Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Many Faces of Catholic Social Teaching

For a long time, I belonged to a Facebook group called "Catholic Social Thought, Politics, and the Public Square." It has a very large following; chances are some of the readers of this blog probably follow this page. Here is the page:

I've been a member of this group for a few years, but today I left it, after becoming exasperated with fruitless, circular arguments with liberal Catholic social justice warriors. When I initially joined the group, I'd hoped it would be a forum for exploring various aspects of Catholic social teaching, either in exploring teachings from the great encyclicals of Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII, or discussing contemporary social problems in light of Catholic Tradition.

Unfortunately, this page was by and large a cesspool of progressive nonsense. I will explain briefly what I mean by this, but I want to preface by saying that it is amazing how Catholics can think "Catholic social teaching" can mean such radically different things. There seems to be multiple different strands of Catholic Social Teaching existing side by side, each claiming the same authority. It's very confusing.

At any rate, the stuff I encountered on this Facebook page was very much in the liberal-progressive bent. Here are some common traits of this strain of Catholic Social Teaching I gleaned from my few years interacting with these people.

Total Ignoring of Pre-Conciliar Popes

Papal documents were cited profusely, but mainly documents of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis. I don't think I ever saw anything from Leo XIII cited, even when the people on the page were discussing matters relating to wages, labor, etc. Certainly no mention of Pius XI and Quas Primas and Christ's social kingship.

"Consistent Ethic of Life" Exaggerated to Cover Every Liberal Talking Point

I am presuming my readers know what the "consistent ethic of life" position is, also known as the "seamless garment" argument. It essentially is a liberal talking point that says if you oppose abortion, you must also oppose the death penalty, war, and just about every situation where violence may be used. This "consistent ethic of life" idea was exaggerated to the point where every liberal talking point became a "pro-Life" issue, with the implication that one was not "really" pro-Life unless one supported the global climate change agenda, abolition of the death penalty, socialized health care, liberal spending programs, and everything else. Thus the "consistent ethic of life" became equivalent to the political program of liberalism by expanding to a ridiculous level.

Bashing Pro-Lifers

I don't think I saw any articles against abortion - or if I did they were few and far between. But I did see a constant barrage of articles attacking Pro-Lifers. Essentially these critiques followed in along the lines laid out by Pope Francis of telling Catholics not to "obsess" over the abortion issue, as well as suggesting that Pro-Life Catholics were not "really" Pro-Life because they didn't do enough to promote social programs to help mothers and children - which is a point I deny, but that;s beside the point. This really ties in to the next issue on the false equivalence between Catholic Social Teaching and liberalism. Conversely, pro-Choice politicians such as Hillary Clinton are given a pass because of their liberal credentials.

False Equivalence

This is actually something that is common to liberal thinking in general. Essentially, a social problem is identified. Liberals propose a solution solve to the problem. Then the equate their particular solution with the only solution, implying that only they really care about solving whatever problem they are discussing. Example: There are many unwed mothers struggling to raise their children in poverty. Nobody disagrees with this. The liberals put forward a characteristically liberal solution - taxpayer subsidized, government programs! Now, it must be admitted that this is only one proposed solution to the problem. There could be others. Reasonable people who all agree that poor single mothers need help can disagree on the most effective solution to the problem. Liberals, however, will go on to act as if their solution is the only solution, and those who do not support taxpayer funded government programs for low income mothers are attacked as not "really" caring about the issue. This is classic liberal false equivalence, and this manner of thinking is endemic among Catholic social justice warriors.

Inversion of Authority

Sources of authority are inverted. For example, on the question of capital punishment, very low level documents by John Paul II and homilies by Pope Francis are given absolute authority, while authoritative statements like the Catechism of Trent are poo-pooed. Sources of dogmatic authority are inverted, with non-authoritative ones being given absolute authority and authoritative ones treated as dispensable. Obviously this implies a very sharp split with the way pre and post-Conciliar sources are treated.

Catholic Social Teaching and Social Justice Warriors

Essentially, working for Catholic Social Teaching is equated with the progressive "social justice" warrior. One gets the impression that these people really think secular-liberal "social justice" is the same thing as Catholic Social Teaching. I do not want to believe it is only because both concepts have the word "social" in them, but I am starting to think that is really it.  Essentially, there is no modicum of independent Catholic social action that is formed within an authentic Catholic framework. When considering social action, it is like they  can't conceive of a social action that is fundamentally distinct from liberal activism. Of course, this can happen with "conservative" Catholics as well, who can tend to make Catholic social teaching equivalent with free market economics and a  neo-con political program. But of course, the answer is not a pivot to the Left, but rather to escape the spectrum entirely with an authentic, independently Catholic social vision that is prior to and bigger than the stupid Left-Right spectrum of American politics. What we have on the Catholic Social Thought Facebook page is essentially some of the worst statements at the lowest level of dogmatic authority interpreted through a lens of liberalism.

It is truly amazing that people can have such huge divergent opinions of what constitutes Catholic Social Teaching, but such is the Catholic world we live in.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

"God cannot be God without man"

On June 7th, the Holy Father Pope Francis delivered a catechesis on the Our Father during his General Audience. The center of his message was that far from being a God distant and unconcerned with man, God is intimately close to man and cares deeply about his affairs. He longs for man's salvation with divine paternity; this is why Christians call God "Father", and the pope called us to reflect on what a revolutionary concept it is to understand God as a Father.

In the course of these reflections, Francis made the following statement, which has raised many eyebrows:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us that God cannot stay without us: He will never be a God “without man”; it is He Who cannot stay without us, and this is a great mystery! God cannot be God without man: the great mystery is this! (General Audience, June 7th, 2017)

Protestants and certain Catholics alike have come out with accusations of heresy or blasphemy against the pope on account of these statements. The accusation is that Pope Francis is teaching that God some how requires man - that the divine substance stands in need of humanity in order for it to be complete, for God to be God. If this were true, this would make God's omnipotence dependent upon man, the Creator dependent upon the creature, and entirely invert the relationship between God and man.

Such would be a very problematic position indeed!

I have been critical of Francis' speech in the past, both in his manner and content; I even wrote an ebook chronicling a series of theological concerns arising from his encyclical Laudato Si. I am certainly no papolater; I'm not one of those people who feels the necessity to offer a knee-jerk defense of every word that comes out of the pope's mouth, least of all in a very low-level, non-biding, non-authoritative pronouncement like a General Audience.

That being said, I do not think what Francis said here was blasphemous or heretical. Sloppy? Yes. Poorly worded? Definitely. Heresy? I don't think so.

First, we must remember that there are two ways to consider God. We may speak of the "theological Trinity" (sometimes called the "immanent Trinity") or the "economic Trinity." When we speak of the theological Trinity, we are speaking in terms of what God is in and of Himself without reference to His creation - to the mysterious inner life of God Himself. When we speak about the economic Trinity, we are speaking about God with reference to the economy of creation - God in relation to creation. The theological Trinity speaks of who God is, the economic Trinity what God does in relation to the world.

When we are speaking about the salvation of the human race, we are speaking of the economic Trinity. Understood in and of Himself, God does not "need" man or anything other than Himself. He is perfectly self-sufficient and blessed in His own nature.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing and needs nothing whatsoever. As Acts 17:25 says, God stands in need of nothing. Creation needs Him; He does not need creation. God is perfectly self-sufficient.

But God did not remain solitary. He freely created mankind, and in creating man out of love, He bound Himself to the fate of man, in the sense that He continues to seek man and provide for man's welfare, even when man rejects Him. From beginning to end, God is initiator of man's salvation. He is the one who calls man to communion, who sent His Son to die, and who constantly prepares man's heart to receive Him via grace. God is the initiator of man's salvation in every sense.

Thus, though God does not "need" man in an absolute sense, within the economy of salvation He cannot stop seeking man. God is faithful and has promised to provide for man's redemption. He cannot fail to seek man anymore than He could lie or betray His word.

The source of this is not any necessity that binds God's will, but the free choice of God Himself, who created man out of love and continually seeks after Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums this up well when it says:
Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (CCC 50).

Francis says the Gospel of Christ reveals that God cannot stay without us. Though God communicated to man in many ways throughout salvation history, His definitive revelation to man comes through Jesus Christ. "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). The people of the Old Testament knew that God was loving, but the depth of His great love are revealed by the mission of the Son and His atoning death on the cross.

This love is perfected in the Incarnation and Crucifixion. God does not need man, but at the Incarnation He forever united Himself to human nature in Mary's womb. The Incarnation is the permanent union of the divine nature with human nature. Thus, since the Incarnation,  Francis is right to say God will never be a God without man. Christ will never not be a God-Man. The Incarnation permanently bonds God to human nature and forever orients all God's saving acts in the world towards mankind. In the economy of salvation, the acts of God are always ordered towards man's beatitude. "God cannot stay without us", yes, in the sense that God can no more abandon mankind than He can undo the Incarnation. The Incarnation was a total and irrevocable commitment of God to mankind.

Again, the Catechism says, "
Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him" (CCC 30).

Is it then true that "God cannot be God without man"? Not if we take this to refer absolutely, to the theological Trinity; of course, the divine nature needs nothing to be complete. But the whole focus of the pope's homily was God inasmuch as He is a Father to His people; in other words, the economic Trinity, God within the economy of human salvation. And within the economy of salvation, God has permanently and irrevocably committed Himself to the calling, redemption, and glorification of mankind. As long as creation endures, God cannot un-orient Himself from mankind. For God to be what He claims to be, He cannot be without man. He cannot abandon man. He has promised He would not. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

Thus, I think those who find Francis' words here heretical are not sufficiently grasping the concept of God's permanent orientation towards man within the economy of salvation. Some are citing verses like Daniel 4:35 and Acts 17:24-25 as evidence that Francis has taught heresy. The passage from Daniel merely notes that God is all-powerful and can exercise His will unhindered; the passage from Acts 17 states that God does not need anything. Neither of these undermine the pope's words; if God is all-powerful, as Daniel teaches, then He can voluntarily bind Himself to His creation through all His salvific acts, especially the Incarnation; and since God does not need anything according to His divine nature, as Acts 17 teaches, then the fact that God is so faithful in His relentless pursuit of man is even more marvelous.

God does "need" to do certain things that He has voluntarily bound Himself to. It's like asking does God " need" to forgive the original sin of a person coming to baptism under the right conditions? Considered absolutely, no, but considered in terms of God's salvific works, in terms of what He Himself promised to accomplish through baptism, then yes, God does "need" to remit original sin through baptism - otherwise we would have no confidence in the efficacy of the sacraments. But it must be stressed that this "necessity" is not any kind of compulsion that moves God from without, but rather it flows from God's faithfulness to His own promises. The only thing that binds God is His own word.

Could Francis have worded this better? Could he have perhaps been more sensitive to how his statements could be taken? Could he have perhaps offered more precise distinctions. Would such a clumsy theological statement probably have been censored a hundred years ago? Affirmative on all counts. But I don't think there is anything inherently heretical in these statements, understood rightly. His words are sloppy and confusing, per the norm, but in this case there is nothing to cry afoul of.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Chris Cornell - 1964-2017

Back in 2010 I profiled the life and death of gothic-metal singer Peter Steele. The article was of purely personal interest to me, as I used to listen to Steele's band Type-O-Negative back in my past life. I was surprised how much traction the article got; in fact, it became one of my highest read articles of all time and continues to attract a fair amount of traffic to this day.

Today I am again profiling the death of a musician that meant a lot to me when I was younger, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who passed away in Detroit earlier this month in what is apparently being ruled a suicide, although his wife and others who knew him are contesting this.

Musicians come and go, of course, but Chris Cornell's death struck me in a very personal way. Perhaps it's essentially nostalgia; I can vividly remember two decades ago, rumbling down country roads in my buddy's old pickup truck in the summers with windows down, sun baking our arms, blaring Soundgarden while we enjoyed our youth. Some of the earliest songs I learned on guitar were Soundgarden riffs, although I must admit they were a bit too complex for me to master at the time.

Even Cornell's death had a personal element to it. He died in Detroit, right in my backyard, after a final performance at the Fox Theater. I know the Fox Theater well. My mother was an usher there when I was a boy. She used to be able to get us seats for free and I remember heading down there with my brother to see David Copperfield or other acts.

At any rate, I don't mean to go too much into my own background, except as a way to say that this musician was tied up with some very nostalgic memories for me.

As far as I know, Chris Cornell was the only major Grunge-era icon who had a Catholic upbringing. He attended a Catholic school in Seattle, although he finished out his education in a public high school. I've read stories that he was almost kicked out of his Catholic school for "asking too many questions", but this seems apocryphal. I mean, he went to Catholic school in the 1970's; you can't convince me that people were legit reprimanded for challenging Catholic doctrine in American Catholic schools in the 1970's. If anything, such doctrinal non-conformists were probably praised.

At any rate, Cornell seems to have rejected his Catholic upbringing while simultaneously being enamored of the powerful symbols of the faith. This was a similar phenomenon I noted in my article about Peter Steele and Gothic metal; while rejecting the substance of the faith, they retain evocative Catholic imagery in their songs. In the case of Peter Steele, as well as other fans of the Gothic genre, admiration for the symbols and images of Catholicism ended up becoming a back door back to the actual practice of the faith.

Cornell's songs were the same. While he clearly had a skeptical attitude towards the tenets of Christianity, he could not get away from Christian images in his music. As a man who always struggled with addiction and depression, it even seems that sometimes he returns to a kind of consoling Catholic piety when his lyrics are plunging the depths of depression. Even to this day, I am moved by Cornell's opening lines to his 1991 "Say Hello to Heaven":

Please, mother of mercy
Take me from this place
and the long winded curses
I keep here in my head

It's a very Catholic sentiment. When the darkness closes in and all seems hopeless, call out to the Blessed Mother.

I was always particularly partial to his 1999 solo track "Sunshower", which like many of his songs deals with the struggle to find happiness in the midst of pain - to discover redemptive value in suffering. The chorus balances suffering and redemption, promising that all the adversity that pours down like rain will cause grace to blossom and flower:

When you're caught in pain
And you feel the rain come down
It's all right
When you find you way
Then you see it disappear
It's all right
Though your garden's gray
I know all your graces
Someday will flower
In a sweet sunshower

After Soundgarden broke up, Cornell's lyrics became more explicitly religious with his second band, Audioslave. For example, this lyric from "Show Me How to Live":

Nail in my hand from my creator
You gave me life, now show me how to live.

Or this lyric from "Light My Way":

In my hour of need, on a sea of gray
On my knees I pray to you
Help me find the dawn of the dying day
Won't you light my way?

Cornell said the increasingly religious lyrics of Audioslave were evoked by the responsibilities of fatherhood, and the realization that one must live for something beyond oneself.

I'm not suggesting Cornell's music is "Christian" or that the few head nods to a Creator compensate for the religious skepticism evident in much of his music; rather, I am noting how Catholic imagery becomes a pivot around which his creative vision turns, even when he is more or less turning away from it.

In a 2008 interview Cornell identified himself as a "freethinker" who did not prefer to consider life in terms of right and wrong and said he preferred to stay away from specific denominations or religious schools of thought. Jesus's message perverted..."be really nice to each other."

However, around the same time he formally entered the Greek Orthodox communion as a result of his second wife, Vicky Karayiannis. How sincere his conversion was, I could not say. In an interview with The Inquirer, he was asked why he converted to Greek Orthodoxy. He responded:

I wanted to be married in the Greek Church. I was baptized Catholic and went to a Catholic school. There was something about the Greek Orthodox Church that resonated with my childhood—there was something fresh and exciting about it.

Again, it's as if there is a kind fascination with the nostalgia and symbolism of the historic Christian faith that continues exert its influence, even if the substance of faith itself is lacking or imperfect.

At least externally, Cornell appears to have been a practicing Orthodox in his latter days. There are lovely pictures of his child's baptism - with Chris and his wife singing the traditional Greek chants that accompany the rite:

One final thought: I think one thing that was so disturbing about Chris Cornell's death for me personally was that I thought he was "safe." He had outlived many of his musical peers and made it to age 52, not the age we typically associate with rock star suicide. Whether Cornell killed himself intentionally or not - the Ativans he took for anxiety had a side effect of making one suicidal - it is a reminder that one does not outgrow depression. It is something that one must be constantly vigilant against. I was a child of the early 90's, and the one great gift the 90's bequeathed to the world was depression - with all the attendant pharmaceutical treatments and their equally horrific side effects. For me personally, Cornell's death was a stark reminder of these realities.

I don't know to what degree Cornell eventually found faith or what his faith was in; he seems like a man who at one time vehemently rejected the Christian faith but also viewed his personal struggles in a fundamentally religious-existentialist terms, with a vocabulary bequeathed to him by his Catholic upbringing. It seems he started to meander back to faith in the years before his death.

Whatever Chris Cornell's mistakes or weaknesses, the man was a baptized Catholic and it's questionable whether he was in his right mind when he took his life or not. So I'm going to say a little prayer for his soul today. Won't you do the same?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Black Hand of the Madonna

This month we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the apparitions, as well as the canonizations of Francisco and Jacinta.

I highly recommend this article, "Fatima's Gradual Descent into Darkness" by E.A. Bucchianeri at the blog Books, Blabble, and Blarney (May 17, 2017). It is a fascinating read about the site of Fatima written from the perspective of a devout Catholic who has lived in Fatima for the past fourteen years. He chronicles the architectural and liturgical abominations that have become ubiquitous at the site. He also chronicles some of the interesting sorts of observations that its hard to categorize and assign precise meaning to - for example, that the hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue at Fatima has become blackened with mold, the hideous "toothpick crucifix" and other things of this sort. I highly recommend this article; even if one does not adopt all the author's interpretations of the signs he is witnessing, one should at least be aware and give them some thought.

 *   *   *   *   *

When I first saw the above mentioned article posted on social media, there were all sorts of skeptical comments to the tune of "You're reading too much into these occurrences" and "Don't be superstitious" and so on. I encountered similar comments when I posted an article noting that the ceremonial doves released by the Roman pontiffs as emblems of peace were frequently attacked and killed by crows ("Safe Place for a Dove", June 7, 2015). We could note a similar responses when people drew attention to the famous lightning strike at St. Peter's Basilica just hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.

It is difficult for people to interpret such things. Most Catholics tend to default to two opposite extremes when confronted with potential supernatural signs, prophecy, etc - on the one hand, some have a tendency to seek too much exactitude out of these sorts of things, interpreting them as very clear communications, establishing elaborate timelines, and generally acting as if they possess the entire schedule of the eschaton down to the minute. One the other hand, you will have people who react against that sort of presumptuous precision and flee to the other extreme of supposing that nothing at all can be gleaned from such occurrences. These people almost take a Kantian approach to supernatural signs: God sends us supernatural signs and prophecy, but there is an unbreachable chasm between God's actions and our understanding of them. Sure, maybe God sends signs, but who can possibly interpret them? Therefore, it's best to just ignore them altogether.

As an aside, it was this frustration that led me to create the video "Shortcomings of Catholic Eschatology" on the USC Youtube channel. And no, my complaints about Catholic eschatology are not to be construed as an invitation for you to spam me with you utter rubbish about Maria Divine Mercy.

 *   *   *   *   *

People inherently have a problem interpreting supernatural signs when prudence is required. They want to either throw prudence to the wind entirely, or apply it in excess. But Jesus calls us to moderation. He presents His signs in terms of natural phenomenon, like the coming of evening or the changing of seasons. Think of how we perceive these things, seasons, weather, etc. They are not matters of precision; jokes about the reliability of weather forecasts are ubiquitous. Predictions about the weather and the seasons are helpful for telling us the general direction in which we are moving, without too much precision. We would be foolish to put too much stock in a particular forecast; we would be equally foolish to ignore the general changing of the seasons altogether just because particular forecasts are not extremely precise.

This is why Jesus uses examples taken from the weather. “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:2-3). Jesus wants us to pay close enough attention to the signs of the times that we can say "A storm is coming,"  but he also wants us to be humble enough to realize we cannot figure it all out. It is sufficient to know the storm is on its way and to prepare accordingly. That is ultimately why God sends such signs.

 *   *   *   *   *

The hand of the Madonna of Fatima has turned black.One calls to mind the message of Fatima about Our Lady using her hand to withhold the vengeance of our Lord. One prominent ecclesiastic has recently derided this idea as a "Mary of our own making", making fun of the idea of Mary as "one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God" and is "sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge." This critique is much too simplistic; of course Mary is not "sweeter" than Jesus. Of course this is a false dichotomy; it is not as if Christ is ruthless judge and Mary is pure mercy. God's justice and mercy are perfectly in harmony, and insofar as Mary is the holiest saint, she too possesses perfect mercy and justice.

The point of the Fatima's teaching about Mary withholding the arm of Christ is not to establish some kind of distinction between a "sweet merciful Mary" and a ruthless Jesus. Rather, the purpose is to impress upon us that if Christ does come in judgment, it is because of our sins. And if grace is extended to us to forestall that judgement, that grace has come through the intercession of Our Lady.

These occurrences at Fatima may not "mean" anything; I file them away in my mind under "Interesting...note taken." But they are ominous. We live in ominous times.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Would Political Freedom Would Make Our Parishes Stupider?

Here in the United States, President Trump just announced a new executive action that is supposed to loosen the restrictions on religious organizations from engaging in political activity. How exactly this action will change things is uncertain at the moment, as Trump's action only gives directives to the IRS and Treasury to interpret existing legal norms with maximal leniency when dealing with possible violations. To actually change the law itself would require an act of Congress.

At any rate, this turn of events led me to consider whether it would be a good or bad thing for the Church in the United States if all restrictions on political activity by religious organizations were lifted. After reflecting on this for a few days, I think my answer is yes it would be good in theory, but in practice it would be harmful.

Why would such a thing be good?

The Church historically was extremely engaged in politics. Obviously the whole history of Christendom is replete with examples of the Church engaging political matters vigorously. One only need think of the struggles of the Investiture Controversy and similar Church-State conflicts to see that political activity has often been a necessary prerequisite for the Church to maintain her autonomy.

In fact, the traditional understanding of the Church's relationship to the state as exemplified by the famous teaching of Pope St. Gelasius (c. 494) presumes that the Church is able to make her opinion known on political matters, insomuch as political acts sometimes overlap matters of faith. The State concerns itself with the temporal ends of man, the Church with the supernatural, but sometimes the former touches on the latter, and in such cases the Church may engage in activity in order to advocate for political activity that does not contravene divine law; indeed, in some cases, the clergy actually have an obligation to speak truth to power, as Pope St. Gelasius says, "there is no slight danger in the case of the priests if they refrain from speaking when the service of the divinity requires."

The Church has often used political speech in the past with great benefit to the public good. For example, in 1948 Massachusetts put Referendum No. 4 to voters, which would have relaxed the state's ban on artificial contraception. Boston's Archbishop Richard Cushing led a vigorous opposition to the measure, plainly telling Catholics not to vote for it. The Referendum was defeated by a 57% margin. Such plain political engagement by the Church was subsequently banned with the 1954 Johnson Amendment - which may partially explain why Cushing later changed his tone on contraception.

At any rate, I don't think I need to belabor this point. Most readers of this blog, who tend to be more historically and theologically literate, understand why, in theory, returning more autonomy to the Church in this regard should be a good thing, and certainly more in keeping with Catholic tradition.

If I admit this in theory, why would I deny it in its application here in the USA?

In application, I feel that loosening restrictions on political activity would be harmful for the Church in practice for one simple reason - the two party stupidity of the American mainstream has infected the Church.

Greater freedom to engage in politics would be wonderful for the Catholic Church - if American Catholics had a well-grounded Catholic identity and some semblance of a Catholic political vision grounded in the Church's social tradition. But, since American Catholics are so pathetically lacking in any independent Catholic political ethos, in practice we would witness each parish devolve into a satellite of the Republican or Democratic Party. It would not engender an independent Catholic political spirit; rather, it would inject further secular partisanship into parish life and fasten the chains of Catholic thought more securely to the agendas of Hudge and Gudge.

It would also be horribly divisive for Catholic parishioners. Even now parishes tend to lean liberal or conservative politically, but the lack of overt political activity provides a kind of breathing space for Catholics who might not agree with their pastors on every issue. As it stands now, a Catholic might, for example, realize his pastor is softer on illegal immigration than he would like. But since there are limits on what sorts of political advocacy a pastor can engage in, he is somewhat prevented from shoving his opinions down his parishioner's throats. And this allows pastors and congregants to kind of co-exist socially in the same parish, because their obnoxious political opinions are buffered and they don't have to engage each other directly.

Now suppose, however, you walk into your parish one day and your pastor is vocally pushing a petition drive to turn your town into a Sanctuary City. He is lambasting political candidates by name and campaigning for others. He has ushers ready with the ballot petition at the back of the Church and is hovering around encouraging people to sign it. Even if the pastor and parishioner would have had the same differing opinions before, now the buffer is removed. The parish has become a locus of political confrontation. The man who disagrees with his pastor's political agenda will no longer feel "safe". This would be the case whether the pastor was pushing liberal-Democratic garbage, or whether he was stumping for the local GOP hack.

The result would be the politicization of parishes in the image of our stupid two party system. We would see a massive population realignment as parishioners who no longer felt welcome at their parishes would migrate to others more reflective of their views.

I understand this already happens to some degree, but if the Church in the United States were to have complete freedom of political action, watch parish life be entirely politicized immediately. GOP and Democratic operatives would swoop in and organize the parishioners politically. The two party stupidity we all hate would take over our parishes. It would be omnipresent and inescapable. There would be no breathing space.

In conclusion, it would be excellent if Catholics in this country had an independent political vision grounded in the perennial truths of the Gospel. If that were the case, political freedom for the Church would mean the creation of a robust "Third Way" that could challenge the prevailing political dichotomy and bring true reform to the nation. But, in the absence of such a coherent mindset, in practice we would see each parish become a tool of the Democratic or Republican parties, and the politicization of parish life in the basest manner. Catholic social life, already anemic, would become that much stupider.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Advice About Confession Problem?

So, I need your advice here. A friend came to me with this problem, and I really don't know what to do about it.

A young man I know told me he has been struggling with certain habitual sins. He has been going to confession regularly to help obtain the graces he needs to overcome these sins. The other day, he went to a parish he doesn't normally go to for confession just because it was close and kind of convenient.

He made a standard confession, saying how long it had been since his last confession, the sins of thought and deed he had committed, both in kind and number - then, he also added, "Because I have confessed this sin so many times, I believe I am also guilty of presuming on God's mercy - of assuming I can just go to confession." So, he was confessing what he had done, but also confessing the sin of presumption.

Then he told me the priest giggled and said, "You know a priest has the power to forgive or retain sins. You cannot presume on the mercy of God. Because you did, I am retaining your sins. I will not forgive you today. You will have to go to confession another time." The young man went out, confused and unabsolved.

I have heard stories of saints who have refused absolution to penitents because they were able to tell (by supernatural intuition) that the penitent was not actually contrite. But that was certainly not the case here. The young man was contrite; he knew he had sinned through presumption and was actually confessing that he was guilty of it.

I believe the priest was probably trying to teach the young man a lesson about not presuming you can always just go to confession. But even so, aren't priests supposed to always absolve penitents who profess contrition and don't give any indication that they aren't.

Was this an abuse of the sacrament? Was this young man denied his canonical rights? Or is this something priests have the discretion to do?

Please note, my friend is not wanting to "do" anything about it or make trouble necessarily. He and I both just really want to know if this is something anyone has heard of or if it is legitimate.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Priests' Sober Reflections on the Traditional Mass Crowd

I had a chance some time ago to speak to two different priests on the question of Summorum Pontificum and the traditional Latin Mass as it is celebrated by diocesan priests and regular parish churches. Both had eagerly embraced Summorum Pontificum upon its issue in 2007. Both were eager for the traditional liturgy and Catholic tradition. I wanted to know how things had gone for them over the past ten years. The discouraging nature of their answers was sobering. 

The first priest was a seminarian when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated. He always had a deep respect for Catholic tradition and the traditional liturgy. Like many other traditional-minded seminarians, he had to kind of keep his head down throughout seminary. He maintained a respectful silence in the face of progressive indoctrination, did his required reading by day but studied Aquinas and the Fathers by night, and practiced penance privately while his fellow seminarians were spending their free time watching movies. He is a good and gentle soul. When Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio, he was excited to make himself available to the faithful to celebrate the traditional Mass.

After ordination and his first parish assignment, this priest was generous in promoting the traditional Latin Mass and offered it to a "stable group" on a semi-regular basis.

Those days are long gone.

This priest no longer offers the traditional Latin Mass, nor has he for years. He explained that the people who attended the traditional Latin Mass were so mean-spirited, so hyper-critical, just so obnoxious, that he eventually stopped offering the traditional Mass altogether. Perhaps the saddest thing about the story is this priest's personal interest in traditional Catholicism had began to wane. He wants nothing to do with the Latin Mass community.

The second priest had been ordained for some time when Summorum Pontificum came out. He had long desired to offer the traditional Mass and was in the process of training for a celebret under the indult when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated. He had always loved the traditional Mass because of its reverence and the centrality of God. He was excited to be able to offer the Latin Mass without any permission. He has now been offering the traditional Latin Mass regularly for almost a decade. His traditional Latin Mass liturgy has grown to around 75+ congregants.

"If I would have known back then what these people are actually like, I would have never begun offering the Latin Mass," he told me dryly.

His story resembled the first priest's. Soon after beginning to offer the traditional Latin Mass, he began to have negative interactions with those who attended it. An unending barrage of criticisms about the way the Mass was being offered. A general spirit of criticism that was quicker to lash out in indignation at perceived faults than be grateful for what they had; heresy-hunting and badgering the priest about theological statements they did not think were sufficiently precise rather than encouraging him for speaking the truth. In short, they were a royal pain.

This priest also noted that his traditional Latin Mass crowd were very loath to volunteer for any parish events or attend any other parish functions. He made an interesting observation, and I'm paraphrasing, but he said, "It's like the Latin Mass is a 'fix', something they travel around chasing. Looking for anywhere they can get 'their' Mass and then move on." He felt like they refused to put down roots in his parish; they were takers, not givers. They have given him nothing but headaches.

As of now, this priest is continuing to offer the traditional Mass, but he was very clear that he was unsure if he would continue and that he certainly would not have offered it if he knew what he was in for. He now prefers to say Low Masses privately.

Both of these priests are good, solid diocesan priests who loved the traditional liturgy because of its reverence and Christ-centeredness. The thing is, neither of these priests viewed the traditional Latin Mass as part of a "movement", and nor wanted to be part of one. They simply were drawn to the beauty of the old Mass and wanted to share it; they didn't have any chip on their shoulders.

Now, two things - first, I have known a lot of traditional Catholics and been to many traditional communities, and I know for a fact that not all of them are this way. We are blessed at our parish to have a well-established traditional Latin Mass community that is fairly engaged, overlaps with the Novus Ordo parishioners, and is very supportive of our parish priest. There's a lot of wonderful people out there promoting the Latin Mass. In my neck of the woods, Juventutem Michigan does an amazing job of promoting the traditional Latin Mass with absolutely no politics. So, I know this isn't something negative that all traditional Catholics can be painted with.


I have also been around enough traditional Catholics to totally believe these priests' stories without question. Traddies can be seriously, ridiculously obnoxious. Anyone who has been around traditionalist enclaves knows, as the Lord lives, that I speak the truth.

Second - some may huff and say, "If they would quit saying the Mass of ages just because some parishioners got cranky with them, they don't really understand the importance of the Mass. They're not truly devoted to it."

Well, maybe they weren't. Maybe some are just priests who are curious about it. Maybe some priests prefer it simply because its more beautiful. Most priests who offer the traditional Mass aren't part of any traditionalist movement and don't consider themselves "traddies." The reasons priests offer the traditional Mass are as varied as the priests themselves.

But like it or not, no priest has to offer the traditional Latin Mass. It's totally voluntary. And if you want somebody to do something for you voluntarily, then dang, act grateful. If someone is voluntarily doing you a favor, why on earth would you antagonize them?

Don't be obnoxious. Give them a little leeway. No diocesan priest who risks going against the tide to offer the traditional Latin Mass needs your grief; he probably gets enough from the diocesan bureaucracy. The traditional Latin Mass is a gift - God gave it, and He can take it away, just like He took it away from the Japanese Catholics who lived centuries without a Mass, or the English Catholics of the Elizabethan era. He can take it away from you.

Go ahead, bitch at your priest one more time. Whine about his Latin pronunciation. Complain about the fact that he did a Low Mass because not enough people volunteered for the choir. Keep that behavior up and see how long your priest wants to offer the Latin Mass; tempt God with obnoxious complaining and see what happens. God will take the Mass right away from you just like He took the Promised Land away from the grumbling Israelites.

Show yourself worthy of the Mass of ages. Be a blessing to your priest, not a burden. Volunteer. Be cheerful. Give liberally. Be supportive.

Even if the priest ought to offer the traditional Mass, why make yourself into his cross? Is that what God wants? Do you want your priest to think of traditional Catholics as a lot of bitchy mumblecrusts?

Brethren, do we have the joy of the Lord? We ought to be the most joyous of all people.

By the way, since I know sometimes fellow parishioners read this blog, I should mention that the two priests mentioned are neither our current nor former pastor.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Non-Contradiction

Back in February, our modest publishing outfit Cruahcan Hill Press released a book entitled The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures by Phillip Campbell (erm, me).

This book was written to confute the ubiquitous assumption of modernity that the Bible is a book full of contradictions. We would expect such a faith-destroying proposition from seculars, but since the 19th century, this thesis has found its way into Christian pulpits as well thanks to the school of "Higher Criticism."

It is no secret that the Bible contains difficult passages. Any Christian who has ever seriously read the Scriptures knows there are parts that are hard to understand, or that it is hard to see how they fit in context with the rest of the Bible. Biblical exegesis from antiquity to the 19th century, motivated by a spirit of faith, generally sought to reconcile these discordant passages, focusing on how the verses illustrate different theological truths. The golden thread that wound the Scriptures together was the totality of God's revelation, which was able to harmonize the entirety of the Bible. Different books, stories, and passages - even those which looked radically different - were no more fundamentally contradictory than different colored pieces of glass making up a single stained glass image. This beautiful harmonization was made possible because of the spirit of faith.

It should be mentioned, this thinking was common to both Protestant and Catholic scholars. Though obviously Protestant thinkers took certain biblical passages in a different light than Catholic tradition, they still assumed the harmony of the Scriptures. That is, even if Protestants posited a radical rupture with Catholic tradition, they at least assumed the Scriptures were consistent with themselves.

But beginning in the late 19th century, the school of "Higher Criticism" began to take a different approach. Anti-supernaturalist in its assumptions, the Higher Critics implicitly denied the very idea of a unifying body of divine revelation. The golden thread was cut. Instead of working to show how various passages were unified, the new critics focused on the differences among them, even positing that they were in plain contradiction. This view has found its way into seminaries and pulpits around the world. It is an errant and faith destroying proposition that leads to a loss of faith in the veracity of the Scriptures and a relativizing of Divine Revelation itself.

The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures attempts to fill this void by looking at several of the "problematic" passages of the Old and New Testaments and explaining their theological unity in light of the fullness of God's revelation, and demonstrating that there really are no contradictions in the Bible.

Long time readers of this blog will know I have written on this topic substantially. You may be thinking, "This is just some of Boniface's old essays dressed up like a book." Well, there are some previously published essays in here. Long time readers will recognize the sections on Samson's suicide, the genocide of Joshua, and the resurrection appearances of Jesus. But is also a fair degree of new, never before published work in the book, including essays on:

  • The historical practice of reconciling/harmonizing discordant biblical texts
  • Understanding different Creation accounts in Genesis
  • Reconciling God's providence and free will in the episode of the hardening of pharaoh's heart from Exodus
  • The differing accounts of the census of David in Chronicles and 1 Samuel
  • The genealogy of Jesus Christ

Even previously published essays have been reworked and added to, and everything has been orchestrated in chronological order. The result is an easily readable, faith-building book that really digs into the Scriptural texts and applies classic principles from our Catholic theological tradition to demonstrate the beautiful unity of the Scriptures.

For what it's worth, I got a nice little review from Mike Aquilina. I shipped him a copy of the book, and he wrote:
"This is a book that needs to be written anew for every generation. Eusebius wrote one in the third century, and he was already drawing from more ancient sources. The enemies of Christianity always grasp at the same rhetorical straws, and it’s our duty to be ready with the best response. Phillip Campbell makes that easy for Catholics today."
I also want to point out that, while this book is obviously written from a Catholic perspective and draws heavily on Catholic theological sources (such as the Catechism, Aquinas, and Leo XIII), it would also be very edifying to any Protestant or Orthodox who takes the Bible seriously.

The Book of Non-Contradiction is 202 pages, $17.99 + shipping. Available at Cruachan Hill Press but also on Amazon; however, for readers of this blog, I have set up a special Paypal link below for you to get the book at the discounted price of $16.50.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

St. Louis de Montfort and the Drunkards of Roussay

The following incidents from the life of St. Louis de Montfort is an apt illustration of the biblical precept, "there is a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecc. 3:8). It also exemplifies the great balance that a saint has in his disposition - excelling in prudence, St. Louis knew exactly when to use gentleness, and when to come with a rod (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21). The story begins when St. Louis arrived in the French village of Roussay, in the vicinity of Tours, on a preaching tour.

The sick old priest arrived at Roussay to preach a mission. He mounted the pulpit in the parish church, and after a brief prayer, began to speak. This tiny town in the west of France consisted of several dilapidated buildings, most prominent of which was this church with a rowdy bar right next door. As the preacher raised his voice, the drunkards could hear the sermon, and the parishioners could hear the raucous noise coming from the bar.

Knowing this, the denizens of the bar tried to disturb his sermon by screaming insults at the congregation and mocking them for their cleaner habits.

The priest very calmly finished the sermon, gave the people his blessing and exited the church. As he left, though empty handed and alone, he walked directly into the bar. An eyewitness describes what happened next:

"Father said nothing, except with his fists. For the first time since he came to Roussay, men had a chance to see how big, and to feel how hard, those fists were. He struck them down and let them lie. He overturned tables and chairs. He smashed glasses. He walked over the bodies of stunned and sobered hoodlums, and went slowly back up the street."

The men of Roussay were stunned. They now knew better than to so crudely interfere with the mission of the saint.

On the second day of his mission in Roussay, a drunk man burst into the church and stood in the aisle screaming insults at St. Louis. St. Louis calmly left the pulpit and approached the man. Everyone was expecting him to react as he had the day before, giving the man a beating he would not soon forget. To their great amazement, Father de Montfort knelt before the man and begged pardon for anything he had done to offend him.

The man was stunned and nearly collapsed before running out of the church in sadness. Saint Louis calmly returned to the pulpit and finished his sermon as though nothing had happened.

This story, and more about the  life and spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort, can be found here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pope Francis and Populism

Earlier this month, the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis gave an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, in which he sounded off against the rising tide of populism in western democracies. He said, among other things, that "populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century showed."

I assume that what Francis has in mind when he condemns populism is the populism of the political right, a kind of nationalist populism. One can have varying opinions on this. But what strikes me is that he speaks of populism as if he is totally unaware that he is the world's most eminent populist.

Populism is a very broad idea that can encompass many political movements. But, just going by the Wikipedia definition of the term, populism "proposes that the common people are exploited by a privileged elite, and which seeks to resolve this...Its goal is uniting the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated "little man" against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the established politicians) and their camp of followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses."

Jorge Bergoglio's entire worldview has been forged in the furnace of the populist politics of Latin America. His fundamental approach to problems political and ecclesiastical is populist in its appeal. In July of 2015, he addressed the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia, where his statements were more saturated with populist rhetoric than anything Donald Trump of Marie Le Pen has ever said. He joined his voice to  "cry of the people", calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters", the "excluded" of Latin America. He separates the world into two classes, the greedy elitist oppressors and the marginalized common man:

Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable. We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems.

All the poor commoners oppressed by "the system"! The global masses locked in a Marxian struggle against the Man in his various incarnations.

The Pope senses a rising surge of popular fury against the world order: "I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world...people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns." He appeals to the downtrodden to rise up and actualize the change they long for:

You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart! You are sowers of change.
And lest we conceive of this surge towards change in purely ideological or rational terms, the Pope reminds us that this movement is more akin to a passion or a raw emotion than anything else:

...we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

The poor of the world oppressed by corrupt elites. The downtrodden encouraged to rise up and take their destiny into their own hands. The great leader, the pope, urging them on and joining his voices with those of the oppressed. A call to translate the popular emotional anxiety and social angst of the poor into community action. Is this language not dripping with populist rhetoric? And this speech is just one example; these types of statements from Pope Francis are legion. 

The point is not whether Pope Francis is correct or not. In much of this, he certainly is. The poor of Latin America are oppressed. There is an elitist global cabal that would like nothing more than the economic enslavement of the downtrodden. That's not the issue. The issue is that Pope Francis' appeal is absolutely, definitively, without a doubt populist in nature.

Pope Francis is fundamentally a populist. It's so intrinsic to his worldview he doesn't even realize it. He recognizes demagoguery and populist appeals in leaders whose agenda is in conflict with his own, but fails to identify populist rhetoric in his own appeals. Steeped in the neo-Marxian populism of Latin America, his brand of Argentine populism does not seem like populism to him - to him it's just, well, it's just the way leaders speak.

Again, this is not a critique of the pope's ideas or his initiatives. But it does demonstrate that his assertion that "populism" is essentially evil is untenable, for he himself is a populist, and populism cannot be "evil" when used by one's opponents but Christlike when done by the pope - and Pope Francis is the world's most prominent populist.

Friday, March 17, 2017


That there is a crisis of masculinity in the Catholic Church is well known. While liberals busy themselves fretting about the inclusion of women in Catholic ministry, the truth is for the past several decades it is men who have been left behind by the Church - left spiritually adrift in a religious culture that has systematically demasculinized worship and spirituality.

This demasculinization obviously has grave consequences in terms of male practice of the faith in general, but also in vocations to the priesthood in particular. It has been well documented that in many dioceses the priesthood is considered an essentially gay vocation and seminaries are stocked with homosexuals and effeminate men, while well-balanced, straight, orthodox men are shown the door. Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men is the must-read study on this problem.

I am happy to say that this is not the case in my diocese. My diocese has always had many more vocations than average, with fair numbers of ordinations on a regular basis (although still not where we would like them to be). Several of my former students are in seminary here, people I know to be of excellent character. A survey of priests in our diocese would show a large number of them to be on the younger side. Our bishop overall does a good job; he is a talented homilist who himself occasionally says the Traditional Latin Mass. Could things be better? Sure. But all in all, I consider our diocese to be fairly well off regarding seminarians, especially relative to other dioceses I have heard about.

Still, that leaves the question of the best way to reach out to Catholic men in general. It seems that if we are not demasculinizing men, we are going to the other extreme - appealing to the silliest masculine stereotypes about them. You know, the man as a beer-guzzling, sports-watching, barbecue-consuming, blue collar simpleton - a rugged, simple man who needs only to be drinking a cold one with his bros to find contentment. Like, men must either be assumed to be sensitive metrosexuals or else they are Hank Hill, Tim Allen, or Al Bundy. I personally find the latter approach as silly as the former, though perhaps not as destructive.

We recently had an men's conference in our diocese. I have no problems with men's conferences or anything; the Diocese of Lansing actually puts on some really good men's conferences, but look at the marketing piece for the event:

It seems to me that this promotion takes the approach I mentioned above -pandering to men through a kind of "pleased-by-beer-and-munchies" stereotype. When I saw the flyer, it kind of triggered the following thoughts:

I'm being a little bit facetious and over the top, but you know what I mean? It seems like the Church in general is just not quite sure how to market itself to men. If its not an overly emotional, feminized emasculated approach, its a kind of crude, stereotypical man-pandering, appealing to some alleged universal man impulse to thump my chest and drink a brewski.

Paradoxically, I believe the best way to market the Church to men is to...not try to market it to men. It has always seemed to me that the content of the Faith is such that it perfectly appeals to both the masculine and the feminine parts of humanity. As soon as we try to reduce what it means to be a man to certain cultural indicators - like BBQ, cold ones, and tattoos - we kind of miss something essential.

What do you think? What has happened to the Church's appeal to men? What is the answer?

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Transitory Nature of the Mosaic Law

Two years ago I did a post entitled "Not to Abolish, but to Fulfill" (July, 2015) addressing the question of what Jesus meant when He said he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but to fulfill, it. The post can be summed up in the following excerpt:
Jesus did not come to destroy the Law. He came to fulfill its precepts, obligations and prophecies to the last letter. He fulfills the function of all the sacrifices, He lives a perfect life and keeps the essence of its commandments flawlessly, and brings to fulfillment all its prophecies - the greatest being His atoning death on the cross, which ushers in the New Covenant...and brings the Old Law to its natural conclusion.Yes, the Old Law is obsolete and has passed away. No, our Lord did not "destroy" it or "abolish" it; rather, like so much else of the Old Testament, He took it up, transfigured it, ennobled it, and fulfilled it.
Recently I received this inquiry from a reader on the question of the Law of Moses:
How do we refute the Jews' assertion that the Law of Moses is permanent...interpreted by the rabbis and those in the Sanhedrin leading up to the Talmud? And also how do we demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah when they have a doctrine that the Messiah must be a political leader? Traditional Catholicism may claim to have unbroken tradition, but the Jews will respond that we broke from their tradition, therefore making us heretics in their view. I know this is an old blog post, but these thoughts keep bugging me.
The fulfillment of the Old Covenant by the coming of Christ is one of the most important teachings of the Christian faith. Understanding the relationship between the New Testament and the Old is essential for grasping how the claim of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The question of the impermanence of the Mosaic Law is a very broad question that cannot be exhaustively answered in a single post. This question was of pressing concern to the Church Fathers, however. Judaism was a powerful rival of Christianity in the late Roman Empire; Christians felt an urgent need to answer Jewish attacks on the claims of the Church to be the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. We refer the reader to two important patristic works on the subject: Dialogue with Trypho the Jew by St. Justin Martyr, and Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews by St. Cyprian of Carthage. These lengthy works give a very systematic exposition of the early Church's understanding of the transitory nature of the Mosaic Law and the Law's fulfillment in Christ. These works a very dense, but essential reading.

That being said, I think there are a few points we can make to help address the question.

Part I: The New Covenant is Distinctively Different from the Old Testament Law of Moses

One first must realize there is nothing you can say to the Jews that will suddenly convince them. There is no "gotcha" verse or argument that will make them stop and think "Whoa...he's correct. Our thousands of years of tradition is wrong." That should not be the aim here. It sometimes happens that over time the accumulated weight of many arguments, coupled with a charitable example and the grace of the Holy Spirit, can win someone over. But in presenting the following points we are aiming more towards edifying Christians rather than building a case against the Jews.

Second, it seems the question is making the assumption that an unbroken tradition is inherently good. To the Jews, we are the heretics because we broke with their tradition. That may be true from the Jewish viewpoint. But remember, Christ taught that the Jewish traditions had actually obscured the revelation of God:
"For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition" (Mark 7:8-9).
The tradition of Judaism actually is a hindrance to understanding the truth about God. St. Paul teaches that the Jews interpret the revelation of God in a "fleshly" manner, thinking sanctity consists in washings, keeping of certain feasts, ceremonial purity, dietary rules, circumcisions, etc. He says their reading of the Old Testament is skewered, and he draws a parallel between this and the veil that Moses put over his face. Just as Moses wore a veil to hide the glory of God that came off his face, so the Jewish traditions constitute a sort of "veil" over a right understanding of the Scriptures:
"Their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the selfsame veil, in the reading of the old testament, remains not taken away (because in Christ it is made void). But even until this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. But when they shall be converted to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away" (2 Cor. 3:14-16).
So we ought not be given pause by the fact that Christianity is viewed as a Jewish "heresy" by the Jews. The Jews have ever rejected the truth when it is given to them. They wanted to stone Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. They killed the prophets and persecuted the righteous. Christ laments over their hardness of heart when He cries for Jerusalem:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:34-35)
Of course, ultimately, they killed the Messiah Himself because their tradition had blinded them to the truth about who the Christ would be.

The Jews' own law testified that the dictates of Moses' law would one day give way to something more perfect. Moses himself testifies to this when he says:
"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him" (Deut. 18:15-18).
God had spoken to the Israelites at Mount Horeb, but they had begged him not to speak anymore to them because they were terrified of His presence. Moses, His messenger, they rebelled against when they sinned and made the golden calf, as well as at other times. Thus Moses promises them that in the future God will raise up a prophet whom they will listen to. Thus the Israelites were awaiting the coming of a new prophet from among their brethren who would speak with the power and authority of Moses and whom they would heed. This prophet would reveal God to them in a way they could draw close to, not like the fiery cloud on Horeb.

That the law would be impermanent, we see in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, where God says:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LordBut this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:31-34)
In this passage, God says He will make a new covenant with Israel. Note that this new covenant is "not like the covenant" He made with them through Moses  - i.e., it is not just a rehash of the Mosaic Law. It is of an essentially different character altogether. The law will be written on their hearts, not on tablets of stone. It is a kind of interiorization of the Mosaic Law.

In Ezekiel too, God promises that a new kind of covenant will come where it is not the hands but the heart that is washed, and that this washing will come from God Himself:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ezk. 36:22-28).
This washing is essentially unlike the ritual washings proscribed by Moses. It consists of giving a "new heart" and a "new spirit." The washing is not a fleshly washing, but an interior renewal, such that the law of God will be able to be kept in a new manner, not like the Old Law.

These passages show us that God will indeed inaugurate a New Covenant that will be fundamentally different in nature from the Old Covenant. Besides being different in nature, it will also be geographically universal - this is found in the prophets as well. This is beyond the scope of this article, but I recommend the essay "Epiphany in the Prophets" (USC, 2013), as well as "Old Testament Typology: Epiphany" (USC, 2015) for the biblical background of the universality of the New Covenant.

Thus the New Covenant is prophesied in the Old Testament, it is markedly different than the Old Testament Law of Moses, and will be geographically universal.

Part II. The Messianic Age

This is all well and good, and Jews would acknowledge that all these things will come to pass in the Messianic age. The real difference between Jews and Christians is in when the Messianic age will come. For Jews, the Messianic age has not happened yet and the Law of Moses is still in effect. For Christians, the coming of Christ has definitively ended the Old Testament and we are now in the Messianic era, though before the definitive realization of His kingdom at the end of the age.

It is well-known that the Jewish conception of the Messiah was fundamentally political, and that they expected with his reign the overthrow of Roman and Gentile dominion in the political order. This was not entirely unreasonable. Many Old Testament Messianic prophecies speak of the Messiah as destroying or ruling over the nations, notably Psalm 2, Psalm 110, Daniel 2 (as well as other prophecies of Daniel), Isaiah 9, Isaiah 11, and many other passages. 2 Samuel 7 says that the Messiah will be of the line of David and Solomon and will rule over a kingdom whose duration is eternal. It stands to reason that the nature of this kingdom would be like the Davidic kingdom.

The problem is not misinterpreting Old Testament passages that make the Messiah a kingly figure; it is clear that this is taught. The problem is in traditional Jewish understanding of passages that show another side to the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 53 which speaks of how the Messiah will suffer and be humiliated, Zechariah 13 which states that the Messiah will be struck and his sheep scattered; Psalm 22, which prophesies the details of the crucifixion minutely, and Wisdom 2, which also foretells the suffering of the righteous Servant of God at the hands of the wicked.

The Jews did not have a clear way to reconcile these passages. They tended to attributed the glorious passages to the Messiah and the suffering passages to some other character (this is the so-called "Two Messiah" theory). One will note upon reading the New Testament that the Jews were not only awaiting the coming of the Messiah, but another character called "the prophet":
"And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:19-22)
The "prophet" is probably the prophet referred to in Deuteronomy 18. Notice that according to the Scriptural exegesis of the Pharisees, this prophet is distinct from the Messiah (as well as the Prophet Elijah, whose return the Jews were also expecting). This is an example of the division of Scriptural prophecies about the Messiah into two distinct classes, whereas Christian revelation as always seen the suffering/meek and glorious/reigning prophecies about the Messiah all reconciled in the person of Christ.

Jews, however, did not make this reconciliation. It was quite impossible in their understanding that the Messiah should suffer. This is why St. Paul says "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews" (1 Cor. 1:23); the idea that the Messiah could suffer the death of crucifixion at the hands of Gentiles was as abhorrent to the Jews as the idea of a resurrection of the flesh was to the Greeks (cf. Acts 17:32). The crucifixion of the Messiah was the fundamental issue Jews took with the Gospel. Of course, the suffering of the Messiah is not in opposition to His glory. The entire paradox of the mission of Christ is that in His suffering He has His triumph. He finds His glory through meekness and submission to the will of God.

This was not the only stumbling block, though. Anyone who has attentively read the Book of Acts, or the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews knows that the Jews - even Jewish Christians - were deeply scandalized by the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church without imposing upon them the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law. In the eyes of many Jews, Gentiles were second-class humans, to be excluded from the commonwealth of God. The glory of the Messiah would be that He would destroy the nations, not that He would include them in a transfigured, reconstituted Israel. But reviewing Old Testament prophecy (we refer the reader above to the links about Epiphany) we see that the full inclusion of the Gentiles was always part of God's saving plan. Those who were not God's people would become God's people (Hos. 2:23); and they do not become God's people because the Messiah will destroy them in a military sense and reduce them to subservience, but because "the knowledge of God will fill the earth as water fills the seas" (Hab. 2:14). God will give the Gentiles to the Messiah as a gift, as a token of His favor towards the Messiah and His will to save all men:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth"(Isa. 49:6).
Traditional Jewish understanding of the Old Testament did not seem to grasp that God did not will for the Gentiles to be destroyed and brought prostrate to the Jews; rather, He wanted to elevate them and make them brothers with the Jews in a single family of God that would be a kind of reconstituted Israel, the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16) composed of Jews and Gentiles both following the teaching revealed by the Messiah. And we can see this Jewish misunderstanding in the way the Jews react to the full inclusion of Gentiles into the Church throughout the New Testament.

By the way, it should be pointed out that some Jews, notably of the Reformed or more moderate branches, do away with the concept of a Messiah altogether and interpret the suffering Messianic passages as referencing Israel itself. Thus, for example, when Isaiah 53:4 says "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted", they apply the passage to Israel allegorically, such that it is Israel as a people who are suffering - and that Israel's suffering is somehow redemptive of the human race. This concept illustrates the trouble Jews have traditionally had with the suffering Messiah passages.

Part III. His Coming in Glory

What are we to do with the passages that do predict a glorious triumph of the Messiah over the nations, such as Psalm 2? God wills to establish the universal dominion of the Messiah, but He does not wish to do it without the cooperation of mankind. Therefore He has left a period - whose duration is known only to God - where mankind will come to know and love God through the work of grace, not through force, for "the son of man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (Luke 9:56).

But though God is patient, He has appointed an hour when He will judge the living and the dead through the Christ, at which time all the glorious prophecies about the Messiah will be fulfilled in the triumphant everlasting reign of the Son of God.

Thus, the Jewish confusion about the nature of the Messiah's reign has to do with (a) their reluctance to attribute the suffering passages and the triumphant passages to the same individual, and (b) historical failure to see that the plan of God was the full inclusion of the Gentiles into His family; it is this full, voluntary inclusion which makes the "Church age" necessary and accounts for the gap between Christ's first and second advents.

Part IV. Impossibility of Keeping the Old Law

One last point to emphasize: God not only sent the Messiah to establish the New Covenant, but in establishing the New, He allowed the Old to pass away. St. Paul discusses this in the Letter to the Hebrews, where he notes that the New Covenant has made the Old obsolete:
"Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second...In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:6-7, 13).
With the coming of the  perfect, the imperfect passes. The Mosaic Law was like a teacher that God's family needed in its youth; but with the coming of Christ, God's people reaches maturity and no longer needs a teacher (cf. Gal. 3:24).

The fascinating thing about the Old Law is that since the coming of the New Covenant, it is actually impossible to keep the Mosaic Law. I will not pretend this is my observation; others have commented upon it before, including Fr. Ripperger, among  others. The Mosaic Law requires animal sacrifices. No animal sacrifices are currently being carried out. The Law - at least since the time of Solomon - required a centralized worship in the Temple of Jerusalem. This is no longer possible. The keeping of the Mosaic Law requires a High Priest and Levites, who cannot merely possess the title but must be biological descendants of Aaron and Levi respectively. The genealogical trees of the Jews have long been lost.

Thus, as Fr. Ripperger states, there is no such thing as a practicing Jew. To be sure, the Jews have invented justifications and exceptions to why the current Synagogue system of Jewish worship is acceptable, but these are circumlocutions to get around the problem that the actual keeping of the Mosaic Law today is impossible and that the Synagogue system exists as a kind of "replacement" Judaism due to the fact that actual Judaism died out in the year 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple and the priesthood.


None of this will convince a Jew. But it should give certainty to a Christian. Yes, we are "heretics" from the Jewish point of view. But that is ultimately irrelevant. How do we know the Mosaic Law is not permanent? The Old Testament itself tells us that one day a New Covenant will come that will be fundamentally different than the Old. Thus, the Mosaic Law itself attests to its impermanence. It comes to an end with the advent of the Messiah, who will be both meek and glorious - in His meekness He will draw all the Gentiles to Himself, and in His triumph He will crush those who refuse to submit. Jews have not understood this; indeed, as St. Paul says, a "veil" is over their interpretation of the Law. The fundamental disagreement with the Jews is on when the Messianic age begins; Jews historically have not valued the full inclusion of the Gentiles into God's family and hence see no reason for a "Church age", which explains the distance between Christ's first and second advents, a distance which exists to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). With the advent of the Messiah, the Old Covenant passed away, not only in its obligations, but in the very possibility of its observance.

Thus, in the New Covenant, both Jew and Gentile are all called to obey the Messiah, as Moses prophesied (Deut. 18:15); it is this family of those who believe in Christ that is called the true "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).