Evangelicals and Lent

Ancient FaithWhen I converted to Protestantism from Catholicism as a teenager, my family joined an evangelical congregation that did not observe Lent.  I never really wondered why this was the case.  I just assumed it was another aspect of my Catholic upbringing that I now needed to cast aside.  Years later, as I began to reconnect with some of the good things about my Catholic upbringing, I started to take Lent more seriously and began to observe Lent again, albeit inconsistently.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz has a very interesting piece titled “When Did Evangelicals Start Observing Lent?”  His post is built around articles on Lent in Christianity Today, former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield attempts to revive Lent among evangelicals, the liturgical revival in evangelicalism associated with the work of the late Robert E. Webber, and Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.

Here is a taste:

Protestants, explained writer Andrew Sandella, had inherited the Reformers’ wariness of Lent and its most distinctive discipline. He repeated the oft-told story of the sausage controversy in Ulrich Zwingli’s Zürich, noted Martin Luther’s criticism of fasting as a kind of works-righteousness, and alluded to John Calvin’s anti-Lent diatribe in The Institutes:

Then the superstitious observance of Lent had everywhere prevailed: for both the vulgar imagined that they thereby performed some excellent service to God, and pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ… in this splendid display they think that they serve God. I do not mention that at no time do those who would be thought the holiest of them wallow more foully. In short, the highest worship of God is to abstain from flesh, and, with this reservation, to indulge in delicacies of every kind. On the other hand, it is the greatest impiety, impiety scarcely to be expiated by death, for any one to taste the smallest portion of hacan or rancid flesh with his bread. (IV, 12)

But I’m not sure it’s that simple. Digging a bit, I think it’s more accurate to say that American evangelicals have been conflicted about Lent for some time now.

Read the rest here.

A Message to Irish-Catholic Trump Supporters

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John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, sends an important reminder to pro-Trump Catholics who think immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

Kelly, an Irish-American Catholic from Boston, is either oblivious to the irony of someone with his family’s background trafficking in pernicious stereotypes or knowingly tapping into the power of caricatures to dehumanize people. Irish immigrants were similarly demonized in the nineteenth century when they fled the Potato Famine. Like the parents of today’s Dreamers, they took great risks in search of a better life for their family. The Irish were viewed as so alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority they were not even regarded by many as “white.” The Boston Globe described the zeitgeist of the era in a 2016 article.

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

It was out of this context that a nativist movement flourished. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, originally called the American Party, included eight governors, more than one-hundred congressmen, and held power in half a dozen state legislatures. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan expanded in New England and the Midwest, targeting immigrants and Catholics. A massive KKK rally in Worcester, Mass. attracted as many as fifteen-thousand people in 1924. At the end of the rally, the Klan clashed with Catholics who came to counter protest under a Knights of Columbus banner.

The politics of nativism is not new. But there is something particularly galling about Catholic members of this administration such as Kelly, and powerful members of Congress, including Speaker Paul Ryan, leading or enabling the contemporary incarnation of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia. Ryan posted a picture on Twitter this week showing him welcoming a member of the Irish Parliament. “Even if my Gaelic is a little rough,” Ryan tweeted, “always great to connect with my roots.”

Kelly, Ryan, and others should remember those roots included immigrants from a different place but with the same dreams. In the face of craven politicians who perpetuated fear and ugly stereotypes, those immigrants persevered and made America great.

Read the entire piece here.

America Magazine: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement Must Be Bipartisan

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The editors of the Jesuit magazine America argue that the pro-life movement “should prioritize expanding its reach across party lines.” Agreed.  Here is a taste of the editorial:

The most effective tactical response the Democrats could adopt in the face of Republicans using abortion as a wedge issue in close races would be to stop insisting on a pro-choice position as a litmus test for candidates. Sadly, this is something the Democratic Party is unwilling to do. This refusal among many in the party to accept, or even discuss, any legal restrictions on abortion at all reveals an absolutism that is both an affront to justice and a serious impediment to any attempt at bipartisanship.

As the failure of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act clearly shows, bipartisanship will be absolutely necessary to pass any meaningful federal legislation that changes our current stalemate on abortion. The pro-life movement should prioritize expanding its reach across party lines. It is the only way to bring the possibility of lasting legal protections for unborn children closer to reality.

Read the entire piece here.

Even Archbishops Wager on the Super Bowl

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It looks like Archbishop Chaput (right) of Philadelphia and Cardinal O’Malley (left) of Boston have placed a friendly wager on the Super Bowl.

Crux reports:

NEW YORK – Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl contest between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia have placed a friendly wager on the football game’s outcome.

Should the Eagles win, O’Malley has pledged to make a $100 donation to St. John’s Hospice in Philadelphia, which assists homeless individuals in finding stable residences.

If the Patriots win, Chaput has agreed to make a $100 gift to Catholic Charities of Boston, one of the major providers of social services in the archdiocese.

The two individuals are long-time friends, former classmates, and are both Capuchin friars. They also threw Boston lobsters and Philadelphia cheesesteaks onto their bets for good measure.

Read the rest here.

W.H. Auden on Catholicism and Protestantism

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W.H. Auden

Here is another Protestant Reformation post.  This one is stolen from Alan Jacobs’s blog Snakes and Ladders.  What follows is a quote Jacobs posted today from Auden‘s review of Erik Erickson’s Young Man Luther:

The Christian doctrine which Protestantism emphasizes is that every human being, irrespective of family, class, or occupation, is unique before God; the complementary and equally Christian doctrine emphasized by Catholicism is that we are all members, one with another, both in the Earthly and the Heavenly City.

Or one might say that, in conjugating the present tense of the verb to be, Catholicism concentrates on the plural, Protestantism on the singular. But authentic human existence demands that equal meaning and value be given to both singular and plural, all three persons, and all three genders. Thus, Protestantism is correct in affirming that the We are of society expresses a false identity unless each of its members can say I am; Catholicism correct in affirming that the individual who will not or cannot join with others in saying We does not know the meaning of I.

Stanley Hauerwas on the Protestant Reformation

Stanley Hauerwas is in Your FaceAccording to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, the Protestant Reformation is over and the Protestants won.  But the victory has also put Protestants in a state of crisis.  What is a theologian to do?

Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Washington Post:

…Over time, historians have helped us see that there was no one thing the Reformation was about, but that if there was a single characteristic at its heart, it was the recovery of the centrality of Christ for making sense of why Christians are not at home in this world. That emphasis turned out to be the overriding insight that shaped the work of Vatican II, meaning Catholics have overcome the major thrust of the Reformation.

That the Reformation has been a success, however, has put Protestantism in a crisis. Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? It seems not: Instead, Protestantism has become an end in itself, even though it’s hard to explain from a Protestant point of view why it should exist. The result is denominationalism in which each Protestant church tries to be just different enough from other Protestant churches to attract an increasingly diminishing market share. It’s a dismaying circumstance.

But I am still a Protestant, even though I’m not sure I know what I am saying when I say I am a Protestant. I can think of my life only as a living ecumenical movement — I was raised Methodist, taught Lutherans (Augustana College), was overwhelmed by the Catholic world, was deeply influenced by the Mennonites and finally returned to the Methodists at Duke. All of which, of course, means I have ended up worshiping at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, N.C. That I am a theologian more defined by where I went to graduate school than by any ecclesial tradition mirrors changes in the Protestant world — in particular, that the gulfs between the denominations seem only to feel smaller and smaller. And so does the gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Read the entire piece here.  Hauerwas also wonders why so many of his students have converted to Catholicism.

Michael Gerson on Dianne Feinstein’s “ignorance of religion itself”

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Washington Post commentator Michael Gerson has joined the list of Dianne Feinstein critics.  In case you are not up to speed, Feinstein appears to have shown anti-Catholic bias in her recent questioning of federal court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  She may have also violated Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

We have posted on this case here and here and here and here.

Gerson writes:

Where to start? How about with the fact that Feinstein’s line of questioning was itself a violation of the Constitution? Here is constitutional scholar and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber: “By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause.”

How about Feinstein’s indifference to the sordid history of anti-Catholic bias? “Feinstein leapt past 20th-century suspicions of Catholic allegiances,” legal scholar John Inazu told me, “to 19th-century bigotry toward Catholic identity: Who you are as a Catholic is ‘of concern.’ ”

How about Feinstein’s ignorance of religion itself? In defending her animus, she called particular attention to Barrett’s statement that Christians should be “building the kingdom of God.” That would be the kingdom that Jesus insisted is “not of this world,” much to the confusion of 1st-century politicians. It is a description of transformed hearts, not a prescription for theocracy.

Read the entire piece here.

“America” Magazine on Anti-Catholicism and the Treatment of Amy Coney Barrett

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Over at America, Bill McCormack, a Jesuit and political philosopher at Saint Louis University, is the latest to speak out against what he believes to be the inappropriate line of questioning that Amy Coney Barrett received during her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Unlike other critiques, McCormack also criticizes the anti-Catholic rhetoric of former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon.  It is worth noting that McCormack’s critique of both Bannon and the Democrats are less constitutional and more religious in nature.

Here is a taste of the section on the Senate hearings:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the Democratic senator’s taste:

Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.

This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case, arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.

As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and himself Catholic, asked Ms. Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?

Again, you can argue that these senators’ views do not represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic Party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. That is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ and want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happens When You Are Catholic And Your Research Uncovers Unflattering Things About a Person Up For Sainthood?

Hecker3Head over to Religion in American History blog to read “Historiographic Saints,” William Cossen‘s excellent piece on balancing his Catholic faith with his work as a Catholic historian.  Cossen’s research has turned-up what he describes as “unflattering information” about Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers and a significant figure among American Catholics in the early 19th century.  Hecker has been up for sainthood since 2008.

Here is a taste:

It is obviously not uncommon for historians of Catholicism to write about men and women who have been recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.  This may be somewhat rarer in scholarship on U.S. Catholicism, which reflects the fewer canonized saints from the United States than from other countries with longer histories of an extensive Catholic presence.  There are, however, several fine examples of recent historical scholarship that include canonized (or soon-to-be canonized) Catholics as central figures in their narratives.

Why this has been on my mind is that my research on Hecker could have the potential to turn up what may be, at least to present-day observers, unflattering information on this Servant of God (an initial step in the process of canonization).   While Hecker’s life has been examined as part of the history of transcendentalism, the religious conversion experience, and the Americanist controversy within late nineteenth-century Catholicism, my research on Hecker explores how his writings and their intellectual legacy intersected with ideologies of race and growing American imperialism during the same period.  Remaining mindful of the multiple audiences of a scholar of Catholicism, I want to employ a rigorous methodology befitting an academic historian.  I also want to provide a more detailed picture of Hecker that is neither hagiographical nor exaggeratedly critical, recognizing that the institutional church and Hecker’s canonization promoters may be undertaking the simultaneous process of writing their own histories of Hecker.  Following Pope John Paul II’s reform of the canonization process in 1983, religion journalist Kenneth L. Woodward writes, the Catholic Church’s saint-makers began “employ[ing] the academic model of researching and writing a doctoral dissertation.  Hereafter, causes would be accepted or rejected according to the standards of critical historiography.”   In contemporary saint-making, individuals involved with the formal canonization process as well as academic historians operating outside the church’s institutional structures are all involved in creating saintly historiographies that may or may not exist at odds with one another.

Read the entire piece here.

Cossen addresses an issue that many historians of faith will encounter in their careers. He handles it in a thoughtful way.

St. Augustine and the Conversion of a Progressive Journalist

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Elizabeth Bruenig converted to Catholicism in 2014.  Her decision to unite with the church of Rome came through her reading of St. Augustine.  She describes her spiritual journey in a recent piece at America magazine.

Here is a taste:

Part of the reason I found Catholicism’s challenge to modernity so compelling was that it critiques aspects of our world that mostly go unquestioned, even by those who have disputes with liberalism in sexuality, marriage and so on. For me, the case in point was property ownership, the underlying question beneath all our current debates about poverty and wealth.

Early Christian writers, Augustine among them, thought deeply about the nature of creation. God made our material world, of course, but what for? Knowing what the bounty of the earth was meant to achieve would help them figure out how to use it rightly, that is, in accordance with God’s will for it and for us. In the view of the early church (and indeed,in the view of the church today), the world had been made and given to all people to hold in common to support their flourishing. “God made the rich and poor from the one clay,” Augustine wrote, “and the one earth supports the poor and the rich.”

Property entered the equation with sin. Since people could no longer be trusted to honor the original purpose and use of creation, governing authorities were able to maintain order by dividing it up. But the church remained sensitive to the pre-property purpose of creation, and with its own authority (throughout the Middle Ages, for instance, ecclesiastical courts heard many cases regarding property and contracts) and power to persuade states and subjects, it urged vigilance against the tendency of the wealthy to amass more than their due, to the detriment of the poor. Individual actors departed from the counsel of the church, of course, but never succeeded in altering its doctrine to advance their own purposes.

But that changed after the Protestant Reformation. 

Read the rest here, including Bruenig’s comparison of her conversion to those of conservative intellectuals R.R. Reno and Ross Douthat.

 

 

Is Catholicism a “Two-Party System?”

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One of my favorite religion writers, Mark Silk, thinks so.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion News Service:

Although Crux’s John Allen likes to pretend otherwise, Roman Catholicism is now clearly divided between the Party of Francis and the Party of Benedict. Not since the days of the Jesuits and the Jansenists has the Catholic elite — clerical and lay intellectual — been at daggers drawn as it is now.

Yesterday, the New York Times nicely encapsulated the partisan divide in profiling the two big Irish-American archbishops facing each other across the Hudson — Timothy Dolan of New York and Joseph Tobin of Newark. Can anyone doubt that by making one of the country’s most progressive bishops a cardinal and sending him into its dominant media market Francis wasn’t sending a shot across the bow of Benedictine conservatism?

On the other side, Pope Emeritus Benedict delivered a shot of his own Saturday in the form of a eulogy for the cardinal archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meissner, who retired in 2014.

“We know that it was hard for him, the passionate shepherd and pastor of souls, to leave his office, and this precisely at a time when the Church had a pressing need for shepherds who would oppose the dictatorship of the zeitgeist, fully resolved to act and think from a faith standpoint,” Benedict wrote. “Yet I have been all the more impressed that in this last period of his life he learned to let go, and live increasingly from the conviction that the Lord does not leave his Church, even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck.”

Read the rest here.

Catholics and Patriotic Worship

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Apparently it is not just evangelicals who have a problem with patriotic worship services.  This weekend a priest was quite surprised when a patriotic song was played during the communion mediation at mass.

Here is a taste of Father James Martin’s America magazine piece “Should we sing patriotic songs at Mass?  Probably not”:

Yesterday I heard an excellent homily at Mass. The Gospel reading (Mt 10:37-42) had Jesus telling his followers, with the uncompromising language he often used, that nothing comes before God. God comes first, and everything else is secondary—even the love for a mother and a father. In a line that undoubtedly shocked listeners in first-century Palestine and still has the power to shock, he said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

As the homilist told the congregation this Sunday, everything must be subordinated to God. Agreed.

That is why it was so jarring to hear the Communion meditation just a few minutes later. It was a song, which I had not heard before, in which the singer pledged her heart to America. Not to Jesus but to the United States of America.

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. It was the Sunday before the Fourth of July, and I have come to expect patriotic songs in Catholic churches in the United States, around that time of year, as well as around Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

But it was hard not to think: Isn’t this the opposite of what Jesus said in the Gospel? Surely we should all be good Americans and love and honor our country. But especially during the Mass, shouldn’t our hearts be pledged to something, or someone else?

Read the rest here.

“That’s why I chose you”

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Check out John Allen‘s interview with Father Juan Julian Carron, leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation.  Carron offers some important reflections on how Christians need to live in this world.  I hope the court evangelicals are reading.

Here is a taste:

Allen: Rod Dreher recently argued that Christians should abandon the culture wars in the West because we’ve already lost, and the most we can hope for is a ‘Benedict option,’ meaning creatively preserving small islands of the faith amid a decaying and hostile culture. You too seem to be saying that we should get past the culture wars, without abandoning those positions, but for a different reason.

Carron: Certainly, absolutely. It’s always struck me, the contraposition between trying to make Christianity into a civil religion, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to make it entirely private. To me, it’s like trying to amend the design of God. I ask myself, who would ever have bet that God would begin to reach out to the world by calling Abraham? It was the most unlikely, most confusing, way of going about it anyone could have imagined.

The choice can’t come down to either the culture wars or a Christianity emptied of content, because neither of those options has anything to do with Abraham and salvation history. Abraham was chosen by God to begin introducing into history a new way of living life, that could slowly begin to generate an external reality with the capacity to make like dignified, to make it full.

I imagine that if Abraham were around today, in our minority situation, and he went to God and said, ‘Nobody’s paying any attention to me,’ what would God have said? We know very well what he’d say: ‘That’s why I chose you, to begin posing to reality a presence significant enough, even if no one believes it, that I will make of you a people so numerous that your descendants will be like the stars in the sky.’

When he sent his son into the world, stripped of his divine power to become man, he did the same thing. It’s like St. Paul said, he came to give us the capacity to live life in a new way. That’s what generates a culture. The question for us is whether the situation we’re in today gives us the chance to recover the origins of the design of God.

Allen: You seem fairly optimistic that’s still possible.

Carron: Yes, absolutely. I’m completely optimistic, because of the nature of the faith itself. I’m an optimist based on the nature of the Christian experience. It doesn’t depend on my reading of things, my diagnosis of the sociological situation. The problem is that to be able to start over again from this absolutely original point of departure, we have to go back to the roots of the faith itself, in what Jesus said and did.

If there’s a case for pessimism, it’s that too many times we’ve reduced Christianity either to a series of values, an ethics, or simply a philosophical discourse. That’s not attractive, it doesn’t have the power to seduce anyone. People don’t feel the attractive force of Christianity. But precisely because the situation we’re living in today is so dramatic, from every point of view, paradoxically it’s easier to get across the novelty of Christianity.

Read the entire interview here.

Trump Will Abandon His Pro-Life Position If He Pulls Out Of The Paris Climate Agreement

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Delegates of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference

Nathan Schneider writes for America and is a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado.  His piece “Trump’s war on the environment is a war on the young and the unborn” is on the mark.

Here is a taste:

I just put my 1-year-old to sleep. He went down easily. He doesn’t know it yet, and won’t understand it for years I suppose, but minutes before he fell asleep, White House sources revealed that President Trump intends to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. The man who will probably be my son’s first image of what a leader looks like has chosen a short-sighted, confused, greedy version of the present, or of past greatness, over the future of the planet that my son and his friends, and their children, will inherit.

There’s no sense anymore in bothering to cite the scientists’ numbers or to reproduce charts or to quote from “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical that Mr. Trump received from its author’s hands just a week ago. The debate is over, and it has long since ceased to be a real debate. Even the former ExxonMobil chief executive officer who is Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, became the last, best hope that the president would opt to stick with the climate deal. Paris was never enough, but it was the one step that virtually every country on Earth could agree to start with. It stood for a rare, almost impossible hope that global consensus might be possible for a species otherwise embracing its own suicidal fragmentation.

“Suicide,” actually, isn’t the right word. My son isn’t choosing the planet he will be getting. The unborn children to come certainly aren’t. Nor are the vast majority of living, grown human beings. Mr. Trump’s fleshy shell will be rot and decomposure by the time the climate truly turns to chaos. This is war—the war of one generation on those that follow it, and we are led reluctantly into battle against our descendants by a despot determined to ignore the outcry of his scientists, his citizens and even his most oil-stained advisers. We need to call it what it is.

I don’t relish the prospect of war. I am one of those Catholics with serious reservations about our church’s “just war” teaching—about whether a war can ever be just. Our God is a Prince of Peace who bears no arms. But we need not affirm the justice of a war to recognize that it is happening. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an act of war more stringently, I think, than many who claim the banner of just war theory admit. It says, “The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.” That’s a high bar, but Mr. Trump is roaring far above it. This is what we are up against. This is it.

When such damage is underway, we cannot stand by or claim refuge in our complaints as we grudgingly take part. “Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions,” the catechism continues. “One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.”

The command has gone out now: We are to proceed with the destruction of the planet, in the name of some imagined greatness of the past, to preserve the privileges of the most privileged country on Earth. We are to refuse coordination, cooperation, restraint and consensus. We are to deny our children, born and unborn, the planetary gift we received, from our parents and from our God. We cannot.

Read the rest here.