Random Ruminations #2

Your Catholic SAT... Caesar and Christ... A Plea to Pastors and Organists... and more

Your Catholic SAT

Although many colleges have moved away from standardized tests like the SAT, in the name of “equity” and abandonment of academic standards, I believe they have value. One of the components of the SAT used to be a reading comprehension test. It tests for how closely one reads the text, noting what’s missing and what assumptions might be between the lines. Here are two sample questions for my new Catholic SAT:

“World Youth Day (WYD) organizer Bishop Americo Aguiar recently said he has a “dream”  [see here] for participants after the event. He said he hopes youth “return to their countries with the desire and will to be better, better people, regardless of their religion, regardless of everything else.  … [I]n Lisbon they will find white and Black people, fat and thin, from the South and the North, rich and poor, Muslims, Jews and others … [and] discover that difference is wealth. And that all this diversity of brothers and sisters is always an opportunity.”

You can find “fat and thin” people

A. At the Lisbon WYD

B. Most beaches in the summer

C. Just about anywhere

D. All of the above

Which word does not appear in Bishop Aguiar’s “dream?”

A. Diversity

B. Muslims

C. Brothers

D. Jesus


Caesar and Christ I

Jesus humbly recommended giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, graciously not pointing out — at least until Good Friday morning (John 19:11) — that everything Caesar had came from God. Caesars, both ancient and modern, have generally not reciprocated the favor. Roman Caesars unleashed persecutions on Christians based on ignorant acceptance of rumors about Christian practice. American Caesars likewise betray rank ignorance about “the things of God.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services threatened [here] to deny reaccreditation of a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma unless it extinguished the sanctuary lamp in its chapel since, obviously, the only reason to have a flame there was to set a fire. (I guess there are insufficient OSHA sanctuary lamp regulations). In July, the Alaska Corrections Department threatened [here] to ban chaplains from bringing even minimal amounts of sacramental wine to prison premises, given, you know, the alcoholism threat it posed. We’re not talking prisoners receiving Communion under both species. We’re talking the minimum wine a priest needs to be able to celebrate Mass for inmates, even if they receive under only one species.

After appropriate public outcry, both policies were rescinded. It’s amazing, though, what Caesar still believes about us.


Caesar and Christ II

In the wake of COVID church lockdowns, I’ve argued [for example, here] that Catholics need to work in state legislatures to strip away governors’ powers ever again to treat worship as a “non-essential service” under emergency decrees. I’ve even suggested this should be a number one priority of state Catholic conferences.

The Virginia Legislature did just that during its short session this year. Under the act, effective July 1, the governor cannot impose restrictions more arduous on churches than on any other institution allowed to remain open. Going forward, churches in the Old Dominion will no longer be subject to tighter rules than abortion clinics, liquor stores, or casinos, entities that were given freer rein in many states.

This bill should have been non-partisan: free exercise of religion is the first right mentioned in the Constitution. It did pass the Senate 35-5 (all “nays” were Democrats). The House of Delegates’ vote was much closer: 53-43, with four members not voting. By partisan breakdown: Democrat ayes–2; Democrat nays–43; Republican ayes–51; Republican nays-0. Three Democrats and one Republican did not vote.

The Legislature is up for election this fall. Virginia believers should render the things of God unto the electoral ambitions of 43 little Caesars.


Anglican Problems with the ‘Our Father’

Speaking at their General Synod (how many gabfests do synods produce?), Anglican Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell opined [here] that the “Our Father” might be problematic because it speaks of the “Father.” He said that word could be disturbing to “all of us who have laboured rather too much from an oppressively patriarchal grip on life,” especially “for those whose experience of earthly fathers has been destructive and abusive.” He didn’t suggest what to do with the word, as the Church of England already has a new working group on “gendered language” and Cottrell’s bigger problem was that more than half of his worldwide “Communion” walked out on his and Canterbury’s leadership in Kigali [here] three months ago.

If our woker-than-thou Church of England should decide to alter its Trinitarian formulae to accommodate its allergies to what Jesus called God, it also threatens to join invalid baptism to its already invalid priesthood. As we’ve seen in some American cases, where freewheeling Catholic celebrants excised “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” from the formula of Baptism, the sacrament was invalidated, the rite requiring repetition in the proper form [for more on this, see here].

Cottrell does have a point about the “experience of earthly fathers,” though it might be more accurate to speak of “non-experience,” since the problem is largely fathers that don’t want to be or act like fathers to their children. Mary Eberstadt raises this point in her updated new book, Adam and Eve After the Pill, Revisited. One of the poisons of the Sexual Revolution was not “toxic men” but the enabling of men to spurn their progeny. Are we surprised that kids feel no loyalty to their country and are leaving the Church in droves? If they haven’t experienced a father in their home, how will they connect to a fatherland, much less a spiritual, heavenly Father? Absentee fatherhood ramifies culturally far beyond child support. Eberstadt argues that churches that embrace contraception and abortion — and thus the substitution of playboys for fathers — are signing their own death warrants.

Last person in the York synod room, please turn off the lights (in the name of Mother Earth).


Speaking of Mother Earth

The New York Times ran an article on the current heat wave. What interested me was an online comment by “Caded.” The comment attributed the heat to “Mother Earth [having caught] a bad virus… overpopulation.” Gaia’s response is “a kind of fever… [with] high enough temperatures to kill off the great majority of the offending species.” What struck me was the last sentence: “What else can Mom do?”

It was I think George Berkeley who asked whether a tree that falls in the woods which no human hears makes a sound. I have a twist on the old empiricist: If a tree falls in the woods and there are no human beings, who cares? I really don’t care about an earth of lichens, squirrels, and rotting pine trees without personal life, without “who’s.” Caded clearly does.

Which makes me wonder: was Caded’s “Mom” named Medea?


Getting Things Backward

James Wilson’s “broken window theory,” as applied to policing, contends that one broken window in a neighborhood, left unrepaired, tends to fester. Eventually, people begin to tolerate a neighborhood ever more tattered around the edges, ever more dysfunctional, ever more afflicted by social pathologies. Rudy Giuliani ran with the idea in terms of policing, ramping up arrest of subway turnstile jumpers and aggressive squeegee window washers who — who would have thought? — often had other criminal records.

I’ve argued [here] “broken window theory” is in some ways a secular equivalent of the Catholic theology of sin: indulge venial sin and it snowballs, not because venial sins “grow up” but because charity withers away.

Compare that to a New York Times article assuring us that “Detroit Takes On Problems That Were Once Beyond Reach.” The gist is that Detroit has turned a corner because it is now enforcing its building codes, fining those who have let property run down or be abandoned.

Large swaths of Motown are empty lots and derelict buildings. The Times tries to tell us it’s the result of “decades of disinvestment and population loss” without asking why people stopped investing and started leaving. Since 1960, Detroit’s lost about half of its population. The unspoken suggestion is “racism.” But would people in search of a profit pull out money just because demographics change? Or was it rather because law and order began falling apart in Detroit since 1960?

Why was law enforcement “once beyond reach” in Detroit? Is it perhaps more accurate to say that people made ideological choices not to enforce the law, resulting in “for want of a fixed window, metropolitan Detroit was lost?” Did indulgence of social pathology produce this? Recall the insight Pope St. John Paul II emphasized: culture stands upstream from politics and economics.


A Plea to Pastors and Organists

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s remember something called “elevator music.” It was canned instrumental music piped into elevators, presumably to make the ambience of traveling three floors more enjoyable. It has largely disappeared.

Let me voice my objection to organ elevator music.

Organ elevator music is the music — usually fortissimo, sometimes sotto — some organists think is demanded for every moment the priest is not saying something. Its primary casualty is prayerful silence, something already often given short shrift in the Mass. It often intrudes around Communion.

Recently, between the “This is the Lamb of God” and the Postcommunion “Let us pray,” I went through about 17 sung verses of the Communion Antiphon, followed by five verses of the Communion hymn, the organist’s Salve Regina solo, and assorted bridge music. To ensure I might not concentrate on my own prayer, the organist delivered it all via microphone.

Now, I recognize the importance of music in liturgy. But I also recognize the importance of silence and its impoverishment in the liturgy today. Communion should be a time to recollect, give thanks, and ask God’s help: I should not have to struggle to hear my own thoughts because we’re belting out antiphons.

So, my plea to pastors and organists is: Please reduce some of the music in favor of prayerful silence. And please disconnect those mikes. Your organ should be enough.



I once read a Mass memorial card — the kind you give the bereaved to say that Mass or prayer enrollment for the dearly departed has been arranged — which spoke of life as birth. Just as a child prior to birth imagines the womb to be everything there is and generally quite a nice place (except where “reproductive justice” reigns), so our lives are also like children in the womb. Many imagine this world to be everything there is and generally quite a nice place, perhaps more afraid of what awaits through the shocking transition called “death.”

Granted “birth” and “death” are not exactly parallel, inasmuch as “God did not create death” (Wis 1:13). Man did, through sin. That noted, I was struck that the Second Reading for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 16; Romans 8:18-23) takes up this same theme. Paul assures us that it is not just the rest of creation but we ourselves who, as heirs of the “first fruits” of Easter, “are groaning and in labor” on the way towards “the redemption of our bodies” and “the glorious freedom of the sons of God.”

History is no subject autonomously and inevitably “bending towards justice.” History is set on the path to the triumph of God by the God-man, Jesus Christ, whose work began on Easter and ends with the Second Coming. The interim — our lives and times — are times of “labor pains,” leading to “the glory to be revealed.”


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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