Saturday, January 24, 2015

Letter to Bonnie Ann Twerp: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool Aid (continued)

Not long ago I wrote an article about German Cardinal Walter Kasper who recently said that African Catholics “should not tell us (meaning the European white folks, I suppose) what we have to do.” He further admitted that the African bishops are not being listened to by the Vatican synod as it takes up family life issues.  Quelle domage!  That’s French for, “What a shame!” I say it in French for a perfectly good reason. You need to start brushing up on your high school French lessons because it is thought that French is poised to become the most commonly spoken language in the world.  Let’s look at some fun statistics once again.

French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa is the last place on earth where people are still having large families as a rule. Niger, Mali and Somalia, Muslim countries totaling perhaps 45 million people, have a total fertility rate of six plus children per woman. The other exceptions among Muslim countries are Afghanistan (32 million with a fertility rate of 5.43 children per woman) and Yemen (a Muslim country of perhaps 26 million with a TFR of 4.09.)  Burundi, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan, Mozambique Ethiopia and Benin, all Christian majority countries, some with Muslim minorities, total 235 million people and have fertility rates between 5 and 7 children per woman. And then there is the giant of Africa, Nigeria 177 million people, about half Muslim and half Christian, a country where religious war rages as I write. 

So the bottom line: There are about 300 million Christians and about 160 million Muslims, all in sub-Saharan and southern Africa, with the exception of Afghanistan and Yemen, whose populations are expanding while the rest of the world is shrinking. Margaret Sanger, foundress of Planned Parenthood and her pen-pal, Adolph Hitler pushed eugenics, abortion and birth control because there were just too many dark skinned people in the world. By making artificial birth control and abortion acceptable in the developed, secular world, they have managed to insure that the future is African and probably Christian. 

This was first hinted at years ago, in a 2002 article, “The Next Christianity” (Atlantic Monthly, October 2002), in which Phillip Jenkins claimed that the future of the world is the southern hemisphere, is Christian and is Charismatic. So far he is right on track. The “white race” so dear to Hitler and Sanger is probably doomed to extinction because of them, while Christian Africa seems to be the wave of the future.  It sounds a bit racist even to talk this way, but quite the contrary; to me this is proof that racism invariably backfires. I am of the opinion that race does not exist, save for the human race.  I suspect that is exactly how our heavenly Father looks at it.  

This amazing demographic shift says something profound about human beings. It says that we are self-centered narcissists.  Let’s be honest for a minute. Kids are crazy making. Who would want more than one or two of them? They are constantly screaming and leaking. They don’t come housebroken. They cost a fortune to maintain. They have to be fed regularly until they are at least 18 when you can legally throw them out of the house. Sure, one or two of them are cute, but dogs are cute, and you can leave them tied up in the basement if you have to go out for few hours. Try that with kids and you’ll have the Department of Children and Family Services knocking at your door as soon as the nosy neighbors can look up the number. It’s easier to get a dog. They are easier to train and usually die after 14 or 15 years and then you’re done with it. And best of all they don’t talk back or want to drive your car.  

There’s no good reason to have a lot of kids, unless of course you live on a farm. Then they are useful as unpaid labor. On the farm, kids are an economic asset. In an urban setting, kids are an expensive luxury. They take up a lot of money, time, and well, let’s face it, love — real love, not the cuddly cuteness that one has with a nice puppy. Sure, kids are cute when they’re little, but face it, they grow up to be adolescents and there’s nothing cute about some know-it-all, surly teenager. Dogs are more loyal than kids. (The preceding is meant to be sarcastic, but it is certainly the way we are going. Have you notice that the pet food aisle in the super market gets bigger and bigger? It used to be that you owned a dog. Now you are a pet-parent. ) 

As the entire world urbanizes, as our food supply is increasing grown by machines on factory farms, there is less and less need to disrupt our self-centered existences by putting up with the care and feeding of children. There is simply no good reason to have large families, unless of course we love children. Therein lies the rub. We don’t love children. We prefer pets and one or two children are okay as pets, but more than one or two and we are like the weird cat lady who has too many cats living in a messy, smelly house. One or two suffice for our amusement, be they dogs, cats or children.  Better just stick with dogs or cats if you aren’t terribly needy. 

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt 18:5.)  I like Africans. They like children. They have children for the sake of children as often as not. They welcome children and they are welcoming Christ by their millions. Kardinal Kasper and his friends should probably pay attention to the Africans and their bishops, because tomorrow and tomorrow’s Church belong to them. So I would recommend to the synod fathers, to Kardinal Kasper and to all those of his refined and aged ilk, that they take their dusty old textbooks from the dusty shelf and brush up on their high school French, because sub-Saharan French will probably be the lingua franca of the future.  I end with a phrase I learned in my own French studies of long ago:  “Où est la bibliothèque? La bibliothèque est tout droit, puis à gauche.” 

And don’t you forget it !  

The Rev. Know-It-All

PS. Here is a quote that you will probably ignore when you hear who said it, but it is a good quote nonetheless. The gist of it is that if we change what we believe to make ourselves more popular , as the German bishops and those like them seem currently to be doing, then it is no wonder that the faith is dead in Germany, no matter how wealthy the church may be.

If a Church changes doctrine and structure to follow its members views (or the pressures of the surrounding culture), it’s difficult to see the value of that Church and its religion.  Religions must claim to be true and, in their essentials, to uphold principles that are universal and eternal.  No church that panders to the zeitgeist deserves respect, and very shortly it will not get respect, except from those who find it politically useful, and that is less respect than disguised contempt.  --Robert Bork, 1992

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Did you see what Bishop Bonny said? - part 2

Letter to Bonnie Ann Tuerp: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool-Aid 

(I refer of course to the Jonestown Massacre in which a crazed religious cult leader convinced most of his congregation to drink poisoned Kool-Aid for their own good. I just wish I could convince my congregation to get to church on time.)

Think for a minute about another issue about which bishop Bonny implies that I and my like are out of touch with reality: the population explosion.  Everyone knows that there are too many people on the planet and the population growth is out of control.  Everyone is wrong.

The population has stopped exploding; it may well be collapsing. In order to continue to exist there must be around 2.1 children born for every woman in any given population. Remember that many women are not of child bearing age and not all women can conceive. Women are able to conceive and bear a child from around 15 years of age to about 45 years, though this is of course not a specific figure.  The global replacement rate is 2.33 children per woman. Every woman in the world must have to have 2.33 children to keep the population exactly what it is now.  That means that some will have to bear more children to “make up” for those who cannot or will not be mothers.  

This isn’t happening. The total fertility rate throughout the world is collapsing like my Aunt Zetta’s parsnip soufflé. There comes a point when a given population enters a kind of death spiral. When families have only one or two children, those children tend to think that’s normal. It is certainly easier than having 5 or 6 children. Two children per woman are not enough to maintain the population of the world. After having lived an economically easier life because of limited family size, it is doubtful that the world is suddenly going to say, “Hey let’s go back to the craziness and chaos of having eight kids in a mud hut!”  Face it. Kids are a lot of work. Two, or one, or none are plenty for most people. Two or one or none may be nice for me at the moment, but if the current trend continues, (and why would it not continue?) the world population will continue to grow from 7 billion as of this writing to 9 billion as of 2050. It will then plummet in the next four centuries to one billion. 

So what’s wrong with that? It will make expressway driving at rush hour a whole lot easier and I won’t have to wait in long lines at the amusement park. The problem is that there will be no amusement park. The 18 year-old creepy carnie who runs the ride will never have been born, nor will the kid who bags your groceries, nor the young Vietnamese girl who does your pedicure, nor the ambitious young Latino who cuts your grass, nor anyone who makes our indolent service oriented society so fat and happy.

It’s already happening. There is something called the Lewis Turning Point, named for Sir William Arthur Lewis, a twentieth century economist. Essentially it means that for an economy to keep expanding, it needs a supply of cheap labor. Gradually a society absorbs the cheap labor whose work becomes more and more valuable. In short, hardworking “have-nots” become “haves” who buy stuff instead of make it. The hard working young Latino who cuts your lawn works very hard and soon has a small landscaping business and soon has a nice house in the suburbs and a lawn that he has to hire someone to take care of because he is busy running his ever expanding lawn care business. 

Here we encounter another problem. Mexicans have discovered the joys of narcissism. Their total fertility rate is 2.22. That’s just about at replacement rate. That means that very soon they will have no spare Mexicans to lend us. We will have to cut our own lawns, heaven forefend! Wait, it gets worse! Virtually everything in your home and everything you wear is made in places like China and India. They have an indefinite supply of cheap child labor to keep our big box store stocked with the cheap household goods and clothing that we just adore, don’t they?  

Not no more!! India is having 2.50 children, and dropping from 6 children in 1960 to 2.5 children per woman in 2014. And what about China? China is becoming a nation of old folks. In 1970, 5% of China was over 65, now 9% of China is over 65. China is right on track to become the world’s most aged society by 2030 and by 2050, 25% of China will be made up of old folks. Soon there will be no one left to make those wonderful “some assembly required” book shelves that fill our homes. 

How about Japan?  Remember Japan? When I was a boy everything was made in Japan; cheapo stuff like transistor radios and watches and lamps and cars and everything — decent quality, bargain price. Japan got filthy rich, started buying their own stuff and stopped having babies. Now the label, “made in Japan”, is gonna cost you.  And soon there will be nothing made in Japan because all the Japanese will be wearing adult diapers. Last year there were more adult diapers sold in Japan than diapers for infants because the number of children born in Japan was the lowest ever recorded. Goodbye, Japan! 

Well, there are plenty of other countries left to take economic advantage of, no? Don’t count on it. How about South Korea? They make nice stuff real cheap. Bad news. South Korea and North Korea have both decided to commit suicide with TFRs (total fertility rates) of 1.25 and 1.98 respectively. This is down from a TFR of six children per woman in 1960. It seems that Koreans like the rest of us would rather own nice stuff than make nice stuff. Brazil’s fertility decline is just as astonishing. They went from 6.25 children per woman in 1960 to 1.81 in 2011.  

The same ethno-suicide is happening in the Muslim world as well. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country is at 2.18, right at the replacement rate down from around 6 in 1960. Iran is at 1.8, Saudi Arabia at 2.17 and Egypt at 2.7 children per woman all down from around six or seven in 1960.  

You may think all this is good news. If you think this is good news, then learn to weave your own clothes and raise chickens. Have you any idea of who will change your bed pan when you are at the Sunny Valley Home for Well-Heeled childless Old People?  Something huge is happening and we didn’t notice it. We have swallowed the Kool-Aid and are quietly lying down to die as the experts tell us we should. I worry that the Synod Fathers have developed a taste for the Magic Kool-Aid and are helping to prepare more. 

Let us look at Italy. Ah, Bella Italia, one of my favorite places in the world! Somewhere in the Bible it says that, though our Lord founded the Church in the Holy Land, the disciples moved the head office to Italy pretty quickly because that’s where the restaurants are. Italy, the cradle of western civilization, Italy home of art, literature and the Roman faith, Italy is dying. Italy has a TFR of 1.4 children per woman. There are whole towns for sale in Italy, collections of abandoned buildings, whole towns that are deserted, or only populated by a few old ladies who hang on to their memories of vanished families and futures. It is said that if you go into a country town in Italy with a baby in your arms what few old residents there are will come out into the street just to see a baby. 

Thus, I take the bold, even impudent step of asking a favor of the Synod Fathers when next they meet. Rent a few buses and drive into some of these towns. Perhaps it will remind them that the Synod is titled, “The Synod on the Family”, not the Synod on alternate lifestyles. What they do, and the decisions they make will affect the future of the world in ways they cannot even begin to imagine. 

I pray that they don’t succumb to the lies the world is telling them and us. Come Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Did you see what Bishop Bonny said?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

I heard that a Belgian bishop just wrote a letter to the pope asking him to recognize same sex marriage. Is this true?
Bonnie Ann Tuerp

Dear Bonnie Ann,

Yes and No. It is true that a Belgian Bishop wrote a letter to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, but it is old news that the media is just now noticing, and he deals with a lot more than same sex marriage. Johan Bonny, the Bishop of Antwerp, Belgium wrote the letter but it was dated September first of last year, 2014.  The letter is a twenty-two page reworking of the heady days after the council. It is a sort of a turning over of the manure pile of the “spirit of Vatican II”.  

I have tried to read all 22 complex pages of his letter to the pope and I must be reading it wrong. In it he doesn’t just ask for the recognition of same sex marriage. He asks that we face the reality of the world we live in, or at least of the world he lives in, in which people are making up the rules of marriage and family as they see fit. Allow me to allow him to state his intention in writing: “My aim is to expose the complexity of the evolving context in which relationships, marriage and family life occur today, and the expectations that many still have of the Church as ‘traveling companion’.”  

That evolving context includes the recognition of the reality of concubinage, (that means shacking up) second marriage, same sex relationships, artificial birth control and the whole list of improvements that the modern European/American culture has made to marriage. He goes on to say, “What do I expect from the forthcoming Synod? That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes.” 

I think he is urging that we lighten up on the rules by appealing to the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. In it are sections on the dignity of the human person, marriage and family and the proper development of the culture. Gaudium et Spes talks a great deal about conscience and the freedom of choice. For instance:

“For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin.; it has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in God's service and men's, and, finally, commends all to the charity of all.” 

There is a problem here when I, an enlightened modern, hear the phrase freedom of choice; I think it means I should be allowed to do what I want. That’s not what the council fathers meant. By freedom of choice, they meant an atmosphere of liberty that promoted the freedom to choose the good, particularly the good of service and charity. 

Here’s another Gaudium et Spes zinger:

“Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.”

Here we find one of my favorite theological categories: “invincible ignorance.”  Invincible ignorance refers to someone so thick headed that no matter how much you explain that it is wrong to arbitrarily kick the cat or to light the dog’s tail on fire, they say, “I don’t get it.” They are invincibly ignorant. There is moral free choice and “blind choice”. “I want what I want and who are you to bid me nay. Buzz off!” This is not freedom of choice. It is narcissism.

Bishop Bonny seems to think that those who hold to an objective standard of behavior are simply outmoded and out of touch with reality. Again I quote:

 “Since the middle of the last century, couples have had access, for the first time in history, to information concerning fertility and methods of birth control. The problem of overpopulation and the spread of HIV have also complicated the issue. The present day legalization of civil partnership and marriage between people of the same gender has led to new situations and insights concerning marriage and family life. Add to this the fact that people are living much longer than before, whereby relationships are expected to survive the test of time far beyond those of their predecessors. For others, extended life expectancy makes it possible to enter into a new relationship in their middle age.”

Perhaps I am grossly misinterpreting this section of his letter, but it seems to say that birth control should be okay because it helps slow the spread of AIDS, and the world is overpopulated already and the government allows gay marriage and who are we to judge. Maybe we should catch up with our good and noble governments as people are living longer, you really can’t expect a fellow to stick with the old bat when he can afford a nice trophy wife for a second or third go around. He couldn’t possibly mean this, could he? If he does, he is the one out of touch with reality.  

Nothing has done as much to spread HIV as the promiscuous bar culture of the gay demi-monde. Does Bishop Bonny think that a couple of fellows just want to snuggle by the fire and grow old together? The bishop seems to believe the compassionate lie, “All they want is to be allowed to love and go to Holy Communion.” 

Perhaps Belgium is different, but here in the US things are not so good. I quote the Atlantic, hardly a conservative rag (“A Same-Sex Domestic Violence Epidemic Is Silent,” Nov. 5, 2013): “In 2013, the CDC released the results of a 2010 study on victimization by sexual orientation, and admitted that ‘little is known about the national prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking among lesbian, gay, and bisexual women and men in the United States.’” 

The report found that bisexual women had an overwhelming prevalence of violent partners in their lives: 75 percent had been with a violent partner, as opposed to 46 percent of lesbian women and 43 percent of straight women. For bisexual men, that number was 47 percent. For gay men, it was 40 percent, and 21 percent for straight men.” I suspect that same sex fidelity is as much a myth as well.  

We in the Church must certainly open our hearts to those who are afflicted with any sexual or emotional dysfunction. The real problem is not the dysfunction. The real problem is the refusal to recognize the dysfunction by insisting that it is just one more delightful option. People like Cardinal Kaspar and Bishop Bonny seem to be saying that we should just get over it and lower the bar. St. Paul writes “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Bonny and their sophisticated set seem to be saying that, “If all have sinned, it can’t be that big a deal.” 

I understand that it isn’t just obeying the rules that gets us to heaven; it is being conformed to Christ that gets us to heaven. Legalism isn’t the point. Learning to love sacrificially as He loved is salvific. I have known gay people who are deeply sacrificial. Part of their sacrifice is recognizing the dysfunction with which they live. The modern sexual movements aren’t doing this. The cohabiting-remarrying-birth controlling- sexual preferencing movement defines a person by his or her sexual activity rather than their reflection of the divine image. Thus it seems more motivated by “blind choice … and car(ing) but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.” (again, Gaudium et Spes

I am terrified that we are about to give in to a culture that is committing suicide and that we in the Church will join the dying culture in their suicide pact. 

Next week: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool-Aid

Friday, January 2, 2015

A holiday re-run: "I've had enough"

From June 15, 2012

(The Rev. Know-it-all is away at Mt. Flatten Monastery attending a seminar on the creative pastoral uses of the thumbscrew and lash. As filler, we have a letter from a local pastor.)


You may have noticed that recently, at Mass, I asked the young people who attend our religious education program to stand up. Of the 250, give or take, who attend the program, I counted about 50 or 60 at all the Masses.  Our teachers have done wonderful work. They have made great sacrifices for the sake of the religious education of our children. They have not failed. The 50-year-old system that they inherited has failed. We are using a model that was created before cell phones, soccer practice, twitter, Facebook and video games. The model we are using is older than the Beatles. It’s as old as I am.

We inherited a system from the good old days of flourishing Catholic schools another failure which was lovingly remembered in the book, “The Last Catholic in America,” a charming reminiscence about Catholicism during the 1950's in which young Eddy Ryan loses his faith.  Religious education was called C.C.D. or the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.  In this usage it refers to a form of classroom style religious education for children in public schools. It was, at least in my youth, the threadbare cousin of Catholic schools.  

Catholic schools, by and large, have become failures themselves. There are some splendid Catholic schools, but in my experience of 40 years in ministry, increasingly, especially in large urban areas, Catholic schools have become inexpensive private schools for middle class people who have little or no interest in the Catholic faith, maintained at great expense by Catholic parishes. Catholic schools are, for the most part, over. 

We may have a few parish schools still plugging along, but are they Catholic? It seems that all we have left to us is the threadbare cousin. All our resources and energies go to maintaining the private school in the building next to the church. While the world is starving for Christ, we are giving them bingo and bratwurst, raffles and dinner dances, all to keep the school going.  

“But,” I can hear you say, “this is our major form of evangelism!” Aren’t you paying attention? The few kids from our schools who go to church don’t go because the school has converted them. They go because they have parents dedicated enough to bring them every Sunday, even in summer. Even in soccer season. Those kids may end up Catholic, not because they went to our schools and religious education programs, but because their parents were the first and best of teachers. In a recent conversation with a local pastor who runs a school of 250, give or take, I asked how many of his students and their families attend Mass during the summer months. He said, “About thirty of them.”   
In order to commit a mortal sin, a sin that severs one’s relationship to God, one must have sufficient knowledge that what they are doing is mortally sinful. Our kids come to Catholic schools and religious education where, presumably, they learn that it is a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a serious reason, such as illness or inability to travel. That means that by allowing children to come to religious education or to enroll in Catholic schools when their parents don’t come to Mass, we are enabling them to commit a mortal sin by giving them the sufficient knowledge to damn their eternal souls. That’s a plan. 

We have tied our religious education to the public school system of kindergarten and eight grades. The sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation have become graduation rituals, rites of passage, instead of the beginnings of a life of faith and commitment. We have turned sacrament into sacrilege.  When you “get your sacraments” you’re “outta” there.  (“Out of there” for those who don’t speak Chicagoan.) The Sacraments are an ending instead of a beginning. I can’t do this anymore. I believe it is morally wrong. The last time I brought this problem up, angry parents called the bishop. I remember one agitated parent who railed at me for questioning his Catholicism. He said that he was perfectly good Catholic. He went to Mass every single Easter and every single Christmas without fail.
When I realized that Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East don’t have Communion and Confirmation classes, a light went on in my head. They receive first Communion and Confirmation when they are Baptized, even if they are infants. They have religious education for the rest of their lives and, consequently, they have a spiritual life. They are prepared for the Sacrament of Penance, but not for Communion and Confirmation. The result is that they have a vibrant spiritual like that they have maintained in the face of 1,300 years of unremitting persecution. In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.

I intend to drop the classroom model and go to a discipleship model that is called YouthChurch. It will involve Bibles, catechisms and water balloons.  And maybe doughnuts. I will know the program is a success when I find that the kids are mad at their parents for missing Mass on Sunday.
I no longer intend to prepare children for First Communion and Confirmation. There will no longer be First Communion and Confirmation classes. How and when will the children receive Communion and Confirmation? They will receive when they are ready.  When are they ready? They are ready when they want the Sacrament. How do we know they want the Sacrament? When they understand it, can tell the pastor what it is and why they want it. If they are not in ongoing religious education and they are not coming to Mass on regular basis, they don’t want the Sacrament.

I am tired to distraction of having to chase young people down the aisles in church to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament because they have no clue what it is. A year or so back, I was offering a funeral Mass and a teen-aged girl came up for Communion, took the host, looked at it, turned it over and began to walk away holding it in her palm. I followed her and asked, “Have you made your First Communion?” She said simply, “I’m Jewish.” I smiled and said, “Perhaps I should take that from you.” Quite a few of the mourners were furious with me for my discourtesy.

At another funeral not long ago I saw a passel of tattooed and pierced adolescents coming down the aisle at a funeral. It was a large funeral so a number of priests were helping with Communion. I had finished my line so I stood about ten paces from the celebrant, a visiting priest. The first of the young Goths received the host, looked at it curiously and as she passed me I asked, are you Catholic? She said, “no.” I said “Perhaps I should take that.” So there began a curious ritual, of clueless youths. One priest would say “Body of Christ and the second priest would say “I’ll just take that.”

I’ve had it. My efforts will be directed to preparing people for the Sacrament of Conversion (Maybe you call it Penance or Reconciliation. Whatever.) Then maybe the little dears will understand that Communion is more than an edible poker chip. Registration will take place over the summer. I will be doing it personally. If you are registered in the parish and using envelopes, that will be the first step to getting your child in YouthChurch. How else can I tell if you are coming to Mass? As I’ve said before I don’t care that money’s in the envelope, I care that you are in the pew.

Fr. Simon