Mass at Midnight on Christmas Morning

This Christmas my local parish was something to behold. Midnight Mass began with light only from decorations on the Evergreen trees, the Priest, escorted by the Deacon and members of the local Knights of Columbus, processed through the Pews with an icon of the baby Jesus to be laid in the Manger. The entire Church was silent and it was beautiful.

As is typical of Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter Masses, the Church was full. This is an unusual circumstance for my parish, as on any typical Sunday the Church is probably half empty. In New England, people who don’t usually come to Church come to Church on Christmas. This is a disheartening reality of Catholic life in America. Is there anything that should be done about it?

Faithful Catholics try to have the mind of Christ. They care about these people that show up in a Catholic Church once a year. Once a year, after all, is not good enough. If they are Catholic and they are not attending Mass every Sunday of the year, they are in grave sin and put themselves in danger of eternal separation from God. This is a reality more distressing than the lack of universal health insurance. Indeed, these people are not simply at risk of dying, like everyone else, but they are at risk of dying and being separated from God forever. I think that if this is true something needs to be done about it.

There are lots of factors that contribute to infrequent Mass attendance and poor catechesis is chief among them. Lots of good people, good Catholics, simply do not know that they are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays. If you are reading this you likely know that Mass is not optional for Catholics; if we are to consider ourselves Catholic then we must consider Mass attendance a necessary component of our salvation. Another factor that contributes to poor Mass attendance is simply lack of faith. Many Catholics do not believe in the God of the Bible. Rather they believe in a god of their convenience, one that fits their particular idiosyncrasies and who is conducive to them “being a good person.”

Given that it seems that poor Mass attendance is largely the result of intellectual problems, it is wise to think an intellectual solution will be the most efficacious. So my question is this: why don’t priests say anything about this? Is it wrong to include simple truths about the Faith in Christmas sermons? And I don’t just mean priests who aren’t deeply in love with God – even very holy priests, very orthodox, very prayerful priests would seem to have qualms with discussing the truths of the faith at the pulpit.

I would be the first one to admit that the Sermon cannot be only an exposition of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. The true proper place for this type of teaching is during Confirmation classes. But another sad fact about Catholic life in America is that catechesis doesn’t happen at Confirmation anymore. At least in my Diocese, we have moved from teaching the truths of the faith to trying to teach the experience of a personal encounter with Christ (this is difficult to teach for a number of reasons). So more often than not, a person’s only encounter with the Church and Her teachings is that once a year experience at Christmas or Easter. This is a holy opportunity to reach out to these wayward souls, and it is being squandered.

My priest, who I believe to be very holy, very orthodox and very much in love with Jesus and the Church (even the teachings) gave a homily that spoke of the obligations imposed on a person in relationship with God. This was good – very good, except that the content of these obligations was left undefined. Yes! The Incarnation means we are in a new and holy relationship with God. Yes! Catholics have obligations to God. But what those obligations exactly are, well, we’re not allowed to talk about? Does a priest have an obligation to define these obligations, especially on Christmas? It would seem to me he does.

Or maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Maybe the sermon isn’t the place to catechize the Catholic people. Maybe I’m supposed to accept the thousands of Catholics who are being left out of life’s greatest joy, which is the fullness of the Catholic faith. But maybe I’m not.


Starving eternally

It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature's nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men, 'You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give to you'. That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives us what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God - to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response - to be miserable - these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows - the only food that any possible universe can ever grow - then we must starve eternally.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Ch.3 Conclusion, (pp. 47)

Here is a profound insight into happiness and the nature of sin. When we sin, we participate not in the life of God, but in disorder and nothingness. God creates this universe and He also sustains it: everything that is not of Him is essentially nothing, doomed to disappear into the void. This is I think in a very real sense what Hell is: total lack of true being.

We must learn to do only God's will because in reality that's the only thing there is to do. Any time we deviate from God's will we participate in a life that is doomed to nothingness, that is, to death.


crash and burn

There is a band I enjoy sometimes named Further Seems Forever. They are not quite a Christian band, but their lyrics are deeply influenced by Christian themes in a way that is refreshing. Their last CD is titled "Hide Nothing" and has some excellent songs on it. The title track opens with this lyric:
We live and we learn and we crash and we burn and we're gone /
We take what we know and we learn as we go and we run /
run until that day /
we can see who we are
I like this. It's rare to see a lyricist deal with life and death in a way that contains any semblance of wisdom or hope, and I think this song exemplifies both virtues. Many other tracks on the CD have the same qualities. And on top of this the guys in this band are phenomenal musicians, especially the drummer. It's not Led Zeppelin, but it can be awesome.


independents are annoying

crankycon says:
One of my particular pet peeves is the way that so-called independents or “independent-minded” thinkers always like to remind everyone on a seemingly constant basis that they are independent-minded thinkers. They act like they expect a treat or pat on the belly for their “ferocious” independence of thought, as though everyone else on planet Earth but them is a sheep.


on social charity

JVS: When I read a passage like this, I am concerned about what is the subject of this "social charity." The human person is the substantial bearer of all human reality. The state is not a person. It is not a substance. It does not have an intellect and will of its own. There is no such thing as corporate guilt or corporate virtue that belongs to some collective "being" that transcends the persons who actually live and die.

The Trinity is the heart of the Church's social teaching. Here we have a multiplicity of persons, a unity of nature, a divine nature. All love is ordered to another person who actually exists. However, there is an order in this relationship. Sometimes it sounds like we are more responsible for those far off beings we do not know than we are for those we do. This is dangerous doctrine. It makes any real charity impossible. It smacks of Rousseau, of loving man but not one's actual neighbor. Sometimes it sounds like we should reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator in the name of the common good. The whole of Aquinas was in the opposite direction. We should bring out the full potential of everyone. That was the "common good" meant, not some kind of collective being. This meant that some are more talented, some will have more than others in a ways that has nothing to do with injustice.

The whole interview is well-worth reading.



I saw this on Pentimento's blog and I really liked it:
Metanoia, or repentance, is that moment of grace when the truth about ourselves and God strikes us, pierces the heart, and makes new life possible. (Irénée Hausherr, SJ)
It's easy to hide from that moment.


Philip Hamburger's new book is a rare find

Michael McConnell, a Law Professor at Stanford, offers this in a First Things review of Philip Hamburger's new book titled Law and Judicial Duty:
Hamburger traces the development of modern conceptions of the law to the realization, in Europe and especially Britain, that human reason rarely provided clear answers to moral questions and therefore that an attempt to ground law in divine will, or a search for abstract reason and justice, would inevitably lead to discord. As a result, "Europeans increasingly located the obligation of law in the authority of the lawmaker rather than the reason or justice of his laws." The task of judges, then, was not to seek after elusive notions of justice and right reason but to enforce the law of the land. Natural law shifted in emphasis from moral content to legitimacy and authority, and increasingly to an understanding of authority based on the will of the people.
This seems to me a profound explanation of how and why we understand law today the way we do. It simultaneously shows you what is wrong with the modern conception of the law and what is right.

As Hamburger argues, Europeans and the British especially were right in an important way in seeing the insufficiency of human reason in uncovering moral truths. They were also right to be skeptical of claims to divine authority in public life because of the fact of pluralism. Not all persons are of the same mind and so there is moral, cultural and philosophical divergence that necessarily produces social discord. Therefore, the Europeans and the British were right to change the emphasis of the law as they did. But it is immediately apparent that something is deeply wrong with this new emphasis placed on the authority of the lawmaker (i.e., the will of the people).

Without a firm or solid grounding in natural law, the will of the people is and will be arbitrary, unfixed and anarchical. Without the natural law, politics becomes a contest of competing desires. This is part (perhaps the most important part) of what is wrong with liberalism. Insofar as liberalism is foundationless, it will produce social discord. But its foundationaless nature is also its greatest strength: it produces a certain social stability by resting the authority of the law in the hands of those it serves. No one is excluded by philosophy or religious belief from the liberal society. Tocqueville said Liberalism requires a moral and religious people: a people with a particular character. He was right. In the absence of such people, liberalism cannot produce social harmony, and this is what we see today in the faithless 21st century America.

The task of the person who appreciates the virtues of liberal republican government (the conservative) is then clear. We must promote the proper understanding and relevance of natural law and religious faith in our public life. How we do this, exactly, I'm not sure. I think the best place to start is at home, in our families and our local communities and fraternal associations. Personally I like to drink beer and talk about important things.


The wisdom of Father Schall

Every sentence he writes is gold:
Joseph Pieper once wrote: “No calamity causes more despair in this world than the unjust exercise of power. And yet, any power that could never be abused is ultimately no power at all – a fearful thought.” Such are sage words. The “power” to create “values” exists. The alternative to the unjust use of power is not "no" power, but the just use of power, one that recognizes the measure.

The just use of power, however, rejects wickedness. We are to be defended against wickedness by first knowing that it exists and can be identified. It can likewise be chosen, even democratically, as a public policy.

Civilization depends on there being a truth to which those who suffer under unjust power can turn even in the face of established and enforced wickedness. It is this latter ground that relativism denies us. The central issue behind every public controversy and every threat against our national existence lies here. Yet this is the one threat to civilization that we choose not to recognize. We have “created” our own “values” in order to deny the truth in our being.


Exciting News

My wife and I are going to see our baby for this first time tomorrow (ultrasound)!