QUOS DEUS VULT PERDERE, CONTINUED
A Canadian reader of Mere Comments (Mark Cameron from Ottawa) sent us these remarks on some of our recent observations:
S.M. Hutchens and David Mills call out those who reject homosexual activity and same-sex blessings, but accept the ordination of women (or are willing to make tactical alliances with those who support it). As a Roman Catholic convert from Anglicanism, I obviously believe that both practices are wrong. However, there is a clear distinction between the two. Acceptance of active homosexuality is a violation not simply of Scripture and Tradition, but of the natural moral law. It is quite legitimate for people who sincerely disagree about a matter of church governance which is based on divergent interpretations of Scripture and Tradition to cooperate in defending the fundamental moral law (just as a traditional Lutheran may oppose the necessity of episcopal ordination in the apostolic succession, while a traditional Anglican supports it, yet cooperate together in convincing their respective churches to oppose abortion).
Furthermore, FIF's position, particularly in the context of the Church of England, makes more sense than Mr. Hutchens allows. The C of E has actually respected the "doctrine of reception" - the ordination of woman is not yet allowed at the level of the episcopate, and priests and parishes which object to the ordination of women can seek episcopal oversight from bishops who share this teaching and are committed not to ordain, receive communion from, or concelebrate communion with women "priests". FIF is looking for an independent province which would have its own episcopal hierarchy, and would clearly *not* be in full communion with Canterbury (although it may wish to enter discussions with Rome or Constantinople).
If FIF/NA and AAC are working together it is a) because FIF/NA has not developed as clear an ecclesiological and canonical vision as FIF/UK and b) they recognize that the AAC's quest for a alternative episcopal oversight and / or a separate province would quite naturally lead to a further division between those parishes that accepted women's ordination and those that didn't. My suspicion is that over time, the new "conservative" Episcopalian body would roll back ECUSA lunacy on many issues, such as acceptance of abortion, and would gradually come to make some uncomfortable decisions about women's ordination and divorce and remarriage. FIF/NA is right to be working with them as allies, because the integrity and logic of the catholic position on women's ordination, divorce, and other issues will eventually win over more and more of the evangelicals, particularly without the catholic-looking but atheist acting liberals there to cause mischief.
What was so interesting about the publication I cited was its complete ingenuousness. On one hand the FIF/NA flatly states that women's ordination is a departure from Christian faith and order, and then on the other proposes joining a group that accepts it in "the creation of an orthodox [ ! ] Province of the Anglican Communion in North America." The logical and theological incoherence of this is, rather refreshingly I suppose, clear on its face.
Our correspondent, however, does the writers the service of smoothing things over. He supposes--and he may be right--that the alliance is being made because FIF/NA wishes to avoid further division between parishes that accept women's ordination and those that don't. But according to what the president of that organization says, women's ordination is part of an open rebellion against Christian faith and order. If this is so, what kind of religious alliance can be formed here, and how, for heaven's sake, can it be termed "orthodox?" May one venture to say that orthodoxy and open rebellion against Christian faith and order would seem just a tad incompatible? How could there be any more division than this to be avoided?
Now, the first-page writers in Forward Now may be indulging in hyperbole. They may believe that women's ordination isn't all that bad. Or, as is more likely, they may believe that Anglican evangelicals who favor it but are otherwise orthodox are people they can get along with, at least for the time being. They emphatically define this practice, however, in terms that can only be used for apostasy--and then state their intention of becoming a part of it.
It is quite possible they share Mr.Cameron's optimism that sometime in the future, once the papers are drawn up and the union is consummated, the AAC parishes will change their minds on a few things, put away their priestesses as the sons of Israel put away their foreign wives, and, hey presto, the incoherence will fade away.
Perhaps it will be so, but a subjunctive prediction of peace and reason doesn't make this incoherence any more coherent, nor does it make the marriage look more promising than any in which a prospective spouse proposes to reform the partner once the knot is tied.
In the next blog after the one I quote below, "Dry the starting tear", one of the lawyers who sued the Archdiocese of Boston claims that even though the lawyers got one-third of the $85 million settlement, "Using the most conservative and realistic calculations, we actually lose money on this."
I know he's a lawyer, but shouldn't he be just a little embarassed at telling what must be a bare-faced lie? He claims to have lost money on an income of about 28 million dollars? Oh, yeah, right. Sure.
FLYNN PLAYS IT DOWN THE MIDDLE:
Fans of our "The Godless Party" issue will be interested to know that the former mayor of Boston and Clinton-appointed ambassador to the Vatican, Ray Flynn, has started a group called "Your Catholic Voice." Dominico Bettinnelli quotes Mr. Flynn on "Off the Record", the blogsite of Catholic World News and comes to the same conclusion we did.
In response to Steve Hutchens' blog "Status Quo Anti-" (below), our business manager Geoff Battersby wrote:
I was reminded by Steve's blog this morning of a sticker I saw on the back window of a car yesterday: it depicted the Christian fish symbol on a frying pan. No words, just the image. Is this "hate speech?"
to which our development officer Ken Tanner replied:
Is it supposed to be a spin on those drug commercials featuring an egg cracked into a white-hot iron skillet? "This is your brain on Christianity"?
HEADSHIP IN AUSTRALIA:
An Australian Presbyterian pastor just wrote me in response to something I'd written:
Your comments about the renewal groups having (disastrously) conceded on women in ministry is spot on. Of course they would not concede your phrase "headship of women". However, here in Melbourne where Anglicans and the Uniting Church ordain women (and have more than 50% women in their theological colleges), there are many parishes with sole woman minister and within the next 20 years at a very practical level it will be seen to have delivered largely men free churches.
An (evangelical) Anglican ministerial colleague conceded to me that she would not put a non church going couple, bringing a child forward for baptism, through any kind of Christian education course because she felt uncomfortable teaching men. In my own denomination we rolled back on women ministers and women elders in the early 1990's because, as you would say, the Scriptures demand it and the tradition supports it (but it wasn't easy and quite a lot of blood was spilt).
Not surprisingly, the proportion of men in our churches is significantly greater than in Anglican/Uniting churches. Men are simply uncomfortable with women in charge and that's because of the way God made us, full stop.
However, there may be an ameliorating factor at work amongst evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, with multiple Pastors - the women never get to be the senior Pastors.
Actually, having until recently worked in the Evangelical Episcopal seminary, I have to say that the Evangelicals in favor of women's ordination, which is nearly all of them, don't mind women pastors running the show. I know one who said he believed the Stott/Packer "women can be ordained but not the heads of the community" line (ridiculous as it is) who regularly preached sermons for the installation of women graduates as the rector (or chief pastor) of a parish. That is, he celebrated their appointment as the head of a community.
The connection of sex and headship is one these Episcopal Evangelicals utterly reject. As you would guess, they always invoke Galatians 3:28 to justify the innovation, and in the most sweeping way. The problem with their argument - one that they have never seen, or let themselves see - is that if sex doesn't matter . . . sex doesn't matter. They've undermined their own ability to respond to the homosexualist claims. If "there is no male or female in Christ" means what they claim it means in relation to the pastoral office, there is no male or female in Christ in relation to marriage.
But exegetically, they are stuck. The distinction that would rule out homosexual marriage would also rule out women pastors, or at least raise questions very difficult to answer in the way they want to answer them. So far they have solved this problem by simply reading Galatians 3:28 in two opposite senses, one abolishing sexual distinction and the other not.
But having mauled Scripture in this way, they ought not to expect the rest of us to take them seriously. I must admit that when I see these Episcopalians, represented by the American Anglican Council, react so strongly to the approval of the openly homosexual Canon Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, and howl in pain that the Episcopal Church has rejected Scripture, I do find it hard to sympathize.
Years ago they jumped on their skateboards and shot off down the slippery slope, when it seemed a really fun thing to do and besides, everyone was doing it except a few old cowards and old fogies, and who wants to be out of step with the crowd? They have no right to complain now, when some of their comrades are dragging them farther down the slope than they intended to go.
If they didn't want to hit the rocks at the bottom, they shouldn't have started down the slope. Even now they can get off their skateboards and start the long, tiring (and a little embarassing) march back up the slope, but they won't. They'll just band together to try to hold themselves steady half-way down the slope. Good luck.
To change subjects: responding to my Australian correspondent's report about his woman colleague's remark, I would note that many, and I suspect most, of the women who trained for ordination at the seminary wanted to do stereotypically feminine jobs. They wanted to run education programs or visit people in the hospital or organize small groups, but very few wanted to run a parish. Their instincts were better than their theology.
One once told me emphatically that her husband was her head and the head of their home, and as she talked about her calling (or what she thought was her calling) I realized what she really wanted to be was a sort of parish den mother. She had no idea of the pastoral office as an office of authority. Another woman, much more feminist, once told me that she thought of celebrating Holy Communion as "setting the table for my family." It is the sort of thing a mother would do, but she did not think of it as an act of proclamation or as a sacrifice, as an act of authority. (Her Evangelicalism was more a matter of personal four-spiritual-laws piety than Reformation theology.)
Many of these women (though not the second) would happily have been deaconnesses, were that office still available in the Episcopal Church: women officially set aside - recognized and celebrated - to help others. But the innovators seem to have realized this and decided to eliminate the office in order to force women who wanted to do such work to be ordained.
The effect, as some of them realized, is to feminize the pastorate, which is to say, reduce and if possible eliminate its authority. And thereby to feminize the church, which is to say, reduce and if possible eliminate the men. Not all the males, mind you, just the men.
One of our regular readers, an interesting young woman living in Chicago (a teacher, I think, but I'm not sure), writes:
I came across a very interesting website several days ago: Ladies Against Feminism. This website, which has a strong Reformed background, but seems to be for all Christians, is about helping Christian women be Christian ladies. It's full of lovely, old-fashioned graces, everything from dressing modestly to homemaking to real letter writing (not e-mail).
STATUS QUO ANTI--
Yesterday I saw a car with bumper stickers all over its rear of the Hug-a-Tree, Stay-Out-of-Iraq, Phooey-on-Bush, God-Bless-Darwin variety. Sure enough, driving it was an elderly gentleman with a beard. The hippies are getting old, but are distinguished from other examples of senility by having lost their grip fifty years ago.
An interesting and useful source for news about college life: the Campus Ministry Update from the Ivy Jungle Network. Most of the entries will be of interest mostly to people with special interest in college life, e.g. someone like me whose eldest is now a senior in high school. But it also carries items of cultural significance, like (from the August newsletter):
* Internet More Popular than TV: A report by MSNBC shows that young people (ages 13-24) now spend more time online than watching TV. The numbers come from a Yahoo! Online survey which indicates that these people (who may be a somewhat self selected group) spend an average of 16.7 hours each week online č excluding email. In comparison, they watch TV for 13.6 hours a week, listen to the radio for 12 hours, talk on the phone for 7.7 hours, and only spend six hours a week reading books. The numbers reinforce an earlier report from AOL which indicated internet usage of 12+ hours per week and a Pew Internet and American Life Research survey which indicates over one third of US teenagers are online. (CPYU #41 July 31, 2003)
* Ads Don't Affect Binge Drinking: Since the mid 1990's many college campuses have adopted a "social norms" advertising campaign to reduce binge drinking. The ads sought to ease peer pressure by informing students that while binge drinking may seem the norm in college culture, the facts are that a majority of students do not do it. However, a report by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study found that abuse did not decrease on campuses using the ad campaign, and by a few measures actually increased. The report surveyed 98 campuses, 37 of whom employed the social norms campaign.
Their findings indicated no decrease in drinking. Henry Welchsler explained the study's conclusion that small group pressure (fraternities, sororities, close friends, etc.) holds much greater sway than large marketing campaigns. On a large campus, students care what their friends are doing - not what the other 20,000 students are up to. Welscher recommends that states and municipalities crack down on low-priced alcohol specials offered by many bars and liquor stores near campuses as an alternative to the social norms marketing, which he labels a "feel good program" that looks good, is inexpensive to implement (most are subsidized by the alcohol industry), but do no work. (AP July 24, 2003)
The last news gives us evidence of something most of us knew already, which is helpful. Most people, including most conservatives, have enough of old Rousseau in them to expect people to change their lives if you talk earnestly enough to them.
Though some of these become realists when, one has to suspect, they don't really want people to change. As, for example, those who pushed "just say no" campaigns against teenage drug abuse but declared that teenagers must be given condoms because they were going to keep having sex no matter what anyone said.
Two sites you may want to know about, carrying the insights of Dr. Albert Mohler, the dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a friend of Touchstone's:
- his weblog, to which he contributes a reflection on some current subject every day; and
- Fidelitas, which contains many of the things he wrote before he began writing the weblog.
He is an insightful writer, but he also provides a good deal of useful information. For example, from his entry for September 8th:
Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms. According to 82 percent of Americans, "God helps those who help themselves," is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better - by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one's family.
Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.
In the 1988, as the Soviet Union's days were running out, over 4.6 million abortions were performed. Last year, that number had dropped to 1.7 million, but 60 percent of first pregnancies in Russia still end in abortion. The official state policy has made abortion easily accessible and virtually free.
. . .That is changing. Russian lawmakers have just passed the first restrictions on abortion since Joseph Stalin's ban on the procedure was lifted in 1955. Abortion in all three trimesters has been readily available. But now, women seeking late term abortions must cite one of four "special circumstances" or the procedure will be denied. This hardly amounts to a reversal on abortion policy, but it does represent a first step toward the recovery of a human life ethic.
I have mentioned this recently, but since I'm promoting his weblog I should mention that we have posted the paper he gave at our last conference, "Standing together, standing apart" as well as my response, "Standing with Christ".
VARIETIES OF SUICIDAL EXPERIENCE
There are, I suppose, as many ways for a church to kill itself as there are for a man, and as many perverse compulsions to self-murder, inexplicable to those whom they have never seized, as one could imagine in a dream. I have heard of men who hung themselves up naked and simultaneously shocked and throttled themselves; I have seen film footage of the fascist novelist Yukio Mishima disemboweling himself. Now, as if from the same nightmare, one is constrained to watch the suicide of the Episcopal Church.
I am not referring here simply to the majority who recently made an active and impenitent homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire, but to the "orthodox" Episcopalians news of whom I keep receiving in the mail. In last week's post came something called Forward Now, a publication of Forward in Faith North America (FIF/NA) in which the trumpet of offended orthodoxy was once again sounded.
Its opening statement, by the organization's president, declares that the "revisionist majority has taken the Episcopal Church out of the Christian religion and severed it from any claim to uphold Biblical, Catholic, Apostolic, and Evangelical Faith and Order. This departure, open rebellion, and act of schism is decades old, beginning with the ordination of women to the priesthood and reaching a climax with a mockery of God's moral order for sexual relationships . . . . The Episcopal Church as a denomination has willfully created a new religion."
Note that the president of the organization places ordination of women among the breaches of biblical, Catholic, apostolic, and Evangelical faith and order. On the very same front page, however, appears this "Statement From Our FIF/NA Officers": "Forward in Faith/North America today welcomed the decision by the American Anglican Council to join it in calling for the creation of a new, orthodox, Anglican province in the United States . . . . FIF/NA is the oldest and largest organization of Anglicans in the Americas who uphold the historic, Biblical teaching, practice and order of the Church, [and] regards the ordination of women as a violation of that teaching, practice and order. The American Anglican Council has a similar purpose, but accepts the ordination of women. In 1997, FIF/NA agreed to work with the AAC as partners to resist continuing attempts within The Episcopal Church to revise ´the faith once delivered to the saints.' "
These FIF/NA people are all good folks, and I wish them well, but they are clearly insane, and far advanced in the process of killing themselves off. Only the insane could, with sincere intentions, and on the same page, declare that the ordination of women is open rebellion, an act of schism, and part of the creation of a new religion, and then go on to tell their readers that in order to resist all this they are joining with an organization that accepts the ordination of women.
Once again "orthodox" Episcopalianism sounds the loud battle trumpet, as did the Episcopal Synod of America in the early ´90's when it promised the formation of a separate jurisdiction not in communion with heretical bishops in the Episcopal Church, and straightway beat a retreat into noisy dithering when it discovered that the proposed battle had proposed costs. While this was happening, numbers and support continued to shrink as it became more and more difficult to take them seriously, and the Episcopal Church kept steady pressure on orthodox priests and bishops to cooperate or leave.
Now the long expected sodomitical bishop has made his appearance, and we learn it is really, really, really the last straw. To prove it, FIF/NA is going to join forces with a group with a "similar purpose" in upholding orthodoxy, its only problem being that it is in departure, rebellion, and open schism from the teaching, practice, and order of the Church.
Drugs! It must be drugs.
Here is the press release from Grove City College about the new book by our contributing editor Dr. Gillis Harp, who teaches history there. His very helpful "Phillips Brooks: A Cautionary Tale" -- an insight into the childhood of contemporary religious liberalism -- appeared in the March 2001 issue.
History professor completes book on 19th century preacher
GROVE CITY, Pa. - Grove City College Professor of History Dr. Gillis J. Harp recently completed a book on 19th century pastor Phillips Brooks. Harp's publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, will officially release the work in October.
Brahmin Prophet: Phillips Brooks and the Path of Liberal Protestantism is part of a series of books titled "American Intellectual Culture" edited in part by Jean Bethke Elshtain, one of eight speakers in a 125th anniversary series on the Grove City College campus in 2001.
Professor Daniel Walker Howe, formerly of UCLA and now at England's Oxford University, called Harp's book "a fascinating, original account of one of America's greatest preachers."
"The author," he continued, "draws upon historical, literary, architectural, and theological analysis to demonstrate the ways Phillips Brooks reflected and transformed his times -- concluding with a sober assessment of his legacy in our own day."
Brooks, author of the beloved Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," was also one of the most popular preachers in Gilded Age America. Harp's biography on Brooks examines his life and work and outlines how Brooks became a leading spokesman for the liberal Broad Church movement within the
In preparation, Harp traveled extensively to research manuscript collections throughout the United States and Britain. A major collection of Brooks' papers is found at Harvard University, but Harp also worked with sources in Texas, New York and Virginia. The pastor was also known to have many British friends, so Harp also visited libraries at Canterbury and Oxford.
Work for the book, which was made possible by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, began in the early 1990s.
"My graduate training at the University of Virginia was in American intellectual history and my first book was a study of American social thought in this same period," Harp said. "One of my interests was to understand better from an historical perspective the current theological and ethical controversies within the Protestant mainline."
Harp, also the author of Positivist Republic: Auguste Comte and the Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1920 (Penn State Press, 1995), is currently researching and writing a paper on the disappearance of the Evangelical party within the Episcopal Church during the late 19th century.
Brahmin Prophet: Phillips Brooks and the Path of Liberal Protestantism is available at Rowan & Littlefield.com and Amazon.com. Harp has been a member of the Grove City College faculty since 1999.
WHEN WILL THEY LEARN?
Today's news stories on Zenit.org contains a report on a meeting called "Men and Religions," held in Aachen, Germany, organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio and the local Roman Catholic archdiocese. The headline is: "Russian Orthodox: Time for a Change in Ties With Catholic Church; But Metropolitan Kyrill Says Ecumenism Is at a Dead End."
Although I do not agree entirely with Moscow's objections to Roman Catholic proselytism in Russia, I do take comfort from the Russian observation that the ecumenical movement, co-opted by Western secularist forces, has reached a dead end.
I might have wished, nonetheless, that this point had been spelled out in greater and clearer detail. The major offender in this respect is certainly the World Council of Churches, and it would be helpful to state explicitly what one can only regard as a self-evident fact.
For the rest, the comments here are pretty much what one would expect:
Cardinal Kasper says that Western Christianity "has much to learn from the East," while continuing the concerted effort not to learn any of it.
The Russian Metropolitan, while not actually saying so, continues to act on the thesis that Eastern Christianity has not a damned thing to learn from the West.
Why do they keep having these dumb meetings? Why don't they all knock it off for a couple of years, devote their time to studying the pages of Touchstone, and then reassess the whole endeavor?
MORE ON DC MEETING:
Here is Greg Popcak's take on it.
He is happy that the bishops at least heard us; I saw no signs that they intended to change; in fact, they clearly indicated that in the matter of appointing dissenters, they definitely would not change.
Greg is a therapist, and he also picked up on how conflict-averse the bishops are.
He mentioned to me after the meeting that his undergraduate textbooks in psychology in the mid-1980s (ah, youth!) clearly stated that pedophilia was not curable - but Rossetti and others who treat offending priests still haven't gotten the message.
I don't expect forthright leadership from the bishops; the personality type that the Vatican has carefully selected makes them incapable of giving it. We are bound as fellow Christians to correct them in fraternal charity when in our eyes they fail to fulfill the responsibilities of their office, but ultimately they must answer to God, not to us.
Apart from that, we can do little about their inaction. What we can do is pursue holiness ourselves with greater zeal and simplicity: through more diligent prayer, reception of the sacraments, and studying of the ancient sources of truth in Scripture and the Fathers. We also will answer to the Just Judge of all. The failures of bishops may make it more difficult for us to fulfill our responsibilities, such as raising our children in the faith, but they do not excuse us from working to fulfill them with all the strength that God has given us.
My report on the meeting has been picked up by other blogs and given rise to what diplomats call a frank exchange of views (i.e., an all-out brawl). I will survey the discussions and respond to anything of substance.
THOU ART A WIMP FOREVER:
I went to the meeting with the bishops that Deal Hudson and Russell Shaw arranged. I did not expect much, and I was not disappointed.
The bishops were told 1. that they had to be more direct in dealing with dissenting Catholics, and 2. that they should at the least stop appointing notorious pro-abortion politicians to prominent committees (Leon Panetta at the national Review Board).
The response to 1 : we are family, doing anything might make matters worse and only help pro-abortion politicians
The response to 2 : if his bishop vouches for the orthodoxy of any member of his flock, no other bishop will ever question that decision.
We were asked not to quote people, so I will quote myself:
"We all know that bishops were chosen by the Vatican because they are diplomatic, unifiers, team players, collegial. These are good qualities. However these qualities also lead to a reluctance to confront evil, even when confrontation is necessary. This reluctance led to the scandals. When people who knew the bishop responsible were asked how the bishop could ever let such a thing go on, they invariably replied, 'He hates confrontation more than anything.'
"Bishops have to be willing to go against their personalities and confront evil. We are in a battle, we are losing it. The more Catholic a state (or Canadian province), the more pro-abortion the politicians. Catholic societies have the lowest birth rates in the world. The policy of accommodation of the past 30 years has not worked. Confrontation may not work either, but we have to try it, and at least go down fighting."
This was the message which almost all the participants gave to the bishops, with various degrees of tact.
But, as was obvious, nothing will change.
Hostility (see Mark Shea's blog) is generally reserved for those who complain about outrageous goingsčon, not the people who perpetrate the outrages. A bad conscience hurts.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the USCCB
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C.
Bishop William Friend of Shreveport, LA
Msgr. William Fay, USCCB General Secretary
Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, USCCB Communications Director
Kathleen McChesney, director of the USCCB's Office of Child and
Raymond Arroyo, EWTN News Director
Pat Cipollone, Kirkland & Ellis partner
William Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and
Greg Erlandson, Publisher of Our Sunday Visitor
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Professor of History at Emory University
Dr. Robert George, Professor of Politics at Princeton University
Frank Hanna, III, CEO of HBR Capital, Ltd.
Barbara Henkels, Board Member of the Catholic Leadership Conference
Paul Henkels, CEO of Henkels & McCoy, Inc.
Tom Hoopes, Executive Editor of National Catholic Register
Mother Assumpta Long, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the
Peggy Noonan, commentator and columnist for the Wall Street Journal
Robert Novak, commentator with CNN
Kate O'Beirne, Senior Editor of National Review
Fr. David O'Connell, President of the Catholic University of
Timothy O'Donnell, President of Christendom College
Russell Shaw, co-host of the meeting, writer and editor
Gene Zurlo, President of the Catholic Radio Association
Denis Coleman, Ambassador for the American Consulate in Bermuda
Bernard Dobranski, Dean of Ave Maria School of Law
Jeffrey Wallin, President of the American Academy for Liberal
William Plunkett, Jr., Plunkett & Jaffe partner
Leon Suprenant, President of Catholics United for the Faith
Sister Joseph Andrew, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the
Patrick Madrid, Publisher of Envoy Magazine
Father Richard Gill, L.C., Director of Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat
Gregory Popcak, Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute
Dr. Thomas Dillon, President of Thomas Aquinas College
Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Office of Lt. Governor for the state of
Fr. Terence Henry, President of Franciscan University
Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life
Carol McKinley, Faithful Voice
Rep. Michael Ferguson, U.S. House of Congress
Mark Ryland, Vice-President of the Discovery Institute
Kathryn Jean Lopez, Associate Editor of National Review
John Klink, former Diplomat of the Holy See to the UN
Leon Podles, Senior Editor of Touchstone Magazine
Cortes DeRussy, former President of Federated Capital Corporation
Brian Saint-Paul, Editor of CRISIS Magazine
In response to my blog "Meaningful movies" of a couple of weeks ago, a reader writes a stimulating letter, though she made me feel guilty about enjoying Arsenic and Old Lace so much:
One of the buried issues here is Christian embarrassment, the hatred of being identified with the Mrs. Grundy's who infested every church half a century ago. We could well pray for 'beginner mind' in looking at these things, or will predictably fall into either 'it's only a movie,' or 'there's good and bad in everything.' Or the plaintive 'I like John Wayne.'
Arsenic and Old Lace is a really charming slant on, as the plot summary says, the obscuration of serial murder: "Mortimer tries to keep his aunts safe and prevent them from continuing their nasty habit while trying to stay sane with the woman he loves." Hard to think of a narrative structure more harmonious with the Culture of Death in denial about the killing of the unwanted, and the protection of the killers and their families from social disgrace.
My own vote is that watching Sex and the City consciously aware of the emptiness of the assumptions and lives portrayed in it, is probably preferable to the inevitable elicited sympathy for the Cary Grant figure, and very sympathetic and amusing he is too.
Everybody has their favorites, their exceptions. One of mine is Fargo, though I wonder about the seductively near-pagan false nobility, the suggestion of subhumanity, in the bullfight-like sequence with the villain in the last five minutes. Psychologically and spiritually the issue is not only the content, and the assumptions. It's the going limp in the presence of these leisure stories designed to make us go limp.
Perhaps relaxation should be reserved for interaction with dinner and wine with those of like mind, or prayer. These packaged entertainments are most likely trojan horses of assumption, narrative arc, and imagery.
The allocation of time is another matter, but I suspect those who are most scrupulous about it especially need relaxation. It's hard to go too far wrong with really fine Shakespeare, I recommend Jonathan Miller's The Taming of the Shrew with its luminous if arduous take on the formation of the soul; and Twelfth Night, the movie, with its un-neat eschaton of the foolish servant. Trollope is also good fun, with a moral center. Fawlty Towers has no moral center, but Cleese' snowballing frustration is much less seductive than Cary Grant and provides the endorphins of laughter.
All this rambling suggests that IMO keeping up with even the conservative culture is a dicey proposition of spiritual exposure, and is best considered a task and not a reward.
The same reader sent a link to another blogsite, which in a blog titled "A Possible Use for Television" suggested using television shows as a tool for teaching children. (My internet provider, which filters what it lets through, won't let me reach this site, presumably because it blocks all free sites, no matter what their content.) For example, the writer says, after watching the typical show ask what
would be the harm to others committed by all these cute, funny, and solitary sins. You could begin with St. John Vianney's observation that each mortal sin is a nail in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and follow up with some other questions. How often do people act however they wish, according to what makes them feel good at the moment, even if breaks a promise or hurts someone else? How often are children's needs treated as secondary to the sexual and romantic lives of adults? Is that fair to the children?
How often are people lied about, or tell their own lies? How often does a character's vanity, selfishness, or arrogant pride cause another's unhappiness? When the characters appear to confess a fault, do they show true humility or are they usually trying to justify themselves or blame another? Are faults and wrongs truly forgiven, or are confessions and apologies only used as an occasion to get "one up" on the person who's done wrong?
I am not surprised at the experience related by one of our readers in the previous blog, "Cranmerian Presbyterians." I think Anglican morning prayer a beautiful service - beautiful not only in the usual sense, e.g. the prose is gorgeous, but beautiful in the sense that truth is beautiful. And when sung by a good choir to a classic setting, in a beautiful church, it is one of the most perfect combinations of beauty in both senses known to man.
I am also not surprised that morning "prayer meetings" failed but liturgical Morning Prayer caught on. There is a lot to be said for predictable liturgy, because people know what they are getting when they arrange their days to be at church at a certain time. The unknown can annoy you or waste your time. This is why almost every town has the same set of chain restaurants and why a chain hotel's every room looks the same.
And with ad hoc prayer meetings, there's a good chance what is done will annoy you or waste your time. The quality depends upon the person running it and a lot of people, sweet, sincere, and well-meaning, can't run a prayer meeting, but they are often the sort of people who will try.
Predictability has its advantages. I am not saying that this is always a good thing, but it does seem to reflect the way people are and someone who wants to get them into church must remember that. Even the big "church growth" productions, like the Willow Creeks, offer a predictable product, making sure the "seeker" (non-, a-, or once-religious visitor) is not given any discomforting surprises.
One of our readers recently wrote us asking for help in finding books on chanting the psalms, and among other things we suggested was the translation of the Psalter by Miles Coverdale, used in the Book of Common Prayer. He wrote back with an interesting story, which he gave me permission to share:
Following your recommendation of the Coverdale Translation, I purchased a copy of the 1662 Prayer Book and have been following a set Morning and Evening Prayer for the first time in my life. I was so captivated by it that I decided to begin a Morning Prayer also with our congregation, which is Presbyterian.
When I first proposed this daily prayer, I expected no one to be a part of it. We live here in a climate of extemporaneous prayer, free Church and strong charismatic movements. I certainly did not expect anyone to come in view of the fact that I was going to be following a prayer book that is Anglican AND several hundred years old.
In any event I announced the hours of prayer, and instructed the congregation that we would be using the 1662 prayer book. Lo and behold, people came in their droves. No one was more surprised than I, as in times past I tried to start morning ´prayer meetings' but no one joined them. Now we have a large group of Presbyterians who meet daily for Cranmerian prayer.
What does this say about our cultural obsession with modernity? The sad thing is that after we started, I approached the local Anglican Priest to see if they too had a morning prayer group, and he told me they did not. Might that have something to do with the fact that they use modern service books?