So, two basic points:

1. The validity of a sacrament does not depend on the personal holiness of the priest. 

This was hammered out in the Donatist crisis way back in the time of St. Augustine.  Jesus has given us the sacraments as channels of grace, and he was not so stupid as to make the efficacy of the sacrament depend on whether the priest is in a state of grace or not.  If the sacrament of Baptism depended on the priest’s personal state of grace, for example, then no one could be sure of being baptized.  You just can’t know from outward appearances whether a priest is in a state of grace–as we are re-discovering in a rather dramatic fashion.

So even when Cardinal McCarrick was abusing seminarians and doing whatever horrid things he did, the sacraments he celebrated were real sacraments.  He himself increased his own guilt by celebrating them, but the people who received the Eucharist from him really did receive the body and blood of Jesus.  (I received the Eucharist from McCarrick, so this is not an abstract statement for me.)

2. The pope’s teaching authority does not depend on his personal holiness. 

Whatever you think of Pope Francis, to the degree that he engages his papal office, to that degree his teachings have authority.  There have been some truly stinky popes in history who nonetheless left us authoritative teachings.  Jesus was not so stupid as to make the authority of the Magisterium depend on the state of grace of the bishops.

So yes, Pope Francis has taught some things with real authority.  As annoying as it is that Cupich seemed to rank environmental concerns over care for abuse victims, still and all, Pope Francis’s statements about the environment mostly continue and confirm statements made by the two previous popes.  The fact that Pope Francis devoted an encyclical to the issue gives real magisterial clout to the Church’s position on the environment.

Surprisingly, Pope Francis has not engaged his authority to any great degree on a lot of divisive issues.  Amoris Laetitia has a low rank among magisterial documents, and is easily overshadowed by previous documents.  Even the change to the Catechism on the death penalty is a low-level intervention, technically speaking.  In theory, Pope Francis could have issued a papal bull with “I define, declare, and decree” and so on and so forth on any issue he wanted, so it is remarkable how little he has actually engaged his authority in this stormy pontificate.

Amidst the real calamity, let’s keep our heads.  The crisis does not trace back to Pope Francis: Our Lady of Fatima was warning people to do penance for sexual impurity way back in the nineteen teens.  And Jesus knew these kinds of times were coming.  Worse times are probably still to come.  But let’s keep on frequenting the sacraments and reverencing the authority of the Magisterium.  Just because the world has gone crazy doesn’t mean you have to.

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Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate

Catholics debating the death penalty generally do a bad job with Scripture.  One side of the debate cites isolated texts, leaving themselves open to the accusation that they cannot see the texts in relation to the whole thrust of Scripture.  The other side of the debate refers vaguely to “the Gospel” as a way to avoid dealing with any particular text of Scripture at all.  Neither side appears to have a living relationship with God’s word.

I can’t work through all the relevant texts on this blog, but I would like to offer an example of what’s possible by dealing with the big text everyone mentions:  Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”  I have already dealt with the context of this verse at greater length elsewhere, but I was not talking about the death penalty then.  Here I’ll condense the discussion to highlight what is most relevant to the death penalty issue. Continue reading “Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate”

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Dr. John Joy on the new Catechism text

Dr. John Joy has written such a fine piece on the Catechism controversy that I wanted to dedicate an entire post just to linking to it.  He tracks my own thought quite closely:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion, therefore, that this text suffers from serious ambiguity (inasmuch as it seems to be open to multiple interpretations) or even incoherence (inasmuch as it seems to assert contradictory propositions).

Do read the entire article: The Magisterial Weight of the New Text of the Catechism on the Death Penalty.

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The Church’s merely prudential judgments

One thing I just love about Pope Francis is that he makes us think about how the Magisterium works.  I have seen more claims this way and that about what is or is not magisterial or authoritative since he began his pontificate than in the decade previous.

With regard to his recent change to the Catechism, my old classmate Alan Fimister has argued this way:  if it is not a change in doctrine then it is merely a prudential change, but if it is merely a prudential change then it is outside the purview of the Magisterium: Continue reading “The Church’s merely prudential judgments”

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How standards of justice can change

In a previous post, I said that what was not an attack on human dignity in one situation could be in another. I further claimed that such could be the case with the death penalty. I think I owe it to anyone reading to go back and flesh out what I had in mind.

St. Thomas has an interesting perspective on the purposes of punishment in any human community (thanks to Fr. Joseph Bolin for collecting these texts): Continue reading “How standards of justice can change”

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Justice and Punishment

A few thoughts occurred to me last night about the death penalty debate. Leaving open the ultimate prudential question of whether the death penalty can be morally used in our time, I want to examine the arguments used in the CDF’s letter explaining the recent change to the Catechism. (Please see my last post for context.)

The central thread in this debate is justice.  Now, justice only exists between rational creatures, i.e., creatures made in the image of God.  We don’t seek to restore the scales of justice against a tree that fell on someone. We try to prevent animals from stealing, but we do not incarcerate them for it.  Justice has to do with the relationships between persons as such. Continue reading “Justice and Punishment”

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The new Catechism text on the death penalty

While I have not blogged in a long time, I have been reading and thinking.  I never did finish my series on the death penalty, because I reached a point where I needed to complete my own ethical philosophical formation.  But in light of the recent news that Pope Francis updated the Catechism to oppose the death penalty more clearly, I thought I should toss up a few comments. Continue reading “The new Catechism text on the death penalty”

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Thinking hard about the Incarnation

I was near the end of my oral exams with the juniors when I began to realize how far I could push them. I would start from basic definitions regarding the Incarnation and gradually force them to think more and more, and they held up—not just the star students, but all of them. Actual excerpt from one of the orals:

What is a suppositum?

How does being a suppositum differ from being an individual?

What is the difference between the terms “suppositum” and “person”?

Are you a suppositum?

Is a tree a suppositum?

Is a dog a suppositum?

Is my nose a suppositum?

Is Christ’s human nature a suppositum?

Why not?

Is Christ’s divinity a suppositum?

Why is that?

Tell me about the heresy of “monoenergism”?

What does “energy” mean in this debate?

What did Maximus the Confessor mean by “theandric energy”?

What would happen to theandric energy if you were a Nestorian?

What would happen to theandric energy if you were a Monophysite?

…and so on.

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Happy . . . day!

Happy Ascension Sunday Thursday, everyone!

And what, you may ask, is Ascension Sunday Thursday?  It is the Thursday we observe while waiting for Ascension Thursday Sunday.  It is the day that was almost Ascension Thursday, and that still bears the minutest traces of its former character, like the almost-unobservable oddness of a picture in which someone has been photoshopped out.

We can’t help it.  Obedient children, we want to do whatever our Church is doing and have this be just another day in the Easter season.  But because of the way we experience sacred time, the transferal-here-but-not-transferal-there process leaves behind a snatch of music we can almost hear but can’t make out, a sense that this day is not Ascension Thursday but is also not a Thursday in Easter.  It is a day that lacks something of its own identity.

It is—Ascension Sunday Thursday!  Have a good one, y’all!

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