Letters to the Editor: April 2021
Ignorance Rarely Surpassed
What the hell does Casey Chalk mean by saying, “Donald Trump and his supporters claimed the presidency was stolen from them by an unholy alliance of election officials, the Democratic Party, and Left-leaning legacy media, casting doubt (or trying to) on the legitimacy of a Joe Biden presidency” (“A Manifesto for 2021,” Revert’s Rostrum, Jan.-Feb.)? There were numerous violations of Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution in several states (look it up), which make the votes from those states unconstitutional. Yet those votes were utilized in conjunction with multidimensional fraud in key precincts, counties, and states. Chalk’s use of “claimed” and “trying to” implies otherwise. If that was his intention, it was a manifestation of ignorance rarely surpassed and unworthy of your formerly fine publication.
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
CASEY CHALK REPLIES:
I meant exactly what I wrote. To claim, says Merriam-Webster, is “to assert in the face of possible contradiction.” I make no judgment in my column as to the veracity of Trump and his supporters’ claims regarding the legitimacy of the November 2020 election. Indeed, I have no interest in attempting to adjudicate that debate in the pages of the NOR.
Mr. Cat is certainly entitled to his opinion regarding the constitutionality (or unconstitutionality, as it were) of the election. My column did not aim to substantively address this subject but cited it merely to provide another example of the intense sociopolitical distemper of our day.
I certainly hope that Mr. Cat’s judgment as to whether the NOR is worthy of the status of a “fine publication” doesn’t hinge on a single column — and a single sentence in that column, for that matter. That may or may not itself be a manifestation of ignorance, but it would certainly be foolhardy.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Fr. John A. Perricone has outdone himself with his latest article, “The ‘New Spirituality’ & the Ghost of Catholicism” (Jan.-Feb.). Not only did he hit the ball out of the park, it has not landed yet.
Summarizing the authentic spiritual life down to the basics of what a person does with a crucifix and a tabernacle, Fr. Perricone pierces the façade of the “new spirituality,” which he accurately describes as a “vain voyage into the self.” While that may feel good for a bit, without light from God, all it amounts to is a deeper descent into the murky depths of our psyches, with no roadmap for escape.
The brief historical timeline Fr. Perricone provides shows that this “new spirituality” is not new, as fallen man has always tried to find his own “shortcuts from the Cross,” as Ven. Fulton Sheen once put it. But the Church nowadays seems to have no fight left; she has rendered herself impotent under some pretext of “tolerance” for the errors of any spirituality or religion, leaving many to wonder to what degree Catholics believe that Christ is truly God, and that He alone is the way, truth, and life through His Church.
This “new spirituality” happily sanctions our making God in our own image and drawing up our own roadmaps of religion. The “new god” that comes with it is no more than a poor reflection of the self who created him, who readily excuses any moral fault through exercise of the “self-stoking” and “self-aggrandizement” that Fr. Perricone notes.
At its root, being “spiritual” does not carry any responsibility; it does not involve the yoke that comes with an encounter with a real and personal God who makes demands of us and is the standard of the perfection He desires in us. Having discarded the need for formulated dogma or authority outside himself, the “spiritual person” can simply make up his own rules, avoiding any moral impetus to better himself in a genuine partnership with the God who knows and sees all. Being “spiritual” avoids the need for supernatural faith and the reality of Hell that comes with a broken or damaged relationship with God. And, most regrettably, it avoids the necessity of the cooperation God greatly seeks with us to repair and restore. The “spiritual person” has little use for the image of the Good Shepherd carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders.
With lots of “spiritual people” out there, perhaps too many Catholics have become this way, at least practically. Are we in danger of trading a hell we are supposed to and can overcome here as we work out our salvation for the Hell that will never end? Fr. Perricone gives us the remedy: “Union with God is won only on the Cross through the Tabernacle. True holiness possesses one litmus test: a deeper devotion to the doctrinal truths of the Catholic Church. Not merely nods to detached abstractions but flights of passionate love. All other roads are dead ends paved by the Prince of Lies.”
With William F. Buckley-like precision, Fr. John A. Perricone skewers the “new spirituality,” which is as different from real spirituality as a straitjacket is from a jacket.
Fr. Perricone plumbs the depth of Church history, exposing the surge of liberalism in the 1960s that ruined many holy orders. He also reminds readers of the many occasions over the centuries when the Church was misled by frauds. With his seemingly bottomless knowledge of Church history, Fr. Perricone punches holes in the cloud of gnostic lunacy currently enshrouding the Church. As the song goes, everything old is new again — and so is the Gnosticism of the current age.
Bronx, New York
Lenient on a Latter-Day Luther
Apparently, according to reviewer Jeffrey Wald, author David Bentley Hart has such “considerable intellectual resources” that he can disprove the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Bible, and 2,000 years of Church teaching that some souls go to Hell. Wald, in his review of Hart’s book That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation (Jan.-Feb.), is surprisingly lenient on and accommodating to this latter-day Martin Luther.
Consider these Scripture passages:
- “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Apoc. 20:15).
- “Whoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mt. 5:22).
There are 14 other warnings of Hell or its equivalent in the Gospel of Matthew alone. I would be interested to see the rendering of these stark statements and similar ones in Dr. Hart’s “recently published translation of the New Testament.”
Like Mr. Wald, I am not “enlightened” on this subject. I prefer the authority of Our Lady of Fatima to Hart’s “fascinating” arguments. In 1917 she showed the terrified children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta (the latter two of whom are canonized saints), a vision of Hell with people in it and said that most souls go to Hell through sins of the flesh. Today’s wholesale promiscuity bears this out.
A Groundless Attack?
I have been delighted to read Frederick W. Marks’s articles over the years. So I was taken aback when he accused Fr. Raymond E. Brown of launching a “groundless attack on scriptural reliability” (letters, Nov.).
It is true that Fr. Brown was himself subject to attacks throughout his scholarly career — from both ultraliberals, who found him too traditional, and ultraconservatives, who thought he was striving to undermine our understanding of Scripture. I quote here from his Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible (1990): “In terms of the New Testament evidence, the stories of the finding in the empty tomb narrated in all four Gospels are often designated as late [additions]…. Another factor that suggests to scholars that the stories are late are the varying details in the narrative: one angel or two, standing or sitting, the tomb already opened, or opened by an angel who descends, what the angel says. These variations in the Gospels I would regard as reflecting the oral development of the tradition…. To me the authenticity of that tradition, not the lateness of the varying stories in which it is contained, is the issue. The very fact that Mary Magdalene is remembered in the Gospels (and she is the basic witness to the finding of the tomb) favors the thesis that this was a historical Christian memory. Moreover, as is often pointed out, if any Jewish nonbeliever could have gone and pointed to the body of Jesus in a tomb, the Christian proclamation of the resurrection would have been impossible. I see no reason to think then that the emptiness of the tomb of Jesus is not historical.”
In all of Fr. Brown’s works that I have read, I have encountered nothing attacking the reliability of the Bible. Where, o where, does Mr. Marks’s remark originate?
The Rev. Philip M. Stark
Cumberland, Rhode Island
In his reply to my letter (Dec.), Frederick W. Marks writes that it “defies common sense” and “contravenes the teaching of every saint, Father, and Doctor of the Church” to believe, as Fr. Roch Kereszty wrote in Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, that one cannot “reconstruct from the Gospels…the real Jesus as he actually lived and acted.”
Jesus’ life prior to His public ministry was hidden. It is impossible to construct the real Jesus as He actually lived and acted during that time of His life. Scripture says He was obedient to His parents and leaves it at that. When Jesus went off alone to pray to His Father, what did He say? We do not know.
What Fr. Kereszty is saying is that the New Testament is not like a novel, in which the author puts words and thoughts into the mouths or minds of his characters, nor is it a biography of Jesus. Instead, what we read in the New Testament is the direct result of the impact Jesus had on His disciples from what He said and did in their presence. I can solemnly assure Marks that neither Fr. Kereszty nor I, as a deacon in the Catholic Church, doubt in the least bit the reliability of what is written in Sacred Scripture. There is not one saint, Father, or Doctor of the Church who would have a problem with what Fr. Kereszty wrote.
Fr. John A. Hardon does not differ from St. Ignatius concerning the difference between filial fear and servile fear, as Marks says I implied. St. Ignatius himself acknowledges that servile fear serves a distinct purpose and is lesser than filial fear. In his 18th Rule, St. Ignatius wrote, “Although serving God our Lord much out of pure love is to be esteemed above all; we ought to praise much the fear of His Divine Majesty, because not only filial fear is a thing pious and most holy, but even servile fear — when the man reaches nothing else better or more useful — helps much to get out of mortal sin. And when he is out, he easily comes to filial fear, which is all acceptable and grateful to God our Lord: as being at one with the Divine Love.”
Servile fear serves a specific purpose: It spurs us to go to confession to rid our souls of the deadly sins we have committed. It does this by acting on our conscience. Once restored to communion (i.e., right relationship) with God, we leave the confessional feeling as if a weight has been lifted off our hearts. From that point forward, filial fear is restored to its proper place in our lives.
Fr. Hardon, himself a Jesuit, points out that filial fear comes from God, while servile fear does not, because servile fear is self-centered, based on a personal loss.
This contrast between servile and filial fear is clearly seen when comparing the two types of contrition found in the Catechism. In an Act of Perfect Contrition, we express sorrow for the sins we commit out of pure love for God (cf. no. 1452). In an Act of Imperfect Contrition, we express sorrow for the sins we commit out of the dread of the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell (cf. no. 1453).
St. Ignatius makes it quite clear in his 18th Rule that servile fear is not the primary fear we should be living out; it is by filial fear we are meant to live our lives because it mirrors the love God has for us.
Alphonse Bankard III
FREDERICK W. MARKS REPLIES:
Thank you, Fr. Stark, for giving me an opportunity to discuss Fr. Raymond E. Brown’s attack on the Word of God. In 1996 Fr. Brown published a book entitled Reading the Gospels with the Church in which he cited many instances of alleged inconsistency and contradiction (i.e., error) in Holy Scripture — “imaginative retellings” with only “a kernel of fact,” as he put it. The bottom line is that he implies and, on occasion, states outright that harmonization is impossible. By harmonization, he means interpretation that eliminates all thought of error.
Fr. Brown compares Matthew 5:1 with Luke 6:17, for example, asking, which is the real Sermon on the Mount? Well, why can’t it be both? Jesus must have given the same basic speech dozens of times in different settings with different audiences, and each time in slightly different form. It was His stump speech. The version recorded by Luke is not even called a sermon on the mount, but rather a sermon on the plain.
Fr. Brown is likewise jocularly dismissive of the possibility of reconciling two different versions of the Lord’s Prayer. Yet it is easy to picture Our Lord teaching children, as well as adults, how to pray, and using appropriate language.
You bring up the question of what Scripture tells us about the empty tomb — another instance in which Fr. Brown finds inconsistency and implies error. Was there one angel or two? Why not both? There could have been one at one moment, and two at another. Angels come and go!
The first time I dealt extensively with Fr. Brown’s thesis was in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review (Dec. 1998). Thereafter, I wrote additional articles on biblical reliability and devoted an entire chapter to it in my book Think and Believe (2012).
Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties (1982) eviscerates any and all problems along this line, and there is more. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe collaborated to do the same thing in another outstanding volume, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (1992). Archer, Geisler, and Howe are Protestant scholars, but their work is extremely useful for everyone, including Catholics, and I recommend it highly.
Thanks for your follow-up, Mr. Bankard. I agree heartily with almost everything you say, but a couple of points might bring our discussion into sharper focus. Regarding the reliability of the Gospels, we most certainly do have “the real Jesus.” He doesn’t have to be “reconstructed.” But what we have is not the real Jesus in His entirety. No one, myself included, ever suggested we did. You seem to think that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus. Here I beg to differ. They are brief, it is true, and truncated. The chronology is not what modern readers expect, either, because conventions have changed over the years. But we have all that the Holy Spirit wants us to know about Jesus, all that we need to know. The Gospels are the most accurate biographies ever written, and let us not forget that Jesus promised the Apostles perfect recall of every word He spoke (cf. Jn. 14:26) — still another reason for belief in inerrant reporting.
As for the difference between filial and servile fear, I think we agree. I was simply trying to get across the idea that one doesn’t preclude the other. Filial fear is of a higher order than servile fear, to be sure. It is something, too, that every man, woman, and child should seek to achieve. But both kinds of fear are splendid. Both are rooted in the hearts of saints as well as sinners. And we lay claim to both of them every time we go to confession and make the Act of Contrition.
The Fog of Confusion
After years of complaints from Catholics about their silence on the subject of Catholic politicians who dissent from Church teaching, Archbishop José Gomez, on behalf of the U.S. bishops, issued a statement concurrent with President Joe Biden’s inauguration in which he charitably pointed out that Biden has “pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender” (Jan. 20).
Predictably, some bishops objected. Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago called the statement “ill-considered,” and Wilton Cardinal Gregory of Washington, D.C., called it “ill-timed.”
Why would a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, of which Archbishop Gomez is president, addressed to an incoming U.S. president who calls himself a devout Catholic be ill-timed? When would be a good time to point out these things?
Also, predictably, when the issue of withholding Holy Communion from President Biden was raised, Bishop William Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, said to do so would be to “politicize” the Eucharist. Does he not know that the Church has clear directives about withholding the Eucharist (viz., can. 915) and that ignoring those directives is what politicizes the Eucharist?
Let us hope that, with a Catholic in the White House, more bishops will be willing to point out where this president is not acting in accord with Church teaching and thus begin to remove the fog of confusion that, by their cowardly words and behavior, they have imposed upon the Church in America.
Fr. Thomas Shaw
In 1962, when Archbishop Joseph Rummel integrated the schools of the New Orleans archdiocese, he excommunicated three prominent laymen who dissented from his decision. The integration of the Catholic schools of New Orleans proceeded without riots or violent protests.
The Catechism attaches the penalty of excommunication to Catholics who procure an abortion (cf. no. 2272). But unlike Archbishop Rummel, who publicly excommunicated those who fought against his integration policies, it seems that most bishops and clergy today just expect Catholics who procure an abortion to know they are excommunicated latae sententiae, “by the very commission of their offense.”
Procure, of course, entails not only those who abort but those who enable abortions to take place, as in those who pass laws and build facilities. By not publicly announcing the excommunication of those individuals so they can see how egregious their offense is, prelates and clergy do not give those individuals an opportunity to repent. The silent clerics become seriously remiss in their pastoral duties.
Further, it is the duty of the clergy to clearly explain Catholic teaching and why those who oppose it are wrong. It is easy to speak vaguely, but when the Church does so, confusion results. On the topic of abortion, our leaders must be precise because lives are at stake.
President Joe Biden has been automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church, on the grounds of his public support for abortion. Almost immediately after coming into office, he signed an executive order giving more than $80 million of taxpayer funds to abortion providers in countries outside the United States.
This is how our bishops responded: “It is grievous that one of President Biden’s first official acts actively promotes the destruction of human lives in developing nations. This Executive Order is antithetical to reason, violates human dignity, and is incompatible with Catholic teaching. We and our brother bishops strongly oppose this action. We urge the President to use his office for good, prioritizing the most vulnerable, including unborn children” (Jan. 28; emphasis added).
“Actively promoting” the destruction of human lives is grounds for automatic excommunication. The bishops should have made this absolutely clear instead of using weak words like grievous, antithetical, and incompatible.
We now have the spectacle of President Biden going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion. God bless Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, who refused to give Communion to Biden last October during the presidential campaign. Any reception of Communion by a man who, by word and action, has publicly supported and funded abortion is a sacrilege, and any person who administers Communion to him knowing he has publicly supported abortion is complicit in this sacrilege.
Our bishops need to stop equivocating and publicly acknowledge that Biden has excommunicated himself from the Church because he facilitates the killing of the unborn.
William M. Karnes
North Olmsted, Ohio
THE EDITOR COMMENTS:
The scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion has been a topic of debate for some time, and it will only intensify over the term of Biden’s presidency.
Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states, “Those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Does this apply to pro-abortion Catholic politicians?
According to Fr. James Buckley, it does. The canon “seems to apply to any Catholic legislator who consistently votes for pro-abortion legislation,” he wrote (“Bishop Weigand’s ‘Bait & Switch,’” NOR, Jul.-Aug. 2003). A vote in favor of abortion “is gravely sinful because it approves of and facilitates the mortal sin of another.” It has “a twofold malice: It is an offense against charity toward the one who procures an abortion and an offense against the life of the one who is aborted.” (Fr. Buckley was writing specifically about then-governor of California Gray Davis, “a Catholic who regularly receives Communion at Sunday Mass [and] was unyielding in his support of abortion.”)
Are such legislators automatically excommunicated? According to Robert Vasa, then-bishop of Baker, Oregon, that’s a question worth pondering. In The Catholic Sentinel (Jan. 7, 2010), Bishop Vasa suggested that there is “very good reason” to explore whether excommunication applies “in certain circumstances,” particularly to “politicians who may, in their own way, love Jesus, who may attend Sunday Mass and who do identify themselves as ‘faithful’ Catholics,” but who espouse philosophies contrary to Catholic teaching. Excommunication, he wrote, “is a declaration, based on solid evidence, that the actions or public teachings of a particular Catholic are categorically incompatible with the teachings of the Church. It is intended primarily as a means of getting the person who is in grave error to recognize the depth of his error and repent.” (Bishop Vasa was writing specifically about Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, who told Newsweek in 2009 that as a “practicing Catholic,” she has “concerns about the church’s position respecting a woman’s right to choose.”)
What to do about those Catholic legislators, such as Biden, Pelosi, and Davis (who, incidentally, was recalled from office in Oct. 2003), who don’t repent and who continue to present themselves for Holy Communion? Would it be “politicizing” the Eucharist to deny them Holy Communion? (On February 1 of this year, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego went further, calling it “a weaponization” of the Eucharist.)
For clarity on the matter, we can turn to Fr. Regis Scanlon, who wrote on this very subject in a guest column titled, appropriately, “On ‘Politicizing’ the Eucharist” (NOR, Dec. 2013).
Fr. Scanlon wrote, “To continue to give Holy Communion to a politician who is well known for sponsoring pro-abortion…legislation is how the Eucharist truly becomes politicized. Why? Clearly, the politician is using Holy Communion because it is a politically astute thing to do: It lends legitimacy to his policies by giving the appearance that the Church has no problem with them…. For a ‘manifest’ sinner to approach the Communion table is a violation of the moral and canonical laws of the Catholic Church. So, if a pastor chooses to give Holy Communion to that prominent Catholic person who chooses to support sinful public policies, that pastor is complicit in the politician’s campaign to ‘politicize’ the Eucharist.
“It is precisely at the point when the pastor refuses to go along with the politician and instead denies him Holy Communion that the pastor takes the matter out of politics. That’s when he makes the reception of Holy Communion a moral and canonical matter rather than a political one.”
Fr. Scanlon closes with a warning to those bishops who are too timid to apply canon law to highly charged, real-life cases: “To ignore any canon at will is imprudent and a morally grave issue. Laymen who do it are often referred to as ‘cafeteria Catholics.’ The Church hierarchy should know they are not immune from that charge, nor should they excuse themselves.”
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