Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cowards

I hesitate to write anything about the death of James Foley, because I agree with those Catholic writers and commenters who have pointed out how easy it is in these situations to dehumanize a person who has died in such a terrible way.  There are those who wish to use his death to call for open war, those who wish to use his death to condemn or to justify our nation’s actions in the Middle East, those who wish to score political points for their party, those who recognize Mr. Foley’s Catholic faith only to score points either positively or negatively by that fact.

All of that, of course, needs to stop.  Mr. Foley was and is a unique and beloved human person who has now faced the Almighty; prayers for his soul and for his suffering family are the only things anybody needs to say out loud in regards to him personally.  To do more is to risk using Mr. Foley, and his horrific death, in a way that human beings should not be used.

There is one thing that ought to be said, though, about his murderers, and it is this: they are cowards.

Not because they follow Islam.  Not because they live in the Middle East.  Not because of any group or association or faction to which they belong.  But because they were capable of treating a helpless civilian prisoner so brutally, of killing him so mercilessly, when he posed no threat at all to them, and never would.  Real men neither practice nor condone such cruel evil against people who are in their power.  Mr. Foley’s murderers are nothing but sniveling bullies who kill, in the end.

I think we should stop acting like terrorists are awe-inspiring agents of evil.  They are not.  They are the Devil’s lowest lackeys, his meanest and sorriest and least important of all who cringe and grovel and whine at the feet of evil.  Even the Devil, I suspect, sneers at them while he makes use of them.

Which is why we should--though it makes the gorge rise--be praying for them, too.  That they will wake up before it’s too late.  That they will realize that they are not serving the true God when they commit acts of repugnant evil.  That there is no reward in Heaven for the unrepentant murderers of the innocent, and that it will not be Heaven they find in the next life unless they repent of their evil while they yet live.

To pray for such cowards is not easy.  But to fail to do so is to risk becoming like them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hardly anyone came

I’m short on time today, but I wanted to put up a brief follow-up post to the Holy Day rant post that appears below this one.

We went to the 7 p.m. Mass in the main church of our parish.  The church building itself is tiny and parking is sparse (there is a capital campaign well underway raising the funds for the new church, and the new building looks like it will be lovely).  We went prepared to encounter crowds or even to sit in the “overflow” area which is sometimes used on Sundays, because the church is often too crowded on Sundays to hold everyone who comes to Mass.

Bear in mind that there are usually five Sunday Masses at this church (including the Saturday vigil).  Even with that many Masses it is necessary to accommodate overflow crowds.  But for the Holy Day there were only two Masses, one at 8 a.m., and this other one at 7.

We expected crowds.  But hardly anyone came.

There were a sprinkling of elderly couples.  There were a couple of families besides ours.  There were a few people who dashed in, probably just barely getting away from work, after Mass had begun.  But that was all.

There were plenty of empty benches.  There was a lot of available seating.  This church which never has enough space for its Sunday attendees was nearly empty.

Two Masses.  And hardly anyone came.

I’m going to be thinking and writing about this a bit more in the future, but for now, I have this suspicion in mind.

My suspicion is that the priests see the emptiness of their churches on Holy Days and think: Why should I bother scheduling any more Masses?  Hardly anyone comes to the Masses I do have on Holy Days.  Why should I try to get another priest here, or get permission to say more than two Masses, or do anything else of that nature? No matter how hard I try, the lay people don’t take their Holy Day obligation seriously.

But the lay people look at the schedule--two Masses, one impossible for working people and the other merely mostly impossible for families with two working adults and kids in school or daycare (that is, the majority of Catholic families in America)--and think: Why should I bother trying to get to Mass on this Holy Day?  If it were really important, there would be a Mass I could attend without being over an hour late to work in the morning, or without having to leave work an hour early in order to collect the kids from school/daycare/the sitter and still have time to get to church.  (And that’s before we even consider that the mom who leaves work at 6 and gets to the sitter by 6:30 may have open revolt on her hands if she tells the kids they’re going to head straight to church and be there until 8 p.m.  before any dinner will be possible.)

We don’t live in a Catholic country.  Holy Days don’t get treated like Sundays here.  In some Catholic countries stores and businesses close altogether or have “Sunday hours” on Holy Days.  Catholics in America can’t even imagine what that must be like.

And because we don’t live in a Catholic country, because Holy Days aren’t treated like Sundays, most Catholics have to go to work or school as usual on Holy Days of Obligation.  Children who attend Catholic schools will get the opportunity to go to Mass, but other Catholic children will not.  Diocesan employees can likely get to Mass quite easily on Holy Days, but the vast majority of workers will not be so lucky.

Something about this needs to change.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

My usual Holy Day rant

Tomorrow, as you no doubt already know, is the Feast of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation.  Which means that you have the same obligation to attend Mass as you would on a Sunday--that is, you must attend Mass unless excused for a serious reason (such as illness or the care of children).

And it’s also time for my usual Holy Day Rant.

Here in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, the number of Masses scheduled for Holy Days of Obligation have been shrinking.  It used to be that the average in parishes near me was three Masses on a Holy Day--even if the parish had four, five, or more Masses on Sunday (including the Saturday vigil), there were three Masses for a Holy Day.  I don’t know why.

But then, something changed!  The vigil Masses were removed.  Most of the parishes near where I live no longer have a vigil Mass for any Holy Days of Obligation.

So the pastors must have decided to put all three Masses on the Holy Day itself, right?

Wrong!  (You silly person--that would have made some kind of sense!)  What the pastors apparently decided en masse to do is--wait for it--cut the number of Holy Day Masses down to two.  TWO.  2.  Dos, for my Spanish-speaking friends.

So, yes,  many parishes in my area that have three, four, five or more Sunday Masses each weekend now have two Masses for Holy Days.  And, to add insult to injury, the vast majority of those Masses are either at 8 a.m. or somewhere between 6:30 and 7 p.m.  No really early morning Masses, no noon Masses except for a couple near the downtown area (pretty impossible for workers 45 minutes in traffic to the north to make during the workday).  Of course, if you look at Masstimes.org it seems like there are still vigil Masses and Masses other than 8 a.m. and 7 p.m, but I know from having called those parishes before that most of them don’t actually have those vigils or other Mass times available anymore.  It’s like a secret memo went out to the pastors of the Fort Worth diocese telling them to end the practice of having vigil Masses for feast days and also hinting that 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. would be the best times for workers in a tight job market and a global economy with 24/7 responsibilities, families with school-age children, and, well, everybody else to be able to get to Mass.

I have met plenty of Catholics who have no idea they’re supposed to attend Mass on Holy Days and that the obligation is just as serious as it is on a Sunday (e.g., grave sin, mortal under the usual conditions, to miss a Holy Day Mass without a good reason).  So perhaps our pastors have decided to give the vast majority of Fort Worth Catholics a perfectly legitimate reason to miss Holy Day Masses by scheduling so few of them, with one time--the 8 a.m. time--completely impossible for most people who work or go to school, and the other time just mostly impossible.  Or, and this may be more accurate, perhaps most pastors simply have no idea that the obligations of the laity make times like 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. somewhat difficult; I still remember the charming priest who said so sincerely that he really wanted a Mass for the working people, and was scheduling a daily Mass at 5:30 p.m. once a week for them.  The dear sweet actually thought working people were off by 5 p.m. and would have time to get halfway across town to a Mass by then!  One can only be patient with such a disconnect from the real world.

But I’m starting to lose my patience over the Holy Day of Obligation situation.  Reverend Fathers, if you truly want more Catholics to come to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, then WE NEED MORE MASSES.  I know--there was that time you scheduled an extra Mass and nobody came.  Which might prove that Catholics need to be better catechized about their obligations to attend Holy Day Masses--or it might prove that a Mass at 2 p.m. on a workday/school day in a country that isn’t even remotely Catholic is not going to fill up much.  Shocker.

At least tomorrow night we can have meat for dinner (for those of my fellow Catholics who voluntarily abstain from meat on Fridays, be aware that even in the old days Solemnities that fell on Fridays were not meatless).  True, we won’t have dinner until around 8:30 p.m. by the time we get back from Mass (if we’re lucky!), but at least we can eat meat.

No magic list of liturgical fixes

On Monday Patrick Archbold posted a piece at the National Catholic Register with the title “7 Things To Restore Sense of Sacred Your Pastor Could Do Tomorrow.”  I read the piece, and found that I agreed with some of it and disagreed with other points, and that when I disagreed some of my disagreements were about the suggestion itself and others were merely about the practicality of the suggestion.  What started shaping in my brain as a possible comment on the piece thus turned into a whole blog post, and since I had a really busy Tuesday ahead of me I decided to save it for today. (And now it’s technically Thursday...sigh.)

I’d like to begin by going through each of the “7 Things” individually, and then sum up with my thoughts more generally on the piece as a whole.  So let’s get started, shall we?  The numbered items are Pat’s suggestions:

1. Ad Orientem.  Pat, like many other traditionalist-leaning Catholics, thinks that having priests celebrate Mass at the head of the people (thus facing away from them) will automatically improve reverence.  This is one change I wouldn’t mind seeing; in fact, I have known priests who say Mass this way.  But the ones who do have learned the proper way to do it according to the present rubrics (something Pat does allude to, to give him credit).  That is, the rubrics of the Ordinary Form of the Mass do not require the priest to face away from the people the whole time (and, to be fair, neither do the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form; the E.F. still seems to require the priest to face the people during the Gospel and the Homily, for instance).  Priests wishing to celebrate ad orientem would, I think, be best off if they did check with the local ordinary first if only to make sure they understand the proper way to do this.  Then, too, the liturgical architecture would have to be suitable for an ad orientem; I am not sure if the rubrics permit this in churches where the tabernacle isn’t behind the altar, for instance, and I don’t know if all altars are suitably placed for this posture.  So while this is a change I think Catholics would generally support, especially if the reasons for it and the liturgical history were properly and carefully explained, I don’t think it’s something the average pastor could just do “tomorrow.”

2. Restore chant and polyphony.  Here Pat is quite literally, in my case, preaching to the choir.  I’m all in favor of chant and polyphony.  I’d even like to see Entrance Antiphons at the very least (we have little time for an actual Entrance Hymn given our mission church’s unique situation).  There are two really big obstacles: a) the congregation and b) the ability of all-volunteer lay choirs to learn chant and polyphony properly and then teach it to the congregation as the Council envisioned (because what the Council didn’t seem to want was the semi-professional/professional choir doing all the singing all the time while the congregation sat mute, possibly praying or at least soaking in the reverence, but also possibly planning their pancake orders for breakfast after Mass).  Since the all-volunteer choir naturally comes from the congregation these two areas sometimes overlap.  But even when they don’t--even when you have volunteers who would be quite eager to learn chant and polyphony--you have to be willing to hire people who can teach them, and then work around the volunteers’ schedules so they can come and learn.  And all of it will be for naught if the congregation gets angry and demands the return of “On Eagle’s Wings,” which is, alas, only too likely to happen.  Again, this isn’t something that will happen “tomorrow,” or even next week, for that matter.  The best strategy might be to teach the choir some “stealth chant” and have them deploy it at intervals until the congregation starts to like it.

3. Latin, yes, Latin!!  I like Latin.  I like singing in Latin and praying in Latin.  But we had to stop singing the Mass parts in Latin because a parishioner threw a screaming fit in the vestibule one Sunday about it.  It is a sad reality that some people associate Latin, for whatever reason, with Father Grumpy Hellfire who used to tell them that failing to kneel perfectly upright and perfectly still with their hands pointed at Heaven at Mass was a mortal sin for which they would burn for all eternity, or Sister Stern Wimple who terrorized the priests in the rectory and ran everything in the parish behind the scenes but told her female students they just had to accept that God didn’t like women as much as men so women can’t be priests and really shouldn’t try to be doctors, either.  Yes, we traded in those two characters for Father Kumbaya and Sister Stretchpants, but the point is that just as some of us will someday go into a conniption fit if the children of the parish are invited to help create a felt banner even if it’s only for the parish hall and only for one special day, so today do some of our elders go into conniptions when they hear Latin.  Is it a bit silly?  Sure.  Should we try to be charitable about it?  Of course.  Should we still slip a bit of Latin here and there into the Mass?  Well, naturally.  But do we have to make it a battle point?  I think Caesar would have told us, “Sumo vestri pugnas.”  (Or something like that.  High school Latin was a long time ago.)

4. Proper reception of Communion, Kneeling and On The Tongue. Well, now, this one is where Pat starts to lose me.  I actually do receive on the tongue most of the time (my exception is if I’m recovering from a viral illness and want to try to cut down on the spread of it; I also don’t shake hands at the Sign of Peace on those Sundays).  I prefer receiving on the tongue.  And I like communion rails in churches that have them; it makes Holy Communion move along more quickly than the individual lines.  The problem is that so many churches built since Vatican II not only don’t have communion rails, but they also don’t have a way to add them without major architectural renovations (hardly a “tomorrow” sort of fix).  I’ve seen some priests direct servers to place prie-dieux at the head of the Communion lines, but this not only lengthens the time it takes for Communion, it also makes it rather difficult for the people who cannot kneel and must somehow sidestep the prie-dieu without tripping anybody (or themselves) in order to receive--and that’s before we even get to the wheelchair-bound.  The only other alternative is to require people to kneel on the floor (or perhaps on a small cushion) one at a time--still slow, and much more dangerous for lots of people (I’m thinking of pregnant women and women carrying toddlers up to Communion for one group).  And Pat may not realize this, but the people who will have the hardest time with the “all the way to the floor and then back up again” kneeling posture are the women dressed in the longest and fullest-skirted dresses (probably one reason why there were communion rails in the first place).  All of this is before you get to the main problem: the bishops in the US have said that standing is the preferred posture for the reception of Holy Communion and that receiving on the hand is an approved option.  You may not like it, you may think it’s a horrible idea, you may wish that it would be changed, but that is what our ordinaries, to whom we are supposed to be obedient, have determined for the present time.  It is one thing to say that no one is forbidden to kneel and anybody who wants to can--which is true.  It is another to suggest that pastors ought to implement (tomorrow!) as a change in the Mass a requirement for everybody (except the physically impaired) to receive on their knees and on the tongue.  We don’t foster greater respect for the Church by promoting a spirit of disobedience among our pastors.

5. No More Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  Whenever I read things like this, I have to remind myself that people like Patrick Archbold may never have lived in places where one pastor serves two or even three area churches.  I have, several times.  In fact, my current pastor takes care of our mission and a main parish, and we are about to lose him!  Our new pastor will have the same responsibilities.  There is a rumor about an auxiliary or associate pastor or assistant priest, but so far as I know those are still rumors.  There was a deacon when we first got here, but he had to resign from the parish because he could no longer handle the one-hour drive (each way) to get to our parish.  And the parish where our pastor is being sent has 1300 families and a school--and, so far as I know, just the one priest!  If one person has to administer Communion on Sundays at a parish of that size, we’re not talking about a “slight” delay in the Mass.  We’re talking about an impossibility.  And that’s before we get to the problem about the distribution of Holy Communion under both species, which seems to be something the Church wants to have happen at least frequently enough to require helpers (I’ve pondered before whether some clarity on this matter might lead to greater clarity on the question of EMHCs).

6. Appropriate Attire.  Pat leaves this one a bit vague, other than talking about improving vestments (which would be nice, if it can be done, but given the sheer cost of better-made vestments it’s not going to be possible for every parish) and advising the priests to “...teach about the sacredness of women and encourage use of the veil.”  Since I’ve talked this one to death, I’ll just say that women are no more sacred than men, that we are all called to holiness, and that female holiness does not require women to dress like Laura Ingalls or to festoon themselves in lace.  I do agree with Pat about the level of casual that is present (tank top and shorts, etc.) but would argue that it is our society which has become casual; sadly, some people don’t ever dress up for anything and wouldn’t really know how to begin, and given the “business casual” environment in many work places some men no longer own suits as a matter of course, but have to purchase one for special occasions.  As for flip-flops: never say never.  I don’t even like them (can’t stand the strap between the toes) but had no choice but to don them when I broke a toe a few years ago.  I was able to find a “dressy” pair for church, but it was either that or go barefoot.

7. General Reverence and Sacredness.  Pat has several suggestions here.  In quick succession, I’d say: not a huge fan of the Sign of Peace myself either; incense is fine if it’s not the cheap stuff and they don’t put it right next to the choir (cough, cough); it’s not my place to tell the priests or servers what to do and I usually try to be forgiving if somebody messes up; priestly ad libs are annoying but the new translation has helped with that where I am; I care more about what the priest says than whether he’s peripatetic during the homily, but I prefer him to stay in the sanctuary even if he wants to pace a bit.

Now: I want to sum up by first sharing a shocking fact: I used to be just like Patrick.

No, really.  And here’s more.

How and when did I change?  Well, now, that would take some time to figure out.  At some point I stopped being convinced that a few magic changes to the Mass would suddenly produce an atmosphere of peace and reverence, a renewed sense of the sacred, and an unbelievable transformation of the Ordinary Form from the Mass of Community Specialness into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  At some point I started realizing that what I thought of as hard-hitting Catholic commentary was the boring old sin of Pride dressed up in its Sunday best.  At some point I realized that the Ordinary Form is a beautiful Mass regardless of some relatively minor--yes, minor!--mistakes and misdirections that will, I have no doubt, be appropriately addressed in time.

Maybe it was being involved in my parish choir and seeing for myself how much hard work it takes to prepare music for Mass each week when you have people like me, an enthusiastic soprano who is totally untrained and who still can’t really sight-read, filling the choir seats.  Maybe it was hearing from some people about how some song I’m not all that fond of means so much to them because their late husband loved it, or their child who died young used to sing along to it.  Maybe it was watching my dear pastor whom I’m going to miss so much pour himself out in daily service to the people of two churches--and as much as we appreciate him, we can’t possibly appreciate him a tenth as much as he deserves to be appreciated, such a gift from God he has been to us.  Maybe it was realizing that while I’m sneering and liturgically nit-picking Catholics in other parts of the world risk death to get to Mass.  Maybe it was bracing myself for liturgical fights over the new translation only to see it adopted peacefully and quietly by people who seem to have adjusted to it just fine.

Or maybe it was grace, pure and simple.

In any case, I know longer carry around in my mind a magic list of “fixes” that will restore proper sacredness to the Mass once and for all.  But I believe that God is in charge of His Church, that He calls deacons, priests, and bishops to their vocations, and that it is the job of those to whom it has been given to take care of the Mass.  Breaking free of my sinful--I really believe that--attitude toward the liturgy was the gift of a merciful God, and that same God will direct the Church to do with the Mass what He wills she should do.  And that’s really all there is to it, for me, anymore.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What can one even say to such idiocy?

Busy weekend, busy week ahead: infrequent blogging.  We’ve done this before.

But I couldn’t let the day slip by without sharing this: apparently Land’s End has seriously ticked off mommy shoppers, who found in their orders of children’s uniforms and swimwear a special bonus: a copy of GQ magazine, featuring a naked woman on the cover and with articles inside offering sex tips for perverts.  Rod Dreher has the story (warning to moms--Rod’s blog shows the magazine cover, so don’t click the link if your kids are in the room):
On and on and on it goes. I can’t imagine what kind of marketing department for a middle-of-the-road clothing retailer — one that until this spring, was owned by Sears, and heaven knows you can’t get more square than that — decides a magazine like GQ is appropriate to send unsolicited to its customers. My guess is a marketing department whose decision-makers don’t have children.
You know what I think?  I think it’s the same people who decided that JC Penney, another squarest of the square retailers, should go all tragically hip and push pedophile chic and “50 Shades of Gray Wear” instead of normal clothing actual humans might want to wear.  Because suburban moms and the over-50 female customer who makes up a huge segment of their market were eager to embrace both of those looks, right?

Or, more possibly, the idiots in the marketing departments are so enamored of their own genitals that they think everybody else makes shopping decisions with their reproductive organs, and can’t even imagine that what a bed-hopping twenty-something with a collection of exotic STDs and less moral sense than a monkey thinks is a good idea won’t be universally appealing.  One can only imagine their shock and consternation as the Land’s End Facebook page fills up with irate posts from angry moms declaring they won’t shop with Land’s End anymore--why, how could anybody be upset that the kids opened the box with their new uniform slacks and saw the picture of a woman of obvious loose virtue advertising her only assets on the cover of a magazine as tame and family-friendly as GQ?  “But...but it was free!” one can only imagine the bright boys, girls, and people of the other 48 genders exclaiming in consternation as they put their bongs down long enough to bend their prematurely-Botoxed brows in the semblance of concern.

What can one even say to such idiocy?

UPDATE: According to Rod, Land’s End is apologizing.  I think the apology letter leaves a lot to be desired, but at least they’re admitting error here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Questionable exhibits from the culture war

Exhibit A: Remember that nice, feel-good story about a restaurant that, on occasion, offered a “prayer discount” to diners who prayed over their food before eating?  Well, not anymore (hat tip: Deacon’s Bench):
Mary’s Gourmet Diner has announced it will no longer offer occasional discounts to people who pray before eating, citing the threat of legal action.
The restaurant’s prayer discount had gone viral in recent days, making national news shows and sparking heated arguments on the Internet.
On Wednesday, the restaurant posted a handwritten notice in its front window stating that it must “protect your freedom from religion in a public place.”
“It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit,” the note goes on to say, offering apology for “any offense this discount has incurred.” [...]
Guess who was mad?  Oh, yes, the usual suspects at the “Freedom From Religion Foundation.”  I wonder if we could start a “Freedom From the Freedom From Religion Foundation Foundation” and threaten those miserable wretches with lawsuits every time they make it harder for religious people to practice our faith in public...

My question is this: if a restaurant owner wants to offer discounts for praying, discounts for not praying, discounts for smiling or laughing, discounts for well-behaved children, discounts for customers wearing patriotic attire on July 4, discounts because the order came out wrong and had to be remade, or for any other reason, what business is it of anybody else?  The restaurant isn’t, as the atheists allege, “charging atheists more” because the “prayer discount” is something that happens randomly and that comes off of the already-agreed upon price.  You might as well allege that some restaurants charge poorly-behaved children more, or that some restaurants charge customers whose orders were fine more than customers whose orders had to be remade--true enough in one sense, but hardly the whole story.

Exhibit B: Among the tragic “hot car” deaths this summer comes this story:
(CNN) -- The death of a 10-month-old girl left in a hot car in Wichita, Kansas -- the latest in a string of hot-car child deaths in the United States -- triggered the quick arrest of the girl's foster father and on Friday prompted state officials to launch home inspections of adoptive and foster families.
The foster father told police he picked up the child from a babysitter about 4 p.m. Thursday, drove home and forgot the child was in the back seat, according to Lt. Todd Ojile of the Wichita Police Department.
Investigators say the girl was locked in the car with the windows up for some two-and-a-half hours. Temperatures in the Wichita area reached the low 90s on Thursday.
The foster father was in the process of adopting the girl with his partner, according to police. "Both were extremely upset," Ojile said.Ojile says the couple's other children have been removed from the home as the investigation continues. The couple are the adoptive parents of two children and are foster parents to four others with ages ranging from 3 to 18 years old, he said.
Tragic, but nobody’s fault, right?  Except that this foster father and his partner were, according to other accounts, using marijuana while watching Game of Thrones, which is why they didn’t notice the baby was missing.  Oh, and they’re both men--a gay couple, who are referred to each other as “husbands” in yet another account.

Before anybody’s knees start jerking, let me just say that no, I don’t think gay men are more likely to leave a child to die in a car by accident than other people who are taking care of children--though they are statistically more likely to be using drugs than straight people.  My real questions are these: why the reticence on the part of most of the mainstream media to come right out and admit that this is a same-sex couple raising children?  Why all the “partner” and careful sentence structure to avoid using male pronouns so that the fact that this is a same-sex couple is hidden in many if not most news accounts of the child’s death?  And, perhaps most puzzling of all, how do two men in their mid-to-late 20s manage to adopt two children and foster four more without anybody noticing that they, apparently, habitually use drugs?  I know from married heterosexual couples how hard it can be to adopt even one child, and what sorts of hoops would-be foster parents have to jump through, so how on earth did this oversight happen?

The more attention you pay to the news, the more the questionable exhibits from the culture war seem to crop up.  And nobody seems to have the answers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nuclear weapons are not weapons of just warfare

Today, August 6, is the feast of the Transfiguration in the Church.  It is also the anniversary of the day the first nuclear weapon was used on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.

Over the years, I’ve had several arguments with my fellow Catholics over the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima.  It cannot be said too clearly that America’s use of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Japan were acts of intrinsic and grave moral evil, that there is never a just use for a weapon that produces civilian casualties out of all proportion to legitimate military aims, and that no hypothetical goods produced by the dropping of these bombs can in any way outweigh the reality that using them was deeply morally wrong.

Here’s an interesting bit on the Just War theory from About.com’s Scott Richert:

While the Catechism mentions that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated,” it also states that “The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.” Here, the Church is concerned about the possible use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, the effects of which, by their very nature, cannot easily be confined to combatants in a war.
The injury or killing of the innocent during war is always forbidden; however, if a bullet goes astray, or an innocent person is killed by a bomb dropped on a military installation, the Church recognizes that these deaths are not intended. With modern weaponry, however, the calculation changes, because governments know that the use of nuclear bombs, for instance, will always kill or injure some who are innocent.
Because of that, the Church warns that the possibility of the use of such weapons must be considered when deciding whether a war is just. In fact, Pope John Paul II suggested that the threshold for a just war has been raised very high by the existence of these weapons of mass destruction, and he is the source of the teaching in the Catechism.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, went even further, telling the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Days in April 2003 that "we must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still licit to allow that a 'just war' might exist."
Furthermore, once a war has begun, the use of such weapons may violate jus in bello, meaning that the war is not being fought justly. The temptation for a country that is fighting a just war to use such weapons (and, thus, to act unjustly) is just one reason why the Church teaches that “The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating” the justice of a war.
I have heard well-meaning Catholics say things like, “Well, my grandfather wouldn’t have survived World War II if we hadn’t dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” or “There weren’t any civilians in Japan, because all of them were prepared to fight against an invading army, so technically they were all combatants and could all be targeted.”  These views, however understandable from the distance of history, are nonetheless very wrong.


And the danger of holding to those views is not merely the moral approbation given to immoral acts of the past for which one can’t be held responsible; the danger is that we will extend this moral approbation to gravely evil acts of war of our own times.  We have seen this in Catholic calls for pre-emptive wars, for a dehumanizing view of people who live in countries with which we are in conflict, and in a tendency towards xenophobia generally, views which are not compatible with Catholic thought and teaching.

As we go forward, it is my hope that as Catholics we can stand united against unjust wars and work for peace in the world.  We may on occasion find ourselves lining up with those we have tended to think of as our political enemies when we do this, but that should not be a cause for concern.  Truth should be sought and embraced wherever it is found, and the truth is that weapons such as nuclear bombs are not the weapons of just warfare.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Does the “T” stand for Thermidor?

It seems to me that lately I’ve seen a lot of discussions of the “T” issues from the LGBTQ...Z alphabet. Years ago, I used to argue that the strong push for the complete acceptance of the gay agenda would eventually lead to trouble with some of those other letters of the non-normal sex alphabet, and with the growing push to accept five-year-old girls as boys (and vice versa) and let them use the school bathrooms of their alleged choices, it would seem that those days are drawing near.

Over at Rod Dreher’s blog, some of the more conservative commenters have wondered whether the transgender issue will be the alternative-sexual rights agenda’s Thermidor.  People who shrug at the idea of two men or two women setting up housekeeping or even calling it “marriage” are not all that inclined to take kindly the idea that if they are male and date women, they should be perfectly willing to date an MtF transgendered person with no questions asked, for one thing.  For another, women--those of us born female, that is--are not too thrilled with the idea that only irrational bigotry could make us unwilling to share bathrooms, changing areas, dressing rooms, and other female-only spaces with people who claim to be female but who were born male, who still have male anatomy, and who, despite thinking of themselves as some sort of women, are in fact still sexually attracted to women.

At the most extreme, this sort of thing can lead to unintentional humor, as in this post of Rod’s from last week:
A generous reader sent me a delightfully Dreherbaity New Yorker article on the Iran-Iraq War the war between radical feminists and militant transgender activists. “Radfems” can’t stand male-to-female transgenders, and won’t let them into the movement because they believe they are really privileged males trying to pass as women. Transgenders can’t stand the radical feminists for obvious reasons. It has gotten very, very ugly, with transgender activists pressuring venues to deny Radfem conferences an opportunity to gather there, given their stance on transgender.
Read the whole thing, if you can stand it.

The promoters of the alternative-sexual rights agenda like to compare their struggles to the civil rights struggles of the recent past, but this is one notable example where the comparison breaks down.  An African-American man can’t simply decide he is a white male born in a black man’s body, and demand that everyone respect his inner race; the struggle for equal rights in the African-American community was always about people being treated as less than fully human based solely on an immutable characteristic. 

But the alternative-sexual rights promoters can’t have it both ways: gender and sexual orientation cannot be at one and the same time so innate and immutable that we must permit gay “marriage” in the name of equal rights and yet so fluid and changeable that a man can declare he is really female, despite his male sex organs, his XY chromosomes, and the fact that puberty for him did not involve painful breast development and the discomfort of menstruation.  It should be noted that the vast majority of transgendered individuals are not people who were born with ambiguous genitalia or an intersex condition; they are, by and large, fully biological men who wish to be women, or fully biological women who wish to be men.

And to point these things out is not being hideously unkind to people who suffer from gender identity disorders, any more than it would be unkind to point out to your friend John Smith that he is not actually Teddy Roosevelt despite thinking he is.  Now, John may insist on being called Teddy; he may want you to hum “Hail to the Chief” when he enters a room, and he may wish to be addressed as Mr. President; I’d have to check with Mark Shea, but I don’t think that the kindly-intended participation in the very real delusion someone might be suffering from constitutes lying.  But one could certainly cross that line, and I think it would be crossed if you encouraged “Teddy” to have plastic surgery so he looks like historical pictures of Teddy Roosevelt, or if you hired a band to play “Hail to the Chief” when he enters the room, or if you campaigned on “Teddy’s” behalf to force the Secret Service to give him an escort under some sort of notion that society owes him this much.

We should treat people who suffer from gender identity disorders very kindly.  But we do not have to go out of our way to enable their delusions or clamor alongside them for society to re-order itself to suit their conveniences.  There is a clear line of sanity, and I think that when we begin speaking of pregnant “men” or of “women” who have fathered children we have crossed that line.