“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

May 30, 2010

Let's review what it is we celebrate on Trinity Sunday

The following few paragraphs are drawn from Frank Sheed's excellent introduction to the Catholic Faith, Theology for Beginners (Servant Books). Sheed had plenty more to say about the subject of the Blessed Trinity, both in this book and in his even more comprehensive Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press), but this tasty soupçon will get you started.

I enthusiastically encourage all Catholics — indeed anybody of any background who wishes to better understand the Catholic Church's doctrine of the Trinity — to read both these books. Reading them, you will discover that, as Sheed put it, "The rewards for persistence are immense."

And for good measure, here is the old Catholic Encyclopedia's compact historical overview of the solemn feast day in honor of the Blessed Trinity:

Trinity Sunday

The first Sunday after Pentecost, instituted to honour the Most Holy Trinity. In the early Church no special Office or day was assigned for the Holy Trinity. When the Arian heresy was spreading the Fathers prepared an Office with canticles, responses, a Preface, and hymns, to be recited on Sundays.

In the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great (P.L., LXXVIII, 116) there are prayers and the Preface of the Trinity. The Micrologies (P.L., CLI, 1020), written during the pontificate of Gregory VII (Nilles, II, 460), call the Sunday after Pentecost a Dominica vacans, with no special office, but add that in some places they recited the Office of the Holy Trinity composed by Bishop Stephen of Liège (903-20). By others the Office was said on the Sunday before Advent.

Alexander II (1061-1073), not III (Nilles, 1. c.), refused a petition for a special feast on the plea, that such a feast was not customary in the Roman Church which daily honored the Holy Trinity by the Gloria, Patri, etc., but he did not forbid the celebration where it already existed.

John XXII (1316-1334) ordered the feast for the entire Church on the first Sunday after Pentecost. A new Office had been made by the Franciscan John Peckham, Canon of Lyons, later Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1292).

The feast ranked as a double of the second class but was raised to the dignity of a primary of the first class, 24 July 1911, by Pius X (Acta Ap. Sedis, III, 351). The Greeks have no special feast. Since it was after the first great Pentecost that the doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed to the world, the feast becomingly follows that of Pentecost.

Pope Gregory the Great's Warning About Wicked Shepherds

I read a mainstream media news report this morning about a recent gathering of priests and seminarians in Rome for the purpose of offering "prayers for the victims of clergy abuse and for the healing of the church's wounds from the scandal over its concealment of abuse." This is an exceedingly good thing to do, and I hope it will inspire diocesan bishops everywhere to gather their own presbyterates together and emulate this.

What caught my eye in was that article's reference to a stern warning issued by Pope Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604) regarding those woeful shepherds (i.e., priests and bishops) who are guilty of "evil living," and acting "perversely." He denounces those who make an outward show of piety and even sanctity and yet are, inwardly, chronically corrupt and perfidious.

We are and should be fervently grateful for the many excellent, dedicated, devout and, in some cases, truly holy priests and bishops with whom we have been blessed by the Lord. I am grateful to Him for them. And yet, as we all know, in recent decades, enormous, pestilential damage has been wreaked upon innumerable souls at the hands of a group of wicked shepherds in the Catholic Church. It is about them that Pope Gregory warns in words that are worthy of our reflection.

THERE ARE SOME ALSO who investigate spiritual precepts with cunning care, but what they penetrate with their understanding they trample on in their lives: all at once they teach the things which, not by practice but by study, they have learned; and what in words they preach, by their manners they impugn.
Whence it comes to pass that when the shepherd walks through steep places, the flock follows to the precipice.
Hence it is that the Lord through the prophet complains of the contemptible knowledge of shepherds, saying, When you yourselves had drunk most pure water, you fouled the residue with your feet; and My sheep fed on that which had been trodden by your feet, and drank that which your feet had fouled Ezekiel 34:18-19.
For indeed the shepherds drink most pure water, when with a right understanding they imbibe the streams of truth. But to foul the same water with their feet is to corrupt the studies of holy meditation by evil living. And verily the sheep drink the water fouled by their feet, when any of those subject to them follow not the words which they hear, but only imitate the bad examples which they see. Thirsting for the things said, but perverted by the works observed, they take in mud with their draughts, as from polluted fountains.
Hence also it is written through the prophet, A snare for the downfall of my people are evil priests (Hosea 5:1; 9:8). Hence again the Lord through the prophet says of the priests, They are made to be for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel. For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely. For him, when he transgresses, no one presumes to take to task; and the offense spreads forcibly for example, when out of reverence to his rank the sinner is honored.
But all who are unworthy would fly from the burden of so great guilt, if with the attentive ear of the heart they weighed the sentence of the Truth, Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).
By the millstone is expressed the round and labor of worldly life, and by the depth of the sea is denoted final damnation.
Whosoever, then, having come to bear the outward show of sanctity, either by word or example destroys others, it had indeed been better for him that earthly deeds in open guise should press him down to death than that sacred offices should point him out to others as imitable in his wrong-doing; because, surely, if he fell alone, the pains of hell would torment him in [a] more tolerable degree (Regula Pastoralis, II).

May 29, 2010

This may be a first! A Unitarian vs. Catholic debate

Okay, it was really just a call to my most recent "Open Line" radio show (Thursdays from 3:00-5:00 p.m. ET), but it was an energetic exchange. Ben, a pleasant and well-spoken Unitarian Freemason, took the Catholic Church to task for its "divisiveness" on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. We had a friendly but animated 15-minute debate of his opinion. Take a listen and see what you think. (Click the picture to launch the audio.)

May 28, 2010

From My Department of Redundancy Department

The aggressive liposuction really paid off

This could be anywhere, anytime.

What species of blog-commenter are you?

In part 1 of his "10 Types of Blog Comments," Matt Warner does a good job of accurately describing the common blog-commenter styles. He obviously has spent a good deal of time reading comments on various blogs, because, it seems to me, certain types of commenters seem to gravitate to certain blogs, and while some blogs seem to attract all kinds, I'd say it's more likely that any given blog will tend to attract a concentration of a few of these types as the majority.

For example, after running this little blog of mine (I'm gonna make it shine) since the fall of 2008, I've seen a lot of comments come through (very, very few are not accepted, and that is mainly due to profanity or something else vile).

In my estimation, this blog seems to attract predominately numbers 1, 3, and 5, with 5 being the majority. True, occasionally a 6 or a 7 will drift through the door and cause a ruckus for awhile, but they, like all drifters, don't stick around here for long. I have noticed this to also be true of folks on my FaceBook pages. Anyway, I thought you'd find Matt's analysis interesting and though-provoking. I did!


Here are the 10 types of blog commenters:
1) Encouragers - These leave simple, encouraging comments like, “great post!” Or, “wow, this totally changed my life.” But they don’t instigate further conversation or offer anything additional to the post. (FYI - Bloggers love these kinds of comments.)

2) Non-contributors - These are similar to Encouragers, except without the encouragement. Their comments say I was here and I read your post...like, “I also have a fish named Dorothy,” or “Thanks for this post.”

3) Contributors - Contributors usually leave the best blog comments because they offer something new to the conversation. A new perspective. Additional information. A new insight. They are thoughtful. And they can either respectfully agree or disagree with the post. Overall, they contribute to a healthy conversation and they make the blog post more valuable and helpful for other readers.

4) Destitutes - These are people in need. They might be depressed or struggling with something. They just want somebody to talk to. Somebody to listen. Sometimes their comment is on topic, often times it is not. Many times they have serious questions.

5) Slackers - Slackers are people who don’t read the post. They just read the title of the post and then want to say something. So they write it in the combox. They often strongly disagree with you while making your point. Or they soundly defeat a straw man and feel better afterwards. Or they ask things like, “Well what about X?” When the post spent paragraphs 3 and 4 answering precisely that about X.

6) Brawlers - Brawlers love to fight and argue. They aren’t interested in learning, giving the benefit of the doubt or considering that it was just an accident when I spilled my drink on them.

7) Angries - An Angry is somebody who is just angry at something. They often take the form of brawlers, but worse. They don’t even want to argue or fight about it. They just want to express their anger about something. Often times it makes them feel better to bring others down in the process. Their comments are often inappropriate and hurtful. And they usually end up accusing somebody tangentially related to the post of something tangentially related to the topic and then lumping everyone together and concluding that “You people are all a bunch of losers.” They can turn into real trolls too.

8) Posers - Posers pretend like they don’t care about the topic when they really do. Their comment basically says “I don’t care about this, but I still took the time to comment and tell you. That’s how much I really don’t care about this. And now I’m going to get really defensive about something you said…but I really couldn’t care less about it.”

9) Self-promoters - These people range from spammers and link-baiters to honest people just trying to promote something good. But their comment is all about promoting something else, not contributing to the post directly.

10) Aliens - Aliens leave comments that make absolutely no sense at all. It’s like they just landed on the planet Earth and thought they would leave a comment.

May 27, 2010

The Catholic Church in South Africa wants you to watch this video

And so do I. “Church on the Ball” is a beautifully produced glimpse of the work the Catholic Church has been doing in South Africa, “particularly in the area of HIV-AIDS and human trafficking, against the backdrop of the 2010 Football Worldcup.” Very impressive and encouraging!

From the organization's website:

Within a few weeks, 32 national soccer squads will be arriving to prepare for this titanic tournament which has been expected with growing excitement for so long. During a period of 43 days, an estimated 2.7 million local and foreign spectators will view 64 matches live as these are played in 9 cities around the country. Another 20 million fans will be watching the games on big screens at fan parks across the country and up to 3 billion viewers around the world will tune in to the event. And we, as Catholics, need to make our presence felt too, and use the opportunity to be lights of the world and salt of the earth, leaven in the dough. Think of what images Jesus would have utilized to connect with fans through the use of memorable parables based on soccer and sports today!

Let us try to raise public attention on:

• the ethical questions in sports;
• the educational attributes of sports;
• the global responsibility (fair trade, human rights, development cooperation, etc.);
• human rights; integration; combating of racism…

• the promotion of Sunday as Lord’s day
• the prevention of crime and violence…
• Of great concern are the prostitution and human trafficking issues.

South Africa is introducing visa-free travel across southern Africa for the 2010 WC with the purpose of promoting tourism and freer business travel and trade in the region at this time. Relaxing of visa requirements for travel in the SADC region could contribute to potential risks of increased migration that could include trafficking. So let us be vigilant. But let us especially remain positive, and keep the focus on the ideal opportunity the FWC presents to the church to minister through sports.

And so, apart from celebrating World Cup Sunday on the 13th June, explore the opportunity to run:

• parish festivals with sports and football-related events.
• “MiniWorld Cups” with football teams – why not a “Bishop’s cup” in each diocese.
• promote churches as places of silence, rest and prayer as an alternative to the bustle.
• help to distribute the World Cup Catholic prayer pocket booklet as widely as possible.
• and please advertise in your parish newsletters/notice boards and even through a large banner on the roadside, the website

The Catholic motto of the 2006 World Cup in Germany was - “A time to make friends”. Let us encourage Catholics to give the visitors from foreign countries a warm welcome and prove themselves to be considerate hosts. Let us break barriers and build bridges! As for the many nationals from foreign countries residing in SA, they can be a great resource in breaking the language barriers, and assisting in the accommodation and the arranging of “parties” for their fellow-countrymen.

Expected outcomes:

• the Church will hopefully be perceived as a reliable partner who has a special competence and a specific mission.
• press, radio and television will provide some exposure to activities organised by the Church.
• make people aware of the rich common ground between the Church and sports.
• demonstrate that both sports and the Church can be joyful experiences. Many find it difficult to share on the faith and religious level. Sports creates a common bond between people which can lead them to share at faith level.
• grow our communication structures.

Our ultimate goal!? Peace and Justice on earth and happiness in Heaven!

Ke Nako*!

May 26, 2010

Is the consecrated life "superior" to marriage?

The Catholic Church's answer to this question might surprise you.

I've never forgotten a strange conversation I had about 15 years ago with a Catholic seminarian in Baltimore. He had been tasked with retrieving me from the airport and driving me to the venue where I would be speaking that weekend. Along the way, as we were discussing his course of seminary formation, he said something to the effect that the consecrated life was no better than the married life.

I thought maybe I had misunderstood him and that he was just trying to be thoughtful in not giving me, a married man, the impression that he looked down on marriage. So I asked him to explain more clearly what he meant, and that led to the strangeness.

Turns out he was adamant that the consecrated life was not a higher state, and when I told him that that's not what the Church teaches, his adamancy became pique. He strongly disagreed with that view and I found it strange that he was so vehement in his position. Was this what he had been taught in the seminary? Most probably (remember, this was the mid-90s), although perhaps there was some other reason for his sensitivity to this subject.

In any case, I flashed back to that seminarian and that odd conversation, last Thursday, when, on my "Open Line" radio show, I took a call from a non-Catholic (most likely a Protestant) who wanted to express his reasons for disagreeing with something Pope John Paul II said about the consecrated life being "superior" to the married life. Click the picture or click here to hear the call.

(Also, here are some helpful references for consideration)

St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:

"It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman. Indeed, I wish that everyone were like I am. I should like you to be free from anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord; how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world; how he may please his wife, and he is divided. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that" (c.f., Mark 12:18-27; Matt. 19:10-12; 2 Timothy 2:3).

Pope John Paul II , Vita Consecrata, 32:

“As a way of showing forth the Church's holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ's own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church's purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery, will be achieved and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (c.f., Matt. 22:30).”

Pope Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas, 32:

“This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as we have already said, revealed by our divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy Council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and doctors of the Church.”

Council of Trent:

"If anyone saith that the marriage state is to be preferred before the state of virginity, let him be anathema." [...] "writing to the Corinthians, [Paul] says: I would that all men were even as myself; that is, that all embrace the virtue of continence...A life of continence is to be desired by all.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 916

"The state of the consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come."

May 23, 2010

What the hail?

I've experienced hailstorms before, but never anything like this. My advice to folks living in Oklahoma who want to find a silver lining in those dark, hail-laden clouds: Buy stock in companies that manufacture siding, shingles, and windshields.

P.S. I was trying to work in some kind of "Van Hailen" joke, but I couldn't come up with anything. Probably just as well.

May 21, 2010

Priest sells convent to Muslims for a mosque on a street named for 9-11 hero

Okay, this is galling on a couple different levels. Plot summary: The pastor of a Catholic parish sold the parish convent to an Islamic organization, which plans to turn it into a mosque. The kicker is that the convent happens to be on a street named in honor of . . . get this . . . "FDNY Capt. Martin Egan, 36, who was killed in the terrorist attacks" of September 11th.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The impending sale of an empty, 2 ½ -story convent in Midland Beach owned by St. Margaret Mary’s R.C. Church has neighbors angry and afraid because the purchaser is an Islamic organization they know little about.

Several hundred concerned residents turned out last night for an emergency meeting called by the Midland Beach Civic Association at the Olympia Activity Center, two blocks from the convent site at 555 Greeley Ave.

The association’s president, Yasmin Ammirato, told the gathering that she first learned about the convent sale on May 12. She added that the Rev. Keith Fennessy, pastor, told her at a meeting on May 15 with four representatives of the nonprofit Muslim American Society (MAS), the group set to buy the property, that he had "signed off, and money has been exchanged."

She said that MAS agreed to pay $750,000 for the property, and its plan for the convent’s re-use includes a mosque and community center with after-school programs for children. "There’s a need for a mosque on the East Shore" from South Beach to Midland Beach, she said the representatives told her, citing Muslim Albanian and Turkish residents.

The convent occupies a 100-by-90-foot corner lot, with a current market value of $915,000, according to the city Department of Finance.

Residents in attendance last night were not happy about what they heard. One proposed a petition drive to remove Father Fennessy from his post, and the idea received sustained applause. Another suggested that the civic association consult with an attorney to explore legal options to fight the project. One woman raised a practical concern: "Parking here is already horrendous. How will another community center affect the neighborhood, whether it’s run by an Islamic group or not?"

"This hurts — it was done without even consulting us, on the sneak," said Eugene Reems, 42, a life-long resident whose three children attend the parish elementary school, where his wife, Erin, teaches third grade.

"September 11 left scars on this neighborhood that will last for the rest of our lives," he added, noting that part of the convent fronts Freeborn Street, which was renamed for FDNY Capt. Martin Egan, 36, who was killed in the terrorist attacks.

"We grew up together, and he was a very good friend. Marty was a hero in everyone’s eyes, and this a real slap in the face to his family and everyone who knew him.". . . (continue reading)

May 20, 2010

My advice to a discouraged young man struggling with an habitual sin

On my "Open Line" radio show last week, a 25 year-old man called to discuss his plight of not being able to overcome a serious sinful habit. In his dejection over his powerlessness to conquer the problem, he had given up and abandoned the Catholic Church and the sacraments, hopeless that he could ever be freed from his enslavement. I did my best to offer him some words of encouragement and advice. (Click the pic to listen.)

May 19, 2010

This music stirs my soul

Maurice Revel's “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” long a favorite of mine, has a poignant, personal meaning for me. I hope you enjoy it.

Wouldn't it be great to be back in North Platte for ten minutes?

What happened to our country?

May 18, 2010

One of the most beautiful versions of the Agnus Dei you'll ever hear

When you can, stop what you're doing, close your eyes, and let this gorgeous hymn wash over you. Let it inebriate your spirit with joy and gratitude to the Lord Who loves you so much that He died for you to redeem you and save you from your sins. Dial the volume up and let this magnificent prayer carry you heavenward to the throne of the victorious Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. Praise Him.

May 17, 2010

Do not learn from this man

Hands down, this guy is the least motivating motivational speaker I have ever run across. And the funniest, too. My favorite line is, "You can do anything that you think that you can do." As one person commented, I'm just glad he didn't think he could fly.

May 14, 2010

Pope Benedict implores Catholics to join him in evangelizing

Celebrating Mass in Porto, where he had arrived from Fatima early this morning, Pope Benedict called the faithful to witness the Resurrection and be missionaries of Christ. He urged Catholics not to let anything prevent them from spreading the Gospel, because if the Church rests on its laurels “it would be sure death in terms of the Church’s presence in the world.”

The Holy Father arrived in Porto this morning by helicopter to celebrate Mass in the Square of the “Avenida dos Aliados di Porto” where he was joined by tens of thousands of faithful.

Recalling the words of Peter, who said to the disciples in the Upper Room after the Ascension that “one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection,” Pope Benedict XVI called all people to missionary action, imploring them, “you need to become witnesses with me to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“In effect,” he continued, “if you do not become His witnesses in your daily lives, who will do so in your place? Christians are, in the Church and with the Church, missionaries of Christ sent into the world.”

The Pope said that receiving and offering the Risen Christ to the world is the “indispensable mission of every ecclesial community,” so that “growth and life” might come from “weakness and death.”

As Peter recommended, continued the Holy Father, we must always be prepared defend the hope within us, without imposing anything and never ceasing to propose. This is what “everyone” asks of us, and from experience, “we know well that it is Jesus whom everyone awaits,” the Holy Father shared.

Pope Benedict also reflected on the mindset necessary for evangelization. Together with Christ, without whom “we can do nothing,” we are called to evangelize, he said. “We must overcome the temptation to restrict ourselves to what we already have, or think we have, safely in our possession: it would be sure death in terms of the Church’s presence in the world; the Church, for that matter, can only be missionary, in the outward movement of the Spirit.” . . . (continue reading)

May 12, 2010

What you see versus what you think you see

There are some fascinating optical illusions that play upon the mind's tendency to impose things like motion on certain combinations of colors and shapes which are not, in fact, really moving. Look at the picture above, for example. Nothing in it is moving, but your eyes see it undulating and pulsating, don't they? This is because your mind imposes movement where it really does not exist. Try as you might, isn't it true that it is practically impossible to force that image to stop "moving," even though you know it's not?

This is reminiscent of another phenomenon in which some people think they see in Scripture teachings which simply are not there. Mormonism's "Plurality of Gods" and "Total Apostasy" doctrines, and the common Protestant notion of "Sola Scriptura" come mind as examples of this tendency.

Max & Anna

Joyous news. Our son, Max, recently got engaged to the lovely Anna Wagner. Though they haven't set a date for their wedding yet, everything points to the happy occasion taking place this fall. Max is in the U.S. Navy and doesn't know yet what the exact dates of his leave will be. Hopefully, he'll know soon, so he and Anna can begin planning in earnest.

May 11, 2010

"Inconvenient people" and the rising "Obligation to Die Movement"

I've been warning about this for years in my lectures on global aging, about how what we currently know as the "right to die movement" is steadily morphing into what soon will be soon be the obligation to die movement, which will increasingly target old people and others whom our sick society deems to have "outlived their usefulness." Authors such as Peter G. Peterson (Gray Dawn) and Ken Dychtwald (Age Wave), Patrick Buchanan (The Death of the West) and Wesley Smith (Forced Exit), have been ringing the alarm bells for years (much louder and more eloquently than I have been, to be sure), though it doesn't seem like many are paying attention to what's coming. Thomas Sowell is one of the few who is. Here are some of his thoughts about a common mentality that is paving the way for enforced euthanasia:

One of the many fashionable notions that have caught on among some of the intelligentsia is that old people have "a duty to die," rather than become a burden to others.

This is more than just an idea discussed around a seminar table. Already the government-run medical system in Britain is restricting what medications or treatments it will authorize for the elderly. Moreover, it seems almost certain that similar attempts to contain runaway costs will lead to similar policies when American medical care is taken over by the government.

Make no mistake about it, letting old people die is a lot cheaper than spending the kind of money required to keep them alive and well. If a government-run medical system is going to save any serious amount of money, it is almost certain to do so by sacrificing the elderly.

There was a time— fortunately, now long past— when some desperately poor societies had to abandon old people to their fate, because there was just not enough margin for everyone to survive. Sometimes the elderly themselves would simply go off from their family and community to face their fate alone.

But is that where we are today?

Talk about "a duty to die" made me think back to my early childhood in the South, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. One day, I was told that an older lady— a relative of ours— was going to come and stay with us for a while, and I was told how to be polite and considerate towards her.

She was called "Aunt Nance Ann," but I don't know what her official name was or what her actual biological relationship to us was. Aunt Nance Ann had no home of her own. But she moved around from relative to relative, not spending enough time in any one home to be a real burden.

At that time, we didn't have things like electricity or central heating or hot running water. But we had . . . (continue reading)

May 10, 2010

The Oldest Extant Video of a Pope

This video, recorded in 1896, shows Pope Leo XIII at about 85 years of age, seven years before his death. He reigned for 25 years! More info on this video here.

Gerald Celente Discusses His "Greatest Fear"

His really unpleasant predictions start kicking in around the 5:00 minute mark, but the whole message is dismal. I don't know much about the host, so please don't assume I'm endorsing him, because I'm not. But I do find Celente's take on the economic crisis to be worth listening to.

Publish Post"allowScriptAccess" value="always">

Michael O'Brien's Warning About Harry Potter and "Spiritual Nausea"

The "Harry Potter Wars" that raged for a few years awhile ago between Catholics who like and approve of the books and movies versus those who see them as dangerous and to be avoided (I myself am among the latter group) may likely flare up again with the release of a new book on the subject by the preeminent Catholic fiction author and artist Michael O'Brien (Father Elijah). I have known Michael personally for 15 years and can say without reservation that I admire and respect him tremendously and have learned a great deal from his gentle wisdom. (If you've never read any of his books, I'd suggest starting with his excellent Father Elijah and his new one [see below]).

Some years ago, Michael and I recorded our detailed discussion of the Harry Potter phenomenon and what we saw (and see) as the particular problems and dangers inherent in it. After its release on CD, I received a fair bit of reaction from people who strenuously objected to our negative take on HP, as well as others who shared our apprehensions. What struck me by these reactions was how strident, emotional and, at times, downright obstreperous some of Catholic supporters of Harry Potter could be. Not all of them reacted this way, to be sure, in fact most did not, but there were those whose snide and dismissive comments about those who see big problems with Harry Potter were eye-opening. (I hope we don't see another outbreak of that unpleasantness in the comments of this post.)

Anyway, whether or not you have made up your mind about Harry Potter, pro or con, I do recommend spending some time reading and thinking about Michael's eye-opening insights into this controversial issue. Here's his introduction to a new book explaining why he believes that Harry Potter is not good, why it is pretty poison, and why Catholic parents should see that their children avoid it.

Preface to Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture
by Michael D. O'Brien

[published May, 2010]

This book grew out of a series of articles which were written over a ten-year period for various Christian periodicals. At first, I had no interest in reading the Harry Potter novels, and indeed felt that I had already expended considerable time researching the field of fantasy literature when writing a book on the subject in the mid-1990’s. Moreover, the constant reviews of the Potter series had given me a general sense about the stories and the popular opinions. Oceans of spilled ink and electronic text seemed to cover the pros and cons well enough. No need for me to add my opinion.

However, the first volumes were often recommended to our family by well-meaning people, and seemed to be read in so many homes we knew, that I could hardly ignore the phenomenon. Then came letters and phone calls from friends wanting to know what I thought about the series, all describing their initial uneasiness about it. I replied that I really couldn’t offer an opinion without reading the books for myself, and besides, there was such a tsunami of neo-pagan fantasy novels, films, and e-games pouring into young people’s lives it would be a lifetime’s work just to keep abreast of it all, let alone thoughtfully discern each one. They agreed, but suggested that since this particular series was fast becoming the biggest best-selling publishing phenomenon of all time, it might be worth reading. They added that some writers whom they admired said that these books were seductive and potentially damaging; other opinion-shapers said they were harmless and got children reading, in fact were getting a whole generation of young people burying their noses in books!

Nevertheless, I still declined to read them. But then came a curious 24 hour period in which I spoke with three different people (in two telephone calls that came out of the blue and one chance meeting face-to-face). All three described a personal experience in very much the same words. I did not initiate the subject, nor did I prompt their thoughts on the matter. None of them knew each other. All were parents of healthy, happy families, and as far as I knew were emotionally and mentally well-balanced. These were people I respected for their mature stability as well as their gifts of wisdom and goodness. They had strong faith in Christ, were neither superstitious nor suspicious by nature, were not alarmists, and did not tend to hysteria or paranoia. They had provided a thriving cultural life for their families, books were treasured in each of their homes, and among their collections were many fantasy novels for the young. Yet, that day each of them said something like the following:

“I heard so much about the Harry Potter books, and very good people told me they’re great. So we bought one [or were given one] and I started to read it. At first I had no problems with it. Then something strange happened. In the middle of a chapter I was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea.”

“Nausea?” I asked.

“Yes, a kind of spiritual nausea. I didn’t see it coming because I wanted to like these books. The whole world’s in love with them, even a lot of good Christians, so I felt they were probably healthy enough to give to our kids. I just wanted to check it out first. I’m glad I did.”

Unknown to each other, these three spiritually awake parents were speaking about a “spiritual nausea.” All three encouraged me to read the books and write an assessment. Was it a coincidence, or was it one of those moments when the Holy Spirit was speaking, sending a nudge in triplicate?

Even so, I hesitated taking part in any kind of public response to the series. I simply had no time or energy for it. Yet I had learned to pay attention to such “coincidences,” and so took it to our Lord in prayer.

I prayed and listened and prayed—and didn’t like what I was “hearing.”

So I prayed more and listened more, hoping to hear something else, but to no avail. . . . (continue reading)