Month: October 2010

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of the season, Taylor Marshall (Called to Communion) offers “top ten ways to have a Catholic Halloween:

This time of year introduces several debates. Among conservative Protestants it’s “Halloween or no Halloween?” which sometimes becomes “Halloween vs. Reformation Day,” the latter being the celebration of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on Oct 31. Even some Catholics are concerned that Halloween has become “evil.” Well, here are ten ways to keep good ol’ Halloween fun and sacred. …

Secondly, a great reflection by John Zmirak (InsideCatholic) on “the brightest, best moment of the whole liturgical year.”

And speaking of our Protestant brethren, John Mark Reynolds (First Things‘ “Evangel”) asks: Is Reformation Day the new Kwanzaa? 😉


Book Meme ("What are you reading?")

Here’s a “book meme” that’s going around Facebook: “Make a stack of all the books you’re either 1) currently “in the middle of” reading (no matter how long that’s been the case), or 2) have on deck to read soonish.”

Mine is a lesson in indecisiveness. I have a tendency to 1) pick up very large books; 2) start a new book before I finish the prior one. So I’m perpetually making my way through about a dozen books at any given time, although I manage to finish most of them.

So, … what are you reading lately?

An Anglican Ghost Story

Theologically, “Hereafter” is unhelpful no matter what one’s beliefs may be. Straddling the fence between belief and non-belief, it does not say anything substantive about mortality. God, or any similar entity or force, is never mentioned. What can be gleaned is that, contrary to the opinion expressed by Marie’s boyfriend, the lights do not simply go out when we die—we are not immediately ushered into the eternal void. Some people, apparently, endure in a form that can communicate with the George Lonegan’s of this world. Further, the departed can intervene in the world in small ways.

Presenting the afterlife as a simple ghost story doesn’t give believers or doubters much intellectual sustenance. In general “Hereafter” studiously avoids anything that might be remotely inflammatory to either side.

Overall, the movie strikes me, if anything, as somewhat Anglican.

John P. McCarthy (America Magazine – review of Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter“).

Scrutonizing the Moderns

Recently finished re-reading Scruton’s A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein. Being out of an academic environment so long I’m getting a bit rusty, so I found this to be a good “refresher.” Quite humorous too: Scruton has such a dry, sardonic (characteristically English?) wit. Several examples:

  • On Fichte: “Fichte’s philosophy rests not so much in argument as in impetuous explosions of jargon, in which that fabricated verb “to posit” (setzen) kaleidoscopes into a thousand self-reflecting images.”
  • On Schopenhauer: “Schopenhauer enjoyed his pessimistic conclusions too much to convince the reader that he really believed in them; and his sardonic assaults on popular prejudice reveal a far greater attachment to life than to the renunciation he officially favored.”
  • On Heidegger: “[T]he reader has the impression that never before have so many words been invented and tormented in the attempt to express the inexpressible.”

Such quips are not to be taken as outright dismissals, however, as he does take painstaking effort to read and explicate the chief ideas of each.

No "Mere Christianity": David Mills on C.S. Lewis

The problem is that image of the house with the rooms, illustrating what Lewis meant by “mere Christianity.” It appears in the preface to Mere Christianity.. “I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else,” Lewis writes.

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. . . . It is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

It sounds irenic and ecumenical, but it is a Protestant image for a Protestant doctrine. It makes the Catholic Church a room like any other room. It is a way of saying that the differences between Protestants and Catholics would be solved very easily . . . if Catholics became Protestants.

No “Mere Christianity”, by David Mills. First Things‘ “On The Square” October 18, 2010.

"Holy Ghosts" by Gary Jansen

What are Catholics to make of supernatural phenomena? and ghosts in particular?

There is little question that the Catholic Church believes in the reality of the spiritual realm — St. Paul in Ephesians speaks of “our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” But it is a realm inhabited by angels, demons, and of course, Satan himself. (And, if you’re an enlightened “post-Vatican II” Catholic like Fr. Richard McBrien, you can scoff at the very mention of the latter).

As far as ghosts are concerned, the prevailing tendency among Catholics is to look askance at the concept of “lost souls”, trapped in this life and waiting to cross over. There is scarce mention of “ghosts” in the Catechism and judging by the absence of clear, definitive teaching — the Church has refrained from adopting a firm position on their existence.

According to Gary Jansen, a contemporary Catholic from Rockville Centre, Long Island, ghosts simply didn’t exist. For him, “heaven, hell, angels were basic tenents of my Catholic faith, but never basic tenents of my life. . . . these topics were never discused during my twelve years of attending parochial school.” While his devout Catholic mother would mention strange occurrences, he prided himself on his rationality.

Until, that is, when he had an unsettling encounter in his son’s bedroom in 2007. Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not-So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night is an account of one Catholic’s real-life haunting:

As I reached into his dresser drawer, I felt something very strange behind me. Startled, I quickly turned around, but there was nothing there. I shrugged it off, grabbed the socks and, as I was walking to the doorway, experienced an odd phenomenon-sort of like an electrical hand rubbing the length of my back. I stopped and stood transfixed. “What the hell is that?” I said to myself. The pressure then seemed to break apart and, for a brief moment, I felt like I had a million little bugs crawling all over my back. Within seconds, however, the sensation was gone.

Thus begins a series of strange and disturbing encounters over the course of a year culminating in Jansen’s conviction that his house is, indeed, haunted. Along the way, he investigates their connection to a tragedy that occured in his hometown, confronts painful memories of his childhood, and — with the help of “paranourmal investigator” Mary Ann Winkowski (inspiration for the television series The Ghost Whisperer), discovers the identities of the spirits occupying his home.

That Jansen is a Catholic adds a unique twist to the story. In the publishing business, he had authored two religious books including The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved and Exercising Your Soul: Fifteen Minutes a Day to a Spiritual Life, reflecting a rediscovery of his Catholic roots and faith after a period of agnosticism. Faced by his unsettling predicament, he is understandably motivated to plumb his library, in the attempt to discern how a Catholic might respond. And on the subject of ghosts, he finds some rather suprising affirmation of their existence in the works of recognizable orthodox figures as Peter Kreeft and Fr. John Hardon, SJ, who in his Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “ghost” as:

… a disembodied spirit. Christianity believes that God may, and sometimes does, permit a departed soul to appear in some visible form to people on earth. Allowing for legend and illusion, there is enough authentic evidence, for example in the lives of the saints, to indicate that such apparitions occur. Their purpose may be to teach or warn, or request some favor of the living” (p. 229).

A point of criticism I had — and that I anticipate many orthodox Catholics readers will probably have — is Jansen’s ultimate method of resolving the haunting: seeking out the counsel of Mary Ann Winkowski. Winkowski is a “cradle Catholic” with a not-so-ordinary occupation: she lays claim to “communicating with earthbound spirits … and helping these entities cross over into the White Light.”.

This is something that Jansen appears wholly unapologetic about. Fellow Catholic bloggers Tom Kreitzberg Disputations) and Jeff Miller (Curt Jester) both had the same reaction, the latter noting:

While the author in the acknowledgements mentions a priest he had become friends with, what is missing is his actually going to the Church for advice about these hauntings. There is no mention of his discussing this with any priests, but this might have been left out. If so it is a curious omission. I just found strange the curios tension with him going to good and orthodox sources for research and then after some thought going with a ghost whisperer recommended by a friend.

Despite these reservations, I found Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not-So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night to be a rollicking “Catholic ghost story” — spooky enough to send chills down my spine even on my morning subway commute. Appropriate reading (and topic of discussion) as we head into the month of October. =)


Perhaps TIME magazine should just refrain from covering religion?

It all starts with an article by Dawn Reiss in Time magazine on the faux-“ordination” of “female priests”:

Alta Jacko is the mother of eight children. She is also an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Jacko, 81, who earned her master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, a Jesuit Catholic school, says being a priest is what she was called to do.

Officially, of course, the Catholic Church’s Canon Law 1024 says that only baptized men can receive holy orders. But there is a movement against the no-women rule; it began eight years ago when a cluster of renegade male clerics (including a European bishop whose identity the female priests won’t reveal in order not to risk his excommunication) ordained the first women. Now, in Jacko’s hometown of Chicago, three women have entered the priesthood.

Factually and journalistically speaking, things go downhill from there (even the caption mispells “diaconate”). Thorough analysis is provided by journalist watchdog Get Religion (Media Ordains Female Priests) and Deacon Greg Kandra (“Failing the test of TIME), the latter concluding:

The debate over women being ordained priests won’t be ending any time soon — and the Church has its hands full trying to explain and make explicit something many in the pews find hard to understand in the first place. Intelligent people can disagree about whether or not the Church’s stand on this issue is theologically sound or socially just. (Though the official Vatican document leaves little room for dispute.)

But what can’t be disputed is that TIME’s treatment of this particular story is just plain shoddy.

I’d like to hear a TIME editor explain why this piece was allowed to be published in its final form, without even attempting to follow the kind of basics taught in Journalism 101.

As a member of the Catholic clergy, I find this sort of inaccurate and incomplete reporting annoying and disappointing.

But as a journalist? It’s just embarrassing.

Now, TIME journalist Dawn Reiss responds in the critics, defending her piece.

And it gets worse.