Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Real Sex Education

Sex education should begin early in life – and by sex education, I mean real sex education. The kind of sex education our children are taught today is all about how to “have sex”. They forget that sex is something we “have” all the time. Why? Because sex isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Of course, I am talking about gender. Again our culture confuses ends and means. Intercourse between married couples is a means of spousal unity and procreation, but though we shall have our bodies anew in the general resurrection, marriage and sexual intercourse will be no more. Nevertheless, we will still retain our genders.

Unlike gender, sexual intercourse is a means and not an end in itself.

Teaching our children this concrete reality will do much more for vocations than how to properly use a condom with someone they don’t know and don’t love. Before a man can be married or enter the monastery or priesthood, he first must know what it means to be a man. Teaching women how to be women and men how to be men is the kind of sex education that should begin early and it is sadly the kind of sex education that few of our children really learn.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: Hollywood's Unavoidable Patriotism

Is it possible for Hollywood to produce a patriotic movie? In the case of the new Captain America: The First Avenger, yes – but that doesn’t mean Hollywood didn’t do its best to avoid leaving moviegoers with an urge to raise the flag and salute. Not only was Captain America’s title shortened to The First Avenger in Russia, Ukraine, and South Korea, but its director and title-role actor both openly proclaimed Captain America to be anything but patriotic. Nevertheless the American male persona ordered by honor, duty, and patriotic love of country shines through. One critic gives noted how the movie includes themes such as: “self-sacrifice, selflessness, fidelity, manhood, bravery, and nobility.”

This doesn’t mean that movie gets it right on all counts. Captain America could have used a little more back story to show why he was so motivated by his patriotism. There is also a love interest who seems to be as much an out of place heroine as she is a 1940s-era dame in a red dress. In any case, Captain America plays a Christic character, motivated by a willingness to die for others while they, one by one, begin to have faith in him and his selfless courage. The movie hits a high note when Captain America confronts the villain who attempts to convince Captain America to join him as he seeks to conquer the world. “I have seen the future,” the villain declares, “there are no flags.” Captain America boldly proclaims: “Not in my future.” With these words, Captain America becomes the male image of the American protector of nations.

Not bad Hollywood.

Another critic drew on this sense of protection and connected it to the role of the United States in the world, and the natural sense of patriotism which it inspires:

Cap may not run around waving an American flag, but there’s no escaping the red, white and blue of his shield, a symbol crucial to Cap’s very identity, and essentially his sole weapon apart from his fists. Every time he uses that shield to ward off bullets or flame, every time he slams or slices an enemy with it, it’s an unmistakable reminder that he’s wielding American power in the service of Good against Evil.
Captain America might have its share of flaws, but it’s one summer movie worth checking out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Institute of Catholic Culture

For a wonderful source of information on Catholic theology, philosophy, and history, head on over to the Institute of Catholic Culture. The website consists of FREE talks given by Catholic professors, speakers, and clergy.

While there are a number of talks I found superb, I highly recommend any talk by Dr. William Marshner, who is a convert from Lutheranism. While he attended the Lutheran college at Gettysburg (the site of the great 1863 Civil War battle), he eventually entered the Church, recieved a doctorate, and has been teaching at Christendom College since 1977.

His recentmost series is called The Council of Trent, the Reformation & the Mass. I highly recommend downloading the second talk which consists of Trent's teaching on the sacrificial character of the Mass. Dr. Marshner has as good a sense for Biblical exegesis as he does for history. All of his talks are well worth listening to!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Philia Love and the Liturgy

Read the short essay Philia Love and the Liturgy on The Essays of Orate Frates.

In my previous essay Ordering Freedom and the Four Loves, I described anew the four loves handed down to us from the ancient Greeks. Now with a renewed understanding of philia, this essay examines what effect it could have on the life of the Church, particularly as it shapes the liturgy and the apostolic fraternity of the all male-priesthood.

The Essays of Orate Fratres

Since this blog was launched, there have beeen some short posts and some essay-length posts. The nice thing about blogs is that they should provide a short snippet, packed with information, but not too much information.

Because of this, I have decided to launch a website where some of my essays can be read. As they come up, I will post an entry here on the blog and with a link to the new site: The Essays of Orate Fratres.

Be sure to check it out!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pacifist Universalism and the Shaping of Personalities

It can be said that pacifism is the renunciation of violence. If Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword, then why not renounce the sword? While it is true that Jesus had Peter sheath his sword, it is also true that until he came to the cross, Jesus’ twelve Apostles were armed. The problem confronting the pacifist is the mistaken notion that the sword is evil, that violence is evil. Pacifism, in renouncing the sword, disables man from carrying out just violence. Peter and his Apostolic brethen give up the physical sword in order to use the more violent sword of spiritual warfare against the Evil One and his dominion.

Some religious pacifists are quick to relate their non-violent views to the non-violent priesthood. But this is a mistake. Participants in spiritual warfare are tied eschatologically to an even more violent and just act: the casting of Satan and his dominion into Hell. It should strike us as odd when a man says he prefers spiritual warfare to physical warfare. Does he not know what he is saying? The kind of pain inflicted on an enemy soldier – like sending a bullet through his head – is rather small compared to the eternal torments of hell, which are the very pains that come from spiritual warfare.

The most deadly combination, however, involves the union of pacifism with universalism. Universalism is the belief that there is no eternal hell and that all of God’s creatures are destined to heaven. Logically speaking, one cannot be a universalist without also rejecting the eschatology of spiritual warfare. Moreover, universalists must not be familiar with the words of Christ, who is very clear about the reality and eternity of hell. What’s worse is that those who take the pacifist-universalist view have personalities shaped by this understanding. They become incapable of exercising just judgment and just violence. The last thing we need are bishops who will not punish bad actors in the priesthood or in the episcopacy.

Ordering Freedom and the Four Loves

Visit the Essays of Orate Frates to read this short essay on ordering freedom and the four Greek loves. In short, the essay seeks to offer a new argument amidst our modern crisis. If we properly understand freedom and love, we can move away from language of secular rights and pick up the more ancient ecclesial language of love. Furthermore, through rediscovering the meaning of the four loves, we can come to appreciate the apostolic fraternity which provides the nation a form of protective, masculine love.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Virgin and Mother

Few men are capable of captivating an audience with wise words and wit, a sharp intellect and stirring rhetoric. America, however, was gifted with one such man in the person of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Best of all, his written words are just as powerful as was his Emmy-winning television show Life is Worth Living.

In a world that spurns motherhood and virginity, I strongly recommend reading Fulton Sheen’s book on Mary, the Virgin Mother of God: The World’s First Love. It’s a wonderful book that offers more than mere Marian apologetic, it offers us a vision of Woman and by doing so helps us compare women to the ideal rather than the pale shadow which secular culture offers. When God dreamed of His own mother, he dreamed not of Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, but of Mary. And because Mary is God’s ideal:

She is the one whom every man loves… She is what every woman wants to be… And this beloved blueprint love, whom God loved before the world was made; this Dream Woman before women were, is the one of whom every heart can say in its depth of depths: “She is the Woman I love!”
In another passage, Sheen addresses the importance of virginity and motherhood, and their unity in Mary:

There is something incomplete about virginity, something ungiven, unsurrendered, kept back. There is something lost in all motherhood: something given, something taken – and something irrecoverable… In Mary there was nothing unsurrendered, nothing lost; there was a harvest without the loss of the bud; an autumn in the eternal spring; a submission without spoliation. Virgin and Mother!

Because in this one Woman, Virginity and Motherhood are united, it must be that God willed to show how both are necessary for the world. What are separated in other creatures are united in her. The Mother is the protectress of the Virgin, and the Virgin is the inspiration of motherhood.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Three Miracles in One Day

The Medal of Honor tends to be a posthumous award. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry, however, became the second man since Vietnam to receive the Medal of Honor alive. After being shot through both legs and losing a hand while throwing away a grenade (and thus saving two nearby soldiers), Sergeant Petry calls the events miraculous:

So to have that bullet go through both my legs and not hit any arteries or bones and just to take tissue and muscle, it was -- it was pretty amazing. It was a miracle. And then to have a grenade go off within arm's distance just about and only thing walking away was shrapnel here and there and a prosthetic hand, I was overzealous that I got two miracles in one day. And the third miracle was that the two guys next to me are alive and well.
Some would grumble for losing a hand, others like Sergeant Petry understand the nature of duty and thus give thanks to the God of miracles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Freedom, Duty, and Fight Club

In the last five hundred years man traded living in a world with few political freedoms but much meaning for a world with many political freedoms but little meaning. For a lot of men, growing up in suburbia, going to college, getting a job, and getting married becomes unbearable when emptied of meaning and purpose. Such was the case with the men of Fight Club.

Sadly there are those who reject meaning in the name of freedom. Why? Because if life has meaning, if the world has order and purpose, and you have a role to play, then you have a duty imposed on you which limits your freedom. Furthermore, if a man is under God, under law, and under a mission, he cannot be what Nietzsche calls the overman, the man who kills God to become a god.

Freedom from meaning was not a freedom our Founding Fathers fought for – indeed that kind of freedom would never have brought the men of the nation together to win our independence. Freedom and purpose can be attained through faithful, filial fraternity as men. If we are not men under God, if we are merely a group of, as they say in Fight Club, “30 year old boys,” then we, our nation, and our families, are in a world of trouble.

As Tyler Durden said:

My dad never went to college, so it was real important that I go. So I graduate, I call him up long distance, I say "Dad, now what?" He says, "Get a job." Now I'm 25, make my yearly call again. I say Dad, "Now what?" He says, "I don't know, get married." We're a generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.

Review: The Origins of Political Order

Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order (volume one) is a rich source of information for those who want to understand the historical roots of our modern political institutions. The nations did not pop up over night, and Fukuyama takes great care in showing the different paths towards a strong nation. His method is not in advocating a deterministic model built on the laurels of Athens and the Magna Carta. Instead, he roots his argument first in human nature, after which he offers us a truly global approach to the creation of the first modern governments at the dawn of the American and French Revolutions.

From the outset it should be said that Fukuyama’s work seeks to update Samuel Huntington’s book, Political Order in Changing Societies. As a protégée of Huntington, Fukuyama has been greatly influenced by his ideas and now seeks to update them for the 21st century. The Origins of Political Order begins and ends with the rejection of progressivism: the notion that things always get better. Indeed, when we look out across the globe in the two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have not seen democracies flourish. Russia seems to be backsliding into authoritarianism, Islamic radicals are doing whatever they can to keep democracy out of the Middle East, South America still struggles with dictatorships, Africa remains impoverished, and China is as tyrannical as ever. Fukuyama points out, however, that one cannot talk about decay until one shows how order came about in the first place.

Hence the need for a book called The Origins of Political Order.

Political order, according to Fukuyama, comes about when three important institutions are emplaced among a people. These political institutions are: the state itself, the rule of law, and accountable government. Why are these three institutions so important? In short, because human nature necessitates them. In a rejection of Hobbes’ and Rousseau’s conception of the state of nature, Fukuyama uses archeology, sociology, and anthropology to argue that man is a social being from the beginning and as such human societies most naturally tend towards an association called reciprocal altruism (what Fukuyama likes to call “patrimonialism”). This reciprocal altruism can be defined as the favoring of one’s family and friends over others in the realm of protection and production in social and political structures. Because this kind of system is often rife with corruption, nepotism, and inefficiency, there arises the need for impersonal institutions to create a just and ordered society where personal merit, not personal connections, determines one’s position in the societal hierarchy.

In order to generate the nation, the three aforementioned state-level institutions are requisite. First there must exist the state itself, represented and imaged by a strong executive (i.e. king, emperor, president). The state is important because it is able to concentrate enough power to protect the nation from external threats while breaking the power of an entrenched nobility who might seek the benefits of their own individual family. Following the creation of the state, an effective rule of law created strong private ownership whereby wealth could be created and accumulated by a newly developing middle class (what Fukuyama likes to call the Third Estate). The rise of free cities in Europe, which allowed peasants to escape from the local lords and take on specialized jobs, and were protected by kings – thus further weakening the nobility. Lastly, in places like England and Denmark, accountable government was able to place checks on the king’s authority and the new middle class began to invest itself in the state-building project.

Fukuyama notes that once these three institutions were founded in England, the English citizenry were willing to tax themselves at rates of up to 30% in times of need while in France, where there was no accountability and no personal investment in the nation, the king was never able to succeed in collecting taxes at 10-15%. In short, these three institutions were able to take a small, island country and propel it to dominance above such seemingly powerful absolutist nations like France and Spain. Fukuyama also alludes to his notion of social capital as a force behind the final formation of the nation. Strong self-government (at a local level) and religious ties created an environment of cooperation and solidarity among those differing in social status. In Denmark, for example, the Protestant notion of sola scriptura led to high literacy rates in the peasantry, thus preparing them to take on jobs which required higher levels of education.

That being said, religion and culture are not Fukuyama’s primary concern in this volume. Because he concentrates on the origins of political institutions, Fukuyama draws on economics, culture, and religion only when they played a role in shaping and creating the necessary institutions. As such, we see that the lack of organized religion in China helped it create a strong state early on but the same absence harmed China’s development of a rule of law and accountable government. Fukuyama also shows that religion in India made for such a complicated social and political structure that no strong state ever emerged. Islam and Christianity are also discussed in detail, both of which focused on bringing men out of their family groups and binding them to sovereigns unrelated by blood.

After having read this book, a man formed by a Catholic worldview like myself can walk away with some of the following insights:

1. Institutions are Important: Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama’s academic mentor, defined institutions as “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior”. Those who claim to dislike “institutional” or “organized” religion and a ritualistic liturgy fail to remember that their bodily livelihood depends not only on the need for “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” at a state-level but also on the “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” in their own chest (i.e. the much valued need for a steady and stable heartbeat!). We should not find it surprising that when people withdraw from the spiritual institution of the Church, they also begin to withdraw from social institutions of the nation, and heart disease becomes the number one killer of men and women.

2. The Need for Recognition: Men naturally seek status and honor, and to be respected by equals is a potent force for political and national development. Fukuyama notes that even kings can be dissatisfied by receiving honor from a nation of slaves. Tyrants, like the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, may be satisfied with cheap honor but real men are not. In religious terms, this provides an effective argument against those who deride Christianity as a religion which makes men God’s slaves, as if God simply wants an army of zombies to worship Him. Precisely the opposite is at play: Through baptism, God claims us as His adopted sons in the one Son, Jesus Christ, and by re-creating us with a share of His own nature, God makes us fit for worship as His obedient sons, not slaves. This model of sonship, filial obedience, and status change should be a clarion call for our own civic interactions. In such a way, sacraments are not only the outward signs of invisible grace, but they are the icons for public order.

3. Marriage and Private Ownership: Fukuyama tends to reduce the rule of law to merely the means of protecting private property rights from encroachment by the state or by the nobility. At the same time, he spoke in detail regarding the role of marriage in Europe and in India. In the former, the Catholic Church helped the state break up the tribal associations of the barbarian invaders while in the latter, cross-cousin marriage and the caste system hampered national development. The insight I have drawn, though not found specifically in the text, is the need for the institutions of marriage and private property. If institutions are important (insight #1) and if men have a need for recognition (insight #2), then not only is it man’s best interest to invest himself in his nation, but he also stands the best chance at a natural sense of pride and recognition through the ownership of a home and in having a wife and family. Marriage as an institution, the lifelong union of a man and a woman, was invented not by women who sought the security of a man but rather by men who could secure for themselves a wife while limiting the ambitions of the alpha male. The social acceptance (not the merely legal toleration) of divorce, coupled with the sexual revolution has done more harm to man’s need for honor, a wife, and a home than atom bombs ever could.

4. Transcending Family Values: Catholics who are naturally appalled by the Democrat's support of abortion and gay marriage have flocked to the Republican Party, delivering the presidency to George W. Bush in two elections – and they would have done it again had the GOP ran a consistently pro-life and pro-marriage candidate in 2008. Nevertheless, Catholics who adopt the secular arguments of the GOP (comprised of Protestants) fail to realize a point made by Fukuyama and manifested in the Catholic Church: family values are not enough. Indeed, in order to create the nation, the strong ties between families and friends had to be severed – either willingly or forcibly. This is certainly not a rejection of marriage and family (see insight #3), rather it is an ordering of loves – and in a nation like the United States whose sovereign is God, agape (divine love) is able to purify, shape, and order philia (brotherly love). Republican candidates like Rick Santorum are not taken seriously because they focus on the narrow issue of abortion. Strong pro-life candidates must not only condemn the damage of an eroticized culture, but they must also offer a national vision of duty, the sovereignty of God, and the deep bonds of philia which enable men to transcend the family and build the nation. Priests do this to build up the Church, we as lay Catholic men must do it to make the nation.

The few things I’ve said here only scratch the surface of Fukuyama’s work. More insights are sure to find themselves popping up in future blog posts, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend The Origins of Political Order as an excellent source of interpretive history, political theory, and the interplay of many fields of study with the development of nations.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

America and the West

In the year 476 AD, the Roman world collapsed under the weight of internal decay and external barbarian invasion and replaced with the world called Christendom, a world in which the secular and sacred were overlapped in more ways than one. Declared the “Dark Ages” by modern day anti-Catholic scholars, the years 800-1500 were anything but. Nevertheless, ever since the Protestant Revolt and Enlightenment, the term Christendom has been dropped and replaced by “the West” – and this is why we study “Western Civ” in college instead of Christendom. We do owe Protestant and Enlightenment thinkers, however, some thanks for underscoring the need for the division of church and state and for the development of nations.

We should also thank them for the United States.

But though the American nation was founded on Protestant and Enlightenment thinking, it was not built upon the thoroughly secular notions that began to dominate the European nations. In the 17th century, even as the nations of Europe still respected Christianity with the status of the state’s religion, the absolutist ideas of Hobbes and Machiavelli had already replaced God with the king as the sovereign of the nation. Unlike post-Enlightenment Europe, the United States remained fixed in the notion that we are a nation whose sovereign is God. While Europe eventually replaced their king-God with “vox populi, vox dei” (“The voice of the people is voice of God”), the American nation will always be “under God… and… of the people, by the people, for the people” (Gettysburg Address). This is what makes us different from the secular "West" and it should motivate us to help raise up the nations under God.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The New Flat Earthers

Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map, has many great ideas concerning the connection between military defense and economic growth. Furthermore, he can apply his ideas to a world map. His one problem, however, comes when he leaves God out of the picture. Without God, people become numbers, and because of this morality and culture are thrown out the window.

A good example of this is when he speaks of national populations. His argument is that since third world nations are so populous, the United States (and other first world nations) should continue to abort and contracept their populations while increasing their immigration. What he fails to see is the importance of national culture and identity. Barnett looks at the world through the lenses of a secular nation filled with people without any deep loyalties to the family, the nation, and God. Sadly, his goal is to continue to flatten out the American culture, while bringing in immigrants to be culturally flattened as well.

The gay “marriage” controversy is another front in the battle over a flattened nation. When genders lose their identity, when male and female become so flattened, there is no longer any reason to fight homosexual marital unions. When men and women see themselves as exactly the same, sexual disorientation becomes the norm.

In order for us to correct the problems that confront us, we need to see structure and hierarchy, we need to see identity and purpose, we need to understand where we came from and where we are going. In order to protect the sanctity of marriage, we must not only see the difference and distinction between man and woman, we must also see the difference and the distinction between America and Mexico. We cannot allow the flattening of marriage and the nation.

When we reject the notion of the nations under God, we've only embraced a new flat Earth.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Confusing Rights and Duties

Modern Americans have been taught to worship rights and unlimited freedom as the highest and greatest goods. Nevertheless, well meaning Americans who know deep down that self-sacrificial love of nation and neighbor is the foundation of our county, but armed only with rights language, many argue that they have a 'right' to defend their nation. Not only has this language been used to include gays in the military, but it is also being used to argue for women in combat.

This is where we must gain a robust understanding of duty. We must become comfortable with the language of duty, never fearing to proclaim that only healthy, sexually oriented men have the duty of defending the nation. If anyone has a 'right' to military service, it is only those duty-bound men. In the end, it is not about infringing on any one's rights. Rather, it is about calling into service those men who already have a duty to serve.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Return of Fr. Pfleger

It was troubling to hear that Cardinal George preferred to withdraw his suspension of Fr. Pfleger rather than hold his ground against a reckless, renegade priest. As it would appear, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago has been all but spent through his years as the president of the USCCB and his managment of the pedophilia crisis. It seems that Fr. Pfleger is the one battle Cardinal George does not feel like fighting. Sadly, Fr. Pfleger has been reinstated at his parish and will not be moving anytime soon.

Whatever happened to punishing a disobedient son? Whatever happened to justice?