Friday, August 26, 2011

This Weekend at the Movies

Our Idiot Brother
This film is rated "O" - morally offensive, and should be avoided by Catholics. To read the review, click here.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
This film is rated A-III - acceptable for adults. To read the review, click here.

This film is rated "L" - "limited adult audience - problematic content many adults would find troubling." to read the review, click here.

Article In Criterion Only Muddies the Water

I typically love the Criterion and it is a highlight of my Friday. I can't say I always read every article, but I read the whole thing every week and it is a great way to get a glimpse of what is going on in the Archdiocese.

Unfortunately, last Friday's Criterion featured an article from Fr. John Catoir (a priest from Catholic News Service - a person who writes nationally syndicated stuff for diocesan papers, much as a member of the AP would write stories for a local paper). Fr. Catoir's article is titled "Continuously Reforming the Church so We Remain One in Christ"

This article was troubling on two fronts.

1) If the Church is what we as Catholics believe it is (the Body of Christ) then John Knox is NOT an "outstanding Protestant reformer" as Fr. Catoir claims. John Knox is only a "reformer of the Church" if Bin Laden can be credited as a "reformer of the United States." One could certainly posit that there have been some positive fruits that have come out of 9/11, but those gains can not now be applied to Bin Laden's record to somehow lessen his offense, and the same goes for Knox. We can't now say "well, the Church reformed itself for the better in the wake of the Protestants (which is true) therefore it was a great thing that the Protestants did what they did (which is not true)." John Knox (and Luther, and Calvin, etc.) ripped a gaping wound in the Body of Christ by founding his own ecclesial community. Reforming is done from within; once you leave the Church you are no longer a reformer you are an inventor of something "new" ("new" not in the sense that no one else ever founded their own "church"). A "reformer" works within the system to fix the system no matter how broke the system might be. You can't simultaneously claim to have reformed something while maintaining said thing is the whore of Babylon.

Instead of doing the tough work of helping people to see this distinction, Fr. Catoir plays right into the Monty Python-esque over-simplification of history, specifically "In one corner we have every bishop from the middle ages, every single one of them being a rich, evil, power-hoarding, and concubine-owning brute. In the other corner - the little guys motivated by nothing but the purest and sweetest motives at every turn of the process."

2.) More significantly I'd like to address the following passage which is the 5th and 6th sentence of the article - "Did you know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches clearly that all of those who adhere to Jesus Christ as Lord are considered members of the mystical body of Christ? That means that all Protestants are our true brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what the specific differences of our belief systems."

As a person coming from the generation that I come from please allow me this rant of a response. "No kidding? We've heard this our entire lives. We know this. For some Catholics my age this is maybe the ONLY message they've heard from the pulpit of any substance their entire lives. We KNOW Protestants are our brothers and sisters in Christ, we get that, we really do, and we believe it. Now - as a priest Fr. Catoir - answer the question that is then begged by the Catechism's statement you have just cited - WHY BE CATHOLIC?"

One potential response to the question "WHY BE CATHOLIC" is simply theological relativism - "Just be a part of whatever faith tradition works for you." However, the youth and young adults of today are finding that more and more lacking, and they see that mindset being a very short distance from "do whatever the heck you want" - which is of course the mindset that most of us have seen played out in members of the preceding generation or two, and have found its results SEVERELY lacking.

The first thing I always find stunning about statements like Fr. Catoir's is that the statement is made with such a sense of surprise, as if he were the first to stumble across this insight and thought "wow, that's new; I've never heard this before!" Fr. Catoir - there are no Catholic Branch Davidian Compounds of Catholic orthodoxy where someone could have been living the past twenty years such that they never would have heard the idea that you wrote - it's been in the water at parish Churches since the Council and we get that half of the puzzle.

The other half of the puzzle (the half no one ever seems to talk about for fear of being labeled intolerant) comes from the same Catechism Fr. Catoir and many others love to reference (seemingly only when convenient). The Catechism and Church teaching is crystal clear - we ultimately believe that while it is possible to encounter Christ outside the Church, EVERY PERSON WOULD BE MOST AT HOME AND WOULD ENCOUNTER CHRIST MOST FULLY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH!

The kids I have taught over the years and all the young adults I talk with get the fact that the Church doesn't condemn non-Catholics to Hell; the question they ask persistently: "Why be Catholic??" And shame on those who don't think to answer that question, and on those too afraid to stand up and answer that question.

It's often "pastoral" priests who present to their people the half-message that Fr. Catoir laid out in last week's Criterion. But wouldn't a pastoral priest not want his people walking out of Church (or walking away from reading an Archdiocesan paper) more confused about such an important topic as how we approach people from a different faith tradition?

Unkowingly (I hope) priests like Fr. Catoir are causing further division and damage to the Catholic Church. I gave a homily last year citing BOTH the teaching that those outside the Church can still be brothers and sisters in Christ AND that a person will always become the best version of themselves in the Catholic Church. Most were thankful for the homily, but of course some people got mad, and someone actually put in my mailbox a homily from another Archindy priest who only quoted the part of the Catechism that Fr. Catoir quoted. "Hey, we're all brothers and sisters and Christ, and Muslims are people of the book, and so forth - Yeah." Because of stuff like this, other priests who hear the question from people ALL THE TIME - why be Catholic - and answer that question for their people are labeled as intolerant. If the message were coming from ALL priests, then it would carry more weight, and confusion would quickly evaporate. Marriages often fail when one parent is always the fun parent while the other is forced to do the hard work of correcting misunderstandings. Fr. Catoir et. al.: while continuing to celebrate points of unity with Protestants and others faiths, please be pastoral and start answering the question that always accompanies such a discussion - "Why be Catholic?"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Great Discussion About Thomas Merton

Over on the First Things blog, George Weigel has an excellent post on Thomas Merton - the trappist monk whose autobiography Seven Storey Mountain has continued to be a hit thirty years after his death.

Merton was a prolific writer who took up residence as a monk in Gethsemane, Kentucky. His story of his conversion to the Church was integral to my own "re-conversion" as I like to call it.

I have always struggled with Merton, though, because in his later years he gets a little to into eastern religions for my taste (although I believe Buddhism and its cousins have a lot to say to us today that is of great value). As with anyone else, when a person seems to stray from the path a bit, it forces us to call into question our preference for their work pre-departure (i.e. - John Corapi)

George Weigel (who else?) has a post talking about whether or not Merton is/would have become as "progressive" a Catholic as many people assume today. His excellent post can be read here. If you've ever read any Merton at all, I think you'll find Weigel's post most instructive.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Different Type of Youth Riot

As stories of young people rioting across Britain, and now, to a lesser extent, in Philly, Chicago, and elsewhere have caused great concern throughout the anglosphere, a different type of revolt is taking place in Madrid, Spain. Young people have poured into the city with great enthusiasm, but these young people, unlike their British counterparts, are not rioting because they are metaphysically bored - they come to celebrate their Catholic faith and to be a light to the world.

I have only been able to attend one World Youth Day in my lifetime, but it was a life-changer. World Youth Day 2005 was held in Cologne, Germany, and I was able to join several hundred ArchIndy pilgrims in Germany. The thing that touched me the most was the global nature of the Church. Having spent most of my life believing that a) as a youngster, Catholicism was something that was unique to my cultural background, or b) in college and beyond, that Catholicism was a small, seemingly insignificant minority in the U.S., so it must be so on the world stage as well - World Youth Day 2005 smashed both of those images.

Everywhere we went, we saw people - tons and tons of people! Train stations were packed to capacity with everyone smashed in shoulder to shoulder, and the wait to catch a train during peak hours sometimes approached an hour. However, instead of the standard frustrations that accompany transportation issues, the train stations echoed with songs, chants, smiles, and Salve Reginas. If you overheard someone speaking in English, a conversation would ensue - I never saw ONE person, the entire week, lose their cool.

One of my favorite moments occurred as I was going to the famous Cathedral at Cologne, and as a friend and I made our way through the crowds (did I mention there were always people everywhere?) we came around a corner and emerged into a town square packed with people, but immediately I noticed silence. I first noticed a lot of red and white flags, and then I noticed that people were holding candles as well, silently all facing the same direction. As I looked to see what they were all staring at, it all came together. On one side of the square was a ten story high photograph of Pope John Paul II (who had just passed a few months earlier), and these were Polish people keeping vigil by an image of their saint. I had read about John Paul II and loved the man, I had read about Poland and the intensity of the faith in that small, oft-abused country, but to see it on display, to encounter real people helped me realize what my mind knew, that what I had read and heard about JP II, his Polish nation, and indeed Catholicism in general was a story whose characters were real people, and the whole experience moved me to tears. I just stood there for a long time taking it all in and joining 10,000 Poles in silence.

The closing Mass was also a powerful two days. Because there are so many pilgrims, the Mass is held out in the countryside, in an area that can accommodate millions of pilgrims. In order to get everyone out there, pilgrims hike miles and miles to get there, and it happens over the course of two days, so most spend the night under the stars at the site where the Mass is held. I have no idea why, but I love flags, and so walking to the closing Mass with hundreds of thousands of people snaking along paths through German fields, all you could see was people and flags. It was so cool to see so many people pouring in from all over the world, making great sacrifices but with great joy. Some see Catholicism as something that robs people of their national identities, but there I was simultaneously intensely proud to be Catholic AND American, just as the other pilgrims seemed to simultaneously rejoice in their nationality and their Catholicism.

WYD 2011 is half way through right now, and many are once again representing our Archdiocese in Madrid, Spain. If you're curious, the following are a couple of excerpts from the Holy Father's first few addresses. As is par for the course - A+ material!

Upon Pope Benedict's arrival he addressed the Spanish delegation: "Why has this multitude of young people come to Madrid? While they themselves should give the reply, it may be supposed that they wish to hear the word of God, as the motto for this World Youth Day proposed to them, in such a way that, rooted and built upon Christ, they may manifest the strength of their faith.

Many of them have heard the voice of God, perhaps only as a little whisper, which has led them to search for him more diligently and to share with others the experience of the force which he has in their lives. The discovery of the living God inspires young people and opens their eyes to the challenges of the world in which they live, with its possibilities and limitations. They see the prevailing superficiality, consumerism and hedonism, the widespread banalization of sexuality, the lack of solidarity, the corruption. They know that, without God, it would be hard to confront these challenges and to be truly happy, and thus pouring out their enthusiasm in the attainment of an authentic life. But, with God beside them, they will possess light to walk by and reasons to hope, unrestrained before their highest ideals, which will motivate their generous commitment to build a society where human dignity and true brotherhood are respected. Here on this Day, they have a special opportunity to gather together their aspirations, to share the richness of their cultures and experiences, motivate each other along a journey of faith and life, in which some think they are alone or ignored in their daily existence. But they are not alone. Many people of the same age have the same aspirations and, entrusting themselves completely to Christ, know that they really have a future before them and are not afraid of the decisive commitments which fulfill their entire lives. That is why it gives me great joy to listen to them, pray with them and celebrate the Eucharist with them.

And from an address to the young people:
"Indeed, there are many who, creating their own gods, believe they need no roots or foundations other than themselves. They take it upon themselves to decide what is true or not, what is good and evil, what is just and unjust; who should live and who can be sacrificed in the interests of other preferences; leaving each step to chance, with no clear path, letting themselves be led by the whim of each moment. These temptations are always lying in wait. It is important not to give in to them because, in reality, they lead to something so evanescent, like an existence with no horizons, a liberty without God. We, on the other hand, know well that we have been created free, in the image of God, precisely so that we might be in the forefront of the search for truth and goodness, responsible for our actions, not mere blind executives, but creative co-workers in the task of cultivating and beautifying the work of creation."

Weekend Movie Reviews

Sorry - these were just posted on the website

Conan the Barbarian
Rating: "O" - morally offensive, Catholics should avoid seeing this film. To read the review click here

Spy Kids 4D
Rated A II - acceptable for adolescents on up, but you might want to leave younger viewers at home. To read the review, click here

One Day
Rated A-III for adults. To read a review, click here.

Fright Night
Rated "O" to read the review, click here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best Voice of All Time? - Fr. Leo Clifford

Youtube is a great place to watch reflections and talks by GREAT Catholic preachers and wise lay people giving presentations. One can find talks by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Scott Hahn, etc.

This is a priest, Fr. Leo Clifford, whose reflections are heard on Catholic Radio in the mornings, but sometimes watching a video is more enjoyable. Fr. Clifford is great - and see if he doesn't have the best voice of all time!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interesting Take on the Riots from a Fr. Finnigan, Priest in Southern London

Via Fr. Z's blog at

Fr. Finnigan notes:

"Few people have noted the irony of the appeals by the Police to parents to “contact their children.” For several decades our country has undermined marriage, the family, and the rights of parents. Agents of the state can teach your children how to have sex, give them condoms, put them on the pill, give them the morning-after pill if it doesn’t work, and take them off for an abortion if that doesn’t work – and all without you having any say in the matter or necessarily even knowing about it. Now all of a sudden, we want parents to step in and tell their teenage children how to behave."

Weekend Movie Reviews

The Help
This film is rated AIII - acceptable for teens on up. To read the review of the film, click here.

Final Destination 5
This film is rated "O" meaning Catholics ought to avoid seeing this film. To see why, read here.

Glee 3D
This film is also rated "O" for morally offensive. Catholics should not see this film. Click here to read why not.

30 Minutes or Less
This film is rate "O" and so is not to be watched by Catholics. Click here for the review.

Conspiracy Against Chant?

Until the seminary, when someone spoke about a Mass being composed, I had no idea what they were talking about. I've come to realize that when someone talks about a "Mass" musically, they mean the following: the parts of the Mass that would be sung on a typical Sunday Mass. Those pieces would include the following:

The Introit (entrance)
Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy...)
The Gloria
Santcus (Holy Holy Holy)
Agnus Dei
Communion antiphon

Some who write a Mass might include the Alleluia and the Our Father. Most Masses that get put on a CD are over the top difficult and are performed usually with highly skilled choirs.

This doesn't mean that all "Mass settings" have to be difficult, however. Sure, Mozart, Bach, Tallis, etc. all composed Masses that are famous, but there are also much simpler versions of Masses in existence.

As part of the New Translation, I recently received in the mail a catalogue offering the sheet music and CD's for more than 50 new Masses that have been composed. These are just some of the Masses that have been composed, hoping to win the hearts (and money) of parishes (and music directors at parishes) around the country

Unity Mass
Mass of Renewal
Mass of the Immigrants
Mass of Light
Mass of Joy
Mass of Joy and Peace
Mass of Grace
Mass of Charity and Love
Mass of Awakening
Mass for the City
Mass for a New World
Black Mountain Liturgy

The list goes on.

Here is the point - although you can buy song sheets, and presider's books, and CD's, and SATB choir sheets for any hundreds of Masses out there - there is nothing out there with the music the Church actually asks people to use first.

That's right - in the new Missal there is a Mass setting that wasn't written by someone trying to make a lot of money, it was put together by ... the Church. The music is in the book that priests use every day at Mass, but its black-listed for two reasons

1. There isn't nearly as much money to be made in helping parishes implement the Mass the Church has given us

and 2. The Mass the Church gives us features the red-headed step-child for pastoral musicians - chant.

Let's first of all look at the difference between chant and your standard parish music you hear in most parishes today. The first clip is a video that popped up when I searched for "All are Welcome" - a standard ditty in most parishes today. That it is being played at the "ordination" ceremony for women "priests" should be telling.

Now compare that to a very simple chant done by the monks of St. Meinrad that could be easily done by a parish community - the community repeats the refrain "by His wounds, we have been healed" while a cantor sings the verses.

Does one sound more prayerful to you?

We've looked elsewhere on this blog at the NUMEROUS places where the Church has said chant is the preferred method for music at Mass. Why - it is really quite simple - chant is prayer, while music is, usually, not prayer. Most of the stuff that passes for Church music in the U.S. today has nothing to do with prayer but is instead very often a bad attempt at theological brainwashing which seeks to produce an army of people passionate about the same fluff that the "composer" finds to be important on his own personal "value index" - an index invariably at odds with the Church's recommendation of priorities. Church music today, far from producing the effect of prayer, is very often a litany of primal chest-pounding which serves to let anyone who cares to listen know how great we are and what we like to do in the realm of social justice. Needless to say, I've never heard anything from the Gather Hymnal and thought "hum, that's really prayerful!"

On this matter, I'd like to bring in Msgr. Valentino Grau, President of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, citing an essay he wrote on chant vs. music

"Congregational Gregorian chant not only can but must be restored, along with the chanting of the schola and the celebrants, if we desire a return to the liturgical seriousness, holiness, sound form and universality that should characterize all liturgical music worthy of the could a bunch of silly tunes, cranked out in imitation of the most trivial popular music, ever replace the nobility and sturdiness of the Gregorian melodies, even the simplest ones, which are capable of lifting the hearts of the people up to heaven?"

The mindset that originally caused those with authority to look the other way as the "pop Mass songs" commenced their liturgical invasion grew out of a larger effort by some to make the Mass more "hip" or "digestible." The young people I work with, and most of the young adults that I know SCOFF at the notion that the guitarish clappy music as it is performed in most parishes today is in any way "cool" or "digestable." My kids at Ritter listen to Little Wayne, Katy Perry, and Beyonce Knowles, and my friends listen to Coldplay, John Mellencamp, and U2 - if anyone thinks that the stuff at most Masses today sounds anything like the music the past two generations listen to is sadly mistaken. The tambourine and guitar ballads that make up much of the Haugen/Haas record label come from a style of music that enjoyed about a ten year window of popularity, a window which has long since closed. If you want to be modern today, you better get some turn tables and a computer program that will crank out some rap beats.


We can give up on the 30 year experiment to be "hip" - admitting, as Cardinal Ratzinger noted, that people might actually prefer (and that God might prefer they have) a different experience at Mass than the same stuff they encounter throughout the other 167 hours of their week.

"But it is so difficult to do chant" some may argue. However, Msgr. Crau goes on "We have underestimated the Christian people's ability to learn; we have almost forced them to forget the Gregorian melodies that they knew instead of expanding and deepening their knowledge of them, through proper instruction on the meaning of the texts. Instead, we have stuffed them full of banalities."

I agree with the Msgr. 100% - it isn't rocket science - I learned chant and I can't read one note of music. Being able to chant has nothing to do with singing ability (see: me). Not everyone can sing; everyone can chant, and quite easily at that!

I close with one last thought from the Msgr. "Why this resistance to restoring, either completely or partially, depending on circumstances, the Mass with Gregorian chant and in Latin [chant can be done in English as well]?...The Church wants this. Why should we lack the courage needed for a "conversion"? Gregorian chant must not remain in the preserve of academia, or of the concert hall, or of recordings; it must not be mummified like a museum exhibit but must return as living song, sung also by the assembly, which will find therein the satisfaction of their most profound spiritual yearnings and will feel that it is truly the people of God. It is time to stop procrastinating, and the shining example must come from the cathedral churches, the major churches, the monasteries, the convents, the seminaries and the houses of religious formation, and thus even the parishes will end up finding the supreme beauty of the chant of the Church contagious."

Chant is awesome, it has changed everything about how I approach the Mass, and what I spend my time during Mass doing (at least at the Masses that utilize chant) and I think we, as a country, can pull off a return to chant that our Church has been calling us and encouraging us to for a long time.

[excerpts taken from "Gregorian Chant and Congregational Participation: the Possibilities and Conditions for a Revival." The essay is found in Musica Sacra - Sacred Music: A Liturgical and Pastoral Challenge]

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Catholic Equivalent of Shark Week

Last week saw the conclusion to NFP Awareness Week as declared by the USCCB. A little odd for a title? Maybe, but nonetheless, why not spend some time becoming more aware AND spreading awareness of NFP to others? This is one of those areas where the Church shines brightest and provides the most help for the world that is so confused about sexuality that most today don't know which way is up.

The Bishops' website has some very good materials to help people become informed about Natural Family Planning. Click here to explore all of the wonderful resources. The video at the top of this post is a preview for the following video you can order by clicking here - it looks really well done, and is only 28 minutes.

If you have questions about NFP schedule an appointment with a priest who believes in it and unlock the key to happy and successful marriages. Even those who are not currently married will benefit tremendously from learning about NFP, and enabling ourselves to spread the good news about God's plan for those who are married. Sometimes I think it is those of us who are unmarried who are most aware of the central role that the institution of marriage plays in transforming our society into a civilization of Love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Weekend Movie Reviews

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A-III Acceptable for teens on up. Interesting film during this time where scientists overseas are mixing human and animal DNA. Interesting to see what kind of commentary it might be on "Darwinism" but I'll definitely be waiting until I can rent it. Read the review here

The Change Up
Rated "O" for morally offensive - Catholics should avoid this film. To read why, click here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

IVF Embryo Adoption???

An especially convincing piece of evidence for the special place that the Catholic Church holds in the world is the field of medical ethics. While most religious traditions have almost nothing to say on sensitive (or even mundane) medical ethics questions the Catholic Church has a gigantic and impressive body of teaching on all of the various ethical questions that arise. The Church also has a body of teachings that are not simply reactive to questions AFTER they have arisen, the Church has a beautifully consistent and ancient set of teachings that can help steer medical professionals and patients as NEW horizons continually open up.

The Church is consistent on its teaching as to why embryonic stem cell research is disastrously heinous but adult stem cell research ought to be pursued with gusto; it has been consistent on the immorality of contraception and the pill while also conducting and financing cutting edge research in the fields of fertility and Napro technologies. The Church has clear teachings that condemn In Vitro Fertilization, euthanasia, cloning, research which mixes human and animal DNA, etc.

Even though the Catholic Church is essentially THE voice in the medical ethics field, some would say a fissure has recently developed in that impressive body of teachings.

The issue centers around In Vitro Fertilization. The Church has said, from the inception of the process, that IVF is gravely immoral. IVF is a process that takes sperm from a man, extracts eggs from a woman, sees the fertilization of the eggs by the sperm in a laboratory environment, and then attempts to implant the fertilized eggs in the woman. The Church says this is gravely immoral for several reasons
1) The sperm is retrieved by masturbation - a gravely immoral act in itself
2) The process of conception is stripped from its proper environment - the sexual act between husband and wife
2a) The immorality could be further complicated by the scenario where the sperm and egg donor are not the mother and father of the child. Indeed, the process could even involve a 5th parent - the surrogate mother who carries the child to term
3) The process of IVF produces multiple embryos, and there is always embryos left over. Now it is possible to see which embryos are "optimal" through genetic testing (i.e. lowest chances of birth "defects" and lowest chances for cancer, Parkinsons, etc.)

What most people don't realize is that there is always embryos "left over"; embryos not implanted either because they were rejected as "genetically inferior" and/or the process simply produces too many to implant. In 2006, CBS News reported that there were 400,000 embryos frozen in the U.S. Most storage facilities will hang on to the embryos for a few years, but after a few years, as space shrinks and electrical costs rise, most places will thaw the embryos and dispose of them.

So here is the question that has caused consternation in the Catholic medical ethics field the past few years - is it morally permissible for a woman to "adopt" a frozen embryo? As Catholics we believe wholeheartedly that the embryo is a child, but we also believe that it is wrong to in some way be complicit in a completely immoral process.

Lest the atheists revel in the predicament that Catholic ethicists find themselves in, it should be noted, at the outset, that the Church predicted this would be one of the horrible by-products of the process, and thus one of the reasons that the Pandora's Box of IVF should never be opened. Some seem to be taunting the Church's inability to speak definitively on the issue, but that really is illogical because the Church SAID IVF would cause this very issue - an issue which has no answer.

With all that background being filled in, this past week two of my favorite people, Fr. Tad Polarchyz and Dr. Janet Smith, squared off on the issue - taking different sides in the debate, and I think reading the write up on the discussion will be a very helpful read for Catholics who may field questions on this issue. Again - if people say "why doesn't the Church have an answer on this one?" the response should be "The Church does have a response - don't do IVF in the first place!"

Click here to read the write-up on the discussion by two brilliant medical ethicists from our Church.