The Twilight of Modernism

A reader writes...
Most Catholics and most others are pro life. It doesn't mean they want to recriminalize abortion, contraception, return to the days before divorce was easily available or further stigmatize homosexuality, neither do they embrace the culture of pseudo celibate, closeted Gay, clergy. They aren't misogynists, homophobes, child sodomizers or heretic burners.

Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church do so because they feel proprietary about it and don't want to leave its great legacy in the hands of those that currently control it. People like you.
It's sort of a dizzying comment, and only in the loosest way connected with the post it was "responding" to.

Let me address each point individually:
  1. The reader, "reddog," speaks a lot of "Most Catholics" and "Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church." Other than the statement that most Catholics are pro-life, these claims are all extremely suspect, and some are outright false. I agree with Carlos, who politely suggested he might just be projecting his own views, or the views of the rather theologically liberal views he runs in, onto Catholicism writ large.
  2. Beyond all this, all of these are arguments from popularity. Even if some of the "most Catholics" claims are right, so what? Most Catholics in the early 20th Century in the South disagreed with the Church on racial equality, including a disturbing number of priests, and likely more than a few bishops. Were they right because in their pocket of Catholicism, at that point in history, they were a majority? Or do we find that sort of parochially-obsessive logic silly and ineffective at determining the Truth?
  3. Reddog claims next that most Catholics are pro-life, but don't want to recriminalize abortion. He's right that most are pro-life, and most Catholics want more restrictions on abortion. The position that "abortion is murder, but we should keep it legal" is utterly indefensible morally. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of things which are sinful, but which for prudential reasons ought to be kept legal. Drunkenness is a mortal sin, but Prohibition was a terrible idea (and, of course, moderate alcohol consumption isn't sinful). So it isn't true that anything which violates the religious, or even the moral-ethical codes of Catholics (or anyone else) should be outlawed. There are two reasons to keep an immoral activity legal. One, it's a sin against God, but not natural law: we aren't a theocracy, so all of our laws are based on sources other than Divine revelation. It's wrong to legislate something like mandatory Mass attendance. It's not wrong to legislate against murder. The former violates religious law, the latter revealed law. The other reason is because (like Prohibition) the costs of legislating outweigh the benefits of the legislation. But for this particular crime against God and nature, we're talking about the slaughter of children in the womb. It's a crime against natural law as surely as any other form of murder, and plenty of non-Christians share our pro-life convictions for reasons other than "God says this is wrong." And there are no possible consequences to outlawing child-murder which would outweigh the horrors of millions upon millions of abortions. So regardless of the number of Catholics who may, in contrast to the teachings of the Church, think it's okay to let murder be legal, I say to them: you're wrong.
  4. After this, he recites a litany of things which they also don't want to do: one sentence talks about how these Catholics want legal and easily available contraception, abortion, and divorce, yet are "pro-life." But given that these are the major threats to life in modern America, how would one defend these things?
  5. Then he talks about how these Catholics are against "pseudo celibate, closeted Gay, clergy." If his point is that homosexuals and those who aren't celibate make poor priests, amen! If his point is that most priests fall into those two categories, he's obviously and inexcusably wrong. Most priests are actually celibate, heterosexually-oriented-but-not practicing men who have foregone the promise of wife and children for a greater good. These priests need our support, not our slander.
  6. This is followed by a sentence too bizarre to respond to about witch burning and child sodomy. What does it MEAN?
  7. Then comes the snark: "
    Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church do so because they feel proprietary about it and don't want to leave its great legacy in the hands of those that currently control it. People like you.
    The first thing I'd say is that reddog, or as you call yourself, "Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church," you need to address this issue in your own life, and stat. If it's true that you're only still in the Church because you "feel proprietary" and think you own it, I've got news for you. It's the Body of Christ, and HE owns it. If you're trying to own the the Church, you're nothing more than a leech on the Body, sucking out what is good and adding nothing positive. Besides that, this is petty and childish. You're old, man, and you'll almost certainly be dead by the time I hit your age. Do you really want to go meet Christ and say, "Yeah, I kept acting like a hippie adolescent into the twilight of my life, and tried to turn the Catholic Church into my generation's legacy"? Do you think He, or anyone else, will be impressed by that? Good luck.
Beyond that, whether you like it or not, the humans who man the Barque of Peter will shift to an ever-younger generation. And this means that the work of the Modernists is in its collective twilight (barring the unforeseen), because they've managed to alienate the very young, liberal Catholics they were counting on perpetuating their heresies.

Because of the work of baby boomer Modernists, a striking number of young Catholics feel disconnected from the Church. I heard it summarized really well like this: the reason that younger generations in the Church are more faithful and orthodox is because the young people who hold the views of the older heretics in the Church don't both calling themselves Catholic. So as for maintaining that legacy, even your ideological bedfellows don't find your views Catholic. And the attempts to "be relevant," those attempts which so define Modernism, make it aesthetically repulsive: Kumbaya doesn't really "speak to" the Millennial generation. Modernism is trapped in the early 60s, and those who love God, good art, or both, should rejoice in its death.

Modernism, like almost every other heresy which has plagued the Church, is banal and uninteresting. Once the novelty wears off - and believe me, it has - people aren't attracted to it, dooming those who thought they were paving the way for a New Church to watch their pet projects slowly die (If you think it's hard being a Modernist, try one of the heresies even further past its expiration date, like being a Monophysite). As for the Church's great Legacy, on the other hand, it is protected by Someone a lot stronger, and less mortal, than yourself: the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.

I recognize that my tone here has been sort of harsh, but it's because I think a firm shaking is the best cure for these delusions that you're somehow representing the noble masses of Catholicism, or that Catholicism needs your protecting to survive. I assure you that it is all done out of love, and concern for your soul. I know that most of those drawn into the heresy of Modernism were repelled by the rules-centric and oppressive-feeling culture of the Church at a certain point in the Twentieth Century. Your reaction was against what were largely legitimate grievances, although your reactions to these grievances haven't all stood the test of time well (a strong system of rules would have been great when there were non-celibate priests raping kids).

Truth be told, those of us committed and devoted to the Church and Her teachings largely aren't interested in going backwards (many of us weren't even alive for the "back then" you're afraid of). Look at the successful and growing orthodox organs in the Church: Opus Dei is a great example. Opus Dei is committed to, even obsessed with, laymen and women living out the Faith in their daily life, and dedicate themselves to equip those people with the tools to do so. That's the sort of empowerment which the Second Vatican Council was all about.

So I don't think you have as much to fear from "people like me" as you think. Benedict's hermeneutic of continuity, which views Vatican II as one of the many parts of the Church's blessed heritage, means that there's no such option as going back to before the Council. We're interested in moving forward, beyonds Modernism, not backwards to an idealized past.

Do Catholic Sinners and Heretics Disprove the Church?

I. A Perfect Circle
First of all, I hope you'll indulge me another art analogies, given this recent one. Giorgio Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists (the book which first named the "Renaissance"), recounts a possibly-legendary story about the famous artist Giotto di Bondone, on pg. 22:

Pope Benedict IX, who had planned to have several paintings done for Saint Peter's, sent one of his courtiers from Trevisi to Tuscany to ascertain what kind of man Giotto was and what his paintings were like. Once this courtier had come to see Giotto and to find out what other excellent masters of painting and mosaics lived in Florence, he spoke to many masters in Siena. Then, after he had collected drawings from them, he moved on to Florence, and having gone one morning to Giotto's shop while the artist was at work, he explained the pope's intentions and how he wanted to evaluate Giotto's work, finally asking him for a small sketch to send to His Holiness. Giotto, who was a courteous man, took a sheet of paper and a brush dipped in red, and with a turn of his hand made a circle so even in its shape and outline that it was a marvel to behold. After he had completed the circle, he said with an impudent grin to the courtier: "Here's your drawing." The courtier, thinking he was being ridiculed, replied: "Am I to have no other drawing than this one?" "It's more than sufficient," answered Giotto, "Send it along with the others and you will see whether or not it will be understood."

Sure enough, when the pope sees the perfect circle Giotto has drawn, and the courtier explains Giotto did it by hand, he's selected to paint a series of churches (although hopefully not elephant frescos). The magic of this story is simple. All of us know what a perfect circle should look like. None of us can draw one.

I've been thinking about this idea lately, because I've read a lot of (particularly Protestant) attacks on the Church based upon Her members' sinfulness. I think about Catholic teaching in this way: Her teachings are perfect, and the outlines and contours She presents are a perfect circle. Other Christian denominations have certain parts just so, and other parts warped. They're circles, but imperfect ones. As we get further away from the perfection of Catholicism, we enter the realm of ovals, and as we depart from Judeo-Christianity in whole, we find religions preaching squares, and triangles, and no shape at all (or whatever shape feels right to you).

But just because the Catholic Church proclaims what a perfect circle looks like, it doesn't mean that Her members (1) are able to draw a perfect circle, or (2) even accept the Church's understanding of what a perfect circle looks like. The first of these applies to everyone, including myself. I struggle, I sin, I fall. My circle has warps and flaws and rough eraser marks from where I tried to fix things myself, instead of relying on God. But through it all, in the back of my mind, I'm more or less aware that what I'm drawing isn't quite right. The Church's circle, though unattainable, helps us to recognize our flaws and failings, and turn them over to Jesus Christ. This, of course, was His plan (see Matthew 5:20 and Matt 5:48). The second of these categories involves those not wholly convinced that the Church's description of a circle is correct. This is something beyond sin, it's heresy, although it's often unintentional. So their circles are warped, but they're pretty sure they possess the real circle, and that the Church's surprisingly round circle is archaic or oppressive or masculinist or semi-Pelagian or Romanist (or whatever else).

II. Do Sinful or Heretical Catholics Disprove the Church's Teachings?
Now given that, here's why I'm struck by the strangeness of a certain argument presented either to discredit Catholicism (generally by conservative Protestants) or to defend heresy (by certain liberal Catholics). The argument goes as follows:
  1. The Church has a clearly teaches X on a certain issue.
  2. Some individual Catholics seem to believe or teach Y on the same issue.
  3. The Church hasn't formally excommunicated them.
  4. Therefore, the Church teaches X and Y, or at least, either is the possible view.
The argument is fundamentally flawed. The Catholic view of the Church is not that She is primarily made up of a body of believers, but that She is primarily the Body of Christ. Those connected to Her are connected to the teachings and life of Christ Himself. Her view of authority is top-down: the Magisterium teaches the individual, the individuals don't band together to decide what the Magisterium should start to teach. And failure to formally excommunicate someone is miles away from affirming their beliefs as correct.

There are over a billion baptized Catholic wandering the face of the Earth as we speak. Shall we wait until the Church has rigorously examined each one's faith before declaring what the Church teaches? It's worth considering that every one of these individuals, if they go to Mass or have been confirmed, make or have made certain declarations of faith. One of the frequentally used formulas at Confirmation asks, "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?" And the person says, "I do." If they're lying, they're lying before God and the Church, just as if they lied on the their wedding day.

So the argument above isn't very logically sound, from what I can tell. It's basically, "that field has weeds in it, so it can't be the Kingdom of God," but that's exactly the description of the Kingdom of God provided in Matthew 13:24-30, Matt. 13:36-43, and Matt. 13:47-50, where the Kingdom is described as either a wheat field with weeds in it, or a net full of both good and bad fish. Yet this is the line of argumentation that a user named Rhology opened with on Nick's Catholic Blog. He actually went further, claiming Nick was being dishonest in saying Catholics believe in a 73 book canon (which we do), because some not-excommunicated liberal Catholics don't. Rhology's flawed reasoning is built off of his own church background as a member of the SBC. He notes that,
My church (SBC) doesn't have the serious liberal problem yours does. It used to, but we cleaned up in the 70s and 80s. We don't make the ridiculous and unsupportable claims to exclusive unity like RCC does. My local church DOES excomm ppl for sinful lifestyles and for liberal teaching, while yours doesn't.
Now his church understands itself as simply a body of believers. So perhaps prior to the 80s, the SBC taught liberal heresy, since he admits that they had a "serious liberal problem" before then. He's apparently used to church teachings being defined from the bottom-up, and is trying to thrust this flawed view of the Church onto the Church, and then holding it against Her when She doesn't perform the way the SBC does (which might explains why She's not the SBC, but nothing more). Catholicism just doesn't work that way. Just because individual Catholics are drawing imperfect circles (sinful lifestyles) or proclaiming imperfect circles to be the 'real' circles (liberal teaching), it doesn't mean the Church proclaims that.

In the last year or two, there have been something of a chill between the two countries (a fact noticed by the US left and right, as well as the Israeli press). It would be accurate to say that the US seems somewhat less pro-Israel than it did under the previous administration. And yet Gallup trends show increasing support, amongst the American people, for Israel (see the graph here). Support for Israel (vis-a-vis Palestine) hss risen from 59 to 63% just in the last year. So how can we call the US less pro-Israel now than then, despite rising approval ratings? Because foreign policy isn't set by popular opinion, but by the federal government, particularly the executive branch, and often through the State Department. Failing to grasp that would mean failing to grasp the purpose of a republican government and the State Department specifically.

Now, of course, there's a huge difference between the Magisterium and the US government, in that the Magisterium's teachings have a binding effect. Even when he's not speaking infallibly, Magisterial teachings of the pope are authoritative. If he says, "do x," we do x, not just because his teachings are frequently protected by the Third Person of the Trinity, but because he's the head of the Church, and obedience requires it. This is called obsequium religiosum, and Vatican II's Lumen Gentium explains it well. This is lifted from paragraph 25, which is worth reading in full:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way 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. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.(41*)

So Nick's right. There aren't two equal parties. It isn't just, "you say X, I say Y, who knows who's right?" Or even, "those currently in power say X, so X is the law of the land, but I'm holding out a candle for Y." It's quite simply, "the Church says X, and Catholics who refuse 'religious submission of mind and will' are less Catholic." It may be that the individual's non serviam comes from a genuine mistake or ignorance over the Church's teachings on X, but it's just not true that X (the Church's teaching) and Y (the popular heresy) are equally "the Catholic view."

III. Conclusion
It's like I said before. The Magisterium proclaims a perfect circle, and yet we Catholics, whether willfully or not, routinely fail to draw the circle She proclaims. Like I said above: "All of us know what a perfect circle should look like. None of us can draw one." We can understand the values of faithfulness to God and moral conduct towards our neighbor, yet none of us are perfectly faithful or moral. The Church doesn't kick out everyone who fails to draw perfect circles, because if She did, there would be no one left. She does, of course, excommunicate those who do certain obviously and inherently evil things, as well as certain manifest heretics (like Roy Bourgeois). But these are, of course, extreme measures, and taken very rarely. Mostly, it's because in the Matthew 13 passages from above, the separation of the wheat from the tares, and the good from the bad fish, is done by angels, at the end of time. And we've been warned in Matthew 13:29-30a, by Christ Himself, "if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest." (see Matt 13:39-40 for explanation of these images).

Can a Catholic Be Pro-Life?

That question hopefully seems absurd. A Catholic cannot not be pro-life. But an anonymous blogger named "Steve" has further polluted the Internet with a post over at the hateful-Reformed blog Triablogue about Frank Beckwith.

If you're not familiar, Beckwith was head of the Evangelical Theology Society (ETS), but after reading up on the Early Church Fathers, reverted back to the Catholicism of his youth. His is a sort of classic story: he fell away from the Church because of how bad the catechesis was in the immediate post-conciliar period, came to know and love Jesus in a more fundamental way within Protestantism, and was eventually lead to Catholicism through Protestantism. That is, the very things which make Protestantism awesome are the things which lead it into Catholicism. His is the story of many Catholic "reverts," but on a grander scale, since he was one of Evangelicalism's leading lights. This reversion is, from a Catholic view, the fulfillment of Protestantism, just as Christianity in general is the fulfillment of Judaism. But just as many of the early Jewish believers regard Hebrew converts to Christianity as traitors, Triablogue's got a serious case of sour grapes about Beckwith.

Nowhere is this clearer than "Steve's" post on the "The Decline and Fall of Francis Beckwith" (note: it uses un-Christian language and perverted imagery: I don't advise it). It begins:
Back in his better days, as an Evangelical ethicist, Francis Beckwith distinguished himself as leading advocate for the rights of the unborn. Unfortunately, by converting to Rome, Beckwith has now betrayed the very constituency he used to serve. For he has become a shameless enabler of a pedophilic institution.
This conveniently lets Steve pine longingly for old Evangelical Beckwith, while regarding Catholic Beckwith with uncharitable disgust and derision. He actually compares him to "a guy who punches the clock 9-5 as a fireman while moonlighting as an arsonist on his off-hours." By that logic, Beckwith doesn't just "enable" pedophilia, he commits it himself (since "arsonists" aren't "people who think arson is defensible").

All of this is what is called calumny. It's damnable lies. Beckwith simply isn't less pro-life than his Evangelical days. If anything, he's more. He has a strong systematic theology and morality, takes a stronger stance against birth control, and is by any sane person's measure more thoroughly pro-life than ever before.

But what about the substance of Steve's arguments, such as they are? Well, Steve's entire thesis is built upon the idea that "the Roman Magisterium has been facilitating clerical pederasty for decades," a thesis which is demonstrably untrue. The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. The bad bishops in question failed in their pastoral responsibilities, but that's not a Magisterial function, even though it's an episcopal function. The only way you could say with any degree of honesty that the Magisterium was at fault is if the Catholic Church taught that pedophilia was ok, which of course, it doesn't. The opposite, of course, is true: She condemns it as a grave sin worthy of Hell. The fact that She has members, even clerics, who are terrible sinners doesn't make Her a sinful institution any more than the presence of murderers within the nation's borders makes America a "murderous country." That's terribly flawed reasoning.

This isn't a subtle distinction. The Church's teachings aren't simply the collection of the actions of the Church hierarchy. That's not true of any Church, and particularly not of the Catholic Church, who expressly denounces that ecclessiology. Here's why it's important. If the Church doesn't teach pedophilia, which it doesn't, that leaves Steve to argue:
  1. Frank Beckwith defends Catholicism.
  2. Some Catholic bishops misused their office and betrayed their mandate, enabling pedophiles.
  3. Therefore, Beckwith is personally complicit in pedophilia, which is against an holistic vision of pro-lifeness.

But applying this logic to any other context shows its absurdity:

  • America has laws permitting abortion: does that mean that all US soldiers are "betraying" the unborn by defending her? *
  • Are all taxpayers responsible for the abuses and scandals caused by politicians, since their tax dollars "enable" the government, and thus, somewhere along the line, pay a minute portion of the salary of the politican?
  • Or those who defended the Twelve during the time of Christ: does that mean that they agreed with Judas' betrayal of Christ? Judas was, after all, a member of the original Magisterium, so by Steve's logic, betraying Christ is Apostolic, Magisterial teaching.

*This is the closest one to a logical construction. Since America actually has laws permitting abortion, it's far closer to the sort of child-destroying institution than the Catholic Church is. But, of course, America is defended by pro-life soldiers in spite of, not because of, her sometimes terrible flaws. In the case of the Catholic Church, Beckwith is defending an institution which condemns pedophilia, not promotes it.

I struggled with whether to even post this, because I don't want to add fuel to the fire, and I don't particularly want to get involved in the ugly spat. Ultimately, I decided to for a couple of reason. First, I've heard some variation of the "Catholic Church protects pedophiles" meme to let it go unaddressed any longer: that's poor logical construction, and it's an evil rumor which needs to be halted immediately. And second, in this particular case, Steve's below-the-belt attacks were on Frank Beckwith and by extension, Trent Dougherty (who wrote the piece Steve was flailing against), both of whom I'm very pleased to call brothers in the faith. Besides, my sincere hope is that Steve's lashing out is rooted in some way in a Christian love for the truth which just hasn't found a full or authentic expression yet in the manner in which God longs for it to. Hopefully, this post, and my response on his blog help nudge him and those similarly situated towards, and not away from, God's Church.

What About Life-Saving Abortions?

I. The Sr. McBride Excommunication
You can tell how fair CNN's treatment of the recent Margaret McBride case was by the headline: "Nun excommunicated for approving life-saving abortion." Or from the first paragraph, describing how it was an "agonizing decision" to have an abortion. Or from the second paragraph which describes "The problem: St. Joseph's is a Catholic hospital and abortions are largely prohibited." As CNN sees it, the abortion was the obviously-right thing to do, and it's a "problem" that St. Joseph's is a Catholic hospital and "largely" prohibits abortions.

CNN's treatment, unfortunately, is pretty characteristic. And the comments on the article from non-Catholics are uniform: religion is stupid, because the Church "wanted" two people to die, instead of one. It's eerie reading these things, because it shows a populace largely married to the idea of utilitarianism, to the extent that they can't even understand the alternative, other than "it must be blind religious dogma." The fact that this related to the already controversial issue of abortion makes it even harder to get people to think clearly. So let's take a hypothetical that doesn't involve abortion:
A woman and her young child are walking through the woods when they encounter a wild beast. Immediately, the beast hungrily pursues them. The woman grabs her child and begins to flee, but realizes that with the child weighing her down, it's dramatically more likely that the beast will catch and her both her and the child. May she kill her child and throw him to the beast as bait, while running in the other direction, so that the beast will eat her child, but let her live?
The Christian answer is simple: Romans 3:8. We are not allowed to do evil so that good can come about. Feeding your child to a wild beast is evil. It doesn't matter if the number of lives saved is greater. The utilitarian answer is equally simple: killing the child to save the mom is superior to allowing both to die, because the first option only has one bodybag.

II. The Trouble with Utilitarianism
The Christian answer is far more sane than the utilitarian alternative. If you look at just the number of people's lives saved, or the net amount of pleasure, or some other faux-objective standard, you're on dangerous turf. If it's okay for a person to purposely kill his or her own child to save their own life, is it okay for the state to execute someone they know to be innocent? Let me take another example:

The Roman state apparently used to take those found guilty of chariot theft, tie them to four different chariots, and send the chariots in the four cardinal directions, ripping the person's body into four parts. Suppose that a certain state decided to bring this back for the capital crime of first-degree murder, to replace the electric chair. Suppose further that this incredibly painful form of punishment is a relatively effective deterrent: let's imagine that for every person executed in this way, ten other people decided against murder (it'd be impossible to quantify this, of course, but just for the sake of argument: perhaps there are really good statiticians in your state).

Finally, imagine that the day you were to sign a certain prisoner's death warrant, condemning him to this brutal death, you, the governor, found overwhelming evidence that he was 100% factually innocent. The police had simply grabbed the wrong guy: the real guy had died a few months earlier, and going through his belongings, you found the “smoking gun,” so to speak.

You are the only person who knows about this evidence. You can easily destroy it without raising an eyebrow, and condemn the innocent man to die -- no one now or in the future would ever question his guilt, since the evidence at trial was seemingly quite strong. You can also, however, refuse to sign the death warrant, and pardon the innocent man.

Pardoning him, however, will have a negative effect: the ten killers who would be deterred by his execution might instead feel confident that you’re “soft on crime,” and commit their murders.

So your choices are to intentionally cause an innocent man die, or unintentionally permit ten other innocent people to die.

The Catholic answer is clear: you are never allowed to commit evil so good can come about. Doesn't matter how much evil or how much good. The utilitarian answer is equally clear: one person dies if you kill the innocent man, ten die if you don't. That's what makes utilitarianism so incredibly dangerous: its willingness to "break a few eggs to make an omelet," to paraphrase Joseph Stalin.

In real life, of course, it's even worse. Utilitarians don't live in some all-seeing tower from which they can tell all of the possible consequences of two sets of actions. All sorts of biases come in: is a German life worth more than a Jewish life? A white life more than a black life? A woman's life more than a fetus' life? And so forth.

And once a utilitarian marries a specific ideology, look out. An orthodox Catholic deluded into thinking that they can create utopia on earth is still restricted to moral behavior: they can non-violently demonstrate to try and bring it about, they can legislate (as long as the legislation is moral), etc., but they can't do evil. On the other hand, a deluded utiliatarian hell-bent on creating the "perfect state" can do a massive amount of evil. One need only look at the history of the twentieth century to see just how much evil they did. Millions of people died because some ruler believed that this evil would bring about the ultimate Good, a paradise on Earth.

III. A Defense of Sister McBride
The popular defense of Sr. McBride, that what she did was okay because fewer people died in the end, is wrong and dangerous. But that doesn't mean she is without defense. In fact, she has a solidly Catholic defense. Michael Liccione explained it in First Things, but I'd like to try my hand. The USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fourth Edition has two important directives on point.

The first is Directive 45, which prohibits abortion (as the Church defines abortion). Here's the first half of the directive (the relevant half):
Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo.

In plain English, directly intending the killing of an unborn child is forbidden, from conception onwards. It doesn't matter if you directly intend it because you don't want a child, or because continuing the pregnancy is dangerous. If you directly intend to kill an unborn child for any reason, it's always and everywhere evil, and without defense. But there's another directive on point, as well, which explains why directive 45 specifies "direct intent." Directive 47 says:

Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.

In other words, a non-evil procedure to save a mother's life may be undergone, even if there's no way to perform that procedure without the child dying.

At first brush, this seems to contradict Directive 45, but it doesn't at all. Let's bring it back to the first hypothetical, about a mother and child fleeing from a beast. It would be gravely sinful for the woman to kill her child and feed him to the beast. I think (and hope) that just about everyone intuitively recognizes this. On the other hand, however, it wouldn't be gravely sinful for the woman, realizing there was no way to save the child, and knowing that continuing to do so would mean they both died, to set him down so that she can run faster. Tragic, yes. Sinful, no. She doesn't want him to die, she's not trying to kill him, she's just incapable of saving him.

Again, this is something which most people intuitively understand as correct. There are frequently cases where someone is trapped underwater and rescuers can't save them: where their thrashing and kicking forces the rescuers to let them go. The rescuers know full well that the person will die, and did all that they could to stop it. Continuing to struggle would be in vain, and would only result in the rescuers' own deaths.

So there's, perhaps surprisingly, a world of difference between throwing a child to the beast, and setting him down knowing that the beast will eat him. All of this, which I think most of us would naturally recognize as correct, is built into the Catholic principle of double effect.

IV. The Principle of Double Effect, the Death Star, and Indirect Abortions
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy quotes page 1021 of the older Catholic Encyclopedia for these four conditions for applying the principle of double effect:

  1. The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
  2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
  3. The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
  4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the context of war. Take the destruction of the second Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi. Luke & co. blow up the Death Star while it is under construction, meaning that there are countless innocent people who died as a result. However, it meets all four conditions:

  1. The act itself is morally good. It's morally right to prevent evil and morally right to punish evil. Although it's arguable whether they had the authority to punish, they certainly were permitted to stop evil.
  2. They aren't trying to kill the innocent workers. Presumably, if there was a way to get the innocent workers off the Death Star and then blow it up, they would have done so.
  3. The good effects of stopping evil flow from the act (blowing up the Death Star), not the bad effects (the death of the construction workers). If they'd blown up the construction workers' last project (knowing that it would prevent the building of the Death Star), that would have been evil. The good (stopping the Death Star) would have flowed directly from the bad effects.
  4. The destruction of the Death Star was "sufficiently desirable to compensate for" these collateral deaths. This fourth prong is a bit vague, but the point of it is that we can't just start nuking Afghanistan and Pakistan in the hopes one of our bombs will kill Osama Bin Laden.

But let's take a more serious example. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, as I understand it, a woman conceives a child outside of her uterus. The child cannot survive, and will likely kill the woman by growing in her fallopian tubes. The Church's response is completely consistent with everything I've mentioned above. The woman may not purposely kill the child, but may have her fallopian tubes removed (knowing that this removal will in turn lead to the child's death). Directive 48 says that, "In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion."

Directly killing the child would violate at least the first three of the four prongs above. She'd be performing a morally evil act (murder), positively willing the same morally evil act, and the good effect would flow directly from the murder. On the other hand, removing her fallopian tubes meets all four requirements:

  1. The act is the removal of an organ which would otherwise result in her death: it's a life-saving procedure and a morally good act.
  2. The bad effect of the child's death isn't intended: the woman isn't going in for an abortion because she doesn't want a kid. If there was a way to remove the child alive, she'd do so.
  3. The good effect is produced directly by the action (the removal of the tubes) and not by the bad effect (the death of the child). In other words, if the child miraculously survived after the operation, the woman's life would still be saved, because the child's growth would no longer be in a place where it would result in her death.
  4. The good effect here is sufficiently desirable, since her life is worth equal value to her child's.

The tubal operation isn't an abortion, as Catholics understand it: that is, it's not "the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus," any more than chemotherapy is a "hair removal operation." It's just a tragic side effect. The woman killing her child to escape a beast is morally equivalent to a doctor killing a woman's child to save her; a woman setting down her child to run faster to escape a beast is morally equivalent to a doctor removing fallopian tubes which contain a child. That's also the case if a woman has cancer. Chemotherapy also results in the death of unborn children. But it's not intended to do so, and its effectiveness isn't premised on it doing so.

So the question in the Sr. McBride isn't the one everyone asking, "one bodybag or two?" Instead, it's whether the procedure directly killed the child, or inadvertantly killed the child. The answer to that question requires a lot more knowledge about the specifics of the procedure: what was done and why. If the procedure works by directly killing the child, Sister McBride is automatically excommunicated. If it's inadvertant, she didn't do anything wrong.

Brief But Important

Maggie Gallagher argued at National Review Online's The Corner that the Pill led to abortion, because it made the idea that we could and should separate sex from reproduction seem sane. My only qualm is that it's not really "reproduction," but birth, which folks were worried about. An "accidental pregnancy" which can be "taken care of," and which doesn't result in a baby you see isn't a problem.

Anyways, Denis Boyles responded:
Maggie Gallagher's question, "If we had truly separated sex from reproduction, why would we need abortion?" begs another.
Many years ago, I was a contributing editor at Playboy, giving it up when my pretty, new, blonde wife insisted on giving me nothing but daughters, and I found I couldn't leave my work laying around the house. I remember chatting one afternoon with an editor who had been at the place for a long time. "We thought we were doing something noble when we helped separate sex from guilt," he said. "But then we realized that we'd helped separate sex from responsibility." Not so noble, of course. I think this may overstate Playboy's influence, but not the Pill's.

The Elephant-Horse and Catholicism

Michael Novak, on page 43 of No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers, uses a wonderful analogy:

In an inn in the little village of Bressanone (Brixen) in northern Italy, there is a fresco painted many centuries ago, whose main subject is an elephant, by a painter who had obviously never seen an elephant. Clearly, he was trying to represent on the wall what someone had tried to tell him about elephants. He painted a large, heavy horse with unusually floppy ears, and a nose considerably longer than that of an average horse - but still a horse's long nose.

We used to smile at that fresco, and similarly the Christian reader will smile at the primitive fresco of Christianity painted by Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. These atheists miss the real thing by a country mile.
Novak's insight here is useful in a number of contexts, and I hope you'll permit me to play with the imagery he conjures for a few discussions more specific to Catholicism.

(1) One of the first things I noted was that it's helpful in describing the inadequacy of the written and spoken word: the positive need for Tradition, for beauty and art, and for Sacred Liturgy in describing Catholicism. Think about it this way: if you had a list of characteristics of elephants, even a perfectly accurate one, but had never seen an elephant, you'd be as much at a loss as the fresco painter was. Seeing the elephant in action is absolutely necessary to see how the pieces are supposed to fit together. This is, I think, a good refutation of what's been called Tradition 0, which embraces the Bible completely apart from the Church. Of course it leads to an unlimited number of heresies and false beliefs: they've got all of these disassembled pieces of Christianity from the Bible, with no pictures showing what the whole Thing looks like in practice. Taken at "face value" (this is going to be a terrible pun), an elephant's face can be described as having tusks and a trunk extending from the middle of the face, immediately above the mouth. An athiest reading this might proclaim, "A-ha! A contradiction! Elephants don't exist!" while a Protestant might develop sola tuska ("tusks alone") or sola trunka ("trunks alone"), with each side supporting their position by pointing to verses supporting the existence of tusks or trunks, and they can't both be immediately above the mouth, right? But a Catholic, seeing the elephant in action, can see how it is that the tusks and trunk can coexist as peacably as faith and works, or faith and reason, or Scripture and Tradition, or predestination and free will.

(2) The image is also good for the precise purpose Novak uses it for: refuting the New Atheists. When you understand Catholicism as a set of rules, you misunderstand Her completely. Rather, Catholicism, like all healthy forms of Christianity, must be understood as relationship with God and neighbor. The rules arise only to set the norms for the relationship. Human relationships have rules like, "Obey your mom," "don't cheat on me," "no hitting," and so forth. You don't acquire the relationship by following the rules; you acquire the rules by entering the relationship. They're properly a burden of love.

This sentiment is true not only of athiests' attempt to understand Christianity in general, but non-Catholics' attempt to understand Catholicism in particular. If you come from a background with explicit rules and norms, like Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, or Orthodox Judaism, Catholicism seems less imposing, I think, than if you come from a background where you think you're free of binding rules and norms of behavior, whether that background is atheism/agnosticism, secularized Judaism, or many of the strains of Protestantism.

Of course, even those who fall within this second camp have binding rulse and norms of behavior, they just don't bother to write them into a list. I recall a scene from the TV show "the Office," where Michael says to his ex-girlfriend, "You cheated on me when I explicitly asked you not to?" The joke, of course, is that you don't need to explicitly ask someone you're exclusively dating not to cheat on you (and, in fact, it's sort of weird to), and the fact that his anger stemmed from the fact he'd asked it expressly was strangely misplaced. It's just something both parties implicitly understand to be an unstated rule governing their relationship.

But Catholicism does expicitly ask us not to cheat in our relationship with God. And She goes further, specifying the sort of conduct which would constitute cheating. But as with everything She does, these rules are intended to aid us. We're required to attend Mass every Sunday. If we understood fully what was happening in the Mass, I wonder if we wouldn't have to be dragged out of church instead of into it. We're required to repent and to go to Confession after committing mortal sins, which amounts to being told we aren't allowed to go to Hell. We can go to Hell, sure, but we have to break the rules to be able to get there. All of these rules may seem like a tangle of red tape to an outsider, but they're really yellow tape: that "Caution: Keep Out" kind. Or more accurately, they're the webs which constitute our safety net. But to those not within Catholicism, things don't always look that way, and I think Novak keys in on one reason why: it's a flawed fresco they're seeing.

(3) Finally, it's helpful to remember that for many non-Catholics, their exposure to Catholicism comes from nominal Catholics and ex-Catholics... and almost all ex-Catholics were nominal Catholics to begin with: that is, I know of a ton of ex-Catholics but none, to my knowledge, who could (a) accurately present the Church's teachings on a broad range of issues, and (b) believed those teachings, as Catholics. The fresco painted from relying on these people's descriptions of the elephant Catholicism is nigh upon unrecognizable to those who have seen the real elephant. This should be remembered for two reasons.

If you're not a Catholic, charity should compel you to prevent passing judgment on the Church until you hear it from the elephant-horse's mouth: find the Church documents or statements on the issue, talk to Catholics you know to be good Catholics about what it means, etc. Just as you wouldn't want to be understood entirely by what your exes claimed about you (or those you'd had a falling out with, generally), that's not a fair view of the Church, either. Hear what Her loving children say of Her.

And if you are a Catholic, charity should compel you to recognize that Catholicism seems strange from outside, and that misstatements about the Church's teachings or misrepresentations about Her practice are often accidental and well-meaning. Centuries of false claims (both accidental and malicious) can make it very confusing for even the most charitable of non-Catholics seeking to understand what the Church believes. Even those falsehoods begun maliciously aren't always spread maliciously, and much gossip is unintentional. So be patient and charitable so that they can see the true Catholicism through you.

Ecumenism and the Holy Name of Jesus

Yesterday was an absolute feast on the subject of ecumenism and the Holy Name of Jesus at Mass.
I. Acts 23:6-11, the Wages of Disunity

The first reading was Acts 23:6-11 (with a prologue from Acts 22:30, setting the scene):

Wishing to determine the truth about why Paul was being accused by the Jews, the commander freed him and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them.


Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection
or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three. A great uproar occurred, and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party stood up and sharply argued, “We find nothing wrong with this man. Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”

The dispute was so serious that the commander, afraid that Paul would be torn to
pieces by them, ordered his troops to go down and rescue Paul from their
midst and take him into the compound.

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

I've mentioned on this blog that I'm a law student. I may not have mentioned that I'm graduating this Sunday, but I am, and would love your prayers. In any case, that's definitely one reason I enjoy this passage so much. In the context, St. Paul was about to be flogged when he informed the Romans that he was a Roman citizen, and couldn't be punished without a trial (Acts 22:25). This lead to a trial in front of the Sanhedrin, so that the Roman commander could determine his guilt. As a result of the above trial, Paul gets a transfer to Herod's district in Caesarea (Acts 23:23-35). Paul was just clearly a man who was as "shrewd as snakes" to those wishing him harm (Matthew 10:16; Psalm 18:26).

His shrewdest moment comes, of course, at trial. Paul knows that the Pharisees and Saducees are united against Christians, but are divided against one another on three issues: on the existence of the resurrection, angels and spirits. So he simply presents the case as one the Pharisees can identify with. He (rightly) calls himself "a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees." And he presents the case against him as one about hope in the resurrection of the dead, shrewdly focusing on the theological beliefs held in common between Christians and Pharisees which the Sadducees reject. Strictly speaking, this is correct. He just isn’t specifying that the resurrection of the dead he’s referring to is one which includes Gentiles (see Acts 22:21-22 for the specifics of what provokes his arrest).

And it doesn’t seem like he’s having to work very hard to play the two sides against each other. After all, he only brings up the first of the three issues dividing them. The Pharisees then bring up the other two, arguing, “We find nothing wrong with this man. Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” So Paul's purposely reopened the wounds between the Pharisees and Sadducees. All of this is for a very calculated purpose: it leads to total chaos. It's not immediately clear here, but Paul mentions later that he shouts 'It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today." (Acts 24:21). That probably added to the chaos. The Roman commander observing this views the in-fighting amongst the two Jewish factions, and is shocked, and pulls Paul out of the trial.

When I first read this before Mass, it struck me that this happens to us Christians all the time. Our doctrinal disputes, and the way we conduct ourselves in disagreements, shocks and offends non-Christians, and repels them. The lack of unity was the direct cause of the failure of the Sanhedrin to stop Paul from spreading Christianity to the Gentiles. Clearly, God's hand was in this, but He worked by exploiting their sinful disharmony.

II. John 17:20-26, the Prayer for Unity, and the Holy Name
The Gospel tied into these themes even more directly. It was John 17:20-26, part of the High Priestly prayer of Jesus:

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are
one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved memay be in them and I in them.”

I've mentioned this passage before, so I'll be brief. This is the only time Jesus specifically prays for us, the post-Apostolic generations in the Bible. So we should pay special attention to this passage. And realistically, His prayer can only come true through the Catholic Church. No other Church is as ancient or universal. Last night, I went to hear the natural law philosopher Hadley Arkes tell his conversion story from Judaism to Catholicism. He mentioned the universality of the Church, how it truely comprises people offerring Sacrifice to God from the rising to the setting of the sun (Malachi 1:11). He said that nowhere is this more visible for him than in churches in downtown D.C. There are churches in both the suburbs and urban areas which are overwhelmingly one race or ethnicity. But downtown D.C., during the day, has this incredible mix of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic statuses. In Hadley's words, "you'll see a lady in a fur coat next to an African-American janitor with a walkie-talkie on the side. And everyone else, besides."

Just think about it: if we're serious about all being in one unified Church brought to perfect unity, not just agreeing to disagree, but in loving agreement, who else is even a contender? History has definitively proven that you need a strong central earthly authority like the pope, or you end up dividing along doctrinal (Protestant) or ethno-national (Orthodox) lines.

Note that He prays for two separate, but related things: that they may be one, and that they may be in us. And the culmination of these two things, unity in Christ, is "that the world may believe that you sent me. " This is the antithesis of the Roman commander's view of the Sanhedrin as an uncharitable and divided institution. It's an image which we need to work on achieving even within the Catholic Church, since there's plenty of disharmony which exists short of open schism.

Finally, the unity is connected to the Holy Name of God. John 17 is full of these references:
  • John 17:6, "I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. "
  • John 17:11, "Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. "
  • John 17:12, "When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. "
  • John 17:26, "I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them." "

As v. 11 particularly makes clear, unity comes through the Name. Just as there is "no other Name under Heaven by which men are saved" (Acts 14:12), the Name draws us in to a single Way, a single Truth, and a single communal Life.

III. St. Bernardino of Siena and the Holy Name of Jesus

The first reading and Gospel fit together like a key in a lock, but (if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor) the saint's feast day was frosting on the cake. It was St. Bernardino of Siena, and he is famous for two things: his skills at peacemaking and ecumenism, and his commitment to the Holy Name of Jesus.

After the death of St. Francis, there were competiting schools of thought about how to implement the Rule of St. Francis. He was a committed member of the stricter Observant branch, but according to the priest giving the homily, he helped stop the in-fighting between the different branches. Moreover, northern Italy (where Siena is located) was disputed territory at the time, between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy. This lead to the creation of two factions: the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Siena was a strongly Ghibelline town, siding with the Holy Roman Emperor, yet throughout northern Italy, there were images of either the Ghibelline or Guelph seal on everything (if you go to Italy, you'll see what I mean: the family or faction seals would literally be carved into the wall).

Anyways, St. Bernardino convinced the people to replace those seals with the Christogram, the famous IHS symbol, imposed upon a sun (the symbol of the risen Christ). IHS is the name of Jesus in Greek, and so St. Bernardino was popularizing what was effectively Jesus' seal, a seal literally covered by His Holy Name. So rather than belonging to the Guelphs or the Ghibellines, the people of northern Italy remembered that they belonged to Christ.

The priest suggested we start praying the Holy Name of Jesus. It's literally as easy as offerring up the name "Jesus" in prayer, and he suggested we do it in reparation for the blasphemous use of His Name. It's a beautiful and simple commitment to God, and I firmly believe that with more of an emphasis on Jesus and what unites us, we'll be less like the Sanhedrin.

Why Do Popes Call Themselves "We"?

In Pope Paul VI's 1967 social encyclical, Populorum Progressio, he writes:
4. Before We became pope, We traveled to Latin America (1960) and Africa (1962). There We saw the perplexing problems that vex and besiege these continents, which are otherwise full of life and promise. On being elected pope, We became the father of all men. We made trips to Palestine and India, gaining first-hand knowledge of the difficulties that these age-old civilizations must face in their struggle for further development. Before the close of the Second Vatican Council, providential circumstances allowed Vs to address the United Nations and to plead the case of the impoverished nations before that distinguished assembly.
To put it bluntly, the paragraph reads like Paul had multiple personalities, or is trying to signal to us that there's... another pope! But don't worry: it's not crazy-talk. It's just another usage of the papal "We," the tendency of popes to refer to themselves in the first-person plural.

The papal We, when I first heard it, made me uncomfortable. It seemed self-aggrandizing, and sounded like a man who'd forgotten his role as spiritual father in his clamoring for royalist trappings. It turns out, I had things entirely backwards.

I Who's the Author of the Bible?

To understand the basis for the papal We, consider this question: who is the author of the Bible? Or more specifically, let's take the Book of Revelation. Who's the author? Well, in a certain sense, it's John, obviously: he says as much in Revelation 1:9. But we also know that the Revelation is inspired, and therefore, "comes from God," or is "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). So it's accurate to say "John wrote Revelation" and "the Holy Spirit wrote Relevation." The writing is done harmoniously. Christ's teachings are the same way: when He speaks, He speaks not just for Himself, but for the Father who sent Him. He says as much repeatedly, as in John 7:17. Christ and the Father are a "We," because they act as One. And when John (or any of the others) and the Spirit are operating in perfect harmony in the writing of Sacred Scripture, they operate as One as well. Not the same Oneness which the Trinity enjoys, a Oneness in Being, but a Oneness in Unity, of the sort which Christ compares to Trinitarian Unity in John 17:22-23.

II. The Biblical and Theological Basis of the Papal We

The Biblical roots for the papal We comes from the St. Matthew's account of the temple tax in Matthew 17:24-27,
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the
two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple
tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

The passage seems pretty benign, but to the careful and thoughtful reader, it's incredibly potent. (I should note, I suppose, that I am not that careful and thoughtful reader: I learned of this from listening to one of Abp. Fulton Sheen's talks). God, the Almighty, the Eternal Son, is calling Himself and the sinful and lowly mortal Peter "We." It's not "you and I," but "We." No longer two distinct units, but one, connected, first-person plural.

What makes this all the more outstanding is that Jesus never does this other than this passage. We see sinful men using the "we" in conjunction with other sinful men (Acts 15:10 is a characteristic example), and we see Jesus saying things like (John 14:23), "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. " This is the continual pattern from Genesis (e.g., Gen. 3:22) onwards, with this one exception.

Even more incredibly, the final part of the passage, "My tax and yours" refers to Peter in the singular. So the one time in the entire Bible that God (or anyone) refers to God and man as "we" isn't to the entire world, or even the entire Church, but to just one man: Peter.

There are only a few other passages in the New Testament that come anywhere close to this, and they all refer to the relation between Christ and His Body, the Church, or between the Holy Spirit and the Church. So is Acts 15:28, where the Council of Jerusalem, made up of the Church hierarcy at Council, says, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us ...". There are a few differences: the Council distinguishs Itself from the Holy Spirit, even while speaking on His behalf. That distinguishing isn't done in Acts 9:4, where Jesus refers to the Church simply as "Me," or in 1 Corinthians 12:27, where Paul says "you [plural] are the Body of Christ" to his readers.

So membership in the Church makes us collectively, in some sense, part of a grand Christian We. But the only individudal who can claim that We is the pope, as successor to St. Peter.

The reason for this isn't that Peter's a god, obviously. Rather, it's that Peter is to represent Christ in a particular way unique from the other Eleven and anyone else. He will be the living representative of the Church, and in a unique way, the Vicar of Christ, speaking on His behalf. Through his exhortations and teachings, he's called in a particular way, even beyond the way that a Scripture-writer like St. John the Revelator, to represent and operate in perfect Spirit-protected harmony with Christ.

So when a pope writes, "We define and declare," for example, he means "God and I define and declare." And if that seems like an awfully bold claim, it is. But it's no bolder than saying "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us."

III. The Royal We

So there's a pretty solid theological basis for the pope speaking as We in his public teachings. He's not teaching simply what he, as an individual, thinks or desires. Frequently, he may find himself called to do or say something he's not totally comfortable with. He's teaching what the Spirit calls him to teach.

Now what about the royal We, the one we're more used to? If you're not familiar, royalty does the same thing as the papacy: as when Queen Victoria famously signified her disdain by saying, "We are not amused." In fact, it's more broadly used than simply royalty: Margaret Thatcher perhaps more famously said, "We have become a grandmother," a phrase many found amusing. So far as I can tell, the usage of the term began out of a theory of the divine right of kings. That is, that since the king operates as God's instrument (Rom. 13:1; Rom. 13:4), the king, like the pope, operates on God's behalf, and has an equally unique oneness with the Lord.

Whatever the basis, it's pretty clear that instead of the papacy trying to imitate royalty, royalty was trying to imitate the papacy, attempting to co-opt the papal union with God in support of a grand view of the state. This result is fairly ironic, given that the passage in which the papal we was born involves Jesus distinguishing Himself and Peter from the "kings of the earth."

In reading up on this, I found an Anglican claiming that:
The Catholics stole the Royal WE and incorporated it into their organization. This is because they wanted to elevate themselves to the level of royalty so they could communicate with the royalty on equal terms, pun intended. So if you noticed that when J2P2 [sic] died a couple of years ago, they referred to the bishops who would elect the new pope as the “princes of the church”. This, BTW, was the first time I had ever heard of the bishops being referred to as princes. So this is the papal WE.

This gets it entirely backwards. First, Cardinals have been referred to as "Princes of the Church" for centuries, but that's irrelevant. The pope didn't have to embrace royal language to speak with the royalty on equal terms. Those men who wished to be considered kings had to contend with the powerful papacy. Just think about it historically: which is older? The English crown or the papal one? Or replace "English" with any other nationality; you get the point.

And as for my original fear that what I thought was an attempt by the pope to embrace royal pomp at the expense of true spiritual fatherhood turned out to be completely reversed from the truth as well. As Pope Paul VI says, "On being elected pope, We became the father of all men." It's as the spiritual father of all the living that the pope claims this We, not otherwise.

Again, this is all Biblical. In Ephesians 3:14-15, there's one of the best passages explaining why priests are called Father, and the pope called Pope (or Papa): "I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name - or - from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name. " The pope is only the pope, because he derives his power and authority from our Heavenly Papa, God. Instead of the "we" drawing him away from spiritual fatherhood, it's the only thing drawing him into it.

Why Doesn't John's Gospel Mention the Institution of the Eucharist?

I've wondered in the past why John's Gospel doesn't include the Institution of the Eucharist. John's Gospel is heavily Eucharistic, and notes that Jesus' Eucharistic discourse occurs at the time of the Passover (John 6:4), a year before the Institution itself. And when he gets to the Last Supper, the point at which the Synoptic Gospels tell us Jesus instutited the Eucharist, he describes Jesus' mealtime discourses at incredible length. In fact, all of chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 of John's Gospel occur at the Last Supper. So it seemed strange that he found room for seemingly every word Jesus spoke, but couldn't find room for the Institution of the Eucharist, the most significant event to occur at the Meal he's describing in such length.

The answer to my question came from the late Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse, who wrote in Church and Lord's Supper:
Baptism stands at the borderline of church and world.As the Sacrament proper to the church, the Supper is, therefore, as a matter of principle, not a public event. Thus, the most ancient church celebrated it behind closed doors (Rev. 3:20). For centuries thereafter, the arcane discipline kept the liturgy and doctrine of the Supper strictly secret from Jews and pagans, which is why those writings of the New Testament intended for the general public, like the Gospel of John, make no mention of the words of institution for the Supper.

This explaination made so much sense, I was sort of surprised I'd never thought of it, or heard of it, before. In fact, the day before I read this explanation, I'd been about how important is was to read the books of the New Testament with an eye towards the intended audience. For example, to understand what Paul means in Romans, learn about the heresies plaguing the Roman Christians, because that's who he's writing to. And John's Gospel targets Gentile pagans . More specifically, John squarely targets the Greco-Roman philosophers and theologians, and he lays out for them why Catholicism, and not Gnosticism, is correct. Although he spends some time mentioning how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophesies, he doesn't invest most of his energy here, since neither the Gnostics nor the pagans held the Old Testament as inspired (on the other hand, St. Matthew, who writes for a largely Jewish audience, goes to greater length to spell this out).

But the Eucharist was a target of mockery from the Romans. The Roman mystery cult dedicated to Mithras created a rite imitating the Last Supper, and there were frequent accusations that the Christians were cannibals, for feasting upon the Body and Blood of our Lord. So the early Christians were clear that they believed in the Eucharist, but were careful about willy-nilly spilling the beans about the precise Eucharistic rituals. After all, the Eucharist is sacred, and exposing the ritual to outsiders would enable them to more effectively blaspheme It. Even catechumens in the early Church - those who were seeking to join the Church - were excused after the Liturgy of the Word, and not allowed to so much as observe the Eucharistic Liturgy until after they were baptized.

Bonus: Speaking of Herman Sasse, let me close with some more of his insights on the Eucharist from Church and Lord's Supper:

All attempts to build Christian congregations without placing at their center the congregation-forming Sacrament of the Altar are just as much condemned to failure as are efforts to renew the Divine Service without renewing the Lord's Supper. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries' sad experiences in this area only confirm the
lessons of the past. The enormous effort made in the area of church planting during recent generations must be regarded as a failure. It has produced a wealth of societies and files, but not a single congregation.

For Calvin, the body of Christ as a truly human body exists in finite form and must, therefore, after the exaltation, be as far removed from us as heaven is from earth. The Lord's body thus cannot simultaneously be present in heaven and on earth, and in multiple locations on earth. Calvin is not in a position to substantiate these assertions from the Bible, for he did not derive them from the Bible. These are metaphysical statements and ideological presuppositions that he uses to explain the Supper texts.

No sign testifies with such infallible certainty the death throes of a congregation, or a
whole church, as the decline and decay of the celebration of the Eucharist. This is, however, the deadly serious situation in which a very large segment of these Protestant churches of the world finds itself.

The Other Roman Sex Scandal

I. The Good and the Bad within the Media's Reporting of the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis

The media's role in the sex abuse scandal has been mixed. In a lot of ways, the media scrutiny seems to have been sent by God. The allegations of widespread sexual abuse were pretty unbelievable to a lot of the "good guys" within the Church. Those who weren't personally involved in the handling of cases couldn't imagine that sexual predator priests constituted more than a miniscule handful of cases. The idea that a priest would do something so terrible is contrary to everything we assume about our priests. It's due primarily to the media that we now know that (a) there were more cases than any of us would have assumed, and (b) a jarring number of bishops acted evilly or incompetently in reaction to the crisis. It's only because of this outside vigiliance that the "good guys" within the Church became aware of which of their brother bishops were lying or unreliable, which had been whitewashing things to the media, to their brother bishops, and to the pope, etc. Much of the good which has occurred since 2002 in the Church's internal reforms for handling sex abuse cases can be traced in part to the media's role. You may not love your doctor, but if he's correctly diagnosed a disease festering within your body, you've got to appreciate the work he's done. So it is here.

But for all of the good the media coverage has done, it's been tainted from nearly the beginning. There are those in the media with a geniune anti-Catholic agenda: those who view the Church as a collection of religious fanatics preaching "hate," those who view the bishops as the only thing standing between them and a pro-choice womynpriest church, those who view all religion as evil, etc. These people want the Church, as we know it, destroyed. And they were quick to leech off of the sex abuse scandal to advance their own goals. In few cases did they uncover anything of substance. What this group did instead was tarnish the reputation of the innocent, raise all sorts of ridiculous red herrings, and make it generally harder to understand either (a) the scope of the actual problem, (b) who could be trusted, and (c) what had happened, and why. Their role was to make the sexual abuse crisis less likely to be addressed, and unfortunately, their presence sent many within the Church into an unhelpful defensive posture in reacting to the crisis.

In general, the good elements within the media were those diagnosing the problem: there was sexual abuse, the authorities (including both the police and bishops) were utterly failing to protect the innocent while they protected the Church's (and the bishop's) civic reputation and the sexual predator, instead. The bad elements were those peddling absurd cures: as if (to take one example) allowing homosexually-attracted pedophiles to marry will solve anything. As I've mentioned before, Maureen Dowd's "analysis" was singularly bad: that the pope should have been less concerned about sexual sins. On the contrary, we needed more people like the pope, more people understanding the gravity of sexual sins, that a little sexual activity within children wasn't "harmless" or "experimentation" but a life-shattering violation of their trust and dignity.

II. A Study in Contrasts: The Polanski Case

What I remain struck by, however, is the difference between how the media handles sexual abuse accusations against priests, and how the media handles sexual abuse accusations against anyone else. The Roman Polanski case shows what I mean. Polanski was a powerful actor and director, and in 1977 (while in his forties), he drugged, raped and sodomized a thirteen year-old girl in a hot tub as she plead for him to stop. There's no real question about his guilt, and he was going to plead guilty to a lesser charge. When the prosecutor tipped him off (!) that the judge was planning to make an example of him, Polanski fled the country to France, where he lived as a pampered artist and civic hero, and began dating a fifteen year-old actress. Now there's another accusation against him: the British actress Charlotte Lewis claims that Polanski raped her.

I've been shocked by the treatment given Roman Polanski in general: treating him like the victim because some mean ol' judge was going to give him a (shockingly brief, by today's standards) stint in jail for child rape. But this article really struck a chord with me. The article fails to really quote a single person outside of Charlotte Lewis and her attorney who felt that Polanski may not be the victim here. The article begins:

The controversy surrounding fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski has drawn strong words in his defence from fellow director Woody Allen after fresh allegations that he abused a minor.

Another of Polanski's prominent defenders, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, rejected the new allegations by British actress Charlotte Lewis, and even France's culture minister waded in, dismissing them as "pseudo accusations."

Allen, 74, said Polanski, who is fighting extradition from Switzerland to the United States to face sentencing in a 1977 child sex case, had paid a high price for his actions and that it was time to draw a line under the case.

Of course, Polanski hasn't served a day of his sentence, and has lived like royalty in Europe while his victims were forever scared. So he hasn't really "paid a high price" at all, other than settling with one victim in civil court. But Charlotte Lewis is raising new rape accusations. She's not even the victim Polanski was supposed to be serving time for raping. And in a new level of blaming the victim:

One of Polanski's defence attorneys Georges Kiejman told French news channel i-Tele he was "absolutely astonished" by Lewis's allegations, and that if she repeated them "it is probable that we would take her to court".

Kiejman said he found it "quite disturbing" that Lewis appeared in Polanski's 1986 period flop "Pirates" three years after the director allegedly forced himself upon the actress.

Another of Polanski's lawyers, Herve Timime, was more direct in challenging Lewis's credibility: "Everything that has been said is a web of lies."

So not only are Charlotte Lewis' allegations dismissed out of hand as psuedo-allegations, but if she continues to claim she was raped, she'll get punished, by having a powerful filmmaker sic his lawyers no her. As for Lewis appearing in one of his films as he's said to have raped her, the behavior wouldn't exactly be out of the ordinary for rape victims. Does the media ever run accusations like, "the accused priest's lawyer found it 'quite disturbing' that the accusor served as the priest's altar boy three years after the priest allegedly forced himself on him"? Of course not.

Besides being impressively slanted to include virtually no sources other than pro-Polanski ones, those, the article relies heavily upon quotes from Woody Allen and French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, which is troubling in its own right. Woody Allen is currently married to Soon-Yi Previn, his stepdaughter (who was only 12 when he began to date her adoptive mother, Mia Farrow). As Ronan Seamus Farrow, the son of Allen and Mia Farrow, said: "He's my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression. I cannot see him. I cannot have a relationship with my father and be morally consistent...I lived with all these adopted children, so they are my family. To say Soon-Yi was not my sister is an insult to all adopted children." In fairness, it's never been proven that Soon-Yi and Woody Allen were sexually involved while she was a minor and Woody Allen was her stepdad, but the whole relationship is incredibly troubling. Even more disturbing is French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand's autobiography, in which he mentions paying for sex with "boys" (not men) in Southeast Asia.

Could you imagine an article in which an accused priest's loudest defenders involved a known and a suspected pedophile? And in which the newspaper failed to mention this (seemingly significant) detail? In fairness, the newspaper mentions the Soon-Yi and Woody Allen relationship, but claims without evidence that it began when she was 22; in fact, that was her age when Mia Farrow discovered the relationship, after she uncovered explicit photos in Allen's dresser. No mention is made of Mitterrand's admitted pedophilia in the article whatsoever.

III. Conclusion

There's an obvious double-standard at work here. Both cases involve powerful men (priests, in the first case; famous directors and a Cultural Minister, in the second) exploiting their status and clout to exploit the innocent. Both cases also involve their friends and peers, often equally powerful figures, sticking up for them in the face of pretty daunting evidence, and failing to empathize with the victim at all. Yet they're treated in remarkably different ways.

My point isn't that the media should treat the accusers of priests the way it treats the accusers of darlings like Polanski, by blaming the victim and printing legal threats against those who dare speak up. Frankly, I'd prefer the opposite: tough reporting which takes the powerful to task for exploiting and abusing the weak. My point is just that there's a double standard, and we should remember that for everything that the media is good for, it'd be naive to assume that the vigiliance in pursuing the sex abuse scandal is somehow rooted in concern for teenage children's sexual innocence. Mark Shea has argued that "This is not about The Children. This is about payback and hatred of the gospel. " It's a bit too sweeping of a generalization: certainly, there are some who are genuinely motivated by concern for the abused, as I mentioned in Part I. But there are others willing to turn their tragedies into a cheap shot against the Church while simultaneously scoffing at other victims' tragedies, because there's nothing to gain from publicly exploiting them.

Movie Review: Babies

The biggest casualty in the culture wars has been babies. At the extreme, they're literally casualties, with millions of infants being murdered in the womb. But beyond that, the societal view of babies is more negative than perhaps at any point in its past. Babies are viewed as a burden, where they were once viewed as a promising future. They're viewed as an obstacle to professional development, where they were once viewed as the reason for holding down a busy job. A Google search of babies brings up this picture. Women are putting off, and positively dreading, having kids.

Of course, once babies are born, the whole situation changes: even the most pro-abortion, zero-population growth advocate finds his or her own baby adorable. The whole myth that a baby is nothing more than a burden melts away when you come to bond with a baby as a fellow human being. So it's great that the movie Babies exists, because you come to bond with four different babies from around the world. The film is a documentary which follows the lives of four babies from four different parts of the world. You can see the babies, and their hometowns, here:

Two of the babies are from the first-world, and two are from the third-world, and three of the four babies are girls. The film's website does a good job of introducing the four:
  • "Ponijao lives in Namibia with her family, including her parents and eight older brothers and sisters. Ponijao's family is part of the Himba tribe, and lives in a small village with other families."
  • "Mari lives with her mother and father in Shibuya, a busy metropolitan area within Tokyo, at the center of all of the city's noise and excitement. Mari is an only child and lives a contemporary urban lifestyle."
  • "Bayanchandmani: Born in Mongolia, Bayarjargal, usually called 'Bayar' for short, lives with his mother, father, and older brother Delgerjargal ('Degi') on their small family farm."
  • "Hattie lives in San Francisco, born to very ecological, 'green' parents. Both of Hattie's parents are equally involved in her day-to-day life, fixing her meals, taking her to play groups, and spending time with her around the house. "
It's fascinating just to watch the differences in parenting styles. Ponijao grows up around a lot of other young children. Bayar grows up in virtual isolation in the Mongolian countryside, and his brother hasn't adjusted to him yet, so he spends much of his time playing with the animals: cats, a rooster, goats, and cows. Mari's surrounded by a big city and inundated with technology, while her parents seem too busy for her. Hattie's parents are doting, and go to great lengths to ensure she has a model childhood.

Whatever the reason, my two favorite kids were the third-world kids, particularly Bayar. They had a simpler life. When Ponijao played, it was because she wanted to play with her siblings or neighbors. When Mari or Hattie played, it was because their parents took them to special classes or to daycare. It was all pre-planned and scheduled, and neither baby seems particularly thrilled by this.

Still, given the massive differences in cultural and parenting style, the babies were surprising similar, although they each had their own personality. The film is shot very well to show some interesting parallels. For example, there are scenes of Bayar and then Hattie playing with cats, along with Ponijao playing with a dog. The filmmakers show the kids in similar circumstances: at meal, getting washed, trying to eat on their own, playing with animals, interacting with other young children, playing with toys, learning to crawl, learning to stand and to walk, and so forth. It's endlessly interesting.

The differences in style might suggest that Western parents should probably learn to just relax and enjoy their kids. It was sad to watch Mari's dad on the phone distracted when she was very young, or watching him trying to type over her while she played with a cell phone. Of course, none of the parents were able to watch their baby nonstop: Ponijao's mom would be talking with the other mom, Bayar's mom was frequently gone (presumably working), and Hattie was left to play by herself while her mom did the dishes. But still, the film seems to suggest that new parents not fill their lives, and their baby's life, with so many distractions.

But I'm not positive that this was an intended message of the film (although I suspect something of the sort was). Mostly, I think that the message of the film was that babies are a blessing, and should be savored.

Msgr. William J. Awalt on the Eucharist

I was reading about Judge Robert Bork's conversion to Catholicism, and he said:

After I wrote Slouching Toward Gomorrah the priest at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., Msgr. William Awalt, told me that my views on matters seemed to be very close to those of the Catholic views, which was true. Not being religious, the fact that our views corresponded wasn’t enough to bring me into the Church, so it took me a while before I was ready to enter. I had a number of conversations with Father C.J. McCloskey. He gave me some readings and he would drop by on his way home and we would talk for an hour to an hour and a half in my office. The one I liked best was Ronald Knox’s The Beliefs of Catholics. I’ve taught classes, but I didn’t feel like being taught a class. I wasn’t eager to be a student. Our time together was informative and highly informal.
The names Bork mentioned were familiar ones. I've heard only good things about both Fr. John McCloskey and the late Msgr. Ronald Knox: the former was Fr. Arne's predecessor at CIC, and the latter is one of my favorite authors. But I'd never heard of Msgr. William Awalt. So I googled him, and I've got to say he's a bit of a hidden treasure. It turns out, he retired from St. Anne's in 2000, after serving as pastor for thirty years. About five years ago, he wrote a thoughtful and thorough primer on the Mass and the Eucharist, and turned it into a blog called Corpus Christi.

You should definitely check the blog out. It's a great primer, and it's divided into 44 short sections, organized by topic. No need to be some great Catholic thinker to get it: it's a common-sensical explanation of what Catholics believe. Here are snippets from a few parts which I very much enjoyed.

On the Road to Emmaus:

You may want to turn to Luke 24:13-35 in your bibles. To protect myself, no Scripture scholar of whom I am aware would say that the story of the appearance of Christ to the two men on the road to Emmaus is a description of the Mass. However, if we look at it, we might get a better understanding of the order of the Mass. Taking a mild liberty with it, we see the following elements:

1. They were PROCESSING to their destination. [We are a pilgrim people.] (Entrance Rite)
2. Jesus comes and explains the SCRIPTURES to them. (Liturgy of the Word)
3. Then they came to the place where they were headed, and Jesus was moving on. The men asked Jesus to stay with them. Sharing a meal, we find the code word for the Eucharist, "THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD." Notice the words he used:

  • he TOOK BREAD and GAVE THANKS (Eucharist),
  • he BROKE IT, and
  • GAVE IT TO THEM (Communion). They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. What did they do afterwards?
  • They went out on their MISSION to spread the Word. They went to the apostles to announce that Jesus was risen. (Dismissal)
Solid exegesis right there: he quickly draws out the major Eucharistic themes and "clues," if you will. I tried to do the same thing here, and can safely say that it's harder than it seems.

Need to Know the Scriptures:

The Lord was infleshed in the Word of God long before he was in the womb of Mary. That is why the lector announces, "The Word of the Lord," after a reading. Following the Gospel, the people respond, "Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ." If a newcomer were with you in church, he might ask, "To whom are you talking?" We believe that Christ speaks to us through the Scriptures.
The Meaning of Sacrifice:

When we talk about sacrifice, we usually mean giving up something. But, it means much more. It comes from two Latin words, "sacrum" and "facere," which means "to make (oneself) holy." Again, looking to the liturgical season of Lent, we do not give up things simply for the sake of giving them up. It means that in the achieving of OTHERNESS there is sometimes a bit of penance or pain connected with it. It is the ends or the goal which we often forget. As we remove the barnacles, we become something else. Thus, the sacrifice of the Mass does not merely mean killing or giving up something, it means that we are becoming more [different] than what we were.

Link Between the Testaments:

We use the Old Testament because it is linked to the New Testament and makes it clearer to understand. There are all sorts of parallels. For example, the mention of clouds in the Scriptures are not weather reports. What is meant is the presence of God. A cloud is described in the episode of the Transfiguration of Jesus. A cloud leads the Jews across the desert. Another example would be the trumpet. It is a sign of God's voice speaking. He will have our attention, it pierces us. Still another feature that runs through both the Old and the New Testaments is the matter of ascending a mountain. Moses went up a mountain to get the ten commandments at Sinai. Jesus climbs a mountain and offers his followers the beatitudes. The mountain expresses the meaning that God is in a higher, different life than where we ordinarily exist. Between the two readings at Mass there is a responsorial psalm. It is a repetitious prayer. This is not necessarily bad. Like breathing, it is a good thing to do over and over again. The preference in the liturgy is that it be sung. Outside of the Mass, during the civil rights days, many Christians sang the refrain, "We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day." Our repeating it gave the words greater emphasis and meaning. Continuing on, the Gospel is distinguished from the other readings. We stand to show our respect to the life of Jesus.
I thought the Civil Rights-era example did a great job in demonstrating the difference between "repetition" and "vain repetition." I liked this section enough I quoted the whole thing.

Two Presences in the Eucharist:

Returning to the subject of presences in the Eucharist, there are two I want to emphasize. First, Jesus is present as a PERSON. Second, the Eucharist is the ACTUALIZATION of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Years ago, there used to be a television show called, You Are There, which after a puff of smoke put you in a place like Alexandria with ancient Greeks walking around. By "actualization," I mean there is here. Christ is present in his very self and in his actions.

The above is one of the hardest-to-grasp elements of Eucharistic theology, actualization. The closest parallels I can come up with are from science fiction: things like portals to other dimensions. The Eucharist is sort of like that.

Msgr. Awalt addresses a similar point in Present Through His Action:
Calvary is made present to us. Sometimes we speak of the Mass as the UNBLOODY sacrifice. It is a poor choice of words. What it tries to convey is that Jesus could only suffer and die once. He is now beyond time and space. Calvary is made here so that we can be there. It makes it possible for us to apply to ourselves what Christ did on Calvary. We need to become holy, that OTHERNESS which participates in God. Consequently, we come back to the source and summit of every grace, the Crucifixion of Christ.

There's plenty more where that came from. Unfortunately, this blog seems to have been all but lost online. Msgr's profile has some 7 viewings, and the blog doesn't seem to have fared much better. There's all of one comment (an appreciative Catholic blogger named Joe H., who, incidentally, is not me). It's a true shame. If you're looking to understand more about the Eucharist (and Catholic or non-Catholic, there's always room for that), you could certainly do worse than to start here.

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