Sunday, May 27, 2018

Loss of Life in Ireland

You’ve probably heard that the fight to save Ireland’s eighth amendment went down in defeat on Friday. The margin in the vote to embrace abortion was about the same as when the Irish adopted same-sex marriage in 2015: two-thirds for, one third against.

Only one county—Donegal—voted to preserve the ban on abortion, and just barely (52%). The BBC website reports that "Since the result was declared, Donegal has received a barrage of abuse on social media for becoming the 'red mark' on the map, just as Roscommon did following the same-sex referendum."

According to the stats at one news source, across Ireland the only age group to stand up for life was composed of those over 65.

This horrifying outcome would have shocked me less if I had understood the secularization of Ireland that has occurred in the last 30 years or so. I read this morning that regular church attendance among Catholics in Ireland dove from 90 percent in 1984 to 18 percent on 2013. (The massive sex scandals among the Irish clergy surely did not help.)

When same-sex marriage was set to appear on the ballot, nearly all priests and bishops remained silent. And speaking of leadership, has anyone, found an article on any efforts made by the Vatican to influence this latest vote and preserve Irish babies? On the day of the vote, one Irishman commented on an online article about the whole issue: "Haven't heard one peep from the Pope about the abortion referendum being held here today." Other commenters were less restrained in denouncing Rome's conspicuous silence.

So, despite our prayers, it is little wonder that God let the Irish have what the great majority of them have been asking for, deeply sad as that is.

I will be thinking of the people of Donegal who stood by their faith and now must cope with being part of a country that has abandoned its Christian conscience, leaving them feeling, as one priest put it, "like foreigners in their own country."

One gentleman named Fionan Bradley, as he exited Mass,  talked with a BBC reporter in the wake of the vote. "I'm so proud of Donegal. We stood up when it was a hard thing to do, especially for younger voters . . . If they start opening private [abortion] clinics we will protest--that's all we can do. We'll make sure women know they can get help in other ways."

It is interesting to note that abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland. Maybe those folks should start thinking about building their own wall along the southern border.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Francis and Barack--Graduates of the School of Scolding

Are we really so terrible?
I have been following Pope Francis' pontificate with concern. Mixed messages, strange pronouncements, and troubling encyclicals have been the order of the day. But it was only this morning that I recognized the troubling technique he has been using since being elected pope. Suddenly I saw it standing beside its twin: the dreary specter of America-bashing carried on for eight years by former President Barack Obama.

As I sat reading articles recapping Francis' five years in the seat of Peter, an amazing resemblance to Obama's famous Apology Tour could not be ignored. You remember: the new president went on a tour of European cities, apologizing at every stop for the America he was promising to fundamentally remake. He confessed our sins of aggression, greed, abuse of the planet, egotism, bigotry, etc., etc. A cheerleader for our country he was not. He continued to present this dreary view of his homeland to audiences domestic and foreign throughout his eight years. Inspiring, he was not. But after all, he needed to tell us how bad we were as a nation to convince us that we needed to change and change big. 

Enter Pope Francis, elected to the papacy during Obama's first term. After a truly spectacular display of humility following his enrobement (No, no! I'll go down to the front desk and pay my own hotel bill--I insist!), Francis set about sketching out the "paradigm shift" he envisioned for the Catholic Church. 

One of his first addresses consisted of publicly scolding the cardinals for their poor performance. Then he wagged his finger at the volunteers within parish churches for sticking to their comfort zone, hiding inside the church buildings rather than taking to the streets to tend to the poor. (But wait a minute--do you mean, Your Holiness, the generous, unpaid people who clean the church and stock the candles and usher at Masses and basically keep God's house open and looking beautiful?)

In his first encyclical, issued less than a year into his papacy, he warned against those Catholics who cling to Catholic Tradition and old doctrine rather than opening themselves to "new currents in theology." 

And how can we forget his encyclical on care of the Earth, in which he accused all of us of turning this magnificent planet into a giant trash dump? (But, Your Holiness, what about all the homes that recycle religiously and the strict, expensive pollution controls installed on America's factories and vehicles . . . ?)

Francis and Mr. Obama are simply using a time-honored technique: Preach at decent people that what they are used to doing, even if they thought it was good, is really very bad. Get them to feel ashamed. Then tell them what they can do to redeem themselves. Point them in the new, illumined direction.

Like poor old Toby the porter in Dickens' The Chimes, who wrings his hands after his alleged faults are listed for him by the all-knowing Alderman Cute, we stand ready to confess our offenses if only we could recognize them. "Born bad!" we cry about ourselves, and look around in confusion for a path to salvation.   

What would it be like to have a pontiff who championed Catholic Tradition? Who preached proudly of the industry, accomplishments, and compassion of the Church through history, both within the home and in our many spheres of good works? A pope who understood how heroically Christians have ministered to the destitute, the rejected, the imprisoned? 

Instead, Francis seems at every turn to be saying in one way or another that we have become, well, too Catholic, and must evolve into something more realistic.

If anything, the worst thing that has happened to the Church in recent decades is that it has gotten less Catholic, blurring the beauty of its doctrines and its practices in favor of blending in more with the modern world. Maybe what we need are some red hats with the slogan, Make the Church Great Again.* And make it great not by robbing it of its traditions and sound morals, but by embracing them and broadcasting them as the life preservers they are in a floundering world. 
*With gratitude to the Trump campaign.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Nativity Renaissance

We could all use some good news about religious expression right about now. What with Satanists putting up displays at public parks during the Christmas season, it's encouraging to hear what another pair of organizations is up to at this time of year.

In the last two years, Nativity scenes have popped up at a number of state capitol buildings, including those in Georgia, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Texas, Nebraska, Massachusetts, and yes, even California. How has this happened?

The well-known legal firm the Thomas More Society teamed up with the American Nativity Scene to provide Nativity figures (free of charge) to capitol buildings and other public places with the goal of keeping the key message of Christmas--the birth of Christ--in the pubic eye. It's all perfectly legal, soundly protected by the First Amendment. The National Catholic Register* reports:  
In just the last three years, the ANS and the Thomas More Society working with “the blessing of [their] special benefactor/angel,” as they put it, have shipped over 300 Nativity scenes to 32 different states.  Their official notice about the continuing success of this Nativity scene emphasizes that many of these “were placed in public parks, libraries, farm roads and government buildings but most importantly they are being displayed in the capitols in many of our states.”
How refreshing! Good things are happening, but most often quietly. It's easy to miss them, hidden behind the noise of the headlines. 

God bless the Thomas More Society for their valiant work on so many important fronts, as well as the generous American Nativity Scene organization. And may God bless you, faithful reader, with a glorious Christmas and a bright spirit in the year ahead.
*For more information on the project, see the article in the National Catholic Register (Nov. 15, 2017).

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How Could the Scandals Come as Any Surprise?

Too much has been written about the recent raft of sexual abuses by media and Hollywood luminaries. Weinstein, Lauer, Conyers, Rose, and let's not forget Bill Cosby. But most of the palavering entirely misses the main point. So I am here to make it.

At the bottom of these flagrant abuses is the concerted campaign waged over the last several decades to change how women are viewed. More than ever, women--pretty much since 1960 when the Pill came out--have been relentlessly sexualized in the media and entertainment industries. They are supposed to want sex as much as men do and Look! now they can indulge. Yes, now they can without shame admit that sexual encounters are what they are after, and, thanks to new aids in pregnancy control, they can have them freely, just as men have always done. And hey--it's no big deal, right?

In addition, we women have been preached at from all sides that to really count for something we need to get OUT of the home and hold down a paying job--like a man does. And please don't hold the door for a gal or give her your seat on the bus. How demeaning that would be! The loud-and-clear message is that our bodies may look and function a bit differently, but inside, Hans and Helga are just the same.

What was lacking in this modern scheme was the respect for women's time-honored specialties such as their talent for raising children, feeding people, nursing sick family members, hospitality, all sorts of home arts, and performing compassionate works in the community. Men largely acknowledged these abilities, understanding they were no match for women when it came to running a home, and even publicly honored and accommodated them by opening heavy doors and allowing them to sit when seats were limited. It was understood that women were human beings with real and unique gifts.

The new "liberated" view served only to indulge men's inherent selfishness (we're all selfish, of course), with women no longer applying the brakes to risky behavior but instead fully participating.
In the media, music, and movies, women's Number One gift now seems to be their physicality. Their bodies--often enhanced through surgery--are relentlessly accentuated with skimpy clothing and provocative movement. Even female news anchors on some channels must have a bombshell figure and sport tight dresses and stilettos. 

So all this sexual harassment and abuse are no wonder at all. Men are able to tell themselves that women are sexually driven too and should have no objection to their advances. Women fail to draw the line because that would make them look like a fuddy-duddy, or, when pressured by a boss, they could lose their job or promotion. 

What we are seeing is the natural result of the hyper-sexualization--and consequent dehuminization--of people. 

I imagine old Lucifer is rubbing his hands and chuckling mightily.

Follow-up to our last column:
The Satanists will NOT have a presence in Boca Raton's park this year. Some 50,000 signatures were presented to the City in protest, and during the December 1 Rosary rally in the park, the news circulated that the display would not go up this year. Word was that the middle-school teacher behind the last two years' Satanic display, just yards from the Nativity scene, had missed the deadline for his permit this time. Hallelujah.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Satan to Winter in Boca

The city council of Boca Raton, Florida, is welcoming Satan and his faithful minions to their fair city this December. City leaders clearly felt that their town's balmy temperatures and crystal coastline were all well and good for the upcoming holidays, but something was lacking. Fortunately, middle school teacher Preston Smith rose to the occasion--as he did last year--and applied for a permit to erect, near the city's usual Christmas Nativity scene, a tribute to Satan to round out the holiday cheer.  

City officials seemed caught between a rock and a fiery place. As reported:

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said she personally found the display “extremely offensive . . . But you know, again, we’ve chosen as the council to honor free speech.”

Similarly, Scott Singer, a city council member, said, “This is not consistent with my particular values, but free speech means people have an opportunity to express themselves, whether government likes it or not or whether individuals like it or not.”*

I wish the city council had called me before signing that permit. I would have told them that even free speech must, legally, stay within certain bounds. As we all know, we are not allowed to publicly promote crimes and violence against others. You usually cannot get a permit for that, or for fomenting revolution. 

So, did the council ask language arts teacher Preston Smith what his contrasting "religious" beliefs are as an Atheistic Satanist? If he subscribes to The Satanic Temple, one of their seven basic tenets is: "The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions."** This is a noble-sounding way of expressing the principle in most Satanic sects (they are a fractious bunch that cannot unite under one creed, it seems) that obedience to civil laws is optional. Their idol is, after all, Satan, the ultimate rebel. They see the will of the individual as supreme. 

So the officials of Boca Raton are permitting a display on behalf of a belief system that laughs at the whole concept of laws and order as we know it. Would they also issue a permit for a display from a revolutionary group that advocated dismantling the federal or local government and replacing it with an "Every man his own plan" society? Probably not. And yet . . . .

Much more could be said here about the dark and antisocial character of Satan worship, or about the frightening attributes of the fallen angel himself, as people have understood for thousands of years. All in all, these things represent the antithesis of what civilization has held up as valuable, healthy, and well-ordered. But even on merely civil grounds, the city council should definitely have known better.

You can view a picture of the 300-pound red pentagram scheduled to sit in the public square during the Christmas season--decked out with catchy slogans like "One Nation Under Anti-Christ" and "May the Children Hail Satan"--here. The page also features a petition, sponsored by Return to Order, protesting the city's decision to permit the devilish display. 

Happy Holidays!
  * "A middle-school teacher in Florida plans to erect a Satan display that will invite children to 'hail Satan' during the upcoming Christmas season." Sept. 29, 2017. Read it here.
** The Satanic Temple's FAQ page.
Image courtesy of