10 Extremely Practical Suggestions to Improve Priestly Formation

Eamonn Clark

Due to recent events, priestly formation is on the brain of many Western Catholics. Everyone knows we should improve education, ascesis, accountability, etc., etc., ad infinitum. How do we do it?

While I am certainly not an expert, I do have relatively broad experience with priestly formation from a variety of perspectives. Here are 10 extremely practical suggestions, which could be put in practice in seminaries across the Western world, probably with some success.

  1. Un-Judaize the structure of the weekend. For autonomous seminaries, there is simply no excuse to follow the secular – and Jewish – logic of the Saturday-Sunday weekend. What this structure currently means is that seminarians party on Friday afternoons and evenings, when penance ought to be done. Saturday becomes the main day of rest. Sunday is the day to catch up on homework and other obligations. Not good. By shifting the weekend to Sunday-Monday, not only is the penance-rest paradigm fixed, but those with parish assignments during the year (especially deacons) are more able to engage with them. The current model often means jetting off from seminary to the parish Saturday afternoon, waiting around until the Vigil, and then helping Sunday morning masses and maybe some special event that evening. With a Sunday-Monday weekend, he can show up for the Vigil, be around all of Sunday, then be around for most of Monday, a normal day for the parish, its office, and its school if it has one.
  2. Have college seminarians do manual labor in a parish for one summer. “My hands were made for chalices, not callouses,” goes the sarcastic saying. Many young men who have generously offered their younger years to a formation program need a good experience of “real work” – and there is plenty of it to be done in every parish. Cutting grass, waxing floors, scraping gum off of desks in classrooms… The entitlement which can come with being a seminarian, especially at a young age, will be kicked in the gut. It will also give the young man a sense for what “normal people” do, and it will bestow an appreciation of the dignity of the work of all of his future employees. On the side he can help with some ministry, but his daily work is following around the maintenance crew or something similar.
  3. Put each seminarian in the cathedral or the curia for one summer. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for a diocesan bishop – especially a metropolitan – to meet with each of his seminarians maybe only once a year for a real talk. If this change were implemented, that sad reality would be much less of an issue. No longer will the bishop have an excuse for not being familiar with any of his men – he will have directly overseen them for at least a few weeks. Furthermore, the seminarian gets a perspective on that crucial part of the diocese, a definite advantage.
  4. As a condition for ordination, demand that each man make an oath that he has read at least once all of Sacred Scripture and every infallible declaration of the Ecumenical Councils and popes. How humiliating it is for a priest to have to confess to a parishioner that in fact he has not read the whole Bible – and yet, how tragically common this reality is. The laity may be less demanding with regard to the latter condition, but this is for a want of understanding of the seriousness of the matter, not a righteous sense of mercy. It is the business of the priest to know the Faith – how can he even pretend to be a Master in Israel until he can say with confidence that he has at least passed his eyes over these basic writings at least one time?
  5. Find families to “adopt” each seminarian in the house. In most locations, it is not hard to find an adequate number of pious and stable Catholic families who would be interested in such a ministry. The idea is for a family to get to know a particular man (or perhaps a few), to pray for him, and to have him come for a visit once a month or so. This keeps the local community invested in the success of the seminary, provides a special set of eyes for the sake of formation, gets the man out of the house and into a “normal” environment, and also provides the spiritual benefit of prayer. A little involvement in the life of a good Catholic family can be a very healthy experience for a seminarian, to keep him realistic about family life, to keep him “hungry” for ministry, and to keep him sane.
  6. Avoid assigning ministries or jobs which force a seminarian to “pretend to be a priest.” The reality is that seminarians are not priests, they are “laymen with an asterisk,” as it were. (This strange role-playing dynamic can also be confusing to others about the role of the priest.) There is a reason that Trent did away with the apprenticeship model of formation. Good mentors were not the problem – bad mentors were the problem, and no doubt many bad mentors simply let their apprentices try to stand in their places, either due to laziness or due to some misguided thought about having their men “try out.” Even the Catholic Encyclopedia article on seminaries, written in 1912, foresees only minimal pastoral work on the part of the seminarian. At least until immediate preparation for diaconate, the seminarian should almost exclusively be watching and being watched during serious pastoral work. He usually possesses neither the education nor the security to perform the duties which are more appropriate for priests, and he never possesses the grace of ordination.
  7. Have an extraordinary formator. This sounds strange until put next to its counterpart, which already exists in every seminary, namely, the extraordinary confessor. This is not a priest who is really, really good at hearing confessions; the extraordinary confessor is a priest who visits the seminary about once a month to hear confessions – and pretty much nothing else. He provides a safe opportunity to confess sins about, for example, cheating on a test, lying to the rector, or making some other mistake which would be difficult to confess to a faculty member, and difficult for a faculty member to hear. “Father, I cheated on your sacramental theology test – I actually don’t even know how many sacraments there are.” “Well, that’s awful, but I can’t do anything about it. You are still getting 100%.” Not ideal. Thus, the extraordinary confessor. However, perhaps this isn’t enough. Perhaps there is space for an extraordinary “formator” as well, like an auditor, who shows up once a month… Someone to complain to about, well, anything that is not appropriate to complain about to a normal faculty member. He would be half-way in the external forum, half-way in the internal forum. The identity of the seminarian is safe – he can say what is really on his mind without any fear of being found out, or, if there is such a fear, he can note it and let the extraordinary formator deal with it prudently. Whatever the case, this individual will have the dirt on every single man in the house, seminarian or formator, and it is up to him to manage it by regular meetings with the normal faculty and staff: but without ever revealing the names of any vulnerable seedlings, at least until absolutely necessary… like in court.
  8. Remove WiFi and Ethernet from residential halls. There are a number of advantages to this. Among them are the encouragement to gather together to discuss classwork and assignments, the need to go to a place dedicated solely to academic work to get things done, and the extra help to avoid misusing access to the internet in various ways. Of course, some will abuse the ability to connect with their cell phones, but the men who want the system to work will make it work; the ones who don’t will find a way pretty much no matter what is done.
  9. Incentivize more serious study by attaching it to room choice. In almost every house, the choice of one’s room is a big deal – near the chapel, away from the loud central A/C unit outside, on the bottom/middle/top floor, the window with the best view, etc., etc. Many places use a system of age, years spent in the house, lottery, and other “unearned” things. While some of these could factor in, why not also use GPA, at least for the top scorers? Then good grades are helped along by a friendly competition which has meaningful results.
  10. Once a month, the rector and head spiritual director choose together a special ascetical practice for the whole house. The hot water is turned off for the day. Lunch one Friday is bread and water. One Saturday night is a mandatory 3-hour vigil. These common experiences are good for the life of the brethren… When you suffer together, you grow together, and this develops unity, even if it comes partially through complaining!

Well, that’s it. Surely there are plenty more, but those are mine for now. Do you have any practical suggestions? Keep in mind that adding “one more thing” is always a big deal – the current programs of formation are already packed to the brim with “stuff.” Here I tried mostly to avoid adding more obligations and duties and mainly tried to suggest changes to the character of pre-existing realities. If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments – including if you disagree with any of my own proposals!

A final thought, somewhat related to formation, but a little outside… It could be worth investigating a split-model for diocesan vocation programs… Namely, a “vocation director” who gets men into the program, and then a “director of seminarians” who manages the men already in. A young guy deals with the rah-rah, come join us kind of stuff, and an older, more experienced, less vulnerable guy (even a “retired” priest) deals with the men already in. Some dioceses already do it, and basically every large religious order does something like this. Just a bonus thought.

Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us!

Living Wage, Dead Economy?

Eamonn Clark

My mind has been abuzz with economic theory lately. I’ve chosen to do my thesis on socialism, given the continual barrage of headlines about it back in the States.

It was with great interest then that I read an article at NCR about the proposal of one particular “fresh face” of the DNC about the so-called “living wage.” The author (no relation) gives a quick tour of the main encyclicals that touch on the problem, concluding that Catholics ought to be in favor of the “living wage” because it secures the right of the employee to live, so long as he is actually doing his fair share of work.

There is so much to unpack, some of which is hinted at in the NCR article. I just want to offer a few lines of inquiry… I’m happy to take critiques in the comments or through the contact tab. Maybe this economics novice is getting something egregiously wrong. (And no, disagreeing with the general idea of monetary policy doesn’t count… But I’m still happy to discuss Keynes and all that, and I have plenty to learn, so bring it on!)

If a worker is not making a living wage, how exactly is it that he continues to live? And if he can’t afford to secure his family, he is not only likely to be distracted and stressed while working, thus becoming less productive, but he will also not provide workers to the future workforce… Not enough money, fewer kids. This second point is part of the argument of Adam Smith at least, in The Wealth of Nations. It is actually usually in the best interests of employers to ensure that their employees are well-funded. His point about kids later entering the workforce may not be as evident an effect to employers in the mammoth economy of the USA, but in developing countries or even just small countries it is more clearly important. In the long-term, it is important in both large economies and in small ones… Just look at the panic in some corners of East Asia about declining birth rates: soon, there will be no workforce!

If the living wage is to be paid, who decides how much it is, and who enforces it? This is quite critical and calls attention to the principle of subsidiarity. Socialists of the American variety would typically argue it should be the federal government. (And off to the races we go with the “central planning” which Hayek warned about so ominously in The Road to Serfdom.) Maybe some would say the state government. Suppose we tried this – are the living expenses at all the same downtown as in uptown? In this neighborhood of downtown as that one? In the city or in the countryside? Etc., etc. No. So the smallest possible unit ought to decide, if there is to be a decision at all. Given the possibility of easy transit today, it is just not feasible for even the most proximate governments (i.e. the county, the city council, etc.) to make a good analysis that won’t inevitably leave many people stuck without the relative purchasing power that was desired for all, or won’t destroy jobs by making employment altogether too expensive to continue at the current quantity.

Taking for granted an appropriate determination of a living wage for some circumstance, what is the effect on the prices of goods? If we allow the market to continue untouched outside of wage-regulation, and wages go up, it seems quite obvious that, over time, prices will rise to match the augmentation of wages. So in the best case scenario, there is a fleeting moment of prosperity, and then we are back to normal. Best case. Worst case, all kinds of price ceilings are implemented to control the purchasing market, and we have set ourselves up for stagflation, where everybody loses. Production will plummet, jobs will be lost, and the money made from that “living wage” imposed from on high will become increasingly worthless.

Is it possible to exploit workers unfairly at all through low wages? This question is the natural rejoinder to the foregoing analysis, wherein I’ve implied that the market should basically be left to itself to decide wages. I return to Adam Smith: sometimes, employers hold the cards, mainly during times of economic bust, when there is low demand for workers. Other times, workers hold the cards, mainly during times of economic boom, when there is high demand for labor. Workers and employers should both be free to form natural unions among themselves to negotiate wages and terms of employment. Left to itself, the market tends to find the right spot which assures long-term stability to the economy, avoiding the pitfalls of monetary policy and other artificial constraints imposed by far-away bureaucratic geniuses. So, if a person is willing to work for a low wage, it is a fair market price. Given all this, it is still possible to take unfair advantage of a worker’s desperation for income. (Something similar would hold for lending at interest, but we won’t get into that discussion here.) While it’s true that a low wage is better than no wage, there is a virtue involved in the act of employing people which requires a basic level of care for the employee, which we might annex to “beneficence.” (Attached to this would be a duty not to employ too many people under one master… The “order of charity,” which I have discussed elsewhere, is another big problem with socialist thought.) However, we cannot legislate against all immorality. Even though exploiting workers through unjust wages is one of the four sins which cry to Heaven for vengeance, it does not seem that civil law is usually the appropriate measure to take, as it can have such terrible unintended consequences. Instead, employers need to be shown that it is in their best interest to treat workers well, and workers need to help each other by forming charitable organizations, stable families and neighborhoods, and so on. These measures will either alter the market price of labor, or the latter will at least help provide a safety-net for when times get tough. Finally, following MacIntyre’s lead, this whole discussion would be helped by jettisoning the language of “rights,” which inevitably contradict each other, and to speak instead about virtues.

At any rate, we cannot build Heaven on Earth by government fiat. The government playing deus ex machina with economics typically leads to disaster. A freer market will tend to be a healthier market in the long term, even though some people will abuse that freedom at the expense of others. Let’s leave the vengeance to God rather than wage-planning to bureaucrats.

The Other “Scandal” in the Vatican

Eamonn Clark

I was speaking with some confreres a few months ago right around the Youth Synod about a problem most have not realized exists. Do you remember the Youth Synod? How relevant has its work been to your life? Do you recall a single point from the final document? My guess is that you remember it happened, that it did almost nothing but cause concern, and it produced a rather milquetoast exhortation that was probably more or less written before the meeting happened anyway. Okay, fine. That in itself is problematic, but that’s not my point here.

Years ago, we had the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, followed by the Ordinary Synod on the Family. I won’t rehearse the issues there, but it is indisputable that we did indeed have these meetings here in Rome. Okay, fine.

We have another big meeting coming up in two days. (By the way, lower your expectations for that…) There are supposed to be presidents of Bishops’ Conferences from all over the world, plus some other folks from various locales, about 190 people in total officially attending. Okay. Fine.

Here is the big question. How much do these meetings cost?

For this meeting, if we more than generously assume that only 100 people are coming in from outside of Italy for 4 nights, where does that leave us with expenses for travel, room, and board?

Let’s just do the math for travel, and only for those officially attending (not counting any assistants inevitably brought along). A conservative estimate of the average round-trip ticket to Rome for the people showing up would be something like $1,000 in economy class, non-direct. My suspicion is that most bishops want to fly direct if possible, and in business class (arguably justifiable for many older guys, or for the ease of getting work done on the plane). But even giving the BOTD here, we have already spent $100,000. Just to show up and get home. Then 4 days of room and board and who knows what else (rental cars, extra nights, more travel, whatever). Then there’s all the work to prepare the meeting – the planning of the agenda, writing the press releases, getting the venue set up, communicating with attendees beforehand, etc. Let’s be extremely generous and say that the entire thing costs $500,000. (Which I think is a comical estimation – it’s probably deep into the millions.) What will primarily be happening at this abuse summit is listening to a few talks, some group conversations, and then a penitential liturgy with the Holy Father at the end.

The talks may be worth listening to. The group conversations may be worth having (although breaking them into “language groups” seems to encourage ideological incest, but, unfortunately, Latin has been lost, so we are pretty much stuck with this model). The penitential liturgy will surely be poignant.

But is it worth $500,000+ to have everyone there in person? Is it worth leaving the diocese for almost a week at minimum? Is it really worth the time, the money, the effort?

It might have been worth it a few decades ago. Today, there is not really an excuse. There is this new thing, called the internet, which can be used to communicate with many people very cheaply and quickly.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s a series of tubes.

Now, I live in Rome, and I know how slowly things move. I have no delusions that this model going to change any time soon. But it could and should change eventually, and change starts by pointing out the problem and a possible way forward. It is just ridiculous to be spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on these meetings when they could be done almost for free, and much more quickly at that, with a bit of tech-savvy engineering.

Of course, there are elements to a boots-on-the-ground meeting which are desirable. I’m not suggesting that it is never appropriate to come over in person, or that it isn’t important to be celebrating a liturgy in person with the Holy Father, or what have you. I am suggesting that we are seeing in the Holy See a decadent model of communication occasioned by an adaption to the availability of commercial travel without tempering it by an adaption to the availability of digital communications. We are not in 1875 anymore, it is true… We can fly to Rome and back without much trouble. But we are not in 1975 anymore either – we can have a lot of meetings online without much trouble.

Is there nothing better to do with that money, time, and energy?

St. Isidore, patron saint of the internet, pray for us.

Fake News, Real Vices: A Quick Take on CovCath

Eamonn Clark

On October 18th, 1925, Greece invaded Bulgaria. This event led to the death of nearly 200 people, including many civilians… But that’s not the whole story.

This November, the 100th anniversary will come of a treaty signed in my old neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine, which attempted to resolve some geographical disputes in the Balkan region after World War I. Suffice to say that it remained a point of contention, and a dispute between Greece and Bulgaria over the control of Macedonia and Thrace carried on. About six years later, a young Greek soldier stationed near the edge of Bulgarian territory ran into a clearing in a little mountain pass, perhaps totally unaware that he had even crossed the border. He had no intention of attacking anyone or taking any land – he was chasing his dog, which had run away from him. Bulgarian sentinels quickly determined it was a Greek invasion and shot him dead. The aftermath was several days of open violent conflict around the border. Thus is the event called the “War of the Stray Dog.”

While this narrative is somewhat disputed, whatever the case, after the League of Nations intervened it was admitted by Bulgaria that the whole conflict had been caused by a misunderstanding.

We seem to have just finished our own version of the War of the Stray Dog today. There was political tension (Left vs. Right), a border crossed (perceived mistreatment of a member of an historically oppressed group), a uniform (MAGA hat), an innocent misunderstanding (trying not to be provoked), and a catastrophic aftermath (nation-wide condemnation, death threats, etc.).

Calling out moral failures in this hurricane of off-the-rails virtue-signaling is like shooting fish in a barrel. So I won’t bother – you’ve no doubt read the headlines about Lefty journalists and celebrities calling for violence against these kids, and about the bishops and dioceses who trusted the mainstream media’s narrative and piled on. I just want to point out a few things.

  1. It might not have been better if the kid had walked away. The optics could have even been worse – it might look even more racist to turn your back on a Native American, right? So there was no winning.
  2. High-school kids are not typically models of serenity and prudence. Period. Ask anyone who works in secondary education or has teenage kids. So even if there were excesses or missteps, it seems beyond unfair to hold 16-year-old kids to a standard of foresight and self-control more proper to a 4-star general.
  3. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you and yours. So look out.
  4. “Officially” condemning people is unwise unless it’s your job to do so. I am thinking especially of several ecclesiastical persons/institutions who had no direct business with either the kids or the March for Life. Why is it necessary to comment at all? Are there not problems in your own house to attend to without jumping on the virtue-signal bandwagon?
  5. Every year now, for some time, when the secular media begrudgingly mentions the March for Life in passing, they will not mention the staggering numbers (500k+), the positive atmosphere, or the salient points of main speakers… They will dig up old footage of a high school kid in a MAGA hat and a Native American with a drum and talk about “angry conservatives” and “Trumpian politics” and “counter protesters.” Thankfully, that’s a sign of desperation which I think most reasonable people on the fence will see through.

I think this incident may have popped the media balloon. Time will tell.

St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, pray for us.

Seven False Messiahs – Which one do you believe in too much?

Eamonn Clark

The little writing I have been able to do outside of normal work has recently been quite fruitful. Allow me to share a schema which identifies seven false messianic paradigms (or expectations of what the Christ is supposed to be or do)… We all gravitate toward one or more of these, and it is the task of the Gift of Understanding to correct these errors (crushing our little mental idols of God), leading us toward the truth rather than imitations of it.

The Messiah is not primarily about any of the following things: politics, rubrics, therapeutics, economics, theatrics, academics, or aesthetics. He is concerned with each, but only halfheartedly, as it were. One can easily identify an “antichristic” figure who would fulfill each of the seven the way we are inclined to desire… But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Politics – This is the paradigm which dominates the Gospels, and its zenith is found in Peter. The Messiah will throw off Roman rule and usher in an age of peace in Israel, and there will be a big Jewish party in Jerusalem. When Peter tells Jesus he is ready to die for Him, he really means it: he will die for this cause which he has fallaciously projected onto Jesus. When he discovers in the Garden of Gethsemane that the political Messiah is not Jesus, his whole world of hopes and dreams collapses – this is not the Messiah Peter signed up for. It is also not a Messiah which can be legitimately invoked to sanction any prudential legislation which a state might have to produce. The things that are God’s are God’s, the things that are Caesar’s are Caesar’s. The Christ does not deign to sanction public policy which exceeds the boundaries of the Ten Commandments – it is beneath Him.

Rubrics – The Pharisees will immediately come to mind with this word, “rubrics.” This is correct, but it is not sufficient… The thought that the Messiah is supposed to keep everyone in line extends beyond the Torah, written and oral, and into normal human behavior as well. Why does God allow people to do evil things? How can grace come through wicked ministers? Isn’t this what the Messiah is supposed to fix? No, no it is not. The Messiah is not these people, after all, and His glory is behind the cloud.

Therapeutics – The encounter with the rich young man is one example of a search for a Therapist-Messiah. Those who merely want the Christ to affirm them rather than challenge them are falling prey to this trap. The Messiah has not come to bring peace, but a sword. The world of discipleship is not a “safe space,” it is a continual high-stakes battle against sin and self-confrontation for the sake of deeper conversion of heart. “Spiritual but not religious” is the apex of this calamitous paradigm.

Economics – The crowds are like the Devil… They want the Messiah to turn stones into bread. The feeding of the 5,000 prompted the crowd to try to take Jesus away to make Him their king (John 6: 15). They are hoping for an endless Divine buffet, not of the Bread from Heaven, but of literal bread. It turns out that the Divine medical clinic was not in the cards either, though such arrangements would certainly have improved the temporal quality of life of, well, everyone. But civic works, as nice as they are, are not what the Christ has come for.

Theatrics – We’ve had the bread, so what about the circuses? Again like the Devil, the crowds always want a show. They want signs… meaning spectacular outward manifestations of Divine power. But this didn’t work for their forefathers in the Desert, and it will not work for them either, for miracles not only aren’t the point of the Messiah, they do not even of themselves suffice to create faith.

Academics – Those who regularly pray the Office of Readings might recall St. Francis Xavier’s scathing critique of the scholars in Paris… Surely, to turn the Christ into a mere object of study and intrigue is a deadly error. We might think of Herod as a prototype, who loved to listen to John the Baptist, but would not repent, and who longed to see Jesus for some time out of curiosity (which plugs into theatrics as well). The Messiah has not come simply to be an interesting point of debate, He has come for something greater. To reduce faith to study and learning is, therefore, a colossal error. Faith is the result of grace.

Aesthetics – Finally, we have a kind of catch-all error. In general, the Messiah has not come to create a certain kind of experience of God. “Stop holding on to me,” the Risen Lord tells the Magdalene… The Kingdom is not of this world, it is of eternity and consists in grace – it is a silent and invisible reality, at least for now. No fire or storm or earthquake is necessary. While we might point to some ancient errors and movements as examples of aesthetic errors, surely we can acknowledge some in our own day, such as certain attitudes which can surround the liturgy (with both libs and trads) or spiritual growth in general, such as I have discussed elsewhere. The Messiah is not about creating certain feelings or experiences, nice as those may be.

More false paradigms could possibly be added, though these will suffice for today. It is also a worthy endeavor to explore various combinations of these errors to see what kind of behavior and mindset they cause when working in tandem, such as with so-called “moralistic therapeutic deism“… But I will leave that to you the reader to do for yourself.

What, then, is the Messiah really about? In what does “messianics” really consist? Well, it is partially concerned with the 7 things above… But only indirectly. Christ is concerned with economics, for example, but it is not the primary mission. He is really concerned with how people relate with laws and protocol, but again, that is not the fundamental point.

The Messiah is Revelator and Redeemer. He gives us doctrine ordered to salvation, and then He actually offers us that salvation through Himself. All other activities of the Christ center around and are ordered to revelation and redemption – showing the way to God, or helping us to walk it. That road is narrow, but its gatekeeper is the real Christ… The wide road has a different gatekeeper, who also is concerned with politics, economics, and so on, albeit in a direct and fundamental way – it is the Devil, or the antichrist, wherein we see fine temporal “leadership,” but a terrible eternal friend.

A Radical Suggestion for the Roman Curia

Eamonn Clark

If you didn’t know, there is an ongoing breakdown in American comedy. It is increasingly censorious, politically biased, and generally unfunny. The most recent high profile example is the as-yet-unresolved Oscars hosting debacle… A very long list could be made of such things in the past few years, but the current content of late-night shows speaks for itself. Here’s a great interview on the subject (mild language warning):

Also, if you didn’t know, the papal court used to have a full-time comedian, or jester (a bit more than just a joke-teller), just like many other royal courts. Shortly after his election, Pope St. Pius V, of happy memory, suppressed the office of the papal court jester. Note that he did not just go find a less outlandish, less challenging, and less funny jester, but he removed the office. He had his reasons, and knowing Pius V, they were good reasons… The court has serious business to attend to, and also, having a jester makes the court look very much like a secular king’s court, which could be scandalous.

As everyone knows, jesters are to make people laugh (among other things). In doing so, they provide a little levity amidst the tension – no doubt needed these days in the Roman curia. But humor-based laughter is an overflow of the rational faculties into the senses based on some kind of dissonance being pointed to… In other words, the most important function of the jester (or comedian) is to say what everyone is thinking but nobody else will say because they are afraid to – or are perhaps unaware of the absurdity of some set of contradictory realities. He is supposed to cut right to the heart of the issue, albeit in a roundabout way that shows the ridiculousness of it all. How useful would this be today…

The jester is fundamentally a truth-teller. And to fire a jester for a biting joke would only make the joke all the more powerful… After the pope himself, nobody’s speech is more protected than the jester’s. He can say what needs to be said, and nobody can punish him without making himself look like the real fool.

453 years is enough seriousness. Ease the tension. Tell the truth. Get a jester.

Why the CDF’s latest document on hysterectomy is CORRECT

Eamonn Clark

It just came to my attention this evening that the CDF has issued a response to a dubium about special cases of hysterectomy. It will likely be a controversial document. Unfortunately, the current milieu in the curia has led to a general distrust of “official theology.” But despite the seeming laxity of the response, to me it seems correct.

HERE is the document, and HERE is the 1993 document it makes reference to.

Here is my first go at a written breakdown of the issue of the removal of a gravid uterus rendered permanently incapable of sustaining pregnancy to the point of fetal viability. If it seems a little rushed, it’s because it is a little rushed. Apologies in advance. And if you see that I’m missing something major, let me know in the comments. (But despite the current climate in moral theology, we should still gently err on the side of going along with the CDF, lest we fall into sinful temerity.)

First point: gestation is not part of the procreative faculty. The document does seem to use this language at one point (“no longer suitable for procreation”), but it is easy to explain this as an indirect or qualified use of the expression. There is no magisterial document teaching about this precise point about which I am aware, but it seems quite plain that procreation is the act of bringing a human being into existence through the reproductive organs. The object of gestation is a human being so conceived. Therefore, procreation occurs prior to gestation in the womb. (This also has ramifications for the licit treatment of frozen embryos, but we will not get into that debate here.) The procedure is aimed at the womb precisely insofar as it is an organ of gestation.

Second point: the subjective psychology of the act of hysterectomy has a definitive moral significance in this case. What one really desires to achieve by the action matters, and so provided that the principle of totality is respected (meaning a sum good is done to the human being), doing material damage, even directly causing the corruption of an organ that is part of a faculty one foresees using in some capacity later, is admissible, so long as the corruption of the faculty itself is not intended as such and no greater evil is occasioned outside of that substance (viz. the person being operated on).

Third and most important point: the procedure does sterilize the woman, but it is actually a choice in favor of preventing vain gestation rather than in favor of sterilization. If the sterility of this same woman is presumed upon in any future conjugal act, accidental material sterility becomes contraceptive sterility. (In other words, permanently sterile people must still retain a willful openness to the possibility of life in each sexual act, regardless of its actual possibility through natural means, and so too must procedures which happen to cause sterility be done only for non-sterilizing reasons if one is presuming to use his or her sexual faculty in the future.) If we presume that sterility is not a motivating factor in choosing to do the procedure, but is rather just a side-effect, we are left facing the question of implantation… To make this clearer, suppose a woman somehow discovers immediately that she has conceived. The embryo begins to travel toward her severely compromised uterus, where it may implant but will certainly not come anywhere close to term, dying after just 3 or 4 weeks. In the few hours she has, it is possible for her to have the procedure. (Perhaps this is the scenario which we can consider as paradigmatic, or else we are liable fall into the trap of turning the procedure into an act of contraceptive sterilization.) The hysterectomy will indeed prevent implantation, saving the woman some pain and suffering, but it will also cause the child’s life to be shortened by several weeks. The child himself is not positively or actively attacked, as in a salpingostomy or craniotomy, but rather he is prevented from reaching the temporary safety of the uterine wall by that organ’s removal; an action is done to the woman which causes an indirect abortion, such as might occur in a salpingectomy done in response to an ectopic pregnancy. It is then merely a case of weighing the goods, provided sufficient certitude has been reached about the condition of the womb and there is no possibility of saving the child by some other means (like an artificial womb). So, which is worth more – the possible few weeks of preborn life of the child, or the possible inconvenience of the mother, who will be mentally tortured the whole time about the impending doom of her child, in addition to other pains and expenses? It seems usually that the hysterectomy has the stronger case.

A final point for further consideration of this case… The foreseeable possibility of baptizing the preborn child could potentially change the moral decision. But because of the lack of a clear timeline for the child’s preborn death, among other possible medical complications, it does not seem evident that it should be high on the list of considerations. This issue also brings up other soteriological problems which are too much to explore here, so this will be it from me on this question for now.

Keep your eyes open for discussion on this text… Many are likely to see it as something that it is not. You heard it here first.

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

New Year’s Predictions

Eamonn Clark

It’s that time of year again. Let’s see how I did for 2018 first…

  1. The world will not end. YES
  2. The Holy Father will resign shortly after a consistory. NO
  3. Either Cdl. Parolin or an African will become the next pope. NO
  4. Vatican financial reform will continue to be a scandal and a joke. YES
  5. Nobody will find D.B. Cooper or his treasure. YES
  6. The readership of this website will increase by at least 500 subscribers (including email subscriptions which aren’t publicly visible). NO (but we did okay!)
  7. There will not be a ruling on Medjugorje. YES
  8. The Dominicans will overtake the Jesuits in the USA for the most entrants into the novitiate. MAYBE (waiting for CARA report)
  9. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will survive and continue to grow in clout. YES
  10. I will not be made a monsignor. YES

6 or 7 out of 10 ain’t bad. Here are my 10 predictions for 2019. They are a bit spicier.

  1. An A-list Hollywood personality will either publicly convert to Catholicism or come out very publicly as a Catholic.
    1. Yes – Here (I’m counting it!)
  2. The Cubs will win the World Series.
  3. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. will go from “Servant of God” to “Venerable.”
  4. A woman will become the new head of Vatican communications.
    1. SO CLOSE – Vice director of the press office. Maybe she will move up this year?
  5. It will snow in Rome.
  6. Washington D.C. will get a new archbishop from the Midwest.
    1. Yes – Abp. Gregory is a native of Illinois.
  7. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will be shut down or completely absorbed into the CDF.
    1. Yes – Here
  8. A highly credible Marian apparition will occur in Austria.
  9. A bishop from Estonia will be named a cardinal.
  10. Rome will fail for a third time in a row to buy an acceptable Christmas tree for Piazza Venezia.

Shameless Plug #2

Eamonn Clark

I am helping to produce content for the brand new YouTube channel for the Thomistic Institute at the Angelicum. It’s great!

Minutes ago, we published a fantastic talk by Dr. Ed Feser:

The other talks from that conference will be coming in the next few days. (They are great.) We also have uploaded talks from the inaugural conference of the year, all available if you click HERE.

We also recently hosted Justice Alito, though no recordings were allowed. (I did help the Secret Service get a door open, though, so there’s that!) Much more to come after the New Year. Get yourself the best Christmas gift ever and SUBSCRIBE to the channel – and to this blog if you’ve not!

The New Battle for Canaan

Eamonn Clark

About 3,300 years ago, Moses died on Mount Nebo, as a symbolic punishment. I have been to the spot and looked out at the land of Israel from afar, just what Moses would have seen. (A picture I took is above.) It was a hazy day, making it difficult to see everything.

The death of Moses occasioned the rise of his disciple Joshua (Hebrew “Yeshua”) who was commissioned to lead the Jews finally into this mysterious land of Canaan beyond the Jordan, their inheritance by Divine right. Joshua leads a ruthless campaign against the pagan occupiers of the land. (Here is where many of those “difficult” passages of Scripture are found…) The point of the violence is to drive out idolatry from the new home of God’s Chosen People, lest they be tempted to go after other gods. The First Commandment is first for a reason: it is the most important. If you do not worship the one true God, your natural virtue comes to nothing – the fundamental orientation of your life is wrong. To safeguard from such egregious sin, Joshua is given this task of purification.

While Joshua destroys most of the idol cults, he does not succeed fully. A remnant of paganism remains, and this remnant will lead many Jews astray. The predominant goal of the Prophets is precisely to condemn this idolatrous activity, especially on the part of the Kings. Eventually, Israel’s unfaithfulness is so bad that the Temple is destroyed and they are kicked out of the land of Canaan, exiled to Babylon – a wake up call if there ever was one.

What does this have to do with Advent and Christmas?

With the end of the Old Covenants, the Old Law, and the prophetic tradition, characterized by the figure of Moses, there comes a New Joshua – Jesus. In fact, the name Jesus is actually just a different appropriation of the same name, Yeshua. The fierce battle cry of the mighty Joshua is no match for the gentle coos of the little Christ child. The pagan warriors of Canaan may have trembled at the one, but the demons trembled at the other.

When the mythological tradition of the Ancient Near East is recalling the death of the gods (winter), the God of Israel is being truly born. (Yes, I do think that December 25th is the correct date of the historical Nativity, just like Benedict XVI.) The one true God will later die in the spring while the pagan gods are rising, but He will rise too. He has conquered them. But sin continues… There is still a war to fight.

The ongoing battle of the new Joshua is not the exterior Canaan, it is the interior one. The Christ comes into our mysterious hearts and seeks to purify them of idols that lead us into sin and worldly attachment, even at the expense of our suffering. This war is fought with grace and love rather than swords and arrows, and if we do not surrender we will win a battle that condemns us to dwell on the Nebo of the hereafter, always looking at the real Promised Land, longing for it, and never being able to enter.

However, if we welcome the New Joshua to be born into the Canaan of our souls, and if we let Him do the painful work of purification, we will see the New Jerusalem clearly and enter in.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.

St. John of the Cross, pray for us.