Eucharistic Coherence and Public Sin

Considering all the brouhaha over the question of pro-abort politicians being admitted to Communion and all subsequent hand-wringing by various bishops on what to do, the answer is simple. Enforce Canon Law #915 which clearly states that obstinate public sinners are to be denied Communion, not out of any meanness but in true charity for these souls which have put themselves in such grave danger. There is really no need for a study group or special commissions or joint statements. Each prelate in his own diocese holds both the power and the responsibility for preventing blatant sacrilege, while also seeing to it that the faithful at large are not unduly scandalized. No, it doesn’t take some special document to fulfill one’s apostolic duties.

One of the issues that seems to be muddying these particular waters, however, is confusion on the part of the laity about the nature of grave sin. Many so called “cafeteria Catholics” have convinced themselves and others that no one should have the right to determine what is objectively sinful. Moral relativism is the flavor of the day among too many Catholic politicians who seem to believe that persons ought to decide for themselves what is sinful and what is not. In this attitude they are confusing two very different things, objective sin and subjective culpability. I am no trained moral theologian, so I need simple illustrations to help me understand the distinction between objective sin and subjective culpability. I therefore imagined some kind of meter with a red line running down the middle marked 100%. Think of that red line as the objective sin boundary. Everything to the left, going from 0 to 99%, is less than grave matter and therefore not sinful (mortally). Everything to the right of the red line, 100% and above, is grave matter which, objectively speaking, represents mortal sin.

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The Lord of the Rings vs. the “Jab”

This so-called pandemic has provided ample demonstration of the old adage about government, that the only area in which it shows competence is incompetence. And now, after a year of fumbling and incessant contradictions we are being advised by countless governments to put our undying faith in an untried, experimental “vaccine” which is, in reality, and experimental gene therapy with totally unknown and untested long term consequences. Being touted by Popes and bishops, presidents, celebrities, and corporate honchos as the salvation of mankind ~ a claim entirely unproven ~ the “jab” has taken on a mystical aura; a kind of 21st century Holy Grail.

But how “holy” is a therapy produced at the expense of innocent human lives, aborted in order to produce cell lines from which the “jab” has directly descended? Ethicists, bishops, and assorted sophists are taking the line that the remoteness of the initial intrinsic evil excuses one’s participation in and profiting from such a monstrous evil. I am immediately reminded of arguments found in that greatest of 20th century literary classics, “The Lord of the Rings.” The solidly Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien perfectly understood, and clearly saw through, such Jesuitical reasoning. As I re-read his great trilogy I am beginning to understand the metaphors and symbolisms he employed in much greater depth. Tolkien, in fact, tackles the very point that is being bantered about today regarding the moral efficacy of the “jab.”

The Ring represents Original Sin which, in a larger sense, can be described as man’s concupiscent “will to power.” Remember in Genesis we read “you shall be like gods” (Gen 3:5) emanating from the lying tempter’s mouth. Likewise, the Ring gives its bearer power to be like a god – but there is always a catch. The Ring answers not to its current bearer but to Sauron, the dark Lord: the Power of Evil. Rather than bestowing liberty, it ultimately enslaves. This explains why the only creature fit to be the Ring bearer is a humble hobbit. Hobbits are the least corruptible precisely because they are the least powerful. Tolkien makes this very clear throughout his tale. It is the childlike qualities of hobbits: their simplicity and purity of heart that protects them from the Ring’s corrosive, corrupting influence. Men and even wizards are the ones who fall most easily under its spell. The one most corrupted is Gollum of course, once a man but now a hideous creature enslaved by the Ring’s evil power.

Tolkien is saying that we cannot compromise with evil – ever – and still hope to come out on top. One cannot use an evil means, even for the most noble cause because, like the Ring, evil has a will of its own, or rather the will of the Evil One behind it who will twist, corrupt, and bend those who foolishly employ it to his own ends. In this regard, Tolkien is perhaps a better moral theologian than many of today’s “experts.” Like Boromir, they are tempted to use evil against itself. Boromir reasons, “valour needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be our weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!” “Alas no,” said Elrond. “We cannot use the ruling Ring… It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil… The very desire of it corrupts the heart… For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”

Tolkien shows his true brilliance in this passage. To compromise one’s morals is to be eventually consumed by the very evil one might seek to curtail. Remember the claim 50 years ago that contraception would strengthen and even save the family? I do. Much like the Ring, any small evil will overtake the one who wishes to use it for some good end. The widespread acceptance of contraception quickly ushered in the greater evil of abortion. It also opened the door to unrestrained extra-marital sex which in turn undermined both marriage and the family. And today, researchers routinely traffic in body parts from aborted children in order to find new “cures” and make “vaccines.” Yet numerous Catholic clerics, administrators, and especially politicians have so seriously compromised their Catholic principles to the degree that many are no longer even recognizable as Catholics in spite of their outward claims. They have come to resemble pathetic “Gollums” transfixed by and obsessed with their “precious” rings of power.

The point is that in a sense we are all Ring bearers because each of us is carrying the burden of original sin – that human “will to power” celebrated by Nietzsche. “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mk 10:15) So powerful is that burden of original sin that even for the humble hobbit, Frodo, at the critical moment of decision even he faltered, unwilling to destroy the Ring that had been such a burden to him. Positive evil is real and it is powerful. It is not something to be trifled with. It will inevitably deceive the one who sees some potential for good in it, just as the Ring betrayed any who would use it for their own ends.

“Ah, the Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing…” reasons Boromir. “You seem ever to think only of its power in the hands of the Enemy… of its evil uses not its good… But why, if it were with us?” The “jab” is so small a thing that most bishops have waved away any moral objections to its use, and in fact most have taken it themselves. But leave it to a small hobbit to remind us all of larger realities. “Were you not at the Council?” answered Frodo. “Because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.”

Our human “will to power” is a kind of pride driven lust that drives us, like Gollum, to possess “my precious.” We are busy at one end of the line tugging at some object of desire, much like a fish nibbling on bait. But we need to consider who, or what, is at the other end of that same line waiting to reel us in. There is another kind of will, the Free Will, which when supplied with grace, can defeat that dark brooding “will to power” which is the residue of original sin. But we must become humble as hobbits in order to conquer it. For if we refuse to destroy “the precious,” namely that concupiscent will, our fate will be the same as Gollum’s, eternal destruction. For the Ring does not ultimately grant one power but slavery to the same Dark Lord that it was made to serve. To compromise with evil is to approve it. Nobody understood that better than Tolkien. Perhaps now, if we could only get our pastors to carefully read Tolkien’s great classic, they too might gain a hobbit’s courage. And wouldn’t that be wonderful!

Francis J. Pierson +a.m.d.g.

Advent, Four Weeks to Prepare

“Be very careful. People wearing masks cannot be trusted.” Fezzik the giant, The Princess Bride

Humorous statements often contain a big grain of truth. And so I would like to conclude this most bizarre year in recent memory on a high note by reminding all why we are on this earth in the first place (and it’s not to make ourselves “safe” from germs). We have hopefully been observing Advent over the past four weeks to prepare, interiorly as well as exteriorly, for the coming of the Lamb of God who alone is able to bind up our wounds, but more importantly to remove the stain of our sins.

There is deep symbolism in those four weeks of waiting, anticipating, and watching for the dawn of our salvation. Those weeks may be said to represent the four epochs of human history which heralded the appearance of Christ, the Savior of mankind. Continue reading

Eve & the True Meaning of ‘Feminism”

Mary Beth Bonacci wrote a marvelous piece recently in the Denver Catholic titled, “On Toxic Masculinity.” It seems that in the current #MeToo climate, normal masculinity is routinely equated with being a racist, misogynist, or even rapist. But Bonacci bravely stands up for manhood. She notes, “I don’t believe masculinity is ‘toxic’. Masculinity is raw material, just as femininity is. Men can use their gifts for good or evil, just as women can. (But try using the term ‘toxic femininity’ in polite company and see what happens.) For millennia, the goal of society has been to channel those instincts, not to suppress them… But there seems to be a movement to neutralize masculinity entirely.” Rather than subscribe to some prescribed gender ideology, namely that men are basically rotten and women are always good, Bonacci rightly places the responsibility for actions on the individual, not on one’s gender. She reminds us that stereotypes are overly broad generalizations containing some small grains of truth that tend to be conflated to absurd proportions. But one thing is undeniable: men and women are cut from very different cloth, and with good reason.

Watching Peter Jackson’s poignant documentary on World War I, “They Will Not Grow Old,” I was reminded that male attitudes and behavior are little changed over the past 100 years, indeed the past 1,000 years. Men are generally the physically stronger sex but weaker morally. It is women who have historically provided the real moral strength in any society. But after 1918 the moral attitudes of women began to change in the West. Legal emancipation and the vote opened up a whole new sense of self sufficiency which, ever so gradually, morphed into today’s radical feminism. Continue reading

What Good is Suffering?

The modern-day Revolution is primarily a rejection not merely of the Christian social order but of God himself. He is, after all, the ultimate object of insurrection. And what is the nature of God’s supposed crime against humanity to warrants such rejection? The most common complaint lodged against him is that he allows pain and suffering in the world, and therefore he must be a cruel God. In light of the accusation we must honestly ask ourselves, is this a valid charge or a mere pretext?

We all experience some degree of suffering throughout life. This is an unavoidable fact of our human existence. And because there is suffering and yes, evil, many people conclude either, a) that God does not exist or, b) then he must be some kind of cosmic sadist bent on torturing hapless souls for no apparent reason. There is another side to the story, however, which is that human beings also enjoy an abundance of the good things that sustain life and give much happiness and joy besides.

We occupy a world of gratuitous abundance which too often we take for granted. The rains fall to water this fertile earth, thus providing us with food, fibers for clothing, medicine and much more. Then consider the countless natural resources which make our technical civilization possible. We have family, teachers, and friends who nurture us and enrich our lives. Most of all, the gift of life itself was bestowed liberally upon each one of us with no cooperation on our part. What about the particular talents, abilities, and creative drives not to mention the countless material goods that we enjoy and find fulfillment in? Consider the gift of time itself which provides us ample opportunity to grow and develop those talents? Do these things also not come from God? If so, he must be a very poor torturer, indeed. Continue reading

A New Age of Martyrs

“Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must be that scandals come: but woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.” (Mt. 18:7)

Once again we must endure a period of shame in the Church, much to the pain of all believers. Our Lord had predicted the inevitability of scandals, so we should not be overly surprised by them, especially in this post-Christian culture that too frequently dismisses sin as some outdated ‘medieval’ concept. But this ‘denial’ only contributes further to that sense of shock for many when confronted with the damaging effects of sinful behavior by persons in positions of trust. And there are still prelates so imbued with a worldly zeitgeist that they do not seem to understand that all sins, even so-called ‘private sins,’ must produce severe consequences. The fact remains that as members of the Body of Christ whatever one member does, even behind closed doors, will surely affect the whole body.

I was poignantly reminded of that ‘cause and effect’ dynamic this past week at a prayer breakfast in Denver to raise money for the support of persecuted Christians around the world. I sense that there is a real spiritual correlation between the sex scandals rocking the Church in the West and the vicious persecution of her other members in places like Africa and Asia. Could God be using anti-Christian terror perpetrated by ISIS, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Communists regimes, and others as instruments of purification for His Church? If so then it would seem that the sins of those fallen clergy are being expiated by the blood of countless martyrs around the globe. This would not be unusual in God’s economy of salvation. After all, there have always been victim souls in the Church whose job it is to satisfy divine justice precisely for the salvation of others. Continue reading

Neutrality is Not an Option

One of mankind’s recurring delusions has been the idea that there exists somewhere in that nebulous void between good and evil; heaven and hell, a third option ~ some metaphysical ‘safe zone’ situated between God and the devil where one can safely park in undisturbed peace and comfort. People have long sought after such a material, earthly utopia, imagining that every new discovery or invention would someday provide the elusive key to human perfection and happiness here on earth. All advertising, in fact, is based on this subconscious human desire.

Modern man is not the first to pursue a material shortcut to happiness, however. Adam and Eve, our original parents, were the original targets of this sales pitch ~ and it was the very same ad man pitching instant happiness to them who continues selling the same soap today to whoever will buy. Continue reading

The Passages of Time

Today marks the 25th anniversary of my father’s death. Dad was a person of sterling integrity as well as tremendous love for my mother and their eight children. But the real legacy he left us was a deep respect for, and the unwavering pursuit of, truth. For dad the eternal verities were dearer than life itself. Perhaps I did not fully appreciate his true genius in my younger days, but time has a way of changing our perspectives. What astounds me today is that a quarter of a century has passed away which, in retrospect, feels like a year at best.

Back when my father was just a small child, Albert Einstein discovered the truth that time is not a constant but rather a variable. True, because for us time feels like something that becomes more compressed the longer we measure it. It behaves like those layers of silt and debris which settle and are flattened into geologic formations so that one inch of sandstone might represent 10,000 years of earth’s history. Continue reading

Sacrifice in a Post-Calvinist World

This is the final part of a four part series on Sacrifice. See previous posts for parts 1,2, & 3.

History is curiously cyclical. Approximately 1,500 years after Moses instituted the Jewish ritual sacrifice, it was ruthlessly cut off by the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Approximately 1,500 years after Christ instituted his Eucharistic Covenant, a group of Christian would-be reformers ‘discovered’ that cultic sacrifice was no longer something useful. In fact, many went so far as to brand it idolatrous. In doing so they disconnected the Mass from its ancient Jewish ancestry of Temple sacrifice ─ and 15 centuries of unbroken Christian Tradition. Sacrifice, the very heart of religion, was thereby dismissed as either mistaken or irrelevant. Continue reading

The Elements of Sacrifice

This is the third in a four part series exploring sacrifice. Press the “Previous” button for parts 1 and 2.

Sacrifice consists of three necessary elements. First it requires an Offeror. The one who offers sacrifice must have the intent to offer something of real value back to God. Secondly, sacrifice requires an Offering. The offering must be something pure if it is to be sanctified (made holy) in order to be presented before God. Thirdly, the sacrifice needs a Recipient, that is some divinity to whom the sacrifice is presented as gift. These three elements, Offeror, Offering, and Divine Recipient are essential to offering any true sacrifice.

But how can sinful humans make an acceptable sacrifice to an all holy God? The one who makes the sacrificial offering is called a priest and for a pure offering to be made we need a sinless high priest. That priest is Jesus Christ who instituted a new priesthood distinct from the old Levitical priesthood. “Like Melchizedek, you are a priest forever.” (Ps. 110:4). Continue reading