Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Faith means to stay – the Faithful, momentary Sorrowful Mother


Jn 6:68

This 13th-century hymn is variously attributed to Gregory I, Bernard of Clairvaux, Pope Innocent III, St. Bonaventura, Jacopone da Todi, Pope John XXII, and Pope Gregory XI, and others; translated from Latin to English by Edward Caswall (1814-1878). It was the liturgical sequence for the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (Sept. 15 and the Friday before Palm Sunday). It is no longer used on the Friday before Palm Sunday and is optional on September 15, but it continues to be sung at the Stations of the Cross during Lenten services. It was not admitted as a liturgical sequence until 1727, and musical settings are more numerous after that date.

Stabat Mater Dolorosa is considered one of the seven greatest Latin hymns of all time. It is based upon the prophecy of Simeon that a sword was to pierce the heart of Our Lord’s mother, Mary (Lk2:35).


At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had pass’d.

Oh, how sad and sore distress’d
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm’d in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

Bruis’d, derided, curs’d, defil’d,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.

For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.

Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.

By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins best,
Listen to my fond request
Let me share thy grief divine.

Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful Judgment day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defence,
Be Thy cross my victory.

While my body here decays,
May my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.


Stabat Mater dolorosa
Juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius.

Cujus animam gementem,
Contristatam et dolentem,
Pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater Unigeniti!

Quem maerebat, et dolebat,
Pia Mater, dum videbat
Nati paenas inclyti.

Quis est homo, qui non fleret,
Matrem Christi si videret
In tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari,
Christi Matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem natum
Moriendo desolatum,
Dum emisit spiritum.

Eia Mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo valide.

Tui nati vulnerati,
Tam dignati pro me pati,
Paenas rnecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
Crucifixo condolere,
Donec ego vixero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare
In planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi jam non sis amara:
Fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem
Passionis fac consortum,
Et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari
Fac me cruce inebriari,
Et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus
Per te, Virgo, sim defensus
In die judicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
Da per Matrem me venire,
Ad palmam victoriae.

Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animae donetur
Paradisi gloria.


“May the souls of the faithful departed…”


The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and the torment of death shall not touch them.
In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die;
but they are in peace. Wis 3:1-3


-by Br Aquinas Beale, OP, is a fellow WAHOO!!!!  LIKE ME!!!  GO HOOS!!!!!

Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt. In 1605, English composer William Byrd published his motet based on this text from the Book of Wisdom. The souls of the just are in the hand of God, the sacred author asserts, and the torment of death does not touch them. Pointing to the privileged position the saints enjoy, in the hand of God, this antiphon would have been sung at the Offertory of the Mass celebrating the Solemnity of All the Saints.

Et non tanget illos tormentum mortis. God protects the souls of His saints, and the torment of death shall not touch them. Yet, the ethereal harmonies of Byrd’s setting are interrupted at this point by some jarring dissonance; the text tormentum mortis is repeated three times, each iteration bringing more dissonance into the piece and reminding the hearers of the reality of their earthly existence in which the torment of death still looms large.

Though we are told that the souls of the saints enjoy peace and security in the hand of God, how can we be certain? Ordinary experience seems to point only to the fleetingness of life and the certainty of death. Where is the hand of God in all of this?

At the time Byrd composed his setting of Justorum animae, his country was still reeling from the upheaval of the English Reformation. Henry VIII had broken with Rome and executed many dissonants; his daughter tried to restore union with Rome, acquiring the moniker “Bloody Mary” along the way; her sister sought a compromise, albeit with the sword. Even after the nearly half-century reign of Elizabeth, the religious and social unrest remained.

Two years after her death (and the same year Byrd published Justorum animae) anti-Catholic sentiment was once again aroused by the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Considering this environment of perpetual religious warfare, there is little cause for wonder at the ominous turn of Byrd’s motet. Indeed, the confident hope in avoiding the pains of warfare and the torments of death must have appeared more like folly than wisdom to at least some of Byrd’s more enlightened contemporaries. The hand of God seemed to have slipped away from the affairs of men, allowing them to sink into the mire of war and strife.

Visi sunt oculis insipientium mori. The souls of the just are in the hand of God. Yet, to the eyes of the foolish, they appear to be dead. Dead is dead, and it would seem that there are no two ways about it.

In the decades following the Crucifixion, the early Christians were no strangers to the scoffing and ridicule of the faithless. To the eyes of many, Christ appeared to be dead, and faith in Him seemed to be foolishness (1 Cor 1:22). The author of the Book of Wisdom, however, asserts that it is the eyes of the foolish that see death as the final end.  Through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, the final enemy—death—had been defeated, once and for all. And so, those who now place their trust in God shall shine like stars in the night for all eternity (Dan 12:3).

Illi autem sunt in pace. Those who persevered in their faith in Christ no longer walk the face of this earth, but—we firmly hope—they are in peace. And if they do not yet enjoy the peace of Christ, we trust and pray that they will one day see Him in glory.

In the new form of the Mass, this same passage of Wisdom is read as the First Reading during today’s liturgical celebration, the Commemoration of All Souls. It provides a fitting reflection for the living, prompting them to recall the snares of death in this earthly life and to pray that the departed may experience the peace and rest of being in the hand of God.

We have a confident hope that is full of immortality (Wis 3:4), but the suffering we experience in our lives is a daily reminder of our human frailty. The death of the body remains, despite the triumph of the Cross. Therefore, if our hope is founded on our own strength and merit, we are bound to fall into the snares of death. Rather, we throw ourselves and our loved ones upon the mercy and love of God, in Whom we place all our trust. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

Holding you and all your departed loved ones in prayer on this day of remembrance. Kindly remember me and mine. May God bless you for your faithfulness.


“I’m Catholic, but…”



-by Oliver Llewellyn

“I’m Catholic, but… I don’t believe in ….” How many times have you heard those dreaded words? What does being Catholic even mean? Is it merely a cultural identity tag that people inherit through birth, or does it mean so much more? Can you be truly Catholic while then denouncing certain Church doctrines?

By its very definition, being Catholic means existing in a faithful relationship with the Magesterium, and accepting the notion of Apostolic Succession. How can anyone claim to be Catholic while openly disagreeing with the teachings of the Apostles’ successors? Protestantism today displays the visible scars of this individualistic approach whereby essentially theology and dogma are moulded around individual convictions. If you don’t like an interpretation of a particular section of scripture, then simply move to another Church until you hear a homily that you agree with.

Unfortunately Catholics are not immune to this phenomenon of adapting God and theology to our own needs and desires. If we don’t like a particular teaching of the Church, then we may simply chose to ignore it, or worse still openly object to it, while still maintaining that we are ‘Catholic’. Who am I to disagree with the Magesterium of the Holy Catholic Church? Is there a chance that some of the teachings of the Church will challenge me both intellectually and spiritually? Of course. May I have to spend significant amounts of time in prayer trying to understand a particular doctrine? Of course. But what I do not have any right to do is declare Church doctrines as errant – to struggle with doctrine is one thing, but to declare it false is another.

The Holy Catholic Church does not pretend to be a democratic institution in which theology is determined by the majority of believers.  Truth is NOT determined by a majority, but by a simple minority of ONE, the GREAT I AM, OUR CREATOR AND LORD!!!!  OUR JUDGE AND GOD!!!!  JESUS CHRIST, TRUE GOD AND TRUE MAN!!!!  The Author and Protagonist of ALL TRUTH!!!!  Truth does NOT fit neatly into sound bites!!!  Life is NOT that simple!!!  Neither are we nor should we be!!  At the head of the Church is Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit was sent to guide the Apostles (not you or I) and their successors into all truth. Do we really expect that the way of God would not challenge us? Do we really expect the way of God to be susceptible to societal changes of opinion?

Should we then simply blindly accept whatever the Church teaches? I’d hesitate to go that far. God gave us minds, hearts, wills, and intellect for a reason!!  Use them, rightly, to give Him honor, laud, glory, and praise!  Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!!!!   I believe that we are all called to faithfully examine our own beliefs and those of the Church. If you do find yourself in a situation where you are seriously doubting Church doctrine, then what should you do? Well here are a few suggestions that have helped me in the past:

  1. Make sure you know what the Church actually teaches. I can’t remember the amount of times that I read a ‘belief’ of the Catholic Church, or had people question me about so called ‘beliefs’, and later discovered that that Catholic Church doesn’t even teach these ‘beliefs’! Always check a teaching with the Catechism or your local parish priest. After all, you may find that you have spent precious time doubting something that the Church of Jesus Christ has never even believed. Papal infallibility can seem off putting when you falsely assume that the Church believes that Popes are born without sin and are actually incapable of sinning throughout the lives. The concept becomes much easier to digest when you understand what the Church actually believes.
  2. Spend time reading around the topic/belief you’re struggling with, and try to understand the origin of the Church’s belief (e.g. scriptural verses) and the implications of the belief. Merely being able to recite the Church’s teaching on contraception doesn’t mean that you will automatically find yourself agreeing with it. Spending time learning what the church believes about the marital act and studying Humanae Vitae will, however, help to understand the Church’s teaching.  It is beautiful.
  3. Pray about the issue. The God of the Universe, of Heaven and Earth, of Time and Space is eager to help you understand His Truths.  Don’t ignore Him.  He will give you ALL you truly need.  Knock.  Seek.  Find.  Have it opened unto you.  O ye of little faith!!!!  Don’t be afraid to tell God that you really don’t understand something, and that you actually find some beliefs incredulous. I’ve always found it really helpful to ask the Saints to intercede on my behalf and join their prayers with mine when I’m going through periods of doubt.  AMEN!!!!  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!!!!

The above list isn’t meant to serve as an infallible guide to resolving all our spiritual doubts and needs, but I’m offering advice from my own personal experience of doubting the beliefs of the Church. Interestingly enough, I can honestly say that I’ve always managed to become fully reconciled with the teachings of the Church. Of course some teachings have been more difficult than others to agree with, but through the grace of God I’ve always been moved to a point of complete communion with the body of Christ.

So the next time we hear the words “Unam, sanctam, catholicam” at Mass, let us spend a minute to dwell on their implications, and may we remember that there is only one church of Jesus Christ, and that church is not answerable to you or I, but is headed by Jesus Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit.”


Pray Psalms 135, 136.

ALL I want, in this life, or the next, is MY JESUS!!!


Growing in holiness…struggling with the Church, growing closer to Him


If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ you will suffer.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  It is it’s definition.  Jn 15:20.  Do you dare accept the terrorizing challenge of baptism?  Do you?  Have you? :/

If you are growing closer to the cross, imho, and a few saints’ opinions, you are doing something right.  The point is not suffering in itself, for its own sake.  That would be a symptom of less emotional health than desirable.  Suffering is a consequence of the Truth in this world, doing the work of the Master, and growing closer to Him in all things, holiness and the crucifixion, being united to Jesus Christ in ALL things.  His love is so great, His conquest so complete, His power so redound, suffering can become joy, for the sake of the beloved, i.e. a parent for their child, in earthly terms, as a practical example, but His goes so far beyond that.

How does the old joke go?  If you want to lose your faith, go to work for the Church?  🙂  Get over your being scandalized, quickly.  Get on with it.  There are lives and souls to be saved.  For me, there is endless comfort in the Gospels, not only in the words of the Lord, but especially in the antics, hi-jinks, lo-jinks, pure and plain sinfulness of the Apostles.  Goofballs.  What a bunch of Keystone Cops!!!?  Endless comfort.  Humans do not change much in history, do they?  Blessed be the God Who saves us, from ourselves, especially!!!  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you.  Don’t need a Redeemer?  Really?  I do.  I most certainly do.  Praise Him!!!

I relate distinctly with Lauren’s experience, though maybe not in the details, and heartily endorse her prescription.

Ask questions –  it’s the thing I like most about being Catholic.  Never listen to anyone who says Catholics are not supposed to ask questions.  They don’t know what they are talking about and are therefore a bad source.  Asking questions will get you crucified, undoubtedly, but here we have no lasting city.  Heb 13:14.

Find reliables sources – the world is replete with stupidity and ignorance.  Keep pushing.  Find your reliable, faithful, holy resources for those endless questions.  Find good teachers.  Those who can speak to you in the way you can most easily relate.  It is your right, your are entitled to good, relevant, understandable answers as a child of God.  You are.  It just is so.   The Church, as one may hope and pray, has excellent answers.  The Church’s ability to communicate those into digestable, everyday, everyperson answers needs a lot of work.  I kind of think/hope that is the point of the New Evangelization.  Let’s pray.

Pray – Amen!  Jn 15:5.  Prayer is life and breath for the Christian.  ‘Nuff said.  There is a story regarding Mother Teresa and the enthusiastic young women who would come to her, ready to save the world and deal with the worst of the worst of human suffering.  Mother would say to them, “Come and pray.”  They would respond, “But, Mother, there is so much to do.  Let’s get started!!”  Mother would patiently, calmly repeat, “Come and pray.”  Her postulants would insist, persist in wanting action.  Mother would calmly, patiently, repeat “Come and pray.”  Mother finally said to them, “If you don’t pray, you won’t last.”  Wise words for all of us.  Amen.  Amen.  Be creative in your prayer.  Do what works for you, that good spiritual wisdom would advise.  Give Him glory, honor, and praise always in ALL ways!!!  As you can probably tell, blogging and reading are forms of prayer for me.  I also enjoy quiet meditation and reflection, as well as the many other forms of prayer the Church recommends.

Persist!!!!  Be TUFF!!!  No louts, no wimps in Heaven!!!! Rev 7:14 – pray for the grace of final perseverance.  Struggle, fight, work, not that our efforts have any primary merit whatsoever, but out of sheer joy and gratitude for God’s amazing grace and love, we respond, in response to that gift of unmerited grace, in utter, sheer joy, with every gift God has given us in praise of Him and to His glory.  We work, we shout, we rejoice, we suffer, we proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified with ALL we have!  1 Cor 2:2.


-by Lauren Meyers

“I would like to say that my faith is uncomplicated — to say that I accept and embrace every teaching of our Church with a gleeful smile and without a shred of doubt. There was probably a time when this was the case; maybe in my later teens or early twenties, when the love that I had for the Lord and the excitement and novelty of living in such a counter cultural way filled me with zeal and a promise that the world could be changed and could be a better place.

Ten years later, I still love the Lord, I still desire to draw close to Jesus, and I still have hope and joy, I still love the Catholic Church, but it’s not as easy as it once was. It was easier to accept the Church’s teaching on contraception before I was married and had to face that temptation. It was easier to go to Mass when I was in college and had more free time than I ever realized. It was easier to trust the Magisterium before I read beyond John Paul II and into history, and it was easier to hope before I had experienced any significant, personal loss. Over time, I have grappled with the Church and with God, and in that struggle I have found that there are a few ways to enter into that interior conflict and emerge closer to Jesus and His Church.

Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions. The greater threat to our faith is not that we ask difficult questions, but that we become too indifferent to even consider them. Ask questions. St. Augustine was correct when he said that, “The truth it like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” Take time. Ask questions. Seek truth, because the Truth can handle it.

Seek reliable counsel and documents. I hate to say it, but I really like “sound bite” information. I’m not one for reading long books or encyclicals, and so this is a difficult thing for me, but it is essential. When we are able to ask those difficult questions about the Eucharist, about morality, about the clergy, the sacraments, the abuses, or anything else, we have to seek out real and reliable information and anwers. Seek the advice and guidance of a few, diverse people. Ask for answers from individuals without twisted agendas, who are more experienced and more knowledgable, and who can give new insights. Ask for books, articles, encyclicals, and scripture commentary to delve into. It will take time, and that’s OK. You can’t cover thousads of years of history, theology, and philosophy in a sound bite.

Pray. Whenever I’m strugging with the Church’s teaching on something, I always remember playing that childhood hide and seek game. The one where someone had hidden something and, as you search, they tell you if you’re getting “hot” or “cold” on your search. That’s sort of the prayer that I pray as I am questioning and seeking. Lord, open my heart to your truth. Is this leading me toward peace? Am I being motivated by selfishness or by sincerity? Am I seeking Your Truth or my own will? Lord, reveal Yourself to me in this search. When we seek God, we ought to ask for His guidance. Take time to pray, to ask the Lord to guide your steps. He isn’t trying to hide from us, He wants us to find Him and He can help us, if we ask.

Do not give up and do not let go. This is so difficult, because it’s the easiest thing to do. It is so easy to tire and become indifferent in the journey toward Truth, and I feel like indifference has just made a cozy little home in this place called relativism. So many times I have thought it would just be easier to forget about seeking truth and instead, to do whatever I think feels right. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Is there objective moral truth? Do our private choices have communal ramifications? Does what I believe really matter? All of these questions demand real thought, and work, and change within ourselves. And although giving up on it all and choosing indifference and relativism seems like the easy way out, I beg you, do not give up and do not let go.

First, do not give up the search for truth. Do not give up on these questions as though they were unanswerable. The answers may be hard to find, and we may seek those anwers for our lifetime, but that does not make the search meaningless. In fact, the search for Truth may be the most noble of pursuits that we can take up. Second, do not let go of Jesus and the Church. Leaving the Church, the community, and the sacraments is not the way to reconcile yourself with the teachings of the Church. Keep praying. Keep going to Mass. Keep serving the poor in the community. Keep receiving the Sacraments as your conscince allows. Seek the Lord in his Church. There are times of conflict and struggle in all of our relationships, but it is when we are faithful and steady and don’t give up that those relationships and shared love grow strong. Let your love for the Lord and his Church become strengthened and solidified in your struggles and questions. Stick with it, expect great things, and don’t be afraid.”


“to live in loneliness…” – US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Obergefell v Hodges


jordan zajac

-by Br Jordan Zajac, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Jordan earned an MA at the University of Virginia and his PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, both in English Literature)

“In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, and reflecting on what that decision might hold for the future of the Church in America, I thought about reading Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” or a monograph on the persecutions of Catholics during the French Revolution. But instead, I picked up “Faith and the Future”, a thin volume containing five addresses given in 1969-1970 by a priest and professor named Joseph Ratzinger.

Those familiar with a better-known title published fifteen years later, The Ratzinger Report, can appreciate how well the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI has been able throughout his life to read the signs of the times and anticipate cultural and ecclesiastical shifts and trends that have since become clear for the rest of us. So I closely read and re-read the final pages of Faith and the Future, appreciating that our country was likely about to take another definitive step in the direction he foresaw Western society moving close to a half-century ago. When in 1970 Fr. Ratzinger considered the Church’s future, he envisioned that “terrific upheavals” in the secular world would result in a socially marginalized Church—a Church made small, but in her smallness, made stronger:

“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges…. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.”

I was bolstered by these words when I checked the news on the morning of Friday, June 26. Already the proponents celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision were heralding the final paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion. As I read that paragraph, there was one line in particular that gave me goosebumps (though not for the reason those praising it were getting them). Speaking about those with same-sex attraction, Justice Kennedy wrote,

“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”

To live in loneliness. Loneliness certainly catalyzes our search for companionship. We were made to find happiness in Another. Justice Kennedy recognizes this. The people he is writing in support of recognize this. But loneliness—especially fear of loneliness—can also cause us to compromise and confuse our true home with a false refuge. We coax ourselves into believing a certain desire or person will make us happy, when by happiness all we really mean is distraction from our deeper, existential loneliness—an interior emptiness that’s frightening to confront.  (Fact: people would rather endure electric shock than be alone with their thoughts.  Jul 3 2014.)

Kennedy perceives the malady at work, but misidentifies the cure. I got goosebumps because Fr. Ratzinger identifies precisely the same affliction and even frames his discussion in the same terms: loneliness, hope, and finding a home (Kennedy speaks of homemaking earlier in his opinion). Yet Fr. Ratzinger also understands how the Church alone can—and will—offer the true remedy for empty hearts. In his closing paragraphs he explains that when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally human-only engineered world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. (Ed. my experience on social media bespeaks of such.  I often find digital media socialites Orwellian double-speak of being “bored”.  This thinly veiled code means “lonely”.  Six billion people and you’re lonely?)

If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty.  (Ed. Heaven is often alternatively described as perfect union with God; hell as perfect separation.  God honors free will.   There is no actual love without free will. You will get what want, what you desire.  Careful what you wish for.  Mt 6:21) Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it [the Church] as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret…. [The Church] will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Loneliness serves a different function in Fr. Ratzinger’s final analysis. It has the potential to awaken in man his need not for another but for Another. The “totally human-only engineered world” is one in which individuals construct the edifice of their lives according to their own, subjective blueprints. The Master Craftsman goes unconsulted. The “horror of their poverty” is the existential angst described above, which refuses to be smothered or numbed by fleeting pleasures and arrangements made with false gods. Such pursuits may offer temporary housing, but they are not homes. As St. Thomas observes,

“Homes are not beautiful if they are empty. Things are beautiful by the presence of God.”

The men and women Justice Kennedy writes in support of have always been searching—and will continue to search—for a transcendent foundation and grounding for life; for a true home.

This court decision may seem to alleviate their burden, and the deep fear we all share of being alone. But no human institution, no human relationship, can, in and of itself, offer a true, lasting antidote to loneliness. It takes a divine relationship to do that. (Ed. Christians understand no material, no earthly thing, no person, no possession, no power, endures, and therefore all will, ultimately disappoint.  They must.  It is their nature.  Only Christ remains.  Mt 24:35)  And because it is a divinely inspired and sustained institution, the Church will endure all opposition—including the assaults of those who may someday benefit from the refuge only she can offer them.

All men hope to not be condemned to live in loneliness. That is why God sent His only Son; that is why Christ founded the Church.”

Ps 63


“God rather than men.” -Acts 5:29


Thomas More & family, 1592, Rowland Lockey, Nostell Priory, nr. Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England (please click on the image for greater detail.)

fr brian

-by Rev Brian Chrzastek, OP

“The fact of the matter is that most of the Founding Fathers were Deists. While they believed that the universe had a creator, they did not accept that this entity concerns himself with the lives of ordinary human beings. They did not believe that the Bible is true. They insisted that reason, not religion or faith, is what saves us. By ‘saves’ they would understand that to mean ‘makes the world a better place,’ a world that is more comfortable, more convenient, more malleable to the human hand and whatever we would do with it. One of the clearest examples of this is Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, who took it upon himself to expunge any references to the miraculous or to the divinity of Christ. Jesus, Jefferson would have us believe, was an enlightened rationalist teacher, not the Son of God and not a Savior in any traditional sense of the word.

As far as any sympathy for Catholics – this is harder to defend. Among avowed Christians in the early history of this country, most were staunch Protestants. They were almost universally convinced that Catholics are ‘the enemy.’ They were convinced that our acceptance of the Papacy makes us agents of a foreign power.



They saw the Mass as rife with undue superstition, ceremony, and ritual, muttered in a foreign language, Mass universally celebrated in Latin. ‘Hocus pocus’ is a deliberate mockery the words of institution ‘hoc est corpus meum’ (‘this is my body’).

So there were repeated incidents of legislative persecutions of Roman Catholics, who were outlawed, unduly taxed or excluded from various offices or even common recognition. Violent measures were carried out by various local governments and even individual citizens: plundering of Church property and even execution. This widespread animosity remained in place and even grew especially with the waves of Catholic immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries: the increasing numbers being perceived as a greater threat.

To some extent, this prejudice only began to subside after the second World War with a begrudging recognition of the many Catholic soldiers who died in service of their country (Ed. my father and uncle were two who served in the South Pacific, but did not die, although my uncle was wounded and my father never understood how he didn’t die, my nephew now is a Marine, and my father-in-law was in the US Army in West Germany during the Korean War).

To be sure this was not in admiration for Catholic faith or devotion or piety, but because they shed their blood for a recognized political cause. Catholics were given their due, not because of their religious faith, but because of their sacrifices for their country.

Of late there has been a growing sense of unease and even consternation among Catholics in this country. The concern is that we, because of our religious convictions, because of our faith in Christ as found in the Gospels, handed down to us from the Apostles and the teaching of the Church, are more and more at odds with the customs and laws of this country. The recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage comes readily to mind.

The worry, arguably well placed, is that the Church will increasingly find Herself at odds with our culture and our government for not acceding to the expectations our country. As there have been businesses that have been penalized or forced to close for not offering services to same-­sex weddings, so the concern is that the Church will be similarly liable for not recognizing marriage in the way it has now been defined.

One point which seems so easily obscured in the tumultuous rhetoric that engulfs such debates is not the Church’s alleged hatred or dislike or exclusion of those with same­-sex attractions but that the Church, established by Christ, is not allowed to recognize civil marriage as now understood in this country. – According to that book, the one that Jefferson would rewrite, the one by which we swear when we take solemn oaths – The Bible.

The Church’s understanding of Herself is that she is not at liberty to change that with which she has been entrusted simply because society or the government or popular sentiment has decided differently. We cannot, we shall not, we do not, we dare not, we will not rebel against the commandments of God in the Bible. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” – Prvb 9:10 & etc.

So now it has happened that marriage is understood differently by our government and by the Church. For the government, it is largely a legal contract regardless of length between two consenting adults whatever their gender, with no moral dimension whatsoever. For the Church, it is a sacrament instituted by Christ necessarily between a man and a woman, a manner of living out our salvation; to defy Scripture is to invite our condemnation, we are assured, repeatedly. These, of course, are two very different things. The worry is what will come of this.

It is not necessarily surprising that there should be such a parting of ways between the Church and the State. (Ed. It’s inevitability, frankly, based on the lack of a moral framework in the country’s founding, was and is predictable,  and likely will be the American Empire’s great downfall.)  Christ himself forewarned us of this as a real possibility. As we find in John’s Gospel ‘If the world hates you, realize that it has hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of this world, the world hates you’ (Jn. 15, 18).

But before we rush to count ourselves among those who are hated or harshly persecuted by the world we might first consider the plight of other believers, say, the previous generations of Catholics in this country who have preceded us.  (Ed.  it was repeated to me often by my father that even into the early part of the twentieth century, to be Irish Catholic was worse than any other ethnicity you could imagine in the country.  What modern President other than Kennedy was so directly and publicly questioned with regards to his fitness for the highest office in regards to his religion?  When emancipation came for slaves in this country, the Irish knew former slaves would be preferred to Irish immigrants for employment.)

We might ponder those Christians who are publicly beheaded simply because they identify themselves as Christians. We might think of Christians in poorer countries who are denied decent jobs, for which they are certainly qualified, because those jobs are so few and because those believers are such a minority. The plight of such people is certainly worse than anything we have had to endure. Recalling the letter to the Hebrews, we may note that we have not ‘resisted to the point of shedding our blood’ (Hb 12, 4).

This raises a fair question. Do we expect some recompense for our practice of the faith, whether by way of comfort or recognition or acclaim? Let us consider that such are the terms of the world’s counting. The reward of faith, by contrast, is that which is yet to come. Our reward comes from His Grace and is that toward which we are to strive by growing in holiness and holiness is a ‘commodity’ that tends to be quite unknown to the world.

In the Gospel of St. Mark, our Lord Jesus himself, while having a reputation for curing the sick and casting out demons, is unable to perform such deeds among his own people, in his own native place because he is too familiar to them (Mk 6, 1­6). This reminds us of the Book of Ezekiel, of the prophet sent to a people who rebel against the Lord, a people who are hard of face and obstinate of heart (Ez 2, 2­5). Ought we to expect or demand an easier audience or a friendlier reception?

Matthew’s Gospel contains a version of the beatitudes which concludes: ‘Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven’ (Mt 5,11). Whether or not the world persecutes us, there are bound to be significant differences between it and the Church. The world judges by its own standards, by what is familiar to it. It judges by what it sees, the flashy and alluring; by what it hears, the comfortable and the reassuring; by what it tastes, the luxurious and sweet – whether or not such things are as they seem. The Church and those who are in the Church are not to be so easily swayed. Judgment is not always ours to make, it comes from God who tends to remain unseen and whose ways we must discern. The judgments we are able to make are not so obvious by the world’s reckoning.

We live in a great country. Arguably the best country, as attested to by the thousands, if not the millions, who would come here by any means available to them. We are the beneficiaries of innumerable gifts: of privilege, of possibility, and of promise. We owe this country much by what we have received from her and simply because we are her citizens. The first letter from St. Peter urges us to be good citizens, ‘we are to accept the authority of every human institution’ (1 Pt 2,13).

However, that obedience cannot extend to all things. To recall the last words of St. Thomas More, ‘I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.’ Whatever the world, whatever our country, has to offer, we must understand that this pales in comparison to the assurance of Christ, that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven: sons and daughters of the Most High, destined for an Everlasting Glory!”


Sodomy vs divorce: lesser of two evils?




-by Rev Dominic Legge, OP

“Thomas Reese, writing about gay marriage in the National Catholic Reporter, argues that the Catholic bishops of the United States should “admit defeat and move on.” They’ve done this before, he claims: Think of “their predecessors who opposed legalizing divorce but lost,” and who then “accepted divorce” in practice if not in theory—for example, by hiring divorcées. “Today, Catholic institutions rarely fire people when they get divorced and remarried,” and the divorced and remarried “get spousal benefits.” “No one is scandalized by this,” he writes.

This is like saying: “The patient has been taking this poison for years, getting sicker and weaker—so let’s triple the dose.” The argument is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Further, there are manifold reasons why gay marriage is a different and greater threat than divorce, and why acquiescing in it would gravely damage the Church. Here are four.

1.  First, virtually no one celebrates divorce or regards it as a positive good. There is no “Divorced Pride” parade. At most, some think of it like abortion rights: a tragedy and an evil when it happens, but a necessary escape hatch. No one is clamoring for prelates to praise divorce. In contrast, gay marriage is trumpeted as a positive good, and the Church will be shown no mercy by its advocates until bishops, too, march in the parade. We should have no illusions about the way cultural forces (and, soon, legal coercion) will aim to compel the Church not only to be silent on gay marriage, but to praise it and to integrate it into the Church’s life—or else.

2.  Second, while divorce negates an important element of marriage, it doesn’t change the kind of relationship we’re speaking about. With divorce, we recognize that the old bond should have endured, but didn’t. A new legal act is needed to sunder what was joined. But even in this, we still grasp the nature of the bond itself: between a man and a woman, of a kind that generates children, implying permanence, if only for the good of the kids. Gay marriage undermines true marriage in a different and much more dangerous way: It hollows out its very essence, applying the word to something else entirely, a relationship that itself has no potential to generate children, and so cannot itself (without help from the law or from outsiders) form a family. Gay marriage makes it increasingly hard even to talk about what is essential to true marriage. To accept gay marriage as a genuine expression of marriage—and to treat it as such in the parish office, even if we could then keep it out of the parish church—would be vastly more destructive than accepting divorce (which has been bad). It changes the very essence of the institution.

3.  Third, divorce and remarriage is often hidden from view. One often doesn’t know if someone was divorced years ago—and it’s even more rare to know whether there was an annulment. Gay marriage is obviously different, and the threat of scandal is much greater.

4.  Fourth, it is not true that no one is scandalized when church institutions hire divorced and remarried people. Reese’s argument implies that no one will be shocked if we have divorced sacristans (or gay-married parish receptionists), since everyone understands that it’s just the world we live in. But scandal, as Jesus spoke about it, is not a psychological shock. It is rather a skandalon, a stumbling block to others who will then be tempted to sin. “It is impossible that stumbling blocks should not come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck . . .” (Luke 17:1–2). Is it plausible to claim that widespread acceptance of divorce has not contributed to more divorce? The effect will be even more powerful with gay marriage. If the Church accepts the new cultural and legal norms on gay marriage in its institutional life, even if not in its worship, it will say (especially to the “little ones” Jesus was talking about) that gay marriage is no big deal. Even today, it is a grave scandal when a Catholic teacher gets divorced and shows up at school with a new last name. Every kid in the school knows it. It teaches a lesson more powerful than any textbook. Accepting gay marriage would do much more damage.  (Ed.  I realize Fr Legge is speaking in hypotheticals as a form of intellectual charity as if the option were real for Catholics.  It is not.)

Yes, we may have lost the battle in civil law about the civil definition of marriage. That is all the more reason that the Church must now speak ever more clearly and firmly about the truth of marriage, or her “little ones” will soon weaken and fall. That would be the true scandal.”

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.


Coming Out as Catholic



AdWeek, a widely-read secular industry journal slammed the video with an article entitled “Gay Marriage Opponents Act Like an Oppressed Minority in Catholic Group’s Despicable Ad.”

In the midst of vile, hate-filled comments (ironically tagged #LoveWins) many readers rose up in defense of the ad, accusing AdWeek of the very intolerance the video warns against. Once their hypocrisy was revealed, AdWeek removed “Despicable” from the title and changed much of the copy.

See below for a running list of sites that have posted the video:

MSNBC wrote about the viral ad with commendable neutrality, saying “Many point to last year’s ouster of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich as a sign of an increasingly intolerant climate for those with traditional views about marriage.” “Same-sex marriage opponents ‘come out’ in new video.

Slate writes: “Here are some Catholics who feel oppressed by same-sex marriage

GQ Magazine reports: “Absurd Catholic Video Presents Bigots as the Victims of Marriage Equality

BuzzFeed contacted CV President Brian Burch for comments, says: “This Video is Letting Catholics Know That It Gets Better Now That the US Has Marriage Equality says: “These Brave Souls Came Out As Anti-Gay ON VIDEO — You Won’t Believe What Brings Tears To Their Eyes!

Legal Insurrection comes to the ad’s defense: Ad Week has “a hilariously self-awareless fit….Without realizing it Ad Week proved Catholic Vote’s point. Well done, Ad Week. Well done.”

Fast Company reports: “Least Creative Thing of the Day: Catholic Group Plays the Victim in Anti-Gay Marriage Ad

Blue Nation Review writes: “Ridiculous Video Shows Americans ‘Coming Out’ As Anti-Gay

Chicks on the Right blog exposes the hypocrisy in the comments posted on the video: “The Love In #LoveWins Doesn’t Extend To Christians Voicing Their Religious Beliefs. As If We Thought It Would.

Next Magazine reports: “Don’t Feel Sorry for These Anti-Gay Douches

Patheos’ Friendly Atheist channel posted: “A Hilarious Response to CatholicVote’s Anti-Gay Marriage Video

Refinery 29 described video: “Insane Anti-Marriage-Equality Ad Parodies Coming-Out Videos

The Young Turks devoted an entire segment of their show to mocking the ad here:

Gawker struggled to find a creative way to bash the ad, but they tried anyway with article and hokey video entitled “We Fixed That Awful Homophobic Coming Out Video.”

Huffington Post covered the ad under the crude title: “B*got vs. F@ggot

Huffington Post thought it so egregious, they tried another article: “Why I Can’t Stop Watching that Absurd Anti-Gay Marriage PSA.


eMANgelize!!!!!! – Male Catholic Spirituality

Before the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics received the Eucharist by approaching and kneeling at the Communion rail. This photo was taken during Mass at the Paulist Center in Boston in 1955. (CNS photo from The Pilot) (Oct. 17, 2005) See VATICANII-OVERVIEW Oct. 12, 2005. (b/w only)

In You, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in You;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in You
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me Your ways, Lord,
teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my Savior,
and my hope is in You all day long.
Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to Your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
-Psalm 25: 1-7


-by Tim Drake

“Is it true that men generally don’t like to attend religious services and don’t get involved in church? Consider the evidence:

— Citing dismal statistics, researcher David Morrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2005) concludes that men “are the world’s largest unreached people group.”

— A 2011 Christian Century article, “Why Do Men Stay Away?” notes how men are “famously outnumbered” by women at worship and “often are not particularly happy about it” when they do attend.

— A Barna study published that same year found that over the preceding two decades church attendance had declined by six percentage points among men, that the percentage of men who had volunteered at church had suffered a similar statistical drop over the same period, and that an estimated 39 percent of all men could be considered “unchurched” — meaning that they haven’t attended a church event (outside of an event such as a wedding or funeral) in the previous six months.

— A December Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on men’s participation at church cited a statistic that 64 percent of parish life is comprised of women. The perception — or misperception rather — is that men are less involved in church than women.

The reality, however, is that there also is evidence of a resurgence in male involvement in church, at least as far as Catholic men in the United States are concerned. For the past two decades, a Catholic men’s movement has been steadily expanding in size and strength to the point where it is having a huge impact on male spirituality and involvement in Catholic communities. On both a national and local level, the Catholic men’s movement has come of age, as an increasing number of Catholic men are seriously embracing the faith and their roles as husbands and fathers in leading their families to Christ.

Many may recall the multi-denominational Promise Keepers movement of the mid-1990s that held large stadium events across the country. The Catholic men’s movement is not like that: It’s less flashy, more consistent, and growing.

“Promise Keepers conferences were designed to be spectacles,” writes John P. Bartkowski, sociology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio in his book about the movement. “And the problem with a spectacle is it needs to be outdone by something more spectacular and more stimulating the next time around.”

My own diocese hosted its annual Catholic men’s conference during the second weekend of Lent. The first of these conferences, held 17 years ago, was attended by approximately 300 men. Over the past five years, the event has consistently drawn more than 500.

Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of St. Cloud, said that she’s seen a growth in the younger base among attendees.

“From the evaluations from the men, they want good solid Catholic speakers that challenge them and give them ‘meat and potatoes,’ not ‘fluff,’ ” said Codden.

Many other dioceses also sponsor annual Catholic men’s conferences. In 2002, there were just 16 Catholic men’s conferences. According to Dan Spencer, executive director for the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, there are now approximately 75 diocesan-sponsored Catholic men’s conferences each year.

“There have been six or seven new conferences just within the last eighteen months, in places such as Omaha and Des Moines,” said Spencer. New York is currently organizing a conference, he added.

Typically, men’s conferences feature a prominent priest or Catholic leader who provides one or two inspiring talks, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer, and the celebration of Mass. They also often feature workshop or breakout sessions focused on topics of particular interest to men, or small-group sessions where men spend time with one another talking about issues that face them and their families.

What’s more startling, however, is what comes out of such conferences. Men often are inspired to meet more regularly to hold each other accountable and for support in living out their faith in daily life. As a result, thousands of men across the country remain active in local men’s groups that meet quite regularly.

Here I can speak from experience. Nearly 10 years ago, three other men and I began a morning men’s prayer and book-discussion group. Once a week, we gathered for prayer, support, dialogue, and accountability. I told the men at our first meeting that I had no intention of the group lasting forever. I said that we would work through a couple of books, and that would be it.

Yet here we are, 10 years later, having read and discussed countless books. We have expanded our group, and about a dozen of us continue to gather every Tuesday morning at a local restaurant. Over the years, more than 100 different men, including priests and seminarians, have participated. Some have driven more than 90 miles to see what we’re doing.

Not only that, but God has multiplied the effort. Some men who originally were part of our group have moved and started men’s groups elsewhere. At least four men have established separate weekly men’s groups within their own local parishes. We’ve also been told stories about the impact our gatherings have had on other restaurant patrons who have seen our group joined in prayer.

This phenomenon is being replicated across the country. Spencer said that parish-based groups have “exploded.” He cites that Milwaukee has approximately 130 men’s groups, Cincinnati has 75, and Kansas City has 60.

“Some are Bible-study groups, others are accountability groups, some study the weekly Sunday Scripture readings,” explained Spencer. “Some involve the Knights of Columbus. Others begin with a study or a book, while others create their own materials. Approximately 105 dioceses participate in the three-year ‘That Man is You’ program.”

The local efforts bear fruit for parishes and beyond. Some parish-based men’s groups have mentorship programs for boys in high schools. Others have started parish retreat-based programs like Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo, weekend experiences of spiritual renewal that lead directly to the formation of ongoing small faith-sharing groups. The fruit of many of these efforts is that it motivates men to be more involved at all levels within the parish — in liturgical ministries, in religious education, in volunteerism, in charitable works, and much more. As examples, Spencer noted that men in Kansas City have been working on an anti-pornography initiative, and a group in Columbus, Ohio, recently participated in promoting Home Enthronement to the Sacred Heart.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that men’s participation in such groups strengthens their families and marriages, deepens their faith, and leads them to a greater participation in the sacraments. According to a Gallup Poll study of “That Man is You,” men entering the program tended to place in the bottom 25 percent of Gallup’s Spiritual Commitment Index, but finished the program in the top 25 percent.

Jesus Christ continues to call men — as he did the Twelve — to follow Him, and they are responding.

If we are to be conformed to Christ, then we need to conform ourselves “to the Gospel precept of fraternal love,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (#2488). Christ and the apostles demonstrate properly ordered fraternal love among men. It stands in stark contrast to the disordered love that our contemporary culture tends to celebrate and model.

Just as men on the battlefield band together under the leadership of their general to protect freedom, so evangelical Catholic men are being arrayed in a spiritual formation as a band of spiritual brothers centered around Christ to do battle against the cultural forces set on destroying our families.

Make no mistake. We are on a battlefield, and the choice is stark. Either we are for Christ or we are against Him. There is no middle ground.

“There is a hunger,” Kevin O’Brien, former professional football player and co-founder of the Catholic men’s conference Men of Christ, told me. “Men feel an emptiness inside and want to see faith presented in a masculine modality. They want to be challenged. When faith is presented in its proper form, men are attracted to it.”

Many of our brethren have been seriously wounded through the bullets and the shrapnel that the culture is hurling at us. Men’s groups offer a tremendous opportunity to strengthen men in virtue. Iron sharpens iron, the saying goes. As men, we must avail ourselves frequently of the life-giving and grace-giving Sacraments the Church offers us. We must find ways to strengthen and embolden one another for the task ahead. The time is now. Are you spiritually ready?”


Back to the Catholic ghetto we go…

Catholic school_Flickr_Michael1952

It was nice to be thought of as “mainstream”, if only for fifty years.  An Irish-Catholic President, etc., no, really, it was nice, for a while.

-by Stephen Schneck, PhD

“I’m grateful to the editors of US Catholic for inviting me to contribute to a weekly blog. As a professor at The Catholic University of America and head of an institute that considers public policy from a Catholic perspective, my engagement in public life takes place at the intersection of religion, policy, and politics. Since this is my first blog, I thought I’d use it to introduce myself a bit by offering my take on the big topic of Catholic culture.

I grew up in a Catholic cultural bubble. It was the 1950s and ‘60s in Clinton, Iowa, a smallish town of what was then about 25,000 that lies along the Mississippi River south of Dubuque. The culture I grew up in—the culture of millions of other American Catholics—is now gone for good. This has both welcome and worrisome implications; for the future of the Church in America, the question of Catholic culture may be more important than ever.

Clinton, in my boyhood, had five parishes, each with its own grade school, all pretty neatly divided between Catholics of German and Irish heritage—St. Boniface, St. Patrick’s, and so on. The Germans had come in the 19th century to farm and the Irish a bit later for the railroads and to work in a milling industry that had closed shop before I was born. There were three Catholic high schools; two were girls’ schools and the other coed.

The town was split between Catholics and mainline Protestants (mostly Lutherans and Presbyterians) and we tended to stay with our own. As kids we played with other Catholics, had our own Catholic scouting troops, CYO athletics and mixers, and even our own 4-H groups. Our parishes forbade us from joining the YMCA and the like so as not to mingle too much with the Protestants. We were encouraged to avoid the public schools. Our parents, likewise, tended to socialize within the faith. One of the VFW posts was Catholic and the other Protestant. A “mixed marriage” was one between German and Irish parishes. We marched around the block for the feast of Christ the King and for May crowning, surrounded by a thick and comforting Catholic culture that offered us identity and place.

Over the course of my growing up, much of that changed. Clinton’s five parishes were merged into one (much drama ensued). The high schools closed and only a single, much smaller, Catholic high school remains. The grade schools all merged, too. Our white Catholic ethnicities pretty much melted away with the march of assimilation. The little things that once mattered—probably way too much—about being Catholic and distinct from other Americans seemed over time not to matter so much. The Catholic cultural bubble of my boyhood gradually faded into the American societal landscape.

Clinton’s experience was pretty typical. Similar changes occurred in other Catholic communities of the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the northern Plains. In big cities like Chicago, New York, and so on it was a little different, with waves of new Catholic immigrants arriving. Likewise, it was a little different in West Coast Catholic communities that also experienced new immigration. But for white Catholics nationwide, the changes seemed profound. There was a feeling that our cultural identity had disappeared. Catholicism that was for us a way of life and a culture faded—leaving only Catholicism, the religion. Arguably, that shift is a very important one for understanding Catholicism in America today and its future.

Many studies of the state of the Catholic Church in the United States seem to overlook this fact. Consider the studies of the many who have left or are leaving the church. The Pew Research Center recently reported that 13% of Americans are former Catholics and that for every new convert, there are six Catholics leaving the faith. Those are sobering numbers. No denomination in America is losing more adherents than Catholics.

Pundits tend to approach such issues by focusing on the religion side, talking about doctrine and liturgy. So some blame the post-Vatican II changes in religious practice that, to their mind, compromised orthodoxy (Rod Dreher, for example). Some, on the other hand, blame our religion for not adapting to mainstream norms of American society regarding things like abortion, same-sex marriage, and so forth (Damon Linker, for example). These approaches miss something. Despite what former and lapsed Catholics often rationalize to pollsters, there’s much to suspect that the erosion has less to do with doctrine or liturgy and more to do with what’s happened to Catholic culture.

Even when culture does get mentioned, the focus is usually wrong. The talk too often is about Catholicism versus American culture—with some wanting to change American culture to accommodate religion and some wanting to change religion to accommodate American culture. But both groups overlook the problem of our own Catholic culture, as distinct from Catholic religion.

Yes, of course Catholicism is a religion. Doctrine, liturgy, scripture—of course! Of course our religion should be something intentionally chosen, something open to our reason and knowledge. It ought not be reduced to a pastiche of folkways, social customs, lifestyles, and communal attitudes. But, what’s become clear to me is that however much religion must be intentional, it still depends on an underlying culture, and for many American Catholics that dimension is increasingly wanting.

What can be done? Well, don’t be misled by rosy memories to wallow in nostalgia. There was very much not to admire about that closed Catholic culture of my youth. Just ask those who didn’t fit in. And, cultures cannot be artificially recreated. Nothing is phonier than manufactured culture. Going back now to meatless Fridays, CYO mixers, and women with doilies over their hair would be about as authentic as sword-toting reenactors at a Renaissance Fair.

In fact, culture is authentic when it is not a task for itself. It grows only in fresh solidarity. It works when it speaks to its historical moment. It flourishes in communities that open outward rather than retreat inward. It is brightest when not defensive, when its mode is inclusion more than seclusion, bridges not walls, when its message is an exuberant “Yes” and not a parsimonious “No.”

Now for a spoiler alert…something that will be evident in many future posts. I’m a HUGE fan of Pope Francis. The culture issue is one reason why.

In part, I’m a huge fan of Pope Francis because of what I see for the possibilities of a new and authentic Catholic culture. It won’t be the one of my Iowa boyhood, nor should it be. But a fresh Catholic solidarity is growing in this age of Francis that addresses the faith’s need to be more than doctrine and liturgy. If I’m right that many of the problems dogging the church in the United States over the course of my lifetime have roots in a fading Catholic culture, and if I’m right—thanks to Pope Francis—that there is hope again for Catholicism being a way of life and a distinctive culture, then maybe the outlook is brighter for today’s Catholics than it has been over the course of much of my life.”