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December 31, 2013 at 4:09 pm

After almost a year, I’ve been back hard at work on the novel I started during NaNoWriMo 2012.

With a working title of “Halcyon” (subject to change as the story unfolds and I get hold of a better focal point) it’s about a young girl, Jade Vardis, living in Automated City 099, known by its residents as “Halcyon”, so named after the Halcyon Corporation which built and ostensibly manages the entire enterprise. Her life with her parents, both of whom worked as prominent Halcyon scientists, came to a tragic end when her mother was accused of murdering her father after he discovered her efforts to aid the resistance movement. Jade, whose father’s work was creating interfaces between the biological and the mechanical, was used as a guinea pig for some of his more secretive experiments, leaving her with a number of undocumented cybernetic enhancements. With her mother in an institution for the criminally insane and her father gone, Jade has no one to turn to when she begins manifesting strange and powerful abilities that give her access to and control over the ever present technological systems that surround her. Realizing that she may possess the weapon that the oppressed people of Halcyon have needed for so long, Jade starts pushing back, and in the process makes a terrifying discovery about the only home she has ever known.

Or something like that. It is, as they say, a work in progress.

In any event, one of the more interesting facets of Halcyon’s super-efficient technoculture is that almost everything governing the operations and management of the city is robotic. As part of the automated cities project (initiated after central governance and economic planning in the US broke down and more and more major population centers were going bankrupt), AC099 has been existing in isolation through self-sustaining means for nearly a century. And the machines are running the show.

Satsuriku Hajime is a loyal servant of Halcyon. He pre-dates the city’s origin through significant cybernetic enhancements of his own, and is one of the few who remembers “the time before.” He is known by the people of Halcyon as “the Puppetmaster,” because he is a creator of machine/flesh hybrids that serve as some of the shock troops of HalcyOps, the city security and enforcement division.  Most significantly, he is the creator of the Karakuri Corps, an elite group of operatives who exist as mechanically-animated corpses of deceased human beings. They have the grace and fluidity of movement of biological lifeforms, but the endurance, obedience, and hive-mind of machines. Predominately used as assassins and espionage agents, the people of Halcyon refer to Karakuri operatives as “spooks.”

From the unfinished draft of Halcyon:

The citizens, especially those of the lower castes, had taken to calling his Karakuri warriors “spooks”, but he found this term exceedingly vulgar. His creations may have seemed unnerving to their childlike minds, but he had transformed them into the pinnacle of biotechnological perfection. It was true that they had been, at one time, merely human. But now, they had transcended. They had been sublimated into something other. Their once-living flesh – an ecosystem of muscle, tendon, and bone that produced the biological elegance and dexterity that purely robotic systems lacked – had been liberated from the encumbrance of what the simple referred to as a “soul”. Now, they were animated by higher means: lithium-ion chemistry, organic circuitry, nano-fiber, microprocessor-driven servos. The oxygen needed to keep blood flowing and tissue from decaying was pumped mechanically through subcutaneous tubes, making the Karakuri unnaturally motionless when locomotion was not required. They were like living statues; animatronic golems swathed in pristine, anti-ballistic compression suits. Their contorted, lifeless faces served an excellent foundation for grafting necessary equipment onto bone. Still, the aesthetic of these death masks was unnerving to most, so he had hidden them behind faceplates of dark, reflective polymer, adorned as necessary with instruments enhancing their ability to sense and communicate with the hive. These perfect instruments of his will were so much more than they had ever been before he had re-created them. Before he had hollowed them out and breathed into them the machine spirit. Their organic imperfections were shrouded, now, replaced with an intricate facade of artifice that made them breathtaking to behold.

Hajime is one seriously messed-up individual. He is, for all intents and purposes, a necromancer. But instead of magic, he uses science to raise the dead and put them to his bidding. Today, while I was laying on the couch having yet another flu-addled morning with the kiddos, I sketched out a spook on my iPad, then cleaned it up and added some more detail on the computer:


The idea here is that Jade is getting a look at one of these techno-zombies from a safe distance using her built-in VDS (visual display system.) I like the idea of these guys being faceless. Something about that makes them scarier.

Then again, you haven’t met Inari yet. I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but she’s sort of a super-spook who has several Noh masks that she wears, depending on the situation. Suffice it to say, a killing machine with a beautiful ceramic happy face with blood red lips is…creepy.

Anyway, the word Karakuri  comes from the Japanese word for “mechanism” (also sometimes “trick”) and is used in the phrase Karakuri ningyo, which are mechanized puppets that have been used in Japan for centuries. Like this:

Very cool, and a little bit unnerving. I’m not a Japanese scholar by any stretch, but I find their culture fascinating, and it allows me to add an exotic quality (plus: KATANAS!) to my story.  Not to mention, high-tech cyberpunk without Japanese influence is a disservice to the genre.

I am really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book. I’m targeting March for completion, but we’ll see how things go.

Christmas: Impossible

December 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

Not coming any time soon to a theater near you. The kids and I decided to throw this together one not particularly wintry December afternoon…


December 24, 2013 at 9:26 am


Alex: Being sick is kinda cool. When you touch things, you get to have them.

Me: (laughing) Oh really?

Alex: Yeah. It’s kinda like having a super power. Except, you don’t have to fight bad guys!


Sometimes, It’s The Little Miracles That Matter Most (Or: A Plug For Saint Anthony)

December 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I have struggles with faith. I don’t exactly make a secret of it, but I don’t talk about it ad nauseam either. Who wants to hear that? But something worth noting about struggling with faith is how every little bone that gets thrown your way makes a difference. And sometimes, it’s the little things — the little miracles especially — that matter most.

Take, for example, my relationship with St. Anthony. Now, I say “relationship” because that’s really how it works. Everyone who believes in the Communion of Saints has different relationships with different saints just like we do with different people in our lives. I have no idea why. For example, as a dad and in general a guy trying to do the whole purity thing even before that, I’ve long had a devotion to St. Joseph. Still do. And yet, I get the feeling that he just. doesn’t. care. My novenas and prayers to him never seem to get answered. We’ve settled on a sort of detente, but I don’t know what his beef with me is. St. Jude, on the other hand, has been fantastic. When we were SOL and about to run out of food and shelter, he came through in a big way. I named the boy my wife was pregnant with at the time after him as a big “Thank You.”

And then, there’s St. Anthony. The guy is just…amazing. I don’t understand how he works. And I’ve honestly never looked up his origin story (you know, about how he got his super power that allows him to help you find things you’ve lost) and I’m fine with that. I don’t care if there’s some Kryptonian voodoo involved or if one time he found some fish for St. Francis or what have you. It works.

Speaking of that…


I went looking for a picture of St. Anthony that I actually liked (most of them involved him looking fairly girlish, holding a paschal lamb.) Then I found this one ^. So of course, I had to imagine the dialogue in the scene:

St. Anthony: “This guy may have the stigmata, but seriously, he’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached. Or, to use a more poignant example, these fish he got LAST WEEK.”

St. Francis: “Sorry about the smell, guys. And I didn’t lose them. I *misplaced* them. “

St. Anthony: “Whatever. And don’t say thanks to me for finding them or anything. And I have no idea how I’m going to get this stink off my hands. Antibacterial soap won’t be invented for centuries…”

OK, enough with the digression. In any event, St. Anthony is THE. MAN. He pretty much single-handedly sustains my belief that miracles exist.

I remember one time, way back in my freshman year of High School, I lost my science lab book. Now, in New York State at the time, you had to have a certain number of completed lab assignments for any Regents course (I am going from memory here, don’t fact-check me on any of this) and somehow I had lost the damn thing. It was winter time, if I recall correctly, and that means I had a LOT of lab work already in there that was my documentation for the class. I looked and looked for about a week, and finally when I couldn’t find it I put in a call to St. Anthony. The same day, I was literally sitting in my stupid, godawful Earth Science class — the most boring class in the history of ever, BTdubs — and there’s a knock at the door. It’s a school janitor.

Let’s stop right there. When has a school janitor EVER knocked on a classroom door while class was in session and nobody has emitted explosive vomit mid-way through their lesson in Iambic Pentameter? I mean, search your memory. Has this EVER happened in your life?

So anyway, this janitor knocks, and he comes in and says, “Excuse me, but I found this notebook in the hall and I was wondering if it belonged to someone in this class.” I pounced on that thing like it was the golden fleece, feeling the relief of all the work I wasn’t going to have to do-over flooding my brain with endorphins. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I kissed the man full on the mouth. But I had my binder back, and all I could think was, “YOU FOUND IT ON THE FLOOR IN THE HALL AFTER A FREAKING *WEEK*, YOU MACHIAVELLIAN CLEANING MAN?!?! YOU WOULD SWEEP UP HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS IF THEY GOT IN THE PATH OF YOUR MIGHTY DUSTMOP!! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!?!”

That’s one of the more notable examples. But even just this past week there have been a couple more little ones. And these are the kind that really get me. You may know what I mean.

The times when he literally puts the thought of where to look for something in your freaking head. 

No lie. I was looking for the tea strainer the other day so I could rock a cup of Earl Gray, hot. Could. Not. Find. It. Anywhere. Checked the dishwasher, the drawers, the usual nooks and crannies. Zip. Zilch. Nada. So, a quick prayer to San Antoine, and suddenly it’s like the little binging sound that goes off in the airplane cabin when it’s safe to unbuckle and head for the restroom:


And sure enough, there it was.

Another time, I was in the living room looking for the flipping remote control, which is ALWAYS missing. I’m lifting couches like the Tick on vacuuming day, and no joy. So, a quick St. Anthony prayer — nothing fancy, mind you, just my patented 3 Hail Marys and a specific request — and literally, here comes the…


I walk in there, and lo and behold! Right there on the kitchen island for some unfathomable reason.

Something similar happened again last night. Same remote (I know, I need an RFID tracker on it) and we looked EVERYWHERE. The living room looked like people’s apartments always do in the movies when they come back from the grocery store and the whole place has been ransacked.

Only this time, no bing. Nothing. I had no idea where the thing was. So I finally gave up, with that resigned sense I get when he doesn’t help out that tells me, “Well, this is probably happening for some inane yet eternal reason I will never grasp or begin to fathom. Maybe it’s just so I’ll keep praying these Hail Marys.” And I let it go, with the near certainty that this morning I would find it.

So of course, this morning I walk into the room, look under the same couch I looked under 10-to-the-umpteenth-power times last night, and it’s right there in front where any of us would have seen it.


Like I said. I have no idea how this works.

But it’s very cool. And it’s a reminder to me that miracles do happen, however small.

I know that those of you who are skeptics do not find this to be empirically convincing. And I’m sure it isn’t. But it’s subjectively impressive, and that’s enough for me. You have no idea how many times this happens. And I am an ADD poster child (you probably couldn’t tell by this post, amiright?) so I lose things…all the time.

I was trying to think of some pithy conclusion to this post, but that’s really all I have to say. I’m done now. Just remember, when you lose something, ask St. Anthony. Make sure you pray your 3 Hail Mary’s though. I don’t know if he donates them to the poor souls in Purgatory or what, but I never have as much luck finding things unless I say them. Often, I find them before I even finish the first prayer, but I finish the set out of gratitude. Because, you know, that requires a huge effort on my part. So that’s how I roll.

The end.

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation — October 3rd, 1789

November 28, 2013 at 9:34 am



Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington


“Peter Has No Need Of Our Lies Or Flattery”

November 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations” – Fr. Melchior Cano O.P., Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent.

Intuition, Infighting, and Our Divided House

November 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm

As much as I’d like to move on from this topic, another followup is in order. Since a certain Catholic celebrity (I know the term seems like an oxymoron, but I can’t seem to find a better one) has now gotten hold of my comments and, as per his usual tactic, attempted to turn them into an easily lampooned caricature while avoiding any substantive rebuttal, I’d like to address a few things.

First, I’m not upset because the pope is “reaching out to people who aren’t me.” Really, Mr. Shea? That’s the conclusion you reached? I’m sure my wife, who came into the Church following a rather concerted effort on my part, would disagree with your assessment of my feelings toward “people who aren’t me.”  So would pretty much every secular, anti-Catholic, or atheist coworker I’ve ever had, or the students I’ve taught in CCD or in Catholic school, or the people whose doors I’ve knocked on to talk to them about Catholicism, or the countless people I’ve reached in 20 years of writing about the faith online.

With the exceptions of those times when I was struggling with it myself, I have never shied away from discussing my faith with the people around me. I’ve fought to bring Catholicism to the people I encounter for so long it sometimes feels like I’ve never done much of anything else. I am really tired of hearing the accusation that the reason I don’t like what the pope is saying is because I’m either some sort of Donatist who doesn’t believe that people should be forgiven and come home, or because I’m opposed to outreach to non-Christians and sinners somehow. Give me a break.

Do I believe that Pope Francis has a certain level of disdain for Catholics of a traditional persuasion? Yes. Do I believe he will abandon Pope Benedict’s much needed reforms of the liturgy? Absolutely. And these are both issues that weigh on me. But my concerns with him go beyond that. Intentionally or not, he is leading the world to believe that the Church now thinks:

a) Conversion to Catholicism — even for atheists — is not important for salvation

b) The Church’s decades long and singular crusade to bring about a culture of life has devolved into an obsession detached from from the message of salvation and God’s love and should no longer be a priority

c) That the issues of poverty, unemployment, underemployment, just wages, and other social justice issues are the greatest challenges the Church must meet today, when in actuality the top priorities clearly include (but are not limited to): the ongoing abortion holocaust, the rapid increase in human trafficking, the use of contraceptives among Catholics, the battle for traditional morality, the support by the majority of Catholic voters for political candidates who campaign to increase access to intrinsic evils, the decimated belief in fundamental Catholic doctrines like the Real Presence, the ongoing vocational crisis, etc.

And since they all think WE all believe everything he does is infallible, they don’t get that he isn’t making these changes, and couldn’t even if he wanted to. The net effect is the same though: in the minds of many, these changes are already underway.

There’s more, but I would say that’s a good start to what my objections are.


Second, on the question of my stated intuition about Pope Francis.

I know it’s a weak argument, and maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the feeling I had when I first saw Pope Francis step out to be announced, but it was incredibly strong, so I offered it simply for the consideration of those reading it.

I can’t say I had any expectations for this pope. I had honestly never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio before that moment. I had been telling friends that it seemed likely to me that Pope Benedict would only abdicate with good reason. It was possible that whoever came next would carry on what he started. Was I skeptical? Certainly. The Church hasn’t exactly been blessed recently with an abundance of impressive bishops from which to choose St. Peter’s next successor, but anything can happen. So the strength with which I felt that ominous feeling I have previously described was startling.

This feeling is the easiest part of my assessment of the pope to dismiss, and that’s fine. I really don’t expect anyone to take it as anything but my own deeply subjective opinion. And far from declaring that I “could just tell from his cold dead eyes that he is “dangerously close” to heresy within seconds of his appearance” — something I never said — I did have a sense of foreboding. (My comments about borderline heresy had only to do with statements he was making, just for the record.)

Have you ever tried to explain intuition to someone? It’s difficult to do. The minute you say, “I just have this feeling,” or “I have a hunch that…” people have a tendency to tune out.

And yet, in my personal experience, intuition is absolutely invaluable. When I’ve ignored it, I have regretted doing so more often than not. When I’ve listened to it, it’s been proven right time and again. I don’t have a strong intuition about every situation or every person, but when I do have one, the accuracy rate has always been very high.

What surprised me is that others have confirmed that they, too, had this feeling.  My mention of it was sort of a throwaway aspect of my original post. I fully expected to be alone in my feelings, and almost didn’t include them for the obvious reason that they carry no weight at all except in my own mind. But the feeling had been so strong, I took the risk. In response, I got emails containing sentiments like these:

  • “I felt the same feelings when I saw him. His smile is sickly sweet to me and makes my stomach tense.
  • “Your initial thoughts of when you first saw him on the loggia is the way I felt too. I am being very cautious. However, I am doing my best to love him as a brother in Christ. “
  • “I read the link, “New Pope Chosen” on my computer earlier this year. I immediately jumped up to watch the event unfold on my TV upstairs. En route to the TV, I stopped at the sink in my kitchen, where the Sacred Heart of Jesus was enthroned. I immediately heard the message broadcast to my soul, “This is a bad decision.” When I saw him, I felt just like you.”
  • “I too had a similar feeling when Francis stepped out on the balcony for the first time. It is disturbing but I like many continue to look for satan’s influence on my thinking in regards to Francis.”
  • “When Pope Francis came out on the loggia, my stomach did somersaults, I wanted to vomit — for hours. I had a sense of foreboding.”

Each of these emails was from a different person. Each was a person I have never interacted with before. You can see in these sentiments that those who felt this way did so unwillingly. No faithful Catholic wants to dislike the pope.

Yes, this is only five emails, and yes, it remains firmly in the realm of anecdote. But I cannot imagine it to be a common thing to have such a feeling about a man who has just been elected pope and about whom nothing is known. This should be a moment of hope for faithful Catholics, not a disturbing one.


Which brings me to the third thing. I did not address these concerns publicly in an attempt to be slanderous, dissident, or schismatic. My criticisms of the pope — other than those rooted in my subjective intuition, which formed the smallest part of my argument — are all based on the ways in which Pope Francis is creating a perception of departure from traditional Church teaching and making statements that can be (and ARE being) easily co-opted by the enemies of the Church.

This tends to make life harder for only one group of people: orthodox Catholics who have been living faithfully and slogging it out to give witness to the faith and support and build the culture of life. I know this not only because I fall in that camp, but because I have been contacted privately by a number of those who are deeply concerned. Many feel that they cannot be as vocal as I have been, either because they work for the Church directly or for one of its many affiliated institutions.

I am fully aware of my own propensity for error. I know that it’s possible that my criticisms may be off base. But the pre-emptive cult of papolatry that sprung up around this pope (no less hastily than my own negative intuition, I might add) has an “either you’re with us or against us” flavor, and when they close ranks, they form a very sharp and pointy perimeter. This should come as no surprise, I suppose, after the personality cults surrounding the previous two popes, manifested in a particularly concerning way in the “santo subito” movement around John Paul II, who as yet never did earn the title “the Great,” but I digress. I submit that loving the pope to the point of near fanatical devotion as a default position and before you really know what he’s about doesn’t strike me as the hallmark of prudent, discerning people.

Now, the extreme pope-o-philes and the concerned folks seem to all come from the same general subset of orthodox, rosary-praying, Mass-going Catholics. The fighting that went on between traditional Catholics and “conservative” Catholics is now happening in those same camps PLUS a whole bunch of new conservative-on-conservative brawling. It’s ugly, and it’s sad.

In the comment boxes here over the last few days, one concern caught my attention. Dale Price wrote:

As to unity…well, that’s the problem. The most visible fruit of the pontificate that I have personally witnessed is exceptionally bitter: watching good and intelligent Catholics who genuinely love the Church savagely turn on each other. That has been painful, and has left me speechless.

This division is real, and it is causing huge rifts. Far from reasoned discussion, or the presumption that Catholics concerned with the effect the pope is having on the Church come by it out of honest love for the Church, they seem instead convinced that we act out of malice. I have avoided sparring with them almost entirely. I don’t see what good will come of it.

This is not something new, it is something old laid bare. Pope Benedict’s objections to the contrary, the “hermeneutic of rupture” is real. As I’ve written elsewhere,

There is a deep and fundamental fracture within the Roman rite of the Church. A fracture over priorities, over liturgy, over semantics, over translation, over religious liberty, over economics, over subsidiarity, over social justice, over immigration, etc. The list goes on and on and on. Catholics who agree on the foundational principles of the Church often agree on almost nothing else.

What is the mission of the Church in the 21st century? What is her stance toward the necessity of conversion to Catholicism for salvation? Which are the means that will be most effective in accomplishing her ends?

The reason there is so much rancor happening right now is because these divisions are old wounds, torn open each time a new emphasis emerges from the Vatican and one faction feels vindicated by it.

Division like this is not healthy, but those of us who are concerned aren’t simply going to drop those concerns, throw our blinders on, and join the party. I would hope our opponents would not expect such a thing. It’s not honest, and not respectable.

I don’t take lightly my decision to engage in this debate at the level that I have. I have prayed that I would only do God’s will by discussing these things, and I prayed especially for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before speaking to the media. I wish to do no disservice to the papacy, the Church, or the faithful. But my concerns are real, they are deep, and the attempt to quiet all dissenting views about this papacy is something I find deeply troubling.

To be treated as though I am malicious because I have raised objections of this nature is something I have come to expect. Sadly, I expect it most from those who have made their names and their livings by being known for, writing about, and speaking about all things Catholic.

To say that I am “assisting the enemies of the faith at the NY Times to drive a wedge between the Church and the pope” is not entirely dissimilar to my assessment that the pope is assisting the enemies of the faith everywhere by giving them opportunities to co-opt his words and use them against us. The difference is this: I’m an occasional Catholic blogger with a minimal sphere of influence. The pope is the titular head of the largest Christian denomination in the world, the leader of one of the oldest and most respected religious bodies on earth, and possesses inherently a claim to infallibility that I will NEVER have.

My brief comments to a couple of news outlets in the hopes of provoking discussion are insignificant in comparison. These Catholics malign me, but they will find every excuse to give the pope cover.

I’ve been through this before, when I realized through my involvement with the Legionaries of Christ that something was deeply wrong with the marching orders coming from Fr. Maciel. I was attacked then too. I was accused of not being generous, authentic, faithful, committed, etc. They tried to turn my friends against me. I was made a pariah, and members of that movement were urged not to even talk to me. Even those closest to me within the movement, who were sympathetic to what I was saying, thought I was exaggerating the case. But it was clear to me: there was something very unsettling at work within the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, and otherwise good people were being used by it.

We all know how that one turned out.

I cannot and would not presume to judge the heart of Pope Francis. I only know that I see the symptoms of something emerging that is not in line with tradition, or with the mission of the papacy. Something that is enervating orthodox Catholicism and energizing those who have hated the Church to see in her an ally.

I don’t want to make a habit of pointing this out. I would like to talk about it a good deal less than I currently am. I have better, more positive things to do. But my nature is what it is, and when I see something that I think needs saying, I say it. I’m not going to sit down and shut up. I expect disagreement, but I would appreciate at least the pretense that I am sincere in what I am doing, and that my goal is the betterment of the Church, not its undoing.


Feeling Conflicted On the Occasion of Veterans Day

November 12, 2013 at 10:38 am


I have a lot of thoughts on the military on the occasion of this Veterans Day. The great respect I have for those who have and do serve, both among my family and friends and in the country at large. My grandfather, my great uncle, my godfather, my cousins, one of my closest friends and even some of my newest friends. I am grateful for what they have done, for the kind of human beings so many soldiers are, and the leaven they provide to our society. For the sacrifice, the sadness, the scars they bear that nobody can see.

But I also reflect on those who send our soldiers into battle. Our cynical government, teaching our military that the very people they are sworn to protect are, as often as not, the enemy. The politicians who choose to send young men and women who want nothing more than to serve their country with honor into war zones of questionable legality and moral justification, for inscrutable ends, and with insufficient means to accomplish unclear goals. The policymakers who keep military chaplains on furlough over petty politics, and who are even now (according to some military personnel I’ve spoken with) discussing the idea of dismantling the chaplain corps altogether. The commanders willing to toe the party line who are being swiftly promoted to replace those currently being purged from the ranks of our military after long careers of often distinguished service but suddenly under charges of misconduct. Even if that misconduct is truly nothing but the color of their skin or the mien of their political philosophy.

I doubt there’s a red-blooded American man who hasn’t, for at least some period of time, given consideration to joining our military. I certainly did, even though I ultimately chose another path. But in 2013, I can’t imagine sending my sons with a clear conscience to follow the orders of those in command of our armed forces, particularly our unscrupulous commander in chief.

Our soldiers deserve our gratitude and respect. But they also need our prayers that they will always have the courage to do what is right, and not only what they are ordered to do.

This Can of Worms

November 10, 2013 at 7:44 pm


When I sat down to write my thoughts about the trouble I was having with Pope Francis, I just couldn’t anticipate what would follow.

You see, this is a blog that very few people read. I have other outlets for more media-worthy stories that have larger audiences. But when I’m working something out and need to get it written down, I go here. I share it with family and friends, and I expect that — usually anyway — that’s about as much impact as it will make. It’s where the posts I can’t write anywhere else go to die. Well, usually.

So I wrote my little thing about the pope, and it struck a nerve. Tens of thousands of views later, I have now been interviewed by NBC News and The New York Times (the latter was also picked up by The Drudge Report) about my papal concerns. This is understandable, if a bit surprising for me. The understandable part is that articulate opposition always creates just the right touch of conflict in a story, and I can provide that to a certain extent, even though there are others far smarter, more noteworthy, and more articulate than I out there doing the same. The surprising part is that I’m really nobody worth bothering about, much as I would like sometimes to believe otherwise.

I am a not-very-accomplished sometimes writer who has happened to make a hobby out of studying theology over the last 20 years or so. I have enough knowledge to be dangerous but not enough to consider myself an accomplished Catholic apologist of any stripe, my college degree in Theology notwithstanding. 2,000 years of religious practice, tradition, thought, and belief is hardly something a young man can cram into four years of a second major. I can hold my own in an argument, but these days, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into depth on this stuff. It gets pretty heady, and the investment into research and response to a protracted debate over the particulars can drag on for days.

You see, I have a wife, and I would like to keep her. She was very patient with me in the early days of our marriage as I played Catholic Vigilante of Teh Internets, but as time went on and our family grew, my little pursuit became an obstacle to doing my main job: providing for the family we had built together and helping to educate and care for them and the home they live in. Now that we own a business as well, which always needs a thousand things done although there’s never enough opportunities to do them, I have to set priorities. This is why you’ll note the rather long periods of time between posts in this space.

So the choice I’m making is this: I cannot substantively engage in the sort of point-by-point debates I used to. This means that I am, I fear, selling those commenters who have taken the time to ask thoughtful questions short. These commenters, no matter how much fondness (or enmity) I towards whom I may feel are simply not as precious as my small children or as beautiful (or dangerous) as my lovely wife. They come first. But I will try, however briefly and inadequately, to set some things straight.


So, back to the subject at hand.

I’d like to address a few points that have been brought up:

  • I am coming at these issues from the perspective of a faithful Catholic who understands and obeys Church teaching. (I say perspective, because although I strive, like all sinners, I sometimes fall very short of this ideal.) I have absolutely no time or interest in entertaining arguments or trolling about how the Church hates gays or I hate gays (or women, or puppies, or poor Lithuanians, or whatever). I don’t hate class of people, and neither does the Church. But love — real love — means challenging people who are in sin. Whether that’s me because I’m out committing adultery or robbing banks or you because you’re living a homosexual lifestyle, the Church teaches that these things are sinful, and thus recommends that you stop doing these things if you want to get to heaven. That’s about as far as I’m going to take this one. Go find someone else to argue with about the Church hating gays.
  • I have been asked “who are you to judge the pope?” Who am I? Nobody, really. And I’m not judging him. I’m saying that the things he is saying on issues such as evangelization, liturgy, devotional practices, freedom of conscience, abortion, homosexuality, and contraception have formed an impression that is generally contrary to what the Church has traditionally taught. Since the pope can’t change Church teaching, that’s problematic.
  • I have been attempting to explain what the doctrine of papal infallibility covers, and what it doesn’t. It DOES NOT cover every word that the pope says, every opinion, every interview. Not by a long shot. In fact papal infallibility is an incredibly limited faculty and rarely used as compared to magisterial infallibility, which is much more common. To quote Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman on the topic:

“If the Pope prescribed lying or revenge, his command would simply go for nothing, as if he had not issued it, because he has no power over the Moral Law. If he forbade his flock to eat any but vegetable food, or to dress in a particular fashion (questions of decency and modesty not coming into the question), he would also be going beyond the province of faith, because such a rule does not relate to a matter in itself good or bad.


However, there are other conditions besides this, necessary for the exercise of Papal infallibility, in moral subjects:—for instance, his definition must relate to things necessary for salvation. No one would so speak of lotteries, nor of a particular dress, nor of a particular kind of food;—such precepts, then, did he make them, would be simply external to the range of his prerogative.”

  • One thing that seems to be lost in the current understanding of papal infallibility is that a pope can’t just up and do a 180 on Church doctrine. He doesn’t have the power to overturn any doctrinal or dogmatic teaching that came before him. He is a custodian of truth, not the creator of it. So I’m not claiming that he IS changing it. I’m claiming that he’s giving the IMPRESSION that he’s changing it, which can have a similar effect on the way people live if left uncorrected.
  • Finally: the Church is bigger than any single pope. That’s the takeaway I really want people to have. He’s just one guy with a limited amount of power to do the things he has on his agenda. This is something I don’t think I ever adequately understood in the past, but we all grow and evolve in our way of looking at things if we’re being honest and paying attention. So yes, while Catholics have traditionally pointed to the pope when he was the only one speaking the truth, we (many of us, anyway) fell under the impression that his words had more power and carried more weight than they really did. There are non-negotiables, and there are personal opinions of a particular pope. Being able to make the distinction between the two is essential to understanding any particular papacy.

The bottom line is that my issues and concerns all come from an understanding of what the Church *is* and how the nature of the institution is to be unchanging. When people start going around trying to change it, it becomes something else. Something other than Catholicism. And if that’s the case then why not just start a new religion or join a different one.

I have more thoughts, of course, but they’ll have to wait. I’m getting pretty tired of talking about this, so maybe they’ll wait for a long time. Being a critic of anything tends to draw negativity, and I don’t like getting mired in that for too long. It’s draining.

ALSO: Though it’s not how I like to do business, I will not have time to police the comment box — here or on the original post — though I will probably do a drive by here and there if necessary. Please be civil, or I will hit you with the magic death ray of banification.

UPDATE: I should have included links to two of the more outstanding Church documents that point to problems in this papacy. The first is Pascendi Dominici Gregis , by Pope St. Pius X. The first few sentences are true now more than ever, and the later warnings against modernism that will come through the guise of clergy and theologians are chilling. The opening statement:

One of the primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock is that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and the gainsaying of knowledge falsely so called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body, for owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking “men speaking perverse things,”1 “vain talkers and seducers,”2 “erring and driving into error.”3 It must, however, be confessed that these latter days have witnessed a notable increase in the number of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, who, by arts entirely new and full of deceit, are striving to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, as far as in them lies, utterly to subvert the very Kingdom of Christ.

That obligation of “guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of faith” is one I don’t see Pope Francis taking very seriously at all, at least in terms of the never-ending stream of misinterpretations of Catholic teaching or the direction of the Church that seem to follow in his wake.

The second document, and one which carries significant doctrinal weight, is Bl. Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors. A sometimes challenging read when you have to remember that the positive statements in the document are the very same that are being condemned, not supported, it nonetheless addresses issues such as the question of atheists and those of other faiths not needing to convert to attain heaven. Among the condemned propositions:

15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true. — Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation. — Encyclical “Qui pluribus,” Nov. 9, 1846.

17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ. — Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

18. Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church. — Encyclical “Noscitis,” Dec. 8, 1849.

Both of these documents offer much value to this discussion, but I’ll leave them to you to read on your own rather than expound upon them here.

Love Letters From the Left: Are People Being Attracted to Catholicism or an Illusion?

October 16, 2013 at 12:58 am


Surprisingly, since I wrote my little summary of my concerns about the things Pope Francis has been saying, most of the email I’ve been getting has been overwhelmingly positive. Even those who disagree with me have by and large done so respectfully.

But then, this afternoon, I got this:



Your Website

you are a nasty racist, anti gay sexists POS a hole for only supporting rich white men who NEVER EXPERIENCED OPPRESSION!!! SCREW YOU AND YOUR STINKEN BELIEF SYSTEM!!!

I can only assume that this is because I was critical of the pope who is changing all of that. I don’t really know.

NBC published the article I was interviewed for. In ominous tones, they described my post as “scathing” and made sure to quote me on only the most conspiratorial-sounding juicy tidbits they could from the 45-minute interview. You know, about the “whispers” of unhappy Catholics.

They also quoted the single most critical sentence I wrote in the entire post, devoid of any further context. Not the whole sentence, mind you. Just the part where I said that some Catholics are concerned that the pope had been “utterly reckless, theologically misleading, and borderline heretical.”

I can’t blame them for quoting it. That’s a good soundbyte. I won’t even say it mischaracterizes what I think, though I do think the fuller context of what I wrote puts a little more review behind that challenge flag.

But the whole piece seems like it should be read over a scratchy phonograph recording of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Something like this, only with lower audio quality:

Because obviously, only cranky-pants, sexually-repressed gay-hating bible-thumpers could dislike this “down-to-earth Argentine” pope.

And boy oh boy, do the comments on the NBC News Facebook post of the article bear that out.


Early on in the thread, commenter Steve Thompson writes, “Always a good sign when conservatives voice concern. Thats how we know we are going forward and making progress. When the backwards thinkers start complaining.” With 155 likes and 20 replies, this comment set the tone for the ensuing discussion.

“For conservatives, not being a hater is ‘revolutionary’ ” writes Connie Ballou.

Beth Kamphaus Knotts gushes, “For the first time, in a very long time, I feel like I belong in my own church.”

Tyler Delcambre confesses that “I just want to say i hate religion but i do like the way this man thinks.”

Judy L. Poole is excited. “I love Pope Francis” she exclaims, “he is very progressive and caring!!!”

Most of the comments — there are hundreds of them at this point — are along the same lines.

And doesn’t that really emphasize my point?

See, I have no problem with people loving the pope. As a Catholic, I think that’s fantastic. But I want them to love him for the right reasons. Bishop Fulton Sheen famously said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

I would argue that outside of those conservative Catholics who feel that it is their duty to be papists, there are not one hundred people in the United States who love Pope Francis, but there are millions who love what they perceive Pope Francis to be.

They love him because they think he is moving the Church to join their worldview, not because they are softening their hearts to accept the fullness of truth that is the Church. These are false pretenses. These are not people of good will wanting to join a Catholic Church full of “hard sayings”, but rather people who want a social justice Church that is moderate on abortion, welcoming of same-sex couples, and “practical” about artificial contraception.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’ve done Catholic evangelization, and bait-n-switch is not how you gain converts if you want to keep them.

So all this interest in Catholicism, while very cool, is likely to be short lived. It reminds me of the student body elections during my senior year of high school. The two candidates stood side-by-side, one professionally presenting the things she would do if elected and asking confidently for our votes. Her opponent took the podium somewhat nervously, responded with his own pledges, then raised his voice and said, “PLUS, I HAVE CANDY!!” at which point he reached into the pockets of his blazer and pulled out handfuls of sweets, tossing them into the crowd.

He won.

Now, as I’ve said, I don’t and can’t know what the pope is thinking, but I can know what his words and actions are telegraphing to the world, and it is no surprise that people are reaching these conclusions. He is giving them this impression and doing very little, if anything at all, to correct it. Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi already indicated that the holy father would have done so if he had misgivings about the way he has been presented in his interviews. So the fact that it is becoming increasingly well-known that the wrong sort of people are getting the wrong idea about where the Church is headed and nothing is being done about it is…troubling.

What drives me crazy are the people who just can’t get over trying to change the Catholic Church. SERIOUSLY? STOP IT. It’s the only institution in the world that has stuck to its guns on what it believes as the centuries have thrown every opposition imaginable at it. There have been changes in practice, but not in belief. And I’ll be honest: I don’t care for all of the changes that have been made, or the evade-by-nuance approach to certain teachings that throw cold water on modern approaches to ecumenism and the like, but I won’t tell you that the Church has flat out done a 180 on anything I’m aware of that was non-negotiable.

We are the ones who do not change. That is our hallmark. Our faith is timeless. It does not conform to the zeitgeist. It shapes the world and the cultures it comes into contact with. Let it be. If you want to go start a fancy Internet Church where upsampled Max Headroom simulations perform gay weddings while singing the praises of Margaret Sanger, knock yourself out. But leave my religion alone. Deconstructionism does not apply here.

I don’t want you to hate us, but I’m used to it. We are the eternal party poopers. We are the ones who say actions have consequences, suffering has redemptive value, and just because God is in us does not mean that we are Him. Tough cookies, folks. I can understand why you don’t like our millenia-spanning stubbornness on faith and morals, but come on, you have to respect it. Lost couldn’t even get through six seasons without devolving into insipid and incredibly puzzling unitarian universalist eschatology, and that was a show that started out following rubrics and its own internal canon LIKE A BOSS.

I’m sorry you don’t like what we believe. The Romans didn’t either — mostly for the same reasons — and they fed us to the lions for entertainment because of it. I guarantee if some enterprising network were willing to do a remake of the Roman persecutions as a reality show, they’d get record ratings today, gruesome death and all. The remaining framework of our Judeo-Christian mores is all that is keeping such a thing at bay. The people who reject Church teaching don’t all hate us, but a sizeable number do. And I mean hate with a capital HATE.

But you know what converted the Romans who hated us? Watching innocent men, women, and children walk serenely to their own slaughter, singing songs and praying for their captors. That is a first class mind-blower, and Tertullian nailed it when he said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We built this city on blood and bones, and we kept coming. Our spirit, the beauty of faith lived, overcame one the most debauched and powerful cultures in the ancient world.

I say “our” because I’m proud of our forefathers in faith, not because I deserve a share in their glory. I can barely fast the two days of the year I’m required to without staying up till midnight ready to shove meat into my face. But if the spirit is weak, it remains. It withstood persecution and genocide, and it’ll withstand pandemic mediocrity and marxist progressivism.

As we consider what it means to find all these people who are seemingly coming to love and respect the Church for all the wrong reasons, I’ll leave you with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, whom I miss more and more all the time:

My idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism.  This is not the way of God.  The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities.  So, the Church begins with the 12 Apostles.  And even the Church of St. Paul diffused in the Mediterranean are little communities, but this community in itself is the future of the world, because we have the truth and the force of conviction.  So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic.  This is not our future, nor our expectation.  But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no?  This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.


Smaller numbers, I think.  But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world.  And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church.  Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at this time; but it was clear, this is the future…