Saturday Links 1/2/21

I enjoyed scrolling through all these images of Catholic churches done in a “brutalist” style, collected and explained by Catholic architect Jason John Paul Haskins. Brutalism is not necessarily the most popular sort of church architecture, but it is interesting, and it has something unique to say. Haskins explains:

The thing is, I genuinely find many of these church buildings to be sacred, inspiring, beautiful, moving, rich, worthy… And not in simply an academic or historical study; in my time in my own experience, outside considerations of their original context or the intent of their commissioners, architects, and builders. And this is especially true when I participate in their completion in worship.

If nothing else, take a quick scroll through all the pictures.

This, from Massimo Faggioli in Commonweal, is a fun and interesting look at the papacy through the lens of The Crown, which many of us binge-watched this year. The papacy is, after all, a monarchy, so similarities and parallels abound. Faggioli:

Francis has in a way upended things; more than his predecessors, he has chosen to lower the shield that ritual provides, revealing himself and the person he really is. This has injected unpredictability into the operations of the Vatican—which prizes predictability—making some of its courtiers nervous, but allowing others to thrive. In The Crown, we see this unpredictability in Diana, who as “the people’s princess” creates a kind of upheaval similar to what Francis has done in denouncing the clericalism of his brother bishops and casting himself more as part of the people of God than of the Curia. 

I didn’t expect to see Pope Francis and Princess Di mentioned in the same breath, but we are in the hopeful new year of 2021, so—let’s go! Here’s the link again if you’re interested.

I’m not sure what to make of this article from The Seattle Times, about ongoing demands for more transparency and accountability regarding the clergy’s complicity in the sex abuse crisis here in Western Washington.

Members of Heal Our Church, a Seattle-based alliance of practicing Catholics who seek a public review of how the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide sexual abuse scandal secretly festered within the parishes of Western Washington, contend they’re being stonewalled by Archbishop Paul Etienne.

Heal Our Church has been seeking a meeting with the archbishop since January of last year, but of course, the coronavirus seems like an obvious mitigating circumstance. And a major, lay-led review of all this, as the article acknowledges, has already been done. But frankly, little of the hierarchy’s behavior in this matter makes me want to extend much benefit of the doubt.

On the other hand, I was surprised to see the McCarrick Report mentioned at the end of the article as an example of the clergy “circling the wagons”, rather than as an unprecedented act of transparency. It seems to me that something like the McCarrick report is exactly what Heal Our Church is asking for?

Regardless, the hierarchy certainly deserves all the suspicion and scorn it receives from the media, the public, and the faithful in this matter. That and then some.

The entire article is here.

The Archdiocese of Seattle published a list of credibly accused clergy and religious, which you can find here. All have either died, been laicized, or assigned to “private prayer and penance”.

Saturday Links 12/26/20

Happy day-after to everyone! Today is the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr. It’s a day in which, traditionally, I sit at home and play video games for as long as my wife will allow.

Here are some links for your weekend reading.

Caitlin Flanagan has a very sweet exploration in The Atlantic about the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I didn’t know this, but Charles Schulz had a strong hand in shaping production, and Linus’ famous telling of the gospel story was a non-negotiable for him. Schulz seems to have really understood the world of children and for that reason (not to mention the Vince Guaraldi Trio) the special remains a classic. Flanagan:

Charles Schulz had what Maurice Sendak had: respect for children. He understood the way they think and feel, not the way adults want them to think and feel. He understood that there’s a point in children’s growing up when Christmas doesn’t work its magic as reliably as it once did. Schulz let them explore a taboo subject, Christmastime unhappiness, while still reassuring them that Christmas is a good and fun and wonderful thing.

Click here for more.

Father Aidan Kimel, a Western Orthodox priest, has posted three Christmas poems over the last week by none other than Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, leading lights of the Inklings and (two of them at least) still household names today.

Tolkien’s poem, “Noel,” is here.

Lewis’ poem, “The Turn of the Tide”, here.

Williams’ poem, “Christmas”, here.

In lieu of going to church on Christmas Eve, I tried watching the Vatican’s “midnight” Mass service online, but the internet cut out and I went to bed. What I did get to see was beautiful—but anyway, Rocco Palmo has an English translation of Pope Francis’ homily. A highlight:

 It is true: in our endless desire for possessions, we run after any number of mangers filled with ephemeral things and forget the manger of Bethlehem. That manger, poor in everything yet rich in love, teaches that true nourishment in life comes from letting ourselves be loved by God and loving others in turn. Jesus gives us the example. He, the Word of God, becomes an infant; he does not say a word but offers life.

Saturday Links 10/28/20

It’s tricky to post today because we’re traveling over Thanksgiving weekend. But I refuse to break my streak of posting each day!

Advent begins tonight, the first day of the year in the Catholic liturgical calendar. It’s one of the few times of the year that’s already richly textured and traditioned for most of us, what with Advent wreaths, Nativity scenes, and Christmas music on the radio.

I’m in an explore-and-experiment phase when it comes to Advent traditions, so I’ve been trying out something new every year and seeing what sticks. If you’re in a similar place, you might want to check out articles like this one, which suggest ways to expand or deepen your Advent traditions at home.

There’s plenty more of that on the internet, of course, but I think a good rule of thumb is to just try one new thing each year rather than bite off more than I can chew.

Saturday Links 11/21/20

Sr. Thea Bowman

I enjoyed this piece by Tia Noelle Pratt in Commonweal, which centers the experience of Black Catholic women in the United States, particularly Sister Thea Bowman and Toni Morrison.

Pratt includes a great quote from Sr. Bowman:

What does it mean to be Black and Catholic? It means that I come to my Church fully functioning. That doesn’t frighten you, does it? I come to my Church fully functioning. I bring myself, my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become, I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as a gift to the Church. 

Coincidentally, I watched this exact speech recently when I was taking care of our newborn son late one night. The full video is right here: her speech (about a half an hour) starts just after the 7-minute mark:

Sarah Zhang has a cover story in The Atlantic about the rise of free prenatal screening for Down syndrome in Denmark. Since the screening became available, the number of babies born in Denmark with Down has plummeted. 95% of Danish women, once made aware that their child will likely have Down, choose to abort.

Given the often mild nature of Down syndrome, I was shocked at that number.

The possibility of being able to test in utero not just for Down, but for all kinds of hereditary syndromes, disorders, and diseases is full of disturbing ethical implications. For example, what if you could use IVF to create dozens of human beings, then test each of them and select the one whose genetic profile you like best? Zhang goes on to consider this as well, not shying away from the re-emergence of eugenics in the West:

Garland-Thomson calls this commercialization of reproduction “velvet eugenics”velvet for the soft, subtle way it encourages the eradication of disability. Like the Velvet Revolution from which she takes the term, it’s accomplished without overt violence. But it also takes on another connotation as human reproduction becomes more and more subject to consumer choice: velvet, as in quality, high-caliber, premium-tier.

Wouldn’t you want only the best for your baby—one you’re already spending tens of thousands of dollars on IVF to conceive?

It turns people into products,” Garland-Thomson says.

America has already published a response to the article by a father of not one, but two children with Down syndrome, which you can read here.

Finally, this piece in Plough has really got me thinking!

It traces the history of capitalism’s gradual conquest of family life, from the nuclear family to the two-income trap to the advent of the smartphone and work-from-home living:

Our current arrangements work on multiple levels at once, simultaneously ramping up both supply and demand for goods and services. They do this by pulling us away from each other, sapping the warmth and belonging that might still some of the profitable psychological disquiet that Lasch and Fisher describe. We need – most of us literally need – to devote our adult lives to working outside the home, and answering work emails into the night. This dominance of work, and the loneliness, anxiety, and absentmindedness it produces – I should be accomplishing something right now! I should be more productive! – in turn calls for ever-present laptops, smartphones, tablets, and social media participation for mother, father, and children.

The newest frontier of capitalism is a family simply enjoying each other’s company with a $2 deck of cards. Much better to mine that as an untapped resource for data that can be bought and sold. The best tool for that process of extraction is, of course, the smartphone. And if so doing necessarily pulls each member away from the other, well, such is the price of endless profit!

Saturday Links 11/14/20

A survivor of sex abuse, who wished to remain anonymous, background right, plays violin after he delivered his testimony during a penitential liturgy attended by Pope Francis at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Credit: Vincenzo Pinto (AP)

Today I’m going to post some links regarding a difficult topic, namely, the ongoing issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

It was the pre-eminent topic in Catholic media this week, because on Tuesday the Vatican released the full, 449-page report of its investigation into “the knowledge and decision-making related to former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick”.

The good news is that this is a level of transparency that’s unprecedented for any institution. It demonstrates a commitment to shining a light on the clerical culture that has overlooked and enabled the sexual abuse of children and adults for God knows how long. This is an essential step forward.

The bad news is that the report shows that knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual abuse of young priests, seminarians, and minors swirled around him for decades, but this did not stop him from being promoted as bishop, archbishop, and finally cardinal. And it appears that Pope John Paul II—recently canonized as a saint!—was aware of this, dismissed it all as libel, and promoted him anyway.

It wasn’t until Pope Francis heard a credible allegation of McCarrick’s sexual abuse of a child that McCarrick suffered any real consequences for his actions. Francis dismissed McCarrick from the clerical state—the most severe punishment available, I think—and sentenced him to live out the rest of his days in prayer and penance hidden from public view.

It’s difficult for me to talk about this as a new Catholic since I have to admit it doesn’t pack the same emotional weight for me as it does for those who have been in the Church a long time. And I certainly don’t feel it the way a survivor of sexual abuse does. But it would be a failure of solidarity not to talk about this issue.

So, here’s some links that I found helpful.

America Magazine has a good video about the whole affair here:

Liz Bruenig (NYT) writes a good summary of what happened and talks a bit about how men like McCarrick took advantage of the Catholic instinct to trust:

Mr. McCarrick must have known he could rely on that Catholic instinct to trust — to have faith, in other words. “It’s not, oh my gosh, how did he rise up in spite of it?” Ms. Cummings told me. “It’s almost — it’s because of it.” His ascent and his alleged abuse seem to have been entwined: The same understanding of the faith and comfort with its adherents that seem to have made him a cunning predator also gave rise to his special facility with fund-raising and dazzled his complacent superiors.

Mary Pezzulo gives John Paul II both barrels:

I’ve been publicly criticized for saying that it was wrong to rush through John Paul the Second’s canonization, and for saying his feast day ought to be struck from the calendar. But I’m saying it again. It’s grossly wrong and a slap in the face to everyone who has been abused. John Paul the Second was not a great or a good man. Admitting this would be another step towards healing the Church, though it’s not enough. The resignation of just about everybody in the hierarchy might be a nice gesture as well, though it’s not enough.

Finally, Where Peter Is shares the stories of the survivors here:

Be warned—the accounts shared in the McCarrick Report are traumatic and triggering. Their stories speak for themselves, so I tried not to summarize or provide too much of my own commentary. I hope that we can sit and take some time with their stories, allowing them to enter our hearts and listen to their voices in solidarity, grieving, and prayer.

Saturday Links 11/7/20

Capuchin crypt beneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Capuccini, Rome

Continuing the week’s focus on All Souls and the afterlife, I enjoyed this piece by Elizabeth Harper on her visit to the crypt of Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte (not the same crypt as the picture above, but similar). Favorite line:

Without horror or shock I thought of my own fate. I remembered a sign at the entrance to the Capuchin crypt, written in five languages: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.” The first time I had seen this crypt I was struck by what I saw. This time I was struck by who.

Vanity Fair did a feature last weekend about the alliance between quasi-schismatic Catholic “radical traditionalists” and President Trump. It’s the first time I know of that a mainstream publication has reported on the radicalization of American Catholic conservatives into, well alt-right conspiracy theorists.

The title gives you the gist of it: “Deep State, Deep Church: How QAnon and Trumpism have Infected the Catholic Church”. Here’s a sample quote:

Donald Trump has pinned his 2020 hopes, in part, on dissident Catholics who view the church as compromised, the pope as an unorthodox interloper, and their theology as not just compatible with, but spiritual backbone for conspiracy theories like QAnon.

This was written before Election Day, but regardless of the president’s fate the trends the article outlines are likely to continue.

I’m surprised Francis hasn’t been more heavy-handed with American traditionalists, since the situation is getting worse, and certainly bishops and priests have been disciplined for much less by previous popes.

Plenty of (very premature) analysis being written as we come out of Election Week, but as for right now this quote from Ryan Burge, a political science professor who studies the intersection of religion and politics, sure makes sense to me:

“I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out what’s going on in someone’s mind when they press a button on a touchscreen on Nov. 3,” Burge said. “It could be they don’t like Trump’s fiscal policies and his tariffs on China, or it could be they just don’t like his hair … we really have no idea.”

The whole article, which includes a few guesses about this year’s Catholic vote, is here.

Saturday Links 10/31/20

The church door in Wittenburg, Germany, where Luther nailed his 95 theses.

Happy holidays! Tonight begins the fall triduum of All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints, and All Souls.

Today is also Reformation Day for my Protestant friends, so it seems timely to share this piece from Stanley Hauerwas, a Protestant professor of ethics at Duke Divinity School and an all-around rock star in world of Christian scholarship. Asked to comment on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, he wrote this:

Five hundred years after its inception, we are witnessing the end of the Reformation. The very name “Protestant” suggests a protest movement aimed at the reform of a church that now bears the name of Roman Catholicism. But the reality is that the Reformation worked. Most of the reforms Protestants wanted Catholics to make have been made.

I found this piece early on in my own conversion process a few months after he wrote it. Read the whole thing here. It’s worth your time!

Big news for American Catholics this week as Pope Francis named Archbishop Wilton Gregory as one of 13 new cardinals. He’ll become the first Black cardinal from the United States, and one of the people who will elect the next pope.

Heck, as a cardinal, he might even be the next pope.

Mike Lewis at Where Peter Is has a nice reflection on the significance of the decision:

This is a historic appointment, not only because of Gregory’s tremendous history as a faithful shepherd, but because he will become the first Black cardinal in the history of the US Church in a year filled with racial tension and conflict. But this year has also seen many Catholics begin to wake up and realize the depth to which deep-seated racism and eurocentrism have corrupted our Church and our ability to share the Gospel.

When I visited D.C. last May for a friend’s wedding, I made sure to visit St. Augustine’s on Sunday morning, one of the more vibrant Black parishes in the United States. Surrounded by Black Catholics piously kneeling in the pews, singing gospel hymns, hearing a sermon from a Black priest serving under a Black archbishop . . . I figured I’m headed in a good direction.

After the brouhaha over Pope Francis’ comments about same-sex unions in a recent documentary, many in the West argued about what it meant for LGBT folks here, both Catholic and not. But few considered just how significant Francis’ comments might be to LGBT people living in countries where homosexuality is taboo or illegal:

It definitely will save lives, especially in countries where there is active persecution of L.G.B.T.Q. people,” added Father Massingale, who regularly speaks publicly in support of L.G.B.T. Catholics. He said the pope’s recently publicized comments were consistent with his pastoral approach, by “putting the focus on gay and lesbian persons, not seeing them as ‘walking sex acts.’”

For L.G.B.T. Catholics living in places where homosexuality is outlawed, hearing Pope Francis stand up for the rights of L.G.B.T. people in a new documentary is something of a Godsend.

Pope Francis is, I agree, a Godsend.

Finally, I can’t help but mention the attack this week at the cathedral in Nice, France, where three people were killed. Here’s a decent article about it. Please pray for the victims, their families, and the perpetrator and his.

Peace, everyone, and enjoy the fun this weekend.

Saturday Links 10/17/20

Blessed Carlo Acutis, who died at 15 in 2006, will become the first Millennial saint. He was beatified over the weekend—the last step on the way to sainthood:

Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal legate for the basilicas of St Francis and St Mary of the Angels in Assisi, said during his homily that Acutis was a “normal and friendly teenager” who used the internet “in service to the gospel, to reach as many people as possible”.

“The internet was not just a means of escape, but a space for dialogue, knowledge, sharing and mutual respect that was to be used responsibly, without becoming slaves to it and [while] rejecting digital bullying,” he added.

Acutis is already being hailed as the patron saint of the internet. Among the relics from his life are an old t-shirt and a Playstation controller (!).

Bl. Carlo also created and managed numerous websites, including one that catalogued Eucharistic miracles. You can still look at it here.

So, pray for me, Blessed Carlo!

This article on Christopher Columbus shows how the author, a conservative skeptic, finally came around to a full-throated condemnation of Columbus and his many well-documented crimes:

At the very least, if I couldn’t find enough good to outweigh the grave evils that Christopher Columbus was indisputably responsible for, perhaps I could still return to my committed stance of neutrality [ . . . ]

Alas, I found only the stunning confirmation that swept away my remaining hesitations.

There’s a reason we celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on this blog. Here’s an overview of indigenous saints, from Meg Hunter-Kilmer.

Finally, I enjoyed this surprising essay on the diaries of Liane de Pougy, from Eve Tushnet, author of Gay and Catholic:

Even as faith begins to soak into her life like blood on a ballgown, she doesn’t seem to feel the weight of it. She can do a topless photo shoot in the morning and then pick up her well-worn copy of The Imitation of Christ to read a chapter before bed. In an early entry she regales her diary with the story of the confession she made before her marriage [ . . . ] she polished it off like this: ‘Father, except for murder and robbery I’ve done everything.’”

Happy reading.

Saturday Links 10/3/20

Pope Francis sent out an apostolic letter on Thursday, the 1600th anniversary of the death of St. Jerome. It’s a (long) exposition of the saint’s life and his continuing relevance for today, when knowledge of Scripture is so desperately lacking among Christians, not least due to the difficulty of finding trustworthy interpreters:

Biblical passages are not always immediately accessible. As Isaiah said (29:11), even for those who know how to “read” – that is, those who have had a sufficient intellectual training – the sacred book appears “sealed”, hermetically closed to interpretation. A witness is needed to intervene and provide the key to its liberating message, which is Christ the Lord. He alone is able to break the seal and open the book (cf. Rev 5:1-10) and in this way unveil its wondrous outpouring of grace (Lk 4:17-21). Many, even among practicing Christians, say openly that they are not able to read it (cf. Is 29:12), not because of illiteracy, but because they are unprepared for the biblical language, its modes of expression and its ancient cultural traditions. As a result the biblical text becomes indecipherable, as if it were written in an unknown alphabet and an esoteric tongue [ . . . ]

Jerome can serve as our guide because, like Philip (cf. Acts 8:35), he leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus, while responsibly and systematically providing the exegetical and cultural information needed for a correct and fruitful reading of the Scriptures. In an integrated and skillful way he employed all the methodological resources available in his day – competence in the languages in which the word of God was handed down, careful analysis and examination of manuscripts, detailed archeological research, as well as knowledge of the history of interpretation – in order to point to a correct understanding of the inspired Scriptures.

Probably nobody online has had more influence on my thinking than Richard Beck, a Protestant psychology professor who moonlights as a theology blogger. I found myself nodding in agreement with this post, from a series called “The Teleological Gaze”:

Camus gets right at the question in the beginning of The Myth of Sisyphus: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Why is life worth living?

That’s a great question, but without a teleological gaze pretty damn hard to answer. Oh sure, the talented and the affluent answer the question easily. The “winners” are having a delightful time. With their lives full of meaningful work, leisure time, and creative outlets, it’s easy for these few to crush the existential game of building meaning out of the resources at hand within the bounded set. But for the rest of humanity, answering Camus’ question can be difficult. Despair is always close at hand. Our work isn’t engaging, creative, fulfilling or self-actualizing. Opportunities for self-care, restoration, and self-exploration are rare if non-existent. Life within these bounded sets can be very hard.

Consequently, meaning, purpose, value, worth, and significance have to come through an outward turn, from outside the bounded set. This is the genius of religion, that I don’t have to answer Camus’ question all on my own. I don’t, in fact, have to answer it at all.

Man, this sentence from D.L. Mayfield:

I can no longer call myself an evangelical, because what defines a white evangelical in the United States has become a longing for an authoritarian state where Christianity is prioritized and privileged.

The full piece is here. I read Mayfield’s new book, The Myth of the American Dream, this summer. If you’re into a critique of Americanism from an evangelical perspective, check it out.

A few links on politics, if you can stomach it:

The editors at America (a Jesuit magazine) released this piece before ACB was nominated. Hard to disagree here:

What all of these concentric accusations of hypocrisy have in common is that they are largely, if not entirely, about abortion and support for or opposition to Roe v. Wade. Of course, many other important issues come before the court, but its resolutions of other epochal constitutional issues—from rejecting racial segregation to requiring the recognition of same-sex marriage—have helped usher in widespread societal acceptance of major changes. On the other hand, Roe v. Wade ignited a debate that has dominated American politics and deranged the process of Supreme Court appointments for more than 40 years.

Ross Douthat (NYT) on Amy Coney Barrett and conservative feminism (a name I’m not crazy about):

A conservative feminism today, on the other hand — again, if we can say that it exists — is adaptive rather than oppositional. It takes for granted that much of what Ginsburg fought for was necessary and just; that the old order suppressed female talent and ambition; that sexism and misogyny are more potent forces than many anti-feminists allowed. It agrees that the accomplishments of Barrett’s career — in academia and now on the federal bench — could have been denied to her in 1950, and it hails that change as good.

But then it also argues that feminism’s victories were somewhat unbalanced, that they were kinder to professional ambition than to other human aspirations, and that the society they forged has lost its equilibrium not just in work-life balance but also in other areas — sex and romance and marriage and child rearing, with the sexes increasingly alienated from one another and too many children desired but never born.

This diagnosis is not necessarily conservative; some of it might be endorsed by more radical feminists, for whom the alienation and disappointment is proof that enduring features of patriarchy and capitalism still need to be abolished.

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, also on ACB:

I’m a Catholic, more or less. I can follow along with the Mass in many languages I don’t know, and at Mass I feel connected to generations of women in my family. But People of Praise is foreign to me. If I were in the Senate, I would want to know quite a bit about it, and in particular about what it requires of its members when they operate within the secular world. In other words, what are the ecclesiastical pronouncements of her faith? These are questions that could be asked in a thorough and respectful manner. Given the national mood, I doubt that will happen.

Fall has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, but we’re still enjoying a solid two weeks of warm weather. I think I’ll see if I can get the whole family out on one last hike, before we head into the long dark.