Dying

10 12 2019

One of the most convincing challenges to Western monotheist theodicy that I can think of is one I will term the “finitude of the good.” That is, how can people we love end up doing evil things, or on the “wrong side” of morality? This question poses itself starkly when a loved one dies “outside the faith”, or if they were not a particularly pleasant person, but may have been dear to us. This person did some good, they were not an absolute waste of humanity (people seldom are). The cliché of the serial killer’s mother protesting that he was a “good boy” once rings hollow to both his victims and decent people alike. Where did that good innocent smiling boy in the photograph go? What of any of the good acts he did? Do they merely magnify the turpitude of his later actions, as Catholic theology claims when the mystery of the world is laid bare at the Last Judgment? Are they the result of karma which keeps the spirit-soul in the cycle of birth and death as the Vedas and Puranas of India indicate? Or are love and kindness just a temporary illusion of synapses flashing in the brain as the atheists proclaim? Just chemicals sloshing around in the skull… Read the rest of this entry »





Chasing shadows

9 12 2019

I must have went to my first traditional Latin Mass when I was a teenager in 1993 or 1994. The Mass took place at a Marian shrine about an hour away from our house. As I remember, the Mass was done only once a month, at 7 pm on the first Saturday. At that time, only five or six years removed from Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, the document liberalizing the use of the old Latin Mass, this dearth of celebration of the Latin Mass was quite common. Mind you, this was also pre-Internet (or widespread use of the Internet). How my old friend, blind and 80 years old, found out about it is also a mystery to me to this day. The celebrant was an old Irish-American monsignor who no doubt missed the old liturgy but had gone along with the changes anyway. The venue was the one parish where liberal bishops like to send the conservative trouble makers and rabble-rousers, the folks who write the bishop every month complaining about this or that. These people tend to now “tweet @” or message their prelates on social media. Back then, it was “snail mail” only. Read the rest of this entry »





The day I stopped being a Catholic traditionalist

6 12 2019

The title of this post is misleading. I didn’t stop being a Catholic traditionalist suddenly on a single day. That would not have been feasible anyway as I was living in a seminary on another continent with no way of promptly leaving. I don’t think I even knew at this point whether I would continue at the seminary or not. On the other hand, just as a crack in a foundation can indicate the certain demise of a building, there was one incident that signaled to me that my days of adherence to fundamentalist Catholicism were numbered. Read the rest of this entry »





Windows

24 11 2019

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I have been an inconstant seeker of the transcendent. Part of this is due to vague childhood memories of beauty. There were my grandmother’s peacocks. There was the idyllic countryside where I grew up. And there was the church. The Catholic rites were updated over a decade before my birth, but old practices and vessels take a while to get rid of. The devotions of the elderly women never left. My grandmother continued to veil her weary and withered head with a mantilla. There was that old priest or two who chanted a chunk of the Mass in Latin. But most of all, there was the building itself. I grew up in old churches, and no matter how much they wanted to alter everything right away, renovations are costly and can’t be done overnight. In my childhood parish, it took a massive earthquake for them to finally get around to gutting the sanctuary. The actual damage, however, had already been done. The shadows of the past were already cast in my mind. Read the rest of this entry »





The splendor and death of ultramontanism

15 11 2019

Reading John O’Malley’s recent book Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church in the context of the last few years of the Catholic Church is a peculiar experience. On the one hand, Vatican I shows how a Pope Francis is possible in spite of supposed centuries of settled doctrine and praxis. The Pope can do what he likes and there is no real mechanism to stop him (prima sedes a nemine iudicatur). On the other hand, the Jesuit papacy is the next stage of the backlash against Papal power that started at Vatican II (though this received a major assist from “reactionary” Pope Benedict’s casting off the Papacy in a manner unprecedented in modern times.) Previous devotees of the monarchical Papacy are now finding their “inner Gallican”, if not their barely suppressed inner sedevacantist, while rebels of the past are taking up the mantle of past defenders of the cult of the Papacy. The wheel of fortune was spun once more and turned everything upside down. Those who think that things will “return to normal” are quite mistaken in my opinion. Read the rest of this entry »





On mercy and conversion

7 11 2019

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One theme that has been persistent in my years of writing is how much I hate the modern idea of conversion. Especially in the digital age, everyone thinks their conversion to or from one thing to the other is some Earth-shaking event pregnant with metaphysical meaning. It’s as if their change of heart redefines the cosmos. I for one think that very few people’s conversions are as meaningful or edifying as what was documented in St. Augustine’s Confessions, or even of the caliber what was documented in John Henry Newman’s (not calling him “Saint” sorry) Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Most people who loudly proclaim their conversion have a long way to go in my opinion, and it shows. I don’t have anyone particular in mind; it’s more a general observation. Read the rest of this entry »





Fr. Dominique Lagneau

29 10 2019

Continuing with my informal reflections on my time in seminary, I would like to write my  remembrances of the rector of the seminary during my time there. As the cliché goes, life comes at you fast, so fast that I didn’t realize that the former rector of La Reja, Fr. Dominique Lagneau, died over six years ago now. He wasn’t an old man by any means, it seems he had a heart attack and died suddenly. He had long been transferred back to Europe, and was running an idyllic retreat center in the Alps. Perhaps a fitting assignment as his long tenure in South America was essentially an exercise in holding back the forces of chaos. Twice at least, the seminary had been robbed at gunpoint. Being in a relatively rural area, theft from the seminary was a common occurrence (one brother said that people around there would rob your last name if they could pull it off). And then there was the minor war with a local rancher who thought it was oh-so-funny to let his cattle graze in the soybean fields that surrounded the seminary, and we seminarians were often charged with rustling them out (admittedly it was great fun). Running a seminary in a Third World country – you get the idea. Read the rest of this entry »





On authority

25 10 2019

I have toyed with the idea of writing some informal reflections on my time at the Society of St. Pius X seminary of La Reja, Argentina. As this happened half my life ago, it appears now that these were among the most formative years of my life so far. You only get to be young and foolish once, I suppose. This might be of particular interest to some as I am far from a Catholic traditionalist now, though I have not discarded this identity for any other equally certain worldview. In other words, I don’t have a negative view of Roman Catholic traditionalism, or at least I don’t view it in more of a negative light than I do any other ideology. Read the rest of this entry »





Holy violence

17 10 2019

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As a supplement to my review of his book, I also present a reflection on a response that Hart himself made to another critical review of That All Shall Be Saved. In reviewing Hart’s book, Peter Leithart referred to all of the atrocities that God asked His chosen people to perform in His name, namely, annihilating entire cities and towns, including the children and animals. Leithart asks how one could reconcile this Biblical history to the idea of a good God. Hart states bluntly in Good God? A Response:

You ask if I think the YHVH of the Old Testament was “good.”  First of all, there is no single YHVH in the Hebrew corpus.  The various texts that the Second Temple redactors collated into the Torah and Tanakh emanate from various epochs in the development of Canaanite and Israelitic religion, and reflect the spiritual sensibilities of very different moments in the evolution of what would in time become Judaism.  Most of the Hebrew Bible is a polytheistic gallimaufry, and YHVH is a figure in a shifting pantheon of elohim or deities.  In the later prophets, he is for the most part a very good god, yes, and even appears to have become something like God in the fullest sense.  But in most of the Old Testament he is of course presented as quite evil: a blood-drenched, cruel, war-making, genocidal, irascible, murderous, jealous storm-god.  Neither he nor his rival or king or father or equal or alter ego (depending on which era of Cannanite and Israelitic religion we are talking about) El (or El Elyon or Elohim) is a good god.  Each is a psychologically limited mythic figure from a rich but violent ancient Near Eastern culture—or, more accurately, two cultures that progressively amalgamated over many centuries. Read the rest of this entry »





David Bentley Hart’s End of History

11 10 2019

When thinking of the problem of Hell, I recall one of the only sermons that I remember from my time in the Society of St. Pius X seminary. It was an anniversary Mass of one of the priests where he began stating that the one thing that motivated him to be a priest was the idea of Hell and that people go there. This was one of the only instances when Hell even entered into my religious considerations. As a teenage hanger-on at my mother’s Legion of Mary praesidium, I remember being recounted the vision of Hell shown to the children at Fatima in connection to that apparition’s message of penance. As with many modern people, Hell is sort of always in the background but never at the forefront of what I think concerning the meaning of human life. But for many, such as that priest, it is very much front and center of who they are as followers of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »