Review of Mary Grace, The Communion of Saints: Talking to God and Grandma (Phoenix: Tau Publishing, 2013)

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Communion of Saints

Communion of Saints (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

I had looked forward to reading this book since I am interested in the interface between faith and parapsychology. Since the doctrine of the communion of saints is the only major Catholic teaching that could be used to justify communication with the dead, I was interested in reading what Ms. Grace had to say.  For the reader’s information, I am a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, a conservative continuing Anglican church.

Unfortunately, the book was disappointing. If it had focused exclusively on the issue of the communion of saints and communication with the dead, it would have not only been shorter, but it would have been a stronger book. Ms. Grace used the book as a means to push her various theological agendas that are not in accord with Roman Catholic teachings. She affirms that all people are part of the communion of saints, which, contrary to what she states, has never been the teaching of Holy Scripture nor of the Church Fathers. It is possible that all people might be part of the communion of saints eventually, as von Balthasar notes, but it is also possible that some people obstinately reject God. To be a saint is to be set aside–Grace is quite correct is stating that the New Testament teaching is that all Christians are saints. The church also affirms this teaching, but it also affirms the belief that some Christians have sacrificed so much for God and their fellow human beings that the church as a whole can affirm that they are currently enjoying the Beatific Vision. That is not an elitist view, but it sets examples for us to follow. Nor does it deny that even the saints sinned–we are all sinners, despite Ms. Grace’s disclaimer in the book.

Ms. Grace supports a revision of the church’s holding that homosexual activity is sinful (the church has never said that the orientation itself is sinful). She also supports the ordination of women to Holy Orders. These are not matters for her to decide, and given that these involve essential moral and doctrinal teachings of the church, they will not change. The majority of the world’s Roman Catholics support both these doctrines–liberal American and European Roman Catholics do not have the right to publicly dissent from church teaching. Heresy is cruel since it can lead a person to rebel against God. It is out of love that the church sets boundaries to legitimate belief, and while theological speculation is allowed, open and public disagreement with the teaching of the church is (and should be) condemned.

Relating to her view of the afterlife, she holds that the Christian vision is for a non-physical existence. While I Corinthians 15 can be interpreted that way, it would be highly unusual for Paul, given his Jewish background, to de-materialize or de-physicalize the resurrection. Paul uses terms like “flesh” and “physical” to refer to the sinful, fallen part of nature. His affirmation of the renewal of all of nature in Romans 8 is not consistent with a total spiritualized resurrection. When Paul uses the term “spiritual body” in I Corinthians 15, he means “a body under the total control of its spirit.” He does not mean a non-physical, a non-material, or a non-physical body. Ms. Grace selectively quotes from the Christian tradition and ignores the statement in the Apostle’s Creed, “Credo in resurrectionem carnis“–“I believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” Even Ms. Grace’s mother appeared to her in material form, in the form of a warm, solid, physical body. Glorified flesh is still flesh. While there may be a non-embodied intermediate state between death and resurrection, full human identity requires a body–I would refer the reader to the works of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Gilbert Ryle, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty on the necessity of a body for full human identity. The soul is the “form of the body” (forma corporis), as Aquinas puts it–the body is for this soul and the soul for this body. A Platonic or Cartesian soul has no place in Christian theology.

Now as far as communication with the dead, the Catholic Church has traditionally been open to scientific study of phenomena such as electronic voice phenomena, apparitions, and other putative means of contact with the dead. It does accept the traditional strictures against mediums. That may well be a belief that the church would consider revising, but only after much study and much more scientific evidence comes in. Bishop Pike‘s statement that the Hebrew Bible’s condemnation of mediumship was only a power play by the Jewish priesthood is historically inaccurate. The problem was that mediumship was closely associated with Canaanite pagan practices. Issues concerning mediumship today include whether (1) mediumship can be decoupled from paganism and New Age pantheism, (2) whether mediums can avoid spiritual pride, and (3) whether the medium has the gift of discernment to distinguish between genuine communications from the dead and communications from demonic entities.

My own view is that if a loved one who has died comes to comfort the living (after death communication or ADC) that is almost certainly legitimate. The use of meditation to contact the dead is a matter for the church to decide–if practiced carefully and in line with other teachings of the church, this might be acceptable. The church rightly takes its time on such matters. As for mediums–if they are mediums out of love for others and wish to comfort them in their grief by putting them in contact with their loved ones, there is a possibility that the church might eventually change its mind on mediumship. However, that is unlikely given the great potential for abuse concerning a realm about which we know so little. My hope is that theologians would at least discuss these issues. Mary Grace’s book, while well-meaning, will likely drive those who are theologically orthodox away from discussing mediumship given developments in parapsychology–and this would be an unfortunate result indeed.

On the Pope’s Resignation

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Pope Benedictus XVI

Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Church must look to the future for a long-term pope. It was good that after the papacy of John Paul II that the church chose to maintain stability with Joseph Ratzinger. Like his predecessor, Ratzinger is an excellent scholar, and I hope that he has some time during his last years to write more.

There is always talk in the West about the Roman Catholic Church appointing a more liberal Pope. This almost certainly will not take place. Roman Catholics in Western Europe and in the United States forget that they are not the only Roman Catholics on earth. Their ignoring other Roman Catholics in the world betrays the ethnocentrism of Western elitists. The church is growing fastest in South America and in Africa, where the bishops are more theologically and morally conservative than many American and European bishops. With more cardinals coming from those regions, the possibility of an African or South American pope is real. While I am not a Roman Catholic, I believe another conservative pope would help the church continue to root out heretical bishops in the U.S. and in Europe, and perhaps make sure that Roman Catholic institutions such as the University of Notre Dame are not openly opposing the teachings of the church. The damage done by the 1960s and 1970s to the Roman Catholic Church in the West was partially reversed by John Paul and by Benedict. Much more needs to be done. Africans and South American bishops in both the Anglican and Roman communions often think of themselves as missionaries to a secular, rebellious Western society. The Roman Catholic Church in Europe and in the United States needs missionaries, and a pope from South America or Africa who does not compromise on matters of faith and morals would be a good start.

True, There Never Was a Golden Age, but….

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Small town Arizona

I enjoy looking through the books other faculty require as reading at the university where I teach–it gives me a sense of the focus of their classes and the gist of the material taught in a particular class. One day I found a book on the 1950s, arguing that it was not a “golden age” for family life, and that families had severe problems then as they do now. My first response was to say to myself, “No kidding.” Only a fool would think that the 1950s or any other decade was some kind of “Golden Age” that bypassed human frailties. Marriages had problems in the 1950s, some spouses were abused as well as some children, and some families were dysfunctional. However, apart from these obvious facts, and apart from useful advances in technology and medicine since the 1950s, it does appear that, despite its flaws, that decade was the last true “Era of Good Feeling” in the United States. It was also the last decade in which a generally Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic was dominant in American thought, even among most Roman Catholics and Jews. Although divorce was sometimes necessary in extreme circumstances of physical and/or emotional abuse or serial adultery, in most cases divorce was frowned upon. Although the Hollywood set would get abortions as well as others, abortion was recognized as a grave moral evil. Only a small minority disagreed. Premarital sex occurred, of course, and the hypocritical aspects of 1950s sexual mores are well known, but at least there was an ideal that the wedding night would be a special beginning of  a new life between two people that is sealed by their first act of sexual intercourse. More extended families existed, especially in the South, the Midwest, and (as is still the case today) in the Italian-American community. Although people moved, outside of the military or of upper business management, extensive moving was rare. The new suburbs, for a time, retained the notion of a “neighorhood” with cookouts and regular visits between neighbors. Small town life, though declining, still flourished in many parts of the country. Alcoholism was a problem, as was always the case, but extensive use of hard drugs such as heroin was rare outside some inner city neighborhoods. There was a growing problem with juvenile crime, but most teenaged social life was tame by today’s “standards.” Although conformity was sometimes taken to an extreme, there was a strong sense that the older generation felt a responsibility to rear a virtuous younger generation. Perhaps the “greatest generation” did not understand the degree to which easy access to material things would create the spoiled and self-serving whiners of the mid-1960s onward, but most tried to rear their children with high moral values. My parents told me that at least in the 1950s a person knew whom he could trust. Today, they said, it is difficult to trust anyone.

The “Great Society” and the destruction of underclass society which arose through their dependency on federal aid, was in the future. The vast majority of children, white and black, were born in stable two-parent homes. A strong work ethic permeated most of American society.

This is not to say that the 1950s did not have deep flaws–struggles over race and the threat of nuclear war, for example. However, I would have rather lived in that kind of culture rather than the upside down world of 2012, in which people “call evil good and good evil” and Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” took place, though not in the direction of the Homeric virtues as Nietzsche desired. Christian culture is rapidly declining in influence, with a new breed of young secularists coming into view who, as Rush Limbaugh (who is right on this point) notes are both desirous of a government “nanny state” to take care of their physical needs while at the same time desiring that the government let them “do their thing” regarding gay marriage, abortion, and other “choices” they deem “personal.” The rapidity of the decline in American character since the 1950s has been astounding. In my own lifetime the world has turned upside down, to the delight of the anti-Christian left and to the chagrin of the few traditionalists standing against the plague of barbarism overwhelming the country.

No generation is unfallen. Yet most members of the 1950s generation would admit when they did wrong. They might do bad things anyway, but they understood them to be morally wrong. Today people strut immoral activity without believing it to be immoral. Academia has been part of the fuel for the fire of relativism, but it is, ironically, an absolutist relativism that denies traditionalists their right to express their views. The universities have become cesspools of relativism, Marxism, and a stifling politically correct orthodoxy. At least in the 1950s, faculty had academic freedom to express their views. Traditional conservatives may have been a small minority, but they were not censored. The university was generally a place of open discussion of ideas rather than the cesspool of radical orthodoxy it has become now.

It is too late to go back–the United States as I knew it as a child is dying. The sense of anomie I and other traditionalists feel has driven some to emigrate from the country and others to retreat to enclaves of like-minded people. In the 1950s I would have felt at home. Even in the 1980s there seemed to be hope for the future. Now I feel like a stranger in a strange land, and I am sure many other people do as well. There are times I want to go back to my grandparents’ house where my parents lived with my sister and I from 1965-1969 and enjoy the simplicity of it all before the madness of the 1960s froze into place in the 1970s. It may be a good thing for Christians, for it forces us to focus on God as the only One who is eternal, the only One who does not change. Going back to the past is pointless–traditionalists have lost the culture. We can trust in God, try to live good moral lives and be good examples to others, be active in church, and enjoy visits with like-minded people without isolating ourselves from the larger society. We know that God will triumph in the end, but until then, we wait “with earnest expectation” for Christ to come.

 

The Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church

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Impressionable

Image by emilio labrador via Flickr

I do not remember who said that “Anti-Catholicism is the antisemitism of the Left,” but that is an accurate assessment of liberal opinion leaders in the United States and Europe. The media has taken full advantage of the sex abuse scandal to bash the Roman Catholic Church as whole. This is not to say that a significant number of bishops did not adequately oversee the priests under their authority. To reassign a priest to a parish after credible allegations of sexual abuse by that priest is unconscionable. That happened in some dioceses. Those bishops who failed in their oversight should be held accountable for their actions, just as priests who violate the laws of God and man by abusing altar boys should be punished for their actions.

The problem is not with blaming where blame is due; the problem is condemning the entire Roman Catholic Church or the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy for the actions of a few perverted priests and a few irresponsible bishops. Liberals do not have problems with liberal Roman Catholics, who believe almost nothing of traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. If you put a liberal Roman Catholic, a liberal Protestant, and a Reform Jew side by side you see triplets–all three believe the same vacuous creed of tolerance but little else other than a quasi-Marxist conception of “social justice.” These Roman Catholics are no threat to liberalism. But traditional Catholicism is a threat to liberals, and if they can successfully place blame on the entire church for what a small minority of priests and bishops have done (or failed to do, in the lack of action shown by some bishops).

Another fact liberals ignore about this controversy is that most of the altar boys were older teens–sixteen or seventeen-years-old, at the time they were abused. The problem with the priests who abused them was not as much pedophilia as it was old-fashioned homosexuality. But liberals do not want to hear that since it goes against their view that homosexuality is benign and harmless, merely a different “orientation.” Calling what the guilty priests did “pedophilia” protects liberals in their support of the homosexual agenda, and it also makes the priests look as if they are guilty of even more perversion than they actually were, thus making the Roman Catholic Church look worse. What the priests did was terrible–there is no excuse, given power disparities between altar boys and priests, for priests to violate their oath of celibacy with those who may have felt powerless to resist. But for the most part, unless a priest were extremely perverted, priests were not sexually abusing eight-year-olds.

Liberals are experts in selecting only the facts that strengthen their attack on the Roman Catholic Church. They attack Rome’s position on clerical celibacy, which is issue Rome must deal with, not non-Roman Catholics. I am Anglican and believe in married deacons, priests, and bishops. If I were Roman Catholic I would encourage the Pope to rethink the rule requiring clerical celibacy, a rule that is a matter of order and not a matter of essential doctrine. But I am not Roman Catholic and am hesitant to tell that church’s leadership what it should do. Overall, despite the fact that there was failure of leadership and discipline in some dioceses and parishes, I highly respect the Roman Catholic Church. Like any institution with human beings as members, it will be not be perfect–the same follows for all other religious bodies. But humans with flaws are found in nonreligious institutions–nonreligious bodies, such as civic organizations and quilt guilds, have members who do very bad things. Christians should do better–and the Roman Catholic Church should have done better in screening potential priests, in hiring, and in assigning–that is not being an arrogant outsider, but a common sense approach that may have avoided the problems from which Rome is now suffering.

The Roman Catholic Church will get past this scandal. Bishops will be told firmly to meet stronger discipline against clergy who sexually abuse church members (this can occur with female members as well as with male members). The RC Church is a large, slow operation, lumbering around like a giant turtle, but it must (and I believe will) take steps to improve its handling of accusations of sexual misconduct by priests. I am sure the liberals will say whatever Rome does is not going far enough–and once this scandal fades into memory they will find another way to attack the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.