The Modus Operandi of Pope Francis

pope francis jan 30Like many around the world, Catholic or not, I have been trying to figure out Pope Francis.  It is always a difficult task to ‘get’ a man, to understand whence he comes and whither he goes, not least due to the complexity of people’s backgrounds and that unpredictable reality that we call’ ‘free-will’, but which in its original Latin is more properly termed liberum arbitrium, or free choice.  We never really know what people will choose to do, or not do, and even less why they do so.


One way we usually understand who people are is by their words and deeds, which, we presume, signify their interior state, or ‘who they are’.  The Pope is a special case in this regard, for in his official capacity as the “universal shepherd of all the faithful”, he has certain charisms that belong to his office, not least of which is the charism, or grace, of infallibility.  He sometimes acts officially as the Vicar of Christ, at other times as the man Jorge Bergoglio.


As the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, declares, the Pope’s infallibility is only exercised under certain conditions:  The Holy Father must be teaching as Pope, to all the faithful, on a matter of faith and morals, in a definitive manner.  Or in the words of the Constitution, paragraph 25:


And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.


Thus, we must believe that the Pope is ‘protected’, if you will, from going off the rails.  The very grace of Christ surrounds his office, which is why the doctrine of the papacy cannot be grasped purely on natural or rational grounds.  It is a mystery stricte dicta, which must be revealed to be believed.  But the fact that in two millennia with 266 Popes, none have every taught heresy, is a sure motive of belief in the divine origins of the papacy.


Although we must accept such infallible teachings of the Pope (including the doctrine of the papacy itself) with the ‘assent of faith’, what of the far more common non-infallible teachings of the Vicar of Christ?  These are more difficult to discern, and there is a hierarchy to them.  Again, Lumen Gentium:


religious submission of mind and will (religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium) must be shown in a special way (singulari ratione) to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will


We discern the level of authority of such statements, as Lumen Gentium declares a few lines earlier, “from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”


I have read quite a bit of what the Holy Father has written ‘officially’ within his ‘authentic Magisterium’, and it is all pious and orthodox, with a few misleading phrases here and there.  Then again, not many could fill the shoes of the precise clarity, breadth and depth of Benedict and John Paul, and Francis tends towards a more informal and homey style, which is perhaps in part what we, or maybe others, need.


He tends to stray somewhat more towards ambiguity in his off-the-cuff comments, and much has been written upon this tendency: his condemnations of non-defined ‘clericalism’, ‘fundamentalism’, and his rhetoric about the environment, not least global warming and climate change, his meetings with controversial figures and so on.  Indeed, these statements receive far more press than his more authoritative statements, and his quips (‘who am I to judge’), usually taken out of context, are touted around the world, ending up on coffee mugs and t-shirts.


To be honest, after the clarity of the previous two pontiffs (which compassed most of my life so far), this colloquial tendency of Pope Francis has bothered me.  Upon reflection, however, I think the Holy Father’s method stems from his Jesuit training, and their aim to be ‘all things to all men’.  The Pope, as he has admitted (for all his aversion to unspecified fundamentalism) is himself fundamentally a ‘loyal son of the Church’, and thus we should not expect him to change any doctrine on faith or morals; indeed, by his very office, he cannot.  However, in line with the Jesuit missionary spirit throughout the ages, he does seem to want to stretch the practical application of these principles, so that he can appeal to and, one may hope, bring in as many souls as he can.


Is this a dangerous game to play?  The difficulty is that in such ‘stretched’ application (as in his recent amendment to canon law expediting the annulment process, and his apparent widening of the situations in which non-Catholics may receive Communion), some may read back into such application that the doctrine itself has changed (that marriage, for example, is no longer indissoluble, or that Communion is just a ‘sign of unity’). The Holy Father’s recent address to the Roman Rota, wherein he re-emphasized the presumed validity and indissolubility of marriages, should put to rest such radical fears.


Of course, my own proclivities would be for a Pope to make a clearer link between doctrine and its application, but who am I?  I heard recently of a young Jesuit scholastic who said that if the Holy Father had not intervened with his own Catholicized version of environmental ethics and ecology at the recent Paris Summit, the radical anti-populationists would have unleashed an unbridled war on human beings.  They were caught at their own game, and had to respect the authority of the Pope, who still governs one billion Catholics, and has much moral authority over the rest of the world population.  We must not forget that for all the apparent radicalism of certain sections of Laudato Si, the Holy Father still emphasizes the primary and inviolability of human life (cf., #136).  We may hope that he is just as clear on the sanctity and integrity of the human family structure, marriage and sexual morality in his awaited post-apostolic letter on the recent Synod on the Family.


Perhaps the Pope in his own way, or in a way of which even he may not be fully aware, is standing in the breach before the powers of Hell.


At least that is the task of the Vicar of Christ and the successor of Peter.  Let us pray for the Pope, that in the time that remains to him (he just turned 79), carrying the heavy burden of standing in the place of Christ, he may fulfill what God wills of him, clearly and without compromise.

Gunplay and Bullying

yatim forcillo*Officer James Forcillo has been found guilty of attempted murder, a curious conviction considering that he had already killed Sammy Yatim.  That is, the jury found the officer’s first three shots to be justified in some broad notion of legitimate defense (itself dubious, as I wrote previously), but the other six shots into Sammy’s dead or dying body to be unjustified.  Since the first shots already killed Sammy, they found the officer not guilty of murder, but of attempted murder.

Hmm.  Sound complicated?  Well, compromises, as this conviction seems to be, often are.

As predicted, police officers are, in the main, or at least those who have spoken out, outraged and disappointed.  Although other front-line officers in Canada have been charged with such crimes while on duty, none have ever been convicted, so this is new.

The head of the Toronto Police Association, one Mike McCormack, was on the CBC yesterday evening claiming that Forcillo could not be convicted, since he was acting in accordance with his training.  When the host pressed the veteran officer on what his training would require in these circumstances, the officer was at a loss, claiming, essentially, that whatever officers choose to do in the concrete situation in which they find themselves are, by definition, in accordance with their training.  So officers are, by definition, above the law.  Curious.

I agree that no training, nor any sort of manual, can ever take the place of conscience, which is the court of ultimate and immediate appeal, where a man is alone with his God.  But then, as conscience implies, we are judged on our decisions in these concrete circumstances, and such judgement does not preclude police officers, nor any official.

Not to make too broad a comparison, but the Nazis tried this excuse after the war at the Nuremberg trials, that they were simply following orders, and thus the State was guilty, not they.  But the judges at Nuremberg rightly discounted this defense, claiming that, regardless of the coercion of training protocol and human law, one has a duty to choose in accordance with the moral law in each and every circumstance, especially when the lives of others are at stake.

Forcillo had a duty, as a human being, to choose the proper course of action in his confrontation with Sammy Yatim, regardless of what sort of ‘training’ he received (and he seems to have been somewhat trigger happy before this incident).  Human beings are not robots, and we cannot treat them as such.  We will never know fully what went through the minds and souls of Sammy and Forcillo, and the law can only judge the objective actions as prompted by such interior states, but Officer Forcillo, outside of the extenuating circumstances, destroyed a life that fateful night in July, and he must pay the consequences, before his fellow men, and, more profoundly, before God.


teacher victims

The two teachers killed in the line of duty, Adam Wood and Marie Janvier. Brothers Drayden and Dayne Fontaine were also killed. Requiescant in pace.

*On another even more tragic form of gun violence, we now know that the troubled teenager who shot nine people last Friday at Laloche, Saskatchewan, was ‘bullied’, and called himself a ‘black sheep’.  I would like to find someone who was not bullied to some extent during one’s adolescent years, and did not consider himself an outsider at various points in that troubled journey to adulthood.  It is a troubling indication of our world that the unidentified ‘youth’ (who cannot be named due to the Youth Offenders Act) decided to take his ‘problems’ out with a shotgun.

How much this has to do with the specific troubles of the North, and the whole Native culture, will come out over time.  The loss of Christianity, and the resurgence of hopeless, paganistic shamanism, does not help matters at all.  A priest friend of mine just returned from spending a month in the Yukon helping out with the spiritual work over Christmas, and he said that almost none of the Natives attend Mass. Due in large part to the ‘scandal’ of the residential school system, and other abuses, there has been a widespread rejection of the faith in those who once had it, and a refusal to convert in those who do not.

Yet without faith, there is no hope and, hence, despair seeps in.  The region of Laloche is known for its disaffected youth and its suicides.  Of course, these problems are blamed on the federal government, which can make thing better with more money; but, as we have seen, the cash often disappears into various black holes of unaccountable nepotism.  I dare say that one could build four star resorts with golf courses and heated swimming pools on every reservation, and still the problems would persist.  Commentators are already blaming the ‘broken system’ rather than the youth himself.  Yet, like Forcillo, he had a choice to make, and he made the wrong one, with clearly grave consequences, including the deaths of two young brothers and two teachers.  They say he was upset by people making fun of his ‘big ears’, but I find that hard to believe, at least in the case of the teachers.  Perhaps they gave him lower grades than he thought he deserved?  If so, maybe I should start arming myself against disgruntled students who make the same case against me, but I am willing, or hope I am, to die in the cause of truth, even the lowly cause of veridical grades.

It was also curious that, when asked in his recent court appearance whether he had any family present, the skinny, gangly youth responded quietly, looking at the floor, ‘my Mom’.  Whither his father, one is perforced to wonder?

Ultimately, the problems of this troubled youth, like so many that plague that broad region we call ‘the North’, (and we may as well include all of Canada here) are not monetary, but spiritual and moral, and these can only be cured not by a resurgence of Native paganism, nor by yet another governmental agency or ‘task force’, but by a return to the faith, the sacraments, by hope in eternal things and the goodness and love of God.



Saints Timothy and Titus, orate pro nobis.

Nota in Brevis January 13th: Of Bridges and Boondoggle

nipigon bridge

Just don’t slow down as you cross…

*Ah, the public boondoggle waste of our tax dollars continues by an incompetent Ontario government run by our disordered Premier:  A main bridge on the Trans-Canada, built but a scarce two months ago to the tune of $106 million, collapsed on the weekend, forcing the closure of the only land route across Canada.  Trucks and cars had to take a 12 hour, yes, 12 hour, detour through the United States.  The bridge is now sort of fixed, but we may ask:  Is this an act of God, or shoddy workmanship, or an act of God that reveals the shoddy workmanship?  Should not bridges in the north be able to handle northern winters?   But what do you expect from the Wynne and her sycophants?


saad rafi

Why so sad? You are a rich man, my friend.

*And the annals of bloated public salaries continues, as our provincial debt spirals out of control:  We first had the debacle of the ‘Pan Am Games’ last summer, itself a colossal waste of money, costing Toronto untold millions.  After all, who watches these wanna-be, mini-me Olympics?  You won a gold medal?  Oh, at the Pan-Am Games…The stands were by and large empty, untold numbers of roads were needlessly closed to handle the anticipated ‘crowds’, and the event left Toronto swimming in an Olympic-sized debt.  Anyway, the individual who oversaw this debacle, Saad Rafi, has now been offered the job of overseeing Ontario’s rapacious pension plan to the tune of $525,000, yes, half a million dollars.  Mr. Rafi will manage Kathleen Wynne’s intention to garnish a certain portion of workers’ wages, to be invested by her wise government officials, who will then pay it back in dividends when we need it during our golden years. After all, Ontarians cannot be trusted to invest their own money. Good luck with that, Ms. Wynne. As things now stand, our public debt load may crush us far before then, the dollar may sink to unplumbed depths, the stock market may collapse and, anyway, even if things do not so south, who would trust this government to invest their money?  Have you seen their bridges?


cologne protest

No violence against women, indeed.

*The concerted sex attacks in Cologne (sadly, right in front of the historic Cathedral), and, it now turns out, in many other cities across Europe, the news of which was deliberately suppressed for fear of retaliation against the refugees, have now given an even worse proverbial black eye to the new Islamic arrivals.  Even soft-hearted, or more properly soft-headed, liberal, post-Christian die-hard, open-the-door-to-all leaders like Angela Merkel are now realizing the gravity of what they have done.  But the ‘black eye’ on the refugees pales besides the untold bruises to the sensitive parts of Germany’s young women.  Over dinner, I listened to the beginning of a CBC interview with an official in Norway who actually has a job giving sex advice to incoming refugees.  My mouth was agape at the irony.  After this official claimed that the (predominantly young male) refugees ‘misinterpret’ the signals of what they perceive as the ‘come-hither’ advances of the scantily-clad frauleins, well, poor fellows, it is not really their fault, they do not understand our culture, they think such signals are an invitation for a wee bit of ‘intimacy’, blah, blah…I had to turn it off.  I hope they soon realize that it is in the very nature of Islam to treat women differently than the Christian culture upon which Europe was built. Women in particular will soon wake up to the fact that their rights and freedoms, instantiated now in law, flow from a Christian worldview:  that all people, regardless of sex, race, age or height, are made in God’s image, and are therefore equal in dignity.  To return to barbarism, as Islam would have us do, will turn women once again into sex objects, to be used and discarded by men.  The ISIS ‘caliphate’ has now decreed religious ‘rites’ surrounding the rape of female captives.  And so it will go in Europe, unless something is done, and soon.  But, as the German police demonstrated aptly on New Year’s Eve, the ‘men’ of this post-Christian, androgynous generation will do little to protect the women.  What can a few thousand police, steeped in ‘sensitivity training’ and political correctness, do against a million randy, violent Islamic young men?  As the (female) mayor of Cologne implied, let the women protect themselves, by staying an ‘arm’s length’ away from those of the male persuasion, especially, it is left unsaid, if they appear to be from certain regions of North Africa or the Middle East.  And if that does not work, stay home.


*Or perhaps not.  My non-politically correct advice to German women?  Marry a real man who can protect you, and raise a passel of children whom you both can protect, and raise them up to protect Germany and its once-Christian culture, and live the faith of your forefathers (and, by that I mean, Saint Boniface, not Luther or Goethe).  Standing disrobed to protest the ‘rape culture’ displayed by the new immigrants just puts you on display to them, makes you more vulnerable and sad.


*And, today, we should be happy, as we celebrate Saint Hilary of Poitiers (310-367), whose name means ‘joyful’ (as in, hilarious), one of the great foes of Arianism, an expositor of Trinitarian doctrine, and a great bishop and doctor of the Church.  So may the truth win out, et ora pro nobis.

Euthanasia Death Panel: Harbingers of Doom

euthanasiaYes, a cheery title for an article, but we are in a serious business, for unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise, Parliament must come up with a law for ‘physician-assisted suicide’ by this February.  The government has petitioned the Court for a six month extension, but one way or the other, a law is coming down the pipe, it seems.  Unlike the ‘question’ of abortion, about which there are no federal or provincial laws, even the morally-deficient legislators running our country realize that euthanasia cannot be left so ungoverned, for the unchained beast which kills adults (and not just children hidden in the womb) may quickly spiral out of control, and come after them.


They are wasting their time trying to frame a ‘containable’ law, for regardless of what kind of law is passed, there is no way to keep the evil genie of murder-suicide inside the proverbial bottle.  One need only peruse the morbidly fascinating Federal Panel Recommendation for crafting the proposed law.  Much is left secret, but what has been made public is enough to raise the hairs on the back of one’s vulernable neck.  Scroll down a few pages on the link, and you will discover these tantalizing tidbits from the dark lords of death Parliament has chosen to advise them:


RECOMMENDATION 17: Access to physician-assisted dying should not be impeded by the imposition of arbitrary age limits. Provinces and territories should recommend that the federal government make it clear in its changes to the Criminal Code that eligibility for physician-assisted dying is to be based on competence rather than age.


The Carter decision applies to a “competent adult person,” but does not include a definition of adult. In assessing whether someone is an adult person, an arbitrary age limit such as 18 years old provides no valid safeguard. Instead, it is important that willing physicians carefully consider the context of each request to determine whether the person has the information needed, is not under coercion or undue pressure, and is competent to make such a decision.  


In other words, children should be permitted to request suicide, and be murdered, presumably, as is already the case with 13 year olds requesting abortion, without parental consent.  I agree with the Panel that “an arbitrary age limit such as 18 years old provides no valid safeguard”, but because there are no valid safeguards for murder-suicide.


And why stop at 12 year olds, as the Panel elsewhere recommends?  Once the door to euthanasia is opened, and is seen as a valid medical and moral option, why deny such an ‘end to suffering’ to even younger children, with parental and physician consent, of course. Who are we to stand by and watch them suffer, just because they cannot speak?


The wide pathway being opened to death becomes clearer in the next excerpt, and read through this carefully, for it is telling:


RECOMMENDATION 18: “Grievous and irremediable medical condition” should be defined as a very severe or serious illness, disease or disability that cannot be alleviated by any means acceptable to the patient. Specific medical conditions that qualify as “grievous and irremediable” should not be delineated in legislation or regulation.


The second aspect of eligibility requires that the physician confirm that the patient is suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition. The Supreme Court does not offer a definition of “grievous” in the Carter decision. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines “grievous” as “very severe or serious.” This definition should be used in any changes proposed to the Criminal Code, provincial/territorial legislation or regulatory authority standards related to physician-assisted dying. Consistent with the Carter decision, we understand that “irremediable” is used to describe a condition that cannot be alleviated by any means acceptable to the patient. The determination of whether a condition is irremediable should be a two-step process. First, the physician must determine whether any treatments exist for the condition. Second, the patient must determine whether any of the available treatments are acceptable to him or her. We heard consistently through the stakeholder engagement process that grievous and irremediable should not be defined in terms of specific health conditions. No list of specific conditions could capture the range of illnesses, diseases and disabilities that might meet the parameters established by the Supreme Court. Instead, we recommend that regulatory authorities develop tools to assist physicians in making this determination on a case by case basis.


Behold, dear reader, the presumably expert and highly-compensated members of the Panel are using the Oxford dictionary to describe a ‘grievous’ condition, which, after all the legalistic blather, is in the end left medically undefined, without any objective criteria.  Whatever a patient deems grievous is, well, grievous.  Even if a treatment exists for the patient’s condition (and treatments always exist, at least palliative for end-of-life care), the patient is free to reject such treatments on purely subjective grounds “because they are not acceptable to him”.  In fact, as the Panel suggests, “no list of specific conditions” can capture what might be fit grounds for murder-suicide. Paralysis?  Parkinson’s? Mild to serious depression? Lupus? Bad acne?  A romantic breakup?  Low self-esteem?  Extreme poverty? Life regrets?  Old age?


Think me unduly pessimistic?  Glance back at the last sentence of Recommendation 17, that the physician must ensure that the patient is not under “undue pressure” to have himself passively murdered.  Pressure is fine, urging old grandpa to go gently into that long goodnight and save some of the inheritance draining away keeping his sad carcass alive in the nursing home, so long as we do not cross some kind of line, but that line, like the criteria, is also left undefined.  As soon as someone perceives himself unwanted, unloved, a medical burden, they will most certainly feel some kind of ‘pressure’ to kiss the world farewell.


We would do well to hearken the words of the great Pope Saint John Paul II, who declared in no uncertain terms in Evangelium Vitae:


in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.   Depending on the circumstances, this practice involves the malice proper to suicide or murder.


Euthanasia, whether it entail murder, suicide or both, is an intrinsically grave evil, and must be stopped at all costs, as it will only usher in a true dark age here in Canada under our ‘sunny ways’ Prime Minister, who is completing the work his father began, in what seems like some sort of bizarre Faustian bargain.


Then again, Faust was given a chance to repent, and the same choice stands before Mr. Trudeau and his legislators, but, although I am holding my faith, I am not holding my breath.  The Supreme Court decision in favour of assisted suicide last February, 2015 was unanimous, 9-0, and, barring a miracle, a subsequent law seems inevitable.


The macabre recommendations of the Panel, should they be adopted, will only accelerate the process towards the widespread extermination of the undesirable, young and old.  If Canadians accept this law, our physicians and nurses comply in being turned into murderers, and our hospitals double as charnel houses, then we are all done for.  The only recommendation Parliament and the Canadian people should adopt is to tell the Supreme Court, nine unelected officials by the way, where to go.


One way you can do that is to go to the this site, where you can offer your own two cents worth of advice to the government, which is seeking consultation from ‘the people’, as well from ‘expert’ panels.  I wonder how much of this is window dressing, to mollify an unsuspecting and gullible populace, but it never hurts in cases like this to have your voice heard, even if it is a voice crying the wilderness.


Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys, ora pro nobis

Is Cash Still King?


I wonder how many of us still use cash?  Reports state that we are becoming more and more a cash-less society, with Sweden (yes, always Sweden) being the most ‘advanced’ in this area.  A recent article in the National Post highlighted Bjorn Ulvaeus, one of the original ABBA members (who, to be fair, does not have to worry much about cash) but who runs, you guessed it, the ABBA museum in Stockholm.  The museum does not take your bills or coins:  debit or credit only, var snall och.  Even churches in Sweden now have swipe-machines for taking your tithes, and beggars on the street have devices for your donations.  No more “I ain’t got no change” excuse, I suppose.


Canada is not far behind Sweden in moving towards solely electronic transactions, but  there are concerns with a society losing its hold on cold hard cash.  As Hilaire Belloc, in his inimitable way, describes in Economics for Helen, money was invented to facilitate barter trading, which is ultimately the basis for all monetary transactions.  Instead of trading a cow for a sheep, or violin lessons for dental work, we trade in standardized symbols for what we think each ‘thing’ is worth, what its value is to us.  At first, the money itself was worth something, being made of rare (gold, silver), or sort-of-rare (copper), metal.  Eventually, as non-precious money came into currency, particularly paper bills, money was toggled to a ‘gold standard’, ensuring that the money supply did not outstrip the supply of the precious metal to avoid a deflation in the value of money.


The gold standard has been gradually dropped more or less since the Great Depression in the 1930’s, when the United States government decided to print more money than there was gold to back it up, to help the myriads of unemployed, and kick start the economy.  Thus began the era of easy debit and credit.  This unhinging of money from any sort of objective standard has continued, and accelerated, into our own day.


You might see where I am going with this, or rather where this is headed regardless of where I want to go with it.  Money in whatever form must be connected to something ‘real’, something of ‘value’, or it becomes unreliable.  I have written before on Zimbabwe under the reckless dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, whose currency is so worthless they are now printing trillion dollar bills.


But at least Zimbabwe still has cash.  There is something about physicality of bills and coins that is more real than an electronic transaction.  Peeling off a stack of twenty dollar bills to pay for that big-screen T.V. is a lot more difficult than swiping a pixilated $1200 on an Interac machine, to say nothing of the simple wave and blip on more current devices, where the money gets siphoned out of your account just by pulling out the card (and soon, even that won’t be necessary).


Clearly, cash offers far more resistance to impulse buying, or spending beyond one’s means


Furthermore, with an electronic transaction, there is a always a ‘paper’ trail, so to speak, which means the government, the banks and the stores all know every single thing you buy or sell.  Not a big deal, perhaps, but something.  Should ‘they’ know every one of our transactions?


On the plus side, there is greater security for businesses and individuals, with little or no cash on hand to tempt would-be robbers or muggers.  Of course, there is the possibility computer fraud, or of forcing you to reveal your PIN number, but that is a bit more complicated than just having you hand over your wallet, hopefully (in their eyes) stuffed with cash.


And, as you may be aware, banks also make a very tidy profit on these transactions, charging a small fee for each swipe of the plastic.  This is significantly less than the profit from credit cards (who charge businesses a hefty percentage for their services, and whose evil effects deserve another whole column).  I was surprised to learn that Interac is governed by a non-profit organization, but nonetheless, at the end of the day, it still remains curious that we are being charged to spend our own money.


Adopting a largely electronic system without cash also results in far less cost to the banks and government.  Why have a mint, and make all those expensive coins and glossy paper bills, so say nothing of paying artists to design the logos?  What of tellers and money-counters?  It takes a lot less manpower to keep track of blips on a screen.


And there is the problem of the connection of such electronic money to something real.  What does our money now signify?  Should the supply of money still be limited and controlled?  Is all of our value now in credit?  As its name implies, credit implies faith, that our money is worth something, and we are standing on a rather shaky foundation on that score.  The global economy lost trillions of dollars in the financial collapse of October 2008; but one may wonder, if it disappeared so easily, what existence did that money have in the first place?  Sub-prime mortgages, extended and over-leveraged loans, student debt and other ‘toxic’ assets do not a solid foundation make.  He who builds his house on sand…


This last week we saw a deep slide in the Chinese stock market, which wisely closed down (two days in a row) to prevent a further, and irrevocable, slide into something perhaps far worse and widespread than the Great Depression.  Are people losing faith in the stock market, and, if so, can a lack of faith in money be far behind?  How ‘true’ is our money?


Saint Thomas defines truth as adequatio rei et intellectus, roughly translated as a ‘conformity between the mind and reality’.  The same may be said of the economy, that it, and our faith in it, must be grounded in reality.   At least with cash, we have something real to touch, feel and handle, something concrete and limited, which we hand over with care for those things we value.  Even though debit offers more efficiency, I cannot help but feel something is lost in the transaction.


Of course, this disconnect is far worse with credit, but more on that soon.



Nota in Brevis January 7th: Of Hydrogen and Cultural Time Bombs

*A Happy New Year to all of our readers, and may 2016 bring you all many joys and blessings, even if there are a few crosses and sufferings along the way.  As the Catechism reminds us in the words of Saint Rose of Lima “apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven”.  So climb way, way up.
hydrogen bomb*This first week of the year began with a bang, as North Korea claims to have test-detonated a hydrogen bomb.  Scientists dispute the truth of this claim, as the evidence in inconclusive.  As you may be aware, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were atomic bombs, caused by the chain-reaction fission (the breaking apart) of uranium, based on Einstein’s equation e=mc2 (the energy from the disintegration of matter is equal to its mass times the speed of light squared, so a lot of energy from a little mass).  The hydrogen bomb, on the other hand, developed in the decade after the Second World War, is based on the fusion of hydrogen into helium, the same process that powers the Sun, and a much more efficient and powerful source of energy-from-mass, making such bombs many, many times more powerful than the already destructive power of uranium.  Should a megalomaniac nut job like Kim Jong-Un get his hands on one, along with an accurate delivery system (i.e., a long-range rocket to guide the bomb, always a problem), then the world has entered a new phase of instability.  And we are worried about global warming?  But as the Chinese proverb has it, who are also uneasy at their unpredictable Communist neighbour, ‘may you live in interesting times’.


*Today is the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacres, and may God rest the souls of all who died.  I had never heard of the magazine until last year, and, upon perusal, disliked their use of sarcasm, sexual innuendo, and vitriol to attack religion, not just Islam (one can see their apparent disdain for Catholicism in many issues).  But their Islamic-jihadi murderers had no right to kill them, and Mark Steyn is correct, that this and other attacks, lethal and not, have put a major damper on free speech:  We are all being cowed into ‘submission’, the ultimate aim of ‘Islam’ as its very name implies.


*Speaking of submission, a German carpenter has invented a device that can shut off the flow of sperm from the testes, thus making sex sterile, on-again, off-again.  So continues the death spiral of Germany, which has one of the lowest reproductive rates in the world; they are cutting off their means of reproduction, while populating their ageing country with millions of restless young Muslims.


*This is not a recipe for cultural stability, and the dissolution is now becoming starkly evident.  Swathes of such ‘restless young men of North African and Arab appearance’ descended upon the New Year’s Eve festivities in German protestCologne, mob-groping and sexually assaulting numerous young  frauleins.  Unless something is done soon to control such ‘restless young men’, and not just holding up ridiculous placards like the woman pictured, expect this as just a faint image of what is to come.  How long before the land of Mozart, Bach and Goethe becomes a Islamic caliphate, or at least a deeply and irrevocably divided country, with the dwindling German ‘majority’ living in guarded enclaves?  Already, the mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, is being ridiculed for suggesting women stay an ‘arm’s length’ away from men.  I thought they already did that, in the main.  Does the mayor think these women were jumping into the arms of these bearded barbarians in end-of-year euphoria?  Even so, I don’t think arm’s length evasions will save them from a randy would-be rapist of a certain cultural background that tends to disregard the objections of women to such violations.


*andre bessetteOn a more hopeful  and joyful note, today is also the feast of the great Canadian saint Andre Bessette, the inspiration and founder of Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.  He lived a quiet, hidden life as a porter of the Holy Cross monastery, where he was a professed Brother, before becoming famous as a confidant and miracle-worker.  Every healing performed at his hands and by his prayers, many of them utterly inexplicable scientifically, he attributed to Saint Joseph, and the shrine Andre helped build in his honour stands as a monument to the great custodian and foster-father of Christ.  I am no fan of the interior basilica and neither, I suspect, would Brother Andre (except for its majestic organ and its acoustics, which are impressive), but the Oratory, whose dome and structure are visible from many miles away, is a bold testament to faith in God, to Quebec’s Catholicism, and a sign that such faith as ‘little Andre’s’ is already there incipiently in the thousands of pilgrims, and may yet be again.

The Serendipity of Marriage

happily ever afterI attended a winter wedding this past weekend, something I have the honour and privilege of doing more often than most (attend weddings, that is, not specifically winter ones), as many of my former students make that bold and hope-filled move of tying the irrevocable knot.


I don’t think you will take it as news that there is a crisis of marriage, but even my cynical self was struck by a report that in Italy, not just in the number of divorces rising  but, more fundamentally, in the fewer and fewer people getting hitched in the first place.  There were 230,163 marriages in Italy in 2009, a number which dropped to 189,765 by last year’s 2014, a precipitous drop from an already low number.  Basically, marriage is disappearing, and this trend is occurring across Europe and North America.


But the picture is likely even worse than these numbers imply, for the reason that many of these ‘marriages’ may in fact not be marriages at all.


Here is the rub:  Marriage is both a natural, as well as a supernatural reality, raised to the level of a sacrament and a means of grace by Christ.  However, there is no sacrament without the true natural foundation, which is binding on all, Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist.  Since marriage is really a union of wills, before it is a joining of bodies, we must intend certain things with another person of the opposite sex in order to make a marriage:  These have been summarized in the Church’s teaching, following Saint Augustine, as fides, proles and sacramentum, that is, fidelity to the one spouse in body and mind (fides); openness to children (proles), and indissolubility of the marital bond until death do you part (sacramentum).


These are the foundations of marriage, or what the Catechism calls the ‘goods and requirements’ of matrimony (cf., #1643, ff.), without which there is no marriage.  Even if one of these intentions is missing, expressed in the vows and intended in the mind and will, the marriage is invalid.  Hence, it becomes ever more likely that, in the main, the only true marriages are found in Catholicism, which is the only institution that still expressly forbids divorce (hence, maintaining the sacramentum).


It used to be that most of the world more or less agreed with the Church’s view of marriage: infidelity (i.e., adultery) was widely denounced and condemned, divorce a rare and tragic thing, generally illegal, and children hoped for and expected.  Today, beginning with legislation broadening the reasons for divorce in Canada in 1968, quick and easy ‘no-fault’ divorce is the norm, adultery is widespread and to some extent socially acceptable (e.g., Ashley Madison), and more and more married couples remain childless by choice.


And further:  Not only must one state the three conditions for marriage in one’s vows, but one must also be able to intend such weighty requirements.   Are most young, and not-so-young, mis-educated and ill-formed couples prepared and able to take upon themselves the lifelong commitment of marriage?  As the current Code of Canon Law (#1095) states that the following are incapable of contracting marriage:


1/ those who lack the sufficient use of reason;


2/ those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted;


These latter  canons, especially the second (often jocosely called the ‘loose canon’) are the ones most often invoked in annulment cases.


Talk to any faithful priest, and he may tell you that he suspects that many of the marriages he performs likely lack one or more of the requirements of marriage.  Most young people, Catholic or not, are living together before marriage, a pleasant euphemism for ‘shacking up’, or, more technically, fornicatio simplex; they are using contraception; and they generally enter into marriage with some level of doubt about their partner’s or their own commitment, looking towards a divorce (or easy annulment) should things ‘not work out’, or someone better comes along (hence the presence of pre-nuptial agreements).


Besides these basic requirements for a valid marriage, there is the question also of compatibility, of building one’s marriage on a true and lasting friendship.  Someone told me that such compatibility may be summarized by the acronym P.I.E.S.:  Physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, and it seems to make sense.


We first notice the physical, their face, eyes and body, how they act and walk.  It seems essential to marriage that we must, at least to some degree, be physically attracted to and compatible with the other.


Second, we speak with them, and assess their intellectual compatibility.  Can they converse, have they read the same books, do they get our jokes, can they help teach the children and journey with us in the quest for the truth?


Third, we assess whether we are we emotional, or passionate, about the same things.  Religion, liturgy, sports, the outdoors, religion, Jedi folklore, nanotechnology?


And, finally, and most importantly, there is the spiritual, which binds everything else together: Whether they intend what we intend from marriage, to live a full life of prayer and sacramentality, to grow together in holiness, to sacrifice for each other, and for the children.


The Church is so insistent on these requirements for a true and good marriage that she in general reserves marriage to between two practising Catholics.  To marry a non-Catholic Christian requires a dispensation for liceity, and to marry a non-Christian (i.e., someone not baptized) requires a dispensation for validity.  In both cases, the non-Catholic must put no obstacle in the way to the children being raised Catholic (implying that they are already moving away from their own faith, hopefully towards Catholicism).


This may all seem idealistic and impossible.  I would agree idealistic, but not impossible, and I concur with Chesterton that it is only in following the ideal that we can live out the practical, and actually get on with the business of marriage and family life.  Settle not for second best, nor for an unhappy or, worse, an invalid marriage.


You may already be asking, how are young people to find a fitting partner in matrimony, one who is able to shoulder with them these three goods and requirements, and elevate them by grace and prayer to a supernatural sacrament, one who is compatible, a life-long friend and companion?

The answer lies in the notion of serendipity.  A word coined in a  letter written by Hugh Walpole in 1754, serendipity is a happy, unforeseen circumstance, that usually changes one’s life for the better:  Deciding to stay home for a bit longer before taking a walk, and an old friend shows up at the door; or you take the walk, and witness a beautiful rainbow, sunset or, yes, meet ‘the one’ God intended (or perhaps they show up at the door, a rare event indeed, but all it takes is once).


When you listen to many couple’s ‘how they met’ stories, they are often serendipitous, but this is somewhat illusory.  God’s providence is ‘concrete and immediate’, as the Catechism says, and there is ultimately no such thing as luck or pure chance.  Behind the scenes, there is always some kind of ‘arranger’, not just God, but those He uses to bring about His providence, whether it be the parish that organized a youth group or event, the workplace or, as is often the case with the marriages I attend, the Catholic university.  A  wise priest once told me that ‘propinquity is the greatest aphrodisiac’.  That is, people generally fall in love with those with whom they interact, spend time, converse, catch each other’s eyes, share coffee and conversation, study and work together.  That is why schools and workplaces are the two places where people often meet their significant other.


Of course, the man must at some point make the first move, take the initiative, and ask to court a young woman.  Someone told me once that one’s fate often depends on twenty seconds of courage.  So man up, men!  At least you will know with a no, and not spend your life in regret.


To foster true and holy marriages is one of the purposes of a Catholic college, or of one of the many Catholic apostolates that have sprung up across our land, and to support the bold and hope-filled endeavour we call matrimony is the main reason I attend the weddings I do (it is definitely not for the modern music, to hear ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ one more time, nor to engage in what passes for ‘dancing’ in our rather bizarre era, but more about that later).


And a final note:  What of those whom propinquity has apparently passed by, who did not meet someone in college or university, and whose workplaces are filled with agnostics and libertines of various stripes?  How are they to meet their ‘Catholic other’?


There are numerous Catholic (and secular) dating sites and singles groups which, whatever one’s reservations about them, have had some degree of success in fostering ‘serendipity’ and the providence of God.  One local one that was mentioned to me recently was a practising Catholic singles meet-and-greet.  You never know until you try.


In the end, if God intends marriage for you, He will send someone, somehow, someway.  If not, we can be happy and fulfilled without it, for even the great joys (and crosses!) of matrimony are a means to an end, to the ultimate marriage of the soul with God in heaven, where there is no marriage, nor being given in marriage.  It is that ultimate and unchanging beatitude where our true hope, and our true joy, ultimately reside.