Holy, or False, Innocence?

holy innocentsMarc Bauerlein has an insightful essay on false innocence in the recent issue of First Things, describing those who feign an innocence that, perhaps at some level they think they have, but, deeper down, in their heart of hearts, in that still, small voice of conscience I alluded to in my last post, they know they do not.


Today we celebrate true innocence, and true innocents, on this blessed feast of the Holy Innocents, a commemoration of all the ‘male children under two years’, murdered, and we say martyred, by Herod’s soldiers in Bethlehem and surrounding region, as he sought to destroy the Christ, whom Herod considered a rival to his throne.  Of course, ‘the Christ’ had already been taken to exile in Egypt, as the Holy Family fled the wrath of Herod at the warning of an angel.


To be declared a martyr, one must be killed in odium fidei, in hatred of the faith, and that is the case with these children, although they knew it not.   But they rejoice in heaven with all the angels.


We may also hope that these victims of the first Christian-era holocaust now rejoice with all the murdered children in our own day and age, not least those killed by the euphemistic-medical term ‘abortion’.  Pope Saint John Paul II in paragraph 99 of his Evangelium Vitae gives us hope that all the voiceless victims of abortion are in heaven, wherein he declares to mothers who have had abortions:


The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.


He comes close to canonizing the victims of abortion, but stops just short with the virtue of hope, for we know that no one can be lost just due to original sin, which is not a personal sin, of which these children are free.  At the same time, outside of baptism, there is no revelation as to how such children are saved; but the Catechism offers sure hope:


As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. (#1261)


And just a few paragraphs earlier:


God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. (#1257)


This is not to downplay the gravity of the crime of abortion, nor the crime of Herod, whom we might in some way term the original modern-day ‘abortionist’, killing innocent children who were an inconvenience to him.


Herod was not innocent, and neither we may presume are our modern leaders who support the illusory ‘right’ to abortion.  This is perhaps the darkest aspect of our photogenic Prime Minister, who is all smiles, hugs and high-fives, except, that is, on a few issues, where he gets all down and serious, and one of these ‘issues’ dear to his heart is the unquestioned right of women to ‘terminate their pregnancies’, about which he will brook no opposition. nor debate.


Trudeau seems to fall with Herod into the camp of the false innocents, those who claim to be doing the right thing, when, all along, they are doing the wrong thing, whether they know it or not.  We all suffer from this malady of a disordered and rationalized conscience, but some seem to suffer from it on a rather grand and breathtaking scale.


I wonder if such people examine their conscience?  I even wonder if they know what a conscience is, how to define this act within the human soul, its constituents, how to form said conscience?  From my years of teaching, and the sad state of catechetics even amongst Catholics, I have my grave doubts.  Does Trudeau sleep well at night?  Does he ever question his principles, his values, wondering perhaps he may not have it right, maybe even with the words of today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah sounding in his soul:


Thus saith the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuseth to be comforted for her children, because they are not. (Jer 31:15)


There are an untold number of children who ‘are not’, and not just because of surgical abortion, which has claimed several million lives here in Canada alone since its legalization in 1969 under Trudeau’s father.   There are also the children killed in very early stages by the morning-after pill and abortifacient contraceptives.   And what of the myriads of children who never existed because of contraception itself (also legalized in the same bill by Trudeau Sr.), or because women (and men) were too busy with careers, ambition, travel, ‘life experiences’, to have children, or to get married in the first place.


Yes, how many children ‘are not’ because of what John Paul II termed the culture of death, still marching on under Trudeau Jr.  I suppose Mr. Trudeau could be in a state of what was quaintly termed ‘invincible ignorance’, which, again, the great John Paul II described strictly in Veritatis Splendor as “an ignorance of which the subject is not aware and which he is unable to overcome by himself” (#62).  A stretch, perhaps, in Trudeau’s case, but even if true, a man of such profound ignorance could scarcely run his own life, never mind a country.  Even in the case of such invincible ignorance, although one’s personal guilt may be diminished, the evil is still an evil, and the conscience disordered and malformed.  Again, in the immortal words of the Holy Father:


It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience.  It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good (#63)


And few disorders, whether in ignorance or not, produce worse evils than abortion and infanticide.


But enough.  Today, in the midst of the joyous Christmas octave, we celebrate the real first martyrs of the Church, while Christ Himself was still an infant.  As their name implies, they were in -fans, literally unable to speak, but as today’s Office of Readings declares via the 5th century bishop Quodvultdeus (I love his name, ‘whatever God wills’)


How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.


Amen to that.  We need not speak to proclaim Christ, but, rather, live and die for Him, in whatever span of time He gives us.  We should pray to the victims of our modern holocausts, that they intercede for us and their persecutors, that we all may grow in the love of God, our love for each other, and for life itself and that we all may, as the good bishop’s own name implies, ‘do whatever He wills’.


Thoughts on Life and Death on the Feast of Saint Stephen

saint stephenA very merry, holy and joyous Christmas to all our readers!  The twelve days of Christmas traditionally goes until the solemnity of the Epiphany, on January 6th (in Canada, as with so many of our feasts, transferred to the nearest Sunday).  But Christmas began yesterday, so continue the celebration!


But to the point at hand:  Quebec makes one more giant step towards its own cultural and demographic suicide just in time for Christmas, with the top court of the province siding on December 22nd with the government against a group of physicians who asked for a delay in implementing the law (Quebec’s legislative assembly legalized ‘euthanasia’ on December 10th).  Doctors are now permitted, and will soon be required one may predict, to carry out what is euphemistically termed ‘assisted suicide’, but is really physician-assisted-murder, as I described last year in the case of Brittany Maynard .  Sad, sad, sad, when the only way out is murder-suicide.  What was once la belle province, and the bastion of Catholicism in North America, is now often a bellwether of our cultural and moral decline.


It may not be long before the rest of Canada follows suit, with the ruling of our federal Supreme Court in favour of such physician-assisted suicide last February.  But the federal government is finding it difficult to craft reasonable legislation in this area, mainly due to the fact that it is so unreasonable.  There is already talk of ‘age discrimination’ in forbidding the option of murder-suicide to children, and an ‘expert panel’ has recommended that children be given the option of  choosing death as well.  Who’s to say who is too young, especially when the suffering is ‘unbearable’?   As Maureen Taylor, a ‘physician assistant’, whose thoughts say volumes about our modern medical establishment, put it:


We just didn’t feel that to make an arbitrary decision that, at 17 years and 364 days you wouldn’t meet the criteria, but the next day you would, we felt that wasn’t the way to go.


I have argued the same thing about our oppressive alcohol laws, but that is a whole different moral question than seeking death at the hands of your doctor.  The powers-that-be are fine with making it illegal for a ‘child’ at 18 years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to drink a beer, but, hey, go ahead and have yourself offed at your local outpatient clinic at the tender age of 12.  Will such ‘children’ need their parents’ permission, I wonder?


And we need not speak just of physical suffering, for even depression, ennui, boredom with life can be grounds for seeking death.  Who’s so say what pain is sufficient for entering into the great beyond where there is no suffering (or so they presume).  Any legislation opening the door to physicians killing people will be a moral quagmire leading to great evil, as the German people found out under the Nazis, who began their holocaust by putting to death ‘undesirables’, mainly, the psychologically and physically deficient, yes, by physicians under the authority of the law.  It won’t stay with physicians for very long.


Today’s feast of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr reminds us that there will be a reckoning of our actions before God.  Read through Stephen’s condemnatory speech to the Jewish leaders in chapters 6 and 7 of Acts.  We would be tempted to label such a lambasting as ‘judgemental’, but, then, sometimes we are indeed called to judge and condemn, at least external actions, for it is no mercy, even or perhaps especially in this Year of Mercy, to leave people in bad conscience, ‘uncircumcised in mind and heart’ as Stephen calls the hard-hearted Pharisees and doctors of the law.  But Stephen’s audience ‘refused to listen’ and ‘stopped their ears’, as does our modern culture.


jtf soldierThe euthanasia debate is in a fundamental way part of our modern tendency to exculpate evil, especially through psychological-medical terminology.  Another case at hand:  A soldier from the ‘elite’ JTF squad apparently murdered his pregnant wife just before Christmas, stabbing her and throwing her off their 22nd floor apartment balcony, before jumping off himself, and this just after posting a photo on Facebook of the two snuggling, with the tag-line ‘Happiness is…”.  Well, clearly, at some level of his being, he was not happy.  God rest their souls, and, to paraphrase Saint Stephen’s prayer, ‘may this sin not be held against him’.  The ‘intelligence officer’ was apparently also suffering from PTSD, the catch-all ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ that seems to explain a lot of bad behaviour in our world.  I suppose soldiers have always had such stress since there have been wars and rumours of wars, and I would think that in last century’s two world wars, far greater in extent than our modern conflicts, the myriad of veterans came home with deep scars, physical and mental, but there does not seem to have been the spate of violence we now see.  Is part of the problem our tendency to outsource our conscience to psychology, and therefore seeing ourselves as not to blame?  I recall reading the original story of Rambo as a teenager in the disturbing 1972 novel First Blood by David Morel, before Rambo was turned into a comic-book figure by Sylvester Stallone.  A Vietnam Green Beret veteran, ‘Rambo’ (he has no first name in the novel) only knew violence, trained only  in how to kill.  Unable to reintegrate into society, Rambo wanders aimlessly through America, and, finally triggered by a local sheriff with a grudge, goes on a sort-of defensive murder rampage through a small town.  This was before the term PTSD had been invented, but Rambo was still to some degree to blame for his actions.


We are not biological machines who just ‘break’ one day, but complex spiritual beings who decide our own destiny through each and every one of our moral choices.  I just re-read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, part of whose message is that we choose who we become, primarily through the medium of conscience, which is nothing else but a self-judgement upon our own actions or, as the Catechism defines it, ” judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed“, a judgement that binds us to act, or not to act.  I will have more to write on conscience, and the desperate need in our culture to reappropriate and understand properly this most vital link between God and man, upon which we ourselves will be judged.  But that final judgement is nothing else than a revelation of how we have judged, or not judged, ourselves, so to speak. Scrooge pleads with his final ghostly visitor that his tragic fate may not be sealed or, well, fated.  His own guilty conscience was in merciful way revealed to him before death, and he could, and did, ‘change the future’, all for the better.  The enduring popularity of the story rings with its own truthfulness.


And speaking of changing the future, or at least the world, I don’t think our powers-that-be have (yet) blamed PTSD on climate change, but a story today blames the other ‘catch-all’ of global warming-cooling-whatever for the spread of a new virus with the ominous name Zika, caught, by the bite of mosquitoes.  Like the West-Nile scare a few years ago, the symptoms range from mild in many victims, to severe in some.  The virus originated first in Asia (why do they all seem to start there?), and has now reached the shores of South America, causing 2400 women to bear microcephalic babies, whose skulls and brains are tragically undersized, and who soon die.  The response of the medical establishment?  Stop having babies!  Where was I about the culture of death?


But there is hope, for Saint Stephen’s murderers, for whom he prayed as he died under the stones they hurled at his broken body, laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul, a zealous Pharisee who consented to his death, later Saint Paul, the proto-convert who, as today’s Office of Readings proclaims, now rejoices in heaven with his erstwhile victim.  The truth and life, one way or the other, always win out in the end.


christmas sceneAll is not lost, but these setbacks are all in a mysterious way part of the ultimate victory won by Christ.  So rejoice, Christians, for Our Lord warns in today’s Gospel that they will indeed drag us before courts, and have us ‘flogged’ (whether physically or metaphorically), with brother condemning brother to death, but he who perseveres to the end will be saved.  And that means perseverance in fidelity to the truth, to our conscience, and to Christ, whose birth we celebrate for the next twelve days at least.  That means keep the Christmas tree lit and the nativity set up, and make merry, for Christ has made all things new.


Theotokos or Christotokos? A Christmas Heresy

TheotokosI will often ask my students in class whether Christ was a human person.  The answer may seem straightforward:  Of course He was (or is that is)?


But the correct response is that He was not.  This may at first glance seem counter-intuitive, but, in fact, is a central truth of our faith, without which there would be no real Incarnation.  To put this into a Christmas perspective, which was in fact was how the question was first raised in the early 5th century:  Who was born of the Virgin Mary on that glorious day in Bethlehem two millennia ago?


The Patriarch of Constantinople at the time this question was debated, whose name was Nestorius (I often joke that heretics have heretical-sounding names, but what came first, the heresy or the name?), well, anyway, Nestorius claimed that Mary did not in fact give birth to God, but rather to a human person, namely, Christ, who was somehow united to God.  Therefore, the Virgin did not deserve the traditional title of ‘Theotokos‘, or God-bearer, but rather the more lowly title, if you will, of ‘Christotokos‘, or bearer of Christ.  For how, in heaven’s name, could the eternal and infinite God be born of a woman?


This raised the deeply metaphysical question of Who is Christ?  Who was born, walked the earth, preached, healed, counselled, forgave sins, suffered and died for us?  Who indeed was the Messiah?  (I write listening to the strains of Handel’s incomparable oratorio in the background).


The question boiled down to whether God truly became Man.  If so, He (Christ) had to unite Himself in some way with our humanity, and that union had to occur somewhere within our human nature.  This question troubled the Church for centuries, always in the background.  The truth was there, unpacked within the revelation given to us by Christ Himself, but it was the task of the Church, and her Magisterium, to put this truth into philosophical language that we could, at least to some degree, understand.


The Church knew that the Incarnation had to be ‘real’, and not just an illusion, some kind of theophany of God just appearing as a man, or in some other guise (as we see in the Old Testament, in the burning bush, the visit to Abraham and Sarah, the mysterious figure wrestling with Jacob, and so on).


If real, then how?  The Church Fathers also knew that Christ had to be both truly human, yet also truly God.  He had a real human body, a real human mind, and, yes, even a human soul.  But, as they reasoned upon the data of revelation, He was not and could not be a human person.


Ponder:  If Christ were a human person, then how did God become Man?  That would mean there were two beings, two persons: one in heaven, and another on earth.  How were they united?  Nestorius had no sufficient answer to this question.  He mentioned vaguely  that there was a ‘moral union’ between the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ ‘as God’, and Christ ‘as man’.  But how is that different from any of our unions with God?  Are not all human persons in a state of grace united with God?  The Church realized that tolerating the Nestorian heresy would dissolve the truth of the Incarnation in the minds of the faithful.


No, there had to be a true union between God and Man.  Yet where did the union occur?  The Church decreed at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, in response to Nestorius, that the union occurred in the divine hypostasis, or, in other words, the divine Person.  That is, Christ assumed into His divine Personhood all that it meant to be human, except being a human individual, a human person.  That is the only thing ‘missing’ in the Incarnation, insofar as Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, assumed into His own eternal Person what would have been the human person of the Man-Christ.


Yet, as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in a 1991 essay in Communio, the human personhood was not really missing in Christ, for by the Incarnation, God has raised all of human nature, at least in potency, to the divine level.  As Ratzinger frames the question so clearly:


Person is the true apex of human existence.  It is missing in Jesus. Therefore the entirety of human reality is not present in himThe assumption that some defect was present here was the point of departure of various distortions and aberrations.


After which he lists the numerous heresies concerning the Incarnation, many denying some aspect of Christ’s true humanity, his soul, his human will, his human nature.


Eventually, the Church determined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 under the tutelage of Pope Saint Leo I,  that Christ is one divine Person in two complete natures, divine and human.  But as Ratzinger reasons, the fact that Christ is not a ‘human person’ does not diminish His humanity, but rather elevates it.  As he says:


What is disclosed in Christ, whom faith certainly presents as unique, is not only a speculative exception; what is disclosed in truth is what the riddle of the human person really intends.  Scripture emphasizes this point by calling Christ the last Adam, or the “second Adam”.  It therefore characterizes him as the true fulfillment of the idea of the human person…the fulfillment of the entire human being.”


And a little later, concludes:


In Christ, in the man who is completely with God, human existence is not canceled, but comes to its highest possibility, which consists in transcending itself into the absolute and in the integration of its own relativity into the absoluteness of divine love.”


Or, in other words:


Christ is the directional arrow, as it were, that indicates what being human tends toward


This is the ‘arrow’ of our true purpose and end that begins, at least in a visible, public way, on Christmas morning, when the Christ-child, fully God and fully Man, was born of the Virgin Mary in a miraculous manner, having been conceived in her womb, also as God, on the day of the Annunciation nine months before.  As the great Pope John Paul II declared in 1979 in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, in a passage that bears quoting in full, as we prepare for Christ’s Advent (yes, I know the great mind of JP II can be heavy and deep reading, but he is worth it):


Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one who penetrated in a unique unrepeatable way into the mystery of man and entered his “heart”. Rightly therefore does the Second Vatican Council teach: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come (Rom 5:14), Christ the Lord. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling”. And the Council continues: “He who is the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his Incarnation, he, the son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin”, he, the Redeemer of man.


Every human now, in some way, at least potentially, is united to God, by the elevation of our common, shared human nature by the Son of God.  In truth, we too are no longer just ‘human’ persons:  Our perfection now consists in also becoming ‘sons of God’, and living eternal life in the Trinitarian beatific vision.  Christmas reveals that we have all now, in a real sense, become God-like.  Whether we open ourselves to that destiny is another question, which is the real  tragedy of sin:  To reject that gift God has offered us through His Incarnation and redemption.


The Council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius’ heresy, rightly so, and proclaimed:


If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.


There was great rejoicing in the streets of Constantinople and throughout the Empire, now that Mary was truly and forever proclaimed Theotokos, the Mother of God, and therefore we, truly, are all God’s children, in a way more real than we could ever have imagined.


So, as we partake of the incarnational festivities at Christmas of shared food and drink, let us also take this deep and mysterious truth of the Incarnation as part of our own rejoicing, as we welcome and adore the God-become-Man in that lowly manger bed so many years ago, who made all creation holy and good.


Christus natus est!  And we say also, Deus natus est, Alleluia!

He Will be There: The O Antiphons

o sapientiaI try, in some small way, and not, I must admit, very well, to resist the celebration of Christmas before Christmas.  I know this is a weathered lament, but one that merits restating:  We prepare for Christ in the season of Advent, and we celebrate his arrival with Christmas.  The zeitgeist of the age, outside and, to some extent, even within, the Church, is difficult to resist, with everything from social events to advertisements in shops to songs, but resist to some extent we must.  Some application to bodily and spiritual preparation is requisite so that Christmas remains Christmas, and that the celebration does not end the day after Christmas, just when it is supposed to begin.   (Which day, incidentally, is not Boxing Day, but the feast of (Saint) Stephen, the first martyr, as the opening lines of the traditional hymn on Good King Wencelsaus makes clear).


In the Western tradition of the Catholic Church, one of the liturgical preparations for Christmas are the ‘O Antiphons’, seven titles from the Old Testament pointing to the coming Messiah.  The origin of their compilation goes back to the dawn of the Middle Ages, with reference to them in the writings of Boethius (480-524 a.d.).  The seven antiphons, which begin today on December 17th, and end on December 23rd, Christmas Eve’s Eve, are as follows, in their Latin original:  O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Iesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex Gentium, and O Emmanuel.


They are, in their somewhat variable English translations, O Wisdom, O Lord God, O Root (or Rod) of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun (or Morning Star), O King of the Nations (or Gentiles) and O Emmanuel.


Each day, these antiphons comprise the basis for the antiphons at Vespers, the universal Evening Prayer of the Church.  Readings also go along with each antiphon, taken from the Old Testament , and making clear how each of these titles allegorically referred to the coming Messiah.


It is a curious phenomenon, and unclear whether intentional, that the first letter in the antiphons, when spelled backwards, makes ero cras, which is Latin for “I will be (there?) tomorrow”.   This could be coincidence, but the mediaeval theologians loved puns and plays upon words, so we may surmise the antiphons were deliberately framed this way, to help us even further in our ‘waiting upon’ the Christ, who would free His people from their sins, and offer the world redemption.


So a very blessed last days of Advent to one and all, as we await the birth of our Saviour and King…


Nota in Brevis, December 15th: Trudeau, Trump and Refugees

*trudeau welcomingThe photo op of Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne welcoming Syrian refugees at Pearson airport warmed the cockles of many hearts.  There was Prime Minister Trudeau, offering a parka to one poor soul stepping off the plane, stating the obvious that ‘it gets cold in Canada’.  No kidding, eh?  And the current refugees are being spared the worst of it, with this bizarrely, but welcome, warm winter, due, one may suppose, to El Nino.  But who could have predicted that?  Not the climatologists, pray tell?  I have this notion that when January hits, some of the more restless refugees may make a run for the border.  I may join them.  California looks pretty good when its minus 40.


*And, while we’re on the topic of shelter, the headline reported this morning that by March the hotel bill for the refugees will top $80 million, and that is just the beginning of the boondoggle that will ensue, for what happens to them after that? Subsidized housing?  Government jobs?  Free education?  Now, before someone calls me a hard-hearted Republican, or worse, I agree whole-, but not soft-, heartedly that we have to help those in need, but that is a complex question, especially in the current circumstances.  And my point here, worth emphasizing, is that it is not ‘almsgiving’, nor is it ‘charity’, if you give with other people’s money and resources, for your are not giving of yourself, are you?  And for Trudeau and Wynne to take the credit is crass opportunism, if not outright theft of the public purse.


*I personally think the government should get out of the business of ‘charitable giving’, and leave that to the individuals and groups who choose, voluntarily (and, hence, with true charity) to give and to welcome.  This is the principle of subsidiarity, where a larger authority leaves to a smaller authority its rightful tasks, so that it may flourish and fulfill its role, and fulfill it more effectively.  The task of government is to ensure the country runs well, according to its sphere of authority, to keep the laws, maintain peace and the infrastructure.  Since when did it receive the mandate to spend untold millions, now billions (all on debt, by the way) on various overseas ‘charitable’ aid projects?  This, prescinding from the fact that much of that aid is grossly immoral (under the euphemism of ‘reproductive health’, abortion, contraception, and the spreading of the ‘gay agenda’).   Even the ‘good’ side of the government’s ‘charitable’ work is driven by governmental policy and operated by a swathe of highly-recompensed bureaucrats (par example, Montreal’s ‘Syrian Refugee Coordinator’ makes $1800 per day), is just driving us ever-deeper into our already deep bankruptcy.  Leave the charity to us, Mr. Trudeau, and get on with your own.


*This article in the American Thinker does indeed make one think.  I was especially struck by the comparison of early Mormons to Muslims.  The former were asked, in particular, no, they were forced, to abandon any practice of polygamy (destructive of any society).  Whatever happened to the need for immigrants to assimilate, in some fundamental (but not fundamentalist!) ways, to their host country?  I would not mind getting our new-found Muslim neighbours’ views on polygamy, forced conversion, dhimmitude, the infidel, the rights of women, ‘honour’ killings, the immoral behaviour of their much-revered founder, Mohammad, and whether one can draw or criticize him, the literal meaning of the Qur’an, especially ‘jihad’, Church-State relations, Sharia law.  And those questions just for starters.  I recall becoming a Canadian citizen at 16 years old, and having to swear allegiance to the Queen and the laws of the land.  But then, what is the Islamic view of lying to the infidel?  How would we ever find out?


*As I have mentioned before, and will not tire of repeating, one must always live according to reason, which is a ray of the divine light itself, a ‘participation in the eternal law of God’, Saint Thomas puts it.  That is why, as the title of Pope Benedict’s 2008 encyclical make clear, Caritas in Veritate, charity can never be divorced from truth.  That is something to keep firmly in mind as we begin this Jubilee Year of Mercy:  mercy, which may be defined in one way as ‘charity in action’, must always be grounded in objective truth and virtue, leading ‘the other’, upon whom we have mercy (patience, tolerance, kindness) to become a ‘better self’.  And we must not worsen ourselves, to say nothing of outright sin, in bestowing mercy.  It is no mercy to condone evil.  As Our Lord often ended His own acts of mercy:  “Go, and sin no more”.


*Nor is it a mercy to ignore the rightful duty to protect one’s own society.  A headline on Fox News revealed today that border agents were forbidden by law to check out the social media of incoming visa applicants, which even your local McDonald’s can look over when applying to be the resident burger-flipper.  This allowed the entrance of the San Bernardino killers, who had apparently been posting various hot-for-jihad sentiments since 2012.  So much for fortress America.  All the weaponry and technology in the world cannot protect one from stupidity and imprudence, and may in fact be a liability.  (As I write, the headline just declared that schools in Los Angeles are closed due to a terror threat, which law officials claim to be a hoax, but closed they are.  You don’t need technology to shut down a city; well, maybe a cell phone, but you can always just borrow one, or use the ever-more-rare payphones).


*But where was I?  Oh yes, Ian Hunter in today’s National Post wonders out loud whether France could  in fact become Muslim, all with little or no technology.  Just demographics, which is rather natural.  Interesting thought, that just a few years ago may have seemed future-dystopic fiction.  But is that Islamophobic?


*trumpTonight, Donald Trump joins his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls in debate.  Trump gets the centre podium, since he is the front runner and, one may presume, will be the preferred target of the debaters.  I wonder if they wonder why he is in front?  Has he tapped into a huge demographic of America that feels disenfranchised?  That seems a no-brainer.  He also says what he thinks, instead of calculating every word for its vote-potential or, worse, its political correctness quotient.  People are fed up with cronyism and opportunism, political obfuscation, and, yes, are hungry for the truth. Whether Donald Trump can offer it, is indeed a matter of debate, but he seems on the whole more grounded in reality than the others who, like Sam Gamgee, fear even one little footstep outside the boundary of the politically-safe precintcts of the shire. Even Trump’s more whopping comments have a ring of truth that one does not see much in other political leaders, would-be or current.


*Alas, we may never know much about the deeper thoughts of Trump or any of the others prospective presidents, for these televised babble-fests are not really debates, but soundbite echo chambers.  How far away the days seem when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas could calmly and reasonably discuss serious issues for two solid hours, all to a packed and listening house.  Technology, alas, has not made us more intelligent.  See my comments on ‘reason’ above.


Nota in Brevis, December 12th: Our Lady of Guadalupe, et al.

guadalupe*Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, declared patroness of the Americas, and bumped up to a feast day, by Pope Saint John Paul II.  The image left on the tilma in those December days of 1531 resist scientific explanation to this day.  No one knows why the frail tilma has not decomposed, nor how the image, which apparently ‘floats’ above the fibres, retains its vibrant colour and almost life-like quality.  The shrine on Tepeyac hill in Mexico City is the most-visited shrine in Catholicism, with millions of pilgrims making the trek to see ‘Our Lady’.  May she intercede for us this day, in our own struggles and needs, and those of our society, especially that the ‘culture of life’, to use Pope John Paul’s words from Evangelium Vitae, may triumph over the ‘culture of death’.


*Speaking of which, this is the final day of the Paris Climate ‘talks’, with a lot of hot air expended over a dubious scientific hypothesis, now declared irrefutable dogma by the secular magisterium of the ecologists and climate scientists.  No dissent is permitted nor tolerated, as the mantra of ‘global warming’ (or, if evidence requires, ‘climate change’) is repeated in a yoga-esque low hum, or, for those of us still not convinced, ‘ho hum’. A cloak for population control, some say, for what greater emitters of CO2 are there but humans, not least jet-setting climate-control advocates?  Well, perhaps there is a close second in the cows and sheep of Australia after a hearty meal on the grains of the Nullabor.  I find it distressing to see members of the Church jumping on the global-warming bandwagon, where the evidence is slim indeed, and what there is is trimmed to fit one’s a priori agenda.  I read that the actor-climate advocate Leonardo di Caprio was convinced that the Earth was radically heating up when he visited Calgary with 8 feet of snow on the ground, then suddenly, out of the blue, felt a warm breeze.  Alas, global warming, like the breath of some infernal being, a minor deity revolting against all that carbon!  But, as Calgarians know, it was just the Chinook, the warm air streaming off the nearby Rockies, a central part of Alberta’s winter.  So much for science, and, more to the point, for actors proclaiming upon science.  They should probably lay low when not on the sound stage.  Well, at least the faith is still secure, the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth’.


*I may have something to write soon on the recent document put out by certain Vatican curial members which claims, according to media reports, that Catholics should not try to convert the Jewish people.  The document is still in the original Italian, at which I am rudimentary at best.  We will see what it says, and how it interprets Saint Paul’s words on the need for his own Jewish people to convert to the fullness of truth in the first century.  In fact, he was so zealous on this score that in writing to the Jewish diaspora in Rome, he decried that he would even become an ‘anathema’, cursed and cut off by Christ if such were possible, to bring his people, ‘those of his own race’, the fullness of redemption.  Have things changed in the meantime?  I hope the document is more nuanced than the hype-needful media portrays.


*And, speaking of missionaries, we are glad to hear that Bishop Hector Villa, originally from Peru, has been appointed the new ordinary of the Whitehorse diocese in the Yukon, a far way from sunny South America.  The ‘north’ is indeed missionary territory, much as Peru was four centuries ago.  There are about 7500 Catholics, about the size of one or two large suburban parishes, spread over an area of over 700,000 square kilometres, an area slightly larger than France.  That will entail a lot of dangerous and gruelling travelling, all for a very few people, sacrificial and demanding work.  One is reminded of the parable of the lost sheep, and the shepherd wandering over hill and vale in search of the one that is lost.  The Church is not about efficiency, but about holiness and the inestimable value of each individual, priceless human soul redeemed by Christ.  As John Paul II wrote in his first encyclical in 1979, Redemptor hominis:


This man is the way for the Church-a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk-because man-every man without any exception whatever-has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man-with each man without any exception whatever-Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it: Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man-each man and every man- with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling


Our chaplain at the college here, Father Zachary Romanowsky, has just left to help out up north over Christmas.  Please do pray for the success of this missionary outpost, retaining the Catholicism of the north.  I will try to convince Father Zachary to write an article on his experiences upon his return.

Ad Multos Annos, Father de Valk, Fifty Years a Priest

Father de Valk 2It is fitting on this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of life, that we offer a hearty and warm congratulations to Father Alphonse de Valk who yesterday celebrated 50 years a priest.  Father de Valk, a faithful member of the Congregation of Saint Basil, and the founder and editor-emeritus of both the Interim and, until a few years ago, Catholic Insight magazine, which he began in 1993 as a beacon of Catholic culture and hope, is a true Canadian hero.  Born in 1932, Father de Valk was ordained (a ‘late vocation’ as he called himself) on December 11 in 1965, three days after the close of the Second Vatican Council.  I have known Father de Valk for many years, first meeting him soon after I ‘got off the boat’ from bonnie Scotland and settled in Toronto as a wee lad (with my family in tow, of course), and, looking back, I can say that he truly embodied and lived out the true spirit of Vatican II.


About being a priest, in which vocation he never faltered, Father de Valk had this to say:


Being a priest is a tremendous vocation. It allows you to do so many things for people but always to live on the highest possible level of ideals. It certainly means serving the Lord in the world and for me the intellectual apostolate of teaching, growing in study and doing the will of God. To be a priest is to preside at the liturgy, to teach the faith and to do everything that Christ did as a Priest.”


Father de Valk began a doctorate in the early seventies, but, with the abortion battle just then looming, decided to dedicate his life to the pro-life battle and the victory of the culture of life.  As he put it, he did not want to be like the German professor writing ironically in the midst of World War II about the ‘Fall of the Babylonian Empire’ while bombs were reducing his city to rubble.


Thus began a very fruitful and productive priestly life, with hundreds  of articles, essays, pamphlets and books in the cause of life and true Catholic culture.  Again, in his own words:


As a historian, my entrance into the pro-life movement came from a realization that an er­ror in principle in a grave matter of life and death either has to be reversed or it will destroy society. Anti-Semitism in Germany be­tween 1918 and 1939 should have been redressed because the Nazis made use of it and it destroyed Germany. Likewise, legalized abortion will destroy Western socie­ties unless we redress it.”


And redress it he did.  Father de Valk did not balk at criticizing our culture and those within it, in the spirit of humility and charity, without which no growth in virtue is possible.  His vivid words and lively writing style will stand the test of time.


A true pro-life witness, he put his words and beliefs into action.  Father de Valk spent countless hours faithfully praying in front of Morgentaler’s abortuary, being arrested and spending two weeks in jail.  He was one of the ‘fourteen’ sued by the immoral  and reckless NDP government.


Father de Valk is the co-founder of the Catholic Civil Rights League (1985), the Family Coalition Party (1987) and, as mentioned, Catholic Insight (1993), which he edited until a few years ago.


I myself am humbled and grateful to continue the work editing of the magazine, which sadly had to discontinue print production last spring, now continuing on-line.


And we should all be grateful to Father de Valk for his untiring work as a priest, a scholar, a writer and a witness for God and His people, especially the most defenceless.  May God reward him far more than we can, with as many more years as a priest in this world as He so wills, before a well-earned eternity.


Ad multos annos, Father de Valk!  Oremus pro invicem semper!


And Our Lady of Guadalulpe, patroness of life, ora pro nobis!


(I am indebted to the Interim article on Father de Valk’s 25th anniversary for much of the biographical material and quotations.  Editor)


Nota in Brevis, December 9th

*Buried in the headlines is the notice that at least 30 Afghanis are dead, killed in an attack by the Taliban at Kandahar airport.  God rest their souls, and so goes life if you are unfortunate enough to live in a fundamentalist Islamic backwater almost devoid of the rule of law, except so-called Sharia ‘law’. I am still puzzled over our, and America’s, mission there, or was that a ‘war’?  What exactly did we accomplish with our sacrifice of men, women and untold billions?


*But we chicken littles still think the sky is falling, or at least filing, with CO2.  Canada’s delegation to the Climate Conference in Paris was bigger than that of the host country, the U.K. and the U.S.A. combined, and that does not include the back-and-forth trips of our own provincial premier.  That’s a whole lot of carbon goin’ on, or is that up?  I could do the quick math on how much that cost, but it would depress me, and likely you as well. Let’s just say it’s also a lot of our hard-earned tax dollars.  But, then, when you elect people who are unvirtuous into office, a professed autocratic lesbian and a pampered autocratic millionaire in the case of our two vaunted provincial and federal leaders respectively, why would we expect anything different?  They actually think they can reduce the temperature of the Earth by 2 degrees.  Astounding, and up there with Obama’s promise to make the oceans recede.  We have let the gremlins loose in the candy store, and there won’t be a lot of candy left soon.


*Alberta, once the land of milk and honey, keeps getting pounded.  Oil is now $37 a barrel, and falling.  There is now a new carbon tax, other taxes are rising, and the risible and foolish NDP government has added a muddled layer of bureaucratic laws about farm labour, effectively stymieing the family farm.  Finally, farmers are fed up (that works well alliteratively) and are protesting.  We will see where this leads.


*Eventually the buck will stop, reality will hit, and the great Titanic of our economy, or at least the Titanic size of its debt load, will have to be faced.  The government class are in the first class cabins, and they will be the last to taste the icy-cold salt water of the north Atlantic.  The small guy (i.e., the those who still work for the private sector, not least oil and its spin-offs) will feel it first:  economic despair, unemployment, inability to pay one’s mortgage, homelessness, and so on.  It was just reported that the suicide rate in Alberta has jumped 30%.  I am not entirely sure what that means, but for sure nothing good.  Alberta will soon be in the same economic bracket as Nova Scotia, but, unlike Nova Scotia, there will soon be no Alberta to save Alberta.  If things do not change for the better, there will soon be no Canada to save what is left of Canada.


*Yet, the clamour for more money still continues unabated, as provinces and cities ‘appeal to the federal government’ for help, as though our government were a bank that just printed money.  Trudeau and his Liberals are now discovering that ‘taxing the top 1%’ does not work so well.  For the same reasons that they are in the top 1%, they are also adept at hiding their money from the voracious jaws of the tax-man.  Who wants to support two-nannie Trudeau and his entourage jetting around the world for photo-ops?


*Ah, well, there is always hope, but not in a material sense.  Today is the memorial of Saint Juan Diego, the visionary of Guadalupe, a humble peasant who lived a quiet life, famed for a few moments of conversation with a mysterious lady on the side of a mountain on this day in December, 1531.  Our Lady of Guadalupe brought millions of souls into the Church, sort of a balance, as some Church historians say, of the millions who were leaving in the Protestant ‘reformation’ (Luther had pinned his 95 ‘theses’ to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517, beginning the revolt against the Church, and by 1531, it was in full swing).  God always knows how to balance things out, just right and just so, as Pope Benedict XVI so eruditely explained in his beautiful encyclical Spe Salvi.  A beneficial read during Advent, the season of hope and expectation.

Nota in Brevis, December 4th

*Today is the memorial of Saint John Damascene, who lived in what is in now Syria and died on this day in 749, in a land that even back then, in the early days of Muslim expansion, lived under Islamic domination.  A polymath, gifted in many subjects, he was a great foe of the then-rampant iconoclast heresy, claiming that any sacred images (indeed, images in general) were evil and idolatrous.  So we can ask his intercession for Syria.  It is said that the saint worked as the Chief Administrator for the Caliph before his ordination (John’s, not the Caliph’s), so may some degree of harmony once again exist between Christians and Muslims.  We can also ask him for a restoration and revived appreciation of art in all its forms, especially in our own too-numerous iconoclastic Catholic churches, whitewashed, and filled with the off-tune sounds of treacly hymns.


*Alas, the era of Christian-Muslim harmony, insofar as it did exist to some degree in history, now seems far off, especially after the recent apparently-jihadi-motivated massacre in San Bernardino, California, just east of Los Angeles.  At least fourteen dead, seventeen wounded, after a husband and wife stormed a Christmas party at the husband’s workplace with fully automatic rifles and pistols.  Apparently, his fellow workers had just thrown their soon-to-be-murderer a baby shower, for their newborn.  Now, that child will grow up an orphan, as his parents were themselves killed by police.  Gratitude?  Their own child, dropped off at his grandparents?  Duty to one’s family and friends?  Christmas?  But jihadis think only of the ‘will of Allah’, brainwashed by a cult-like religion, in which all ‘infidels’ are evil, deserving of death.  I ask:  Is this what a good Muslim looks like?  Or is there another interpretation?  Who is to say?


*We may have to ‘get used’ to such massacres, as who knows how many ‘sleeper cells’ there are across the U.S. and Canada, and how many more after tens of thousands of Islamic refugees are let in across the border?  William Kilpatrick has an insightful essay on the nature of early Islam, and the danger of any Muslim becoming suddenly ‘radicalized’, as seems to have happened in the husband-and-wife-Bonnie-and-Clyde above.  One day, the ‘moderate Muslim’ realizes what Islam is really about, and what he, or now she, must do.  So much for Barack Obama’s sneer about all those anti-immigration types fearing ‘women and children’.


*And our own culture continues its slow, or not-so-slow, decline.  Just today, the U.S. government has ordered all military units to open all front-line combat roles to women.  The Marines fought for an exception, claiming their jobs were too physically demanding and dangerous, but, alas, they too will fall. As I have written before, any civilization that asks its women to fight and die for its men, while the men sit at home, insofar as we still have ‘homes’, is not one much worth saving.


*Part of this is due to the otiose (and contrary to the U.S. tradition and constitution) of having a ‘standing army’ of ‘professional soldiers’.  The military then becomes just another career-step, something to put on your resume, instead of a means to defend hearth and home from an invading enemy.  In reality, we should have a militia, in which every man is trained and prepared to fight and die for his country, and called up in times of war.  Now we fight sort of unreal wars, far away, half-heartedly, and most of the time our co-ed soldiers, the fairer sex with their ponytails tucked up under their berets, are at here at home, with really not much to do, collecting paycheques while marching around parade squares.  The only thing most of them kill is time.  Pilots now fly ‘drones’, polishing their posteriors in leather chairs somewhere in Nebraska, while killing people they see on fuzzy computer screens ten thousand miles away.  Listen to the podcast of one former drone pilot for a glimpse into this macabre and surreal dimension of modern warfare.


*Speaking of bloated militaries, a retired Canadian Navy member is now receiving disability payments, claiming that his life in our maritime command, particularly its food, made him fat.  When he enlisted, he was a svelte 160 pounds, and now weighs in at over 300.  I am surprised our aged fleet can move that weight, especially if the sailors are all so debilitated.  This says volumes (no pun intended) on the state not only of our military, but of our victim-oriented-it-is-always-someone-else’s-fault society.  Has the man never heard of calisthenics, push-ups, sit-ups, controlling one’s food intake, that old notion of, what was it, discipline?  Was that not once a virtue especially dear to the military?  But that is archaic, along with chivalry, and, yes, men defending their women and children.  Now the men need defending, even from the food.  Alas.  No wonder the Muslims have no fear of us.

Why Are Catholics Not Holier Than They Are? Father Paul Quay’s ‘The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God’

mystery hidden for agesOn his recent visit to our college this summer, the Jesuit scholar Father Koterski mentioned a book that he described as the ‘most influential he has ever read’, his fellow Jesuit’s Father Paul Quay’s “The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God”.  Upon his effusive recommendation, I made a resolve to read the book, and this article, adapted from a talk I recently offered, is my attempt to describe its contents and mission.


True to his word, the book is, amongst many adjectives one could bring to bear, influential.  It is also erudite, broad, comprehensive, insightful, systematic, and, yes, from a Jesuit, highly orthodox.  I found myself agreeing almost all the way through, perhaps not agreeing with all, but with most.


I must confess that it is difficult in such a summary to know what to leave out.  Father Quay’s book is 425 pages long, with small print, lots of footnotes, and dense prose.  Some bits are difficult going, other quite easy and readable, but all of it theologically, philosophically and culturally rich.


Father Quay’s first and basic provocative question guides his discussion:  As he puts it:


This book took its origin from a question put to me back in the mid-50’s by a friend I’d first come to know in Fiji during the Second World War”.  The friend’s name was Alfred Shatkin, a Jewish, but “firmly and non-believing ahteist”.  Anyway after the war, Father Quay met Alfred, and taking a stroll, they sat down on a bench, and Alfred told the good Jesuit of a “Catholic who lived in his apartment building, a man apparently devout and in good standing with the Church, who went to Mass every Sunday, but who was well known in the building for beating his wife mercilessly” (this was in the bad old days where such things were swept under the rug, and still are, Ed.) “and otherwise proving himself a very immoral man, whether by my standards or by Alfred’s.  So Alfred asked me (and here is the essential point):  “With all the gifts from God that Catholics supposedly have, how is it that they are frequently worse in their morals, or only indistinguishably better, then us atheists?


A provocative question indeed, and one that stayed with Father Quay, as he admits, for the rest of his priestly ministry.  So resulted the book, first published in 1995.  Another great Jesuit (yes, there are still great Jesuits!), Father John Hardon, called Father Quay one of the most brilliant students he had ever taught in the Jesuit theologate, and this book bears witness to his brilliance.  I cannot do the book justice in these brief moments, and hope only to tantalize you to read it for yourselves.


Here are two quotations from The Mystery Hidden For Ages in God, an ambiguous title as we will see with a double entendre, that Father Hardon found the most provocative:


First, concerning our own spiritual personal spiritual development:


Why should spiritual growth, my own and others’, be so slow? Why do some priests or religious seem to go backwards rather than forwards? Why do many Catholics, even priests and religious, seem to lack the close personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is so visibly operative in the lives of many believing Protestants despite the greater spiritual opportunities given the Catholics? After Vatican II, why did so many priests and religious leave their consecrated life to live as laymen—or even abandon the Church altogether—and this, after many reasonably productive and apparently contented years under their vows? Why are Christians often more easily led into moral evil by the surrounding culture than are, say, Orthodox Jews? Again, all these are simple variants on the basic question: how should Christians grow spiritually, how do they, and why the difference?


And, second, we the apparent absence of the effects of the Church, with a rather scandalous rise of evil:


Our century has been drowned in blood: the hundreds of millions of infants aborted; the far fewer, though still many millions, slain by Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Pol Pot; the other millions killed in the two World Wars and the swarm of lesser conflicts; to say nothing of the victims of the internal collapse of family life and its replacement with gang life, drugs, and ‘virtual reality.’ The sight of a Christianity seemingly no more powerful to save from such evils than have scientific progress, the achievements of technology, and philosophical argument together. The question, “When confronted by such evils, where is Christianity and its vaunted power to change the hearts of men?” is answered quickly by “Nowhere” or “Collaborating with the evildoers.” But what is nowhere is discarded as nonexistent; what collaborates with evildoers is fought aggressively in order to destroy it. Hence, the current mixture of indifference and hostility.


Ah, so indeed.  Why are Catholics not holier than they are, and why the Church not more influential?  Why are we so mediocre?  Why, even worse, have Catholics, as a body, adopted the culture of sin and death at the same rate, by and large, as the rest of the world?  Given that Christ founded a Church with all the salvific truth, all the means of holiness in her doctrine and teaching, the Virgin Mary and all the saints as intercessors and exemplars, the Eucharist and the sacraments, why are we not better than we are?


Of course, the second depends on the first.  If Catholics, and Christians, were holier, would such evils have been prevented, or at least attenuated?  We may think of the warning of Our Lady of Fatima during the dark days of the First World War, that unless mankind repented, an even greater war, and greater evils, would be unleashed upon the world.


But all is not bleak!  For Father Quay diagnoses what he considers the central problem, and offers an answer, or a series of answers, which he summarizes in the first chapter of the book, then spends his 400-plus, explaining.  It took me a while to read this tome, but it was worth it, and one of the few great books that I would consider rereading more than once.


The book is divided into three main sections, with numbers subdivisions, sort of like the Summa.  Indeed, the book has a strong Thomistic element throughout, as any good theology should, although also like any good theology, Father Quay’s thoughts go beyond Thomas, or, at least, apply his thought ot the problems that now plague and our world.


These three divisions, are:  Part I, Adam and Christ: Original Sin.  Part II, Recapitulation in Christ.  And Part III, The Church, the New Israel.


They follow upon the principal problems as Father Quay sees it, which are a sundering of Christian thought and life, and a consequent loss of living the faith, especially as found in Scripture.  Our faith, he believes, has become by and large a dried husk, an outer shell that means little, and is eventually cast off like the dead skin of a molting lizard (the analogies are mine).


Father Quay, following the great 3rd century theologian-martyr Saint Irenaeus, sees the solution in what he terms recapitulation:


If we are to live in Christ, we must live in Him in accord with the pattern of His own life, a pattern it will be our concern to sketch out an develop…In its strongest form, recapitulation names a process intended to shape the entire life of the Christian:


And here he adds the following in boldface:


God intends that, through the action of His grace, each Christian,

  1. a) relive in Christ, during the first portion of his life, all that God led His people through from the fall of Adam to Christ’s death and resurrection
  2. b) thereafter, live as son of God in Christ in the full freedom of the Holy Spirit, so as to glorify the Father in the Church by making Him known to all men through the Spirit’s power.


As Father Paul sees it, most people, Catholic and otherwise, do not go through the first stage, and, hence, never reach the second, sons of God and true disciples of Christ, as much as they may think they do.  We refuse to ‘put off the old man’ so as to ‘put on the new’.  This is a long, laborious, personal, relational process, and there is no quick formula or fix, there is not brief set of ‘rules’, there is, as G.K. Chesterton warned, no ‘efficient’ way to do this.


It is Father Quay’s contention that to become ‘like Christ’ we must live through, recapitulate, the Old Testament journey, from  Adam to Christ, and only then begin the New Testament journey.  For grace builds on nature, and our ‘natural man’ must be perfected before we put on the ‘supernatural’.


One of the names that recurs through the book is Marcion, whose early second-century heresy (he died in 165 A.D.) has really affected and infected all subsequent heresies.  He may be described as the first theological Church bureaucrat, obsessed, we might now say, with such ‘efficiency’.  It was he who wondered, why do we need the Old Testament, with all of its outmoded laws, its archaic language, its barbaric practices?  (This would also bother Saint Augustine 200 years later).  Again, Father Quay:


If the New Testament contains the fulfilment of the Old, if we have in Christ Jesus and His Church all that we need for salvation, why must we keep the Old Testament?  Excessively long, often barbarous in language and concept, frequently repetitive and dull, was it not clearly obsolete, even for Jews, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple?  What good can the Old Testament serve, at least for the Christian? (p. 146)


So Marcion chucked it, along with most of what he considered the ‘too Jewish’ New Testament bits, leaving a truncated Gospel of Luke and ten letters of Saint Paul, the strictly ‘New Covenant’ or Catholic elements.  The end point of such an efficient, one might say bureaucratic, view of religion is to reduce holiness and the imitation of Christ to a system, a  technique, a set of rules, prescriptions and proscriptions.  One might well ask, why the Bible at all?


Father Quay responds:


The Church’s response was firm and direct.  The Old Testament was to be kept, first and foremost, because it ist he inspired Word of God, as proved by the use made of it throughout the New Testament.


But more: Because it is only by living out the true spiritual sense of Scripture that we can truly follow Christ and achieve holiness”.


I often ask my students as a thought experiment, if you could bring only two books to a desert island (or, more realistically, to a week-longretreat, about the same thing), which would you bring, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the Bible?


The answers are curious, but even in first year, most say the Bible, and they are likely correct.  For, sad as it is for me to say it, most people learn much more from stories than from doctrine, and, later in the book, Father Quay laments that the post-mediaeval over-analysis of holiness in terms of philosophical categories, virtues and vices, act, potency, illuminative, unitive way, tended to restrict holiness to educated monks, nuns and priests, and left the laity to hunt, fish and procreate.


For holiness is not about what you do or don’t do, but rather, about who you are, or, more properly, who you become.  And we only become like Christ by recapitulating, in a spiritual sense, all that the Jews, and in a sacramental way Christ Himself, went through on the journey to full holiness.


There is so much in this book, as it covers more or less the whole of theology, from the inner life of the Trinity (the source and exemplar of all other life, especially human), the history of the Old and New Testament, the status and consciousness of Christ in His humanity, the Fathers, the Church, young and recent, culture, the university.


Here are some principal elements that really struck me, amongst many:


We must begin with a proper reading of the Bible.  Father Quay argues that our age, insofar as we read or think of the Word of God at all, has become obsessed with the historical-critical method, and the ‘sense’ of Scripture that this gives.   But the Bible was not written primarily to teach us how 5th century BC people in Palestine lived.  Rather, the ultimate purpose of God in giving us Scripture is that we might live out the true spiritual sense, especially as this sense points to Christ, and our preparation to follow Him.


We must recapture and live out the true spiritual, particularly the typological, sense of the Bible, which Father Quay defines as “the meaning God has given the realities spoken of by the biblical text, all which realities look forward to Christ”.  (p. 164)


How do get this spiritual sense of Scripture?  Father Quay says we must return to the Patristic sources, largely dismissed by ‘Scripture scholars’ as pietistic and irrelevant.  But it is the Fathers who in reality, and in their proximity to the Apostolic Tradition, witness to the true meaning of Scripture as God intended, as pointing to Christ, His Church, and our holiness.


There is much that Father Quay draws from this proper reading of Scripture, and the evil fruits of misreading or neglecting the Word of God.


One of the key and fundamental elements that Scripture offers is a grasp of the full reality of original sin, and what we lost by giving up that state we call ‘original justice’.  The effects of the sin passed down to us from Adam can only be realized by seeing its effects in history, and in individuals, through Scripture.  Father Quay argues that each human being must live through these effects, from our conception onwards, and fight against its baneful tendencies by grace and free will.  In his words, original sin foments, even at the beginning of our lives, leads to a “desire for a value that is entirely one’s own (that) is insatiable.  It can find no surcease till, impossibly, the infant is satisfied that the goodness of his own small self is great enough to coerce the love that is necessary for his survival” (p. 127).


It is “desire that a free person’s love for oneself be necessitated by one’s own excellence is to desire what belongs to God alone”, and this is the key hallmark of original sin, manifested in all its evil consequences.  We seek to coerce love and acceptance, however subtly, rather than receive the love of God, and in turn give it freely, that is produces the evil in the world.


The consequence of this denial of original sin, and sin in general, and the refusal to recapitulate what is necessary to remedy this evil, is the moral and spiritual regression of our culture and individuals therein.  This has resulted in what Father Quay provocatively calls the “emasculation of Western Christendom”, and I agree with him that this is one of the most important.  The roots of this emasculation go all the way back to Adam.  Here is Father Quay’s description of Adam’s sin, which I will begin after Adam realizes his beloved wife had sinned and rebelled against God:


Adam, still in the state of integrity, is confronted with Eve, bearing one piece of the forbidden fruit, a bite already taken out of it…all that Adam held dear –  except the LORD – was being torn away by the one fact that she had fallen and he had not.


Because there was in him no concupiscence, her continuing physical beauty and personal charm did nothing to cover or hide the evil thing that she made herself by her defiance of the LORD’s command.  He saw clearly that he was obliged to refuse her offer and, so, lose her through death and, during what life she might still have, endure her contemptuous loathing and mocking hatred of him for his refusal to join her. The fruit that she offered him…was ‘to be as God’, deciding for himself as sole arbiter and without reference to any other will, what should be known as good and what as evil.  Thus was set before him concretely the question that must come to every man:  Whose will shall I follow, God’s or  my own, when it seems that the two are at odds?” (p. 265).


As we know, “Adam chose to join his wife, to descend to her state, rather than to obey the LORD in faith.  He would not “hope against hope” that God might somehow, through Adam’s own suffering and intercession, lift her again into spiritual life and bring her back”.


As Father Quay concludes, “To understand more fully the evil involved, we need to understand what God had intended from the beginning for husband and wife.  For this we must  turn to the Second Adam and His bride.  For it was on the cross, where the Church has always seen the action that undid the sin of Adam and its consequences, that Jesus showed us what God had meant a husband to be


At least one large element of Adam’s sin, present generations later in the tragic figure of King Saul, was to be a ‘wimp’, a term which the great psychologist Paul Vitz defines as a “man whose primary psychological desire is to be liked” (p. 277).  When I read this, I was struck by how often I have been a ‘wimp’, to dire consequences.


It is this breakdown in masculinity, rooted in a denial of the Old Testament recapitulation, that Father Quay sees as the root of our modern evils.  For true authority, represented in the man, resides in the capacity to endure suffering for others, like Christ, rather than inflict suffering.


This misunderstanding and misuse of authority led to the future schisms in the Church, as men developed their own ‘egos’, the common element of which is the “breaking of the communal bonds of the Church’s traditional understanding of divine revelation”, especially in the realm of the family (the emasculation of the father) and the local Church (the emasculation of the priest, the spiritual father).  The ‘desire to please’, when it does not work, results in some level of ‘coercion to please’, to force love and, if not love, at least obedience.


This petulant ‘coercion’ can work in children, who are cute, but not in grown men, who are not so cute.


The last bit of Father Quay’s work may be summarized in modern man’s incapacity and unwillingness to endure suffering for the sake of others, the mark of true paternal, and God-like, authority.   Rather, man seeks to impose his authority, even on God and His Church.


As he says “The Reformation appears as a sort of final despair in the face of the seriously irresponsible and sinful behaviour of many of the Church’s members, especially those in the highest offices.   Precisely, however, as such it represented an abdication of Christ’s mode of responsibility for her whom He had had to redeem for Himself by death upon the cross.  The Reformers indeed refused longer to accept any responsibility for her.  She was branded the Great Harlot, the Whore of Babylon, who once had been Christ’s Bride, but who had defiled herself beyond recognition” (p. 406).


At least the Reformers remained rooted in the Old Testament, however misunderstood, which is why they maintain in many ways, like the Hasidic Jews, more ‘masculine’ customs than many modern Catholics, who are adrift from the foundations of their Faith.


The end point of this is that modern man seeks to remove himself from all bonds, all those things that may ask for his commitment to himself or to others, with the suffering this might entail.  Hence we see a paradoxical flight from the feminine, from anything that might tie him down, or ask for his spiritual growth.  Again, Father Quay:


By accepting responsibility for a wife, a man accepts a risk of failing as well as an opportunity – but also an obligation – to mature yet more through the exercise of his powers in new and fuller ways.  All this requires a loosening of the grip of his own spontaneous desires and an uncentering of his choices from his own preferences” (p. 410)


In other words, such responsibility (whether in marriage, or the spiritual marriage of consecrated life), a man finds a remedy for the egocentric effects of original sin.


Father Quay argues that this is also why men flee from the Church which is the spiritual feminine image, the Bride of Christ, which demands things of us, even to the point of ‘laying down our lives’.  But most men cannot even get out of bed.


That is why in modern man “there has been a movement to mere use of all that is receptive, concrete or feminine, along with concomitant contempt for what is so used.  Women themselves have been increasingly despised, though unconsciously feared or resented” (p. 411).


What has resulted is a distortion in masculinity, from the metro or homo-sexual ‘wimp’, desiring to be please, to the domineering and excessively abstract “macho” man seeking heterosexual conquest (like Jason Derulo or Snoop Dogg), or, I might add, fantasizing over imagined conquests in his parents’ basement.


Again, Father Quay:


A good percentage of the college-trained Christians in this country (the U.S.!) along with many of their clergy, have been among the most visibly affected by that moral softness, one that is rotting away observance even of the Commandments” (p. 419).


This is not a new phenomena, but the culmination of hundreds of years of post-mediaeval breakdown in Christendom:


Over the last six centuries, then, the husband who sought to symbolize in his marriage something of Christ’s relations with His Church has become in succession the earth-bound husband and father, the macho mate who provides sustenance but whose life is centred elsewhere, the paramour, the philanderer and (yes) the wimp.  Psychologically, the process was, as Vitz describes it, the gradual setting loose in the world of the totally autonomous ego” (p. 411).


The tragedy of feminism is, he argues, in fact a reaction against this loss of masculine authority, and not against masculinity itself, which many women in a world far advanced in ‘wimpdom’, have never really experienced.  At a deep level, perhaps of which they are unaware, the feminist reacts against the feminine a “self-directed anger, roused by some sense of internal connivance with the men at whom the anger and the disgust are directed”.  The women are fleeing from the feminine because of the men.


Father Quay:  “The demand for autonomy is the self-contradictory demand for an absolute masculinity, a non-relational and sterile mimicry of the Father in Satan’s scoffing manner” (ibid.).


Lest we consider ourselves immune from such a malady of the autonomous ego and consequent masculine failure, Father Quay also has harsh words for academia, which has seen an ever-greater substitution of intellectual achievement for integral recapitulation.  Theology has transformed from something lived, as a means to holiness, to just another subject matter, with degrees, honours, awards (insofar as the subject of theology still exists at all on many campuses).  Universities, born from the ‘heart of the Church’, as Pope Saint John Paul described, originally included the “formative and developmental aspects of learning…as essential to the attainment of Christian wisdom”.  From almost the beginning “this began gradually to weaken…replaced by the practical knowledge directed to the instruction of professionals”.  In the era soon after Saint Thomas Aquinas, “a century and a half before and during the Reformation, scholastic theology was severely criticized for being nothing but book learning like the philosophy that had become its vehicle”. (p. 399)  Alas, “even Thomas seems not to have grasped explicitly the central role of recapitulation in Christ for the Christian life”. (p.400).


As he goes on “With the displacement of the cathedral schools by the universities in the 12th century, the formative and the developmental aspects of learning, included as essential in the attainment of Christian wisdom, began gradually to weaken…Thus the universities brought to birth the professional, intellectual classes, lay and clerical, that have the dominant role in shaping Western culture ever since”.  Hence, our modern scientists and politicians, running the world.  But the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes warned that the “the world stands in peril unless wiser men be forthcoming”.


We refuse to apply what we learn to ourselves, for all learning should ultimately lead to our own perfection, which we in turn hand on to others, so that goodness and holiness may increase. But this, alas, requires some degree of suffering.


The solution?  We go back to the beginning, to recapitulate, to re-live and re-experience in a spiritual, symbolic way, the spiritual growth of the people of Israel, from their ‘childhood’ in Abraham, to their ‘adolescence’ during Moses, to their full fulfilment in Christ.  As Father Quay so concretely puts it, a youngster cannot be raised on “John 13-17”, as sublime as this discourse is, for it cannot be understood, much less lived, without its roots in the Old Testament.  The end point of this is sentimentality, a soft comfortable religion that demands nothing of us; soon, the faith is outright lost.  One of Father Quay’s last sentences is that we must rediscover what it is that makes the Old Testament a Christian book.


I said one of his last sentences, for his very last section ends on hope, and he quotes a fellow Jesuit, in fact the very first Jesuit priest, Bd. Pierre Favre (ordained even before their founder, Saint Ignatius), who indicated in his spiritual journal:  “Discouragement can come from failing to notice all the little green shoots springing up under the dead and decaying leaves”  (p. 420).


As Father Quay points out, “Even in the decadent West, the Church is still growing, putting out new twigs and buds, some flowers and fruits, even if at times somewhat shriveled”.  On his second-last page, he quotes the psychiatrist-neurologist, and Jewish convert to Catholicism, Karl Stern:


The Catholic Church is the church of the multitude.  Consequently the outsider, approaching her, faces a thick layer of mediocrity…Thus, it took us some time before we saw the immense hidden treasure of anonymous sanctity in the Church; the spiritual power that flows to and from thousands of souls every day.  The stream of sacrifices made, for supernatural motives, by a multitude of working-class people, by religious in their communities, by priests and lay-people alike…”


Sadly, as Stern concludes, like the Jewish people “the misdeeds of one member are more broadcast than the sanctity of a hundred others” (p. 424).


In the end, as Father Quay himself ends up, “the problem of evil, then, is the problem of love”, and “most of us do not realize how deficient we are in love for each other or for God…It is that we might be saved from the hell of an eternal refusal of (God’s) love that we must suffer and grow – and, thus, that we might ratify, by our own free choice, our being made in the Image and Likeness of that eternal love for whom we were created from the beginning”.